In which the sun is making me lazy

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So, I’m back to sunny home-sweet-home. Yay! There’s a running joke I have with my friends about my perpetual complaints of being cold while I’m in England. If any of you are reading this right now, you can rest easy, knowing that even in Athens I feel a little chilled at night. It’s not the weather my lovelies. It’s my dragon-blood! (Long story, a friend said I’m like a reptile what with being cold all the time and I declared myself a dragon. Actually… Not so long story.) Anyways, I’ve been soaking up the heat for the past few days, which, until my body is used to the warmer temperatures, means my mood swings between content-as-a-snake-after-lunch to Speedy-Gonzales-hyper. Apparently part of me just wants to enjoy the heat but another part is so energised by the Vitamin D boost that she needs to keep moving. My solution? Long, lazy walks in the sun.

Anyway, since I’m at the beginning of my summer vacation, this will be one of those “I have nothing of import to say” posts. Suffice to say I’ll try to get over my lethargy soon and actually post something interesting next time. ^_^

Until then, have a cute picture of a kitten!

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Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Boiling Rock (Part II)

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Author’s note: In which there is an actual, decent plan for a change, planned reunions and veiled deaths threats.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***The Boiling Rock (Part II)***

The prisoners had been lined up at the courtyard by the time Sokka squeezed his way to the front lines of the guards, trying to steady his breath from having run the whole way. Suki and Zuko had left to sneak back to their cells. The warden was marching in front of the new-arrivals.

“Welcome to the Boiling Rock. I’m sure you’ve all heard the horrible rumours about our little island. Well I just want to tell you that they don’t have to be true. As long as you do everything I say.” He stopped in front of Hakoda who had been looking at the ground the whole time. “Look me in the eye when I’m talking to you.” The man looked at the side.

“No,” he said simply. The warden’s face turned red in anger.

“Oh, you’d rather look at my shoes‌? Then take a look!” he caught with his boot the chain connecting Hakoda’s shackles and forced him to the ground. “I know exactly who you are, Hakoda of the Water Tribe. So strong-willed. But don’t worry, we’ll get rid of that in time. Now look me in the eye.” Sokka felt as if Katara’s waterwhip had punched him in the gut as his father looked up slowly. “See‌? Isn’t that better? You will all do as I say or pay the price.” He turned to address the rest of the prisoners. “You will all…” his words where cut when Hakoda moved his hand, causing him to trip on the chain. Much to Sokka’s amusement the arrogant Fire Nation man fell flat on his face.

As the prisoners were led inside the building Sokka crept at the shadows, following his father and then waiting until all the guards left the corridor. Opening the door hastily, and once again forgetting to take off his helmet, he turned to Hakoda.

“Thank goodness you’re okay!” he said cheerfully. Hakoda leapt to his feet and thrust a fist into the “guard’s” face.

“If you take one step closer you’ll see just how okay I am,” he said threateningly. Sokka lifted his visor hastily. “Dad, it’s me!” Hakoda’s eyes widened.

“Sokka, my son!” He rushed forward to hug the boy. As they parted he smiled. “You know Sokka, you should be more careful with that guard outfit on. I almost punched you in the gut.”

“Yeah,” Sokka said sheepishly. “I ran into that problem earlier.” He turned hastily to check the corridor before slumping to the ground next to his father.

“So where’s Bato‌?” he asked. “Where’s everyone else from the invasion‌?”

“The others are being held at a prison near the Fire Nation palace. They singled me out as their leader and sent me here.” Hakoda gave his son a wry look. “But before I left I met some young women who said they knew you. The Yoshinama Fighters‌?”

“You mean the Kyoshi Warriors‌?” Sokka asked confused.

“That’s right,” the chief said.

“Their leader Suki is here and she’s gonna escape with us,” Sokka explained.

“Good, we’ll need all the help we can get.”

Sokka wondered whether now might be a good time to break some more news to his father. It wasn’t easy, but it would be better for him to know in advance, instead of walking in to his daughter kissing the Fire Nation prince…

“And you remember Zuko?” he asked hesitantly.

“Of course!” his father replied surprised. “I hope he caught up with you.” Sokka nodded.

“He did. And he’s here with me now. I wouldn’t have found you if it wasn’t for him.”

“That’s good,” Hakoda said, remembering the young man fighting.

“And dad…” Sokka tried again. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but he and Katara…” he took a deep breath, “they’re together.” Hakoda looked at his son blankly for a moment and then it sank in.

“WHAT?” he asked, refusing to believe Sokka.

“I know,” Sokka shrugged. “I had the same reaction.”

 

It took a few minutes for Hakoda to calm down and return to the matter at hand.

“So, do you have a plan‌?” he asked his son expectantly.

“We had one,” Sokka said regrettably, “but some of the other prisoners got involved and ruined it. I don’t know if there’s another way off this island.” Hakoda patted his son’s shoulder.

“Sokka, there’s no prison in the world that can hold two Water Tribe geniuses.” Sokka looked down dejectedly.

“Then we’d better find two,” he muttered. Hakoda burst out laughing.
Sokka’s next stop was at Zuko’s cell.

“Zuko, are you there‌?” he called silently.

“I’m here,” came the whispered reply.

“I just got done talking to my dad. We came up with an escape plan together,” Sokka explained.

“What are you doing here?” a voice came from the corridor. Sokka jumped to see two guards standing suspiciously behind him.
“I was just telling this dirty lowlife what I think of him!” he stammered hastily.

“Well, you’ll have to do that later, he’s coming with us,” the guard said impatiently. Sokka looked at them and back at the door.

“Why?” he asked confused.
“Because we have orders straight from the warden. That’s why,” the other guard said.

“Could I just get ten more seconds to rough him up a bit‌?” Sokka asked, with a little whine in his voice.

“Fine, ten seconds,” the guard agreed, rolling her eyes.
Sokka rushed inside and grabbed the mattress, hastily passing it to Zuko. As soon as the prince was holding it, giving Sokka a clueless look in the process, Sokka started punching.

“Take that! And this!” he yelled. Catching on Zuko made a few pained sounds. “We have a new plan but it’s gonna need a big distraction. Be in the yard in one hour,” he explained in a quieter voice. Hearing the door opening he grabbed his friend and put him on a chokehold.

“Alright, that’s enough,” the guard said.

 

The two guards dragged Zuko to a room a few levels higher wordlessly.

“What are you doing‌? Where are you taking me‌?” the boy asked confused. They couldn’t have known of his plotting with Sokka. Without answering his questions, the guards threw him inside the room.

“I didn’t do anything wrong!” he called after them annoyed.

“Come on Zuko,” a cold, emotionless voice was heard behind him. “We all know that’s a lie.” Zuko spun to meet the source of the voice, eyes zeroing to a tall, pale girl with an annoyed expression. His eyes widened. “Mai?” he asked incredulous. “How did you know I was here?” The girl rolled her eyes.

“Because I know you so well?” she asked sarcastically. At Zuko’s clueless look she reached at her dress and took out a familiar pendant. “Surprised to see me little brother?” she said, her voice changing to the livelier tones Lia used. She pulled out a paper and began reading in an annoyed voice. “Need meat. Gone fishing.” She looked up at the sheepish boy. “Seriously Zuko? Where’s the other idiot?”

