Chapter 13: Departure
"It's not what's happening to you now or what happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it's your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you're going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny." –Anthony Robbins
The next morning I awoke to an empty bed beside me. I stretched my arms with a wide yawn, sore and angry about the previous night. How…how dare he use that against me!...Monster!...He knew that was the one thing I would fall for over and over again, even if I did not want it. My body thought very differently from my current mind set about the matter. A small smile did grow on my lips at the thought of escaping with Akane to her home. Two weeks away from him, away from here! I tossed the sheets off of me and shivered as my bare feet touched the cool, wooden floor.
Sunlight streamed through the windows, showing the sun had just crept over the outer wall. It was still early in the morning hours from the looks of it. The void was still there within me, but the thought of being with Akane for the next two weeks helped to lessen it. She helped to keep that tide away. Thoughts from the night before entered my mind that I tried to shove away. But his voice still whispered in my ear, something he had said like a lover afterwards, "I love you, Rana."
Ran's familiar knock on the door tore me away from my thoughts. She came every day around this time; therefore I woke up naturally around this time. Every day she helped me to dress and get ready, except for at night. She only came at night when Katsu was gone.
When I first stepped into the tub in the washing room to take hot bath months ago, it had been with some wonder. Washing at home had consisted of a small towel, bar of soap, and a bucket of water. It would take way too long to try to fill up a person sized tub with hot water. Ran had told me that the water comes from natural hot spring water that was run into the estates by pipes. These people had some ingenuous ideas, for barbarians that is.
Now it had become a usual activity for me, one that I had come to do almost every day. The heat here makes me feel filthy at the end of every day. My own sweat sticking to my body like a damp towel. The smell of the scented water perfumed the air, a sweet fragrance that was light.
Ran was across the room, tinkering about with something at the table. I laid in the tub with the soapy water covering me. Ran sometimes talked to me, but I usually did not talk to her. Most of the time it was silent between us. "Ran," I called. She looked up, her soft face gazing at me, ready to whatever I told her. She was dressed in the darker browns and reds she favored. A simpler outfit and of less fine make than my own. Ran is older me, I actually thought her to be around his age.
"Yes, my lady?" She inquired politely.
"Do you always get treated that way?" I asked her curiously. That event from yesterday had been nagging me in the back of my mind. Akane always had that superior air around the servants.
"By who, my lady?" Ran asked suspiciously. She turned her back to me as she continued to mess with the things at the table.
"Akane," I told her bluntly. "By nobles."
Ran stopped messing with the items at the table and her back stiffened like a board. "Lord Katsu treats me well," She replied monotone, reminding me of how Iwao had always sounded. "As you do, my lady."
I did not talk to her much, but that was because she was always so formal. All the servants and guards here acted that way. Akane treated me like an equal…because I was married to him. He was polite to the servants from what I had seen, but had a distant air that I…had. Akane acted superior to them. We did not have such social differences with my people. No "nobility" or "commoners." Usually I tried to push away thoughts of home, but lately I have been able to do so with less pain.
For the first time since I had come here, I thought about it and what it meant. "Ran," I began awkwardly. "Where I come from, there aren't servants. We are all equal…I'm sorry for the way I've treated you. It isn't because of this whole class thing, but because you are Fire Nation."
Ran turned around slowly. I was startled to see her dark, brown eyes had tears. "Only one noble ever treated me as a person, not just a servant," She admitted with an old pain in her voice. "Lord Katsu is better than most, but it was his wife who I loved."
…The paintings of her in that storage room…he had been smiling with her…
"What was she like?" I asked innocently. Ran looked like…she had had cared for her deeply, but then I barely knew Ran.
"She was a lady," Ran replied reminiscently. "But she had her adventurous side…and she was someone who knew her mind." Ran smoothed out her skirt, trying to rid it of creases that were not there. "We grew up together. My mother had been a servant in her parents' household. Her mother had paid for me to be trained as a lady's servant."
I swished my hands about in the water, feeling like I had opened a closet I should not have. "Lord Katsu loved her and she loved him," Ran went on. I looked back to see a sorrowful smile on her face. "Their marriage had not been arranged. After she…he was rarely here. He threw himself into his military career."
Akane had mentioned that in a letter once…I had used it in one of our fights...
I stared down at the soapy water. I could not stand to look at her face, remembering with happiness of him being happy! I am glad he is miserable!
"Except for now," Ran added. My heat shot up at her words. Ran gave me a considerate gaze. "I thank you for that."
"What do you mean?" I demanded, my voice turning harsh. Anger and denial sweetly intertwined. "We're always fighting! You know I didn't choose this!"
