own to her seat.
When the Duchess found out she would be sat next to Bjorn, expressed her blatant discontent with a deep frown.
Knowing of the woman’s great temper, the crowd waited for the outburst, like a coming thunderstorm.

   When the Duchess had found out that Bjorn was stepping down as Crown Prince due to an extramarital affair, it was said that she marched into the palace and slapped the Prince, vowing never to speak to him again.

   “I don’t know what the Grand Duchess was thinking,” Louise whispered to her husband.

   The Duchess looked like she was about to turn and leave at any moment, but she obediently took her seat next to Bjorn.
She calmly sat down, completely forgetting the years of enmity.

   Bjorn did not have much time to react, he had been engrossed in something and barely noticed how the crowd had gone completely silent.
When he realised his grandmother was approaching him, he could do nothing but meet the woman’s gaze.
There was slight agitation, but neither of the two broke eye contact.

   Don’t you think you can fool me, the Duchess had shouted so many years ago.
Her shouts, as she stormed into the room, roused Bjorn.

   Tell me the truth, she demanded, and don’t even think about lying to me.
Why, why did you do it, for what reason?

   Duchess Arsene refused to believe the truth, she was sure that Bjorn had thrown up a smoke screen to hide something and pressed him for the truth.

   It’s just who I am, Grandma, Bjorn had said, it was the only answer he was allowed to give. Please accept it.

   When Bjorn said those words, with a laugh, Duchess Arsene’s anger snapped and the sound of a slap rang out in the hall.
It was a very sharp slap, but the pain didn’t last long.
It was the tears that stuck with Bjorn the most, seeing his Grandmother cry as she swore to never speak to him again.

   It was for the good of the royal family and the nation.
He pretended to be a martyr for a face cause, but now that he thought back on it, well, he wasn’t sure any more.
Perhaps he was really just being selfish, but that was him.

   Even now, that fact didn’t change, there was still nothing he could do about it.
He couldn’t tell his Grandmother the truth, no matter how badly her heart had broken.
He had been her favourite and rather than having to face her, he was content with simply facing the contempt.

   “You seem well, at least, your wrinkles have improved a lot,” Bjorn said with a laugh.

   “I’m very moved by your first words, after so many years,” the Duchess replied to the joke with a laugh too.

   That was it, Erna thought, even with something so mundane and small, the Duchess had broken her promise

   Starting to recover from the shock of the Duchess’ appearance, the party guests started talking amongst themselves again.
Even the Queen, who was well known for being able to keep her composure, looked at the scene with agitation.
The only one that was keeping their cool was the Grand Duchess.




“Erna, Erna,” Brenda Hardy called.

   Erna had been leaning on the railing of the balcony as the woman came running up to her.
Erna looked at Brenda in surprise.

   Brenda Hardy looked about and confirmed that there was no one in earshot to eavesdrop, hurriedly stepped closer to Erna.
How alert she must have been, to pick this moment to talk to Erna.

   “What is it Viscountess?” Erna said, hiding her embarrassment.

   It was only because of Mrs Fitz that they had been invited to the party in the first place.
The two were steeped in rumours about the Grand Duchess and it might have been wise to invite them, if only to throw cold water over the rumours.

   Erna had been so reluctant at first, but for the sake of Bjorn, she finally invited them.
It didn’t mean that she would have to associate with them, however and as far as Erna was concerned, she had no longer any connection to the Hardy family name.

   They stood together on the balcony in silence for a long while.

   “Well, if you have nothing to say, I wish to leave,” Erna said.

   “There’s no news yet, I’m starting to worry.”


   “Of a child,” Brenda Hardy said, looking like a concerned mother, “I’ve been asking around and come across a concoction to improve your chances of getting pregnant.
You need to have a child soon, to secure your position.
Look, I’ve prepared a sizable batch and will drop it off to the mansion later.”

   “Viscountess!” Erna declared, stunned by what the woman was saying.

   “This is not the time to be careless, Your Highness, look at Princess Gladys, she had a son and was so easily cast aside, what chance do you think you have, if you don’t have a child,” Brenda took Erna’s hand, “think carefully, you of all people know what the Prince is like.”

   “Do not talk about my husband like that,” Erna said, snatching her hand back.

   “I know you don’t like me very much, but there is no one else on your side, no one you can trust, aren’t we in the same boat?” She reached out for Erna again, but Erna backed away, just as an attendant came out onto the balcony.

   “Your Highness, her majesty, the Queen, wishes to speak with you.”

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