The noble ladies watched as the Grand Duchess of Lechen glided into the Viscountess Foresters tea party.
They looked at each other in amazement.

   “Oh my god, she actually showed up.” They whispered to each other.

   Sending the invite had been nothing but a provocative prank.
The Viscountess, who had sent the invite, wanted to remind the country bumpkin that Princess Gladys still existed and she had their full support.
No one thought the Grand Duchess would attend a tea party held by a close relative of Bjorn’s first wife.

   While the guests whispered to each other behind their fans, Erna Dniester glided into the room wearing a long, beautiful gown and hat stuffed with ostrich feathers.
Who would have though the second wife of Bjorn would come out looking so beautiful and elegant.
Not at all like the vulgar woman rumours pictured her to be.

   “Does she often pretend to be a lady?”

   “It seems the Prince is showering his wife with expensive gifts, I wonder how long that will go on for.”

   “I guess she really doesn’t know.” Viscountess Forester said.

   Gladys looked at Erna with pity, mixed with a strange sense of humiliation.
It will be Bjorn who will be embarrassed because his wife doesn’t know the familial ties.
Gladys had been at the tea party for awhile now and was starting to feel the heat.

   “Sorry, it was just supposed to be a little prank.”

   “No, its fine, I don’t mind.” Gladys said and slowly rose from her seat to approach the Grand Duchess.
Erna’s disgrace was also Bjorn’s.
She couldn’t just sit by and do nothing.

   “Welcome, your Highness, Grand Duchess.
I’m was hoping I would get to see you at least once.” A bright smile appeared on Gladys’ face, as if she could bring herself to actually welcome the unwanted woman from the bottom of her heart.

   They sat together and tea was presented to Erna.
The noble woman started to chat amongst themselves, as if carrying on a conversation from earlier.

   “How is Count Lehman? He has been entombed for a long time.” One lady was saying in a tone louder than was necessary.

   “He should be healthy enough soon.
Though, I am worried because he is so old now.” Another replied.

   “I don’t think there is need to worry, I hear was looking for a third wife, not too long ago.”

   “Oh, really?”

   The corners of Viscount Foresters mouth twitched slightly as she did her best to not laugh.
While enjoying the fragrant tea, the spiteful chatter continued.
From Count Lehman, to the troubled child of the Heinz family, graceful cynicism lingered in their voices as they diligently mentioned names they would never normally care about.

   Erna simply raised the lukewarm cup of tea to her lips and sipped.
Only now was her thoughts organised.
The Viscount Forester was a maternal relative of Princess Gladys and it would appear the two are very close.

   The invite that had been sent to her was never meant as an expression of goodwill.
She had gleefully replied and made a fool of herself by coming.
All because she relied on a single answer from her husband.

   She couldn’t turn away from them now, it would only open her up to more ridicule.
She would have to endure this cushion of thorns.

   “Her highness, the Grand Duchess, is not very talkative.” Gladys said.

   Erna placed down the cup of tea she had barely taken a sip of.
Even thought she didn’t give any sign of a special order, the other ladies stopped talking.

   “Are you bored of the tea party?” Gladys casually moved to sit next to Erna.

   “No, its just…unfamiliar.” 

   “Ah yes, that’s right, you said you were from the country.” Gladys smiled as if to say she understood.
“Still, you have good taste.
The hat is very pretty.
It suits you well.”

   “Oh, well, thank you.”

   “I think you should cut down on the decorations a bit, Bjorn’s taste is more simple and elegant.” 

   Gladys looked up at a waiting servant, who hurried over and poured out a fresh cup for her and then retreated to his post.

   Bjorn hates me so much he would torture me with this choice. Gladys thought, as she supped at the fresh brew.
That conclusion, the only one that made sense to her, made her miserable.
She wanted so desperately to help him, but only seemed to be pushing him further away.

   “You need to take good care of him.”

   Gladys faced Erna, who was blushing, kept her neck straight.
It might have been because of her small stature, or her appearance, but she looked like a young girl, rather than a mature woman.
The authoritative air of a Princess of a country was now where to be found.

   “From our divorce, to our lost child…he has many wounds.
So, Grand Duchess, please take good care of him.” Gladys looked almost regal in the bright light of the mid morning sun.
She was like a beautiful saint from an old painting.
Her platinum blonde hair, which was like Bjorn’s and her arrogant yet graceful smile overwhelmed Erna, who felt shabby sat next to her.

   “And if I could give you one last piece of advice,” Gladys said, holding up her tea cup.
“Be careful not to make this mistake in the future.
We will be in Lars soon, so you can’t be so carefree.
Today, fortunately, I was here to get you out of trouble, but it wont always be possible.”

   Gladys stood up and looked down at Erna.
She only had to endure that stare, but she couldn’t find the words to say.
Gladys politely said goodbye and moved away.

   “Have a pleasant honeymoon, Grand Duchess.” Gladys said as she went.




The tea party ended ahead of schedule as Gladys complained of a headache and left.
Erna didn’t notice, but Gladys glared at her as she left, like Erna was responsible for ruining the party.

   Erna stumbled down the narrow corridors and cursed the open ocean, where she could only see the vast, flat horizon where ever she looked.
She bumped into Bjorn and the delegation as she entered the first class cabins.
He turned and looked at her, they all did, she could feel their judgement.

   “Did you enjoy the tea party?” Bjorn asked.

   “Yes, it was the Viscountess Forester’s tea party.”

   “Forester?” Bjorn questioned.

   There;s no way you didn’t know. Erna thought.

   Erna’s eyes went stern.
Her resentment toward her husband for sending her that awful tea party with those awful people, transformed into bewilderment.

   You heard me clearly and you answered. Her shock was absolute.

   “Erna,” Bjorn said her name as if sighing and stepped closer to her.
His eyes were on hers and he bowed his head deeply, it no longer contained warmth.
“Before accepting the invitations, you should really speak to Karen first.”

   It was a soft tone, but she could still catch the thorns laced within the words.
It was scolding.
Erna parted her lips in a moment of sadness and resentment, but she could not readily refute him.

   She was reminded of Bjorn, how he had been so nonchalant, but Erna had been so enraptured by their time together.
He looked at her with kind eyes, like she was her lover.

   It was so exciting for her, especially when there eyes met across the table.
She felt so pretty when those moments came.
She didn’t know how many times she had adjusted and fiddled with her bow.

   But he didn’t.

   Realising that made Erna’s heart sting.
To him, with his wife sat opposite him, Bjorn was completely indifferent, to the point where he slipped into the room and threw out an answer to a question he did not hear.

   “Yes,” Erna said, not being able to find the courage to confront him.

   She could not call him out in front of the delegation.
He was their prince first and his wife second.
They looked to him for leadership and despite it being their honeymoon, she could not discredit her husband in front of everyone.

   “I’m sorry Bjorn, I will be more careful in future.” Erna held her trembling hands together as she apologised quietly.

   Only then did Bjorn giver her a smile.
It was mix of a laugh of embarrassment and pity, much like what Gladys had done earlier.

   “Your Highness.”

   The minister, who had been watching them, urged with polite impatience.
Bjorn nodded his head and straightened.

   “Go and get some rest, I’ll be back for dinner.” He whispered affectionately, like her lover again and then turned back to the envoy.

   Erna couldn’t move, frozen to the spot until her husband disappeared round the corner.

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