After class one day in the healing huts, Yugoda asked Katara to stay behind for a little talk.
“Is there a problem?” Katara asked the older woman nervously.
Yugoda smiled. “No, not at all. Your progress is excellent. But today you were tired, and seemed less attentive than usual. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine,” Katara assured her, “I just had a – a heavy session of Waterbending this morning with Master Pakku. I’m a little tired, like you said.”
“I understand.” Yugoda nodded. “I am very impressed with what you’ve been doing, learning Waterbending for both healing and combat. But why don’t you take a moment to relax? I know a wonderful place that sells hot noodles.”
“With stewed sea prunes?”
“Stewed sea prunes, hard-boiled pelican eggs, whatever you would like. I want to talk to you – I want to know about the Southern Water Tribe, and about Kanna.”
Katara bowed. “I would be honored to share a meal with you, Lady Yugoda.”
“No honor is necessary.”
At one point, Katara put down her bowl and sad, “I know you’re very curious about what Kanna is doing now, but I’m just as curious about her life when she lived here, in the Northern tribe. If it’s not too much to ask, can you please tell me about her?”
Yugoda took a drink of her broth. “That’s such a strange question, I feel, for you to ask me. All my life I thought I knew her. But when she left, I realized I never quite knew her at all.” She gave a little chuckle. “I admit, sometimes I can be pretty thick, noticing what other people are feeling, thinking. Are you going to eat that last sky-crab?”
Katara offered to the older woman, who went on, “But when we were growing up, we all did seem to change so quickly. It felt like some days none of us knew each other. There was a group of us that always used to play together when we were little children – but Kanna was the heart and soul of the group. She had such a winning way about her. One of the sweetest girls I ever knew. And one of the bravest. Pakku was dedicated to her. So many times, he had to get her out of some scrape or another –”
“She and Pakku knew each other?” Katara interrupted. “Sorry for butting in…”
“I don’t mind; and knew each other? They were two of the best of friends. She always explored, led our little gang to dangerous, even forbidden zones – on the open sea, on the tundra, in the ice cliffs – and he would go with her, even when no one else would. (But people usually did – it was the way your grandmother had.) He always insisted it was just to make sure she didn’t get hurt. And yet – ” she chuckled, “Sometimes she got into more trouble with him than without him!”
“I had no idea,” Katara said wonderingly. “But – what happened? If they were friends, why did she hate the idea of marrying him? Wait,” she said abruptly, “Maybe you shouldn’t be talking about my other sensei with me here…”
“Oh, nonsense,” Yugoda said, brushing it aside with a wave of her hand. “I like to talk about it, and if Pakku minds – that’s his own business. Besides, “she gave Katara a conspiratorial smile, “you’re not likely to divulge this information, are you?”
“Not a word,” Katara shook her head gravely.
“You ask why Kanna hated the thought of marrying him. Well, when we were children, fearless explorers, we were so young. We were different people in a few years. We started taking on our grown-up responsibilities. You must have some idea of that by now.”
Katara nodded quietly. Yugoda went on, “I became the apprentice of the Healer, and Pakku attracted the attention of the Master Waterbender in those days, a cold, gruff man named Irmak. He realized that Pakku had the potential to be a Master Waterbender himself, so he took him in as a special student. Pakku spent most of his days training. None of us saw him very often anymore.
“As for Kanna… well, we made time to see each other often. She would sneak out from her lessons, and still explore the currents of the sea around us. I warned her it was dangerous. She would ask visitors and traders from the Earth Kingdom what the rest of the world was like. I didn’t realize it at the time,” Yugoda sighed, “but she was fascinated by the idea of south.”
“We have a celebration here in the North. The Moon of Salt, when we celebrate the new year.”
“Yes, we have that too.”
“At the beginning of the Moon of Salt, when the young Waterbenders who have made exceptional talents were presented, Pakku was brought out as the star of the night. Master Irmak praised his abilities highly. And he demonstrated his Waterbending for us – solo – all the tribe applauded and praised him. But remember when I said that Irmak was gruff? Cold?”
“He had fashioned Pakku into his image. Pakku had always been reserved, always kept to himself, but inside, he’s got an impressionable nature, and especially at that age… it takes someone who’s known him all his life, to know that. The Pakku who debuted at the Moon of Salt was plenty handsome, but a proud, arrogant young man, completely unlike, it seemed, from my playmate of old.”
Katara noticed that they had both finished their broth. Quickly, she called the server for two cups of tundrablossom tea, and urged Yugoda to go on.
