|"It's good to see you again, Kyoshi."|
|— Yun says to Kyoshi as he holds the guests of the Fire Nation Royal Palace ransom.|
"Ancient History" is the eighth chapter of The Shadow of Kyoshi.
After Kyoshi humiliates herself by acting as though Chaejin was the Fire Lord, rather than his brother, she finally meets Fire Lord Zoryu. Kyoshi notices Chaejin's evasive attempt at undermining his brother's power and verbally requests that he leave their conversation, something only the Fire Lord has the authority to do. Hei-Ran and Rangi drag Kyoshi into the palace gardens before she has a chance to cause any further damage. Joined by Zoryu, the firebender's explain the Fire Nation's significant social customs and give Kyoshi a history lesson on the fragile relationship between Zoryu and Chaejin's two rival clans. As they all head back into the party, Kyoshi realizes Yun is holding the guest's hostage.
The crowd and the waiters are shocked Kyoshi mistook the young man she spoke to for Fire Lord Zoryu. He introduces himself as Chaejin, Zoryu's younger half brother. The Avatar looks around for the real Fire Lord and sees him coming quickly toward them, confirming his identity by noticing his headpiece shaped like a five-tongued flame. She thinks how Chaejin might have intentionally tried to confuse her as his robes resemble royal armor and the gold brocade hanging from his shoulders has the shade reserved for the Fire Lord and his immediate family. She apologizes and he tells her it is understandable and that he is the son of Fire Lord Chaeryu, but that he never married his mother, explaining they try to hide such information in the Fire Nation, especially from outsiders. Kyoshi is at a loss for words and glances at Rangi for help, but the firebender does not rank high enough to speak there. She tries to get a better understanding of how delicate the situation is by taking in the expressions of the nearby Fire Nationals who are taken aback.
Fire Lord Zoryu reaches them and greets her as the hem of his robe is grass-stained and his headpiece tilted out of alignment in his haste to get to them. Chaejin slaps him on the back, saying he was wondering when he would get there and jokingly stating Kyoshi thought he was the Fire Lord, asking Zoryu if he can imagine that. The Avatar hears Rangi breathing sharply since Chaejin stole the right of introduction, neglected his brother's title improperly touched the Fire Lord. She considers she is starting to understand court etiquette as Zoryu tells Chaejin he wants to speak to Kyoshi alone. Chaejin says that his older brother likely wanted to discuss the recent crop failures and the declines of the fisheries. The Fire Lord is frustrated since he wanted to talk about this matter with the Avatar in private. Chaejin continues to explain that a malaise settled over the land since Chaeryu's reign and that some Fire Sages believe the spirits of the island are unhappy and turned their back on the population. He says he argued otherwise and that he considers the strength of his brother's rule should not be questioned. Kyoshi notices Zoryu clenching his teeth and looking away, thinking that what Chaejin said about the resources must be true, but also that he likely does not support his brother. She thinks how much the people desire the Avatar's favor and how Chaejin wants her to respect him and look down upon Zoryu. She says that if there is an issue with the spirits she will resolve it for the Fire Lord and that he has her full support, asking to speak with him in private. Chaejin looks at her open-mouthed as she repeats her request that he leaves, considering the bystanders need to see his efforts to manipulate and humiliate fail. His face is full of happiness as he bows and walks away.
Kyoshi turns to Zoryu, who is speechless, as Rangi asks her what she just did. Hei-Ran hurriedly arrives there, answering she followed disaster with catastrophe, telling them to shut up and follow her before they embarrass themselves further. Kyoshi falls into step behind the headmistress and is surprised to see the Fire Lord do the same, thinking there is no limit to the people Hei-Ran could boss around. She notices how the nobles they pass by look pitifully at Zoryu and glances at Chaejin who is talking to another guest, noticing the large stone camellia, wrought in gold, emblazoned on the back of his robe. The Avatar recalls how it is the same flower she saw in the portrait gallery, only without its peony rival, like a sign that there is no competition to worry about as Rangi whispers at her to move.
