The Kings procession made its way through the crowds to the main hall of the fair. The people lined the streets and filled the squares, their cheer shook the very earth and the heavens.
Erna looked about the crowds from the open top carriage, over whelmed by the sheer amount of people. There was quite the crowd on her wedding day, but now there seemed to be three times that number. There was more royal guard escorting them too, making the atmosphere even more majestic.
The cavalry marched in step with the horses of the wagons. All the nations flags hung from windows and lamp posts. Erna took in all the sights until her gaze rested upon Bjorn, who looked as unconcerned as always. Prince Christian and Princess Greta looked the exact same and Erna remembered the type of family she had married into.
Erna struggled to catch herself and correct her posture. She had to force herself to sit still and she even raised a hand, but didn’t yet find the courage to greet the people properly.
One year at most. The Prince’s mistake. A poor substitute for Princes Gladys.
She thought she could hear the crowd call out at times. They were the words that came to her, even though she didn’t want to hear it and she definitely didn’t want to keep them in her heart.
Erna finally lowered her hand, unable to greet the crowd that seemed to dislike her so. None of the cheer in the crowd was directed at her.
By the time Erna could smile naturally again, she found herself outside the entrance to the fair ground, built along the river bank. It was a grand structure of steel frames and glass arches that glittered brightly in the sun. She was overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all and next thing she knew, she was sitting on a platform in the centre of the fair ground. She sat perfectly behind the king.
Erna looked around the fair ground. Display halls and exhibits branched off from the central aisle, which stretched from the entrance, all the way to the large Elm tree at its centre.
Only VIP’s got an invite to the opening ceremony, but there was still a large number of people. Their blurring faces made Erna dizzy.
Erna looked about he exhibits in wonder and before she knew it, she came to the second floor where she saw Princess Louise. Erna gave her a warm smile, but Louise turned away without so much as an acknowledgement. She whispered something to her husband and Erna turned away, flush with embarrassment.
Bjorn was leaning in close to his brother, sitting next to him. Erna, who had been watching him closely, gently shifted her cautious gaze to Leonid.
Mrs Fitz had urged several times that she should not confuse the Grand Duke with the Crown Prince and although Leonid wore glasses, that was not always the case. She should not assume the one without glasses is Bjorn.
Looking at them from this close, Erna could understand Mrs Fitz’s concern. It was surprising how the two looked so similar, enough to confuse anyone who gave the two princes a casual glance.
Just as Erna was studying the two princes, Leonid looked at her. Their eyes met and Erna swallowed dryly. Bjorn also turned his head and Erna was seeing double. She blinked rapidly, trying to figure out who was who.
Erna was afraid that Leonid would look down at her again, but instead, she was greeted with a warm smile. At the same time, Bjorn also smiled at her, his was the usual, cock sure, arrogant smile she had seen a thousand times.
Their smiles looked the same, but felt totally different. Even without glasses, Erna felt sure she would be able to tell the two apart. At that moment, a cheer broke out amongst the crowd.
Erna hurriedly got up from her seat, following Bjorn and joined in the applause. The King was about to give his opening speech.
Philip III was famous for his natural oratory skill. He opened the Schuber Exposition with a speech that drew out the enthusiasm of the crowd. As the largest participating country of the fair, that contributed the most innovative technologies, all the crowd was excited to see what was on display, the Grand Duchess more than anyone.
Bjorn looked down at his wife with a smile. Her eyes were so big and bright with curiosity, even as she tried to preserve at least some dignity.
When it was time to take the commemorative photo, Bjorn quietly escorted his wife over, who had been busy looking over the exhibition halls on the second floor.
The Grand Duke and his wife were the last couple to join the group for the photo. It was a composition of five siblings lined up with the king and queen sat front and centre. Erna stood alongside Bjorn, behind the queen.
Erna looked at the assembled people, they all had platinum blonde hair. The Duke Heine, Princess Louise’s husband, was also blonde, though it was a little darker. So had been Princess Gladys.
The whispered words of the servants of the Palace always said that the royals preferred people with blonde hair, to maintain the same hair colour for generations and maintain the symbol of the Dniester family.
Even her hair didn’t fit in here.
It was such a meagre thing to get worked up over, but for some reason, the thought of it stuck in Erna’s heart. She tried to ignore it, but it was always there, niggling at the back of her mind.
Erna tried to ease her beating heart, but even as she tried, she noticed other little things, like how everyone of the Royal Family were far taller than her, even the women. She felt like a weed surrounded by trees.
A misplaced marble…
She suddenly felt sad because she didn’t fit in anywhere. Princess Gladys did, she melded into the royal family with ease, she had confidence and was beloved by the people.
“Get ready,” the photographer said.
Erna opened her eyes, which she had been squeezing shut against the barrage of doubt and sat up straight. After much consideration, she lifted her heels so that she raised up on tiptoes. As she rose up, Bjorn noticed and placed a hand on her shoulder, pressing her down.
Erna tried her best to push against his pressure, but it wasn’t easy to match his strength. It would be nice if he just pretended he didn’t notice, he was such a cruel man at times. Erna eventually gave up and stood properly.
“One,” the photographer went under the black cloth, “two,” Erna moved in close to her husband, “three.” At that moment, she raised her chin, instead of her heels and the flash popped.
Once the opening ceremony was done, the crowds moved around and explored the exhibitions freely.
Erna followed her husband around. After moving past a huge steam engine that was said to be powering the whole fair, they found themselves at an exhibit of industrial machines that were moving by themselves.
It was so bizarre to see so much stuff made of metal, but Bjorn seemed quite happy. He spoke to the director of each exhibit, asking them a myriad of questions about how they expect their inventions to fit into society and how they will change the world. They said words Erna had no understanding of, but she listened attentively.
“People these days make everything with machines,” Erna said, noticing a machine that was playing music.
It was a small machine called a phonograph and it imitated the sounds of a piano. It was amazing, but at the same time, a little creepy. Bjorn decided that he wanted to buy it.
After examining more machines, Bjorn led Erna to something called a telephone. It was said that it would allow people to talk to each other over large distances, but she couldn’t understand it.
“Would I be able to talk to my Grandma too?” Erna asked.
She had been staring at the telephone for a long while. It was the first thing Erna showed any proper interest in since coming into the machine hall.
“It will take awhile for the telephone line to get there,” the man in charge of the exhibit said.
“You can’t talk without that line?” Erna asked, the man nodded. “I see.”
After that, Erna did not show much interest in the telephone any more. Even though Bjorn was showing her all these amazing inventions, it seems like she was still stuck in her rural lifestyle.
By the time Erna was getting bored of the exhibits and inventions, they arrived at a both that had been set up by a type writing company. Without even realising, Erna was frozen to the spot and looked at the new type writer developed using Lechen’s technology. Bjorn almost missed Erna stopping.
“What’s up, do you want to become a typist?”
“What’s that?” Erna said, turning her head but not looking away from the woman demonstrating the type writer. “The machine is writing so fast.”
Erna was genuinely thrilled. The Grand Duchess was obsessed with the type writer. Bjorn gazed at her interestingly, she looked like a completely different woman.
The person demonstrating did not want to miss the opportunity, so offered Erna to try the typewriter. Bjorn figured Erna would refuse, but she cautiously approached and pressed a key. A delicate looking arm struck out and stamped the paper with a letter.
“Its writing, Bjorn, look,” Erna laughed and pointed to the paper.
A smile burst onto Bjorn’s lips as he admired his wife’s enthusiasm.
Erna was finally happy and she looked beautiful, that was enough for him.