Story art by Alanna (@alhuart)
Arendelle Castle dining room
Anna sipped her breakfast tea and stared blearily at the headline printed on the front page of the morning paper. JJ, the editor of The Arendelle Guardian, stood behind Anna’s chair, with Kristoff and Michael’s sitting on either side to the queen, who was at the head of the table. JJ had been up all night working on the final printed edition, and she was waiting for Anna’s response to the headline: “MARKETS VOLATILE – SKAU-KROGH TO BLAME?”
“I’m going all in,” said JJ, her dark eyes glinting behind her spectacles. She crossed her arms as Anna scanned the text. “It’s time to frame this accurately and in a way that does Anna justice: Lars Krogh is out of control and a danger to the Crown. My reporters won’t brand him a traitor just yet, but there’ll be enough insinuations for people to conclude that he holds ill-intent against Her Majesty.”
“Big move on your part, Chief,” offered Kristoff gratefully, “one that even I wouldn’t have asked of your journalists.”
“You were an early investor in my paper,” said JJ. “You’re Arendelle’s true Princely House. Of course I back Bjorgman. It’s time Skau-Krogh is made a pariah, an embarrassment to do business with. He’s no longer just a trade rival to you. Harrison’s lend him a private navy, for Bjorn’s sake. Even the Fjord Times is getting skittish. The Chamber of Commerce has merchants that have contracts with both Bjorgman and Skau-Krogh. Every day, investors on both sides could get wiped out if any of Kristoff’s or Lars’ investments go bad now. Too much money, too much expansion, too much risk.”
“Maybe I fell into his trap,” said Kristoff, sitting back and throwing his arms up in frustration. “He’s opening a branch in Hong Kong and marked down the value of his spices to match my lowering of ice prices. He’s getting into venison – ” he made a face, thinking of his buddy Sven, ” – real estate, cargo transport, and tea – again, another foray into the China trade. It’s Harrison’s hand. I had to answer his challenges.”
Michael, the trade minister, sighed, leaning forward and looking at his beloved queen. “Well, we have the Royal Bank of Chatho’s line of credit. Vesterland is going to join Anna’s alliance, and even the Countess is supporting Kristoff’s business with her bank accounts in Geneva and Zurich. If we can fight him to a stalemate, maybe Lars will back off.”
Anna put the paper down and sat back against her chair rubbing her brow. She looked so grown-up now. “No,” she said, her voice tired. “He’ll continue. He’s tasted the power of a private navy and trained troops, thanks to Harrison. He wants to be Arendelle’s East India Company.” She looked up at the ceiling, sighed, and glanced at Michael and Kristoff. “What do we do?”
Michael’s face was grim. “If these two companies’ value continues to rise so quickly, inflation and a burst of the bubble could land us in very big trouble. And Skau-Krogh’s been attacking our allies, too. Whatever happens, Harrison stands to win.”
“I’m still amazed that you’re willing to put up the Duke of Weselton in the palace,” said JJ, raising an eyebrow. “Even if you and he are now allies.”
Anna shrugged. “Honestly, I’m surprised at myself too. I guess time has a way of healing wounds. But even if it doesn’t, maybe my responsibilities have forced me to straighten my priorities. While the Duke is in Arendelle, he remains a state guest, and when he leaves, I want to make sure we’ve got something to counter Skau-Krogh with. Something that will rally our alliance’s morale. And I think I just have something…”
Before Anna’s friends could enquire further, the door to the dining room opened and a courtier peeked in. “Your Majesty, forgive the intrusion,” he said, “but the Queen of Chatho’s ship is entering Arenfjord! She’ll be docking by the harbour within half an hour.”
Anna’s weary face, which had only seen three hours’ worth of sleep, brightened considerably. “More tea!” she declared, and get a nice breakfast ready! Are you ready to see her, Michael and Kristoff?” The two men perked up as well, agreeing that they should wait for Anna and Colisa. She stood up and put her hands on JJ’s shoulders. “Thanks for fighting my fight and beating the drums for me. Your support has been so helpful.”
The editor of Anna’s most supportive paper nodded. “Not at all, Your Majesty. Without a strong monarchy, there’s no stable Arendelle. Without your guiding hand, there’s no Princely House. And without the Princely House… well, there’s no Arendelle Guardian, nor this press baron,” she said, winking jovially before taking her leave.
