CHAPTER 2 : Visitors
By mid-morning Shang was all ready and mounted on his horse. He patted the mane of his obedient mare Chin before tugging the rein.
"Where are you going so early?" Li Sau called out from the doorway of their house.
"Wan country, Mother," Shang answered.
Shang cringed but managed to nod politely at his mother. He hated it when she used the Mulan-isnít-a-good-candidate-for-a-wife tone. "Yes, Mother," Shang answered. "I shall be back before dinner."
The look on Li Sauís face clearly disapproved of what he was doing. Shang just ignored it, waved a goodbye and rode off. He knew his mother didnít like the fact that Mulan had gone as far as enter a manís world of war even if it was honour. But he also knew that Mulan was an incredible and charming woman. When his mother met Mulan, she would surely approve of her.
"GrandmotherÖ youíre taking foreverÖ" Mulan groaned.
"Wait, child, wait," Grandmother Fa insisted. "Picking apples is a very delicate and strategic process. We must have patience to find the right apple."
Mulan rolled her eyes. They had been in stall after stall, Grandmother Fa studying each apple carefully, making a fuss over each slight imperfection. Mulan counted the fruit stall they were standing at to be the fifth one, and she was getting annoyed.
"What if I go over there for a while?" Mulan asked, pointing to a tapestry store nearby.
Grandmother Fa shook her head sternly. "You must be here to give me luck so I may find the perfect apple." Then she went back to studying apples.
Mulan sighed. "What do you want a perfect apple for anyway?"
Grandmother Fa grinned at her granddaughter, wiggling her eyebrows like a mischievous child. "Isnít Li Shang visiting us today? An apple is the perfect gift of love and affection. Donít you agree?"
Mulan blushed and looked away. Her thoughts went to Shang, whom she cared deeply about. It had been four months, but neither had said anything beyond their quiet relationship. She knew Shang was well-trained in tradition, and jumping into anything was completely against such tradition. Not that Mulan herself worried that much about tradition. She smiled.
Shang knew the boundaries between a Chinese man and woman. Being the honourable man he was, he kept their relationship warm and friendly but had never actually proclaimed his feelings. Perhaps he was just shy. After all, she was the soldier whom had saved his life and defeated Shan-Yu. He probably wanted to build a relationship on time and get to know each other better.
"Good morning, Auntie Rei," Mulan greeted.
Auntie Rei froze, then turned to look at Mulan. "Oh, good morning, Mulan," she greeted then rushed off.
Mulan pursed her lips. She had noticed this change of attitude in the people since she returned. Although she had been proclaimed a hero by the Emperor himself, people still felt uncomfortable around her. She had broken tradition, and even with the Emperorís blessing, such a thing was immoral in the eyes of the people.
Mulan scanned the crowd. There wasnít much to see anyway. Her eyes moved to the distant border of their village. There was somebody standing there, the personís build looked so familiarÖ A well-built body and broad shouldersÖ Quite tallÖ
"Found it!" Grandmother Fa squealed.
Mulan jumped. She looked at her Grandmother who was smiling up at her. Mulan then turned back to where she thought she saw somebody familiar, but the person was gone. Mulanís internal alarms went off, her third eye automatically keeping its watch on the crowd.
"What do you think?" Grandmother Fa asked, shoving the apple in front of Mulanís face. "If you donít like it we canít buy it because a gift can only be a gift when it is agreed upon."
"Itís perfect, Grandmother," Mulan told her with a smile.
"Sure?" Grandmother Fa asked.
Mulan nodded, then her eyes turned pleading. "Can we go home now? My legs are killing me."
Grandmother Fa snorted. "And you were a soldier! How can you complain about something like that?"
Mulan chuckled. "I guess Iím not what I used to be."
Grandmother Fa frowned and poked Mulan in the waist. "Donít change too much, Mulan. Shang might not like it."
"What is it with you?" Mulan asked through childish smiles. "Youíve been going Shang this Shang that."
"Well, a grandmother must always be concerned for her granddaughterís well-being," Grandmother Fa answered matter-of-factly. "It would be the greatest pleasure to get great-grandchildren before I die. And with both of your combined looks your kids will be gorgeous!"
Mulan giggled, but turned away. "Donít tease me like that."
Mulan spun around to be caught in a tight embrace. Immediately Mulan recognised her Ďattackerí. She laughed and embraced her friend. When they parted Mulan got a good look of her friend.
"Mei Yin! Itís been ages!" Mulan exclaimed.
Mei Yin grinned. "It sure has been, Mulan," she agreed. "Much too long. My, my, youíve grown."
"You are the one whoís grown!" Mulan laughed. "The last time I saw you, you could barely look over my shoulder!"
Mei Yin made a face, but then laughed. They hugged again, and then Mei Yin said her greetings to Grandmother Fa. It turned out that Mei Yin went to the Fa home where her mother told her that Mulan had gown into the village. Of course, Mei Yin, being the impatient one, ran off to village to meet her childhood friend.
