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|Silver Tea is Just Hot Water|
Book 1, Winter
January 21, 2013
The next few days brought grey snow; at first barely darker than it's usual shade, but after a point almost black, and sooty in its texture. This caused the chief and the other adults to walk around stiffly, muttering to themselves worriedly. This meant little to Naomi, though of course it was a very bad sign.
She only learned what it meant on her way back from collecting wood with Henka. As they turned back towards the village, there it was. Unmissable on the horizon, and getting nearer by the second. An enormous Iron ship, spewing smoke. Naomi could have stared at it for ever, but Henka dragged her away with some urgency, and spent the rest of the day talking to Chief Seok and Master Yuu. Sura could offer no answers, and advised her to forget about it. It was impossible, whilst everyone was so preoccupied, and uneasy.
"Why won't anyone tell me what's going on?" Burst out Naomi suddenly on night, making Henka and Katsuo jump.
"You really don't know, do you? I must apologise. We didn't intend to withhold information from you, but it's not something people like to talk about.
Katsuo swallowed, and prepared to give the awful truth.
"We think it's the Fire Nation. They'll come soon– and take this village. At least, that's what they think. We'll fight of course, but it may not be much good. This place is only small, which is probably why they're starting here."
"You gotta be kidding me?!"
"I wish I was."
He shook his head.
"This is why Henka, I'm going to train you as a warrior soon-"
"You going to do WHAT?"
All of a sudden, Henka lept to his feet, a wild and furious look in his eyes. Recently, he'd been more paranoid than usual, but Naomi had never seen him angry. Even on the day they went under the ice, he'd kept his frustration in check.
"You know you have to be trained sooner or later. It's tradition. I myself began training at half your..."
"I DON'T CARE! I... I don't want..."
For a few seconds, he stood there, mouth opening and closing like a fish, seemingly debating with himself about what to do. Eventually, he ran from the tent. The sounds of his footsteps faded, and were long gone before Katsuo spoke again.
"That boy... He's got to realize, he can't just do what he likes all the time! I suppose... He'll be alright. He'll come round. Eventually. He'll have to... He'll be chief one day. Yes... He'll come round."
But this time, his reassurance did not sound convincing.
"I'll see if he's okay?"
Naomi directed this as a question, but when she got no reply, slung her bag– containing Kanon– over her shoulder and left.
She followed his footsteps all the way to the chiefs hut, and found him at the doorway, frozen.
"What is it?"
He pointed, and inside, she saw a small, goofy looking kid with a lopsided ponytail, and matching lopsided grin. He was dressed in red.
The chief looked up, and smiled at the wide eyed children in the doorway.
"Come in, don't be afraid! This is Zan Tai. He doesn't bite-"
Cut in the kid, whose voice was squeaky, and not without the last traces of huskiness form early childhood.
"Great silver tea, by the way, Chief. "What's in it?"
Henka just stared in horror. Zan Tai seemed oblivious, and lit a small flame in his hand, which he used to reheat the water.
"Oh wow! He's so cute!"
Gushed Naomi, as she rushed into the room.
"He's an adorable little firebender!"
The kid bristled.
"I AM NOT CUTE! MY PARENTS WILL SQUASH YOU LIKE A BUG!"
Henka's voice grew high and panicky.
"Don't squash us!"
"You thought... I was being serious?"
All of a sudden, he was no longer a powerful firebender, but a hurt little kid, who couldn't understand why everyone was afraid of him. Naomi felt compelled to hug him, and after a short struggle, Zan Tai resigned himself to his fate.
"Just so you know, they're gonna attack soon. Probably the day after tomorrow. Aunt Ney said.
"Who is Aunt Ney...?"
Naomi inquired, as she finally let him go.
"My Aunt. DUH. She's a general, which is pretty awesome. But she's scary. I don't really get her way of thinking sometimes.
"I bet you don't."
Zan Tai shook his head, and shrugged.
"Just thought I'd warn you guys. I mean, it only seemed fair after you helped out me and Peng Song."
The chief continued to sip his silver tea, oblivious to the horror and curiosity on the other two children's respective faces. There was a pause, until Naomi cut in brightly; "Who's Peng Song? Your friend?"
He laughed and shook his head. Nah. She's my messenger hawk. Haha, I bet you thought she was a dragon or something. I bet you did, with a name like Peng Song. (Fluffy)."
"I've had enough of this. Could you please go back to your ship? You're not welcome here... You've already told us what to expect. You can't just sit here drinking that STUPID water like you're our friend!"
At Henka's sudden outburst, even the chief look a little shaken. The boy stared at the ground, unsure of what he'd just said. The Fire Nation kid was speechless.
"There isn't much I can do, you know. I don't think it's very fair either, what the Fire Nation are doing. One day, I'll have to be just like them. But I'm not. And I don't even have any friends. So..." He tried to think of a dramatic closing statement but failed. "Goodbye!"
With that, he exited the hut, gave a shrill whistle, and held out his arm. An enormous bird– at least half as big as him– landed on his arm, and he began to walk away, tripping up constantly as a result of his diminutive height, the thick snow, and the weight he carried. He looked back only once, to stick his tongue out. Naomi waved, eagerly, and he grumpily turned away.
"This is impossible. How are we ever going to get through this? It's not like he seemed like a bad kid, but..."
"If he isn't bad, then we should just be nice to him. Hey– maybe we could try being nice to the entire Fire Nation? Then they might leave us alone!"
Henka shook his head. Sometimes, it was impossible to understand Naomi.
"Somehow, something tells me this is not going to work."
"Oh yeah? Well I have a PLAN!"
Why did that sentence sound so ominous?
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