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Bride and Prejudice

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"But, I… How could it be…―?" Mulan sputtered. Her mind rack havoc with all the thoughts, the consequences, and the implication should she really was... pregnant.

"Excuse me?" Ling rolled his eyes. "You know where a baby comes from, don't you, my friend?" he patted her back with mock sympathy. "More importantly you know how it is made!"

Well, it really didn't take a genius to make an intelligent guess on it. All the symptoms were there, the fatigue, the unexplainable appetite change, the nausea…―

A serious knot appeared to have formed, causing her internal organs to clench in displeasure and she couldn't fathom why. Shouldn't she be happy she was carrying the Fa-Li future heir? Isn't this the child she was so desired? Would Shang finally saw her as a dutiful wife… more so, his equal? And, assuming if the baby were a boy, she would be extending General Li's and her father's legacy for another generation. She could even hear Grandma Fa cheering, "Ancestor be praised, we have descendant!" chant while dancing around the kitchen. But no… not right now. Disguising herself as a man was hard enough―imagine, trying to hide her pregnant belly would be… well, impossible!

"I…―" She finally registered Ling and Chien-Po who still stood there, wrinkling their brows and tilting their head. They could be her best of friends, friends whom she conceded everything about. Well, almost everything. But at the moment, her mind and emotions were all over the place, and she needed time and space to process… this. "I had to go," she said quickly and disappeared before her friends could stop her.

"I heard what happen," Mushu said from his hiding place inside the collar of her robe. "Your ancestors weren't joking when they said you had a reckless inclination. If you don't want to be pregnant you should…―Hey, you are not listening!" he scoffed grumpily when Mulan completely ignored his existence.

"Are you done?" Mulan sighed.

"On the brighter light, you have a husband, girl," he consoled. "You have a home to go to."

Does she? What was home without a family if it wasn't just a structure? And what was a family without love and respect? All she could find in her home was tyrannical mother-in-law and her emotionally absent husband.

Mushu had taken her silence as a sign of disapproval, so he went on. "You can't stay here, Mulan. Whether you like it or not. It's impossible. Besides, you don't want these people mistaken you for Chien-Po when they send you home."

If that was a joke, it wasn't at all funny. Not at her current predicament it wasn't. She couldn't risk losing an innocent soul at the expense of her mission. But could she really afford to abort her mission? In her mind, she imagined Shang's infuriated reaction if she revealed her disguise and the impending doom that awaited her at home when Li Yue, her mother-in-law, found out where she had been.

And yet, these were the easy worries, for neither Shang nor Li-Yue had ever cared about her. Truly. It was her father's disappointed face that would crush her defence to powder.

How would he react if he knew her foolish disguise? She was supposed to be at the Li's home, becoming an exemplary wife that brought honour to the Fa, and here she was - a terrible soldier even so terrible daughter. Mulan sighed dejectedly. She wasn't looking forward to having that hard conversation with her father anytime soon.

"Thanks for the cheerful reminder, Mushu."

Next morning came. Golden light diffused through the membrane of mist through the encampment. Mushu rubbed his bleary eyes before realising that almost the entire resident of the tent was gone and all their bed were vacated.

"Mulan, Girl! Wake up!" the Dragon hollered for the umpteenth time.

"Can you give me another five minutes?" came Mulan's sleepy reply.

"You have to wake up! You have Captain Handsome to impress, remember?!"

"Oh!" Her eyes jolted open and she leapt out of her bed like being possessed. She frantically grabbed her training clothes, ignoring his lecture about the importance of breakfast and simply mouthing "I have no time for that".

"Well, you would if you wake up earlier"Mushu grumbled. "Now now… remember, don't overexert yourself. Until you see the midwife… you shouldn't….―"

"Don't worry Mushu; I'm a big girl."

"Yeah yeah… things have been simpler when you were small," he tutted when Mulan found out she had worn her training trousers backwards.

A frigid wind blew from the tent entrance causing her to shiver. "Don't forget to wear one extra layer of clothing, the autumn coming to an end and….―"

"Mushu, I say I'm a big girl."

