Categories > Movies > Mulan > The Betrothed

Chapter 6

by lightbird 0 Reviews

[AU] Mulan returned home after the war, her secret undiscovered, now preparing to marry the man that she was betrothed to as a child, who turns out to be Shang. Things get complicated when they're ...

Category: Mulan - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance - Characters:  - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2006/08/06 - Updated: 2006/08/07 - 2553 words

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Chapter 6

"Honorable Hua Zhou!" Shang exclaimed, stunned to see his future father-in-law standing in his camp, leaning on his bamboo cane.

"Captain Li."

Shang bowed to him. "It is an honor to see you again, sir. Please come inside with me and have a seat."

"Thank you, Captain."

Hua Zhou followed him as he led the way to his tent, limping despite having the support of the cane. Shang noted with admiration the grace and dignified bearing that the venerable warrior still had, even with the wound that had forced him to retire prematurely.

"Please, have a seat, sir," he said, gesturing to the chair in front of the desk. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Nothing, thank you. Captain, I have a favor to ask of you."

"Yes, sir?"

"I would like to serve here in your camp. Please send Hua Rou-ping home and allow me to remain instead."

"What?" Shang murmured, staring at him in confusion.

"I have my reasons for requesting this, Captain."

"Of course, sir. It's just...Lieutenant Hua is my second in command..."

"Captain?"

Shang looked toward the tent opening when he heard the voice outside of his tent.

"Enter."

Lieutenant Hua stepped into the tent and stared at his father.

"Father, why are you here?"

"I want you to go home, Rou-ping. I will serve here instead."

"What are you talking about? You cannot fight with your leg injury."

"I have several reasons to believe that your life is in danger here."

Shang looked back and forth from father to son as they discussed this, completely bewildered by the scene and by the suggestion that his lieutenant's life was in any more danger than anyone else's life there. Ping's gaze shifted and he caught Shang's eye.

"Captain, I will take my Father to my tent, if that is alright. This is a matter for us to discuss in private."

"You can discuss it here. I'll step out for a bit."

"Sir, that isn't necessary..." Ping began, apparently uncomfortable with the fact that he was forcing his commander out of his own tent.

"It's alright, Lieutenant. There's no reason to make your father get up and leave, and this is a family matter. I have some things that I must attend to. Take all the time you need."

xxxxxxx

"Baba, what are you trying to do?" Mulan asked softly after Shang left, peering through the tent flap to make sure he was no longer anywhere near the tent.

"Mulan, Liang Jun-Li is here..."

"Yes, I know, Baba."

"What you don't know is that his father has still been trying to insist on a betrothal between you and him..."

"That's madness! I already..."

"He's been doing this since you were a baby, Mulan. Since around the time that General Li and I were arranging a betrothal between you and his son. I told General Liang at the time that an arrangement had been made for you already, but he didn't want to take no for an answer. He is a powerful and obstinate man with friends in high places, who is used to getting his way."

"But, how can he? We already have an arrangement..."

"Yes, and that arrangement stands, Mulan, do not worry about that. I have friends in high places, too. But I fear that if General Liang finds out from Jun-Li that you are here he might use that to try to sour it. I am sure Jun-Li must have recognized you already. How has he been acting to you?"

"He is already making trouble. But it's all right. I can take care of myself and I will take care of him."

"What about the captain, Mulan?"

Mulan sighed and began to pace the tent, thinking out loud.

"I don't know what to do. He's going to find out eventually, if not before our marriage then definitely after. He'll see that the real Hua Rou-ping is seven...maybe I should let him know now. The thing is, if I tell him he may go back to his father and they may call the wedding off. In which case, General Liang may yet get his way. And Shang is a friend now. I would want him to hear the truth from 'Ping' first, not from someone else."

"Mulan, I wish you would take my advice and go home."

"Baba, this regiment is going off on a mission. With your wound you cannot serve, you know that. I have to stay here. Besides, the Emperor ordered the captain to enlist me. I cannot disobey an Imperial order."

