Disclaimer: In case you haven't figured it out, I do not own Mulan.
Betaed: by Zim'sMostLoyalServant
Created with: Jazzqueen
The last stone clunked into place over the grave, Bataar withdrew his hands from it and stepped back to look over Old Moon's resting place. The lay of the stones declared a benign shaman rested here. As was tradition, the identity of the shaman was not indicated in any way. Their profession dictated a lack of worldly personal ambitions in life, and in death they had no monuments to their achievements, save the words spoken of them by those who remained.
The body had been unbelievably light, too small it had seemed. Something so frail and empty could not have held the man who had been part of his life since before he was born.
Standing over the grave, he half-expected the shaman to announce his presence by hitting him over the head with that stick of his and launch into some meaningless rant on respect and the elderly.
But it wouldn't happen; that stick was broken, it magic gone. Just like this body was a broken husk. The man who had seen more through one eye than everyone else did with two, gone.
Pulling a kusmiss skin off his belt he emptied what was left of it out onto the stones.
"I'm not sure what you would complain about. It being only half full or that I am pouring perfectly good kusmiss out on the ground.
"You were easily the most strange, and annoying, man I have ever met. I think more than half of what you said was a lie and you were never as smart or as old as you claimed.
"But I know I'll miss you, and I know in your own way you tried your best with me, and probably most everything you set yourself too.
"I should probably say something moving and heartfelt now. But frankly, I am tired, hungry, and need to make sure my wife isn't trying to overthrow me before going to sleep.
"Hmm, I think I can make it work with the woman you picked after all. I've lost a lot today, she doesn't make up for it, but she has what I wanted from them at their best. Though it will have to be her choice.
"That was a mistake on your part, sorry. Even I know you can't put reins on the sun and steer it, it has to change its course of it own accord.
"Well, rest in peace, or in women and drink if you can manage that, good old fool," Bataar finished. Tossing the empty skin onto the stones, he turned his back on the tomb and whistled, calling to the stallion that had been grazing nearby.
The lookouts spotted him while he was still far out. Good, though he doubted any of Unegan's dogs would have the spine to try something. So no one challenged or greeted him as he entered the encampment, the night fires already burning.
He received some greetings, but everyone was preoccupied or exhausted from the day. There was no time to waste on ceremony. Rather than Unegan's massive, and somewhat demolished, tent, he found himself heading for his own.
Instinct proved to be reliable yet again, seeing his wife in front of it sitting on a box while Oyunbileg talked with her. Her horse was also tied up; it looked like they had applied some of those herbal muds to its face. A one-eyed horse… perhaps she would regift it to Oyunbileg?
The women looked up as he reached them, and he could see they had been busy while he was gone. The Han woman's wound had been cleaned and stitched. Oyunbileg, like most veterans, had a grasp of basic field healing. Old Moon would have done better, but even he wouldn't have been able to do anything about that scar in the making. It ran from just below the center of her right eye, curving out slightly towards the edge of her face and over her jaw line.
Hmm, mud for the horse but not for the rider? A bit of petty payback on the chief spear wife's part? His thoughts were ended as Oyunbileg stood.
"My Shan-Yu, Shirchin has fled on his horse; he took what supplies were light and able from his tent," she informed him. Bataar closed his eyes, considering this, and frustrated by the conflicted feelings he had at the news.
"Your wife has offered pardon to those rebels who return before-"
"No. Shirchin went too far. Unegan's men and Altan betrayed their rightful ruler; he betrayed the bonds forged in battle and peace since the rebellion.
"If he flees the Confederation's territories he may live to the fullness of his days. But should he return, his life shall be forfeit.
"It is how it must be," he told her. She nodded, acknowledging the declaration, and understanding it was as close as he would come to apologizing to her for it in public. She had been at his side as long as both the men in her life, he knew when she needed her pride unchallenged by compassion.
When she left, he knew it would be to spread the word. She would work herself to exhaustion so that when she lay down to rest, sleep would take her without the chance for regrets and grief to seize her.
A good, strong woman. The type men would either kill for, or loathe for that same strength.
Bataar realized he would need that now more than ever. Ulaan, Lasuluun, and even Old Moon dead, and Shirchin dead to him now as well. It would not be easy to do without so many he had trusted.
'Still,' he thought, looking to where his wife sat looking back at him, 'At least she didn't run off or set an ambush.'
She, Mulan, he reminded himself, spoke up.
"I didn't expect to be forgiven so easily," she admitted.
"Well, a lot of them probably assume your cooperation with Unegan was some cunning plan to betray him after he gave enough rope to hang himself with. Old Moon would have exorcised the ghoul on your revelation alone if Unegan had not come to," Bataar told her.
As a ruler, he knew how people tended to think. In defeat, they either placed blame or tried to spin defeat in the best possible way. Victory, on the other hand, made them prone to forgive otherwise unforgivable recklessness, or even outright mistakes. It was a leader's charge to not be so easily swayed and strive to see the world as it truly was; in either case and everything in between.
"Oyunbileg is angry, but not… hating? I am pretty sure she wants me to get the most out of this in a scar for payback, and she is going to tattoo my arm tomorrow. Says that I have to after wearing the mark in battle. Anything less than a lasting mark and she would have to either kill me, or take my horse," she told him.
"She is a strange one. Perhaps she is angry but after losing a husband and a companion from childhood turned lover, she would rather have another friend than a corpse? Since her husband died as a result and she has forgiven you, others will feel obligated to follow her lead," he shrugged.
"I was talking about the pass before. They know I stole your victory. Killed so many men of this tribe and others," she reminded him.
"Well, now I have to admit to being defeated by a woman. They aren't trying to kill you right now, so it's unlikely to happen tomorrow either. As for the other tribes, as I said, this revelation affects me as well, so we will both have to deal with it. Probably in the spring.
