The Countess’s back was no longer so sore that she couldn’t sit up. So she propped herself against a fluffy pillow as she glared at the wooden bowl of gruel in her hand. She was in her purple nightgown, recuperating from the brutal chastising Mephistopheles had meted out on her. “Hilde,” she muttered, her other hand clutching a silver spoon. She glared at the martial woman by her bedside, whose serious expression looked somewhat hopeful. “This hot soup you’ve made for me is disgusting. I don’t even know what ingredients you put in to get this… porridge-like texture,” chastised Viola.
The supreme commander of the Countess’s private army actually looked crestfallen, a strand of her blond hair draping down her smooth face. “I used potatoes and leeks, just like in the recipe. It’s very nutritious, and perfect for regaining your strength, my Lady.”
“I’m not one of your soldiers,” sniffed Viola. “Is this what you feed your troops? No wonder why they’re so deadly. I’d want to kill everyone if I was forced to eat this every day.” She smiled wryly at Hilde, who looked genuinely discouraged by her own domestic ineptitude. This was a side that only Viola was allowed to see.
“You clumsy sweetheart. Stop troubling yourself with my convalescence and summon my cooks to make some proper food,” ordered Viola. “The kitchen isn’t your domain. And while you’re at it, you don’t have to tuck me in and watch over me until I fall asleep every night. You’ve taken care of me enough. Save the soppy stuff for Her Majesty and the Snow Queen.” She put down her bowl by her bedside and reached for Hilde’s hand, stroking it. “We’re not at Arendelle Girls’ anymore. I’m stronger than I was back then, thanks to you.”
The slightest of smiles curved Hilde’s lips. “My Lady…”
Their tender moment was interrupted by a knock on the door, and Anna burst in, followed by none other than Elsa in her resplendent, quiet glory. “Vi!” cried Anna. “Hi, Hilde – are you two alright?”
Viola’s eyes locked on Elsa’s. Elsa smiled, tilting her head. “My Lady Mundilfari,” said the Snow Queen kindly. “I hope you don’t mind me joining this visit to your home today. Sir Alan and Master Michael also anxiously want to see you.”
Viola nodded. “Hilde found me after she realized I was missing. She retrieved me and nursed me back to… well, where I am now.” She gestured at herself. “I regret not attending my first day as our kingdom’s first prime minister, Anna.” Her usually fierce eyes were genuinely apologetic. “Mephistopheles maintains a tight leash on me, but as long as I bide my time and feign obedience here in this keep, I can continue to serve you.”
Anna joined Hilde by Viola’s bedside. “I’m so sorry, Vi,” she said, her voice trembling. “I didn’t know that he would be so vicious towards you. Do you really have to summon him?”
“I’ll arouse his suspicion if I delay my invocations for too long,” said Viola. “And I couldn’t help telling him about us. About the union of our dynasties.” She smiled up at Anna. “It’s hard for me to admit, but after what I’ve done to you and the choices I’ve forced you to make, I’m not sure I deserve your allegiance.”
“You’re under my protection. I’d give my life for you,” said Anna at once, kneeling down. She glanced at Elsa, who nodded. “You were right to proclaim to him our union. I’ve shouted it from the rooftops to the whole kingdom through my newspaper column. We won’t let Mephistopheles constrain what we want to do together.” She gave the Countess’s hand a fond squeeze. “Say, Vi – maybe it’s time that you and Elsa finally got acquainted with each other. She wants nothing more than to know all about you.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not about to sic Hilde on her,” noted the prime minister snarkily. “Not anymore.” She looked right at Elsa. “It does feel nice to have the Fifth Spirit with me while she’s not summoning the Nokk to kick me in the stomach.”
Elsa smiled pleasantly. “That was then, when you had a warship’s cannons aimed at Arendelle. Now is the time for us to chat. Let’s get the others up here as well.”
“And in the meantime,” added Anna, “can I borrow Hilde for a moment?”
Hilde looked at Viola for permission, who smirked. “Well, answer her. Her Majesty’s trying to let you off the hook with me.”
Hilde nodded sheepishly. She stood up, her handsome form a full head taller than Anna. “Let’s talk.”
Hilde stared out at the afternoon sun, her hands on the balustrade of a long balcony. She was on a spacious stone terrace just outside the drawing room. The view of the craggy Jotunheimen Mountains was beautiful, and the air was pleasantly cool and dry.
“You love her very much, don’t you?” came Anna’s voice.
The queen joined the paramilitary commander out on the terrace. Her aqua eyes shone. “You’d do anything for Vampire Vi. Like I’d do anything for Elsa. They’re talking right now, the two of them. I see a bit of myself and my sister in you guys.” Hilde said nothing as Anna took a deep breath. “I want to introduce you to General Mattias. Your troops and his, together, will double Arendelle’s strength, but your colonial activities in Arabia, Africa, and Europe have raised questions from many countries, many of them my own allies. We’ll need to work on a strategy together moving forward.”
“You’re a firm but kind queen, Anna,” replied the Spirit Killer quietly. “I take orders only from Her Ladyship, but I’m willing to cooperate with you on any ideas you have. But for now,” she said, turning to face her, “you requested to see my martial arts.”
Anna smiled. “You trained Vi in the Wolf school, didn’t you? Mattias is my teacher. I’ve been practicing hard, and I want to be as strong as you and Vi one day.”
“Hence your wish to accelerate your training… and test yourself against me.”
