Deep in the Northuldra forest, amidst primeval, breathing trees, the Snow Queen felt a reverberation of pain and remorse. It came not just from her beloved sister. It came from Maren… and Arendelle’s commander, Mattias. She released the urgent missive from Master Michael, her and Anna’s close friend. His message warned of a battle like Arendelle had never seen before in the fjord, just beyond the palace. She raised her hand, allowing Gale to encircle her with a gentle breeze. Bruni, the Fire Spirit, hopped into her palm, snuggling his little blue cheek against her soft skin. Her eyes shone with the colours of the rainbow, her inner voice calling out to the Water Spirit.
Arendelle was in danger. Anna was in danger.
“Hold on,” whispered the Fifth Spirit, as the Nokk burst in a wave of crystal-clear waters before her. It stamped its hooves and whinnied, inviting her on.
“Viola won’t see victory today.”
Two months ago. One week after Lord Mayer Mundilfari’s funeral
At the very highest level of Keep Mundilfari’s tower was a small, circular chamber, with a primitive stone altar at waist-height. Countess Viola stood in front of this altar, moonlight filtering through the windows of the tower. She stared for what felt like hours at that slab, the weight of more than twelve generations of ancestral noblemen and women crushing her small shoulders. She raised a jeweled dagger and slit her palm, wincing and allowing the blood to hit the altar.
“Is it done?” came a distorted, genderless voice.
Viola closed her crimson eyes, and when she turned around and opened them, there was a raven hopping about at the window’s stone ledge. Their eyes met. “I wish I didn’t have to talk to you again so soon,” said Viola softly, “after I completed the succession ritual of killing Father, Mother, and my siblings to prove my worth and satiate you.”
“You should make your move against the Fifth Spirit soon,” echoed the omniscient voice again. The raven didn’t speak, but the voice clearly came from its feathery form. “Every day, her power grows stronger as she knows herself better and better.”
The dark bird cocked its head, its baleful gaze boring into Viola. “Elsa is the spirit that channels the Earth, Fire, Water, and Air elements. At last, the five have come together in the forests of Northuldra. The Mundilfaris’ promise to me can at last be fulfilled.”
“It’ll take time,” warned Viola quietly. “Even with my influence, the new queen of Arendelle – Elsa’s little sister – is intelligent, devoted, and strong. I saw and spoke to her for the first time just yesterday.”
“Which makes it all the more imperative that you destroy them both,” responded the mysterious summoned bird. “The sister-queens aren’t just two women, but a Diarchy. Anna can match you in secular power, whilst Elsa stands between me and my devouring of the elemental spirits. Together, they are too formidable for my liking. Destroy them both.”
“I’ll kill Elsa, as per my ancestors’ agreement with you,” murmured Viola, staring at the dusty floor, “but not Anna. She can be turned to our side.”
“You don’t need her. The Mundilfari name carries far more weight in Arendelle’s true circles of power than even the executive functions of the royal puppets. My pact with your forebears has seen to that. Do not get distracted.”
“I have a trump card,” begged Viola. “My flagship Muspelheim, the most advanced ironclad warship in Europe, is docked near the cove. Not even the British or Americans have managed to build such a mighty vessel yet. If Anna doesn’t give way to my politicians in parliament and authorize my invasion of Northuldra, I’ll show her what I can offer her: an Arendellian empire with my help. Then she’ll become our ally, and our power will spread far beyond these shores.”
“I wasn’t asking when I told you to kill her. This is part of our covenant. Your founding patriarch mortgaged eternity to me for limitless wealth, prestige, and power. You’ll be paying your debt to me forever – at least, until I consume the Five Elements and at last snuff out the vestiges of the old world’s nature spirits.”
