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The Queen's Admiral

Chapter Text

 

"The way to solve for the circumference of the field is to first obtain its diameter…"

My mind tried to listen as the master droned on and on the geometry lesson. After all, princes should know these things and it was only proper that I should be paying attention. But my mind was somewhere else. It was wandering across the fjord and into the great ocean to where I knew my aunt was desperately waging a battle to defend her realm, her people, and our freedom. How I wish I could be there by her side. Anything was better than to sit and wait in the castle not knowing whether victory or defeat was at hand. But there wasn't much choice when you're only twelve.

"And the answer is… your highness?"

I shook my head and realized the master was expecting an answer. I immediately looked at him with a contrite expression. "I'm sorry Sir, I didn't… I wasn't thinking…"

I was expecting an immediate reprimand. He was one of my more stern professors. So I was quite surprised that he gave me a kind nod instead. "I understand Prince Fredrik. I suppose we can skip geometry for the moment. I think we all need a break." He started packing up the books and I realized I was being let off early. I gathered my own things.

I saw his hands shaking, and noticed the bags under his eyes and the worried frown on his face. It was a familiar expression. Everyone in the kingdom wore it lately.

Impulsively, I put a hand on his—the first time I've done so. It felt like the right thing to do.

"We'll be okay," I said. "The Queen will defend us. I know she's alright, just look outside." I pointed to the clear afternoon summer skies without a hint of a cloud. The sun was blazing in its usual heat and my hint was clear—there was no trace of snow.

"You really think she's fine?" he asked. His worried expression remained.

"If she was calling on her powers we wouldn't have such fine weather. And I would know." I didn't know what made me say that. It was a complete lie, of course. I had no clue whether Arendelle would be affected by a change of weather this far if my aunt was indeed using her powers an ocean away. I also had no way of knowing whether or not she was alive or dead, much less using her powers at all even with the common connection we have.

Still, my little white lie had a way of decreasing the worried lines on my professor's face and I considered it worthwhile.

"I'm glad your highness." He squeezed my shoulder almost affectionately.

I thanked him and left the study. I wish someone could reassure me as well as I reassured him. I walked over to the garden and saw my mother sitting by the flowers listlessly watching over my younger siblings. My two sisters were playing tea time. They alone seemed immune to the melancholy that had plagued the kingdom for weeks since the war started. As I watched them in their innocent pouring of tea in little cups I was envious that they were too young to understand what was going on in the kingdom to care. My mother pretended to play along while every so often gently caressing her round belly heavy with my soon to be brother or sister. But when five-year-old Andrea waddled over and offered her unborn sibling a cup, my mother's eyes lit up and a faint smile graced her lips.

I walked on, certain that my sisters can cheer her better than I could. I decided to go outside for a bit of fresh air. I passed the quiet halls of the castle. I haven't heard anybody whistling a tune for so long when singing from the servants as they did their work was a normal thing to hear while passing the corridors.

Outside the gates the same dreariness had affected everyone in town. I couldn't take it anymore and decided to head into the ports. Surely, there must be someone that must have heard news by now even if it was only fishermen that can assure me the gigantic wall of ice that stood in the middle of the ocean five miles from Arendelle's shoreline is still standing. That wall of ice is the only thing preventing us from sure defeat.

Our country's crisis began as a simple matter of one unnamed captain discovering the smuggling of Arendelle goods without going through the proper customs boards. Investigations on this led to the discovery of illegal trading by Weselton—a state that Aunt Elsa cut relations with almost two decades earlier. When the queen imposed tighter security measures that killed off the blackmarket, privateers began to appear more and more frequently and targeted Arendelle's trading ships. It wasn't hard to trace and prove that these privateers were sanctioned partners of Weselton in an effort to economically sabotage Arendelle and force it back to open trade.

That aggression escalated into a full war five months ago when Weselton openly attacked a royal navy ship that led to the death of Admiral Rochport, the head of Arendelle's military. Queen Elsa was forced to launch a fleet herself to defend her country. She met the enemy at sea in an effort to lead them away from Arendelle. There had been reports of fierce sea battles that went on for months and two ships were destroyed. But for most part it was a game of cat and mouse for the two navies, with neither one gaining much ground. The crucial point occurred when twenty large privateering ships—allies of Weselton—managed to cut through our naval blockade and made a direct attack on our homeland. Queen Elsa stopped them by creating a wall of solid ice 50 feet high and 20 feet thick in the narrow part of the fjord that was the only passage from the open sea to Arendelle. It effectively protected our nation from a sea attack as the snowy mountains that naturally surrounded the rest of the country already provided a formidable fortress. However, it also cut off our navy from any contact or hope of reinforcements and supplies.

For the last six weeks since the wall was created, we had no news of the Queen or the Arendelle fleet. The home seaguard reports that the privateers were still lingering outside the wall. We were a nation under siege.

We were fortunate that this incident happened in the summer. We had the advantage of resources to supply the populace compared to the ships outside. But how long will it take for them to figure out a way to break that ice and attack. Even if wall did hold, how long could our supplies last us through winter when all trade from our neighbours has ceased?

And what about the Arendelle fleet? Can they survive without reinforcements when they were caught between Weselton's navy and the privateer ships?

My mother, the princess regent, has been trying to keep everything together. She has been busy in the efforts to stock up on supplies from this last harvest. When she's home she tries so hard to carry on things normally. She insists I attend to my lessons and encourages the staff to go about on their daily business. But everyday I can see the weariness in her eyes that were often lidded with tears.

Father leads the home guard of civilian volunteers patrolling the coasts and mountains in case any of the privateers decided to get in through other means. With most of our military beyond the wall, the handful of ice harvesters, farmers and fishermen were our last line of defense if the wall comes down.

And of course there was me—the crown prince that inherited my aunt's ice powers. I knew that if the wall comes down, people expected me to repair it. But I don't have the skill that she has, not in making solid objects. The most I can do is create tiny snow storms and freeze little bodies of water. Even then I don't have complete control of those yet.

I reached the castle square that was filled as usual with people. I can sense everyone felt the same as I did. We were all waiting. Waiting for our fates.

The sound of clashing bells ripped the air. My heart quickened at the noise. I felt the ground beneath my feet turn to ice and I fought to control it before it spread.

Breathe, I told myself, remembering the exercises Aunt Elsa used to teach me. But the bells were still ringing and it was getting harder to concentrate on controlling my powers.

People began nervously murmuring:

"Is it an attack?"

"What is going on?"

"Are they coming?"

I saw a middle-aged man push through the crowds shouting. "The prince! The prince! Someone get the prince quickly!" He stopped when he saw me and he fell sobbing on his knees in front of me. "Your majesty, you must come quick! The wall is down!"

I heard the words and forgot all attempts to control my powers. Ice formed under my shoes and began spreading over the square. A woman dropped a jug of milk a few feet from me and the liquid froze as it came in contact with growing layer of ice beneath her feet. One man slipped and fell next to her just as a storm erupted in the heavens above my head.

Then pandemonium broke loose.

Chapter Text

"Fredrik! Fredrik!"

Someone was calling my name from seemingly far away. I was on my knees shaking, with my arms covering my head. I was too terrified to even look up and find out what was happening.

I felt something hit me in the left cheek, hard. Then came another one on my right cheek.

"Snap out of it, Fredrik!"

I looked up and came face to face with the end tip of a carrot. I saw a twig aiming for my cheek again and I instinctively veered.

"Olaf," I gasped at the snowman that had been with my family since long before I was born.

"You have to stop this storm now," the snowman insisted. "You're scaring people."

I realized he was right. People were already running and shouting in the streets and my loss of control was making things worse.

"It's an attack!"

"Is it the Queen? Has she released her army of ice men?"

"Are they coming? Are they coming?"

"We're doomed!"

I forced myself to breathe deeply just as Aunt Elsa taught me. Slowly the ice receded and I turned to the people before me.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. That was my fault!" I cried. People turned to look and recognized me at once.

"Prince Fredrik? Is the Queen alright? Can you feel her?"

"Is she still alive?"

It was a natural thing for people to think that just because I inherited my aunt's ice powers we also have some sort of telepathy between us. The truth was I was in the dark just as everybody. And right now I was just as panicked. But I forced myself to calm down. "A ruler must always reassure his people," Aunt Elsa used to say. "The kingdom is only as strong as its ruler." I saw from the people's faces around they were expecting salvation from me. I knew that I must at least try.

"I'll do what I can," I told them while accepting Olaf's twig-hand to help myself up.

People made way for me and I shut my eyes as I walked passed them so as not to see their pleading eyes. But I couldn't stop hearing their words.

"Save us your highness."

"Raise the wall again."

"You're our only hope."

Deep breaths, deep breaths, you can do this. You have to.

I opened my eyes and was about to call for a small boat when I realized something about the way the bells were ringing. The cadence of each clash had a two second interval between each and I realized it didn't mean attack but a sign of good tidings.

But how can that be? The wall was gone.

A small fishing vessel was just docking into the port and there men were jumping off the boat shouting. "It's not an attack! It's not attack! A ship has returned. An Arendelle ship!"

And then I saw it. In the horizon the tip of a mass and a sail unfurled unveiled itself in the sun. Green. Purple. The floral crest of Arendelle. I bolted towards the port, with Olaf scurrying at my heels.

The port was overcrowded by the time I reached it so I had to push through the masses. I saw the entire vessel reveal itself across the fjord. It wasn't the flagship where my aunt should be but a smaller vessel—one of the trading ships that volunteered to join the military campaign. Could it be that this is what was left of our fleet?

Then a burst of icy snow tore the cloudlessly blue sky just behind the ship and rained down into the fjord. It sent everyone including myself cheering.

"It's the Queen! She's alive!" someone shouted.

Slowly they appeared on the horizon one, two, three… I had to stop to count… fifteen ships! All flying Arendelle banners! The entire fleet had returned minus the two that were reported destroyed two months ago. The show of ice continued to rain down on all ships like white fireworks and I felt the familiar cold breeze sweeping into the port. It was Queen Elsa's sweet kiss announcing her return and her victory.

People everywhere were jumping and dancing with joy. I grabbed Olaf and gave him such a big hug I severed him in three places and mashed up bits of him with my arms.

"Olaf I'm sorry," I said as I picked up his rolling body. I then waved my hand to reinforce his personal flurry. He reassembled and jumped about and ran to hug other people, unmindful of being crushed. I wanted to follow him but I was stopped by several people I didn't even know who hugged me like I was their own son or brother. I didn't mind though. Everywhere around me citizens were hugging strangers like they were the best of friends. There were mothers crying, old men on their knees praying in gratitude, young children running up the docks shouting for their fathers.

I saw some fishermen hurriedly put out their boats and rowed fast towards the first little ship that was approaching. I knew they couldn't wait to hear news. One quick-moving fisherman reached the tiny ship and shouted out to the sailors then turned back to the shore quickly, eager to share what he heard.

I wanted to rush to the shore closest to where the fisherman was to beach but I felt a hand stop me. I looked up and saw my mother, flushed, a little out of breath and in obvious tears.

"Elsa's come home," she sobbed. "I thought I would never see her again."

I wanted to hug her but I was distracted by the crowd in front who were apparently repeating what the fisherman had just learned from the sailors.

"It's over! The war's over!" several people were shouting at once. It became quite confused after that as people were shouting back questions and relaying messages at the same time that it all became a jumble.

"Weasletown signed a peace treaty!"

"Is everybody alive?"

"I bet the queen frightened them with her ice powers."

"It was the Admiral!"

"No, I think she threatened to freeze them!"

"How many were lost?"

"They negotiated for peace!"

"Few casualties!"

"Is Lt. Aksel with them? Did he survive?"

"It was the Admiral, he out-maneuvered them."

"How about my son? Is he alive?"

"The queen promoted him!"

"Who?"

"They're alive, they're all alive, few injuries!"

It went on and on but eventually the news began to clear.

"It was the Admiral. He's the hero that saved us!"

"A hero! A hero! The Admiral!"

The Admiral? I stopped to wonder. We haven't heard of anyone taking Admiral Rochport's position since he perished at the beginning of the war. But then Queen Elsa could have promoted any of her captains.

But which one? Who was this hero?

People were asking the same thing but apparently the fisherman who obtained that first bit of news failed to learn more information. The next half hour was the longest of my life as I waited impatiently for the actual ships to arrive. Finally, I sighted Aunt Elsa's flagship. Even at a distance I could see her standing on the top deck, her familiar blue gown shimmering in the sun. She was waving to the people on the shore while weaving her magical ice crystals.

I ran forward into the beach. When I reached the shoreline, I lifted my hands up to the sky to send my own shimmering rain of snowflakes to answer her. My show was met with cheers from the sailors on the ships.

Encouraged by their response, I sent a burst of powerful light—something I've been practicing lately in the north mountain. Aunt Elsa answered it with one of her own and for the next several minutes we put on quite a little exhibition for the ecstatic crowd.

Finally the flag ship was near enough that I could hear the shouts of the sailors. Aunt Elsa silenced everyone with one final display of swirling ice and then she began to speak:

"People of Arendelle! Victory is ours. We are at peace again and with little lives lost. Our gratitude goes to the man that orchestrated it, Admiral Westergard."

That was when I noticed the man that stood next to her in a uniform of a high ranking naval officer. He was about in his late 30s, very handsome, with ginger hair and side burns peeking beneath his crisp white hat. He took it off and he smiled and waved to the crowd with the confidence of a royal that matched my aunt.

I gave a slight gasp as I remembered him. It was years ago but I still recalled the fear in his green eyes when I woke from the most terrifying experience I have ever felt.

I was five years old when it happened. I remembered because it was the day I discovered my ice powers...

"Stop fidgeting Fredrik," Mother warned as she placed yet another scarf around my neck. I wiggled in irritation at the uncomfortable wrappings. It was way too hot and I wanted to get out of it and just be able to run in my boots. I attempted to tug away the scarf but Mother slapped my hand and replaced it.

"But I'm not cold!" I protested.

"You will be," Mother chided.

"Listen to your mother, Fredrik." It was Father who spoke. "The north mountain air is freezing. The farther up we go, it gets even colder. Best to keep as warm as possible."

I stared at him defiantly and attempted to yank the woolly cap off my head.

"Uh, uh, uh!" Mother warned. "You take anything off and I'll strap you to Sven who'll take you back to the castle." This time her tone meant business and I huffed in protest.

"Fine," I mumbled under my breath. Why was it adults never let me have any fun?

Father had finally taken me and Mother to the north mountain—a trip I've been waiting for so long. I couldn't wait to see the great frozen lake for ice fishing and Aunt Elsa's ice palace. She promised to meet us there with Olaf and create something nice and big for me up the mountain. Olaf said he was going to introduce me to his younger brother, Marshmallow. Based on his name, I was looking forward to seeing a shorter and cuddlier version of Olaf. ( I couldn't figure out why Mother and Father sniggered when I mentioned this).

We had travelled half a day by sleigh and paused at a tiny cottage that Father said was a sort of rest stop for ice harvesters. It was just one large room with a couch, a fireplace, a tiny kitchen and an outhouse. There was nothing interesting and I wanted to move on especially when I saw that we were nearing the frozen lake.

"Can we go now?" I said.

"Not yet," Mother said. "Brrr… it's cold even for near spring."

"I'll start a fire," Father said just as Mother sat on the couch and put her feet up. "Come sit down, Fredrik."

"I'm not tired. When can we go?" I repeated.

"In a moment," Mother replied. "Hot chocolate first." Father had just started the fire and set a kettle to boil. I knew that this was going to take forever. Mother likes to enjoy her hot chocolate by the fire and takes her time with it.

"But I wanna go now!" I pleaded.

"Fredrik," Mother said irritably. "Sven's tired. We're all tired. The lake isn't going anywhere. Now come sit. We'll go after we take a little nap."

I rolled my eyes. "I don't want to take a nap." Father joined mother in the couch and laid his head on her lap. I knew there was no way I could get them to move now. "I'll be outside," I declared.

"Don't go far, just stay with Sven," Mother warned.

"Okay!" I replied crossly.

I found Sven asleep outside and I was bored. There was still a light coat of snow on the ground but it was no fun making snowballs if you had nobody to throw it to. I decided to look around and walked a little. I saw the sparkle of the frozen lake a distance away and it looked so inviting. Maybe I could take a quick peek before Mother and Father finished their nap.

I walked on, careful not to wake Sven. I passed a short line of trees and felt my constricting clothes hindering me from walking too fast. I looked back and realized Mother and Father would probably not see me. I had time to take off the heavy clothes, run to the edge of the lake then go back without anyone knowing. I stripped off my excess outfits until I was left in just a plain shirt, trousers and boots. I don't even feel cold at all. And without the constricting baggage, I was free to run on.

Finally, I reached it and I saw it was amazing. It was like a gigantic skating rink—like the one Aunt Elsa makes in the castle square except this one was so big I couldn't even see the end. I wished I had brought my skates. I could always ask Aunt Elsa to make me a pair and I'll tell her I wanted to skate here. But for now, I wanted to see if I could go further and find out just how far the lake went.

I stepped on the ice and walked on it. It was strange how it wasn't as even as Aunt Elsa's rinks. This one felt rough and there were parts that appeared to be wet.

Crack!

My heart jumped at the sound. I had heard it once on melting ice. But this one sounded like it was coming from under my feet.

Crack! The sound was louder.

Before I could move, the ground beneath my feet disappeared and I fell into the water. My heart was racing and I gasped but the water was enclosing around me and everything below was dark.

'Kick your feet,' I remembered what Father said when he taught me to float in the fjord during summer and I did just that. I felt myself rise and I could see the light just above my head. But I couldn't breathe and I was so afraid of the dark below me. I kicked and kicked and raised my hands to the light but I felt only something solid and hard on top of me—ice. I tried to search for a way out of the dark that was closing in but all around me I keep encountering solid ice.

And then I saw a shadow above me. I recognized the bottom of a pair of boots. I wanted to shout for help, and I tried to bang my fists but all around me was more ice. Finally, I couldn't kick anymore and everything went dark…

I woke up gasping and coughing. My insides were burning.

"T-hat's it, deep breaths. K-keep at it lad." I heard an unfamiliar shaky voice say.

I cough-spitted water and tried to breathe in between. It seems I couldn't get enough air to relieve the burning inside me. I felt a hand rub my back, helping me to expel water out. When I finally wheezed out everything and began to breathe normally I found myself on the snow-covered bank of the lake staring into a strange man with red hair. His was extremely skinny. He was wearing threadbare clothes that were dripping wet and did little to hide the fact he was shivering. But his eyes—I noticed his green eyes were looking at me intently with deep worry.

"W-we need to get you s-somewhere w-warm quickly."

He lifted me in his arms and I could feel he was trembling. He had only managed a few steps when I heard Mother shouting.

"Fredrik! Fredrik!"

And then she was grabbing me roughly from the man's arms and holding me tight to her while shouting accusingly to him. "What have you done to my son?!"

The man looked confused and he replied: "Y-your son… I-I d-didn't know… H-he fell into the w-water. I g-got him out."

Father pushed past us and I've never seen him look so angry. He was shouting something I couldn't understand and the man was stuttering something back.

Mother was bundling me up in warm clothes and holding me so close that she couldn't seem to hear my weak protests that I wasn't feeling cold at all.

Finally, I managed to wiggle out of her embrace and back on my feet. "I'm fine, I'm not cold. But that nice man is!" I said. "He needs a blanket."

I turned around and saw that Father had cornered the poor shaking man that helped me and I was suddenly afraid of what he would do to him. I saw Father raised a fist to strike him.

"Father no!" I shouted. I felt a strange energy erupted from my hands and Father was thrown back by spikes of ice that appeared between him and the kind man.

"Kristoff!" Mother gasped. She looked from him to the man before settling on me. "Did you do that Fredrik?"

I was confused and moved back. As I did, the ground that I stepped on cracked and I saw crystals forming under my feet.

"I'm t-telling you I f-found him t-trapped under w-water enclosed in a w-wall of ice," I heard the man say.

I didn't know what Father said after that as Mother grabbed me and carried me back to the cottage. I tried to ask her what was going to happen to that man but she kept shrugging it off.

Aunt Elsa arrived a few hours after that incident and confirmed I inherited her ice powers. The days following the exciting discovery of my ability had made me forget about that man. As I grew older I began to understand what happened that day. When I fell into the water, I panicked and accidentally trapped myself by creating a wall of ice above me, sealing even the hole where I fell in. That man found me, broke the ice wall and jumped into the freezing waters to pull me out. Strange, that I never had a chance to thank him—my personal hero. But I suppose now he's everybody's hero.

I turned back to see if my mother had also seen and recognized him. I spied her quickly among the crowds but I noticed something strange.

While everybody was rejoicing, she alone had a frown on her face.

Chapter Text

Never in my life had I seen so many people laugh and cry at the same time.    As soon as the ships came to shore and the gangplanks were down, there was a mad rush from the sailors to get off.  There was a lot of crying coupled with fond embraces as families were reunited with their fathers, brothers and sons.  

I pushed past the crowds towards my aunt with Mother just before me.  I couldn’t wait to hear from her all the news of how they won the war.  But Aunt Elsa only had time to grasp Mother’s arms for a moment before the Queen was led away quite bodily by her eager subjects.  I saw that Admiral Westergard had been accosted in a similar fashion.  Both were placed on waiting horses and fell side by side with rather half-embarrassed grins on their faces as an impromptu parade took place.  Several high-ranking officers followed behind them as the crowds madly cheered on:

“Long live Queen Elsa! Long live her faithful people!”

“Hurray for Admiral Westergard!  The hero of Arendelle!”

“Three cheers for all our brave soldiers!”

I ran along beside them for several minutes with Olaf bouncing on his heels just behind me.  But as the crowds became thicker I realized there were simply too many people vying for my aunt’s attention for me to even get a word in.  I gave up trying and decided to look around for someone else to talk to.  I didn’t have to look far.  I saw a familiar face hobbling away from the traffic of people.

“Captain Anbjorn!” I called out to an old man in his sixties with a lean but kind face.  I stopped when I was near him and I realized why he was hobbling.  He had a lost a leg and it was now replaced by wooden peg.  He was using a cane to help him walk.

“Fredrik, good to see you my boy!” he greeted me in his usual cheerful manner.  “I’m too old for all this excitement.  I’ll let the young ones carry on.  Be a good lad and help me get to a seat away from all this.”

I rushed to oblige him and found some crates in front of a little store where I assisted him to sit down.  A young girl who was minding the store saw us and quickly offered a cup of mead that the Captain eagerly partook in with relish. 

“Ahhh… it’s good to be back,” he said after taking a gulp.  Nothing like Arendelle’s mead.” He tapped his cane on his wooden leg and showed it off like it was something he was proud off.  “See my new souvenir, lad? Can’t get a better trophy than this one eh? Just as I’m retiring too.” 

“What happened Captain?” I asked worriedly. 

The loss of his leg must have been painful.  But to my surprise his eyes were shining with delight.  “It was glorious!  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my career.  It was a great fight! That it was!  I’ll tell you all about it, if you don’t mind indulging an old man?”

“Oh I want to hear all about it!” I said excitedly.  I sat down next to him on an opposite crate.  He stretched his remaining leg then began his tale…

I was the captain of the Kjerstin, the second largest ship in the royal fleet, inferior only to the Queen’s own flagship, the Alexandra.  For more than three months we were assigned as part of the naval blockade that was protecting Arendelle.  We had some victories every now and then which kept the spirits of the men alive, but three months were starting to take its toll on my crew and we knew the war couldn’t last very long.  We could tell Weasletown was getting desperate to take Arendelle.  Their ships were getting bolder and bolder everyday and the skirmishes were becoming fiercer with canon fire being sent out like they were expendable as seawater.

One morning I woke up to the alarm that three of our ships were on the retreat with five privateering ships behind them.  I saw from my deck that the Anna was listing to the side and the Johanna looking worst for wear with a broken mast.  The Katrina alone was providing cover.  

My ship was the first to engage the approaching enemy, providing canon fire to aid our injured sister ships.   I had them pummel the privateering ships until I blew a hole on the side of one and sent another one to retreat.  Five of our other ships engaged the other three pirates until they were forced to move back. 

But our victory was short-lived for when I saw that three new ships had just appeared and went directly for the Alexandra.  They came in so fast that the Queen’s men began fighting close range with muskets and crossbows.

I ordered to maneuver to aid them but alas we were too far and I saw the Alexandra boarded.      In horror I watched its commander Captain Kaj shot in the stomach and crumple to the deck.  I scanned the ship looking for the Queen.  Was she dead?  Captured?

Then I saw a short sailor in a white shirt and trousers run up the top deck.  Six pirates surrounded the sailor and pointed their weapons.  But then the sailor moved in a circle sending a blast of white and in a blink of an eye all six pirates were either passed out on the deck or fell into the waters below. 

I realized it was the Queen dressed as a common soldier!  She moved fast, shooting ice blasts at attacking enemies and clearing a path towards the closest enemy ship.  As she ran, her cap fell and her long platinum hair disentangled from its usual braid and flew wildly about her.  She reached the front of her ship with her face registering a rage I’ve never seen before.  Her arms flew forcibly outwards and I heard her scream like a warrior goddess on the rampage.   Then all three attacking ships were pushed away and tossed aside like little toy boats.   The one that bordered the Alexandra first flew within range of my cannons and I gave one word to my men:

“Fire!”

In seconds I reduced it to ashes and splinters.

I met Queen Elsa’s gaze and she gave me an acknowledging nod of thanks.  But then I saw her eyes register fear.  I turned around and saw a mass of ships approaching.    There were too many to count but I could tell we were outnumbered.

I knew it was the end but we would fight to the last.  I began the speech to my men I’ve always prepared for this inevitable day.

“It was an honor serving with you!  I could not have been more proud!  Long live the Queen!”

As I did, the heavens darkened and an ice storm appeared.   It slowed the approaching ships but I could see that even Queen Elsa’s ice powers couldn’t stop them completely.    She was just buying us time.

The enemy ships maneuvered closer together.  I realized that their density was making it difficult for the ice storm to push them away and they were again gaining speed towards us.  I signaled the men to be ready to fight.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one large enemy ship slid in the middle of the mass of ships.  I noticed it because of one peculiar thing.  There was someone on the deck holding what appeared to be a torch.  I stared at it intently and was surprised when whoever it was began moving around setting fire to the ship.  I grabbed my spyglass and held it up to see and was surprised by what I saw.

It was Captain Westergard, commander of the Christina, the smallest vessel in Arendelle’s navy.  The flames were starting to appear around him but the other enemy ships didn’t appear to notice as they were busy fighting off the storm.  I watched him climb up the top deck and he held the torch out above his head.

The storm suddenly stopped and I could now clearly see him, his gaze was directed at the Alexandra.  He gave a rather gallant salute then let the torch fall from his hands.  I followed the object and saw that it fell somewhere below deck.  Westergard jumped into the water and a second later the ship exploded into a ball of flame raining fire on every single vessel surrounding it.  I realized then that the ship must have been loaded to the brim with tar and gunpowder.  With the enemy ships packed so tightly together, the results were devastating.

Cheers erupted on my ship as we watched the enemy fall into chaos.  I couldn’t believe it.  With one move, Westergard just wiped out more than twenty ships!

“He’s alive! He’s alive!  There he is!” one sailor broke through the euphoria and shouted from the lower deck. 

I went down to look and saw a figure swimming towards us.  My men cast a line and were soon hauling Westergard up.   I ran down to meet him.

“What in the world was that?” were the first words that came tumbling from my mouth directed at the drenched captain.

He was still breathing heavily.  “My crew and I hijacked a pirate vessel, loaded it with flammable materials then decided to use it against them,” he said simply.  “Don’t worry my entire crew is safe back at the Christina.  Lt. Aksel took over for me… because you know I might not…”

He didn’t need to finish.  I realized he volunteered for a suicide mission.

“You’re crazy,” I shook my head at him.

He just gave me devilish grin.  “I love crazy.”

I wanted to laugh but from my peripheral vision, I could see that around 20 more enemy ships coming and to my dismay, they came from the far west—too far for my ship or any of the other ones in the fleet with exemption of the ailing Johanna to engage. 

“We’ve got company,” I told him. 

He looked up and saw what I did.

“Do you have anything else up your sleeve?” I asked him.

He shook his head and I saw fear flashed in his face.  “Our intelligence told us only twenty-six ships.  I didn’t know there were more.”

I signaled to turn back but I knew it would take us at least several minutes to get into range.  The Johanna appeared to be out of fire power.  Without cover, the ships slipped by the blockade and headed straight towards Arendelle.

“No!” I heard Westergard cry desperately.  Both of us felt utterly helpless. 

The Alexandra was turning towards Arendelle but we both knew it would not be able to reach those ships in time to block its path.  Once Weasletown reaches our homeland, it was all over.  They could take hostages and force our surrender.

There was a loud rumble, the waves shook and suddenly before our eyes a massive wall of ice began rising from the sea on the narrow path of the fjord, blocking the path of the attacking ships. 

“She did it! She did it!” Westergard kept repeating over and over triumphantly.  But then he stopped and said.  “Uh oh!”

As the 20 privateer ships were blocked from proceeding to Arendelle, they began turning back towards us!

“More enemy ships coming from our rear!” a sailor shouted.  I turned briefly to see that he was right.  I estimated that it was over 50 ships—an entire armada loaded with enough ammunition to wipe us clean.  They were still quite a distance away, I estimated about half an hour before they could get into range.  It would give us time to flee, but not when we are about to engage 20 ships in our front in three minutes and we had barely any ammunition left.

“Get me close to the Alexandra!” Westergard told me.

‘It’s no use,” I told him.  “They just keep coming.  We can’t win this.”

“I have an idea,” he said.  “But I need the Queen.”

I nodded.  I ordered the ship to move within hearing distance of the Alexandra.

“Queen Elsa!” Westergard shouted.

The Queen appeared on the deck.  She looked tired and out of breath with her hair plastered all over her face.  Clearly creating that wall and providing ice storms had exhausted her.

“I need you to build another wall!”

“What?” she asked. 

“Build another wall!” he repeated.  “Seal of those pirates before they can get to us!”

She nodded.  She closed her eyes and her hands made a gesture as if she was lifting a heavy weight.   A second wall of ice began rising out of the water but this time it was forming a lot slower than the first.  I could see from the Queen’s face that the effort was straining her.

The pirate ships seemed to realize what was going on and were picking up their pace in an effort to get out to the open sea before they were sealed off.  I saw one ship was nearly in range and was aiming to fire at the Alexandra.  I ordered my vessel to move to cover the flagship.

The wall was almost up when the enemy ship fired.  The ball flew to the air a split second before the Queen’s wall sealed them.  We were on its direct path. 

The shock of the impact on the side of my ship shattered the main deck and I felt it give way under my feet.  Wood splinters rained on me and I felt a searing pain in my left leg as it was caught underneath a fallen beam.  All around me men were crying in agony as I felt the ship list to the side.  I wanted to say something reassuring but the excruciating sensation in my leg was all I could think of until I stopped thinking altogether and let the darkness engulf me.

Chapter Text

I was spellbound by Captain Anbjorn's tale. How I wished I was there to see it all. Aunt Elsa sounded so amazing. The things she could do to her powers were beyond what I could imagine I was capable of doing. And Admiral Westergard—how bold and clever he was! I couldn't wait to get their side of the story, but for now I was content to just hear more of Captain Anbjorn's tale.

"So what happened afterwards?" I asked. "How did you escape with a fleet of 50 ships behind you?"

The captain was happy to oblige…

The next few days were a haze to me. My left leg had to be amputated as the bone shattered when the beam fell on it. The fleet doctor kept me sedated to ease the pain. It took me three days before I became conscious enough to communicate properly and when I did I found myself in a cabin of the Alexandra with Westergard beside me.

"The doctor said he can fix you a wooden leg. You'll still be able to walk again," he said.

"I'll be fine," I told him. Truthfully, the loss of my leg wasn't what bothered me most. I've had my time. This is just God's way of telling me to slow down. What I was worried most about was my crew. "My ship? My men?"

"The Kjerstin was towed but still afloat. Sixteen of your men were injured but they'll make it. Three…" He shook his head and whispered to me their names.

I said a silent prayer for their souls and those from other ships I knew we had lost.

"Where are we, Hans?" I asked him.

He gave a deep sigh. "The north sea heading south east, we managed to escape."

"How?"

"Queen Elsa managed to build the second wall in time. It could have been worst for the Kjerstin if it wasn't for her. I wanted her to build a third wall to keep the Weselton armada away, but she didn't have the strength. She did manage to create a thick fog. It hid our ships well so we were able to flee."

"And Arendelle?"

"Safe for now. Queen Elsa's wall is so thick it seems to be impenetrable to canon fire. But Arendelle's under siege and we need to get back there soon before Weselton breaks down that wall. Unfortunately, we're in no position to fight."

I saw the bags under his eyes and I realized he must be exhausted.

"How bad is it?" I asked.

"All fifteen ships are still afloat at least. But only eight can even go up on a fight right now and even then they're down to their last rounds of ammunition. We've got a hundred fifty-two injured, fifteen dead, including Captain Kaj."

I heaved a sigh. Kaj was a good man and a good friend. He led the fleet well after Rochport died. I would sorely miss him.

"Our food and water stocks can last us three weeks, but it's our medicine that's going to be a problem. There isn't enough morphine and disinfectant to sustain our wounded. Not to mention our surgeons haven't slept in days. Even the Queen is helping out."

The solution was obvious. We needed to find a place to go onshore to resupply and get our injured help. But with Arendelle cut off we had nowhere to go but other allied nations. The closest one that was sure to support us was Corona, but it was more than a week away and Weasletown will surely be on the patrol against us. "Where are we going then?"

"Tastris," Westergard replied as if he wasn't convinced. I didn't blame him. Although Tastris was near enough it wasn't the first choice I'd pick. This coastal kingdom that once had a blossoming fish trade with Arendelle suddenly cut off their fish exports 12 years ago. It wasn't just Arendelle they stopped exporting to. They banned fishing altogether, shut down their ports and even built a wall around their seaside castle to prevent access to the ocean. They do still import ice from Arendelle so it wasn't an altogether cut tie, but relations were rather cold for a long time. It wasn't likely the kingdom would welcome the bedraggled Arendelle navy with open arms.

"Queen Elsa said King Eric of Tastris owes her a favor and she intends to collect by asking asylum for us," Westergard explained.

Favor? Hah! That was an understatement. I snorted with laughter and Westergard looked confused. "What?" he asked.

"Oh King Eric owes her alright. This just might work."

"What does he owe her?"

"It's not something he owes her but something he needs to make up to her. He broke their engagement."

"The Queen was engaged?!" the young girl who gave the Captain Anbjorn mead suddenly exclaimed. Halfway through the story several children were drawn by his compelling tale and were now sitting on crates opposite him or on the ground. Her outburst attracted even more children to come forward.

"When did this engagement happen?!" an older girl in her teens with pimples and crooked teeth asked excitedly. I was a bit put off that this new audience interrupted the story but Captain Anbjorn didn't seem to mind.

"When she was eight years old and he was three. It was all an arranged thing for political alliance of course. It took three years to negotiate that marriage pact but it was set and they had to wait until they were both over 18 to get married. Queen Elsa was five years older so she would be 23 at that time. She waited to honor that contract. But what does this Prince Eric do? Upon the death of his father—which came a bit short of his 18th birthday, he sends her one note saying he's breaking it because he wants to marry for love. Can you believe that? He didn't even come personally, just a cold informal note. The insult nearly severed ties between Tastris and Arendelle."

"And then what happened?" a golden haired little chit with a stain on her dress asked. She had her hands curled under her chin with her wide eyes all on the captain.

"Well Tastris' ambassador Grimsby had to come over to Arendelle to beg for indulgence for his wayward prince and to assure that the trade relations would continue despite the broken marriage pact. He planned on getting the prince to come to Arendelle to meet Queen Elsa. I think he was hoping that maybe when Prince Eric meets her, love would blossom and the pact can be mended. They actually set sail just before the prince's birthday and we were all prepared to welcome him when fate struck."

The girls all giggled in anticipation. I rolled my eyes heavenward. Girls and their crazy romantic notions, I thought.

"He got shipwrecked on the eve of his birthday and they were forced to go back home. A short time after that, he meets some girl and marries her in three days."

"Three days?" the girl with the mead wrinkled her nose. "Who marries someone they met in three days?"

"Exactly. Years of marriage negotiations and strategic alliance all went down the drain over the misplaced notion of true love," he said sarcastically. "Queen Elsa didn't lose much though except for her pride. It turns out she could have done worse by marrying him because Prince Eric is a political idiot. After breaking their engagement—a move that almost cost Tastris a valuable ally—he imposes a ban on their number one industry, fishing. About two years later he closes the doors to their main ports. All goods coming in and out now need to take the longer route several kilometers east."

"That's crazy," one little boy about my age said.

"No, it's stupid," I told them. "Queen Elsa had too much sense to marry someone like that. If I become king, I would think twice about an alliance with this kingdom. But let's get back to the story," I urged.

"Ah yes, of course," said Captain Anbjorn. "So where was I?"

I told Westergard about the fiasco of the engagement and he just shook his head and gave me that knowing grin of his. "I heard rumors his wife was some sort of odd ball with an aversion to fish. Too bad she imposed it on the entire kingdom."

"Well if they do welcome us, I suppose not being able to eat fish is the least of our worries," I laughed.

There was a knock on the door and one of my younger lieutenants poked his head in. "Captain Anbjorn? The Queen is requesting an audience."

"Of course. Please tell her majesty I would be very glad to receive her and I apologize that she had to come to me in this state."

The young sailor nodded and left. Westergard stood up.

"I should leave you," he said as he clasped my friend. "Rest well, my friend."

"Same to you, you need it after that crazy stunt you pulled."

He nodded and turned. As he opened the door, the Queen appeared.

"Your majesty," Westergard acknowledged her with an elegant bow.

"Captain," she nodded curtly without meeting his gaze.

When he was gone, Queen Elsa closed the door then sat on the chair where Westergard had been earlier.

"How are you feeling?" she asked warmly.

"I've felt better," I told her. "I'll be up soon, don't you worry." I noticed that one side of her neck was bandaged with gauge covering an obvious wound. "What happened?"

She shrugged. "It's nothing, just a scratch. But I'm glad you're alright. I guess you know. Captain Kaj is dead."

"I know."

We were silent for a while as a short tribute to that man.

"We'll take a rest at Tastris," Queen Elsa said. "Hopefully you'll be able to recuperate then. We'll find supplies and get back on our feet." She paused and then: "Captain, I need you to lead the fleet."

I was surprised at what she offered. But then I realized I should have seen this coming. With Kaj dead, I was next in line, though I didn't agree with her.

"Elsa, look at me. I'm in no position to lead your fleet."

"You'll recover," she said. "The doctor said—"

"I'm not talking about my leg," I said gently. "Elsa, I'm sixty-seven years old. I've served both your father and your grandfather. If the war hadn't broken out I would be retired by now. As much as I want to, I'm not the best person to help you in this war." I stopped to let my words sink in then added. "You know who is."

She fell silent and touched the wound of her neck self-consciously. "No," she uttered softly. She got up and turned away. "No, I can't… not him."

"Elsa, he was Rochport's choice to succeed him and you know it. Kaj only took the position to head the fleet because you insisted. Even then he refused to be promoted to admiral. I'm refusing it too, Elsa."

"You can't refuse this," she cried. "Please…"

I shook my head. "His pure nerve and clever strategy saved us three days ago. He's been doing that for quite some time. Isn't that enough to earn your trust?"

"Who? Who was it that she needs to trust?" interrupted a little boy. All the other children were asking the same thing but I didn't need to have that question answered. It was obvious Captain Anbjorn was referring to Captain Westergard. But how come Aunt Elsa didn't want him leading her fleet? I was about to ask when Lady Anja, Aunt Elsa's handmaid appeared with two lieutenants in tow.

"Oh there you are, Captain. Queen Elsa and Admiral Westergard had me looking all over for you. It would not be fitting to have one of the heroes of Arendelle left behind in the honor parade. They insisted you be part of it." She motioned to the soldiers behind her with a waiting horse.

"Ahh, well… duty calls," said the Captain. "I'm sorry children. We'll pick this up later." I helped him with the two soldiers up his horse and he was led away.

I was disappointed that the Captain left me with some unanswered questions. I looked forward to catch up on him later. I turned to find Lady Anja looking at me.

"Well Prince Fredrik. Your mother is asking for you. She's back at the castle preparing the victory ball for tonight. So shall we?"

She held out her arm and I took it. We walked together towards the castle. Lady Anja was only 16 but she was one of the few women who were brave enough to volunteer to join Aunt Elsa at sea when the war broke out. Certainly she would know what happened next.

"So tell me what happened after the fleet escaped from the Weselton forces?"

"Oh, it was very exciting but very scary," she said with an almost dreamy expression on her freckled face. Then she went on…

I huddled below deck with two other ladies. We were in tears and praying so hard as we heard shouts and gunshots from above, fighting over the din of the familiar canon fire. We knew we were boarded and there was only a matter of time before they got to us. Queen Elsa had run up deck at the start of the battle. I heard her scream and we cowered even more, certain that it was the end. I felt the temperature drop and knew the Queen was terrified. Was she dying up there? 

Minutes ticked by, slow and agonizing. The gunshots had ceased but the canonfire kept up.

Then an explosion!

I shrieked as the ship rocked. And there was cheering from the men but only for a short while for I could hear the Queen again shouting to someone.

"Turn back to Arendelle! They're coming!"

"It's too late. We're too far, your majesty!"

I felt the ship turn and I managed to look out a porthole that for once had a clear view. I saw several enemy ships on the way to Arendelle. I was paralyzed with fear. Would I ever see mother and father alive again? Or my little brothers?

The ship turned again and I lost my view. All I could see through the porthole was splashing water and debris. It was useless to look. More minutes went by. A blast of canon fire. The sounds of crunching wood. Men screaming. It didn't seem to end.

Finally I couldn't take it anymore. If I were to die, then I don't want to do so cowering in a corner.

I gathered my courage and walked out. The other two ladies begged me to stay but I was resolved. I went up the deck and nobody stopped me. I found several bodies I didn't know. Despite my horror I was relieved that none were wearing Arendelle green. That was until I reached the top deck and found Captain Kaj's lifeless body. My eyes prickled with fresh tears but there was no time to grieve. Men were shouting for help. I saw the Kjestin was badly damaged from a direct canon hit. They were transferring their wounded to the Alexandra.

I ran back to the entrance of the deck and shouted to my two companions to come up and help then I proceeded to assist. I cleared one side of the top deck and started tending to the wounded.

Captain Westergard gently laid down a wounded soldier beside me. "Where's the Queen?" he asked.

I shook my head. He didn't wait for a response and began shouting for her.

There was a familiar scream and I looked up to see Queen Elsa. A large strange man held her from behind and he had a knife at her throat. I realized it was one of the men that must have boarded earlier.

"This war ends now!" he threatened menacingly. "Lower your weapons and surrender or the witch dies."

Frost began forming all over the deck and Queen Elsa gasped. The blade had already pierced her skin and was now drawing blood.

Soldiers all around me were throwing their weapons down on the deck. But one man stepped forward directly in front of the Queen and her attacker. It was Captain Westergard.

"Do you trust me?" the question was directed at the Queen.

She stared at him wide-eyed for a moment. I could see that she was confused and hesitant, but finally she gave a slight nod.

Captain Westergard brought out a pistol and fired.

I screamed along with the Queen.

There was smoke from the gunshot. When it cleared I saw her attacker on the deck dead from a single bullet to the head. 

Queen Elsa lay crouched a short distance away in Captain Westergard's arms. There was a gash at her throat though it didn't appear to be deep and she seemed alright, though she was sobbing and clearly shaken. He held her tight for a moment with one of his hands running through her loosened platinum hair and he murmured something into her ear. She shut her eyes and clutched tighter at him with her head resting on his shoulder. At that moment I thought how fitting they seemed together. He looked like a shining knight comforting his gentle lady.

But then her eyes suddenly flew open and she pushed him away almost violently, leaving flecks of frost on his uniform.

He got to his feet and his face registered his usual reserve.

"The Weselton fleet will be in range in 15 minutes. Your majesty, I need you to build another wall," he implored her with almost business-like detachment."

It was then that I noticed the solid wall of ice that was standing before us. I was bewildered by this marvelous object she created.

She shook her head. "I-I can't," she cried desperately. "I-I don't h-have the…"

He sighed and nodded. "Alright, we've got to find another way. We can't stay here."

She took deep breaths. She looked extremely tired. "I don't have the strength to build a wall, but I can hide us for a little while. Set up beacons and signal to our ships to follow our lead. We'll head south."

"Yes, your majesty." Captain Westergard moved to obey. The Queen stood on the middle of the deck, her arms raised to the heavens. A thick fog appeared. Under its cover our ships moved stealthily south.

I busied myself with tending to the wounded and it was already night by the time the fog dissipated completely. There was no sign of the Weselton fleet and we were moving in open waters.

The next few days were hellish. There was so many wounded to tend to that I barely slept. Captain Westergard and Queen Elsa led the massive work to ensure our supplies were rationed, the limping ships were towed and our rear was well covered. Thankfully, no enemy was sighted.

By the fourth day we reached Tastris. The seaside castle with its massive wall loomed before us in a forbidding manner.

As we approached a company of men appeared above the walls armed with crossbows all pointed directly at us.

"Identify yourselves or we will open fire!" one man atop the wall commanded.

I wanted to shrink back but I saw that Queen Elsa remained in front with Captain Westergard at her side. If the Queen could be brave enough then so would I. I held my ground behind her, though every fiber of my being was protesting to hide.

Captain Westergard spoke carefully. "Queen Elsa of Arendelle wishes to meet with King Eric of Tastris."

The man on the wall appeared to hesitate for a moment then replied. "Wait where you are and come no closer."

"Do you think he'll get the King?" Kai, Queen Elsa's steward asked. "You haven't exactly met him your majesty."

"We've written to each other for years," Queen Elsa replied. "He's a friend."

Captain Westergard looked at her with a worried expression and uttered the question that all of us wanted to ask. "But can you trust him?"

Chapter Text

“So did he welcome you?  Or did you have to fight him?” I asked Lady Anja. 

She giggled.  “I’ll tell you about it later. I’m needed inside and you need to see your mother.”  I realized we had reached the castle.  The servants were all bustling about putting up banners and cleaning the main square.  She began walking away towards the kitchens.

“Come on, tell me now!” I urged but she just gave me amused smile and skipped away, leaving me alone by the open gate.

“Tell you what, your highness?” It was Kai who spoke.   I immediately grasped his hand.  Here was a man who would know.

“Tell me what happened when you reached Tastris!  Lady Anja said the king’s men had you at crossbow point.”

The aged steward’s face crinkled with humor.  “Alright, but only if you promise to get dressed quickly for the victory ball tonight.  Your mother insists you look presentable.”

“Yes, yes, I will, but tell me!”

He began walking and I followed him.  He began to speak…

Waiting was something I was used to.  As the royal steward, my patience for serving royals was unparalleled.  I could stand for hours without flexing a muscle.  But for the first time in my life I fidgeted while waiting.  You can’t exactly blame me when I was waiting with the Queen with two dozen men pointing crossbows at us.

Finally, a figure emerged from the wall.  A tall handsome man with black hair appeared.  He wore a plain white shirt, blue trousers and a red sash.  But he had the bearing of a royal.   Queen Elsa lifted her head and called out without hesitation.

“Eric!  It’s me, Elsa.”

He stared at her for a long moment.  Certainly he would recognize her from the portraits she sent him over the years.  

Ever since she was ten years old, Queen Elsa established a correspondence with Prince Eric on a regular basis as part of the marriage pact to get to know her affianced.   At first she wrote begrudgingly as a matter of duty but as years passed she came to look forward to his letters.  She used to tell me all about the stories he wrote to her on his adventures at sea.  In a way, Prince Eric opened up a world unknown to her in the years she was locked away in her rooms.  She came to regard him as a close friend and the fact that she couldn’t reveal her abilities to him was one of the things she regretted. 

His mother died a week before her coronation which prevented him from coming.   Grimsby came as Tastris’ representative and learned of her abilities with the rest of the foreign dignitaries.  Prince Eric’s letters came less and less frequent after that.  Then just before his 18th birthday, he broke it off completely.  Queen Elsa tried to hide her disappointment but I knew she blamed herself for the loss by being less than truthful to him.

As she stood there waiting below his wall, I wondered what thoughts went through her mind.  Did she imagine she could have been queen of this kingdom as well if things turned out differently?

Finally, he motioned for his men to lower their weapons.  “Elsa?  Is it really you?”

She nodded.  “I need your help.  We need supplies, medical attention for our wounded, a place to stay for a while.”

“To escape from Weselton,” he said.  He looked a bit uncomfortable but finally said.  “Go around five kilometers east.  There’s a rocky side of the land where you can dock your ships.  I’ll meet you there.”

“Thank you,” Queen Elsa replied. 

Our company all breathed with relief.  Captain Westergard gave the order and our ships moved on.  We found the place where the King pointed us to.  The terrain had a natural cover to enable our ships to remain docked without being seen from the open ocean.  It was a perfect hiding place.   There were signs here of a once thriving port, but its facilities had long ago fallen to the natural elements. The port appeared to have had no visitors for more than a decade. 

King Eric arrived on his horse with a small contingent of soldiers and met us just as we stepped on the land.  Queen Elsa met him and asked for a word alone.  They walked a distance away though I could still see them.

“Do you think he’ll let us stay?” I overheard one of the young lieutenants speaking.

“Of course he will,” Captain Westergard replied rather confidently.   “The Queen will convince him.  He’s half-enamored with her already.”

I raised an eyebrow at the remark.  “He’s a married man,” I reminded him.

“It doesn’t matter,” Captain Westergard laughed.  “Didn’t you see the way he was staring at her earlier?  One smile from Queen Elsa and he looked ready to give her the world.  Poor devil just realized what he missed out on.  I hope for his sake the three-day girl was worth it.”

The soldiers snickered at the comment and I was about to protest but I saw from the corner of my eye that King Eric did look quite flustered around Queen Elsa.   Despite the crass way he put it, Captain Westergard’s observation appeared to be accurate.  It wasn’t something surprising.  Half the men Elsa met since she was crowned find her attractive.  The other half found her terrifying.  King Eric was obviously among the former.

Captain Westergard’s remark quickly set the soldiers buzzing in low tones, sharing rumors about the queen of Tastris.  I’ve heard much of these rumors before.  Most were saying she was some siren that bewitched the king and made him fall in love with her.  Others told that she was a terrible sea monster who had the king’s life at the mercy of her dreaded tentacles.  Some though said she was just an ordinary high-born maiden that the king married quickly to prevent a scandal after he dishonored her.  

All talk ceased when Queen Elsa returned.  She brought news that King Eric had agreed to shelter us for now and will provide food and medical aid.  Several cottages near the sea were set up as temporary shelters for our men.  Supplies and surgeons soon arrived.      

By evening we finished unloading all the men and making the wounded comfortable. King Eric invited Queen Elsa, her ladies and high ranking officers to stay at the castle.  We were met there by King Eric’s wife.   The mysterious Queen Ariel that had been the subject of much speculation turned out to be a rather lovely woman with red hair, bright blue eyes and a bubbly innocent personality that reminded me of Princess Anna.  She was very gracious to all the guests and was soon busy talking to our various captains and Queen Elsa’s handmaids.  I found her charming yet seemingly naïve for a woman in her early thirties.  I was beginning to suspect that the rumors about her marriage being a hashed up affair after King Eric seduced her were true.  After all, there was an almost parallel situation at home that was just prevented in time.”

“What parallel situation at home?” I asked and Kai cringed.

“Well… er… it’s not important Prince Fredrik,” Kai said quickly.  “Don’t you want to know what happens next?”

“Of course, of course, I do.”  I let him continue.

Queen Ariel had an 11-year old daughter—a pretty little girl with hair as dark as her father’s and a fine soft face like her mother’s.  She was excited to meet us and all throughout dinner begged us for tales about our travels at sea.  She sat next to Captain Westergard who regaled her with stories.  By dessert, they were laughing together like old friends.  Queen Ariel seemed pleased.  She told me her little Melody wasn’t used to strangers and was glad she was finally opening up.

It was late when our company parted ways to retire.  But I was restless and wanted a bit of fresh air.  I was drawn to a balcony window in the drawing room where I could get a glimpse of the sea beyond the wall.  I had been enjoying the view for a moment when I spied two figures strolling along the gardens below under the moonlight.  I recognized Queen Elsa and King Eric.  They were quite alone and appeared to be enjoying each other’s company.  She had one hand resting on his arm and a soft smile playing on her lips.  He, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to keep his eyes away from her.  The scene was disturbingly romantic and I felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“It’s not what you think.” I startled when I realized I wasn’t alone.  Captain Westergard stood a few feet away.  He too was watching the pair with his usual knowing smile.

“And what do I think?” I challenged.  Whatever I might suspect I wasn’t going to let him know about it.  I was prepared to defend the Queen’s honor.

He looked amused.  “Don’t worry Kai, Queen Elsa is an honorable lady. I have no doubt she can handle herself.  Right now,” He motioned to the scene.  “She’s negotiating for military support for us.” 

I was surprised by the remark. “How can you be sure?” I asked before I could stop myself. 

“Because she always placed her people’s interests first.   She’s no fool and she knows an opportunity when she sees it.”

I had to admit he was right.  I stared at the pair below with a rather different view of what exactly was going on.   How many times had I witnessed Queen Elsa use her charm to her advantage over a trade negotiation in the past?  It was part of the political game.  She never stepped over the bounds of propriety.  She didn’t need to.  A look, a few well-placed words or a gentle touch and she had them eating over the palm of her hand.   Despite what most people thought, Queen Elsa’s most dangerous asset wasn’t her ability to create ice.  It was her brilliant mind and the way she knew how to deal with people.

“No need to fret, I’ll keep an eye out for her,” Westergard continued.  I realized he was here on this vantage point for a reason.  “I may trust her, but I don’t trust him.”

I found it ironic that this man who had his own reputation as a rake was now on the Queen’s side, protecting her from a man with possibly less than honorable intentions.  

“Admiral Westergard was a rake?” I couldn’t help but exclaim.  “What did he do?”

“He was a pirate before he got conscripted into the military,” Kai hurriedly answered.  Somehow I felt Kai was holding back but I didn’t probe.  He was giving me an annoyed expression.  I shut up before he decided to stop the story altogether.   We had already reached the main hallway.  If I keep interrupting, Kai might run off and leave me hanging with a story half-unfinished. But I would definitely question him again another time about this piece of information on Admiral Westergard.

Two hours later I was relieved when Queen Elsa met us alone in the corridor and called both of us for a walk.  She led us pass the gardens and out of the castle gates to where I knew we couldn’t possibly be overheard.  When she was sure we were alone she spoke.

“He doesn’t want to get involved in our war,” she said.  “But I think I might I might be able to change his mind. If not additional men, at least I think I can get him to provide aid to repair our ships and stock us with ammunition.  It will take a little bit of convincing.”

She turned to Captain Westergard.  “The Christina is in good shape, isn’t it Captain?”

“Yes, she wasn’t damaged at all.”

“Good.  Ready the ship for tomorrow.  I’ll take Eric sailing.  Not far, just beyond the coast.  If there’s one thing he loves it’s the open ocean.  He hasn’t been there for years and I think he misses it.  I’m sure that will put him in a good mood.”

“Alright, I’ll Captain the ship—”

“No,” she interrupted.  “Leave Lt. Aksel in charge and just one or two other men.  I want Eric to have an opportunity to show me his sailing skills without them getting in the way.” 

He looked ready to protest but the Queen silenced him with a look that was almost—conspiratorial.   “I have a different mission for you.  I need you take Queen Ariel out tomorrow.  Ask her to show you around their village.  Bring Princess Melody along and keep them both entertained.”

Her words surprised me.  Not because Queen Elsa was scheming to get Queen Ariel out of the way but because she was ordering Captain Westergard to do it.  She had always been cold to him and with good reason.  But I suppose knowing his rather special talents to charm women, he was the best person for this job.

His eyes danced with amusement.  “So you’re asking me to distract the wife so you can be alone with the King.  Brilliant your majesty, I couldn’t have made a better plan.”

I could see the Queen was trying to keep on a straight face at the comment.  But a tiny smile betrayed her.  “It’s not just that,” she continued.  “There’s something strange going on here.  Don’t you think it’s a little odd that even though Tastris is defenseless without a navy for years it hasn’t been threatened in any way?”

She was right.  Power-hungry Weselton could have taken this little kingdom a long time ago.  Tastris from what I’ve seen so far wasn’t lacking in valuable resources.  More importantly, they were strategically located on the coast with a natural port that could have been the gateway to the northern kingdoms.   So why hadn’t Weselton made a move against it?

“Something’s protecting this kingdom and it’s not their wall,” Queen Elsa continued.  “I know Eric’s family’s political clout and it’s not him either.   I suspect it has something to do with his wife.  I need you to find out who she really is.  That goes for you as well Kai.  Find out what you can from Grimsby or any of the castle staff.  Get our people to make inquiries around the kingdom.  Someone’s bound to slip up something.  We’ll meet tonight with all the captains to plan what to do next.”

 The next day, I did what she bid me and had all our people probing for answers.  Grimsby was tight-lipped but the other servants were not so guarded.  I found Carlotta, the matronly head of the household, can chatter up a lot once she found a listening ear.  She told me a rather incredible tale that I didn’t believe at first but eventually accepted as all the other servants confirmed it.

Queen Ariel was a mermaid.

“A mermaid?” I gasped.  Despite promising myself not to interrupt, I couldn’t help it.  It was just too preposterous to be believed.  I was certain Kai was just toying with me.  But the old steward didn’t bat an eyelash.  “Mermaids are just a myth,” I insisted.

“I thought so too,” Kai said.  “But everyone I talked to swore it was true and when I thought about it, it made a lot of sense.  Queen Ariel was once a mermaid.  They said she was the daughter of Triton—king of the mer-people and ruler of the Atlantica.  He had dominion over the sea creatures and had a powerful trident that can spell death to anyone.  Tastris didn’t need a navy.  The whole ocean surrounding it protected them more efficiently than any human military could.  It wasn’t that Weselton didn’t attack them—in fact they did and some of our crew found evidence of broken Weselton ships near the coast of Tastris.  We could only imagine what their fate was.”

I tried to picture what he told me and I felt a shiver up my spine on the image of a powerful sea king destroying an entire fleet of ships with one move of his magical trident.  I was beginning to see this King Eric in a new light.  Maybe he wasn’t such a political fool after all.  Marrying a princess of the mer-people secured him a more advantageous alliance than with a kingdom that had a queen that can make ice.  I realized that Queen Elsa must have seen an incredible opportunity with this information:  An alliance with the mer-people could end the war!

I was about to ask Kai to confirm it but he wasn’t finished speaking.

“Carlotta told me though that they were sworn to secrecy not to say anything to the Princess Melody,” he said.

“Why not?” I frowned.

“Well apparently she doesn’t know anything.  Not her mother’s former life or even that the mer-people existed.  There was some threat to her life from a sea creature that was still at large and so her parents had the wall built for her protection.  Everyone in the castle was sworn to secrecy not to let the princess know so she wouldn’t venture out into danger.  She was forbidden from ever going beyond the wall.”

“But that’s stupid,” I interjected.  “Keeping things from her to keep her safe isn’t going to prevent her from finding out eventually.”

Kai shrugged.  “Well it’s been known to happen.”

He was right.  My own grandparents did the same thing by concealing Aunt Elsa’s powers from my mother and the rest of the kingdom.  It ended in disaster.   

“Queen Elsa did manage to get King Eric to reveal to her much of what I found out during their little sailing trip that day,” Kai continued.  “When she arrived back to the port by the evening tide she was in high spirits.  She had secured King Eric’s support to have our ships repaired and loaded with enough ammunition to get us back into the fight.  She also convinced him to tell Melody the truth, citing her own experiences of concealment by her parents.  I think Queen Elsa found Princess Melody’s plight similar to her own only it was the entire kingdom keeping things from her instead of the other way around.  She was genuinely concerned for both the little girl who was being cheated out of her heritage and for King Eric who was forced to keep the secret to placate his wife’s protectiveness.”

I agreed with my aunt on that aspect.  She told me before that keeping the secret of her powers from her sister was a daily torture she would not want on anyone.   I couldn’t imagine having to keep something like my own ice powers from my little sisters.  “So they told Melody?” I asked.  I didn’t know why the princess interested me so much but I just felt a need to know.

Kai shook his head. “We couldn’t have foreseen how fearfully protective Queen Ariel was about her daughter.   I wasn’t exactly sure what happened that night but King Eric must have spoken to his wife about finally revealing the truth to their daughter.  They must have argued and somehow that reverted badly on Queen Elsa who Queen Ariel most likely blamed for rocking the boat.  At dinner, the once cheerful Queen Ariel was extremely cold to everyone in our company and she openly snubbed Queen Elsa.  Any opportunity for an alliance we could have negotiated for from her side of the family was lost.”

I was disappointed.  “So that was it?  What did you and Aunt Elsa do?”

“We made do with what we have,” Kai shrugged.   “Which wasn’t much.  Because although we now have ammunition and supplies, 15 ships wasn’t going to win a war against an armada that outnumbered us one more than three to one.  But then Captain Westergard stepped in…”

Chapter Text

Hold out baits to entice the enemy.  Feign disorder, and crush him.

-          Sun Tzu on The Art of War

 

After the rather uncomfortable dinner with the Tastris royal family, Queen Elsa ordered a meeting for her highest ranking officers in one of the private drawing rooms of the castle.  Just before we started, Queen Elsa voiced her frustration.

“I shouldn’t have meddled, Kai.  It wasn’t my place,” she said as she wrung her hands in the way I knew she was extremely disappointed in herself.  “It’s just that I couldn’t help it.  That little girl doesn’t deserve to be lied to and locked up like I was.  I can sense it in the way she talks and looks past the wall with longing.  She loves the sea—the same as her father.   That wall is denying them that.”

“Well under the circumstances your majesty, her parents do have a reason for putting that wall.  It’s for her own protection.  What would you have done in their place?”

She stared at me defiantly.  “What Anna, Kristoff and I did to Fredrik when we found out he had powers that could be a danger to himself and to others.  We told him the truth, told him not to fear and taught him to survive.”

I didn’t have an answer for her for she was right. 

“Still, I shouldn’t have said anything to Eric,” she continued as she shook her head.  “It’s all my stupid fault.  We could have allied ourselves with Queen Ariel’s family and this war will be over without another shot being fired.  Now we have to go back out there alone to face Weselton and it might be a lot sooner.  She can kick us out of Tastris tonight and where will we go then?”  Her tears freely flowed but turned to little crystal droplets of ice once they fell down her cheek.  I felt the temperature drop and I knew how upset she was.

There was a knock on the door and Queen Elsa hurriedly wiped away her tears and composed herself.  Captain Westergard appeared and closed the door behind him.

“I spoke to Queen Ariel,” he began in low tones. 

Queen Elsa looked expectantly.  I could see that she feared the worst.

“I begged her for mercy for the sake of our wounded men,” he said sadly.  “She’s allowed us to stay for a month—but no more than that.”

I gasped in relief and Queen Elsa didn’t even try to hide her own feelings. 

“She also agreed to still provide us with provisions, ammunition.  Everything King Eric promised us before on the condition…”  He stopped and looked uncomfortable.

“On what condition?” Queen Elsa pleaded.

He couldn’t look at her.  “That you keep away from her husband and her daughter.”

Queen Elsa gave a dejected nod.  “I understand.  Thank you for speaking to her.”

The other Arendelle ship captains except for Anbjorn who was still recuperating, began arriving then.  Westergard relayed to them the news minus Queen Ariel’s ultimatum.  There was a noticeable air of relief in the room though their worry on what to do next was still palpable.

“We can’t win this war,” Captain Gulbrand of the Lovise said glumly.  “Even if we’re armed to the teeth, fifteen ships isn’t going to cut it against over fifty vessels.  They may have broken the siege in Arendelle already.”  He approached the Queen.  “Your majesty, surrender may be our best option.  We can discuss terms—”

The whole room suddenly erupted with voices.   Half the captains were arguing for continued fighting while the other half were for surrender.  It went on for quite some time until the Queen silenced them by sending an icy blast to the ceiling that rained snowflakes on everyone.

“We are not surrendering!” she declared.  “Not while I have breath left in my body.  I will not have Arendelle become another Glowerhaven.”

Everyone kept silent.  We all knew what happened to Glowerhaven.  This tiny nation surrendered to Weselton without much of a fight when they were attacked five years ago.  The country was immediately occupied and their princess, the only surviving heir of their royal family, was forced into a marriage with the king of Weselton’s brother—the same loathsome Duke that once attempted to have Queen Elsa killed.  The princess was made a puppet head and was forced to watch her people be stripped of their rights and her land made into a wasteland when Weselton exploited its precious natural resources without any regard for its sustainability.

“But what can we do your majesty?” Captain Vas, the young commander of the Johanna finally asked.

Queen Elsa hesitated.  I was sure she was also out of ideas.  But then a voice answered for her.

“We fight back.  We take the offense and turn the tables on them!” It was Captain Westergard who spoke with steely determination in his eyes.

“How?” Captain Gulbrand asked.

“I have an idea.  Hand me the map.”

One of the captains brought out the huge map we had from the Alexandra.  He spread it out over the large table in the drawing room.

“We’re here in Tastris,” Captain Westergard pointed to the tip of the southern landmass.  “It’s relatively protected for now but we can only stay for a month.  That gives us time to do repairs.  The first thing we need to do is send an emissary to Corona.  We have an existing treaty with them that allows us to demand military aid in times of war. Am I right your majesty?”

“Yes,” Queen Elsa replied.  “Corona will send aid when we ask for it.  In fact, they have already offered and are probably on the way to Arendelle by now and will be there in two weeks.”

“Well I need them to hold that aid off for a while.  Instead, I want them to meet our fleet here in a month.”  He pointed to the map.  I stared at where his finger landed and was extremely puzzled.

“But that’s just outside the coast of Weasletown!” exclaimed Captain Gulbrand who just voiced my opinion.  “You want us to put our ships right in front of the enemy lines?!”

“He’s right Captain Westergard,” I said.  “Even with the Corona fleet—which isn’t that big either—we won’t be able to stand against Weselton—not when we’re that close to their land and their reinforcements.”

“Well this is the bit of the tricky part.  We need to make sure there aren’t any reinforcements but I need her majesty’s help to make it happen.”

“What can I do?” Queen Elsa asked.

“First I need you to plant ice bergs along the coast of the Weselton, keep them under the waves so their ships won’t know they’re there until they’ve run aground on them.  A first small contingent of our fleet will appear here,” he pointed to the middle coast of Weselton.  It will draw the Weselton fleet to chase us down.  Then our second contingent with the Corona fleet will appear from two sides and force them to retreat.  When they do they’ll strike the icebergs that can cut them to ribbons.”

“But I need to create the icebergs close to Weselton’s coast,” The Queen said.  “My powers aren’t exactly long range.   I need to be near enough to create those icebergs.”

“And you will, your majesty.  You’ll be creating those icebergs from the coast of Weselton.”

A chorus of “whats?”answered him.

Captain Westergard didn’t seem perturbed. “We need to smuggle the Queen near the coast of Weselton.”

“And how exactly do we do that?” asked one Captain Lorens of the Lisbet.

Captain Westergard pointed to the map.  “By using its backdoor through the Southern Isles.”

Everyone stared at the map though we didn’t need to.  Everyone in the room knew that Weselton was located between one river and a mountain pass from the western most island of the Southern Isles.  The Southern Isles had kept its neutrality in the war between Arendelle and Weselton.  Being the next-door neighbor to Weselton, it wasn’t in its advantage to aid us.

 “No,” the Queen shook her head.  “We can’t negotiate for safe passage through the Southern Isles.  They’ll never give it.”

“We’re not going to,” Captain Westergard said.  He faced the Queen directly.  “You just need somebody that can guide you who knows the terrain, who is familiar with the checkpoints and knows the way to get in and out without being detected.   Someone like me.”

The Queen’s eyes bulged at the statement.  “You’re offering…”

“No offense to everyone here, but no one except me has lived or has ever set foot on the Southern Isles.  I can get you in your majesty, if you’ll let me.” His eyes pleaded hers and I could see the Queen was torn.  I could see what was going through her mind: trust a man she isn’t inclined to or let her people down.

A long moment passed and yet the Queen gave no assent.  Finally Captain Westergard spoke.  “You don’t have to make the decision now, your majesty.  Think about it.  Just let me finish the outline of the plan. He turned back to the map.  “We need to make sure, all the enemy ships move closer together to get the maximum damage.  The smaller their maneuverable space, the better.  We concentrate our firing here and here.  It will force them to retreat into the icebergs.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” said the Captain Bjorn of the Malin.  “Except for one problem.  How can we be sure the Weselton fleet will go back near their coast?  They can be out in the open sea hunting us down.  And even if we destroy their fleet, we can’t go up against an armed populace in their land.”

The other captains murmured in agreement.  It was indeed a big flaw.

“Oh we won’t have to and that fleet will go back,” Captain Westergard said without a sign of worry.  “Because their country will be under siege.”

“Under siege?” interjected the Anna’s Captain Vas.  “How?”

 Captain Westergard spoke with a voice devoid of all emotion. “Well that’s because three days before we attack at sea, the Queen will build another wall of ice that will enclose the entire Weselton coast.  It will not only send their fleet scampering to protect their land but it will also keep them from sending out reinforcements to their fleet.  In addition, it will sow confusion inside their city.    Even if we defeat the fleet outside, the wall will remain.   A sudden icy winter will set in the middle of summer when they have no stores…”  

“And we’ll starve the population until they surrender,” Queen Elsa finished for him.

The plan sent a chill down my spine in the way it was laid out.  It was deceptive, calculating, merciless… and would effectively end all our problems.

One by one the other captains began agreeing.  In less than a minute all of them were sold on the idea and were even commending Captain Westergard for it.  But the Captain that gave them the plan remained silent.  He was looking to the Queen with a grave expression.

She shook her head. “No.”

“But you majesty…” the captains protested.

“No!” she repeated.  “I’m not going to kill hundreds of innocent civilians!”

“They’re not innocent,” protested Captain Gulbrand.  “Their citizens have been living a luxury of riches built on the plunder of the Scandinavian territories for years.”

“Be that as it may,” said Queen Elsa.  “Certainly there are children who have no knowledge of these.  I’m not going to harm them.” 

“And you won’t your majesty.” remarked Captain Vas.  “If Weselton surrenders immediately.”

“What if they don’t?” she exclaimed.

“What choice do we have?” argued Captain Lorens.  “If Weselton doesn’t surrender after this you can guarantee they will strike again.  This is our chance to end the reign of terror they’ve enforced in the Scandinavian territories for years!”

But the Queen kept shaking her head.  “I’m sorry, I can’t!  There has to be another way.”

She stormed out of the drawing room leaving a trail of snow on the floor.  My heart sank.  We all knew there was no other way.

“I’ll talk to her,” Captain Westergard said before following her outside.

The captains and I remained in the drawing room in silence for a long time.    Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they returned.  Queen Elsa had a resolved look on her face. 

“You may proceed with the preparations to execute Captain Westergard’s plans.  He and I depart tomorrow for the Southern Isles.”

Chapter Text

 “So Queen Elsa consented to the plan?” I asked rather puzzled.  She seemed rather resolved against it before and with good reason.  “Why?”

Kai shrugged.  “I really don’t know.  She never told me what happened when they talked.  I suppose Captain Westergard convinced her it was the only way.  And it was what won us the war.”

My mind swirled in horror.  I simply couldn’t imagine my sweet and loving aunt as a monster murdering innocents.   

“It didn’t come to that,” the steward assured me as if he read what I was thinking.  “By God’s mercy, she was spared from committing an atrocity that could have ended many lives. Weselton surrendered in two days.  Queen Elsa didn’t even need to create an ice storm.”

I felt enormously relieved at that, though I felt discomfited that that my aunt decided to commit mass murder to end the war.   I wondered what Admiral Westergard could have said to her to convince her to make such a decision.  I wanted to ask Kai for the full details of what happened but we had already reached my quarters and he was gesturing to my door. 

“Do hurry and get dressed your highness.  Princess Anna expects you down in the hall in half an hour,” Kai said. 

“Of course,” I said.  “Thanks for sharing it with me Kai.”  He gave me a short bow then started walking away down the hall to resume his duties.  I was about to enter my door when Kai stopped and called out. 

“Prince Fredrik, don’t judge Queen Elsa too harshly.  When you rule, sometimes there are decisions you cannot help but make for the greater good.”

I nodded and thanked him again.  I entered my room and sat down at the edge of my bed.  I thought for a long moment what he said.  When I become king would I ever be faced with such a moral decision?  And if I was would I be making the right one? 

I let out a few ice sparks from my hands and I watched it rain little snowflakes on my bedroom.  For the first time in my life I realized what this this gift truly meant.   This power can promote both good and evil.  Yet sometimes, it’s hard to discern which is which.  I prayed I would never have to face that question in my life.

I suddenly remembered I was expected downstairs in a few minutes.  And I wanted to hear more stories about the war before the formalities of the victory ball went on.  I took the quickest change in my life though it didn’t seem fast enough.  I wish I could learn how Aunt Elsa manages to change her outfits using only her ice powers.  It would be so much more convenient.

I was out of my door in ten minutes.    The moment I stepped out my room, I was yanked back by the collar.

“Not so fast, Fredrik!” Mother scolded.  “Let me look at you.”  She gave a little laugh.  “You’ve got your buttons all wrong.”

I looked down.  In my rush to get dressed, I’ve inserted each of my buttons one hole away from the right one making my shirt look lopsided.  She began fixing them as I tapped my foot impatiently.

“Now I want you to be in your best behavior.  We are hosting a victory ball for all the returning sailors of Arendelle and there will be a special toast for the homeguard as well.”

“Will the ice harvesters be there?” I asked.    

“Of course they will and so would I,” a familiar voice spoke from behind me.  I turned-ran to hug the tall man that appeared.

“Good to have you back, Papa,” I said.  I haven’t seen him in a week as he had been patrolling the mountains with his group of ice harvesters.  Olaf was with him and so I figured he had returned when the snowman met me in the square.

“Kristoff,” Mother cried happily before they sandwiched me in a three-way hug.  They shared a lingering kiss that went on for a minute until I squirmed out of the way in disgust.  They finally broke apart and Father gave one final kiss to Mother on her cheek before kissing her on the top of her round stomach.  He reached out and ruffled my hair. 

“And where are you off in such a hurry?” he asked. 

“I want to hear more stories about the war from the returning soldiers,” I said. 

“Don’t you want to hear stories about my side of the war?” he asked.

“You weren’t in the war, Papa.”

He gave a pout.  “Of course I was.  I was patrolling the mountains.  And did you know that we captured some pirates just now?”

I gaped open.  “You did?”

“Didn’t Olaf tell you?”

I shook my head. 

“That Olaf is really quite the commander,” Father said wistfully.

“Are we talking about the same cuddly, eternally cheerful, carrot-nosed-snowman-with-a-personal-flurry-Olaf here?” I asked.

“Yup, you haven’t seen his tough side yet.”

“He has a tough side?” Mother asked.

Father laughed.  “It turns out he did.  Come on walk with me and I’ll tell you all about it...”

It’s been a week since I’ve seen nothing but snowy-white mountains.  Patrol duty was starting to get to me and all I could think of was to get back home in front of the fire with my darling wife and children cuddled next to me.  But I knew that their safety was a priority and so here I was, my scraggly beard scratching my face while the cold stung my cheeks.

I sat on a boulder and huddled close to Sven for warmth as I stared into the valley below where I knew Anna and the kids would probably be busy going about their usual day.  I clutched at the golden locket that I wore constantly around my neck—a token reminder of my family and felt comforted that they were still safe though I worried how much longer they will be. It was still the height of summer—a blessing I never forgot to be thankful for.  But in another month fall would start and then deadly winter.

“Where are you Elsa?” I whispered into the air, hoping that somehow my words would be carried back to her by the wind.  Despite the years I’ve known her as my sister-in-law, there was something about her ice powers that never ceases to awe me.   Ice has been my life from as early as I can remember and I’ve come to think of her as something that gives me and all the rest of Arendelle life.  It was odd but I thought of Elsa sometimes as more of a mother than a sister.  She wasn’t the warm type that would hug you like my adopted mother Bulda.  But she was someone I’ve always looked up to for troubles I knew I couldn’t handle.  There was something comforting in knowing that we were all safe with her on the throne.   The last few weeks without her had left me with a feeling of uneasiness.  Anna was doing the best she can, though I felt it wasn’t the same.  I knew that if anything happened to Elsa and Anna would take the throne I would do everything I have to support her reign.  But I knew I wouldn’t be much help.  A prince consort to the queen wasn’t something I was looking forward to becoming. 

A chilly breeze whipped the loose strands of my hair that escaped my cap. I wished for it to bring my message to its mistress:  “We need you home soon, Elsa.  Do what needs to be done.  Just come back.”

The four ice harvesters that accompanied me on patrol were busy cooking our lunch.  They were singing together a familiar harvesting song.  Normally I would be the first to lead them into the chorus but I wasn’t really up to it.

“Crack!”

The sound was faint but it was definitely something.  I stood up and shushed my companions.

“What’s wrong Kristoff?” one of them asked.

“I heard something,” I whispered. 

A tense silence hung in the air and my ears pricked as I heard something—this time I recognized a raspy voice.  I took out my harvesting blade and silently motioned my men to do the same. 

Suddenly there were angry voices.  Men—dozens of them in filthy rags, armed to the teeth with eyes blazing wildly were all around us.

“Drop yer weapons lad if you want to live,” threatened one tall man with dirty dark hair and a beard that covered most of his face.  His eyes were bloodshot and he had a desperate look about him made me realize he had no qualms about shooting me and my companions if I made a wrong move.  We gently laid down our weapons onto the snow-covered ground. 

“They have food!” one of the wild men cried over our half-cooked meal.   A scuffle ensured among our captors as they fought over our stores.  Our packs were seized and they began stuffing themselves with our rations.

“Who are you?” I demanded from the man that threatened me.  He was among the few that restrained themselves from gorging like the rest and were still pointing pistols at our heads.

“We’re the victims of that monster you call queen,” he replied, spitting the last word as if it disgusted him.

“She’s not a monster!” I cried out in protested.

“Oh yes she is,” he hissed at me.  He came forward so close I almost choked at his foul stench.  “Do you know what that creature did?  She left us to die when she trapped us between two walls of ice for weeks until our stores ran out.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.  The Elsa I knew would never knowingly harm anyone.

“That witch built a second wall after the first one around Arendelle.   Both walls were impenetrable to canon fire and we were left without a way out.   Our men were starving so we had to scale those mountains to search for food.  It was a death trap.  We started off with more than three hundred men on twenty ships.  This is all that’s left.”

I realized they were the pirates that attacked us just before Elsa’s wall appeared.  The fishermen have been reporting that the pirate vessels beyond the wall haven’t been sighted in days.  We presumed they had gone off perhaps to resupply or get reinforcements.  Never could I have imagined that Elsa could have built a second wall that entrapped our own besiegers.  I couldn’t help but admire the sheer brilliance of Elsa’s use of her powers.  She not only protected us from the pirates but also found a way to reduce their numbers without needing to fire a shot. 

Not that this would help myself or my companions.  I estimated that there were at least 40 or 50 men holding us captive—though they hardly looked like men anymore.   They were incredibly thin and their faces were gaunt.  I could see some of them had extremities already showing signs of frostbite and from the coughs I was hearing most were already sick or dying.   These were desperate men and that made them all the more dangerous.

“You will take us to village,” the same man who I now presumed was their leader, ordered.

I stared back defiantly at him. “No.”

“Fine then,” replied another man with blackened teeth.  “I guess your flesh will serve us well tonight.”

I gulped in horror though I fought not to show it.  If these men have been starving for weeks, no doubt cannibalism had likely occurred among their dead.    It could only mean we were next.  But no matter what they did to me, I will not put my family or any of Arendelle’s citizens in danger.

“I’ll start with the talkative one,” the savage man replied as he raised his knife.

“Wait!” the leader stopped him.  He came forward and I saw him looking at something on my chest.  The golden locket that Anna had given to me on our last wedding anniversary was still hanging outside of my coat.  The man grabbed it viciously until the chain snapped.  “This is the royal crest of Arendelle,” the man said.  To my dismay, he opened it where I knew he would find the portraits of Anna and my children inside.  He stared at it for a moment before his face lit in a chilling smile.

“We’re in luck boys,” he told his companions.  “This here’s the husband of the princess regent.  A very valuable hostage.  I’m sure his lady wife will open her doors for us if she wants to see him alive.  We’ll keep him with us.  Keep the reindeer too, he’ll carry the wounded.  Kill the rest.”

My companions were being forced to kneel on the ground.  They were crying to me their last messages to their families.   All I could do was assure them I would do everything to let their loved ones know of their affections.

Suddenly there was a blood-curling scream from one of our captors.  I looked up and saw that they were pointing at a familiar figure emerging from the north side of the mountain. 

“There you are Kristoff!” Olaf said cheerfully.  “And who are these guys?”

“It’s one of the witch’s creatures!” one of the pirates cried at Olaf.  There were collective gasps and some men ran back away from the little snowman while crying out:

“It’s alive!”

“It’s the devil!”

“Keep it away!”                                                                                                                                  

Olaf scratched his head with one of his twig arms.  “I’m not sure what you mean.  But I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs.  And you are…?”

I would have laughed at Olaf’s innocence if the situation wasn’t so dire.  “Olaf, these are pirates that are trying to kill us,” I said.

