of Mulan's laugh continue as we come back to real life. Li Liang is asleep with his head propped on one arm as he sits in a chair. Mulan comes inside the room calling for him]

Mulan: Brother Liang? Brother Liang, are you asleep? [Sees he isn't responded, so she yells loudly] Li Liang! [Li Liang jumps up, startled badly]

Li Liang: What? Who?

Mulan: What were you doing?

Li Liang: Oh. Nothing much. The Empress asked to see you and she didn't let you go until now?

Mulan [sighs]: That's right. [They both sit back down at the table]

Li Liang: What were you talking about that took so long?

Mulan [smiles]: Oh, just the usual encouraging talk, like telling me to keep trying, keep working, become a female Sui Marshal, do it for all the women of the world! [Li Liang gets a worried look on his face when he hears these words]

Li Liang: You really want to become the Marshal so badly?

Mulan [sighs]: Actually, when I first joined the army I did so partly to help my father and also to accomplish something grand and great. If I really do become a female Marshal, that would be a happy occasion indeed. [Notices her husband is unusually silent] What's the matter? Don't you want me to become Marshal?

Li Liang [hesitating]: Um. [Scoffs] What talk is that? I'd be ecstatic if you became top dog.

Mulan [sighs]: Well, you needn't put so much faith in my abilities. I doubt I have the wherewithal to defeat Liu Guang, let alone you.

Li Liang: Don't worry about that. Just do your best.

Mulan [straightens up]: That's true. There's no concern that I won't do that. I have absolutely zero pressure right now. I'm perfectly content just defeating Ma Zhong. [Breaks into a wide grin]

Li Liang [distantly]: Oh? [He looks nervously at Mulan as the events of his dream still echo in his mind]

[Cut to the main room of the Generals' Residence. Li Liang's mother is pacing around nervously as if awaiting fresh news. One of the servants comes running inside]

Servant: Elder Mistress! Elder Mistress! [Greets Li Liang's mother] Congratulations, Mistress! Master Li has won his round and will compete in the finals! [Li Liang's mother starts celebrating excitedly and giving thanks to the ancestors]

Li Liang's mother: Oh, thank you Ancestors! You've finally opened your eyes! Thank you for everything! Our Li Liang is on the verge of becoming famous! [Turns to servant and excitedly fishes out some silver, which she hands to him] Here, this is for you. Hurry up and get some sweets and other dishes ready. I want to report these glad tidings to the Ancestors and celebrate properly. Go!

Servant: Yes, ma'am! [The servant runs off to do her bidding. Li Liang's mother has no sooner turned around than a second servant runs inside and reports more news]

Second Servant: Congratulations, Elder Mistress!

Li Liang's mother [surprised]: There's more?

Second Servant: Congratulations, Elder Mistress! Younger Mistress has won her round and is in the finals.

Li Liang's mother [aghast]: What?!

Second Servant: Younger Mistress's troops have defeated General Liu so they qualify for the final run-off. Elder Mistress, this is an auspicious day to have a pair of momentous events like this. It is worthy of celebration and cheering. [He tries to continue but Li Liang's mother interrupts him]

Li Liang's mother [slaps the servant around]: Auspicious? Auspicious my rear! Get out! [She shoos the servant away, then starts talking to the sky again] Oh, Ancestors, have you gone blind? How could you let Hua Mulan be victorious today? Hua Mulan is full of wiles and cunning. What if our Li Liang should fall under her hand? [She shakes her head worriedly] I'd best not worry about the things I have no control over. I'd better go and make some offerings to bring good fortune upon him instead. [She calls for her two servants]

[Cut to city street. Li Liang's mother is leading several servants on a trip to the temple. The servants are all carrying baskets of food and a whole pig (actually, it looks raw, but let's not quibble) for offerings. They walk to the temple and start to lay the food on the table before the altar. Li Liang's mother starts to pray. At this exact moment, Mulan's mother walks up next to her (without noticing Li Liang's mother) and also starts to pray]

Mulan's mother: Oh, Buddha, please help Mulan and she will surely become Marshal. [Li Liang's mother turns when she recognizes the voice]

Li Liang's mother: Oh, it's you.

Mulan's mother: Oh, it's you. [Both mothers start to talk in outwardly sweet voices that imply a huge amount of sarcasm]

Li Liang's mother: Such a coincidence.

Mulan's mother: Yes, isn't it? Or do you think I came here to celebrate a wedding? Oh, by the way, I'm happy for Li Liang that he made it to the final run-offs.

Li Liang's mother: Mulan did pretty well, too. The Hua family hasn't had such glory in many a moon, has it?

Mulan's mother: True. Our Mulan doesn't come from a family of generals. In spite of her lack of background, the fact that she was able to get to this stage is truly special, particularly compared to someone that grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, don't you think?

Li Liang's mother: What does it matter if he came from a family of generals? If the stock material is no good then it's useless. Li Liang didn't become a general by inheritance.

Mulan's mother: Well, there's always going to be people in an empire that are born to be officials. Unlike Mulan. She had to start at the bottom and work her way up. That's so difficult. Well, it's only fair, since the Emperor and Empress both look upon Mulan with such favor. She's destined to become the next Marshal.

Li Liang's mother [sniffs]: So what if they like her? Until the chips are down, no one knows who will become the next Marshal.