Viola glared at the raven, crimson eyes flashing. “I’ve known nothing but abuse, friendlessness, and burning hatred for the twenty-five years I’ve endured this life. My family has been the source of my woe since I was born. Yet how is it – ” She wanted to cry, but it was as if she’d forgotten how to. “How is it that Anna can come here for just a couple of nights and make this miserable, lonely castle feel like a home again? Despite everything you’ve made our clan stand for since time immemorial, did you know that she writes me letters every week, like she does with Elsa? That she tells me everything about herself, even as our proxies battle amongst each other in the Great Assembly and other theatres?”
She began to giggle shrilly. “How can she be so vulnerable with me, even as she knows how dangerous I am to her and Elsa?” She stared at her still-bleeding hand. “For the first time… in forever… I’ve felt loved. I’ve done so many things that don’t deserve forgiveness. But it’s as if Anna doesn’t even care.”
“I’ve listened to you ramble on, and I still haven’t heard a good reason why she should be kept alive,” came the raven’s cold voice. It flapped its night-black wings. “You will destroy the Diarchy, the sister-queens. Anna can love you all she wants. It doesn’t change your destiny as a Mundilfari.”
“Give me time,” cried Viola, but the raven had begun to fly away. “I’ll convince her. I won’t kill her!”
The raven had already soared high above Keep Mundilfari, but the voice still pierced through her skull. “You’ll live and die under my whim. Love doesn’t factor into your considerations.”
“Get out. Get out of my head, demon!” Moaning, Viola sank to the floor, fingers clutching her face as she bit her lip so hard that it bled. She slumped and collapsed, writhing in torment.
Her head and heart were on fire.
Muspelheim was on fire.
Both sides had suffered major losses, with only several stragglers having managed to abandon ship and jump into the sea. The rest of the Arendellian elite troops and Viola’s Runic Knights lay dead, strewn about the main deck. Explosions continued to rock the incapacitated warship, and everyone had fled. For the moment, Arendelle was safe, but the battle was far from over. Maren had crawled to safety, clutching her nose and watching through hazy eyes Anna and Viola’s ongoing duel. Mattias joined Maren, slumping beside her. “Are you alright?” he asked, glancing at her. She nodded, although her bloodied face betrayed frustration at herself and a raw fury at Viola. She glared at the dueling countess and queen, swearing under her breath.
“I should’ve been able to beat her.”
Mattias drew closer to her, his eyes kind. “Let me realign that for you,” he offered, raising his hand to her shattered nose. Maren looked nervous, but nodded, and clenched her eyes as Mattias pursed his lips. “This is going to hurt, lass.”
Anna and Viola’s swords collided, blades grinding against one another as they glared daggers at each other. Anna brought her sword down, clashing again with Viola, before lunging at her in an angry thrust. Viola weaved past Anna, purple cloak billowing in the sea wind, and counterattacked, her sword tip just nicking Anna’s arm. The queen didn’t flinch from the trail of blood and torn cloth, but instead advanced and pushed Viola back.
Their blades kissed fiercely, and they shoved at each other, trying to force the other to give ground. They could feel the other woman’s hot breath on their faces.
“You’ve been training hard in fencing, haven’t you?” growled Viola, pressing her gauntlet against the flat of her sword, pushing Anna back. Anna felt her already weakened knees buckling further. The queen struggled to parry Viola’s progressively ferocious slashing, her aching arms faltering. “You’re fierce. But you’re not ferocious,” said Viola, sweat dripping down her pale face. “And the Wolf school of swordfighting is only at its best in the hands of the ferocious!” She spun, dancing a dance of death as a flurry of neatly aimed cuts began to wear Anna down, who could only grit her teeth and defend, barely managing to parry the rain of deadly blows. Eventually, Viola forced her all the way to the gunwale, pressing her dangerously against the edge. Any further, and Anna would be toppled and fall into the sea.
“Yet I sense you holding back, even at the precipice of life and death. Are you so confident that I don’t want to kill you? Or perhaps… ” Viola’s red eyes swam in Anna’s aqua ones. “You have your own plans for me?”
