Saturday, March 16, 2013

Losing You: Part II

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Four years later...

Tahlia, now twelve years old, pulled her coat tighter around herself to keep the cold out.  It was January, and Januaries were always the coldest month of the year in the Northern Water Tribe. However, the cold weather did nothing to dampen her spirits as she trudged across the snowy wasteland to get to her cousin’s house.  Today was a special day.
When she reached her destination, she was greeted by the sight of Tarrlok, stacking wood near the house.
“Hey, Tarrlok!”  She said, waving.
Tarrlok stared to wave, but caught himself just in time before dropping the wood.  “Hi, Tahl’!  Nice to see you!”
Tahilia nodded, smiling.  “Nice to see you too.  Do you need any help with that wood?”
“Sure!”  Tarrlok said.  “There’s a few more armloads left, just around the corner, if you
want to get it.”  
Tahila ran around and filled her arms with wood, and caught up with him just as he was setting his own load down.  Turning to look at her, he said, “You look frozen!”
Tahila shrugged, ignoring the stinging of on her cheeks and nose.  “Ah, it’s nothing.” she said.  “How are you?”
Tarrlok dusted off his hands.  “Oh... pretty good.  Same as usual.”
“Pretty good?  That’s all?”  Tahlia teased. “Oh well, that’s what you always say.  It’s been awhile since you’ve come over to our house!  I take it you’ve been pretty busy?”
Tarrlok hesitated.  “Not exactly... but these last few days, we’ve been busy loading wood from the harbor and pulling it up here.”
“Sounds like fun.”  Tahlia joked.
“Eh, I guess it’s okay. At least we get to go down to the harbor and listen to the stories the sailors bring.  We’ve heard some pretty amazing stuff!”
Tahlia smiled.  “That does sound fun.  Would you and Noatak ever want to come and stay with us for a few days, once your work is finished?  We could get together and play, like we used to!”
Once again, Tarrlok hesitated before answering.  “Umm... I don’t know.  Dad keeps us pretty busy around here.  And he has another hunting trip planned for tomorrow.
“It’s nice that your dad takes so much time to take you both hunting.  It’s a great way to spend time with him.”  Tahlia said understandingly.
Tarrlok looked away, avoiding eye contact.  “Yeah... I guess.”
Frowning, Tahlia wondered why Tarrlok always reacted that way when she talked about his father.  Somewhere, through the years, both Tarrlok and Noatak had changed.  They were no longer the fun, openly loving brothers she had known.  Now they seemed uncomfortable and tight-lipped around her.  
Sighing, Tahlia knew she’d better do what she had come to do, instead of wasting more time.
“Listen, I can’t stay long. I have chores to finish at home.  But I brought something with me for Noatak.  It’s his birthday, isnt’ it?”  She said.
Tarrlok nodded. “Yes.  He turns fifteen today.”
“Where is he?  I haven’t seen him yet.”
Shrugging, Tarrlok answered, “Oh, he’s probably  out by the cliffs.  He goes there a lot these days.”
Tahlia smiled.  “Alright.  I’ll find him.”
“Stop by the house for a cup of hot cocoa when you come back!”  Tarrlok called after her.
Tahlia smiled.  Now that was more like the Tarrlok she knew.

Noatak sat, hugging his knees to his chest, and gazing out over the vast expanse of land that spread out before him.  Ominous storm clouds were gathering, churning and rolling together like great, dark waves.
He didn’t seem to mind the cold, nor the biting wind that nipped at his face.  As he stared, unblinking, over the landscape, no thought could be read from his ever-expressionless face.
However, a slight smile touched his lips as he turned his head a little bit.
“It’s no use, Tahlia. You can’t sneak up on me.”  He raised his hand, motioning for her to come forward.
“I never can!  You’re so good!  How can you always tell I’m coming?”  Tahlia said, running forward to sit by him.
“That’s my little secret.”  He replied.  The smile faded from his face as he turned back to face the storm.  
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  Tahlia asked.
“What is?”

