The Problematic Prince
p> “What’s that, you crazy bastard?” Leonard laughed at him.
“Yeah, as crazy as he is.” Peter said and laughed back.
“You row very well.” Erna said.
They had been sitting in a deafening silence for so long and Erna was losing her mind.
She handed over the words carefully, as if breaking the silence was a sin.
It felt right to start with praise, one of the most basic polite conversational skills.
“You should row in next year’s competition.”
Rowing on the river and rowing in a race were two completely incomparable events and Erna felt a little silly for suggesting it, but she needed to say something, it was hard to bear this suffocating silence.
Bjorn seldom seemed willing to talk, so she tried it out herself.
“Yes?” Bjorn said.
It was a lame attempt, limping out of his mouth with the minimalistic effort only a man not interested in conversation would use.
He still replied to her and Erna felt a little relieved, this was well on its way to becoming a successful conversation.
“Do you like rowing?”
The next step in polite conversation is figuring out each other’s likes and dislikes, finding common ground and building towards it.
She remembered that young men like talking about sports, she didn’t but the teachings of the speech book she read back in Buford also said that young men like to talk about themselves, a lot.
“No, not really.” Bjorn answered without much thought.
Erna had been proud of her ability to follow the step by step guide.
The teachings of the book she read were not much good in a place like Buford, but this had thrown her off.
She fidgeted with the hem of her skirt.
“Ah, why is that?” She put the words together like a child figuring out a puzzle.
“I don’t like the sweat and stink of other men so close to me.” Bjorn said.
From his tone, it was clear that he was not joking.
This whole ordeal was throwing Erna through a loop, did the Prince not learn social norms when it came to conversation?
“But you do like beasts?” Erna was proud of herself for finding something to latch onto.
“I read that you are a top equestrian and won several competitions.”
“Yes, because horses are beautiful.
Compared to sweaty, stinking, beastly men, horses are dignified.”
Bjorn had stopped rowing, letting the oars sit lazily in the water, he watched Erna with a hand sagged over the end of the oar.
She muttered to herself and nodded her head.
It must have been a curious sight for him.
“But why do you hate horse racing? I hear you own the fastest horse in Lechen, but rarely go to watch.” Erna looked at Bjorn, her eyes sparkled with the multitude of coloured lights.
“Oh, no, I’m not interested in watching other people ride horses.”
“No? Are you the type of person who prefers to participate?”
“Yes.” There was a brief pause as Bjorn squinted at Erna.
“You did a pretty diligent job investigating my background.”
Everyone knew Bjorn Dniester, it was hard not to hear about the Prince at even the most uncommon social event.
If Erna had put her mind to it, she could probably find out all there is to know about the Prince in half a day.
Erna shrunk away, feeling like she had over stepped herself, but the Prince only seemed to lean in closer to her.
He moved into her sight line as she tried to look away and their eyes locked.
Her cheeks flushed and she couldn’t help but fidget with her fingers.
She intended to enjoy this moment a little longer and was not going to let shyness get the better of her.
What’s the sin of enjoying a little gossip?
“Sorry, Prince, please forgive my presumption.” Erna said.
She regained her composure under his scrutiny, but couldn’t remove the tremble in her voice.
If he continued to tease her like this, she was going to throw herself over board.
“There’s nothing to apologise for, I don’t think you were being rude.”
“But I offended…”
“Let’s talk about you.” Bjorn cut Erna off.
“It’s not fair if we only talk about me.”
“Did you say you were from Buford? Are the festivals there like this one, too?”
There was some sincerity in his voice, as if he genuinely wanted to know about Erna.
He wanted to know about Buford, a place he didn’t know existed until Erna Hardy suddenly appeared.
Yes, but nowhere near as big and fancy as this I don’t think, I’ve never seen it.” As if sensing his intentions, Erna answered with a relaxed smile.
“You’ve never seen it, why’s that?”
“My Grandma and Grandpa didn’t like crowded places and sometimes the festivals were held in places too far away.
Instead, my family would have dinner under the Ash tree.
We would make lots of wonderful things and delicious cakes.
My Grandmother made a very special rose wine every year that she let me drink from when I was sixteen.”
Erna remembered the disappointing taste of the wine she had been looking forward to drinking from such an early age.
She loved the colour of it and its smell of summer flowers.
It always reminded her of grass insects chattering and dandelions caught in the breeze.
Erna spoke in a distant voice as she detailed the annual summer dinner party.
It felt like she was back there now, with her Grandmother and Grandfather.
The smell of rich cakes and juicy meats.
Bjorn watched her with interest as she lost herself in the memory.
He realised why Erna Hardy considered herself a Baden first, as she spoke so fondly of her Grandmother and father and her home.
She looked happy.
Bjorn had never seen her like this before and he found himself being drawn in by her smile.
“It sounds beautiful.” Bjorn said.
It was nothing more than the appropriate response in praise of the woman’s zeal, but Erna beamed at him for saying it.
They looked at each other for a long while, right up until there was a sudden and resounding bang somewhere above them.
Erna laughed her nervousness away as Bjorn turned his head up to watch the fireworks painting the night sky.
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