Anna then departed the palace to receive Colisa, who was disembarking by the quay. The queen of Chatho looked resplendent as always, in full robes of red with rings of purple and shimmering gold patterns, and a magnificent royal hat. She had long black hair, and her eyes were warm and kind.
The two monarchs hurried to each other, as fast as decorum would let them. “I’m so glad you’re here!” cried Anna, as they exchanged tender kisses on each other’s cheeks. She clutched Colisa’s hands tightly, her Chatho counterpart’s touch comforting. “You are such a sight for sore eyes.”
“I’m here for you, Anna,” said Colisa, nodding at her Arendellian counterpart. “Rest assured that Chatho stands with Arendelle as surely as you’ve stood with Elsa all these years. How has she been since she became the Snow Queen, the bridge between humanity and spirits?” she asked, with great fondness in her voice.
“Oh, by the spirits,” cried Anna, raising Colisa’s hands to her forehead apologetically. “I need Gale to let her know you’re here! How could I have been so negligent?”
Anna and Elsa had known Colisa since they were children – Colisa was slightly older than the Diarchy, and not only did Anna possess an embroidered pillow that was a keepsake to remind her of Elsa and Colisa, but they’d visited each other’s realms numerous times, with Colisa having had several adventures with Elsa herself.
There was so much to catch up on as they made their way back to the palace, and they were still exchanging frivolities and memories when Kai, the chief courtier, showed them to the dining room. Kristoff, Michael, and Alan were present, and they stood at attention, bowing for Colisa. “Her Majesty the Queen of Chatho!” announced Kai, before closing the door behind him.
“It’s such a pleasure to meet such a good friend to my nieces,” said Michael, shaking Colisa’s hand. “I’m Anna’s trade minister, and a relative of the royal family. You’ve come at such a good time.”
“Thank you,” said Colisa graciously. “It was with great pleasure that I asked our national bank to establish a line of credit to Bjorgman.” She glanced at Kristoff, and they smiled at each other as they shook hands too. “My people have heard many stories about Arendelle from me. I come here with their blessing, and they offer Chatho’s encouragement as you tussle with Skau-Krogh – or, more accurately, the force behind that company, Mr. Harrison.”
Alan spoke up. “That’s exactly him. We’ve got to throw everything we have at him if we’re going to keep Arendelle’s economy independent.” He moved forward, bowing his head. “It’s such an honour to meet the closest to a childhood friend that Elsa ever had.”
“Thank you, brave knight of Anna’s chivalric order.” Colisa shook his hand, but her smile was sad. “I wish I could have been there for Elsa in her saddest years. No doubt Anna was miserable and lonely, as well,” she said, holding Anna’s hand. “No one could have predicted what King Agnarr ended up doing to Elsa, but I might have tried to rescue these two girls if I’d known then.” She winked at Anna. “I’ve watched both sisters become queens, and Chatho is this kingdom’s most steadfast ally. I guarantee it.”
With the introductions made, it was time to talk business. They sat together at the long table, enjoying the tea served by courtiers, as the queen of Arendelle laid out her plans and the situation with Weselton. “So the Duke is staying here for a few weeks,” said Colisa in mild surprise, stroking her chin, “and this merchant prince, Lars, thinks he can twist the arms of Anna’s allies into giving them what he and Harrison want.”
“Sadly, even though the Duke isn’t unlikely to come to physical harm, he probably will be negotiating with Lars at a disadvantage,” said Michael. “Lars struck the coast of Weselton hard, and I’m afraid that he’ll set his sights on Chatho, given how close you are to my nieces.”
To everyone’s surprise, Colisa didn’t look surprised or fearful. She sat back against her chair rest, putting her fingertips together. “Well, he’s going to get a nasty surprise when his privateers and flotilla arrive in Chatho. They’re unwelcome, and they’ll be given a clear and unambiguous message.”
Kristoff, Michael, and Alan looked at each other in surprise. “You’re confident Skau-Krogh will be coming for you?”
“Thanks to the intelligence that we received from Anna, we in Chatho have anticipated the movements of Skau-Krogh’s private ships,” said Colisa, smiling. “And my best soldiers, my royal guard, will intercept their beachhead on my coastline.”
Anna was in on the game. She smirked, drumming her fingers on the oak table. “Let’s give them a counterpunch they won’t walking away from easily,” she declared, cerulean eyes glinting.
“Harrison might be a member of the Exalted and his resources vast, but even the best-laid plans can be disrupted with a bloody nose.”