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|A Painted River|
Love and mercy are a gift...
A Painted River
The cool water flowed gently downriver as children ran by the shore. The Jang Hui River was in a warm land and never froze, even in the dead of winter. Still, for children used to sunny summers and springs, they wore coats and shivered in excitement.
But there was so much more to be excited for. Today was the festival of the Painted River. A couple walked by the water, cold hands holding each other.
"It hasn't been this cold in the Fire Nation in decades." Her fair skin shivered as light snowflakes dropped slowly in the setting sun.
"It has been some time for cold to touch the heart of the homelands." His amber eyes shined as he looked at her emeralds. She was a daughter of mixed heritage, and while she was raised in the Fire Nation, she knew little of its ancient history, especially of Jang Hui.
"Have you ever heard the origin of the Painted River festival?"
"No. I haven't, Shino, I assumed it was forgotten."
"Its an old tale. It was before the Fire Sages centralized into the Fire Nation. A fishing village was made on this river. For nearly a decade, it had been prosperous and people around the islands came to enjoy the fruit of this village's labor."
"The prosperity and peace wouldn't last though. A cold winter hit these lands the likes of which has never been seen before or since. It was so cold that livestock never woke from their slumber and the rivers froze."
"Jang Hui was not at all ready and the people suffered as they slept on the cold ice. Sickness spread and food became scarce, as the ice was too thick to fish well. Times were hard and people were desperate."
The young woman tried her best to imagine this, she had seen and read much about the hard lives people in the polar regions had in comparison and she felt like the tropical lands could never have something so severe, and yet Shino's countenance held no humor, it was like he was experiencing it for himself.
"It was then that help came. A beautiful pale woman taller than any man they knew came. Her pale skin was flawless save the unique red markings the detailed her face and chest. Wearing a large straw hat, she came in the night and healed the sick and fed the young. When the people awoke, the river had thawed and beautiful flower petals floated down the river, reflecting the moonlight."
"In the distance, they saw her shrouded in mist. The Painted Lady."
"So that was how she became the Spirit of this river?"
"Yes. To commemorate her love and mercy; people would give and help to those in need. They would then drop Sapphire Rose petals into the river and let them float down at night. The festival has since become much more. Gifts are given to everyone and are meant to represent how much we care for them."
"Has the Painted Lady ever showed herself since?"
"Only a few times, of which are in times of distress. Despite her love for this river and its people, she does not want to interfere in their lives."
She looked down the river, "You would think she show herself more so that people wouldn't doubt her existence."
Ignoring her comment, Shino began turning back for the village, "Let's go, the festival will start soon."
A Warm Cold
Shino led the young Ayame through Jang Hui village. It was a modest village and seemed to be a picture out of the past when compared to the metropolises of Republic City and Capital City. Still, the simple beauty of it in this festival could not be denied.
Lanterns hung throughout as men oared couples through the waterways with an ambiance of love and care. As they turned a corner, Ayame's yukata shined as her green dress matched her gemlike eyes, they seemed golden for an instant. He smiled to himself as she ate a small treat from one of the stands.
Walking slowly through, they reached the center of the village where a great statue of the Painted Lady stood. It was much more conventional in appearance and actually resembled someone else. Katara was known to have saved this village under the guise of the Painted Lady. Years later, the village asked her to return as an adult and let someone sculpt a statue of her as the spirit, certain that her beauty would be the best image they could see of her.
Shino began speaking as he looked up at the statue, "Its not about her needing to confirm her existence to us, Ayame."
Ayame turned her attention to Shino; he was now answering her question, finally. "You see, she doesn't need our confirmation. It's about faith. Faith that she is there for us and trust that she will always be there. Do you need to see the sun rise every day to know it will come the next? Must you watch the waves of the sea roll to know the Moon still bends them?"
"No," she chuckled lightly, smiling at the simplicity of his message, "I guess not."
"You know, the Sapphire Rose was never seen before the day the Painted Lady came to them. Nor will they grow anywhere else."
He reached in his coat gently and drew a small flower, holding it before her. It was a deep and dark shade of blue with veins of white so faint; she could hardly tell they were there. "This is a Sapphire Rose. The same flower whose petals floated down the river."
"Its beautiful." She was shocked to even know such a flower existed.
Hours passed by like minutes or perhaps minutes passed by like centuries, Ayame couldn't tell in this state of joy. She noticed that people had stopped bustling around the stands and stood beside the ones they loved, each had something in hand for the other. Given humbly and received gratefully, the sincerity of it was astounding to her.
She turned to Shino to notice that he gently laid a necklace on her. It glowed a dim green as its emerald jewel caught the lantern light. He then placed the Sapphire Rose he held into her hair, gently placing the stem in her bun.
"Shino, I don't have anything-"
"Don't be silly, your eyes and smile are a gift from heaven for me." The festival was now coming to its end as the people walked to the edge of the village, each had a beautiful rose in hand.
"Now it begins."
People then looked down at their flowers and began to pick the petals off them; dropping them into the river as they floated down. Ayame then noticed it. The petals changed. As they kissed the water gently, their blue color changed. Like a fire churning and burning its object to dark ash, the blue petals burn in the water to a pure white that reflected so majestically in the moonlight.
"Sapphire Roses only bloom in winter, before that, they are indistinguishable from the flowers around them. The tale says that the people had never seen these flowers before the Painted Lady came. As such, their other name is the Painted Bloom."
Then she felt it, the soothing warmth. She knew it was chilly out, and yet she did not shiver. The warmth bathed her, as it was not from the air but the heart.
"Yes?" He turned to face her as lips met. They were warm and inviting, giving him a beat in his heart. As she stepped back and looked into his amber eyes, she smiled.
- This is an entry to Slash's holiday fanon entries.
- I decided on an original story which would explain the Painted Lady's origins with Jang Hui River.
For the collective works of the author, go here.