“Its a shame you didn’t wear that necklace today, it would have been nice to have taken a look at it, Your Highness,” said the Baroness, seated at the far end of the table.
The noble ladies had been talking about the fair that was due in Lechen within the month, but the Baroness suddenly changed the conversation to the Grand Duchess’ diamond necklace, which had made the whole of Lechen tumultuous for some time.
“I’ve heard that it is a very beautiful piece of jewellery.
Its so wonderful to see the two of you getting along.
I really envy you.”
The ladies about the table had been showering Erna with praise and compliments.
Erna struggled to detect any thorns laced within the words, thanks in part to her lack of understanding of the social world.
“I didn’t wear it because I felt it a little inappropriate for a luncheon,” Erna said, trying not to show any signs of embarrassment.
The flutter of her heart and the ache in her stomach did not cause her smile to falter, as she promised to show it off to them next time.
The conversations turned back to words of encouragement, praise and acceptance for the newly-weds.
They came like the sweet scent of flowers in the garden.
Erna managed to play the part of hostess very well.
Following the natural course of conversation without faltering, adding appropriate responses where needed.
They had walked the garden, admired the flowers and drank tea in the summer house.
All that was making Erna tired, but her smile never once faltered.
It wasn’t until after Erna returned that she heard the rumours.
The Grand Duchess, Erna Dniester, had swooped in to prevent the happy reunion of Bjorn and Gladys.
She was only after his money and the news coming out of Felia was that Erna had coerced Bjorn in buying the most expensive diamond necklace.
Of course, there was no time to explain what really happened.
People judged, defined and exhibited their own opinions about Erna, without ever really knowing the woman.
All Erna could do was tread carefully and not let things get any worse.
Slowly, all the guests left later on in the afternoon, until there was only one guest left, Princess Louise.
“Louise, I must thank you.
Thanks to you I was able to safely hold today’s luncheon.”
Louise looked at Erna with the same smile she had greeted her with when she arrived.
She sighed deeply and folded away her fan.
The smile that she had been wearing all day faded.
She looked so much like Bjorn.
Say thank you, invite her to a late dinner, talk about fountains and flowers.
Unable to continue the conversation she had planned out and rehearsed, Erna suddenly lost the flow of conversation and looked at Louise blankly.
Many of Schuber’s noble ladies had only come today because of Louise.
She had come forward and persuaded those who had been sitting on the invites to go to the luncheon.
Erna was glad that Princess Louise, who had been cold to her this entire time, finally decided to open up.
On the one hand, Erna had been fearing this day, expecting an ambush, but at the same time, she was excited for it.
“Louise, if I make any mistakes…”
“The reason I stand on your side is to save face for my brother and the royal family.
I hope you don’t think this is any sort of friendship.”
When Erna sat down opposite Louise, the Princess pushed herself up from the table and stepped away.
“Still, you’ve been a great help, so, thank you…” Erna said.
“Can’t you think about by brother and the Royal Family a little more? It’s just the necklace that people are making noise about.
Did you have to get such lavish and expensive jewellery abroad and cause such a stir?”
“It was a birthday present, I did not ask for it.”
“If you want to be extravagant, do it in Lechen.
I won’t get involved in that,” Louise frowned as if to say she didn’t want to hear any more on the matter.
“I also don’t like letters asking for more friendship than is deserved.”
“You’re mistaken, Princess, I didn’t ask for anything.
It was a simple to say hello.
Like any person would send to acquaintances, friends or family.
Erna’s lips began to tremble, but she fought hard to keep her voice level and stern.
Mrs Fitz had told her that it was customary for members of the Royal Family to send each other letters now and then.
It was especially important for the Grand Duchess and it was one responsibility Erna was determined to take seriously.
“Yes, but Grand Duchess, we are not anything like those relationships,” the wrinkles on Louise’s brow deepened, “do you not think it’s emotional violence toward me? Someone who is close personal friends with Princess Gladys, who is then expected to force a relationship with the Grand Duchess?”
Erna could not find the appropriate response.
It seemed like every word Louise spoke was edged like a razor blade and designed to cut deep into Erna’s mind.
“I just wanted to tell you that I am still friends with Princess Gladys and my friendship with her is important to me.
Of course, as the Princess of Lechen, I will stand by the Grand Duchess for my brothers sake, but please do not ask for more acquaintances than is absolutely necessary.
