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|The Twenty-First Day of the Eighth Month|
March 13, 2011
The Twenty-First Day of the Eighth Month is "" third chapter, delving more into the relationship between Iroh and his father and of what I think is the upper class of the Fire Nation. As for the title ? I think you'll know what it stands for.
I actually started to write first what is now "Chapter 4", but I wanted to explain why Azulon had such a reaction in that chapter. You don't understand ? Wait a bit for Chapter 4, hey hey. I also wanted to show a Firebending training class in what I think is the typical "doom them or die" harsh Fire Nation way (since we only got to see Jeong Jeong's training, Iroh's and the Sun Warriors' ; none of them are representative of the modern Fire Nation). I did so because soon it won't be possible with Iroh. So, erm, enjoy.
The gong which celebrated midday started to resonate in the avenues of the Royal Caldera. Iroh opened his eyes with horror and ended the kiss with the sound of an old pentapus you get off your skin.
"Oh spirits, I'm late!" he told Cixi. "Hayao is gonna flay me."
"I'll prefer a boyfriend with his skin on him." she stated. "Hurry up!"
As he was about to leave, he turned to her with saber-tooth moose lion cub eyes - hopeful, expecting and lovely.
"One more maybe? Please?"
She rolled her eyes.
"Don't complain tonight that your skin was peeled. I only do so because it is a special day."
And they kissed passionately.
Iroh was running like his life depended on it - which might have actually been the case. He left Sozin Avenue and turned in Blazing Street. He slalomed between the numerous grills that gave the street its name, turned right in Sun Street (called so because of the mirrors which were hung in it or set in the walls and which reflected the daylight everywhere) and started to run even faster, as the Royal Palace came into view.
Unfortunately, he didn't see a cart full of vegetables which was blocking the street until it was too late. The cart soon laid on the ground.
"Sorry!" Iroh shouted. At last, he reached the side entrance of the palace. He rushed through the servants quarters, climbed up a few stairs, threw in his room the calligraphy tools he needed at the academy, climbed down the same stairs and at last entered the gardens. Hayao was waiting in the Tea Pagoda, drinking Green tea.
"You're late, student." he told Iroh. "As you were each day for three weeks."
"Oh, Sifu, it's not my fault. I don't have my free will anymore."
Hayao raised an eyebrow. "You don't?"
"I'm a prisoner of Love! I was caught in his, or hers, or its, adorable pink tendrils. Its lovely pink tendrils I mean. Get it? Lovely."With Hayao watching in horror, Iroh fell in the Fire Lilies and started to roll in them, laughing.
"I'm trying to compose a poem, but I can't find a word that rhymes with "Cixi". "Cacti"?"
"Student, may I remind you that you have chores to do today?"
Iroh got up, Fire Lilies stuck in his hair. "Oops, I had forgotten. Please don't tell me I should be practicing Firebending with my father at the moment."
Iroh's days were organized in a very strict schedule: each morning he went to the Royal Academy for Boys, where he learned basic topics - history, anatomy, mathematics - while the afternoon he came back to the palace and studied things more useful to a prince : strategy and peoples of the world with Hayao, courtly manners and etiquette, Tsungi Horn (his mother had insisted), elocution for eventual public speeches and, more recently, Firebending with his father. Those courses never happened in the same order because of Fire Lord Azulon's own busy schedule, so the first thing Iroh had to do when coming back was to ask Hayao what he had to do first.
"No, today, you begin with me, student. You can thank the spirits."
"Thank you spirits!" Iroh told the sky. "And thank you Love Spirit!"
Iroh's belly growled like a Platypus Bear.
"Did you eat, student?"
Hayao grumbled while taking out of his bag a Pai Sho board. Iroh heard the words: "dim-witted", "his own stomach will eat him" and "Love dumbs the best."
"I'm going to ask Haoru to bring you a decent lunch, student." Hayao told him. "Stay here and don't roll in the flowers anymore." But Iroh was in a dream-like trance, his very being entirely focused on thinking of Cixi.
While Iroh ate tons of rice, he tried to concentrate on the game, to no avail.
"You're losing even faster than usual, student." Hayao told him. "Is it because you're focused on eating or daydreaming about that Cixi?"
"Both." he answered. "Awwwww, Cixi ..."
"Does her very thought make you unable to sleep?"
"You've got deep dark circles under your eyes, student."
Iroh thought about his answer.
"Er, yes. Yes, thinking about her keeps me awaken!" he told Hayao, taking an exaggerated and tragic position.
He quickly tried to change the topic. "You lose your Black Nightingale, Master."
