Should I go missing for more than a week, take this seal out of my drawer. break this seal.
Tess Gaunt sat on the big bed that she, the Countess, and Hilde shared, her hand shaking as it clutched a cylindrical container with a broken seal. She had just snapped it, at the written command left behind by Vi before she’d left the prime minister’s Grand House in Arendelle for Mundilfari Keep. Now, Hilde was also gone, leaving their once-warm home for their found family empty. This former sex worker whom Vi had rescued from a life of squalor, and terror and death at the hands of Thomas Hunt in London, had been crying for days on end. She wept for the disappearance of the woman that had saved her life and fought for her dignity even harder than she had done for herself – all the while showing her that she was worth it, and she had to live like she was worth it. That was how Vi defied even death, renewed her contract with her now-destroyed master Mephisto (though Tess didn’t know at this time), and came back for her. For Hilde. For Anna and all her friends.
Tess gingerly squeezed, her thumb breaking off the wax seal that encased two scrolls of paper. The first, smaller parchment was just one sentence, and read, in Vi’s elegant and refined scrawl:
Hilde, Tess – whichever one of you opened this, get this letter to Kristoff, pronto. Kisses, Vi.
“Huh? But Hilde’s already set off for Mundilfari Keep. I suppose it’ll have to be me.” Brow furrowing and green eyes glimmering in curiosity, Tess tossed the lesser scroll aside and rolled out the larger one, her eyes falling on Vi’s handwriting again:
I know we’ve never been particularly close. You’re Anna’s partner, her rock, while I’m her shadow, her prime minister. As her shadow, I’ve often been like her opposite, even her opposition. Yet the shadow could also be an eternal companion, defined by darkness yet forever part of its figure. And in this way, as I sense that I’ve been pulled away from Anna by forces beyond my control, I ask that you act quickly on my behalf, so that I can continue to protect Anna even from far away.
Great and powerful forces, even more ancient and deadly than Katina Romanov and her Grand Dukes, converge on Arendelle. Regardless of how I feel about our queen’s obsession with fulfilling Yixin’s goal – and he’s someone I refused a long time ago – I wish to do my duty to foolproof Anna’s plans, and your Bjorgman company is critical to my hope that Arendelle can become at least a regional superpower ready to take on the Moonborn.
Keep Mundilfari has already been taken over by a sinister force that I suspect is the Moonborn’s first strike against Anna’s movements. We must consolidate our resources and marshal the kind of defences that currently, only great empires like that of the British and French are capable of. We must catch up to the likes of the Russians and Prussians as soon as possible. To that end, I’ve relinquished my ownership of all my businesses, and named you their new director, including proprietorship of my paper, The Arendelle Guardian.
In return, I ask that you form a new umbrella company to encompass our property, shipping, and trade interests: name it Mund-Bjorgman, if you may indulge me.
Mund-Bjorgman will be larger than any Arendellian corporation before it. It’ll be our kingdom’s first multinational, encompassing dozens upon dozens of firms once managed by you and me separately. Now, they’re all yours. Yours to expand with. Yours to make Arendelle mighty with.
My dear boy. We women desire to love and be loved a man. Whether it’s a father, uncle, brother, friend, or lover, a woman yearns desperately to be loved by men. See how Anna surrounds herself with the men in her life. General Mattias. You. Uncle Michael. Sir Alan. As her shadow, and whose fate is now uncertain, what I can do is pass on what I still have to you, so that you can make Arendelle strong, the greatest fortress, for our Anna. I know you’ll manage our joint enterprise well, and as the new owner of The Arendelle Guardian and many other companies under Mund-Bjorgman, I wish you well. Consider this my last service for our queen, should I not return.
Goodbye, boy. Now get out there and take over the world with our company!
Stock exchange, Arendelle
It was a busy day on the Arendellian trading floor, a foothill away from the Great Assembly where government policy was hammered out between the ministers and jarls. Until recently, at least. Without Vi, every day in government was a misery, with Anna trying to hold everything together as the very political system she had established crumbled before everyone’s eyes. There was even talk that the Great Assembly might need to appoint a new prime minister to save the queen’s political future, Vi’s presence or absence be damned.
Meanwhile, on the floor of the stock exchange, traders in elegant frock coats and blazers scrambled about, waving scraps of paper at each other as they sought to purchase, sell, and leverage bonds and companies. On the Great Board, a massive chalkboard with a huge table that listed all the values of Arendellian companies and those of foreign corporations listed in the kingdom (Harrison had once tried to list his company in Arendelle, but was blocked by executive act by the monarch). The burly Lars Krogh, boss of the powerful company Skau-Krogh and nominally a subsidiary of Bjorgman, stood among the shouting and running traders.
