From a window with the perfect view of the open field, a man stood watching Xueyue and Wenmin practice archery. His eyes were guarded and it was hard to read his thoughts, but if one were to look closer, there was the ghost of a smile on his lips.
Duke Li Shenyang watched Xueyue patiently teach Wenmin the tricks and skills of archery. Even though Wenmin was horrible at the sport and was performing very poorly, she never lost her temper. Instead, she continued to teach him through a series of encouragement.
A soft knock rang throughout the room and the duke muttered a small response. A man dressed in black carefully walked into the room and kneeled. His face was concealed by a clothed mask that hid the lower half of his features, revealing nothing but his lifeless eyes.
"Ling, what did you find out about Xueyue?" Duke Li Shenyang solemnly asked without turning to face his henchman.
Ling had been with the duke for as long as both men could remember. Ling's father served the duke's father, and as such, Ling only knew of the duke since he was young. Once upon a time, Ling had a name beyond a simple character, but he decided he was too unworthy of a longer name.
Even though Duke Li Shenyang was not watching him, Ling maintained his kneeling position.
"Her full name is Bai Xueyue. She was neglected since birth, because of the unfavorable circumstances surrounding it. The viscount is not her birth father. Rumors were speculating that the viscountess was having an affair, but many of the workers swore she was raped. As a result, Xueyue was born."
"Any mentions of the rapist's name?" Duke Li Shenyang asked.
"All traces and records of the man were erased. Viscount Bai made it look as if he never existed."
Duke Li Shenyang hummed to himself. The viscount was a vicious man in court who was infamous for his concealed greed for more power. He would not be hindered by rumors or gossip. It did not surprise the duke that information about the rapist's whereabouts was destroyed. The man was probably slaughtered by the viscount.
Duke Li Shenyang glanced at Xueyue. Even in the far distance, he felt a sense of familiarity towards her. Where had he seen her before? He felt as if she resembled someone he knew, but couldn't place a finger on who it was.
"Was the man murdered?"
"If there was a murder, whereabouts of his burial are unknown. For his heinous crimes, it wouldn't be a surprise if he was chopped up and fed to the pigs."
Duke Li Shenyang thought about his servant's words for a while before saying, "Find out more about her birth father. I don't care what dirty methods you have to use."
"Yes, sir," Ling immediately responded.
"Now list the details of Xueyue's life to me."
"Not much is known about her. Aside from the servants of the Bai Manor and her guardians, no one knew about her. She was kept a secret from society, but there was evidence that Earl Zheng and his family were affiliated with her. She was acquainted with Young Master Zheng Leiyu, but they stopped being friends after he was announced to be engaged to Bai Tianai. The viscount and his wife kept Xueyue locked within the Bai Manor."
It wasn't rare for fathers to keep their daughters tucked away in their wealthy manors.
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Many parents didn't want scandals to circle around their daughters. Most girls of noble families weren't introduced to high society until they were of age. But mothers usually wanted their daughters to be well-acquainted with other girls to strengthen relations. It would be hard to keep daughters from outstanding families hidden.
Even Duke and Duchess Li struggled to keep Minghua away from society. Many people were curious about the only daughter of the outstanding and extremely wealthy Li Household. They wondered if she was as beautiful as her mother.
Unbeknownst to Duke Li Shenyang, Li Minghua would occasionally sneak out of the Li Manor to stroll and explore Hechen all alone. She was always disguised as a servant, thus not many paid any attention to her.
Duke Li Shenyang turned back to the quiet Ling. "She was sentenced to death by beating. Go and investigate this detail further. Only return to me when you've collected a detailed report."
"Yes, my lord." Ling nodded, cupped his fists, and excused himself. He left so quietly, his footsteps weren't heard throughout the halls. None of the servants knew of his existence, and both men planned to keep it that way.
"Look! It landed on the target!" Wenmin's loud shout brought Duke Li Shenyang's attention back to the window. He watched as Xueyue gleefully clapped her hands. After four missed shots, Wenmin's fifth arrow finally struck the edge of their closet target post.
The seriousness and chilliness left Duke Li Shenyang when he saw the bright expressions on both children's faces. He was originally worried the twins and her wouldn't get along, but was glad to see their relationship didn't seem strained on the surface.
Knowing his schedule was clear and empty, he spent the remainder of his afternoon watching the two practice archery. The more he watched their interaction, the more he began to see Xueyue in a positive light. Perhaps having her around wasn't so bad after all...
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