Monthly Archives: June 2015

In which romance is not all it’s cracked up to be

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Romance is supposed to be one of the more straightforward messes a person can and will (inevitably) find themselves in. One meets another, sparks fly, hijinks ensue, yada-yada-yada, happy ending (hopefully). Sounds pretty simple, right? No! So much so that this lovely gentleman, Andreas Capellanus, felt the need to set a list of rules regarding romantic love and its expression in his book, De Amore. Here’s a translation I managed to find:

 

  1. Marriage should not be a deterrent to love.

Since this comes from an era when marriage and love are not mutually inclusive…

 

  1. Love cannot exist in the individual who cannot be jealous.

Love = Trusting your partner? Nooooo!!!!!!! Othello had it right!

 

  1. A double love cannot obligate an individual.

What is that even supposed to mean? Don’t cheat on your lover?

 

  1. Love constantly waxes and wanes.

It’s perfectly normal to give your other half the Scottish shower treatment. Just don’t be surprised when they dump you.

 

  1. That which is not given freely by the object of one’s love loses its savor.

-insert innuendo and undue giggling here-

 

  1. It is necessary for a male to reach the age of maturity in order to love.

And this being the middle ages, I’d estimate “maturity” means around 16 years. Mid-to-late teens? Sounds about right.

 

  1. A lover must observe a two-year widowhood after his beloved’s death.

Not a day more or less!

 

  1. Only the most urgent circumstances should deprive one of love.

But…but…but…rule 4 said….

 

  1. Only the insistence of love can motivate one to love.

Ah…that innocent age before restraining orders….

 

  1. Love cannot coexist with avarice.

Jealousy is just fine though!

 

  1. A lover should not love anyone who would be an embarrassing marriage choice.

Well, that’s pretty restricting, isn’t it? Is the party line “Kind of star-crossed lovers” instead of “star-crossed lovers”? Because it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

 

  1. True love excludes all from its embrace but the beloved.

Especially that unlucky person you are married to… Although that MIGHT explain why in most later tales Arthur has no children.

 

  1. Public revelation of love is deadly to love in most instances.

“I’m not ashamed of what we have honey! I just don’t want your husband to run me through!”

 

  1. The value of love is commensurate with its difficulty of attainment.

Going back to my point about restraining orders…

 

  1. The presence of one’s beloved causes palpitation of the heart.

Psychic link joke in 3…2…1…

 

  1. The sight of one’s beloved causes palpitations of the heart.

So does the sight of needles or spiders for some people. I always assumed it had something to do with fear…

 

  1. A new love brings an old one to a finish.

Unfortunately not always as Elaine of Astolat learned…

 

  1. Good character is the one real requirement for worthiness of love.

What about that social standing you harping about in rule 11?

 

  1. When love grows faint its demise is usually certain.

Rule 4! Rule 4, bog-dammit!

 

  1. Apprehension is the constant companion of true love.

Especially when you sleep with your employer’s wife, coughLancelotcough…

 

  1. Love is reinforced by jealousy.

In case you missed the point in rule 2.

 

  1. Suspicion of the beloved generates jealousy and therefore intensifies love.

Also tragically murderous or murderously tragic scenes.

 

  1. Eating and sleeping diminish greatly when one is aggravated by love.

In the middle ages the way to a man’s heart was, in fact, not through his stomach.

 

  1. The lover’s every deed is performed with the thought of his beloved in mind.

Every deed?

 

  1. Unless it please his beloved, no act or thought is worthy to the lover.

That’s pretty all-encompassing. What if she’s allergic to peanuts and he loves peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast?

 

  1. Love is powerless to hold anything from love.

Then why is that every other dramatic love confession goes along the lines of: “I can no longer hide my love from you”?

 

  1. There is no such thing as too much of the pleasure of one’s beloved.

Second round of innuendos in 3…2…1…

 

  1. Presumption on the part of the beloved causes suspicion in the lover.

What’s that even supposed to mean?

 

  1. Aggravation of excessive passion does not usually afflict the true lover.

Two rules above: “no such thing as too much pleasure”. Also RULE 4. I think these count as passions!

 

  1. Thought of the beloved never leaves the true lover.

Until they find a new love or the two years of widowhood pass at least….

 

  1. Two men may love one woman or two women one man.

I feel like I should be making a rule 34 joke here….

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Into the Inferno

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Author’s note: In which there are epic battles all over the place but the author focuses on the epic-est (and no, it’s not Aang’s) and the chapter ends on a cliffhanger just because.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Into the Inferno***

Zuko and Katara flew Appa in tense silence. The prince was staring straight at the horizon, which had turned a bloody red, signalling the comet’s arrival. Next to him, Katara searched his face worriedly as his frown deepened.

“Zuko, don’t worry. We can take Azula,” she said soothingly. Her boyfriend shook his head.

“I’m not worried about her, I’m worried about Aang. What if he doesn’t have the guts to take out my father? ‌ What if he loses‌?” he asked pessimistically.

“Aang won’t lose. He’s gonna come back. He has to.” The last part was said more to herself than to the firebender next to her. Katara couldn’t help feeling a little doubtful herself.

 

Back in Ba Sing Se, Lia felt the arrival of the comet like a gasp of fresh air. She gave the men lined up next to her a quick once-over and saw the two firebenders standing a little straighter despite their age.

“Ba Sing Se, the Order of the White Lotus is here,” Bumi said, unusually serious.

“Here to set you free,” Pakku added solemnly. Iroh took a step forward.

“Only once every hundred years can a firebender experience this kind of power,” he mused, taking a deep breath. He took several more deep breaths, a ring of fire surrounding them, the flames dancing in tune with his heartbeat. Abruptly he gathered them in an enormous ball of fire and thrust it in the direction of the city. The blast demolished part of the wall and the five Masters, plus the Spirit, charged forward. The rest of the Order quickly followed its leaders.

 

Pakku was the first to attack, pulling water from a nearby stream, with Piandao following closely behind, taking care of any soldiers that the master waterbnder’s tidal wave missed. Jeong Jeong had positioned himself on a crossroad in a different section of the city and created his signature walls of fire, melting the tanks that came against him. The rest of the Order was fighting soldiers spread all over the city. From Lia the only thing that could be seen was a blur and a faint smell of smoke that seemed to linger wherever she passed as she raced through the city, knocking soldiers out, melting tanks and generally having the time of her life.

