After some thought, I decided to add on another chapter after all. There's a reference to To Kill A Mockingbird in here, BTW.
Bone-weary, Katara gave an exhausted sigh as she trod up to the door of Piandao's castle, basket of food perched on her crown, Toph and Aang at her side.
Shifting her load to her shoulder, she knocked at the great door, once, twice.
"Who is it?" Fat's voice came.
"Just us Fat," Katara replied. "We're finally back from shopping." And with quite the story to tell.
The right door swung back, and the butler held it open as the trio filed in before allowing it to shut.
"Do you think Piandao knows about this weirdness with the bees too?" Aang asked her as they walked into the courtyard.
"I don't see why not," Katara shrugged. "He's been here a lot longer than we have after all, and he seems very wise."
"Well I'm going to ask him when we give him his honey jar," Toph stated.
"There you are!" Sokka's voice rang out over the courtyard as he came jogging out of the foyer towards them. "Where have you three been all day?" he demanded. "Katara, I thought you said you were just going shopping in the market!"
"We were going to come back Sokka," she explained, "but someone told us about this farm nearby where we could buy some really good honey, so..."
"So we made a side trip there to buy some," Aang finished cheerily, holding up the fabric bag containing the four ceramic pots. "And in three different flavors too! Look good to you Sokka?"
"Very, very good," Sokka agreed, giving a slow nod as he half grinned in pleasurable anticipation. "Still, I really wish you'd sent someone here to tell me about your side trip. I was getting worried sick about you three!"
"You're right," Katara contritely agreed. "I'm sorry I didn't have someone tell you where we were going."
"Can we say our apologies later?" Toph grumbled. "My skull feels like it's slowly being crushed by this basket, so I'd really like to put it down."
"And we should find Piandao so we can give him his gift," Aang added as they began walking.
"A gift? What did you get him exactly?" Sokka inquired, looking from Aang to Katara.
"A pot of honey made from mint flowers," she replied. "We thought that since he's taking the trouble to teach you swordsmanship, he should get something nice in return."
In the cool darkness of the castle, after placing their groceries in an out of the way place next to the wall, Aang asked Sokka, "Any clue where Piandao is?"
"I'm pretty sure he's in his garden."
"But not anymore, as it happens," the old master's husky yet cultured voice flowed down the hallway.
They all turned to face him.
"Hello Master," Sokka said respectfully.
"How are you doing Master Piandao?" Katara politely asked.
"Quite well. There was a beautiful orange and black weaver spider in a web out in the garden today. I may well decide to make it the subject of a future painting."
"Speaking of painting, what did you have Sokka do today?" Aang asked.
"Oh, I had him do more practice bouts with Fat. I also taught him about how to arrange flowers in a manner that is pleasing to the eye and how to perform a proper tea ceremony."
"How'd he do?"
"As mediocre as ever," Piandao glibly replied, a small smile turning up his lips and lightly shaking his head as he glanced at Sokka. "Your brother is lucky he didn't parboil his hands," he added to Katara, who cringed.
Noting the food, he commented, "It looks like you three went shopping at the market today."
Toph and Katara nodded as Aang said "We got a gift for you too, Master Piandao."
"Oh a gift? How thoughtful," he silkily replied, eyebrows moving upward in a measured sort of delight. "What did you choose to bring me, if I might ask?"
Picking up the bag Aang had been carrying and rummaging through it briefly, Katara found the particular pot of honey she was looking for, its lid sealed with beeswax. "Here it is," she said. Offering it to the swordsman, she told him, "As a way of thanking you for allowing my brother to be your student, we'd like to give you this pot of mint honey."
Taking it from her, Piandao looked the honey pot over appreciatively. "Well thank you. That's a very nice gesture on your part." Noticing the characters on the side, he said "Ah, I see you got this from the Fong Fas. Good choice! Did you get it in the market or have to actually walk to their farm?"
"We had to walk," Katara replied.
"My, my, that's a fairly long way you had to go then," Piandao said in slight surprise.
"It was beautiful country though," Aang added. "And it was nice and sunny too."
"Yes, their fields and orchards are quite a sight, aren't they?" he agreed. Holding the pot in one hand, Piandao did a quarter turn and continued walking, explaining, "I'm headed to my study. You can follow me while we keep speaking."
As the four friends fell into line behind him, Toph asked, "Have you ever personally met the Fong Fas?"
"Yes I have," Piandao said with a slow nod. "Generous, hard-working, and just generally pleasant, trustworthy people."
"They invited us to have lunch with them," Aang mentioned. "It was great."
"Wait, you guys got to meet new people and have a tasty lunch with them while I didn't even know about it?" Sokka said in injured surprise. "No fair," he pouted.
"Hu cooks some of the best braised mutton you'll ever pick up with a pair of chopsticks," Piandao agreed.
"We also learned that they uh, well...their bees...are really smart...and there's this bizarre thing they can like do, like control them, and-Ow!" Katara yelped as Toph elbowed her in the side.
"What my babbling friend here is trying to say," Toph cut in as she jerked her thumb in the waterbender's direction, "is that we found out the Fong Fas have this freaky mental link with their bees and can basically ask them to do things."
Sokka jerked to a stop, his jaw almost seeming to hit the floor. "A mental WHAT!" he shouted. "Ask bees to do things!"