"I know," Ran returned calmly. She approached me with a towel, picking it up from the table. I stood up, shivering as my body left the contact of the warm water. Ran handed me the towel as I stepped outside of the tub, drying myself and then wrapping it around body. "At first I hated you," Ran said lowly. She stood several feet away. I looked at her face that was completely open to me for the first time. "I was angry at him for trying to replace my lady with you. But…I felt pity for you…"
"And now?" I asked sharply. I did not need anyone's pity!
Ran shrugged. "I came to care," She confessed carelessly. "Lord Katsu has finally shown some signs of peace in years." She walked back over to the table, preparing to brush my hair as we always did. I followed her and sat down on the low seat that was in front of it, sitting in front of the mirror. I looked at my own reflection and Ran's, who stood behind me.
She held the hairbrush in her hand and started to brush my hair. "This is the first time we've spoken in such a way," She commented. I looked at her reflection, but her face was turned down as she brushed my hair rhythmically. It always felt good to have my hair brushed. "Will it be the last, my lady?"
It took a mere flash of a second to understand. We had stepped over a new boundary. There were two options she was offering me. We could go back to what it had been before, or…
"No," I answered her. Ran paused brushing my hair for a moment and then resumed brushing my hair. I saw the corner of her lips turned upwards ever so slightly. "Do you know I'm leaving in two days?"
"Yes," She murmured. "I do, my lady." We passed the rest of our morning routine in mostly silence, but this time it was a comforting, companionable silence.
The next two days passed by slowly. I only saw him at dinner, in which Akane would chatter to fill the silence. Akane was my constant companion as she had been since her arrival. We would walk together in the garden, and read together in the study, and such. Somehow it did not bother me to have gone from lack of companionship to constantly having someone around me. It reminded me of Iwao…I wondered where he was now. And before, at home…there was rarely much privacy in the village. I saw nary a sight of him, but I did not care about what he was doing. He did not come to the bedroom.
In my morning routine with Ran, we had started to have conversations. I had started to learn the other names of the servants and about them because of her. I was shocked to discover that Ran was married and has children. I had not even thought about her having her own life, she was always here! She lived in the closest village, a twenty minute walk, she told me. Her husband was from the village and worked in the fields that provided for the estate and their village.
Ran had told me with merry eyes about her two children. Ozubon, age eight, who attended classes at a local school for commoners in the nearest town. Her words praised him, for he paid for her son's education, so that he could do better than she and her husband had. Then there was Masuzu, her four-year old daughter, named after the mistress she had adored. The pesky brat, according to her, was watched during the hours she was here by her sister-in-law, who stayed at home with her own family.
I had asked her why she did not stay at home with her family. That is what wives amongst my people did. Ran had blushed and murmured they needed the money. We did not have money at home. We traded what we had for what we needed. Before the war…it had been different. We had used money when we had traded with the other nations. I knew what it was, but I have not even actually seen money before.
I had my last lesson with Satoru the day before I was to leave, not having seen him since Akane had disrupted out last one. We sat together in the study. A scroll of Fire Nation poetry lay on the table. Satoru had brought it, surprising me entirely for he had never brought me a scroll of poetry in lessons before. I had mentioned to him before that I had read all of the scrolls of poetry that he had, which had been few at best. "It's for you to enjoy," He told me thoughtfully. He patted the scroll fondly. "It's by one of my favorite poets. I thought you might like it."
I beamed a genuine smile at Satoru. His face looked pleased and a blush lit up on his cheeks. "Thank you!" I proclaimed excited. "I'll give it to you when I return!"
Satoru's face fell a little. "That's right," He said quietly. "You're leaving for two weeks."
Ever since my discussion with Ran, I had become curious about those I did think about other from what I saw. Satoru taught me and we discussed what he taught me. I knew he was from merchant's family and privately tutored nobility. He had to be in his early twenties from the look of it. I knew he was smart, way smarter than I would ever be. His face always had a pleased look on it when we went over poetry, music, and philosophy. Those were his favorite subjects.
"That bothers you?" I asked him obtrusively. I had never been one to shy away from the truth.
Satoru's eyes looked away from me and flickered back at me. He chuckled warmly. "You're my only student currently," He reported sincerely. "I'll be bored."
"Oh…" I muttered. Where did he live? I had never thought, but what did he do with the rest of his time when he was not teaching me?
"I live here on the estate," He responded, as if he knew my internal questions. "Lord Katsu provided me with a quiet place. When I'm not busy with you, I'm working on my own work."
Satoru blushed slightly again. "I'm working on my own poetry, music, and a historical text," He admitted shyly.
"I had no idea," I confessed with a tad of embarrassment.
"I wouldn't expect you to, my lady," Satoru replied. I gaped at him slightly, wondering what that was supposed to mean. "Considering the circumstances, I mean," He added hastily.
I raised both of my eyebrows. "What circumstances?" I asked rather sharply.
Satoru bit his lip as he smiled. "My usual pupils, being nobility that is…they wouldn't care to know," He explained kindly.
