He couldn't believe it. He didn't want to.
After all this time and not knowing... he felt like a princeling. So used and so stupid. He couldn't bear to revisit the days when the thought of managing his kingdom had been the only thing to drag him out of bed. Keeping his subjects safe- he'd thought that he had been excelling as emperor, that he was good at his job, what he had been born to become, and his citizens were happy- oh the Crown jewel of the Earth Kingdom, the Great City of Ba Sing Se, where prosperity reigned and the banquets followed into the next evening.
They were at war.
At war with the Firenation.
Kuei stared bitterly into Basco's warm fur, the firelight casting great, looming shadows over them all. The Firenation had started the war a hundred years ago, a myth, he'd thought, a fairytale his parents had tried to scare him with. The firebenders had tried to bring down the great wall and he had been completely, stupidly, oblivious.
He reluctantly letting go as Basco went to mingle with the avatar and his friends.
There was nothing for it but to looked in a positively light - what else could he do? The alternative would be to mull over the thought that he had been an idiot, and that would do no one any good. He was the Earth King, he had people to protect. He had generals who had wasted far too much of their time arguing over trade. He knew about the war now, and even had the avatar as ally.
When he looked up from his palms, everyone was looking at him. Children with eyes of sympathy- he was years older than they were, he was the one who was supposed to be collected. The little blind girl wasn't looking at him. He guessed she was looking at him; her head was turned to him, but he had no way of knowing– that didn't matter.
"When do we attack?" he asked, entwining his fingers nervously. Perhaps he could get some help.
"The day of black sun." the Water Tribe boy said solemnly.
Yes! Just enough time to call him and get ready for the sure-to-be-horrifying battle. "Would it bother you if I got reinforcements?"
The Avatar's grin widened. "What? Not at all! The more the better!"
Sometimes, he wondered how a boy so expressive, so joyful, could be the avatar. At such a young age... the burden of responsibility had to be... well, no wonder the Avatar had disappeared. He wondered what happened in the expanse of the century, how he'd remained how he was now.
"Who do you have in mind?" the Waterbender asked – her name was...it started with a K...oh, yes. Katara.
His soldiers were well equipped to handle riots, street fights, but a war? He didn't quite think so. "I have a cousin." he said, rolling the thought around in his head. He had many cousins. The last he'd heard, Xing had been a lion's den, too many children, too many heirs. Cut throat. "He lives far enough away, but... he should be able to make it on time."
The gang cheered, and he chuckled nervously.
He remembered the letter he'd received a few months ago, parchment crumpled from the courier. Words running as if their sender could not contain his excitement long enough to write legibly. His cousin had been a skilled warrior, last he saw him. Too far down the throne and allowed to wander. Now he was the ruler of his own Kingdom, and Kuei didn't want to think of how many had been supposed to ascend to the throne before his cousin got to them.
"You!" he pointed at a guard. "Write a letter of emergency now!"
Hopefully, he'd still have the time for his dear cousin.
"To Emperor Ling Yao."