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|An Oral History of the Hundred Year War: Tradition|
Jul 9, 2013
This is my entry for Typhoonmaster's one-shot competition. I didn't think I was going to enter the contest, but then I was hit with inspiration out of nowhere and started writing. I started at midnight and finished at six AM. This is my first attempt at a one-shot. Oh, and I suck at naming characters. Heh.
This narrative is inspired by/based on the style found in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Instead of a recollection of a fictional zombie war told by its survivors, I've attempted to tell the tale of a Fire Nation colonist traveling the world hoping to record the Hundred Year War from a human perspective.
Ember Island, Fire Nation. A cool, summer breeze wafts through the open window, carrying with it the unmistakable aroma of fire lilies in full bloom. Although pleasant, these gentle gusts serve only to disturb the fresh sheets of parchment carefully laid out before me. The small, modest room I find myself in contains only a desk and two chairs. It is sparsely decorated with various shells and other items typical to Ember Island. Everything is neat and orderly, reflecting the mind of a man who lived a strictly regimented life. Several imposing paintings of men dressed in formal Fire Nation military attire line the walls. Their stern gaze seems to follow my every move, silently judging my worth. Only the soft scratching of my quill and its occasional clink against the inkwell breaks my silence.
After jotting down some preliminary notes, I clear my throat and address the man sitting patiently before me. His name is Yao Lee, and he is one of many rank-and-file soldiers to have fought in the Hundred Year War. Yao has since retired, but he remains the embodiment of a loyal soldier.
"As you can see," Yao said, gesturing to the portraits around him, "I come from a long line of Fire Nation soldiers. My father served under Fire Lord Azulon, his father served under Sozin, and so on. Words cannot describe the immense pride I felt when I enlisted in Ozai's army, knowing that I was fulfilling an age-old family tradition. This was my purpose in life. My ancestors smiled upon me that day."
His face momentarily swells with pride, only to immediately sink back to that blank, stoic expression of his.
"What can I say, I was eager to fight for my homeland. Perhaps a little too eager, had I known the true horrors that awaited me. But, I was young and naïve. War with the Earth Kingdom was all I'd ever known. The rush I felt as I charged into battle for the first time," he pauses, voice trailing off as he shifts his gaze away from me. "It was terrifying, yet exhilarating. Intoxicating."
A lingering moment of silence followed Yao's words as he collected his thoughts.
"The soldiers of the Earth Kingdom fought without honor. They were nothing more than thugs and mercenaries, or so we were told. I only later realized that these people were no different than you or I. Fathers and sons, hoping for an end to this blasted war so that they could return to their families. You must understand, soldiers do not pick the conflict; we just follow orders and hope to see another sunrise."
Yao sighed. The poised, intimidating man who had greeted me earlier suddenly began to waste away before my eyes. He slumped slightly in his chair, his proud features appeared weary and aged. A somber demeanor washed over Yao as he continued.
"War brings out the worst of us. I've seen my fair share of atrocities committed by both sides. Recruits used as bait. Earth Kingdom prisoners dressed up in Fire Nation uniforms and thrown unarmed into the battlefield to be killed by their own kin. We were blinded by our faith in Ozai. Most of the troops truly believed that we were bringing order and prosperity to the people of the Earth Kingdom. There's no point in hiding it now."
Yao slowly ran his fingers through his short, black hair, clearly troubled. His tone turns almost apologetic.
"Of course, this is all in retrospect. At the time, I was just as swept up in a nationalist frenzy as everyone else. One day, my pride for the Fire Nation, the belief that we could do no wrong, was shaken to its core."
"The village?" I asked.
"The village," he replied coldly.
"I never learned its name. For months, our supply lines had been under constant harassment by a band of Earth Kingdom rebels. We finally tracked them down to a small village located in the grasslands near the Si Wong Desert. This village was well known for harboring enemy combatants. Our previous efforts to dissuade the locals from providing aid to Earth Kingdom soldiers fell on deaf ears. As punishment for their crimes, we were ordered to raze the village to the ground. The higher-ups wished to make an example of them, remind the locals of what happens to those who throw stones at a moose-lion.
So, like a good little soldier, I followed orders without question. I remember watching the village from a distance the day before our attack. Taking in the crisp, morning air. Thinking to myself, if only these people knew how close they were to annihilation. Yet there they were, going about their daily routines, blissfully unaware of their fate. I could hear children's laughter drifting over the hills. For the first time, I felt an uneasy pit in my stomach. Observing this peaceful village from afar, thriving with life. Knowing that soon, everything they held dear would vanish in a blaze of Ozai's fury. The stillness before the storm. Just as dusk's last light sunk below the horizon and darkness swallowed the land, we moved in for the kill. I don't know how many buildings I burned. I don't want to know.
As I prepared to leave, I remember spotting a young boy standing out in the street. A violent flurry of smoke and embers rained down around him. I will never forget that boy's face, streaked with soot and grime. The look in his eyes. Not fear, or sadness, or grief, but hatred. Pure, boiling rage burned behind those eyes with an intensity brighter than the surrounding flames.
I have a son now. Every day, I pray to the spirits that he does not follow in my footsteps. Every day, I pray that he will never know war."
For the collective works of the author, go here.