Characters/Pairings: Aurora/Mulan, Original Female Character
Spoilers: Minor spoilers through “Quite A Common Fairy” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Word Count: 2122 words
Warnings: Romance, longing, babies (a little), author pretends to know about swordfighting
Summary: Mulan becomes Aurora’s Champion.
Author's Notes: Happy holidays, xonceinadream! I am terribly, terribly sorry about the delay, but I hope you enjoy your fic!
Mulan was preparing the trail sign for Much when a branch snapped. The man who stepped on it had a blade at his throat before he could draw breath.
“Who are you?” she murmured, low and deadly, letting the edge dig slightly into his flesh.
He was a pale brunette (paler still with a sword at his throat) with extravagant eyelashes and a healthy coating of dust on his boots.
“I-I-um-I, well, that is,” he stammered, trembling. He didn’t look like a villain, but Mulan had no intention of letting the blade fall until she was convinced of his identity and purpose.
“Speak!” she commanded, giving him a shake.
“The Princess! That is, the Queen. Queen Aurora. She sent me to find the Merry Man who is not a man, the woman warrior with the blade that sings. Which, clearly, I’ve done, so if you’d please let me down so I’m no longer in danger of, um, death? That would be a lovely turn of events, milady Mulan.” He spoke quickly, breathily, words tumbling over each other in his eagerness to explain. “I can prove it. I have proof, I do, she gave it to me. And a note.”
Mulan released him and watched carefully as he sifted through the contents of his purse, extracting an achingly familiar leather bag.
“The note is in my pack,” he explained, glancing over her shoulder. “My horse is tied up where the foliage is a bit, um, thinner.” He kicked restlessly at the branch that had gotten him into this predicament in the first place.
“Lead on, courier.”
He led them to a handsome Haflinger, idly chewing a clump of grass. Fine leather packs sat on the horse’s back from which the man extracted an envelope. Mulan examined the seal and couldn’t help the smile that bubbled up.
The smile didn’t last long after she opened the letter. Her eyes slammed shut in a moment of pure sympathy before whistling for her horse. It was time to go home.
The throne room was full of people, enough people to make Mulan nervous. Not for herself, no, but for Aurora, whose lips were pale as death, and the babe, whose fussing was not indulged by her mother during the grand events of state. And this, surely, was one such event.
The appointment of a Champion, Protector of the Crown and Defender of the Realm, was unusual in this day and age. A relic of a bygone era when the greatest kings were diplomats or poets or botanists, not warriors. The kings walked softly upon the earth, steadfastly guarded by their most trusted knight. A beacon of chivalry, an example to the rank and file, and commander of whatever small forces were kept on active duty, the Champion was the tactician, the general, the shield, and the sword.
The day of the Philosopher King had long since passed into an age of blood and dragonfire. With the ascendancy of Queen Aurora, a queen of hearts but not of arrows, the time of the Champion had returned. And that was why Aurora had called. A new mother, a new widow, a new queen, surrounded by people who loved her but knew her not. She needed a staunch ally, an experienced warrior, and a friend to help her heal. And in Mulan, Aurora found all three. Now it was time to give her friend the power to speak with the Queen’s voice in council, in court, and on the field of battle. Goddess forbid it be necessary, but the new queen was determined. There were wraiths and curses and witches in this world and she would not leave her kingdom undefended.
Mulan knelt, dress armor creaking as she looked up at the Queen. Mourning rested heavily on her, unrelenting black overwhelming her petite frame. Hers was a face not meant for sorrow, but joy. Mulan had never before wanted to be the cheering or comforting sort; dutiful was the quality most valued by her family and the officers under whom she served. But as she lowered her eyes to stare at the gilded floor below, she wished she could erase the pain etched into every inch of her liege's bearing.
The call-and-response between Queen and Champion had not echoed in this grand hall for an Age. Fa Mulan swore to defend the kingdom and to protect the royal family. Queen Aurora. The Princess Stella. Against all comers. To the death. By her ancestors and all the gods. So mote. Slender fingers attached the Champion's sigil to a small hole in her breastplate bored by royal armorers the night before. Mulan rose to join her Queen and face the curious nobles. Their cheering was sparse, but heartfelt, and for the first time since Philip's death, Aurora smiled.
The solstice dawned misty and cold, several inches of fresh, fluffy snow turning the castle grounds into a wonderland. A particularly energetic squirrel swung from one denuded tree to the next, never missing its grip. Mulan watched as it made its way to the end of the courtyard, flying into a warm cubbyhole notched near the top of an evergreen. A tuft of something soft tumbled out the side.
Mother and daughter curled together in a bay window, watching squirrels and snow. Aurora described what it was they were seeing, to which little Stella occasionally replied with a stream of cheerful babble. Mulan liked seeing the two of them together, warm and protected from the world. Movement in the hallway caught her eye and she intercepted a courier from interrupting the precious moment. After accepting the message and sending the winded man on his way, she realized she'd attracted the queen's attention. Aurora's eyes met her own, sending the butterflies in her stomach to fluttering.
Every self-preservation instinct insisted that she leave, retreat to the relative safety of her quarters or the practice yards, but Mulan installed herself at the entrance and protected the ladies' quiet solstice morning. Aurora did not say thank you, for words would have diminished the service. But when they left to change for the afternoon luncheon, she warmly gripped Mulan's shoulder and smiled.
Mulan treasured that smile above all things.
