The Search Part IV, V, VI, and VII

Chapter 2 - A Walk in the Woods

Five years before the time of Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko in Search Part III

At the conclusion of their unexpected and tearfully happy reunion after nearly twenty years of separation over breakfast in her home town of Hira'a, Ursa invited Ikem, "Let's go see this spirit of yours."

She put down the mask in her hands, even though she knew not to let her hands be free anywhere near Ikem. He was also reluctant and did not want to press her, knowing she was still dealing with the shock of not only him still being alive, but how he came to have his face changed by a spirit.

The Mother of Faces couldn't change anyone's eyes though, and they looked at each other across the years. They had no regrets, and nothing to keep them apart now.

And so, Ursa grasped his arm affectionately. They were not prepared for what happened next. They both felt the electricity in that touch, but it wasn't enough. Alone in the cluttered old Prop Warehouse behind the stage, after years of agonizing separation, Ursa and Ikem had their first long, deep kiss since he proposed and she had said 'yes'. Since that wonderful long-ago moment that should have been the beginning of their lives together, they had never touched since and barely exchanged a tearful goodbye, as Azulon and Ozai took cruelly her away from everyone she loved in a royal coach and on her way to a crueler marriage.

Their foreheads were touching, and they could not catch their breath with their arms around each other, hugging desperately.

"I still love you," she said emphatically.

"And I never stopped loving you," Ikem replied.

It was exactly what they needed to hear from each other. They kissed even longer after the tender confessions.

But they knew what they needed to do next, so Ursa brought them back to reality for a moment, "We need to pack for the Forgetful Valley. I'm warning you - I got pretty used to a pampered life as the Fire Nation Princess, so I might be totally useless to you. I don't think I even remember how to cook. You might not even want me any more after a few days alone. You may wish for another new face so I can't find you!"

They laughed happily, but he drew her close, "I've gotten pretty used to taking care of myself alone. It won't be hard to want to pamper you in my own way."

She blushed.

He caressed her still-pretty face, containing many more sad lines than it should be for her age, "You are still you inside. I could see it on that lonely stage a few hours ago. But sadder."

She smiled weakly at him, "Part of me was crushed by Ozai, but now that I'm with you, it feels like it never left me."

They quietly walked to his home, and as she looked around, she complimented him, "Your home is beautiful!"

"I've been pretty successful with the drama business. It's nice without being ostentatious. You'll like living here," he winked and she thrilled with the implications.

She had everything she needed in her own satchel pack that she used when escaped from the palace. She had left little trace of her royalty. Except for one item. He pointed to the top of her head.

"Umm. Ursa. Your royal hair piece?"

"Uh, oops… yes."

She buried it in the bottom of her satchel, never to be worn again.

He packed a knapsack with some tools, and some defensive weapons, and a bag of food and water until they were sure of a good supply. He'd spent months in Forgetful Valley years before, but wanted to be prepared. That living forest was ever-changing.

Ursa look skeptically at his weapons, knowing what the Home Guard and Fire Nation Army packed as standard issue for war, "Just a couple of knives and some old spear points? Will we be safe?"

"It's a scary place, but the forest is like us actors – it creates a fearsome illusion to scare off the faint of heart. If you come with the right mind and spirit, nothing there will bother you. I'm kind of part of this place now. The creatures and spirits know me. They will accept you. You have a kind heart."

"A troubled one, though, my love."

He grabbed his bed roll, but realized what that implied and blushed, "Ursa, I only have one bed roll."

"One bed roll is enough, Ikem," she smiled invitingly.

"Oh?" he smiled.

"Unless you think I am being a 'loose woman'?"

"I still want to marry you. Do you want me with this new face?"

"Yes. Truly I do. You are still handsome, and nothing changed on the inside."

He held her in his arms and invited, "Ursa, then let's marry now, before we leave. The Fire Sages are right up the street."

Cautious reality was the only thing holding her back, "Please know I want to, dearest, but let's wait until after we meet the spirit. A changed face will be much easier to explain. Someone will remember me. We can't risk that. The next scene of 'our secret story' is that you finally met the right woman – someone with a new face to complement yours."

He chuckled, "Who conveniently are you and me underneath! Living masks…how ironic."

They laughed.

But then he got a look of horror, "But aren't you still married to him? Are we destined to be forever apart even standing in front of each other?"