 

Compared to the chaos that reigned in Ba Sing Se, Sozin was draped in an almost oppressive silence. At the ceremonial staircase in front of the palace Azula was kneeling, preparing for her coronation. She was dressed in the heavy robe tradition dictated but her usually impeccable topknot was a tangled mess. Pale faced and tense she was far cry from her usual perfect self. The head Sage took the Fire Lord diadem and stood behind her.

“By decree of Phoenix King Ozai, I now crown you Fire Lord…” he paused when he heard a strange noise and looked up. Azula turned to him annoyed.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Do it!” But then she heard it to, the groan of an air bison. Snapping her head forward she saw Appa landing at the side of the courtyard and her brother and the Water Tribe girl jumping down.

“Sorry, but you’re not going to become Fire Lord today. I am.” Zuko took a step forward confidently. Azula couldn’t mute the slightly crazed edge to her laughter.

“You’re hilarious,” she said. Katara walked next to Zuko and glared at the princess.

“And you’re going down,” said the waterbender. The Sage made a motion to crown Azula but she stopped him. Standing up, she smiled maliciously at her brother.

“Wait. You want to be Fire Lord? ‌ Fine. Let’s settle this. Just you and me, brother. The showdown that was always meant to be. Agni Kai!” Zuko’s eyes narrowed at her words but she didn’t notice, not any more than she noticed the soft voice that had been whispering to her since her grandfather had died.

“You’re on,” came the answer.

 

Katara’s eyes widened in alarm when she heard the dare and Zuko’s answer.

“What are you doing‌?” she hissed concerned. “She’s playing you. She knows she can’t take us both so she is trying to separate us.” Zuko nodded in agreement.

“I know. But I can take her this time.”

“But even you admitted to your uncle that you would need help facing Azula.”

“There’s something off about her, I can’t explain it but she’s slipping. Remember what Lia told us? Perhaps she’s fighting against his influence.” He looked at her with a softer look. “And this way, no one else has to get hurt.” Katara tightened her lips but nodded in resignation. She should have known that Zuko wouldn’t risk her safety. She would have done the same.
The Fire Sages retreated and the two siblings took their positions at opposite sides of the courtyard. Azula turned and shrugged the Fire Lord’s robes off her shoulders.

“I’m sorry it has to end this way, brother,” she said the last word venomously. Zuko slid into his stance.

“No, you’re not,” he answered simply. Azula’s smile was chilling as she attacked him first. With the comet over them they were both at their most powerful. Zuko brought his arms up and blocked, using his own scarlet fire to block Azula’s blue flames. Before the fire had a chance to die Azula attacked again, propelling herself forward and shooting another jet of fire. Zuko blocked again, never attacking himself, intent on tiring his sister out.

 

As the flames weakened he was vaguely aware of some of the buildings around them catching fire but he was focused solely on Azula’s blue flames. They collided with his own red ones for a moment before rushing towards him. Zuko used one hand to guard himself while he sent his own stream of fire at his sister. The battle came to a standstill, until Azula noticed the damage done on her side of the courtyard and charged at her brother furiously. Zuko surrounded himself in flames, drawing on the tricks he learned from his lessons with Lia and forcing Azula to back down. She was breathing hard now and looked at her older brother, scared for the first time. Gritting her teeth she stood up again to face the two fireballs that came in her direction. Azula was sent flying to the ground.

 

She forced herself to her feet, her hair falling unevenly across her face as she glared at her brother, who stood straight-backed, barely ruffled.

“No lightning today‌?” Zuko taunted. “What’s the matter‌? Afraid I’ll re-direct it‌?” Azula jumped to her feet.

“Oh, I’LL SHOW YOU LIGHTNING!” she yelled, beginning the familiar movements she’d taught herself. Lightning crackled around her and her eyes narrowed at her brother before a movement caught her attention. Katara had stepped away from the protection of the pillars and stood wide open for an attack. Azula found herself knowing that this would hurt her brother more than anything she could do to him personally. With a smirk, she let the lightening loose in the waterbender’s direction.

 

Zuko followed its graceful arc, his eyes widening in horror. Katara’s face was frozen in fear as she watched her death come to her. Without thinking, Zuko threw himself between the blast and the waterbender. His arms struggled to redirect the electricity out of his body but he wasn’t focused enough and some of it passed through his heart. He fell to the ground twitching in pain as the last bit of lightening left his body. Katara seemed to be brought back to life by his pained cry.

“Zuko!” she cried, coating her hands in water, her only thought to heal him before it was too late. Nobody noticed Azula freeze when her lightning connected with her brother, nor when she fell to the ground, clutching her head in an attempt to make the voice quiet down as the reality of what she had just done hit her.

Strawberry Moon

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It hums in my blood; the moon’s sudden madness,

Long before the bloodied sun has ever set.

Around me the people, they all can feel it,

And speak a bit louder, laugh a bit stronger,

And their movements, their movements are a dance.

 

The strawberry moon hums in my blood

And gladly I obey its calling.

Wrapping myself in a plethora of flowery sink,

Pinning a rose in my hair and crescent on my neck.

Tonight I shall be daring, shall not hide or blush;

I’m of the moon’s touched tonight.

 

I’ll swing my hips to the sound of drums

And lay against the sun-baked stones.

Long after Selena takes to sky,

I’ll draw the cards – to read under her light

What may or may not, what friends

And lovers and even foes

The summer tide will bear me;

All under the gaze of the strawberry moon.

In which Mordred is really not a bad guy….

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In case there is anyone left who has missed the memo: I prefer villains and anti-heroes to straight-cut heroes. I’ve always found them so much more interesting, even if they sometimes are saddled with a “just because” motivation. And that is way it’s always bugged me that Mordred is evil just because he is. Sure, we needed a formidable enough enemy for Mr I-Kill-Giants-In-My-Free-Time but surely there had to be more in the story. I may love medieval literature but it cannot be denied that when it comes to complex motives and conflicting loyalties, well, unless it’s a love story, they kind of are ignored in favour of a more standardised Good vs. Evil plot.

