Categories > Movies > Mulan > The Betrothed

Chapter 18

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 - 3699 words

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Chapter 18

Two days later, Shang stood in front of the troop before breakfast.

"Lieutenant Hua will be returning to duty today and assuming the same responsibilities as before. The Emperor has been aware of who she is and she is here by his request and by his order. You will continue to show her the same regard and respect as always. I will not tolerate anyone who is insubordinate toward her or gives her a hard time in any way whatsoever. Anyone who does will answer to me. Is that understood?"

The men acknowledged his order.

"And I will be watching," he added. "Alright, you're dismissed to get breakfast."

He watched them shuffle off to the mess tent and remained where he stood, pondering. He would have to pick a team of men to back up Mulan and Hui-Ying when they went off on their crazy excursion to find Behrouz and his men. It would have to be men that he could trust, men who wouldn't be completely resentful of the two women in their camp. That wouldn't be easy. He would have to lead the team and leave Yao, Ling and Chien-Po to oversee the camp; and to let his father and his teams know where they'd gone in the event that they reported back while he was still gone.

He was still somewhat concerned about Mulan's condition and felt that she was returning to duty far too soon. The medic had been checking her wound and giving her medicinal teas and she claimed that other than some soreness, she felt fine. Though he imagined that even if she wasn't feeling fine it would be next to impossible to get her to stay in bed.

He sighed. He would be relieved when this was all over and she was home safe.

xxxxxxx

"What the...?"

When Shang walked into Mulan's tent the evening before they were to leave he found what looked like white silk banners spread everywhere. She and Hui-Ying were engrossed in sewing them, chatting and laughing together like best little girlfriends, and he realized that they had sewn the material into trousers and tunics. They stopped their chatter and turned to him when he entered.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"We've been making traveling clothes for ourselves for the mission, sewing a little bit every night all week. We can't be in army uniforms, or even in workout clothing," Mulan told him. "We'll also need something to wear on her heads to protect us from the sun. Like the white...whatever it was...the thing that Iraj had on his head. What did he call it?"

Hui-Ying shrugged. "I forget the name of it."

"Where did you get this material?"

They exchanged glances and neither of them answered. After several moments of silence Shang sighed and rolled his eyes in exasperation, realizing that this was probably a girls' secret and even though he was the commander of the troop, this was beyond his sphere of command.

"Well, just be sure your clothing is comfortable and easy to move in, in the event that it becomes necessary to run."

"We're not planning to run, Captain," said Hui-Ying. "The whole point is to get captured so that we can be brought to where my sister is."

"But if..." he trailed off, shaking his head. Every time she put it that way it made him uneasy.

"Don't worry," Mulan spoke up, apparently noticing the alarmed expression in his eyes. "We'll have knives with us, so we won't be completely unarmed."

Shang stepped out of the tent and walked through the campsite to the north side, stopping and standing several yards away from the circle of tents, staring off at the horizon and the dark shapes of the mountains over the border. That was where Mulan and the Emperor's daughter were going.

It wasn't that far in, but it was still enemy territory.

He sighed. No one had come up with a better plan for getting to the spot where Iraj's friends were and where Princess Li-Mei hopefully was, including him. He'd therefore had to settle for this plan and he didn't like it. He felt like he was feeding them to the wolves, especially since they wouldn't have the cover of being disguised as men. If they had been going in as men, even male travelers, it might have still been plausible for them to be carrying swords. Once they were captured by those men, they could do anything to them.

And he couldn't understand the two girls at all. It seemed that they were not taking it the least bit seriously and he couldn't imagine how they could be sitting there laughing and chatting the way they were, like nothing was wrong, when they were about to embark on this extremely perilous mission. The journey in the desert on foot alone was dangerous.

"Shang?"

Shang turned as Mulan came up to stand beside him. She slipped her hand into his.

"You wouldn't be this worried if you still thought we were Ping and Huang."

He knew she was right about that but he couldn't help himself. 'Ping' had turned out to be his fiancé and 'Huang' had turned out to be the Emperor's daughter. These weren't just any two women.

"But you know that we can take care of ourselves. You taught us both how, Captain."

He nodded and squeezed her hand, unable to speak through his throat which had begun to constrict.

They were silent for a little while, standing hand in hand, both of them gazing off at the horizon. Mulan finally broke the silence.

"You'll be with a team of men tomorrow so I won't be able to really talk to you then."

