“What is going on?”
The chill from the wind coming in through the door is biting into her skin, but Kanna’s paying it no mind as she’s still trying to make head or tails of the current situation.
Her father’s seated on the bearskin before her and there a boy, about her age—Pakku, she recalls—with him. She catches him staring at her and she’s staring back just as hard.
“Kanna, respect our guest.”
Kanna lets the door close behind her and she moves to sit next to her father.
“Kanna, this is Pakku, your fiancée.”
She sucks in a sharp breath. Really, she should have seen this coming, after all, she had turned sixteen not even a month ago. She just never expected the man she’d be forced to marry to be Pakku.
Pakku’s staring at her again and she stares back, just like before. If he thinks she’s going to back down, well he’s wrong. Their eye contact breaks when her father barks a reprimand at her. “A girl does not stare at her husband like that.”
She’s averting her eyes, staring quite intently on the fur of the bearskin as she murmurs demurely, “Yes, Father.”
She doesn’t add that he is not yet her husband.
She stumbles upon one of Pakku’s waterbending practices by accident.
Hiding behind one of the pillars, she watches, fascinated by how effortlessly he can control the water. She wishes she could be a waterbender.
As quickly as the thought comes, she dismisses it. To have that sort of power only for men like her father and her betrothed to put a restraint on it? She’d rather not.
She turns to leave and slips on a particularly nasty patch of ice and tumbles out of her spot. Pakku already has ice spears ready and hovering, but when he notices her, he drops them.
“Spying does not befit a lady.”
“It would be spying if I had known you would be here,” she easily counters, brushing off the snow that had gathered on her fur.
“Neither does talking back to her fiancée.”
Kanna is silent as she takes in his words. She finally answers, truthfully, “I was merely awestruck by your bending form.”
Pakku does not expect this compliment and turns just the slightest shade of pink.
There’s a question rolling at the tip of her tongue, and Kanna contemplates asking it. On one hand, it’s an obvious question with an obvious answer. On the other, should he answer differently, it would give her more insight to the man before her. She takes the plunge.
“Do you truly believe that women cannot battle beside men even if given the right training?”
Pakku looks at her like she’s crazy and in that instant, she knows his answer.
“Their place is not in battle but in homes and healing huts.”
Pakku sits, meticulously carving away at the jewel to be used as the betrothal necklace to Kanna. He’s quite proud of it and he knows that Kanna will love it just as much.
There’s a knock on his door.
He answers, shocked to see Kanna standing there. Clearing his throat, he says, “A woman does not interrupt when her fiancée is carving her a betrothal necklace.”
Kanna raises a brow and hastily lowers it, hoping Pakku didn’t catch the movement. “I apologize. My father wishes for you to join us for dinner.”
Pakku nods and closes the door on Kanna, missing the disbelieving look on her face at being so rudely dismissed. He looks down at the clothes he’s wearing and runs a weary hand raggedly down his face and hurries to find something suitable to wear.
When he opens the door again, Kanna’s still standing there, though the footprints in the snow indicate she was anything but patient and she ushers him towards her house.
“Why are you so impatient?”
Kanna doesn’t want to tell him that the sooner they arrive and eat, the sooner it ends. “I just do not wish for you to be hungry.”
“Such a considerate wife you will be,” Pakku murmurs affectionately. Kanna lets out a strained giggle.
“We will be a happy family together.”
Kanna looks up from the stew she is making and stares silently at Pakku. He catches her eye and smiles happily at her. She returns her attention to the stew.
“I will protect you and the children,” he continues, “and you will provide them with a warm home.”
“And nothing else?” she immediately asks.
His answer is just as immediate. “There is nothing else for you to do.”
Kanna bites her tongue and announces that the stew in ready.
It’s been a while since Kanna got to spend time with Yugoda. She’s just learned that Yugoda has been arranged a marriage, and although she still feels unsettled that women have no say in something as important as marriage and love, she congratulates her friend.
“You are not happy with your own betrothal.”
Kanna isn’t surprised that Yugoda would be able to sense her unhappiness. They have been friends for many years after all.
“No, I am not.”
“Do you wish to talk about it?”
Kanna shakes her head at first, but then changes her mind and nods. Picking up her teacup, she takes a sip. “How can you have resigned yourself to playing the loyal housewife?”
Yugoda sighs. “It is our customs, Kanna. Women are to remain in healing huts should they have the ability to bend and in homes regardless. That is the rule.”
Kanna slams her teacup down in frustration. “That is an incredibly sexist rule!”
“It is,” Yugoda agrees.
“Because I owe it to my father and to my fiancée. They have been and will be shouldering the burden of keeping their family safe and well-fed. It’s the least I can do to welcome them home with a warm smile and food on the table.”
Kanna sighs. “But will you be happy with him?”
“In time, I believe so.”
“A woman like yourself should not be out so late at night.”
Kanna already knows whom the voice belongs to and does not turn around. “The moon has barely risen to its highest peak. It is not yet so late that I cannot walk around by myself.”
Pakku quickens his strides and easily catch up to her. “Even so, you are a beautiful women that men can easily take advantage of.”
Kanna tenses but does not slow her pace. She replies back rather icily, “Thank you for the compliment, Pakku, but are you implying that I cannot defend myself?”
Pakku shrugs and the two of the reach the bridge located just near the outskirts of the village. “You are not trained in self-defense, Kanna.”
“”Even without training, I do believe that I at least still possess survival instincts.”
Pakku shakes his head and reaches over to grab a hold of Kanna’s hands and asks her to look at him. “Kanna. You are not nearly as strong as the men of our village. Do you honestly believe you could fight them and win?”
“I would not fight to win,” she points out, gently retracting her hands from his grip. “I would fight to survive. And the need to survive is stronger than the need to win.”
Pakku sets down the carving tool and takes one last look at the finished necklace, feeling very pleased about himself. He sets it on fine blue silk and holds it up and grins at the way it catches the light. Gently placing it in his pockets, he shrugs on his parka and heads over to Kanna’s place.
Kanna can’t help but stare in awe at the necklace that’s being held out to her.
It’s beautiful, incredibly so, and it looks as though he used the finest materials he had to make it for her. She itches to take it from his hands and place it around her neck herself, but she refrains and lets Pakku do it for her.
Gingerly, her fingers come up and run along the smooth surface of the stone, tracing along the carved lines. She turns around and ducks her head, murmuring her thanks.
Later, when the stone catches her eye, she just stares at it in sadness.
Every day after she receives the betrothal necklace from Pakku, she finds herself staring unhappily at it should she see it in a reflection, as though willing it to disappear.
But it won’t and preparations for the wedding are well under way.
Kanna thinks she might as well prepare herself for a living a life in Pakku’s shadows.
It is just days before the wedding.
Kanna stares despondently out at the sea, fingers playing with her necklace absently.
She’s still having her doubts about the marriage. Even though Pakku seems so assured that they will have a long and happy life together, Kanna isn’t.
Sighing, she takes one last look out and sees two young boys practicing their bending against each other. From the corner of her eyes, she notices a young girl—younger than the boys perhaps—wander into their practice area. The boys stop and stare, and then they’re advancing on her. She’s too far away to hear it, but she can see the girl’s face scrunch up and then she’s turning and fleeing.
Kanna makes up her mind then and there. She doesn’t want her children to grow up like that.
Kanna takes one look at the necklace Pakku gave her, removes it from her neck, and pockets it. Picking up her bag that held her sparse items, she makes her way down to the harbor and stows away on one of the ships, intent on starting anew at the Southern Water Tribe.