Pavel’s house was empty and the door remained firmly shut.
Erna pounded on the hard wood one last time, but there was still no movement beyond that she could detect. 

   The wind buffeted her and made her stagger a little.
She was able to catch herself, but let go of her trunk in the mean time.
She could do nothing but watch it rattle down the stone steps.
With a reserved sigh, she pulled out the letter she had prepared and slipped it between the crack of the door and went to retrieve her trunk.

   As she lifted the trunk, the handle broke off and Erna could feel her heart sag heavily with sadness.
It was only a handle, but for some reason, it was the trigger that unleashed a heavy sadness.
She closed her eyes tightly, trying to fight back the emotions swimming through her mind.

   Opening her eyes again, she dragged the trunk over to the stairs and looked to see if she could fix the handle in any way, but it was no use, the hinge and clasp that held it together was completely broken.
Dejected, Erna flopped on the bottom step and sulked.

   She looked up and down the road, trying to think of what to do, but a broken trunk was one eventuality she had no counted on and she did not like the idea of dragging the heavy thing about the city.
So, she waited for Pavel.

   She lowered her head as people passed her by, memories of last night suddenly springing to mind, she didn’t want people to recognise her and generate yet more rumours and scandal.

   The long waiting continued long through the day and right up to sunset.
She had a premonition that Pavel was not going to return, if he did not return by sunset.
What was she going to do now? There was no way she could stay in the city any longer.

    Tiredness was starting to creep into the corners of her mind and turn her head fuzzy and distant.
Resting her head on her crossed arms, supported by her knees, she was surprised by a man’s voice.
At first, she thought it was some lucid dreaming.


   She looked up as the man’s voice called out to her, echoing up and down the street, her bleary eyes struggled to see who it was, but the voice was unmistakable.

   “Pavel, you’re still here?” She called back.

   There was no chance she could fight off the smile that spread across her face, even as she thought on how he had broken his promise the other night.
Pavel ran up to her, his face was grim.

   “What’s wrong, Pavel?” Erna said, the smile melted away.

   “I…uh…I need to take you to the hospital.” Pavel said flatly.
Then he noticed the bruises and half healed cuts on Erna’s face.
“What happened to your face, was that your father? That bastard, did that bastard lay hands on you?”

   “Not now, what’s going on, what happened?” Erna said.

   There was so much to talk about, so many questions she wanted to ask, but the most important one for now was why did she need to go to the hospital?

   “It’s your grandmother, Erna, come, we have to go right away.” Pavel said and took her hand as if to lead her the whole way.

   “What? Pavel, wait, what’s happened to my Grandmother and why is she in the city?” Erna became desperate.


“I think I was born in the wrong era.”

   Bjorn came to the conclusion as he caught a glimpse of today’s tabloid tucked under an attendants arm.
There was a picture of him, blown up on the front.
It was a pretty good picture today.

   “I should have been born in an age of moderate savagery, when it wouldn’t have been frowned upon to cut the throats of annoying bastards.” Bjorn leaned over the table and aimed his cue at the cue ball.

   With a gentle tap, the ivory ball rolled effortlessly down the table, threading between two balls and striking his intended target.
He smiled.
It was a stark contrast to the anger in his voice.

   Anger, Astonishment and bewilderment passed over Leonids face as he caught sight of the newspaper too.
It was a dirty, provocative scandal that left no guess as to who the bastard was that Bjorn was referring too.

   “I must admit, their writing skills are improving, I can’t wait for the next episode.” Bjorn said.

   “I think this kind of cheap tactic to gain readership should be sanctioned in some way.” Leonid said, lining up his shot.

   “Should I buy it?” Bjorn asked.

   He rested the cue against the wall as he took up his glass, the sound of ice clinking against the crystal as he took a measured sip.

   “Thanks to me, they’re seeing increased revenue, I think it only fair that I should get a percentage of that profit.” Bjorn said.

   “Bjorn.” Leonid said in a scolding tone over the sound of clacking balls.
“Your turn.”

   Crazy guy.
Leonid muttered as he stepped away from the table.
The game was not going in his favour today.
Leonid was failing to produce even half his usual skill at the game.
Normally he could make Bjorn sweat a little.

   He was distracted.
His mother agreeing to let Bjorn marry Erna Hardy was certainly news to shock and when Bjorn came to him, all smiles and laughter, he asked if Leonid wanted to play a few frames of billiards.

   Leonid accepted.
He had done something similar when he had decided to divorce Gladys, though that time there was a lot less smiles and a lot more threats of violence.
Leonid played about as well that day as he was this day.

