She would have to make camp sooner or later, probably sooner, as the sun was starting to sink fast over the low mountains in the distance. Stopping though? She wasn't sure she wanted to. Stopping meant a long and lonely night talking to Ka and perhaps darning a sock or two.
No laughter, no campfire stories, no Haviv and Die... Still, at least she wouldn't feel like her presence was disturbing them. They did sneak off for alone time an awful lot, and left her with the animals. Sure she liked animals, but a buffalo-yak and ostrich-horse weren't exactly empathetic creatures.
Squeezing her heels into Ka's ribs, she asked for a trot, the bouncing two beat gait wasn't the most comfortable thing, but it was starting to get dusky and she didn't want the beast to trip for want of light. As she rode, she glanced around, looking for a good place to stop and make camp.
Time and instinct had told him half a mile back to search out the best place to set up his camp, and as soon as he had found a suitable place by the side of the road to stop, Tiehuo had begun to set up his camp in quick and efficient motions. Military training had been kind to him in that respect – the sky was clear, the night warm enough, and the clearing was a good enough place to let his mare sleep and graze in. It had taken him a matter of moments to unroll his blankets, and arrange the thing he called his pillow – old sewn shirts that had been stuffed with more fabric and fluff. The packs were also unloaded easily – it was just the fire that would take a little more effort.
Setting up camp however, no matter how tedious it seemed, or how annoying the motions could be, happened to be a soothing end of routine to the day most of the time. And when he finally did get his small fire going, it seemed well worth the effort to pull out a pan and heat some of the grain cereal he had brought with him, adding water and a few found spices he’d picked up at the last town he’d been in. Luckily for him, he’d even managed to find a few dried plums ready for mixing into his small meal, and as he waited for the water to boil and the grains to thicken, he kicked off his shoes, and leaned against the tree he’d taken cover under.
The last thing to be unpacked would always be his flute, ready for a weary but pleasantly cheery tune to be played as he waited. Tiehuo had worked out several notes of one of the many songs he’d come to memorize as of late, before he stopped at the sound of hooves approaching.
Ah, the young man from earlier along the road.
Tiehuo gave a smart bow and a smile before he returned to the next note of his song, letting the melody waver over the hot air, mingling with the scent of his porridge.
It wasn't so much that the woods were scary, even though they were. It wasn't even that she was suddenly traveling alone again after months of having company, even though she was. It was more the simple fact that no matter how she tried to cultivate a bit of nerve, she was still too docile for all this adventure.
Like most teenage girls, San was prone to wild and erratic leaps of imagination. When she first heard the flute playing drifting down the road, she fancied it a wayward spirit. This of course, had no practical proof, but it was just so lonely on the street, she was getting closer to the spooky bangrove trees, and the sun sinking so eerily, that it only seemed right.
Seeing the man that she'd run into earlier on the road was actually quite a big relief! Awww, but he had snagged the best place to camp!
"Oh thank the ancestors!" Hmmm, maybe that wasn't the politest way to greet someone? To exclaim in relief? He might take offense. "Er, I mean..." Quickly she tacked on her manliest voice, "...Good evening." She pulled Ka to a stop trying to sound cheerful as she looked him over. His intimidating factor was low, he didn't look too scary. Still, with that big sword next to him...
Ka's ears perked up at the song, and the buffalo-yak champed at the bit, a long tendril of bovine drool dropping to the ground. "Room for one more, or shall I move along?"
Last Edit: Feb 2, 2011 11:37:10 GMT -5 by Sanandak
It had been awhile since he’d been that young, and his life had been much different at that age, but Tiehuo couldn’t help but smile at the boy’s enthusiasm in general. It wouldn’t hurt to indulge it a little, and it was always better to have a happy traveler as a camp sharer. In fact, he could hardly expect better than this kid on the road.
Tiehuo paused his playing, and tipped his flute in response.
”Of course!” He said with a small smile. ”Bring your friend, there’s plenty of room, to tie him up.” He said, gesturing to the same area his own mare was settled into behind them. ”There’s plenty to share as well.” He added, pointing to his fire, before leaning back again.
”My name is Tiehuo Ying. I’m always happy to share my travels.”
Sliding out of the saddle backwards- mostly to avoid dragging her bound chest painfully across the leather and saddlebags, she gathered the reins up over Ka's horns and ears. Leading her over to the side of the road, a little ways away from the ostrich horse, she began to untack her.
"Thanks!" She spoke as she loosened the girth, "It's nice to meet you." Tiehuo, huh? Funny sort of name, but then everyone down south seemed to have unusual and exotic sounding names. He would probably find her's just as strange... oh right... "I'm Nandak, son of Towaka."