“Oh… so that would explain the pistols and knife-wielding,” he said without missing his cheerful tone.  “That’s not very nice.”

Bang!

A gunshot blew a hole in the middle of Olaf’s stomach—if he had a stomach.  The snowman looked startled then glanced down at his now gaping midsection.  “That’s not very nice either!” he protested. 

“Olaf, these are bad men!” I cried in exasperation.  “They’re trying to hurt us!”

“Oh… well in that case,” Olaf said as he held his head high.  “By the power vested in me by Queen Elsa of Arendelle, pirates, I demand your surrender!”

There was a short pause and then one by one the men began to laugh.

“It’s just a silly little snowman,” one pirate said.  “Let me put it out of its misery.” 

Bang!

Another shot flew and this time it narrowly missed Olaf’s feet—or bottom—or whatever it was he uses to walk.

Bang!

This time the bullet sent his carrot nose flying to his cheek.  I was getting worried that Olaf was getting hurt.  However, he just grabbed his nose and fixed it back into place before his face registered obvious annoyance.  “Fine, this means… Marshmallows!”

The men continued to laugh. 

“What are you going to do send us a box of sweets?” one of the pirates taunted him.                  

“No,” Olaf said as his personal flurry began repairing the hole on his body.  “You don’t deserve them.  Marshmallows attack!”

There was a rumble on the ground and the men stopped laughing.  Then from the north mountain the mounds of snow began to rise and several icemen emerged all fluffy and cuddly like Olaf though each was roughly about twelve feet tall.

The men stood in awe then fear as ice spikes appeared on the icemen’s skins making them appear like white reptilian giants.   The men tried to run but they were no match for Elsa’s ice giants which we ice harvesters had long ago fondly renamed the Marshmallow Brigade.  Olaf was in the thick of the fighting, pelting snowballs on one fleeing foe after another until they slipped or were bashed by his bigger brothers.

My ice harvester companions and I regained our weapons and together we soon disarmed the pirates and rounded them up.  We marched them down the mountain for several hours.  The ones that were too weak to walk, I had the ice giants carried.  When we reached the bottom of the mountain just outside Oaken’s Trading Post, I ordered to stop and make camp for the moment.  I sent one of my men to call for reinforcements so we could have the prisoners properly secured before proceeding to the village.

“So what are you going to do to us? Freeze us to death?” the leader taunted me.

“No,” I told him.  I knew he was expecting a direct execution or perhaps torture.  No doubt after seeing Elsa’s giants they now feared the worst.  I don’t even know why I’m bothering to explain but somehow I wanted to show these people that we were no monsters.  “When the reinforcements are here, you and your men will have food and have your injuries treated.  Then you’ll be taken to the castle dungeons where you will await judgment.”

The man snorted.  “You expect to me believe you will feed us and treat us before you hand out our death sentences.  Your princess wife must be a very foolish woman to even bother.”

“Food and care are more than what you deserve,” I spat back. “But my wife is the most kind-hearted soul in the world and despite what you are and what you’ve done she’ll give you a fair judgment.”

“Actually Queen Elsa will judge them,” a familiar voice in a thick accent said behind me.  I turned around and found Oaken towering over me.  He had a smile plastered on his face as he announced:  “The Queen is back, the war is over!  No more siege and now I can re-open with a big summer blowout!”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Of Smoulders and Children’s Parties

All warfare is based on deception

-          Sun Tzu on “The Art of War”

“Oh Kristoff, I’m so glad the Marshmallow Brigade was there,” Mother half-sobbed when Father finished his story.  She clutched at his arm half-way through his tale and didn’t let go.  She was clearly shaken by his ordeal and it terrified me too.  We could have lost Father, Sven and the other ice harvesters.  “Where are the pirate prisoners now?” she asked.

“In the dungeons being treated,” Father replied.  “They’re probably being served soup right now.  I hope you don’t mind, I’ve already taken the liberty to have them taken care of.”

“Of course not Kristoff,” Mother said.  “You did right.  Though if they had hurt you, I’m not so sure I would agree with your generosity.  I’m just glad you’re home and that Elsa’s back so I won’t have to decide on what to do with them.”

We had already reached the main hall of the castle that was now beginning to fill up with people.   My aunt was nowhere in sight yet but I spied Olaf enter the large oaken front doors.  Mother and I eagerly ran to him and gave him a crushing hug.

“Olaf, you’re my hero!” Mother cried.  “Thank you so much for protecting Kristoff and Sven from those nasty pirates.”

“They’re mean and I don’t like them very much,” Olaf said.   “But me and the Marshmallows showed them,” he said rather proudly. 

“I heard what you and your brothers did and I’m so grateful,” said Mother.  “Fredrik, you think maybe the Marshmallow Brigade can come over to the victory celebration tonight?  Even just outside the square.  They’re heroes too and we shouldn’t leave them behind.  They can’t go beyond Oaken’s trading post as they’ll melt but maybe you can create a few personal flurries for them so they can join us for the celebrations.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea Mama,” I said as I let out a few sparks of ice from my hands.  “I’m sure I can manage something like that just for a few hours.”

“Would you mind heading there now?  Take…” she looked around and saw a young tall man in his green Arendelle uniform passing nearby. Mother ran forward and grabbed his arm.  “Lt. Aksel?”

“Your highness,” the black haired, dark-skinnned youth gave a bow.

“Can you bring Fredrik up the north mountain into Oaken’s?   Get the Marshmallow Brigade down to the square so they can join us for the party tonight.”

“It will be a pleasure Princess Anna,” he said.  He offered me his arm.  “Shall we go Prince Fredrik?”

Mother gave me a quick kiss in the forehead before I took the soldier’s arm eagerly.  She couldn’t have provided me with a better companion.  As first officer of the Christina, Lt. Aksel was in the thick of the fighting and would know a lot of stories on the war.  Oaken’s post was quite a distance away and it would give us enough time for a long chat.

“Tell me a story, lieutenant.  About the war,” I said as we walked towards the stables.

“It’s Captain now, actually.  I moved up when Admiral Westergard got promoted.” His eyes were shinning.  He was lean, muscular and with a light scar on his left cheek that made him look older than his 27 years.  I can understand his enthusiasm.  He wasn’t born into privilege but got into the military under Aunt Elsa’s equal opportunity program that she started a few years after she became queen.  Prior to her enacted law, one can only get into the military if one had the influence to gain a commission.  Everyone that got promoted did so only through the recommendation of one noble lord or another.  Aunt Elsa’s program allowed even the common peasants to join in and get promoted if they could pass the series of military exams.  The evaluations were dealt with fairly to all candidates regardless of background.  I myself was set to take it next fall in order to qualify for military service. 

“That’s wonderful,” I said.  “Congratulations.  What ship did you get?”

“The Christina of course.  Smallest one in the fleet but I wouldn’t trade her for anything.  She’s a fine ship and I think she’s a real good luck charm for all the men that have captained her.”

I realized he was right.  The intrepid vessel had been captained by both Admiral Rochport and Admiral Westergard in the past. 

“I’m hoping that little lady will take me places.  I never really thought I could reach this far.  It means so much to me when I’ve got Ma and five little brothers and sisters to support.  With the pay increase, I can marry my Roslin next summer instead of waiting for another five years.  Who knows, maybe I can be admiral someday too.”  He stopped as he realized I was with him.  “I beg pardon your highness if I’m too forward.”

“No, no,” I assured him.  “I understand.  There’s nothing wrong about having dreams and ambitions.”

“Thank you Prince Fredrik.  I mean Admiral Westergard has been a great mentor to me.  And I’m grateful he recommended me for the position I have now.  Brave man, he is.  Brilliant too.”

We reached the stables and our talk momentarily paused as we saddled two horses.  Captain Aksel donned a warm cloak and offered to get me one.   I shook my head, reminding him that the cold never really bothered me.  

“Tell me all about Admiral Westergard and how he became a hero,” I said when we were off trotting towards the north mountain.  “Kai said he and Queen Elsa left the day after your war council in Tastris for the Southern Isles.”

“Well they didn’t exactly leave immediately after the war council,” he replied.  “They delayed it slightly for three days.”

“Why?” I asked.

He gave a sly little smile.  “That’s because he had to attend a children’s party…”

As soon as the war council was dismissed Captain Westergard called me to his side.  “I need you to get me that bottle of vintage wine from my personal store in the Christina that I’ve been saving.  Then get me two glasses from the kitchen and meet me in the eastern garden in half an hour.”

“Are we celebrating Captain?” I asked rather puzzled.

“Not exactly.  I’m working on something and if all goes well we might have a little bit more advantage on our side.”  He paused in the hallway to check himself in one of the mirrors that lined the walls.  He ran a hand through his auburn hair and grinned at his reflection in a self-assured manner.  “Not too shabby.  You think she’ll fall for my smoulder?”  

“Who?” I asked.  “And what’s a smoulder?”

He laughed.  “The who is Queen Ariel.  The smoulder is something I picked up from the previous ruffian-turned-prince of Corona Flynn Rider when I visited this quaint little place called the Snuggly Duckling once.  I vastly improved his version of course.  His only makes women think he looks constipated instead of charming.”  He grinned at himself in the mirror with one eye slightly squinting rather devilishly.  Don’t worry Aksel, I’ll teach it to you sometime.  Now go get me that bottle.”

I left him still staring at his own reflection. 

I had no trouble retrieving the bottle from our ship then proceeded to the kitchen to get the glasses.  I was met with one of the maids.  A mischievous thought entered my head and I asked her for the glasses while attempting to do the same grin Captain Westergard made in the mirror earlier.

The maid blushed, backed into a set of stacked pots and told me in an almost breathy voice that I can have anything I wanted.  I was rather astonished at the effect.  That smoulder was an excellent weapon when done right.  I reminded myself to get more tips from Captain Westergard on it.

I reached the eastern garden just as I spied Captain Westergard with Queen Ariel beside him.  He excused himself momentarily from his companion and met me.  I handed him the bottle and glasses.

“Thanks Aksel,” he said as he placed the glasses in his back pocket.

“Errr… try not to sit Captain,” I reminded him.

He rolled his eyes.  “I am very much aware of the glasses Aksel.  Now keep out of sight and stay in the shadows. Feel free to watch and listen though.  You might find this useful someday.”

He plucked a small blossom growing from a nearby bush.  He returned to the Queen and presented to her the bottle of wine. 

“It’s not much,” I heard him say to her.  “But please accept this humble offer Queen Ariel.  It’s the last bottle of one of my finest vintages. A small token for your generosity.  The lives of my men are forever in your debt.”

Queen Ariel looked surprised but didn’t hide her pleasure at the gift.  “Thank you, Captain, but I don't drink very often and I don’t want to deny you the pleasure of your last bottle,” she said.

“But this is special,” he said.  “You’ve never truly lived until you’ve tasted this wine from my homeland.  I insist that you have it.  It is but a trifle compared to what you've done for us.  And please call me Hans.  Your friendship is most important to me. I would be honored if you called me by my given name."

She seemed to consider for a moment. "Well I suppose we can just share it, Hans.  And please do call me Ariel.  I've never been comfortable using titles among my friends."

"You are too kind," he said before producing the glasses with a sleight of hand.

"Where did you..." she asked with clear surprise.

"Ahhh... that is my little secret Ariel. Consider it a magic trick. Just like..." he paused and his hand reached up as if he was going to caress her cheek. But his fingers instead went pass her head and he produced the blossom he plucked earlier. "This. For you my sweet Ariel.   This flower can only be made lovelier if it's adorning your hair. May I?"

She giggled like a girl and nodded.  He tucked the flower just above her left ear. He then opened the bottle, poured the sparkling liquid and handed her a glass.

"Shall we make a toast?” he asked.  “To friendship and new experiences.”

"Of course," she agreed.

They clinked glasses together then sipped the wine.  Queen Ariel seemed to be taken slightly aback.  “That was… quite a little stronger than what I’m used to.”

“That is natural for first timers,” the Captain explained.  “But give it time.  Take another sip and this time let your senses fill you with it.”

The Queen followed and drank again.  She closed her eyes for a moment. 

He moved behind her and said in her ear:  “Do you feel it—the warmth spreading inside you?  Note the sweetness with just barely a touch of bitter and a little fire towards the end.”

“Yes, yes I feel it,” she said as she opened her eyes.   “I can see it does have quite an appeal.”

"I always think of it as the Southern Isles in a bottle—hot summer breezes, fresh green grass and ripening fruit from the trees.”

“Southern Isles?” she asked.  “I thought this was Arendellian wine.   You said it came from your homeland?”

“I’m not a native of Arendelle.  I was born in the Southern Isles.”

She stared at him in surprise.  “But you’re a Captain in the Arendelle navy?”

“I didn’t have much prospect in the Southern Isles so I left to seek my fortune elsewhere.  I was granted citizenship in Arendelle and found a home there.”  He turned from her and stared out as if deep in thought.   “But once in a while I do miss the land of my birth.  My duty keeps me from returning so all I have to remember it is the taste of its wine.  Do you feel that way sometimes Ariel?  Perhaps a salty taste or the scent of the air that reminds you of home and it’s the only thing you can hold onto?”

Queen Ariel’s face registered a sudden sadness and she seemed to sniff the salty air.  I realized she must be thinking of her home in the sea that she had shut herself away from.  “Yes, I do know what you mean.”

“But even though it clenches your heart,” he faced her.   “Would you trade your current home now for the one you left behind?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I love Eric and Melody.  I would never dream of leaving them to go back.”

“Yes, I can see that.  You’re fortunate to have a child.  I was never so lucky.  Your daughter is such a lovely girl,” he paused and his expression changed to the familiar devilish grin which I recognized as the smoulder.  “Just like her mother."

The queen colored as bright as her red hair.  Her fingers unconsciously began tucking invisible strands behind her unadorned ear. She gulped the rest of the wine in her glass that Captain Westergard readily refilled.

"Well I'm very proud of Melody. But she's so headstrong sometimes I don't know what to do with her." She sipped her wine again.

"I think that's rather admirable in a little lady. But she should meet more children her age. I'm certain she'll find better ways to expel all that energy when she has more friends."

Queen Ariel looked uncomfortable and relieved it by taking another drink.  "Well Melody doesn't get along much with children her own age. I think it's just an awkward phase.  I’m sure she'll grow out of it."

"Perhaps,” Captain Westergard said.  “Or maybe she just needs the right kind of encouragement.  I heard she has a birthday coming up in three days." He paused then continued as if a thought just occurred to him. "What if you hold a party for her where she can have an opportunity to meet other children?"

Queen Ariel pondered over it then her face lit up in a smile.  "I think that's an excellent idea. We can invite some of the children in the village."

"That might be alright, but I think Melody needs to meet with children of the nobility.    Why not invite some of the children from the neighboring kingdoms?"

A look of fear flashed on the Queen's face. "I-I'm not sure that's a good idea."

He looked seriously concerned. "What's wrong?"

"Well I..." she gave another gulp at her wine.

"You can tell me Ariel," he said ever so gently it was like his words were a lover's caress.

She hesitated for a minute but finally spoke.  "I think you know by now I used to be a mermaid.”

“Yes and I make no judgment.”  

“Thank you.  You don’t know how relieved I have to have someone who understands.”  She walked a bit away from him so he wouldn’t see her half-embarrassed face.  “You see, even if I have legs, there are just so many things that set me apart from those who were born human.  There are just some human ways that are so different from the world I used to live in. Even though it's been years sometimes I still find myself making mistakes.  The people in Tastris accept my occasional errors but other people outside... they're not so forgiving.   They think me strange—especially the nobles.  They can be downright mean.  I don't want to humiliate Eric or my people.  And I don't want Melody to go through the same because of me."

"I understand,” he said sympathetically.   “But Melody is a princess and one day will be queen.  She needs to deal with the nobles at some point.  A birthday party for her would be a gentle way of introducing her to society."  He moved closer to her and used his thumb to lift her chin slightly so she was staring into his eyes.  "You are a beautiful and graceful woman Ariel.   Any man would be fortunate to have you beside him.  People make mistakes all the time and you’re not alone.  It’s but natural.  But you are a queen so you shouldn't worry about what others say."

I could tell what he said affected her in the way her lips curved into a smile while her cheeks maintained its red hue.  She pulled away, seemingly unable to meet his gaze too long.  "I suppose you’re right.  I shouldn’t deny Melody that opportunity and inviting children from the neighboring kingdoms can be arranged. Who would you suggest?"

Captain Westergard lit up in a way that made me think of a satisfied spider who just caught a fly into his web.  "Well there's the young prince from Gormund.  He's about Melody's age.  Quite a dashing youth I heard. The king of Condor has three children a girl and two boys all under twelve. Be sure to invite their cousins as well from Antalona—there are about eight of them—quite a big brood.  I'm sure Melody will get along with most of them.  There's the duke of Madinova’s sons and their younger half-sisters.  And then there's Queen of Glowerhaven’s son Crispin."

"You seem to know a lot about the families from the neighboring kingdoms," Queen Ariel pointed. 

"I've met with some of them in my travels as captain. I'm sure they would love to come and meet Melody."

"Well then it's settled. I'll have the party prepared and send out the invitations early tomorrow. You will come of course."

He smiled almost catlike. "I wouldn't miss it."

A thought seemed to occur to the Queen.  "You must understand if I do not extend an invitation to…"

“Say no more Ariel, I assure you Queen Elsa will not be in attendance.  And you won’t be bothered by her.  She has decided to return to the Alexandra for the rest of her stay here.  And she has urgent matters to attend to that she must depart from Tastris in a few days.”

Her relief was clear in her face. 

“Well, it is rather late, Ariel.  As much as I’ve enjoyed the company, I do not wish to impose on you too much as you will be busy with preparations for Melody’s party tomorrow.”

She looked rather disappointed but agreed.  He gave a gallant bow then took his leave.  The Queen remained in the garden looking slightly dazed with the half-empty bottle beside her.  I suspect she might be a little drunk—whether it’s from the wine or my smooth-talking commanding officer, I wasn’t so sure. I left her to her thoughts and stealthily followed my Captain.

I found him at the Alexandra where he was in conference with Queen Elsa.

“Join us Aksel,” Captain Westergard called out.  “I was just telling her majesty of our plans to stay for a little longer for Melody’s birthday party.  She has some rather significant guests that I’m sure Queen Elsa will be very eager to meet.”

I was confused.  “I’m sorry Captain, I don’t think I understand.  How do the children attending Melody’s birthday party be significant for us?”

“Not the children Aksel,” Queen Elsa said.  “But their accompanying guardians.  Each one is an ambassador of their respective kingdoms.”

“A lesson in politics for you Aksel,” said the Captain.  “Gormund , Condor , Antalona, Madinova and Glowerhaven.  What do they have in common?”

I thought about it for a moment then suddenly it hit me.  Condor, Madinova and Antalona are three nations currently looking the other way when pirates attack their merchant ships because they are afraid to openly defy Weselton and start a war they know they cannot win.  Gormund was rumored to be next on Weselton’s assault list after Arendelle.  Glowerhaven is already under Weselton occupation but a rebellion from within was said to be growing daily.   

“They’ve all been in one way or another offended by Weselton,” I replied.  “And they would jump at a chance to get rid of the threat to their kingdoms.”

“Precisely,” Captain Westergard confirmed.  “Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei.”

I didn’t know Latin but I’ve heard of the phrase before: “My friend, the enemy of my enemy.”

Queen Elsa nodded in approval.  “Quite right Aksel.  And thanks to Captain Westergard’s birthday party convincing skills, we won’t need to leave Tastris to get in touch with our ‘friends’.  Melody’s little birthday party will be an excellent cover for me to provide a proposal for an alliance.”

Chapter Text

Captain Aksel paused in his story as we reached the river that cuts across the north mountain. As it was high summer, the river's waters flowed freely with a noisy little rumble.

"I hope you don't mind getting a little wet, your highness," said the young captain. "There's a shallow part about half a kilometer from here where our horses can pass."

"I do mind, Captain," I said. "Fortunately, we don't need to get wet or travel the extra distance." I stretched out my hand and froze part of the river, just enough for our horses to get across.

"Impressive, Prince Fredrik," the Captain praised as he urged his horse forward.

I followed him. Although part of the river was frozen the rest of it was still liquid so there were occasional puddles. I had a bit of difficulty getting across as my horse kept slipping. But finally both of us reached the other bank of the river with only bits of splatter on my boots.

"Not quite as impressive as the Queen though," I commented when we were back to trotting on solid ground. "If she was here, she could probably build a bridge over the river and we won't even have to worry about slippery ice. Too bad I can't create large solid objects yet."

"You're young yet Prince Fredrik," he replied. "You'll get there. I bet you'll be good at a lot of other things by the time you take the throne."

"I hope so. I mean Aunt Elsa is a good teacher. Though I'd like to learn things from Admiral Westergard too. He seems to know so much and his strategies are brilliant. How did he manage to set a meeting for the ambassadors from the other countries with the queen?"

Captain Aksel grinned knowingly like he was sharing a juicy secret. "That was easy enough. We just waited for them to arrive and slipped a note through one of their guards to meet with us if they are interested in getting rid of the Weselton threat. They had no idea the Arendellian fleet was even there though some of them knew Captain Westergard and had an idea what was going on. All five nations positively responded to the invitation. On the eve of the party I was assigned to lead one of the ambassadors to the Alexandra where Queen Elsa awaited. You'll never believe who I got to escort."

"Who?" I asked.

He leaned forward. "The queen of Glowerhaven herself."

I frowned. "Wasn't she the wife of the Duke of Weselton?"

"The same one. Queen Constanza is the only surviving member of the Glowerhaven nobility after her father and three brothers were killed in a battle against Weselton five years ago. She surrendered her nation shortly after that and married the brother of her conqueror."

"Isn't that a bit risky to be meeting with the wife of the enemy?"

"I thought so too and I was surprised Captain Westergard extended the invitation to her at all. But the Captain assured me that she was a vital ally we could trust. I found out why that night…"

Queen Constanza was rumored to be a timid woman. She was married to the Duke of Weselton and was by reputation known as an obedient wife who did nothing to oppose the policies Weselton introduced into Glowerhaven no matter how deplorable they were. I expected to meet a delicate young girl that could only submit to her husband's wishes. Instead, what greeted me was a formidable lady that can be rivaled only by Queen Elsa herself. She appeared to be in her late 20s, slender with a firm jaw, tanned skin and dark eyes that seemed to have a dangerous fire burning within. Her hair was dark as midnight and cut so short that it was almost boyish. Despite her fierce features, she was easily one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen.

I found her by the balcony away from most of the guests at the party. She readily followed me alone to the docks after our initial greeting. I was surprised that she would willingly come alone with a stranger. But during our silent walk to the docks I felt like I had more to fear from her that she was from me. She just gave the vibe that she could kill me if she wanted to.

She was the first of our "guests" to arrive at the Alexandra as the others were still working on attempting to make a subtle exit from the party.

"Well met, Queen Elsa of Arendelle," Queen Constanza said as soon as she boarded the ship and faced the woman that greeted her.

"You know who I am?" Queen Elsa said rather alarmed. I was surprised that the queen of Glowerhaven rather expected Queen Elsa's presence. We didn't exactly informed any of the ambassadors who they were meeting tonight.

"I have my ways, your majesty," replied the dark-haired queen. "You don't become the leader of your people's rebellion movement without knowing a thing or two about what's going on in the region."

Leader of the rebellion? I've heard from some of the Glowerhaven refugees we've rescued that there was a powerful leader coordinating the guerilla attacks in Glowerhaven in an effort to free it from Weselton occupation. Their moves started with simple theft of food stocks and supplies. However, in recent years they've become bolder and bolder, conducting sabotage and even assassination attempts on key Weselton officials stationed in Glowerhaven. Just before the war broke out in Arendelle, there were rumors that the destruction of a minor shipyard in the heart of Weselton's own city was done by a Glowerhaven saboteur—an indication that the rebels had somehow reached beyond the borders of their nation.

I felt a sense of dread as I realized the person leading these attacks was standing before my Queen. I fingered the pistol on my side, ready to defend her for anything. If I suspected that this woman had the ability to kill before, I had no doubt now she was more than capable.

Queen Elsa continued to give an even expression though I felt a drop in temperature. If Queen Constanza noticed it, she gave no indication of it. Instead, she held out her palms in a gesture of non-violence. "I have not come here to hurt you, your majesty. And don't worry your fleet's position is safe with me. I've taken care not to let my husband know. I want to help you."

The air restored to its usual warmth. "I'm glad," Queen Elsa replied with obvious relief. "Captain Westergard vouched that you would support us." She led her guest to sit by a small table on the top deck. I moved about to serve refreshments and I couldn't help but overhear their conversation.

"Your captain is a dear man," the Glowerhaven Queen said rather fondly. "He's been helping the refugees from my homeland find safe harbor in other countries for years. I'm grateful to him."

"He helped refugees escape?" I interrupted.

Captain Aksel nodded with a grave expression as if he was remembering something horrible. "In the last five years since Glowerhaven became occupied territory, the atrocities to its citizens were terrible. There were forced labor camps, whole communities relocated to work at dangerous mines or huge project works without thought to their safety. Children as young as seven were being forced to work in factories or made to dive in the deep seas to obtain pearls. Young attractive girls were selected, taken from their families to become…" he stopped and shook his head unable to say more. I knew enough from my readings in history what happened to those poor girls.

"A lot of them try to escape by getting out of Glowerhaven only to fall victim to pirates who would sell them to slavers," Captain Aksel continued. "Captain Westergard could never turn down any of the refugees we encounter. Often we find them starving and desperate. We take them along and drop them off at kingdoms that would accept them. Arendelle is one of the few that shelters refugees."

I knew about that. Aunt Elsa established a policy for allowing safe haven for refugees in light of the growing slave trade in the region—mostly propagated by Weselton. She even granted citizenship to foreigners that have integrated successfully into Arendelle society and became useful in their chosen trade. I was struck by a sudden realization that this must have been what happened to Admiral Westergard.

"Captain, was Admiral Westergard among those that were sheltered by Arendelle? You did mention before he was granted citizenship here."

"Yes, he was. He had been a slave before and was rescued by one of our own ships. It's probably why he was ready to help any refugees when he can. He always kept extra rations in the Christina bought from his own pocket to make sure any stragglers he picked up would be fed. He knew how it felt to be destitute. He told me once it was something that can change a man and he wouldn't want anyone to experience it."

"Wait—he was a slave? I thought he was a pirate." I asked.

"He was both. He was a pirate before but his own crew betrayed him and sold him off to a slaver. He spent three months in captivity and was about to be brought to the Americas when then Captain Rochport's ship intercepted the vessel carrying him and took him back to Arendelle. He applied to the military and rose through the ranks."

What an amazing journey this man had been on. I was sure he had plenty of stories to tell and so much he could teach me. A thought occurred to me. "Do you think I can be assigned to the ship under him next year if I pass the military exams this fall?"

Captain Aksel suddenly went silent.

"Captain?" I asked.

"Well… er… I suppose you could," he began uncomfortably. "I mean they assign new recruits randomly per ship… "

"But if I asked, couldn't they make a consideration for me? I will rule one day and don't you think it's best that I get military training from the best?"

The Captain refused to meet my eyes and said nothing.

"Captain did I say something wrong?" I asked.

He shook his head. "No, of course not. It's just that… well… you're Queen Elsa's nephew and her heir."

"I don't understand. What does that got to do with me being trained under Admiral Westergard?"

He bit his bottom lip and sighed heavily. "I can't… I can't say. I'm sorry, your highness, but it's not my place to tell you. You should ask Queen Elsa or Princess Anna."

That was strange. I remembered the previous tales I heard from Kai, Lady Anja and Captain Anbjorn and each of them hinted that Aunt Elsa had problems trusting the Admiral. Was it because he was a pirate? Was she afraid he would be a bad influence on me? But then why promote him as the head of her military if that was the case? My aunt was not the type to be prejudiced over people with a past so what was the concern with him?

As curious as I was, I could tell that Captain Aksel was struggling with the issue so I decided not to pry any further. I would be sure to ask Mother or Aunt Elsa when I get back.

"I'm sorry Captain if I made you uneasy. Forget I asked. Please do continue what happened with the queen of Glowerhaven."

The young captain looked glad to return to the story at hand…

"I'm also grateful to you too Queen Elsa," the Glowerhaven queen said with a reverent expression. "A lot of my people would not have survived if you hadn't accepted them in Arendelle."

"We do what we can," replied Queen Elsa. "We could not have stood by and let others suffer if we could help."

"I appreciate it. I'd like to do the same for you. I don't have a navy to offer, but a lot of my people are scattered all across the region as refugees. We have ways to communicate. One word from me and they will do what they can to help you."

Queen Elsa took her hand. "It's more help than I could hope for. Thank you."

"No need to thank me," she said though she returned Queen Elsa's hand squeeze. "This benefits me as much as it does you. I have a four-year-old son. I won't rest until I see him as king of a free Glowerhaven. You're giving me the opportunity to do that a lot sooner."

"I still thank you," said Queen Elsa sincerely. "I'm glad I met you earlier than the others."

"I'm glad I came early," she said and this time a smile lit her face that was almost mischievous. "I didn't think I would be missed at all at the party. In fact I think Queen Ariel would rather have me out of her sight for the entire evening so I thought I'd do her a favor."

"Why?"

She gave a hearty laugh. "The same reason you're here and not out there socializing with the rest of their noble guests as befits your position."

Queen Elsa looked puzzled.

"You're not the only woman romantically linked to Eric. After he broke his engagement with you, Grimsby briefly tried to get Eric married to me. We never really got along that well so I understand why he decided to leave. I would have said no to him if he hadn't run away so fast."

It was Queen Elsa's turn to laugh. "He ran away?"

"Took the first ship out of Glowerhaven and left poor Grimsby to deal with it. At least you got a note. I didn't even get one. That man has a serious problem dealing with confrontational situations."

They laughed together like they were old friends. I was fascinated by the duality of her personality. One minute she was a frightening leader of a vicious rebellion and the next she could gossip and laugh like a carefree teenage girl.

"His wife found out just this morning that Eric was my previous suitor. I can sense the little mermaid is jealously paranoid about me being in the same room as her husband so I decided to remove myself at the first opportunity."

Queen Elsa gave a tiny little grin. "I think I know what you mean. I'm partly to blame for that. I did try to get into his good graces a few days ago. But she need not worry. I think deep down Eric loves her."

Queen Constanza shook her head. When she spoke her voice lost its mirth and she had an almost wistful look on her face. "Marrying for love. Can it really be worth it?" She stopped and seemed to hesitate for a moment." Can I ask you something as one queen to another?"

"Of course."

"Forgive me if the question is rather personal but I've never met another queen I can relate to. I do admire you for keeping your independence this long. But would you have married for love if it will put Arendelle at a disadvantage?"

Queen Elsa readily answered. "No. I've always known as queen that I cannot marry without thinking of the consequences on the nation I rule. I will not have my personal happiness paved by the detriment of my people. I think you know as well as I that marrying for love is an indulgence that neither of us can afford despite our different situations." She paused and stared at the younger queen intently. "But then we are not so different, are we?"

The Glowerhaven queen gave her a knowing smile. "No we are not so different at all." They seemed to have reached a silent understanding of mutual trust.

It left me pondering on how Queen Elsa was taking a road similar to Queen Constanza's—driven to sacrifices when it came to for the sake of her people. It was humbling to say the least. In a world where kings were held in high esteem over female rulers, here were two women without reliable husbands but were so much more capable to stand up against a powerful nation. It made me think of the irony that they were both rejected once by the same king who replaced them with a woman who was so engrossed in her own petty little fairy tale world she wasn't even aware of the consequences of her actions to her husband's kingdom.

There was a whispered greeting from below and I looked down to see the other ambassadors from the other nations had arrived. I promptly informed the queens of the coming company.

"Well Queen Elsa," began Queen Constanza as she rose from her seat. "As the rest is here I look forward to hearing your proposal on how we can help you win this war. I might have some ideas of my own to contribute."

"It would be a great help to know that," Queen Elsa replied graciously before turning to her newly arrived guests.

Four ambassadors from each of the other nations of potential allies alighted on the Alexandra. They were all astonished at the presence of Queen Elsa and looked half-frightened to be so near the famed mistress of ice and snow. But Queen Elsa quickly put them at ease with her graceful manner and the presence of Queen Constanza reassured them. They headed to the main dinning cabin that served as the Queen's conference room. I was assigned to guard duty outside the door so I had no opportunity to hear their conversation within.

An hour later they emerged and they appeared to have settled the matter. All the ambassadors apparently agreed to an alliance and were willing to go along with our plan. Queen Elsa seemed to have impressed upon them so well that not only were they ready to offer support in terms of ships and men but they were proposing for deeper alliances on her hand in marriage to their sovereign princes. Queen Elsa in her usual calm grace replied that she would consider such formal proposals only after the war was won. They were just concluding the arrangements when Captain Westergard arrived.

"Captain, was the party not to your liking?" Queen Constanza asked, noting that it was rather early.

"The party is over," he said while gasping for breath. He seemed to have run the distance from the castle. "The birthday girl had a rather embarrassing encounter with a crab in front of all her guests. She took a small boat and has run away to the ocean. I need all of you to keep out of sight for a while. King Eric is on his way for an audience with Queen Elsa."

Chapter Text

 

“Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.” 
- Sun Tzu on “The Art of War”

 

I reigned in my horse and turned to my companion.  "Melody ran away to the sea?  But I thought she was forbidden from going beyond the wall?  No—wait let me guess—she found out she was half-mermaid, did she?" 

"Quite right,” replied Captain Aksel.  “Apparently she's been stealing out into the sea for quite some time without anybody knowing.  Somehow she found out her parents were lying to her.  That and being humiliated at her own birthday party most likely pushed her to the edge."

I knew it.  I sensed that poor princess was going to bolt from her confines the moment I heard her story.  Why did adults think children were so dumb they wouldn’t find out big secrets like that anyway?   I would probably run away from home too if my parents had lied to me and kept me from using my powers.  They were such a big part of me that I couldn’t imagine a life suppressing them.

"What was King Eric doing seeking Queen Elsa at a time like that? Wasn't he supposed to be looking for his daughter?"

"He was, except he didn't have a ship to follow her as he had long ago decommissioned all his vessels.  That little girl is pretty smart.  She knew her parents couldn’t follow her that quickly unless they had to row their way across the ocean or borrow a ship from us.  King Eric came over to ask Queen Elsa for help to supply him a ship to conduct the search."

"So Queen Elsa lent him?" I asked.

"Yes she did.  She had the Hanne, Lisbet and the Lovise at his disposal and instructed their crews to help in the search.  She wasn't able to join since she left by land the following day with Admiral Westergard to head for the Southern Isles.  Had they stayed a few days perhaps they could have treated with King Triton himself.  But we had a war to win and they couldn't delay their travel plans any further to find a missing princess that might have taken weeks."

We had reached Oaken's Wandering Trading Post and Sauna and Captain Aksel had to stop his story again.  We got off our horses and stared up at the frost-covered mountains in the distance. 

"What now, your highness?" Captain Aksel inquired.  He seemed worried.  He probably realized he had no idea how to fetch the Marshmallow Brigade without venturing higher up the wolf-infested mountains.

"Not to worry.   Aunt Elsa and I had long ago devised a way to call them here." I stood facing the mountains and held one open palm near my lips.   I made a tiny ball of ice appear then whispered:  "Marshmallows to Oaken's.  Come down please."  I blew on the ball and sent it flying up in the direction of my aunt's ice palace.  I repeated it five times sending my little balls flying in various directions where I figured the Marshmallows could be.

"That should do it," I said.  "The icy wind can carry my message.  It’s a neat little trick Aunt Elsa discovered over the years.  Now all we need to do is wait.  This might take a while.  Let's get a warm drink at Oaken’s."

Captain Aksel looked relieved for the break.  We tied the horses and headed inside.

"Yoohoo!" Oaken called from behind his counter which was unusually filled with several items in green and purple with the Arendelle floral crest. "Came for my big Arendelle victory blowout?  I have memorabilia pins, handkerchiefs, shirts, hats and little flags.  Show your national unity for the victory party tonight." 

I wandered over the counter and marveled how Oaken came out with this stock so fast when the fleet came back only a few hours ago.

"Have you been preparing for an Arendelle victory all this time?" I told him.

"Yah, I have.  I always knew Queen Elsa will win.  So the supplies are always here, just waiting for the demand.  Which is now.  And if you wait for another day I can get you silhouette images of Queen Elsa and Admiral Westergard."

He was a businessman in the truest sense but his confidence in my aunt was heartening.  "I think just a couple of drinks for now," I said.  I picked up a colored flag and an idea came to my head.  "But I’ll take your entire stock of these flags and a dozen hats and maybe a couple of shirts.  Do you have it in extra small?"  I thought my little sisters Andrea and Elise would love these.

"I have them in all sizes,” he said with a pleased grin as he took out two that were just the right size. 

“Those are perfect,” I said.  “I’ll take them both.”

“Good, good,” he seemed very happy.  I must have been the best customer he received today.  “For buying so much and in bulk, I’ll give you a free trip to Oaken’s sauna.  Good deal, yah?”

I turned to Captain Aksel who looked like he could use the treat.  “I think we could spare the time.”

“I’ll have them wrapped for you by the time you’re done.” Oaken said before leading us to the sauna.  We quickly stripped down to enjoy the warm water. 

“Did you join the search parties for Melody?” I asked once we were settled into the tubs with mugs of hot cocoa that Oaken sent.

“No, unfortunately, I stayed behind to supervise repairs for our other ships.  I missed out on quite an adventure and only got to hear of it from the other sailors.  Queen Ariel was turned back into a mermaid by her father and searched for her daughter under the sea while the Lovise was captained by King Eric who led the search party above the waves.  They battled with a fearsome seawitch that tricked Melody into stealing King Triton’s trident in exchange for her temporarily becoming a mermaid.  The seawitch gained the upper hand at some point and actually sank the Lovise.  In the end, little Melody was the one who saved the day by stealing back the trident and handing it over to her grandfather.   When the witch was dispatched, Melody was given the power by King Triton to break the wall that enclosed their kingdom from the sea.  A celebration ensued for days and I actually witnessed mermaids swim up on the shoreline of Tastris.” 

“Were the mermaids as magical as they say in the mythology books?” I asked as I dropped a few marshmallows in my drink.  “Did they really bewitch men and make them kill themselves?”

Captain Aksel laughed as he swirled his mug around.  “Not at all. They were just like ordinary people—but with fish tails in various colors.  In fact some of them were quite friendly.  They seemed a lot more cheerful than the average human. I think they were simply a fun-loving race and loved to dance and sing.  There was much music and swim-dancing in the days after the wall came down.”

I tried to imagine what the mer-people looked like and their life under the sea.  Exploring it would be a nice thing to experience for once.  What kind of cultural differences would they have with us?  How do they live? What do they eat?  I decided when the opportunity comes I would try to come to Tastris and see for myself.  Maybe I could even get to talk to Melody and ask her stories about her adventures.  From what I’ve heard so far, she’s the only member of the Tastris royal family I truly liked.  

“It was rather unfortunate we couldn’t celebrate as well with the rest of Tastris,” Captain Aksel went on.  “The loss of the Lovise was a big blow to us and Captain Gulbrand was simply livid.  However, a few days later King Eric finally realized what damage that wrought to us and had pieces of the ship collected.  I think he asked King Triton for help in fishing parts of the ship out and had it restored.  Over the course of the month we stayed in Tastris, King Eric came over to the docks on a daily basis to help supervise the repairs of our ships.  He reopened his port to help speed up the process of bringing in supplies from Gormund, his trading partner for wood.    He even offered to pay for the lumber with seaweed and pearls—an industry he resumed among his people though the ban on fishing remained.”

“Well it’s a start,” I said.  I knew from my lessons in economics that pearls and seaweed were rather valuable tradable goods and could help open the doors of Tastris with other nations. 

“I had to admit eventually we all grew fond of King Eric.  He was an experienced sailor and a capable captain.  Even though his wife’s family still refused to be involved in the war, he personally became a good ally and supported us when it mattered in the last battle with Weselton.”

“He joined you?” I gasped in disbelief.  I didn’t expect that at all.

“He did.  Maybe it was out of gratitude for us loaning him ships when he needed it, or maybe Queen Elsa convinced him that last night she was in Tastris when he borrowed our ships.  I wasn’t sure.   But when we were ready to set sail for Antalona—our agreed upon stop to meet with our allies prior to battle—he volunteered with over a hundred men to help us fight.  Captain Anbjorn was taking too long to recover so he took over command of the Kjerstin.  A good thing he did too because he helped solidify diplomatic relations with the rest of our allies…”

Two days out of Tastris, we stopped by the coast of Antalona where we were received by Duke Eivind, who contributed 18 ships to the alliance.  Within hours, our other allies began arriving. 

The Malin which set off earlier successfully met the Coronan fleet and brought back with them 22 ships headed by Prince Eugene Fitzherbert, consort to Queen Rapunzel.  He had a reputation as thief before and the other dignitaries, particularly Prince Karl of Gormund and even King Eric was slightly wary of him.  However, he turned out to a charming man of 45 years, with slim built and dark hair peppered with bits of grey who easily won over our party with his easy-going manner.  He was the life of the party in every room he entered with his unending one-liners.  He turned out to be the creator of the “smoulder.”  However, Captain Westergard was right when he remarked that Prince Eugene’s version could use some work.  (He tried it on Queen Constanza when they were introduced and she asked him if he needed a purgative).

The other dignitaries that came with ships included the rather somber Count de Cheny of Condor and the dignified Admiral Thilburg of Madinova. 

All in all our forces now totaled 73 ships.  It was still small compared to the Weselton force which we estimated to be over a hundred.  But as Captain Westergard pointed out before, a smaller force can be enough to defeat them when we had the advantage of strategy on our side.

However, I think equally valuable was what Glowerhaven brought into the alliance.  Over the course of the month prior to battle their network of refugees provided us with access to regular reports on the region.  We were assured that the ice wall in Arendelle still held, that Weselton was still unable to discern where we were and that the Southern Isles maintained its neutrality and even formalized it by signing a non-aggression agreement with Weselton.  The last one was a rather clever move by King Sigurd of the Southern Isles to ensure they would not be attacked by Weselton in exchange for their commitment not to support either side of the war.  It wasn’t exactly something favorable to us but at least it was better than the Southern Isles supporting Weselton and beefing up their already large navy.  And should Queen Elsa and Captain Westergard be caught while traveling, the Southern Isles was still at least neutral ground and had no obligation to turn them over to Weselton.

The last piece of news we heard from Queen Elsa was that she, the Captain and her two other escorts made it safely on the eastern-most coast of the Southern Isles.  That was two weeks ago and there had been no more reports on them since.  That was what started the bit of conflict in Antalona.

“They could have been captured or maybe even dead,” Prince Karl of Gormund, a rather arrogant man said harshly when the council began.  “We may be walking into a trap.”

“Are you suggesting we not pursue this plan at all?” our own Captain Gulbrand asked. 

“I’m saying we shouldn’t just risk our lives and our ships for a queen that may not fulfill her part of the bargain,” Count de Cheny remarked.  “I’m with Gormund on this.”  The leaders of Madinova and Antalona muttered equal assents.

“Wait one moment,” Prince Eugene stood.  “Queen Elsa promised to be there and she will.”

“Is that your thief’s instincts telling you that?” Prince Karl mocked.  “I’m not buying it.  We don’t really know her. How would you know she wouldn’t balk at the last minute?”

Prince Eugene didn’t rise to the bait but instead focused on the issue at hand.  “I know her. I’ve met her.”

“Yes on her coronation, sixteen years ago.  We all did,” said Admiral Thilburg.  “And I seem to remember her running away scared after she trapped all of us for days in her frozen world.”

“She’s gained control of them since then,” King Eric spoke firmly.  “I’ve seen it.  And I’ve known her far longer than anyone of you.  She has never broken a promise in her life and I will guarantee she will move mountains to fulfill her part in this plan.”  He stared defiantly at each person in the room.  “I trust my life and those of my men in her because I know what she is capable of.  If you want to leave right now, that is your prerogative.  But you won’t get another chance at this to get rid of Weselton which we all have a stake.  And I can guarantee if you do, you will lose the two most valuable allies you will ever have.”

His meaning was clear.  Everyone by now knew he was married to the daughter of the king of the sea—a most coveted ally in the region.  In fact, after the wall in Tastris came down, King Eric began receiving a deluge of marriage proposals for Melody’s hand.  I knew for a fact that the Prince of Gormund’s own 13-year-old son was trying to woo the little girl back even after the rather embarrassing incident he had involving the crab and the punch bowl at her birthday party.

The Gormund prince hesitated but relented to King Eric’s hard gaze.  “Alright, I remain.”

He seemed to have quite an influence on the other nations.  For when he assented, they all readily followed suit.  We proceeded with discussing our plans of attack that ended late that night.

The following morning I woke up to wonderful news from one of Queen Constanza’s aides.  An ice wall had appeared on the coast of Weselton and their ships had all been recalled to defend their nation.  I was assured at least that the Queen had made it alive near Weselton to build the wall, the rest of her companions I could only hope survived the journey.

We prepared for the battle and set sail that very afternoon, armed with our attack strategies.  In less than two days we arrived at our target.

The Christina was among the five small ships to lead the attack.  Our goal was to draw the enemy out to the open sea and make them converge before our larger fleet assaulted them. We approached the northern coast of Weselton an hour before dawn. We shut off all lamps so as not to give our position away.  The morning sun would announce our arrival soon enough.  

I stood up on the top deck and stared at the inky darkness of night. I knew that somewhere beyond what my vision could see were Queen Elsa and hopefully Captain Westergard and her two escorts waiting for us to appear on the horizon. 

My men had all gathered in prayer on the top deck and I joined them briefly as was tradition.  I prayed hard that this day would give us victory.  After that I gave my men my final message.  I wasn't as eloquent as Captain Westergard.   In fact I spent the better part of the evening writing and rehearsing my speech and it still didn't sound as good one of his that he can craft on the spot.  But it was heartfelt and still appreciated by the men.

As the sun rose a terrifying sight greeted us.  The Weselton armada was gathered near the coast like a swarm of bees protecting their hive.  There must be over a hundred ships out there that we could barely see the wall of ice that loomed behind them.    There were sounds of cannon fire in the distance and I knew they were attempting to break the Queen's wall.   But from what I can see past the mass of sails, the gigantic structure held.

The Lovise gave the signal and as one we all moved forward. 

Time to play bait, I thought.

We were five little ships pushing forward towards the vipers nest with the sun behind us and the wind on our tails.  The Weselton fleet must think we were on a suicide mission.  What can five ships do against a host more than a hundred?  For a moment they seemed to do nothing.  They were probably laughing their heads off at us.  But we kept on moving at top speed. 

Finally when we were about to get into range they moved.  I turned to see that our second contingent had appeared behind us.  Eight Arendellian ships came barreling forward.  At the center was the Alexandra flying the proud banners of Arendelle making the enemy aware that it was Queen Elsa's flagship.  I could see a figure of a woman standing on the top deck.  From this distance, Lady Anja in a blonde wig and a white flowing gown could be a doppelganger for the Queen.  She was waving her hands in the air the way Queen Elsa did when she constructs her ice.  I couldn’t help but smile a little at Lady Anja’s acting skills.

At the same time I felt a chill in the air.  I breathed it deeply, savoring the cold like it was my sweetheart’s warm touch.  I knew somewhere the real Queen Elsa was out there doing her part in this deception.

The ruse appeared to work as all the Weselton ships moved to form an attack stance.  They began moving to meet us but we were ready.  The Lovise gave the signal and we halted.   We turned and retreated at top speed while the Weselton ships gave chase.  

"That's it," I whispered to myself as I imagined myself taunting the Weselton commander.  "Come on get us.  It's the Queen you want, isn't it?  If you get her that wall will be gone.  Come on get her, get her flagship."

We were now in the race for our lives.  Blood pounded in my veins as the Weselton ships began to close in on our rear.  Cannon fire sounded and I knew some of them were already in range.  As we were in retreat there was no way to return fire.

"Come on, come on, just a little bit further," I begged as we kept on.

A boom sounded near our starboard side and I knew they were too close.  "Now's the time to appear King Eric," I whispered in the air.

Another cannon boomed and this time it missed the edge of the Christina's port side by inches and shook my tiny ship. "I mean it," I said in annoyance.  "Stop being a king for one moment and get your captain's hat on.  We really need you."

A third cannon fired.  But this time it wasn't aimed at us. I followed the direction of the sound and saw that it hit the Weselton ship that was closing in on us.  I turned around and saw the Kjerstin with its cannons blazing. Beside it was the contingent from Gormund and Corona.  From the east the combined Madinovan, Antalonan and Condor ships were forcing the Weselton fleet to move closer just as Captain Westergard planned.

We came beside our allies and I ordered my ship to turn.  I've had enough of being prey.  It was time to join the pack on the offensive. At a signal from the Alexandra our ships closed in.  When we came into range of the cluster of Weselton ships, I shouted the command I've been longing to give since Captain Westergard handed me command of the Christina:

“Fire at will!"

The ensuing battle was exhilarating.  I felt the blood lust grow in me as we gave them chase—straight into the icebergs that were waiting for them near their own coast.  What happened next was something of a blur.  The cries of men and crunching wood were lost to me as we pummeled canon after cannon until we've nearly obliterated the once mighty Weselton fleet.

A small group of Weselton ships managed to escape from our trap.  I saw one of the ships was flying the royal banner of Weselton and knew immediately it carried the head of their navy, most likely one of the king's sons.  They made a run for the Southern Isles.  The Alexandra signaled to me and seven other ships to chase them while we left our allies to pick off the bulk of the Weselton armada.

We followed the escaping Weselton ships for about an hour, confident that we can take them down.   As we approached the coast of the Southern Isles, a warm gust of wind blew and I felt an instinctive feeling of dread drop down my stomach. 

Then I saw it: more than fifty massive ships with sails unfurled in the wind all bearing the banners of a golden leaf over a white field.

It was the fleet of the Southern Isles all set in a position to fight.

I signaled to stop and my co-captains did the same.  For what seemed like an eternity we remained motionless wondering what the Southern Isles would do.  They did sign a non-aggression neutrality pact so they weren't supposed to be involved in this war. So why was their fleet out and ready for battle?

It can only mean they have decided to rescind their own agreement and they were now supporting either one side or the other. 

But which one: Arendelle or Weselton?

With such huge numbers, if they sided with us it meant our sure victory. Side with Weselton and our allies could still have a chance but we would not survive to find out.

And then they opened fire.

Chapter Text

In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.” 
― Sun Tzu on “The Art of War

"And then they opened fire."

"On us?!" I almost screamed and splashed the water from my tub.  Captain Aksel told his story so well that I could almost see the image of the Southern Isles fleet in front of me firing at our ships.

"No, not at us, Prince Fredrik,” Captain Aksel assured. “The first shot they sent out impacted directly into the main mast of the Weselton flagship, causing it to collapse with a deafening roar.  We were close enough to one of the ships to see the astonished expressions of the men onboard that mirrored our own.  Before we could do anything the Southern Isles fleet went on firing on the rest of the Weselton ships.  They didn’t stop at merely crippling the ships.  They destroyed them so completely not a single survivor was left.” 

He shook his head as if he was still seeing the grisly image in his mind. “I’ve been trained to fight.  I’ve seen men get killed—some even from my own hand.  But I’ve never seen such complete disregard for life as I have seen that day.  I keep telling myself they were the enemy, but when it came down to seeing a lifeless corpse floating in the waves next to useless debris, I can’t help but imagine that could have been me—just another soldier fighting for my country.”

He turned his face away and poured water on his head to hide the tears that were threatening to fall from his lids.  I let silence fall between us. I couldn’t find any words of comfort for him. 

“Forgive me, Prince Fredrik, I’m just being sentimental," said Captain Aksel when he recovered.

“Not at all,” I replied gravely.  "How come the Southern Isles didn't honor their neutral agreement with Weselton?"

"They most likely realized who the winning side was.  King Sigurd has always been known to play it safe.  His kingdom didn't exactly reach its position of influence by committing itself to lost causes.  We were just grateful he chose to side with us that day or things could have turned out differently."

Politics, I thought. It was the deadliest game in the world.  How many people lost their lives every day for these powerplays? The fate of nations sometimes changed with the decision of one man.  I’ve always read about them in my lessons.  Reading Sun Tzu or Machiavelli’s cold advises though sounded so differently when applied to real life.

“When it was over,” Captain Aksel continued.  "The head of the Southern Isles fleet hailed us.  Their leader Prince Heinrik, younger brother to King Sigurd greeted us warmly as if our nations have always been allies.  He was a tall distinguished-looking man with red hair flaked with gray.  I estimated he was in his late forties and looked almost like a kind father with the silver spectacles he wore.  He wasn’t at all somebody I expected that would order the annihilation of those ships.  But after seeing the destruction he caused, I felt a bit wary of him.  However, he assured me and our other captains he was on our side.  He told us he met with Queen Elsa and gave her party the means to get to Weselton and accomplish her mission.”

“So Queen Elsa met him.  Maybe she got the Southern Isles’ king to change his mind and support us.”

Captain Aksel didn’t respond and I repeated my statement.

“I suppose maybe she did,” he said rather uneasily. "Anyway, the Southern Isles fleet escorted us back to the Weselton coast.   There, I witnessed destruction so horrendous I almost felt pity for our enemy…”

The wall of ice was still standing but on both sides of it was fire and smoke.  On the coast, the remains of the Weselton fleet were nothing more than burning shards of wood, torn sails and corpses.  Beyond the wall, there was smoke billowing everywhere.  I learned later that the Glowerhaven citizens that were forcibly taken to Weselton over the years to become laborers conducted a coordinated series of attacks within the city while we battled outside of it.  They set off explosives to the main storehouses, dams, armament factories and garrisons.  They also burned the crops in the fields which eliminated all sources of food that could sustain the populace in a siege.

We found the Arendelle and the Coronan ships rounding up the few survivors from the Weselton armada and assigning them into secure holds. For the next few hours we assisted them.

 Some of the sailors assigned to the Kjerstin later told me that when we left to chase the last remaining Weselton ships, an argument broke out among our ranks.  Prince Karl of Gormund wanted no prisoners at all and went on firing at fallen Weselton sailors desperately swimming in the water even though they could no longer do any harm.  King Eric and Prince Eugene had to stop him rather bodily from harming anymore injured Weseltonians.  A rather tense moment ensued among the royal leaders until King Eric pointed out that prisoners could be made into valuable hostages which we can use for leverage.  Although he was right, I felt the King of Tastris only said that to save lives even if they were our enemies.  I would have done the same to prevent another slaughter similar to what the Southern Isles fleet had done to the escaping Weselton ships.

It was almost sunset when I joined the council held on board the Alexandra.  There, I saw Queen Elsa, Captain Westergard and their two escorts.  They looked slightly sunburned but otherwise no worse for wear. We didn't have time for a reunion for we were soon joined by the leaders of our allies.

"A toast to our victory," Admiral Thilburg of Madinova began the council with a raised a glass.  He turned to Queen Elsa.  "So your majesty, will you be releasing the ice storm now on Weselton?"

Queen Elsa hesitated and shook her head.  "I don't think that will be necessary.  Weselton's food and water stores are now destroyed along with their garrisons and there is chaos within the walls."

Duke Eivind of Antalona nodded.  "I think her majesty is right.  There's no need for an ice storm.  Queen Elsa can simply remove the wall and we can take the city right now."

"Hear, hear," agreed Admiral Thilburg and the representatives from Gormund and Condor.

Queen Elsa looked shocked.  "No, that's not what I mean at all!"

I understood her fear.  If the wall came down and we attacked with our men still in the spirits they were in, most likely Weselton would be sacked.   History has shown what happens to cities stormed by their conquerors.  Troy, Gaul, Rome, Constantinople—each one told a story of mass murders, plunders, rapes and tortures when they fell.  Seeing the results of the destruction of the Weselton fleet was bad enough, starving a population through an ice storm was worse, but the total annihilation of a country through the sheer brutality to its civilians was not something I think I can do even when ordered to.

“And what exactly do you mean your majesty?" Condor’s Count de Cheny challenged.  "Do you mean for us to do nothing?"

"Yes," King Eric replied for her.  "They are no threat to us anymore.  There's no need to make them suffer further.  Allow them to surrender on their own."

"What if they won't?" mocked the Prince Karl of Gormund.  "Are we simply going to stand here and wait?" He faced Queen Elsa and pointed a finger at her.  "You made a deal with us that you were going to see this through.  I'm not going to stand here and throw this opportunity away because you felt queasy about taking a city that is rightfully ours!"

There was a chorus of agreements from the Condor, Antalona, and Madinova contingents.  In seconds the air was filled with angry voices from the various nations that have long held their tongue against the abuses of Weselton.  Even some of the Queen Constanza’s supporters joined in.

"Yes, let's take the city now!"

"Kill all the filthy fat Weseltonians!"

"Burn them all to the ground!"

“Make them all pay!”

"Leave no one alive!"

“No, keep them alive and let them suffer as we suffered!”

"No!" a sharp voice rose through the madness.  It was Queen Constanza who spoke and her eyes blazed.  "Some of those people behind that wall are mine. They have sacrificed more than any of you to win this.  Sack the city and they will die too. I'm not going to let you do that!"

"You're soft!" Prince Karl replied nastily.  "This is what we get from allying with queens."

"Well this queen if you remember is trying to keep its people alive!" Queen Constanza shot back.

The argument went on and it seemed that the alliance was going to break down.  The leaders from Madinova, Condor, Gormund and Antalona were all for sacking the city and dividing the spoils.  Queen Constanza was for restraint but she wanted recompense for the abuses done to her country.  Some of her people though wanted an eye-for-eye retribution and were among the ones calling for torture of the Weseltonians.  King Eric, Prince Eugene and Queen Elsa were together in asking for surrender without bloodshed.  Prince Heinrik of the Southern Isles was the only one that kept silent.  He seemed content to observe yet made no committed statement to any party.  As the tension mounted, I noticed him share a look with Captain Westergard.  My commanding officer bit his lower lip uncomfortably then whispered something to Queen Elsa. For a moment, she appeared to fight an internal struggle.  But her face firmed to resolve when she met her captain's pleading gaze.

"Twenty-four hours!" Queen Elsa’s clear voice cut above the clashing leaders and her next words were like cold steel.  "Send a message through the wall to Weselton that if they don't surrender in twenty-four hours I will unleash an ice storm so strong what's left of their country will be buried in snows higher than that wall holding them captive."

She eyed each of the heads of her allies.  "When they surrender, all Weselton citizens will be treated with mercy and dignity.  No man, woman, child or animal will be harmed. You will restrain yourselves and your men from destruction or stealing of any property."

"But their leaders, the king..." protested Duke Eivind.

"Will be treated with the same mercy and will be made to stand trial for the atrocities committed to Glowerhaven and plunders to the various nations in the region," Queen Elsa said sharply.  "Those are my conditions.  Violate them and this alliance is over!"

A tense silence stretched on.  I was afraid someone would oppose and would lead to open aggression.

"Gentlemen, let’s look at this rationally," came the familiar smooth voice of Captain Westergard.   "What use is a sacked city to any of us?  Are we doing it to appease our hurt pride?  Vengeance, maybe?  Yes, I suppose those are valid reasons.  But think of this: Weselton is one of the riches cities in this region—most of them accumulated from plunder from our own nations.  If we go in there like a disorganized horde brazenly killing and looting, we might be destroying some valuable property.  Property that could be collected, accounted for and returned to their proper owners or at least compensate us for damages.”  He looked at Queen Constanza.  “And even help rebuild nations. So what say you?”    

The room again fell to silence until finally the Prince of Gormund spoke.  "Very well Queen Elsa we'll go with your conditions."  The other representatives all readily agreed. 

"Good," Queen Elsa said firmly. "I'll have my people send the ultimatum.  The rest of you cool your heads and allow your men to rest.  Tomorrow, we will enter the city peaceably or watch it freeze."

She swept out of the room with head held high and Captain Westergard followed her.  The council dispersed soon after.

I headed down below deck to the Queen's quarters to ask permission to volunteer to send the ultimatum.  Her door was slightly ajar and I was about to knock when I heard the sounds of soft sobbing within.  Curiously, I peered in and saw the Queen leaning by her desk with her back to me.   Even though I couldn’t see her face I knew she was the one crying as her body shook and she had her hands on her face. 

"I don't want to do this, Hans!  I know I said I will, but I don't want to!"

I saw Captain Westergard place a comforting hand on her shoulder.  "You need to Elsa.  We just prevented them from sacking the city. It could have been worse if they did that.   You know what's at stake here.   They can turn on us if we don't do this.  And we both know who my brother will support when they do that.  We can't afford to lose this.”

“I know that,” she cried.  She turned to face him and for the first time I could see the formal mask of the Queen was completely gone.  She was just an ordinary woman burdened with an extraordinary decision to kill to end a war that could cost more lives if it went on.

He looked like he was about to brush her tears away with his hand but he stopped himself.  "I'm just glad those bastards worry more about their greed over their lust for revenge.  All we can do is hope Weselton surrenders tomorrow.  Let me deliver the message.  I’ll frighten them enough with the threat of your ice storm so they’ll surrender."

"Yes, please Hans.  Make them surrender.”  She turned away from him fell weeping to her knees. “Oh please God, let them surrender…"

The anguish in her voice was so heartbreaking I couldn't stand to watch her further.  I left them and returned to my ship. 

Captain Westergard arrived back at the Christina late in the evening from his mission.  He commended all the men for their participation in the battle but otherwise had little more to say.  I wanted to ask him about his journey with the Queen and how Weselton responded to the threat but he didn't seem to be in the mood so I let him brood on his own. 

The following day I went about doing normal ship maintenance as I tried not to think of what would happen by sunset. By noon however, word among the ships spread of Weselton's unconditional surrender.

We set off for the coast and the wall of ice disintegrated when we landed on the beach.  I was among the first parties to reach the city with Queen Elsa.  The city was mostly intact save for some buildings that were scorched through explosives and damaged with water when their main dam collapsed.   Yet it was the people who appeared to be truly broken. 

They huddled together in small groups, wide-eyed with fear and dejected with the loss of their navy.  They came begging for mercy as the Queen passed. They expected her to take revenge that they were astonished she stayed her hand and spoke to them in a calm tone that they would not be harmed.

Our allies kept their word and cooperated in securing the city without raising a hand on anyone.  I kept on the alert just in case.  I knew the men from Arendelle, Corona, and Tastris did the same. 

The palace of the king of Weselton stood on top of the highest hill overlooking the city.  We reached it by foot in two hours.  It was the largest, grandest palace I’ve ever seen.  The palace was made of solid white marble surrounded by incredibly vast gardens.  Ripening fruits and blooming flowers hung upon well-trimmed trees and plants while fountains tinkled serenely.  All around were statues of the Greek gods and goddesses in graceful forms and exotic birds in cages that sang somber melodies as we passed.  Inside, it was even more lavish with its high domed ceiling, walls lined with magnificent paintings from famous masters, ornate furniture, and rows upon rows of display cases bearing antique vases, ancient weapons, and rare books.  

And yet even with these treasures laid bare not one person opposed our entry.  The entire palace was silent as a tomb.

Where's the king?" Admiral Thilburg asked.  "His family and his staff?”

“They must have escaped,” surmised Prince Karl.  “Search for them.  They might still be around."

"No, wait!" Queen Elsa said.   She paused at an enormous pair of closed doors which I guessed probably led to the throne room.

"Your majesty," Captain Westergard warned.  He gestured that she let him go first. 

She did not heed him but entered the door.

And gave a blood-curling scream.

"Elsa!" Captain Westergard cried as he ran in after her. 

I followed him and saw what made her react like that.

Beyond the doors was indeed a majestic throne room bigger than Arendelle’s own and filled with riches as grand as the rest of the palace.  But what struck me were the bodies lying on the floor with empty cups near each one.  From their clothes I discerned some as servants and guards, but others looked like they were noblemen with positions of high rank or even members of the royal family.

At the end of the room just below the dais that held a magnificent throne of pure gold knelt a grey haired man with a jeweled crown on his head.   Beside him lay the lifeless bodies of a woman and two small boys.  He clutched at the woman’s hand while he lovingly caressed the children’s hair.  I immediately knew they were his wife and young sons.  

An empty goblet fell noisily on the floor near him.  I realized the man had drunk from it moments ago and it must have fallen from the dais where he hurriedly placed it. 

It suddenly became clear to me what happened here.  He was the last person to take the same poison that already killed his entire family and court in a pointless mass suicide.

He was still gasping for breath as Queen Elsa came over to him.

"Why?" she asked with tears in her eyes. "I would have shown you and your people mercy."

He stared at her defiantly with such hate in his eyes. "I can go to hell on my own without your help witch!  You and that cursed captain of yours—the spawn of the Southern Isles.  They’re all the same. One day he will betray you like his brother betrayed me.  On that day, I will get my vengeance."

He breathed his last and became still.  The room grew cold and I couldn't be sure if it was due to the Queen or the warmth of life leaving the body of the fallen king.

Chapter Text

A chill crept at the back of my neck that had nothing to do with my abilities.  Captain Aksel's harrowing story on the fate of the Weselton court left me speechless for a long time.  What did Aunt Elsa feel when she saw those bodies? What pain she must have received at the words of that defiant king?  It was clear she never meant to hurt anyone and would have saved his life if she could. 

When I finally cleared my head, I realized something that puzzled me about the king's last words. 

You and that cursed captain of yours—the spawn of the Southern Isles.  They’re all the same. One day he will betray you like his brother betrayed me.

A sudden suspicion hit me:  He had the bearing and confidence of a royal, the discipline of a soldier and a brilliant mind that could have only been formed through education and experience of one with a privileged background. Was it possible?  But then it all makes sense...

"Captain, who is Admiral Westergard? I mean who was he before when he was in the Southern Isles?"

Captain Aksel didn't respond though I knew he heard me.

"He was a prince, wasn't he?" I dared to guess.  "He was the captain the King of Weselton was referring to—the brother to King Sigurd of the Southern Isles."

My companion gave a defeated sigh. "I think it's pointless to hide it your highness.  You'll find out soon enough.  Yes, Admiral Westergard was once the thirteenth prince of the Southern Isles.  But he was disowned by his own brother and wandered for years as a pirate until he found a home here."

"What did he do that made his brother disown him?"

The Captain again gave me that same uncomfortable look but he was saved from answering by Oaken who popped his head on the door.

"Hoohoo! The Marshmallows are here."

"We'll be right out, Oaken," I replied.   I looked at my companion.  "Admiral Westergard's past is a thing I need to ask my mother, isn't it?"

He nodded.

"Okay, I understand.  Come on, let's go."

We got dressed and I paid up for my purchases. 

Outside, a dozen giant ice men sat around watching two of their members playing a game of noughts and crosses on the thinly frosted ground.  The ice men were cheering the two players like it was the most exciting boxing match.  They all stopped and looked up when we emerged from the trading post.

"Fredrik?" one of them mumbled.  I recognized him as the oldest of the Marshmallows created by my aunt. "Mummy Elsa home?"

"Yes, Aunt Elsa's home.  And you're all coming with me down to the castle to help her celebrate.

He scratched his head. "Too hot.  Not enough snow."

"Don't worry. I'm going to make you personal flurries just for tonight so you can come down."

His lips formed a smile.  "Just like Olaf?" he asked.

"Yes, just like Olaf." I waved my hands and conjured up a cloud for each one of them.  I made sure they were extra fluffy so they could withstand the heat longer.  All the Marshmallows looked pleased to have their own little snow cloud.  They began running around excitedly saying "Gonna see summer!  Gonna see summer!" over and over again.  I guess Olaf had told them about the seasons.  They were even more delighted when I presented each one of them with an Arendelle victory hat and taught them how to wave a colored flag. 

"It's almost sunset your highness," Captain Aksel reminded.  He untied our horses and led them forward.  "If we leave now we might still make it to the end of the feast in a few hours."

"Oh no, we're getting there by the start of the feast." I assured.

Captain Aksel looked puzzled.

"Hey Marshmallows, we could use a ride to the castle," I called out.

"Yes, Fredrik," one of them said as he picked me up and put me on his back.  Another two picked up our neighing horses and did the same.  A fourth one made a move towards Captain Aksel.

"Oh no! No, no, no, no, NO!" he cried though the giant iceman didn't heed him and placed him as gently on his back as he did to me.

"Relax, Captain.  This is going to be fun. My family and I have done this a lot of times.  Even the horses."  I pointed out that the horses had stopped protesting after the initial lift and settled on their respective ice giants' backs comfortably.  The ice giants had the ability to morph their backs to suit their passenger and Aunt Elsa had taught them long ago how to make a corral for carrying a single horse.  "It's perfectly safe."

"O-Okay... Y-your highness," he said though I could tell he was still nervous.

"Give him a bridle.  It’s his first time," I told the ice giant holding Captain Aksel.  The gentle giant responded by forming an ice bridle around his neck for his passenger to hold.  Captain Aksel grabbed on to it gratefully.

"Hold tight," I warned though I didn't need to.  The captain was clutching the bridle like life depended on it.  "Let's go!"

At my command, the gentle giants ran down the mountain, leaping and sliding at turns and covering paths in mere seconds what our horses need to travel for several minutes.  Captain Aksel screamed for a whole five minutes until he either got used to it or grew tired of screaming. 

"You okay Captain?" I shouted over the wind.

"More or less," was his sheepish reply. I let him be.  He would be alright.

The sun had just set on the horizon when Arendelle came into view.  Hundreds of lights were lit from the towers of the castle to the villages and docks.  Even at this distance I can feel the festive air.  As we approached I sighted the green and purple banners flying in the wind and heard the joyful songs of the peasants.  Some of them were rather startled to see the ice giants.  But once they saw our colorful hats and flags they greeted us with warm cheers and raised their cups. 

News of the Marshmallows' role in the capture of the pirates in the north mountain must have spread through the village for people were hailing them as heroes.  The ice giants seemed to like the attention.  They made a happy dance to the tune of the peasants' song which I learned as a young boy when I was asked to sing parts of in during a children's pageant.  My teacher told me then the song had been an age old rhyme of my people based on an ancient myth.  I too joined them as they sang the chorus:

Hail the warrior from the summer lands

Cursed with a wrath that burned

He kills to quench the fire within

But fails at every turn

He shall know no peace ‘til his anger cools

By the warmth of a frozen land

He’ll toil to earn a maiden’s trust

And rule as her right hand

The song was something that fascinated me when I was a child.  It sounded much like a knight’s journey and I used to make up little plays with my sisters about it.  I remember pretending to be a summer knight while Andrea and Elise took turns being the maiden who ordered me to do knightly tasks to “earn her trust.”  It always ended happily with my coronation as king.   

However the song now seemed to struck me as something that didn’t relate to me at all.  I kept thinking of Admiral Westergard—a warrior from the south where summers were longer and saw him as a more fitting for the knight.

My thoughts were interrupted when I sighted Olaf by the castle gates.  "Marshmallows! And they have their own personal flurries!" he cried. 

Soon he too was dancing with them as was the entire village and I forgot all about the song.  By the time we reached the castle courtyard, everybody had joined in and we all concluded it with a rather spectacular little twirl and a colorful ice display that announced the presence of the Queen.

She appeared in a shimmering ice gown that seemed to change color from green to purple when viewed from different angles.  She stood on top of a makeshift dais that the castle staff set up.  She was joined by Mother and Father and my sisters.  I remembered that I ought to be there myself and I ran to do my duty.  However, there was quite a crowd of people that I jostled my way through and got bumped by one eager buxom woman who was trying to see up the dais.  I lost my balance and was about to hit the ground when somebody grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet.

"Careful, Prince Fredrik," a warm soothing male voice called.  I looked up and met with a familiar pair of green eyes.  He looked so much older than the last time we were this close but he appeared a lot healthier now.  He was tall, lean, well-muscled and exceptionally handsome though he must be close to forty now.  He stood impressively that his regal bearing showed. He looked just like the hero in the stories I've heard.

"Admiral Westergard," I acknowledged.  "I never got to thank—"

"There you are, Prince Fredrik," Kai cut in.  He grabbed my arms and lifted me to face the direction of the dais.

"But..." I protested but Kai just marched me forward.

"No buts, your highness.  You can bother the Admiral later for stories."  He pushed through the crowd with me in front like I was some sort of battering ram.  "Excuse us, prince coming through please."  He didn't stop until he deposited me on the dais next to my aunt who was just giving her welcome speech as the crowd hushed.  

She began with a solemn prayer and honor ceremony for the soldiers that died.  She distributed medals for their families as was tradition.  It was all very solemn and her words touched everyone that not a single person was left dry-eyed.  I could see my aunt blink back tears as well and saw her shoulders shiver slightly.  When she asked for a final moment of silence for the fallen I heard her whisper softly to herself:

"The king of Weselton, his family, his court and all his fallen soldiers and citizens—have mercy on their souls."

I marveled at my aunt's compassion though I wasn't surprised by it.  She had no physical scars like Captain Anbjorn but I knew her scars from this war ran deeper, were unseen and most likely would never fully heal.  I spied Admiral Westergard who stood below the dais with some Arendelle soldiers.  He wore the same haunted look as my aunt and I wondered if he was going through the same thing as she did.

The solemn moment ended and a more festive one followed as my aunt moved on to honor the living heroes.  She started with the homeguard and the Marshmallow Brigade.  Father and Olaf led the groups to incredible cheers. 

Then she proceeded on calling on each of the fifteen ships of the returned fleet and their respective Captains.  Aunt Elsa had proud words for each one, mostly short narratives on their part in winning the many battles.  She presented each captain and their crews with tokens of valor, shook their hand then allowed each member of the family to do the same.

Captain Aksel was first to be called.  The new proud commander of the Christina blushed when he came to receive his honor and his mother could be heard above calling "That's my boy!"

Captain Anbjorn's had been bittersweet as he announced his retirement from service. Mother cried and hugged him like he was a dear grandfather.

Finally Queen Elsa came to the last one, the one I knew everyone was waiting for. 

"I would not be alive here today if it weren't for this man," Queen Elsa began.  "In fact we might not have won the war if it weren't for his brilliant strategy.  I present to you the new commander of the Alexandra and Arendelle’s navy, Admiral Hans Westergard."

He was met with thunderous applause and I was among the ones that cheered.  

But even before he could step up the dais, I felt a movement on my right.  I caught a glimpse of my mother’s angry expression before she stepped down wordlessly off the dais and left her sister and the celebrated admiral to face the awkward silence that followed.

 

Chapter Text

“Anna…” Aunt Elsa whispered so softly that only those of us beside her could hear.  She followed her sister helplessly with her gaze.  Mother didn’t even look back.  She stomped to the castle with her heels clattering soundly across the cobblestones. Each step she took felt like a defiant jab at the Admiral and her sister.   A moment later, I felt a movement shift beside me, and Father followed after her.  His eyes were downcast so he would not meet my aunt’s pleading expression for support.  His exit was not as dramatic as my mother’s but I felt the same level of animosity with him towards Admiral Westergard.   I knew everyone else in the kingdom felt it. 

As soon as both my parents disappeared, I felt hundreds of pairs of eyes reverted to me.  I knew they were waiting for me to make a move.  Was I going to follow in my parents’ footsteps or will I stay beside my aunt?   I don’t know my parents’ reasons for distrusting the Admiral so much they would insult him by walking out of his honor ceremony.  But I trusted my aunt’s judgment and I did owe the Admiral my life.  So my feet stayed and I kept my head up and my expression even.

Admiral Westergard made his way up the dais, seemingly oblivious to the crowd’s stares.  Aunt Elsa met his eyes and gave him an apologetic expression.  He returned it with a rather reassuring glance that communicated that he understood. 

My aunt continued the ceremony as if nothing happened.  As she shook his hand I could see people whispering to each other though I couldn’t hear what they were saying.  When he moved down the line to me and offered me a hand, I took it and tried to ignore the whispers I knew were growing among the crowd.

“Congratulations and welcome home Admiral,” I said to him in my most diplomatic tone.

“I appreciate it Prince Fredrik.  Thank you,” he said warmly.  I knew he wasn’t thanking me for the praise but rather for staying here. 

“No, I should be thanking you,” I replied.  “You saved my life once.  I remembered.”

“It was nothing,” he said.  “You helped me more than you can imagine.”

I wanted to ask him why but he moved down the line to shake hands with my sisters who were unfazed by the little drama that just unfolded.  He stepped off the dais not a moment longer than necessary and returned to his place with the other soldiers.  

“Thank you all,” Aunt Elsa finally said.  “The sacrifices of all our soldiers and citizens have bought us our peace.  As Queen, I cannot ask for more.  We shall have feasting throughout the night.  Let the celebrations begin.” 

She conjured up a cloud that created a long ice show that had the crowds distracted while she stepped back.  She hugged my sisters who were too busy watching her little ice display to return her embrace.  She didn’t seem offended and turned to me.  I had a million questions to ask her but something held me back when I saw her face.  She looked incredibly tired and sad.  I settled for hugging her instead.

“Oh Fredrik, I’ve missed you,” she said as she held me tightly.   “I heard you were keeping things running while I was away.”

“It’s nothing,” I replied.  “Mama and Papa are doing most of it.  I was just helping along.”

“But you’re helping keep spirits alive.  And that’s important.  I see you’ve improved on weaving your ice.  That was an impressive display earlier and you’ve even managed to bring down the Marshmallows.”

“Thanks Aunt Elsa, I’ve been practicing really hard.” 

She held my face with her hands and kissed the top of my head.  “We’ll talk later, alright?  Go and have fun tonight with your sisters.”

I nodded and she went off to follow Mother into the castle.  I was curious as to what exactly was going on.  I waited for half a minute then followed my aunt.   The castle halls were nearly empty as everyone, including the servants were busy with the celebrations outside. I caught up with her just outside one of the drawing rooms—our favorite one where we often gathered for family conversations.  I heard her speaking to Father. 

“She’s in there.  She wants to talk to you,” Father said evenly.

“Give us a minute,” Aunt Elsa replied.

“Elsa, I know it’s not my place to question your decisions and you have your reasons, but please… please do listen to Anna.”

“I always do Kristoff.”

I heard the door open followed by footsteps headed towards me.  I quickly hid behind a curtain until I was certain Father was gone.   The door to the drawing room was left ajar and I had no trouble slipping into it without being seen.    My sisters and I were used to sneaking into this room for surprise birthday parties.  There was so much furniture to hide behind that we could do it easily without being detected by the people that were already within.  However, I need not even worry about being seen.   My mother and aunt were too caught up in a heated argument to even notice me there.

“You promoted him!” Mother’s words were sharp and accusing.  It was the first time I ever heard her speak like that to her sister.

“Yes, I promoted him.  I need him to lead the fleet and plan us a way to win the war.  That’s exactly what he did.”

“There are others.   It didn’t have to be him.”

“Who else is there to promote?” Aunt Elsa argued.  “Kaj is dead! Anbjorn is too old and he’s injured.  Gulbrand?  The man wanted to surrender without a fight and couldn’t even plan a way for us to get out of the predicament we were in.  No one else has the experience or the seniority.   I’ve delayed his promotion long enough.  I’ve had other people with lesser skills promoted over him for years.”

“And rightly so.  Aren’t you forgetting who he is? Or what he’s done?” Mother shouted. I was startled by the intensity of her voice.  I’ve never seen my mother this angry before and I wondered even more what Admiral Westergard had done to make her act this way.

“Anna, I’ve never forgotten,” Aunt Elsa said calmly.  “But it’s been sixteen years.   He’s worked hard for this.  He’s served Arendelle countless times.  He’s won us two wars.  Isn’t that enough?”

Two wars? What other war did she mean? Was it the conflict eight years ago with Gormund?  But I’ve never even heard of Admiral Westergard back then. 

“It will never be enough!”  Mother broke through my thoughts with her firm opposition.  She fixed a steady gaze at her sister.  “Why are you doing this Elsa?  How can you trust him so much that you would place him as the head of Arendelle’s military?”

Aunt Elsa turned her back on her sister and looked out the window into the moonlit fjord below.  “It’s not about trust Anna.  It’s about protecting our people and doing what’s best for them.”

Mother stood behind her.  “How do you know he will protect our people and not his own interests?”

Aunt Elsa was silent for a long time and all I could hear were faint traces of the celebration songs of the peasants that filtered into the room.  She seemed to be listening to their joyful voices and a tiny smile lit her face at the thought.  “Because his interests and mine are the same.”

“What do you mean?” Mother asked.

Aunt Elsa turned to face mother.  “He defends Arendelle the same as I do.”

Mother scoffed.   “I have trouble believing that.  I know he’s been trying to build that reputation of reform for years.  But he’s not fooling me one bit.  Not again.  Underneath his display of courage, he’s a selfish man who would commit murder to get what he wants.”

“So am I!” Aunt Elsa thundered that I was startled.  “I’m just as guilty as he is!”

Mother too looked taken aback.  “What are you talking about?  Whatever it is he did, Elsa, you’re innocent.”

The Queen shook her head sadly.  “No, I’m not.  Not anymore.  Not since the war council in Tastris.”

“What do you mean?” Mother asked.

Aunt Elsa’s lip quivered and then she began to speak…

 

I stared out into the ocean beyond the wall that enclosed the castle of Tastris.  I let the salty air dry the tears that fell down my cheeks moments ago when I left my captains in that drawing room.  The moon was full and cast a golden glow on the waters and the bubbly froth of crashing waves.

I shut my eyes and imagined the coast of Arendelle. I can almost see the many faces of the peasants, the servants, my courtiers and family looking up at me from the shoreline.  Their expressions begged me to come home and save them. How long could they possibly hold out in a siege? I trusted Anna, Kristoff and Fredrik will do everything they can but there was no assurance they will ever come out of this alive.  I had to do something soon or everything I love will die.

