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Jasmine and Marching Feet (Magpies and Quails)

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From the Fa family neighbours, written on a scented and decorated scroll.

To Fa Zhou & Li

Congratulations on Mulan’s match!  We hear her husband-to-be is a prominent and important man; please enlighten us as to how Mulan managed to catch his eye.  She was always such an eccentric girl; you must be overjoyed that a man was able to see past that to the lovely bride she will be.

Wishing you every happiness,

Zhang Ya

 

Rushed to the front lines of the war with the Huns by the fastest courier available.

To General Li,

Father, as you likely will have heard by now, I have found a bride.  Though the circumstances are unorthodox, a matchmaker in the next village we travelled through performed all the appropriate inquisitions as to our lineage and status and declared us a match.

This woman saved my life at great cost to her own dignity and health.  The situation is quite complicated and I will not attempt to explain here, but suffice it to say that after her show of loyalty and trust, I could not help but reciprocate.  Shortly after the incident, her life was forfeit and I chose the only way I felt appropriate to save it; I took her as my fiancé and therefore shouldered her shame.

I noticed this woman the moment I laid eyes upon her and thought her beautiful.  I neither said, nor did, anything; however, I have used her as motivation to continue striving to be the best and to continue living.  Much the way you talk about mother.  When she saved my life I was in awe of her.  While I am unhappy that either of our lives were in danger, that is the reality of war.  I am happy that I was able to ask for the hand of such a glorious woman and eventually take her as my bride.

Your Dutiful Son,

Li Shang

 

Handed to Shang by an intermediary.  The calligraphy begins very elegant and precise but slowly becomes casual and sloppy.

Captain Shang,
I would like to formally apologise for deceiving you and to thank you for saving my life.  I will do my best to be the best bride I am able to be until you find a way to cast me aside without ruining both our reputations; I will be hopelessly in love with you to the public eye.  My deception was only in the interests of saving my father’s life.

Shang, my father was wounded the last time he fought in the army, he would not have lived through this.  I am really terrible at being a daughter and a bride but I figured that maybe I could be good at this and help save my father.

I’m glad I saved your life, even if it got us into this (thank you again for saving mine in return).  I am glad the shadow puppet army worked to scare the Huns away.  I only wish it had worked faster and that the archer that shot at you had been too scared to shoot and that then you wouldn’t feel like you had to sacrifice your dignity for me.

Mulan

 

Found upon Shang’s table, before a meeting with several soldiers.

Dropping are the fruits from the plum-tree;
There are but seven tenths of them left!
For the gentlemen who seek me,
This is the fortunate time!
Dropping are the fruits from the plum-tree;
There are but three tenths of them left!
For the gentlemen who seek me,
Now is the time.
Dropt are the fruits from the plum-tree;
In my shallow basket I have collected them.
Would the gentlemen who seek me
Only speak about it!

 

Sent from the line of marching soldiers to a family home inside the country.

… It is so weird to have a woman in the camp.  We all make sure to wash more often and mind our manners.  At the same time, I know it is Ping (or that she was pretending to be anyway) and that he she THEY were part of all of our ribald jokes and fighting.  They started it more often than not actually.

Mulan acts like a Lady now.  Not a pretty or proper as you obviously.  No one is as good as you at anything. (Except the pipa; my sister wrote that you’re trying to play again and are making everyone’s ears bleed.  You’re good at so many other things, you don’t need to be good at the pipa.)  But really, they’re wearing robes (I’m pretty sure Captain Shang bought them for them in one of the many gifts he keeps giving them) and hair ornaments and riding their horse instead of walking and everything.  It is so weird.  The guys keep getting distracted by them and giving them gifts.  No one seems to remember that this is Ping.

Captain Shang sure doesn’t realize, or well, maybe he does and it makes him even more in love.  There are so many longing gazes at each other’s backs it’s like being back at your cousin’s house with her daughter and the local blacksmith’s boy.  But Shang gives Mulan gifts and Mulan writes him the weirdest poetry (I think they are supposed to be love poems but none of us can figure it out).  They are a disgustingly in love and coupley.  Reminds me of when we first got married.  Only on a battlefield.  Which might make it better?  I don’t even know anymore.