Mulan's mother: True. That's why I brought all these gifts and offerings to try and bring some luck and prosperity to Mulan. [Takes a look at what Li Liang's mother brought as offerings and feigns horror] Oh my word, In-Law, I'm not trying to pick on you, but if you were trying to ask for some prosperity for your son, why'd you bring such a small amount of offerings? The Buddha won't give it a second glance. My dear, there are some things you can't cut corners with. [She drags her to see her offerings for Mulan. There is a large layout of candles and incense and a (presumably) boiled pig, with various dishes of food all around it] Now this is what I brought for Mulan. Well, I'm about done here. I'll take my leave now. [Turns to servants] Collect everything. [Turns to Li Liang's mother] I'd suggest you spend some time chatting with Buddha. If you don't have enough in the way of offerings, at least say some nice things and hopefully that will compensate. Well, I'm going now. [She turns and leaves. Li Liang's mother remains behind but she is positively seething inwardly]

[Cut to Generals' Residence. Li Liang's mother and her servants return from the temple, with the former still in a nettled mood]

Li Liang's mother [to servant]: Take those things and distribute it out to all the servants.

Servant [bows]: Yes, Elder Mistress. Do you want me to inform the kitchen to add some more dishes for dinner?

Li Liang's mother [shortly]: Add? Why bother? I'm so annoyed that I have no appetite anymore. [She sits down and starts to pat her own chest. A maidservant comes over and starts to massage her shoulders]

Maidservant: Elder Mistress, I hear people on the streets saying that both Young Master and Young Mistress have won their respective rounds, so they are in the final run-offs. You should be happy.

Li Liang's mother [waves her hand]: Don't remind me. It's only other people that are happy, not me. Hey, a little higher. Yes, right there. I'm so tense that I have an air bubble stuck halfway.

[Mulan and Li Liang walk in the door, not initially noticing Li Liang's mother sitting at the table. They are animatedly talking about the competition results]

Mulan: The toughest round was Zhao He's weaponry competition. He's never done so well before. If he lost, then our troop would have lost the round. [She throws Li Liang a coquettish smile and he grins back at her. Li Liang's mother sighs loudly to attract their attention. They both turn and finally notice Li Liang's mother loudly sighing in discomfort]

Mulan [concerned]: Popo, is something wrong?

Li Liang: Mother, what's the matter? Are you ill?

Li Liang's mother: Oh, it's nothing. If you were really filial, you'd put your all into the competition and grab some glory. I don't want your mother-in-law to look down upon you. If you do this, my illness will spontaneously disappear.

Mulan [alarmed]: My mother? What about my mother?

Li Liang's mother: Oh, there's nothing wrong with your mother. She just had a lot of garlic recently (reference to garlic giving you courage?) so she has some "strong" words (maybe a pun on the "strong" breath associated with garlic). [Mulan and Li Liang both roll their eyes] I just saw her. She said something about having a meeting with the Fourth Duchess. Hua Mulan, you are so lucky to have a mother that knows how to schmooze so well. It's small wonder everyone from the Empress downward has bestowed such favors on your family. There really isn't much to say since our Li Liang managed to take to wife such a superwoman. [Mulan starts to protest but holds her tongue at the tone of Li Liang's mother]

Li Liang [protesting]: Mother, what exactly happened today?

Li Liang's mother: Nothing. Or maybe it's because I had to listen to your mother-in-law's bragging today so my stress has acted up again. [Gets up abruptly] Well, I'm going to rest. [Stalks out the door, leaving Mulan and Li Liang looking at each other]

[Cut to residence in the capitol where Mulan's mother now resides (don't know about the rest of the family). Mulan's mother is sitting at a table enjoying some soup when Mulan walks inside. The maid curtsies upon her entry and greets her]

Mulan's mother [to maid]: Hurry and get some swallow's nest soup that the Fourth Duchess gave us for Miss (Mulan) to try.

Mulan [waves off maid]: That won't be necessary. You are excused. [The two maids curtsy and leave. Mulan looks sternly at her mother, as if preparing to scold her, but her mother seems oblivious]

Mulan's mother: You have been pushing yourself pretty hard lately. You ought to take better care of yourself. That way you'll put up a good fight when you compete against Li Liang in a couple of days. When you win the Marshal's post, bring it back for me to see, okay? (I think the Marshal gets a plaque or other award to signify rank)

Mulan [hesitates]: Er, Mother, what did you say to my popo yesterday?

Mulan's mother: I say so many things in the course of a day. How am I supposed to remember what I specifically said to her? Hey, you can tell me; how much confidence do you have that you can beat Li Liang?

Mulan [protesting]: Mother.

Mulan's mother: I know you don't have the heart to show him no mercy, but on the battlefield there is no room for blood ties. When you compete against Li Liang you must not show any signs of weakness or hesitation. The Emperor has shown you great favor; it would be a disservice to him if you didn't perform to your utmost ability. I mean, didn't you once say that women are in no way inferior to men? Well, if you defeat Li Liang, you would be the first female Marshal in human history! Not only would you not be inferior to him, you'd actually be superior! [Thumps Mulan's shoulder excitedly]

Mulan [still hesitating]: Mother.

Mulan's mother: Is that unreasonable popo of yours picking on you again? If she is, move back home here with me and I'll handle her for you. That way you can focus on the competition.

Mulan [gets up to leave]: I should leave now.

Mulan's mother: So soon? You just got here. We haven't finished chatting yet?

Mulan: I didn't have anything in particular I needed to discuss; I just wanted to know why Popo was in a foul temper. I think I know the answer now. I'll take my leave now. [She leaves the room]

[Cut to General Li's quarters in camp. Mulan walks inside looking for her husband but sees no sign of him. On his desk are numerous books and papers scattered about haphazardly]

Mulan: Brother Liang? Brother Liang, are you here? [Walks over to the desk and starts straightening up the papers] Wow. Such a mess. [General Li walks in the door and expresses surprise at her presence]

General Li: Mulan, what are you doing?

