Categories > Movies > Mulan > The Betrothed

Chapter 14

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 - 2477 words

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Chapter 14

"So, is your troop heading to the desert?" Iraj asked them as the barmaid set down their sixth round of drinks.

"Yes," Mulan answered. "We're moving out to join the troops that are stationed at the northern border."

"Oh." Iraj looked somewhat dismayed at that.

"You are heading over the border after today also?" she asked, casually.

"The day after tomorrow. Listen, does your troop need a guide getting to the border and beyond it? I know the region very well, on both sides of the border. And I know this particular desert very well now. I know the places where you can find water, caves where you can take shelter. It would be a good idea for you to have a guide, and I would be an ideal choice for one."

"You've got our attention," said Huang. "What's your price?"

"You realize, however, that we cannot make a decision," Mulan interjected. "We can hear you out and you can tell us your asking price. We will need to talk to our commander before agreeing. It's his decision."

"I would charge you a very reasonable price."

"Let me talk to the captain," Mulan told him. "I can set it up for you to meet him tomorrow. We'll be leaving the next morning, so he would probably have an answer for you right away. We are at the inn around the corner. You can meet us there."

"Okay."

Iraj suddenly grinned and waved a greeting at someone at another table. "Excuse me. I have some business to take care of with someone here. I will return shortly."

He stood up and headed toward the man that he'd been waving at, weaving visibly.

"Listen," Huang began when he was gone, "instead of having him negotiate with the captain, let's just get a price. I don't want to lose him because the captain feels he is too expensive. I have money. Whatever Captain Li is willing to pay, I will fill in the difference if it is less than what Iraj is asking for."

"You may not need to do that, Huang. Iraj didn't look too happy when I said we were moving out to the border to join the troops there. I can only guess that he is worried that there will be a larger patrol there, and that security will be tighter getting in and out. I wonder if he is up to something illegal."

"Like what?"

"Maybe he's taking something out of the country that he shouldn't be. Listen, Huang, your sister somehow ended up meeting this man...what was his name?"

"Behrouz?"

"Behrouz. We know Behrouz was in the palace, even if Iraj and the others weren't. Otherwise how would your sister have met him?"

Huang remained silent, visibly uncomfortable with Mulan's question.

"Were any objects noted to be missing after he left?"

"Not that I know of. Other than my sister, what could Iraj or any of them possibly be taking out of the country?"

"I don't know. But if he is transporting something out, something that he shouldn't be, what better way to sneak over the border without suspicion than with an escort by the Imperial army?"

"And you think that's why he offered to be our guide?"

"Yes. At any rate, I don't think he's going anywhere so fast now. I think he's interested in the business and in hooking up with the troop. I'll talk to Captain Li in the morning. That will at least keep him in sight. The tricky part will be releasing him and then being able to follow him to his friends and to your sister."

Huang nodded, distractedly, staring at something over Mulan's shoulder suddenly.

"Don't look now, Lieutenant, but we're being watched by Chi Fu. And he doesn't look happy."

xxxxxxx

Shang sat at the desk and took pen and paper, intending to write a letter responding to his father's latest dispatch. He was relieved to escape to his room that night, and fortunately even the councilman had decided to go out for a drink, so he had the room to himself temporarily. He leaned his cheek against his hand and stared at the blank page, trying to formulate the beginning of a letter in his head; but his thoughts drifted to other things, like the afternoon he'd spent with his lieutenant that day and the awkward moment that they'd had.

A dreamy sigh escaped him and he felt a faint blush come to his cheeks as he remembered falling asleep with her, one minute looking out at the valley below them and the next waking up with his head in her lap. He'd felt so cozy and at ease sitting beside her at the top of that hill, taking in the view, talking with her for hours, enjoying her presence even in the long periods of silence between them. He had been overcome with drowsiness and had dozed off before he even realized it, apparently falling over into her lap. What had he been thinking?

She didn't seem to be angry about it, but he still felt somewhat foolish. He knew that he'd let himself get too comfortable with her. It would be fine if they were already married. But they weren't yet.

Though neither of them had spoken of it yet, he was sure that she was aware that he knew who she really was. He had figured it out after receiving the letter from his father on their last night at Wu Zhong. He didn't want to let her speak of it to him though he knew she had intended to; not with Chi Fu around. The councilman had his eyes and ears in too many places, and he wouldn't be surprised to find that he had recruited allies among his troop to spy for him, including her friend Jun-Li. No wonder Jun-Li was bothering her all the time. And now he knew why Hua Zhou had shown up at camp that day, too.

But he had seen the condition that Hua Zhou was in and the real Rou-ping was obviously too young to serve. Mulan had done her filial duty and made sure her father's life and his honor were saved. He would never harm her for that, law or no law, and he wouldn't give her away. She had followed a different code, but it didn't matter. What she had done was noble and honorable, and it made no difference to him if she was a man or a woman; she had become too good a friend to him now.

Fortunately they received the order to move out before the medical exams had gone on for more than a day, and before the woman in camp could be discovered. He still never found out who it was that told Chi Fu about a woman in camp, but could only guess that it was Jun-Li.

Chi Fu had made plenty of comments insinuating that he was smitten with Ping. He had to admit that he had always liked to be around him and had been drawn to him; he often questioned that, and questioned the closeness and affection he felt toward Ping. He had even been flustered and confused by it sometimes in fact, but he never thought he was actually in love with the boy. Though Ping had always intrigued him, he never felt any real physical attraction to him and he had never had any dreams of kissing him or touching him the way one would touch a lover. His regard for him had always been as a friend, his feeling of affection like that he would have for a brother.