She smiled and rubbed his arm in reassurance, "No dear Ikem, it'll be all right. Banishment cuts all relationships of any kind, including marriage, so I won't have any legal rights to the throne, or any inheritance. Our marriage is irrevocably annulled. Thank the spirits. If he ever tries to touch me again, I can justifiably scream. And he knows that. Fortunately he stopped coming to me after Azula was conceived."

She shuddered recalling his smarmy touches.

"I'm a just a peasant girl again, and my home is Hira'a. And being with you for the rest of my life, in your home."

"Our home. That's such a relief, but I really don't understand why, Ursa, we can't marry right now."

"The Sages know you as 'Noren the drama director,' Ikem. Consider this: after years of being a bachelor, some old woman shows up randomly and the village drama director wants to marry her instantly. The Sages are going to question you about that. It's 'out of character' for a veteran actor set in his ways. Most are still loyal to the Fire Lord and they talk. The word will get around that I am here. And then we are both dead by Ozai's hand. I know he is the kind of jealous man that if he can't have me, no one can. Because I will talk to a new husband."

"Like now."

"Yes. Like now. And that he can't stand the heat of the scandal of being associated with the death of his father as he tries to consolidate power. No, Ikem, let's just keep this low key for now. We can 'act' like we are courting when we get back with my new face, and you can become smitten with me in a scene of 'love at first sight'. The townspeople will think it 'quaint' for two people to fall in love later in life rather than be suspicious."

"Well that isn't acting. That really happened when we were six," he joked.

"Yeah, right after you spit all the dirt out of your mouth," she teased. He just rolled his eyes.

"Speaking of low key. I think I need a new name. How about 'Noriko'?"

He rolled it off his tongue with satisfaction, "Noriko and Noren. Sounds pretty good to me! Like a love story."

"Especially when you put me as first billing," she kidded.

"Ladies always go first, Noriko."

She blushed.

Ikem pondered the new name, "Any particular reason for that name, other than the alliteration with my 'stage name'? And why change at all?"

"She was my favorite attendant at court. Who knows what spies are here to watch that I don't get out of line, and leverage my position. I am certain Ozai would guess that I would come back here to be in exile, even though everyone in my family is gone. He sent an assassin for you, and never found you because of your face change. I can disappear here, but not as easily. Ursa is too unusual a name, and although I can guess he will still only spy on me even though he is done with me, so let's not take chances or give him cause to do something that separates us again, this time permanently. Ozai and I made a deal, but no one should ever trust his deals. And I certainly don't want him to think 'Noren' is Ikem. A sudden marriage by me to a stranger is too suspicious for someone wanting to know my every move."

Noren was staggered by all the implications and her desire to make everything safe for them, "Wow, Urs—umm… Noriko. You think all these things completely through. That's not like the spontaneous 'you and me' of twenty years ago. We would have gone to the Sages to tie the knot the next day and laugh at the consequences."

She explained, "Gladly, I would have. If there had been any other way I would have. I seriously thought of running away and marrying you that night, to mess up Ozai's claim to me. I thought that even the Fire Lord can't take another man's wife."

"Why didn't you? I would have done anything you said that day, I was so excited. And brave enough to ask."

"You were very sweet and clever. I never saw your proposal coming."

"Acting at its best! Always give the audience a good cliffhanger!" he joked.

She got close and caressed him, "My dearest Ikem. Thank goodness for us that now I know better about Ozai and his total abuse of royal power. They would have seized me and killed you and the Sage who performed the ceremony and claimed it never happened. I had to protect you with that abrupt goodbye, Ikem, and am so sorry I couldn't ever explain it. They were listening to and controlling my every word. My parents warned me, and the story of Great Grandfather Roku being left to die by his former best friend Sozin in his lust for power. That will always haunt me."

"It's truly a conspiracy."

"Every day is a conspiracy, my love, on the royal court. Are you still sure you want to get mixed up with me? I am barely three days into my exile. They might be after me even as we speak."

"You know I can't live without you, Ursa, now that you are in my arms again."

"I agree, dearest. This time I would rather die than not have you."

They kissed again. It took them awhile to break it.

"Much has changed in me because of Ozai, so I hope you think I remain the same girl enough to be worth dying for. But fortunately my lesson in this conspiracy is how to conspire to save everything I love, not destroy it. I kept my soul and sanity. And my memories."

"Lucky me to be one of those memories," he reflected and they kissed again.

They finished packing, and secured his home.

"Are you sure about sharing a bed roll?" Ikem asked, not wanting to be too obvious.

She was very candid, "You waited this long. I don't want you to wait any longer. I have dreamed every day of being with you."

