“I demands you give her back right this instant.”

   Baroness Baden skipped any formalities and went right to the heart of the matter.
She was being neither calm, nor graceful, but she didn’t care.
People like Walter Hardy you just have to come right out and say what’s on your mind and don’t give him chance to dance around the topic of concern.

   “What are you talking about?” Walter said.
He stank of alcohol and had a slack jawed expression on his face.
His hair was greasy and his complexion was deathly pale.
Along with his sloppy outfit, the Baroness could see that Walter had fallen a long way since the last time she saw him.

   “I’m talking about you giving Erna back into my care.” The Baroness said once more.


   “I don’t want Erna to leave with you any more, you’re a terrible father and you have ruined that poor girl’s reputation.”

   “Look here, you old crone, if it wasn’t for me you would have lost the house, so you should be more careful about the accusations you throw around.” Walter said.

   “I don’t need that house.” The Baroness bluffed, sticking out her neck.
She had been willing to lose the house ever since she discovered how Erna was being treated and the few employees that worked at the mansion felt the same.
As lovely as it was to have the summer house, nothing was more precious to the Baroness than Erna.  

“Its just a house,” the Baroness continued.
“Keep it, sell it, do as you wish, but I am not leaving without Erna.”

   The Baroness was clear and strong about her demands, she had been rehearsing what she was going to say on the long journey to Schuber.
She executed flawlessly, with the right authoritative tone and harsh demands.
She made sure not to leave Viscount Hardy any room for negotiation.

   “You can’t be serious.” Walter said, stuck for words.
He looked at his ex-mother-in-law with narrowed eyes and a fierce expression, so did Brenda, who sat beside Walter.

   “Erna didn’t go back to Buford?” Brenda said softly, the Baroness almost didn’t hear her.

   “What do you mean, Erna went back to Buford?” All the sharpness had gone from the Baroness and now her voice was trembling a little.
Had they lost Erna?

   Walter let out a harsh laugh, sobering a little, maybe the old woman didn’t know where Erna was after all.
He didn’t seem like the type to secret away a young girl, he had doubted Erna would have run away with him in the first place, but then, the cunning little thing had run away all the same, but where?

   It was the morning after the storm that they realised Erna was gone.
They were brought about the knowledge of her disappearance by Erna’s maid, Lisa, who called out and dropped the breakfast tray she had been carrying.

Erna Hardy has disappeared.

   Walter had drunk the night away and was in no state to do anything about Erna running off.
It was nothing to worry about, after all, the only place she could go was back to that pokey little village.
He intended to go out and get her back when he sobered up and could be bothered.
Now that her value was minimal, there was no rush in marrying her off.

   He had to take this seriously now.
His throat burned and his lips were dry.
A pounding started thudding in his head and he felt a dizziness come over him.The Baroness got to her feet and let out an impatient sigh.

   “Maybe if you weren’t so drunk, you might have noticed your own daughter running off.” The Baroness said with all the malice she could muster.
Her bitter words echoes around the parlour and made all the servants gave the old woman a sidelong glance.
She came to them from the country, in her old fashioned dress and dusty old jewellery and spoke to the Viscount as she did.

   “I was a fool to send Erna away to you, just because you were her father.” The Baroness continued.
Her legs could barely keep her upright and she left on shaky legs, fire and malice pouring forth in her words.

   “Madam, are you okay?” Mrs Greve asked as the Baroness came out of the drawing room.
She had been pacing up and down the hallway and approached Baroness Baden with tears in her eyes.
The Baroness took up Mrs Greve’s hands and gave them a light squeeze.

   “Erna is…I need to speak to an officer.” The Baroness said.

   “A police officer?” 

   “Yes, they say Erna is not here.” Baroness Baden glanced at Mrs Greve with tears in her blue eyes.
“She has run away.”


Unlike the leisurely south, which was more like a resort, the north was much busier and more dynamic.
Schuber was the central port city of Lechen and to say that it was the busiest in all the continent was not a stretch.
It was certainly one of the most financially prosperous.

   There was no sign of the storm any more and as Bjorn stood on the balcony that over looked the harbour, across a forest of masts that stretched out to the sky, he looked up and bathed in the warm sun.
It was a typical Lechen summer day.

   The town house was in a particularly good location.
Located right on the edge of the residential area and the financial district.
He brought it as soon as it was put on the market.
The previous owner fell for some investment scam and had to sell a lot of assets to cover the loss.

   It was close to the bank, so he had a place to put his feet up when he was in the area on business and the resale value would see a lot of profit come his way.
It was also discreet enough to blend in with the other town houses on the road.

   It was for this reason that Bjorn chose this location.
He let himself smile as he looked back over his shoulder into the house, beyond the gently fluttering net curtains.
He paid particular attention to the locked door of one of the bedrooms.

