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Heart of the Wounded - Chapter 14

The outer gates were a sight to behold. They were tall and made entirely of ice. A small gate formed and opened only enough to let the little boat in before shutting and becoming one with the wall once more. The small boat was kept in a small area, looking down at the large ice village. Waterbenders on either side drained the water, then let the boat through.

Tribesmen gestured to direct the boat to a docking place. The four clambered out of the boat onto solid ice. Looking around, they were amazed to find that everything was made of sculpted ice.

“What are you doing here?” one of the guards asked, holding a spear accusingly towards Wolf, who happened to be in the front.

“I would like an audience with Waterbending Master Paku of your tribe,” Wolf stated calmly.

“Three of you look like Fire Nation. We cannot allow that.”

“We are outcasts. We hold no allegiance to the Fire Nation.”

“We cannot trust you on your word alone. Do you have proof?”

Wolf growled quietly and looked down.

“If you do not have proof, we ask that you leave.”

“Fine. You want proof, you got it.”

Wolf turned to face the rest of his group, muttering, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He handed the staff he was using to Zuko and started unbuttoning his shirt. He got halfway and slid the shoulder down.

The Water Tribe guard stepped closer. His eyes widened as he stepped back. “My apologies.”

Wolf rolled his eyes before slipping the sleeve back the way it was and turning back to face the soldier while finishing re-buttoning his shirt.

“What’s going on here?” a tall old man asked. He had light gray hair grown long. He moved easily, as if the curse of old age had yet to settle.

The guard bowed slightly.

Wolf followed, and the others took their cue.

They all stood in unison.

“What are you doing back here, Wolf? I thought that I said I wasn’t going to lend you aid.”

“You said you wouldn’t give aid for my force. That’s not what I’m here for this time. I have come to ask if you would house us for a while.”

“Why should I do that? I owe you nothing.”

“You don’t, that’s true. We have no where else to go that will keep us safe.”

“Why are you turning to us for that?”

“We have information about the inner workings of the Fire Nation. We know secrets.”

“Like the strength of a Firebender comes from the sun? We have known this for centuries.”

Wolf looked toward the ground. Stupid old man just has to make things difficult. Wolf lowered himself to a kneeling position, using his stick for support. He sat as best he could, bowing low with his head to the ground. “Please, Master Paku, will you let my companions and I stay here.”

“It means that much to you?”

“I’m not down here for my health.”

“If you stay quiet about your ideas and don’t try to start an uprising, you can stay.”

“Thank you for your hospitality.” Wolf raised his head.

“You,” the old Waterbender motioned to the guard. “Show these four to an empty house. See to it that they have something to eat.”

“Yes Master Paku,” the guard bowed slightly.

“I really hope I don’t see you around,” Paku shot at Wolf before turning and walking away.

Wolf rolled his eyes. “Same here.” He groaned as he tried to stand and couldn’t. “Great, I’m stuck. How do I do this?”

Iroh stepped forward. “Do you need help, Wolf?”

Wolf looked up at Iroh. “Yeah, just a little.”

Iroh grabbed Wolf’s arm and helped him stand. Wolf rubbed at his knee, easing the pain.

“Sirs, if you are ready…” the guard prodded.

“I’m fine. Let’s go.”

The four were led to a smaller boat. They got in and the guard passed off the instructions to a ferryman.

Using Waterbending, the man pushed the boat through the water. The giant ice buildings and bridges looked even more fantastic up close. They traveled a short ways, taking a route that looked a little less well kept. They pulled into a little inlet and the guide gestured them out. The Fire Nation refugees hurried to follow.

The guide led them up a flight of obscenely long stairs. It took a good half-hour to get to the top. Once there, there was a nice little area filled with ice sculptures and fountains.

“This is the guest district. We actually haven’t used it in a long time, but it has been maintained all the same. You may use any of the houses, just leave them as you found them. Someone will bring your supplies up for you soon.” Saying that, the guide left.

The house was craftily built out of ice, so much so that it looked like it were made of wood. There were plenty of rooms, each with a flap for a door and a large white pelt to sleep on. Jin went about, examining all of the rooms and the kitchen.

“They have freezers that work!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah, novel concept,” Wolf muttered sarcastically.

Their stuff came and they started to work on settling down.

