Warning: Violent depictions
Featured image “Baltic Brawl,” by Arute (@ast05water)
Anna got up early, as always. She usually went to bed two hours after midnight, having checked in on Danny, Elsa’s adopted daughter, and crawled into bed – sometimes in Kristoff’s, sometimes in her own. Today she got up well before her fiancé did, and was now in her study looking over the map of Arendelle and the islet of Sudden Death across from the fjord. Elsa would be staying in the palace for the next few months. She looked up at the grandfather clock across from her room: five thirty-three in the morning.
“Has Mattias set off?” she asked quietly, seemingly to herself. But a shadow with glinting yellow eyes emerged from behind her desk.
“Yes,” said Commander Hilde quietly, hands behind her back. Ever graceful and deadly-looking in her impeccable black and silver uniform, her presence was calm, confident, and reassuring. “I’ll be sailing up the strait as well, to catch Yaraslaf in a pincer attack just as he’s engaging Mattias on Sudden Death.”
“Right. As we planned.” Anna stood up from her chair, staring at the Countess’s right-hand woman. “Destin will always want to me to feel safe, to not over-worry. Tell me honestly, Hilde. How confident are you of beating back Yaraslaf?”
Hilde’s expression was impassive. “He’s a powerful warrior.”
“So are you.”
“He’ll be tough. I’ll fight him to the death.”
“You’re not going to die. Please don’t say it like you’re prepared to sacrifice your life today.”
“I know you care about me. About everyone. But you’re being irrational, Anna,” said Hilde calmly, and to the queen’s annoyance, Hilde was right. “I must be prepared to give everything to stop the Grand Duke if we’re to have a hope. I know Mattias feels the same.”
Anna turned away. “Stop it.”
Hilde gazed at Anna’s slumped back, and those arms wrapped around herself. She looked like Elsa in such moments. So tired. So afraid of losing someone. She smiled sadly. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. My mistress has the same issues with me, too. That I can be too plain-speaking, when what you need is comfort and sympathy.”
“Yes, you can,” reproached Anna softly, before turning back to look at Hilde. “Come back to me safely – you and the rest. Kick Yaraslaf’s butt, and keep our fjord safe.”
Hilde snapped to attention and saluted. “You have my word, Your Majesty.”
A great roar punctured the misty fog surrounding the shores of the small island that had been nicknamed Sudden Death.
The hulls of three great ships – Poseidon, Charybdis, and Scylla – sliced through the dewy ocean air, with dozens upon dozens of smaller boats cutting along the calm sea around them. Each boat was filled with rowing Russian soldiers in their impeccable uniforms and high hats, who were cheering each other on as the shoreline grew closer and closer. “Yaraslaf!” they bellowed, with each pull. “Katina! Roo-si-ya!” Rapidly, the boats swept onto the sand and gravel of the coast, and companies of Russian soldiers leaped off, quickly moving into formation and marching up the gentle hills of Sudden Death. “Go, go!” barked the lieutenants, hurrying their men, who were armed with state of the art rifles and cutlasses, and supplied with several days’ worth of provisions. “Secure this island in preparation of our admiral’s arrival.”
Sudden Death was a barren islet, of little interest to the Viking settlers at the dawn of Arendelle’s history. No crops could be grown there. The prospect of building a settlement seemed redundant when, opposite to the island, there was a much more fertile, comfortable, and secure hillside nestled between the mountains and the fjord. That area became what would be known as Arendelle. That was the ultimate objective of Yaraslaf’s troops as they stormed the shores. Over a thousand elite troops of the Baltic Navy now spanned the entire shoreline.
“Prepare for anything funny from our foes,” called one of the lieutenants, as the main ships of the Baltic Fleet stopped a short distance away from the island. “We set up camp here, and prepare our attack on the fjord by tonight.”
