Chapter 23: Forfeit
"For everything that you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else." –Ralph Emerson
Teruko left shortly afterwards, where I was left stewing in a storm of thoughts. Did he know how she felt…..but that this was surely an infatuation I thought to myself? True love….love at first sight….a peaceful world….such things are child's dreams. Yet these thoughts were a myriad in mind when I next saw Katsu again for dinner later that evening. He had been off to attend business for the estate. We were sitting across from each other, eating our meals together as we had months ago. The ache in my chest did not seem exist in that moment. For the first time, Katsu was telling me of the business he had been attending to do. Before I would have told him off, but now I listened for I was actually curious to know. I….I wanted to know what he did with his time…His face was lit up as he explained this and that with the business of the estate and dealings with the locals. I did not understand business to be exact for my people….when I had come here it was the first time I had really seen money. My people had no use for it. Before….we had bartered and traded with other nations….but now…
"What's wrong?" He inquired in his deep voice. I met his eyes startled. There was only concern in his golden eyes. I should have said something to brush him away or to send him into a fury. We both had short tempers, I thought wryly, yet….
"Do you believe in love at first sight?" I blurted out. I was immediately horrified and felt the fierce rising of my blood to my face.
Katsu looked shocked as well, but the look quickly vanished as he looked at me with an amused expression. "I believe it's possible," He stated after a moment of consideration. His face was searching mine for something, but he did not seem to find what he was looking for. There was a look of depression that shadowed his eyes for a moment. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," I muttered underneath my breath, looking away from him.
"I didn't love you when I first saw you," Katsu asserted bluntly. "I pitied and admired you. My love came after watching your determination and struggle for weeks. I think there was something for me when I first saw you laying that day in the snow….but love doesn't blossom over night."
I did not look at him while he said those words. The ache in my chest….somehow it quivered as if I needed to say something….anything…but I did not. Instead, I let the familiar feelings of bitterness and anger destroy any other thoughts. "What about Masuzu?" I asked him coldly with a shadow of a taunt. I wanted to anger him, yet he seemed to ignore that intent entirely. There was a long pause of silence as I stared down at my clenched hands in my lap.
When he spoke at last, it was in a voice that was calm, but haunted by the shadow of an old paid and guilt. "Our marriage wasn't arranged. I first met her at Ember Island and when I saw her….I knew I wanted her. You ask me if I believe love is possible at first sight...I believe that the spark of it is." There was a sensation of….envy and empathy as he spoke…I knew what it was to be tormented by the loss of loved ones…..Father….Mother….Kohaku…Nobu….all of my people….
I had not known little about his previous marriage, only that in those wall drawings that were hidden away with her things…..he had been happy…once…just I had been long ago….I felt the urge to comfort him….not to torment him as I should have. "You loved her very much," I stated. It was all I could seem to say. Finally I looked up at Katsu to see the same pain that troubled me on his face. I was shocked for I had never seen him look vulnerable as he looked now.
"Yes," He replied reminiscently. "In the short marriage we had together…."
Before I had never truly thought to pity him or empathize with him entirely for his losses. Yet it hit me now as I looked at him now. He was a man who had not married since his first marriage years ago; instead he had closed himself off and chosen a path of violence in the military to prevent any feeling. Akane had told me he had already been in the military for it was expected, but after Masuzu and his daughter's death….that had become his life. It was not until…me…that things changed for him. Ran…Masato…Akane….Kuro…even Teruko had told me this…
…"He's finally found you after all these years. He needs you," Kuro's voice urged in my memory...
…"Lord Katsu has finally shown some signs of peace in years," Ran stated simply….
…"Before, Masato and I assumed it to be lust for he had admitted that he didn't love you. But when he went on his tour, his letters to us….they implied otherwise." Akane confessed to me…
I wanted to understand….I was curious…about her….why he is now the way he is…
"Tell me," I asked him sincerely. Katsu frowned at me, but there was a look of suspicion on his face. "Why?" He demanded in return. He was expecting what I usually did….that I would mock him or somehow use this against him. "I want to understand," I confessed, looking away from his gaze. I did not look back at his face, but I heard the deep sigh from across the table. The silence seemed to relay the message that he was deciding if it was worth the risk of telling me.
