Wolf was slowly brought into wakefulness. He could hear something echoing in the walls. It was a voice that slowly became clearer.
“Leaves from the vine…”
It’s a song, he realized.
“Falling so slow…”
I know it. But…I must be dead.
“Like fragile tiny shells…”
Because no one ever sang that song for me while it could have been sung.
“Floating in the foam…”
And no one would sing it for me now…
“Little soldier boy…”
It always used to have a happier beat.
“Come marching home…”
I really don’t want to die here.
“Brave soldier boy…”
“Comes marching home.”
The song was interrupted. “What are you doing here?”
“I would like to see the prisoner.”
“Fire Lord Ozai said that no one may enter.”
“Such loyalty. But he told me I was to see to the condition of the prisoner and to see if I could get him to talk.”
“The Fire Lord said that none may enter.”
There was a loud clang and a thud. A strangled cry followed by another thud. Jingling keys. Then the door opened.
Wolf squinted to see who it was. All he knew was that it was an old man who was short and round.
“We must hurry,” the old man stated. He searched the chains around Wolf’s wrists, but found no keyhole. “This may hurt a little.”
The old man grabbed the iron shackle tightly. Slowly, the iron began to glow a bright orange. The heat seared the skin it held. The old man pulled at the red bangle and it pulled apart. He did the same to the other one. Wolf stumbled forward.
“Come,” the old man helped Wolf remain on his feet. “There is not much time. We need to get out of here as fast as we can.”
The old man hurried out of the room, Wolf right at his heels. Wolf slipped into the shirt. Upon exiting the room, Wolf skirted around two Fire Nation guards that were lying sprawled on the floor. Both had large depressions in their helmets.
The old man led Wolf in a confusing mix of twists and turns. Wolf occupied himself with pulling the short sleeves off of his shirt and using them to wrap his blistering wrists. After several minutes, they came to a place Wolf was vaguely familiar with, the kitchen. The old man opened the secret passage that led to the underground corridor and urged Wolf through before following, closing the opening before pressing onwards.
The two stood waiting for a minute so that they both had mostly caught their breaths.
“We should be good for now. Let us continue on our way,” the old man suggested.
Wolf nodded and they continued at a slower pace. After a long way of silence, Wolf asked, “Why are you helping me?”
“Am I not allowed to help my younger brother?”
Wolf stopped walking with shock. “Iroh?”
The old man stopped and turned to face Wolf with a small chuckle. “You did not recognize me, Moltov?”
“No. The years have not been kind to you.”
“And they have been kind to you?”
“No, not really.”
Iroh nodded before continuing on his way. Wolf, unconsciously, followed.
“Where will we be heading after we are away?” Iroh ventured.
“You say ‘we’?”
“Yes, I would like to stay with you. Ozai will not be happy when he discovers you have escaped, and I do not feel any should feel his wrath but the one who helped you.”
“So nice of you to ask. It’s all right though. In return for helping me, you can stay at my place. Its in Ba Sing Se.”
“I know the look of that city well.”
“Yes. I laid siege to that place for 600 days. There is a reason it is called Ba Sing Se.”
Wolf nodded. He had forgotten that.
“The rest of the way requires silence,” Iroh informed.
Again, Wolf nodded. “I know.”
Getting into Ba Sing Sei was a lot easier than getting out of the Fire Lord’s palace. The guard knew Wolf and a simple bribe for waking him in the middle of the night placated him enough to get him to open the gates. Wolf and Iroh slunk around in the shadows to avoid the eyes of the town watchmen. Mid way through the poor section of the town, Wolf stopped at a small building.
“Do you have a knife?” he murmured.
“Cautious, are we?” Iroh asked, handing the desired tool over.
“Just a little. I didn’t know how long I would be away. I haven’t been inside for at least half a year.” Wolf slipped the knife in a crack in the door and jerked it up. He pushed the door open and walked inside. A pair of rats scampered out through a small crack in the wall. Wolf held the door open for Iroh as he entered. “Welcome home.”
“Home” was a small, cheaply made building. The walls had gaps and the ceiling leaked when it rained. Right now, stars could be seen through the holes. The place had a single wall in the inside, separating a bedroom from everywhere else. Off to one side of the door was a set of patchy, hastily made cabinets, a cold box that looked to have long since fell out of practice being cold, and a small fire pit. On the opposite side, still using the door as a divider, was an odd thing Iroh had never seen. It resembled a stretched out chair with padding over it. Nothing could be seen past it. The entire floor was covered with boxes and clutter.
“This is where you live?” Iroh asked.
“Sometimes. I got it cheap off of some old guy. For some reason, it was one of his last wills that it should go to me. I left it as he had it. That includes the clutter.”
Iroh stepped into the building cautiously. An urge to clean came over him.
“I like it though. It makes it more home-ish and less…dungeon-ey?” Wolf smiled weakly. He wondered if dungeon-ey worked to convey his feelings of the place.
“If I may ask, what is that?” Iroh asked, pointing to the odd chair.
“My pride and joy.” Wolf went to stand beside it and gestured Iroh over. On the far side of the strange chair was a small table with a semi-moldy cushion.
“That’s the only thing in here that is worth stealing. Some crazy inventor had it. One of his creations, I think. Any way, it took up too much room, so…I took it.”
“Did he say he had to much room, or did you decide that on your own.”
