The palace was lively by this time. The lilies were in bloom again and the Fire Lord had ordered bouquets of grand proportions to be delivered to the palace. The liveliness of spring was to be celebrated in the Fire Nation. The earth is taking a deep breath and is reborn again and a princess had been born.
Visitors and letters of congratulations flooded the royal family, but the Fire Lord was waiting for a week for the most important visitor from Ba Sing Se.
Zuko carried his uncle’s letter in his robes and lingered on it until his arrival. He never felt this happy in his whole life and was torn between spending time with his newborn daughter and his royal duties.
It ached the Fire Lord to be away from Izumi. He saw her in the mornings and later in the night when he retired to his chambers after a hard day of work.
One night, the night before Iroh’s arrival, Zuko walked in calmly and quietly to the chambers at midnight. Izumi had fallen fast asleep in her red golden crib. Zuko took off his robes and fire crown and laid them on an armchair folded. Before he tiptoed to Izumi’s crib, he made a stop at the big bed where his wife was laying asleep.
The sheet was only covering half of her body, revealing her upper torso exposed and the porcelain skin exposed to the light from the night.
He stroked the skin of her neck with his callous and course fingers and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“Zuko…” She mumbled in her sleep and opened her eyes halfway. “What are you doing?”
A smile appeared on his lips. “I just like to admire you…”
She turned around to face him properly, but a loud gurgling noise was heard across the room.
She begged him to check on her.
Zuko walked over to the crib and saw the little figure making the loud noise. Wide eyed and curious she laid now in silence and inspected the loving face of her father.
As long as I could remember. The spring festival was celebrated on my naming day. A celebration of light and hope of new beginnings.
“Hello little princess.” Zuko whispered to her.
Izumi’s crib was made by the finest carvers of Hira’a, a gift from Ursa and Noren. To her left side was a stuffed sky bison, the same size as her head, another gift from Avatar Aang and Katara but what was the little girl’s favorite was a toy from her uncle Sokka, a boomerang for her teething.
Izumi waved her small little fists and gave her father a toothless smile. Wanting to get picked up she got what she wanted.
“Your mommy is trying to sleep but you like to be fussy, don’t you? Don’t you?” Zuko tickled Izumi’s chin and delighted in the sound of her bubbly gurgles. “And tomorrow, you are going to meet someone very special.”
Father often spoke with pride and gusto of his uncle Iroh, the dragon of the West. The grand general and honorable member of the White Lotus but to me, he was more than that. He was my Grandfather Iroh.
Zuko stayed up all night with Izumi. Cradling her, singing to her and showing off the toy Toph had made for her. Mai had taken it away from Izumi for being a hazardous risk. It was a rock with a few branches glued to it.
Zuko shook the little figurine and created a matching voice to fit it.
“Hello… ‘Zumi… Why are you awake this hour?”
Izumi waved her small fists full of saliva and let out a yawn. She curled up in his embrace and fussed with every movement Zuko made towards her crib.
He didn’t mind, he sat down on an armchair next to the Fire Lady’s vanity table and looked over the half-asleep baby.
His mind had raced from political cabinet meetings, summits and to where his diplomatic missions would take him, but it all stopped when he laid his eyes on her.
Never did he think these days would come. His coronation, his marriage and the birth of his own child. He had once thought that his life had ended on the day of his banishment and never was, he going to be this happy again.
Now Zuko was in his mid-twenties, holding his daughter. A little person in her own right that was half of him. Never was he going to let her know fear in her own home, never was she going to feel like a failure or be disrespected.
He wasn’t sure if he was overcome with emotions or if his eyes were tearing up by the fact that he was sleepy and still forced his eyes open to look over the angelic face of Izumi.
“You are so loved. I hope you know that.” He whispered. “So many people love you and you are surrounded by it.”
Father and mother balanced each other well. She was pragmatic and he was idealistic but together they made a great team. I don’t think mother could be the person she was without father and vice versa. Even if they didn’t always agree, there was always a mutual respect, love and understanding between them. An unspoken bond that only they would know of and kept a secret from the rest of the world.
Zuko had fallen asleep on armchair and was found by his own wife. He snored loudly and drooled over himself. It was not an ideal image for the Fire Lord.
She stood over her husband and cleared her throat to wake him up.
“Good morning Fire Lord.”
“Uhm… Hello Fire Lady?” He mumbled half asleep. “And little one.”
Izumi gurgled with joy at the sight of her father.
“Your uncle has arrived, and I told him you are ending a cabinet meeting, to save you some time.”
Zuko smiled a victorious smile as he got up from the chair. He kissed his family good morning and made himself ready to greet his uncle.
Mai went down to the royal setting room with Izumi wrapped to her chest.
“You are going to meet someone very special. Someone who loves you very much.”
The light had entered the room shone on him. His golden eyes gave a glow and the steam from his teacup reflected in the sunlight and vibrating red from the fire lilies created a picturesque image of him.
“General Iroh.” Mai almost hesitated. She truly wasn’t aware what to call him. He was a simple man who once carried many titles of pride and some of shame. The General, the dragon of the west and some not as flattering from his enemies.
“Fire Lady Mai.” His deep voice carried a sweet gentle tone.
“Please, it’s only Mai.” Mai sat next to him and covered Izumi’s eyes from the light. They hadn’t had much interactions. She had remembered him as being Azula and Zuko’s eccentric nice uncle whom she shied away from.
“And I’m Iroh. Uncle Iroh.” He chuckled. Iroh took a sip from his cup and looked over the room with pride. “You certainly have made a difference in this room.”
“It was a mutual decision with Zuko.”
Iroh nodded. “I remember how it looked like when my dear mother Ilah had decorated this room, and then my father…. And by brother.” Iroh reminiscent. “It looks homely and welcoming. The fire lilies add a warm touch, and did you know that fire lilies used in tea add a certain spice and coloring?”
She didn’t know what to answer. They rarely had much to talk about. “I… I’m not much aware of tea. Oh, Zuko is on his way. Gen- I mean, Uncle Iroh, he has waited and asked about your life in Ba Sing Se and travels. I never understood until now the impact you have had on him and for that I am grateful.”
Iroh smiled and put this teacup down. His eyes glimmered with the reflection of the light and one could only wonder what secrets and wisdom laid behind them.
“One lesson I was adamant Zuko would learn is that people need people.” He kept his eyes on a distant invisible being across the room as he spoke. “Everything we do and what we do not is the cause of people. We aren’t meant to be lone wolves or isolated beings, we grow together. A fire lily never grows alone but together they create a field of the most beautiful and strong bouquet.”
“You sound like my aunt…” Mai said, still covering Izumi.
“Ah, the florist.” Iroh winked.
“You know my aunt?” She sounded shocked and raised her eyebrows in reply to his wink.
He stroked his beard and Mai could sense the man was blushing. She didn’t question him further on the matter but found the revelation oddly amusing.
“I see, I sense that change in Zuko. After he joined the Avatar and he found something that perhaps neither one of us were familiar with. The sense of belonging maybe?”
“Is the feeling of having to belong to something or someone important? I think it depends on how we view it. The four nations and all of its people are connected. Benders and nonbenders. We are all part of this universe. We need each other but we shall never force ourselves to think we have to belong to something or someone.” Iroh’s voice echoed in Mai’s ears but even she was now too confused to understand the meaning of his words.
“Uhm… I’m not following sir…”
“Oh, well. Ozai, my brother, always wanted to instill in Zuko where he belonged. Whether if it was in exile or beside him on the dragon throne but you should never allow anyone to tell you where you belong. You find peace when you figure it out on your own.”
Mai nodded in agreement. “Oh, I agree with that. I can speak of my own exp- “
“I knew what your father did. I did not know him like I knew my brother but I’m aware…”
Mai was again in shock of Iroh’s words with the mention of her father. “My father…?”
Their moment was now interrupted. Izumi had slept well and was now wide awake and missed the attention that was so often given to her. The infant child let out a squeak-ish scream to get everyone’s eyes on her.
“Oh, hello little one.” Iroh’s heart melted when his eyes met Izumi’s. “I hope you can forgive me for not noticing you earlier.”
Izumi stayed silent but her eyes never left Iroh.
“She’s so small you almost never notice she’s around until she makes herself heard.” Mai said and lifted Izumi up from the wrappings.
Another interruption took place. Zuko burst into the room and with a euphoric smile and loud greeting embraced his uncle like two long lost friends.
“Uncle!” Zuko embraced him. “I want to you to meet someone special.”
Mai gave Izumi to Zuko who carefully placed her in Iroh’s arms.
Iroh let out small sounds of oh’s and aw’s when Izumi was laid in his arms. He hadn’t felt this feeling in ages. The first time was when his beloved Lu Ten had been born. Somehow, he felt it was Lu Ten he was holding again.
“Her name is Izumi, uncle.” Zuko said with his arm around Mai’s waist. The young parents looked lovingly at Iroh and Izumi.
“A wonderful name. A testimony of spring and…”
“And a certain fountain incident…” Zuko mentioned looking over at Iroh’s confused face and then Mai’s annoyed look.
“I told you… We don’t need to mention that part to everyone we know.” Mai quipped.
Iroh seemed captivated by the little girl and didn’t notice Zuko and Mai in the background.
I don’t remember anything from my first meeting with Grandfather other from what father had told me. How from that moment we were inseparable.
“Hello little friend…” The tone of his voice surprised even him. The gentleness it carried as he felt it breaking.
Izumi was a beautiful child. She was a perfect mixture of her parents with a head of thick raven her and golden eyes staring back at Iroh, but he couldn’t help to think how much she resembled Lu Ten. The curled eyelashes and the kind eyes looking at Iroh. Izumi knew she was in good caring hands.
