A woman’s voice calling out an unfamiliar name woke up Bjorn from his nap.
The voice, which had become clearer as the time passed, suddenly disappeared as soon as he opened his eyes.
All that was left was the soft rustling of the leaves from the lush tree above his head and the sound of running water from a nearby small fountain.
After letting out a soft sigh, he indifferently closed his eyes before all of the sudden, the unknown woman’s voice could be heard once again.
With a voice resembling a clear chirp of a small bird, the woman called out someone’s name.
Small dotted patterns, which were made by the sunlight streaming through the leaves, fluttered over Bjorn’s face as he whispered the unknown name with his eyes closed.
In the meantime, the unknown woman’s voice had become much closer.
Listening to her voice, he could tell that she was a very delicate and cheerful lady.
He begrudgingly opened his eyes again as if resigning to his fate.
After spending the night playing cards, he couldn’t take a rest because he needed to attend this boring event right after.
He planned to sneak out of the room and secretly take a nap somewhere hidden, but his plans were ruined since he must have chosen the wrong place.
While he pressed his hand on the throbbing corner of his eye with intense pressure, the main culprit who destroyed his carefully crafted plan finally appeared.
It was a petite lady in a blue dress.
The cursed name abruptly came to his mind.
At the same time, the said lady, who had been looking around, fell down from the bench all of the sudden.
As if she had not yet noticed him lying on the opposite bench, Erna looked down at her toes with a sullen face.
The shoes that crept out under the hem of her dress were as small as those of a doll.
Bjorn, still lying on the bench, watched her closely.
For a long time, she gasped for breath as she ran somewhere in such a hurry.
His gaze, which passed through the ribbon that decorated the front of her dress, and towards her long brown hair that swayed along her steps, stopped on her soft lips that were slightly opened.
At that moment, she suddenly raised her head.
Erna, who was looking at Bjorn with eyes widened in surprise, suddenly stood up straight with a belated scream.
The Duke watched the fascinating scene with interest, as Lady Hardy acted as if she had met a criminal when she was the one who broke into someone else’s hiding place.
“… … Sorry, I’m sorry.”
She apologized apprehensively with a voice that was barely squeezed out.
The feather decorations on her hat, which fluttered due to her gesture of keeping her head down, made him smile unknowingly.
I am so sorry, Your Highness.”
Erna, who repeatedly apologized while bowing, hurriedly turned around and started to run away from him once again.
Bjorn silently stared at her fleeing back with a smile, and finally decided to sit up.
He found Lady Hardy, who always ran away at the mere sight of him, quite amusing.
However, he also found it annoying at the same time.
‘Why the hell does she run away everytime she sees me?’
‘Did I do anything to her??’
‘Strictly speaking, I should be the one running away with how I suffered all this time because of her.’
He begrudgingly stared at the tree trunk above him with a groan, and finally decided to stand up from the bench.
While putting on the jacket he had taken off and fixing his tie that had become loose, he noticed the laughter that flowed out from inside was still present.
‘Did she come to this remote garden corner to enjoy a secret rendezvous with her lover?’
Bjorn re-fastened his cufflinks while recalling the name that Lady Hardy was calling out a while ago.
They probably promised each other to meet in this garden.
He suddenly remembered those idiots who believed that Lady Hardy was an innocent baby deer a few days ago, and felt a smidgen of pity for that lucky man who she planned to meet.
He started to walk away from the tree shade while paying his condolences to those poor men.
It was then that he noticed something on the ground where Lady Hardy had been standing a while ago.
Squinting his eyes, he slowly approached the unknown item and picked it up.
It was a white lace handkerchief with an embroidery of her name.
Gladys Hartford arrived near the end of the opening ceremony, just when the congratulatory speech of the Director of the Royal Academy of Arts dedicated to the emerging artists who won the prize in this art exhibition had ended.
The eyes of the guests who were preparing to applaud at the end of the speech were now all focused on Gladys.
