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|At the Marketplace|
March 26, 2013
At the Marketplace is the fifth chapter of the fanon series, by .
"Ratana!" Tooru called down the earthen hallway to his partner, still in their room. "Time to go to the market."
"Ugh!" Ratana groaned with unwilling exasperation. "I don't feel like it today, Tooru. You guys go ahead."
"Come on, you missed out on a good time in Ba Sing Se the other night," Tooru told her, now hanging off to the side of their doorway. "You can get something you like while I look for a new shoulder guard," he continued.
The peeved Terra Team woman hung her head, resigned. "Fine, but just give me a couple minutes to get ready."
The marketplace Tooru and the others had picked to go to that day was, of course, the same marketplace they always went to. The market lay several miles down the coastline from the Serpent's Pass. It was a fair, but manageable walking distance from where the Terra Team was stationed. The houses and shops were all constructed in an identical style with long slates of wood topped with moss-green rooftops, giving it the look of a misshapen forest.
Even though it was a small settlement, it was always bustling with trade and activity, being a port town. Here, one could find, amongst other things, antiques, tea, food, weapons, earthbending scrolls, and though they were harder to find, waterbending scrolls. Every once in a while, an airbending scroll turned up, though that would be no more than an antique to anyone. If a firebending scroll was ever found on the market, it would quickly be confiscated by the local government, though that did not mean it was impossible to acquire one if one really desired it. There was a sizable black market as well, which the tourists tended to steer clear of. A few amongst the pack of Terra Team members that made the long walk to the market were looking for tea. Tooru, of course, needed a fresh shoulder guard.
As for Ratana, she set her eye on one of the exotic fruit stalls. "Are these really all the way from Kyoshi Island?" she posed a question to a short older man sporting a blue tunic, in contrast to the green-wearing folk of most of his nation.
"They are indeed, my good lady," he confirmed, picking up one of his round, wet specimens and cheerfully holding it out to his visitor. "Here, try a free sample."
The tangy bite Ratana took felt cool and juicy as she swished it about her mouth. "I haven't had anything this good in years!"
The seller nodded, pleased with himself. "I kept it on ice most of the way, so it's still got a nice, fresh taste to it."
Ratana smiled. "I'll buy a bag's worth, so I'll have some for tomorrow and the next day."
Perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps not, two more members of the Terra Team were the next to approach the gentleman's stall. "You're from Kyoshi, aren't you?" asked Taigang. As he was taller than the average man, he towered over the merchant.
"Y-yes?" The seller was much less comfortable than when Ratana approached him.
"I heard you've stayed out of the war so far," Taigang commented sinisterly. His voice now sounded smooth, but intimidating. "We're out risking our lives against the Fire Nation, and you're loafing around with your elephant koi."
Zan Xun, Taigang's friend and Terra Team partner, smirked. "I hear they let their women fight for them."
"Is that so?" Taigang raised an eyebrow in bitter jest. "Perhaps we should give this here man a lesson."
"Umm...thanks," the now-shaking seller told them. "But I'm not an earthbender."
"Oh, don't worry," Taigang told him with mock-reassurance. "You don't need to be able to bend for our lessons. Here, we'll give you the first one free!"
"You're generous, Taigang," Zan Xun added with a snicker. "Perhaps too generous. Our lessons are worth something." Zan Xun proceeded to bend over and lift one of the Kyoshi-man's fruit crates with both his arms. "This'll do."
"Please, no!" the seller protested in vain.
Taigang held his arm out to halt the man in place. "Now, the most basic exercises in earthbending are throwing rocks and stopping rocks. We'll demonstrate for you the proper way to throw rocks, while you can get some practice stopping them. Nice two-for-one deal, eh?" He and Zan Xun both shared a laugh.
Meanwhile, about twenty feet away, Tooru nearly broke one of his teeth on something hard. "Hey, what's with this vegetable?! It's rock-solid!"
