The Mundilfari estate, like the seats of so many Arendellian noble houses, wasn’t actually in the geographical vicinity of Arendelle. Located in the Jotunheimen mountain range to the east of the kingdom, Keep Mundilfari was a castle built upon the earliest hill fort from which the clan’s Viking ancestors lorded over the region. The present Keep, which had remained the seat of the Mundilfari family since the Middle Ages, was more than two days’ travel from Arendelle.
A single, somber trumpet heralded the arrival of the sovereign on the estate. Having rebuffed Mattias, Kristoff and Elsa’s offers to accompany her, she stepped out of her carriage alone, glancing around warily. The sky was gray and as sombre as her mood. She was in a spacious plaza, surrounded by venerable stone, and a well-dressed attendant received her, asking her to follow him. To her puzzlement, she wasn’t being led to the gardens outside, where she had been told the funeral for Lord Mayer Mundilfari was being held.
The air in the castle complex was chilly, and she rubbed her arms. How high were they above sea level? I left my cloak in the carriage, she thought. I’m so stupid. “Where are you taking me? Aren’t I here to ingratiate myself to the Mundilfaris?” she asked the cloaked attendant sarcastically. Her regal cape trailed behind the clacking of her heels.
The attendant opened a wooden door to a smaller garden, decked with vines and flowers, and Anna’s surprised eyes fell on a young woman standing at its centre. When she saw Anna, she slowly walked over to the queen, stopping and curtsying. Anna let her gaze run over her. She was very beautiful, with irises as red as roses and rich, long chestnut hair. She was lavishly garbed in a silk coat of dark purple with gold-sewn patterns, which in turn enveloped a fine, long black dress. Her shimmering earrings, elegant choker, and amethyst pendant outshone even Anna’s jewellery in splendour.
“Queen Anna, the new leader of Clan Mundilfari,” came the attendant’s voice.
The master of Keep Mundilfari’s voice was a titter that masked a violent snarl. “Your Majesty. We meet at long last. My name’s Viola. I’ve been hosting today’s funeral.” She raised her glinting eyes slightly. “Not that you’d be so naive as to think I asked you here for that.”
“No, I know. I’m here to meet you in the flesh,” replied Anna coldly. She stared at her for what felt like minutes. Viola’s blood-red gaze didn’t falter as she observed the queen, keeping her head bowed for as long as Anna watched her. It was only after Anna spoke again that she slowly raised herself back up.
“Please tell me something, Countess Viola Mundilfari. And be honest with me,” said Anna softly. “Am I in danger?” Viola tilted her head slightly as Anna continued. “Do you have armed guards hiding somewhere? Or have you prepared a cell in your castle’s dungeon for me if I don’t play ball with you?”
Viola’s smile flickered, before widening. “A bold shot across the bow, Anna. I have no soldiers here. My invitation for you might have looked suspicious, but there’s nothing sinister about a countess meeting her monarch, is there?”
“I know you seized control of the Mundilfari house very quickly after your grandfather’s sudden death. Less than three days after Lord Mayer died, I received word from General Mattias’ spies that your parents, two brothers, and other sister all mysteriously perished.” Anna glared at Viola. “Did you kill them?”
There was barely a pause before Viola nodded. “Not personally.”
Anna couldn’t help herself from taking a sharp intake of breath, and she felt herself breaking into a cold sweat. “You admit to such a bloodbath so casually. I almost don’t believe you,” she whispered, shivering.
Viola shrugged. “If I didn’t triumph in the succession struggle, I wouldn’t be standing before you today, and instead be lying in a ditch with my throat cut.” The countess raised a slender hand, her choker gleaming around her neck. “You know who I am, and what our differences have led to. So much political shadowboxing, proxy battles, and deceit between us! We need not be adversaries, Anna. In fact, I don’t want us to toy around with each other. Join me, Your Majesty, and take up your birthright to conquer Northuldra.”
Anna blinked. “What?”
“Your government’s plan to reunify the north with Arendelle over a period of years is admirable. Alas, that policy isn’t enough for me. Surely the most straightforward way is colonization?”
“Should I let a private citizen like you shape my policies of generational import?”
“Our proxies been involved in many bills that have succeeded – and failed, to be sure – in Parliament. All I ask is that you commit to wiping out the north. If you promise that, I will publicly bend the knee to you. All of Clan Mundilfari’s resources will be at your disposal if you align yourself with my house’s ancient objective to destroy Northuldra’s nature spirits. I made a pact to accomplish this when I became leader of this family. Every head of Clan Munfildari does; the pact has been in effect for centuries. It will only end when we finally overrun Northuldra.”
Slightly dazed by Viola’s brazenness, Anna shook her head. “You actually expect me to move against the Snow Queen, my sister. It’s outrageous we’re even having this conversation. I don’t care if my forebears genuflected to you. My government could have you ostracized for expecting me to be a puppet.”
