136 The Truth
Li Chenyang had just gotten home from an exhausting day of court politics. Collapsing on the chair in the entry room, he heaved a long and dreary sigh.
"How irritable they are," he bit out.
What was the point of having so many ministers if all of them were shoving all the work onto the younger ones? His lips tugged downwards, his face scrunching into a deep scowl. The path to becoming a Prime Minister was not easy.
Li Chenyang lazily examined the thick and heavy scroll that he had brought back from the Palace. He was intrigued about the Bai Family and their assets. What could they have to lose and he to gain?
He opened the scroll, his eyes scanning through the clean handwriting. Not a single number was incorrectly calculated. To no one's surprise, the Bai Family's monthly income was decent. The majority of it came from their trading ports in Hechen. Without it, they would be forced to rely on Viscount Bai Sheng's inheritance, but even that was dwindling from their lavish and unrestricted spendings.
Li Chenyang shook his head in disappointment. All of the Bai Family's eggs were in one basket. They would be screwed without their trading ports. And their business was steadily declining due to their damaged reputation.
"What to do…" he trailed off, only to straighten when he heard energetic footsteps thumping on the wooden floors of the hallway.
The door slid open and in tumbled Li Xueyue with a bright smile. "Chenyang, you're home!'"
Li Chenyang's tired expression quirked a bit, a tiny smile on his face. "How was your day after returning from the Throne Room?"
Li Xueyue realized he didn't know she didn't return home immediately after she was excused from the audience. "Well, I didn't return here until after an hour or so."
"Really now?" Li Chenyang sat up taller, shifting into a more comfortable position. "What happened?"
"I stumbled across Duke Li Taojun and—"
"You saw my uncle today?" Li Chenyang was instantly more awake now. "What did he say?"
"He asked me some personal questions. It was so strange, I don't think he was serious about them," Li Xueyue truthfully said, sitting on a chair directly across him.
Li Chenyang waved for a maidservant to serve tea and snacks. "Tell me what his questions were."
"Will you report to the Duke?" Li Xueyue asked.
"Would you like me to?" Li Chenyang blinked. Were those questions pressing matters? If she wanted him to, he would. If not, he'd keep his mouth shut for now.
"No, I don't want to burden any of you."
"Silly girl." Li Chenyang laughed. "When were you ever a burden?"
"W-well, I've been acting a bit too spoiled and haughty lately." Li Xueyue stared at the ground and then back at him, hesitation written on her face. "Ever since I started meeting more people, I don't know… I feel like I've changed from who I used to be."
Li Chenyang softly smiled. He agreed with her words. She had indeed changed from a timid and fearful little girl into a confident young lady. She used to speak only when spoken to, avoid making eye contact with people, and bow as low as her upper body would allow her whenever she had to greet someone. Despite all that, she was still the good-natured and family-driven girl he had come to love and protect.
"Sometimes, change is for the best." Li Chenyang smiled. "I'd be surprised if all of this pampering didn't spoil you."
"But, I've become more demanding and a handful. Of course, I didn't mean to start a pity party but—"
"Li Xueyue, there is nothing wrong in a woman having a voice. Be fierce. Be determined. Be everything that is you. I prefer that you show us who you really are rather than suppress your true self behind faux obedience and keeping silent which was instilled into you."
Li Xueyue was tongue-tied from his words. She expected to be scolded, not uplifted.
Li Chenyang's expression became more gentle. "Even after the two years that have passed, I know you're still that good-natured girl who offered to teach me and Wenmin archery. Sometimes, that part of you isn't evident, because it's overshadowed by the many other qualities you've developed."
He cleared his throat, offering her an understanding smile. "Now, shall we discuss what my uncle asked of you?"
Li Xueyue wrung her fingers together and nodded. Right on cue, the maidservant walked in with the tea and snacks. She urged him to eat first before she took her share of food.
"He asked about my identity and he said, I quote 'who are you exactly?' Of course, I dodged the question."
Li Chenyang nodded, quietly munching on his almond cookie.
"Then, he asked about my legitimacy as the Duke's daughter." Li Xueyue understood it was a very touchy subject—her identity. "I didn't tell him anything."
Li Chenyang's eyes narrowed. What was his uncle planning? Duke Li Taojun had finally gained the title of a Duke that he wanted all along, but how? With whose help?
Li Chenyang almost laughed out loud. How could he forget the most crucial detail? The lap dog of the royal family was none other than Duke Li Taojun. Of course the Emperor's pet would be rewarded with titles and rewards for doing their dirty deeds. Without a doubt, Duke Li Taojun's best accomplishment was training Wen Jinkai.
