The messenger hawk arrived in the middle of the night, but everyone was awake as soon as the Firelord’s personal staff heard the news. The siege of Ba Sing Se was a success, and the war was officially over. It was the first time in his life that Prince Zuko had ever seen his grandfather smile, and even his father was in a good mood. Plans and preparations began immediately, ready to throw a celebration like no other once General Iroh and his son returned from the city.
The only person who did not seem happy was his mother, Zuko noted, and clearly he was not the only one.
Azula scowled at her mother, and whispered to him “Of course she’s not happy. She never supported the war, or Grandfather. It’ll only be a matter of time before she actually does something traitorous about it.”
Zuko hissed at her to shut up, but Azula just smirked and left to skulk around the war council members.
It was two months later that their Uncle and cousin finally returned to the Fire Nation, but time did nothing to dissuade the citizens of the victory. The two were hailed as heroes and people loitered outside of the palace for hours to make their cheers be heard. That only made things more surprising when Uncle renounced his claim to the throne, placing his son in line for immediate succession. He had said that commanding an army had been enough for him, and that he had no wish to command a country, despite his birthright. After that, Zuko did not see much of his cousin, as the Fire Sages and the royal advisers prepared him for the role that he was fated to inherit much soon than expected.
His father had been furious to hear of Uncle’s decision, and did his best to persuade Firelord Azulon that Lu Ten was not ready for the role yet, despite the Firelord’s good health. But the Firelord would not hear Ozai’s protests, and sent him away, leaving Ozai to direct his anger towards his family instead. Zuko knew his mother got the worst of it, especially after Zuko walked past her chambers one day to hear her crying. But that didn’t stop Ozai from also taking moments to terrify both of his children either. Azula pretended it didn’t bother her, and it was only a matter of time before she would go back to that girls boarding school, leaving Zuko alone to deal with their father.
About a year after the conquer of Ba Sing Se, a new problem arose, with Water tribe ships attacking and disrupting supply chains between the Earth Kingdom territory and the Fire Nation mainland. Businesses were outraged at the loss of products and profit, and somehow wooden ships still managed to do a lot of damage to hulking metal Navy vessels. The war council was assembled, and soon enough everyone in the palace began expecting the announcement of a new war between the Water tribes and the Fire Nation. But no such announcement came.
Instead, news of another attack arrived, only this time, the ships had orders to retaliate. Fourteen of the sixteen ships that had caused damage were sunk, and over seventy Water Tribe prisoners were taken. The aggression from the Water Tribes subsided quickly, and a new idea emerged.
Zuko would later learn that it had been his Uncle whom had opened the Firelord’s mind to peace talks, instead of engaged conflict, something that would undermine Iroh in the days to come. And so peace talks began, and Iroh left for the Northern Water Tribe, taking his son with him. Iroh’s absence eased his father’s anger, and it wasn’t long before Ozai and Azulon were back on speaking terms. And while Ozai could not convince his father to abandon the peace negotiations, he was able to determine the new terms in which peace could be agreed upon.
A politically arranged marriage appealed to both his father and grandfather, although no one was sure who either man had in mind for said match. Not even Zuko’s mother could tell him, although the worried glances that she directed at her son should have been a big hint, but only days after the negotiations started, she disappeared. Zuko’s father would never explain what happened to her, and Azula was sent back to school as well, leaving him alone in the palace with Prince Ozai and Firelord Azulon.
It was on Zuko’s fourteenth birthday that he was told that it would be his responsibility to marry the individual whom the Water Tribes would pick for the union. He was told that both the Southern Tribe and the Northern Tribe chiefs had daughters, both girls younger than him. Zuko had been horrified, and protested his Grandfather, who would frown and shout at his grandson. Ozai would drag Zuko from the room, and Zuko wouldn’t be able to tell you what else had happened that night, because when he awoke, bandages covered the entire left side of his face.
His uncle returned from the Northern tribe, with a delegation of diplomats to continue the peace talks, and word of Zuko’s condition would remain a secret from everyone outside of the Royal family, except for a healer that had joined the delegation. Iroh was told that it was a training accident that caused the burn, and while Zuko himself would never admit it, he was not fooled. He knew that kind of burn was only caused by close range contact, and no training would have ever resulted in a blow to the face of a royal prince. And so Iroh quickly agreed with the sentiment of Zuko’s arranged marriage, and all that was left to do was wait for the day Zuko would reach the marriageable age of sixteen, at which point the prisoners would be released, and Zuko would be sent far away from his father.
In the Water Tribes however, they were not as easily convinced of the idea of an arranged marriage. Both Chief Arnook and Chief Hakoda were totally against the idea of a political match for either of their children with a Fire Nation Prince, despite the fact that Chief Arnook himself had been part of a political match. Not that it would matter. The day General Iroh left with the political negotiators, the Northern Tribe’s military general reminded Chief Arnook of their already existing marriage contract between their respective familes, leaving the only option with that of a marriage to the Southern tribe.
Hakoda was horrified at the concept of an arranged marriage for either of his children, and knew right then he would never allow them to be forced into a relationship like that. Sokka was twelve, and Katara eleven. Neither of them were old enough to understand the importance of this, and they were both too young to have the option that he had had with his wife Kya to be taken away. It was with that in mind that he told Chief Arnook that he would be the one to marry their representative, and accept full responsibility for the political arrangement. Hakoda told himself that he didn’t care who they would pick, and no matter what, he would always love his wife, no matter where her spirit was now, and that his own love life was less important than that of the lives of his men sitting in a Fire Nation prison.
When he told Bato about his decision, his oldest friend had snorted, and said “You do realize you have to tell your kids about that now right?” And Hakoda had never regretted something more, even though it was far too late to back out now. If only he realized then just what he was about to get into.