With the help of Mrs Fitz, Erna was able to perfectly prepare the dining room with tableware and flowers.
It was as beautiful as spring itself.
After carefully examining the placement of the candleholders, the preparations were perfect.

   Erna then went to check with the chef, then hurried around to the hall where the guests would be coming to celebrate.

   “Don’t worry, Your Highness, I can assure you that no one will find fault with the celebration,” Mrs Fits kept saying, as she followed Erna around like a shadow.

   “It’s a little comforting to hear you say that, Mrs Fitz,” Erna said with a weak smile.

   The banquet hall was lit up with soft amber hues from elaborate chandeliers that reflected off the polished floor.
Draped in front of the large, floor to ceiling, windows were cream coloured, silk curtains.
Everything in the hall was picked out to match the beautiful spring garden.

   “Erna,” someone called out.

   Following the voice calling her name, Erna turned to see Bjorn standing on the royal crest that was ingrained into the floor, at the centre of the hall.
Seeing him standing in the middle of the Grand Dukes hall made the whole scene even more perfect to her.

   She approached cautiously and as she did so, Bjorn held out his hand.
She stood beside him and didn’t want to be anywhere else.

   “Does it look okay?” She asked him, in her usual soft whisper.

   “What does it matter? My birthday comes around every year,” Bjorn said, giving a flat answer.

   “But this is the first birthday we are celebrating together.”

   “What’s the big deal?”

   “It’s really important to me,” Erna said sternly.

   Bjorn looked down at his wife and gave her a smile.
She always tried to celebrate minor events with grand gestures.
Then he thought about her first birthday, the one in which no one remembered.
He pushed the thought from his mind.

   “The first guests are arriving,” a servant informed them, Bjorn felt Erna squeeze his hand.

   Lisa was standing close by and was admiring all the hard work she had put into making sure the Grand Duchess was the most beautiful.
She was wearing a light blue dress, looking as pure and beautiful as a fairy of water.
She hated to admit it, but Erna looked more elegant when she was around Bjorn.
She almost seemed to glow and shimmer whenever she was around her husband.

      “Please, please, please,” 

Lisa begged, praying that the selfish prince would recognise his wife’s beauty.




“I think we need to adjust the seating around the dinner table,” Mrs Fitz said.

   “No, I think I will wait a little longer,” Erna said, giving it some thought.

   “Your Highness, you must make a decision,” Mrs Fitz looked at Erna desperately.

   It was nearly time for the banquet and the Duchess Arsene had not yet shown up.
She had a seat next to Bjorn and if she didn’t come, it would be empty.

   As soon as Mrs Fitz was about to insist some more, the buzz of conversation in the hall suddenly became very quiet.
All the guests were looking at the entrance.

   “Oh my god, I can’t believe it,” they were all whispering.

   “Grandma, you came?” Princess Louise said.

   The Duchess Arsene, who had brought about this big disturbance, marched across the room as if simply walking down the street.
She ignored everyone and only looked at one person, the Grand Duchess.

   “Ah, Grandma, you came,” Erna said, running toward the Duchess.

   She forgot about the people looking at them with their shocked faces.
Duchess Arsene clicked her tongue at Erna’s reckless behaviour, but her eyes were softer than her before.

   “Well, you look normal for someone that was attacked by a lunatic, Erna, I only came to see how pathetic you’d become, but I see I’ve wasted my time.”

   She spoke maliciously and the people about them started to hiss with whispers.
To their surprise, Erna simply laughed in the face of such brutal insults.

   “What’s going on here, you didn’t say anything to me, mother,” the Queen said.

   The Duchess gave the Queen a sullen look, as the King, Crown Prince and Bjorn came over to stand at Erna’s side.

   “It was nothing to do with you, so there’s no need to get bent out of shape about it.
I am a guest of the Grand Duchess, isn’t that right Erna?”

   The Duchess looked at Erna, after glancing at Bjorn.
The old woman’s expression, which had always been cold and hard, turned into a smile.
All eyes were turned to the Grand Duchess as the Duchess questioned her.
Erna completely forgot her nervousness for a moment and smiled with secret conspiracies.

   “Yes, Grandma, welcome.
I am so happy that you came.”




   All eyes were on the upright lady as she was shown 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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