"I'll need to call another Summit in the spring to select a new King of the Left," he muttered, already dreading the politicking and wondering what he might have to concede.
It was too much for one night, so without another word he slipped into his tent. To his surprise, Mulan followed him, closing the door behind her.
"You plan on sleeping here?" he asked.
"Where else? Unegan's tent with three angry wives, or Oyunbileg who just might change her mind about revenge while I'm asleep?"
"Oyunbileg is stubborn; she will not change her curse that easily," he answered. Going to the latticework on the wall, he pulled a skin of kusmiss off and took a pull. Without thinking, he tossed it to his wife as she rummaged around.
"Anything to eat?" she asked, catching the skin.
"No," he answered.
He started a fire in the oven, a small one, it would not last too long but just now he felt the light and warmth was needed. The air was not right for rest, as his wife sipped the alcohol sitting down next to him.
"I prefer the stuff Choeten drinks," she told him, handing it back.
"Not surprising," he answered shortly. The silence stretched; he wondered when she would break it, because he had no intention of doing so. Fortunately, she spoke up soon enough.
"The one thing you made clear before… going off, was that the traitor and your brother not be disgraced. Why?" she asked.
"I thought I told you, Lasuluun was a good man, once. And he served me well until this treachery. His past may not excuse his betrayal, but it doesn't reduce it to nothing either. Did you know he saved Oyunbileg at the Battle of Mists? He didn't like her but she was a comrade and that mattered more to him, then.
"He was always a dark man, but that darkness I suppose just grew until it was greater than the man who held it. What happened with you was probably just the final push over the ledge. Still, his death is on your hands in more ways than one," he told her.
"And Unegan? It seems to me you never had anything but contempt for him," she pressed. He had hoped she wouldn't go there. He wondered if Old Moon was prodding her from beyond the grave, it was the kind of sore spot the shaman would have worked.
"He was my brother," he answered. There must have been something strange in his voice because she fixed him with the oddest look.
"Half brother," she reminded him.
"The same could be said for Bharbo. For all my brothers and sisters. The difference is, I could have done something for Unegan and didn't."
He stared into the small fire, searching for the way to say it. For her part, Mulan waited for him to speak.
"I felt when my mother died. I didn't see it in a vision, or some sign from nature, somehow I just knew. Her spirit never came to Old Moon's summons. Only a shaman can speak with a spirit that knew them in life. Save for those who cheat like ghouls and other corrupt spirits. But through him I hoped…
"It doesn't matter, because she never came. I was convinced without doubt it was because I had not avenged her fully, avenged our family. But now, I think it was Unegan, her son that I abandoned to madness and despair.
"I saw him as Burilegi's son, a disgrace to our bloodline, and a reminder of what my mother endured. But he was as much Zaya's son as his. My only living brother, my family.
"He was spoiled and foolish, but he was not a monster or mad man then. Perhaps had I left him something more than a doll his wicked father had tossed to him, his despair would hot have called Burilegi back?" he wondered.
"Or he would still have been a monster, without his father's help," she told him. She wasn't sure if that meant to be comforting, it just seemed to need to be said.
"True, but I did nothing and my brother became a twisted child who never grew up and died alone with a legacy of treachery and madness. Someday I will die and face my mother with that sin against her memory over my head.
"A decent burial may be more than her deserves, or it may be a small piece of what I should have done for him. All I know is death means you don't get to try again," Bataar said.
"Burilegi told me he poisoned Bharbo."
"What?" Mulan snapped back to full awareness.
"He said he might not have as well. But I can't say with certainty your father is without honor now. Not when it could have gone either way."
"He still defeated your father," she reminded him.
"Yes, but that was not without honor. Much as it pains me to admit it. When word spreads I will have that tale told. Fa Zhu's name may still be a curse, but an honorable enemy rather than a trickster in time, perhaps," he admitted.
"I miss him."
"I miss my own father despite having known him little for a son. That's no surprise, for you to miss your father," he told her awkwardly.
"You are not going to let me go, are you?" she asked. He did not take even a moment to think about it.
"No," he answered.
"Some gratitude," she cursed, while feeling like she should laugh too.
"You just became a legend, and gave quite a bit of credence to everything Old Moon said about you. That doesn't exactly motivate me to let such an asset slip away now does it?" he answered. He looked at her with a raised brow, challenging her to disagree. She accepted that challenge.
"Well, some men might thank me for saving their life, and their people, from an evil spirit tyrant, by granting me a boon," she told him.
"Alright, what boon would you ask?" he chuckled.
"That you never invade China again. Not for so long as you live," she answered quickly.
"Well…" he remarked.
"Conquer in any other direction, go around it to attack the hot lands to the south or the land of the morning calm. But China is not on your list, you tried it once already, and failed," she told him.
"…I was expecting you to ask for freedom again," he commented.
"I could always escape, but I think you would keep your word even if I did," Mulan said, taking a sip from the skin and coughing.
"Trusting me, are we?" he asked.
"You're not a trickster, or an oath breaker. Whatever else you are, you are upfront and honest in your intentions. When you invaded China, you came over the Wall with an army, and killed everything in your path," she scowled. He took the skin back from her, taking a drink.
"Was that an insult or a compliment?" he asked, curious.
"I don't know. I still hate you for killing innocents, but then my friends deserted me for being a woman. Shang nearly killed me! He told me 'A life for a life, my debt is repaid.'
"I saved him twice! Once from you and your army, and then from the avalanche. And what about the rest of them? They were getting ready to die with honor when I killed your army. The war never reached he Emperor at all, because of me.
"So what do I get? I get left behind in the snow, with a patched wound, for the likes of you to carry home like I was a sack of rice.
"You know, if either you or him had just killed me it would have been a lot simpler!" she said.
"…You've had enough," he said, tossing the kusmiss aside.
"If I ran, would you chase after me? I don't know, I think I could get away. Your best option would be to act like it was your idea for me to go if, I gave you the slip," she muttered.