"And I with you," he admitted.

"Even the nights I was with Ozai I shut my eyes and dreamt it was you, but he never knew. He was so focused on his own gratification and fire bending children prodigies to be sired with me that he never even cared about my feelings. I was just his property. That display of masks sustained me after he left me alone. I could 'escape' back to you."

"Seems like you were wearing a mask all the time in that palace, Ursa my dear."

"I was. It got me through. At least for awhile. When the children grew past toddler age, and much of their care becoming the job of their tutors and mentors, it felt like all my responsibility and influence was over. I couldn't spend the rest of my life alone and unfulfilled in the castle. And I felt I was becoming expendable or at least replaceable with something younger who wanted my tiara. So I started writing letters to you, knowing that they would be found. I was very, very careful."

"You toyed with fire. Literally."

"The last letter was so absurd that I knew we'd have a fight. But I let him get to me, and then my world changed with Azulon's demand for Ozai to murder my precious Zuko. I had only one pai sho piece left. I bet that Ozai would rather kill his own father and take the throne than kill his only son who was only a useless sensitive child to him. But it had a price. I was banished after I created the poison, and it got worse. I admitted I wished Zuko was ours, Ikem, and he mistreated that little boy more cruelly to punish me for even thinking of you. What kind of monster would do that to his own child?

"The same kind of monster that Azulon was to him and Iroh. It just got passed on to the next generation."

"Point taken. And fortunately it got me to the Third Act with the happy ending for our play! Here I am, Ikem, despite everything I had to leave."

"I am so glad. I figured we both would get life's final curtain call before I ever saw you face to face again. I am surprised you have any sanity."

"The love of my children sustained me. At least until Azula started to turn, and she was encouraged to so over my discipline by her father whom she idolized and two women Ozai hired whom I hardly knew."

"Zuko remains a sweet, kind boy trapped as a member of a dynasty that will not tolerate it. Iroh understood him. They were close, until Iroh withdrew from everything after his son's death, and then he shut everyone out. I fear for Iroh as well as for Zuko."

Their packing was done, and they headed for the way out of town toward the Valley. It appeared no one was watching or following.

"Are you ready?" Ikem asked and they reached for each other's hands outside of the village, making sure she wasn't seen doing so.

"Yes. Lead on."

They walked down the rough trail. It was not long before they came to the huge rock shaped like a frightened human face. They were there at the entrance to Forgetful Valley. Neither one knew that it was also a map of the five pools.

She was nervous. She needed to keep him talking, "What's she like, this Mother of Spirits, Noren?"

They were trying hard to assume their new identities by avoiding their real names.

"The spirit is huge and formidable looking but she is kind. She's part tree and vines and part beautiful female spirit. She has five faces herself, and is surrounded by the faces she's creating. She's made every face of everyone who's ever lived. And now she can change people's faces that are patient and sincere enough to come before her here."

"It sounds pretty painful, though, getting a new face."

"It doesn't really hurt, Noriko. She makes you stand while she changes the face. It's just a blinding light and a lot of pressure, and then it's done."

"Will you be there with me when it happens? I don't think I can do it without you," thinking of all the times that Ozai was never there for her.

"Of course."

It was starting to get dark faster than they expected. There was not enough time to make a primitive shelter and fire. They were alone and unprotected in the woods.

"Noren, I am afraid. I… I don't want o sleep on the forest floor tonight. You've done this, but I haven't."

"It's all right. Besides, look at the moon."

They saw the huge full moon flooding the forest with its cold white light.

"It's beautiful. Sleeping under it will be nice, with you, Noren."

They climbed a gnarly but very solid tree to a huge branch above any predator's reach. All many of noises of creatures that they could recognize and many they couldn't screeched, barked, and howled. It was unnerving to Ursa, so he put his arms around her. In a big branch with the full moon shining on them, they snuggled and kissed.

"Now I feel safe," she smiled up at him, and settled under his arm. She always admired that Ikem was so much taller than she was except when they had been preteens together, and she teased about it then.

"I will stay up all night protecting you, Noriko. I can feel like I can reach out and ask the forest spirits to leave us alone."

"That's not fair. You won't get any sleep because of me," she fretted.

In his confession, he had to use her real name, "My dear Ursa, most of my adult life I have stayed up night after night wondering if I would ever see you ever again. I have lost much sleep being without you. Now I can make up for that lost time by simply watching your beautiful face slumbering against me. That's a pretty good trade for no sleep."

