Chapter 28: Expectation
"Why is it that hate comes out so easily, yet…love? It gets trapped inside." -Unknown
I watched the sunrise from the dining area on the second floor, leaning against the railing, breathing in the salty-tinged air. It was a softly beautiful sunrise, starting out like a small flame with a purple smoke wafting from it. Tomorrow I would write the letter to Teruko's family, telling them their daughter had run away. A small guilt formed within me for I had had in hand to them losing their daughter and a sister to her siblings. They might blame me or not, but I still knew what I had helped to do, even if it was in the name of my friendship for Teruko and Satoru. Even worse, what would he think? Would I pay a price for what had happened?
Iwao's steps were silent, but I felt his presence as he approached me from behind and stood to the right of me. I could feel his dark eyes on me and I merely kept my gaze on the horizon. "You will miss them," Iwao stated solemnly with no emotion in his voice after a pregnant pause. It was not a question, but a fact. An observation which he was using to get me to speak. Iwao never sought me out for conversation usually, so I kept my surprise to myself.
"Yes," I admitted, taking a deep breath in to keep back the wetness I felt gathering in my eyes. "Not that you will," I added icily before I could stop myself. My temper and the urge to lash out at someone, at anything, was overwhelming right now, especially since I knew Iwao detested Satoru and must be silently rejoicing in his departure. Before I had come here….I had had a temper, but I had never lashed out like I did here. At the beginning, it had been at everyone here and it had transformed into usually being fixated at him. Yet he was not here and even though I knew I should not, I needed to make Iwao hurt. How dare he stand there coldly, while I felt….felt….alone…
"You are right," Iwao responded flatly.
"I'm sorry," I stumbled out, feeling the rage that had come flee as the guilt followed. "I shouldn't have said that." My head turned to look at Iwao's indifferent face with his shrewd eyes giving away nothing.
"There is nothing to forgive when there had been no offence given," Iwao worded dispassionately. Even while he said it, I almost thought I caught a look of appreciation in his shadowy eyes. "You should not sulk about today because of this though, My lady, you should enjoy what Ember Island has to offer while you are here."
I opened my mouth to retort that I was not sulking, but snapped it shut at the fact that I was. If I had it my way, I would probably end up spending the whole day moping about the house. Iwao was right. I should enjoy what little time I had left here and who knows, perhaps it would keep the melancholy at bay for a time. A smile of gratitude came to my face. "Thank you, Iwao," I said to him warmly. "If I didn't know any better, I would say you cared about my feelings."
There seemed to be a momentary flash of amusement on Iwao's face. "It is my duty to protect you," Iwao told me unfeelingly. "What you interpret from it is entirely upon you, My lady."
My mouth opened wide as I laughed, perhaps too hard almost. But it made all the difference in making me feel better. Perhaps Iwao was trying to make me feel better or I was over reading it as was my habit.
Later that day, I decided to take Katsu's advice to go see a production by the local theatre company, the Ember Island Players, in the heart of the town. My seat ended up being a balcony seat with others surrounding me, where I had a reasonably good view of their production The Summer of Fire Lilies. The story of the play itself was of two lovers from noble families that had an ongoing feud, which was a romantic comedy of sorts, and ended with the Fire Lord coming in to save the day by ending the feud between the two families. While the scenery and effects were good, the play's lines and acting were an entirely different story. Iwao had sat beside me the entire production without making one sound or comment, yet I got the impression somehow that he had enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the attentive fixation of his eyes on the stage instead of darting around the room like they usually would, always on the lookout for danger. During the production, I had noticed how one balcony to the left of my own a few down was entirely empty except for three individuals sitting inside of it. There were also two soldiers in the red uniform of the imperial firebenders, I had seen them in the Capital and Satoru had taught me who they were, standing at the doorway of the balcony behind the three seated individuals.
As the curtain went down and the applause broke out at the end of the production, I leaned towards Iwao. "Who are they?" I asked, looking towards the balcony.
Iwao clapped his hands and looked briefly towards the balcony. "The Royal Family," He stated quietly. "They have a private vacationing house here." My eyes widened in response as a flash of realization went through me. Akane had told me of her son, a second son born after Ichirou that was not truly dead….but instead had been taken by a shadowy organization known as the Society that trained bodyguards. A tradition that involved the Suzuki family providing bodyguards for the Royal Family, a secret from the world and perhaps even themselves at times. Was Akane's lost son one of the figures sitting over at that balcony? What had she said his name was…? …Renzo…Yes…
I remembered now for…
Akane had looked at me with pitying eyes. "I thought you should know. They took him from me because of the Crown Prince," She had let out a deep breath and looked back at me more calmly. "It could happen to you someday."
