All of a sudden, the crown on his head seemed to weigh a thousand pounds.
He sighed as he massaged his temples. The meeting with his fellow generals did not end well. It didn’t help by the fact that it brought up so many painful memories.
“Father, please, don’t! I didn’t mean to…” the thirteen year old boy stammered. His voice echoed in the vast arena.
“SILENCE! You will learn your lesson for stepping out of line!” the Fire Lord boomed as he hurled a fire ball at his son.
The boy’s eyes widened in shock but before he could react, he felt the searing, uncontrollable pain on his left cheek. His scream, however, was drowned by the cheering audience around him.
Stepping out of line? He stood up for an innocent general in a war meeting.
He scowled as he touched the marred skin that stretched from the right side of his forehead all the way to his left ear, over his left eye. He remembered the healers saying that he was lucky that it was treated immediately or else it would have got infected and he would have gone blind – and to think his own father did this to him.
He shook the thought off. His father was brutal and ruthless and had an insatiable hunger for power. His father strived for perfection – something his own son failed to give him. His sister on the other hand was perfection, a child prodigy. He remembered his father’s words burning in the back of his skull.
Azula was born lucky.
You were lucky to be born.
For five years of his life, this scar screamed FAILURE. Now, he wore it with no shame for it took him a five years of hardship and failure to realise that it symbolised resilience.
As he walked down the corridor, he noticed something he didn’t before. A room. A room small enough to be easily concealed in the corner of the East Wing – overlooking the turtle duck pond. Curiosity eventually got the best of him. After all, he would find any excuse to free himself of the tiring and stressful duties as ruler albeit the smallest of things. As he stepped in, he couldn’t help but notice the dusty plaque on the door.
It said. There were no formalities under the name. No ‘Dragon of the West’ title engraved below it. Just plain, simple Iroh.
The father he never had. He just didn’t realise it soon enough.
The room was small. Small enough for a portly old man to enjoy a nice cup of jasmine tea. He chuckled. No, Uncle always used to drink his tea by the… turtle duck pond – his mother’s pond.
It was the first time he cried since he had gotten the scar. His father had banished him after that – only to return to the Fire nation once he had successfully captured the Avatar – only then, will he finally regain his honour.
The scarred prince sniffed as held back another wave of tears that were threatening to spill. Oh, how he missed his mother. He would be wiling to give up the world to go back in time and relive those moments where they would go feed the turtle ducks together.
“It’s alright to cry, nephew.”
The young prince scowled as he quickly wiped away his tears. Crown princes definitely do NOT cry – especially not in public.
“Leave me ALONE!”
“Nephew, I just came to let you know, that whatever happens in the future, I will be there for you – I will accompany you in your quest for the Avatar.”
“This is my destiny. I don’t need any HELP- especially not from a useless, stupid old man who’d rather spend his time drinking gallons of tea and playing boring games when the rest of the world his at WAR!”
The retired general sighed.
Long gone, were his days as the mighty, ruthless ‘Dragon of the West’ – not after Lu Ten’s death. His son’s passing brought to his downfall but also embedded a powerful lesson.
War does not solve everything. War wastes innocent lives. Lives that we love.
Iroh shook his head. His nephew is too consumed in pain and distraught to think clearly. Instead, he took out a Pai Sho tile from his pocket and dropped it on the grass- hoping that someday, his nephew will be able to see through the haze of hate and fury that has now blinded him.
“You are not your father.”
He remembered his uncle telling him.
The Fire Lord sighed and tried to forget the painful memories that were haunting him. He walked over to the adjoining doors that led to the pond and and took off his crown – placing it on the soft grass beneath him. No more burdens.
A game of Pai Sho will calm him down, he thought as he recalled the countless games he had been forced to play with his uncle.
He set the board on the ground and arranged the pieces carefully. He wasn’t the Fire Lord now, he was just a young man who missed his uncle.
He then laid the two cups of tea. One for himself and one for his invisible opponent.
“When I become Fire Lord, I’ll make sure that this disgusting beverage is banished from the fire nation!”
“It’s called tea, nephew.”
“I don’t care what it’s called. It’s gross and you practically live on it. Maybe that’s why you smell so…”
“That’s enough, nephew. Anyway, you have a long way to go until you will be crowned Fire Lord, for now, you’re just a little dragon and even once you are Fire Lord, I advise you to use that tremendous power that has been bestowed upon you to rebuild this prosperous nation, rather than destroying a wonderful past time.”
“Oh, so now drinking tea is a hobby? Uncle, you sicken me.”
“Well, I think I’ll be the judge of that, young prince. Tea is actually very healthy. Now, are we going to sit here and let me lecture you on the goodness of tea, or are we going to continue this exciting game of Pai Sho?”
The boy immediately snapped his mouth shut and moved his tile. After doing so, he couldn’t help but look at the peculiar expression on his uncle’s face – he was thinking. It was almost frightening, the way his elderly uncle could look into your eyes and catch a glimpse of your soul. That, or maybe he was a melodramatic ten year old. Either way, he didn’t like it.
He cleared his throat and much to his surprise, the voice that came out was quiet and sincere. He was almost convinced that it belonged to someone else – a scared little boy rather than a spoilt, angry prince.
“Uncle, do you think I’ll make a good Fire Lord?”
His uncle smiled and leaned closer to his nephew.
“I know you will, Little Dragon. The best Fire Lord in the history of the WORLD,” he said as he reached over and patted the tiny spot on his nephew’s chest where his heart was beating a mile a minute.
“But most importantly, Little Dragon, you’ll make a wonderful person.”
After a moment of silence, he smiled and removed one of his own Pai Sho tiles from his robes and placed it on the board – a tile with a beautifully carved dragon on it. The one his uncle had given him.
“Your move, uncle.”