Mulan: I was just tidying things up for you so you can find everything more easily later.

General Li [takes papers from her]: That's okay. If you put things away for me I'll actually have a harder time finding them later. [Walks to face the window]

Mulan: So, are you going home tonight?

General Li: No, I'm going to stay in camp tonight.

Mulan: In that case, I'll stay in camp, too.

General Li: You'd best go home tonight. My mother wasn't feeling well yesterday; you should go home and spend some time with her.

Mulan [sighs]: Can't you tell your mother doesn't like me? [Sits down on a bench] Yet you insist that I go home.

General Li: You know how my mother's personality is. Do you really still want to quibble with her about such things?

Mulan: Fine. I'll go home then. [Gets a naughty look] I may be hard to go up against, but you shouldn't make yourself sick preparing for the competition.

General Li [teases back]: Don't think too highly of yourself. I'm staying here because one of my men has the stomach flu and I can look after him more easily.

Mulan: Okay. I'll be leaving now. [She walks out the door. General Li picks up the piece of paper he took from Mulan earlier and looks it over, his brow furrowed deep in thought. A voice calls from outside]

Voice: General Li, are you done?

General Li [tucking the paper underneath some books]: I'm coming. [He heads out and shuts the doors behind him]

[Cut to tavern, where Mulan and Jili are eating alone at a table. Jili is happily sailing into the food while Mulan appears to be just keeping him company]

Jili: Oh, this is really good. This is really quite good. Recently, the camp's food has gotten worse and worse. You really need to tell headquarters about it. [He continues to stuff food down his mouth and noisily slurp wine]

Mulan [teasing]: Look at that mien of yours, the way you shovel food down. That's right, how come I haven't heard you bemoan your fate recently? Didn't you used to say being mortal was boring? Have you discovered that being mortal is quite enjoyable?

Jili: That's not it at all. You've been torturing me recently with all that training so I don't have any breath left to bemoan my fate. [A loud growl comes from Jili's stomach, making him grimace slightly. Mulan is surprised at the sound] Oh. I must be insane. If I have to "go" after eating then that will be no fun.

Mulan [puzzled]: Do you mean immortals don't have to go to the bathroom?

Jili [gets up hurriedly]: I'll tell you later. I have to relieve myself. [Starts staggering out the door, but turns to give one last word to the grinning Mulan] Make sure they don't collect those dishes yet; make sure to leave something for me. [He hurries out the door, clutching his belly. Mulan grins as she sees him leave. Jili returns only a few seconds later]

Mulan [surprised]: You're done already?

Jili [shakes his head]: I just saw General Li and some other generals together in the room next door.

Mulan: So what?

Jili [tugs her arm]: Come on, let's go.

Mulan: Just sit down.

Jili [tugs harder]: Oh, come on. [Drags Mulan out the door]

[Next door General Li and a few other generals are sitting at a table drinking wine together]

A General [toasting]: General Li, may you be victorious tomorrow. [Everyone drains his cup]

General Li: Oh, so this is why you dragged me out here secretly; you wanted to wish me luck in the competition tomorrow.

Another General: Well, truth to tell, we really hope you win. General Li, you are quite skilled and capable, so normally we wouldn't worry about anything. Since two heads are better than one, we're willing to put in some effort for your cause.

Other General: True. We really ought not say this because General Hua is your wife, but we really don't want a female Marshal riding over our heads.

First General: Brother Li, this competition isn't an ordinary competition. The honor of the male race rests on its outcome. Only victory is allowed; defeat is unacceptable.

General Li: Comrades, I understand what you're saying. Who doesn't want to win? However, we humans can only exert ourselves and hope for the best. Only the gods above can give guarantees. Mulan's soldiers are good and united warriors. You've all seen them perform. I just hope I don't let you down.

Other General: General Li, are you making arrangements to throw the match to your wife? [No one notices Jili and Mulan crouching at the edge of the doorway eavesdropping]

General Li [puts his hand up]: Now wait a minute. You misunderstand me. How many husbands would be willing to be subservient to their wives?

First General: Exactly. A woman's place is in the home. If we let them go up against us like this then men will have no face. [Mulan is getting angry at the general's words, so she turns to go, but Jili tries to persuade her to stay a little longer; she shakes her head and leaves anyway] I trust General Li will perform when the time comes.

[Mulan strides out the tavern angrily, with Jili scurrying after her]

Jili: Mulan! [She ignores him and keeps walking briskly down the street. He hurries after her]

[Cut to field outside camp. Mulan is with her troops but she seems distracted]

Mulan [to troops]: Go ahead and train on your own. I'll be back later. [She walks off in another direction, not noticing her soldiers' puzzled expressions]

Zhang Xi [with a straw in his mouth]: Hey, Jili, the general has been acting rather peculiar the past couple of days.

Xiangzi [sighs]: Exactly. The final runoff is almost upon us. How come she seems so dispirited and uninterested? [Zhu You puts an arm on Yiren's shoulder and sighs]

Zhu You: It's not important if she doesn't want to be a glorious general with a hundred victories under her belt. Just when everyone is at his best is not the time to throw cold water on us. Know what I think? [Yiren roughly shrugs her shoulder, making Zhu You lose his balance. She walks over to Jili]

Yiren [looking in Mulan's direction]: What the heck is the matter?

Jili [sighs loudly]: You know full well there are some people who don't want our troop to succeed. Why ask? [He darts over towards Mulan. Zhang Xi comes over in puzzlement at Jili's words]

Zhang Xi [to Yiren]: Who doesn't want us to succeed?