After she introduced herself, the whole bundle of saddle, girth, saddlebags, and saddlepad was pulled clean off her mount. Ka grunted, and then shook, the whole stretch of her skin vibrating away the sweat and dirt that had accumulated during the day.
"So you were the one making all that eerie noise." She dropped the saddle at a nice lounging distance from the fire and sunk to her knees next to it. "I thought maybe you were a ghost!" A brush was pulled out, and she walked back over to her mount, laying into one of the largest snarls.
Ka groaned, whuffling through flared nostrils. Nobody liked their hair being pulled.
"I mean, when you get this close to the swamps, sometimes, well, you start to see things, you know?" Dead things. Lost things. She'd been startled out of her skin on more than one occasion when she swore she saw her dead father amidst the fog.
A faded smile crossed his lips, and he sheepishly shrugged. ”I am sorry if I scared you. It’s an old song, one that is meant to soothe the spirits, and mourn the dead.” Something peaceful, and longing that he had taken a particular affinity to, now that he’d learned it.
He caught the boy’s glances down the road, and nodded, scooting just the slightest bit more upright as he did so. ”It’s probably appropriate, wouldn’t you say? I’d prefer to get along with whatever I might pass by out here.” He didn’t need to say there were probably many different things he could run into, the closer he got towards the swamp, but perhaps the young boy, Nandak, would know what the older man meant. Things were weird out here, and if he could, he’d rather make his peace and move along his way.
”Nice to meet you too, Nandak, son of Towaka. I can assure you, I’m not a ghost. Though I understand completely if you still wonder.” They’d all been subject to the scary tales of wandering souls preying on travelers, hadn’t they? He wouldn’t be the first to have been nervous this near the swamp. Even Tiehuo felt uneasiness in the far reaches of his mind.
Sanandak smiled politely and then nodded her head, pausing in her savage brushing to think it over. "Most of the time that sort of stuff only happens when you're alone, soooo..." She realized then that holding vowels wasn't manly, so she cleared her throat and tried again, "...so we men shouldn't have a problem if we stick together. Because that's what we are."
Putting the brush away, and then adjusting the saddle by the fire so that she could lean against it, she settled in. It took a little scootching as the wind kept picking up and blowing the strong scented wood smoke in every direction.
They seemed to have reached that point in the night. The point of guy talking. That talking thing between two guys. She never felt she did that quite right. "So, Tiehuo, what brings you to the swamp?" Was that too invasive? Quickly she stammered an additional "It's just that it's so far out of the way and not a lot of travelers come through!"
With a quick, appraising look, she studied him for signs of annoyance. It felt weird talking to an elder so informally, especially one of the opposite gender. He was much older than Haviv too, maybe ten years? It was hard to tell herself 'Oh, just treat him like your older brother' when he was closer to her father's age. Spirits she missed him.
In her manliest voice, she launched into her own explanation, "Like me? I'm a waterbender, and I heard that there were other waterbenders in the swamp that could bend plants!" Something like that anyways, "So I came looking for a Master. I found one too!"
”Indeed.” Tiehuo agreed, with an amused look glimmering in his eyes. Men were inclined to feel more safe in packs, and he had a feeling the younger boy was more than grateful for the company. Tiehuo didn’t mind it so much himself – it was certainly more easy to have someone else around in this part of the world.
”I thought it would be fastest to travel through the edges of the swamp if I was heading northwards along the waters. Much easier than going up towards the Si Wong.” He said, setting down his flute and watching the fires crackle with a sense of appreciation.
”I’m glad you’ve found a master. When I was your age, I had one as well, in the art of the sword. Now, I prefer to play the flute, and teach the sword a little as I go along. But they’re very important things for a young man to have – my Master taught me many things.” If Nandak would pardon the older man’s reminiscing, he would gaze off for a moment at the memories dredged up by the mention of it all.
”Dinner?” He offered after a moment’s pause, grabbing a spare bowl.
As Tiehuo made his offer of food, a disembodied voice whistling a jaunty tune came drifting through the trees and the night to reach the ears of the two travelers. Not too long after, it was accompanied by the appearance of an indistinct, though not particularly large, silhouetted shape, which then resolved itself into a wild and fey looking boy, with a massive mane of shaggy brown hair flowing away from his head in all directions. He was stark naked, save for the arm wraps and loincloth of a Swamp Tribe member, and looked to be in his early teens.
Unconcerned by the strangeness and suddenness of his appearance, the apparition grinned widely and waved. "Hey th'r, saw a campfire'n an' smelled mighty good cookin'! You nice folks mind if I share a bit o' both with ye?"
