Anna wanted some time alone. When Elsa wasn’t around, she would go to a place that represented not only Arendelle’s rise to world prominence and prestige, but also served as a symbol of her political savvy and ability to build bridges. This was Arendelle Hall, which had been built with Viola Mundilfari’s sponsorship and where the Arendelle Philharmonic performed regularly. Arendelle Hall represented, to Anna, everything that she was focused on protecting: a community center around which the whole kingdom could gather and everyone could bask in the national culture, identity, and aesthetic taste they had built together as a kingdom, united by the Diarchy and taken forward by Anna.
It was why she felt at home here when she needed some time out of her throne room. To think. To brood. Even a queen needed privacy, away from her ministers and jarls, all of whom were clamoring for explanations about the sudden disappearance of the prime minister, Vi herself. Legislation stuck. Laws, bills, and proposals languishing amidst political chaos and factional infighting. And there she was, every single day in the parliament of the Great Assembly, looking and feeling like a fool as she tried to hold her government together without Vi’s stern yet charismatic hand… the darkness to Anna’s light. Her shadow. Her companion.
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.
The news from the Celestial Empire was grim. The expedition to Khara-Khoto had failed. Months of intelligence gathering by Arendelle’s agents, discreet dealmaking in the back streets and private tea rooms of Chinese cities between Anna’s intermediaries and mercenary trekkers and explorers, and finally, leveraging the influence of Kristoff’s Bjorgman House among friendly Qing officials whose coffers were enriched by trade with Arendelle to turn a blind eye to a foreign-funded expedition in Manchu-ruled territory.
All of that. Wasted.
Anna’s top commanders, Mattias and Hilde, delivered the grim news to the queen in her throne room, standing several feet from the royal as they announced the ramifications.
“Fortunately, Lady Kam, being the careful businesswoman that she is, covered her tracks carefully. She outsourced the retrieval of the bodies of Yelu and Arban to the Qing authorities,” said General Mattias, reading from his notes. He winced. “It was a complete disaster, Anna. I’m so sorry.”
“And, of course, Kam had to lobby hard to stop them from executing Babuhai, to keep his silence. Far easier for the governing Manchus to wipe this failed exercise from all records, leaving the three trekkers to be forgotten by everyone,” added Hilde, her hands behind her back as she stood at attention.
In the scorching region of Khara-Khoto, amidst a town of eerie structures that had been abandoned centuries ago, several shrouded figures were huddled around a campsite, their visors screening their eyes from the inhospitable howling of tempestuous wind.
“Is this the place, Yelu?” shouted one of the trekkers. “We’ve been trying to get here for weeks.”
“Yes. The City of Black Water, called Etzina in the writings of Marco Polo, that Venetian explorer. There are whispers,” cried the other called Yelu, over the screaming wind and holding up his scarf to stop too much sand from flying into his mouth. He paused, mindful not to gasp or panic, or else his mouth would be filled with even more grit. “That this could be the place. The place where a fragment of the elixir of life is located.”
ARENDELLE – It’s that time of the year again, and the summer solstice is bringing happiness and joy to all. The kingdom held a warm and intimate gathering at Arendelle Castle’s dining room for the citizenry, with tables, chairs and food prepared for guests to come in and out throughout the day. True to tradition, the gates were flung open for a small fete in the courtyard of the palace, with children’s stalls, balloons, and a massive birthday cake made with ice cream and touched by Elsa’s own hands.
In contrast to grander receptions held for dignitaries and politicians (which Arendelle Castle is more than capable of hosting), Anna’s birthdays tend to be family-oriented, community activities that are open to everyone, at any time. “That is why Her Majesty wanted to keep the palace open all day today, well past dinner, so that people can come and go as they please. We’re here to welcome them,” said Getrude, one of the party planners for this year’s Queen’s Birthday, told The Arendelle Guardian’s gossip columnist. “The last year or so has seen so much change come to Arendelle. While much of the change might be a point of pride for the kingdom’s powerbrokers and leaders, Anna wants her birthday to represent something homely and constant, a point of happiness and contentment that her friends, family, and fellow Arendellians can always rely on.”
