An Earth Kingdom smuggler tells a war story.
Ryo-no-koe... the village itself -- well, it was nominally under Earth Kingdom control, but you couldn't bend a rock without hitting a Fire Nation sympathizer, or a spy, or a double agent or bounty hunter. It was kind of a rough place, especially near the wharfs when the bars closed. Jun... you know, the bounty hunter with a shirsu. Lady like that doesn't need a byname, and I heard she smacked the last guy who called her Jun the Shirsu Tamer. Anyway, she's been seen around there, and people used to say that Jeong Jeong, the famous Fire Nation rogue firebender spent time there. He keeps pretty high and mighty company now, what with bumming around with former Fire Nation royalty and the King of Omashu, so people don't say that much any more.
No one wants Ryo-no-koe for much. It's got the trade from being where it is, but the harbor's really treacherous. Only a local or a waterbender really can navigate through the Dragon's Teeth.
Oh, you don't know about them? Well, surrounding Ryo-no-koe are all these spires of rock. Locals call them the Dragon's Teeth. They're supposed to be the remains of a battle between an earth spirit and the ocean spirit, long ago. There's even more of them hidden underwater. A big ship, like one of those Fire Nation floating woks, would run around well before it got anywhere. Even small boats, like the ones the fishers use round there, can get capsized. Unless you know how to find the rocks. Kids learn that as soon as they can fetch and carry. The soil stinks, so people live off of the sea.
Okay, and smuggling. That's kind of like living off of the sea.
It's not like people couldn't get to Ryo-no-koe over land, though. It's a pain in the ass, especially if you're trying to move beasts or carts, or those fancy-pants Fire Nation war machines, but you can totally do it. It's why when the nearest Fire Nation soldiers got antsy, a lot of the smuggling activity moved out to the Teeth. Near the end of the war, there even was a village out there. They made some kinda booze from seaweed that was a lot better than it sounded.
No, that wasn't a backhand compliment. It really was pretty damn good. I guess they traded the recipe from some Water Tribe folks. Not much near the poles that you can ferment, so you do what you have to to get drunk. You got a lot of people just working out there, even some families. It was positively /genteel/.
Anyway, the woman you were asking about, reminds me a bit of Madam Amber. People weren't too big about real names around the Teeth, so I don't know her real name. She breezed in to Ryo-no-koe about five years before Firelord Ozai fell. She was carrying a lot of Fire Nation jewelry that ended up in the pawn shops round about there, so most people either figured she was some merchant or minor noble who committed a crime, or some kind of thief. Nice woman, though -- there were all kinds of tales about jilted lovers or her selling secrets to the Dai Li, but you wouldn't believe any of them to talk to her.
Anyway, Old Otterwalrus, the innkeeper -- no, that's not his real name, but remember what I said about names around the Teeth -- Old Otterwalrus took her in. Turns out Amber wasn't bad at management stuff, so she ended up helping him with a lot of the day-to-day stuff, especially when his bum leg acted up on stormy days. I think she reminded him of his daughter, who was an Earthbender who left some twenty years ago to seek her fortune.
Things were going pretty much as usual until two things happened, about a year before Ba Sing Sei fell. The first was that the old commander of the nearest Fire Nation outpost was transferred out. No one much liked him, but he was basically King Log, ya know? Oh, never heard that fable? Anyway, just means that he sat there, and no one much paid him any mind. Oh, occasionally he'd send in some folks to scout, probably to make the brass back home happy, but we'd just scatter everyone who had something to fear from the Fire Nation. They'd all take long fishing trips, he'd happily report things were quiet and we'd get some extra food for winter.
Anyway, the new guy was apparently some up and coming officer, aiming for general. So he started getting all these new ships that were built light enough that they could be carried in and launched from beaches, and things were looking pretty hairy. We knew he was going to come and soon, but no one was sure exactly when. Lot of folks just up and left, but most people didn't have anywhere to go. And, by the time you knew to leave the Teeth, Ryo-no-koe would be crawling with troops and the boats would be on their way. The Ryo-no-koe people could run towards us, but they'd be spotted and shot down by firebenders. So could escapees, for that matter. You look like you had a bad run in with a firebender, kid, so you probably know what I mean.
The other thing was that we had a bunch of Water Tribe people coming through. Probably making for the front -- they were all warrior types. Oh, you've heard of them?