"Yes, but you lose everything, student." He kicked Iroh's tiles out of the board. "Game over."
They started to play. This time, Iroh reluctantly put Cixi at the back of his mind and tried to play a decent game.
"You will only have your Firebending class today, besides mine." Hayao suddenly told him. "Since it is a special day, the entire evening will be devoted to the event. Now, student, let's go back to our topic: Foreign cultures."
They moved in silence a few tiles, reinforcing their respective positions.
"Student, tell me what you know of the Four Nations."
"Er, there are currently three nations, the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation. The Water Tribes live in the poles and some can Waterbend. As water is the opposite of fire, so are the Water Tribesmen the opposite of us. We are civilized, they are savages, we thrive on progress, they are stuck in their spiritual mumbo-jumbo, we are agents of the divine light of the Sun, they're creatures of the night."
"What can you tell me about the two tribes?"
"The Northern one, the oldest, lives seceded from the world, behind tall walls of ice and protected by icebergs. They're too afraid to be a danger. The Southern one is much more vindicative, but our Navy is dealing with it."
"And the Earth Kingdom? You lose your Divine Whirlwind."
"It's one big continent, too big for normal ones to rule, so they federated it. There are minor kingdoms, like Omashu's or formerly Taku's, provinces, the Si Wong Desert ... But its epicenter is Ba Sing Se, the Impenetrable City. Our intelligence tells us that the corrupt monarchs of Ba Sing Se won't raise a finger to protect the Earth Kingdom, since they perfectly know that it won't fall with Ba Sing Se still standing. So, take Ba Sing Se, and good bye Earth Kingdom!"
He laughed a bit but Hayao's face stayed cold and he took three of Iroh's tiles.
"And what about the Air Nation?"
"The Air Nation? A bunch of fanatics ruled by priests who lived at the top of their mountains, but they all died like 50 years ago."
Hayao seemed lost in his thoughts for a while.
"Student..." he started.
But then a servant arrived. "Prince Iroh, Fire Lord Azulon wants you to be in the Sun Lounge in five minutes."
"Oh, see you later Sifu!" Hayao told him merrily while running towards the southern part of the palace.
Hayao looked in the depths of his cup of tea, sighed, and felt very old and very stupid.
The Sun Lounge had been designed to allow a maximum of daylight to enter it. It was as big as the gardens and decorated with stylized suns. Only the scorch marks everywhere hinted at its true purpose.
Iroh put off his shirt and left the shade of the beautiful columns. He sat at the center of the Lounge in the lotus position. He let the warmth of the Sun impregnate his body, his being, his soul. The touch of the golden light entered through his skin, its energy melting in his own. His chi started to concentrate on a nexus between his stomach and his lungs, almost buzzing. He was so full of energy that he started to exhale fire.
He suddenly heard the roar of fire, growing louder at an alarming rate. With a fast and rigid move, he raised his right forearm perpendicularly to the ground and blocked the stream of fire that was aimed to him.
He got up and turned to face his father. He was bare-chested too, a 6-feet tall thin man, yet with an impressive musculature.
Iroh smiled at him. "Hello, Father."
Azulon put his body in the opening position - one arm stretched, one arm flexed, raised palms and open fingers. "Prince Iroh. Take your stances.
Iroh mimicked his father and took the same position.
"Attack." his father told him.
Iroh let his chi blaze around his fists and with a spinning movement sent a dozen of fire balls towards his father. The Fire Lord just put them out with two fingers.
"Pathetic. You can do much better."
Iroh Firebent with his left foot a whip of fire which he sent to his father. While Azulon blocked it, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation made another series of fireballs - one, two, three, two then one, which he charged. But the Fire Lord stopped them, only an inch from his long fingers, and melted them all in a sphere of light, like a miniature sun. He then uncoiled it in a massive stream of fire, which Iroh barely dodged, his top-knot singed.
"You're bending like a beginner," his father harshly said, "doing your little tricks, the little moves you learned. You don't feel the fire. Focus on what you hate, what you despise." He took the orange flames from a nearby burning spot and let it grow in his palms. Iroh imitated him and soon they both had a fire burning in their hands.
Iroh tried to think to things he didn't like - Chan, the bad breath of his Tsungi Horn tutor, Ozai's diapers - but the image of Cixi kept coming back. Frowning his eyebrows, he tried to dismiss it, with no great success. In his hands, the fire puffed and grew a little bigger.
"Good." His father told him. "Let your rage overcome you."
