Remember the writing prompt we issued on January 25th? Here’s a recap: What’s more romantic than a tower, a canal, and a far-off place full of possibility? Today’s writing prompt is based on the picture below! What words and stories does this image bring to mind? I’d like you to write in a third-person perspective/point of view, 2000 words, and in the romance genre. Author Joey Nobleman submitted his story, The Perfect Frame. Check it out below!
The Perfect Frame by Joey Nobleman
The breezy thrust of the massive doors opening, as much as the pull of a hand, propelled her into the Great Hall of the Brugian Castle.
“As we are soon wedded, we best begin here, with the history of my family,” Prince Harlander announced.
“Yes, your Royal Highness,” Lady Adelind agreed.
“Please, you have been too formal. I know we met only hours ago, but I am forevermore simply Harlander.”
“Of course, Harlander, thank you.”
Their letters of the past year had been polite and formulaic, gently easing into the arranged marriage. Adelind’s German family encouraged a future for her with Harlander in Belgium, despite his tragic past, as their families had longstanding ties. In a month, she would be married to a descendant of the patriarchs symmetrically portrayed on the walls before her, three on each of the west, north, and east panels.
“This is my father,” Harlander commenced. “So proud of his portrait, he sat me here for hours when I was a boy and schooled me in its framing, especially. Father said framing is both control and beauty. It is only through its detailing that we consummate and experience perfection.”
Upon completion of the Hall’s tour and in preparation for its exit, the prince stopped at the doorway, his arms spread wide.
“The south wall has been left barren, save for use as an entranceway symbolically overseeing Europe. But let’s proceed to a much finer view of the most romantic city of the continent!”
As they casually strolled through Bruges’ anfractuous streets, Adelind became relieved that the prince was as polite and refined as in his letters. He was handsome and smart in his kerseymere frock, and while the more base desires that should possess a young woman in the presence of a fine gentleman had yet to manifest, the impending arrangement would be seamless and palatable should his manners, conduct, and temperament be appropriately regulated. It was on the latter that Adelind maintained a degree of apprehensiveness, for Prince Harlander’s constitution had been a topic of concern for many years since a disturbing event that shook both his person and nation, a matter she must broach with both urgency and sensitivity.
“And here it is, likely not as a surprise, the Belfry of Bruges!” the prince proudly declared.
“Yes, Harlander,” she laughed. “I will not insult you with the pretence of surprise. Can we ascend immediately before the sun fully sets!”
“Of course, my dear!” he readily agreed.
Within a few moments, they were on the first of three hundred sixty-six steps, a number intriguing to the prince with its suggestion of yearly cycles, a repeating, predictable permanence akin to his family’s royal reign. It was only upon a comfortable rest partway, at the open stonework parapet, that Adelind spoke of the aforementioned palaver.
“It must be very difficult for you – this ascent, this place, I mean?”
“It is necessary, and has been since that day, that I come to the Tower, as I have done every fortnight for these many years, to face my…my…”
“Yes…I am glad that you do not fear to say it, for I know the affair is in the circles of gossip.”
“No, Harlander, I do not introduce it as a matter of gossip!”
“Of course not, my dear; I do not mean you, now. But I know there has been concern for my health since my parents died here, possibly from this very stoop. What has been said? Please tell me?”
Adelind paused briefly to choose her words delicately.
“Dear Harlander, and only by your permission and request, I will tell you that it is known that in your times of melancholy, you often uttered threats to your own person, But you have clearly overcome your illness. My family received encouraging news of it and have put their faith in you, in us.”
“I thank them for that and for you. You are as lovely and beautiful as I imagined.”
“Thank you. And I think it a miracle that you, or anyone, could recover from…what happened…”
“Oh Adelind, you can say it; we must – I must – speak of it. My parents both fell to their deaths from here, one at the hands of the other and then by their own. Saying it is to confront the demon that possessed them – possessed him, as it likely was.”
“I am grateful, relieved you can face it here and now,” supported Adelind. “You told us in your letters how your sister, especially, slowly brought you to healing.”
As if a cloud retreated to submerge him in moonglow, Harlander’s face filled with joy.
“My dear sister! It was only with her attention and love that I carried on. We felt very much isolated after losing our parents; we were both so young. I was just past maturity, and she was only a child. For the past seven years, we only have had each other.”
“And look to what heights you have ascended, Prince Harlander!” celebrated Adelind in a change of tone.
“Yes, my uncle may be King, but as he is forever on projects abroad, I have come to oversee Bruges and Belgium! Have you not noticed there is no one else in the Tower?” he playfully impressed her.
“Alas, I did not, my Prince, as I was wholeheartedly swept away by your elevated character and majesty of your wisdom!” she replied in spirit. “But now that you mention it, how is it so?”
“Ah, I am glad you asked, my dear! At my request, or shall we say command, the Tower is to be reserved for me. It’s good to be King!”
“Indeed, Your Majesty! And your sister, Harlander, when can I meet her? I am quite looking forward to her company as I feel I know her so well. She means so much to you; I am sure she will to me also.”
“Straightaway tomorrow, then, it shall be! Come now; we must return to the street as darkness has set. A climb to the belfry will have to await a return.”