Hua Zhou sighed. "What about Jun-Li? Maybe I can speak to him."

"I've already spoken to him. He promised that he would let it alone."

"Do you believe him?"

"He seemed to be in earnest. Although he never apologized."

Mulan frowned. Everyone in the village knew what kind of a man General Liang was. But she was somewhat surprised at her childhood playmate.

Jun-Li had always been an easy-going boy. She had never realized until meeting him at camp what a jealous type he was, nor how much he lusted after her. The latter was a great shock to her, in fact.

She had been somewhat of a tomboy growing up, often joining him and the other boys of her village in their rough housing and games. It never occurred to her that Jun-Li or any of them would ever notice her femininity. In fact, until she turned thirteen and began to prepare for the day she would have to appear before the matchmaker she didn't think she had any, other than possessing the obvious anatomy. It was a pleasant surprise to find that she could actually look pretty in make-up and could walk with some semblance of grace.

"Mulan?"

Her father's voice interrupted her thoughts and she turned to him.

"The captain has told me that you are his second in command."

She nodded. "Yes, he wants to make me his second in command for the mission."

"I am very proud of your accomplishments, daughter."

"Thank you, Baba."

"And I would hate to see them tainted by such a scandal as this could turn out to be. You have earned the family great honor already by your deeds in battle."

Her father frowned, looking thoughtful.

"Perhaps it may be worthwhile for me to try to see the Emperor."

"The Emperor?"

"Yes. I did have some influence with him when I was an active general. Although I am retired due to my injury, perhaps he will still listen to me. And you did prove yourself in battle last time, along with your comrades. Perhaps he will not judge you harshly."

"Are you going to ask him to reverse his order to enlist me, Baba?"

Hua Zhou shook his head. "That would be my first inclination, but no. I won't do that."

"When will you go?"

"Right away. In the meantime, please watch your back, daughter. General Liang is devious and scheming, and even though Jun-Li was your friend at home, that was the example that was set for him when he was growing up. Whatever his motives are toward you, he is very likely capable of anything to get his way, just like his father."

"I'll be vigilant, Baba."

She went to embrace her father as he stood with the aid of his cane.

"Take care of yourself, Mulan."

"You, too, Baba. Give my love to Mama and Rou."

xxxxxxx

Shang decided to go for a walk in the forest to do some thinking after leaving Ping with his father. He found his spot, on the large rock with a flat surface that overlooked the lake, and took a seat there.

There appeared to be less friction between Ping and Jun-Li now, and they seemed to have reached a truce of sorts. He hadn't come across them fighting anymore, and the few times that he saw them pass each other, each acknowledged the other with civility and an apparent lack of hostility. He wondered what had happened that there should be such animosity between two generals' sons, from the same village; but the important thing was that they appeared to have worked out their differences.

He was quite pleased with how the training was going. It helped to have the aid of his four new lieutenants, and this group of recruits seemed less cursed with failure than his first group had been. They had improved quickly and got along well.

His four lieutenants still played pranks on each other, as they had always done, sometimes even making him the brunt of their jokes. Ping in particular was guilty of the latter. But the pranks were harmless, not disruptive, and often they lightened the mood of the camp; and he had come to find the four of them amusing, especially Ping.

Shang had been watching as Ping worked with Huang Dong in the evenings after the troop was finished with their training for the night. He knew that his young lieutenant probably recognized himself in the new recruit, just as the rest of them had, and he'd taken the new kid under his wing. Huang had improved by leaps and bounds in the training, and he was looking more toned and fit too. Ping had apparently given Huang advice about lifting weights as well.

Shang chuckled to himself as he thought of that. He would have to tease Ping about being soft, maybe during their next weiqi match.

His thoughts turned to more serious matters then. They had just passed the two-week mark of training and would have to be prepared for an order to move out soon. The latest update concerning the Emperor's daughter, Princess Li-Mei, which he had received that morning and which was quite distressing, was that the general's troop had gone to the Hun camp where they suspected the princess was being held, only to find it completely abandoned. If they did have her, wherever they went they had taken her with them.