Mushu bit his lips. "Right you are."

Mushu's first impression of Shang― he stroke as someone who would not tolerate tardiness. But above all, he didn't understand why Mulan was so desperate to impress her husband: both as a man or a woman. Perhaps this was the way they made their relationship worked? Who knows.

Have you heard the phrase "opposites attract"? That was the first thing came to Mushu's mind when he saw Shang and Mulan. They were like oil and water. Mulan was clever, beguiling and creative (with a slight maverick inclination to be perfectly honest). She was like fireworks, exciting and unpredictable. And Shang… he may be good looking, but he was as interesting as rice porridge. For the record, Mushu didn't find porridge particularly exciting. Shang was the most monotonous, dreary creature Mushu had ever seen. The things he said seemed all to be predictable and repetitive, and his reaction whether he was excited, happy or sad seemed to be always...tepid and bland.

And here he was, secretly watching Shang who was condescendingly barking the same order for hundredth time, yet, Mulan stared at him like he was the answer to all her prayer.

"Girl, you have to stop staring at him and queue for breakfast. Otherwise, you'll be left with none!" chastised the Dragon. Mulan realised she had been caught immediately tore her eyes from the glimpse of Shang who already started yelling instruction for the recruits to begin their warm up.

"I'm not staring at him! I'm thinking!"

"Really?" Mushu scoffed, half annoyed and half amused. "Just admit it. Captain Handsome is quite pleasant to look at. You don't have to feel bad to confess that you fancy him. He is yours, you know."

"It's not like I like him," she denied, slipping into her training robe. "I was forced to marry him," she replied with a forced airiness. "I mean, right now, we're clearly just platonic and not…―He doesn't think of me like he lo…―I didn't mean…―"

"You don't?" Mushu called out incredulously; his mouth fell into a dramatic 'o' shape. "And you persisted when you tell me you have a perfectly happy, loving marriage?"

"Our marriage is balanced and harmonious," she defended, "Besides, love isn't an essential ingredient in marriage. Shang and I are always civil to each other," which everyone knew was a big fat lie considering how they spent their first night as a married couple was by doing a sword fight.

"Right right―I totally believe you," Mushu rebutted sarcastically. He wanted to debate Mulan's stubborn reply, but he decided there was a better time for having such in-depth discussion.

"Ok, whatever. Now quick, let's go."

She was about to skip her breakfast when her stomach voiced its disapproval, especially after a night with very little food. Thankfully no sign of nausea on the horizon, so she slipped into the kitchen and greeted with the sight of deserted breakfast tent―save it for Chef Zhang who was washing the dishes. Just then, from the tent entrance, Mushu caught a glimpse of Shang abandoning his robes before leading the warm-up drill.

"Does he… always take off his shirt on every occasion?" Mushu said, tilting his head conspicuously to Shang's direction, right when he executed a particular movement that enhanced the tension of the fabric around his ass.

"Too hot maybe," Mulan commented nonchalantly, paying extra attention to the hard planes of Shang's chest.

"Too… What?"

And she seemed to realise underlying innuendo she implied and corrected. "When I say hot―I mean temperature hot, not figurative hot."

"I can see that," Mushu smirked mischievously, tapping his claw on his chin. "But you did think he is figuratively hot as well, right? I can tell from the way you can't stop calling him hot."

"Not again…" she moaned, but Mushu babbled on. "Mulan, my powers are beyond your mortal imagination. For instance, my eyes can see straight through your armor..―" His eyes moved towards her chest causing her to gasp, pulling whatever material she could find to cover the spot.

"Mushu!" She smacked him. The dragon made a distressed sound of shock.

"Jeez, I mean I can see right through your heart!" he said, rubbing the sore spot. Mulan glared at him. "Fine...fine, sorry. I was just teasing you. Ok, now quick, or Captain Shirtless will order you to clean the horses for being late again."

"Don't call him that, you can lose your head," she rebuked.

