Chapter 3: The Grand Duke
The trip from the Academy to the Strelitzia Home is less than an hour. Ash have bid his farewells for the time being because he was asked to help with something. When we entered to the foyer, we were greeted by the head butler and Father's personal butler Mr. Fran. I always call him with Mister as a sign of respect. He have been serving the Strelitzia's since my Father's childhood, meaning he is really old.
"Young Mistress, welcome home" He greeted with a bow.
"Yes, thank you. I am home" I replied with a smile.
"Young mistress, I apologize for telling you this when you have only just recently arrived. But the earlier ordeal in the Academy have already reached the Masters ears. He have send a word that he will arrive home earlier than the normal this afternoon." He told me with a very apologetic expression.
"I see, it is alright Mr. Fran, I will retire in my rooms for the time being" I answered. He bowed at me as a sign of goodbye and left. As I was walking to my rooms and familiarizing with the surroundings, Holly was following me. We have entered my rooms which is really big almost twice the size of the room in the dormitory. Since I am already home, I would need to change to a more suitable day wear. Still with bodice, corset and skirt, but this time a bit lighter. Thank you~
"Milady, will you be taking your lunch in your rooms?" Holly asked
"Yes, in the balcony for fresh air" I answered. Feeling a bit lighter and happy that I can move easier now than before.
"Milady, pardon my rudeness but I have arranged earlier for a doctor to arrive after lunch"
"Eh, Why?" I asked feeling confused. I was not really injured earlier.
"When I arrived at the Academy, you have a really high fever and was restless in your sleep" Holly explained. I looked at her question in my eyes. "It is to be sure, Milady"
The afternoon passed with a blur. The doctor arrived punctual. I was actually surprised because this is an older timeline to the original me and Camellia rarely see a doctor, I have expected to see old medical tools to be used. I was wrong in a sense. The Doctor (call me Dr. Watson, young mistress) used a semi modern equipment of stethoscope, sphygmomanometer etc. He even asked for a sample of my blood with a semi modern syringe, thin needle and glass. Although most of the medicine here are called potions (with non-magical properties sadly), made from herbal ingredients. The doctor told me that I have a slight fever that will be gone by early morning tomorrow, provided that I will rest tonight and not have more strenuous activities for the next two days and to drink my medicine at designated time and intervals. Holly promised that she will make sure that I will follow the doctor's advice.
By 5 in the afternoon I heard a knock to my door. "Young mistress, the Master have arrived and have called you to his study, I was asked to escort you" Mr, Fran called through the door.
"Thank you. Mr. Fran" I answered and proceeded to leave the room and follow him to the study.
The walk to the study is quiet and I feel like the study is really far. The study is in the east wing while my room is in the west, both are in second floor. My heart is beating louder but I have to calm down. Mr Fran smiled at me as he knocked on the door announcing our presence.
"Master, I have brought the young mistress"
"Enter" A deep voice answered. I took a deep breath and smiled at Mr. Fran as he opened the door to let me in.
Father the Grand duke was looking at the gardens through the window, his back facing me. "Father" I called giving a courtesy bow, his back might be facing me but he can see my reflection from the windows. Upon my greeting he turned to face me.
Edelweiss Antonio Strelitzia (Lord Edel to his family and close acquaintance), the Grand Duke, is a very handsome man with strong and imposing aura. He looks like he is always serious, with his bronze brown hair and narrow violet eyes, monocle in the right. By one look you can already tell that he is a difficult opponent. It is understandable, Father is a very important person in this kingdom second to the reigning monarch. He is the head of the council, the other half that decides everything in the kingdom, and that position is hereditary, older brother Jarred is the current heir.
"I apologize for taking your time Father" I bowed again and proceeded to sit down in the provided seat for me.
"Oh, you do know how serious your situation is" Father said in a cold voice.
"Yes, but father I do believe that I have not caused trouble to you as the Grand Duke nor as the Head of the Council, but only trouble to you as my Father and for that I apologize" I said lowering my head.
