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|Cottage in the Woods|
June 16, 2014
In the middle of the woods in a deep section of the Earth Kingdom continent lay a quiet meadow with a log-constructed house in the middle of it. When one asks if a tree falls and no one is around, does it make a sound, they are referring to a place like this that they have in mind. Secluded and peaceful, there was scarcely any company for those who dwelt here save for the chirping birds, their song in perfect sync with nature. Compiled with the bright rays of the gaps of sunlight which made their way through the many trees and leaves, these patches of sound almost put one into a trance. This was truly a tranquil environment for those who lived in the cabin to enjoy, which made it one of the more peaceful places one could pick to settle down. Four rooms were in this wooden building with a smoking chimney: a large bedroom, a small bedroom, a kitchen and a living room.
As they rarely received visitors, a knock on the door like the one today was a notable event. Swinging the door open for the unexpected guest stood a light-skinned woman in her late twenties with light, dirty brown hair hanging over her shoulder caps. Her outfit was a mixture of green and aquatic blue, and it stretched over a rounded shape sticking out near her chest. "Hello?" she greeted the tall stranger timidly.
The man who had come to visit was a soldier, dressed in a green uniform with the national symbol of the Earth Kingdom displayed on it, coupled with a round conical hat. "Hello," said the man. "You must be Seda. Is your husband around? We served together on the Terra Team."
"Oh!" said the pregnant woman, her previously unsure expression suddenly becoming more lively. "Come in, by all means. He's had hardly any visitors from the army since he was discharged. I'm sure he'd love to see you. My name is Seda, as you seem to already know. And you are?"
"Nice to meet you, Taigang."
"Likewise," the man said with a curt nod. "Interesting necklace there," he added, pointing to the wooden piece hanging around her neck.
"Yeah, Shun Ping made me that," Seda told him thoughtfully. "It's supposed to be like a betrothal necklace. He knew that I had some family background in the Water Tribes and gave it to me before our wedding." As she was already turned around and going to fetch her husband, Seda did not take notice of the scowl spread across Taigang's face. There were some who did not accept mixed bloodlines between the four nations.
"Shun Ping, dear, you have a visitor," Seda called out, peering into the room to the right of the entranceway.
"What?" asked the short, mousy man who leaned on a walking stick for support. "Who is it?"
"It's Taigang, one of your old friends from the Terra Team."
"Old friend?" Shun Ping echoed under his breath. "Well, we did serve together on the Terra Team, yes."
"Here," Seda gestured, lifting a pot of tea over from the kitchen countertop and placing it on the short, wooden table closer to the doorway. "I'll leave you two to catch up on old times while I go work on preparing the baby's bedroom. There's still a lot of work left to do if it's going to be finished by the time the big day arrives."
"Are you sure you don't need help with that?" questioned Shun Ping, eying Taigang with suspicion.
"I'll be fine," Seda said with a roll of her eyes. "Sheesh, I'm not helpless. I'm just pregnant. You can help out later. You have a guest."
"Thank you, Seda," said Taigang, artificially lifting the sides of his lips into a smile. "You're too kind."
"Don't mention it," she flashed her teeth as she shut the door to the small bedroom.
"It's a nice place you got here," said Taigang, looking around the cabin and sitting down in one of the wooden chairs by the table.
"Thanks," muttered Shun Ping who limped a couple more steps and gradually lowered himself into the chair opposite.
"Small, quiet, out in the middle of nowhere," Taigang commented further. "Anyway, what have exactly you been doing since you left the army, Shun Ping? I mean, you're a regular citizen now."
"Been doing some civil work," said Shun Ping. His short answer contained no elaboration to open the door for further small talk.
"Ah, I already knew that actually," Taigang continued with a light slap to his forehead. "Silly me. I guess you had to get on by doing something, you becoming a cripple now and all."
"I'm not paralyzed," Shun Ping corrected him. "I can still use my legs."
"I know. The bulge in Seda's belly was a dead giveaway of that." Taigang proceeded to roar with laughter at his own statement, even though no one was joining in with him. "That's good. I mean, you're no longer able to actively earthbend, you're physically pretty much useless, but you're back with your long-time sweetheart and she married you anyway. That is just...adorable."
"What can I do for you today?" Taigang's reluctant host was finally fed up with beating around the bush.
"I hear that you're planning on representing Ratana at her court martial," said Taigang, not pretending to be pleasant any longer.
"Definitely," confirmed Shun Ping. "What they're saying about her is simply outrageous. I was there at Gujuhmin, as were you. I know what she did, and I believe every word of her case. Tomorrow, I'm going to travel back to the Terra Team compound so I can meet with her and get her defense ready."
"And Ratana saved your life," Taigang recalled. "It's understandable for you to want to help her. What kind of clients do you normally represent these days?"
"Those that deserve it and can't help themselves," Shun Ping answered. "It's a modest living, but this case I'm working on for free."
Taigang wagged his index finger back and forth in front of his face. "My dear Shun Ping, you might want to reconsider that."
"What's that supposed to mean, Taigang?"
"The way I see it, you're in the middle of nowhere out here, and you've got not only yourself, but your knocked-up earth-water mutt and your soon-to-be little baby mutt to think of," said Taigang. "You're crippled. If she's not an earthbender or waterbender, you're pretty much defenseless, and there's no other human being around for miles and miles. There's wildlife, and they can be quite vicious sometime. If anything happened to you out here, that would be quite a tragedy, but everyone would assume it was a platypus bear rampage."
Shun Ping said nothing at first. Unfortunately for him, Taigang had a point. Although never a man to give into a threat, Shun Ping would be no match for Taigang in a fight now. Taigang's arrogance was not entirely unjustified, as he had been a better earthbender even when Shun Ping had been in proper condition. "Why are you doing this?"
"This war has taken its toll on us all," Taigang reminisced. "My late father was the strongest earthbender on the Terra Team a quarter of a century ago, and I promised him as he died that I would follow in his footsteps. If this were any other generation, I would have been the best earthbender on the squad by far, but I was so unfortunate that I had to be born into the same generation that the dreaded Ratana of Gaipan was born into," he confided.
"The Terra Team is a team, Taigang," Shun Ping told him, arms crossed. "It's not about who's the best."
"Hah! You always did go by the book, Shun Ping. But what good did that do for you?" Taigang indicated to his host's lame leg and injured body. "Anyway, I'd better get going, though. There's only so much time left in the day and Colonel Quan Jing has several more visits he wants me to make by the time the sun sets. I bid you farewell and good luck, old comrade. I'm sure you'll be wise with your decision-making. Tell your wife I thank her for the tea."
As Taigang stood up and left the wooden cabin, Shun Ping sat motionless in his chair, watching him. When the door was shut, he was by himself, with his thoughts alone for company.
- Shun Ping last appeared in Chapter 12: Another Day's End.
- "There were some who did not accept mixed bloodlines between the four nations." That sentence was also used, verbatim, during Chapter 9: Raid on Gujuhmin: Part 1.
For the collective works of the author, go here.