The Royal Couple and the Crown Prince, who were sitting at the top of the table, soon recognized the arrival of the late guest.
Lady Hartford quietly entered the room while looking around embarrassingly, and even when most of the nobles were belatedly applauding the director of the Arts Center, their eyes however, were directed at the Princess.
Despite being the center of attention, Gladys remained calm as her eyes fluttered from time to time.
Her posture as she slowly but gracefully walked in the middle of the crowd while with an elegant smile clearly showed her unperturbed emotion.
It was a habit that her body remembered even without trying hard, as she lived this way all her life as a Princess to the point that it became a habit.
The guests watched Princess Gladys bowing politely to King Phillip with a mixture of admiration and regret.
With the speech done, everyone was now free to browse around the exhibit, but no one had left the hall because of the exciting spectacle happening at the moment.
“Princess Gladys’ beauty is still so breathtaking, not to mention that elegant figure.
I heard that she also visited the Grand Duke’s castle.
Wouldn’t you hate such a husband who made you do all of that?”
“Still, they were once a couple and also had a child between them.
How easy could it be to cut off their relationship completely?”
“Without such a tragic incident, Princess Gladys would certainly have become a Queen that is as great as Her Majesty.
The more I think about it, the more I couldn’t understand the Grand Duke.
Why the hell did he commit such a horrendous thing with a wife like that? Even his rights to the throne were even stripped off in the end.
The low whispers were quickly exchanged among the guests, their voices harmonizing with the music that the band had begun to play.
Erna stood quietly beside a potted palm tree in the corner of the room, as her gaze stared at the place where the guest’s eyes were focused.
The princess, who she was familiar with from the pictures in the newspapers and magazines that Lisa gave her, was much more dignified and beautiful than she had imagined.
‘How could His Highness have committed an affair with a wife like that?’
Erna frowned involuntarily when she remembered the man lying on the stone bench in the garden.
Fortunately, the unpleasant memories did not last long as the name of her close friend came into her mind once again.
It was obviously Pavel…
She chased after him frantically, but in the end, she only managed to see the back of her dear friend whom she missed.
There was no way that she made a mistake, since he’s been her friend for over 10 years.
She could easily recognize him even when she could only see his back.
Erna raised her eyes cautiously and looked around once again.
Her heart began to race with hope that maybe she could finally meet Pavel here, however, it didn’t take long for that excitement and hope to turn into fear.
In her mind, she couldn’t help but feel that the eyes of the guests were peeking at her.
She suddenly felt her chest tightened up with apprehension, making it difficult for her to properly breathe.
Erna clasped her trembling hands and stood closer to the palm tree that was taller than her in an attempt to hide her small figure behind the tree’s leaves.
‘There are no humans here..
Only animals and plants…’
She seriously thought of the absurd advice Countess Meyer had given her.
The slender young ladies became weasels running in the woods, the old gentleman with a sloppy face was an angry goose, and that woman in a dark green dress with a bright red ribbon was a Yew Tree that bore fruit.
The absurd imagination soon unexpectedly brought her a sense of stability.
Even though her body was still shaking and sweating, she was able to avoid the pain of not being able to breathe due to panic.
Finally able to breathe even for a bit, she finally noticed the commotion within the crowd of guests.
Prince Bjorn was now standing at the entrance of the hall, and Princess Gladys, who was greeting the Crown Prince, also became aware of the Grand Duke’s presence shortly thereafter.
Prince Bjorn stopped for a moment and stared at Princess Gladys with narrowed eyes, and entered the hall shortly after.
Erna became part of the onlookers, as she gazed at his dignified figure with bated breath.
Staring at the prince who leisurely crossed the hall with unhurried steps, such a thought came into her mind unexpectedly.
‘He is certainly a man who reminded me of that graceful beast, I guess.’
A beautiful and majestic white wolf, just like the one in the crest of the Dniester Royal Family.
