An arbitrary Mulan fanfiction! Yay. I've been on something of a Mulan kick the last few days, and I was wondering why on earth the Fa family has only one child in a society dependent on sons. I could understand having one child if said child is a son, but generally a family will keep having children until they have the desired gender, or they give up. So why is Mulan an only child? This was the result.
Disclaimer: I do not own Disney's Mulan, nor do I ever claim the contrary. I make no money from the online publication of this free-to-read FANwork.
Pondering the Magnolia Trees
A Mulan fanfiction by WolfishMoon
Word Count: 2137
Li was on her back, midwife at her side, mother in law on her other side. Her husband miles away; she could swallow the inarticulate pain noises of labor, but she could not do the same for the vicious swears on the subject of that god damn war. Her mother in law brushed her hair out of her eyes, murmuring words of comfort. Her own mother lived with her brother and his wife three villages down – she was just as out of reach as Zhou.
Three miscarriages and a troubled pregnancy. And it was ten goddamn hours in. She bit back a scream and pushed praying, praying, that the child fighting to come out was a son.
"Feiyan," Li said, reaching out her hand to her mother in law, who took it.
"In front of the child," Feiyan said, "It had better be Grandma."
Li gasped as a contraction hit. "For a woman as talented as you at one-liners, that was a poor attempt at humor."
Feiyan shrugged, brow wrinkling in concern. "Focus on pushing Li."
Li nodded. She was fully aware that this was going to be a bad labor. The miscarriages — and the long absences of Zhou — had wasted time; for one as ill suited to childbearing as Li had turned out to be, time was a commodity that she really should not have spared. Already almost thirty, and this was her first child to actually live through gestation.
Thought went out the window at the next contraction.
Be a son! I really don't think I can do this again. She returned to praying when thought returned.
It was another ten hours before the child was born, small. Not breathing. The midwife smacked it a good one, and it gave a pitiful little hiccough. Li relaxed into the pillows. It was pitiful, but it was breath. She extended her arms as the midwife tied the cord, and gave Feiyan the honor of cutting it. The child was pressed into Li's outstretched arms. A girl. The midwife did not say the gender, only shake her head. And even before looking at the obvious, that was enough for Li to know.
"Well," Feiyan said, extending a hand to stroke the damp, blood-soaked hair on the child's head. "At least we won't lose this one to war."
"Point," Li said. "A daughter will never be asked to fight."
Feiyan stood, joints beginning to creak with age. "I cannot say I'm ungrateful for that," she said, picking up a towel, soaking it in the hot water kept to boil at the stove in the corner. She wrung it out, and carefully wiped it over the child's face.
The midwife nodded at that one. "I have lost a son myself in the current war," she said, bloodied hands running through her hair, leaving streaks of gore. She did not seem to care. "I don't think you will ever know that pain." There was a message wrapped into the sorrow.
Well. Li appreciated tact. "It would be unwise for me to try again."
The midwife nodded. "That is most definitely true."
Feiyan dunked the towel into water again, and this time she scooped the girl from Li's arms. Li squawked in protest. Feiyan rubbed the towel down the girl's back. "She has to get clean, Li."
The midwife nodded, took another towel and wiped the blood from Li's arms. She frowned, felt Li's head, her neck.
"Fever," she said.
Li cursed. Feiyan cursed louder. The midwife frowned again. "You'll have to feed the child now," she said, "To stimulate contractions."
Li nodded. Afterbirth was still on its way out. Feiyan handed Li a substantially less gory looking child. Guiding the child to her chest, Li bit her lip. This was new territory, but she got it done; the afterbirth followed damn near immediately, and it was over. Li promptly fell asleep, only vaguely aware of the midwife placing cool cloth over her head.
"We've got to bring this temperature down."
"That we do."
And then black.
When Li woke, the fever had broken, and Feiyan was cradling her head, asleep. She woke at Li's movement.
"Back among the land of the living, Li," she said. "I thought I was going to lose you."
"Was it that close?" Li asked, turning her head in search of her daughter. She found the window instead; the magnolia blossoms were falling.
"You've been asleep for three days," Feiyan said, extricating herself from Li's head.
"Well damn," said Li. "Where's the baby?"
"Sleeping," Feiyan said.
A thought struck her. "How have you been feeding her?"
Feiyan raised an eyebrow. "How do you think?" Li groaned, knowing what was coming next. She flung a hand at Feiyan, but her mother in law continued undeterred. "My son must have a lot of fun with those."
"Feiyan!" Li pulled the covers over her head, peaked an eye out. Feiyan grinned.
"I do live here," she said. "And the walls aren't particularly thick."
"Go get the baby," Li said, giving up and pushing her mortification aside.
Feiyan laughed, did so. She came back cradling a pink wrapped bundle. "She's been very good," Feiyan said. "Quiet."
Li smiled. "Well, that's good," she said, extending her hands to Feiyan who acquiesced, placing the child into her arms. The undecided blue of baby eyes. Instantly her attention was filled by those eyes. "Her eyes are so big." The child's face broke into a broad, gurgling smile.
"Any idea on names?" Feiyan asked. "I've been calling her Fa Baby, but that clearly can't last."
Li shrugged, glanced out the window. "Look," she said to the child. "The magnolia blossoms are falling."
Feiyan sent her a considering look. "Those characters could be combined to make a name," she said. Li searched her mind for the various pronunciations of the characters in question.
"Mulan?" she asked. Feiyan nodded, and Li looked to the magnolia tree again. "I suppose it's appropriate," she said, then looked to the baby. "Mulan," she tried. It fit.