"Hey, I am a mighty deity. I can call my subject whatever I like," he chuckled. "Oh, this training could be so much fun after all," he chimed excitedly while his claws busy dispensing condiment into the porridge.

"Mushu…" she pleaded. "I know no one else can hear or see you, but, can you stop talking for a minute?" She already sat on the table and was ready to divulge into her breakfast as quick as she could but Mushu's constant babbling made her lost track of the situation.

Mushu, of course, ignored Mulan's wish, instead presenting the bowl of porridge decorated with eggs and a soya sauce. "I believe the word you are searching for is 'thank' and 'you'."

Chien-Po, can you now go and get some food supplies from the nearby market?" ordered Chef Zhang as he entered the tent where the recruits congregated.

After the initial discussion, Chien-Po and Ling had crafted a plan that discreetly would allow Mulan to go out of the encampment to see a healer for a checkup.

"I'm sorry Chef, I… ―" Chien-Po faked an erratic cough. "I'm not feeling very well. But Ping is willing to take my errands." It was a bad lie, for ailment had almost no place in Chien-Po overtly-nourished body, but what's important was everyone else believed him.

"May I come with him, Chef?" prompted Ling. "I can help him with some heavy stuff that he couldn't carry." Mulan rolled her eyes and glared at him. The plan was for her to go alone but Ling seemed to have a different idea.

"I am quite capable of handling this myself, Sir," she addressed Chef Zhang. Despite her awareness of lack of benefit in strength department compared to her male counterparts, Mulan disliked some sexist remark and attitude that suggested that she was a liability to the team.

Ling exhaled at her punctuated answer. "I was only trying to help," he whispered to her. Seemed like his definition of "help" require a significant adjustment. "Remember...that?" he glared at Mulan's still flat belly and pursed his lips in response to her verbal castigation. "Heavy things aren't good for the…―" he stopped himself when he realised Chef Zhang was closely watching their exchange.

Mulan only replied by breathing loudly through her nose and Chef Zhang guffawed at the innocent banter, oblivious to the hidden meaning of their conversation.

"Appreciate your generous offer, Ling, but Ping won't be carrying those alone. We are feeding a regiment, not a family," he snorted ungracefully between chuckle. "I'd say Khan is more useful than you right now, but if you wish, you can keep Ping accompany."

"Oh, thank you, Sir!"

Ling grinned at her cockily. Mulan knew the man wouldn't just give up the fight so she could let another exasperated sigh.

Okay, Ling could be annoying as hell, but deep down she knew her best friend was mortally worried for her. And sometimes she would have to thank the gods for a stubborn friend like Ling because, yes, sometimes she needed it. However, right now, she just wanted to be alone. She wanted to be alone when the midwife delivered the "bad" news, so she could cry or could laugh deliriously, scream or do other unreasonable behaviours without anyone questioning her logic.

But perhaps alone wasn't what she needed.

Minutes later, the two recruits descended towards the horse stable to procure Khan and a wagon. Ling jotted down the list that Chien-Po dictated and compiled into a list of things to buy.

As they turned down one of the winding cobblestone roads and finally into one quiet alleyway far from the main street, standing in front of them was a small opening with a wooden sign plastered across the top. "Ms. Chua, Healer and Herbalist."

There was hardly words between them during the entire journey. Ling figured that Mulan perhaps wanted some quiet time to confront her thoughts. But right then when he saw his friend's afflicted face, he couldn't help but to place his hand on her shoulder in a silent pledge. Whatever the outcome, I am here.

He realised this wasn't the right time to be judgemental. These couple of weeks had laden Mulan with enough duress, and now she was faced with the bitter dilemma of choosing between her baby or her family honour.

To say she was anxious was an understatement. As soon as Ling left, in the empty waiting room she felt a wave anxiety of what she was about to face. Fear that stroke her hardest left her off guard, overwhelmed her with its enormity.

"What are your symptoms?" asked the old woman who presumably Ms. Chua.

Mulan rattled off the things she was feeling while Ms. Chua told her to lay down on the examination table.

