Chapter Two: By the Black Ribbon
Firelord Zuko stood just outside a hefty door to the physician’s office.
His mother was in there.
His complicated mind was a twisted knot of unanswered questions.
Why did Azula yearn to burn her own mother?
Was Mother to be all right?
He did not know the answers. Lack of knowledge was one of his weaknesses as Firelord. Though calm and graceful under the pressure, he always made sure that he was in complete understanding of every little detail of the Fire Nation. His reason, he reflected, was of perfect sense. The bloody war that had existed for a hundred years had just ceased barely three years ago. The four, or rather, three nations were still heavily divided.
But Avatar Aang was completely on his side in all of this conflict. It was, after all, his duel with the Phoenix King that had symbolized the war’s conclusion.
Zuko then had his only sister and father thrown into jail as punishment. Azula’s imprisonment was always of discrepancy with his uncle and mother.
Though he respected them with his most esteemed honor, it was his decision to leave her there. She deserved it. She almost murdered him and Katara.
A debt too great to leave unpaid.
And of course, she sealed her own fate by what she did to their mother.
The Firelord gazed to his left and noted his mother’s presence. He smiled sympathetically at her.
“Well, what did they say?”
“The fire healers saved me from almost all of it. All that is left is just one small spot on the right side of my lower lip.”
He glared at the mark angrily, “I’m sorry, Mother.”
“It is not your fault, my son.”
He shook his head, “For some reason, I feel that it is. I allowed you to go to the prison, and I regret it.”
“Zuko, the only reason I came was to see my daughter for the first time in so long. I just wanted to talk to her, let all her pain go away.
“I forgive her for what she has done to me. My minimal suffering is nothing in comparison to what she has to go through. I still hold true to the belief that you should release her.”
“You know I cannot do that right now, Mother. The world is still learning how to walk on its own. Allowing her back out would disturb the balance that the Avatar worked so hard in achieving.”
He stared into his mother’s warm, open eyes. The small scar on her face blatantly reminded him of his fateful Agni Kai with his father. Though that duel was at least six years ago, it still troubled him. It was his father’s fault that he had been cursed to hunt down the Avatar.
But at least it was all behind him.
The sound of pattering feet interrupted his memory. He turned and faced the Avatar, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Mai, and Suki. He expected their arrival, as he had summoned their presence after Azula’s episode.
“We came as soon as we got word, Zuko.” Aang stated.
He nodded his head at the youthful Avatar. He then faced his mother hesitantly, feeling a pang of guilt as to what he was to tell them.
“It appears that Azula is going to be in prison for a while longer,” Zuko answered, “She deliberately burned my mother with her fire. It seems that she is back to her crazed self again. She was increasingly violent, very unusual on the basis of weekly medical notices that I receive from the psychoanalysts that assist in her care.”
The Avatar nodded in understanding. He was another believer in the blessedness of life. He was not holistically against her sentence, but he had wished for a lighter one, nonetheless.
“As you all know, after almost a year of vicious outbursts, Azula fell into an aura of silence. She has lasted in this state for about two years,” Zuko continued, “Just last night, however, she seemingly broke it. Mother and I visited her to check up on her, but she ravenously attacked us with her fire. Despite not firebending in all her years there, it was still blue, and incredibly powerful. As a result, my mother was burned, as you can all see.” He gestured toward his mother’s face to depict his point.
“Where are you going with this?” wondered the blind Toph. Because of her visual impairment, she often needed a bit more coaxing on aspects that involved sight. Zuko understood this well, and he pushed into her point.
“Well, for one, as I said before, she will not be leaving. Despite your opposition, I am not letting go of this.”
“We understand that Zuko,” Katara stated nonchalantly, as she was completely in his favor with Azula’s punishment. Her life had almost ceased on the behalf of his sister. Zuko knew that with all his heart.
“I can predict that she will be a problem for a while, being that she is vicious once again. She will be constantly monitored, just as she was before her stillness. I have summoned more Imperial Firebenders to keep watch, and I received word that they have landed on the Boiling Rock as of a few hours ago.”
Zuko demanded that she was thrown into the Boiling Rock, as it was a place of strict order and discipline. She desperately needed it, at least in his rightful opinion, but it was another matter of incongruity on the behalf of others.
“So, do you honestly believe that more guards will keep her in line?” asked the inquisitive Sokka, “It seems to me like more of a reassurance on you and not her.”
“The elites are a precaution. I just want to make sure that she does not stray again.” Zuko answered, “though I do understand where you are coming from, Sokka. However, I still fear her power, even in prison, and it is best for us and the nations that she remains under a watchful eye. I do not want word slipping out about this. The balance is still unsteady. You of all people, Aang, should understand that.”
Aang nodded hesitantly. He could read that Zuko did not enjoy this dishonesty that he was displaying to his people. He was not a man of secrets and sought to give his nations the knowledge that they rightfully deserved.
But this was a different matter.
The group turned to face the voice. A lone Fire Sage, with a scroll in his hand, quickly paced toward them. He bowed respectfully and handed Zuko the message.
“What is it?” he asked irritably, an often-unseen side of him as Firelord.
“This is a Black Ribbon message sent by the warden at the Boiling Rock. He states that this is a matter of complete urgency on your behalf.”
Zuko unraveled the scroll and read it aloud, “One of our marked guards was murdered last night. Your sister, the Princess Azula seems to be involved.”
He cocked his head slightly in his confusion. “That is all it says. Not much detail to go on.”
“What do you think we should do, Zuko?” Katara asked him, though it was almost obvious as to what he was going to say.
“I do not know what to make of this message, but I suggest that we do as the warden asks.” He turned to the Fire Sage, “Please send a palanquin for our departure.”
The sage bowed again and nodded. He exited the way he came in, still rushed and hurried.
Mai quietly made her way next to Zuko. She had once been an ally of his sister, but she respected him much more. On the Boiling Rock, she had betrayed the princess for his betterment. “Do not worry, Zuko. I am sure it is nothing of major importance.”
He peered into her dark eyes and shook his head. He could not help but be flustered about the whole thing. So much had happened. All of it, it seemed, was in Azula’s hands.
And he yearned to know why…