“Sokka’s still posing as a guard,” Zuko said, knowing better than argue with her characterisations. “Would you rather have him come here alone?”

“Why are you two here anyway?” Lia asked crossing her arms.

“Suki and chief Hakoda are here,” her brother explained simply. A look of understanding flashed through his sister’s eyes.

 

Suki hadn’t been sitting idle in her cell. She had finished practicing her high kicks when the door opened to reveal a grinning Sokka.

“Sokka, what’s going on?” she asked startled.

“I don’t have much time,” he said checking the door for any guards. “If I’m seen with you the guards might think something’s up. I just talked to my dad.”

“That’s great!” Suki said smiling.

“Yeah and we’re escaping today. On the gondola.” Suki gave him a confused look.

“What?” she asked.

“My dad and I came up with a plan together. We’re gonna commandeer the gondola and we’re gonna take a hostage with us so they won’t cut the lines.” Suki shook her head.

“We’ll never make it onto the gondola. There’s too many guards.”
“My dad already thought of that. He said we’ll need a distraction. That’s why we’re gonna start a prison riot.”
“Okay. Let’s say by some miracle this all works and we make it on the gondola. The warden will still just cut the lines, even if we have a captive.” Sokka gave her a mischievous smile.

“Not if the warden is the captive,” he said triumphantly. A noise was heard at the end of the corridor. “I have to go. I’ll find you before we start the riot.”
Before he had a chance to sneak away the two guards from earlier caught up with him.

“Hey you!” one of them called. “The warden wants to see you!”

“Why?” Sokka asked innocently.

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“Maybe I could schedule another time with him‌? How’s tomorrow‌?” Sokka tried to walk away but two heavy sets of arms stopped him.

“He wants to see you, now,” the guard stressed, pushing him to the right direction.
The warden looked at them when they came out to the courtyard.

“Put him in the line-up,” he ordered coldly before turning to face everyone. “One of you is an imposter who thought he could fool me. But now that person is going to be in a lot of trouble. Who is it‌?” he asked as Chit Sang was brought forward. Sokka paled. Now he was truly doomed.

“That’s him, warden.” Chit Sang said, pointing at another guard. “He’s the imposter.”

“What!” the man said outraged. “I am not. He’s lying! He’s a liar!” No one paid him any attention, least of all Sokka who was busy calming his heart-rate down.
As soon as they were released he rushed to the control panel. To his relief only one person was there.

“Hey, I just got orders. Let the prisoners out into the yard,” he said officially.

“But we’re in the middle of lockdown,” The guard said suspiciously. Sokka shrugged.

“Oh, okay. I’ll just go tell the warden you said that. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear about you undermining his authority.” He turned nonchalantly to the frightened man. “What’s your name again?”
“Wait!” the man called. “Don’t tell the warden, I… I’m just a little confused.”
“Hey, I’m confused too.” Sokka walked back at the man, talking as persuasively as he could. “But the warden’s in a bad mood and irrational. So if you ask me, it’s best not to question it and just do what he says.” The man nodded nervously.
“Yeah, you’re right.” He pulled down a few levers and door began to open. “We’re letting them out.”
Sokka met up with his father and Suki at the yard not long before it was filled with the prisoners.

“This is it. We have to start a riot,” he told them, trying to catch his breath. Suki looked at him confused.

“Okay, but how do we do that?” she asked. Hakoda took a look around, looking for inspiration and smiled at the teens.

“I’ll show you how,” he said and ran up to a burly man that was standing a little ways. He shoved him abruptly. The man turned hurt.

“Hey, why did you do that for? That hurt my feelings,” he said.

“Aren’t you mad at me‌?” Hakoda asked surprised. The prisoner shrugged.

“Uhh, well normally I would be, but I’ve been working to control my anger.”

“This isn’t working!” Sokka groaned when a heavy hand landed on her.

“Hey you!” Chit Sang told the startled boy. “You’re lucky I didn’t rat you out. But my generosity comes with a price. I know you’re planning another escape attempt and I want in.” Sokka sighed before looking up to the man.

“Actually, we’re trying to escape right now. But we need a riot. You wouldn’t happen to know how to start one would you‌?”

“A prison riot?” Chit Sang scoffed. “Please!” He walked up to where most of the prisoners had gathered. “Hey!” he called. “Riot!” In a second all hell broke loose. Hakoda, Sokka and Suki looked shocked.

“Impressive!” the chief muttered.
The sirens were deafening inside the building. Zuko and Lia were standing next to each other inside the cell waiting for a guard to appear.

“Ma’am,” one of them called, entering the cell, “there’s a riot going on. I’m here to protect you.” Lia, still in Mai’s form, turned annoyed.

“I don’t need any protection!” she snapped. Zuko chuckled.

“Believe me, she doesn’t.” Nevertheless the guard came closer.

“I’m sorry, but I’m under direct orders from your uncle to make sure nothing happens.” Twin fireblades met him.

“Like I said,” Lia said as they exited and locked the door, “I don’t need any protection.” She turned to Zuko. “I’ll take care of the guards, you find the others.” He nodded and ran.

 

Outside the chaos made him pause and stare. Just what exactly had Sokka done? A guard tried to grab a hold of him as he rushed towards his team. Zuko knocked him over without even bothering to turn.

“Zuko, good. We’re all here. Now all we need to do is grab the warden and get to the gondolas.” Sokka said satisfied.

“And how do we do that?” Zuko asked, only to receive a blank look.

“I’m not sure,” Sokka admitted.

“I thought you thought this through!” Zuko told him exasperated.

“I thought you told me it’s okay not to think everything through!”

“Maybe not everything. But this is kind of important.” Zuko glared at the sheepish boy.

“Hey, uhh, fellas. I think your girlfriend’s taking care of it,” Chit Sang broke the argument, his eyes trained on Suki.

 

The girl rushed to the wall and climbed up to the level where the warden was standing in outrage. A few firebending guards came up against her but she dodged them, throwing a few of them to the waiting prisoners. The warden tried to fight himself, but her speed was too much for him.

“You wouldn’t dare!” he managed to growl before she tied him up like salami.

“Sorry warden, you’re my prisoner now.” Suki greened cheekily and slammed the man to the wall. Hearing the others coming up the stairs, she turned her attention to them. “We’ve got the warden, now let’s get out of here.”

“That’s some girl!” Hakoda manage to say while trying to catch his breath.

“Tell me about it!” Sokka wheezed.

 

They rushed to the upper courtyard, where the gondolas where. Chit Sang had shouldered the warden and took great pleasure in bumping him against any wall corner or railing him could.

“We’re almost there!” Suki called from the front. A group of guards was positioned in front of the gondolas and they took their stances immediately.

“Back off, we’ve got the warden,” Zuko said calmly. The men loosened their stances uneasily. “Let’s go.” Without anyone lowering their guard, the group walked up to the gondola and rushed in. Zuko stayed last to start up the contraption. As soon as it was moving he started kicking the lever until it broke. Only then he rushed after the gondola. Sokka caught him mid-leap and pulled him inside.