Leaning back against a pillar, his partner rolled her eyes at him. "That's because it's a gourd, Tooru." Ratana then turned her head back to the fruit stall she had been earlier and witnessed the scene in front of her.
"Ratana?" The girl's eyelids parted slowly as she heard the serene sound of her mother's voice. "Time to get up, dear," said Rang Xue. "We're going to the market."
The tired child rolled over and tightened her grip on her bed-covers. "Do I have to, Mom? I wanted to earthbend today..."
"Your father has to meet with some high-ranking men there this morning," Rang Xue informed her daughter warmly, but firmly. "Cheer up, though. I'll buy you something you like while we're there."
Ratana groaned as she rolled out of bed and pushed her hanging strands of hair away from her eyes.
The marketplace in Munn was crowded any day of the week, being located at the inmost hub of such a big city. The outer edges were lined with sizable, indoor shops and the square and tributary alleyways, guarded by armored soldiers serving their king, filled with various vendors and wholesalers. With so many other sellers around, bartering was employed almost as often as the use of currency. Some of the vendors barely survived day-to-day, while others enjoyed a cornucopia of profits. In another city, this would be a nexus of opportunity, but as always was the case in Munn, it was how affluent and privileged one's family was that defined them, and one's social status could easily be deduced by the quality of the clothes they wore.
Ratana and her parents arrived in the northern corner of the square in a gilded palanquin pulled by four lean bearers with sweat leaking down from their foreheads, which they squinted to keep out of their eyes, now tired from serving so many stouter, more corpulent folk. Roshune stepped out first once they were stopped and turned back to extend his arm back up to his wife, and Rang Xue smiled as he assisted her down. Not far behind, Ratana energetically hopped out after them. As her parents made her dress well whenever they were in public, she was now in the same dress she had been wearing during the first earthbending lesson her mother gave her.
While Ratana's father marched his way into one of the local taverns to meet with a handful of the king's ministers with whom he had business to discuss, her mother told her that she would take her anywhere she wished. Ratana hesitated at first, as each direction looked appealing in its own way. Finally, she allowed her nose to resolve what her eyes could not, as her nostrils picked up the scent of something sweet and freshly-baked. Detouring down a small side-street, the curious girl soon found the source of the smell at a stall run by a humble-looking man in a greenish-brown sleeveless tunic.
"Welcome!" Having been distracted before, the man perked up at the arrival of his visitors. "How can I help you, today?" He was clearly not used to having such finely-dressed patrons.
"What's that yummy smell, mister?" Ratana asked with a lick of her lips.
"That, is one of my sugar tarts," he answered with pride. "I made them all by myself today."
"Can I have one?" Ratana asked her mother, pleading with her eyes.
"Just one," Rang Xue told her. "So you don't spoil your lunch." She proceeded to hand five bronze pieces to the man, wondering if she was being overcharged, but conceding for her daughter's sake. "What do you say?" she asked as her Ratana sank her teeth into the snack.
"Thank you," Ratana managed to tell the seller through a pleasing mouthful.
"You're welcome...milady. Enjoy!"
As Ratana and Rang Xue were about to leave, a turquoise-robed man with short, moderately-curled hair and small beard with a queue hanging about his neck rushed up to the stall, his shoes brown and dampened from stomping in the mud. "You!" He extended his pointed finger threateningly at the man selling the sugar tarts. "My wife and I were sick day yesterday and the day before!"
The seller batted his eyes, unsure of himself. "Sorry to hear that, Sir. There's an herbalist just around the corner from here..."
"Just before we both got sick, we ate your tarts." Judging by the tailoring of his clothing, this man's family was wealthier than the seller's, but not quite as rich as Ratana's.
"Well...you're the only customer I've had who's come to me about this," the seller said with controlled composure. "I do know there's a cold going around this time of year."
