Fa Zhou paced back and forth impatiently about the door of his wife's room. He could hear her pained gasps, and the nurse's sweet words of reassurance, but he cared not for the woman, and was restless to see his heir.
His first wife had been a soft blossom of a woman, small and slender, and as beautiful as an almond flower. But as beautiful as she was, she was unable to birth him any children, and she fell out of his favor.
He then took it upon himself to take a second wife, despite his first wife's cries of despair, and promises of consumption if he would still have her. Still taken by hair fair face, and small feet, he obliged. Though to no avail, as years went by and her body had yet to swell.
Growing older, and still having no son, he married a farmer's daughter. Beauty she wasn't, with big hands and feet, and a large body. But her hips were wide, and she was from a family of eight, all sons, excluding her.
Ignoring her lack of fairness, he moved her into his house, and was pleased that she endured his first wife's torment towards her. He cared little for such matters; fore he now had a woman to pleasure himself with, and one to breed his brood.
Sure enough her already large body grew, and he himself grew feverish with anticipation, lavishing her with gold jewelry, and sweet food. Then, nine months later, he heard a cry from her bedroom, and he all but ran towards the sound.
Throwing the door open, and ignoring the servants about, he looked to see a bundle in her thick arms. "Have you given me a son, or a slave?"
Her face was wet from effort, and her gown still bloodied, but he paid her little heed except for her answer. Softly, she rasped, "A son."
Delighted, he fetched the bundle from her arms, but upon looking at the child, his face fell. Despite his mother having fed richly while carrying him, he was but a slight bird. His hair was in patches, and his skin was sickly yellow, and he knew that he was not made for this world.
Angrily, he threw the child back onto the bed, causing the retched thing to wail piercingly. "That is not a son! But a weak bird! Why must I be cursed with such useless women?"
Huffing, he turned towards a servant, and pushed her roughly in the direction of the screaming baby. "I will not waste my money feeding a dead mouth! Put it out of its misery!"
And so it was done.
Desperate, he took both women relentlessly, finding no joy in doing so. A son he must have, and son he would get.
But years passed and neither conceived.
Nearing forty, and with not a single child in sight, he took a final wife.
She was neither young nor old, ugly nor fair; she was average in every way. But she was a good woman, doing what others didn't, respecting his wishes, and doing what a woman of her standing should.
Finally, when he came to terms that he was cursed, she spoke to him smoothly and said. "I am with child."
Spirits raised, he prayed to the gods for the forgiveness of his sins.
Now here he was, ears glued to his third wife's door, breath held. Finally his wife shrieked, and a younger, stronger wail joined her.
Hurriedly he entered the door, briefly glancing at his exhausted and heavily bleeding wife. "Where is the child? Or have I gotten another bird?" He asked anxiously.
She lay panting, her bed sheets growing more soiled by the second. "A daughter."
He froze, and hot blazing anger tore through his veins. After all this time, all he would have was a slave?
His face pinched, and she smoothed it carefully. "Fret not, dear husband. Go for yourself and see the babe, for she has more worth than five sons put together."
Nostrils flaring, he did as she bid him, and made grab for the child sitting loosely in her arms. Grabbing her none to gently, he noticed instantly that she was tiny, but healthy, unlike the first boy.
Glancing at her face, the fire in his veins cooled. Upon her fey like face were two large onyx eyes, staring up at his curiously. He himself was brown from days out in the sun, while the babe's mother's was yellow, but the gods had graciously gifted her with pale lotus skin. Slowly, he ran his course fingers through her thick, black mane, and he smiled, pleased.
"She will be my little token." He promised, kissing her forehead gently.
"Dear husband," panted the babe's still rapidly bleeding mother. "The Gods gift, and they steel, and I fear that they will have stolen my life for the girl's at dawn. I ask of you, but one favor."
Pleased with the woman for the child that none others had gifted him, he promised, "Anything."
Sweating, her eyes blurring in and out of focus, she asked." Name her Mulan."
And with that, she died, and the baby Mulan cried.
Later, when the second wife learned of how a slave won her masters heart, she too, died of despair.
Now though, with the pale flower in his arms, he cried out for his first blossom to come bid him. She did so faithfully, though he had not called for her in favor for years. Glancing up, his eyes once again took in the great beauty of his first wife that hadn't called to him since he found her barren. Now however, with a child secure in his arms, he felt desire for her once more.