It was than my turn to blush. I always seemed to forget about their class differences, but then again I never left the estate, so I did not truly have any idea probably. But then again, what did I care about their ways…right? "I understand," I replied hushed.
Satoru smiled at me with some pity at my apparent lack of understanding. "No, I'm afraid not my lady," He responded kindly. "No offense, my lady."
"No, you're right," I said in complete agreement. How could I? We were two people from different cultures and values. I paused at this thought. People…since when I had started to think of them that way? Before they had been golden-eyed demons. The enemy. They still are, yet…
"Do you still hate us?"
His abrupt question leapt out at me, attacking me like their first raid upon on my people. The blood fled from my face, and then boiled inside my chest. My shocked eyes narrowed at his sincere ones. They were not gold though. That thought made me not attack him back brutally with words as I would have with him.
"I…" I halted and stood up immediately, walking away several feet with clenched fists. I kept my back to him. "Of course I do!" I muttered darkly, denying the partiality within me that might have said otherwise. But that was only a tiny part. Minuscule!
"I could say I understand, but that would be a lie," Satoru said determined. I turned around to look at him. He sat at the table still, looking at me with an open face.
"Is something a matter, my lady?" A familiar voice asked placidly. I whirled around to see Iwao standing in front of the doorway, eyeing Satoru dangerously. He looked exactly the same with his polite and uptight manner.
"Iwao!" I gasped. "What?....How?..." I managed to mumble out in complete shock.
Iwao bowed towards me, still eyeing Satoru coldly. "His Lordship saw fit to rehire me," He answered me as he straightened back up from his bow. "It is my pleasure to serve you once more, my lady."
His light golden eyes were guarded as ever, but he had a new mustache growing on his face. I had thought that he would hire a new bodyguard, not Iwao. I could not help a feeling of happiness embracing me. I had come to be…familiar with his presence, not even aware I had missed it until it was gone. "I'm glad," I said seriously. I could have sworn a smile almost touched his face before it disappeared.
"We are in the middle of a lesson," Satoru said coolly. His eyes were challenging Iwao's frigid gaze.
I looked at both of them, feeling a tension that I had felt before.
Iwao eyed him for a moment longer, before he dismissed him by looking at me. "I will be out in the hallway, my lady," He stated and exited without another word.
"Do you have a death wish?" I snapped at Satoru. Iwao was not to be messed around with! He was the kind…the kind of person who would kill without a thought when it came to the protection of his charge.
"He can hear us, you know," Satoru murmured with a wink. The icy look in his eyes had vanished. "Let's return to your lesson, my lady." Our lesson presumed as it had before, but this time it was with a more familiar air, like the one I had started to develop with Ran.
Iwao had returned, and in many ways it felt like he had never left. He was that good at blending in, my silent shadow. I slept alone in the bedroom that night as I had the past nights. Ran had helped me to pack that night in a good mood. I let her choose everything, nodding in agreement because I could care less. I was ecstatic to be leaving! He had not been at dinner that night either. The next morning I awoke from Ran's beckoning when the sun had just started to rise. My things had already been carried down the dock. Ran had said goodbye to me in the bedroom, after helping me with our usual morning routine.
Ran stood in front of me with a warming smile. She towered over me in height even, and she was much shorter than Akane. Her soft, brown eyes were joyful. "This is your first tine outside of the estate!" She chattered. "Aren't you excited?"
"You have no idea," I murmured. I paused and looked at her. "Thank you, Akane," I told her heart fully. "I will..." I could not finish the words. They became lodged in my throat.
Akane smiled and touched my shoulder without a word. She bowed and left the room, leaving me to follow her into the hall to join Iwao down to the docks. Akane joined me as we made the journey down the carved path in the cliff side down to the docks. Iwao followed us closely behind. The sun was shining with a playful wind that caressed my hair. I breathed in the salt air that I only could get a bare scent of when I walked on the outer wall. It was a small ship, a ferry really, that had been hired by him to take us to Akane's home. I spotted several other ships at the small dock, wondering if they were always there. Akane was silent next to me, until we reached the beginning of the dock.
"Oh, there is Katsu!" She exclaimed, gesturing towards the front of the ship. He stood there in the distance, looking in our direction. "I was wondering when he would say goodbye." She looked at me with a smile, but I could see the worry in her eyes. The worry that was for me.
There were other men milling about on the small ship we were to board as we approached it. I tried to look away from him, but I could only stare back until I was feet away. His gaze switched away from me to Akane. He walked over to her, making me hesitate to move away as he took her hand into his own. "It was a pleasure, sister," He said kindly with a small smile at her.
Akane beamed up at him. "Likewise," She told him. "Don't be too sour with me for stealing Rana away!" Katsu's eyes looked towards me for a moment, before returning back to her face.
"Of course not," He said dryly. He released her hand and looked towards Iwao.
