Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, or anything else associated with the animated universe created by Mike Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. So please do not sue me; trust me, you wouldn't get any money out of it.
Teatime with the Avatar
It was a beautiful day on Ember Island; the sun was shinning brightly, the wind was calm and cool, and the waters were peaceful and serene. And the people of Ember Island were enjoying it to the fullest; most especially the Avatar, who observed the good fortune of the day from his house near the beach.
Unfortunately for him, his gazing was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," he intoned. The door opened, and two women, one a child who had barely reached adulthood, and the other an elder person reaching the end of her years, entered. They were dressed in the formal attire of the Water Tribes.
Upon seeing the, the Avatar rose from his chair and eagerly greeted them. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Chieftain Yue! And you as well...I'm sorry, I don't think we've met. Well, nice to meet you, then. Please, have a seat!"
The leader of the Northern Water Tribe nodded graciously to her host, and planted herself on the offered chair. The older woman who entered with her took the seat next to Yue. "Likewise, Avatar Iroh. Thank you for having me."
"Oh, it's the least I could do for an old family friend. Tea?" offered the Avatar with a smile.
"Yes, of course. Kanna?" Yue inquired of her companion, who gave a nod in reply.
After a short wait, a serving woman approached them, bearing a tray of already steaming tea. Cups were given to all three of them, and the Avatar and his guests took a moment to sip and enjoy the taste.
"Jasmine tea, I believe?" spoke Kanna, glancing over at the Avatar. He nodded. "A very good blend, then. Thank you, Avatar Iroh."
The Avatar beamed at her. "Thank you, milady. My dear friend Ursa always makes the best tea."
The three took another moment to sip their tea, and a contemplative silence overtook the room.
"My condolences to your father, Chieftain Yue. He was a great man, and his passing is a tragedy. I also apologize for not being able to attend his funeral; I had...other matters to attend to, myself," Iroh stated, breaking the quiet.
"It is fine, Avatar. I understand that you suffered a loss around the same time, as well. We both have someone to grieve for, then. Prince Ozai was a great man himself, as I understand. He shall be missed." Yue replied, a bittersweet smile gracing her features. A moment later, she finished her tea and handed the empty cup to the waiting Lady Ursa.
"Indeed he shall," Iroh sighed wistfully. "My brother and I had our disagreements, but he was a good friend, all the same. I shall miss him deeply."
Another period of silence came upon them, until finally Kanna and Iroh finished their tea as well. When he was done, the Avatar straightened up in his chair, and asked,
"May I ask why you wanted to see me, Yue? Your letter was not too clear on the matter."
Yue straightened herself, and looked down at the floor uncomfortably.
"I apologize, Avatar. However, Kanna and Pakku have suggested keeping this matter as quiet as possible for the moment, least we worry our people." She said, glancing toward Kanna for a mere moment. "But now that we are in person, I can speak freely. The Northern Water Tribe has not had a good hunting and fishing cycle, to put it plainly. We are in danger of running out of food for the next season." Yue's tone was steady and unwavering, but the look in her eyes told a different story.
"I see," Iroh nodded gravely and stroked his beard. "That is a very delicate and dangerous matter. You were wise not to put those words in a letter that could have easily been intercepted. But I do not understand why you've come to me, I must admit. I may be the Avatar, but I cannot make food appear out of thin air."
"I understand that, lord Avatar. However, I do believe there is something you can do. If the Fire Nation were to increase the current export of food to the Northern Water Tribe, perhaps it might be enough to sustain my Tribe until the next season." The Chieftain suggested.
"You want me to talk to my son, then." Iroh deciphered. Yue gave a hesitant nod.
"Yes, lord Avatar. I know that this isn't exactly proper of me to ask, and normally we'd need to ask this of Fire Lord Lu Ten himself, but I fear that he might say no. However, coming from you, he would certainly accept the deal. Please, Avatar Iroh. Can you do this? Not for me, but for the entire Tribe. My people would be forever in your debt, if you could convince the Fire Lord to help us in this endeavor." Yue pleaded, and then to the shock of Kanna and the Avatar, she lowered herself from the chair and prostrated herself before him, lowering her head to the floor.