"Come, and see your new child."
Her painted eyes widened, before glancing at him wearily. "Mine?" She questioned her voice still soft and seductive.
Beckoning her closer, he placed the small babe in her arms. "She needs a mother, does she not? And you are the only wife I have left. It is unfit for me to raise her when women are about. She is a prize, and needs to be bred as highly as you have been. Make her yours, pamper her, paint her, I care not. For we will lie, and say she is yours."
She nodded quickly, delighted. "Of course, of course!" She spoke, highly pleased that she was back in her husband's favor, and now had a precious baby too.
"She will want of nothing her entire life!"
And so she didn't.
Mulan grew more beautiful each year, and her mother was greedy of her. For without her, her husband might've taken more mistresses, and once her beauty faded, she would've been forgotten entirely.
She marveled at the babes features, and forbade her from leaving the house. "You will be married to a rich man Mulan, and rich men want soft, pale skin."
And so Mulan never entered out into the sun.
She ran her fingers through the young girl's shiny, long hair. Scolding the child if it wasn't properly cared for. "You will be married to a rich man Mulan, and rich men want sweet smelling hair."
So combs ran through the maid's hair multiple times a day, along with the scent of sweet Jasmine oil.
She had the girls feet bound, ignoring the cries she admitted. "Do you think your husband would want a woman with large feet?"
And so Mulan cried no more, and took short, graceful steps.
By the time she was sixteen, Mulan looked like a goddess in the flesh.
She had a lean, feminine body, covered by almond smelling white skin. Her black hair reached her back seamlessly, filled with gold and silver pins. Her feet were no more than a hands length long, and covered in silk slippers, accompanied by a rich gown. Her face though, is was captured the eyes the most. Powdered flawlessly every day, she had two rosy spots on her cheeks, smartly drawn on brows, smooth colored eyes, and red rosebud lips.
"You are perfect!" Her mother exclaimed, and Mulan swam in the compliment, for all was well when mother was happy.
"It is time for you to be married." Then all was well no more.
But she spoke of nothing, and smiled prettily at her mother." Of course mother, an honorable bride I will be."
Naturally, her parents searched for the richest man available, uncaring of age, or previous wives or children. For their eyes could only see richness.
Finally, they heard that an old general, who lived in a large house, with countless jewels and treasures had a son looking for a wife, and they seized the opportunity.
Walking to the gate, they were met with a guard who scoffed at their idea. "You think you are the only one who wants their daughter to marry into the great family?"
And so they bristled, and responded, " No, we are the only one who has a daughter that will marry into the family."
But he still wouldn't let them pass, so they gave him the most recently drawn portrait of Mulan, and told him to at least show it to the man of the house.
And they left.
Then days later, they were beckoned back to the courts as guest, and the old general, highly impressed with Mulan, and wanting nothing but the best for his strapping son, made a betrothal between the two.
"They shall be married in 2 months!"
And so two months later the two strangers would wed.
On her wedding day, Mulan's mother fretted over her more than usual. Starting even before the sun rose, Mulan was forced to prepare for her husband to be.
Her body was scrubbed and washed, rubbed with sweet smelling oils. Her neatly groomed fingernails painted. The long mane of hers was styled traditionally on top of her head, and pinned with jewels.
Her face was made even paler, then painted perfectly. Finally, she put on her wedding robes, and silk slippers, and none more could be done.
"He will be like a dog in heat when he spots you! Don't expect any sleep from now on daughter!" Her mother chuckled merrily, oblivious to Mulan's heated face under her thick makeup.
Finally, she was called forth for the ceremony, as it was uncustomary for the groom to see her beforehand, and she kept her head bowed respectfully, and she stood next to him, and they were joined.
Mulan was uncertain of how her husband would like her, but was pleased when she caught him glancing at her from the corner of her eyes multiple times.
He reached for her hand, and dutifully, she allowed it. Fore her body was his, and any permission he asked of it would be out of good humor, not necessity. Once clasped, she could not withhold a flinch, and averted her lilac painted eyes. Her small unblemished hands were unused to his much larger, calloused ones, and she twisted her lips wearily. Fore such roughness was unfamiliar to her, and she was fretful of them scratching the smoothness away of her own.
Catching her displeasure, he frowned thoughtfully, but spoke nothing of the matter.