"My Lord," Iwao said with a bow.
Katsu nodded, and then looked down at me. I noticed Akane discreetly walking up onto the ship. He closed the gap between us, standing over me like one of the large trees that exist in the garden. "So.." He murmured. "This is goodbye." His eyes flashed brilliantly, reminding me again of a predator's gaze.
I looked up at him silently. There was a strange twinge…something I could not quite identify that made the void start to creep back in. Before I could protest, he pulled me into an embrace. He held me for a moment as if I were the only thing that existed in the whole world, before letting me go abruptly. Katsu stepped away from me as I gaped at him, not knowing how to respond. I had not expected that, but then I never entirely what to expect from him. A shadow crossed his face as we locked gazes, then he broke it by whirling around and striding down the dock without another word. I watched his receding back until Akane calling me to board the ship brought me back to reality.
It took half a day by the ferry to reach the island that Akane and Masato's estate is located at. During the trip I could see the outline of other islands on the horizon. It felt wonderful to be on a ship in the open ocean. The salty breeze and smiling sun could only put me into a good mood. Akane did not comment on his goodbye, and I tried not to think about it. Iwao brooded nearby as he had used too. I had kind of missed it in a strange way. The several men working on the ship left Akane and I alone. Several times I spotted other ships on the water, but they were too far away to make out what they were. The small ferry ship we were one was not like their usual ships. The massive, iron ships that brought fear into my heart….
I went to my first Fire Nation village for we docked at their small dock, greeted by Masato and Ichirou. We walked down the ramp way to the dock with an impatient Ichirou at the bottom. Masato stood behind him, holding his shoulder with a smile. He was much shorter than his brother, but had a similar build. Unlike him, he had sideburns and had no scars on his face. His face was softer, but that was from the lack of harder angles. The same color of golden eyes looked at me from his face, along with Ichirou's. Masato was dressed in the military like clothing that he wore most of the time as well. Ichirou was dressed in the grey and red uniform I had seen him wear before.
The sounds of the village rang in the distance and the sounds of several other ships docking, fishing boats from the looks of it. The men from the ferry followed behind us, carrying our luggage. Akane stepped ahead of me with open arms, taking Ichirou into her embrace. Masato waited patiently behind them.
"I missed you," Akane greeted Ichirou. She let go of her son who stood almost to my height. Ichirou had a wide grin on his young face, but paused when he noticed my presence. A blush lit up on his face like the sun as he looked away. Masato stepped forward and pulled Akane into an embrace. I looked away when he gave her a slightly more than polite kiss.
"Hello Rana," Masato greeted me in his partial manner. Akane had already written to him that I was coming.
"Hi," I responded nervously. I had gotten the impression before that he had not liked me. He had told Katsu to get rid of me! Which I wanted naturally anyways.
"Say hi, Ichirou!" Akane scolded her son gently.
Ichirou kept his face looking down at his feet. "Hi, Aunt Rana," He mumbled out.
"Hi," I repeated back, wondering why my tongue suddenly felt all floppy. I was not one without words! What was wrong with me? Masato looked at Iwao who stood behind me for a moment, before dismissing him because he remembered him. The men from the ferry had carried our luggage down the dock, now loading it onto a cart stood next to the dock. One of those horned riding creatures that I had seen him ride before and had carried me on before was attached to the cart. A man sat on the front of it, holding leathered ropes in his hands that were strapped to the creature.
Masato started to walk down the dock, his arm around Akane. I followed next to her, while Ichirou walked behind us, sticking more his father's side. "Did you have a good time?" Masato asked Akane. I looked at her through the corner of my eye.
"Yes," She answered him with a loving smile. "Still, I'm glad to be home."
The man on the cart was a servant from their estate. I had watched the village scene and its people curiously as we all seated on the seats behind the man and drove through the village. There was a market in the center, surrounded than by some sort of shops and then houses. People milled about doing their business, but some paused and greeted Masato and Akane cheerfully. "Lord Masato! Lady Akane, nice to have you home!" was the sort of calls that were made. I sat next to Akane, with Masato beside her. Ichirou and Iwao sat behind us.
The ride was only about thirty minutes from the village, leaving the ocean behind as we disappeared into forested hills. I had gaped at the tall trees, having never been in an actual forest before or even seeing one. Akane promised me we would come visit the forest since it surrounded their estate. We broke free from the forest back into rolling green hills. On top of a hill, the road winded up to their estate that was walled like his. I could see farmlands on the gentle slopes to one side of the estate, and the road winding towards them. Akane reported to me that there was a village on the other side of the hill and more farmlands.
We rode up the hillside as I stared up at the walled estate. Two weeks without him. I was happy to be there, as happy as I could be anyways. Yet…I pushed away any thoughts, turning to Akane with a smile as she began to talk about their home and the people who lived there.