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|The Thing About Patience|
March 6, 2012
Previously in Air
The Kyoshi Warriors are investigating the kidnapping of Prince Iroh. They are considering the possibility of a traitor within the Palace and one soldier, Joji, is suspect for being the only person with the Prince when he was taken. Princess Ursa blames herself for her brother's disappearance.
Chapter Nine: The Thing About Patience
Ursa did not listen to her tutor. She let his words continue to float aimlessly about her head, but she did not even bother trying to grasp them.
How could he actually expect her to pay attention?
Her mind was a million leagues away, branching off in dozens of different directions. Her thoughts spiraled, as aimless and helpful in the present time as her lesson.
Mostly, she thought about Roh-Roh. And while thoughts of her six year old brother were not altogether pointless, at the moment they did absolutely nothing to help find him. She just sat here, forced into learning the largest natural export of Jang Hui Island, or which of the old Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom had refused to retreat and were forced to battle their own soldiers at the end of the Hundred Year War, while Roh-Roh was who knows where at the mercy of some rebel fanatics!
What if they hurt him?
What if Dad couldn't find him?
What if...what if...
Ursa jumped. Tutor Gouitn stood beside her, a comforting hand on her shoulder. His voice was unusually soft, his eyes sympathetic. "You must not think about it," he said quietly. "I'm sure everything will come right in the end."
It was virtually impossible to stop thinking about her little brother. But maybe he was right; maybe she should try to concentrate on something else.
"Let's begin again with chapter three," Gouitn said kindly.
Ursa stared forlornly down at her book. 'The Invaluable Exports of the Earth Kingdom Ports'.
"'There are many valuable items that can be found in the Earth Kingdom,'" Tutor Gouitn read. "Such things as..."
Ursa stared out the window again.
The Earth Kingdom. Dad was somewhere in the Earth Kingdom. She heard him say that the Guild's second biggest mistake was revealing their identity because now he knew who to look for.
Everyone knew their biggest mistake was messing with the Firelord's family and expecting to get away with it.
Ursa missed her father too, but at least she knew he was safe. Dad didn't mention it a lot, but she knew he was a talented bender and fighter. Plus, he was traveling with Aang and Katara. What could possibly happen to him?
Tutor Gouitn's face was flushed bright red and blotched with furious purple; it got like that when he was upset. "Please, Princess," he pleaded. "Try to pay attention!"
"Sorry, Tutor." Ursa tried to look abashed. But she didn't feel ashamed, so she couldn't look it. Whenever she tried to fake emotions, she couldn't put her heart into it; she felt too guilty about misleading people.
Gouitn sighed heavily. "You, my dear Princess, so try my patience."
"Patience is the hardest virtue to master." The words were out before Ursa could stop them.
Gouitn's gaze turned colder. He raised an eyebrow. "Pray tell," he insisted, expecting a wise-crack of some kind.
It wasn't really Ursa's fault. Both her Dad and her uncle rambled off bizarre but wise-sounding proverbs. Her head was full of them, and occasionally some something said would trigger one of the adages. Always eager to please or to lend assistance, the words would slip out of Ursa as easily as a buttered hog-monkey.
"Well, the thing about patience," she explained slowly, "Is that people are always wanting more of it." She could hear her Uncle's voice, first imparting the words of wisdom. "What they don't stop to realize is that, while their moaning about their impatience, they're being provided with the perfect opportunity to master their patience just a little more."
Gouitn stared at her for a moment. He blinked once, slowly. Then he chuckled. "That's your father speaking again, I suppose."
Ursa bristled. "No, that was me speaking," she insisted. "But they were the words of my Uncle. They are very wise words and I was proud to repeat them."
Gouitn realized he'd squashed the Princess's toes and scurried in retreat. "Oh, yes, of course, Princess. I didn't mean to imply that you-"
A knock on the door rescued the floundering man.
Princess Ursa was such an odd personality. At times, it seemed she was even a walking contradiction. She was fiercely independent and yet clung to her parents; she wasn't above getting into mischief, but attempting to portray an unfelt emotion was a guilt-weighed iniquity. She was an eight year old child, and yet at times she seemed to possess the wisdom of a fully realized Avatar.
