Disclaimer: Neither Avatar: the Last Airbender nor its characters belong to me, nor will they ever
The Fire Lord looked up at his uncle. "What?"
"You're pacing. You're making me nervous."
Zuko scowled but sat down. Reike tried to hand him a drink but he declined.
"Are you nervous, Nephew?"
"Nervous? I—No, I'm not."
"I'm not," Zuko insisted. "I just want to…get this all over with."
"What? Your wedding day?"
"It's just…too much fuss."
"'Too much fuss,'" Iroh laughed. "Well, you are the Fire Lord."
"It'll be over before you know it," Reike tried to reassure.
Zuko scoffed. "Whatever you say."
"Come; it is time to head to the temple."
To Zuko's relief, tradition stated that as the groom he go to the temple unnoticed as the bride is carried through the city and down the streets to the temple. It's supposed to represent how the wedding is really the bride's, but Zuko suspected it was also a way for previous Fire Lords to parade their women and, occasionally, conquests.
Katara is going to love all that attention, he thought with a grimace.
Zuko wanted to walk to the temple, but in this heat and in his full Fire Lord regalia, it was out of the question. They rode in open carriages, the breeze helping to calm his nerves. His uncle and Reike were discussing something quietly, but Zuko wasn't paying attention. Even when they arrived at the temple, he stepped out of the carriage without acknowledging anyone. Before he knew it, a Fire Sage was telling him it was time and led the way to the coronation temple—or rather, the wedding temple this day. Normally, weddings took place in designated courtyards, but none in the Capital City were large enough for this wedding, he'd been told.
The crowd gathered at the bottom of the steps cheered as he stepped out from behind the tapestries and onto the platform. Hundreds of people gathered at the plaza, all dressed in red and black, standing behind the designated "wedding guest area." He could see Katara's father and grandmother and brother and a few others already seated. His uncle was down there too, with Reike, on the other side of the aisle.
He had always thought is odd that in Fire Nation weddings, the couple got married alone. It was supposed to be some symbol of unity or strength or something like that, but it never made sense to him. Marriages always seemed to be stronger with a support system.
As he looked over the crowd, he could see Katara's palanquin making its way to the back of the plaza. He was struck with memories of one of the last times he'd been in this temple, years ago. He had fought and defeated his sister, and Katara had saved his life.
How…appropriate that they start their life together here.
The crowd quieted as the palanquin reached the end of the aisle. The soldiers placed it on the ground, and it seemed like everyone held their breath as they awaited Katara's appearance.
Katara couldn't tell what was louder—the cheering of the crowd around her or the pounding of her heart in her ears. Through the sheer gold curtains draped around the palanquin, she could see hundreds of people lining the streets, dressed in bright reds and golds. Some were holding sparklers; others were throwing grains and flowers toward her. She focused on her breathing and tried to calm her nerves, but the heat inside the stuffy palanquin wasn't helping any. They travelled for what felt like hours down the winding streets of the city. When they finally arrived at the coronation temple, she thought she was going to be sick.
The palanquin-carriers stopped and set it on the ground and she waited for some sort of signal that she was to step out. After a few minutes, she could hear Jien whisper, "My lady, are you okay?"
"Yes. I…I'm ready."
A few seconds later, the curtain parted, and Katara stepped out. Jien, Kai, and Sun helped her straighten the train of her dress. Jien handed her a bouquet of flowers and gave her a comforting smile. Katara smiled back before she started down the aisle, taking slow, even steps.
She was still very far from the temple, but Zuko could see her steadiness in her step, her assurance in her posture. She looked every bit the Fire Lady she was about to become.
When she reached the halfway mark of the aisle, he began to descend the stairs to meet her. As he got closer, his heart began to race. Spirits, she was beautiful. It wasn't the dress or the jewelry or the hair or anything like that—although it was very nice. No, it was the look and the determination in her eyes, and the strength that was radiating from her. She looked up at him with her big blue eyes and he could sense the trust she was placing in him as he took her hand. Her fingers trembled slightly in his, and he had to bite back a smile. Looking at her, one would have never guessed she was nervous. Maybe it was all the people, or the attention, or simply the fact that it was her wedding day.
"You're doing great," he whispered.
"Don't talk to me," she whispered back. "I'm trying really hard to focus. If I lose concentration, I might start laughing…or crying."
That did make him smile, and he squeezed her fingers reassuringly.
When they reached the top of the stairs, they knelt before the High Sage, who began chanting over them in the old tongue of the Fire Nation. After a time, he reached for her hand and helped her stand. He then instructed Katara and Zuko to face each other, and Zuko took both of her hands in his.
"Marriage is a sacrament," the sage stated, his voice echoing across the plaza. "It is the joining of two houses, yes, but it is also the joining of two hearts—two hearts that swear to love, protect, and respect one another.
