cup of tea and then called the maids to assist with her preparations. She instructed them to warm the water well as she liked her bath hot and to get her favorite soap, camellia scented, and to prepare her clothes for the road. They did as instructed and when she was bathed, clothed and had her hair fixed, a knock was heard on the door.
”Iris, its your father ”, a voice came from the other side of the door.
She stood still for a moment before nodding to Mary to open the door. Duke Martel was clothed in brown velvet with the two crossed war hammers of their house sewed with black and silver thread on his chest. But on his face, he wore a worried look.
”I hoped to see you before you go ”, he began, ”I heard there is not much time left. ”
”Would you like some tea, father? ” Iris asked him, but was refused with a head shake from her father.
”Could we talk in private? ”
”Of course! Mary, Gilda, Ill call for you later. ”
They both looked at the maids leaving, before the duke approached her daughter and took her hands into his. He squeezed them lightly.
”You looked lovely yesterday! ” He took his time to find the right words and finally said ”Im sorry! ”
Iris eyes widened in shock as her father seemed only cold towards her the past years. After his wife died, he mourned for a long time and she felt guilty although he never blamed her for it. Not long after, he started working more in Moesia, the capital, and, as the king grew older and sicker, his journeys away from home became more frequent and longer. In the end he was seldom there, making the imperial palace more his home than Tomis, his ancestors castle and the place where his children were born and raised.
As soon as his younger child, Durian, turned 10 he followed his father on many occasions. But never Iris. At least not on business leaves. She would of course be present at important tourneys and birthday parties, but not council meetings or anything that a ruler lord would take part in. Her education was done at home, away from curious eyes, but in the presence of the best teachers in the kingdom. She received the education of a princess, but not that of the heir of Argidava. Hope remained that upon her coming of age, she will officially be made heir and follow grew into her role. But even that hope was shattered when at 15, Durian was proclaimed the heir and she was left to wonder what happened, as the rest of the world. She was only 17 and her worries and longing for her father transformed into contempt, but never hate.
For the following two years, theyve only met twice alone. Both times Iris insisted she receive an explanation, she deserved it, but the duke only said he had big plans for her and that she should just wait. He only added There are eyes on us. What eyes, she never knew, so her life went on, with her lessons, and balls, and gossip heard from others.
Until his disruption that night in the garden and his opposition that followed. To his credit, her father tried to meet her afterwards, probably to offer some explanation, but it was too late for Iris. She didn want to hear any of it. In the end, they found common ground only when whispers of the little duchess Martel who seemed to have too much fun that night reached them. So the duke had no other option than to agree with the union of her daughter to that low scum of a lord as he called his future son in law.
But now he was apologizing.
”Sorry for what? ”
”For so much ”, he answered, smiling sadly. ”I was so scared that we have a spy in our home that it seems I neglected you to the point that I don recognize my own blood. ”
”What spy, father? ” she felt tired of the same old thing he repeated over and over again.
”Someone is watching us, but I don know who or on which side he is ”, he whispered so low that Iris had to draw closer to hear him. ”The king is old now and the crown prince is cruel, but we are working on crowning the second prince instead. ”
”Fredrik? ” she almost shouted before her father shushed.
”If the gods are by our side, there won be a war, but you look for every sign that might indicate it. I don know your husbands intentions… ” she hardened, but he didn notice, ”…but if anything worries you, come back home. This will always be your home and… ”
A knock on the door interrupted them and Gildas voice could be heard through it.
”The lord says its time for departure, My Lady! ”
”In a minute, Gilda! ” Iris answered before turning back to her father. ”Benjamin has no such plans or else he would have mentioned it the past months. I believe in my husband! ”
”I hope you
e right, but remember what I told you. This will always be your home, Iris ” he said again and caressed her cheek, ” You are a clever girl, but still young and innocent. Im sorry I left you in the dark and Im sorry we don have more time. ”
He paused and studied her face, his eyes becoming watery.
”I love you, Iris. I have always loved you and always will, although my way of showing it is lacking. ”
The declaration moved her heart and she finally heard the words she waited for so long. It was not too late to repair their relationship, not too late to be father and daughter again and in the future she will come and present his grandchildren to him. And by then every wrong thing will be forgotten. She hugged him.
”I love you, pappa! ”
They stayed in the embrace for a long moment and finally, it was time for her to leave and to move to her new home. But her fathers words remained with her. This will always be your home, Iris.
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