Erna moved like she was dancing on water, her graceful steps and twirls were delicate and purposeful.
Her dress was a ripple across the waters surface.
It was as if the waltz was Erna’s life purpose.

   Bjorn looked down at the girl.
His concentration was solely on her and he almost lost a few steps during the dance.
He could not get a read on Erna and he suspected that this was all a calculated act.
If so, Erna was the best actress on the continent.

   Bjorn could feel that Erna was tense, like she had the worries of the world on her shoulders, but she moved so freely.
Bjorn thought it was probably the benefit of being so small and agile.
So distracted, Bjorn almost clipped the back of his heels and he concisely looked around to see if anyone saw his blunder.
His gaze caught that of Gladys.

   She was dancing with some noble’s son, he was sure that he recognised him, but he did not take too much notice, he was more concerned at how Gladys kept looking at him, even as she dancing.
It made Bjorn feel quite self conscious.

   Bjorn got the impression that Gladys was jealous of Erna because Erna seemed like the more innocent princess.
Bjorn smiled at the thought.
It would seem that he was not the only one taken in by Erna’s acting.

   This would make a fine spectacle.
The prince dancing with such an innocent angel.
He could already imagine the provocative magazine articles that would be published in the coming weeks.

   Bjorn turned his attention back to Erna, who hadn’t seemed to notice he had been distracted.
He found himself getting drawn in by her porcelain skin, freshly coloured with a light red blush along her cheeks.

   As Erna twirled and tilted her head away from him, exposing the nape of her neck, Bjorn felt intoxicated by her closeness and he paused his dancing for the briefest moment.
He fought the urge to nuzzle into her and take in her scent.

   Erna didn’t notice, she was too busy dancing and enjoying the moment.
Bjorn forced himself to focus and conclude the dance with a flourish.

   Erna curtsied to the prince for the pleasant dance.
When she looked at him, he felt his heart skip and he became suddenly aware of her soft, pouting lips.
The little round nose, the deep blue eyes that were as large as dishes.

   When he stared into those pools of blue fire, he realised she was staring right back at him and her expression seemed to say Are you ok?

   Bjorn smiled and nodded.
“Good job Miss Hardy.”

   Without realising, he looked over at Gladys, who shot him an evil glare that threatened to curdle his blood.
He had used Erna as a screen against his ex-wife, but he got the feeling that he might have stirred the pot a little too much.

   “The trophy will be reimbursed slowly.” He leaned in and whispered to Erna.

   Erna looked at him in disbelief, but she wore a bright smile.
Gladys used to wear a smile just like that, back in the early days of their relationship.




    “Aren’t you already in a relationship?” Peter said.

   “Not likely, but if its true, I’ll kill you.
It’s against the rules.” Leonard said.

   Bjorn was sat on the terrace that looked out over the sea.
He was enjoying a little peace and a cigar, when his betters came out to harass him over Erna.
The music and laughter of the banquet hall was a faint din out here.

   Bjorn did not raise to the groups bait, as they tried to goad him into a response, so they changed the target of their mocking.

   “Weren’t you chasing the young Miss Hardy, Peter?” Said a young gentleman Bjorn was having trouble placing a name for.

   “In deed he was, you told me you sent her flowers.” Leonard said.

   Peter’s face flushed with embarrassment.
“Yes, I even got this reply.”

   Leonard wasted no time and snatched the letter from Peter just as soon as he took the letter out of his pocket.

   “First of all, I would like to thank you for the flowers.
Off to a good start.” Leonard mocked.
That’s not good.
However, I am unable to reciprocate the gifts that you have sent me and can only send you this letter in response.
I’m sorry, but I think it would be too difficult for us to have tea together at this time.
It would be best if you were to send flowers and cards to someone who does have the time for you.” The small group of young men gave sympathetic noises toward Peter.
Leonard continued.
“Once again, I would like to express my deepest gratitude in the flowers you have sent me and my deepest apologies.”

   The letter was passed around and eventually made its way to Bjorn.
As the group jabbed Peter in the ribs, Bjorn read the letter and suddenly burst out laughing along with the other members on the terrace.

   “Don’t laugh, you children.
All relationships start out like this, the gander chasing the goose, its how we know the feelings are real.” Peter declared.
His face was so bright and red.

   Bjorn turned away from the commotion and looked back out over the sea.
He puffed the cigar back to life.
It was not a particularly dark night and the moon was close to full.
Its radiant glow glittered off the rippling sea.

   “Now look at this, who’s this bastard talking to Miss Hardy now?” Peter said.

   Everyone on the terrace, including Bjorn, looked through the glass of the double doors, into the golden glow of the ball room.
They could see that a young man was talking to Erna at the buffet table.

   Heinz’s second son.
Bjorn thought.

   Bjorn’s eyes narrowed as he recognised the young man.
He did not have a very good reputation, but he was still a better candidate than Peter Bergen, or even Count Leonard Lehmen.

   “If you’re hungry, then go and claim the steak.
If not, then leave the pair alone.
Erna knows her business.” The others looked in shock as Bjorn uttered the words through a plume of cigar smoke.
“Our bet is a bet and Miss Hardy must be about her own business.”

   “So be it, forgive me.” Peter said.

   Peter seemed to look at Bjorn with something resembling admiration for the princes cool demeanour.
Maybe it was that nonchalant that women found attractive.

   The group devolved into another tirade of bickering and playful arguing.
Bjorn would interject with his opinion now and then, but for the most part, he was absent from the conversations.