“What are you doing‌?” he asked torn between annoyance and concern.

“I’m making it so they can’t stop us,” the prince explained.

“Way to think ahead,” Sokka said impressed.

“We’re on our way,” Suki said, her eyes trained to the other side. Hakoda looked back at the prison.

“Wait,” he said. “Who’s that?” Everyone turned to see two very familiar girls.

“That’s a problem,” Zuko said. “It’s my sister and her friend.”

 

Azula measured the distance between the place she was standing and the slowly moving gondola. Grabbing a pair of handcuffs from a nearby guard she propelled herself to the line and locked the handcuff there. Using twin jets of fire she stated moving towards the gondola, with Ty Lee following her. As they came closer, Suki’s eyes narrowed.

“This is a rematch I’ve been waiting for,” she said. Zuko nodded next to her.

“Me too.”
The three teens climbed at the roof of the gondola and turned to face their opponents, Zuko and Sokka against Azula and Suki against Ty Lee. Azula’s eyes narrowed in annoyance as she was forced to dodge both her brother’s fire and the Water Tribe boy’s sword, leaving her no time to land any strikes of her own. A quick glance behind them told her that Ty Lee wasn’t faring any better against the Kyoshi Warrior. She wondered briefly where Mai had disappeared to. She had gone to see her uncle when they had arrived and had yet to appear again.

 

With everyone on the gondola focused on the on-going battle, no one noticed that the warden had managed to loosen his bonds. The old man jumped to his feet and pulled the tie from his mouth. Leaning from a window he called back at the guards.

“Cut the line!” Chit Sang knocked him unconscious but it was too late.

“He wants us to cut the line,” a guard said in disbelief, lowering his binoculars.

“But if we cut the line, there’s no way he’ll survive.”

“He knows that,” their superior said grimly and ordered for the gondola line to be stopped.

 

The teens lost their balance as the vehicle wobbled in place and Sokka nearly fell off before Zuko caught him. Ty Lee looked back at the prison.

“They’re about to cut the line!” she called alarmed. Azula looked up and took notice of another gondola approaching from the opposite direction.

“Then it’s time to leave,” she said, jumping to it, followed by Ty Lee. “Goodbye Zuko,” she called over her shoulder. Zuko, Sokka and Suki jumped back inside the gondola.

“They’re cutting the line. The gondola’s about to go!” Zuko explained grimly.

“I hope this thing floats.” Hakoda looked around at the metal surrounding them. This wouldn’t be pretty.
The line was cut almost halfway through when a barrage of stilettos pinned the guards away from it.

“What are you doing?” one of them asked confused the pale girl that had suddenly appeared on the courtyard. A pair of ferocious eyes met him.

“Saving my brother,” Lia, still in Mai’s form, answered before launching a new wave of weapons to the rest of the guards. Before more of them had a chance to attack her she rushed to the machine controlling the line and with a sharp kick she made it start again.

 

Back on the gondola everyone stumbled – Suki fell conveniently into Sokka’s arms – as the gondola started moving again. The Water Tribe teen looked out of the window.

“Who is that?” he asked confused. Zuko rushed to the window too and his eyes widened in shock as the pendant hidden under his clothes heated up a little.

“It’s Lia,” he explained shocked. Azula was sharing his sentiments as she stared at the girl she thought her friend.

“What is she doing?” she asked furiously. Next to her Ty Lee just shrugged. She knew that this girl wasn’t their friend. Her aura was far too bright to be Mai or any other human as a matter of fact.

 

The gondola came into a halt on the edge of the crater and everyone rushed outside.

“Sorry warden, your record is officially broken,” Hakoda called smugly at the man that was still out cold inside the gondola.

“Well, we made it out. Now what‌?” Zuko asked. Sokka stopped to think and noticed Zuko still staring at the Boiling Rock.

“Zuko, what are you doing‌?” he asked.

“My sister was on that island,” was all the answer he got.

“Yeah and she’s probably right behind us. So let’s not stop.” Sokka tried to make him snap out of it. The prince shook his head.

“What I mean is she must have come here somehow,” he explained and rushed to the other side of the cliff. “There!” he said pointing at a zeppelin that was docked near the shore. “That’s our way out of here.”
Back at the courtyard Lia had stopped fighting as soon as the gondola had reached safety and was now calmly facing Azula. Ty Lee was standing on the side, her eyes moving from one girl to the other nervously.

“Leave us,” Azula ordered the guards coldly. They were happy to obey. The killing intent was literally radiating from the princess. “I never expected this from you,” she addressed “Mai”. “The thing I don’t understand is why‌? Why would you do it‌? You know the consequences.” A bitterly smiling Lia suddenly took the place of Mai as she stared at the shocked girl coldly.

“I guess you just don’t know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love my brother more than I fear you,” she hissed the last word, addressing the presence that lurked inside the princess. Azula’s eyes widened in fury.

“No, you miscalculated! You should have feared me more!” she moved to firebend but before she or Lia had a chance to do anything Ty Lee attacked. She hit her friend and watched as she fell to the ground paralysed before turning to Lia.

“Please don’t her hurt her, Spirit!” she pleaded, standing in front of the fallen girl. Lia’s expression was unreadable for a few moments before she bowed her head.

“She should be thankful to have a friend like you,” she said softly before disappearing.

 

Their return to the Western Air Temple was by no means short of drama. Aang and Katara had nearly torn the zeppelin apart with their bending, before they noticed Lia flying next to it. Zuko and Sokka were the first to walk out.

“What are you doing in this thing‌? What happened to the war balloon‌?” Katara asked the two boys confused.

“It kind of got destroyed,” Zuko explained sheepishly.

“Sounds like a crazy fishing trip,” Aang said smiling.

“Did you at least get some good meat‌?” Toph asked eagerly. She was by no means whatsoever passing one more day on a fruit diet.

“I did,” Sokka said. “The best meat of all. The meat of friendship and fatherhood.” Suki, Hakoda and Chit Sang walked out of the zeppelin as well.

“I’m new. What’s up everybody‌?” Chit Sang asked, waving. Katara’s eyes widened.

“Dad!” she ran to her father elated.

“Hi, Katara,” the man said softly as the girl threw herself at him. The waterbender turned to her brother.

“How are you here?‌ What is going on?‌ Where did you go‌?” she asked in pleasant confusion.

“We… kind of went to a Fire Nation prison,” Sokka explained. Both he and Zuko were immediately tackled by Katara in a hug. Then Toph decided to break the moment.

“Seriously, you guys didn’t find any meat‌?” she asked exasperated. Lia and Aang laughed at that before the Fire Spirit walked up to the Water Tribe chief.

“Give him a chance,” she told the man looking at the still embracing Zuko and Katara. “He makes her happy and he truly loves her.”

The Fisherman and the Water Maiden (rewrite)

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Author’s note: I usually don’t post rewrites of pieces I have already uploaded, but I wasn’t happy with how it originally turned out, so here’s the edited version.