Hans’ plan was sound, it was true, but it was also cruel.  Would I trade off the lives of my people for the lives of the people in Weselton?   

I heard footsteps behind me and I knew it was him.  It was time to confront him head on.

“Why did you save my life?” I asked without turning around.  “You could have let that pirate kill me.”

“Your majesty?” he began.

“Why it’s a ridiculous question, isn’t it?” I said sarcastically.  I faced him and eyed him from head to toe in the moonlight.  He didn’t flinch.  “We both know exactly why.”

“Queen Elsa, if I may—”

“Call me Elsa, Hans,” I told him as I met those pair of green eyes that looked so innocent.  But I knew the danger that lurked within those depths and I was ready to call him out on them.  “I think the formalities ought to end when we’re alone.  Let’s be honest with each other.  You saved me because I was a weapon you needed.”

He dropped the innocent look and I felt a slight satisfaction at this more open version of him.  “You’re quite right, Elsa.  I do need you,” he admitted.  “I’m not going to lie to you.  I’ve never lied to you before and I’m not going to start now.”

I was about to protest that he did once—when he told me Anna was dead because of me.  But then I realized that from his point of view he wasn’t lying.  He thought Anna was dead by then by my hand and not his.  I wondered if maybe he had been truthful at least to me all along.  A strange uncomfortable sensation went through me at this puzzle of a man.

“So yes, I saved your life because I need you.  And I’m asking now—begging if need be—to help me save Arendelle from Weselton.”

“Why do you even care?  Arendelle is my kingdom.  They’re my people, not yours.”

He flashed me a hurt look as if I slapped him.  “They’re just as mine as they are yours.”

“What are you talking about?”

He gave a bitter laugh.  “You still don’t get it, do you?”  He paced for a bit but without dropping his gaze at me.   “I am a man without a country, Elsa.  After I was stripped of my title, my citizenship to the Southern Isles and even my very blood relations, I had nothing left.  You can’t imagine how that feels.  All my life I’ve tried to grasp at a place to belong to and suddenly even the country I was born in didn’t want me.”

“You deserved it,” I said harshly.  “You tried to take away something that wasn’t yours and tried to destroy our lives in the process.”

“I don’t expect you to understand.  You never had to fight for something you didn’t have.  You’re the heir, just like my oldest brother.  You take for granted things that were given by virtue of being first born. I wasn’t so lucky.  And when I got a second chance in Arendelle, I grabbed it.  And you know what I found out?”

“That you had another chance at power?” I mocked.

He shook his head.  “Quite the opposite.   It didn’t even matter to me that I wasn’t a prince anymore.  As a common soldier I was needed, I was accepted.  I felt like I had a home for the first time in my life in Arendelle.  I know it’s hard for you to believe and I don’t blame you.  You have no reason to trust me.  But you don’t need to, to know I’m on your side.”

“And why is that?” I asked.

“What could I possibly gain by betraying you?  No other country will take me.  I’m already branded as a regicide across the region.  My brother made sure of that.  For the last twelve years since I came to your shores I’ve done nothing but try to build my life back and make it mean something. Everything I have is in Arendelle.  If it loses this war, I lose everything.  Those soldiers in there are not just my crewmates.   They’re my brothers like my real brothers were never to me.  The citizens of Arendelle are all the family I will ever have.   I would do anything to keep them safe.”

I was astonished at his revelation.  Was it possible that Hans found love with the very same people I cared for?  I’ve kept my eye on him for years.  Despite granting him citizenship, I never trusted him.  I had Admiral Rochport and my other advisers report to me on his activities on a regular basis.  One wrong move, even a hint of him being out of line, I vowed to send him out of Arendelle.  But he never did.  He was everything a good loyal soldier was and he was even better than most, though I never acknowledged it despite Rochport’s recommendations.  I kept telling myself it was all an act, but was it possible his efforts were genuine?

“I’m asking you again,” he said with his voice choking.  “Help me do this Elsa, please.”

“By murdering possibly hundreds of innocent civilians?” I replied.  “I can’t.”

“We are at war,” he emphasized.  “Weselton will not hesitate to strike at our own civilians back home once they breach your wall.  We need to act soon.   We have an opportunity now—and it’s most likely not going to come our way again.  This is the only way.”

I knew he was right, but the idea of mass murder was something I couldn’t think I could live with.  I turned my back on him again and faced the ocean.  “You once told me not to be a monster that other people fear I am.  But now you’re asking me to be a monster.”

“I’m not asking you to be a monster.  I’m asking you to be a mother.  A mother who will protect her people at all costs.”

“Even if it means killing other mothers’ children?” I argued.

“A she-wolf will not hesitate to kill a nest of little birds to feed her cubs.  It’s the law of survival.”

“We’re not animals, Hans.  Certainly we’re more civilized than that.”

“Are we really?” he asked.  I felt his hands on my arms.  His touch was warm yet hinted of danger but I did not shrug it off.  He whispered to me ever so gently though his words were menacing:  “Elsa, would it be more civilized for us to let our people die if we let ourselves lose this war by not acting on the way we can save them?”

I remained silent for I was afraid to admit that he was right.  I thought of Anna and Kristoff and their girls, Fredrik and Olaf and all the rest of my citizens.  Would I ever see them again?  I knew the answer to that.  The price of their lives was my soul.

“Elsa, if this is something that your conscience cannot take then I will gladly absolve you from it.  It’s my plan and I take full responsibility for any deaths.”

I turned to face him.  “You cannot absolve me.  I will be the one to do it.”

His eyes flashed.  “You can just be my weapon, Elsa.  A weapon bears no guilt to what it kills.  It’s the man that pulls the trigger who does.   I can be that man if I have to be.”

He was threatening to force me.  I knew exactly what this dangerous man is capable of.  He could stage an insurrection against me and most likely the other captains would back him up.   I should be afraid of him.  His body was pressed so close to me he could seriously hurt me right now if he wanted.  Yet I felt no fear of him and met his gaze with my own steely one.

“What you’re suggesting is treason.  I could have you executed,” I hissed at him.

His face was so close to mine I could feel the warmth of his breath.  “Then execute me. I’ll even surrender to you once this is all over.  I’d gladly forfeit my life if I can secure the safety of Arendelle.”  He said it with such a firm resolve that I knew it wasn’t a bluff.   He had already attempted a suicide mission before to save our fleet once.  I was sure he would do it again.

“I’m already a murderer, Elsa,” he continued.  “I’ve killed before and I won’t hesitate to kill again—even civilians if I need to.  There’s no salvation for me.  I’ve known that all along.  I will sell even my soul to protect the ones I love.”

He said it in a way that disturbed yet touched me at the same time.  If there was one thing I was sure about Hans was that he had an unbreakable determination to obtain what he wanted.  Now I realized what he wanted so much was also what I wanted—the safety of the people I’ve loved and sworn to protect—even if it means sacrificing himself.   A surge of shame came over me.  I was Arendelle’s leader—it was my duty to ensure their survival.   Yet here was a man who would willingly do that for me.   How could I let this man take upon himself the burden of guilt in protecting Arendelle?  Does my innocence matter more than my own people?

No, it does not.  So heaven help me, I’ll burn in hell for this.  But I’ll do so next to the man who loved my people just as fiercely as I did.

I took his hand in mine.  “I don’t want your life or the sacrifice of your soul Hans.  I’ll do it willingly with you.”

His face lit with relief.  He fell to one knee in front of me and brought my hand to his lips.  I closed my eyes as I felt a warm sensation from his kiss spreading through my entire body. It felt much like the love I experienced when I first thawed my icy kingdom.

 

Silence kept on long after Aunt Elsa stopped speaking.  I understood my mother for not knowing what to say.  Even though I already knew from the stories I’ve heard all afternoon of the decisions my aunt had to do, it was still unsettling to hear her admit that she willingly agreed to commit the murder of innocents to save her people.  

“Elsa…” Mother finally uttered as she hugged her sister.  Aunt Elsa hugged her back and I thought that maybe Mother would finally relent and accept Admiral Westergard but her next words convinced me otherwise.

“He threatened you, Elsa.  How dare he!”

“Anna haven’t you been listening—” Aunt Elsa began but Mother pulled away.

“No! Can’t you see, Elsa?  He’s an even bigger threat than before!  He’s wormed his way back.  He has power now and he’s a lot closer!”

“Anna, I don’t believe that.”

Mother stared at her as if she was insulted.  “You don’t believe?  Elsa, just because he says he doesn’t care for your crown, doesn’t mean it’s true.  For heaven’s sake, open your eyes!” She gasped as if she realized something.  “Elsa, is he trying to… are you two… people were saying you two are…”

I didn’t exactly know what Mother was talking about but Aunt Elsa seemed to understand.  She looked uncomfortable.  “No, of course not.”

Mother didn’t seem convinced by her reply.  “Elsa I know he’s charming, but he’s not what you think he is.”

“We’re not!” Aunt Elsa insisted.  “We have a professional relationship, nothing more.”

“Then end even that.”

“I can’t.  He’s my Admiral and my adviser.”

“Un-promote him then!”

“It’s not that simple!  And I already told you he’s the best man for the job.  I’m not going back on that decision.”

“You’re putting our lives in danger, Elsa.   Fredrik is starting military training next year.  I won’t have my son under him!”

“He’s not going to hurt Fredrik!”

“How would you know?!”

My aunt breathed a heavy sigh.  “Look Anna, even if you don’t believe that Hans isn’t after the throne of Arendelle anymore, he has nothing to gain by eliminating Fredrik.  He isn’t the way.”

Mother seemed to ponder about that for a moment.   “You’re right,” she finally said.  “Not when an easier direct one is there.”  She took her sister’s hand and stared at her intently.  “Swear to me now, Elsa.  Swear to me, for my son’s sake.”

I didn’t understand.  What was my mother asking my aunt for my sake?

Aunt Elsa seemed to hesitate for a moment but nodded.  “I promise that way will be forever closed to him.”

 “Thank you, Elsa.” Mother hugged her.    “But if he tries to harm any of us…”

“He won’t,” Aunt Elsa hugged back but her face showed serious determination. “I assure you.  But if he does, I’ll take responsibility.  I’ll have him executed.”

Chapter Text

My heart was still racing long after my mother and aunt left the drawing room together arm in arm. The revelations I heard from them kept me pondering in my hiding place.

Admiral Westergard tried to take the throne from my aunt but with what means wasn't clear.  Did he try to conquer Arendelle by force? Was this what my aunt meant when she accused him of trying to destroy their lives?  And yet based on my aunt's story I really felt like he sincerely cared for Arendelle.  I was inclined to give him a second chance just as she did.  If only I knew more of what happened to them before. 

If I wanted answers I knew I wasn't going to find them staying in the drawing room.  I figured my aunt and mother must be long gone by now so I got up and opened the door.

And found my father right outside.

"Fredrik?" he asked gently.  "Have you been in that room all this time?"

"Papa, I..." I couldn't meet his eyes.  I knew I was caught trying to eavesdrop and there was no way to deny it.

He sighed and shook his head.  "Okay just this once I won't tell Elsa and your mother you've been sneaking.  He led me back inside the room and closed the door behind him.  "If you tell me what they've talked about."  His lips formed an easy smile that made and I realized he was just as curious as I was. 

We sat together on comfy chairs and I told him everything I heard.  He didn't interrupt once but from his expression he looked worried.

"What did Admiral Westergard do, Papa?" I asked when I finished my tale.  "Did he start a coup?"

"No," Father shook his head.  "Hans was a lot more devious than that.  He tried to marry into the throne."

Of course!  Why didn't I think of that?  If anyone wanted to obtain power in Arendelle, the easiest way was to marry my aunt.    I didn't really see it as something devious.  Political marriages were normal.  I too was expected to marry some princess in the future to seal a good alliance as my aunt's heir.

"You mean he tried to marry Aunt Elsa?  What's so wrong about that? Unless of course she really didn't like him and—" A horrible thought suddenly occurred to me.  "He didn't try to er…  force her, did he?"

Father shook his head again. "It wasn't your aunt he tried to seduce.  It was your mother."

"What?!" Did I just hear right? Did he just say my mother was involved with the Admiral?

"And he nearly succeeded. She agreed to marry him the same day she met him which was on Elsa's coronation."

"Wait—what?” I blurted again. This story was unbelievable.  “Mama agreed to marry a man she just met that same day?  Was she crazy?!"

"I know!" Father agreed as he rolled his eyes heavenward.  "That was exactly what I told her when I met her that same evening when we went looking after Elsa after she set off an eternal winter.  Hans' engagement to your mother was what got your aunt to go ice crazy and reveal her powers in front of all the ambassadors during her coronation ball." 

And father continued an incredible tale of the winter my aunt unintentionally unleashed on Arendelle on the first eve of her reign.   I heard about this before often as a reference among the servants as the "Great Thaw" where my aunt learned to control her powers.  But it was only now that I ever heard the full details of it.   When he reached the part where Prince Hans revealed to my mother his true intentions and left her to die in the library, I suddenly realized why Mother reacted the way she did.  And the vow she asked my aunt was made all too clear.

Father’s tale ended like something out of a story book with the power of sisterly love conquering fear and ending the winter.   I was fascinated by it and we talked a great length about what happened afterwards—how my aunt learned bit by bit to control her powers and grow in strength as a ruler. 

“Do you think Admiral Westergard will try to take Arendelle’s throne again?” I asked when father finished.

“I don’t know,” Father sighed.  “I’ve had my eye on him for years and I’ve spoken to a lot of people he’s had dealings with.  They all find him decent and generous.  Ask any young sailor in the military right now and they don’t even believe he was capable of attempting to kill Elsa years ago.”

“Why not?” I puzzled.  Certainly the attempted murder of a queen wasn’t something that was easy to forgive and forget.  Especially if the queen was Aunt Elsa who I can see clearly was well loved by her people.

“That’s because very few people witnessed Hans wield the sword above Elsa’s head that day and most of them were ambassadors of other visiting countries.   Hans may have a horrible reputation outside of Arendelle and among the nobles but here most of the common folk only remember him as the foreign prince your mother left in charge when she ran off to follow Elsa.   They can still recall he organized the evacuation of those without protection from the ice storm Elsa caused.  He opened the castle doors and provided them with warm blankets and hot soup when they needed it.  He came through for a lot of people in Arendelle during their time of need.  So when Elsa sent him away in disgrace, some of the peasants thought Hans’ bid for power was just propaganda your aunt perpetrated to cut off ties with the Southern Isles.  And some nasty rumors… well…”  Father stopped and an uncomfortable expression marred his face.

“What is it Papa?” I asked.

He looked at me seriously and gave a sigh.  “I think you’re old enough to know and you should because it’s better to hear it from me before you hear it from someone else.  I want you to know what I tell you is the truth.”

“I believe you Papa,” I assured him.  “Please do tell me.”

“Look, I’ve never even told your mother about this because I don’t want to upset her.    But I’ve heard things.  Some people speculated your aunt just made up the story of Hans’ attempted regicide to save your mother’s honor.    They said your mother… well… ”

“Go on Papa,” I encouraged.  I could tell this was something that was distasteful to him.

He swallowed and stared uncomfortably at the floor.  “It’s not easy being a simple ice harvester married to a princess, Fredrik.  Especially when she was previously engaged to a prince most of the ordinary citizens saw as a knight-in-shining-armor.  People came up with the most malicious things about my relationship with your mother.  Some said she lost her maidenhood to me while she was still engaged to him.  And so Elsa falsely accused Hans of trying to kill her to get rid of him and cover up her sister’s scandalous behavior.”  He looked up and met my gaze with honest sincerity.    “But it’s not true.  I never touched your mother until after we were married and it took us three years after we met before we even wed.”

I remembered the whispers in the crowd that erupted when mother left the dais rather than welcome Admiral Westergard.  I realized what went on in the minds of the peasants that believed this nasty rumor.  In their eyes, my mother’s actions made her look like a guilty woman uncomfortable with meeting the former lover she wronged.  It made me feel sick that people saw her that way.  It bothered me even more that they imagined Aunt Elsa who was the epitome of integrity would ever propagate a lie like that.

“Do you think Admiral Westergard deliberately tried to make Aunt Elsa and Mother looked bad?” I asked.

Father shook his head.  “I don’t know.  But he is extremely popular among the military and after this celebration he is certainly getting much love from the peasants.  That makes him all the more dangerous. ”

Father had a point.  If this man truly had that much power over our very own military, what was stopping him from starting an insurrection in our backyard?    An image flashed in my mind of Admiral Westergard ordering my execution and that of my entire family in front of a crazed mob similar to the fates of the nobles in France during their all too recent revolution.  Certainly we’ve never abused the common people of Arendelle so badly they would willingly cry for our blood.  Aunt Elsa is also a popular ruler in her own right.  But there were other ways for us to be eliminated: poison, a hired killer in a secluded alley, a sabotaged boat, or even a smothered pillow as we sleep.

“So what are we going to do?” I asked.

Father shrugged.  “Keep an eye on him.  That’s all we can really do.  But I trust your aunt’s judgment.   She’s never let us down so I’ll abide by her decision even if I don’t like it.” He put a comforting arm on my shoulder.  “But if he tries anything to you or any of us, I’ll kill him myself.  Your mother and I want you to become king one day Fredrik.  That’s all we could ever hope for.”

“But the kingship is not really mine, isn’t it?  I mean if Aunt Elsa marries and has children…”

“I know,” Father cut off.  “That makes her even more vulnerable as a potential target for power-seekers like Hans.  But until she marries and begets children—you and your mother are both her heirs.  And Anna has made it known she will renounce her claim immediately in your favor if the throne passes to her after you are of age.  We need to protect you both.  Do you understand?”  He looked at me intently.  His gaze told me volumes on what I need to do: keep my guard up against this man should he try to take the throne from my family by whatever means.

“Yes, I understand.”

He ruffled my hair and his tone returned to its usual lightheartedness the next he spoke.  “Come on, let’s go down.  We’re missing the celebrations.

We walked together back to the courtyard, where the party was in full swing.  People were singing and dancing in the streets.   A lot of sailors sat in their own corners surrounded by small groups of listeners who were eager to hear their stories of the war while they shared drinks and food from the sumptuous feast the castle servants prepared.

I wanted to listen in to the stories but I was distracted by a large group children.  They were squealing with delight in one area of the square as they watched Olaf and the Marshmallows do a funny dance.   The oldest Marshmallow (whom aunt Elsa called “King” as he kept wearing her original crown) grabbed Olaf, and began juggling his severed head, torso, legs and carrot nose in the air.  Olaf didn’t seem to mind as he was laughing in his usual innocent way while pieces of him were being tossed around by his bigger “brothers.”  When Olaf was finally brought back whole, he fixed his nose and gave a gracious bow amidst cheers from his young audience.

My two sisters were among the children and they both came running excitedly when they saw me.

“Fredrik do the magic! Do the magic!” they begged.  The other children followed their lead and I found myself faced with a crowd of eager young faces.

“Alright, alright,” I conceded. 

I made snow mounds on the ground and created little clouds that sent a light snowfall on everyone.  Soon, the children were all making snow angels and sledding on my creations.  I joined them and let myself be a child.  For several hours I put all thoughts of duty, family and politics behind me.  Instead, I befriended the peasant children and joined their games.  We made ice forts and engaged in snowball battles.    I’ve never laughed so hard in months as when I was taken captive and tortured with tickles by a troop of little warriors led by my impish baby sisters.

As night wore on, my new found playmates were called away one by one by their parents to come home.   Finally, only seven boys my own age were left as my company.   Without any girls and smaller children to restrain us, we allowed ourselves to take our games to a rougher level.    We pretended to storm castle walls using snowballs as siege weapons.   When the thin icy fortresses were felled, we used sticks to engage in hand-to-hand swordfights.

After staging a revised version of the “Fall of Troy” (the Greeks were defeated and cut down to pieces when the Trojans demolished my ice horse before we can use it for a surprise attack), we gathered around in conference to plan the next “war.”

“Let’s reenact the battle of the North Sea,” suggested one boy. 

“Yes, yes, that’s a great idea!” another boy seconded and we all conceded.

Every school boy knew the story of the sea skirmish between Arendelle and Gormund eight years ago.  It was a battle that was famous for its pivotal role in ending a potential war in just a half a day.  Admiral Rochport was the celebrated hero who won it by boldly ramming his ship into an enemy vessel three times its size.  He then boarded it with his men, captured the crown prince of Gormund and demanded a peace treaty from its king.  In the end, Gormund’s King was left with no choice but to sign a non-aggression peace pact in return for the safety of his heir. 

“I get to be Admiral Rochport!” the boy that first suggested the battle exclaimed.

“Says who?” argued another boy.  “I’m the oldest, I get to be Admiral Rochport!”

“That’s not fair! You’re always Admiral Rochport, I get to be Admiral Rochport!”  A full-on argument ensued then for the plum role of the Arendelle hero.  I too wanted to play Admiral Rochport and the boys would most likely let me if I demanded it.  But it didn’t seem fair to impose my royal status on a simple game.  So I held my tongue and decided I’ll just take any of the other roles they didn’t want. 

I noticed though that there was one other boy who was not joining the argument.  I knew him as Albert, Captain Vas’ eldest son.  He was standing a way off with a knowing smirk on his face.

“What’s funny?” I asked him.

“Them,” he chortled mockingly.   “They all think they want to be the hero. But we both know, your highness, what really happened at that battle.”

This boy must have been mistaken.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  “What do you mean?” I asked.

He gave me a conspiratorial smile.   “Well you know, that Admiral Rochport was actually shot ten minutes into the battle and was unconscious the rest of the time.”

I was confused.  “What? How can that be?”

Albert’s smirk disappeared and was replaced with a horrified expression.  I saw the fear in his eyes as he backed away from me.

“What is it?” I asked.  “What do you mean he was shot and unconscious?  How could he have won that battle if he was shot?”  It just didn’t make sense.  I’ve heard the stories since I was a boy.  How Admiral Rochport ordered the ramming of the vessel himself.   Then he led the charge of boarding the enemy ship, did hand-to-hand combat against several foes until he finally took Prince Karl of Gormund hostage at swordpoint.

“It’s nothing, your highness…” he began but his voice quivered and betrayed his obvious lie.

“It’s not nothing, tell me,” I ordered him.

He looked around to check that the other boys were far from hearing before continuing in a low voice.  “I-I thought you knew, your highness.   If… If I tell you, will you promise not to tell anyone?  Papa… t-told me not to tell anyone and that he was sworn to secrecy… on his honor as a captain.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” I said softly back.  “Now tell me.”

He hesitated for half a moment then spoke.  “Admiral Rochport was shot as I said.  He wasn’t the hero at all.  My Papa was there.  He was just an ensign then but he saw it happen.  He was even the one that brought Admiral Rochport back to his cabin to be attended by the surgeons.”

“But if it wasn’t Admiral Rochport who gave the order to ram the ship and to board the Gormund vessel, who did?”

“His first mate, Lieutenant Westergard.  Papa said they all thought he was crazy when he ordered the ship turned and rammed at full speed at the enemy, but it worked.”

I raised an eyebrow.  Why wasn’t I surprised?  That man seemed to have a knack for executing the most unconventional battle strategies.

“He was the first one to lead the charge to board the Gormund vessel,” Albert continued.   “He went straight for the Gormund prince and had him disarmed in just three parries.  It was all over after that.  He also assumed the command of the negotiations for the peace treaty and got a good deal for Arendelle so they wouldn’t bother us again.”

He won us two wars.

Aunt Elsa’s words suddenly made sense.    

My head reeled.  Admiral Westergard was sounding more and more the hero in every way and yet he was the same man that tried to murder my aunt, seduce my mother and attempt treason.  Was there no end to the mystery of this man?  And there was the same question that I puzzled over earlier tonight when I first heard my aunt refer to it.

“Wait—if Admiral Westergard was the real hero in that battle, how come none of us knew about it?    Admiral Rochport was given an award for that battle.  I remember.  We celebrated it right in this square.  I was here when my Aunt gave him a medal of honor.”

Albert bit his lower lip self-consciously.  “Papa said all the soldiers were given strict orders to keep secret what really happened at the battle.  And they were forced to say that Admiral Rochport was the hero instead.”

I was aghast at this obvious cover-up of a military operation that unjustly benefitted Admiral Rochport.  “Who ordered it?” I asked though I suspected I already knew.  Could Admiral Rochport whom I knew my whole life as a brave and honest man really did something this horrible to gain an honor he didn’t deserve?  Even if he did steal it away from a man that tried to commit treason before, it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Albert stared at his shoes and refused to look at me.

“Tell me Albert, who gave the order to hide what really happened?” I demanded.  “Who made up that lie?”

He peeked at me like a frightened puppy before whispering almost inaudibly:

“The Queen.”

Chapter Text

For a moment I stared at the boy before me, unable to comprehend what I just heard.

It’s not possible.  Not Aunt Elsa!  She was always honorable and valued integrity above else.  She would never brazenly lie.

And yet she was the same woman that agreed to commit mass murder when she was left without a choice, a voice in my head reminded.  She would protect her people at whatever cost.  And if that cost was her own soul she was willing to pay it.

No, I told myself firmly.  This boy must be lying or heard it from someone who lied to him.  People liked to speculate and spread false rumors.  Wasn’t that what my father just told me?  Or maybe… maybe Admiral Westergard actually propagated such a lie among his ranks to make him popular among them.

I wanted to call Albert out on it and defend my aunt but I couldn’t utter a word.  At the back of my mind a nagging doubt was rising with a burning question:

What if it was true?

What if my aunt was so frightened of the possibility of this ex-usurper gaining popularity among her people that she tried to suppress it?  I knew the lengths she would go to protect her family and her kingdom.   Would she not use whatever powers she had as queen to cut out a potential threat before it harmed those she loved and sworn to protect?

I’ve delayed his promotion long enough.  I’ve had other people with lesser skills promoted over him for years.

I heard her admit that with my own ears.  She kept him from gaining power—that much was clear.  If he was a hero of a crucial battle she had no choice but to promote him.  So the logical choice was deny he had a part in it.  It was a necessary evil, but I couldn’t help but feel ashamed of it, especially in front of this boy.  What must he think of my aunt and the rest of my family by extension?

I was saved the trouble of speaking to him further by the voice of Albert’s mother calling her son home.  He muttered a polite farewell without meeting my eyes and half-ran to the village.

The other boys were drawing straws to settle the matter on who got to play Admiral Rochport.  One of them invited me to draw as well but I’ve lost all interest in the game.  I made up a quick excuse that I was needed back at the castle and left them.

The party was still ongoing all across the square.  It spilled on to the inside of the castle where the victory ball began a few hours ago.   I wanted to find Aunt Elsa and ask her about Admiral Westergard but she and my parents were occupied with entertaining the members of the Arendelle nobility and the families of the celebrated captains of Arendelle.  Surprisingly, the primary hero wasn’t even in the room.

A few of the young ladies eyed me the moment I entered the ballroom.  I knew if I stayed longer here I was going to be obligated to dance.  From the corner of my eye, I saw fourteen-year-old Lady Ashford heading in my direction.  Since last year when she came to court from her convent school, she has been trying to get close to me and has kept giving not-so-subtle hints that she wanted to be more than friends.   Aunt Elsa warned me that her family wanted to get me engaged to her—a prospect I wasn’t looking forward to as I didn’t like her at all.  

I wasn’t in the mood to be badgered by this girl so I ducked behind a pillar and made a hasty exit to a nearby balcony.  I could hear the clatter of footsteps and I realized I was cornered.  Dancing in the open was bad enough but finding myself alone with her in a secluded area was far worse.  I did the only thing I could—I conjured up an ice slide and slid down it to the garden below.  I disintegrated my escape route before she had a chance to see it and half-run into the shelter of the back garden.   The peace and quiet was refreshing and I decided I could use some time alone. 

A full moon was out and cast bright shadows over the familiar shrubberies.  As I walked, I felt the hairs of my neck prickle in that instinctive feeling that I wasn’t alone. 

“Come on out, I know you’re there,” I called out softly.

Two little rocks tumbled from opposite directions and stopped short of my feet.  They unrolled to reveal a pair of playful trolls whom I knew as Ajin and Zinjo.  To say they were young would be somewhat misleading.  Certainly, they looked like children but they were in fact older than me by several decades. 

My father’s side of the family was something of an oddity as he was raised by trolls in the Valley of the Living Rock.  Father said Ajin and Zinjo were my uncles as they were his adoptive mother Bulda’s children.  But it’s hard to think of them as such when they acted and looked exactly the same as the day father met them when he was eight years old.  Troll lifespans were significantly longer than the average human and so their maturity rate was also slower.   Since Father’s marriage to my mother, the trolls were frequent visitors of the castle.  Aunt Elsa always welcomed them and the castle garden became something of a permanent guest house for any trolls stopping by. 

No doubt, the news of the celebrations reached them and they came over to see what was going on. 

“Shhh! Fredrik!” they both exclaimed in half-whispers. 

“What?” I asked.

“We’re watching,” said Ajin.

“Listening in,” remarked Zinjo.

“More like spying,” Ajin argued.

“On whom?” I asked and they shushed me again and brought my head down to their level. 

“The fixer-upper,” they both said.

“The fixer-what?”

“He’s in there with Grand Pabbie,” pointed Zinjo towards the center of the garden where a grove grew thickly that it served as an excellent hiding place.  The trolls liked that particular area of the garden because it was largely undisturbed by any of the servants and guests.

“He’s a real glum fellow,” said Ajin.  “Mama found him last year when he almost sat on her.” 

“She said he seemed lonely so she thought she’d keep him,” interrupted Zinjo.  They tended to do that to each other when talking.  “But he wasn’t the keeping kind—”

“Not like Kristoff—”

“Or Anna—”

“Or Olaf—”

“Yeah, he’s no fun at all to be with—”.  

“Too serious—”

“But he enjoys talking to Grand Pabbie—”

“Because he’s serious too—”

“They’re talking now—”

“That’s all they do—”

“Whoa! Whoa! Slow down!” I exclaimed.  The rapid-fire shifting in the conversation was making my head hurt.  “Who are we talking about?”

“The sad man,” said Ajin.  “He needs fixing.”

“Yeah,” agreed Zinjo.  “We should fix him up with someone.”

I still had no idea who or what they were talking about.   I decided to just see for myself.  I walked to the grove with the pair of trolls following.   I was still too far to see past the thick foliage but I could hear two distinct voices.

“I don’t even know why it bothers me.  We won the war.  I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted, but it just doesn’t feel right,” came a male voice that sounded familiar.   “Knowing what I did…”

“Then you are learning,” answered what obviously was Grand Pabbie.  “Regret is a good thing.  It makes us look at what we could have done so we can do things better in the future.  You cannot change the past, my son, but what you can do is learn from it.”

“I will, but I might do something far worse the next time.” I knew even before I could see his red hair in the moonlight that it was Admiral Westergard.  The tone of his voice was almost vulnerable.  It reminded me of that day when he faced my parents after he rescued me from the frozen lake.

“Then you’ll learn from it again and try to be even better,” assured Grand Pabbie.

Crack!

The twig I stepped on gave such a piercing sound in the quiet of the grove.  Both Grand Pabbie and Admiral Westergard looked up and caught me staring.

A long awkward silence passed.  My heart hammered in my chest.  My father told me this man was dangerous and being alone with him here gave him all the opportunity to hurt me. 

Don’t be ridiculous, the more rational side of me argued.  He’s not going to hurt me.  Not in front of the trolls.  Not on the eve of his victory.  Hurting me would gain him nothing.

Finally, Admiral Westergard made a polite bow at me.  “Prince Fredrik,” he acknowledged.  He turned back to the elderly troll.  “Thank you for your time Grand Pabbie but I must go.  We’ll talk again soon.”

He gave another bow when he passed me and left the grove wordlessly.   I watched him go with a million questions on my tongue left unsaid.   

“I know you seek answers Fredrik.  Go after him,” Grand Pabbie urged.  

It was like he read my mind.  I ran out of the grove and called out the first question that popped into my head:

“Is it true?”

He stopped walking and turned to face me.

“That I tried to take the throne of Arendelle by marrying your mother?  Left her to die in the library and attempted to kill your aunt?” he asked evenly. 

“No,” I shook my head.  “I already know those are true.  My father wouldn’t lie to me.” 

“Then I suppose you want to know why I did it?” he asked in the same neutral tone devoid of malice or anger.

The question I was referring to was whether he really was the hero of the previous war and whether my aunt covered it up.  But I think we couldn’t really get there without addressing the obvious matter first.  So I just nodded.

“I make no denial Prince Fredrik, of what I’ve done.  I think you’re a boy that deserves the truth.    What I did was a grave error of judgment.”

“Error of judgment?” I couldn’t help but exclaim.  “You left my mother for dead! You tried to decapitate my aunt!”

He gave a sigh.  “I admit and deeply regret attempting to kill Queen Elsa.  But you must know at that time I thought it was the only way to end the winter before she killed hundreds of lives.”

“Hundreds of lives?” I asked.  “What do you mean?”

He stared back at me with an expression that seemed to beg me to understand.  “I made a rash decision, I know,” he continued.  “But when Anna came to me and told me her sister froze her heart, I didn’t know it was an accident.  And I’ve begged Queen Elsa to stop the winter earlier and she told me she didn’t know how.   The food stores were barely enough to last two weeks for everyone in the kingdom, including all the trapped guests.  If I didn’t do anything, starvation was going to set in.  But before that there could be riots and looting when people get desperate.  Not to mention the possible ramifications of war from neighboring kingdoms should any of the trapped foreign dignitaries end up hurt or dead.  I took action the only way I knew.”

I never really thought about it that way.  I’ve known my aunt my whole life to be in control of her powers that it’s hard to really see her as a monster anyone would fear.  But to people who just saw her with uncontrollable powers for the first time, she did seem like a threat to be eliminated in any way possible.  And didn’t my father even admit that it was Admiral Westergard who took charge of the citizens of Arendelle during their time of need?   Whether he did it out of selfish reasons to be seen in a good light or he truly was concerned for their fates, the end result was the same.  Without him, people would have died.

Still it was no excuse, at least not for the way he treated my mother.  “What about my mother then?  You told her you did it because you wanted to be the hero.  You left her to die while you said those cruel words to her.”

“You’re right, Prince Fredrik, I suppose I could have been kinder to Anna.  I could have lied to her face that night and pretend to give her a kiss even if I knew it wouldn’t work.   I admit I acted harshly and cruel because I was angry at her.   She had everything—a kingdom to rule in the absence of her sister, a purpose in life and people who would follow her even if she never lifted a finger all her life for them.  I was irritated by her immaturity and her inability to see past her own personal concerns and that made me snap.   I wanted to teach her a lesson that not everything is all about charming princes and true love kisses.  I wanted her to realize for one moment what she had that she just threw away at a whim.  I thought if she and her sister couldn’t take care of their own kingdom, then they don’t deserve to keep it.”

“And I suppose you think you deserve Arendelle?” I asked mockingly.   

“I certainly did a better job then.” 

His frankness was astounding.  It irritated me yet I felt a certain admiration from him for it.   “You still think you do?” I asked before I can stop myself.  It was a direct question on his intentions, one that I didn’t think I would dare ask.  But it was out now and there was not backing out of it anymore. 

I expected him to be angry or deny it vehemently.  What I didn’t expect was the amused smile that formed on his lips.

“Queen Elsa was right about you Prince Fredrik.   You’re the bravest lad I think I’ve ever met.  And I think you just earned my respect this evening for being straightforward.  So let me be just as straightforward.  Yes, I do still think I deserve Arendelle.  For years, I’ve worked at nothing but for its benefit and its protection.  But do not fear me usurping Queen Elsa, for she has shown she deserves to rule Arendelle just as much.”

“You support her?” I asked tentatively.

“Of course I do.  And she knows it.  It’s why she made me her Admiral.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that.  I wanted to know why she thinks he will support her but somehow I didn’t know how to phrase it.

He seemed to sense my hesitation and spoke again.  “Oh don’t worry about your aunt.  She doesn’t trust me,” he continued calmly.  “Not completely.   I understand that.  I don’t expect you to trust me either and I don’t think I can make you think otherwise.  But if it helps Prince Fredrik, I’ll tell you the same thing I told her.  Contrary to what you might think, I am not the kind of man who would willingly to burn a kingdom so I can rule its ashes.  I would rather work with Queen Elsa than be her enemy.”

I could see the logic in that.  If he wanted to take the throne by force he could, but civil war would most likely erupt as about half of the population would stand behind my aunt.  Maybe he could win, but then what use would a half-ruined kingdom be?  If I were in his shoes I would rather surrender to a higher rule than risk bloodshed.

And then gain the trust of the Queen and takeover eventually by marrying her and her throne, my father’s voice warned me.

Oh this man was truly someone to contend with.  Everything he said to me was completely honest.   I had no doubt about it.  Yet, he can still be dangerous all the same.

“She won’t marry you,” I said bluntly.  “She vowed to my mother tonight that she wouldn’t.  And she always keeps her promises.”

He looked slightly taken aback and I felt a slight surge of triumph that I took him down a notch.  But then he masked his features again.  “I know she wouldn’t, even if she wanted to Prince Fredrik.  There’s no advantage in marrying a commoner, not for a Queen.  When Queen Elsa does marry, she will do it for a political advantage and I am no longer in a position to give her that.”

I was surprised he can come back at me like that so calmly.   And did he just agree with me without an argument? 

“I know your apprehensions Prince Fredrik,” he continued in the same even tone.  “And I apologize truly for giving you and your family those apprehensions.  You may not believe me, but I want you to know I mean your family no harm, particularly you, for I owe you my life.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.  Wasn’t it the other way around? 

“Do you remember when I pulled you from the lake?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Isn’t it a tradition in the royal family of Arendelle to grant favors to commoners to whom they were indebted to?”

“Yes, we do keep that tradition,” I responded.  My family for generations had always been generous to people that aided them—be it a farmer that shared new ways of saving the crops during the winter, a surgeon that cured a family illness or even a lowly maidservant that served the family for years.  It was not uncommon for our family to grant land, royal titles or monetary compensation.   My father was the recipient of one of these favors as he told me Aunt Elsa granted him a sleigh and a title as Royal Ice Master and Deliverer after he aided my mother through the North Mountain.

“As a reward for saving your life, I requested your mother to grant me one thing and she gave it, albeit reluctantly.”

“What is it?” I asked as my breath hitched excitedly.  I already guessed it was a captainship in our navy.  It was the only reason why he got into our military and rose through the ranks that fast.

“My citizenship to Arendelle.”

My mouth fell open.  I was not expecting that.  A citizenship to Arendelle allowed him to apply for military service but nothing else.  That would mean he went through the usual process of going through the ranks to earn his current position.   

“Why did you not ask for something more?” I asked.

He smiled knowingly.  “Would you have granted me more if you were in your mother’s shoes?”

He had a point there.   Requesting for citizenship in Arendelle was not at all threatening.  Mother probably felt a mild annoyance at him permanently residing in Arendelle, but otherwise she felt safe enough to grant it to him if he kept as a common peasant away from her and the family.  She probably kicked herself silly when she found out what he did to that citizenship.

“I’ll always be grateful to you Prince Fredrik, even if you don’t realize it.  And I hope to earn your trust one day.”  He paused and looked at the moonlit sky.  “I suppose I’ve said enough for one night and I don’t want to worry your parents.  It’s late.   You should go back to them now.  And I should be on my way as well.”

He gave a regal bow and walked away.    I watched him go.  It was only when he disappeared beyond the trees that I realized my initial question was left unanswered. 

Chapter Text

I crept back into the castle from the garden via the back doors of the kitchens to avoid any guests.  I could hear the ball was still going strong but I didn’t feel like socializing.   My head was filled with so many thoughts on the revelations of this night.   There were so many things I wanted to ask my aunt but I knew there wasn’t much of a chance to speak to her tonight.   Fortunately, I had an excuse not to appear in the ballroom as it was way past my usual bedtime.  I met Gerda, the elderly head of our household by the kitchen door and told her I was going up to bed.  She let me go without a fuss.  I knew she would relay my message to my parents so they would not worry. 

I changed for bed and laid down with the intent to sleep.  However, my mind kept me awake with memories of the conversation with Grand Pabbie after Admiral Westergard and I parted ways…

“How do you know Admiral Westergard, Grand Pabbie?” I asked when I returned to the grove and found the old troll waiting for me.  I sat down on a rock to be at his eye level.

“He’s been visiting me for quite some time now Fredrik.   Bulda met him by accident a year ago here in this very grove.  She and the other trolls sensed him to be in a rather troubled state and tried to cheer him up.  As you might imagine, he was a little overwhelmed by it all,” smiled Grand Pabbie.

I couldn’t help but grin at that.  I knew the trolls could be quite annoyingly intrusive.  

“Fortunately, I happened to be around and I sensed he needed someone to speak to.  It took him a while, but eventually he came to trust me as a confidante.  He has been visiting me here or in the Valley of the Living Rock whenever he can.”

“What do you talk about?”  I asked.  I hope he can shed some real light into the mysterious Admiral Westergard.

“I cannot reveal to you the details of our conversations Fredrik,” answered the old troll.  “For he said those things to me in confidence and I have to respect that.   What I can tell you is that he’s been through a lot in his life.”

“I’ve heard about some of them.  That he was stripped of his title as a prince then became a pirate and a slave.”

“Yes, but those scars are not the ones that run deepest.  Hans has been neglected since early childhood despite his status as a prince.  He experienced so little love in his life and that alone makes his existence a cruel one.   He is desperate to prove himself and find a place where he is useful that at times he appears ruthless.”

“I don’t know what to think of him.  I keep hearing so many good things he did from other people.  And just now, when he spoke to me, he almost convinced me of his justifications on why he tried to kill Aunt Elsa and deceived my mother.  Papa and Mama think he’s just trying to trick us again and I’m afraid they might be right.  Can I trust him?  Was Aunt Elsa right to trust him?”

Grand Pabbie shook his head.  “I cannot foresee the future nor can I glimpse what is in the hearts of men.  But I know this:  Hans has the potential to be good and I truly believe he has the best interests of Arendelle at heart.    Whether he has the common interests of you and your family though remains to be seen.  He could be Elsa’s greatest ally or her worst enemy.”

“What should I do then?”

“See both with your heart and your head Fredrik.  Keep in mind what you believe is for the common good even if it means sacrificing what you feel is safe.  That is all I can offer, my son.”

His answer was neither assuring nor satisfying but that was how trolls roll and I couldn’t expect anything clearer.   Grand Pabbie bid me good night after that and I knew there was nothing more I can get from him.  For now, what I knew was that I would continue to trust my aunt and my parents.  I vowed to protect them in any way.  It was with that resolve that I fell into unconsciousness.

                                                                                                                                                                    

I opened my eyes to sunlight filtering through my window and I immediately bolted from bed.  Based on the light alone I knew that I had slept pass my usual hour for waking.  I will be late for my lessons if I did not hurry. 

Aunt Elsa was always up at the crack of dawn and since I was also an early riser, the two of us usually breakfasted together long before the rest of my family was up.  I was so looking forward to cornering her this morning alone to ask her questions.  I admonished myself for losing the opportunity.

I got dressed at a fast-pace and slid down the balustrade of the grand staircase to get myself down as quickly as possible. I proceeded to breakfast in the smaller dining room near the kitchens which we’ve taken to call the Bjorgman family table.  My parents and even my aunt preferred dinning here on a daily basis than on the official dining room which can seat over 30 people on a table that extended over 15 meters from end-to-end.  It just wasn’t practical to have to call for servants every time to pass the salt when you need it if you dined on a table like that.

Only my parents and my sisters were at the table.  My parents looked half-asleep and exhausted from the celebrations last night.  My sisters by comparison were wide awake and talked non-stop about all the fun things they did the previous evening.  

“Morning,” I greeted and my family all looked at me with odd gazes. 

“Okay, this is new,” Mother said.  “Fredrik, you just got up now?”

“Yes,” I replied as I gave a yawn.  “Don’t worry Mama, I still have 30 minutes before my first lesson.”

“No you don’t,” Elise said.  “Not for three whole days!”

“Aunt Elsa made holidays!” Andrea exclaimed.

“You can go back to bed after breakfast if you want Fredrik,” Father offered.  “Elsa declared three days off in honor of Arendelle’s victory.  You may want to take the morning to rest.  We’re hosting another celebration today for the homeguard and it might go on until late tonight.”

I considered taking the offer, but once I bit into my breakfast, I was wide awake and ready to face the day.  “Maybe I’ll just join the preparations for the celebration,” I replied. “Where’s Aunt Elsa?” I thought maybe she was exhausted and was still in bed getting some much needed sleep.  Maybe I can talk to her later.

“In her study,” Mother replied.  “Kai said she was up just as early as usual.  Only Elsa would declare a holiday for everyone but not even take one for herself.” 

“She was gone for nearly two months Mama, I’m sure she wants to catch up,” I said.

“The war is over, what could possibly occupy her at this time?” Mama asked.  “You know after breakfast, I am going over there and pull her out to have fun.  She should be enjoying not burying her head in work.”

“I’ll come with you Mama,” I offered. 

“Good,” she said as she ruffled my hair affectionately.  “If she doesn’t come willingly, I need you to blow a snowstorm.”

The rest of my family laughed.  It was an ongoing joke that my aunt always worked too hard and that the only way to get her away from her study was if there was a crisis outside the castle.  My mother and I previously conspired to get the Queen out by letting me create a blizzard in the garden and pretending I couldn’t control it.  When Aunt Elsa came out running to help we cornered her with a snowball fight that effectively made her forget she was working.    We made several similar moves through the years to do just that.  Unfortunately, after so many tries, she finally caught on to us and our attempts to get her to quit her study of late were no longer as effective.

It didn’t mean we would stop trying though.

After breakfast, Mother and I walked together towards my Aunt’s study.

“We don’t take no for an answer,” Mother said as if she was delivering a battle strategy.  “I come in there and play the sister card, you reinforce by playing her favorite nephew.  If that doesn’t work, we call in the cavalry.”

“The cavalry?” I asked.

“Elise and Andrea are on standby to cajole her to build a snowman for them.”

“And if it doesn’t work?” I asked.

“We take her prisoner by force,” she said rather dramatically as she slammed her closed fist on her palm.  “This means we tie her with bedsheets and Kristoff carries her outside.  Once there, Olaf, Sven and the little village children will pelt her with snowballs.  She can’t resist the children.  This plan is golden.  What do you say Lieutenant Fredrik?”

“Aye, aye Captain,” I replied with a mock salute.

We stopped by the closed doors and burst into the room without ceremony.

“Elsa, get off that chair right now and participate in this holiday you decreed—”

Mother stopped as she realized my aunt wasn’t alone.  Sitting across her desk were Kai, Admiral Westergard, Finance Minister Lord Berg and Foreign Affairs Adviser Lord Hensen.  All four men got up and made polite bows but it was the Admiral whom I focused on when he said simply: “Good morning your highnesses.”

Mother stared at him with disdain.  “What are you doing here?” she asked with pure venom.

“I’m in a conference with my advisers, Anna,” my aunt replied for him.  Her voice hinted of irritation.  “Now, if you will excuse us.”

It was a clear dismissal and I quickly backed away to the door while giving my aunt an apologetic look.   She however, seemed more occupied with Mother’s dagger looks directed at her newly promoted Admiral. 

“I will join you later,” Aunt Elsa said calmly.

“Unless of course, the Princess Anna would prefer to join us in conference,” Admiral Westergard remarked evenly though somehow the offer seemed more like a challenge.   “I think we could benefit from her opinion on these matters as well as an update on internal affairs.”  He shared a split-second look at the Queen who returned it with a glare that was gone in a second that I thought I must have imagined it.

“I think I will,” Mother declared.  

My aunt rolled her eyes heavenward and this time I clearly saw her glance disapprovingly at Admiral Westergard as if to warn him.  My mother failed to catch it though for she was busy pulling a chair next to her sister.

“You can stay if you want Fredrik,” Aunt Elsa said.  “I think you should know about this too.”

“Really?” I blurted out.  I’ve never been invited to her conferences before and this was an opportunity to see her work.  “I mean, yes, of course,” I said as an afterthought in an effort to put up a more dignified front.

Admiral Westergard already pulled a chair for me to sit on and I thanked him politely for it.

“Now then,” began Aunt Elsa.   “Just to put you up to speed, we have a pressing matter at hand.  Queen Constanza of Glowerhaven as wife to the Duke of Weselton and mother to his son now serves as temporary regent of the Weselton provisional government.”

“Wait, that dancing peacock had a wife?” Mother burst. 

“Yes, Anna and their son is heir to both the thrones of Glowerhaven and Weselton—but only if Constanza can keep Weselton from falling to ruin for the next six months.    That’s when all representatives of our alliance will be going to Corona for a conference to settle the matters due to each respective country.”

My aunt put it so mildly.  But I understood that this conference aimed to divide the so-called “spoils” of Weselton among themselves. 

“Right now our allies are supporting her by providing military force in occupied Weselton,” she continued.   “Prince Eugene of Corona and Prince Karl of Gormund and their men stayed on to establish order in the area.  Corona needs to pull out in three weeks to resupply and I don’t trust Gormund to be left alone.  We need to establish a presence in Weselton in rotation with the forces of Glowerhaven and Tastris.”

I understood her concern.  From what I’ve heard, Gormund would not hesitate to commit atrocities to the Weseltonians if left unchecked. 

“My men and I will be ready to depart in a week your majesty, provided we have enough supplies,” said Admiral Westergard.

“Good,” she turned to my mother.  “Anna, we need to prepare to send aid to Weselton.”

“Why?” my mother asked, puzzled.

“Because most of their stores and crops were destroyed by Glowerhaven saboteurs during the attack of the city and the population will be facing starvation by winter if we don’t provide for them,” I answered.

Six pairs of eyes stared at me in surprise.

“I heard about it from Lt. Aksel,” I explained.  “I figured without their usual stocks their population won’t last very long.  I don’t think trade is an option for them at the moment.”

My aunt beamed at me and I saw equally impressed nods of approval from Kai and Admiral Westergard. 

“Quite right, Fredrik.  Now Anna, how much can we spare for them from our own supplies?” Aunt Elsa asked.

Don’t worry Elsa,” Mother said.   “I scrimped and saved and my overstocking for a long siege paid off.”

Aunt Elsa requested for specific figures and Mother spent about five minutes figuring out her tallies in the large ledgers accounting our winter stocks while everyone hung in uncomfortable silence.  Finally, the Finance Minister stepped in and cleared out the confusion.  My mother was always a bit disorganized.  She was never one for details and hated keeping records.  Even my father was better at than her in that aspect.

With the inventory cleared up, we were able to move forward on the talks.  We spent the next hour working out the budget allotment for the Weselton aid as well as the provisions for the men we need to send out on duty for several months to keep the peace.   Like my Aunt, I had a good head for figures and surprisingly so did Admiral Westergard.  He had a long list of preparations to be done and we traded ideas on the deployment of troops, set up of security and distribution supplies in coordination with our allies.  The energy in the room was incredible and I delighted in it immensely.   I even contributed my own suggestions that the group added to the recommended action plans. 

The only one that didn’t share our enthusiasm was Mother.  For the first few minutes she tried to pay attention and offered a word or two, but clearly the amount of details overwhelmed her.  Half the time she looked confused and would often need to whisper to my aunt or Kai to get background details on what was happening.  She spent the last part of the hour, silently twirling a piece of paper with her fingers.  She looked immensely relieved when we finished and my aunt dismissed us and told us to enjoy ourselves.  She asked her advisers to stay on to finish some documents.

Mother and I headed out together and she breathed sigh of relief when we were alone. 

“I’m glad you’re aunt’s back,” she admitted.  “I’m not cut out for this Fredrik.  I never was.” 

I agreed with her but I opted not to say so.   “Well you’re good at dealing with people,” I said and that was true.  Mother had an open personality that normal citizens can relate to.  People loved her immediately for her charm and vivacity.  I’ve seen that most of the villagers tended to speak to her more often than to my Aunt who maintained a calm but distant demeanor.

“Dealing with people is fine,” she agreed.   “But put me in front of a desk and I’m a mess.”

“I rather enjoyed it,” I said.

She kissed the top of my head.  “That’s because you’re brilliant.  Oh Fredrik, I promise I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you’ll be a fine king one day.”

I said nothing though inwardly, working as a king was something I think I would love doing.   We headed out in the courtyard where a sleigh race was about to start between Sven and a village horse.   

“What happened to dragging Elsa out?” Father asked.

“We got sidetracked,” Mother replied.  “Got beaten by Elsa.  I’ll try again later.  For now, let’s have a race.

Mother sat down to enjoy the show along with several of the servants that came out to see the fun.  But I wasn’t up for it for I was more interested in knowing more stories about the war. 

I headed to the village hoping to find some veteran I can talk to.  But when I got there the shops were closed and there was no activity in the streets.  As it was early morning on a holiday and with the celebration going on until late last night most of the villagers were probably still sleeping in.

I was about to go back to the castle when I caught sight of a young man carrying an older heavy-set man that I recognized as the baker.   The baker appeared to be awake but extremely intoxicated that he could barely stand, let alone walk.

“Come on Papa,” the younger man urged.  “It’s time for you to go to bed.”

“No… need ‘nother drink…” the older man slurred.

“You’ve had enough.  The tavern’s closed,” his son complained.

“I’ll make them… open it…” he said as he pulled away only to stagger on his feet.  I rushed to aid the young man before his father’s head hit the pavement. 

“Prince Fredrik,” the young man gasped when he recognized me. 

“Prince… prince what?” the baker uttered before he fell unconscious.  I supported the elderly man’s limp arm while his son took the other.

“Thank you, your highness, I… I apologize for my father,” he colored.   “I think I can manage him now.”

Clearly he couldn’t for his father’s heavy body was too much for him to carry alone but he was too embarrassed to ask me.

“Let me help get him to bed,” I offered.

“Oh I couldn’t possibly…” he began but I shrugged it off.

“It’s no trouble, really.  Please let me help you.”

He hesitated but finally made a slight bow.  “I’m grateful, your highness.” 

We brought him to a small house not too far away.  We came through the kitchen door and I found the house spare but neat.  We brought the old man to bed and the younger man pulled a blanket over him.

“Please forgive my father, he isn’t usually like this.  He celebrated a little too much yesterday.  I can’t really blame him as he’s just happy I came home alive and I’m the only family he has left.”

“You’re a soldier?” I asked.

“Yes, Prince Fredrik.  I’m Lt. Andersen of her royal majesty’s navy,” he said with a polite bow.  “I had the honor of serving Queen Elsa as an escort during her journey through the Southern Isles to the coast of Weselton.”

I couldn’t believe my luck.  Here was a man who could tell me more on how my aunt and Admiral Westergard made it through the enemy lines to execute the vital part of their strategy that won them the war.

“A pleasure to meet you sir,” I told him as I shook his hand.  “Please, could you tell me about your journey with the Queen?  I haven’t had a chance to speak to my aunt yet and I’d like to know about your adventures.”

Lt. Andersen’s eyes twinkled with delight.  Like any soldier home from the war, he obviously wanted an audience for his stories.  “It would be an honor your highness.  But would you care for some tea and biscuits?”

I nodded and he set about setting a kettle to boil and put out cups and little platters.  We settled on the little table in their simple kitchen and once we were munching on the treats, his story unfolded…

It was a warm balmy night in Tastris and most of the sailors were on guard over the Queen as she met with the representatives of Gormund, Antalona, Maldinova, Glowerhaven and Condor under the cover of the Princess Melody’s birthday party.  I wondered why I wasn’t assigned to guard duty that evening but was instead ordered by my superior Captain Gulbrand to go to the Anna which was docked as far away as possible from the Alexandria where the Queen was. 

The Anna was still under repair and was deathly silent with its crew currently residing in our other ships.  But as I came onboard I found Kai waiting.

“Lt. Andersen,” he greeted.  “Please come with me.”

He led me to the Captain’s cabin which was also empty.  He closed the door and bade me sit on a chair while he took the opposite one.

“Lt. Andersen, what I am about to speak to you is of a most confidential nature.  Do you swear by your honor as a member of the Queen’s navy to never speak of it to anyone other than myself, the Queen and members of her immediate family?”

“I swear of course,” I replied.  “On my honor as Arendelle’s loyal soldier.”

“Good,” Kai replied.  “Let me ask you Lieutenant: What do you think of Captain Westergard?”

The question was put in so casually but I suspected I was being put to the test.  I am an honest man and I could only answer truthfully.  “He is a brave man, I must admit.  He’s skilled in battle, brilliant, charismatic—a leader among men,” I paused.  “But…”

“But what, Lieutenant?” asked Kai.  “You may speak freely without fear.  Nothing you say leaves this room.”

“But I don’t trust him,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because he tried to kill Queen Elsa once,” I answered.

“What makes you say so?” Kai asked. 

The question rather puzzled me and I offered no answer. 

Kai stared at me intently.  “Lieutenant, tell me truthfully what you think not what you think I want to hear.  No bad repercussions will come to you.  What makes you think Captain Westergard tried to kill Queen Elsa before?  Most of your peers don’t believe so.  They say it was just royal propaganda against him. ”

“It was not,” I insisted.  “I know he tried to kill her.”

“Why?”

“Because I saw her swing the sword at her sixteen years ago,” I said.  “I was eight years old and my family and I were trying to get to the castle for warmth when the snow storm took a turn for the worst.  I got separated from my family and I ended up walking on the frozen fjord.  Suddenly the storm cleared and I saw them.  She was crouched on the ground crying and while she wasn’t looking, he came at her with sword in hand.  The Princess Anna intervened and she became a frozen statue before he was blasted back.  But then she became human again and they hugged before the Queen thawed the ice.  I’ve tried to tell everyone what I saw then but no one believes me.”

Kai just nodded.  “And do you think Captain Westergard has truly changed since then?”

I sighed.  “I don’t really know.  I hope he did for Arendelle’s sake.  I mean we could use a leader like him in the military.  But if I have to choose between him and the Queen, I will have to be loyal to my sovereign first and the vow I made to her when I entered the service.  She’s been good to us and I will stand by her.”

“Thank you for telling me,” said Kai.  “Queen Elsa will be pleased to know she has your loyalty.  She sent me this evening to tell you that she chose you as one of the escorts that will accompany her and Captain Westergard on the journey through the Southern Isles to the coast of Weselton.  You will depart tomorrow at dawn.”

I was astonished.  I never thought to be singled out for such a task. 

“Surely you know that with your record, you are likely to be chosen for this.  You graduated at the top of your class.  I’ve heard that you are an excellent shot, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and good at the sword.   The Queen wanted the best to help her in this crucial undertaking.  The future of Arendelle may well depend on you.”

“You honor me Sir,” was my only response.  I was overwhelmed by the offer.

“It is settled then.  Your task is to protect the Queen when she makes her journey.  Do what you can to ensure she accomplishes her mission.  Then deliver her safely back to the fleet.”

“I will do my best Sir,” I said sincerely.

“Good,” replied Kai.  He stood up and I followed.  He stopped me with a hand on my arm.  “One last thing, Lieutenant: If anyone tries to hurt her, including Captain Westergard, Queen Elsa has given direct orders.” He paused and his eyes flashed with deadly seriousness. 

“Kill him.”

Chapter Text

It’s hard to imagine the mild-mannered Kai proclaim a death order for Admiral Westergard, but I knew him to be a man loyal to his duties he would follow them no matter how grisly they seemed.  And grisly though it may be, I understood my aunt’s motivations for protecting herself should the inevitable happened that her life be threatened.  I would have done the same. 

Lt. Andersen paused in his story.  “Forgive me Prince Fredrik, I couldn’t help it.  I have kept this secret for so long as I am forbidden to tell it to anyone.  As Kai clearly made you an exception, I hope you would not mind me telling it to you in full.”

“No, of course not,” I assured him.  “I am grateful for your openness and loyalty to my aunt.  I commend you for keeping her safe.  In time, should I come to the throne, I will be honored to have you as my guard as well.”

“Of course your highness,” he gave a polite bow and he looked extremely delighted at my praise.  “Nothing could please me better than to serve you.  Queen Elsa and Princess Anna have been so kind to my family.  I could not imagine serving any other family.”

“Thank you, Lt. Andersen.  Now, please do continue the story.”

The kettle whistled and the young soldier excused himself and served the tea.  But when he returned, he spoke again…

The loss of Princess Melody was all people talked about throughout Tastris the following day.  Even in our camp, the men were busy preparing the Lisbet, Hanne and Lovise for the search to recover the runaway girl.   Everyone was so focused on the rescue efforts that barely anyone noticed the simple carriage that departed at dawn from the castle gates.

Inside the carriage, Queen Elsa sat in a peasant dress over a plain woolen cloak with a hood to hide her distinctive platinum blond hair.  She wore sensible boots and had no jewels in plain sight though I knew she kept a purse hidden with enough gold to get us through the journey.   Captain Westergard too looked inauspicious in his workman’s outfit.  He could be a common farmer in his attire.  I myself wore peasant clothes and carried a matching rucksack with provisions.  But under my tattered coat I brought along a pistol and a knife—both of which I was ready to use at a moment’s notice.

There was a third man in our company, Ensign Finn Lorens—Captain Lorens’ own son whom I knew had sure loyalties with the crown and possessed an outstanding record in the military academy.  He wore the same plain clothing but when his cloak momentarily lifted I noticed he was just as armed as I was.  I didn’t speak to him of my covert mission and neither did he.  But we both knew we were set on the same task—the protection of the Queen at all costs.

We passed the first long hours sharing tales about our childhoods and exploits at sea.   Captain Westergard also told plenty of stories about his piracy days.   His tales were often hilarious that despite my orders, I couldn’t help but warm up to him.  The Queen at first tried to distance herself from him.   She spoke to him only when it was necessary and preferred to respond only to myself and Finn.  However, the Captain’s light-hearted jokes little by little drew her in.  By evening, she was laughing as hard as we were and began to participate in the conversations more by providing anecdotes of her own childhood.

On the third day, the four of us ran out of stories.  Unable to bear the silence, Queen Elsa fell to talking with Captain Westergard about the books they read.  They seem to have read a lot of the same books, most of which Finn and I never heard of.   We both tried to listen in but most of what they discussed was beyond our grasp.  And it was even more difficult to follow when they started spouting verses in French, English or Latin.  

We offered to play cards but both Queen Elsa and Captain Westergard didn’t seem to mind much of it as they preferred chess using a tiny board the Captain brought along.  Four days into the journey, our group was divided into pairs.  Finn and I spent time playing cards and talking of our families, while the Queen and the Captain played chess or debated over some book they read.  Their debates at times grew so heated that they became almost like full-blown arguments.  But at the end of it, they remained civil and still preferred each other’s company.

That was how our uneventful first week passed as we traversed the Tastris countryside southwards by land.  We kept to the provincial roads and stayed in small inns to avoid encountering people.  We knew that the Weselton fleet was still on the lookout for us and may have spies throughout the region.  We frequently changed carriages and once took to horseback to avoid detection.

Despite the hardness of the journey and the simplicity of the lodgings that we stayed in, Queen Elsa never complained.  She kept at pace with us that I found myself admiring her spirit.  I suspected that arguing with Captain Westergard and battling him on the chess board kept her mind occupied.

By the eight day, we reached the southern coast of Tastris where we needed to take a three-day journey by sea to the Southern Isles.  Captain Westergard and I went to the port for a ship that could take us while we left the Queen with Finn at an inn. 

Three hours into our search, we found no boat willing to sail through the usual shipping lines that led directly to our destination.  Apparently, the Weselton navy and their allies were still on the lookout for our fleet and took to harassing merchant ships for information.  The ship captains we encountered told us that Weselton forces usually searched decks and took cargo while interrogating any hapless crew that crossed their path.

“We can’t take a direct path to the western ports of the Southern Isles,” whispered Captain Westergard to me after we got rejected by a boat owner for what seemed like the twentieth time today.  “It’s too risky.  The alternative is to land at the eastern-most port.  It will take two additional days and we need to cross another waterway and take a longer trip by land but it will be safer.”

“Will we make it in time?” I asked.

“God-willing, yes.  But it’s not going to be easy traversing by land and we need to go through the capital which I was hoping to avoid.”

We resumed our search for a ship.  It was almost dark when we found a stout man in a dirty shirt and trousers cursing orders at the men that were loading barrels of fruit into a small ship that looked like it had seen better days.

“This could do,” Captain Westergard whispered.  “He’s going to the Southern Isles.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Accent,” replied Captain Westergard.  “And vocabulary.”

And before I knew it, Captain Westergard greeted the man heartily, his words peppered with the same colorful language.  I worried for a second that the man would be offended but he seemed to take it good naturedly.  I realized a minute later why.  The man’s mouth kept spouting such filthy language it was almost like every other sentence he said contained some vulgar word.

Captain Westergard introduced the man to me as Captain Trym and owner of the ship.  He grabbed my hand and shook it with his own filthy one.  I swallowed the urge to wince as he stared at me with his crinkled eyes and missing teeth.

“So what can I do you lads for?  I’m afraid I’m all loaded and I’ve already got a crew.  But if you’re looking for work, I have some friends who might need a hand.”

“Oh no, we don’t need work.  But we need a ship to take us home to the Southern Isles.”

“Well, I’m full up but if you make it worth my while,” he grinned suggestively.  Captain Westergard handed him a bag and the man opened it greedily.  I noticed the contents weren’t exactly generous but Captain Westergard eyed me to go with it.

Captain Tryn looked disappointed but nodded.  “I suppose if you don’t mind bunking in with the other boys.”

Captain Westergard looked uncomfortable which was odd because he always looked confident even in the worst circumstances.  “I… I was hoping if you can spare a cabin, for my wife.”

“Your wife?” Captain Tryn looked surprised and so was I.  What is Captain Westergard playing at?

“She’s coming along, with my brother.   My father’s really sick now and I just want to get the missis home to meet him before he passes.”

“I don’t know,” Captain Tryn said.  “A woman’s got no place on my ship.”

“Please,” Captain Westergard begged.   “She’s on the way—not quite far along yet—but it would really mean to her if she has a bit of privacy and comfort.”

Captain Tryn looked like he was still going to refuse.  Captain Westergard pulled out his pocketwatch and handed it to the man.

“Here, it’s all I’ve got left.  The plating is gold but you can have it, just let us have a cabin.”

The man bit the side of it with his teeth and then smiled at it satisfactorily.  “Ahhh, well then this will do.  And I’m a decent man, see.  I’ll give you all three square meals a day, even extra for the missis for her little passenger.”

“Thank you.  Thank you so much,” Captain Westergard replied. 

“Go fetch the missis then.  We sail in an hour.”

We bid him goodbye.  Once we were out of earshot, I turned to the Captain.  “Sir, with all due respect, what did you do that for?  We can pay him a generous enough amount we can probably get him to give up his own cabin.”

“I know that, but I don’t want to invite suspicion.  We need to look like we’re ordinary peasants.  Ordinary peasants do not carry enough gold to buy his entire cargo.  I know men like that.  If he suspects we have money he can rob us, or worse betray us to Weselton if he found out who we really are.”

“What about the Queen?” I asked.  “I don’t think she’d appreciate being ‘your wife’ during the length of our stay on this ship.”

“I need to improvise to keep her safe.  An unmarried woman travelling with three men not related to her is not only highly suspicious but could invite unwanted attention from a crew as seedy as this one.  Neither you nor Finn look enough like her to pass as her brother.  Certainly you’re both too young to be married to her.”

I have no answer for that for he was right. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to be spending nights in her cabin.  I’ll stay outside it. If anyone wonders why I’ll just tell them my harpy of a wife kicked me out.”

“She still won’t like it,” I said as I shook my head at him in a gesture of a half-warning.  “Shall I tell her?”

“No, I’ll do it,” Captain Westergard said seriously.  But then I caught him mumble under his breath:  “I look forward to it.”

I said nothing though I sensed he had something sly up his sleeve.

We returned to the inn and told our companions we found a ship before Captain Westergard pulled Queen Elsa aside to tell her the rest of the situation.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying but from the expression of indignation on the Queen’s face I can tell she wasn’t taking it well.

“What’s going on?” Finn asked.

I explained to him the backstory Captain Westergard provided to the ship captain. 

“You think she’s going to freeze him?” Finn asked as the Queen kept looking daggers at Captain Westergard.

“If she does, he deserves it.  I think he enjoys riling her up, the clever bastard,” I remarked as we watched the Captain barely contain his amused grin while he talked to her.

Finally, their conversation ended.  Queen Elsa was the epitome of cool aloofness when she faced us.  “Captain Westergard explained to me our cover and for the sake of safety I think we should stick to it.  It would probably be best as well not to refer to me by my title for the length of the journey and I shall do the same to all of you.”

“Of course your maj—” I began but the Queen gave me a warning look.  “I… I mean E-Elsa.” It felt uncomfortable calling her by her Christian name.

“Get used to it,” Captain Westergard warned.  “We can’t risk anyone arousing suspicion.  We play the part of poor peasants trying to get home.”

We gathered our rucksacks and walked to the port.   Captain Westergard and the Queen walked in front of us.  The Captain leaned over to her and whispered though I caught his words just the same.

“Oh by the way, Elsa,” he paused and emphasized at her name.  Clearly, he was already used to calling her without a title.  “I forgot to tell you: you’re also carrying my child.”

The Queen’s eyes bulged then her lips seethed into a thin line.  She opened her mouth to say something but closed it quickly as she seemed to think better of it.  “I get it,” she whispered back through clenched teeth.  “There’s nothing like a pregnant woman to discourage manly lust among the crew.”

“Exactly,” he replied teasingly.  “I knew you’d see it my way, wife.”

“Call me that again, and I’ll be a widow a lot sooner,” she hissed.

He just laughed.  “That’s the spirit.  You’re getting into the role already.”

If the Queen replied, I failed to hear it but her glare spoke enough.

Finn and I looked at each other.  At the rate they were going, we probably won’t need to kill Captain Westergard.  The Queen would most likely do it herself. 

This was going to be an interesting journey.

Chapter Text

Lt. Andersen stopped speaking to refill our cups with tea and to bring another batch of biscuits.

“These are really good Lieutenant,” I praised as I took another piece.  “You must ask your father to bring some to the castle.  I’m sure Mama and my aunt would love these.”

“Thank you, Prince Fredrik.  I’m glad you liked them.  It’s my Papa’s latest recipe.”   He took another biscuit himself and bit on it heartily.   “Princess Anna has been a patron of my father’s bakeshop for years.  Papa always brings a batch of fresh bread every morning to the castle.  I’m sure I can have a box of these sent in tomorrow when he makes the delivery.”

“So it’s your bread we always have at home?” I exclaimed.

He nodded.  “I guess so.  Papa never misses a delivery and he’s been doing it for more than ten years.”

“I always thought they were made by our kitchen staff,”   I said.  It’s odd that I’ve only known about this now.  I really should go out into the village more like my mother and mingle with the common people.  Aunt Elsa said it was important to cultivate a sense of solidarity with our own subjects.

“Princess Anna’s patronage got us through some rough times, especially after my mother passed,” the young man continued.  “Your mother personally came to her funeral.   I was just slightly older than you then.   You may not remember this, Prince Fredrik, but she let me play with you as an infant while she spoke to Papa that day and comforted him.   Then she came over to me and held me like I was her own and told me I could be anything I wanted.  Princess Anna helped me get into the military by supporting for my education and I got what I wished for.  I’m grateful for that and I told myself I will always protect her and those she loved.”

I knew my mother led several charitable works in the kingdom but I never really thought much of it.  In truth, I tended to admire my aunt more for her work seemed so much more important.   I realized now that much of what my mother did affected people as well.  Her kindness was what brought the loyalty of the peasants on our side—something that I essentially need in case anyone would try to usurp my aunt’s rule.   I made a mental note of continuing these works. 

I felt like I could trust Lt. Andersen with at least some of my apprehensions.  “Lieutenant, can I ask you something?  I hope you won’t tell anyone—even my aunt or my mother I said it.”

“Of course your highness,” he replied seriously.  “I would never betray your confidence.

“You were with my aunt and Admiral Westergard during the whole trip to Weselton.  Did he… did he try to… er… seduce… her?”  The last words I said were in a whisper.

“It’s alright, Prince Fredrik,” he assured me.  “The same thing was running through my mind.  I’m sure Finn also had the same worries, especially when the Queen needed to play the Admiral’s wife.  We both knew he could easily take advantage of her because she was in such a vulnerable position surrounded by unknown men in such close quarters.  And so we kept an eye on him, along with every single man on the ship.  But it turned out he wanted something else from her…”

Finn and I must have felt exactly like Castor and Pollux did when they faced the scores of suitors of their sister Helen in the court of Sparta.  When Queen Elsa stepped up the gangplank to board the ship, I was aware of the gazes of the men on her.  Her plain clothing and hood did little to hide the fact that she was a beautiful woman.   The men greeted her courteously and even Captain Trym uttered a polite welcome to her without a single vulgar word.  Still, their eyes told me of their desires and I felt a swell of protectiveness for her.

Captain Westergard was well-aware of the attention and took Queen Elsa’s elbow to guide her.  She seemed to freeze at his touch but a look from him told her not to shrug him off.  His simple gesture was meant as a warning to all the other men—she was his and was off-limits. 

The cabin provided for her was small and spare with just a bed, a table and a chair.  There was a small privy adjoining it but even that was not up to standards of comfort.  It was, however, enough to keep her from prying eyes.  The moment we were inside the cabin, the Queen shook Captain Westergard’s hand off her arm as if he was infected with some disease.

“You are not staying here with me tonight,” she told him in just above a whisper though her voice had a clear edge to it.

“I wasn’t going to,” he replied back in the same soft tone.  He said something else to her in what seemed like French which made her angry.  They shot at each other back and forth in a clear argument in the same foreign language for several minutes.  They were both seemed oblivious to the presence of Finn and myself in the room.

“Fine!” I caught Captain Westergard finally utter something I understood.  “But I suggest you keep to this cabin tonight.  Don’t leave unless necessary and make sure one of us is close by at all times.”

“I’m not that stupid Hans,” she spat.  “Now get out!”

“Glad to, your majesty!” he replied hotly before he walked out the door while the Queen faced the wall with her arms crossed on her chest.

Finn and I left her to give her privacy to cool down.

“You know,” I told Finn when we were alone outside her cabin.  “If he’s trying to seduce her, he’s not doing a very good job.  And I thought he had a reputation for being irresistible to women.”

“Queen Elsa’s no ordinary woman,” Finn replied.  “She’s the queen of ice after all.  She just might be immune to his charms.”

Throughout the night and for the next two days, Queen Elsa didn’t even leave her cabin.  Captain Westergard didn’t try to talk to her.  But at night, he slept outside her door and kept away from his watch only if he knew Finn and I were around.

I can tell the Queen was restless as I heard her pacing for hours in her cabin.  It must be stifling to be in that little room with no windows and nothing to do.   Finn and I tried to keep her company when we brought her meals but she seemed to lose interest in much of our conversations after a few minutes. 

When I had my time off watching her, I wandered around the ship and savored the fresh sea air that I’ve missed so much.  The seas were calm and the summer winds were blowing on our side.  We were making good time without a hitch towards our destination.   

I avoided the crew though I listened in to their conversations on the sly.   I heard them talking about Queen Elsa often.    Word of how she kept “her husband” away at night become gossip fodder for the bored men.   One time I caught a group of them making indecent wagers on her that I almost took action to strike at them to defend her honor.   But Captain Westergard was by my side immediately and held me back.

“Don’t,” he whispered.  “Men like to talk, but they won’t do anything.  Not with me here and you two on guard.  But we can’t start anything that can bring attention to us.”  I noticed though his face possessed the same hunger to do damage to the men that spoke of her in such a manner.   

On the morning of the third day, Queen Elsa’s door cracked open on its own before we can knock to bring her breakfast.  Captain Westergard was sleeping against her door and was awoken at the movement.  

She peered down at him and uttered one word:

“Chess?”

“I’ll set up the board,” he replied.

And just like that, they were back to their familiar game while they talked of books.  Finn and I never left them alone together but neither one of us heard them refer to their previous argument.  They appeared to have a silent agreement to pretend it didn’t happen.

We all supped together that night in her cabin and it felt like the first few days of our journey as we shared light-hearted jokes and stories until late at night.   It was almost midnight when Queen Elsa expressed a desire to get some fresh sea air for once.  Captain Westergard pronounced that a stroll in the upper decks might be alright.  He observed most of the crew was either below deck or sleeping during the late hours so she was not likely to encounter anyone.  Finn and I immediately volunteered to escort her.

“I’ll come with you,” Captain Westergard declared.  “You should both rest,” he told us.  “We arrive at the port at dawn tomorrow and we have a long journey ahead.”

The Queen hesitated but the Captain gave her a look that almost seemed like a challenge. “Hans can escort me for the evening.  Please do get some rest,” she told us.

We can do nothing but obey her.  But five minutes after they left, Finn and I decided to follow them.  We split up and took opposite directions.   He went fore, I went aft.

I was the fortunate one to find them in a secluded part of the poop deck partly hidden by crates.  They stood by the ship’s railing and stared at the sparkling seas below the cloudless sky that sparkled with stars.  I sat behind a barrel where I can hear their conversation without being seen.  The Queen stood a little apart from the Captain as she savored the breeze.

“Still scared of me?” Captain Westergard said to her in a teasing manner.

“What are you talking about?  I trust you,” she said.  “You said it yourself: you need me to win this war.”

“Yes, that’s why you have Lorens and Andersen trailing me every second with a kill order if I make the wrong move.”

Were we that obvious? I asked myself.  I really should be more subtle.

“What makes you think that?” she asked.  Her question sounded so innocent that I would have believed her if I didn’t know she was feigning ignorance. 

“I’m not buying it, Elsa.  You’re a clever woman.  I bet Kai already has my death warrant with your signature.  Don’t worry, I’m not upset.  If our roles were reversed, I would have a kill order for you too.”

The Queen said nothing and the Captain continued.

“It’s alright Elsa.  Keep my death warrant if it makes you feel better.”

“Is this what you want to talk to me about?” she asked evenly.  “I mean there is a reason why you asked to speak alone with me.”

He shrugged.  “Not really.  I just wanted your company for once without those two breathing down my neck.  Besides, I think they could use a break from guarding you from the twenty-six lecherous men on this ship.”

“Twenty-seven,” Queen Elsa corrected.  “You forgot to include yourself.”

He pouted.  “I guess I deserved that,” he said somberly. “I do apologize if I made you uncomfortable.  I promise I won’t make jokes about being intimate with you again.”

“You better,” she cautioned.  “And next time, consult me first before you make a cover story.”

“Okay, I’m sorry for that as well.”  He gave her a contrite expression but the Queen kept her icy demeanor.  “You do have my highest respect and I’m not going to take advantage of you.”

“Why should I believe you?  You took advantage of my sister once.”

“I regret doing that and I apologize for it.”

“It’s not me you should apologize to,” she said harshly. 

“I know,” he said.  “I did try but Anna never accepted it.” 

“And she won’t.  There are some things an apology can never undo.  You did the worst possible thing you could: You broke her heart and even I can’t forgive you for that.”

A long awkward silence filled the air between them but then Captain Westergard spoke again in barely a whisper.

“It’s not the worst.  I can think of an even more deplorable thing I could have done.”

“And what is that?” she asked without looking at him.

“It could have been your heart I broke.”

She stared at him for a long moment as if unsure what to say.  But then she laughed as if she wanted to make light of his words though her forced manner was quite obvious.  “That would never have happened.”

“Why so?”

“Even if I didn’t know what your motives were then, had you courted me instead of Anna, I wouldn’t have considered you at all. I was engaged to Eric then.”

He huffed.  “It’s an arranged marriage, Elsa.  I’m sure you would have balked at marrying someone you didn’t love.” 

“You presume too much, Hans.” Her voice somehow lost its stern edge despite the warning. 

“Oh really? Why do you say that?”

“I wasn’t averse to the idea of marrying Eric.”

“Oh please,” he mocked.  “You can’t possibly have been in love with him.”

The Queen turned away and I saw her cheeks turned red.  Captain Westergard saw it as well.  He looked guilty as he seemed to realize he went too far with the jest.

“I—I’m sorry,” began the Captain.  “I didn’t realize…”

She kept her back to him and said nothing.

“He broke your heart,” he said, the astonishment was evident in his voice. 

I was just as surprised as the Captain.  When news of King Eric’s rejection of Queen Elsa spread to Arendelle years ago, everyone said how cool and collected she seemed.  People said she almost looked relieved that she got out of the marriage pact.  No one suspected that she even had the slightest bit of feelings for him.

She said nothing and he turned away.  “I’m sorry.  It’s not my place to pry.  If you don’t want me to—”

He seemed about to leave the subject off but she stopped him when she spoke. “I thought I was in love with him.”

“But you’ve never even met him until last week,” Captain Westergard said.  “How could you possibly be in love him?”

She shook her head.  “It’s stupid, alright.  It’s just a girlish fantasy… Forget it, you’ll laugh.”

“I’m not laughing,” he said seriously.  “There’s nothing wrong with a fantasy.  We all have it.”

She bit her lip and seemed to ponder what he said.  “Maybe I don’t really know what love is, at least not the romantic kind.  But it felt real enough.  It certainly hurt at that time,” she smiled sadly.  “Since I was eight years old, I was told I was going to marry him.  I couldn’t conceive of marrying any other man.  We wrote to each other for years and I did enjoy receiving his letters.  I suppose I conditioned myself to fall in love with him.  By the time I was crowned I already convinced myself I was in love with him.  I was even looking forward to marrying him.”

“And you would have rejected any other suitor that came your way,” Captain Westergard finished for her.  “Between your sense of duty and your love for Prince Eric, I never really had a chance with you, did I?”

