The Problematic Prince
“How was your walk around the lake, Your Highness?” Karen said.
“Yes…” Erna said thoughtfully, “it was rather pleasant, thank you for suggesting it.”
Karen’s eyes went wide with fear as Erna smiled faintly, passing the maid without so much as glancing at Karen.
Was it because Princess Gladys never showed up? Karen thought.
Karen followed after the Grand Duchess, keeping her eyes on the back of the woman, looking for some clue as to what happened.
The hope she had was quickly dispelled, she could instinctly tell what happened at the lake just by the way the Grand Duchess was presenting herself.
She seemed confident, almost arrogant.
Most people had written Erna off as a naive country bumpkin, but the more Karen got to know the Grand Duchess, the more she saw that was not true.
“Well, Your Highness, the Prince has returned.” Karen said.
She decided that it was best to play her role for now.
Erna’s eyes widened in surprise and she looked out the window, expecting it to be dark already, but it was not.
Erna cleared her throat.
“Bjorn?” She said to herself.
“Yes, Your Highness, he said he came home early due to schedule cancellation.
Should I get dinner prepared for the both of you?”
Erna didn’t answer right away.
She was overjoyed that Bjorn had come home already, but she was still feeling the effects of her tea with Gladys, she didn’t know if she could handle food right now.
“Your Highness?” Lisa said, behind Karen.
“Yes.” Erna snapped almost at the same time as Lisa spoke.
“Please prepare dinner.”
Erna’s bedroom was empty.
She said she was going to retire early, after dinner, but she was no where to be found.
Bjorn looked about the room carefully and leaned on the back of the chair that had been nearly tucked under the writing desk.
The note book still lay upon it.
Bjorn fingered through the pages of the notebook again and looked at the elegant scrawl.
At the back, Erna had segregated the pages to show families she could be friends with and families she could not, based on their support of Princess Gladys.
All the families were under Princess Gladys and on her side was written one simple little thing.
“There is no place for me so long as Princess Gladys remains.”
Bjorn understood Karen’s influence on that one page alone.
Erna, none the wiser, worked hard with a bright smile.
Just as he was thinking about throwing the notebook into the fire, the bathroom door opened and Erna came out, looking more pale than at the dinner table.
“Are you sick?” Bjorn asked her.
“No, I don’t think so,” Erna said, approaching him.
Her smile seemed to revive her a little, but when she saw Bjorn’s hand resting on the notebook, her face became fierce, like an angry cat.
“Why are you looking at that? It’s private.” Erna shouted, snatching up the notebook.
Bjorn was faster and stood tall, holding the notebook high above his head.
He skipped around the room out of Erna’s reach.
“Bjorn, this is not gentlemanly of you at all.” Erna glared at him with eyes full of resentment.
“It’s not a secret diary, is it?”
“No, but its still mine.
Its rude to read it without my permission.” Erna pouted.
Bjorn’s lips tilted sharply up into a mischievous grin as he looked down at his wife, who looked dejected.
“You’re such a smart girl for coming up with such a clever little chart.”
“What do you mean?”
“Who do you plan on socialising with, your maid? The Squirrels? What a mess.” Bjorn laughed.
Too late he realised he had gone to far when Erna went stiff and looked hurt.
“I don’t know what you think, but I…I tried really hard.” Erna said, it sounded like she was close to tears.
Erna clenched her fists and stepped away, toward the window.
Bjorn sighed and placed the notebook back down on the desk.
What a mess.
The sarcastic remark scratched at her heart like shards of glass.
It felt like her stomach was being stabbed again, just like at dinner, but she was able to force the food down.
Although she threw it all up again just now.
“Erna,” Bjorn said softly.
The voice calling her name did nothing to stir her from staring down at her feet, wringing the hem of her dress in balled up fists.
Don’t cry, she thought to herself, keep your pride, don’t cry.
Her eyes were hot, but maybe because of her will, the tears did not come.
At the moment she wanted to turn around, Bjorn’s hands were already around her waist.
She wanted to pull away, but Bjorn pulled her in close and comforted her with a hug.
He sat her down in the chair of the writing desk and just as she was determined to stand back up again, she was surprised to see Bjorn grab another chair and sit down opposite her.
He took off his jacket and undid his cuffs.
“What are you doing?” Erna said.
“Take this,” Bjorn said.
He offer Erna his fountain pen.
Erna looked at it as if it was going to bite her and took her own pen from the writing desk.
Bjorn opened up the notebook to the offending page and pointed.
“Move them,” he said, pointing to a few names.
“These three families, move them across to your column.”
Erna struck a line across the page.
