Erna’s stomach began to churner once more. She squeezed her eyes closed tight and counted to ten. Once she reached ten, the nausea faded away.
Today would have been the perfect day to go for a walk, but she was having trouble even just standing without the threat of throwing up making itself known.
“Your Highness, maybe…” Lisa started to say.
“No, Lisa, it’s just a little, I’m just not feeling well.” Erna said.
“Would it not be safer to call a doctor?”
“She doesn’t need a doctor.”
At the sound of the voice, sneaking up behind her, Lisa spun round and saw the Prince looming over her. He had already returned from having breakfast with the Baroness.
“My wife is simply dealing with the side effects of too much drinking.”
“Bjorn!” Erna scolded.
She was embarrassed by her state and didn’t want Bjorn to go around and announce it to everyone. Lisa rolled her eyes and with a sigh, left the couple in the room.
“Why did you tell her that?”
“Did I lie?” Bjorn asked, as he nonchalantly walked over and sat on the end of the bed.
“That…” Embarrassed by the memory, Erna looked over at the window, the daylight was so bright. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She knew the lie probably wouldn’t work, she remembered everything.
Erna remembered vividly having to have Bjorn carry her back to the mansion in her dishevelled state. The shock on her Grandmother’s face to see a very drunk granddaughter and sent her off to bed to sleep her off. She remembered the way the room kept spinning every time she closed her eyes, making her dizzy as she was trying to sleep. Worst of all, she remembered the horrible pain in her head when she woke up the next morning.
“Hey, chaste lady, be honest. You remember everything, don’t you?” Bjorn said with a sarcastic tone.
“No, no I don’t.”
“The more you deny it, the more miserable you look.”
“Well, I think I remember some of it,” Erna offered up the compromise.
“Okay, if that makes you feel more comfortable.”
“I thought alcohol was a good thing, but it seems I was sorely mistaken.”
Bjorn laughed at Erna’s confession. She stared at the pattern of the wallpaper, as if shell shocked.
“Is this what happens when you always drink?” Erna asked Bjorn earnestly.
“It is when you drink as much as you did,” Bjorn let out a renewed chuckle.
“How are you okay? You drank so much more than me.”
“I’m not new to drinking, like you,” Bjorn playfully ruffled Erna’s hair.
Erna smoothed out her messy hair. Even though she had been quite drunk last night and this morning, she seemed to be slowly returning to her usual, composed self.
“Are you able to attend dinner tonight?”
“Yes, the Baroness is putting on a farewell dinner for us.”
“Oh…” Erna let out a shocked noise.
The thought of having to leave Buford tomorrow weighed heavily on Erna, she so longed to stay in Buford, to never return to the city again, but she had duties as the Grand Duchess.
“I just need to rest a little longer and I will be fine,” Erna calmly said, shaking her head free of all the excuses to delay her departure.
Erna hated the constant scrutiny and criticism that accompanied her every action. The disdainful rumours that spread, constantly comparing her to Princess Gladys, followed her about the City like an unwanted stink. She had no desire to return to a life of being despised and treated like the villain. She wished to remain in Buford, enjoying the wondrous days like she was a child again.
As Erna wondered around her beautiful world within her mind, her imagination always brought her back to Bjorn. She could see his face everywhere and yet, if she remained in Buford, he would be gone from her, her Prince, the knight in a royal suit that had saved her life, with a cocky smile.
From beneath the cosy blanket, Erna gently extended her hand, like a turtle coming out of its shell and held Bjorn’s hand. His eyes, which had been studying the view beyond the window, looked down at her. As their gazes locked, Bjorn smiled softly and suddenly a warmth spread through Erna that felt like someone was tickling her deep inside her tummy. It was a moment she would cherish forever.
She had to be patient.
After blowing out the cobwebs of her mind, she was able to smile back up at him. She would be fine, she reasoned, so long as she was with him and although he made it very difficult for her, she loved him very much.
“Why are you looking at me like that? If there is something wrong, just tell me,” Bjorn said, staring at Erna. “What are you feeling? Even if you feel the need to use harsh words, I don’t mind, I would rather you tell me when something is wrong.”
Erna gasped a breath and squeezed her eyes closed, attempting to evade Bjorn’s inquiry.
“Why don’t you tell me? Yesterday, we spoke all the time,” Bjorn tapped the side of her nose.
“What? Well, that, I think, belongs in the half of my memory I don’t remember.”
Despite feeling shame for her actions yesterday, a part of her was happy and she was content that she was able to bring Bjorn some happiness. She had made him laugh so much.
“I’m sorry, but this is going to be a little difficult,” the middle aged publicist said.
His smile was somewhat awkward, but yet unmistakably conveyed his disappointment at the refusal. She recognised the expression well, having seen it quite a few times already.
