Today was a good day to have a stroll in the sun-dappled royal gardens, a verdant sanctum where Anna often chatted and picnicked with Elsa when she visited Arendelle. Today the queen was entertaining a very important guest. The man beside her was dignified and regal, resplendent in dark blue robes that had the pattern of an embroidered dragon holding a pearl. This was no European dragon. It was like a scaled serpent, long, and winding, with magnificent antlers and a soulful, penetrating gaze. This magical beast was the five-clawed imperial emblem of the most powerful empire to the east.
Her visitor’s black hair was braided in a long ponytail, leaving his forehead bare. “Thanks for coming all the way here, Prince Regent Yixin. I’m grateful to China for signing the treaty with me concerning Prince Dorgon’s extradition. It mustn’t have been easy for you, as a family member,” said Anna, as they admired the blooming roses and peonies in the pleasant heat.
“Dorgon was a member of the Conclave, which sought to usurp you. I was glad to hand him over to rot in your prison,” replied Yixin in heavily accented Arendellian.
Anna nodded appreciatively. “Xie xie, Lord Yixin. Please give my regards to the Son of Heaven when you return. You’ve been my friend and a helpful ear ever since Elsa began working with you during her reign.”
The vast and ancient land of Hua Mulan, the Middle Kingdom was a lucrative trading partner to Arendelle, particularly thanks to its demand for Arendellian ice. China sourced its luxury ice through the British port of Hong Kong, specifically Ice House Street in Central district where Bjorgman House had a flourishing branch. Despite the humiliation of having ceded even a small “barren rock” to the barbarians, business had been good. It was through Hong Kong that Sino-Arendellian relations had grown stronger, thanks to Anna’s relationship with Yixin – and her pact with him to provide China with any British intelligence that passed by Bjorgman on Ice House Street.
China’s rulers were called Manchus, proud horsemen from north of the Great Wall. They had conquered the previous dynasty and founded the Great Qing some centuries ago. China’s imperial house was far more powerful compared to Arendelle’s executive monarchy: the Son of Heaven’s will was absolute.
“Your sincerity and nobility are beyond question. By the way, my labyrinthine government isn’t monolithic: there are many competing interests within. Those of similar ideals should stick together,” said the Qing imperial regent, his hands hidden in his long, folded sleeves. He looked admiringly at her red bun, letting his gaze linger on her face’s pretty freckles. As the most favored son of the emperor, he was used to getting whatever women he wanted. From the palace, from villages, from ships across the seas… wherever he fancied. Yet he had nothing but respect for Anna’s personal space and was friends with Kristoff. These were already markers of immense esteem from a Chinese prince used to seeing officials bashing their foreheads on the ground as they kowtowed before him.
“And you can count on me in these difficult times. I received your many letters about the Mundilfari clan and Viola. What a nightmare. That’s why I came. And I must be honest with you.”
“What’s the diplomatic gossip?” Anna asked her informant urgently.
The Manchu’s almond-shaped eyes shifted cautiously as he revealed an elegant hand fan and snapped it open. Anna could see meticulous artwork of mountains and clouds decorating the paper folds. He began to wave it at himself lightly. “Concerning our treaty. Personally, I’m satisfied with the terms we concluded on, Anna. But there’s a faction in my court that aren’t. They fear Arendelle. They worry that you’re concealing intentions for an attack against us.”
“Thanks to Commander Hilde’s aggression against Hans and the Southern Isles,” groaned Anna, rolling her eyes. “I warned Vi about this blowback from China, and maybe the Ottomans and British too. Oh, Yixin, I mean absolutely no harm against China at all – “
“I believe you. But: the memory of the British navy’s seizure of Hong Kong is still fresh on our minds. And even then, at least the barbarians declared war on us. Apparently you didn’t against the Southern Isles,” he whispered. “All it took was an elite, merciless force led by Hilde, and… ” He trailed off.
Anna put her face in a hand, wincing. “You’re right, Your Highness. Oh, by the spirits… what have you two done, Vi and Hilde?”
“I’ve always been your advocate in the Purple City, but our imperial court isn’t feeling generous towards you. I had to twist several arms to get that treaty with you signed.” Yixin swore to himself behind his fan. “Dorgon and Hans were part of the same clique. My fellow princes are angry at what Viola Mundilfari did to the Southern Isles. The emperor has already ordered the strengthening of all troop positions beyond Hong Kong, where the will of the Qing is still supreme. The only thing is…”
He raised an elegant, thin eyebrow. “You aren’t Lord Palmerston of Britain. You don’t want to fight us.”
“Of course I don’t. You’re my friend, and Viola doesn’t control my foreign policy. “
The Manchu prince’s eyes narrowed even further, his expression partly hidden by his spread fan. “I’m afraid there’s the rub. I need you to prove what you said to me. Show me you’re still an independent ruler. I need this. The emperor needs this.” Yixin crouched down and took an admiring sniff of the blood-red petals, fanning himself, before standing back up. He looked worriedly at her. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. Your own countess has made you – well, to me you’ll never be untrustworthy, but you must do something about her: preferably permanently.”
Anna shook her head. “It’s more complicated than His Imperial Majesty thinks. I can’t make any promises. Can you prevent China from challenging Arendelle while I try to think of something?”
“That all depends on whether my emperor will listen to reason. I have faith he will, as long as I outmanoeuvre my enemies in the imperial court.” He smiled at her. “I’ll hold back my people for as long as I can. For you, sweet queen.”
“You’ve already helped me so much, Lord Yixin. Thank you – you can bet I’ll be sending more specialists over to your estate: I’ll make sure you get the credit at the imperial court for helping China modernize.”
“Oh, Your Majesty, you were always easy to do business with,” chuckled Yixin, bowing deeply. A most formidable woman, he thought. She knows how to take… but also how to give. “I shall ask my father to invest more holdings in the Bank of Arendelle.”
Anna winked. “Stay for lunch,” she said, squeezing his hand as she led him away from the gardens and back inside the palace.
“Certainly. Before I leave, do you know of any Arendellian women that might be interested in a life of luxury with a Manchu prince?”
“And fight with the rest of your harem for your attention?” chortled Anna, making a fist and slugging Yixin on the arm hard.
“That hurt! How un-queenly of you.”
“If you’re a dragon, I’m a wolf. I share plenty of state intelligence with you already. If you want to chase our women, I’m not helping.”
Only Anna had the charisma and friendly charm to banter with fellow royalty and nobility. Yixin sniggered, beady eyes twinkling, and that was that.
The emperor of China had made his demand. Soon, the queen of Arendelle would have to respond.