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your people surround you, in shame and in pride

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An old man lives at the edge of the woods, just outside town. They say he's a fallen god, or a demon in hiding, or even that missing heir of the Fire Nation. He has a scar, like the legends say Prince Zuko had, and the golden-yellow eyes, but no one's ever asked.

Or, if they have, they're not talking.

There is only one thing everybody knows: fire never touches him.

Fire Nation soldiers came to the town, once, back just after the old man moved here. He wasn't old then, of course, only twenty or so. And he fought with two swords, dodging fire and weapons, and no flame touched him. He almost single-handedly stopped the attack, leaving most of the invaders dead.

The headman asked him to stay. He didn't answer, but he never left.

Everyone knows he's a firebender; it's the only explanation. But he never 'bends, so they don't confront him. He protects the town and lives quietly, buying supplies at the market once a week. Sometimes, when he seems tired or weary, the shopkeepers try to slip him something extra for free; it's a rare day when he accepts the charity.

He was handsome, they say, those old timers who remember. When he first came, beneath the blood and the bruises and despite the scar, he was handsome. But he killed the soldiers and flame never touched him, and they knew he was dangerous. So they let him be, at his small shack on the edge of the woods.

Fire Nation soldiers stop in town, every now and again, to restock. The old man stays home those days.

They say the Fire Lord Azula is searching for her brother, the long-lost Prince Zuko. He is the only threat to her reign since the Avatar fell on the day of Sozin's Comet.

No one in the town ever says a thing about the old man living at the edge of the woods. He is their secret, their protector, and they can love him because he never 'bends.

One summer day, an old Water Tribe warrior comes to town. The Water Tribe are nearly extinct, hunted by the Fire Nation mercilessly, but he wears their uniform proudly and without fear.

The next morning, the old man from the edge of the forest doesn't come to town for his weekly supplies. Some of the boys go to check on him, at the behest of their mothers, but he's gone.

After that, the rumors are swift: a rebel force is taunting the Fire Nation, tormenting their soldiers. Assassinations are carried out on all the major generals, leaving the army leaderless and lost.

An army, they say, is gathering in the wild, all the surviving 'benders, all those who wish to strike back, mostly Earth Kingdom, but all the remaining Water Tribe as well. That is where the old man who lived at the edge of the woods went, they are certain. That Water Tribe warrior must have come for him and together they set off to join the war effort.

He never comes back, the scarred man with golden eyes who lived near them in peace and protected them from harm. He was dangerous, so very dangerous, but never to them. And they miss him.

He was a fallen god, they say, or a demon in hiding, but the favorite story by far, told so often it soon becomes fact, is that he was the Fire Prince in hiding, the long-lost Zuko, and he finally went back to defeat his sister and take the throne.

And when the war ends, they know they are right.