A stunned silence briefly followed, and Avatar Iroh slowly smiled. He stood up from his chair, and walked over to Yue. He crouched beside her, and tilted her face so that she was looking at him.
"Of course, my dear child. I understand. You are deeply worried and frightened for your people, and you would do anything to save them. I understand. I will talk to Lu Ten, and I am sure we can come up with a deal that will greatly benefit the Northern Water Tribe. Do not worry any longer; I will help you and your people." Iroh declared with a brilliant smile.
Tears in her eyes, Yue gave her deepest gratitude to her savior. Iroh brushed the thanks aside, and carefully helped her back up to her feet.
"Thank you once more, Avatar Iroh. You are truly the great man that my father spoke of. Thank you." Yue flashed a radiant smile, and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"It was my pleasure, Chieftain Yue." Iroh assured.
The visitors from the Northern Water Tribe came and left, and soon enough, another pair of visitors arrived. One was an elderly man, withered and bent with extreme age; the other, a young woman in the cusp of her youth.
"Ambassador Aang. It is a pleasure to see you again!" Avatar Iroh greeted as he happily shook hands with the elderly man before him. Aang smiled at him in kind.
"Likewise, Iroh. It's been ages since we last met," Aang grinned enthusiastically. "And it is good to be back on Ember Island, as well. I remember visiting this place many times during my youth; it is quite the paradise. I can see why you'd choose to live here."
"Well, the Fire Nation Capital will always be my home, I think, but Ember Island is a good place to live as well." Iroh replied, "But I do agree, Ember Island is quite a lovely place. I can see why you'd enjoy being back here! Now, who is this lovely young lady with you, Aang? I don't believe we've met."
"This is Mai," The monk replied, gesturing to the girl in question. "She's from the Western Air Temple. Mai, say hello to the Avatar."
"Greetings, Avatar Iroh. It's an honor to meet you." The girl stated in a dull, bored tone. Iroh blinked and gave Aang a questioning look.
"She is...a unique kind of airbender," Aang replied with a light shrug. Iroh took it in stride, and then gestured to the chairs. Once they were all seated, he asked,
"Well, then, what can I do for you, Aang? Tea? A game of Pai Sho?"
"Both sound marvelous." He replied with a wide grin. "Shall we do the usual wagers?"
The Avatar nodded, and within a minute the Lady Ursa offered them both tea, and set a Pai Sho board on the table before them. The older men peacefully sipped their tea, and began their game.
"So, Aang, what brings you to Ember Island?" Iroh asked, his gaze fixed on the board as he moved a piece.
"I was hoping to ask a favor of you, Iroh." He answered, keeping his eyes carefully trained on the board as he moved a piece in turn.
"You see, there was an earthquake that struck the Western Air Temple, not long ago. There wasn't any deaths, thankfully, and the temple remained fixed on the cliff. However, there was some structural damage that, if we do not fix soon, will result in the foundations of the temple completely crumbling. And that is not a desirable outcome.
"Thus," He continued, "I was hoping you might be able to help the Western Air Temple. Some good earthbending could repair the damage done by the quake, I believe. You might need the help of some other expert earthbenders, perhaps, but it shouldn't be too hard for even the Avatar to accomplish."
"I see. That is a troubling development. I can understand why you'd come to me for help." Iroh said with a nod, moving another of his pieces on the board.
"However, I am not sure that this is the solution you want." Iroh spoke after a thoughtful moment of silence. Aang raised a questioning eyebrow at him, and so the Avatar further elaborated:
"If the stone has been damaged enough that there's a risk to the stability of the temple, then bending and twisting it back into workable order would only be a temporary solution, I'm afraid. It might work for a time, but what if another earthquake hits the Western Air Temple? It could start the process all over again, or worse, it might actually loosen the foundations enough so that the temple sinks! I'm afraid you will need a better solution than that."
The Air Monk sighed, thinking the information over.
"You are right," He finally decided, reaching over to move a piece on the board. "That does prove a danger. What would you suggest then, Iroh? Do we need to evacuate the temple, and move the Westerners to a different location?"
