Featured image art by Arute (@ast05water)
ARENDELLE; SOUTHERN ISLES – The leader of the new signatory to the Entente of Small Kingdoms, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, arrived in Arendelle for tense talks with the queen this morning.
There’s no secret that for several years, well after Elsa’s coronation, Hans was persona non grata in Arendelle. He was seen by the public, the press, and his own family back home as having deceived both royal sisters during their most vulnerable and fragile period, and nearly destroyed them and orchestrated a coup. But with Hans serving his time in the Southern Isles’ dungeons, and Arendelle’s funding of the dominion’s reconstruction after Commander Hilde’s vicious plundering earlier this year, Anna and Hans have agreed to put aside past hostility to survive the imminent onslaught of a truly global power: Imperial Russia.
It’s largely agreed between the new allies that Arendelle, as Katina Romanov’s primary target, will take the military might of Katina’s war machine head-on, while the members of the Entente split into two groups to stymie Russia’s offensive. Chatho and Vesterland will strike at Russia from the south, and the Southern Isles and Weselton from the north. More updates to come in our newspaper.
“I’m worried,” mumbled Danny, Elsa’s adopted daughter, as she held Olaf’s twig hand while facing Anna in the drawing room. They’d been playing chess for about an hour before moving on to charades. Suddenly, Danny, who not only possessed ice magic but also mysterious abilities of foresight, had experienced a vision, but was coaxed out of her trance by a kind and patient Olaf.
“How’re you feeling?” asked Anna quietly as she sat on the couch.
Danny shivered fearfully. She’d been so used to living day to day with no sense of security or looking forward to the future, thanks to her abusive and murderous parents. But now, having had a taste of true love – being adopted by Elsa formally, with the papers signed by Anna herself, and finally able to explore her world and meet new friends in the safe environment of Arendelle – she felt like her mysterious visions of a future war, and a burning Arendelle Castle, were terrible harbingers of a disaster. “I wish mummy and you will be around forever,” she whispered.
“Don’t you know, Danny?” said Anna slyly, before winking. “I’m immortal. Even when I die, I’ll be watching over you and Olaf and Kristoff. Like a ghost.” She stuck her tongue out and raised her arms. “You’ll never get rid of me! Wooooo!”
Danny giggled, feeling a bit better.
Olaf sniffled, feeling suddenly sad. “No, you’re not immortal, Anna. Remember that conversation we had on Elsa’s ice boat?” he said bluntly. “You’re not going to be around forever, while Elsa and I are.”
Anna smiled serenely, lowering her arms. “You’re right,” was all she she said, respectful enough of Olaf and Danny to be truthful and grown-up with them. “I wasn’t always queen and I won’t always be queen. Besides, Elsa’s a presence I’ll never match. She’s perpetual and I’m temporary.”
She said all this with the utmost seriousness, her voice simmering with the most intense love for her sister. “I’m just a steward of the kingdom – Elsa’s hands, in a certain sense. Maybe it’s not the most mature way to look at it, but I still see Elsa as the true queen… at least, the queen of my heart.”
She ruffled Danny’s hair. “Don’t think too much about the visions, not until we have a real plan to investigate their source with the mystic Norns. In the meantime, to be alive is good, the world is magical, and never trust anyone with the name Hans!”
Danny giggled again, but Anna’s face turned serious once more as Kai, her chief courtier, knocked on the door to the drawing room. “Announcing the prince of the Southern Isles.”
“Speak of Mephistopheles, as Vi might say,” muttered Anna, and she rose from her couch, abruptly leaving Olaf and Danny as she followed Kai down the hallway. He opened the door to her study, where Hans was standing beside the guest chair. She recognized his ginger sideburns and white and blue outfit at once. “Hans,” said Anna frostily. “Long time no see. Thanks for your reply to my letter.” She passed him and sat down on her oak chair, behind her desk. “How goes your recovery?” she asked, mindful that Arendelle had much to compensate the Southern Isles for thanks to Hilde’s attack.
“Well enough, Your Majesty.” Hans looked dour, but he was responsive to Anna. “Soon the Southern Isles will be able to contribute real manpower to any counterattack we need to make on Russia.” He grimaced. “I happen to enjoy our kingdom’s independence. Whatever our differences, they won’t matter if our countries are swallowed up by Russia.”
“Call me Anna,” said the queen. Her eyes glimmered. “As long as you treat me with respect and don’t try anything funny, then we can move forward… and do our best to not look back.” Hans still looked surly, but stepped forward, unrolling a map on Anna’s desk. Anna leaned over, looking at it intently. “Looks like Katina’s maneuvering her forces.” She said, pointing a finger at the island opposite Arenfjord, and the forest of Northuldra to the north. “Here, and here. She wants us in a pincer attack.”