 

tumblr_mbik3r0mUP1qbq8v8 And then I read the Alliterative Morte Arthure. And suddenly this guyis not the root of all evil. If anything,  when Arthur makes him Regent he respectfully declines. Truly the sign of a power-hungry usurper. It’s a  small thing, but Mordred has a surprisingly small number of lined dedicated to him and his sub-plot. What  is more, he expresses genuine regret towards the death of his brother, without the melodramatics that  Arthur deems necessary. Call me insensitive, but if you’re in the middle of a civil war and practically a  sitting duck, then you’ll refrain from ad-libbing a eulogy until you are safely on the throne again. Geez, no  wonder Guinevere couldn’t stand the guy!

 

Also, might I point out that in every account of the Morte Artu episode I have come across (that was composed before the 1900s), Mordred is crowned king by popular demand?  To paraphrase a line from the text itself, the people preferred him to Arthur because with him they had peace and prosperity but with his father they only had wars. And wars might be all well and good when you have 60kg of armour protecting you, but not when your only weapon is a sharp stick because you couldn’t afford anything else. Also, considering that “the people” are the ones making sure the nobles have food on their tables, I think Mordred had appealed to the right demographic.

 

Whether you choose to follow the Morte Arthure as cannon or pick another strand of the tradition, the point remains. All versions of the episode agree that Mordred was trusted by both Arthur and the court, hence the regency. I just think there must be something more to the story, something that was brushed aside in order to draw clearer moral lines.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Old Masters

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Author’s note: In which all those weird old guys we’ve met and liked so far are back, there are strategies discussed and the final battle is due to begin.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Old Masters***

Sokka’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Hey, I remember her. She helped you attack us!” he told Zuko accusingly. The prince shrugged and walked in, pulling Katara close to him in the process.

“Yup, back in the good old days,” he told Sokka over his shoulder. Sokka frowned at the comment and Zuko’s hand around Katara’s waist, but noticing some of the looks Suki was getting he hurried to do the same. Toph was too young to be noticed and Lia was doing an excellent job of death glaring anyone that looked at her direction. June noticed their approach.

“Oh great, it’s prince Pouty,” she sighed. “Where’s your creepy grandpa‌?”

“He’s my uncle, and he’s not here,” Zuko corrected him. June noticed the closeness between him and the waterbender and smirked.
“I see you worked things out with your girlfriend.”  The two teens blushed, remembering that particular encounter while Lia snickered in the background. “So what do you want?” the bounty hunter asked.

“I need your help finding the Avatar,” Zuko explained. June shrugged indifferently.

“Doesn’t sound too fun.” Zuko felt his temper flare. He slammed his hands on the table.

“Does the end of the world sound like more fun‌?” he yelled.

 

With a sigh, and a wish to be left in peace, June followed them outside. They found Appa ready to pick a fight with the shirshu.

“Nyla…” June called her pet, holding up a piece of meat. She scratched Nyla’s nose affectionately. “Who’s my little snuffly-wuffly… Whoa! Careful there!” she stepped back when Nyla made a move to let out its tongue. She turned to the teens. “Okay, who’s got something with the Avatar’s scent on it?” Katara climbed on the saddle.

“I have Aang’s staff.” She offered it to June who placed it in front of Nyla’s nose. The shirshu took a sniff and started walking around, trying to catch the scent. After a few moments it slumped to the ground and covered its nose with its paws.

“Well, what does that mean‌?” Zuko asked impatiently.

“It means your friend’s gone,” June answered, petting Nyla. Toph rolled her eyes.

“We know he’s gone, that’s why we’re trying to find him.” The bounty hunter shook her head.

“No, I mean he’s gone, gone. He doesn’t exist.” Frozen silence met the statement.

“What do you mean Aang doesn’t exist‌?” Sokka finally asked exasperated. “Do you mean he’s… you know, dead‌?” June shook her head carelessly.

“Nope, we could find him if he were dead. Ah, a real head scratcher. See ya.” She turned and mounted on Nyla.

“Helpful, real helpful,” Toph drawled. Zuko ignored her as he raced back to the saddle.

“Wait,” he called over his shoulder, digging through his pack. “There’s only one other person in this world who can help us face the Fire Lord.” He brought out an old, really smelly sandal.

“You saved your uncle’s sweaty sandal‌?” Sokka asked incredulously. Lia smirked.

“I think it’s kind of sweet,” she said her voice tight from holding her breath.

“Let’s do this.” June took the reins of Nyla and rushed towards the forest as the gaang rushed on Appa and after her.
They rushed through the Earth Kingdom, stopping at the outer wall of a very familiar city.

“We’re going to Ba Sing Se‌?” Zuko wondered out loud surprised.

“Your uncle’s somewhere beyond the wall,” June explained. “Nyla’s getting twitchy so he can’t be too far. Good luck.” She took off again. Zuko sighed tiredly and turned to the others.

“It’s been a long day. Let’s camp and start our search again at dawn.”

 

Lia opted to stand watch, too tense to sleep. Not feeling any threatening presences nearby, she let her eyes wander over their camp. Zuko and Katara were asleep holding each other while Sokka and Suki slept next to each other a little further away. Toph had made her customary earth tent. Suddenly the Spirit felt four presences approaching. She made a protective ring of fire around them at the same moment Toph woke up, waking everyone else in the process. Four men in white and blue robes walked out of the ruins of the wall. Sokka’s and Katara’s faces lit up in recognition.

“Well, look who’s here,” one of the men cackled giddily. Suki, Toph and Zuko looked at the Water siblings questionably.

“What’s going on‌?” Toph asked confused as Lia let her fire die. “We’re surrounded by old people.”

“Not just any old people. These are great masters and friends of ours,” Katara explained, bowing in front of one. “Pakku.” The old waterbender bowed back.

“It is respectful to bow to an old master but how about a hug for your new grandfather?” he asked opening his arms. Katara rushed to him, smiling happily while Sokka’s jaw hit the ground.

“That’s so exciting. You and Gran Gran must be so happy to have found each other again,” Katara said excitedly.

“I made her a new betrothal necklace and everything,” Pakku said before he was tackled by Sokka’s hug.

“Welcome to the family Great Gramp!”

“You can still just call me Pakku,” the man said dryly.

“How about Grand Pakku‌?” Sokka offered.

“No.”