Princess Catrina, having come into womanhood only recently, was several years younger than the marriageable Adelind. Excited at having met and instantly compatible, Catrina suggested a return to Belfry Tower to share an afternoon exploring its intricacies. Catrina’s royal privilege, comparable to Harlander’s, secured the structure for their
use, and she began by leading Adelind arm-in-arm for her second excursion on the winding staircase. This time though, Adelind more finely appreciated the tower’s character, including its intermittent and distractive groanings, mysterious of origin in a build of stone.
Also curious were irregularly disposed antechambers in the lower, broader levels, one of which Catrina insisted they enter, detouring their climb. The space impressed Adelind as something of an imperial suite, discomforting, however, rather than pleasant, with its tall Gothic windows, candelabrum, and gold ornamentation more gaudy, if not altogether barbaric, than elegant.
“I wanted to show you this special place that Harlander has taken me since my childhood!” beamed Catrina.
“Oh?” Adelind added curiously.
It was to the drapes, already open and resting to either side of the central window, that Catrina directly attended, pulling them even further aside to reveal ropes curled and attached to the wall.
“And what are those for, my dear?” enquired Adelind.
“They are for Harlander’s passionate love of beauty through perfect framing!” delighted Catrina.
Adelind recalled Harlander’s discourse on the matter.
“And what does he frame here, child?”
“Me, thankfully!” Catrina glowed.
“Yes! Harlander says that with the view of Bruges and Belgium behind me, or above me if I am secured below the window or on the floor, the things he loves most are perfectly framed!”
Shuddering with disgust, and terror, Adelind barely summoned the breath to continue.
“And what does he do with you once you are framed, my dear?..”
Catrina’s chronicle of debaucheries, devoid of shame or self-consciousness, betrayed an innocence of the obscene, of the unholy, and of the vile perversion of sibling love bedded in her, and whose detailing here would be an affront to the written word. What will be noted, instead, is that Adelind’s response was an ejaculation of sorrow so profound that it inspired, mercifully, and certainly for the first time, the question from Catrina.
“Is there something wrong?”
A mind and body so poisoned for years is not remedied by one conversation, or a day, or a month. Thus Adelind’s mission to awaken Catrina from her nightmare would extend through the remaining years of Catrina’s youth. In their many hours and days together, much was shared, revealed, and confronted, beginning with the mystery as to why, for so long, all was secret. As it happened, Harlander had secured the deviancy by convincing Catrina that it is only with immediate family, themselves, in essence, that shared intimacies of word or deed can occur. Catrina told Adelind because she was going to be family, a disclosure certainly unforeseen by Harlander.
The months and years that followed brought a degree of relief for Catrina as she schemed to avoid Harlander’s sessions whenever possible; however, as a new bride, Princess Adelind was obliged to fulfil marital duties. Adelind’s prayers, from the day of Catrina’s revelations, were that by some miraculous grace, Harlander’s abuses would cease and her own relations with him be dignified or at least tolerable. Perhaps, if so, their royal lives together could proceed as planned.
However, over time, and with Catrina’s distancing from Harlander’s depravities, Adelind increasingly drew his unnatural attention. Harlander’s deviance was to be an unrelenting reality, leaving Adelind wondering how she could possibly carry on. It was during one of the princesses’ scheduled walks that a light, of sorts, began to shine.
“I am grateful, Catrina, that you, now a matured and able woman, are on a safer path. But, I fear I am fated for your shackles. There is no hope. I cannot leave him, nor love him,” Adelind despaired.
“Nor can I, Adelind. It seems we only have each other,” Catrina lamented.
In that moment, as their eyes met intently, they embraced and kissed, an incarnation of their growing intimacy and love, and, perhaps, that in some yet undefined way, there was hope…
It was the eve of the new century, and Prince Harlander arranged for possession of the Bruges Tower. Leading Adelind and Catrina once again up its serpentine stairwell, the Prince expounded on the magic of the Tower. He spoke of how thrice it had been burnt and rebuilt, a testament to persistence of tradition and family, and how its legend is captured in their castle’s Great Hall motif of three patriarchs on each of three walls. Upon their arrival at the rooftop, his attention became the evening at hand. Addressing them with his back to the rooftop’s south wall, Harlander continued.
“Dear loves, my fervent anticipation of this evening surely comes of no surprise to you, for its artful beauty is too great to neglect. We must welcome the new century from this special place. So here we are at the stroke of midnight with all the city, all the country, all of Europe before us. Behold this most perfect frame!”
And the Prince spread his arms high and wide as he turned to face the immense vista…
That the prince would take his own life seemed inevitable in the common knowledge of his severe melancholia, tempering the shock and horror of a wretchedly familiar demise. Each fortnight thereafter – the same schedule as Prince Harlander’s so as not to arouse suspicion – Princesses Adelind and Catrina procured the Bruges Tower to
share their passion, pausing only momentarily upon departure to gaze above the doorway of the Great Hall’s south wall and Harlander’s portrait, the only one thereon. Their love was never to be of fullest happiness, for the world, as such, would not allow it, but one discreetly hopeful of what a new century might bring.