“So, what happened next?”
“It’s hard for me to say.”
“Oh.” Katara regretted her impatience.
“That month was the last time that I saw Kanna. And she became more and more distant from me. There was a feast that her parents hosted one night – but I wasn’t invited. From what I learned the next day, only one family was invited to the feast. That meant that – since she would be turning sixteen in a month – her family was planning on opening a marriage contract with that family.”
“Pakku’s family,” Katara supplied.
“I wasn’t so sure.” Yugoda put some cream into her tea. “He had a brother, a year or two older, still unmarried – he’s dead now, died in a Fire Nation attack – and my friends and I tried to coax from her if it was Pakku or Tirka that her family had engaged her to.”
Yugoda smiled darkly at her own expense. “Remember when I said I can be thick about other people’s feelings? That was one time. Kanna turned away from me, and refused to say anything more about it.” She paused. “You know for yourself how inexorable the traditions of our tribe are, sometimes. Kanna felt it very deeply. The day after the feast, I saw her wearing a betrothal necklace. She didn’t let any of us look at it. But Pakku sauntered up to her, smiling, looking happier – more like his old self – than he had in months. He took Kanna’s arm and said that he was sorry, but that they needed to visit the merchants – probably to look for furnishings for their new house. Kanna looked positively defeated standing on his arm. If I am thick about the feelings of others sometimes, then Pakku –”
“Must be dense all the way through,” Katara replied.
Yugoda laughed. “Indeed. But… I told her to try and make the best of the situation. To remember the friend that Pakku had been, once. And I thought I had made some progress. The night before the New Moon Feast – the last and grandest day of celebration – she came up to me and told me that she was going to be spending the night with Pakku and his family, to get to know him better. So I accepted, even though it was our custom to spend the New Moon Feast together.
“I had no idea… it was the day after the last celebration, when her family started looking for her again. They came to me, at first. They had been told that she would be celebrating with me and our friends, for one last time. I, confused, led them to Pakku. Pakku said that she said that she was going to celebrate with her parents – again, for one last time.
“I remember the look of horror that came into his face when he realized that Kanna was missing. We all tried our hardest not to panic.”
“When did you learn that she had…?”
“We found the note in a bottle. One of our Waterbenders found it. It was left floating out in the waters, right where a patrol or hunting expedition might find it. It was very short. I never saw it myself – I believe her parents had it burned when they died.”
“Did it say – you said that she never said goodbye.”
“She bid farewell in the letter, farewell to the North… to all of us. I don’t think she mentioned anyone by name.”
“Wow…” Katara tried to imagine if Sokka, or Aang, were to vanish from her life with nothing but a brief letter. She shivered.
“Pakku – we were all so shocked we didn’t even think to notice what Pakku was doing. He had taken a canoe himself, and by the time we caught up to him, he was out in the open water, speeding out over the waves. He was following Kanna. It took our best Waterbenders to catch up to him, and they had to restrain him too – from what I heard, he fought and kicked when they tried to bring him back, and he kept on shouting, screaming Kanna’s name across the sea.”
She leaned her head on her hand. “It would have been terribly romantic if it hadn’t been happening to my friends.”
“So, what happened next?”
“As for Kanna? Nothing, until the day that you walked into my healing class wearing her betrothal necklace – and her hair loops. You really do look so much like her, you know.”
“But no one tried looking for her?”
“Her parents considered her to be a lost cause. Pakku didn’t speak to anyone for days. And then Master Irmak spoke to him. They were in the dojo for hours. When Pakku came out again, there was next to nothing of the boy he had once been. And I’ve never heard him mention Kanna’s name since then.”
Katara shook her head. “I knew that Gran-Gran had traveled when she was young, but she didn’t ever want to talk about it much. And when I asked her once, where her necklace came from, she said she would tell me when I was older.”
In response to Yugoda’s look, Katara quickly clarified, “I was five.”
“Well,” Yugoda said, “now you know. But now it’s your turn. Please, tell me about the Southern Tribe. Tell me about the life that Kanna’s built for herself there. How is she? Please, tell me all you can.”
On the other side of the ice wall, an old man with eyes that were alight with interest, and with long-frozen sorry, listened intently to the conversation. A server approached and began to say, “Would you like more squid, Master Pak—” but was silenced with a harsh gesture and a glare. Shrugging, the server left Master Pakku in the memories of a past far away, and long ago – but getting close all the time.