Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all spent your break productively. Personally, I spent the break re-watching all of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, so, I certainly had a great time. (I also managed to read the comics for the first time! Fantastic break.) Watching both Avatar cycles in quick succession got me thinking about the past Avatars and the adventures they must have had. We only really learn about Roku and Kyoshi—surely the rest of them did things worth mentioning? So, after finishing Korra, I turned to fanfic and found a great fic about one of our old Avatars—Yangchen.
In Book 3 of Aang’s cycle, Aang asks many past Avatars for advice on how to confront Fire Lord Sozin, hoping that one of them will tell him that there’s a way to get around killing Sozin. However, each Avatar he consults tell him that he has to take decisive action (by killing Sozin). Frustrated, he calls on the airbending Avatar before him, hoping that an Avatar also raised by the pacifistic Air Nomads would better understand his moral quandaries. But his conversation with Avatar Yangchen doesn’t go the way he imagined:
Aang: Avatar Yangchen, the monks always taught me that all life is sacred, even the life of the tiniest spider-fly caught in its own web.
Yangchen: Yes, all life is sacred.
Aang: I know, I’m even a vegetarian! I’ve always tried to solve my problems by being quick or clever, and I’ve only had to use violence for necessary defense. And I’ve certainly never used it to take a life.
Yangchen: Avatar Aang, I know that you’re a gentle spirit, and the monks have taught you well. But this isn’t about you. This is about the world.
Aang: But the monks taught me that I had to detach myself from the world so my spirit could be free.
Yangchen: Many great and wise Air Nomads have detached themselves and achieved spiritual enlightenment. But the Avatar can never do it because your sole duty is to the world. Here is my wisdom for you. Selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world.
It’s interesting advice from another Air Nomad, right? It seems as if she’s telling Aang that while they both hold to the Air Nomad traditions, sometimes violence is necessary, and that’s not the advice that Aang was expecting. So if Yangchen had this sort of advice for Aang, what kind of Avatar was she? i do not ask for any crown, today’s fic rec, answers that question brilliantly.
Rather than delve into the comics, where we already see Yangchen as a fully-realized Avatar, this story starts before Yangchen is ever discovered and announced as the newest Avatar, and looks at Yangchen’s life as a young girl. In Yangchen’s time, the world is again at war, and, caught up in the middle of it, Yangchen turns bitter and jaded as a result of her own use of bending to survive the war. When she’s sixteen, the council comes for her, but she refuses to be the Avatar—the keeper of peace and balance in the world.
“I will not be your Avatar,” Yangchen says, angry all anew; and the old nun looks at her curiously.
“I think,” says the old nun, “that there is something you do not understand.”
“I,” Yangchen says. “I have told you a dozen times that I will not, with the smallest words I know, and you think I am the one who fails to understand.”
“You are,” says the old nun, placid. “You may run, if you like; you may kill, you may die. These things are your choice, as you know.” She lifts her wrinkled hands, holds them open. “But no matter what you do, you are the Avatar. That is not a choice, not a thing anyone may choose or unchoose.”
Yangchen turns away, looks out over the mountain. “I suppose you would not lie about that,” she says, scathing, because she does not want to answer with sincerity—does not know what there is that she could say, if she did. “If you could choose, after all, you would not have chosen me.”
“It is the Avatar’s task to care for all people,” says the old nun, and bends down to pick up Yangchen’s blanket, which she has neatly folded. “You do not seem wholly unsuited for it.”
Although Yangchen has clearly, in the fic, used her powers for less-than-noble purposes, she still, like all Avatars, wants to help people. It’s just the how that’s getting in the way. Author Damkianna sprinkles bits of wisdom throughout the fic that are so well-written they sound like they could have come from the Avatar universe themselves. i do not ask for any crown is about an Avatar who has been both conquered and conqueror, and brilliantly shows how that history affects Yangchen’s life philosophy. Although the fic is only about 3,500 words, it feels like it’s much longer, and it’s a great character study of an Avatar whom we sadly don’t get to see much of in canon. You can check out i do not ask for any crown here on the AO3.