But Iroh was sweating now. His dark thoughts and Cixi's image kept clashing; each time they confronted, the tension between his shoulders grew and the fire withered a bit.
"Your anger is your strength."
Iroh didn't understand what was happening; it wasn't the first time he loved someone, yet this had never occurred before. What was weakening his inner fire was neither the dark thoughts nor Cixi - his flames seemed able to feed on both - but the very fight between the two. And he was slowly torn apart. So loose was his concentration that suddenly he wasn't able to protect his hands from the burning bite of the fire.
With a scream, he collapsed, and the flames in his hands disappeared.
His father stood alone at the other part of the Lounge, a slightly disappointed look in his eyes.
"You're weak." he simply stated, and with inhuman speed, he created a monstrous and gigantic stream of blue fire which he directed towards Iroh.
Iroh barely managed to avoid the incoming blue death. With a scowl because of his burnt hands, he rocketed himself out of the deadly flames. One second later, there was a huge crater at the place he was standing just moments ago.
"Father!" he protested. "I was on the ground! I don't know what happened but it's not a reason to try to kill me!"
Fire Lord Azulon created a whirlwind of fire which he projected in a massive explosion on the walls of the Sun Lounge. The entire area was soon burning blue. He then augmented the flames, effectively creating an outstanding inferno.
"Stand your ground!" he shouted. "Don't act as a cowardly Air Nomad! The best defense is offense!"
With quick movements, he streamed parts of the nearby wall of fire into two levitating spheres of fire, from which he summoned an hellish array of attacks: fire lashes, fire bombs, blazing arcs, burning discs... Iroh blocked or dodged them all, but he was almost killed by a dozen of fire daggers. Burning anger started to penetrate him. The portion of the wall of flames which was behind him became orange.
"That's it." his father whispered. "Feel your power building as your rage escalates."
Iroh kicked the air with determination, igniting it with his chi. Once more, he sent fireballs to his father - but this time, they were not all aimed at the same place. As Azulon put out the majority of them which was directed to hit his chest, he also had to lower his head to avoid another. That's why he wasn't able to perceive the last of the fireballs which came from the sky to explode at his feet. But with an accuracy and quick-thinking earned in decades of battles, he managed in one infinitesimal fraction of time to shield himself from the explosion with his left foot. Hurled backwards, he heated his fingers to unimaginable temperatures and put them in the ground to stop himself, leaving ten parallel burning tracks in the stone floor. He rose, slightly shaken, and gave to his son across the ruined arena a disdainful look.
That was too much for Iroh. Cold hatred took the place of burning rage in his heart, and as he Firebent the biggest streams of fire he had ever made, he roared, flames coming from his mouth : "I HATE YOU!"
Azulon could only watch as those three enormous comets rushed towards him and hit him.
Iroh, exhausted, was breathing heavily and leaned forward, putting his hands on his knees. At the place Azulon had stood, a wall of fire was still burning.
Fear washed away Iroh's rage and hatred.
"Father?" he asked with a small voice.
The wall of flames became blue and vanished, revealing Fire Lord Azulon, unharmed, clapping.
"Very good, Prince Iroh." he told his dumbstruck son. "You can now see what you can do when you manage to use your anger and your hate. You also noticed I'm sure that hatred is more powerful than rage, as you managed to create a decent attack only when you resorted to it. Although anger is indeed powerful, it has a tendency to make you lose control over your bending and to not give you focus, drowning you in a beastly frenzy. Whereas hatred is ... cold-blooded."
His lips curled in a moue.
"Although it is sad I had to attack you with potentially lethal aggressive actions in order to make you give your best fire."
His stare hardened. "But what happened with your hands ..." He pointed to the burnt hands of Iroh. "I don't know what happened, but be sure it never happens again."
"I promise, Father." Iroh bowed.
Azulon clapped him on the back. "I saw that you trained on your Breath of Fire. You seem to have mastered it."
"Th-Thank you, Father." Iroh stammered, amazed by this compliment and this rare intimacy.
"Now go see Hayao, he will cure your palms."
"Yes Father." Iroh bowed.
As he left the Lounge, Azulon's eyes became cold and menacing.
Iroh was behind red curtains trimmed with gold, waiting for his parents to arrive. Behind the velvet, he could hear the constant rumble of the conversations of the courtiers, waiting too for the beginning of the special event. Thank the spirits, I don't have to be introduced to the nobles, only the generals. They are such elbow leeches. I'm wondering if there are leeches which are applied to other body parts? Knee leeches? Oh, you can pronounce "leeches" and "lychees" the same way. I'm sure you can do some nice word play with that.