The Queen faced him with a rather sarcastic smirk then answered without hesitation: “No, you never did.”

He laughed though there was no mirth in it.  “Ahhh… I figured as much.”

They were silent again and I could sense the tension in the air on this rather delicate issue.  Finally the Queen broke it with a firm and steady voice.

“Hans, just so we’re clear.  You still don’t.”  She gave him a steady look that she meant every word as a warning.  I silently applauded her for directly rebuffing him. 

“I know that,” he said solemnly.  “And I’m not even going to try.”

She looked rather surprised by his blunt answer.  Perhaps she didn’t expect him to be so open to discussing it. “And why not?” she challenged.  “Are you telling me you no longer want to be king?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t want to.  Not anymore.”

“Why not?”

He appeared to contemplate the question for a while before he uttered: “Tell me something, Elsa.  Now that you’ve met the love of your life in the flesh, are you still in love with Eric?”

She raised an eyebrow at him.  “What has my love life got to do with your ambitions?” she asked.

“Just answer the question. I promise I’m getting to a point here.  Are you still in love with him?”

She hesitated but shook her head.  “No.  He didn’t turn out as I thought he would be.  He seemed a lot better on paper than in person.”

“Well it’s the same for me,” said Captain Westergard.  “Just like you, I had some misguided notions of what I wanted when I was younger.  I was brought up to believe my life would only be significant if I can rule.  The kingship was like a prize they dangled on to me as the only goal worth pursuing.  I tried to obtain that the only way I knew how and failed miserably.  You can say that’s my broken heart.”

“It’s not the same,” the Queen said.

“Of course it is,” he argued.  “We both learned lessons the hard way—through bitter disappointments.  But then I moved on from there—as you did from your err… Prince-who-turned-out-to-be-not-so-Charming…”

The Queen glared at him but he just continued.

“As I told you before, when I came back to Arendelle and made a career in your navy I realized I didn’t have to be king to be useful.  I’ve always loved the sea and I found that I would rather frequent a ship than on land—something I would give up if I ruled as a monarch. Not to mention doing paperwork is incredibly dull.”

“Do you expect me to believe you would rather give up the attainment of a position of power and the glory that comes with it to be a lowly sailor in my navy?” Queen Elsa asked bitingly.

“Ahhh, I didn’t say I didn’t want power.  I still do.  If there’s one good thing my previous experience of taking over Arendelle during your brief ice crisis taught me is that power is a valuable thing and that I want to have it for the rest of my life.”

I was taken aback by his admission and so did Queen Elsa.  I was aware that the air suddenly went very cold.  Instinctively, my hand reached out for the pistol on my side.

“I’m not going to give it to you,” Queen Elsa declared.

“I haven’t told you how I want it.”

“You don’t have to.”  She stepped closer to him until they were face to face and her intense gaze met his.  “I will Never. Marry. You.”  She spoke each word with emphasis.

He stared back at her with the same intensity. “I’m not asking you to marry me.  I told you before I don’t want to be your king.”

“Then what do you want?”

“To be admiral of your navy.”

It took me a moment for his words to sink in.  When it did, I was astonished at his audacity.  Queen Elsa recovered first and shook her head. 

“The admiralship is a vital position I do not give lightly to just anybody.   As head of Arendelle’s military you don’t even need to marry into the royal family.  You can seize the throne by force.  What makes you think I will give you that advantage?”

She was right.  The French Revolution taught us that monarchies do not necessarily last forever.  A military leader can overthrow a king or queen and replace their own rule though sheer force.

“Nothing escapes you, Elsa.  I admire that about you.  And you’re right giving me that power is a dangerous thing.  But think about this: I already told you how I value the people of Arendelle as my own.  They are the only ones that will have me in this world and this is the only place I will ever have.  I may want power, but I’m also a pragmatic man.  Despite your rather frightening special abilities, you’re no Marie Antoinette that mobs will want your death.  The people of Arendelle love you and your family.  Should I strike against you, I will contend with a nation divided between us.  No,” he shook his head.  “I pick my battles.  I’m not going to plunge Arendelle into a war against you so I can rule a ravaged country.  I would rather work alongside you and share power than fight you head on.”

“Are you telling me you are willing to let me rule while you will just be content to play on the sidelines as my admiral?”

“Of course I will let you rule.  I will support your reign with my life.  Being an admiral though doesn’t put me on the sidelines.  I command your military, I advise you on foreign policy. In effect I have power—not absolute of course—but it will be enough for me.   Besides, I get to remain at sea for the most part.  It’s something I’ve always loved that I realized should I become king, I would have to give up.  Besides, we both know, I’m the best person for this job.  So what do you say?”

She was silent for a long moment, but then she turned to face him.  “If this plan of yours succeeds and we win this war, I’ll consider it.”

He smiled at her.  “Thank you, Elsa.”

“Good, but if you ever commit any act against me, my family or Arendelle…”

“I know,” he replied.  “My death warrant’s already signed.  In fact, one of your loyal men is behind that barrel most likely with a gun at my head right now.”

My heart pounded.  How did he know?

The Queen too looked astonished. 

 “They’re Arendelle’s finest,” he explained.  “You didn’t think they would just leave me alone with you?”

I was caught red-handed and I knew it.  Should I just come out and reveal myself? 

The decision was made for me when Finn came barreling up the poop deck.

“A ship’s coming our way!” he called out.  I poked my head out in full of view of the two people I was spying on but I no longer cared.  There were men coming up the deck excitedly as someone from the crow’s nest bellowed:

“Surprise inspection!”

My heart hammered.  Was it from Weselton?  It couldn’t be.  We were too far from their territory and just four hours away from the port of the Southern Isles.

Captain Westergard ran down the deck and went to speak to the men at the fore.  I followed after him and dodged the men who were coming up the deck at an alarming rate.  They were hurriedly arranging casks and crates. 

“What is it?” I asked one of the men who was pushing a crate behind a secret compartment on the deck. 

“Southern Isles coast guard,” replied the man impatiently.  “They do surprise inspections lately to ensure there are no pirates encroaching on the territory and nothing illegal is onboard.  Our shipment’s legit, but we don’t want additional tariffs on some of the extra goods we’re bringing so we need to hide these.”

The man went off on his work and I heard Captain Trym barking orders to hide some of the other crates.

”Which one is it?” Captain Trym bellowed to the man in the crow’s nest.

“The Lady Hyacinth!” shouted the man from above.

“Damn royal navy ship!” cursed foul-mouthed captain.   “Hey skipper, better ready that cask of Tastris rum.  We might have to bribe this one, just in case.”  His gaze turned to myself and Captain Westergard and he stared at us in alarm.

“You lads are not in some kind of trouble with the Southern Isles are you?”

“Of course not,” Captain Westergard replied.  “We’re just citizens on our way home.”

“Good,” Captain Trym said. “I don’t want any trouble on my ship.  It’s bad enough I need to hide this load.  You keep your traps shut about the cargo, are we clear?”

“Of course Sir,” Captain Westergard replied humbly.  “We’ll get out of your way.” 

“Yeah, you do that,” replied Captain Trym.  “And go hide that pretty wife of yours while you’re at it.  The captain of the Hyacinth’s a bit of a rouge.  Don’t want him charming her from you,” he laughed.

“I’ll do that,” Captain Westergard replied. 

We wordlessly walked back to cabin where the Queen was waiting with Finn. 

“We have to get out of this ship now,” Captain Westergard said urgently as soon as he closed the door.

“Why?” I asked.  “It’s a Southern Isles navy ship.  It’s not from Weselton.”

“We’re still in danger of being recognized.  The captain of that ship knows me.  One look at me and he’ll put two and two together and recognize the Queen.”

“You haven’t been in the Southern Isles for a long time Hans,” Queen Elsa reasoned.  “Maybe he won’t remember you.”

“Oh he will,” assured Captain Westergard.  “He’s not going to forget me.  We have history together.”

“What kind of history?” the Queen asked.

He sighed.  “The worst kind.  He’s my brother.”

Chapter Text

“His brother?” I asked Lt. Andersen.  “You mean the Captain of the Hyacinth is a prince of the Southern Isles?”

“Yes,” replied Lt. Andersen, excitedly.  He was a rather animated story-teller and used large gestures around his little kitchen while he relayed his tale. “According to Admiral Westergard he was brother number eight: Prince Reidar who was assigned as a Captain and head of the Southern Isles coast guard.  Admiral Westergard emphasized it was essential he didn’t see us.”

“So what did you do, hid out in a crate somewhere during the inspection?” I asked.  I could picture them—four fugitives pressed against some tiny space, holding their breaths while the Southern Isles coast guard searched the ship.  

Lt. Andersen laughed.  “It was a lot more dramatic than that, Prince Fredrik.”  He paused as if holding onto some juicy secret. 

I placed my elbows on top of the table while my knuckles cradled my chin as I stared at him intently.  “Tell me,” I begged.

He smiled and continued…

“Your brother?” Queen Elsa asked.  “Well maybe we can talk to him.  We can negotiate some form of an alliance. Perhaps he can even bring us closer to Weselton without us needing to go through the kingdom in secret.”

Captain Westergard shook his head.  “I wouldn’t advise that.  Reidar is probably the sleaziest of my brothers who will milk anyone to gain for himself.  Unfortunately, he’s also incredibly thorough.  Trust me Captain Trym is going to need more than a cask of Tastris rum to get off paying extra tariffs on his cargo because Reidar will certainly pressure him.  If he finds out who you are your majesty, you can be certain he will use it to further his advances.”

“Maybe we can offer him something he wants.  Is it money?  A trade concession? I’m sure there’s something.  Every man has a price.”

Captain Westergard stared at her for a moment but shook his head.  “Yes, I’m sure he does but it’s not something you’ll be willing to pay.”

“What is it?” the Queen insisted.

He bit his lip uncomfortably as his gaze trailed over the Queen.  It was clear what it was and Queen Elsa looked horrified. My blood ran cold at the thought.

“His ambition is probably only eclipsed by his desire for sexual conquests,” explained Captain Westergard.  “He likes the challenge of untouched women.  As the unmarried and rumored to be unreachable snow queen you’re at the top of his list.  He told me so when I was in prison after you sent me back sixteen years ago.  He blamed me for losing his chance to court you after I failed.  I still have scars on my back as a souvenir from him for that offense.”

“What do we do then?” Queen Elsa asked. 

“As I said, get off this ship, now.”  He turned to me and Finn.  “Get packing, just the essentials.   Leave anything heavy but make sure you don’t leave a trace of who we really are.”

Finn and I bid as he did and I knew immediately what he planned but apparently the Queen did not.

“Get off where?” she asked.  “We’re in the middle of the sea.”

He didn’t answer as he was busy filling his own rucksack with the small items of the room.

Our cabin fortunately was located near the aft section below the poop deck.  All the activity was concentrated in the upper decks or in the cargo holds.  We were quite alone when we emerged from the cabin.    

Captain Westergard tossed his rucksack filled with some clothes and his precious chessboard overboard.  It produced a loud splash but the noise of the moving crates from the men above hid it enough.

“What are you doing?” Queen Elsa demanded as the rucksack disappeared into the inky darkness of the waters. 

“It would have weighed us down,” Captain Westergard said matter-of-factly.  “I can’t let you create an ice boat until we can be at a good a distance away from this ship and the Hyacinth or we’ll be seen.   Ice in the middle of summer in the Southern Isles isn’t exactly normal.  We’ll give it about 15 to 20 minutes.  Think you can tread that long?”

“Oh no!” the Queen gasped as she realized what exactly we were going to do.

Captain Westergard stared at her with equal surprise.  “You can’t swim, can you?”

She shook her head.  “I didn’t need to learn how.  I can always freeze water.”

Footsteps were moving near us.  We knew any second we could be discovered. 

“Lorens go!” Captain Westergard ordered.  Finn jumped without hesitation.

Captain Westergard handed me a small bag that was quite heavy.  “Save as much gold as you can but drop it if you need to,” he said to me before turning back to the Queen. 

“Hold your breath, Elsa and try not to scream.” Before she could make a reply, he scooped the Queen in his arms, and jumped into the water with her.

I jumped in after them.  The cool waters of night sent my blood pulsing, but I ignored it and pushed myself above the waves.  The purse I carried was too heavy and was weighing me down. I let several coins fall but I kept hold of most of it.  My head finally came above water and everything was dark save for the distance lights of the ship above me.  It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.   Finn found me and we both looked around for our other two companions.

“You could have warned me,” the Queen hissed angrily in the dark.

I saw the faint trace of her.  She clutched tightly at Captain Westergard while she coughed and spitted water.

“Alright, I’m sorry but we can argue later,” he replied irritably.  “Right now you need to do your ice thing and make something that floats for you to hold on to besides my neck before we both drown.”

I felt a sudden gust of cold on the water and I saw the Queen created a tiny piece of flat ice that allowed her to grab on it.   She offered to unburden us with some of our baggage and Finn and I surrendered our purses of gold coins that she placed on top of her ice platform.  She created an ice box for them for safekeeping.  

We silently treaded water away from the ship for several minutes until it was just a spec in the distance.  When we were left in total darkness, it was only then that Captain Westergard asked the Queen to create an ice rowboat for us.   

Our little ice boat gave us respite from swimming but it wasn’t the most comfortable of accommodations. As it was made of pure ice, it was incredibly cold and even more so as we were completely wet.  For several hours we used it to row our way towards the port of the Southern Isles.  Every now and then, when each of us men couldn’t stand the cold we opted to jump back into the water for a swim.   The water was warm enough by comparison.

The first rays of dawn were rising over the horizon when we finally sighted land.  Captain Westergard directed us to a beach a short of distance away from the main port.  He had the Queen disintegrate our boat and made us swim the last few paces to ensure no one would see our rather odd transport.  I’ve never felt more grateful than when I touched warm sand on my fingers.  We all collapsed on the ground from exhaustion and remained there unmoving for a long time. 

I must have fallen asleep for when I opened my eyes, the sun was shining brightly above me.  A childish voice was the first thing my ears picked up.   I looked up and saw a little girl with dark hair braided into two pigtails.

“He’s awake, Mama,” the girl said.

“Good, check the other one,” I heard a woman’s voice reply. 

The child moved away.  She stopped by Finn who lay asleep a few feet from me.  He slowly got up and shielded his eyes from the blinding sunlight.  He sneezed twice which got him fully awake.

My body felt like lead and the warm sand and the bright sunshine was so comfortable I didn’t want to get up.  But I forced myself to sit and assess the situation.  I saw a woman in a plain peasant’s dress hover over Captain Westergard’s unconscious form.  She had dark hair tied in a bun and sun-kissed skin that made her dark eyes sparkle in comparison.  She looked like a curious nymph as she brushed a few strands of the Captain’s hair away from his face.  She gave a sudden gasp and I watched her expression turn from surprise to delighted pleasure.  She brushed the wisps of his hair further in an almost tender way.

“Captain?” she called out to him.

I was alarmed.  Who was this woman and how did she know his rank?

“Elsa?” Captain Westergard moaned audibly.  He opened his eyes and as soon as he saw the woman’s face he shot up frantically to search for the Queen.

“It’s alright,” the strange woman replied in a calm voice as she put a hand on his chest.  “Her majesty’s fine.   She moved slightly to the side and I saw the Queen sitting up on the sand, her eyes heavy with sleep but otherwise normal as the woman said.   

I got up and ran to Queen Elsa to assist her.

“She called me by my name,” Queen Elsa whispered.  The fear in voice was evident.  “Who is she is?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.  “But she seems to know Captain Westergard as well.”

“Have we met?” Captain Westergard asked the woman. 

“Not here,” she whispered.  “It’s not safe.  Come with me.”           

My companions and I shot each other knowing gazes bearing the silent question on whether we ought to trust this woman.

“It’s alright,” she replied.  “Queen Constanza sent me a message you were coming.”

The mention of the Queen of Glowerhaven assured us enough to follow her and the little girl.  They led us to a small cottage not far away surrounded by palm trees that swayed in the sea breeze.  The cottage was simple but had distinct domestic warmth to it with its little lace curtains, vases with flowers on its windowsills and a few childish drawings tacked to one wall.  A few scrubbed pots and pans hung neatly from the ceiling in the tiny kitchen while on the humble table was a bucket full of fresh fish, ready to be gutted and cooked.

“Please have a seat,” the woman offered.  “Let me get you something to eat.”

I realized I was starving and so were my companions.  None of us protested when we were offered hot fish soup and bread. 

“Thank you,” Queen Elsa said graciously.  “May I know to whom we owe the pleasure of our company?”

“My name is Viscaria,” the woman replied and this,” she held the little girl affectionately, “Is my daughter Violetta.  I was once a citizen of Glowerhaven but we’re living here as refugees.  We long for the day when Queen Constanza takes back our kingdom and makes it safe again for us to come home.  There are many of us here and word reached me just yesterday that the Queen of Arendelle is traveling through the Southern Isles in a mission to defeat the Weselton navy.  Queen Constanza sent orders to help you.  I’ve been scouring the ports since yesterday to see if you’ve arrived.   There was talk from the sailors this morning about three men and a woman that boarded a merchant ship but mysteriously disappeared last night when the royal navy came to inspect it.  I assumed that was you.”

“Yes,” Captain Westergard replied.  “We had to jump ship when the Hyacinth came for an inspection.  Have people discerned who we are?”

She shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  The people in the docks just thought you might be ghosts or somehow stowed away on the Hyacinth when no one was looking.  Your identities are safe for now.  It was most fortunate that my daughter found her majesty first.”

“Her hair is so soft Mama,” little Violetta said as she approached the Queen and touched her hair with clear fascination.  Queen Elsa smiled at the girl and allowed her to play with her locks. 

“The moment Violetta said there was a woman unconscious on the beach with white hair, I knew who you were,” continued Viscaria.  “But I didn’t know you were also on this mission Captain.  It’s fortunate that I’ve finally met you again so I can at least know your name.”

“How do you know me?” Captain Westergard asked.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” she said.  “I suppose you wouldn’t.  But I can’t forget your face.”  She paused to hide an evident blush and continued without looking at the Captain.  “You were the first person I saw that gave me hope again to live.”

“I don’t understand,” the Captain said.

“The Nasturtium, I was onboard it,” she replied.

A light of recognition crossed Captain Westergard’s face but the rest of us were puzzled.

“The Nasturtium was a slaver ship I encountered four years ago,” Captain Westergard explained.  “I found it under the most deplorable conditions.  The slaves were chained up in the cargo holds sick and dying and with so little food given to them.” He looked at Viscaria.  “You’re the girl I carried out.”

She nodded.  “You brought me to your ship.  You nursed my wounds and fed me soup.  You told me I was safe and that I can make a life.  I told you I wanted to die.  But you said I need to live for my baby.  And you were right.  I got off at the coast of the Southern Isles with some of the other slaves.  I gave birth to Violetta here and we’ve made a good enough living.  One day though we will be able to go home when Queen Constanza gets back what is rightfully ours.  I’m going to help her do that by helping you.”

“We are grateful for your help,” replied Queen Elsa.  “I suppose you already know me.  These are my men, Lieutenant Peter Andersen, Ensign Finn Lorens and you’ve met Captain Hans Westergard.”

“Westergard?” Viscaria asked with clear surprise.  “King Sigurd’s last name is Westergard?”

Captain Westergard smiled sheepishly.  “He’s my brother.  It’s… a long story.”

Finn sneezed twice followed by a wheezing cough that caught all our attention.

“And you have plenty of time to tell me,” Viscaria said.  “Because you’re staying for some rest.” She moved towards Finn and felt his forehead.  “He needs it especially with that nasty cold and he may be coming down with a fever.”

We did as she bid us and stayed for two nights in their cottage to allow Finn to recover.  Viscaria was a pleasant hostess.  She kept Finn under warm blankets and fed him warm soup and plenty of liquids.  She was generally pleasant to everyone.  But it was Violetta that Queen Elsa really warmed up to.  Often, I found them playing together with little snowballs or frozen teacups.  

Captain Westergard, on the other hand, fell with Viscaria’s company.  They talked as he helped out with her chores.  It was obvious the woman was attracted to the Captain and he certainly did nothing to ward off her advances.  On our last evening, none of us—including the Queen—were surprised when Captain Westergard spent the night in our hostess’ room.

He mentioned nothing about it the next day when we left on horses we purchased for the journey.   They gave each other no longing gazes or tender embraces.  Only a hint of a sad smile from Viscaria that told me Captain Westergard left her a satisfied woman for one night which was unlikely to happen again.   

Much like we did at Tastris, we travelled through the lonely country roads for the next few days without incident.  On instruction from Viscaria, we stopped by at the houses of her friends—Glowerhaven refugees who welcomed us warmly and provided us safe places to rest and purchase provisions.   Our gold was reduced when we lost some of it jumping ship but it was still considerable enough to support us the rest of the journey.

By the fifth day we left the last of the Glowerhaven safe houses Viscaria told us about.  We were on our own and Captain Westergard said this was the part of the journey that would be most challenging.  There was nothing ahead but long stretches of woods, rocky hills and a wide river we needed to cross.

Travel was rough and more so when it rained which happened thrice.  Queen Elsa made us ice shelters when it did and tried to ease our path by making bridges over muddy fields.  There was one particularly nasty torrential rainstorm that caused even Queen Elsa’s ice shelter to collapse.  We just crossed the wide river and set up camp on the western bank when the river overflowed into our ice lodge.  Queen Elsa tried to freeze much of it which was probably the only thing that saved our lives from the raging floodwaters.  We all ended up drenched in mud from head to foot just the same.  When the storm passed, we all took a dip in the river to wash it off. 

Queen Elsa could create her own clothes at will and she transformed her peasant dress into her familiar blue and silver ice gown.  We all stared at her in our sopping wet clothes with envy.  We would be sleeping cold and wet tonight.

“I can create clothes for you,” she offered.  “You’ll be more comfortable.”

“Now why didn’t we think of that,” replied Captain Westergard eagerly.  “Will you do mine first?”

“Alright,” she smiled.  “Stand still.”

He did as she bid.  She stared at him for a moment as if she was deciding what to make.  Then she weaved her hands around him and his stained jacket and pants were transformed into an impressive pair of navy blue decorated breaches, a loose-fitting white shirt and a sash with the same shade as her ice dress.

Captain Westergard stared down at his new clothes with clear admiration.  “You have talent here, your majesty.  Ever thought of creating a line called ‘Queen Elsa’s Couture?’  Though I think you may be a little transfixed on the style of a certain King of Tastris.”

The Queen blushed and I knew what the Captain meant.  The clothes did remind me of King Eric’s outfits—down to the wide V-neck of the shirt that showed an ample part of Captain Westergard’s chest.

The Captain’s teasing expression though disappeared and his breath hitched.  I saw panic in his eyes for a moment before he began stripping as fast as he could in front of a rather shocked Queen Elsa.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” she demanded.

He didn’t answer.  When he was down to his underwear, he ran to hide behind a bush before tossing out his remaining garment away.

“Hans!” Queen Elsa cried indignantly. 

“Sorry your majesty,” Captain Westergard replied from behind the bush.  “It’s either I lose my dignity or die from frostbite.”

Queen Elsa’s mouth fell open in surprise then she began roaring with laughter.  Finn and I also realized what he meant.  We laughed until our bellies ached.

“Uhhhmm… I don’t mean to interrupt your amusement but it’s really cold and I could use some clothes,” the hapless Captain begged. 

That sent the Queen into another fit of giggles.   

She took her sweet time in gathering his clothes and reverting them back to original form.  I suspected she did it deliberately just to torture him.    However, when she turned them back she realized she could freeze the water out of the clothes and just shake off the ice so instantly dried.   She did the same to all our clothes so we were able to sleep comfortably dry that night.

One of the casualties of the flood was our food stock.  Most of it was spoiled and we ate whatever was left that was still good that night.  Captain Westergard assured us though that were plenty of fish in the river and there was much vegetation we can rely on for food.

The following morning I woke up to sounds of the gurgling river.  I rose and found Captain Westergard stripped down to the waist with a spear in his hand that he fashioned from a nearby branch and an arrowhead.  He came into the water to fish for our morning meal just as Queen Elsa appeared.  Neither one of them noticed my presence.

“Good morning Elsa,” he greeted with his usual devilish grin.  “No need to get your dainty little royal feet wet.  I’ll have breakfast soon enough.”  He seemed to enjoy the fact that the Queen stared at his bare chest that was glistening with dripping water.

“Don’t be so smug,” she replied.  “I am perfectly capable of helping.”  She took off her shoes and stepped barefoot on the water.

“I don’t think you’re dressed for fishing.  So why don’t you let me just handle this?” he said in an almost condescending tone.

The Queen raised an eyebrow at him then lifted an arm to the heavens.  Her body was suddenly enveloped in a short dress that freed her arms and legs from the constricting confines of the fabric of her long gown.  Captain Westergard’s eyes bulged as he spied her pale bare flesh.  I myself felt a blush up my cheeks.  Though not completely indecent, the dress was not something you’d see the Queen frolicking in at any given day back at the Arendelle court.  She however, didn’t appear to be conscious of the way she looked. 

“Well, you still don’t have the right equipment.” Captain Westergard began. 

In response a spear made of solid ice wove into the Queen’s hand.  The Captain and I watched her in fascination as her eyes searched the water.  She made a quick thrust and lifted the spear to reveal a fish wiggling at the end it.

“Don’t look so surprised Hans,” she said, noting his open-mouthed expression.  “Kristoff was a good teacher.”

“And you’re a good student.  A woman of many skills,” he said appreciatively. 

“Just fish Hans.  Let’s get this over with.  We have a long day ahead,” she replied.

They were silent after that though their actions spoke volumes.  I felt as though I was watching an unspoken contest.  Who would catch the most fish? Or the biggest? 

At one point Captain Westergard became distracted when the Queen turned her back to him.  He was busy watching her dress clinging to her skin and riding up her thigh that he failed to check his footing.  He tripped over a rock and fell into the water.  When he emerged his head was covered with mud and bits of moss.  The Queen took the opportunity to jeer at him, much to his annoyance.

He accidentally broke his spear and needless to say, lost their challenge.  But I’ve never seen him look so happy to lose. 

Breakfast was rather filling.  Finn and I gathered a few berries and we made a meal out of it with the fish Queen Elsa and Captain Westergard caught.   We salted the leftovers and packed them to carry with us on the journey ahead.

The rainstorm washed away most of the dirt roads that even Captain Westergard found it difficult to navigate our way through the next two days.  It got to the point that he was assessing our way solely by the direction of the shadows and the location of the sun.  A few times, we ended up on a non-passable cliff or rock formation that we were forced to revert back and try a different path.

After getting lost for five times in a row, tempers were heated and Captain Westergard and Queen Elsa were close to a screaming match.  It was then that we heard the first unfamiliar voice in so many days. 

We followed the voice and saw what seemed like an old woman in a hooded cloak.  She carried a little sack while she hummed a gay tune. 

“Let’s ask for directions,” Queen Elsa declared.

“I don’t think so,” Captain Westergard protested.  “Don’t you think it’s odd that a lone woman would be here?  The nearest village is at least a day away.”  His eyes, I noticed shifted around us as though he were looking for something.

“And how would you know?  You got us lost five times!” Queen Elsa argued.

“Could you keep your voice down?  Somebody might hear you.”

“Why bother? I’m asking for directions from her anyway!”

“Don’t!” he replied.  “It’s not safe—”

“What is it with men and asking for directions?” Queen Elsa cut him off.  She got off her horse and went towards woman before Captain Westergard could reply.  He chased after her.

“Elsa, wait!”

But the Queen was already behind the woman in the clearing.  All of us got off our own horses and followed after her.

“Excuse me good lady, will you tell us how to get to the next village?” she began.

“Why of course dearie,” the hooded figure replied.  Strangely her voice seemed a lot deeper than I expected.  “But it will cost you.”

The last words sent a warning signal through me and I didn’t have to wait long.  The figure spun around and threw open the cloak.  It revealed a man with a pistol pointed at the Queen.  Suddenly, about a dozen men surrounded us.

My arms were seized before I could even reach for my own pistol and two men pushed me face first to the ground.  I saw from the corner of my eye that Finn attempted to fight off a few men with his dagger.  In the scuffle, he tripped and appeared to have his ankle sprained.  It gave his attackers the advantage to subdue him.  Captain Westergard kept fighting hand-to-hand a lot longer.  He wounded one man in the process.  But even he was powerless against so many.  He received an awful beating that Queen Elsa screamed for him.

“Please stop!” she cried out despite being held at knife-point.  “If it’s money you want, we’ll give it!” 

“Do as the pretty one says,” ordered the man that was once disguised as the old lady.  He seemed to be the leader of the pack of thugs.  He came over to the Queen who surrendered the purse she carried that contained much of our gold. 

The leader smiled with satisfaction when he saw the contents.  But then he saw Captain Westergard and grabbed his chin roughly to inspect his bloodied face.

“What do we have here,” the man said.  “Red hair, green eyes and a defiant expression.  So which of King Sigurd’s brothers are you?  And how much will he pay to get you back?”

Chapter Text

Captain Westergard held the leader’s gaze firmly but said nothing.

“Which one are you?” the man repeated. 

He remained silent and I felt a chill in the air.  Captain Westergard sensed it as well for he turned to the Queen and shook his head at her in a clear sign that she was to keep her powers hidden.  And he was right.  If they knew who she really was, she would make an even more valuable hostage.  Weselton would certainly pay an exorbitant amount to have the Queen of Arendelle in their clutches.  The temperature immediately went back to normal.  If the men felt it, they didn’t mention it.  They seemed too preoccupied with their prize.

“Maybe you’ll talk if we you had a bit of motivation,” the tallest man that was nearest to the Queen said.  He pushed her forward and she stumbled next to the Captain.  “You don’t want to ruin her face, would you?”  He brandished a knife in front of her.

“Don’t!” Captain Westergard spoke firmly.  “I’m Prince Ivar and if you take me back to Sigurd you’ll have your money.”  He lifted his head and despite his wounds he still managed to glare at his captor.  “But only if you let her and my other companions go free and unharmed.”  

“Prince Ivar eh?” one of the men that pinned Finn said.  “He looks quite young to be Ivar.  I thought his hair had a bit more grey now.”

“What does it matter?” replied another man.   “He’s one of the princes.  That’s for sure and he’ll fetch a pretty penny for us especially since he’s the one married to that rich duchess—Whlemina right?”

“Yes the ugly old rich duchess,” snickered the leader.   His gaze fell on the Queen.  “How about her? She’s loaded with quite a purse.  So who are you little missy and what exactly are you doing with Prince Ivar in the woods?  You’re certainly not Lady Whlemina.”

“Leave her alone.  She’s just my servant,” Captain Westergard called out.

“Servant?” the leader scoffed.  He grabbed the Queen’s hands and inspected them.  “You’re not exactly a scullery maid with those hands.  So what kind of servant is she, your highness? And is she willing to serve me, if you know what I mean.”

I felt a flash of anger at the comment but I could do nothing.  Captain Westergard though grew red and shouted with all the arrogance of a born prince:

“You touch her and I swear I will hunt you all down and tear you to pieces with the entire might of the Southern Isles’ army!  You may find I make good of my threats and I will make sure each one of you will beg for death once I am through with you.”

Some of the men suddenly looked unsure and I could tell they were seriously reconsidering the situation.

“Let us go on unharmed and I will forget this incident happened,” Captain Westergard continued.

The men looked at each other warily and for a moment I felt a surge of hope that we would all be able to go on our way.

“Fine,” the leader said to Captain Westergard.  “Your bodyguards can go.  But I’m not stupid enough to let you all off.  You’re still coming with us and we’ll keep her too.  We need some insurance to make sure you behave.  And I think if she means that much to you, keeping her healthy will be a good enough incentive.”

I never felt so helpless. What were Finn and I to do then? The Queen we swore to protect was left to be guarded by the one man we were ordered primarily to keep her safe from.  The bandits took our horses and divested all of us of our purses and weapons.  Then they bound our hands and feet and I was thrown on the ground next to Finn. 

Queen Elsa’s and Captain Westergard’s hands were similarly tied but their feet were left free to allow them to walk.  She moved to step beside him but the leader roughly pulled her away by the arm and handed her over to one of his gruff men who eyed her with a lascivious grin on his filthy bearded mouth.

“Let me go!” Queen Elsa cried as she struggled against her captor. 

“What are you doing?” Captain Westergard demanded.

“My friend here will take care of her Prince Ivar,” the leader told him.  “You’ll see her again after you pay us your ransom.”

It was worse than we feared.  They were being separated.  The Queen can always take the men out with her ice powers once she was alone with them but what if they subdued her? With no one with her, not even Captain Westergard, she would be left helpless.  I didn’t trust the bandit that took the Queen one bit.  His gaze told me clear enough he would not hesitate to take advantage of her given a choice. 

I struggled against my bonds as I thought of a way out of the situation, but the ropes held and my mind was blank.  Captain Westergard tried to protest and received a punch in the stomach for his effort.

“Wait! Please!” the Queen suddenly cried out.  “Don’t hurt him.  I’ll come willingly but just let me say goodbye to him.”

The men whistled and catcalled but the leader nodded.  “Well you’re highness I’m not a bad man.  I’ll give your lady a moment with you.”

One of the men pushed the Queen towards him but with both their hands bound behind their backs they stood rather awkwardly whispering to each other.

“Please, can you untie me for a moment?” the Queen begged in a gentle voice that could melt any man’s heart.  “I just want to give him one final embrace.”

Her words startled me, but then it immediately clicked in my head what she was about to do.  She planned on getting all of us out of this situation.

Her little act worked for the men sniggered but loosened the rope from her hands so she can slip her arms around Captain Westergard in a lover-like embrace while they whispered to each other.  The men were all watching them intently like they were two characters in a play.  But I knew in that moment, Queen Elsa was freezing the ropes on his hands and slipping him an ice-made weapon.  Captain Westergard said something to her that made her raise an eyebrow at him.  She looked slightly sick for a moment but then her face hardened.  She stared at his bloodied mouth as I felt a familiar chilly breeze. 

Then she pressed her lips on his.

My jaw dropped just as the men around me whistled and cheered.

Captain Westergard looked equally startled for a split-second before kissing her back in earnest.  The Queen though went on it a little roughly for she threw her body against him until his back slammed rather violently against a tree.  Even then she didn’t let go of him which sent the men howling.  They were so engrossed with the couple’s rather passionate display that none of them noticed the flurries of snow that the Queen flicked from her hand behind the tree.  It grew into a mound of snow that I knew was one of her ice creations.

The ice creature seemed to appear out of nowhere and announced its presence with a great roar.   The next few moments were total chaos as the frightened bandits ran or tried to shoot down the creature.  In turn, it unleashed a powerful blast of ice with its breath and the hapless men that got in the way ended up collapsed half-frozen on the ground.

I was left without a guard and I felt someone cut the rope on my hands.  I turned to see the Queen with an ice knife.  Captain Westergard did the same to Finn then helped him up.   We ran from the clearing but with Finn limping on one leg we couldn’t run fast enough. 

“Leave me,” Finn said.  “I’m going to slow you down.”

“We’re not leaving anyone,” Captain Westergard said.  He lifted Finn on his back and carried him.  

When we reached a cluster of trees, the Queen conjured up another creature.  This time it had the shape of a large horse. 

“Hans quick get Lorens on—Andersen look out!”   

I looked behind and saw one of the bandits aiming a pistol at us.  He fired before Captain Westergard threw an ice knife at him.  The knife hit the bandit in the chest and he stumbled to the ground.  I turned around and saw that Finn was already on the ice horse helped by Queen Elsa.  But it was the expressions of fear on the faces of all three of my companions that caught my attention.

“Andersen!” Queen Elsa cried.  “No!”

And then I felt it: A hot searing pain on my left shoulder and I realized my shirt was soaked with blood—

“You were shot?” I gasped at Lieutenant Andersen that effectively stopped his story.  I was practically at the edge of my seat with my elbows on his table.  The biscuits lay forgotten.  His story was too interesting for me to think about eating. 

“Yup, it left a nasty flesh wound, Prince Fredrik.” The young soldier pulled at his shirt to reveal an ugly scar on his left shoulder.  “It’s still healing and it still hurts occasionally but at least I was lucky I didn’t tear anything important and they were able to dress it in time.  Otherwise, it could have been infected and I might have lost an arm.”

Seeing as his limb was still intact, I wondered how they managed it while running away from a dozen bandits.  However, the question was competing in my head with another rather disturbing thought.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit alarmed that my aunt made out with Admiral Westergard as a distraction.  It felt they were a getting a bit too close for comfort. 

“No, he didn’t take advantage of her,” Lieutenant Andersen said as if he read my thoughts. 

“How do you…?” I began but he merely smiled.

“You’re worried about the Queen and Admiral Westergard starting a romance, aren’t you?” Lt. Andersen said.  I nodded.  “I thought so too, well at least when I saw them going at it, it crossed my mind.   But I don’t think it meant anything to either one of them.  It was a plain and simple distraction they needed.  Besides, if you were in that situation where our lives were at stake, romance will be farthest thing from your mind.  And I certainly gave them a lot more to worry about than locking lips in front of a band of thugs…”

I staggered with the sudden pain but Captain Westergard caught me in time.

“Andersen!” Queen Elsa shrieked and I saw tears on her eyes.   

“I’ll take care of him,” Captain Westergard said to her.  “Elsa, go now!”

 The Queen bid as he told her and got on the horse behind Finn. 

“Come on Andersen, we’re getting you out of here,” the Captain told me as he supported my other arm and forced me to move forward.  “And as told your buddy there, I’m not leaving anybody behind.”

He helped me up onto another waiting ice horse.  I nearly yelped at the cold but it was a small distraction against the pain pulsing on my shoulder.  The Captain wasted no time and bid the horse to move.  We galloped away with Queen and Finn’s horse a few paces from us.

“It doesn’t look like it hit anything vital,” Captain Westergard said as he inspected my shoulder and tried to staunch the blood flow.  “But the bullet’s definitely there.  We’ll find a place to stop and check on that.” 

It seemed like ages before we finally stopped to rest.   The Captain gently laid me down on a bed of fresh grass then he and the Queen set to work on me.  They used an ice knife to pull out the bullet.  The Queen then melted snow to wash the wound then packed it with ice to relieve my pain.  But we all knew without treatment, the wound could eventually fester.  They patched me up as much as they could and then we were off again on the horses. 

I passed in and out of consciousness but we must have travelled for hours.  I figured they were attempting to get to the nearest town to find treatment for me.  It was nearing dark when I woke up to find myself laid on the ground and I could hear angry voices whispering beside me.

“He’s got exactly what Andersen needs, Elsa,” Captain Westergard argued.

“I will not stoop to this!” she shot back at him.  “Or we’re no better than those bandits that held us.”

“I’m not going to hurt him.  Just frighten him a bit.  Besides, who knows if he’s a bandit too?”

“He’s a defenseless old man,” Queen Elsa said.

“Yes and the last defenseless old woman you tried to ask for directions robbed us and nearly took us captive.”

I felt Finn sit beside me. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Shhh!” Finn shushed though I didn’t know why he needed to.  My voice was so weak only he could hear me.  “There’s a lone old man walking towards us in the dirt road with a cart loaded what looks like whiskey, a few bales of cloth and some fruit.  Captain Westergard suggested we frighten him and take his stuff by force.  The alcohol can be used to disinfect your wound.  We can have clean bandages and food too.”

My stomach rumbled and I realized I hadn’t eaten all day.  But I ignored the pangs as I let what Finn said sink in.  Captain Westergard was trying to convince the Queen to rob that man. 

“Alright,” the Queen said.  “But we’re not stealing from him.  We’re borrowing his things and we’ll pay him back when this is all over.”

“Pay him back?” Captain Westergard said incredulously.  “How exactly do we do that?”

“Ask for his name,” the Queen replied matter-of-factly.

“Wait –what?” the Captain gasped.  “You want me to rob him and ask for his name?”

“Yes,” Queen Elsa replied firmly.  “And ask where he lives too so I can send him the payment when we get back to Arendelle.”

Captain Westergard scratched his fiery head and stared at the Queen as if she was crazy.  “Let me get this straight:  You want me to rob the man, ask for his name and where he lives?  What idiotic victim would give me his name and his address after I stole from him?”

“I don’t know!” the Queen thundered back though her voice was still kept at a whisper.  “Maybe you can reassure him you don’t have any bad intentions.”

“That doesn’t really make any sense, Elsa,” he replied irritably.  “I’m trying to rob the man not make friends with him.”

I had to say I agreed with him.  That’s not exactly the best way to rob someone.  Not that I would be an expert as I hadn’t done it myself.  And as much as I hate becoming a bandit to survive, if it was Finn who was in my place bleeding from a bullet wound and I was in the Captain’s shoes, I would be doing exactly what he was attempting to do.

“You know what, never mind,” Captain Westergard spat out.   “I don’t have time to argue.  I’m going out there and try to get those supplies for Andersen one way or another.  Whether you want to back me up with your ice creature in case it’s another trap or not, that’s up to you.”

He was gone before she can provide a retort. 

“I hate that man!” Queen Elsa bristled as she clenched her fists that momentarily frosted over.  But she peered in through the curtain of trees in anticipation just the same. 

I motioned to Finn that I wanted to get up.  He helped me sit beside the crouched Queen Elsa and saw that we were located in a strategic higher ground overlooking a country dirt road.  I saw the elderly man they were talking about coming in with a horse pulling a cart with supplies.

Captain Westergard appeared behind him in a moment and shouted something while he brandished an ice knife.  We were too far away to hear but from his stance and the way the old man’s shoulders shook, the Captain was demanding for his belongings in a threatening way.

The elderly man slowly turned around and faced the Captain.  He lifted his head up and removed his cloak.  My heart raced as I thought how similar this situation was to our previous encounter.  I expected another group of thugs to come barreling up and capturing Captain Westergard, but nothing like that happened.  Instead they remained like that standing together face-to-face for a long time.

“What are they doing?” I whispered.

“I don’t know,” the Queen replied.  “They look like they’re just talking.  Maybe Hans isn’t trying to rob him but just asking for honest help for us.”  Her tone had a note of hope in it.

“Or maybe he’s just trying to get his address like your majesty ordered?” Finn offered.

The Queen glared at him.  She clearly didn’t appreciate the jibe though I was fighting to keep a smile up my face at Finn’s attempt to lighten the situation.

“Sorry your majesty,” Finn replied apologetically.  “Just trying to chill—er no pun intended.”

I rolled my eyes.  Captain Westergard’s dry humor was starting to rub off on him.

We focused back on the scene before us and the two men on the road appeared to be talking.  And then suddenly, Captain Westergard threw his ice knife on the ground and hugged the man like a long lost brother.

“What in the world—!” Queen Elsa gasped.  I was equally astonished.

“Er—I think he made friends?” Finn said.

“That’s ridiculous!” Queen Elsa fumed.  “I didn’t ask him to make friends, just get the man’s name.  Now what is his game?!”

“HEY LORENS! ELSA!  IT’S ALRIGHT!  YOU CAN COME OUT AND BRING ANDERSEN ALONG!” Captain Westergard called out.  “I WANT YOU ALL TO MEET MY FRIEND!”

“I was right he did make friends,” Finn said cheerfully before he saw the Queen’s expression.  “Sorry again your majesty—I’m… going to shut up now.”

We showed ourselves and the Captain brought the old man forward.  They came over to us as I had a hard time getting up and Finn was slow to walk with his twisted ankle. 

Captain Westergard presented the old man to the Queen like he would an ambassador.  “Queen Elsa, I am pleased to introduce my dear old friend, Mr. Christopher Patrick Potts.”

The Queen looked rather alarmed that Captain Westergard trusted this man enough to use her title.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Potts,” Queen Elsa replied graciously as she offered her hand to shake.

“Oh the honor is all mine your majesty,” the elderly man replied.  He appeared to be in his 60s with his ample grey hair.   He wore a peasant’s cloak over a white shirt lined with gold thread and blue overalls.  His face was full of wrinkles but his bright eyes twinkled in an open manner that reassured all of us including the Queen.  He smiled at her and I noticed a crack on one of his teeth as he did. 

“But please, no formalities from Hans’ friends.” the old man continued, “Call me Chip, everyone does.”

Chapter Text

 

It must be almost noon and I was afraid I overstayed my welcome in Lieutenant Andersen’s house.  The tea had long ago grown cold and the biscuits were just mere crumbs and yet I longed to stay on and listen more to what the young sailor had to say.

The old baker groaned from his bed and his son went on to check on him. 

“I beg your pardon Prince Fredrik,” Lt. Andersen said.  “But I will need to start making lunch soon by the time Papa wakes up.  Would you mind very much if I continue our story while I do some chores?”

“Of course not,” I said.  I was glad that at least he wasn’t kicking me out of the house.  “How about I help you?”

“I wouldn’t dare to presume…” he began but I shook my head firmly.

“Oh please do let me, it’s no trouble.  My father lets me and my sisters help around the kitchen once in a while.  He says it’s important that I learn how to cook and do things for myself.  He said he’s always done so when he was growing up and he believes it builds character.”

Lt. Andersen still looked uncomfortable.  The thought of a prince doing chores around his house must seem odd to him.

“Alright think of this way, Lieutenant,” I told him.  “I’m going to pester you the whole day for your stories that I’m going to keep you away from your work.   Let me at least pay you back for your time by helping you.”

“Prince Fredrik, you don’t really need to do anything.  I’m already much obliged…”

“I would be happy to.”  I picked up a basket of vegetables lying in one corner of the kitchen.  “What do you say you start the water boiling while I peel the potatoes?”

The young soldier shook his head but nevertheless gave in to me.  He fetched water outside and filled the pot while I set about my task.  When he returned he settled down to help me.

“So who is Chip, Lt. Andersen?” I asked while our hands went busy.

“He’s probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met.  It turned out he was an old friend of Admiral Westergard’s and it was lucky that we met him.  He not only helped my wounds, he also sheltered us when we most needed it…”

Chip used a bottle of his own wine to clean my wounds before replacing my bandages.  He made better wrappings that both Queen Elsa and Captain Westergard could that I was grateful.  He then then offered us bread and fruit from his store.  While we were having our little meal, Chip talked non-stop and told us how he and Admiral Westergard met.

“He was just a little boy of eight when the royal family of the Southern Isles stopped at Rose Inn managed by my family,” Chip recounted.  “A thunderstorm swept the countryside days earlier and left the roads with so much mud the royal carriages couldn’t move forward.  So they stayed for almost a week at the inn.  I didn’t care much for the older princes.  They were guests that were nearly impossible to please.  They complained about everything from the food to the rooms to the silverware.  Our entire staff was at their wits end and even dear Father Adam, my lord and owner of the inn was nearly tempted to have the princes thrown out.”

“He probably would have too, if they weren’t royalty,” Captain Westergard agreed.  “My brothers can be incredibly obnoxious.”

“They weren’t just obnoxious Hans, they were cruel,” Chip said.

“What did they do?” asked Queen Elsa.

“On the morning after the royal party arrived, I found little Hans tied to a tree in the woods behind the inn shivering in the cold.  They left him there all night in the rain and he almost caught pneumonia.”

“Why would they do that?” the Queen asked Captain Westergard.

The Captain didn’t meet her face and he looked uneasy.  “I’ve always been picked on as a child.  My brothers had their little games and I was often at the losing end of it.  That wasn’t the first time they did that to me nor was it the last.  It’s just the way my brothers are.  It wasn’t just me though.  Sigurd and my oldest brothers picked on the ones younger than them, and in turn they picked on the even younger ones.  I was just on the unlucky end. ”

“That’s not how siblings should act,” Queen Elsa protested.  “I would never do that to my sister.”

“Well Anna’s fortunate,” Captain Westergard shrugged.  “For the longest time I thought all families were like mine.  I simply accepted it as fact until I met Chip and his family.”

“I took him to Belle, Father Adam’s wife who nursed him,” Chip continued.  “She read to him and told him stories.  This man here has an appetite for stories like you won’t believe your majesty.” He clapped the Captain in back like he was still a boy and to my surprise Captain Westergard colored.

“Look, it was the first time anyone ever read to me okay,” Captain Westergard said.  “And Belle was a great storyteller and knew so many tales.   She introduced me to her library and told me I can explore any place I want by reading books.   When I got back to the palace, I escaped to my family’s library.  That’s how I became a voracious reader.  It’s because of her.”

“She seems like an interesting woman,” Queen Elsa said. 

“She is indeed your majesty.  And she has an even more interesting story, even magical I should say.  Would like to hear it?”

“Why yes of course,” Queen Elsa replied eagerly.

“Well I’ll be happy to tell it to you while we travel.  You are all going to be guests at the Rose Inn and don’t worry about paying us.  It’s on the house.”

“Thank you, Chip.  But I don’t think Belle or Father Adam will want me there,” Captain Westergard said.  “After what I’ve done…”

“Nonsense, Hans.  They’ve forgiven you.   We’ve all forgiven you a long time ago.” He put a comforting hand on the Captain.  “It wasn’t your fault you know.  Come home, even for a short while.  You need to see Father Adam again, at least before it’s too late.”

The Captain hesitated but finally nodded.   I wanted to ask Captain Westergard what happened between him and this couple that he seemed to admire but he didn’t appear open to sharing the details.  I let the question hang. 

Finn and I were helped up the wagon.  Queen Elsa created two new ice horses to pull the cart.  We were soon travelling in relative comfort and the pleasant Chip proceeded to tell his tale.

“This is a magical story and though it may seem unbelievable it is completely true.  So I suppose I should start with… how is that phrase Hans?  How do we start a fairy tale?”

“Once Upon a Time?” Captain Westergard offered. 

“Yes,” smiled Chip.  “Once upon a time.  Once upon a young prince lived in a shining castle.  And although he had everything his heart desired the prince was spoiled, selfish and unkind…”

Chapter Text

A prince-turned-beast returned again to human form due to the love of a beautiful maiden.  It was the stuff of fairy tales, just like the books Mama read to me at night.  Yet, I had no doubt that Lt. Andersen’s tale based on what old man Chip told them was true.  It wasn’t any stranger than a boy with ice powers or being a princess mermaid or a Queen whose glowing hair can heal and restore youth.

“So did they live happily ever after?” I asked Lt. Andersen as I peeled my third potato.  He just finished narrating how Chip told them Belle married the beast whose real name was Prince Adam.

Lt. Andersen pouted.  “Well, not exactly, Prince Fredrik.  I supposed they did for a time, but then life catches on even for fairy-tale like couples…

We reached the Rose Inn just as Chip ended his story with the ball at Prince Adam and Belle’s wedding.  The Inn turned out to be a large two-story country house nestled in the middle of a wooded acre.  The house appeared to be quite old with a design that I estimated was popular more than fifty years ago.  Still, it looked sturdy, well-kept and inviting with its well-tended flower beds at the front and the building painted in warm earth colors.  Inside, the inn had simple but comfortable furnishings and bright interiors.  I particularly loved the paintings of rustic scenes and the country accents that decorated the walls.  It reminded me more of a home than an inn.  I’d say it was the best-looking place we’ve come upon since we left the castle of Tastris.

Three young children came running to meet us and Chip introduced them as his grandchildren. Chip’s wife, a pleasant buxom matron named Anabel greeted us.  She cleaned my wound, fixed a sling on my arm and settled me immediately on a warm bed in one of the rooms.  Every manner of comfort was provided to me that I immediately fell sound asleep. 

Early the next morning, I decided to take a quick tour of the house before breakfast.  I found a door that led to the back of the house which opened to a magnificent garden full of rose bushes.  I marveled at the beauty and the devoted care given to the plants that made them blossom in abundance. 

I strode along the gardens until I came to the center of it.  On a stone pedestal was a carved wooden rose encased in a dome of glass.  Surrounding it were stone carvings in the shapes of rather odd items: There was a clock, a candlestick, a teapot, a footstool, a stove, a dresser, some dinning and kitchen utensils, a complete set of musical instruments, and even a hat rack, a carriage and a feather duster.  There must be several dozen of them and each item was labeled with a name in flowing script.  I read some of the names: “Lumiere”, “Cogsworth,” “Mrs. Potts,” “Sultan.”  They were all beautifully carved and I could tell by the details that great care was taken to make them.  I turned my attention to the pedestal with the rose and noticed that the lifelike carving was labeled with a single engraved name: Pierre Maurice. 

I pondered the significance of all this when I heard a voice call out:

“Pierre, is it you?” a weak male voice stuttered from somewhere behind a cluster of bushes.  

I followed the voice and saw behind the bushes an elderly man seated on chair with a blanket on his lap.  In front of him knelt Captain Westergard.  An old woman stood behind his chair while Queen Elsa remained at a polite distance. 

The old woman seemed about to introduce Queen Elsa, but the old man’s attention focused solely on the Captain.  An overjoyed smiled creased his wrinkled face.

“You’ve come home!” he cried out.  “Oh let me hold you Pierre! I’m so sorry, son!  I never should have sent you away!” He embraced Captain Westergard who looked uncomfortable in the old man’s arms.

“It’s not Pierre dear,” said the old woman.  Even in her age I could tell she used to be a great beauty.  She gently put a hand on the old man’s shoulder. “It’s Hans. Don’t you remember our dear little Hans?  He’s come to see you.”

“Who’s that eh?” the old man replied.  “No, this is Pierre,” he insisted.  “It’s our son Belle!  He’s come home!”

I knew immediately this elderly man was the Prince Adam of Chip’s story and the old woman was his wife Belle.    

“You must forgive him Hans,” apologized Belle.  “His memory fails him.”

I couldn’t hear what Captain Westergard replied but he appeared to humor the old man and patted his shoulder affectionately like a dutiful son.  Prince Adam though continued to mutter something unintelligible and I could barely make it out due to his halting speech:

“Godmother didn’t break her promise… even when I disobeyed her… the slumbering dawn… on her death bed… Godmother promised… she promised… every one her descendants… my son… my heir… she watches over him… her dark wings spread over him…”

“I’m sorry, he’s just like that… his mind… it hasn’t been the same…” Belle uttered before she burst openly into tears.  Queen Elsa moved to comfort her and the old woman accepted the Queen’s shoulder.

The old woman’s grief struck me with a sudden realization.  All these beautifully carvings in this garden were gravestones.  They were tributes to the faithful servants that once became household objects during Prince Adam’s 10-year curse.  And in the middle of it all was the memorial to Prince Adam and Belle’s own son Pierre Maurice.  It only meant he was also dead and that the poor old man in his feeble mind was mistaking Captain Westergard for the son he lost.

I heard a sniffle beside me and found Chip dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief.

“Hans always has that effect on him,” Chip said.  He reminds him of their son.”

“What happened to their son?” I asked. “What happened to all of you?” I indicated to the garden which should more aptly be called a cemetery considering the number of gravestones in it. 

Chip blew his nose then gestured to me.  “Come walk with me Lieutenant.”  He led me back to the center of the garden. He picked a blossom from a nearby bush and laid it in front of the stone-carved teapot. 

“This is my mother’s memorial marker,” he said.  “She’s not really buried here just like most of these,” he gestured towards the carvings.  “There are only six graves in this garden.  The rest are all just tributes that Father Adam carved over the years.  They are loving reminders of the people that touched his life.”

Chip paused and stared at the rose at the center.  It was just like how I imagined that magical rose that kept blossoming for 10 years would have looked like.

“I told you in my story how he used to be a prince,” Chip went on.  “He owned a small principality that included a provincial town in France far from the capitol.  There was a time before he met Belle when he was a fearsome lord and treated all of us servants badly.  He wasn’t any different from other nobility at the time. He just happened to turn into a hideous beast which made him a lot more fearsome.  The servants at his castle accepted and grew to love him after he reverted to human form and changed through Belle’s help.  Eventually, we all came to call him Father Adam, for he became more like a father to us than a lord. Unfortunately, his reputation as a beast stuck among the peasants beyond the castle walls and they regarded him with deep suspicion.  For some blissful years though they kept the peace.”

“What went wrong then?” I asked. I suspected this story was about to turn sour soon. 

“The French Revolution happened,” Chip shrugged.  “The whole of France was in turmoil and the nobility came under attack when the new ideas of libertine spread towards the countryside.  Belle and Father Adam’s son  Pierre was only an innocent 13-year old boy when the villagers began making threats on his life.  They called him the son of a monster and promised to torture and kill him if he stepped off the castle.  Father Adam was worried for his safety.  So he sent him to Versailles where his distant cousin King Louis XVI still reigned then behind the safety of his capitol.”

My mouth went dry.  I knew from the history books what happened to Versailles.  It eventually fell to the revolutionaries.  The King and Queen of France were captured, brought to Paris and eventually executed by guillotine along with numerous other nobles.

“Was Pierre guillotined?” I asked as I felt a shudder up my spine.

Chip shook his head sadly.  “Worse.  He was imprisoned in Paris when Versailles fell.  He died during the September 1792 riots.”

What horror must Belle and Father Adam felt when they heard the news.  The massacres in the weeks of 1792 were among the most brutal events in French history.  The mobs tore through the Paris prisons and dragged out hapless victims.  A lot of them were tortured before being killed.

“We were all devastated.  But we barely had time to grieve.  Within days of the riots, the peasants in our town stormed Father Adam’s castle and killed almost all the servants whom they touted as noble sympathizers.   My mother and all my siblings died that night. Only seven of us managed to escape with Belle and Father Adam.  We smuggled out of the country.  Our butler Cogsworth had a cousin in the Southern Isles and so we escaped here.  Father Adam used what wealth he had left to buy this piece of land and bribe local authorities to provide us new identities.  He had the inn built and we lived here ever since. 

I stared up at the house as I pondered his words.  So this was the end of the fairy-tale love story of a magical prince and his princess.  They were reduced from living in a luxurious castle to a simple inn in foreign land, while they nursed their grief on the son they lost.  It wasn’t exactly a happily ever after. 

“It’s not so bad,” Chip muttered.  “We’ve had a peacefully good life despite everything that happened.  Belle’s strength got us through it all and the inn became our little family enterprise.  We all recovered eventually except for Father Adam.   He was never the same after his son died.  The first time I saw him truly laugh was on the day Hans came into our lives.”

“You said Captain Westergard reminded Prince Adam of his son, is that why?” I asked.

Chip nodded.  “Young Hans was so hungry for attention that he immediately took to Father Adam and Belle’s company during that week he spent here.  We all adored his audaciousness coupled with his brilliant mind and rather dry sense of humor.  Father Adam and Belle read to him, taught him games, and encouraged him to study art, music, geography and politics.   He absorbed everything like a sponge.  Father Adam said spending time with him was like having Pierre back. 

“For the next four years Hans tried to visit and spend time here as much as he can.   I can’t blame him.   Hans’ mother died giving birth to him and his father, the king, passed away when he was two.  He knew nothing of familial love as his older brothers were too busy vying for power in the Southern Isles court.  He was the thirteenth son—the youngest brother to King Sigurd who already had children of his own.  He was unwanted and had no place in their world.”

Chip heaved a sigh as he looked back at Captain Westergard.  He, Father Adam and Belle were locked together in a three-way hug.  It was like watching a picture from the biblical story of the prodigal son that came home. Queen Elsa was no longer around.  I figured she must have slipped away discreetly at some point to give them privacy. 

“Why did Captain Westergard not stay here then?” I asked.  It was clear that this couple meant a lot to him.  But I remembered how reluctant he was to even come here when Chip offered.  He obviously had a falling out at some point with this loving couple and I was curious to know why.

“He did try.  He was twelve when he decided to run away from home for good.  It was a mark of how neglected Hans was that it took three months before any of his brothers bothered to look for him.  But when they did his second oldest brother Gregor traced him back here and ordered him to come home.  Hans refused and even begged Father Adam and Belle to adopt him.  They would have too except that they couldn’t.  Even if his brothers didn’t want him, Hans was still a prince of the Southern Isles and the royal family had to put up appearances.  A prince being adopted by an inn keeper was simply not acceptable.”

Chip sat down on a stone bench and seemed caught in his memories.  I dared not interrupt him. 

“It was a terrible night.  Guards surrounded the inn and when Hans insisted on staying, Prince Gregor lost his patience.  He had all of us arrested.  He then dragged his younger brother away and they took Father Adam with him.   The sight of Hans kicking while screaming for us was the last thing we saw of him. 

“We were all thrown in prison and the guards that brought us there said they knew who Father Adam really was.  He was brought to us in our cell after a day.  He was bloodied and beaten half to death.  We were all charged of being unwanted foreigners and possible French spies.  Such charges were punishable by death.  You must understand that at that time France was waging a war with some of the Southern Isles’ allied nations.  They did not take kindly to French refugees, and even less to a former member of the French nobility.”

“But you made it through.” I said.  “Did you escape?”

Chip gestured no.  “After several days of no news in our sunless dungeon, the guards let us go without an explanation.”

“Why?” I asked.                                                   

“We didn’t know for a long time.  Hans never came back to see us.  He sent a letter asking forgiveness for getting us into trouble.  He said that was the last we will hear from him and we must never try to contact him again. He was true to his word.  It was only last night that we found out the whole story.  He made a deal with Prince Gregor to let us go in exchange for a secret Hans found out against him.  Part of the deal was that Hans will never contact us again or our safety will not be guaranteed. For years Hans lived with the guilt that he thought we blamed him for putting us in danger.  It kept him from communicating all this time.”

I felt for Captain Westergard.  It must be hard for him to have found a family who truly cared for him only to tear himself away for their safety.  I was beginning to understand why Captain Westergard acted the way he did when he made a bid for Arendelle’s throne.  He must have felt so helpless that day he was taken by his brother.  I can imagine something like that would affect a little boy so much he would never want to feel without power again. 

“All is mended now,” Chip said as he wiped at the corner of his eyes.  “And I’m glad he’s home, even briefly.  I know you have a mission still to fulfill Lieutenant, and you will soon be on your way again.  But for a day, please take the time to rest here.  Let Hans have this moment with us.  He deserves it.”

“I will tell the Queen,” I assured him. 

“Thank you,” replied Chip.  “Let’s leave them for now.  I think it’s time for breakfast.”

He led me back to the dining room where Queen Elsa was already seated with Finn, Anabel and her children.  We had a hearty meal and after that I returned to bed and spent much of the day at rest.

We went back on the road the next morning with horses and fresh supplies.  The whole inn staff came to see us off.  Captain Westergard embraced each member of “his family.” Chip’s grandchildren waved goodbye to “Queen Snowflake” and made her promise to come back soon and build them snow castles. 

“You know you’re welcome to move to Arendelle when this war is over,” I heard Queen Elsa say to Belle.  “You’ll be safe there.”

“Thank you for the offer,” replied Belle.  “But I don’t think Adam can manage the travel at his age.  And this is our home.  I think we would prefer to spend our remaining years here.”  She gave Queen Elsa a telling wink. “Just let Hans come home to us every now and then.”

Belle’s tone reminded me of a mother talking to his daughter-in-law about having their son visit more often.  Queen Elsa seemed to feel the same way for her pale face suddenly turned red and she flustered.  “We’re not… I mean… it’s not like he needs my permission… I mean… yes… of course he can visit… I mean… he has military leave…”

Belle laughed.  “It’s okay dear.  I know the feeling.  Do consider what I said about him, will you?”

If it was possible, the Queen seemed to blush even more.  Belle gave another laugh and patted the Queen’s cheek.  “See with your heart my dear, that’s all I have to offer.  Look for the man behind the beast and you’ll be surprised with what you’ll find.”

I fought an urge to chuckle.  I couldn’t help but feel that old Belle’s attempt at match-making the Queen with her “son” was rather amusing.  

Queen Elsa gave her a hug to avoid answering then turned to go.  We all waved goodbye to our hosts and we set off.

Our spirits were back to an all-time high and Captain Westergard was the most animated in our group.  I’ve never seen him look so carefree and I knew that his brief reunion with this little family revitalized him.  He led us to sing a few sailor songs while we travelled.  He even managed to coax Queen Elsa to join us.  I think we went through the entire list of all the common songs we knew.  When we ran out, he and Queen Elsa sang duets together in the various languages they knew.  Though Finn and I couldn’t understand a word, we appreciated their beautiful voices that blended so well together.

The long hours of travel flew by and we reached the capitol of the Southern Isles without incident.  I was enchanted by the large port city which bustled with bazaars that sold so many wonderful things.  There were wool and fur from the north, silks and spices from the east, exotic fruits from the south and so much sea produce like fish and seaweed and pearls.  The buildings were all painted in bright colors with designs so different from what I was used to in Arendelle.  The weather was also so much hotter that we were soon sweating in our tunics.  The combination of the variety of colors and smells was incredibly intoxicating that we had to stop for a moment at one point to take it all in.  

Captain Westergard seemed to be in a daze as he stared at the city where he was born.  His gaze focused for a moment on the palace that nestled in the distance near the seaside. A frown creased his face.  Whatever memories he was recalling, I could tell they were not pleasant ones.  The moment passed and he turned seriously back to us. 

“Sorry we won’t have time for sight-seeing,” said Captain Westergard. “We’ll have to go through the city as quickly as possible.  It will be safer that way.”

We all conceded to his wisdom, but going through the city was easier said than done.  The streets were so full of people and the pavements winded with such complexity that it took time just to go through them.  Captain Westergard cursed under his breath that we had the misfortune to arrive at the city on market day when most people were out on the streets.  But on hindsight he said that it might be a blessing in disguise as the crowds could provide us better cover.

After about two hours of navigating through confusing alleyways we came upon a rather large open square that intersected on two paved main streets. 

There was a sudden hush as the noisy rabble of merchants and customers seemed to stop at the same time.  I felt an eerie calm that made me reach for my pistol while I placed myself in front of the Queen.  My two other companions reacted similarly and we formed a circle around her majesty with weapons drawn. 

Cloaks were thrown to the ground and the once innocent looking merchants and peasants revealed to be men in full armor with the leaf crest of the Southern Isles on their chests.  They had crossbows and muskets pointed at us from all sides.  Even from the top of the nearby buildings men appeared armed to the teeth and ready to fire. 

We were surrounded with nowhere to run.

There was a chill in the air and I knew the Queen prepared to unleash her powers.

“I wouldn’t do anything your majesty. Not unless you want yourself and your companions dead,” a man who pointed a crossbow directly at Captain Westergard’s chest called out.  More guards poured in across the square.  We stood down reluctantly while Queen Elsa lowered her arms.  We all knew this was a fight we cannot win.

“What do you want?” she demanded from the man that warned us.  He seemed to be the captain of the guards.

“It’s not what I want, but what he wants,” he said as he pointed to the end of the road where the sound of approaching hooves grabbed our attention.  A large group of horsemen arrived.  A man in full armor with the same crest of the Southern Isles on his chest led the group and stopped in front of us.  He pulled off his helmet to reveal a grey-haired man that I could tell used to be red.  But what struck me was that he looked like an older version of Captain Westergard.

“Sigurd,” Captain Westergard uttered and my heart sank.  This was the King of Southern Isles before us.

“Hans,” the King greeted with a sneer.  “I’ve been expecting you.”  He turned to Queen Elsa.  “And the legendary Ice Queen of Arendelle.”

 

Chapter Text

"What was the King of the Southern Isles like?"

Lt. Andersen and I both startled at the sound of the new voice in the room.  Outside the window was Olaf with his carrot nose pressed against the window pane.  He had an eager look that I was sure looked exactly like mine just as few moments ago.

"Olaf? Have you been standing there all this time?" Lt. Andersen asked the little snowman.

"Not all the time," he replied matter-of-factly. "I got here just as you and Elsa and Finn and Hans entered the city gates."

Lt. Andersen and I shared a smile.  Clearly, Olaf found his story so amusing he decided to stick around to hear more. 

"Well, come on in," Lt. Andersen invited.   Papa’s knocked out so I figured you missed him this morning.” He turned to me.  “Olaf’s a regular visitor at Papa’s bakeshop,” he explained.  “He just loves inhaling the aroma of freshly baked bread.   But hey Olaf we just made lunch.  Care to join us?"

The stew we made was simmering in the pot over the fire of the little kitchen and was producing heavenly smells that wafted all around the house. I figured it was what attracted Olaf to come by.  Though Aunt Elsa's icy creation didn't eat, he was rather fond of smelling things and nothing attracts him more than the scent of home-cooked meals.  Back in the palace he particularly loved the kitchen, though he couldn’t stay in it too long since it was too warm for him.  Over the years he took to passing by kitchens and dining rooms just before food was served just to take in the smell.

“Love too,” Olaf said.  He strode in through the kitchen door and sat on a bench in front of the little table.   He made a big gesture of inhaling the steam from the stew that Lt. Andersen brought in in two bowls.   I felt a little sorry for Olaf that he could never experience eating.   When I was six I tried to feed him with a piece of my birthday cake after he spent several minutes sniffing it.  He claimed it made his insides feel sticky.   The stupid kid that I was ignored that initial comment and I decided to try with other foods.  That same day I force-fed him steak, vegetables, bread, fruit juice and hot chocolate.  He ended up as a messy pool of mashed-up goo.  Aunt Elsa was horrified when she saw him.   She resorted to melting Olaf completely to liquid and reconstructing him again just to clean him up.  From then on, Olaf and I agreed never to let him try eating real food again.

Olaf sat a little away from the steam after he had his fill of our stew’s smell.  It didn’t seem polite to just eat while he sat apart from us on the same table.  I had a sudden idea.

“Hey Olaf, I know you don’t eat, but maybe you can join us.”  With a flick of my hand I created a tiny bowl of ice filled with slushed snow and tiny ice cubes in the shapes of cut out meat and potatoes.  “There, just pretend it’s snow stew.”

Olaf’s eyes lit up and he quickly grabbed a spoon.  “Wow I’ve never had lunch with anyone before!  Well at least I never had lunch where I can join in.”  He put some ice in his mouth and began munching.  The slush wasn’t something he can really eat as it would simply form part of his body, but it did give him the illusion of eating.  “Not bad,” he said. “Thanks Fredrik.”  He took two more bites.  “I think I’m going to go for seconds.”

Lt. Andersen and I laughed together. 

“Slow down Olaf, you’ll give yourself a tummy ache,” my companion said.

“I don’t mind, this is really good,” he said as he slurped some more.  “Now, this meal would be perfect with a story.  So what happened to you Peter? Did Elsa make friends with the king of the Southern Isles?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call him a friend,” Lt. Andersen shrugged before proceeding with his tale…

The king of the Southern Isles got down from his horse and focused on Queen Elsa.  His face was all smiles as he approached her. 

"Greetings, Queen Elsa of Arendelle.  To what do I owe this honor of your presence in my kingdom?" His manner was open though it didn't really put me at ease as there was still a small army surrounding us.  The fact that they were waiting for us disturbed me even more.   Have we blown our cover? Have we failed our mission?

Queen Elsa lifted her head up to the king but spoke in an assuring manner.  "We come here with no intent to harm anyone.  We ask only for passage through your beautiful kingdom and we shall go on our way.”

“May I ask to what direction you are headed, your majesty?” the King asked.

“We are simply passing through to another land,” Queen Elsa replied evasively.  “We apologize for any inconvenience and for not coming to announce our presence.  We do not wish to disturb the peace of your kingdom or to oblige you in any manner.  We will be off as soon as we are able.”

King Sigurd motioned to his soldiers to stand down and all of them obeyed.  "My apologies if I frightened you, your majesty.  As you may well know, I am only cautious.  And seeing you with Hans made me even more suspicious.  Certainly, you will feel the same way if you are in my shoes.  Allow me to welcome you, as one monarch to another.  Please do receive the hospitality of the Southern Isles.” 

I fought the urge to sigh with relief.  We may have lost our anonymity but at least we weren’t being taken in chains or being shot at.  We heard from Chip that the Southern Isles signed a non-aggression pact with Weselton a week ago. I felt a sliver of hope that if they kept to the pact they would just let us go on our way without informing the Weselton authorities of our presence.  I said a silent prayer that this particular king would give us that slim chance or else everything we fight for will be lost.

"Thank you your majesty, but I would not presume to impose on you more than I already have," Queen Elsa replied.

"Nonsense," King Sigurd shook his head.  "I am much honored by your visit." He turned to his brother and a frown reappeared on his face. "Hans, have you been telling her majesty that she is not welcome here so she has to sneak like thief through my city without allowing me the pleasure of her acquaintance?  Still the impetuous boy I see." He shook his head as if he was admonishing a naughty child.

Captain Westergard scowled but his brother failed to see it as he reverted back to the Queen.

"Queen Elsa, I must warn you that Hans has a rather biased view of me and my kingdom so I do not expect you to hear anything good from his lips.  But I am here to dispel any bad impressions you may have.  Allow me to conduct you via carriage to my palace as befits your position and I will be much obliged to serve you in any way I can."

I've been around Queen Elsa for quite some time now that I knew from the slightest tilt of her head that she doubted the king's word.  But to a stranger she appeared as cool and collected as ever.

"Thank you, your majesty,” she replied with grace.  “I am most honored by the invitation and gladly accept.   I only ask that all three of my escorts be extended with the same courtesy of your warm hospitality.”

King Sigurd's cheerful expression disappeared and he gave Captain Westergard a look of disdain. "Certainly, I shall extend the same to your two escorts.  But I'm afraid Hans has been banned from the Southern Isles and cannot be afforded a welcome here.  In fact his being here is a crime for which he will be arrested."

At his word, several soldiers moved towards the Captain.  He made no move to fight and seemed willing to surrender.  But Queen Elsa stepped in front of him in a protective stance that the guards stopped. 

"King Sigurd, I beg your indulgence to refresh my memory,” Queen Elsa said.  “But I seem to recall the treaty of 1794 signed by both my father and yours states that crimes committed outside our own territories will be prosecuted in the offender's country of citizenship.”

The king looked puzzled but nodded.  “Yes, that particular treaty is still in effect.  I do believe that was the same treaty I invoked when I requested Hans sent back to me after he committed treason against your person in Arendelle.  I assure you I have imposed on him just penalties within our laws.  And his being on the Southern Isles’ soil today is in fact a break of his penalty for which he will be punished severely.”  He spoke the last words with a stern look aimed at his brother.

“Thank you for confirming that, your majesty,” Queen Elsa said as if she didn’t notice his expression.  “I assure you I do not question the judgment you gave him them.  But I do remember that part of Captain Hans Westergard’s punishment for committing treason in Arendelle was that you revoked his citizenship to the Southern Isles.  I would like to inform you that several years ago my sister Princess Anna granted him citizenship to Arendelle.  He is now a citizen of my country.  As his monarch, I think it would be fitting that I demand you turn him over to me to deal with as I see fit."

King Sigurd looked astonished for a moment before he burst into a good-natured laugh.

"Ah your majesty.  I have heard of your beauty and power but I didn't realize you also had a mind to match.  Very clever.  Very clever indeed.  I suppose the moment I surrender him to you, you will pardon him for this offense."

"That is my prerogative as Arendelle's monarch," Queen Elsa smiled without losing the innocent smile on her face.

King Sigurd sighed.  "Very well, I turn him over to you."

"And as Queen of Arendelle I grant him full pardon.”

I saw the corners of Captain Westergard’s mouth twitch in a snicker for a moment before he resumed his stoic expression.  I can imagine his ears were applauding Queen Elsa for putting his brother down a notch.

 “Now then, King Sigurd,” continued the Queen.  “As we have settled these matters perhaps you would be willing to extend the same courtesy to Captain Westergard as an officer of my navy and my official escort."

If King Sigurd felt any slight by it, he gave no indication.  He gave her a bow.  "Of course, Queen Elsa. My apologies I meant no offense.  Please… my carriage is at your service.”

He led the Queen to a closed carriage where we all quickly joined her. I was relieved to find the four of us were left alone inside which gave us the quick opportunity to confer in private.

"Thank you," were the first words that passed through Captain Westergard's lips when the carriage door closed on us.

“I take care of my own Captain," Queen Elsa replied. "Now what do I need to know to win him on our side for an alliance?"

"This will be tricky," said Captain Westergard.  "Sigurd's probably the most crafty of my brothers.  It comes with practice because he has been fighting to secure his claim to the throne for most of his life."

"I don't understand," said the Queen. "Why would he need to fight for his throne? Isn't he the first born son?"

"Yes, but he's also illegitimate.”

We all gave him astonished looks.

“It’s not well-known outside of court of the Southern Isles,” explained the Captain.  “But Sigurd is my father's love child from a handmaiden at court during his teens.  You see, our father was only a second-born son and ascended the throne by accident when his older brother died of a sudden illness.  My father loved Sigurd's mother best among the mothers of his sons.  As the second son, he could have married her and lived happily out of court. But after he was crowned, his advisers deemed her too poor in station to be a consort to the king.  He sent her away and married a more suitable princess who became the mother of my next five brothers. Sigurd's mother died a year after he was born and my father forged his marriage certificate with his mother to legitimize him and make him his heir.  Sigurd tried to hide that fact for years but it hasn't prevented my other brothers from challenging his claim to the throne.”

“Interesting,” Queen Elsa said.  “So how does that help us?”

“Well Sigurd’s been insecure all his life because of his birth.   He kept power this long by having the military and ordinary citizens on his side and by forging alliances with other nations that can support him in case of an insurrection.  He wants nothing more than to have his own progeny to succeed him.  Morten is his only son, a widower a few years younger than me.  He has only one teenage daughter and as far as I know no other children.  There is a rather lack of spares from Sigurd’s line so that adds to his problems.  Play to his desire for security and there's a chance we can have him on our side."

Queen Elsa seemed to ponder over that.  "It will be difficult to convince him to turn his back on Weselton.  Even a trade treaty with Arendelle and our other allies won't be enough considering we'll be asking him to go against his next door neighbor."

Captain Westergard nodded. "That’s true, but Weselton hasn't exactly been a very good neighbor to the Southern Isles.  Sigurd plays along with them because he doesn't want the giant bully as his opponent.  Make him realize we can be a better ally as a nation that plays fair over one that can betray him in the future.  It doesn't hurt to flash those icy powers either.  He is already impressed with you as a queen.  Remind him exactly what makes you a formidable opponent should he decide to cross you."

The carriage stopped in front of the gates of the palace and we knew our moment for private counsel was over. 

"Well then," Queen Elsa said just as the door of the carriage opened.  "I supposed the time for being inconspicuous is over."

Finn and I alighted from the carriage first followed by Captain Westergard.  He extended his hand to her as she stepped down.  But as she did, Queen Elsa peasant's dress melted away to be replaced by a sparkling blue gown with an elegant sheer train.  Snowflakes appeared from the tip of her single braid and crept up her hair to form a regal tiara of ice that encircled her forehead.  I noted the awestruck faces of our welcoming party at the transformation they witnessed.  King Sigurd looked equally impressed but he easily covered it. 

We were conducted in all matter of pomp to the castle.  There, we were met by some of the Southern Isles’ officials.  Four of them I knew at first glance were Captain Westergard’s brothers from the same shade of red hair and green eyes they possessed.   They were introduced as Princes Heinrik, Jarle, Svere and Gunnar.   They greeted Queen Elsa politely though they kept their distance as most of the other courtiers did.  I could tell they were all wary and in awe of her as no doubt her reputation as a powerful ice witch preceded her. 

There were so many courtiers introduced to us that I forgot most of their names.  But one person I noticed was the grand duchess Brigitta, Sigurd’s 16-year-old granddaughter.   She inherited her grandfather’s red hair but apparently nothing else.  She looked very plain with a morose expression that never left her face the whole time I saw her.  She barely spoke a greeting to Queen Elsa when she was introduced and looked content to stay on the sidelines. 

King Sigurd hosted a sumptuous banquet for us.   He and Queen Elsa kept up a light conversation throughout dinner with topics kept safely confined to the variances in the history, culture and foods of Arendelle and the Southern Isles.  He could clearly talk with intelligence and had a charm about him much like Captain Westergard.  His other younger brothers proved equally interesting conversationalists that I could tell it was common family trait.

Captain Westergard was unusually silent during the entire length of the meal but he couldn’t have been more conspicuous if he yelled.  I could tell from the looks people were giving him that they were all surprised and intrigued on how their wayward youngest prince suddenly returned to their country not as a criminal but as an official escort of the queen he once tried to kill.  Not one tried to ask the nagging question in Queen Elsa’s presence, but I could feel the tension thickly in the air.

It was such a relief when dinner ended.  The King invited Queen Elsa for drinks in the privacy of his office and I knew it was the signal for them to talk of more serious matters.  Security protocol allowed her to bring at least one official escort in the room with her.  I think she would have wanted Captain Westergard to accompany her.   But she felt the King’s unease with him and I was selected instead. 

Before the door of office closed I caught a glimpse of Captain Westergard approached by three of his older brothers.  I shared a look with Finn and he nodded a silent agreement that he would look after our companion in case things got unpleasant.  It struck me as odd that I started this journey with the intent of guarding the Queen against Captain Westergard, and now I was worried over his safety.

I stood at a respectful distance at the corner of the room opposite the guard assigned to the king.  The two monarchs sat on comfortable chairs of the lavish office. 

“Well, Queen Elsa,” King Sigurd began after he poured them a drink.  White wine for her and brandy for him.  “I think you would be willing to indulge my many questions on why you are here.  But I suppose I should address the rather large elephant in the room first.  How is it possible that Hans ended up in your service and as far as I can tell in your confidence?”

“Yes, I am willing to answer your questions if you will also indulge my own questions.”

“Of course, of course, your majesty.  I am open to give and take,” he said pleasantly.

“Thank you,” replied Queen Elsa.  “On the subject of Hans, he has been living in Arendelle for quite some time and he has proved rather capable as an officer in my navy.   In our current situation he has also exhibited his usefulness with his rather creative strategies.”

“By situation, you mean the war with Weselton?  I’m quite aware of the news that Arendelle is a bit of a dire straight on this war, and I am not surprised that Hans may have proved useful to you.  I am well aware of his capabilities.”  He paused to take a drink.  “Hans is brilliant, I know that but I must warn you that he isn’t someone I can trust and I am surprised that you have done so given his past history with you.”

