“Not too long ago we had our first fight,” Erna was saying, bringing up the shameful event.

   Duchess Arsene looked up from the book she had been reading for the first time since Erna had arrived, right on time for her Wednesday intrusion.
Erna had been talking nonstop for the last hour and showed no signs of slowing.

   “I’m guessing you were horribly defeated.”

   “No, Grandma, I think I won, but not on purpose.”


The maids and servants had placed bets on who would hold out the longest.
My maid, Lisa, was the only one to choose me and because everyone bet on Bjorn, like you Grandma, Lisa won a very sizeable pot, she even bought me chocolates to say thank you.”

   The Duchess saw the proud smile on Erna’s face and knew it to be true.
She laughed at the ridiculousness of it.

   It was clear that Erna had no chance of being a dignified princess, talking about marital problems to others.
Not like Gladys, she would never have shared the details of any argument with Bjorn.
She was certainly proving to be not as fun as Erna.

   Erna slowly began to open up and share details about the fight.
The Duchess closed her book and placed it on the table, along with her reading glasses.
Charlotte sauntered over from looking out of the window sill and settled on the Duchess’ lap.

   As the Duchess listened to the story, she stroked Charlotte, who purred in satisfaction.
It did not seem like a very dignified thing to do, to share the details of the fight and by the end of it, even though Erna had won, it felt like Erna was not in a favourable position.

   “My dear, why do you like Bjorn so much?”

   Erna was stunned by the question and looked at the Duchess, not entirely sure how to respond.
The Duchess looked at her with lazy, sleepy eyes, which looked just as Charlotte did.

   All these stories Erna had shared with the Duchess, made the woman think that Erna had a very deep crush on her husband, but her husband did not share the same feelings.
It seemed like a very one sided relationship.

   “For most men, it’s all about the looks, a man is nothing but a face and your husband is very gifted in this regard.”

   “Um, yes?” Erna didn’t know if she should agree or question.

   The statement came very unexpectedly.
The Duchess rarely contributed in the conversations, so to be hit by such words, true as they were, was still shocking to hear.

   “Just because a man seems pleasant enough on the outside, does not mean he is pleasant on the inside.
There is no universal law that dictates that something bad on the outside, is bad on the inside, or vice versa.
It’s always best to try and get yourself a man that’s at least handsome on the outside, so then if he turns out bad on the inside, at least he’s good looking.”

   Erna never expected the Duchess Arsene to say such a thing, or any noble lady for that matter, but even still, the Duchess spoke on as if idly talking about the weather.

   “A handsome face alone can bring joy and that joy can help to create patience.
I’m sure you understand well enough, being with Bjorn and all.”

   “It’s not like that, Grandma, I’m not like that.”

   “Sure, but don’t expect too much from him, otherwise, you will have more of these arguments and inevitably he will get bored of you and the constant fighting.”

   Erna grew anxious as the Duchess speared her emotions with the sharp words.
She thought she knew the Duchess quite well, but it seems like her arrogance has only bred ignorance.
There was quite the disparity between this urban Grandmother and her own rural Grandmother.

   There was something about the old woman that reminded Erna of Bjorn.
She thought it would be enough to give her strength to come and face her week after week.

   Embarrassed, Erna looked out of the window.
She imagined all the things that Bjorn had done that had upset her and realised the deeds fit another face.
She became angry at herself for having such a snobbish side to her.
Baroness Baden would have freaked out, if she knew what Bjorn was really like.

   “I can see that I am right, am I not?” A mischievous smile came across the Duchess’s face, a smile that reminded Erna of Bjorn.

   “Actually, yes, it is a bit like that,” Erna murmured, cheeks blushing.

    The Duchess looked bewildered at Erna.
She had been fun to tease, but looked all too seriously out the window.
She had been caught off guard with the Duchess’ statements.
That was wholly unexpected.

   The Duchess burst into laughter, which scared Charlotte, who jumped off the Duchess’ lamp and dove under the sofa.
The laughter reverberated all about the guest parlour.

   She thought that Bjorn had reached rock bottom and was plumbing the depths for anyone that would marry him.
At least, it seemed like he made the choice out of desperation and was just giving up.

