Plum Concubine Disclaimer: Mulan and Shang belong to Disney, it's a well-established fact. Even though, deep in heart, I honestly believe Shang is mine. *sigh*

Rating: This gets a big fat R for subject matter. This story contains the sensitive issue of rape. Please do not read if this will upset you.

Description: After the deaths of Wu Zetian and Taiping, women in China began to feel the oppression of the patriarchy. This is a story of one woman who, because of this, was forced to accept less than what she hoped for.


A sequel to "The Long Spell of Rain"
By Pooky a.k.a Lian-hua

~ * ~

"Treasure this fragile beauty who once served the purple throne,
Leadened, grey and weary, I seek her artless innocence,
Painted and clothed, she seems as lovely as before,
But her bright eyes regard me without their former sparkle."

~ Emperor Xuanzong
755 A.D.

~ * ~

Part One

The laughter of the women was more hushed and ceaseless than even the splashing of the fountain. Five flushed faced bright with scandalized interest pressed together for a closer look at what Lady Jiang was reading. Her countenance shone the most piqued of all, eyes sparkling in nothing less than rapport as she voiced the tawdry words with such exuberance.

"'...and then he cast off the lavish red slipper which had so inflamed his lust, taking her tiny naked foot in the palm of his hand, cradling it as carefully as the sky does the new moon. With a shudder of passion he brought the white lily to his mouth, tasting the perfumed skin...'"

A shocked gasp interrupted her. "He put it in his mouth?"

Lady Jiang nodded, slapping a hand over her own mouth to stifle an excited giggle before continuing. "'My love,' the Princess cried in pleasure and protest, 'you are only a guard and I am to marry the Tartar prince.' And the brave soldier scoffed and set her little foot down. 'I will slay the Tartar prince and all of their wicked race.' The princess swooned and said, 'and if you die I'll plunge my hairpin through my heart and follow after you.' With that promise the soldier laid her on her back, lifted her skirt and gazed at her white thighs that were like slender pillars in the temple. 'First let me teach you the Tao of love,' said he. And so he bent his head and drank from her vast spring.'"

The rush of laughter swept over the quiet pavilion, three of the listeners hiding crimson cheeks behind their hands while the fourth snickered and snatched the book up scornfully. "What is this nonsense?" The jaded voice demanded. "I've been wed six months and it never happens like this! I lay on my back, close my eyes and pray to Buddha that my husband falls asleep before he even gets his pants off. On our wedding night I was so bored during the whole encounter that I started counting sheep in my head. I think I only got to ten before it was done."

"Well no wonder, he's a decaying piece of flesh!" Xing Bai roared, laughing so hard that her shoulders shook. Zhi Tingting glowered at the other girl, than joined her in her laughter.

Lady Jiang was still smiling, even with her book taken away from her. "But Mulan's husband isn't," she reminded in all her saccharine deviousness. "And she hasn't said this is all nonsense. Tell us, Mulan, what's it like to be with a man?"

Mulan felt her cheeks grow warm when all eyes were suddenly fixed on her. She had been just as entertained as the other ladies by the bawdy tale, there was nothing in her village that had ever come close - that was fascinating in itself. Village women were not allowed to read. "Why should I tell you?" She brushed her friend off with a teasing smile. "No one told me anything." Folding her arms in a guarded way she added. "I doubt any real man would say those words, though."

Nodding enthusiastically, Tingting took up the book and began leafing through the pages. "Let's see what other awful lies this soldier says to this girl. I'll bet she gets with child and he leaves, and you can guess who gets the blame. When she drowns herself in shame it won't be very romantic will it, Lady Jiang?" Tingting continued flipping her way through the book, clicking her tongue whenever she stopped to read.

All of a sudden Lady Jiang flung out her hand. "Oh, no, Tingting, don't!"

It was too late, a folded bit of parchment slipped from between the pages, spiraling in the breeze until it landed on the grass between them. The two women scrambled to retrieve it, but much to Lady Jiang's dismay Tingting was the first to snap it up.

"It's... it's just a poem," Lady Jiang confessed to her friend nervously.

Curious, the other woman unfolded the paper, looking over the words with an intrigued smirk before reading them aloud. By this time Lady Jiang had gone scarlet.

Behind the silken curtain of my crimson nest
Awaits the passions of clouds and rain
The Jade Gate pools with sweet dew
Granting passage to an erupting cannon
"Lady Jiang!" Mulan exclaimed, behind the hand clasped over her mouth in astonishment. "What if your father found that?"