"Father, what I have done can only be counted or seen as verbal harassment with no evidence but only circumstantial, it does not need to be reported nor need the intervention of the Head Council. Also it was them who are at fault and have slighted the Grand Ducal House of Strelitzia. Dragging the only daughter to public confrontation with only in her night clothes and one-sidedly annulling the engagement. The repercussions of that I think will let them unlikely to take any greater actions after this. Furthermore I have made myself the victim and impressed on the minds of the students that there were no evidence to what they are accusing me for. Most of them will probably on my side."
"Yes, I have heard of that confrontation, continue"
"Also father, the one sided annulment of engagement. Isn't it better that it is annulled?"
"oh, and why is that?"
"Because father was against it from the very beginning. We are a neutral house. We have a stand that we will not choose a faction between the First Prince, the son of the King and his concubine and the Second Prince the son of the King and the late Queen. Father is only second to the King when it comes to power and influence. To support one of the faction is tantamount to declaring that side as the one to ascend the throne"
"Then why do you think I allowed it?"
"Because it was alright, whoever won the ascension 'war', Father's power will not diminish. If I married Prince Lark and he ascends the throne, I can keep a better eye on him, influence him on his decisions, while brother Jarred will be the Head Council and will probably side and try to influence and keep an eye on the Second prince, who will be delegated as the right hand of the Head Council. The decisions will subtlety fall in full power to our house. If the Second prince ascends the throne, mother's family is well acquainted. It has always been known that the Marquis house of Zinnia (the late Queen's house before marriage) and the Ducal House of Jessamine (Mother's house before marriage) are allies. Regarding Prince Lark, older brother Jarred may influence him as someone that is very well acquainted, like now"
As I finished talking father looked at me in amusement "Ha!, Yes, it might have been my plan, and I have told that son of mine to only watch the First prince, but he have become a disgrace and abandoned his familial duty and had become the First prince lackey" Father said while looking back in the garden. Clear disappointment in his face. "But Camellia, will it be alright with you? Didn't you love the First prince?"
"I have come to realize father that a Love that is not meant to be blinds us. I have loved him yes, but I have become blinded by that love, disregarding his faults and sacrificed most of my interests and personality just to become his perfect princess. But he was not content and earlier, to see of what kind of man he can really be I realized that in the long run I will not be happy with him. That love might have cooled down and I am glad." I said relieved. Really relieved, because with the merging of my and Camellia' personalities, I can't seem to have the feelings of love for the prince. He reminds me of someone that the original "I", do not want to remember.
"Then, Camellia, your expulsion from the Academy and the high society, what will you do about it?"
"This time Father, I will ask your help not only as my Father but also as the Grand Duke" I said giving his back an apologetic smile. "As your power as the Grand Duke you can have that rectified by asking for a public apology and a favour of your choosing to the First prince family. I do believe that because it is a slight to Grand Duke's daughter and with the nature of that slight, by etiquette and laws of honor the King and the council will agree."
"And your education?" Father prodded.
"It can be rectified by either re enrolling to the Academy or simply having private tutors. I would like to have private tutors preferably Father, the Academy's quality of education is seriously lacking. If the others scrutinized we can have it as for safety purposes. It is well-known that the First prince have a temper" I negotiated.
Father faced me again clapped his hands and said. "Bravo Camellia, your negotiation skills and analyzation have improved" He smiled. "I was already thinking of the same solutions, if your arguments in this meeting is justifiable and strong. If I was dissatisfied and you gave me a weak argument, in an objective point of view of the situation I would have to punish you severely."
I was surprised. I might have forgotten that Father always uses this kind of things and situations as training. It has been years since I have been subjected to this. Father will ask, he will prod, but before that he already have two solutions and a conclusion a good and bad, and depending on what the flow of your argument will be he will pick either of those two solutions may it be good or bad for us. This is one of the reasons why he is respected and feared in the council. Father analyses situation in different perspective and basing his decisions and arguments in the best possible solution he can see. Older brother and I have always been subjected to this. If we want something we have to negotiate and satisfy father with our arguments. "Father, I-"
"But Camellia, you have brought good points, but to let yourself be dragged in that kind of situation, I will still have to punish you." He said cutting me off. I clenched my fist in my skirt thinking of the worse. "Do not worry daughter, it will not be that severe. You will stay in this home under house arrest for the time being until we can extract that public apology from the First prince. Afterwards we will discuss your further punishment."