Love,

Ling

 

A small bouquet of Jasmine flowers delivered to Mulan in full view of the marching soldiers.  When she takes it, Shang meets her eyes and they both smile sappily and showily.  Shang’s gaze lingers on Mulan as she turns back to her horse.

 

An entry in a tiny book hidden amongst a growing pile of lady’s garments in the tent of Fa Mulan.

Ancestors forgive me,

I have dishonoured you by pretending to be a man and thinking I could protect our family.  I know I apologise every time I write but I am sure one of these days it will be enough.  Shang was gorgeous again today.  I try to keep thinking of him as Captain Shang but let’s be honest, I thought he was gorgeous when I was being Ping too.  And now he is treating me as though I am delicate and special.  Giving me gifts and flowers and stuff!  I pour tea for his strategy meetings and meetings with local leaders.  It makes me feel like his wife!

The delicate thing actually makes me angry.  He sparred with me all the time as Ping and treated me like the rest of the soldiers then.  But somehow, now that he knows I am a woman he thinks I need to be coddled?  I can beat him two times out of five when we spar!  And serving tea is fine except that I can see all these strategies that they don’t even consider and I’m not allowed to say anything.  Because I’m a woman. Ugh.

And then Shang trains with the men at dawn with his shirt off.  And asks me what I think of the landscape and seems to actually care about the strategic values I see.

I keep reminding myself that this is all temporary; that Shang is going to find a way to call this off as soon as we can do it without dishonouring anyone.  Or getting me killed.

Why did he do this?  He could have just left me lying there in the road.

Worst of all, I think I’m dishonouring him by being a terrible lady.  I can’t pour tea, I speak out about stupid decisions, I can beat him two of five times at sparring, I don’t wear make up.  What am I doing?? Why am I still here….

 

Delivered via arrow into an empty tent, found upon return by the tent’s main occupants.

…. PLEASE STOP GIVING ME SILK AND BOBBLES AND HAIR THINGS AND MAKE UP!  We are in a war, this stuff is going to get ruined or burned or left behind.  Spend your money on better things (food, or gifts to send home, or working girls).

I don’t even know how to USE the make up!

Just treat me like you did when I was Ping.

 Mulan (Ping)

 

Scented paper folded (amateurly) into a flower shape and left by Li Shang’s plate at dinner.

I was gathering and gathering the mouse-ear,
But could not fill my shallow basket.
With a sigh for the man of my heart,
I placed it there on the highway.

I was ascending that rock-covered height,
But my horses were too tired to breast it.
I will now pour a cup from that gilded vase,
Hoping I may not have to think of him long.

I was ascending that lofty ridge,
But my horses turned of a dark yellow.
I will now take a cup from that rhinoceros' horn,
Hoping I may not have long to sorrow.

I was ascending that flat-topped height,
But my horses became quite disabled,
And my servants were also disabled.
Oh! how great is my sorrow!

 

A note attached to an official report.  Written in penmanship that can only be described as pompous on a scroll that is heavily decorated and perfumed.

To the Revered Emperor,

It is my firm opinion that women should not be allowed in a war camp.  This is supported by articles 5-7 on war camp etiquette. This is a place where men need to focus and not be distracted by the female form wafting through the camp.  To this end, I respectfully request, again, that Fa Mulan, fiancé of Li Shang, be escorted back to her home.

Your esteemed servant,

Chi Fu

 

A note: written only to expel frustrations Shang could never give voice to, meant to be burnt at the next opportunity but delivered by an overenthusiastic messenger who truly believed in their love.

Dear Ping Mulan Ping

I miss you.  I miss your quick wit and eternal awkwardness (though I guess I know why you never knew how to act now).  You were so clever all the time, I want to ask your opinion on strategies for the Huns.  You kept everyone’s moral up, on purpose and not, and you seemed to really care how I was doing.  And you’re the only one who can really give me a challenge when sparring.  I feel like I’m getting rusty now and I still can’t figure out how you did that thing with the leg sweep.  I wish you hadn’t left; now that you have I want you back.

