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|The Crippled Healer, Part 1: Bandages and Burns|
The Crippled Healer, Part 1: Bandages and Burns
Ashes, rubble, the stench of the deaths of a family. These things seemed to cling to young Rokan as she fled her childhood home.
They might make it. They have to!
Oh, the naivetés of a hopeful child.
Darkness fell on the forest. Huddling beneath a towering tree, Rokan became aware of something clutched in her hand. A white cloth, frayed at the edges. She recognized it as the material of her brother's tunic. Her little fist must have torn it off when the beam fell. As the child stared at the cloth, she came to the horrible realization that Taiko was not coming back. She was alone now. Tears dripped onto the soot-stained rag as Rokan fell into a tormented sleep, trying desperately to leave this nightmare behind. She never did escape.
Ashes, rubble, and a putrid smell. A blurred room spun around in Rokan's eyes as she attempted to focus on something familiar. Every breath brought pain to her ribs, every flex of her muscles agony to her body. She was either alive or dead, and neither option seemed pleasant.
"We thought you were dead," said a distant voice.
"You mean I'm not?" groaned Rokan.
Speaking made her head throb. Her arm felt like lead as she lifted it to rub her eyes.
"How long have I been out?"
"Two days. Stay put, I'm going to change some of your bandages."
Rokan summoned up enough energy to turn her head to look at her healer. He was young, maybe thirteen, with dark hair, grey eyes, and goggles perched on his head.
"Who-...who're you?" Rokan asked.
"My name is Teo," he said, unfolding long bandages from a pile on his lap.
"Well...don't you want to know who I am?" Rokan said wincingly as an unexpected pain shot through her arm.
"I know what you are, and who you are doesn't matter. You're Fire Nation, and as soon as you're able to, you're leaving here and you're going to forget you ever came."
Teo began unwrapping a bandage from Rokan's left wrist in silence. His tone was not one of menace. He seemed to be repeating what had been told to say rather than speaking of his own accord.
"Why so—ouch!—unfriendly?" grimaced Rokan.
Teo's grey eyes met hers, darting back and forth sharply between the amber two.
"We have lived in peace here. We don't want that peace to be disrupted by another attack."
"I—augh!—I can't argue with that," said Rokan as the bandages fell away from her wounded hand.
Her palm was severely burnt, and her wrist was a sickening shade of purple. Glancing over to her other side Rokan saw that her right arm was completely encased in bandages that stretched across her chest and were bound from shoulder to palm.
"Are my legs still attached?" she said half-jokingly, trying to lift her head.
"Well...I guess that's good news."
Rokan put a hand to her forehead, trying to ease her headache. Sudden terror rushed through her as she frantically pushed back her bangs. Something was not right.
"My headband...where is it?" she whispered.
"Your what?" asked Teo absentmindedly, tying off the wrapping on Rokan's wrist.
"My headband!" gasped Rokan. No, no, no! That was all I had left of them....
The pain didn't matter now. Rokan ripped her arm away from Teo and used all the strength she could muster and pushed herself into a sitting position.
"Stop! You're in no condition to--," Teo protested.
The young boy tried in vain to push Rokan back down. Rokan herself was at war within, her body screaming in agony but her mind urging her onwards. Look for it! You have to find it!
"I have to have it!" Rokan cried. Tears were streaming down her cheeks from pain and anguish.
"You'll kill yourself if you carry on like this. I'll try to find it," said Teo.
Rokan gave in and allowed the younger boy to gently push her back down onto the cot. She was aware of a burning pain in her fully-wrapped right arm. Glancing over, she saw dark red spots expanding on the white cloths. But that doesn't matter now...
"Promise me you'll find it," she begged weakly.
"I—I promise," replied Teo uncertainly.Rokan closed her eyes and attempted to calm herself. Her illness and exhaustion forced her into a deep sleep, from
which she almost did not wish to wake. For in her dreams she saw her family, and her home, and the old life that had been so cruelly torn from her. She returned to her childhood, to the time when she and Taiko used to climb on their father's shoulders and try to wrestle him to the ground. She returned to her mother, and once again stood at her side, gripping her hand as they pushed through the crowded marketplace. Also, Rokan returned to the Fire Nation Palace, where she used to play with Prince Zuko in the spacious courtyards. There was no happiness like this in her life now. The world had grown too harsh.
A soft orange light had filled the room when Rokan awoke from her slumber. Teo was nowhere to be seen, but distant voices could be heard through an arched window. Rokan became aware of a strange, sweet taste in her mouth and noticed an empty clay cup on a stool beside the bed. She assumed that it had been medicine, as her wounds no longer seared with pain when she moved. In fact, Rokan found she was able to push up into a sitting position easily, and when she brought her hand up to rub her eyes, she realized that there was something clutched in her fist.
