Breakfast had been set up to the side of the garden, near the great fountain, under the orders of Bjorn.

   “There are so many pretty places in the palace,” Erna said.

   Erna looked about and admired the rich table that had been set up under the shade of an apple tree.
The jets of water from the fountain glistened in the spring sun and even Bjorn.
Everything she looked upon was like a beautiful dream.

   Bjorn looked back at her with a light smile, before turning to look out to the distant sky.  Sunlight penetrated through the tree and shone upon his languid face.

   Erna watched her husband as she chewed on a thing pancake.
He was so tall, he must have felt the chairs were far too small when he sat in them.
Which was probably why he always stretched his legs and sat in such an awkward and twisted position.
She liked it because it made him look cool.
The tea cup he held in one hand, the blossom of the apple tree fluttering in the wind and even the fat pigeon that had started pacing near his feet, they all looked so beautiful.

   “By the way, Bjorn, about that concert yesterday, I met with Countess Brunner, who was really very sweet to me and introduced me to a lot of other ladies.”

   Bjorn looked up from the newspaper he had been reading, as Erna attempted to engage with a random topic.

   “Brunner?” Bjorn scratched the tip of his chin and considered.
It was no surprise, given how much money they had borrowed from his bank.

   “Everyone who is kind to me, all seem to have borrowed money from you.
I am starting to think it would be nice if all the aristocracy borrowed money from you.”

   “We have the same dream,” Bjorn said with a little chuckle, “its not a bad idea, great ambition.”

   Bjorn folded up the newspaper he had not fully read yet and set it aside, on the table.
A bank that could swallow up the whole continent certainly sounded like a dream.

   “I’ll have to keep the leash of debt tight to all the families within the social circle of my wife.”

   “No, don’t do that.”

   “Why not?”

   “I know what its like to be tied to debt, so, if you want to make them, then, its too bad.” Erna’s expression was serious.

   “Did you really intend to pay off your debt by selling flowers?”

   “Of course, I’ll show you some time.”

   “Show what?”

   “The money I had saved up to pay you back, I still have it.”

   Bjorn didn’t complain about the absurd remarks Erna kept making, purely because he found her face very pretty in that moment.
Stern, pouty and full of matter of facts.

   “Anyway, the attendees of the luncheon were not those who had borrowed money from you, I think it was because Duchess Heine was there.”


   Bjorn looked confused as Erna mentioned his sister.
Of all the people who he would thought hated Erna Dniester the most, he would have said her.
She had the closest relationship with Gladys.


   “Yes, she is helping me in a lot of ways and convinced all the other wives that were weighing their attendance.”

   “Still looks like she’s trying to become the Princess of Lechen,” Bjorn muttered.

   “Why do you talk about your sister like that?”

   “Because that’s just the kind of brother I am.”

   Bjorn waved to the waiting servants, who bustled forward noiselessly and cleared the table, poured out fresh tea, then retreated back to a discreet distance.

   “Don’t expect any favours from Louise, she hates you as much as she loves Gladys.” Bjorn picked up a cigar, snipped the end.

   Erna gave him a wounded look, an intrusive look, but Bjorn did not change his mind.
The truth was the truth.

   She might not have been the woman he had chosen first, but he wanted her to be the Grand Duchess.
Erna was supposed to bring peace to his life and at least one of them accomplished that. 

Erna looked down at her plate and played with the fork.

   Bjorn reached for the matches but did not strike.
Erna did not handle cigar smoke very well, but she was too stubborn to move to a safe distance, she wanted to be next to him.
In the end, Bjorn conceded and put the matches down and looked at his wife with an unlit cigar between his lips.

   He watched Erna delicately cut up the baked apple and eat it little by little.
Although she didn’t show much enthusiasm for food, she was a woman of strange temperament who eats evenly and diligently.
That was probably why she had the strength to travel around the world with such a thin and frail body.

   “Ah, its spring,” Erna mused.

   She watched the apple blossom sway in the gently morning breeze.
Her eyes looked as if she was about to cry, but were smiling brightly.