"And then…" Li Xueyue lost her voice, unable to utter the name of her own birth giver. "H-he asked about someone from the Bai Family."
Li Chenyang's eyes narrowed. "Who?"
"My birth mother, Mu Yihua. He asked if I knew her." Li Xueyue sighed, leaning back in her chair, suddenly losing her appetite for the snacks.
Li Chenyang's brows shot up alarmingly. "Why would he ask such a suspicious question about your background? Only the Li Family knows of your situation. No one else."
"I have a suspicion Bai Tianai sees past this facade. She knows I'm a Bai, not a Li. Granted, I was stupid enough to continue using my name, but I didn't anticipate any of them to find out yet."
Li Chenyang's gaze snapped to the closed scroll on his chair, picking it up. "Bai Tianai might've said something to him. Or my uncle knows more than he's letting on. No one asks such a random question out of nowhere. We'll have to keep a close watch on him."
"I only look a bit like Mu Yihua, but not enough for everyone to identify us as mother and daughter. Bai Tianai used to mock me that if I didn't look like the man who forced himself on my mother, maybe the Viscount would despise me less."
Li Chenyang hummed in response, standing up to pass her the scroll. The scroll was filled with confidential information about the Bai Family's income, which could be useful in the future.
When her words registered to him, he suddenly paused, his hand frozen in midair. "What did you just say?"
Li Xueyue's eyes widened. Wait, did Li Chenyang not know of this? "W-what I meant was—"
"I know." Li Chenyang shook his head. "I know of your background, but repeat what you said before again. You mentioned you looked like who?"
"I slightly resemble my birth mother?"
"No, the part after that."
Li Xueyue wondered why he looked so pale. "You mean the part where I share a lot of similarities to my birth father…? Whoever he is?"
Li Chenyang's fingers went slack, the scroll slipping from his hand. His eyes widened in disbelief, piecing two and two together. Could it be… whoever raped Viscount Bai's wife, Mu Yihua, was someone from the Li Family?
Who else could it be aside from Duke Li Shenyang and Duke Li Taojun? Could it be the former? Li Chenyang nearly cursed himself out for thinking his father would ever be scummy enough to compromise someone—especially when his wife was Wang Qixing.
His father loved his mother more than he loved power. This fact alone ruled him out, leaving no one else except Li Taojun. The man who was hellbent on sending Li Xueyue to the enemy lines. The man who nearly ruined her life. The man who forced her to use one of the most powerful cards she had: A wish.
"Could it be…?" Li Chenyang felt his blood boil at this revelation. Whether it was confirmed or not, he would get to the bottom of this.
He bent down to Li Xueyue's seated height, grabbing her by the shoulders. He locked eyes with her and slowly asked, "Have you ever met your birth father?"
Li Xueyue shook her head. "No, never."
"Has your mother ever spoken of him to you?"
"No. Why do you ask?" Li Xueyue had a suspicion as to where this conversation was leading. They both did.
Li Chenyang didn't want to deliberately say it out loud, it was a mere suspicion for now.
"Don't you find it strange, Xueyue? That you resemble the Li Family so much despite not being directly related to Mother and Father?"
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. "Well, I thought it was the theory mentioned in one of the books we've read. Those who spent too much time together will eventually resemble each other."
"Correct, but the problem is, you've always resembled us. Since the first day we met you. Father had mistaken you for Li Minghua when he found you in the forest. Of course, the moment you regained consciousness, we saw that there was only a small resemblance between you two. Do you understand what I'm implying?"
Li Xueyue nodded her head again. "Kind of."
"The only Li capable of fathering a child in the year that you're born is Father and Duke Li Taojun. Now, tell me, what do you think of this?"
"One of them compromised Viscountess Mu Yihua."
"Correct. One of them is your father. Who do you think it is?"
Li Xueyue's entwined fingers tightened on top of each other. She didn't want to say it. She didn't want to admit the unspeakable truth. For a split second there, she thought it might've been Duke Li Shenyang but that was impossible. He was too much of an honorable husband to betray the Duchess like this.
She sucked in a shaky breath, her eyes trembling. "M-my father is Duke Li Taojun isn't it…?"
Li Chenyang felt a burst of pain spread throughout his chest when he saw her distraught expression. None of them spoke. They didn't have to. They both knew the truth and it was not a pleasant one.