Normally, a missing girl is handled by the lower ranks of the police commission, but due to the identity of the missing girl, the Police Chief decided to tackle this one personally.

   Erna Hardy, the focal point of a lot of contention in the city right now, all centred around the Royal Family, namely Prince Bjorn.
The Police Chief had authority of the Royal Family thanks to Philip III and another missing persons case some years prior, so the Police Chief was the only one that could handle the case properly.

   As always, he started the case by asking a few simple to answer questions to get his deductive reasoning working.

   Who is Miss Hardy? If the rumours are to be believed, she is the lover of the Grand Duke.
So, who is the Grand Duke? He was the Crown Prince, but now labelled the Poison Mushroom Prince, he is still the eldest son of the King.

   After several of these types of questions, the Police Chief came to the conclusion that this disappearance was politically charged and the republicans would jump at the opportunity to point fingers at the Royal Family, because of the bad image such scandal brought them.
So, if the girl was missing, the first suspect is the Prince.

   The Police Chief felt a little ashamed at accusing the Royal Family of foul play, just because a country bumpkin didn’t know how the city works, he was a royalist to the core.
It didn’t mean he could look the other way if the Royal Family was involved in criminal plots.
The least he could do was warn the King of the investigation.

   Fortunately the King understood, though he still flew into a rage at hearing his son may be involved in the disappearance of a young girl.

   “Get me Bjorn, now!” The King demanded.

   The King had always managed to maintain a benevolent aura and remain calm in the face of bad news, but this was something else, even the Queen was startled at her husbands sudden motion.

   By the time Prince Bjorn made it to the palace, the atmosphere was tense, Prince Bjorn was walking on thin ice as he approached his father.

   “It has come to my attention that Miss Hardy is missing.
You better tell me the truth right now, Bjorn.” The King held his anger in check for the moment, but his face was bright red.

   “She’s not missing,” Bjorn said coolly.
“She is with me and I am helping her through a troubled time, it will all be cleared up soon, I promise father.”

   Bjorn remained calm and even offered a little bow.
The King returned to his normal colour, though tinges of red still radiated from the fringes, he looked at Bjorn and contemplated.
Had he really secreted the girl away and not said anything, to anyone, leaving her closest kin to report her missing? Even in the face of all the scandal between them two.

   The King let out a relieved sigh as he waved away the unimportant questions flooding his mind.
He was just grateful that his son did not brake faith and had not committed such a heinous crime.
He was curios as to why his son, the one everyone was labelling a cold hearted, self interested Prince, would do such a kind hearted thing.
It must be to his own advantage some how.

   “You best clear it up.” The King said, he knew that all the reporters that hung around the police station would get news of this eventually and like rabid dogs, starved for too long, would gorge themselves on this.

   Please don’t tell me Bjorn has that Hardy girl in his heart. The King thought to himself.

   “Honey,” the Queen said in a soft tone only for him.

   He looked at her and she could see the thought in his eyes as clear as if he had spoken it aloud.
There was no way he could allow Bjorn to marry someone like Miss Hardy, it would be ruinous in the public eye.

   Is this really best? The King thought, as he looked at his wife.

   His wife nodded slowly, as if reading the question in his mind.
The image of Queen Isabel filled the Kings heart.
The wise queen, the devoted lover and benevolent mother.
She would never make a decision that would harm Bjorn.

   Philip could never understand Bjorn, he always seemed so cold and distant.
He certainly didn’t like the Hardy family, the Viscount was a charlatan, to speak nothing of the con artist.
He did believe in his wife though, his lifelong companion, she always was and always will be.

   “Now, I know Miss Hardy is a decent enough lady, contrary to rumours, but honey, that doesn’t change the fact that the Hardy family are a lost cause.” The King said.

   “Do you really think our son, who had the King of Lars wrapped around his finger at such a young age, would not be able to deal with the likes of the foolish Viscount Hardy?”

   She was certainly a girl that moved Bjorn’s heart, which had never shown any interest in Gladys, who was the perfect Princess.
If Bjorn missed this opportunity now, he would probably spend the rest of this life alone.

   Could I accept that, or approve Miss Hardy as a daughter-in-law?

   The thought was pointless as he had already made his mind up.

   “Oh come on, these two getting together?” The King said, as if arguing with his own decision.

