The chill of Octaang's haughty eyes froze in my mind, even as the golden door swung shut behind me. My pride burned in retaliation, a scorching heat which found fuel in my heartbreak and humiliation.
I summoned the water of the Nile to rise to the side of the Empire fleet ship and stepped onto it, finding some solace in my bending abilities and the cool of the water. I ignored the stares of the Empire soldiers as I lowered myself to the sandy shore of my country. Or what was my country.
I was sure I looked composed to anyone who saw me; I wore the double crown of the North and South Water Tribes and long white skirts swished around my dark feet. On the inside, though, I felt myself crumbling away. As I walked away from the Great River, which carried the most precious of all elements, I could not help but blame it for my current sadness.
After the assassination of Caesozai, one of the co-rulers requested my presence at Tarsus to discuss my role in the assassination. I had set sail for the Empire capital on the finest ship of the Water Tribe. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with silver in honor of the Moon Spirit. Three white sails, decorated in an ornate pattern of blue, billowed in the wind. At the helm of the ship was a statue of the dual deities Tui and La. The boats I had sent ahead of me carried gifts of silver, pearl and sapphire. I arrived on the last and biggest ship, wearing the blue robes of the Ocean Spirit, which were reserved for only the most special of occasions.
My attending ladies told me later that Antony's guards told them that he had been infatuated with me from the moment he saw me seated on the throne of my ship. And the moment I saw Marzuko Antony, even from a distance, I knew my life would never be the same. But of course I could not have known to what degree or in what fashion. At the time, I saw no harm in getting on this new ruler's good side, but I now knew how wrong I was. All the harm in the world came to me because of that man's favor.
He bowed his head when he kissed my hand to receive me, hiding his face for a brief second. But when I saw his splendid golden eyes and wild red scar, I too, was a goner.
One of my favorite and most loyal guards opened the door of my chariot, which glowed silver like the moon at night. I placed my hand onto his strong, steady one, and stepped into it.
"Your Majesty, if I may be bold," he began, then hesitated.
I turned and looked down at him, a young man who had dedicated his life to my service. "What is it, Sokka?"
He swallowed hard. "What was the outcome of your discussion with Consul Octaang?"
I tried to keep my face straight for his sake, but the grimness of the situation bled into my voice. "There is no need for you to worry about the particular details. I will make an announcement later today. For now, take me home."
He looked at me quizzically, but all it took was a raised eyebrow for him to snap out of his curiosity. The chariot door closed, and I sat down on the bench facing the front. We began to move forward, and I was alone with my thoughts.
As hard as I tried, I could not help but think of Marzuko's scar, an image which I knew I would never forget. When I had first seen Marzuko, I fell in love with him. It was a shallow love at first, though passionate. His eyes drew me in and the scar trapped me, leaving me powerless to deny him. He requested to spend the next winter with me in Alexandria, and I eagerly obliged, though I tried not to seem desperate. I threw many lavish parties that season, hoping to both display the splendor of the Water Tribe, and to bewitch him as he had bewitched me. As the winter wore on, though, the parties became less lavish and more intimate. We formed a society which met almost nightly to drink, and we called ourselves the "Inimitable Livers." One night, though, it was just the two of us.
"Y'know, Cleokatara," he spoke, head on my lap and words slurring together.
"That's Your Most High Pharaoh Cleokatara to you."
He rolled those magnificent golden eyes. "Your Most High Pharaoh Cleokatara," he began again, then hiccuped. I knew he was more drunk than I had ever seen him when he repeated the title. I was not drinking that night, as I had found out earlier that day I was with child.
"I'm feeling pretty generous tonight."
"Oh, are you?" I laughed, combing though his thick, dark mane with my fingers.
"Yes." Another hiccup. "And I have decided to answer any question your beautiful mind can dream up."
I froze. Would it be wrong to ask him about his scar while he was inebriated, unable to control what he was saying? At the beginning of winter, I had asked him where it came from, and I had never seen him angrier. And that was including the time one of my guards failed to recognize him.
"Ka-" hiccup- "tara," he whined. He reached for my face and turned it towards him. "Is there nothing you want to know about me?" My thoughts submitted to the richness of his burning eyes.
