123 No One Would Marry Her
"What a peculiar question to ask." Duchess Wang Qixing lightly laughed, covering her mouth. "I love both of them."
"Even after what the Emperor and Empress did?" Li Chenyang carefully asked.
He was stepping on eggshells for having the guts to bring up a question relating to Li Minghua. Even after all these years, he knew, his mother had never moved on. And he couldn't blame her. Li Minghua was her first and only daughter, but instead of living a life of luxury, she was trapped at home—her beauty hidden from the world.
Duchess Wang Qixing's smile slipped a bit, her brows kneading upwards. "Why… do you ask?"
"If…" Li Chenyang swallowed, nervous of his next statement. "If there is a possibility that—"
Li Chenyang shot out of his seat at the sight of his exhausted father. Duke Li Shenyang stood by the door of his shared bedroom, a disapproving frown on his face.
"It's late and you have to wake up in six hours. Why aren't you in bed?" Duke Li Shenyang asked, even though both father and son knew this wasn't an important topic at hand.
Li Chenyang reluctantly offered his mother an apologetic smile to which she brushed it off with a wave of her head.
"Off to bed, darling." She gave him a soft pat on the cheek and attempted to give him a goodnight kiss, but he jumped far away from her.
"Mom! I'm an adult now!" He groaned to which Duchess Wang Qixing delightfully laughed.
"You're always a kid in my eyes, silly child." She shook her head at his embarrassed expression. Kids grow up so fast nowadays… she missed the nights where she'd bid her bickering twins good night with a kiss on the forehead and a pinch on the cheek. They had outgrown that stage too fast for her liking.
"It'd be great if you paid me the same love you show our sons." Duke Li Shenyang snorted. "From a little birdie, I heard something interesting tonight."
"Well, you can continue talking to your bird." Duchess Wang Qixing rolled her eyes. ��I'm off to bed." With a loud, "Hmph," she stomped her way to the large bed, slipping under the blankets and giving him the cold shoulder for joining them so late.
Li Chenyang shot his father a knowing smirk, his eyes twinkled with mischief.
Duke Li Shenyang internally groaned to himself. He was going to suffer the wrath of her worst-tasting tea blend for an entire week! May the Heavens have mercy on his poor soul.
"Well, I'll be off to bed now. Bye, Dad—"
"Not so quick, my boy. Why don't we have a discussion outside?" Duke Li Shenyang offered, stretching his hand towards the door. "So that we don't disturb the mother bear."
"What was that?!" Duchess Wang Qixing shot out of bed, an aggravated expression on her face. Did that grouch just compare her to a bear?
Unfortunately for her, the Duke and her son were already outside. He had shut the doors behind him, hoping it would provide her less of a disturbance. She grumbled complaints under her breath, deciding it was time to experiment making medicinal tea with the most bitter of herbs!
"What did you plan on asking your mother?" Duke Li Shenyang instantly asked when he guided them down the hallways leading to the twins' part of the house.
"I just wanted to see if she's more loyal to the royal family or us," Li Chenyang grumbled.
"If the truth about Minghua is related to the royal family, then I can assure you, she'll be more loyal to us," Duke Li Shenyang explained, lifting his head to stare up at the infinite sky—dark and starless. A void of lost hope and ambitions, a moon hidden by the cloud, leading wanderers into desolate lands.
"History is repeating itself." Li Chenyang sighed. "The Emperor and Empress are relentless to see our Xueyue. It reminds me so much of when Minghua fled to Hechen after spending half a year in the Palace, and they demanded for her to go back."
"You don't think… they're trying to make sure Xueyue marries into the palace, do you?" Li Chenyang asked, his eyes flashing with hesitation. He had already failed to protect one sister. He couldn't let himself lose another.
"If they wanted Xueyue to marry Wen Jinkai, they wouldn't have tried to send her to Hanjian in the first place." Duke Li Shenyang softly frowned.
"What if… she was chosen to be sent to Hanjian for her own good?" Li Chenyang couldn't help but find something off about his uncle, Duke Li Taojun. He was the one choosing the candidates, but he must've had a good reason for wanting to send her there.