Yiren [shortly]: How do I know? [She runs off after Jili]

[Cut to barracks. Mulan's troops are resting and loafing when Zhu You walks in and drops the bucket he is carrying with a loud clatter. The other soldiers give him barely a glance and resume their bored expressions. General Li walks in the tent and looks around. Jili follows close behind and immediately takes on a belligerent attitude]

Jili [shortly]: What are you doing here? Oh, I know. You must be spying on us, aren't you? Well, you've seen it all already. We're like a dragon without its head. There's nothing to fear about us, so you must be very happy. I know I'm happy for you.

General Li [puzzled]: Jili, what are you talking about?

Jili: What am I talking about? I'm saying that there is at least one man who wouldn't mind losing to his wife. Now that Mulan is letting you off easily without a fight you ought to be happy, right?

General Li [raises his voice]: You what? How dare you!

Jili [holds up his hand]: Now hold it, we accidentally overheard this, okay? You know we would never stoop to eavesdropping and spying and other underhanded methods, right?

General Li [looking worried]: Where is Mulan?

Jili: Oh, once such words are said they can't be retracted no matter what you do.

General Li [grabs Jili's collar]: I'm asking you again! Where is Mulan?

Jili: Um. She's at the local tavern drinking by herself. [General Li roughly shoves Jili aside, glares at him, then storms out the tent. Jili gets a woebegone look on his face and mutters] Why are you so mean to me? What did I do to you?

[Cut to tavern, where Mulan is sitting in a room alone and drinking cup after cup of wine. She doesn't seem drunk; I suspect she has a very high tolerance for alcohol. General Li walks down the hallway and peers in the door. His face softens when he sees Mulan forlornly drinking. He walks in and sits down next to her. She starts slightly in surprise at his presence]

General Li [gently]: Mulan, why are you drinking so much?

Mulan [falsely bright]: No, I'm not. I was so surprised that my troops have managed to get into the final runoffs that I ended up drinking more than I ought. What about you? Shouldn't you be with your men now?

General Li: Mulan, I apologize.

Mulan: Why are you apologizing? Have you done something naughty?

General Li [soberly]: Mulan, I know you've been under a lot of pressure lately. I shouldn't make things hard for you.

Mulan: What are you talking about? I don't understand.

General Li: Jili has told me everything. He told me how you overheard everything the time I was in the tavern with General Liu.

Mulan [muttering]: That Jili!

General Li: Mulan, I do want to defeat you and best you. That's the honest truth. But I didn't say those things to make you give up on yourself and your men. I want to win honestly and fairly so you'll be proud of me. Do you understand?

Mulan: I understand. I know that being your wife has caused a great deal of discomfort for you. A lot of people give you a hard time about my manly ways and skills.

General Li [chuckles]: I don't care what other people say. I just know that I married a one in a ten-thousand hero without peer.

Mulan [lights up]: Really?

General Li: Of course. If I manage to defeat this wife, then I'd be even happier.

Mulan: You really want to defeat me?

General Li: Of course I do. And I want to do it honestly and fairly, based on my own abilities and not because you threw the competition to me.

Mulan [teasing]: Do you think you can handle it?

General Li: Mulan, if you don't want people to laugh at me, go and train your troops well so we can have a good competition.

Mulan: Okay, but you asked for it. Don't regret it later.

General Li [takes her hand]: Just like when I married you: no regrets. Ever.

[Cut to competition field. The soldiers are arrayed in a formation before the Emperor and royal family. They salute the Emperor and say the usual formal greetings, then rise on command]

Emperor [holds up a small bundle]: This is the Marshal's seal. Whichever soldier grabs this bundle first, his leader will become the Sui Empire's new Marshal!

[The next scene shows the soldiers running to a tower and then start clambering to climb it. Yiren and Zhang Xi are in the thick of things, shoving their competitors off and scrambling to scale the heights. The Empress looks on, while the Crown Prince cheers and the Second Prince looks grim. Atop the tower, there is a wooden catwalk with a long pole erected. The small bundle is tied at the end, suspended several feet above the catwalk. The soldiers fight each other to reach the bundle first. After several soldiers start falling off the catwalk, General Li and Mulan fly (suspend your disbelief, please) about twenty feet in the air and land atop the catwalk. Each fights off the others' soldiers. The Crown Prince winces when he sees General Li land a particularly painful-looking blow. When the catwalk is mostly cleared, Mulan and General Li both start lunging for the suspended bundle. However, Yiren is still fighting another soldier and is sent hurtling off the catwalk. Mulan stops and jumps off to break Yiren's fall, while General Li resumes his pursuit of the bundle. Mulan and Yiren both land safely on the ground, while General Li has successfully retrieved the bundle]

[Cut to someplace later that evening, perhaps the Generals' Residence. Mulan's troops are muttering and wondering how they could have lost. General Li walks in the room with his mother on his right and Mulan at his left. He is now wearing a new suit of armor as befits his new rank]

Soldiers [salute]: Marshal. [He salutes everyone else. Li Liang's mother is positively beaming with pride while Mulan tries her best to smile for the sake of form. More guests arrive and greet the new Marshal. Li Liang's mother excitedly invites the officers inside to be seated. Mulan's troops remain behind with her]

Mulan: You can all come to the back room. There's plenty more room. Don't be bashful.

Zhang Xi: Oh, we'd never be bashful. Since we lost, we fully intend to eat our fill and then some. [The soldiers all follow Mulan into the rear of the house. Yiren (still dressed in her armor) starts to follow but Jili blocks her way. He shoulders her aside when she tries to pass]

Jili [whispering harshly]: It's all your fault. If it wasn't for you, Mulan would be Marshal.