She blushed with his compliment and pondered, "You really think my face it beautiful? There are so many stress and age lines there now."

"Even when you are completely gray, I will always see that sweet face of your teens."

Her emotions soared for him. Ozai always complained about her not being pretty enough. They kissed a very long time, and she cried in happiness. She let it all go. All the pain, all the loneliness, all the fear, all the criticism and suspicion of her royal life was gone, replaced by the new happiness starting together again with her Ikem.

"I have never been happier in my entire life since the time you asked me 'the question'."

"Me too."

She fell asleep almost instantly, and he was content just holding her and feeling her breathe and her heartbeat next to him the entire night.


The next morning, they took off in the direction of the pool at which he held his own spirit vigil. A simple shelter would not do this time. His beloved Ursa was with him and that would not do for her comfort. He needed to make something that would last to hold them comfortably. It had to be something better than a place to wait for the spirit, but also be a place that would let their love be rekindled fully. He drew the design in the dirt.

"Sort of like a stage prop 'lean-to', only a lot nicer," she complimented him.

They set about building the shelter together. He cut a lot of the wood, and she gathered and stacked it, and she collected tree bark, palm fronds, and vines to assemble the roof and sides. They dug the post holes, and over the next week or so, assembled a sturdy water-tight shelter for their vigil for the wolf and Mother of Faces. It rained down them several times, but they weren't deterred. She held a big leaf to protect him making the cooking fire and to ward off overly curious creatures. It was hot in the woods and they savored the rain on their clothes. They were getting a lot of rips and tears in their clothes, but it didn't matter. They were building a place for themselves.

Every night they hugged and kissed, but were exhausted, and just slept. They knew they were not quite ready for the next step. After a few days working hard in the humid forest, however, they started to be a little ripe.

"I may love you, Noren, but smelling you is not so great," she laughed.

"Well… truth be told, Noriko…"

"I agree, I caught a whiff of me this morning. Pewh!"

They both laughed.

He took her hand in his, and led her on the trail, "Let's go to the creek wash our clothes and us." They brought water jugs too, to fill up with fresh water.

They stood by the creek in an awkward moment. This really was the moment of truth.

"Should we take turns? I will turn around while you bathe first."

"No we won't. You are very gallant and proper, but this, my love, we do together. And all the times after."

They helped each other disrobe, admired each other's bodies, and hugged, reveling in the new feeling dreamed about for so long.

He commented how lovely she was, but she scoffed, "Even after the stretch marks and being droopy from nursing two children?"

"I can't even tell, my dear," he noted, looking and smiling at her body, something he thought he would never see.

She blushed but let him admire her, "You're lying, but you are so sweet to say so."

They laughed and giggled washing each other in the soothing creek water, discovering and exploiting their ticklish spots. But it got a lot quieter soon, with years of pent-up desire finally being realized. They embraced intimately on the sandy creek embankment. They kissed gently afterward, and weren't ready to dress.

"Well since we're like this, let's wash the clothes," Noren suggested.

While they did get their clothes cleaned, they were very distracted, and played and splashed and laughed like teen lovers, throwing their clothes at each other.

While they were waiting for their clothes to dry, she reached and pulled out her Fire Nation Princess gold hair piece. She held it gently, "I can never be found with this. It is too dangerous to have it, especially when I will have a new face."

She tossed it in the deepest part of the creek. Ikem could only watch as she symbolically threw away her old life for the new he was providing her and she wanted so much. And then she restyled her long straight wet hair. She started braiding it around the sides of her head like she did in her late teens and early twenties.

"Do you remember this?"

"Do I ever. I always loved your braids."

"Just for you, dear."

He just watched. She hadn't dressed yet either - on purpose - but eventually their clothes were dry and they put them on and headed back to camp.

"And this – my cloak – gets to become firewood tonight. It was the last thing I was seen wearing when I fled the palace."


Watching the cloak burn in the shelter-side fire and its royal clasp melt had a real finality to it. He sighed, and he took her hand.

"You aren't his anymore, dearest. It's over."

She admitted, "Ikem, I was always yours even when he forced me to be his. That part of the letters was right."

They reached for each other. The creek side lovemaking made them more eager for their nighttime together. Normally when they reclined in the bed roll, they slept quickly. Tonight they were not tired, and no longer afraid of being intimate. It was even more exciting than their first coupling.

As the fire reduced to embers, they prepared to sleep, and Ikem said, "I will never leave your side ever again, Noriko. That was even better than any dream I had of us together."