Ignoring the outburst, Toph went on, "So we're kind of wondering, do you know about this power/ability of theirs too?"
"That I do," Piandao replied as they approached his study. "Indeed, many people around here know about the strange bond the Fong Fas have with their bees."
"I knew it," Toph whispered to her.
In a mirror of Katara's earlier actions, Sokka's gaze darted from Toph to his teacher as he huffed, "Okay, now this is getting way too freaky! What are you even talking about with these bees?"
He wasn't the only one surprised.
As they entered the study, Katara felt her eyes widen as she asked, "Wait, you know about their power too? And not just you, but other people in Shu Jing as well?"
"In a couple towns, actually," Piandao responded as he went to his oak-walnut desk and seated himself behind it.
"I really would like to know what's going on here, thank you," Sokka volunteered.
Aang and Katara, with some help from Toph, filled him in about the events at the farmhouse, while taking care not to mention anything that had to do with Aang being the Avatar and the bees knowing.
Meanwhile, Piandao took out a small, blank parchment scroll, smoothed it out, and began to write on it. "The honey reminded me that I haven't gotten around to congratulating the Fong Fa's on Xiang's upcoming marriage," he explained. "I suppose I'd better fix that!"
"Wait a moment," Sokka said, more to his companions than his master. "You're telling me that this family can pretty much talk to bees and make them attack people? You've gotta be kidding!"
"We're not Sokka," Katara assured him. "We all saw it for ourselves."
"Well, most of us," Toph sardonically chimed in.
"But how is that possible?" Sokka's brows were knitted in confusion as he looked from one to the other. He was clearly at a loss. "How could such a thing even happen? And why doesn't half the Fire Nation know about this weird talent?"
"Beats me," Katara shrugged.
Without looking up from his scroll, Piandao replied, "I've thought about that first question for a long while myself Sokka, ever since I found out what the Fong Fas could do with their hives, and the best answer I can come up with is that it has something to do with the family's chi energy. Perhaps one of their ancestors was born with or developed something different, special about their body's meridians-a difference that let them get into the heads of honeybees."
"Or maybe it was something weird about the chi of the bees themselves, probably a queen," Toph suggested.
"That too," Piandao nodded as the tip of his brush flowed across the parchment in sleek strokes. "Animals can display striking spiritual features that make them stand out from their fellows, not just physical ones like being an albino or unusually large."
"I seem to remember hearing once about a platypus bear that had the ability to Earthbend," Aang recalled.
"I've read that account as well," Piandao replied, still writing.
"As for why their talents with the bees aren't more widely known, there's a simple answer to that."
Looking up from his desk, he regarded them solemnly as he said, "The Fire Nation's military, as you probably know, do not take kindly to the idea of potential soldiers for their armies sitting at home when they could be serving on the battlefield, especially Firebenders."
Katara nodded, thinking of Jeong Jeong.
"Now, what do you think would happen if some captain found out there was a farmer in this area who could get hives of bees to do his bidding?"
"They'd throw Gang into a suit of armor and onto the front lines so fast his head would spin," Sokka gravely replied. "Maybe even Hu or Shuai."
"That's right," Piandao replied as he returned to writing. "And even if the war ended tomorrow, people would still come from all over to gawk and stare at the Fong Fas and just generally behave like they were a circus act. So everyone around here keeps their mouth shut."
"Not to mention people could get hurt if they barged in on them-or worse," Katara shuddered. "But even if they didn't-well, it would be like killing a sparrakeet to tell the world."
"Absolutely," Piandao intoned as Aang and Toph both nodded.
"What do sparrakeets have to do with this?" Sokka asked, perplexed.
Aang explained, "Sparrakeets are not only too small to be worth eating, but they're also gentle birds that don't harm anybody or damage anything. So to kill one would be senseless and unjust, besides being cruel. It would be the same thing if the rest of the Fire Nation learned about the Fong Fas and interfered with their lives."
"Yeah, sounds like it's probably best for everyone to just let them live in peace," Sokka agreed. "I sure wouldn't want them deciding I'm not welcome and sending their bees after me."
"And what do you think about this, Master Piandao?" Katara asked. "That there's this family who can, in a way, bend bees, living creatures, living just several great li away from your home? It's incredible and scary at the same time."
"Most certainly," he agreed. "But I know that like me they keep to themselves."
"Those bees were the weirdest thing I've ever come across, I know that much," Toph flatly stated.
"I still don't get how something like that can even exist, Master Piandao," Sokka added. He was speaking for all his companions as well in that moment.
"No doubt. But personally," Piandao ventured as he wrote, "I think it's good to encounter things you just can't explain once in a while, or at least know that you live in a world where they can happen to you. It keeps you humble, keeps you open to life's possibilities."
"Definitely," Aang agreed as they all nodded, even Sokka.
"There's got to be some sort of cause behind each of these crazy events though," Sokka pointed out. "There always is. We just haven't discovered or been able to understand them yet."
"Maybe," the master answered. "But I hope we'll never be able to understand everything we can't explain, that lives at the edge of our experiences and knowledge as human beings. As I said, they keep us humble."
"Just as importantly," he added, raising his head to regard them all with those wise gray eyes, "they remind us what a wonderful mystery this world is...and what amazing mysteries we ourselves are."
I may add a short Sozin's Comet epilouge featuring the Fong Fas a second time if I feel like it.