Title: The Courtesan
Pairings: Zutara primarily with others thrown in as they see fit.
Warnings: mild language, sexual innuendo for the most part (citrus thrown in as I see fit, since hey that's what I do).
This is an AU set in a hybrid Avatar universe fast forwarded a couple hundred years to be the equivalent to 18th century Europe (Water Tribe= Russia- cold and vast, backwards trying to catch up to the West, Earth Kingdom- France/Prussia/Holy Roman Empire- a conglomerate of varying nations joined together as one, Fire Nation- England- had become the most powerful nation through war and invasions but collapsed upon itself, Air Nomads-a blend of Gypsies and Quakers. There is bending but as technology advances, natural abilities lessen.
While the word "courtesan" has become synonymous with "prostitute", they were two vastly different occupations. They were "prostitutes" in that sex was typically involved but in was only a minor facet of their lives. They were expected to be witty, intelligent, well-dressed, and ready to converse in a variety of topics from art to politics. Though their profession was looked down upon it thrived simply because they embodied everything that men wanted: fiery, independent, and intelligent. They chose how to live their lives and were not ruled by anyone but themselves.
The lace at her elbows swished in time to her motions as Katara fanned herself leisurely between sips of wine waiting for Iroh to move the chess piece.
The sunlight poured into the large windows of Iroh's apartments. Tapestries covered the walls, the luxurious furniture meticulously arranged upon fine imported rugs in the game room in which they played their daily game of chess. Iroh, a former general of the Fire Nation, now retired in the great city of Ba Sing Se, sat in this opulent room with his courtesan, Katara. He had paid greatly for her and sincerely enjoyed her company. While she was certainly a thing of beauty, he was not interested in all the duties that her title held. Unlike most men his age, at 19, she was too young for his tastes and he relieved himself in women more fitting his age. Her ripe flesh was better suited for a younger man and he did not balk in jealously when she took other lovers as many of her other companions had. In a way, he felt to be her protector having to step in when a man could not accept her rejection. The only reason he had taken her services was for her charm and grace, her intelligence and spark. To have her on his arm during social events earned him more than enough looks of envy from his peers and was worth every gold piece in his coffers.
Being a widower had made him lonelier than he expected and her presence had been a blessing to his old soul. She was the daughter he never had and he was always pleased to spoil her thusly. And having grown in poverty, as he had learned over their time together, Katara was more than happy to be the recipient to his gifts.
He grumbled a bit, plotting and planning, stroking his grey beard thoughtfully then finally moved his piece triumphantly. Katara pretended to ponder her dire situation then gracefully grabbed her piece placing it in its preordained space announcing "Check mate."
In mock disgust, Iroh barked out a laugh, running a hand over his thinning grey hair kept loose. "You have beaten me yet again. This is a farce to the greatest degree!"
Katara merely smiled, swishing the fan over her face then fanning her heated companion who smiled into the breeze she created for him on this hot afternoon. "I am very sorry that I won again. Perhaps, we could play a game better suited to your abilities. Maybe a game of cards? You can cheat better with those." She winked knowingly at him. Their games always for sport.
A rap against the door intruded on their afternoon game. Iroh stood adjusting his waistcoat while Katara sat back into the velvet-padded chair to stare out the window down onto the boulevard.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, General," the butler bowed, "I have come to inform you your nephew has just arrived." They had been anticipating the boy's arrival for the past month and Katara couldn't be happier for the simple fact that it was all the old general could discuss. She'd adore a change of subject. One would think the boy was his son, and as Katara learned, he practically was.
Iroh beamed, vocalizing his happiness to all. He assisted his lady in getting up from the chair, linking her arm in his and made their way downstairs to the foyer. "Zuko!" General Iroh called out before they were even halfway down the curved staircase.
The "boy" turned from the servants moving his belongings inside and smiled up at his beloved uncle greeting him in return, "Uncle!"
Katara half expected a boy not quite out of the reaches of childhood from the way Iroh spoke of Zuko. Her mind conjured a young Iroh, short and stocky, and for so long she had held onto that description, that the one before her took her breath away. Instead there was a man of 21 standing tall in the marble foyer. His red cutaway tailored coat opened to expose the white satin waistcoat. Katara could tell that he was in fine physical form, not a trace of fat straining the fine material. His dark breeches hit at his knees giving way to attractive calves covered in white silk stockings. His black hair was brushed back and tied back at the nape of his neck with a ribbon. His pale clean shaven face was strong and masculine. A regal nose topped full lips. This was not the nephew she expected. If only for the matching gold eyes, Katara would hardly have suspected their relation.