She smiled, pulled the bed roll cover over them, entwined for the night, and didn't let go.

….

They lingered in the morning light, and gave in to their continuing desires, but Ursa joked when they were done, "This isn't getting the shelter finished."

"Ask me if I care?"

"There is plenty more time for this, my love. We get a lifetime of being with each other now."

They did finally get up and finished their shelter by the spirit pool.

In the time that followed, every day they talked for hours as they gathered and hunted for food each day. He showed her how to build and throw a spear one day to catch small game. That day he went bare-chested and she gushed her praise for him for his very athletic physique.

The hours grew to days, weeks, and then to months. They did not become anxious for the spirit, because they were vigilant and prayful that she would come, and every moment that they with spent with each other made up for lost time, and they created their own special time together. They talked about everything in their lives after they parted: his time here in the Valley and the changes that happened; her children; his life's work in drama, burying his feelings for her by working constantly as a talented actor at first and then the drama director job. They spent much time on future plans for themselves. They discovered that little had actually changed between them. They fell deeper and deeper into their renewed love. They truly made up for the decades of lost time, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

"Love is supposed to be this way, isn't it, dear Ikem?" she said demurely, joined with him one especially tender night. Ikem knew by inference and whenever she used his real name affectionately that it had never been that way with Ozai, and Ikem hugged her tighter still.


Weeks more passed. One day, after a joke about their cooking skills, the blue spirit Wolf lapped water at the spirit pool. It was not long before they stood hand in hand as Mother of Spirits towered above her.

"Human, what do you ask me?" thundered the Mother of Faces.

The Mother of Spirits gave her a choice neither she nor Noren expected. Ursa was faced with the impossible choice to become the happy spouse caring for of the love of her life, instead of being a neglected spouse and a mother who was forbidden to be with her children, never knowing what happened to them. The terrible price was to never even know she had children at all. Not knowing they existed seemed better to her than an eternity of not being able to ever see them again.

The spirit became impatient with the troubled human before her.

"You must decide," she demanded.

"Zuko… Azula… I'm so horrible," she whispered.

"Do you wish to have both a new face and a new mind?" repeated the Mother of Faces.

"Yes," she said to the Mother of Faces, with her eyes closed.

"Hold still," directed the spirit.

She did not know that the choice would protect the three people she loved the most, as well as herself. The Mother of Spirits had finished transforming Ursa's beautiful face into the simpler, more common, but equally kind, face of the new persona of Noriko. But the Mother of Faces could not and would not change the face of the tiny human that had just started growing in her womb – she had only a few days before given the baby her face. The little girl would resemble the best of the humans who used to be called Ursa and Ikem.

Noriko groped the air with her eyes closed and blinded by the act of transformation, as the Mother of Faces disappeared silently into the pond behind her. She was frightened, and called out to the one person she hoped would be there for her.

"Noren? Noren, where are you?" Noriko cried out as she wandered helplessly with closed eyes as if she was blind.

He called out to her and quickly embraced her tightly to reassure her, "I'm right here. I always be right here."

Her eyes opened and she gave him a tender look. He could see how much she changed. Her face was very simple, but still beautiful to look at. He loved her. The Mother of Faces hadn't changed her eyes. But he didn't know how much she retained of her life now, and how much the Mother of Spirits had blocked from the memory of her royal years.

Noriko said softly, still holding him unsteadily, "You always are there for me, Noren. That's why I love you so."

That was an instant relief to Noren.

"I love you too, Noriko."

"I feel like I just woke up from a long sleep," she noted.

Noriko didn't realize how true that was.

He thought of a good question to ask, "What do you remember? We'll fill in the blanks after that."

"Well, I remember this handsome stranger offering me breakfast because I'd just arrived alone in town months ago, was confused and lonely, looking for work with the theater, and it instantly felt like we'd known each other for years. Everything felt so right between us from the start, that when you asked me to run away alone together on a camping trip to get better acquainted, like a crazy school girl I agreed. A plain girl like me never gets an adventurous invitation like that! I threw all caution to the wind and went with you all summer here in the forest. Alone. I remember. See - there's our campsite and our bedroll we have shared. I think I got hit on my head, and it's blurry after that. I sure have a terrible headache."

"It looks like you remember a lot," Ikem was amazed. The Mother of Faces allowed her to remember almost everything about the past few months since Ursa and his reunion, but invented a new past life for her of a wandering young woman that had just arrived at Hira'a, and fell for him. It was believable.

"I sure remember first bathing the creek, every time afterwards, and all the nights with you since we got here," she caressed her face.

