Chapter 6: Change
"We change, whether we like it or not." –Ralph Waldo
Katsu did leave for his tour. Those three months crawled by like no other. I had no company and the monster had been the only person who had socialized with me. Several weeks after he had left, Ran had come chasing after myself and Iwao in the gardens. "My lady," She said excited with their strange bow, "I have a letter for you!" She beamed at me and handed it to me with a confidant smile. I took it from her silently. There was a habit of not talking much still now. I hadn't said goodbye to the monster when he had left that morning.
I opened it and looked at the symbols that were supposed to mean something. I looked back at Ran, who still looked pleased for me. Iwao watched me with stony eyes as always. For the first time, I spoke to Ran. "Thanks Ran," I said quietly. She bowed with a smile and left. The first time I had thanked her…
"You only did that so she wouldn't know," Iwao said placidly. "My lady."
I looked at him questioningly.
"You can't read," He stated. How did he know that…? My people did have scrolls, or had used to. Before the raids, so much had been lost…and no one had the time or had thought to teach me how to read. Iwao read my face as if were an open scroll. This was the first time in…I couldn't even recall the last time he had spoken to me. He was a silent shadow. "If you knew how to read, my lady, you would be spending your time in Lord Katsu's study. Instead of wandering about in boredom these days."
I had seen the room with books before. Yet it had had the monster's touch in the room and I had avoided it. The monster spent a lot of time in there. He was gone now and the days were so…endless…
I looked at Iwao sharply. "Could you teach me to read?" I asked.
"No, of course not, my lady," He refuted politely. "That is highly improper, but a tutor could be found for you. It is about time you learned our ways anyways."
I laughed loudly at his last words. "I don't care to learn your ways."
"I know," Iwao responded. His face held no expression, but there was a flinty look in his eyes. "I will find one for you. That is what his lordship would want."
I snorted, but looked at him seriously. "Could you read this to me?" I asked carefully, handing the scroll over to him.
He took it and opened it without a word. "It's from the Lady Akane," He began stiffly. "I will read her words to you." His eyes looked over the scroll as he began. "Dearest sister Rana, didn't I tell you I would write? Masato told me Katsu left for a tour! You must be bored or relieved? Care to write back and tell me? From your newest sister, Akane." He stopped and folded the scroll back up and handed it to me.
I did something against my better judgment, by… "Could you write a letter for me?" I asked him, "Until I learn how to myself?"
Iwao looked at me without blinking, but there just might have been a shadow of smile there. "Yes, I can, my lady."
Later that coming week, a tutor was hired for me, found through Iwao, I supposed. The tutor was only a young man, instead of some of old grandfather; I was surprised to find out myself on our first meeting…
Iwao led me to the door that led to the monster's study. He titled his head towards the open door. I pulled aside the curtain and went inside. Straight ahead of me two windows, long in length, let the morning sunlight pour in. Through the windows, the garden was visible. In front of the windows, sat a low table with seating cushions. The other three walls of the room are lined with shelves that are stacked with scrolls and a few other items. The dark wood floor is covered by a rug that is decorated with some sort of battle scene on it. A man stood in front of the low table and gave me their peculiar bow. "Lady Rana," He greeted me politely. His voice was soft, almost like a summer breeze. I nodded at him. He had their usual dress and hair in a top-knot, except his was a lighter shade of brown. Grey eyes looked at me from a softer face. He had this look about him that spoke of a scholar, not a fighter. "My name is Satoru, my lady," He continued. "Shall we start your lesson?"
I nodded and went to sit down on of the cushions. Satoru sat across from me. I knew Iwao was right outside of the door. "So, I have been told you don't how to read or write?" Satoru inquired with a graceful smile. I looked at his face with distrust. "I was also told I should instruct you on a basic education for a noble lady."
I scoffed at that. "I don't need any education to be a lady," I snapped. "I only want to learn how to read and write."
Satoru merely smiled in understanding. "Did you know that I was made to take an oath of silence, for I was told of your background," He mused. "I will teach you what I have been asked to teach you, but you might enjoy it. History, music, etiquette? You might find it useful in a nation that's foreign to you."
I paused at his words, taking them in. I scowled for he was right. I could use whatever I learned from him to escape when the time came. Perhaps I could even get to look at maps with him…
"Alright," I consented. "You're the teacher after all."
Satoru was a younger son who had decided to take the path of being a teacher, mostly a tutor to noble families who wanted their children to have a private education. He himself was only a commoner I found out, albeit from a rather wealthy one, according to him at least. Learning to read and write came to me rather quickly over the weeks, as if I had started to learn it once, long ago. As for the other subjects…they were more of a pain, especially etiquette. I learned the ways of the nobility and their Fire Nation court, cumbersome as it was. Etiquette I found is a broad definition from those things to basic manners at the table. I started to learn parts of their history, while Satoru attempted to have me learn some stringed instrument they call an "erhu." But my favorite thing to do was to read, especially several of the scrolls the monster had. Fire Nation poetry is actually quite beautiful. Strange that these monsters can create such beautiful things.
