Temmi stood uncertainly in the doorway, watching as Kanna gathered her things.
"You can't leave. No one leaves," she said to her best friend in a trembling voice. "I mean, not forever."
"Forever is a long time," said Kanna mildly. "Perhaps I'll be back."
"But your parents," said Temmi. "They'll worry."
"You think I haven't thought of them? But I have to do this. I thought you would understand, knowing me as well as you do."
"I've always known we weren't much alike, even if you've always stood by me," Temmi admitted. "But I never thought you'd go this far, not over a betrothal."
"You're not going to tell anyone, are you?" asked Kanna with concern. "You promised. And I want at least a few hours' head start."
"I won't tell anyone anything!" Temmi protested, keeping her voice low so as not to wake Kanna's parents. "But will a few hours be enough?"
"I know how to hide in the snow. I peeked in on the boys' classes more than once. No one will be expecting that."
"They'll know you ran, though. And they'll know why."
"I want them to know," said Kanna. "I don't want them to think something terrible happened to me. I'm not that cruel."
Kanna picked up a large backpack and shook it open.
"That's your father's," Temmi pointed out uncertainly, as if she could change her friend's mind at this point somehow.
"I know it's my father's," Kanna pointed out sharply. "And if I had been fortunate enough to be born male it would have been mine. It's perfectly serviceable and this isn't theft as far as I'm concerned."
"You don't really mean that," said Temmi.
"That you wish you'd been born male."
"I didn't actually say that," pointed out Kanna logically as she picked up dried sea fruits and put them into the pack. "But if you think men don't get an easier time of it then you aren't really thinking, are you?"
"Women are important because they're the center of the family," said Temmi.
"Now you're going to stand there and quote Pakku's father at me? Are you serious?" Kanna picked up a large hunting knife, tested its edge, and placed it on her belt.
"Don't you want a family, Kanna?" asked Temmi.
"Are you going to accuse me of blasphemy if I don't?" asked Kanna. Then her face softened. "I do want a family, someday. Not because anyone told me to but because I love children. But I don't want a family with Pakku. And I don't want my mother's life, cooking and cleaning and never really pleasing my father."
"Pakku cares for you, you know," said Temmi. "And he's the best waterbender of our generation, everyone says so."
"If he's so wonderful, take him for yourself when I'm gone. You're welcome to him."
"You know I have Tomo," said Temmi.
"And you got to pick him yourself," Kanna replied.
"You don't feel anything for Pakku at all?"
"I was never given a chance to feel anything for him. I was told I was going to marry him and that was it," said Kanna
"Any other girl in the tribe--"
"I know, I know, his family is prestigious and I'd never lack for anything, but there are other things in life besides having enough fish to eat and providing one's husband with babies."
She began packing clothing into the pack.
"Kanna, those are men's trousers!" said Temmi.
"I'm well aware of that," said Kanna evenly. "They should be a little easier to travel in. I'm going all the way to the Southern Water Tribe, after all, and I don't know how easy it will be to catch a passing ship. This could take a while, and mean a lot of walking."
"Where did you even get them?"
Kanna grinned. "These I stole. From the washing line at Pakku's house."
Finally Temmi laughed. "Kanna, you're terrible. Running away from home in your betrothed's old pants."
"He owes me something for all these days of worry that he'd end up being my husband. His mother is even worse off than mine. I can't remember the last time I saw the poor woman leave the house."
"She still has babies at home," said Temmi.
"That's exactly my point."
"What if the Southern Water Tribe isn't any better than we are?" asked Temmi. "Have you even thought of that?"
"I have," said Kanna. "But the last visitors who came home complained that the women made too many decisions and were allowed to do waterbending. I think I'm going to fit in better there than here."
"They don't have what we have," said Temmi. "The city."
"Maybe that's why the women are better off. They don't have the luxury to keep them at home."
"You're taking the betrothal necklace," Temmi said. "You're still wearing it."
"Perhaps I'll sell it, somewhere on the road," said Kanna.
"You'd really do that?" said Temmi, shocked.
"No. I'm not going to forget who I am or where I came from."
"I still can't believe you're going." There were tears in Temmi's eyes. "There must be another way."
Kanna lifted a handkerchief from the pack and wiped Temmi's tears. "Come with me. We'll go there together."
"I can't. I'm not a survivor like you."
"You'd be surprised. You've been the only thing keeping me sane, lately."
But still Temmi shook her head. "I could never leave this place. Not just because it's beautiful, though I know even you will miss that."
Kanna nodded reluctantly and signaled to her to continue.
"Just last week I went to the city center, and I thought of how loved I am here, among my own people. And how we're protected when the enemy comes. And then there's Tomo. Though I know that sounds ridiculous to you."
"No, it doesn't. Tomo is a good man, and if you can stomach a woman's life here maybe you're the one who is stronger than I am."
Kanna put the backpack on her back. "Heavier than I thought," she murmured, but she stood up straight. Together they left Kanna's house. They walked slowly, in silence, past the sparkling ice to one of the secret exits only the women of the tribe knew.
Standing in front of the hole in the city wall, Kanna turned to her friend. "I love you, Temmi, and I believe someday I'll see you again."
"I won't cry. Not any more," Temmi said.
Kanna smiled, and Temmi watched as she climbed into the tunnel.
"I envy you," she murmured as her best friend disappeared forever. "Come back someday, and tell me your story."