✧ Poisonous Mushroom in Spring✧
Erna Hardi was a good child, who eventually grew up to be a good lady. And now the time soon came for her to be a good wife. His reply to the lengthy letter he’d been sent was unexpected. In his reply, he was giving her a chance to be his good wife.
“Nonsense.” Erna scoffed as she callously tossed aside on the table after reading and re-reading it for so long. “This is ridiculous!” She exclaimed.
Erna jumped up from her seat and walked over to the window. Even though it was raining outside, the spring sun was still dazzling even when blocked by the storm clouds.
Erna opened the window with a creak, sat down on the window sill, and hugged her knees to her chest. From this point in the mansion on Baden Street, which was conveniently located on a hill, she could see the whole village.
Erna’s gaze slowly wandered through the orchard that had blooming apple blossoms, and down to the creek, her eyes traveled, and then to the gentle slope covered with yellow primroses, before stopping on a lonely, weatherworn chair on the other side of the garden underneath a grand ash tree.
The world has no interest in one person’s misfortune.
That much was obvious, and it was that fact that made Erna feel bitter.
Even if you lose your loved ones, and are in danger of being kicked out of your hometown, the world would continue to spin. So full of spring energy, it remained heartlessly beautiful. How can a world that creates such beauty be so cruel? Grandpa would just laugh and add a carefree remark, steeped in cynicism: “So how lucky are you?”. Her heart ached at his memory.
“Lady Erna! Lady Erna!” It was the housekeeper, Mrs. Greve, calling out to her from the other side of the hallway and startling her almost immediately from her thoughts.
It looked like it was already time for lunch.
“Yes, yes! I’ll be down soon!” she shouted back, before hurriedly getting off from the window sill. She quickly stuffed the nonsensical letters in a drawer haphazardly so as not to be seen by any prying eyes, and quickly adjusted her messy appearance.
“I’m okay.” She told herself. To the dining room on the first floor, Erna kept mumbling to herself as though in prayer.
“It’s ok, everything will be fine.”
“Erna, have you ever met a lawyer?”
Baroness Baden, who had been arguing about today’s weather over jigsaw puzzles, came to the main point when it was time to finish her meal. She was trying to maintain a calm attitude, but her eyes showed an impatience that could not be hidden.
“No, Grandma. Not yet.” Erna hastily replied with a firm tone.
“I will make sure you can meet one before the end of this week.”
The sunlight passing through the window fell on Erna, who stiffly sat upright and straight as a lady should. How loud was the beating of her heart? She could feel her lips grow chapped, and her mouth dry up. Her fingers and their tips trembling and fidgeting. Fortunately, if Baroness Baden noticed, she went with no further questions.
“Yes, that’s wonderful. I hope you can find a way.” She politely responded.
A soft sigh permeated the air of the overly quiet dining room.
Erna raised her eyes as she stared at the two hands on her lap and looked at the old woman. In under just a month, the Baroness had begun to look older and weaker than before. She had just lost her husband and had to hand over all of her remaining fortunes to a relative that she didn’t even know, all in just one day.
So how can she tell the truth?
Erna sat up with a sufficiently straight posture and swallowed down more of her nervousness. She clamped her lips shut in the stubborn promise to never reveal the truth.
In all honesty, though, she already met with a lawyer earlier. The answer that came back was not at all different from what Erna already knew. Baron Baden’s property, should he die without a son, would be passed on to his nephew.
Erna had known from the beginning that such a nonsensical law existed.
It was upsetting and unfortunate, but if there is no way to change the law, she had to come up with a countermeasure. It was around the time when Erna made such a decision that she began to increase her work little by little and started collecting extra money. It was so that she can rightfully repurchase this house, which will someday, end up in another’s ownership.
However, she hadn’t anticipated that ‘someday’ would come too quickly, and the amount of money she had managed to save up was still absurdly small.
“I’m sorry, but this has always been the inheritance law, Ms. Hardy. There is nothing else you can do.”
It was only ever the lawyer’s reply to her inquiries, no matter how much she begged him to help her find another way to keep the house and Baron Baden’s property.
“For now, I think it would be best to explain the situation to Mr. Baden and ask for mercy.”
After the poor parting advice, he put the pipe in his mouth again and resumed puffing smoke.
The lawyer was dismally rude, to say the least, but Erna endured it. There aren’t many lawyers who would welcome or even entertain clients who are in a difficult financial situation and are unable to pay even just the consultation fees of the lawyer.
That afternoon, Erna wrote a letter to Thomas Baden.
No matter how much she thought about it, it was difficult to find a better solution, aside from the advice already given by the best lawyer she could find. And today, the reply from Thomas Baden had arrived, which quickly turned her glimmer of hope into distant despair and anger.