   They had played right through the day and finished up sitting side by side as the sun set in the evening, taking in the scenery on the balcony.
It had been late spring and the flowers were in full bloom.

   “Are you really going to get married?” Leonid said, stepping away from the table.

   “Are you crazy?” Bjorn said.

   Bjorn chuckled mischievously, but Leonid’s expression did not change.
His twin brother, twin in looks only, his mind was so much more complicated and lighter.
He was like that, ever since they were young.

   Bjorn won, to no surprise to either of them.
The twin brothers sat on the billiards table and watched the sun set out the window as they finished their drinks.

   The following morning, as Bjorn stood under a steady stream of hot water, he remembered the promise he had made thanks to the news his father had suddenly dropped on him.
Determined to put an end to the scandal and erase her presence from his life, Bjorn hurried to the town house as soon as he was dressed.

   When he got there, he found that Erna had already left.
She did have a letter waiting for him, should he happen to stop buy.
It was a very formal thing and said nothing much beyond how grateful she was, but she did not need to borrow money.

   The attitude in the letter was kind of intrusive, to say the least, but Bjorn decided to let it go.
He had no reason to deliver any money personally, no reason to seek out the woman.
He actually felt relieved that Erna Hardy was gone.
At least the headaches would finally blow away.

   “I have decided to let you marry Erna Hardy.”

   His fathers words rang through his subconscious, absurd as they were, left him reeling and he leaned against the wall.
She was gone now, far from the tumult of the city and back to her country bumpkin life.
It won’t be long and her life will be returned to normal.

   “Bjorn, I hope you find a nice lady, a good girl that will erase all the pain Gladys has caused you.” Leonids voice from yesterday came to him. “That’s why I don’t like Miss Hardy, I don’t know what mother and father think, but I mean it.”

   “Are you drunk, your highness?” Bjorn asked as he staggered around the billiards table, but Leonid showed no sign of backing down.

   Bjorn was thankful to see Mrs Fitz when he got back to the palace, but the expression she wore was one of concern.

   “Your highness, It’s Miss Hardy…” She began and then stopped, struggling to find the right words.

   “What is it, tell me Mrs Fitz.” Bjorn said coolly.
He grew anxious at the mention of the woman he had already purged from his mind.

   “Miss Hardy is at the Royal Schuber Hospital.”

   “Hospital?” Bjorn snapped.

   “Yes, erm, she is fine, it was the Baroness Baden, she collapsed at the police station and was taken in.
Miss Hardy is there now, looking after the Baroness.”

   Something of relief tugged at Bjorn’s heart, relief that Erna was not hurt.
Relief that Erna was still in the city.


“You’re corrupted, you’ve fallen..”

   That was all the Baroness could say to her Granddaughter when she saw the pale skinned child sat in the chair next to her bed.
Her bony hand trembled as she massaged the side of her head.

   “Please, Grandma, don’t excite yourself.” Erna said, she got up and checked on the Baroness, showing her true kind and caring nature.

   “Do you want to know why I’m here in the first place?” She gave Erna a stern, disproving look.
It was a look that told Erna she no longer believed in the young girl, but no matter what, Erna was going to stan guard at her bedside.

   “It’s common in the city, Grandma, people like gossip and spread rumours.
It’s the trend.” Erna said, sitting back down.

   “Trend? Trend, oh my God Erna, this city has corrupted you.” Shouted the Baroness.

   Erna had trie to explain several times to the Baroness that the rumours were all lies and terrible lies that not even a child would fall for.
The affair with the Grand Duke was a misunderstanding that people ran with and took too far.
It didn’t help that she kept running into the Grand Duke and he would behave in the most ungentlemanly manner.

   The Baroness simply lamented that she should not have sent her child here.
Staying at a man’s house, hanging around unwholesome people, gossip trends and now a poisonous prince.
The city was a wicked place that had corrupted Erna.

   “I need to rest.” The Baroness whispered in a weary voice and shook her head.

   It had been a miracle that Erna had turned up like this, when she had thought to be missing for days.
The Baroness had thought the worst, especially after hearing the rumours and gossip, then reading the newspaper? It was enough to put an elderly woman in an early grave and it nearly did.
But still, Erna showed up as she did and she was well.

   “Yes, Grandma.” Erna said.
“Rest now, I will wake you up at meal time.”

   Erna got up and left the hospital room, only for Mrs Greve to take her place.
Erna went down the hall, to the window that over looked the courtyard, at the front of the hospital.
She had been holding back.

   She saw her reflection in the window pane and did not recognise the young girl staring back.
Lousy eyes, as if she hadn’t slept for days and smothered in makeup to hide all the bruises and scars.


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