Surprised and happy "Father, thank you" I gave him a smile stood up and bowed. I will still receive punishment but not as severe as to be sent to church or disownment.
"Now, you may take the rest of the afternoon to rest and your mother and I will see you at dinner by 7"
"Yes Father, thank you" I bowed accepting the permission to leave the room. I left the room with a smile and a lighter heart.
The Grand Duke, the Head of the Council, the second most influential man in the kingdom, many titles , powerful titles, but to my daughter first and foremost I will always be the father. My daughter, my little flower, whose smile always brightens my day. As a child she had always been too curious of things wanting to discover and learn everything, too impulsive and quick-witted, yet too kind. I had to be creative with training her, both of my children actually, disguising training with common talks, simple negotiations and the like. Using their hobbies and interests as stepping stone in learning more in-depth knowledge needed to survive in our society.
Then the child grew to be a young woman, learning of love. Seeing young men in a different light. Learning more feminine things, sacrificing her other interest, just to please the boy, so that he wouldn't have a problem when questioned on why he chose her. I know the First Prince, I saw him grew up, beside his mother, beside his allies, beside Camellia. He did care, he did love her, but I knew he also has his own burdens, his own demons. And this demons have led to this situation, forcing a father to punish his daughter and depending on Camellia's stand in that situation, a father may also be forced to send his daughter away and remove that smile forever. I have contingencies, but I must know her reasons first.
And I was not disappointed. This is the daughter that I have trained before. It has been a long time that we have played this game, and I was impressed, immensely proud. Even if I have to pretend to have such plans, I was happy inside knowing that a father do not need to send his daughter away to live a life of solitude.
Silence have met the room, once Camellia have left and I was left contemplating. Looking more in a different perspective and knowing my own daughter there is a niggling feeling that some things are amiss. As I was trying to analyse more of it, I heard hurried footsteps and my door opened.
"Dear! Is it true? Camellia, Will she be sent to the church?" Amy, my beloved wife entered my study, throwing the usual decorum in her haste to know the outcome and what will happen to her daughter. Because it is not only a father who loves his daughter, but also her mother who loves her more so.
As I looked at her panicked yet still beautiful face, I walked to her and guided her to the same seat that Camellia have vacated earlier. Once seated she looked at me expectantly. "No, I have decided against it"
"Oh, my that…that is a good thing" she said in relief, touching her chest as if to calm her beating heart. "What made you decide otherwise?"
"Our daughter reminded me of my power as the Grand Duke, and my power over the First Prince" I told her with a proud smile on my face. "She even deduced my possible plans and intent why even if I do not want to, I agreed with her engagement"
"Fu~but she was not able to deduce your real intentions, right?" she teased, laughing lightly "You are such a doting father"
"Yes, yes I admit, I had known that once we have a daughter, sooner or later she will be dragged to that ascension war, but even so I want her to be happy" I admitted.
"So~ dear husband what have you decided? I do believe that with what happened earlier, Camellia will still receive punishment. (sigh) Camellia that child, to actually pick a fight with that daughter of a Viscount" she asked and contemplated "and to actually be used by those other nobles as front to take the fall"
"She will stay in this home in house arrest for the time being until I can deal with the First Prince" I answered. "Dear wife, I have been thinking of sending her to be apprenticed by that person"
"Oh, why would that be?" She asked confused. Because we both know that that person will not easily agree and that person have already one important apprentice. But before I can answer, there was a knock on the door.
"Excuse my rudeness, master and mistress, but I have come as ordered for the timely report" Fran said outside the door.