"I was on vacation with Masato to Ember Island. I was fifteen when I met her," Katsu said softly. "I was young and still naïve." There was a reflection his voice as he continued. "Masuzu was sixteen and didn't pay much attention to a pesky boy in her opinion. After many months of pursuing her, she eventually warmed up to me. My father had already arranged marriages for Masato and me." At this I looked at him in curiosity. I had not known Akane's marriage to Masato had been arranged. Katsu's face was distant as he recalled a time that he seemed to want to forget. "I was young and head over heels in love with her. I begged him to let me marry Masuzo and…" I waited eagerly to hear what had happened next. Katsu had told me that his father had been strict and distant from him. "He agreed. Masuzo was a younger daughter of a more important family. It had its advantages. I was sixteen and she was seventeen. My father died only months after our marriage, leaving me in charge of the estate. I became a proud father when I was seventeen and observed my brother's arranged marriage to Akane." The look of that terrible pain ushered into his golden eyes. There was only a dark coldness in them, raw and bitter as he spoke his next words. "We were happy. Than our beautiful daughter….my child died and my young wife shortly afterwards."
He had married young, only a year older then I was now. I had seen children and adults die in painful ways. Masuzu died when she had been only several years older than me…I pitied that woman for the first time. "After that, all I could see was her here…our daughter…this place," He continued darkly. "I came only when I had too and avoided Masato…my younger brother who still had his wife and children! The war was my comfort, my savior….then there was you." The pain was there on his face as it began to recede as if a light was warming him from within. I could not look away from those golden eyes that held me frozen in place. "I know you hate me and my people and that you will mock me for this," He started to say with an edge of bitterness and….hope. Somehow I wanted to deny his accusation, yet I should not have such a desire. "I want you to be happy….for us to be happy. Rana, tell me what burdens your heart and perhaps….perhaps together we can erase our burdens."
I could only stare at him as I felt the blood ebb away from myself. The ache in my chest cried with something that I recognized in half-hearted horror as longing. I was tired of being angry….of all the dark emotions and sadness that I carried still….Akane had told me once that I could be happy if I only let myself be….
…..Would it be so wrong?...
…..Yet….my people….the war….
I lowered my eyes once more from his intense eyes. He could always catch me with them as if I were a fish caught in a net. I could feel the pounding of my heart to my fingertips, as if each fierce pound were telling me to…. "You are my enemy," I whispered emptily. Even as I spoke those words, ones that I had said many times to him, they somehow felt hollower then ever before. The vast ache in my chest returned with a mournful cry; as if I had rejected something that I did not even know how priceless it was. I could not stand to raise my eyes to look at him, in fear of what I might see there. Once this would have led to an explosion of their terrifying fireworks between us; a battle would have followed that would have eventually led to….
"I hope that someday you'll see me differently," He expressed with the sadness enunciated in every syllable. Slowly I stood up from the cushion I sat on, still avoiding looking at him. I left the room, but not without once tiny glimpse out of the corner of my gaze. I might have expected to see this usual mask of fury or annoyance that was the usual in our fights. Instead….there had been nothing but a forlorn distance.
The next several weeks passed quietly. Teruko still came to have her lessons secretively with Satoru. I was tempted to ask him and to see if he knew how she felt. Yet I knew that it was not my place to interfere and thus kept down the urge. Katsu did not know and I did not see any point in telling him. My friendship with Satoru had been restored, yet sometimes there was a look in his eyes. I still kept myself at a respectful distance….I did not want to encourage him or to hurt him unknowingly. Teruko did not speak of it again with me during our visits. There was this unspoken knowledge that if she did, it would make it all the worse for her. She and I both knew that she was engaged to be married. She knew better than me that such a dream was impossible in her circumstances. So she suffered silently, something I understood, and I tried to comfort as best as I could. I was not used to dealing with such raw pain of others anymore. At home….at first it had been that way, but everyone soon learned to hide such pain and to shove it aside as much as possible. If one did not, they would lose the will to live, simply put.