Shang

 

A note tucked into Shang’s armour, where he is sure to find it but prying eyes won’t be aware of it.

Meet me behind the grove of trees to the west.  If you dare.

    - Ping

 

A hair tie found among Shang’s things.  It is damp with sweat and smells very faintly of Jasmine.

 

A paper left on Captain Li Shang’s desk after a strategy meeting.

Shang,

Did you see Chi Fu’s face when I leaned over to pour you more tea and accidentally knocked the troop marker into a better place?  It was so funny.  He really can’t get over a woman being in the camp.  It isn’t like the guys even stare at me or anything.  I think you stare the most actually, which is reasonable considering our love bird cover.  I don’t think I’m that distracting, I’m not very good at all the womanly things.  You’d think I was running around in my underwear and sleeping in a different tent each night the way he’s going on.

The way you couldn’t look at me after the fan trick was great for our cover.  I’m pretty sure the entire camp is convinced we are madly in love.

Really though, we should take the right pass instead of the left one and should go in…

 

Written after a particularly trying day on the road and sent with a local courier.

Dear Mei,

You’d think the worst part of walking all day would be the sore feet or aching back but honestly? It’s the boredom.  Don’t get me wrong, all of me hurts; even my shoulders which I didn’t think you used for walking.  My feet look like pancakes, I’m already mourning the shoes I won’t fit by the time I get home.  Though my waist is nice and trim so there is that.

But really, I am so bored.  It’s the same view every day, including the backs of my fellow soldier’s heads.  I’m tempted to teach them all how to braid just so I have something interesting to look at as we march.  Mulan is so lucky.  She’s a woman so she gets to ride her horse.  I wish I got to ride a horse.

The Mulan-and-Shang love saga continues.  They definitely send notes that we don’t see now, on top of the public poems and gifts.  They make me think of you.  I miss you so much.  But you really woudn’t want to be here, even if I think you’d get along well with Mulan.

The other big news is that Ping is back! Sometimes at least.  Something went down between Mulan and Shang; I think they’re sparing again; which is great, Shang needs someone who can actually push him.  The rest of us are okay, but he beats us every time.  He only beats Ping most of the time.

Ping hangs out with the rest of us in camp some evenings as well.  It’s really great to be able to talk to him again (without all the barriers of propriety and eyes watching our every move).  It’s also really hilarious to watch some of the other soldiers who have no idea how to react to Ping now, or Mulan.  I think some of them just consider them two separate people who are never seen at the same time.  I really want Ping to come out with some lip rouge or a fan or something.  Or Mulan practice with the staff.  It would be hilarious.

I wish you could see it.

Love,

Ling

Ps. Shang stares at Ping the same way he stares at Mulan, all love struck and in awe of their existence.  It is disgustingly cute.

 

A gift from Shang to Mulan, left outside her tent before breakfast, in full view of the entire camp.  It is a gorgeous silk fan.

 

A series of notes crumpled into balls and tossed at soldiers while they are training.

Remember to keep your elbow up when you strike, meathead.

     - Ping

If you don’t get the right draw on your bow you’ll die, Stringbean.

     - Ping

KEEP THE ROCKET POINTING AWAY FROM YOU WHEN YOU LIGHT IT!

     - Ping

 

Two identical letters, sent to the Fa and Li families from a high class fortune teller consulted on the matter of birthdays.

To the Fa and Li Families,

Fortune smiles upon this match.  When compared, the birthdays of Li Shang and Fa Mulan complement each other in ways rarely seen.  This marriage will bring great honour to both families.

 

A small piece of paper illustrated with shaky drawings.  Found by a soldier as he saddled Li Shang’s horse and delivered to him in full view of all the men.

Boldly faithful in their pairings are quails;
Vigorously so are magpies.
This man is all vicious,
And I consider him my brother!

