Erna came into the room with a pillow clutched tight to her chest.
Baroness Baden closed the prayer book she had been reading.

   “Can I sleep here tonight?” Erna said.

   Baroness Baden knew there was no point in denying Erna, so she simply nodded.
She had been pampering Erna like never before.
It was her last night after all.

   When Erna left for her fathers, she thought she could put away the bad feelings she had toward him, but now she just felt incredibly empty and sad.
When the carriage left earlier in the afternoon, taking her luggage to the Schuber Palace, that sadness deepened.
Starting tomorrow, it would be her new home, for her new life and new family.

   “It feels so strange, Grandma.” Erna said, fidgeting with her hands under the blanket.

   “Are you scared?”

   “A little bit.” Erna said, cautiously.

   From the day she received the marriage proposal, up until now, she had been scared and the closer the wedding got, the more the feeling dominated.
The fact that she was going to marry the prince made Erna feel quite helpless.

   “Why did the prince propose?” Erna said softly.

   “Isn’t it because he loves you? Contrary to popular opinion, the Grand Duke has an eye for hidden gems.” The Baroness smiled.
Erna laughed lightly.

   After Bjorn had proposed in front of the Baroness, her view of the man changed.
She seemed to completely forget the past and all the times she cliticised the prince, dubbing him the problem child of the royal family.

   Erna wanted to tell her Grandmother that it wasn’t true, the prince didn’t love her, but she knew her Grandmother was lying, just as much as she was.
Erna had almost gotten herself embroiled in a scandal which would have ruined her future.
Becoming a Grand Duchess brought joy to the Baroness, but within that was the deep sadness of leaving her granddaughter.

   “My dear Erna, I was so afraid that you would follow in your mothers footsteps.
To be with a man that cheats and lies and does not care for his children.
Bjorn was horrifyingly like Walter, it made me sick.
It would not have been good for you, to lose your heart to such a man.
I rushed all the way here, to save my Granddaughter from such a fate, but I boiled my insides for nothing, the prince is not like the rumours, he is a fine young man.” The Baroness smiled, even as her eyes turned red with tears.

   Erna knew of the rumours.
During her tumultuous time in the city, she had heard all the evil gossip and learned how such rumours could destroy a person.
Baroness Baden knew as well, so came to Erna’s side.

   She knew the rumours about Erna were not true, the Baroness assumed the rumours about the prince could also not be true.
She watched Bjorn Dniester over the last few months and came to the conclusion that the rumours were grossly exaggerated.
She was wary and knew that her view could be distorted by the desire to find happiness for Erna, but she knew the prince could be afforded a level of trust.

   “There is nothing to be afraid of Erna, you will do well.” The Baroness said.
“Just be yourself.”

   “Really?” Erna said.

   “Of course.”

   Erna knew her grandmother was not looking at this objectively, but she wanted to leave the mood light, so she smiled and nodded, so that her grandmother would be left with no worry in her heart.

   “You will make your mother proud, okay?” Baroness Baden said, giving Erna a kiss on the forehead.

   “Yes, Grandma.” Erna said.

   Erna closed her eyes and snuggled into Baroness Baden.
It did not feel like a night that she would be able to sleep, but she closed her eyes and tried anyway.
Her grandmother smelled like flower petals and her skin was soft and warm.
She could hear the rhythmic thud of the old woman’s heart.
Erna engraved the moment in her mind, she wanted to remember this always.




   “You shameful bastard, do you really think you can treat the father of the Grand Duchess like this?” Walter Hardy gritted his teeth and looked down at his bandaged leg.
He wanted to get rid of the damn thing, but he made a promise.

   “Hold on a little bit, honey.
Its just for one day.” Brenda Hardy said, holding out a set of crutches.

   Trembling at his humiliation, Walter accepted the crutches meekly.

   It had been two days ago, in the evening, that Prince Bjorn had come to Walter Hardy, at the Hardy Mansion.
Walter felt pride that he was to be the father of the Grand Duchess, but the words the prince spoke boiled his blood.

   “Miss Hardy will be holding my hand on the walk down the aisle.” Bjorn said.

   It was an order that left Walter bewildered.
He tried to argue tradition and formality, the many virtues that the prince should abide by, but he did not even raise an eyebrow.
It was like talking to a wall.

   “What? But your highness, what will the people say? There will be outrage, they will not accept this.” Walter said.

   Walter was driven into a corner and he protested until he was red in the face.
For his daughter to face such humiliation on such a momentous occasion, it was unbelievable and the prince acted so casually about it.

   “Then we will create a reason.” Bjorn said.