He nodded, still staring toward the horizon, not speaking.

"I love you, Shang."

He stood absolutely still, stunned. Moments passed and her hand slipped out of his. He finally turned as she was walking away.

"Mulan...?"

She turned around to face him again eagerly. "What?"

He moved toward her swiftly, his heart pounding, and she hurried forward also, meeting him halfway. They embraced tightly and he leaned down and kissed her on the lips, parting them gently with his own.

"For luck," he murmured softly when they pulled apart.

"For luck," she whispered, pressing her lips against his again.

He nuzzled her affectionately when their lips parted again, then lowered his head and buried his face between her neck and her collarbone.

"Shang," she whispered.

He raised his head and looked down at her through half-lidded eyes, dizzy with desire, thinking somewhere at the back of his mind that this wasn't proper. They weren't married yet.

She leaned up, bringing her face towards his, her lips eager for another kiss and he obliged her.

He opened his eyes as their lips separated again and they paused to catch their breath. He caught sight of the outer circle of tents out of the corner of his eye, realizing with a start that they were still close enough to camp that someone might see them. He released her reluctantly.

"Someone might see us," he said, softly. "I don't want anyone to think..."

She nodded in understanding. "I know."

He took her hands in his and she stood like that with him, lingering for a few extra moments before letting go and turning to head back into the camp. He waited until she was safely within its confines before returning there himself.

xxxxxxx

Shang and his team escorted them over the border before dawn the next morning and stopped there. They watched on horseback as the two women set off on their journey on foot. Chi Fu was with them, as were a few men that Shang had hand-picked from the more seasoned group that had been with him in their first battle. These men were among the ones that continued to treat Mulan and Hui-Ying pretty much the same as before, other than a little bit of awkwardness.

He'd left his three other lieutenants in charge of the camp and had given them instructions for when the teams from his father's troop began to report back to camp.

Mulan took a last, lingering look at Shang before turning and beginning the long hike north with Hui-Ying, heading toward where they'd met Iraj's friends the week before. They were dressed in the plain white silk trousers and tunics that they'd made, and they had covered their heads as they'd seen Iraj do to shield themselves somewhat from the sun. Each of them had a knife, a satchel with food rations and other bare necessities and a water skin.

They followed the same schedule that they'd kept when they were moving to the camp from the village, hiking in the early morning, finding shelter among the rocks and mountains during the high noon hours and moving on again as the afternoon waned and evening fell. Shang and his team of men would be traveling about half an hour behind them.

They spoke very little, conserving energy and remaining on the alert.

Mulan recognized the shapes of some of the rock formations as they got close to it late that evening. There wasn't another soul in sight, but they suspected that someone would make their presence known shortly. They sat down against the rocks and waited, speaking quietly about their 'predicament'; a story that they'd made up to tell their captors.

They were surrounded before they knew it. They couldn't have planned their capture any better.

xxxxxxx

Shang and a few of his men were hidden behind a rock formation near the one that Chi Fu had pointed out to them, armed and on foot. He'd arranged silent signals for his men to follow so they wouldn't need to speak, being too close to be able to converse without being heard.

It was the right location. He had recognized the same skin coloring that Iraj had among this group of men and the shape of their eyes and other features were similar.

They had approached silently and stealthily during the night, having kept their distance behind the two women during the evening, stopping a few yards from the place where they'd seen the shadowy figures moving around the day before. They had left Chi Fu and a few of the others behind with the horses.

Shang had stopped his men before they actually got there. There was obviously a cave somewhere in there, with a well-hidden entrance. They'd already seen several figures emerge from it and disappear into it.

He realized that Mulan, Hui-Ying and Chi Fu had been ambushed from there, and knew that they had probably set up another ambush for them.

He could only assume that Mulan and Hui-Ying were in the cave. He indicated for his men to wait for now, continue to observe and be prepared for his signal to move.

xxxxxxx

Mulan and Hui-Ying sat in the cave that the men had led them to, listening to them speak rapidly among themselves in a guttural, oddly toneless language. There were lanterns lit, and the cave had an eerie cast to it from the dim, flickering light. They had been there for hours now, listening to these men. No one had spoken a word to them yet.

The entrance to the cave was so well-hidden no one could find it if they didn't know it was there. If General Li had done a search of the area, it was understandable that he didn't find it.

"What are you two doing here?" one of the men finally asked in badly accented Chinese.

"We were separated from our party," Hui-Ying began.