“You’re a beautiful little one.” Iroh continued and cradled her as he sat himself down. “Yes, you are…”
Izumi grabbed Iroh’s finger as he tickled her chin. She almost let out a silent laugh.
“Good grab.” Iroh chuckled but his laugher died out when the little girl had quickly let go off his index finger and her small fingers grabbed a hold of the white beard.
Her parents reacted immediately, and the old general admitted defeat.
“Ow… Oh, you won’t let go little one.”
“Izumi, please let go… Izumi.” Zuko said and tried to take Izumi away from Iroh but the she wouldn’t let go off him.
Her small fist was still connected to his beard and she gurgled happily at Iroh who only laughed at the spectacle.
“We are so sorry… She does this every time when she sees something she likes. She’s very strong.” Mai tried to get Izumi’s fist to open up, but Izumi wasn’t letting go off Iroh. She giggled loudly.
Zuko had an idea. From the inside of his robes he had hid Izumi’s handmade toy from Toph.
“Look, Izumi. Look it’s…. I don’t know what’s supposed to be but it’s aunt Toph’s present to you!”
She quickly let go off Iroh’s beard and clapped her hands and laughed when she saw the doll.
“Ah, excellent handwork.” Iroh stroked his chin and beard.
“It’s a rock with a few branches glued to it.” Mai was unimpressed but happy seeing Izumi overjoyed with the doll.
Iroh watched tenderly over the child who tried to reach the doll.
“The craft isn’t in its exterior but of the tender heart it was made from.”
Mother and father often couldn’t comprehend the words of Grandfather. Neither could I when think of it now but I cherish his words and I miss them to this day.
Every summer and spring he came to visit us in the Fire Nation.
Zuko had chosen the perfect tree for the family to sit under. Moments like this that reminded him of his time with Ursa were significant to him and he needed his whole family gathered again.
“I wish Azula could be here.” Zuko sighed and leaned against the tree. Iroh was pouring tea for them and Mai was exchanging her watchful eyes over the document she was holding and Izumi who played in the pond.
“Your sister needs time. She has gone through so much and we can’t force her to make up her mind.”
Zuko only nodded. He truly wanted to help Azula, but it was never easy to help someone who refused and if she still hated him, he didn’t ask why.
“Zuko…” Mai lowered the document with her eyes still on Izumi who without any care in the world was splashing around happily. “Are you sure she’s safe in the pond? What if she falls over? What if the turtleducks bite her?”
“Well, if the turtleducks bite her I’m certain she’d bite back.” Zuko leered at Mai who responded with a glare and a sigh.
“Whatever. I think she has had enough in the pond.” Mai got up and walked over to Izumi, leaving Iroh and Zuko alone in the garden.
“The royal garden has improved highly. I must say my dear nephew, you have made an outstanding work rebuilding it.” Iroh laid his hand on Zuko’s shoulder. It was enough that the warm touch and voice from his uncle lifted him up with confidence and a sense of pride.
“Thank you, Uncle. I wanted to recreate it out of my own memory of how grandmother Ilah used to care for it. Mother loved it so much and I want it to be the same for Izumi.”
“You have done a marvelous work.” Iroh was proud of Zuko. Seeing how far he had come and the place he was at now. Zuko was his boy, just as much how Lu Ten was. He had seen them both grow and watched over them as they grew. Zuko’s happiness was Iroh’s happiness.
Mai had Izumi’s little towel and bath robe resting on her arm when she approached her.
“Are you having fun Izumi?” She kneeled over the pond and the sound of her monotone voice took Izumi by surprise.
The little girl laughed and wanted her mother in the pond with her.
“I wish I could take a swim with you but maybe another time. It’s time we get up. Grandpa Iroh has made you your favorite tea. With vanilla extracts.”
Her eyes glimmered and looked over at her father and grandfather.
“Mommy, the tuwtleduck is my fwend.” Izumi pointed to a small turtleduck who looked confused by Mai and Izumi.
“Oh, is that so? Hello turtleduck.”
The little animal, still confused, looked at her in silence before letting off a quack.
“The tuwtleduck told me a secwet.” Izumi smirked. “But he won’t tell you because you not fwends.”
Mai raised an eyebrow to the turtleduck and turned with a smile to Izumi. “Really?”
Izumi nodded. She was still sitting down in in the pond with her hands on the ground. Grasping the mud beneath her. “I can tell you the secwet.”
Mai leaned closer to Izumi to let her whisper the supposed secret.
“Mommy! Close eyes!” Izumi demanded.
Mai let out a sigh. “Alright Izumi but hurry up. Your father and grandfather are waiting…”
Izumi lifted her hands and smeared Mai’s face with the mud from the pond. She laughed loudly at the spectacle she had created and her mother’s reaction.
“Izumi!” She replied in shock and heard the cackling from Zuko in the background. She turned around, almost furious, and looked right over at Zuko. “You think this is funny? Ugh, it’s in my mouth…”
Izumi kept on laughing and took her little robe from Mai. She wobbled away and looked up at Zuko who tried to hold himself from laughter.
“Mommy, needs help right now.” He mumbled to Izumi who hurried to sit next to her favorite person, Iroh.
“A mischievous trick you pulled, Izumi.” Iroh said and used his bending to warm the little girl who curled up next to him.
“You got some mud right above…”
“Don’t tell me!” Mai said and used the water to wash over her face. “And why did you laugh? You are only encouraging her.” She muttered.
“C’mon, it was funny. You did this to me a lot when we were kids!” Zuko tried to lay his arms around Mai but was rebuffed.
“Oh, now I remember. Like this?” Mai hurled a mudball at Zuko who almost fell over. “I remember now. Thank you for your support.”
Izumi laughed at the mud fight between her parents. Iroh had laid his arms around her to let the heat from his firebending dry her.
“You have some very silly parents, Izumi.” Iroh told the 3-year-old girl. “Very sill I might add.”
“Mommy and daddy silly!” The little girl said as she was handed her own little cup of tea. In the background there were noises coming from Mai and Zuko regarding their mud fighting.
“Zuko, I swear to Agni… If that gets in my hair…” Mai threatened.
“But it’s okay if it gets in my hair?!” Zuko wrestled her in the pond.
Iroh cackled at the head of state getting into a mud fight with his wife but Izumi had turned her attention to something else. Not far from where they were sitting; a lonely fire lily was growing from the grass.
“Gwandpa! Look!” Izumi pulled on Iroh’s sleeve. “Fi’ lily!”
“And what a beautiful one too.”
Izumi wanted to pick it up but was stopped by Iroh.
“It’s lonely! It needs fwends.” Izumi pleaded with Iroh to walk over to the fire lily with her. “Mommy says fi’ lilies die without fwends.”
“Fire lilies grow in pairs, that is right Izumi, but that fire lily isn’t grown yet. Picking it now would be unfair to the little fire lily. I promise you, we’ll go picking fire lilies together when they are grown.” He planted a kiss on her cheek and his beard against her skin tickled her. Izumi’s eyes were still on little red flower and she thought about Iroh’s words.
“What happens to the fi’ lily if we pick it now?”
“Just like how people need to grow, flowers need to do it too. Stunting someone’s growth and hindering them from flourishing is not a kind thing to do. We need to let it reach its full potential and then we can truly admire it.”
Izumi snuggled up to Iroh’s arm, but she was still looking at the flower growing lonely.
“Would it die if we picked it now?”
The old man chuckled and held onto Izumi. Both didn’t seem to think or care enough for the mess the Fire Lord and the Fire Lady were creating by the pond.
“They don’t truly die and leave us forever. The lives of fire lilies are special ones. They are born and are reborn and when their time comes, we let them reunite with the soil. It’s the circle of life and it involves us all. Humans, animals and even little fire lilies.”
Iroh gave Izumi a little tickle and she let out a loud sound of joy. She could have stayed with him for hours underneath the tree and listen to his stories even if she couldn’t comprehend half of them. It was the sound of his voice and the warmth of his friendly touch that comforted her.
“Alright, Izumi.” Mai finally appeared. Sticks and mud mixed to her hair and dripping from being soaking wet, she looked far from amused of today’s activities. “Let’s go inside and we can get new clothes.”
Iroh didn’t dare to say anything but it was Izumi who broke the silence.
“Mommy! You look silly!”
“You should see your father.” Mai said and tried to remain stoic but inside she was screaming.
Zuko came after Mai, looking worse than she.
“Nobody says anything! I just want to make it a clear statement that I am not done with you Mai.”
“Whatever.” Mai replied to him. She took a bit of pleasure of seeing him in that condition, but she was not going to let him know that or see that.
“Daddy looks vewy silly too!” Izumi said loudly as she and Mai were escorted inside, leaving Zuko and Iroh alone together by the tree.
“She’s right.” Iroh replied with a chuckle.
Sometimes Grandfather couldn’t come to us, but father didn’t miss a chance to visit his teashop whenever we were visiting the Earth Kingdom. I remember my first official trip to the huge and glorious nation on this planet.
Izumi was now 6 years old when she made her first official trip to the Earth Kingdom and with the title Princess Izumi.
Zuko and Izumi had fallen asleep in the palanquin, but their snoring together had kept Mai awake the whole ride. She looked over at her husband who snored with an open mouth and then Izumi who rested her head on Zuko’s thigh. She giggled in her sleep and laughed while dreaming. Mai loved seeing her like that. To be happy for no reason and enjoy a childhood of innocence. Something that wasn’t granted to her or Zuko.
And she suddenly remembered. How her mother would scold her for laughing or smiling for no apparent good reasons. How it suggested indecent things and from there on she had become a shell of her former self. Never was that going to happen to Izumi. Neither Zuko nor she would allow it.
