The bedroom was locked in total darkness, even in the middle of the day, thanks to the blackout curtains.

   Bjorn laid on his bed, staring up at the ceiling.
He didn’t look at his watch, he sensed that it was around midday.
There was no rush, there was nothing important going on today.
Not unless Erna intended to bug him with something.

   He wondered what sort of mundane adventures that woman might have planned for them if he were to get up now.
He let out a sigh and closed his eyes.

   He had decided not to go to his wife’s room when he came back late last night, he figured it would be more comfortable for the pair of them.
Erna would have hounded him too early in the morning, then chased him about the mansion, looking like she was about to cry.

   Even just thinking about Erna clinging to him constantly was enough to annoy, so he rang the service bell and started to rise from his bed.
Feet barely touched the floor when the maids came rushing in, pulling aside the curtains and illuminating the bedroom with bright sunlight.

   Bjorn moved to stand in front of the window.
The sun tickled his skin with warmth and it reminded him of Erna’s touch.
The second the woman crossed his mind again, he realised the mansion was uncharacteristically quiet.

   “Has my wife gone out?”

   “Yes, Your Highness,” said the maid serving late morning, lunchtime tea.

   “For what?”

   “I do not know, Your Highness, I will go and check with Mrs Fitz.”

   “No,” said Bjorn, taking up a tea cup, “you don’t have to do that.”

   The rich aroma of the tea tickled his nose as he took a sip.
The sun was warm, there was a pleasant scent of flowers on the breeze and the day was quiet, there was no need to go out and chase chaos, when the day started out so well.

   The morning felt like the time before Bjorn had decided to take a wife.
Quiet, relaxed and everything done in his stride.
He drank the tea, read the paper, then took a shower and sat at the breakfast table out on the balcony, smoking a cigar.
He completely forgot about Erna.

   He was well aware that Erna was just an innocent woman, who followed him around like a newly hatched duckling.
She always looked at him like he was the centre of the world.
She accepted him as he was and understood him.
He did not believe Erna had anything but love in her heart.

   Then he found himself thinking about the artist.
His true intentions were unknown to him, but at least Erna was adamant that he was just a friend.
The fact that he knew that all too well made him feel bad and he did not like that feeling one bit.

   Is this jealousy? Bjorn would ask himself that on occasion and each time he would laugh to himself.
What has he got to be jealous of? He was friends with Erna, that was all, Erna is quite insistent on that fact.
There was no need to be jealous.

   Tired of the thought, Bjorn decided to walk the gardens to clear his head.
There was no use obsessing over this thing, there was not much that could be done about it.

   It was the kind of relationship where you just had to stick at it, enjoy your wife and love her as best you can.
Don’t put any unnecessary meaning to the bed feelings.
Keep it light and fresh, like just another means of entertainment in his life.

   Bjorn plucked a ripe green and red apple from a tree and leaned on the railing that bordered the small stream that went down to the fountain.
Its jets of water sparkled in the midday sun.
Taking a bite of the apple, Bjorn let the acidic juices swell in his mouth and enjoyed the sweetness of it.

   The bad feeling that had been plaguing him since thinking about Erna and Pavel faded away like a dream and he was able to enjoy the splendid afternoon.

   Or so it would seem.


“It’s already that late?” Erna said when realising the time.

   She had been talking none stop for two hours.

   “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to take up too much of your time, I should be going.” The young Grand Duchess said with wide eyes.

   “How long are you going to keep doing this?” Duchess Arsene said, fixing Erna with a glare.
She had been silent the entire time Erna was talking.
Her white cat didn’t seem to mind, curled up on the uninvited guests lap.

   It was toward the end of the last winter that Erna first started to invade the Arsene Duchy.
She had only come to say hello and maybe talk about how great her honeymoon had been.

   Duchess Arsene did not like her eldest Grandson because he had turned a lifetime of pride, into a lifetime of shame.
She hated her Grandson’s bride even worse, as she felt the Grand Duchess was only trying to show off her position.

   The Grand Duchess had stayed for over two hours in the drawing room.
Before leaving, she left a little gift, with a note to suggest she would be back next week.

   The Duchess Arsene had ordered it to be thrown away, she suspected that the Grand Duchess was trying to buy favour with expensive gifts, but when a maid emptied the box, the Duchess was surprised to find slippers, a shawl and a corsage brooch.
Relatively ordinary looking gifts of very little value.

   What was more absurd was that the box next to it, a gift for Charlotte, the white cat, it contained a small pillow and a feathered fishing rod.

   She had originally thought that Erna was trying to play a little prank on her.
That was until she heard Erna had given Philip a reading stand and Isabelle a pair of pruning scissors.
It seemed like Erna completely disregarded the fact that they were king and queen, but considering their hobbies of reading and flower arranging, they were entirely appropriate gifts.

   She had laughed when she heard Erna had gifted Leonid a pair of glasses.
It seemed like the woman was going out of her way to find gifts people would find useful.
She laughed again and threw hers in the bin.