“That’s right. Our spies told me that the Baltic Fleet is gathering in Saint Petersburg. I’ve spoken to the Duke of Weselton and we can attempt a strategic raid on their armaments and munitions centres.” Hans stepped back as Anna continued to study the map. “But we’ll be taking a big risk as long as Russia delays in its formal declaration of war with your kingdom. Katina will be able to spin us as the aggressors.”
“Black is white, up is down to that violent woman,” said Anna quietly, dismissing Katina’s likely move. “The world – the rest of the Exalted – will know who to support.”
“I’m not too sure about that. You’ve got the Entente, but Britain’s sitting this one out, as are France and the Dutch Republic – much of Western Europe aren’t even coming to our aid when it’s our Entente that stands in the way of their destruction at Katina’s hands.” Hans frowned. “What on earth are your diplomats doing?”
“They’re doing their best, that’s what,” said Anna tersely. “I can’t mind control Palmerston or Metternich to condemn Russia.” She stood up, folding her arms, a head shorter than Hans. “What else have you heard amidst the diplomatic rumblings?”
“Arendellian bonds falling and capital flight from your kingdom, prevented only by your rising prestige and Kristoff’s financial muscle.”
Anna stared at Hans. There was a mean-spirited edge to his words, but he didn’t seem to be lying anymore. “How serious is the loss of confidence in our kingdom’s long-term stability?”
“From what I hear through my finance minister and some of the trade leaders here, Arendellian kroner is being dispensed in accounts in Geneva, Munich, and Amsterdam – anywhere but Arendelle. That’s not a good sign. It’s a sign of war. I had to repatriate so many accounts from my country’s banks after the Southern Isles were attacked by Hilde. You face a similar problem.”
Anna sighed, and Hans put his hand in his pockets. He seemed to have given up his usual princely pretenses with Anna, which she was grateful for. “Perhaps it might be better to sue for peace with Russia. This isn’t as if you and I went to war with each other. This is an imperial power. A continental, nay, global empire.”
“That’s what Sora, one of their Grand Dukes, said too,” observed Anna glumly. “That I should just agree to Russia’s terms.”
“Just because she’s our enemy, doesn’t mean she’s wrong. The Entente can probably get favourable terms if we bargain as five nations, together.”
“No,” said Anna. “Katina will just demand that we turn on each other, in effect dividing our alliance – she’ll pit our interests against one another, all to her geopolitical advantage. I can’t ask that of you or any other ally.”
Hans stared at Anna. “Be sensible. Even if you scrape by, eke out a win with Russia – unlikely as that sounds already – others will eye Arendelle and the rest of us. Your predecessors never dealt with the world stage, and you’ve got to consider whether maintaining Elsa’s legacy can even last in these turbulent times.”
“I’m sorry, that’s not possible,” insisted Anna, turning away, her arms still crossed.
“Why? Because you made an oath to that unknowable, untouchable Snow Queen? On the hope of a terrifying Qing ruler’s whim of elevating Arendelle as a world power?” asked a frustrated Hans, spreading his arms. “Yes, I know about the Exalted, and getting involved with them may destroy us all!”
“For whatever reason I have for my oath to Elsa, the answer is thank you – ” growled Anna, before whispering: “No.”
Hans neared Anna. “You could lose your whole kingdom to Katina – “
“No, Hans,” interrupted Anna angrily, holding up an indignant finger. “That’s not going to happen.”
She sat down on the side of the table, sighing and rubbing her eyes in a rare show of vulnerability before Hans. Her former foe broke the silence. “My offer to negotiate by your side stands, but only for the next month, as I’d otherwise need to prepare for our own attack on Russian soil. It’s either one or the other.”
Anna nodded. “I’m grateful for your understanding. I think we’ve exhausted our discussion for the day. Do you mind leaving your map with me so I can study it a bit longer? Feel free to stay. We can have dinner together. With Kristoff and Elsa around, of course.”
“Not at all. Yes, I can join you for dinner. After all, I need my map back.” Hans made for the door, but was stopped by Anna’s voice again.
“You know, Hans, I would have jumped at the chance to really love you, and to be loved by you. I’d have adored you as my king and been loyal to you. I’m actually happy you’re out of jail. You can now take the painful but necessary journey of realizing what you lost by betraying me.” He aqua eyes shone. “As you rebuild your life, reflect long and hard at what you could have had: my hand as your queen, and joint rule over Arendelle. In the end, your treachery was for naught because Elsa made me queen anyway.”
She put a hand on her bosom. “Let my very sight be a reminder for you to be truer to your better nature.”
For the first time, she looked at Hans with a mix of compassion and slight sadness. “If you can stop seeing people as instruments to be exploited, I promise you, Hans – I swear to you – your dreams will come true and there’ll be people who’re willing to love you, fight for you, and take you far. Just as Elsa has done for me.” She smiled, closing her eyes. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Elsa.”
Hans grunted – not in agreement, but at least, Anna thought, in recognition – and closed the door behind him.