Yiren [protesting]: I didn't do it on purpose! If you had let me fall to my death I wouldn't have said a word of complaint.

Jili: Well, it doesn't matter what you say now. [He flips her off, then runs off with the other soldiers. Yiren glares at his retreating form. Li Liang's mother comes over looking so happy she is glowing]

Li Liang's mother: Yiren, I will remember for all eternity what you have done for me here.

Yiren: Aunt! [She storms out of the room, leaving a puzzled Li Liang's mother behind. At this time, Mulan's mother comes in]

Mulan: Mother. [Walks over to greet her. Mulan's mother pulls her aside]

Mulan's mother: Oh, Mulan, how could you lose. The Fourth Duchess in particular was so disappointed!

[Li Liang's mother comes mincing over to put her two cents in. Mulan sees the danger but is unable to do anything]

Li Liang's mother: If you aren't up to snuff, of course you'll lose.

Mulan's mother [scoffs]: My Mulan is skilled in all manner of martial arts. How could she not be up to snuff? It's plain that she let him win. [Mulan starts to protest but her mother ignores her] However, we have to let the men have some amount of pride left. I mean, they still have to go out in the world.

Mulan [smiles but mutters warningly at her mother]: Mother, don't keep making this stuff up.

Mulan's mother [ignores Mulan's warning]: Mulan, this is the worst thing about being female. But, if you don't want me to say anything else, I won't.

Li Liang's mother [defensive]: What do you mean she's getting the short end of the stick? My son won the Marshal's position entirely on his own merits and skill.

Mulan's mother: Oh, you can say what you want and believe what you want. I know full well that my daughter would never lose to your son. [Turns to Mulan] I think I just saw the Madam Xiang walk inside. I'm going to go chat with her. [Starts to bustle inside. Li Liang's mother is following and protesting at Mulan's mother's accusations]

Li Liang's mother: Don't you go spreading those false rumors!

Mulan's mother: Still following me?

[Mulan watches them go and rolls her eyes in frustration. General Li walks out and spots Mulan (I'll continue to call him General Li so as to minimize confusion with the previous Marshal, his uncle)]

General Li: Mulan, what's the matter with your mother? [Mulan doesn't say anything but sighs loudly and shakes her head] Forget about them. They are destined to butt heads. The two of us, however, are destined to be together. I must admit that I barely won against you today.

Mulan [pouts]: You're trying to cheer me up again. But you know, I think you deserved to win the Marshal's post.

General Li [puts his arm around her shoulders]: Now, now. Let's go inside. [They walk inside together]

[Cut to scene showing General Li escorting the guests out after the banquet and celebration is over. One of the manservants is with General Li]

General Li [to servant]: Where's Young Mistress?

Servant: Sir, she said she wasn't feeling well so she retired early.

General Li [slightly annoyed]: Why didn't you tell me earlier? [He goes off to look for Mulan]

[Meanwhile, Jili is in the kitchen standing before a platter of roasted chicken. He is wearing a large napkin tucked in his collar when he grabs a drumstick and uses his free hand to saw it free (no knife, just his hand). He picks up the drumstick, inhales the aroma deeply, then gingerly sinks his teeth for the first bite. He savors the flavors of the chicken and looks as if he is in heaven. Mulan comes in the kitchen, walking rather unsteadily, and spots Jili, but he doesn't see her. She sneaks up on him]

Mulan [thumping his back]: There you go, stealing food out of the kitchen again. [She grins at his surprise]

Jili [defensively]: Don't you go falsely accusing me; I bought this chicken using savings from my stipend.

Mulan [skeptically]: Your stipend?

Jili: Exactly. Every penny was earned from my blood, sweat, and tears. [He resumes chewing on the drumstick]

Mulan: What's to brag about? Now that you are able to fend for yourself and don't have to depend on others, you're getting cocky?

Jili: In this day and age, you can't even rely on the immortals anymore. [Notices Mulan is trying to grab a piece of his chicken] Hey! What are you doing? [Takes away his platter of chicken and hugs it close] So how can you rely on mortals?

Mulan [looking glassy-eyed]: Let me have some. [She tries to get some chicken but Jili shields the platter from Mulan's hands] Come on, let me have some. I had too much to drink on an empty stomach. I don't feel very good now.

Jili [chiding]: Why did you drink so much?

Mulan: I was happy.

Jili [incredulous]: Happy? Don't forget that tonight's visitors came to congratulate the great Marshal Li, not the great General Hua.

Mulan [pouting]: What's that supposed to mean?

Jili: Have you forgotten that we lost? We're the losers in this competition. We lost to the great Marshal Li.

Mulan [relieved]: Oh, so you're still harping over that?

Jili: No. It's because this involves my personal glory and fame.

Mulan: Well, we're all one family, so what does it matter? It doesn't make any difference who won.

Jili [protesting]: Hey, wait a minute. You're the one that married him; the rest of the troop certainly didn't marry him. We certainly don't want to be one big happy family with him.

Mulan: Truth to tell, we just weren't his match.

Jili: That's because you didn't get involved personally in the fighting. How can you say we weren't his match? That's not a fair statement to make.

Mulan: Victory and defeat are common occurrences for soldiers. Why are you making such a big deal over this?

Jili: Well, why didn't he lose and we win, huh?

