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|The Second Prince|
February 19, 2011
The Second Prince is my first try at Fanon (so be indulgent) and mostly gives what could have been the life of two well-known Fire Nation men before "A:TlA". It might or might not be the beginning of a larger series ; it can very well be a stand-alone. It all depends of how much I enjoy writing it, and how the community appreciates it.
So, here goes "The Second Prince", "Sozin's Blood" first chapter.
The young man hurried through the gardens. He had been studying with his Tsungi Horn tutor at the other end of the palace when a servant had entered and had prompted him to go to his parents' room. He of course knew this could happened at any moment, in view of his mother's state, but somehow the news still managed to take him by surprise.
Heart pounding, he jumped the last meters and managed to slip elegantly on the marble floor. He turned in a different hallway, accelerating when their door came into view. Unfortunately, the elaborate pavement had just been washed.
The oaken door almost exploded when Iroh crashed into it. Some servants, alarmed by the thundering noise, went out of the room and found him laying stunned. They took him inside and sat him on a bench in the antechamber. They let him ponder over his deeds and went back behind the velvet curtains.
I wish they had some tea instead, Iroh thought while drinking a cup of fresh water a servant had given him. He got up from the bench and tried to stealthily enter in the proper chamber. But one look from his father made him think otherwise. He grudgingly came back to his bench.
Half an hour passed, but he still wasn't allowed inside his parents' room. Growing bored, he had been studying each object which was decorating the antechamber, each bearing gold trimmings and each extremely boring to behold. This was dull. He looked at his reflection in a mirror decorated with dragons. He was about 15 ; while already taller than his mother, he was a little smaller than average. His face was a little squarish. His eyes were the color of gold. He smiled at his reflection and Mirror-Iroh smiled in return.
"Enjoying the sight?" a man's voice said.
Iroh almost jumped into the mirror. His father had silently crossed the curtains and had sat at the opposite of him.
"Come. Sit next to me."
It wasn't a request; it was an order. Iroh went at his father's side.
"You shouldn't watch yourself constantly." his father coldly stated. "Pride is one of the greatest dangers, especially to our kind."
"Well, it's not my fault if I'm handsome" Iroh joked.
Azulon indulged a rare smile. "There's a difference between knowing your qualities and letting them overcome your mind, which might lead you to believe yourself flawless. If you are not able to perceive your true limits, it will play against you on the battlefield. It might kill you."
"I'll try not to forget it."
His father's smile expanded a little. "Oh, I trust you, Iroh. If you're a little cocky at times, you're also hard-working. You will be a good Fire Lord."
"But as I said, you better remember it. Otherwise, you'll die."
Silence stretched further.
"How is she?" Iroh asked.
"She's fine." his father replied, almost indifferently. "She's resting at the moment. Her maids will tell us when she's ready to talk to us. Now, stay quiet. I must think."
While Azulon closed his eyes, Iroh enjoyed this moment of rare proximity with his father. Whenever he saw him, they were either practicing Firebending, or attending a war meeting, or eating at a crowded table, with several guests between them. As far as he remembered, this was the first time they were together almost as equals, with the exception of the vacations at Ember Island and the few times they had accidentally stumbled on each other while both heading to the closest bathroom at night.
He carefully stared at his father. Fire Lord Azulon had entered into his 52nd year a month ago, but still showed no sign of aging. His hair might have greyed a little but he was certainly fitter and in a better health than most men ten years younger. He had just come back from the Earth Kingdom, where he had personally led an offensive on some important district. Only the imminent birth of his second child had been able to bring him back to the palace.
At last Iroh asked the question that was burning him (figuratively speaking).
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
Azulon opened his eyes. "A boy." he muttered, and he closed back his eyelids.
Ah, Iroh thought, that's what he is thinking about. A boy meant a future general and an "incarnation" of the entire Fire Nation : whatever he would do would be taken as representative of his country. He would either light the world with the glory of the Fire Nation, or be a shameful stain. There was no third way. And now, Iroh would bet on it, Azulon was already thinking of who would be his son's tutors, his servants, maybe already his eventual wife. The Fire Lord was the controlling type. But it came with the job, Iroh guessed.
"My Lord." The two royals turned their heads to the maid who was bowing on the ground.
"You may speak." Azulon said.
"Thank you my Lord. Fire Lady Ilah ordered me to tell you that she is well and in a shape good enough to talk to you. However, do not stay too long. Despite the Fire Lady's claims, she needs more rest."
Without a word, the father and the son both got up and headed to the dark room.
"Iroh, my sweet. Come to me."
Ilah lay on the Royal Bed, so enormous one could put a Platypus Bear in it. She had dark circles under her eyes and her skin was sweaty. But otherwise, she did look healthy.
