Bjorn did not arrive to the party until after it had already begun.
He was the only guest to come from Schuber Palace, even though the others had been given an invite.
Leonid and Louise decided not to come, which was no surprise to Bjorn, the pair were not very fond of the social gatherings of the Marchioness of the Harbour.

   “Oh, Bjorn, come here.” The Marchioness called out when she saw him.

   Bjorn fought his way through the press of party goers, a look of surprise on his face, it melted to a smile as he recognised the longing in the woman’s eyes.

   “Today, please don’t make any problems, I know what a little rascal you are,” The Marchioness gave Bjorn a playful wink.
“I hope you will live up to my expectations.”

   Bjorn gave a none committal grunt and returned a playful smile.
If there was anyone who wanted the party to end safely, it was the Marchioness of the Harbor, the hostess of the gathering.
Bjorn had no intention of causing trouble.

   The Marchioness was drawn away by other arrivals before Bjorn got caught up in idle chit chat, so he stationed himself at the buffet table and scanned the faces in the room.
There were the familiar faces that always seem to make every social gathering going.
There were a couple faces he did not recognise, probably out of towners vaticinationing in the city and then there was her.

   Bjorn caught her soft, warm smile within a crowd of young men vying for her attention.
Erna Hardy.
She was standing next to the window in the corner of the room, no doubt to restrict the avenue of attack from the young suitors.
They seemed to flock to her without relay and try to strike up a conversation.
They did not last long as Erna’s defensive posture saw them off and the suitors would skulk off with their tails between their legs to lick their wounded egos.

   Countess Meyer was no where to be seen.
No doubt she was busy presenting the auction items to prospecting bidders.

   Bjorn nibbled on a cheesy puff pastry ball when a gaggle of women interposed themselves between him and his view of Erna.

   “Did you know that Gladys is also at the party?” One of them said.

   He did not know which one, he was too busy trying to look around their over sized hats, stuffed with feathers, to see Erna.

   “I hear that she had forgiven you, so you should go over and say hello.” Another croaked.

   “Yes, yes, you two really should get back together, soon, before she comes to her senses.” Said another.

   They were like a hive mind, a single entity that fed on gossip and rumours.
The aged women of the royal family got their life force from all the nagging and meddling, so much so that Bjorn was convinced they were rendered immortal from it all.

   “Listen son, youth might seem like it will last forever, but you’ll wake up one morning and realise you’re an old man, grey hair and wrinkled skin.
Seize the moment.” The queen of the hive mind said.

   She pointed to toward Gladys, who was surrounded by followers and gave him a gentle shove in her direction.

   “You need to live a healthy life with Gladys, before your bones grow weary, my dear.”

   At this moment Bjorn’s greatest gift was his patience.
He smiled and nodded as the nagging hive mind showered him with advice about what he should and should not do.
His patience was all thanks to a tumultuous divorce and the fact that he gained anything from that ordeal, he had to be thankful in this situation.

   Eventually, the women moved on to their next prey, when they realised their advice was not taking hold.
Bjorn imagined that if they did not find a hapless victim soon, they would shrivel up and turn to dust.

   Finally free, Bjorn strode across to the corner of the room.
To his straight flush, the one hand that could not be beaten.
If only he could sort out the debt she owed first.


  The prince is approaching.
Erna desperately tried not to meet his gaze, but his piercing eyes demanded her attention.
She shrunk away deeper into the corner of the corner and realised she was alone now.
Where were all the young men minding for her attention now? Did they scatter when they saw the prince coming? What gentlemen, to leave a helpless maiden at the mercy of a dragon.

   She frowned as if posing a question.
She didn’t flinch under the cold gaze of the prince.
Others of the party could see the prince approaching her, but they did not seem to care one bit.
Not even Princess Gladys, who was entertaining a small gathering between Erna and the prince.

   “Hello, gold thief.”

   He seemed to block all avenues of escape and Erna was stuck under his scrutiny.
Despite his ungentlemanly demeanour, he wore an elegant smile.

   “I believe we are over due a conversation.” He continued.

   Erna turned away from him and made as if she was considering something out the window> The prince leaned in close and whispered.

   “Come now, don’t be coy, you stole something and now its time to confront me about it.” Erna could feel the smirk.

   “I have no idea what you’re talking about, my prince.” Erna said.

   She tried to keep her voice steady and dignified, but she could feel it wavering.
Her cheeks blushed and she felt heat rising in her.

   “My trophy.” The prince said.

   The prince mimicked Erna and leaned toward the window.
Anyone looking at them would think they were discussing something going on out in the garden.
Some even got curious and looked out a window further along the wall, but could not make out anything of interest.

   “That’s it, a trophy? I’m sorry, but I still have no idea what you’re on about.
Please can you leave me alone, prince.” Erna said.

   “Of course, but only when you return my trophy.”

   “Why are you doing this?” Erna said.

   “Because you’re a thief.”

   “A thief? You keep saying that.” Erna said.

