Categories > Movies > Mulan > The Betrothed

Chapter 13

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 - 3381 words

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Chapter 13

Mulan was greatly disturbed that he wouldn't even let her get a word in edgewise. But Shang just smiled gently and patted her shoulder the way he always did.

"Come on, Ping, don't sulk," he said, teasingly.

"What kind of friend are you? You won't even let me talk to you, and this is important!" she replied, indignantly.

"I didn't mean to cut you off and it's not that I don't want to hear what you have to say," he explained. "It's just that I don't want you to say anything that you wouldn't want anyone else to hear. We don't really have privacy around the troop. There are ears everywhere in this camp."

She raised her eyebrows for a moment, confused. It had occurred to her that he already knew her secret after the way he behaved at the lake in camp that night. She wondered now if he did know and if he realized that this was what she was about to tell him. She gave him a tentative look; his expression was serious but otherwise unreadable.

"Oh."

She glanced around.

"Yes, you're right, sir. There are certain men who have nothing better to do than spy on people."

She raised her voice as she said this and, as if on cue, she saw Jun-Li out of the corner of her eye, darting off from behind a nearby tree.

"Come on. Finish taking care of your steed and then let's get some dinner."

"You haven't eaten either?"

He shook his head. "I'm going to my tent to eat. Join me there. We have some things we need to discuss. We will be stopping in one of the large villages up ahead and the troop will get a day off which they will badly need by the time we get there. We're also going to need to get supplies when we're there. And..." he glanced around and lowered his voice. "I want to talk about the mission a little. I'm under strict orders to keep certain things from you, but what I can tell you I will."

"Okay."

Mulan got her food after leaving her steed with the other horses. She waved at her three friends, then went off to Shang's tent.

"Captain?"

"Come in, Ping."

They had dinner together and chatted lightly, then they set their empty bowls aside and Shang unrolled a map.

"The village we will be stopping in is here. Once we leave there and move north we will be marching through the desert. We'll need to get supplies and see to it that we have more than enough water skins."

He handed Mulan paper and a brush and she made a list of everything they would need to buy when they got to the village market.

"Coordinate with the other lieutenants before we get there. We'll need one or two of them to go with a group of men to obtain everything."

"Yes, sir."

"I got a letter from my father. It is not the Huns that we need to be concerned with. My father believes that the princess may be in the hands of either the Ruanruans or the Tujue."

"The Tujue?"

"Yes. Another nomadic tribe that has been living under the Ruanruan rule. We don't know for sure; but this is his guess, based on information that unfortunately is probably based on rumor."

He pointed on the map, indicating the areas where the Tujue were believed to be living and indicating the location of the Ruanruan Khan.

"Do you believe that it is the Tujue that have the princess?" Mulan asked.

He looked up from the map and knitted his eyebrows, frowning.

"I don't know. It would seem to me that if the rumors of the uprising are true and the Tujue want to defeat the Ruanruans, they wouldn't have kidnapped a Chinese princess. That would just be stupid and they would be sabotaging their own efforts. They would be creating another enemy for themselves, and for all they know, we would ally ourselves with the Ruanruans."

"So, you think that maybe the Ruanruans have arranged this and would try to make it look like the Tujue had done it? In order to convince the Chinese army to fight the Tujue with them?"

"I don't know. It makes as much or as little sense as anything else. When we get to this village, it may be a good idea to scout around to see what we can find out. We will be close enough to the border, there may be locals who have come down to trade in the market. Maybe someone has seen or heard something."

"Captain."

Chi Fu's voice rang out sharply from outside of his tent.

"Yes, come in," he called out.

Chi Fu entered the tent and sat down beside Mulan, eyeing her suspiciously.

"We are discussing what needs to be done in the village as far as supplies," Shang told him. "And I believe it would be a good idea to scout out the area for information on the princess. Someone may have seen or heard something. Or they may have information on the situation over the border. According to my father's last letter, there are rumors of a rebellion going on there. It would be helpful to know this ahead of time. We don't want to march right into the middle of a war that we have nothing to do with."