Everything seemed to be going quite smoothly – too smoothly. Some distance from the sandy coast, after which were dotted mildly hilly knolls for across the landscape, reeds and grass stirred, and suddenly there came a great cry from a Viking blowing horn. And then, a great war cry – the same bellow that had driven Elsa’s and Colisa’s victory against the tsar’s first invasion years ago – shook the heavens. The Russians had called again, and Arendelle was going to answer.
“Fagra, grýttur land, heimr Árnadalr!”
Beautiful, stony land, our home of Arendelle.
“Fylgið dróttningu ljóssins!”
Follow the queen of light.
The roar of Arendellian artillery thundered through the sky as howitzers, positioned from behind the grassy knolls since the early morning, fired round after round, shells falling upon the Russian divisions and exploding, hurling men and body parts into the sky. The Russian soldiers rallied and pushed forward, maintaining disciplined rows as they charged up the gentle slope. Explosive projectiles and cannonballs continued to rain down on the Russians as the first wave of Arendellian defenders emerged. Several Russian soldiers blanched as their line of sight met the sinister silver masks of screaming women, their wearers enshrouded in a cloak and uniformed in jet-black coats and trousers.
Countess Vi’s Court Guard were already here?
General Mattias and his second-in-command, the grizzled veteran Sergeant Severin, emerged from the front of the MCG. For years, Severin had been the go-to operative for Arendellian intelligence, and his work with the Raven spies of Arendelle had made him one of the most well-informed lieutenants in the military. “It’s going to be a bloody awful day,” he said, scratching his beard. “But at least we get to make a bit of a mess for the Russians too.”
“I’m afraid you’re right,” said Mattias, smiling grimly. Vi and Hilde had offered the Court Guard to not just take the heaviest losses, but also to stymie the Russian advance. Not even Yaraslaf would have expected them to strike so boldly early on. But they needed to keep their momentum if they didn’t want to waste the MCG’s early intervention.
Mattias raised his sword. It glimmered in the morning sky as he pointed it at the Russians. Silently, the MCG marched down the hill in lockstep towards the Russians, outnumbered but unbothered in the slightest. They aimed their rifles and began to fire, their explosive rounds puncturing several lines of men, blowing apart their bodies and sending guts and tissue spattering their horrified comrades. Amidst screams of surprise and agony, the Russians returned fire, furious that the Arendellians were hitting them so hard. The Court Guards quickly moved into a new formation, several V-shaped lines that began to pick up pace as the dark knights broke into a sprint at the Russians. “Oh, shit. They want to keep us pinned down here!” cried a sergeant. “Here they come!”
The cold and silent MCG smashed into the Russian lines with ferocious speed, engaging the infantry in fierce melee combat. Cries and roars rose into the morning clouds as the MCG tore through the Russians, while the latter tried to surround them. Bayonets and cutlasses stabbed and hacked at each other as several Court Guards fell, bodies riddled with bullets. A Russian gurgled at two Court Guards thrust their sabres into his midsection, spilling his guts out. Meanwhile, Arendellian howitzers continued to shell the coastline, shattering Russian formations and blunting the momentum of their advance. A company of soldiers managed to beat back a group of Court Guards, only to be blasted apart by a howitzer’s shell. The Russians hadn’t advanced nearly as far inland as they’d wanted.
“We can’t let them keep us here! We’re sitting ducks, exposed!” cried a Russian commander, struggling to fend off the swords from two spinning Court Guards. “Go! Take the hills! Go, go, go!”
A division of Russian infantry separated from the core mayhem and tried to scramble up the hill at Mattias. Mattias and Severin looked at each other, nodding, as the main force of Arendillian infantry moved into position behind them. There was both trepidation and determination on the green-clad men and women’s faces as they glared down at the ongoing battle, the MCG holding their own for now against the superior Russian numbers. They couldn’t let Sudden Death fall into Russian hands.
“I’d best be going,” said Severin quietly, as the well-built commander drew his own revolver. “It’s been an honour, General.” He squinted into the distance, before his blue eyes widened in horror. “Sir, I’d best get down there. I think Poseidon and the other Baltic Fleet ships are turning their starboard cannons to bombard the coast.”