Stella celebrated her fourth birthday in the spring, cheerfully dragging the entire court to the knolls for a picnic. The princess’s favorite foods made for a very fine spread, miniaturized and optimized for outdoor consumption. Sandwich triangles with their crusts removed. Crunchy squares of cheesy noodles. Fruits carved into wondrous shapes. Crystal flutes filled with lemonade. Her high spirits were catching and Queen Aurora’s laughter rang like a bell as they all participated in a game of blind man’s bluff.
The young princess tugged on the hem of Mulan’s tunic, pulling her attention from the quiet and gently sloping hills surrounding them. One of the things Stella liked best about Mulan was the way she gave Stella her complete attention, no matter how busy she might be.
“Yes, your royal highness?” Mulan’s cool stare warmed as she looked down at the girl.
“Will you not play?” she pleaded, knowing the answer.
Mulan shook her head. “Not today, I’m afraid. But I thank you for asking me.” She spied a shy girl hovering around the edge of the merriment. “You might ask Miss Fiona if she’d like to join in.”
Stella nodded, hugged Mulan fiercely ‘round the middle, and dragged red-haired Fiona by the hand to play.
Aurora brought her a large bottle of lemonade and a properly-sized sandwich.
“Cook set this aside for you. Thought you might need something a little more substantial than butterfly strawberries.”
Mulan smiled her agreement and tucked in.
“Thank you for conceding the location,” Aurora continued, staring out at the mountains, purple and misty in the distance. "I know this is probably not the venue you might have chosen, but..."
Mulan shook her head as she swallowed the bite. "We can't live our lives behind castle walls. Nor should we try." She chewed thoughtfully on another bite. "And if we aren't safe here, at the heart of our kingdom, then we're not safe anywhere. Might as well have a picnic on our way out."
Mulan choked. "Pardon me, your majesty, I misspoke. Your kingdom, of course."
"I rather like it," Aurora said mildly, rejoining the party. "Our kingdom. Indeed."
"Slap the ground when you hit," Mulan commanded, "Palms out, yes, like that. And then roll."
The princess went flying, landing heavily, slapping the ground.
"Don't forget to breathe."
Stella laughed, a little winded, as she rolled to one side and hopped back up on her feet. "Easy for you to say. Your'e the one doing the throwing."
"Once you can return the favor, you won't need to practice falling anymore," Mulan offered.
"When do we get to the sword?" she asked, brushing dust off the knees of her breeches.
"When your stance is steady enough. Soon, I should thing. You're doing well, Princess."
Stella beamed at the rare compliment.
"That's enough for today. You've got an hour until dinner. Go get cleaned up," Mulan instructed, unbuckling her padded gear.
She groaned good-naturedly and jogged back to the baths for a long soak.
The Queen stepped out from the post holding up the western lintel that covered part of the practice yard. "She is getting better. I'm astonished this has held her attention for so long. I thought for sure we'd be on to the next hobby by now," she said, jumping over a low wall to join Mulan.
"She's no ordinary youth, my Queen. And I think she thinks she's badgered you into allowing her to learn the warrior's arts. A little successful teenage rebellion... it's a good outlet for her."
Aurora grabbed one of the wooden practice swords from the barrel. "It is at that. Are you too tired to spar with me? I, too, enjoy a successful rebellion," she said, grinning and stretching. "The small council has tread on my very last nerve."
"By all means, your majesty," Mulan said, picking up a sword of her own.
Years of practice made the two women familiar opponents; Mulan's skill and style translated and reinterpreted for Aurora's slighter frame. Mulan's lunges and parries were powerful and jarring on impact, while Aurora's skillful footwork meant the other woman didn't land a hit very often.
Their bout was intense, the clacking of parried hits coming rapidly and echoing down the corridors. Neither woman realized they were being watched, intent as they were on each other. Mulan bore down on the Queen, backing her into the corner of the practice yards, but Aurora side-stepped the flurry of hits and with a deft parry, swept Mulan's blade aside, sending it thudding into the dust. Rather like Stella had earlier. The blunt point of her sword rested at the hollow of her Champion's throat and the disarmed woman held up gauntleted hands to yield.
"That wouldn't have happened with staves, would it?" Aurora asked, pleased and breathless, but not letting the sword fall.
"Possibly not," Mulan replied, eyeing the wooden blade with a half-smile. "It was well-fought, my Queen. Very well-fought."
Aurora studied Mulan for a long moment, taking in the crinkles in the corners of her eyes, the fine scar along her jawline from when she'd sent the fearsome Cerberus back to the underworld, and the glittering strands of silver that broke up the inky blackness of her hair. Heart aching with the familiarity of that face, she threw down the blade, tangling her hands in the silk of her dearest friend's hair, and kissed her fiercely.
Mulan froze, feeling her skin go hot, then cold. Her heart hammered in her chest, the bottom dropping out of her stomach, a roaring chasm opening up in her head. Aurora faltered at the lack of response, meeting Mulan's open eyes and seeing, unexpectedly, tears.
"Oh, no, I'm so-- I'm so---"
Mulan cut off the apology, elation replacing the vacuum that had erased all coherent thought, and kissed her back. Gently, carefully, at first, learning the softness of her lips, then with every bit of repressed passion she'd felt from the moment she'd returned Aurora's heart. The taste of her lips was more than she ever could have imagined, and at that moment, she would have died happily. But she didn't have to. Instead, she got to live. And love.
Stella felt little guilty for spying, then for not leaving, but, honestly, the two of them were completely clueless. She couldn't help demanding a high five from a very confused fellow bather, before sinking into the warm water. "Finally!"