Pavel took a sip of tea to moisten his fast drying mouth and explained, carefully, his future work plans.
Bjorn listened attentively, but even so, Pavel doubted he wouldn’t remember half of what he said by this evening.
“Where’s Erna?” Bjorn asked absently once the conversation between them reached a natural end.
He called a maid, who went to check.
“Her Highness is feeling much better and will be on her way shortly.”
Bjorn nodded and tossed the half finished cigar into the ashtray.
Pavel stood up and returned to his easel.
It seemed like the suffocation was probably caused by the confusing behaviour of the Prince.
It was just as people had told him it would be.
He was light and dignified, with a grace as if he were roomy.
Even when he was relaxing, he did not let his guard down, always putting on heirs.
Just the fact that Pavel couldn’t read or understand something as simple as a smile from the Prince, made him feel embarrassed.
Pavel busied himself with sharpening the charcoal, ready to resume his sketch.
The Prince was finishing off the whiskey, standing in front of the window that over looked the river.
He then came round to stand behind the easel, playing with the remaining ice.
“Keep going,” the Prince said, dissuading Pavel from putting down his palette knife.
Bjorn looked over the canvas, then at the art supplies with an unenthusiastic eye.
He was a man that moved slowly, took his time, as if enjoying a leisurely walk.
It was only when he looked away from him, that Pavel realised he had broken his charcoal.
Is Erna really happy with this man?
As if to erase the question, Pavel focused on sharpening the charcoal he had just broke.
The sound of Pavel sharpening the charcoal sounded more like he was sharpening the tension in the silent room, filled only with the sound of Bjorn’s footsteps and the tinkle of ice in an empty glass.
“It looks good,” Bjorn said, nodding to the workbench.
Pavel clenched his fists without realising it.
“They were a gift from a very dear person to me.”
“Oh, a present?” Bjorn said, passing a glance over the brushes and paints, back to Pavel.
There was no emotion in his lethargic expression.
Pavel swallowed dryly.
“Her Highness has returned,” Lisa said as she opened the doors.
Bjorn and Pavel both looked over just in time to see Erna standing in the doorway, with an awkward smile.
“Oh my god, Your Highness.”
The maids’ startled cry roared up the spire at the west end of the palace.
Erna looked back in shock, her hand freezing as it was withdrawing from a box of chocolates.
“Oh, Karen, it’s you.”
“Your Highness, what are you doing here?”
“I just wanted to get some fresh air,” Erna smiled shyly.
The setting sun filtered in through the spires’ window.
It cast reddened light across the room.
“I’m sorry if I caused any trouble, I didn’t think anyone would come up here.
I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”
“No, Your Highness, you may go where you wish, but I didn’t mean that,” Karen sighed.
When she had seen the doors of the spire had been left open, she thought that some of the servants who were secretly dating had come up here.
She never expected to see the Grand Duchess.
All too often Erna had been turning up in places Karen would never have thought to see her.
The pottery room, the stairway to the coal bin, an abandoned well.
Most of the places were remote enough that people did not frequent them unless necessary.
This had all started about the middle of last month.
She had asked to see the floor plans for the mansion, Karen brought them to her and Erna had poured over the plans for days.
Did she hear us?
Erna had gotten lost in the mansion several times and the servile staff had made fun of her about it, when they were sat in the lounge.
They were not exactly quiet with their ridicule and laughter.
What if she heard us and she tells the Prince?
The young maids had looked at Karen with tears in their eyes.
Don’t worry about such pointless things. Karen had told them.
From then on, the Grand Duchess was never found lost around the mansion again.
Instead, she had become like a ghost, suddenly popping up where she was not expected.
“If you keep eating those chocolates…It’ll be bad for your health, Your Highness,” Karen said to Erna.
“I’ve not eaten that many.”
“You shouldn’t be eating them on a day like today, were you not ailed earlier?”
The Grand Duchess had vomited after standing for the painter for so long.
She was now hovering over a box of colourful chocolates like nothing had happened.
Even when it was suggested that the painter come back another time, Erna insisted on getting the work done.
She had a smile on her face, like she hadn’t just voided the contents of her stomach.
“Your Highness, the necklace,” Erna stopped fiddling with the box of chocolates and gave Karen a quizzical look. “Don’t worry about the nonsense people are saying.
The staff were there, they knew the necklace was a gift from the Prince.” Karen said, her throat becoming suddenly dry.
All the servants who had been on the honeymoon knew that the diamond necklace had been a present from the Prince and had nothing to do with the whims of the Grand Duchess.
The Grand Duchess was a noble lady, even if she lacked a little in the education of one, but she was definitely not one to enjoy frivolous luxury.
Even if Erna had begged the Prince to get her the necklace, there would be no reason to criticise and probably wouldn’t have, if it had been anyone other than Erna.
She is his wife after all.
No one would have taken issue with it.
If not for the necklace, people would have looked for something else to criticise the Grand Duchess for.
The shameless woman who took the position away from the more deserving Princess Gladys.
Karen rarely felt at ease in this matter.
She certainly felt like Gladys was the more deserving of the two of them, but she could see how uncomfortable the Grand Duchess was, when the Prince sent for the necklace and then put it on Erna’s neck.
Karen could vaguely guess the heart of the Grand Duchess in that moment.
“Are you worried about me?” Erna asked with a gentle smile.
“Thank you, Karen.
Erna took Karen’s advice and began to wipe her hands with a handkerchief.
Even if she had decided to eat the remaining chocolates, she would have only made herself feel more sick and she wouldn’t be able to make dinner.
Erna went back down the spire, clutching the half eaten box of chocolates.
She had felt much better in the cool breeze and a stomach full of sweets.
She had been so upset and depressed when she climbed the stairs.
There were so many feelings swirling around her when she saw Pavel, but none of them she could express.
She had to stick to formal greetings and conversations, it felt unfair to Pavel.
She became more resolute in that feeling when Pavel left in the late afternoon.
She was resentful of Bjorn for deciding to go with Pavel.
She couldn’t even reveal how she felt about that, because she didn’t want to cause any misunderstanding.
It was not only the reputation of herself and Pavel that would be damaged, but that of Bjorn as well and Erna did not want to be that kind of wife.
It was okay for her to be ridiculed and ignored by everyone, she was able to endure it, as long as she was with Bjorn.
If he could understand her true feelings, consider her a good wife and live happily for a long time, then she would be content.
As she entered the hallway leading to the bedroom, Erna saw Mrs Fitz walking on the otherside.
“Ah, there you are, Your Highness.” Mrs Fitz stopped a few steps away and greeted Erna.
Erna bowed her head in a corresponding greeting.
“I’m sorry I left my seat.”
“No, it’s quite alright, Your Highness, I will get the maids to set your dinner.”
“I’ll discuss that with Bjorn and decide.”
A flash of embarrassment appeared on Mrs Fitz’s face.
“Your Highness,” wrinkles fanned out from between Mrs’ Fitz’s brow, “His Highness has stepped out.
He probably won’t be back until late.”
It was as unreal as the sunset that filled the hallway with golden light.
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