Anna sat in her lime green nightdress by the Great Hall’s fireplace, where she ate dinner with Kristoff and would often frequent for a late night supper alone. It was becoming more and more a habit, thanks to long hours working and staying awake well past midnight, before the crack of dawn forced her up to attend to national affairs once more. It was a far cry from when Elsa would drag her out of bed.
Tonight wasn’t much better as she sat by the warm fireplace, her hands around a wooden mug of black tea. She didn’t turn around as she heard boots nearing her. She heard her general’s deep, reproachful voice.
“You went ahead with writing that column and asking Chief to publish it. You included the leaks about the Countess’s troop mobilization against Northuldra, everything. Now everyone knows about our shadow war with Viola, against my expressed wishes.”
She hung her head. “Can you at least sit with me before you chew me out?”
If there was one difference distinguishing Anna from her predecessors, it was that she treated the powerful men and women working under her as friends. That meant subjecting herself to the occasional verbal rebuke, if she felt she deserved it. That was unheard of for Arendellian monarchs of previous generations.
Glowering, Mattias moved to the comfortable armchair beside her and plonked himself down. His collar was unbuttoned and his uniform was ruffled: signs of late nights working too. His dark eyes rarely glared at his queen, but this was one of those rare moments. Anna and Mattias understood each other so well: Anna had lost many years of her life to loneliness, and Mattias even more to the enchanted mist. Their fortitude and hardiness had been shaped by the tragic absence of their fathers in their lives.
Ever since Anna became queen, it was Mattias who stewarded the most sensitive part of her government: the military. He was the palace’s last remaining link to Agnarr and even Runeard.
Thanks to their bond, Mattias felt no qualms about telling her off, and Anna was willing to sit there and take it.
“Anna, what you disclosed in your column was unbefitting of a queen with national secrets in her hands. Sorry, but you were behaving in a headstrong way that imperils our national security.”
Anna stared at him. “Our citizens had the right to know what was being done in our government’s name by the Countess – extralegal wars, private armies under her command – and that we’re going to stop her.”
“That’s the point! If that information got into the wrong hands, someone could try to undermine your authority, accuse the Crown of losing control to Viola. I have enough of a mess on my hands with Commander Hilde,” said Mattias, scowling and waving his hand in frustration. “We might have cut off her funding from the Bank of Arendelle, but she’s in this for the long game, and her troops have a head start ahead of even my best men! Northuldra’s tribespeople don’t stand a chance against her! The only chance we stand at all is with Elsa herself.”
Anna gripped her wooden cup harder. “I’m prepared to handle the fallout.”
“Do you even know what the fallout will be? By telling everyone about Hilde’s movements, you’ve just traded one advantage for another. Now she knows that the good citizens of the kingdom are reading about her plans in the daily papers. What makes you think she won’t change tactics, or overhaul her strategy? Our information gathering will be right back to square one, and in addition, the spy who gave us that intel could be at risk.” Mattias’ fist was clenched. “This was foolish. I should’ve pushed back against you harder. Tried harder to convince you that going public with Hilde’s military buildup wasn’t worth it. Or maybe I should have talked to The Arendelle Guardian’s editor. Chief was being irresponsible, just like you.”
“I wanted Vi and Hilde exposed,” protested Anna, her voice rising. “They need to be dragged into the light for everyone to scrutinize! Doesn’t that help us?”
“This isn’t a civic issue!” cried Mattias. “It’s a military one!”
“I don’t agree,” shot back Anna. “If we’re to earn the public’s trust about my plans for Northuldra, we need to be transparent about whatever, whoever, might be threatening the north. And you know better than anyone that Hilde’s purpose – the reason why she’s at Vampire Vi’s side – is to march on Northuldra. We need the whole kingdom to understand the stakes, and to be against Vi and Hilde.”
Mattias sighed, sinking back into the chair. They were tired of arguing with each other, it wasn’t in their blood. No words passed between them for a while, the silence broken only by the crackling of burning twigs and logs.
Anna bit her lip. “Who was the good man who sent the intel to us?”
“Sergeant Severin. He’s one of our most well-informed agents when it comes to Hilde’s movements. And you’ve almost jeopardized his safety. There’s a reason why that Prussian strategist I’ve been having you study, Clausewitz, talked about the fog of war. I’d rather we and the enemy both know less about each other, than for us to both know more about each other.”
Anna closed her eyes, her top commander’s words all the more stinging due to their restrained anger.
“Our situational awareness of Viola and Hilde has changed, and you can bet Hilde will exploit that. You see where I’m coming from?” Mattias rubbed the ridge of his nose, feeling slightly uncomfortable with the queen’s glum face. “Who’s signed on to your grand alliance? Our network of resistance against empires like Russia or France?”
Flames danced in Anna’s eyes. “Corona, Zaria, Chatho, and Weselton. Not many, I’m afraid. Elsa and I visited Chatho some years back, and their queen will visit me again soon. I just feel an greater sense of urgency because… look, if Vi and Hilde can continue to attack other nations with impunity, Arendelle won’t be trusted to lead an multilateral alliance. I couldn’t let them get away with sabotaging my foreign policy. I just couldn’t.”
Mattias sighed, giving a small smile. “There’s a lot on those small shoulders of yours. I understand you wanted to seize the initiative and try to make Viola and Hilde fight on your terms. But we have to do it smarter.” He rose from the armchair. “I’ll help you with a new approach, and there might even be a way to make use of the press. But no more direct leaks from the queen herself. Understood?”
Anna stood up too, grinning sheepishly at Mattias. She felt like a daughter being chastised by a well-meaning father. It felt oddly good. After all, she’d been frustrated, even angry, with Elsa in the past. Not out of malice, but out of a deep sense of care and love. It would have been good to have had a father who cared enough to get frustrated with her when she was a child. She never had that. Kids don’t like being told off because they’re often rebuked for the wrong reasons. But she could see Mattias being a wise and kind enough man to discern what was worth getting upset about.
She drew near the much taller man and gave him a quick, tight hug. He tensed up, ever vigilant about his professionalism, as Anna buried her face in him. Then he remembered that he was in her home, in her presence alone, and his taut face relaxed into a smile as he returned her embrace, enfolding his strong arms around her. “You’re doing great, Anna,” he whispered. “Really, really amazing.”
“Thanks for everything you’ve said to me tonight,” she murmured, her eyes closed. “Every word. I’ll learn and be better, I promise.”
It was well past two o’clock in the morning by the time Mattias urged her to get some rest, before departing. In the end, when she crawled back into bed beside a snoring Kristoff, Anna still couldn’t sleep. But it wasn’t because she felt bad about her earlier row with Mattias. No, she felt pumped. Fired up. She stared up at the high ceiling, grinning silently at nothing.
“I’m ready for you, Vi and Hilde.”