"Enter Fran" I ordered, the old butler entered, closing the door gently and bowed to us. "You may start"
"Master and Mistress. (bow) I do know that you have most of the details regarding the ordeal with the young mistress earlier and I have investigated a bit as ordered. Holly have arrived at the Academy by about before 7 in the morning as per the young mistress instruction. She have reported to me that, when she arrived the young mistress' bed curtains was closed tightly and the young mistress was presumed to be still asleep. She had allowed her to sleep a bit more since it was still early and a free day then she proceeded to clean silently. By a few minutes Holly have heard the young mistress murmur things a bit and sounded a bit restless, at that time she had decided to wake her. Opening the curtains, she saw the young mistress was restless almost having a nightmare and was too hot to touch, she was presumed to be running a high fever. Holly have done her best to wake her but unsuccessful. Deciding to just make her comfortable and arrange for a medicine and breakfast as soon as possible, she left the room for a few minutes. With the same time she have also arranged for a doctor to arrive here just after lunch. When she came back, she saw the young mistress room were forcefully opened, fearing the worst she have looked for her. One of the maidservants of one of the students informed her of the commotion in the common rooms. She found the young mistress was already in the middle of the confrontation, and was about to cut in, but one of the maidservants stopped her and reminded her of the rules, especially since both young master and young mistress was there. The rest of the story Master already knows" Taking a deep breath he continued. "The doctor arrived punctual and had run some test, the result he have written earlier. I have already read it as instructed by Master" He looked at me as if confirming, and I gestured for him to continue. "It is as Master was probably thinking, the young mistress was drugged. Dr. Watson have written that there are traces of a type of poison in the young mistress' blood. His guess was that it had loosen its potency because of the ingredient of what it was disguised with. Fortunately it have loosened its potency and have become a, some kind of toxic or virus that made the young mistress only sick as opposed to being dead. Dr. Watson have also written that the young mistress body was already fighting it by the time of his visit. He have given her antidotes disguised as medicine and have instructed both the young mistress and Holly of the time and intervals of when to take the medicine. I would also like for the Master and Mistress to be informed of Holly's suspicion, that the young mistress was having an afternoon tea with the daughter of the Viscount Leonis Ora a day before today." As he finished I felt my blood drained from my face. It is another thing to have suspicions but to be confirmed…
"What?! My Camellia…she was…someone wants her gone?!" Amy exclaimed distressed "Husband, this cannot be swept under the rug"
"Dear wife, calm yourself we do not have evidence, and even if there is it must have been long gone" I explained with clenched fist.
"But-" she was trying to say, but I cut her off. I can already see she is close to breakdown, tears in her eyes, shivers in her form.
"We will investigate this as thorough as possible, we cannot point fingers especially with the current political turmoil" I said. Facing Fran I ordered "Fran, send a message to that person. Our family will be collecting a favor"
"As ordered Master" he said, bowed and silently left, understanding my silent dismissal and our need for privacy. After the door closed, I kneeled in front of my wife, looking at her.
"Dear, I cannot bear to lose another daughter" she cried. Hugging her and comforting her "Yes, I know, I know, we both can't" I said. Remembering one of the saddest moments of our life.
One night as the 3rd month dies, as I got home from council meeting and immediately looked for my wife.
"Mistress is something wrong?" I heard the lady's maid asked Amy who looks to be in pain. Amy was reclining in one of the chairs in the family room, a discarded book on her side.
As I entered the room fully I hear her answer.
"Hana, I believe there is something wrong with my-" gesturing to her pregnant stomach " I think we need to call for a-a doctor, I think I'm having contractions"
"Mistress are you sure? You are about more than a month early?" Hana asked, but before my dear wife can answer. "Amy, dear are you sure?" I asked. When she nods with a grimace. I ordered Fran to ask for a doctor and a midwife urgently, it might be nearing night time but I am confident that they will arrive.
The moments after that was a whirlwind. When the doctor and the midwife arrived, they have immediately asked for Amy to be transferred on a comfortable room for giving birth. The midwife with the help of our housekeeper and other maids prepared for the birth. I was really nervous, hearing my wife in so much pain, yet excited that I will finally be able to hold my daughters. But the unlikely happened, no cries of a babe were heard.
My first daughter was born dead, while the second refused to leave her mother's womb early. While carrying my daughter's dead body, still tired and weak my wife wept. Going near her and sitting beside her, hugging her form from the side and looking at the babe in her arms. She was a beautiful baby, small so small barely fitting my wife's arm, with a few tufts of dark red hair almost black. But no life was there, she was not breathing, and I cried with my wife, cried for a daughter we will not see grew up. During my wife's pregnancy, we were already informed of the possibility of complications, it is rare to have multiple births, rarer when all babes survive birth. But we held hope, prayed for safe birth, but it looked like it was not enough.
