Dowry

For such a progressive nation, the idea that parents of the Fire Nation could legally arrange a marriage for their children seemed oddly backwards. That Mai was only a year away from legal adulthood made the situation even more grating.

He was a polite enough man, but that just made him all the more boring. He had to be some kind of creep, anyway, to actually buy a teenager to be his wife, and he didn't even have the decency to act embarrassed about it. That he didn't press the main issue, even after the wedding ceremony, was a plus, as it gave Mai time to look up the legal consequences of stabbing a husband who technically owned her.

She idly wondered if Tom-Tom would be sold someday, too. It was a tough economy, after all.

Her new husband quickly realized that he hadn't exactly gotten a bargain. Mai didn't know anything about the domestic arts, a hard won victory against her mother. He tried to interest Mai in poetry, or calligraphy, or rock gardening (of all things), but she resisted with casual disdain. He even tried basic conversation, but Mai had mastered the art of Passive Aggression even before she was any good with a knife.

She almost began to feel sorry for him, in an abstract way. He had spent a lot of money for such a disappointment.

The butler was kind of fun. Unlike her husband, he wasn't afraid to mouth off to Mai when she was being a jerk. He could almost manage a little wit, when he was particularly incensed, and a sarcastic duel of words was likely the only kind of action Mai was going to see in such a sleepy town. One time, she noticed her husband observing an argument between her and Fat and if he had any expression, it might have been one of amusement.

Interesting.

Kind of.

(In any event, what was up with that butler. What kind of a name was Fat" Why did he have to live and work in the house full time, given how little work there really was to do around here" And how was it fair that he made the best fire flakes Mai had ever tasted")

Her husband's line of work, at least, wasn't a total embarrassment. He made swords, both decorative and useful. Mai had long ago taken an interest in weapon-making, but she quickly discovered that it was very protracted and boring work. Still, it meant she wouldn't have to spend any money if she ever wanted to try a big pointy weapon instead of her favored little pointy weapons.

Still, it was all rather futile. A routine was established, and nothing was more mind-numbing than the same thing happening day after day after day. Mai finally gave up all pretense of making the marriage work, and began sitting around in whatever chair she stumbled across first, and throwing knives at wall all day long.

The last time, Mai's chair just happened to be in her husband's drawing room. At first, he had looked annoyed, when he glanced up from his calligraphy. Then he noticed the way Mai was throwing her weapons. He watched for a while more, and Mai could sense his engrossment. Eventually, he got up, walked over to the offending wall, and quickly brushed an "X" at one particular spot.

Mai nailed it on the first try.

He painted another mark. Mai hit that one, too.

A third mark. Mai closed her eyes, and struck the target.

When she opened them, her husband, Piandao, was smiling. "Have you ever seen me sparring with Fat"

Mai shook her head.

Piandao walked back to his desk, retrieved his sword, and drew it from its scabbard. "Aim for my heart."

Mai quirked an eyebrow. Piandao just nodded. Oh well, she had to obey her husband. Her hand snapped another knife into the air. Piandao moved- well, there was a blur that probably indicated some kind of motion- and a clang of metal sounded throughout the room.

He had deflected Mai's blade with his jian.

Oh.

"I could teach you," he said casually, as he examined the knife on the floor. "We would start with the basic skills, and then move on to the philosophy of the sword, at least as I espouse it. I mean no offense, but that part will probably take you a while. After that, we would move on to the more advanced techniques.

"After that," he smiled again, "I have other hobbies you might be interested in, if you prove yourself worthy."

Mai didn't move. "I'm a difficult student."

"I expected as much. But we're rather stuck with each other, aren't we" Might as well make the best of it."

Interesting statement. Mai decided not to ask, so that she could figure it out for herself. "Well, it's not like I have anything better to do with my time."

She couldn't quite keep the hunger off her face, and she was sure that her husband saw it.