The sea was lost in the deep dark of the night.
White foam scattered past the ship as waves crashed against the hull.
The noise of it felt like a dreary note of despair, a noise that wasn’t present during the day, like the light muted it.

   There was also the sound of a wrapper being opened and the lip smack of someone chewing on chocolate.
Erna ate the chocolate she had been given how ever many days ago, she lost count.

   She looked out into the darkness as she ate.
The cold bit at her cheeks and knuckles of the hand that held firm to the railing, but she didn’t feel it.

   It was just past midnight when Erna decided to step out from the cabin to get some fresh air.
It had been a pleasant enough evening, thanks to Bjorn’s return, but for some reason she just couldn’t get to sleep.

   Was she angry? She was too sad to be that.

   So maybe it was sadness? That too didn’t feel appropriate.

   What ever it was, it felt like a sluggishness that wouldn’t shake.
A lethargy that sleep would not fix.
So Erna came out onto the deck with a bag of chocolates in her hand.
Lisa told Erna that when you’re feeling depressed, you should eat something sweet.

   Lisa had been shocked to hear of the relationship between Viscountess Forester and Princess Gladys.
Her reaction was so sudden that even the head maid Karen flinched.
Lisa was the only person on her side on this whole ship.

   Erna felt so lonely when she realised that.
She had already prepared herself for the unwelcoming role of the Grand Duchess, but even her own husband didn’t seem to be on her side and that made her feel cold.

   Is he really a poisonous mushroom?

   While she chewed on the question, staring out into the endless darkness of the night sea, she popped another piece of chocolate into her mouth and chewed on that instead.

   The images of Bjorn Dniester formed in the shapeless dark.
Emerging one by one;

   The trouble maker,

   problematic prince


   prodigal son,

   bad guy.

   The Bjorn Erna knew was nothing like any of those things.
Sure, he could be a little ill-willed at times, but he was never anything like his reputation.
Some said he should have taken after his father, but he could never be like that, he could never be like that.

   But what if her judgement is wrong?

   Erna looked up at the blanket of stars that filled the sky.
Each time she blinked at them, her vision became a little blurrier.

   Even though she doesn’t know the world, she still knows much.

   People often said that when they were talking about her mother, Annette Baden. 

   She is naive enough to trust a man like that? She’s not very smart.

   They always said stuff like that, after she got with Walter Hardy.
The poor woman who only found herself in the situation because she was so naive.
Foolish Annette Baden.

   As she lay on her sick bed, withering away day by day, the whispers only grew in intensity.
It was at a time in the Baden mansion where the situation was only growing worse and there were fewer servants to help out.

   Erna would sometimes sneak into the pantry to rummage around for cookies, she would hear what little staff there was talking to each other.
She was young at the time, but she was intuitive enough to understand why her mother was in a sick bed, it was the man who hurt her…..his father.

   Hiding in the dark pantry with a half eaten cookie, Erna heard all the whispers and gossip.
The memory of her mother, who eventually passed, shone in the stars.
The Grandmother and Grandfather, who wept until they were out of breath and the father that left the funeral after only a brief visit, also shone in those stars.

   My dear Erna, please go out and be happy, for your mothers sake. Baroness Baden had told her.

   There was no denying it, Erna knew that her Grandmother and Grandfather saw her as a replacement for their lost daughter.
She felt like she owed it to them, as well as her mother, to live a happy life in her memory.

   Erna’s vision was rudely interrupted by the smoke that lazily drifted out from the chimney stacks of the boat.

   A red rose from Bjorn.
A shed tear from her Grandmother.
The second wedding of Prince Bjorn, who stirred up the whole country with his actions.
She had no way of making anything happen.
When that fact engraved itself clearly on her mind, the tumult of her mind eased.

   After catching her breath and quieting her mind, Erna looked ahead, to the front of the boat.
Her tousled brown hair billowed in the wind with the hem of her coat.

   She still wanted to believe in Bjorn.
The one who had offered his hand every time she was in trouble.
Those hard eyes that contained warmth for her and a smile that felt like love.
She wanted to trust her own judgement, rather than the horrible rumours.

  Amor Fati 

  To love her fate..

   Erna resolutely ate the last of the chocolate.
It was so sweet that she was starting to get a little sick from it.
She did as Lisa had suggested and she was feeling much better.

   It was an overly big fate Erna had put herself on.
She was the one who put herself on this path, not anyone else, so she had to take responsibility for where she found herself.
There was no point fighting against it, or hiding from it like a coward.
Even if it meant swallowing a poisonous mushroom, Erna had an obligation to survive and be happy.

   Folding up the paper bag carefully and deliberately, she stuffed it into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe her hands.
She turned away from the sea and felt fresh determination.

   Be strong, me

   Erna stepped away from the railing and headed back to her cabin.
With each step she repeated the mantra and felt it pump strength into her.