The fisherman and the water maiden

In a land not far from here, in a time not long ago, there lay a small village at the edge of the shore. Many of the men made a living out of fishing, leaving their wives and children before dawn and returning with the setting sun –or not at all. The shoreline near the village was treacherous, littered with sea caves and reefs, waiting to claim unsuspecting sailors. It was here, the stories said, that water maidens lived. It was rare one might see them, as it was said that they appeared only to those that made them curious. Nevertheless, people said they made excellent wives.

 

In the village lived a poor fisherman with his mother. The lad was reckless, as young people tend to be, and often brought his boat far closer to the rocky shore than most considered wise. One year, the young man was making the customary wine liberation ‘to appease the Old Man Sea’, as his elders taught, when a most unusual thing was caught in his net; a golden comb inlaid with pearls. The fisher threw the comb right back in the water, not wanting to face a water maiden’s wrath.

 

Little did he know that the comb belonged to one of the daughters of Old Man Sea himself, who had been drawn near by the unfamiliar sweet taste of wine in the water. The following dawn the fisherman returned to the same spot and cast his net once more when, out of the gleaming water, came the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her skin was pale as foam, her eyes were the gold of the sand on the shore and her hair the many blues of the ocean. Fascinated, he offered her some of the stone-baked bread that he had brought to lunch on. The maiden took one look at it and laughed, as tiny waves rocked the boat gently.

‘Your bread won’t do for me!’ she said. ‘It’s far too hard.’

Still laughing, she dived underwater and disappeared.

 

The fisherman returned home and that night and every night after his dreams were haunted by the water maiden’s laugh. Every morning he would return and cast his net on the same spot, hoping to catch another glimpse of her. At the end of the week his patience was rewarded. The mid-spring sun was burning overhead when, with a mischievous smile, the water maiden reappeared. This time the fisherman offered her unbaked dough, but the maiden shook her head and a cascade of pearls fell from her hair to the boat.

‘Your bread won’t do for me!’ she said. ‘It’s far too soft.’ With a wink she disappeared underwater again.

 

The lad returned to his mother with feverish eyes and a bag full of pearls instead of fish. One look at her son’s sorry state was all it took for the woman to understand the situation. Knowing this to be the sort of love-sickness that cannot be cured, she determined to help her son win the maiden. For the next few days she gave him half-baked bread to offer to his faery sweetheart. Indeed, in a week’s time, when the water maiden appeared to the fisherman with a smile, he offered her the loaf and, to his delight, she accepted it.

‘My name is Awel,’ she said softly before diving once more into the wine-coloured sea.

 

The fisherman almost jumped after her in his despair, but, before he could, the sea grew choppy and out of its depths appeared the Old Man himself, followed by twelve girls, all identical to Awel.

‘Choose wisely, young human,’ said the Old Man. ‘Pick the one you have been courting and you may take her and all that is hers to your land-bound house.’

The fisherman studied the twelve sisters carefully. They were all silent, all gazing at him with the same sweet-as-wine smile playing on their lips. And yet…near the middle of the line one of the maidens had breadcrumbs on her lips. The young man looked at her and said,

‘You are Awel.’

 

With sparkling eyes Awel stepped inside his boat, dressed in a bride’s white raiment.

‘Know this, young human,’ Old Man Sea said once the couple had settled on the boat. ‘My daughter shall be your wife and bring happiness and prosperity to your house. But take heed! Should you forget she is not bound by the rules of your world three times, she and all that is hers will leave you.’

The fisherman was so entranced by his bride-to-be that he eagerly promised to accept her in every way.

 

And so the fisherman brought the water maiden to his house and made her his wife. Awel was always cheerful and industrious, and the couple were happy together. True to the Old Man’s word, from that day on the fisherman prospered, his nets always full and his boat safe. Awel bore him three sons and three daughters and there was never shortage of laughter and merry-making at their house.

 

So happy was the fisherman, that he was willing to overlook some of his wife’s more… peculiar habits. She might like her fish raw but the food that she served on their table was always perfectly cooked. And if the children grew as wild as the seals at the sea caves, what did it matter? Everyone agreed that they took after their mother and he loved them just like that. Days turned to months, and month turned to years, and the fisherman counted himself the happiest man in his village. Then, one day, he returned to find the house empty of wife and children. Awel had a habit of taking the children to the sea, but she always brought them back before her husband returned. The fisherman didn’t have to wait long before his family walked through the front door, laughing and soaked to the bone. Torn between fondness and exasperation he chastised his wife for not having the house prepared for his return. Awel looked at her husband.

‘I cannot live all day by the hearth,’ she said. ‘Take care.’

 

The fisherman understood the warning and, loving his wife too much to lose her, paid extra care to avoid anything that might cause her departure. For a while all was well in his household once more. Then, after a terrible storm, news reached him that one of his closest friends had drowned. The entire village gathered to pay their respects to the man when, amongst the cries and tears, Awel’s lilting laugh was heard. Despite her years away from the sea, she still remembered the tricks her sisters and her would use to lure young men to their caves whenever they felt like taking a lover. The man might be lost but he was far from dead. The fisherman, hurt by his wife’s reaction, scolded her. Once more her laughter stopped and she looked at her husband with sad eyes.

‘I know of things you cannot know,’ she said. ‘Take great care.’

 

The third and final error came not long after the second. Awel’s eldest daughter had grown from a child to a maiden and, as maidens are bound to do, she fell in love with a young man. The wedding was swiftly arranged, but, amongst all merriment, Awel cried, knowing her daughter forever bound to land and forever out of her reach. Forgetting himself and not wanting to cause a scene, the fisherman insisted she stop crying on a happy occasion. Awel looked at him with tear-filled eyes.

‘Your rules do not bind me. Now my house and yours will forever be divided.’

 

A sound like a thunderclap shook the wedding hall to its foundations, a wild ocean gale followed it, and in its wake Awel and her five remaining children disappeared, taking with them the fisherman’s prosperity.

In which I climb my reference soapbox

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Lion King is a great movie, with cool characters, fun songs, gorgeous backgrounds and the Disney stamp of approval. It is also a movie that I have heard being compared to Hamlet one too many times. Do I agree with that? Well, would I be posting about it if I agreed? Lion King reminds me of a Shakespearean play, that is true. The play in question being Richard III. So am I right? Let’s see!

Lion King Hamlet Richard III
Dead king Yes Yes
Queen still living Yes Yes
Evil uncle Yes Yes
Comic relief duo Yes
Fight scene climax Yes Yes
Monologue with a skull Yes
Uncle attempts to kill nephew Yes
Brother killing brother (for throne) Yes Yes
Land going to hell Yes
Nephew killing uncle Yes
Uncle employing unsavoury characters Yes
Annoying satellite character to the king Yes Yes
Ghost(s) Yes Yes
Happy ending Yes…sorta
Total 10 11

So, there you have it! Lion King is more like Richard III than Hamlet and the numbers agree with my (not so) humble opinion… Hmmmm, maybe I should have added “snarky villain” on the list too…

What do you think?

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Boiling Rock (Part I)

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Author’s note: In which there is bromance, half-baked plans and unplanned reunions.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Boiling Rock (part I)***

It had taken a few days for Lia to completely calm down and stop flinching whenever anyone came near to her or Zuko, but in the meantime life moved on. Aang was having trouble with the basics of firebending, mainly because of his own reluctance, but both Zuko’s refusal to take “I can’t” as an excuse and Toph’s taunting kept him going. Sokka was the only one not to participate to the generally good mood at the Western Air Temple, something that puzzled his friends and sister to no end.

