Episode 40:

[Cut to courtyard in the Generals' Residence. Li Liang is practicing his martial arts, executing numerous jumps and sweeps across the floor. He stops part of the way through]

Li Liang [muttering]: Something doesn't seem right. [He walks over to a book on a table in one of the sitting rooms. He opens it and thumbs through it, then discards it for a second book. He still can't find what he is looking for] Just what type of kung fu did that person use? [At this point, Li Liang's mother hurries into the sitting room]

Li Liang's mother: Li Liang, you're here. Good. I have something urgent to discuss with you.

Li Liang: What is it?

Li Liang's mother: Recently, several generals have died. Also, you were assaulted not too long ago. I've made up my mind; I'm not taking no for an answer.

Li Liang [stands up]: Mother, I can't do that. I'm a general and an officer of the empire. I have to be willing to give up my life if needed.

Li Liang's mother [blanching]: Don't go saying such unlucky things!

Li Liang [shortly]: Well, if you're asking me to give up my post, that's impossible.

Li Liang's mother: Who said anything about resigning? I want you to take a concubine.

Li Liang [incredulous]: Take a concubine?

Li Liang's mother: Yes! The more you take the better. I want our family to have a hundred sons and a thousand grandsons. Or even a thousand sons and ten thousand grandsons. I have already booked an appointment with the matchmaker. She says our family is of good stock. Fat or skinny, tall or short, she'll let you take your pick.

Li Liang [scoffs]: Mother, what are you talking about?

Li Liang's mother: I know that since you took your commission as general you have a duty and responsibility to your country's safety. But you're forgetting that you are the only remaining branch of the Li family here. I can't let the line end if something happens to you. [She starts making grand gestures with hands, not realizing that Mulan has walked in the room, staring in amazement at Li Liang's mother's words] I want any woman of childbearing age to become your concubine!

Li Liang [concerned]: Mother?

Mulan: Popo, you don't look well. Are you ill? [She reaches over to check Li Liang's mother's forehead but she shrinks away]

Li Liang's mother [defensively]: I'm not the one that's ill? You're the one that's ill.

Mulan [puzzled]: I am?

Li Liang's mother: A woman's sole skill is to have children. Look at you. [Looks over Mulan] You're so skinny you couldn't lay an egg. You tell me if you are ill.

Mulan: I might be a bit thin, but who said I can't have children?

Li Liang's mother [sniffs]: I had your birthsigns checked at the local fortuneteller's. All the ones I consulted said you had a man's life, but who knows why you ended up in a woman's body. So, in order to make sure the line doesn't end with Li Liang, we have to get him concubines.

Li Liang [protesting]: Mother! What kind of fortunetelling is that? Are you going to believe the words of a charlatan?

Mulan: Exactly! No wonder you haven't given me the time of day lately. You've been influenced by those con men and charlatans.

Li Liang's mother [retorts]: If you have the ability to have children, then prove it to me! Have a child then.

Mulan [protesting]: It's not as if I can just have one when I want one. Not even a sow can have piglets that quickly.

Li Liang's mother [dismissively]: I don't care if you're a man or a woman. I don't care what kind of sin Li Liang committed in a previous life to end up with a wife who is neither a man or a woman. I want a grandson! I want the Li family line to continue! That's why I want Li Liang to take a concubine!

Mulan [lips set grimly]: Never! I can put up with whatever other unreasonable demands you place on me, but you can forget about bringing in another bed!

Li Liang's mother: Oh, and you said I'm completely unreasonable? Li Liang, did you hear what she said? Is she even human? She spoke to your own mother in that tone of voice! I want you to slap her! [She raises her hand as if to slap Mulan herself, but Li Liang hurries over and tries to calm her down. Mulan is glaring nearby]

Li Liang: Mother, let's talk this over.

Li Liang's mother: What? You're helping her now? [Starts to wail loudly] Oh, woe is me! My life is such a bitter fate. Li Liang's father, why did you not take me away with you instead of leaving me here to get insulted like this?

Li Liang: Mother, that's not what Mulan meant.

Li Liang's mother [still wailing]: You're still speaking up for her! You're still speaking up for her!

Mulan [coldly]: I don't need Brother Liang to speak for me. If you want to hit me, do it yourself. Don't give him a hard time.

Li Liang's mother [like a mad hen]: You think I don't dare?

Mulan: You're my popo. I will turn the other cheek no matter how you hit or abuse me, but there's no way I'm allowing him to take a concubine!

Li Liang's mother [irate]: There are three sins of unfilial children, and not having children to carry the family name is the worst. It's not for you to say yea or nay.

Mulan [whirls on her]: Fine! You're welcome to try me. If anyone dares to try and a concubine of the Li family, I'll smite her down. I'll kick them all back out onto the street! We'll see if anyone can get in the door!

[Li Liang's mother looks about ready to have an aneurysm, while Li Liang is standing next to her looking uncomfortable but too spineless to do something. There is a commotion at the door, with Yiren and a strange woman, presumably the matchmaker]

Yiren: You can't come in. [She tries to push the matchmaker back outside but the stranger keeps protesting]

Matchmaker: But I came at the behest of Madam Li. Madam Li, I brought the birthsigns of a heap of young ladies for you. [Yiren keeps trying to shove the matchmaker out the door] Madam Li?

Li Liang's mother: Oh, you're here. [She walks over but Mulan walks right in front of her and stares down the matchmaker coolly]

Mulan: So you're the matchmaker that is trying to find concubines for my husband?

Matchmaker [nervous]: Um. I came because I was asked to come.

Mulan [sweetly]: I understand. Come in. Please, have a seat. [Directs the matchmaker to a seat]

Matchmaker: That's quite fine. I don't need to sit down.

