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|More from AvatarRokusGhost|| Drama/Romance/Action/
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October 6, 2015
Clapping. It was nothing like applause, for it was far too slow, but it still had a bit of a rhythm to it. In no mood for sudden surprises before breakfast, Ratana peered into Lu Ten's cell as soon as she arrived.
"What are you doing?" she questioned.
"Just my regular exercises," replied her prisoner. He was doing push-ups on the floor of the cell and clapping at the top of his repetitions before catching the ground on the way down. "Even in here, I'm still a soldier and must do what I can to stay in good shape."
"You seem to have been doing this a while," noticing the sweat on his arm and brow.
As Lu Ten opened his mouth to respond, his stomach grumbled so loudly that Ratana heard it like a roar from where she was. He did not bother putting up a futile effort to hide it. "So, when do you serve your prisoners food around here?"
"The same time we have ours," said Ratana. "But don't expect a lavish feast. Whatever you get, it'll be less than the usual ration. That I can guarantee." "Lovely," remarked Lu Ten. "Upside of being so used to in here is I can see finally well enough. My night vision has adjusted itself to the lighting - or lack thereof."
"I've been summoned by the general again," said Ratana. "I'll bring you something to eat on my return."
Ratana felt less motivated than she had on past days, having trouble redirecting her efforts in every way toward what else she was doing. Counting her lucky fortunes only did so much at a time like this. Guarding of prisoners was a mundane, menial task and most would see it as hardly worth her efforts as a member of the elite Terra Team, let alone their captain. Despite the fact that she herself was the only one among them who had been reassigned on an "until further notice" basis, the rest of the team was mirroring her change in habits, to some extent. The Fire Nation, for an unseen reason, had been remarkably quieter on the battlefield since the raid that had resulted in the capture of Prince Lu Ten.
Naturally, the Earth Kingdom was not pursuing Ratana's ultimately successful aggression on the field, either, which frustrated the Terra Team's only woman further. If she had it her way, she would have repeated her strategy every day since the first. There were those like General Sung and Commander Lao, though, who dismissed the recent success as catching a lucky break, and continued to berate Ratana for going too far on the offensive, rather than maintaining the defensive position in the siege and keeping their base secure.
She wondered to herself whether Sung would have the nerve to relieve her of the command that she had been given by him last time. Even if she had not acted the way that he would have preferred on the battlefield, she did not explicitly disobey any orders, and to demote the officer leading a successful mission without cause was all but unprecedented.
"Ratana, you're here," General Sung said almost too matter-of-factly to seem natural when Ratana came into his office on top of the Outer Wall. "Good. Please, have a seat."
Ratana did as she was instructed, sitting exactly into the chair opposite from the awkwardly composed member of the Council of Five. "What did you want to see me about today, sir?" she asked after several seconds of silence went by, seeing that Sung was having difficulty choosing his words to initiate the conversation with.
"Ratana, I realize that what you did out in the field the other day you thought was the best," said General Sung. "But from my experience, it's not optimal for an earthbender elite team to let their guard down quite as much as you did."
"I told all of those under my command to remain vigilant on the field," said Ratana. "Our advance against the Fire Nation troops pushed them back hundreds of feet from the Outer Wall. It's the best position that we've had since General Iroh's attack force first set foot on our land near Munn."
"Yes," Sung nodded. "You were quite right to tell them that, but what you lead them into doing seemed to completely contradict that approach. It's well documented that the best winning strategy against firebenders for a group of earthbenders is more intensive on defensive maneuvers, as the firebender's attacks are hard to go toe to toe or fist to fist with when the earthbender lets his or her guard down."
"Well documented?" Ratana raised an eyebrow. "Is what happened the other day not considered well documented to you? Have you ever considered that maybe the sources that those well documented facts come from are unreliable? With all due respect, the Fire Nation has been gaining ground against the Earth Kingdom for more than ninety years, basically the life time of almost everyone except old King Bumi of Omashu. I think it's time to throw out those well documented ideas from the past and go with something that can serve us better in the future."
"Ratana, please, you are acting insubordinate!" Sung raised his voice in frustration prior to taking a deep breath to calm himself down. "Now, I recognize the fact that what you did was ultimately successful on the battlefield that one time. Believe me when I say that you would be in much bigger trouble if your attack was not as successful as it was, particularly in the destruction of artillery and the capture of the son of the Crown Prince. If the whole affair had been the disaster that it could have been, your current punishment would be the least of your worries. As it stands now, I hope to see you serve out the remainder of your probation with a soldier's dignity, and to carry out your current assignment in the same fashion."
