woman_of_valor: (enchanting)

A week ago the announcement of a royal child to come for Aurora and Philip came and while it was a painful reminder of what she had given up, she was happy to hear they were doing well. The Merrymen were doing well, also. Helping many rebuild and standing as a guard against the ogres. Soon, she knew, they would have to face the ogres in a more organized fashion and drive them back to their homeland, but for now simply scouting and driving back stray ogres was enough.

Watching the stars as she sat her watch, she wondered if she should try and visit the royal couple. It would be good to see Aurora again and part of her felt she owed her once sword brother an explanation for her joining Robin Hood.

woman_of_valor: (Default)
(Spoilers for Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, S1.03)

"And so we left with all the gold from the throne room as easy as can be, just as Will Scarlet had promised," Little John was saying as he paced about the campfire. They were one more days journal from Robin and so another night of stories was to be had and this time Mulan would know of WIll Scarlet. "Later that night, we set up camp a good distance from Maleficent's castle and set in for the night, not believing our luck. And of course, we should have know it was all too good ta be true. Just as we was dishin' out the stew, a horrible wind rose and a deafening voice commanded we return what was stolen. We was all shakin' in our boots but not Robin he was yellin' about how the gold was to help poor folk. Then the voice replied back that it didn't care about the gold but the enchanted item that was stolen was to be returned to her or dire things would occur before the wind died down and the voice grew quiet.

"Robin turned to us then, demandin' to know who stole from the castle. Who risked all our lives for somethin' personal but no one spoke up."

"The next morning WIll was gone and Robin was quiet, didn't say a word all morning. I don't think I'd be lyn' to say we all looked up to Will. He would steal the horns off a demon, he'd steal the rings from a king's hand as he kissed it but we never thought he'd turn on us. We was wrong and that why you never heard his name before. I never shoulda said it in the first place and I beg ya to never say it to Robinhood. If you do, you'll have more than me to answer to."
woman_of_valor: (on guard)
The day’s travel had been calm, except for the wild boar which sent them all up trees, which had allowed Mulan the day to organize her thoughts and think of how to improve the story. To make it more of a tale rather than a simple exchange of information.
 
Once the camp was made and the stew was cooking, Kip, the youngest Merryman, brought Mulan a steaming cup of tea and a tankard of water without her even having to ask. She laughed at his expectant and hopeful face (his wasn’t the only one) and took a seat on a rock so that her audience had to look up a bit to watch her.
 
“I spent another week at my Father’s school,” she began once everyone was settled and Tuck gave her a nod. “It was summer and I remember the cicadas buzzing their song in the humid heat. The villagers set to making their village a place for the living and I wandered the school, sometimes meditating and sometimes practicing my fighting forms. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do. The villagers refused any offer of help and, to be honest, avoided me. We danced with awkward steps, neither of us really knowing what to do. I, lost in my grief and they, lost in...perhaps is was a shame of sorts, the shame that they lived while my family was dead. I didn’t truly know. They did bring me food and saw to my physical needs but would leave as soon as what was required was done.
 
“As for myself, I felt adrift and it was more than the grief. I knew I could return to the Emperor’s army but how could I serve any ruler who had let this devastation occur? I could stay at the school but to what purpose? I was no farmer. My only skills lay with fighting. Certainly, I could learn, or relearn the skill, for my Mother made every student work the farm at our school, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live in the place with the spirits of my family so fresh.
 
“With nothing else to do, I read the book and scroll I had found. The book was a work of my Father and Mother’s philosophy of fighting and war; and I wept at the folly of it. The scroll, however, told of how certain parts of dragons, their scales or whiskers…”
 
“Hold on,” John interrupted. “Dragons don’t have whiskers.”
 
Mulan raised an eyebrow and asked, “Truly? You seem very certain. How many dragons have you fought or seen?”
 
“None,” John admitted with a grumble which made everyone laugh. “But everyone knows, don’t they?”
 
“Perhaps it is the dragons in my land that have whiskers then and not the ones in the lands here? Either way, I know of at least one dragon that has, or had whiskers.” 
 
This statement is met with gasps and Kip asked, in an amazed voice,, “You mean, you fought a dragon?!?!” to which Little John scoffed.
 
