Horse hooves slowly chatter along the promenade of the lake, accompanied by the soft mutterings of noble ladies exchanging light conversation like chirping birds.
“How fast time flies, soon even the autumn leaves will be gone and winter will be upon us.”
“I know, no sooner was I enjoying summer, than autumn came along.
How long do you think the Lechen delegation will remain in Lars?”
All eyes turned toward Gladys as Prince Alexander’s wife changed the topic.
She was as calm as the weather, riding her beautiful white horse.
“I think maybe four days.
Then Lars can be at peace again, to think they allowed Prince Bjorn to stay at Manster Palace, after what he did to Princess Gladys.”
Gladys had been so gloomy of late and she seemed so fickle.
Ever since her terrible ex-husband announced he would be coming to Lars on his honeymoon.
People wondered how he could do such an insensitive thing.
The hour was slowly approaching and Gladys was starting to worry.
Had Jade failed to deliver the letter? or maybe Karen was not as loyal to her as she seemed.
The composure Gladys had been fighting to maintain this entire time slowly started to crumble.
She felt a twist in her stomach.
She knew she shouldn’t be spying on the Grand Duchess like this and to top it off, casting such a devious plot was beneath her, but she couldn’t help what her heart felt.
She had waited so patiently for Bjorn to come around and take her back, so when the news came that he would be marrying Erna, the news struck like lightning.
She is a good woman and I will cherish her. Bjorn had said about Erna.
Why couldn’t I be like her? Gladys thought.
Bitter regret ate away at her like tiny biting flies with ravenous appetites.
All of them bore the face of Erna Hardy.
A poor country bumpkin with a shallow desire to be more than what she deserves.
Gladys surveyed the promenade with cold eyes, looking for the girl.
She felt like Erna had stained her heart, a heart that had never once hated, or was jealous of anyone.
If Bjorn had intended to hurt his ex-wife, he had done a perfect job.
“Oh, look, someone’s coming, over there.”
Gladys looked, doing her best to hide the strife within her and saw a wiry little woman with a hat filled with flowers and ribbons.
Karen didn’t betray after all.
Gladys swallowed the feeling of relief and shame, for fear that they would rise too close to the surface and give her away.
At the same time, the woman enjoying her walk looked right at Gladys.
“Where’s Erna?” Bjorn asked.
His eyes narrowed when he saw his wife’s room empty and called for the maid.
She came running and hid a smile under her rigid expression.
“Her Highness went for some fresh air, down by the lake, Your Highness,” the maid said.
“Yes, the one behind the palace, Your Highness.”
“Ah, yes, of course.”
Bjorn nodded as he remembered the lake road.
He never went there himself, not something he found enjoyment in.
Nothing out there to see except water, trees and squirrels.
The story Erna told of the chattering squirrel came to mind and Bjorn let out a chuckle.
He didn’t like people who talked to much, especially when they spoke five times more during sex.
But there was something about Erna that made him feel…It was hard to put a name to, but he liked that she spoke of the acorns and nuts squirrels ate, while they were having sex.
Thinking nothing more of it, Bjorn sat down in front of the desk that was under the window.
The chief maid hurried in and stopped at a respectful distance.
“Forgive me, your highness, I was not told you would be returning so soon and have nothing prepared.”
“It’s fine, Karen, I came home on a whim,” Bjorn answered calmly.
He held out a blue note placed in the middle of the desk.
He had broken of negotiations that were supposed to have taken most of the afternoon.
It was too nice a day to waste his time with someone that started the negotiations with such a lousy bluff.
He decided that he needed a little more time to reflect on the situation, so things were as clear as the sky.
“Karen, what do you think of my wife?”
The maid swallowed dryly.
“I, don’t dare evaluate Her Highness.”
Bjorn looked up from the piece of paper that had several different family names scrawled on it, linked by lines and dots.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Strange,” Bjorn said, placing the note paper back on the table, “because it seems to me like you already have.” He looked at Karen with cold eyes and a gentle smile.
The glass conservatory that looked out over the lake had been built for Princess Gladys.
It was a present to demonstrate how the Royal couple loved their one and only princess.
Erna listened politely and sipped tasteless tea as the Princess of Lars told her the history of the glass house.
It was filled with rare flowers and butterflies.
It was a house of eternal spring that made you forget what was going on outside.
“Come to think of it, it was here that I received the letter of proposal from Lechen.
It was such a beautiful letter, I don’t think I’ve seen a letter more beautiful since.
I’m sure you understand, you must have received something similarly beautiful,” Gladys said as she dainty sipped at her tea.
Erna couldn’t see any shadow on Gladys’ smiling face, as if she was recalling fond memories.
The other noble woman didn’t seem to care.
This was no coincidence, Erna was convinced and put down her tea cup.
Karen had advised her that she should visit the lake, telling her how the calm water reflected the colours of the trees so beautifully and it was a placed loved by all of Lars’ royal family.
Since it was so close, she didn’t need to make any arrangements or seek permission.
The sudden kindness from the woman she knew disliked her made Erna very suspecious, but by the time she realised the plot, she was already looking at Lars’ Princess.
“I received flowers, Princess, a very pretty rose,” Erna said.
She was very calm, mostly because she had been through this already.
She was able to maintain a calmer demeanour than the messy tea party, now that she realised what was going to happen.
“Really? You got married and didn’t even receive a proper marriage proposal? Bjorn, really.
A man who writes such beautiful letters can be so heartless,” the Princess let out a theatrical sigh.
Erna no longer avoided those eyes.
The moment Gladys invited Erna for tea, she suspected what the Princess was really doing.
Instead of choosing to run away and hide, Erna decided to face such obvious malice.
“Can I show you my favourite flower?” Gladys asked.
Before Erna could respond, Gladys was already up.
Erna noticed the Princess’ intentions and calmly responded.
“Princess Gladys, I think the only reason you called me out here is because you have something to tell me.” Erna said flatly.
The chatter of the other ladies stopped and they all looked at Erna and Gladys.
“What are you talking about, Grand Duchess, I just want to show you my favourite flowers.
You seem like the type of person who really enjoys flowers,” Gladys smiled brightly at Erna.
Erna looked away and tried to gather her thoughts.
The flower bed Gladys stood before was filled with Lilly of the Valley, it was the only flower in the bed.
Fitz’s voice came to mind, when Erna had asked the old woman if she could use the Lilly for a bouquet display. Absolutely not.
Erna never guessed why, at the time, but now that Gladys stood before a bed of the flower, she guessed the reason why.
“It’s such a beautiful flower,” Princess Gladys said, “it is my favourite flower.
I guess you like them too.” Gladys pointed to Erna’s hat, where there was a Lilly of the Valley.
“We have so much in common.
We both have the same taste in flowers and the same taste in men…ah, that might have been a bit ride.
I’m sorry.” Gladys’ voice became lower and her words more brutal.
“There are pink Lillie’s over here, in this next bed.
It is a precious flower that is only found in Lars.
You may take a few as a gift, if you like.”
Gladys calmly led Erna around the rest of the greenhouse, on a meaningless tour, all the while talking none stop about flowers.
Erna remained clam and followed.
“Do you know, Bjorn was such a beloved crown prince,” Gladys turned on Erna suddenly.
She was no longer smiling, “and I want to return that crown to Bjorn.”
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