Chapter 5: Imprisonment
"Deep down even the most hardened criminal is starving for the same thing that motivates the innocent baby: Love and acceptance." -Lily Fairchilde
"You let him die!" Aika shrieked at me. The young woman, only a few years older than me, looked at me with pure hatred. Tears fell down her dark cheeks from light blue eyes. "He looked up to you and you let him die! My son is dead because of you!" She disappeared as I opened my mouth to say that I was sorry. So sorry…
"Rana?" Takao stood before me with a burned face and chest. He looked…like my mother had when she died… "Why did you let me die?" He asked pleadingly. He implored me with his child eyes. My throat hardened as I let tears come out
"What? Sorry?" She asked standing before me. Takao was gone, replaced by a woman with half a face. She looked at me with a face that had once looked my own. Except for her eyes. They were a different shade. "You couldn't save him, could you?" She demanded. I could barely look at her without horror. "You let your brother die burning in that tent first and then Takao. And you considered yourself brave!"
""I didn't know what to do!" I protested wildly. "I was only a child!"
"And so were both of they," She answered me bitterly. I reached out, to hug the woman who had once been my mother. To ask for her forgiveness, to cry out in anger to being abandoned. To just cry…but my arms felt nothing…Except for an intense fire that surrounded me, licking me hungrily. The heat…the pain as it singed my hair and my skin!
I awoke with a gasp and heavy breathing, but I kept my scream at bay. The monster lay in the beside me, long lost in his own dreams. I shook violently and shivered. I slid out of the bed quietly and stood in front of the window. A half moon glowed in the dark sky above, lighting the garden with a silver glow. Stars twinkled and there were no clouds. Moon spirit, I thought, how could this have happened to me? To our people? What did we do to deserve this?As always, my prayers went unanswered. I had begun to lose faith in my own spirits. There was no one to help me out of this.
I was alone.
It had been two weeks now since my first arrival. True to the monster's word, we had been married at the end of a week in a ceremony performed by some sort of holy person to his people. I had not paid much attention. The ceremony hadn't even required my consent and all I had done was stand through the whole thing silently. I had been given my own wardrobe and jewelry. There was another cupboard in the bedroom just for me now. It also contained my wedding dress. There had been no opportunity for me to escape, but this pretense of a marriage wouldn't stop me from trying! Iwao was always there at the door or with me if I wandered around the house or gardens. Ran helped me to dress and undress. There other servants and guards, but none approached me.
I didn't care to talk to them either. Iwai was silent. The only two who spoke to me was Ran or the monster. Not one word has come from my lips since the first day I came here. The monster's home was old and large, enough to entertain me most of the time. I had not been outside since the walls since I first came through. There were only two gates out. Both guarded. I had gotten on a walkway on the wall the other night with Iwao. There were green hills surrounding the house with hints of a forest in the distance. A road wounded through the hills from the main gate to be lost from eye's view. The other gate had a road that led down the cliff sides on the other side of the estate, where I could see the endless ocean meeting the eternity sky.
No escape thus far.
I have to admit the monster had been true to his word…he has not touched me, except for once. The only other times where when we slept and I would be forced to fall asleep with his arms around, keeping me imprisoned even then. The other time had been the night we had married…
I stood in his room, edgy and nervous. What would he do? He followed me in and closed the door behind us. I was still in my wedding gown as was he in his own wedding outfit. Such strange clothes. There had been a dinner afterwards with people from the island. Important people, Katsu had told me, from the villages and the only other noble family on this island. He told me to speak to no one, but only to smile and nod.
Katsu looked at me with raised eyebrows. "You look shaken, Rana," He mused. "Why so scared now? I have been sleeping by your side one week already." The first night he had tried to sleep beside me had not gone well. He still had scratches on his upper arms as I had bruises on my wrists. He had not violated me or even kissed me yet, but what would stop him now? From his viewpoint I was his wife, as much disgust and hatred it brought to me. I knew about the things between a man and a woman. Kanna had explained it to me when I had become a woman. Yet no one has ever…not even a kiss…and I was to have this ruined by this Fire Nation demon?
"I have something for you," Katsusaid with a solid smile. "I couldn't give it to you during the ceremony for obvious reasons and it did take time to have the jeweler design it." Katsu pulled something that was wrapped in black cloth from his robes. He extended it out to me with an open hand, waiting for me to take it. I made no move to take it from him. Katsu sighed and came over to me, taking my hand and pressing the cloth into it. "Open it," He said, and then added kindly. "Please."
I thought it wise to keep him happy and opened the cloth. Inside laid a silver chain necklace with one ornament on it. A small blue stone was set in a silver casing that wrapped around it wildly. It was lovely.
I hated it immediately.
