Featured image art by vektorix, at: https://vektorix.tumblr.com/post/125805713637/
Have you ever visited the docksides of Arendelle, just as the sunset is dipping below the fjord?
I love sitting by one of the benches near the lampposts, by the kingdom’s markets at dusk. If you’ve come before, you’ll know that trading is more or less wrapping up by this time, with shops closing and children walking with their parents. Looking outwards from the pier, you can see the stars and moon emerging even as the fading red-orange sunlight drapes the waters in a warm blanket above the darkening sky. Eventide is the perfect time to come out of the office and take a walk, to reflect on how beautiful it is to be in Arendelle.
There were a few lovey-dovey couples on the benches near me as I admired the calm waters and anchored ships. I savoured the occasional squawks of seagulls, inhaling deep breaths of fresh air. I adjusted my collar, enjoying the warmth of my cashmere coat as the cool wind kissed my face. I was looking forward to an elegant dinner and warm coffee after this meeting.
A tall, burly figure in a hooded cloak moved beside me and sat down in silence.
I shifted, peering at warm but worried brown eyes and a well-kept goatee. I grinned. “Hello, Mattias.”
“There’d be an uproar if anyone knew I was meeting with someone from the press,” growled the commander of Arendelle’s armed forces quietly, his eyes darting about.
“Yes, that’s why we’re meeting like lovers by the wharf, instead of indoors over fine food.”
“I’m sure you’d love to be seen holding court with me at the Nokk Club,” sniffed Mattias. “I ain’t gonna give you that pleasure. Elected politicians are terrified of The Arendelle Guardian, and your columnists’ gossip makes or breaks public careers. I’m not playing your game, even if Anna’s weaponized your paper.”
“Well, that’s the point, general. I’d never betray her or you. In fact, aren’t we similar, you and I? I’m only a bit younger than you, we both see ourselves as faithful and effective arms of the Queen – ”
“Hey, hey, hey. Not quite. You have interests – other papers, other residencies – across the world,” interjected the general, raising an eyebrow. “Sorry for being blunt, but there are differences of who we are and how we’ve vowed to serve. I’m a soldier sworn to one sovereign. You’ve chosen to help Anna, and that’s something I respect. But you can also choose to serve yourself. There’s always been something personal for you in this fight.”
“It’s true that unlike your oath to the Queen, nothing compels my loyalty as a private subject,” I confessed, “but decades ago I committed all my savings and took out loans to build my paper here, before Elsa and Anna were even born. While you were still a fresh-kid sergeant in the military.” I smiled.
“If that’s not enough, think of this: I knew all of Runeard and Agnarr’s skeletons, but I didn’t care about exposing Runeard’s dastardly plans for Northuldra. And I still regret not going public with what Agnarr did to the sister-queens. I may be a citizen of the world, but my heart has always been here, Mattias, with Arendelle and the interests of her monarchy.”
Mattias nodded slowly. “You did the right thing in both cases. Some secrets have to be kept, no matter how vile we think they are personally.” He lowered his head. “I’ve kept my share of dark secrets for the kingdom’s sake. I’ve done it all my life. National security, and all that. It’s not like I sometimes felt what I was doing was wrong. But what I felt was irrelevant.”
I sighed, tapping my fingers on my lap. “See? You’re the queen’s arm that conceals information. I’m the one that reveals it.”
Mattias grunted. “Yet here I am, summoned by you to feed you intel?”
I stared up at the young night, not looking at him.
“How goes the operation in London?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Please. Anna’s spy network stretches across Europe. There are at least four or five of her Ravens in Britain alone.”
Named after Odin’s all-knowing, all-seeing birds, the Ravens were Arendelle’s spy agency. Created shortly after Hans was shipped back to the Southern Isles, Anna quickly sent men to keep an eye on him, before dispatching more to Weselton because of Elsa’s suspicions against the Duke.
“Does the word Nemesis ring a bell?” I asked, as I handed Mattias a scrunched up piece of paper. He took it, anxiously reading it as his face fell. It read:
Plans for iron warship acquired from British naval command.
Top priority: deliver designs of “Nemesis” to Arendelle.
Certain death if caught.
Requesting IMMEDIATE extraction.
Mattias’ eyes widened. “How… did you get this? You can’t say a word,” he conceded in panic.
“Nemesis, the warship that almost single-handedly obliterated the navy of the Great Qing Empire,” I murmured. “An avenging angel of death for the Brits’ opium.” The British Empire’s newly built warship had recently been tested in its first battle, against a far inferior naval force. Obtaining its technology and designs would tip the balance of power dramatically in Arendelle’s favour. “It matters now more than ever, doesn’t it?” I confirmed, “especially as Anna is locking horns with the East India Company earlier than we preferred.”
“Is this blackmail?” asked Mattias, his husky voice tense.
“Please!” I exclaimed at once. “I have no intention of interfering. Your work could transform our navy into a fleet that could take on those pirates masquerading as businessmen.” I leaned closer. “Just be wary of moles within the Ravens’ network, since even I was able to obtain this memo… and shore up your agents in Weselton and the Southern Isles.”
“What’s your stake in all this subterfuge?” said Mattias suspiciously. “If your newspaper does anything irresponsible – ”
“I’m trying to help you. Besides, I’m sailing to London too. The day after tomorrow,” I interrupted, rising from the bench and buttoning up my coat. “On assignment for Anna. Fear not, general. Soon Her Majesty will get most of what she wants in her negotiations with Lord Palmerston, and we’ll have the Brits where we want them.”
“I don’t want to know,” grunted Mattias, following me. “Remember, you publish stories, we protect state secrets. The way we do things is totally different, even if we serve the same monarch.”
“I run my newsroom like a private army.”
“And I don’t want to get in your way. But you probably don’t want to get in the way of my boys, either.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I said sincerely, shaking his hand. “Are you sure you don’t want to join me for dinner?”
“Get outta here, chief,” said Mattias, shooting me a sardonic grin as he adjusted his hooded cloak and walked away from the pier. “You’d prefer dinner with Anna anyway.”
“Of course I do. Don’t you?” I shouted after him. He didn’t respond, only waved his hand.
I grinned, taking in the crisp harbour-side air.
“By the spirits. It’s so good to be alive,” I whispered.