"Hui-Ying?"

It was a female voice, coming from deep inside the cave.

"Li-Mei!"

A very beautiful young woman appeared, dressed in plain white trousers and a tunic, similar to the clothing they had sewn for themselves.

Princess Li-Mei said something to the men in their language and came to sit with Hui-Ying and Mulan.

Mulan knelt on the ground and bowed to her. "Your Highness."

"What are you doing here, Hui-Ying? How did you manage to find me?"

"Everyone has been very worried about you."

They followed Li-Mei's gaze as she directed it toward the inner chamber of the cave where she'd emerged from. A tall, very good-looking man stood underneath the natural arch leading to the cavern. He had the same nut-brown coloring as Iraj and the same exotic-looking features.

"Hui-Ying? How did you manage to find us?" the man asked in perfect Chinese. "And who is this?"

He indicated Mulan.

"She is traveling with me as my maid," Hui-Ying answered. "Mulan, this is Behrouz. Behrouz, Mulan."

"I hope my men didn't scare you girls. We're on our guard a little bit. Imperial soldiers have come through here. Our friend Iraj came through here with a group, which we weren't so concerned about; but then two lone soldiers and a skinny coward came."

Hui-Ying and Mulan both didn't respond to that.

"The two lone soldiers did a number on four of my men. They are still recuperating from their wounds. So, you see, we have to be careful."

"Your Chinese is very good," Mulan commented. "You have no accent at all."

"Thank you for your compliment. I have a talent for picking up languages. It's important in my business."

"What business is that?"

Behrouz chuckled. "You are no ordinary maid, are you? So inquisitive. If you must know, I am a traveler."

"And that is a lucrative business?"

"It depends on what you do while you're traveling."

"Very interesting," Mulan commented.

Behrouz began to laugh heartily. "You are one of a kind, Mulan. Come. Let me introduce you to my men. You too, Hui-Ying."

He pointed to each of the men that were brought before them and rattled off strange, foreign-sounding names like Arash and Kourosh.

"The other four are in no condition to move around. You will have to meet them at another time."

"I would like to speak to my sister," Hui-Ying told Behrouz. "Without you present."

"Of course. But if you must know, I didn't force her to come. She wanted to."

"I will talk to you later. Please leave."

"Hui-Ying, you shouldn't have come here," Li-Mei told her when Behrouz and the others had left the cave. "How did you even get here?"

"Li-Mei, have you gone nuts? How could you do something so foolish?"

Li-Mei didn't answer.

"I know you love Behrouz, but you are a princess! Your duty comes before your personal happiness. You know that as surely as I do. Your marrying Anagui Qaghan's son has larger implications than just personal happiness. It would also bring peace between our nations. How can you do this?"

Li-Mei remained silent.

"And are you really willing to spend the rest of your life living in a cave?"

"Hui-Ying, I've been happy here. I'm freer now than I have ever been in my life."

"I know. I've been with the Imperial army since you left."

Her sister looked at her, shocked.

"I wanted to be part of your rescue mission. Besides, I knew the truth and I wanted to reach you first and talk to you."

Hui-Ying continued.

"Look, if you really can't live without him, convince your husband to bring him into the palace to serve the Khan. Then you can still be with him, but in secret."

"I couldn't do that!"

"Of course you can."

Li-Mei looked at her sister in shock.

"Oh, really, Li-Mei! Anyone who doesn't know us would never guess that you're the older sister. How can you be so naïve?"

She didn't answer.

"You could do it the same way anyone in our position does things, the way our mother manipulates our father. He still thinks he's in charge when he does things that she wants; she gets her way by skillfully manipulating it so that he believes it was his idea. Suggest that the Persians are known for their fighting skills and that your father had brought this group of men from Persia to serve in his palace. Tell him how happy Father was with their performance and that they would serve them well, too. The son will then make the suggestion to his father. They'll think they're getting something extra in the deal, along with you. And Behrouz and all his friends can live there and you can see Behrouz whenever you want."

"Things aren't that simple, Hui-Ying," Behrouz interrupted, entering the cave again and coming to sit by Princess Li-Mei. He put his arm around her waist and a loving glance passed between the two.

"Nice," Hui-Ying retorted, disdainfully, frowning at him. "Eavesdropping on my conversation with my sister."

Behrouz ignored her and continued. "There is a rebellion going on here among the Tujue, and the Tujue leader Tumen is very powerful. It is said that he has created alliances with many tribes. They are probably going to destroy Anagui Qaghan's empire."