“I appreciate the warning but tell me, why do you think I should not trust him, your majesty?  Aside from the incident on my coronation, is he so terrible that his own brother would dismiss him as untrustworthy?”  I sensed the Queen was fishing for information on Captain Westergard and this time with his brother can yield some valuable information.

“Queen Elsa, are you aware that he committed treason against me before he did to you?” 

The Queen shook her head, surprise was clearly written on her face.  “What has he done?”

The king got up from his seat and began to pace.  “I’m sure Hans has made it known to you by now about the circumstances of my birth.  Since I was a young child, my stepmother has hinted that I had no real right to the throne and that Gregor my oldest brother was the legitimate heir.  It was only my father’s love that protected me from being cast aside as a bastard.  When he died, my brothers put up one scheme after another to bring my government down.” 

He paused to take a swig of his drink and he looked away as if he was recalling the memories.   “Oh they did not openly oppose me.  Not at first.  They did it through subtle means—sabotaging my trade agreements, siphoning the crown funds into their own accounts, instigating little rebellions in the provinces.  But I was always one step ahead and they couldn’t prove I was a bastard.  That was until Hans accidentally found the document that proved my illegitimacy hidden in a forgotten book in the library.  And what did Hans do?” He stared back at Queen Elsa.  “He turned it over to Gregor—in exchange for the freedom of an innkeeper and his family.”

Queen Elsa couldn’t help but gasp.  “You knew?”

“Of course I knew,” replied the king.  “And I also knew that innkeeper was once a French prince that has been living illegally in my land for decades.  I’ve kept my eye him for quite some time.   I still do.  How did you think I knew you were coming?  I have my ways.” 

I shuddered at the thought that someone from the Rose Inn betrayed us.  I was sure Father Adam, Belle, Chip and his immediately family would not have done so.  But the inn did have other servants and one of them must have been the king’s spy. 

“Hans was just twelve years old when he turned over that document,” Queen Elsa argued.  “He was just a child.  You can’t blame him for being frightened into giving it to Gregor.”

“I am aware of that,” King Sigurd said.  “But the consequences of his actions resulted in disaster not only to me but to the rest of the Southern Isles just the same.  That document gave my brothers ammunition enough to take me to court to protest my claim to the throne.  That legal battle took more than ten years to settle.  When our court finally upheld my claim as legitimate king, Gregor launched an insurrection against me in collaboration with our other brothers.  It resulted in loss lives and massive destruction of some provinces.”

“I’m sorry,” Queen Elsa said.  “I didn’t know.”

“In hindsight, I did realize my own neglect of Hans pushed him into that position.  I must admit after that incident I became even harsher with him.  I denied him a naval commission when he asked, refused him a position at my court and essentially blamed him for my own misfortunes.  But when I realized my error, I gave him another chance.  However, he proved to be just as a snake as my other brothers.”

“The incident on my coronation, you mean?”

King Sigurd nodded.  “Oh Queen Elsa, do you know the reason Hans was at your coronation?”

Queen Elsa shook her head.

“I sent him there to negotiate for your hand in marriage to my son Morten.  That’s how much I valued an alliance with Arendelle.  That mission was a simple test of Hans’ abilities and his loyalty to me.  I would have given him a position in my court or in the navy just as I did my other younger brothers had he succeeded.  Instead he blew it and caused a rift between our countries and caused an international scandal at a time the Southern Isles was just recovering from the economic repercussions of Gregor’s rebellion.   Hans did it for his own selfish means and that is something I cannot forgive.”

He stopped again and sat down.  “But enough of Hans.  I can only give you fair caution against him but I do not wish to impose on your own decisions.    Tell me Queen Elsa, what brings you so far from your own shores?”

The change of topic was so sudden, it startled me.  But Queen Elsa remained calm and answered confidently. "I've come here to propose an alliance.”

The king smiled.  “I am listening.”

Queen Elsa smiled back.   “You are well aware that Arendelle is currently at war with Weselton. We plan to end this war with a counter attack a week from now and we will be able to soundly defeat their navy."

The king raised an eyebrow in surprise.  "Bold words you majesty, but Weselton has a considerable force to reckon with. Please do enlighten me on how you may accomplish this rather gargantuan task."  His tone was neutral but his eyes no longer held a sincere light to them.  I can tell the man had a way to intimidate with such subtlety.  Captain Westergard may hate his older brother but he seemed to have caught on more traits with the king than he thinks.

Queen Elsa though didn't appear to be intimidated.  Her expression didn't waver but the temperature in the room dropped considerably.  "I can give you a demonstration if you want," she said in an eerily sweet tone.  Clearly Queen Elsa could match his intimidation with her own.

King Sigurd looked taken aback for moment but he quickly recovered.  "I don't think so your majesty.  I think a verbal explanation will suffice.  Tell me how will your powers be put to use against Weselton?"

Queen Elsa gave an outline of Captain Westergard's original plan though I noticed she carefully excluded the part that we are already allied with Gormund, Condor, Tastris, Antalona and Madinova.  She also gave no clue as to the location or numbers of our fleet. Clearly, the Queen was keeping some of our cards close to her chest. 

King Sigurd nodded politely while she spoke.  When the Queen finished he pronounced her astoundingly clever for concocting such a plan.

"But it is not I who made it up but your own brother Hans," said Queen Elsa.

"Ah well," the king shrugged.  "I now see why you have taken him under his wing.  If there’s anything good I can say about Hans is that he is quite the brilliant tactician.  But there’s a single flaw to that plan of his.  It relies solely on you being near Weselton to succeed and on the element of surprise you will spring on them.”

And there it was.  The king knew the cards were currently in his favor. 

“Yes,” Queen Elsa agreed.  “That is true and so I propose something that perhaps can benefit us both.  I am well aware of non-aggression pact that you signed a week ago with Weselton. But I'm also aware that Weselton has been encroaching on your territory for years.  How sure are you they will honor such agreement?

"They have honored it so far since we signed the treaty," replied King Sigurd.  "My captains reported that there have been no more ships from Weselton sighted on our waters."

"But for how long will they keep away?  Weselton hasn't exactly been known to keep their word.    I remember Glowerhaven also signed a similar non-aggression pact with Weselton.  Half a year later the king of Glowerhaven and all his sons died from the cannon fire sent by the Weselton navy to their ships.  I would hate for such a fate to befall your own family. I propose you join me now.  You have a considerable navy at your disposal. Join your forces with ours and we can rid of the threat they impose while their guard against you is lax."

King Sigurd swirled his drink around and looked uncomfortable.  "What you are asking Queen Elsa is a serious matter.  You are asking me to break my word.  And economic concessions with Weselton to my country are considerable.  I would hate to lose such opportunities.  The livelihoods of my people depend on them."  He spoke with such meekness that I could almost believe him. 

"I understand King Sigurd," Queen Elsa replied.  "And I offer a solution.  Our partnership extends to more economic benefits.  I shall provide you trade concessions with Arendelle which I am sure you are aware has considerable valuable goods.  In addition I have been in good graces with Corona among other countries in the region which I am certain are willing to extend similar opportunities."

They proceeded to discuss the various tradable goods they could exchange and worked out the figures that two nations can mutually benefit from.  The king responded rather positively and I felt hopeful that things appeared to be turning in our favor.   By the end of an hour of discussing figures, I was convinced that we would leave here with the might of the Southern Isles fleet behind us.  All we needed was the assent of the king.

"So what say you, your majesty? Do we have an agreement?" Queen Elsa finally asked

King Sigurd's face remained amiable that I was surprised by his answer.  "It is a valuable proposal I must admit, but what you are asking is for me to go back on my word against another nation.  I think your majesty if you were in my place you would also think twice about doing so without a commitment of your new ally.   A treaty is no more than a piece of paper should the other nation decide at some future not to honor it.  Isn't that what you just emphasized what Weselton would most likely do to me which is why we are here."

Oh he was a sly one.  Captain Westergard was right about him. 

"So tell me your majesty,” King Sigurd asked pointedly.   “What assurance can you give me that our treaty will be honored should I decide to pursue it?

The Queen I knew was caught. I couldn't think of anything else she can offer without revealing too much and making us vulnerable.  But she remained calm with her chin up and spoke.

"Very well King Sigurd, you want an assurance of our commitment then you shall have it.  I am prepared to offer a more lasting pact to our partnership.  One that you admitted you valued at one point that you sent Hans to negotiate it on my coronation."

‘No!’ I almost screamed at her.  She couldn’t possibly consider it!  But she spoke with finality:

"I offer my hand in marriage to your son."

Chapter Text

 

“WAIT-WHAT???!!!”  Olaf and I screamed at Lt. Andersen in unison at the revelation that my aunt just offered her hand in marriage to the son of King Sigurd of the Southern Isles.

“She can’t be serious!” I went on.  “She wouldn’t… she couldn’t…” I stuttered while Olaf seemed to be caught in a daze and kept muttering incoherently:

“Elsa’s getting married… Elsa’s getting married…  And she didn’t tell me.  When is she going to tell me?”

“Hang on,” Lt. Andersen said.  “Snap out of it Olaf!  I’m not finished with the story yet.  There’s still a lot that went on.”

“You mean King Sigurd said no?” I asked as the little snowman did snap out of his daze and looked up hopefully.

“Errr… it’s complicated.  He—”

“No! Don’t tell us directly!” I begged.  “Tell it like it happened.”  Despite my shock, it was still the most interesting twist of the story yet and I wanted to know all the details.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay with that Olaf?” Lt. Andersen asked. 

“It does have a happy ending right?” he asked.

Lt. Andersen looked uncomfortable.  “Well… uhhhmmm… slightly… happy…”

Olaf frowned.  “Okay, I’ll take the chance.  But promise to hug me when you get to the bad parts.” 

I moved next to Olaf and put an arm around him.  I had a feeling this story was about to get really bad.   

Lt. Andersen sat on Olaf’s other’s side and offered his own arm around the snowman before going on…

The silence that hung between Queen Elsa and King Sigurd after her offer seemed to take forever.  The king didn’t break eye contact with her but I can tell his mind was racing.  There was a sudden twinkle in his eye that made me feel uneasy.

“That is an interesting proposition, Queen Elsa.  Of course, Morten would be honored with such an offer as yourself as his bride.  But this is no easy decision. May I ask for some time to consider it?”

I sighed with relief and although Queen Elsa didn’t show it, I know she is probably feeling the same. 

“Of course, your majesty,” she replied.  

“Thank you,” said the King.  “Allow me to sleep on it.  Until then, please do take the time to rest.  I am sure you are fatigued from your journey.  My servants will have accommodations for you and your escorts.”  They stood together but Queen Elsa stopped him from going further. 

“May I ask for one thing, King Sigurd in connection to my proposal?”

“What is it?”

“The family that owns the Rose Inn, should you accept my proposal allow them and their descendants to live freely and unmolested forever as citizens of the Southern Isles.”

“Hmmm…” the King said thoughtfully.  “I suppose they are harmless.”

“Thank you,” replied Queen Elsa.  They gave each other polite bows before the King led her out the door.

There was a cluster of courtiers waiting outside the door with curious looks on their faces.   The king however, ignored them all and called for a manservant.   He gave instructions to lead his royal guest to her quarters for the evening.    One of the king’s brothers—Prince Heinrik—stepped forward.

“Oh allow me brother, to escort her majesty there,” he said as he offered her arm to the Queen.

King Sigurd nodded.  “Go ahead Heinrik.  But come back to my study afterwards.”

“As you wish, sire,” he said with a curtsey.

The Queen accepted his arm and they walked together.  I followed after them a few paces behind.

“So tell me your majesty, how well did it fare with my brother?” Prince Heinrik asked.  I could tell his curiosity was just as piqued as the rest of the courtiers.

“His majesty was all graciousness,” Queen Elsa replied.  “He is an excellent host and I am glad I’ve had the pleasure of his acquaintance.”

“That pleases me enormously, Queen Elsa,” Prince Heinrik replied with the smoothness of an expert courtier.  “But as much as I am honored that you have graced our fair country certainly you have a more important mission for coming to our shores.  Dare I guess that you’ve come to offer an alliance perhaps?”

Queen Elsa stopped and looked taken aback at his straightforwardness.  “Prince Heinrik, whatever made you think so?”

“Why simple logic of course and knowledge of the current situation in the region.  I am not the head of the Southern Isles’ fleet for nothing.  I’ve had reports from my sources at sea that almost a month ago your ships engaged the Weselton fleet and you’ve escaped.  You’ve somehow evaded their forces since then that even my sources can provide me no details.   However, I am also aware that such escape caused you significant damages that render you vulnerable to face another skirmish with Weselton.  Thus, your best recourse is to ally yourself with another nation.   What better choice is there than the Southern Isles that has over 50 ships?”

“I see where Hans gets his brilliance,” Queen Elsa replied.

“Oh Hans, he’s always been a fast learner,” he praised.  “He’s a prince of the Southern Isles through and through even if Sigurd took that privilege from him.  He’s a survivor I’ll have you that and I’m not surprised you’ve taken him as your adviser.” 

“You seem to have a soft spot for him,” Queen Elsa observed.  “Sigurd doesn’t share the sentiment.”

The prince smiled sadly as he pushed his falling spectacles towards his nose.  Among the princes I’ve met he seems to be the most amiable.  Even during dinner he was constantly pleasant with a jolly laugh that put everyone at ease.  He told stories of his grandchildren that even Queen Elsa found amusing.  Right now his simple gesture made me feel assured.  “We’re all guilty of ignoring Hans,” he admitted.  “In fact, I pretended he was invisible for two years when we were younger.   He still hates me for it.  He told me so just a while ago.  But unlike Sigurd I do recognize Hans’ potential and I hope to make up to him one day.  If he or you ever need a friend, I am yours.”

“Thank you, Prince Heinrik.  Your offer of friendship means a lot to me.”  She paused for a moment before asking:  “Tell me, do you think King Sigurd would accept my proposal for an alliance?”

“Well that depends, Queen Elsa.  If you don’t mind indulging my curiosity, what did you offer my brother?”

It didn’t seem to matter if Queen Elsa told him.  He probably would find out from King Sigurd later anyway. 

“A few trade concessions with Arendelle,” Queen Elsa replied.  “And my hand in marriage to his son Prince Morten.”

Prince Heinrik’s eyebrow rose slightly at her last words but his expression remained impassive.  “Your marriage to Morten?  Tell me what did my brother say when you offered it?”

“He said he will consider it. Why?  Is there something wrong with it?”

The prince shook his head.  “Why, no your majesty.    I am just merely astonished and honored.   I did not know that we are to be so intimately connected by a marriage to my nephew.”

“So you think he will accept?” Queen Elsa asked.

The prince pushed back his glasses again as it seemed to be a mannerism of his.  “Oh I assure you, Queen Elsa If I know Sigurd he would not let a golden opportunity like this slide.” 

The hallway we were walking on ended into a circular courtyard laden with comfortable chairs surrounded by exotic plants and flowers.  A small fountain tinkled at the center of the grass covered area with a clear view of the night sky.  Surrounding it was a two-story semi-circular building of twelve suites—six on each floor all with its own wide veranda facing the courtyard garden.  Vines with fragrant blossoms that crawled across the building pillars and walls made it seem alive.   

“These used to be our own childhood rooms,” Prince Heinrik explained.  “They have all been converted into guest quarters.  Please make yourself at home to any of them.”

He kissed the queen’s hand gallantly. “I shall send Hans and your other escort to you,” he said.  “I’m sure you are eager to confer with each other.”

He gave a last bow and left us alone.  The prince’s reassurance relived me a little but I couldn’t feel completely safe until I heard from Captain Westergard.  I still trusted him more than his brothers.

Queen Elsa selected a second-floor suite on the farthest right and went to refresh herself.   Finn arrived and relieved me of my watch.  I had time to do a quick wash in the room two doors down the Queen’s chamber and changed into the clothes a chamber maid provided. 

I came out just as Captain Westergard arrived.  We sat together on the center garden and Queen Elsa dismissed all the servants before she told our companions about her audience with King Sigurd and her more casual conversation with Prince Heinrik.    

The captain remained silent throughout her retelling though I noticed he did look upset when she got to the part of offering her hand in marriage to his nephew.

“Was I right in offering a marriage to Prince Morten?” she asked when she finished.

Captain Westergard bit his lip uncomfortably.  “It’s the best thing you could have done from a political standpoint.”  He looked away from her and stared at the ground.   “A marriage to Sigurd’s heir assures him of an established alliance and a bride that can give him grandchildren of an established monarchy is all the more of an advantage.  Heinrik is right, Sigurd will most likely accept this.”

“But what?” Queen Elsa pointedly asked. 

“Nothing,” the Captain shook his head but still failed to meet her gaze.  “As your adviser, I think it’s the best chance we have.  If he refuses an alliance and prefers to remain neutral, we can just ask him to let us go.  Offer him the same trade agreement for it so he’ll grant us safe passage.”

They were both silent for a while but I could sense the Queen had more questions to ask.  “Ensign Lorens, Lt. Andersen, leave me with the Captain for a moment,” she said.

We obeyed her and I led Finn to our shared quarters.  We waited for a minute before Finn and I agreed that orders or not, we were still under duty to protect the Queen and one of us needed to be at least within sight of her when the Captain was around.  I volunteered to do it so Finn could at least get refreshed. 

I sneaked back into the garden courtyard and found Queen Elsa and Captain Westergard in conversation. 

“What is he like?  Morten I mean?” Queen Elsa asked.

“Honestly? He’s handsome, intelligent, gentlemanly,” Captain Westergard said bitterly.    He’s sickeningly Prince Charming in the flesh.”

“Is someone jealous?” Queen Elsa teased.

Captain Westergard gave a defeated sigh.  “I admit I’ve been jealous of him my whole life.  He’s got everything I ever wanted.   From the moment he was born, he had the love of the entire Southern Isles court.  A single sneeze from him rattled all the servants.   Every opportunity for any position he desired was his.  Every maiden in the court wanted to bed him.  He was constantly flattered, praised and practically worshipped.  And it was all for being the first born son of a king.”  He shook his head.  “You know we shared the same birthday and I resented that I never got acknowledged on the day of my own birth.  The parties, the fireworks, the gifts—they were all for him.”  He gave a bitter laugh.  “But this is just me being pathetically petty over my sad childhood, so ignore it. To be fair, Morten isn’t really bad.  He had his moments of being kind.  He gave me the only birthday present I ever received from my Westergard family.”

“What’s that?” Queen Elsa asked.

“Not what? Who?  My horse and my best friend, Sitron”

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa-wait! Sitron? As in Aunt Elsa’s Sitron was Admiral Westergard’s horse?” I cried out and effectively stopped Lt. Andersen’s story. 

“Oh didn’t you know Fredrik?” It was Olaf that replied.  “Sitron came with Hans on Elsa’s coronation.  He was the one that accidentally hit your mother on the docks.  That’s how she and Hans met.”

I didn’t know that.  I always thought he was Aunt Elsa’s horse.  She said when she started to learn how to ride, none of the royal horses allowed her to even come near them.  Apparently, something about her cold touch kept the horses wary of her.  Only Sitron allowed her to ride him and he became her official stallion ever since.  The same thing happened to me when I was beginning to ride.  Only Sitron’s yearling Lima permitted me to mount without a fuss.   That’s how Lima became my mare.

“Sitron’s probably the first horse that Queen Elsa ever came near,” Lt. Andersen explained.  “Maybe because he was the horse Captain Westergard used to carry Elsa back home from her ice castle after the disaster of her coronation. 

“Sitron’s a really a nice horse,” Olaf agreed.  “Even Sven likes him.”

“That’s interesting.  But how did he end up belonging to Aunt Elsa?” I asked

“Oh I know! I know!” said Olaf.  “Sitron was left in the stables when Elsa shipped Hans back.   He’s lived with the royal horses ever since.”

And apparently fathered many more royal horses ever since, I thought.  My aunt told me he was quite a breeder and probably sired foals from every single royal mare in the family stables.  Apparently, Sitron has the same rakish reputation as his previous owner.  Not that we can complain.  Sitron produced some incredibly strong stallions and mares that were the desire of every horseman in Arendelle.

“And he’s still the Queen’s own horse,” confirmed Lt. Andersen.  “She said so herself…”

 

“Sitron’s your best friend?” Queen Elsa asked.

“Yes, for a long time he was my only friend,” replied Captain Westergard.

“I had no idea, Hans.  I’m sorry for taking him away.  But if it helps I took good care of him.  He’s been my horse for a long time and he is also a good friend.  Sometimes I talk to him and I think he replies to me.”  She paused and a blush appeared on her cheeks.  “You don’t think that’s strange, do you?”

Captain Westergard smiled and shook his head.  “Not at all. I talk to Sitron too.  In fact Sitron’s quite talkative—in a horse kind of way.  Sometimes he yaps around too much and never lets me get a word in.”

Queen Elsa’s laughed like a bell and made a dramatic gesture with her arms.  “I am so glad someone finally gets it!  Anna thinks I’m weird for saying so.   I mean considering her husband talks to his reindeer too.  But really Hans, I promise when this war is over, feel free to come by and see Sitron at any time.”

“You mean it?” Captain Westergard’s face looked so happy as he took the Queen’s hand.  “Thank you!  You don’t know how much that means to me.”

They both fell silent until he seemed to realize he was holding her hand and he abruptly let go of it.  

“Well… uhhmmm…” Captain Westergard said with a slight cough.  “Anyway going back to the errr…  previous issue at hand…”

“Yes,” said Queen Elsa.  “You were saying about Prince Morten?”

“You can’t get worse by Morten.  He can be a bit obnoxious—he was after all a crown prince but maybe he’s just like that to me.”  He stopped then added somberly:  “I think you’ll learn to love him Elsa, and he would probably make you very happy.”

“Thank you,” the Queen replied in almost a whisper that I barely heard it.

“If not, there’s always Sitron,” Captain Westergard shrugged with a forced laugh.  “His counsel is a great comfort.  I’ve been a very grateful recipient of it for years.”

“Yes,” replied the Queen gave a similar laugh.  “There’s always Sitron.”

“I think you should get some rest now,” he said rather awkwardly.   “Big day tomorrow.”

“Yes, I might be meeting my affianced tomorrow,” she agreed.  “If all goes well.”

“If all goes well,” he repeated.  She turned away from him and made her way to her suite.  I quickly ducked behind a potted plant to avoid being seen. 

I heard her door close before I felt a shadow above me.  I looked up and found Captain Westergard’s gaze on me.

“Andersen, remind me when we get back to Arendelle to improve your eavesdropping training.  I can hear you breathing all the way down there.”

“Errr… sorry Captain?” I muttered pathetically.

“Never mind,” he said.  “Well I hope you’re a better guard than a spy.  You and Finn take turns in keeping an eye out on the Queen.  I need to do a bit of reconnaissance for us.  I’m going to go check with my brothers.  Unpleasant though they may be they’re still the best sources of information.   I’ll try to see Morten as well.  I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think I’ll try to sell him the idea of marrying Queen Elsa.”

He muttered the last line as if he was lost in thought.  He went off just as Finn came out.  He took the first shift in guarding the Queen while I got a few hours of sleep.

Finn woke me a little past midnight and reported nothing of importance.  I was on my watch for barely an hour when Captain Westergard reappeared and went straight to me.

“Andersen, I need to be in her majesty’s bed chamber right now,” he said urgently.

If he said that to me three weeks ago I would have barred the door and told him off for the impropriety of his demands.  But the time I spent with him made me understand that he would not request this if it wasn’t important.

“What’s going on?” I said as I softly knocked on the Queen’s door.

“There’s something wrong here, I can sense it.  But I need something in that room that can probably shed light to this.  I would have waited until tomorrow to get it, but it might be too late by then.”  He rapped even louder on her door.  “Queen Elsa!”

There was no answer for she must be asleep at this late hour. 

“I don’t have time for this,” he said.  He jiggled the doorknob and with a few twists the door burst open.

“How did you…?” I asked.

“This used to be my bedroom,” he explained as he shook his head.  “It doesn’t matter. Get Lorens and come back here.”

I got Finn up and went straight back to the Queen’s quarters.  We found Queen Elsa already up and standing in the middle of the room while Captain Westergard was carelessly emptying one of her drawers of various pieces of linen.

 “What is he doing?” I asked the Queen.

“I’m not sure,” Queen Elsa replied.  “He said he needs to find something important.”

The drawer the Captain kept emptying appeared to have some rather intimate items.  I noticed several bits of lacy lingerie.   One particularly scandalous red piece almost ended up in Queen Elsa’s face when she tried to approach him to check what he was trying to find.  She held it up and wrinkled her nose at it before she threw it away in disgust. 

“Why would your brother provide me a drawer full of this type of clothes?” she asked. 

“Don’t blame Sigurd,” Captain Westergard said without turning back to her or stopping from his task.  “He probably doesn’t even know you would pick this particular room.  But I heard from Gunnar, Reidar likes to use my former bedroom for his errr… conquests.  Apparently he keeps the drawers stocked with the essentials.”

A riding crop followed by a pair of chains ended up on the floor next along with a bottle of honey.  Queen Elsa shuddered and jumped away from the fallen items as if they were something infectious.  

When the drawer was emptied completely Captain Westergard gave a few knocks on the inside bottom of it.  “Good, they haven’t found it yet.”  He gave it one more solid knock and it opened to reveal a false bottom.  He pulled out what appeared to be an old tin box.

“What is it?” Queen Elsa asked. 

He sat on the edge of the bed and opened the lid.  Queen Elsa sat next to him and peered in.  The box contained a few childish treasures.  I glimpsed a wooden toy soldier, a matching horse, a paper boat and a few pieces of yellowed parchment. 

I raised an eyebrow at him and I wanted to shout out:  ‘You disturbed the Queen’s sleep to recover your hidden childhood stash?’

The Captain pulled out a hand mirror from the bottom of the box.  “This is what I came for,” he said.  “This was a gift from Belle when I was young.  It can show me anyone I asked for.  She gave this to me so I can always see them whenever I couldn’t come to the Rose Inn.  Here, let me show you.  Show me Ensign Finn Lorens.”

The mirror burst into light and revealed Finn just as he was across the room.  But the eerie thing about it was the mirror wasn’t reflecting him as it was turned the opposite way.     

“A magic mirror?” Queen Elsa gasped with delight.  “This thing can show me anyone? Even Anna?”

“Yes,” Captain Westergard replied.  “But we can do that later.  I have to check something first.”  He turned to the mirror and spoke to it clearly.  “Show me Prince Morten of the Southern Isles.”

The mirror didn’t burst into light.  Instead it darkened into pitch black.

“We have to get out of here,” Captain Westergard said grimly.  “This confirms what I suspect.  I’ve been asking for Morten for hours among everyone in court.  No one has seen him for over three weeks.  In fact no one here seems to know where he is.”

“I don’t understand,” said Queen Elsa.  “What has this got to do with us leaving?”

“Elsa, Sigurd has no intention of marrying you to Morten.”  

“Why not?”

“Because he can’t!” replied the Captain.  “Morten’s already dead!  That’s why I can’t see him in the mirror.   And with his heir gone, Sigurd’s line of succession is again under threat.  He’s kept this secret from his own court for the last three weeks.  Didn’t you notice the way Brigitta was acting?  That’s a grieving girl right there.  She can’t even mourn for her father in public because it will threaten her grandfather’s security.”  He pocketed the mirror and bade her stand.  “Come on, we have to get out now!” 

“What? Stop Hans!  I don’t understand!” she said.  “Why didn’t just Sigurd tell me his son’s dead?  Why did he make us believe he was willing to consider an alliance?”

“Precisely!” Captain Westergard said as he opened the door.  “There’s only one reason he kept us out in the dark.  It’s to give us a false sense of security so he can find out about our plans against Weselton. I’m so stupid! He played us!”

“Perceptive as always, Hans.  But I’m afraid you’re a little too late.”  

We looked down and there was King Sigurd standing in the middle of the garden with dozens of soldiers much like our first encounter with him. 

“Look King Sigurd, I’m sure we can make another arrangement,” Queen Elsa offered.  “I understand if you don’t want to go back on your word to Weselton.  You don’t have to.  Just let us go on our way.  We ask for no assistance only that you do not reveal our plans to them.  My offer for the economic concessions with Arendelle still stands when this war is over.”

“And what use will those economic concessions will be to me, your majesty?” King Sigurd asked condescendingly.  His pleasant manner was completely gone and I realized we were seeing the side of his personality that Captain Westergard warned us about.  “This war will be over soon Queen Elsa.  You are right about that.  But I’m afraid you won’t be at the winning end of it.  When that happens, the Southern Isles needs to be allied with the victor.”

“Be reasonable Sigurd,” Captain Westergard implored.  “Let Queen Elsa go and I promise you Arendelle will win this war.”

“But I am reasonable Hans,” King Sigurd replied and he turned back to the Queen.  “It’s nothing personal.  I do like you Queen Elsa, but the succession of the Southern Isles is at stake here.  I’m afraid your hand in marriage and your offer of trade has no use for me now that my son is dead.  The king of Weselton on the other hand, has a young son that would be the perfect match for Brigitta.  That crafty Weselton ambassador however, demands a show of tribute from me before he accepts my granddaughter for his prince.  The Ice Queen of Arendelle would be more than a fitting dowry for my granddaughter don’t you think?”

A blizzard blew into the garden even before the soldiers can make a move. 

“Wait Queen Elsa!” King Sigurd shouted over the storm.  “You might want to see this first.  Bring them in!”

Queen Elsa’s snow storm slowed though it didn’t disappear completely.  Guards appeared and pushed several figures in chains that they ended up falling on their knees on the ground.  It was Belle, Father Adam, Chip, his wife Anabel and their three grandchildren.  His message was clear.

“Leave them out of this Sigurd!” Captain Westergard cried.

 “Oh Hans, we both know I can’t.” 

He focused back to Queen Elsa and with an icy demeanor that could match her own blizzard he uttered:  “Stand down your majesty.  Or dear old Belle dies first.”

Chapter Text

 

“NOOO! Not dear old Belle!” Olaf sobbed as he buried his face in my arms after the Lt. Andersen revealed the threat of King Sigurd of the Southern Isles.  Our storyteller was equally distraught over Olaf’s reaction.  But then the snowman pulled out of my arms and asked innocently:  “Wait, who is this dear old Belle?”

“He’s sort of Admiral Westergard’s adoptive mother,” Lt. Andersen explained. 

Oh no! That was the wrong thing to say, I thought dreadfully as Olaf’s eyes watered and his little mouth quivered.  He bawled even louder on my shirt that was already soaked with slushed snow-tears.  “They’re going to hurt his Mama!” 

“She’s okay!” Lt. Andersen quickly said.  “They’re okay.  I mean yes we did get captured and they put us on a ship to Weselton but we got out and we had Belle and Chip and his entire family safe.”

“They were?” Olaf sniffled.  “How?”

“Prince Heinrik, he let us go,” Lt. Andersen explained.

“Hans’ nicer brother?” Olaf asked.  His eyes grew wide with innocent optimism.

“Uhhhmmm… yeah,” Lt. Andersen muttered.  “His… errr… other brother.”  He gave me a look that meant the next part of the story he was about to relay was a slightly sanitized version of what really happened for Olaf’s sake.   I would have to ask him later for the rest of the details when Olaf was no longer around…

King Sigurd had all of us shackled and forced into a ship bound for Weselton in the dead of the night.  Queen Elsa was chained to the bottom of the cargo hold with her hands bound with iron manacles.  I was sure the Queen could have easily frozen her bounds and escaped but she cooperated with our captors knowing that the lives of innocents were at stake if she as much as struggled.  Captain Westergard, Finn and I were bound and thrown in with her.

“I knew we shouldn’t have come to the Rose Inn,” Captain Westergard said morosely.  “I’m sorry your majesty, I failed you.  I failed all of you and I failed Chip, Belle and Father Adam.”

“It’s not your fault Hans,” Queen Elsa comforted although her words made little meaning in the situation we were in. 

 “I should have seen it coming from Sigurd,” he said.  “I was so blinded by the stupid hope that maybe things will be better.”  He heaved a sigh.  “I wished this time we’d end up forming at least a civil relationship, but I guess it’s never going to happen.”

“Why would you think he’s capable of even being civil after what he did to you before?” the Queen puzzled.  “And now he’s about to sell us to the enemy.”

“Believe it or not, Sigurd is a merciful man despite what he did.  He probably cared about me and the rest of my brothers in his own small way.    I mean Gregor and my other four brothers that joined him could have been executed after they rebelled against Sigurd.  Treason is punishable by death according to Southern Isles law.  But Sigurd still commuted their sentences to banishment, the same as he did to me.  I don’t think he’s one who is willing to spill his own blood if he can help it.”

“Well then maybe he will be merciful with us,” Queen Elsa said.  “He might be able to see reason.”

“Maybe to you, your majesty.  But not to me.  I’m beyond his forgiveness.”

“Why do you think so?” she asked.  “No one is beyond forgiveness.”

“I am.  I betrayed Sigurd first and I should have expected he would retaliate just as he had the first time I did that to him.”  He stopped and he seemed to think for a moment before he continued.   “You know we probably could have been friends if we didn’t keep taking turns betraying each other.”  

A group of guards entered our prison just then and took Captain Westergard, Finn and I to another smaller cell in the upper decks while they left Queen Elsa chained in the hold.  We remained silent after that.  But as early morning light streamed in through the cracks of our cell, our new hope arrived.  Oddly it came from a person we didn’t expect: Prince Heinrik.

“What do you want Heinrik?” Captain Westergard hissed angrily as soon as his brother came into his line of vision.

“I understand you’re angry at me,” the older prince said in a calming voice.  “But I’m here to help you.”  He took out a ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked our chains.  “I’m sorry it took me a while, I needed us to be clear of the Southern Isles before I make a move.  Sigurd has spies everywhere.  Come on, follow me.”

“Where?” Captain Westergard asked doubtfully.

“You’ll see,” Prince Heinrik said.  He led us to the upper decks and into the Captain’s quarters.  There we found the captives of the Rose Inn clustered around a bedridden Father Adam.  Everyone though appeared to be unharmed.

“Belle!” Captain Westergard openly burst into tears as he hugged the woman he loved as his mother.  The rest of the little family clustered around them in a group hug.  “I’m so sorry, all of you,” Captain Westergard cried.  “I shouldn’t have come.  I put your lives in danger again.”

“It’s alright Hans,” Belle said as she lovingly stroked his auburn hair like she would a little boy.  “Heinrik was gentle with us.  He said he’ll take us to a safe place.  He even got Chip’s children and their wives out of the Rose Inn too.”

Captain Westergard extricated himself from “his mother’s” embrace and faced his older brother.  “Thank you Heinrik.  But why?  Didn’t Sigurd order you to deliver Queen Elsa to Weselton?”

“Oh we’re going to Weasel Town alright Hans,” his brother replied.  He pronounced the name of the enemy country with disgust.  “But I’m not delivering the Queen into their filthy little hands.  I’m taking you to complete your mission against Sigurd’s orders.”

“Why are you doing this?” Captain Westergard asked with obvious astonishment.  If Prince Heinrik was disobeying his own king it meant he was committing treason.

“Because I’m trying to save the Southern Isles, Hans.  Sigurd’s making a big mistake allying himself with those Weasels.  He’s blinded by his desire to keep his throne that he can’t see that the marriage of his mousy little granddaughter to the Weselton heir will not stop those greedy bastards from taking the Isles by force one day.  I’m not going to stand by idly and let them take our home.  If it means I have to defy Sigurd to do it then so be it.”  He said it with so much passion and conviction that I knew this was a man who was determined.  “Help me release your Snow Queen in the hold and you’ll have the 50 ships under my command to back you up. So what do you say, brother?”

Captain Westergard lit up in delighted smile.  “It’s strange hearing that from you, but I do accept, brother.”

 

“So it was a happy ending!” Olaf pronounced cheerfully.  “Hans’ family is okay.  He and his brother Heinrik are good friends now, right?”

Lt. Andersen opened his mouth to answer but quickly closed it.  “Errr… right…”  I could sense that something more went on there but that was something to find out later.  “Well going back to the story then…”

 

We dropped off Belle and Chip’s family in one of the more secluded islands of the Isles before we proceeded to our destination.  Prince Heinrik gave us a small boat and we reached the coast of Weselton under the cover of darkness.  We made it a few days late but still within manageable timeframe of the rendezvous with our fleet.   

The magic mirror which King Sigurd’s guards failed to discover from Captain Westergard’s pocket became our best tool to find out things from the outside world.  With it, we knew that our families were all safe in Arendelle and that our fleet was stationed and ready at the coast of Antalona just as planned.  

Under a starless night sky, the Queen raised the wall of ice around the entire Weselton coast then we retreated to a nearby islet where we set up camp and waited for the fleet to take the lead.

They came at dawn two days later.  They attacked just as Captain Westergard planned and within a matter of hours victory was ours.   We rejoined the fleet to great rejoicing and we came home to even more celebrations.  The end.

 

Lt. Andersen’s story ended so abruptly that I was startled.  But Olaf clapped his twig hands delightfully.  “A good story!” he praised as he got off the bench.  “Well I must be off.  Come along Fredrik.  Anna did send me to find you.  She’s been looking for you since this morning.”

“She what?!” I startled.  “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“But Peter’s story is too good to interrupt,” Olaf said.  He went straight to the door.  “Bye Peter, thanks for the story and for lunch.”

I rushed to follow Olaf but made a quick bow to Lt. Andersen.  “Thanks Lieutenant.  Can I come back later to find out the rest of the ‘real’ story?”

“Of course, Prince Fredrik.  And thanks again for help in making lunch and for getting Papa home.”

“Anytime,” I said before I ran to catch up with the bouncing snowman.

 We haven’t gone far when several peasants surrounded me.  “He’s here!” cried one man who I recall was one of Papa’s ice harvester companions.  “Tell Princess Anna he’s been found!”  A few men ran off in the direction of the castle while the man turned to me and inspected me like he was worried I was wounded.  “Are you alright Prince Fredrik?”

“Why? What happened?” I asked.

“Princess Anna noticed you were missing since this morning and sent out search parties as far as the north mountain.”

“Wait-what! My mother sent out search parties?  I haven’t been gone that long, have I? I mean what time is it? Two in the afternoon?”  I guessed.  I didn’t carry a watch so I was just estimating.

“It’s half past five, Sire,” the man said.

“Oh,” was my only reply.  I guess I did lose track of time.

 By the time we arrived at the castle gates, a small crowd of peasants and servants had gathered just outside the open doors.  My mother stood in front of the gates with her arms crossed on her bulging belly and a stern look on her face.  My two sisters though ran forward to greet me though they weren’t exactly there to welcome me home. 

“Someone’s in trouble,” teased Elise when she ran parallel to me.  Andrea who always followed her big sister repeated the same phrase.  The little twerps were asking for it but I could do nothing but stuck my tongue out at them with Mama appearing displeased while most of the servants and probably a quarter of the village looked on.  Some of the boys I played with last night were there too.   My mother probably got them to join the search.  I wanted to slink away into the ground.  This was so embarrassing and my sisters’ jibes weren’t helping. 

“Where have you been?!” she scolded.   “I’ve had half the kingdom out looking for you.”  She didn’t give me time to answer for she grabbed me and held me tight against her swollen abdomen. 

“I’m okay Mama,” I gave a half-muffled complaint.  “I was just over at the baker’s listening to stories about the war from Lt. Peter Andersen.”

“I told you there was no need to worry Anna,” I heard my father say beside her.  “The boy’s just curious for stories.  Just let him.  When I was his age I was gone with Sven for days before Bulda even went asking for me.”

“Well I’m not a rock troll, Kristoff and I’m not used to having my children away from me,” Mother spat back.  “And after this war…” I could hear her fighting back tears.   “I’m sorry, I nearly lost you and my sister.  I don’t want to lose anyone else.”

I was immediately sorry.  The war did take its toll on Mother and she was quite emotional lately.  Papa said the pregnancy might also be affecting her.  I held her back tightly.

“I’m sorry, Mama.  I promise I won’t go off again without telling you.”

She finally let me go with a kiss on the top of my head.  “Now go get ready.  We’re having a parade for the homeguard and you’re joining so you might want to get Lima prepared too.”

Elise gave me another horrid face when Mother wasn’t looking and her annoyingly gleeful expression irritated me even more.  But I didn’t have time to deal with her just yet.  Maybe I’ll freeze one of her dolls later.  That will teach her to make fun of someone else’s embarrassment.

I headed down to the stables but took the kitchen route to get there.  I picked up a bag of apples on the way.  One of my father’s imposed family rules was that I should learn to groom my own mare.   Even though we had several dozen stablehands at our disposal, he insisted I take care of Lima personally.  It wasn’t really much of a chore for I enjoyed Lima’s company and I consider her a good friend.   I felt slightly guilty that I neglected to visit her this morning.

I heard Lima’s familiar neigh even before I could see her in her stall.  She always knew me from my footfalls even at a distance. 

“Hey Girl, missed me?” I greeted as I offered her an apple from my hand.  She eagerly partook of it while I provided apples each to the other three horses that remained with her in the stable.  It seems that most of the horses were already out and were being readied by the stablehands for the parade.  I took the brush and gave Lima’s dun-colored coat a good sweep then fixed the ribbons in her hair while I told her about the end of the war.  When I finished, I created little snowflakes for her to wear that made her sparkle.

“There, I think you’re going to be the prettiest horse in the parade tonight.  I think we still have time, wanna go for a walk?”  She gave a neigh of assent and I took her out to the pasture nearby. 

We haven’t gone far when I spotted my aunt’s standout sparkling blue gown.    She was standing at the edge of the field we used for training our horses with her back to me.  She was watching Sitron run around in circles and jump fences with such energy.   I was surprised that Sitron was ridden by someone else.  But I knew immediately from the shock of red hair on the rider’s head that it was Admiral Westergard.   My aunt was not much of a horse woman and never really took Sitron jumping this way.  But for the first time, I saw the true powerful grace and ability Sitron possessed as he and his rider seemed to fly and dance around the field with the ease of a solid team.

Aunt Elsa also seemed caught in the spectacle of their display.  I dared not disturb her so I let Lima graze for a bit while I watched from behind a tree. 

Admiral Westergard urged Sitron to jump a rather high wall that I heard my aunt gasp audibly as they sailed through the air.  But they both made it and went straight back to her.

“Don’t ever scare me like that!” Aunt Elsa scolded.  “I thought you were going to break your necks.”

Admiral Westergard laughed and his horse sniggered.  “Calm down Elsa.  You don’t give Sitron credit enough.  He was complaining to me just now that you tend to run him too safely.  He misses the challenge.” 

The horse snorted something that sounded like an agreement and my aunt shot him a dirty look.  “Traitor,” she mumbled.

“But come on Elsa,” Admiral Westergard said as he offered a hand to her in a clear invitation she should get on.  “Let me show you what Sitron is really capable of.”

My aunt seemed to hesitate for a moment but the smug look her horse and his former owner gave her made her accept.  She changed her gown into a blue riding outfit then got on Sitron in front of the Admiral.  One whistle from the Admiral and they took off running around the field at break-neck speed.  She looked like she was about to panic for the first few seconds of it but she gradually eased and looked like she was enjoying herself.  Admiral Westergard whispered something to her and she took the reign and gripped her knees as they made little jumps. 

After several rounds they finally stopped again at the edge of the field.   Admiral Westergard jumped off and helped Aunt Elsa down who looked flushed and a bit out of breath.

“Thank you, that was certainly… different than what Sitron and I used to do,” she said.

“Thank you too, Elsa,” he replied as he petted Sitron.  “This is the best reward I could ever have.”

“You deserve it,” she said.  “But I didn’t come here for a ride Hans.  We need to talk.”  Her tone was serious. 

“What about?” he asked.

“Hans, please be honest with me.  You’re going back to the Southern Isles aren’t you?  And it’s not just to get Belle and Chip’s family home here, is it?”

The admiral’s face darkened.  “And what makes you think that, Elsa?  Not that my personal matters really concern you.”

He turned away but my aunt forced him to look back at her.  “Hans, this isn’t personal.  You are an officer of my navy and what you’re about to do will be interfering on the internal affairs of another state.”

“I’m not going to interfere, Elsa.  I told Heinrik his business with Sigurd is his own.  They can destroy each other for all I care.”

“Don’t lie to me!” my Aunt thundered.  A small cascade of snowflakes fell on them both and dusted their hair.  “I have your letter to Heinrik.  One of the guards intercepted it and thought it best to hand it over to me.  So you can drop the innocent act.”

“Fine! I admit it!  But what do you expect me to do?!” He retorted back so violently I was startled.  “You think I would let that go just like that?” 

He walked away from her in a sudden rage before he whipped back again to her and when he spoke his voice was choked with tears.   “He was the only father I knew, Elsa!  He was an old man who suffered so much and he deserved every bit of comfort of his last days with Belle.  Sigurd knew that but he took him hostage anyway!  It didn’t matter if it was his weak heart that killed him.  Sigurd killed him just as coldly as if he shot him.  If someone did that to your father Elsa, wouldn’t you want the one responsible to pay for it?”

A chill went up my spine at his words.  Father Adam was dead!  His health must have failed him during their escape and I imagined he succumbed to death on the ship.  This was what Lt. Andersen didn’t want to reveal in front of Olaf.  A wave of sadness swept over me and even though I didn’t know Admiral Westergard, I felt his lost in the bitterness of his voice. 

“And you think revenge on Sigurd’s granddaughter is the way to pay for his wrongs?” Aunt Elsa went on. “‘Give me Brigitta and I will take care of her for you.  I want Sigurd to know how it feels to lose the one person he loves most.  I want him to suffer like I suffered.’  Isn’t that what you wrote?”

Admiral Westergard remained silent but didn’t deny what she said.

“Hans, what would the death of an innocent girl do?  Taking her life will not bring back Father Adam,” Aunt Elsa continued gently.  “Besides you are aiding the man responsible for the murders of your five other brothers and your own nephew Morten so he can claim the throne to the Southern Isles.  Doesn’t that make this all the more wrong?”

Oh God!  Prince Heinrik!  It made sense now why he risked blatantly disobeying King Sigurd’s orders.  He wasn’t just doing it to save the Southern Isles but he was planning to take over it.  I remembered Capt. Aksel’s narrative of how the Southern Isles fleet he led decimated the Weselton ships.  Prince Heinrik was a man who wasn’t afraid to commit cold blooded murder.  And it seems he isn’t afraid to spill the blood of his own family to do it. 

“So are you ordering me now to do nothing?” he asked her in an eerily calm voice.

“As your queen I can do that,” she replied.  She took his hand in hers.  “But as your friend I’m giving you a choice.  I made you my admiral because I’m willing to trust you.  And I’m going to do it now.”  She reached into her bodice and produced a piece of folded parchment.   “Here’s your letter to Heinrik.  You do what you think is best.”

He took it from her but said nothing still. Aunt Elsa tugged on Sitron’s bridle.  “I’m going off to the parade, but think about what I said.”

She left him standing and staring at the letter in his hands.  But she turned once more to him.  “Hans, you told me before you and Sigurd could probably have become friends if you weren’t taking turns hurting each other.  Don’t you think at some point someone has to stop hurting the other?”

She left with Sitron and didn’t look back.  Admiral Westergard pocketed the letter and walked aimlessly in the field.  It was getting late and I knew I couldn’t stay here much longer. I left him alone led Lima to the square where the parade for the honor guard was just about to start. 

Father was in his best ice harvester outfit and was set to lead the ice harvester contingent of the homeguard.  The farmers, the fishermen, the merchants’ society and the artisan groups were all decked in their best clothes while they proudly carried the tools of their trade like they were honor trophies.

We were about to start when my sister Elise ran to the square crying.  It seems that her filly had an accident just now and went lame.  She had no horse for the parade.  I remembered her offense against me earlier and I was tempted to make fun of her.  Maybe I could tell her to start walking or find herself a cow to carry her.  But the words of my aunt came back to me:  “At some point, someone has to stop hurting the other.”

“Come on Elise, you can ride with me on Lima,” I offered.

She stared at me doubtfully.  “You’d let me get on Lima with you?”  I remembered she was afraid of large horses and Lima was exceptionally large for her age.

“Don’t worry she’s very gentle.  And I’ll be right behind you.”

“Okay,” she said.  I helped her up on my mare.  We went through a few slow paces around the square to get her acquainted.  She clung to me at first but little by little she grew accustomed to the height and rubbed Lima’s back affectionately.

On the sound of drums and trumpets my aunt and Sitron led the start of the parade.  I followed after her with my family in tow.  The rest of the homeguard contingents marched behind us.  Families came out of their houses in the village as soon as we passed by.  I saw young children hoisted by their parents above their heads to get a better look.  The sight of one little boy who sat on top of his father’s shoulder made me think sadly about Admiral Westergard and his own loss.  Not everyone I knew was happily celebrating tonight.

The parade ended back into the royal square of the castle courtyard.  A group of musicians met us there and the leading bard offered to play an original composition in honor of my family.  We sat together and listened to the lovely music that told the tale of sisterly love between Queen Elsa and Princess Anna and how their bond conquered the winter and revitalized the kingdom anew.

As I listened, I heard my mother sniffle beside me.  My aunt laced her fingers with hers and bent her head to touch her sister’s affectionately. 

The last song the bard played was rather amusing yet touching as it made me think of my own sisters.

You mess with my hair

And take away my toys

You embarrass me often

In front of other boys

 

You steal my desserts

And waste my time

You drive me to kick you

On your stupid royal behind

 

You slam doors on my face

And brought me despair

But somehow you still got to me

And taught me to care

 

You wound me almost daily                                                                                                              

That I stopped counting the scars

Yet you knew me more than anyone

When I say truth or utter farce

 

You’re the sister, the brother

I did not choose to have

But God sent you to me

So I chose you to love

 

I glimpsed Admiral Westergard standing by a pillar and watching the scene.  In the dim light I glimpsed a sparkle of a tear reflected by the light at the corner of his eye.  But he blinked it away and walked back into the shadows.

Chapter Text

“The death toll is rising, your majesty.  We can’t just turn a blind eye to that.”

Admiral Westergard’s tone was evenly calm, but I could sense the passion of his argument behind his green eyes that begged Aunt Elsa for consideration.  She avoided his gaze and bit her lip uncomfortably.

The Queen’s council was as silent as a tomb as we waited for my aunt’s answer.  The issue at hand involved the plan for future diplomatic relations with the Southern Isles.  Almost immediately after Weselton’s defeat, news spread on a failed assassination attempt on King Sigurd and the sudden death of his granddaughter.  It didn’t take long before his sixth oldest brother, Prince Heinrik launched an insurrection which escalated into a full civil war.   Five months into the conflict and the two warring brothers were still at a stalemate.  A report we received yesterday indicated the latest skirmish between their armies claimed over a hundred lives.  It was bothersome to hear but Arendelle just recovered from a war half a year ago and I knew my aunt was not willing to embroil us in another conflict, especially one where we were not involved. 

“It’s an internal affair Admiral, and you know my policy of non-interference on such matters,” she said finally.  I could sense most of her councilors agreed with her as I did. 

Since the end of the war, I regularly sat in the Queen’s council as part of my diplomatic training when I wasn’t in military classes as a naval cadet.  The council was currently preparing for the upcoming Coronan Conference where the representatives of the nations allied to us during the Arendelle-Weselton conflict will meet to settle matters postwar.  I was to be part of the delegation along with my aunt and some of her closest advisers.  It was the first time I will be away from home and I was looking forward to the trip.  I didn’t mind putting in extra hours of work to help Aunt Elsa’s council settle the strategies to maximize the opportunities at this crucial event. 

The Southern Isles conflict was among the more pressing issues we needed to address.  Admiral Westergard had so far been silent over it since he came home with his adoptive family three months ago from Weselton.  It was the first time he even made a reference to his former home in the council. 

“I’m not saying we interfere with them,” Admiral Westergard continued in that same calm voice.  “We’re not providing aid to either side—not in terms of men or resources.  All we need is one public declaration of support to Prince Heinrik during the Coronan Conference.  It’s what the other nations are waiting for.  They’re already outraged at what King Sigurd did to you… to us, against Weselton.   Take the lead, your majesty.  Condemn King Sigurd’s actions and Gormund, Antalona and perhaps even Condor will offer Prince Heinrik the aid he needs to end this war.  Arendelle won’t have to do another thing.”

“There is some merit in what Admiral Westergard suggests, your majesty,” the foreign affairs minister Lord Hensen said.  “The region would benefit if the internal conflict in the Southern Isles gets settled.  We can shorten the trade routes if both the Weselton and Southern Isles ports are open to us.   And we do owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Heinrik in the war against Weselton.  I think the other nations are expecting you to at least acknowledge that.”

My aunt remained silent and I understood why.  Yes, we do owe Prince Heinrik a debt but it was something she was reluctant to pay.  She didn’t want to be the one to openly support a cold-blooded murderer against the legitimate king of the Southern Isles—even if that king did betray her. 

And then there was another more serious reason, one that might have serious implications closer to home.  Months earlier she confessed to me a telling conversation she overheard between Admiral Westegard and Prince Heinrik just before the end of the Arendelle-Weselton war…

The sea was surprisingly calm and hundreds of stars lit up the sky as we sped off on the Southern Isles ship towards the coast of Weselton.  

We buried one dear old man at sea this morning.   Heinrik’s surgeons did all they can to revive Father Adam when his heart failed last night due to extreme fatigue and stress over their capture.  In the end, he died quickly, surrounded at least by his loving family and the man he treated as a son.

I spent most of the time after the burial comforting poor Belle.  She wept inconsolably for the entire day and I could do nothing but hold her close to me.  It was strange how I felt a kinship with this sweet dear lady.  She was so gentle and kind and she reminded me of Mama.    I couldn’t imagine what she was going through.  It must be hard to lose a husband, especially one that she said was as loving as her Prince Adam.   I couldn’t help but feel responsible for her loss.  I should have listened to Hans and kept away from the Rose Inn.  Maybe then Belle’s husband would still be alive and she and her little family would still have a home. 

By tomorrow we were going to drop them off at one of the more remote islands of the Southern Isles, away from the capitol and Sigurd’s clutches.  It was safer for them this way until we finish our mission in Weselton.  I re-offered Belle and her family a place in Arendelle.  It was a small consolation for what Belle lost but she still thanked me ever so kindly for it. 

“Is there anything I can do?  Anything at all?” I asked her as I put her to bed and tucked her in with warm blankets for the night.

“Just one Elsa, will you promise me one thing?” Belle asked.  Her voice cracked with crying so much.

“Anything Belle, just name it,” I replied.

“Take care of Hans for me and keep him safe.  Promise me you’ll watch over him and do whatever you can to get him home back to us.”

“Of course, of course, I will,” I replied quickly.  “Now get some sleep.   Rest now Belle.”

She settled back down on the bed and was soon silent.  It was only when she was in a deep slumber that I realized what I just promised her.  How strange the course of fate.  I was now committed to protect the man that once tried to kill me.  But a promise was a promise and I was going to keep it for the sake of this woman I hurt in my quest to save my kingdom.

I left Belle’s cabin and went in search for Hans.  I haven’t seen him since the sea burial and I couldn’t help but worry about him.  Heinrik’s ship was so large that it took me a while to find him.  After almost an hour of searching I heard his voice coming from a quiet corner of the gun deck, away from the usual traffic of the crew.  His voice had an almost maniacal edge to it that frightened me so much I dare not come forward.

“Jon!”

“Leif!”

“Einar!”

“Steinar!”

He shouted each name then paused before uttering the next.  Each time, he seemed to grow more and more frenzied in a way I have never heard him before.    I crouched behind a canon to get a look at him without being seen and I was surprised by what I saw.

His eyes were bloodshot, his normally neat hair was disheveled, while his clothes were a mess.  He looked like a crazed man.  He held the magic mirror in his hand and he shouted at it almost maniacally while repeating the same names:

“Jon!”

“Leif!”

“Einar!”

“Steinar!”

I was at an angle that I could see the mirror. And each time he shouted a name, the mirror turned black.  Finally, I recognized one name he shouted:

“Gregor!”

The mirror remained black and he uttered a stream of curses before he curled up in ball on the deck floor and sobbed openly. 

I knew he was a proud man and he would not want me to see him like this.  I did not want to add to his pain.  I was about to come up back to the upper decks when I heard footsteps coming down.  I didn’t want to be caught sneaking so I remained where I was. 

“Hans?”  I recognized Heinrik’s voice and so did Hans.  He quickly wiped away his tears and his expression turned dark.

Heinrik appeared with a bottle of whiskey in his hand.

“Are you alright, brother?” Heinrik asked.  His sounded so concerned that I was grateful that at least Hans would have someone to comfort him better than I could. 

“Have you come to offer me poison, Heinrik?” Hans’ venomous tone startled me.  “Are you going to kill me too just like you did them?”

“What are you talking about Hans?” Heinrik asked.

“Don’t play innocent with me!” Hans screamed as he got up to face his brother.  “I’m not so stupid that I can’t put it all together.  Gregor, Jon, Leif, the twins—they’re dead!  They’re all dead!  Just like Morten is dead.  How convenient for you that you are next in line after Brigitta.  It’s not a coincidence that you decided to disobey Sigurd’s orders just now, is it?  I won’t be surprised if Brigitta drops dead next.”

I was horrified at what Hans was insinuating.  But certainly, this was his grief talking.  I expected the older prince to deny Hans’ accusations.  Instead he laughed in a way that chilled me even though I never feel cold. 

“Oh Hans, I always knew you were the most brilliant of all of them.  You figured it out in just two days, I’m impressed.  Sigurd has had years and he hasn’t realized it yet. But he’ll know soon enough that I’m not willing to play his lapdog forever.   By then of course, it will be too late for him.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  What kind of monster would commit such an atrocity to his own brothers and admit it so calmly?

“What did you do?!” Hans demanded. 

“It was easy enough to arrange for their deaths one by one once Sigurd banished them,” Heinrik continued in an eerily calm tone.   “Amazing what connections and money can do.  It can buy the deaths of princes so easily.  Poison, a few seemingly accidental falls, and even a simple prostitute with a knife got the job done.  I reserved that last one for Gregor.   His appetites have always been disgusting.  I’m tempted to do the same to Reidar if he doesn’t shape up.”

“And what do you plan for me then?” Hans challenged. 

My breath hitched and I remembered my promise to Belle.  One wrong move from Heinrik and I will freeze him where he stood.  He is not going to harm one hair on Hans’ head!

But the older prince held his arms out in a gesture of non-aggression.  “I’m not going to kill you, Hans.  Your death brings me nothing.  You’re too far down the line of succession to be a threat to me.  I’m even grateful to you.  You just offered me the opportunity to show the world what a bumbling fool Sigurd is when Weselton gets soundly defeated.  And joining your alliance with the other nations allows me to establish the right connections when I become king.”

He paused to open the whiskey bottle and took a swig from it before he added:  “You know Hans, of all our brothers I honestly say I like you best.  And just for that I’m willing to offer you something worthwhile.”

“What do you mean?” Hans asked his voice dripped with doubt.

Heinrik offered the bottle to his brother but Hans shook his head.  “You help me become king, I can help you become one as well.”

“And what does that mean?”

Heinrik snorted.  “Now who’s playing innocent?  I know what you’re doing, Hans.  The Queen of Arendelle is quite the beauty.  Have you taken her to bed yet?”

My clenched fists frosted over.  How dare Heinrik insinuate that I would even let myself be seduced by Hans.   And if Hans thinks I am some kind of—”

“Don’t be vulgar, Heinrik,” Hans replied before I could even finish my thought process.  “She’s not that kind of woman.” 

Oh…  He doesn’t think of me that way.

“She is a challenge then,” Heinrik laughed.  “Enjoy the hunt, Hans.  But I’m sure you have more than lust in mind.  Arendelle is a worthier prize.  I can help if you want.  An Arendelle-Southern Isles alliance could be a very profitable endeavor.”

I held my breath.  This was it.  Hans’ reply to this offer will determine whether I could really trust him.

“Stay away from my affairs and I’ll leave you to yours.” 

Or not.  That was a very cryptic answer.

“Fine Hans,” said Heinrik.  “But if you change your mind, my door is always open.”

Heinrik left the bottle of alcohol on the deck floor and walked away.  I watched Hans curl back into the position he was in.  He sat there for a long moment before he grabbed the bottle almost violently and took a single gulp of it.  He choked on the liquid and coughed before he hurled the bottle at the wall where it broke into pieces with a loud crash. 

I felt sick and I made a quiet retreat up the ship.  When I reached the open deck I breathed deeply as my heart hammered in my chest over the revelations I heard tonight...

Aunt Elsa assured me Admiral Westergard never accepted Prince Heinrik’s offer to support his bid as king.  Even the letter about Brigitta he wrote to his brother, my aunt claimed was never sent.  She assured me that her admiral had nothing to do with the death of the crown princess of the Southern Isles.  How she was sure, she wouldn’t say, but she seemed convinced he was innocent in that affair.

In the course of the many months after the war, Admiral Westergard never mentioned anything about Heinrik or made any move towards helping his brother against King Sigurd.

Until now.

I knew the same thoughts in my head were running through my aunt.  For the first time, Admiral Westergard was requesting support for Prince Heinrik to win as king.  So does this mean he’s finally accepted the deal his brother offered?   And what exactly would be Prince Heinrik grant him in return for this aid?

“Your majesty, I beg you,” Admiral Westergard said.  “This war needs to end before it claims more lives.   One way or another, one of them has to win.”

He paused when she said nothing and added softly that only I who was closest to them can hear:

“Please… I don’t want the Southern Isles to end like Weselton.”

He knew exactly how to tug at my aunt’s heartstrings.  He knew how much the mass suicide of the Weselton court and the sight of the hopeless people of that defeated nation still haunted her. 

We all waited with bathed breath for the Queen’s reply.  Her answer could tell us whether she continued to trust him.

“Admiral, a word please.”

Or maybe not. My aunt could also be equally cryptic.

Chapter Text

"Admiral, a word please."

Aunt Elsa’s tone was so detached, controlled and formal. But I knew that was just a front.

Over the course of many meetings, I’ve learned to read a thing or two about the Queen’s moods and her manner of speech.  Those four little words, in particular was an unspoken rule all of her councilmembers understood by now:

It was the cue to leave Admiral Westergard a warm cloak and get out.

Finance Minister Lord Berg tossed the head of the Arendelle navy his own thick coat while the rest of us shuffled out the door. 

"I'll have a pot of coffee waiting outside," Kai whispered to my commanding officer as I felt the temperature drop.

"Thank you Kai, though I think this situation calls for brandy," he whispered back.

Kai gave him a look of pity before he shut door.  We all stared at it for a long moment and my companions shook their heads.

"Do you think he'll survive this time?" Lord Hensen asked almost jokingly.

"Brave man has lived through worst.  He'll live through this.  But I think I'll send for a couple of warm blankets and a tub of hot water along with that brandy, just in case." Kai said with a poker-faced expression as he went down the hall to instruct the servants.

The sight of creeping frost underneath the council chamber door made us all wince.  The argument within seemed to be reaching new levels of intensity.   

"Better start a fire in the drawing room too Kai," the internal affairs officer Lord Amber called out after the steward.  "We may need to thaw him out after this."

The rest of the councilors snickered at the comment.  I tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t.  I suppressed my laugh with a cough.

Admiral Westergard was probably the only person aside from my mother that can stand up to Queen Elsa when he was determined to put forward his own ideas on state affairs.  He was straightforwardly vocal about uneasy decisions and never ran out of suggestions.  Over the course of three months, they’ve had some fierce arguments at the regular council meetings.  Not that they ever argued in public or even in front of her council.  My aunt always excused all of us and spoke to him in private.

Of course everyone knew that whatever happened behind closed doors reached levels of conflict that were so intense based on the amount of frost that remained on the furniture and the state of Admiral Westergard's body temperature after each private interview.  My aunt had good control over her powers but in cases of extreme anger and stress, her powers often let out.  No one had the ability to wound her up as badly as he did.

The first few times it happened we all huddled in the hallway, afraid that the Queen might murder him in her rage.  But as it happened more often and the Admiral always survived, the council members adopted a more lighthearted attitude towards their fights.

Knowing that the argument would probably take a while, the council members all dispersed to find other things to occupy their time.  I decided to take the opportunity for a bit of fresh air and a visit to the village. 

I took my favorite route through the kitchens to grab a piece of chocolate for snacks later.  I proceeded through servants’ back entrance which was a shortcut towards the main gate.  As I passed by the laundry areas I overheard several maids talking while they gathered the freshly washed linens from the clotheslines.

"Kai just requested for hot water.  They’re at it again,” said one girl. 

“He should just kiss her and be done with it," remarked another girl. I knew at once they were talking about Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard.

"Well what do you expect?  She's not called an ice queen for nothing.  He probably tried already but she's so frigid he just can't melt her.   What the Admiral needs is real woman that can warm him up.  If he's looking for a girl to show him a good time I can think of a few women who wouldn't mind cozying up to that hot man."  She giggled while the other maids sighed dreamily.

A third maid playfully tossed a few linens at her companions and said cattily:  “Oh like the Admiral would even look at any of you.  Everybody knows he has eyes only for the Queen.

"And how would you know the Admiral isn't already having his way with her right now behind closed doors?" asked a fourth one.  "I bet getting frozen turns him on.”  She motioned for the others to come closer and they all leaned in as if she was about to tell a juicy secret.  But she didn’t even bother to lower her voice so I can hear her all the same.   “If you ask me, they've been going at it for a long time with the amount of time he spends locked up in that council chamber with her.  Mark my words: he's been bedding her since the war.  Probably even before that.  A man like that doesn't risk his life if he's not getting something in return."

I couldn't stand to hear them talk of my aunt in that manner.  I coughed and let my presence known. 

"Prince Fredrik," gasped one of the maids.  "We beg pardon..."

"Go on with your work then," I said harshly as they scuttled to work on their linens.  I shook my head and continued on my way.

Such gossip was disturbing but not unusual.  I've heard far worse from the sailors in the docks and the peasants in the village.  There was even an ongoing betting pool on how long it would take before Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard publicly proclaimed their undying love.

No one has won it yet because the couple involved never showed anything but a detached manner to each other in public.  Even in the presence of family and closest friends, they never indicated that they had anything but a professional relationship, or at most a semblance of friendship.   It didn’t stop the wild rumors though. 

I figured the speculation came from a natural curiosity of the common people on their unattached queen and her decidedly bachelor admiral.  It began shortly after the war when Admiral Westergard was regaled as a hero and people began to see how he looked good next to my beautiful aunt.  The idle speculation somehow turned into something of a kingdom-wide obsession three months ago when Admiral Westergard returned home from his tour of duty in Weselton.  People noted that he spent a lot of time in conference with Queen Elsa.  Official functions such as the spring festival, visits to the poor, church services and even Capt. Aksel’s wedding last month where they both attended stoked the fire even more.  Each public event where they were seen in the same room together sparked a storm of stories that went on for days.  Did he kiss her hand? Did she lean on him an inch closer than necessary? Did their eyes meet across the room? Was her voice warmer than usual when she spoke to him?  Did he hide a smile when he answered back?  Even the smallest most innocent gesture was blown out of proportion and made to sound something significant.

At one point the stories of their so-called secret affair worried me so much that I asked my aunt point blank if there was any truth to it.  She just laughed it off and told me not to believe in rumors. 

I wasn’t satisfied with that answer so I took to dropping by at odd hours in her office while they were in conference.  Kai, who was similarly bothered, reached a silent agreement with me to do the same.  Neither of us found them in any act of intimacy in private.  They always appeared to be doing what they were supposed to be doing—writing reports, discussing treaties, reviewing documents or just reading together in silence at opposite ends of the room.  Kai and I finally concluded that the rumored affair didn't exist at all.

As time went on, I felt that Admiral Westegard was someone to be trusted, especially, after my snooping uncovered something different altogether about his intentions.  It just happened by chance when I overheard them talking in the stables while they were grooming Sitron together.  Between them, they openly discussed the sensitive issue of the succession of the Arendelle throne…

"Anna is well-loved by the peasants," I heard my Aunt Elsa say clearly in a tone that suggested the  conversation I walked on was going on for quite some time and was reaching near-argument levels.

“Of course she is," said the Admiral.  "She's good to them and takes her role as princess really well.  She's the heart of your little royal family—the charitable fun-loving sister to the queen who always has a listening ear to the peasants and can act as one of them.  But she can't be like that when she's queen.  A queen needs to be seen as a head more than a heart.  Admit it, Elsa, would you leave the throne to Anna to rule if you had a choice?"

Of course she would, I thought.  But I was surprised that my aunt said nothing and her silence was answer enough.

"You don't have to say it Elsa," Admiral Westergard said as he fed his oldest friend an apple.  "We both know Anna couldn't last very long as queen.   She can't negotiate terms.  She has no patience for studying treaties and she speaks her mind too fast without worrying about the consequences."

I felt a surge of anger at him for saying that about my mother.  But when I thought about it, there was some truth to it.  Even my mother admitted she was terrible at most of the things my aunt did on a daily basis.  She even shied away from the regular council meetings and left my aunt to handle it.

So you're saying if I die tomorrow, you're going to rebel against Anna and take the throne forcibly?" Aunt Elsa asked bluntly. 

Admiral Westergard rolled his eyes at her.  “I don't need to.  I’ll just ask her nicely to abdicate in favor of her son.”

“Wait—what?” my Aunt gasped the same words I uttered silently.

“I’ll ask her to step down for Fredrik,” he explained.  “If she says no, then I’ll raise an insurrection against her and put her son on the throne.”

My aunt shook her head and dropped the brush she was using to tender to Sitron’s coat.  “Are you telling me that you want to oust my sister from the throne so you can get my nephew there?  What kind of revolt is that?”

“One that ensures the Kingdom of Arendelle doesn’t fall to ruin out of the incompetency of its ruler.  My family and I do live here now.  No offense Elsa, but I wouldn’t count on Anna to keep my home from falling apart—Owww!  That’s cold!”  My aunt threw a snowball at his head and it hit him directly on the face.   “Okay, sorry, I deserved that.  But seriously, I've been observing your nephew and from what I can see the boy takes more after you than her.  He has the potential to become a good king.  The credit for raising him that way of course, goes to you."

I was startled by his answer.  I never knew that I gave him that impression.  And somehow, I couldn’t help but feel flattered.

"You think Fredrik has potential?" Aunt Elsa asked.

"Yes.  He is a quiet lad, diligent, reserved and can think on his feet.  People see him as their potential ruler—your worthy successor.  Having ice powers is just an added bonus.  All he needs now is to further his training: diplomacy from you, military discipline and strategy from me.  That is, if you'll let me give it to him."

Aunt Elsa seemed to think about it for a moment.

"Would you really support him Hans?" she asked doubtfully.

"I supported you, didn't I? And you still remember what I said.  I'm not willing to destroy this kingdom so I can rule over its ruins.  I would rather throw my support on you and one who will protect Arendelle as you have.  Make Fredrik the ruler that you are, and you need not fear my opposition."

She appeared to consider it and finally nodded.  "Anna's not going to like this, but I know it's for the best."

"I know you'll see it my way."

"Yes, but if anything happens to him…" she threatened.

He laughed. "Still don't trust me?  Don't worry, Elsa, I'm rather fond of the boy and I want what's best for him like you do.   I won't promise he won't come to danger as inevitably he needs the face that as a ruler.  And politics is the most dangerous game in the world.  But I'll do what I can to make sure he's prepared to face those dangers." 

"Good then.  Make the arrangements to have him transferred to the Alexandra under your tutelage.   I expect regular reports on his progress."

"As you wish," he replied.

She turned to depart but paused and looked back.  "Oh and Hans?"

"Yes, Elsa?"                  

A larger snowball hit him on the head and sent him reeling towards Sitron.

“That was for Anna,” my aunt sternly said.  “Don’t ever insult my sister again.”

“Okay,” he said a little breathlessly while Sitron sniggered at him.  “Sorry.”

And that was how I ended up transferred as a crewman under Admiral Westergard.  My mother protested it and I knew that she and her sister had an incredible fight based on the sudden blizzard that blew into the castle garden the following day.  Somehow my aunt still won.  I didn’t complain though.  Every boy my age that passed the military exams last fall wanted to serve in the Alexandra under the brilliant Admiral. 

I served my first month as a naval cadet under Captain Gulbrand and felt it was the easiest thing in the world. I later realized that my status as a prince had something to do about it.    When I transferred ships, I learned what it really meant to be a sailor.  Admiral Westergard didn’t care who I was.  On the first day he called me Crewman Bjorgman instead of my usual royal title then ordered me to tie knots until my hands were raw.  I experienced waking up before dawn for drills that left my body sore for the rest of the day.  When I was late one time, he made me scrub the entire deck of the Alexandra.   During one endurance training, I cheated by using my ice powers to float while swimming.  He chewed me out in front of the rest of the crew then made me swim twice the length he required from the other cadets.  Suffice it to say, I was never late or attempted to cheat again.   

It wasn’t just me he was hard on.  He was equally strict with all the cadets under him and demanded only the best performances.   In return, he taught us so much more than we expected from the standard naval curriculum.  He allowed us to take up roles by rotation on just about every position on the ship.  I learned everything from navigating without a compass to stitching wounds.  He said it was important that at sea, it didn’t matter if you’re the captain of the ship or the lowly cabin boy.  If you get stuck without a surgeon on board with bleeding crewmembers, you need to know how to fix them.  If the ship’s cook gets sick, you better know how to prepare and ration meals or you’ll end up starving.   And if you’re in battle, everybody needs to learn how to load a canon or to maneuver a ship in position for an attack or retreat.

In just a few days of training, he earned my respect and that of my co-cadets as a firm but fair commander.  Despite my loyalty to my parents and their caution against his possible bad intentions, I understood and appreciated my aunt’s decision to put him as her admiral.  I wished that whatever made him choose to side with Prince Heinrik now wasn’t because he planned to harm my aunt or my family.

I left the castle and headed to the village.  I haven’t had much of a chance to go out lately due to my busy schedule and there was one place I missed going to.

Belle, Chip and his family came to live in Arendelle several months ago.   They opened the Rose Pub in the village recently and it became an instant hit with a reputation for serving the best meals and drinks in town.  I’ve been there a few times and always enjoyed both the food and Chip’s stories.  But I came in today for another reason altogether.  It was to see her.

It was still the middle of the afternoon and the Rose Pub was almost empty with only a few regular patrons sitting by the bar talking to Chip’s wife, Anabel.  I scanned the room and quickly found the redhead at a corner table, working on a ledger.  She was probably doing the daily accounts of the pub.

“Prince Fredrik!” Anabel greeted me and the patrons of the pub followed suit.  I politely acknowledged them and said I just came in for a bit of refreshment.  

“Isabel!” Anabel called to the girl.  “Can you tend to his highness, please?”

The girl looked up from her accounts and came to me immediately.

“Good afternoon, Prince Fredrik.  It’s a pleasure to have you visit.  May I offer you a table and something to drink?” Her voice was like a tiny bell that I was lost for a moment in the melody of it.

“Uhhhmmm… s-sure Isabel…”  I mentally kicked myself for stuttering in front of her.  She didn’t seem to notice my embarrassment and she led me to an empty table.  I sat down and she looked at me with anticipation.   My heart made a flip-flop as I stared back at her until I realized she was waiting for my order.  “Errr… just tea please.”

She gave an elegant curtsey and left to fetch my order.  I watched her graceful movements as she went behind the counter.

It came as a surprise to me and the rest of Arendelle that Admiral Westergard was a father of a young girl a few years older than me.  Isabel came with Chip and his family and she lived with them above the Rose Pub where she also worked.  She wasn’t a great beauty in the classical sense but she had a gorgeous smile, the same fiery shade of hair and graceful manner as her father.  Her mother was something of a mystery.  Admiral Westergard never said anything about her and never indicated that he was ever married.  So everyone assumed that Isabel was born illegitimate.  He never confirmed or denied it and it wasn’t exactly something you could politely ask.  Having a bastard didn’t really hurt his reputation.   The people in Arendelle almost expected it as he did have a reputation as a rogue in the past. 

As I watched Isabel prepare my tea, I was well aware that nothing could come of my affections for her.  Even though our country was more accepting of marriages between those of noble birth and the peasantry such as the case of my father, the union of the crown prince with a bastard would still raise a scandal.  Not to mention, my mother would probably kill me if she even thought I liked the daughter of the man that once tried to seduce her.  Isabel didn’t appear to like me anyway other than as a regular patron of their pub.   So I was just content to admire her whenever I come to the pub.

She came back and carefully placed the tea in front of me.  “Enjoy your drink, your highness.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I’ve never really spoken anything but casual greetings to her before and I searched desperately for something else to say.

“Would you mind very much, your highness, if I inquire as to when my Papa will be coming home?”

She just gave me an opening and I was not going to waste it.

“He’s still in conference with the Queen,” I replied.  “It might take a while.”

“Oh, should I prepare something hot for him when he gets back?” she asked with a knowing smile.

“Yes, I think he would definitely appreciate that,” I said with a little laugh.  “Uhhhmmm… if you’re not too busy…”

“Yes, I would love to sit with you, your highness,” she finished as she pulled a chair across from me.  Lady luck was definitely shinning on me today.   “I wanted to ask if you’ve heard anything, any news about the Southern Isles,” she said.

“I’m not sure I should be saying anything outside of the council, but I suppose your father will tell you later,” I said.  I related to her the gist of the conversation between my aunt her father.  She looked crestfallen when I mentioned to her the number of recent deaths in the Southern Isles and even more so when I told her what the Admiral proposed. 

“Did I say something wrong?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “Nothing, your highness.  It’s just that I have… friends in the Southern Isles.  I hope they’re okay.”  She stared past me as if she was lost in thought.  “I wish this war could end soon.  And I think Papa is right.  It has to end, one way or another before they destroy their entire nation.  Someone needs to step down.”

The door opened and Admiral Westergard appeared wrapped in a coat and thick blankets.  Despite the many coverings he still didn’t look warm enough.  The patrons at the bar greeted him politely but I can see them shake their heads and eye each other.  I was sure the news of the most recent frigid meeting between the Admiral and my aunt would make itself known throughout the kingdom by tonight.

Anabel quickly got a hot drink for him behind the bar.  But he only thanked her for it and went directly to me.  He acknowledged me with a curtsey.

“Prince Fredrik, Queen Elsa suspended the council for the moment and would like to give the concern some thought,” he explained to me.  “You have the afternoon free.”

“Thank you Admiral,” I said.

“Isabel.” There was unease in his voice when he spoke his daughter’s name.  

“Yes Papa?” she looked up to him with grim anticipation in her features.

“You must excuse us, your highness.  I need to speak to my daughter.”

“Of course, Admiral,” I said.

I watched them ascend the stairs to their rooms above the pub.  I couldn’t help but notice how Isabel’s body shook while she clutched tightly at her father’s arm.

Chapter Text

I checked the rigging and gave one of the ropes a hard tug just as the clang of a bell announced the shift change.  I carefully crawled down the rope ladder.  As I did, I passed by my friend and co-midshipman, Albert.

“Interesting shift?” he asked as he climbed up to my previous position.

I shrugged.  “Quiet,” I said.  “I tied all the knots for you so you have absolutely nothing left to do.”

“I’ll go watch the stars then,” Albert said cheerfully.  “Maybe I’ll make up a few new constellations.  And there could be dolphins to look forward to at dawn.”

“Have fun then,” I said.  Albert was something of a naturalist and an amateur astronomer.  Only he can find something interesting in the most tedious of night shifts.  

I jumped down on the main deck and saluted the lieutenant on watch who dismissed me.   

I was officially off-duty.  It was late and if I was an ordinary cadet, I would go straight to my cabin to get some sleep.  But as a prince of Arendelle and an official delegate to the Coronan Conference, there were still a few more tasks left to do before I retire for the night.

I headed below deck to a familiar cabin where light streamed from under the crack of the closed door.  I knocked twice and Aunt Elsa answered for me to come in. 

“Fredrik,” my aunt greeted me from behind the desk where she sat surrounded by various pieces of lined paper, ledgers and writing tools.  Admiral Westergard sat surrounded by his own pile on the smaller table next hers. 

Last week my aunt made the decision not to heed the advice of her admiral to publicly make a statement involving the internal conflict of the Southern Isles.   She held firm to her stance to stay silently neutral.  Admiral Westergard quietly conceded and made no further protests about it.  Like all their previous arguments, they simply returned to their civil relationship and resumed their regular habit of working together until late at night in the same room.  Since we set sail for Corona they shared the Admiral’s office onboard the Alexandra even if my aunt had her own personal cabin for that similar purpose.  I asked her about that before and she said it was a way to save lamp fuel when both she and the Admiral liked to keep up until late hours.  But I think they just enjoyed the ease of consulting each other at a moment’s notice while they worked separately on their daily reports.  I was always welcomed to join them whenever I was off-duty.  Lately, I became the third member to the nightly duo.  I had my own tiny desk and chair where I assisted them in writing letters and business proposals for the upcoming conference. 

“Good evening,” I greeted them politely and gave a sharp salute at my commanding officer.   He responded with a command for me to be at ease. 

“Anything I can help you with tonight?” I asked more casually. 

“We just finished the last of the proposals,” my aunt replied as she started putting away the ledgers and papers.  “I think we could all take an early break tonight.  We have the whole of tomorrow free.  It’s best to be well rested when we get to Corona where the real work begins.”

“I suppose I’ll turn in early,” Admiral Westergard said as he got up from his own chair and started straightening up his desk.  “I promised Isabel a chess match tomorrow.  I need a fresh mind if I want to catch up with her.”

“What is it now?” my aunt asked.  “Fifteen for her and five for you?”