“There ain’t no way…” He started to say before Mulan interrupted him.
 
“Perhaps if I could finish my story you will find out?” They quieted, so she continued. “The scroll also talked of how warriors used to seek out dragons as a final test of their prowess and skills. I decided to attempt this myself since I had little else to do and to prove my parents teaching had some merit. I packed provisions, dressed myself in my Father’s armor, took a training sword, a few staves, the book and the scroll, and set off.
 
“Behind me, in the courtyard of my parent’s school, I left the armor and sword the Emperor had given me with a note which read, ‘A ruler who sacrifices his people for fortune and glory, deserves neither and I cannot serve such a one with honor.’ I was sure to sign my name so that all all would know who wrote it. I was tempted to break the sword as well but I hoped it might serve another warrior as it had served me.
 
“As I walked through the village, the people stopped and stared as I passed. At the edge of town, the mayor approached and offered me the reigns to a beautiful horse. Though not a war horse, it was perfect for traveling, sleek and strong. Mounting, I turned the horse about to face the villagers and offered them a bow with a palmed fist. I bade them remember those who died that they may live and to give their sacrifice honor. I turned the horse back to the road and as I left, all I heard were the cicadas.”
 
“As I traveled, I listened for word of a dragon. I knew from the scroll that they preferred mountains or sometimes lakes or the sea. Since I was closer to mountains, I decided to try there first. Summer grew, spreading it's warmth, and everywhere I road I saw signs of the Ogre War and always it was farms and villages where the most damage was done. I came across several bands of bandits in my travels as well. I slew those I had to but more often than not, my Mother’s belief, that justice did not take hands, proved true. The bandits were more often farmers or herdsmen who had lost their lands or beasts and so felt they had no other choice. These I allowed to travel with me until we found a village in need to more hands, where they would stay and I would move on.
 
“Sounds a lot like Robin,” Tuck said, bringing bowls of stew to hand about, and many nodded in agreement.
 
“Summer’s heat turned to Autumn’s storms and still I wandered, near lakes and in mountains, yet no word of a dragon did I find. Then came Winter’s bite and I heard my first rumor. It took a few more weeks until I found the right mountain and then another to find the beast’s cave but find him I finally did. I spent a night preparing. I left my horse with the village down the slope, as well as most of my possessions. Into the cave I took nothing but a staff and my armor.”
 
“Hold on, hold on,” John exclaimed as he jumped to his feet. “You expect us to believe a slip of a girl like you not only fought a dragon but fought one with nothing but a staff?” Tuck tried to pull Little John back down but he shook him off.
 
Mulan came to her feet calmly and replied, “Woman.”
 
“What?”
 
“I am a woman, not a girl. And a sword would have been pointless, for nothing but the most strongly enchanted sword would pierce a dragon’s scales, while a staff is more than a weapon. It can be a tool as well.”
 
“Still, come on!”
 
“If you wish a demonstration of my fighting skill instead of a story, I can indulge you,” Mulan said icily. “You have stretched credulity with many of your own stories, why can you not give me the same courtesy? At least until the end of my story?”
 
“She’s got you there John.” “Yeah, leave off.” “Let her finish!”
 
“Oh fine, if only to shut you lot up,” John grumbled and retook his seat.
 
Mulan paused a moment longer to be sure he would keep quiet and returned to her story. “I approached the cave carefully. There were many signs of the dragon; great gouges in the rocks from its claws and scorch marks from the fire of its breath. I could even hear its breathing, deep and rhythmic but the caves were nearly a labyrinth so I had no idea where the beast was. The cave was musty and hot as well, making breathing difficult. It also kept getting darker and darker. I would have brought a torch but needed both my hands for my staff.
 
“I am not sure how long I searched in the dark. It seemed like perhaps hours, when the dragon rushed at me out of the dark. I used the staff as a level and pushed myself out of its path. It surged past me and turned. I stood my ground, ready to attack or defend. It charged again, I dodged. It attacked with a claw, I used to staff to deflect it, even striking a blow between its claws.
 
“A word of advice, in case you ever find yourself facing a dragon, the space between its claws is somewhat vulnerable; much like the space between our fingers. 
 
