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|The Tailor of Gaoling|
May 9, 2010
The Tailor of Gaoling is the 2nd chapter of
My Own Savior is a series dedicated to the back story of.
The Road Becomes Steeper
Tengu was up before dawn. He took out his canteen, his spark rocks, a tin cup, and a small bag with jasmine leaves. He was sipping his tea with the first rays of the sun. He was about to start his climb up the mountains and wanted something warm in his body to help him weather the chilly mountain air. He had learned this the hard way, the very day he left his hometown.
Little Tengu ran. He ran not only to save his life, but also his sanity-- the motion of his legs and the pounding of his heart keeping the horror out. He ran, and ran, and ran... He reached for the mountains, purposefully avoiding the Si Wong Desert. He had heard too many tales about it from the Fire Nation soldiers who had their clothes mended at his mother's house. He was especially terrified of the buzzard wasps, horrible, flying monsters who thrived on death. Tengu had never hiked the mountains before. The trees were thick, the air was thin, and in the open spaces, the wind was strong and cold. Eventually, fatigue seemed to overtake his willpower, and he collapsed on a clearing high up in the forest. He had nothing but his sugegasa, his sansetsukon, and the clothes on his back. He had no coat to keep him warm and no food to sustain him. Dusk was already upon him and he felt the chill come over his sweat like a ravenous wolf bat. In a short while, the cold had reached his insides and he was shaking fiercely. He curled up into a ball on the floor, trying to get warm. Tengu had a bad night.. He longed for his mother's jasmine tea-- delicious and comforting.
By morning he had a fever, and felt miserable and sore. He had spent the night battling nightmares. He was haunted by thoughts of his family, the Fire Nation soldiers, even his hometown's teenage thugs-- all woven together in his mindwith horror and regret. He was thankful for the sunlight had open his eyes. He remembered his father's words: "If you are lost and want to be found, stay put. If you're getting away from someone, never stop. You must push yourself to keep going." Summoning what little strength he had left, he forced himself to sit up, then stand. He looked at the sun and decided to go its opposite direction, due west. He had heard the townspeople mention that Gaoling was a two-day trip across the mountains. Many of them looked for a way to flee there, as it had not been made into a colony yet.
For little, feverish Tengu, it was a brutal trek, but he had managed to catch a glimpse of Gaoling by dusk. He was hungrier than tired, so he pushed himself to make it to town. It was near midnight when he reached the main street. He was famished, but could not find anything that looked like an eatery where he could hunt for leftovers, so he changed plans. He would not beg, and he would not be living on the street. He found the town's tailor shop and curled up in the dirt next to the front door. He would apply for a job first thing in the morning.
The Old Tailor
Tengu woke up in a gently lit room, an old man gently wiping his forehead. The tailor (named Feng) had found the little boy in his front steps at the crack of dawn, when he had gone out to sweep the storefront. He tried waking Tengu up, but the boy only mumbled incoherently about his father and his sisters. Feng felt the boy burning up, so he took him inside to care for him. He left his son Lo caring for the store while he nursed the child back to health. The old tailor gave Tengu some noodle soup and some ginger tea, and he was soon recovered.
His health restored, Tengu asked Feng for work, explaining that in exchange for his work, the old tailor had only to feed and house him. He surprised Feng with his knowledge of threads, materials, and fabrics, all learned from his mother. Soon, Feng trusted the little boy to go to the docks to fetch the materials instead of Lo. Tengu helped keep everything in place and was good remembering special orders from customers. He was also quick to notice when one of them was trying to pull a fast one on the old man. He proved himself to be a valuable employee. People would give him candy and tips for his good service. Tengu was grateful to all of his patrons, and kept up his good work and attitude. Old Feng was proud of him and made him new clothes to replace the ones he had. He called him his little sparrow hawk.
At the beginning, Tengu thought nothing of Feng's heated arguments with his son late in the night. He could never make out the words, but the sensation was every bit as awkward as when his parents argued. The old man always insisted Tengu sleep with him in his bedroom, even when a spare room was available. Feng had two sons – the younger one was in the army, so his room was bare. Yet, Tengu was not allowed to sleep there. The little boy wondered what could be happening between the two, since he never had problems with Lo. If anything, he was just as kind to him as his father was. People would jest about Tengu having replaced Lo as his best man and right hand. He would only say "Little Sparrow Hawk is a blessing – we're glad that he's here."
With age came sickness for the old tailor, whose spirit received a blow after learning his youngest son had been killed in the war. Days were bleak and nights were long, caring for the old man. Lo did most of the work now, but his heart was heavy. He would often cry when watching the old man's sleep. Fall came and Old Feng passed away. The funeral was well attended, since Feng had always been a gentle, kind man, and was loved by many. Lo wept inconsolably. Tengu, as usual, was stoic and silent – he was sad, but did not know how to show it.
The Monster Attacks
Tengu stopped walking. These were not muggers, he knew it. Slowly he turned aroung, assessing his surroundings. He just hoped it wasn't a badgermole, as it was the only thing he truly feared. "Great" he thought to himself "a boarcupine...". The beast charged with surprising speed, Tengu barely escaped its right tusk. He immediately sought the higher ground, as he knew the animal's legs were short and they were poor climbers. He perched himself in a short ledge hanging from the mountainside, on the side of the winding road. He brandished his sansetsukon full-length at the beast's snout, hoping to confuse it by hitting the nerve clusters in the nose area. He landed a few solid hits, but winter had made food scarce and the animal's resolve was fierce.