They leave the crowd behind them and circle around the palace grounds, walking through a flowering orchard. Their royal guards are dismissed, but Atuat and Jinpa joined the group. Rangi is still surprised by what happened and Kyoshi says she apologizes if she insulted Chaejin, stating that he did much worse without anyone warning him. Rangi replies that she did not insult Chaejin but the Fire Lord when she promised she will solve a national problem for him, explaining that, while she had good intentions, she was not supposed to express her promise like that as the smooth running of the Fire Nation is based on the strength of the Fire Lord. The firebender says that if Kyoshi will help Zoryu, she has to present it as a collaboration between equals or she will make him seem weak. The Avatar thinks she might have read this information in the libraries at Yokoya and simply forgotten as it would be easier to remember the rules of diplomacy after practicing them rather than viewing them through texts. She considers one of her past lives would have been helpful if she was able to commune with them, imagining Avatar Szeto being annoyed with her.
Rangi continues saying that even worse is that Kyoshi dismissed someone in front of the Fire Lord when that right is the only custom more important than the right of introduction and that this situation is just like what happened in Chameleon Bay, telling her friend she charged in face-first without thinking about the consequences as she told her to be careful minutes before meeting Chaejin. Kyoshi apologizes and Zoryu replies that it is his fault, not hers as he stops and sits on a bench by a turtle duck pond. He states that a smaller reception could have avoided this, but that he wanted to enhance his image, and the Avatar notices he is smiling at his own reflection in the water like someone who would rather cry. Hei-Ran asks for permission to speak to him beyond her stations and he grants it to her and everyone else present. She shouts that it is partially Kyoshi's fault and that at least he has to say so, asking rhetorically what kind of Fire Lord blames himself for everything. Kyoshi considers this is familiar with Hei-Ran and that Zoryu might be a former student of hers as the master-student relationship is one of the few that can cut across all boundaries. This is confirmed when the former headmistress tells Zoryu he cannot be the low-spirited little boy she used to teach anymore and that he has to act with the dignity of his position as he let Chaejin embarrass him without repercussions for far too long. He withers under her gaze and Kyoshi relates to him asks Rangi if she used to be like that as well during the early stages of her training. The firebender jokingly asks her if she is kidding as she snorts. Hei-Ran scolds her daughter, inquiring as to what is so funny to her and whether she could not have thought of a tactic to avoid that situation. Kyoshi notices Rangi trembling with a fear she never saw her feel before as her mother tells her she is responsible for the Avatar in every regard, not only her physical safety and that Kyoshi's reputation reflects on hers, saying she overhead Shing calling her a daofei. Kyoshi and Rangi glance at each other as they remember they are hiding the fact Kyoshi became a daofei, knowing how angry the former headmistress would be if she found out.
Hei-Ran admits she is also to blame and that she was distracted as she glares at Atuat who says she has not offended anyone and that she finds everyone else's behavior imprudent and shocking. Jinpa asks why they are so agitated and frustrated because of court manners and Zoryu answers that it is because of the problem he wanted Kyoshi to deal with, which he would like to discuss privately. She replies that now is as good a time as any and that she trusts everyone present. The Fire Lord explains that his father was known for his strength and "prodigious appetites" as Chaejin is likely not his only half-sibling, but the only one he could not ignore completely because his mother is Lady Huazo, the leader of the Saowon clan. Rangi explains the Saowon is a powerful clan that controls Ma'inka Island in the eastern part of the Fire Nation, one of the most prosperous and heavily fortified territories outside the capital. She tells Kyoshi that many of Huazo's relatives are here and that they are the ones wearing stone camellia patterns, the Saowon family crest. The Avatar considers that from how many stone camellias she saw on the partygoers' clothing, the Saowon outnumbered the next two largest factions combined and she asks Zoryu where his mother is. He smiles sadly as he replies that his mother was Lady Sulan of the Keohso clan and that she died giving birth to him, but that he was told she was a wonderful person. Kyoshi feels sympathy for him, thinking that if royal blood could not protect a child from an orphanage, the other people in the world are much more likely to lose their parents.