"Stop making excuses for yourself!" the disgruntled man snapped. "I demand a refund. And by the way, I had a trip planned to Ba Sing Se with expensive, non-refundable reservations that I needed to cancel. Why don't you compensate me for that as well? Of course, I wouldn't expect someone of your stature to understand."
"Wait here, Ratana," said Rang Xue. She took a deep breath and went back over to the stall. "It seems there's been a misunderstanding..."
"Stay out of this!" the yellow-robed man barked loudly. This outburst was poorly-timed, as yet another person approached the scene just as he said it.
"What's going on?" From the resolve in Roshune's voice, both the frugal seller and the unsatisfied buyer knew that their dispute was nearing its conclusion. Having found his wife and daughter again, the imposing black-haired man clad in Dorunian armor discovered the commotion at the same time.
"This man's being mean!" Ratana yelled out, pointing to the entitled man in yellow.
"Hush," said Roshune, holding up his hand to silence her.
"This man sold me bad food," said the accuser, calmer but still agitated.
Roshune narrowed his eyes. "Refund him."
"But, my lord, this was just coincidence," the seller protested. "I-"
"And," the other man interrupted pretentiously, his lower lip curling, "I know a lot of others who've bought from here and would like a refund if they heard about this."
"I see," Roshune acknowledged. "Refund all of them, then."
The seller shook his head in disbelief. "The only one of my customers who ever complained was him. This'll put me out of business!"
"You should've thought about and been more careful when you baked your goods this time of year," Roshune told the man definitively before turning back to his family. "Come. We've wasted enough time here."
Still holding her mother's hand, Ratana looked back at the poor man in pity. "That's unfair, Dad! Why'd you have to do that?"
Roshune twisted his mouth and blew out something between a grunt and a sigh. "Whichever one of them was right is a matter of irrelevance. Our lives rely on a firm social structure. In Ba Sing Se, they have their walls to help preserve order, but although Munn is a large city, we have no walls like that here. We live among the underclass, so we must remind them about their place in society each and every day."
Noticing her daughter was no longer enjoying her treat, Rang Xue wrapped one arm around Ratana's shoulder shot her husband a look. "Must you lecture her on this now? She's just a child!"
"She'll be a Lady of Munn when she grows up," Roshune countered harshly. "The sooner she knows how it all works around here, the better."
As Taigang and Zan Xun lifted two small boulders out of the ground in unison, Taigang felt his feet slipping apart, the ground beneath him having softened into a submerging hole. "What the-?" he uttered, bewildered, as his arms loosened and his boulder fell back to the ground.
"You got a problem with women fighting, Taigang?" Smirking, Ratana revealed herself as the one who shifted the earth beneath the one in similar helmet and uniform as her.
"Stay out of this, Ratana!" Taigang shot back at her, shifting his stance and bringing himself up out of the trap, his legs now dusty with uncouth earth.
With a rounded kick, Ratana sent the rock levitating in front of Zan Xun into his partner's chest. Taigang flew back and his body smashed into one of the crates of fruit and he fell back over the pier. A second later, the emergence of splashing water signaled his fate. The momentarily-distracted Zan Xun prepared himself to earthbend again, but his movements were in vain, as another rock - this time lifted by Ratana - collided with his chest and sent him the same way as Taigang.
"Hmmm." Ratana took a look at the spot where the two crates of fruit had been that became collateral damage in the confrontation, and then casually yanked a pouch of gold pieces from her sash and tossed it to the man from Kyoshi Island. "Sorry about that."
"Th-thank you, my good lady," the man told her, baffled that she had roughed up her comrades-in-arms for the sake of a foreign stranger.
"Call me Ratana," she told him. "And don't sweat it," she added, noticing his shocked expression. "It's what a person does, not where they come from, that defines them."
- This contrasts Ratana and Roshune's different notions about the concepts of order and justice.
- The "king" referred to in the flashback is not the Earth King. Munn is a large city like Omashu, so the local ruler is a king.
For the collective works of the author, go here.