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August 30, 2014
Early birds sing their sweet songs breaking the morning's silence. The sun has yet to break the horizon but its rays already paint the sky a deep orange over the rolling hills. The brothers' simple camp lies underneath a tall oak tree situated near the road to Ba Sing Se. The North's snow-capped mountains, a day behind them, still loom in the distance high above the horizon. The campfire has long died out but the coals are still hot to the touch. Jaro snores on the ground, drool dripping from the side of his mouth. His brother isn't in the camp, his things already packed away neatly for the day's journey.
Off in the surrounding woods, Kharum is setting up a tiny snare trap next to a rabbit hole. He carefully sets the trip and gives it a gentle flick making sure the string is taut before backing away slowly. Backtracking his way through the woods, he finds a fallen tree leaning against a mighty oak and he begins to climb. He silently jumps from branch to branch, using his air bending to catch himself if necessary, until he is over the snare trap. Kharum takes a seat on the branch and lays back against the tree.
The rolling green hills and wide, open fields are a new thing for Kharum. Flowering deciduous trees, bright green grass, an abundance of fauna. A life spent within the "safety" of the North's massive mountains has not prepared him for what the rest of the world has in store, and he is alright with that. He is ready to see the rest of the world. His mind free to enjoy his surroundings, Kharum begins to nod in and out of sleep as the sun creeps over the horizon when...snap! Kharum wakes up and jumps down to retrieve breakfast.
Back at camp, Jaro is still in his dreamful sleep. The deliciously potent smell of cooking food brushing against his nose causes him to wake up from his slumber. Jaro's zombie like face looks around to find Kharum over a reignited campfire stewing his catch.
"Morning sunshine." Kharum says as he stirs the simple stew of meat and broth.
Jaro's stomach growls loud enough for even his brother to hear. Kharum pours his brother a bowl, and hands it and a spoon to him.
"Here. Eat this before your stomach decides to jump out and bite my hand off or something."
Jaro, still half-asleep, stares at the steaming bowl of stew. He then examines the spoon for but a moment before throwing it away and, as if the bowl were a chalice, downs the stew in a single gulp.
Kharum, about to pour his own bowl, is amazed. "Geez....Did you even chew?"
Jaro stretches his arms out and lets out a mighty yawn. "Yawwwwn...What? I'm a growing boy." He holds up the bowl to his brother for a refill. Jaro immediately downs his second bowl and holds the bowl up to Kharum again for another refill.
"Hold on..." Kharum pours himself a bowl and sets it down. He then hands the small pot to Jaro.
"Here. Finish it."
Jaro licks his lips and motions the pot at Kharum in a toast with a big smile on his face. He then begins chugging the pot of stew with no remorse. Kharum shakes his head in amazement and eats his stew slowly.
Back on the road, the brothers travel side by side. Kharum travels light carrying nothing but a small bag, his quiver, knife, and bow. He wears his sleeveless brown jacket and a brown-yellow sash over a dark green hooded tunic over a white long sleeved shirt. On his right arm his leather forearm guard that he uses for archery is held by leather strips, while his left arm is bare, sleeve rolled up. Jaro carries a large bag on his back and is relieved that he dumped his heavy, winter clothing back at the Marshal camp. Jaro wears a similar sleeveless jacket as his brother apart that it is green and, lengthwise, it falls to his knees. Under that he wears a brown hooded tunic over a yellow long sleeved shirt. He also proudly wears the headband his father gave him. It is a sunny day and everything is silent apart from the chirping of a small bird here and there.
Jaro is bored out of his mind. "Are we there yet?" he asks looking to his brother.
Kharum answers calmly. "No."
Further down the road, Jaro is still bored. The silence is killing him.
"Are we there yet?" he asks again, a smirk on his face.
Kharum answers calmly again. "No."
Continuing down the road, Jaro can't help himself.
"How about now?"
Further down the road, Kharum is slouching. He is tired of hearing the same question over and over again.
"Are we there yet now?" Jaro's smirk returns.
Kharum responds with a hint of anger in his voice. "No." He looks to his younger brother who immediately looks straight ahead acting oblivious of him.
Down the road even more, Kharum has his hands over his ears. However, Jaro has been quiet for a good while. Kharum cautiously removes his hands over his ears and glances over at his brother. Jaro is looking forward down the road seemingly unawares of his brother. Kharum sighs in relief and his arms fall to his side.