"How did you get your scar?" One of his hands, which was entangled with mine, touched the scarlet brand instinctively. When he looked into my eyes again, the expression had changed. Instead of burning, they were deep, sad pools of molten gold, lava at the bottom of a steep volcano.
"Caesozai," he said. The name brought a flood of emotions to the brink of my consciousness, but I pushed them aside to focus on the man in front me.
"It was during his first dictatorship, and I was second-in-command." A dark smile flashed across his lips. "He liked to drink, like us. During one of the advisory sessions, Caesozai was not in his right mind." Hiccup. "He wanted to wage another war, but we had just finished conquering the last of the Fire Bender rebels. We did not have the men or the resources yet. He was easily angered while drunk-"
"And he challenged me to an agni kai. He felt that my disagreement was an act of disrespect." Marzuko took a shaky breath. "I refused, of course."
I nodded, looking into his eyes reassuringly and stroking his hair.
He hiccuped again. "Caesozai called my refusal an act of cowardice, an even greater disgrace. At this point, the other Senators began to try to take my side, but his mind was already made up. He ordered everyone to leave, and then I watched as my closest friend blasted a fireball at my face." He paused and shuddered, as if seeing it all over again. "His aim was a little off. It only grazed the side, obviously." His eyes flashed back to mine. "I think he meant to kill me."
At that moment that I knew who Marzuko Antony was. He was the embodiment of pure honor.
The present day passed quickly, though tortuously, and before I knew it, it was nighttime. I found myself in the palace courtyard, staring into one of the reflecting pools, still lost in thought. Tomorrow, or rather, in a few hours, Octaang would come and officially take control of my country. He had given me the task of announcing this to my people, which I had done earlier.
I let my finger send ripples across the moon's reflection, and suddenly, I was burning inside again. How could the moon and ocean spirits allow this to happen to me? I, their sacred vessel, who they hand-picked to rule their earthly realm? My people revered me as a goddess, and though I no longer believed that, I still could not understand why they had allowed so much pain in my life. Did I mean nothing to them?
"Your Majesty." One of the guards interrupted my thoughts, and I realized I had been crying. My first tears in years, and they were angry, steaming tears that rolled down my face and stung my tongue with saltiness.
"Your Majesty, I hate to see you so upset." The guard kneeled beside me, armor clanking against itself. "How may I be of service to you?"
His hand hovered over my shoulder, and I turned to look at him. Though his skin was about the same shade as Sokka's, his hair was wilder and his eyes darker. It was Jet, the guard who had served Marzuko wine on the night he had told me about his scar. Jet, the only other person in the land of Egypt who knew the truth about Marzuko's character.
I, as always, did the unexpected, and threw myself onto him.
"I know this is highly inappropriate, and I'm sorry."
His arms closed around me. "Don't be. I am here for you, Your Majesty."
I allowed myself a few moments of closeness and comfort before I pushed myself away. "Jet, you know."
"You know what an injustice Marzuko's death is. Octaang spread the lie that he was working against the Empire, that he was disloyal to his country. But all he ever talked about was the Empire! It is astonishing that Octaang could believe otherwise. Marzuko loved his country, and he loved me. There is no reason for those things to be mutually exclusive."
"Yes, Your Majesty, I know that."
I hesitated. "I lost. I lost, Jet. Do you know that as well?"
"Most Wondrous Cleokatara, I would not agree with that."
I laughed and looked at the ground, fresh blades of grass covered with dew. "I fought for many years to become the unparalleled ruler of this nation, and I lost that. I have tried for love so many times; with great men like Caesozai, and with men of much lower status. I have endured the loss of my parents, and regret my hand in the deaths of my siblings. I rose to great power and obtained much wealth and have battled, I believe quite valiantly, for happiness on this earth. I have found happiness and lost it many times over, but I feel as though my happiest times came with Marzuko. All other corners were searched, and now that he is gone, what else is there for me on this earth?"
"Your Majesty, we can fight-"
"What good would that do?" I rose to my feet with sudden realization, knocking Jet's hands off my shoulders. "Nothing I do will ever bring him back!"
"We can fight against Octaang! We can make him pay for all the suffering that he has brought to you! The Water Tribe is still strong, and we have allies. Let's revolt! Let's teach him justice." The ferocity with which Jet believed his words forced him to stand, and he looked down at me, breathing hard.