   “Can we talk.” Came a feminine voice sometime into the night.

   The group of lads turned and parted like the red sea to reveal Gladys.
Bjorn let out a breath and dumped the rest of his cigar into the ashtray.

   “Yes, of course princess.” Bjorn said.

   They moved to a discreet corner of the terrace, which was not very discreet at all and anything more than a low whisper could easily be over heard.
Bjorn stood and faced out toward the sea.
Gladys approached under the gaze of the young lads and couldn’t help but feel like a child about to be punished.

   “I’m sorry for being rude to you.” Bjorn said when Gladys got close.

   All pretence of joy was wiped from his face as he turned to look at Gladys.
He pulled another cigar from an inside pocket of his jacket and bit the end.

   “Are you going to use the girl like this forever?” Gladys said.

   “The girl?” Bjorn said.

   “That poor country girl you’re using to torment me.” Gladys said, anger lighting her eyes.

   “Her name is Erna and you seem very sure of yourself to accuse me of using her.” Bjorn smiled, but it was insincere, almost mocking.
“In my eyes, that country girl is more beautiful than you, princess.
She is kinder, if more naive than a princess, needless to say.”

   “Please don’t do that.
Don’t hurt that innocent girl.
We may have problems and we should keep it between the two of us.” Gladys said.

   “I said it very clearly that day, princess, the deal was fair and you agreed.
There is nothing left between us.” Bjorn said.
His face flared a menacing orange and red as he lit the cigar.

   They did not shout at each other, or raise their voices even slightly.
It was pointless in pouring out their raw emotions again, in a public display of embarrassment.
The fact that there was nothing left to pour out made the situation more annoying for Gladys.

   “What if I were to offer you another deal?” Gladys said, she could feel tears starting to form.
“Then maybe things could be different between us.”

      The offer was a little unexpected, but had been on the fringes of Gladys thoughts, she had always hoped she could return from being the sorrowful heroine.
Bjorn turned as if he intended to leave a boring theatre.

   “What deal?” Bjorn said.

   “The crown.
I want to give back your crown, which you lost because of me.” Tears welled and flowed.
“I came back to Lechen for that reason.
I wanted to apologise to you, to start over fresh.”

   “You would return my crown?” Bjorn said, ignoring everything else Gladys said.

   “If you can change the public’s mind by showing them that we can live happily together, you will be able to regain the throne.
My father promised he will support us.” Even as Gladys cried, her voice was clear and sweet.
“I understand that forgiving me wont be easy.
I don’t really expect you to forgive me, but Bjorn, please give me a chance to atone.
I don’t mind that you hate me, so please don’t turn away from me.
Please.” Gladys reached out and grabbed the cuff of Bjorn’s sleeve.
“You don’t know how much I regret the mistakes I made when I was young and immature.
As much as I did wrong by you, please don’t punish me like this.

   “Really.” Bjorn said flatly.
He did not try to shake away Gladys grip of his arm.

   “Yes, I will try hard, I will keep praying and I will work even harder, until your heart is relived.
Can you do that?” Gladys looked up at him with puffy red eyes glistening with tears.

   “Fine.” Bjorn nodded as if understanding.
Gladys’ eyes twinkled with faint hope.
“But what should I do Princess? The deal you suggest is impossible for me.”

   Bjorn let out a sigh and shook off Gladys grip like he was wiping away dirt.
Gladys looked up at him with wide eyed shock, tears streaming down her face.

   “Bjorn?” She said softly.

   “My crown was not lost because of you.” Bjorn said as he tidied his crumpled sleeve.
“If I really wanted to protect my crown, there are plenty of other ways.
I could just kill your child for one.”

   “Wha…what are you saying?” Gladys recoiled from the man.

   “Its such a simple thing to do.
I could have given you medicine while he was still in your womb.
It would have been a smell thing to have said he was stillborn.
The people would have been more sympathetic to me, the crown prince losing an heir.
The tabloids would have called me the unlucky prince who lost a son and a wife.
That would probably be the cleanest way, do you think?” Bjorn was surprisingly calm, which sent a chill down Gladys’ spine.
“That would have been the easy route, if I wanted the crown, but I didn’t.
I gave up the crown on my own.
I don’t really want it.
SO how exactly do you think you could give it back to me?” Bjorn’s smile became cold as his words became sharp.
“What about Leonid? Would you make him give back the crown he received voluntarily, because the princess of Lars demands it?”

   “I, don’t mean that…” Gladys blubbed.

   “Do you think the throne of Lechen a fun little plaything, princess?” Bjorn interrupted.

   “No, its not like that, please…” Gladys tried to say.

   She was practically begging the prince now, forcing herself to endure the tears.
The gossip of the others on the terrace seeped through her sobs.

   “If you want to have the crown prince again, then I suggest you find another kingdom.
I hear the Queen of Bern recently died of old age.
Maybe you could have a peek there, pick at her bones like the vulture you appear to be.
Wouldn’t queen be better than a crown princess?”

   “Do you hate me so much that you must be so cruel.” Gladys shouted, letting her tears free.

   Bjorn cocked an eyebrow as he passed his attention over the onlookers on the terrace and the would be eavesdroppers in the ball room.
They all stepped back and tried to act as if they were about their own business.
All except Peter and Leonard, who just stood with mouths agape.

   Bjorn marched out of the terrace and through the banquet hall.
A buzz of commotion followed in the Grand Dukes wake, but he did not care.
Peter and Leonard went after him as he left the banquet hall.
Bjorn never looked back.

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