Mulan: Oh, you think the chair is too tall? Here, let me make it shorter for you. [She turns over the stone chair and eyeballs it with her hand. She then makes a chop with her hand and shears off the legs to make a shorter chair. Li Liang's mother, Yiren, and the matchmaker are all shocked at the sight. Mulan continues to smile sweetly] There you go. [Sees the matchmaker still hesitating] Why don't you take a seat?

Matchmaker [very nervous]: Um. I don't need to sit down. [Yiren is trying to hide her giggles in the background. Li Liang's mother is looking nervously at Mulan]

Mulan: Well, then you can go home and think it over carefully who among all those young ladies is fit to become my husband's concubines.

Matchmaker: No one. No one is.

Mulan: Then make sure you tell your cohorts in the same field that unless the young ladies are fit for my husband not to send them over and waste my popo's time. If you try to cheat us out of our money, then I will make sure you are harshly punished. Is that clear? [She barks out the last sentence with the same voice she ordered her troops around]

Matchmaker [cringes]: Yes, it's very clear. Very clear indeed.

Mulan: Well, if you're clear on this, then why are you still here? Don't you have a lot of customers to service still?

Matchmaker [cringes some more]: Yes. I, uh, will take my leave now. [She slinks out the door like a whipped dog. Yiren is smirking openly]

Yiren [snidely]: I told you not to bother coming in. [Li Liang's mother glares at Yiren, then walks over and shakes her. She then turns to Mulan]

Li Liang's mother: Hua Mulan, don't be glad so quickly. I'll give you another year. If you still haven't had a baby yet, I'll go to the Emperor to complain and let him make the decision about maintaining the Li family line! [Storms out of the room. Li Liang initially starts to follow but thinks better of it. He looks decidedly uncomfortable, unsure whether to approach Mulan or to leave the room quietly until she cools off]

[Cut to Li Liang and Mulan's quarters that night. Mulan is sitting at a table, still silently fuming. Li Liang approaches and puts his hands on her shoulders]

Li Liang: What's the matter? Still angry with my mother?

Mulan: If I said I wasn't mad, would you believe me? Tell me the truth. Am I really unfit to be your wife?

Li Liang: I know you've done well. It's just that my mother's criteria are different.

Mulan: Brother Liang, what if a year from now I still haven't had a child and your mother petitions the Emperor and he allows you to take a concubine. What will you do?

Li Liang [sits down]: You know, my mother has a point. There are three sins of unfilial children, and not carrying on the family name is the biggest one. And going to war is truly a dangerous undertaking. [Mulan's face falls at these words] However, you and I have gone through a lot together and now we are husband and wife. I promise I will not abandon you.

Mulan: Really?

Li Liang: Of course.

Mulan: But what if the fortuneteller is right? What if I can't have children at all?

Li Liang: Hmm. Not carrying on the name is a serious issue. Fortunately, the Li surname has a lot of branches. When I'm gone, there are still lots of Li's to carry on. Don't worry about it.

Mulan [teasing]: All right, you win.

Li Liang: Of course. Here, let me give you a massage. [He starts to massage her shoulders]

[Cut to front door of Generals' Residence. Xiangzi is standing just outside next to the lion statues. He has a huge daisy in his hair. He is waiting around when he spots Yiren come outside]

Xiangzi: Oh, Mistress Xu?

Yiren [turns in surprise]: Liu Xiangzi? Did you need me for something?

Xiangzi: Mistress Xu, well, it's like this. I may have been too blunt with my words a few days ago and made you uncomfortable. [Yiren looks relieved] However, every word of it was the truth. [Yiren's eyes open wide] Before, I thought you were a prima donna who didn't understand the pain of the little people. That's why I rejected your overtures. But now that I know your true colors, well, from this day forth, I intend to fully appreciate your gifts, so please don't be angry with me anymore, okay? Oh, and this flower is for you. [He brings from behind his back a stalk without a flower on it] Hmm. Where did the flower go?

Yiren: Um. [Points at his head]

Xiangzi: Oh yeah. This flower [bows before her and presents his head] is for you.

Yiren [speechless]: Um.

Xiangzi: Don't worry. Just take it.

[At this moment, Li Liang's mother sees the scene and is surprised. Xiangzi and Yiren turn in circles a couple times as she tries to pluck the flower from his hair]

Li Liang's mother [distastefully]: Is he the one? No wonder Yiren didn't want to bring him home. They really aren't a good match. [Sighs] I'm sure it's because Li Liang refused to marry her so she despaired. Oh, forgive us. Forgive us.

[Cut to snowy road outside the city. Yiren is talking to Xiangzi. We don't hear anything that is said but do notice that Xiangzi is standing still while Yiren talks and gestures around him]

Yiren [shyly]: So that's what's going on.

Xiangzi [irate]: What?! So you were interested in Su Jili long ago, weren't you? [Sighs loudly] You two will be the death of me. First, you like him. Then he likes you. Then you pretend to like me instead. [Yiren starts to smile shyly] He thinks you like me, so he makes me try to like you. Then when I really do start to like you, you turn around and say you like him. [Sighs] I must be very pathetic.

Yiren: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to drag you into this. But you have no idea how annoying he is when he is mean to me. That's why, um. [She looks sheepish at this point]

Xiangzi [about to cry]: All I know is that I'm the innocent one in this. And it's also very embarrassing for me, do you have any idea? [Sighs] Oh, about that flower incident. Don't tell anyone else, okay?

Yiren: No problem. I won't tell anyone. Um. However, I have another favor to ask of you.

Xiangzi [suspicious]: What is it?

Yiren: Well, you said that he likes me. But if that's true, how come he kept pushing you to court me? I'm afraid that maybe I'm just imagining things, so I was hoping that you could, um. [Xiangzi walks over]

Xiangzi: You want me to scope out the situation?

