He came.

   Erna thought as she saw Bjorn enter the room.

   He actually came.

   She was starting to think he would not show and she felt the depression hit her like the wind, but now that he was here, striding across the room to her, she felt hope rekindle inside her.

   There was something off about the way he walked though and as the initial shock of seeing Bjorn enter the drawing room, she noticed that the man who normally walked with such grace and purpose, stumbled across to her.

   He did not have to get too close before she could smell the alcohol that surrounded him like an invisible cloud.
She looked up into his drowsy eyes and they swivelled as they struggled to focus on her.

   “As you can see, I am in no fit state to have luncheon, at this current hour.” Bjorn fumbled the words out of his mouth.
She was surprised he could form a coherent sentence.

   Hope burned away in Erna’s chest and made room for anger and disappointment.
She knew she had to reply to him, but she couldn’t find the right words.
A part of her wanted to slap his silly, drunken face, but the royal etiquette training advised that a future queen did not behave in such a manner.

   She wondered if she could get a servant to do it for her.

   Bjorn sighed at Erna’s silence.
“Will you wait for me?” He said.
“How does dinner sound?”

   “What?” Erna said, trying to make sense of his slurring and noticed he was looking at a clock on the table.

   The whole situation was ridiculous and disrespectful.
Erna did not have to put up with this and knew she should say something, but what would the point be? She doubted Bjorn really knew where he was and what he was doing.
Fine, we will have dinner instead, but she doubted he would even remember, or be conscious.

   “Okay then.” Bjorn moved in closer to Erna and whispered.
“Miss Hardy, I will bring you a gift of apples.”

   Bjorn handed something over to Erna, something he had been holding the entire time that Erna only just noticed.
When she saw what it was, she recoiled and brought a hand up to her mouth.
The golden deer antler trophy, the very thing that started all this mess in the first place.

   Lisa had explained to her the importance of the deer antler trophy, or rather, the feigned importance these bachelors put on it.
It was awarded to the best drinker at the stag party.
Which meant the Prince had broken his promise to her and had spent the entire night, at least, getting drunk for this stupid thing.

   Erna felt like she had been struck with a gong and her head spun.
She stared at the trophy the Prince had put into her hands before wondering off to the sofa to lay down.
He looked to be going to sleep.

   “What the hell is this?” Erna demanded.

   “A wolf horn,” Bjorn said sleepily.

   Erna felt suffocated.

   “Wolves do not have horns.”

   “Is that so,” Bjorn lazily opened his eyes and looked at Erna.
“I suppose not now, its been cut off.”

   Bjorn whispered a laugh and the drawing room became silent, save for the ticking of the second hand on the clock.
It eroded away the silence on top of Bjorn’s heavy, drunken breathing.

   I should have refused you. Erna thought as she let herself fall to the seat opposite Bjorn.
She looked at the man she was to marry next week.
All these problems and difficulties that she couldn’t understand, all because she was to marry the Prince.

   The wedding was already done and the participants were fait accompli.
Grandmother and Mrs Greve were moved to tears and were relieved the wedding was finally done.
Bjorn smiled and looked as if it were a simple Sunday afternoon.

   He looked down at her with drunken eyes.
“You are awake, I see.”

   Her husband laughed like it was some great joke, but he remained taciturn as he laughed and offered her a blood red rose.
Erna looked at it, confused and noticed the thick, swollen thorns that struck out at her.
None pricked Bjorn’s fingers and as Erna reached for it, the thorns reached for her, she knew there wasn’t anyway to take the rose without being pricked.
So she refused it.

   The world spiralled into darkness, Bjorn turned to a twisted visage of anger and fury, her Grandmother looked disappointed and Mrs Greve wept with pain.

   Erna roused from her sleep.
She hadn’t realised she was napping and saw through heavy eye lids that the prince was still asleep on the couch.
It stank of alcohol in the room, so she got up and moved to a chair neat the window and sat down once she cracked it open.

   Erna looked at her drunken Fiancé as he slept.
He looked like a simple man that had fallen asleep.
Not a hung over prince who had given her the most bizarre gift.
A wolf horn, that was actually a deer horn, which is won by a bachelor in a drinking contest.
Bjorn was not a bachelor and he did not win the drinking game.
It was a confusing mess of identity ended in a confusing gift.

The first thing Bjorn saw when he opened his eyes was a delicate young woman holding a gold stick like she was the Queen with a sceptre.
Recognition was slow, memories hurt and pounded his mind for attention, but when he grasped at them, they fled to the back of his head.

   “Are you okay?”

   He knew that voice.
The soft, angelic song of Erna Hardy.

   “Should we postpone dinner, like luncheon, or will that be delayed too, until it becomes breakfast, only for that to be luncheon once again.” Erna said.

   Something was wrong, Bjorn realised, he picked up the thorns laden within Erna’s tone.
He sat up on the couch, which sent his mind into a panic as it tried to figure out which way was up, or was it down?

