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Old August 5 2010, 07:22 AM   #1
Gojirob
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Avatar-TLA, Claudius' Stammer, PG,1/1, Post-Series Full Spoilers, Iroh

Summary : A newly disinherited Iroh gets sage advice from an unlikely source, and makes a sad--though perhaps not a shocking---realization.

Claudius' Stammer

by Rob Morris


To My Son Iroh, Crown Prince Of The Fire Nation, At Least At This Writing :

Iroh, I raged at first to hear you had chosen to abandon the pursuit of Ba Sing Se, till I had a chance to read your stated reasons. You had chosen to withdraw from a hardened target requiring much blood and treasure that was becoming a grander and grander focal point of our enemies' resistance to us. I would that my quick temper in initially judging you on this matter was the whole of our problem.

Your withdrawal, however wise and sage, has opened a floodgate to a toxic river I never even realized flowed within my palace. Your orders were barely given, my grandson's body barely placed in storage for his last journey home, when your brother Ozai approached me and asked for your place in the succession to the Burning Seat. Your blessed mother always knew he was a bit too jealous of you, and that I encouraged this--but like the lady herself, her advice was not appreciated fully until it was lost.

I tested him immediately, proclaiming that he must know the savage pain you have endured, and execute by his own hand young Zuko. My thought was that he would offer up his own life, or his chance at ever seeing the throne, in exchange for changing my mind. Instead, he put on a show of fretting and said he would obey my word. That boy has no subtlety. Why did he not see that the proper punishment, if it involved Zuko at all, would be for my surviving grandson to serve in dangerous combat?

Iroh, I have never once doubted my father's path. But what is it's worth, if it produces a viper like Ozai, and like my namesake granddaughter, already carving out her soul to be in his image? I have never before thought that my father's dream of a united world could produce anything but shining demigods, dragons in Human form. Yet the traits in Ozai that disturb me so are not alien ones. They are our own most cherished beliefs, twisted some, yes, but still recognizable. Oh what a curse, as I draw near my century mark, to see things with new eyes.

Among the things I see is that I, for all my power, have no ability to stop this. I lack the ability to see why it must be stopped, beyond the lesson of your brother's treachery, but I can take no other basic lesson from such a thing. Yet if I were to order it all done, what would I be doing but accelerating and enhancing Ozai's ascension, as he declared me mad to rousing crowds? Again, though, my new eyes are still old ones as well, offering me only a glimpse of all that has gone wrong without having a clue as to how a grand dream became a fetid one, and how to clear that poison out.

My son, it is my belief that, if your brother has not seized the throne by the time you read this, it is still not far off. The only path I can see is to let the fire my father started in earnest but mistaken belief burn itself out. You would be a careful warden of it--your brother will allow it to consume him and then all we have built. For it is not merely Ozai I fear. My own ministers reacted to his request with amused remarks about how ambitious he is. What we have awakened in our people must be beaten out of them. There must be no talk of 'if only old Azulon or Iroh had let us go forward'. Only the sight of the cliffside will sober them now.

So grow stronger in silence, Iroh. Try to watch over the boy, who shows signs of Roku's blood in him. Let your brother think you a broken fop, and no threat to him. Stand ready to help us all rebuild. Lastly, think long and hard about Lu Ten's death. Ask how a brave boy who stood with his troops but never with his chin out met his end.

My final regret : I will likely never again taste the beautiful tea your mother taught you how to brew. No one makes a cup of it like my eldest son.

Azulon RLF

------------------------------------------------------------

"So what does it say, Brother?"

Iroh shrugged, rolled up the scroll, and chomped a bite of out a pastry he'd grabbed on the way in to the throne room.

"He says he wrote it when I was newly born, and what the color of the sky was, and the way the air smelled---Ozai, you know how Father was. When he waxed poetic---well, even an avid reader like myself had to strain to keep from nodding off. Here, I will let you judge---"

"No need. When Father became sentimental, it was actually more fearsome than his bursts of temper, because there's nowhere to hide from such sap. His gift to you, Iroh, and your burden as well."

Iroh seized his heart.

"Oh, my brother has already become a tyrant!"

Ozai laughed.

"Rank hath its privileges. Are you certain this is a rank you have no designs on, Brother? Father's last-minute choice was shocking, after all."

Iroh met the challenge with logic.

"Hmmm. Does a powerful and able firebender sit on Sozin's throne?"

Ozai seemed as confused as annoyed by this.

"Of course."

"And does he have plans to finish the job our grandfather started?"

"Yes!"

Iroh smiled.

"Then I believe Sozin's wishes and those of his son, our father, are all in motion. How could I have designs on thwarting all that? I pulled out from Ba Sing Se, Ozai--I didn't pull out of my mind. It's like Father said--the Fire Nation has a destiny, and you are the one to lead us to the place he foresaw. I just hope you'll take some occasional military advice from your old worn out brother."