Tearing her poem from Tingting's hand, Lady Jiang clutched it protectively to her chest and stuck her lip out haughtily, raising her chin. "Oh please," she scoffed. "He'd probably be proud and show all his friends. He's excepted that I'm a grown woman now, and that Emperor Xuanzong is going to take me for his Empress. Imagine the grand wedding we'll have," her huffiness broke off into wistful fascination. "I can just imagine my red bridal chamber now, and him pulling my red veil from my face. A man with those martial skills, I'll bet he's wild in between the sheets." At that, everyone threw their heads back and laughed.

"It is a pretty poem," Mulan smiled.

Tingting shook her head. "He's the Emperor, girl, what if he solicits you before?"

Tugging her shawl in indignation, Lady Jiang rose to her feet. "That's indecent!" she huffed primly, starting to turn away, leaving Tingting snickering at her back.

It took a moment for Mulan to see what Tingting found so funny, the pillars of the pavilion blocking her view where she knelt on the grass with the other girls. As soon as Lady Jiang turned around to stomp off, the new Emperor and his entourage of generals appeared around the corner. Mulan cringed a little to see that Shang strode just behind his right shoulder, maintaining a measured distance as he moved, hands at his sides, red cloak swaying behind him. She was just as displeased as he that the Emperor kept him in such close company, closer than the other two generals bringing up the rear.

"What's indecent?" Li Longji intruded with the cockiness of a teenage boy. Just because he was the Emperor he needn't think he was welcome everywhere he went. But Lady Jiang had stopped short, letting her hands fall gracefully at her sides and dropping her gaze demurely.

Without waiting for an answer, he picked up the book Tingting still held and flipped through the pages in the same disdainful manner as she, pursing his lips and tapping his foot as his eyes skimmed the words.

Tossing it to the ground, he turned to Shang, laughing, as if about to tell the richest joke in the world. "What's the difference between a court lady and a whore?"

Shang blinked warily, folding his arms. "I don't know." He was staring at her.

"Exactly," He continued laughing while Mulan and her friends retained an awkward silence. Under the mask of humility upon her lowered face, Tingting was hiding her rage. The insult had been directed at her.

"Your Majesty," Lady Jiang bowed, seemingly unaware that her friend was even upset. But of course, she'd rather have harsh words with Tingting than let herself appear lewd and unsuitable in Li Longji's eyes. "How unexpected. Do you require something?"

Shang still had his arms crossed, his weight on one foot, still as the statue of the fountain itself. He did not like Lady Jiang, he made as much effort to hide it as he did to explain it, very little. Whatever it was, it came down to him describing her as petty, naive and vain. That opinion seemed to hold now as he glared at her, disapproving of the way she allowed the blame to be pinned on her friend, such dishonor never set well with him.

The broad shouldered emperor eyed his slim admirer up and down, acquainting himself with every curve and line of her form right before her friends. His eyes shown with a cruel kind of lust, not the avid reverence with which he was wont to gaze at Taiping, but something so covetous it did not even seem suitable in private. It was a mark of a warrior king, shaped by the brutal years out on the field. Everything was a trophy, a conquerable prize. Mulan could not fathom such an empty existence.

"My lady," his smile became suddenly gentle. "I came only to gaze at you."

There it was, that one spark of chivalry, those few tender words, that gave everyone around a glimpse of who he might have been.

Lady Jiang looked unsteady, her hand to her breast. "Your Majesty is too kind." She was blushing so horribly Mulan had half a mind to throw the girl into the pool.

"General Fa," Longji turned away from her just as quickly. "Come, we expect a bad storm tonight. We want to move some the men where it will be easier to keep the watch. Come."

With no choice but to leave her friends, Mulan rose, falling in beside Shang as they turned down the path again. She glanced up briefly at the sky, under the pavilion's roof she hadn't noticed the clouds coming in.

~ * ~

Mulan was glad for the warm comfort of her bedchamber when the rain began to stream down that evening, slanting torrents beating the windows along with the wind that whirled it's way through the hills and mountains surrounding the capital. Here in this part of the country winter came early and left late, thought it was barely autumn now.

She was stretched upon the bed, trying to concentrate on her book though her mind would drift to the rhythm of the storm, so soothing. Her eyes closed, remembering the night she had run away from home, there had been a storm like this. She sighed. It seemed of late she grew more easily sad and wistful, sometimes crying for no reason, finding her duties more exhausting than usual, not to mention the occasional bouts of nausea. There was supposed to be seven more months of this, carrying her child, she had no idea how she was going to endure it.

At least now she had her duties, her men to oversee, her reports to keep track of, and the daily practice drills to keep her on her toes. But there would come a time when it would be too hard and dangerous for her to do these things, for her baby's sake. She could not imagine the perpetual boredom of her days when that time came. It wasn't that she didn't want her baby, she did - not that she knew how to take care of one once it arrived - she only wished.... She didn't know she wished, and then childbirth, Mulan cringed to even touch that with thought.