Vigorously faithful in their pairings are magpies;
Boldly so are quails.
This woman is all vicious,
And I regard her as marchioness.

 

An official reprimand, handed to Fa Ping moments before a sparring session between Ping and Shang began.

Ping,

It has come to my attention that you were not only present for the incident in town yesterday but were the source of the disturbance.  While it is natural for men to flirt and flatter the women in town and to hire some of these for company, it becomes a problem when every woman prefers one man to the rest.  Being popular with the local women may endear you to them but will cause dissention among the ranks.  When you next feel the need to visit the local women, do share them with your fellow soldiers.  If the women find you more appealing and do not wish to leave your side as was the case this time, share the knowledge of interaction with your fellows so they too may indulge in the company of these women.

Shang

Ps. Ping please don’t hog all the women and cause another brawl in the next village.  Regardless of how much they like you, it brings down moral.

 

A gorgeous jade comb gently tucked into Fa Mulan’s hair by Li Shang in a gesture that makes some soldiers look wistful and makes others gag at the saccharin sweetness.

 

A crumple piece of paper thrust into the hands of Fa Ping.

Please teach us your ways with women oh great womanizer!  We will be your best pupils.

Ling, Chien-Po, & Yao

 

Scrawled on the back of the same paper.

Respect them as people.  Let them talk.  Stop showing off and expecting them to care.  They are people just like you and me, not things to be won.

 

An excerpt from the official report on the Massacre of the Imperial Army written by Li Shang.

 …and the soldiers spread out throughout the village to search for survivors or any sign of the army.  The only sign of the previous occupants was a small doll, found by Fa Mulan – my fiancé who helped the search efforts.  Fa Mulan handled herself with more poise and a stronger stomach and heart than many of the men; finding the doll and organizing further searching after I became overwhelmed by the massacre of the Imperial Army and General Li…

 

A note: the calligraphy is shaky and the ink is splattered.  The paper is creased and has tear stains on it.

Shang,

I know nothing I can say will help.  So just know I am here for you, also grieving.  Though I did not know your father, I know you and he raised you to be the man you are and so I know he was a good person, strong and disciplined.  I have no idea if that made any sense.  I want to help but I have no idea how right now.  Tell me what will help you.

Mulan

 

A bo staff and bruise ointment are found in easy reach of the silk covered bed in Mulan’s tent.

 

Excerpts from an official report by Li Shang about the Battle of the Avalanche.

…We were riding through the pass, the men only two abreast due to the pass’s narrow nature with myself and Chi Fu at the head of the column.  My fiancé Fa Mulan rode along the men as the pass allowed, keeping moral as high as possible considering the horrors we were witnessing…

…With the entire Hun army charging down the mountain, and myself and one unit of men separated from the rest of our soldiers due to the narrow pass and the fighting, one brave and clever soldier took our last remaining firework and ran out into the no man’s land.  The Huns seemed baffled by his charge.  He aimed the rocket, not at Shan Yu but at the mountain above us.  The rocket hit exactly where he aimed and began an avalanche that swallowed the Huns.

Said avalanche nearly swallowed myself and the soldiers nearby, however the soldier had warned us and we were braced behind some rocks by the time the snow overwhelmed us…

 

Calligraphy shaky with fear and fury, a note delivered to the Lady’s tent the night after the avalanche.

Mulan Ping Mulan

How could you run out there without even any armour on!? You are lucky the Huns didn’t see you as a threat because you look like a Lady or you could have been KILLED!  Never do anything so dangerous again!

Shang

Thank you for saving my life, and all our lives.

 

Scroll delivered by a well-dressed imperial servant as the remnants of the Imperial Army, led by Li Shang, enter the Imperial City.

Fa Mulan,

It is our great pleasure to welcome you to the Imperial City; we hope you feel comfortable here.  As the bride-to-be of Captain Li Shang, the man who saved China, your comfort and honour is of utmost important to us; please follow this messenger to the Imperial Palace where you will find housing that befits your status as well as appropriate garments and accessories.  We are aware you were living in a war camp and could not accrue what you required and what you were able to gather was lost in the avalanche.