BREAKING: ANNA PRESSES POLITICAL ADVANTAGE BY SIGNING THREE TREATIES
In yet another signal to the world’s major powers of her growing clout, Queen Anna of Arendelle has announced that she will sign a flurry of trade treaties and alliances with Great Britain, the new country of Peru, and, surprisingly, with the Russian Empire.
In a press release jointly published by the Office of the Prime Minister, Countess Vi, and the palace, which is still headed by Anna, the government was at pains to stress that the process was still ongoing, and there were conflicting perspectives and interests to be hammered out in negotiations by Arendellian diplomats and their foreign counterparts. Nevertheless, the fact that Anna has gotten the ears of the world’s largest naval power, a newly independent state in the heart of the New World, and a former adversary (whose leader was at Arendelle’s throat just less than two years ago), attests to Anna’s growing ability to lead not just from the front, but behind the scenes with competent and loyal deputies, pulling strings and asserting a presence that gets things done for her kingdom.
The result is a network of friendships, some mature, others budding, that bode well for the future of Arendellian influence throughout the world.
Life here in Arendelle is never perfect. However, it’s been great with the reigns of both queens Elsa and Anna. It goes without saying about how far we’ve come in this saga. The love we have for each other, the support of the folk in both lands of Arendelle and Northuldra, especially for the struggles the two young women have gone through since the hard, lonely years of their childhood.
They’ve made a ton of progress and encountered many milestones as life goes on. Yet the love they have for each other, plus for those who have come along the way – like Kristoff, Olaf, Sven, Sir Alan, a certain Uncle, and more.
Unfortunately, life has those who will never be happy and will always complain and want to sabotage another’s happiness. Gossip and rumors do exactly that.
So it was no surprise, but indeed aggravating, to hear some malcontents in the kingdom saying untruths about my nieces and Kristoff. Too much of this will give places like Our Fair Kingdom a quarantining case of “rumoritis!”
So: let’s clear the air and let some truth shine in, shall we?
Featured image art “Anna and Yixin” by Arute (@ast05water)
“The plan is as such,” said Vi, gliding restlessly in her living room while the seated Amira and Tileke stared into the crackling fireplace. “I was there when Anna announced it. Europe remains her domain of focus. Peony’s is Inner Asia, where all manner of dark forces and ancient powers lurk, and I’ll be there with her. Queen Colisa will manage South America, while Kristoff will lead Honeymaren and Tileke to the great continent of Africa and the lands of Arabia.”
“Sounds simple enough, but the logistics are actually quite difficult; and once we depart, we’ll be gone for a long time,” warned Hilde, who had come from the dining room into the lounge, with Michael and Alan flanking her. “My Countess, I’m going for a morning stroll around Arendelle, and then I’m going to train. May I be excused?”
The beautiful Countess Vi, no longer regent but now having returned to her usual post of prime minister, stood alongside Commander Hilde on one side of the queen’s hall, at the right hand of the throne. Seated on it was Anna, who surveyed, with modest solemnity as well as a winning smile, the assembled women and men on her left side, who were facing Vi and Hilde: Elsa, Kristoff, Mattias, and Honeymaren.
“I’ve briefed trade minister Michael and Sir Alan about my next move, and now we’re ready,” declared the queen. “In liaison with Peony Sinclair and Queen Colisa of Chatho, the other members of my new Exalted organization, I wish to launch my search for the fragments of the elixir of life.”
The inner court exchanged nervous and terse glances with each other. The air was electric. At last, it had begun, and no less at a make-or-break time of diplomacy with Japan.
Anna was making good on her promise to Lord Yixin for being catapulted to international prominence.
“How does she do it?” This is the unuttered question on the lips of heads of state, diplomats, and journalists across Europe as Arendelle becomes the new place of pilgrimage for great and small powers alike.
Even during Elsa’s reign, no one could have predicted the meteoric rise to global prominence the small Nordic kingdom would enjoy.
While Anna’s predecessor managed significant relationships with mighty realms like the Russian Empire and the Qing Dynasty, it’s Anna who has radically transformed Arendelle’s relationship with almost every great power – and set an example for middle and even smaller states to emulate.