"The possibility of that is little to none." Duke Li Shenyang piqued, "Besides, why would anyone aside from us want to help Xueyue—" He stopped walking suddenly.
Li Chenyang halted and turned to his father, only to be shocked by the Duke's troubled expression. His eyes shook with disbelief. "Yes, Dad?"
Duke Li Shenyang pointed out, "Don't you think it's strange how well Xueyue resembles us? Yes, people who spent a lot of time together often adapt their appearances, but her similarity is simply too astonishing to ignore."
Li Chenyang parted his mouth, ready to disprove his father's discovery, but couldn't find himself doing so.
Duke Li Shenyang's fingers tightened behind his back. "The Emperor and Empress have pointed out her features are that of a Li. I had mistaken Xueyue as Minghua when I first encountered her in the forest."
Li Chenyang's eyes widened. "Are you suggesting she might share our blood? But that's impossible, she was once a Bai—"
"I had Ling, my private guard, investigate into Xueyue's life shortly after she joined us. He reported unsettling news of her background."
"What is it?" Li Chenyang asked.
His stomach churned with anticipation, his heart raced with fear. Could there be a possibility that Xueyue was the Duke's illegitimate child? No, no, that's crazy talk. He shook the irradical thoughts out of his mind. His lack of sleep nowadays was finally affecting him too much. The events didn't correlate with each other.
"Her birth mother is Viscountess Mu Yihua, Viscount Bai Sheng's wife. However, Xueyue's birth father is unknown…" Duke Li Shenyang trailed off, a grave look on his face. "The Viscountess was supposedly raped when the Viscount left the city for a business trip. As a result—"
"Our Xueyue was born," Li Chenyang breathed out in shock, his eyes widened with disbelief. "S-she's an illegitimate child?"
Duke Li Shenyang nodded his head, his features darkened with sympathy for the young lady. She suffered greatly in the Bai Household. He would never forget the testimonials he read from Ling's reports about the horrific abuse that took place. Starvation and dehydration were the easiest of punishments and the worst ones were too sinful to even think about. It was no wonder she screamed her lungs off during haunting nightmares. Even in the safe confines of the Li Manor, she was forced to relive the events of her previous life.
"No one must find out about this," Li Chenyang breathed out. "If people found out that she's an illegitimate child, no one would marry her. As screwed up as it is, they'll blame her and not her parents."
Duke Li Shenyang nodded. "Yes, it's crucial we keep this a secret amongst us and no one else—"
"Do the Bai servants know of this?" Li Chenyang asked.
Duke Li Shenyang shook his head. "No, only the Viscountess and Viscount knows of this."
"In that case..." Li Chenyang's face twisted into a cruel smile. "We must eradicate them from the face of this earth."
Duke Li Shenyang could do nothing but nod his head. "But we shouldn't harm people if it won't provide us any benefits—"
"Last time I checked, they're one of the wealthiest families in Hechen. They control the trade ports. Wouldn't it be beneficial if it's under our jurisdiction?" Li Chenyang pointed out.
"Oh? And how do you plan on doing that?" Duke Li Shenyang quirked a brow.
"You can leave that to me and Xueyue." Li Chenyang's smile widened. "Have a good night, Dad." He excused himself and strolled down the hallway, humming a quiet lullaby to himself, as if he hadn't just plotted the demise of an entire family.
Duke Li Shenyang watched as his son's relaxed figure disappeared down the hallways. "Perhaps one day, you'll be ready for the truth, son. One day..." he muttered, turning his back and heading in the direction of his wife's room.
He let out a heavy sigh, his shoulders weighed down with exhaustion. He had spent a tiring day at court and studied many more books about ruling a country. He couldn't wait to slip into bed, safe and sound with his loving wife.
The only problem was, he was locked out... of his own bedroom.
"D-darling?" he called through the door, pushing at it only to hear the solid click of a lock.
He awkwardly laughed, "Sweetheart, don't be so petty!" He whined from outside, completely unaware that his adoring wife was sound asleep. And all the guest bedrooms were locked. He had nowhere to sleep tonight.