   “Your Highness.” Mrs Fitz said.
She was looking at him with a stern expression and held a tea tray.

   “Mrs Fitz.” Bjorn replied.

   When Bjorn had brought Erna to this town house, he immediately sent for his own doctor and for Mrs Fitz.
He knew he could trust these two above all else, even if the doctor grated against Mrs Fitz’s nerves.

   Mrs Fitz had scolded him for bringing the young Hardy family girl to the town house, but seeing her pale complexion, she soon changed her tune.
The doctor confirmed what Bjorn had suspected and now Miss Erna laid up in bed, sick.
Bjorn still owed Mrs Fitz an explanation.

   When he told Mrs Fitz all that had transpired that night, he felt like a child again, under her stern gaze.
He waited for the admonishment, but it seemed the old nanny felt sympathy for the young girl, more than feeling like Bjorn needed a telling off.

   At that moment, as Mrs Fitz stood by the balcony window, Bjorn felt like she was about to start up with telling him off again.
She looked like she wanted to punish him a thousand times over.
He knew what she was expecting and like a responsible prince, he intended to care after Miss Hardy.

   Bjorn strode from the balcony, back into the town house and knocked on the locked door.
There was the sound of hurried movement, before a soft voice finally answered.

   “Come in.”

   Bjorn went into the room, closely followed by Mrs Fitz with a full tea tray, she busied herself preparing the breakfast, while Erna sat on the edge of the bed and Bjorn propped himself against the window.

   They sat in silence for a long while, even after Mrs Greve left.
Erna stared down at her hands, which she had not stopped fidgeting with the entire time.
She became distinctly aware of the ticking of the clock.

   “Have some tea.” Bjorn said.

   Erna looked up at him with wide eyes, as he offered her a tea cup.
She did her best to hide the trembling as she took the cup.
It looked like a child’s doll house ornament in his hands.
He had rather large hands, she realised this when he held her cheek on the night of the storm, three days ago.
As Erna recalled the way he had held her, she blushed and looked down at the tea.

   She felt like she was outstaying her welcome and had spoken to the woman who had introduced herself as Mrs Fitz about leaving.
Mrs Fitz said Erna was being silly and she could not go any where until she was much better.
No matter what Erna said, the answer was always the same.

   Mrs Fitz was right, of course, even if Erna had thoughts of running away again, she couldn’t.
The sickness she caught out in the rain, firmly kept her confined to the bed.
She was only just starting to find the strength to get up and move about.

   “Thanks to you, your highness, I am well again.” Erna said, putting down the tea cup.

   Bjorn looked down at Erna, studying her rosy cheeks, pouty lips and the thin nape of her neck.
He stopped when he looked at the bow of her dress, that sat perfectly central on the neckline.
She did not look as sickly as she had done, but she was still pale.
Bjorn laughed as the memory of the night came to him.

   The bonnet and cloak had been removed, but Erna was soaked through to the skin.
She could not lay down in the wet cloths, so simply leaned against the couch.
She stood there, shivering with her eyes closed.

   “You need to change out of those wet clothes immediately.” Bjorn demanded.

   Erna was surprised at Bjorn’s forceful words and when she didn’t comply right away, he came over and roughly started pulling at her dress.

   “I, I can do it.
I can do it myself.” Erna said, feebly pushing the Prince away.

   Bjorn realised that she may think he was aiming to molest her in her weakened state, so he quickly stepped away and let Erna remove the wet clothes herself.
All he could do was bring her a towel and her trunk.

   He then left the room, but kept an ear to the door just in case Erna should collapse.
There was the sounds of thumping and scraping, groans and heavy sighs.
He could hear her rummaging through her trunk.

   Bjorn looked down at his pocket watch when things got a little too quiet for his liking.
It had been ten minutes.
Was it better to be accused of being a molester, than have a young girl’s life on his conscience? 

So, Bjorn let himself in.

   Erna was laid out on the couch in her pyjamas and soaking up the heat of the fire.
To his surprise, she had managed to get all her clothes on straight and all the buttons done up properly.
She had even managed to tie the ribbon of the night gown.

   Bjorn very softly walked up to Erna and gingerly picked her up and cradled the surprisingly light girl in his arms.
He took her to the guest bedroom and laid her under the warm blankets.

   “I…Your Highness?” Erna said softly, half asleep.
“Thank you,” was all she could manage.

   “It’s okay Miss Hardy, get some rest.”

   “No, I can not let you get involved…scandal.” She muttered.
“I have a friend, he…worried, looking for me.”

   “A friend, you mean Pavel Lore?” Bjorn said.

   Erna’s eyes shot open at the mention of the name and she looked at the Prince, confused.
Bjorn simply looked at her with a smile.

   “Right, Pavel Lore, the promising artist from the academy.
He tried to escape with you, didn’t he?”

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