With a wide sweeping motion of his snout, the boarcupine managed to dislodge the weapon from Tengu's hand. Tengu stretched to catch the staff, but lost his balance and fell back on the road. The beast was onto him, so he had to both think and move fast. He quickly crawled under the beast's belly – the area with the least quills, coiled his feet against the animal's belly and pushed with all his might. The beast rolled over the side of the road to the evergreens below. The animal survived, but decided Tengu was too much trouble to keep pursuing and went back down the mountains. Tengu caught his breath, picked up his sansetsukon, and inspected his legs. Sure enough: scratches all over. So true the saying: "You will not save your skin if you're skinning a boarcupine." Some beasts just can't be dealt with without getting hurt...
Shortly after the funeral, Tengu noticed a change in Lo. He would open for business later than the old man, and close earlier too. He would go out to drink every so often and return home cussing and bellowing after one too many drinks. The weight of the shop shifted to young Tengu, who was finding it harder to take care of business.
One night, he was fast asleep in the old tailor's bedroom. He woke up startled by a light. Lo was standing next to his bed holding up a lamp. He was sweaty and drunk. He placed the lamp on top of the chest and sat on the bed, beside a puzzled Tengu. "My little sparrow hawk – I have neglected you," he said, as he gently stroked Tengu's face. "You know, father thought he had to protect you from me. I miss him, but he was foolish sometimes..." His drunken slur became heavier and slower as he stroked Tengu's hair. "You have certainly earned your keep so far. But to stay here with me now that father is gone, we will need to become much closer..." He began caressing Tengu's neck and chest.
Tengu always kept his sansetsukon with him, hidden between the bed and the wall. With one swift move, he brought it out and looped it around the man's neck. He coiled his legs under the man's torso and pushed him off. The man fell noisily. Tengu ran out of the room, looked for his hidden money bag, his hat and ran off into the night.
The following morning Lo took his beat-up self to the police. He accused Tengu of assault and theft. The townspeople were in shock at the little's orphan ingratitude. Tengu was now a wanted fugitive and a public enemy. His luck in Gaoling had run out. The young boy spent the night hiding in the shipyards. He needed to get away and fast, and hope came when he found a cargo ship headed west. From the looks of it, it was carrying tools. Tengu got closer to inspect and find out more information. Mining tools – he knew them well.
As he pondered stowing on a ship headed for a mining town, Tengu noticed police had arrived on the shipyards carrying a poster with his image on it. He dispatched his doubts and boarded the ship. If he were discovered stowing away, he could always offer to work. He was zig-zagging between crates, trying to find a way to get below deck when he ran right into a couple of police officers. He fought them as hard as he could, but even when they ended up needing backup, it was too much for him.
Tengu was arrested and tried that very afternoon. Lo told the court how Tengu stole money and goods from the store, keeping his father under an evil spell. He told them how Tengu gave the old man tea mixed with a poisonous plant to make him ill and how he had caught Tengu red-handed, stealing from him and how, when confronted, Tengu had attacked him.
The judge thought Tengu's money bag confirmed the tailor's son's testimony. Furthermore, the weapon in the boy's possession showed Tengu's vicious character. He sentenced Tengu to a five-year sentence in the Gaoling City Penitentiary.
During the proceedings, Tengu remained stone-faced. He showed no trace of emotion, while deep inside, Tengu felt something he had never felt before. It was bitter, intense, deep and very, very dark. For the first time in his life, he felt hate. He looked at the tailor's son with an expressionless face, yet his eyes managed to convey his message. The man felt the icy stab of the young boy's stare in his heart. He became flustered and left the courthouse in a hurry, as if he was being chased by someone.
Tengu was taken by the guards to the penitentiary. He had spent all night hiding in all imaginable odd places, so his entire being was covered in garbage, mud and even fish guts. In a cold, dark room, he was stripped naked. Someone threw a bucket of cold water at him, while a guard took to his skin with a hard brush. He remained stoic. After his "bath", he was thrown a dirty towel and gray overalls. Once dressed, he was pushed onto the courtyard. Tengu was now a convict. He was 12 years old.
Tengu had made good time that day. The Northern Air Temple was now within sight. He saw a sparrow hawk fly over him. It was getting dark. Time to set up camp for the night.
The world of Avatar is full of terrifying beasts and powerful villains. However, in true life, the cruelest and most dangerous beasts are usually at our doorstep and they know us by our first name...
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|My Own Savior Chapters|
|Colonial Childhood - The Tailor of Gaoling - Jailbird - Ember Island - The Contract - Corporal Lu Ten - General Iroh - The Wall, Part 1: Daedalus - The Wall, Part 2: Icarus - The Wall, Part 3: Apollo - The Wall, Part 4: Minos - The Lady Of Death - The Last Airbender - The Pursuit of Peace - Stengah - The Northern Air Temple, Part 1: Arrival - The Northern Air Temple, Part 2: Rebirth - Pride - Prejudice - Freedom|