The Arendelle Guardian offices. Near the docksides and Plaza
“It’s around here somewhere,” I growled.
I was on my knees, rummaging through slightly mouldy boxes of old files. Some of them contained past editions of my newspaper and Sunday magazine. Others had snippets of interviews, information and communication from my sources, and documents from the paper’s early days. That was shortly after I’d sailed into Arendelle for the first time twenty years ago, using all my savings to buy the top floor of this warehouse, transforming it into a respectable headquarters for my reporters and editors.
Then I remembered. It was probably in the safe.
I stood up and scrambled over upturned boxes and file binders to the hanging painting on my wall, beside my bookshelves and to the side of my windows overlooking Arendelle’s harbour. The painting was of the Northuldran steppe, drawn by Elsa and given to me after she discovered her true self as the Fifth Spirit. Her already considerable painting talent had improved even further. I grabbed the edges of the painting and lifted it, carefully placing it on the floor. Affixed inside the wall was a shelf with a miniature wooden door on hinges. I reached into my coat pocket and inserted a rusty key into the lock, twisting and opening it. The compartment housed a nondescript iron safe within, of spartan design and many years old.
I took a deep breath, staring at the repository that concealed everything from my past, like certificates for secret holdings, several passports, and legal documents from other kingdoms. I had chosen to leave behind many of these reminders of my old life when I became a citizen here. In any case, the safe had much more sensitive items, of which knowledge about could shake the very foundations of Arendelle: genealogies from the Viking Age, documentation of secret relationships and bastard children of Arendelle’s nobility, and even a “kill list” of the royal family’s most hated adversaries, compiled by Runeard and Agnarr themselves.
If information is power, then I had managed to make The Arendelle Guardian a formidable power broker in this kingdom over twenty-something years.
There was one particular piece of paper I was looking for. I had one more key, which was for the safe. I inserted it into the keyhole and turned –
“Chief, Her Majesty’s here,” came my copy boy’s voice.
I could hear my journalists outside my office standing up from their desks in eager respect for the approaching Anna. My heart sank and quickened at the same time (how is that possible?). As usual, her lively pace was much too quick for me to look like I was doing something else. Her silhouette was already by my door. “Send her in,” I said, after a few seconds of thought.
I was a common subject and Anna was my queen, but this newsroom was my fief and I was her editor. I would not let her approach this safe. I tried to steel myself, but silently panicked as she strode in, resplendent and beautiful as always in her royal attire. “Chief!” she called excitedly. “I’ve finished my column. Want to have a look? I think it’s pretty good. As I told you a few nights ago, I wanted to write about the Brits’ visit – ” She paused as she looked at Elsa’s painting on the floor. “That’s the piece Elsa gave you! Are you renovating the office?”
She glanced up at me as I tried to shift and block the safe and wall compartment from sight. “What – ”
“Close the door,” I hissed, and instantly regretted it, for even though Anna’s hand obeyed my demand, her face was scrutinising me.
“What are you doing?” she asked slowly, her cerulean eyes narrowing ever so slightly.
“I’m… ” I tried to say something, but my mouth was dry. As a journalist I had gone undercover, told fibs big and small, given false reassurances, and threatened much more powerful people with wild bluffs. Lying, omitting the truth, and misinformation came naturally to a veteran like me, all because I would stop at nothing to get my stories. But in front of Her Majesty… I couldn’t do it. There was nothing I could say that would make me look even sillier.
Anna’s eyes now sharpened further. “Chief… ” she said, raising an eyebrow. She walked over and lightly slapped her column draft on my desk, placing her hands on her hips. “Have I come at an inconvenient time?” she asked sarcastically. She raised her head, shooting me that downwards glare that she sometimes gave Kristoff when he said something careless. I was slightly taller than her, but I wilted under her baleful stare.
I am a woman of gentility, or at least I desperately want to be one. I never stutter. But in front of Anna, I not only stuttered, but sputtered. “Not at all,” I said. It was weak. Utterly unconvincing.
She took two steps forward and drew close to me, practically pinning me against the wall. I felt the key, still lodged in the safe’s hole, digging into my back. She looked up at me, and while she still looked angry, I was reminded of the day when we first met.
“Just like old times,” I murmured helplessly, unable to help myself. “You look just like when you barged into the Nokk Club years ago, accusing me of underestimating you.” The gig was up. What was I supposed to do? Your heart just melts when she looks at you with that beguiling, enchanting mix of strength and vulnerability. “What a fool I was.”
“That’s because you did underestimate me by reaching out to Elsa and Kristoff for your fancy political games without a mind to involve me,” whispered Anna, her voice more upset than angry. “And now look at me. I’m managing the economy, balancing the Great Assembly’s diverse factions, handling big foreign issues, and… oh, yes, writing my column in your paper. I’d say I’m politically capable, right?”
“Your Majesty is right, as usual.”
“So is this one of those moments where I have to be a royal pain in your backside again?”
I stared at her as she lowered her head. “Ever since I asked you for a chance, I’ve given you full access to the palace. You know all my capabilities and weaknesses. I’ve relied on you for guidance and support.” She looked back up at me. “As I’ve shared my secrets with you, can you share at least some of yours with me? Especially if I walk in on you literally trying to hide something?”
