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|An Opened Wound Chapter 2|
August 24, 2013
After 38 years on the throne Fire Lord Zuko has succeeded in transforming his nation from one of oppressive warmongering tyranny into a productive part of the world. With the creation of Republic City and the revival of the Avatar's position the world is truly at peace. The Fire Lord's daughter has recently been married to a respected military officer and powerful firebender. The Fire Lord himself seems to have achieved some peace, it has been years since he last had nightmares. The Fire Lord's greatest pride seems to be his self-transformation in these years, he is now well respected abroad and loved at home, but he knows that could change. The dark memories Fire Lord hides threaten to destroy everything he holds dear and his own fears about himself remain lurking in the shadows.
Yuzang Manor: 138 AG
Princess Ursa sat in her garden. It had become her favorite place over the past six months since her marriage to Yuzang, it reminded her of the palace where she grew up. Despite her love for her father and mother, the fact that her father was the Fire Lord had always hung over their family. Her marriage to Yuzang seemed an escape from the overwhelming burden of living in the palace and being subject to protocol and constant scrutiny. Her home with Yuzang was very different; it was a grand country estate though not like the palace, it reminded her of the Summer Estate on Ember Island. Yuzang had inherited the manor from his father who had died several years earlier, it seemed the perfect home for them.
"Your highness." Ursa was startled by the servant and quickly returned to the present day.
"Yes," she replied .
"A letter has arrived from the capital city."
"Is it from my father?"
"I would assume so, your highness."
"Thank you." Ursa took the scroll from the servant who quickly returned to the house.
Ursa unrolled the short scroll. She always enjoyed receiving letters from her parents especially now that her husband was away on duty and she was left alone. The Princess's smile morphed into a perplexed look, this letter was different, and it was adorned by the Fire Lord's official seal and did not begin with "Dear, Ursa". The letter was an official invitation to a party at the palace. Ursa was surprised to say the least. Her parents almost never threw grand parties, mostly on the account that her mother hated entertaining and her father was never comfortable amongst the capitol's nobility whom he viewed as snobbish and judgmental.
"Well, how could I refuse the Fire Lord." The princess spoke chuckling.
Fire Nation Royal Palace: 2 Days Later
The Fire Lord, like his wife, despised official parties. When he was notified of the appointment he groaned with agony. The news was distressing enough as he would need to meet the new ambassador from the Earth Kingdom but, it also meant that there would be an official reception for the diplomat.
"Qing Ji... Qing Ji... hmmm."
As the Fire Lord pondered the name he was interrupted.
"Sire." A low voice spoke behind him. The Fire Lord spun around.
"Colonel Vidai, my apologies... I had forgotten our appointment."
"Apologies are not necessary sire." The Colonel finished his words while the Fire Lord motioned for him to be seated.
"Guards, leave us... and close the doors behind you." As the guards obliged Zuko turned to Vidai who was already talking.
"This Qing Ji isn't like the old ambassador, Your Majesty," he began.
"In what ways?" Zuko interrupted, fearing the worst.
"He has an inconvenient interest in history. My agents have watched him for some time now and it is clear that he wants us to pay more reparations."
"More!" the Fire Lord interjected angrily.
"That's not all!" Vidai responded. "He also seems quite interested in advancing the Earth King's agenda at court. The Earth King appears to have taken an interest in investigating Fire Nation war crimes and this is an interest apparently shared with Ambassador Qing Ji."
"I thought Kuei lost interest in that years ago?"
"Apparently not, and he's selected Qing Ji just for this purpose."
"What about... you know what" Zuko choked out.
"My agents will make sure he doesn't find anything... but, if he did find... you know what... the consequences would be severe... for you and me."
Zuko's face paled. "Then you won't let him find... it... for your sake and mine."
"You need not fear sire the situation is in my hands."
The Fire Lord didn't respond. He motioned to Vidai who understood that this was the cue to leave.
That night Zuko ate a quiet dinner with his wife and his son. Crown Prince Shaozu didn't always come home at night. Zuko and Mai didn't like to think about what he was doing late at night so neither the Fire Lord nor his wife bothered to ask. Shaozu possessed a personality which was a polar opposite to that of his parents. While Zuko was an introverted, somewhat awkward man and slave to his work, Shaozu was an extrovert who enjoyed parties, dancing drinking and most of all beautiful women. The Royal parents were constantly exasperated by his failure to stick with one woman long enough to learn her last name, let alone marry her and produce heirs. Still, Zuko and Mai practically worshipped their son, with the parenting issues they had endured, the Fire Lord and his Lady feared becoming their own parents.
Shaozu began the conversation as always.
"So another dance at the Palace... can't wait."
"Yeah... neither can I," Mai interjected in her usual sarcastic manner.
"The Ball is a matter of state. I'm only doing it because we must welcome the new ambassador as warmly as possible...and you won't be seeing any of your women there." Zuko spoke in tone that was as dry and humorless as Shaozu's was lively.
"Don't worry about them dad you know how I am."
"Just make sure your sober enough to meet the ambassador," Mai stated sternly.
"Mother, you know I never get drunk at parties like that, besides I have to make a good impression if I want to be Fire Lord someday."
"That you will be... a great Fire Lord... without my flaws," Zuko responded, his tone growing more solemn.
"Dad, you were never that bad... I mean, I know you would never burn me."
Zuko's heart fell into his stomach and his face grew pale.
"Zuko are you alright," Mai asked with a perplexed look on her face.
"Oh um yeah," Zuko said unconvincingly.
Before Mai could respond a bell rang and a servant emerged with dinner. After dinner was presented the servant bowed and exited leaving the Royal Family alone once again.
"I assume that sis and Yu aren't coming," Shaozu stated changing the subject.
"Actually, Yuzang and Ursa are coming; your father sent the invitation a few days ago," Mai responded.
"Doesn't Yu have a commission on Onzhing Island?"
"He did, but he was given special permission to return by the Fire Lord."
The entire time this conversation was going on Zuko stared mindlessly around the room. The private dining room was located in the East Wing just down the hall from the Fire Lords chambers. The room was ornately decorated and topped by a gilded chandelier and a grand set of double doors opening to the Royal Gardens. After dinner Mai returned to the Royal Chambers to take a bath and prepare for bed while Zuko and Shaozu took a walk in the garden. As they walked under the moonlight Zuko began to speak.
"I will not, live forever Shaozu."
Shaozu looked at him puzzled. "What do you mean?" he responded.
"I mean that I'm 55 years old, I hope I have a long time to live but I might not," Zuko blurted out.
"Dad why are you talking like this?"
"Because Shaozu! I need you to prepare yourself for the burdens of the throne. Your 26 and you're not married and have no heirs. What if I die tonight? You would be Fire Lord!"
Shaozu stopped walking and faced his father.
"Dad, don't worry about me, I've watched you, I could handle it. Plus there are plenty of girls to marry... I just haven't found the right one yet."
Zuko shivered at I've watched you.
"Tell me this Shaozu, would I ever do anything... bad."
"Of course not you're my father, you're a good person," Shaozu responded, his voice rising with each word.
"Well," Shaozu sighed after a pause in conversation.
"I'm going to bed... haven't slept in two days."
Zuko remained deep in thought.
It wasn't until two hours later that Mai felt Zuko lie down beside her. As Zuko lay in his silk sheets he thought. His daughter was arriving tomorrow and his son was sleeping across the Palace. They were adults. They were grown up, they had their own lives. Still Zuko knew one thing. They could never know the truth, not his children or his wife. If they knew, everything would change, he could never look at them again and they would know who Fire Lord Zuko had been and to a certain extent, who he still was.
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