Mulan hacked at the fertile soil feverishly and wished, not for the first time, that she was better at multitasking. If she could just think and work at the same time, maybe she could, just possibly, organize her life a little bit better.
Because there was a lot to think about right now.
She sighed and chopped a particularly ornery clod of dirt to pieces.
A week ago, a summons had arrived from the emperor. Delivered by an Imperial Messenger, and written very beautifully in calligraphy on some lovely parchment, the ruler of all China had summoned her to the royal palace under no uncertain terms, as there was a matter of great urgency that needed her attending.
She would not have a choice this time.
Not that she herself had any particular objection. All in all, life since she had returned from war (was it only a year ago?) was…rather boring. After spending so many months stressed and scared, it was good to finally be home, and it was a relief to be female again. But she missed the challenge of it. Army life suited her, oddly enough. There were rules to follow, clear-cut lines that could not be crossed, and she had been rather good at it, even if she had broken all of them by simply being there.
That was a first in her life. She wasn't usually good at anything.
She was too loud, she walked without grace, she found ways to get chores done without actually doing them, and as far as tea goes…
Well. The less said about the matchmaker the better. What happens in Rome and all that.
But fighting in the army…for the first time, it felt like her life had purpose. Like she actually had something more to offer the world than bearing a son and serving her husband. And she liked it.
Mulan knew that as a woman, her place was at her husband's side. But until she got married, she was supposed to support her family around the house, waiting to be paired with someone by the matchmaker.
But she simply couldn't do that!
Not after what she had seen and experienced. Not after feeling the respect that she had been granted as a man that simply didn't exist for women. Coming back to a world of constant subservience…it had been difficult.
So that posed an excellent question. Was it better for someone to live in darkness their whole lives, and never see the light, or to see the light and return to darkness?
Oh, she didn't regret her decision to take her father's place in the army. Not a bit. She had saved his life, and that was worth any price. And if she had the choice, she would never erase the memories. She had truly found herself in the military, found a self confidence that she had lacked upon her departure from home. It's just…the feelings she experienced upon being ignored again…the unfairness of it…had really taken its toll on her in the last year.
She had it better than most. Men did not disregard her instantly, and she knew that they still admired her for her feats against the Huns. But she did not think that they saw her as a woman anymore, rather an oddity that they didn't know how to handle.
So yes, she missed the army, but peace-time was preferable to war-time any day of the week, and if the country didn't have an army, then there was no need for men to die. One girl's identity confusion probably wasn't a good enough reason to desire warfare.
Then again, there was at least one person she knew who most definitely saw her as a woman. Shang had returned two weeks after their initial (and much to her mother's chagrin, impromptu) dinner and asked permission to court her from her father, who told the poor boy to ask Mulan. She had readily accepted, and they had started to get to know each other again. With Shang's thinking Mulan was a boy, and Mulan's constant fear of being discovered during her enlistment, it hadn't exactly been the ideal time to start looking for a marital partner. Now that had changed, and even though Mulan had only seen Shang a handful of times over the last year (it was a long trip from the capital), she knew that they continued to grow closer. Or at least she hoped so. Shang, it seemed, had a very difficult time with expressing emotions. Mulan thought he was better suited to Goh (1) than relationships, but to each his (or her) own, she supposed.
So in the end, Mulan supposed she was content with her life at the moment. But she couldn't deny that her heart had leapt a little when she realized that something was happening again.
As she heard the distant ring of the lunch bell, Mulan replaced her pick in its eternal place on the ground, and jogged lightly to the house. A wave of nostalgia swept over her as she looked upon her childhood home. Soon she would not be a part of it.
The nature of the summons was vague. The emperor had not stated his reasons. She knew she was not in trouble. She hadn't done anything illegal lately, and if the emperor was to revoke his decision to spare her life, it would look very strange. The emperor would look weak and unsteady in his decisions, and of course he couldn't be, or turmoil would rage across the land with uprisings and riots. If the leader looked weak, the people would not follow. Mulan had learned this from Shang.