“We are here now, my lady.” Voices were heard outside of the palanquin. Mai looked out and saw the stairs leading to the teashop
“Would her highness need any help whatsoever?” One of the servants asked her but Mai dismissed him.
“No thank you.” She tucked her hair behind her ear and patted on Zuko and Izumi. “Wake up, we are here now.”
Izumi was quicker than her father who asked where they were.
“Ba Sing Se, outside Iroh’s shop.”
“GRANDPA IS WAITING FOR US!” Izumi let out a scream and ran out of the palanquin, almost scaring both her parents.
“Now, Izumi… Wait! ARGH!” Zuko yelled out as he hit his head on the ceiling of the palanquin. “Ugh, we have to get rid of these palanquins!”
“Zuko calm down. Everyone on the street will hear you yelling.” Mai looked over her shoulder as the got out from the palanquin together. “However, you are right. They aren’t that safe when I think of it.”
“How about carriages pulled by ostrich horses?” Zuko suggested and stroked his forehead. He could feel a bump already.
“Anything but the servants.” Mai said and held onto his arm as they walked up the stairs. “I don’t understand the bearers can do it.”
“You are feeling sorry for them, aren’t you? What happened to the girl who liked to order servants around for some fruit tarts?” He teased.
“She was 15 and didn’t know better. We also need to set a better example for Izumi.”
Izumi ran into the arms of the elderly man who had waited for her.
“Grandpa Iroh!” Izumi jumped into his arms and let him almost carry her with the wind.
“My goodness you have grown! Like the fire lily that you are!”
Mai and Zuko came behind them. Zuko kept stroking his head and forehead knowing well that the headache wasn’t going to leave him until the night.
“Izumi, you can’t just run out of the palanquin like a maniac and jump at your grandfather!” Zuko berated the girl who hid behind Iroh.
“Zuko, I respect you and cherish you as my own beloved son but leave the girl alone.” Iroh vouched for Izumi.
“Yeah!” Izumi let out.
They spent most of their evenings with Iroh in his shop. Talking, reminiscing old times and the memories they were making along the way.
“I like what you have done to the place.” Zuko said and looked around the teashop. On the wall had Iroh framed Sokka’s infamous drawing of them all together, like the real family that they were.
Zuko was filled with nostalgia and he missed them so much. He kept his correspondence with Aang and his family. Sokka too and often the councilman would make a visit to the royal palace but what he would have wanted for them all to be gathered at his uncle’s with their families and children.
“Sometimes you have to re-invent. It has changed a lot since you used to work here…”
“Oh, I remember now. You used to work here.” Mai smirked at Zuko. “I would have loved to see you in that apron.”
“Mai, you used to work at your aunt’s flower shop.” Zuko snapped back and even he couldn’t resist a teasing smile.
“Yeah, so?” Now the fire lady sounded serious.
Zuko was left with no comeback to that. He nodded agreeingly that yes, he did use to work here.
“Grandpa! Grandpa!” Izumi came running across the room and into Iroh’s embrace. “Do you have a baby in there?” She patted Iroh’s stomach with both hands.
“Izumi, please…” her parents said in unison but the elderly teamaker only laughed at the girl’s comment.
Iroh lifted Izumi up and laid her on his knees. “Maybe it’s a baby dragon?”
Izumi’s eyes widened. She couldn’t believe her ears.
“Are you listening to this?” She asked her father.
“Is it Druk’s?” Izumi asked. She couldn’t understand why her parents would spit out their drinks at her remark.
Zuko’s headache was growing and Mai held her hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter.
“Actually, it was a delicious little baby dragon I had for lunch named Izumi.” He tickled her underneath her chin.
Zuko laid his arm around Mai and together they watched Iroh and Izumi and their conversation about dragons.
“We wanted to ask you something…” Zuko started. “We need you to watch over Izumi tonight.”
“Of course.” Iroh replied but Izumi wanted to know more.
“Where are you going?” She asked worried. She urged her parents to stay over the night as she and uncle were going to perform with tsungi horn.
“Izumi, darling. I wanted to tell you this earlier, but we only found out recently the event King Kuei is hosting is not… child friendly.” Mai tried to put it as simple as possible but Zuko had an easier way to put it.
“It’s adults only. Boring stuff for stuffy people and you wouldn’t like it.” Zuko replied. “You’ll have more fun with your grandpa Iroh than at King Kuei’s court. Also, Mai doesn’t trust the royal sitters.”
Izumi looked at Iroh and nodded. “Yeah.”
“We are about to leave now Izumi.” Zuko announced. “I hope you won’t fuss too much and listen to your grandfather.”
Izumi nodded. “Yeah, yeah. I will.”
“Darling, we’ll kiss you goodnight because you’ll likely be asleep when we are coming back for you.” Mai kissed Izumi’s cheek and hugged her tightly.
Izumi just wanted them to leave so she could have her grandfather to herself and spend the rest of the night with him.
Iroh prepared a warm meal for Izumi, he taught her how to play the tsungi horn and every drawing she made of them together or them as dragons together was framed and put up on the walls of his shop.
“Do you miss your parents, Izumi?” He asked between playing the tsungi horn and watching her draw fire lilies.
“Not really.” She didn’t take her focused eyes of her painting. “I know they mean well but I’m actually 6 now and I know half of my firebending forms already but dad always thinks I’m just his little baby…”
“He really loves you. And your mother too. It’s natural they are protective of you since they didn’t have much of that when they were in your age.” Iroh acknowledged. “And you certainly remind me of my boy.”
Iroh was taken by surprise hearing Izumi uttering his son’s name. “Yes, did your father mention him to you?”
Izumi mumbled a yes. “Daddy talks about him sometimes, but I don’t know what happened to him. Why isn’t he here with us?”
Iroh truly didn’t know what to tell her. Decades had gone by since his passing, but the wound was still fresh, and he missed him at every beating moment. He always wondered and dreamt of Lu Ten. In some ways and his nightmares gradually had changed from just dreams of Lu Ten. The young man visiting him in some kind of afterlife, and it was never enough. The cruel seconds were the mornings when he had to wake up and he had so much to tell him. So much to share with him.
“He… He passed away very young.” Iroh didn’t want Izumi to see him cry but the little girl was smart. She sensed the hurt and sorrow in her grandfather’s trembling voice and walked over to him. She stroked his bearded cheek.
“Don’t cry grandpa. Daddy so often talks about him it’s as if he is with us, but you don’t see him. Look!” She pulled up a scroll that was a drawing of a big purple dragon. “The dragon’s name is Lu Ten.”
“Oh… It’s beautiful, Izumi.” Iroh almost sobbed out those words.
“I made it specifically for you, grandpa.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. She kissed both of his cheeks and wiped his tears with her small hands. “But daddy has never taken me to see his grave. I would like to see him.”
“Sweetheart, he isn’t buried in the Fire Nation. One reason why I choose to set up my teashop in Ba Sing Se was because… Well… Lu Ten is buried here.”
Iroh thought she was going to ask why, and he didn’t truly know how much her parents had told her about the war or his role in the war. The atrocities that was committed and how shame deeply burdened his heart of the war acts that were in his name.
“He is? C-Can we visit him?”
“Would you want that?”
Izumi smiled her biggest smile. “Yes! And we can give him this drawing! If you like that of course.”
“Nothing would make be happier.”
The road to the hill of fallen soldiers were dark but not long. Izumi held onto Iroh as they made their way up the hill. He had created a flame in hand to lighten their path and abruptly he stopped walking.
“What is it grandpa?” Izumi looked up. She had been holding onto the fabric of his clothes the whole trip.
“We are here, Izumi.” Iroh kneeled over a small memorial and lit the flame again for Izumi to see the portrait of Lu Ten and above his portrait were carving that said; Our beloved Lu Ten. Son of General Iroh and Princess Sayuri. Brave soldier.
“Is that him?” Izumi pointed at the portrait of Lu Ten and Iroh gave her a nod. Izumi’s golden eyes went from Iroh back to Lu Ten’s portrait. She didn’t know what to say. She had never spoken to a dead person before or spoken to a dead person’s portrait, but she wasn’t going to let death stop her.
“Hello Lu Ten.” Her voice was shaking. The cold winds were hitting her from the back. She left the drawing next to his grave, rolled up like a scroll and declared it as a gift from her to him. Izumi now held onto one of Iroh’s fingers.
“Do you think he’ll like it?”
“I know that he loves it.” Iroh felt tears slowly running down his cheeks but he was happy. Happy that he had this moment with Izumi.
“You know what grandpa? Remember the stories about the fire lilies and being reborn? I think Lu Ten is a fire lily now.” She tugged on his hand and broke out a smile.
“He truly is. Thank you, Izumi.” He laid his hand on her shoulder like the proud grandparent that he was. “I have a surprise for you in your room back at the shop.”
The dark path back home to the teashop wasn’t as scary anymore. Izumi felt safe in the arms of Iroh and skipped to the songs he sang as they walked home but first, she had to promise him that she wouldn’t tell her parents where they had been.
The guest room, now Izumi’s room, was decorated with fire lilies around the window much to Izumi’s happiness.
“I didn’t know fire lilies grew in the Earth Kingdom.”
“They don’t but your mother’s aunt sent me seeds from her flower shop and with the right temperature they can grow anywhere.” Iroh was proud of his accomplishment with the flowers and more so happy to see Izumi’s expression.
“It looks just like my room back home! Thank you, grandpa! I love you so much.” She held onto him in a long embrace.
Iroh had her get ready to bed but Izumi wasn’t ready for sleep yet. She wanted to be with him for a bit longer and here more of his great stories of fire lilies and dragons.