 

One night, nearly a week after the invasion, he was standing a little ways from the rest of the gang who were sitting around the fire. Zuko had offered to make tea for everyone, an offer that was met by surprise.

“No one can make tea like uncle,” he explained as he put the cups on a tray, “but hopefully I learned a thing or two.” He looked up to the others. “Would you like to hear uncle’s favourite tea joke‌?” he asked.

“Sure,” Katara shrugged.

“Yeah, I like jokes,” Aang added. Zuko passed out cups to Haru and the Duke.

“Well, I can’t remember how it starts but the punch line is, “Leaf me alone, I’m bushed.”” Everyone looked at him expectantly. Zuko blushed a little. “Well, it’s funnier when uncle tells it,” he muttered.

“Right. Maybe that’s because he remembers the whole thing,” Katara chuckled, taking a cup and kissing him lightly on the cheek. The whole group laughed at that.

“It’s nice to get a chance to relax a little. It hardly ever happens,” Toph said taking a sip from her cup. “Hey, that’s not half bad!” she exclaimed surprised. Sokka suddenly walked up to the others and patted Zuko on the shoulder.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second‌?” he asked sombrely.

 

Zuko followed him to the area where Appa was sleeping.

“So what’s up?” he asked, hiding his nervousness. Sokka had yet to send any death threats in his direction regarding Katara. The prince suspected that this had a lot to do with Lia’s still-prickly attitude.

“If someone was captured by the Fire Nation, where would they be taken‌?” Sokka asked seriously.

“What do you mean‌?” Zuko asked in alarm. “Who was captured‌?”

“When the invasion plan failed, some of our troops were taken. I just want to know where they might be.” Zuko’s eyes widened in realisation before he turned away.

“I can’t tell you,” he said grimly.

“What? Why not?”

“Trust me. Knowing would just make you feel worse,” Zuko insisted.

“It’s my dad. He was captured too. I need to know what I put him through.” Hearing Sokka’s determination Zuko closed his eyes.
“My guess is, they were taken to the Boiling Rock,” he said. Sokka looked at him confused.

“What’s that?”

“The highest security prison in the Fire Nation. It’s on an island in the middle of a boiling lake. It’s inescapable,” Zuko explained. Sokka’s eyes narrowed.

“So where is this place‌?” he asked.

“Why do you need to know‌?” Zuko looked at him suspiciously. “What are you planning?”

“Nothing! Boy, you’re so paranoid.” Sokka gave his best “who-me?” look.

“It’s in the middle of a volcano between here and the Fire Nation. You guys actually flew right past it on your way here,” Zuko explained warily.

“Thanks Zuko. Just knowing makes me feel better.” Sokka smiled at the older boy and turned to walk back to the fire.

“Yeah,” Zuko scoffed, “I’m sure it does.”

Later that night, long after everyone had fallen asleep in their rooms, a shadow sneaked back outside. Warily watching the shadows, Sokka tip-toed to Appa, a small bundle of things on his shoulder. His eyes widened when he saw someone already there.

“Not up to anything, huh‌?” Zuko asked, raising an eyebrow. Sokka let out a yelp and fell to the ground.

“Fine, you caught me. I’m gonna rescue my dad. You happy now‌?” he asked stubbornly. Zuko gave him a look but Sokka insisted. “Look, I have to do this. The invasion plan was my idea. It was my decision to stay when things were going wrong. It’s my mistake and it’s my job to fix it. I have to regain my honour. You can’t stop me Zuko.” Said boy had initially meant to knock some sense to his friend – quite literally – but something in Sokka’s words made him change his mind.

“You need to regain your honour?‌ Believe me, I get it. I’m going with you.” He announced.

“No. I have to do this alone.” Sokka climbed to the saddle determinedly. Was I really that stubborn? Zuko wondered.

“How are you going to get there‌? On Appa?‌ Last time I checked, prisons don’t have bison day cares,” he pointed out the most obvious flaw in Sokka’s plan. Sokka’s shoulders slumped. “We’ll take my war balloon,” Zuko concluded softly. With a sigh Sokka jumped down and followed the other boy the higher levels of the Temple.

 

The next morning Katara woke alone. Thinking that Zuko had woken up before she had, what with him being a firebender, she rolled over and walked at the “kitchen” area. The Duko was already there feeding Appa and Lia, Toph, Aang were just coming out of their rooms. The sound of paper being crumbled stole her attention and she looked down to see Momo clutching a paper in his sleep. She scooped it up and narrowed her eyes, trying to make out her brother’s unsightly handwriting.

“What does it say?” Toph asked curiously.

“Need meat. Gone fishing. Back in a few days. Sokka and Zuko,” she read out. Aang smiled brightly and turned to go back to his room to catch some more sleep. Katara’s voice stopped him to his tracks. “One more thing. Aang, practice your firebending while I’m gone. Do twenty sets of fire fists and ten hot squats every time you hear a badger frog croak. Zuko.” A frog was heard in the distance.

“Nobody else has homework,” Aang groaned but he walked off to do the exercises.

“So where do you think they actually went?” Toph asked. The two older girls shrugged.

“Don’t know,” Lia said as she started to walk away. “But I’m going to find out.”

 

As it was Sokka and Zuko were on their way to the Boiling Rock. Zuko had taken in it upon himself to up their speed with firebending, thankful for the silence. Sokka suddenly started to whistle, bored with the silence his co-traveler appreciated.

“What?” Zuko asked Sokka annoyed.

“What? Oh, I didn’t say anything. You know, a friend of mine actually designed these war balloons,” Sokka bragged with a smile.

“No kidding.” The Avatar and his friends might have met all kinds of weird people, but this seemed too farfetched to Zuko.

“Yup!” Sokka insisted. “A balloon. But for war.”

“There’s one thing my dad’s good at, it’s war,” Zuko muttered as he turned his attention to the tank again.

“Yeah, it seems to run in the family,” Sokka shrugged.

“Hey, hold on. Not everyone in my family is like that!” Zuko retorted annoyed.

“I know, I know, you’ve changed.”

“I meant my uncle. He was more of a father to me. And I really let him down,” Zuko explained, his eyes fixed on the fire. Sokka looked at him surprised.

“I think your uncle would be proud of you. Leaving your people to join us, that’s hard,” he said seriously. Zuko gave a bitter chuckle, remembering the events leading up to his joining the Avatar.

“It wasn’t that hard,” he said. Sokka looked at him in disbelief.
“Really‌? You didn’t leave behind anyone you cared about‌?” he asked. Zuko shook his head.

“I was only close to my mother and she is not there anymore. Lia knows where she is but now that everyone in the Fire Nation thinks I’m a traitor, it’s too dangerous to contact her. I couldn’t drag her into this.” Sokka bit his lips, trying to come up with something that would make Zuko feel better.

“My first girlfriend turned into the Moon,” he finally said, his thoughts drawn back to the beautiful princess of the Northern Water Tribe. Zuko winced.