Her eyes opened at the sound of Shang's footsteps, barefoot on the wooden floor, draped in the white silk pants and shirt after his bath. The flimsy shirt hung open as usual, faintly spotted with water from his skin, the snowy cloth making his tanned chest appear even darker in contrast. Physically, he was such a creature of balance and symmetry, ever ready to erupt into graceful blows and kicks despite his size. Emotionally, he carried a kind of heaviness, the feeling of gravity that drew others into him. In her pacified state, Mulan found this fascinating.

"Is that book suitable to be read in the presence of an unborn child?" He quipped with her freely, in a relatively good mood now. He did not even complain that she had spent the afternoon reading those bawdy novels with Lady Jiang.

She smiled slightly. "It's only a history."

Nodding, he knelt on the bed, peeling the draperies back to stare at storm outside. "I like the rain," he told her suddenly. "Reminds me of my mother. She likes to walk in it, she says feeling Nature's anger helps her understand herself. That never made any sense to me when I was trying to get her inside so she wouldn't catch her death. Then she'd say I must not be afraid of suffering, and she would just walk on through the garden. When she'd come back inside, her clothes would be dry. It's like the rain just rolled right off of her and I would still be soaked through my skin."

Tilting her head slightly, Mulan studied him as he gazed out at the garden. One moment he could be laughing and the next silent as a stone. He had been that way since the day she'd met him. She was the only person he ever really seemed to talk to beyond his usual curt phrases.

"Are you angry at her?" She asked quietly. "For leaving you?"

His brow twitched in surprise but he quickly realized who she meant and shook his head. "No. I just wish I could talk to her again, she always knew what to do." He sighed, pausing a moment before letting the drapes fall closed again, turning around. "It's my cousin, sometimes I wonder how far he'll go to slight me. Maybe it's because Taiping left you and I in charge of the army, and Tai-shan. My cousin always had the army under his thumb, but now he's too busy with the politicians."

"Maybe," Mulan sighed. Was it so hard for these two to settle their differences?

He was peeling the collar of his open shirt back, checking the long scar his father's blade had made across the front of his shoulder. The wound was two months old now, but the sword had torn deeply enough to leave a jagged ruby line across his skin. His forehead was creased in pain, the old injury aching with the moisture in the air.

She eyed him in concern, blowing the candles out. "Do you want something for that?"

He shook his head. Tossing her book aside, she leaned up and wrapped her arms around him from behind, letting the thin silk of his shirt slip to his wrists. He was only half smiling, more amused at her forwardness than anything. Not satisfied with only that, she pressed dozens of kisses to the crimson scar. When she lifted her head he looked back at her with that same broad smile he always returned when receiving something.

~ * ~

Li Longji fell to his knees on the red rug, bowing his head slightly to receive the slowly placed crown. He smiled, lifting his face, reaching to take Taiping's hands. She stood on the dais steps, arms at her sides, calm and regal as the sunlight played across her white powdered face. It was as if his very heart were lifting, gazing at her, but her eyes dismissed him without their usual fondness.

"And now for you, nephew," her smile was directed at Longji's right. Li Shang knelt as he was, the same proud carriage, the same expectant face. Longji wished his cousin would go away, some far corner of the kingdom beyond the reach of Taiping's favoring eye.

She stepped back, turning in a graceful swirl of flimsy silk garments. From the throne behind her, she lifted a sword into her arms, moving back to Shang and placing it in his. He frowned at the thing, but smiled up at her dutifully. "This is... a great honor."

Laying a gentle hand on his shoulder, she returned his smile. "You are commander of all China's forces now. You are the only one I trust with this duty."

Longji felt his heart crumble, his anger flare with those words. After he had conquered cities, won victories, fought battles for ten years? She gave the army to him? Soldiers fought and died for him, placed their lives in his hands after one command, one hand signal, and she would give that up to Li Shang? Li Shang, so handsome and honorable and famous now for leading a ragtag group of peasants into saving the Imperial City, for pardoning a girl soldier who had saved them all. He was too young, too naive, too inexperienced. Longji's veins swelled with hatred to see Taiping gaze at his cousin so fondly, after she had been so cold to him, not even a smile.

Lunging for Li Shang, he seized the other man by the throat. He would share his power with no one, he would share Taiping with no one. He would kill Li Shang.

"Stop!" she commanded roughly, flinging out a hand, her face drawn in panic for her precious nephew. He was gasping for air, face scarlet, fighting to pull Longji's hand away.