“Grandpa, before you go. Please tell me another story.” Izumi curled up in bed and under the sheets. Her puppy eyes had a long-lasting effect on Iroh.
“Oh, alright. What would you like to hear?”
Izumi thought about it. “Uh, not Love Amongst Dragons, I’ve heard that one so many times. How about the sleeping dragon that was only awaken by spring when the fire lilies were in bloom?”
“I don’t think I know that one…” Iroh sounded uncertain.
“It’s okay. I just made it up, but you can fill in.”
Iroh’s smiled tenderly at the young girl and cleared his throat, ready to tell the story.
He didn’t tell me about his role in the war or how Lu Ten died. Perhaps the sorrow and the shame laid heavily on him. He always told me historical and astonishing stories about the Earth Kingdom and the persistence of its people. But I truly believe he wanted to be close to his son.
Zuko came back from a cabinet meeting and to his personal office for more work. Being Fire Lord was a thankless job. It was lonely and endless. He had documents to read, bills to sign and letters to write all over the world.
He and Aang were planning a trip to Ember Island with their families for the summer and Iroh had gotten a direct invite.
Zuko remembered of having written to his uncle that he and his family wouldn’t accept a no from him, but he got a letter of reply a few weeks after. The answer he didn’t expect, nor did he want.
Zuko grumbled about it during dinner time which often caught the attention of his wife and child.
Mai laid down the chopsticks and looked to see the servants leaving the dining hall.
“I take it that one of your meetings didn’t go as planned.”
“They always go as I plan.” Zuko quickly replied. “It’s something else.”
Izumi grabbed two pieces of roasted duck while her parents were talking and threw it across her shoulders to the open window for Druk to catch.
“Izumi, are you feeding the dragon again?” Mai sounded tired but not enough to berate Izumi on the matter.
“No.” The girl denied but she couldn’t deny the roar Druk let out behind her. “Oh, mom. Don’t get mad. Druk needs food too!”
“He is a dragon. He can find it on his own.” The Fire Lady was expressionless and turned to Zuko. “Would you tell me what it is if its not one of the cabinet meetings?”
Zuko stared into nothing and scratched his chin before answering. “It’s… Uncle.”
Mai lifted her left eyebrow confused and almost worried. “What do you mean?”
Izumi dropped her chopsticks.
“He isn’t coming to Ember Island with us.” Zuko revealed, he sounded defeated and held up his hands.
“Why? What did he exactly say? What was his reason?” Izumi started to question her father. She didn’t like the sound of it. Her grandfather never missed an opportunity to meet the family and now it was a special occasion.
“I don’t know the details, Izumi but I’ll write him response. There’s no need to worry.” Zuko rested his hand on Mai who didn’t respond. She remained expressionless but Zuko knew her better. She didn’t want Izumi to catch on to something and Mai sensed something wrong.
Both had kissed Izumi goodnight, but Mai knew Zuko’s mind was clouded with worries about Iroh.
“Are you going to tell me the truth or do I have to force it out of you?” She said as they resorted to their chambers.
“What do you mean?” He tried his best to come across oblivious, but both knew it was to no avail.
She sighed and changed into her nightgown. She laid the crown next to her nightstand and turned around. He had his back turned and only based on that she knew he was hiding something.
“I hate having to do this, Zuko. You have to tell me what is going on.”
“I suspect there’s something going on with Uncle. He isn’t keeping correspondence like he used to, he used to write regularly and now I’d be lucky to hear from him. Ugh, Izumi really counted on him to come with us to Ember Island.”
“Do you think something is wrong with him?” Mai surprised even herself with how caring her voice sounded. She truly loved Iroh and cared for him but she didn’t want to fear the worse yet. She had to keep it together for her own sake and for her family. “Maybe illness?”
“I don’t know but if it is, he wouldn’t tell me. He never wanted anyone to worry about him, but I can’t help to think it might be the case. I don’t know how serious it, but he wouldn’t tell me so how can we know?” Zuko rested his head into his hands and exhaled. He felt calmed by Mai’s touch when she laid her hands on his shoulders.
“I hate seeing you worry.” She said softly.
“I know. I know that well.” He gave her a half-smile. “But I’m going to ask Aang and Katara to check up on him and based on what they’ll say, I might order him back to the Fire Nation.”
Mai turned around to face him. “Order him? You can’t order him to do anything.”
Zuko looked determined. “You don’t understand, Mai. He is my uncle or more so… He is like a father to me and if he is ill but won’t tell me then how can we help him? It breaks Izumi’s heart knowing he is sick and won’t get treatment.”
Mai rolled her eyes and went back to her side of the bed. “How do you know he isn’t getting any treatment in the Earth Kingdom?”
“I… I don’t know but I know he wouldn’t be hiding from me if he was getting better.” Zuko turned in bed. “C’mon Mai, you have to understand. I just want to make sure. If he is feeling good, then I’ll leave him be.”
Mai said nothing. She only nodded and gave Zuko her seal of approval. The silent approval that Zuko knew very well of.
The teashop had seen better days and Katara sensed something was wrong. She held Tenzin close to her chest and held onto Aang’s hand as they entered the shop.
“Do you think uncle Iroh is in?” Katara asked Aang.
“He basically lives here but maybe he went out?” Aang looked over at the shop. Customers came rarely and the shop was almost empty. Nothing looked out of the ordinary and everything was in its place, but the quietness of the shop gave both of them chills.
Katara looked at the walls of the teashop and noticed the paintings.
“Aang, sweetie.” She called her husband over. “Remember Sokka’s painting of all of us?”
Aang let out a laugh. “I remember that! Hah, Sokka gave you Momo’s ears.”
“Alright, don’t get too joyful… Wow, look at these. I know who have drawn these! It’s Izumi.” Katara pointed at the colorful paintings of dragons and fire lilies.
“Wow, give Sokka a run for his money.” Aang joked lightly which had Katara snort as she laughed.
They were greeted by a raspy yet familiar voice.
“Its so good to see old friends again.” The voice belonged to a frail elderly man.
Aang and Katara were happy to see him but also taken by surprise. More than 15 years had passed since the end of the war and everyone had aged significantly but more so it showed on Iroh.
He welcomed them in and started making tea for his quests.
“Oh, it’s not needed…” Katara tried to intervene.
“Tea? Not needed? Nonsense. Tea is the cure for soul.” He passed them both cups of freshly brewed jasmine tea. “What brings the Avatar and Councilwoman Katara here. Where’s Bumi and Kya? Those little rascals.”
“They are with Suki and Sokka. Hopefully not raising any hell.” Aang laughed. “We were in town and thought we’d come and visit you…” Aang didn’t like the sound of his half lie. He’d liked to be honest with Iroh, but he had promised Zuko not to tell who sent him.
Tenzin was fussing and let out a cry.
“I’m so sorry, I think he is hungry.” Katara said. “You don’t mind if I…?”
Iroh waved it off. “Not at all. Your child must be fed. Our children’s comfort must be prioritized mustn’t it?” Iroh smiled but his eyes were tired. He coughed into a napkin and Katara noticed the blood he quickly covered up.
“Well, uncle Iroh. How are you feeling?” Aang felt awkward for asking that question just after seeing Iroh coughing violently.
“I have seen better days, Avatar.” Iroh kept smiling.
Both Aang and Katara couldn’t deny the strength of that man and through all of that pain and hardships could crack a smile and a joke and keep a positive aura.
“You know, we are going to visit Zuko’s family in the summer and wondered if you are coming with us.” Katara asked as she breastfeed Tenzin. She stroked her son’s head and looked over at Iroh who poured himself another cup.
“I wish I could, but I haven’t been feeling well. I wouldn’t like for Zuko to see me like this. Neither would I like Mai and Izumi to see me like this.” Sadness laid heavy on his voice. Iroh knew his time was coming but he didn’t know how he would break the news to his loved ones.
“You know… Izumi celebrated her 9th birthday not long ago.” Aang spoke. “Everyone was there celebrating but it felt empty without your tsungi horn music.”
Iroh’s smile was uneven. His eyes were unhappy, but he tried to keep his spirit up.
“I wanted to be there, but the spirits had other plans for me. D-Did Izumi get my present that I had sent?”
Aang opened his mouth but no words came out. He looked over at his wife who saved him in the moment.
“Yes, the book about ancient dragons? Mai told he me she absolutely adores it and never puts it down.” An excited Katara told Iroh. Through the dread of seeing Iroh in this state she gave him a sincere smile.
She truly didn’t know how old he was, but he looked much older and weary from the days of the war. More lines in his face than before, bags underneath his eyes laid heavier than before and the beard was longer and whiter than before but through all of the signs of aging he still had those kind young eyes.
“I miss that little girl.” Iroh sighed. The thought of Izumi always cracked a smile or a chuckle.
Aang looked over at Katara who gave him just a slight nod.
“Have you thought about going back to the Fire Nation?” Aang had hesitated at first asking the question.
Iroh closed his eyes. He had paused for a moment and perhaps he was thinking of something to say or he already knew what was going to be said but his last thought before answering Aang was about Izumi.
Zuko kept re-reading the letter from Aang inside his own room with only one candle alight in the darkness he surrounded himself in. He dismissed every servant that entered the room and was about to once again when he heard footsteps entering.
“It’s just me…” The Fire Lady said softly but loud enough for him to hear her across the room. “I just wanted to check on you.”
Zuko mumbled something unintelligible and went back to re-reading Aang’s words about his uncle he didn’t seem to notice Mai was standing right behind him.
“Are you still reading that letter? Zuko, Aang said your uncle is coming right away. They are traveling with him. You shouldn’t worry…”
“How? When I know he is sick and has been hiding it from me?” His delivery was rough and harsh, but it didn’t faze her.
