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|The Pain of Learning, Part 2: Day|
August 16th, 2010
The Tired Champion
In the wee hours of the morning, Iroh assembled the men who had been hurt by Zuko's violent mourning in order to issue a formal apology. Fire Nation military allowed a soldier hurt by friendly fire to take leave or even honorable discharge, according to the severity of the damage. Iroh was about to begin his speech, when Zuko emerged from his tent with Mai by his side. He placed a knowing hand on his Uncle's shoulder and took over.
"I am once more in debt of my great Uncle, The Dragon of The West, for steadying my hand in this dark hour. And may I be so bold as to add that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to my late Mother, Fire Lady Ursa, for always standing on the side of truth and justice, even at the expense of her good name. I pray that she finds joy and peace in the afterlife."
Iroh smiled a pained smile and moved back. Fire Lord Zuko moved forward to address his soldiers:
"My brothers and sisters: Tonight I have failed you. I have disgraced the holy pact that binds a leader to his people. In unleashing my anger and my grief at you, I allowed myself to taint the bonds that unite us in service. I ask for your forgiveness and am more than willing to honor the rules of military protocol, so you may at least be sent to your homes with honor."
A lieutenant with a bandaged, burned right arm stood up in the assembly. His hairs were speckled with gray and his features rugged from the wear and tear of battle. His eyes however, still burned with a fierce amber glow.
"My Liege: My grandfather died serving Fire Lord Azulon in Garsai. My father served under your great Uncle, and is buried at the base of the inner wall at Ba Sing Se. I served under your father Ozai during the Great War. All my family has ever known is to serve our Nation. Now I am here with you, with my sons beside me, ready to die under your command and at your side. HAIL!"
He stood at attention. The Lieutenant's two sons also stood up and saluted their Fire Lord.
"My lord." A young soldier with a bandaged leg stood up.
"I come from the slums of Ember Island, and have seen the Black Lotus exploit and terrorize my home firsthand. I even saw them kill my two older brothers with my own eyes. Your mother now joins them and they all together wait for our hand to avenge their deaths and free the world of this vermin. I will either succeed, or die trying at your side. HAIL!"
Tears rolled down Zuko's face as the men stood up, told their stories and pledged their loyalty. It all ended in a massive cheer and a resounding war cry.
Meanwhile, Iroh took a seat assisted by Tengu. They began sharing a pot of ginseng tea Tengu had made out of some wild roots he had collected earlier that night, after escorting Toph. Aang watched from afar. After Zuko had his moment with the troops, Iroh and Tengu exchanged stories and laughs. Iroh began coughing and Mai rushed to his side with a warm pig sheep wool blanket. She kissed his forehead tenderly before leaving. Shortly after, Zuko came and asked him to retire, since it would be dawn soon. Aang's watching was interrupted as he felt someone embrace him from behind.
"I was looking for you." said Katara.
"She's sleeping with Kuen Yin. It took her a while to settle down."
"He looks tired. He wasn't like that when we first met him."
"Mai tells me he's almost 80 now. They're hoping the war will end before that so they can have a peaceful birthday celebration."
Aang kissed his wife's hand and walked over to the old warrior.
"You should retire, Grand Master, you look like the day has had a toll on you."
"You're right, Young Avatar, a man does need his rest." He got up laboriously from his seat, with help from Aang.
"You know, when the sun is out, I can do most everything I could do when I was younger. But long, hard nights like these remind me that I'm not so young anymore." With that, he turned to Aang.
"Come to think of it, I've been fighting or running most of my life, my young friend. I am tired, Avatar. A man does need his rest." Aang felt the words resonate with an urgency he had not felt before.
"Well," said Iroh with a big smile, "I bid you good night, young men." He retired to his tent, with Tengu following close.
The Dejected Avatar
Aang took his eyes to the barren hilltop where Zuko had unleashed his fury. He opened his glider and flew to the top, landing slowly amid the ashes that now made up the ground. He closed his glider, sat down and took up his meditating pose. In a few moments, he had crossed over to the Spirit World.
When he opened his eyes, he was in a place he could not recognize from any of his previous trips into the Netherworld. It was an open courtyard, set atop some place that seemed very high among mountains, since they could be made out clearly in the background. The building itself was made of what looked like red marble. He could make four seats at the end; however, he could not make out the people because of the strong backlight. Slowly, he drew closer...
We have been expecting you
We see that you are quite sad
So we are all here to help
Aang bowed to his four predecessors. He was about to kneel on the floor, when he discovered a seat next to him. He hesitated:
Take a seat, Aang
We are all equal here
We know that you are humble
But you must learn to take pride in your office
"It's certainly an honor to have you all here together. And yes, you are right: I am sad. I feel that it's my fault that this war has waged for so long. Every new turn brings about a new consequence that weighs on my soul. I feel exhausted: I have been fighting for almost half my life, with no end in sight. I was raised to be something I feel I will never be able to become, which is a man of peace."
Aang, you should know that peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather an attitude of the spirit
It is a state of mental resolve in which you believe that you are whole and complete, without lack
It is an inner conviction that you will not be moved by circumstance, but only by your own principles
You will move out of the need to act, instead of being forced to react by others
"I had never seen it that way, and I thank you for your wisdom. However, I find that I cannot help my feelings. I am tired. My friends are tired. My daughter's childhood has slipped through my fingers..." Aang's voice broke.
"My best friend has just lost his mother...Iroh is aging without rest...I cannot help rebuild my people the way I want to...and I don't even know what our enemy is fighting for! I mean: the person who hired them is already dead!"
Aang's anger and confusion were palpable.
"I have tried to extricate every motive...I have tried to dissuade them, to corner them...."
Tears fell from Aang's eyes.