"Mother." Iroh said. He kneeled besides the bed. "How do you feel?"
Ilah chuckled. "Not too bad when compared to your own birth. I was ill for days."
Azulon sat on the bed and took her hand. Despite their age difference and their arranged marriage, they did have affection for each other, though not true love.
"Do you want to see him?" Ilah asked Iroh. He managed only to nod in silence. Ilah pointed, with a pale finger, a cradle in the corner of the room.
Wearily, Iroh walked in the direction of the baby bed, but did not dare look into the cradle. A maid, full of good intentions, took the baby boy and tried to hand him to Iroh. Curse you, he mentally said to the woman.
"But I don't know how to handle it!" he exclaimed aloud. Ilah giggled under her pillows while the maid patiently showed the Crown Prince how to hold the baby without hurting his head. Iroh's face felt hot.
The baby was … reddish. It was some kind of blob with a vague humanoid shape. A few jet black hair locks sprouted out of his head. As Iroh's face came down for closer examination, big golden eyes opened, far brighter and lighter than his own.
"Huh, he - hello." Iroh stammered.
The baby's mouth turned into a cheerful smile and he laughed in a wonderful way.
"Oh, he already loves you!" Ilah said. "I feel you two will get along famously!"
"But Mother!" Iroh replied in fake utter outrage. "I'm fifteen years older! When he'll be my age, I will already have children! The age difference is too big! We'll never be real brothers."
"Don't be silly" his mother told him. "Age is nothing. He's of your blood, he's your family. Love is already here." She nodded towards the grinning baby.
Iroh kissed his brother on the brow, who laughed again, before handing him to his … to their mother. The baby started to cry when he left Iroh's embrace.
"Why, you see," Ilah argued. "I can't see why you won't be real brothers as you say, since he seems to love you so much."
Azulon turned to his son.
"Leave." he ordered him. "Your mother should rest."
"And Iroh dear, would you mind asking one of the servants to bring me a cup of Ginseng tea?" Ilah asked, smiling. "That would be nice."
Iroh smiled back. "As you wish, Mother."
As he left the room, he muttered under his breath : "See you later, little brother."
"Ah, it looks like I win again." Sifu Hayao said.
Iroh looked at the Pai Sho board incredulously.
"How can someone do so much damage with a White Lotus tile?" he exclaimed.
"Ah, why not? The White Lotus tile, though alone the least powerful, can change the balance of an entire game with the right strategy."
They were playing in a pagoda in the gardens ; the day was hot. After a few lessons in the library, they had escaped its unbearable heat and were now relaxing.
"Would you like another game?" Master Hayao proposed.
"With pleasure." Iroh started to put his different tiles according to a complicated strategy. Hayao's, however, seemed to be placed randomly.
"Master, are you sure you want to put this Lucky Cornucopia that way?"
Hayao politely smiled. "Focus on your game, student. Or you might lose. For the forty-second time."
They started to play. For once, Iroh took the upper hand.
"I'm afraid you're losing, Sifu." he grinned, as he kicked two of Hayao's Cherry Blossoms out of the board.
"Ah, the Rainbow Lobster." Master Hayao simply whispered. "So brutish, yet so powerful. Very clever of you, student."
Iroh frowned. If the tutor wasn't that worried, that meant that Iroh was falling right into one of his traps. He focused even more on the game.
"So," Hayao questioned, "how do you feel with that little brother?"
"Well, he looks quite cheerful. And he seems to be fond of me." Iroh said absently, moving a tile. "I do love him. I just hope he won't cry too much or become annoying when he'll grow up."
"And yet, student, you seem quite thoughtful. What is the problem?" the old man asked.
Iroh remained silent, and so did Hayao. They had learned to know each other very well since the old man had first entered the Royal Palace, ten years ago. Hayao, a gifted Firebender and retired military officer and doctor, was the Royal Family's main healer but also the Crown Prince's strategy tutor, hence the many games of Pai Sho. He also taught Iroh about Foreign Cultures, something the Fire Lord himself had wanted, as "knowing the enemy was knowing his weaknesses". But he was far more than a simple professor for Iroh. With his old-fashioned and distinguished quietness and politeness, he was almost a second father.
"I'm not sure that my father actually loves me." he finally confessed. "My mother shows it to me well, but my father … Every time I'm near him, it's almost as if I wasn't his son, just another courtier. He never ceases to be the Fire Lord."
"Now, don't worry." Sifu Hayao stretched his arm and patted his student's shoulder. "That's not because he doesn't show his emotions that your father doesn't love you."
"Are you sure?" Iroh asked, his voice a little broken.