   The King’s face became stern and Bjorn faced him with squinted eyes, as if he didn’t know what his father was saying.


   “Just, go and marry her, if that is your will.” The King said, who had become more solemn, Bjorn just looked at him, bewildered.




A heavy silence hung over the room once the doctor had left.
Erna was alone in the town house as Mrs Fitz had left for the palace with Bjorn.
Erna was growing fond of Mrs Fitz, who had barely left her side for the last couple days.

   Erna had been staring up at the ceiling for a long while.
Her body still ached and parts of her throbbed, but she was too nervous to sit still, so she got up and wrapped a shawl about her tightly and paced about.

   She thought about Bjorn’s offer.
She was going to reject him, but he got called away to the palace before she could say anything.

   “I’ll be right back, wait for me.” Was all he said and rushed out the door like a flurry.

   She wanted to leave the town house right away, but imagined the insult that would leave behind.
She would probably never see him again after that.
Would that be a bad thing? She would be far, far away by then, but his offer clung to her.

   On that cold, wet and desolate night, she felt like the whole world had abandoned her, leaving her to her fate in the cold rain.
But out of the darkness  he came to her.
He was her salvation.
She remembered looking up into his eyes and was suddenly overcome with conflicting emotions.
Shame and relief, love and despair.
They still lingered in the corners of her mind.

   As she paced about the room, her head aching from trying to order her thoughts, she became dizzy and hurriedly sat in the chair by the window before she fainted.
The sun was setting and splashed ambers and reds all over the sky.
The light dyed Erna’s pale complexion a deep tan.

   She should go and find Pavel, after conveying her rejection to Bjorn.
Even if she couldn’t find Pavel and he had truly abandoned her, she would still make for Buford.

   As she carefully ordered her chores, Erna’s eyes did not leave the streets below, which was visible from the bedroom window.
The shadows stretched out over the complicated road.




Pavel decided that he could not wait forever and returned to the Police Station the very next morning.
The two old ladies from Buford in tow.

   “Is this city really so heartless, Pavel? To treat out Erna like some worthless speck of dust.” Baroness Baden said as she looked up at the police station.
Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.

   “I think they are just confused, Baroness, a lot of people are saying a lot of things and its difficult to find the truth in all of it.” Pavel was angry and he did not hide it very well as he tried to convey words of comfort to Baroness Baden.
“You two wait here, I’ll be back soon.”

   It didn’t seem fair to drag the Baroness and Mrs Greve all the way up the stairs especially since the two burst into tears at the slightest mention of the missing Miss Hardy.

   Pavel did not get very far, as an officer refused to let him up and see the officer in charge of the missing persons case.
Sensing something was wrong, the officer actually came out to speak to Pavel, who was clearly upset and angry.

   “The investigation has been closed due to the fact that Miss Hardy is not missing.” The officer said.

   Pavel couldn’t believe what he was hearing, Erna had not returned home and had not been seen in days.

   “That can’t be, no one has seen Miss Hardy in days.” Pavel desperately explained.

   “Young man, look here,” the officer pulled out the missing persons report and showed it to Pavel.
“See, the girl is not missing and it was a false report due to family error.”

   “It can’t be.” Pavel stammered.

   “I’m sorry, it happens all the time, nine in ten cases involving missing aristocracy kids are like that.
It’s what happens when you force people into marriage.” The officer gave a smirk and tossed a newspaper in front of Pavel before heading off to deal with another irate visitor.

The daughter of Viscount Walter Hardy, who had been reported missing,  was found to be living with the Grand Duke

Pavel couldn’t believe it, he re-read it several times.
The article went into details about Miss Hardy and her in long standing involvement with the Grand Duke.
Even going so far as to claim the pair was thought to have eloped.

   Pavel was horrified and snatched up the newspaper and read it again as he returned downstairs.
The article was so vulgar he couldn’t believe the person who wrote it considered themselves a journalist.

   “Oh my god, the old lady has collapsed.” Someone shouted.

   Pavel looked up and saw a crowd gathering around the waiting area and his heart leapt into his mouth.
He pushed through the crowd and saw the fallen Baroness Baden laid out on the floor, Mrs Greve close at hand.
She was a mess and staring down at the unconscious Baroness.

   There was a newspaper gripped in her hand.

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