"Agreed, Captain," the councilman conceded.

"I will volunteer to scout for information in the village, sir," Mulan began.

Chi Fu frowned.

"And I would like to take Huang Dong with me."

"Huang Dong?" Chi Fu exclaimed, outraged.

"Yes, Huang Dong," Mulan answered calmly. "Huang is a very clever soldier, who can speak and understand the Ruanruan language. While we're still within our borders we will no doubt meet Ruanruans who can speak Chinese. But once we get further north that will not necessarily be the case. Unless you know of someone else in this troop that can communicate with the locals in their language, Huang is the perfect choice."

"Agreed," Shang answered. "We have a few days of marching until we get there. You may need additional soldiers for your team, Lieutenant Hua. Give some thought to who you would like them to be and let me know."

"Yes, sir."

xxxxxxx

After several more routine, uneventful days of marching, they reached the large village at midday. The weary troop was visibly relieved and when Shang announced that they would be staying in an inn there, a loud cheer of elation rose up from the ranks at the news that they wouldn't have to sleep in tents on the ground tonight or the next night. Mulan was pretty pleased about that, too.

The inn was fairly large but there were fifty some-odd soldiers, so they all had to buddy up into twos and threes per room.

"Lieutenant, do you mind rooming with Huang?" Shang asked her softly.

"No, not at all. I was actually going to offer so the poor kid wouldn't get stuck with Chi Fu."

"Thank you. And, by the way, I'm the poor kid that's going to get stuck with Chi Fu."

"Oops. I'm sorry."

Shang looked somewhat flustered and annoyed as he got the troop organized and checked into the inn. Mulan felt bad for him. In addition to taking care of the important matters he also had to handle Chi Fu, who was already complaining up and down that as the Emperor's council he should have the right to privacy and his own room. Poor Shang always seemed to get stuck dealing with the sniveling councilman and now he had to sleep in the same room as him.

For the most part though, the troop was in good spirits generally. They were settled into their rooms and were eating better than they'd eaten in a long time. Shang had arranged for a large meal to be prepared for the troops that afternoon, in the tavern that was adjoined to the inn, and everyone had the rest of the day and the night off. The teams for buying supplies, for scouting and for other tasks had been picked and everyone knew to report to their respective team leaders the next morning, hangover or not.

The men got an early start on their drinking during lunch and many of them were now wandering off in search of other taverns and other diversions.

"Ping."

Ling approached and grabbed her arm.

"Aren't you coming with us?"

She knew he and the others were going to find the brothel that they hadn't stopped talking about for days.

"No, thanks. I have a sweetheart back home."

"What? You never told us," he exclaimed, somewhat dejectedly.

"I didn't want to make you all jealous. Go ahead. Have a good time."

She turned back to her meal as Ling went off to join his friends and found Shang staring at her.

"Aren't you going with them?" she asked him, playfully.

He shook his head. "I have a sweetheart back home, too."

She laughed.

"Come on, Ping. You want to go for a walk when you're done?"

"Sure. Do you know your way around this village?"

"Not really. But actually, I saw a hill up ahead, to the north of the village. I was thinking of going and climbing to the top. There's probably a great view. Do you want to join me?"

"Sure."

xxxxxxx

"Shang?"

They had been sitting at the top of the hill for hours, talking and enjoying the breathtaking view. It was a beautiful day and she was so comfortable being with him there. They were having such a good time that she didn't want to ruin the mood by bringing up an unpleasant subject; she still hadn't told him the truth about her, although she was beginning to suspect that he knew already.

Shang had suddenly leaned against her as they sat there together now and laid his head on her shoulder, dropping off to sleep.

"How can anyone fall asleep so instantly like that?" she muttered.

She told herself that she didn't want to disturb him when he was so tired, but the truth was she felt cozy and excited all at the same time sitting like that with him, enjoying the feel of the weight and warmth of his body against hers and relishing the physical contact with him, even if it was only his head on her shoulder. Her heart thudded loudly in her chest.