"I am going to sleep, try not kill me before morning," Bataar told her, pulling his boots off.
Mulan watched him undress. Not that it was much, besides shirtless. Hmm, not quite as good as Shang, but bigger, very much bigger. It was a wheat versus rice thing, not fair to compare.
'These are the kinds of thoughts you get when you need sleep and the only thing in your stomach is rancid horse milk.'
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, letting her find her center.
This would be the perfect time. Bataar would sleep for a good while, and no one would question her actions after that speech; with Min and Mushu, she could make good time commandeering any and all needed supplies.
The odds were even that Bataar would let her go. Despite his claims, the facts showed he did have honor, however twisted. And was it as twisted as it had been?
There had been no need to tell her about Burilegi's confession, to clear her father's name. He could have been silent and she and the world would have gone on, with only the legend of Fa Zhu and his poisoned sword of dishonor.
Shang's honor had made him spare her life, and abandon her despite all she had done for him and China. The man in this tent's honor had not been subject to any witness, yet he had shown her mercy by revealing a truth that lifted up his enemies, including her.
Mulan thought of going home.
Mother, Grandmother, Khan, Little Brother, and Father; they would all be so glad to see her! It would be like returning from the dead, a joyful reunion despite all she had done. They did love her, despite quarrels and disappointments.
It was a happy picture her mind painted. But that was not the end of the story.
The world would not change for her. Life would go on and she would still be destined to marry a man chosen by the matchmaker, and approved by her father and the groom's patriarch. Once again having to either wear the mask to fool the world, or break her family's heart.
She would choose the mask, because she loved them. Not that the mask could cover the scar. Even the matchmaker had admitted she could look like a bride. But not now – the scar Unegan left would make her unappealing to every man and a subject of mockery or pity amongst women.
A match would still be found, of course, she was the daughter of a great hero. Men would look past her to the honor her father's blood would bring to them and their family. Even if it wasn't some fat old man to finally accept her as a bride, it would never be about her.
To honor her family she would serve him, bear him children. Praying for sons who would at best be men like Shang or daughters to follow her in wearing masks if their true faces did not match what was expected.
She would live and die, daughter, wife, and mother, everything defined by someone else. A life bound by high walls and paved paths long raised and laid to dictate what she was allowed to be.
That was the life of Fa Mulan, the only daughter of Fa Zhu, tragically scarred.
The Huns would see the same scar, and there would still be disgust and pity. But also respect, however grudging; they would say she got that scar fighting Unegan alongside Bataar. How she fought, survived, and they had lifted her name up in salute.
The life of Hachin might end shortly at the hands of a Hun avenger. Or it could see her as a queen whose king showed her respect if not love. Women who would admire her for what she had done, along with those who looked down on it. And even men who would see her true face and not strike it with outrage.
Dangerous and unknown, like the steppes where no walls rose and only faint trails offered guidance under a vast sky.
Certainty, or possibility?
'He may not be the one I would have chosen, but he has given me choices of his own will. That is not something you just dismiss.
'…Father forgive me.'
Bataar was drifting to seep when a small hand grabbed his shoulder and shook him. Eyes snapping open and one hand flying to the dagger close at hand, he stopped, recognizing his wife's face.
"What?" he growled. The snarl slipped into puzzlement as he noticed something. She was standing over him naked.
Stunned, he watched her lift up the fur covering and slip into the bed. She kept her eyes on him, weighing him? It was a relief when she spoke.
"Take off your pants, then be quiet," she told him.
Was it odd he didn't mind obeying that order?
The side of Bataar's tent ripped near the ground, and Mushu exited through it walking unnaturally straight, eyes very wide, and pupils small. After walking a ways, he bent his arms up at the elbows and made fists.
"Egggghhhhh!" he groaned as he bent down at his waist until his elbows touched his knees. Snapping back up, he repeated the motion and sound.
"Egggghhhh!" the dragon repeated. As he snapped back up for another go, a silvery staff head knocked him over the head. Falling to the ground, he looked up and saw Old Moon's spirit glaring down at him.
"Lizard! Do you mind?! You're spoiling the festive atmosphere!" the dead shaman scolded.
"Festive? What are you- oh," Mushu demanded, rubbing his head. Looking around, he saw the camp was lousy with spirits invisible to the mortals. And they seemed to be having a party, sharing ghostly goblets and haunches of meat.
"What are you celebrating?" Mushu demanded. Old Moon bowed aside as Modu swept into view, looking down on Mushu as he stroked his facial hair.
"Reunions. A battle is a time for farewells for the living, but for the dead it welcomes those left behind and descendants long removed into the fold. Now we gather them up and with morning's light help them on their way into what lies beyond," the ancient Shan-Yu explained.
"Huh. Well, I guess you're officially my boss now, right? So you going to turn me back into metal?" Mushu wondered.
"We don't contain spirits, we have pacts with them. You can hang around like Suren for so long as Hachin lives. It is a special case.
"You going to miss China?" Modu asked.
"Of course! Stupid question. But even if I could, what do I go back to? The Fa ancestors would kill me for letting Mulan get scarred and hitched to a Hun warlord," Mushu complained.
"Well, good thing you can't go back then! You are too amusing a spirit to die. Personally, things can get boring around here," Modu whispered, leaning in close to Mushu, hand held up beside his mouth.
"Uh, thanks, I guess?" Mushu told him. Straightening up, Modu took a deep breath, his form growing a darker, smokier color. In a booming voice, he addressed the guardian dragon and shaman spirit.
"Now if you will excuse me!" he boomed. Reaching behind himself, he pulled out a large dress adorned with bells, also for ghosts, since it was semitransparent.
"I have initiations to attend to," Modu told them. With that, he was gone into the press of spirits.
"I can tell this is going to be a bit different from working for the Fas," Mushu muttered.
