In the highest spire of the Mundilfari estate, some distance away from the Kingdom of Arendelle, the young Viola bled, the first wound she had suffered after tonight’s bloodbath, and it was self-inflicted. She clenched the blade, and several red droplets dashed onto the stone altar that had been in the Mundilfari clan’s possession for almost a thousand years. She wasn’t injured apart from a few scrapes and bruises, but her muscles burned with exhaustion, and her limbs were aching. Caked in the gore of her parents and siblings, tears of grief and terror and fury still pouring down her cheeks, she screamed an ancient summons, an invocation that was her right to make when – and only – when – she had slain all the family members trying to kill her that night.
“My grandfather, Lord Mayer, is dead, and I’m worthy to succeed him! By right of familicide, I claim ascension to the leadership of our noble, accursed clan,” cried the new Countess, falling to her knees. Her deep purple cape draped around her trembling body. “Hear my cry and compensate my suffering with the untold power promised to each generation of Mundilfari leaders!”
A raven flapped by her window, landing on the stone sill. Viola turned around, their eyes meeting.
“I sense great violence inside your heart,” came an omnipresent voice. “Your pact with me is complete.”
Viola felt tears welling in her crimson eyes again. The moon outside of the castle shone with an unholy light. “I’ve run the gauntlet and sacrificed everything. All so that I could have a chance to still draw breath.” She turned to the raven, her voice a snarl. “Don’t make my life more painful than if I had just let them kill me tonight.”
“You’ll survive, and you’ll live well, little Viola – you’ve been cloistered in this castle for years, and now your family’s resources and our dark secrets are yours to safeguard.”
Viola’s panting grew calmer. “I’m done skulking about in the shadows like my grandfather did. No more relying on proxies and puppets. Arendelle’s new queen has sat on her throne for several months now. She deserves to know me, and I want to see her, too.”
The raven tilted its head. “As long as you accept, body and soul, your family’s destiny, I won’t interfere. Are you true?”
Viola raised her head, gritting her teeth. “I am, and I accept.”
Midnight. Present day
“I refuse,” said Viola flatly, as she looked with undisguised disdain at the four aristocrats sitting at her long table in the Great Hall of Keep Mundilfari: the Duke of Beaufort, of England, Pasha Mujdat of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Aisin Gioro Dorgon of the Great Qing, and…
There he was, the one and only Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, who returned her gaze with bewilderment. “I can’t believe it,” he said, holding out his open hands. “This is the first time four countries with wildly different politics have ever come together, in a united purpose. And I’d thought you’d love to see Anna out of her job.”
Dressed in a Chinese robe of lavish gold, Dorgon, a Manchu prince, had a classic braided cue, and his wolfish eyes peered at Viola from behind an open, elegant fan. Like the other nobles, there was a cup of cooled tea before him. “This Arendellian girl thinks herself more powerful and influential than the four of us put together,” he sniffed.
“No. It’s just that I’ve never been so unimpressed by such an incoherent and silly proposition,” said Viola coolly. She hated Hans’ sideburns, just looking at them irritated her to no end. “Dethrone Arendelle’s executive monarchy, only to have four mediocre nobles – oh, I’m sorry, what was it you called yourselves? ‘The Conclave’ – ” She twisted her face in mock, exaggerated fear. “ – pulling the strings? You don’t think I do that well enough?”
“Your arrogance has always been insufferable. You’re a big fish in a small pond, girl. Don’t assume your superiority over the bloodlines of the others gathered at your home,” cried the Duke of Beaufort suddenly, slamming a wrinkled fist on the table. Edward was the oldest of the Conclave, in his sixties with a thin mop of grey hair and a wizened, dour expression. “We have even offered to place you as the leader of the Arendellian government that would answer to the Conclave. Aren’t the Mundilfaris tired of manipulating the throne but not ever sitting on it?”
“Come, Lady Viola,” said the Pasha soothingly, a bearded man in a beautiful turban. “With you as queen, imagine what you and the Conclave could accomplish together.”
Viola’s bemused expression didn’t change. When a courier had approached her some weeks ago with a proposition for a meeting with these four dominant nobles, she had understood the idea to be a collaborative effort that would help the involved parties expand their reach across Asia and Europe. She’d gladly convened a meeting, but from what she’d heard in this long conversation, the four seemed to not just want a more pliable monarch in Arendelle, but a different one altogether.
“Did Hans put you up to this? The idea of assassinating Anna and replacing her with someone else?” Leaning forward, Viola put her slender hands on the table’s mahogany. “You seem to misunderstand the nature of Mundilfari power. In the nearly a thousand years that we’ve shaped Scandinavia, we’ve never dethroned or rebelled against our royal patrons. Whatever you think of my relationship with Anna – and it has its difficulties – I have never fantasized for one moment that I would take her place. My designs for her are much more complex, and none of them involve killing her.” She licked her lips. “Don’t think I don’t know what happened that day when Elsa froze the kingdom, Hans. I know how Anna experienced the worst kind of betrayal at your hands, and was still driven to her death for her selflessness. It was your sword that swung against her. Whatever my differences with her, I won’t take her life.”
Hans glared at Viola with his handsome but twisted eyes. “Then we proceed with our plans, with or without you.”
“Without me?” laughed Viola suddenly, breaking into a fit of giggles. The four men stared at her in bewilderment and growing frustration as she tittered to herself for a full minute, before catching her breath and sneering at them. “Oh, no. You’ll be hearing from me very soon. As my guests tonight, you’re lucky I have the conscience to spare you fellows an immediate death right here in this room. Don’t insult me and assume I’ll politely stand aside, now that you’ve threatened my queen’s life. Now get out of my sight.”
“Not even you, Countess Viola, can withstand a united Conclave,” snarled Edward. He stood up to leave, and Dorgon and the Pasha followed. “You’re courting death.”
Viola kept her steady gaze on them. “You sealed your fate the moment you presumed to murder Anna. And you, Hans – ” She glared with her red eyes at the fallen prince. “ – You’ll regret returning to our kingdom’s affairs. Now isn’t just Anna’s time – it’s mine as well,” she snarled.
Her voice rose exultantly. “And you’ll regret the night you crossed Arendelle’s shadow mistress.”