The door flew open and Bella burst in.
Beirut was indulgent to his only daughter, but he did not like anyone bursting in on him like this and frowned. Then he noticed that she was holding a little girl by the hand. The child was wearing a dress that was too big for her, and her long, dark hair, although clean and silky, was in disarray.
“Father. Balian. Good that I found you together,” Bella burst out before her father or brother could react to her abrupt entrance.
“What is this about?” Beirut demanded sternly.
Bella answered by closing the door so hard it was almost slamming. “This little girl was driven from her home by her stepfather after her mother died. He threw rocks at her to make her go away, saying if he ever laid eyes on her again, he’d kill her.” As Bella spoke the little girl gazed up at her with big eyes, nodding unconsciously to hear her story told by another. “Strangers brought her to Father Elijah of St. Maro, who asked me to take her to the orphanage of Saint Martha.”
“A good thing, I should think,” Beirut told his daughter pointedly. “So why have you brought her here?”
Bella answered by going down on her heels and turning to the little girl. “Tell these men who your father is, Yvette.” The little girl looked suspiciously at Beirut and Balian and then looked back at Bella with a frown. “Go on,” Bella encouraged. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you ever again. Tell them what you told Lady Morphia and me.”
The girl looked suspiciously at Beirut and Balian again, but this time Balian too went down on his heels and smiled at her. “Who’s your father, sweetheart?” He asked gently.
“Balian d’Ibelin.” She told him innocently.
The words almost knocked him over, and his father gasped.
“She’s Denise’s child,” Bella declared, looking angrily at her brother.
Balian, however, had recovered. He held out his hand to the little girl while pointing at Bella and asking: “Did this lady tell you who I am?”
“She said she was bringing me to her father and brother.” The little girl looked from the older to the younger man, and added, “so you must be her brother.”
“Yes. That’s true, but she did not tell you the whole truth.”
“What do you mean?” The little girl asked frowning.
“She didn’t tell you my name, did she?”
The little girl shook her head.
“I hope this doesn’t upset you, sweetheart.”
“I’m Balian d’Ibelin. I’m your father.”
Beirut watched the exchange in shock. The reminder of Balian’s scandalous affair with the daughter of his former seneschal was something he preferred to forget. He had thought the disgraceful incident was behind them. Just a moment ago, they had been discussing Balian’s marriage to a noblewoman of impeccable bloodlines, wealth, and reputation. Yet before they could so much as celebrate, Balian’s past had walked into the room to shatter everything.
“Just what do you think the Lady Eschiva de Montbéliard will say if you turn up with a bastard daughter in tow?” Beirut spat out, too angry by the sudden turn of events to disguise his fury.
Balian looked up at his father with big dark eyes—the little girl’s big eyes—and in them was not shame but reproach. “Lady Eschiva will welcome her, father. She knows about the affair. She knows it was long before her time. Yvette is my daughter, and I will neither deny nor hide her.” As he spoke, he gently pulled the little girl into his arms and kissed the top of her head as he looked defiantly up at his father.
Beirut hit his forehead with the heel of his hand and then crossed himself. “Jesus God! By all the saints, you are right.” Then he too dropped to his heels and held out his hand to the little girl. “Welcome home, little one. You’re with your real family now. You’re with the Ibelins.”
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