Featured image art by Arute (@ast05water)
Since coming to the throne, Anna had expanded the kingdom’s espionage service into a professional, well-resourced network that stretched across Europe. Years ago, Elsa had identified information as the lynchpin of Arendellian leverage over larger countries with bigger militaries. Named the “Ravens” after Odin’s two mythic, all-seeing birds, the agents had finally tracked the trails that Amira, the Northuldra hunter and saboteur, used to go back and forth between Arendelle and Northuldra. Amira was meticulous in her methods, covering every journey she made out of the forest with great care. But the Ravens now had mapped out her movements, and Anna had given Maren approval to launch an expedition into the heart of Amira’s home.
Yelena and Elsa had already been notified by Anna’s letters via Gale. This was no ordinary operation. It was to stop further attacks by Amira, preferably through persuasion, and if that worked, to show her that Arendelle was serious about rectifying past deceit. Never again would Arendelle’s civil service or educational establishment support anything that came close to Runeard’s Northuldra Children Protection Act.
The hard truth was this: Arendelle could not suffer a secessionist at the heart of Anna’s dream – the true union of Northuldra and Arendelle, the re-integration of the two realms as a single political state. Amira needed to be stopped, one way or another.
The expedition was meticulously put together. “Our entire kingdom’s resources are at your disposal. Spare no expense,” Anna had told Maren, who led the entire operation. The Head Liaison of Northuldra-Arendelle Relations took those words to heart, organizing a carefully selected team of Ravens that would take up positions in Northuldra as well as along Amira’s routes, and communicate with Yelena and Elsa. The expedition also comprised Sir Alan, who’d managed to take on the formidable Amira in melee combat with Maren, and Michael, the trade minister whose personal business had carriages and wagons coming back and forth between the two to-be-united realms. Finally, there was a contingent of Arendellian soldiers that had been specially drilled for the wilds, their deep green uniforms supplemented with fur coats and thicker boots.
One night, the long-awaited missive from one of the Ravens arrived at Maren’s Northuldra Embassy. “Amira is in the forest. Her movements are restricted to the ruins of the dam and the waterfalls.” Amira would probably only remain in Northuldra for several days, or a week at most. By the light of her candle, restless and unable to sleep, Maren licked her lips as she read the note, her heart pounding in anticipation. This fight was personal to her, because she believed with all her heart in the union of her homeland and Arendelle. She had faith in Anna, and she needed to convince Amira that this faith wasn’t folly, that it was worthwhile.
The expedition set off the morning after Maren received the note. They took a longer trail to the formerly Enchanted Forest, ensuring that their journey would be harder to trace. They moved quickly and quietly, with little conversation passing between Maren and her friends. Everyone knew what was one each other’s minds, anyway: would they be able to neutralize Amira while restoring Northuldra trust in Arendelle’s civic institutions?
They arrived by the entrance to the forest, the stones of the elemental spirits towering over them, where Maren’s tribespeople, Ryder, Maren’s brother and the new head of Northuldra Trust, Yelena, and Elsa welcomed them. They set up camp, the Arendellian soldiers establishing a defensive perimeter. Campfires dotted the woodland landscape that night, with the Northuldra and Arendellians singing songs and dancing together late into the night. After exchanging greetings with the knight and trade minister, Elsa and Maren embraced. “You’ve done wonderfully,” reassured Elsa, hugging Maren tightly. “You and Anna have made the union of our lands a top priority for Arendelle.”
“I’ve been trying my hardest,” replied Maren quietly, clutching Elsa’s back. She had changed from her Arendellian diplomats’ attire back into her more subdued but practical Northuldra outfit. “But tonight, I’m going to face a different demon.”
“Amira isn’t a demon, despite her mistakes,” reassured Elsa graciously. She pulled back and gazed into Maren’s chestnut eyes. “But yes, this is your test. You’ll have to show Amira that your faith in Arendelle isn’t just appeasing oppression. Only you can reach her – Northuldra to Northuldra.”
“Go with the blessing of the spirits,” said Yelena to Michael and Alan. “I knew Amira as well as Honeymaren when they were children. Despite the path she’s taken now, she’s a fairly orthodox hunter and ranger. She probably already knows you’re all here, and that you’re after her.” The tribe elder’s wise and kind eyes glimmered. “Please. If it’s possible, bring her back to us. To all of us.”
Michael and Alan nodded. “You have our word. We’ll do our very best,” replied Michael.
