Unbeknownst to the queen of Arendelle, one of her most formidable geopolitical adversaries was in Arendelle, in person.
He didn’t let anyone know, of course, and he wouldn’t be around for too long if he could help it. He’d dressed modestly in a bland, grey suit, and gotten off his clipper ship by the time the dawn’s rays had just started to brush the waters. Will Harrison, heir to Virginia’s most powerful (and slaveholding) First Family, was an unremarkable, modestly handsome young man, with blonde hair, striking brown eyes and a friendly smile. He didn’t stop to look around even the Plaza, which wasn’t too far away from the docks. Instead, he made his way several blocks down the harbourside, beyond the office building of The Arendelle Guardian, stopping at a three-storey, stately-looking building.
This was the headquarters of Skau-Krogh, the main rival to Kristoff’s company of Bjorgman House.
“I repeat – we can one-up any offer made by Bjorgman. Any offer,” said Skau-Krogh’s managing director to Harrison. They were at the top level of the building, inside Lars Krogh’s comfortable, oaken office. It smelled of fine cigars and had a magnificent view of the fjord and docked ships. Harrison was reclining relaxedly on the guest chair before Lars’ long desk. Lars was a tall and bulky Norseman, with a square jaw, long brown sideburns with a greying buzz cut. He had bushy, expressive eyebrows. “It’s no secret in this town that Kristoff’s company and I are very serious rivals, but we’re in a position to outmanoeuvre and outmatch him. I can arrange my share of the financing within two weeks, and I can set up our joint company under Arendellian law. That means,” he said, grinning, “an average tax of fifteen and a half percent, and that’s only for money put in Arendellian banks.” Lars smiled. “Better than Virginia or Boston, where your power bases are.”
Harrison nodded in agreement. “Oh, much better,” he said, smirking. Not that he paid that many taxes for his plantations and ports, not when his family had so many fingers on the levers of state and federal government. He kept silent about his membership of the Exalted.
“Is that why you’re interested in Arendelle? To expand your businesses into Europe?” asked Lars. “Good choice. We’re a fine port to start from. That Persian investor from London – Nahir al-Adil – he’s been mixing with all the right people and I think he’s just a harbinger of more international investment to come. The thing is, he’s not just with Anna often, but has also been seen with her allies like Countess Viola. So you want to move quickly. I envy your resources. Kristoff and I only have four ships each. You have a whopping nineteen, and that’s why I want us to seal our relationship before Kristoff tries to get to you.”
“I have bigger plans than simply to earn money.” Harrison observed Lars closely. Skau-Krogh was a family operation, much older than Bjorgman. The Krogh family were quintessential well-to-do Arendellians that had risen through commerce and trade rather than as nobility. Lars had taken over from his father and run the company as a private fief for almost four years now.
Skau-Krogh wasn’t as strong as Kristoff’s Bjorgman in ice exports. Rather, its specialty was spices, and it was better connected than Bjorgman to some of the major spice importers of Europe, while also having carved out more corporate territories in South Asia in the wake of the European East India Companies. “Arendelle could use some expertise about the Pacific from our country. But I don’t know much about the European market – my bread and butter is in the China trade – and Arendelle’s free port status is ideal,” said Harrison.
“And you want to partner with me because…?” Lars trailed off, raising his brow.
“It’s simple. Unless you change someday, you and I aren’t competing for the same China market because you’re not in it, Mr. Krogh. So you won’t have qualms about helping me to seize Arendelle’s trading privileges with the Great Qing for myself. I want those rights.” Harrison would never forgive Elsa, for it was on the day she was born that the Qing court sent the royal family its blessings in the form of a new status for Arendelle: “Most Favoured Nation.” That entailed a whole list of tariff-free imports into China and preferential trade negotiations – everything that the American tai-pans and China hands stood to benefit from.
Lars looked surprised. “An ambitious goal and risky business. One that I’m guessing would require the undermining of Queen Anna’s very ties to the Qing.” He began rubbing his chin. “But other big merchants in Arendelle have tried to take down Bjorgman and failed. Kristoff is Queen Anna’s fiance. Few dare take on a company that has the nickname of the Princely House.”
“Bjorgman sounds formidable indeed. But in the end, you’re only as princely as how much money you have. So that’s where I come in,” said Harrison. “I give you a once-in-a-generation chance to smash Bjorgman with my investment and resources – to blow them the hell out of Europe, Asia, and wherever Kristoff does business. Arendelle’s commercial landscape will then be ripe for you to swoop in and take over. That’s my side of the bargain, and yours will be to help me strip Arendelle of its special relationship to Lord Yixin. I want to turn him against the Diarchy, but in order for that to happen, the sister-queens have to be totally disgraced in his eyes. It’s got to feel like a betrayal. You can’t easily repair over a century of warmth and close relations after that. It’ll be game over for those girls.”
Lars put his hands in the pockets of his black trousers. “I’ll think over your offer and let you know my answer by this afternoon.”
“It’s now or never, Lars,” said Harrison, smirking. “I can’t be seen around this kingdom for long. My ship is leaving port this morning.”
Lars pursed his lips. “Then I’m in. As long as I’m chairman of the board in our joint company, with twenty percent stake ownership.”
“Fifteen,” counter-offered Harrison.
Harrison nodded genially. “Agreed.”
Lars paused. “And if we fail?”
Harrison shrugged. “We’ll pay the price, depending on which battlefield we fall,” he said jovially, rising from his chair. “But I know that Arendelle has its own special rules, thanks to the extraordinary personalities of Elsa and Anna,” he added sarcastically. He extended a hand. “A Virginian like me ain’t learning those rules anytime soon. But why should I have to, when I have you?”
Lars smiled and slowly took Harrison’s hand, giving it a firm, hard shake. “Down with the Princely House,” he said, releasing Harrison to retrieve two glasses and a bottle of fine whiskey on a tray near his table. A toast to their new partnership.
Harrison’s smile also broadened. “Straight down to hell. And down with Queen Anna’s pretensions at pretend-great power. It’s time she was cut down to size, and her China trade given to me.”