When it was time for feasting, Mulan sat daintily beside her new husband, and took in all the wonderfully prepared food. Her nose appreciated the smells, but she knew her body wouldn't. Her mother always told her that her figure was precious, and easily keen to weight gain. "What handsome young man wants a fat woman? When he could have whomever he chooses?" Her mother reprimanded.
Carefully, she ate little of what the servants handed her. Chewing slowly, as her mother taught her, and tricking her stomach cleverly, to cease its growling. Once again her husband watched her, but said nothing.
Near the end of the feast, Mulan realized her husband had yet to speak to her, save the marriage vows, and she grew worried. Where the looks he sent her out of disgust? Had she already displeased him? If he takes a mistress before even a week of marriage her family will be laughed at!
Unwillingly her eyes watered in fright, and she struggled to keep them at bay. Feeling a hand grasp hers under the table, she flinched violently, calming once more when she recognized the roughness, and she smiled prettily at her husband.
His handsome eyes searched hers worriedly. "Tell me what is troubling you Mulan." He demanded.
She rubbed her smooth hands over his, and watched his form melt. "Nothing lord husband, the smells are just stinging my eyes is all." She lied smoothly.
His eyes searched hers again, before he nodded reluctantly, engaging in conversation with his neighbor. Mulan too fraternized.
Finally, after the feast had ended, and once she bowed respectfully towards her elders, a pock marked servant girl led her away to their wedding chamber.
The room was beautiful upon entering, and if she herself hadn't been raised so highly, she might've even gasped. All red, it was a sight to behold, and in the center stood a large bed. She blushed deeply, and when glancing in a nearby mirror, she was pleased that her thick makeup hid her flush.
She knew not when her husband would arrive, but knew he would. Fore he at least had to consummate the marriage, even if it was the only time he touched her. Looking back in the mirror, she saw a beautiful girl standing in front of it, and knew not as to why she must've repulsed him so.
She sighed wistfully, but cheered when she saw perfumes and oils sitting perch on top a dresser. Rubbing some almond oil between her palms, she resigned that even if she looked like a sow, she would smell heavenly.
He came to her then, when she was sitting in front of the richly decorated mirror, and inspecting her reflection. He looked disappointed, and she sighed softly once more, lest he hear her, and displease him further.
She stood as was customary, and bowed before him. While she knew him to be handsome, she had yet to really inspect his body. Fore he was tall and broad, tan and rough as her father had been. She knew that maids must've been falling around him wherever he went, and how they probably pleased him.
He took a step closer to her, and she felt even more as a child. With her small features, and slender body, she was but a slight figure to him. Perhaps he liked woman more robust, she thought sadly.
"I have noticed that you don't speak much." He commented, still standing across from her.
"I am not clever with words, fore what the gods gifted me with beauty, they withheld in speech. "She recited, remembering the sentence as her mother had claimed to her time, and time again. He frowned again, and she too frowned, fore now he had not only an ugly wife, but a stupid one as well.
"You speak well enough to me." He said firmly, and that was that.
With that he slid off his robes, reveling a well-muscled body, tan as the rest of him, and filled with scars. She frowned once more, wondering as to how one could be accustomed to so many blemishes, she couldn't bear the thought of it.
He caught her eyes and smiled wistfully. "Does my body not appease you my lady?"
She bowed her head again in submission, as she realized she insulted her new lord. "Your body is fit for any woman my lord." She whispered softly.
He walked closer to her then, and tilted her chin up. "None of that now, displease me you haven't."
She could feel his hot breath against her, and leaning in, he smelled the perfumes behind her ears. "You truly are a Gem." He whispered, and her stomach fluttered pliantly. Perhaps she wasn't as off putting to him as she thought.
She said nothing of that, nor did she speak when he untied her robe, letting it fall down her body, gathering in a silk pile at her feet. His eyes roamed her body hungrily, but she knew not what to do. He hardly minded though.
His hands searched her body feverishly, and she gasped as he trailed hot kisses down her body. Leading her down unto the bed he asked, "Why do you flinch when I reach for you?" Though she wondered if he cared when said rough hands pawed at her breast.
Panting more heavily, she answered, troubled. "I am not accustomed to a man's roughness. I know only the soft hands of the maidens who bathe me."
He grew more eager then, pleased at her answer." Then I will teach you." He promised.
And so he taught.