The Problematic Prince
Bjorn had finished his book, by the time he realised Erna had not come back yet.
He was getting bored and stood up from the table.
The attendants that were close by quickly followed him.
“I believe Her Highness is still looking around on the third floor.”
Bjorn nodded and turned for the stairs that led up to the third floor.
Many eyes turned to consider him and even though this was a department store that catered to the nobility, it was very unlikely that anyone in Felia would recognise him.
Even if they did, they would not harass him, it’s not polite.
As he reached the third floor, he slowed his pace and looked about.
The department store was circular in construction, with a void down its middle, so that you could see across an entire floor without much getting in the way.
“We will find the Grand Duchess, Your Highness and then…”
“Ah, there she is,” Bjorn said, pointing.
There was a woman in a red dress, standing in front of a store on the opposite side.
She was too far to get a good look at her face, but Bjorn didn’t doubt his vision.
Bjorn kept his eye on Erna as he strode around to where she was standing.
His haughty gait showed no concern for those who might get in his way.
The store was busy, lots of people were coming and going, but he met no trouble from anyone while taking a walk.
Erna had been pacing in front of the store for a while, before finally deciding to go in, just as Bjorn reached her.
He looked at the shop sign, it was a crafts centre.
“Are you planning on learning how to draw?” He muttered.
At that moment, Bjorn thought about the red haired man that Erna had planned on running away with, in the middle of the night.
The aspiring painter.
Bjorn paused for a moment and looked at where Erna had been standing.
He gripped his cane with a tight fist briefly.
By the time his attendants caught him up, exchanged puzzled glances and Bjorn stepped off again making to enter the store, but Erna was already on her way out.
“Ah, Bjorn, there you are,” she greeted her husband with a warm smile.
There was an entourage of maids behind her, each with several boxes piled in their arms.
“I was just about to come back, I am done shopping.
Did you finish your book?”
“Yes,” Bjorn said, escorting his wife.
The moment dropped into an awkward silence and the smile Erna had been wearing faded a little.
So she broke into a long winded version of how she picked out all the gifts.
Bjorn listened moderately.
It was an evening of no special note.
After leaving the department store, they took a short walk along the river and had dinner.
Erna smiled brighter and brighter with each passing moment, right up to when they rode the carriage home.
Bjorn watched her as she described all the places she had explored before.
She was mesmerised by the scenery that flowed past the carriage.
The flowers and feathers in her little, brimless hat fluttered in the slight breeze from the open window.
Bjorn tapped on his cane as he peered out the window, at where Erna was looking.
Fancy buildings, gas lamps and people.
It was just like any other city.
It was then that he realised the barren trees and dull bushes lacking flowers.
Bjorn had chosen an unfavourable season to have his honeymoon.
It was distinctly different to the last honeymoon he was on, during the spring and summer time, but the outside now reflected what was inside back then.
A barren marriage doomed to fail.
It was a strange flip to reality.
He felt strange, watching Erna speak so fondly of the ungodly landscape of the winter city.
It wasn’t really a problem, but for some reason it still bothered him.
When the irritation reached its peak, the cathedral bells rang.
She sat back from the window and laughed with the joy of a child.
She felt the embarrassment of that day come rolling back.
The sight of her from that day softened his heart.
“Do you want to go up again?” Bjorn asked.
“No, once is more than enough,” she looked at him with docile eyes, “still, there must be a reason why everyone else does, it just seems like a whole lot of extra effort.”
Erna had been looking into his eyes for a long time and whispered as she spoke, he couldn’t understand it, she always talked like a drunk, even when in a normal state of mind.
When he smiled, Erna smiled back at him.
His heart felt lighter and Bjorn relaxed deeper into his backrest.
They can come back here anytime, they were a married couple after all and they would be sharing many, countless seasons together.
“His highness is ready, hurry up,” the head maid ordered and the other maids bustled about on pattering feet.
It was the last night in Felia and there was to be a party to say farewell to the Grand Duke and Duchess of Lechen.
Even the maids who despised the Grand Duchess showed unwavering loyalty to the couple.
