She had neglected her duties, Karen realised while organising the Ducal couples tour.
It was the one thing Mrs Fitz specifically told her not to forget.
The Grand Duchess birthday.
She stared at the calendar, she couldn’t figure out what to do and where to start.
The Grand Duchess never showed any signs and not once mentioned her upcoming special day.
All she had done all day was wonder around the garden, making small snowmen.
Karen went to find the Grand Duchess personal maid, Lisa, who was found in the maids rest room.
She was braiding a maids hair, with a long line of maids waiting their turn.
“Lisa, did you know?”
“Know what?” Lisa said, not looking up.
So no one knew? Unbelievable.
“Right, everyone, follow me,” Karen clapped her hands and put on a stern voice, “Come on, everyone, we have a lot of work to get done.”
Well, this is the end of the line,
Erna thought to herself as she stared out at the city, there really was no where one could look, without seeing men and women smiling at each other frivolously.
Touching each other without hesitation.
Erna stood up straight, as her eyes darting around the snowy landscape, her face became stern at the shameful situation.
It was just then that the bells rand and all the couples started kissing.
Erna didn’t know where to look, even as she couldn’t turn her gaze away, she rolled her eyes here and there.
The debauchery of the city seemed to know no bounds, as the bells rang out as if heralding the end of the world.
“Oh, my god…” Erna said.
The bells stopped ringing and were replaced by the laughter of all the couples she shared the balcony with.
She had hoped the dome would be empty when the snow came, but it was still quite crowded and although she was hoping to spend her birthday by herself, she felt more alone than ever.
She wanted to leave immediately, but the climb up had taken a lot out of her.
She didn’t think it would be a good idea to climb down all those stairs with wobbly legs.
She might lose her footing and end her life right there, at 20.
Although she wanted to die in that moment, she didn’t mean it literally.
Deciding to sit at on the bench in the corner, out the way, she would only hang around long enough to allow the strength to return to her legs.
New lovers came out onto the dome, to replace those who were filtering out.
They meandered to the edge and looked out over the view.
Erna decided against going to the railing and put her butt back on the seat.
When she realised there were so many close lovers, she could feel sadness overcome her heart.
There was nothing to be upset about, her birthday would come again, they can’t all be special days, but Bjorn had forgotten.
No, she couldn’t be sure that Bjorn ever remembered in the first place.
Even though he looked right into her eyes, she couldn’t be sure he was actually seeing her.
Erna realised she needed to admit to herself that she didn’t mean anything to him.
How can they be lovers, who would share moments like this together, if Bjorn didn’t think anything of her?
Erna let out a long sigh and held her self straight, as if trying to support her collapsing heart.
Straightening out the hem of the dress and adjusting the sit of the heat on her head, it was all for nothing as a gust of wind made her efforts in vain.
Resigned, Erna put her hands in her muff and tried to huddle away from the biting wind.
She had picked out her clothes specifically for this trip, but it never seemed to feel like enough.
“What’s the matter with her, she’s all alone.”
Erna frowned and turned to look at the couples, cluttering the view with their immoral presence, snuggling close to each other.
With a click of her tongue and a sigh, she waited for the bells to ring at the end of the world.
“I think she went out, what should we do now?” The maids were saying.
Lisa, who had been bright faced, burst into tears.
There was no holding them back.
The rest of the maids were also concerned, even those who disapproved of the Grand Duchess.
Lisa found the Grand Duchess’ chambers empty, when she went to apologise for forgetting her birthday. They searched all over the palace and she was no where to be found.
The Grand Duchess had ran away from home.
“Think carefully, where could the Grand Duchess have gone?” Karen asked Lisa.
“I-I don’t know.”
“How can you, of all people, the one person that followed Her Highness every where she goes, not remember her very birthday?” Karen scolded.
She was choked up and her anger soared, but Karen couldn’t have a go at Lisa too much, she had forgotten too.
It was easy to blame the young maid, she was the Grand Duchess’ personal maid.
“For now, we will split up and search every where we can.
Group one will search beyond the palace wall, in the forest and group two will head to the city and …”
“Head maid, head maid,” a young girl came rushing in, “its, its the Prince, he’s back and looking for Her Highness.”
The situation Karen had feared the most was coming to pass.
She rushed the search parties on and, with Lisa, went to meet the Prince, being carried their on very shaky legs.
The pair arrived outside the Princes chambers and Karen took a moment to catch her breath.
Lisa was still crying, but Karen didn’t have time to wait for her to compose herself.
She knocked on the door.
“Come in,” came the Princes voice.
Karen wiped her clammy hands dry several times before she was able to turn the door knob.
Bjorn was stood on the balcony, arms folded, looking down at the five snowmen Erna had made for him.
“I’m sorry Your Highness, its all my fault,” said Karen, bowing deeply, “Her Highness disappeared, but don’t worry, every member of staff is out looking for her.”
“My wife, disappeared?” Bjorn frowned at the two maids, “why?”
Erna looked at the door, as if willing it to not be true.
It was because her hands were numb with cold, she couldn’t operate the door handle properly, there was no way it could be locked, with her trapped on the roof.
She grabbed the cold metal of the handle again, with a firm grip and nothing.
The door was as it was before, locked tight.
She could hear the padlock knock against the door as she jiggled the handle.
“Hello,” she called out, “is anyone there? Please, open the door.” She banged on the door and shouted.
Could this day really get any worse? “Is anyone there? Please, open the door, I’m still out here.”
Her voice echoed out into the darkness and her only reply was the silence of the cathedral.
Erna looked about her with a blank expression on her pale face.
The night sky was covered in dark clouds, blotting out the stars and moon.
The dome was completely deserted.
Laughter came to Erna then, she felt like crying, but she laughed instead.
She had wished for a birthday to remember and it came true, though not in the way she expected.
“I should have gone down earlier.” She looked up at the sky in dismay, always she thought of staying just a little longer and now it was too late.
Giving up on the door, Erna headed over to the railings and looked down on the city.
The height made her dizzy.
“There are still people up here, please, can someone open the door?” She shouted down to the streets, hoping that someone passing by might hear her.
She gave up after awhile and slumped down on the ground.
The dirt and grime left be a hundred footprints stained her dress, but she didn’t care any more.
She had no energy left.
She looked up at the sky, as she wept for her fate and through her blurred vision, white points danced in the sky toward her.
It wasn’t until one landed on her cheek that she realised it was snowing.
Just her luck.
“Its fine, I didn’t want to see you at all anyway.” Erna said aloud, thinking that she was going to be stuck there until the morning.
If she survived till morning.
The sudden thought made her stomach give way.
Erna looked around with the eyes of a lost child and raised her soiled hands to her face.
Her sobs were muffled by the snow drift.
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