The crisp cool air was refreshing and comfortable as Alan, Michael, and the spearhead of the Arendellian expedition followed Maren deeper and deeper into the forest, their entourage surrounded by birdsong, the rustle of Gale, and the colours of the trees’ canopy and vibrant foliage. The beauty of Northuldra was enchanting, almost intoxicating, and it was easy to forget that they were actually there to make an arrest. Maren held up a fist, her eyes narrowing. “Someone’s watching us.”
“I think it’s her,” said Alan. They continued their advance until they saw a slumped, humanoid shape in the middle of a clearing. Two members of the vanguard rushed to the lifeless form, and they swore when they lifted the hood covering the head – it was an Arendellian in light padded armour, his bearded face bloodied, swollen, and bruised. Alan drew closer. “What in the world happened?” he whispered in horror.
“He snuck into the forest with several compatriots. They wanted to kill me quietly, without fuss,” came Amira’s voice from one of the trees. The Arendellian soldiers looked up at the huntress, who was balancing perfectly on a thick tree branch in effortless balance. She observed the contingent nonchalantly as several of the soldiers raised their rifles at her. “I threw his friend down the waterfall, and tied up the final hired hand near the dam ruins. They must be pretty hungry by now – you might want to pick them up.”
“Amira,” said Maren cautiously, gesturing for the soldiers to lower their weapons. “Let’s talk. It’ll be better than fighting again. You’ve sabotaged rail lines, beaten up Arendellian patrols, and terrorized and intimidated ministers. You sank Autumn Cloud and unleashed havoc on everyone on board that ship. You put the kingdom in lockdown and struck at Anna and Vi in the palace. Isn’t it enough? What more do you need to do to make your point?”
“But your friends have come back for more,” called Amira, lifting her longbow. At her waist hung a large knife that could cut through vines and roots easily, and strapped to her back was a quiver that held deadly, poison-tipped arrows. “Who sent these guys this time? The vice-chancellor, Stein, again? Or perhaps the headmistress of Arendelle Girls School?” Her dark eyes glared down at Maren. “How many authorities among Arendelle’s civic life want to continue their old king’s lies and deceit against our land?”
“Anna has fired the vice-chancellor of the university, and she’s taking a hard look at all the senior staff. We’ll make things right – but it has to be done the right way,” insisted Maren. “You were right all along, Amira – Yelena was deceived. Many in Arendelle’s educational circles were friends with Runeard, and the headmistress received many grants for her school from him. Anna knows about the complicity of many powerful people with her grandfather. She’s risking a lot of political capital by taking them on.”
“I couldn’t care less about Anna’s political capital. By the spirits, Maren, you’re talking like them now. Like an Arendellian politician.”
Amira suddenly leaped into the air, spinning and landing on the grass. The troops shifted warily, and Alan drew his sword while Michael’s hand wandered to his pistol. “You were once a free spirit, like me. Then Yelena was duped and tried to send me to Arendelle University. Then I found the truth and kept my freedom, while you willingly made yourself a prisoner. A willing tool of the queen.”
“I chose to help those two ‘bridges.’ I wanted to help Anna. I wanted to help Elsa!” cried Maren. “You can help them, too. Arendelle needs more Northuldra voices, not less. I know they would welcome you, and do everything they can to make things right. Anna would even take on her own structures of power for you. I know this with all my heart.”
“Absurd. You’re here to arrest me – you have to arrest me, and you know it. You work for Anna’s government, and my war is against her government. You’re complicit in Arendellian oppression against Northuldra. I’ll never go along with unification. That’s your obsession. Mine is the defence of the forest against… ” Her eyes glinted. “Well, against everyone assembled here.”
Before Maren could stop her, Amira suddenly threw a row of drugged darts at the soldiers flanking her, the projectiles piercing into their necks and sending them crumpling to the ground in a dizzy stupor. Alan drew his sword and rushed at her, and Amira somersaulted away as the Arendellian wilds troops began to pursue her, “Amira, wait!” screamed Maren, but it was too late as Amira’s form dashed about the foliage, several arrows shooting straight for Alan, who managed to parry them with his blade. Several wilds troops ran ahead in pursuit, their swords raised, but Amira had led them past a patch of ground that was actually an underground trap. The ground opened under them, sending them falling into a pit where they landed painfully. They scrambled to climb back up as Amira peered over the edge triumphantly, drawing her bow to shoot at the hapless troops –
BANG. The bullet from Michael’s Colt pistol barely grazed her cheek as she instinctively flinched and somersaulted away, drawing her bow in mid air as she spun back and firing three arrows in Michael’s direction. Maren and the others had caught up with her, and Maren swatted away the whooshing projectiles with her twin rattan sticks. “Are you alright?” she cried.