 

Katara moved on hurriedly.

“And this was Aang’s first firebending teacher,” she explained. Zuko bowed respectfully to the man and he bowed back but before he had a chance to introduce himself, Lia materialized at her brother’s side. The man’s eyes widened.

“Well, if it isn’t my old flame…” she said playfully. “Glad to see you again Jeong Jeong.

“Lia,” the firebender said with the smallest hint of a smile, ignoring his companions’ looks of astonishment and disbelief. “Still as mesmerizing as ever.” She smiled back.

“Coming from any other man, I would have taken this as a compliment.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek before stepping back to stand next to Toph.

 

Sokka had walked over to Piandao, decidedly ignoring how weirded out he had been.

“Master Piandao,” he greeted bowing. The sword master bowed back.

“Hello, Sokka,” he said cheerfully.

“So wait, how do you all know each other‌?” Suki asked confused.

“All old people know each other, don’t you know that‌?” the crazed man, called Bumi, said cheerfully.

“We’re all part of the same ancient secret society. A group that transcends the divisions of the four nations,” Piandao explained more rationally. Zuko shook his head in understanding.

“The Order of the White Lotus.”

“That’s the one,” Bumi jumped in.

“The White Lotus has always been about philosophy, and beauty and truth. About a month ago, a call went out that we were needed for something important,” Jeong Jeong explained.

“It came from a Grand Lotus, your uncle, Iroh of the Fire Nation,” Pakku explained, addressing Zuko.

“Well that’s who we’re looking for,” Toph said, bored with the long winded introduction.

“Then we’ll take you to him,” Piandao said decisively.

“Wait!” Bumi explained looking around. “Someone’s missing from your group. Someone very important. Where’s Momo‌?” he asked Sokka.

“He’s gone. And so is Aang,” Sokka said taking a step back to put some space between them. Bumi shrugged.

“Oh well, so long as they have each other I’m sure we have nothing to worry about. Let’s go.”

 

They had been walking in silence for about ten minutes when a sudden shout made everyone jump.

“FOR THE LOVE OF THE SUN AND THE MOON ZUKO!” Lia huffed. “It was just harmless flirting! Besides, you weren’t even born then!” she stormed away from her brother. Sokka turned awkwardly to Bumi.

“So Bumi, how did you end up escaping your imprisonment in Omashu‌?” he asked.

“Escape‌?” the king said, bending his head to look at the teens behind him. “I didn’t escape, everybody else escaped. There I was, back in Omashu, waiting for just the right moment. I didn’t know what or when but I knew I’d know it when I knew it.” He went on to describe how he had used the eclipse to kick the Fire Nation soldiers out of his city.

“Wow, you took back your whole city all by yourself,” Suki said amazed in the end.

“So what about you guys? ‌ Did you do anything interesting on the day of the eclipse‌?” Bumi asked interested. Sokka and Zuko exchanged a look. Memories of the failed invasion passed through their heads.

“Nah!”

“No, not really.”
They had reached the inner wall were the White Lotus has set their camp.

“Well, here we are,” Bumi walked into the camp. “Welcome to old people camp.” Zuko looked around nervously.

“Where… where is he‌?” he asked.

“Your uncle’s in there, prince Zuko,” Piandao said, pointing at a far off tent. It crossed everyone’s mind how strange it was to hear Zuko being addressed with his title again.

 

Zuko walked up the tent but hesitated before going in. With a sigh he slumped to the ground.

“Are you okay‌?” Katara asked concerned, walking to his side.

“No, I’m not okay. My uncle hates me, I know it. He loved me and supported me in every way he could and I still abandoned him. How can I even face him?” Zuko asked, looking at her desperately. Katara sighed and took his hand.

“Zuko it wasn’t your fault. And even if it was, you’re sorry it happened, right?”

“More sorry than I’ve been about anything in my entire life.”

“Then he’ll forgive you. He will.” She kissed him lightly before walking back to where the rest of the gang was setting up their tents.
Taking a deep breath Zuko walked into the tent.

“Uncle?” he called quietly, to be greeted with a loud snore. Smiling lightly he sat next to Iroh’s sleeping mat, waiting for the old man to wake up. At dawn Iroh stirred and paused when he felt another presence on the room.

“Uncle, I know you must have mixed feelings about seeing me,” Zuko began hesitantly. No matter what Lia and Katara said he couldn’t help but feel that he was to blame for his uncle’s capture. “But I want you to know, I’m so so sorry, uncle,” he continued, his voice cracking as he tried to not cry. “I’m so sorry that I left you back there. I don’t know how I can ever make it up to you but I’ll…” he was cut off by Iroh’s embrace. His eyes widened in amazement. “How can you forgive me so easily‌? I thought you would be furious with me,” he said in disbelief.

“I was never angry with you. I was sad because I didn’t know what had become of you,” Iroh said without pulling away from his nephew.

“I taught Aang,” Zuko said simply. Iroh’s smile widened.

“I’ve heard so,” he said pulling back to look at his nephew’s face. “I am very proud of you. And I am so happy you found your way here.”
As soon as they walked out of the tent Lia and Toph rushed to hug Iroh, glad to see him again. They settled for breakfast and began filling Iroh in on their latest adventures. The subject eventually turned to Aang’s disappearance.

“Uncle, you’re the only person other than the Avatar who can possibly defeat the Father Lord,” Zuko said. Lia giggled at his mistake.

“You mean the Fire Lord?” she asked.

“That’s what I just said,” he snapped at her. Iroh looked thoughtful. “We need you to come with us,” Zuko insisted, turning back at him.

“No, Zuko. It won’t turn out well,” he finally said.

“You can beat him and we’ll be there to help,” his nephew insisted.

“Even if I did defeat Ozai, and I don’t know that I could, it will be the wrong way to end the war. History would see it as just more senseless violence, a brother killing a brother to grab power. The only way for this war to end peacefully is for the Avatar to defeat the Fire Lord,” Iroh explained.

“And then… then would you come and take your rightful place on the throne‌?” Zuko asked. Iroh shook his head.

“No. Someone new must take the throne. An idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honour. It has to be you, prince Zuko.” The boy’s eyes widened.

“Unquestionable honour?‌ But I’ve made so many mistakes.”

