This article is about the Rise of Kyoshi chapter. For the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode, see Bitter Work.
|"Kyoshi, where did you learn THAT SONG?"|
|— Kelsang to Kyoshi after he hears her sing.|
"Honest Work" is the fourth chapter of The Rise of Kyoshi.
When Kyoshi is working in the kitchen of the Avatar mansion, accompanied by Kelsang, she inadvertently sings a song that Avatar Kuruk was known for.
Kyoshi and Rangi make their way through the gate of the Avatar mansion, taking note of sages and dignitaries from all four nations. Kyoshi considers that any of them could be benders of the highest order and is thrilled. She thinks that when the estate is full of visitors, the air feels alive with power.
Mui appears from one of the side hallways and gives Kyoshi a hard swat on her back, reprimanding her for carrying food around where guests can see it instead of using the service entrance. She hustles Kyoshi down the steps of a tunnel, and scolds her for being out in the sun too much, noting that her freckles have gotten darker again. When Mui asks why she has not been using the concealer she bought for her, the servant complains about looking like a "bloodless ghost", while the older woman responds that it is better than looking as if starpoppy seeds were sprinkled over her cheeks. Kyoshi thinks about her disdain for the values older people hold around complexion.
They climb another set of stairs and enter the kitchen. Kyoshi sets the pickling jar down, and Rangi reminds her that she has gift duties that night and tells her not to spend too much time in the kitchen, as she is not a scullery maid. The actual scullery maids nearby take offense at Rangi's statement before she departs for the barracks.
Kyoshi notices Kelsang among the kitchen staff and, noticing the earthbender's curiosity, he claims that he has been "banished", as Jianzhu believes that his presence is causing Yun to prematurely dream about airbending, and that he is in the kitchen to feel useful. Kyoshi kisses him on the cheek and offers to help, washing her hands to then grab a ball of dough to knead.
Kyoshi thinks of everything that Kelsang has done for her, trying to stay in Yokoya for as long as he could while she was growing up and convincing Jianzhu that Kyoshi become a servant in his mansion. She notes that even though she has been rejected by the people of Yokoya, a foreign monk had saved her life for no reason other than that she needed someone, becoming the dearest person to her. This is why Kyoshi knows that his cheerful demeanor is fake. She thinks of the rumors around the house regarding the deterioration of Jianzhu and Kelsang's once legendary friendship, with the Air Nomad having disapproved of the Earth Kingdom sage's amassing of wealth and influence since Avatar Kuruk's death, as he was supposed to be dedicated solely to guiding Kuruk's reincarnation. She worries about the rift between the two masters, and thinks it cannot be good for Yun.
Distracted by her thoughts, Kyoshi is unable to notice a puff of flour fly up from the table and hit her in the forehead, white dust clouding her vision. She squints at Kelsang, who jokes that it was not him but a "different airbender". Kyoshi grabs the flour bead out of her hair, and asks him to stop before Mui throws them out. However, he tells her to quir looking troubled on his behalf, and explains that it is not bad if he takes a break from Avatar business as he gets to spend more time with her, and suggests that the two of them go on a vacation to the Air Nomad sacred sites. As much as Kyoshi likes the idea to share Kelsang's company, she tells him she cannot go, as she has work, to which the monk rolls his eyes and responds that he has not seen someone so averse to fun since Abbot Dorje, flicking a blob of flour at her. Kyoshi wipes her nose and claims that she knows how to have fun.
At that moment, Mui gives a whistle and declares that it is "poetry time". The rest of the workers groan, and she calls on Lee to begin. The line cook stumbles to compose a haiku while trying to keep count of his syllables, and Mui is shocked, reprimanding him for his lack of balance, symmetry, and contrast, causing Lee to throw his hands in the air. Auntie Mui then asks that someone performs a decent verse.
As there are no volunteers, Kelsang begins to sing a ribald shanty in a style popular with sailors and field hands. The room explodes in laughter, while Mui is scandalized, asking the monk to set an example. Lee begins to imitate Kelsang, singing a shanty from the perspective of his crush, while a dishwasher guesses that he is interested in Mirai, the greengrocer's daughter. Lee protests, while the staff whoops over him.
Another worker asks that Kyoshi go next, and she starts to sing in order to prove to Kelsang that she knows how to have fun. Mui disapproves of her song, while Lee eggs her on, and Kelsang looks at her curiously. She thumps a length of dough onto the table, creating her own percussion, as she finds the improvisation easy and continues, feeling as if another person, someone much more at ease with their own desires, is giving her the right lines to express herself. Once she finishes her song, Kelsang grabs her wrist, staring at her. His grip squeezes her tighter, his nails drawing blood from both her skin and his. When Kyoshi cries out that he is hurting her, the room grows silent, and Kelsang lets go, asking Kyoshi where she learned the song.
- While haiku is featured in this chapter, it is also featured in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Tales of Ba Sing Se". This chapter also notes that haiku is commonly performed in the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se, which is where Sokka encountered the Five-Seven-Five Society.
- Kelsang is a father figure to Kyoshi.
- The friendship between Kuruk's companions has deteriorated since his death.