Admiral Westergard looked slightly embarrassed.  “More like twenty-seven for her and eight for me.”

My aunt laughed.  “Oh, poor you.  I’ll be cheering for her then.”

He frowned at her.  “You’re cruel to kick a man when he’s down, Elsa.  How unbecoming of a queen,” he teased.

“When it comes to chess, Hans, this Queen gets competitive so deal with it,” she replied haughtily.  

Over the last few days, they’ve grown so used to my presence they no longer held back formalities they showed around court. This was a side of Admiral Westergard I discovered recently.   Whenever he was off-duty, he was playful with Aunt Elsa or even with the men under him.  It was another one of his qualities that made him so approachable.

“And don’t forget, Hans,” continued my aunt.  “I’m still ahead of you in the last game.”

“It’s forty-six versus forty-five in your favor.  It’s just one game Elsa, that’s all.  I can easily put you down again.  What do you say you and I have a game tomorrow after my turn with Isabel?” 

Aunt Elsa shook her head.  “I’m not giving up the win so soon Hans, maybe after the conference.”

“Why wait?” he challenged.  “We’ll make it a tournament tomorrow.  It’s something the men can enjoy.  That is, if you’re not afraid to play against me in public.” 

My aunt smirked.  “Well then bring your board.  Prepare to lose.” 

We headed out the door together, but Admiral called after her.

“Don’t go releasing the iceworks just yet, Elsa.  I plan to win.”

“We’ll see,” Aunt Elsa shot back.    The grin on her face didn’t disappear even as we walked together to her cabin. 

“Good day?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said with a slight dreamy look before she seemed to remember I was there.  “I’m sorry Fredrik, I haven’t asked you about your day.  How was it?” she said.

I shrugged.  “The shift was uneventful.  There wasn’t much going on.  It’s just a lot of knot tying and routine maintenance.   It got really boring.  I think I’d rather get behind the desk to work on those proposals with you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Hans and I finished up without you,” replied my aunt apologetically.  She put an arm around me.  “But don’t you worry, when we get to Corona, I’ll put you behind the desk if you want and make you review the counterproposals to our potential trading partners,” she joked.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” I laughed.  “That’s no fun at all.”

She giggled with me.  “I knew you’d bolt.  But I’m glad I’ve got you.  You know your mother would run for the north mountain whenever I even suggested she review proposals.  I can never take her to these intense meetings.  She’d fall asleep halfway through the presentations.”

I imagined my mother sleeping in the middle of the conference room while the bureaucrats raged debates around her.  I felt a certain unease that my mother wasn’t up to the task of ruling.  I was reminded of that conversation I overheard with her and Admiral Westergard about my mother and the succession to the Arendelle throne.  I never told Aunt Elsa about it but I think this is a good time to ask some questions that plagued me since then.

“Aunt Elsa, can I ask you something?”  

“Of course, Fredrik.”

“I have a confession.  I heard you talking with Admiral Westergard once in the stables about me… you know about him wanting me to succeed you instead of Mama.  He said if I become king and become the ruler just like you, he’d support me.  Do you believe him?”

Aunt Elsa smiled.  “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me that exact question for quite some time now.  And yes I’d like to believe that Hans will support you as he supported me so far.   He’s come a long way for Arendelle and I do believe he has our people’s best interests from what he has shown over the years.  Nobody can pull the wool over an entire nation’s eyes for this long.  And well… I’ve grown to know him over time and…” she stopped as we had reached her cabin door.  She seemed to make a decision.  “Let me show you something.  Come on in.”

I followed her to her personal chamber.  She pulled something from a drawer near her bed.  I saw it was a leather-bound black book.

“This was Admiral Rochport’s journal,” she said.  “Captain Anbjorn gave it to me after Rochport was killed.  I know I should be handing it to his family but I couldn’t resist reading it first.  I finished it two nights ago.  I found it very insightful.  Rochport was like a second father to me after your grandpapa died.  I’ve known him to be a very upright man and a good judge of character.  I trusted his advice for years.   And after I’ve read his journal, I think he enlightened me even more regarding Hans’ character.”

She handed the book to me.  “Read it, Fredrik. I think you will find it most interesting.”

I took it from her carefully.  “Thanks Aunt Elsa.”  It was late and I should be off to bed so I bid her goodnight.  Just as we parted my aunt had one last thing to say about her Admiral.

“Hans and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I think he’s the kind of person who is willing to work for the greater good.  I think after you’ve read that, you’ll understand why.”   

I thanked her again and headed to my bunk in the quarters reserved for the lower members of the crew.  However, I couldn’t sleep.  I opened the volume and skimmed over the first few pages.  I skipped the first parts that appeared to be narratives of Admiral Rochports regular patrols of the waters of Arendelle when he was still captain.  I found an earmarked page about one third through the book and figured this was a part Aunt Elsa read and re-read over.  I decided to go through this entry first…

 

3rd July

The sun has descended unrelenting on our ship for nearly two weeks now that even the sea breezes brought little comfort.  Our movement in the waters surrounding Arendelle was going unbearably slow.   The men were restless and sought shelter below deck as much as possible when they were off duty or hid underneath the shadows of the sails when it was required of them to perform their tasks on the upper decks.  But none can escape the humid air that accompanied the scorch of the summer sun.   The intense weather made the men talk of home and its comforting icy breezes from the north mountain.  Today much of the conversations were focused on wishful thinking for Queen Elsa’s magic.  The men speak of her with the fondness of children whose mother’s embrace they longed to feel again. 

I smile each time I hear the men talk of her that way.  Elsa had come a long way from the frightened little naïve girl that hid behind closed doors.  She came to her own as a respected and loved monarch.  Her father and my dear old friend Agdar would be proud of her if he were alive today.

I had just about finished my regular report to her, when my first mate came urgently at my door. 

“Captain, they’ve sighted a ship.  It looks like a slaver.”

I quickly sprang to action and hurried after him with orders:  “Call for a beat to quarters.  If it is a slaver, they won’t go down without a fight.”

I made my way up the deck where my pilot handed me his spy glass.  I peered on it and confirmed what my men initially guessed.  It was a sloop, but it was larger and built for what was certainly human cargo.  There have been reports of pirates lately that had been attacking the merchant ships that made the regular runs to deliver ice to our trading partners.  Last week, our sources from Madinova reported that the pirates were not only taking cargo but were also capturing the crewmembers of the hapless ships they encounter to sell as slaves in the Americas.

“Prepare the guns but hide the colors until I tell you to show them,” I commanded.  “We are taking that filthy ship down!” “They’ll learn we don’t tolerate their beastly trade in our waters.”

The men moved to obey and we maneuvered to intercept them.  The ship quickly changed course.  But we were faster and we were soon upon them.    At close range, they began to fire on us, but our guns were simply too much for them.  A single aim on their main mast and their ship was crippled.  At the same time, I ordered our colors unfurled. 

The crew of the slaver didn’t put up much of a fight after that.  One look at our more powerful weaponry and the Arendelle floral crest we flew and they immediately surrendered.

“You can have the cargo,” what appeared to be the captain of the slaver said when he was finally brought before me.  “The men will fetch a good price and the women slaves—beautiful slaves, for your men.  All yours, just let us go.  Your snow queen need not keep us in her frozen prisons.”

I fought the urge not to strike the man for his disgusting bribe.  I was even tempted to threaten him that Queen Elsa will certainly put them into iceboxes for all eternity for even attempting to corrupt me.  But I held my tongue.  Elsa already had to contend with the fear of other nations over her powers.  I didn’t want to add to the ill rumours by saying anything that could hurt her reputation even further. 

“Take him away and lock him in the hold with the others,” I said steadily. I proceeded below deck to check on the slaver’s “prisoners.”

I barely stepped on the lower deck when I felt a movement behind me.  I instinctively ducked just as a sword swished across the air where my head was moments ago.

“You shall not take me back to your witch queen!” A young man with dark wavy hair and a thick moustache shouted at me as he brandished his sword.  “En garde! Fiend!”  He looked comical in his long red coat over a ruffled white shirt and cravat.  With his matching crimson tight trousers, black boots, knee-high stockings and feathered hat, he looked more at home as a dandy in a French court than in a pirate ship.  I would have laughed at him, but I was too busy trying to avoid his advances.

He made several attempts to hack me with his blade.  But I blocked him using a chair I grabbed as a shield.  I threw a few things at him that I grabbed at random around the deck just to stop him but he kept coming at me like a mad man.  Despite his bravado there was fear in his eyes. 

“I’m not a slaver!” he told me when he paused to catch his breath.  “I just needed passage on a ship and this was the only one that would take me.”

“Well lower your weapon then,” I replied.

“No!  Not until you promise me you won’t take me to your queen.”

“She won’t even bother to meet you.  We’ll send you to prison in Arendelle and you’ll have a fair trial.  If you’re not at fault, you have nothing to fear.”

“No, give me a boat and I’ll go on my way now!” he demanded.

“You’re in no position to make demands,” I said condescendingly.   “My men are all over this ship.  You may get away from me but you won’t be able to get away from them.”

He looked confused for a moment but then he uttered.   “I’ll make you a deal.  You let me go and I’ll tell you of a land that will be of interest to your queen.  It’s a place full of magic just like her.  I’ve been trying to find it for years and I think I know where it is.”

“Magic, eh?” I said with a tone that suggested I was interested though secretly I was just waiting for my other man who was closing behind him with his pistol.  “What kind of magic?”

“It’s a country where nobody grows old.  And there are fairies there they say.  And people can fly.”

“That doesn’t sound anything at all like Queen Elsa.  She doesn’t fly, she’s not a fairy and certainly she would not want to be young forever.”

His face fell as he realized his idea of striking a deal was falling flat.  “But I mean come on, it’s magic,” he insisted, as if that would make a difference.

“Yes and I’ve seen enough of it back home.  I don’t need to find it in another strange land.  I tell you what, I’ll just take you to your magic land myself.”

“Really?” he asked excitedly.

 “Sure, right now.”  I gave a knowing look at my lieutenant who quickly knocked the pirate at the back of the head with the butt end of his pistol.  “There, good luck finding your magic land in your dreams.” I told the now dozing pirate. 

My men disarmed him and brought his sleeping form to be locked up in the cargo hold.   I went further down the decks.  I haven’t gone far when my senses were assailed by the most disturbing of odors.  I moved further down to discover the holds packed with bodies.  The moans of suffering that combined with the heat and smells were so overwhelming it took an enormous effort for me not to throw up.   My men and I moved quickly to release the slaves.  Some begged us for food or water, others cried with voices that were more animal-like than human.  But more often I was met with silent glassy-eyed stares.

 One by one we freed them. The ones that could not walk we carried out to be cared for by our standing medics.  The women slaves cut me to the core when I saw them.  A lot of them were just young girls, some even as young my own daughters.  Almost all of them showed signs of abuse. 

There was one petite girl that haunted me more than the others.  She had doe-like eyes and would have looked pretty if she wasn’t so frightened.  She lay shivering and hunched in a dark little corner.  When I passed her with my lamp she offered to give herself to me if I would just let her out to see the sun.  I was extra gentle with her.  I told her she will never have to offer herself to a man and she will always be free to see the sun whenever she liked.  She sobbed openly when I brought her to the upper deck to soak up the sunlight she so longed.  I vowed to make the monsters that taught her to degrade herself this way pay dearly.

"Will you help my friend too?" she begged me once she was able to speak through her tears. 

"Of course,” I assured her.  “I'll come back for her or my men will and she'll enjoy the sun with you,"

She shook her head.  "My friend's not a girl.  He's an old man, the nicest I've ever met.  He always gives me half his rations and he defends me.  The captain and his men always hurt him... more than the others. I haven't seen him for a long time now.  Please help him."

I promised her that I will.  But I didn't have much hope.  A lot of the older men we found were either dead or were too far gone in their diseased broken bodies that even I knew we can only ease their pain until they passed mercifully to the next life.

"What is his name?" I asked her.

She shook her head.  "He never told me.  I just call him my prince.  He has a nice voice and he calls me ‘Princess.’  If you find him, tell him Isabel wants to see him."

"Then I will find him for you, little Princess Isabel.  Now rest and enjoy the sun.  My men will take you to my ship and bring you food and drink."

She gave a content smile and closed her eyes.

I returned below deck to help free more slaves.  I found the holds were almost empty as most of the living slaves were already carried out by my men.  I went to the deepest parts of the ship where it was pitch dark.  Here the smell of death was so overpowering that I almost turned back.  I held up a small lamp to see and found dead bodies, some were already beginning to decay.  There was no use retrieving the bodies in such a state.   I decided I will order the ship burned to minimize the possible spread of diseases. 

I heard a scratching in the dark and I lifted the lamp once more and saw a poor soul at a corner almost indistinguishable from his company of corpses.  I bravely stepped past the bodies to reach him.  He was dirty, bald and stripped to the waist.  His back was bruised and his face was covered with so much caked-in blood that I knew came from horrible beatings.  His eyes squinted for a few seconds to the blinding light.  But when his eyes adjusted to the dark, he focused on the Arendelle crest on my shoulder before he sighed deeply.

"Leave… me…," he said so softly in a voice so hoarse I barely understood him.

"I'm taking you out of here," I told him.  "You don't have to be afraid.  We'll take care of you."

"You shouldn't... just let me... die... burn me... with the ship... give me... that mercy..."

What horrors this wretched man must have gone through to wish for death. 

"You shall not die today, friend," I said.   I shall take you back to Arendelle where our people will take care of you.  You can have a chance for a new life."

But he shook his head.  "No... life... not... in Arendelle... not... anywhere... not... anymore..."

He maybe resigned to his fate but I was not.  I carefully lifted him up despite his feeble protests and carried him to the light.  The trip up the decks exhausted him and he fell unconscious almost as soon as we transferred him to my ship.  I handed him to our surgeon who only shook his head at the state of his latest patient.  I didn't have much hope for his recovery.  The most we can do is to give him a dignified death in relative comfort. 

I watched the ship burn down and almost wished the slavers we captured were upon its fiery decks.  Those monsters didn't deserve to live.

We reached Arendelle shores in a few short hours.  The slaves we rescued were quickly taken to little tents near the ports that served as makeshift health facilities.  One of Princess Anna’s projects was to ensure that all foreigners arriving in Arendelle were checked before integrating with the populace.  The tents also served the purpose of accommodating the refugees we brought home and made sure their needs were met. 

My crew and I were subjected to the thorough scrubbing with lye and soap that was standard for all ships that encountered slavers to ensure we didn’t carry any disease.    When I finished, I checked the slaves we rescued. 

I found the man I carried out last almost immediately.  He was washed and freshly bandaged.  In his cleaner state, I finally got a good look at him.  He was so thin that he was nothing more than skin and bones.  His entire back and chest were bandaged that I knew there were multiple injuries underneath.  His hair was shorn to the scalp but had a few tufts of red hair growing on his head.  But it was when I saw his green eyes that I finally recognized who he was.

"Prince Hans!" I gasped.  The last time I saw him was when I threw him into the cell of the French ambassadors' ship after his act of treason against my Queen.   I wondered what happened to him and how he ended up on a slaver.

He stared at me with the eyes of a broken man.  "I told you... You should have let me… die…" he whispered. 

I witnessed this man swing a sword at Queen Elsa.  I knew he left Princess Anna for dead after deceiving her.  He was a selfish, ambitious character who I should abhor.  But I could not bring myself to say even an unkind word.  Whatever sins he committed he surely paid a lifetime of hell for them.

"You shall be cared for.  It doesn't matter what you did before," I said.

"You're just wasting... resources... on me... but I shall trouble you... no further... I shall die soon..."

I had no words for him for I knew he was right.  There was no need to inform Queen Elsa and Princess Anna about his presence.  He would die an unknown and I shall bury him and his identity in secret.  He was harmless and no one even need be alarmed.

The entrance of the tent flap moved and a small figure peered in.  I recognized the girl, Isabel.  She walked slowly with a limp but she looked so much better than when I first saw her.  A smile appeared on her face when she saw Prince Hans.

"My prince!" she cried and smiled at me gratefully.  "Oh good Sir, you found him!  You found my friend!"

She came over as fast as her weak legs could carry her and sat next to the weakened man.  She took one of his hands in hers.

"Princess Isabel," the former prince murmured and a smile graced his lips.  "You are safe now.   These people will take care of you."

“I’ll take care of you,” she replied.  “You always took care of me.  It’s now my turn.”

My heart was moved at her words.  Despite what this man did, he certainly must have some sense of humanity to have earned the friendship of this innocent girl.

I took my leave of them.  As I passed the nurse in charge, I stopped her to give orders. 

“Take care of both of them,” I said to the nurse.  “Allow the girl to stay as long as she likes.  Let them have the comfort of each other’s company for what little time he has left.  Report to me when he passes.”

Chapter Text

My hands trembled as I read those last words.  A grim picture of a vulnerable, depressed Admiral Westergard was the last thing I expected from Admiral Rochport's memoirs.  The horrors of his time as a slave were described so vividly I felt my throat tighten.  And what about the girl Isabel? Could it be possible that she was the same Isabel that captivated me with her smile and was now sleeping just a few decks above me?  I blinked back the tears and read on...

 

10th of July

That Southern Isles usurper must have been made of tougher stuff than I gave him credit.  For a week I waited for the report that told me of his death, but it never came.  This morning, I went down to the docks and found him not just alive and breathing but already sitting up on his bed and occasionally limping about in makeshift crutches.  His face and body still bore scars, but otherwise his appearance was greatly improved.  The nurse in charge told me he was doing well and was on the road to recovery.  She gave glowing reports that he was always polite to the staff and spent most of his time with little Isabel. 

The nurse let me observe him from a distance.  I watched him tend to Isabel who lay on a cot.  He seemed to be telling her a story for her eyes looked upon him with wide-eyed fascination. 

He began to sing.  His voice didn't have the same power as I remembered but he still maintained a melodious tenor that echoed through the tents.   It was like a siren song for it seemed to call a number of the medical staff and a few patients to peer in and watch.  He sang it in a foreign language that I was sure nobody in the tent understood.   But the melody and his expression brought forth emotions in me that reminded me of the saddest moments of my life.  It made me recall the day I was told my only son perished in the same ship that took the life of my king and best friend.

I noticed that I was not the only one who was touched for I saw that all around me, people were blinking back tears. 

"Prince Charming has done it again," the young nurse I was speaking to said as she dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes.  He's been doing that a lot.  It helps her sleep."

"Prince Charming?" I asked curiously.

"That's what we call him," replied the nurse.  He refuses to tell us his name.  But that little girl keeps calling him "Prince" and he is quite the charmer so we sort of just stuck to that nickname.  He has such devotion to her.  For the first few days we thought he wouldn’t make it. He’s cracked several ribs, torn a few ligaments and has multiple contusions.  But he’s a fighter.  I think the girl helped him more than any medicine could.  I think she’s the only reason he made the effort to live.  Do you know him Captain Rochport?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but he is a criminal.”

The nurse looked shocked.  “I didn’t realize.  He looked so harmless.  Have you come to arrest him?”

“I was going to but I don’t think he’s going anywhere in his current state.”  I watched as he tucked Isabel in like a gentle father.  “And he’s not inclined to hurt anyone so I’ll let him be until he fully recovers.  I don’t want to frighten anyone so please don’t tell anybody yet what I told you.  But I will have a guard stationed nearby at all times.”  I paused to watch Isabel breathe evenly in sleep and the man beside her gave a fervent kiss on her forehead.  “What about the girl, Isabel?  How is she?”

“She caught a fever two days ago,” the nurse replied.  “It seems to be an infection.   She’s not getting any better but we’re hoping he’ll do the same wonders for her as she did to him.”

I took my leave of them.  It was time Elsa knew about his presence in her kingdom.

 

There were other entries after that but I skipped the parts that had nothing to do with Admiral Westergard.  I found another related entry dated five days later.

 

15th of July

Elsa didn’t take it well when I told her the former prince Hans was currently housed in her port.  However, she agreed with my decision to let the criminal heal before we take him into custody.  She ordered strict surveillance over him and I’ve been making personal daily visits to his tent since then.  So far he seems to be keeping to his best behavior and was even a delight to the staff.   His recovery was going well but Isabel was a different story.  She grew worse daily and today the nurse pronounced to me her grim prognosis:

I'm afraid she won't make it.   We don't know how to tell him.  She seems to be his only hope to keep on living."

"How long?" I asked.

"A few days at most," the nurse said sadly. 

I left the tent but I stopped outside it to pray for the little girl’s health. 

“Captain?” I recognized his voice immediately and turned to find him standing with a crutch.  His eyes were bloodshot.  I knew he had been crying.

“Prince Hans,” I acknowledged evenly.

He shook his head.  “It’s just Hans Westergard now,” he said.  “You know that.  You haven’t come to take me and I am grateful.  I want you to know I won’t give you any trouble.  I’ll come willingly when you ask, only…”

“Only what?”

He stared at the ground, his face scrunched in sorrow.  “They wouldn’t tell me but I know.  Isabel’s dying.  I can’t let her die.  I was supposed to die, she was supposed to live.  She has her whole life ahead of her now that she’s free.”  He lifted his face to meet my gaze.  “I know this may be too much to ask Captain, but I don’t know anything else I can do.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Queen Elsa with her powers… maybe she can help Isabel.”

It wasn’t the first time someone asked this of me about Elsa.  Outside of Arendelle, people didn’t really understood the extent of her powers  and so there were rumors that she can do everything from making objects move with her mind to raising the dead.  Elsa’s powers did grow over time since that fateful day she thawed her frozen kingdom but there were still limitations to them.  I supposed even if Hans Westergard encountered Elsa before he wouldn’t be familiar with everything about her powers. 

“She’s not a miracle worker,” I told him.  “She can’t cure people.”

“I know,” he said.  “But maybe she can do something else.  I don’t know… maybe she can freeze the infection in Isabel or something like that.  Please… won’t you speak to her?  I’ll do anything she wants of me just let her help Isabel get better.” 

His unselfish plea touched me.  I didn’t have much hope that Elsa could do anything about the girl, but I couldn’t deny him this last hope.

“I will speak to the Queen of what you ask.  I am sure if there is anything she can do, she will.”

“Thank you,” he murmured. 

I assisted him back to the tent and into the cot next to the sleeping Isabel.  He smoothed her hair with gentle fingers.

“They brought her in with several other girls a few weeks after I’ve been on the ship,” Westergard said softly.  “The captain took a liking to her and raped her in front of me.  I couldn’t do a thing.  His first mate was busy using me as his punching bag.  They kept us together in cells near the captain’s quarters.  We were his favorite playthings.  He would play mind games with us—denying us food or locking us up to break our will.  I never gave in to his demands so his men would always punish me harder.  She was just a little girl and he taught her to beg so she wouldn’t be locked up alone in the dark.  She’s so afraid of the dark.”

I felt a bubble of emotions go through me but I fought back the tears.  Westergard didn’t notice my internal battle.  His attention was focused solely on the slumbering girl. 

“I told her one day I would take her away from the hell we were living in and that she will be my little princess.  I would always take care of her in a place where she will always see the sun.  I’d give my life to keep that promise to her.”

I wanted to tell him that he already kept that promise but I said nothing.  I left him to report back to my Queen.

 

21st of July

I cannot bring myself to write for the last few days.  I needed time to process things.  I’ve seen numerous tragedies in my lengthy time in the service, but none save for my own personal losses, have affected me more than this.

I told Elsa of Westergard’s request and she told me what he asked of her was not in her power to do.   Nevertheless, her compassionate heart didn’t even hesitate and she agreed to see the girl.  She came in next day and went directly to the tent where Isabel lay as a ghostly pale figure under the sheets.

Westergard respectfully kept himself out of sight as soon as Elsa arrived.  She consulted with the nurse who gave her the same report she told me.  The infection had spread all over Isabel’s body and there was nothing they could do but ease her passing. 

Elsa sat next to Isabel who smiled weakly at her visitor.

“You’re… Queen Elsa…” Isabel rasped.  “You’re… pretty… just as my prince… said...”

“Prince?” Elsa asked.

“Hans…” Isabel replied.  “I like to call him… ‘Prince.’  He’s… the nicest… man...”

If Elsa was bothered by the reference to the man who tried to kill her, she didn’t show it.  She placed a hand on the little girl’s forehead which I knew was burning hot.  I saw Elsa’s hands glow to cool her head.

“Feels… wonderful…” the little girl murmured.  She closed her eyes and seemed to fall asleep. 

“Is there anything you can do, Elsa?” I asked.

She shook her head as I saw her eyes turn glassy with tears.  “I’m sorry.  My powers don’t go that far.  I can keep her cool and comfortable, but that’s it.”

I got up and found Westergard outside the tent.  His eyes searched mine hopefully but I can only shake my head at him.

I saw a single tear fall down his cheek before he sat on the ground and buried his face in his hands.  I returned inside the tent to find Isabel had opened her eyes again and was whispering something to Elsa.  My Queen leaned over closely to her to listen then whispered something back to the little girl.  After that Isabel closed her eyes and a smile played on her lips as she fell asleep..

Elsa stood up to leave and I sidled up beside her for I can tell she was distraught.

“What did she say to you?” I asked.

She stared at the ground.  “She asked me to let her prince have a home,” she replied before she walked onwards.  She stepped outside the tent but paused as she caught sight of Westergard’s sobbing form.  He looked up and met her eyes.

For a long time they stared at each other that I was alarmed.  A million possibilities went through my mind in seconds.  Would she freeze him?  Would he attack her? Would they hurl insults at each other?

“Thank you,” Westergard told her.  Those two simple words were the last thing I imagined he would say to her. 

Elsa seemed just as surprised but uttered not a word.  She turned away and walked straight on.

“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you and your sister!” he called out.

Elsa refused to look back.  She quickened her pace and was soon running back towards the village.  A storm cloud followed her and left a trail of snow in her path.  I finally caught up to her near the castle gates.  She stopped to breathe and dissipated her snow storm.

“Are you alright, Elsa?”

She nodded.  “I’m sorry if I alarmed you.  I’m fine.”

“I suggest you take some rest,” I said.  “I’ll take care of things.  You won’t have to see him again.  I’ll have him taken to custody as soon as he is able and you just tell me how you want his sentence served.”

She shook her head.  “No, I don’t want him arrested.  He has already been tried and punished under Southern Isles law.”

“But certainly you have the prerogative to charge him for being here after he committed treason.”

“I do but I do not wish to exercise that prerogative.  Grant him the same privileges as any refugee we welcome in Arendelle.  He may stay or go as he pleases as long as he does not violate any of our laws.”

“Very well,” I replied.  “It shall be done.”

I left the Queen and proceeded to the local church.  I lit a candle and knelt once more in prayer for the little girl, the grieving man she was leaving behind and my Queen who I knew was still affected by all of this.

The bells tolled to announce the time for Angelus.  The sky darkened—an unusual thing at this hour at this time of the year.  I knew this was Elsa’s emotions at play for a chilling breeze blew into the church and almost snuffed out the prayer candles.  I felt a grim sadness settle over me.

The following day, I received the report:  little Isabel died at exactly six ’o clock the previous evening in the arms of the man she called ‘Prince.’

 

I couldn’t go on reading.  My eyes were too heavy with tears.  I shut Admiral Rochport’s diary and cried myself to sleep.

Chapter Text

I woke the next day with still a few hours before my shift starts.  Despite the depressing revelations of Admiral Rochport’s memoirs, I couldn’t help be drawn to it.  I took it up once more.

The next several accounts were simple reports of everyday occurrences on the ship.  Admiral Rochport provided descriptive comments of the men under him.  He took note of who was up for promotion, who was lagging behind in training, who displayed some impressive work and even someone who just made his day by giving him a good laugh.  His tales were interspersed with his narratives about the times he spent with his wife and two daughters, along with his neighbors and friends in town which he visited whenever he was off-duty.  He also gave ample space on the pages to write about his dog and the many tricks the loyal creature learned whenever he came home.

The revelations of his memoirs showed the side of him I’ve heard from others before: he was a brilliant leader, an affection family man and a kind-hearted soul who genuinely cared for people around him.  I enjoyed reading the details of his life but I decided to skim through it for the moment for I was eager to know more about Admiral Westergard.

It seems even Admiral Rochport found it too depressing to write about the situation of his would-be successor for almost three months passed before he made any mention of Admiral Westergard.  But when he did, he presented a vivid story of what followed after…

17th of October

The subject of Westergard is something awkward to me but nevertheless, I shall relate the events that I’ve put on hold for too long. 

We buried little Isabel the day after she passed on a low hill where the sun shone clearly in the day and the aurora borealis was visible at night.  I picked the spot personally for even in death, I wanted the girl to never be placed somewhere dark.   A lot of the medical staff attended her burial ceremony.  It was a heartwarming indication that even in her brief stay in Arendelle she managed to touch several people enough for them to care to see her off to the next life.  Even Queen Elsa joined us and adorned the little girl’s memorial stone with icy flowers. 

Westergard was too weak to climb the hill to attend her burial.  But after a week he gained enough strength and I took him personally up to the site where he laid fresh blossoms by her grave.  I let him alone for half an hour to pay his last respects.  When I returned he was calm and bore a resigned expression.

"You can take me now," he said.  "I'm ready for whatever punishment Queen Elsa will impose."

I shook my head and explained to him that Queen Elsa had granted him his freedom as long as he kept to Arendelle laws. He seemed astonished at this pronouncement and thanked me for vouching for him.

"Don't thank me," I said.  "It was Isabel who requested this." I relayed to him the girl's innocent little wish. 

He said nothing and turned away slightly for I knew he was fighting back his emotions.  If anyone told me years ago that the man who tried to kill my Queen had a human side, I would have laughed.  I never thought I would see him as anything but a selfish man.  It was strange how fates would turn.  And now I find in him an ally in my quest for wrongs to be righted.

"You may stay or go as you please," I continued.  "But there is only one thing I would ask of you."

"What is it?" he asked.

"The slavers we captured.  A trial will be held for them in a week's time.  I want them brought to justice for what they did. I want you to testify against them."

"Yes, yes of course,” he replied eagerly.   “You need not ask.  I won't spare a thing.  Their cruelties won't be left to be hidden away and forgotten.  What she suffered through and the others like her won't be forgotten.”  He paused and I felt the simmering rage in his voice as he uttered the next words.  "Their stories need to be told and those tormentors will pay.  I only regret that Arendelle's capital punishment is a quick death by hanging.  The noose is too good for the likes of them."

I made no comment though I secretly agreed with him.  "I shall expect you at the trials then."

“Yes," he said harshly.  He paused as he seemed to remember something.  "Captain, I know those men deserve to be punished for what they did, but there is one that you may have arrested that I’d like to speak for.  He came as a passenger just a few days before you found us.  His name is James Crochet.  He’s about this tall.” He gestured with his hands.  “He’s really thin with dark hair and dresses rather flamboyantly.

I knew immediately who he was talking about.  "Is he the one with the red coat and pants with a black moustache?"

"Yes that's him.  I assumed you arrested him with the rest of the slavers."

I nodded. “He attacked me and kept raving about some silly magic land."

An amused smile graced the corner of Westergard’s lips.    It was the first time I’ve seen him do so.  “He’s a bit crazy but I owe him my life.  He took pity on me and Isabel after he saw us get beaten one night.  He asked the captain to stop and reasoned that we were worth nothing in the market if we were dead.  That convinced the captain to send us back down to the cargo hold with the other slaves.  It wasn’t freedom but at least it stopped our nightly tortures.  We probably wouldn’t have lasted long if he hadn’t intervened.  Before we were taken back to the hold, he gave us food and water and we spent some time with him.  I think he just wanted someone to talk to that wouldn’t laugh at him.” 

Westergard stopped and shook his head.  “He kept talking about finding this fairy land where he would stay young and handsome forever.  I just let him on.  At least he amused Isabel with a story even for a short while.   I think he has a few flights of ideas and is extremely vain about himself but I don’t think he deserves to be hanged for it.”

“Well then you shall have the opportunity to vouch for his character at the trials.  Right now he’s in one of the cells.  I can assure you he is being treated humanely like the others, which is more than what they deserve.”

He nodded slightly. “Captain, I do not wish to alarm anyone here of my presence.  I shall remain here only for the trials and after I can earn enough to pay for my passage out of Arendelle.   But please tell Queen Elsa thank you for me.  I know she may never forgive me for what I did but kindly extend to her and Princess Anna my most sincere apologies for any pain I have caused them.  I’ve heard much about the prosperity of Arendelle that blossomed over the years since Queen Elsa reigned. In the days I’ve been here, I’ve seen with my own eyes what she has done for her land and people.   I deeply regret that I’ve misjudged her so terribly.”

“I shall tell her what you’ve said.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

We parted ways after that.  On Queen Elsa’s bidding, I’ve kept a close eye on Westergard just the same.  He took odd jobs wherever he could.  At first he assisted the staff in the tent clinics.  When there were no more patients, he offered himself as a stevedore on the docks or assisted the fishermen in the day’s catch.  

He and the other rescued slaves stayed in little tents near the port and he seemed to become something of an unofficial leader for them.   They went to testify at the trials together which took several weeks.  But with such overwhelming testimonies, each of the slavers were eventually convicted and hanged.  

James Crochet was the only one that survived the noose.  Westergard’s testimony exonerated him early on and he came to live with him in one of the tents.   I think he didn’t sit well with the other former slaves and from what I heard even Westergard found him a bit too much to handle at some point.  The rumor was that Westergard got so annoyed by Crochet he gave up his full two months of saved earnings so he can get the dandy on a boat and out of his life as fast as possible.  The other former slaves I spoke to about the matter said Crochet was only too glad to resume his quest for his magical fairy land.

Of course that meant Westergard needed to stay and work a lot longer so he can save enough to pay for his own trip.   But from all indications he seems intent on keeping his word.  Another month or so and I expect him to be out of Arendelle for good.

 

The next several pages contained the usual general narratives of Admiral Rochport, but occasionally I found a few lines about Admiral Westergard.

 

20th of October

…My daughter Anne told me an interesting story.  She had been volunteering in the tent shelters for former slaves as a teacher for the little children we rescued.  There was one particular trying boy that refused to participate in any of the activities she planned for them.  He often bothered the other children by taking away their toys and books and keeping them for himself.   He also had a tendency to hurt others with such savage brutality the nurses kept him separated most of the time.  Anne said he had never met anyone so disturbed in her life.  She figured the boy must have suffered so much abuse that he didn’t know how to act any other way with other people.  Today, to her astonishment, the boy appeared calm and even played with the other children.  Anne said the nurses told her Westergard had been seeing the boy almost daily for weeks.  They would play something of a soldier’s game where Westergard was the Captain and the boy was his first officer.  Somehow he managed to tame the boy enough to get him to function normally…

 

25th of October

…I saw Westergard at the docks this morning.  He was unloading several sacks of wheat and barley from a merchant vessel.  He paused momentarily from his work and I caught him staring at my men doing drills.  He had such a look of longing in his eyes.  I remembered the first time he came to Arendelle and he was wearing a rank pin that must have been equivalent to a lieutenant position in the Southern Isles.  I guess he must have had training in the navy.  I remembered that he was stripped of his citizenship from the Southern Isles.  He is essentially a man without a country and thus could never serve in any military.  It must be hard for a man like that to know that he lost a career.  Despite what he did, I couldn’t help but feel for him…

 

6th of November

…The skipper of the Lady Tremaine, a merchant ship going to Antalona told me he’s taking with him two teenaged boys.  The boys were among those we rescued from the slaver ship last July and they were excited to get home to reunite with their parents who probably don’t even know they are still alive.  The skipper said Westergard paid part of their passage with some of his own earnings.   He didn’t want the boys to wait any further to get home. 

I guess Westergard will have to stay a bit longer then to earn enough for his own passage out…

 

14th of November

… Visited the market this afternoon to get the missis something fresh for the table.  I met Westergard accompanied by several fishermen.  They were laughing together over some joke or other about the day’s catch.  He seemed to get along with them quite well.  When he saw me, he gave a polite greeting and tipped his ragged cap.   He sported a full beard and his hair had grown considerably that he kept it in a single ponytail at the back of his head.  Even with his less than kempt appearance he still seemed to have an appeal with the ladies.  I noticed several girls that sold seaweeds and fish in one corner openly gawked at him when he passed by.  A pair of giggly teenagers greeted him and looked ecstatic when he smiled and said hello back.  Even one older woman couldn’t help but blush when he assisted her by lifting her basket full of shellfish.  Even after his ordeal, Westergard was still a charmer…

 

27th of November

…One of the nurses in the hospital told me that Westergard bid her and the entire medical staff good bye.  He’s booked passage on a boat to Corona on the 30th.  She said everyone in the hospital was sad to see “Prince Charming” go.    I heard the same story from the grocer, the cobbler, and several fishermen at the docks.  Apparently Westergard found friends among the peasants wherever he went...

 

28th of November

…Westergard came by to see me to say his farewell.   I bid him well and shook his hand.  We parted almost like friends…

 

1st of December 

…I’ve been so exhausted the last few days I haven’t been able to write.  A fierce storm blew in so harshly for the last three days it kept us busy with securing the ships in the fjord.  Queen Elsa had to freeze everything to prevent the ships from colliding with each other.  Because of the storm and the Queen’s stop gap solution, all travels by ship out of Arendelle were put on hold until spring.  It seems Westergard is fated to remain in Arendelle until next year…

 

No, I thought, he was fated to make his stay far longer.  I met him the following spring.  And I knew our meeting was what allowed him to request his citizenship from my mother that enabled him to make Arendelle his home. 

I closed Admiral Rochport’s journal and got ready for my shift.  

Just like yesterday, my shift was uneventful.  However, as I was working on the upper decks, I had the opportunity to have a good view of one particularly attractive redhead who set up a chess board just after breakfast in a little table.  Her father joined her and they played several rounds together. 

I wasn’t alone in observing them.  Some of the crewmen who were off duty stopped to watch occasionally.  I’ve known Admiral Westergard to be really good at chess but Isabel still trumped him by a mile.  Over the last few days, the girl earned a reputation among the crew for being nearly unbeatable at chess.  She was also something of a mathematics genius for she can do calculations faster than anyone I knew.   She demonstrated it the first day when her father asked her to compute for the coordinates of our journey and she came up with the answer in almost an instant without even writing the figures down.

I haven’t gotten an opportunity to share any significant conversations with her since our last encounter in the Rose Pub.  When she came on board on this journey, I found out I wasn’t the only boy who carried a torch for her.  Nearly every young man and even some of the older ones were falling all over themselves to get her attention.   I wasn’t so bold.  I’ve seen some of the few brave ones who attempted to court her were immediately shot down by her ever vigilant father with one harsh look.   Isabel, however, seemed oblivious to the effect she had on the male members of the ship.  She was equally polite to everyone but favored none.  She was quiet, modest and mostly kept company with Lady Anja when she wasn’t busy making tallies over regular ship’s supply inventory.   

The revelations I read from the journal made me think of the other girl named Isabel that died.  Was it just a coincidence that Admiral Westergard’s own daughter had the same name as the girl he grew to care about during his time as a slave?  It did make sense why he loved that poor girl so much.  Maybe she reminded him of his daughter. 

As I watched them play chess together from afar I could see they were in deep conversation.  I had an odd feeling that I was watching a student and a teacher interacting over a lesson.  In many ways, they probably were exactly that to each other. 

My shift ended just after lunch just in time to see my aunt appear to take up Admiral Westergard’s challenge.  He won the last two games with Isabel and was in high spirits (Isabel though was still in the lead at 28 wins versus his ten.  I suspected she let him win the last two ones).

I sat beside my aunt while Isabel stayed next to the Admiral.  The two players set up the pieces together.  My aunt took white while her opponent chose black.

Aunt Elsa was about to make her first move when Admiral Westergard stopped her with a hand gesture.

“What do you say we make this game a bit more interesting?” he offered.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I have an idea, your majesty.  How about a little wager—no money involved.  You know my no gambling rules on the ship.  But just something fun.”

I can tell my aunt’s interest was piqued. “What do you have in mind?”

“Give me a minute to get something.”  He left and went below deck.  He returned shortly with a small bundle wrapped in cloth.   My aunt and I stared at the mystery package while Admiral Westergard shared a smile with his daughter who returned it with a conspiratorial wink. 

“What is that?” my aunt asked.

He grinned knowingly.  “Oh something you won’t be able to resist.”  He opened the bundle with flourish to reveal three boxes of chocolates.  The labels revealed they were the rare and expensive type that came from Belgium.  My aunt adored them and often sent out for them as a treat for herself.

“You had this the whole time and you never told me?”

“Saving it for a special occasion,” he said.  He opened one of the boxes to reveal the luscious goodies in various shapes in their golden tray beds.  He dangled the box across her nose.  “If you win against me, you get bragging rights and these boxes of delicate sweetness are all yours.”

“You’re on Admiral,” my aunt accepted.

Some of the men nearby apparently overheard them talking and one rather jolly crewman suddenly announced in a fake accent:

“Hear Ye! Hear Ye!  A fight is about to be engaged!  Her Majesty, Queen Elsa of Arendelle versus Admiral Hans Westergard!   Who shall emerge the victor on the battle of the chessboard?  The prize: three boxes of chocolate!”

We all laughed at the man’s rather impromptu announcement.  It effectively drew in everyone not on duty on the ship to watch until we had a huge crowd surrounding us.  The two players didn’t seem to mind the audience and proceeded with their game.

I’ve never seen two people battle it out so intensely over chess.   They were almost equally matched.  Their audience became so engrossed that they would cheer or groan for every piece that was taken out of the game. 

By the end of an hour, there were too few pieces left that I knew the game was almost at a close.  Aunt Elsa lost all but one pawn but she kept most of her powerful pieces in play.  She still had a rook, a bishop and her ever reliable queen.  She aggressively moved her pieces from one end of the board to another, saying “check” so often.  Admiral Westergard on the other hand, lost most of his powerful pieces early on but retained three pawns and two knights.  He used his two knights to good effect to block her advances.

“Check again, Admiral,” Aunt Elsa cried triumphantly after she moved her rook on the direct path to his king.  “Ready to admit defeat?”  I can see why she felt victorious.  With his king in check, he had no choice but to move it, which left his knight open for her queen to take.

“Not quite, your majesty,” Admiral Westergard replied but he moved his king to evade the check just as I predicted.

“Suit yourself,” she said as her queen promptly took one of his knights.  “Pity,” she said while their audience moaned in unison.

“He fought well,” he said coolly, as he moved one of his lonely pawns forward as there was no point in moving his other pieces without endangering either his king or his remaining knight.

My aunt stared intently at the board, her eyes on her queen and bishop, as she decided which one can do the most damage.

“You know, your majesty you never asked me what I wanted if I win this game.”

My aunt’s didn’t even look up.  “You get the chocolates,” she said.

He just smiled.  “Ahhh… but the chocolates were mine to begin with.   You played me so you can win them from me.  I’m certainly not playing to keep them.”

This time she looked up to him with a confused expression.  “Wait—what?  What do you want?”

A sly grin lit his face.  “What do you think I want your majesty?”

There were gasps all around from the crew as my aunt turned red.  It was the first time he ever voiced something so bold in front of her in public.  I could hear murmured whispers and I caught a few words nearby:

“He’s going to ask for a kiss.”

“Or maybe to… you know…”

“Don’t be an idiot, she won’t let him.”

“Shhh… they might hear you.”

My aunt looked flustered and she whispered to him: “Don’t you dare!”

“Oh but I do,” he replied.  “I’m not going to let an opportunity like this go.  Not when we have witnesses.” 

He spoke up to address their audience.  “You see there are exactly 37 people on this ship.  There are three boxes of chocolates with a dozen pieces each box which makes 36 pieces.  If I win this game, every single person on this ship gets a piece of chocolate—except one, of course.”  He paused to smirk at her.  “Guess who that one is?”

Oh that was a brilliant form of torture for my aunt! Everyone knew how much she loved her chocolate.

Aunt Elsa glared at him but said nothing.

“So what do you say men?  Cheer for me to win and you get one piece of rich, creamy, rare chocolate each!”

Quick guffaws of laughter erupted on the entire deck though it was short-lived for I can tell the men were trying to suppress them for fear of insulting their Queen. 

“Are you trying to instigate a revolt against me?” she whispered to him but he just shrugged.

“Fine then!” my aunt shot back loud enough for everyone to hear.  “If that’s the game, then I offer the same.  If I win, every person on this ship gets a piece of chocolate as well, except you Admiral.”

This time there was no one holding back the laughter and cheers from the men that I barely heard Admiral Westergard’s reply. 

“You’re on, your majesty.  Your move.”

She returned her attention to the game.  She quickly used her queen to check his king again.  He responded by putting his knight in its path.  In turn, she moved her queen to knock his remaining knight almost viciously off the board.

“Pesky knight,” she shrugged.

“Yes indeed,” he agreed.  “He served his purpose well.”

“Yes, by prolonging the game, but eventually you’ll lose because nobody wins with pawns,” she said haughtily.

“Oh but that’s where you’re mistaken your majesty.  My knights aren’t there to prolong the game.  They’re there to conceal it.”

My aunt frowned.  “What do you mean?”

He leaned backward almost casually.  “Sometimes, I prefer the pawns. They’re slow, dispensable, non-threatening.  But there’s one thing unique about them.  They just bid their time, before they become the most powerful piece of the game.”

He moved his lonely pawn one square forward and suddenly it all made sense to me.   The pawn was on the eight square—in direct path into Aunt’s Elsa’s white king which was blocked by all sides by her queen and remaining pieces.   He quickly replaced the pawn with his black queen and I knew it was over before he said the word:

“Checkmate.”

My aunt stared at the board open-mouthed as if she couldn’t believe what just happened.

“Don’t be quick to dismiss the pawns, you majesty,” Admiral Westergard said.  “I learned that recently from Isabel.”  He shared a glance with his brilliant daughter.  “You may not realize it but you could have a queen hiding in plain sight.”

My aunt stared at him for a long moment and a dark shadow seemed to pass over her face.  But then it disappeared and she got up and shook his hand.

“Congratulations, Admiral.  Well played,” she said graciously.  “The chocolates are yours to distribute to everyone.”

“You can have my piece,” I quickly told her.  I wasn’t alone when I spoke.  Almost every sailor around us offered his own share of chocolate to her.  But my aunt held up her hands.

“No please, everyone enjoy their share.  The Admiral won them for you fairly.  It’s only chocolate.  I’ve had my fill of them for years.  It was a good game but I must retire to my duties.”

She proceeded back to her cabin.  I decided to still share mine with her in private.  I waited to receive my piece then followed after her.

I was about to knock when I heard her gasp within.  I pushed open the door and found her standing next to her desk with one hand on her mouth as she read a small piece of paper.  Flurries of snow were circling around her head—an indication that something must have bothered her.

“What is it?” I asked with great alarm.

She shook her head and turned her face from me.  “It’s nothing, nothing, it’s just silly.” 

I noticed there was a tiny box on the desk and I opened it to reveal one of the pieces of chocolate shaped like a heart.

“It’s nothing Fredrik.  Hans, just played me is all.”  Despite her protestations, I felt her hands tremble as she handed me the paper she was reading.  Before I could even ask, she mumbled something about getting some air and left the room in a hurry.  Bits of frost formed on the floor after her. 

I opened the paper she gave me and read the short note in Admiral Westergard’s neat script:

Elsa,

Whether you win or lose, my piece is yours.  I can never deny you your heart’s desire.

Hans

Chapter Text

Aunt Elsa dismissed Admiral Westergard's note as a joke and refused to say anything more about it when I asked.  I didn't probe any further as I respected her privacy.  However, I made a mental note of it as something I should consider with caution.  The warnings my father gave me remained in my mind.  Is he trying to seduce my aunt in the hope of marrying her and her throne? 

It wouldn’t be so bad if he really loved her.  Maybe she can even love him back. If he had no ill intentions against her and my family, I wasn’t going to deny my aunt the happiness she deserves.  If they have children together, I would willingly step aside for my own cousin.   It would probably raise some opposition from my mother and mostly likely from her court but if my aunt’s happiness was on the line, I would be the first one to support her.

That evening I resumed reading Admiral Rochport's diary in an effort to possibly discern the character of this man who appears to be growing closer to my aunt.

 

20th of December

This is probably one of the worst winters we've ever experienced in years.  Snow storms blew almost daily that Queen Elsa had to use her powers often to prevent the elements from harming lives and property.  Unfortunately, Elsa can only thaw ice she made.  The natural elements were something that she can only manage but not completely dissipate. 

The storms swirled so fiercely that we had to evacuate people into the castle and the nearby parts of the town for safety.  Elsa encased the castle and its periphery into an ice made dome.  The evacuations kept us busy for it took a while to get everyone inside what people now referred to as “Queen Elsa’s Fishbowl”.  I commend my men and the team of ice harvesters led by Kristoff who did most of the work of organizing the people to move them quickly, particularly those who were living up the mountains. 

However, there was one other I must mention that did a significant effort during our crisis. I learned from my wife that a small group of fishermen who stubbornly refused to abandon their homes near the shore when we issued our first warning got cut off when the storm hit.  There was nobody left to rescue them as my men and I with the ice harvesters and Queen Elsa were busy with the rescue efforts in the north mountain.  Westergard led a team of former slaves and got the fishermen through the zero visibility weather and into the safety of the Fishbowl.  And he didn’t stop there.  Once inside, he helped kept order when things got a bit unruly. People were cold, starving and by then had short tempers.  A few fights broke out, but Westergard subdued it with an authoritative stance and got people to cool their heads.   It was only then that the castle staff was able to efficiently distribute hot glogg and blankets. 

I felt a sense of deja vu when I saw an old lady thank Westergard for his efforts. I felt an uneasy about that as I remembered what he did the last time he was in Arendelle in the middle of a snow storm.  But I said nothing to the Queen just yet.  We need all the help we can get and so far Westergard seems to be doing more good than harm.

 

I remembered that winter only as the year without Christmas gifts and the usual feast.  As I child, I had little understanding of what was going on in the kingdom.  As I grew up I remembered my aunt and parents refer to it often as the long winter of despair—a season that took a toll on Arendelle’s economic resources. 

Although not a single life was lost and most of the houses of our people remained intact due to my aunt’s intervention, there were still a lot of detrimental repercussions to our kingdom.  One of the earliest storms blew over the main warehouse where the winter stocks were kept before Aunt Elsa managed to control the winds.  Even after the storms subsided, new problems arose.   The fishermen and farmers couldn't go back to their trade immediately and had to resort to the one trade that wasn't at all affected: ice harvesting.  With so many people gathering ice, the price went to an all-time low due to oversupply.  And there was the problem of getting that ice out to the other countries that would buy them.  Due to the harshness of the weather, only one merchant ship was allowed to sail out of Arendelle once a month to bring the cargo load of ice and obtain all the supplies it can possibly carry back.  Aunt Elsa had to be on that ship all the time so she can rip open the fjord enough to get the ship through and protect it from the perilous storms with her powers. 

It seems Admiral Westergard was among those that resorted to ice gathering with the rest of the common peasants as shown by Admiral Rochport's next account.

 

25th of February

I miss the sea and my ship. Since the snow storms stopped, my men and I have been reassigned to mountain patrols as most of the population seems intent on living off on gathering ice.  As much as I appreciate Elsa’s abilities sometimes I wish she had sun powers instead.  It could certainly ease a lot of our problems if she can completely thaw out that blasted fjord and we can resume normal trade with the rest of the world.

Elsa moved her office recently to her ice palace in the north mountain for easier monitoring of the majority of the population.   She created igloos for everyone that could provide ample shelter from the elements and a bit of warmth—well at least warmer than her ice palace. 

Our soup kitchens to feed everyone have been running for nearly three months now and our supplies will be depleted again soon.  Elsa needs to take another trip out to get fresh supplies by the end of the month.  I’m worried each time she does it.  Making supply runs isn’t supposed to be the job of the Queen.  It’s too dangerous.  But we have no choice as she is the only one with the ability to get that ship out into open waters and get it back in. 

I noticed that Westergard is among those working in the mountains with the rest of the population, but he seems to avoid the soup lines as much as he can.  In the few instances that he did need to line up I noticed he would provide extra effort to help out with distribution and work longer hours than anyone else.  I suspect his pride prevented him from taking charity though the Lord knows how much he needs it.  Although he had recovered significantly since the first time I found him on that cursed ship, he was still incredibly thin and his clothes were barely enough to keep away the cold.   I took pity on him and gave him my own cloak last week.  Barely three days later, I found the same cloak wrapped around the shoulders of an old man while Westergard was again back to his tattered outfit.  In the situation he was in I could see no reason for his unselfish acts except that he truly had a touch of compassion for the others around him…

 

The next few entries were mostly just one line comments about the weather and other mundane things.    I figured, even Admiral Rochport was too cold or too busy to write at length.  But when he did resume a lengthy narrative, it was an event I was all too familiar with…

 

18th of March

Prince Fredrik has ice powers!

I had seen this coming.  The moment Anna's boy grew his first tuft of platinum hair the same shade as Elsa's I knew he was special.  It just took a while longer for his powers to manifest unlike Elsa's who showed her freezing abilities within a few months.  But instead of the panic that my dear old friends Agdar and Idun encountered when little Elsa first froze her crib and baby toys, the revelation of Fredrik's ability was welcomed with joy not only by his family but by the entire kingdom.  

Oh happy day!   We now have a prince that has the same gift as our beloved Queen and he reveals it just as the spring comes and ends our long suffering winter.  The fjord is once again thawed and Arendelle will be able to resume its normal course in trade.

But I must make note that this wonderful occasion would not have happened if it weren't for one man.  It’s strange how the fates intervened once again for Hans Westergard.  He happened to be at the lake hauling harvested ice downhill when he saw Fredrik fall in and accidentally entrapped himself with his own ice powers. 

I was among the first people of authority to come upon the scene.  I was doing the usual patrols with my men when I heard Anna scream.  I arrived by the edge of the lake and witnessed Anna hysterically accusing Westergard of attempting foul play against her son.  Kristoff was equally incensed and I think he would have done harm to Westegard if the little prince hadn't stopped him with his newfound abilities.

Westergard claimed he pulled Fredrik out of the lake by breaking the ice above him and jumping into the ice-cold water.  The little boy in his own innocent way backed his story.  Kristoff immediately looked ashamed and turned to Westergard. 

"Thank you for saving my son," Kristoff began.  “I’m sorry for accusing you.” He took off his own coat and handed it to the freezing man.  Anna was too intent on holding her son close to say anything but I can see from the blush in her cheeks that she was also embarrassed for jumping to conclusions.  She continued to hold tightly to Fredrik in her arms and made a move to walk away.

"Princess Anna," Westergard spoke.  "May I speak to you?"

Anna stopped but didn’t look back.

Westergard continued.  “I wish to apologize…”

Anna refused to turn to him and shook her head.  “I am grateful for you saving my son’s life but I do not wish to hear your apology.  Some things cannot be undone with an apology.”

Westergard looked crestfallen for a moment but he was calm when he spoke again.

“I understand and I shall not bother you again.  But I wish to ask for one thing if you will grant it.”

Anna remained silent and Westergard took it as an invitation to continue.

“I would like to stay in Arendelle, please.  I have nowhere else to go.  If you can find it in your heart to take pity on me, will you grant me citizenship here?

I was surprised by his request but only for a moment for I realized it did make perfect sense for him to stay.  He didn’t really have much choice left in this world. 

Anna crushed Fredrik further to her breast and hesitated for a long time.  But finally she uttered.  “I grant you citizenship to Arendelle, but never speak to me again.” 

She trotted off in a hurry with her son in her arms that she never got to hear Westergard thank her…

 

I paused in reading.  I’ve always known my mother to be a gentle kind-hearted person that it was unnerving to hear her act so coldly.   But I understood where she was coming from.  I supposed the betrayal he did still felt painful to her.  If Admiral Westergard hadn’t saved my life she probably wouldn’t hesitate to deny his request and send him out of Arendelle. 

The bell chimed to announce the midnight shift change.  I was still off-duty but I knew I had to get in some sleep.  We were set to arrive in Corona at dawn and my aunt had strict orders that I should be ready and presentable once we docked.

I fell asleep quickly and dreamed of being surrounded by swirling mist.    In the thick fog I recognized my aunt and Admiral Westergard.

“Your sister is dead because of you!” he accused her. 

The effect of these words on her features was heartbreaking and she fell to the frozen ground.  As she did, the icy winds dissipated to reveal the familiar fjord encased in solid ice.  As she lay sobbing on the ground, I saw Admiral Westergard unsheathe his sword and lift it to strike my aunt.

“No!” I cried as I put myself between them. 

I felt cold as I’ve never felt before at the cut of the steel against my neck.  My blood gushed down to my chest.  I fell to the ground just as I heard him whisper to me:

“Arendelle is mine Fredrik!  This is what happens if you get in my way.”

I awoke with a jolt.  I was covered in sweat and I took several deep breaths to calm down. 

A familiar face poked into my line of vision.  “Are you alright?” Albert who shared the bunk above me asked.

“I’m fine,” I replied.  “Just a nightmare.”

“Must be some nightmare,” he said. “You’ve been trashing around like crazy, I got worried.”

“It is,” I said but decided not to elaborate.  It was still dark outside based on the porthole, but I sensed it was almost dawn.  I got up and got dressed.  Harrowing as my dreams are, I know they are just that.  Dreams.  They had no relation to reality.  I hope.

Albert and I reached the top deck just as the faint traces of dawn were lightening up the sky.

“Corona’s within sight!” someone bellowed from above the crow’s nest.  It sent most of the sailors running in excitement above deck to get a first glimpse of what people referred to as the Kingdom of the Sun.   

My aunt appeared on the deck and put an arm around me as the kingdom of Corona showed itself. 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. 

“Yes,” I replied breathlessly.

Corona was every bit as colorful as they say it was.  Even from this distance I can make out a large town that surrounded a formidable castle that rose on top of a hill.  A long bridge connected it to a larger wooded mainland on the west.  Purple banners adorned the bridge that I knew if we were close enough to see bore the kingdom’s golden sun symbol.

There were a few ships that were already docked on their port but most bore the same purple banners with the golden emblem, indicating that these were Coronan ships.  I can sense we were among the first foreign delegates to arrive.   The conference didn’t start until three days and it will at least give us time to rest and do a bit of sight-seeing.

We reached the docking port within an hour.  Instead of lowering the usual gangplank, my aunt made her own elegant little bridge for us to use to get down.

A band stationed by the docks played a merry tune as soon as we alighted.  I was startled by the size of the crowd. It seems as if half the country turned up just to greet us.  I was used to being stared at back at home, but this was a whole new level of attention altogether.  People openly eyed me and my aunt as if we were some form of new species from a zoo.  It was understandable that they were curious of us because of our famed ice powers, but the feeling was unnerving just the same.

The band struck one last fanfare just as Aunt Elsa came to face the first of our well-wishers.  Queen Rapunzel and her husband Prince Eugene needed no introduction.  They came to visit Arendelle several years ago for my sister Andrea’s christening where Queen Rapunzel stood as her godmother.  I remember the Queen of Corona to be one of the most talented and nicest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.   She amused Elise and I by playing guitar, painting, working on puzzles, making paper mache animals and doing this amazing thing with puppets without moving her lips.  She also endeared herself to the kitchen staff by sharing her recipes for hearty meals, pies and cakes.  When she arrived she gave my aunt and mother earthen pots and candles that she said she made with her own hands.  She was well-known as the queen that once had a gift of her hair being able to cure any wound or restore youth but I believe her true gift was her multiple talents.

 She clasped Aunt Elsa’s hand as soon as they met face to face.

“Elsa, it’s good to see you again,” Queen Rapunzel said as she gave my aunt a hug.  “How’s Anna?”

“Home and busy with the new baby,” Aunt Elsa replied.  “Little Agdar is quite a handful.  He takes after Anna—red hair, blue eyes, freckles and disposition.” 

My aunt couldn’t have described my new brother more accurately.  Among all my siblings, Baby Agdar seems to be the only one that inherited my mother’s coloring as my two sisters looked more like my father and I feature-wise was like a junior male version of my aunt.

Aunt Elsa moved next to Prince Eugene who held her like a brother.  “Elsa, I have to say you always come down with style,” he pointed to her ice gangplank.  “There’s quite a crowd at my back who are eager to see more of those powers at work.  Would you do a favor and give a bit of a show before I end up with a riot in my hands?”

 My aunt laughed.  “I’ll do your people an even better favor.”  She turned to me.  “I’ve got someone here in training who’s gotten a bit good at making iceworks.  Ready Fredrik?”

“Ready Aunt Elsa,” I said eagerly.

We stepped away from the crowds and together we created a five-minute little ice show that had our eager audience gasping with wonder.

“That was amazing,” Queen Rapunzel said when there was nothing left but little streaks of crystal fading in the clear sunshine of the cloudless Coronan sky.  “I must capture that on my next canvass.  Elsa, you and Fredrik must sit with me for a portrait before you leave.  I’ll give it to you afterwards.”

“I’m honored,” Aunt Elsa replied.  “You’re such a great artist.  I heard your works are fetching up quite a hefty price in the foreign auctions.  I read somewhere it was all the talk in the art society columns in Berlin and Austria.”

“It’s just a hobby,” Queen Rapunzel replied.  “But it’s a good way to raise money for charity.  You and I should do a project together.  I’m thinking colored ice sculptures or snow paintings.”

My aunt laughed.  “I guess we have to ship it in an icebox for export abroad but I think that could work.”

“Okay we have to discuss this later for I’m afraid I’m holding the greeting line,” said Queen Rapunzel.  

Aunt Elsa quickly introduced the rest of her entourage.

Queen Rapunzel greeted me with a kiss on the cheek while her husband clasped my hand in a firm handshake.  Admiral Westergard and Prince Eugene appeared to be old friends in the way they greeted each other.  They mentioned something about catching up with a pint at a place called the “Snuggly Duckling.”

I moved over to the next well-wishers and came face-to-face with two boys.  I quickly composed myself to greet them.   I first met the Princes Peter and Flynn when they came with their parents to Arendelle for Andrea’s christening.  They were 14-year old twins that looked exactly alike with their lean frames and messy brown hair.  They both possessed natural charm and the good looks of their father but they couldn’t be more different personality -wise.  Flynn, who was younger by four minutes, was the quiet, serious one.  The crown prince Peter, on the other hand, was the flamboyant mischief-maker.  He proved just how much his penchant for trouble was from the first instance I met him. When he was first introduced to the Arendelle court he stole everyone's attention by his rather unconventional entrance into the main hall.  Instead of just walking in, he rappelled from one of the hanging banners and landed right in front of my startled aunt and his mortified mother.  He didn't seem to be bothered by their shock for he went on to kiss Aunt Elsa’s hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  He did the same to my mother and fascinated little sister.  Instead of giving him disapproving looks, the women in my family treated him as if he was the most charming person alive.  I've never met anyone so confident in himself it was irritating.  

All throughout the visit Peter made a show of doing the most daringly ridiculous things such as riding horseback backwards, climbing trees and balustrades and even challenging some of the marshmallows to arm-wrestling matches.  Weeks after their visit was over my mother and sister talked of nothing but his "awesome exploits"—all of which I think are plain stupid to begin with.  

The practical jokes he pulled at me didn’t endear him to me either:  He poured water in my path (He wanted to see if I can turn it into ice when I stepped on it.  I ended up slipping and falling on my bottom).  He dumped a bucket of red dye on my hair (He said I was too pale and would look great as a redhead.  I ended up with an uneven coloring that took three days to wash out).  And every dinner, he kept swapping my dessert for melted cream (He said I can make my own ice cream anyway).   

Flynn greeted me with a polite firm handshake as I expected but I hesitated when I was faced with Peter.  The boy had a cat-in-the-cream smile that made me immediately hesitate to take his offered handshake.

“No jokes this time,” he assured me.  “Good to see you again Fredrik.  The platinum blonde becomes you.  Never change it.”

“I won’t, if you keep your hands away from my head,” I said evenly though inside I was seething.

“Sorry about that.  I won’t do it again. Bygones be bygones, Fredrik?” he offered his hand again and I could not refuse it without looking like a snob with so many people looking at me.

I shook his hand but the moment I did, I seemed to have lost his attention.  His eyes wandered behind me and a fascinated expression came on his face.  I turned around to check what he was looking at.

And found Isabel Westergard had just alighted from my aunt’s ice gangplank.

“Wow!” Peter said like dumbstruck fool.

I frosted his hand.

“Eeeyouch!” he yelped as he tore his hand away and refocused his attention back to me.

“Bygones be bygones,” I told him before I moved on to greet his sisters.  I caught a glimpse of his open-mouthed confusion and I thought that minor payback was worth it.

Queen Rapunzel led us to the awaiting carriages.  I was assigned to the carriage with my aunt, Admiral Westergard, Prince Eugene, Queen Rapunzel and her pet chameleon Pascal who was looking festively yellow today.  The twins fortunately, were assigned to another carriage—one that was thankfully far from the one taken by Isabel and Lady Anja—so I was able to focus on the sights to the castle. 

Corona had a very large town all decorated with purple banners.  Everywhere we went there were people lined up in the streets to see us.   We all took to waving at them as they cheered.  We didn’t stop until we reached the castle.  At the gates, the Coronan guards formed two lines and raised what I expected to be swords to form arches from which we could pass under to honor us.  But to my surprise, they didn’t raise swords but frying pans.

“Er… interesting custom…” my aunt said to Queen Rapunzel as we walked under the round kitchen tools.  “Is there a symbolic meaning to the frying pans that we should know about?”

The brunette Queen giggled.   “Not really, that’s actually something I made up and Eugene here popularized with Maximus—he’s a horse by the way who happens to be one of our high-ranking officers…” she stopped as she realized we were staring at her in confusion.  “Okay, it’s a bit of a long story.  Eugene dear, how about you tell them, if they don’t mind.”

Aunt Elsa and I both eagerly responded that we would enjoy a story.  Our hosts led us to a balcony decorated with beautiful plants and had a magnificent view of the sea.  Comfortable chairs were ready for us while the servants offered refreshments.  Once we were comfortably seated, Prince Eugene stood in front of us and his voice whispered dramatically:

“This is the story of how I died…”

His wife rolled her eyes at him and he had the grace to look guilty.  He quickly changed his tone.  “Don’t worry, this is really a very fun story, in fact it isn’t mine.  This is a story of a girl named Rapunzel and it starts with the sun…”

Author’s Note:  Yep, again just like Beauty and the Beast, the entire Tangled movie was a tale being told by Flynn Rider/Eugene to Elsa, Hans and Fredrik.

I realized I’ve left off describing Fredrik’s appearance so I added that little detail here.  I need to thank the amazing Cassio for pointing this out.  She also discovered several errors I made with the timelines I referred to which I intend to fix. 

Writing an epic story with so many characters gets confusing and even I need to keep track of things.  I’d like to share with you the guide I made for myself on the characters of this story.  I did this Game of Thrones style which I found incredibly helpful as a reader when I was reading ASOIF.  I hope you’ll be able to appreciate the world I envisioned for this story even more with this guide.  Please note that the ages of the characters I wrote here are their ages by the start of this story—which is after the Weselton-Arendelle war.  All the characters are now six months older by this chapter.

Guide to the Queen’s Admiral

 

The Royal Family of Arendelle, their household and animal friends

Queen Elsa – Queen regent and ruling monarch of Arendelle since she ascended the throne when she came of age in the year 1818. Known as the Snow Queen of Arendelle due to her inborn ice powers 

Princess Anna – Queen Elsa’s sister, currently pregnant with her fourth child

Prince Kristoff – Prince consort to Princess Anna; Royal Ice Master and Deliverer

Prince Fredrik - Crown prince of Arendelle, a boy of 12, eldest son of Princess Anna and Prince Kristoff.  Possesses the same ice powers as his aunt

Grand Duchess Elise – Eldest daughter of Princess Anna and Prince Kristoff, a girl of 8

Grand Duchess Andrea – Younger daughter of Princess Anna and Prince Kristoff, a girl of 5

Sitron – Queen Elsa’s royal stallion

Lima – Prince Fredrik’s royal mare

Sven – Prince Kristoff’s loyal reindeer

Olaf – The family snowman, a creation of Queen Elsa  

Kai – Royal steward to Queen Elsa

Gerda – Arendelle’s royal head of the household

Lord Berg – Arendelle’s Finance Minister

Lord Hensen – Arendelle’s Foreign Affairs Minister

Lord Amber – Arendelle’s Internal Affairs Minister

Lady Anja – Queen Elsa’s handmaiden, a girl of 16

The Marshmallows – giant creations of Queen Elsa that served as homeguard in the mountains surrounding Arendelle

 

Arendelle Ships, their Commanders and Crews

  •          Alexandra – The Queen’s Flagship

o   Admiral Rochport – killed during the first open attack of the Weselton navy against Arendelle

o   Captain Kaj – killed by gunshot when a Weselton navy ship boarded the Alexandra during a skirmish at the height of the Weselton-Arendelle war

o   Admiral Hans Westergard – current commander and head of the Arendelle military, promoted by Queen Elsa after the Weselton-Arendelle war

  •   Midshipman Fredrik Bjorgman – crown prince of Arendelle; initially assigned to the Lovise but was transferred upon orders of Queen Elsa to the Alexandra after one month
  •   Midshipman Albert Vas – oldest son of Captain Vas
  •          Kjerstin – Secondlargestship in the fleet, damaged during the sea battle to protect Arendelle from the privateers and the Weselton Armada   

o   Captain Anbjorn – lost his leg during a skirmish with the Weselton armada; retired at the end of the Weselton-Arendelle war

o   King Eric of Tastris – briefly took over command during the final battle against Weselton while Captain Anbjorn was injured

  •          Hanne  - joined the search for Princess Melody in Tastris
  •          Johanna

o   Captain Vas

  •          Anna

o    Captain Jarle

  •          Katrina
  •          Lovise – joined the search for Princess Melodyin Tastris; sank during the rescue mission but was raised and restored again with the help of King Triton of Atlantica

o   Captain Gulbrand

  •   Lt. Peter Andersen – chosen as one of Queen Elsa’s official escorts during her trip to Weselton
  •          Lisbet – joined the search for Princess Melody in Tastris

o   Captain Lorens

  •          Malin

o   Captain Bjorn

  •   Ensign Finn Lorens – chosen as one of Queen Elsa’s official escorts during her trip to Weselton, son of Captain Lorens
  •          Christina

o   Captain Rochport

o   Captain Hans Westergard

o   Captain Aksel – former first officer that commanded the Christina during several battles during the Weselton-Arendelle war; promoted as its captain after the war

 

Other Inhabitants of Arendelle

Mr. Andersen – the village baker; delivers bread daily to the castle; has one son Peter who serves in the royal navy

Mrs. Rochport – wife of the late Admiral Rochport

Anne Rochport – Daughter of the late Admiral Rochport, a volunteer teacher at the local hospital

James Crochet – a chance passenger onboard a slaver captured by Admiral Rochport and taken to Arendelle; left Arendelle after he was tried and found innocent of slavery

The nurses, ice harvesters, farmer, fishermen and other peasants

 

 

The Royal Family of the Southern Isles

King Sigurd – King of the Southern Isles, born illegitimate but won legitimacy to the crown by a court ruling in 1817 that upheld his father’s will that named him heir

Prince Morten – King Sigurd’s only son and heir. 

Grand Duchess Brigitta – Morten’s only daughter

Prince Gregor – eldest brother of King Sigurd, raised an insurrection and was banished by Sigurd for treason along with his four other brothers

Prince Jon – 2nd brother to King Sigurd

Prince Leif –3rd brother to King Sigurd

Prince Einar – 4th brother to King Sigurd

Prince Steinar – 5th brother to King Sigurd

Prince Heinrik – head of the Southern Isles royal navy, 6th oldest brother to King Sigurd; currently waging a civil war against his eldest brother

Prince Ivar – married to Duchess Whelemina, 7th brother to King Sigurd

Prince Reidar – Captain of the Lady Hyacinth, has strange sexual appetites, 8th brother to King Sigurd

Prince Svere – 9th brother to King Sigurd

Prince Gunnar – 10th brother to King Sigurd

Prince Jarle – 11th brother to King Sigurd

Hans Westergard – 12th brother to King Sigurd; disowned by his brother and stripped of both title and citizenship to the Southern Isles following his act of treason against Arendelle.  Eventually obtained citizenship to Arendelle

                Isabel Westergard – daughter of Hans Westergard; suspected to be illegitimate

 

Royal Family of Glowerhaven

Queen Constanza – Queen of Glowerhaven, ascended the throne as puppet Queen after the death of her father and three brothers in 1829 during the naval attack of Glowerhaven by the Weselton fleet; current leader of the provisional government of Weselton following its surrender in 1834

Duke of Weselton – Prince Consort to Queen Constanza, brother to the king of Weselton

Prince Crispin – Crown prince of Glowerhaven and current heir to the throne of Weselton after the mass suicide of the Weselton royal family, a boy of 4

 

Royal Family of Tastris and their household

King Eric - King of Tastris, inherited the throne from his father when he came of age in 1819

Queen Ariel – Queen consort to King Eric, mermaid daughter of King Triton of Atlantica

Princess Melody – Crown princess of Tastris, a girl of 12

Grimsby - Steward to King Eric and ambassador of Tastris

Carlotta – Head matron of the Tastris royal household

 

Royal Family of Corona and their household

Queen Rapunzel – Queen Regent of Corona

Prince Eugene – Consort to Queen Rapunzel; a reformed thief and outlaw known previously as Flynn Rider

Prince Peter - Crown Prince of Corona, a boy of 13

Prince Flynn – Twin brother of Prince Peter, younger by four minutes

3 younger princess daughters of Queen Rapunzel and Prince Eugene

Pascal – Queen Rapunzel’s pet chameleon

Maximus – A royal horse with a position as one of Corona’s honorary officials

 

 

Commanders of the allied nations during the Weselton-Arendelle war

Queen Elsa - Queen of Arendelle

King Eric – King of Tastris

Queen Constanza – Queen of Glowerhaven

Prince Eugene Fitzherbert – Princeconsort to Queen Rapunzel, commander of the Coronan royal navy

Admiral Thilburg – head of the Madinova fleet

Count de Cheny – representative of the Condor contingent

Prince Karl – Crown prince of Gormund and commander of their royal navy

Duke Eivind – head of the Antalona royal navy

Prince Heinrik Westergard – Admiral of the Southern Isles navy

 

Inhabitants of the Rose Inn

Christopher Patrick Potts “Chip” – An old man that manages the Rose Inn, was once enchanted as a teacup when he was six years old

Anabel – Chip’s buxom jolly wife

Father Adam – Owner of the Rose Inn, was once a prince of small principality in France until he fled it during the French Revolution.  He was once turned into a beast for ten years by a mysterious enchantress

Belle – Father Adam’s kind-hearted wife

Chip and Anabel’s two sons, their wives and three grandchildren

 

Other inhabitants of the Southern Isles

Captain Trym  - Captain of a merchant ship that plies the trade from Tastris and the Southern Isles

Viscaria – former slave on the ship Nasturtium, settled in the Southern Isles where she gave birth to her daughter

Violetta  - Viscaria’s daughter

 

Chapter Text

“Pssst! Hey Ice Boy.”

I knew without even looking to the side who was calling me.  I rolled my eyes and raised an eyebrow at the crown prince of Corona then turned my attention back to the front. 

I had the misfortune of getting the seat next to Prince Peter for the entire length of the conference.  Since yesterday when the conference started, he looked glumly uninterested in any of the proceedings.   Today he didn’t even try to hide his boredom.  A few minutes ago he started rolling pieces of paper into little balls and kept flicking them towards various unsuspecting foreign dignitaries in our section.  Whenever someone looked up from getting hit by his little projectiles, he would pretend to be innocently engrossed in the debates before us. 

I felt something hit my cheek and I knew I was the most recent target of his little balls.  I refused to even turn.  Maybe if I ignored him he’ll find someone else to pester.

Half a minute later, I felt another ball hit me.

“Cut that out!” I whispered irritably.

He just gave me a grin and I saw he was about to flick a third ball towards me.  With a wave of my hand, I froze his remaining paper balls.

For a few minutes I was left at peace.  Then suddenly I saw a tiny ball of ice slam into the balding head of the Madinovan ambassador.

“Owww! Is that ice?” the man gasped loud enough that several people in his immediate vicinity turned to look at our direction.    To my horror, Peter pointed his thumb at me and people gave me looks of disapproval.

I froze in embarrassment and couldn’t utter a word.  Fortunately, the Madinovan ambassador decided to leave it at that and returned his focus on the proceedings.

I stared angrily at Peter.  He was playing with another one of his now frozen balls with his hand.  It was an obvious threat he was preparing to use it again and make me take the blame. 

“Stop it!” I whispered.  “What do you want?”

“I’m bored.  Let’s get out of here,” he said.  “We’ll sneak out the back.  You go first then I’ll follow.”

“We’re in the middle of a discussion,” I said.

It was his turn to roll his eyes and pointed to the dignitaries at the front who were in the heat of a debate on the losses of Condor due to the Weseltonian pirates.  “They’re in a middle of a discussion.  We’re just here to observe.”

“Yes, I’m trying to observe.” 

“You can observe later.  All this yapping has nothing to do with either one of our countries.  Let’s go find something more productive to do.”

“This is productive,” I insisted.

“I can think of something even more productive.  Now come on.”

“Leave me alone!”

“Shhhh!” people hissed at us and I immediately shut up. 

“Fine, have it your way.”  Without warning he threw another one of his iceballs towards the Prince of Gormund.  By instinct I sent out a blast of icy wind to deflect it.  Unfortunately, I miscalculated the strength of the wind and it broke the ball into little snowflakes that ended up falling over Count de Cheny who was currently delivering his rather heated argument in the middle of the room.  It effectively stopped his tirade and he looked up in my direction—as did everyone else in the room.

I felt my face grew red in embarrassment. 

There was a sound of clapping.  It was Peter who got up from his seat.  “Oh bravo, your excellency!  A very good point!  Prince Fredrik and I were just in agreement.  We beg pardon if my friend here got a little carried away in support of you.  Snowflakes are the best compliment of course to a great speaker.  It’s an Arendelle cultural thing.”

I have no idea what he was rambling about but somehow, it got Count de Cheny to smile although I noticed Aunt Elsa looked as utterly confused as I was.  I didn’t have time to ponder about that because Peter grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and started dragging me to the exit.

“Anyway, let me get him outside to calm him down,” Peter continued.  “Keep that up.  This is all very fascinating…”

He stopped talking only when the doors of the grand chamber closed behind us.  It was only then that I managed to extricate myself from his grip.

“What in the world was that?!” I demanded.

“I got us out of that boring hall,” he said matter-of-factly.

If I didn’t have any self-control I would freeze him right there.  What was I supposed to do now?  I couldn’t just go back in and have everyone’s eyes on me.

“Come on, let’s go someplace fun,” Peter said as if the entire incident of him embarrassing me didn’t even happen.

“And where exactly is that?” I asked.

“Just trust me on this one.   Come on, I promise you won’t regret it.  You might even learn a thing or two.”

There was nothing for me to do but to follow him outside into the castle courtyard.  Once there, I became aware of the crowds of people that gathered.  I noticed that some of the foreign dignitaries that should have been inside the hall observing the proceedings were out here conversing on their own.

“See, we’re not the only ones that got bored,” Peter pointed out.  I noticed that his own father Prince Eugene was holding his own little meeting with a Cardinal from Rome.  King Eric of Tastris, on the other hand, sat on a little table on one side with a group that I recognized as representatives of the British East India Company. 

The Coronan Conference turned out to be something incredibly larger in scope than I expected.  Not only did it bring together the contingents from the various allies from our recent war but it also drew in merchants and even ambassadors of nations from other regions in Europe. 

Today, there was an even larger turnout of people.  As I took in the busy activity of the courtyard, I realized that Peter was right.  It was probably more productive to mingle here and establish connections for possible trading partners than to waste away time listening to arguments from one country that have no direct implications to Arendelle.  I remembered that Admiral Westergard was also absent from the conference hall and I figured he was out here with the rest.  Over the last two days, he reported to have settled a few partnerships to export our ice and wool.  No doubt he didn’t do that by sitting in the grand chambers.

I decided to give Peter a chance.  Maybe he was on to something. 

He kept walking pass the courtyard.  Just before we exited the castle gates, a group of five young girls—all daughters or nieces of some foreign ambassador or important trader based on their manner of dress and hair came upon us.  They stared at us wide-eyed with greetings of eager hellos.   Peter smiled back.

“Hello ladies, a pleasure meeting you here.”

They giggled like idiots.  “Your highnesses,” they acknowledged.  

Before I even knew what was happening, two of them attached themselves to my side, while the other three fought over who would get to claim Peter’s arms. 

“So you’re the prince with the ice powers,” the girl on my right whispered to me as she latched herself to my arm.  I think her name was Gloria or something like that.  “Would you show me?”

“Errr…” I began but the other girl on my left interrupted and gripped my other arm.

“People said you’re cold to the touch, but that’s not true.”  She caressed my arm and her fingers started pushing my sleeves up to touch my bare skin.  “You’re so warm.” She reminded me of a kitten that found an attractive post to nudge her body to.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find the gesture endearing.

 “Uhhhmmm… yes… I’m just like other people…”

“But you’re not like other people,” said her companion.  “I heard you can make storms and an army of icemen.” 

“Well… I haven’t exactly gotten that far…”

“I bet you can, if you’re motivated enough.  She moved closer to me that her lips were almost at my face.  Warning bells triggered in my head.  I’ve had enough experience with the young ladies of nobility in Arendelle to know exactly what they—and their families—want from me.  I quickly shook them off.

“Uhhhhmmm… very nice to meet you… but I should go… really…”

“But I want to see how you weave your powers.”