“Yeah,” groaned the queen, her blade barely managing to push Viola’s back. Her arm’s muscles burned like they were on fire. “Maybe it’s because I don’t want to accidentally kill you. I reject your vicious cruelty, and I reject your vision for this kingdom and your plans for Elsa and Northuldra. But I will never reject you, Vi.”
Anna gritted her teeth, eyes suddenly stinging with tears of emotion. She thought of Elsa, of how when you stripped away all the politics, like that accursed Mundilfari pact and the conflict over Arendelle’s future, it really came down to just she and her, the two most powerful women in the kingdom, fighting over Elsa, over the fate of the Fifth Spirit. Wasn’t it ridiculous?
Anna stared into Viola’s vermillion irises. “You want to make me yours. Well, right back at you, then. I want to make you mine, countess.”
“What do you mean?” whispered Viola.
“For every crazy deed you do for me, I’ll match it with something crazy too,” cried Anna. “There’s someone who can give you more than your family ever bothered to. Yes, that’s right. She’s right before you,” she roared, forcing Viola back. “Your queen!”
“If you reject this gift of Muspelheim,” growled Viola, a hint of desperation in her voice, “I’ll… face consequences, worse than any you can imagine. And you will, too. You must at least make use of this great weapon, make yourself my ally. It’s truly for your own good.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong. You have so much more to give than warships and riches.” Anna’s eyes shone. “And I have so much to give you, too,” she said suddenly, voice trembling. “Ask yourself this: what could we be, if we weren’t enemies?” Viola’s eyes were looking more and more unstable as she digested Anna’s words. Her sword faltered, and she stumbled back.
Anna walked forward, panting heavily. “I think of that all the time, Vi. I think of you. How your cruelty reflects deep suffering and unhealed pain. How much you reflect me, even if I can’t agree with what I see.” Viola avoided Anna’s eyes as she continued. “I feel so much déjà vu – it’s like when I was in Elsa’s ice palace, trying to get her to come home with me, and she pushed me away.”
Anna dropped her sword, and it clanged to the wooden deck. She could hear Maren and Mattias shouting at her in disbelief and concern. Viola stared at her. “What are you doing?”
“Countess,” said Anna, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “You offer me Muspelheim because you think I won’t be able to top that. Well, you miscalculated.”
She opened her arms, dark green and purple cape flapping in the wind. “I reject your ace – and raise you one. I offer you my life.”
Maren and Mattias could almost hear their jaws drop to the deck. Viola’s vampiric eyes were almost bloodshot with disbelief as Anna slowly walked towards her, dangerously close to Viola’s blade. Anna’s voice was calm. “This is the only way I can show you that I mean every word when I say that I want you with me.”
Real fear crept into Viola’s voice. “No. No, sweet Anna, I don’t want to kill you – ”
“First in my ice palace, then against Hans, and with Grandfather’s dam too. This the umpteenth time you’ve risked your life to prove a point,” came a familiar, melodic voice. “I really wish you’d drop the habit.”
The sky above the fjord refracted a kaleidoscope of radiant colours as the Snow Queen’s gossamer form slammed into Muspelheim’s deck. From the waters exploded the majestic, watery form of the Nokk. Anna stared in gobsmacked silence as the Water Spirit landed on Muspelheim and Elsa raised her gaze, shimmering eyes meeting Viola’s vampiric gaze.
“Just in time,” murmured Elsa, loose blonde tresses blowing behind her.
“Elsa,” snarled Viola, staring at the Snow Queen and raising her sword. “I must admit, you’re in Arendelle sooner than I expected – ”
She gasped and doubled over, winded, as Elsa snapped her fingers, and Nokk whinnied, lashing out and slamming its hind legs’ hooves into Viola’s midsection. Another kick from the Nokk, and the soaked Viola was hurled high into the air. There was no time to even blink. It was almost anti-climatic, ridiculous, even, as the Countess’s helpless form fell into the sea with a neat plop.