I still visited Ran and exchanged letters with Akane. Yet with Katsu, he seemed to act as if nothing had happened. He did not bring up our conversation. I was still prone to the random verbal attack on occasion, but for the first time between us we had entered an uneasy peace of sorts. We each had our own routines and I began to learn how to run the estate from him. I learned how he spent his days and I did not….I did not hate it. In fact, I….
There came the day after several weeks had passed that I found out his birthday was coming up. Ran had brought it up one morning as she helped me with our usual morning routine. She was brushing my hair and we both maintained a comfortable silence.
"My lady, did you know his lordship's birthday is coming up?" Ran asked me, disrupting the silence. I looked at the mirror in surprise to see the amused curiosity on her face. "I thought not," She replied to my expression. "His birthday is in two days."
"Oh," I managed to articulate. What was I supposed to say? The ache in my chest seemed to be overtaking my ability to speak.
"He doesn't usually celebrate it," She added thoughtfully. "He probably wouldn't want you to do anything. But you could…." She looked at me with a playful smile. "A present might be nice."
Oh yes, I thought darkly. A present would be a great way to encourage him….to give him hope that….The ache in my chest tightened painfully. Perhaps he would have that look in his eyes….he would smile as if…. "Fine," I sighed as if irritated. "What should I give him?" Amongst my own people….I did not know the traditional gifts between two people whom….I had never gotten the opportunity to do so and after the Fire Nation had come. Yet he had given me what he had thought to be traditional, thought it was wrong for it must be a tradition amongst our hand touched the bump of my necklace that was hidden underneath my clothes. Blue….the only blue I had….and it had somehow become precious to me.
"That is for your ladyship to decide," Ran answered me with a teasing smile. I scowled at her in response as she chuckled in amusement. I should not have put much thought into what I should give him, I had thought in retaliation.
The next day and a half were spent, thought I detest admitting it, wondering on what in the name of the Ocean Spirit I should get him. If I decided too anyways. Sometime ago I had begun to write my own poems as Satoru had suggested I should. No one had ever seen them and only Iwao knew of the scrolls existence. It was kept hidden away in the study. Moon Spirit and Ocean Spirit forbid if anyone should ever see my horrid attempt at writing! Yet I was rereading some of my older poems and came across one that….if I were to give him anything….I would want it to be thoughtful. Plus, I had no idea as to what he would like exactly. He seemed to have everything he wanted materially. Yet in one of his letters, he had written of his fondness for poetry. He had written enough of them for certain. It was one that I came across, one of my better ones, that I deemed somewhat appropriate. I rewrote the pathetic attempt at poem on a small sheet of paper. His handwriting was still prettier than mine, much to my annoyance.
That next day was his birthday. As usual, we had our dinner together. He had not mentioned a word of his birthday and he did not expect me to know that it was either. He was speaking to me that day about the fire lily festivals that would be occurring in several months. They are to celebrate the blooming of the fire lilies and he described how the green hills would look red from the flowers. I resisted the urge to shudder for it made me think of hills stained with blood. "Happy birthday," I said quietly.
He stopped mid-track in his words and looked at me shocked. "What did you say?"
"Happy birthday," I repeated with an uneasy expression.
"How do you…?"
"Ran told me," I answered him with a shrug. He could not blame her and I knew that he would was honorable to not be angry at her. Ran had been right when she had told me long ago that he was a fair master. He treated his people much better than others would. I had come to agree with this from my own observations of other nobility. I thrusted the piece of paper in front of his face. He took the paper from my hands with an even more surprised and curios expression. "I….I didn't know what you'd like," I started to babble, much to my own horror. "So…I thought…I don't know….it was something I wrote awhile ago….it's not good or anything…" While I was babbling away, he unrolled the piece of paper and read the poem. His expression clouded, but I could see his turn brighter. Katsu leaned over across the table and kissed me firmly, which naturally ceased my mindless chatter. The heat on my face rose.