More Imperial scouts had been sent out to try to gather information, but they were back to square one now, with nothing to go on as far as he knew. He had tried to talk to Chi Fu about it earlier, but the councilman knew no more than he did. Or if he did, he was being tight-lipped about it.

The Hun camp had been occupied last they heard, and the only idea Shang had come up with to explain their unexpected disappearance was that someone, possibly someone on the inside, had warned them to leave with the princess before the troop got there. His father had that very idea as well and he had written to him of it in a personal, sealed message that he sent under separate cover, which arrived at the same time that morning.

At this point, there was no further news about the princess.

xxxxxxx

"Is everything alright, Lieutenant?" Shang asked.

"Yes, sir."

He had approached Mulan after he saw her leading her father to the edge of camp. Now she fidgeted as she sat in the chair in front of his desk.

"Why did he want you to leave camp?"

"Oh, uh...he was just being foolish and superstitious. A fortuneteller told him that I was going to die in my next battle."

Shang knitted his eyebrows and a look of disbelief flitted across his face. Then he shook his head and stood up, beginning to pace nervously behind his desk.

Mulan had to fight the urge to leap up and move around also as she watched him pace. She managed to remain still and listened to him quietly, noting the deep creases of worry that lined his handsome face and how the pitch of his voice rose as he became more agitated while he talked.

"My father's troop went to the enemy camp where they thought she was being held, but the camp was deserted. Scouts have been sent out in all directions to try to gather more information on where they may have gone, but right now there is nothing and we're running out of time."

Mulan frowned. "Sir?"

He was so involved in his brooding he didn't hear her.

"Sir?" she repeated louder.

He stopped pacing abruptly and looked at her.

"Yes, go ahead."

"How do you suppose they knew to desert the camp? Do you think they knew the troop was coming? I mean, I guess it could have been a coincidence that they just happened to leave, but I highly doubt it."

"So do I. No, I think they were warned, and possibly by someone on the inside. My father thinks the same thing. He didn't put that in the official dispatch that was seen by Chi Fu as well as me. He wrote it in a personal letter to me."

"Well," she murmured, thoughtfully. "That certainly says something. He must suspect people around him."

"Yes. Or maybe someone here."

"And there still has been no ransom demand?"

"None."

He was finished pacing and he now sat back down behind the desk, much to her relief.

"Well, we'll have to see what the scouts come up with, and what the Emperor's order will be."

He dropped his head in his hands and sighed. She waited silently until he lifted his head again and faced her.

"I'm very concerned," he began softly. "With each passing day I get more worried about her, and if we botch rescuing her and she turns up dead, it'll be my father's head, my head. All of us."

"Shang," she began, forgetting herself and calling him by name. But he hadn't seemed to notice. "Is it possible that she ran away?"

"What?"

"Maybe she wasn't kidnapped."

He stared at her incredulously for a moment.

"That hadn't even occurred to me, but I guess anything is possible. It certainly explains why there would be no ransom note. But why would she run away?"

Mulan shrugged. He gazed down at the paper in front of him, thoughtfully. Then he shook his head emphatically after a minute.

"No. She's the Emperor's daughter. I can't believe that she would run away. And what about the information we got about the enemy camp? Do you realize that if your suggestion is correct, it means that someone was making up false information to give to us? Unless after she left the palace, she really did come to harm..." he trailed off and sighed again. "All we can do is wait. That's the most frustrating thing about this."

"Yes, sir. We can't do anything without an Imperial order."

Shang dismissed her absently, and she stood up and left his tent. She had been considering just coming out and telling him the truth about who she was, but decided that this wasn't the right time to do it. He was too agitated.

As she circumvented the captain's tent to head toward the training field, she caught sight of a small figure moving quickly away from the back of his tent.

It was Huang Dong.

Mulan shook her head and turned back toward the front of Shang's tent, thinking she should go in and mention to him that the recruit may have been listening to what they were talking about.

She changed her mind and instead followed Huang.
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