Categories > Movies > Mulan > The Betrothed

Chapter 15

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 - 2400 words

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Chapter 15

Once the troop departed from the village, they spent many days marching north. Iraj rode on horseback up front, behind Shang and Chi Fu. Huang now rode toward the front also, beside Iraj, chatting casually with him and being friendly, but in reality not wanting to let him out of her sight.

They were already marching in the desert now. They moved out early in the mornings and late in the afternoons, stopping to rest between noon and when the sun started to sink lower to avoid marching when the sun was at its highest, the heat and brightness unbearable, the air excruciatingly arid and dusty.

As much as Shang was wary of exactly what kind of 'merchant' Iraj was, which he had every right to be, he admitted quietly to Mulan that Iraj had proven himself to be an excellent guide.

Iraj knew the places where they could seek some shade when they stopped to rest in the early afternoons, which saved them the trouble of pitching tents in order to get shelter from the beating sun and avoid getting burnt to a crisp. In short, he knew how to survive in the desert and taught the troop how to also.

Mulan stayed out of Shang's way for the most part, knowing he was miffed at her and that he had every right to be. He had treated her very fairly, still trusting her judgment and her word. At her word, he had hired Iraj as a guide despite the fact that he knew she was withholding information from him. But she knew he was quite annoyed about that.

She felt bad about it, and she wished she could tell him that she was under order from someone with a higher rank than him. But she couldn't even tell him that without giving Huang away.

After many more days of marching, the troop finally reached General Li's camp just before the border. Mulan made it her business to stay out of the general's sight, lest he recognize her. She and Huang kept to themselves in the tent that Mulan was staying in at the camp, socializing with Iraj, who seemed just as eager to avoid the general's awareness of him.

xxxxxxx

"This is where Anagui Qaghan is believed to be," General Li was saying, pointing to a map. "And here is where Tumen is believed to be. He's the leader of the Tujue."

Shang sat across from his father, chin resting in his hand, gazing at the map, reminded of the day his father made him a captain. He had been sitting just like this a few months before, across from his father, a map between them as the general went over the strategy that he had devised to defeat Shan-Yu. He'd handed him the newly forged sword then and called him 'Captain' for the first time.

"Who are the Tiele?" Chi Fu was asking.

Shang focused his attention on his father again as he explained to them that there was a faction called the Tiele that had not been under Tumen's rule previously. They were the ones that had started the rebellion. Anagui Qaghan had asked Tumen for help in quelling the uprising. Tumen agreed and succeeded in doing so, then had asked Anagui for his daughter's hand in marriage.

"Last we heard, Anagui Qaghan refused his daughter's hand to Tumen. There are now rumors that Tumen is planning his own revolt against Anagui Qaghan because of his refusal, with the Tieles on his side now that they have been newly added to his rule."

"Perhaps we are forging the wrong alliance," Chi Fu commented. "The Emperor's daughter is betrothed to Anagui Qaghan's son. Perhaps he should reconsider and work something out with the Tujue instead. It sounds like they may be the stronger force. Unless of course, Tumen already married someone and already has an alliance forged. Maybe that's why he feels so powerful."

"I have no information about that, and it is a matter of politics," General Li answered. "Our immediate objective is to see to it that Princess Li-Mei is found and brought home safely. I will leave it to you to suggest political moves to the Emperor, Chi Fu."

"Of course, General. So, what is the strategy?"

"I am thinking that it would be better for small teams to go in, some to search the area controlled by the Ruanruans, some the area controlled by the Tujue. I will lead one of the teams and a few of my captains will lead teams. Hopefully she is still somewhere in the northern territory and if we spread out enough, we can find her. If we are in small enough groups we will be more inconspicuous and hopefully won't end up in the middle of a rebellion that has nothing to do with us."

"Excellent, sir. Also, General, I sent a dispatch to you," Chi Fu began.

"Yes, I received it just before you got here."

"It took that long?"

"The route between here and the village you were in is rough and treacherous, as you are well aware of now having been over it. Those messengers work very hard and they do their best. You mentioned a guide?"

"Yes, the captain hired a guide to get us here."

"And you say you are suspicious of him."

"Yes."

The general turned to Shang.

"I'm suspicious of him, as well," Shang began. "But I don't think he's out to hurt anyone. I think he's just involved in business practices that may be shady. I hired him to be a guide to get us here and for when we cross the border. He's actually a good guide."

"Bring him to me. I would like to talk to him. If he has been living in the border regions, he may have some additional information about what is going on there. He may even have information on Princess Li-Mei."

Chi Fu left the tent to find Iraj and Shang was left alone with his father.

"Li Shang. You don't trust Chi Fu?"

"Sir, I think...he withheld a lot of information from us. I know the betrothal was a private matter, but still. We were sent to find her; we should have been given every single bit of information there was."

"I agree. Especially given the battle that is going on there now; the fact that the Emperor was marrying off his daughter to the Ruanruan Khan and forging an alliance is a key piece of information. Stopping the alliance may be in some people's best interest, which could clue us in to who is responsible for her disappearance."

"I wonder if maybe Chi Fu is one of those people that doesn't want to see this alliance."

"Maybe. But I can't imagine that he would go as far as to prevent the princess from being found. He values his position as the Emperor's council too much to risk it by sabotaging his daughter's rescue. However, I will keep it in mind as a possibility. As for the other subject, he told me that the guide you hired is not Chinese, but he doesn't think he is Ruanruan or Tujue either."