"Blessed be this union with the gifts of the East and the element of Air, for openness and breath, communication of the heart, and purity of the mind and body. From the east you receive the gift of a new beginning with the rising of each Sun, and the understanding that each day is a new opportunity for growth.
"Blessed be this union with the gifts of the South and the element of fire, for energy, passion, creativity and the warmth of a loving home. From the fire within you generate light, which you will share with one another in even the darkest of times.
"Blessed be this union with the gifts of the West, the element of water, for your capacity to feel emotion. In marriage you offer absolute trust to one another, and vow to keep your hearts open in sorrow as well as joy.
"Blessed be this union with the gifts of the North, the element of earth, which provides sustenance, fertility and security. The earth will feed and enrich you, and help you to build a stable home to which you may always return.
"Now, repeat after me: Air. Fire. Water. Earth. As the four elements work together, so will I work with you to build a life, a home, a family."
As Zuko and Katara repeated the vows, the sage began to tie a red ribbon around their right hands. Katara's hands were shaking, but Zuko's were holding them steady.
"Fire Lord," the sage said, prompting Zuko for his portion of the memorized vows and handing him a small ring.
He slipped the ring on Katara's third finger. "With my cloak, I shield you. With my sword, I protect you. With my heart, I love you, from this day till the end of my days," he recited, his eyes never leaving Katara's.
Katara's throat tightened, but she managed to recite her part: "With my hands, I serve you. With my arms, I comfort you. With my heart, I…love you, from this day till the end of my days."
The sage again chanted for a moment in the old tongue, blessing the marriage. "Before the spirits and the people here today, you have promised to be man and wife, and so you shall be from this day forward." With that, the crowd cheered and Zuko kissed Katara quickly and gently. He then turned her to present her to the crowd and the cheering intensified. Katara looked down and could see the mixed emotions on the faces of her family members, but she managed to keep her own solemn expression in place. The High Sage then had her kneel as he placed a new headpiece into her topknot.
"All hail Fire Lady Katara!" he commanded.
In a thunderous roar, the crowd repeated, "All hail Fire Lady Katara!"
Zuko helped her stand and she held her head high as they began to descend the steps together. Around them, the crowd cheered, fireworks exploded, letting people far and wide know there was now a new Fire Lady. Zuko held her hand as they walked back up the aisle and helped her into a different palanquin, this one built to take them both to the reception site. Once they were safely tucked inside, she released his hand and the sigh she'd been holding.
"That's it?" she asked.
He was working to loosen his collar. "Mostly. There's still the reception, but it doesn't officially start until sunset."
"But that's hours from now."
He shrugged. "I guess the idea is to stay off drinking until the hour is more acceptable for it."
"And until then?"
"We're supposed to change. And we have some documents to sign. Then you'll be presented in the throne room, and before the reception we'll be greeted by wedding guests and other dignitaries in the throne room, and that could take a few hours."
They rode the rest of the way to the palace in silence, not that is was easy to talk over the roar of the crowds around them.
I'm married. The thought ran through Katara's head a few times, but she felt the same she did an hour ago, a month ago. She didn't feel any different. She didn't feel married. But she was.
She looked down at the ring of gold on her finger. "What's this for? I wasn't told…."
Zuko looked at his own hand. "Oh. It's just a…tradition. It's so others know you're married."
"Oh." After a pause, she asked, "But you don't wear one?"
He hesitated. "Traditionally, the man doesn't. But…if you want…I can…."
"No, it's okay. I was more curious than anything."
They were the first to arrive back at the palace and Zuko led her straight to his office. There, a Fire Sage witnessed them sign their marriage contract. Katara also signed some documents concerning her coronation. Zuko signed a lone document, but he sealed it with wax before she could see what it was, and she had other matters on her mind that she really didn't think much of it. All the documents were then placed in a crimson and gold box and the sage bowed before taking it from the office.
"What will he do with those?"
"Documents like that are stored at the Fire Sages Capital Temple," he stated simply.
He looked over his shoulder at her. "Are you enjoying your wedding day?"
He asked the question so seriously she almost missed the teasing look in his eyes. "Oh, yes, it has been a wonderfully fun day so far." She looped her arm through his. "I guess we should go greet our guests."
He grunted as if he were in pain.
"Or…we could run away."
"Don't tempt me."
"I'm sure it won't be that bad."
Zuko grimaced. Katara had a lot to learn.
Sorry this took so long. I was really stumped with the wedding and the reception, but hopefully I'll get that out quickly so we can get to the good stuff. Most of their married life is written already, and that's where things'll get interesting, I promise! Thank you so much for reading (even the crap like this chapter) it means the world to me!