52. Sick

Ursa paced outside the infirmary, her maroon robes brushing against the floor. "I want to see my daughter," she said as a nurse stepped into the corridor.

The woman blinked. Ursa seldom demanded things—she encouraged obedience and rarely gave commands—but her daughter's fever had risen dangerously high, and Ursa would wait no longer.

"She has a fever, my lady. It may be contagious. We don't want you getting ill."

Ursa rounded on her. "If my child must suffer, then I shall suffer with her. Let me in."

The nurse shrank back, then sighed. "As you wish, my lady."

53. Vandalizing (150)

Mai ran her fingers over her knives. Dozens of scars marked the trees of the royal garden. She'd been practicing all day

Something stirred nearby. Mai looked up, standing when she recognized the Fire Lady. She bowed, repressing her instinctive panic. She'd vandalized the trees with her knives, but as her parents claimed, politeness could defuse even dire situations.

"Mai." Ursa smiled. "I trust you're staying out of trouble."

"Yes, my lady."

The woman studied her a moment, then glanced at the tree Mai had been using as a target. Mai tensed. "If you're looking for a place to practice," Ursa said, "you may wish to set up more agreeable targets."

Apologizing would be tantamount to confessing. Mai said nothing.

Ursa brushed her fingertips over the bark. "I'll have Tazia drop off some more appropriate targets later today."

Mai nodded, relieved to find Ursa more forgiving than the Fire Lord.

54. Mother

The newborn wailed. Tazia stared into the cradle, horrified. She hadn't expected the future Fire Lord to sound so . . . whiny.

He's a baby, she reminded herself, pulling the sticky, screaming creature out of the crib. Zuko's cries became piercing. "You just ate. Your diaper is clean. What do you want?"


Tazia spun, wincing when she saw the Fire Lady entering. She bowed her head. "I'm sorry, my lady. I cannot calm him."

Ursa took her son. As soon as he was in her arms, his cries ceased. "There." Ursa smiled. "All he wanted was his mother."