The Problematic Prince - Side Story 21 - Man of Buford
Bjorn always asked checked on Erna before going out any where, and if there was the slightest hint that something was out of the ordinary, he would not go, or give permission for Erna to leave until a doctor had checked her over.
“I’m fine,” Erna told Bjorn, before he had chance to ask the question. “I ate well, am well rested. The baby is comfortable and so long as I don’t over do it, there wont be a problem. So please, go.” Erna smiled reassuringly at him and pointed in the direction of the telegraph office.
Erna was well aware that the only reason Bjorn had come with her to Buford was to do business, and she was no longer disappointed or even bothered by the fact. Just as she had her own business to take care of, Bjorn had his, a Dniester’s dealings must always be fair.
“Lisa Brill,” Bjorn said, turning his attention to the maid, who was busy looking at something down the street. She stiffened when Bjorn called her name. “You take care of my wife and if there is a single hint of a problem, come and get me.”
Bjorn looked at his pocket watch, he predicted he shouldn’t be more than an hour, but even still, he did not want to let his wife wonder the festival alone for too long. He was just grateful that Lisa was with her.
“Yes, I will your Highness, and Baby Dniester too,” Lisa said with a polite bow.
Bjorn smiled at Lisa’s response, trusting that she would take her duties very seriously. He leaned forward and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek and left for the telegraph office.
As his slim figure melted away into the crowd of those enjoying the festivities, Lisa looked over at Erna, clasping her hands to her chest. She could see the position of head maid practically presenting itself to her. The climb up the ladder to an easy life was a slow climb, but one step at a time, Lisa was slowly reaching her goals and her life was about to become as splendid and beautiful as the Grand Duchess herself.
In the mean time, the pair moved off to enjoy the Autumn festival. If Buford’s spring festival was a celebration of flowers and new beginnings, its Autumn festival was a celebration of alcohol and harvest.
Erna perched on a bench, munching on honey almonds, watching the plaza as it filled with festive music, cheer and drink. The autumn festival was in full swing and the stalls that sold the beers and wines produced around Buford were packed. There was sausages sizzling over open fires. The greasy smell of barbecue carried over the smells of spiced alcohol.
Around the stage built at the villages centre, people danced to the music being played and oak barrels were being rolled to stalls. It was nice to see everyone being happy.
“Is there anything you want to do, your Highness?” Lisa asked.
“No, Lisa, this is enough.” Erna shook her head and smiled. She had eaten enough for now, filling up on the snacks Lisa kept bringing her and she had no head for any of the alcohol on offer. She was happy to just simply sit on the bench and watch the dancers.
“You may go and check out the festival, I will wait here for Bjorn.”
“No, that’s okay, your Highness. I will wait here with you.” There was no hesitation or doubt in Lisa’s voice.
Staying by the Grand Duchess’ side, Lisa fulfilled her promise. She had no desire to get on Bjorn’s bad side as his cold fury when he got angry was like a thunderbolt of ice. By staying here, Lisa avoided that eventuality. She stood guard, keeping an eye on the rowdy drunkards that got too close.
The afternoon pressed on and the village square was only getting more busy, but eventually the prince emerged from the press of bodies and Lisa let out a sigh of relief. She could finally relax and let Bjorn take over sentry of Erna.
“Bjorn, you finished up quickly,” Erna said, seeing her husband stride toward her.
Bjorn smiled as he approached her, raising a hand to call over a waiter and order a bottle of Lechen’s finest wine. It was brought to him by the time he sat with Erna. She took a sip from her cordial as Bjorn drank his wine. She felt a little embarrassed, which was funny, how could she still be shy in front of the man that was the father of the baby she carried?
Erna looked at Bjorn as he drank some more, wondering about all the romantic things they were going to do together. She wondered what Bjorn would think of blowing bubbles together. Would he think it too childish? He would probably do it with her if she asked, but it would also be nice to just hold hands and watch the performance on the stage together.
Erna looked toward the stage, curious about what performance was going on now. One of the stagehands was moving a large oak barrel to centre stage. Bjorn was watching it too.
“What are they doing?” Bjorn asked.
“Its for the competition,” the bartender said, “to pick the best man in Buford.”
“I thought that was in spring,” Bjorn gave Erna a knowing look.
“That was a test of strength, this is a test of constitution. As a man, isn’t it expected that you excel both in strength and tolerance of alcohol?”
Bjorn frowned, if a ‘best man’ were to be chosen each season, then surely Buford would be overflowing with top-tier men.
“The husband drinks, the wife stacks the glasses and the highest tower wins. It’s the competition to crown Buford’s best couple, success hinges not only on the husband’s drinking prowess, but also on the wife’s ability to construct impressive heights.” the Bartender explained.
Bjorn was starting to think that Buford was a village of lovers. He gave Erna a look of a child who knew they were getting into mischief, but were going for it anyway.
“If you’re interested, guests are welcome to join the fray. Registrations remain open until the very last moment before the competition starts. And gentlemen, your involvement is expected.” he gestured towards a stage corner, crates brimming with alcohol were neatly assembled in succession. “The first place winning couple will will earn the privilege of boarding a festive float and parading through town.”
“No, Bjorn, I would not like to participate in this particular competition.” She gave her husband a sour look and pursed her lips. “Think of the baby.”
Even Bjorn loved to bet, she was hoping that he would not be so cold as to force his pregnant wife into stacking glasses for him as he drank.
“Your wife is pregnant, I see?” The waiter shared, his face echoing a sense of regret.
Bjorn nodded, “What if I were to use a substitute?” he asked, his eyes turned flicked toward Lisa, who was busy looking over a greasy sausage.
Bjorn sat at a table on stage, eagerly waiting for the rest of the competitors to take their seat and get the competition underway.
“Hey, aren’t you the guy from the spring run?” the guy next to him asked.
“Yes,” Bjorn said with a polite smile.
“Wait, but you have a different wife, have you remarried already?” They looked at Lisa, who was standing beside him.
“No, my wife is with child. She’s the fill-in, my wife is right over there,” Bjorn gestured toward the stage. The participants who had over heard this made their disapproval known. They looked at Bjorn in disgust.
“Ugh, no, this is not on. He took his wife for the run, but when it comes to stacking glasses? No way.” The backlash spread quickly through the competitors and even the onlookers started murmuring. “We never see him about the village, but as soon as the festivals come around, there he is, like a spectre. He is a swindler.”
In the face of such fierce protests, the bald man in charge of the contest approached Bjorn with a pensive look on his face. Lisa’s eyes flashed with anger.
“Wow, the rural folk are so rude, so brutal.” Everyone seemed to notice Lisa for the first time at her outburst. “His wife is pregnant and wants to take her for a ride on the flower carriage, but you guys are so closed off. How can anyone stand you Buford lot.”
Lisa herself was unsure why she was included, only passively accepting her fate of being led away by the detestable Prince of Toadstools. However, despite her distaste for him, Bjorn remained a prince, and her master.
Lisa was very aware of all the eyes now on her, she didn’t know quite what to do any more. This was for Erna, no matter how Lisa looked at it, it was crazy, but she wanted Erna to ride the flower cart in the parade as much as Bjorn did.
“The unborn child might be sobbing within the womb, pouring their heart out in tears.” Lisa glowered at all the onlookers and they began to whisper among themselves. “How can one display such a callous attitude towards a mother with child?”
They were already starting to regret their position and the bald man gingerly stepped off stage.
Bjorn looked at Lisa, filled with admiration. His smile suggested that he was very pleased with Erna’s servant, the best servant, on course to be the head maid.