“The landscape!  And the clouds!  What else?”
“Oh.  I suppose.”
“I brought you a birthday present.”  Said Tahlia, hoping to lighten his mood.  She held forth a small package, which she had kept in her pocket until now.
Taking it, Noatak removed his gloves and opened it.  The wrapping fell away to reveal a bone-knife with a beautifully carved hilt.
“Dad helped me make it, but I did the hilt myself.”  Tahlia said proudly.  “I used waterbending to do it, just like you showed me once!”
Noatak nodded.  “It’s very good.  Thanks.”
Tahlia was a little disappointed in his reaction, but she sensed it was not herself that had caused his bleak mood.
“We miss you, you know.”  She stated.  “Tarrlok and I... we play sometimes, but it’s just not the same without you.  You should come with us from time to time!  Hayau and the gang still play Ice-Ball every month.  Last time, a new kid joined us.  She’s from the Southern Water Tribe, and her family just moved here.  She’s a non-bender, but we figured out a way for her to play.  Hayau wasn’t too happy, but Tarrlok and I talked him into it.”
“Without bending?  That’s interesting.  I’ve thought of that...”  Noatak remarked.  
“She was really good.  I wish you could have seen it.”
“So do I.”
“Then why don’t you come next time?”  Tahlia asked.  “It’s been a while, but I know you’d be just as good.”
Noatak didn’t answer right away.  “I don’t know... something happens when you get older.  You stop wanting to play, and start thinking about more serious things.”
“Hayau’s the same age as you, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference for him.”
“Hayau’s different.”
The two of them fell silent, and Tahlia tried to think of something to say.  She had something on her mind, and she’d been wanting to talk about if for a long time.   Hesitating a little, Tahlia decided to ask her question anyway.  
“Noatak... is something wrong?  You and Tarrlok both seem... different, somehow.”
Noatak shook his head, never missing a beat.  “No, nothing’s wrong.”
Tahlia frowned.  “Then why are you acting like this?  You guys used to be fun, and happy.  But now you both seem like you’re hiding something.”
“We’re not hiding anything.”
“Why won’t you tell me?  Please, I’m your cousin.  Let me help!  Whatever it is, I’ll do my best.”
Noatak sighed, shaking his head.  “You can’t help.  Nothing’s wrong.  Everything is just fine.”
Tahlia looked away, knowing it was useless.  Whatever was bothering her two cousins, it was clear that they weren’t going to let her help.  She stood up, pulling her coat around herself.
“Well, I guess that’s it.  I have to get going; my mom and dad are waiting for me at home, and I have chores to finish.  Happy birthday.”
She turned around and trudged back toward the house to say goodby to Tarrlok.  Noatak didn’t turn, or even answer as she left.

*  *  *
Four days later...

It wasn’t until four days after Tarrlok and Noatak’s planned hunting trip that Tahlia and her family got the terrible news; Noatak had been lost in the snowstorm.  After searching for him for days and finding no trace of him, Tarrlok and Kodarr returned home, utterly defeated.  Noatak’s death took a heavy toll on Kymma and Kodarr.  Kymma became worn and withdrawn.  Gone was the warm and vibrant woman that had once been the light of the household.
It had taken Tahlia some time to accept what had happened.  It had all seemed so unreal!  Just for days before, she had been talking to him.  He had been right there beside her, as real as anyone else.
And now he was just gone.  Forever.

As for Tarrlok, he too was unsure of how to cope with the loss.  He would lie awake at night, hearing his mother’s quiet sobs from her room.  He wished he could tell her what had really happened the night that Noatak disappeared, but he knew that he could never, never let the truth be known to anyone.  He could never tell why Noatak had left, nor how he had begged him to stay.  He could never breath a word of the awful secret that he and Noatak had kept for years. That secret would be his, and his alone for the rest of his life.
But little did either he, or Tahlia know, that the story was not over yet.  It was far from over.  For both of them had forgotten just how determined Noatak could be.  His knack for survival was far from useless...

To be continued in... The Legend of Korra!


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