So my ATLA rewatch w/ the parents is still ongoing (it’s slow, because we only watch about 3 episodes a night before my parents get sleepy. But they’re really enjoying it, we have all these cool discussions about the characters and their world) and meanwhile I’ve also been reading those post-ATLA comics. But one thing I always wondered besides the fate of Zuko’s mom (which was answered) was whether Zuko ever saw Song again.
We just finished Book 2 and, it’s easy to see that his experiences traveling through the Earth Kingdom as a fugitive were the ones that most shaped him. He saw new places and ways of life, all sorts of people from the very richest to the seediest vagabonds to the humble, hardworking farmers and merchants who just wanted peace. In the end it was this part in his redemption arc that opened his eyes to the many lies he’d been told all his life: that the Fire Nation was superior to all others, that if you didn’t bend fire, you were not worthy of living. The people of the Earth kingdom showed him that no matter which nation or bending art you hailed from, all peoples are one and the same.
I think Song was really pivotal in that. She and her mother took Zuko and Iroh in to feed and heal them, to offer a bright spot of comfort in their dark days of being on the run. I think she was the first person (or one of them) to make Zuko stop and think about the actions of his people, that innocent lives were being taken away and were left with nothing but the charred remains of what once was. And even after all of this suffering, they still could be kind and generous and loving to those in need. Zuko saw all of this. It made him wonder that firefly-filled night, over a large roast duck dinner, about whether he was still right in believing in the Fire Nation’s actions. And I don’t think he ever forgot.
Because when true kindness is given, it is never forgotten. I like to think that, after the war is over and all is said and done, maybe the young Firelord takes a couple weeks off to travel to the Earth Kingdom. Are you going to visit the Earth King’s palace in Ba Sing Se? team avatar inquires. Should we accompany you? We can take Appa! and It’ll be nice to visit Iroh’s tea shop there again!
But Zuko just smiles and shakes his head. There’s a few people in the southern part of the kingdom he needs to see, he tells them. A poor farming family, a young Healer girl and her mother. He’ll take a war balloon, a few servants and guards to show his status, and most important of all, an ostrich-horse with priceless gifts tied to its saddle. Team Avatar smiles and understands, and he’s on his way.
And one fine day, the sun is blazing overhead as Song heads home from the tiny village hospital, when the rays are suddenly blocked out by a huge red balloon flying ever closer towards her. The gigantic contraption lands feet away from where she stands and regal-looking servants stream out of it, all clad in red, the Fire Nation insignia etched in their clothing. For a heart-stopping moment, Song is transported to her childhood, the memories of Fire troops storming her village float to the surface after all these years, her father being dragged away, the anguish still streaming from his eyes…
Fear grabs quick hold over her. Is the war back on? Has something happened to the Avatar? What happened to the new Firelord who promised an era of peace and love? Suddenly, she hears her name being called, a familiar voice, and she looks on with breathless shock as she finally sees the young man who stepped off the balloon.
The scar is still red and blotchy as ever on the left side of his face, but his hair is long and tied in a neat top-knot, wearing what is unmistakably the crown of the Fire Nation on his head. His expression is so much more at ease than she remembered, his brows are no longer pinched together in an endless frown, his amber eyes are light and inviting. Li? she wonders aloud with amazement, and he grins, and she notices just how handsome he is when he isn’t scowling or brooding. He pulls something large out from the balloon behind him - an ostrich-horse! Laden with gifts and a brand new saddle, he bows and presents it to her.
He’s the Firelord. He’s Firelord Zuko, the one who helped the Avatar bring down his father. Li. Li had been the fire prince, all along. The Firelord was bowing to her of all people, a young earth kingdom woman, a former refugee.
She’s beyond shocked at this point, but Zuko smiles and helps her to her feet. He came because he owed her an ostrich horse, he explains. But also his gratitude. Tears are streaming down her face now, because through everything she had been through, she had never expected this. She had never expected the Fire Nation to actually be capable of love or peace, but here he was. Zuko bows low and thanks her for helping him and her uncle, and he names Song and her mother as honorary guests of the Fire Nation, welcome to come and stay at the Royal Palace whenever they please. He hands her the reins to the ostrich horse, but she shakes her head and throws her arms around her friend’s neck instead, overjoyed to see he made it, that he was okay, that he remembered her. She invites him to her mother’s house for dinner that night, and he doesn’t refuse.
The next day, he bids Song and her mother goodbye for now, confident that they will see each other again, and he’ll treat them to a Fire Nation feast at the capital when they come visit. He leaves with his heart light as a feather, ready to journey on to visit a particular farming family only a day’s flight away. A fine dagger with an inscription sits atop a pile of grain and gold coins in the balloon, waiting for them.