“He is going to get the treatment he deserves. I even think you said it yourself that…”
“But how can we be so sure?” Zuko’s voice was breaking. Keeping his sniffling back had caused him feeling a sore lump in his throat.
Mai didn’t think of finishing her sentence when she laid her hands on his shoulders and giving him a small squeeze.
“He is traveling with Aang and Katara isn’t he? You and I both know Katara’s a healer and a great one at that. We have put our trust in them and the royal physicians.”
Zuko nodded but the tears kept running down anyway when he laid his hand on top of Mai’s.
Izumi had been waiting and waiting for the arrival of Iroh. Every morning, before the royal dresser would even get the chance, she ran to the balcony of her family’s sitting room and watched over the courtyard, hoping to get a glimpse of her grandfather. 2 days passed until her wish came through.
“Daddy! Grandpa Iroh is her with uncle Aang and aunt Katara!” Izumi screamed for her father who was still in his chambers. Excited, she ran to her parents.
Zuko prepared for Iroh to be received in the throne room and he waited along his servants and physicians. When Iroh walked through the curtains alongside Aang and Katara, he exhaled peacefully.
Iroh walked with a cane and gave every guard and servant he passed a gentle nod. They all responded by bowing down to him and referring to him as the ‘general’.
Iroh chuckled and whispered to Aang; “They like to remind me of that, but I don’t care much for it.”
“Uncle!” Zuko called out. He greeted Aang and Katara and thanked them for their kindness.
He embraced Iroh gently when he saw his condition and he felt his heart sinking like a stone. “How are you feeling?” Zuko asked with his hands on Iroh’s shoulders. For a moment he felt like the parent talking to an injured child.
“I’ve had better days my dear nephew but seeing your face has brought me the strength I never imagined being able to possess.”
Zuko had to fight back another set of tears of joy. “You’ll be escorted to your chambers and you’ll have the best care in the whole nation. I promise.”
Iroh pressed his lips together and gave a slight nod. Not to agree or disagree with Zuko but just taking in his words. How relieved he was hearing his nephew’s voice.
“Thank you.” Iroh said to Aang and Katara before being escorted away.
“I don’t know what to say Aang. Thank you for bringing him home.” He turned to Katara. “Katara, I hope you could stay behind and help our physicians. We’d appreciate someone with your knowledge in healing to stay and help us.”
Katara looked down at the stone floor and suddenly she felt the warmth of Aang’s hand in her hand. The insecurity halfway washed away with his support, but she was still unsure.
“I… I’ll try my best, Zuko.”
Grandfather never held hatred in his heart, but I remember his dislike for the straitlaced royal physicians and what he saw was their arrogance.
Izumi held onto her book of dragons with one hand and Mai’s hand in the other. As Mai tried to walk through the corridors, she felt twitching in her right arm from Izumi skipping.
“Darling, could you please not doing that?”
“Sorry, I’m just excited to get to see grandpa.” She giggled and squeezed her mother’s hand. “Do you think he can come and feed the turtleducks with us?”
Mai looked at the golden eyes of her daughter and they sparkled with happiness and hope. She didn’t know how to break the news that her beloved grandfather was not in good health and they didn’t know what the future had in store for them.
Izumi was almost shocked when they entered the room. She held onto her mother’s clothes and looked over the room. Strange men in red coats surrounded her grandfather and in the middle of the mumbling red was one blue figure that she recognized to be her godmother Katara.
“They don’t seem to like my methods.” Katara whispered to Iroh. “Not big fans of Water Tribe.”
The old man chuckled lightly. “Not everyone has figured the war ended… Arrogant pricks.”
Katara noticed the physicians turning their backs on them and greeting Fire Lady and Princess who had entered the room. She stood still but confused whether if she should have bowed like the rest of them, but Mai didn’t seem to enjoy the attention of the 7 even men who bowed.
“Ugh, alright. I request time alone with the General and Lady Katara.”
Katara liked the sound of it even if she found the idea of monarchy outdated.
The two women greeted each other, and Mai went to hold Iroh’s hand.
“I’m so glad to have you here with us.” Mai said to Iroh.
“And I’m delighted to see you and Zuko but where’s the apple of my eyes?” Iroh tried to get a better look.
Izumi was shorter than other girls her age, but she reached Iroh’s bed and almost jumped in to hug him.
“Grandpa!” Izumi had to be held back by both Katara and Mai.
“There’s my little fire lily…” Iroh’s eyes were tearing up. “How grown and how beautiful. I have missed you so much…”
Mai whispered into Izumi’s ear that her grandfather wasn’t feeling well, and she had to be careful. Izumi didn’t seem to understand but she had noticed the changes in him, and he wasn’t as active as he used to be. He looked hurt and frail and it worried her for a few seconds but all she wanted to do was to curl up next to him.
“Look at the book you gave me, grandpa!” She showed up the heavy book that seemed to be bigger than she was. “Mommy and daddy read it to me sometimes, but I want you to read it or I can read it to you.”
Iroh declared his love for him to do that with her. His pale face lightened up and Izumi was let to stay next to him.
“I need to speak to you in private.” Katara whispered to Mai. The two women walked out of the room. Katara’s minded was clouded and the worries showed on her face.
“What is it.” Mai said with a neutral look. She prepared herself for whatever Katara was going to tell her.
“Well, your royal physicians don’t seem to care to listen to me. I guess they just view me as some healer peasant and our methods to be outdated…”
“Katara, please, get to the point.”
“Alright, well… He is not going to get better.” She sighed in relief.
Mai raised one eyebrow in confusion. “What?”
“That’s what I’m trying to say. Whatever it is that is plaguing him… It’s a spreading virus and not something I can heal. It would require maybe… I don’t know but the physicians don’t believe me and I’m afraid there’s not much I can do. I hope you aren’t upset or disappointed. I figured it would be easier to talk to you than Zuko.”
Mai had to let it melt in. Through the door she could see Izumi and Iroh together and she let out a sigh.
“Thank you for telling me this Katara…” It was too much to gather. Iroh’s health, telling Zuko and Izumi about the news Katara had told her.
“I don’t know what else can do and I don’t think the royal physicians you have will care for anything I can offer anyway. I feel like my hands are tied.” Katara’s voice was heavy and there was something else that laid heavy on her mind too.
“Those physicians with their noses up in the air. They haven’t been to much of a help anyway to me during my pregnancy.” Mai rolled her eyes at the remembrance. “That’s why I wanted you as a midwife.”
“Thank you.” Katara blushed. “But there’s another thing…”
“You miss Bumi, Kya and Tenzin.” Mai said. “I can’t imagine being so far away from once child.”
“Mai, I don’t know what to say. I never thought you would be so….”
“Compassionate?” Mai asked and gave Katara a discrete smile. “Just don’t go around and tell people. I have a reputation to uphold.” Mai kept smiling.
“I have to tell you… The virus is going to spread but I wish we could have done something earlier. Maybe we could have stopped it.”
“I don’t want you to worry about it. You have done so much for my family and I’m forever in your debt.” Mai laid a hand on Katara’s shoulder. “Go home and be with your family. I’ll talk to Zuko.”
And it didn’t seem Zuko took the news lightly. He marched back and forth in the sitting room with a scroll in his hand.
“What do these fucking physicians know?” He growled as he stomped.
“Language.” Mai replied and shared a look with General Mak, Zuko’s closest associate and advisor in the court. The General shared their vexation but hesitated to speak.
“Well, what do they know? And what did they try to do? Hide his condition away from me?” Zuko clenched his fists and lips together. The scroll in his hand rumpled.
“My Lord, I am certain that they were figuring out a cure.” General Mak said with a calm tone.
Zuko sat down next to Mai. His body language went from defensive to defeated. Knowing General Mak only meant well he raised his hand and dismissed him.
“This can’t be happening…” His voice cracked. “There must be something else we can do. What did Katara tell you?”
“That there wasn’t much she could do. Zuko, I hope you understand why I let her go. I…”
“I know. You did right.” Zuko stared up at the ceiling. “But we can’t let it happen. He has to get his health back…”
“Izumi is so happy having him here, but I can’t tell her the news.”
“It would break her heart and I can’t let him die. I refuse to…” He continued.
“Zuko, stop it.” Mai’s voice almost cracked through it’s usual monotone sound. Zuko looked surprise at the saddened frown she was making.
“You can’t fight death.” She said and relaxed her face, but she couldn’t hide the tears that were building up in her eyes. “It’s not something we can stop but we just have to embrace it.”
“I won’t embrace any of that!” He protested loudly. “He is going to survive this. He is the dragon of the West. He can and will survive this. He has too…” Zuko got up and was ready to walk out the door.
Mai said nothing. She looked away from his direction and waited for Zuko to walk away but he didn’t. He stood over here and watched as the tears ran down her cheeks. Zuko thought of how she never made a single sound when she cried. A few sniffs and she dried her tears and then it was business as usual. She never let it all out and why she didn’t he couldn’t understand why. Perhaps it came from her forced stoic nature.
Mai still felt his presence and wiped away the tears with her fingers. “Weren’t you ready to leave?”
“I can’t leave you when you’re looking like that.” He sat down next to her on the sofa and laid one arm around her. “C’mon…” He pulled her closer to him, but she said nothing. He placed her head underneath his chin and stroked her hair. “It’s just… I can’t afford to lose him. I never imagined this day would come and he’s everything to me… to us. He’s my…”
“Your father.” Mai finished his sentence. “I know… More of a father than that bastard ever was and he’s Izumi’s grandfather.”
The mention of Izumi moved something inside of him. “She doesn’t know… Does she?”