Gouitn pondered this as he went for the door.
Ursa forced herself to relax. She felt bad she made Tutor Gouitn race for an excuse. She hadn't meant to. She just hated it when people implied she didn't understand the words she spoke. People seemed to get the impression Ursa's mind soaked up the interesting insights like a sea cucumber-sponge and that she blabbed them without realizing what they meant.
"Sakura!" Tutor Gouitn's surprise brought Ursa out of her brooding. "What are you doing here?"
"You forgot this." A girl stood in the doorway. She was about Ursa's age –maybe a year or two older– with hair as black as the Princess's. She held a scroll out to Gouitn.
"Ah!" he cried in delight. "Chapters Four and Five!" He frowned at the pile of books and scrolls he had brought with him. "How could I have forgotten that?"
Ursa leaned forward in her seat to get a better look at the girl. Yes, she was a little older, but what did that matter?
Sakura saw the Princess staring. She blushed shyly, bowing her head to hide her face.
"Well, thank you, Sakura," Gouitn said, catching on. "I will most definitely need this today. Now run a-" He stopped mid-word. He cast a glance over his shoulder at Princess Ursa and seemed to change his mind.
"Come in, come in," he beckoned the girl. "You should meet the young Princess."
Ursa couldn't decide if Sakura looked happy about this. Maybe she was just shy.
With an arm around her shoulders, Gouitn led Sakura to the small table where Ursa sat. "Princess Ursa," he said, tone formal, "I would like you to meet my charge, Sakura."
Whenever someone was introduced in court, people would incline their heads to the newcomer. In Ursa's opinion, a simple incline of the head was a stuffy and impolite way to welcome a stranger, so instead she smiled at Sakura.
"Perhaps her majesty would like some company for the rest of the lessons?" Gouitn suggested. "After all, it doesn't seem you're paying much attention anyway."
Ursa's heart leapt and her eyes lit. Could he really do that? She hardly ever met children her own age. Most of the nobles, advisors and generals who frequented the Palace were either old enough that their children were grown, or too young to have any close in age. Sometimes her Uncle Tom-Tom would spend time with her, but he was nearly seven years older than she. The closest thing she had to friends were Rocky and Siku, who were only a little younger and, despite being on the wild side, were fun to play with. But Kyoshi Island was a long way away; the only time Ursa got to see Sokka and Suki's kids was when they attended the annual Pai Sho tournaments at her Uncle's tea shop.
Having no real friends didn't usually bother Ursa, because she had Roh-Roh. Her little brother was her best friend.
"Yes!" she exclaimed.
Gouitn beamed, but Sakura's expression was still unreadable. Ursa reconsidered. "That is, of course," she amended, directing her words at Sakura, "Only if you want to."
Sakura blushed again, but she smiled. Gouitn hurried to get another chair as she dipped into a quick curtsey. "As you wish, your majesty."
Gouitn returned, holding the chair for Sakura. "Who knows?" he said with a wink. "Perhaps the two of you will become friends."
Before sitting, Sakura bowed again. "Thank you, your majesty."
If they were to be friends, Ursa decided, the bowing would have to go.
It was an hour before there was another rap at the door.
"Come in!" Tutor Gouitn hollered. His patience had long since run out because, even though he admitted Ursa hadn't been paying him any attention, he still wanted it.
Ursa had spent most of that hour trying to talk to Sakura. This was hindered by not only her tutor attempting to make himself heard, but also by Sakura's own shyness. Ursa wasn't sure she'd actually uttered a complete sentence since As you wish, your majesty and Thank you, your majesty.
The servant in the corridor recognized the sound of Gouitn's spent temper and opened the door with extreme caution.
"Well?" Gouitn snapped. "What is it?"
"I come from Firelady Mai," the servant informed him, with a slight bow of the head. "She wishes to know how the lessons go."
