I was doodling on my notepad at my usual corner table in the Reindeer Room when a waiter strode in. “Ma’am, His Highness is here.”
“Thanks, Harald,” I said, taking a sip of my espresso. The bitter beans were all the rage in Europe, with salons, private clubs, and coffee houses catering for lovers of this aspirational tonic. Kristoff strode into the cigar smoke-smelling room, waving his big hand at me.
“You don’t turn up to the Club as often anymore,” I called.
“You know how I feel about these places. Stuffy, fake,” he groaned, scratching himself. “I love my woodlands and my mountains.”
“You’ve probably outgrown all the mutual shoe shining and back slapping around here. In any case, you already have Her Majesty’s desire and affection. Can’t beat that.”
“Venison? Salmon? Or just a lemon soda?” I asked.
“Just the soda,” grunted Kristoff. In his usual pelt and sweater, he was easily the worst-dressed member of the entire Nokk Club. I could see some of the frequenters, among them a banker, a logistics manager, and a brandy importer staring at him in disapproval. Not that anyone would do anything about it though. Kristoff was untouchable and not just because he was Her Majesty’s consort: he was the most respected businessman in Arendelle.
Thanks to the growth of his ice company, Bjorgman House, and its legendary ties to Anna and Elsa, it was nicknamed among Arendelle’s merchant circles the “Princely House.”
But today was a grim day.
As he sat down on the comfortable leather chair, I said, “Just two days ago, twenty-thousand Bjorgman shares were sold short. Today, another fifty-thousand. This run on your company stock is gaining momentum, and we don’t know who is backing this attack on you.”
“Someone’s trying to dent confidence in my company,” replied Kristoff, cracking his neck and rolling his broad shoulders. The waiter brought him a glass of ice and soda, and he took a big gulp. “But there’s nothing to worry about – my rivals are always up to tricks. They can’t match my supply lanes or my fleet’s speed, so they’re trying to drive down the value of Bjorgman.”
“It’s not just Arendelle. Markets in Amsterdam and Paris have seen bonds sold short, even though Bjorgman is earning record profits. Anna’s victory over the East India Company, the Yokohama trade fair, all those contracts you signed with British firms – your stock should be sky high. Instead, we’re looking at a possible corporate raid now, just when Honeymaren has started her job as Northuldra’s representative in the government? Coincidence I think not.”
Kristoff looked sullen. “I’ve talked about it with Anna. She’s worried, too. I’ll try to get some friendly firms to help us buy back the bonds – at market price.”
“We can only keep up such a spree for so long before we smash the culprit – or they smash us. If the Princely House totters, or, spirits forbid, collapses – the entire Arendellian economy takes a gut punch,” I hissed, gritting my teeth. I leaned forward, staring into Kristoff’s chestnut eyes. “And our sacred pact, that promise you and I made so long ago, becomes unfulfillable. You won’t be able to finance my newspaper. I fold, my journalists lose their livelihoods, but worst of all, Anna loses her most public backer.”
Kristoff rubbed the ridges of his eyes as I continued to lay out the consequences of a hostile takeover of Bjorgman. The waiter discreetly avoided our table.
“Forget me for a moment, kid. Think of what Her Majesty faces, alone, without your or my institutional support. You’re the only big trader in town investing in my paper. The rest have thrown their lot in with the Fjord Times, and their investors in the Chamber of Commerce would love to see us taken apart and sold off to the highest bidder.” My eyes narrowed. “What next for the monarchy when it’s vulnerable to a concerted lobbying effort by Arendelle’s wealthiest merchants, and a potential toxic alliance with the Snow Herald? You and I know best that Anna would never accept being a puppet – which would make her life all the more hellish if she was in a such a weak position that she couldn’t refuse.”
Kristoff now looked genuinely disgusted. “The Chamber of Commerce is in talks with the Snow Herald? Wait, do you think it’s the Mundilfari family that’s selling us short?”
I shrugged. “Is it so surprising?” The Mundilfaris, the oldest of jarl families and owners of the Snow Herald, had investments everywhere, including the Princely House. But given this ancient Viking clan’s disdain for the royal family’s “lesser,” younger lineage, and the double insult that Northuldran blood ran in the current queen’s veins, it was not a shock at all if they would want to strike at the heart of Anna’s household. Perhaps as punishment for killing the anti-Northuldran influence bill? For backing Elsa? For bringing recruiting Maren? There were too many possibilities and it wasn’t helpful to speculate. “Just keep an eye out, Kristoff. I’ll send my reporters to do more digging. We’ll not only catch who’s attacking you, but get the stock back up to double your original price and bankrupt the short-selling bastards.”
Kristoff nodded. “Thanks. Watch out for yourself.” He rose, nodding down at me. “I haven’t forgotten how you helped Elsa after she came back to Anna. Anna and I believe in you. So thanks for trusting me as well, chief.”
“You’re a chief, too – chief of the Princely House. You don’t need me to tell you this, but hold your head high: we’ll get through this. You and Anna. Elsa. All of us.”
I stared down at my cold espresso as Kristoff departed. My mind was chasing itself in circles.
But who? I wondered furiously, vainly. Who is trying to bring down Kristoff’s company?