Iroh shook his head. "Let's not be so hasty, now. There is a solution to this, I promise you. One that will work better than simply bending the foundations so that they're temporarily stable. If some metal support beams were added into the existing foundations, then it would provide the permanent stability that you're looking for, I think. And I'm sure if I tell my son about this, that the Fire Nation Corp of Engineers would be more than happy to help you with that job!"
"Hm. That might just work," Aang admitted with a smile. "Yes, I think that would work well!"
"Good. The only thing the engineers would need, then, would be detailed schematics of the Air Temple. With that, they shouldn't have a problem whatsoever." Iroh reached out to move a Pai Sho tile, and grinned.
"Looks like I win," The Avatar added.
"Indeed!" Aang grinned back at his friend, and stood up. "Well, I shall go bring this news to the other monks. Some will not like the idea of the Fire Nation messing about in one of our temples, but I'm sure I'll be able to persuade them that it's a good idea. Thank you for your help, Iroh, and thanks for the game and the tea. You must tell me what Ursa puts in it to make it so tasty. Well, until next time. Goodbye."
"Goodbye," Iroh echoed, watching the two Airbenders leave the room. His gaze returned to the Pai Sho board. The Avatar smiled again.
The next visitors to arrive were a delegation from the Southern Water Tribe. An elderly woman, accompanied by a man in his prime, walked through the halls of Avatar Iroh's vacation home on Ember Island, and were soon showed to his private quarters. They knocked, and the Avatar let them in.
"Come, come! Take a seat. My, it's a pleasure to see you again, Chieftain Hama! Beautiful as ever, I see!" The Avatar smiled broadly at the Southern Water Tribe leader, giving her a wink as they sat down. Hama chuckled and shook her head.
"I see you're still a scoundrel, Avatar Iroh. You never change, do you?" Hama accused with a smile, chuckling again.
"Well, I do try my best." The Avatar stated, winking once more at the Chieftain. "Shall I get you two some tea?"
They said yes, of course, and once more the Lady Ursa served the drinks. Hama took a small sip from her tea, but did not savor the taste for long.
"I'm afraid this isn't a social visit, Iroh." She began, getting straight to business. "The Southern Water Tribe needs your help. The situation with the Kyoshi Island pirates is getting too much for us to handle. They are becoming more and more bold and aggressive in their raids. Just last week, they launched an attack on one of our smaller villages! Over twenty of our tribesmen were killed, and twice that wounded."
"The Kyoshi Islanders are savages!" Burst out Hama's companion, his face twisted in barely controlled rage. "They slaughter our people and steal our food without remorse! They must be stopped before any more of the Southern Water Tribe fall victim to their vile ways!"
"Calm yourself, Bato!" Chieftain Hama rebuked. Bato nodded stiffly, and settled back into his chair, silent and restrained.
"As you can see, Avatar Iroh, the Southern Water Tribe desperately needs your help. Alone, my people do not have the numbers or the ships to take the fight to these bandits. But with your help, we might finally have the edge needed to drive them away from our shores forever." Hama declared, giving her host a meaningful gaze.
Iroh gave a grave nod, and began to stroke his beard in thought. "Yes, I see. It is not the first time the Avatar has come into conflict with Kyoshi and her ilk; centuries ago, she was a powerful warlord that nearly conquered all the Earth Kingdom. Somehow, it does not surprise me that her descendents are as wicked as she was."
"I would like to help in this matter, I truly would. However, even if I am the Avatar, I am just a solitary man, and it is doubtful that I could defeat the Kyoshi Islanders in one big battle. You'd need more help than I could provide to take down these pirates." Iroh finished. Hama sighed in disappointment, but before she could say anything, the Avatar quickly continued.
"I could, however, have a word with my son. If you so wish, Chieftain Hama. I'm sure he'd be willing to loan the Southern Water Tribe some naval vessels and crew to help you put down this threat. With the combined might of the Fire Nation Navy and the Southern Water Tribe, I'm sure you can finally put an end to these pirates! Or at the very least, have some protection for your shores while you rebuild from these constant attacks."
"You...would do that, Avatar?" Hama gave Iroh a grateful smile. "Thank you, Iroh. It's not what I had in mind, but at this point I'd accept whatever aid is necessary to put down those ruthless polar-bear dogs. Please, talk to the Fire Lord as soon as you can."
