|Hundred Leaf Blossom
Author: Nasu Hasami PM
Inspired by Chazza-Fan's 100 Theme Challenge for Mulan. Hundred Leaf Blossom will attempt to cover all themes with light-hearted, humorous, hapless adventures in a variety of styles and formats. Enjoy or ignore, really, it's up to you.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Adventure - Mulan & Shang - Chapters: 25 - Words: 23,921 - Reviews: 66 - Favs: 26 - Follows: 39 - Updated: 01-09-13 - Published: 06-22-12 - id: 8243841
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hundred Leaf Blossom
By Nasu Hasami & CC Lieng-Bui
XIX (Tears): Fate
The first legion marched out at dawn. The sun burnt down on them. The mud slowed them. Death shadowed them through the night. Disease followed in their wake. Chang'an glimmered from the distance: close enough to abide by temptation, willing them still closer and closer homeward. The terrain was treacherous though, through the hills; slippery melting ice and snow enough to prey on their sanity. Night sounds tempted their fates while stars guided them. Most – but not all – made it home. For some, the Capital was the first night of a longer journey yet. For others it was the sanctuary they had prayed for, day-by-day, moon-by-moon. For a devout few there were still charges of duties to complete, orders that lingered beyond encampments and battlefields, whether by honour, duty or friendship to their leaders. Captain Liang was General Li's second; a friend as much as the cold, stiff General allowed, and a confident formed upon years of acquaintance and an established camaraderie. Liang's orders stood firmly before him, and stretched many days into his future beyond this sunset within the Imperial City and its foreboding stone walls.
Eventide was begetting her orange hues as he trotted the streets of the city, his ancestral home and the dwelling place he and his family were still faithfully cleaved to. His horse, a wilder darker horse than most imperial stallions, was weary and sweaty, and he was exhausted. Weariness had plagued them for months: the dryness that a lack of battle brings and the trauma of an over stimulated, immaculately trained mind. Liang steeled himself the way the General had taught him, sucking in air and spitting away the bad spirits of those that haunted and tormented him.
The paved thoroughfares and boulevards were much as he remembered, decorated with ornate gardens and high stone walls. Affluent and imperial connections still abided in their secluded compounds; expansive villas and orchards filled with every imaginable delight, brightly decorated doors that shielded and whispered of more. Li Shang's home was no exception, humble though it was considering the family's lineage. Liang had played there as a boy and knew the land, but the beauty of his commanding officer's home still astounded him with the renewed sighting. There was an intimidating presence marking the Li territory and an equally lavish stone path leading to the villa's Imperial red doors. Liang wished he was dressed clean robes or washed and draped in courtly attire; that his socks weren't stained from the journey west, and that the icy grit that clung to his face did not form too much of a likeness to their Northern neighbours.
He was careful when he extracted the silk bundle from amongst his saddlebags, bracing himself and breathing deeply as he strode down the path he knew, towards the house he knew, clanking the brass knocker as he remembered. A fearful maid opened the door, mincing into the shadows and refusing to make eye contact with the soldier as she simpered from the chasms darkness.
'Ma'am,' Liang bowed. His calloused hands proffered the item and he straightened slightly, though bent informally as not to frighten the young maid further. 'I am under explicit orders from General Li to deliver this to the youngest master Li, Li Jinjing.'
The maidservant flushed deeply, nodded, and scampered away down the corridor, tripping about her brocade as it thrashed the floor. Silence and candlelit filled the doorway, then silk whispered across the lacquered floors and an eloquent lady appeared some moments later, a small Shang marching after her. Liang may have described her as wise, but he feared that his friend's mother only wore her age as she adorned her grief and suffering.
'You have news of my son?' Her voice was stilted with formality, schooled, restrained; prepared for heartbreak or too well acquainted with it to faint from unknown woe. A little head poked around her silk folds, curious eyes darting about the officer in the doorway. The resemblance was too striking for coincidence: this was the child Shang had described. 'You will know him, Liang. If you remember me, you will know him.' The General had said. By all appearances the boy was the General's spirit locked into the limbs of an infant. Maybe the efforts of the eldest Li son could secure the path of this one, ensuring the ominous spectres that followed Shang never followed him.