We made vigil during the night, and prepared for her burial. And in the morning, as the lovely azaleas my wife faithfully cares bloom in the crisp air of after rain, we laid our daughter to rest in the family tomb. Jarred was confused but as a toddler himself, he does not really understand what is happening. Together with my wife and our faithful servants we prayed for her soul to rest in peace. We gave her a name that even now, we cannot seem to call her with, just calling her our little angel.
No one knew of our lost daughter, even Jarred and then even Camellia. That experience is probably the reason why I have dote on Camellia more than Jarred.
Camellia 6 years old
"Father?" Camellia asked, suddenly appearing beside me. We were in the sun room facing the gardens turned training area, watching Jarred train in swordplay with his uncle. I was actually looking at some reports, bringing it down I asked "Yes, Camellia?"
"Is older brother training?" she asked tilting her head cutely while watching her brother. My wife watches us from her seat. I can feel her anticipation.
"Yes, he is" I answered, looking at her expectantly urging her to ask what she really want to ask.
"Can I train too?" She asked. I was shocked and not at the same time. But I was trying for restraint so, I tried to see how she will negotiate.
"Why may I ask? It is not expected of a young lady to carry a sword"
"Really? But how will I defend myself, if father or older brother or even the guards are not there?" She asked, as well as saying her reasons.
"Father, please, just for a bit, to strengthen my body and to learn. I promise I will listen to all of uncle's instructions and always finish my studies and homework first. Please" she pleaded and gave me that pout and those eyes that resembles a puppy. And by that I knew I was lost.
"Hmm, Alright but it will be determined if your uncle agrees" I said, She gave me a bright smile, hugged me and said. "Thank you father, I will ask uncle now" With that she left. I heard giggles by my side and looked at my wife.
With laughing eyes she said "You actually agreed?"
"She is her mother's daughter" I said while looking at her meaningfully. She just laughed at me, while we watch our daughter bicker with our son about training with swords.
Camellia 7 years old
"Father, are you inside?" I heard my daughter ask outside the door to my study. "Yes, I am, enter as you wish" I answered. She entered the room, still in her outside clothes. She looked at me with determined eyes and I thought looks like we have another request here.
"Father, remember when you said that we should always help those in need when we can?" she started
"Yes, I did" I answered.
"And father remember when you are asking for what gift do I want"
"Yes, I do"
"Father, when we were outside, I saw this girl who really needed our helped, she looked like she have not eaten for days and with no family, she was also covered in wounds. I would really like to help her, adopt her to the family. I also would like to have someone of the same age to play with, older brother Jarred is always busy. I will not ask for any other gift" she said, looking at me as if saying please agree.
I was surprised by what she said a bit sad to be reminded of our little angel that should be the same age now as her. My daughter is too kind for this world and I eventually agreed. Telling her that we can take care of the girl's needs right now as she was sick, but for the girl to stay in the mansion will be her own decision. And thus Holly was adopted and trained as Camellia's maidservant. Thinking back I probably agreed because knowing the circumstances of the possible future, I would like for Camellia to have loyal servants, not to the Strelitzia House but to her as Camellia. This tradition of adopting homeless children of the same age as her continued every year until her 11th.
Camellia 11 years old
"Father, excuse my rudeness but may I talk to you?" I heard Camellia ask outside the door to my study.
"You may enter" I answered. As she entered and bowed as greeting I asked her "What is it that you need to talk about"
"Father, I have heard from brother Jarred that Prince Lark's family have asked for my hand for a formal engagement" she told me.
"Yes, they did" I answered
"Please agree Father, I know this is presumptuous of me, but Father you know that I have liked the prince since we were 8. I would also like to have a marriage of love just like Father and Mother" she reasoned.
I was not really surprised by her request, but circumstances and political stands are needed to be considered. I told her that I will think about it. We are a neutral house it is my duty as the Grand Duke to continue as such, but I am also a father that is soft to his daughter. And thus I eventually agreed.
Looking back at it, Camellia may have already known what sacrifice I made when I agreed to the engagement. That was the last time Camellia made a request, until today.
And now I think that I cannot shelter my daughter anymore. She is growing up and trying to fight her own battles. She might still be weak but I would like to watch her bloom into a formidable woman just like my wife.