Who I truly am, I am in the reflections I create.
Elsa is the daughter of a leader. As such, she is admired by many others. As such, she has to play a part. ‘Perfect daughter’. Now she is a small child. And, already: future leader, future woman, future bride. And she is more. She is more already. A ruler of ice and snow. A witch. A queen of sorts. She can create beautiful structures of ice at will. She can freeze flowers to death. (She could bring death to other beings. Beings that are more human. She shivers. It’s not the cold. It’s her.)
She can create a screen of ice that resembles a mirror. A mirror that shows Elsa. Not anyone’s daughter.
Elsa sees: I am powerful. I am beautiful. I am full of important things, full of life. This is a reflection of myself that I will cherish.
The cold bothers me; I march on despite.
Fa Mulan stands near the top of a mountain far away from anywhere she’s ever been before. Snow is falling. Mulan remembers another mountain. Fear. Humiliation. Pride in the lives she took.
The cold does bother her.
It bothered her when she was thrown out in the snow, revealed to be a woman, not a man, inferior to men, not fit to be a warrior (despite being most successful at warfare), And worse – not a woman, either. Not a proper woman. Not a woman with honour, not one with honour a woman can bring home.
Yes, the cold bothered her. The cold bothered her so much and then she got used to it. She got used to staring into the cold, talking to it as if it could hear. She can make the cold her friend. It will work in her favour and she will persist.
She ran away for the first time because she hated the cold that would come with the inevitable death of her father. She also ran away because she wanted to feel that heat of being someone. Someone who belongs. Who has a reflection. She was supposed to feel warmly of the prospect of marriage but that was luke warm, cold in a creepy way that pretends to be just warm enough, but really isn’t.
The second time she ran away she ran to the cold. Not for rescue. For an adventure. There is a world to see. A woman’s life is only this short. There are places that are not at home. Exotic scenes from fairy tales. Byzantium and Al-Andalus. Baghdad and Cairo. The wilderness in the remains of the Roman empire. Endless lands with only few people far away in the western end of the world.
If you don’t belong at home, why don’t go somewhere else?
Mulan belongs now less than she ever did.
If you save a country you can never not be a legend again. She tells herself she ran away from being a legend. If you are a legend you can’t look in a mirror without seeing someone elses opinion about you. Mulan knows that she can’t run away from being a legend. If she wants to run away from it she has to find a place where no one has ever heard of her. That place is far away from any other place anyone in her world has ever been to. But if you run this far, you become another type of legend.
Another life lesson to learn: You can’t just invent Ping and then pretend he never existed.
After her return her family expected her to be normal again. To be Mulan all the time. But she wasn’t.
She was Fa Mulan. She was Fa Ping. She was the stranger and she was the hero and she was the woman. She had two names and she cherished them both.
Mulan likes adventures. Ping has seen enough adventures for a lifetime. He longs for a calm family life. He enjoys dressing up and all things beautiful far more than Mulan ever did. From time to time Ping would take a whole morning to get dressed. Srub his skin in the bathtub. Paint his lips. Comb his hair. On those days Mulan’s mother would look especially delighted. As if a beautiful daughter was somehow worth more than a heroine. They would say that the old Mulan was back. Had they never seen her? Couldn’t they remember the disastrous day when Mulan was to be prepared for getting married? Mulan wanted to scream: You got it all wrong. You got it the other way round. Who you see now is Ping. The old Mulan will never come back. The old Mulan has experienced too much to ever be the old Mulan again.
Maybe Mulan will never not be a legend. No matter how far she runs. But maybe she will meet another legend. Someone who understands.
This is life: You run away and you don’t know if you ran away for the right reasons and you see death and you cause death and it hurts. And you want to fall in love and you do – a little. And people say you can’t fall in love a little, it’s either the real thing or nothing at all but those are the people who’ve never fallen in love a little – they don’t know. They don’t know you. You almost get married. You say yes at first but you say no in the end.
Li Shang is not the girl worth fighting for. Mulan herself, is. I am the girl I will always fight for.
I do not have to, Mulan thinks. I do not have to. I do not have to. I do not have to please anyone. I do not have to bring honour to the emperor a second time. I do not have to agree to any husband. I do not have to. I will leave.
Thus, Mulan left. Now she is in the cold again. But it’s cold in a different place now. A place she’s never been to before. And that’s reason enough to feel.