“Still, all I seemed able to do it annoy it. I could tell I was fighting a stand still. Whether the dragon was playing with me or I truly was skilled enough to hold it at bay, I would tire and then it would have me. I studied its serpentine body, the mane, the whiskers, how it moved, anything to find an advantage but nothing revealed itself to me. Then I remembered something my Father was fond of saying, ‘In all things, focus on the goal not the battle.’ 
 
“I looked again at the whiskers and realized they were long enough, I could grab one. If I could do that and run, I could have my whisker. I didn’t need to kill the beast which I will be honest, made me glad for the beast was beautiful
 
“I continued to fight as I had, slowing making my way closer, until, as the dragon was turning to make another attack, I ran forward and using the staff to push me farther into the air, I grabbed the whisker. I had it in my hands but it held in place. I despaired, my gamble proved false but then it pulled free and I fell to the ground. 
 
I landed poorly but was able to stand and regain my feet to run when the dragon spoke. ‘That was nicely done!’
 
“I froze, startled and not sure what to do now. The dragon lowered its head to look at me closer, ‘Beautiful strategy. How did you think of it?’
 
‘I just realized I didn’t have to beat you to get what I wished. I didn’t have to kill you or even fight you if I could get a whisker and escape’ I said, still shocked that the dragon spoke. I had heard stories, of course, but they were old.
 
‘I see. Yes. Very wise. So what are you going to make with my whisker? Armor to make you invulnerable? A weapon to carve an Empire?’
 
‘No,’ I replied. ‘I mean, I already have armor and I would not trade it for any other. And I have no wish to rule an Empire, I am not greedy enough nor wise enough to rule.’
 
‘I do not know about not wise enough. It is said those who desire power least, deserve it most.’
 
‘Perhaps,’ I said, not wishing to insult the dragon. ‘I will make a sword, to defend though not to conquer.’
 
‘Excellent! Let me aid you. I have much experience with forging, especially with dragon scales and whiskers.’
 
“So I stayed with the dragon for the winter and he and I forged my sword. We also talked of many things. I told him of my parents school and he told me of the dragon courts. But that is a story for another day. But now you know how I got my sword and of myself and how I learned to fight, so all of your questions have answers.”
woman_of_valor: (do not approve)

The night air is crisp and the small party of Merrymen are but a few days ride from Robin as they settle for the night. Their mission was a success, of sorts. They failed to gain the enchanted shovel but did find many bags of good seed grain. Now they sit to eat their dinners and share stories as they often do.


Mulan isn't really paying attention however. Instead she is watching the firelight as it dances; catching glimpses of Aurora's hair or a swirl of her silk gown. That is until a name pulls her back. A name she has not heard spoken of by any of the band but a name she knows, Will Scarlett.


"Who is Will Scarlett?" She asks, not quite sure who had spoken the name.


Little John looks up from his crust of bread and smirks. "Now she speaks. None of your concern littl' miss."


"Please, I would like to hear your story."


John's smirk turns to a scowl. "By what right do you think you can ask fer a story? You who haven't share a wit of who you are nor one story!"


"Leave off John," Tuck says as he blows on his spoon to cool his stew. "We all have secrets and we all trust one another still."


"Yeah, but we been fighting wit' each other fer years. She's new an' thinks she can pull a finger an get a story. No sir. You want the story, you tell one of your own."


"Very well," Mulan agrees with a nod. "What would you like to know?"


"Tell us a story about yourself!"


"Tell us how you learned to fight so well!"


"Tell us how you got that sword!"


"I think I can weave all of these into one tale. But first, fill my tankard with some water so I may sip as I speak and not ruin the story with a hoarse voice."


"Why not some ale instead? It's closer."


"Because she don't want a thick tongue for this," Little Jonh answers for her and sends the boy off with the threat of a cuff.


As the boy runs to fetch the water, Mulan starts.


"Now listen close for none have heard this tale before. It began years ago, in the Empire beyond the last kingdom. My father was a general for the Emperor of that land. He fought and won many battles for the Emperor yet he never felt his victories had meaning. He pushed himself to learn all manner of fighting styles but in the end all he found was suffering and death, for that is what all fights lead to.”


