It was close to midnight and the full moon beamed down on Arendelle. A portly, finely-dressed gentleman stumbled groggily past the wooden doors of The Simpering Salamander taproom, dropping his mug of beer. A great cheer followed him out. “See you tomorrow in the parliament, ladies and gents! Until then, Stein, Minister of Education, is the winner of the lager contest as usual!” he cried, stumbling across the cobblestone pavement. He burped, rubbing his protruding midsection. Belly full from an elegant dinner and mind pleasantly tipsy, his leather shoes shuffled down the street.
He sighed happily, admiring the lampposts and the quiet, tastefully painted buildings lining both sides of the avenue.
“I love this place,” he whispered gratefully, reminding himself about all that life had given him: a home in this wonderful kingdom ruled by a kind, intelligent, and fearless queen, and an illustrious career in developing Arendelle’s education system. Although Arendelle Girls’ School was before his time, he’d helped to establish the University of Arendelle, which was supposed to prepare Arendellians and Northuldrans alike to engage at the very highest levels of civil society and government. They’d also learn science, maths, languages, and the classics. The world was changing so quickly and Arendelle needed to keep up.
Arendelle really was quite beautiful at night, with its slightly sloped streets between the mountain’s verdant foothills and the expansive harbour, the glistening fjord waters illuminated by the moon and the pleasant sea breeze cooling the comfortable homes and closed shops and restaurants. “Time to wander back to The Lonely Reindeer,” he murmured to himself, where he’d booked a room for the night. The Lonely Reindeer wasn’t just a popular alehouse, but also an inn with several comfortable and well-appointed rooms. Stein’s own house was actually further out of Arendelle, nearer to the mountains, where the air was so crisp that he could just suck in his lungs, and –
Stein suddenly felt his chest constricting as his world turned upside down, and in a shocked moment he was screaming as he felt himself leave the ground, feet first. His coat flopped down around his face as he flailed wildly, disoriented and terrified. He began to scream until a gloved fist flew at him, and before he knew it he felt his nose break, cartilage turning mushy. It was agonizing enough to reduce him to a whimpering mess. “You’ll shut up and answer my questions if you want nothing worse than broken bones tonight,” came a steely female voice.
The education minister gasped from the renewed focus that the pain of having his nose smashed brought. His petrified gaze met striking green eyes that glared at him. Blood rushed to his face. He hung by his ankles, his calves looped together by a rope that his attacker was controlling.
“It’s you. You’re the hunter! The saboteur of Autumn Cloud!” he cried in realization.
“Why has the queen made the Countess her prime minister!” barked the hooded woman, who was crouching on the rooftop. Around her draped a fur cape, and Stein could vaguely make out face paint – some custom of the wilds? She seemed to have a bow and quiver of arrows behind her. But it was too dark to make out everything, and the assailant had deliberately chosen a poorly lit spot to ambush him. “They’ve been rivals for quite some time over Northuldra, and now she’s suddenly on board with what the queen wants?”
The emerald eyes gleamed with cold fury. “And the University of Arendelle’s supposed to help Arendellians understand Northuldra better? That’s rich. Weren’t you, and many others on my hit list, beneficiaries of Mundilfari favours? You and a pretty big bunch of well-fed, well-paid ministers voted every way the Snow Herald wanted.”
“Please… there isn’t anyone in the House of Ministers that hasn’t obeyed the Mundilfari family at least once,” blubbered Stein, waving his hands. “I swear, most of us just respected and feared the prestige of Viola’s clan. But even the ministers most loyal to her have made their peace with Anna, because Viola and Her Majesty are working together. She won’t be moving against Northuldra in any way, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
He was sweating profusely. “You don’t need to attack or hurt anyone, lass.”
“All I see is a queen that wishes ill for Northuldra. Does her aide, Honeymaren, even know what’ll be in store if the north subjects itself to Arendelle’s ways?”
“What? Absurd! Haven’t you been listening?” cried Stein, wheezing and out of breath. “No other monarch in our history has put the north so squarely at the centre of her reign! She wants to unite our lands!”
There was a moment of brooding silence, before the hunter spoke again. “That’s exactly the problem.”
Before Stein could figure out what she meant, two patrolmen, community officers who were uniformed in dark green but unarmed, rushed over from the other side of the street. They cried out in concern as they saw Stein dangling there, held in place only by the hunter’s hands. “The – The Arendelle Guardian… all Big Three papers will report this outrage. I’m a minister!” cried Stein nervously, at his wits’ end. There didn’t seem to be anything else he could leverage over her. “Everyone will know about you. They’re talking about you now! Even now, they’re looking for you.”
A smirk curled across the hooded woman’s face. “Good on them, old man.”
The hunter released the rope, and Stein screamed all the way down as he dropped two and a half storeys. The community guards tried to catch him, but they were just too late. Stein felt a leg break and a sickening crunch tear through his lower body. He yelped in excruciating pain, before passing out on the ground.
The hunter glanced down at the community officers, who were glaring up at her and yelling at her to get down. She was “under arrest,” apparently. Cute. Her lip curled as she lithely leaped down from the roof, landing silently and with no visible effort as she stared at the two men. Her knees barely bent on impact. “You’re unarmed, but even if you were, I wouldn’t need to gut you with my knife,” she mused aloud.
The men glowered and rushed at her, but in a few parries, she’d sent a strong right into one’s nose, sending him reeling, and swept the other off his feet with a roundhouse kick to the legs. The men groaned, already bested, but the hunter took no chances, striking their heads while they were down and knocking them unconscious. She smirked at the three groaning bodies on the cobblestone, then surveyed her quiet surroundings as she looked out towards the fjord, to where the spires of Anna’s castle glimmered in the distance.
“Time to send a message to the palace,” she whispered.
The “grey ghost” was right here, in Arendelle. She could come and go as she pleased.
And there was squat Her Majesty could do about it.