   “Spring,” Bjorn whispered quietly, ‘Autumn, Winter and Spring,’ when he remembered that nearly half a year had gone by, he felt strange.

   “We met, nearly a full year ago, before the National Foundation Festival Ball, remember?”


   “Yes, it was the day I had come up from Buford and you showed up at the train station that day.
I remember the crowd had shoved me all the way to the front and I saw the Grand Dukes procession.” Erna smiled and Bjorn captured that satisfied smile.




   He was generally happy with the wife he chose because of that, although, as he got to know her, she wasn’t very quiet at all, but she was definitely beautiful and harmless.
Being such a noisy woman, but only to him, was not as irritating as he thought.

   “I saw you on Tara Boulevard quite often, Lisa had to tell me who you were.”

   “Your maid? Hmm, I bet that must have been a curse.”

   “Oh, no,” Erna shook her head.

Bjorn’s lips curled softly as he looked at his wife, who held no talent for lies.

   “You should have come and spoken to me,” Bjorn said.


   “If we often crossed paths, why didn’t you say hello?”

   “If I did, would you have greeted me in return?”

   “Maybe, maybe I could have done more.”

   “Would you kindly not tarnish my memories with those kinds of thoughts.”

   “What, why? What did you think I meant with ‘more’?” There was a playfulness to his tone.


   “I meant a handshake.”

   “You did not.”

   “Or, what then?”

   “It’s…that thing…” Erna’s cheeks turned red, like the blossoms of the apple tree.

   “Oh, that thing.”


   “What’s that.”


   “Congratulations on becoming a lay about, Grand Duchess of Lechen,” Bjorn gave a mock applause to the woman that had become just like him.
Erna became flustered.

   “Next time, I think I would like to make an apple flower for my hat,” Erna said after a long moment of staring down at the table, attempting to change the subject.

   “Do you still have a vacancy on your hat?” Bjorn said, with his chin propped up on his fist.
Her wide brimmed hat was already adorned with countless artificial flowers.

   “Of course, there is so much left to fill,” she grouped at her hat, “I’ll make you one too.”

   Erna was excited and started laying out plans to make Apple Blossom corsages.
She seemed the same when she was planning on paying off her debts by making artificial flowers.

   Bjorn habitually bit on his cigar, still between his lips, as Erna spoke.
He was still not going to light it, he didn’t like the sound of a coughing woman braking this tranquility.

   “How is the flower? The token of our promise.” Erna asked, eyes sparkling with anticipation.
A vague smile came to Bjorn’s lips, recalling the little white flower that had been thrown away into an ashtray.


   Erna smiled brightly at the small, reasonable answer.
It was just a fake flower.

   Bjorn looked at Erna with a strange thirst.
The irritation at not being able to light his cigar had changed into something more exuberant and lethargic, like the spring sun.
Again, any kind of addiction was dangerous.
He put the Cigar into the ashtray with a sigh.
Again, his wife was studying the flowers.

   Bjorn studied the cigar, then Erna, one after the other then back again.
He looked about the garden, there were only two servants left.
He rose from the table and approached Earna.


   Even when he met Erna’s surprised eyes, he calmly untied the ribbon of her hat and tossed it onto the table.

   “W-wait, no, people can see.” Erna shook her head as he lowered his to kiss her.

   “No one is here,” Bjorn said calmly.

   He pointed to the empty waiting area, where the servants had quietly slipped away.
The garden was visible from the bedroom window, it would have been the same as then.

   “But here…”

   No I don’t want to do it here.
Erna thought to herself, instead of saying the unfinished words out loud.

   Against her will, her body rose to meet his and by the time she came to her senses, she was pressed up against the tree and Bjorn’s body.
Before she could protest again, Bjorn’s lips were on hers and she drank deeply of the passion he poured into her.

   She was nervous that someone might see, pretending to give in to Bjorn’s kissing lips.
She thought it might be okay, because of the tree blocking line of sight to the palace.
It wasn’t until Bjorn’s large hands rolled up her skirt, that she didn’t know what Bjorn was thinking.

   “Bjorn, what are you thinking right now?”

   “Thinking just like a lay-about,” he said, looking into Erna’s wide eyes.

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