Moon and Ocean Spirits, I thought horrified at the new realization. At the time I had denied the chance of ever having Katsu's child and here I was pregnant. Would…could I lose my child just as Akane had? No….I thought to myself, she had told me it only happened when a royal male child was born and I knew that Crown Prince Iroh was the only existing child in the Royal Family. Yet what if another male was born into that evil family? Would they steal one of my children from me? For Ira, the fortune teller, had told me I would have more than one…but someday I would escape from here! It did not mean that all of my children would be his.
I let out a small breath to calm myself down. There were no other royal children in the family, so the child within me was safe. One day I would be free of this place, I swore, so there was no need for me to think further on it. My attention still drifted to the balcony where the members of the Royal Family sat out of curiosity. Everyone knew that Fire Lord Sozin was the one responsible for starting the war and his son, the current Fire Lord Azulon, was responsible for the decimation of my people. His son had to be evil just as he was. What was his wife, the Fire Lady Ilah, like I wondered. Others around me started to depart from the balcony, so I followed suite and headed for the exit with Iwao at my side. When we exited the theatre, I noticed a crowd of people still hanging around in the courtyard at the entrance like a throng of seal-penguins.
"What are they waiting for?" I asked Iwao quietly.
"Too catch a glimpse of the Royal Family," He answered me coldly. Iwao paused and looked around with what almost could have been hesitation. "Would you like to stay as well?"
I shrugged. It was not like I would be able to use any waterbending to murder the heir of the Fire Nation throne, not that the idea had not come to my mind when Iwao had told me the Royal Family was only meters away from us. I was not skilled enough nor was I stupid enough to try for I was no assassin and I had another to worry about within me. Plus, I did not have a death wish as I had months ago. No, I made another profound realization tonight, I want to live. The desire to die no longer dwelt within me, no longer haunting the edge of my every thought. Iwao led me to the edge of the ever growing crowd, which had become increasingly noisy as well. A group of Imperial Firebenders emerged first from the exit, cutting through the crowd and holding them back to make a clear pathway. There was no way for me to see over the much taller people ahead of me and I almost cried out in surprise when Iwao lifted me up by my waist without telling me. He held my against his chest with my back to his face. While I appreciated being able to see, and noting that two pavilions with bearers had also entered the courtyard and at the edge of the now clear path through the crowd, I was not particularly happy either.
"Iwao, what are you doing?" I whispered annoyed. He never touched me, not unless it had been to prevent an escape in the past.
"Do you want me to put you down?" He asked indifferently.
"Well, I-" My words were lost as the crowd around me cheered in excitement as a beautiful woman came through the entrance of the theatre. The flashing golden symbol of the Fire Nation immediately identified her as a member of the Royal Family. I noticed that others were also being held up in the crowd to catch a view, but as I noted to myself most were children for I am short compared to the Fire Nation standard. From this distance, I could make out her long, black hair and elegant dress, but not much more than that. She must have smiled at the crowd for they cheered louder as she made her way to the first pavilion. A few feet behind her followed a smaller figure whom had to be Crown Prince Iroh. I knew him to be thirteen years of age, so naturally he was much shorter than his mother. He still walked with the same regal bearing though and gazed at the crowd solemnly while they even let out a louder cheer at the sight of their beloved Crown Prince. The urge to vomit at their reaction filled me. How could they cheer on the son of a mass murderer whom would surely one day fill the same steps as his father and grandfather before him?
I could not see his face clearly and how I wished I could spit at him….or use my waterbending to destroy him before he could destroy the world further. Yet I was held in Iwao's grasp and watched the scene with a seemingly calm face instead, letting one of my worst enemies walk happily right on by me. The spirits were truly cruel if they existed.
Another figure almost beside the Crown Prince had almost escaped my attention and had seemed to do so successfully with most of the crowd. A smaller figure, a young boy, walked beside the Crown Prince in neutral clothing that revealed nothing of his identity or role. Was it possible that it was Renzo, Akane's son? I could not be sure from this distance and the child disappeared from my sight as the Crown Prince entered the second pavilion, which rushed away quickly from the courtyard in the moments I had glimpsed the child.
Iwao and I had returned to Kuro's house silently after he had let go of me as if he had never picked me up to begin with. The hours melded into the night which I had passed with reading several scrolls that I had found in a small collection in the bedroom I was staying in. Early the next morning, I wrote my letter for Teruko's family of her running away the short letter she had left of doing so. Teruko had left it with me before her departure the previous morning, which I sent along with my letter to her father. Iwao had read it over for me to make sure it fit the bill before sending it off for me by hawk messenger, as well as writing his own letter to Katsu of Teruko's running away. He was keeping his promise to keep it a secret from Katsu, something I still found difficult to believe. I had asked Teruko's father in the letter if I should alert the local home protection force to search the island for her, specifically of what I could do to help for I had failed as her guardian on this trip.