“But that’s what the royal family always has been to us. Figureheads,” said Viola, quite sincerely and without remorse, almost in exasperation. “Come on, Anna. You wear a shiny crown on your head. You can be picked off by a musketeer anytime you’re in the Plaza. True power, the force that actually drives the kingdom’s destiny – “ She put a hand on her chest. “ – must be hidden, like a leviathan beneath the endless depths. King Runeard was our most recent tool, and an all too willing one. He hated Northuldra as much as my late grandfather did. Did you think King Agnarr was so different before he married that creature of a Northuldran?”
“Iduna! Queen Iduna! My mother!” roared Anna, cheeks red in rage.
“Right, right. Your creature of a mother – “
Anna howled in fury, raising a hand to slap Viola, but the noblewoman caught her wrist, and they struggled violently against each other, Viola’s grin widening as she savoured Anna’s anger. Veritably vampiric red eyes met blazing cerulean irises. “Your ancestors danced to the tunes of mine, and this very moment is no different! You waving your hand around to my cheap taunts!” she hissed. “Get a hold of yourself! This should embarrass you. But you’re too naive to understand.”
Anna stilled, staring hatefully into Viola’s eyes. “I’ve fought off your puppets in the Great Assembly and built my own power base. I have Kristoff and the Princely House. I can match your Snow Herald newspaper with my own. I have the military and General Mattias by my side. And I will never, ever surrender the north to your rapacious predations. Not when two of the most important people in my life share Northuldra heritage.”
“Ah, yes, the Snow Queen and that amateur Honeymaren,” sneered the other. “That you think your inner court can outmanoeuvre me, when you have so easily and willingly answered my summons like a good little houseboy, speaks volumes about your inexperience. It’s almost cute.”
Anna’s chest felt like it was on fire. She hadn’t felt so angry since she punched Hans in the face. But this was a different kind of anger. It was mixed with a gnawing, unwelcome frustration at the realization that she was dealing with someone very much her intellectual and political equal – if not more. “Screwing with me? Then why don’t you just declare war on me? Claim the throne for yourself?” she demanded.
The mountain wind blew at the women, Anna’s cape and Viola’s cloak billowing.
“If you think civil war or a palace coup is what I’m about, then you’re even stupider than I thought.” Viola didn’t take her eyes off Anna. “I’m a patriot. I love Arendelle, and you could say that I love you, my queen. I can be an indispensable servant to you. All you need to do is ally with my family, as all monarchs of Arendelle did before you.”
“Your family is full of darkness and poison. I will never join you,” declared Anna defiantly.
“If only you cared to know why we have a different point of view, my dear,” said Viola quietly. Their faces were much too close. “Have you ever even bothered to wonder why our clan is sworn enemy to Northuldra’s spirits?”
Anna stared into Viola’s crimson eyes. She felt a brief surge of fear, like a bottom had opened up in her stomach. There was something mythic about Viola’s aura. She might be a master manipulator – that much was certain – but she wasn’t a bluffer. Then her fear was gone, and she regained her resolve. “There’s nothing to know, except how I can neutralize you,” growled the queen, trying to pull her arm back. Viola tried to hold on for a bit longer, and they struggled briefly again. “Let me go, Viola! You’re hurting me.”
To her surprise, Viola actually obeyed, and Anna yanked away, rubbing her wrist. She kept her glare on the noblewoman. “Know this, Countess: I don’t care how my predecessors licked your boots. You’re going against the Crown and me, the holder of the Orb and Sceptre.” Her voice rose in pitch. “When we meet again, you’ll either be curtsying in obedience at my court, or exiled in this miserable castle that you call home, never to threaten Northuldra again!”
In a breath of wind, Viola glided up to her, her pale hand pressing lightly against hers. She stared closely at Anna, who had frozen in place. “Don’t make threats out of anger or fear. I can tell you’re not even sure what you want to do with me, my queen,” she said sincerely, very quietly. “I’ll give you a real threat: Arendelle’s future belongs to either my hands around Elsa’s throat, or your hands around mine.”
Anna stared at her, that familiar dread like a hole in her stomach. She felt the terror of her witching hour nightmares returning, the fire of Elsa’s pyre crackling, scorching and incinerating the Fifth Spirit.
“How could you say something like that? Why are you doing this to me, Viola?” she asked, her distressed voice shaking ever so slightly for the first time.
“Our lives are indelibly linked,” murmured Viola. “In a much more profound way than even that of friends, allies, or lovers.” She blinked, suddenly breaking into a smile, placing an arm around Anna’s trembling shoulder.
“You’ve come a long way. Why don’t you stay for dinner?”