'General Li Shang is unharmed Ma'am. He ordered the delivery of General Li Chen's sword to Li Jinjing.' Captain Liang bowed again, lifting the sword higher.
The boy bounded forward snatching the article, bowed, and darted away with the swiftness with which his elder brother moved.
'Are you returning presently?' the woman asked, scurrying away without presenting the officer a chance to provide a response. She returned with a flurry of emotion, thrusting a collection of papers at Liang. 'Please give these to my son, I worry for him.'
The young captain smiled, accepting the task despite what is meant. He parted with words of gratitude and sympathy towards the late General's wife, whispering guarantees of the accolades her son would no doubt receive. He did not return to the barracks that night for rest, not wishing to tarry, but instead exchanged his steed for another and slept atop the marching beast as he returned in the direction from which he came.
Shang was shirtless, chuckling in his selfish way as he blindfolded himself and fired three arrows simultaneously at a poorly made and long suffering straw dummy. The dummy itself seemed to share an uncanny likeness to a Lieutenant from within the General's own troop. Liang knew the men knew well enough not to question their leader's motives for his artistic licence in the target's design. If the chubby straw-man had been a living being his body would now be greatly compromised, with an arrow pierced betwixt his thighs, one in his belly and another through his brains.
'I see your aim has improved,' the Captain stated, resting his hands on his hips and studying the line of soldiers before him. There was an anomaly within the men, the daintiest of them somehow absent. 'That or you truly hate the man you have made an effigy of.'
Another series of arrows were dextrously fired into the straw-man as the shirtless General's face contorted into a painfully serious expression. 'Do you have news Liang, or are you simply here to gloat over my aggravation?'
'I would never consider such a thing!' The captain smirked. 'But I have some news from the City, if you wish to leave your men to their own devices. Captain Fa could lead them through formation training if necessary, that is, where I presume she is.'
Swiping his shirt deftly from the ground Shang named one of the more advanced recruits to continue the training. His scowl deepened in reference to Captain Fa despite his efforts. He appreciated that Liang knew him well enough to follow him towards his tent without question or quarrel, though he was no doubt intrigued by his coldness towards someone with whom he was rarely cold, and never so openly. Sighing slightly he ran his fingers through his hair and straightened the ribbon, abruptly reminiscent of the fact it was green, not red, and the memory of its origins thrust forth within his mind.
'I presume by news of the City you refer to personal news, not Imperial orders.'
'That is true enough. The Emperor is pleased with things as they are, your mother no doubt wishes differently.'
'No doubt all our mothers wish that.'
'For most it is our wives that wish that.'
'You have quite made your point.'
'Your mother is well. Rather swift for her age I'd say. She liked for me to pass these on to you.'
The General unfurled the scrolls and barked at his captain to leave him be. Silence fell over him in the stiff, cold way he wore it. Liang had never seen him so vulnerable or feral looking. No more than ten nervous strides from the man's tent than did the General poke his head through the folds. His voice was eerily quiet as he requested Liang's return, not for his confidence, but that he could find Mulan to relieve that burden from him.
She had been wound too tight to move. If she approached him she was pushed aside. If she said nothing and dared not move he glared at her for reassurance. Forced at the crossroads she did no more than shrug, nod and agree with her General's presently fleeting moods. Mulan didn't understand why this news sat so differently with him than that of his father's death. Something had fractured; something was unbalanced. She didn't know the answers, not with certainty, and he didn't need empathy. All she could do was offer to hold him when he needed it, or take her sword beside him when he called for it. She did not know where else she stood other than beside him.
The moon was high when Mulan was shaken awake by a sobbing man. The sight was almost too distressing for her sleep-drunk body to comprehend. Shang was sunken on his knees next to her, the silent tears flowing freely. The only visible sign of his distressed state his shaking shoulders, the same shoulders that had nurtured her when she was in a similar disposition and the tears that he had fought so valiantly had breached those bindings.
He was chanting her name, his fists pressed into his knees, his knuckles white from pressure. She shifted the rug, slowly righting herself and wrapping her arms about him. His head fell into the crook of her neck, his shafted breaths warm and wet against her skin and his tears spilling into her matted hair.