Yiren: Exactly! [She shoves him so hard he starts to fall over, but she grabs his collar and hauls him upright again] That's exactly it. [Yiren starts to smile at him but Xiangzi looks very glum]

[Cut to Jili's quarters. Jili is shaking out his blankets and looking very sad. His thoughts return to the days when he was in the army with Yiren]

Jili: I'm sure that you have gotten very sore from all the training of the past several days. That's why I brought an extra thick blanket for you so you can sleep all nice and cozy.

Yiren [sarcastically]: Would you ever treat me that nicely? Is it because you don't want me to embarrass Hua Mulan or because you're afraid I will fail miserably and embarrass you and the rest of the troop?

Jili: Well. Think what you will. I figure that since we're all the same boat together, I really don't want you to end up falling over first. [He scampers out the door hurriedly, leaving a very puzzled Yiren behind]

[We return to the present, where Jili is talking to himself]

Jili: Stop thinking nonsense. Stop thinking nonsense. Stop thinking nonsense. [He sits down on the bed] You're an immortal. As an immortal, you can't go falling in love with mortals. If the Jade Emperor has a change of heart and allows you back in the Celestial Realms, you'd end up breaking her heart. Jili, you have to understand this. You have to be clear on this. [Turns and picks up a plate of pastries from the table] Your forte is eating. So focus on that. [He bites into a pastry, then spits it out] This doesn't taste any good. Jili, you are absolutely pathetic. You have no balls and you are such an underachiever. [He sighs loudly and bows his head as if utterly weary of the world. Xiangzi trudges in the room, also looking downcast. When he sees Jili, he deliberately pastes a smile on his face]

Xiangzi [cheerfully]: Jili, what's wrong?

Jili [also feigns cheerfulness]: Oh, nothing. There's not a thing wrong. Did you, um, profess your intentions to her?

Xiangzi: Um. Yes, I clarified everything.

Jili: Really? [He looks this way and that, then pulls Xiangzi over] What did she say?

Xiangzi: She said that since I don't mind her, she would decide to spend the rest of her life with me, till death do we part.

Jili [aghast]: She really said that?

Xiangzi: Oh, yes. In fact, when she said it she put her arm under mine and got quite intimate. [Xiangzi demonstrates to Jili what Yiren did. Jili roughly shoves him aside]

Jili [muttering]: How nauseating. How utterly nauseating. What else did she say? Um. For example, anything about the past?

Xiangzi: The past? What past?

Jili: Er, like when she liked Li Liang, for example. Or maybe if she had any feelings for anyone else.

Xiangzi: Um, she did mention Marshal Li, but aside from that, no one else.

Jili: No one? Aside from Li Liang, she didn't have a single spark of interest in anyone else? Did she mention anyone else?

Xiangzi [thinks a bit]: Oh yes, she did mention one other person.

Jili [elated]: Really? Who is it?

Xiangzi: Of course she meant me. [Jili's face falls] Otherwise, you wouldn't be mentioning this to me, right?

Jili [fake smile]: Congratulations. [He lightly punches Xiangzi's arm, then turns away and looks quite depressed] How come she didn't even mention me in the least? I may as well give up.

Xiangzi [overhears this]: What are you mumbling about?

Jili: Nothing. Nothing much.

Xiangzi: Oh, I almost forgot the big news. [Turns to table and starts rummaging through the pots for something. He finally pulls out a strip of cloth]

Jili: Where did that come from?

Xiangzi: Once I helped a vagabond with his fortune. I told him how to get out of the mess he was in. That's why he gave me this special gift. [He holds the cloth in his hands which presumably contains something]

Jili [curious]: What special thing?

Xiangzi: You haven't seen this medicinal powder before? [Jili shakes his head] Well, let me show you then. If you put this in a lady's food and she eats it, she'll do whatever you want no matter how difficult she is normally.

Jili [eyes light up]: Really? [He chuckles with Xiangzi, then immediately turns very stern and grabs him by the collar and threatens to punch him] You beast!

Xiangzi [shocked]: What are you doing? Don't hit me! Let go, you fool. [Jili slowly releases him] I didn't say I was going to use it to take advantage of anyone. I just wanted to use this to help her overlook my plebeian origins. As long as raw rice becomes cooked rice, what else matters, right? Besides, you were the one who told me to hurry up and get married and settle down. Sheesh. [He dusts himself off]

Jili [sheepish]: Sorry.

Xiangzi: Okay. I'm not coming home tonight and don't wait up for me, okay? [Turns and starts to head out the door, but turns around again] By the way, I have a date with Yiren at the small cottage next to the creek. Got that? The small cottage next to the creek. Don't hold me back. [Turns and leaves]

Jili [halfheartedly]: Um. Have fun. [He looks very depressed and sad]

[Cut to cottage. Jili approaches it and is muttering to himself]

Jili: The small cottage. The small cottage. [He gets close to the door and spots two silhouettes through the window (remember, no glass windows at this time; they are covered in paper). It looks like Xiangzi avidly kissing Yiren. Jili stares wide-eyed. He grabs a stout length of bamboo and starts hitting the front door, then bursts into the room. He looks like a madman and is yelling] Liu Xiangzi! You're going to die!

[We see the inside of the cottage as Jili burst in. Yiren is standing near the window, while Xiangzi is standing about six feet away. He manages to stop Jili's blow before it lands on him]

Xiangzi: Ah, ah, ah, Jili. [Jili looks dumbfounded at the sight. He stares first at Xiangzi, then at Yiren. She is shocked at his sudden entrance]

Jili [bewildered]: What are you two doing?

Xiangzi: You tell us.

Jili: How should I know?

Xiangzi: Back at Marshal Li's house, why did you beat me unconscious? Now you came here threatening to beat me up with this staff. You should know full well what I'm talking about now. [Yiren turns away shyly]

Jili [nervous]: Understand what? I just happened to be passing by when I decided to grab a stick and help out. If you like someone, then you should do things properly and marry her first. There's no reason to come to a place like this to carry on. Isn't that right?

