Chapter 7 - The Air Nation Wedding
But not everyone was happy. The old reporter Quan tried his best to make an issue about their 16 year age difference, and wrote an article that Pema was not worthy of being the wife of the son of the Avatar. He called Pema a penniless orphan child of a formerly wealthy Earth Kingdom land owner, which hurt Pema and Katara terribly. Katara remembered all too well the few but harsh criticisms leveled at her about being a peasant girl not worthy of Aang. Tenzin was livid, and was about to call a radio press conference over the old man's vicious personal attacks.
But he didn't need to. Virtually overnight there was massive public outrage over Quan's editorial, with thousands of letters to the editor focusing on how sweet and charming their love affair was, and how fitting it was that the son of the Avatar and the Air Acolyte daughter of two of the original Air Acolytes would fall in love together. It signaled the spirits' favor on the new Air Nation. Other letters vilified Quan saying he went too far. Within days he was fired by the newspaper and left in disgrace.
The simple fact that the Avatar's only air bending son was getting married and there was indeed hope for the future of the Air Nation overjoyed the entire world.
Tenzin and Pema wanted to get married right away, so wedding plans proceeded swiftly. She continued to be an Air Acolyte student. Tenzin promised no preferential treatment of his future wife over the other students. As a second generation Air Acolyte legacy student - someone who had lived the ways of the Air nation every day of her life - she was so far ahead of the rest of her classmates in knowledge and skills that she was the star student anyway. To tag her falsely with the derisive label of "Teachers Pet" was irrelevant. She even continued to regularly argue theological and historical doctrine with Tenzin, which encouraged everyone to discuss and debate more, enriching every student's learning experience. Tenzin and Aang were delighted at this, enhancing their respect further for Pema.
What was fun to see for both Aang and Tenzin is how close that Pema and Katara were already getting. Whenever Katara was sick, feeling too tired, or too busy with White Lotus business, Pema would take over the family household chores, and still get her schoolwork done.
Probably the most fun they had together was planning the wedding together.
Katara and Pema one day had a private girls only moment over tea, "Dear, I know the two of you are looking forward to your…um…relationships together."
With Pema not being her child, she was a bit tentative at what her mother taught her.
"Yes Mother Katara, very much so. My parents loved every aspect of their marriage, and taught me look forward to that part too," said Pema unashamedly.
Katara loved the term "Mother Katara". She shared the same feeling – that while Pema was soon to be her second daughter-in-law, she felt like a real daughter. She wished so much that her long ago friend and Pema's mother Lhamo was still alive to experience all this with them.
Katara felt comfortable being more frank with Pema based on this, "It will be beautiful. Aang and I have always enjoyed our intimate times together. It's just part of the joy of marriage."
"But dear Pema, you are so young. Someday Aang and I would love to hold your children in our arms, but don't rush it. You are just 17. Pregnancy will be very hard on you so young. That's why Aang and I waited for a few years into our twenties before we had Kya. We were ready then, physically and mentally for children."
She held her hand, "Please dear, be careful. Too many girls your age die in childbirth with their babies, because their bodies really aren't ready for that yet."
"Thank you Mother Katara, for caring so much about my well being and our marriage. To be honest, we do plan on being careful, and intend to wait a few years before making you and Father Aang grandparents. You are just like my mother – always looking out for me," she choked on the last few words.
Katara comforted Pema in her memory of her mother.
The preparation for the wedding continued apace, until the 'big day' arrived. Katara once again took the place of Pema's mother in preparing her in her wedding dress they found together in a Republic City bridal shop. It was incredibly beautiful, the most beautiful traditional Air Nomad dress either had ever seen. It consisted of fold after fold of elegant saffron and orange and brown fabrics, and was beyond floor length.
Pema couldn't wait to put it on, and asked Katara to help her to put her hair in twelve multiple braids, according to tradition, held in place by large decorative sticks, and some light makeup.
The sleeves of the gown were puffy from the shoulders down, and laced at the forearm and wrist. There was even a sheer saffron bridal veil that matched the gown. Her gown had an empire waist to emphasize her bust line, and was low cut to emphasize her Air Nomad beads. And her other attributes.
