When was the last time Queen Anna summoned Arendelle’s top educators to her office?
Stein – the portly, successful minister of education (currently in crutches thanks to Amira’s ambush and dropping him two storeys last fortnight) – stood outside the door with Flora, the vice-chancellor of the University of Arendelle, beside him. Solveig, the headmistress of Arendelle Girls School, trailed behind them, looking nervous. Stein’s fleshy hand rose to the door handle, but he was interrupted by Anna’s voice.
“Come in,” she boomed from within, sounding unusually ill-tempered.
The queen’s office was reasonably spacious but not large, like her throne room. She sat behind a window that provided light when the sun was shining. On her long, rectangular mahogany desk were melted candlesticks in holders, piles of documents, letters, and contracts, and stacked, thickly-bound books. In front of Anna’s workspace were two well-used old leather chairs for guests to spend long hours chatting with her into the morning’s early hours. Usually her conversation partners were her inner court, Elsa and Maren, and now Vi. There were excellent oils and bookshelves lining the walls and the room was filled with the pleasant smell of polished leather and perfumed flowers – graceful yet worldly, perfect for Anna’s style, which was distinct from Elsa’s. Her high-backed chair, old oak and carved, with red plush fitted seat and back looked dignified, confident, and reliable. Just like the young woman who owned it, thought Stein.
Stein, the vice-chancellor, and the headmistress walked in. “How’s your leg?” Anna asked Stein, but her voice was stern.
“It’s fine, it’s fine, Your Majesty,” said Stein, moving to sit down on one of the guest chairs. “Amira gave us all a hefty shock, but with you protecting the people – “
Stein stopped. “I beg your pardon?”
Anna stared at him, smiling sweetly but with no warmth or light behind her eyes. “Stay. Standing. I have something to tell you, but not much to discuss with you.”
Stein shifted, trepidation, shame, and yes, rage filling him. His neck began to turn purple as he fumed, moving away from the chair and standing sullenly, in no mood to make conversation anymore. “What did we do?” said the vice-chancellor, stepping forward. A matronly, grey-haired woman of about fifty, she was in her academic dress – voluminous black robes and a monocle, lending her an owlish, professorial appearance. “I don’t understand, Queen Anna. You’re not usually so abrasive. This isn’t you.”
“You don’t seem to understand a great many things, Baroness Flora,” said Anna, drumming her fingers theatrically on her desk, “including how laws work. See, there’s a little thing called parliament. You might have heard of it, Stein works there. I swear I’ve seen him around. It’s there that King Runeard would have taken the Northuldra Children Protection Act to pass if he’d been serious about implementing it. Oh, oopsies,” she added, as she put a fake-cutesy finger on her chin and looked about the room. Her voice dripped with sarcasm as she mockingly cupped her cheeks in her hands, feigning surprise. “I don’t see that Act ever having gone through the House of Ministers and House of Jarls, let alone being signed into legal existence by my grandfather.”
“There’s no need to be condescending,” said the vice-chancellor defensively. “Your Majesty, we know all this. Many of us were there before you were born. Why – “
Anna’s eyes flashed as she suddenly slammed her palm on the table, the loud bang jolting everyone in the room and sending a ripple of true fear and nervousness through the guests. Anna might be Anna, but she was still the queen. Stein began to shake. Could it be that she’d pieced the puzzle together? Was there any point in feigning ignorance now that Anna had shown them a side that, in her many years in the public eye, had never let anyone see – not even her former nemesis, Vi Mundilfari?
No, Vi never enraged her like Stein and company did. True, Vi’s machinations had hindered her Northuldra policies, and in the early days of her reign the Countess’s allied ministers almost got a second dam voted through. But these were all expected political battles. Anna was a big girl. She knew the world was complicated, and not split into mere good and evil. Enemies weren’t necessarily bound for a bad place, and she herself had had to become more canny, more cunning, more compromising since becoming queen.
No, what really triggered her was betrayal. She’d been betrayed once, by a man she’d thought was her true love and instead nearly murdered Elsa. And this – “This betrayal,” she said quietly, staring at Stein and Flora, “could’ve ruined the lives of Yelena’s chosen students. Yelena prepped Amira and her friends, asked them to come here to study in your university, Flora – because she thought the program was going to be such a nice exchange trip for the youngsters, totally without any ulterior motives to force them to stay in Arendelle, to have them slowly stripped of their identities, of their bond with the forest land and nature spirits.”
Her voice rose, freckled face flushed.
“But we know better, don’t we? Come on, I’m not stupid! I’ve seen the files. I know about Amira’s past from Maren.” She pointed at the three senior authorities in her office. “Flora, Stein, and Solveig: effective immediately, this exchange you have with Yelena is terminated. We’re going to devise a new one. Any semblance of a program that resembles my grandfather’s Act will be overridden by the Crown.”
“That’s royal overreach!” cried Solveig.
“You wanna see overreach?” said Anna, laughing bitterly. “Overreach is firing all three of you from your comfortable posts, which earn you guys five times the prime minister’s salary. But I won’t. You’re all snobs and I don’t have to like it to accept it. I also can’t control what you think about the Northuldra, no matter how much I disagree.” When Stein, Solveig, and Flora remained silent, Anna shook her head. “Overreach would be replacing you with people I trust, because you sure will have to do big things to earn mine back. But the only executive demand I have from you is to end your privately-run program with Yelena – which neither the prime minister nor I knew about. I’m going to write a letter of apology to Yelena, and with any luck, Maren and I can find and get through to Amira, who began her campaign against us because she was roped in to your program before she found out the truth.”
“Your Majesty,” said Stein, frustrated. “You’re treating us like criminals.”
“Then end the program,” said Anna quietly, “and I’ll let go of the fact that you never told me about it. What you think of the Northuldra – of my own blood, in case you forgot – is your private business. I’m not expecting everyone to love the north as much as I do. I’m Elsa’s sister, after all. But I won’t let the past haunt our politics, our culture, and our civic establishments – certainly not our university and any other school.”
Anna leaned back in her comfortable chair. “Political unity can’t exist without civic unity,” she said sharply. “I’d really appreciate it if you at least made an effort with me, or at least not actively hindered me in secret.”
Stein and his associates slunk out, crestfallen. When Flora had slammed the door shut behind her, Anna felt the air going out of her like a balloon. She sighed in satisfaction and relief. “Whoo. They bought the act,” she whistled, although in her heart of hearts she knew she was lying to herself. She had been angry. She had wanted to shout at them, and yes, to stand up to them and make something very clear: betraying Yelen, betraying Maren, and yes, even Amira, was what twisted Amira’s heart. In an indirect but very obvious way, Amira was on the rampage because she’d felt her trust in Arendelle broken. Add this Northuldra Children Protection Act to Runeard’s dam fiasco, and Anna wasn’t surprised that Northuldrans looked upon the royal family as a bloodline of liars.
“But I’m half-Northuldra, thanks to Mother,” whispered Anna to herself, closing her eyes tiredly. “And I’m not only going to honour Elsa and the spirits, but show Amira once and for all that I’m sincere – that my way can make things right.”