Bjorn looked at Gladys as he took a slow step forward.
It wasn’t difficult for him to figure out what the current situation and his ex-wife’s intentions were.
It seems that he was too carefree, he thought she already understood what he wanted after their last conversation.
‘I guess she’s still very obvious and typical.’
Even with apparent nervousness on her face, Gladys still showed hope when she caught a glimpse of him; such a situation made him laugh.
To say that her return to Lechen was not the will of King Lars seemed sincere, if he was idiotic enough.
Originally, she was someone who was so pure that lying was something that she couldn’t do.
However, that pure and innocent Princess taught the Grand Duke certain truths that were more despicable and irresponsible than lies.
Examining his father, mother, and Leonid’s stiff expressions, Bjorn arrived in the middle of the hall.
The sunlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the dazzling light of the chandelier enveloped his upright and dignified figure.
Her relationship with Princess Hartford was quite a fair deal for both of them, and they ended it up in a clean and concise manner.
This view of his still hadn’t changed, however, it was a different story if Gladys wanted to start a new game.
He had no intention of letting himself suffer, especially if the cause was Gladys Hartford herself.
Suddenly, a certain lady caught his attention.
The Grand Duke shifted his gaze to Erna, who was hiding next to a potted palm tree.
His lips, that were tightly closed in a straight line, curled up softly as he remembered the handkerchief that was inside his pocket.
‘Such an obvious and boring old trick’
That lady’s intention was so obviously clear to him.
Seeing that she was so good at committing embarrassing schemes, it seemed that this Lady Hardy was also as obvious and typical as a certain princess that he knows well.
‘Then, there is no other game piece that is as advantageous as her.’
Finally reaching a clear conclusion internally, Bjorn took a step without hesitation.
He slowly approached the place where Gladys stood, when suddenly, he turned around to another direction which caused the agitated crowd to break into a commotion.
Erna, realizing that something bad was gonna happen soon, took a step back but the Prince quickly narrowed the gap that she had meaninglessly created.
There was no reason for him to hesitate if Lady Hardy was his current winning hand, both in the bet that he made with his peers and in the game he was playing with Gladys.
Give what you could give and you would receive what you deserve, that was how gambling works.
Not to mention, he was also someone whom others could make an easy and clean transaction to.
It was agreed that the bet’s starting point was today’s exhibition, and the day of the final battle was the day of the rowing competition.
Bjorn closed the gap between Erna with the last few steps as he carefully recalled the contents of the bet that they made.
The rowing competition was held every summer, on the longest day of the year; and during this day, various festivals were held all over Lechen to celebrate the hot season.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was the highlight of the summer for socialites, it was the largest and most colorful event celebrated for that season.
The highlight of the Schwerin Summer Festival was the fireworks display on the Avit River during the night of the end of summer.
There was always a scarcity of boats in the city during the event, thanks to the multiple young lovers who believed in the childish myth that seeing the fireworks on a boat together ensures a long lasting relationship between the couple.
On that special day, the person who boarded the boat with Erna would become the winner of the bet.
He thought he was a bit of an asshole and this view was still not much different as of now he admits, but in the end, Bjorn Dniester had to win any bet that he participated in.
It was not a bad deal for her too, as her prestige would rise a little more because of the rumor that she was someone who was courted by him, Prince Bjorn.
Wasn’t that what Lady Hardy’s accomplice, Countess Meyer, was aiming for in the first place? If more bidders jump in with a burning desire to win her hand in marriage, she might get a groom that was far better than that dying old Count.
“Here you are, young lady.”
Bjorn looked down at the petite lady with friendly eyes, his voice filled with power, as if he wanted the other guest’s to hear him.
Standing under his shadow, Erna couldn’t help but to blink her big round eyes in confusion.
“You left this in the garden.”
With his head bowed down while maintaining eye contact with Lady Hardy, he deliberately held out the handkerchief he took out slowly.
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