“It will be alright, Grandma. Do not worry too much,” she told her, lying through her teeth just to reassure the older woman.
She then stood up from the table and, and grabbed her apron to put it on. She then began helping Mrs. Greve, who was approaching her slowly, and they both skillfully cleaned up the table.
‘I am not okay.’ She thought woefully as she scrubbed the tableware but eventually found herself unable to deny the truth she tried so hard to deny.
It was no exaggeration to say that this single country mansion was the only property of Baron Baden, a fallen aristocrat. However, the house would soon become the property of Thomas Baden, the lawful and rightful heir to all his property the moment he passed away.
And she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, he would sell this land at a moment’s notice.
She took a deep breath and opted to stamp down her growing resentment. The soap bubbles that bounced off her rough, angry scrubbing left small stains on the ends of her rolled-up sleeves and her apron.
Thomas Baden said he fully understood Erna’s wishes. However, he had to also think about his circumstances, and he couldn’t afford to delay the disposal of the mansion until Baroness Baden’s death.
She would not have felt this way if she had just expressed her resolute refusal.
After washing the dishes, Erna went to the backyard with her apron all rolled and tied in her hands. Tears welled up in her eyes as she sat down on her grandfather’s chair, which was placed under the beautiful ash tree.
The absurd reply contained a compromise offered by Thomas Baden. He had offered that if she was to agree to be his wife, he would be agreeable to whatever stipulations she had previously.
Her vision of the beautiful spring scene began to blur in front of her as her eyes began to sting, but Erna only proceeded to blink back the tears threatening to fall.
She just didn’t want to cry because of that person.
No tears must be wasted on a person who would treat and push his relatives into a corner like this.
He reminded her greatly of her father. Another man who is unable to even act his age.
“Father,” Erna muttered absentmindedly. It was a title for a person that has been forgotten for a long time but she was certain he was still around.
Her eyes widened in sudden realization before Erna jumped up from her chair! The strings of the fallen apron fluttered and floated along the grain of the spring wind as it fell to the ground.
The noise outside his closed windows and thick curtains was so loud that Bjorn could still hear them even as he tried to muffle their sounds with his pillow. The lively cheers and shouts that started from the river flowing next to the Grand Duke’s residence crept ever so loudly into the dimly lit bedroom.
He tried to sleep again with his head buried in the pillow and cushion, but alas, he eventually succumbed to the waking world.
“Crazy bastards full of energy.” Bjorn under his breath and finally got out of bed.
When he finally drew the curtains that covered the western window open, he saw a group of people practicing their rowing on the other side of the river.
Every summer, the Arbit River, which flows from the city and into the sea, there would be hosts for rowing competition amongst the nobility. With summer being too long to survive with only parties and gossip, the effort to do anything else was practically tedious as it was exciting.
However, the problem lies in the fact that the river is close to the Grand Duke’s residence. From the spring, when full-scale practice always begins, to the summer when the game ends, it was difficult to escape from this terrible noise.
Leaning sullenly against the window sill, Bjorn watched as they sat disgustingly excitable around the cramped boat. He stared intently at the boys, boring holes in the back of their oblivious heads as though he can will them to keep quiet if he glared at them hard enough.
If they can’t control their overflowing energy, just have sex! He thought incredulously, ‘Crazy people.‘ He scoffed to himself.
Coitus would be a much more beneficial hobby, than that useless sweaty competition, he’d like to think.
Worst case scenario, you’d end up with a child. Even so, at least they would make a small contribution to the rise of national power due to the increase in the population of the kingdom. Of course, in his personal life, it would only prove more troublesome, but the tragedy of the assholes who could not control it was well beyond his control, or care.
After taking a sip of the lukewarm water lying on the table, Bjorn turned around, before brushing his messy hair. Greg, the butler, immediately strode into his room and picked up his robe before he rang the bell.
“I apologize, your Highness. Although we did not respond to the request for use of the palace’s private land, we cannot prevent it from being used in the nearby vicinity, especially with the permission of Schwerin City Hall.” Greg informed him promptly.
The bell in the Grand Duke’s house was usually rung by noon, which meant he needed to hurry up with the rest of the day’s tasks. So he continued.
“The number of participating teams has increased this year as well, so it may be more chaotic.”
At this, Bjorn laughed mirthlessly at the prospect of even more noise outside his window.
“Anyway, Leonit Denyister would win the championship, so why are these colorful nerds so passionate about what they do?” He grumbled incredulously to Greg.
“Do you want to move your bedroom?” the butler asked after a beat of silence.
“No. It’s fine.”
“Then we shall prepare your meal shortly.”