Katsu looked at me and said, "I read about the custom of giving a betrothal necklace. I thought you might want to have one." The thought came to me that he had been reading about my people, but what for? It went away with the thought that was not a custom practiced by my tribe, perhaps in the north, but not in the Southern Water Tribe. I looked at him with a cold stare.
"You don't like it," He said jadedly. "But then you don't like anything, do you." The necklace was blue…my color…why had he? I hated the gesture it was supposed to mean, but it was still my color. The only blue I had. I clenched my fist around it. I looked back at Katsu and could have sworn he had fought down the urge to smile.
"Rana," He said softly. He took me into his arms. They were huge, a hot prison that I couldn't get out of. He had embraced me before this week, but it had only lasted for seconds. I didn't look at his face. Suddenly his mouth was on mine. I fought back and tried to push myself away. I stumbled away for Katsu let go of me hastily. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that," He said swiftly with a hint of regret. This was only a trap to lure me in. He is a monster! Loathing and vehemence were such a common feeling to me now I barely noticed them anymore. "I told you I wouldn't force you, not until you're ready."
I backed up to the other side of the room. "I'm going to change Rana, so you can turn around like you like to," He said thickly. His face was contorted with emotions I didn't understand as he looked at me. "I swear on Agni I won't touch you tonight."
I turned around. I heard him change and go into the bed. It had become custom for me to grab my nightclothes and change in the bathroom. I didn't do that tonight.I looked back over at Katsu to see him shirtless lying in the bed. It was still a shock to see that much pale skin that I hated to admit had good form. "Are you not going to go change?" The monster asked in a false voice.
I shook my head.
He sighed and used his firebending to cast the room into darkness. I eventually fell asleep on the floor, leaning against the wall. Yet in the morning when I woke up, I had been shocked to find myself tucked into the blankets with my wedding garment still on. He was no longer there when I had awoken…
I stared out the window, going over the recent memory. A week had passed since that night. Had I only been here two weeks? It felt like eternity to me in this gilded prison. For it was still prison, however comfortable it was.
"You have nightmares a lot," His voice said in the dark. I didn't look away from the window. "Yet you don't scream. Even in your sleep you're silent to me." He sat up in the bed from the sound of the bed creaking and the blankets rustling. "What is it you're dreaming about?"
I fingered the necklace he had given me that weighed down on my chest. It is blue….my element…
"I liked it better when you screamed hatred at me," Katsu said roughly. I know, I thought, that is why…
"Come back to bed," He said. I slipped into the bed beside him. He pulled me against his chest where I could feel his deep breathing contrasting against my own small ones. "My brother and his wife will be arriving in several days," He murmured near my head. The monster's smell reminded me of heat and spice…I shivered. "They are visiting to see you. Rana, you don't speak, but you mustn't tell people where you're from. They know as do my servants, but neither will betray me. If you do, it would be the end for you."
What he said gave me a weapon that he didn't think about it. He thought me too afraid to seek my own end in that way, but if I did…it would bring him down to. I smiled inside at the idea, but never on the outside.
The monster had warned me to be well-behaved when his brother and wife would come. He wanted to make a good impression with me, I supposed. I wondered how that could be done when the Fire Nation thought of my people as a weaker people. He told me that they lived on the other family estate on another island. His brother was in the military that stayed to protect their homeland, while Katsu was in the navy. He was on leave he told me, for the moment anyways. I had realized that the monster, for the most part, liked to talk to me about things. He told me about his childhood, how his mother had died giving birth to his younger brother, and how he couldn't remember her. He told me about his father who had passed years ago in his sleep. A military man who had had little to do with his sons during their childhood. They had grown up taught by private tutors on this very estate. He told me about how his father had lost his oldest son before he or his younger brother had been born, and thought that was why their father had little do with them with the loss of his first born son and then the loss of his wife bringing his younger brother into the world.
He told me a lot of things, but not everything. He would avoid talking about the war or my people. He avoided talking about anything that might upset me, in his perspective. But his talking about anything made him more human.
I detested him talking to me about anything.
I was sitting in the courtyard in the beginning of my third week there. The courtyard was on the center of the estate, surrounded by four roofed walkways that led into the house. The bricks were red in the courtyard, but there a fountain that had flowing water. There was an ornate stone bench I could sit on. The sky was above me. I liked it the most, even compared to the gardens.
It was one of the few places he thought to look for me. Iwao hovered nearby. I had somehow started to accept that silent shadow. He never talked to me except when need be. That was fine by me. I stared at the water, considering just for a moment to do what I longed most…
"So, you're Rana!" A cheerful voice exclaimed. I looked up to see a woman strolling towards me across the courtyard. She was dressed in clothes quite similar to the ones I now wore. Colored the evil red of course. The woman grinned at me. She was taller than me, but had a petite build to her. Her hair was down without being pulled back at all. A dark brown that was almost a true black. An angular face, young, but not too young with light hazel eyes. She was pretty in a sharper sort of way.