Elsa’s calm yet stern expression said everything she wanted. “No one will ever force my sister to gamble with her life. Not even you,” she declared quietly.
Mattias peered over the gunwale, stunned by the Nokk’s power. His eyes darted around for any sign of Viola resurfacing, but there weren’t even bubbles or discarded clothes. He shook his head, before tearing his eyes away and running to look for any survivors among his soldiers.
“Will she be okay?” came Anna’s exhausted voice.
Elsa gazed at the bruised, bleeding, and dirty queen. She rushed over, sweeping her little sister into her arms. “If she can’t swim to shore, Nokk will take her there. But as far as I’m concerned, this battle is over. No ifs, no buts!” she declared, squeezing Anna tightly.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” sobbed Anna, burying her face in Elsa’s shoulder. She felt her body deflate and practically melt. “Elsa. People have died today. Destin and his men have made sacrifices big time.”
“You’ve become a true commander-in-chief. I’m so proud of you.” Elsa bit her lip as she felt Anna’s arms tighten around her. “It’s time to go home and rest. Kristoff needs to see you safe and sound.”
The Fifth Spirit then looked at Mattias and Maren, who returned Elsa’s gaze fondly. “I was so right to have asked you to join Anna here, in Arendelle,” said Elsa, as she slowly released the queen. “I’ve missed you, Honey.”
“You saved us, and Viola was no match for you,” declared Maren, helping Mattias up. “We could use your help, if we ever have to contend with her again.” She was surprised, and slightly troubled, when Elsa didn’t match her encouragement.
“Hmm. Viola was caught by surprise, worn out, and had lost the protection of her warriors. If anything, she was too distracted by what I’d call Anna’s inspired madness.” Elsa turned to Anna, who couldn’t help chuckling. “And most importantly of all, I think there’s unfinished business between you and her, isn’t there?”
Anna stared at the still waters. There was still no sign of Viola, but somehow, she didn’t feel the need for the Nokk to go after her.
“She and I are a work in progress,” she declared quietly.
Just like the future of Arendelle itself.
In the end, the Battle of the Fjord didn’t do much harm to the kingdom. If anything, it was Viola who suffered the greatest losses: the decimation of her Order of the Rune, the loss of Muspelheim without any political or military concessions, and a complete humiliation at the hands of the Fifth Spirit.
Anna could be proud of a job well done in the midst of unprecedented stakes and pressure. Yet for some reason, she didn’t feel completely satisfied as she sat alone in her throne room, more than two weeks after the Battle of the Fjord. At least Muspelheim was safely docked in the harbour, a wonder and marvel for families and kids to look at. Sooner or later, the tourism ministry would surely ask Anna about the possibility of guided tours inside the ship.
What did her victory mean?
Arendelle’s politics looked to become even messier. Mattias favoured arresting Viola, but she still had many tentacles of influence creeping through the corridors of power. Elsa would no doubt remain a target of Viola’s. Would she seek to somehow surpass Elsa, after being so thoroughly thrashed? Or would she intensify her political maneuvers, to use less dramatic means to try and secure an invasion of Northuldra again?
Why was Viola so desperate for Anna to join her? And… Anna pursed her lips. What did it mean to offer Viola her very life? Did she mean it, or was it all part of the political game?
I want to see you again, Countess, thought Anna. There’s so much we have to work out. And you’re still full of mysteries.
“Your Majesty?” came the voice of her chief courtier, Kai. “You have a letter.”
Anna raised her head curiously. “I don’t have any appointments today.”
“Indeed,” said Kai, walking into the throne room and handing Anna the letter. The queen stared at the back.
The envelope was sealed with the Mundilfari family crest.
Anna held it close, closing her eyes and savouring the feel of the paper against her fingertips.
It seemed like she would indeed be having another sleepover at Keep Mundilfari soon.
THE BLADE OF ELSA AND THE SIEGE OF ARENDELLE | THE BATTLE OF THE FJORD | TWISTED LOVE