Jaro strikes. "Are we there yet?"
Kharum can no longer take it. "NO! It's only been one hour!...Hey look we're here." Kharum points off into the distance.
Jaro stupidly looks to where his brother is pointing. "Really?"
Jaro frowns. "Hey c'mon....that ain't funny."
Kharum laughs at his own silliness. "Hahaha! I thought it was. Hahaha!"
"C'mon, man, I'm bored. There's nothing to do..."
Kharum, ignoring his brother, is alerted to something and stops his laughing.
Jaro continues talking anyway. "I'm sore... my feet hurt, my ankles hurt, my knees hurts, my calves hurt, my legs hurt, heck even my butt hurts."
Kharum frantically looks up and down the road. Dropping to the ground, he pulls his knife out, and stabs it into the earth. He waves at Jaro to shut up before placing his ear on the hilt so he can listen. "Shhhhh!"
"I hope they have really soft beds at the Temp...hmmm? Whatchya doin' down there?"
Kharum stands up and stares down the road. "Something's coming this way." Kharum contemplates their next move. They are in a foreign land at wartime, and not too many people live this far north judging by the poor condition of the dirt road. With a final look down the road, Kharum's mind is made up. "Hide."
Kharum, still annoyed with his brother, doesn't want to hear any second guessing from him now. "Just do it!"
The road is empty; the brothers are nowhere to be seen. Perched high in the trees above the road, Kharum sits in an overwatch position. He guesses he can see maybe a fifty yards down the road at best between the foliage and the rising and falling hills. The sounds of galloping can be heard in the distance growing louder. Kharum's anxiety grows as his left hand itches to pull an arrow from his quiver. Then into view come three riders on their ostrich-horses laden in green and gold. The lead rider bears a standard of a bronze earth bending symbol on a green field as it flaps in the wind. All three wear green studded leather armor covering the entirety of their bodies. Only a hole for their faces beneath their "Mandarin" hat-styled head covering is left unprotected. They ride past the spot the brothers were at full gallop.
As the sound of the steeds disappears, Kharum drops down from the trees onto the road. He looks up and down the road. "I think we're clear."
A random boulder next to the road crumbles apart and a dirt-covered Jaro appears in a hunched over position. He achingly stands up and dusts himself off as he walks over to his brother.
"Who were those guys?" Jaro asks as he stretches and dusts the remaining earth from his shoulders.
"My best guess...Ba Sing Se soldiers."
Jaro's face expresses concern as the riders were heading north. "Why are they riding that way? Home's that way."
"There is a road in the foothills that goes around and leads to Taku. Don't worry, Ba Sing Se isn't willing to break Severnyy's neutrality."
Jaro looks at his brother quizzically.
Kharum answers his brother's unspoken question. "Because Severnyy is at the back door to Ba Sing Se. Taku and Omashu could then march around and flank Ba Sing Se instead of being stuck in the stale mate they're in...Didn't you listen to any of the Marshals last night?"
Jaro stupidly grins and shakes his head as the two continue their way down the road. Jaro continues the questions rather than walking in silence. "Okay, what about the Marshalls then? If Severnyy gets sucked into the war..."
"Well I suppose most of them would go fight but some have to stay behind and continue to protect our homes and guide other armies through the passes. It's not like we have an army of our own. You heard the Captain, there's maybe 300 Marshalls. As great as they are, there is zero chance that they can defeat any army alone."
After an hour of non-stop questioning on strategy and tactics from Jaro, a crossroads stands in front of them.
A single post crammed with signs pointing in multiple directions sits at the center of the crossroads. There are arrows pointing toward Ba Sing Se, Taku, Omashu, and The North.
Jaro can't help but to ask about one particular direction. "The North?"
"That's home." Kharum responds as if his brother should have known that.
"Why wouldn't they just write down 'SEVERNYY' then?" That, of course, is the obvious thing to do in Jaro's eyes.
Kharum takes a deep breath trying to be patient. "Because we're not a country...the rest of the world just sees us as a bunch of idiots trying to make a living in an unlivable place. We want to be a country though. Don't you remember any of the stories dad and grandpa told us?"
"Sure...You mean like the fugitives one?"
