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|An Opened Wound Chapter 3|
December 30, 2013
The Fire Lord prepares to welcome his daughter and son-in-law back to the capital. After weeks of preparation the Royal Family will welcome the new Earth Kingdom ambassador with a grand party. As with every new appointment and visit from his daughter the Fire Lord's nerves have been agitated. Despite this he feels more confident than ever that his secrets will remain secrets. In fact he plans to enjoy himself.
Ursa and Yuzang sat alone in their carriage. It was the first time they had been together since Yuzang's deployment to the outer Islands.
"I suppose your brother will want to see me again." Yuzang said, breaking the silence.
"You sound so enthused," Ursa replied sarcastically.
"His Highness is the most exciting person I've met in my life... but I never get any sleep when he's around!"
Ursa paused. Yuzang reminded her so much of her father sometimes. In fact she wondered if that was why she married him in the first place.
Ursa turned back to look out the window. She stared out at the Imperial cavaliers which had been assigned to escort the procession. She was always drawn to them; they dressed in scarlet coats with a thin gold trim, on their feet they wore shiny black boots and on their heads the broad red and gold hat with a white trim on top. Seeing these men galloping along always reminded her of her childhood when these same guards had escorted her on travels with her father. Watching these men, the princess dozed off.
"Halt!" the coachman shouted, awakening Ursa.
"Are we there?" Ursa asked her husband.
Shaozu began to speak but was cut off by the Imperial crier.
"Their Imperial Highnesses, Prince Yuzang and Princess Ursa!"
Yuzang helped Ursa out of the carriage as the Imperial trumpeters announced their arrival with a vigorous blast.
"The Fire Lord bids you welcome your highnesses," the middle aged man at the door announced.
"Thank you, General Trazao," Ursa said while her husband flashed a quick military salute.
Ursa and Yuzang briskly turned the corner and entered the grand reception hall. Ursa was surprised to see that the room was filled with people. To her right and left stood dozens of nobles and military officers, the throng parted by a lengthy red carpet which stretched to the raised platform ant the end of the hall. On this platform seated in a lavish throne-like chair was father flanked by her mother and brother Shaozu.
"Impressive welcome," Yuzang said to his wife. Ursa didn't respond instead she began to walk at a brisk pace toward her father. As she passed under the marble archways of the hall, the crowd entered a low and solemn bow appropriate for her position. Ursa looked up and gazed on her father's face, aged from stress it borne a small but clear smile.
"Father!" Ursa nearly shouted as she rushed forward with Yuzang following briskly.
Ursa and Yuzang reached the top of the stairs and bowed before the Fire Lord.
"You are most welcome...Princess Ursa and Colonel Yuzang," The Fire Lord stated briskly as he saluted the Colonel while embracing Ursa in quick hug.
"Welcome home dear," the Fire Lady said as she took first her daughter and then her son- in-law in quick hugs.
The Fire Lord motioned to his daughter and her husband and they exited to another deafening blast from the Imperial trumpeters as the assembled court entered into a low bow. The small party exited through a grand set of double doors and continued toward the East Wing. They passed through another set of gold doors and entered the Fire Lord's private sitting room, a vast yet cozy expanse decorated with plush red couches and chairs.
"What's the occasion for welcome?" Ursa inquired.
"Your father and I will be hosting a grand party to celebrate the arrival of the new ambassador from the Earth Kingdom." Mai responded in a dull and disinterested tone.
"I thought it would be good if you and Yuzang were here when he arrives tomorrow, I want him to meet my family," The Fire Lord added.
"That sounds fun, huh sis," Shaozu interrupted with a smirk on his face.
"Actually Shao that does sound like fun, I love parties, it will be a great opportunity to catch up with my old friends," Ursa responded with an equal smirk on her face.
"Well you too are alone in that opinion," Mai responded with a sigh.
"Anyway," The Fire Lord interrupted, "We will meet the Ambassador at 2pm tomorrow afternoon. He will meet all of you and then I will present him to the Council at Five. Following that we will have dinner with the guests and begin the dance by 8pm, then..."
"Zuko," Mai interrupted, "Our daughter just came home, why don't we spend the rest of the day with her and we can worry about the party tomorrow morning?"
"Very well. My Queen," Zuko smirked, "but" Zuko said returning to a serious note "This ball is extremely important for me and our nation."
The Royal Family spent the rest of the day together in the palace. After a typically lavish dinner the Fire Lord led Shaozu and Yuzang in bending exercises in the gardens while Mai and Ursa watched from the veranda.
"Mom," Ursa looked at her mother seriously.
"Yes dear," Mai spoke while sitting her glass of lemonade down on the small porch table beside her.
"Is Dad...well?" Ursa stated as she watched her father.
"What do you mean?" Mai looked puzzled at her daughter's expression.
"I mean, well, he looks...I don't know...tired," Ursa replied with tone of concern to her voice.
"He's not been sleeping well since Ambassador Fong Zhi announced his retirement two weeks ago," Mai replied solemnly.
"Why is he always so stressed when a new official comes to court?" Ursa pressed.
"You know how your father is" Mai replied sipping her lemonade before calling a servant to take her glass.
Ursa began to speak but was cut off by the familiar voice of her husband.
Are you ready to go inside, it's beginning to get dark and the breeze is rather chilly," Yuzang stated.
That sounds like a good idea," Mai replied.
"Well then, let's go to the library, it's plenty warm in there," Zuko interrupted.
The Royal Family spent the remainder of the evening camped around the enormous marble fireplace in the library. As the clock passed ten, the Fire Lord and his wife departed for the Fire Lord's private bedchamber. As they walked they passed Colonel Vidai who gave Zuko a curt nod which the Fire Lord returned.
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