I've written a lot, but never fanfic, so this is my first. Goodbye, fanfic virginity...
Give me brutal feedback, I beg you. :) This is pure alternate universe Zutara. Not a heckuva lot of plot at the moment. It amuses me, though, and I hope it amuses you, too :) Plot will develop...eventually. ;)
Disclaimer: I don't own AtLA. I have no rights or claims to AtLA. If I did, the show would have ended with a hot and steamy scene between Zuko and Katara, whilst Aang and Mai mope off into a life of solitude. Or until they find people actually suited to them.
8/7/10: EDITED AGAIN! *sigh*
The Prince's Slave:
The slaver unloaded the latest cargo, pushing the slender water tribe girl out of the hold. Her wrists and ankles were encircled with heavy chains that allowed only a limited movement as she stumbled down the plank, the rough metal sounding like an alarm of impending doom as they clanked together.
"Line up with the rest of them, wench."
She made her way to the line of other newly captured men and women, set to be sold like meat at market. To the bidders and buyers, this cargo of flesh was little more than just that—meat. They were meat that could cook, clean and work, all with minimal upkeep. Slaves were animals.
She had never felt this frightened before. So many terrible things had happened in the past, but they paled in comparison to the strange and terrifying unknown that loomed before her now. When she was younger, Sokka had gotten trapped under the ice. She had cried off to the side while their father dove into the frozen waters to rescue him, petrified that she would lose the remainder of her family. It had only been a few months after her mom had been killed in a raid, and the pain was all too fresh and too raw. Even years later, she was afraid of losing any of her family. Now she was the one who had been lost.
A palace flunky examined the slaves, having been sent to inspect the new shipments. Clammy, pale fingers prodded at their ribs and breasts, inspected their teeth and their arms, before the man selected two study-looking Earth kingdom girls and Katara. "That one will require a bath; she will work in the royal family's chambers, and it wouldn't do to have a slave that reeks in there. The other two are to work in the kitchen. Since those two wenches ran off, we've needed more hands." Katara supposed she should be grateful but, at the same time, she didn't relish the thought of serving the royal family. Not after all they had done to her family. She closed her eyes tightly, thinking of her mother, long dead, and her father, out fighting to stop the Fire Lord's mad quest to bring the whole world under his domination. She thought of the friends and family she had lost in Fire Nation raids. Now she was forced into a life of slavery, serving the same nation that had scarred her tribe for generations.
"Come closer, girl." The flunky's voice jolted her out of her melancholic reverie, and she quietly stepped closer. He leered at her, his gaze making her feel uncomfortable and exposed. This was not someone she would ever want to be with alone. "Yes, you'll do quite nicely. Take her and the others into the wagon and outfit them for the palace." He ordered his slaves, pushing Katara roughly towards them.
Between the flunky's leering and her less than fortunate circumstances, Katara's dread was growing by the ten-fold. What would she have to do in the royal palace? She'd heard rumors of concubines and dreaded that such a fate wouldn't be hers. She didn't have much time to ponder as the other slaves ushered her and the two girls into the wagon. Creaking wooden wheels starting turning, sounding very much like the groan of dying slaves in Katara's opinion. There was silence between the girls as the wagon rattled up the road from the pier and made its way into the capital and to the looming structure of the Fire Palace. Once inside, the girls were divided; it was highly unlikely they would ever cross paths again. Katara was shown to a bathhouse and new clothes were laid out for her: a cropped top and a full length, two-layered red skirt. Thankfully, she was left to bathe in peace. Katara slid into the steaming water. After weeks being locked in a cramped hold, nothing felt more refreshing and soothing. The Earth Kingdom girls were taken away and she was shown to a bathhouse where new clothes were laid out for her: a cropped top and a full length, two-layered red skirt. Thankfully, she was left to bathe in peace. Katara slid into the steaming water. After weeks being locked in a cramped hold, nothing could have felt more refreshing than this.
Everything had happened so suddenly, she thought, leaning her head back against the edge of the bath. She had wanted to practice her bending away from Sokka, who only insulted or cracked jokes about her and her 'magic water.' The next thing she knew, she had been caught by a Fire Nation slaver traveling through South Pole waters. One lone, measly waterbender hadn't been hard to capture. If only she'd been stronger, Katara thought longingly. She'd never find a master now, not while she was trapped within these walls.
She sighed, idly bending the way in the bath, and small, weak waves lapped against her bare skin. What was Sokka doing now? With all the men in the village gone, including her father, he couldn't very well leave everyone. Would she ever be rescued? Katara figured she would do her best until she found a solution, and began scrubbing herself down and washing her dark, thick hair. She had found vials of soap and oils, both surprisingly fragrant for a slave's bath. By the time she was done, she smelled like jasmine.
Two older servants came in as she exited the bath in order to instruct her on the appearance and role of a slave. She quickly grabbed her tunic to cover herself up but the women removed it from her hands and began to dress her. Katara was too startled by their efficient and quick actions to do anything.
"My name is Ji."
"I am called Zai." They both looked friendly enough, Katara assumed, despite their clothing-snatching. They were both of average height, with streaks of grey in their black hair. They secured part of her hair in a top-knot, allowing the rest to cascade freely in loose waves. A gold band was placed on each upper arm with gold bracers at her wrists. She hid her mother's necklace under the new adornment she was given, to keep it safe. The rest of her belongings were thrown away and Katara immediately found herself missing the color blue.
