AN: No particular reason for this short story and I feel like someone else has probably done something similar before. I was doing research for an original novel and the subject of Sparta came up… It somehow seemed like a good fit for Zuko and the Avatarverse. The city-states of Ancient Greece, in my mind, do not seem all that far off from the four nations. Maybe part of a series. If Sparta = Fire Nation, then maybe Athens = the Air Nomads?
As of now, a one shot, but would probably make a cool longer story if I had four seconds to call my own.
I do not own the characters.
A Spartan Existence
It was a harsh existence, with no apologies or excuses. He had been born to one of the most exalted kings of the land, believed to come directly from the progeny of the greatest warrior of them all, Heracles. As was tradition, he had been ripped from his mother's side at the tender age of seven, separated from his family, and forced into training far from his home. Nothing was made easy for him. Even as a prince of the land, he was still expected to earn his status. To rise above challenge and adversity was a hard fact all Spartan men accepted at an early age.
He forced his way through the taunts, rose above the insults, and suffered the endless comparisons to his father and forefathers. He knew Ozai had spies everywhere and acted the part at all times, waiting for the day he would earn his shield. The aspis, simple in design, sometimes lethal in nature, and protector of those who earned its right, awaited him. Unlike other cities or nations, his would proudly bear the lambda across his armor, the great symbol boasting his Spartan heritage.
The years blended from one to the next, and the young man approached his sixteenth year. His father, who had been leading military campaigns and fighting various missions for the better part of a decade, had basically absent from Zuko's formative years. And yet, the current king of Spartan lands had done something no other leader had previously ever dreamt of. At a young age, the boy's younger sister, Azula, had shown a great aptitude for warfare and accompanied her father on his bloody and merciless path across various nearby regions. Joined by a few hand maidens to protect her modesty, she had escorted their father through his triumphant career, learning by example…going where no female had ever been invited before.
At first, it bothered him, and then, under the wise supervision of his uncle, and strict tutelage of Jeong-Jeong, the soldier responsible for the barracks, he internalized his frustration, saving the energy up for the day when he would lead the nation. However, it was no question who his father preferred and so, he shouldn't have been surprised when he learned it was Ozai who would challenge him to officially earn his shield. Without explanation of apology, further breaking the tradition with his forefathers, Ozai moved the date up – bringing the confrontation forward by two years. At the precipice of manhood, Zuko still had growing to do, strength to gain, and knew his father would have the upper hand.
However, those thoughts disappeared now. The bright sun, borne aloft by Apollo, showed bright in the sky. He wondered if their patron god, Ares, was watching the scene unfold and if there was any interest on the god's behalf.
What future had the Fates woven for him?
Ozai swept into the practice ring, his courtiers and generals following in his wake. His father, in the absolute prime of his life, hefted his weathered sword, tossing it lightly and easily in callused hands. In a practiced move, he hoisted his shield – the bronze lamda flashing in the sun.
Zuko calmly wiped his brow and spat on the ground, answering, "Yes?"
"Do you want your shield?"
"Yes." There was no hesitation.
"Are you ready to earn it?"
In the heat of midday, his father paused and pulled off his great crimson cape, discarding it, and faced his son. He stalked a great circle, his leather sandals crunching on the ground, and said, "I've been waiting for this day."
Unflinching, Zuko joined the dance, using his beaten practice sword. The familiar weight of the weapon gave him confidence, but he stilled his raging emotions. His father was the victor of hundreds of matches. He had no illusions of the vanity of youth, no cocky swagger – just calculated steps to keep his distance. How would this battle end? What were the possible outcomes? He had pictured this moment for years, and now that it was here, his mind went blank.
In the briefest of seconds, there was a shower of sand and earth kicked up in his direction and he couldn't react in time.
The whole situation seemed appropriate, the ultimate way his life would play out. All tragedy, no comedy. And there, in the shadows, he glimpsed a female form, an evil smirk stretched across her features.
With the sand still stinging in his face, he looked up – too late – to see the great shield swinging across his face, the last image he would ever see from his left eye.
He was unsure where he was when he came to, but the fragrant scent of tea alerted him to the fact that his uncle, a former general, was close by. The young man blatantly refused to open his eyes, mostly due to the fact that his eyelids felt trapped and heavy.
"Did no one tell you?"
"What?" Zuko croaked.
His head was still swimming, cloudy, and Zuko turned away...apathetic. He had lost his shield. How could he ever reclaim his honor? His nation? Whatever prophecy existed did not interest him. Not now...
AN: I feel like this could morph into something like Gladiator…even though the timing would be off (Rome vs. Greece, dontcha know). Zuko and Aang (Gladiator!Jet??) quest to make their way out of the pit against Ozai and Azula. Maybe with bending, maybe without. I'd like to revisit this sometime soon.
Reviews always appreciated.