"Good different or bad different?" Old Moon asked. Mushu shook his hand both ways by way of answer.
"You say something?" Mushu asked Old Moon, whose grin widened. He thrust his fist toward Mushu, almost punching the dragon, who recoiled, holding his hands up defensively.
"No, but he did," Old Moon laughed. The fist opened, dropping a silvery Cri-kee to the ground.
"Little Buddy?!" Mushu cheered in disbelief. Cri-kee chirped again, jumping up to be caught by Mushu.
"You?" Mushu asked Old Moon, clearly stunned.
"I was able to bend the rules a little since he was infused with my magic. But as neither of us have descendants, we have to go with the morning, I am afraid. You can bet that we will be looking in and dropping a word if the opportunity arises, but this is a big goodbye. And things were just getting interesting, too.
"The kid did good, lizard, give him a proper send off. As for me, my improbable gambit paid off, so I'm off to celebrate by seeing how my boy is doing in there, and then get to some serious drinking," Old Moon declared. The cricket spirit and dragon watched Old Moon float off, humming to himself as he went for Bataar's tent.
Mushu's head snapped to the side with realization.
"Oh, nononono! No dead old guy is peeping on my baby girl!
"Cri-kee, get the party started, I'll need some serous tunes to forget what big mean and scary is doing with Mulan! GET BACK HERE YOU DIRTY OLD MAN!" Mushu yelled, running after the ghost.
Cri-kee shrugged then flexed, raising mist around him. The mist cleared, revealing a set of drums and sticks held in his appendages. He grinned and raised the sticks while fire and yelling erupted behind him.
Ulaan drifted through the mourning and the celebrations. With the ghoul gone he could finally do what he needed to.
Being dead was not as big of a change as he had expected, though he had yet to move on, he supposed.
He had recognized Modu's spirit by some mystic instinct. Had watched as the first Shan-Yu stalked with Unegan's spirit and sent him on his way with a touch. Unegan had seemed neither pleased nor terrified, simply reluctant and exhausted.
He had entertained the notion of searching for Lasuluun's spirit, but the man had died by the hands of the woman. That seemed vengeance enough.
Reaching his tent, his former tent, he paused before the entrance. It was strange; it could have been any other time he had returned. Save for his hand passing through the closed entrance. With a sigh, he entered, his wife and son immediately spotted, curled up on the bed.
He considered his wife. He supposed he should comfort her somehow. But he did not know what to say that would be both the truth and a comfort. He had not been a great husband in life. And he doubted death improved it.
But he owed the boy, Qorchi.
Kneeling beside them, he placed a hand he could see through on Qorchi's hair.
"I am sorry I was not a better father. You may think you were somehow lacking as a son, but you were not. I could place my doubts and blame on your mother or Shirchin, but the choices were mine. You called me father, despite your blood that should have been enough.
"I gave her permission, but required it to be honest between us. When she kept it a secret it seemed a double betrayal.
"But I was never even sure whether you were mine or his. Or was that just an excuse to keep you at arm's length?
"Not that it matters; you were innocent, and however much Shirchin may have won your admiration, I was the one you called father. For a better man, that would have been more than enough.
"If you want me to be proud, that is all I ask. Be a better man than either of us.
"…I should probably say something else. But I don't know what. So farewell, and look after your mother; she can be a bit stupid when her emotions get the better of her," Ulaan told Qorchi. Oyunbileg stirred and grumbled at the last words.
Ulaan smiled at that before looking at Qorchi's sleeping face, surprised to see a smile growing on it.
With a matching smile of his own, Ulaan lifted his hand, and vanished in a flash of blue light.
Shang looked over the scroll as he waited for the ink to dry. A letter of honorable discharge.
He recalled when he had written something similar, but utterly different. A letter of dishonorable discharge, for one Fa Ping.
Such a dishonor was reserved for troops so incompetent, they were unfit to even catch arrows and die for the Emperor. Men who posed more risk to the Emperor's forces than the enemy, but did not warrant an execution.
Fa Ping had been the definition of that. A failure at every exercise, and a cheater. A troublemaker whose unpopularity with the regiment made them even more unruly, and disrupted the training. As Chifu pointed out with rare accuracy, the runt was dragging everything down.
But still, he had been reluctant. A student's failure reflected on the teacher. And it would be said he had failed to turn Fa Zhu's son into a warrior. And he could see the desperation in the boy's eyes. He was very familiar with the need to not fail a father.
It was a lesson from one of his last instructors that made him write that letter.
"An officer's duty is to spend the lives of the troops under his command wisely. Men will die following your orders, and you owe it to them to spend their lives well. Should you ever doubt the fate you choose for them, ask yourself this. If you had to face the father of a man who died under your command, could you tell him how and why his son died without shame?"
He would not be able to face Fa Zhu and tell him his son died because he was a weakling unfit to serve, and because of Shang's pride.
This letter, however, released a man from service with honor. In this case, a hero of battle who rather than promotion had asked to simply go home.
Normally such a request would be politely denied. But Shang wanted to do right by at least one of his soldiers.
"Here you are, Chien Po, as of now you have left the Emperor's service. You can collect your bonus for the battle and your total pay from the chest masters. The horse is yours to keep as well," he told the now former soldier.
The giant gave a deep sigh of relief, barely fitting into the chair he was perched on. They were sitting around the table in Shang's personal tent. Not as grand as the command tent, but comfortable enough for his needs.
With the town taken and the enemy routed, he could have claimed an inn room. But he let his officers fight that matter out among themselves. He would sooner quarter in the midst of his army, than a town recently held by rebels. Most of the veteran officers, he noted, followed the same logic.
Today they had seen the giant man's potential as a killing force unleashed. He wished he hadn't. The glorious turn on the battlefield had led to the most serene of his men sitting here, looking lost, and broken.
'We're all a bit broken, I think. No lessons or training prepare you for the reality of war,' Shang thought.