“That’s rough buddy.”

 

Suddenly a cloud of mist appeared up ahead. Zuko squinted, trying to pierce through it to see what was before them. The blur of an enormous building appeared.

“There it is!” he called to Sokka. “There’s plenty of steam to keep us covered. As long as we’re quiet we should be able to navigate through it without being caught.” Famous last words… The balloon’s descent wasn’t noticeable at first but their speed rapidly increased. Zuko tried to gain control again.

“We’re going down. The balloon’s not working anymore!” he exclaimed in alarm. Sokka rushed to the side and looked around.

“The air outside is just as hot as the air inside so we can’t fly,” he realised.

“So what are we supposed to do‌?” Zuko asked, grabbing hold of one of the ropes for balance. Sokka shrugged.

“I don’t know. Crash landing‌?” A spray of boiling water splashed him and he bit his fist, trying not to scream from the pain. Thankfully, the balloon made it to the small island before crashing.
Shaking his head to rid it of the flying Momos, Zuko looked around exasperated.

“How are we gonna get off the island if the balloon won’t work‌?” he asked no one in particular. Sokka shrugged dismissively

“We’ll figure something out. I suspected it might be a one-way ticket.”

“You knew this would happen and you wanted to come anyway‌?” Zuko asked in disbelief.

“My dad might be here. I had to come and see,” Sokka insisted.

“Uncle always said I never thought things through, but this,” Zuko nearly banged his head on the basket of the balloon in frustration, “this is crazy!”

“Hey! I never wanted you to come along in the first place. And for the record, I always think things through. But my plans haven’t exactly worked, so this time I’m playing it by ear. So there,” Sokka retorted and went back to trying to push the broken balloon in the water. The now-burning metal scorched his hand and he started cursing before he kicked the balloon into the water.

“What are you doing‌?” Zuko asked him. Sokka’s action’s made even less sense than usual.

“It doesn’t work anyway. And we don’t want anyone to find it,” he explained. Zuko sighed.

“I hope you know what you’re doing. There’s no turning back now.”

 

It was easy to sneak inside the prison and hide in a storage room. Almost too easy Zuko, whose chronic bad luck on undercover missions had yet to appear, worried. They changed into guard uniforms, complete with helmets.

“Now we just need to lay low and find my dad as soon as possible,” Sokka summarized. Suddenly the corridor filled with guards. One of them turned and called the two astonished boys.

“Guards! There’s a scuffle in the yard, come on.” They hurriedly followed them, not wanting anyone to become suspicious. A guard there was bullying one of the prisoners, forcing him to firebend to protect himself. The guard shook his head in mock shame.

“Firebending is prohibited.” He smiled ominously. “You’re going in the Cooler.” He turned and pointed as Sokka. “You! Help me take him in.” The boy started and hurried there.

“Meet back here in an hour,” he hissed at Zuko before leaving.

 

The Cooler was a tube-like contraption sealed by two heavy doors. Sokka opened them and for a moment the temperature reminded him of a winter night back home. The guard pushed the prisoner into the compartment. Sokka couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the guy.

“The warden will deal with you soon.” He turned to Sokka exasperated. “Can you believe this guy‌?” Sokka smiled agreeably.

“Prisoners. Am I right‌?” he said in understanding.

“Ugh. Tell me about it,” the older man sighed.

 

A meeting with the warden later Sokka was able to sneak back out to the balcony overlooking the courtyard. Another guard was standing there alone, scanning the ground below him. Sokka walked up and leaned at the railing.

“Hey there, fellow guard. How goes it‌?” the other guard said. Relieved Sokka raised the visor of his helmet.

“Zuko? Great!” The firebender hurriedly shushed him.

“Listen, I asked around the lounge. There are no Water Tribe prisoners. I’m afraid your father’s not here,” he said disappointed. Sokka stared at him in shock.

“What?‌ Are you sure?‌ Did you double check‌?” he said desperately. Zuko nodded.

“I’m really sorry Sokka,” he said quietly.

“So we came all this way for nothing. I failed. Again.”  Zuko knew that he had to prevent the other boy from convincing himself that he was useless and he desperately searched for something to say. What would uncle say?

“Sometimes…” he began hesitantly, “clouds have two sides, a dark and light. And a silver lining in between. It’s like a silver sandwich. So when life seems hard take a bite out of the silver sandwich.” Sokka gave a small smile, looking down at the courtyard.

“Maybe we haven’t failed after all,” he said with new conviction.

“That’s the spirit! I can’t believe that worked. I didn’t even know what I was saying.” Sokka gave him a look.

“No, what you said made no sense at all. But look, it’s Suki!” he pointed at the girl sitting on a small boulder, a mad grin on his face.

 

The moment the prisoners were back in inside, Sokka rushed to his girlfriend’s cell. Zuko stood outside keeping an eye out for actual guards, a feeling of apprehension slowly growing. Suki looked up when the door of her cell opened, watching disinterestedly as a guard entered.

“What is it‌?” she snapped sitting up. “Did I do something wrong‌?” Sokka crossed his arms.

“You mean you don’t recognize me‌?” he said hurt.

“You people all look the same to me.” Suki turned to the other side.

“Oh. Then maybe you’ll recognize this.” Sokka leaned to kiss her but before he had a chance a punch landed on his stomach, sending him to crash on the door. The helmet fell to reveal a pair of startled blue eyes. Suki’s eyes widened in shock and happiness as she rushed to his side and pulled him to a hug.

“Sokka, it’s you!” He blushed a little before hugging her back.

“The other Kyoshi Warriors, are they here‌?” he asked urgently. Suki shook her head.
“No, I don’t know where they are. They locked me here because I’m the leader.”

“Well, you won’t be here for long, I’m busting you out,” her boyfriend said decisively. Suki leaned her head closer with tears of happiness in her eyes.

“I’m so glad to see you Sokka. I knew you’d come.”

 

Outside things weren’t going so well. Zuko looked up in alarm when a guard walked up to Suki’s cell.

“‘Scuse me, I need to get into that cell,” she said in a bored tone.

“No, you can’t go in there,” Zuko said, hurriedly looking for an excuse. “The lights are out… the prisoner could sneak up on you.”

“Step aside, fool.” The guard tried to push him to the side but Zuko grabbed her arm and slammed her to the wall. “Hey! Hey! What are you doing‌?” she said alarmed.
Inside the cell Sokka heard the commotion and put his helmet hurriedly back on. Sneaking out he saw the guard struggling to keep Zuko down. She saw him.
“Guard, help!” she called. “I think he’s an imposter! Arrest him!” Not knowing what else to do Sokka tackled Zuko to the ground crying:

“You’re under arrest!” Forcing his friend to his feet he leaned and whispered. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”

Zuko was led to a spacious cell that was probably reserved for interrogations. The door was left open but there were more than enough guards stationed outside.

“Well, well, well,” the oily voice of the warden was heard from the door. “I never thought I’d find you in here, prince Zuko.”

“How did you know who I am?” Zuko demanded. The warden looked at him in amusement.

“How could I not‌?” he asked. “I was there when you were banished.” Zuko looked up, his body tensing at the memory of the pain.

