“Please forgive your father, Erna.”

    Brenda Hardy had been crying for awhile.
So much so that the cup of tea she reached forward and put to her trembling lips was cold.

   “Things were bad, at the time, I was cornered.” Brenda said. She tried to swallow, and despite the tea, her mouth was dry.
She looked at Erna with a flat, soft expression, which only served to make Erna more nervous.

   “I understand that it’s upsetting for you, but you must understand…”

   “Your tea is cold.” Erna said, cutting Brenda off.

   The two women sat in silence as a maid came forward and cleared away the tea.
She then poured two fresh cups and retreated to her post.

   “I’m sorry, that as rude, please continue.” Erna said. She looked up from staring at the steaming cups and faced Brenda Hardy once more.
Erna was just trying to be polite, but it was clear that she didn’t want to hear any more.

   Brenda bit her tongue though, she did not dare proceed with the interrupted conversation.
Erna was to be marred to the prince, she will be the Princess Schuber and she would not be able to treat Erna how she used to.
Erna was to be the cities most top lady.
Brenda still saw her as the naughty little girl that ran away from home after being punished.
Here she is now, returning home as a princess.

   When Brenda first heard the rumours of the marriage, she couldn’t help but laugh.
There was no way Erna would allow herself to get involved with the poisonous mushroom prince.
Not even after he had ruined her marriage business, threw her life into a fire pit and with bankruptcy just around the corner.

   Then there was the king, Brenda felt sure he wouldn’t allow such a thing to take place, but it was quite the opposite.
The king set the ceremony for the end of Fall, braking with all tradition, but no one argued.

   This marriage was ridiculous, but it proceeded anyway.
Once the proposal was common news, Erna and the Baroness Baden were moved to his town house and the Baroness began preparations.

   The Viscount couple, Erna’s parents, were excluded from the preparations completely.
A rivalry with the official royal family grew and there was no way to avoid the resentment and disrespect that followed.
It was endured because the Hardy family could avoid bankruptcy with this endeavour and in a weeks time, the Hardy family will become the in-laws to the royal family.

   “You must understand,” Brenda continued.
“You should make up with your father before the wedding.
The pair of you have to walk this road together and you don’t want to make it more awkward than it needs to be.
You should have dinner together.” Brenda said, looking at Erna over the top of her tea.

   “I don’t think I can give a definite answer, ma’am.” Erna said.
“I will have to check my schedule,”

    Erna’s hands trembled.
She clasped them together to try and keep it from showing.
She was able to keep her voice firm and calm.
Brenda looked at Erna with disappointment, but could do nothing except for now.
She was a stubborn old coot and would not conceive the point too readily.

   Even when Erna saw the Viscountess off, later that evening, she reminded Erna to make the time.
Erna felt cold under the woman’s hard gaze.
It reminded her of the scornful eyes that constantly looked down at her through the buzz of public rumour.

   “I know its disrespectful to say, but the Viscountess has no shame.” Said Lisa, as the pair of them watched the Viscountess’ carriage rumble down the driveway.
“How can she suggest forgiveness after what they did to you.”

   “Lisa.” Erna said.
She felt embarrassed.

   “I don’t think I would understand you but I’ll still love you all the same.” Lisa said with bright enthusiasm.

   Erna looked at Lisa and felt warmed by her shy smile.
The day they met Lisa declared she would follow and love Erna for the rest of her life.
It tickled Erna’s heart.

   Now that she was to be Grand Duchess, Lisa thought Erna would forget about all about her, being an insignificant maid and all, but Erna came straight away to pick Lisa up.
Troublemaker as she was, Erna liked having her around, she was a golden ray of sunshine on a stormy day.

   “You’ve suffered a lot because of me.” Erna said, touching Lisa’s arm.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble.”

   Even though she knew it would be indecent, Lisa let herself be taken into Erna’s arms and she could feel the tears welling up.
Erna said nothing and just comforted the maid.

   I’ll follow you, love you and protect you, for the rest of my life.

   Lisa followed after Erna with rekindled determination.
From a neglected hill-billy to a lady’s personal maid and soon, handmaiden to the Grand Duchess.
Lisa had quite the responsibility ahead of her.

   “Oh, miss, the prince is not coming to see you.”