"Do you have plans?" He asked.
"I am thinking of using the money to buy an apprenticeship with a carpenter. My village doesn't have many craftsmen and I think opening a shop there would help the people," Chien Po answered, looking off.
"I thought you were training to be a monk?" Shang asked, surprised at the answer. Chien Po lifted his hands and looked at them.
"I think I need to give something back to the world, rather than leaving it behind, Colonel," the young man answered simply.
"I wish you good fortune with it. You have brought honor to your family, and I have every confidence you will continue to do so wherever life takes you," Shang told him. It was a polite compliment, but he did mean it. The large man recognized the dismissal and rose from the chair, and looked at him with a smile.
"Since I am no longer your subordinate, may I speak to you as one man to another?" Chien Po asked. The colonel felt his mouth run dry; was he about to get an upfront declaration of the sort he knew Ling and Yao longed to deliver? Still, it was not like he hadn't earned it, he nodded his head.
"You spared Mulan's life, whatever happened is not your fault," the former soldier said. Shang felt his mouth drop open. Chien Po was easily the most forgiving man in the regiment, possibly the army, but this?
"Chien Po, she died because I left her behind. I could have at least had her taken to an inn and left in the care of others on the way to the capital," Shang defended his guilt.
"Perhaps, but if you hadn't gotten her away from Chifu, he would likely have regained enough mettle to press the issue. Would anyone but those men in the pass have accepted a lowly captain overruling a Counselor and the Martial Laws for a lying woman?
"You made a hard decision you were not prepared for. You could have done better, but that doesn't mean you didn't try your best.
"And I do not think she is dead. In one day she survived the Hun army, the avalanche, and the law; our friend will not leave this world so easily," Chien Po assured him.
'Then why wouldn't she have gone home?' Shang was tempted to snap. But no, despite the evidence against, he could not throw this man's generosity back in his face. And maybe his was an indulgence that helped the other man go on. He would not deny the man that.
"I think we haven't seen the last of her. My gut tells me her tale is far from done, and we may yet a part to play," Chien Po continued, smiling.
Shang was ashamed that the thought did not comfort him. Seeing her again tied his stomach in a knot. Relief that his crime was not as great as he feared, and having to face the one he had wronged.
The Emperor had already built a legend about him, which was rising with this campaign reaching a triumphant end. She would know he had achieved his rank and high honors by helping the Empire bury the great things she had done for China.
No, he thought as the man left, closing the door behind him. As much as he regretted what he had done, meeting her again would be a terrible thing. His duty would be to kill her to protect the Emperor's credibility from the truth, or dishonor his family by admitting his shame.
'If you are alive, Mulan, may it be like the Emperor wanted. A peaceful life, to live happily and be forgotten. That would be best for everyone, even though you deserved better.'
Banishing the thoughts of the boy who had been a girl, he found he could not focus on the maps brought up to him earlier. Instead, he rose and walked to his desk opening a cabinet to take out a scroll.
He unrolled it, revealing an ink drawing of a woman in a very formal dress. To the side, the family matchmaker had written her report. The elders had already decided, but he could still say no, if this bride was not to his liking. Not that he would; if what the scroll said was true, there was no flaw in this woman that he could complain against.
A perfect bride for the great hero of China. A man likely to be promoted to General once the court had a valid reason to do so.
It made him wish he were still that Captain dreaming of stepping out of his father's shadow someday.
Chien Po left the stable, leading his massive horse as the sun rose. He would be riding with a caravan; bandits had started to move in, following the trail of the fighting. This way was safer for him and the wagon drivers.
He was unsurprised to find an ambush of sorts waiting for him in the makeshift stable yard.
"You big lunk, did you think you could slip out without one last drink?" Ling taunted, holding out a clay bottle bound by straw bands. Uncorking it, he took a whiff and flinched at the odor.
"Told you I picked a good one," Yao laughed.
"I suppose I'll be seeing you back home after the fighting is done?" Chien Po asked Yao. Yao snatched the bottle from the coughing Ling and took a swig.
"Ahh! No, big guy. Fact is, fighting is about the only thing I've ever been good at. Going back to working the fields and picking fights for the rest of my life doesn't appeal. I'm going career; figure as a sergeant I can do pretty well for myself in the army," Yao told him.
Ling snatched the bottle back and made to take a drink, only to cough again. Looking at the bottle with disgust, he held it out and looked at Yao.
"Poor taste in drinks aside, I agree. But I'm going for officer! My father wants me to take over the tavern, but spending my life surrounded by and cleaning up after drunks, no thanks. I want to climb the ranks until I can retire and be one of those cushy bureaucrats with a fancy hat and a pretty wife," Ling said, looking off longingly.
"Pfft, please, like you could pass for one of them?" Yao rolled his eyes.
"Hey, at least I have ambition. Chien Po might be happy in the provinces, and you with going off to fight till you drop, but not me. I want to go places and be a little bit of something before I'm done," Ling gave the bottle to Chien Po.
The giant took a sip before grimacing. Then swept the two up from their pre-argument in a bear hug.
"Be safe on the roads you walk, my friends," he told them.
"You could help us with that!" Ling croaked.
"Air!" Yao gasped.
Soon enough the goodbyes were said, the bottle of awful subtly poured out on the mud, and Chien Po leading his horse out alongside the wagons.
He did not look back at the encampment; his eyes were toward the horizon, and his home somewhere over it. He could almost feel a chapter of his life closing. It was not a pleasant one, but nor would he wish it undone. It was life – good, bad, and some things you can't easily put a label on.
He wondered which horizon his lost friend was over. Whichever it was, she was brave and clever enough to work something out for herself. He would ask her about it when they met again.
But for now it was time to look to the future, like a nice pork dinner maybe?
Hachin awoke with a groan. She felt stiff.
Looking around, she realized where she was, specifically what bed, and remembered. Lifting the fur, she looked under it at herself.