"Itís really good to see you," Mulan told her friend.
Mei Yin nodded, then frowned. "What did you do to your hair? Itís soÖ short."
Mulan ran her hand through her hair. It had grown since she last cut it, but it had not yet reached the length that it was before. Still, it was quite long, but Mei Yinís hair was much longer. She had braided it beautifully.
"Well, I cut it," Mulan replied.
"Oh, yes," Mei Yin nodded. "I remember that." Mei Yin looked disgusted for a moment but the look disappeared into another one of her hundred-watt smiles. Mulan had not yet spoken with Mei Yin about the time she disguised herself as a man, but it seemed that Mei Yin had heard about it through the tales that had spread through China. Mulan had hoped that her friend wouldnít look at her differently.
"We must get back and talk," Mulan announced.
"Oh, wait a minute, Mulan," Grandmother Fa protested. "I must pay for this apple."
"Why buy one apple?" Mei Tin asked.
Grandmother Fa grinned as she paid for the apple and put it into a small bag. "It is a gift for MulanísÖ friend when he comes over later."
"He?" Mei Yin echoed. She smiled and turned to Mulan. "Is he cute?"
Mulan smiled. "Not really cute. More toward handsome and dashing."
"Is there something going on between the both of you?" Mei Yin asked.
Mulan thought for a moment. "Weíre close friends." This made Grandmother Fa glare at her angrily.
Mei Yinís eyes sparkled. "Then you had better introduce me later," she said, elbowing Mulan in the ribs.
Grandmother Fa raised her eyebrows. She looked at Mulan who just shrugged. It was typical for a young woman at Mei Yinís age to start scouting for men. Mei Yin was only 15 years old, but it was evident she was more than ready for a husband.
"Well, we had better go back now," Grandmother Fa said.
"My father really wants to see you," Mei Yin said. "Mother could not come as she had to take care of Hoyuan and Chen back home."
"How are they?" Mulan asked.
Mei Yin shrugged. "You know, just as annoying as any other little brother and sister. Mother didnít want me to leave so soon after my session with the matchmaker."
Mulan raised her eyebrows. "Youíve met the matchmaker?"
Mei Yin grinned proudly. "I know Iím one year too young but the matchmaker gladly made an exception just for me. The matchmaker said I was the perfect candidate to be a bride. Mother was thrilled and wanted me to find a husband right away. I told her I wanted to meet you first. Perhaps Iíll get lucky and find somebody here."
"Wow," Mulan muttered. "Youíve really grown up." Mei Yin grinned and continued chatting away about her life and the things she had been up to lately. Mulan nodded and listened attentively, she knew Mei Yin was quite the chatterbox with close friends. She felt warm inside from meeting her friend, but she couldnít shake the feeling that she was being watched.
In the shadows of an alley a lone figure stood hidden. His eyes were on the three women walking away from an apple stall. One was old and short, another young and vibrant, the third poised and calm. The man was watching the third.
He smiled to himself. It was impolite not to introduce himself to Fa Mulan and he was indeed impatient to make himself known. But he knew it wasnít time yet. It was soon. Very soon.
Once his target was out of sight, the man backed away into the dark area of the village and ran. He was surprisingly quiet as he ran, and soon enough he was where he knew the three women were headed: the Fa home.
He could see the sitting room from his hiding place in the bushes. There were two men there. He recognised one to be Fa Zhou. Silently, he sat down, never taking his eyes off the house. Once it was time, he would enter and take what was his.
"It is a pleasure to meet you again, Mulan," Wa Shan said.
Mulan bowed politely. "As it is a pleasure to meet you," she replied.
"Enough with the formalities, child," Grandmother Fa said. "You two go off to the garden. I bet you have plenty of catching up to do."
"We sure do," Mei Yin said, and Mulan led her into the garden. They talked on and on until it was nearly noon. Mei Yin told Mulan about her friends in Lian and the times she went to Beijing, Shanghai, Xiían and many other places. Mulan hadnít much to say but managed to tell her about the time she disguised herself as a man and entered the Chinese army.
"How could you get yourself to do that?" Mei Yin asked in disbelief.
"Father would have died if I didnít," Mulan answered. "And it all turned out for the best."
"But stillÖ" Mei Yin wrinkled her nose.
"It wasnít all that bad," Mulan said, laughing at her friendís reaction. "I did have some hard times during training but I got much more out of it. And I made some good friends with the men there."
"I sure hope so."
Both women turned around. Mulan immediately stood up to greet Shang. Both smiled warmly at each other, but didnít dare move any closer because Mei Yin there.
"Hello, Shang," Mulan greeted.
"Mulan," Shang said.
"Oh, and Shang, this is Mei Yin," Mulan said, introducing her friend.
"Nice to meet you, Shang," Mei Yin purred, smiling coyly at him.