Kharum shakes his head. "No."
Jaro puts his hands on his head. "Well I like that one. I'm also a fan of the mysterious-island-that-disappeared-from-the-memories-of-mankind story. That story had it all: happiness, sadness, war, romance, comedy."
"Well that's why it's a story." Kharum shakes his head. "No, I'm talking about the story of Severnyy's founding. Dad made sure we –at least me anyway – made sure we remember it."
Jaro has to think hard about it for a moment. "Oh...wait! I know that one! The one about the outlaws that hid in the mountains helping the poor and the persecuted start a new life in the wilds with them. Yeah, I remember that one."
Kharum is genuinely surprised that his brother remembered. "Wow-"
"Hey, speaking of dad. How did you find out? And why didn't you tell me?"
Kharum scrunches his face not wishing the conversation went this direction. Regardless, he answers anyway. "Because dad told me not to." He can tell that answer is not satisfying enough for Jaro. "I found out when I was twelve. Dad took me hunting with him. It was a peaceful day. We hadn't found anything. No tracks, no droppings, no scratches, no nothing..." The memories come flooding back to Kharum.
Khiril and Kharum were on their way back home from the other side of the valley when they happened upon a group of bandits out poaching. There were five of them that they threatened Khiril and his son. Khril tried to reason with them, I have nothing with me. We are harmless. Let us go. The bandits thought differently speaking of hostage taking and selling Kharum as a slave. Khril's normally calm demeanor snapped, his temper flared as he turned to his twelve-year-old boy...Hide.
Kharum ran and ran never looking back. The last he saw of his father was him sliding his hatchet out from his belt. The earth quaked and boomed as the echoes of screaming men filled Kharum's ears. He remembers the clanging of metal and the tremendous earthquake that shook the forest to its core followed by the utmost of silence.
Khiril had found his son an hour later curled up in a ball under a fallen tree. The man was bruised, cut, and covered in blood that wasn't his own. Kharum could not, or would not, move from his safe place. Khiril reached out with his open hand, It is alright son. It's all over. On their return journey home, Khril told Kharum he was once a Marshal, and at that moment Kharum had never felt safer.
"Dad got bored, removed the side of a mountain with his earth bending, and told me he was a Marshal...simple as that." Kharum smiles wanting to move on from the discussion.
Jaro has no real response. "Okay?"
"So, uh...dad must be a pretty good bender then?" Jaro does his best to break the awkward silence.
"You have no idea," Kharum says still partially stuck in his flashback.
"Well it's just that...why aren't I that powerful? I'd say you're a pretty good bender but I-"
Kharum snaps out of it and cuts his brother off. "Pretty good?"
"Well air's not that hard to move compared to earth." Jaro sneers.
Kharum can't help but feel the burn. "Ouch."
Jaro laughs and tries to earthbend as he walks. "But you know what I mean? I've never been able to-" A boulder, roughly the size of Jaro's head rises from the ground and hovers in front of him. He strains to keep the boulder from touching the ground. "I've never - been able to bend - anything bigger than this." Jaro, frustrated, drops the boulder. For him, it would have been easier to carry it than earthbend it.
Kharum shrugs his shoulder. That has always puzzled him as well. Their grandfather, the Old Nomad, was and is a powerful bender. Kharum witnessed him once level a section of forest with a single air blast during his early years of training. And their father...the memories of that day come back to Kharum. He shakes his head trying to clear his thoughts.
Jaro adjusts his bag on his shoulder. "If I am the Avatar..." Jaro is more or less thinking out loud. "I'm gonna be a pretty pathetic one."
Kharum immediately stops his brother's train of thought. "No you won't. The Avatars aren't judged by their bending talents, but in the change they induce into the world."
His brother smiles at the supportive words. "You don't have to do it alone."
Jaro, still in self-pity, lowers his head. "Yeah, I know I know. But it's..."
"Just stop." Kharum holds up a hand to his brother. "Let's do this after you've been decided on as the Avatar."
Jaro is about to say something but stops himself. Instead, he smiles and nods his head in agreement.
Kharum smiles and pats Jaro on the back. "C'mon let's go. I'm hoping there's a town up ahead so we can get lunch. Besides, those clouds don't look all that friendly."
Jaro looks up into the sky. "I don't know...that one kinda looks like a happy face."
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