"Let's begin." His father has suddenly appeared, with Ilah (and Ozai, who didn't really count) and was now heading to the curtains. As the servants were about to lift them, Azulon stopped them. With a sly smile, he said, "I have a more dramatic idea."
Zozin was the average noble. He came from a pure bloodline. He had a manor here and a villa on Ember Island. According to his family tree, he was even closely related to the Royal family: a direct ancestor of his was Ghiozu, the brother of Fire Lord Oziko, the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Fire Lord Azulon. And, as all nobles, he was underestimated.
At a time, being a noble was important at the court of the Fire Lords. After all, most of them were - more or less - close family. They were councilors. They were advisors. Each of them ruled a part of the country, whole islands in the case of those who had succeeded. They had positions, like Arch-Stewart of the Economy. The Fire Lord even named a "First Ray", the highest position a noble could achieve. Basically, the First Ray was in charge of the boring day-to-day affairs of the nation, like raising taxes. Of course, this made the First Ray widely unpopular while reinforcing the love the common people had for the Fire Lord, which was the Fire Lords' plan all along, but it still was power.
But then, Fire Lord Sozin came. The first thing he decreed at his coronation was the abolishment of the "First Ray" title and of all political power of the nobility. Instead of being horrified, his forefathers had smirked. "Go ahead." they had thought. "Try to rule the Fire Nation without us."
But the thing was, Fire Lord Sozin managed perfectly to reign over his kingdom. Even worse, he made it, in a few amount of time, prosperous, lucrative and modern, something no one had been able to achieve in 3000 years of Fire Lord rule. And the nobility was secluded in the capital, receiving fewer and fewer income as years passed.
Zozin frowned. It was all about gaining prestige. Being useful? The top possibility, but hard to do when you were raised to do nothing. Marriage to a member of the Royal Family was the easiest one, but they had to wait for an opening. That Crown Prince Iroh was a blessing of the spirits, as he would soon have to marry. Or that prince Ozai, a quite pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, Zozin had no child; he would have to work on it.
But the most common way nowadays to climb up the social ladder was to have in your family, or even better, to be, a Firebender. They would become officers automatically in the army, maybe generals. Generals. Everybody loved the generals now, and nobody cared about the nobility. What have the generals achieved that we haven't done? Zozin thought.
Other than that, there were only pitiful attempts left to try to gain prestige. For one, name your child after a Fire Lord. Zozin was a typical example. He knew an Azumon, an Arulon, an Ozulon and plenty of Azukon. And these days, all male newborns were named Azai or Ozaion. For two, spend what few money they had left in gifts to the Royal Family - like paying a whole weapon factory for example. For three, try to boot-kiss anyone close to the Fire Lord - the Fire Lord himself being way too frightening to dare approach. And the best occasion to do so was big social events, like that one.
All of the flames of the torches went out, leaving them completely in the dark. A blue, scary light started to come from behind the curtains. Suddenly, they disintegrated, destroyed by a humongous globe of blue fire, which almost reached the ceiling. It created a hot wind that howled in the room. It was terrifying. Zozin almost peed in his pants.
The globe of fire slowly disappeared, revealing the entire royal family inside. As the torches caught fire again, Fire Lord Azulon came forth.
"Elite of the Fire Nation," he began, "today we are assembled to celebrate the sixteenth birthday of your Crown Prince, Iroh." He put his arm on the strong prince's shoulders, which seemed to refrain himself from smiling. "He now stops to be a child and enters adulthood. In two years, he will have fully mastered Firebending and will start fighting for our glorious nation!"
As the audience exploded in cheers, the said Crown Prince stopped smiling.
"Now we can celebrate."
"Happy birthday, Iroh." his mother said while hugging him. She had not told him before, as the tradition was to not say those two words before the actual beginning of the celebration. Of course, when no one knew about it, you had a rotten birthday.
"Thank you, Mother." He enjoyed the embrace of this woman that was now smaller than him.
"A-reu!" Ozai babbled.
"Thank you too!" Iroh laughed. He looked for his father, but he was already in deep conversation with his top generals. Iroh felt his enthusiasm squash. At least he was quite opened today, and he showed emotions for once. It was his birthday present I guess. But he still felt disappointed.
"Now I let you battle the horde!" his mother merrily said.
In three seconds, Iroh was surrounded by battalions of nobles, who all wished him a happy birthday, offered him trips to their mansions, proposed him to meet their daughters, in brief, tried to acquire his favors. With incredible difficulty, he managed to get rid, after forty-five minutes, of most of them, save for three who still clung to his robes as, er, robe leeches.
