Actions

Work Header

Bookworm

Work Text:

Technically, Jinora learned to read from her father, who taught her the basic characters and how to write her own name. But the lessons spent copying down verses on the importance of studying and then reciting them back to her father, who was only ever listening with half an ear anyway, didn't teach her much, other than how to recognize the character for "filial".

No, it would be more accurate to say that Jinora learned to read--really learned to read--from her mother, who often left novels lying around unfinished while chasing after Ikki and Meelo. Part of the credit probably belonged to them as well, since they kept her mother too busy to notice that the books were disappearing into the room Jinora shared with Ikki.

At first, she liked the stories about princesses the best. Earth Kingdom princesses who fell in and out of love, Fire Nation princesses who ran away from arranged marriages, Water Tribe princesses (or chiefs’ daughters, close enough) who swore eternal oaths of friendship under the light of the winter moon…

“Why don’t the Air Nomads have princesses?” she asked her father.

He answered, “Because we don’t have royalty, my dear. The Air Nomads were ruled by a Council of Elders, and positions on the Council were not hereditary.”

“Can’t we have princesses without royalty?”

Her father shook his head and gave one of his long-suffering sighs.

Jinora liked to pretend she was an Air Nomad princess anyway. Not the kind of princess who cut off people’s heads or ordered people around, but the kind of princess who had stories written about her.

***

When Jinora began lessons at the Air Temple alongside her father’s youngest disciples, she found that some of the older girls were avid readers as well and more than willing to lend her novels. In the process, she discovered something even more exciting than princesses: ostrich horses.

She read about stories about girls who tamed wild ostrich stallions that would let no other human ride them, girls who rescued mistreated chick foals and nursed them back to health, girls training for ostrich horse races that no one expected them to win.

“Can I have an ostrich horse?” she asked her mother.

“An ostrich horse? Why do you want an ostrich horse when you can just fly on your glider?”

“It’s not the same,” Jinora grumbled.

“You can choose a sky bison as a companion when you grow older,” her mother added.

She brightened. “Really? Like Oogi? When?"

“When you earn your arrows. Speaking of which, have you finished your meditation exercises this morning?”

A sky bison like Oogi would be even better than an ostrich horse. Oogi had long, soft fur and could airbend, after all. Jinora spent most of the morning meditating quite happily on what names she would give her very own sky bison and all the adventures they would have together.

***

By the time she turned ten, Jinora had turned to a new obsession. She was now old enough to have borrowing privileges at the library in Republic City, where she found shelves upon shelves of books narrating the histories of all four nations. She consumed the chronicles of the Fire Nation’s rise to power and conquest, the epics about the founding of Earth Kingdom’s greatest city-states, the journals of famous Water Tribe explorers, the scriptures recounting parables uttered by Air Nomad sages. But what she loved best was to read the history books about her own family: her grandparents and their friends, the end of the Hundred Year War, and the building of Republic City, her very own home.

She soon learned that every historian described the same events in very different ways. Fire Nation scholars liked to dwell on Firelord Zuko's redemption, while Water Tribe historians emphasized Grandma Katara and Great-Uncle Sokka's roles as the Avatar's first companions. And none of the history books she read sounded anything at all like Grandma Katara's stories.

Jinora peppered her grandmother with questions whenever they visited the South Pole.

"I was only four years older than you when I found your grandfather in the iceberg. There was a lot more laughter and silliness that the books will never talk about," Grandma said, smiling, as she combed Jinora's hair. After a pensive pause, she added, "There was also a lot more fear and doubt as well. We didn't think of ourselves as heroes; we were just children. But our families and friends--not to mention, the rest of the world--were depending on us. So we had to try the best we could."

Jinora turned and hugged her grandmother's knees. "You and Grandpa must have been so brave."

"Me? Not always. But your grandfather was indeed brave, perhaps the bravest person I know. Not because he never ran away...but because he always came back." Grandma gave her a fond smile. "Here, Jinora, let me give you something."

It turned out to be her grandmother's diary, which described the journey to Fire Nation. Jinora stayed up late into the night, reading it by the low light of the fire.

***

Korra's arrival in Republic City turned Jinora's world upside down. Suddenly, there was action and romance taking place on a daily basis, and Jinora had a first-row seat. Would the Fire Ferrets advance in the pro-bending tournament? Would Mako and Korra ever sort out their feelings for each other? Could Amon and the Equalists be stopped?

But sometime between the Equalists invading her home and watching Auntie Lin hurl herself towards the airship so that Jinora's family could escape, Jinora realized that she wasn't just a minor character taking part in a novel that was playing itself out in real life. No, the rules didn't apply here: there was no guarantee that underdogs would win or that the hero and heroine were meant for each other.

Did that mean good didn't triumph over evil?

At the South Pole, Jinora watched as Korra reached Avatar State and gave Auntie Lin back her earthbending, but the question continued to bother her.

"Oh child," Auntie Lin sighed, when Jinora asked her. "It's never so easy as that. People are never wholly good or wholly evil; they're people."

Jinora looked down at the floor. "It seems simpler in stories."

"But the best stories are the truest ones. And life is never simple."

Jinora spent a lot of time thinking about Auntie Lin's words. What was a true story? Even stories based on real people and real events were not always true.

She gathered some paper, some ink, and a brush, found a corner to herself, and faced the blank page. After some hesitation, she put at the top, "This is not the true story of the Battle for Republic City. But it is going to be a story that is true as I can make it."

And then, she wrote.