It was early in the morning on the day before Erna’s birthday.
She woke, bleary eyed and saw Bjorn sat at the breakfast table, he looked like he was all ready to leave.
“Oh, are you going hunting with the Princes of Felia today?” Erna asked.
“Yes,” Bjorn said simply.
“Oh, until tomorrow?”
“Yes, did I not tell you?”
“No, I thought that was another time.”
“Really?” Bjorn turned his gaze back to the newspaper.
Reading while eating was one of Bjorn’s many little habits that Erna was really starting to take a disliking to.
Would it be so much to ask for a little face-to-face time with her husband?
“When will you be back?” Erna asked, getting up and sitting at the table.
The hunt finishes later today, so should be about lunchtime.”
Erna took up a teacup, trying her best to not let it rattle with her shaking.
Bjorn smiled at her, not noticing.
It was such a warm smile and made her feel like they were real lovers.
Most of the events Bjorn had gone to over the last two months had been purely publicity events, so Erna couldn’t really complain and make a fuss, it wasn’t like he had any control over them.
Bjorn turned his attention back to the newspaper.
He looked at Erna more and more often, and he would share more stories of his doings.
This helped Erna in gaining confidence toward her husband.
He’s not forgotten.
Her husbands schedule was always going to be complicated, fulfilling his role as the Grand Duke and Prince of Lechen, so there was no point in feeling disappointed.
Erna decided to think on the day they would have together when he came back.
Just then, a maid came into the room.
“Your Highness, an urgent telegram.”
Erna set her tea cup down and placed her hand in her lap.
She looked at Bjorn as he studied the details of the telegram.
She looked Bjorn over, examining his hunting clothes for the first time.
From his red jacket to polished black boots, Erna looked him over slowly.
She stopped when she came to his hand, jotting something down on a piece of paper, which he then folded and handed to the maid.
“Bjorn, there’s something I want to get, a letter.”
“Yes,” the ribbons in her hair swayed gently with the motion of her head, “tomorrow, would you write me a letter that I may cherish and keep?” In her mind it felt like such a grand request, but saying it out loud made it feel quite petty and small.
Bjorn looked at Erna for the longest time, well after the maid had left with his response to the telegram.
He got up, straighten jacket and made to leave, all the while giving Erna a wide smile.
“Bjorn, the letter…”
“If you want something,” Bjorn said, cutting Erna off, “just say it, that’s all there is to it.” His tone was not harsh, or admonishing, but was stern enough to make Erna feel shame.
“But, words and letters are different.” Erna had to work up a lot of courage to speak back to him, who stopped at the door and turned to her with a sigh.
“What’s the point of sending a letter, when we see each other everyday? I will be back tomorrow, anything that could be said in a letter can be said then.”
“That’s not the…”
“I will be back tomorrow,” he bent down and gave her a kiss.
Erna felt like a child who had been denied a toy on their birthday.
There was no displeasure in it, but she couldn’t help but feel sad.
She nodded and he smiled at her like a father to a daughter and left.
Erna went out to see her husband off, as she always did and stood sentinel at the door until the carriage had gone out of sight.
She pondered waving her hand, but quickly dismissed the thought.
It was the last remnant of pride she had left.
The guns sent a pang of sudden noise and the hounds barked and yipped as they sprinted off into the woods.
Bjorn and the two princes of Felia encouraged their horses to follow.
Their hooves thundering on the dry grass field.
They came to a stop as the track dove into a dark wood.
The hounds gathered, constantly barking and yipping.
In there centre was a freshly dead rabbit.
A servant gathered the kill, wading through the puddle of basset hounds.
The three Princes continued to follow the track into the woods, filling the winter bitten land with busy sounds, driving prey out into the open.
“I was going to come visit Schuber during the opening ceremony of the spring fair.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that you decided to come to Felia first,” Maxim said, he was one of the Felia princes.
“So am I.
It’s a pleasure to come and witness your sharpshooting skills,” Bjorn said, with a polite smile.
There had been a poor show of game so far, only two pheasants and three rabbits so far, but their shooting skills had been far above average.