"Thank you," He murmured as he pulled away from my face and settled back into his spot. I was in a breathless daze as I saw him tuck it away into his robes. He resumed eating as if nothing had happened. Ran was right that he did not like to celebrate his birthdays, but I had to keep a grin from forming on my face.
Two more weeks flew on by. There was a routine that had become part of my life. Others might have hated it, but I enjoyed it. After experiencing war and constant fear, this was….I woke up each morning to peace. I was not afraid for my life or for those I cared about every second of the day. There came something that I noticed, but tried to deny about. It was only confirmed again as those weeks went by. That day I went on a walk to distract myself from those thoughts out in the gardens with Iwao hovering nearby as usual. Again I found myself catching the sight of Satoru and Teruko walking down the path towards the alcove by the pond. I should have learned my lesson from last time, but curiosity got the better of me. Iwao gave me a look that could only be described as a warning one, if anything at all. I had scowled at him in response and snuck as close as I could to the alcove. They both went inside of it and sat down on the bench, hidden from my view. I could only hear their voices.
"….that was when I realized I wanted to be a scholar," Satoru went on. I had been out of ear shot before.
"I wish I could be like that," Teruko commented wistfully. "I've never been passionate about something. As a noble and a woman, I'm only expected to marry well."
"It's a pity that this is the social expectation," Satoru said harshly. "I've known some women who were brilliant. They could have been so much more."
"Yes," Teruko agreed with a shade of bitterness. "Social expectations…."
Satoru stood up from where he sat and walked out of the alcove. He seemed to be staring out at the pond with a frown that deepened. Satoru turned around so I could only see him partially again. "You don't want to marry your fiancée, do you?" He asked abruptly. "My lady," He added hastily as if to maintain a respectful tone.
"No, I don't," Teruko confessed heavily with shame apparent. "I was only scared before, but now…" She trailed off. Satoru ran his hands through his hair and turned away from Teruko once more. I felt as I could not breathe as I watched them. Naturally I felt some guilt, but was watching this scene unfold with amazement and pity. Don't do it Teruko, I thought. It would only bring pain to you both.
"You want something you can't have," Satoru finished for her. His back was still turned towards her. I could see the sour expression on his face. "I understand that perfectly." Satoru's fists were clenched.
Teruko gasped in a sudden realization. "You're in love with her," She blurted out horrified. "You're in love with Rana!" Satoru turned his head back towards her with a thin smile as he slowly turned around to face her.
"And who are you in love with?" He asked her shortly. "Let me guess, Lord Katsu?" He did not get it and for all of his intelligence! I almost felt like running over to shake him and yell at it him that it was Teruko. How could he not see it on her face? The pain that she had kept hidden so well these last few weeks? There had been that look between them that first day they met. I knew it now to be that spark that Katsu spoke of when I had asked him about love at first sight. Such things were still children's stories, I thought, yet that spark can exist between people. There was a spark between them and Teruko was certainly in love with Satoru, though it was a partial naïve love in my opinion. There was no denying now the fact that she did. "The nobles always win," Satoru asserted in painful bitterness. He must have realized it when he looked at Teruko. I could not see her, but could imagine the look on her face. "You…" He began to say softly.
"Since the moment I met you," Teruko declared solemnly. There was a moment as if they were both taking in deep breaths as the shock started to wear off for them both. "I was stupid to think you would, but I never would have guessed it would be because of…."
"Don't say it," Satoru interrupted her. "It doesn't matter. She loves his lordship." The ache in my chest felt empty at his words. I do not love Katsu, I thought to myself. Yet….yet…
"She's married," Teruko replied roughly. "I know her marriage was arranged and that she didn't love him at first. Yet how could you love a married woman?" Teruko was naïve in so many ways.
"Her marriage was arranged?" Satoru said appalled. "Is that what she told you? Sweet Agni…"
Oh no…if he told her….….The image of the prisons rose up in my mind's eye…..my father…What Masato, Akane, and Katsu had all told me if the truth was ever found out! I could see their eyes now as the life fled from them! They would kill them or imprison them!...Akane….Ichirou….Masato….and…..and…..Katsu!...