"He has to die!" Longji hissed bitterly, lifting his eyes to her in hurt and rage. He felt so betrayed.

Without a word, Taiping turned, stepping from the dais and gliding out of the room.

Dropping the struggling Li Shang, Longji ran after her. "You promised you would never leave me!" He cried as she slipped through the doors. "You promised we would always be together!" His hands reached for her blindly as he ran. She seemed to gain speed the faster he moved, sweeping just above the floor in a billowing train of silk... Taiping, Taiping, he called in his mind, his heart would break if he could not touch her again. "You've left me anything but peace!"

It was the wet sting of tears that woke him. The pain of Taiping's loss broke afresh. For two months now he had suffered through bitter dreams like this, all ending with the same pain and violence. Sometimes Li Shang was his captive, chained and helpless, promising he would never return to Ch'ang-an, sometimes he lashed at Shang with a sword. They always ended the same, no matter how Longji assaulted his cousin, with Taiping turning away from him.

His mind had been so occupied the last days of her life that he hadn't given a thought then to how clever her last plan was. In those days, she had left Li Shang in charge of the army, he and Meng Tai-shan, and now Fa Mulan who was a symbol of victory for the common soldier. Taiping had a left, promoting Shang the highest ranking general, second only to him. She had in a sense created two equal rulers, one of the army, the other of the state, two rivals balancing out each other. It seemed harmless and logical, but leadership in that time of instability had gained Shang too much influence, giving Longji no choice but to let it continue when curbing it might mean some unrest among the soldiers. Maybe Shang didn't seek out the powerful and mighty, didn't curry favor - he wasn't even of what Taiping had done. But it did not matter, the soldiers liked him too much. Well, he had planned a surprise for Shang tonight that he hoped would frighten him away from the city.

Shang, the way he sauntered around like some handsome god, as if every gesture of respect was a gift. His cousin was never insolent and hardly even talkative, but there was clear resentment behind those pretty eyes, a proud resentment, a declaration of moral superiority. Was that why Taiping had left her last words to him instead? How could she cause him such pain?

In deep vexation, Li Longji clenched his fists, then wiped his tear streaked face with the blanket. He rose, donning a shirt. He just needed some strong liquor and a walk outside to clear his head.

~ * ~

The steady lull of the rain was a calming inspiration as Lady Jiang sketched thoughtful words on the parchment. She bit her lip in remembered annoyance at the primness of her friends. What was wrong with writing poems about her desires? Girls, as if they never thought the same things themselves.

Perhaps she should not be out here in the garden alone, in the rain and the chill of the autumn night. But she worked best in the late hours. Putting her brush down, she sighed and looked out of the pavilion, the raindrops rippling in the pool before her, the whole garden gleamed as if from behind a curtain of silver, the moonlit droplets like the dust of crystal upon everything. It was so fresh, so beautiful, the simple vitality of it. To her the rain was the very essence of passion itself

As if answering that thought, a figure came staggering along the path. She would have known him anywhere, this tall and muscular warrior, his body cut from the same stone as the statues. It was amazing how much he resembled Mulan's husband, only with larger eyes and thinner brows.

He was clearly drunk though, and that thought met her with some alarm. What if someone were to see this and attack him? Thinking it the perfect chance to be rid of the new king? He must be careful, she reminded herself to warn him, enough men had died here for their carelessness. But she wondered what would trouble him to drink at this hour? Surely he wasn't the sort to be kept awake by gambling and so on, like ordinary men. She had heard of his reputation as a playboy, but she was sure he was in love with her.

Lady Jiang found herself shrinking back a bit into the shadows when he spotted her. But his eyes were already fixed, calling out to her. "Lady Jiang, you can't run away!" There was the rough edge of a threat to those words as he came forward forcefully.

"Your Majesty, I wouldn't dare," she managed when he was close enough. There was something peculiar about him now, his eyes slightly wild, his look too angry and intense. She thought he seemed ready to tear the entire pavilion apart the way he was clenching his fists.

The Emperor glanced at the ink and paper she had left on the bench when rising to meet him. "Recite me a poem," he demanded hoarsely, slurring his words. She recoiled at the stench of liquor on his breath as he leaned forward. "Like the one your friend read today. Whisper it in my ear now."

She froze despite his orders, her knees turning to water. He had overheard, he knew how she desired him, wanted to marry him. Her heart was beating fast, he must think her such a whore! With no choice, she swallowed roughly, and moved nearer to him, stumbling over her words.

My lover's body is like hard jade
though I yield to him as an open river
together we bend and sway like bamboo
enjoying the taste of sweet water
His eyes closed, imagining the picture, his breathing growing more heavy, aroused by the words. She stepped back, this was too improper.