"So, you think you might be pregnant?" she asked again after she quizzed Mulan on her symptoms. She had a feel of Mulan's abdomen and recorded her vitals.

It was clear that Mulan was unspeakably tense that no words seemed to be able to answer a very simple question.

"Oh, unexpected I see," the old woman added to the silence, as he began mixing and grinding herbs on the bowl.

Unwanted may be the right word.

Thankfully, the old woman wasn't nosy enough to ask about why she was dressed in a man's outfit.

"Don't you use any form of birth control dear?" she said while busying herself grinding some herbal concoction.

Birth control, if such things weren't a myth in this era, had been largely limited to 'pull out and pray,' which had not boasted the best success rate and depended considerably on the willingness of obviously unwilling men. And of course, there was some horrible smelling tea that many women believed to prevent procreation to which Mulan had seen was nothing but pointless torture.

"No," she answered, not bothering to cover the rueful edge on her tone. She was dreading the consequences. Nine-month from now, she would become a mother. Was she even ready for this? She had just learned to be a wife, which she had failed miserably, and now how was she supposed to be a mother? To raise a child, to know how to protect it and love it?

"I initially thought it was something I ate," Mulan said tremulously. "But, I have been missing my period…so I...―"

Ms. Chua nodded understandingly.

Other women would be joyful, no doubt. Perhaps thinking of a sweet, but overly complicated way to deliver the delightful message to their husband, and imagining their husband would sweep them into his arms, peppered her face, her abdomen with kisses wet with tears of pure unadulterated joy.

But a child wasn't what Mulan had wished for.

She had wished for peace, so her father would be allowed to retire at home.

She wished her mother was still here. Alive. A mother that had been years becoming her rock. Her mother, with her calm smile and Chinese efficiency, who brew her tea and fetched warm towel―still, a classic triumph―and sat with her. Her mother with her practical wisdom and her bright smile that seemed capable of calming a treacherous sea.

The old woman seemed to read her mind well and when Mulan had calmed enough to hear it, she said, "Not everyone is meant to be a mother, I'll not lie to you." And she took her hand in her own, and continued soothingly, "But be not fearful, child. All you have to do is believe that you can do it," she gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "A child is a gift," she said with her warm, wrinkly smile, and wisdom that weaved on her aged skin. "He or she will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, saving smaller, a home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten….and the future worth living for."

Mulan had stepped out of the examination room to collect her own urine sample that apparently required by Ms. Chua for further test. She could hear Ms. Chua was attending to someone else when she returned, so Mulan propped herself on the bench in the waiting room to wait for her turn. A woman, perhaps the same age as her, cradling something noisy and wriggly between her arms.

It soon became apparent it was a baby, who at the moment waving his angry fist demanding his will to be fulfilled.

"I know, I know," the young woman murmured as her baby's wails started to gain in volume. She settled her baby in her arms, discreetly exposed her breast and pressed the nipple into his mouth. Her son winced first then started to suck hungrily as soon as the first drop of milk touched his tongue.

And a few moments after, a young man in soldiers outfit, burst into the room.

"Here you are," he said, smiling down at the baby who didn't even bother to notice his father's presence. "Oh, Mei here is your lunch," the man told his wife, pulling two warm buns from his sack. "Char siew bun, your favourite."

"Oh thank you! By the way, can you give me his bib? Front pocket," his wife said distractedly. "There is also a white burp cloth somewhere."

The man obligated and carefully placed the small square of fabric underneath his son's chin then the cloth on his wife's lap. After the few first seconds of rapid suckling, the baby settled to a more leisurely pace, completely oblivious of his attentive parents who were observing him carefully.

"Feeling better?" the young woman cooed to the baby. There was something deeply satisfying to be able to appease your child and know you were giving him exactly what he needed, and it always was a special moment to watch the way a baby would gradually relax, his eyes first staring back at her then slowly drifting closed every now and then in apparent milk bliss.

"I think it's my turn now," her husband stretched his hands.