It was a matter of show, no outsiders should see the slander the maids spoke of the Grand Duchess.
They did not want to see the wife of the once Crown Prince of Lechen disgraced.
Erna was dressed up and adorned with all the new accessories she had bought.
With each adornment, she looked more and more beautiful, more and more regal.
Even the maids couldn’t hide their surprise.
There was no sign of the ignorant country girl, she looked like she had always been among true nobility.
No one dared to think that just a few months ago, she was a scandal-ridden bumpkin, tossed to the bottom of the marriage pile.
Once the maid had fitted the necklace gift, Lisa came forward with the last piece of jewellery.
It was a tiara that the Queen had gifted her.
Erna looked at it nervously.
‘It’s a very dear treasure to me, please cherish it.’
Although she had been embarrassed, Erna had curtsied and promised the Queen she would look after it.
Although Erna had inherited several other tiaras, she cherished this one the most.
When she got married, it was this tiara she chose without hesitation.
“It’s done, Your Highness.”
Lisa backed away.
Erna got up and left the room.
She passed through the long hallway and when she came to the stairs, Bjorn was waiting at the bottom.
As they made eye contact, she felt the fear melt away, like snow in the summer sun.
As she came down the stairs, she held out her hand to Bjorn and smiled with excitement.
It was a night that passed like a beautiful dream.
The splendid world always stole the breath from her, but she was fine as long as she was with him, with Bjorn, with this man who always held her trembling hand.
Everything would be fine.
She wanted to believe that, even when she was hurt, because she loved him.
With Bjorn, Erna forgot everything.
The only thing that filled that forgotten feeling, the tension and the fear that still plagued her heart, was Bjorn.
It was not something that could be seen, only felt and Erna really did.
That dazzling, brilliant night often came to her.
Erna saw that night in the sunrise, over the sea, as she stood on the deck, in the familiar, yet unfamiliar streets of Schuber and in the still-overwhelming unfamiliar Palace.
Then everything became fine like magic.
The love she felt was as bad as her husband,
sad, sometimes hurt
but it was also alluring like him.
When the waters rose and the branches of the tree filled with leaves and became good again, Erna knew it would hold true.
She maintained that firm belief, until winter turned to spring.
“Erna,” A voice interrupted the afterglow of her beautiful dream, “wake up Erna.”
When she slowly opened her eyes, she saw a faint smile greet her.
The first thing she felt was a warmth about her.
It was from the fresh spring sun pouring in through the curtains and…
She saw him.
A beautiful dream smiling down at her in the light,
“Do you still want to see the fountain’s first operation? It’s nearly time,” he playfully tapped the bridge of her nose with a delicate fingertip.
“A…fountain?” Erna’s eyes slowly came into focus and the dream fuzz melted.
Erna jumped up and got off the bed.
It wasn’t until she was practically out onto the balcony that she realised she was not wearing a single thread of clothes.
Bjorn burst into laughter, as Erna ran back to put on a robe.
Mrs Fitz had told her a few days ago that the fountain would resume operation today, after being switched off for the winter season.
Erna had been talking about it to everyone and was very excited to see the first jets of water.
She was embarrassed by the fact that she had slept in.
“Bjorn, you too…”
Erna turned to call him and stopped as his naked body stood before the bed.
Sunlight streamed in and made him glow almost.
She was used to his nakedness by now, but seeing it in the sunshine like that made her falter.
While Erna turned back to the fountain, Bjorn put on his own gown and came out to the balcony.
As he leaned on the railing, his long shadow was cast back into the room and merged with hers.
Erna watched the great fountain and held his hand.
The Fountain was at the end of a long waterway, stretching down the garden, it was attached to the Abit River, which sparkled under the spring sun.
While she frowned at the glittering water, great spouts jettisoned into the air all along the watery path until it reached the fountain that exploded into motion.
Her gasp harmonised with the sound of gushing water.
By her side, Bjorn looked at his wife, who was beaming like a child.
The first day of spring had arrived, it was his third season with his wife.
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