It was raining lightly.
I didn’t bother with an umbrella. I hurried towards Arendelle Castle’s courtyard. Shrouded in darkness, with only the lamps to provide light, the guards saw me and quickly stood aside. I rushed into the plaza and headed straight for the main door, where an attendant awaited. I allowed him to take my damp coat, thanking him quickly. I strode to the dining room, my high-heeled boots tapping lightly through the carpeted corridors of the palace. I walked into the high-ceilinged room, where Her Majesty and Kristoff were standing by the fireplace silently. Kristoff’s arm was around Anna’s, and when I stepped forward, he looked at me and moved back, releasing his wife.
“Evening, Your Majesty. How are you, Kristoff?” I said grimly, unconsciously running a hand through my damp hair. I shared a brief nod with the royal consort. Kristoff and I both had an interest in watching over Anna, and he was a partial stockholder of The Arendelle Guardian.
Still in her pink nightgown, her red hair draping down her shoulders, Anna slowly turned to me, her eyes tired. “You’re not usually late, chief,” she said, addressing me by the joke title given to me by my junior journalists. She didn’t wait for my reply before turning back to watch the crackling fire and burning wood.
“I was dining at the Nokk Club with the editors of the other papers,” I replied, although I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to explain myself. She knew where my regular haunt was. Perhaps it was because the queen seemed unusually exhausted and drained.
Arendelle’s three dominant newspapers were my own, the pro-business Fjord Times, and the pro-Runeard Snow Herald. Despite our commercial rivalry and wildly divergent ideologies, we owners met secretly twice a year to discuss matters pertaining to the future of Arendelle. The Arendelle Guardian had recently focused its journalistic fire on the Snow Herald, which was giving Anna a particularly hard time. “Some day I’ll take down the Herald’s xenophobic proprietor,” I muttered, moving towards one of the chairs at the end of the long, mahogany dining table. I didn’t sit down yet. “I’ve wanted to do that since the reign of your father. We’ve crossed swords before, beyond Arendelle’s borders.”
Anna nodded slowly, her mind clearly occupied.
Kristoff shifted uncomfortably. “Hey… sweetie,” he muttered. “Are we doing this?”
“Yes… yes,” said Anna. “Please, chief: sit down. Baby, where’s Mattias?”
Before Kristoff could answer, the tall general walked into the room, his dark eyes deadly serious. “Sorry I’m late. Let’s get right into it,” he said, unbuttoning his white cloak, revealing his dark green uniform.
The queen stared at the three of us. “Let’s start this meeting of the inner court,” she sighed, sitting down, and the rest of us followed.
“Is this to do with Elsa and that bill to restrict Northuldran influence?” asked Mattias, shaking his head. “I sympathize, Anna. I really do. Elsa doesn’t deserve this crap. But I’m afraid parliamentary disputes aren’t really the concern of the military.”
“I’m not much help either, if this is about Elsa,” said Kristoff, crossing his arms. “I mean, I could talk to the Chamber of Trade and all the other merchants in town, try to get them to put some pressure on the ministers Anna’s having trouble with… I know they all have business interests with our merchants. Wouldn’t be hard to turn the screw a bit. But are you sure you want to go there?”
Anna rubbed her forehead. “No, we’ll talk about Elsa another night. I wanted you guys to be the first to know: I’ve replied to Queen Victoria’s letter. I’ve accepted her invitation to a meeting.”
We looked at each other in a mixture of excitement, trepidation, and confusion.
“Are you going to London?” said Kristoff, his voice tinged with concern.
“Are we setting up some formal relationship with the Brits?” burst out Mattias.
“I… I don’t know, General. And no, babe, the Brits are coming here.” Anna stared pointedly at Mattias. “Give them the most lavish welcome possible. But they must never forget that we are diplomatic equals.”
“And we have the means to back that up,” said Mattias proudly. “The plans and design for their iron warship, Nemesis.”
“Exactly. My spy managed to whisk copies away from London. I don’t plan to commit our dockyards to building one for ourselves, though. Not yet. It’s just leverage.” Her Majesty gestured with her hands. “Each of you has your own workload. There’s a lot to prepare in the coming weeks. Kristoff, I know the Plaza is still hosting the Yokohama delegation’s trade fair, but I want us stocked to the brim on our finest products when Victoria arrives. Mattias, make sure security is flawless, and keep watch for anyone suspicious, especially on the British side. And chief…” She looked at me. “We need the biggest PR campaign your paper can muster. I’d like to devote my next column article to this.”
“Certainly,” I replied. I glanced at the other members of the inner court. There was palpable excitement in the air, but also nervousness. We’d never seen Anna like this before. Queen Victoria was a few years younger than her, and also the monarch of the largest empire in the world. She would be unlike anything Her Majesty had dealt with before.
“I think that’s all I wanted to share with you for now. Mattias, I’m sorry for summoning you so late past midnight. Kristoff… do you mind going to bed first, love? I’ll join you in a few minutes. I have a few small things to discuss with chief,” said Anna tiredly.
I nodded at Mattias and Kristoff, who quietly showed themselves out. We all knew better than to talk back to the queen when she was in one of her moods.
“Here,” said a standing Anna quietly, setting a mug of hot Darjeeling tea beside me. “Have some refreshments before you go.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” I nodded and took a sip.
“How do you think I’m doing?” asked the queen, setting down her teapot. “I mean, with all that’s happened.”
“Magnificently. You’re right to meet the sovereign of the British Empire. And you’re not just reacting to events. You’re shaping them. That’s the mark of any true leader.” I looked at her as she smiled wearily down at me. “Honeymaren’s not here tonight.”
“She’s even more tired than I am. I told her to take the night off.”
The inner court was the most intimate circle of Anna’s advisors. That Maren was already part of this secretive group spoke volumes about how much Anna trusted her, and how much she believed in Elsa’s recommendation for a Northuldran presence in Arendelle, in the castle itself.
“I would suggest you not think about family matters too much, hard as that sounds. You’re balancing your duties and Elsa extremely well,” I said. I reached out with my slender hand, and Anna took it, squeezing slowly. I felt her tense body physically relax, and I couldn’t resist letting out a sigh too. “I’ve been thinking about your family too. How things change…”
“You’re not kicking me off my column, are you?” asked Anna nervously.
“No. No, I wouldn’t dare. Not what I meant.” I stroked her palm with my fingers. “Things have been moving so fast, I forget that I’ve watched over you and Elsa for more than twenty years now, even if it was from a distance until the Great Thawing. Now that Kristoff, Maren, Mattias, and I are coordinating everything on your behalf, you’ll find yourself even more involved than when Elsa was around. That’s natural, though. You are our queen.”
Anna smiled, visibly cheered. “Continue teaching me. I need your guidance.”
I gulped down the rest of my tea and stood up, adjusting my black blazer and collared shirt. “I shouldn’t keep you from Kristoff. It’s almost three o’clock. I want to get back to the newsroom, make sure tomorrow’s morning edition is ready for delivery.”
Anna chuckled. “You’re not going home?”
“I’ll pass out in my office. Anyway, you’re about to make history, Anna. If the British Empire will treat us the way we deserve, then the rest of the world will follow suit. You’ll make Arendelle a world power – with none of the imperialism. Your grandfather’s head would explode.”
I met her aqua eyes. “I’ll be at the Nokk Club tomorrow for lunch. Will you join me, so we can discuss what you’re penning in your next column?”
Anna beamed, and she didn’t look so tired anymore. “Yes, if you wish it.”
I cupped the queen’s freckled cheek proudly.
“I wish it.”