   Lisa’s attitude became firm as she recalled Prince Bjorn.
He was a strong enemy of the Hardy family.
The very same prince who rode in on a white horse to save Lady Hardy.
There was a lot of talk about forgetting the past and moving on recently, but the more Lisa thought of it, the more it looked like a poisonous mushroom.

   They were turning the whole country upside down with their marriage.
They very much seemed like a couple in love, but Lisa could see the shyness that surrounded their meetings.
Lisa couldn’t understand the Prince’s attitude toward Erna.
He never sent flowers or letters.
It was not normal, they were not normal lovers.
Something is wrong and after much internal debate, Lisa came to the conclusion that something is very, very wrong.

   “Oh, I’ll visit him tomorrow, we are going to be having luncheon at the palace.” Erna replied.

   She smiled casually, as if not meeting your fiance for two whole weeks was pretty normal.

   “I will pick out a very nice dress, one that will make the prince fall in love with you.” Lisa promised.

   The poisonous mushroom prince will fall in love, Lisa decided.
Erna was beautiful, but after her work, Lisa will make sure Erna is irresistible.




“You terrible thing.” Leonard declared.

   He had fallen onto the table, spilling it and all the drinks upon it to the floor.
Bjorn looked at the crazed man through bleary, drunken eyes.
Empty bottles rolled around the floor like fallen leaves and the insensible idiots sprawled in-between.
It was a colourful display of ugliness.

   Two bachelor parties so far and enough drink to put the prince’s life at risk.
The thought was there, but it did not register to Bjorn, as he looked down at the mouthful of brandy left in his glass.
He raised the deer horn trophy above his head, downed the remnants and declared the evening at a successful conclusion.

   Bjorn managed to escape the club without incident.
A few groans here and there, Leonard seemed to have fallen asleep on the floor where he had fallen, Bjorn had seized that opportunity to beat a retreat, Leonard would not have let him leave otherwise.

   His head was groggy and more than once he had to lean against a wall to stabilise himself.
Wallowing around with drunkards did not happen.

   He realised he was still carrying the deer horn trophy when he went to touch his aching head.
It was a reminder of a bitter past, but the lads were so determined to cut the horns of Bjorn Dniester, that they had made a new one and presented it to him last night, at the first bachelor party.

   Even though it was the second trophy, it still held a deep meaning and held the same feelings as the first.
The whole reason he joined this madness was because the lads had ordered a gold trophy for him.

   “If you go, you lose.
The trophy will be charged to Schuber Palace anyway.” They laughed.

   Each time one of them got married, a trophy would be made, with their name written on it and the idea was to be the man who got away with it at the end of a very heavy drinking session.
It was Bergman who lost the last trophy to Bjorn.

   Bjorn had almost lost his trophy to Leonard, but the drunk fool fell and the alcohol did the rest, allowing Bjorn to make a clean get away.
It had taken two nights, but a victor was clear and Bjorn got to add another trophy to his rather large collection.

   He had not intended to stay that long.
With so many trophies, he did not care to throw one away.
He was going to raise a toast, say some polite words and then leave, but once that first drink passed his lips, he lost himself to the madness.

   In the end, everyone was obsessed with the trophy, as they always are and the party did not finish easily until the morning.

   Bjorn stumbled out of the club and into the snow laden night.
The wind was cold and penetrated to his bones.
When he saw the fountain he laughed.
He kept laughing all the way to his carriage.

   When he sat on the frigid fabric seats, he closed his eyes and felt the world spin.
He started to think how different things would have been if Erna had not come to the fountain that morning.
Where would he be now, would he still be with Gladys? He doubted that.

   “Miss Hardy is waiting.” Came a voice.

   He was already back at his mansion? He must have drifted off into a drunken stupor.

   “Erna…why?” Bjorn said to the phantom voice.

   “Oh my god, my Prince, how are you in such a state at this hour?” The voice belonged to Mrs Fitz.

   She approached him when he got out of the carriage and cried out when she noticed his drunken state.
Bjorn staggered with a half hearted smile on his face and Mrs Fitz could do nothing but sigh.

   “Where is Erna?” Bjorn said.

   “Where she said she would be, did you forget that you had a luncheon with your fiance, my prince?”

   “But it’s only morning, the sun hasn’t even come up yet.” Bjorn said and looked up into the sky, where the sun lazily drifted over his head.

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