Bjorn let out a sigh, mixed with light laughter as he took on board what his wife was saying.
Erna’s cheeks were brightly flushed at that moment.
She acted so brazenly, like she was retrieving something that was rightfully hers.

   “Erna, are you serious?” As his fingers clenched in disbelief, Bjorn asked.

   She hesitated at first, but her answer came as strong as ever.
“Yes, of course, I beg you with sincerity.”

   Bjorn stared at her blankly for a moment, before a laugh came out from deep inside.
He felt like he knew enough about Erna by now to know when this woman wasn’t playing around, but it still felt like she knew more than she was putting on.
Either from brochures, or the telling of vague stories, was she really acting like she knew nothing of bedchamber education.

   Can you teach me? She was being bashful, like she had run away from class, only to later return and realise she had missed out on a lot.
He found her ignorance cute and hateful at the same time.

   “Bjorn.” She said his name, pleadingly and he felt a tingle run through him, followed by a warmth when she looked at him with those big, innocent eyes.

   As Bjorn reached up and pulled the tie of his dress loose, a sharp knock came at the door.

  “Your Highness?” Mrs Fitz called from beyond the door.

   Upon hearing the old nanny’s voice, Erna wore an expression that could only be described as a deer caught in a trap.
Her big, wet eyes pleadingly looked up at Bjorn, desperation turned her smile the wrong way.

  “Yes, come in.” Bjorn said.

   As soon as there was an answer, the door opened and Mrs Fitz stepped into the room.

   “Ah, Her Highness is here too.” Mrs Fitz said, noticing Erna was also in the study.

   Mrs Fitz wore a face that reminded Bjorn of the time he had run and hid as a boy, after accidentally knocking over one of his fathers most prized paintings.
He laughed and reached for a sip of water.

   “You’re highness, I’ve been looking all over the place for you, you know you shouldn’t be here.” Mrs Fitz said to Erna.

   “Leave her be, Mrs Fitz.” Bjorn said.

   “But…The tutor” Mrs Fitz started to argue, but Bjorn raised a hand to silence her.

   “Lady Erna is my wife.”

   He sounded ridiculous in his mind, but he would not reverse the decision, especially not after his actions made Erna smile at him, relief on her face.
Beneath, he could see infinite confidence brewing in the young woman.

   “Tell the tutor we’re sorry about the schedule clash, but we are having a few days off before our honeymoon.” Bjorn said.

   “Yes,” Mrs Fitz said.
She seemed little upset, but Mrs Fitz skilfully suppressed her emotions.
“But this is not polite to Mrs Peg, her highness, the Grand Duchess must personally ask for her understanding and bring the matter to a proper conclusion.”

   “Yes, of course.” Bjorn said, looking at Erna, who nodded her head emphatically, with the confidence that said she could do anything.

   “Mrs Peg, the teacher, let her know that the Grand Duchess will have dinner with our guest, maybe that will be a suitable apology for coming all this way.”

   Mrs Fitz’s glare softened at the suitable suggestion, it would seem like maybe it would be a suitable apology after all.
Mrs Fits bowed and left the study with the troublesome Grand Duchess.

   “Thank you, Bjorn.” Erna said before she left.

   She turned and smiled at him shyly, embarrassed that she had completely forgotten about her prior engagement with the royal tutor.
When the door closed and the two women’s footsteps faded, the study was left to its serene quiet.

   Bjorn tilted his head back and laughed up a the ceiling.
She was quite the naive and demanding woman.
She was like hot ice, or a dark sun.
A dangerous deer.

   He always seemed to get caught out unexpectedly by dangerous deer.
He would have thought he would have learned to put his guard up by now, but this deer was different to the previous deer, still very dangerous mind.

   Bjorn washed his thoughts away with a languid sigh, he opened the silver cigar box and pulled out a fresh one.
It would have been boring to spend the time on the boat alone, so he was grateful to have Erna there with him.
He liked the idea of enjoying the venison presented to him on his plate.
She may be irritating in many ways, but she was also very delicious.

   Bjorn smoked away on the cigar and picked up a file folder.
The sighs and laughter stopped and were replaced with the soft rasping of flipping papers.




Gladys gently turned the pages of the photo album, with thin bony fingers.
She paused when she came to a picture of a young nineteen year old woman in her spring.
It was a wedding photo, the same one that spread all over Lechen and Lars, the very pride of the two nations unified.

   How could I not love this man? She thought to herself.

   Looking back at it now, she couldn’t believe how she had let herself be blinded by infant love, but maybe she couldn’t have been any less foolish.
She loved Gerald Owen, he was a good man.
The genius poet of Lars, the Crown Princess’ lover and Carl’s father.