Taking a deep breath, Anna flung off her dark green, short jacket, revealing a sheathed royal rapier by her hip. Hilde, in turn, unbuttoned her coat, letting it fall to the terrace floor. She undid her high-collared shirt, revealing a white, figure-hugging singlet. She calmly took out a roll of linen bandages from her pocket and silently began to wrap them around her left hand. “Where’s your zweihänder?” asked Anna quizzically. The outdoor terrace was large enough for a fencing match, yet Hilde had no weapon.
“I don’t need it. I’ll disarm you and that’ll be the end of it,” answered Hilde matter-of-factly. “I’ll show you how far you have to go, while protecting Your Majesty’s face from extreme swelling or unnecessary injury.”
She said this without the slightest hint of arrogance or taunting. But Anna still felt a vein bulge on her forehead, her grin masking a growl. “If I were a lesser person, I’d think you were throwing shade against me big time.” Hilde’s words were totally emotionless, but somehow they annoyed Anna as much as when Kristoff was in a teasing mood. The queen gripped her sword handle harder as she drew her blade. She shuffled into a fighting stance, pointing her blade at Hilde as adrenaline electrified her limbs. Her boots tapped lightly on the ground as Viola’s general began to sway slightly, her arms rising and fists clenching before her poker face.
“If Your Majesty forces me to use more than just my left hand to beat you – ” Hilde’s yellow eyes glinted. “You win. I don’t wish to put your life in danger.”
A competitive fire awakened within Anna. “Just your left hand? You’re so asking for me to drop you. Come on!” she cried, as she lunged forward with her rapier – but it was a feint, and she dashed behind Hilde, preparing to strike.
Hilde simply pivoted around, staring straight at her.
Anna’s heart froze momentarily as she jumped back, marveling at Hilde’s economy of movement and utter calm. She breathed lightly as she recalled Mattias’ arduous training sessions, easing herself into that vortex of twisting aggression and ferocity that the Wolf form of Arendellian fencing was famous for. She attacked with a lightning fast lunge, her surroundings a blur.
“Take this – !”
And then, just like that, she felt her head flung back, her cheek bruised as Hilde’s fist welted her face painfully. She staggered back, head spinning, as she glanced in bewilderment at Hilde, whose legs were still lightly dancing on the spot, her fists raised. It was as if she hadn’t budged at all. “How – ?” wheezed Anna in confusion, struggling to steady her disoriented self as Hilde watched her silently. This didn’t make sense. Her sword was much longer than Hilde’s arm. She regained herself and danced around Hilde, trying to spot an opening, and recalling the staccato attacks of the Wolf school, launched into a flurry of seemingly unconnected, jarring slashes and thrusts. Hilde’s legs began to shift as she smoothly shuffled into Anna’s maelstrom of deadly steel. To a beginner’s eyes, Anna’s offensive looked unconnected and even unpolished. But the queen’s long hours of training in the Wolf school had already helped her to master its erratic and unpredictable assaults, which would have easily bested any lone opponent.
Yet Hilde, through seemingly imperceptible shifts in footwork, not only slipped past all of Anna’s attacks, but also sent another left fist at her, this time striking the region of her shoulder socket with impeccable precision. Totally off-balance, Anna staggered back, her arm swinging wide open and almost reflexively releasing her weapon. Stupefied, she felt herself lifted off the floor by her own redirected momentum and landed painfully on her rear, skidding along the floor.
“I’m disappointed by your lessons with Mattias,” said the Spirit Killer, barely looking like she was sweating. Even her breathing seemed unperturbed. Anna let out a roar of frustration and scrambled back up, lunging at Hilde again, who remained in her infuriatingly bland boxing pose, countering Anna’s sword again with a left jab that the queen could barely register. This time Anna felt her nose bruising painfully, but not breaking, as she reeled back, barely able to see through the sting of her tears.
“How?!” she bellowed in desperation. Never had she wanted to win so badly. She didn’t know whether it was because Hilde’s devotion to Viola reminded her of her own bond with Elsa, or if it was because Hilde would have been her enemy had she not bested Viola politically. She ran at Hilde, her stance slackening as she swung wildly – anything to get a hit on her. Hilde spread her arms coolly, sidestepping Anna. Before Anna could make a horizontal slash at the general, Hilde’s left knifehand struck her elbow pit with surgical precision, forcing Anna to reflexively drop her sword. With no time to maneuver, Anna’s eyes widened as Hilde’s lightning-fast left hook curved into her midsection, her mouth opening in defeated shock as her stomach shriveled at the impact of Hilde’s expertly timed punch. Spittle flying from her lips, Anna slumped, and her knees would have hit the ground had Hilde not caught her, cradling the sweat-drenched monarch in her arms.
“You’re… you’re too good. You’re amazing,” moaned Anna breathlessly, head slumped against Hilde’s bosom. “I’m glad you’re no longer my enemy.”
Ropy muscles glistening, Hilde looked down at Anna, serpentine eyes glinting in the red light of the setting sun. “Are you alright, Your Majesty?” she asked quietly. Anna nodded wordlessly, too tired to speak. She held onto Hilde, knees shaking, scared that she might collapse any minute. Hilde allowed herself a small smile. “I’m sorry for hurting you. Let’s go back inside before Elsa and Her Ladyship rebuke us for beating each other up.”
“What are you on about? It was as you said. I couldn’t even touch you. You bested me only with your left,” wheezed Anna, standing unsteadily. “I shudder to think how frightening you’d be when you’re serious.” She gazed in wonder at Hilde. “I know why Vi loves you so much.”
Hilde’s eyes glimmered. “And I know why everyone loves you, especially the Snow Queen. Now, let’s get ourselves cleaned up so the four of us and our other guests can discuss your vision for the kingdom.”