“I’ll go by my self.”
At that order, the hurried footsteps on Bjorn’s heels stopped dead in the dark cathedral.
All eyes were focused on him.
“Your Highness, please, its dark and the stairs are very steep,” they protested.
“No,” Bjorn snapped.
The prince approached the cathedrals curator with an outstretched hand.
He bowed his head instinctively, then realised what the Prince was after and handed over the keys and lamp.
“I’m going alone, wait here.”
He strode over to the door that led to the stairs up.
As he sighed, his breath came out as a thick white cloud that quickly evaporated.
“Haish, all this because I didn’t celebrate your birthday.”
When he first heard of his wife running away, he couldn’t help but laugh, it seemed to absurd, so childish.
She was a Princess of a country, in a foreign land, it really was absurd.
If she wanted too cause such a stir, she could have at least warned him first.
About the time amusement gave way to frustration and anger, he remembered the one present his wife had asked for, when they were sat drinking tea just across the road from here.
She wanted to go up to the dome, like all the other lovers and kiss when the bells rang.
He couldn’t believe he recalled that request and in such detail.
He remembered her flush cheeks, the shy whisper of her voice as she spoke and the bright smile on her face.
That was when he got the idea that she must have come to the cathedral.
It was already several hours after the attraction had closed, but Bjorn got a strong feeling in his gut that was where he needed to go.
When he got there and found no sign of Erna, he felt the need to check the dome.
It didn’t make sense for anyone to still be up there, especially on this snowy evening, but he had to check, he needed to be sure.
He got to about halfway when his steady breath faltered and he started panting.
Resting for a second, he laughed to himself.
Couples that rise to the top will be together forever, Erna had said.
Stupid churches and their stupid superstitions, it was like that all over the land.
“Damn Felia, damn stairs, damn…” He was about to say Erna, but stopped himself.
With each step he climbed, he became more and more exhausted.
His thighs burned and his breath was hot.
It was getting harder to believe that Erna had made this climb herself. With her dainty feet and heavy lace dress.
If it had been any women other than Erna, they would probably given up by now.
Bjorn struggled up the last flight of stairs, his mind scattered everywhere, trying not to think of the burning in his thighs and the tightness growing in his calf’s.
He pushed himself to take one more step, until he was finally standing in front of the door.
Pausing for just a moment to catch his breath and control his breathing, Bjorn undid the lock and pushed open the iron doors that groaned as they moved.
He stepped beyond the door and out into a completely different world.
It was so quiet and serene, you could hear the snowflakes land.
It was cosy and cold and felt unrealistic.
Bjorn paced around the balcony until he found a bench nestled behind a gargoyle.
Upon the bench was a small bundled wrapped up in a blue cape and shivering.
“Erna?” The name came out like a soft sigh, Bjorn felt like it was a sin to disturb the calm up here.
“Bjorn?” A pale face peered out from the cape, bright red eyes and soaked cheeks considered him.
He was furious, but he was also relieved.
He hated being here as much as he was grateful that he was here.
While his emotions fluttered wildly like the snowdrift caught in an up draft, Erna came out of her cocoon.
“Is it you, really?” Erna said.
“Why are you here?”
Questions and resentment filled Erna’s eyes like the tears did.
Bjorn stared down at her, taking her in and she filled his cold grey eyes.
He stepped toward her, slowly.
“I came to wish twenty year old Erna a happy birthday.” An annoying young woman, who he didn’t understand in the slightest, who was always so pitiful and yet so pretty, his wife and he really had no idea what to do with her.
“Happy Birthday, Erna”
The complement came out as a soft whisper and fell like graupel on her.
Soft and cold, like winter snow.
A sharp cry broke the serene calmness of the rooftop.
Erna scrambled off the bench and backed away from Bjorn, leaving dainty footprints in the snow.
“How can you say such a thing, why are you like this? How ridiculous, what the hell am I to you anyway?” She shouted.