Sure enough, there was a great cheer among the Russians as they began to push back the MCG slightly. Poseidon and Charybdis were moving into position, and row upon row of cannons could be heard emerging from their starboards. “Crap. If they start shelling us, we must withdraw the Court Guards and fall back. Let me get down there, Mattias. Without support, they’re sitting ducks.”
“Wait. Wait for it.” said Mattias, holding up a hand. “We still don’t need to do anything yet. Everything is happening just as Hilde and I planned.”
“What… what is that?” cried one of the Russian lieutenants, as from the mists emerged a hull of cold, armoured metal.
The encouraged roars from the Russian troops suddenly died down. A shocked silence fell upon the battlefield as an ironclad warship, towering and frightening, slowly made for Poseidon. “What… what the hell is that?” screamed a Russian soldier, and before anyone could react, the warship, as if to taunt Yaraslaf, smashed into Poseidon, outmaneuvering the Baltic Fleet and changing the landscape of the battle immediately. There was a sickening CRUNCH, but it was music to Mattias’ ears. Poseidon was now damaged, its hull split and the rest of the ship stuck as several dozen grappling hooks shot from the ironclad warship and pulled Poseidon closer. The Arendellians behind Severin let out their own whoops of support, and Severin breathed a sigh of relief.
Mattias smiled grimly. “As prompt and timely as expected, Commander Hilde.”
Muspelheim, the deadliest ship Arendelle had to offer, had made contact with the enemy.
“We’ll hold back Pride of Elsa and Nobility for now,” said the general quietly. “The Russians should be pretty disoriented by now. Their ships are neutralized until they get rid of Muspelheim – if they can. Let’s push back the soldiers along the coast. They’ve got nowhere to go, but the Court Guards can’t hold them off forever. I’ll leave it to you.”
Severin raised his pistol, turning to the Arendellian troops. “This is the day you see a real battle!” he cried. “This is the day Arendelle calls you to help your people and your queen. Our goal is to stop the Russians from setting up camp on this island at all costs! If they manage that, Arenfjord, the queen’s castle, and our entire harbour are completely exposed! I’m ready to give my life for this objective. Are you?”
The Arendellian troops thundered their willingness, and Severin turned around, licking his lips. “Then what are we waiting for, kids? Charge!” he cried, bursting into a run as the Arendellians followed him, scrambling across grass and weeds and sand to join the battle. Hundreds upon hundreds of troops ran down the gentle hill, bayonets and rifles raised high, roaring as the Russians tried to form a defensive line while holding off the MCG. The Russians reformed and fired volley after volley of bullets at the Arendellians, many of whom were caught and fell, gurgling. Another hail of deadly projectiles send dozens of Arendellian troops to the ground, screaming. “Go! Go, go, go – forward, and don’t look back, lasses and lads,” yelled Severin, firing his revolver with abandon. The Arendellians closed the distance with the buckling Russian formations, already torn apart by the MCG, and collided with them, the hand-to-hand combat vicious as Arendellians and Russians tried to overpower one another, shooting, hacking, bashing, and stabbing. With the Baltic Fleet preoccupied by Muspelheim, the Russian landing force didn’t have the support it expected, and the fight had devolved into a brawl for who was more desperate to hang on to the islet. Severin drew his cutlass, striking down an infantryman and shooting another that tried to attack him in the chest. All around him, Russians, Arendellian troops, and the MCG fought, struggled, and fell. Slightly dazed but full of exhilaration, he staggered away from the swipe of a bayonet and continued to fire, screaming incoherently as he did so. His troops followed, determined to hold back the Russians at all costs.
Meanwhile, at the head of Muspelheim, Hilde looked coldly down at the struggling seamen and sailors on Poseidon. From behind her stepped two Court Guards.
“Don’t let Scylla and Charybdis sail away,” she said. “They’re going to aim their cannons at Muspelheim. Anna isn’t here, so we’ll fight this battle my way. Board them both, and slaughter all hands.”