“Take it to the balcony.” Bjorn gruffly ordered, “And put only fruits!” He called out to the swiftly retreating butler.
After the brief conversation between master and butler, Bjorn entered the bathroom and turned on the hot shower. After taking a long bath, he proceeded to walk outside and towards his balcony where a table had already been prepared and was waiting for him.
Bjorn drank a cold, whiskey soda and gazed at the scenery beyond his balcony. The water of the great fountain, which was dubbed Schwerin Palace’s specialty, was gushing out crystal clear waters. The golden statues adorning the sides of the fountain, and the crumbling foam, shone in the bright spring sun.
Bjorn’s gaze passed through the fountain along the slope of the stairway connecting the Grand Duke’s residence and the garden and reached the waterway through which sourced the flowing waters. Even there, there was still a roar of cheers from the Arbit River.
His hearing of their cheers was a testament to how loud they were being.
“Your Highness, the Crown Prince has arrived.” Greg dutifully announced as he approached just as Bjorn had just put the glass of ice left on the table.
Wiping the remaining water from his fingers with a napkin, Bjorn nodded dryly, before picking up an apple and taking a generous bite. Not long after the butler left, came Leonit, striding into his bedroom, before plopping over the seat across from him.
Judging by the sweat on his brow and the flush on his cheeks, it was clear that he had run all the way here after practicing rowing.
“Welcome, Crown Prince.” Unlike his languid posture of sitting with his legs crossed, Bjorn greeted his brother quite elegantly and properly. Leonit shook his head, and Bjorn watched as rivulets of water dripped from the ends of his platinum-colored hair.
Even with Leonit next to him, who was looking at him all amazed and excitable, Bjorn could only peer down at the large fountain in the garden. He scrutinized everything, even as sweetness erupted in his mouth from the apple’s crunchy flesh after a large bite, and breathed in the sweet flowery scent in the air.
“What business brings you here today?”
Servants came flooding in, bringing and serving their tea. But as soon as they left, Bjorn looked at Leonit with narrowed eyes.
Schwerin, where the palace of the Grand Duke is located, was also a resort town where many of the nobles of Lechen would go to spend the summer.
Although it was still early, the Crown Prince, mad about the court, moved to the Schwerin Palace early and played a major role in disrupting his brother’s daily life.
Leonit could only sigh despondently at his brother’s cold reception. He ignored it anyway and put the newspaper he had brought down on the table instead of answering.
In the headlines of a famous tabloid, one they knew specialized more in social gossip than actual news, was a glaring picture of one Bjorn Denyister.
IS THE ROYAL POISON MUSHROOM ALRIGHT?
Bjorn’s brows furrowed at the ridiculous headlines, quickly scanning the front news page about him.
“Poisonous mushroom?” He asked rather incredulously, holding the newspaper up as though it would change their label of him. His brother, like the menace he was lately, only shrugged nonchalantly.
“I don’t know how they came up with it either,” Leonit responded, before popping into his mouth a piece of grape. “However, that seemed to be the latest nickname for the Grand Duke.” He teased and winked at his brother.
That was something they called a pretty-looking mushroom that looked delicious to eat but is advised against all odds to never consume it. It was poisonous after all.
If you eat it, you’ll die. Simple as that.
Bjorn looked back slowly and put the newspaper back down with a roguish smile on his lips. Still, he can’t be too mad, he supposed. They even used a good photo of him, so the article wasn’t too bad. Dare he says, commendable even.
“Ah,” Leonit immediately piped up, before gauging Bjorn’s expression as he imparted another piece of daily news around town, “They say Gladys is back in Lechen.”
With a single name, the smug smile on Bjorn’s lips was immediately erased and was soon replaced with a deep frown.
There was another article in the tabloid, and now that he was reading it properly, contained quite detailed news about Gladys Hartford, the Princess of Lars, who decided to spend this summer in Lechen.
Gladys was a beautiful princess who was once loved by all Lechen. But it was now hailed as the return of the unfortunate woman who was betrayed by her husband and abandoned, even after she lost her child.
Indeed, it was gossip that the nobles would be eager to hear about. Especially as her husband, who was once named the Crown Prince, was now dubbed by the general public as a poisonous mushroom.
Silence reigned between the brothers for a while, before Leonit decided to finally pry.
“What are you going to do, Bjorn?”
“Well,” Bjorn sighed, looking all serious and contemplative, which was out of character for him enough to make Leonit laugh.
Bjorn bit more into the apple and wiped the flowing juice with his fingers while leaning deeply on the back of the chair. His eyes were devoid of any emotions or thoughts he had about the recent news.
He was only ever calm.
Spring has already arrived, hasn’t it?
What a good season it was for a poisonous mushroom to grow.