The outcasts had become very comfortable in their new environment by the end of the day. Jin had to throw on three layers of clothing before she was warm. By the time night fell, they were very happy to go into their own rooms and sleep.

……………

Iroh was making tea, per usual. He was having a hard time getting the water to heat up. It was almost as if the water had a mind of its own, and enjoyed being cold.

Some little kids walked into the room, via the open door. “Mister, can Wolf come play with us?” one of the little boys asked.

Iroh was slightly surprised by this, but he didn’t show it. Iroh knew it would be a bad idea to let Wolf go romping with children in his state. “Wolf is not feeling well,” he lied slightly.

“Awww!” all of the kids whined. “If Wolf can’t play, will you play with us?”

Where is Zuko when I need him? Iroh wondered. Zuko could go play with the kids. But Zuko had taken off with Jin a while ago. “I don’t know…”

“Go play with the kids, Iroh,” Wolf called from the other room.

“All right. I will play with you.”

“Yay!”

“Let’s play war!” one of the other kids exclaimed.

“No!” one of the girls whined.

“Yeah! War!” The little kids jumped around and started heading out.

“War?” Iroh asked. Little children should not play war, in his opinion.

“Yeah, war. Didn’t you ever play when you were a kid?” one of the kids stopped his antics to look at Iroh strangely.

Iroh shook his head. “No.” His childhood had been spent preparing him to take over leadership of the Nation and Army.

“You can be the ‘Fire Nation’. The ‘Water Tribes’, that’s us, have to defeat you. It’s easy. Come on, let’s go!” excited, the little kid that had spoken grabbed Iroh’s hand and started pulling him out the door.

“Good luck Iroh!” Wolf called.

……………

The ‘war’ went well for the little kids. They crowded around Iroh, some poking at him with sticks. A couple grabbed his arms and he raised them, leaving the kids dangling. When more climbed on, Iroh fell over.

“Yeah! We won!” the kids exclaimed, jumping around.

“Wait, wait, wait!” one called. “He’s not dead yet!”

“No, don’t kill me!” Iroh pretended to cry.

“Yeah, we gotta do that!” another kid exclaimed. He bent and whispered to Iroh, “don’t worry, it’s not real.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” The kids turned and saw Wolf. “Firebenders always travel in packs.”

“Yay Wolf!” All of the kids rushed forward.

“Wait, the war isn’t finished yet.”

The kids stopped.

“A couple of you need to take care of the other Firebender,” Wolf prompted patiently.

“Oh,” a couple went back to where Iroh was laying. The rest rushed towards Wolf.

……………

Wolf and Iroh had lost the game of war. They were walking back up the stairs to their temporary home. Wolf was using the staff a little more than he had before, but was trying hard to hide it.

“You sure have a way with children, Wolf,” Iroh commented, half-laughing.

“Nasty little buggers,” Wolf replied.

“You should have some.”

Wolf made a face. Iroh laughed.

“It appears you played a little to rough with them,” Iroh stated. He sounded serious.

Wolf, however, wasn’t willing to give up the mood. “Aw, they need to toughen up. I didn’t hit that hard.”

“You let them play to rough. You haven’t quite healed yet.”

“I’m fine.”

“Is that why you are limping so badly?”

“It’s the cold weather.”

“You need to stay in and rest.”

“Iroh, come on. I’ve been in for at least a month,” Wolf whined.

“Injuries like that take a long time to heal. You don’t make things any easier on it. Always getting up and going about like nothing’s wrong. You keep aggravating it.”

“Nag. How old do you think I am? I can take care of myself. I lived ten years doing just that.”

“And I can see how well that turned out.”

“What? I didn’t turn out that bad.”

“You seem to be falling apart. If it’s not one thing, it is another.”

“But it’s fun,” Wolf whined.

“Maybe you really needed someone to look after you. You need a wife.”

“You do enough nagging for two people, Iroh. I don’t need a wife.”

“I worry about you Wolf.”

“Well stop. I don’t worry about me that much.”

“And that’s why you’re going to fall apart.”

“Am not.”

“Please Wolf. Just for a little while. At least until we get off of these stairs.”

“If that’ll get you to stop picking on me. So, where do you think Zuko and Jin went?”

“I do not have the slightest idea.”