"My wife wants another child. I dare not give her one...I'm not even sure of how well I can protect the one we have..."
We have found this fault in the human spirit
A man can be steadfast, persistent and true
A woman can be wise, courageous and valiant
Both will falter when they are closest to their objective
"I don't understand..."
Aang your life has been certainly beset by tragedy and hardship
From all of the Avatars in recent memory, your life mission stands out as one of the most difficult any single one of us has had to face
Yet you have managed to succeed where most of us have failed
And you have done so without betraying who you really are
You have never been lenient when facing injustice – you have always confronted it promptly and without distraction
You have never abused your power or given into corruption
You have been a proactive Avatar, actively seeking to fulfill your duty to the World
And you have done so without ever betraying the principles which you hold so dear
"I am listening." Aang uttered the words solemnly, tears running down his cheeks, as the words of validation quenched his parched, broken soul.
Learn this wisdom from Koh, Aang: Evil will wear many masks
Yet, in the end, its purpose is one and the same – to lie, to steal, and to destroy
Your true enemy has no face – instead, it will manipulate a series of foes, or sometimes even friends, in order to have you direct your anger at individuals
If you allow yourself to become distracted from the greater picture, the enemy will scatter your energy, and diffuse your attack
Know this Aang: we are proud of you and you are close to completing your task
We all stand by you and behind you, every step of the way
Keep your focus now, stay on your path and you will succeed
We send you with our strength and our blessing
And, as each Avatar blessed Aang, they placed their hands on him, sending him back to the Physical World.
The Preaching Warlord
All eyes were focused on the hilltop, where a small whirlwind carried the ashen remains of the ground away. When the cloud was lifted, it revealed Aang in the Avatar State, plunging his hands into the ground. The earthen mound shook, as the underground water came to the surface, cleansing the ground. With a great effort, Aang channeled all his energy into his buried hands. Everyone watched astonished, as tiny blades of grass sprouted from the new ground. In a few moments, the hill had been renewed, as if the scorching fury of the Fire Lord had never left a mark on its face...
Aang returned from the Avatar State, withdrew his hands from the ground and stood up, just as the first rays of the rising sun washed the earth from the East. He took his staff and began addressing his people, in a tone they had never heard before:
"Fire Nation! FIRE NATION!"
Zuko and his generals stepped forward, awaiting the worst...
"It has been a long, difficult night. The greed of your forefathers has brought down a curse of despair, judgment and woe unto your shoulders. But I will have you direct your gaze to the rising sun...It is a new day! This old curse will be broken, and the chains will fall from your hands and your feet, for you will defeat this present darkness and restore balance and order to the world.!"
Iroh and his nephew lifted their heads: "AYE!"
"Fire Nation! FIRE NATION! This is a NEW DAY!"
The Fire Nation army felt the burden of 113 years of shame being lifted off their shoulders. They broke into cheering.
"Earth Kingdom! This is a NEW DAY!"
How and his men stood on attention, as if saluting the King himself.
"No longer will those who prey on you will be able to divide you! No longer will they abuse your kindness and generosity, looting the treasures of your heart and goodwill. They will know the greatness of your strength; they will find a people united in purpose, in action, and in truth! They will clash against the rock and be destroyed, forever!"
Cries of approval rose randomly from within the lines.
"Earth Kingdom! EARTH KINGDOM!"
The troops roared in a frenzy.
"THIS IS A NEW DAY!"
"Water Tribe! WATER TRIBE!"
The Water Tribesmen donned their wolf helmets and rose their spears into the air, as if to receive the Avatar's blessing.
"For years you have been hunted, cornered like beasts, driven into shame and submission! No more!"
"No more!", rose the war cry of the Sons of the Tundra.
"NO MORE!" cried the Avatar.
"NO MORE!" zeal and purpose rose within them, like a tidal wave.
"For so as the moon helped heal the night, and restore peace to this valley, so will you rise to heal the broken Earth, and help restore brotherhood and friendship among the nations!"
The warriors' cries sounded to Aang's ears like a choir, filling the air with melodies of joy and renewal.
The Avatar faced his wife, who cried tears of joy upon beholding the arrival of the hero she had waited for so long.
"And so as you saved my life," Aang's voice quivered "you will SAVE THIS WORLD from those who persecute and oppress the weak and the innocent! WATER TRIBE! This is A NEW DAY!"
"Air Nomads!" Aang broke into sobbing.
"We are HERE! WE ARE ALIVE!"
The airbenders cheered, rasing their staffs into the air.
"Evil will wear many masks. A hundred years ago, it stole the face of the Fire Nation, and tried to wipe us away. But it could not! Now, evil wants to steal our face! After trying to crush us and destroy us forever, now it has the gall, the AUDACITY, to use OUR FACE to terrorize this world!" Angry tears streaked down his face as he spoke.
"AYE!" replied his nomads.
"MY CHILDREN! Let your gaze travel to the rising sun!"
A strong wind blew from the South. Aang lifted his hands and closed his eyes. A solemn silence swept across the crowd.
When the wind had subsided he said, in a quiet voice "It is a new day."
Tengu raised his staff and shouted "A NEW DAY!"
"A NEW DAY!" answered everyone.
"A NEW DAY!" he shouted again.
The Four Nations broke out in a jubilant cheer, so loud in fact, that some people who were there still insist that the ground shook...
Far away in Ember Island, Lu Ming woke up shivering and feeling sick to his stomach.
For some unknown reason, he felt dread in his heart, as if doom was coming to his doorstep...
- "A man needs his rest..." comes from this chapter.
- The author's perspective on peace here (and here).
- The author's perspective on evil here and here.
- Aang's speech inspired by this speech, this other speech, and by this song.
For the collective works of the author, go here.