br>He would have done so sooner, if it wasn’t for her fathers orders and absurd scandal.

   It came round to Bjorn’s go and with an impatient huff, he played the card to end the game.
The other players groaned at the expected defeat and resigned themselves to the loss.

   Bjorn did not reveal in the victory.
He sat back in his chair, falling deeply into its warm comfort and closed his eyes.
The bustle of the losers leaving the room lasted but a moment and there were not many others in the games room this early in the morning.

   “Hey Bjorn,” Peter said, once everyone left.
“So, um…Miss Hardy….She’s not a bad girl.”

   “So what?” Bjorn snapped.

   Peter was startled when Bjorn opened his eyes with a frown and looked at him with dark intent.
Peter paused, not wanting to risk offending the prince, but the debt he owed Erna Hardy was too grand not to be known by pretty much everyone.

   A staunch supporter of Bjorn and Gladys, Peter’s mother, grandmother, sister, and even Peter’s little niece engaged in circulating cruel rumors about Erna Hardy and her family.  Almost overnight, people rose up to fight this new, rising evil named Erna Hardy.
The lads were the same way.
Those who lacked the guts to confront Bjorn instead vented their repressed animosity on that poor woman.

Peter was delighted to learn that Bjorn didn’t detest or speak poorly of her; he felt a great sense of relief; otherwise, he would be the one in a very tough place being on Erna’s side

   “Well,” Peter continued, finding his courage.
“What if you don’t do this? Was all I was going to say.
At this rate, you’re going to be forced into a situation you can’t revive from.
Me and the other boys feel sorry for you.” Peter tried to gloss over the awkward conversation with a friendly smile.

   Bjorn looked up at the ceiling, not saying a word or even acknowledging what Peter had said.
He was growing tired of all the comments and questions people were pouring on him when it came to Erna Hardy.
Go easy, be calm, he would always tell himself, but Peter was different.

   Everyone seemed to have the same aspirations as Louise when it came to Erna Hardy.
Which boiled down to stop defending that woman and get the happy ending we all want.

   It was the spin everyone put on their excuses for meddling in his affairs.
The false show of care and affection toward the prince, when really all they wanted to do was grab a juicy nugget of gossip to share at the next gathering and increase their status.
Bjorn was getting bored of it.

   Bjorn looked down at the card table and his share of the chips he had won.
The cards that sat face up showed queens, kings and knights.
They resolved to look like Gladys, Louise and Erna.
He blinked and they disappeared.

   Even if Erna were to disappear, he would still be left with this situation, but the drama would be aimed at another woman, even if he shared but a brief glance at another woman.
The only way out, he could see, was to either marry, or die.

 Was his father’s heart this cold and calculated, when he ordered him to marry Erna Hardy? Marriage without love, divorced without love.
It was all politics and love had no room in politics.

   Bjorn did not think quite like that.
He believed in something simpler.
A clear sense of self and numbers.
Like it not, it was either good, or it was bad.
He did not want to deceive himself into wrapping up life in a neat little convenient lie.
Not for Gladys, or for any woman and Erna Hardy was no exception.

   So just as he had married without love and divorced without love before.
If the benefits are good and outweigh the negative, then there would be no reason why he shouldn’t marry Erna.

   So what about Erna Hardy?

  She was beautiful, that was hardly up for debate and he did enjoy her company.
She was like an old, ragged book, full of deficits that had no hope of yielding any benefits.
If the position of the Grand Duchess was filled, at least he wouldn’t have to hear about Gladys any more.  And the significance of the role was enough to depress Walter Hardy.

  Bjorn shook his head as he realized he ran in circles and came back to square one.
Sighing, he reached over to the poker table and grabbed a chip.  The card table was a fitting place to resolve things of this turmoil, given that it was where it began.
His tolerance was becoming thin under the mounting pressure of this bizarre circumstance.

   Front and Back.
Head or Tail.

He weighed all of the possible outcomes before launching the chip into the air.
It wasn’t long before he got the chip back into his hand.
Bjorn slowly spread his fingers apart and saw a picture appear.


   “What are you doing, your highness?” Peter asked, breaking the serene quiet of the games room.
Bjorn realized Peter had not stopped looking at him the entire time he was in thought. 

   “Organise and clean up.” Bjorn said.
He stood up, grabbed his jacket.

   “Anything I can help with.” Peter said, he felt spurred on by the prince’s new found vigour.

   “Yeah, gather my chips would you? I need to head into the city.”

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