There he is! Ooh, Lan Yi was right—he is handsome.”
“Quiet out there! We lost some good men today bringing you this rice you’re eating.” The man, whose name Zuko thought might have been Shenzu, snapped beside him.
The women crowded in the doorway laughed and made faces at the man speaking. The one who called Zuko handsome just then spoke again. “And who makes the steel that pays for all that rice, hm? We’re pumping bellows all night while you sleep off all this food.”
Zuko twisted a little and gave the women a ghost of a smile. “Actually, I would like to see where you all work, if it’s not a problem.” A large tatara bloomery dominated one side of the village, and Zuko could see a continuous plume of smoke drifting up from it. He’d learned that the woman leading this town, Aunt Wu, was a firebender, and he was curious to see how she’d set up an operation to make steel blooms in a town with no other firebenders to keep the furnace fueled long enough.
Several of the women blushed even as they laughed, and a few began talking all at once.
“You can come right over, whenever you like!”
“Don’t be a stranger—we’ll be looking for you!”
“We’ll have to wear our best kimono tonight ladies!”
“Don’t forget us, now! And don’t listen too much to the moans and groans of these old men—we’ll be waiting!”