Chapter 4 : An Offer She Canít Refuse
Mulan couldnít sleep. She was far from being sleepy. She just sat there in the dark of her room, smiling and rocking gently in her sitting position, constantly thinking about Shang and his proposal. The matchmaker had actually she said would never bring honour to her family. Not only had she proven her wrong by getting honour through her deed to the Emperor, she also managed to prove herself just as good as any other woman to get a husband. Little Brother was snoring nearby, but Mulan was too excited to even lie down. She so wanted to see Shang again. It seemed forever until morning. Suddenly she heard a thump. Mulan listened carefully, and sure enough, there was another thump. But then all went quiet. Slowly, she stood up and pressed her ear against her room door, but there was no more sound. Remembering the mysterious figure she had seen, Mulan felt cold inside. She hoped it wasnít a burglar of any kind. But then, if it was, she could easily handle him. Grabbing a stick from behind the counter, Mulan opened the door and peered outside. Even in the darkness her eyes could see clearly. Another side-effect of her military training. The hallway outside her room was quiet and still. Her parentís room was on the other side, and she could see their door was shut. Grandmother Faís room was also shut and silent. Mulan took a step outside, holding the stick ready. In her hands, it was a deadly weapon. Silently and swiftly she walked across the wooden floor to the dining room. Everything was in place, nothing strange. Then she opened the door to the front sitting room. She scanned the room and listened intently. Then she saw it. The chest was slightly open. Mulan pushed the door completely open and rushed to the chest. She swung it open and stared in shock. It was empty. She looked around, almost as if she could find the contents of the chest somewhere else in the room. She felt goosebumps rise on her arm. Her breath became heavy, and she looked around slowly, thinking that someone would suddenly jump out of the shadows. It was in that very chest her father had kept Shan-Yuís sword.
"Zhou!" her mother gasped, suddenly appearing in the doorway of the sitting room.
Mulan jumped to her feet. "What is it, Mama?"
"Ba-ba is gone!" Fa Li exclaimed.
Mulan turned around and opened the front door. Her father was not in sight out in the gardens. She had better go look for him. She told her mother to stay behind and take care of her grandmother while she went out to the garden to look for her father. Outside, she was even more vulnerable. She kept herself poised and ready for an attack. Mulan walked down the pathway, past the stable and into the garden. Even before Mulan saw him, she knew he was there. She didnít know how, but she could sense someone standing there in the shadows between the trees.
"Show yourself!" Mulan ordered.
"Is that the way to treat an old friend?" the person said. His voice, deep and menacing, could only belong to one person. Slowly, he stepped out from the shadows and into the moonlight. He was so tall, Mulan felt herself shrink inside. Both in fear and shock.
"Shan-YuÖ" Mulan whispered, still unable to believe it. Then she gasped when she saw his face. It was charred with burn marks. His face was twisted. His long hair was gone, leaving a scarred bald head. When he smiled at her, it was the ultimate horror.
"Ah, you remember my name," Shan-Yu said with a grin. "And I remember yours very well, Fa Mulan. For months, only you took my mind. You, and how I was going to break you."
"But it canít beÖ"
"It can," Shan-Yu said. "I wasnít about to let a little fireworks display destroy everything I worked so hard to achieve. I hope now you will think twice before trying to defy me."
Mulan couldnít let herself feel scared. "What have you done with my father?"
"He is safe," Shan-Yu assured her. "For how long, it all depends on you. And please put that stick down. I donít think you can afford to kill me, especially when your fatherís life is dependent on my own." Mulan dropped the stick.
"Thereís a good girl. Oh, and thank you for keeping my sword while I was away," Shan-Yu snickered, drawing his sword from behind his back. Mulan backed a few steps away, but Shan-Yu shook his head firmly. "Stay put, little girl. And listen carefully."
"Iím listening," Mulan muttered.
"I believe that in the glass case just above the chest where you kept my sword, there is the Emperorís medallion. Take it, and with it you will go to Xi-an tomorrow," Shan-Yu instructed her. "You will be welcome in the Emperorís Palace. There, you will kill the Emperor."
Mulan gasped. "No!"
"Yes," Shan-Yu whispered, smiling widely. Actually, Mulan wasnít sure whether he was smiling or not because his features were so distorted. "You will do this, and your father will return home safely. Do not, and he will return in pieces."
Tears stung Mulanís eyes. She had never felt so helpless. Before this monster of a man whom she desperately wanted to attack she had to restrain herself for her father. Her father, whom she loved so much.
