Chapter 1 - Rough Waters
Pakku cleared his throat, and spoke very seriously, "Katara, I want you to have this."
He held up a vial, conical in shape, with a blue, wave-shaped design cut into it, and topped by a crescent moon screw-on top. It could be held – or worn - by a leather thong, and had a small ribbon attached to the bottom of the vial.
He continued his explanation, "This amulet contains water from the Spirit Oasis. Don't lose it."
Katara replied respectfully, "Thank you, Master Pakku."
She hugged him and stepped aside. Aang stepped forward, and Master Pakku extended to him an exquisitely engraved dark wooden box.
Master Pakku explained, "Aang, these scrolls will help you master water bending, but remember they're no substitute for a real Master."
Aang accepted the box, acknowledged Master Pakku's generosity, and looked up at a very pleased Katara, his brand new water bending sifu, seated on top of Appa. Finally, Sokka stepped forward.
Master Pakku hesitantly said, "Sokka... Take care, son."
A proud and expectant Sokka became instantly dejected and embarrassed, and stepped back.
Master Pakku gave his final instructions to the young trio, "Fly straight to the Earth Kingdom base to the east of here. General Fong will provide you with an escort to Omashu. There you'll be safe to begin your earth bending training with King Bumi.
Aang acknowledged Master Pakku's instructions, and departed by flipping the reins on his sky bison companion, and ordered, "Appa, yip yip!"
Katara called back to Pakku as they flew away from the small fleet headed south: "Say hi to Gran Gran for me!"
Pakku thought as he waved them a farewell, "I will, Katara, I will. If only she would speak to me again."
The journey to the Southern Water Tribe by boat took weeks, and was not without its dangers, both natural and man made.
The small group of ships was tossed about by a freak storm, and it was everything Pakku could do to calm the waves to a lesser sea state so that the ships would survive the seemingly relentless wind and waves. As it was, all the crews were still overcome with seasickness, and a huge gust of wind nearly snapped the mainmast on the lead ship, not to mention that the storm ripped the sails due to wind stress on them. It was fortunate they only grazed the edge of the giant storm, so it was less intense and didn't last long.
What he could not do anything about by water bending was being intercepted on the high seas by a Fire Nation destroyer. They were boarded and searched.
The ship's Captain grilled him sternly, "What is your business on the high seas, water tribe? Aren't you a little far from home?"
Pakku said cheerfully in a convincing lie, "Just making a living, Captain. We'll do some trade with the Kyoshi Islanders, and if we are lucky, sir, perhaps we can help the Whale Tail Island Fire Nation outpost with a few supplies."
"May the wind be always at your back, then, water tribe," smiled the Captain as he let them go, coercing from them a small, illegal 'tax' of salt-cured, nutrient rich whale-shark blubber to allow them to be safely on their way.
It was fortunate that the Captain had been out of touch with Fleet Headquarters and knew nothing of the Fire Nation's disastrous siege of the Northern Water Tribe. Had he known, Pakku and the rest of the tiny fleet would have been sent to the bottom of the ocean with all hands strapped to the masts and railings. Pakku knew that. The crews were on edge, and were grateful to their steady-handed and fast-talking leader.
While the storm and the Fire Nation posed grave dangers, the greatest danger ahead was facing the wrath of a woman he thought he knew, but ended up finding out he never really did, thanks to his stubbornness and presumption. Ironically, it was his same stubbornness that infuriated the second generation beyond Kanna – Katara - who inherited the same intolerance to unfair situations as her grandmother. He shook his head at how long it took for him to finally realize it had always been him, not her, who had been wrong.
It was amazing how much Katara resembled Kanna, down to nearly every last detail. Even her hair loopies. He was amazed that he didn't see that family resemblance immediately. He chocked it up to the forgetfulness that comes with old age. His painful memories flooded back only when he knocked off the very betrothal necklace from Katara's neck that he made for Kanna in that needless battle with her grandchild.
That meant of course, that when Kanna left, she had found someone else, married, and had children. That was another complication – was she still happily married? Would his appearance to her and her husband make things even more awkward? Pakku had not dared ask Katara. He didn't want to know. He had to see her one more time no matter what. And he wanted to at least pretend his primary purpose in being there was to help rebuild the Southern Water Tribe and infuse and train new water benders into the tribe.
Even if he never spoke to Kanna again, by committing to help the Southerners, he felt that would somehow atone for estranging the one love in his life. Having lost her, it had made him bitter and lonely for a lifetime - because of his own bullheadedness. That attitude caused him to spurn all other women, and to be the best – but the most unforgiving and intolerant of all water bending Masters - to his pupils.