Wolf by passed the question. “He called it a couch. Now, ordinarily, couches are only seats for more than one person. This however,” Wolf pulled a hidden switch on the side and the back fell over. “This doubles as a bed. I call it a futon.”
“Very creative. Where did you come up with that?”
“It just came to me.”
“Well, it’s getting late. So much excitement in one day wore me out. I’m turning in. You can have the bedroom. I’ll warn you, it smells a little odd, but the bed works well enough.”
Wolf was about to flop down on the flat futon when Iroh stopped him. “Wait a minute.”
Wolf stopped what he was about to do. “What?”
“What did my brother do to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“He knew that you were a rebel, and he had evidence that you were in charge of that charade. He was very angry after seeing you, so I have reason to believe that you did not tell him what he wanted to know. Ozai does not take kindly to that.”
“It’s not your problem.”
“It is too my problem. It is my job to look after you.”
“Fine. There’s a candle…” Wolf gestured vaguely to the pile, “somewhere over there. If you care so much, have a look for yourself.”
As Iroh dug around a pile, Wolf removed his shirt and flopped down carefully on his stomach. Iroh was successful in his mining and had a lit candle in less time than would have been believed. He walked over to the futon and held the candle up. Lightly, he touched at the area around the long cuts. Wolf hissed with the pain.
After a few minutes, Wolf asked reluctantly, “So, how does it look?”
“My guess would be that it is about as bad as it feels.”
“Ouch. That’s really bad, then.”
“If I find some, I will apply some medicine to help dull the pain and help it heal faster.”
Wolf heard a clatter of things being moved. A few minutes later, he felt Iroh approach again. A cold substance was smeared across a small section of the wounds. The salve was cold and it burned. It didn’t seem to help with the pain too much either.
“That stuff really smells bad,” Wolf muttered.
“Most things that are good for you do. It is probably really old, as well.”
“It doesn’t really help either.”
“You need to let it sink in before it will.”
Sure enough, by the time Iroh was done, the first section had warmed up slightly and the pain had almost vanished.
“You are welcome. Now, how about some tea before we go to sleep?” Iroh went into the kitchen with the light. He was going to fix tea whether Wolf wanted some or not.
Wolf smiled. “It’s always tea with you, isn’t it?”
“Tea is good for you.”
“Yeah, I’ll have some. So, I haven’t heard much about anyone lately. What have you been up to? Finally marry that girl you had your eyes on?”
Wolf heard Iroh pause what he was doing. “She is gone now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You guys have that son you always wanted?”
“He’s not around. He get married or something?”
“He died an honorable death on the battle field.”
Wolf muttered a curse. “I’m truly sorry to hear that.” That explains the tone for that song earlier.
“Don’t be. You haven’t been around for a long time. There is still happiness for me in this life.”
“Is there now?”
“Ozai’s kid?” Wolf exclaimed.
“Tell me about him.”
“He is still young, and my brother expects too much of him. He is learning very quickly. He is better at fire bending than all of the other children his age. But, he is far better at his weapon training. He is strong, but rash. He often does things without thinking. He is also very proud.”
“He has every right to be. He is the son of the great fire lord. What’s that guy been up to? There’s the kid, but what else?”
“He also has a daughter. She seems older than Zuko and definitely her father’s child.”
“You don’t have to say any more about that. I get it.”
“Now, it is my turn to ask you. What have you been doing all of these long years?” Iroh sat down by Wolf with two steaming cups of tea in his hands. He handed one off.
Wolf took a couple sips of the tea. It was better than any he’d had in a long time. “Wandering mostly. Scrounging for scraps here and there. Typical out cast things. Gathering a small force to go against the Fire Lord.” Wolf sat up, groaning. “I’m getting old.”
“There is no escaping that.”
“I know. Now, where’s one of my other shirts?” Wolf hopped off the futon and started searching through the piles.
“Where are you going?”
“What makes you think I’m going somewhere?”
“I did not grow up around you without learning some of your habits.”
“You are too perceptive. I’m just getting ready to go out for a little stroll tomorrow.”
“I would not go back there if I were you.”
“Who said anything about going back?” Wolf stood, satisfied with a shirt he unearthed. He carefully pulled it on.
“No one. I just know you too well.”
“Yes, you do.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Yes. I can’t stop you from lending me your words of wisdom.”
“Go back when you are healed.”
“I can’t. That will just give them time to beef up the security. If I go now, they won’t expect a thing.”
“What will you do if you are caught?”
A pensive look crossed Wolf’s face. He shrugged. “I’ll cross that bridge if I get there.”
“Well planned out.”
Wolf turned to really look at Iroh, a confused and startled look on his face. Sarcasm? “Since when did you use sarcasm?”
“People do change.”
Exasperated, Wolf headed for the door.
“Now you are going some where. May I have one more word?” Iroh paused. Wolf looked back at him. “Do not treat Zuko like a pawn. He is very proud and will not take kindly to that.”
“It’s Ozai’s kid. That’s not a pawn, that’s a knight,” Wolf muttered.
“I will go to bed now. I will see you in the morning.” Iroh put his empty tea mug on top of the cabinet and went into the bedroom.
Wolf stood by the door, debating whether or not he wanted to go out right this second or not. “I’ll wait until morning,” he muttered, suddenly tired. He laid down on the futon, rolled onto his side, and fell asleep.
Chapter 5 – END