"Oh, well," she said to herself.
"…That was better than mother made it sound," she told no one in particular. Pulling herself out of the bedding, she shivered. Sleeping naked… not a good idea, for future reference. Looking around, she saw a plate with some breakfast laid out on it, and a spear wife's attire folded next to it.
"Well at least he didn't just leave after waking up," she commented.
Opening the door, she heard Bataar arguing with a surprising voice.
"All I am saying is that you have a responsibility. In more ways than one, I might add," Khongordzol said.
"I will tell you politely one more time. I don't need, much less want more wives. One wife is trouble enough," Bataar responded. He sounded very irritated, but she smiled at the comment. That could be taken as an insult, or that he wasn't trying to keep his options open.
Opening the door more, she saw Unegan's wealthy wives standing before the Shan-Yu in all their fancy glory, with the assorted daughters behind them being watched over by the lower wives. The girls were subdued, but she was glad to see Odgerel up and about, even though she was still staring off into space.
"Our husband, your brother, is dead. As we have no sons, you are responsible for our wellbeing now," the former chief wife pressed.
"As if you didn't know what he was plotting. Can you give me one good reason not to send you back to your families in disgrace?" Bataar demanded, crossing his arms.
"I can," Hachin spoke up. Pushing the door fully open, she watched the women get a look at her.
The chief wife and her hanger-ons managed to suppress the scowls at her clothes and unkempt hair, while the two aware lower wives seemed relieved to see her.
"Auntie Hachin!" one of the girls called. One of the hanger-ons turned swiftly and smacked the girl on the head.
"Quiet while the adults are talking," she commanded in a hiss.
Well, that made this easier. Bataar turned to face her, arms still crossed but half grinning now.
"Really? You have some use for them?" he inquired, pointing to them with a thumb.
"Yes. I am not much of a housekeeper, and I will need to help you manage your new and old holdings with the loss of so many of your faithful followers.
"If you will not have them as wives, at least take them in as servants. Just until you can find them acceptable husbands. Until then, good honest labor and tending to their children will help them through the grief of losing their husband," Hachin told him sweetly. She didn't look at him though; she watched the fancy women's expressions fall with each word.
Unsurprisingly, Khongordzol gathered herself quickly with a smile.
"Of course these three are well suited for such a task. And while they labor, we three can place a dowry from our husband's estate and seek…"
"Oh no, everything that was his belongs to Shan-Yu Bataar now. Of course you may ask him for a return of the essentials, so much of it must be sentimental and would be such a burden for you. And of course he will handle selecting husbands for you, he is a very good judge of men," Hachin smiled, waving off the suggestion.
Bataar looked to where a potbellied veteran with a mostly hairless head and a broken nose spat before taking a deep swig from a kusmiss jug.
"I may have some fine warriors in mind already," he chimed in, smiling.
"Now I understand those three behind you have experience with the kind of work I need done in the household, so you will report to them," Hachin said, indicating the lower wives. Dalan and Solongo perked up in surprise, and Odgerel actually looked at her.
"But also… In my homeland it is unacceptable for women to out dress the matriarch. As I have neither possession of nor interest in such jewels and finery we will need to dispose of them."
"Did you ever give Batu and Choeten a wedding present?" Bataar asked.
"No, I didn't. There we are then; gather up your silks, jewels, and anything fancier than what is in my wardrobe and deliver it to Choeten. In fact, dear husband, summon Choeten to see to it we have these women settled."
"We'll need more tents," he realized, fiddling with his mustache.
It annoyed her as she walked away that the trio of spoiled women politely begged Bataar to change his mind. It had been her idea after all. Oh well, there would be time to put those bullies in their place.
A hand grabbing her shoulder jolted her out of her thoughts. She grabbed the hand and nearly flipped the woman over her, before realizing who it was. She let the hand go and turned around.
"Ouch," Odgerel said, massaging the hand Hachin had grabbed.
"Sorry!" Mulan said, bowing slightly to the other woman. Odgerel ignored her, studying her hand as if she hadn't heard.
Cursing Unegan again in her head, Hachin turned away from the broken woman.
"Thank you," Odgerel spoke up. Stunned into stillness, Hachin turned around quickly, but the Hun woman was already briskly walking back to the others as Bataar made large gestures at the unhappy formerly high wives.
She found Altan in a tent under guard. She hoped not all the other woman's guards had been killed; hopefully they were just being held elsewhere.
The tent was bare save for the blanket the woman from the west sat on, so Hachin seated herself in the floor. To her surprise, the blue-eyed woman spoke as soon as she settled.
"Your Majesty, just the woman I wanted to see," Altan greeted.
"Queen Altan," Hachin greeted.
"Not anymore. Bataar has stripped me of that rank. The title of Queen will go to another wife of my husband's choosing," the older woman told her.
"I'm sorry," Hachin apologized.
"Don't be. Old Moon appeared to me in a vision last night. He wasn't angry at all, he showed me Nara – I saw her wake up as if from a nightmare, terrified and confused. But her father was with her and he calmed her. She's alive, Hachin, thanks to you, and in spite of my mistakes.
"But he also told me she had been touched by the other side deeply, and that mark would stay with her for the rest of her days. Deathly pale skin, hair the color of snow, and eyes red as blood; people will see that before they see who she is. And I don't trust my own tribe with her after this mess, much less after my fall from grace.
"Yes, Coyot would protect her. But it is not fair to place such a burden on him when he has to also distance himself from me. Given the choice between being a traitor or a weak idiot woman controlled by the ghoul, I have chosen to stay alive, at the price of my pride and reputation.
"It shields my family from treason, but I'll be a pariah for a good while," Altan explained. Mulan looked away; this woman was too casual with important matters for her liking. But she put her family first; the Queen respected that.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked the fallen queen.
"Yes – as part of the reconciliation I want you to request Nara become your ward."