She managed to drag herself out of bed later that same day, to Feiyan's amusement. There was horror in her gaze too. Li took a guess that Feiyan was torn between concern, and remembering that she always did the same thing when people wanted her to lie down.
Li walked to the desk, sat. She glanced back at the cradle Li had moved to her room. The cradle shook slightly as Mulan wriggled, seemingly aware of Li's gaze. Li poured a small amount of water into the grind stone before her, methodically worked the ink stick across it back and forth. When she approached that dark black, she set the tool down. She glanced at Mulan again, picked up the brush.
We have a daughter. I know what we discussed on the subject of names, but the magnolia blossoms are beautiful this spring, and your mother agreed with me. Her name is Mulan. All three of us - me, your mother, Mulan - will be so happy to see you put down the sword and come home. May the war end swiftly.
Zhou put down the letter, hand trembling. Li had actually carried to term. He exited the tent, found the other captain. "Captain Li!" he said.
This Li, who's family name ironically matched his wife's first, turned.
"I have a daughter!" he said brandishing the letter. Major Ma was too busy for this sort of hullabaloo, Zhou knew, so he turned to the man he actually vaguely disliked to share the news. Li shrugged, raised an eyebrow.
"...I have a son?"
Right. He hadn't even told Li that his wife was pregnant. "Not what I mean," he said. "My wife just gave birth."
"Ah," Li said delicately. "Congratulations. What's the child's name?"
"Mulan," Zhou said. "We were going to name a daughter Feiyan — after my mother — or else Jiangnu — after the girl in the story, and also after my wife's mother—but Li must have been looking at the magnolia trees or something, and of course, it is spring, and –" Zhou noticed that Li was smirking, slightly. Damn it, he was rambling. "You get the point."
"Mulan is a good name," Li said, inclining his head slightly.
"Anyway," Zhou said, drawing his body back to that loose, but straight, stance that bespoke dignity, "I never knew you had a son, Captain."
"His name is Shang," Li said. "Four years old, now."
"Do you think he'll be in the military?"
Li laughed. "He already shows a good head for tactics. He's constantly tricking his mother into giving him more sweets."
"I wouldn't expect any less," Zhou said, relaxing again as Li did. This was probably the longest civil conversation they'd ever had. Li seemed to resent the fact that the new recruits were singing songs in Zhou's honor already. But what did he expect? A few lucky breaks had given Zhou massive success in several actions and Li didn't quite understand the subject of morale. Only moral, so while Li tried to chase away camp-following prostitutes, Zhou made sure they were well fed and had access to the medic in his regiment. There wasn't much you could do about them, and they were good for morale.
The conversation wrapped up quickly after that, and Zhou settled in for a good long sulk about not being home.
He returned, briefly, long enough to conceive another pregnancy. His Li miscarried again, and they gave up. His precocious daughter was all they would have. And Zhou felt like that was enough. He'd looked at the political atmosphere from all angles. He didn't think another war would crop up soon, especially not one bad enough to resort to drafting.
Seventeen years later, Zhou reflected on that day, receiving the letter. Mulan was gone, apparently fighting under Li Shang. Zhou couldn't help but think of the man as being four years old, and tricking his mother. Hopefully, the 'head for tactics' had transferred to the younger Li's adult life — that clear-headed brilliance had brought his old professional rival to General. The career Zhou would have — if it weren't for the goddamn leg wound. If that wound had not been sustained, he would never have left the military, and his daughter wouldn't be forced into taking his place.
Please, he prayed, be even better at your job than your father. Keep your troops safe. My Mulan is among them.
Li of the Fa variety was somewhat less surprised than her husband, when their daughter took off. He'd been home permanently by the time she was four, but Li still knew her daughter somewhat better than Zhou did. Although she too had not been expecting such a drastic measure on the part of the girl named for magnolia blossoms.
Certainly ironic, for a girl with such a feminine name to go off to war.
Li had become quieter, as Mulan got louder, and now she was quite certain she may hold her tongue forever. And that was okay, Feiyan had surprised them all with not only her longevity, but also with her acerbic wit.
She kicked up enough ruckus for the both of them, Li was quite sure.
But life moved on; the coil of dread that twisted in her stomach and wrapped itself firmly around her voice loosened. Suddenly, she could function — even with her only child off doing ancestors knew what in the army.
"She'll be fine, Li," Grandma said.
Li nodded. "Remember what we said when she was born?"
"Well," said Grandma. "I really didn't think we'd lose a girl to war."
"Neither did I," Li said. She sent a longing look at the gate, then up the hill. "I think... I will join Zhou at the temple. I'm not quite sure when I'll leave it."
Grandma — or should it go back to Feiyan, now that Mulan was gone? – crossed her arms. "I suppose it will fall to me to cook, so the two of you don't starve yourselves, praying?"
"You'll appreciate our efforts when you join the ancestors we're praying too," Li said, scowling. She wrapped her arms around herself and waddled to her husband's side as fast as her hanfu would allow. For that reason alone, Li was almost jealous of her daughter. What was it like taking steps as long and uninhibited as a man?
"I'll take that as a yes!" Li heard Grandma say. She had not moved to keep up, Grandma had shouted to make herself heard. Spirits, it had been years since Li had shouted, if she ever truly had.
She made her way up the steps, sat beside Zhou before the stones. He hardly took notice, mouth still forming around silent words. She knelt, and did the same. Oh Daughter.