Disclaimer: Copyright belongs to the creators of ATLA, and no profit is being made from this fic or the use of these characters.
Note 1: The words contained within brackets were meant to be struck through, but this site wouldn't let me format them that way.
Note 2: Shout out to my awesome beta, Madame Hatter! Thanks for encouraging me to write and for keeping my characterizations in line =)
"Dear Sparky Pants-"
"Your Majesty," Lord Huang protested, "you can't address a letter to the firelord in such an informal manner!"
Two women shared the room with him, one tall, plain and grey haired, the other petite, pretty, and young. The elder raised her head at the sound of his voice, but the only sign of her displeasure was a small sigh and a raised eyebrow. The newly crowned sovereign of Omashu made her annoyance much more noticeable. "You-Lord Stuffed Shirt, or whatever your name is," she said, her pale jade eyes narrowing dangerously, ". . . am I not the queen?"
"Err, yes, Your Majesty?" he said, wondering if that was the right answer. King Bumi had never asked obvious questions, but maybe this ruler would be different.
"And did you not swear an oath to respect and obey me in all things?"
"...Yes, Your Majesty," he replied.
"Is it really necessary, then, that I issue a royal edict ordering you to shut up?"
"Yes-I mean, no, Your Majesty."
"Good. Now, get out." Although her tone was exquisitely polite, an ominous rumbling punctuated the queen's command. The Earth Kingdom noble nearly tripped over the hem of his ceremonial robes in his haste to leave the room.
The queen waved a hand and the door swung shut with a satisfying bang, leaving her and her assistant alone at last. "That man," she announced, "is an idiot."
Lien shared the queen's opinion of Lord Huang. In her experience, the Earth Kingdom noble class was largely ornamental, and although they had to be placated and praised for appearances' sake, most of the time they could be ignored. That had been King Bumi's primary strategy for dealing with his nobility. But now that he was gone the lords and ladies who had been marginalized during his reign were circling like vultures, searching for opportunities to increase their importance.
Thankfully, the queen saw straight through fools and flatterers. However, Lien worried that if she fell into the habit of dismissing her titled advisors, she would also overlook the pearls of wisdom that they occasionally dropped. "I think what your advisor meant to say," she said, "is that relations between Omashu and the Fire Nation are at a delicate stage right now, especially considering the ..." She trailed off, searching for the right words to describe the diplomatic disaster that had happened just the other day. Her vocabulary completely failed her.
"You think that Sparky Pants might be mad because I kicked his ambassador out of my kingdom?" The queen looked surprised, as if this fact had never occurred to her. Lien knew that she had travelled with the firelord, when she was still a twelve year old girl and he was just a banished prince. They had probably even been friends.
But things were different now. Saving the world from a power hungry dictator was in many ways much simpler than navigating the treacherous realm of politics. Prince Zuko had been obsessed with honor, but as Firelord Zuko, he had to think not only of his personal reputation, but that of his country as well. Would he overlook the insult implicit in her actions just because they had known each other as children?
"Perhaps a more formal attitude would be the correct approach for this situation?" Lien gently suggested.
The queen snorted, but offered no biting retort. A meditative silence descended over the room, halting all work. Being intimately familiar with King Bumi's philosophy of "wait and listen," Lien sat quietly, even though her fingers itched to sort through the scrolls piling up on Her Majesty's desk.
Just as she was beginning to worry, she noticed the smirk on the queen's face, a mischievous expression completely at odds with her elegantly coiffed hair and pale, delicate features. In that moment, her resemblance to King Bumi was striking, and that similarity-spiritual, rather than physical-soothed Lien's concerns.
"You're right," Toph said, "I should be more formal. Get rid of the dear."
[Dear Sparky Pants Princess Firelord Zuko] Sparky Pants,
Your ambassador referred to me as a helpless blind girl in front of my entire court. I magnanimously pardoned him for this grave offense, but, understandably, he had to go.
Try to send someone without a stick up their butt next time.
Her Royal Majesty,
Toph Bei Fong, Queen of Omashu
(Written by the hand of her servant, Lien Zhou)
Zuko looked up from the letter to glare at the squirming nobleman kneeling on the floor. There was a desk separating the two, but even with that barrier between them the heat emanating from the firelord was overwhelming. "Is this true?"
"No! Of course not, My Lord!"
Zuko resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He didn't have Toph's excellent senses, but after four years of ruling, he knew when someone has lying. Some days he wondered if one of the prerequisites for becoming a diplomat was the impulse to deny any and all responsibility.
He took a deep breath, and the temperature in the room dropped back to normal levels. "If the queen of Omashu has pardoned you, I will not demand any additional punishments," he said, his voice deceptively calm.
He felt a twinge of annoyance at the way the ambassador's eyes brightened with sudden relief. Did he really think he was going to get away with mortally offending the ruler of another kingdom? Wars had been started for less! As a diplomat, he should have known that they needed the Earth Kingdom's full support. What would they do if Omashu imposed trading sanctions?
"You will, however, be removed from your position." And, consequently, be cut off from your ridiculously high salary, Zuko thought, although he kept that observation to himself.
Zuko spoke louder, drowning out the interruption. "And sent back to your estate. You can leave now."
"Go!" The decorative torches flanking Zuko's desk flared into gouts of fire, scorching the ceiling. Ex-Ambassador Ziyang was out the door before the flames had died down to the barest flicker.
Now that he was alone, Zuko sighed and collapsed into his chair. That was only the first audience of the day, yet already his office needed repainting. He also had a dozen more meetings to attend, each one bound to be more frustrating than the last. And because those officials hadn't done anything wrong (at least nothing that he knew about), he couldn't yell at them and shoot fire from his fingertips.
Zuko stared vacantly at the blank paper stacked on the corner of his desk. He knew he should take advantage of this break in his schedule to meditate, or to prepare notes for his next meeting, but his mind kept going back to Omashu, that fool Ziyang, and Her Royal Majesty, Queen Toph Bei Fong.
Queen Toph! Who would have ever thought it possible?
After some reflection, he could see the logic behind King Bumi's choice: she was the daughter of a wealthy, influential family, a powerful bender, and an international hero. She also had some experience in diplomacy; after the defeat of Firelord Ozai, she had spent a long time travelling with the Avatar, righting wrongs and settling disputes along the way. Tales of her deeds had reached his ears, but the last time he had seen her was three years ago, a tiny figure waving goodbye from Appa's saddle as the sky bison flew farther and farther away.
Judging from her letter, she hadn't changed at all. Zuko reached for a sheet of paper, unaware of the small smile lighting up his face.
Congratulations on your recent coronation. I have already apologized for my absence from that ceremony, but I must apologize again, this time for my ambassador's behavior. He has been duly chastened and sent home in disgrace.
Formalities aside, in the future, would you kindly prevent from attacking my officials? Even though they [often act like flaming idiots and really deserve it] can be difficult to deal with, they mean well. (I hope.) Please leave their discipline to me. I have a reputation as a just, peace-loving monarch to maintain, and if I can't use firebending to incinerate them when they insult me, it isn't fair that you get to pulverize them with earthbending.
Anyway, I will try to replace him as soon as possible, but it may take some time before I can find someone who meets your standards. Until the position can be filled, communicate any concerns you have directly with me, and I will take care of them.
P.S. Stop calling me Sparky Pants.