Featured image art “Heir to the Fujiwara” by Arute (@ast05water)
Arendelle Castle throne room
Anna had never sat in such an uncomfortable position in her life. Knees pressing the ground, she felt like she was basically kneeling, but with her hands rigidly on her lap, staring across to the young woman from across the seas, who was very delicately and elegantly serving the queen of Arendelle her very first green tea.
“This is called seiza, Lady Fujiwara?” asked Anna. She let out a nervous laugh. “Can’t we just… you know, sit on chairs? I’ve got a few right over there.”
Takako smiled, her deep purple irises glimmering. “This is a traditional tea ceremony that I wish to present to Your Majesty as a small gift. A glimpse of our honour and our values, and the greatness of the Shogunate.”
She finished pouring the tea in the cup she’d given Anna as a gift: an exquisite, perfectly hewn stone cup on a tray of bamboo. “Please. Enjoy.”
Anna took the cup to her lips and took a sip, her eyes widening in pleasure. “This is what you call matcha tea? It’s… so refreshing.”
Fujiwara Takako had arrived in Arendelle Castle a few days ago, but she was already the talk of the whole political establishment. She was frequently surrounded by an intimidating guard of elite samurai, whose curved swords – apparently, they were called “katana” – seemed far stronger than even the strongest Arendellian sabers. Takako, meanwhile, was modest, demure, and eloquent, and had charmed the entire political class with her presence by Anna’s side at the queen’s most recent ball. The one thing that she had not done yet was give an interview to the press, forcing reporters from the Snow Herald, The Arendelle Guardian, and the Fjord Times to approach members of the inner court instead: namely, Sir Alan and trade minister Michael. Anna had deduced that the shogun’s society was a truly closed-off one, meaning that the idea of a mass press hadn’t even been introduced yet to the islands of Japan. Even the British island colony of Hong Kong had several gazettes and printing presses.
“So…” said Anna, sipping at her tea again, “you want to pre-empt what you call a coming storm. A storm that could plunge your homeland into chaos and years of suffering and violence.”
“Yes,” said the Japanese noblewoman, who also lifted her cup of tea to her lips. “You know of the situation of the Portuguese and Dutch missionaries?”
“Vaguely,” said Anna, “we don’t export our brand of Protestantism abroad. After all, our deference to our bishop coexists alongside our friendship with the trolls and the great nature spirits of Northuldra.”
“You’ve told me about them,” said Takako. “They remind me of the kami we have in our Shinto teachings.”
“The way of the gods,” said Anna, nodding. “It’s such a fascinating tradition. I feel like I have so much to learn about Japan, still. I’ve barely scratched the surface.” She raised her eyebrow. “Speaking of learning… that’s what you wanted to do, right? To protect your homeland from the aforementioned coming storm?”
“Yes. The Shogunate won’t want the outside world to know, but we’re deeply divided about the right way our country should take.” Takako’s eyes darted from Anna back to her two samurai bodyguards, and for a moment, Anna tensed, before remembering that she was the top woman around here. She waved her hand.
“Sorry, samurai-san,” she said, “but I must ask you to exit the throne room for a few moments.”
The samurai looked at each other reluctantly. They could bully any Arendellian, but not the queen herself.
“Sagare!” demanded Takako suddenly in Japanese, and the samurai and even Anna jumped slightly at her suddenly authoritative voice. The pair bowed and stepped out, cowed into obedience.
Anna looked at Takako. “I sense some tension between you and your entourage.”
Takako sighed, staring into Anna’s eyes.
“You must be aware that the samurai’s true loyalties are to the shogun, and for the past two centuries, the shogun has been the repository of true power. Not the imperial family, to whom my clan is bound.” She lowered her head. “The Fujiwara women have married princes and emperors for a long time. One day, I will too. But as things stand now, we’re in direct competition with the shogun for influence.”
Anna finally understood, and a sense of dread came over her. “So you’re in a kind of internal tug-of-war for power.”
“Yes, and while the shogun may see isolation as the best way to protect ourselves, we Fujiwaras think ahead in centuries. And I see nothing but ruin and humiliation in the path we’re taking.” Takako bit her lip. “I wish to persuade the shogun that Japan can learn much from how you’ve risen from a small regional power to a major player that can even face down an empire like Russia’s.”
Anna nodded, her legs becoming increasingly sore. “I’d be very glad to help you, Takako – I mean, Lady Fujiwara – “
“Anna,” interrupted Takako, “I welcome your dispensing of formalities. If you would be so kind, just call me Takako-san. That’s polite enough.” She smiled. “I’m your guest. Don’t let the talk around me intimidate you.”
“Right,” said Anna in relief. “But do you think we can get the shogun to agree to a treaty with my government?”
“Yes,” said Takako, “if I build a strong enough case.” Her mysterious, alluring eyes twinkled, reflecting Anna’s serious expression.
“Arendelle is already a naval power punching above its weight. My objective is that Japan becomes as nimble as your kingdom, prepared to face the challenges of a winner-take-all world.”