|By Dragon of The West||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG - 13||None||None|
|Corporal Lu Ten|
June 6, 2010
Tengu acquaints himself with Lu Ten.
Being in the military was really not as hard as Tengu had expected. He was already used to rising early, and the physical part of it was no harder than what his current employment demanded of him. Actually, the hardest thing for him was being in close quarters with others all the time, since he truly relished his privacy. Also, it was sometimes quite hard not to laugh at the Fire Nation propaganda fed to them constantly by their superior officers. He was genuinely in shock as to how much lies a mind could absorb, especially when all it had to use as reference was a single story.
In about three weeks, Ozai's contacts came through and he was placed under a young Lieutenant by the name of Gin, a hardcore Fire Nation conquistador whose zeal and determination had pushed his meteoric rise in the Fire Nation Army ranks and landed him the enviable position of the right hand of General Iroh. Gin was a very good soldier indeed, but Tengu was not too taken with him. He noticed Gin had two very different sides to his personality: a harsh, abrasive commander who constantly put down and humiliated those under him, and a gracious, educated, perfect gentleman who charmed his superiors with his society manners and knowledge of the arts. Tengu was an assassin, but he had a personal code of honor, which included being as honest and as truthful as possible. Gin was exactly the type of man that was required to irritate Tengu's self-righteous bone. He quickly decided he would be glad to finish the man off if the request ever came in.
In three more weeks, basic training was over and it was time to board the ships to Ba Sing Se. Tengu immediately began looking for an opportunity to get close to his targets to begin properly assessing them, as well as his best options for success. Whatever he chose to do to finish them, it would obviously have to look like a simple war causality, but for that he would first need to study his victims' habits, strengths and weaknesses. He could not risk having their deaths looking suspicious in any way. There could simply be no loose ends in this job.
Like Father, Like Son...
The first thing Tengu found out is that the young man in the picture was none other than the General's only son, Lu Ten. Lu Ten was only 17 when he signed up for active service (against his father's will and concealing his true identity to the recruiter). The General would have preferred his son to have used his smarts for something like medicine or accounting, but Lu Ten refused to be any different from the man who had been his everything ever since his mother had passed away 10 years before.
Being the General's son, Lu Ten had few friends among the ranks. Tengu often spotted him eating by himself in the mess hall, or doing manual labor around the ship. Tengu discovered that the General had agreed to have him in his unit under a strict "no special treatment" policy, which in reality worked more like a "tougher on him than on everybody else" policy. Consequently, Tengu found it hard to find a hole in the young corporal's seemingly endless list of daily chores, but he eventually managed to identify a brief window of time during each day that Lu Ten used for reading Earth Kingdom poetry. Other soldiers would sneer and snicker at Lu Ten, but not him.
One day, he found Lu Ten trying to read the poem out loud. As luck would have it, Tengu had discovered this particular poet while in prison, so he found it easy to approach him.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, corporal - but your rhythm is a bit off" Tengu observed.
Lu Ten was intrigued "Could I be so lucky as to have found an Earth Kingdom scholar among the ranks?" He replied with a warm smile.
"Close enough: a colonial."
Lu Ten was even more intrigued "Do you not find yourself at odds, fighting your own?"
"I was only six when my town was annexed to the Fire Nation. My father had been a police officer prior to their arrival, but he began working for the Fire Nation as a security guard almost immediately after. My family usually got more trouble from the separatists than from the Fire Nation." Tengu never lied, since he believed that lying would inevitably bring about complications he felt he could do without.
"Very well," replied Lu Ten, "please show me how to recite these verses."
Tengu happily complied.
From that moment on, they met every day for a brief literary review. Earth Kingdom poetry was first. Then Fire Nation poetry, which was skipped almost instantly as they both felt it was too ridden with propaganda. Then they moved on to old Air Nomad scripts. Lu Ten found Tengu surprisingly knowledgeable of the airbenders' credo. Tengu explained he must have been an airbender in a past life, which is something he truly believed (although Lu Ming was conveniently left out of the conversation). Tengu, in turn, was marveled at Lu Ten's easy access to all of this literary bounty. Lu Ten's humble reply was that "my family has many resources."
In due time, they left Fire Nation waters and began their inland course through Earth Kingdom territory, crossing the strait that stretches from Senlin Village to the western end of the Great Divide. At that time, the strait was left unguarded by an overconfident Earth Kingdom military. Once they began their trip inland, Lu Ten promised Tengu to reveal the true source of his wonderful library. He asked him to meet him on the deck at exactly ten minutes past lights out. He would have to be very careful not to get caught or be seen. Lu Ten waited for Tengu on deck and was sad not to see him...
"Hi" whispered a voice from behind him.
LuTen was visibly startled "How did you do that? I heard absolutely nothing!"
"Practice" smiled Tengu.
The Tea Maker
They scurried along the deck up to the main quarters and came upon the General's door... Tengu was surprised to see the guards bow to Lu Ten. The door opened and Tengu saw a most wonderful sight: a teapot filled with the most delicious smelling jasmine tea he had ever come across.
"Son – you're late. What kept you...?"
The answer was obvious as he turned around and saw Tengu. His warm smile effaced. "I thought we had an agreement."
"Don't worry, father: this is a kindred spirit." Lu Ten smiled.
Tengu knew his cue well, he stood at attention and saluted the General. "Permission to speak, sire."
Iroh nodded halfheartedly while keeping a stern expression.
"If I may be so bold, General Iroh: I have not had a decent cup of jasmine tea since my mother passed nine years ago. Yours smells incredibly promising."
Iroh's curiosity was piqued: "Most people cannot tell the difference between ginseng and jasmine tea. My favorite happens to be ginseng, not jasmine." Iroh was sure he had deflated the young man's ego, but he would soon find that the young man was full of surprises.
"Permission to speak again sir." Tengu replied.
"Go ahead, corporal."
"A man of your stature is sure to drink only the finest ginseng tea, which is of the wild variety. It is not easily found in volcanic soil, which is predominant over most of the Fire Nation's archipelago. It is far more common in the forest regions of the southern Earth Kingdom, and is sold throughout most of the surrounding markets. We have not stopped at any port of call in any of the coastal colonies, so we must be still using the supplies that we loaded when we left Capital City. The crates that we loaded included select tea, but only of the green variety. There were only leaves - no ginseng roots. Furthermore, the characteristic aroma of the jasmine flower is very different from the earthy, spicy scent of ginseng."
Iroh's eyes twinkled as he began laughing a hearty laugh. "Please, corporal...?"
"Please join us. Sharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of life's true delights."
For the collective works of the author, go here.