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A Painful Way to Say "I Love You"

Chapter Text

The Chief Royal Scribe Gen is commanded by

The Serene Princess Ming Zhu

To invite

The Honorable Hua Mulan

To the royal union between

His Highness, Seventh Prince Tuo Ba Hong

With

The Serene Princess Ming Zhu.

Detong Palace

On the day of August 24th

In the year 421

It was like the reopening of a barley-healed battle wound. But this small scroll, handed to her by one of the Emperor's personal messengers did more damage in one instant than thousands of enemy Rouran spears had inflicted on her in twelve long years at war.

At the bottom of the page was penned a personal note: General, I noticed that your name was not on the guest list. This confused be greatly because of the vital role you played in making this arrangement possible. Please grace us with your presence, I look forward to seeing you again.

Mingzhu

She stood alone in the courtyard, her slight figure shivering in the early-spring breeze. Hesitantly, she lifted a finger to trace the Princess's signature. She smiled despite her pain at the shaky characters. Mingzhu; Bright Pearl. A beautiful name for the beautiful northern princess who dressed exclusively in shades of white and silver. The signature was crooked, traced by a hand not used to forming the name, for the Emperor had dubbed her true name, her very Rouran name Sarantsatsral, as too barbaric for court. Mingzhu was a good, noble Chinese name fit for a soon to be Chinese Princess.

She walked slowly across the empty yard, passed the stand of Tallow trees where she'd said goodbye to him just weeks ago, and climbed the steps into the house she shared with her father. She could hear him in his room, snoring softly already even though the sun was barley below the horizon. She paused at his door, eyes scanning over his familiar; deeply lined face and unbound white hair and her aching heart broke into even smaller pieces. She'd known, when she was journeying home, that he'd look older. Twelve years was a very long time to be away and he hadn't been a young man even before. But the change had still shocked her. Every day he seemed weaker, everyday the coughing fits took longer to subside.

The scroll in her hand was small indeed, with only fifteen short lines on text. But the paper was heavy, weighing down on her like nothing else ever had. She stood clutching it in the hall outside her ailing father's room for a long time, her mind flying far away, over the plains of Xinjiang. Her heart soared there above the bodies of her men. Together on the ground were two figures, together amongst the dead and dying they were frozen in a tableau, a precarious moment that was forever preserved there in her lonely heart. The soldier standing in general's armor had an expression of such numbness, but the eyes that shone from under the tasseled helmet held so much raw emotion, of joy of love and exhausted relief.

Mulan allowed herself to dwell in the past for a moment before locking the emotions back inside and returning to reality. She strode purposely across the floor to the lamp that burned on the table in the centre of the room. Determinedly she lifted the scroll and held it over the flickering flame, steeling herself to burn to thing. But she froze, knelt with her hair falling in a curtain around her pale face. Less sure now. She stood and walked slowly to her own bedroom. Opening the bottom drawer of the dresser she lifted the extra bedding and slipped the letter underneath and slid the drawer shut.

Leaning back on her heels she let out a long breath and tucked her hair behind her ears. After a minute, she got back up and tiptoed into her father's room and sat down next to his slumbering form. His eyes opened at the dip of the mattress. "Sorry Fa." She whispered sadly, "I didn't mean to wake you."

His dark grey eyes, filmed over slightly with the first onsets of blindness were warm as he beheld his daughter. "Do not apologize daughter." He croaked sleepily, "It is always a pleasure to wake to your beautiful face."

She leaned forward and planted a kiss on his wrinkled forehead. "Get some rest." She said fondly, brushing the hair away from his beloved face. I'll still be here when you wake up. I'm not going anywhere.