The MCG nodded silently as Hilde slowly stepped forward, before shooting into the sky with supernatural strength and crashing like a descending comet into the planks of Poseidon. Several seamen instantly ran at her, but she drew her revolver and shot them all, sending their punctured bodies to the deck. She lunged, body as taut as an archer’s bow, grabbing a soldier’s face and slamming him into the floor. She lunged, fist punching through the ribcage of a wheezing man and her roundhouse kick sending another spinning overboard. She smoothly weaved past the swords of two other sailors and picked them off with her revolver, shooting them point-blank through the chests. “Where’s the Grand Duke?” she shouted, as their crumpling bodies folded and stained her boots with their blood. “Your deaths will be swift and painless if you lead me to him.”
“I’m not hiding, so don’t ask my men.” Yaraslaf’s voice made Hilde turn around, her eyes falling on the hulking monster of an admiral, his polar bear’s form casting a dark shadow as he walked circles around her. Swaggering before her arrogantly and adjusting his tunic boorishly, Yaraslaf bared his great teeth, which looked as if they could tear off a head from a neck or rip off a limb.
“Werewolf!” he cried, snorting at Hilde. “Hilde Von Altheim!”
Hilde’s yellow eyes glinted. “Werebear,” she acknowledged.
“A nice little trick, distracting my fleet while your troops pin my men down on Sudden Death. Are you sure you won’t exhaust yourselves before we overwhelm you? You’re operating on borrowed time, girl. Once I’ve got a foothold on that islet, you and Mattias will fall back to Arendelle. And it’ll all be downhill from there.” He glanced at the looming hull of Muspelheim. “A nice toy you have here, too. I should add it to my Baltic Fleet once I win this battle.”
“For someone who claims to love fighting, you’re a big blabberer,” replied Hilde.
“I talk a lot to entertain myself. I’ve won too many battles, you see – it gets boring. By the way, I thought your kind went extinct long ago,” boomed Yaraslaf. “I was so curious when Katina told me that among the ranks of Arendellians, there was actually someone like you – a true werewolf, with complete mastery over her lycanthropy. At last, I meet someone in Anna’s forces that is worthy of my challenge. I have my doubts about Elsa, but I’ll take her once I’ve broken you. So you, the last of her kind, has been serving the Mundilfari clan all this time?”
“I’d assumed the same about you, but apparently you found entertainment in working for Katina Romanov,” said Hilde.
“She provided a chance to make war, to lead armies, and to win glory – perpetually. The thrill of strategizing, of outflanking, and even of being outfought and beaten by superior enemies – this is what my ancient arctic race of werebears has lived for since the primeval days. The choice to follow Katina was irresistible.”
Hilde cracked her fingers. “I’m not interested in your biography. But I am looking forward to ending your life.” Her yellow eyes shifted as grey fur began to grow from her smooth face, and her teeth started to elongate, becoming too big for her mouth. Long ears began to sprout from the top of her head, and her face morphed into a ferocious wolf’s as her uniform began to burst at the seams. She howled as the rest of her body transformed, her fingers extending and her nails becoming huge, deadly claws. Her legs had burst from their trousers and boots, and were now furry hind legs with sharp claws as well.
A contingent of four muscular men rushed up to Yaraslaf, carrying with difficulty his weapon, which was as long as a tall person. “Now there’s your transformation. Quite the sight. My Moonscape Halberd should do the trick with you, werewolf.” He raised a massive polearm, its blade in the shape of a crescent moon. He waved away the men as Hilde roared at him, slobber dripping from her snapping, hungry jaws, as she shifted, preparing to lunge at him.
Yaraslaf grinned. “So, Russia and Arendelle’s generals meet for the first time on the field of battle. Give me a better challenge than that time I broke Honeymaren and Amira, girl! Come on,” he bellowed, bear eyes narrowing as he prepared to receive Hilde’s attack.
“I’ll devour you, pup!”
TO BE CONTINUED! MATTIAS AND HILDE VERSUS YARASLAF!