“Yes, you have,” Iroh said gently. “You struggled, you suffered but you have always followed your own path, you restored your own honour. And only you can restore the honour of the Fire Nation.” Zuko looked resolute.

“I’ll try, uncle.”

“Well, what if Aang doesn’t come back‌?” Toph asked uncertainly.

“Sozin’s Comet is arriving and our destinies are upon us. Aang will face the Fire Lord,” Iroh said calmly. “When I was a boy, I had a vision that I would one day take Ba Sing Se. Only now do I see that my destiny is to take it back from the Fire Nation so the Earth Kingdom can be free again.”

“That’s why you gathered the members of the White Lotus,” Suki said, nodding in understanding.

“Yes.” He turned back to Zuko with a serious look. “Zuko, you must return to the Fire Nation so that when the Fire Lord falls, you can assume the throne and restore peace and order. But Azula will be there, waiting for you.”

“I can handle Azula,” Zuko said frowning.

“Not alone,” Lia cut off Iroh’s next words. “You’ll need help.” Her brother nodded and turned to his girlfriend.

“You’re right. Katara, how would you like to help me put Azula in her place‌?” She smiled at him.

“It would be my pleasure.”

“What about us‌?” Sokka asked, pointing at himself, Toph, Suki and Lia. “What’s our destiny today‌?”

“What do you think it is‌?” Iroh asked.

“I think that… even though we don’t know where Aang is, we need to do everything we can to stop the airship fleet,” Sokka concluded decisively. Toph smiled.

“And that means when Aang does face the Fire Lord, we’ll be right there if he needs us.”

 

Piandao led Sokka, Suki and Toph to the edge of the camp and presented them with an oversized lizard.

“Nothing runs faster over land or swims quicker than a giant eel-hound,” he explained as they mounted. “The airship base is on a small island just off the Earth Kingdom shore. You should be able to intercept the fleet within a day’s journey.” Sokka took a look at the map he was given and nodded.

“Thank you, Master,” he said.

 

Zuko and Katara would take Appa in order to fly back to the capital. Lia decided to stay and help the White Lotus. The prince turned to Iroh.

“So if I’m going to be Fire Lord after the war is over, what are you going to do‌?” he asked.

“After I re-conquer Ba Sing Se, I’m going to re-conquer my tea shop and I’m going to play Pai Sho every day.” Zuko and Katara smiled at that and Lia laughed a little. Being around Iroh was certainly refreshing.

“Goodbye, General Iroh,” Katara said respectfully as they prepared to take off.

“Goodbye, everyone. Today, destiny is our friend. I know it.”

Thunder

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Booming and ominous it rolls,

Like a forbidding elder wrapped

In a harsh, grey cloak.

I look out my window to the rain

And long to be outside.

Out where my blood pumps

In time with the patter of the rain.

Out where the wind tears through

What’s left of my body.

Out where, for a single moment,

I’ll fly and stand and swim

And simply be, just for a moment,

I will be the thunder.

In which you learn to ALWAYS question the source

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Ah…I remember the first time I read a translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of king Arthur. Being a newbie on the whole Arthurian literature thing, I was star-struck by the pseudo-historic way in which he presented the events. True, I understood that he was probably making stuff up at least partly as he went on, but damn he did it in a cool way. And then I came across his claims over his reputed main source, that Holy Grail of lost manuscripts that he supposedly based his work. Yeah, as far as I can tell the manuscript Geoffrey describes did not exist. Most of the texts I have found on the subject argue that he probably based his account in part on pre-existing manuscripts (but a multitude of them, not one) and in part in oral tradition.

 

This got me thinking though. Sure, not even all of his contemporaries believed his account to be genuine, but the Historia became the basis, in some capacity or other, of most future versions of the Arthurian Cycle. Why was that? I’m not dissing Geoffrey; his account is very interesting, even if it is just read as a reflection of his time. However, Arthurian texts retained their quasi-historical claims for a while. Why base your text in a debatable source? Where they consciously undermining the historicity of their accounts? I remember being told that the greatest compliment an author could make in the middle ages would be to present another’s account as the ‘true facts’ he –ahem- borrowed from.

 

Maybe then the point wasn’t the accuracy. Maybe the point was to show appreciation for a predecessor’s work. In a time when the written word was not exactly openly available this might have been one of the few ways to actually preserve an older account and at the same time make it contemporary. The extensive bibliographies that are now readily available at the end of most books would be simply unimaginable in the early 1000s.

 

And maybe it was in that spirit that BBC’s Merlin (the mash-up adaptation that I respect most after Malory’s account) actually included a character named Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Phoenix King

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Author’s note: In which the countdown to the comet begins, Aang pulls a disappearing act… again and everyone’s favourite bounty hunter is back.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Phoenix King***

Fire roared loudly as Zuko and Aang practiced side by side under the strict watch of Lia. Since the play she had taken to overlooking the lessons of the two boys, snapping the occasional correction.

“More ferocious!” she yelled at Aang, when she realized he was holding back on his attacks. His shoulders slumped and he turned to her.

“I’m trying!” he groaned. Zuko noticed the Spirit’s eyes narrowing dangerously and stepped forward.

“Now let me hear you roar like a tiger-dillo!” he ordered the younger boy. Aang nodded and did the move, a half-hearted stream of fire coming out of his mouth.

“That sounded pathetic! I said roar!” Aang frowned at the words of his teacher and repeated the exercise, this time with more fire coming out. Zuko nodded in approval.

“Who wants a nice, cool glass of watermelon juice‌?” Katara’s voice was heard from the house as she came out with a tray.  Aang’s eyes widened in glee.

“Ooo, ooo, me, me, me!” he exclaimed, rushing towards her. He gasped as Zuko lifted him from the back of his robes.

“Hey, your lesson’s not over yet! Get back here,” he ordered.

“Come on, Zuko. Just take a break. What’s the big deal‌?” Suki called from where she was lounging on the steps of the courtyard. Sokka was leaning next to her, lazily sipping his drink.

“Fine,” Zuko huffed and let go of the airbender who raced towards the juices. With a sigh he followed his student and sat next to Katara. Lia did not bother following.

“I’m going to go train,” she said curtly as she walked off towards the beach.

