“I was a fool.
I shouldn’t have trusted my father.”

   Erna opened her mouth after a long while to take a drink of the milk that was given to her.
The glass was still warm, as she squeezed it in her hands, the bruising still painful.
Her head was a little calmer, now that she had time to order her thoughts.
She didn’t want anything to do with her father any more.

   “I am so sorry to trouble you like this.” Erna said after taking another sip of milk. As she regained her composure, she turned to face Pavel.
“You’re the only one that has taken care of me…” She bowed her head as she let the words trail off.
She remembered seeing Bjorn on her way over, their eyes meeting across the span of the square, maybe he would help her.
The thought melted away as soon as he appeared, she didn’t want the Prince knowing about this.

   “No need to thank me, like I said, anytime you need help just come and find me.” Pavel said with a warming smile. He got up and took Erna’s empty glass and returned it to the kitchen.
He was gone for a while and when he returned, he was holding a large blanket.
Erna’s eyes went wide when she recognised it.

   “My Grandmother’s blanket.” Erna smiled as Pavel draped it over her shoulders.
The split lip hurt and was very bitter, but Erna did not stop smiling.

   “Yeah, it was a congratulatory gift from Baroness Baden.” Pavel said.  As he sat back down, the weak smile melted away.
He thought about the old woman when she gave him the blanket.
She had told him to use it always, even in the summer and especially in the city, where disease was rife.

   Pavel’s disposition quickly became one of hot anger again as he brought his mind back to the present.
He could not help but feel resentment for Viscount Hardy, for treating the jewel of the Hardy family as he did.

   “Would you like me to take you back to Burford?” It was an impulsive question, but that did not mean Pavel did not mean it.

   “I would love to, I want to, but…I can’t right now.” Erna said, eyes downcast.
“If I break from my contract, we would have to leave our home in Baden.”


   “Yes, getting married, as per my fathers request.” Erna’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the hem of the blanket.

   “But you can’t stay here like this.”

   “I know.
I wont let me father sell me off to some disgusting old pervert.
I will find a way.”

   “You could always give up the house.
I know how you value the place, but you can’t tell me you value it more than your own life.” Pavel moved closer to Erna and put an arm around her.

   “Because then we would have nowhere else to go.” Erna looked at him with sad, puffy red eyes. It wasn’t that Erna had not thought about it, she had given it a great deal of thought.
Even if they scraped together all the money that they could, it was a lot of responsibility for the two of them.
She also had to think of her two maids, who had become more like family than anything else, especially her father.
Then there was trying to find somewhere decent to rent.

   “I can help you.
I will get plenty of money soon, from selling my paintings.
It’s not a whole heap of money, but it will be enough for you and your Grandmother to find somewhere out in the country, away from this place.”

   “No, Pavel, you can’t do that.”

   “Don’t worry, call it a lifelong loan.
You can pay me back any time between now and a hundred years time, no interest.” Pavel finally conveyed the thoughts that had been plaguing him since the first time he saw Erna in the city.

   “No, you can’t do that.” Erna pleaded.

    “Yes I can, it’s my money and I can do what I want with it, and I choose to help you.” Pavel had expected this reaction from Erna, she was a respectful young lady and he calmly carried on trying to convince her to accept his help.
“Think realistically, Erna, your father will sell you before the end of Fall, before even that if possible.
It is nigh on impossible for you to raise enough money before then.”

   Erna could not deny that Pavel raised a very good point, but he didn’t have to be so cold about it.
Pavel quietly took a deep breath and looked into Erna’s fierce blue eyes.
She was speechless, he could see her working things out in her head.
Was he being too reckless?

   Pavel knew that running away like this would leave a nasty scar on the aristocracy, and she would never be welcomed back, but at least it’s a chance for her to get away and what Erna needed right now was a way out.

   “Just think about it, about getting away from your father.” Pavel said. He wondered if he had crossed the line; he was always very conscious of Erna as a nobility and he was a mere common as muck painter.
He respected those boundaries, while nurturing Erna’s friendship.



Erna Hardy had disappeared.

   She was not present at any social gathering, she had not been seen down by the Hardy estate or downtown.
The Viscount and his wife did make a statement that the girl was bed ridden with some ailment, but no one believed the story.

   “What are we going to do if she doesn’t turn up to the rowing competition?” Peter said, through a yawn.

   “Don’t tell me she won’t be there for the greatest event of the summer.” Said a man Bjorn had never gotten the name of.

   “It’ll be hard if she’s so ill she has to stay in bed.” Peter said, still yawning.