Xiangzi: Oh, so now you're lecturing me? If you like someone, then you should openly tell her. You shouldn't go through such a circuitous route to keep other people away. Someone who is that passive is going to lose out when opportunity knocks. [To Yiren] Mistress Xu, it's time for me to leave. You two have a good chat. [Yiren smiles weakly in his direction. Xiangzi starts to walk out the door, but stops to try and take the staff from Jili's hands] Give that to me. [Jili refuses to let go so Xiangzi tugs harder until Jili gives it up] What are you going to need this for? [Walks out door, shaking his head]

Jili [stammering]: Xiangzi? Xiangzi? [Sees he is alone with Yiren, so he adopts a nonchalant attitude] I haven't the faintest idea what he was talking about.

Yiren [teasing]: You don't understand? Well, I understand. [She sidles over] I know you started liking me long ago. You just didn't dare to tell me. [Neither will look at the other]

Jili [snickers]: I've met all sorts of girls. This is the first time someone has insisted that I like you.

Yiren [taunting]: So are you willing to swear that you don't like me?

Jili [tries to stay dignified]: Why would I swear about something as silly as that?

Yiren: You're conscience isn't clear. You know you like me.

Jili: No, I don't.

Yiren: You don't? Then why won't you swear that you don't? [Needles him] If you can swear it, I'll believe you. [She inches closer, making Jili even more nervous]

Jili: All right. I'll say it, but keep your distance first. I, Su Jili, swear that if I like Xu Yiren a whit, may the skies erupt with thunder and lightning! [A sudden flash of lightning and roll of thunder echoes across, making Jili cringe in fear] Ahh! I lied! I lied! I really do like her! [Yiren looks up towards the ceiling in a mixture of awe and appreciation] Please don't strike me down!

Yiren [elated]: The gods above have opened their eyes. [Shyly tugs on Jili's sleeve] Come now. You've already told the truth. I may as well be frank with you, too. Actually, I like you, too. I was nice to Liu Xiangzi just to make you mad. [Flutters her eyelashes ingratiatingly and tucks her arm in his]

Jili [nervously pats her hand and disengages her arm]: That's enough. That's enough. You see, I'm really fond of you. [Yiren continues to look away shyly. Jili gets a serious tone in his voice] But nothing good will come out of a relationship. [Her smile starts to fade away as Jili's words start to sink in] You'd best forget about me. [He continues to pat her hand] I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Thank you for being so nice to me. [He hurries out the door, leaving a speechless Yiren. Startled by his exit, she hurries after him, but he never looks back]

Yiren: Su Jili! Su Jili! [Raises voice] Su Jili!

[Cut to the street before the main entrance to army headquarters. Yiren is nervously waiting for someone to show up. She is wringing her handkerchief and fidgeting impatiently. When Liu Xiangzi appears, she hurries over to talk with him]

Yiren [excitedly]: Did you find out where he went?

Xiangzi [mops his brow]: I can't find out. I've talked to all his acquaintances and no one knows where he went. Er, why don't you ask General Hua if she knows?

Yiren [impatiently]: If she knew I wouldn't be standing here in such a dither.

Xiangzi [shakes his head]: So what did you tell him that night?

Yiren [hesitant]: Um. Nothing much. I finally got him to admit that he liked me. Then he said that we had no future together and apologized a couple of times before bolting.

Xiangzi [sighs]: Alas, it's such a rare thing when two people are of like minds about each other. Why should he run away? I'm the one who should have run away. [Yiren looks at him blankly, then blushes when she realizes what he meant. They both turn away shyly]

[Cut to temple. People are kneeling before the altars with their offerings and prayers. Li Liang's mother drags her son inside]

Li Liang's mother: Li Liang, come in and pray.

Li Liang [impatient]: Mother, why? Didn't we already pray outside?

Li Liang's mother [chiding]: Tut, tut! When you're inside the temple how can you not take a minute to pray to Buddha? Pray! [Li Liang reluctantly gets on his knees, then notices the idol before him]

Li Liang: Hey, isn't that the god of medicine?

Li Liang's mother [shortly]: Well, you still have to pay your respects. [Starts to pray] My son Li Liang is naïve and means no disrespect. I pray that you will help us produce an heir to continue the family line. [To Li Liang] Genuflect! Now! [Shoves him down and Li Liang starts genuflecting] With feeling! Faster! Faster! [Continues to pray] Buddha, protect us all.

[Cut to forest path. Li Liang is walking with his mother and supporting her with one arm. She stumbles slightly on the uneven path]

Li Liang [concerned]: Mother, are you all right?

Li Liang's mother: I'm fine. It was nothing.

Li Liang: Mother, the capitol has several temples. Why did you want to come all the way out here?

Li Liang's mother [scolding]: What do you understand? Prayers at the capitol's temples are ineffective, so how could I rest easy not coming here.

Li Liang: Mother, Mulan and I are still young.

Li Liang's mother: It's because you are still young that I'm concerned that a year has passed and nothing has happened. What am I going to do if two more years pass like this? [Li Liang remains silent] I can let you have your way with anything else but this. We have to preserve the family line of the Li household. If she doesn't give birth in the next year, then there are only two options. One, we kick her out of the family. Two, you take a concubine.

Li Liang [sighs]: Mother, that's enough. How about we talk about something else? Look, it looks like it's going to rain soon. We should hurry up and find someplace to get out of the weather.

Li Liang's mother [looks up]: Oh. Yes. [They shuffle through the fallen leaves on the road and try to find shelter]

[Cut to what appears to be an abandoned hut or temple. A loud peal of thunder erupts and Li Liang's mother and Li Liang stagger into the hut]

Li Liang's mother [peeved]: Everything was pleasant just a while ago and now it suddenly starts raining. How can that be?

