When Zuko spoke up, he was right, but it wasn’t his place to say.
Iroh agreed with him, but the suggestion was just a suggestion, and with one member of the council (an elder) already speaking up, that suggestion was not likely to be used.
They all knew that it was unlikely anyone would agree to send off new recruits - much better to send trained men who would then be able to help with the battle, and would prove to be a good distraction.
The man who suggested the battalion move forward was the rival of a counselman who had a son in the army - if that man would have spoken up, he would not be allowing his son to gain his own honor, and the man was testing that. The elder immediately spoke up, to quash the playing with soldier’s lives.
However, Zuko did not know the layers of politics, dancing around each other with words and wit. He barged in like an angry boarcupine between two dragons dueling with words. They immediately turned against him.
He did not respect the man to make good decisions for the nation, insinuated he was a fool, and spoke up against an elder without trying to understand the situation.
“His act against the general was of complete disrespect… and there was only one way to resolve this”
Zuko looked upon the general he insulted, and declared he was not afraid.
Zuko misunderstood. When he turned to face his opponent, he was surprised to see it was not the general. Zuko had spoken out against the general’s plan, but by doing so in the firelord’s war room, it was the firelord whom he had disrespected (Insult a guest, and the host is insulted)
Zuko would have to duel his own father.
When zuko saw it was his father that had come to duel him, he begged for mercy
“Please, father, I only had the Fire Nation’s best interests at heart. I’m sorry I spoke out of turn!”
In a growling voice, Ozai responded “You will fight for your honor”
Zuko kneeled formally “I meant you no disrespect.” He raised his head to see his father’s face, but the sun behind the man left him in silhouette. “ I am your loyal son”
“Rise and Fight prince zuko.”
He bowed his head again.
“I wont fight you”
“You will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher.” Zuko raised his head, tears spilling over his cheeks.
Ozai cupped his hand to the side of his son’s face, igniting the air with a flash.
Zuko did not pull away, having accepted this as the end of the Agni Kai.
However, he did scream, and flinch when he felt the skin burning on his face, pain rocketing back from his eye into his brain.
It was not a quick punch, where the flames would wash over him and char the surface, but a second or so of direct heat, the flames arching around that side of him. Zuko’s misery grasped onto the flames and his fear and anguish drove them higher and brighter.
After the fight, the Firelord said that by refusing to fight, Zuko had shown shameful weakness. As punishment, he was banished. And sent to capture the Avatar. Only then could he return with his honor.
Ozai was coldhearted, and had meant to mark his son’s face with the flicker of flame scars, leaning in close to be perfectly accurate, to make a point to his cowardly son. He spoke up when he thought he could get away with it, but was cowed before someone who could overpower him.
His son would not fight for his honor, against a stronger opponent, even in an Fire Duel. A duel of honor.
He had meant to brand his son’s dishonor onto his face, but Zuko’s own firebending lashed out, pushing the flames higher and hotter.
His son’s lack of control forced the firebending into a blaze that burned away nearly the entire side of his face, leaving blackened flesh and a disgusting smell.
Ozai stepped back, furious, both at himself for letting it happen, and at zuko for losing control in a way that made him seem horribly cruel. He was stubborn at the best of times, arrogant at the worst, but he was not heartless enough to burn his own son in such a manner.
The people viewing would spread rumors, that he was a man who could cup his son’s face and burn it away without mercy. A man who could do that to his son.. would he be able to lead a nation to glory, or to ruin with a lesson in ‘respect’
And so, Ozai sent his son away with a quest after the Avatar ‘You can return with honor when you capture him’ citing the boy’s weakness as a reason.
Really, he sent the boy away to remove the reminder of that day from the eyes of the nobles and the people, so they would follow him, and dissent would not grow after seeing his ‘cruelty’ Ozai was already known as a ruler who had risen to power in the shadow of his father’s suspicious death.
He snarled as he passed a painting of his late father. That man…
He had threatened what was most dear to him, to make a point.
Ozai had seen red, creating a plan with his wife to protect his children.
He caught her just as she left the room, embracing her, burying his nose in her soft hair.
“I’m so sorry.”
She pressed her forehead into his shoulder, tightening her grasp around his torso before stepping back. He released her, drinking in her elegant features in the dim lighting. This would be the last he saw of her, for years.
He reached forward, cupping the back of her head and placing a kiss on the top of her head, whispering once again.
“Please forgive me.”
She gave a wane smile, tilting up to kiss him fully.
“Never apologize for protecting our children. I will be fine.”
“There is a small ship waiting on the far side of the mountain and a mongoose-dragon to take you there. The children are in their rooms. Signal when you reach the ship, I’ll wait until then to alert the guards. “
He watched his wife disappear into the shadows, holding his composure for a few moments before sagging heavily against the wall.
Strong fingers clamped over his eyes and temples, the other arm curling around his abdomen. He could feel his heart clenching, a horrible tearing sensation. The writhing in his gut was agonizing. His wife, gone. She was leaving him, leaving her children by his own hand.
He clenched his teeth, shoulders trembling under tight muscles.
He was destroying his family, with a single stupid comment about his brother’s loss.
Taking a deep breath, he strode toward the door, pulling it open just slightly in order to see the shadowy, slumped figure behind a low table.
A pang of sorrow, before rage swept up to consume his heart. This man threatened his grandchildren, dishonoring himself and showing him unfit to represent the Fire Nation. How could a kin-slayer be trusted to rule a nation.
Ozai turned, making his way toward the upper levels in order to wait for his wife’s signal.
Azula was born lucky, while Zuko was lucky to be born. Ursa’s first childbirth was rife with complications. He had seen his son, his first child, gasping weakly in the midwife’s arms. His umbilical cord had been wrapped tightly about the child’s neck, smothering his breathing. They had saved him, but his lungs would be weak. Firebending likely impossible.
He had wept for the first time in many years, the knowledge heavy in his heart. How could his son be in line for the Dragon Throne, if he could not bend fire? How could the boy fight for his honor, with nothing to defend himself?
Some nobles had abandoned their children for lack of bending.
Instead, he had given the boy the best tutors, the best medical attention. He was ill frequently when young, but seemed to grow stronger as he aged.
Later, Ozai traveled with his family to Shu Jing, to request that Piandao the man instruct his son in the ways of swordsmanship.
If his son could not be the best with Firebending, he would still be strong. He would still be the best.