"Where did you hear that?"

"We are aware of everything that is going on in this area. We have to be. Do you know what that will mean if Li-Mei is married to Anagui Qaghan's son when he is overthrown? It would be a useless alliance and your sister would be killed."

"I heard the same rumors," Mulan said, softly.

Li-Mei turned and stared at her.

"Li-Mei, this is Hua Mulan. I haven't introduced you," Hui-Ying said.

"Hua Mulan?" she repeated, stunned, obviously recognizing her name from when she had been at the palace before her father. She was about to say more but Hui-Ying cut her off.

"Yes."

"If that is the case, your life will be in danger," Mulan continued. "And China will still need to worry about aggression, only it will be from the Tujue."

"Exactly," said Behrouz.

Hui-Ying scowled at him. "You still convinced my sister to do something that wasn't very bright, Behrouz! You could have explained what you knew instead of dragging her away from home!"

"I didn't want anything to happen to her."

"I know you love my sister, Behrouz, but you didn't just selflessly do this for her. You did it for yourself, too. You can't deny that you wanted her to be with you."

"Of course I want her to be me."

"But you know it's impossible. Both of you. Li-Mei, you're the daughter of the Son of Heaven. You cannot just marry anyone you want. You must marry royalty."

"But I am royalty," Behrouz told her, a glint in his eye. "I am Prince Behrouz of Persia, son of King Khosrow of the Sassanid Dynasty."

Hui-Ying folded her arms and looked at him as if he were a madman.

"Information on our country is very limited in these parts," he continued. "Your father already had his mind set on an arrangement with the Ruanruans, so I never broached the subject with him. But it is the truth, whether you believe me or not. Anyway, right now we have to figure out how to get you and your maid home, Hui-Ying."

"And Li-Mei," she added.

Li-Mei was looking at Behrouz.

"Don't even think it, Li-Mei. You're not staying here. And as for you," she continued, turning her gaze back to Behrouz. "The entire Imperial army is looking for you."

"They're not looking for us. They're searching for Li-Mei among the Ruanruans and the Tujue. Iraj told us that. He left a message for us when he passed through here."

Li-Mei turned to Hui-Ying. "Hui-Ying, listen. There would be too many questions to answer if I went home, and no matter what my explanation, Father would still want to exact vengeance. I have to stay with them. I could never live with myself if anything happened to him."

"I know," she answered softly.

Hui-Ying looked at Mulan, who realized immediately that the young princess had seen the same look pass between her older sister and Behrouz that she had seen. However unorthodox and outrageous it was, the two of them really did love one another.

"Li-Mei," she began, turning back to her sister. "If you stay with Behrouz, I will have to go back and tell Father that you were never found and are assumed dead. Do you know what that will do to him? He will be devastated and he will still want to take revenge."

"Say it was the Ruanruans, and Anagui Qaghan. Once Tumen defeats him, there will be no need for your father to take revenge. It will have already been done for him," Behrouz suggested.

"And what if Anagui Qaghan wins?" Mulan interjected.

"I don't think that's going to happen."

"How do you know? Are you involved in it?"

Behrouz folded his arms and stared at her.

"She is not an ordinary maid, Behrouz. Who are you?" demanded one of the men who had come back inside and now stood beside Behrouz.

"I'm no one important. I am just looking out for my mistress."

"You ask a lot of questions."

"Behrouz," Li-Mei interrupted, rising to her feet. "Behrouz, I don't want either of these women harmed."

"We're at an impasse," Behrouz remarked.

Li-Mei began to pace. "I'll think of something. I caused all of this and I will fix it somehow."

"What are they doing here?"

They all turned to look at the man that had emerged from the inner cavern of the cave. Mulan immediately recognized one of the men that they had fought. His head was bandaged.

"These are the two soldiers that wounded us."

"You're delirious, Atash. These two are women," Behrouz told him.

Atash shook his head.

"I recognize their faces. They are the soldiers that we fought," he insisted.

xxxxxxx

A/N: Another little historical note: Khosrow I was a king of the Sassanid dynasty in Persia and he ruled from 531-579 A.D. His rule overlapped with the Tujue rebellion against Anagui Qaghan. Once again, however, this is not a historical fic and I've totally messed with things for purposes of the story. This note is merely background to make the readers aware of the real history that has given me some of my ideas for the story.
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