It was very unlikely that anyone had followed them there, but she was still concerned and she glanced around nervously. Her movements caused her to shift slightly and he slumped against her more heavily, skidding down against her chest and tumbling into her lap. To her amazement, he still didn't wake. He really must have been exhausted. She stroked him and leaned down, kissing him while he still slept, closing her eyes and burying her face against his hair, taking in the scent of it and of him.

She sighed. As much as she would have liked to stay that way with him, Shang would get into trouble if anyone saw him cozying up to one of his soldiers in this way, particularly a subordinate, and especially when someone in the camp had already been making snide remarks to him about her. The sun was beginning to set now, too.

She roused herself forcefully and sat up, beginning to shake him.

"Shang."

She shook him harder.

"Shang, wake up."

"Hmm?" he mumbled sleepily.

He stirred and shifted, then sat up with a start, blinking and shaking his head, his face beginning to turn red.

"Oh!...S-sorry..."

"It's okay," she answered, patting his shoulder in the same assuring manner that he always did.

"I guess I'm more tired than I thought...I haven't been sleeping well..."

The red in his face was deepening. He cleared his throat and looked around, setting himself back into commanding officer mode.

"The sun is beginning to set already. We should get back before it gets dark...Ping."

She nodded.

They stood up and both of them began to brush themselves off, occupying themselves with that and allowing the awkward moment to pass; then they descended the hill and headed back to the village together.

xxxxxxx

Mulan and Huang sat in the corner at one of the taverns sipping rice wine and talking. No one was paying attention to two young soldiers who were sitting off by themselves talking, and it was great to be out with another woman, her first ever female friend, just relaxing and having a good time. Of course, they wouldn't have been able to just sit in a tavern drinking if they weren't dressed as male soldiers. Though neither of them ever spoke of it, Mulan could sense that Huang enjoyed the freedom that this odd masquerade gave them as much as she did. Maybe more. As Hui-Ying she wouldn't have such freedom; she would have appearances to keep as well as her duty as a daughter of the Emperor.

Shang had turned in after dinner, exhausted and still somewhat embarrassed it seemed that he'd literally fallen asleep on her.

She frowned suddenly as she thought of him, feeling a little bit uneasy. She was sure now that he knew the truth, and had known for awhile now. That was probably what so embarrassed him, and it now made her blush as she thought of it. They were not married yet, so the physical contact they'd had earlier was inappropriate, even if it was accidental.

"Listen, Lieutenant Hua," Huang began, also becoming very serious all of sudden. "I saw a friend of Behrouz here in this village. He is here in this tavern now."

"Who is Behrouz?"

"The man I think my sister is with."

"And you know this man that you saw?"

"No, I've never met him. But I know he is one of Behrouz's people. He looks...Persian. Not Chinese."

Mulan frowned and glanced around, looking for someone that didn't look Chinese.

"Alright, I'll keep an eye out, and I'll tell the captain tomorrow that we don't need an entire team. You and I will do the initial scouting by ourselves, to call less attention to ourselves."

"Greetings, honorable soldiers."

Mulan and Huang both looked up at the young, bearded man that had approached their table. He was definitely not from around there and must have been the Persian that she had been referring to.

"Do I know you from somewhere?" he asked Huang, his Chinese oddly accented and somewhat difficult to understand.

"I don't think so."

"You seemed to recognize me."

"You look like someone I know, but I must have been mistaken. I am sorry if I disturbed you."

"Not at all. I am always happy to make new friends."

"Would you like to join us for a drink then, honorable sir?"

"Yes, thank you."

The man pulled a vacant seat away from the nearby table, drawing it over to sit with them and beckoning the barmaid over.

"I am Iraj," he told them after ordering a drink for him and refills for them.

"This is Lieutenant Hua Rou-ping. I am Huang Dong."

"Where are you from, Iraj?" Mulan asked, starting to become attuned somewhat to his accent.

"I am from the west. I traveled here with a group and we are living in the desert to the north; at least for now, until we move on again. I come down to trade in the market place here all the time. You are on leave?"