A boy followed her, dressed in a sort of gray and red outfit that looked like a uniform of sorts. He had black hair up in a top-knot and a softer face than the woman. It looked more like…Katsu's. My eyes widened when I saw the boy had the same colored eyes. He looked to only be a couple of years younger than me, around twelve?
"My name is Akane," The woman continued, she pulled a very shocked me into a warm embrace. "We are sister-in-laws! Family!"
I gaped, not knowing how to respond to such…a warm welcome. I kicked the thought away. All demons, all of them. "Katsu told me you don't like to talk," She said lightly as if it were normal. "This is my son, Ichirou," She said, gesturing towards the boy.
Ichirou gaped right back at me. "Hi," He at last mumbled.
"Ichirou," Akane scolded. "Is that the proper way to greet family?
"Hi, Aunt Rana," He sputtered out. He didn't look hateful…just shocked. I blinked at the strange sound of…Aunt Rana…It was...
I disliked it of course!
"Now, run along and play in the gardens," Akane said firmly, giving him a shove to go. Ichirou scampered off faster than the wind. Akane sat down on the bench, gesturing for me to follow suit which I did. "I have to admit I was shocked when my husband told me what Katsu has done," She said at last after looking at me for a long moment. "He risked everything to save you. Do you know what would happen if the wrong people found out?"
I shrugged and looked away. She was a forward woman. I...respected that. "He would lose the estate. We would lose ours. Imprisonment, death, or banishment are the three possibilities," She said matter-of-factly. I felt a strange sensation at her words, but shoved it away. All lies.
"You are quite beautiful, you know." I looked at her instantly. No one had said that to me at home. Who would have? The monster said it only because… "And your eyes, I haven't seen blue eyes before," She said with a hint of something else. "Very beautiful."
I looked back at the fountain. "I want you to know, Rana, that I don't hate you," She said quietly. "I don't know anything about your people, but only what I have been taught. It's a strange feeling to befriend you, but…nice. I have no ill will towards you." I looked her face, only to see genuine honesty. It made me look away again. How could I hate this woman for trying to be kind to what she saw as a new family member? But she is one of them…one of the demons…
I looked back at her anxious face, older than me by many years, and smiled the tiniest bit. It couldn't hurt…just this once…
Akane, Ichirou, and her husband Masato, Katsu's brother, were to stay only for a week. During that week, Akane spent all of her time with me, even when I did not say one word. She talked to me like the monster did, but I did not mind listening to her. She told me about her home and childhood as younger daughter in a noble family that had little prospect. Akane told me her whole life story and even talked about the sensitive loss of a beloved son, Renzo. I didn't mean to, but I actually liked her. Ran was kind to me, but she did not talk to me like an equal. She treated me as her superior. Akane…Akane treated me like…Kanna had…
Ichirou was always playing with the several children of servants that dwelt on the estate. In the gardens raising a riot. I had been there to witness a very annoyed Akane handling him. It had reminded me of the children back home. Before the raids when I had been little…I always pushed the thoughts away. As for Masato, he was always spending time with Katsu; the two were never around me or Akane, except for at dinner. Masato only spoke to be briefly, welcoming me to the family, but ignored me otherwise. I got the impression he didn't like me at all. Fine by me, he looked too much like the monster, except he was shorter and with softer angles.
The last evening before they were to leave, I was walking in the gardens by myself, which is mostly made up of grass, rock trails, bushes, trees, and several ponds. I walked around the corner with Iwao closely behind, only to stop at the sound of voices down the path. They hadn't seen me and I stopped back around the edge when I realized it was Masato and him. He always came to bed the last week after I was asleep. Another thing I could live with happily, except if he were to die all together. Their voices could be heard from where I stood and where tight with frustration and anger. It was the mention of my name that had made me stop. Iwao looked at me with cold eyes, but made no gesture to stop me from listening to their private conversation.
"She's a girl, barely older than my son by a few years," Masato's voice argued. "Have you thought of your age difference at all?"
""Rana is my wife!" The monster's voice said angrily.
"You're in denial, Katsu!" Masato asserted frustrated. His voice was lighter than Katsu's deeper one. "She hates your living guts. Get rid of her!"
""I can't," The monster replied densely.
"She will try to kill you, you know," Masato said with a resigned sigh. "She won't ever love you. Have you seen the look in her eyes? She hates all of us."
"You've been telling me this all week," The monster refuted. "I thank you for your concern, brother. But she is mine to deal with." There was that possessiveness in his voice that made my stomach rise.
"You're risking too much for her. She's the enemy, for Agni's sake!" Masato cried. "If this goes bad, it would mean the end for my family and me. Think of us! My son!"
There was a long silence before the monster. "I know," He replied heavily, "And forgive me for not doing right by you."