"Tomorrow," Shan-Yu repeated. "I will be watching you. Do not tell this to anyone, especially your Captain Li. If I even suspect you giving anything away, your fatherís head will fly." His eyes glowed. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," Mulan whispered, her head hung low.
Shan-Yu nodded. "Donít follow me. You know what will happen." Mulan nodded numbly. She didnít even bother to watch as Shan-Yu left. He was a slick and cunning man, even with his scarred face. He had probably anticipated every move she could possibly make. She didnít know what to do. Shan-Yuís eyes were everywhere, and she could see her father held at the tip of his blade, bound and helpless.
Without warning, Mulan fell down to the cold ground, shivering violently. There, alone in the darkness, she began to cry.
"Where is Zhou?" Grandmother Fa asked.
"Mulan was out looking for him," Fa Li answered.
"What? You let Mulan go out there alone?" Grandmother Fa yelled. "What if something happens to her?"
"If thereís somebody who can take care of herself, itís Mulan," Fa Li assured. "She can handle herself."
"Is that to assure me, or yourself?" Grandmother Fa asked.
Then the door opened, and there stood Mulan. Her eyes were red from crying, wet streaks were apparent on both side of her cheeks. Her hair was messed up, grass was stuck to her nightie. She pushed her way between her mother and grandmother, not saying anything.
"Where is your father?" Fa Li asked.
Mulan stopped. She began to shake. "IÖ I donít know."
"What do you mean, you donít know?" Grandmother Fa asked. "You went out there after him, didnít you?"
Mulan began to cry. "Donít ask me," she whispered through sobs. "Donít tell anyone. PleaseÖ Just for a while."
Fa Li hugged her daughter, stroking her messy hair. "Ssh," she cooed. "Just tell me where Ba-ba is."
Mulan continued to shiver. "Donít ask me. Donít ask anyone. Just for a while." Then she pulled away and ran to her room, slamming the door shut behind her.
Fa Li and Grandmother Fa looked at each other. Something was definitely wrong, and both of them knew that Mulan knew exactly what it was.
"Is Mulan ready?" Shang asked.
Fa Li didnít answer immediately. Shang could sense that something was wrong with her, meaning something was wrong in the household. Shang had ridden there as early as he could, wanting so much for his mother to meet the woman that he loved.
"Please come in, Shang," Fa Li said, letting Shang into the sitting room. "Somethingís wrong with MulanÖ I was hoping you could talk to her."
Shang frowned. Yesterday everything had been fine with Mulan. He followed Fa Li down the hallway until they were both outside Mulanís room. Fa Li knocked on the wooden post a few times, then said gently, "Mulan, Shang is here. Youíre going to meet his mother today, remember?"
There was no answer.
"Mulan," Shang began. "Whatís wrong?"
Slowly, the door opened, revealing Mulan, all dressed up nicely. She looked beautiful, except for the expressionless face she had. "I canít go," Mulan said.
Shang was surprised. "Why not?"
"I canít," Mulan said firmly. "Not today. Maybe tomorrow." With that, she pushed her mother aside and walked away from the both of them.
Shang grabbed Mulanís arm. "Answer me, Mulan."
Mulan twisted her arm and pulled it out from his grasp. "I have something very important to attend to. I hoped you would understand."
"What could be more important than this?" Shang demanded, suddenly impatient and disappointed.
"Plenty," Mulan snapped. Shang was hurt. Mulan had never spoken to him that way. She had put him down once or twice, but each time she had a perfect explanation. Mulan never did anything without a reason.
"Canít it wait?" Shang growled softly. "My mother wants to meet you."
"Canít she wait?" Mulan answered, and continued to walk away. "I said I have something very important to do. Tomorrow. Come back tomorrow. Maybe I can go visit your mother then."
"Now, Mulan," Shang said urgently. "My mother is not a patient woman."
"There are more important things that meeting your mother!" Mulan nearly shouted. "JustÖ go. And donít even dream of following me." Then she left the house and went to the stables.
Shang stood there, stunned. In less than a minute Mulan had Khan out and saddled. Without even saying a goodbye, she rode off. Shang just stared after her.
"She told me not to mention this, but I think is has something to do with her father," Fa Li whispered to Shang.
"Why? Whatís wrong with him."
"Heís missing," Fa Li said.
Shang nodded. "Mulan probably went after him." Then he stepped outside of the house. "Just as I have to go after her."