Mulan: I see now. You want to have a better sounding reason for why we lost, right? Fine. I'll say it then. Listen up, now. Our troop is without peer. Our virtues are innumerable and there is no one out there who can beat us. [Neither Mulan nor Jili notice General Li walk in the door] This round went to Li Liang because we felt sorry for him and did a charitable deed. [General Li's face falls when he hears Mulan's words] We didn't want to make him lose face badly so we deliberately withheld our best so he could gain the upper hand. If we had competed fairly based on skill and ability alone, we would have won. We are the true champions. [General Li's face hardens and he looks mortified. He angrily turns on his heel and leaves the room with neither Mulan or Jili the wiser]

[Cut to Li Liang and Mulan's bedroom at night. Li Liang is stretched out in bed with his hands behind his head, wide awake. Mulan is fast asleep and suddenly throws out her right arm so it lands with a thump on Li Liang's chest. She starts to mutter in her sleep]

Mulan: I won't lose to you. If you've got the nerve then we'll fight another round. [Li Liang tries to tuck Mulan's arm back under the covers but she throws it out again, which he blocks]

Li Liang: Mulan.

Mulan [still muttering]: I got you! I got you! I told you that you weren't a match for me.

[Li Liang hears the echoes of Mulan's earlier words to Jili about letting him win the competition. He sits up in bed and gets up. Mulan continues to murmur in her sleep]

Mulan: Don't leave. Are you leaving just because you can't defeat me? [Li Liang hops out of bed looking quite perturbed]

[Meanwhile, Li Liang's mother is at the family altar with a large setting of food and other offerings. She is dressed and burning incense. Li Liang walks inside still only dressed in his pajamas. He is surprised to see his mother]

Li Liang: Mother, what are you doing?

Li Liang's mother [beaming]: I'm offering thanks to the ancestors in gratitude for all they've done. They helped you achieve your goals and become the new Marshal. Come here, take some incense and offer your thanks, too. [She hands several sticks of incense to Li Liang, which he takes. He starts to bow but he doesn't look too happy, no doubt because he's thinking the ancestors had little to do with his victory] Oh, the Li family ancestors above, your descendant Li Liang has achieved the rank of Marshal through your efforts. He wishes to offer his sincere thanks with this offering of wine and incense. [She takes the incense from Li Liang and inserts it in the incense holder. She turns to Li Liang] Go down and genuflect a few times, too. [She resumes her prayer to the ancestors] I married into the family only two years before I became a widow. However, I remained a virtuous widow (i.e.-did not remarry or otherwise do anything unseemly) and single-handedly raised my son, Li Liang. I wanted to make sure he became something great. It looks like my prayers have finally been answered. To Li Liang's father I can finally hold up my head and say I've done my duty by him. [She starts to cry with emotion]

Li Liang: Mother, what's the matter?

Li Liang's mother [dabbing her eyes with her sleeve]: I'm crying tears of joy!

Li Liang [puzzled]: You're happy? Then you should laugh if you're happy.

Li Liang's mother [laughing and crying]: I'm happy! Of course I'm happy! You don't realize that I'm happy for another reason, too.

Li Liang: What?

Li Liang's mother: From now on, I can walk with my head high and my chest out. Ever since you brought that wife of yours into the family, I've had this bit of grit stuck in my craw. I was afraid that she'd overshadow you. Now you've put her in her place finally. The Li family has pushed the Hua family in its subservient position where it belongs. [She doesn't notice Li Liang is looking sad and pained at her words] I always knew that my son was better than anyone else's daughter, eh? Good son. You're my good son. [Puts her arm around him and hugs him]

[Cut to distant outpost. The Sui troops are standing guard across a sandy fortification. They don't notice the Tujue troops getting into position for a raid. The Tujue Khan is leading his cavalry in preparation for an attack. He eyes the fortifications and then suddenly his men attack, catching the Sui troops by complete surprise. A Sui general joins in the fray and fierce fighting ensues. One Sui soldier grimly grabs the signal torch and starts for the signal beacon, but he is slain and another soldier grabs the fallen torch. When he falls, too, the general picks up the torch and starts running for the beacon. The Tujue Khan and his mounted troops run down the fleeing general, with the former letting fly his sword across the ground, embedding itself in the Sui general's shoulder. He falls to the ground but in spite of the pain gets back up and tries to fight off the Tujue soldiers attacking him. The Khan grabs the general by the throat and starts to strangle him]

Tujue Khan: You're still trying to light that beacon even though your life is forfeit? Well, let me assist you, then. [He hurls the dying general across several yards of ground so he lands in the pile of straw that serves as the warning beacon, lighting the straw with his torch. The Khan begins to laugh evilly as he watches the flames build]

[Cut to lone Sui soldier with his colors on his horse. He is riding at a quick gallop and is swaying in the saddle with either weariness or his injury through the woods and snowdrifts]

[Cut to city streets. Li Liang and Mulan are walking around, with the former about ten paces ahead of the latter. Mulan pauses to see a stall]

Mulan: Hey, come over here and take a look at this. [Li Liang ignores her and continues walking. Mulan, seeing he is leaving her behind, hustles to catch up] Hey, we're supposed to be sightseeing; you don't need to walk so fast.

Li Liang: I don't know how many times we've walked this street before. What's there to see?

Mulan: Browsing the streets isn't just looking at the street; it's looking at the various things for sale in the stalls on the street. Don't you want to browse anymore? Well, then we should go home then. [She takes his arm as the clatter of hooves echoes down the street. The Sui soldier who was galloping through the woods earlier has arrived in Youzhou. Both Mulan and Li Liang watch in concern] A herald? It must be urgent military matters.

Li Liang [worried]: Something must have happened at Bienguan.