"Why not? In theory, she would be a hostage so the other chieftains will think the mighty King of the Right chastised. But she will be safer from the ignorant under Bataar's protection. Also, you are gong to be the most powerful woman in the Confederation, my girl could use a new role model," Altan smiled.
"Aiyah, I get the feeling the lack of a title will not affect your power very long Altan," Hachin sighed.
"Why, whatever power is that? As a mere woman, naturally all power and decisions rest with my mighty husband," Altan chuckled.
'There is no way I won't end up agreeing to this is there?' the Queen thought. Unegan's wives, the nieces, and now Coyot's daughter. The other women would have to share a tent – neither her nor Bataar would be able get anything done with that lot underfoot constantly, she decided.
Fa Zhu kneeled in the family garden and unwrapped the package with care. The cloth fell away to reveal the new incense burner to replace the dragon. Though this was no dragon, the smith had done fine work on his order.
An orange blossom, like the one he had put into his daughter's hair that day, when they sat in their spot in the garden.
The dragon symbolized greatness, leadership, and many forms of power, including wisdom. To him, if no one else, the new receptacle for prayer symbolized something for more important.
"It's lovely," Fa Li spoke behind him. He lifted it up and she took it from him, putting it in its place and selecting a stick of incense. His leg twinged even from this position; the coming of winter would make it far worse, he knew.
Turning back had been the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. It felt like he was abandoning Mulan, as the rest of the world had. But with his new injury, and the loss of Khan, he knew the north would be the death of him.
He could not save his daughter. That was what he, in his pride, had not wanted to see. He had failed her; there was no disguising that, not only in rescuing her, either. He had failed by setting her desperate actions into motion. She was his most sacred responsibility, his greatest honor, and he had failed her.
But dying a pointless death for her would only compound his failure by leaving the family with further heartbreak.
His return had been greeted with courtesy, and no questions. No, the questions were there, but they hung unasked in the air.
Until now, he had a feeling, watching his wife kneel beside him through the reflections on the polished stone.
"We need to have the stonecutter-" she began.
"No," he cut her off.
"My dear husband, Zhu. You have done more than any would have required of you, it is time to lay our daughter to rest. Let her take her place among the ancestors," she pleaded calmly.
"When I believe my daughter is dead, then I will carve her name into the stone with my own hands. But not a day, not an hour before," he answered. He saw her flinch at his tone; he hated himself for that. He could not imagine the pain a mother would have for losing their child, having carried them into the world.
But this was not a place he would give ground. Not even to her.
"You could not find her," she reminded him.
"Nor did I find any proof she was dead.
"To mark her among the dead when she still lives, would be a betrayal of faith. If all I can do for Mulan is await her return, then I will wait," he told her.
She shook her head sadly and rose, leaving him alone with his ancestors.
Sighing, he reached out and placed his hand on the cold stone, reading the names of those who had come before in silence.
"Honorable ancestors, I have faith that my daughter lives. That you give her protection to match her peril and courage both. I would pray that she will indeed return, but I know that is a selfish prayer.
"I ask instead, that you help her find happiness. If that brings her back, I shall rejoice. If it means we will not meet again in this life, I accept," he prayed.
The characters beneath his hands began to glow blue as the stone warmed. Unable to even breathe in his shock, he watched the light retreat from the writing into the depth of the stone, as if he were looking into an ice-covered pond.
The dancing blue lights came together, and took form.
"Mulan," he breathed as the light that formed her turned from blue into brilliant sunlight. She smiled in happiness, and with a flash was gone. Leaving him staring wide-eyed at his own reflection.
A vision born of his grief? No, the warmth was real; it lingered under his hand.
Taking his hand away, he kowtowed the ancestor tablets, touching his brow to the floor in gratitude.
Only a glimpse, enough to recognize her and realize one more thing – in the vision she had been heavy with child, and happy.
The questions were still many, and the fears would return very soon, he knew. But for this moment, he was a father happy with the answer he had received.
Gaitan groaned as the wagon lurched into motion, the Ger around him shaking. It wasn't just the humiliation of having to ride in one of these. It was the presence of his… attendants. Nearly all of the late Unegan's daughters were sharing the space with him. And taking a quick shine to watching over his condition.
"There is nothing wrong with my arm," he insisted to a little girl with a blue dress and two tight braids. She was wrapping a long cloth bandage along his bicep.
"I know," she answered.
"Then why?" he demanded, putting a hand, bandaged, to his face.
"Because the others already go the hurt spots! I want to play too," she pouted. She fixed him with average, resolution destroying, eyes. He looked to the only other adult present for aid.
"Hachin!" he called as the woman opened the door and looked back at him. The scar was still an angry red, but mending beneath the stitches. He hair was pulled back in a single loose braid, showing off a face he still thought was quite pretty despite the forming scar.
But he would swear she looked like pure evil grinning at him right now!
"Gaitan, you surprise me. What real man would object to having his wounds tenderly seen to by a bunch of pretty girls?" she asked sweetly.
Hachin ducked out, closing the door behind her. But not before hearing at least two of the girls ask Gaitan if he was upset because they were not pretty.
Crouching on the narrow ledge of the slow moving wagon, she stifled her laughter with a hand.
"So, how is he doing today?" Batu called. He and Choeten were keeping pace with the wagon on horseback, the Ger on the move around them all.
"I've never seen so much of him covered up," Hachin admitted.
"That's easy to believe," Choeten put in. She was wearing a splendid purple silk dress with a golden chain around her neck. The prim Hun wife's face had fortunately held without incident. Hachin was glad; she could live with her scar, but that didn't mean she wanted everyone to have to deal with something like it.
Putting two fingers to her lips she whistled, her one-eyed mare trotting through the moving tribe, snapping at anything that got too close or didn't get out of the way fast enough. It seemed the horse was still quite sore about its missing eye. Choeten had suggested renaming her Oyunbileg.