"It's funny to hear that comes from you, Liu Kang. A couple of weeks ago you were terrified of holding him. You know that he can't even bite you, he doesn't have any teeth yet," she goaded but handing over the sleepy baby into her husband's arm. "A man who can put down a Hun soldier is afraid of a baby. Unbelievable."

"Don't try to divert the conversation," the man replied in faux-annoyance, but the smile he had as he welcomed the sleepy baby in his arms was priceless.

"Here, eat your lunch before they get cold," he told his wife between rocking on his toe and humming some lullaby.

"He has to be burped," the young mother warned her husband.

"Yeah well, I'm a guy, I know all about burps."

She waited until her husband's shoulder was covered with the burp cloth before handing him their son.

"Woah. You're getting heavy, Son," the young man started to gently pat his son's back, while his wife seemed to stare, mesmerized for a few seconds, drinking the tender moment between two most important men in her life.

"I'll leave one for you. You haven't eaten since morning," the woman remarked while taking a large bite of her bun. She kept one of the buns back into the sackcloth for her husband. "Crazy how something as simple as having lunch now seemed like a special treat," she added. Uncaring for her womanly decorum, she polished her lunch in record time.

"Not that I would change it for anything in the world," her husband beamed to their son. "He's growing up nicely, isn't he? You'll be a strong boy that protects your sister."

"Wait…―what?" the woman paused, her eyebrows reaching her hairline, and a loud burp suddenly erupted from their boy interrupted the moment.

"Atta boy! Way to go!"

The woman laughed at the ridiculous pride her husband was showing before waving apologetically at Mulan who was caught watching in surprise as well.

"He is just five months old and you already think about the next one?" the young woman reprimanded her husband, "I still yet to lose all the baby fat from this pregnancy and I….―" she groaned as her palms rested on the curvy flesh of her lower abdomen. No matter how many pots of slimming tea she would drink, those few extra pounds didn't want to leave. Sometimes a woman just needed a little bit of time to accept that her stomach would never be flawless anymore―a lump of excess skin now clearly visible even though she knew it would eventually shrink. The stretch marks would hopefully follow suit.

"My love, listen. Your curves are there because you carried our child and gave him life. All I see when I look at them is how lucky I am that we get to share that. You and I are finally where we were supposed to be. They're as pretty as you in my eyes. And God knows I find you stunning, more so right now."

It was so stupidly sweet that Mulan's heart ached, which was ridiculous because they were strangers and people have babies every day and there was no reason for her eyes to swell with tears.

"Hold on," the man frowned as he sniffed the air. "Oh, awesome! Your son pooped so… you can have him back."

"Oh great, so now he is my son?" his wife rolled her eyes at him, before coming out of the waiting room with their baby, muttering something like."How can something so small poop so much?"

Her gaze settles upon the young man who stood by the door, his eyes watching the glimpse of his wife and son, and grinning like he was insane. Her heart skips a beat all over again as she wondered:

A child will make love stronger….

A strange kind of fearful euphoria building deep inside of her. Could she hope? Would this child earn her way into Shang's iron heart?

Her own mother told her, her father was cold and distant to begin with. Until one day in spring when the plum blossom scent was hanging in the air―she was born in the early hours of twilight, entering the world with a loud scream. Fa Mulan weighed not more than a bag of rice, and in her mother's entirely objective opinion and despite her less favourable gender in Chinese society, she was the most perfect child in existence.

She was their gift.

Fa Mulan may not born of love, but she had brought so much love into her parent's life.

And so would her baby.

She felt warm tears cruising down her cheeks, in which she hastily swept away with the back of her hand.

"Excuse me," suddenly the young man, with half-eaten bread bun, reached out his hand with a linen cloth. "It may have milk stains, but I guarantee you it's clean."

Mulan blamed her tears on the pregnancy. And Mr. Liu was kind enough not to correct her.

Ling came to the establishment an hour later to find the place was filled with women and their relatives.

"Ling! Over here!"

Her best friend looked mildly surprised at how composed she was. She went in with a great deal amount of trepidation and came out as calm as a monk after hundred years of meditation.