   “Health problems isn’t just about health.” Leonard said.
“Maybe she’s taking a break from all the scandal, waiting for things to die down.”

   It seemed, at that moment, that everyone in the social club looked at Bjorn, who was calmly eating an apple and only half paying attention to the conversation.
He was watching the entrance like a hawk.

   “Give it up, Bjorn, no matter how stupid he might be, he ain’t crazy enough to show his face.” Peter said. He finally finished yawning and was pouring a drink for Bjorn.
As if the universe was determined to prove Peter wrong, Robin Heinz waltzed into the social club.

   “He is crazy.” Leonard said sadly.

   Bjorn calmly bit into his apple and only rose when the group had settled down.
His footsteps were loud as he approached Robin Heinz, sitting at a table of loud gentlemen sharing stories and jokes.
The atmosphere had generally been cheerful, but everything went silent when Bjorn stood next to Heinz.

   “Long time no see, Heinz.” Bjorn said.

   Heinz had tried his best to ignore Bjorn, turning his back on him and burying his nose in the tabloid that had been the centre of many jokes made at the table.
Bjorn lowered himself into the chair next to Heinz and everyone watched.

   “Here, have a drink.” Bjorn said and grabbed the bottle of wine the waiter had just brought over.
He poured out a splash into the tumbler in front of Heinz.
He then snatched the paper out of Heinz’s hands and eyed the article; he already knew what he was looking for, but made a pantomime of reading it first.

   “Lady Hardy, who had seduced me first, had also seduced the Grand Duke.
It was her intention to create a rift between the Grand Duke and myself.
That is why the fight with the Grand Duke occurred, it was coercion from Lady Hardy who sought to test her potential suitors, in some sordid game only she knows the rules of, to entertain her bored little mind.”

   More and more people had speculated that Heinz was the one who had instigated a fight with the Grand Duke, throwing the first punches.
In order to save face, Heinz abused his role in the tabloids to justify himself and use Erna as a scapegoat.
It was a pretty solid strategy as he knew no one would willingly take Erna’s side in the matter.

   “Is that really what happened?” Bjorn said with false intrigue.
“My memory is a little fuzzy.” Bjorn signalled the waiter, who came over and filled his glass.

   The mood in the social club was usually calm, providing a place to relax, especially during the long, hot summer days when the mood became languid, but things turned tense very quickly.

   Robin Heinz, who could now feel the bind he was in, looked about the room without making eye contact with anyone.
Bjorn moved to be directly in front of Robin Heinz, providing him no room to avoid the Grand Duke.
The silence from the man was grating against Bjorn’s nerves and his patience was nowhere near deep enough.

   “I’m getting impatient, Heinz,” Bjorn said, putting down the half empty glass of water.
“If you continue to ignore me, you’ll make me look like an intruder to an otherwise pleasant little gathering here.” Bjorn gently placed his hands on Robin’s shoulder.
“Did you honestly think you’d never see me again, especially here?”

   “What the hell do you want me to say?” Heinz blurted.

   “Nothing grandiose.” Bjorn removed his hand from Heinz’s shoulder and stood up.

   Heinz started to breathe properly and at that moment, the chair collapsed from under him and his world spun around.
When he opened his eyes again, he was staring up at the ceiling.
Bjorn came into view and stared down at him with intense grey eyes.
Just like that night, he was smiling.

   “You, you,” Heinz stammered.  He tried to get up and wailed when Bjorn’s foot came down heavily on his chest and pinned him to the floor.

   “You said it yourself, we’re rivals, aren’t we? Rivals fighting for the affection of the same woman.
I’m sure you said something like that.”

   “Bjorn, you…”

   “Oh, you didn’t know, did you? This is how I treat my rivals.” Bjorn grabbed the bottle from the table and leaning over the stricken Heinz, he poured the contents over the red face of Robin Heinz. He smiled as Robin Heinz struggled and screamed for assistance, but no one came to help and Bjorn did not stop until the bottle was empty.
He took his foot from the chest of the pathetic man and wandered back to his own party as if nothing had happened.

   Heinz laid on the floor for a long while, wailing at the ceiling.
The rest of the lounge was abuzz with chatter and whispers.

    When Bjorn was finally done at the social club, he went to his carriage and the waiting footmen.
These hot summer days had made him lethargic and lazy, it was nice to get some excitement back in his life.
He felt energised.

   He had glee in his heart again as the carriage trundled along the road, back to the palace.
When it turned down Tara Boulevard, he caught a glimpse of Lisa, Erna’s maid.
She was carrying a very large bundle alone.

   “Hmm, Erna is still absent.”

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