“Hey, honey, calm down,” the Viscountess said, surprised by the situation.
“You can’t do this, no matter how angry you are, she has another party to attend tomorrow.”

   “Party? She’s a libertine, if the rumours are anything to go by, I don’t care about some party.” Walter shouted.

   Erna looked down at the newspaper on the floor, but couldn’t quite read the small words of the article.
She was able to grasp the context and wondered how such a petty rumour could be considered news worthy.
It seemed to be enough to convince her father though, who wouldn’t give Erna the chance to explain anything.

   Erna looked up at her red faced father and was pained to see the anger there.
She felt so humiliated she could cry, but tears did not flow.
It may be said that she didn’t even know how to cry any more.

   “Why do you have to get greedy and do every possible wrong thing? A scandal like this, right when the random is only going up.
All these good marriages we’re going to miss because of this.” Walter raged on.

   The words buzzed around Erna’s head, his anger pouring out at her, but she looks up at him blank faced.
He might as well have been muted, all save one thing.

   My father wants to sell his own daughter into marriage?

   Erna didn’t know what people hissed into the ears of those that would listen, hiding their shame behind their hands as they spread vicious rumours of her.
She didn’t really care, they were not true and that was all that mattered.
The fact that her father did hurt the most.

   It is the wish of many parents to find a suitable match for their child.
To marry their daughters into a good family, or power and money.
Her father was the same, it would seem and Erna was never given a choice in the matter.
At least, he never denied any outstretched hand that reached for Erna’s hand, no matter what predicament it put her in.
She had no intention of getting married.

   “Am I really only here, at Hardy Manor, so that you can sell me to the highest bidder?  Is this really how you treat your own daughter?” Erna said.

   Her voice was the softest whisper and she doubted her father even heard her, but she locked him with a stare that shot a cold tingle up Walters spine.
Erna got to her feet as the Viscount sighed roughly.

   “Please father, don’t do this to me.” Her voice trembled from the fear of facing her father, but she stood firmly.
“How can you treat me like this? I know you’ve ignored me for so long, but I am still your daughter.
How can you be so heartless?”

   “This was your idea.
You chose to come here for the year, or did you really think that would be enough to pay off the debt? Have those eccentric old fools raised an even bigger fool?” Walter snorted.

   “You don’t have the right to insult them, they are better people than you ever will be.” Erna snorted back.

   “No, I have the right afforded me as your father and I am more than qualified to comment.” Walter shouted, bristling with pride.
“They would have you growing old, as they are, wasting away in some decrepit courner of some forgotten village.
At least I am concerned with a real future for you, which includes finding you a good marriage.
So stop with this immaturity, stop doing everything wrong and start following instructions.
Do you understand?”

   Erna was stoic in the face of her fathers fury.
Even as he leaned over her, red face inches from hers, the smell of his hot breath coming strong, she remained stubborn.
She could see his eyes becoming more and more fierce as they looked at her, trembling as she was, but she stood straight and did not back down.

   “If you slip up one more time, I will sell that country house.
How’s that?” Walter said, calmness not quite reaching the extent of his words.

   “You can’t do that, you promised the house to me.” Her poise broke and she shouted.
Walter smiled at her.

   “That’s only when your part of the arrangement has been fulfilled.” Walter said.

   “How can you be so mean.” Erna almost stamped her foot.

   “Mean? You’re only a penniless girl, Lady Baden.” Walter mocked and raised his hand to slap Erna.

   “Honey, stop, please.” Brenda cooed at Walter.

   She was nervousely looking around as she reached up and grabbed her husbands arm.
Walter backed down, but not before giving a swift kick at the bastard newspaper.

   “Think carefully before you act, Erna, no matter how stupid you might be, I hope that meaning is not lost on you.”


Erna Hardy.

   Bjorn was enjoying a good cigar on the terrace of the social club when he saw the young woman.
He frowned and pulled himself out of his seat.
He leant on the railing and puffed out a cloud of thick, white smoke.
He sniffed at the intoxicating woody aroma as he watched Erna walking closer.

   He watched her as she stopped under the clock tower and look down at her toes, then move off again.
There was no sign of the maid that was always glued to Erna’s side.

   He checked the time on his pocket watch, slippe it back into its breast pocket and adjusted the sit of his wide brimmed hat.
It was late, to late for a member of the nobility to be out on their own.
Rumors would spread.

   The Hardy’s were rife with scandal these days.
It was so loud it became impossible to ignore and he started to wonder how she had been faring in the quagmire.

