Author's Note: HOLY CRAP! I am soo sorry for putting off continuing this story! College, work, and other life stuff have really taken a toll on my writing. I started writing this chapter in the summer and kinda forgot about it. Now that school is starting to let up on me, I'm gonna get this story rolling again. Thank you readers for reminding me to update haha! Once again, I own nothing from the Disney franchise or names or etc. Enjoy!
Parry…Thrust…Block…Kick…Thrust…Punch…Parry…..Breathe. Mulan leaned up against the staff, panting heavily. It had only been 10 minutes and she already felt drained. The baby was claiming most of her energy, as well as most of her body. Plenty of the muscle Mulan had built up from fighting in the army had gone to strengthen her child. This made her stomach uncomfortably large, and more difficult to deal with as each day passed.
"Mulan!" she heard the familiar screech of her dragon guardian, appearing from who-knows-where. "Come on! Give it a rest already!" Mushu stopped beside her, wearing a half-scared, half-disapproving look. Everyone had objected to her continued practice in combat fighting, especially him. All of her training clothes had long since been stowed away, and nearly every dress in her possession altered by Shang's mother or her own so that they were all she could wear. All of it was done for her and the child's safety. She knew this all too well. Mushu reminded her every day.
"I have to, Mushu," Mulan said quietly, holding herself up with the staff, "It's what keeps me strong."
"It's what puts Mulan Jr. in danger!"
"If this baby is anything like its father, it can survive any danger."
"What and you can't?"
Mulan sighed, putting a hand over the child who danced below her skin, fighting as fiercely as she once could against Shan-Yu. "That's what I'm afraid of."
It was a possibility that no one had really mentioned aloud, but Mulan knew she would have to face it soon. Women fell ill during childbirth, having given up so much strength and willpower during pregnancy that their own body turns against them. Mulan couldn't afford that to happen. Shang would forever blame the child if something happened to her. She'd never forgive herself knowing that her baby wouldn't be loved or cherished by anyone as much as she would.
Mushu went quiet for a couple seconds, seeing the worry in Mulan's eyes as she carefully set herself down on nearby rock. Cri-Kee hopped out from to gardens beside the dragon, chirping to him encouragingly.
"Mulan," he began, "if I know you, which I do, I'd say you're not giving yourself enough credit in the strength department. You and Shang have saved China like, what, twice? You survived the scariest avalanche in history, and Shang came back from the dead, for crying out loud! If that baby comes out half as tough as its mama and pops, I think the next Hun that comes out of the mountains is gonna have to watch his back for a long time."
That was enough to melt away the frown on Mulan's face. She opened her palm, let the dragon climb up her arm, and pulled him into a tight embrace. "Thanks, Mushu."
"See?" he managed to squeak as his lungs were being crushed. "Definitely tough enough for the two of you."
Rainbows of silks and assorted fabrics hung from the booths that lined the market place. Vendors pushed carts back and forth on the streets. Some were covered in birds, others bales of hay or sacks of grain. Bartering and small talk chorused throughout the square. So many people bustling about. It wasn't exactly Mulan's cup of tea.
Shang's mother had convinced her that the time had come to prepare some space for the baby in their home. Clothes had to be made, toys purchased, a blanket sewn, etcetera. So off they rode to the village.
As she looked about the crowded market place, Mulan didn't know where to begin. She'd never really been much of a market person. She knew how to buy, sure, but haggling was as foreign to her as the lands that lay beyond the Great Wall. Thankfully, Li Yun could bargain like a skilled ambassador negotiating a treaty.
"Stay clear of that booth," she whispered as they passed by said table. "The man with a broken tooth will wring out your coin purse dry, and his cloths would make a dragon itch." Mulan smiled, knowing with almost full certainty that Mushu was pouting under the silks in her bag.
"Not that cloth, dear," Lady Yun said, halting Mulan's inspection of a grey cotton sheet. "Too rough. Feel this one." The older woman smiled, holding up a light blue material, wrapped around a small plank of wood. Mulan brushed her fingers along the fabric, discovering the texture was a hundred times softer than the grey one. "A child could sleep in a blanket of this for years, and blue is a very good omen for a son." Feeling a little flushed, Mulan nodded meekly. "Three yards of this," Li Yun handed the bound-up cloth to the young man behind the table. (I don't know which method of measurement they use okay!) While her mother-in-law waited for the fabric to be cut, Mulan politely excused herself, agreeing to meet Li Yun back at the wagon before dusk. Without another word, she made her way out into the street.
Mushu's head wriggled out of her shoulder bag as they walked. He stretched and let out a big yawn. "You really should invest in some padded lining in this thing. I'm gettin cramped up like an undercooked noodle!"