“You were there? And you think I was at fault?”

“Quiet!” the man snapped. “You’re my special prisoner now. And you best behave. If these criminals found out who you are, the traitor prince who let his nation down. Why, they’d tear you to shreds.”  The prince raised an eyebrow.

“So what’s in it for you‌? Why don’t you just tell my father and collect the reward?” he asked. The warden smiled darkly.

“Oh in due time believe me, I intend to collect,” he said before leaving.

 

When Sokka found Suki again it was during mop-duty. She was busy cleaning a remote area near a staircase with Zuko nearby.

“Oh, good. You guys have met up,” Sokka said satisfied.

“It wasn’t so hard to miss him,” Suki said wryly. Zuko caught the fleeting look at his scar.

“Nice to see you again too,” he said dryly. Sokka checked around before joining them in a quiet corner.

“So listen, I think I have an escape plan,” he began. “I checked out the Coolers again, the whole point of them is to keep firebenders contained right‌?”

“Yeah…” Zuko said, unsure where this was heading.

“So they’re completely insulated and sealed to keep the cold in. Well to keep the cold in it also has to keep the heat out, right‌?”

“Just get to the point Sokka,” Suki said impatiently.

“It’s a perfect boat for getting through the boiling water,” Sokka explained triumphantly.

“The cooler as a boat‌? Are you sure‌?” Zuko asked sceptically. His luck was beginning to take a turn for the worst by now.

“I’m telling you, it’ll work,” Sokka insisted. “I walked around the perimeter. There’s a blind spot between two guard towers. It’s the perfect launching point. I already tested it out. We’ll roll the cooler into the water and just float with the current. It’ll take us straight across. As long as we don’t make a sound, no one will notice. And bing, bang, boom we’re home free.”

“But how are you going to get the cooler out‌?” Suki wondered.

“Yeah,” a voice said from above. The all looked up sharply to see the prisoner from earlier. “How are you going to get the cooler out‌?”

 

The three teens all cursed inwardly. Despite their experience none of them had noticed the man, Chit Sang, creep up to them. Sokka panicked.

“What? We didn’t! We… We didn’t say that,” he stammered.

“Yeah, you heard wrong,” Zuko added in a calmer tone. Chit Sang raised an eyebrow.

“I heard you hatching an escape plan and I want in.”

“There’s nothing to get in on,” Zuko insisted firmly. It might have worked if Sokka hadn’t opened his mouth again.

“Yeah, the only thing we’re hatching is… an egg‌!” he said. Behind him Suki and Zuko facepalmed.

“Ok, well, I come with you or the warden hears about this egg too,” Chit Sang switched tactics. Suki sighed.

“I guess we have no choice,” Sokka nodded.

“Okay, you’re in. Now, first we need someone to unbolt the Cooler from the inside.” He handed a wrench to Zuko, who nodded in understanding and hid the tool in his pocket. Chit Sang smiled.

“Oh, I can get you inside,” he said.

Chit Sang’s plan was simply picking a fight with Zuko. Both of them had enough experience to make the fake brawl look believable. Prisoners gathered around them, coaxing them to continue. They heard Sokka call for more guards and Zuko took advantage of this to send a fiery kick under Chit Sang’s feet. Two guards grabbed a hold of him.

“No firebending. Into the cooler,” one of them said before dragging the prince away.

 

A few hours later Sokka walked to the unit and opened the door.

“I can take you back to your cell if you’ve learned your lesson,” he said indifferently, hiding his worry. Zuko lifted his head and let out the breath of fire he had been holding.

“Yes, I have. Completely,” he said. Sokka smiled in relief.

“I got Suki and Chit Sang out of their cells a few minutes ago. They’ll be waiting for us at the shore,” he explained in a low voice. Zuko’s head shot up and he dragged the other boy inside the Cooler.

“Someone’s coming,” he explained and they closed the door partially. A pair of guards passed by.

“Yeah, new arrivals coming in at dawn.”

“Anybody interesting‌?”

“Nah, just the usual. Some robbers, couple of traitors, some war prisoners. Though I did hear there might be a pirate.”

“No foolin’.”

 

Zuko looked at Sokka concerned.

“War prisoners. It could be your father,” Sokka looked away.

“I know”

“Well, what should we do‌?” Zuko asked. “Are we going ahead with the plan or are we waiting another night‌?”

“I don’t know,” Sokka looked torn. “Is it right for me to risk Suki’s freedom,‌ all of our freedom on the slim chance that my dad is gonna show up‌?”

“It’s your call Sokka,” Zuko said simply. He couldn’t and wouldn’t make the choice for his friend.
They were going to go ahead with it. Sokka had decided that it would be too risky to just leave the unbolted Cooler lying around. Of course sneaking the heavy thing out was harder than it looked. Both boys found themselves wishing Toph was there.

“Took you guys long enough,” Chit Sang hissed when they finally arrived at the meeting point. He showed them a guy and a young woman waiting a little ways. “This here’s my girl and my best buddy. They’re coming too,” he explained. Sokka sighed annoyed.

“Fine, everybody in the Cooler. Let’s go,” he said. Zuko looked at him uncertain as they pushed the Cooler near the boiling water.

“Are you sure you want to go‌?” he asked Sokka. “You’re the one who said you wanted to redeem yourself. Redeem your honour. Rescuing your dad is your chance.” Suki looked up sharply.

“Your dad‌?” she asked surprised.

“If I had just cut my losses at the invasion, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe sometimes it’s just better to call it quits before you fail,” Sokka said simply.

“No, it’s not,” Zuko said softly, causing Sokka’s movements to pause. “Look Sokka, you’re going to fail a lot before things work out.”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better‌?” Sokka asked annoyed.

“Even though you’ll probably fail over and over and over again…” Zuko continued.

“Seriously, not helping.”

“You have to try every time. You can’t quit because you’re afraid you might fail,” Zuko finished his sentence, a little annoyed at the constant interruptions.

“Hey!” Chit Sang suddenly called. “If you two are done cuddling, can we get a move on‌?”

“No, I’m staying,” Sokka said resolutely. He turned to Zuko and Suki. “You guys go. You’ve been here long enough,” he said specifically to Suki. She shook her head.

“I’m not leaving without you, Sokka.”

“I’m staying too,” Zuko placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Chit Sang rolled his eyes.

“Not me, I’m out. Let’s roll baby.” The teens watched as the Cooler-turned-boat sailed away.

“We gave up our only chance of escaping,” Sokka said quietly. “I hope we haven’t just made a huge mistake.”

 

They were climbing back to the prison when a pained yell tore throughout the air. Alarms started blaring and guards burst out of the building. In no time Chit Sang and his friends were back at the Boiling Rock. From above them they heard the warden yell.

“Get the fugitives and throw them in the Cooler!”

“Uh, they are in the Cooler sir,” a guard dared to say.

“One that’s bolted down and not floating in the water! This is a lockdown! We have new prisoners arriving! Everything must be completely secure!” the warden shouted, one step from having an aneurism.