Li Liang [tries to dry off his mother]: Mother, did you get wet? Be careful not to catch cold.

Li Liang's mother: I wonder how long the rain will keep up? [We see a figure hiding behind a bundle of straw in the corner. The figure makes a rustling sound as he ducks further into the straw. Both Li Liang's mother and Li Liang hear it and become suspicious. Li Liang pushes his mother behind him and barks at the unseen figure]

Li Liang [sternly]: Who's there? Come out! [Seeing no movement, he lunges towards the pile of straw, plucks it aside, and grabs the figure, sending it sprawling. We now see it is a young lady, dressed in simple clothing. She lands on the ground with a thud and scrambles up in fear. He is surprised to see her] It's a young lady.

Lady [frightened]: Don't come any closer!

Li Liang's mother: Miss, don't be afraid. My son heard a noise and thought it was a vagabond. That's why he scared you so. Sorry about that.

Lady [regaining her composure]: I lapsed in my manners just now, too. Please forgive my ignorance.

[Li Liang has been openly staring the whole time, almost struck dumb, if you will. He finally regains his powers of speech]

Li Liang [still looking bewitched by her beauty]: Miss, I was too forward and presumptuous just now. I'm sorry.

Li Liang's mother: Miss, it's very lonely out here. How come you are here all alone? Where is your family?

Lady [trembles slightly]: A hero never asks for origins and a savior never asks for family history. Madam, please don't ask me.

Li Liang's mother: Oh. That's fine. Don't worry about it. Once the rain stops we'll be leaving. [Li Liang pulls aside his mother and whispers to her]

Li Liang: Mother, based on her appearance, she's been staying here several days already. (Don't know how he deduced that; aside from the mussed hair she does not look disheveled) Do you think you could go over and offer to help her out? [They glance at the young lady, who nervously looks away]

Li Liang's mother [scoffs]: She doesn't even want to talk about her past. How can we find out? No sense stirring up unknown waters. We'd better mind our own business.

Li Liang [protesting]: But a young lady alone?

Li Liang's mother [interrupts]: The innocent don't end up in predicaments like this. I'm pretty sure she is a runaway from home. Come on, let's not get involved. [Li Liang remains unconvinced, but another loud peal of thunder interrupts their conversation. The young lady shrieks in terror and Li Liang's mother also jumps. She tries to calm the young lady down] Miss, it was only some thunder.

Lady [shrieks and points to the ground]: It's a snake!

[We see a snake slithering along the ground and suddenly bite Li Liang on the ankle through his tunic. He grimaces at the sting of the bite and suddenly starts to weaken. The young lady springs forward and grabs a large stick. She proceeds to whack at the snake with great fervor while Li Liang sinks to the ground. Li Liang's mother is in a panic at his predicament]

Li Liang's mother: Li Liang, stop playing! You're scaring me! [He isn't responding and rapidly becomes unconscious]

[After the young lady dispatches the snake, she comes over to help Li Liang. She peels back his trouser leg and we see small spots of blood on his calf where the snake bit him]

Lady: Oh my goodness, he's been bitten by a poisonous snake.

Li Liang's mother [panics in earnest]: What are we going to do?!

Lady: Don't worry. Let me handle this. [She gets up and fetches a length of scarlet cloth from the table. She then takes the cloth and wraps it around Li Liang's leg just below the knee, tying it tightly to serve as a tourniquet. He has started to shiver and his lips are blue. The lady then proceeds to suck the wound. She spits out the blood and then sucks some more out. Li Liang continues to shiver and Li Liang's mother watches with a look of fascinated horror. The young lady repeats this several times. She is starting to look tired herself and possibly a little ill]

Li Liang's mother [happily]: He's looking a lot better. His color's coming back. [Li Liang's face is not so blue and he has stopped shivering]

Lady: The poison in his system isn't entirely cleansed yet. You'd better hurry and fetch some help. [She sways slightly, then falls over in a dead faint]

Li Liang's mother: Miss? Miss!

[Cut to room back in the Generals' Residence. Li Liang is in bed and an acupuncturist is applying needles. He soon wakes up and we see Mulan and Li Liang's mother at his bedside, the former sitting and the latter standing]

Mulan: Brother Liang, it's me, Mulan. Do you recognize me? [Li Liang tries to sit up but can't even lift his head from the pillow]

Li Liang [weakly]: How come I have no energy or strength?

Li Liang's mother [excited]: Praise be to Buddha, he's awake. You don't remember what happened? A poisonous snake bit you and before you could even say a word you fainted.

Li Liang: Is that true?

Mulan [to doctor]: Doctor, is he out of danger now?

Doctor: Now that he is awake, he should not have any serious issues. It's a good thing he was helped as quickly as he was, otherwise, even if Asclepius himself came back it wouldn't have done Marshal Li any good.

Mulan [puzzled]: What kind of snake was it?

Doctor: Even though I didn't see the snake with my own eyes, based on Elder Mistress Li's description, it was a Seven Step snake.

Li Liang: Seven Step snake? Isn't that the one where legend that if it bites you, the poison will spread throughout your body immediately, killing you within taking seven steps?

Doctor: Yes, that's the one. It's a good thing that young lady risked her life to pull the poison out of your system. Otherwise, I would be powerless to help you.

Mulan: Doctor, isn't it time to change the needles on the young lady?

Doctor [rising]: Yes. Marshal Li, please get plenty of rest. I'll be back later to check on you. [He leaves the room]

Mulan: Popo, could you stay here with Brother Liang? [Mulan gets up and leaves with the doctor. Li Liang's mother sits down next to Li Liang's bed]

Li Liang: Mother, who saved me?

