The Problematic Prince
“It’s just, I thought this necklace would look better with this dress.”
“Is that so?” Bjorn looked at the maids grouped up behind Erna, as if seeking their opinion.
They looked about the room as if not noticing the Prince’s questioning glance.
He liked the necklace, either way, his wife was beautiful what ever she wore.
Bjorn knew the reason his wife didn’t wear the necklace was just because of aesthetic.
“Bring it here,” Bjorn ordered a maid, “hurry up.”
The bewildered maid left and Bjorn turned to his wife.
It didn’t matter if he replaced the necklace, Erna was still his, but there was something about that pearl necklace that scratched his nerves.
Erna lifted her sad eyes to look at Bjorn.
“I like that necklace, Erna,” Bjorn’s tone was soft, but Erna didn’t feel it, “please wear it.”
It was the first gift Bjorn had chosen for her and he wanted her to wear it for the portrait.
It was the most precious jewel to Erna, no matter what anyone said, but she did not want to wear it for the portrait.
It felt to her like she was showing off her extravagance, providing ammunition for the excitedly slanderous women of Lechen.
Bjorn didn’t seem willing to listen and Erna couldn’t muster up the courage to speak her mind.
In the meantime, the maid eventually returned with the jewellery box containing the necklace.
Bjorn took the necklace from its box and placed it around Erna’s neck.
The tips of her closed lips trembled ever so slightly as the cold metal touched her skin.
“You look beautiful, Erna,” Bjorn said, smiling as he put the necklace on her.
The compliments Bjorn gave her always made her heart flutter, but now, they felt as cold and heavy as the necklace around her neck.
“Thank you,” she said, with a laugh.
She like Bjorn enough to want him to be happy, so she didn’t show any of the true emotions she felt.
She hated herself for lying to him like this.
It was a strange feeling.
Pavel’s hand was rigid as he sketched.
He had drawn Erna many times before, but the fact that the Prince of Lechen, her husband, was stood right next to her made things a little awkward.
He took a breath and recomposed himself, filling the quiet air with the soft rasping of charcoal on paper.
They had chosen to do the portrait in the drawing room, where there were large windows that faced south.
The space had a lot of vibrant blues, the colour of the Lechen Royal Family.
Pavel had painted a lot of aristocratic families, over the years, but none of them had a mansion quite this size.
It was actually quite intimidating.
Seeing Erna here felt strange.
He felt like he was meeting her for the first time.
There was no sign of the girl he had spent his childhood walking the fields with.
This was an elegant, noble lady that stood before him.
Erna had feared that Pavel would greet her as he would do when they were growing up, but that did not happen.
Pavel remained respectful as he said hello to the Ducal couple.
Pavel had tried to refuse the order of the art director, he no more wanted to do this than embarrass himself in any social situation, but the director was insistent and told Pavel that this assignment would elevate him to grand statuses.
Pavel was well aware of this, but when it came to Erna, he had a hard time accepting the decision.
He missed her a lot and wanted to see how she was doing, but he didn’t want to open old wounds.
It was a strange mix of feelings he had a hard time coming to terms with.
In the end, Pavel decided that he was going to flat out refuse the assignment, but it was too late.
The order had been given by Prince Bjorn and Pavel Lore was to be the artist for the royal portrait.
The wolf seal on the letter confirming the order and the appointment stuck in Pavel’s mind when he first met the Ducal couple.
Erna looked up from fiddling with her fingers, as she always did when nervous and Prince Bjorn looked at him too, with a sly smile.
“Ern…er…Would Her Highness please raise her head a little.
Thank you.” Pavel said, stumbling over what to call Erna.
At Pavel’s request, Erna awkwardly raised her head.
“Is this alright?”
“A little lower, sorry.”
“Like this?” Erna was trying to do as requested, but this time bowed her head a little too deeply.
Still the same Erna, over eager to please.
Erna used to love posing for Pavel, but as soon as she got in front of an easel, she went as stiff as a plank of wood.
He had always preferred to draw Erna doing something she was comfortable with; running in a field, reading a book under a tree, picking an apple, driving a goat.
She was the soul reason he had perfected his croquets skill.
As if she was recalling the same memories, Erna smiled shy and awkwardly.
Those clear, kind eyes and sweet smile.
Definitely the same Erna Pavel had always known.
Pavel sketched for a moment, then slowly approached the Ducal couple, looking at Bjorn as if asking permission before doing anything.
“If you could look in this direction, head this way.
You can leave your hands a little more natural here,” Pavel gestured and held Erna in her posture.
The Prince moved as Pavel struggled to get Erna in the right pose without touching her.
Erna could not get a sense of what Pavel was trying to do.
“Here, just bow a little deeper,” Bjorn said and gently moved her chin, “hands like this,” he arranged the position of her hands so they sat a little more naturally.
It showed that Bjorn had sat through a good many portraits.
“There, I think we are done now, Mr Lore,” said Bjorn, adopting his pose once more.
Pavel felt like Bjorn was being more than a little arrogant as he sat straight backed, but he could not complain, Erna was finally sat like a true model, just as he wanted.
Pavel went back to his easel and started sketching again.
There was no need to add comment about the Prince’s pose and posture, he was perfect.
The sunlight shone bright between the two men staring at each other.
“Would you like to take a break?” Pavel asked as he stepped back from the easel.
Bjorn turned to see that Erna was looking a lot more pale than she usually did.
He felt a little ashamed that the painter noticed it before he did, but he had been looking at them the entire time, Bjorn had completely spaced out.
“I do feel a little dizzy,” Erna said, “but I will be okay to continue if I can just rest a little bit.”
“If you’re tired, we can stop for the day,” Bjorn said.
“No, no, that wont be necessary.”
“I’m fine, really,” Erna smiled, shaking her head.
After Erna assured Bjorn she would be alright, she left the room with Lisa, leaving Bjorn and Pavel together.
Bjorn went to sit on the couch and lit a cigar.
He called Pavel over, who hesitated a moment, before reluctantly going over to the couch.
“I’m sorry, I don’t smoke cigars, Your Highness,” Pavel said when Bjorn offered him one.
Bjorn poured out a glass of whiskey and ice, offering it to Pavel, but again, Pavel declined the drink respectfully.
“Don’t you enjoy drinking either?” Bjorn said, taking a sip of it instead.
“I do, You Highness, I apologise.”
“It’s fine, your working, I get it,” Bjorn said, ringing a serving bell and requesting the servant bring a cup of tea for Pavel.
“Mr Lore, what do you like? besides painting, obviously.”
Pavel turned to look at the Prince, “I enjoy reading, when I have any spare time.
I’ll go for a walk and read a book.”
Pavel answered with all the courtesy he could muster.
He behaved politely, without seeming servile.
Bjorn looked at him for a long moment.
The model student that wasn’t quite as boring as Leonid.
Bjorn came to the conclusion that Pavel had quite a noble baring about him.
Had Erna decided to run away with him, she would no doubt still be playing house.
He could almost see Pavel as a friend, or even a brother.
Their conversation was interrupted by the servant bringing in tea.
Bjorn leaned back on the couch as he considered Pavel, slow cigar smoke drifted lazily to the ceiling.
“When do you think the portrait will be completed?”
Bjorn changed his conversation as he brushed the ashes away.
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