   Gladys took a sip of her drink and turned over to the next page.
She was met with the deep, stern eyes of her lover.
He had such a youthful handsomeness about him.
Tears welled and blurred the picture of Gerald.
Flipping the page again, the tears came out in a full blown stream down her cheeks.
The picture was that of Carl, who looked just like his father.

   Carl Dniester.

   Bjorn had never seen the child, but at least gave him the Royal Family name.
That was the price of the secret pact between Lechen and Lars and thanks to that, Carl was able to live his short life with honour.

   “Thank you and sorry.” Gladys said to the picture of Carl.

   The sobbing finally subsided after reaching uncontrollable levels that made Gladys whole body shake.
Finally calm, she got up to open the window and as she did so, a cold breeze blew into the room.

   She met Gerald at a routine social gathering in the spring of seventeen, about the time when the talk of marriage was on everyone’s lips.
It wrenched her heart to know that it could never, but the love was like an uncontrollable fever.

   She constantly dreamed of giving up everything and follow her dream, run away with Gerald and never look back.
Gladys had to submit to her reality and except her marriage to Bjorn.
In her belly, she could never dream of what was growing there.

   On the day everyone found out that Gladys was with child, Bjorn looked at her with scorn.
She wished they had slept together and she could have pretended that child was his, but they had not so much as hugged.

   Gladys couldn’t bare the thought of letting another man touch her, not after meeting her one true love and the passion they had shared.
She didn’t want to betray him.
On their wedding night she apologised pathetically to Bjorn.

   “I’m sorry.” Gladys had said.

   “It’s okay Princess,” Bjorn said. “Let me know when you’re feeling confident enough, until then, I’ll be waiting.”

   In the morning shared an awkward breakfast, and the morning after, and the day after that and so on.
All the while, Carl grew inside Gladys’ tummy.

   For a long time Gladys couldn’t except another man into her bed because of the memory of her first true love.
Then came a certain point where Bjorn turned and became too frightening, and difficult, to approach.
So spring passed by, summer came and with it, the news of the Crown Princess’ pregnancy.

   If only she hadn’t let herself get involved in immature love.
If only she had been clever enough to play the game and fool everyone else.
If only she had the confidence to do what needed to be done, then everyone wouldn’t be so unhappy now.

   Gladys sobbed softly as a chilly breeze blew across her.
She hated her own frankness and inability to deceive.
It was hard to bear the hatred and her heart felt like it was going to explode.

   “Keep it quiet, we will keep things as they are for now.”Bjorn had said when Gladys confessed to him.
He did not raise his voice, or show any anger.
It was actually a lot scarier.

   “I mean to congratulate you on your pregnancy, so be happy and carry on as the great Crown Princess you’ve been so far.
Do you understand, Princess?”

   On the surface, the days continued on as normal, blissful happiness of the newly-weds.
Tranquillity layers over the top of scrupulous lies.
If Gladys had given birth to a daughter, they could have continued on like that indefinitely.

   But a son was born.

   Gladys returned to Lars with her son in tow after only a year since the grand wedding.
Externally, she was with the son of Bjorn Dniester.
She hoped that returning to Lars, she could be with the real man she loved and live happily with the child’s real father, but it wasn’t to last.

   When the two reunited, it was as it was before, the love and the passion they felt for one another was as strong and bright as ever.
He was a good man.

   Gerald was comfortable and warm toward her, she was at ease when he was with her.
As time went on, Gladys found herself thinking about Bjorn more and more out of guilt.
She would smile vaguely at Gerald and their love became less fervent.

   Gerald passed away a season later, pistol suicide and soon after, Carl followed his father after succumbing to a fever.
Gladys felt grief like none should ever have to.
A lone widow with a lost child, could there be any worse heartbreak for a single person to have to go through?

   Although Gladys wept for her lost loves, but as the misfortune passed, Gladys found that her feelings for Bjorn she did not see when she was with him.

   It was all meaningless though.

   Gladys tossed the photo table on the chair and flopped onto the bed.
She didn’t bother closing the window, or throwing the curtains over herself.
She hoped that she would close her eyes and never have to open them again.

   Morning came and Gladys did open her eyes again.

   “Princess, oh my, your Highness, please don’t do this, are you really willing to risk your health?”

   Gladys lazily turned her head to the door and saw her dutiful maid standing there.

   “I need to go back to Lars, would you make the arrangements.” Gladys said, lazily pulling herself up from the bed.

   A dark shadow fell over the maids face as she heard the words she had been waiting for for a long time.
All Lechen knew the Grand Duke and Duchess would be boarding a boat soon, destined for Lars as they started their honeymoon.

   “Yes, Princess, do you want to be on the same boat as the Grand Duke and…” The maid didn’t get chance to finish her sentence.

   “What do they have to do with me?” Gladys snapped, staring blankly toward the window.
“It’s all pointless.” With that, Gladys fell back onto the bed.

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