"You have to pee on a bag of barley?" Ling commented dumbly after Mulan told him of the procedure and showed him a sack of grain she got to bring home.

"How could a bag of barley tell you if you are pregnant or not?" he whispered with a truly adorably awkward grimace when another patient congratulated him with zealous handshake and babbled a train of tips for expectant father―completely ignoring the fact that Ms. Chua had told them Mulan's pregnancy wasn't confirmed yet. But no one could blame them for the false assumption. Ling was the man that took someone else's presumably pregnant woman to see a midwife. But he quickly returned to the point he couldn't seem to move past, "But seriously, how could a bag of grain tell you?"

"It apparently could. If it grows, it means there is a baby inside," another patient, a woman carrying a toddler chimed in. She bit her lips to contain her smile when Ling's brows knotted incredulously. "You can try if you want." A trickle of light amusement radiated on her face when Ling's jaw dropped comically as she finished her sentence.

"That's…―no way!"

"You'll be surprised if it grew," Mulan entreated cheekily, hiding her smile behind a concealing hand when Ling's eyes bugged out.

Not knowing how to retaliate, Ling only let a long-suffering sigh. "And I wistfully thought you are the one who needed a moral support. I guess I was wrong," he said with a great amount of irritation.

"I'm sorry, OK? Old habits die hard," she chuckled.

"Good, I am glad you are feeling better," Ling deadpanned. "Too bad, there is no way this grain told us the gender. I need to know if I'm going to be Uncle Ling, Protector of Dainty Princess, or Uncle Ling, the Kung Fu coach."

Their friendly argument was interrupted when a woman, who was clearly in labour, was ushered into the premises. The wife was cool calm and radiant, a glorious force, even through contraction pain. Her husband, however, was a nervous, anxious, fainting wreck who was about to pass out anytime.

"Now," Ling said, looking like he had seen a ghost. "I would never envy any married men," he said, as the attention shifted and the woman's labour wail started to gain in volume. "I can understand why some men find the job as a eunuch highly appealing."

Mulan smiled indulgently at him. Her child would love Uncle Ling, she thought.

They resumed their shopping trip decoy right after visiting the healer.

As they turned down one of the winding cobblestone roads, they found an open shop that boasts a storefront of fresh fruit and vegetables, an orchestra of colour and rejuvenating fragrance of tangerines.

The Mighty Dragon, the sign proclaims in Mandarin, and then in smaller print, in both Hokkien and Hakka, fruit and vegs supplier.

The bell over the door chimed merrily as they stepped over the threshold, and Mulan found herself and Ling were the only patron in the store.

"Be with you in just a second!" a female voice shouted from the back of the store, in an accent that sounds extremely classy, muffled slightly by the rustling of something that sounded like boxes being shuffled about, and so Mulan took this time to appraise the store. It's a pleasant place, an array of freshly harvested cherry blossom on one corner among crates of vegetables, watermelon, tangerine and cherries, with enough light from the sales windows to stop it from becoming dull.

But she couldn't help but notice a stack of empty crates, for all that it did feature a display of abnormally vacant shelf, reflecting the difficult time the country currently had to endure.

"Sorry about that," the voice said from behind her, clearer now, and as she and Ling started to turn towards it.

The lady at the desk greeted them with a beatific smile. She was tall and willowy, with long, naturally waving raven hair that was currently cascading down her back. Her skin was porcelain smooth, free from blemishes. She seemed to be what many men often described as a perfect courting material. In short, she was beautiful, definitely way too beautiful to be a vegetable seller in a wet market.

"May I help you, gentleman?" she asked primly. The scent of expensive cologne filled the air making Mulan felt lightheaded. Even worse, Ling looked like he could faint anytime.

"We need a dozen of pumpkin," Mulan said, her eyes briefly jumped on Ling to make sure he wasn't suddenly dropped unconscious.

She swept a cursory glance to the crate behind her. "I'm afraid we are running out of pumpkins."