“Maybe Lia’s right,” Sokka said thoughtfully. “Sitting around the house has made us pretty lazy. But I know just the thing to change that. Beach party!”
Everyone looked at him in surprise. Then Katara shrugged and shared a look with Zuko.

“I suppose it’s okay,” she said. They walked down to the house’s private beach. Lia could be seen at a distance practising some moves that made it look like she was dancing with a fiery partner. With one last concerned look in her direction the teens returned to their party. Katara and Sokka immediately rushed to the water, with Zuko hesitantly following his girlfriend after a while. Suki opted to lay on a towel and sunbath while Aang and Toph played with the sand. The airbender turned to his earthbending teacher.

“Check out my Appa sand sculpture,” he said eagerly. Things between them had been a little awkward since the play and Toph had taken to dealing it by acting as if nothing had happened – and fooling no one in the process –. Now she felt the vibrations carefully.

“Not bad, baldy. But I’ve been working on my sandbending.” She cracked her knuckles. “You’re gonna love this.” She stomped her feet, moving into an earthbending stance. A miniature of Ba Sing Se appeared in front of them. Aang knelt to it and looked in amazement.

“Whoa! Wow, you even made a little Earth King and Bosco.” A little further Sokka was frantically making something out of a wet sand dune.

“Try and top that, Sokka,” Toph dared the older boy. He gave them a smug look before jumping to the side to reveal his atrocious creation.

“Is that a blubbering, blob monster‌?” Aang asked confused. Sokka looked at him insulted.

“No! It’s Suki.” Aang and Toph looked at him in shock and then burst out laughing. Katara and Zuko, who had just come out of the water raised eyebrows.

“Suki, we’ll all understand if you break up with him over this,” Toph told the Kyoshi Warrior.

“I think it’s sweet,” Suki said awkwardly. Sokka rushed to her and gave her a swift kiss.

“But it doesn’t even look like…” Aang began but was cut off by the sudden sound of fire near them.

 

They turned to see Lia having created an enormous amount of white flames. Recognising them Zuko rushed, worried to see what they had to reveal.

“General Shinu, your report,” Fire Lord Ozai’s voice was heard. Everyone paled as the image of the Fire Nation throne room was formed. A middle-aged man stood.

“Thank you, sir. Ba Sing Se is still under our control. However, earthbender rebellions have prevented us from achieving total victory in the Earth Kingdom.”

“What is your recommendation‌?” Ozai said calmly. Katara wrapped her arms around Zuko who looked like he was ready to pass out at the sight of his father.

“Our army is spread too thin but once the eclipse is over and the invasion defeated, we should transfer more domestic forces into the Earth Kingdom.” Another general shook his head.

“The people of the Earth Kingdom are proud and strong. They can endure anything as long as they have hope.”

“I think you should take their precious hope and the rest of their land, and burn it all to the ground,” Azula said from her seat on Ozai’s right side. The Fire Lord smiled in approval.

“Yes… Yes, you’re right, Azula. Sozin’s Comet is almost upon us and on that day it will endow us with the strength and power of a hundred suns. No bender will stand a chance against us.” General Shinu sat back down.

“What are you suggesting, sir‌?”

“When the comet last came, my grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, used it to wipe out the Air Nomads. Now, I will use its power to end the Earth Kingdom. Permanently.” Ozai went on to explain his plan. “From our airships, we will rain fire over their lands. A fire that will destroy everything. And out of the ashes, a new world will be born. A world in which all the lands are Fire Nation and I am the supreme ruler of everything!” Lia stopped the conjuration in disgust and gave Aang a look that spoke volumes. He took a few steps back horrified.

“But…but… I’m not ready. The comet is three days away and I need more time to master firebending.”

“And frankly, your earthbending could still use some work too,” Toph added.

“Honestly, if Aang tries to fight the Fire Lord right now, he’s gonna lose. No offence,” Sokka told the other boy.

“What am I going to do?” Aang asked no one in particular.

“I know you’re scared,” Zuko told him gravely. “And I know that you’re not ready to save the world. But if you don’t defeat the Fire Lord before the comet comes, there won’t be a world to save anymore.”
Aang turned panicky to Lia.

“Why didn’t you tell us about his dad’s crazy plan sooner‌?” he yelled at Lia.

“I’m not getting updates from the Fire Lord before breakfast,” she snapped back at him. “Be thankful that we have what we have.”

“This is bad.” Aang clutched his head. “This is really, really bad.”

“Aang, you don’t have to do this alone,” Katara said in an attempt to calm him.

“Yeah!” Toph agreed eagerly. “If we all fight the Fire Lord together, we got a shot at taking him down.” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly.

“Alright! Team Avatar is back!” He started pointing at the various members of the group. “Air! Water! Earth! Fire!” he paused for a second and then grinned in inspiration. “Fan and Sword!”

“Fighting the Fire Lord is going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done together. But I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” Aang said, smiling confidently again. Katara pulled everyone to a hug, relieved that the tense moment ended. Lia stood back with a ghost of a smile until the waterbender looked up at her.

“Get over here, Lia. Being part of the group also means being part of group hugs,” she said and the Spirit hesitantly obliged.

 

After lunch Zuko took Aang to the courtyard where Lia trained with him. Aang gulped audibly at the sight of some melted and re-solidified stones. Katara followed them curiously from a distance.

“There’s one technique you need to know before facing my father. How to redirect lightning,” Zuko said seriously, frowning at Aang’s eager face. “If you let the energy in your own body flow, the lightning will follow it. You turn your opponent’s energy against them,” he continued explaining nonetheless, showing the Avatar the movements.

“That’s like waterbending!” Aang exclaimed after studying the movement. The firebender nodded.

“Exactly. My uncle invented this technique himself by studying waterbenders.” Aang started practicing the move, mirroring Zuko.

“So… Have you ever redirected lightning before‌?”

“Once. Against my father, during the invasion. You guys were already out of the room.”

“What did it feel like‌?” Aang asked curiously. Zuko dropped his arms.

“Exhilarating. But terrifying,” he said remembering the rush of energy. “You feel so powerful holding that much energy in your body. But you know that you make the wrong move, it’s over.” Aang laughed nervously.

“Well, not over over, right‌ I mean there’s always Katara and a little spirit water action… Am I right‌?” he turned to the waterbender. Katara raised an eyebrow.