His family never forgave him for not continuing the male bloodline, even though his sister had many children. Nor did Kanna's mother forgive her. Without the marriage and her disappearance without marrying another, her once-honored family disappeared. There were consequences to Kanna and Pakku's failure to adhere to tradition, and in the eyes of their society, neither were without fault.
Pakku had rationalized at the time that Kanna was irreplaceable, and he didn't want to sacrifice his heart again, only to be burned by another – lesser - choice. He smiled to himself, having seen the same kind of dedication he had wanted to give Kanna in the way the Avatar devoted himself to Katara and how she responded to him. There was something about the women of that family that stole mens' hearts. But Aang and Katara were different from Kanna and him. He saw that they already shared a deep commitment to each other. They may have only considered it 'friendship' at their young age, but it was so obvious that the attraction was there for each other, even if the pair didn't see it themselves. He sighed when he realized they chose each other, and were not forced to choose. He wracked his mind knowing this had been his fatal error in judgment by blindly following the old ways, expecting the result to turn out the way he willed it.
The trip south became agonizing. What would he say? What would he do? He mulled a million scenarios in his head of what to say to Kanna, and how to react. Few of them had good outcomes.
Pakku even worried about his most recent events and the effect it might have on his 'reunion' with Kanna. That he made Katara a Master had nothing to do with ingratiating himself to Kanna. Katara earned becoming a Master. He would tell her so, if he could only get to tell her the news. In like fashion, Kanna earned her freedom by defying all those who would deny it too her – her mother and father and his mother and father, and he himself.
The final danger waiting on the shores of the Southern Water Tribe was that her departure from the tribe, joining with the southern exodus of the 'others' from the Northern Water Tribe, was not a happy one. Weapons had been drawn on both sides, but never blooded.
It was a repeat of a lesson from the history of the Northern Water Tribe of long ago – a period of intense civil divisiveness - that led to the establishment of the Southern Water Tribe centuries before, and for the very same reasons.
The faction of the North who called themselves "Separatists" in Pakku's youth was tired of the stratification of society of the North, much like another, much larger, group long before. Tensions had been growing a long time. They wanted a simpler life, without the titles and royalty. Life was hard enough in the polar regions without constantly worrying about doing the socially wrong thing that would get you jailed, exiled, or executed. To the Separatists, those who would dictate who a person could or could not love and live a lifetime with was insanity. As was fighting with the Fire Nation constantly. Escaping the North to create a new, simpler life for themselves, joining and mingling with the like-minded Southern Water Tribe in the desolate and isolated South Pole – seemingly far from the ravages of the War – was their goal.
And as the only son of a Great House, Pakku epitomized all that was wrong with the North forcing people to always adhere to the old ways and the protocols. No wonder Kanna despised him. No wonder she left.
And so as a result, he stood alone with only his pride and tradition for six decades.
Finally it was time to stop thinking and start doing.
The shoreline of last known location of the Separatists who had joined and mixed with the war-ravaged tiny enclaves of the remaining Southern Water Tribe clans was in sight, and they headed for the meager mooring posts. The main dock appeared to have been demolished by the Fire Nation. Their approach attracted a party of old people, mothers, and children, but they were still armed, and watched the Northerners warily, without a cheerful greeting.
"Where were all the men?" he wondered.
He and a few of his assistants exited the boat, bowed, and spoke to the wary 'welcoming party', "Good day. We are from the Northern Water Tribe."
"We know who you are," a middle-aged woman said angrily, holding a vicious-looking shark-whale grapple.
Ignoring the icy cold greeting, Pakku asked, "We'd like to meet with your Chief."
The woman replied, "He is away with the men, fighting the Fire Nation. You will have to talk to our elders, Northerners."
She spat the term 'Northerners."
"That would be fine," Pakku said emotionlessly. He would not be the first to provoke a fight.
They entered the inner battlement of the tribe. Their encampment was pitifully small. There appeared to be far fewer tribesmen than had left the North sixty years ago. The environment, but more likely the war, had not been kind to the Separatists. People looked at them curiously, some disdainfully.
A cluster of old men and women gathered by a dwelling. Pakku scanned all the elderly faces. Not one resembled Kanna, and there was not an ounce of recognition in these people of him.
"Which one of you is the leader?" he inquired.
"None of us. Go in there," ordered a grizzled old man with one leg.
He pulled back a skin covering the opening. He ducked under the low opening, and entered into the main part of the dwelling, and raised himself up.
Kanna and Pakku stood face to face for the first time in sixty years.