“The negotiations between our two countries for the issuance of bonds, is coming along nicely, when they told me that you were heading it, I just had to have you visit for a round of hunting.” Prince Maxim said, as he looked up at the wolf and eagle banners.
Although it was a slightly antagonistic relationship, calling each other mad dogs and bald eagles, the union between Lechen and Felia was like that of two allied nations rising up against a common foe.
Such were the times, when great powers unite to keep in check the traditional powers and although it hurt his pride a little to admit, Felia needed Lechen’s support to help them out of financial difficulties.
“That’s the job of the financial minister,” Bjorn suddenly stood in his saddle, bringing the shotgun to bare.
A pheasant broke cover, scared out by the noise of the oncoming hounds.
It started climbing into the trees canopy, but Bjorn brought it down quickly and the hounds fell upon it.
“I’m just here to enjoy my honeymoon.”
Bjorn gave Maxim a smile as if nothing had happened.
It was an extremely brazen display, even though he had to be aware of who was holding the money for the Lechen delegation.
“However, the Felia royal family announced that they would be forcibly converting interest rates on government bonds and implementing new taxes to impose on securities.” That was the unfortunate thing about Bjorn, he wore his heart on his sleeve.
The two princes of Felia exchanged glances and started to co-ordinate their opinions.
Crown Prince Maxim was about to speak when the rush of the hounds scared something big out of the brush.
A small deer bounded onto the track and looked at the hunters.
The Crown Prince brought up his gun, but was stopped by his brother, who pointed to Bjorn, Maxim got the meaning and waited to let Bjorn take the first shot.
There was no sound of a gunshot from him though.
He was just staring down at the doe and showed no signs of going to shoot his prey.
Moments later, a much larger deer came out onto the track.
Maxim sent a questioning glance to Bjorn, who simply shook his head to dissuade the others.
They took his meaning and didn’t raise a single threat.
The mother doe had clearly come looking for its wayward fawn.
While they looked on in silence, the baby approached its mother, looking for comfort.
While the doe escorted the fawn back into the forest, Bjorn simply watched them leave.
At first, it seemed like he had shown mercy, but to those who knew the mad dog of Lechen well, it was a disconcerting look because you could never hope to guess what was going on behind those cold, calculating eyes.
“Do you want to catch it?” Maxim asked.
Bjorn smiled like the warm spring sun and the fear of those who saw deepened.
What does a baby deer mean to him? Was it because it ran right out in front of them, or maybe because it lived in a forest that had been cut down?
“No, don’t touch it.” Bjorn said, kicking off his horse and riding on.
The two princes of Felia watched him go and gave each other disgruntled glances.
Maxim ordered his steed to follow first, with neither of them able to come to any conclusion or idea what the mad dog of Lechen was about.
Maxim really hated this mad dog, a perverted mad dog.
The snow had fallen non-stop since the morning and Erna had been out in it.
She finally stopped for lunch after making five snowmen about the front garden.
She inspected her dainty snowmen lined up along the driveway, expressionless.
She had made them, one by one, while she was waiting for Bjorn to return.
Erna was still excited about her birthday, which no one else knew about, but she was starting to feel a little lonely.
Bjorn will be back soon and even though she never got her letter, she was excited to climb up to the cathedral dome together.
But even that was looking a lot less likely.
The snow fell and everything became a colourless silhouette.
Perhaps to reflect the disappearance of her lingering feelings of sadness.
She had become so used to being disappointed and let down, she no longer felt anything.
Not even her red hands felt cold any more.
Bjorn wasn’t coming.
She was alone.
After calmly accepting that fact, Erna turned to head back into the palace.
It was probably best she didn’t tell anyone today was her 20th birthday, then they wouldn’t be able to find it funny that she spent it by herself.
It came to the late afternoon when Erna decided to go out.
The servants of her entourage, who had been expecting a day in the city, had become lazy in their unexpected day of rest, so Erna was able to sneak out, passing by them like smoke.
Erna slipped through the main gate of the guest-house and looked up at the brilliant white, cloudy sky.
Last year she celebrated her birthday with her family, around a crackling fire.
The table was full of delicious food and realised only now how happy she had been.
Rubbing the tears from her reddened eyes, Erna began walking down the snow covered road.
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