Teo had been successful after all. Despite slightly singed edges, it was unscathed. Joy filled Rokan as she tied the old white cloth around her forehead again, feeling that Taiko was with her once more. Yet, sadness came to her as well; Taiko was dead, and this small strip of cloth could do nothing to bring him back. For one, short, terrible moment, Rokan doubted whether the headband was worth keeping. What use was it to her to keep a token that only saddened and angered her?
"No!" she snapped aloud, pressing her palms on her temples, "I have to keep it. It's all I have left."
"All you have left of what?"
Rokan jumped at the sound of Teo's voice. There he was, rolling in through the doorway...
Rokan's brow furrowed as she watched Teo enter, and her expression of confusion soon changed to one of pity. Teo was crippled, confined to a low, wheeled chair, his legs wrapped in bandages. Rokan wondered if this was a result of an accident or the work of the War.
"All I have left of my old life," responded Rokan, wringing her hands in embarrassment.
Teo wheeled over to the edge of Rokan's bed and gestured for her to hold out her bandaged arm. Rokan obliged, and the crippled healer began to unwrap the long strips of cloth slowly and carefully.
"What was your old life like?" he asked quietly.
"It was...peaceful. Perfect. I had everything I ever wanted," Rokan replied.
"And what is your life now?"
Rokan was troubled, and turned her face away from Teo. What was her life? Had she done anything to be proud of? All those years spent as Zoai made her ashamed.
She noticed the silence of the room, and saw that Teo had paused in his removal of the bandages and was looking at her expectantly.
"Empty," said Rokan at last, "Deprived of justice...and answers."
"What do you need answers for?"
"I have to know why--...good Agni, that's horrific," gasped Rokan, interrupting herself as she caught sight of her maimed arm, burned raw by the explosion.
"Yeah, it is...you were lucky we found you when we did. A few more hours and you would have been dead."
"How did it happen anyway? The explosion?"
Teo finished rolling up the old bandages and picked a little clay pot up off the table.
"We were defending the Temple from the Fire Nation...from you. My father and another boy dropped explosives into the ravine, setting off a store of natural gas that's been conserved under the Temple for who knows how long. When we were clearing the wreckage a few people found you unconscious in the rubble with your arm still smoking. How did you get there anyway?"
My arm was smoking? "Uh, I climbed down through the ravine. I—I was going to collapse the columns in the underground room and bring down the temple. But your father's bombs got there before mine," said Rokan absentmindedly, "How is this thing still standing?"
Teo was trying not to smile.
"You honestly thought that blowing up a few columns was going to destroy the temple? The Airbenders might not have been the best fighters, but they knew how to build to last."
Teo had hit a nerve. Rokan's immeasurable pride had been damaged, and in unwilling defeat she snapped her face away from the cripple's gaze, glaring at the pale grey stone wall. She only returned her attention to Teo when she felt him rubbing a cool, soothing ointment on her arm. The shocking relief it provided for her wounds astounded her, and she immediately turned to stare.
"What...what is that stuff?" she gasped disbelievingly.
"Family secret, but I can tell you this: my father says that my mother invented this salve for him when they were young, because he kept burning himself on new inventions."
Rokan smiled, still entranced as Teo gently rubbed the balm on her maimed skin. Her eyes might have been playing tricks on her, but Rokan could have sworn that the burns were fading right before her eyes.
"Did your mother teach you about healing?" Rokan asked.
Teo's cast his grey eyes downwards in sadness as he began binding Rokan's arm.
"No. She died when I was very small, in the same flood that made me like this," he said, nodding his head to his wheeled chair.
Pity and understanding welled in Rokan's heart as she continued to watch Teo. Here was a boy who, like herself, had lost his mother.
"I'm sorry...I lost my mother too. Four years ago. I'm sorry that your mother died when you were so young."
"Actually, I feel more sorry for you," said Teo, locking eyes with Rokan, "I barely remember my mother, but you...you knew your mother your whole life. You had to go through the pain of losing someone you loved, who was with you every day. I didn't have to suffer that."
Rokan tried in vain to hide her emotions, but she could not stop her face from paling in sadness and anger. Teo was right...Rokan had to live through the agony of remembering her mother's death. But more than that, Rokan had to try to resist her thirst for revenge.
"How did she die?"
Teo's voice was barely a whisper. The sun had completed its descent behind the mountains, allowing the half-moon to be the only light within the chamber. Chill winds began to whistle through the peaks, sending bitter coldness through Rokan that only magnified the coldness and emptiness within her heart.
"She died in innocence. She died because I was too much of a coward to follow my orders."
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