Another girl worth fighting for.
Maybe Li Shang was not Mulan’s girl worth fighting for because he isn’t a girl. One of Mulan’s distant cousins was. Mulan kissed her in the overgrown part of the garden where they used to play pretend back in the times when they could be princesses or warriors as long as they liked.
Jasmine was. The girl in Agrabah who taught her love and Arabic. The girl she found and left. Or maybe it was the other way round. Mulan did cry a lot because of a certain Aladdin.
And then Mulan stands in the cold one day, the cold in yet another new place and she sees a woman who believes herself unseen, unnoticed. At first she is reserved, holding up a noble posture. Suddenly, when convinced that no one can see her who comes from direction of the village she bursts out. There’s a cry of joy, some playful, almost dancing movements. And then she creates: Snow that falls from a blue sky, ice sculptures she pulls from thin air. Oh, and she smiles. She knows that she’s good at what she’s doing and that’s worth a smile.
Now, that is a girl worth fighting for.
Mulan asks her: Are you the Snow Queen? I’ve already heard a legend about you, on my way here.
Elsa says yes. And also that she is Elsa. And Elsa, as a name, is really just enough. And she asks Mulan for her name and a story. That story is long.
When Mulan is asked why she came here of all places, Mulan tells the story of another legend: She has heard of king Arthur and she has heard of his knights and she has heared that the snow queen doesn’t have knights that sit around a round table. Mulan wants to right this wrong. She wants to be Elsa’s knight.
Elsa is smitten with that idea. Elsa who is a girl, a queen and a witch worth fighting for.
For the first time in forever I’ll be dancing through the night.
Elsa is not someone’s daughter, she is not a queen, she is not a monster, she is not a legend. She is a lover: She is in love, and she is loved.
Mulan is strength and willpower and witty remarks. Mulan is Ping and Ping is Mulan. Mulan is an explorer. Not only of the world, but also of the soul and the body. Elsa’s soul and body.
They are not alike. One of them ran away to defend a family and a nation and a sense of honour. Afterwards she made herself free of all duties. The other one ran away because she couldn’t stand herself, because she didn’t trust her ability to do good. She found that she did fit her place. She decided to stay.
Mulan tells Elsa that it is okay to cry. I will love you if you cry. I will love you if you don’t cry. I will love you. Your emotions are valid.
Elsa tells Mulan that it is okay to be angry. She understands the joy that comes with breaking all the rules. It’s normal to do things for selfish reasons. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you should.
For the first time in forever Elsa can’t sleep at night because of all the love she feels, because of the infatuation. Does she need to tell one from the other? For the first time in forever Elsa accepts an offer for a dance. For the first time in forever Elsa initiates a kiss.
For the first time in forever (for the first time in all the times that ever were) Elsa is naked and glowing and shivering with joy. Mulan moves her fingers faster and faster while she kisses and kisses and oh, that was good, and thank you for making me feel that way and thank you for being you. They exchange glances and ideas and kisses and roles and positions. To give and to be given.
I turn away and slam the door.
We are a legend and a legend. Of course we are going to clash. Piles of snow turn to floods. Ice turns to water turns to rivers turn to the ocean turns to clouds turn to tears of laughter and regret.
Some of Elsa’s people have a new idea: to sail west. Elsa loves that idea, but she can’t go. She is a queen here. It’s her responsibility to stay. Mulan says that Anna can be queen here. She would be a good queen. Anna never liked the cold. She wouldn’t want to go.
Elsa says no. It is a final word.
Mulan can sail west, she knows that she can. So she will go west. She sees a new world. Yet another new world for her. A never ending adventure. Elsa hears: I will go. I will go there you are not.
It’s true. Mulan goes where Elsa is not. Who knows if she’ll ever come back? Mulan doesn’t knows. She only knows that she has left people she dearly loved without intention to ever see them again before. It’s not an impossible thought for her.
Mulan is sailing. I thought you were my wind and my sky. I was wrong. The wind is my wind and the sky is my sky. She chooses the sea although the sea is a cold places. It is her decision, a decision she is content with.
The cold bothers her anyway.
(And yet there is a desire that makes her plunge into the cold time and time again. She will miss. Elsa. Her family. China. Elsa. It will be worth it.)
And then I think of all the women who know colours of the wind that I have never seen.