His smile however faltered as his eyes slipped to the woman on his uncle's arm slowly changing to a frown. Had she already disgusted him by simply next to his uncle? Many men were uncertain about women like her. Many felt the independence a courtesan had to be too "unladylike". A woman is to be seen not heard, yet the needs of men oft overruled this opinion, much to Katara's amusement. She enjoyed teasing, like a puma-cat with a gopher-mouse. She held her head higher and sauntered a little wider bringing the lace fan to her face.
As she watched the two men embrace and give their gratitude for a safe arrival, she admired the view of the guest. She shouldn't have been acting like this. She had been around men since her introduction to the world at age 15. She had entertained ambassadors, princes, and high merchants and every class in between. From an early age she had been raised to manipulate the hearts and wills of these men that desired her like her mother and grandmother before her. Now here she was, her heart fluttering like a maiden on her wedding night. Perhaps it had been too long since she had been bedded and this virile young man in her midst was sparking a desire held dormant by older men vying for her affections. She was a picky girl after all and not just any man could grace her bed. And fewer still could grace her heart.
While she too enjoyed the 64-year-old's company as a dear friend and was grateful for his keeping, she also longed for love. True love. Mother and Grandmother warned of her of such feelings. They were dangerous for courtesans, and worse still if she chose to be a wife. It is better to maintain emotional distance from her lovers and so far she had done that well. Before Iroh, there had been several other men who were her keepers and she enjoyed each one for varying reasons and done well enough to keep them at arm's length.
So why, now, she should start thinking of such a thing as love? She'd only just met him. But the way his eyes kept flicking to her made her pulse race.
Taking a deep breath to compose herself, she approached the two men and Iroh swept his arm proudly introducing his Katara. "She has been a wonderful addition to this household and I praise the heavens for her arrival," the old general boasted, amber eyes sparkling at his mistress.
Zuko bowed respectfully to his uncle's courtesan as she curtseyed to him. When his eyes lifted, she noticed his breath still. She knew she was stunning in the cream colored gown adorned with blue rosettes, her ample bosom plumped high thanks to the corset, her delicate throat adorned with the sapphire necklace inherited from her mother, the pads on her hips made them look appealingly large while the beaded stomacher pointing the way to her nether regions as if an invitation. Forgoing the powdered wigs reserved for formal occasions, her brown curls were half piled on her head the remainder draped across her shoulders.
He took her small hand in his large one and kissed the knuckles. His golden eyes met hers, "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Zuko saw the color rise in her cheeks for the briefest moment, feeling a heat pass over him as well, and she smiled broadly, "As with you. You must be tired from your journey? I can have the servants show you to your room so you may refresh yourself before supper."
She was truly well-bred from Water Tribe blood and her lilting voice and gracious demeanor proved it. Though she wasn't a wife, she took command of the widower's household and ran it as if it was hers. Such a bold move for one of her standing but she was so loved by the staff that they hardly minded. Plus she made the old general happy and for that they were grateful.
An hour after his arrival, Zuko made his way to the surprisingly large dining room. It was decorated as it would be back home in the Fire Nation. The dinner was delicious and the company even more so. Zuko was amazed by the woman, always witty and humorous and more intelligent than most women he had met in his twenty-one years. She could discuss the politics of some Fire Nation colony and within the same breath crack a raunchy joke. They had retired to the sitting room to talk more of Zuko's travels as part of his Grand Tour and enjoy a snifter or two of the Fire Whiskey Zuko had brought with him. It was common for young men of royal blood to see the Earth Kingdom and become "worldly" before settling into their lives at home. Ba Sing Se was the last leg of his tour and naturally a visit with Uncle Iroh was top priority.
. With an exaggerated yawn, Katara lifted from her seat, the men following suit as a show of courtesy, "I am exhausted from this eventful day. Do please enjoy your drinks. Good night, Sweet General," she placed a dainty kiss on his cheek and turned to Zuko. "And good night to you as well, Sweet Nephew."