The boy spoke with the unmistakable drawl of a Swamper, and didn't even wait for his first question to be answered before he let himself be distracted by Sanandak's obvious water tribe get up. Something about this seemed to cheer him immensely, prompting a happy exclamation and an even bigger grin.
"Really? That sounds nice." A bit of a dreamy tone entered her voice. "I'm not so good at fighting." Oh right, she was a boy. She cleared her throat. "I mean, weapons. Fighting with you know, actual sharp weapony things." Looking over at the man, she was actually relieved to see that he appeared to be lost in thought completely. Perhaps he hadn't heard her stumbling at all?
Reaching into her bag for her own bowl, she opened her mouth to say thank you, only to catch a strange tune floating in the wind between them. A look of bewilderment crossed her face as she glanges back at him, hoping he had somehow produced another instrument and begun toying with it. That was clearly not the case. She gave him a look of completely honest fear and said. "Umm... did you hear that?"
It was pretty much a rhetorical question. He was a warrior, a trained one, right? He was probably going through some warrior checklist in his head. Step one? Locate the threat. Following the sound across the fog of the marsh, she suddenly caught sight of a strange and wispy figure. Step two for him might have been access the threat. For her it was letting her feelings escalate to panic and allow thinking to become difficult and sluggish.
"Oh ancestors! What is that!?" She was too creeped out to remember to keep her voice low. Luckily, she looked to be about thirteen, and had learned that people didn't think much of it when thirteen year old boys voices cracked. Ka raised her head from where she had been munching on the grass, and then swatted her tail once and returned to grazing. This was not entirely reassuring, and San found herself repeating her same old pattern whenever something used to scare her while she was traveling with Haviv.
Scrambling to hands and knees, she crawled backwards, closer to her new, far more badass than her, companion. Also? She inhaled for a decidedly girly scream. Instead of some hideous spirit though, a boy, perhaps a few years younger than her separated himself from the night air around them. Almost unmistakably feminine lips turned from readying to shriek to hanging slack in surprise.
Wait... A swampie. It had to be... right? She looked over at Tiehuo for reassurance. For wisdom. For something. "I... uhh..." There was her voice again, only wrong octave. She quickly dropped it. "I am. I guess."
Last Edit: Apr 11, 2011 16:13:51 GMT -5 by Sanandak
Truthfully, it wasn’t the sound that had startled him nearly as much as Nandak’s sudden uneasiness and scrambling towards him. Though to be fair, Tiehuo himself felt vaguely uneasy as well, and he gripped the pommel of his sword in alert expectation should anything threatening truly work its way out of the forests that led into the swamp. The shadows that preceded the form were enough for Tiehuo to whisper to the young man – ”I hope nothing unusual – “ before the boy emerged, still whistling his tune.
Tiehuo didn’t relax right away, though the request to share his meal had him taken aback. His hand didn’t move but he nodded to the other young man. ”Sure… I suppose you should join us.” That would merit a glance cast over towards Nandak in slight bewilderment before he gestured to have the other boy join them.
”Cousins? Like loyalty kin?” Or elemental family as the case might be. He found himself curious, and taking the bowl that Nandak had held out earlier. ”I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Water traditions, though I’ve passed by before.”
"Hey, thanks stranger! I'm Beau, pleasdter meetcha. An' who mightch'all be?" Leaning down, he grabbed up a leather satchel and strode over, sitting down comfortably across the fire from them. Cross legged, he fished around in the satchel, withdrawing several small parcels wrapped in large leaves, which he offered to Tiandao with a wink. "Never ask if y'aint willin t'share yerself, that's what they always say! Here's some dodo meat f'yer stew. Them birds make an awful racket, but they sure do taste nice."
He smiled again at the fire national's question, looking quite patently harmless, although no less weird.
"Yeah, cousins! Feller there's one a th' polar tribes, I'm swamp tribe, both're water tribes, see? That makes us kin!"
It was at this point he noticed how uncomfortable and alarmed Sanandak looked, causing him to frown. Aw shoot, had he upset them somehow? He hadn't meant to, that was for sure. He had to do a better job remembering that the swamp made outies all skittish. Worried faces weren't what he'd wanted to see when he'd introduced himself to his new friends, no siree!
"Y'all folks seem a touch nervous; hope I didn't scare ya none?" he asked, scratching his hair abashedly. A twig came loose as he did so; he spared it a mild glance before chucking it away into the brush.