And please, try and be a good fit for the Prince of Lechen.”
Once she had finished what she wanted to say, the Princess left the summer house.
Erna had been absent minded for a time, then hurriedly followed after the Princess.
Emotional violence? Erna understood the meaning of the words the Princess had so coldly thrown at her, but she wanted to finish the social properly.
Louise had just stood there, staring at Erna blankly as she said her farewells to her last guest.
Louise left without saying another word.
Erna returned to her room and slumped in the chair in front of the desk, letting out a long sigh.
It was lucky that Louise rejected her before Erna had invited her to dinner, that would have been embarrassing.
Bjorn was right.
She didn’t want to admit it, but she had to accept the fact.
Should she live without expectations, taking for granted the hate from everyone who still loved Princess Gladys?
No matter how many times she thought about it, she could not come up with a reasonable answer.
Erna was ashamed of that label attached to her.
Erna sat in the chair and continued to repeat the question, until the walls were painted the colours of sun set.
Suddenly, she found that she missed her Grandmother.
“Not bad,” Bjorn said, he could scarcely believe the report he held in his hand.
Bjorn approached the fireplace and tossed the report into it without hesitation.
The repost of the atrocities caused by Count Hardy and his wife went up in flames.
“From now on, I want you to report to me every two weeks,” Bjorn said to the butler who had brought the report.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Greg the butler said flatly.
Seeing that the reporting period was reduced from one month to two weeks, Greg was satisfied that the Prince was at least aware the situation needed to be kept an eye on.
His mind was relived.
It was on the night of his wedding that Bjorn decided to keep an eye on Walter Hardy.
Even during his honeymoon, he had been receiving reports and telegrams.
For awhile, it looked like Walter Hardy was taking care of himself, touching on minor luxuries and investments and as time went by, the fence got a little bigger.
The report of the day was that Walter Hardy had been selling his son-in-laws name to raise investment money.
It was still in its early stages, but it seemed like a lot of people were being affected by the name Prince Bjorn.
Bjorn left the study after confirming the weeks schedule.
The conscious, ever present smile, faded as he climbed the stairs and walked down the long corridor.
He had foreseen the Hardy families lax behaviour coming and was prepared for it.
There was nothing to be surprised, or angry about and Bjorn was determined not to get involved unless they crossed a line.
To appease a noisy child, give them sweets.
Bjorn headed straight for Erna’s room.
“Her Highness is not yet finished, Your Highness,” said Lisa, Erna’s maid.
She quickly approached him when he came into the drawing room and bowed her head.
After checking the time, Bjorn nodded happily and walked over to Erna’s desk to sit down.
There was plenty of time before the painter finished preparing.
“That’s okay, I’ll wait right here.”
Bjorn sat cross legged in the chair, that had a delicate length of lace draped over it.
The maid bowed and continued about her business.
As Bjorn thought about the name, a strange sense of desolation came over him.
He felt concerned by it.
Bjorn looked about the room and found his gaze fall upon the golden antler he had given Erna, whole utterly under the influence of alcohol.
She had tied a little ribbon at the top.
His tight lips relaxed gently.
It had been the weekend after the honeymoon that he had seen the ribboned trophy.
He was leaning out of the window, looking at something, then when he turned his eyes inward, he caught sight of the jagged shape.
“What the hell is that?” He had said in surprise.
“There are so many trophies in this house, I tied a ribbon on my to distinguish it from the rest,” Erna said, looking up from her writing desk.
She had the poise of calm and grace about her, as she turned back to her writing, like someone completely unaware they had just done something out of the ordinary.
That day, when Bjorn laughed so loud, Erna gave him a confused look, the ribbon tied around the trophy had been blue.
Today, the ribbon was pink.
It seemed like Erna changed the ribbon depending on the season, or her mood.
Bjorn smiled as he fingered the ends of the pink ribbon, just as the door opened and Erna stepped in.
She wore a watery blue dress, adorned with gold, pearls and delicate lace.
She was more splendid and beautiful that Bjorn could have imagined.
Bjorn stood in front of her with a satisfied smile.
His gaze, which had been slowly examining the sparkling tiara, elaborately braided hair, veil and dangling earrings stopped on the nape of her neck.
“Where’s the necklace I gave you?” Bjorn’s eyes narrowed as he considered the sparkling pearl necklace about his wife’s neck.
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