"Just for the night. Tomorrow we will have important tasks to accomplish again."

"I saw many Imperial soldiers around the village."

"Yes, our troop is here. We'll be leaving the day after tomorrow."

The barmaid returned to their table with a tray and set the three drinks down before each of them.

Iraj turned to Huang. "You said I look like someone you know. There are not too many of us here."

"His name is Behrouz."

Iraj blinked in surprise. "I have a friend Behrouz. He is one of the men I have been traveling with."

"What a coincidence. But Behrouz must be a common name where you are from."

He shrugged. "More or less."

"I'm sure it isn't the same person," she said dismissively, raising her cup and gesturing for Mulan and Iraj to do the same. "Well, let's have a toast."

They drained their cups and Huang caught her eye. Mulan didn't need to talk to her to guess that she wanted to follow this man Iraj when he left to go back north, knowing that he would lead them to her sister. They couldn't leave right away without deserting, though, which meant that they had to come up with some plausible way of detaining him until she could get the information to the captain in such a way that Huang wasn't revealed.

She just hoped Huang wouldn't get it into her head to go and try to follow him alone.

xxxxxxx

A/N: This is not a historical fic, but the plot is influenced somewhat by some real events. The uprising and eventual victory of the Tujue against the Ruanruan happened between 546 and 553 A.D., before the beginning of the Sui dynasty which is when Mulan was living, so in her time the Sui army would actually have been fighting and then trying to build an alliance with the Tujue, not the Ruanruan. I have changed the timeline (and have also combined certain things that in reality were occurring at very different times). So, in this story the Chinese army is still fighting the Ruanruan while the Tujue are beginning to rebel. I have also completely made up the proposed Chinese/Ruanruan alliance by the betrothal of the Emperor's daughter to the Ruanruan Khan's son. A little bit about the real history is below for those who may be interested.

Historical Note

The Ruanruans were a confederacy of nomadic tribes on the northern borders of China from the late 4th century (when they pushed out the Hunnic tribes, or the Xiongnu as the Chinese referred to them, driving them further west) to the mid 6th century. They had established a powerful nomadic empire by the late 5th century, and were making raids into China during the Northern Wei dynasty. The Northern Wei armies had driven them back, but only temporarily, as the Northern Wei was disintegrating due to revolts within.

The Tujue were a people living as a vassal of the Ruanruan Empire. In the mid-6th century, the Tiele peoples (another nomadic tribe) in the Altai Mountains, where many were serfs working the iron mines, rebelled against the Ruanruan rulers. Anagui, the Khan of the Ruanruan asked Tumen, the ruler of the Tujue, to put down the rebellion. Tumen defeated the Tiele and added the Tiele (people of about 50,000 tents) to his rule. Tumen, after accomplishing this, requested a marriage between himself and Anagui's daughter. Anagui refused, so Tumen asked for a new wife from the Western Wei and married a Tuoba princess (Tuoba was another tribe) from the Western Wei. With this new alliance, Tumen rebelled and defeated Anagui, establishing the Tujue as the most powerful force in North Asia and Inner Asia. He declared his independence and became the Qaghan (or Khan) of the Tujue from 551-552 A.D. and appointed his brother as the leader of the western half of the state. Tumen died after only ruling for a year, and was succeeded by Qara Qaghan, who also died after just a year. Buqan Qaghan succeeded him, and under his rule, the 'Golden Age of Tujue' began.

Eventually the Eastern Turk tribes of the Tujue Empire began following the same invasion routes into China that the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Tuoba and Ruanruan tribes had used in previous centuries. Toward the end of the 6th century when China was unified under the Sui dynasty, the border defenses stiffened and eventually, after the death of the last of Tumen's sons, the Turkic state split into east and west, with some of the Eastern Turk recognizing and acknowledging Chinese overlordship by the time the Tang Dynasty was established.

Sources: lcweb2.loc.gov and ihsan Qaghan's steppes proboards
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