Sometimes, when the wind blows wildly through the cliffs, he joins Piandao in the forge. The coal fire is a comforting throb behind his ribs, like the great furnaces that drove the ships he left behind. It’s familiar and strange all at once. Moments like this, drifting off to sleep at night, soothed by the glow he could feel even two decks away, are some of his favorite memories. The only ones, really, that he cares to recall from that time.
But sitting in the forge at Shu Jing is even better. Here there are no battle plans running through the back of his mind; there is nowhere he needs to be except right here. And there is Piandao.
Jeong Jeong cracks one eye open to look at the swordsmith, who is stripped to the waist and shoveling coal into the furnace. Piandao catches his glance and smiles softly at him before turning back to his work.
He shuts his eye and settles back against the wall, but he can still feel Piandao at work—not just hear the scrape of the shovel or the rattle of the coal, but feel the fire’s heat growing as Piandao feeds it. The warm throb intensifies until he can feel his whole body thrumming with it.
And still Piandao feeds the fire, fearlessly staying so close that Jeong Jeong knows his skin must be smarting from the heat. How can he do it, he wonders for the hundredth time. Piandao is not a firebender. He can’t even make a single candle flicker. He would have absolutely no protection if the furnace suddenly flared out of control. He can’t stifle a raging fire, he can’t turn flames away from his skin or redirect their heat. He is so utterly, terribly vulnerable.
And yet he continues to stoke the furnace. His life’s work depends on the flames of his forge, the flames that he confronts with a shovel and bellows and tongs and not a single ounce of bending ability.
Jeong Jeong sighs quietly and lets himself drift with the throbbing of the flames, feeling the fire rise and fall as Piandao works.