by EsmeAmelia

Author's Note. I don't own any of the Mulan characters - they're all copyrighted by Disney, I'm not making any money off this fic (yadda, yadda, yadda). Anyway, I don't know exactly what time period Mulan takes place in. Shan Yu says the not-named-in-the-movie Emperor built the Great Wall, so it would seem to be during China's first dynasty, but in my history class we learned that some evidence suggests that the Great Wall was actually build after the first emperor, anyway, I know footbinding was common for much of China's history, and in the movie Mulan has normal feet, so I started wondering about that. Please no reviews being nitpicky about historical accuracy - like I said, I'm not sure exactly what time period the movie takes place in - this is just an idea I'm working with.

Chapter 1

Fa Zhou gazed down at his daughter. The light from the candle he held danced and flickered on her sleeping face, giving it a certain illumination against its dark surroundings and encouraging the eye to focus on its dainty features: the soft eyelids, the round nose, the lightly shaded lips, the deep black hair. For seven years, he had watched that face grow, changing a bit by the day, but maintaining its soul which identified it as belonging to the daughter he loved so deeply. For several moments he stared at that face, listening to the tiny breaths which emmited from her nose, as though he were tranced by them.

Finally he moved his candle down the lump in the covers created by her small body until its light was focus on the ends of the two longer and slimmer lumps sprouting out of the larger lump. He quietly grasp the edge of the covers and slowly pulled a small corner off of his daughter's body, revealing her feet. For a moment he held his breath, fearing that his action might have disturbed the girl, but her breath remained steady, not even a soft groan at the shift in temperature. So he stared down at those feet, those feet that had not yet been altered for beauty.

He remembered the conversation he had with his wife earlier that day. She had approached him with a look of concern on her face, concern that Mulan was already seven years old and nothing had been done to ensure that she would secure a good husband in later life.

"Don't you think it's time?" she had said, her eyes wide with distress.

"Why should there be a rush?" he had asked.

"There hasn't been a rush," Fa Li had said. "She's already seven."

"And why is this so terrible?"

"I know you've noticed that she's headstrong," Fa Li continued, speaking as gently as her emotional state would allow. "The older she gets, the more likely she is to resist it. The best thing for us all would be to get it done as soon as possible. Don't you understand?"

"I do," was all that Fa Zhou had to say about the subject at that time. He had not given an answer because he did not have an answer inside himself. In secret, he was horrified by the idea - he had never gotten used to his mother's altered feet or his wife's altered feet. He never liked to see them struggle to walk, needing frequent rests. Were it entirely up to him, he would never wish the same thing on his daughter, but then, he supposed that most men did not think the way he did.

His eyes stared on her right foot, with the five little stubs emerging from it. Were those stubs really such an important factor in her finding a husband? Would those stubs really cause a suitable man to turn away? He did not know any of the answers, for in fact, he did not know any women who still had free toes. Toes were ugly, toes were shameful, toes had to be hidden under the foot and held there by ribbons. Only then would the foot be beautiful.

Fa Zhou sighed as he placed the cover back over her feet. Perhaps his own personal doubts should not get in the way of his daughter's future. If the answers to any of his questions were yes, then he would be ruining her chances of finding a husband before she was even old enough for one. Perhaps those bound feet were not as uncomfortable as they seemed to be. Both his wife and his mother sometimes seemed to be in pain, but neither one ever complained or talked of discomfort. Perhaps it was only out of his own love for them that he was seeing what he thought to be pain.

He slowly backed away from Mulan's sleeping body, letting it vanish in the darkness. Yes, he thought reluctantly, it was time.