Gouitn scowled. He had spent a long time trying to convince the Firelady that the lessons were the best thing for Ursa, but still she doubted it. However, unwilling to admit defeat just yet, he plastered on a fake smile and cried, "Oh, very well!"
"Unfortunately," Gouitn continued, "It is growing late and I really must be going." He began to gather his things from the table. "Until tomorrow, Princess," he said with a nod in her direction.
Ursa rose from the table. Sakura, uncertain what to do, quickly stood as well, but only in order to treat the Princess to another deep bow. Ursa wanted to scowl, but she knew that would probably give the poor girl a heart attack.
Instead, she bent down and tried to look her in the eye. "It was nice to meet you, Sakura," Ursa said honestly.
"It was an honor to meet you, Princess," Sakura replied. She did not straighten or raise her gaze from her toes.
Ursa tried again. "I hope I see you again."
"That would be nice, your majesty."
Ursa honestly couldn't tell if Sakura was being sincere. She frowned. Was she really this bad at making friends? Maybe she was being too stuffy. Her Dad said that one of the worst faults to plague nobles was their tendency to act superior. But Ursa didn't feel like she was superior. Was it possible for someone to act superior without their knowing it? What if...
Ursa shook herself. Perhaps, she thought wryly, her tendency to drift off in thought while continuing to stare at Sakura with an unreadable expression made the girl nervous. That would certainly unnerve her.
She smiled again –though Sakura was still bent in a bow and probably couldn't see it. "Goodbye, Sakura."
"Did I wait too long?"
Ursa wasn't surprised to find her mother waiting for her down the corridor. Firelady Mai was not dressed in Palace finery today. That was just as well. She slouched against the wall and her maids might venture some pointed remarks about the kind of ugly wrinkles that would cause.
Ursa beamed. "Just in time!"
She reached for her mother's hand and together they began to walk. It occurred to Ursa that some day she would be too old to take her mother's hand; she was glad this wasn't that day.
"How excruciating was it?" Mai asked.
"Not very, once Sakura showed up." Ursa rushed to tell her mother all about the girl.
Mai smiled. "You like her?"
Ursa nodded. "She seems nice. It's hard to tell. She didn't say much, and it all ended in 'your majesty'. Do people really have to bow so much?"
Mai laughed quietly.
Ursa glanced around the corridor. "I thought Ty Lee would be with you."
Mai shook her head. "Apparently there are some very 'cute' guards in the west wing. I lost her somewhere down there on my way over." She looked down at her daughter. "I thought some time alone would be nice. Are you disappointed?"
Ursa shook her head. "No." She knew exactly what her mother meant.
She went on to tell her mother about how boring her lesson had been, how funny Tutor Gouitn looked when he got upset and how much the sunshine streaming through the window distracted her.
Ursa paused suddenly. "Mother..." she hesitated.
Mai cocked her head. "Yes, Ursa?"
"Do you think..." Ursa swallowed hard. "Do you think Roh-Roh's really okay? I keep telling myself that he is, and Dad said the Guild wouldn't gain anything by hurting him, but I can't help thinking that...maybe..." Ursa's voice choked and she stopped. She bit her lip to keep it from trembling, but could do nothing about her quivering limbs.
Mai knelt down before her daughter, folding her hands around Ursa's smaller ones. "Look at me, Ursa," she said gently. "Your brother is all right. I know it." She laid a hand on her chest. "I feel it, here in my heart."
Ursa gazed hopefully at her mother.
"It's divided into pieces, you know," Mai explained. "And a piece belongs to each of you: to Roh-Roh, your Dad...and you." Mai smiled, stroking Ursa's cheek. "If anything were to happen to Roh-Roh –to any of you– I would feel it." And Mai knew that if something were to harm her family, her heart would only recover if they could.
"So...Dad's okay, too?"
Mai nodded. "Dad too. And I know he'll find Roh-Roh."
"He won't give up until he does, will he?"
Mai smiled at how well Ursa knew her father. "No," she said. "No, he won't." She pulled Ursa into her arms and held her close. "And until then, you and I are just going to have to be brave and wait, no matter how much we hate it. Do you think we can do that?"
