Anna stood outside the stately teak door of Vi’s Grand House. The entrance to the townhouse stood on an elevated porch, leading to a long foyer that opened up into the living rooms. She sighed to herself. The Countess’s background, dark style, and sheer charisma often made Anna feel like Vi was the one holding court. That was part of her charm. Anna knocked lightly on the door, and it swung open, revealing Hilde in her fully decked military garb. “Your Majesty,” acknowledged the Von Altheim, saluting.
“Hey, Hilde,” said Anna glumly. “Is she in the living room?”
“Yes. Come in,” replied Hilde, her yellow eyes looking at Anna sympathetically. Today’s meeting wasn’t going to be a comfortable one.
Anna walked into the spacious living room and saw Vi standing in front of the sofa, setting down a tray of biscuits and tea. Instantly, Anna noticed the Countess’s new outfit: a single-piece, form hugging purple evening dress with a low-cut neckline. At the sides of her dress were slits that gave passing glimpses of her legs. She retained a frilled choker around her neck. Despite the relative simplicity of her updated attire, she looked as deadly and elegant as ever. “You look beautiful,” blurted Anna, slightly unused to Vi’s new getup. Her everyday preference for a short jacket and dress felt almost drab and dull. “Are you headed to Kingdom Hall for a concert or something?”
“Just trying this new look for London.” Vi gestured towards the leather couch opposite her, inviting the queen to sit down. “I suppose that’s what you’re here to discuss with me today.”
Anna’s unhappy mood returned, and she ignored Vi’s direction, walking over and plonking herself beside her. She glared up at her, daring her to refuse. Vi smiled, and like Hilde, she could look surprisingly kind and gentle. “Whatever you wish, Your Majesty,” said Vi, without a hint of sarcasm.
“So apart from me, Uncle Mike’s the only one who knows about your sudden decision to leave Arendelle? You told him before you told me – why?” said Anna, surprising herself with how annoyed she felt by that. She usually wasn’t this petty. What’s happening to me? she wondered to herself.
“Because I knew he’d tell you,” said Vi calmly, “and prepare you for what I need to tell you today.” Vi sat down, looking into Anna’s hurt eyes. “This isn’t forever. I’ll be gone at most a few weeks, maybe a month or so.”
“Michael told me you’re playing sleuth. You’re chasing after a horrible killer who’s stealing the bodies of statesmen and aristocrats and murdering innocent women.”
“Yes. Immiserated prostitutes, specifically, working in the most crime-ridden corners of London.”
Anna turned away. “I can’t believe this.” She clenched her jaw. “I wasn’t even consulted.”
“There’s no consulting to be had,” said Vi regretfully. “These are… orders from on high, so to speak. From Peony Sinclair of the Exalted, and therefore from Yixin himself.”
“So it’s Lord Yixin and Miss Sinclair who get to decide where the prime minister of my kingdom goes? And what about you? Don’t you know how dangerous this mission is going to be? What if I lose you? And don’t you hate being told what to do? Why aren’t you fighting back and ripping them a new one?” cried Anna. She realized she was hugging herself, like Elsa did during moments of distress. Then she let it spill. These many months of government and problem after problem had taken their toll, and it was beginning to feel a bit much. “I wish Elsa still lived with me sometimes, especially during such difficult periods. The weekends aren’t enough, I need her advice and comfort. And now you’re abandoning me, too. I feel so alone – ”
“That’s not true.”
“I’ve proven myself to you, Vi! I can think and act big! In fact, you’re here because I shielded you from Lord Yixin’s vengeance! Where would you be if I didn’t stick my neck out, risking him cutting me off and pitting us against the Middle Kingdom? Huh?” cried Anna, her voice rising even as it trembled. “What have I done wrong that you still treat me so callously, so disrespectfully? You’re just like the Exalted – you still see me as a puppet, unworthy,” she moaned in despair, feeling her eyes prickle.
Vi put a hand on Anna’s shaking shoulder, red eyes shining. “My queen. You made me – me, one of Arendelle’s Viking nobility – bend the knee. You’re holding your own against the Exalted. You’re on the cusp of uniting Northuldra with our kingdom if Honeymaren and Alan can defeat Amira. And despite my past with Yixin and the members of the Exalted, I sense he has big plans for you, for the kingdom’s future. No one dares to underestimate you – least of all me.” She put both hands on Anna’s arms. “It’s precisely because I wish to protect you and maintain Arendelle’s position in Yixin’s and Peony’s eyes, that I can’t let you stop me. If I be a good girl for a little while, Arendelle stands to benefit.”
Anna stared at her, lip quaking. Vi’s crimson eyes softened, and she pulled Anna into a soft hug. “Thank you for showing me this side of you, Your Majesty.”
“You want to see me exhausted and broken?” whispered Anna, sniffling as she pressed her face against Vi’s bare shoulder.
“You show your true self and deepest thoughts when you’re upset with me. Besides, it’s kind of cute.”
Anna put her hand over Vi’s, stopping her from pulling away completely. “Countess, I can’t manage the kingdom’s problems without you. You’ve whipped the House of Ministers and House of Jarls into a united force, to the point that the votes are always eighty-to-twenty for me. You funded Kingdom Hall and our cultural icons – do you know how much gold you’ve saved our coffers? You’re helping Kristoff’s company keep up with Skau-Krogh. You sponsored Pride of Elsa. And Hilde’s helping Mattias shape our military reforms.” She looked down at her lap, the fear returning. “I need my prime minister – because I owe her too. I owe her freedom from the demon that dogs her bloodline.”
“In time, Anna. I trust you. You should trust me, too – you’ll have me again soon,” assured Vi, drawing close again and holding Anna tenderly. “I’m in London to solve a crime, not join those that have died at this serial killer’s hands. I’ll be on a ship back to Arendelle the day after this criminal’s body lies at my feet.”
Anna closed her eyes, slightly comforted and her chest no longer so tight. She tightened her grip around Vi, and the two young women marvelled at how far they’d come – indeed, their entire families and their ancient rivalry – had come for them to be locked in an embrace, both longing for the other’s safety and happiness.
“When do you go?” whispered Anna.
“In a fortnight,” murmured Vi in Anna’s ear. “And when I’ve set sail, you’ll be the first to know.”
Commander Hilde was watching them from a distance, at the doorway to the living room. She closed her eyes, smiling, and left Anna and Vi to themselves, the biscuits and tea forgotten.