"I know a baker on Firefly Island..."
"I've heard of your love of tea, Prince Iroh, and..."
"You know my daughter I believe. She loves you very much."
Iroh turned to the last one, an obese man.
"Who is your daughter?"
The fat nobleman gave to his fellow courtiers a superior look.
"My daughter is Belle-Tching, your Highness."
Iroh left him alone as the other two noblemen started laughing mockingly. Idiot, stupid, moron, I just hate nobles. They feel so great and sooooo unique.
"I wish you a happy birthday, student." Iroh turned to see Hayao, in the company of an enormous woman, so tall Hayao looked even smaller, and of two twins who must have been from the age of Azulon, maybe a little younger.
"Indeed, student. I won't have missed the official celebration of the birthday of my favorite student."
"I'm your only student, Sifu."
"Brilliant observation, student. Do you want a cup of Ginseng tea?"
The colossal woman made a gargling noise to remind everybody she was here.
"Hayao, who are these three charming women?"
Hayao pointed to the giant woman. "This is my loving wife, Chu Baka."
She bowed. "Nice to meet you, my Prince." she gurgled with a low-pitched voice.
"And those are my twin daughters, Lo and Li. Although they don't have the gift of Firebending, they have studied with so much care that beautiful art that they probably know it better than most Firebenders."
They made their reverence. "We are honored to meet you, Prince Iroh." they declared in chorus.
"It kinda destroys the myth." Iroh told Hayao. "I always pictured you as some kind of mystic who lived at the top of a mountain, above normal human desires like having a family."
"I'm not above normal human condition, student."
"Oh, Hayao, I wanted to talk with you about something. Today, I was training with my father and he said : "Don't act as an Air ..."
A herald announced the end of the celebration and the noblemen began leaving.
"I must retire to my room, Master." Iroh bowed to the three women. "Mrs Baka, Miss Li, Miss Lo, it was a pleasure to meet you all. Hayao, I will see you tomorrow."
"Yes, student. See you tomorrow."
Iroh left the great room and started to climb up the stairs in the main tower of the palace. He appreciated the quietness of this part of the palace, especially after that infernal party. He reached at last his room and jumped on his bed. He would love to start sleeping, but he wasn't sure he would be able to wake up at midnight. He sighed. At least, his teachers at school could not tell him a thing if he slept in class. There were advantages to his rank.
It was midnight. A half-full moon lit the sky. Iroh put on his hood and walked out of the palace. In two minutes he was in front of Cixi's manor.
Suddenly someone tackled him from behind. As he was about to throw the mysterious attacker at the other side of the plaza, he heard a woman's voice tell him in his ear: "Happy birthday."
He relaxed immediately.
"I could have killed you!"
"But you didn't. An ugly but charming boy wishes you "happy birthday" too."
She sought his lips. They were soon kissing alone in the plaza by night.
"Ready for another romantic night?"
"Oh yes." he answered. Life was going beautifully.
The Throne Room was illuminated with blue fire. Fire Lord Azulon was looking at the hooded figure of one of his spies who was bowing on the ground.
"All his life," he began coldly, "Prince Iroh has always been focused on his duty to the Fire Nation. He not only did the best he could, but he did what had to be done: he performed each of his tact perfectly." He did not say the last word with pride but as it was normal. "But now ... Now he has become ... distracted."
He gave a cruel look to the spy, who shivered.
"Prince Iroh must live only for the Fire Nation. I give you the task to find whatever makes him lose his focus and to tell it to me. And I will ensure that, whatever it is, it will end."
- Can you find a decent rhyme with Cixi, something Iroh himself is not able to do ?
- Also, would you manage to compose a decent joke with the homophonity (that's the word in French ; slap me if it isn't in English) of "leeches" and "lychees" ?
- Of course, Lo and Li have managed to be so knowledgeable on Firebending because they studied with a true master.
- Chu Baka shares almost all characteristics of a well-known space opera character, including the name, height, barely understandable voice and overall hairiness (though not on the entire body).
- The Turnip Merchant is an idea found only by the author, not based at all on any already existing character in the Avatar World.
- The end of Chapter 3 hints at what will happen in Chapter 4, though Azulon might not have the reaction you're expecting.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Sozin's Blood Chapters|
|Book 1: Sparks|
|The Second Prince - A Typical Day - The Twenty-First Day of the Eighth Month - To Live - The Beach, Part 1 - The Beach, Part 2 - Inconsistencies - Interlude : Cixi Alone - Southwards|