   She thought Erna was a snob, who secured the position of Grand Duchess by her looks.
Now that she had come to know the girl, she seemed just that, a little child with barely an interesting side to her.

   It was only for that reason that she wanted to meed the new Grand Duchess in the first place, but now she was stuck meeting the girl every Wednesday, or so it would seem.

   “I’ll ask you directly, what are you intentions?” She said to Erna, before she left.

   The Duchess felt silly for being scared to ask the girl such a serious question.
Whether she’s unbelievably clever, or just an idiot with no plan, she was going to find out.
Seeing the smile on the Grand Duchess’ face made Arsene feel like the idiot.

   “Its Bjorn’s birthday in a couple months, I really want to invite you to dinner.”

   How could she have not known that that was such a rude request? Is this girl a monster or something?

   “Are you sure? It has been years since I’ve celebrated your husbands birthday.”

   “I know, but I still want to invite his Grandmother.”


   “Its the first birthday present I want to give my husband.”

   This innocent looking girl, who was both an idiot and a monster, was declaring war with an angelic smile.

   “Did your husband put you up to this?”

   Surely this child couldn’t have thought of such plot on her own.
Or was she just intending to make fun of the Duchess of Arsene?

   “No, please, you must keep it a secret from Bjorn, it’s to be a surprise.”

   The Grand Duchess gave such a thrilling answer, it broke the Duchess Arsene’s fighting spirit.
Then, for the last two months, she has been coming round, like clockwork, every Wednesday, disturbing her peaceful life.

   If she had locked her self away and not seen the Grand Duchess, she would probably have just sat and drank tea with the cat.
When she did sit with her face to face, showing nothing but stern contempt, the girl would yammering on endlessly, mostly about her husband.

   “I wont be able to breath until this birthday passes,” the Duchess said.

   Charlotte stretched on Erna’s lap, before moodily waltzing over to her cushion on the other side of the couch.

   “His birthday isn’t just this year, Grandma.”

   The girl gave out such spiteful words, but her face remained placid and carefree.
Was this why Bjorn had chosen this wife? Such a troublesome young girl.

   “Never come again,” the Duchess Arsene would say, as Erna left.

   “See you next week,” the Grand Duchess would always reply.

   And so it was, that Wednesday’s uninvited guest would come back each week, to harass the poor, old woman.


The whole basin of the Abit River had been dyed red, Erna saw, as she went over the Grand Duke’s bridge in her carriage.

   Chewing on a lace of liquorice to sooth a sore throat, Erna gazed out at the scenery.
The sky was painted red by the setting sun and with the water rose-coloured, she couldn’t get enough of it.
She was always like that, even thought she saw it every day, just like her husband.

   Soon she will be back at Schuber Palace, where her husband would hopefully be waiting, if he has not already gone out.
Erna put up with it.

   Erna endured it.
He would get up late, break his promises and head out to the social club.
Drink and gamble until the earliest hours of the morning, stumble in drunk and sleep until the afternoon.
Again and again, Erna endured it, but her husband had a talent for showing his affection when she most needed it and for that reason, she endured some more.

   Erna would repeatedly doze off and wake up, waiting for Bjorn to come home.
She tried not to care if he came home or not and tried to get a good nights sleep, but she couldn’t relax, sleeping alone in her bed.

   ‘Bjorn, why can’t you be a more stalwart husband? I don’t like this.’ she had said, when he finally came home, stinking of alcohol.

   ‘Who do you think you’ve married?’ He swept his dishevelled hair back and looked at her with cool eyes, quite uncharacteristic of a drunkard. Is it not funny to marry a prodigal son and expect a saint?

   ‘That’s not what I meant…’

   ‘If you marry this kind of man, than you should love him anyway, is that not a wife’s duty?’ Bjorn said, coming closer to Erna with his head cocked, looking her up and down.

   He threw a sharp, mocking glance at Erna, laced with a friendly tone as if whispering love.
He walked past her as if nothing had happened.

   Erna tried to be patient.
Se was to see it through, somehow, but Bjorn had snapped her last nerve, broke her patience.

   ‘You were supposed to sleep in my bed with me tonight.’

   Looking at his back as he headed toward his bedroom, Erna summoned up the courage to face him.
She hated him a lot at that point, but she didn’t want to be shunned by him.

   ‘Bjorn, we were supposed to share the same bed.’

   Bjorn opened the door to his bed room with a sigh, went in and closed the door again behind him.
Erna stood in the quiet corridor, alone, for a long time.

   Erna opened her eyes when the carriage came to a stop, she tried to erase the thoughts that swam endlessly around her mind.
Today, she would understand if Bjorn wanted to spend all night drinking and playing poker, she hoped for it really.

   “Welcome, Your Highness, the Prince is waiting for you,” Mrs Fitz said.

   Of course, today would be the day the man didn’t want to do anything he liked the most.

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