"So that is it than," Masato said icily. "I'm not pleased," He said tightly, with his words barely controlled. "Don't bother to write for awhile."
"Are you severing all contact with me? The monster asked with…hurt?...Of course not….
"No, you idiot," Masato snapped. "Just don't be expecting hugs and cheerfulness for awhile from me."
"Ah…" Katsu said softly. "You're a good brother."
"And at the moment you're not," Masato hurled back. "Don't bother to say goodbye. I'll write to you when I feel like talking to you."
The sounds of hurried feet came down the path towards me. I did not have the chance to sneak away from the entrance that led to this part of the gardens. I looked over at Iwao in panic. His usually placid face, I swore, had a hint of smugness on it. Masato walked right in front of me as I looked up at him.
"Rana," He said annoyed. There was pain in his eyes and resentment. Had I been the cause of that? …Demons…all of…"I don't blame you," He said roughly. "I know you listened. Katsu and I argue all the time, so don't get hopeful about me trying to end him or anything."
He knew me better than the monster did.
He smiled knowingly at my face. "Well, goodbye for now." He nodded at Iwao and me and left without another word. I thought of their exchange, but one thing hit me the most out of all it, something that hadn't occurred to me. Age difference.
Akane dropped by the bedroom to say goodbye to me with Ichirou. She hugged me, much to my chagrin and promised to write me. "You don't talk," She had said, "But you can write to me." I hadn't thought about that one before. Ichirou had mumbled a goodbye with a blushing face. I didn't see Masato again.
That following evening I sat in the dining room, on the low cushions in front of the low table. The room had the dark red wood that seemed to be the constant theme for the house. Banners of old family portraits hung on the walls. Torchlight casted dancing shadows in the room from the sides. I sat across from Katsu. We dined alone once again for the first time in a week. Usually I took the other meals of the day by myself, unless he felt the need to eat with me. We always had dinner together though. They passed in silence or with him talking. The Fire Nation venue I had grown more used to, but the spicy flavors could be hard to deal with.
Tonight was one of the silent meals. Katsu set his bowl down with a large slam that made me jump in surprise. I stared at him appalled. He was usually a man who controlled himself I had begun to realize. Not prone to emotional outbursts, though he was still monster. "Rana, I'm sick of this," He began. "Can't you talk to me?"
I looked down at the rice before me and took another bite merrily.
"I'm leaving tomorrow, would you care to know that?" He said with a fair touch of bitterness. I looked at him, hiding my surprise at the intense emotion in his voice and in his face. "I will be gone on a tour for three months." He must mean with the Southern Raiders. He was their leader after all. Monsters…! I hate them!
"It will be my first patrol by the Earth Kingdom in awhile, but it isn't a dangerous assignment," He went on, "Though I'm sure you're hoping it is." He paused and added icily, "I'm no longer a commander of my own fleet, because I requested a change of assignment."
What about the Southern Raiders though? Why would he that? Had he done it…No, they have no souls. "I'm not expecting a tearful goodbye, but a word from you would be nice," Katsu continued quietly. There was a hint of something…something that…
I shook my head.
"Fine," He muttered. I looked at him carefully, noticing lines on his face I hadn't cared to notice before. Masato had talked of an age difference. How much older was he than me? Why did he hold me here as a prisoner? Why not just let me die as I had wanted!
"How old are you?" I asked. My voice came out weak and rusty from weeks of silence. I looked at him with hesitatingly. Katsu looked at me with marveled shock on his face.
A smile slowly spread on his face that made me shift about uncomfortably. "Do you really want to know?" He asked and then paused. "Forget that, you do, why else would you have…I'm older than you to be sure."
That had not answered my question! Moon spirit, curse him! "How old are you?" He asked boldly. "You never did tell me."
"Why should I answer you?" I rebutted, "When you didn't tell me to begin with?" Katsu raised his eyebrows.
"Agni, I did miss this," He said with laughter. "Fine. I am over thirty, pleased?"
I had thought perhaps late twenties. He seemed ageless to me, but over thirty? He truly was a sick monster! Revolting! I looked at him and smiled sweetly. Perhaps it would bother him to. "Not even sixteen."
Katsu's face tightened and his eyes grew dark. His hands curled into fists I noticed. There was an eternal minute of silence that didn't seem to end. "Rana…" He began with amassing difficulty, "I…I had thought you to be older. If I had known…"
"Would it have made any difference?" I spat.
"Yes!" He snarled in return. "Of course, but what has been done cannot be…you're my wife now. That cannot be undone!"
"Let me go than, kill me!" I yelled with a voice that at long last let out my bottled feelings. "Anything is better than being a prisoner in such a fake lie!"
Katsu looked at me with a shadowed expression I had not seen before. "That's not possible," He replied with a tired voice. "I'm not letting you go. No matter what."