Stuck in prison together? That's rough, buddy.
Anyway, so the chief was willing to help add his boats to us. They didn't have any waterbenders with them, but they could follow a trail. But people didn't want to leave until they knew there'd be no choice. I can't say I blame them -- I made my living taking people out to the Teeth and back, or other little trips. I could probably have taken up fishing anywhere, but I wouldn't be that good at it. And it wasn't like I was rich enough to be choosy.
So, Madame Amber, she was listening to all these complaints. She talked a lot to the few kids on the Teeth, and the young ones who came out to help their parents with fishing. Madame Amber liked kids, you see. Lot of people wonder if she had them before she went on the run -- she was old enough, and she acted like someone's mom.
Anyway, she came up with this idea. See she noticed that people don't see kids that often. Well, they see them, but they just assume they're doing dumb kid stuff. So, she started getting this stuff -- silk and bamboo and twine and paper -- and working after hours. And she made a kite -- a pretty big kite, in bright green. Then she called everyone on the Teeth together, and had some folks from Ryo-no-koe who could be trusted come over. They didn't know what was up, but they came anyway. People liked Madame Amber, and we were all pretty desperate back then.
Anyway, she showed us the kite, and told the people from the village to bring them home for the kids. Which was nice, but people didn't get why she said to do it.
Then she explained she had two kinds of kite, green and gold. The green ones were for every day, for the kids to play with. They were big and bright enough, you could see kids flying kites in Ryo-no-koe from the Teeth. And big enough to carry lanterns to see at night. No one would notice if every day the kids flew kites from the hills for fun. The Fire Nation might not notice the colors.
And, well, no kites would also be a sign.
Some people wanted to know how she built them, and she said that she learned from her father, who learned from his father. Some of the elders said they looked a lot like pictures of Airbender gliders, which started more rumors. Madame Amber wasn't a bender, you see, and no one was really sure where she came from. So, I guess if any Air Nomads besides the Avatar survived and had kids with other nations, you'd see some of them trying to stay out of the way.
No, she never said if they were true. She never said if any of the stuff was true. There was a lot of stuff, remember? Some of it contradicted the other stuff. And a lot of folks would go around claiming to be the Avatar, or to be from a tribe of hidden Air Nomads or to know someone who knew someone. Generally not in earshot of the Fire Nation or the Dai Li, but you see con men and women all the time in the more rural parts of the Earth Kingdom.
Someone on the Teeth kept a spare eye on Ryo-no-koe after that. Well, someone always did, but it was more serious. One day, sometime in the fall, that day the kites were gold.
Everyone from the Teeth took only a half hour to gather things and start piling into boats. The Water Tribe chief and his people showed up as the first ones of our boats shoved off, and helped take the rest of the people. We got everyone off, though. Took them down the coast a bit, scattering.
Madame Amber and old Otterwalrus stayed until the last boat left. So did I, on account I was steering it. We could see smoke on the water of Roe-no-Koe as the soldiers launched their boats. There was some in the town, too. I went back, after the war, and they were rebuilding, but you can still see scorch marks. You go back to the caves on the Teeth, and you can see them too, above the high-water marks. The Fire Nation soldiers burnt everything we left, so we wouldn't go back. Or looted it -- some of it was borrowed from them, so they probably had that right.
No, not stolen. More like salvaged. Winter storms were pretty bad on that section of coast.
Otterwalrus had family inland, so he was going to head there. Madame Amber offered to go with him, since the roads aren't that kind of an old guy. Or to a single lady, for that matter, but Madame Amber gave the impression she could take care of herself. I would have gone, but my boat's my livelihood. It's not like I could have left it somewhere, or carried it with me. So, I started looking for a job on the coast.
No, I don't know what happened to her. Sorry, buddy.
No, I don't remember where they were headed. Away from Ba Sing Sei -- we parted ways about three days down the coast.
Wait... Avatar Kiyoshi's tits! You're the Firelord!
Yeah, I can keep it down. You did buy me a bunch of drinks, and paid for my trip out here.
What do you mean, no you didn't?
Okay, okay. Just a suggestion. We're all friends now, right? Pleasure helping you, Mister Firelord, sir. Have a nice trip.
Is he gone?
I really shouldn't have said that thing about Jeong Jeong, shouldn't I?