Don't tell her, Satoru, I prayed. I trusted her, but what if she knew the truth about me? She was still Fire Nation!
"What do you mean?" Teruko asked. She had risen from her spot and walked out of the alcove. I could see the tears in her eyes and the curiosity brimming on her face. Curiosity always seems to get the better of people sometimes. Teruko was only several feet away from Satoru as they stared each other down.
"Nothing," Satoru uttered cynically. "Forget it."
Teruko turned her head away before she looked back towards him. She opened her mouth as it to speak, but instead went to rush past him. Satoru reacted quickly and grabbed her forearm as she ran past him. He held her right arm as she went to pull away. The unshed tears were now falling freely from her brown eyes and her hair started to fall out its top-knot as she struggled. "Let me go!" She sobbed out. "You love her so you can't love me! I was stupid to tell you! I-" Her words were cut off as Satoru pulled her in for a violent kiss.
I looked away as I felt a blush coming to my cheeks. The scene had reminded me of….Katsu and I. Iwao looked at me indifferently and I shook my head at him. I peaked back at the pair. Teruko was silent as Satoru broke their kiss. I noticed that her arms, which had been hitting him moments ago, were now resting peacefully by her sides. I turned startled as I felt Iwao touching my shoulder. He jerked his head, telling me it was time to leave. I followed him agreeably for he was right. It was not right to watch them any further, though I was desperately curious to know what would happen next. It was none of my business though.
It was not until dinner that I saw Katsu again. The meal that night was more lavish than usual, I had noticed. My mind was back on Satoru and Teruko as I ate in silence. Katsu interrupted it as he handed me a wrapped parcel. I accepted it, wondering what it was for. "Today's our anniversary," Katsu revealed with a smile. "I knew you wouldn't care to celebrate it or remember it, but I decided to get you something anyways."
Our anniversary?...But that would mean it had been a year, a whole year since I had come here! I could not believe it! I should have been horrified and yelling at him in anger. I was appalled that I was not and the fact that a whole year had passed. When was the last time I had tried to escape? Why had I not been working on my plan as I should have been? These thoughts stormed my head as I opened the package. Inside was a scroll and I almost dropped it in disbelief as I opened it.
It was a waterbending scroll.
There were pictures and descriptions of waterbending moves. Many I recognized for I had watched the waterbenders of my tribe as a child. Once I had begun my training, but it had stopped abruptly when the raids had started. I had practiced in secret for years, but could never get the moves right without a teacher or the knowledge of the proper movements. Tears came to my eyes, unbidden and unwanted. The ache in my chest expanded and deflated as the same time. "What….what is this?"I managed to croak out.
"It was wrong of me to forbid your bending," Katsu told me with a sincere smile. "A bender should know their bending. There's a place I know where you can practice in private and…" Katsu stopped as I threw myself at him. He had raised his hands as if to protect his face, but dropped them when I buried my face into his side. I could feel his arms wrap around me. I told myself that I was only doing this so he could not see the tears. Eventually when I felt that there would be no tears on my face, I let go of him and sat back up. The ache cried at the loss of security from his hold. I ignored it. My gaze noticed that I had abandoned the scroll on my cushion. I looked back to see the joyful gaze on Katsu's face that made the ache dissipate. If I were in my right mind, I would have tried to make that gaze turn into one of anger.
He looked as he had in those portraits….that look that made me feel as if….
"I guess I did well," Katsu bantered playfully.
There was the nagging knowledge that surfaced in my thoughts as I looked at him. He would be happy….that look would never disappear…besides, it's not like I could hide from it forever….
"You did," I replied charmed. I still could not process the knowledge that he had gotten me a waterbending scroll. I would be able to learn my bending! "I have something for you in return," I continued.
Katsu smiled at me more deeply and softly traced my cheek with one hand. "Well, this is a surprise," Katsu commented amused. "What is it?"
"I think…" I managed to spit out. "I think I'm pregnant."