The Moon and the Ocean
Master Pakku gave her a free afternoon, and Katara took it gratefully. She went looking for Sokka, which meant looking for Princess Yue. When she found the princess, though, her brother was nowhere around. Yue sat by herself in one of the palace windows, looking out at the city through windows of thinly waterbent ice.
It felt so weird to Katara to see a girl by her age sitting by herself and not doing anything. She had always been with the older women back home, or with Sokka, or with Dad before he left. She'd always had something to do, too, especially when the light was as good as today.
"You want to go down to the docks and see what fish they brought in?" Katara asked impulsively.
Yue's shoulders twitched and startled blue eyes turned towards Katara. "Oh! I didn't hear you..." She glanced back towards the window. "I shouldn't do that, Katara. Papa will worry."
"He won't even know you're gone," Katara assured her, grabbing Yue's wrist and tugging on the other girl. "Come on, they'll have the morning catch mostly clean by now. No chance they'll make us help."
Yue's mouth quirked in a smile. "I... But we need to let Papa know."
"Fine, fine, come on!"
Walking from the palace to the harbor kept Katara pleasantly warm. The seasons were starting to turn up here with the sun's return, but it was still bitingly cold. Though, Katara had noticed she didn't seem to find it as cold as Sokka did. At home, she'd always assumed it was because he liked to complain, but around all the waterbenders in the North, she was starting to think it was a waterbender thing.
Yue was quiet as she walked, and Katara found herself filling up the silence with stories of home. Of Dad and Bato and Gran-Gran, the few times she'd met the girls from other camps - bright-eyed Nilak and her older cousin Tikaani, Kinta with her ice-bison knucklebone dice, and red-haired Magena.
"How can she have red hair?" Yue asked, looking puzzled.
Katara blinked. She'd never really thought about it before. But she knew someone else with hair like Magena now. "I think she must have Kyoshi Island blood. The leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, Suki, has hair like Magena's."
People bustled around the harbor - waterbenders attending to the canal-boats, a big fishing boat hauled out of the water so men could scrape barnacles from its hull, men and women cleaning fish, men preparing the boats to go out with the evening tide. Toddlers played with older children watching and sometimes helping adults. Lurking around anyone cleaning fish were hopeful snow-lynxes, the peculiar cat the Northern Water Tribe seemed to use instead of dogs.
It was weird, but she guessed a society that had so many waterbenders didn't need a dog-sled.
Yue's mittened hand suddenly found hers, and the princess shifted closer to her. She looked around at the bustle with wide eyes, obviously at a loss for what to do.
So Katara took hold of her hand and pulled her towards a women cleaning fish. "Come on, Yue."
The woman glanced up as they approached, and her eyes widened even as her knife slipped. It gashed across her hand, and Katara winced. "Oh-!"
Yue dropped to her knees by the woman, scooping up a handful of snow that melted to a familiar glowing water. "I'm sorry. Let me heal you?"
The woman nodded, and Yue covered her hand with healing water. It discolored slightly with her blood, then Yue pulled away and let the water drop. It froze to the ground, and the woman's hand was completely unmarked.
"Thank you, princess," she said in a warm, quiet tone.
"You're welcome," Yue replied, then stood and stepped back, grabbing Katara by the elbow to tug her away. Katara let herself be pulled, confused by the distress on the princess's face and by Yue's waterbending.
"You never said you were a waterbender!" Katara hissed at her.
Yue shrugged, the distress fading from her expression now they were in a street away from the harbor. "It isn't that important."
"But this is great!" Katara grabbed her hands. "Master Pakku can teach you like he's been teaching me, and then he'll accept other girls-!"
"I'm a healer," Yue said, a hard edge in her voice. "Fighting is for men. And Southerners," she added diplomatically.
Katara drew back as if slapped. Those words felt like a blow. How could Yue not want to fight? Didn't the other girl know how important it was, how much she could lose if she couldn't fight? How much had already been lost?
Yue touched her arm. "Come on, Katara. Let's go back to the palace."
The palace. The Northern Water Tribe had a palace and waterbenders. It had this whole great city and all its men. When she first laid eyes on it, she'd thought it was a dream-vision.
The Northern Water Tribe had never lost anything, she realized with a sinking heart, and their sister tribe had lost everything.
She let Yue lead her back up through the streets, but she couldn't quite look at the girl.