Taking the glass in hand, Iroh swirled it taking in the aroma of the homeland he'd not seen in nearly ten years. All while watching his nephew follow his mistress's leave. "She is beautiful, yes?" switching to Fireish so that should Katara be listening she would not understand.
Iroh laughed, "She is your sister's age, you know?"
Zuko tried to repress the shiver of disgust. He knew Uncle to be a lady's man, but to have someone so much younger... Zuko never understood the appeal. "Then why do you keep her?"
Iroh, "Zuko, my boy, all of this is an illusion, a pretty game the aristocracy plays and in order to play it properly you must have certain pieces that give you an advantages over your competitors."
"Katara?" Zuko found the name to roll nicely off his tongue. It was exotic and dark, like her.
"Yes, she is young and beautiful and my adversaries are willing to whisper secrets in her ear as she strokes more than their egos."
She is your spy"
"No, no, no. She assists me, I assist her. There is great political upheaval around the world right now and since both of us are seeds from other lands, we have to be careful which gardeners we allow to tend to us. And," Iroh smiled wickedly, "Her fruits are ripe and in need of proper plucking. Perhaps, a young gardener should tend to her."
Zuko blushed brightly, trying to hide his smile behind the brandy snifter. "And yet, you bed her, Uncle. I would not be a brother starling, stealing what is yours."
Lifting heavily from his velvet chair, Iroh placed a hand on Zuko's shoulder. "It is a joy to have you here. I hope that you are wise enough to follow what is laid out for you."
Come morning, Zuko found Katara to be gone. "This is not her home, Zuko. She has her own apartments several streets away." Zuko's mind raced. This was not the norm. A woman was supposed to live with a man. Whether it be with a husband or a father or a brother, a woman could not possibly live alone. It made no sense. "Besides she didn't want to interrupt our reunion. She will join us later this evening though. The Ba Sing Se opera is performing tonight and we will all go together. For now, let me show you around town. You simply must try the local teas. They are divine!"
A final inspection in the mirror confirmed her belief. She looked spectacular. The finest silk and brocade gown in a deep midnight blue trimmed with padded bands of satin, chenille lace, and flowers of gathered ribbon. Her wig was tall and dotted with ribbons and pearls. Though she despised wigs, it would be a fashion faux pas not to wear one to such an event.
The carriage moved over the bumpy cobbled roads to Iroh's building. There her gentlemen waited outside in the crisp night air. Her breath caught at the sight of Zuko. Why did he make her do that? The legs. That must be it. So well defined under the silk stockings. Or perhaps the shoulders, broad beneath the mauve coat embroidered with images of dragons and celestial beings worn over the dark crimson waist coat with white lace peeking out from the collar and sleeves. Or maybe it was the way his lips curled into an easy smile at something Iroh said. There was something to be had about a man who could genuinely smile.
The men greeted her with bows and kisses on the knuckles. Once Katara was back inside and Zuko seated primly across, Iroh lifted as though to get in instead breaking into a coughing fit. His young companions tried to get to him from within the carriage.
"Uncle, what is it?" Zuko began and both finished, "Are you okay?"
"It's my lungs. Giving me problems again. I should stay home. Don't worry about me. You enjoy the opera. Tell me all about it." With that he slammed the door closed and yelled at the driver to go. Zuko and Katara sat in silence as they pulled away staring out the window to their dear old man.
"You know he tricked us, don't you?" Katara laughed sinking into the plush seat.
"You could say that," Zuko glowered.
Katara watched as he stared out the window, looking as a petulant child forced into something. An idea popped into her head. "Do you enjoy the opera?"
When Zuko replied with a well rehearsed response, Katara rolled her eyes. "You are a horrible liar. Would you rather do something else?" Zuko looked puzzled and slightly fearful.
Lifting her arms, she undid the pins from her wig and set the mound of hair on the seat next to her. She fluffed out her tresses then banged on the window of the carriage. The driver stilled the horses while Katara poked out her head. "To Lady Bei Fong's!"
The driver smiled and Zuko was under the impression that this was going to be far from a boring evening at the opera as originally intended.
If this seems fairly familiar, this was a portion of my ZW10: AU story. I hope that you enjoyed. As always, reviews are always welcome. Thanks for stopping by.