“Sure, Prince Fredrik would be glad to show you his powers later,” It was Peter who answered for me.  “Don’t you Fred?”

I didn’t know which irritated me more—he putting me on the spot or renaming me ‘Fred.’  But I couldn’t think of any words biting enough to answer him.  He put an arm around me and pulled me away from the girls. 

“As much as we would love the company, Fred and I have our princely duties to attend to. How about you girls meet us later at the courtyard in about… an hour?”

The girls all nodded eagerly and looked ready to swoon when Peter gave them a flirtatious wink.   He steered me away from them and kept his arm firmly in my shoulder so I couldn’t turn around even if I wanted to.  He kept at it until we were far away from the castle gates.  That was when he let me go.

“Easy as pie,” he said coolly.

“What did you put me in the spot for?  I am not going to show those girls anything!” I said.

“Oh you won’t.  We won’t be back in an hour, but it’s easier to get rid of them that way if they think you’re coming back.  I just gave them what they wanted to hear.”

I scowled at him.  I couldn’t believe this guy.  He was deliberately deceptive.

He rolled his eyes at me.  “Lighten up Fred—”

“Don’t call me ‘Fred’!”

“Okay, Fredrik then,” he shrugged.  “Come on, I know a more interesting place.”

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Somewhere away from those girls—and that’s all you need to know.   Just trust me on this one.”

He was right again.  If I wanted to avoid those girls, I knew the best way to do it was to steer clear of the castle and its courtyard for more than an hour.  He headed through the winding paths of the busy village where there was so much activity going on.  There were merchants hawking their wares, men conversing while having pints of ale, and women gossiping in little groups, while little children played hopscotch. 

Peter paused by a stall and purchased two apples from a street vendor.  He passed one to me by rolling it across his shoulder.  I caught it and shook my head at him.  Only he would do acrobatics when he can simply pass it to me normally.  But I thanked him just the same and bit on the tart juicy fruit. 

Three musicians—one carrying a flute, another, a fiddle and a third, a lute—were playing a merry tune in an open square.  Just like the rest of the kingdom, the square was decorated with the same purple banners and strewn with fresh green ornaments that hung from house to house.  I noticed that the cobblestoned street itself was painted with flowers in amazingly vibrant colors. 

“My mother made that,” Peter pointed out.  “That’s one of her more favorite canvasses.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said.  As I stared at it, I noticed an even prettier sight among the crowd.  A familiar redhead wandered on the square across from me and appeared to be admiring the same artwork I was looking at.  I tried to meet her eyes but she was distracted by a little girl who pulled her for an impromptu dance line that Peter started just moments ago with the people in the square.   She hesitated for only a moment but accepted the girl’s hand and joined in.  The dance crowd grew in size for Peter kept pulling in more and more people while the musicians quickened the pace of their music.

“Hey, Fredrik, join in!” Peter called out when he passed me.

I was about to reply that I don’t really dance but I noticed that the dance line was starting to pair up and I wasn’t going to let Peter end up partnering with Isabel.  I tossed my half-eaten apple to a nearby horse and boldly grabbed Isabel’s hand before anyone can snatch her.

“Hi Isabel,” I muttered.

“Prince Fredrik,” she gasped in surprise.  “I didn’t know you were here.  I thought you were in the conference.”

“Well… uhhmmm… Peter and I were just taking a break.”  I was sure I was blushing and I couldn’t meet her eyes.

“Oh… that was Prince Peter,” she said.   “I thought it was… well I couldn’t really tell him apart from Prince Flynnigan.”

“I think Flynn is still in the conference,” I said.  Peter’s more responsible twin as I recall sat next to his mother during the proceedings and acted as her secretary by taking minutes—a role I was sure Peter would never voluntarily take up.

The music was picking up at an even faster pace and Isabel and I tried to keep in step with the rest of the crowd.  The Coronan dance was something so different from the more formal dances I was used to back at home.

“Do you know how to do this?” she laughed as she tried to imitate the people next to us.

“No,” I laughed back but I made an attempt.  She seemed to be getting the rhythm.  I on the other hand, was working through it rather clumsily. 

People started to change partners and I reluctantly gave up Isabel to be paired with a large matron who was light on her feet and half carried me as she twirled.  I probably would have been worried about looking ridiculous but I was too busy watching Isabel who was now dancing with an old gentleman.

Our partners changed again and this time I was paired with a little girl who knew exactly all the steps and attempted to teach me how to do them.  I barely gave her attention for now Isabel was paired with Peter and they seemed to be getting gracefully through the dance together.   He said something to her that made her laugh—and that just made me scowl.

Fortunately, their time together was short lived for the music moved even faster and the dancers responded by exchanging partners with every step.  I went through a number of partners in a blur before I ended up back with Isabel just before the music stopped.

“That was a good dance, your highness, thank you,” she said.

“Pleasure was all mine,” I replied. 

Everyone was applauding the conclusion of the dance, except us for I held on to Isabel’s hand.  She didn’t seem to want to let go either.  I was beginning to enjoy the softness of her fingers, when her hands squeezed mine with sudden urgency that I was startled.  I noticed her gaze trained at something behind me for a second before she buried her face on my shoulder.

My breath quickened.  She’s hugging me! 

The thrill lasted a moment for I felt something wrong.  I can feel her body was tense around me and her breath was ragged.  I tried to turn around to see what she was looking at earlier but she held me in place.  I turned my head slightly and caught sight of a group of soldiers in uniform that stopped by to purchase a few items in one of the nearby stalls.  Two of them wore the crest of the gold leaf over a white flag of the Southern Isles, while the other three bore the arms of a wooded tree that I knew was the symbol of the kingdom of Gormund.  They didn’t stay too long and moved on.  It was half a minute later that Isabel pulled away from me.

“Is something wrong?” I asked her.

But she just shook her head.  “I-I’m sorry Prince Fredrik, but I have to go… I promised Papa… there’s something I need to do…” 

She scampered away before I can even ask another word.  She quickly disappeared into the crowds.

There was a sound of clapping and I turned to find Peter applauding me.

“You’re good,” he said with admiration.  “I knew you had it in you Fredrik.  One dance and you’ve got a girl embracing you already—and in public no less.”

I was going to protest that she wasn’t embracing me, but I didn’t exactly know what Isabel and I just shared.

“You know, I’ve got a bone to pick on you for not introducing me to that pretty one—a redhead too, which happens to be my favorite type of girl.  But I think I know why,” Peter continued as he clapped a hand on my shoulder.  “Don’t you fret, my friend, she’s all yours.  I promise I won’t be charming her away from you.”

“Errr… thank you, I think,” I replied.  I saw from the corner of my eye the girls we met earlier were heading our way.  Peter saw it too. 

“Okay, let’s get out of here, shall we?”

He didn’t need to convince me further.  We ducked into the crowds and I followed him through the narrow little alleyways.  I couldn’t help but feel a certain thrill at our escape.  He led me towards the bridge where the village ended and the path to the woods began.

“Come on, I know a nice little place for a snack.  There won’t be any girls but I don’t think you’d mind having their company right now.”

We walked on towards the woods and we fell into an easy conversation... or rather he started talking about himself.

“Don’t you ever get tired of all the pomp Fredrik?  All those rules and never-ending lessons?  You have to be prim and proper every time just because you’re supposed to be the next king of your country?  My parents keep telling me to grow up and do my duties.  Now my father’s one to talk.   At my age, he probably went through all sorts of trouble and nobody gave him flak about it.”

“Well he’s not exactly heir to a throne,” I reasoned as I remembered Prince Eugene’s tale.  He grew up to become Flynn Rider the outlaw until he met his wife and cleaned up his image.

“Yes, and that’s my misfortune isn’t it?” he replied sarcastically.    “Biggest mistake in my life was I came to this world four lousy minutes before Flynnigan.   You know if I came in second my boring twin would be in my shoes and I would be in his.  I would have been named after a swash-buckling hero instead of plain dumb ‘Peter.’”

“I thought ‘Peter’ was your grandfather’s name?” I said.  I remembered Queen Rapunzel’s father was the famous King Peter who instituted various educational and economic reforms.  They were some of the most progressive reforms in the region that even my aunt adopted some of them in Arendelle.

“Yeah, you know dear old Grandpa Peter—God rest his soul—was even worse than my parents.  When he was alive, he kept harping about duty and honor and what-not.  One time when I was nine and I didn’t want to do my lessons, he told me to grow up and live up to his name.  Can you believe that?  I was nine and he wanted me to be a grown up!  He got to suck-up Flynnigan and my brother became his apprentice, even if Flynn doesn’t need to as a second son.  I’d give the world to trade places with him.”  

He droned on and on about how weighed he was on his duties as crown prince.  He sounded more like a spoiled brat, to be honest.  I said nothing though secretly I thought maybe it would be in Corona’s best interest if Flynnigan did take the throne instead of Peter.  The younger twin seemed to have the right disposition for ruling a nation.   Heaven help Corona if Queen Rapunzel ever passes the throne to Peter. 

We turned a corner of the woods and found a fenced path.  At the end of it a rather odd structure revealed itself.  Nestled under a gigantic tree was an old weather-worn building that tilted awkwardly.   A large sign post with an impression of a duck announced the establishment as “The Snuggly Duckling.” 

“Isn’t this the place where your parents went to with all the ruffians and thugs in your kingdom?” I asked as I remembered Prince Eugene’ story.

“Yep,” Peter replied.  “Best place to get away from the hullabaloo of the castle rules.”  Before I can protest he dragged me forward and got me inside the door. 

The place was packed with men from seemingly all walks of life.  There were men in armor and helmets sharing drinks by the bar.  One makeshift table made out of barrels was filled with a group of bearded men with odd hats and had tattoos on their barely concealed chests.  Another table housed a trio of hooded figures that played cards. The air was filled with raucous laughter, vile language and music from a piano in a corner that was being played by a hook-handed pianist.

“We shouldn’t be here,” I whispered to Peter. 

“Relax,” he replied.  “Everyone here’s a friend.  Even my mother comes here once in a while.  Hey Atilla,” he called over to the bar.  “A table and a plate of your divine cupcakes for me and my friend.”

“Sure thing Pan,” came the reply from a burly man behind the bar.  He wore a chest of armor and a helmet which contrasted oddly with the kitchen mittens he wore as he carried a tray of delicately decorated baked treats. 

“Pan?” I asked curiously.

“I’m a decorated Knight of the Pan,” Peter explained.  “It’s sort of a title my mother came up with to those that have the ability to fight well with a frying pan.  It’s the one thing I’m good at that even Grandpapa can’t complain about.  First time I was here, I got into a bit of trouble and demonstrated the use of the frying pan to get me out.  I got the nickname ever since.  I think it’s a better name anyway than ‘Peter.’”

Atilla led us to a corner table away from the usual crowds and served us a plate of cupcakes with drinks.  I hesitated at first but when I took a first bite, I discovered the cupcakes were the most sublime treats I’ve ever tasted. 

“These are really good,” I said as I munched on them.

“Yep, best place to relax,” Peter replied as he ate his own cupcake.  “Also a good place to meet new people.  Those are two curious looking fellas I haven’t seen before.”

I followed his gaze to a tall thin man who looked conspicuous with his red tailored outfit and feathered hat.  He sat on a nearby table, nursing a tankard of ale with his back to us.  He was talking to a smaller man who wore a striped blue and white shirt, a red pointed hat and glasses.  The smaller man was peering in our direction but was trying to pretend he wasn’t spying.  I thought maybe he recognized me and was curious.  But when both men got up from their table and approached it wasn’t me they were interested in.

“Your highness, Prince… Flynnigan, is it?” the taller man asked.

“It’s Peter,” corrected my companion. 

“Ahhh… of course, your highness,” the man said.  There was something about his manner that made him wary of him.  “I must apologize for being so forward, but it is not every day that you meet a prince of Corona.  My associate here Mr. Smee became rather excited and insist that we introduce ourselves to get an autograph from a person of royalty.  If you would be so kind may we trouble you to indulge the fancy of us simple folk?”

“Of course,” Peter said graciously.  “And you’re in luck, you get to meet two prin—”

I made a wild gesture to Peter to not say who I was.  I hated being the center of attention and I appreciated the anonymous reception I was receiving so far.

“I mean, you get to meet me and my really ordinary friend Fredrik,” Peter corrected.

“A pleasure,” the man replied with a curt nod in my direction.  The man didn’t even look at me twice.  He seemed all too eager to have Peter’s attention.  “Captain James Crochet, at your service your highness.”

Crochet? Now where did I hear that name before?

It took me several minutes before I realized this was the man that Admiral Rochport once arrested and one Admiral Westergard vouched for as the dandy with a crazy dream of a strange land.   In that same amount of time he was able to tell us he was a captain of a ship called the Jolly Rodger and came to Corona like many others hoping to get a few trading deals. 

“But there is another more compelling reason I am here Prince Peter,” Crochet said.  “I have been searching my whole life to find a land unlike any other.  It is a land where nobody grows old and where magic is common place.”

Oh here he goes.  He’s about to tell about his crazed fantasies.  I fought the urge not to roll my eyes at his silly dream but Peter looked seriously interested.  “A land where nobody grows old?  You mean if I was there, I would stay a child as I am forever?”

“Why of course, your highness.  There, one can be as young and carefree all day.  It is a land full of endless adventures with no responsibilities or worries of this dreary world.”

I shook my head at Peter to indicate that this was ridiculous, but Peter avoided my eyes and stared intently at Crochet.  “And have you found this land Captain?” he asked.

“Why of course,” Crochet answered.  “It took me years but now I know for certain the location of this land.”

I seem to remember that he said the same thing over half a decade ago to Admiral Rochport.  “And how come you’re still here Captain if you’ve found the location?” I challenged.

“Ahhh… knowing is one thing, but getting there is another,” he replied.   “To get to that land one must be able to fly.”

Okay now I understood why Admiral Rochport thought him silly.   This man was absolutely off his rocker.

“And how exactly can you fly?” I asked.

“Well that is easy,” replied Crochet.  “You will need dust.”

“Dust?” Peter and I asked together.

“Not just any dust,” Crochet explained.  “Fairy dust.  A sprinkle of fairy dust and anyone can fly.  I’ve heard from a reliable source that an amount of fairy dust survives to this day encased in a stone hidden in a protected place right here in Corona.”

“Where is it?” Peter asked.

“That is something of a secret your highness,” Crochet demurred.  He glanced around as if he was afraid people were listening in then lowered his voice.  “I do not dare utter its location in such a public place.  However, should you wish to know more, may I invite you to my ship tonight?”

I signaled to Peter that this might not be a very wise decision to go to someone’s ship—especially one we barely knew and seemed to be crazy but Peter already replied.  “I would love to, but tell me more about this strange land.”

It was no use trying to warn him.  Well if he wanted to get on the looney ship with this Captain, who was I to stop him?

Something caught my attention by the door.  I recognized Admiral Westergard’s shock of red hair anywhere as he stealthily entered and made his way up to the mezzanine floor of the pub.  As soon as he did, one of the hooded figures who were playing cards earlier got up and followed him. Something about all this felt sinister to me and I was afraid for my commanding officer.

I left with an excuse to get another drink though Peter and his new acquaintances barely registered my departure.  I ducked behind a secluded part of the bar and grabbed an abandoned helmet.  I put it on to conceal my obvious platinum head.  I sidled up next to a gigantic man who carried a pair of ceramic unicorns.  His body made good cover as I moved towards the door.  Once outside, I remembered there was a branch directly above a window to where the mezzanine was located.  I went around to an inconspicuous area then made myself an ice ladder to climb the tree.  

Up the tree, I pressed my body to the window where I could peer in and found a good view of Admiral Westergard and his hooded companion.  From the angle I was in, I was surprised to see that the Admiral’s company was not a man but a beautiful dark haired woman I recognized immediately as Queen Constanza of Glowerhaven.

I pressed my ear to hear their conversation and was rewarded by snippets of it. 

“You do realize you’re playing a dangerous game Hans,” the Queen said.  “Does Elsa know what you’re doing?”

“Elsa needs a bit of persuasion but when the time comes, she won’t be protesting.”

My mouth went dry.  What is he talking about?

“So you’ve charmed her to your side as you’re trying to do to me,” the Queen teased.

Admiral Westergard gave an amused laugh.  “Oh Constanza, I think we both know that the charms of men don’t work with you, so any attempt in my part would be futile.  I prefer to offer something you want more than anything.”

“And what do you know of what I want?” Queen Constanza asked haughtily.

He poured her a glass of wine while he helped himself to a refill. “You support me in this and I’m sure an arrangement can be made to ease Crispin’s ascent to the throne.  I already have Corona and Tastris on my side.  If all goes as planned, we’ll have the Southern Isles and Arendelle as well.”

“My son as uncontested king of Weselton,” a satisfied smile formed on the Queen’s lips.  “You’re talking my language Hans.”  She raised a glass to give him a toast.  “A king for a queen—you have a deal.”

He clinked his glass with hers and they drank together before he departed.  She waited for five minutes then left as well.  It took me half an hour before I left my hiding place.  My thoughts were too jumbled and fear gripped my chest.

What exactly did Admiral Westergard traded that was worth a crown? 

Chapter Text

“Thank you for telling me about this Fredrik,” Aunt Elsa said after I relayed to her what I overheard between Admiral Westergard and Queen Constanza at the Snuggly Duckling this afternoon. 

It was early evening and we were sitting together in my aunt’s private quarters in the Corona castle after the end of the daily conference sessions.  I returned to the castle as soon as I could get away from Peter and went directly to my aunt.  After I locked her door with ice so we wouldn’t be interrupted, I told her everything.  She sat gravely and made no interruption throughout my tale.  I could tell from her expression, she felt uncomfortable with the subject.

“So is he planning something bad, Aunt?” I asked.

Aunt Elsa said nothing for a long time, but flurries of snow began to appear around her head.  Finally she lifted her face to meet my gaze and dissipated the snow.

“I’ll speak to him.  I don’t want to jump to conclusions.  This could all just be a misunderstanding,” she said.

“But what do you think was the deal he was making with Queen Constanza?” I insisted.  “Does it have anything to do with Arendelle?”  I couldn’t bear to say it out loud that I suspected Admiral Westergard was allying himself with other kingdoms to oust my aunt from the throne.  Queen Constanza’s words “a king for a queen” bothered me the most.  Was Aunt Elsa the “queen” she was referring to? 

Aunt Elsa hesitated but shook her head.  “No, I don’t believe it has anything to do with Arendelle.  Hans would never put our country or any of us in danger.”

I was surprised that my aunt could come up with such a statement.  “How can you be sure?” I asked.  “And if it’s not Arendelle, what is it?”

Aunt Elsa sighed and I could see the despair in her face. “It’s revenge Fredrik,” Aunt Elsa said sadly.   “Hans wants revenge on his brother Sigurd for his adoptive father’s death.  I refused to help him directly support Heinrik so now he’s going behind my back.  I should have known he wouldn’t stop and when he brought... ”

She stopped abruptly and her eyes widened as she seemed to realize something. 

“What is it?” I asked.

“Fredrik, will you do something for me?” she said in barely a whisper.

“Anything Aunt Elsa.”

“Fetch me Isabel.”

I raised an eyebrow at her.  “Why?”

“I need to speak to her, please Fredrik.  I’ll answer everything soon.  I just need to know a few things.”

I guess if she couldn’t get the truth out of her Admiral, his daughter would most likely shed light on his plans. 

“Alright.” I unfroze the door and headed out.  I took five steps and almost collided with the man my Aunt and I were just talking about a few minutes ago. 

“Fredrik, why the hurry?” Admiral Westergard asked.  I didn’t dare meet his eyes for fear he would suspect what I knew.  But he didn’t seem to notice for his gaze was upon my aunt who stood sternly at her door. 

“Admiral, a word please,” she said in her usual controlled manner. 

He looked surprised but said nothing.  He followed her inside.  I heard the familiar sound of crackling ice on the closed door almost immediately.   My aunt was certainly not holding back her fury over this one.  I didn’t stay to know what would happen next.   I trusted my aunt can handle herself and would tell me everything later.  If he tried anything foul, I was sure she can freeze him before he can make a move.

I went a few steps through the corridor to where the other members of our delegation were housed for the rest of the Coronan conference.  I knocked on the door of the guest chamber occupied by Isabel, Lady Anja and three other ladies in our party.  Lady Anja answered it and left the door open so I can see her other three companions inside busy with their knitting.

“Good evening Prince Fredrik,” she greeted me.  “Is the Queen in want of anything?”

“She would like to speak to Isabel please,” I said. 

“Oh she’s not here,” Lady Anja replied.  “She said she was going to be coming in late.  I think one of Queen Rapunzel’s ladies invited her for a chat for the evening.”

“Which one?” I asked.

Lady Anja shook her head. “She didn’t particularly say.”

“Alright, then I’ll go ask around.  Thanks.”  I moved to leave but Lady Anja held one of my hands and gave me a look that indicated she was about to tell me a secret.  “Oh yes, of course, your highness, I shall go back with you to see the Queen right away!” she said loudly enough so that her companions would hear before she closed the door and led me to a quiet part of the corridor.

“I don’t want them overhearing,” Lady Anja whispered to me.  “My roommates, they’re all such bad gossips and they don’t really like Isabel because they believe she’s below their station… because of … well… you know the rumors about her birth...  They’re all such snotty high and mighty pricks if you ask me.”

“Okay,” I said impatiently.  Lady Anja tended to drift off-topic.  “What about Isabel then?”

Lady Anja looked uncomfortable.  “Prince Fredrik, I’m only telling you this because I don’t want you wasting your time knocking through random doors.  Will you promise not to say a word, even to Isabel or her father what I say?”

“Yes, of course,” I nodded.

“She’s not really with one of Queen Rapunzel’s ladies.  She’s meeting someone else.  I’m not sure, but I think it’s a young soldier from the Southern Isles.”

That was the last thing I expected to hear.  “How do you know this?” I asked.

“He sent her a little golden flower two days ago, which was the same time the contingent from the Southern Isles arrived.   Yesterday, I noticed she cut a lock of her hair and wrapped it in a piece of ribbon and she tucked in the little stone pendant that she always wears.  I’m sure she sent it to someone special.  And this morning, she received a response.  She tried to hide it but a letter envelope with the leaf crest of the Southern Isles fell off the pages of her book and I accidentally picked it up before she could get it.  I made her confess that it was indeed from someone dearest to her heart.   I don’t think her father knows yet.  And you know how protective the Admiral’s been with her against any potential suitors.  I think their affair has been going on for a long time, maybe even before she came to Arendelle.   She always tries to get news about the Southern Isles.  With the war there, she’s probably worried about him.  I thought it was romantic and I encouraged her to pursue her love.”

Isabel had a lover?  I felt a sudden heaviness in my chest as I remembered our brief embrace in the square.  It did make sense now.  Maybe she saw her young soldier behind me and was too shy to face him so she used my shoulder to hide.  It was just as well.  He probably can give her the one thing I could not offer her due to our difference in station: a marriage.

“Do you know where she’s meeting him?” I asked.

Lady Anja shrugged.  “She mentioned something about being in one of the gardens, she didn’t specify which one.”

“Well then, if she comes back, tell her my aunt wants to see her.  I’ll try to find her.”

“Of course, Prince Fredrik,” she paused and shivered.  “You’re not making it cold are you?”

“No,” I shook my head.  “It’s errr… my aunt and Admiral Westergard… in her chambers.”

“Oh,” she replied.   “I better see if I can get a pot of coffee and some hot water sent up from the kitchen then.”

We walked down together and split up on the main corridor—Lady Anja to the kitchen while I headed towards the gardens. 

The gardens of Corona were vast and beautiful with so many varieties of flowering plants and trees.  Queen Rapunzel, I heard, made up for the first 18 years of her life that lacked plants and embarked on a humongous gardening project after she was returned to her parents.  The result was that she created 12 gardens all over the castle—each with a different theme that matched the various decorations and species of plants. 

The first one I came upon was what they called the romance garden and it lived up to its name.  I found several couples using the shrubberies for opportunities to be intimate.  But none of them (thank heavens) yielded Isabel and her mysterious lover.    I went through three more gardens with the last two being completely empty of people.  The fifth garden was located nearest to the apartments occupied by the contingent from the Southern Isles.  I figured that maybe Isabel could be here, if she was indeed meeting someone from that country. 

Unlike the first four places I’ve visited, this one had a small group of men who lounged openly on little chairs set out all over the garden.  It seemed to be an all-gentlemen’s party for I noticed there were no women around and there was a lot of smoking and drinking going on.

I was about to take my leave but one of the men—I recognized him as Count de Cheny—saw me.

“Prince Fredrik!” he greeted gaily.  “Come on over! Don’t be shy.  So glad you could come.  I wasn’t expecting someone from Arendelle.  But now here you are.”  He pressed a filled glass in my hand and pulled me in towards the other gentlemen while he kept talking in animated tones.  “I really do appreciate the support you’ve shown me today at the conference.  It’s the first time I’ve ever been complimented with snowflakes.  Pray tell me, which parts of my speech did you find most admirable?”

“Errr…” I began.  I swear if I get out of this I’m going to find Peter and turn him into a popsicle for putting me in this situation. 

“Prince Fredrik, what a pleasant surprise!” another man greeted me.  I knew even without an introduction that this was Prince Heinrik of the Southern Isles.  There was no mistaking the Westergard shade of red hair.   I remember well that this man orchestrated the deaths of his five brothers, nephew and mostly likely, his grandniece.  My guard was immediately up against him but I kept cool and didn’t let my doubt show.

“Your highness,” I acknowledged with a polite bow. 

He returned my bow then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.  “So will my brother be joining us tonight?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure what to reply to that but I was saved again from answering by someone who spoke behind the Southern Isles prince.

“If Hans Westergard comes here, then I’m going,” huffed Prince Karl of Gormund irritably.

Prince Heinrik turned to him and spoke in a calming manner.  “Oh come now Karl, surely we can at least be civil.  We’re all allies now.”

“Not when Hans Westergard is here.  I’m not interested in hearing any of your little plans with him around!” 

I understood why Prince Karl felt that way about Admiral Westergard.  He was the Prince of Gormund that was defeated soundly in battle by my commander several years ago.  No doubt, Prince Karl still felt bitter about that embarrassing battle that ended with his capture.  However, I suddenly had a brilliant idea to turn this into an opportunity to get information.  I figured Admiral Westergard’s little meeting with my aunt would probably last quite some time.   Even if he does intend to come here tonight, he most likely wouldn’t be able to make it.

“It’s alright,” I said.  “He sent me in his place to represent Arendelle.” 

Prince Heinrik looked a bit astonished at my statement and I was afraid I said the wrong thing.  But he merely smiled and pushed his glasses up again.  “There you go Karl, Hans won’t be coming.  Now please do stay.  This is important.”

The other men gathered around at a little table together.  I was introduced to two other gentlemen in the party: Duke Eivind of Madinova and Admiral Thilburg of Antalona.

“Well then, to business,” Prince Heinrik began.  He went straight to the point and quickly outlined the various tradable goods that the Southern Isles can offer and the possibility of using their ports to facilitate trade.   He spoke in such a convincing manner that even I couldn’t help but realize the economic benefits of what he presented.

“This is all very interesting Westergard,” Count de Cheny said.  “And I’m sure Condor would be the first to take up such a proposition.  But I’m afraid such trade can only happen if the civil war in the Southern Isles is ended.  I’m sure none of us would risk our traders entering a war zone.”

“I agree,” Duke Eivind said.    “And there’s the fact King Sigurd still sits at the throne and you are not the legitimate king of the Southern Isles.  As much as I would like to take up your offer, you have no authority to make these trading concessions with any of us.”

Prince Heinrik didn’t even look perturbed at such open rejection.  He merely smiled.  “Oh my dear Duke, I plan to end this war very soon.  When I do, I assure you I will be the legitimate king of the Southern Isles.”

“But I’m guessing you need our help,” Prince Karl said sarcastically.  “Isn’t that the reason why you called for this meeting? To solicit our aid to end the war against your brother?”

“Why yes, I do wish to ask for your help.  I think I could spend the evening convincing you that I would be a better person to deal with than Sigurd who practically betrayed your cause…”

He trailed off and I knew even though he wasn’t looking at me that he was hinting in my direction.  As far as the last war was concerned, Arendelle owed him a debt for his aid—one that my aunt silently ignored with her decision to remain neutral.  I said nothing and kept my expression even.  If he thinks he can bait me into giving a show of support in front of these other foreign representatives, he was going to be disappointed.

“But, I don’t think you gentlemen would care so much about that,” Prince Heinrik continued.  “I prefer to offer an opportunity instead.  Your aid for something that I’m sure is worth your while.”

“Alright, we’re listening,” Admiral Thilburg said.  “But no promises.”  The other representatives gave similar assents.

“All I ask are listening ears,” replied the Southern Isles prince.  “If you support me in my bid as king, I can make this region more profitable than any of you dared to imagine.  I can assure you increase in trade profits of a hundredfold with a new industry I can establish with a certain troublesome nation we have encountered recently.”

“You mean Weselton?” asked Count de Cheny.

“Why yes,” replied Prince Heinrik.   “All this talk in the grand chambers of repayment to what has been due to us from the Weselton coffers is well and good.  But when all of this is done, has anyone ever wondered what to do with the thieves that started all this?  Should we just leave the Weseltonians to be forgiven for what they did to us?”

“No,” Duke Eivind said.  “Of course not. Queen Constanza will have them tried and punished.”

“But how long will that take?” argued Prince Heinrik.  “You will have to try an entire nation for I’m certain no one there is innocent.  They’ve all lived luxurious lives from stolen goods.  And I don’t know about you but I never put faith in the judgments of a woman.”

I raised an eyebrow at the comment but I said nothing… yet. 

Prince Heinrik continued.  “Queen Constanza has such a soft heart for these matters I don’t really see her as up to the task—not if we want true justice to prevail.”

“What do you propose then?” asked Prince Karl.

“Why simple.  We put the Weseltonians to labor as a form of punishment.  There is a growing demand for such labor in the Americas.  I’m sure we can make an arrangement to have the Weseltonians shipped there in exchange for a good profit.”

I was horrified with the idea.  “You’re talking of slavery!” I said.

“Now, now Prince Fredrik, let’s not use such unpleasant words,” he said condescendingly.  His tone reminded me of being a pupil under my professor’s stern gaze.  I was suddenly aware of how young I was compared to everyone else in this party.  “I prefer to call it proper employment for the Weseltonians.   They will be paid just like any laborer for their work.”

Despite the discomfort, I didn’t let it bother me.  “And how much will they be paid?  Will they even have a choice in the manner of work they will put to?” I asked.

“I’m sure those little details can be discussed later,” he said with a dismissive gesture.  “But Gentlemen, this is justice and think of the benefits.  The Weseltonians will finally learn to do honest work like the rest of us and their labors will help contribute to making this region prosperous again.”

The way he twisted the concept of this despicable practice to make it sound acceptable angered me.  But to my surprise, the men around me looked like they were seriously considering it.  Couldn’t they see how wrong this was? My aunt, I knew, would never agree to this offer. 

“You have a fine point Westergard,” Count de Cheny said.  “But you are forgetting one thing.  The decision to have the citizens of Weselton placed under this errr… employment program does not rest in any of us.  Only Queen Constanza as regent for her son is the only one that can make that decision.”

I mentally applauded him.  Certainly, Queen Constanza who experienced the enslavement of her own people would never allow this.  I remembered the stories I heard about the war on how she was among those who sided with my aunt in pleading for tolerance against the Weseltonians. 

“Oh, but she can’t make that decision if her son doesn’t inherit Weselton,” replied Prince Heinrik with a knowing nod to Prince Karl.  A light of recognition passed the Gormund prince’s face and a sinister smile formed his lips.

“What do you mean?” asked Count de Cheny.

Prince Karl stood up.  “It is not well known but the Duke of Weselton has another child—a lad of nineteen years named Andreas.  His mother was my late cousin.”  He got away from his chair, glass of brandy in hand and began to pace.  “It’s quite a sordid story really.  The gist of it is my poor dear cousin fell for that weasel when he visited Gormund almost two decades ago.  Somehow after a night with too much wine they married quite scandalously with the help of a local justice of the peace.  When the Duke became sober, he proceeded to have the marriage annulled and left her quite tragically with a child.  My poor broken-hearted little cousin died giving birth to the boy.”

“So this child is a bastard then?” said Duke Eivind.  “He still can’t claim as heir to the Weselton throne.”

“Oh but he can,” assured Prince Karl with a knowing smirk.  “Annulment papers get lost all the time.  Documents don’t always get properly filed.  As far as the law is concerned, the Duke of Weselton was married to my cousin when his first son was born which makes Andreas a more legitimate heir than Prince Crispin.”

It dawned on me now what Queen Constanza was up against.  Perhaps she knew about this other potential heir that can challenge her son’s claim.  Given Queen Constanza’s reputation for her network of informants, I was almost sure that she had prior knowledge of this which was why she was so eager to strike up alliances with other nations to help her.

On hindsight, I realized too that Prince Crispin on the throne of Weselton was probably better than this alternative heir. Prince Karl would certainly just use him to further his plans for the enslavement of the Weseltonians.

As much as I abhor my present company, I said nothing.   I remembered what my aunt told me about being in a roomful of people with objectionable offers:  No matter how bad it may be, short of your life being in danger or your country’s honor at stake, say little, remain polite and turn it down gracefully at the right time.

“Well I think, you’ve thought of everything,” Admiral Thilburg said.  “Please do allow us to confer with our own people before we can conclude this ‘business.’”

I was grateful that the Madinovan representative made my excuse for me.  It was time I headed back.  My aunt should know about this right away and I haven’t found Isabel yet.

One by one, the other men bid Prince Heinrik farewell and took their leave.  Prince Karl, I noticed, shook Prince Heinrik’s hand and whispered something to him.  There’s wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that Gormund was now on the side of Prince Heinrik and I was certain he would use his influence to convince the others to go onboard.

“Prince Fredrik, please do stay for a little while.  I would like to have a word with you,” Prince Heinrik told me when it was my turn to bid him farewell.  I didn’t want to sound rude so I remained.  He waited until the other men had gone then dismissed the guards nearby before he spoke to me.

“Hans didn’t really send you here tonight, did he?” he said directly. 

I decided that it was best to be honest.  “No he did not.”

“So Queen Elsa did,” he replied and when he spoke again his tone was no longer pleasant.  He stared down at me and again I felt the uncomfortable reminder that I was a child and he a grown man of experience.  “Well you can tell your aunt that I’d like to remind her that without my help in her little war she wouldn’t even be here.  She would do well to remember that it was Sigurd who betrayed her.”

“I am sure she is grateful for your help,” I said evenly though I kept my hands locked together behind my back to make sure I kept my powers in check.  His audacity to demand my aunt’s support was making me angrier by the minute and I was afraid any more of this and I would release my powers unintentionally.  I distanced myself from him and chose my next words carefully.  “She wishes you well but she would like to leave the internal matters of other nations to their own affairs.”

“Of course, she would,” he said.  “She plays safe but she won’t be able to for long.”

“Is that a threat?” I couldn’t help but blurt out as little snowflakes began appearing around my head.

“No, just a warning,” he replied calmly.  “She really ought to listen to her Admiral.  Hans has quite a lot of sense and he and I do understand well the mutual benefits of an alliance.  I can be a very good friend if she wishes.  All I’m saying is she should choose sides while she can.  Something’s coming soon—”

He never finished that sentence.  I saw an object hurtling towards Prince Heinrik’s back who stood a good ten feet from me.  I sent a blast of ice to stop it and it fell harmlessly to the ground.  We both looked to find it was an arrow encased in my ice.

We dove for cover and I enclosed us in an ice shield, but nothing more came after that.  Prince Heinrik quickly shouted for his guards.  They came running out almost immediately.

“There! In the tower!” he pointed to one of the castle towers that had several windows that overlooked this garden.    It was too dark to discern anyone but there was no mistaking that arrow was fired from there.  The guards and Prince Heinrik hurried inside.

Left alone, I picked up the fallen arrow and it crumbled in my hands, leaving only the arrowhead and the red fletching.  I must have blasted it a lot harder than I expected.  However, I was able to recognize the familiar make of it before it was destroyed.  It was the same type of arrows I’ve used before for practice.   They were specifically made by a group of fletchers we had at home.

Whoever tried to assassinate Prince Heinrik used an arrow from Arendelle.

Chapter Text

The Coronan guards accompanied by the Southern Isles forces moved fast as news of the assassination attempt on Prince Heinrik spread throughout the castle.  Quick as they may be, they were not able to catch the assassin. General Sauer, the no-nonsense head of the Coronan guards told me that they found nothing but an empty tower.  He then ordered all exits to the castle be secured, the royal guests returned to their respective apartments for safety, and a floor-by-floor search conducted.

I gave my statement to General Sauer about my experience and handed to him the arrow fragments which by now cannot be discerned apart from any ordinary arrow.  I said nothing about recognizing the arrow as Arendellian of make.   I had a distinct feeling that should I reveal such information Prince Heinrik would use it to pressure my aunt in supporting him as a show of innocence.  When it was over, he and the younger Lietenant Pfeiffer offered to escort me back to the Arendellian wing.

“Do you think the assassin could be targeting you, your highness?” Lt. Pfeiffer asked as we walked.  He was a jollier fellow than his General.   I remember him as the guard that came with Prince Peter to Arendelle who had the unfortunate job of playing the referee between me and his wayward prince when Peter played those tricks on me years ago.

I shook my head.  “I don’t think so.  I was quite far from Prince Heinrik when it happened.  And the arrow came at a rather odd angle.  Even if I hadn’t intervened it would probably have missed him by a foot.”

“So you think it was just a warning shot, meant to scare Prince Heinrik?” asked the Lt. Pfeiffer.

“Could be,” I replied.  “Or the assassin was just a bad shot.”

General Sauer agreed.  “We can’t disregard the possibility that the arrow was still intended to kill.  With the war going on in Southern Isles, King Sigurd might have sent someone to do away with his brother for good.”

 Lt. Pfeiffer made a tsk-tsking sound.  “This is such bad business having brother against brother.  And I thought King Sigurd was a such nice man.”

“You know King Sigurd?” I asked.

“I met him years ago,” Lt. Pfeiffer answered.  “I escorted Prince Eugene and Prince Peter to the Southern Isles for a royal visit once.  There was some talk before about promising Prince Peter to King Sigurd’s granddaughter Brigitta but Queen Rapunzel didn’t want to formalize an engagement unless her son liked his would-be bride.  So they went for a visit to get introduced.  King Sigurd and his son Prince Morten were very hospitable even to us guards.  I got to know a lot of common folk from the Southern Isles and they all think him a very good king and the prince a perfect heir.  They adore his granddaughter even more.”  He paused as if recalling the memories.  “That little princess was really something else.    She was only about nine years old then but she was already well-loved by her people.  She had such charm that she even got Prince Peter to follow her around and behave at the same time.  He was so well-mannered for the length of those three weeks he spent there.  He didn’t pull a single prank and it made my job a lot easier.”

I fought to hide a snicker at the last comment.  Knowing how much trouble Peter gets into, it must be hard for his escorts to keep him in line. 

“It’s too bad the engagement didn’t push through and she didn’t survive,” agreed General Sauer.  “I think she would have made a fine bride for our prince.  Maybe she could have even tamed him into the role as the future king.”

The open statement from the serious General was a mark of how frustrated the Coronan guards must be of Peter’s childish attitude.  I remembered he was set to meet that crazy man Crochet tonight on his ship.  I wondered if he was alright and I thought maybe it would be best to inform General Sauer of his whereabouts just in case.

“General, as much as I hate to have you worry about another problem, Prince Peter is…”  I trailed off for Peter appeared at the end of the same hallway we were headed.  “Uhhhmmm… never mind.”

"Prince Peter?" the General Sauer asked.

Peter looked unusually uncomfortable.  His hair was quite a mess and he seemed to be sweating a lot but he nodded at his General without looking at me.

"Have you heard there was an assassination attempt on one of our guests?” continued the General.   “We must take you back immediately to your family.” 

“Ahhh... yes...yes... I heard shouting..." Peter said haltingly.  “Lieutenant, will you escort me to Father?” He made a quick barely discernable curtsy in my direction.  "Your highness," he said before he walked away in the opposite direction.  Lt. Pfeiffer barely had time to bid me goodbye before he tottered off to follow his prince. 

General Sauer and I continued on up to the floor of the Arendelle-assigned wing.  When we reached the corridor leading to our apartments, we found it crowded with people from our party.  Albert was the first to come over but the rest crowded around me almost immediately.

“Are you okay?” asked Albert.   “We heard from the Coronan guards there was an assassination attempt and you were there.  They refused to tell us anything else.”

“I’m fine,” I replied.  “I wasn’t the target.  I’ll explain everything later.  I need to speak to my aunt first.”  

“Please, everyone,” Lt. Andersen half-shouted over the crowd.  As the highest ranking officer from Arendelle present he seemed to have taken over the situation.  “Admiral Westergard has given his orders.  Everyone is to remain in their respective rooms and no one is to leave this wing.”  He turned to General Sauer.  “Admiral Westergard has expressed Arendelle’s full cooperation in this investigation.  He is requesting to meet with Prince Eugene later this evening after he finishes his meeting with Queen Elsa.”

“I have my orders to confine everyone to their respective rooms for the rest of the evening,” General Sauer said.  “But I suppose as Admiral Westergard would like to speak to Prince Eugene in aid of this investigation I can make an exception.  I will make sure my guards will be on standby to escort him to Prince Eugene.  I would also advise that should any of you need to visit the other rooms in this wing, please make sure you go on pairs.  We don’t want anyone being left alone even for a moment.  Guards will be stationed at the end of your wing for your safety.”    

He focused back to me.  “Prince Fredrik, a general inquiry will be conducted and the Southern Isles contingent may want to meet with you again by tomorrow.  We beg pardon but we would like to ask for your time for another interview with them.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” I replied.  I expected that given the high profile target of the assassination I would be asked again to give a statement.  “Thank you General.”

He gave me one final bow then took his leave. 

“Lady Anja, please accompany Prince Fredrik to her majesty’s chamber and return back to your quarters immediately,” Lt Andersen ordered.  “She has requested that Prince Fredrik spend the night in her suite for safety.”

Lady Anja nodded.  “Come on Prince Fredrik.”

"The whole time Admiral Westergard and the Queen were just in her chambers?" I asked as we walked the short distance to my aunt’s quarters.

"Oh not at all," Lady Anja replied.  "We had something of our own little drama here ten minutes ago.  “Admiral Westergard came over to our rooms with Isabel.  She was clearly crying and I’ve never seen the Admiral look so angry before.  He ordered Lt. Andersen to have her confined to our chambers and had Ensign Lorens guard her to make sure she complies.  He said she was to receive no visitors apart from our own people for the rest of the trip.”  She paused and lowered her voice.  “I think he found out about her affair with her young man and put a stop to it.”

I didn’t know whether this news pleased me or not.   “Did Isabel say anything?” I asked.

“I tried to ask but she refused to tell me.  She just kept crying.  My stupid roommates though started speculating all sorts of horrible indecent things about her.  I think they’re just jealous she’s got someone and they don’t.  I left her alone in our room just as one of the Coronan guards came over and told us about the assassination.  It got everyone out in the corridor just as you came back.  So what happened?”

“Someone tried to shoot Prince Heinrik of the Southern Isles with an arrow.  I stopped it with my ice,” I said.  “Look, I’ll explain everything tomorrow.  Aunt Elsa needs to know first.”

“I understand,” she said as she knocked on my aunt’s door.  Her fist only made a brief contact on the door before she pulled it away with a sharp cry.  “Owww! It’s cold!  I think it’s still locked with ice from within.   Admiral Westergard is still in there with her.”

I motioned Lady Anja to step aside and knocked on the door.  I made several attempts and called out to her before I got a faint reply from my aunt.   However, it took a full minute before the door opened and it was Admiral Westegard who did.

“Prince Fredrik,” he bid me enter and I did so.  

My aunt quickly enveloped me in a tight hug.  “Are you alright?” she whispered calmly to me.

“Yes, Aunt Elsa.  I’m fine.  I don’t think the arrow was meant for me.  I was too far.”

She and Admiral Westergard shared a look then she turned back to me.  “Tell me everything.”

I sat on one of the comfortable chairs of her sitting room and relayed to them the same things I mentioned to General Sauer about the attempt, including my own speculation that the arrow might have missed even if I hadn’t intervened.  They kept silent throughout my retelling but finally Admiral Westergard spoke.

“Is there anything else that you noticed?” he asked.

I hesitated.  I didn’t know if I should tell Admiral Westergard about the arrow.  The silence stretched on and I could sense he knew I was holding something back.  He shared another look with my aunt and she gave a tiny nod.

“I’ll leave you alone to discuss it,” he said.  He stepped out and closed the door behind him.  My aunt locked the door with ice with a wave of her hand.

“Okay, Fredrik you can tell me now,” Aunt Elsa said.   “Please it’s important.”

“The arrow, Aunt Elsa,” I said.  “It’s from Arendelle.”

My aunt turned pale.  “Do the Coronan or the Southern Isles guards know?”

I shook my head.  “The arrow was destroyed by my ice.  I just saw it for a moment.  I don’t think they can recognize it anymore.  I didn’t tell them.  I didn’t want to provide ammunition for Prince Heinrik to pressure us.”

Aunt Elsa let out a relieved gasp and hugged me again.  “You did the right thing.  Promise me you won’t say a word about this to anyone.”

“I won’t,” I said.  I gave her one final hug then let go and I turned to her seriously.  “I learned something else tonight.”  I related to her how I ended up crashing a meeting but when I was about to tell her about what Prince Heinrik proposed she beat me to it.

“I know what Prince Heinrik proposed.  He intends to sell the Weseltonians into slavery and the profits to be divided to his supporters,” she said.  “It’s the offer he’s been dangling to anyone who will help him oust Sigurd from the throne.”

“How…?” I began.

“Hans told me tonight.   He confessed everything and he apologized for keeping me in the dark.  Heinrik came to him two days ago and offered him a cut on the profits, his citizenship and his title back as a Prince of the Southern Isles if he can convince me to support Heinrik’s bid as king.”

I did not expect that Admiral Westergard would admit it all to my aunt.  “So he accepted it then?  He’s supporting Prince Heinrik?”

“Yes and no,” came my aunt’s confusing answer.  She turned to me seriously.  “Fredrik, what I’m about to tell you must remain a secret between us.  Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“Hans doesn’t support Heinrik but he told him he will.  He’s making Heinrik believe he’s supporting him to throw him off.  He’s buying time so Constanza can a move to ensure her son takes the Weselton throne.  Hans is also trying to win Heinrik’s confidence so he can get information on what he’s doing so he can counteract it.  He didn’t tell me before because he doesn’t want to compromise Arendelle or my position.  If he gets caught, I can claim he acted without my knowledge and disown him so I would have a way out.  That’s why it’s important that arrow doesn’t link itself back to Arendelle or to him.  We can’t have Heinrik doubting Hans’ position.”

“So he’s playing two sides,” I said.  It did make a lot of sense but it was also a concept I wasn’t sure I liked.  A nagging doubt lingered in my head that told me Admiral Westergard could just as easily be playing my aunt as he was playing his brother.  “How can you be sure he’s isn’t just making us think he’s on our side?  Almost two weeks ago he spoke in our council about supporting Prince Heinrik.”

“Hans changed his mind,” Aunt Elsa replied.  “He said he made a mistake of speaking for Heinrik that day.    He thought helping Heinrik win could bring a quick end to the war in the Southern Isles and save lives there.”

She paused and when she spoke again, she did so very quietly.  “Fredrik, King Sigurd is dying.   Just before our council meeting last week, a contact from Constanza told us that they found out from Sigurd’s physicians that he’s already terribly ill.  He doesn’t have much long to live.  It’s not just Hans’ anger over Sigurd that motivated him to support Heinrik.  Hans just doesn’t see the point of prolonging a war that can result in more deaths when Sigurd won’t be able to hold on to power for long.  Hans isn’t the kind of man who would allow people to get killed if he could help it.  But he knows that to save the many sometimes you need to sacrifice the few.  It’s the same reason why he held a sword to my head years ago and why he convinced me to execute the plan of freezing Weselton to get them to surrender.  In both times, he wasn’t afraid to take action.  But I also know the consequences of both instances have eaten at his conscience far deeper than he lets on.”

Aunt Elsa sat down on a chair and she looked extremely exhausted.  I knelt beside her, took her hand and gave it a squeeze for reassurance.

“Last week, after the council meeting I told him I wouldn’t support either one of his brothers,” Aunt Elsa continued.  “I told him to let go of his stupid hero complex and let the Southern Isles be.  It wasn’t his responsibility anymore.  And I was right.  Had I supported Heinrik openly it would have resulted in a disaster that could leave an even deeper scar on both our consciences. You’ve read Admiral Rochport’s diary.  You know how Hans suffered as a slave.  If Hans had unwittingly supported Heinrik and his pro-slavery efforts, I don’t think Hans could bear the guilt.”

If there was one thing I could not doubt about Admiral Westergard was that he would never support the promotion of slavery again, not after what I’ve read in Admiral Rochport’s accounts.   Prince Heinrik’s offer must have disgusted Admiral Westergard so badly it convinced him to change sides.

A sudden idea hit me on another reason Admiral Westergard didn’t want that arrow associated with Arendelle.

“Aunt Elsa, tell me honestly.  Did Admiral Westergard shoot that arrow?”

“What?” my aunt surprisingly said.  “Why would you think…?” she flustered and she looked suddenly afraid.

“Because if Prince Heinrik is dead, the civil war in the Southern Isles would be over immediately,” I said.    “Admiral Westergard doesn’t exactly want King Sigurd to remain on the throne.  But that’s going to take care of itself when he dies and passes the throne to his next brother who might not be willing to support slavery.  So it’s a win for everyone.  You said Admiral Westergard is willing to sacrifice the few for the many.  To save the many, all it takes is one death.”

Aunt Elsa looked at me intently then said slowly as if she was choosing her words.  “I understand Fredrik.  But Hans did not fire that arrow.  I was with him the whole time.”

I believed her.  My aunt would never lie to me.  If she said he didn’t do it, then he didn’t.

“Who do you think did it then?”

Aunt Elsa turned away and got up.  I noticed she clenched her hands together as she paced away.  “Heinrik has a lot of enemies who would want him dead Fredrik.”

Something about that statement seemed off to me but before I could ask, Aunt Elsa turned swiftly back to me and held my gaze. 

“Please Fredrik, I can’t answer everything right now, but I need you to trust me.  Hans didn’t try to kill Heinrik tonight with that arrow, I assure you.  Heinrik is planning something, something big and Hans needs our help to find out what it is.  So I need you to trust in him too.   Would you do that for me?”

I still had my doubts, but I believed in my aunt and I was willing to try to do what she asked… for now.  

I nodded to her and she pulled me into another hug and dropped a kiss at the top of my head just as the grandfather clock in the room chimed midnight.  I didn’t realize how late it was. 

“Go rest now,” she said.  “We have another long day ahead tomorrow.  I had an extra cot put in next to my bed.  I prefer you close by, at least for tonight.”

“Aren’t you retiring too?” I asked.

I’ll join you in a few minutes.  I just need to write to your mother to tell her you’re okay so I can have it sent early tomorrow.   I don’t want Anna worrying if she hears about an assassination with you nearby from someone else first.”

I bid her goodnight and proceeded to her bedchamber which was the inner room past the large sitting room where we spoke.  I did a quick wash and changed into more comfortable clothes that I found my aunt had laid out for me.  I must have drifted almost immediately as soon as my head hit the pillow, but somehow I awoke again.  My blanket was raised up to my chin—an indication that my aunt came by to tuck me in just like my mother would do at home.  I really didn’t really need a blanket but being tucked in was something of a regular affectionate gesture in my family at home.

 I sat up and noticed the bed next to mine was empty and it was still dark outside.  The sound of the grandfather clock chiming told me I was only asleep for an hour.

I crept out of bed and decided my aunt must have lost track of time.  I decided to come out and remind her to get some rest.  I was about to open the door but I stopped when I heard the familiar voices of my aunt and Admiral Westergard.  The wall between the sitting room and bed chamber seemed quite thin that I can hear them both clearly even without me needing to open the door.

“We don’t have to worry about Corona,” he said.  “Eugene is a bit doubtful, but he’ll come through for us.  He’s going ahead with an investigation to keep appearances but if I know Eugene, he’ll make sure the results won’t reveal the truth, not when his son is involved.”

Peter’s involved in the assassination?  My mind suddenly remembered early this evening when I met Peter in corridor and he was acting strangely.  He couldn’t even look me in the eye.  Could it be he was the assassin? But why?  What could he possibly gain from it?

“I’m glad,” the relief was obvious in Aunt Elsa’s voice.  “Hans, I hate keeping things from Fredrik, maybe we could just tell him.  I’m sure he would understand.”

“Elsa, you know Fredrik has my highest confidence in being discreet.  But I just don’t trust his ability to lie.  We can’t risk this.  Heinrik will question him tomorrow and he will look for any sign of what Fredrik knows.  It’s bad enough he knows about the arrow.  It would be best that he doesn’t know a thing so he can’t slip up.”

My aunt sighed.  “Alright, we won’t tell him.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  My own aunt was conspiring to hide a secret from me. 

“Elsa, look at me,” his tone of voice was almost tender.  “We will tell him at the right time.   But I need to know you trust me in this.  I would never hurt you or Fredrik.  I am not going to put Arendelle in danger.  I wouldn’t involve you if I can help it.”

That gave me a bit of assurance though I still felt a sting of betrayal especially with my aunt’s reply:

“I trust you Hans.  I already said I’d do this with you and I will.  We’ll do this together.”

Chapter Text

For a long moment I stood frozen by the door without moving. I couldn't decide what to do. Should I come out, confront them and demand they tell whatever it is they're keeping from me? But what if they just deny it? Or give me some other lie? Admiral Westergard did say they were keeping me in the dark for a reason. 

I kept silent and waited for anything more from them.  For a long time, I heard nothing.  It was either they weren't speaking or were doing so in such low tones I could no longer hear.  A disturbing thought entered my mind that they were silent for another reason: that their mouths were engaged in a more intimate activity.  If they were... well I didn't think I could live through the embarrassment of walking in on them.

"I'll see you tomorrow Elsa," Admiral Westergard finally spoke to my immense relief.

"Yes, I'll see you." Her tone sounded normal enough... not breathless or anything indicative of anything happening in the other room other than talking.  "Hans, don't be too hard on her.  She's just a girl after all.  She makes mistakes.  This hasn't been easy on her."

I was almost sure they were speaking of Isabel and he confirmed it with his next words.

"I know. Despite what she did, I still believe in her.  She just needs guidance, a mentor.”

“No, what she needs is a parent,” my aunt said.  “Who needs to tell her when she’s wrong, but cares enough about her to understand what she’s feeling.”

“And right now I’m all she has.”  He heaved a sigh.  “It’s not easy being a parent, especially to a Westergard.  You have it easy with Fredrik."

My aunt laughed.  “I’m not Fredrik’s mother, Hans.  Anna and Kristoff raised him.”

“But you helped a lot.  And you’re really good at it.  I’m just stumbling through this one.” 

"I can help if you want," Aunt Elsa offered.  "I did have an almost a similar experience.  I can talk to her."

I wondered what that meant. Maybe she was talking about her failed romance with King Eric which would mean Isabel’s little romance with that mysterious Southern Isles boy was at an end.  My selfish heart couldn’t help but feel triumphant at the idea.

"That would mean a lot to me Elsa. Thank you."

"I'll speak to her tomorrow then.  Send her to me after dinner and we'll have a little heart-to-heart."

"Thanks, I appreciate it.  I should go now.  Goodnight, Elsa," he said softly that I almost didn't catch it.

"Goodnight Hans." Aunt Elsa's tone was just as low."

The door creaked open then closed.  I ran back to my cot, tucked myself in and shut my eyes.  I made it just in time before my aunt entered the bedchamber.  I felt her come over me and felt her lips on my forehead.

"Sweet dreams, Fredrik. You don't know how lucky I am with you."

I couldn't help but feel touched by my aunt's gesture and in that moment I forgave her.  Whatever was happening I didn’t blame her and I was willing to give her a chance. I decided I'll wait a few days for her and Admiral Westergard to come clean with me on their own.  If they didn’t, I’ll confront them about it.

I fell asleep after that.  I woke early the next morning and joined the rest of the Arendelle contingent at breakfast where I related the same safe version of the assassination.   There were various speculations on who possibly did it but most thought it was King Sigurd.  It was easy enough to hire an assassin to enter the castle.   Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard were unusually silent throughout the meal and I noticed they ended it rather hurriedly and excused themselves to tender to their duties. 

As the entire kingdom was still on the alert, the day’s conference proceedings were cancelled and the Coronan guards told us we were to stay put in our wing.  As I had a free day and with nothing much to do, I joined Aunt Elsa in her sitting room chambers.  She had some letters to write, while I resumed reading Admiral Rochport’s diary…

 

14th of April

Yesterday, I made a startling discover while I was reviewing the list of names of applicants for military service.  Hans Westergard was in one of them.  His papers were all in order and he already took up the initial tests for application.   His written exams were almost perfect, his physical ones exceptional.  My officer in charge of recruitment said he was the most impressive man to apply for the service despite his age.  I had no doubt he would pass the final set of tests that can make him qualify as a cadet but I was more interested in his motives.  I requested my officer to move up Westergard’s interview the following day.

He reported this morning looking smart of dress even if his clothing was obviously of cheap quality.  He greeted me politely with a stout salute and I offered him a chair which he sat with the posture of a trained officer.

“So you’ve applied for military service, may I ask why?”

“As a new citizen of Arendelle, I would like to be of use in a profession that I believe I can excel in.  The navy was always something I’ve loved being in and I’ve had previous training before.  If you find my qualifications suitable, it would be an honor for me to be of service to Arendelle.”

His answer was expectantly diplomatic but I was interested in more than that.

“Westergard, we both know even with your more advantageous training, your past actions here in Arendelle is going to go against you from being accepted in the military.”

“I know that Sir,” he replied humbly.  “And I don’t expect you to accept me.  I will understand if you don’t.  I just wanted a fair chance.  I am sorry for my actions in the past and I know I can never take those back.  But if you let me have this chance, I would willingly work as the lowest crewmember on any of Arendelle’s ships and serve as best as I can.”

He sounded sincere enough but I wanted to know more about his life prior to coming to Arendelle for the second time.  “What makes you merit being here, Westergard?   Tell me honestly, and consider this not an interview but a casual conversation between acquaintances.  What happened after you were sent back to the Southern Isles?”

He gave a deep sigh.  “I think you know initially what happened.  My brother King Sigurd would have sent reports and they’re fairly accurate.  The moment I reached the shores of the Southern Isles I was handed to him in chains.  He gave me a long talking to, probably the worst that he ever gave me on the consequences of my actions, before he sent me to prison.”

I did read the reports that King Sigurd sent over on a regular basis.  However, there were some parts of Westergard’s punishment that were unclear to me.  “I read that you were not confined to a cell but were sent to do labors under guard,” I said.  “Why is that?”

“It’s not a special treatment,” he replied.  “I was supposed to be kept in a cell and for three days I was.  Until one of my brothers, Reidar decided I deserved a beating for my act of treason.    I was half dead when the guards found me the next morning and Sigurd was livid when he discovered it.   He had me nursed back to health and had Reidar placed in my cell for the time I was recuperating.”  He paused and I noticed a sad smile graced his lips as he probably recalled the incident.  “Sigurd’s fair that way and I supposed I can him give credit for that.  But it also meant he wanted me justly punished.  He sent me to work under guard in the stables for the rest of my confinement while awaiting trial.  He did it partly so none of my other brothers will have an opportunity to beat me up again and partly he said so I would be able to realize what I had that I just threw away.”   

He stopped again and I could see that this was something that pained him. 

“So he had you doing hard labor?” I asked.

He shook his head but he refused to meet my gaze.  “It wasn’t that hard… I mean not physically.  But it was humiliating… so much that when my trial came in four months later I was almost relieved.  Sigurd’s quite efficient and he had my trial completed in just two days.  He had everything from Queen Elsa’s affidavit to witness testimonies that were sure to damn me.  I expected to die.   Treason is punishable by death through hanging in the Southern Isles.  After all the embarrassment I endured, I welcomed it.  ”

“But Sigurd commuted your sentence to exile. Why?”

“I’m not sure,” he replied.  “I didn’t ask it from him and his council even protested it.  But he was firm on that decision.  I suppose it gained him a reputation as a merciful man and it earned him plus points with his subjects but I think deep down he just couldn’t stand to spill his own blood.”  He shook his head.  “He didn’t give me an easy time though.  He sent me out of the Isles by one of his ships and I was dropped off at a busy port at the coast of Glowerhaven with nothing but the clothes I had on and a soiled reputation all across Europe.”

I knew about that.  Sigurd wanted to assure Elsa that even with a commuted sentence the punishment was still severe enough for the attempted murder of a Queen.   “So what did you do after?”

“The only thing I can do,” he replied. “I found work as a crewman on a ship with a shady reputation.  It was the only ship that would take me.  No respectable merchant would employ a regicide anyway.”  His expression changed to a faraway look.  “The first few months were hell.  The crew knew who I was and bullied me daily for being a pampered prince.  I got into a lot of fights just to prove I could be one of them.  After more than a year, I supposed I did become one of them—in the worst ways possible.  I fought viciously when we took over ships, slept with a whore every chance I got, drunk myself into unconsciousness when I had money and starved when I didn’t.  One time we encountered another pirate ship.  This one was a known a privateer with a commission from Gormund.  I switched sides immediately.  I left my old crew to their fates and joined the new crew.  I thought it was justice for all the abuse my old crewmates gave me.  In this new ship, I changed my name so I no longer carried my previous background.  I’ve learned the habits of mercenary men enough to pass myself off as a man with humble origins.  It helped because now it was so much easier to advance my position on the ship.”

“So you’ve been to places?”

“A lot,” he nodded. “I’ve circled the waters of the Caribbean and I’ve been to the Americas twice.   The haul there was so much more profitable than the ones in Scandinavia although the dangers were also more daunting.  We encountered numerous skirmishes and each time I came in fighting like a mad dog.”  He stopped and stared at me seriously. 

“I won’t deny it Captain, I’ve been a butcher for part of my life and I’m not proud of it.  While the men in my crew were motivated by money, I think I just lived for the thrill of the battle.  For a number of years, I suppose that was my only comfort.  Not even the drink or women ever satisfied me anymore.  I think I just wanted to die in the most violent way possible because nothing really mattered anyway.  I came close to it.  I’ve been shot thrice and stabbed more times than I can recall. I also caught Malaria once.  But somehow, to my fortune or misfortune, I came out alive from an inch of death.  My crewmates renamed me the ‘Immortal One’ for they believed I had some guardian angel protecting me from death.    In some ways my crewmates benefitted from my exploits as we made Prince Karl of Gormund a rich man with the haul of treasures we took back each expedition.”

I’ve known Prince Karl as a blackguard and there were rumors that Gormund’s sudden economic rise over the last decade was due to his employment of privateers.  This was sure confirmation of it.  One of the rumors I’ve heard surfaced in my mind and I just had to ask.  “Wait, are you familiar with a ship called the Dark Maiden?” 

Westergard nodded.  “I was its first mate.” 

He said it as if he was ashamed which was strange for based on the rumors I heard, the crew of the Dark Maiden had accomplished something few sailors can boast of: the conquest of the heavily armed Spanish vessel Do ñ a Milagrosa.   From what I heard, the Do ñ a Milagrosa was caught in a sudden storm in the waters of the Caribbean and their main mass was crippled by it.  Out of the confusion, came a smaller ship with friendly colors of Spain that offered to tow it to safety.  The larger vessel shouted over in Spanish in an attempt to discern if it was indeed one of theirs and was rewarded by someone who spoke their language just as fluently and was giving off common signals.  Driven perhaps by desperation and the assurance of the familiar, the Do ñ a Milagrosa threw in a line.  By the time they realized their error the smaller ship already maneuvered into a position and quickly opened its guns.  The boarding party had no difficulty in subduing the rest of the crew and taking its cartloads of treasures.

“It was you,” I said.  “You’re the one that took the Do ñ a Milagrosa.”

“Yes,” he admitted.  “I knew the Spanish colors and their signals as a boy.  It was something of a pastime for me while I was growing up to learn about other nations’ naval backgrounds.  I was also fluent in the language as part of my early diplomatic lessons.  I was even better at it after various trips to the Spanish-speaking colonies.  I used it to our advantage.”  

“You don’t sound proud of it,” I said.

An expression of sadness mired his face.  “I got my first serious argument with my captain after the takeover.  He wanted all the remaining crewmen of the Do ñ a Milagrosa tortured to death so they’d reveal to us other Spanish merchant ship routes.  I didn’t see the point of doing so.   We already got what we needed and I could read their logs well enough.  The Captain just wanted it for sport.     The night before they were to be tortured, I let the prisoners escape in a small boat.  If you’ve heard about this story then I’m sure they made it back.”

“Yes, I have.  But not just from rumors.  I’ve spoken to a Spanish ambassador once and he told me a strange gentleman on the crew of the Dark Maiden was said to have been compassionate enough to not just let the prisoners of the Do ñ a Milagrosa escape but also provided provisions for them.”

Westergard looked away and I knew it was him. 

“What happened after?” I urged him on.

“We returned to Gormund and Prince Karl rewarded us handsomely.”

“I’m guessing you took home quite a hefty pay in that endeavor, why didn’t you just leave piracy behind?”

“I did try.  I received more than enough from that conquest.  I was richer than I’ve ever been since I was exiled.   For almost a year, I rented a small cottage in Gormund in the outskirts of the city where no one knew me.  One of my neighbors had a boarding house and school for young boys.   I got along very well with the young men there and I even took time to give them lessons in fencing and languages.  It was the most peaceful moment of my life.  For a time, I was resigned to a quiet life in that village and I became a teacher in the school.  But then my reputation caught up with me.  One of the boys was the son of nobleman and he recognized me when he visited.  I was immediately fired and declared persona non grata in the entire village.  That was the end of the little life I rebuilt.   When my captain came with news of a new commission from Prince Karl, I accepted it.”

“So you went back to piracy just like that?”

“You must understand Captain Rochport, I didn’t do it for the money.  I had no place in this world and no opportunity to gain a reputable position in society.  Not in Gormund or anywhere else.  I felt that being with the scum of this earth was the only place I can be.  People already treated me like that anyway so maybe they were right.”

I remembered the look of longing I saw in him once when he was watching the Arendelle navy recruits and I was reminded again of what this man lost.

“In our next expedition, we took down about three more ships but we gained nothing of value with the same level as the Do ñ a Milagrosa,” Westegard continued.   “I supposed after a haul as rich as that one, my captain was expecting more and Prince Karl also demanded the same.  Things went sour between me and my captain daily.  He blamed me for letting those prisoners escape.  He said if I just let him have his way we could have information and we’d come back richer than ever.  Maybe he was right. I guess I would never know.  I supposed it could have saved me from my next fate.”

“You mean as a slave?” I asked.  “How did you end up being in that cursed ship?”

“I knew you’d ask.  After three ships of poor rewards, my captain decided it just wasn’t enough to please his and Prince Karl’s expectations.  He thought of a new way to make better profits.  The next ship we encountered was a small passenger ferry from Antalona.   Normally we would leave such small ships alone as they carried nothing of value.  To my surprise, my captain ordered it taken.”

He paused and the pain in his face from the telling was evident.  “It was carrying families.  There were women and little children there and they only had meager possessions.  I knew immediately what my captain planned and I couldn’t stomach it.   I didn’t know why.  I’ve killed men before, but the thought of selling innocent people to be slaves was more than I can bear.  I know you might think it odd, Captain that I can grow a conscience after all this time but somehow I did and I can’t explain it myself.”

I looked at this man and remembered the love he had shown an innocent little girl and I knew such things happen only through divine grace.

“God works in mysterious ways Westergard and to a man of faith like me, it’s nothing really strange,” I said to him.

“I know nothing of God or religion Captain Rochport,” he replied.  “But I guess if there was a bit of humanity left me in, that time it rose to the surface.  I told my Captain that I was not going to be a part of this and he replied that I didn’t need to be.  He sent me to the brig and the next time I came out of it, I was transferred to a slaver with the rest of the poor victims of that little ferry.  I was there for three months.  I think you know the rest.”

So he was betrayed by his own crew.  It was not a surprising turn of events.  Greed did things to a lot of people.

“This is an interesting story Westergard.  But let’s go back to the subject at hand, your application.  And I need a straightforward answer.  Why do you want to serve in Arendelle’s military? You have other talents and as you’ve known by now the people of Arendelle are more accepting of your past.  You could live your life here in other ways.”

“That is true, Captain, but even through those years I think being at sea was the only thing that kept me sane.  It was my first love and given a choice, that’s all I want to be in.  I know you have your doubts and I’m not asking for any special treatment.  Just a chance.”

Even though he kept his expression even, his voice betrayed his desperation.  This man could have remained silent about his past but he chose to tell me all the grisly details of his life—both the good and the bad.   Such honesty I felt deserved some credit. And I couldn’t deny that he would be an excellent recruit.

“Very well, I’ll consider it and it is subject to the Queen’s approval.”

“Thank you,” he replied before I dismissed him. 

This evening I reported to the Elsa everything he told me.  I can tell she had her apprehensions about this. 

“I want you to verify his story,” she said to me.  “Ask around, maybe among the former slaves for any clue that he’s lying.”

“And if he’s not?” I asked.

“When he passes the exams, let him in.  Anna granted him citizenship so I can’t exactly deny him this equal privilege to join the service without appearing bias.  But keep an eye on him for me.  If he does as much as do anything that can harm us, he’s out.”

“Understood Elsa,” I said.  When I left her, I informed my officers of the situation so they can start their covert inquiry.  If Westergard is lying, we’d bound to find out.  Though secretly I hoped we wouldn’t.  Something told me Westergard was the real deal this time.  He was among my nightly prayers before I went to bed.

 

There was an urgent knock on the door and I closed Admiral Rochport’s diary just as my aunt answered it. 

“Your majesty,” General Sauer acknowledged my aunt. “Prince Heinrik is requesting for a word with Prince Fredrik in aid of the investigation of last night’s incident.  If you would allow, we will escort him to the conference room.”

My aunt shared a knowing look with me and I nodded.

“Of course,” I told Genereal Sauer and readily followed him.

The conference chamber was unusually empty save for the Southern Isles contingent and members of the Coronan guards.  Prince Heinrik was there waiting along with Prince Eugene.  We made our round of greetings before we sat together on the comfortable chairs provided.  Prince Heinrik spoke first

“Prince Fredrik, I would like to express my gratitude for your quick thinking last night that saved my life.  General Sauer has graciously relayed to me your statement but I must ask you further if you have noticed anything, anything at all that might give a clue as to who the assassin might be.”

I shook my head.  “Nothing,” I replied calmly.  “I can’t recall anything further than what I’ve told General Sauer.”

“Of course,” he replied.   “I’m sure the General has been quite thorough at the time but I have a few questions of my own, if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” I said.  

“Very well, I’m rather curious about the arrow,” said Prince Heinrik.  He brought out a piece of cloth and unwrapped it to reveal the arrow fragments which were now broken into several pieces.  I quickly looked away from it only to stare at the suspicious gaze of Prince Heinrik.

“Do you recognize it, your highness?” he asked.

“It’s the arrow from last night,” I said calmly. 

“Yes, you’re right, how did it come to be broken like this?”

I decided that short truthful responses were the best way to answer him.  “It crumbled when I picked it up.”

“You picked it up,” he said evenly, though I can tell he was thinking hard about that and his next question unnerved me.  “Why did you pick it up?”

“I was curious about it.”

“Of course, and may I ask what you noticed about the arrow—before it broke of course?”

This was it.  It was a direct question that I cannot evade without concealing what I knew.  I shrugged.  “It was just an arrow.”

“You do not find it in anyway familiar?”

“What do you mean by familiar, Sir?” I asked in return.

Prince Heinrik carefully picked up a part of the arrow.  “I have taken the liberty of having this examined by an expert.  You see all arrows are not made exactly the same.   Some artisans do like to make their own little marks on them.”  He held up a part of the broken shaft.  “Although this little piece is quite broken, my expert found a little mark that makes it identifiable, right here.”

I stared at it and was horrified as I realized I was staring at a tiny broken crocus—the symbol of Arendelle. 

“So tell me Prince Fredrik,” Prince Heinrik said.  “Why was an arrow from Arendelle used to try to kill me?”

“I… I… don’t know…” I stammered.  I was suddenly grateful for not knowing anything for Prince Heinrik suddenly launched a barrage of questions and all I could do was stutter back.

“So who else knows about that meeting last night Prince Fredrik?  Did Queen Elsa knew?”

“I… don’t know…”

“You said she sent you to that meeting?”

“No, she didn’t…” I uttered before I could think.  My heart was hammering too fast and there were flurries appearing around me that I tried in vain to dissipate but they just kept reappearing.

“So you lied!”

“I didn’t… I don’t remember…”

“Why were you there?  Don’t you find it odd that the attacker would be there just as you and I were alone in the garden?”

“I was just passing by…  I swear, I just got lost in the gardens and came upon the meeting…”

“I find that hard to believe!”

“That’s enough Prince Heinrik!” It was Prince Eugene who spoke.  “Prince Fredrik is a diplomatic guest here only for an interview in aid of this investigation.   He is not being interrogated.”

Prince Heinrik pulled back and looked calmly at Corona’s prince.  “Of course, my apologies.  However, you may want to consider the new evidence in this investigation.”  

“That arrow doesn’t tell us anything on who shot it?” Prince Eugene replied calmly.

“The arrow is from Arendelle,” Prince Heinrik pointed out.  “That’s a lead right there that tells you how to narrow your questioning to a specific contingent.”

His meaning was clear.  The entire Arendelle contingent would soon be under investigation for this and I was afraid of what they would find. 

I braced myself for Prince Eugene’s order to have our party be called in for questioning.  But instead he just shook his head.  “I hate to disappoint you Prince Heinrik but that arrow doesn’t narrow our list of suspects down by a lot.”

“What do you mean?” Prince Heinrik asked.  “The arrow is from Arendelle.”

“Yes, but Arendellians are not exactly the only ones that have access to arrows from Arendelle.”

Prince Heinrik stared at him with a puzzled expression.  I was also curious about this but I said nothing.

“You see,” Prince Eugene explained. “Arendelle and Corona have been trading partners for quite a long time and a lot of goods come and go between our nations.  That includes weapons like Arendellian bows and arrows.  Of course, you’re quite aware that Corona’s port is quite the hub of commerce and we do retail some of our surplus imports to well…” he paused and made a careless gesture of his hands.  “Well practically every nation in this region, maybe even beyond it.”

I was quite aware that we’ve traded a lot of goods with Corona, but I knew our weaponry was not one of them.  We never exported our arrows to Corona or any nation for that matter.  So Prince Eugene was just outright lying.  I remembered what Admiral Westergard said that Prince Eugene would ensure the truth doesn’t come out because his son is involved.  But whatever this secret is, I was willing to go along with it, if it meant the protection of Arendelle and my aunt. 

“Is this true Prince Fredrik?” Prince Heinrik asked.

“Yes,” I said almost too quickly.  I had my hands gripped together behind my back for I was afraid of unleashing my powers unintentionally that would indicate proof of my lie.

“And do we have documents to support this export of Arendellian arrows to Corona?” Prince Heinrik continued to address me.

“Of course we can dig up the paperwork should you wish to see it,” Prince Eugene answered for me. But I must warn you that there is quite a lot of goods transfer through the blackmarket.  It’s really such a challenge keeping track of all goods with the illegal trading going on.”

It was a good excuse as any for the moment and it seemed to satisfy Prince Heinrik for now. 

“Very well, I would appreciate seeing those documents just the same.”

“We’ll have them as soon as we are able.  Now if that is all, I must take Prince Fredrik back for his safety.  For all we know, he and not you could be the target of the assassin.”

“And what makes you think that?” Prince Heinrik asked.  His tone hinted of a challenge.  

Prince Eugene didn’t seem fazed by it.  “At this point Prince Heinrik, I don’t really want to speculate and neither should anyone.  Let’s just wait until this investigation runs its course.”

“Of course, I leave that in your men’s capable hands,” the Southern Isles Prince answered though I didn’t believe it one bit.  He would definitely try to root this out his own way and so I had to be wary of him.

We all gave polite bows and Prince Eugene escorted me with two other guards.  I have never felt so relieved in my life when we left the conference room.  We walked in silence though I was aching to ask Prince Eugene why he covered for us.  When we were nearing the Arendellian wing, Prince Eugene put an arm on my shoulder and whispered to me.

“You did well.   Just avoid Heinrik and any of the Southern Isles representatives as much as you can and don’t let your Aunt be cornered by him either.”

“Okay,” I said.                                                                           

“That’s a good lad,” he went on.   “I don’t know how much you know, but I want to tell you to trust Elsa and Hans on this.  Just do what they say.  They’ll explain everything when it’s safe.”

I didn’t know what to reply to that so I just nodded.  We headed directly into the Arendelle apartments to where my aunt waited in her sitting room with Admiral Westergard.  

“Go inside, Fredrik,” my aunt said.  “We just need a moment with Eugene.”

There was nothing I can do but follow her.   I entered while the three of them went outside to speak at the corridor.   Despite their reassurances, I couldn’t help feel a bit put off that they weren’t telling me anything. 

I threw myself carelessly into one of the enormous couches but jumped back up when I felt something hard that I almost sat on.  I checked and found a small oval-shaped, silver-gilded hand mirror.  I stared at my reflection and I could see the flurries of snow forming around my head that indicated my mood.  I’ve never felt so down in my life and I wish there was someone I can talk to.

“I wish I can see Mama,” I said without thinking.

The mirror suddenly sprang up with green light that I almost dropped it.  But then, an image formed and I can clearly see my mother on a rocking chair with baby Agnar in her arms.  She was humming him a little tune and both her and my brother looked the picture of quiet bliss. 

Wait a minute?  How was the mirror doing this? 

Then I realized what this was: it was Admiral Westergard’s magic mirror.  It’s the same one that was previously owned by Prince Adam that can show anyone the user asked for.    I decided to test it.

“Show me my Papa,” I said to the mirror.  The image changed and I can see my father going about his work of cutting ice with the other harvesters.  He was whistling an ice harvester’s tune while his companions harmonized along with him.  I should try it again.

“Show me Olaf,” I said.  The mirror obeyed and I was now looking at Olaf picking flowers with my sisters in the castle garden.  This was amazing.

“Can I see Sven please?” Sven magically appeared.  He was stealing carrots from my father’s supply bag.  I couldn’t help but laugh at his antics.  Well my entire family seemed to be going about their usual business.  That was a relief at least but what else can I do with this mirror?

A sudden naughty idea came to my head and I whispered.  “Show me Isabel Westergard.”

The mirror returned to its state as a looking glass.  Maybe it didn’t hear me right so I repeated:  “Can I see Isabel Westergard please?”

The mirror continued to reflect my face.

“Show me Admiral Hans Westergard’s daughter.”

Still nothing. It was just a mirror.

And then I remembered the stories I heard about the mirror.  It doesn’t show someone who’s dead!  A feeling of dread enveloped me and my mind drifted into the various possibilities of what this meant.  What if Isabel in her grief over her lost love killed herself in her room like a tragic Juliet?

The horrid thought ran over and over in my mind as ice began to form around the room.  I shook myself out of my stupor and ran for the door.  I flung it open before it froze completely shut.

“Fredrik! What’s going on?” Aunt Elsa said as she saw the ice chasing after me.

“Isabel’s dead!” I muttered.

Shock and fear morphed into Admiral Westergard’s face before he bolted down the corridor to his daughter’s room.  Prince Eugene chased after him.

Aunt Elsa ran and hugged me.  “Calm down! Calm down Fredrik! Tell me how you know this.”

It took several deep breaths before I could say another word.  My aunt took the time to dissipate my snow.

“The mirror,” I finally whispered to her as I handed to her the object.   “The magic mirror won’t show her to me.  Didn’t you say it can’t reveal anybody who died?”

My aunt took the mirror from me but continued to hold me close.  “You asked the mirror for her?  You said her name?”

“Yes, I asked for Isabel Westergard and the mirror remained just a mirror.”

“It’s alright,” she said.  “Just calm down.  Let’s go check.  This may all just be uhmmm… a mistake.”   I couldn’t understand how Aunt Elsa could sound so calm about this.  But I followed her and we walked slowly to chambers where Isabel was staying.  We found Aunt Elsa’s ladies standing around in a confused state around the outer sitting room and I expected the worst.  Prince Eugene however, seemed to be attempting to get control of the situation.

“Everyone please,” Prince Eugene said.  “Nothing’s wrong, it’s just a false alarm.”

But I pushed past the frightened ladies and didn’t stop until I came into the inner room. 

Admiral Westergard was seated on the edge of one of the beds.  And in his arms to my intense relief was Isabel who appeared very much alive and unharmed.

“I thought I lost you,” Admiral Westergard cried while he clutched at her and pressed kisses on his daughter’s head.

“It’s okay.  I’m alright.  I’m here.  I’m okay,” she whispered faintly back.

Chapter Text

“Ten percent!” Prince Karl of Gormund thundered in the hall.  “That’s preposterous.  Gormund’s share in the damages should be increased to twenty considering what we’ve lost.”

“I beg to differ your highness, but considering the figures you’ve presented, ten percent is a fair share to be provided to Gormund as compensation for damages,” Queen Constanza pointed out.  “And you will be receiving some antiques and prized objects that we’ve obtained from the Weselton palace.”

Prince Gormund harrumphed audibly.  “The Venetian paintings and the Tang Dynasty pottery are fine.  But this rug is an insult.”

