After leaving behind all the cold iron, she arrived in a land filled with all kinds of rare and beautiful things. There, Erna became like a character in a fairy rale.
Faraway lands in the east and the desert, myriad undiscovered kingdoms, rare and lovely flora, and exotic and unusual fauna. She strolled through that extraordinary world alongside her prince.
She completely forgot about the honeymoon and the lack of moment she had with her husband. The time she was now spending with Bjorn had replaced those unpleasant memories
He laughed as he pointed out a wonderfully colourful carpet that seemed to be enchanted by magic and flew.
When she spotted an elephant, Erna squeaked into Bjorn’s arms and they shared a quick kiss beneath the ecstatic light of the stained glass window.
Wherever she turned her eyes, Bjorn was there. She liked the fact that she saw her husband often. In those moments, she wanted to take a picture of Bjorn, capture him in the way that she saw him. If she could, her mind would explode, like the fireworks they saw together that night.
“What are you so excited about?” Asked Bjorn.
Erna didn’t realize she had been grinning the entire time until Bjorn asked her that question.
“Oh, no, nothing, never mind.”
She brushed her feelings aside because she found them to be somewhat embarrassing. Bjorn laughed, and another flash of desire swept over her heart at that very moment. Those bad memories that had formed for days were wiped away in an instant.
Firming her heart to accept her wonderful fate, Erna threaded a hand into Bjorn folded arms and snuggled in close to him. She decided to try a little harder in the hopes that one day she will get reach Bjorn’s heart.
Even if she couldn’t erase the shadow of Princess Gladys, maybe she will be able to find her own spot in his heart, even if its a small little nook, a slither of golden sunshine just for her.
Perhaps because of that renewed determination, the walk back was a little lighter and cheerier than the first time.
She couldn’t help but look back in regret, but she didn’t leave the fair with any ill will. Grand Duke Schuber and his wife were the last ones to go sightseeing, and when they saw their wagons waiting, Erna grew impatient and opened up her stride.
“Stand back everyone, back off, I said back off.”
Despite the orders of the royal guard, onlookers pushed forward to get a better look at the Grand Ducal couple. It was fair to say that Erna Dniester, Grand Duchess of Schuber, was currently the most popular royal in Lechen.
Erna’s pale complexion blanched even more. The noise of the crowd tingled her ears and she seemed to be holding her breath. She wanted nothing more than to hide away in the carriage, but if she did so, she could guarantee that her face would be on the front page in the morning, splashed in big, bold letters, declaring her Schuber’s rudest royal.
She had to be strong.
The momentary pause gave Erna the chance to gather her strength and continue walking. The carriage was now in front of her, just a few more steps, just a little longer….
Bjorn’s shout roared to the sky the moment she widened her stride and took another step.
The memories of the next moments remain a fragmented sensory overload. Bjorn wrapped his arms around her, people screaming, Royal Guards rushing past her.
“That seductress took Princess Gladys’ place, she is ruining the royal family!!” some evil cried out.
Erna looked to the person who had shouted, throwing something toward her, just in time to see him get caught up in a tangle of royal guards. He glared at Erna with maddened eyes full of hatred, and never stopped pouring out obscenities.
“Are you all right, Your Highness!?”
At first, Erna thought the guard was talking to her, until she looked around and saw that Bjorn had been pelted in the back with an egg. Then she realised what had happened.
“That sorceress is the devil, she’s a demon that will ruin the royal family and bring Lechen down!!”
He continued cursing at her as he was being dragged away. Bjorn threw off his jacket and faced the man, murder in his eyes. Bjorn only stopped because Erna dissuaded her husband from doing anything rash.
“No, Bjorn! Don’t do that!” Her cold hands trembled as she held onto his arm tightly, she did not have the strength to hold him back and the two princes came running up to help.
“Calm down, Bjorn,” Leonid said, holding Bjorn by the shoulders.
“Get out of my way,” Bjorn growled.
“No, Bjorn, there are too many eyes on us.”
Leonid looked at their little brother, Christian, who was holding the opposite arm to Erna. He looked confused, but did not let go. Luckily, the assailant had been taken away and they could no longer see him. Bjorn finally became calm after that.
Bjorn closed his eyes and swore several times under his breath. He laughed as he opened them again, they were still intense and staring in the direction the assailant had been taken off too.
“Your Highness, Grand Duchess!!!”
Bjorn stopped struggling against his brothers, turning to face the attendant that had screamed at him and then saw that Erna was slouched to the ground. Her pale skin was far paler than normal, like that of a corpse and she gasped for breath like something was caught in her throat.