The back of the dress was open to her waist with a simple criss-cross pattern of lacing across the opening. Tenzin would be so excited! And probably barely able to speak.
She was finished dressing and ready to meet her groom Tenzin.
Meanwhile at Tenzin's home, Aang was helping to finish Tenzin dress in very formal robes that were a direct copy of the attire that an Elder of the Air Nomad Temple Council would wear to special occasions long ago. He wore his spare set of beads, and wore a floor length cape. He looked very handsome.
The crowd in the packed sanctuary was mostly immediate family and friends, though the Republic City Council attended as well. Fire Lord Zuko regrettably had to decline. Suki really didn't feel like coming, still mourning the passage of Sokka, even two years after his death. Toph just was never into mushy weddings, and since her daughter Lin and Tenzin just broke up as long-time lovers, it would have been just awkward.
The young couple emerged from different buildings and caught the first glimpse of each other in their wedding finery. Tenzin got weak in the knees at the sight of Pema, and she gave him a look of love that melted Tenzin's heart all over again. Pema thought Tenzin looked more handsome than ever in the Elder's robes.
They stopped at the entrance to the sanctuary, waiting for Aang, who as spiritual leader of the Air Nation, would preside over the ceremony. At Aang's prompt, they proceeded down the aisle to the front. Both looked around and saw that the sanctuary had been decorated throughout with saffron, orange, and brown banners, streamers, and decorations. Tenzin and Pema turned to face each other and joined both hands together tightly.
"No prettier woman in the world than you, Pema", whispered Tenzin.
He could not imagine a day like this ever happening – a traditional Air Nomad wedding with his beloved Pema dressed as one of his own people. And yet it was happening - right now. She beamed at him.
The sanctuary altar was heaped with fragrant flowers and covered with candles and incense that they lit together in accordance with tradition, and the delicious smell of incense wafted throughout the sanctuary. The ceremony proceeded with Tenzin placing the "mangala" necklace, a triple knotted white cord, delicately around Pema's neck as a symbolic personal blessing from groom to bride.
Then they both kneeled in front of Aang on two special white marriage pillows, covered in rice and barley kernels that were placed delicately in the design of the logo of the Air Nation.
Aang then presented ceremonial milk tea to Pema, which she offered to the spirits of the Air, and to all other spirits. Then they recited their parts of the "Mangala Sutta", as prompted by Aang.
Bridegroom Tenzin said, "Towards my wife I undertake to love and respect her, always be faithful to her, be kind and considerate, share our family responsibilities together, be a devoted father to our children, and provide gifts to please her."
Bride Pema then responded, "Towards my husband I undertake to perform my family duties efficiently, be hospitable to the family and friends of my husband, be faithful, protect the sanctity of our home, and discharge my responsibilities lovingly."
Aang then asked, "Who will stand and answer for these two?"
On cue, as the eldest of the children, Kya stood and proudly announced, "[i]I[/i] will stand for them!"
Then, Kya took her place behind Pema and Tenzin, and as tradition demanded, placed the first multi-color "hada" – a scarf of purity - across the couple's shoulders, and stood for them in their loving moment. Both were ecstatic as they felt his big sister standing for them with great pride.
They then chanted the "Panca Sila Precepts" verses with Aang, where they both promised in unison,
"We shall refrain from taking innocent life, not steal, will resist immoral behavior, slander, and intoxication."
"We promise also to abide by the Highest Blessings – to love and cherish each other and our children, our family, our relatives, and parents, and to serve others to always act righteously and virtuously."
"We further promise to be humble toward one another and with others, to be content with what we are given, to practice self-control, to be patient and obedient toward one another, and be religious." They glanced and smiled at each other.
As a witness to their marriage vows, a procession started, led by Katara, Kya, and Bumi, and then each guest, and then each Air Acolyte walked forward and placed their own hada gift on the still-kneeling Tenzin and Pema, who were soon literally covered in hada's – each in beautifully different family colors!
Now officially married as an Air Nation couple, Aang's gave a religious message to Tenzin and Pema focused on the wonderful example they had been to the world of how loving couples should be, literally living as the Highest Blessing called for – dedicated, responsible, and devoted to each other.