Ozai seemed almost thrown by the sincerity that gushed from his elder sibling.

"Of course. Why, someday--I hope to send you back to Ba Sing Se in glory. What some narrow fools are calling your disgrace is to me a chance to reallocate needed resources. You will take that city yet, Iroh--that is your destiny."

The brothers bowed to each other, though Iroh's bow was deeper, owing to their stations. A servant approached Ozai with a concoction.

"What is this?"

"Fresh milk mixed with fresh-picked blueberries, Fire Lord."

Ozai regarded the blue milk with suspicion.

"Send it away---I have a bad feeling about this."

Stopping in the capital's shopping district, Ozai wiped ashes from his hand before obtaining what he needed. Back at the royal compound, he approached one who it can truly be said he had a mutual lack of use for.

"My niece---are you up for a challenge?"

He had discovered new ways to channel and dispel his rage since Lu Ten was taken from him. All those would soon be put to the ultimate test.

"I don't do riddle games, Uncle. Even Zu-Zu's above all that."

"Who said anything about riddles? What I propose is a test of physical skill and strength."

Which, he knew full well, sealed the deal.

"What's the challenge?"

Iroh looked around to see that they were alone, then leaned down a bit.

"You've been training with the Yu Yan Archers, right? Do you think you're any good?"

Azula actually lost a bit of her eternally-confident look.

"I--I've only dabbled in their ways. I'd like to be able to fire off rapid-succession bolts, but so far, I've only improved my standing in archery competitions."

Iroh nodded as he pulled back.

"Still, you must be quite good. I propose a wager : This gift card for Tarenji's Clothier Shop against you hitting a target I select."

Azula stared at the prize, an amount that equaled her entire monthly allowance.

"I've always treasured your gifts and your challenges, Uncle."

In short order, a sturdy metal urn was shot through from a distance many would consider insane. An Uncle's jaw dropped and his eyes bugged out as a niece smiled. A prize was yielded up as promised.

"My late son always said you would be a formidable warrior, and you have proven him right, Azula."

The princess almost cracked her neck turning at that statement.

"He never said that to me."

"Well, you know how boy cousins are. They feel they have to tease the girls a bit, or they're not doing their job. As a result, I know that you and he were never close. Tell me, how fast did the news travel? Zuko said that it was you who told him of Lu Ten."

"How should I know? I wasn't even in the capital when it first hit. I was traveling aboard a new skiff some mad idiot from the Earth Kingdom designed. Beautiful craft. Fastest in the world, and no other like it. Driven by pure bending, and almost frictionless. By the time I got back--people were already talking. Ta, Uncle. I have some shopping to do."

Iroh made a show of eating and moping about town, and when he got back to his quarters, he unwrapped a keepsake. It was the armor of a young Fire Nation warrior, broken in a vital spot by an arrow that his loyal men swore came from nowhere. He recalled the nickname the soldiers had given the tiny Azula during her grandfather's reviews.

"I will bide my time, Little Boots. I will bide my time."

In his chambers, a strong man became stronger. Outside those chambers, a strong man became a great actor, as he waited for a poor custodian to burn things down, and for a Little Boots to drown in herself.

SEVEN YEARS LATER

"Well?"

"Well What?"

In restraints and behind a layered partition, the prisoner fumed.

"Do you, Old Man, understand what I took from you that day, or are you too addled to finally get it?"

Iroh got up to leave the secure facility.

"You tell a good story, my niece. But you must think me perfectly gullible. My son, your cousin, died as a sad fortune of war. An Earth Kingdom bombardment crushed him. Everyone knows that. But I do have good news for you."

"Good---news?"

"Yes! You see, Katara is the daughter of her people's chieftain."

"What?"

"Don't you see, Azula? You weren't beaten by a mere commoner, but by a peer. Your humiliation is lessened somewhat, don't you think?"

Her howls as he left were incomprehensible. His words once far away enough were quite clear.

"I will add nothing to your mystique, Little Boots. My son will continue to be recorded as dying the way most believe he did."

In the Fire Nation and the world surrounding it, people continued to crack wise on some occasions about Fire Lord Zuko's eccentric uncle. But that number kept right on shrinking, as they realized this was very much someone to be taken seriously.
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Old August 6 2010, 12:04 AM   #2
Graywand2
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Re: Avatar-TLA, Claudius' Stammer, PG,1/1, Post-Series Full Spoilers,

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. And I like the Hamlet reference in the title.
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Old August 6 2010, 01:23 AM   #3
Gojirob
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Re: Avatar-TLA, Claudius' Stammer, PG,1/1, Post-Series Full Spoilers,

Glad you liked it, Graywand, but the reference was to Robert Graves' character of Roman Emperor Claudius, who was told, in order to survive the intrigues of his dynasty, to play the fool and exaggerate his stammer.
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