"Yes. The attitude of the Fire Lord is due to his own father's education. It is so much anchored into his very being that, even if he wished too, he wouldn't be able to express his feelings spontaneously. By the way, you lost your Rainbow Lobster."
"Maybe, Master, but this is nothing compared to the loss of your Holy Sun - here - and of your two Moon Flowers." Iroh replied.
"I'm very impressed, student." admitted Hayao. "You become better at each sunrise."
"My teacher is very good." Iroh smiled while pouring Jasmine tea in two teacups.
"To come back to your father, you are actually quite lucky, as he is far more caring that Fire Lord Sozin was in his time."
Iroh raised an eyebrow. "I thought Fire Lord Sozin was the greatest Fire Lord ever."
"Oh, I can tell by experience that he was ; in battle he was a formidable sight to behold. But he wasn't much of a loving father. At the Battle of Taku, when then Crown Prince Azulon disobeyed a direct order from him, he burnt his lower leg."
Iroh felt uncomfortable. Telling that Sozin wasn't entirely good was an equivalent of blasphemy and there were always evil ears sneaking around.
"He burned his leg?" he repeated.
"Oh, not badly. I was the one who took care of the wound and I don't think there's a scar left. After all, Azulon's decision changed the outcome of the battle.The Fire Nation won that day."
"Then why did he burn him?"
"It was a way to show that in the army, obeying orders is the soldier's prime duty, I suppose. Now what can you acquire as a benefit from this story, student?"
Iroh thought for a few seconds.
"Er, there's always worse somewhere?" he said hesitantly.
"Exactly. Now let's go back to Pai Sho."
They remained silent for a long time, devoting their entire intelligence on the game.
Finally, Hayao broke the silence.
"I believe there are fireworks tonight to celebrate the new Prince's birth, after the intronisation."
Iroh looked at him suspiciously.
"Indeed there are."
Hayao had a sly smile.
"Will you go and see it, student?"
"I can't see how I can miss it, it's almost under my windows."
"And will you go alone … or with that young raven-haired lady?"
Iroh's face became bright red.
"Cixi is just a friend!" he protested.
"Oh, yes. Maybe." replied Hayao. "You lose your Scarlet Dragon."
"But you lose the whole game, Master." Iroh made his Incandescent Pearl slide on the board and knocked out Hayao's Lion Turtle. "The Lion Turtle is the most powerful tile in the entire game, Master, and I have more than the equivalent of the double of what's left of your pawns. You just can't win."
"Actually, you lose, student." And with a series of elegant movements, Iroh's tiles were removed of the board. "Close your mouth, student, or otherwise, a Moose-Fly will enter in."
"And as usual, I didn't find out the strategy until you have achieved your goal."
"Actually, this entire afternoon was nothing but a skilled manipulation that allowed me to make you confess willingly what was on your heart. Indeed, if you hadn't been so comfortable, would you have told me about what was on your heart?"
"I guess that no." Iroh laughed. "You truly are a master in deceiving people."
"Indeed I am." chuckled the old man. "And what is the lesson?"
"Always be weary of other people's intentions?"
"Very good, student. Very good. Now hand me that teacup."
Iroh had put on his most beautiful clothes and was now waiting inside the old Coronation Temple on the Royal Plaza. It was almost sunset and it was a little cold by now. The entire population of the Capital was now crowding the plaza and the surrounding avenues. Their chatter resonated under the temple roof.
Finally, a gong rang and everyone went silent. The Fire Sages, Iroh and Fire Lord Azulon, holding the newborn baby, all moved forward and stood before their people, slightly shivering.
The Great Fire Sage started to speak.
"In this year of the Monkey of Fire in the Air Ri Wu era, the fifty-second year since the glorious coming of Sozin's Comet, on the first day of the eighth month, Fire Lady Ilah, wife of our mighty Fire Lord Azulon, gave birth to a son!"
The crowd started cheering.
"This son, this second Prince, will one day grow up and become, as his brother, father and grandfather before him, one of the most powerful Firebending masters ever, that will lead us to victory in the War we fight for the enlightment and the sake of the peoples of the other nations!"
The Plaza exploded with hurrays and cheers. The Fire Lord had to raise a hand to bring back order.
"My loyal subjects", he said with his cold voice. He wasn't shouting like the Fire Sage, yet his voice was perfectly heard in the complete silence. "I give you a prince of my blood, of great Fire Lord Sozin's blood, that will serve you and guide you!"
He lifted up the baby boy, who stared at the applauding crowd with amazed golden eyes.
"I give you my son!"
The dying rays of the twilight sun casted blood-colored light on the face of the newborn.
"I give you Ozai!"
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|