"Mushu shhh," Mulan whispered, lightly pushing the dragon back into his hiding place.
"...and blue is a very good omen for a son." Those last words had taken Mulan aback slightly. She didn't know whether or not to be happy about the superstition. A son would heighten her family's honor, and no doubt Shang wanted a boy. What father wouldn't? An image of her husband laughing as he chased a small girl in the fields crossed her mind. Then one of Shang glaring at the girl as she tried weakly to hold onto his hand, slipping away into darkness, haunted her. Would he still love the child if the second possibility occurred and it were a boy?
At that moment, she found herself at a less occupied part of the village. A hut nearby with a rickety sign that read "Harmony" caught her eye. Why not? Mulan thought to herself. She could use some harmony in her mind.
Upon entering the hut, Mulan found the place filled with strong, but sweet, smelling incense. Small statues of peaceful looking characters and symbolic images lined the walls, and simple ornaments swung leisurely from the ceiling. Slender chimes carved from bamboo played mellow tones in the background.
"Oh great," Mulan barely heard Mushu sigh as he peeked out from the bag. "This is exactly how the ancestors want to redecorate the temple…"
As Mulan walked further into the place, she caught sight of a kneeling figure, an older woman, in a lesser lit corner before a small shrine. Incense sticks burned profusely from the makeshift altar, cloaking the lady in smoke. With her head bent and body almost entirely stiff in concentration, this woman seemed to be in such an intense meditation that Mulan felt badly about staring.
"Does she know she can get serious health issues from that?"
"Mushu!" Mulan quietly scolded. "Be respectful."
"Okay, okay! But I'm gonna go find some fresh air before my asthma takes over," the dragon whispered in retort, swiftly jumping down to the dusty floor and scurrying outside. Mulan shook her head and turned to look at more shelves, only to brush her cheek against a low-hanging wind chime. A small ying-yang symbol swung from the base, eyeing her with its lopsided face. (hey, that rhymes!) A discreet smile spread across Mulan's face as she remembered the amulets that still hung around her and Shang's necks. She turned the white charm over with her fingers, recalling fondly the day she'd received it. The rounded slope in the shape looked nearly as pregnant as she was. It was the little black dot inside that brought back her worry. Shang's half of the circle was black with a white dot. Complete opposites, each wanting different things. Or did they?
"Welcome Fa Mulan. What an honor to have the great Defender of China in my shop!"
Mulan blushed from surprise as she found a pair of bright, wrinkled eyes staring up at her. The baby jumped a little too. She hadn't noticed the old woman get up from the altar, let alone appear beside her. How long had the lady been there?
"Uh, thank you," Mulan responded with a courteous bow of the head. "You have many…lovely things here."
"Forgive me for placing you in a disadvantage. Your name has spread very far, but I'm sure you haven't heard of mine. I am Madame Xiuying."
The old woman reminded her of her own grandmother a little. Same height. Same snow white hair, tightly bound up behind her head. Same gentle manner. The main difference was the calmness Madame Xiuying had, the noble composure very much alike to the Emperor's.
"I see you are incomplete, my dear," the lady said, gently holding the ivory pennant that had fallen from Mulan's grasp. "There is another half to the circle, yes?"
"On my husband. We're very different people. My parents knew that enough to give these to us. I've learned to work past most of our differences, but lately they've begun to worry me," Mulan sighed. For some reason, she felt compelled to spill her problems to this woman. Placing a hand over her child to build up her courage, she continued, "Everyone expects me to have a son, but in my heart, I wish for a daughter. I'm not sure if my husband would accept a daughter the way I would."
Madame Xiuying nodded in understanding. She held up the white symbol before the younger woman. "Ying and Yang both have their own beauty, their own differences, but each has a part of the other within them. Only when they become one," she took the swinging circle in her other hand, "do they find balance and peace with each other."
That's what Baba and Mama said, thought Mulan.
"I wish it were that simple."
"Only if you will it to be. May I?" the older woman moved her hand so it was just hovering over Mulan's belly. Unable to find a reason to stop her, Mulan nodded. Madame Xiuying smiled and gingerly rested her hand on the rounded surface. After a moment, she nodded sagely and smiled. "Ah, yes. Very eager, but patient. Good harmony between the two of you. Here, wait a moment." Madame Xiuying went over to a shelf beside the altar and took a small wooden statue of a tiger. Upon returning, she gave the tiger to Mulan. "A gift for when the time comes. To ward off pain and bad spirits," she said with a wink.
"Oh, thank you," Mulan awkwardly bowed her head while accepting the present. "And thank you for your wisdom."
"Anytime, dear. Tis a great privilege to help someone as honorable as yourself."
THERE! Done for now. Whew! Okay guys, look out for the next chapter coming soon! Love you all!