The first time a minister calls Iroh “the prince”, Fire Lord Zuko stares at her blankly. So too do the Avatar, the siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, the Earthbending girl, and the Kyoshi warrior.
“You guys have another prince?” the Avatar asks the Fire Lord, and the Fire Lord shakes his head in confusion.
“General Iroh”, the minister amends, and then, just in case, adds, “your uncle.”
A chorus of “ooooh”s come from the children, accompanied by knowing nods as they realize exactly who the woman is speaking about.
The Fire Lord, the Avatar, and the other children never refer to him as anything other than “Uncle”.
That doesn't help matters.
Neither does the fact that the Fire Lord will refer to Prince Iroh as “Uncle” even in councils, War Meetings – now “Peace Meetings” – and meetings with dignitaries from the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes.
Nor that, if Prince Iroh is ever referred to as the prince or the Crown Prince, the Fire Lord will always stare blankly for a long moment or four, before nodding and saying, “oh yes, Uncle” (“General Iroh” gets much better results, but seeing as Prince Iroh is now officially retired from the military, that title is less appropriate).
Most Fire Nation officials give up on calling Prince Iroh anything other than “your uncle” to the Fire Lord after a few weeks. Some hold out for a few months.
But the Fire Lord’s stubborn, blind refusal to use any term other than “Uncle” – despite the hints that he perhaps use “the prince” or “Prince Iroh” or “the Dragon of the West” or “General Iroh”, or the Minster of Agriculture's desperate, last ditch attempt of, “At least call him Uncle Iroh” – wears them all down in the end.
The first time a minister accidentally calls Prince Iroh “Uncle” in a meeting – one without the Fire Lord in attendance, away as he is on business with the Southern Water Tribe – the minister immediately lets out a long sigh as he rolls his eyes up to stare at the ceiling in defeat. The other ministers, dignitaries, and generals give him sympathetic looks, and the Minster of Finance pats him genially on the shoulder. “Happens to the best of us,” she says.
The first time one of the palace staff forgets to add “your” before “uncle”, and instead informs the Fire Lord that “Uncle is waiting for you in the courtyard”, the woman turns as red as a bowl of fire flakes and presses her lips together so tight that her mouth becomes thin white line in a sea of red. The Fire Lord, however, does not notice anything amiss. He rushes out of his office with a hurried, “Thank-you!”, leaving the soldiers standing guard to snicker at the woman as soon as the Fire Lord leaves hearing range.
The first time a minister unwittingly calls Prince Iroh “Uncle” to his face, he slaps a hand to his forehead while Prince Iroh doubles over in laughter. “I deeply apologize, Prince Iroh,” the man says, voice faint under the mortification.
“No, don't,” Prince Iroh wheezes, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “Please, continue.”
Prince Iroh, of course, encourages it at every opportunity.
So too does the Beifong girl. The other children remain as oblivious as the Fire Lord when they visit, but they are sure the Earthbender is doing it deliberately, with a maliciously gleeful grin every time another inhabitant of the palace screws up. The ministers share notes with the courtiers, who in turn talk with the palace staff, who in turn gossip with the servants. Yes, they all agree, Prince Iroh and Toph Beifong are to blame for at least half this nonsense.
The Fire Lord is fully responsible for the other half, but that goes without saying.
When a minister finally slips up and calls Prince Iroh “Uncle” in a Peace Meeting in front of Fire Lord Zuko, all the ministers, dignitaries, and generals hold their breaths, and their laughter…yet the Fire Lord doesn't even seem to register the blunder. “No, Uncle’s too busy with his tea shop,” the Fire Lord gently rebukes, and moves on.
It is at this point that the political figures of the Fire Nation give up completely.
Prince Iroh, they wearily accept, is the Uncle of the Fire Nation.