“She knows he is ill. I sat down with her, but I don’t know. I don’t know if she realizes the situation.”
Zuko sighed and looked out the window to get a glimpse of Druk.
“Grandpa?” Izumi asked.
“Yes, my child?”
“Could you tell me the stories about the fire lilies again?” Izumi asked again. She sounded nervous as the physicians watched over them. Strange men with expressionless faces and their mumbles of medical talk that she couldn’t get a grasp on.
Iroh was good at ignoring them. To him the only person that mattered in the room was Izumi.
“Which one?” His voice sounded hoarse. More than usual and even if his whole-body language showed signs of exhaustion, he pushed through just for her.
“Uh, why do fire lilies have to die?” Izumi leaned into his bed to hear him better. She couldn’t understand his condition and she knew he wasn’t being the usual grandfather she knew him to be. Whatever this illness was she wished it gone. Dead. Away from him and nowhere close to him.
“Oh, I remember this story. I believe I have told you this one when you were just a little babe in your mother’s arms and once again when you were a little older. Very well, I…”
But before he could start, the Fire Lord interrupted them himself. Zuko didn’t care much for the bowing but went straight to Iroh.
“How are you feeling?” Was the first thing that left his lips. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”
“You are!” Izumi said upset.
“Now, wait Izumi.” Iroh chortled. “It’s your father and the Fire Lord. He must have something important to tell us.”
Zuko instructed the stubborn Izumi to leave the room. She said no and protested upset that her father was interrupting Iroh’s storytelling.
“Please, Izumi. The stories of fire lilies won’t go away. I promise.”
The words of Iroh calmed her down and she walked away with heavy feet and a whine, leaving Zuko and Iroh alone in the room.
The physicians had been dismissed by Zuko and before he could speak to his uncle, he looked over at the table next to Iroh. An empty cup of tea and next to it tissues stained with blood. He wished he could unseen it, but it wasn’t as easy to look right at his uncle. He was losing color and he seemed to have only gotten worse since he arrived.
“I guess you know already what is going on…” Zuko said softly, trying to hide the hurt in his voice that plagued him.
“I have known for a very long time, nephew. I only wish I had told you about this earlier.” Iroh didn’t like being confide to a bed but truly he felt much more comfort in the palace than anywhere else.
“And we could have hindered this from happening. You could have gotten cured and it wouldn’t have spread all over your body. If you weren’t so stubborn when I invited, you to the palace.” Zuko kept talking. He was feeling many things. Confusion, anger and denial. He never had imagined this day would come. He knew it would happen as it happens to everyone but not like this. It felt too early.
“My dear nephew.” Iroh said and it sounded like a sincere relief. As if through all of the pain he was happy about something. “I have accepted it.”
Zuko didn’t understand why. “What do you mean? They could be wrong, and they have been wrong before. I won’t let it happen uncle.”
“They could be but not this time. I know it.” He paused and coughed. “I am sure of it. My time has come Zuko and when Agni calls there’s nothing we can do to embrace it.”
Zuko couldn’t accept it. He shook his head and clenched his fists hard. He was sitting on a small chair and wanted to get up from it, but his body betrayed him. He looked down on the floor and let the tears crash down to the floor.
“No…” He kept shaking his head. “I can’t accept it... No, uncle. Not like this. There has to be something else we can do for you. I won’t accept this!”
“You already have done so much for me.” Iroh cried. “After Lu Ten, I thought my life ended with him but you… You gave my life a purpose.”
Zuko held onto Iroh’s hands as he spoke.
“You gave me greatest gift of them all and all I wanted was to see her again. I once lost everything, but I gained so much thanks to you.”
“Oh, uncle. I don’t know what to tell her. I can’t… She won’t, she won’t accept it. I won’t accept it. I won’t lose you!” Zuko sobbed. Unable to face Iroh who was also crying silently.
“I told you the stories about fire lilies when you were a young boy. The same age as Izumi is now. We never lose our loved ones. When I look at you and I look at Izumi I realize I never lost Lu Ten. His love and the love I had for him is reborn. Just like the…”
“… The circle of life.” Zuko said and wiped his tears with his sleeve.
Iroh mentioned his regrets in life and one that surprised Zuko the most.
“Your sister. I was wrong about your sister.” Iroh said and it felt like some kind of heavy load vanished from his chest. “She’s a part of your family and I’m not saying this to force you to bond with her but letting you know because it is upmost important that you know this, I was wrong about Azula. I wish I had realized this sooner.”
“No, Zuko. I want you to know this so if Agni forbid my mistakes are not repeated…” Iroh let out a grunt in pain and was immediately stopped by Zuko.
“Uncle, you need your rest. Tomorrow I’m calling for the best physicians in the country. We are going to beat this together.” Zuko got up from the wooden chair and held onto Iroh’s hand.
Iroh didn’t say anything but smiled. He squeezed Zuko’s hand. He looked up at the ceiling, his lips moving but Zuko couldn’t figure what words he was forming.
“We already have, son.” Iroh’s tired eyes turned back to Zuko’s. “Now you go rest. A Fire Lord has to have his energy, but I want you to do one thing for me.”
“Anything…” Zuko’s tears kept running down. He leaned closer to Iroh. “Say it and I’ll do it.”
“Bring in Mai. I need to talk to her.”
Zuko nodded and before he left, he bowed down to him and the last thing he said to Iroh was a declaration of love.
“I, I love you, father.” It felt strange yet good. Not strange as if it was out of the ordinary. There was no denying that Iroh was his true father.
“I love you too, son.”
When Zuko told her that Iroh wanted to speak to her she was puzzled. She had recently put the saddened Izumi to sleep and she was exhausted herself.
“He wants to talk to you.” Zuko had told her and she questioned why but Zuko shrugged. He told her it was important, and he was going back in there again, but she had to speak to Iroh.
Before she entered through the door, she took a deep breathe. She thought about Zuko and Izumi and the events that had led up to this moment.
Iroh was still confided to bed and enjoying a warm cup of tea with a nurse. His hands shaking and the young woman assisted him in pouring the tea.
“The biggest sorrow of all of this would be to never enjoy a cup.” He laughed and coughed at the same time.
The young nurse smiled carefully but it withered quickly when she saw the Fire Lady standing by the door with no expression.
“My lady…” She said and down to her knees she went and bowed.
It felt as if Mai would never learn to get use to it. “Uhm, you are released from your duties. Thank you.”
The young woman looked surprised but said nothing and left Iroh alone with Mai. There was a few seconds of silence and Mai didn’t know whether if she should start talking or let him begin.
“Hah… I know that look.” Iroh started out slowly. “My beloved wife had the same look when servants bowed down to her.”
Mai smiled. She and Iroh rarely had moments alone to talk and she truly didn’t know how to speak to him. Ever since she was a child, she shied away from him.
“It takes time getting used to it.” Mai’s words sounded almost like whispers. “We had servants too growing up, but they never bowed down to us…”
“Why won’t you come closer.” He instructed. He waved his arm to get her to come and sit down next to his bed and like the well raised girl she was she did.
She wanted to ask why he had called for her, but she choose not to. It wasn’t appropriate but she felt frustration for not being able to strike up a normal conversation.
“Are you feeling any better… Uncle?”
“I would lie if I said I did but I feel as if a heavy load has been lifted from my shoulders.” He hummed happily but his voice was hoarse and there were obvious signs of physical and mental exhaustion coming from him.
“Yes, all I ever wanted before I left this earth was to see her again. I’m leaving with good memories.”
Mai was puzzled. She didn’t know what to tell him. She wanted to accept whatever the outcome would be but she didn’t want to see Zuko and Izumi in a state of devastation.
“She’s happy that you are her but also confused and sad. We have tried to explain it to her through…”
“The life of a fire lily?” Iroh leaned back and laughed. “It’s okay. If she doesn’t understand. I remember when my mother died. Ozai and I were inconsolable for days, but we learned it the harsh way from our father how to deal with it.” He paused and looked across the room and then back at Mai. “She will understand one day. It never comes easy to anyone of us, but she will one day.” He reinforced Mai. “How I wish I could have been spending more time with her.”
“Do you want me to get her?”
“No, no!” He raised his voice and gestured with his hand. “Let her sleep. I wanted to speak with her parents.”
Mai still didn’t know what there was to talk about. Her mind raced but she thought the only thing they had in common that they could talk about was Izumi and Zuko.
“I’ve been really working to get her to understand life, the highs and lows. Zuko talks to her too but I sense maybe he has a better way with her? I watch those two together and the feeling is as satisfying as finding a lost Pai Sho tile or connecting two pieces of a long-lost puzzle.” Iroh noticed a smile forming on Mai’s lips.
“There’s that smile Zuko sometimes talks about.”
Mai’s cheeks turned pink. Shyly yet surprised she looked over at Iroh and bit her lips together in order to suppress it. “He has?”
“He has mentioned how you don’t like to smile but when you do your face lightens up.” Iroh gestured with his own hand over his face.
It took Mai by surprise and she didn’t know whether she liked it or not.
“You wouldn’t tell me to smile more?”
“No, smile only when you feel like it.” He coughed again into another set of tissue and cleared his throat. “But I have also noticed the impact you and Zuko have had on Izumi. She has grown into such a compassionate and caring person. You have done very well.” Iroh’s spoke with such a tender tone. The way Izumi’s name naturally came out of his mouth and it was full of love delight for the girl.
Mai didn’t know if she should have accepted the compliment. Compassionate and caring weren’t words often associated with her. Perhaps more with Zuko than her.