"Of course, Hama. You have my word." Avatar Iroh smiled grandly at her. "Now, with that business out of the way, care for a game of Pai Sho?"
The last visitors to arrive that day were a duo from the Earth Kingdom. Like the people before them, they were shown into the house of the Avatar, and soon enough were seated before him. After tea was served by Iroh's companion, the Avatar spoke,
"It is an honor to have you here, my lord. Tell me, what can I do for you, King Kuei?"
The Earth King smiled at the Avatar, and set down his cup. "It is an honor to be here, Avatar Iroh. I've humbly come to ask for your help in restoring order to the Earth Kingdom."
"Oh?" Iroh raised an eyebrow, intrigued. Kuei took that as a sign to continue, and launched into his explanation,
"You see, I have decided that it's time the Earth Kingdom be unified. We can't allow ourselves to remain divided any longer! My predecessors may have been content to let the kingdom splinter into thousands of tiny fragments and nation-states, but I won't stand for it any longer! I cannot stand for such an atrocity any longer! I am supposed to rule over the entirety of the Kingdom, but my word spreads only as far as the city of Ba Sing Se! And that, Avatar Iroh, is a disgrace.
"When I look at the other nations, and see how much progress they've made toward unification, I am ashamed: the Fire Nation has been united under a single Fire Lord for nearly a thousand years, the Water Tribes, while divided by the North and the South, still have an all powerful Chieftain to rule over each separate tribe, and even the Air Temples, while they function as autonomous city-states, at least answer to a organized council composed of members from all the four Temples! But the Earth Kingdom? It's pure anarchy! We have people declaring themselves Kings left and right; merchants with enough silver in their pocket can run whole swaths of land by the power of greed alone; and in some desolate places, bandits and thieves are the law of the land! I simply cannot stand for it any longer."
Kuei paused, and composed himself. He shared a discreet glance with his companion, though it did not go unnoticed by the Avatar.
"Thus, Ba Sing Se has decided to exercise its divine right to unite the Earth Kingdom under one centralized power; a right that was granted by one of your predecessors, Avatar Iroh, when they crowned the then King of Ba Sing Se as the true and only King of the Earth, in order to end a then ongoing civil war." He started anew, staring sternly at Iroh. "Now, this force of power won't be without its opposition; the Bei Fongs of Gaoling, the Mechanist of Chijan, and King Bumi of Omashu will be my most aggressive opponents, I imagine. That is why I have come to you, Avatar Iroh. I humbly ask that you help me and the army of Ba Sing Se unify the Earth Kingdom, once and for all."
A contemplative silence swept over the room, as Iroh thought the proposal over. Many minutes passed, before the Avatar finally spoke.
"That is an intriguing proposition, Earth King Kuei. I must admit, you bring up some fair points. However, I would like to point out, I am just one man: even the Avatar cannot hope to unite an entire continent, all by his lonesome. And I cannot meddle in such an affair as this; it is not the duty of the Avatar to pick favorites. I'm sure that there are plenty of other cities who would claim an equal amount of legitimacy, in terms of uniting the Earth Kingdom. My duty is to oversee the balance of the Four Nations, and nothing more." The Avatar announced. Kuei frowned, and opened his mouth to speak, but Iroh held up a hand.
"However," He continued, "If you truly wish to seek this route, there is a solution. The Fire Nation has many mercenary companies desperate for work; you could certainly hire them to help bolster your army! They'd be more useful in the long run for you, as well! I am an old man, past the time for any sort of campaign. But these men would be in their prime, and ready for action! Truly, it would be in your best interests to hire those sort of men. I'm sure I could even cut you a good deal with my son! He'd be more than happy to get rid of such discontent soldiers."
"Is that so?" The Earth King traded another glance with his companion, who gave a slight nod.
"Well then, I'll have to talk it over with my advisors, but I may just follow your advice, Avatar Iroh! Thank you very much for the help. You have my eternal gratitude." Kuei smiled at the Avatar, and offered his hand.
"Believe me, my lord, the pleasure was all mine." Iroh shook his hand, and grinned in return.
The sun was setting on Ember Island, and the Avatar was finally able to retire and relax for the day. In a small and pleasant dining area, the Avatar shared a small meal with the Lady Ursa.