“Guess we just wait and find out. I’m going to find out if one of these Waterbenders will make me chess pieces. Then we could play. I’m sick of loosing at Pai Sho.”

“I thought we decided you weren’t going out any more.”

“I don’t want to be stuck playing Pai Sho with you all day. I can’t win.”

“We’ll find a way.”

“You just don’t want to loose.”

The two had finally gotten up the stairs. They walked across the space elegantly decorated with ice sculptures of fish and such to their current residence.

“That was exhausting. I hate stairs,” Wolf complained as they entered the ice home. “They need to make stairs that move themselves.”

“That sounds very creative. I think that would be wistful thinking.”

“Yeah, it is. I can do that. Especially since you banned me from going out.”

Iroh sighed. What have I done? he wondered, knowing that this was going to get worse.

“I’m hungry,” Wolf decided. “When’s Jin going to come back and cook us food?”

“I don’t know. When she feels like it?”

“Great. Wake me up when she does.” Wolf went into one of the back rooms.

Iroh shook his head and went back to trying to make tea.

……………

It had taken a while, but Iroh finally managed to get the water heated up long enough to make his tea. He was just settling down to drink it when Jin walked into the house.

“I’m sorry. You guys must be hungry. I’ll start making something,” Jin blurted out. She hurried into the kitchen area before Iroh could ask anything.

Zuko came in moments later.

“Zuko, it’s good to see you. You left so early in the morning, I didn’t get to see you.”

They young prince looked at Iroh, then started for the back rooms.

“What were you two doing?” Iroh asked, smiling innocently.

Zuko stopped. “Nothing,” he said in a monotone.

“Are you too embarrassed to tell your old uncle things like that?”

Zuko blushed slightly and looked away. “We weren’t doing anything.”

“Ok, fine. Don’t tell me.”

Jin, who had been listening to the conversation the whole time and enjoying it, called, “You can tell him Zuko.”

“We were teaching,” Zuko simply said. He was about to keep going for his room when Iroh spoke again.

“Teaching what? Love?”

“No. I was teaching Jin how to use the broad swords.”

“Oh.” Iroh looked disappointed.

“She’s going to teach me how to be a better blue spirit, too.”

“I see. Keep it up.”

Zuko left for the back.

Jin bounded into the room. “Well, I have some good news and some bad news. We have a lot of meat. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s jerky. Even worse is there isn’t any bread, so even if we did have normal meat, I can’t make sandwiches.”

“That is a problem,” Iroh agreed.

“Finally! Someone understands! I’m going to go complain to someone.” Jin headed for the door.

“Are you sure you want to do that? You will have to walk up and down all of those stairs again.”

Jin froze and turned. “Who wants jerky?” she asked, smiling with an icy smile.

……………

Wolf was enjoying the sunlight in the area outside of the guesthouses. The cold air combined well with the sun’s rays and provided a decent temperature. He would have loved to take a walk, but Iroh had been watching him closely to make sure he wouldn’t. So, Wolf was stuck sitting in the court yard-like area, reading to pass time.

Wolf heard something coming and sat up quickly. He watched, amused, as the heard of children made it over the rise of stairs.

“Wolf!” some of the older ones, more used to the physical labor, called, running up. “Wolf come play with us!”

“I can’t.”

“Aw, why not?”

“Mean old Uncle Iroh said I can’t. I got hurt to bad, and he says I keep making it worse.”

“Aw, that’s too bad.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“How about you tell us a story instead!”

“All right. Come on, gather around. Sit down. Hey,” Wolf called, noticing one kid was hanging back. “What’s going on with you. I don’t bite. Come closer.”

“Mommy says that I can’t see you,” the little boy muttered.

Wolf’s brows furrowed. “Why’s that?”

“She said you were strange. She said that it was a bad in-flu-ence to be around you, because you came from the Fire Nation. She said, 'Shiro, you can't be around him'.”

“Well that’s not very nice of her.”

“But, Daddy said that it was ok. Mommy yelled at Daddy because of that, and Daddy said that the Fire Nation spit you out, and doesn’t like you, so you were ok.”

“You don’t want to make your mommy mad do you?”

“No, but I think Daddy is right. I like you, and I don’t like Fire Nation, so you must be good. All my friends like you too. So, I followed them here. Tell a story.” Shiro went and sat at the edge of sitting children.