Ursa nodded, burying her face in her mother's clothes.
Tsaira and Joji made their rounds in silence. They walked the corridors of the Fire Palace, running expert eyes over everything on the lookout for danger. They were guards of the Royal Procession; you could tell by the way they scrutinized everyone they passed. As far as they were concerned, anyone could be a potential threat. In the past, they would have been easily identified by the masks such a post required. But as a baby, Princess Ursa had been so terrified by the white, skull-like faces of the guards that she would wail. The Royal Procession had not donned the masks with the Palace since.
Tsaira cast unusually suspicious glances at her companion. Joji, despite the resentment and shame he felt, ignored them. It was clear she didn't trust him. He wasn't sure he trusted himself. Joji had been the only person at hand when the Prince was kidnapped, and it wasn't a secret that people blamed –even suspected– him. He hadn't managed to save the boy. There was no one but himself to blame.
They arrived at a hallway that wound outside, wrapping around the building's exterior. With unspoken agreement, Tsaira continued down the passage while Joji went to the rail along the far edge. He peered down below, into the courtyard. The one with the pond. He'd forgotten this overlooked the place where Prince Iroh had been spirited away. The realization jolted him. He gripped the rail to catch his balance.
Something nicked his finger.
He inhaled sharply and jerked his hand back in surprise.
Tsaira's ears were expertly trained. She heard the sound, soft as it was, and returned to investigate. "What's wrong?" she asked casually. She couldn't see any enemy, but that didn't mean they weren't there.
Joji didn't reply. He was studying his finger.
"Well?" Tsaira demanded.
Joji squinted. Carefully, he removed a sliver of something from his fingertip.
"Oh, has the baby got a splinter?" Tsaira mocked. "This isn't the time for personal sympathy! Have you seen anything suspicious?"
It was clear what she thought of him. No wonder someone just waltzed in and nabbed the Fire Prince. This guy's an idiot.
"It's not just a sliver," he said quietly. "It's metal."
Tsaira rolled her eyes. "Because metal is so uncommon around here." She gestured at the many metal implements close by.
Joji was studying the scrap of metal with unnerving intensity. "I think it's part of a dart," he said.
"What?" Tsaira was too surprised to be sarcastic. "Let me see that."
She bent in close to examine it for herself. The piece of metal might have a vague dart-shape to it, but it was so small it was hard to tell.
"What would a dart be doing up here?" she wondered darkly.
"My finger's gone numb," Joji said suddenly. He shook his hand, poking at the poked finger. "My finger's gone numb!" he said again, shouting this time, with great animation. "I can't move it!"
Tsaira stared at him as though he'd gone mad.
"It's paralyzed!" Joji cried.
Tsaira's eyes went wide. "A shirshu dart?"
"Look!" Joji pointed down into the courtyard. "That's where the Prince was standing! If someone had been right here" –he gestured at his position– "with a shirshu dart..."
Tsaira shook her head in amazement. "No wonder the kid didn't fight back."
Tsaira looked on Joji in a new light. Many people were convinced he had a hand in the kidnapping, subduing the Prince for his abductor. Jeong Jeong, at least, refused to believe it. Did the dart mean Joji truly was innocent? It certainly meant there was a second abductor.
"We have to tell Admiral Jeong Jeong about this," Joji said.
- I was hesitant to use the name 'Sakura' for this character, as I didn't want her to be associated with Sakura from Naruto. I got over it.
- Sokka and Suki's children were a later addition. Because they are not involved in the story, I had not originally planned on their having any children.
- Siku is indeed the name of a recently popular baby polar bear. She is not named after the polar bear. I was struggling to find a good name and 'Siku' sounded perfect.
- Sokka named Rocky.
- Gouitn is a classic example of a rebel character. I wanted him to be a very thin and irritatingly calm man; he wanted to be a bit pudgy and lean toward the hysterical side when agitated. Evidently, the character's will is stronger than the author's typing.
For the collective works of the author, go here.