'You need sleep!' she muttered. The reprimand was maternal even to her ears. Mulan was too exhausted to contend with a broken man. 'You'll feel better in the morning,' she mumbled, tugging him onto the cot with her despite his stiffness. Her body curled about him and she sunk into their combined warmth. Shang calmed a little in her arms, kissing her hair and muttering her name at slower intervals, yet the supplication to heaven remained.
'My sister is dead.'
Softly nodding as she stroked his cheek Mulan held back her own tears and tired understanding. Shang had been so cold when he'd read her the letter earlier that evening: distant and miserable, shielding himself and striking a foreboding rampart about him. Further commentary was lost to her; his father and his sister were gone. He was brooding and mourning and at a loss to comprehend her death; she had been young and healthy and now she was gone. The spectres about him darkened.
'Meixiang's dead Mulan!'
She kissed the side of his mouth, hoping it would settle him a little. He pulled her closer, clinging to her as he convulsed against her skin. She whispered that he needed to sleep. He fumbled, struggling to settle, hot tears still slipping from his control.
'I need you!' he cried, crushing her in his arms, his head buried into her neck. His desire was forced upon her as it overwhelmed him. The need to feel something other than pain was too great to suppress. She wriggled out of his grip some and pushed him away. If his determination forced him down this path their friendship was ruined.
'Right now you're suffocating me! Shang, look at yourself! This isn't you. You're exhausted. You need sleep. You aren't going to do anyone any good in this state! Go to sleep.'
His sobbing desisted slightly, but she could still feel his tears on her cheeks and her shoulder. He whispered his sister's name solemnly, drawing her closer with each shaking breath. His mouth still seeking refuge in the woman he adored.
'She knew you loved her Shang. I only saw you together a few times, but even I mistook her for your wife when you introduced us.' He choked on a laugh. Gulping and stilling himself a little. His stranglehold loosened into an embrace, though still a marginally violent one.
'I remember…she told me to walk you through the gardens.' It was said with such deflated affection. He wanted to be passionate about that particular memory, but that saccharine moment was dispelled now with a darker shadow, his lust dying as he meditated on his sister's face.
'Sweetheart', Mulan whispered, tasting the word and rolling it across her tongue. 'Shang, you need sleep.' She kissed him soundly, twisted around in his arms and pulled herself against him. His body was still shaking, tears still weaving paths across her skin as they fell upon her. She tugged the fur over the top of them, pulling his arms around her. 'Wo ai ni, Shang. Wan an.'
Chein-Po woke her as he usually did, if she overslept. He smiled peacefully at the tanned face breathing softly into her hair and nodded as if in thanks for something.
'The General needed rest.' He stated in his soft, effervescent voice.
Mulan shifted to study Shang's face; his eyes snapped open the moment she moved, hands deftly searching for her pleadingly for a final embrace. His lips brushed against hers, a kiss too heartfelt to disguise from a heart too broken to pretend.
'Come to me tonight,' he whispered, pulling her to him and cradling her in his arms.
Mulan kissed him again, nodding into the embrace as he stood and their hands slipped away from each other. Both she and Chein-Po were silent as Shang straightened himself out, bowed to both her and the priest and took his leave. He was too dishevelled to retain his reputation. The early risers would see him with knotted hair loose about his shoulders and wrinkled robes. They would speculate and whisper. Truths would be harder to believe than deceit.
'You don't want to be a bride,' Chein-Po asked in his unassuming way.
Mulan threw herself onto the bedroll, laughing to herself and pressing her nose against the scents that lingered.
'I never wanted to be a bride!'
That day Shang was clipped twice for his behaviour by General Xi, the self-proclaimed Marshal, and once by Qifu, the self-proclaimed future Emperor. Mulan came good on her promise, and she held while Shang punched. The Peacock of a Chamberlain feared the pair too much to mention it to Xi or Fong, though it did slip into his Imperial report.
Three years later, when the issue was raised at council, the Emperor denied having ever seen such a report, and proudly boasted against such magnificent lies. It was with a barely disguised smirk he refuted the hypothetical behaviour of his great grandson and China's Heroine. They most certainly never would attack a Councilman without explicit orders to do so, the pure notion of suggesting such an abomination bordered on treason. In the midst of the debate His Eminence refrained from clarifying whether or not they had been ordered to perform such a duty. Though his Prime Minister was present, and she did have a rather suspicious grin on her face.