The Fire Lord explains that Chaeryu officially recognized Chaejin as his child to avoid dishonoring Huazo and the Saowon clan, but that he excluded him from the royal family and removed him from the palace as he was placed in an unclear position regarding the line of succession. After Chaejin was sent away to the Fire Sages, Chaeryu forbade this matter to be discussed at court while he lived. Zoryu notices the Avatar's disapproving scowl and says Fire Lords and Earth Kings did worse to their siblings in ancient times and that he attended the performances of Water Tribe sages with similar themes. He states that he would have likely traded ruling for solitude and study. Hei-Ran tells him to stop saying things like that and asks what he would do if one of the Saowon heard him. He answers that it is too late to worry as he set the wrong tone with Chaejin long ago. He recalls how after their fathers' death he was happy to hear Chaejin would be sent to court as a High Temple liaison, thinking the playmate of his youth and his only living blood relative was returning, but that being sent away embittered him and he came to Zoryu wanting the crown. Ever since then, Chaejin has tried to show the clans that he would be a better Fire Lord than his brother.
Rangi says the Saowon are skilled at subtly shaping public opinion as Kyoshi notices she speaks with a weariness more befitting someone Hei-Ran's age and that she has never before seen her friend act like this. The firebender states Chaejin has plausible deniability for his actions since it can be considered he behaved with the impertinence of family and wore the wrong clothes, making punishing him seem like an overreaction. The Fire Lord states this is what Chaejin does and that he is better at politics than him as he gets closer to obtaining the throne with each day. Kyoshi says that opinions and insults cannot change the law of succession and he tells her that they can when the opposing side has enough troops.
He proceeds to explain that Chaejin was right about the nation's struggles as the harvests have been borderline failures for two years, the fishermen pull up empty nets from the shores of First Lord's Harbor to Hanno'wu and that half of the pig chickens had to be killed due to sickness Zoryu says that most of the commonfolk believe the spirits of the islands are not pleased with his reign and brought this upon the country and that the noble clans need revenues to pay their household warriors or otherwise the unemployed fighters would be willing to offer Chaejin military support in taking the throne. Jinpa replies that what is happening seems beyond anyone's control and asks how the people can blame Zoryu for this. The Fire Lord answers that it is very easy to do that, stating that, while his father was "an unintelligent boor", his rule was known for plentiful reins, green fields, and seas full of fish and that, in contrast, he had to empty the royal treasury to keep some islands from going hungry.
He tells them the Saowon homeland is doing well these days and that this gives Chaejin more credibility and influence. Zoryu considers that his brother is better favored by the spirits. Kyoshi says he invited her here to grow his reputation within the Fire Nation and he explains that he does not expect her to have the spirits fill the barns with grain, but he is hopeful that if she stands by him the unrest in the palace will settle. Atuat replies that he is talking about conflict like an inevitability and he sarcastically and regretfully welcomes them to the Fire Nation. Hei-Ran glares at him and he coughs, saying he meant that the history of this crown tends to repeat itself as during Fire Lord Yosor's rule the country was saved from civil war by Avatar Szeto.
The former headmistress lets them know that in times of internal conflict the lesser clans want to ally themselves with the winners and that the Saowon will eventually be able to rebel against the Fire Lord. Zoryu says that Chaejin influences the courts while Huazo manages money and power throughout the islands. He knows that the Fire Army is an elite force, but that it is not large enough to effectively fight against the Saowon without the support of the other noble houses, who would not back Zoryu up without an extremely just cause. The Fire Lord says this is what he gets for wanting to avoid bloodshed as he bore Chaejin's insults, hoping to avoid civil war as he traded his public image to decelerate them from conflict, not knowing if he has much more honor to loose in the eyes of his people. Kyoshi thinks about the situation and remembers that Jianzhu told her the Earth Kingdom was too big to govern properly, but that this meant a portion of it could suffer from different causes while others would be fine as the population there was persistent. She considers that the entire Fire Nation would be affected if a civil war starts and that Zoryu has good judgment and is decent at heart, but powerless for one of the most important people in the world.