Suddenly he seized her by the shoulders and pressed her back against him, one hand covering her mouth. She tried in vain to scream, to bite his hand, her own hands flailing for some freedom. It was no use, he pushed her face down on the bench and she dared not fight too much for fear of her life. He was the Emperor. Her skin was crawling with fear, her mind trying to push this nightmare as far away from her awareness as possible, struggling to block it out. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Her tears came hard as he yanked up her skirt, her muscles shaking, her throat burning from not being able to cry out. She tried to concentrate on the cold stone bench that scraped against her cheek, tried for all the world not to let herself feel his knee wrenching her legs apart. There was the lash of cold air on bare skin now, stinging the backs of her thighs left exposed and unprotected against his violence. Her sobs shook her uncontrollably at the pain of him tearing into her, so roughly he seemed to forget she could feel anything at all. In those cruel and brutal motions she felt as though he were ripping through her very heart.

The pain stopped, there was nothing but cold air now. She was vaguely aware of his footsteps, backing away, of the stickiness of blood and more against her thigh. Pulling her legs up, she managed to cover herself with her dress again, curling up on her side and crying even harder than the rain pouring down around her.

~ * ~

Digging her nails into Shang's shoulders, Mulan choked out a high-pitched cry as the peak of pleasure exploded like fireworks from between her thighs. She closed her eyes in the heady rush, lost in the purple flecks that swam behind them, her heartbeat straining, senses dulled to everything but his body dragging erratically across the skin of her breasts.

His head came up suddenly, leaving her skin cold where his warm mouth had been suckling the delicate flesh between her shoulder and neck, his vision just as fuzzy as hers as he sought some focal point in the darkness. He jerked suddenly, sending them rolling several times across the wide bed.

A vase shattered a mere foot from where they had been.

On top of him now, she tried to raise her head towards the source of the sound, until he slipped a hand up the back of her neck, holding her draped against him as he finished the task at hand. She whimpered again despite herself, aftershocks of pleasure tingling almost painfully through her skin. He called her name in a strangled whisper before shuddering tensely and collapsing against the pillow. Her head fell on his chest and they laid thus for a moment, the intrusion ignored altogether.

"Shang?" Mulan was the first to speak. "What was that?"

His breathing was still labored. "I don't know. Someone I'm going to kill." Despite his quick reflexes in throwing both of them out of danger, he sounded unconcerned. Lowering his head, his lips drew on hers demandingly, as if he were quite willing to put aside the matter for another hour.

Mulan quickly pushed him away, the sense of danger bringing her down from her high. "Shang, someone could be trying to kill us and all you can think about is-"

He just laid there and laughed softly. What was the matter with him?

Easing her off of him, he rose to his knees, accepting his shirt from her and wrapping it around himself quickly. Mulan tried to blink to clear her vision as she searched the dark room, there seemed no sign of anything.

"Shang! Mulan!" A voice cried from the outer chamber, someone rapping forcefully on the door. Mulan reached for her night clothes and climbed under the blankets.

"It's Tai-shan," Shang sighed, fully dressed now in plain training clothes. He climbed off the bed quickly, slipping out of the room but leaving the door open to admit an amber sphere of candlelight. Mulan looked around again. There was no one in the room at all.

~ * ~

Fully alert now, Shang ran to his friend. Tai-shan was moving forward painfully, clutching his right arm, shirt sleeve smeared with blood under his hand. A small gash down his cheek bled as well, his hair and clothes mussed.

"Tai-shan?" he helped his friend sit on the sofa. "What happened?"

For a long moment the other man tried to catch his breath, letting go of his injured arm to wipe the blood from his face. "I woke up to find this man in my room, with a knife. We fought for awhile but he got away. He ran towards your room and that's why I came to get you, then I saw him out in the garden just a minute ago."

Shang turned back to the doorway. "Mulan, come here!" then he faced Tai-shan again. "I think he was just here. I don't know, I was asleep." Shaking his head, Tai-shan seemed to recognize the lie but let it go. It was just as well, the point was neither he nor Mulan had seen anything enter the room. "Whoever it was, they didn't have very good aim."

"Tai-shan!" Mulan stood in the doorway now, clutching a robe around her. "Shang, help him, he's bleeding."

He shook his head, there was no time for that. "Stay here with him, Mulan, I'm going outside." Without waiting for her answer, Shang brushed passed her for shoes and a good knife. He did not even want to begin to think about who would want him and Tai-shan dead. Two months of relative peace was too much to hope for, Shang thought bitterly as he made his way down the hall to the gardens.