"Get up here! You need to see this!"
The excited commotion outside his stateroom had Prince Aang, firstborn son of Ursa and Ozai, 15 year old heir to the Fire Nation throne, rousing from his simple pallet on the floor of his private quarters. Contorting his lean body in a brief, but bone cracking stretch, he shoved his shaggy brown hair from his eyes and secured it in a neat knot at the top of his head. Before rolling to his feet, he sifted through a nearby pile of clothing and fished out a thin, red shirt. He gave it a cautious sniff and, after determining that it was clean, Aang pulled the billowing material down over his bare torso and crept barefoot over to the heavy iron door separating his cabin from the main corridor. When he stuck out his head, he discovered harried crew members rushing past him in the narrow hallway, frenzied to get above deck.
When he recognized a passing crewman, he snagged hold of the man's uniform sleeve and asked, "What's going on, Lieutenant Jee?"
Upon realizing that they had awakened the young prince with their commotion, Lieutenant Jee, a tall, wiry seaman with a sharply angled face softened by kind eyes, immediately snapped to attention. "Prince Aang," he intoned formally. "My sincerest apologies for the disturbance, my lord."
"At ease, Lieutenant," Aang said with a wide grin. "How many times do I have to tell you to call me Aang? Just Aang. I haven't been a prince in three years."
"And how many times must I tell you," the lieutenant sighed, "…it's inappropriate, majesty…with all due respect, of course."
Aang repressed the urge to roll his eyes, caught somewhere between groaning and laughter at the lieutenant's predictable reply. "I'm going to break you down one of these days," he warned good-naturedly.
"You'll try, no doubt," Lieutenant Jee replied with a formal bow. "I will instruct the other crew members to keep quiet so as not to disturb you further, majesty."
"That's not necessary," Aang told him. "It was time for me to get up anyway. I'm like an old man these days. I'm starting to take more naps than Uncle." He lowered his tone to a conspiratorial whisper to add, "Don't tell him I said that. He'd take it as a challenge." The Lieutenant's lips twitched with the beginnings of a smile, but for propriety's sake he bit back the response. "So what's with all the noise anyway?" Aang asked again. "You guys aren't having a party without me, are you?"
Yet again the Lieutenant had to bite back a smile. "We wouldn't dare," he replied in a most serious tone.
"Then what am I missing?" Aang wanted to know.
"A strange light ahead, majesty," Jee answered. "The first mate only just informed me. He said the light just suddenly beamed through the sky. I wonder, perhaps, if it might be an omen."
The revelation had the young prince's features splitting with a beaming smile of burgeoning hope. "A light? That's not an omen, Lieutenant Jee…" Aang exclaimed a little breathlessly, clapping a hand onto the crewman's shoulder, "…it's the Avatar! This is it! I know it!" he cried. He rushed past a stunned Jee and began racing towards the steps, practically flying in his haste to get to the top deck. "This war is finally going to end, Lieutenant! We've found him!"
As the young prince disappeared above deck, Lieutenant Jee stared after him with a mixture of pity and hope. For almost three years, his lordship had carried on a seemingly fruitless search for an aging Avatar, continuing the tradition of his forefathers. In a discarded Fire Navy vessel that was only marginally seaworthy, they had literally searched the four corners of the world and back again. Leads on the Avatar's whereabouts had long since dried up. Scouring the Western Air Temple and the mountainous cliffs beyond had yielded few answers. With each new idea and every place visited, they would meet with continued disappointment.
Yet, in spite of the less than promising results, Prince Aang had remained optimistic, hopeful and full of boundless joy. The crew had come to expect and even enjoy his random detours and whimsical insistence on mini-vacations. He was quick with his laughter and extremely slow to temper. No matter how disheartening the circumstances, the Fire Nation prince always found a reason for happiness and his happiness was an infectious thing.
Aang worked hard. Though he was the undisputed commander of their vessel, he never acted like it. He was a valuable and capable crewman. Yet, he also had a balanced view of work and play. He possessed a keen wisdom to know when it was time to roll up his sleeves and when it was time to kick up his heels and relax. Music night was always a constant treat for the crewmen.
Consequently, Prince Aang and his crew always maintained good spirits. Rather than cheering him, which would have been completely understandable given the circumstances, the young prince ironically served as a buoying agent for his crew. He and his uncle were a never-ending source of entertainment with their singing and dancing and easygoing natures. Jee could not recall a single time that he'd seen his lord without a smile and that in itself was surprising given the circumstances the young man had endured.
At fifteen and a half years of age, the former Fire Nation prince had already suffered more than any young person should have to. His mother had abandoned him long ago and his remaining family, save his loyal uncle, had denounced him. Disfigured and driven from his home at the tender age of twelve, he could have easily become an embittered, disillusioned and angry young man. Instead, he was the antithesis of all those things. Even surrounded by war and destruction, the young teenager still managed to find inherent beauty in people and in life. There was an enduring naiveté to him that hardship could not crush.
While still recovering from an injury that had resulted from an ill-fated Agni Kai with his father, Prince Aang had made the bold decision to run away from home and do what no one before him had ever attempted. He would find the Avatar and, in doing so, he would help end a war that had held the entire world in its grip for 100 years. The world needed a hero. It needed the Avatar and Prince Aang had been determined to give back what his forefathers had stolen. His hope in the Avatar had bloomed strongly in the weeks that passed and it had only grown stronger in the subsequent years.
It was an idealistic prospect to be sure, one that not a single one of his crewmembers had believed he could accomplish in the beginning. Yet, over time, the young prince had changed their minds. There still wasn't any real hope among them that the Avatar would be found. The firm belief was that he had abandoned the world long ago. However, Aang's determination to find him, his belief that there was still hope, his adamant stance that his father should be stopped and his simple indomitable spirit compelled his crewmen to follow him on what seemed like nothing more than a fool's errand. His fortitude in the face of adversity strengthened them and incurred their deep respect.
Now there was not a single one of the sailors aboard the ship that would not follow him to the ends of the earth. There was not a single one of them unwilling to die for him. For the prince's sake, Jee sincerely hoped that the unearthly light was, indeed, the Avatar, for no one deserved to make that miraculous discovery more than his young master.