The mare came alongside the wagon, letting her climb into the saddle. Min needed no urging, quickly moving to the outskirts of the migrating Ger.
Clearing the walking slaves, riding Huns, and the wagons, they ascended a small hill. She looked back to where they had buried the battle dead. An improvised shrine of some sort had been erected for the loyalists. Bataar said a shaman would have to complete the proper rites and other ceremonies for the ground.
Unegan and the others lay nearby, but not so close as to be confused. She could imagine in a decade's time their resting place would be lost to the eyes of men.
Brushing her scar lightly, she thought about everyone she had buried, and was now leaving behind. That other life she had left buried behind there too, the only things left to tie her there was Mushu, banished to bugging Oyunbileg for the moment, and her father's sword, finally back at her belt.
There were regrets, of course, ties she wished didn't have to be broken. But she couldn't quite regret her decisions despite the pain.
Turning her back on the dead, Hachin set her mount to gallop, heading for the front of the Ger. Two friends, one old, the other new, were waiting there, she knew. As was the husband she had chosen despite everything.
It was time to help them lead these people under this vast sky, without a wall in sight.
And done! Wow, I mean wow. That is the first epic length story I have finished on this site. And my goal was to finish it before January 1st 2014, which it seems I succeeded at. And thanks to you, my reviewers, this story currently tops the Mulan category in reviews. Sadly, the former top pick was deleted, but that doesn't mean you all are any less than awesome.
Before I say anything more, a word from the writer without whom this story would not exist:
A Note From Jazzqueen:
Working on this story with Eduard Kassel has been a fun experience for me. As Eduard Kassel said in the first chapter, this story originally came to be from my deleted story "Mulan Of The Ger". I first got the idea of this concept because I noticed there were actually not that many AUs about what if the Huns captured Mulan in the pass and brought her back to their homeland. Since no one else was writing that kind of story, I decided why not do it myself?
Even though it gained some popularity, I later realized I was losing interest in continuing it. However, Kassel, who didn't want this concept to go to waste, offered to make his own take on it. After deleting "Mulan of the Ger", I started collaborating with him by helping him find information about how the Huns lived, their belief systems, and customs, to give a sort of realism to them. I also helped him in some of the decision-making concerning some scenes as well.
I think the most fun about this was the world building and creating new characters that really could have been a part of the movie's canon. In creating "Hachin" we had to make a more adult world than what was seen in the film. However, the movie's tone still remained in that things could switch from being funny in one scene to being sober in another. The new characters help to put a complex layer on the Huns, moving them from just being savage raiders to complex people who are just like any other human being on this planet.
The character that I believe was expanded the most in this story was Shan-Yu (Bataar). As one of Disney's darkest villains, there was a need to stay true to his original character but at the same time show that there is more to this guy than the movie showed. Giving him the name Bataar was the first step in turning him from a force of destruction to a fallen figure that has become the monster we see in the movie.
Another character that became a favorite of mine is Gaitan, who quickly won me over with being the most lighthearted of the Inner Huns. I really loved that we made him into a Casanova type of character who really steals the scenery every time he is in it or mentioned.
The new character that I had the most interest working on is actually Unegan, who I actually believe would be a great canon Disney villain, and maybe even more so than his own half-brother. As much as you have grown to hate Unegan, something in me always kept me interested in that sly fox of a man. As a villain, Unegan is quite different from Bataar because he is the type of villain that dresses himself up as some civilized high member while on the inside is rotten to the core and a spoiled man-child that never grew up. However, one must pity him because of the fact in the end he surrounded himself with such shallow materialistic stuff that in the end no one would ever miss him.
Overall, the story actually retains a lot of themes that were in the original movie, showing how Mulan could truly become herself a different way. Everything that the Chinese culture found strange about her is celebrated in the Hun society. The Huns she once sees as enemies, Mulan now embraces as her adopted people. Mulan's transition to Hachin shows her coming to terms with the fact that she finally found a place where she will be appreciated for who she is. In essence, the story "Hachin" could be a variation of the end of the Hero's Journey, where instead of just going back to China she makes the steppes her new home. A place where her spirit will not be contained by walls or be forced to dress up for the rigid standards of others and become the woman she wants to be. Hachin is basically an alternate way Mulan could have finally come to terms with herself.
Thank you Jazzqueen!
Now as for some questions you probably have:
What was the point of Fa Zhu's part if he just ended up never reaching Mulan? The journey, I would say. He and Khan were originally meant to play no part beyond Shang's arrival scene at the Fa household.
But I realized those two would not sit idly by. So they got their journey, though it ended in failure. But it wasn't just to address them without altering plans; it played into a theme of deconstruction.
Jazzqueen and I did a lot of deconstruction with this story. Particularly with villains, as Jazzqueen touched on earlier. But more than that. In the case of Fa Zhu and Khan, it is the fact of failure and how to deal with it. Stories where everything works out in the end, I think, send a bad message. They do not prepare people to cope with disappointment and failure. The times where it just doesn't work out.
It's not cynical to show that you can get up from falling, and it's not being upbeat to claim they will never fall.
And then there is romance. Bataar and Mulan I would not say are in love by the end of the story. There isn't some divine destiny of true love here. What they are growing is based on mutual respect and a common interest. Will it become a deep and passionate love? *Shrugs* Maybe they will end up being basically close friends married with children essentially?
And finally, the question I am sure you are all hoping I will answer.
The sequel, "Dragon & Horse", coming 2014. It will be set seventeen years after this story with the royal Hun children being major characters even as old favorites return and meet again. In the meantime, I have loose plans for a prequel oneshot, "Battle of the Mists" and an interlude three-shot, "Seasons Turning". The three-shot will deal with the births of Mulan's children with glimpses into the royal family life, but also check in with Shang and Chien Po.
When in 2014 will depend on both school and progress on my other projects.
Thank you all for reading, God bless.