The Avatar feels sympathy for him as Hei-Ran tells them they need to respond to Chaejin's behavior as he went too far tonight. She spun around to return to the part, but almost fell before Atuat caught her. The doctor tells Hei-Ran she needs to rest and she replies that Kyoshi and Zoryu can not be left alone after what happened with Chaejin. Kyoshi notices how Atuat turns from an unserious, diminutive person to a dominant and implacable presence, sarcastically saying she thinks she heard one of her patients talk back to her regarding a health matter and that it must have been just the wind. Hei-Ran accepts and Atuat and Jinpa take her back to the palace as she tells Zoryu to stick with neutral jing and wait until they come up with a plan.
Kyoshi is astonished by the doctor's commanding and persistent personality and thinks that her and Hei-Ran's absence puts her, Rangi, and the Fire Lord's youth in stark contrast. Zoryu tells her he would rather read or play Pai Sho and asks her if she also plays the game. She answers she is asked that often, annoyed, thinking how people seem to equate skill at the game with wisdom and how the fact that she does not play it makes her feel like she has a character flaw. She says she does not play and Zoryu replies he did not mean to insult her, but that he became acquainted with Yun over the game. Kyoshi asks him if he realizes Yun was not an Avatar and the Fire Lord responds that he was in a certain way as he enhanced his image at court and pulled more diplomatic strings for him than any ministers. Rangi says that Yun had a talent for that and Zoryu states that his visits to the palace were the only time he did not feel alone, but that he understands he was their friend before he was his and gives his condolences, thinking the world is poorer without him. Kyoshi appreciates his sentiment, thinking how few Earth Kingdom sages missed Yun and how many considered him a failure and wanted to forget him. She sincerely thanks him as she hopes that one day she can help him as much as Yun did. The Fire Lord jokingly says that after how she insulted him at the party there is no way to go but up as he gives her a friendly look. The Avatar relaxes for the first time tonight and considers that she and Zoryu have gotten off to a good start, but she remembers that Yun is actually alive and ponders how to let him know this as she looks at Rangi. Kyoshi decides to tell Zoryu the truth when they find more leads and when the time is right. They walk back to the party as she sees completeness to their formation she appreciates.
She remembers Dairin's warning not to talk about the flowers from Chaeryu's portrait in the Royal Gallery and asks Zoryu if the winged peony is the sigil of the Keohso clan. He responds that it is and she tells him about how the Saowon flower was painted to look ascendant to that of the Keohso. He swears, stating that the royal painters are disrespecting him and that he needs to replace them and cover the image before a member of the Keohso sees it and gets angry. The Fire Lord explains that Chaejin is trying to provoke someone from the Keohso clan to commit an unforgivable act of violence against a Saowon so he can start a fight in which it will seem he is defending his honor. Zoryu says that the rivalry of the clans has impeded the progress of the Fire Nation since its formation and that sometimes he wishes he could abdicate if the Keohso would not attack the Saowon afterward. Kyoshi is surprised how uninterested he is in having political and military power and replies that it is an idea specific to the Air Nomads and that it may be a wise choice. Rangi smacks herself on the forehead and tells the Avatar she can not encourage the Fire Lord to abdicate. He asks Rangi not to tell Hei-Ran what he said as he still sweats when he thinks about her training programs. Kyoshi thinks it has been a long time since she connected with anyone her age and that it is strange she relaxes around a smuggling gang and the leader of the Fire Nation, but no one in between. Rangi says they are approaching the party and asks them to act appropriately.
The Avatar notices the crowd is dense but completely silent. Daofei instincts make her think something is wrong as she tells Rangi and Zoryu to stop. He states that he does not hear anything and Rangi replies that that is exactly the problem as the place is too quiet. Kyoshi considers the clans might have turned against the Fire Lord, but that it is unlikely that to happen in such a short time. She asks Zoryu if he knows what is happening as she advances to take a closer look at the guests, noticing they are angry, confused and, most of all, terrified. She sees a crying waiter about to wipe a tear, but he quickly snaps his arms back to his side as she recalls she saw Tagaka's Earth Kingdom hostages behave the same way. The Fire Lord asks why they are acting like this as a voice familiar to Kyoshi answers that this is how hostages behave. The Avatar feels a stab of recognition and pain in her chest as she hears Yun and sees him up on the Avatar's dais, dressed in fine green and black robes. He smiles at her as he says it is good to see her again.
- This chapter marks the first appearance of Fire Lord Zoryu.