I don't know why, but I feel like I should say Fa Zhou's whole name when I mention him in the story; it just doesn't seem appropriate to refer to him as "Zhou". I own nothing.
No one must know. Those of the village are told that she has gone into seclusion (the Matchmaker huffs; "If she thinks that this will make me forget her…") and those on the etate are ordered not to venture into her bedchamber. The chances are slim that she will be able to maintain her deception among the army for long, but if she succeeds and no one among the village knows that she has gone, then maybe she will be able to return without anyone knowing that she has been gone.
And throughout all this, no one can understand why all Fa Zhou seems capable of doing is sitting on the bench under the blossoming tree and stare out at the pond. No one but his wife and mother know why he is so somber, why he looks so utterly defeated, why he looks to have aged fifty years in a night.
They don't know.
Fa Zhou stares out at the water and watches in stone-cold, wintry silence as the glass-smooth surface is disrupted by falling blossoms and leaves. There is nothing else to do here.
Mulan was always headstrong, from the day she took her first steps and insisted on outrunning her wet-nurse and fleeing to the stables. She was always so headstrong, always insisted on doing things her way or not at all. Fa Zhou feared and prayed, prayed and feared, because he always knew that a child, especially a girl-child of Mulan's temperament and fire would be destroyed by the world she lived in.
So many hours were spent kneeling before the shrine, ignoring the way his knees screamed and how cold the stone was beneath his skin, because Mulan did not fit in the world into which she had been born.
Here is the result of all his prayers, the estate bereft of Mulan's laughter and her running feet. Fa Zhou doesn't know if his prayers did not have enough of a ring of sincerity for the ancestors to care, or if they were ever listening at all.
The result of Fa Zhou's prayers is the sure sign of all forsaking him, and this is all he has left of his daughter: crumpled clothes, a trail of water in his and his wife's bedchamber, a missing suit of armor and sword, a hairpin where a scroll should have been and long locks of hair on the floor.
(The brazier in the shrine was burning down. The smell of sweet smoke still filled the air.
Her clothes were still warm. They were crumpled in a pool in the chamber, not folded neatly—Mulan has never been neat, and the rose-colored silk was still warm and damp from the rain when he held it in his hands.
Mulan's shorn hair was scattered across the floor of the chamber where Fa Zhou kept his armor. The wind blew it away and the strands pooled gently around his feet as he found the cabinet hanging open.
Each strand whispered "You shall not find her here".)
These things are all Fa Zhou has left of his daughter, and he can see now how she will die (How he fears she will die).
Arrow in the shoulder, or the chest or belly.
Slain by a Hun, savaged if they discover her sex.
Killed by the Imperial Army if discovered to be a woman, left to rot in the wilderness without so much as a decent burial.
"She could be killed."
"If we reveal her, she will be."
She did this for him. She has risked her life for him, and Fa Zhou can not bring himself to envisage the way her body will be devoured by maggots even though his own thoughts are consumed by Mulan's death and what her death will do to him. Family honor will be destroyed but this will be nothing compared to the carnage the death of his daughter will reak on him.
If she dies, her body will never be returned home, and all Fa Zhou has of Mulan now is those few things she left behind. What Fa Zhou fears more than anything is that this will be all of her he ever has again. If Mulan becomes a spire of smoke or insubstantial as air, he will never have her to hold and love again.
There is nothing to do but stare at water spreading out like glass and imagine he can see another face beside his, smiling sweetly and filling the air with her words.
Fa Zhou can almost believe it's her. He can almost believe Mulan is home.
But when he reaches out to touch the water, it shatters as frail glass if thrown with great force.
He is alone.