   She turned on the prince and the prince looked down into her large eyes that were like blue flame, burning with interest and annoyance.

   “Are you really the type to forget something so important?”

   “No, that seems more like you.” Erna snapped back.

   It felt like something a child would say and despite the annoyance on her face, she was still filled with fear of the prince, he was the prince after all.
Erna did her best to compose herself.

   “That day, even after committing such an absurd act, you still want to behave so rudely toward me? Were you so drunk that you remember nothing?” Erna said.

   Bjorn was put off by the sudden change in Erna, rounding on him and attempting to put him under her scrutiny.
He nodded his head indifferently.

   “I remember,” Bjorn said.
“I remember the fountain in Tara Square.
I remember everything.”

   “You remember…” Erna said, her stern gaze melting a little.

   “I must apologise, Miss Hardy, I have over stepped, its not entirely my fault.” Bjorn said.

   He was suddenly being overly polite and even bowed his head slightly.
He was being impeccably courteous and yet, surprisingly arrogant.

   “Now, its your turn.” Bjorn said.

   Contrary to Erna’s smirking expression, Bjorn remained calm.
It was a thorn that overwhelmed Erna.

   “Are you really suggesting that I should apologise to the prince?” Erna said.

   She was confused and could not hide the tremble in her voice.
She wanted to run away from the situation.
The urge to run was so overwhelming that there was no room to worry about anything else.

   “That is the polite thing to do, to the person you assaulted with a trophy and then ran away with said trophy.” Bjorn said.

   “That’s reticulose, that…”

   Everything fell away in that instance, the anger, the shock and the fear.
Even as she tried to rebuke the prince, she was forced to recall the memory.
It was a long golden stick.
She had grabbed what ever was to hand and hit the prince with it.
After that, she ran, but she had failed to drop the stick.
Was that really a trophy?

   It wasn’t until she was long clear of the square that she realised she still held the stick in her hand.
She threw the stick away in disgust and ran all the way back to the Hardy Mansion.
She never looked back.

  So the thing the prince was claiming to be his trophy was probably now lying in some bush some where near Tara Boulevard.
If someone had not found it and thanked their lucky stars.

   “I…I threw it away.” Erna said softly, ashamedly.

   “My trophy, you threw away my trophy?”

   Erna shrunk away from the prince.
She shivered at his rhetoric.

   “On my way home, I threw it away into some bushes.” Erna said.

   The straight flush that had stolen the Golden Antlers looked about ready to weep.

   Bjorn seemed to stare down at Erna for an age.
Not saying a word, not moving, just looking down at her.
Bjorn stood up straight and adjusted his jacket when the orchestra signalled the start of the first dance.

   “Shall we, Miss Hardy, lets go first.” Bjorn offered his hand.

   “What?” Erna said.

   She was caught in the net of bewilderment and didn’t know what to do.
Bjorn was suddenly being very polite and it gave the man a very creepy aura.
Erna wanted to scream.

   “If you refuse, people will grow suspicious and misunderstand.” Bjorn whispered softly.

   Erna couldn’t grasp the situation and she felt like she was spiralling down into a deep hole.
What was he trying to accomplish? One moment he was behaving like he wanted to throw her into a prison for theft, now he wanted to dance with her? Why wouldn’t he just leave her alone?

   “Dancing together, at a party, is nothing special.” Bjorn motioned his head toward the dance floor, where several couples were already taking their place.
“But hiding in the corner, talking in secret, that will draw attention.” His eyes locked onto Erna’s once more, they seemed darker, more sinister.

   “But I…” Erna stammered.

   “There is nothing left to say, you threw away my gold trophy, so lets dance.”

   Bjorn gently took Erna’s hand and escorted her to the centre of the dance floor.
Erna was powerless to do anything but follow.
She caught the glare of Gladys as past her.
She glared at them like she had just caught her husband mid affair.

   Erna could feel tears forming.
“Was it really gold?” Erna said.

   Bjorn simply nodded.
Her hands were limp in his, but she slowly compiled her strength again, as all eyes turned to them.
Her whimpers accompanied the melodies of the waltz.

   “I’m sorry, I…I didn’t know.
I was just so shocked that day, I really didn’t know.
Really.” She blubbed on.

   Bjorn’s eyes narrowed as he looked down at Erna.

I will compensate you, I promise,” Erna said.
“How ever I can.
It’s just, a little difficult right now.”

   “Miss Hardy.” Bjorn sad softly in an attempt to console the gibbering woman.

   Realising that they had most of the eyes of the party on them, Bjorn suddenly burst into laughter, which shocked Erna and she blinked away the tears.

   “Fine, you can do that.” Bjorn said mid chuckle.

   Erna really did not like the idea of being in the princes debt.
She got the horrible feeling that he was going to use this for some bitter means.
To be indebted is to create weakness.
She knew that she would not be able to repay the cost of the gold, Bjorn knew that too, she practically told him, but she knew the rules of fair trade and she would not let the poisonous prince take advantage of her.

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