“Now’s the right time,” he said to a tall and refined man beside him. He glanced up at the balcony that lined the circular trading floor, glimpsing Kristoff, his nominal business ally, glaring down at him. “With Vi nowhere to be found, Bjorgman stock has been collapsing. Now is the perfect time to short the company, and finally bring it down.” He glanced at his companion. “Sell a hundred thousand worth of Bjorgman shares, Mr. Hansen.”
The flaming-haired Erik Hansen was Lars’ banker, and he blanched. “I know you enjoy raiding companies and taking them over, but don’t you think it’s a bad time to be trying to take over your own partner’s company? After all, it’s Kristoff, the queen’s beloved and manager of Bjorgman. He’ll get all the support he needs to keep his company’s value from slipping.”
“Buy or sell, the broker makes one tenth of any transaction,” snarled Lars, staring up at Kristoff glaring down at him. This was a betrayal of their previous covenant, but Lars didn’t care. The opportunity was too sweet. All was fair in love and war, anyway. No lame ducks, no sore losers.
“Yes, Mr. Krogh, if the client can afford it.”
Now it was Erik who received Lars’s death-stare. “Are you saying my credit isn’t good enough, Mr. Hansen?”
“Um, no, I – “
“Good! Then do as I ask right now, Mr. Hansen! Make it two hundred thousand bonds, damn you.”
“Two hundred thousand worth of Bjorgman?” cried Erik. “Do you know how many small investors, common folk, have stock in Bjorgman’s? Your devaluation would be a bloodbath! Thousands of ‘mom and pop’ stockholders would be wiped out – “
Lars’ face went purple with rage. “If you won’t do as I ask I’ll take my business elsewhere! I don’t need a lecture on Arendellian economics. The Princely House is tottering, its political support through the Mundilfari clan, disappeared. The queen herself is looking to be on very, very shaky ground. Odin and Thor themselves are urging me, on behalf of my own company, Skau-Krogh, to launch an assault. So do it now, Mr. Hansen! I want to see it on the Great Board today.”
Erik sighed. “It’s your money, Mr. Krogh. But there’s never been so many Bjorgman bonds on offer in the two hundred-year history of our exchange! The queen could suspend trading if chaos ensues.”
“Then I suggest you get started,” sneered Lars.
Erik strode out to the centre of the circular trading floor, where traders criss-crossed the worn-down stone floor. “I have two hundred thousand Bjorgman,” shouted Erik, waving a piece of paper in his hand. After a shocked silence, immediately all the traders rushed toward him, mobbing his struggling form as they haggled and screamed their offers. They were only silenced by a mighty bellow from the balcony.
“WE BUY,” cried Kristoff. From behind him emerged the other directors of Bjorgman, Leif and Jacques. They smirked, flanking Kristoff in support.
“All my shares?” stuttered Erik, looking up at Kristoff in shock. He was still surrounded by traders and fellow bankers.
“Yes,” confirmed Kristoff confidently. “Yours… and all the rest!”
“With what?” called out Lars Krogh scornfully. “That’s over two million kroner in cash.”
“The Princely House has enough for your assault and much more,” barked Kristoff. “Has that ever been in dispute?”
“Well, I doubt it,” boomed Lars.
“Not so fast,” said Kristoff. A bead of sweat ran down Erik’s face as Kristoff stared directly at him and Lars. “Let me assuage your doubts, then, along with any my investors might have.”Lars’ face was twisted in surprise and rage as Kristoff smirked, crossing his arms. “As of this day, Bjorgman and the Mundilfari estate are merged into a mega-corporation. Arendelle’s biggest company, and its first true multinational. This is the day of Mund-Bjorgman, and together we are valued at over a hundred million kroner. We’re going to use our holdings to protect the kingdom,” he began shouting, as the traders descended into an excited uproar and he could barely hear himself over the cacophany, “and our resources are near-limitless!” He pointed a finger at Lars as Jacques and Leif shook hands triumphantly, clapping each other on the shoulders. “I don’t need Skau-Krogh’s portfolio anymore, man. You’re a slimy, weasely betrayer. I’m glad Lady Vi predicted this, and merged us to fend you and others off. Get packing.”
I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Countess. For Anna. For her goals, and to move against the Moonborn, thought Kristoff to himself, even as he couldn’t help enjoying Lars’ furious face. Erik looked crushed as the traders abandoned him like vultures do a fleshless carcass, flocking to Kristoff’s feet and begging for a slice of the generous pie from the newly incorporated Mund-Bjorgman.
Heck, I sure hope know what I’m doing.