“This is my brother’s manuscript, of which you can be certain. Once again…”
“I know,” he cut off Catherine Owen’s plea. “These are beautiful sentences, yes, very distinctly Gerald Owen, that I do not doubt. But Miss Owen, you must understand the repercussions if I were to publish this work.”
“So? This is about the truth, it must be spoken.”
“Didn’t you ever think that the truth would be damaging to your brother’s reputation?” the old man shot Catherine an admonishing look, as if she was a child. “The royal family will not sit idle on this and not only Lars, but Lechen also. Your brother, the genius poet, who got involved with a married Princess and had an illegitimate child, your brother will be ruined.”
“I know,” Catherine said sadly.
She took a deep breath and with no other choice, accepted the reality. After discovering the damming manuscript, she had all the same thoughts. Many have told her that it would be better if she hid the truth and protected her brother’s honour. Nevertheless, she was unable to divert her mind from this task. Princess Gladys was basking in the limelight by exploiting the anguish and sorrow of others.
“What my brother wanted was the truth, not a facade of honour. I have an obligation to follow his will. If you don’t have the courage to publish the truth, I’ll find someone with a backbone.” Having repeated the same spiel, Catherine spun around and left. She might have visited every publisher in Lars, but that didn’t mean it was time to give up.
So, where now then?
With each step down the stairs out of the publicists office, Catherine’s mind raced with thoughts on her next move. Just as she was contemplating going to Lechen, a young man suddenly appeared at the bottom of the stairs. To her surprise, it was a young publisher she had met with before.
“Miss Owen, I’m glad I managed to find you, do you have a moment to talk?”
Nestled under the shade of a towering Ash tree, the table in the garden blended seamlessly with its rustic landscape. The tableware and candlestick holders exuded a timeless elegance, hinting at a cherished history. The food on the table provided a hearty and unpretentious feast.
Bjorn sat at the table, sipping the wine in his glass and watched as Erna spoke on in her usual manner, with her Grandmother. She looked so pretty, even in a simple muslin dress decorated with elaborate floral patterns. He wondered if her hangover had finally dissipated, as she complimented the Baroness on a well presented meal. The Baroness watched her Granddaughter with bright, adoring eyes twinkling in the candlelight.
“How about staying in Schuber during the summer season?” Bjorn made a suggestion out of impulse.
All the most prestigious noble families flocked to Schuber for their summer vacations. Even those who spoke carelessly about Erna couldn’t object.
“That’s kind of you to offer, Your Highness, but I like it here. Big cities are far too crowded for my liking,” her tone was gentle and kind. “But you are always welcome to stay here, whenever you wish, that’s enough for this old lady, right Erna?”
No, not so. Was what Erna wanted to say, but found it difficult to express her true feelings and instead, she rolled up her napkin and clutched it tightly. Her desire to remain in Buford was as strong as her reluctance to share her true feelings. Although her grandmother was probably already aware of the vicious rumours, she didn’t know what would happen if she were to see the situation with her own eyes.
“Yes, Grandma,” Erna lied, “I will come back again before the end of the year.”
Despite her apprehension, Erna spoke with unmistakable sincerity, reassuring her grandmother that she would come back soon. If not before the end of the busy summer season, then before the mid-winter festivities at the very least.
“Yes and I will be here, waiting for you,” the Baroness smiled and nodded, as if conveying an understanding.
The Ducal couple left Buford the next morning. They left at an early hour and the Baroness saw them off with a warm smile. The parting was a fortunate one, as Erna was acting more resolute than the Baroness was expecting.
There had been so much Baroness Baden wanted to say to Erna, but seeing her resolute granddaughter, she ended up hiding it all behind a smile. She didn’t want to be a burden and make Erna’s heart heavier than it already was.
Erna had attempted to turn back to her Grandmother, like there was more she wanted to say, but the Baroness was already embracing Bjorn. The way he came out to the carriage, holding Erna’s hand, meant he was definitely family now. He had to be her source of support.
“Please take good care of our Erna, Your Highness.”
“Of course I will,” Bjorn readily agreed at the heartfelt words.
The procession, led by the carriage carrying the Grand Duke and Duchess, slowly made its way down the country road, leaving a small cloud of dust in its wake. Erna waved her hand out of the window, as the carriage disappeared from view. At that moment, she didn’t care if her unladylike behaviour was to make the sky fall.
The Baroness stood at the entrance to the mansion until the last carriage was gone, then finally made her way inside. She was greeted by the golden light of the morning, streaming in through the windows.
“My lady,” a servant said as the Baroness made her way into her bedroom. “Her Highness asked me to give you this,” the maid said, presenting a small package.
“What, Erna did?”
The Baroness accepted the packed with a hint of surprise on her face. As she carefully unwrapped it, she found a book contained within. The Baroness smiled and let out a low chuckle, it was a book of crossword puzzles.