“Ok, what kind of story do you want?”

“Oh, tell one about brave warriors,” the boys chanted.

“Oh, tell a love story,” the young girls sighed.

“No! Tell us a war story!”

“Yeah, a war story!” the girls agreed. They liked hearing about all of the brave men who fought.

“All right. A war story.” Wolf smiled.

“Yay!” With that decided, the children quieted down.

“I can tell you how the war started.”

“No, that’s boring. Like we haven’t heard that fifty bajillion times.”

“The siege of Ba Sing Sei.”

“No!”

“I don’t know that many war stories,” Wolf complained.

“Aw, come on Wolf!”

Wolf glanced down, thinking. He remembered one of the stories that the shaman had told him. “How about a story about a Prince and a Princess?”

“What kind? It sounds like it’s sappy. Ew!” the boys piped up.

“No, it’s not,” Wolf assured them.

“Fine. Tell it!”

“Once upon a time, there were two children born to a king. The mother favored her first born son, while the father favored his daughter. So, the children grew up each raised by a parent. The Princess was cruel and mean, just like her father. She was always looking for ways to get her kindhearted brother into trouble. She would throw rocks at the young turtle ducks while the Prince would feed them the breadcrumbs from his evening meal.

“The Prince’s kind nature and love for life made him destined to become a good ruler in the future. However, his father didn’t like his kindhearted nature. He wanted his beloved Princess on the throne after he died, to continue ruling with an iron fist. The Prince’s mother disappeared. It was a plot by the King to make the Prince mean.

“But it didn’t work. So the King allowed the Prince to sit in for a war meeting. He knew the Prince would not be able to stand the evil things that they talked about, and would speak up. Then, the King could be rid of the Prince. Everything went according to his plan. When the King talked about destroying a town that was holding soldiers, killing all of the inhabitants, the Prince spoke up for the innocent people in the town. By doing so, he was going against his father in an act of treason.

“As part of the King’s plan, the King challenged the Prince to a fight. He said that he needed to teach his son respect, and suffering would be a proper teacher. But the Prince knew he could not fight his Father, the King. He didn’t fight because he couldn’t win, that didn’t matter. He might have been able to if it did. It was because he was a son. A son should not have to fight his father, no matter the cause. So, he refused to fight.

“The King did not expect this, but attacked his son anyway. The Princess watched on, pleased. The Prince was heavily wounded, and left outside the castle walls to die in humiliation.

“But the Prince was not destined to die that day. A peasant girl found the wounded Prince and helped him get better. While he was healing, the Prince wanted to know why the peasant wanted to help him. His father taxed the peasants and was constantly fighting with them. Her parents were probably killed by his father.

“The peasant girl said that it didn’t matter. That was all what the King had done. The Prince was a human being, just like she was. She said that the Prince was also hurt by his father’s hand. She knew that the Prince was a good person, and that he wouldn’t do anything like his father did. That was why she had helped him.

“The King had heard that the young Prince hadn’t died. He sent many troops out to track down the Prince, but they all came back in failure. The Princess was disgraced by the behavior of her brother, and left on her own to kill him. She found him in the small village where the peasant girl lived.

“She saw the Prince working happily on the farm with the peasant girl, and was jealous. How could a Prince who was no longer a Prince be happy while she, the apple of the King’s eye and still called Princess, why was she so sad?

“So, she burned the village. The people living in the village ran away from the wrath of the Princess, and she followed them. The villagers managed to get away. The peasant girl had seen the one who did this, and told the Prince. The Prince realized that it was his sister that had burned the village. He thought it might have been because he was living there.

“ ‘I will fight the Princess,’ he said. The peasant girl cried for him to stay. The Prince knew he couldn’t. The Princess would come for them, no matter where they were, unless he left. Then, all of the villagers would be safe and they could rebuild their homes and live happily once more. ‘I won’t be happy,’ the peasant girl cried in her last attempt to keep the Prince there.

“ ‘No one will be happy as long as I am here,’ the Prince explained. ‘I have to do this. I’m not going to do this just for them, though. I am also doing this for you. I need you to live and be happy. If it takes my life to do this, then I will die happy.’