Her hand reached for mine, but when it hesitated, I took it, squeezing it reassuringly.
“Thank you for reminding me, Anna,” I replied. “You’re right: I was trying to get rid of one when you came in. I was going to burn it. But I realise now that I was wrong.” I placed my hands around her shoulders, gazing at Arendelle’s queen fondly. I paused, before deciding to take the plunge. “It’s about you and Elsa.”
Anna looked shocked. “Then why would you want to get rid of it?”
I turned around, opening the door to the safe. “Because this secret ties me to something I’m deeply ashamed of.” I rummaged through the pile of old papers and booklets in the cramped safe. “Someday, I’ll let you see all of these documents, and not all of them will make for pleasant reading. No one with any power, status, or leverage is squeaky clean. But for now… ” I squinted into the safe, feeling my way around until I found a slightly scrunched up letter, with faded ink and dried blotches. “Here. This is what I was looking for. You should see this. Indeed, perhaps you could help me corroborate its author.”
Anna took the piece of paper and gasped almost immediately. It wasn’t a long letter:
I am an attendant who has witnessed the princesses of the royal family being incarcerated in the castle grounds. The younger, Anna, is confined to a lonely life of wandering the halls and solitude, while the elder, Elsa, is barely allowed out of her room. They are little girls, forbidden to even see each other. Separated by a door, with the crying beyond the threshold growing more heartrending… they love each other more than anything in the world. When will they be free? When can I see them playing and laughing together again?
“This… this is mother’s handwriting!” cried Anna, her eyes darting across the note.
I felt the weight of more than a decade’s worth of questioning and sleepless nights fall away.
“Iduna,” I breathed. “So it was the Queen Mother.”
“What are you talking about? Wait… why does she say she’s a courtier from the palace? This isn’t even signed with her name.”
I nodded. “Do you see now, Your Majesty? This is the leak that alerted me to the plight that you and Elsa were suffering. Iduna’s final, anonymous testimony.”
Anna stared at me, stunned. “Mother wrote to you?”
“Not exactly. I was given this by my then-royal reporter. In fact, I’d hired him to find out why you and Elsa had suddenly disappeared from public events. You were only children, Anna. We never saw you and Elsa for so long. My reporter got this letter several years after – ”
” – after our accident and the trolls erased my memory,” finished Anna in realization. She swayed, knees weak, and I caught her, holding her thin arms. “She wanted to let the paper know about Elsa and me? And for you to actually release this information?”
“From what the letter reads, I’m not sure. Who knows how isolated she had become when Agnarr did what he did you Elsa and you. I think she left it up to us to do what we thought was appropriate. And we fell short miserably,” I admitted. I pulled Her Majesty into a warm hug, and spoke quietly into her ear: “I’ve wondered on many a night whether I should have revealed the palace’s dark secret to the public. But you know what happened after your parents were lost at sea.”
Anna’s hands found my back as she dropped the note. Her voice quivered as she clutched me. “You’ve told me. The government came after you guys. Asked you to keep quiet about what happened to Elsa and me.”
“It was my greatest test and I failed. I wasn’t brave enough to rise to the moment, to defy their threat of exiling or imprisoning me. The palace wanted this information suppressed, but I should have defied them.”
I closed my eyes as my queen and I breathed in each other’s distress and raw emotion. “We newspaper owners all let you down. The Fjord Times, the Snow Herald, our paper – we impotently passed over this breaking news even though we called ourselves newspeople. And this letter to my journalist was Iduna’s last resort as a Queen Mother who had no more connection to her old Northuldra community. I can feel the desperation in this letter. And we failed her.”
Anna pulled away, staring at me. “And you wanted to burn this? Why?”
I shook my head. “Perhaps I feared, unconsciously, that you wouldn’t see my efforts to help the monarchy as sincere. That I was just trying to make up for how I stuffed up on so many fronts over those fourteen years, including holding your father to account.”
“But I know you. I see you. What spurs you on is not my right to judge. Chief, please don’t burn this letter. I don’t see it as your failure at all. I want to keep it – if you’ll let me.” Tears slid from Anna’s eyes. “Please?”
“Yes. Yes, yes. Of course,” I cooed, cradling Anna and clutching her red bun of hair. “This is yours, my lovely queen. Take it. And the safe’s contents are yours to explore.”
Anna shook her head tearily. “I think this letter’s enough for me to think long and hard about things for a while.”
When we had both calmed down, I poured Her Majesty some coffee as we discussed her column, finalising what she would say about Queen Victoria’s impending visit. When she got up to leave, she pointed at Elsa’s painting. “Don’t forget to cover up the safe,” she said wryly.
I chuckled as I sat back in my leather chair. “No more secrets, Your Majesty. Not from me.”
Anna smiled, eyes sparkling. “Thanks,” she said, holding up Iduna’s note. “And not just for this.”
As the queen left my office, I stared up at the ceiling, sighing. Things had come full circle after so many years: Iduna’s plea, made for her daughters, was now in the hands of her successor, who would surely show it to Elsa.
I closed my eyes, feeling a chill that was not unpleasant at all. It was as if the North Wind itself was blowing past the windows.
“Perhaps it’s still too soon, Queen Mother, but I hope that starting now I can speak to the wind, and seek your forgiveness.”