He noted how they dared to be equals in marriage in a world which still barely recognized the rights of women. Aang delivered a special message for each partner. For Tenzin, that he should be a loving husband and father despite his duties as Air Nation Councilman and teacher of the Air Acolytes, whom the world held in high esteem. Pema squeezed Tenzin's hand at those remarks. Aang's message for Pema was how she should continue to be a supportive and loving spouse, hold their faith together strongly, and to be a good mother.
The couple stood, and then kissed passionately. Everyone gave them a standing ovation, wildly applauding and cheering their long kiss and marriage.
The reception celebration got started in earnest in the dining hall, crammed full of food and Air Nation decorations, with entertainment from a band from Republic City.
Tenzin and Pema took the floor and owned it with the traditional first dance – a classic Air Nomad couple's wedding dance that Father Aang had obtained in a spirit visit conversation with Avatar Yangchen. It had big sweeping movements like a waltz. They had practiced it for weeks, and it was breathtaking.
Next was a special dance between Katara and Tenzin as mother and son. Soon they were joined by Aang and Pema, whose eyes were filled with tears at the loving gesture of Aang representing her departed father in the father/daughter dance. No one said a word while the four danced together, but watched with amazement as the sum total of the Air Nation first family danced lovingly together. A few of the new invention called cameras flashed, capturing the moment forever and for the whole world.
After dancing alone together for a few moments, Kya and her husband and Bumi and his wife joined in the family dance. More cameras flashed. They all motioned for the other families to join them. The floor was filled with dancers.
Dancing and eating and celebration continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Everyone knew how good a party host Aang was. This one was the best!
About dusk, a spontaneous cheer erupted, "Dance! Dance! Dance!" Pema and Tenzin were the most vocal, laughing and urging his parents on.
While they blushed, Aang and Katara came forward hand in hand, and took to the dance floor, to thunderous applause. No dance was more famous – nor more endearing - in all the Four Nations, and no couple did it better than the original dancers.
The band struck up the famous number, and the dining hall rocked with the music and their athleticism. Katara and Aang turned and twirled and leaped and spun together with the rhythms and steady clapping of the audience. At their closest approach, unlike 45 years ago, they kissed, which raised the roof in cheers and whoops of joy.
Finally they reached the end, with Katara bent backward in the signature dip, with arms held out and high. As always they were dripping with sweat, smiling, and panting. But Katara noticed something different about Aang. He was going pale.
She stood up quickly, and just barely fast enough. Aang whispered, barely audible to Katara over the applause, "I think I overdid it."
He fainted, and collapsed. The entire room gasped. Tenzin and Pema rushed forward.
Three extremely worried faces of Katara, Tenzin, and Pema came into focus from his fuzzy vision as he awoke from the fainting spell. He was on a sofa in the dining hall. All around there was murmuring about Aang. Katara was ministering to him with her healing water.
Katara whispered only to him, "Aang, there is something terribly wrong. Your insides – they're not right. You're aging too fast."
He whispered, "I know that, but no one else needs to, especially our children. Not now. I am not going to ruin this celebration for them."
He got up quickly, with Katara glaring at pushing himself, and announced in an air-bending enhanced voice, "I'll be alright everyone. Just a little too much sake!"
Everyone laughed, knowing the ages-old truth that Aang and sake didn't mix well, and so the festivities continued unabated.
The evening was starting to wind down, and it was time for Tenzin and Pema to leave on their honeymoon. They were still worried about his father, and so had a private moment with both him and Katara. They assured the young couple that all was well, and that they should only think of themselves and start their lives together right.
To the cheers of everyone around, they climbed on Oogie, bade farewell, and took off for the short trip across the straits from Republic City to Ember Island to Zuko's private beachside cottage which he had made available for a week as wedding gift to them.
There, alongside the rolling surf, under the full moon, silently, without their usual teasing word games that marked their deep relationship, the young couple tenderly helped each other remove their wedding attire. While it was initially somewhat awkward and a little embarrassing for both, they delighted in seeing each other's natural beauty and handsomeness. They ran together hand in hand down the isolated beach. They hugged, feeling the exhilarating sensation of skin on skin, and fell laughing along the surf line, letting the cooling ocean waters lap against their bodies in the heat of the early Fire Nation summer, where they loved each other as husband and wife for the first time.