So that left two options.
The emperor could be asking her to a position at court, as he had on the day she saved China. That was the first option. This too would be a bit strange, even if one of the positions had opened up. War hero aside, she was just a peasant girl who had an admittedly impressive military background. Officially, she knew very little aside from farming, the life of a soldier, and how to be a good wife (the last one was still a little iffy). She would hardly be useful on a council of advisors to the emperor. It had made sense when the position was offered, as he needed to show her some kind of reward for all she had done, but it would have been rather unwise in the long run. Most in the court would be like Chi-fu, and disregard any ideas she might have had because of her gender. All the good she had done for China and its female population would have been undone, and she would have become a figure head. Yes, it was good that she had been so homesick, that she had declined the emperor.
Which left the third option.
The emperor was asking her back into the military.
Demanding, more like.
She knew that she had gotten her brain from her father, that he was a brilliant man, which was why she hadn't been surprised when he had come to the same conclusion that she had about the emperor's summons. Maybe against better judgment, he had also informed Mulan's mother and grandmother of this. All three of them were desperate to keep their wayward daughter at home, but they also knew that no one could defy or decline such a direct summons from the emperor.
Her parents were also worried for another reason.
This time around, everyone would know she was a woman.
Now in an ideal world, the men she would be working with would come to recognize her skill as a soldier and respect her for it, treat her as an equal.
She did not live in an ideal world.
Most likely, many men would not even give her a chance. Prejudice and tradition were strong motivators, and Mulan really couldn't blame them. However it did mean that she was in some considerable danger of being assaulted. The months of training were long and arduous, and she would be surprised if she got through this without having anyone hit on her in a drunken stupor (alcohol was forbidden, but at Wu Zhong the men had always managed to produce some). Many men sought the comfort of women to get through it all.
Mulan was confident enough in her ability to defend herself that she didn't worry about this so much.
Once she reached the inside of the house, she quickly traveled over to the kitchen, where the table was set for lunch. Since her return, the family had had no want for money, though her father had refused to accept any payment from the emperor on her behalf. They could have far more extravagant meals than plain rice, but she was not inclined to complain. Home was where she could live a simple life, with farm work, a proud but ailing father, a kind mother and a spirited grandmother. Extravagant meals were not a part of that picture, and besides, there was something fulfilling about eating the food that she and her family had coaxed from the unyielding earth.
The meal was a silent affair, much like the night she had left for the army. And, just like that night, the silence and solemnity was getting to her. She sighed, rather loudly.
"Maybe it is not what we think, baba."
Fa Zhao looked sadly at his daughter, the one and only Mulan. "I see no other option, daughter, nor do you."
Mulan sighed again and looked at the table, "No, I suppose I don't."
Ironically, the meal was lighter after that. Mulan told her father of the progress she had made in the field, how many crops had been sown and such. It was early in the fall, and the end of the growing season. Without Mulan's help, it would be difficult to get the field re-planted for the next year. Luckily, Mulan had called in a favor from a village boy. He had offered to do it for free, as he was one who seemed to believe he was somehow indebted to Mulan, and wished to repay her. She had refused. It was not the boy's responsibility in the first place, and therefore he should be paid. Her pride was another trait that she shared with her father.
After the table had cleared, Mulan went to go back out to the fields, but as soon as she stepped outside, she was stopped dead in her tracks.
Fifteen white imperial stallions stood just inside the gates of her home. Every one of the riders was clad in impressive plate and leather armor, denoting their high ranking. Golden helmet visors covered their faces, and created an almost inhuman quality about them. She probably would have been terrified if it hadn't been for the one friendly face in the middle who had taken his helmet off upon her arrival.
Shang had come for her.
It's here, finally. This is actually unbetaed, as the one who was going to do it still hasn't looked at the files, and I'm too impatient to wait anymore. Anyways, this is the revised version of Chapter 1, and I think its better. You guys tell me though, better or worse than the original?
Thanks for reading, and please review, whether you have something nice to say or not.