[Cut to Emperor's court. He is reading the report from the outpost of Bienguan and looking grim]

Emperor [stern]: Those Tujue! How dare they encroach on Sui soil and pick on our subjects. [Looks up at the line of people before him. The Crown Prince is standing in front, with his brother behind him, then General Li, Mulan, and two other generals] What do you have to say about this? Speak freely.

Crown Prince [saluting]: Father, I think we should try diplomacy to resolve this. That is the best way to ensure a minimum of bloodshed.

Second Prince: Father, my brother is too tenderhearted. If others don't attack me I won't attack them. The Tujue attacked us without provocation and in spite of our treaty with them. They launched a sneak attack on us without warning. Such actions are cowardly and dishonorable. If we sit by and do nothing, it will be to the detriment of our empire. The Tujue will think us weak and unprepared. We should fight fire with fire and let these Tujue know that an empire ruled by my father is not to be trifled with!

Emperor [nods]: My son, you speak well. Generals, what do you think?

General Li [salutes]: Your Majesty, your humble servant has already made plans for just such a situation. I only await orders from your Majesty to proceed.

Emperor [nods grimly]: Excellent! I'll leave this war in your hands. Accept nothing but victory and leave nothing but rubble. Marshal Li! [General Li kneels] I want you to take three generals with you; you will set out for battle in three days time. Li Liang, this is your first battle as Marshal. I want you to slaughter the enemy and return victorious. Don't let me down.

General Li: Your Majesty, do not worry. I promise to slay the enemy and bring glory to the Sui empire.

Emperor: Second Prince? [The Second Prince salutes his father] I want you to accompany the troops. Use this opportunity to learn from Marshal Li.

Second Prince [salutes General Li]: Marshal Li, I will count on you to offer guidance.

General Li [demurring]: Your humble servant wouldn't presume so much.

Emperor [chiding]: Li Liang, now that you're Marshal, you don't have to worry about such things.

General Li: It's not that, your Majesty. I already have someone else in mind.

Emperor [chuckling]: Of course. Hua Mulan?

Mulan [salutes]: Yes, your Majesty.

General Li: Your Majesty, I wish to ask General Liu Dayung to accompany me because of his years of battle experience. Please grant me my request. [Mulan and General Liu are both shocked by General Li's request. Mulan in particular looks hurt and puzzled by the turn of events]

Emperor [puzzled]: What? Liu Dayung?

General Li: Yes, your Majesty. General Liu fought under my uncle for many years. He has a lot of experience dealing with the Tujue. Even I must bow to his superior years. I don't want to make a mistake in my first battle, so I want the benefit of someone like General Liu, who has the respect and command of the rest of the army.

Emperor: General Liu is getting up in years. My only fear is his strength will fail him. [General Liu comes forward and salutes the Emperor]

General Liu: Your Majesty, I am prepared to defend my country at any time. If you feel I am no longer fit for service, then I beg you let me hang up my armor and retire to my home village.

Emperor: General Liu, what's that for? I never said you weren't fit for duty.

General Li: Your Majesty, please grant my request. With my strategic abilities and General Liu's bravery, I'm sure we can bring glory to the Sui empire. [Mulan looks like she wants to protest but is tongue-tied at what is happening around her]

Second Prince: Father, I think Marshal Li has a point.

Emperor: Well, since you are all so strenuously suggesting this plan of attack, then I command General Liu to lead the advance forces against the Tujue. [The generals salute the Emperor, but Mulan is still looking dazed and hurt]

[Cut to General Li's quarters in camp. His officers and General Liu are all huddled around a battle map discussing strategy]

General Liu: It seems to me that based on the battle tactics the Tujue army employed, they are led by Huoqishi Shile.

General Li: I remember hearing that Shile in early years tried to mount a large attack using very unconventional methods, but their council of elders wanted to execute him for it.

General Liu: This Shile has the heart of a hungry wolf. Your uncle and I caught the short end of the stick many times in our dealings with him. However, he is a gifted military strategist. Believe it or not, the Tujue Khan couldn't bear to execute him.

General Li [nods]: It doesn't look like this will be an easy fight. [The doors creak loudly as Mulan throws them open and enters. General Li looks sternly at her interruption] Who dares barge in?

Mulan: I have something to discuss with you.

General Li: We're discussing military affairs. If you have something to say, we can talk it over later at home.

Mulan [stubbornly]: It's regarding things of public importance.

General Li: Since it's things of public importance, then that's all the more reason to prioritize them. We're discussing military matters here. We'll discuss your affairs later.

Mulan: I'm here to talk to you about the Tujue tactics in use right now. [General Liu sees that a quarrel is brewing, so he discreetly changes the subject]

General Liu: Sir, we'll go back to our quarters to think over what we've discussed here tonight. We'll reconvene tomorrow to discuss things in more detail and see what you think. I'll take my leave now. [He and the other officers hurriedly leave General Li's quarters, not wanting to witness the escalation of the quarrel. When the door shuts behind them, Mulan speaks]

Mulan: Why are you doing this?

General Li [looking at the desk]: Doing what?

Mulan: Why are you letting General Liu lead the advance troops?

General Li: Do you disagree with my move?

Mulan: Do you really think this is the right move? [Sees he is still staring at the papers on his desk, so her voice grows stern] Look at me and say that. Go ahead, say it!

General Li [glares]: I'm telling you now that I know this is the right decision.

Mulan: You're lying.

General Li: And what makes you say that?

Mulan: You're forgetting that I'm your wife. I know the whys and wherefores of everything you do and say. You can't pull the wool over my eyes.