"What's next to the watermelon, isn't that… pumpkin?" Mulan pointed out.

"This?" the girl pointed at a pile of daffodil bulbs.

"No, next to it," Mulan directed.

She moved her hands before checking for their approval again.

"Yes," Mulan said once her finger hovered on the spoken vegetables. "We need twelve of those." Mulan stuck out of her finger and grabbed Ling's hand to show the extra two. "Could you work the best price for us? Every little discount will help."

"I may have to call my uncle," the girl informed them before disappearing behind the door.

"Is it just me, or I find it creepy we met a vegetable seller who seems to lack proficiency in identifying the difference between a fruit and a flower?" Mulan whispered suspiciously.

"Nevermind that, I am sure the father will be as charming," Ling replied dazedly.

But the man who appeared to greet them was remotely far from warm grin and gregarious continence. In fact, he had snappy, irritable attitude that Mulan sure could be damaging to his business.

"What do you want?"

"―pumpkin, Sir," Mulan pointed out.

"Maybe we should've stick with the usual vendor," Mulan mused when the man seemed to be busy counting his stock and scribbling something on the paper.

"No way, the previous vendor was selling us a pumpkin a size of my thumb! How can that feed the entire regiment?" Ling disapproved, right when the man gruffly shoved the paper on his face. "Here is the bill."

"This is hardly fit the budget," Mulan exasperated, looking at the list and comparing all the quoted prices. "Are you sure we can't negotiate a better price, Sir? This is for the soldiers."

"This is already the best offer I can provide. The food is scarce now. If you want to haggle the price just go elsewhere," the man snapped.

The girl who had been entirely silent, cleared her throat, and with her softest voice purred, "Uncle Yin, can I have a word with you for a moment?"

The man steeled, suddenly bit his lips and rubbing the back of his neck. There was a strange, powerful authority came from the girl as she demurely fiddled with the end of her braids and blinked in faux-innocence, "We'll be right back with you in a moment."

And Mulan wasn't at all surprised when they got discounted price of what they need and more.

"I met a girl today!" announced Ling proudly as they were peeling potatoes and pumpkin.

Chien-Po's mouth fell open, looking back at Mulan for confirmation and she paid him with an approving wink.

"No way…!" he wondered aloud, though he rubbed his hands in excitement and scooted closer. "Tell me about it!"

"She even gave me a discount!" bragged Ling proudly.

"She gave us a discount," Mulan corrected.

"Still, quite an accomplishment."

"I saw heart coming out of his eyes and all sappy," Mulan smirked at him. "Prepare to get jobless Chien-Po."

"With pleasure," he smiled broadly. Chef Zhang entered the tent and asking Fa Ping to help him making the fire, so after excusing herself, Mulan went off.

"So, how's the visit?" Chien-Po asked quietly when Mulan had disappeared from view.

"Apparently not confirmed yet," Ling said carefully after scanning over his shoulder making sure no eavesdropper around. "The old woman told her to wee on a handful of barley."

"Seriously? Are you sure you've seen a healer and not a dodgy soothsayer…or… witch doctor…―?"

"No," Ling replied. "I am sure she is in good hands. I've asked a few other patients."

"So when will we know?" Chien-Po asked.

"We will have to wait for another two or three weeks. But, I am quite positive. The midwife said all the symptoms were there," Ling explained.

"I bet she won't stop training, not until she knew for sure that she is preg….―," Chien-Po shook his head, gazing over the sight of their captain who was diligently doing a hundred press-up while waiting for dinner time. "I'm just worried something may happen before that. I just can't see Mulan finally came clean to Captain Li."

"You know it is a death sentence for smuggling a woman in here let alone a woman who was pretending to be a man, right?" Ling said in matter-of-factly tone.

"I know. But...however strict and ruthless, Captain Li is a good man. I doubt he is going to execute a woman with a child, right?" Chien-Po stated his reasoning. "It's just…. I don't see Mulan would ever explain her situation to Captain Li."

"Well," Ling said resolutely. "If she won't tell him―Then, I will."