   The Duchess smiled for a long time while looking at Erna.
She got up from the couch and brushed Erna’s cheek with a hand.

   “What are you staring at, so far away?” The Duchess asked.

   Erna simply looked at her, with sad eyes.
The Duchess Arsene clucked her tongue and left the guest parlour.
Erna followed in her footsteps quietly contemplating.




The room was decorated with light green wallpaper, where it could be seen in between all the portraits and pictures.
It felt like this room was an exhibition, recording an entire family history.

   Erna followed on after the Duchess Arsene with a little excitement.
This was the first time she had seen anything of the mansion beyond the guest parlour.

   “Is this the Duke of Arsene?” asked Erna, carefully.

   She stood before a large portrait that hung in the middle of the wall.
The Duchess nodded as she came to stand next to Erna, the resemblance to Bjorn was uncanny.

   “I was quite the famous beauty when I was younger.
I was getting proposals from all over the world.”

   “From all those suitors, Duke Arsene must have been the finest of them all.
He’s certainly made a good first impression.
He must have had a great personality.”

   “Well, let’s just say I was luckier than you,” the Duchess said playfully, moving away to the next painting.

   They moved around the gallery slowly and Erna took in so many faces.
There was even one of Queen Isabella and her children when they were much younger.

   “Ah, Bjorn,” Erna said, recognising the twins in the picture. 

   “Can you guess which one he is?”

   Erna became serious and studied the painting.
It was very difficult to tell when they were so young, but the Duchess took Erna around to other paintings made as the twins grew up.
She could see their personalities come through as they aged and Erna was able to accurately guess which one was her husband.

   “No matter how much a man is a face and you like that face, you must not openly show your feelings.
Your husband is very good in this regard.
You have to learn how to hide that you like them.”

   “Yes?” Erna asked, confused.

   “It means pushing, when you need to push and pulling when you need to pull.
Right now, Erna, all you’re doing is pulling, giving Bjorn what he wants.”


   “Really, child, did you get married to a man without ever having been in a relationship before?”

   “What do you mean, Grandma?” Erna said, looking down at her feet like she was being punished.

   “Foolish girl,” the Duchess said, clicking her tongue once more and turning back to the paintings.

   The Duchess took Erna back to the guest parlour, where they finished their tea and bid their farewells.

   “See you next week at the palace, Grandma.”

   “I’m not going,” the Duchess said sternly.

   “Of course, see you then, Grandma.”

   The foolish child smiled brightly as she left, leaving the foolish statement in her wake.




After getting ready ahead of schedule, Erna made her way along the couples passage to Bjorn’s room.
Her mind was wonderfully clear, though the worry of welcoming guests had kept her awake.

   “Bjorn?” Erna cautiously peeked around the door.
Bjorn was standing in front of a mirror, with servants around him, getting him ready, all looking at her.
“May I come in?”

   “Looks like you already have,” Bjorn laughed.

   The servants continued getting Bjorn ready as Erna came all the way into the room.
Erna looked at her husband from a safe distance from the servants who were constantly in motion.
He was wearing a tie and was choosing which cufflinks to wear.

   “I think this one would be better,” Erna said.

   She thought it would have been best not to interfere, but she couldn’t help herself.
The onyx that Bjorn had picked out were lovely, but she wanted him to wear matching jewellery as her.

   Bjorn changed his mind and put the onyx back, picking up the blue sapphires.
Erna looked at her husband and her eyes sparkled along with the sapphires.

   They were to welcome the royal families that were coming to the grand opening ceremony of the World Exposition.
They would also be staying to celebrate the birthday of the twin princes a couple days after.
The thought that her reputation rested on how she spent the next week made Erna nervous.

   Bjorn’s preparations were finished just as soon as a servant presented Bjorn with his jacket and gently placed it on his shoulders.
Bjorn stepped away from the mirror and approached Erna.
He really was more handsome than his Grandfather.

   “I think what the adults say is mostly right,” Erna whispered under her breath, as she took Bjorns outstretched hand.

   “What?” Bjorn said.

   “No, nothing, let’s go,” Erna said, blushing a little.

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