General Li [stands up quickly and raises his voice]: So in your heart, you believe that nothing I do is hidden from your eyes and that I'm never as good as you are?

Mulan: What are you talking about? I was talking about this issue with General Liu.

General Li: I AM talking about General Liu! When you were still in diapers General Liu was on the bloody fields of war fighting and slaying innumerable Tujue. And another thing: you are not the only person in the Sui army that knows how to wage war! Do you understand?! [He storms out of the door, leaving a shocked and bewildered Mulan]

[Cut to chapel where the Li family funeral plaques are located. General Li enters and kneels before the altar. He looks up and sees the plaque for his uncle, the last Marshal, and tears fill his eyes as the memories flood back. He recalls a time many years ago when his uncle brought him before that same altar]

Marshal Li: These are the plaques for generations of the Li family. Each one represents an ancestor who fought honorably and well, who braved swords and horses and laughed in the face of danger on the battlefield and accomplished great deeds to honor the Li name. Years from now, you must teach your children and grandchildren to aim for glory with the same drive, to honor your name.

[General Li awakens from his reverie and he lunges for the sword sitting at the altar. He unsheathes it and does an elaborate fencing drill, then stops before the altar]

General Li: Uncle, I won't let you down.

[Cut to General Li's library the next day. He has a list of the troops at his disposal and is discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each unit with General Liu]

General Liu: Yuyong, under General Ma, is a first-rate soldier. He is an excellent rider and archer.

General Li [nods]: Hm. We can make use of him.

General Liu: Wang Fucai, under General Ma, also is a first-rate soldiers. He has excellent water skills.

General Li [shakes head]: We can't make use of him. [He paints a small red "X" under the name of the soldier he does not need and a small check mark under the soldier he does need. A voice outside announces the arrival of the Second Prince (the series actually gives him a military title, but I will continue to call him the Second Prince to prevent confusion)]

Second Prince [walking inside]: So, discussing which soldiers to bring? [General Li and General Liu both stand and salute the Second Prince]

General Li: Yes.

Second Prince: I hope I'm not interrupting anything. Please continue.

General Li: Please have a seat. [Everyone sits down at the table]

Second Prince: Marshal, your eye for talent and strategy is unmatched. I'm sure you will pick the best troops for this war. Do you mind if I see your handiwork? [He picks up the tablet General Li was writing on and browses it]

General Li: Is there a problem?

Second Prince: This soldier, Zhang Xi, has superb archery skills. He demonstrated them at the competition. Why aren't you making use of him?

General Li: Oh. He's not consistent. Sometimes he's perfect and other times he can't hit anything. I don't feel he's that reliable, so for now, we're leaving him out.

Second Prince: What about this soldier, Liu Xiangzi? He is an excellent horseman. With this upcoming battle against the Tujue we are sure to need skilled horsemen. Why did you leave him out?

General Li: Oh. General Liu has sufficient men skilled on horseback. I didn't feel it necessary to bring more.

Second Prince: Oh. That's why. Hm. What about this one, Zhu You? He is unmatched in strength and courage. He would make a perfect addition to the infantry units in a charge. Why didn't you pick him?

General Li: This soldier has a proud nature that makes it difficult for others to get along with him.

Second Prince: Oh, I see. This time General Hua Mulan is not involved, so there is no reason to involve any of her troops, either. [Sees General Li is silent] Marshal Li, have I not spoken the truth?

General Li: Sir, you have the right to question how our troops are used.

Second Prince: Actually, I'm quite concerned about the outcome of this battle. That's why I came in person to see how things were going.

General Li: No problem.

Second Prince: Oh, and I wanted to see the armory.

General Li: Here, let me lead the way. [He gets up and leads the Second Prince out the door]

[Cut to the camp bulletin board. The notices have been posted with the names of all the troops plucked for the mission. Mulan's troops are milling about, dismayed that not a single one of their names are listed. Zhang Xi in particular is disheartened]

Zhang Xi: How come? How come my name isn't listed? I'm a whiz with the bow.

[Zhu You comes barreling through the throng and throws people aside]

Zhu You [excitedly]: Hey, did you see my name? Did you see my name listed in the advance group?

Jili [counting on his fingers]: I counted things very carefully already. I'm sure we're all selected for glorious duties and great deeds. [Smiles at the other troops] Well, you fellows all look happy. I bet all of you got plum assignments.

Soldiers: No! None of us did.

Jili [resumes counting on his fingers (think he's doing fortunetelling)]: I don't think I messed up. Let me try again.

Zhu You [taps Zhang Xi on the shoulder]: Hey, what are you thinking about? [Zhang Xi roughly shoves him away] Hey, what are you taking it out on me for?

[Later, Mulan's soldiers are sitting together in camp discussing things]

Zhu You: Well, if he won't budge, then I'm not content.

Zhang Xi: Exactly. When he goes home tonight we'll jump him and teach him a lesson. What do you say? [The troops all agree to this. [The Second Prince overhears the grumblings of Mulan's soldiers and smiles grimly]

Xiangzi: Then that means he will fall into our clutches.

Jili: That would be divine justice. [The soldiers all laugh at this. They don't notice that General Li is also with the Second Prince and has also overheard their ramblings]

General Li [moves to scold them]: A pack of lies! [The Second Prince restrains General Li's arm]

Second Prince: Now, now, they're only shooting the breeze amongst themselves to pass the time. Why take them seriously?

General Li: But.

Second Prince: Let's go over to the horse paddock. I think there are a few excellent horses there. I'd like to choose one as my personal mount. [He walks off towards the horses. General Li has no choice but to follow]