   “Would you mind waiting a little longer.” Bjorn said through a barren, dry throat.
“I think I need to do a little preparation before we have dinner.”

   “Fine.” Erna snapped.

   Bjorn rose and looked down at the little kitten with its tail fluffed and claws out.
He smiled pleasantly at Erna and strode out of the room.
He tried to walk as straight as possible, but his head was still having trouble reorientating itself to the correct alignment of the world and he stumbled a little before he reached the door.

   About an hour later, Bjorn returned to the drawing room, freshly washed, shaved and dressed.
All notions of his drinking had vanished and he was fully alert.

   “Shall we go,” he said.

   He offered Erna his hand.
For a moment he thought Erna was going to refuse.
Her face was coy and it was clear that she was still upset, but Erna took his hand delicately and allowed herself to be led out to the garden room.
It was mainly used for breakfasting, but Bjorn felt the need for some fresh air.

   Bjorn drew out a chair for Erna and then went to sit opposite.
The table was already laid out for the evening meal, of which there was only a place mat and cutlery in front of Erna.
Bjorn winked at the servants and they busied themselves with serving the food.

   Once the staff had laid out the dinner in front of Erna and a cup of coffee in front of Bjorn, Erna finally spoke.

   “Why do you not eat?” Erna asked.

   “This is enough for me.” Bjorn said and rubbed his stomach.

   The sun was setting and saturated the room in a deep, orange light.
The wood in the fireplace popped and crackled, filling the room with the sound of burning wood.
It was the only sound and seemed to draw attention to the silence between the two dinner guests.

   Erna hesitated as she went to pick up a fork.
It was embarrassing to eat alone, even worse when you’re not alone and being stared at.
She was hungry though, having skipped lunch, so she put up with it for the sake of starvation.

   “If you have something to say, will you say it already.” Erna said, who felt burdened by the pregnant silence.

   “Well, not really.” Bjorn said, playing with the coffee cup, he had not taken a sip of it yet.

   “But you’re the one that set this up.” Erna said, right before stuffing food in her mouth.

   “Well, yes, I just thought it would be nice to share a meal together, before the wedding.”

   “Is that really all?”

   “Were you expecting another reason?” Bjorn sipped at the coffee, regretting it soon after as his tummy gargled at him.

   “No.” I don’t expect anything from you. She wanted to say, but stopped at no.

  Bjorn seemed to relax a little more and watched Erna eat her dinner.
The hunger in Erna was enough that she ignored his staring.
Now and then she would dab at the corners of her mouth with a napkin, take a sip of water and grab up the fork again to dig in.
Erna might look like a bird pecking at a feeder, but she could eat like a horse, but she was always careful to follow proper etiquette as dictated by the book.

   By the time the desserts arrived, the mood between Bjorn and Erna softened a little, but each time Erna looked up at Bjorn, who hadn’t taken her eyes of Erna, she would look back down at her food as if in embarrassment.

   “You wish to say something, Miss Hardy, would you just say it?” Bjorn said in frustration.

   Erna put down the small fork.
She had been harassing an innocent chocolate cake with it for hours.
She looked up at Bjorn and met his eyes.

   “I want to bring my maid to the palace.” Erna said.

   “Your maid? You mean the one who could be a guardian for the gates of hell?” Bjorn said with a cocked smile.
“Of course, she and what ever servants you wish are welcome.”

   “No,” Erna didn’t rise to Bjorn’s jest.
“Lisa will be enough for me.”

   Bjorn caught a look in Erna’s eyes and a twitch in the corners of her mouth.

   “There is something else?”

   “The wedding,” Erna started, paused, fidgeted with the table cloth a little.
“I mean, our wedding, its traditional for the bride to be given away by her father.”

   “Yes.” Bjorn said.

   “I would have liked my Grandmother to walk me down the aisle, she is the one who has earned that right, but if I don’t follow tradition, it could bring harm down on the Lechen Royal Family and to you.” Erna looked at Bjorn in earnest.

   “So, what you’re saying is that you don’t want to follow tradition to avoid your father walking you down the virgin road?”

   Erna nodded.

   “If memory serves, Viscount Hardy is still alive and well.” Bjorn said thoughtfully.”

   “I don’t want to be lead into my new life by a man who gave up being my father.” Erna said.

   “Okay.” Bjorn said.

   He showed interest in what Erna was saying by twisting the corners of his mouth thoughtfully.
Erna’s pale cheeks flushed red as they looked at one another and her will could be seen, clear as day, in her defiant eyes.

   “If it’s going to cause disrespect, then I will abide by tradition, but if there is another way,” Erna held her trembling hands under the table so the prince couldn’t see.
“Then I would like to hold your hand.
Would you please take me?”

   Erna’s blue eyes reflected the candlelight that lit up the garden room.
They seemed to dance with the very fires of courage and determination.
Bjorn realised that before him sat a rebel with the face of an angel.

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