Getting over the initial shock, and accepting the fact that he was not, indeed, some manner of swam ghost, she let out a breath and then glanced sheepishly at Tiehuo before scooting a little away from him. Perhaps next time she was scared she should be more manly about it. Poor man, enjoying a quiet evening alone and suddenly saddled with two teenage boys.
"R-right." She cleared her throat, "The swamp is a another sister tribe, only... nobody really knows about it." That had been what Master Ra had told her, in so many words.
Tucking her bangs behind her ears, she bowed her head a little. "I'm Nandak, Son of Towaka. That over there? Is Ka." She replied to his question thumbing in the direction of her buffalo-yak, then, since he would probably want to know, "From the Northern Water Tribe." Moving back over to her saddle, she lay back on it again, staring into the fire. "Beau, huh?" She didn't know him, he wasn't among the students who studied with Master Ra, but there were several in the forest. Maybe he was a student of Master Hue's?
"Maybe just a little." She admitted, then shrugged, "I'm still not used to the swamp." The fog, the strange noises, the eerie figures, and the way plants would sometimes get up and walk away. No matter how spooky though, it didn't hold a candle to the scariness of her engagement, which was her alternative.
"Here, let me..." She added, producing her carved hunting knife from her bag and holding out her hand for the meat. The blade looked as though it had once been the jaw bone of a fierce animal from the north, it still had molars sticking out of the handle. Letting the boys... the actual boys cook while she didn't wasn't polite. She was still a proper tribeswoman, no matter how she dressed.
"We were just talking about where we were going," She cheerfully tried to pick up the flow of the conversation where it had left off. "Tiehuo is just passing through, and I'm one of Master Ra's students." Sort of. Usually it was one of the advanced benders that worked with her. She had a feeling that Ra had only taken her in because she had come so very far, and looked so very pathetic... not because of any hidden talent that she possessed.
'Pologies for the turrible post quality and excessive dialogue, it's almost 3am and I am so loopy-tired D:
Beau nodded sagely. "I've heard o' Ra before, hear tell he's a wise feller. Mostly I lernt waterbendin' from everyone else who could do it, though I allus payed 'special attention to Cousin Hue. He does this neat plant-bendin' trick I'm workin' hard on bein' able to do."
"Hue an' Ra are both darn good teachers, but I'm out to learn from th' one who can outbend either of 'em. Katara o' the Southern Water Tribe, Friend o' the Avatar. I was only little when they all passed through, y'see and I always wanted to meet 'er proper. An' I want t'see the world outside the swamp, y'know? Home's a great place, but there's so much out there I ain't even thought of yet! There's more to life'n catgators and bug supper, and I aim to find it."
He shrugged. "Plus I also been hearin' the Southern Tribe's in a bit of a bad state. Nobody else seems to wanta budge, but how c'n we leave kin in the lurch? Allus heard it was dreadful cold and weird down there, but down there's family in need, an' that beats out cold'n'weird if y'ask me. If I'm ter leave the swamp, seems t'me I'm bound to be headed south eventually."
He stared into the fire for a moment after finishing his sudden stream of speech, seemingly lost in thought, before shaking his shaggy head and giving a chuckle. "Truth is, I've been told o' one of the Avatar's friends who lives on a Kyoshi Island somewhere around these parts. I'd thought maybe she could point me the right direction t'meet Cousin Katara, but I don't have no idea how to get to Kyoshi Island. Shoot, I don't even really know which way Kyoshi Island is." He raised his eyes to grace the duo with another of his sunny smiles. "That's partly why I came over and said hello, was kinda hopin' you outlanders might know the way."
Tiehuo listened with some mild interest but pulled out another pan for the meat – something he guessed he could cook easily, but Nandak seemed more familiar with. ”It’s porridge actually, and I’m not sure the meat would go well with it. But we should cook it and eat it as well. Thank you.” He said, trying to seem both grateful and humbled at the same time. Politeness was just a necessity, and it was usually needed in larger doses as he was Fire Nation to anyone who thought to recognize that fact.
There was something to be said for the rest of the conversation, however. As much as he’d kept away from his homeland, and had been focused on touring the Earth Kingdom, some news about the Fire Nation was hard to escape, and while the swamp boy was rather admirable in his trek southwards, he felt like there was some necessary details he could pass along, given that he had some guesses as to where this other master might be. ”Kyoshi isle is off the southern coasts, a week or more travel from here, by foot. He said, spooning out porridge for everyone and placing the next pan on the fire for Nandak to cook the meat with.
”If you mean to meet Lady Katara, though, I’ve heard she’s residing in the Fire Lord’s palace.” Surely the boys would know what he meant without him resulting to vulgarities, even if they were still young.