I kept exchanging letters with Akane, which always brightened my day. I had even started to write some of the letters myself. Akane talked about her family and what she would be doing, always asking me what I was doing. I did not have a lot to write about in return. The monster I did not hear from, even after it had almost been two months since his departure.
Ran always prepared me in the morning for the day and usually at night to undress. I still find this a weird thing. Iwao was constantly by my side or near me, never giving me at opportunity to even think about escaping. Ran was a kind woman, who would talk to me, even if I barely spoke to her. She did not try to get me to wear their emblem in my hair anymore at least. One morning as she did my hair, I heard her sigh. "You have such lovely skin, my lady."
I turned my head to look at her. She winked at me. "Mine just burns up in the sun, but I'm sure yours does not, especially with your darker coloring."
"I suppose everyone here is pale," I muttered…demons…
"No, no," Ran replied merrily. "I have seen some with a tan color, but not one with your color or…."
"What?" I asked.
"Your eyes, my lady," She replied. "Blue eyes are not seen around here."
One day I was wandering around the house, bored from a lack of lessons and nothing to do. Iwao followed me as always. Sweat fell down my forehead. I hated the heat here! I was exploring a part of the house I had not cared to venture around before, near the servants quarters and storage areas. I pulled aside one of the curtains that led to a small room that was bland with no decoration or windows. There were only a few trunks in there and pieces of furniture that were…feminine and expensive looking. Iwao stood at the doorway, looking at me with a cold expression he always held. "Can you grab a torch from the hallway?" I asked.
Iwao held up his hand and created a ball of fire that lit up the small room. I could see the dust in the light that covered the items, but I lurched back from Iwao.
….Screams….the smell of burnt flesh…the cries of an infant from the tent….my mother lying in the snow…half her face was gone…afraid!...the fire will eat me…
"Put it out," I rasped, "Now!"
Iwao closed his fist and the fire disappeared. "Are you alright, my lady?"
"Fine," I said, "Just grab a torch instead." He did not say another word as he did as I asked.
It was pure boredom and curiosity that made me open the first of those trunks. Dust covered everything in the storage room, as if it had been avoided for years. Inside of the first trunk, I found a lady's clothes and personal items. Had the monster had a sister once? Had they been his mothers? In the second trunk I would find the answer. It was full of papers and several scrolls, but the most interesting were the paintings. There were two. One was a small hanging that had a young man standing beside a young woman who sat on low stool. The man was young, only in his early twenties at best, with a kind smile on his face. It….it was the monster!
I looked at the young woman who seemed to be near the same age. She looked exactly like a little Fire Nation lady; pale skin, dark hair that was only partially bound and golden eyes that in the portrait seemed to be laughing. She was so fragile looking….
I shook my head and looked at the last painting, a hanging that larger in size. It showed the same woman, but much more breakable looking somehow; as if she were ill…She sat with a toddler in her arms, no more than a baby…a little child…
Was this…this the monster's wife? His child? What had happened to them? I shut the trunk instantly. These were all of her things! All of her things had been put into some storage room to be forgotten! I looked over at Iwao who held the torch. I flinched at the sight of it. "Put it out," I said quietly. He did so.
"Did you know about this?" I asked, gesturing around the room.
"No, my lady," He replied calmly.
I walked out of the room in a hurry to find the one person I knew who might. Ran.
I found her in a workroom working on sewing something I did not care to find out what. One of the other servants had directed me towards her. She stood up and bowed with a smile.
"Did you know about her?" I spat.
"About whom?" Ran asked with a confused look. "My lady."
"That woman…his wife!" I snapped. "I found the storage room with all of her things!"
Ran's cheerful face disappeared, replaced by a look of old hurt. "So…you know," She said in a hushed tone. "I guess…"
She paused and looked at her hands. "She was his lord's wife and my mistress until she died."
"She died?" I repeated. "How?"
Ran looked at me with pained eyes. "She was such a small thing like you, always full of life, but after the baby was born…she just got sicker and sicker."
"The baby?" I asked, and then remembered the toddler in the painting. "She had a son?"
"A daughter," Ran corrected me with a mournful expression. "She died got sick when she was two, only months after…" She halted and let out a deep breath. "Lord Katsu will not be happy with me telling you this."
"I found out my own!" I argued. "Besides, what does it matter to him?"
Ran looked away from me.
"What was her name?" I continued. "His wife and their daughter?"
"Masuzu," Ran answered me. She put a hand to her face to hide her expression. "She named their daughter Katsue, after Lord Katsu."
I nodded and left Ran instantly. He had been married before and had a child…that monster…I would not, could not, feel pity for him! He was a monster….right?
That night I dreamed of a crying toddler, a baby with those light golden eyes, and a pale-skinned woman who smiled at me sadly. She had not said a word, but just stared at me with golden eyes as if she knew….