"You received a message from Lu Ten today, Iroh. He's invited you over for dinner at the palace tomorrow; apparently, he has some important news to share with you," Ursa commented, inbetween bites of turtleduck soup.
"Oh?" Iroh slurped up some noodles, and smiled softly. "Wonderful! Perhaps he has finally gotten Ty Lee pregnant? It'd be wonderful to finally have some grandchildren from him!"
"Is that so?" Ursa chuckled, staring at the Avatar with a playful grin. "I hadn't noticed, what with you always hounding Lu Ten and his lovely wife about the matter every chance you get."
"What? I'm just exercising my rights as a potential grandparent!" Iroh stated, crossing his arms defensively. Ursa chuckled again, and Iroh couldn't help but laugh with her.
"I hope I am not intruding, Avatar Iroh."
The light mood of the dinner vanished in an instant, and Iroh's eyes snapped to the now opened door of the dining room, where a middle-aged man dressed in fine Earth Kingdom robes stood, though his sand-caked boots from earthbending up onto the balcony underscored his otherwise refined appearance.
Iroh leaped to his feet and dropped into a firebending stance, and narrowed his eyes at the unwelcome intruder.
"I apologize for showing up unannounced, Avatar. But I couldn't put this off until tomorrow." The mystery man said, spreading his hands.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my home?!" Iroh snapped with a scowl. Behind him, Ursa remained seated, though one hand gripped the table.
"I'm sorry, where are my manners. I am the Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se, Long Feng. I was with Earth King Kuei earlier." Long Feng stated, his voice unwavering in the face of Iroh's hostility. "And I know what you're up to, Avatar."
Silence. A pause. And then...
"And what exactly would that be?" Iroh inquired, gritting his teeth. Long Feng smiled and happily obliged,
"I have my sources on Ember Island. I know that you've been seeing other heads of state about various matters. Now, that in of itself isn't too concerning, as you are the Avatar...but I find the advice you've been giving them all most...curious, to say the least. They all seem to revolve around the Fire Nation. Now isn't that odd? For each problem they proposed to you, your solution seemed to be to ask the Fire Nation to solve it.
"The Northern Water Tribe faces a famine; the Fire Nation has enough food to spare to prevent that! The Western Air Temple is in danger of falling, and needs immediate repair; the Fire Nation Corp of Engineers can solve that! The Southern Water Tribe is being harassed by pirates, and needs help in wiping them out; the Fire Nation Navy can ensure that! Earth King Kuei seeks to unite the nation under his banner; Fire Nation mercenaries can help bolster his army to ensure his victory!"
Long Feng stepped closer to the Avatar, and tilted his head in a quizzical manner. "Isn't that a curious running theme? I wonder if it has anything to do with the military buildup the Fire Nation has been undergoing for the past five years. An unbelievable coincidence, is it not?"
The Avatar stared long and hard at his challenger, looking him dead in the eyes. Finally, Iroh dropped the stance he was in and smiled viciously at the Grand Secretariat.
"I suppose this is the part where you do your patriotic duty and try to stop me?" He questioned, his eyes alight with a dark fire.
To his surprise, Long Feng tossed his head back and bellowed out a long, hard laugh.
"Please. Me, stop you? The Avatar? The master of all four elements?" Long Feng asked, once his laughter died down. He shook his head with a mirthful grin.
"No, I'm afraid not. I'm a practical man, Avatar. I know that I don't stand a chance at killing you, or of even stopping what you've set in motion. No, it's far too late for that. That's why I'm not here to stop you; I'm here to join you."
A stunned silence was his reply. Iroh gave the man a second look, and considered.
"Oh? Is that so?" He inquired. Long Feng smiled again.
"As the old Fire Nation saying goes, 'If you can't beat them, join them.'
Another moment passed, before Iroh grinned from ear to ear. He chuckled lowly, and offered his hand to the Secretariat.
"Well, then. I'm not one to turn down an opportunity like this. A pleasure doing business with you, Long Feng. Welcome to the Fire Nation."
Long Feng shook the Avatar's hand. "The honor is all mine, Avatar Iroh. Believe me, I always like to back the winning team."