Little John scoffs at this, earning another sour look from Tuck and a raised eyebrow from Mulan. He falls silent again, letting her return to her story.


“Deep in his heart, he knew there was a difference between fighting and violence but he could not define what it was and so he despaired. That is until he met my mother. She was a farmer, and all in her family had died in an illness that claimed many from her village. She worked the farm by herself and so some bandits thought she would be easy game. Nothing was farther from the truth. When my father found her, for he had been hunting these very bandits, she had disarmed them, given them dinner and had them working her fields in exchange for a roof and a chance at an honest life. Those that refused, and a few that thought to trick her, were tied up in the barn.


“Overjoyed at her methods, my father begged her to marry him but she refused. She thought he was handsome enough and he obviously had wealth but what did she know of his heart? So instead she offered him work for a chance to court her. Needless to say she was impressed with his work and he won her heart. He also won her over to his dream of the noble warrior and so together they made a school, to teach that being strong and knowing how to fight is not the way to power; the true path lay in discipline and peace. That fighting is for protection not aggression.”


The boy ran with her tankard of water then and joined the others who sat listening in rapt attention. All that is except Little John who sat shaking his head. He kept quiet, however, and so Mulan continued.


“Their fame grew and many noble families joined the school, which grew and grew. And because so many nobles came, my family could afford to teach whomever came and for whatever price they could afford to pay. I grew up in this school and was taught alongside all the other students. And now you know how I learned to fight."


She paused then to take a sip of the water and to give Little John a chance to speak his mind, for now he was nearly grumbling but another glare from Tuck and he turned back to his stew..


"Years went by and all was good, until the Ogre Wars came to the Empire. I remember the day the Army's seneschal arrived with the Emperor's request that all warriors that were able, join the fight. My father refused. Saying that the war would not be if the Emperor and King Midas had not roused the ogres by expanding into their territory. After the seneschal had left, my father called us all to a meeting. He told us of his reasons for refusing the Emperor but continued that we all must search our hearts to find our own reasons. That if we felt compelled to join the Army to protect our citizens from their Emperor's folly, then he would support us. And if we felt compelled to stay, he would support us as well. He trusted in his teachings to allow us our choice.”


Little John coughed then and it sounded almost like it might have been a word like coward, which earned him a firm elbow from Tuck.


“Despite my Father’s judgement, and I did understand it, I chose to go to war. I did not see why the farmer should pay for the folly of the Emperor while I sat safe."


Mulan paused again to take another sip.


"I fought and survived the Ogre war. Perhaps someday I will tell of those battles but that is not tonight's tale. A year and a half after I had left my father's school, to protect it and the village near it, I returned to find all in ruins. The ogres had broken through the lines.


“I searched the ruins of the school first, looking for my father and mother but found no one. Turning to the village, I found them and all the other students and teachers who had stayed. All were dead. Torn or crushed, the end was the same. I found few villagers though so I did not know if they escaped or if the ogres dragged them off. I did find four dead ogres to the fifteen of my Fathers fighters so they did account for themselves.


“It took me a week to bury the dead. During the day I would dig graves, at night I dug in the ruins of the school to save what I could. I found my Father's armor, trampled and so began to repair it. Since sleep would not come, I needed something to do while I rested. I found very little else of value that could be saved; a few staves and training swords, a scroll and a book. I must have eaten and drank though I do not remember it.


“On the third day, a donkey returned to the village and so I was able to drag the bodies of the ogres out of the village and burn them. The donkey also helped keep me warm at night and to dig with the aid of a plough during the day.


“On the fifth day, the villagers started to return. They told me how the students had fought the ogres to give the villagers time to flee though they knew it would cost their lives. They thanked me profusely and told me they prayed to their ancestors to speak for them in the next life. I accepted their thanks and prayers but I was numb to it all. I had gone away, to keep this village safe and yet it was destroyed in my absence.”


She fell silent then and picked up her bowl of stew.


“What happened next?” Little John burst out despite himself and to the relief of the other Merrymen.


“That will have to wait until tomorrow. It is time for the first watch.” Besides, she needed time to collect her thoughts for the next part of her tale.

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