“Why did you have to remember?”
She rather he had forgotten.
“Why are you here?” She hoped to never see him again.
“Why did you come all the way up here!? Why!?” She had swallowed the poison mushroom and this is what she got for it.
Her emotions exploded through the cracks in her heart and assaulted him.
The fact she could name these emotions, even though she lived her life to do no harm to others, made Erna hurt even more.
She loved him, even though she knew he didn’t have the same feelings for her.
Erna realised the moment she saw Bjorn before her.
She should hate him, but she couldn’t help but see her salvation.
He was like the noble Prince in all the fairy tales, coming to the Princesses aide in her most dire situation.
With just one kiss, all her sorrow and pain will melt away.
She knew it wasn’t like that, her life was no fairy tale and even though she was hurting, she wanted it so badly to be like that with him.
She hated herself more for that.
“Go,” she shouted, “leave me alone, I hate you and I never want to see you again.”
At that, Bjorn approached her and Erna felt his cold hand on her cheek, wiping away the tears and even though it was cold, she suddenly felt very warm.
Bjorn forced her head around, even though she fought him as much as she could.
He had pulled out a handkerchief and began drying her tears.
Unable to fight him any more, she let go and cried for a long time.
She couldn’t help think how ugly and red her face must be.
“I waited,” Erna said after a long time, “I waited for a long time, in case you came.”
That’s why she had stayed, what had held her back.
She was able to admit that to herself and she opened up.
“Why can’t you think of me as a special person?” She did her best to blink away the tears, “even if its not love, can you maybe give me a little…”
just a little bit of your heart?
She couldn’t bring herself to say the words out loud, she still clung to a fraction of her pride.
Bjorn was looking down at her, both his hands wrapped around her cheeks and the bell begun to chime.
She looked up at him again, who had been looking away at the sound of the bell.
If you climb the stairs together then your love will last forever.
That’s what the bells seemed to be saying.
Just as all the countless couples who had been teasing her heart all day had done.
“Can’t you even kiss me?” Erna sniffed.
She wanted to forget for a moment what she looked like and hoped something could be salvaged.
When the second bell chimed, Bjorn broke into laughter.
“You said you didn’t want to see me.”
“Kissing is done with your eyes closed.”
Erna becmae urgent, the bells would not ring forever and she was suddenly filled with anxious, nervous desperation.
Bjorn leaned in close and at that moment, when the feeling of anxiety climaxed at the realisation of what he was doing, the second his lips touched her a heat rose that melted away the cold and the snow.
Erna closed her eyes and leaned into the kiss.
It felt like the bells were blessing their love and like the fairy tale kisses, she felt all the anger and hatred melt into love and passion.
A kiss that promised an eternity of happiness.
Her heart fluttered like butterflies, even though she was still filled with bottomless misery.
She knew this was just an illusion, there would be something else later, but for now, she was willing to believe it was real enough.
It was slow going down the stairs.
Bjorn could hurry down them pretty quickly, but he had to go slow for Erna’s sake.
He had taken the lead with the lamp in his hand and habitually looked back to make sure Erna wasn’t struggling.
It was when the end was near that they could hear voices.
Erna was hesitant and when Bjorn realised it was because of the commotion she cause, he laughed.
Even after causing such a scene, she dared act all demure.
Bjorn wrapped his coat around his wife and gave her a hug.
“If you don’t want to see me, I suggest you close your eyes,” Bjorn said softly, “you’re good at that.” He added the joke to try and calm her flustering
Bjorn move forward and opened the door.
Erna stopped resisting and buried her face in his arm, as if trying to hide from the people outside.
“I can’t believe she was really up there,” exclaimed the curator.
Wading through the crowd of people that had gathered to watch the spectacle, Bjorn strode past them all and to the waiting carriage.
He bundled Erna inside and climbed in after.
He held her tight for nearly the entire journey.
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