“I’m not sure I had much to do with it. She takes it after her father. I’ve never been much of a caring person and you could ask anyone…”
Iroh frowned. “Why would you say such a thing about yourself?” He sounded almost angry. “Why do you belittle yourself like that?”
No one had ever talked to Mai like that before. Zuko perhaps had made comments on how her biggest enemy was herself but Iroh almost sounded offended on her part.
“It’s just… I never, I don’t know.” Mai sighed. “I just want Izumi to be everything I’m not and wasn’t when I was in her age. I want her to be better and care for things more than I ever did.” What a relief it felt when she said that.
“Well, you disprove yourself. You are more caring and compassionate then you let others think. You cared about Katara and her family and you care for Izumi to do right by her. For some reason you are afraid to let people get to know that side of you…”
“Because it ends up blowing up in my face, or that’s how my own mother had me think about it.” Mai felt herself relaxing and the room that first had felt closed off and tensed up was now opening itself up. She was strangely comfortable opening up with Iroh.
“I hope you know your mother was wrong about you.” Iroh lend a hand to Mai. “You have proven to be more than what people tried to destine you to be.”
Mai had walked out from that room with a whole set of feelings and regards for herself and for Iroh. She had broken out in tears quiet sobs and the baffled staff looked on at the former stoic ice queen that she had the reputation of being.
Mai quickly dried her tears and straightened herself. “Where’s the Fire Lord?”
“He left, my lady. To see the General.” An older bearded servant said.
Mai nodded. The palace felt strangely empty at this night. More than usual.
“The princess looked for you.” Another one said. “But we advised her to go back to bed and…”
“You did good. You all have.” Mai tried to neutralize her voice after breaking down. Before she entered Izumi’s room, she said her goodbye’s for the night. She spent the night in Izumi’s room and her last thoughts before sleep was of Iroh and Zuko.
They were awoken by voices outside Izumi’s chamber. Izumi had wrapped herself closely towards her mother and mumbled in her sleep and in her unconsciousness was unwilling to let her mother go.
“My lady?” A voice that sounded hurt and shaken called for her. “Apologies for waking you up this early…”
Mai groaned in exhaustion. She carefully got herself up from the bed without disturbing Izumi and walked slowly to the door and met one of her handmaidens.
“It’s the Fire Lord… The Fire Sages ordered us to bring you in.”
“The Fire Sages?”
“Closely after midnight. The general stopped breathing.”
Mai felt all energy inside of her draining.
The Fire Sages stood their ground and the physicians the same but not quite when the Fire Lord fumed in rage. Zuko clenched his fists hard almost so he could feel the flames in his palms.
“You’re incompetent! How dare you speak such lies!” Seething and growling. Zuko’s nightmare was now a reality and one he profusely denied.
“The grand general passed away peacefully in his sleep.” The High Sage spoke calmly. “We shall prepare a grand burial for him.”
Zuko didn’t want to hear it. His tears that had run down his cheeks were now mixed with his sweat and spit. Veins popping and the terrible feeling of blood boiling within him.
“Get out of my sight!” He roared to the unfazed loyal servants of his. They bowed down as if nothing and walked out. Sorrow was plaguing them too; the whole royal staff was now in mourning but no one like Zuko. He ordered everyone out of the royal sitting room, not realizing that his own wife was now standing behind him.
“Zuko…” Mai said but he didn’t hear her. He heard nothing as the painful combination of sorrow, anger and denial set into his skin.
He kicked away chairs and broke one in half, but Mai stood still. Not a flinch from her.
“Zuko.” She walked up to him and held onto him to calm him down before he continued with his rampage and before he would hurt himself. “I’m here.” She buried her face in his back and kept whispering things to him.
“They are lying…” He sobbed and held the hands that embraced him from the back. “They are lying to us, Mai…”
Mai cried but she wasn’t as loud as Zuko. She remained calm and held onto him even when he collapsed to his knees. Halfway turning around and grabbing her. Holding onto her and he let himself go with his face buried in her lap.
“I don’t want to believe it…” He cried. He clasped onto her robes roughly. “He is gone. Uncle…” He continued to repeat his name in muffled cries as Mai stroked his hair. She didn’t know what to tell him and words were not her strong suit. All she could do was to hold him and kiss him. Let him pour everything out, and unbeknownst to them, Izumi had watched them from a distance.
I had never seen father in that condition, and it was a first. He wasn’t how I had usually seen him to be. He was vulnerable, grief-stricken and almost shaking uncontrollably. The worst had happened and the realization of it was even worse. My heart sank and the floor underneath my feet disappeared. I believe for a moment that mother saw me, but I ran. I had away from them. With a lump as biggest as the rocks on Ember Island in my throat I ran. I couldn’t scream if I wanted to and no sound came out of my cries.
I cursed Agni for taking away my favorite person from me. I cursed the fire lilies and everything that I related him to. I ran and to nowhere in particular. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t care for my existence and I kept on running until I collapsed of exhaustion.
Izumi had been found in the garden and brought back into the palace. She woke up and her tear stains were left on her cheeks.
“Your father has expressed you wear white today, princess.” The royal dresser told her with a simple bow. “Our condolences.”
Izumi said nothing. She didn’t want to talk. Every word entering hear ears and every word that left her mouth hurt her. She kept thinking to herself that he wasn’t really gone, and this was just a really long nightmare or people were playing an ugly trick on her.
She got dressed, prepared for the day and one morning cup of tea. It tasted like nothing to her. Before leaving to see her parents in royal common room with another set people there waiting to greet her, she looked over her childhood toys. Gifts from her uncle Sokka and aunt Suki, uncle Aang and aunt Katara and one funny looking one from aunt Toph. All held special value for her but not like the gifts from Iroh. When she was a newborn, he had gifted her a cotton dragon, then an Earth Kingdom doll, a tea set and when she was learning her signs there was her favorite, the great book of dragons. Yet she picked up the dragon from her shelf. The scent of Iroh lingered on the dragon. The herbs he used in his ingrediencies and when she buried her face in the dragon doll, she felt as if she was in his arms again but her face in his beard. Smelling the scent of herbs and flowers.
“Princess? Your parents’ are waiting.” A guard announced himself.
Izumi exhaled into the doll and with heavy footsteps followed the guard who escorted her.
There was intensity so thick one could have cut it with a knife. Her parents were already seated and in front of them were the Fire Sages.
Her mother more alert than her father who didn’t even seem to be wanting to be there. He was biting into fist and said nothing as the Fire Sages spoke, but his eyes gleamed at the sight of his daughter and from the frown a weak smile was given to her.
Izumi took her place next to her mother.
“The whole nation has been notified and they are in mourning with your family, my Lord.” General Mak said but no immediate response from Zuko was given.
He mumbled something that no one could decode and had Mai speak for him instead.
“And the Avatar has been notified but we cannot promise they will arrive on time for the burial.” General Mak said. “But we did receive a message a week before of Ambassador Sokka’s travels. I suspect he’ll be in the capital tonight or tomorrow morning.”
Zuko’s eyes were bloodshot almost and he mumbled something into his fist that even Mai couldn’t make a word of.
She nudged him to make him speak up.
“Ugh, I’d like have them all gathered with us for the burial.” The tone of his voice was deep and low. Trembling and Izumi couldn’t help to think he sounded as if he was in grave pain.
“I know our Lord is in deep sorrow, but we have to keep up with tradition. The burial has to take place before sundown as it always has.” The High Sage spoke. Izumi didn’t like his face. It was unkind and unlike General Mak who had smiled with her parents when she entered the room, the Sage did not. He could have cared less if she was there or not.
They sat high and above the general and the sage. Izumi didn’t like the throne but this one was much more comfortable then the dragon throne.
Zuko exchanged a look with Mai and back to his audience. He could have yelled out what he thought about the traditions but there was no point. His voice couldn’t carry it anymore and he wanted to leave as soon as possible.
“What are your plans?”
The Sage straightened himself and patted on the floor with his staff before spoke. “The body has been prepared and taken care of. The fire pit is ready, and we estimate that the cremation shall begin today.”
Izumi couldn’t believe her ears. Shocked she looked at her parents who held no expression and they didn’t hear her out when she repeated the word no as the Sage spoke.
“No.” Izumi now said loudly. Shocking almost everyone (except Zuko) in the room.
The Sage looked offended and snorted. “Would the Princess like to express herself why?”
“Izumi, what are you doing?” Mai whispered to her daughter.
“You can’t do this. It’s cruel!” Izumi protested and left her seat to face her parents. Her father said nothing, but his breathing got heavier, and she saw the tears building up in his eyes.
“Cruel? It’s a long tradition and one worth to maintain.” The Sage said. “The beloved general, son of Fire Lord Azulon deserves a burial worthy of his name and he deserves to be reunited with his ancestors and his son. It’s something everyone in the royal family goes through!” The Sage was staunch and spoke proudly but it terrified Izumi and made her even more desperate to plead with her father.
“Daddy, please!” The young girl cried her heart out. “Don’t let them burn grandpa! Please!” Tears were streaming down her eyes and it was just torture for Zuko to watch.
“Izumi, you have to understand…” He said. His voice hoarse and sending a cold shiver down Izumi’s spine.
“You can stop it! P-please, don’t let them do this to him…”
“Darling, we do not have a choice.” Mai intervened and hoped to calm Izumi down but to no avail.
“Yes, we do!” Izumi screamed. “He has the power! He can make the choice!” Izumi pointed at Zuko who in a mixture of sorrow and anger, not at Izumi, was visibly shaking. Biting down on his fist even harder and almost drawing blood.
“Your uncle deserves an honorable burial, my Lord.” The Sage said out loud. Unbothered by Izumi’s loud protests. “He was a true hero to our nation.”
“No!” Izumi shrieked and Zuko had enough.