 

Sokka’s eyes scanned the area when a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

“The gondola’s moving!” he whispered. Three pairs of eyes were glued on the slowly moving vehicle, scanning the shadows inside. “If my dad’s not there, we risked everything for nothing.” He said gravely. Suki placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We had to,” she said softly. He gave her a small smile before turning his eyes to the gondola again.

“Come on, come on…” Sokka whispered urgently. A big burly man came out on the courtyard.

“Is that him‌?” Suki asked. Sokka gave her an incredulous look.

“My dad doesn’t have a nose ring!” he exclaimed incredulously. He turned back, searching the faces of the prisoners for his father. “Where is he‌?” The last man came out. “That’s it‌? That can’t be it.”

“I’m sorry Sokka,” Suki said softly. Her boyfriend let his head hang in disappointment when one of the guards called.

“Hey you, get off!” he called to someone inside the gondola. Sokka’s eyes widened as the last man came into the light.

“Dad.”

The fisherman and the water maiden

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In a land not far from here, in a time not long ago, there lay a small village at the edge of the shore. Many of the men made a living out of fishing, leaving their wives and children before dawn and returning with the setting sun –or not at all-. The shoreline near the village was treacherous, littered with sea caves and underwater reefs, just waiting to drown an unsuspecting sailor.

 

It was perhaps because of that, that the sailors often returned with stories of the water maidens, beautiful blond women whose songs were what caused the drownings. Despite their lethal reputation they were thought to make excellent wives for those cunning enough to entice them to the shore. In fact, many of the older families in the area boasted of having a water maiden as an ancestress.

 

Now, in the village lived a poor young fisherman with his mother. The lad was reckless, as young people tend to be, and often brought his boat far closer to the rocky shore than what most might consider prudent. One year the young man was making the customary wine liberation “to appease the Old Man Sea”, as his elders said, when a most unusual thing was caught in his net; a golden comb inlaid with pearls. The fisher knew if the stories, so he threw the comb right back in the water, not particularly wanting to be at the receiving end of a water maiden’s wrath.

 

Little did he know that the comb belonged to one of the daughters of Old Man Sea himself, who, having never tasted wine before, had been drawn near the boat by the unfamiliar sweet taste overpowering that of the salt in the water. The dawn the fisherman returned to the same spot and cast his net once more. The newly-risen sun painted the water gold and out of it came the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her skin was pale as foam, her eyes were the blue of the deep ocean and her hair the gold of the sand on the shore. Remembering the stories he had heard, he offered her some of the stone-baked bread that he had brought to lunch on. The maiden took one look at it and laughed, as tiny waves rocked the boat gently.

“Your bread won’t do for me!” she said. “It’s too hard.”

With one last laugh she dived underwater and disappeared.

 

The fisherman returned home and that night and every night after his dreams were haunted by the water maiden’s laugh. Every morning he would return and cast his net on the same spot, hoping to catch another glimpse of her. One week later his patience was rewarded. The mid-spring sun was burning overhead when, with a mischievous smile, the water maiden reappeared. This time the fisherman offered her unbaked dough, but the maiden shook her head and a cascade of pearls fell from her hair to the boat.

“Your bread won’t do for me!” she said. “It’s far too soft.” With one last wink she disappeared underwater once more.

 

The lad returned to his mother with feverish eyes and a bag full of pearls instead of fish. One look at her son’s sorry state was all it took for the woman to understand the situation. Knowing that this was the sort of love-sickness that cannot be cured, she set off to help her son win the maiden. For the next few days she gave him half-baked bread with the instruction to offer that to his fey sweetheart. Indeed, in a week’s time, when the water maiden appeared to the fisherman with a shy smile, he offered her the loaf and –to his delight- she accepted it.

“My name is Awel,” she said softly before diving once more to the wine-coloured sea.

 

The fisherman almost jumped after her in his despair, but before he could the sea grew choppy and out of its depths appeared the Old Man himself, followed by twelve girls, all identical to Awel.

“Choose wisely young human,” said the Old Man. “Pick the one you have been courting and you may take her and all that is hers to your land-bound house.”

 

The fisherman studied the twelve sisters carefully. They were all silent, all gazing at him with the same sweet-as-wine smile playing on their lips. And yet…near the middle of the line one of the maidens had breadcrumbs on her lips. The young man looked at her in the eyes and said,

“You are Awel.”

 

With sparkling eyes Awel stepped inside his boat, dressed in a bride’s white raiment.

“Know this young human,” Old Man Sea said once the couple had settled on the boat, “my daughter shall be your wife and bring happiness and prosperity to your house. But take heed! If you strike her unnecessarily three times she, and all she has brought, will leave you.”

The fisherman was so entranced by his bride-to-be that he eagerly promised never to lay a hand on her for anything other than a caress.

 

And so the young human brought the water maiden to his house and made her his wife. Awel was always cheerful and industrious, and the couple were happy together. True to the Old Man’s word, from that day on the fisherman prospered, his nets always full and his boat safe, no matter how treacherous the water he treaded. Awel bore him three sons and three daughters and there was never shortage of laughter and merry-making at their house.

 

So happy was the fisherman, that he was willing to overlook some of his wife’s more… peculiar habits. She might like her fish raw but the food that she served on their table was always perfectly cooked. So what if the floor of their house was never quite dry? They lived close to the shore, some damp was inevitable. So what if the children grew as wild as the seals at the sea caves? There were six of them and born as closely as they were, there was always a baby to focus on.

 

Life was as perfect as could be for the fisherman until, one day, he returned to find the house empty of wife and children. Awel had a habit of taking the children to the sea, but she always brought them back before her husband returned. The fisherman didn’t have to wait long before his family walked through the front door, laughing and soaked to the bone. Torn between fondness and exasperation he lightly pulled his wife through the door. All laughter immediately stopped. Awel looked at her husband.

“This was the first strike,” she said. “Take care.”

 

The fisherman loved his wife and had no intention of losing her. For the longest time he paid extra care, fearful that he might forget himself and bring her closer to her departure. Alas the day he feared came sooner than he thought. After a particularly nasty storm, news reached him that one of his closest friends had drowned. The entire village gathered to pay their respects to the unfortunate man when, amongst the cries and tears, Awel’s lilting laugh was heard. Despite her years away from the sea, she still remembered the tricks her sisters and her would use to lure young men to their caves whenever they felt like taking a lover. The fisherman, embarrassed by his wife’s reaction and not privy to her knowledge, lightly rapped her hand. Once more her laughter stopped and she looked at her husband with sad eyes.

“This was the second strike,” she said. “Take great care.”

 

The third and final strike came not long after the second. Awel’s eldest daughter had grown from a child to a maid and, as maids are bound to do, she fell in love with a young man from their village. The wedding was swiftly arranged, but, amongst all merriment, Awel cried knowing her daughter forever locked in the land and forever out of her reach. Forgetting himself and not wanting to cause a scene, the fisherman lightly struck her hand once more. Awel looked at him with tear-filled eyes.

“This was the third strike. Now my house and yours will forever be divided.”

 

A sound like a thunderclap shook the wedding hall to its foundations, a wild ocean gale followed it, and in its wake Awel and her five remaining children disappeared, taking with them the fisherman’s preternatural luck.