   As if thinking about her made her suddenly aware of him, she looked up at him.
Despite the darkness, and the distance, Bjorn felt like their eyes met.
Erna froze in place and a long moment seemed to pass between them, before Erna looked back at her toes.

   Without warning, Erna turned and hurridly walked the other way.
Bjorn didn’t take insult from it and simply laughed it off.
The woman was the centre of much gossip, he doubted she wanted to add to that pyre.
What would the snobs make of her meeting the Prince in the dead of night?

   It might also be because he was the Prince.
It must be a lot to take in for a simple country girl, who grew up in a village where the biggest celebrity was probably a problematic goose on the village green.

   Bjorn watched Erna dissapear into the night before turing to head back inside the club.
It was its busy period, but even still, Heinz was stood all alone.
Being the editor for the newspaper responsible for a lot of the gossip around the Erna girl, its no wonder people don’t want to talk to him and have their laundry aired the next morning.

   “Come on, we’re waiting on you.” Peter said, noticing Bjorn come in from the terrace, he was loading up for a new game of cards.

  Bjorn took his seat and knocke off the ash build up.
The group loved to pass jibes between themselves, scratching at each other with blunt barbs and casual insults.
They could not touch him though, not that Bjorn would have minded, but it was kind of an unwritten rule amoungst them.

   He moistened his lips with a sip of brandy and looked at his cards.
They were difficult to read, their numbers and pictures slid from his mind as he considered them.
All thoughts were turned to Erna as she walked away, but not toward the Hardy family mansion.



  Pavel was not able to get out of Lehman Street until late.
He refused a lift home and opted to walk the streets.
He liked walking the streets when they were like this.
Quiet and with a fresh wind blowing in.
He liked to use this time to order his thoughts and make sense of the world.

   The second daughter of Count Lehman was an avid appreciator of art.
She was well known for endorsing artists and thanks to Pavel’s recent victory at the Royal Academy of Art, her attention was firmly fixed on him.

   He had been invite to a very special dinner, accompanied by some very wealthy sponsors and he was able to sell some of his work for a very high price.
It was the right time to be happy, in many ways, but it wasnt just selling his work, but deep down his heart was heavy.
Erna’s name had been thrown around a lot lately, but not on good terms.

   She was pretty much the topic of discussion at the dinner, the scandal between her and the Grand Duke.
The nobels all sympathised with Princess Gladys and were heavil critical of Erna.
Not so much the Duke Lehman, who was constantly ourtaged about his future wife being spoken about like that.

   Lehmans daughters were the worst culprits for the gossip, they hoped that providing harsh criticisim of the women, the Count would change his mind about marrying her.

   Every time he saw Count Lehman that evening, he couldn’t help but think of Erna.
It was hard for him to understand how Erna had been promised to the dusty, grey haired old man.
The thought of his shrivelled up hands touching her rankled at Pavel’s heart, but there was no point in feeding that fire, there was nothing he could do to help his long time friend.

   It was a difficult battle, to stay in control and not let a random outburst of anger in Erna’s defence boil over.
He would het his own back on them, for Erna, by taking their money and thats what he focused on.
No matter how many times Erna, the Poison Mushroom Prince, or scandal was mentioned in the same breath, he couldn’t let it boil his blood.

   He should have paid more attention to Erna.
He knew filling himself up with regret was pointless, but he couldn’t help himself, the girl had a hold of him and with her talk of going back to Burford at the end of the year, filled him with hope.

   He loosened his tie and stuffed it into his pocket.
He hated the thing, it always felt like it was choking him, but it was necessary if you wanted to be taken seriously.
Now, able to breath, he felt like he needed to talk to Erna.

   He had to be careful, one careless act and he could lose Erna.
Viscount Hardy had brought his daughter to the city to sell her off in marriage.
In a few days he would get the money for the paintings and so he would be able to help, if only a little.

   He hoped that if she could get back to Burford, she might be able to have a more peaceful life and that was how he was going to help.
He was going to raise the money to buy her out of this arranged marriage.
If only Viscount Hardy would let Erna go.

   Pavel arrived at his house and made to head up the steps that lead to the front door.
Coming home, his self contemplation flittered away and he felt all the stress and worry melt away for a moment.
Just in time to notice a shadowy form sat on the top step.
Huddled within themselves.

   Pavel was inteding to pass them by, desperate to get in and get something to eat, but his good nature niggle at him and he stopped in front of the shadow.

   “Are you okay?” Pavel asked nervousely, hoping he wasnt about to get stabbed.

   The figure looked up at him.


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