   The next morning, the boat arrived at its destinations, Lars, their first honeymoon destination, the home of Princess Gladys.




Bjorn finished up by adjusting the sash and the emblem draped over his shoulder.
Satisfied, an attended came over and gave him his gloves and formal sword.

   Bjorn turned away from the mirror as he put on his gloves.
He raised the sword and checked it for marks.
There was no trace of the problem child any more.
He was a dignified figure in a crisp black uniform, blue belt and dazzling golden ornamentation.

   “Would you really mind going alone, Your Highness?” The attendant asked.

   Bjorn had announced that he would be meeting the King of Lars alone.
He was not to be accompanied by the Grand Duchess, or any of the delegation.
Everyone was nervous, but Bjorn was calm and focused.

   “Are you afraid the Prince of Lechen is going to get whipped by the King of Lars?”

   “You highness, whipped!?”

   “It might happen, which is why its best I go alone.
Less embarrassment.” Bjorn grinned as he strode across the bedroom with wide, graceful strides.
The attendant just looked at him with wide eyed worry.

   After disembarking from the boat and then taking a day to rest, they had been in the city for three days before they were finally able to meet with the King.
They were staying at the Manster Palace, the guest house of the Lars Royal Family.

   “Bjorn,” Erna greeted Bjorn as he came into the drawing room.

   She had been sitting in a chair and stood up abruptly when he came into the room.
She looked like she was seeing Bjorn off to battle.

   “Are you sure you’re okay?” Erna asked.

   “If it’s not, will you accompany me?”

   “You only need to ask.” Even though he had been joking, Erna’s response was flat and serious.
The ribbon in her hair swayed slightly.

   From the moment they stepped from the ship, Erna had showed a lot of determination to fulfil her role as the Grand Duchess.
How is this? And how about that? She would diligently babbled about the things she thought a Grand Duchess should be.

   He said she was being absurd, but somehow, that only made her double her efforts and Bjorn found that increasingly cute.
In the evenings he found he had to kiss her more than usual, because even in bed, she would not stop talking about doing her duty.

   “Late,” he gently stroked his wife’s blushed cheek.
“If I get beaten up, its all on you to avenge me.”

   Erna blinked at him, her eyes going wide.
“I beg your pardon.” Her eyes narrowed.
“You’re making another joke.
A bad one.”

   Bjorn giggled nonchalantly.
Erna let out a small sigh and looked at her husband.
He was an enigma in many ways, but one thing was certain: He loved making fun of his wife.

   “Don’t worry, my dear,” a long finger stoked her chin.
“I fight to win and don’t stop until I do.”

   “Please don’t joke like that, I’m really worried.

   When his gloved hand stroked her lip, she shuddered and pushed his hand away.
She looked like someone who had been caught doing something they shouldn’t.
That made her so much more adorable.

   “Its because of me, isn’t it,” Erna said looking away in embarrassment.
“It’s because I married you, so the relationship between Lechen and Lars …”

   “Erna,” his smile faded.
“There is nothing wrong with the relationship between Lechen and Lars, nothing in the past or future is going to change that.”


   “Of course.”  Bjorn was convinced.
He considered the risks and knew that the alliance between Lechen and Lars must remain strong, it was to the benefit of both countries and Bjorn was determined to keep it that way.

   Bjorn had considered this very carefully and had made up his mind long before the honeymoon was planned.
He wished he didn’t have to stop in Lars at all, but it was unavoidable, but it was fortunate that he only needed to deal with the King and be on their way as soon as possible.

   Erna was lost in thought for a moment, but she eventually nodded and let go of Bjorn’s hand.
She was not convinced, her eyes still showed worry and guilt.

   “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of any help.”

   “You could help by letting me slip in from the back.” Bjorn said quietly.

   “I beg your pardon.” Erna glared at him in shock, surprise and disbelief.
She looked around for anyone that might have heard, they were alone.

   Bjorn found it amusing.
Even after the first time he tried to turn her over, she declared that she was a lady, not an animal.
She was worth the trouble of having to sooth her through most of the night, even when she finally relented, she was not happy about the position.
It gave him a little sadistic pleasure looking at her swaying beneath him.

   After giving her a passionate kiss on the cheek, Bjorn headed out of the room.
Erna followed him and saw him off.
She saw him off every morning and greeted him every time he came home, it was part of her wifely duties and that of a Grand Duchess.

   “Hey, Bjorn,” Erna called after him, just as he was about to close the carriage door.
“Will you be coming back late?”


   “Can we still have dinner together?” Erna gave him her best puppy eyes.
There was a moments pause as they looked at each other, a battle of wills sparking between them.
Then Bjorn surrendered and nodded.
Erna smiled brightly.

   Erna waved a hand with a flutter as the carriage pulled away, like petals caught on the wind.
Bjorn laughed, it was a soft laugh with a little warmth added to it, it was something different from his usual faded smile.

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