Bjorn completely forgot about the assailant and rushed over to her. He went to his wife with no one blocking his path.
He scooped her up and cooed soft words to her as he took her to the carriage.
“Brother, this is,” Christian picked up the Grand Duchess’ belongings that scattered on the ground.
Leonid looked down at the gathered up pamphlets and commemorative postcards Christian pressed into his hands. It looked like such shabby traces of a perfectly good day, ruined by the devil himself.
Catherine Owen walked out of the old building with a glare. She appeared extremely worn out, but her main emotion was anger. Every publishing house in Lars that she had visited had turned her down.
The Lars genius poet, Gerald Owen, who had died early, had only one manuscript left. It had almost become a thing of myth, but there wasn’t a single publishing house that wanted to print it. There used to be a time when people would fight tooth and nail for a single line of one of Gerald’s poems, now, it was sad to see this manuscript being treated so poorly.
Catherine gripped the manuscript-her brother’s will-close to her chest, struggling mightily to control her tears and anger.
She discovered it in the spring. Since his suicide, the home has been vacant and has sat empty for a considerable amount of time. Their mother couldn’t get over the fact that her son had died until the Academy of Arts decided to keep the house and turn it into a memorial hall in his name. Preserve it as his birthplace. Catherine then discovered the stack of manuscripts hidden beneath the floorboards.
The name that made me live and also killed me. To Gladys, my love and my abyss.
Once Catherine had opened up the bundle, sealed with wax, she saw the tributary front page written with force. All the letters and poems contained within were all dedicated to one person, Gladys Hartford, the lover Owen called his love and abyss.
That day, Catherine learned the cruel truth, told in a beautiful language. This was some of Owen’s best work, and she was determined to get it published as her brother’s most posthumous work. The whole world needed to know the truth, and Lars was not the only place in the world that had publishers. She would travel across the sea if need be.
Catherine wore her hat deeply and began walking down the street. It was paved with the golden rays of sunlight, embracing the will of a man who had died for love.
When the doctor arrived at the palace, the Grand Duchess was already looking stable. Other than a smile that was too feeble, there were no other symptoms to be concerned about. Her breathing was stable and her stomach cramps were no more.
That was the only diagnosis Dr Erickson could come up with. He was worried about the young Duchess, who was enduring something that could not be waved away with a laugh and a smile.
“I won’t spare that lunatic,” Lisa said, breaking down in tears, “I will throw so many eggs at him, until that bastard’s head cracks open like one.”
“It’s fine Lisa, I’m okay. It was just an egg and I’m not the one who got hit with it.”
“I’m so glad the Prince did well, and you didn’t have to go through that yourself.”
“Is that so?” Erna said through a tired smile, “I think it would have been better if the egg did hit me.”
When she recalled the stain from the rotten off that had hit Bjorn, her eyes turned red against her will.
The attacker was a schizophrenic man. He believed Erna had forced out Princess Gladys and killed her child. So he did it to appease the devil, who was going to come and ruin the royal family. The police said she didn’t have anything to worry about, but she did, especially when she thought of Bjorn.
Erna clenched her eyes tightly while fighting back tears and got out of bed. She reeled from the pain in her feet. Lisa rushed over and helped her, so that she would not fall to the floor.
“You have to be careful, alright?” Lisa looked worriedly at Erna’s bandaged foot.
Erna returned with blistered and scarred feet after spending the entire day in new shoes. She even had blood soaking her stockings. She didn’t even seem to notice until Lisa saw it and screamed the palace down.
Lisa nearly started crying when she realized Erna had been walking around the expo all day with feet like that. Lisa couldn’t say anything, because she knew how Erna felt, her foolish, naive love for Bjorn was what made her do it, wanting to look pretty for that man.
In the end, a sudden attack by a lunatic ruined the entire day, that could have been so perfect. Lisa’s stomach turned, thinking about how people were going to talk about this tomorrow.
Suppressing her anger with deep breaths, Lisa helped Erna over to the chair by the window and sat her down gently. Erna regained her smile as she looked up at Lisa.
“You will keep your promise, right?” Erna said.
Lisa was about to explode with rage, but she restrained herself and instead softly nodded. Erna did not show the injured foot to anyone, not even the doctor. She didn’t want anyone to know about this. Lisa knew this was a small amount of pride Erna wanted to keep.
Erna sat by the window and breathed in the cool air as if nothing had happened. Once she was bored of that, she went back to the bed and laid down as if it was any other night.
When Lisa finally left, Erna closed her eyes and basked in the deep silence that came. Not long after, there was the sound of the bedroom door opening. Bjorn came into her bed.