“Actually I used it all up after Azula shot you,” she said dryly. Aang’s face fell again.

“You’ll have to take the Fire Lord’s life. Before he takes yours,” Zuko said grimly.

“Yeah… I’ll just do that,” Aang muttered, following the prince with his eyes as he joined Katara and they moved inside the house.
At sunset Sokka dragged everyone on some rock formations near the house.

“Gather round Team Avatar,” he said creating a scarecrow with a mean-looking, bearded watermelon as a head. “In order to take out the Fire Lord, or in this case, the Melon Lord, our timing has to be perfect.” He knelt to the ground and started sketching a diagram on the dirt. “First, Suki and I will draw his fire. Then, Katara and Zuko charge in with some liquidly hot offence and while the Melon Lord is distracted, Aang swoops in and BAM! He delivers the final blow.”

“Err… what about me‌?” Toph asked with a confused look.

“For now, you and Lia are the Melon Lord’s forces.”

“So we get to chuck flaming rocks at all of you‌?” the Spirit asked gleefully.

“Whatever makes the training feel more realistic,” Sokka answered. Toph and Lia shared a look.

“Sweetness!” they said. To Zuko that sounded more threatening than any yell from Azula ever had.
Toph even took it upon herself to make sound effects and evil laughs while Lia created a ring of fire around them. The two girls had gathered a few boulders around them as well and covered them with oil as an extra line of offence. For a moment there was silence and then Sokka signalled at his group to charge. Before he and Suki had time to go very far an army of Fire Nation soldier statues popped from the ground. They evaded them but then flaming boulders started raining down at them. Suki somersaulted over one and Sokka fell flat on his face in front of it. He jumped to his feet.

“Watch it, Toph!” he yelled at the earthbender.

“I am not Toph; I am Melon Lord! Muahahahahaha!” Toph yelled back, clearly having the time of her life. On the other side Lia was having her own fun, raining attacks down her student and his girlfriend, proud that they blocked all of them.

“Now Aang!” Sokka yelled suddenly, seeing the two Melon Lords sufficiently distracted. The airbender launched himself against his enemy, his staff on the ready. He landed in front of the scarecrow and froze. Slowly he lowered his stuff.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Take him out!” Zuko called at him surprised. Aang shook his head.

“I can’t,” he muttered, taking a step back. The gang walked up to him.

“What’s wrong with you‌?” Sokka asked the younger boy angrily. “If this was the real deal, you’d be shot full of lightning right now.”

“I’m sorry, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself,” Aang tried to explain. Sokka wordlessly took out his sword and cut the melon in half.

“There,” he said tonelessly. “That’s how it’s done.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror.
Dinner was silent and tense that night until Katara rushed outside with a big smile on her face and a scroll on her hands.

“I have a surprise for everyone!” she announced. Toph looked up.

“I knew it! You did have a secret thing with Haru!”

“What?” Sokka, Zuko and Katara asked at the same time.

“No!” Katara rushed to add at her boyfriend’s direction. “I was looking for cooking pots in the attic and I found this.” She unrolled the scroll to reveal the picture of a baby. “Look at baby Zuko! Isn’t he cute‌?” Lia snorted with laughter while Zuko frowned. “Oh lighten up, I was just teasing,” Katara said, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“That’s not me. It’s my father,” he said dryly. The scroll rolled itself as it fell from Katara’s fingers.

“But he looked so sweet and innocent,” Suki said surprised.

“Well that sweet little kid grew up to be a monster. And the worst father in the history of fathers,” Zuko added the last part under his breath.

“But he is still a human being,” Aang said suddenly.

“You’re going to defend him‌?” Zuko asked incredulously.

“No, I agree with you. Fire Lord Ozai is a horrible person and the world will probably be better off without him. There’s gotta be another way.”

“Like what?” Lia asked dubiously.

“I don’t know,” Aang shrugged. “Maybe we can make some big pots of glue and then I can use gluebending to stick his arms and legs together so he can’t bend anymore.”

“Yeah. Then you can show him his baby pictures and all those happy memories will make him good again,” Zuko added sarcastically while everyone else tried to hide their laughter.

“Do you really think that would work‌?” Aang asked hopefully.

“No!” Zuko snapped.
“This goes against everything I learned from the monks. I can’t just go around wiping out people I don’t like…”

“Sure, you can. You’re the Avatar. If it’s in the name of keeping balance, I’m pretty sure the Universe will forgive you,” Sokka said cheekily. Lia nodded in agreement.

“This isn’t a joke, Sokka! None of you understands the position I’m in!” Aang burst out.

“Aang, we do understand. It’s just…” Katara tried to calm him down.

“Just what, Katara‌! What‌?” Aang interrupted angrily.

“We’re trying to help!” the waterbender raised her voice as well.
“Then when you figure out a way for me to beat the Fire Lord without taking his life, I’d love to hear it!” he stormed off.

“Aang, don’t walk away from this.” Katara stood up, ready to follow him when Zuko stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Let him go. He needs time to sort it out by himself,” he said calmly, pulling the angry girl to an embrace. They walked back to where the others were still sitting. Zuko could have sworn he heard Lia muttered something along the lines of “spoiled brat.”
The next morning they were loading Appa, having decided to move off of the island and make their way to the capital.

“Okay, that’s everything,” Sokka said, dusting his hands.

“No, it’s not,” Toph said from her seat on the steps. “Where’s Aang‌?” Everyone looked around, surprised to notice that the airbender was indeed absent. They rushed back to the house to look for him. Eventually they ended up at the balcony surprised to see the airbender’s staff but not him.

“He left his staff. That’s so strange,” Sokka said confused.

“Aang’s not in the house. Let’s check the beach,” Zuko offered before leading the way.

“Look! There’s his footprints.” Sokka pointed at the sandy trail. It finished at the edge of the water.
“So… He went for a midnight swim and never came back‌?” Suki asked.

“Maybe he was captured,” Katara speculated. Sokka shook his head.

“I don’t think so. There’s no sign of a struggle.”

“I bet he ran away again,” Toph said crossing her arms.

“Ah-uh. He left behind his glider and Appa,” Sokka said again. Toph shot him an exasperated look.

“Then what do you think happened to him oh sloozey one‌?”

