Fire: Chapter Two
Darha stood on a small grassy hill overlooking the white crests of the rushing river. They were miles past the edge of the banks where the water usually halted. She had long before pulled up the hood of her gray wool cloak, but it wasn’t just because of the cold wind blowing; it was to hide her trembling. Her people couldn’t see how distraught she was. If they knew, they would panic. Lucky for Queen Darha, her older brother Coor and sister-in-law Thea were holding it together well as they executed their specific duties.
Coor was on the river’s edge with the Derser Rects, the planetary religious sect of the Fire Nation, as they took samples of the ground, water, and even the air along the flooded river. Coor was overseeing them with calm diligence, which greatly comforted her. Darha glanced over to her left and saw Thea, who was overseeing the evacuations of the southern regions, already looking at her with deep concern. Darha couldn’t hide anything from Thea; she was too perceptive and knew Darha too well. They’d grown up together, after all. Seeing Thea, in her fitted black leather armor with her red cloak flying in the wind and the brown craggy rocks of the landscape rising up behind her, Darha felt a little calmer. Coor and Thea were pictures of strength, strength the Queen did not have right now. Not in the face of this.
Darha’s red gown and heavy cloak blew to the side that moment, and the wind hit her legs in such a way that she instantly felt them go stiff. Though her skin got so painfully hard that she clenched her teeth, she hid it as best she could. She would not let her people see her suffering. Composing herself, Darha rotated her wrist a little to try to work the stiffness out of it, but she knew the attempt was futile. Being outdoors during a storm was a huge risk these days, since the storms were getting colder of late, and one was brewing now. Cold weather was dangerous, and possibly even fatal, to the people of the Fire Nation. Looking at the line of evacuees making their way out of the southern regions, she noticed the cold was making everyone a little stiff. Some were having trouble walking, and a few small children were being carried.
Darha desperately wanted to use her fire to warm her skin, but if her people couldn’t warm the stiffness out of their skin, she wasn’t about to warm the stiffness out of her own. Most of them were not magic users. Darha only had herself to blame for suffering in this cool weather anyway. Coor and Thea had tried to talk her out of coming for fear of her safety, and Darha had nearly let them, but she’d wanted to come see this for herself. At the moment, she wished she stayed home, though. She was terrified.
An enormously loud hiss filled the entire valley. The Queen’s head snapped to the right, where the sound had originated. A new massive pillar of steam rose up just a half a mile away. Rising floodwater of the River Gora had been cooling a few long-standing lava pools along the south and west coasts of the Fire Nation. Now, houses along the river were being flooded as well. Flooding wasn’t the only problem. Volcanic eruptions in the north and the islands had increased exponentially over the last six months as well. It felt like her entire nation was unraveling at the seams.
Darha looked back at the river and saw Coor coming up the hill toward her. With every step he took, she felt a little more strength. His armor, the colors of which marked him as a General, was gold and red, and his cloak was black. His well-trimmed, honey blonde beard and moustache nearly concealed his frown and stiff upper lip as he neared, but Coor’s emotions tended to travel up into his hazel eyes anyway. He looked worried.
Darha looked up at her brother desperately. “Do they know anything yet?”
Coor shook his head and rested his hand on her shoulder. “No, not yet.”
“Do they have a clue?” she begged.
He rested his other hand on her shoulder as if to hold her together. “All we can do right now is get these people to safety and then head back to the palace and wait for the results.”
Panic rose up in her chest. She glanced away from Coor’s eyes in an attempt to hide it, but her brother knew her better than that. “Darha, you have to calm down. You can’t let your people see you like this.”
“I know. I know,” she said, and then met his eyes again. “But I’m scared.”
Coor nodded. “I know you are.”
Darha shook her head. “How do you fight this?”
Coor sighed helplessly.
“How do you stop nature that’s bent on killing your entire nation? How do you fight a storm, Coor?” she cried, giving into the panic for a moment.
“Hey, hey,” Coor said, gripping her shoulders more firmly and lowering himself to her eye level. “We will figure it out.”
“Coor! Darha!” Both of them turned in the direction of Thea’s voice. She made her way up the grassy hill until she was in front of them. “The team that went to the East is returning.”
All three of them headed down the hill to meet the approaching mounted scouts that were coming up along the edge of the river. Darha was in no shape to deal with this. If they were coming back this soon, the news was almost certainly going to be devastating.
The front man of the six-man team dismounted his horse as Coor, Thea, and Darha approached. He gave a slight bow to the Queen before looking at Thea. “What of the Eastern Bridge?” Thea asked him.
The look in his eyes told Darha all she needed to know. He shook his head sadly. “It’s gone.”
“Damn,” Thea said softly, bowing her head.
There were only two bridges across the River Gora that led to the hostile Frost Nation to the south. The two nations had had bad blood between them for hundreds of years, but they needed the trade of the Frost Nation offered—oil and wood to keep the Fire Nation’s lamps and hearths lit and livestock fences mended. In return, the Fire Nation provided them with the metal tools they needed for their livelihood. One of those bridges was now lost. Darha’s heart was racing because the scouts that had been sent to check on the Western Bridge hadn’t returned yet. If that bridge was gone as well, both nations would slowly suffocate. That is, if they didn’t flood first.
Thea turned to face Darha, and her heart clenched at seeing the sadness in Thea’s usually strong, self-assured eyes. “Your majesty, why don’t you start to head back to the palace? There’s nothing more you can do here, and it’s getting stormy.”
Darha couldn’t deny she wanted to go home, but as all royalty had to consider, how would it look if she left before the other scout team even returned? Would it be frowned upon by the public? Would they panic? Or would they accept the excuse that she was getting stiff because her skin was hardening in the cold?
“Coor, go with her,” Thea said, taking the public opinion into consideration, too. If the prince left as well, the public would more readily understand that there was no need for the royal family to stay. “I’ll wait for the western team and continue to oversee the evacuations.”
Coor gave an appreciative nod and then leaned in and kissed his wife’s lips. “Be safe.”
Thea nodded gently and then touched Darha’s shoulder as Coor guided her away towards the royal carriage. Darha followed with no complaint. She wanted to go home. She felt bad about wanting to go home, but she did.
She climbed into the carriage and leaned heavily against the interior wall, letting herself get lost in her own thoughts and fears. The fact that nature itself was on the offensive had had her losing sleep for the past six months.
It started with the increase in volcanic eruptions on the north coast and the islands. Storms to the north had increased as well. The Fire Nation usually only saw two to three hurricanes a year; this year they’d seen seven. The palace and the capital, Vlid, weren’t as affected since they were located farther inland, but the people on the north, east, and west coastlines, which were mainly made up of farming families, had been devastated more than once this year. Food production was at its lowest since Darha’s great-grandmother had reigned. Now, the River Gora flooding was an issue in the southern regions. In six months, it had swelled inland four miles.
Darha felt like she was being attacked on all sides! Why did this have to happen during her reign? She could handle men and the rebel antics of the magic haters just fine, but nature? How did you stop nature from killing you?