He almost looked bewildered when servants had announced the arrival of Ambassador Sokka and his wife, councilwoman Suki.
Zuko had been prepared to answer Izumi right away but Mai shot one glare at him and news of Sokka and Suki had calmed him down.
“Mai, I need you to take our daughter away from here.”
“What?” She questioned him.
“Izumi isn’t feeling well and should be taken to her room to rest.” Zuko said and then he leaned to Mai. “Don’t let her be alone. She doesn’t have to come to the ceremony but stay with her.” He whispered.
Izumi cried and Izumi protested but seemed to melt in her mother’s arms. The 9-year-old lost all control when her mother carried her out from the room.
It was as if I lost all of my memories by then. I didn’t remember meeting uncle Sokka and aunt Suki. I couldn’t remember anything after my fit in front of father and the high Sage. I remembered waking up in my room thinking I was alone…
When Izumi woke up, she had a headache that forced her into tears. She felt alone and empty before calling the first person she thought of.
“Mom…? Mommy?” She sniffled.
In the dark the voice she recognized quickly as her mother’s responded to her.
“Yes, baby?” She walked over to the bed and sat down on the side next to her. “Are you okay?”
Her voice was calm and comforting. Neutral and monotone it usually was and often made fun at by the tabloids for being cold and indifferent, but it was her mother’s voice and it was a voice Izumi loved to hear. Mai definitely had a softer and more vulnerable side for close family and friends and another image as the Fire Lady for the public.
Izumi nodded but she was still crying. “Is it… Is it over?”
Mai stroke a lock of hair away from Izumi’s face and nodded. “It’s over.”
Izumi clenched the sheets hard and continued on sniffling. She looked out towards her window and thanked Agni no smoke had reached her window.
“D-did you go? Did you see him?” Izumi asked Mai and grabbed her mother’s slender fingers.
“No, darling. I stayed here with you.”
“Even when I slept?” She asked again and her small fist pulled her mother’s hand closer towards her.
“Even you slept.” Mai smiled at her daughter who still looked saddened and confused by everything.
“Is daddy still angry with me?” Izumi whimpered and another series of snot and tears came out of her.
“He was never angry at you, Izumi.” Mai dried her off with a handkerchief. “He is feeling the same pain you are feeling right now. He lost his unc-, he lost his father.”
It slowly got to her that he was really gone, and she cried some more and leaned her head back into her pillows.
“Was he in pain?” She asked. She had to know, and she had no one else to ask but her mother.
Mai shook her head and kept stroking Izumi’s forehead and hair. “He went in his sleep and died with a smile on his lips.”
“B-But what does that mean?”
“It means that he wasn’t in pain. He had a painless death and must have dreamt of something sweet before his spirit left his body. It’s a sweet death and I personally wish Agni can give one to me when my time comes…”
“No!” Izumi screamed. “Don’t say that mommy! You can’t die, you aren’t allowed to leave.” She cried and clung to Mai’s clothes and the Fire Lady regretted her choice of words and had to calm down the girl once again.
“I’m sorry, Izumi. I didn’t mean it like that but remember what your grandfather told you about circle of life and the fire lilies? Didn’t he mention to you that the ones we love never truly leave us?” Mai wiped tears away from Izumi’s cheek and Izumi was silent. She thought about the fire lilies and what Iroh had told her as if his voice was echoing inside of her, but it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that fire lilies had to die and now her grandpa. When the time would come the fire lily would wither away but she didn’t believe it was Iroh’s time.
“But why do fire lilies have to die?” Izumi asked her mother.
“It’s one of the greatest questions of life.” Mai didn’t truly know what to tell her daughter. The first thing came to her mind was Ukano. How she had once upon a time worshipped the ground he walked on as her father, the senator and the governor but times had changed. The man she idealized him to be was dead and before he was locked away, she told herself to only remember the good memories of him and that’s what she chooses to honor and remember.
“Nothing lasts forever in this world, Izumi.” Mai continued. She held onto Izumi’s hand with her right hand and kissed her daughter’s knuckles. “It is the truth and I can’t lie to you, my darling but they will always live on. In our thoughts and in our memories. Most importantly, in our hearts.” Mai pointed at Izumi’s chest with one free finger. “Your grandfather hasn’t left you, he is everywhere around you. In the earth under your feet and in the air above your head.”
Izumi had stopped crying, but she was still red and sniffling. “Can he see me?”
“Of course, he can but…”
“I can’t see him… Will I ever be able to see him again?”
“I am very sure of that. And I believe just like how the fire lilies belong to the earth so do we humans.” Mai wasn’t good at this kind of metaphorical talks, but she hoped she had some impact on her daughter. “Does that make you feel better?”
“A bit.” Izumi mumbled.
“That makes me happy. Do you want to make some tea with me? Just like how your grandfather used to make?” Mai proposed.
“You don’t make it like he does.” Izumi sighed and turned in her bed.
“Oh, well. I know one thing I can do very good.” Mai smiled victoriously at the thought of it.
Izumi’s eyes widened with anticipation. “Knife tricks?”
“What? No, not knife tricks. Not today.” Mai almost burst out in laughter but managed to control herself. “I meant we can go and bake.”
“You don’t bake…” Izumi was suspicious. “Since when?”
“Since I lived alone with my aunt, I taught myself how to make fruit tarts.”
Izumi got up from her bed and pulled on her mother so they could leave and go to the kitchen. “I want fruit tarts!”
“And if you want, I can ask uncle Sokka and aunt Suki to show you their fruit tart trick.” Mai said to Izumi who shout out a yes joy. The trick was just Suki throwing fruit tarts to Sokka and him catching it with his mouth.
“I love that trick! Non-benders are funny.” Izumi grinned.
“Uhm, thanks, darling.” Mai replied and they walked together to meet their guests.
Izumi liked the colors of the fall and how pretty everything looked in Ba Sing Se when colors rested everywhere. Her mother didn’t seem to think much highly of it and had stayed behind and let Zuko and Izumi enjoy a father and daughter trip to the Earth Kingdom. On a special day they walked up to the hill that Izumi had been on with Iroh years earlier and they visited Lu Ten underneath the tree.
She liked holding onto her father’s warm hands and she rubbed her face against them and pulling on them.
“Alright, Izumi. We are there soon.” The Fire Lord held onto an urn close to his chest.
“But Lu Ten has been waiting! We have to be there on time!” Izumi pulled and tried to drag her father with her.
When they arrived, they saw green flowers growing around Lu Ten’s grave and Izumi quickly pointed them out.
“They don’t have fire lilies here so what do you think those are called?” Izumi squeezed her father’s hand.
“Ugh, earth lilies maybe? Do you want to pick them?”
“No. It’s not their time.” Izumi grinned and together, father and daughter, they sat down in front of Lu Ten’s portrait and next to it they put a portrait Iroh. Izumi leaned into her father’s chest as they looked over the portraits of the two men. It was silent between them, but the silence spoke volumes of love and comfort.
“Angel? I hope you know that I was never angry with you when you spoke up. It’s important for me that you know that.” Zuko laid his arm around Izumi and kissed her on her head.
“I know, daddy. You were just sad as I was because you lost your own daddy.” Izumi looked up and saw her father’s own smile and even smiling he was tearing up. “Mommy says he died peacefully and happy. That’s good isn’t it? He was free from pain.”
“He sure was, angel.”
They sat down for a while, just hugging and reminiscing memories and funny moments they had with Iroh. Laughing and sighing in joy together.
“Now it’s time.” Zuko said and from the inside of his robes he had a little shovel and with it he dug up the earth. “Do you want to lay him to rest, Izumi? I think your grandfather would like that if you had the honor.”
It felt like a big responsibility and she took it with reverence when she placed the urn in the hole her father had dug. A few tea drops left her eyes but other than that she was happy to be so close with her grandfather.
Father and daughter decorated it with colorful rocks and leaves, but one thing missed Izumi pointed out.
A gift from her to Iroh.
“What’s that, angel?” Zuko asked her.
“A drawing I made of me and grandpa a long time ago. It’s us as dragons and I want him to have it.” Izumi wiped her tears with her sleeve. “Do you think he likes it?”
“I know that he loves it.” Zuko hugged Izumi and kissed her after she left the scroll with her drawing between Lu Ten and Iroh.
Both father and daughter left their burial ground with newfound happiness. Izumi sitting on Zuko’s shoulder and they spoke for hours about dragons and fire lilies and Zuko told her stories that Iroh told him when he was a child. Stories that were going to be passed down from generation to generation.
“I’ll tell you more when we arrive to the palace.” Zuko said and walked down to the carriage waiting for them below the hill. “Your grandfather was a master storyteller.”
My first experience with death was with grandfather and even if it was the most gut-wrenching moment in my life back then it shaped me, it made me ready for more to come. You could never fight death and it was just as normal as anything else in life. One thing that father told me grandfather had said to him was that life was for the living and we must continue live for the ones that are still alive. I can’t say death gained itself a concept for me. It still hurt me tremendously and I think back at how many of my loved ones had left, leaving me hurt and almost abandoned.
Uncle Aang is gone, uncle Sokka too and another distressing blow was the death of mother. I thought of father. He was still alive, and he had buried his only father figure, he thought of me when he made the decision to let half of grandfather’s ashes be buried with Lu Ten’s and the other in the burials of our ancestors. He was there when Aang took his last breathe and he went into deep mourning when Sokka was announced gone and how he had shut himself out when mother died. Still, there’s no stronger man than him. All those hardships and still manages to smile. I cherish that smile of his but even and this age I am at now and with the knowledge I possess now that I pass down to my own children and grandchildren, I still think of the lives of fire lilies.