"He calls himself...Persian, sir. And...I have reason to believe he may know where the princess is."

"Have you paid him for his services yet, Li Shang?"

"Only half. He gets the other half after we're over the border and deep into the territory."

xxxxxxx

"Who?" Iraj asked, looking completely confused.

"/Who!/" Chi Fu repeated, disdainfully imitating Iraj. "Don't play dumb. A Chinese princess. She would be quite obvious around here."

General Li held his hand up, indicating for Chi Fu to calm down and let him handle things.

"She is unusual looking," General Li continued. "Very beautiful. Unusually so. You've seen no woman like that?"

"I am just a plain merchant and traveler, honorable General. I trade goods in the market and live a humble existence in the desert, moving from place to place when one market dries up. If this woman was anywhere in my vicinity, she must have been disguised."

The general folded his arms and raised an eyebrow, looking disbelieving. "Disguised?"

"Excuse me, maybe I am not using the right word. My Chinese isn't very good. She was maybe dressed in a way...her face would be covered."

"Ah. I see."

"Will that be all, General?"

"For now."

Iraj left the tent.

"Well, what do you think?" Chi Fu asked the general.

"He is definitely slippery. He may genuinely not know where the princess is, but then again...I know Captain Li has reason to believe he does know. You were planning to keep him as a guide, Li Shang?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. I will take him as part of my team and pay him the other half of the money when we get there."

"Yes, sir."

The general dismissed Chi Fu and asked Shang to remain. When Chi Fu was gone, the general folded up the map.

"Now about some of the other things in your letters. You suggested that she might have run away."

"Yes, sir."

"If she was running away from an alliance with the Ruanruans in the north, why would she run there?"

"I was thinking the same thing, sir. I don't know. Maybe she ran away and then got captured. We're in the middle of the desert. If she came here alone...anyone could thirst to death here...I'm sure she wouldn't have known how to survive alone."

"Unless she met someone like Iraj that helped her."

"Yes, sir."

"Maybe it was Iraj. Maybe he found her in the desert on this side of the border and helped her across."

Shang nodded.

"You've done very well, Li Shang."

Shang stared at him in surprise, beside himself with pride, his cheeks becoming pink and warm. Though he knew his father was proud of him, he rarely ever received a compliment such as that from him.

"Thank you, sir."

"I know that you are probably anxious to be part of the search, Li Shang, but you are the youngest leader and the one with the least experience. I believe it would be better for you and your troop to remain along the border on patrol. Keep your eyes open. Perhaps we are completely off in our estimation; after all, our information is really all based on rumor. We just put more stock in rumors from certain sources than from others. But for all we know, she may be in the desert on this side of the border. If she is with captors, they may still be working their way up here with her."

"Yes, sir."

"I will have to leave Chi Fu with your troop. I know you don't like him, but I can't have him with any of the teams involved in searching, especially if we may be questioning his motives. Be ready to move out in the event that you do need to back us up. I will talk to Iraj again tonight about accompanying one of my teams. With any luck we will be able to find her and quietly bring her back over the border without clashing with the locals and becoming embroiled in their conflict."

xxxxxxx

Shang stood outside of the main tent two days later, watching somberly as his father's troop broke off into small teams of ten to fifteen and headed off in different directions to cross the border.

"Good luck, Father," he murmured softly, to himself.

He frowned and sighed, disappointed at being left behind once again, even though his father had given him a good reason for it. He was reminded again of his first stint at Wu Zhong, when he was left to train the troops for the battle against Shan-Yu. He had stood just like this, outside of the main tent there, watching as his father rode off with the elite regiment, leaving him behind. At least this time his troop wasn't involved in a camp wide brawl.

He heaved another sigh and turned back toward the tent. He pushed the flap back and entered, pulling it closed behind him and crossed over to the desk that his father had been using, taking a seat behind it.

"Captain?"

He looked up. "Enter."

Chien-Po, Ling and Yao entered the tent and stood before him at attention.

"You wanted to see us, sir."

He stared at them in confusion. "Where is Lieutenant Hua?"

For several moments the three of them glanced at each other, looked down at their feet, shifted uncomfortably before Chien-Po finally spoke up.

"He didn't have time to talk to you, Captain."

"Where is he?"

"He rode over the border to stop one of the soldiers in the troop that went riding after the general."

"What?" Shang roared, leaping to his feet.

"One of the soldiers, sir. That's what Lieutenant Hua said. He went after him to bring him back. He didn't say who it was."

Shang pondered for a minute. His father hadn't left too long ago. With any luck, Mulan would catch up to them and find Huang quickly. He had no doubt that Huang was the soldier that had run off.

He sighed and sat back down behind the desk.

"Alright, at ease, Lieutenants."

While they were stuck there at camp they would need a routine set up, just as in any other place. And the troop would still need to be drilled to keep them in shape. He explained all of this to his three lieutenants and gave them instructions to begin to organize a twenty-four hour watch, then dismissed them.

He exited the tent and stood outside, gazing off in the direction where his father had gone, hoping that it wouldn't be long before he saw Mulan approaching from there with Huang. He was out of his mind with worry now. Was Huang crazy? And Mulan should have known better than to cross the border to go after Huang by herself! What had she been thinking? He only hoped that they would make it back to camp safely.

The moment they returned safely, he was going to wring both of their necks.

xxxxxxx

A/N: Another little historical note: I know Anagui Qaghan did have a daughter, but I don't know of a son. Another thing I made up for purposes of the fic.
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