Li Liang's mother [takes his hand]: Do you remember how you accompanied me to visit that temple and it started to rain, so we went into an abandoned temple to seek shelter?

Li Liang: So it was the young lady we met at the abandoned temple?

Li Liang's mother: Yes, that's the one! That's the one! [Li Liang sighs and goes back to sleep]

[Cut to another room in the Generals' Residence. This must be a guestroom where they have placed the young lady. The doctor is applying needles to her wrist. She is still unconscious. Yiren is watching when Mulan walks in]

Mulan: What's the matter, still no response?

Yiren: That's right. There's been no reaction whatsoever. She's as still as the dead. It's giving beginning to frighten me. Is Cousin awake yet?

Mulan [nods]: Yes, he's awake now. [Turns to doctor] Doctor, how is the young lady?

Doctor: General, ma'am, to save the marshal she sucked out the poison from his system, but she may have accidentally swallowed some of the venom. I've done all I can to dissipate the venom in her body, but whether or not I can save her is something I cannot predict.

Mulan: I can't bear to think she may have given up her life to save my husband. Doctor, you must do everything in your power to save her.

Doctor: I will do my best. However, as mortals we can only do our best; the rest is up to the gods. No one can say for certain what will happen. [Mulan and Yiren exchange worried glances but remain silent]

[Cut to scene showing the seashore and a green field. Inside the Generals' Residence, Mulan is carrying a bowl of medicine inside Li Liang's recuperation room. She puts it down with alacrity when she sees Li Liang trying to get out of bed by himself]

Mulan: Hey, what do you think you're doing?

Li Liang [tries to put a cloak on]: I want to see my lifesaver. Has she awoken yet?

Mulan: No, she hasn't. But don't worry. Dr. Zhou will take good care of her.

Li Liang: I want to see her for myself.

Mulan [hesitates]: Alright. Let me help you over there.

[Cut to room where the young lady is staying. Li Liang's mother is standing in one spot praying silently, while Yiren is helping make sure the young lady is warm enough. Li Liang limps in the room on Mulan's arm]

Li Liang: Mother, has that young lady awoken yet?

Li Liang's mother [alarmed]: Oh no, you've just started to get better! [Scolds Mulan] How could you let him roam around like this?

Mulan: Popo, he insisted on seeing his lifesaver.

Li Liang [interrupts]: This isn't Mulan's fault. I insisted on coming here. [He limps over to where the young lady is still unconscious on the bed. He turns to Yiren] How is she?

Yiren [gets up]: It's already been three days and three nights and she hasn't moved at all.

Li Liang: She's so innocent and delicate. If anything happens to her, how am I going to live with myself?

Mulan: Say no more. Who knew that a woman who appeared delicate and weak on the outside would have such courage and honor in her bosom? It's truly something to admire and praise.

Yiren [sighs]: It's too bad that she may have given her life in exchange. If anything happens to her, we not only couldn't notify her family, we wouldn't even know what to put on her gravestone.

Li Liang's mother [aghast]: What are you saying? [Immediately starts praying] Oh, gods above, don't listen to the nonsense she's spouting. [Yiren suddenly realizes she has just put her foot in her mouth, so she also starts praying] Please protect this young lady and help her recover quickly and wake up. [We see that tears have started to trickle out of the young lady's eyes, though she still remains outwardly unconscious. Yiren is the first to spot the tears]

Yiren: Hey, she's crying!

Li Liang [amazed]: Are you saying she can hear us?

Li Liang's mother: Then that means she's awake, right? [At this point, a thin trickle of blood appears out of the young lady's mouth]

Yiren: Oh no, she's bleeding!

[The family all crowd around the young lady's bed to get a better look]

Mulan [to maid]: Go fetch the doctor.

Yiren: Hurry! Go now!

[The next scene shows the doctor sitting next to the young lady's bed writing out a prescription. He is shaking his head grimly]

Li Liang [worried]: Doctor, use whatever precious and expensive medicines are necessary to save this young lady. Don't worry about the expense.

Doctor: Marshal Li, I understand your desire to help her. However, it's impossible for me to predict which way she'll go. I can only promise to do my best.

Mulan: Doctor, you have to think of some way to save her.

Doctor [hands over prescription]: This prescription consists of medicines that purge and neutralize poisons. The only problem is since she's unconscious I'm not sure how much of it we can get into her system. If she can make it through the next two days, perhaps she'll survive this.

Mulan: That's good. We must try everything possible. Yiren, go with a maid to the pharmacy and get 30 doses of this medicine. [Hands over prescription. Yiren nods but is a little surprised]

Yiren: Thirty doses?

Mulan: Of course. Didn't you hear what the doctor said? The more we can get in her system the better. I figure that if we prepare thirty doses hopefully at least half a bowl's worth will trickle into her stomach.

[Cut to a few hours later. The family is still gathered around the young lady's bed. There are several empty bowls of medicine arrayed on the adjoining table. Yiren is slowly spooning the medicine into the young lady's mouth and wiping away the excess with a napkin. Li Liang's mother is looking on in great worry when Mulan reappears with another fresh bowl of medicine]

Mulan: How is it going? Did she drink the medicine?

Yiren [points to empty bowls]: We've already gone through these bowls.

Li Liang's mother [about to cry]: If she doesn't make it, the Li family will be very beholden to her; we won't be able to repay this debt within this lifetime.

Li Liang [looking guilty]: It's all my fault. I thought she was an immortal sent to save me from a venomous snake. I didn't know she'd end up sacrificing herself.

Mulan: Don't be so hard on yourselves. As long as she is still with us we can still save her.

[The next scene shows Mulan supporting the young lady's head while Yiren spoons more medicine into her mouth. This time, the young lady is actually opening her mouth slightly and swallowing the medicine, unlike before]

Yiren [excited]: Hey, I think she swallowed it.