“No problem here. Turn yourself in, Amira!” yelled Michael behind Maren. “You want to be a bigger woman than the headmistress of Arendelle Girls School? You want to put her friends to shame? Talk to us. Show Arendelle that we’ve been misled for too long. Show that the Northuldra’s best will always rise above Arendelle’s worst. In fact, you can be Northuldra’s very best.” Michael could tell Amira was listening. But she didn’t respond, her dark eyes focused on an advancing Maren and Alan. She parried a flurry of blows from Maren’s sticks with her bow, before drawing her huge knife and blocking Alan’s sword. She lunged forward, catching Alan by surprise and headbutting him painfully. He staggered back, eyes stinging, and when he recovered after shaking his head vigorously, Amira had already kicked Maren away and raised her knife above Alan’s head. Alan just managed to block the blade with his sword, and Amira snarled, pushing Alan back. She was forced, however, to relent when two wilds troops fired their rifles at her. She lithely sprang back up into the canopy, her agility and coordination preternatural.
“This is her home ground,” said Alan, raising his sword cautiously. “I hate to say it, but she’s got all the advantages here. We aren’t getting far if we keep chasing her on her terms.”
Maren nodded slowly. “That’s fair. But don’t forget that this is my home too. And… ” Her face slowly broke into a sly smile. “We’re not playing by her rules anymore.”
All of a sudden, Maren also ran to a tree, dashed up the trunk by leaping off sturdier branches, and hurled herself into the leaves. She could see Amira leaping from branch to branch, and Maren followed in hot pursuit. The two young Northuldra women engaged in an intense cat-and-mouse chase across the canopy, their legs burning as they propelled themselves from branch to branch. Amira kept a healthy distance from Maren, who now dropped her sticks and drew from her pouch her weapon: the same darts that Amira was so fond of, dipped in a special herbal concoction by Yelena. Amira was right ahead.
“Guide me, spirits,” whispered Maren, and she twisted, spinning in the air and throwing three darts at Amira’s neck, spine, and leg. The neck and spine darts missed, but the final dart pierced against Amira’s slightly exposed ankle. Although it was only a light wound, Amira already felt woozy, swearing as the concoction immobilized her foot almost instantly, and she fell out of the trees and plummeted to the forest floor. She crashed through several branches before slamming painfully onto the ground. Usually she’d simply scramble back up, but now the drug was already taking effect and spreading throughout her body. She felt dizzy and could barely move. She moaned, vulnerable for the first time as her blurring eyesight caught Maren’s silhouette walking over and drawing down. Maren’s eyes were sad and compassionate as she scooped up Amira and held her in her arms.
“I’m so sorry, girlfriend.”
“Damn it. I didn’t think you’d prepared something like that. Nice shot,” groaned Amira, and she meant it. Her arms and legs were going limp. Yelena’s medicinal sedative was incredible.
“Sleep now,” whispered Maren, holding Amira tenderly. She pressed her cheek against Amira’s. She didn’t turn around as the Arendellian troops caught up with her, surrounding the two young women. “I never wanted to hurt you, and I still don’t. I promise you I’ll take care of you when we get back to Arendelle.”
Amira didn’t reply. Her eyes were closed, and she was snoring quietly as she slept like a baby. Maren stood up, gesturing to her soldiers. They drew closer, as if slightly disbelieving that they’d finally managed to catch the tracker who dared to take on all of Arendelle.
Alan and Michael rushed to Maren’s side. “It’s okay. We won. You won!” cried Michael, as the three of them hugged.
“We did it together,” said Maren quietly, watching a wilds soldier carry Amira’s limp body away. The expedition had been a success. They’d soon move out, leaving the forest. “We’ll take her in now. She’ll see justice, but she’ll also see restitution for Northuldra’s children. We must have a conversation.”
She turned to Alan and Michael. “Let’s report to Elsa and Yelena. This isn’t just our victory. Anna’s scored big time with Amira in custody. Arendelle is safe now, and Anna’s people can go about their business in peace. Now the hard part begins: just as Amira must face justice, Arendelle must have a reckoning too. It’s our turn to show her the bright future that Northuldra and Arendelle could share together.”