“ ‘But I won’t be happy without you,’ the peasant girl tried to tell him. But the Prince was determined, and closed his ears. Before he left, the peasant girl gave him a glass rose, telling him that she wanted it back. It was a promise that they would, someday, reunite.

“The Prince went back to face the Princess. They fought together. Even though the Princess had trained harder, the Prince had more to loose. He won the fight. However, the good in his heart would not let him kill his sister. The Prince knew that as long as the Princess was still alive, she would continue to come after him. So, the Prince left on a long journey, never staying in one place.

“Many years passed, and he grew into a man. The King died, and the Princess became Queen. The Prince had been freed. He went back to the village. Even though years had passed, many of the townspeople recognized him. They knew the flower he had with him as the one the peasant girl had given to him so many years ago. He asked everyone he met about the peasant girl, but the people didn’t want to tell him about her.

“The Prince was desperate and about to give up when an old lady approached him. She said that he should follow her, that she would lead him to the peasant girl. She led him to the outside of the village, onto a grassy slope to a grave. The old lady explained that the peasant girl had waited. Alone, she could do very little, so she was unable to support herself. She had withered away, gotten sick, and died, all within a year of the attack.

“The Prince thanked the old lady, and she left. He sat by the peasant girl’s grave, apologizing over and over. The Prince laid the glass flower that he had kept safe through all of his travels on the grave. ‘I have returned it to you, now,’ he whispered. His duty fulfilled, the Prince left. Not long after that, he died as well. The end.”

“Boo! That’s a bad ending!” all of the children called.

“Well, that’s the end.”

“How did the Prince die?” one of the boys asked.

“Uh…heart break?”

“Bleah, that’s sappy. You lied Wolf, you said it wasn’t sappy.”

“Fine, he killed himself, by stabbing his own dagger into his heart.”

“Why?”

“Never mind. Leaving town, he got jumped by a lone thief. Since he wouldn’t hand over his money, the thief killed him, only to find he had no money anyway. The moral of the story is: watch your back, even if you are depressed.”

“Well, that’s a stupid story, then. Any way you look at it, they can’t be happy.”

“There’s one final way that this story can end. Do you want to hear it?”

“Yeah! Tell us!”

“The Prince, angered by what the Princess had done, stormed the castle. He over threw his sister that was now Queen, and took his rightful place as King. Still, he could not kill his sister, but he sent her to the darkest dungeon for the rest of her life. As the new King, he ruled and brought peace to the lands. Under him, everyone was happy. Everyone, but him. He was still saddened by the loss of the peasant girl, and refused to marry any of the many girls that sought his attention. When he died many years later, the throne fell to a distant relative who went back to the evil ways. There, that’s the end.”

“That one was better. There was a big fight. Hey, let’s go play that!” The children ran off down the stairs.

“Well, that was eventful,” Wolf muttered to himself.

“I didn’t know that you told stories, Wolf.”

Wolf glanced back and noticed Zuko was standing behind him. “I don’t really, but Iroh said I shouldn’t move around to much, and I had to entertain the kids some how.”

“It was an interesting story.”

“I didn’t make it up. The shaman I lived with for a while told it to me. He told all sorts of stories, but I don’t remember any of them.”

“Except that one?”

“That one just came to me.”

“I see.”

“Wolf!” Shiro shouted, running up the stairs again. He ran right up to Wolf, breathing a little harder than usual. “I just remembered. If you get hurt, you can go to my Mom. She’s a healer, and she makes it all better.”

“Thank you for the invitation. I think I’ll pass.”

“What, why?”

“First of all, your mom doesn't like me. Second, I was stupid. That’s why I got hurt. So, I’m going to suffer the consequences.”

“What’s a con-se-qence-es?”

Wolf glanced at Zuko for help, but the prince shook his head. “Uh, consequences are what happens after you do something. Like if you break one of your mom’s plates, she gets mad and yells at you. That’s a consequence.”

“Oh. I don’t like those. Well, I got to go now. Everyone probably is starting without me. Bye Wolf!” Shiro waved as he ran off.

“Why didn’t you accept that offer?” Zuko asked.

“Because I was stupid when I got it, and I haven't changed any,” Wolf chuckled as he said that.

Zuko had no reply to that. He just shook his head and walked away.

……………

……………

Chapter 14 – END

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