   He must be drunk, what other reason could there be for this madness.
Walter blinked at the prince, as the prince stood there as tall and proud as ever.

   “We won’t say that you are in bad health, I don’t think that is a good reason.” Bjorn said flatly.
He was looking at Walters leg.

   “What are you suggesting? You really dare go this far?” Walter said.

   Maybe it was because Walter was worried that Erna had told the prince everything, but no matter who he was, he had no authority to intervene in a fathers discipline of his child.
Walter carefully prepared a rebuttal and waited for Bjorn’s response.

   “Yes, so what? She is my wife.” Bjorn said.

   It took Walter off guard and he felt his fighting spirit bleed away.
In the end, he had to acquest the prince’s suggestion.

   Walter fumed at the ruse and cursed every living thing under the sun.  The prince swanned into his home like a perfect gentleman, insulted him and then floated out of the house like nothing was out of place.

   Walter cursed the prince with every hobbled step he was forced to take.
He had to keep reminding himself that he was to be the father of the Grand Duchess and the Hardy family could enjoy the honour of being raised up as part of the Royal Family.

   The prince was a crazy man, but he wasn’t the only one crazy around here, Walter could be crazy too.




  The roads were lined with crowds of people, that all clustered together along the paths to the Schuber Palace.
Even though they spoke of the end of the world for the Lechen Royal Family, they cheered for the spectacle of it.

   “Hey, there they come, they’re coming.” They called when the luxurious golden carriage trundled past, pulled by four white horses.

   The brides procession was led by regal looking Royal Guard, in their formal attire they looked splendid and dignified.
It was nothing when compared to when Princess of Lars as the Crowned Princess, but it could never be called inferior, only prepared in haste.

   “I can’t believe he can catch such a woman.” Some said, as they saw the beautiful princess through the windows of the carriage.

   “She may be beautiful, but she is no Princess Gladys.
She is a whole different class.” Others said.

   The clatter of tongues permeated across the precession.

   “The Princes second wife does not look all that much.”

  “She’s so arrogant, just staring off like that, she is very different to Princess Gladys.
At least she showed some kindness.”

   “She is very haughty, is she not, with her nose up in the air.”

   By the time the rumours spread through the streets, the carriage passed along the Arch-Dukes bridge.
As the palace drew closer, Erna started to turn ever more pale.

   From the moment she put on her wedding dress, her mind went blank and she struggled with her nerves.
She realised she had been like this from the moment she boarded the train to Schuber.
Everything seemed like a dream and she imagined the real Erna Hardy was still asleep some where, probably on that train.

   That reality seemed a lot more likely than the one she found herself in right now.
The one where Erna Hardy becomes a princess.

   When her carriage stopped outside the Royal Chapel, Erna let go of the tethers of her delusion.
She struggled to suppress her rapid breathing as she got down from the carriage.
It was lucky that she was led to where she was needed to be, her mind was so fuzzy, she struggled to notice where she was and when she looked down, she was already on the red carpet.

   Erna stared blankly at the bouquet of flowers that had appeared in her hand, a whisper of a voice in her mind wondered where they had come from, had she been holding them the entire time?

   She looked up at the closed door in front of her and she could feel the fear rise up in her.
She was afraid of this door more than any door she had ever faced.
It was about to open and beyond would be Erna’s new life.

  ‘I can be happy.’

   She remembered the promise she had made confidently.
Her heart pounded and felt ready to burst.
Her legs were trembling so much they barely kept her upright and the flowers of the bouquet shook.

   ‘I should turn and run.’

   The conviction felt so certain in her head, it was the only true course of action, but as she felt the motion a shadow fell over Erna.


   She looked up at the soft voice and saw him, the prince, Bjorn.
He was to be her chaperone into the new life.
He felt more like a guard escorting her to her execution.

   “Breathe.” Bjorn said.

   Breathe. Erna said to herself.

   “That’s it, breathe, relax.” Bjorn said. 

   Bjorn seemed jovial at Erna’s outward struggle to mentally contain the situation.
He held her hand and she could feel it.
She knew he was probably recalling the same memory as she was, their first meeting.
The night of the fountain and the trophy.

   “Thank you.” Erna said, her voice trembling.
“You heard my request.”

   Erna gave an awkward smile as she waved a hand.
Bjorn laughed lightly as if to confirm what Erna had said.

   “I will be a good wife.” Erna went on.

   The moment she made that promise, her voice became firm and the trembling stopped.
Bjorn still just smiled at her, even as the door opened, he looked at her and smiled.
Even as the sunlight, tainted with reds, greens and blues of the stained glass window at the far end of the chapel, washed over them, Bjorn smiled at her and led her to her new life.

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