The flowers bloomed at Erna’s fingertips, as she cut and pasted the petals together.
She moved mechanically, as if just going through the motions and Lisa watched her.
She was filled with wonder as she watched her beautiful mistress make beautiful corsages.

   She spent her days quietly in the Hardy Mansion, as per her fathers request, who had forbidden her to go outside until all her wounds had healed.
Lisa would have been afraid for her lady, who constantly stared off into space, but at least she was keeping busy.

   “Oh, I’m sorry Lisa, I hope you did not wait long.” Erna said, noticing Lisa’s presence.

   When she lovingly placed the newly completed rose in its box, she completed another order.
She had three times more orders this week as she did last week.

   “I think you’re over doing it miss.” Lisa said.

   Lisa looked at Erna with apprehension.
The cuts and bruises of her fathers beating had fully healed, but Erna still looked haggard and drawn, mostly from all the extra work she was doing in the evenings.

   “You need sleep.” Lisa added.

   “It’s okay, being locked away isn’t boring if you concentrate on your past times.” Erna smiled.

   Lisa glossed over the conversation with a smile and picked up the next big bundle for the department store.
When she left, Erna was left alone in the silent room.
She did not notice.
She had her desk situated under the large window and she stared out of it, at the fading flowers.
They made her realise that summer would be over soon, her ordeal would be over soon.

   As if like clockwork, Erna ran through the numbers again, the dates, the sleeps until the date that she had promised Pavel.
The date was all that supported her life right now.

   It was a shameless act, but she had decided to accept Pavel’s help.
Running away in the middle of the night was never the dignified thing to do, but there are moments where exception need to be made.
It was a lesson taught by her father, though without meaning.

   Her father had lied to her, he had conned her into coming to the city and only sought his own profit off her back.
When she reflected on this, heat rose up in her and she could feel the anger boil over.

   During her time at the house, she came to realised her father had lost a lot of money through being swindled himself.
His fortune declined sharply and he had plans to sell his daughter on the wedding market to make up for his losses.
It was shallow trick she would have seen if she had been more diligent.

   She was a crushed fool at the bottom of a swindlers food chain.
She was angry at herself for being so naive, her pride was hurt and she could not sleep.
She could sense the disappointment in her Grandfather, who had been so proud of how smart his Grandchild was.
He had said Erna was a good student.

   She got up with determination, standing proud and strong.
She looked like she was going to jump out of the window and fly away.
Instead, she grabbed some supplied and carried on making the corsages.
Even if she was going to run away, until that day, she was going to face her duties with pride, that included getting these orders filled.

   She wanted to say good bye to the naive Erna Hardy of the past, to be less complacent and to stare adversity with stubborn defiance.

   She noticed the pile of letters in the bin.
They had all been letters asking for Lady Hardy’s hand, to conduct courtship rituals and other such pompous traditions.
Why was it so hard for these people to accept rejection? She had sent letters of rejection to every bachelor, but they still sent the same tired letters, inviting her to social parties, or fireworks displays.
They can very well take themselves to see the fireworks.

   Lisa said it would bring shame if a lady was unable to find a gentleman escort on that day.
She suggested not rejecting the courting letters out of hand and maybe consider one or two of them.
Erna couldn’t believe Lisa had really suggested going boating, in the night, with a man she didn’t know? She would rather be an undignified lady, than uphold that tradition.
Besides, fifteen more days.

   With each letter sent by the same person, Erna used a thicker pen, bolder letters and bigger, to underline her stubbornness in rejecting these letters.
They never seemed to acquest the point however.

   “Miss, miss! Look, its the Palace, the Schubert Palace.” Lisa came rushing into the room without knocking.

   “Calm down Lisa, what’s going on?”

   “Her Majesty…The Queen is looking for you.” Lisa said, wide eyed.




  It was in the afternoon, when the sun warm golden disc, that the carriage carrying Bjorn and Leonid trundled out fo the main gate of Schuber Palace.
They were off to visit the Duchess of Arsene at her summer palace.
Originally it was meant to be the Queen and Leonid, but it was changed at the last minute.

   “Your Grandmother is very fond of you, Bjorn.” The Queen said.

   Bjorn had been woken up right before lunch, to his mothers knocking on the door.
She then proceeded to lecture him about late nights and drunken games.
It seemed that the Queen sent him off to visit his Grandmother as some form of punishment.

   As his mother said, the Duchess loved her first Grandson more than anyone, so it was a little thing to bare this annoyance for a little while.
It didn’t help that Bjorn was just as stubborn in matters as his mother and that annoyance quickly became hatred, as they bounced along the road.