Ratana crossed her arms, hardly believing her ears with every word that Sung spoke to her. "Yes, sir..." she conceded with the utmost reluctance.
"Good," Sung smiled broadly, only angering Ratana further, though she did not show it. "With that said, how does your present assignment go right now? How has guarding the Fire Nation prince prisoner been?"
"No incidents," she informed Sung. "He won't be escaping anytime soon, although he laughably predicted that he would eventually the other day. He claims that he has escaped prison before."
"I shouldn't chit-chat with the prisoner too much," Sung told Ratana darkly. "He is the enemy, after all."
"I'm the last person you'll have to remind of that. It was only a few words spoken here and there in the time that I spent watching him yesterday," stated Ratana. "So, what do you plan to do with Lu Ten now that you have him under our custody?"
"We have not made a definite decision yet," said General Sung. "Myself and General Yidai have been discussing it at great length. We are in disagreement over whether to have a public execution of our captured prince. Of course, doing it publicly in Long Feng's city isn't really possible, for obvious reasons."
"I see," gulped Ratana. She did not know why she would feel so apprehensive about this suggestion.
"If we don't execute him, then we would be using him as a bargaining tool with the Fire Nation," said General Sung. "In other words, we would be offering him up to them in order to get some of our own hostages back from them."
"I see," said Ratana. "So you would be sending an envoy across the battlefield and giving him back to General Iroh."
"Correct," stated General Sung. "Actually, they have said at times in their propaganda that they believe Prince Lu Ten is worth ten earthbenders, largely because he can beat down five of his own kind of bender and they falsely believe that one of their men is equivalent to two of our own. We could give them a chance to test the worth of that maxim and demand ten of our best earthbenders be returned from their own prison camps to us in return, or perhaps even much more than that. Prince Lu Ten is the Dragon of the West's one and only son, after all."
"Sir, might I make a suggestion?" Ratana asked Sung as he finished.
"Well, as he and I were down in that cell for the bulk of the day yesterday, I noticed how unsavory conditions grew down there," stated Ratana. "And the portion of his ration that we gave him as a prisoner is rather meager compared to what we give the rest of the men."
"Indeed," nodded General Sung. "What of it?"
"Well, I thought it might be wise to make some changes in the arrangements for Lu Ten," said Ratana. "Like doubling his current portion of grub, and allowing him some exercise and sunlight."
"And why would we do that, exactly?"
"He could use some fresh air, and without a proper meal he'll be skin and bones," Ratana went on. "We have to keep him in proper shape, whatever we do with him."
"With our own supplies limited as they are, do you really think we should spend more of them to give Prince Lu Ten a fuller meal?" asked General Sung, bewildered. "And how do I know that you're not merely suggesting bringing Lu Ten outside so that you can get out of that dungeon yourself?"
"Look, whatever you ultimately decide to do, be it public execution or prisoner exchange, keeping the prince in good shape is an optimal course of action," Ratana continued, not bothering to answer Sung's underhanded accusation at her. "Whichever of those scenario's he's in, he has to be presentable, whether to our own unsuspecting public or to the enemy forces when we bargain with him. If they see he's not been properly looked after, General Iroh and his staff may drive a harder bargain."
"Hmmm..." Sung stroked the hairs on his chin as he pondered Ratana's words. "Very well, we'll see that he gets an extra half portion of food each day. As for the fresh air and sunlight however, I don't see how that is feasible at this time. Our only cell that we can use to hold him is down below, where he currently resides, and-"
"I can escort him around the grounds," said Ratana. "I am his prison guard after all, so I can keep an eye on him."
"You mean, actually let him out of his cell?!" Sung asked, eyes widened, as though he could not believe his ears.
"I'll be with him the whole time," Ratana assured him. "His wrists will be bound as well, so there won't be any danger of him escaping."
General Sung did not answer this right away, and took several long moments to ponder this. "Very well. If you're sure that you can look after him during this time, than you may be allotted a time to escort him outside for a stroll across our grounds, but under no circumstances are you to climb the Outer Wall or enter any restricted areas with him. I'm holding you responsible for doing what is needed to guard him at all costs."
"You can count on me, Sir," Ratana beamed at him. "I won't let him out of my sight for even a second, and if he makes one wrong move, then it's straight back into the dungeons for him."
- The exercising that Lu Ten does in his cell in Ba Sing Se is reminiscent of the exercises General Iroh does in ATLA when imprisoned in the Fire Nation Capital. Like father, like son.
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