When the rumor about the woman in camp started, the councilman changed his tune and suggested that maybe Shang wasn't a boy-lover after all, but knew something that the rest of them didn't know about Ping. Then the general's letter had arrived right after that.

He couldn't believe it. It was as if the moment he knew who she was he suddenly could see the feminine features that he had never looked at before. He didn't know how he had missed it; it seemed so obvious now. Even after having had time to absorb it, Shang could still hardly believe that his lieutenant and close friend Ping and his beautiful fiancé Mulan had turned out to be one and the same; and that he hadn't recognized her.

Everything made sense as soon as he realized that 'Ping' was Mulan. It was easy to see what had made him feel so drawn to 'Ping', even before he knew who she really was. Though Mulan blended in with the troop incredibly well, acting tough and being naturally athletic, she had never come across as particularly masculine. And when he had met his betrothed in the sitting room of his own home she was actually very feminine. He remembered how graceful and lovely she was that day, hiding behind her fan but gazing at him coyly.

"Captain! Captain Li!"

Shang blinked and came out of his daydream with a start. Chi Fu had burst into the room and was now shouting at him. He raised his head with a sigh and turned to the councilman.

"You don't need to shout. What is it?" he asked, perturbed.

"Do you know what those two are doing?"

"What are you talking about? Who are 'those two'?" he asked, unable to hide his annoyance.

"Don't take an attitude with me, Captain."

"Would you please just tell me what happened and who did it?"

"Your Lieutenant Hua and that other runt Huang. They are bargaining with some seedy-looking foreigner, probably a bandit, to bring him on as our guide! Without anyone's permission!"

Shang was silent, thinking about this new information.

"Did you hear me, Captain?"

"Yes, I heard you. They were assigned the task of scouting in this village for information. Maybe they have found something," he murmured, thoughtfully. "Lieutenant Hua must have reason to believe that this man is somehow involved or knows something."

"Lieutenant Hua is up to something as usual. You are too.../soft/...with him."

Shang gave him a steely look. "Forgive me if I sound disrespectful, sir, but I have had enough of your comments and your insinuations. As for Lieutenant Hua being 'up to something', he is my second in command and an excellent soldier, and I trust him implicitly. Whatever he is doing, I'm sure he has a good reason for it."

"But bringing this stranger as a guide?"

"We may need a guide. I will talk to Lieutenant Hua in the morning and find out who this man is. If something doesn't seem right, I won't hire him. Will that put you more at ease?"

Chi Fu scowled at him and turned toward the door. "Well, I'm still going to keep an eye on them now."

"That's probably a good idea. If this man is as seedy as you say, it will be good to have someone looking out for their safety. Thank you for volunteering."

The councilman gaped at him, flabbergasted, then left the room in a huff.

Shang turned back to the desk and gazed down at the blank sheet of paper that was still before him, focusing on what he needed to tell his father. He finally began to write, updating his father on everything that he could. Even though Chi Fu had told him that he would talk to his father about the proposed marriage and alliance, he no longer completely trusted the councilman. He included everything in the letter, including the information about the princess's betrothal and advising his father of his mistrust of Chi Fu.

xxxxxxx

"So, what's the story, Lieutenant?" Shang asked as they sat together having breakfast. "Where is this man Iraj from?"

"He is from the west, from Persia, sir," Mulan answered.

"He speaks Ruanruan?"

"I guess. He speaks Chinese also, with an accent. And he understands it very well."

"What is he doing here?"

"He travels, I know that. I believe he is a merchant, sir, but the details about him are sketchy at best."

"Yeah, I'll bet."

Shang stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment, then lifted his cup and took another swig of tea. After swallowing, he spoke again.

"So, he's a traveler and a merchant. What is he doing in China?"

"Trading goods, I guess."

"And you have reason to think that he knows something about the princess?"

"Actually, Huang is convinced from the conversations he's heard with different locals that Iraj knows where she is and may be involved."

"And Huang is convinced just like that, from conversing with people?" he asked, disbelievingly.

"Yes, sir."

Shang frowned. He didn't think Mulan was out and out lying, but he knew she wasn't telling him everything. She obviously had reason to believe Huang; and for some unknown reason he found that he himself actually believed that somehow Huang knew; but Huang was still a mystery to him, and he was sure that Mulan was in on that mystery. Chi Fu often commented that 'Ping' and Huang were as thick as thieves. As much as he hated to give credit to anything that Chi Fu said, he had to admit that was true. Still, he knew that Mulan was a person with a high sense of honor, and that she wouldn't do anything that would cause the lives of his troop or their mission to be placed in jeopardy.

"How can Huang be so sure?" he asked, though he didn't really expect an answer.

She shrugged.

"I don't believe you, Ping. I think you're withholding information from me. However, I will meet with this man Iraj and hire him. If there is even the slightest chance that he can lead us to Princess Li-Mei, we have to take it."

xxxxxxx

A/N: I've included another short historical note about the Persians in China below for those who are interested. In this fic, I have placed them there earlier (another example of how I collapsed the timeline).

Historical Note

The Persians, Arabians (called Dashi by the Chinese) and other foreign travelers from the west came to China via the Silk Road and settled there, but it was later, during the Tang Dynasty, long after the Tujue rebellion against the Ruanruans. During the Tang Dynasty, the Imperial City of Chang'an became a center of cultural exchange between East and West. Chang'an and several other large cities in China became centers of commerce and trade, and many Persian merchants, as well as merchants of other ethnic groups, established themselves in those cities. They brought gems, coral, spices, medicines, Persian dates and other items to China and obtained items such as silk, ceramics, spices, jade and bronze from China. At one point, two Persian princes actually settled in Chang'an as well.
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