Not even two hours later, I had received a response from her father that was tinged with devastation and terrible anger. He would prefer that this whole affair be kept private lest it ruins their family name and he would have his own people look into the affair. While he was heart-broken that Teruko had chosen to do this, he did not put the blame on me, the wife of one of his beloved friends and neighbors, for I was near her age and was of course oblivious to his daughter's plans. While I was rather grateful and guilty feeling about her father's reaction, I could only hope that Katsu had a similar view of my supposed innocence in the whole affair.
We returned back home, the estate I mean, that day quietly. Several days passed in which I heard no news from Teruko's father or from Katsu yet. I hoped the best for Teruko and Satoru over those few days before I finally heard word of something. I received a letter from Teruko's father and from Katsu both on the same day. The letter from her father expressed that thus far they had not been able to find any trace of Teruko in their quiet search for her, but he still held hope that she would return home to them, or soon they would have to reveal the truth to her jilted fiancé. My nerves were running sky high as I had opened the one from Katsu, perhaps even slightly more so then when I had opened the letter from Teruko's father. I worried for her and Satoru, yet when it came to my own situation...
I have received word from Lord Haruko of his daughter's running away and from Iwao as well. This news is shocking and I feel for Lord Haruko and his family. It pains me to say I should have seen this coming for I know of Teruko's lessons with your tutor Satoru. It is obvious to me whom she has run away with and I have advised Lord Haruko to this. Iwao also wrote to me upon your return of Satoru's mysterious disappearance. I know you had no hand in this and do not want you to blame yourself for it either. Teruko took advantage of your trip as an opportunity to run away. I have known her since she was a child and while I do not blame her for falling in love; this is not the way things are done in the Fire Nation. She has a duty to her family foremost. I will be home in four weeks and hope that the loss of your friend and your teacher will not make you lonesome. Perhaps it is too early to ask yet, but there is a need too. Would you like for another instructor or do you feel sufficiently educated in our ways?
At first, I felt a wave of relief swim through me for he thought me innocent. There would be no consequences for me from him, but the arrogance of his letter irked me. The Fire Nation nobility think only of their honor and tradition, instead of what is right and what is best. How else would that explain the rigidness of their culture and the ongoing war that they all believed to be just? Another thing he had written….he had said our ways, not his, but ours. As if he thought me as one of them.
….A citizen of the Fire Nation….A demon…No…not all…but never! NEVER one of them!
I am Water Tribe!
And this child within me….would this child become one of them? Unaware their Water Tribe heritage? Not on my life, I swore in that moment, my child would know their culture for someday we would return to it. Even though they have a peaceful existence here, unlike…
My response to Katsu was short in its response and perhaps for the first time, genuine in its honesty about my own feelings. Perhaps I meant to anger him a little, although I meant every word and this time it was not entirely meant to provoke him.
Usually I would not care to tell you how I feel, but I am sorry that Teruko and Satoru have both left. They were, are, two people whom I have become attached too. I do not wish for another teacher, at least not for now. The ways of your people are yours, not mine, and they never will be. I am not one of you Katsu, and while it may seem so in appearances, do not forget where I am from.
I was surprised when Katsu did not write back. In fact, he did not send one letter until his return four weeks later. Perhaps it was a wish on his part to try to punish me in some way, not that I cared if he had stopped writing me letters. There was also an impatient waiting within me to hear news from Satoru and Teruko, but I received no word from them. Often I thought of them and prayed to the Ocean and Moon Spirit without realizing it. I had realized long ago that the spirits were of no use, if they even existed that is. I missed them terribly and even Katsu's presence for I had no company at the estate, even though Akane did visit me several times until his return. Somehow I found myself drifting more often towards Ran's home with her and that of Ira, the fortuneteller. Ira never turned me away and seemed to welcome my presence every time I visited. She did not read my fortune again. Instead, we talked of her life and some of mine, not that I said much about it. I could have sworn that she knew. Though she never said it, there were small hints dropped here and there that always made me pause with doubt. Yet I did not think, even though it was impossible, that she was a threat. Ira was loyal to Katsu and was rather unusual to begin with.
I practiced my waterbending when I could and with each week I noticed the slight thickening of my waistline. Pregnancy was making me gain weight and rapidly now at this point. A part of me dreaded Katsu's return, I was somewhat afraid of his reaction because of the lack of letters. Before I had not feared him taking away my privileges as he would call them after his letter, but had I condemned myself by my own brutal honesty? And part of me…..part of me had written it to hurt him…I hurt still…and I feared the future...
I had only written the truth I told myself. I was not one of them-that would never change.