I lowered my head, feeling the dark waves of my hair tumble over my shoulders. "I wish you all the strength of the Ocean and the Moon, and I hope that Octaang does face justice someday." I sighed and spoke again, releasing the weight of my heart. "But as for me, I can fight no more. Bring a cobra beetle to my chambers." I turned to walk away, but Jet grabbed my wrist.
"Your Majesty, you can't-"
"I can do whatever I want!" I snapped, turning around to face him. With my free hand, I pulled water out of the night air and thrust it at him. He fell to the ground a few feet away, landing on his back.
"I am the Divine Queen, hand-selected by the Ocean and the Moon to rule over this land. I am Pharaoh Cleokatara the Wondrous, and I can do whatever I want. I have decided that I will not tolerate the pain of this life, and I am ordering you to help me find relief. Do I make myself clear, guard?" I stood over him, hands on my hips.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"Good." I turned on my heel and strode back into my palace, glimmering white, for the last time. I walked through the halls of silver, pearl and sapphire, reflecting on my decisions and the ironies of life. To many, it would appear that I had everything. Yet, I knew that I had nothing. Without love, life was empty.
"Your Majesty!" One of my attending ladies called as she spotted me, almost to my bedchamber. Two sets of light footsteps hurried after me.
"Jet told us that he was going to get a cobra beetle at your request."
"And that he was going to bring it to your chamber, at your request."
"Well, I should hope it was at my request." I turned a corner and started down another hall. The two girls, pale with long, dark hair, exchanged glances.
"Does that mean-"
"You plan to kill yourself?"
I sighed and placed my hand on the door of my bedchamber. "I have nothing left to live for."
"What?" They exploded simultaneously. I raised an eyebrow, a reminder to keep a proper vocal level.
"You have us, your loyal servants-"
"This wonderful nation which adores you-"
"Your beautiful children-"
"And an opportunity to strike back against Octaang, to teach him justice."
I smiled at the girl on the left. "Jet tells you everything, doesn't he?" She blushed in response.
"Listen, girls, and I'll tell you what I have learned about life." I sat on the edge of my bed and took one of each of their hands.
"Happiness is elusive. Once you find it, hold onto it with everything you have, because it may be impossible to regain once lost. I could have held tighter to Marzuko. I could have convinced him to run away with me, and to leave these wretched politics behind. I could have let this fall into someone else's lap." I paused, realizing why I had not done that. "But I sacrificed my happiness because I am Pharaoh. It is my responsibility to lead this nation through the good times and the bad times. And that is another thing I have learned; power is an illusion. Power does not bring happiness. Do not fall into that trap. Power brings wealth and fame, but those things do not equate happiness. With the ability to rule comes the responsibility to make yourself the last priority. I think I have ruled this country well, and acted in its best interest-"
Both girls nodded eagerly-
"-but because of that, there is nothing more for me on this earth. My children no longer need me, and my love is gone. I support Jet's idea of bringing Octaang to justice, and I wish him all the best, but that is not my fight. I spent my entire life fighting, except for my few moments with Marzuko, yet I still lost. It is a terrible fate."
Jet entered the room bearing a simple wooden box, and I smiled sadly at the two girls. "Find love. Chase happiness. Fight for something you believe in, but avoid power. Do not end up like me." Jet approached the edge of my bed and stood between the two girls.
"Your Majesty, are you sure you want to do this?"
"This world no longer needs me. And there is nothing left for me here." I opened the lid of the box and looked down at the small, brown beetle. It clicked its venomous pincers together.
"Thank you all for supporting me in all my endeavors over the years. I am more appreciative than you will ever know."
I hung a finger into the box and let the cobra beetle bite me. A burning spread from my fingertips through the rest of my body. I collapsed back onto my bed, suddenly feeling weak. Jet and the girls rushed to arrange me, and I smiled up at them.
"I wish you all the happiness in the world, and I know that we will see each other again." My words were so soft that I could not be sure they had heard me, or that I had actually spoken them. But before I could worry about it, I was gone.
A/N: I want to make it ABSOLUTELY clear that I am NOT supporting suicide! This is a historically-inspired oneshot for a contest held by Sun Daughter. If you are entertaining thoughts of suicide, please, get help!
This is the first piece of writing I've posted in awhile, and the first thing I've ever posted in the
ATLA fandom. So please tell me your thoughts! :)