“But, the three families in question were considered to be the closest relatives of Princess Gladys, according to Karen.”
“But why?” Erna said, fiddling with the pen, “Are they people of character?”
“Almost, they are people who have already spent my money.”
As always, there was something in Bjorn’s response that caught Erna off guard, which he gave quietly.
Erna’s new education went well into the night.
When Bjorn pointed to a name, Erna moved it across and Bjorn went into deep explanation about the family, using concise words easy for Erna to understand.
When Bjorn had finished and put down his pen, Erna closed the lid of the inkwell and looked at her new notes.
It was a crazy mess of lines and small words, but it was looking a lot more well rounded.
Erna had more than a few names in her column now.
“You can learn the details from Karen, I’ve already spoken with her,” Bjorn said.
It was something she wasn’t sure about, but Erna nodded her head deeply.
Before she knew it, her old wounds faded and she was filled with excitement.
Her heart did not stop pounding easily.
“Thank you,” Erna said.
She found it hard to lift her head again, to look at her husband, it wasn’t like earlier, when she was filled with anger toward him for snooping through her things.
“I will work hard and do my best,” said Erna shyly.
“That’s my Erna,” Bjorn said as he brushed her cheek and gently raised her head, “When you talk to someone, you should be looking at them.”
His voice was cool and soft.
It permeated an energy that warmed Erna and filled her with laughter.
“Just like your favourite saying, ladylike,” Bjorn stated.
His lips were bent into a cosy smile.
Erna enjoyed this moment, seeing that smile on his face.
Bjorn always wore a loaded smile, but this time, his smile was different.
“Is it better for you and Lechen if I remain quiet and doing nothing while we are in Lars?” She placed her hand over Bjorn’s, that was still on her cheek and he nodded.
“Then after, when we leave Lars for the other countries, I will work just as hard and do well.
Is that alright?” Bjorn nodded again, “are you going to be as busy?”
“So that we can actually do things together.
It’s my first time travelling any where in my life,” Erna closed her eyes and smiled shyly.
“What do you want to do?”
“Will you join me if I tell you?”
“We will see.”
It was not a definitive answer, but Erna’s face lit up with excitement.
“First, I just want to go for a walk with you.
A street, or a park in a foreign country would be so wonderful.”
Bjorn was a little relieved that this was the most exciting thing Erna could think of.
He nodded and accepted.
“I would love to find someone where to eat together and drink tea, too, in a pretty place.”
“Is that all?”
“What?” The excitement on Erna’s face paused for a second.
“Is that all you want to do?”
“ah…and….and…” Erna struggled to think of something wild and exciting, “Let’s talk, a lot, intimately.”
Bjorn didn’t see the value in her thoughtful wishes, but he was willing to give in to them. “Fine.” He heaved a sigh and gently caressed Erna’s cheek.
“Let’s do it.”
Erna looked at him and her eyes lit up.
Like a flower opening its petals, her grin brightened the room.
…and pleasing to the eye.
Erna’s letter came along with the first snows.
Receiving the letter from the maid, Baroness Baden hurriedly found her glasses and sat in the armchair in front of the fireplace.
Mrs Greve, who received word of the letter’s arrival, came into the drawing room also.
She hobbled from the pain of arthritis in her leg.
“You have no idea how warm my heart is at hearing Erna is doing so well,” the Baroness said, handing the letter to Mrs Greve when she finished.
The strange sense of incongruity was no longer present and the letter felt more Erna-like.
It was more so when they had moved on from Lars.
It was said that they would be moving on to yet another country by the year’s end.
“My lady, she really has fallen into her role as the Grand Duchess,” Mrs Greve said, returning the letter.
Erna talked about the strangeness of the world in her letters and Baroness Baden soaked up all the information as the maid poured her tea.
That was a nice change that came with her Granddaughter being the Grand Duchess.
Baroness Baden had refused the extra staff, but it was hard to refuse the stubbornness of the Royal Family.
The repairs to the mansion, which had begun at the moment the marriage was announced, were already completed and the number of servants increased dramatically.
Ralph Royce, who had been a coachman in name only, finally had a beautiful wagon with which to work his magic on.
The mansion was turned from a run down, dusty house, to a beautiful country estate and it was all thanks to Erna.
“Her birthday is in a few days, will she be able to celebrate properly, in a foreign country?” Mrs Greve said.
“Erna now has the most reliable family in the world, she will have a very special twentieth birthday.”
“I do hope so.”
The two old ladies looked out the window, at the slowly falling snow.
It was the same window they would look out of as Erna built the biggest snowman for her Grandmother and Grandfather.
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