"The bands signify your status. You are to show respect to everyone you come across with a shallow bow. If you come across a member of the royal family, such as Fire Lord Ozai or the Prince or Princess, you are to kowtow until they tell you to rise. You will be serving in the royal household. This means you will be cleaning the floors, polishing furniture and silver, dusting, and whatever other duties are assigned to you. Is this clear?"
Katara nodded. Slaves were at the bottom of the ladder. It wasn't hard to remember. It looked like being a concubine was out for now, thank Tui and La. From what she could tell, it would be like when she was home—only she couldn't yell at Sokka to actually help out around the house once in a while.
Ji and Zai escorted Katara to the royal quarters, and were going over more instructions as they walked down a grand hall when both women rapidly prostrated themselves. Katara, however, was slow in remembering their instructions from the bathhouse, and instead turned to see whom they were looking at.
A young woman with a frown on her face stared back at Katara. The icy gaze in the woman's eyes made Katara want to shrivel up and die. "You dare to stand before the Princess Azula?" Her dark chesnut hair was pulled neatly into a top-knot, a golden Fire Nation emblem in the knot her sole decoration, and two strands of hair framing her sharp features. Her hands quickly ignited into twin balls of fire.
Katara swallowed and quickly kowtowed. "I'm sorry, Your Highness." So this was the princess Ji and Zai had mentioned. The cold-looking girl had an air of superiority and aloofness that Katara supposed was an affect of being royalty. Were people born looking that cruel or was it learned over time, she wondered, as her forehead was pressed to the marble floor, waiting for permission to rise.
"I don't think you fully appreciate the affront." Azula smiled dangerously, her amber eyes glittering. The flames were quenched but she then grabbed Katara's mane of hair, yanking her viciously to her feet. Tears sprang into the waterbender's blue eyes at the excruciating pain. "You're a Water Tribe peasant? My favorite." Chills ran down Katara's spine, despite the pain. This girl was bad news and a force to be dealt with very, very cautiously.
"Princess, she is new to the palace—no offense was meant." Ji tried to plead as gently as possible, without risking her own neck.
Azula shoved Katara against the wall, the impact causing her vision to blur, and her toes were inches away from the floor. "Well then, it's your lucky day. I'm feeling merciful towards new additions. For your punishment, you will scrub the hall-with a small pail of water, nothing else." She was dropped unceremoniously to the ground, where she bowed again, her whole body throbbing with pain after less than three minutes in Azula's presence.
Zai decided to try speaking up now. "Princess, this floor is heavily trod upon, it is best for soap or another cleaner to be added-"
"Not this time. The new girl will clean this floor-to my standards-or she will be punished." With that, Azula departed. The two women, understanding that if they aided Katara they would be severely punished as well, left her alone to her task. The hall seemed to stretch into the Spirit World as Katara looked at the work ahead of her.
Dejectedly, she set out scrubbing the floor and was soon discouraged by the sheer amount she had still to do. Blisters were forming on her hands from forcing the rough, small brush against the marble. Daringly, she tried to waterbend the water in the bucket to get enough friction to scrub at the floors properly.
"What are you doing?" A masculine voice demanded.
She whirled around, startled, and accidentally sprayed the speaker with the water in her hands. Those same hands flew to her mouth in horror. "I'm so sorry!" A pair of golden eyes looked at her in annoyance and she perceived that he wore the same gold flame insignia as Princess Azula. "Your Highness." She added, and kowtowed. Azula made her wash a floor without soap-what would the prince make her do, especially after she'd sprayed him with dirty water?
"You may stand."
She did so, trying to ignore the effect that the husky drawl of his voice had on her. It wasn't often she came across anyone her own age, much less a tall, lean, black-haired youth who seemed to possess the same strength and agility as a polar leopard. Like his sister, she felt he was also someone to be dealt with cautiously, though for entirely different reasons. "It wasn't on purpose, Your Highness. I'm very sorry."
"Are you always this clumsy?" He sounded irritated but not enough to turn her into a living torch, it would seem. "You may rise."
"It wasn't on purpose, your highness. I'm very sorry." She stood up. "If I may-?" She tentatively tried to remove the water and was pleased when she succeeded. The prince's person was dry once more.
"You're a waterbender."
She watched him apprehensively, not sure how to interpret his gaze. It was then she had a good look at his face, and noticed the dark red scar that marred his left eye all the way to his ear, and she wondered who could have done such a thing to him. He couldn't have received such a burn in battle—it was obviously something inflicted by fire. Surprisingly, it didn't detract from his handsomeness. "Yes, your highness." It was a little known fact and now she had messed it up by trying to bend in the hall.
"You never answered my question."
After a moment of confusion, she remembered how he had interrupted her work. "Princess Azula ordered me to scrub the floor. I thought maybe I could bend the water to help."
"Come closer." Katara obeyed, puzzled by the prince and the differences between him and his sister. He pulled her in his arms, examining her critically, and smiled slightly. They were so close, she could see flecks of dark amber in his golden eyes, and could feel his heart beating steadily. His scar was more prominent up close as well, but still, it wasn't something she perceived as repulsive. "Return to your work."
"Yes, Your Highness." She mumbled, trying to not think about how close they had been, and he let her go, walking on down the hallway. Azula's eyes were cold and hard, like steel. The prince's eyes were critical and sharp, yes, but there was warmth and something else she couldn't explain. Katara turned quickly back to her small pail of water-and to scrubbing without using any bending.