Mulan: Good. Keep giving her more.

[Cut to Li Liang's quarters. Mulan is tying on a fresh bandage to Li Liang's leg where the snake bit him]

Mulan: There. Does it still hurt?

Li Liang [flexes his leg a few times]: No, it doesn't hurt anymore. It's just a little numb.

Mulan: The doctor said that you'd be fine again after a few more days of treatment.

Li Liang: There's nothing seriously wrong with me. I'm worried about that young lady.

Mulan: She drank the medicine, so she should recover.

Li Liang: Mulan, it's been hard on you and I apologize.

Mulan [smiling]: What kind of talk is that? She saved your life, which is the same as saving my life. You're not the only one who wouldn't let her die for lack of care. Get some rest. I'm going to check in on her. [She gets up and picks up the tray of medicines]

Li Liang: Alright. [Stops Mulan before she leaves] Mulan, promise me you'll tell me if anything happens.

Mulan: Don't worry. I'm at the helm. You're forgetting my forte is nursing the dead back to life. [She grins broadly at Li Liang, eliciting a weak smile from him]

[Cut to the young lady's room. Li Liang's mother is sitting next to the bed and anxiously looking for signs of improvement. Mulan walks in and sees Li Liang's mother sitting there, then walks over]

Mulan: Popo, it's late. You should go get some rest. I'll handle things here.

Li Liang's mother: How can I sleep? It's already been half a day since she drank the medicine and there still isn't any sign of improvement.

Mulan [squats next to Li Liang's mother]: Popo, don't worry. She was willing to risk her life to save us even though we are complete strangers. Good things happen to good people. However, if you get sick because you didn't take care of yourself then that wouldn't be good once she wakes up.

Li Liang's mother [gently chiding]: If you hadn't been a man born into a woman's body, I'd say you make a pretty good daughter-in-law. [Gets up] Let me know if anything changes, will you?

Mulan [turns to maid]: Accompany Elder Mistress to her quarters. [The maid escorts Li Liang's mother out the door. Mulan sits down in the recently vacated seat and takes the young lady's hand] You must get better. It's all up to you. [Yiren walks in the room carrying a tray of food]

Yiren: Cousin-In-Law, where'd Aunt go?

Mulan: She went to get some rest.

Yiren: Humph. I went to go get her some food. Oh well. Would you like some? [Mulan nods and sits down at the table]

Mulan: Yiren, I've noticed that you've lacked your usual energy lately. Why is that?

Yiren: Have I? Perhaps it's because I've been worried about this woman's outcome.

Mulan: Oh. Is that what it is. And I though it was something else.

Yiren: What else?

Mulan [looks her in the eye]: Jili's sudden departure without a word.

Yiren [straightens up]: His sudden departure has nothing to do with me. In fact, it's best if he doesn't ever come back. [Sits down but can't look at Mulan] It'll save him from making overtures towards me.

Mulan [sighs]: I know better than anyone else how aggravating Su Jili can be. He always said he wanted to go out and see the world, so it's just as well he's gone. [Yiren nods] When he writes a letter home, I'll just tell him to go out and see as much of the wide world as he wants and not worry about us here.

Yiren [blanches and holds up her hand]: No! Um. I mean, it's better for him to come home. It's lonely flitting around the world alone and I feel sorry for him. Even the fact I detest him is no reason to doom him to a life as a lonely tramp. That will count for bad karma against me.

Mulan: Bad karma? Oh, yes, that would be bad thing. I should tell him to hurry home, then.

Yiren [nods]: Yes. However, don't get the wrong idea. He and I are not done with our last battle. We've only called a cease-fire temporarily.

Mulan [grins]: I understand. I understand completely. The hatred between the two of you is something that cannot be washed away in this lifetime.

Yiren: Yes, exactly. Although, while he is rather homely and aggravating, when he comes home I'll avoid him. [Starts mumbling] You can tell him to come home without a care.

Mulan: I'll be sure to tell him everything we've discussed today, in it's full uncut detail.

[The young lady starts to cough, attracting Yiren and Mulan's attention]

Yiren: Is something wrong?

Mulan: She's coughing. Let's hold her up. [Mulan walks over and helps the young lady sit up. She keeps coughing and then coughs up some blood]

Yiren [shocked]: Oh no, she's coughing up blood again!

Mulan: Go fetch the doctor.

Young lady [mumbles]: Where am I?

Yiren [elated]: Hey, she's awake!

[Cut to a scene with Li Liang's mother and the young lady sitting at a table. Yiren is standing behind her aunt, Li Liang is sitting opposite the young lady, and Mulan is standing behind Li Liang's mother. There is food on the table and Li Liang's mother spoons a bowl of soup]

Li Liang's mother: This is chicken soup with ginseng. The doctor said it's good for you to drink it. Hurry and drink it up.

Young lady: Elder Mistress, you are too kind.

Li Liang's mother [waves it aside]: You saved my son, Li Liang's, life. If I were to be a hundred or even a thousand times more generous repay you a whit for all you have done. These dishes are all designed to help you recover quickly and have healing properties. You haven't eaten anything for several days, so please eat up.

Young lady: Elder Mistress, I'll be honest with you. When I was sucking the poison out of Marshal Li's body, I had my own selfish motives.

Li Liang's mother [puzzled]: Selfish motives?

Young lady: If you two hadn't come upon me in that abandoned temple when you had, I probably would have already taken my own life.

[The family looks horrified at the revelation]

Li Liang's mother: Suicide?

Mulan: Even a grub eventually becomes a butterfly. Why did you want to do that?

Li Liang: Mistress Xiaoqing, if you have any difficulties, don't hesitate to tell us.

Yiren: Exactly. My Cousin and Cousin-In-Law are both officials of the empire. They will see to it that justice is served.

