When Duke Li walked back to his room, he was surprised to see his wife wasn't attached to the window like she usually was.
"Is it true?" Duchess Li interrupted him with bright, wide-eyes. For the first time in a few weeks, Duke Li had finally seen a glimmer of light and hope within his wife's lovely eyes.
"Is what true?" Duke Li repeated his wife's words.
"You picked up a girl from the forest, and she resembles Minghua!" Duchess Li exclaimed with a very hopeful expression on his face.
Duke Li was surprised that word had traveled so fast.
He felt slight irritation and annoyance. He wanted to tell his wife the news himself. He didn't want her to find out through the gossiping lips of the servants.
Duke Li took a single glance at the bright expression on his lovely wife's face before slowly nodding. It took this simple movement for her to immediately run out of the door. Completely abandoning the rules of proper etiquette, Duchess Li ran down the halls with the shawl of her hanfu flying in the air.
"My dear, you shouldn't run! What if you hurt yourself?!" Duke Li immediately chased after his stubborn wife.
He was surprised at how fast she was running. Was she always this fast? Where did she get the stamina to run for so long?
Duke Li immediately picked up his pace, but it was to no avail. His wife was already a couple steps ahead of him and she had already reached the room that Xueyue was residing in.
Duchess Li surprised the servants guarding outside of the room, and the few servants tending to Xueyue's unconscious body inside the room. Forgetting all forms of manners, Duchess Li slammed the door open.
Her frantic eyes searched the room until it fell onto the unconscious girl in bed. With wobbly legs, Duchess Li walked towards the girl. When she saw the bandages wrapped around the girl's forehead and arms, as well as the bruises that marred her face, Duchess Li gasped.
She pressed her shaky hands to her agape lips and stared at the girl. Indeed, she resembled Li Minghua, but her mother intuition knew this wasn't her precious daughter. Li Minghua was dead...Duchess Li had witnessed the burial with her own eyes.
"This isn't my Minghua." Duchess Li declared with a heartbroken voice.
"Dear, how could you run off without me?" Duke Li breathed out.
He walked into the room and placed a gentle hand on her shaking shoulders. "This isn't my Minghua." Duchess Li repeated her words, but this time, she was glancing up at her husband.
Duke Li had a grim expression on his face as he brushed a few strands of Duchess Li's fallen hair.
"I know she isn't." He gently whispered to her. He was surprised to finally hear the name of his daughter come out of his wife's lips, but he was able to mask the shock.
"F-for a second, I thought my Minghua had come back to me." Duchess Li's voice cracked when she got to the last few words of her sentence. Her shoulders shook, and she was beginning to sniffle.
Sensing her breakdown, Duke Li immediately pulled his wife into a tight hug. The warm eyes he held for his wife immediately turned sharp and cold when he glanced at the servants in the room.
In a heavy and commanding voice, he said, "Leave us."
The servants didn't have to be told twice. The servants immediately bowed low and exited out of the room, shutting the door behind them. Soon, the room was filled with the broken sobs of a distraught mother.
Duke Li's hand tightened around his wife. He stared at the ceiling and also felt his heart being pulled apart.
Duke Li gently comforted his wife with soothing whispers and occasional pats on her tiny back.
He held his wife for the longest time and patiently waited for her tears to subdue.
"I-I-I w-want h-her t-to stay." Duchess Li whispered into her husband chest.
Duke Li felt his eyebrows pull together in confusion. He had heard his wife say something, but her voice was heavily muffled by his robes and he didn't know what she said.
He glanced down at his wife. "What did you just say?" He asked Duchess Li who hiccuped before speaking again.
"I said I want the girl to stay." Duchess Li repeated herself, but this time, her voice was firmer.
Duke Li was taken by surprise at her words. He was a very doting husband and was the kind to give his wife everything in the world. Unlike the other men of nobility who only married for political and financial gain, he had married Duchess Li for love. It just so happens Lady Luck was on his side, and she was an outstanding noble lady that was instantly approved by his family.
He had never denied his wife any request, even when a few of it was extremely outrageous. But for the first time, he felt the word 'no,' at the tip of his tongue.
But he pushed the word down his throat and opted to say something else.
"We don't know if she has family out there-" He began to say, but the sharp words of his wife immediately cut him off.
"Then we'll wait for her to wake up. If she has a family out there, I-I want to get to know them." Duchess Li's determined voice surprised her husband.
She was always a soft and gentle woman who rarely raised her voice. She only sounded determined and stern when she truly wanted something. Duke Li internally sighed. He knew this request of hers would be extremely hard to reject because of her fierce determination.
Duke Li sighed at his stubborn wife and gently patted her shoulders.
"Doctor Yu is unsure when she will wake up. Until she does, I'll have the servants ask around to see if any family is missing a daughter-"
"No!" Duchess Li suddenly shrieked. Duke Li was once again startled by his wife's brash voice.
"You're planning on sending her away!" Duchess Li screamed at him. Her docile eyes turned incredibly dark and angry.
She pushed at Duke Li's chest so roughly, he stumbled backwards from the force. Duke Li's eyebrows shot up at her behavior.
But before he could say anything, Duchess Li wrapped her thin arms around her shoulders in a manner of shielding herself. The pitiful and heart-wrenching position of his wife was beginning to hurt Duke Li's head.
Upon seeing the fear in her eyes and the way her lips were wobbling, Duke Li felt his heart being tightly squeezed.
"You cannot be illogical." Duke Li said with a stern voice, as if he was a father reprimanding his children.
"Imagine how the girl's family would feel to know their daughter has suddenly disappeared?" Duke Li immediately regretted the words the minute it left his mouth.
Duchess Li's head shot up. Her blood-shot eyes glared at her husband. When she opened her mouth to say something, Duke Li had already beat her to the chase.
"I've already informed the servant to ask the families of Lanbei if they're missing a daughter. As we speak, they're already asking around." Duke Li stated the truth. He watched as Duchess Li's face broke down.
"I will compromise with you, my dear wife. Don't look so crestfallen." Duke Li sighed as he walked closer to his wife. She immediately took a few steps back, refusing to let him touch her.
"I was originally planning on having the search go on for three days. But I will call it off by the end of tomorrow. If no one comes forward to claim the girl, then we will speak to the girl and come to a conclusion." Duke Li slowly said.
He watch Duchess Li's expression morph from hatred to slow consideration.
After a few seconds of thoughtful thinking, Duchess Li finally spoke up. "Y-you promise to end the search by the end of tomorrow?"
Duke Li breathed out a heavy sigh of relief when he saw the anger diminish from his wife's eyes.
"I promise." He told his lovely wife who finally allowed him to touch her again.
"Come, my dear. It's already the afternoon and we haven't had our lunch yet. Our sons have finished their lessons and will be waiting for us at the table." Duke Li guided his wife out of the door.
He noticed she had finally calmed down. She was letting him hold her shoulders and together they walked down the hallways. And as they walked, Duke Li missed the fierce determination within his lovely wife's eyes.
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