loody on the floor was a surprise too.

“Prince, I… I think I killed a man.”  Erna gasped and tried to rally herself, struggling to speak.  “I didn’t mean to!  I was so scared, I had to… he fell, I hit his head… there’s blood…”

Erna’s tears became uncontrollable as full realization sank in.  Blood dripped from the candlestick she clutched in her hand, punctuating the carpet with dark stains.

The sounds of thin cloth tearing, of the candlestick giving a dull blow, of Heinz’s gasping cry as he fell, echoed through Erna’s mind at the same time.  She’d just reached mindlessly out, grabbed the first thing that came to hand, and struck him with all her might as his hand touched her.  Still in shock, she stood with the bloodstained candlestick over the fallen man, barely able to see the results through her tears, but still too vividly aware of what had happened.

“Don’t worry, Miss Hardy.”  Bjorn had knelt to examine the man, and now he rose to his feet with a slight sigh.  “He’s just fainted—he’ll wake up soon enough.  His kind doesn’t die so easily.”

“…really?” Erna breathed, through her exhausted tears.  The front of her torn dress was soaked, but she was past noticing it.

“Really,” Bjorn nodded emphatically, slipping his evening coat off his own shoulders and on to Erna’s.  “Can you walk?” he asked.

Erna nodded, taking a few trembling steps.

“Then go.”  Short and firm, Bjorn motioned her out of the room, taking the candlestick from her grasp at the same time.  The blood on it soaked into his gloves.  “Get out of here, take the stairs at the end of the left hall.  You’ll come out at the garden behind the mansion, and if you take the straight road, you’ll reach the carriages.  Go home in the Hardy family carriage; I’ll take care of the others.”


“Remember, the stairs at the end of the left hall.  Stairs, gardens, straight ahead,” Bjorn repeated calmly, impressing the instructions on Erna, who was still reeling slightly from all she’d undergone.

“I can’t do that.  You… the man…”

“I’m a little to blame for this, aren’t I?  I’m just doing my part.”

“But Prince…”

“Don’t worry,” Bjorn grinned.  “I always get my debts repaid.”  Bjorn finished tying the sleeves of his coat around Erna’s neck.  Wrapped in his clothes, she looked ridiculously small.  “By the way, do you like boating?”  Bjorn’s tone was relaxed, casual, asking questions that didn’t fit the situation at all.

“What?”  Erna blinked, doubting her ears.  But Bjorn still smiled at her with his inconsequent grin.

“You’ll have to like it.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s enough, you’d better go now,” Bjorn announced, glancing back into the drawing room at Robin Heinz, who had stirred a little.

“Go,” he repeated, cold and unsmiling now.

Erna nodded her head through tears.

The drawing room fell silent again once Erna’s echoing footsteps left the hall.  Bjorn looked scornfully down at the fallen man.  He’d expected a jerk, of course, but he hadn’t expected this idiot.  How could anyone treat the daughter of a well-known noble family like this?

He picked up the vase on the console.  His steps approached the fallen man calmly and unhurriedly, without any hint of the dramatic situation he was in.

Bjorn stopped as he reached the pool of red on the carpet—red from the blood that had dripped from Robin Heinz’s face.  Despite the blood, though, the man wasn’t seriously injured.  The bleeding had come from a few scratches on the side of the head and mostly from his nose, where the candlestick had struck him hard.

For a moment Bjorn felt sorry for Robin, and he accelerated the waking process by pouring some of the vase’s water onto his face.  In a minute Robin had regained consciousness, struggling to sit up and looking dazed like a drowning man.

“Hi, Heinz,” Bjorn said calmly, laying the vase back in its place.

Robin Heinz looked at him in confusion, trying to make sense of Bjorn’s smiling face and the red candlestick in his hand.

Heinz rose to his feet in amazement, gradually coming to his senses.  The roses that had been in the vase rolled on the ruined carpet.

“I’m sorry if I went too far,” Bjorn said.


“But you didn’t die, so it’s alright.  Don’t you think so?” Bjorn laughed, tapping Robin on the head with the bloody candlestick.

Robin’s eyes widened as he began to understand what Bjorn was saying.  “You crazy punk!” he shouted, spitting blood.  Even so, Bjorn’s smile deepened as he saw the rage in Robin’s eyes.

Robin Heinz, Bjorn was sure, would never make a fuss about being knocked out by a slender woman.  So even if he didn’t like it, he’d have no choice but to take Bjorn’s way out.  It would be much better to have a big fight with the infamous prince to save face.

Still smiling, but sighing too, Bjorn swung the candlestick.  Robin Heinz, hit on his already battered head, screamed and collapsed on the floor again.  The roses he fell on filled the room with their strong scent.

“You know how much we’ve fought?” Bjorn giggled dryly, kicking Heinz in the stomach.  “You know how keen-eyed the folks here are.”

Bjorn was enjoying the excuse to beat Robin harder and sell the fight.

Another kick, this time to the face, and Robin’s nose was bleeding again.

“You understand how it is, Heinz.”

Even as he spoke, Bjorn didn’t stop kicking.  Robin struggled to save himself, but he was helplessly unable to stand.  When he started screaming and crying, Bjorn took a step back.

“I guess that’s enough.”

Bjorn knelt down to examine his work.  A smile came to his face.

He patted Robin’s head as if he were praising a loyal dog, then threw off his bloody gloves and stood up.  His name, embroidered with gold on the wrist of a once white glove, shone clearly in the dim light.

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