   “Thanks to you, it should be a fun evening.” Leonid smirked.

   It was hard to judge Bjorn’s mood at times, he remained so stoic at times, with a glint of a random smile.
Even Leonid, who had dedicated his life amusing himself with Bjorn’s discomfort, found it hard to judge his brothers mood.

   “At least I will get a decent dinner out of it.” Bjorn said.

   “Only because she still loves you, despite everything, you’re still her favourite.” Leonid said dejectedly.

   Leonid referred to the incident with Princess Gladys and Bjorn felt heat rise against Leonid for bringing it up.
The Duchess had barely spoken to Bjorn since the divorce.
She accepted him at the table, tolerated his company when she must, but she was not as communicable as she used to be.

   “You could always tell her the truth.” Leonid went on.

   He sat forward, hands clasped like he was at prayer.
Bjorn looked out of the carriage window so that his brother wouldn’t see the dejected snarl.
Beside the Lars royal family, there were only three people in the whole kingdom that knew the truth.
The king, the queen and Leonid.
Four if you count the bastard Gladys cheated on him with.

   The Duchess resented him for his act.
It might not have been so bad if he had just divorced Gladys, but his abdication from the throne, making Leonid the Crown Prince, seemed to properly upset the Duchess.
Leonid tried to refuse the position, claiming that Bjorn was a much better suit.

   When ever he thought about the situation, Leonid felt terrible for his twin brother.
He could never be like Bjorn, the one who taught Leonid all about how a single person could be heartless, responsible, distrusting and considerate all at once.

   The carriage moved across the bridge, Leonid had buried his nose in a book and Bjorn was still staring out of the window, not really looking out at anything, but looking in.
The bridge reminded him of the time he met with Erna, to return his coat, right before the Heinz scandal blew up.

   “What were you going to do if I didn’t show?” Bjorn had asked Erna.

   “Come back tomorrow, I suppose.” Erna replied.
She answered like it was a matter of course.
“There is only one road out of the palace and to the city, so I figured you’d come past here eventually.”

   Her own logic had frustrated Bjorn, he had not expected her to be, he felt like she was a match for his wits and she was fiercely independent.
When they had arrived at her street, she hoped off the carriage like it was some ordinary thing and refused to let Bjorn see her off.
She was so proud of the fact that she knew how to ride a station wagon, she made it sound like some great achievement.
She left a modest farewell, like she was saying good bye to her grocer and crossed to the other side of the street.

   When Bjorn moved on, the woman didn’t occupy much more of his thoughts, or at least, he didn’t think she did.
As the carriage passed the middle of the bridge and his mind was cast back to that day, he realised his thoughts had lingered on her more than he realised.

   “Who is she?” He muttered to himself.

   Leonid looked up from his book and out the window.
“Hmm, who?” He said, but Bjorn ignored him as he caught the site of a brown haired woman.
He felt anxiety race up his body.
The disappointment stung as he saw it was only a woman that reminded him of Erna.




    A table had been set up for the Queens guest deep in the garden annex.
Isabel Dniester, the Queen, greeted Erna as she was escorted by footmen.
It was as if they were two close companions set to enjoy afternoon tea together.

   “You may go.” The Queen waved away the footmen.
As the servants left, the garden was drapped in an awkward silence.

   “Shall we have tea.” The Queen said and offered Erna a seat.

   “Oh, yes, of course your majesty.”

   Erna hurriedly took her seat and picked up the tea cup, waiting patiently for the Queen to take the first sip, she then took hers.
She was frightfully aware of her trembling hands.

   The Queen examined Erna Hardy over the lip of her tea cup, worried that the poor girl was going to spill her tea and burn herself.
This was a very different encounter than when they had met at the social gathering.
Probably because of the lack of the old fashioned dress and make up.

   A couple days ago, the Queen had sent out investigators to covertly gather all the information they could about Erna Hardy.
They returned with a thick report of the woman’s history, information of the two families, Baden and Hardy and all the gossip and scandal they had been involved in.

   Erna was a lady that sported the Hardy name, but she had mostly been raised by Baden’s.
A righteous and good family of aristocrats.
Although they had fallen on hard times, they lived without losing dignity.

   The information in the report claimed that Erna Hardy was a very different person to what the rumours suggested.
So curiosity took the better of the Queen and she decided that she wanted to meet Erna in person.

   “What is you r relationship to my son, Bjorn.” The Queen asked.

   Erna looked up from her tea cup, confusion spattered her features and looked at the Queen with big, beautiful, deep blue eyes.
It was no wonder she had caught the attention of all the socialites.

   “Tell me what happened between the two of you, Miss Hardy and you had better not try to deceive me.”

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