Li Liang's mother: You are the Li family's benefactor. Your troubles are our troubles. You can go ahead and tell us.

Xiaoqing [quietly]: My father was a famous doctor in Sanxi. We also owned a apothecary, so in our village, we were considered well-to-do.

Li Liang's mother: No wonder you knew how to rescue Li Liang.

Mulan: How did you end up all the way here in the capitol from Sanxi?

Xiaoqing: Who knew that catastrophes befall so quickly from above? Last year, my father became gravely ill. He could heal others but not himself. In a few days, he passed on.

Li Liang's mother: Is there anyone else in your family?

Xiaoqing: Our family lacked prosperity; I have no siblings. Nor I do have any other relatives. I originally tried running the business by myself and earn enough to provide for myself. I didn't know that others would take advantage of the fact that I was a lone girl running a store. They commandeered the apothecary.

Mulan [upset]: That's outrageous! Tell us their names and we'll send word to the courts at Sanxi to arrest these people!

Yiren: Exactly.

Xiaoqing: They took all my family's possessions and have long since left the area. How could you find them?

Yiren: So you traveled here to find them?

Xiaoqing: I'm just a weak girl. What could I do with them even if I found them? I came to the capitol because I was hoping to find refuge with some distant relatives. I didn't know that when I arrived I would find they had already moved elsewhere.

Li Liang [sighs]: Your future may look unclear to you, but that doesn't mean you should try to take your life. You have to remember that your parents bequeathed this body to you. You must appreciate it.

Xiaoqing: Marshal Li, there's something else you don't know about me. I was intending to come to the capitol to borrow some money and then return home to figure out what to do next. I didn't know that I'd encounter ruffians on the road. One of them, called Madam Ding, took pity on me. She said she'd take me to become an understudy to a wealthy family's daughter. I didn't realize until I arrived at her home that she had planned to sell me to a brothel.

[Yiren hurriedly covers her mouth with a handkerchief in horror. Li Liang's mother cringes also at what Xiaoqing has said]

Li Liang's mother: Gods above, how you love to torment us! Why do you insist on giving her such a burden?

Xiaoqing: I ran away the first night after I found out. However, they caught me and brought me back. First they drugged me and when I awoke I realized where I was. I managed to escape again, but after several days of running I was at my wit's end to provide for my food and clothing. That's why I contemplated suicide. [The family is deeply touched with her story. Everyone has tears in their eyes] When you two arrived at the abandoned temple, I thought it was Madam Ding's henchman, which was why I hid from you.

Li Liang's mother: When she saw me no wonder she was so frightened. Your story is truly a sad and sobering one. But don't worry. Just focus on getting better. We will take care of you.

Xiaoqing: Elder Mistress, you don't need to treat me so well. This life of mine was meant to be thrown away. I'm happy that the gods allowed me the chance to save a life as heroic as Marshal Li's. I think of it as bringing me good karma.

Mulan: Mistress Zhuang, please don't say that. You saved my husband; we will never forget that. Eat some food first. Later, you can tell me all about Madam Ding and let me handle things for you.

Xiaoqing: Thank you, General Hua.

Mulan: You're welcome. If we don't catch and punish these people accordingly, then what's the use of justice in this world?

Li Liang: Well, Mistress Xiaoqing, rest up and focus on getting better. We'll make sure justice is served.

[Cut to empty hut with rubble all around. Imperial soldiers burst into the room, led by their sergeant, who wears a bright red neckerchief. We see this sergeant is actually Liu Xiangzi]

Xiangzi [to soldiers]: Search the premises! Leave no stone unturned! [The soldiers hurriedly look through the hut. Xiangzi picks up a piece of paper with writing on it. A soldier approaches and salutes Xiangzi]

Soldier: Sergeant, sir, we haven't found anything.

Xiangzi [thinks a bit]: Let's go. [They leave the hut]

[Cut to Generals' Residence, where Mulan is sitting and talking with Xiangzi]

Mulan: We've really let those people slip through our fingers?

Xiangzi [nods]: Yes. [Li Liang is sitting with Mulan at a table. Xiangzi is standing at attention with his helmet in one hand]

Li Liang [sighs]: They must have heard a rumor in the wind and ran. Liu Xiangzi?

Xiangzi: Yes, sir.

Li Liang: You are in charge of tracking them down.

Xiangzi: Yes, sir. [Li Liang's mother and Yiren come running into the room, with Xiaoqing following slowly behind them]

Li Liang's mother [excitedly]: Did you find them? Did you find them?

Li Liang: Mother.

Mulan: Popo. It seems Madam Ding's people knew we were coming to arrest them. They ran already.

Li Liang's mother [impatient]: You are all incompetent people. You can't even do this for Mistress Xiaoqing.

Xiangzi [protesting]: Elder Mistress, we've tried our best.

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

Xiangzi [bows]: Yes, it's me. I hope you are doing well today, ma'am.

[Li Liang's mother gives Yiren a look then approaches Xiangzi]

Li Liang's mother: What post do you currently hold in the army?

Xiangzi: Ma'am, I currently am only a small foot soldier, just a mere sergeant.

Li Liang's mother: A sergeant? [Turns to Li Liang] Li Liang, how many men does a sergeant lead?

Li Liang: About thirty or so.

Li Liang's mother: That's not very prestigious.

Mulan: Popo, Liu Xiangzi doesn't have a great deal of experience yet. He's done pretty well already.

Li Liang's mother [shortly]: Of course you'd think he's done pretty well. It's better than having to compete with Yiren.  [Mulan pouts slightly at the insult but remains silent]

Yiren: Aunt, did you say something?

Li Liang's mother: Oh, nothing. Since we weren't able to catch these people there really isn't anything to say.

Xiangzi: Elder Mistress, you can rest easy. We'll get to the bottom of this.