He was relieved. They didn't have that situation to face.

"All those times are pretty hard to forget, Noriko."

She kissed him.

"You've been out for hours. I've been worried sick. You sort of got up and wandered, and here you are, and I got to you before you fell into the pond."

"Everything feels so right about our time together in the forest, Noren. Except that you are a terrible cook. Everything you make tastes like a dirty old tree branch. I think you need me more than you know. But Noren, I don't remember why I fell. Did something fall on me?"

"No but someone fell for you."

"Oh?" she asked in anticipation.

"Me."

They hugged.

"So what exactly did happen?"

"Well after breakfast I asked you a question."

"This gets even more interesting, Noren. I assume it was not about your cooking."

They laughed.

"What was the question?"

"'Will you marry me, Noriko?'"

She grinned, figuring that had been the question, but teased him, and tried to be casual about it all, "Oh, you asked that, hmmm? And what did I say?"

"Umm. That's kind of where you fainted and fell over and hit your head. And have been 'out' since. You… ah… never actually answered the question. Am I too sudden to ask that kind of question?"

She gave him a mischievous look and said, "Not at all. After months alone together in the forest, we were either going to love or hate each other."

"And which is it for you?" he asked hesitantly.

She answered, "Kneel down. Hold my hands, and ask me again, so I don't fall this time."

He did what she asked without delay.

"Ready?"

"Ready, Noriko."

This was fun for Ikem. It was still her. She was actually toying with him more like the carefree 21 year old Ursa than the renewed and beautiful, but still sad and troubled woman he'd been with for months. She just didn't know it was her. It was almost like they completely regained their lost past, without the pain of her royal years, even though their bodies were older.

She knelt anxiously with him and giggled, "Sooo… it's your turn to say something now, Noren."

He looked very lovingly at her, "Will you marry me, Noriko?"

"Yes! Noren. Very much, yes! When?"

"Uh, whenever you want to."

"How long would it take to pack up our gear and get back to Hira'a? I love being here in the woods with you, but we've camped long enough and I want to get to know all about our home and all the people here."

"About a day or two from now."

"How does three days after we get back sound to you? We don't need anything fancy. I just want to be your wife."

"It sounds just simply wonderful, Noriko. I can invite a few friends. We can use the stage. And the Sages will be very happy I've found you. Only no play-acting this time. This time for real."

"That would be nice. Will you help me pick out a dress? A girl only gets married once in her life, y'know. I was lucky to find you. I don't deserve you."

"And why is that?" he asked carefully, noting that she had absolutely no knowledge of her forced marriage to Ozai, exactly what the spirit promised would happen.

"I'm just a plain old peasant woman. No one ever wanted me before you. I've had a really lonely life just wandering around from town to town with bit acting jobs and housework and cooking jobs for other people since my parents died."

"You're beautiful to me, and will always be young at heart. That's all the matters, dear Noriko. And you're not old. We can still have…uh…" he stopped realizing he was kind of getting ahead of himself.

"Children? Noren. You're so sweet. I want children by you!"

"Me too, Noren, you'll be a great mother."

"Thank you Mother of Spirits for my beautiful Ursa come back to me as Noriko," he prayed as he took her into his arms. It was Ursa's body, her voice, but with a brand new face. And no more burdens of being the banished Fire Nation Princess. The new 'script' was being written for their real life play as they proceeded – and the headline act was finally called 'Noren and Noriko'.


Just a couple of days later, the couple was married and exchanged vows and kisses in front of the pleased townspeople. The general opinion of the villagers was that Noren always deserved a good woman, and he finally found her, a gentle wandering soul. They were a handsome couple in their wedding finery.

Quietly, an undercover agent of Ozai mingled with the celebrating crowd wearing party apparel. He scanned the crowd for the faces of Ursa and Ikem, and gripped his blades, ready to strike before they could react. Ikem had been searched for before, but if Ursa was here, he would surely now surface and they'd reunite. He had memorized who to be looking for. A marriage between the drama director and another actor would naturally attract all the actor intelligentsia in the area. Ursa had been a known thespian in her youth with Ikem, and it would be appropriate for them to be there for the marriage of one of their colleagues. Someone had mentioned a woman looking like a royal with a Fire Nation royal hairpiece had been seen in town months ago briefly. He ignored the bride and groom. It most certainly was not them. They were both very ordinary looking people.

But they had to be somewhere in the general vicinity of her birthplace. He prepared to move on to another town.

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