“It’s pretty obvious. Aang mysteriously disappears before an important battle‌? He’s definitely on a Spirit World journey!”

“But if he was, wouldn’t his body still be here‌?” Zuko asked confused. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh yeah, forgot about that.”

“Then he’s gotta be somewhere on Ember Island. Let’s split up and look for him,” Katara said, making her way towards Zuko, only to be cut off by Toph.

“I’m going with Zuko!” he raised an eyebrow in Katara’s fuming direction. “What? We want to get work done here!”
An hour later everyone had returned to the house disappointed. Sokka jumped off Appa.

“Judging by the looks on your faces, I’m guessing you guys didn’t find Aang either.”

“No. It’s like he just… disappeared,” Zuko said, getting worried. Toph suddenly sat up.

“Hey, wait a minute; has anyone noticed that Momo’s missing too‌?” Sokka paled.

“Oh no!” he said hysterically. “I knew it was only a matter of time. Appa ate Momo!” he rushed to Appa, opened his mouth and leaned in. “Momo, I’m coming for ya, buddy!”

“Sokka, Appa didn’t eat Momo. He’s probably with Aang,” Katara said calmly. Sokka’s dramatics were the last thing they needed now.

“That’s just what Appa wants you to think.” Sokka snapped, still inside the bison’s mouth. Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Get out of the bison’s mouth, Sokka. We have a real problem here. Aang is nowhere to be found and the comet is only two days away.”

“What should we do Zuko‌?” Katara asked him, her eyes, along with Suki’s and Toph’s trained on him.

“I don’t know,” Zuko admitted standing up. He noticed the stares. “Why are you all looking at me‌?”

“Well, you are kind of the expert on tracking Aang,” Lia said from where she was leaning against Appa. Zuko sighed and moved towards Appa.

“Get on,” he ordered everyone, taking the reins. After a few minutes of flying, Sokka looked over his map confused.

“Zuko, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job but why are we heading towards the Earth Kingdom? ‌ There’s no way Aang’s there.” Zuko looked back from Appa’s head.

“Just trust me,” he said darkly.

 

They landed on a forest and Zuko took the lead again, walking towards a small building.

“And the reason you brought us to a seedy Earth Kingdom tavern is what now‌?” Katara asked wearily as they opened the door. Zuko’s eyes swept the room and pointed at a woman near the middle.

“June,” he said simply.

“Oh yeah, that weird bounty hunter with the giant mole,” Sokka said. Suki looked at him confused.

“Mole?‌ Her skin is flawless,” she said. Sokka shook his head.

“No, she has this giant mole creature she rides around on,” he explained, shuddering at the memory of the numb feeling.

“Her shirshu,” Zuko elaborated. “It’s the only animal that can track Aang’s scent anywhere in the world. It’s the one shot we have of finding him.”

 

Toph had been observing both the conversation and the fight that had been going on inside the tavern. She smirked.

“I don’t know who this June lady is but I like her.”

Summer Day

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Rose-pink silk stretching

Across a gossamer horizon.

White and blue collide

In a sky warm as a mother’s embrace.

 

Gold light upon orange earth –

A haze on the horizon.

This time demands

That all be quiet.

 

Royal purple cloaks the sky;

Childish treasures, pirate hunts.

The sea turns grey, the wind is soft,

This hour is ours, the best of all.

 

Bleeding red or silver white

The moon is rising in blackened sea and sky,

To guard our games and light our path,

When one day ends and another began.

In which the Welsh invent Rom-Com

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Ever heard of the Mabinogion? It’s collection of stories (originally in Middle Welsh I think) that were introduced to me as one of the earliest collections of Arthurian tales still around. Meaning that there are recognisable names, romance, random supernatural forces, mindless violence, bizarre quests and generally hijinks. Also a Rom-Com. I’m not kidding! Culhwch and Olwen is a rom-com, I swear. Here’s what TV Tropes have to say about rom-coms:

 

“Every story needs a conflict, and since rom-coms are driven by the quest for love, the conflict derives from the obstacles to the quest. This could be the apparent incompatibility of the leads: mutual Love at First Sight is rare. The two characters will spend a good part of the movie fighting their obvious attraction. Eventually, they’ll realize they’re perfect for each other. Or, something will pop up; maybe a Three’s Company kind of misunderstanding, or a revelation in the third act about one of them lying. One of the two characters will storm off in a huff. Or the couple is already married for some reason, and the conflict comes partially from different expectations and misunderstandings.

 

The climax of a rom-com requires the satisfactory recognition of love: the other chases after the love interest and does something really romantic to win them back. The reconciliation scene ends with the two characters reunited in a romantic embrace. Often ends in a wedding.”

 

Now match that to what happens in Culhwch and Olwen: Culhwch, the hero, is cursed to only marry Olwen, who in turn is forbidden by her father to marry at all. Here’s the Romeo and Juliet angle, with Ysbaddaden being either the Big Bad or the Overprotective Father, depending on your reading of the story (coughTenThingsIHateAboutYoucough). Culhwch would then be the Big Damn Hero (whether he deserves the characterisation for any other reason other than his name being on the title is up to debate) and Olwen the Magical Girlfriend.

 

Of course it wouldn’t be a rom-com if there weren’t an assorted cast of characters to surround our star-crossed mains. Call it a motif or trope but Culhwch’s gang can be categorised under Six Go Round The World, a group that includes somebody ideal for every occasion that may arise (also known as token characters). They are provided by Culhwch’s Fairy Godmother of a cousin, our good old friend, Arthur. One might argue that Culhwch and Olwen’s aunt (just go with it) is also a Fairy Godmother, since she enables the two lovers to meet.

 

And, truly, it wouldn’t be a rom-com without wacky shenanigans now, would it? Just have a look at what Ysbaddaden demands Culhwch and co. do before he agrees to the wedding! Sure, serious people call it a quest, but considering an impressive amount of the things the knights collect go towards giving the Big-Not-So-Friendly-Giant a makeover…well….

 

To top it all off, this little, violent beyond expectation, rom-com ends with a wedding. Say what you will about what happens before but at least these two crazy kids will have some fantastic, How-I-Met-Your-Mother-esque stories to tell in the future!

 

Sooooo….How close is my wacky interpretation to the original? Have a look here and see for yourselves!