We look forward to our meeting,

Wu Liling (First Concubine of the Emperor)

 

Notes from several soldiers after a visit from Fa Mulan the night before the celebratory parade.

What did I just see? Was that actually Mulan?

     - Chien-Po

Mulan cleans up well.  Really well.  Wow.  Captain Shang is one lucky dude.

     - Yao

The look on the Captain’s face when he saw Mulan was priceless.

     - Ling

 

The message Fa Mulan came to the barracks to deliver.

The Huns are in the Palace.  No one will believe me but they are here, I’ve seen them.

     - Ping

 

A letter sent home after the events of the Celebration Parade.

Dear Mei,

First things first, the war is over! I am coming home soon!!

Now on to the gossip.  This just can’t wait until I get home.  You might have heard the proclamation about Mulan and Shang saving the country already but they don’t tell you the whole story about how we did it (yeah I was involved, of course I was, Mulan and Shang are friends of mine and also, I was there, of course I helped).

So Mulan was whisked off to the Palace as soon as we got into the city (because she is a Lady and engaged to the Captain).  She dropped by the day before the celebration parade and slipped a note to the Captain that warned him that the Huns were still alive and had infiltrated the city.  Side note: the looks on everyone’s faces as Mulan showed up, fully kitted out as a lady, were amazing.  I’m sure mine was too; Mulan is gorgeous in full make up and nice clothes.  Not that she isn’t gorgeous wandering the camp or as Ping.  And she doesn’t hold a candle to you.  But really.  Wow.  I think Shang was actually drooling.

Anyway, we were on guard during the parade.  I’m sure we looked very good for the crowd (Mulan said we did).  No one caught anything until Shan Yu revealed himself.  At which point the Huns kidnapped the Emperor into his own palace and locked the doors.  The Emperor’s regular guards were standing there stunned and we jumped into action.  But we couldn’t get in and there was no time.

Then Mulan showed up with the Best Plan In The World.  We dressed up as Courtesans!!  All that practice with you in the bedroom meant I knew how to put on all the clothes and make up all by myself.  And how to move in them, which, shimmying up a pole in full courtesan get up is something I never thought I’d have to do and would very much like to not have to do again.  Even Shang dressed up!  He is surprisingly gorgeous as a woman.  Mulan definitely thought so, it took her forever to focus.

We climbed over the wall and then distracted the guards with our womanly wiles.  Well.  With something I guess.  Which let Mulan and Shang through to actually rescue the Emperor and beat Shan Yu

The rest is in the official reports but.  Wow.  Watching Mulan in full court make up and fashion whip Shan Yu’s ass and then her and Shang both in make up and dresses stand beside the Emperor while he gave them all the accolades and blessed their marriage and bowed to them was something else.

Excited to see you soon and loving you all the more for it,

Ling

 

Official Proclamation from the Emperor regarding the defeat of Shan Yu and the attack on the Imperial Palace.

Grave thanks this day is given to Fa Mulan and Li Shang for saving not only His Imperial Majesty but the entire country of China; with the defeat of Shan Yu we are free from the Huns tyranny once more.  Their bravery, valour, and loyalty shone through and will never be forgotten.  The highest honours are bestowed upon them: Li Shang shall be the General of the Imperial Army and Fa Mulan will be a Councillor to His Imperial Majesty.  Blessed is their marriage.

 

A paper found on the pillow beside Shang’s the morning after day of the palace fight.  It is wrapped around a dragon statuette; the pillow is rumpled and smells of jasmine.

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Brilliant are its flowers.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her chamber and house.

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Abundant will be its fruits.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her chamber and house.

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Luxuriant are its leaves.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her family.

 

Presented to Mulan just before their evening spar on same day; wrapped around phoenix hair needle.

The two youths got into their boats,
Whose shadows floated about on the water.
I think longingly of them,
And my heart is tossed about in uncertainty.

The two youths got into their boats,
Which floated away on the stream.
I think longingly of them,
Did they not come to harm?