“It’s a fourteenth century Arabian carpet,” Queen Constanza argued.  She was referring to the colored carpet that was brought out for display encased in glass.  It was among one of many Weselton valuables recovered after the war that were now the subject of division among the allied nations.   

“It’s damaged!” Prince Karl exclaimed with a sneer at the object. 

It was true that the carpet had a burn mark on one edge and one of its tassels was a bit singed.  But it was still beautiful with its fine weave that formed the symmetrical images of a pair of flames each flanked by two tigers in a harmonious balance of purple, red and gold threads.  It was a fine piece of art but I suppose Prince Karl wasn’t interested in anything attractive unless it was worth a lot. 

The Coronan conference resumed only after a two-day recess.  During that time, the Coronan guards made rounds of interviews of all the foreign representatives and detained a few suspicious looking individuals—mostly merchants within the castle with no ties to the elite guests.  However, nothing conclusive was ever found on the assassin.  There were simply too many people coming in and out of the castle to pinpoint who did it. 

Most of the delegates from the other countries speculated that it was indeed King Sigurd who planned the attack and dismissed it as an internal problem between the Southern Isles princes.  And with the assurance of tighter security provided by the Coronan guards, they all clamored for an immediate resumption of the conference proceedings.    

Things went on smoothly in the last six days since the conference resumed.  Of course, when I meant smoothly, it meant there were no further threats or assassination attempts.  The conference debates however, were quite another story.   Day after day, we sat for one grueling session after another.   Our allies fought over the division of the properties of the fallen Weselton royal court while determining the fate of its citizens.  Document after document of reports were read, witness statements were given and countless debates raged on in the grand chamber.  And unlike the start of the conference when anyone can just walk out when one wanted to, the increased security forced everyone to stay put into the chambers while the sessions were going on.  It was so tedious that at times I even longed for Peter to appear with a distraction to get me out. 

Unfortunately, the troublesome Coronan prince made himself scarce since the evening of the assassination attempt.   I figured his parents made sure he was kept out of suspicion by concealing him from the public eye.  They even made his twin Flynnigan stop attending the proceedings, perhaps to make things appear normal.

It was rather obvious to me by now that my aunt and Admiral Westergard were conspiring to hide the truth of the assassination attempt with the Coronan royal family.  It was frustrating to know they were deliberately keeping this from me but I understood why they were doing it.  Days after the incident, Prince Heinrik and his aides kept on the prowl with me for any clues.  After I almost crumbled during Prince Heinrik’s interrogation, I didn’t trust myself either to not reveal any vital information.  So I decided I should remain blissfully ignorant until my aunt deemed it necessary to take me in her confidence.

Prince Heinrik also tried without success to conduct his own inquiry around my aunt.  Aunt Elsa managed to skirt around each attempt.  I suspected Queen Constanza and even King Eric were in on the secret, for one or the other would appear and whisk my aunt away or provide a distraction whenever Prince Heinrik tried to corner her.  The Southern Isles prince eased up only yesterday when Prince Eugene finally provided the documentation on Arendelle exports of weapons to Corona.  As I knew that no such trade ever existed, I assumed the papers were faked.  If Prince Eugene went through such lengths as to forge non-existent export papers to keep this secret, it must be that important.  I didn’t want to give my aunt and commanding officer a hard time about it by demanding they divulge it before they were ready. 

Plus, I do owe Admiral Westergard an apology for the distress I caused him when I mistakenly assumed his daughter was dead.   He told me the mirror only works when you ask for people related or close to you, thus it didn’t work when I asked for Isabel.  Admitting to him that I used the mirror to see her was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever experienced.  He must have realized I had feelings for her or worse, think of me as some kind of peeping tom.  He said nothing about it and treated me the same way but up to now I couldn’t look him straight in the eye.  I avoided Isabel since then as well.  It wasn’t that hard since she kept to her room in the Arendelle wing and barely spoke to anyone except Lady Anja.  Some nights she would come to see my aunt after dinner and they would speak privately in her sitting room.  I never asked what they spoke of together.  I was too embarrassed to even speak her name to anyone for I knew our whole delegation found out about the incident with the mirror and everyone was now aware I fancied her.  Albert teased me about it for days.  I dreaded the gossip that would certainly spread through Arendelle when we returned.  Someone probably already wrote about it back home.  It was most likely making its way through the taverns, the back alleys the fishports and perhaps even the castle by now.  I just hoped it didn’t reach my parents.

“This is what I get for helping you in this war?!  After we’ve helped with the peacekeeping in Weselton?!” Prince Karl’s tirade jolted me back to the conference proceedings. 

“Fine help he was,” I heard my aunt seethe beside me.  I saw her clench her fists that were momentarily encased in ice.  “He would have sacked the city if Eugene wasn’t looking.”

“Your peacekeeping force is very much appreciated Prince Karl,” Queen Constanza said evenly.  “But every country here sent similar forces and it would only be fair that they too be given just compensation for any losses.”

“And you consider this damaged rug just compensation?!  It’s not even good enough to wipe my boots!”

My aunt clenched her fist again and I saw a few people in the chamber roll their eyes.  It had been an exhausting day and Prince Karl’s complaint over a simple carpet was getting into a lot of people’s nerves.  His constant whining sounded like a petulant child whose toy was taken away. 

“Besides who decides on who gets what?” continued the irate Prince. 

“The treasures of Weselton have all been accounted for and their values assessed.  Each nation gets a share of compensation based on the value of their declared losses as a result of Weselton’s aggression,” Queen Constanza answered in an even tone though I can tell she was getting exasperated with the argument. 

“And pray tell me who made such assessments?” Prince Karl challenged. 

“The Weselton provisional government—”

“The Weselton provisional government, which is headed by citizens of Glowerhaven,” Prince Karl cut her off.  “Is it not a coincidence that they seem to be getting the lion’s share of the compensation for this?”

Of course Glowerhaven would be entitled to bigger compensation.  Their entire nation was reduced to destitution after Weselton occupied them.  I wanted to scream that out, but I held my tongue.

“Karl, if I may—” Prince Heinrik moved to interfere but Prince Karl seemed beyond caring. 

“Well I demand a re-assessment!” he shouted.

From the expression on people’s faces from the various contingents they were all groaning in silence.  Re-assessing the value of the Weselton treasures would probably take weeks which meant this supposedly two-week conference was going to go on a lot longer than we expected.

Queen Rapunzel got up from her seat as she addressed the crowd.  “If I may, your highnesses, a reassessment at this point is both inconvenient and unnecessary.  The assessments have already been made clear over the last six months and they were witnessed by representatives from various nations.  None at the time raised the concern that the valuations have ever been done incorrectly or with disparity.  My husband was present as the representative for Corona when the assessments began and he assures me a Gormund representative was present the whole time and made no protest.”  She paused and directed her address to our section.  “Admiral Hans Westergard?”

“Yes, your majesty?” he replied.

“After the Coronan contingent left Weselton, the Arendelle representatives returned to Weselton and witnessed the assessments.  May I know how it fared?”

Admiral Westergard stood up and bowed to the Coronan queen before replying.  “The assessments proceeded with all efficiency and were witnessed not only by myself several times but also by the representatives from other nations.” He stopped and eyed the Gormund Prince with a knowing smile.  “His highness has a rather good eye for fine things and often expressed his admiration for quite a number of objects when it was being taken out of the Weselton vaults and assessed for value.” 

Prince Karl glared at Admiral Westergard as if he wanted to murder him right there.  Admiral Westergard’s cheerful countenance didn’t hide the fact that he made a clear point:  Gormund had all the time in the world to protest when the valuation was being done but said nothing.

“I was not present when this damaged rug was assessed.  For all I know this isn’t worth anything!” His argument was feebly stated but it still irked me.  It annoyed my aunt even more for I could see little snowflakes beginning to appear around her head. 

Before I can say anything to her she dissipated the snowflakes and stood up.

“Prince Karl, would you consider a trade then?” her voice was calm but there was an edge to it. 

“What kind of trade?” the Gormund prince asked.

“I’ll take the carpet in exchange for a sixteenth century French painting Arendelle will receive.”  She mentioned the lot number of the painting and Prince Karl’s demeanor suddenly brightened.  I can tell he was trying without success to hide his glee.

“I think that would be acceptable,” he replied.

“Good,” Aunt said.  “Now can we move on to other matters?”

“Yes,” replied Prince Karl.  “I agree I would like to bring forth the matter regarding the provisional government that currently rules Weselton.”

Queen Rapunzel made a gesture to stop him and to my relief he did.

“Yes, that matter of importance will be discussed by tomorrow at it is rather late.  I move that the conference be adjourned for the day.”

Several representatives from various nations including my aunt and surprisingly even Prince Heinrik seconded it immediately.  Prince Karl scowled but made no further protest.  I knew he was about to make the move to contest Queen Constanza’s son’s claim governing Weselton and its citizens.   I knew this would come eventually but I was glad to put it off at least for another day.  Especially since my aunt’s patience was already stretched thin at the moment.

“Very well,” Queen Rapunzel continued.  “If the majority is of agreement, the conference proceedings are suspended until nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”

There was a noticeable air of relief in the room.  Everyone seemed eager to leave the grand chambers after a tedious session.  I noticed that Prince Heinrik made his way next to the Gormund prince and his expression indicated he was not pleased with Prince Karl.  I had no time to observe them further for Aunt Elsa strode out the halls and didn't stop to wait for me.  Admiral Westergard and I glanced at each other and wordlessly followed her. 

Once she reached the castle doors, she half-ran out.  Admiral Westergard signaled to one of the Coronan guards on standby that we didn’t need a security detail and chased after her.  I followed behind.  She kept running until she reached one of the secluded castle gardens. It was a rather picturesque little place with several fountains, flowering plants and various statues that represented famous Greek gods, goddesses and other mythical creatures.  I barely had a moment to admire the beautiful sculptures when my aunt unleashed a localized ice storm that covered everything in a blanket of snow within seconds.

I was surprised at the extent of her temper. As the cold didn't bother me I decided to keep Aunt Elsa company to ensure she didn't do anything rash.    What surprised me was that Admiral Westergard also stayed despite the freezing temperature.  He stood shivering at one corner and silently watched my aunt kill off the foliage prematurely with her powers.  She went on it for several minutes until she was exhausted.  She let herself collapse on her back on the mounds of snowy powder she created.  It was only then that Admiral Westergard dared approach her.

"Is it off your system now?" he asked.

She stared back at him while heaving deep breaths.  "Maybe a little."

He quickly stepped back and put his hands in front of him in a gesture of pretend fear.  "Call me back when you're sure."

My aunt snickered.  "I am now." She sat up and dusted the snow off her hair and clothes. 

"Good."  He offered a hand up to her.  "Now that you've satisfied your frost lust, care for a listening ear?"

“Sure,” she replied as she accepted his hand to pull her up.  “Just don’t start with me about making a bad exchange of that painting for a carpet.”

“I’m not going to say anything bad about you for that” he said.  “I thought it was a brilliant move to shut Prince Karl up and get this over with.   You may not realize it Elsa, but you just accomplished something today that can help us in the near future.”

My aunt gave him a puzzled frown.  “What do you mean?”

Admiral Westergard gave her a lopsided grin.  “I have a confession to make.” He looked around at the frost-covered garden.  “But before I do, you may want to release ancient Greece from the ice age first.  I think the Muses behind you are not amused.”  He pointed to the statues of five Greek Muses that stood in various poses behind my aunt that were currently half-buried in snowy powder.

Aunt Elsa raised an eyebrow at him.  “Is it really the Muses you’re concerned with?  Or are you afraid I would unleash my frost lust on you when you tell me what you just did...”  Her cheeks suddenly turned red as she seemed to realize how that last statement could be horribly misconstrued. “I didn’t mean…”

Admiral Westergard looked taken aback and a split-second smile grazed his lips but he quickly schooled his features to give her a poker face.  “Didn’t mean what?” he asked evenly. 

“Nothing… never mind.” She shook her head and refused to meet his eyes. “I mean, you’re right, the Muses do look annoyed,” she said with a forced laugh.   She raised her arms and thawed the entire garden.  Once everything was back to normal, my aunt casually sat on the ledge of a water lily-filled fountain and invited us to do the same.  Admiral Westergard sat next to her while I sat across.

“Don’t be too mad alright,” he began.   “But Eugene, Constanza and I conspired to assign that carpet to Prince Karl to annoy him.”

“You did what?!” my aunt exclaimed as she slapped his shoulder hard that Admiral Westergard winced.  “I can’t believe you!  We wasted an entire afternoon fighting over that stupid carpet!  It got on everybody’s nerves!”

“Which is exactly the effect we wanted to get on everyone, most specially the other representatives who are looking to ally with Prince Karl,” Admiral Westergard replied as he rubbed his injured shoulder.   “Don’t you see, by giving him that carpet, we provoked Prince Karl to throw a tantrum that would show what he truly is—a greedy bastard who his potential allies should be wary of.  It’s a subtle way to break down his integrity so when he proposes to challenge Constanza’s right to govern Weselton tomorrow, the other nations would think twice about handling the reign of power to him easily.  We may even get them on our side yet.  Constanza and Eugene planned to eventually do what you just did and offer to take the carpet to end the matter but you managed to beat them out of it.”

Aunt Elsa scowled at him.  “You mean to tell me I exchanged a sixteenth century French painting for a worthless rug when I didn’t have to?!”

“It isn’t exactly worthless,” he reasoned.   “It’s still a fourteenth century antique.   Besides what do you need another painting for?  You have dozens back home.  And offering to take the rug earned Arendelle plus points in the eyes of the other representatives who I’m sure were grateful to you for ending that argument.”

My aunt gritted her teeth and I can sense she was about to unleash another ice storm.  If I didn’t do something soon, it won’t be just the statues of the Muses who will end up buried in a foot high of snow.  I wasn’t in the mood to dig out my commanding officer out of an ice trench.

“I liked the carpet Aunt Elsa,” I said.  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep it.”

“It’s not meant for us to keep, Fredrik.  It’s meant to pay for damages to some of our merchants who lost their goods when the Weselton pirates attacked.”  She paused as she noticed the puppy dog eyes I gave her.  I haven’t used that in a long time but it was the expression I wore when I wanted something from my parents.  It worked like a charm and her features softened. 

“Alright, if you like it that much, it’s yours.  I’ll just pay the equivalent fair market value to the merchants from my personal funds.  It will save me the trouble of looking for a buyer.”

“Thanks Aunt Elsa.”

“Thanks Elsa,” Admiral Westergard echoed although I knew his gratitude was directed at me.

“Next time you want to push people’s buttons, Hans I’d prefer if you let me in on it so I don’t end up unwittingly bartering for things I don’t need.”

“Okay, I’m sorry,” he replied with a contrite face. “I promise I won’t do that again to you.”

“Sure, I believe you,” she said sarcastically.  “Next time you’ll just do something worse.”

He gave her an uncomfortable smile.  “Then I apologize in advance for whatever that may be.”  He plucked a nearby pink blossom and handed it to her.  “For now, may I offer a truce?”

Aunt Elsa gave a resigned sigh.  “Truce it is.”  A mischievous smile lit her face.    “Although I have to admit, it was rather fun messing with Prince Karl that way.  He’s such a prick.”

“It doesn’t hurt.  That sniveling spoiled brat hasn’t changed a bit in years.   He’s still motivated by greed and that will be our weapon against him.  It’s not a big thing that happened today but it’s a start.  We just need to keep it up.”  He turned to me.  “Lesson for you Fredrik:  When faced with a stone block sometimes it’s best to chip away little by little than attempt to break it by pounding it with full force.  The lesser effort for the same results is always the best recourse.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said.

“Is that your Westergard wisdom for destroying enemies?” Aunt Elsa asked.

“Something like that, yes,” he replied.  “Care to help me tonight chip at the stone some more?”

My aunt gave him a sly smile.  “What do you have in mind?”

“No annoying princes.  This time, it takes charm.  I’ve got a dinner party invitation with the Antalonan contingent tonight. Come with me?”

I didn’t have to ask him how he got an invitation to that dinner party.  Ever since the conference resumed with tighter security measures, the in-between session meal breaks and dinner parties were the only time informal trading talks with the various representatives from other nations could be conducted.  Every night there was always a party to be attended to or a meeting in one of the designated public secure areas.  I joined these gatherings nightly and learned much could be accomplished over food and drinks.    Over the course of just a few days we already secured a few trading deals with Condor, Tastris, Madinova, and a few duchies in the region. 

While my aunt did the upfront negotiations with the heads of state or the trade ministers, her entourage worked their way across the room and helped in securing deals from the sidelines.  Admiral Westergard in particular had a way of encouraging the deals by appealing to the wives and daughters of the same ministers from behind the scenes.  The man could romance a woman and get her to do favors without compromising himself.   Just like at home, women found him irresistible.  If it weren't for the absence of a royal status, he was probably the most sought after bachelor in Corona and he was getting invitations left and right. 

My aunt rolled her eyes.  “The Antalonans are known to love to dance.   There will certainly be dancing after dinner.   But if we need an alliance to help us in the future against Gormund, I guess we can sacrifice my toes for one night.  Care to join us Fredrik?”

“Errr… ” I muttered.  I knew if I joined I would be forced to dance with Countess Eiwina, Duke Eivind’s teenage daughter who was always sneaking up on me with her group of giggling ladies every chance they got.   I could barely stand them.

“Oh let him rest for the evening, Elsa.  He’s been out with us every night.  I think he deserves a break.  We’ll take Berg and Hensen with us.  Albert and Anja might also want to come.” 

I realized he was paying me back for the way I saved him from my aunt’s wrath.

“Very well, you can sit this one out Fredrik.  Get some early sleep,” my aunt said as she stood up.  “Come on let’s get that carpet.   Let’s see if it’s worth the painting I traded it off for.”

“I’ll get it for you, Aunt Elsa,” I volunteered.  “You should head back so you’ll have time to freshen up for dinner.”

“Thanks Fredrik.”

I went ahead but when I looked back I noticed Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard lingered at a more casual pace together.   They seemed quite absorbed with each other that my aunt didn’t notice a ledge near a cluster of marble figures.  She tripped over a ledge.  She tried to regain her balance by stepping backwards which resulted with her back colliding with a nearby statue.    

“Owww!” I heard her cry out as she jumped forward on the impulse.  It sent her crashing into Admiral Westergard’s chest.

“Are you alright?” he asked as he held her by the waist.

My aunt didn’t reply.  She was too busy gazing up at him and he seemed just as absorbed with her for a long moment.  But then she shook her head and pushed herself away from him.  She turned around to see what struck her.  It turned out to be a marble sculpture of an old bearded man with a large nose dressed in a diaper and carrying a bow like Eros on a pedestal.  Apparently my aunt got pricked on the back by the statue’s little arrow.  She glared at it and covered it with frost.  “Stupid… cupid,” she muttered.  “It’s really ugly too.  What was Rapunzel thinking when she put this in?”

“I bet Eugene put that in.  That man has a crazy sense of humor.”

I wanted to hear her reply but I was suddenly grabbed by the back collar of my shirt and yanked towards a nearby bush.  For a split second I panicked and almost caused snowflakes to erupt.  But I recognized the familiar voice.

“Hey Fredrik!”

“Peter! What are you doing?”

“Trying to get away from these guards my parents put all over the place.  I can’t even wander around my own home without some idiot guard in the near vicinity!  I’m glad I finally caught you between conference proceedings and meetings.” 

I looked back to check my aunt and Admiral Westergard but they had moved on out of sight.  There was a guard wandering nearby and before I could say anything Peter pulled me towards the screen of a marble structure that was made to resemble a miniature Grecian temple at the corner of the garden.  He only let go of me when we were safely hidden behind one of the massive Ionian columns.

“Where have you been all week?” I asked him.

“My parents are keeping me, Flynnigan and my sisters grounded in our private wing and we’re not allowed to go anywhere outside without a guard nearby.  I don’t know what the fuss is all about.  It’s not like any of us was the target of that stupid assassination.  I just managed to distract my guard today so I got away.”

I knew I shouldn’t be asking this, but my curiosity was getting to me.  “What do you know about that assassination?”

He just shrugged.  “Who knows?  But I agree with most people.  It’s probably King Sigurd who masterminded it to do his brother in.  Stupid king had to do it in the middle of the conference.  If it weren’t for his failed attempt, I would be free as a bird to go about as I liked and not have to sneak around.”

He sounded genuinely ignorant about it, but I knew he was also a smooth liar.    He might be keen on not letting me know what he knew.  But I decided to keep talking.   Maybe he would reveal something without realizing it.

“So what do you want with me?” I asked.

“I need a favor,” he said.

“What kind of favor?”

“I hear you can make things with your ice powers,” he explained.  “I need you to make something for me.  Can you make a little ice stone that can look like jewel? Something like this?”  He took a piece of broken earthenware pottery and used it like chalk to draw something on the pristine white marble column.

“What are you doing?  You’re vandalizing your mother’s column!”

“Relax Fredrik, it’s my column too and I can always rub it off later,” he said without even looking up.  He drew a small oval object about two inches in width and three inches in height that ended with a pointed tip on one side.   “And can you make it last for a long time as a solid?”

“Why? What is this for?”

“Just answer the question,” he insisted. “Can you? And if you can, how long can it last as a solid?”

“Yes, I can make one.”  I held out my left hand palm up and made a gesture with my right hand on top of it.  A jewel made of ice formed on my palm.

“Wow!” Peter said with clear admiration. “Hey, can you make it a lot more sparkly—like a diamond?”

I added a bit of shimmer to my ice. 

“That’s it, it’s perfect!  Now how long can it last?”

“It’s not going to last forever but I made it strong enough it can withstand a few days, provided you don’t put it out in the sun or near a flame.  Now I’ve answered your questions, you haven’t answered mine.  What is this for?”

Peter looked uncomfortable.  “It’s errr… a gift…?”

“A gift for whom?”

I can tell Peter didn’t want to say.  I let the ice stone melt in my hand.

“Wait!  It’s for a girl okay!” he exclaimed.

I reformed the ice jewel.  “Oh,” I didn’t expect that.  I suppose Peter was trying to court a girl he really liked and wanted to impress her.  I could relate somehow.   “Well maybe she would appreciate something more decorative.”  I reformed the ice stone into a rose.  “How about this one?”

“Errr… no not really.”

“She doesn’t like roses, huh? How about this one?”  I changed it into the golden flower of Corona.  “It gives off a patriotic vibe.”

“Uhhhmmm… no flowers.”

“Oh, well how about a puppy then?” I changed it to a tiny snowdog.  “Or maybe she’s a cat person.”  I reformed it as a snowkitten.  I even added some ice whiskers.

“Fredrik, that’s really nice of you, but I think I’ll stick to the jewel.”

“Okay fine, if that’s what she likes.”  I reshaped the cat back to the little ice stone.  I wrapped it in my handkerchief and gave it to him.  “Here, keep it someplace cool until you’re ready to give it to her.  Good luck on the girl.”

“Thanks Fredrik, I owe you one.”

A playful thought entered my mind.  “Well you can pay me back by telling me something.”

“What?” he asked.

I decided to keep the question subtle.  “Just curious, where did you come from the night of the assassination attempt when I met you in corridor?  You looked like you ran a mile.”

Peter gave me a puzzled expression. “What are you talking about?”

I decided to push on with the question.  “Remember I met you at the corridor while General Sauer and Lt. Pfeiffer were escorting me back to our wing.  You barely said a word to me and you asked Lt. Pfeiffer to escort you back to your father.”

Peter looked even more confused.  “I have no idea what you mean.  We never met that night.  After you left the Snuggly Duckling, I stayed on and played a few card games with some new friends.  I headed to the docks with them and I remained there for hours.  I didn’t come back to the castle until almost dawn.  I didn’t even use the corridors. I snuck back in through one of the castle’s secret passageways.”

“But I saw you there!” I insisted.  “You even acknowledged me.”

Peter kept shaking his head in denial.  If he was lying he was putting on a very convincing act.

“I swear Fredrik I didn’t meet you that night.  Maybe it was Flynnigan you met.”

“Flynnigan?” I repeated.

“My oh-so-perfect-can’t-do-wrong-twin who just happens to look exactly like me,” Peter said condescendingly.  “People do mistake us for each other all the time.  Sometimes, even our parents can’t tell us apart.”

My jaw dropped open as it sank in.  Why didn’t I think of it before?  That’s the reason Peter was acting odd when I met him that night.  It wasn’t Peter in the corridor.  It was Flynnigan! 

But why did Flynnigan say he was Peter when General Sauer asked?

The realization struck me like lightning: because he didn’t want anyone to know he was in the corridor that night.  If anyone asked, three witnesses could attest Peter was there but not him. 

Flynnigan was covering his tracks and used his identical twin to do it.  And I wondered just how close those tracks led to the assassination attempt.

Chapter Text

“Prince Fredrik and Prince… Peter?” a Coronan guard came over to where we were standing and interrupted my train of thought.

Peter gave me a sly smile.  “I’m Flynn,” he told the guard.

“Of course, Prince Flynnigan,” the guard replied.  “Your parents have instructions not to leave you alone unescorted.  May I take you and Prince Fredrik back to the castle?”

“Of course,” Peter replied and walked with them.  He allowed the guard to move a bit of a distance from us before he whispered to me.  “See? That guard’s been around since way before I was born.  Up to now, he still can’t tell me apart from Flynn.  They just believe who we say we are.”

He was right.  The way the guards just accepted his statement made it so easy to deceive them. 

“Flynnigan and I have been doing that for years,” Peter continued.   “And they still haven’t caught on… Well at least I’ve been doing it.  Flynn stopped pretending a few years ago when he started getting all boring and serious.  But when we were younger, we were a riot together.   You know, one time we pretended to be each other for three whole weeks.  My mother sent me and Papa to the Southern Isles to meet this princess I was supposed to marry.  I didn’t want to go so Flynn and I switched places.  My parents didn’t even suspect a thing.  You can’t imagine how many pranks I pulled off on the servants in those three weeks.  They thought I was abroad so I messed with their heads in the most creative ways.  I never got blamed for any of it because they thought I was Flynnigan and nobody really suspects the ‘good twin’…”

He went on and on and about his adventures but I blocked him out as I remembered what Lt. Pfeiffer said about that journey: how well behaved Peter was in those three weeks.  Well there was the answer.  It was Flynnigan who spent time in the Southern Isles court. 

“And you know what the best part was?” Peter continued gleefully.  “Until now my parents haven’t figured it out it wasn’t me who went on that trip.  My brother wrote letters to that princess for years just to keep the appearance that we were corresponding.  Lucky for me she died last year or I would probably be engaged to her by now. ”

We reached the castle where three more Coronan guards were waiting to escort us to our respective apartments located on opposite directions.  

“See you around Fredrik,” he said before he dropped his voice so only I can hear.  “Don’t tell my parents about what I just said, okay?”

“I won’t,” I replied.  I half-muttered a goodbye and barely registered that he departed with his own escort.  I was too caught in the number of possibilities of this new information.  If Flynnigan spent time at the Southern Isles at one point, was this somehow linked to the assassination attempt on Prince Heinrik?  My speculations kept my mind busy that I was halfway back to the Arandelle wing before I remembered I was supposed to get the carpet.

“Oh excuse me Sir, I need to get back to the grand chamber to pick up an antique carpet for Arendelle,” I told my escort.

“It’s alright your highness,” the guard replied.  “We can have it sent over to your room later.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Just leave it at my aunt’s sitting room.  She’ll be out for the evening with the Antalonans.”     

I stopped by Aunt Elsa’s room first to say good night.  Lady Anja opened the door for me.  She was dressed in a formal pink gown and looked ready to join my aunt for the Antalonan dinner party.

“You look great,” I told her.

“Thanks Prince Fredrik,” she replied cheerfully.  “The Queen will be out in a moment.”

“Does this look okay?” Aunt Elsa emerged from her bed chamber in a midnight blue gown that was almost black.  Her arms and shoulders were bare and her bodice with a sweetheart neckline clung to her little frame and extended down into the body hugging skirt that fell below her ankles.  The slit on the dress up to her knee showed off her legs perfectly while her signature ice crystals that decorated her hair and her entire dress made her sparkle with every move.  She was perfect the way she was but based on her tone, she was a bit unsure of herself.  It was something I was used to hearing from my mother but never with my aunt for she was always confident in the way she looked.  “I don’t often wear things too dark but I just wanted to experiment a bit.”

“I think it’s beautiful, your majesty, very elegant,” Lady Anja praised.  “You’ll have scores of suitors fighting to fill up your dance card the whole night.  Maybe you’ll even receive another marriage proposal.”

“Oh I don’t want that,” my aunt said.  “This is a business dinner and I don’t want to get distracted by another proposal.”

“How many is it now, your majesty?” Lady Anja teased.

“Four since we arrived in Corona,” my aunt pouted.  “You’re right, I should change it.  It attracts too much attention and I don’t want Duke Eivind’s nephew getting any ideas.  He’s been eyeing me for days now.  He might just propose tonight.” 

“No, don’t!” Lady Anja protested before my aunt could raise her arms to alter her dress with her magic.  “The gown’s perfect as it is.   Your majesty is breathtaking in anything you wear and changing the gown won’t stop him if he’s determined.  It hasn’t stopped the last four, hasn’t it?”

I agreed with Lady Anja.  My aunt was the center of attention in any room she walked in.  Men always found her fascinating for both her ice powers and natural charms.  She has received more marriage proposals in her lifetime than I can count but somehow she always manages to turn them down with grace and without offending the other party.  I suppose it came with practice over the years. 

There was a soft knock on the door and I answered it.  Admiral Westergard and Albert stood outside in their formal dress uniforms with the Coronan security detail behind them.

“If her majesty is read—?” Admiral Westergard’s question died on his lips as his gaze focused behind me.  A fascinated expression etched on his face.  I had never seen him look so utterly bewildered.  I didn’t need to turn to know it wasn’t the ornate Coronan sitting room furnishings that caught his eye.

He crossed the threshold but kept silent as he stared at my aunt for a long time.  Aunt Elsa did not acknowledge him or meet his gaze but the coloring on her cheeks betrayed that she was aware of his attention.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed it for Lady Anja’s eyes shifted between them with a knowing smile on her lips.   

“Is her majesty and her lady ready?” Lord Hensen’s voice wafted from outside the door.

“Yes, Lord Hensen,” my aunt replied quickly.  “Thank you for coming to get us.”  She paused by me and whispered goodnight and a reminder for me to get some early sleep.  She then offered her arm to Lord Hensen.  

I watched the little party walk down the corridor together.  My aunt chatted animatedly with Lords Hensen and Berg on last minute strategies that needed to be done tonight to seal a few trading deals.  But I noticed her sneaking occasional glances back at her Admiral.  Her admirer was unusually silent and walked a few paces behind but his eyes never left her.  As they disappeared down the corridor, I hoped that Admiral Westergard wouldn’t be too distracted by my aunt during the party to work on his own business proposals tonight with the Antalonans.

I had a quick supper with some of the remaining members of our contingent before I retired to bed.  The consecutive nights of dinner parties and late meetings must have taken a toll on me for I fell asleep almost immediately.

I was aware I was dreaming when the image of the Greek garden came in my vision.  It was nighttime but the light of a full moon brightened the entire garden.  I saw Aunt Elsa sitting alone by the water-lily fountain with a pink blossom in her hand and a worried expression on her face. 

Suddenly, the statues of the five Muses came to life and they began singing and dancing around my aunt.  I couldn’t discern what they were saying though their beat was rather catchy that it made me feel like singing along.   But instead of amusing my aunt, she seemed bothered by them, angered even.

“I’m not saying it!  I made a promise and I’m keeping it.  So get off my case!” Aunt Elsa shouted. 

She tossed the blossom and ran away from the Muses but they kept chasing her, tormenting her through song.  She tried to avoid them by hopping across the water-lily fountain.  She used her ice magic to create stepping stones on the water.   When she was about to reach the other end of the fountain, she tripped on the last ice stone she made.  She wobbled and desperately grabbed on to the nearest Greek statue for balance.  I remembered a sculpture of Hercules was poised at the edge of the fountain, but to my surprise the figure Aunt Elsa held on to was that of white marble carving in the likeness of Admiral Westergard.  My aunt stared at it lovingly for a moment before she realized what she was doing.  She quickly turned away from the statue with a blush on her cheeks.

She sat down at the edge of the fountain just as the Muses pushed towards her hand the same pink blossom Admiral Westergard gave her this evening.  She pressed it against her heart as she lay down on the fountain ledge with a content smile.

I jolted awake. I didn’t need a dream of Muses to tell me what feelings were developing between Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard.   And although I was still partly concerned about his intentions, a nagging feeling told me his affections towards her were real. I wished with all my might that it was so.  My aunt deserved to be loved by a man worthy of her.

I reached for my pocket watch on my bedside table.  It told me it was past one in the morning.  Albert was slumbering in the bed next to mine so I knew they had returned some time ago from the dinner party.  I tried to get back to sleep but I couldn’t.  I got up and decided to get something to read.  I wanted to take up Admiral Rochport’s journal again but I realized I left it at my aunt’s sitting room.  That would be no problem since my room was next to hers and there was a side door that connected our sitting rooms together.  I can just come by and grab the journal without needing to knock and wake her.

I found her room empty as expected.  As I searched for the journal, I noticed a new addition to the furnishings.  The carpet my aunt traded was placed on one of the low tables, still encased in glass.  The Coronan guards must have delivered it sometime in the night.  I decided to take a first look at it and gently removed it from the glass.  I didn’t know why but seeing it in that case gave me the impression the carpet was being held as a prisoner in it.

The carpet was truly a beauty to behold despite its burn damages.  And when I touched it, it felt so soft on my fingertips.  I placed it on the floor to admire it further when it rolled on itself.  It must be just my imagination but I felt as if the carpet was attempting to relax after being stretched out in that glass too long.  I reached out to unravel it but it rolled away from me.

I shook my head and blinked my eyes.  I must have accidentally pushed it without realizing.  I reached for it a second time, but it rolled away again on its own.  It continued rolling until it hit the slightly open door of my aunt’s bedroom.  The movement of the carpet caused the door to open even further and I saw immediately that my aunt wasn’t in bed.  I entered her room and found it completely empty.  Her neat bedspread showed no indication that she was ever on it.

Where can she be at this hour?   I looked around the room for any clues and my eyes fell on one of the window panes.  There were remnants of frost here, but only on the bottom ledge.   I’ve made enough previous escape attempts as a child to know my aunt created a spiral staircase of her own so she can get out of her room though the window to avoid the guarded corridors.  Based on the remaining icicles that were just starting to melt, my aunt hadn’t been gone long.   I pictured her sneaking out for a romantic rendezvous with Admiral Westergard.  After witnessing their covert glances and light flirtation over the last few days, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start having a secret affair.  One way to find out was to check on Admiral Westergard himself.  I moved to the door but stopped as I caught a movement in the sitting room.  Did the carpet just…?

I never got to finish the thought as the carpet moved in a completely vertical position and tried to bolt pass me. 

The carpet! It was alive!

I screamed and dove for cover behind a writing desk then built an icy fortress around myself.  The carpet, on the other hand scampered backwards as if it too was surprised.

“D-don’t come any closer or I’ll freeze you!” I warned the strange object. 

To my astonishment it obeyed and hid behind a large couch.  I waited for it to make a move.  After a few seconds, it tried to peer at me before it hid behind the furniture again.  I noticed it seemed to be trembling.  I realized it was just as frightened of me as I was of it.  I slowly thawed my ice fortress and got out of my hiding place.

“Uhhhmmm… it’s okay.  I’m not going to hurt you,” I said calmly.  I was rewarded by another longer peek and I can tell the object was assessing if I was telling the truth.

“Fredrik, are you alright?  I heard you scream,” Albert’s voice came followed by his appearance through the adjoining side door.  The carpet quickly hid back again at the disruption.

“Ssshhh,” I said with a gesture to Albert to move towards me.  My friend sensed something was up and quickly joined me.

“What’s going on?” he whispered.

“The carpet my aunt got from Weselton is alive,” I told him.  “It’s hiding behind the couch.”

Albert’s eyes grew wide but he didn’t say anything.

“It’s okay,” I said to the carpet.  “It’s just my friend Albert.  We won’t hurt you if you won’t hurt us.”

The carpet peeked again then ducked behind quickly.  It repeated the gesture as if it was observing myself and Albert.  After several attempts, I was beginning to feel comfortable that the object truly meant no harm and was simply curious.

“Wait, where’s the Queen and Admiral Westergard?” Albert asked.

“They’re not here,” I replied without taking my eyes off the couch where the carpet continued to peek in and out from.

“What?” Albert gasped.  “But they’re supposed to.  I mean I asked the guards outside before I came here when I heard you.  They said both Queen Elsa and Admiral Westergard came in this room after we returned from the party and neither has left it since.  The guards were even wondering why the Admiral hasn’t left her room for hours and they figured he and the Queen were…” He stopped when I eyed him a warning.  He had the grace to blush.  “Sorry, never mind.”

I was saved the trouble of answering by another peek from the carpet.  It inched out of its hiding place and looked ready to greet us.

“You don’t think the carpet ate them, do you?”  Albert speculated.

The grisly idea made me shudder for a moment.   But then I remembered the frost on the pane and that assured me. 

“No,” I replied.  “The carpet didn’t eat them, my aunt and the Admiral went out using the window.”

The carpet finally got the courage to come out and it walked towards us—or at least made an imitation of walking for it didn’t exactly have any feet.  When it was close enough, it flew on a horizontal position and hovered in front of us at an eye level.

“I know what this is!” Albert said excitedly.  “It’s a magic carpet!  It’s just like the one in the story old Grandma Belle from the Rose Pub tells all the time.”

“What story?” I asked.

“You haven’t heard of that one?” Albert asked.  “Grandma Belle loves to tell it whenever I come by to the Rose Pub with my Papa.  She said it was her favorite story.  It’s the one about the far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells and a street rat named Aladdin who disguises as a prince to win the hand of a princess with the help of a genie and a carpet.”

I shook my head.  I haven’t heard that one yet but I read a collection of stories called ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ and it had several references to a magic carpet.   Clearly those stories had a basis of truth to them for here was proof that such a flying object exists. 

The carpet seemed to understand what Albert said.  It made what looked to be a nodding gesture before it flew around the room as if to show off its capabilities.  We watched it do turns in the air for several minutes before it returned in front of us.  We applauded as it bowed like a theatre actor after a good performance.

“This is amazing Fredrik!” Albert said.  “Maybe we could ride it.”

The carpet responded by morphing its one side into a step ladder.  It was a clear invitation for us to hop in.  

I wasn’t completely convinced but Albert made the decision for me by stepping up and dragging me with him.  The carpet waited for us to get comfortably seated before it slowly lifted us up the air.  It made a few slow turns around the room as if it was letting us get acquainted with the feeling of flying.

I was nervous for the first few minutes but the way the carpet handled us with such gentleness convinced me quickly it had nothing but a kind-hearted soul between its threads.  I gradually let go of my nervousness and the carpet seemed to sense it for it picked up speed made more daring loops around the room.

“Let’s take it for a spin outside?” Albert suggested.

I knew I shouldn’t be leaving the confines of the Arendelle wing without permission but the opportunity was too good to pass up.   Besides, my aunt and Admiral Westergard had not exactly kept to that rule tonight either.

“Alright,” I said.  “Hey carpet, take us out of here.”

The carpet wagged its tassels at us before it zoomed out my aunt’s bedchamber window.   We flew over the Coronan castle towers and past the ship-littered port.   It was here, far away from prying eyes that the carpet really gave us a ride to remember.  It sent us spinning faster and faster to our immense delight.  At one point it even playfully tossed us in the air, allowed us to free fall for several seconds before it caught us before we hit the ground.  It was the most exhilarating ride I’ve ever experienced and Albert and I alternately screamed like mad then laughed to our hearts’ content.

We must have covered miles in our flight for we went beyond Corona, out into the open seas and passed several islands before we decided to head back.  

The return trip was a lot more subdued for I can sense the carpet was tired after such a vigorous flight and Albert was almost asleep.   We flew over the Coronan mainland in silence and the sights no longer seemed as exciting to me the second time around.  My mind was just taking it all in when I spotted something unusual below.  There was a valley formed by natural cliffs and surrounded by thick woods with a waterfall that flowed gracefully on one side and pooled into a stream below.  But what caught my attention was a single tower that rose in the middle of the valley like an imposing needle against the night sky. 

“Hey Albert, look at that!” I nudged my sleeping companion.

“Mmmm… what?” he murmured.

“I think it’s the tower where Queen Rapunzel was originally locked up in.” 

Albert answered with a snore and I just let him be.

“Hey, carpet, do you mind if we take few minutes before heading back to get a closer look?”

The carpet gave me a friendly bump to indicate he agreed then took us down.  I expected the tower to be dark and almost crumbling, but to my surprise there was a light that shone from its top windows.  It was clearly inhabited.   I glimpsed two figures that appeared from a crack among the rocks at one side of the valley.  They made their way slowly towards the tower.  One of the figures was a man carrying a lamp.  The light shone on his face clearly and I recognized Admiral Westergard.  The other figure was in a hooded cloak.  I wondered if it was my aunt and if this was their secret rendezvous place.

I knew I should just leave them alone, but I felt something strange about this.  Admiral Westergard was walking with caution and he had a pistol in his hand while the cloaked figure kept trailing behind him. 

“Get us lower?” I whispered to the carpet who immediately obliged.  

“What’s going on?” Albert asked when we landed on top of a rock cliff where we had a good view of the base of the tower without being seen.  I motioned for him to be quiet and pointed below.  I needed no further explanation.

“Stop! Come no further if you value your life!” a voice shouted from the base of the tower to Admiral Westergard.  The tower cast a long shadow that hid the speaker from sight.  Then I heard the sounds of pistols being cocked and I knew even if I couldn’t see them that there were dozens of men all over the valley with weapons pointed at Admiral Westergard and his cloaked companion.  This was definitely not a romantic meeting.

Admiral Westergard tossed his pistol to the ground but kept his companion behind him.  “I’m now unarmed Sigurd,” he said.  “You can call off your men.”

The sounds of weapons being lowered did not assure me.  My heart was hammering in my chest as a figure emerged into the light.  It was an older man with hair tinged with gray.   He limped as he walked aided by a cane.  The similarity of his features with Admiral Westergard despite the age difference and his obvious poor health convinced me immediately that this was King Sigurd of the Southern Isles.

“I’ve come as you asked Hans.  But no games.  Tell me where they placed her body so I can at least give her a decent burial after the savagery they did to her.”

There was an audible gasp from Admiral Westergard’s companion and the person tore off the cloak to reveal her face in the lamplight.  To my astonishment, it wasn’t Aunt Elsa.  It was Isabel.

“Grandpa!” she cried out.  “It’s me.”

“Brigitta, my child!  You’re alive?!”  King Sigurd uttered before his legs gave way and he fell to this knees.  The girl rushed to him and threw herself into his arms before he could collapse completely to the ground.   He sobbed openly and held her tightly as if his whole world depended only on her.

Chapter Text

Isabel is Brigitta.  Princess Brigitta.  Brigitta Westergard, heir of the Southern Isles.  The princess that was supposed to be dead.

The implications of all this cascaded through my head like an avalanche that it hurt to think.  I could do nothing but watch as the tearful reunion unveiled itself.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  This man, King Sigurd was the one who neglected his youngest brother for so long, took hostage an innocent family and sold my aunt to the enemy.   And yet as I watched him hold his precious grandchild in his arms all I can see was a broken man.

King Sigurd finally pulled her away so he can stare at her face.  He touched her cheek and ran his fingers through her hair as if he was trying to assess her features.  “Oh my child, my child,” he cried.  “Heinrik claimed he had you raped before he had you killed.”

Isabel… or rather Brigitta shook her head.  “I’m alright Grandpapa.  It didn’t happen.  But that monster would have done that to me if Uncle Hans had not taken me away.  He took care of me, kept me safe all this time.”

King Sigurd looked past her and stared at his youngest brother.   “Hans… I… I don’t know how to thank you…  What I did to you, to your Queen… to that family in the Rose Inn… I’m so sorry…”

Admiral Westergard avoided his gaze as if he couldn’t bear to look at him.  “You should be,” he said bitterly. 

“That man… the innkeeper, I know he meant a lot to you… If I could have done things differently…”

“Well you can’t Sigurd, he’s dead!  And nothing in the world can change that,” Admiral Westergard said harshly.  He paused and when he resumed his voice was eerily calm.  “But there is something you can do now.”

“Anything Hans,” King Sigurd replied.  “Whatever it is you want within my power to give, you’ll have it.”

“Well then I want you to sign an armistice with Heinrik to stop this war in the Southern Isles and make a declaration to abdicate the throne a year from now.”

King Sigurd’s expression showed his shock which I knew was similar to my own.   I knew Admiral Westergard wanted to stop the war but I never could have imagined he would go so bold as to demand it from his brother this way.

“Hans,” King Sigurd shook his head.  “That man killed my son, murdered our brothers, raised an insurrection against me, kidnapped my granddaughter and lied to me how she suffered to hurt me.  Ask me anything but I will not hand the Southern Isles to that madman.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Admiral Westergard replied.  “I know of your condition Sigurd.  You won’t survive within a year.   But the people of the Southern Isles need not suffer this prolonged war with your stubbornness to end things with Heinrik in the battlefield.   Call for a ceasefire.  Tell Heinrik you’re willing to reconcile, offer him a pardon and declare than in a year you will peacefully hand over the reign to your legitimate heir.”

Suddenly, it dawned on me what Admiral Westergard’s true plan was.   Prince Heinrik didn’t know Brigitta was still alive.  He would assume that when King Sigurd referred to his “legitimate heir” it would mean him so he would agree to end the war.   This was the secret Admiral Westergard and my aunt had been keeping from me.   Brigitta was the one person standing between Prince Heinrik and throne of the Southern Isles upon King Sigurd’s death and it was important that she remained hidden until the right time.

She was the pawn who was bidding her time… the future queen hiding in plain sight.

The change in King Sigurd’s expression told me he also understood this and a smile lit his face for a moment before it fell again.  He hugged his granddaughter tight to his chest in a gesture of desperation.

“You mean to take Brigitta away again, Hans,” he sobbed.  “You’re going to make her disappear until she’s ready to take my throne to make sure Heinrik doesn’t find out she still exists.”

“I’m sorry Grandpapa,” it was Brigitta who replied as she planted a kiss on his head.  “This is the last time I will see you.  It’s the only way we can end this war without losing more lives.  Our people have suffered enough.  It has to end and we have that responsibility to our people to protect them.  You taught me that.”

“I will do everything I can to ensure Brigitta will succeed you Sigurd,” Admiral Westergard said solemnly.  “And she won’t be alone.  Queen Elsa has agreed to shelter her in Arendelle.  She will be cared for and protected there.  And I’ve formed alliances on her behalf.”

“With whom?”  King Sigurd asked without loosening his hold on Brigitta.

“Aside from Queen Elsa, I’ve spoken to Queen Rapunzel and Prince Eugene of Corona, Queen Constanza of Glowerhaven, King Eric of Tastris and his wife.  They have all agreed to support Brigitta against Heinrik.  King Triton of Atlantica will be arriving in Corona in three days and I got Queen Ariel to set up a meeting with him to help plead our cause.  If it goes well, Brigitta will have another formidable ally on her side.”

Astonishment, admiration and disbelief fought over King Sigurd’s features.  He settled for a bitter laugh as a tear fell down his cheek.  “I have wasted years neglecting you, blaming you, casting you aside and hurting the ones you love.  Why are you doing this for me?”

Admiral Westergard looked like he was having his own internal emotional battle.  He hesitated before he replied.  “Someone wise told me that at one point we just have to stop hurting each other.    There are more important things beyond us and revenge isn’t going to change anything that happened in the past.”  He stopped to stare at the King intently.  “Despite what happened between us, one thing remains unchanged:  You’re still my brother and I chose to forgive you.” 

King Sigurd didn’t reply but the look of regret he shared with his youngest brother conveyed enough.

Admiral Westergard gave his own bitter laugh.  It was strange how his expressions were so similar with King Sigurd’s.  “Besides, your granddaughter is hard to say no to.  She told me quite forcefully that she will become queen one way or another someday.  I could either help her or stand aside as she takes the path to conquest her way.  I believe her, she’s a Westergard through and through.”

King Sigurd held his hand to lovingly caress his granddaughter’s cheek and gave her a sad smile.  “I know.  You’re the strong one, that’s why I named you that way. When the time comes I know you will make me proud.”

Brigitta sobbed and buried her face in her grandfather’s shoulder.  “Oh Grandpa, I thought I could but I haven’t done anything to make you proud lately,” she cried.  “I almost messed everything up.  I thought I could do things on my own.  All it took was one shot.  I hate him so much after what he did to Papa! What he almost did to me!  What he’s doing now to us.  I just wanted it all over so can I come home to you!”

“She’s the assassin!” Albert declared before my mind can make the connection.  A shudder came over me as I realized the truth that this girl, this sweet girl I’ve admired from afar stood at the tower of the Coronan castle that night, pointed an arrow at her uncle and shot it.  The thought was just so unimaginable it sent shivers down my spine.  And yet, I could not blame her after hearing what she went through.

“The Coronan prince stopped her,” Admiral Westergard explained.   “He also helped her escape through the castle’s secret passageways and got her back safely to me in the Arendelle wing before the guards could get to her.”

“Flynnigan’s a good friend,” Brigitta said through her tears.  “He deflected my arrow just in time.  I was so stupid, I was even furious with him for doing it.  But he was right.  I shouldn’t have done that.  Uncle Hans’ plan was already going well and I almost ruined it.”

“I know killing Heinrik might have been the easiest way to end this,” Admiral Westergard said to her.  “But I would hate for you to pave your path to the throne with murder.  I would rather spare your innocence.”

A faint smile grazed King Sigurd’s lips at his words.  Perhaps he was silently agreeing with his youngest brother.  After all, wasn’t he the one who also spared his other brothers from execution even when he had all the reasons and rights to have them killed?

“I will agree to this plan Hans,” King Sigurd said.  “But I can’t just let Heinrik walk away from his crimes.  And if I give him that pardon for his treason against me, I won’t be able to take it back.”

“He’s not getting away,” Admiral Westergard assured.   “Constanza and Eugene have also agreed to help me though their connections to gather evidence and witness testimonies against Heinrik’s murders.  Morten’s and our other brothers’ deaths won’t go unpunished.  Heinrik will have his day in the Southern Isles’ court.”

Brigitta pulled away from her grandfather’s embrace.   “I’ll make sure of it Grandpapa.  He’ll get his justice the right way.  I’ll make him pay for what he did to Papa.  I promise you that.”  She said it with such grim determination and confidence that I was startled.  Gone was her sweet demeanor and it was replaced by a deadly flicker in her eyes that made me think of a combination of a cunning little fox and a wild eagle about to take its prey. This was a completely different side of her I was seeing.  I suddenly understood why Admiral Westergard supported her bid to become queen.

“I have no doubt you will, love,” King Sigurd said affectionately before turning to his brother again.  He reached out one hand in offering and Admiral Westergard took it.  “Thank you for everything you’ve done Hans and for everything you will do for me and Brigitta.  But please, let me have some time with her.  A few hours, let me just talk to her.”

Admiral Westergard nodded.  “Alright, but we need to go back before dawn just to be safe.  I’ll leave you two alone.  I’ll just be in the woods nearby.”

“Yes, please extend my gratitude and my apologies to Queen Elsa.  I’m sure she’s eager for some company for a few hours.”

“How did you…?” Admiral Westergard  began.

“Know that you brought the Snow Queen along as a lookout and back-up tonight?” King Sigurd teased.

Admiral Westergard shook his head.  “Forget about the question, Sigurd.  I remember you have your sneaky little ways.” 

“Not sneaky enough that I didn’t discover about Brigitta until now,” King Sigurd replied.  He put an arm around Brigitta and led her inside the tower which had a door at its base. 

Admiral Westergard walked back the way he came and disappeared behind a cluster of rocks.  I knew my aunt would be there somewhere and I figured they would wait to bring Brigitta back with them.  I stared up the tower and saw a shadow pass into the light at the top window as I knew Brigitta and King Sigurd had entered the room there.   An itching curiosity burned at me to know more about them and I had the method right under my knees. 

“I know what you’re thinking and we shouldn’t,” Albert whispered to me.

I gave him a sly grin and my best friend huffed irritably.  “Fine, so you want to eavesdrop on your lady love and her grandfather? Go ahead.  But don’t involve me.  If you and Carpet here want to do some listening in just leave me here to get some sleep.”

“I’ll do that then,” I replied.

Albert gave me a dumbfounded look that told me he didn’t mean that seriously.  But now that I just took up the suggestion, there was no way he can argue back.  “Just don’t get caught okay,” he said as he stepped off the carpet. 

“I won’t.  I’ll be careful and I’ll come back for you in about… an hour?”

“Thanks,” he said sheepishly and paused before he added:  “Now that we know she’s really a princess, she’s a perfectly good match for you to marry, Fredrik.  But just make sure she’s the one before you commit anything.  I mean we already know she has a murderous streak, who knows what else she’s hiding.”

“Why do you think I’m checking her out?” I said.

“Your way, not mine,” he said then muttered under his breath:  “Geez… there are easier ways to get to know a girl than spying on her.”

“I heard that!” I told him but let it go.  Albert means well but sometimes he was just so irritatingly honest.

The Carpet and I stealthily flew to the tower and landed on the roof.   I found a collapsed part of the ceiling where I could see well into the room below.  It was well-lit and I could see the old faded paintings on the walls and bits of furniture.  King Sigurd and Brigitta sat together on a pair of chairs by a little table in the center of the room and I could hear Brigitta speaking.  She seemed to be in the middle part of a story that begun just moments ago.  The Carpet and I settled into comfortable position and listened to her tale…

They tossed me in a cell in the deepest part of the ship.  As soon as they locked me in, I screamed and banged at the doors, and demanded to be let out. 

“Let me go you filthy monsters!” I cried.  “You have no right to do this to me!  If my Grandpapa finds out what you’ve done, he will have your heads!”

But the men just jeered at me and said something foul.   I glared at each one of them through the little grate near the floor which was the only window in this drafty cell.

“I won’t need Grandpapa to deal with you.  If I get out of here, I can assure you each of you will serve as my targets!  And you won’t be laughing once I’m through with you!”

The men stopped laughing and I felt a surge of satisfaction in knowing they knew my reputation for being a good shot.  But they did not move either to let me out.  A shadow passed and then the familiar face of my treacherous maid Tamarisk appeared.

“It will be a little hard to use your arrows little princess when you’re locked up in that cell.  And your poor dear Grandpapa won’t be any help anymore.  When Prince Heinrik wins this war, Sigurd will be dead just like your father.”

I banged the door hard in my frustration even as I felt the sting of her betrayal.  She was supposed to be my companion in the safehouse away from the city as a precaution when the war broke out.  My family trusted her and instead she led me into this trap.  “I swear I’ll kill you for this!  I trusted you,” I hissed at her.

Tamarisk just gave me a snicker.  I wanted to strike at those leering lips.  I would scratch her eyes out too if I could. 

“What did Heinrik pay you to betray me?” I shouted.  I could no longer bear to call him my uncle after I found out what he did to Papa and how he turned against Grandpapa with his sudden rebellion barely three weeks ago. 

Tamarisk huffed and paraded around like a harlot in front of the men.  “A ladyship in the court of King Heinrik is a good start.  A good marriage will be next.  Maybe I’ll even marry that prince you’ve been writing to for years.  He might not be heir to the throne, but I’m sure he wouldn’t turn down a countess… or maybe I could even be a duchess.  I will certainly look the part as I get the pick of your clothes and jewelry.”

I banged at the door hard and felt pleased to see her momentarily startled.  “You will never be royalty even if Heinrik promised you that.  And Flynnigan will never even consider a whore like you.”

Her face grew red at the word and she came back at me with venom.  “He won’t look at you either once I’m through with you.  King Heinrik only paid me to deliver you to him alive.  Between here and where he is there are a lot of brothels.  How much do you think I can get for selling your virtue?  I’m sure some lecherous pirate will be more than willing to pay handsomely to deflower the princess of the Southern Isles.”

I shouted several invectives at her but she barely heard it for she shut the grill in my face and plunged me in darkness.  For a long time, I screamed at her and banged at the door but there was no answer.  When I grew tired, I sat down on the filthy planks and cried as I’ve never cried before.  For the first time since those guards forced me out of the carriage and brought me to this ship, fear gripped me with such overpowering force that I couldn’t even think of fighting anymore.  I worried about Grandpapa.  Did Heinrik’s forces get to him?  Was he even alive?

I felt so stupid.  I wrote to Flynnigan just days ago that Grandpapa was sending me to a secure location outside the city to keep me safe.  I always gave my letters to Tamarisk to send but apparently she’s been reading them and reporting them to Heinrik.  She probably didn’t even send my final letter to Flynn anymore.  I tried to recall the words of his last letter, the one he sent when I told him I suspected someone close to us was responsible for Papa’s sudden death: “Be careful.   Trust no one and be on the lookout for anything suspicious.” I sobbed as I realized I failed to heed this piece of advice from my dearest friend.

I lost track of the time in that ship.  All I knew was we were sailing in high seas based on the way the vessel rocked.  The grate opened at least once a day and a cup of water and a sordid meal was quietly pushed in towards me.  I refrained from partaking it at first for I feared they were trying to poison me.  But as hours grew, I succumbed to the hunger and forced it down even if it was sickeningly horrible.

It must have been days that I was kept there but I couldn’t tell how long.   But eventually, I got hold of myself.  I thought that no matter what happens I need to survive.  I need to escape this and take back what is mine.  I nursed the anger and it was what kept my sanity intact.  I wasn’t going to die here or let myself be abused.  I’m the future queen, and future queens do not give up.

My cell door opened unexpectedly after days of silence and Tamarisk appeared with a gloat.  “Tonight’s the night you lose your innocence princess and maybe a few bones as well.  I found a brute with a lust for blood to be your first customer.”

I tried to attack her with my bare hands but I underestimated my own body’s weaknesses when two men held me back.  Even so I clawed against them as much as I could. I think I was even able to slightly injure one of them with my nails but one punched me in the stomach and I can do nothing but fall helplessly to the floor.   They tied my hands, gagged my mouth and brought me up the deck.  Even through the pain and humiliation, I held back my tears and tried to discern my surroundings.  The ship was just small and the deck was full of men who leered at me and made snide remarks.   It was still night time and under lamplight, they took me down a busy port.  I was brought to this filthy establishment where men drank at tables while lewd women sat on their laps.  I feared the worst but I didn’t let it show.  I braced myself to fight with whatever I have.  I vowed I will not be raped tonight or any night.

Tamarisk met up with a middle-aged fat woman who seemed to be owner of this horrible establishment.  I saw her receive a bag from the woman which I knew must have contained quite a sum. 

“Here she is,” Tamarisk handed me to the woman as if I was a piece of merchandise. 

The woman grasped my chin and stared at me before she checked my hair.  “She looks authentic enough.”  From her accent, I knew at once we were in the western-most region of the Southern Isles, almost near Weselton.

“She’s the real deal,” Tamarisk said.  “I’m taking her to Prince Heinrik, but he’s given me free reign over her until then.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if she loses her virtue or a few limbs.  He would probably do that to her anyway and let King Sigurd know about it to convince him to step down.”

“So you decided to make yourself a pretty penny yourself out of her, don’t you?” the woman said.   There was no admonition in the way she said it.  I knew this was a person who was willing to conspire with Tamarisk to exploit me.

“No harm in doing so.  I just want her alive after tonight and I’ll be on my way.”

“Well, I already have a customer just for her and he’s willing to pay her price too.”

My heart was pounding in fury over these women.  But I forced myself to calm down.  I knew I had to do something soon.   I stared around me and tried to catch the eyes of anyone who might be able to help.  But the people here were either too drunk or didn’t care for one girl who was obviously being forced against her will.  I knew there would be of no help at all.  Then I saw a man nearby who was getting sick all over the place.  A sudden idea came to me.  Disgusting though it may be, it might buy me some time until I can find another opportunity to escape.   

Without warning I stamped on the foot of my guard and ran.  I knew I couldn’t make it far and so I made a direct beeline into the vomiting man and let myself be covered in his filth.  Before my guards could pull me away I was covered in muck from head to foot.  The woman owner came up to me with angry words and ordered me to be cleaned up. 

I made no resistance when I was handed over to two girls who seemed to be working there.  Even though my bonds and gagged were removed when we entered one of the bathing rooms, I knew I couldn’t get pass the door for there was a guard outside.   I tried to strike up a conversation with the girls while they poured water over my head and scrubbed me with soap but they refused to answer and just looked at me with sad eyes.   However, my constant pleading finally made one—the younger one—speak when her companion momentarily left to get me a fresh dress. 

“Madame said we’re not supposed to talk,” she whispered.  “But are you really the princess, like they say?”

“Yes,” I told her.  “Please, you need to help me.  They’ve taken me against my will.  They’ve hurt me.”

But the girl just gazed away from me.  “We all have been. This war has brought nothing on us but misery.  I used to work at a farm but the soldiers came and they took me and my sisters and brought us here.  I suppose it’s better here than starving in the fields.   They burned our crops too.  If the rest of my family wasn’t killed in the crossfire between the soldiers, they’re probably dead of starvation by now.” 

I was horrified by what she said.  I never knew how the war affected these people.  “Those soldiers who burned your fields and took you here, I’m sure they’re not fighting on King Sigurd’s side,” I defended. 

“It doesn’t matter who they’re fighting for,” she said bitterly.  “They’re all the same.  Soldiers need warm bodies in their bed away from their wives.  They need grain to feed them while they fight.  They’ll take what they can get and it doesn’t matter from whom.”  She looked at me and I can see nothing but loathing in her eyes.  “If you’re really Princess Brigitta why didn’t you tell your grandfather or your uncle to stop this?     You could have settled your differences peacefully.  You didn’t have to involve us in a war!”

I wanted to tell her that this was not my fault, nor was it my grandfather’s and that I was also a victim here.  But the shock of this reality struck me so hard I was speechless.  How many others were suffering like this girl because of this war?  How many of my people were affected by this every day?  For the first time, I felt the weight of what it meant to be queen.  It isn’t enough that I escape this.   I need to live and find a way to stop this war. 

“The man they’re selling you to tonight is a pirate who brings in ammunition to the troops for Prince Heinrik.  He’s gotten rich that way.  He likes to hurt his women.  Try not to cry too much.  He’s pleased with women who have good endurance.  That’s all I can help you with,” she said.

Well I certainly would do more than just not cry.  I’ll find a way to escape him, although I haven’t a clue on how I can do that.

Her companion returned and she went back to being tight-lipped.  The dress she made me wore was so scandalously vulgar I almost shuddered at it.  But I bit back the bile in my throat and put it on without complaint.  I was glad at least it wasn’t restrictive that I can run in it easily should the opportunity arise.

My hands were retied before the guard led me back to the front of the establishment.  When we got there a commotion seemed to have just occurred.   Two men were fighting in the middle of the room and the men around them were egging them on.  There was a sound of gunshots followed by screams.   I tried to use the confusion to escape but my guard caught me firmly by the arm that I couldn’t even move.  He pushed me forward when things cleared and I saw one heavy-set man sprawled on the floor, dead by a gunshot wound.

“You’re in luck princess,” the other woman that helped wash me said snidely.  “He’s the one who’s supposed to take you tonight.  Don’t worry, the Madame will get someone else for you.”

I didn’t hear what else she said for I was focused on the dead figure.  He was an enormous hulk of a man and I knew I couldn’t possibly escape him.  I was so relieved he was dead but apparently I was the only one.  Almost everyone in the establishment went back to doing what they were doing before as if having a dead man on the floor was the most natural thing in the world.  My eyes turned to find one particular tall thin man who stood next to him with a pistol in his hand and his back turned to me.  He was obviously the man’s killer and he casually pocketed the weapon on his odd red coat that matched his equally flamboyant red trousers.  He then hauled the pile of money on the nearby table into a little bag he carried. 

“Why this isn’t nearly enough of what you owe me!” he cursed at the dead man.  He turned around and I could see he was around middle age with dark curly hair and a matching black moustache.  He shouted for the Madame who came over and complained about dead bodies being left on her floor. 

“Did he pay you tonight?” the man demanded from the Madame.

“Yes he did,” the Madame said and she mentioned quite a sum of money.  “But the girl has been paid for and it doesn’t matter if she hasn’t served him yet.”

“Well, I demand you turn over that money to me.  He owes me that much and since the girl hasn’t been touched yet, you can consider it a refund for him.”

“No refunds!” the Madame insisted.  “But if you want you can have the girl for tonight.”

“What do I need a girl for?” he said.  “It’s money I need for repairs on my ship.  And why does she cost that much anyway?”

“She’s a princess,” the Madame said.  

The man laughed.  “A princess?   You’re joking.  But even if she was, I wouldn’t pay that much for her.  Now if she was a fairy, I’d pay more than that.”

The Madame’s eyes glazed with greed and she called me to be brought forward. 

“She’s a beauty,” said the Madame as she held me towards him.  “She could be your fairy and I’m sure she can make all your dreams come true.”

He gave a huff but then he took a second look at me and stared hard.  His dark eyes burrowed on to me and a sinister smile came on his lips.   I felt a chill down my spine at his gaze. 

“You’re right. I think she’s worth it.  I’ll take her.  Bring her over to my ship on the Jolly Rodger.”

I felt a surge of hope.  If I was going to be transferred on a ship, there was a chance I could escape on the way or even on the ship itself.  I would even jump over the ship and swim my way if I had to.

“Uh, uh, uh,” the Madame protested.  “No, she serves only here in these rooms and is not to be taken out.  And you can have fun with her all you want but she needs to be kept alive.”

The man complained and said he was not comfortable anywhere but on his ship but the Madame refused to deal.  To my dismay, he relented.

I was brought into one of the upstairs bedrooms and it was only here that my guard let go of me.

“Now you behave yourself,” he warned me. 

I spit into his face.

He grabbed hold of my arm again and twisted it until it hurt that I cried out.  Then he grabbed my chin harshly and poured something on my mouth.  I tried to spit it out but he forced it down my throat.  I struggled against him but I felt myself grow weaker until I knew no more.

I couldn’t remember much of what happened next.  I was vaguely aware of hands lifting my body but my mind was too cloudy to do anything.  I remembered being placed in a small boat.  My hand momentarily touched water before it was lifted back in and tucked in a blanket that covered me from my head to my feet.  And then I was being carried up a rope ladder to a larger ship.  I felt a wooden deck on my bare feet and I remembered being laid out in a bed on a cabin.

I woke to the familiar rocking of a moving ship and for a moment I thought I was back in my dark cell and that the previous adventure into that brothel had been nothing but a nightmare.  But then I found myself in a different cell.  It was small and cramped but I was on a bed that was more or less clean and I was still wearing the same vulgar dress they made me put on.  But I had a warm blanket to cover me at least.

I checked myself out and I didn’t appear to have any bruises and I felt nothing but the pain on my arm where the guard twisted it.  I got up and made for the door.  It was locked as I expected and there was no other way out of this cabin.   Did I escape one prison only to fall to another?

I heard footsteps from the other side and I tried to listen in.  I recognized the voice of the man that took me from the brothel. 

“Take a look at her and decide for yourself if she’s of any value to you.”

“It’s probably just someone who looks like her Crochet,” another man I didn’t recognize replied.  “Heinrik wouldn’t let her go that easily.”

“Well they didn’t exactly let her go easily,” the man called Crochet replied.  “I had to convince them she was servicing me and I kidnapped her from the brothel.  There was a woman that saw me take her and she chased after me with two guards.  They even reached the ship and tried to take her back.  My crew shot them and their bodies are still in the hold.”

The door handle jiggled and I knew they were unlocking it.  There was nothing in the room I could use as a weapon so I decided to just throw the blanket at them and then try to make a run for it.    It wasn’t much but it was the only thing I had.

I braised myself to attack just as the door opened.  The same man at the brothel stood there but it was the other man that made me stop altogether.

It was like seeing a ghost.  For a moment I thought I was looking at Papa.  He had the same hair, green eyes and handsome features.  But then I realized who he was.  This was Hans, my banished granduncle who came just weeks ago to our court with the Snow Queen of Arendelle by his side. 

He stared at me for a long moment and I heard his breath hitch as if he too was also startled at my appearance.

“You’re right Crochet, it is her,” he said.  “And yes, she’s valuable to me.  You’ll have your money.”  Before I could even blink he had a pistol aimed at my head and his next words drained me of any hope of escape.

“It’s worth it to me to see her dead.”

Chapter Text

King Sigurd stopped her tale and held her tight to him as he unabashedly cried into her hair.  “Oh my dear… my dear… what you’ve been through…” he said.  His words dissolved into sobbed whispers that I could no longer discern.  Brigitta whispered something back to him and the tender way she comforted him made me feel awkward at seeing this private moment between them.   I contemplated leaving them alone but then Brigitta spoke again and the topic was something I was infinitely curious to hear more I couldn’t bear to leave.

“Uncle Hans didn’t hurt me Grandpapa.  He wanted to at first but I don’t blame him.  He’s just this poor sad man who has been through a lot.  I’ve lost Papa too and I can understand how he feels.”

King Sigurd pulled away and wiped his tears.  “I’ve hurt Hans for years without realizing it.  I’ve hurt all of them, all my brothers.  Everything that’s happened, everything that happened to you, it’s all been my fault.”

“Not everything’s your fault Grandpapa.   It wasn’t your fault that Heinrik rebelled and had me kidnapped.  He’s just a monster.”

But King Sigurd shook his head.  “Heinrik is indeed a monster, but he’s one that I created.   I may be neglectful of Hans but I did worse with Heinrik.   I was so afraid that my younger brothers would rebel just like Gregor and the other four older ones that I made extra precautions with Heinrik and his succeeding brothers.  Oh my dear, how can you know?  I’ve always treated you and Morten with such love and I’ve kept these things hidden from you.”

“What did you do Grandpa?” Brigitta asked fearfully.

“Heinrik was always the quiet one.  I thought I can make him malleable, be the ally I needed against Gregor.  From the time I became king, I taught him to fear me.  Every move he made, every major decision he had from his studies, to his career even to his bride I chose for him.  I made him my loyal dog but at the same time I let him know that I had nothing but contempt for him.   I ingrained to him that everything he had, he owed to me.  I should have known better.   Morten’s death and all this is his revenge.”  He stopped and held his granddaughter’s face in his hands.  “But tell me honestly, Brigitta, can you trust Hans?  I’m going to put your life and the future of the Southern Isles in his hands. I need to know he won’t take the same path as Heinrik.”

“I trust him Grandpapa.  I know it might not sound like it at first, but a lot of things happened these last few months.”

“Tell me then, tell me everything.”

Brigitta squeezed his hand and spoke again…

My eyes shifted from the barrel of the gun to his eyes.   They were so like Papa’s and yet so different. I could see the pain that flickered in them beyond his rage.  Memories of that evening when I first met him at the palace of the Southern Isles came back to me.  I watched in secret that night as Grandpapa had a family of peasants presented to him in chains with guns pointed at their heads.  The anguish in his voice as he pleaded Grandpapa to leave those people alone rang in my ears.  Grandpapa didn’t show him and the ones he cared for mercy then, why would he show me mercy now?

Tears came down my cheeks as I knew my life was about to end.  I hung my head, and waited for the bullet to strike me.

It never came.  Footsteps moved and then the door of my cabin was shut.  I was left alone but I was more afraid than before.  He didn’t kill me quickly.  Does he mean to torture or rape me first so he can get his revenge?

A few hours went by and I remained alone in the cabin.  I was starving, but I was too frightened to even mind the hunger pains or even the one on my arm which I discovered was sprained from the vicious twisting of the guard at the brothel.

I was startled when the door suddenly flew open and the man called Crochet appeared with a tray of food and a jug of water.

“Move to the corner and don’t try anything funny,” he warned me.  I obeyed for even though he didn’t have a gun with him I knew he could hurt me if he wanted to.  He set down the meal for me then left me alone again.

The food looked decent enough.  It was infinitely better than the meals I’ve been given on the ship by Tamarisk.  There was bread and good cheese and several slices of fruit.  The servings were more than generous and the water was clean.  I ate it cautiously for I was worried it was laced with something harmful.  But it tasted normal and I soon ate every bite and fell asleep after that. 

I woke up to Crochet opening the door.  He dropped off a second meal then left wordlessly. I no longer hesitated in eating it and I felt better after.

The next time the door opened was not long after.  This time it was Hans who entered and I braced myself for his wrath.

“Sit down,” he said to me in a calm voice. 

I obeyed even though my heart was pounding with fear.

“Give me your ring,” he said.

I hesitated.  My ring was an heirloom worn by princesses and past queens of the Southern Isles for generations.  It was a symbol of royalty and my status.  But I didn’t want to anger him further so I slowly slid it off my finger and placed it on the bed where he took it.

“I’m not going to hurt you, but I need to cut off your hair.”

I didn’t understand what this game was but he just looked at me evenly and said in an assuring tone:  “I’m not going to cut all of it, just a few locks.  You can do it yourself if you want.” 

He offered me a pair of scissors.  It was rather blunt, but it was still a weapon.  I stared at it for a moment before meeting his eyes with a silent question on my lips that I didn’t even dare to ask.

“That woman that tried to take you back, she’s dead and so are two of her companions,” he explained without any emotion.  “Crochet just cut off her hand and I need your ring to put on her finger and a few bits of your hair to spread out in a few bloodied sheets and some parts of her to send back to the brothel where you came from.  To her accomplices, you would look like you’re dead in a rather gruesome way and they would inevitably report that back to Heinrik.”

Confusion and horror fought over me.  So Tamarisk was dead and her body mutilated.  I was not sorry that she met that end but I couldn’t understand why Hans wanted Heinrik to think I was her.  “Why are you doing this…?”  I began but he didn’t let me finish.

“Let me make some things clear,” he said harshly.  “To the rest of the world, you’re already dead and it’s going to stay that way so Heinrik won’t come after you again.  I am letting you live and keeping you from harm, which is more than what your grandfather did to the man I consider my father.  But know this: your life as a princess is over.”

I understood what he meant.  He was going to strip me of my identity so I would be safe but I was never to return to the Southern Isles or see Grandpapa again.  I didn’t know if I should be grateful or angry at him.  “Where are you taking me?” I asked.

“I’m taking you back to Weselton for the moment.  My family will take care of you there and will keep you out of sight until I take you home to Arendelle in a few weeks.  Once there, I will give you a new identity.  You would be wise to keep to that identity and to lay low.  If you don’t and if you are found out, I will no longer protect you.  If you try to run or try to hurt me or my family, I won’t hesitate to kill you or turn you over to Heinrik.  Do we understand each other?”

I met his hardened gaze and nodded.  “Yes, I understand and I accept those terms,” I replied sharply.  For now, it would be in my best interests to agree with him to survive.  I’ll wait and observe until I find an opportunity get back.  I will not abandon Grandpapa or the Southern Isles.  I will still be queen someday even if I have to fight my way to get it.  And when I do, Heinrik will pay dearly for what he did.

“Good,” he said.  “Now please, give me a bit of your hair.”

I took the scissors and was about to cut my hair when my arm shot up with pain and I dropped the scissors.  I had forgotten about the sprain.

“You’re hurt,” he gasped.  His tone suggested concern.

“I think it’s just a sprain,” I said as I cradled my hurt arm with my uninjured one.  “One of the guards at the brothel twisted it”

He took my arm and checked it.  I was surprised at the gentleness of his touch.   “It is just a sprain,” he said.  “Nothing appears to be broken.  But it’s best to keep it immobilized and covered until it heals.” 

He brought out his handkerchief and bandaged my arm with it.  When he was assured I was comfortable, he asked permission to cut my hair.  I agreed and he snipped a few of my locks then rose to leave.  Before he left I muttered a thank you to him but he avoided my gaze.

I didn’t see Hans again for the rest of the journey.  I was still confined to the cabin but Crochet brought my meals at regular intervals and his company helped eased the boredom of the long hours.  He was a rather funny man and kept talking about this strange land of eternal youth that can only be reached through flying.  I think he’s a bit insane but I just let him on with his stories.  I made the mistake of telling him a legend I read once about a fairy that encased her magical flying dust in a precious stone kept by the Coronan royal family.  He was greatly interested in that and kept pestering me about it so much it became annoying.  Finally I just told him the one detail I knew that was somehow related to it: Flynnigan said his father once stole the stone but returned it later to his wife.  Flynnigan was probably just joking about it as he said his father was prone to tall tales but at least it satisfied Crochet until the end of our trip.

We didn’t land directly on the port of Weselton.  Crochet dropped me and Hans off on a small boat before we reached the pier.  He rowed us silently to a nearby island where a humble cottage stood in the middle of thick woods.  A family greeted us there.  I recognized them immediately as the same people Grandpapa arrested and held hostage that night he forced the Queen of Arendelle to surrender. 

I couldn’t look at the old woman named Belle in the eye.  I knew it was her husband that died soon after their capture.  She came over to me and I expected to be cursed or slapped at least.  But instead she spoke to me quietly:  “Let’s get you washed and changed into something more decent.”

She led me to the kitchen where a tub filled with water was set and I enjoyed a good wash before she helped me change into a simple light blue dress over a white shirt.  The fashion seemed to have been over half a century out of date but it was comfortable and I thanked her sincerely for it.

I joined the rest of the family for dinner afterwards.  They were a rather large group.  There was Belle, a man in his sixties named Chip, his wife Anabel, their two grown up sons Cogsworth and Lumiere, their wives Madeleine and Patrice, and their little children Babette, Fifi and Philippe.  I kept silent throughout the meal but the rest of the family was quite animated around the table.  The children in particular were pleased that their “dear Uncle Hans" came to visit.  They begged him for stories and he obliged them with tales of adventures with pirates and sailing the seas that even I found fascinating.   As I watched him laugh and play with the children in the small living room where the whole family gathered after dinner, I remembered my own times with Papa when I was younger and it brought tears to my eyes.   I felt a warm hand on my shoulder and there was Belle with a welcoming smile.  I openly sobbed in her arms and she had nothing but gentle words for me.

“I know you’ve lost your family and that can never be replaced.  But you will be safe with ours for as long as you remain here.”

“Why are you kind to me?” I asked her.  “My grandfather had you arrested, threatened to kill you and you lost your husband.”

She just smiled at me.  “It’s not really your fault, isn’t it? And hurting you isn’t going to change anything.  It’s not going to bring my Adam or my former life back.  There are already too many cruelties done in this world between people.  I prefer not to add one more.”

I didn’t know what to say to her and she just let me cry it out. 

They arranged for me to share a room with the children.  They slept easily that night but I tossed and turned for hours but I couldn’t get in any sleep.  Finally, I got up and decided to go for a walk outside to clear my mind.  I was passing by the kitchen window when I overheard Belle and Hans speaking together inside.  I couldn’t help but listen to their conversation.

“I wanted to kill her,” he said.  “She represented everything I lost, everything Sigurd ever took from me, from us.”

I crouched down behind a sack of flour and watched as Belle took his hand.  The gesture communicated support more than words could. 

“But she just looked at me with those eyes,” he continued.  “And all I saw was Isabel.”

“I’m glad you did,” Belle said.  “Isabel would not have wanted you to kill an innocent girl.  It would not have brought you satisfaction, Hans.  You did the right thing.  And you did right by bringing her here.”

“Thank you. I don’t know what else I’d do without your help.  I have to go back on duty in the morning but Lorens or Andersen will be coming over to help watch over her while I’m away.  Will you be alright with her until then?”

“We’ll be fine, Hans.  And so will she.  I’ll help her as much as I can.  You have the mirror and you can check on us at any time.”

He stood and hugged her affectionately.   “I won’t be completely at peace until I get you all home to Arendelle.  Just a few more weeks on this tour of duty and we’ll all go.”

“I look forward to it and to see Elsa again,” replied Belle.  “Have you thought about what identity to give to Brigitta once we integrate back into the public?”

He shook his head.  “I haven’t thought about it yet, but I’ll think of something.” He paused as he seemed to get an idea.  “But I think I want to rename her Isabel.  I need a constant reminder not to kill her.”

“It’s a nice name,” said Belle.  “You think she’ll like it?”

“Just ask her,” Hans replied.  He turned to where I was crouching and called out:  “You can stop sneaking around Brigitta, I know you’re there.”

I was astonished that he knew.  Was I breathing too loud?  But it didn’t matter anymore and I simply came out with my head hung with guilt.  He didn’t even look at me.  He excused himself from Belle and left the room.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Belle.  “I didn’t mean to pry—”

“It’s alright.  Now what do you think of the name Isabel?”

“I think it’s beautiful,” I replied.  I really liked it.   It was the name of a few famous queens in history and I thought I couldn’t have a better name if I had to change mine.  “But I don’t know who is Isabel is.”

“It’s a long story.  But we do have weeks,” she said with her usual smile.

She told me about the little girl named Isabel that Hans befriended once when he had the misfortune to be a slave at one point of his life.  She told me how the girl tragically died but gave him a new lease in life in Arendelle. 

Over the next few weeks as I settled in with their little family, Mama Belle (I learned to call her that before the end of my first evening in their home) told me so many stories about Hans.  With each story I grew to understand him and his past and I couldn’t help but appreciate what he became.   I admired his courage, his resilience and the way he could plan his way out of various difficult situations and emerge on top.  His rise to become Admiral of the country whose queen he once tried to kill was nothing short of brilliant.  But at the same time, I saw how caring he could be to those he loved.  And he loved that little family that he was fiercely protective of them.  I learned this was a man I can trust and that being on his good side could benefit me if I can find a way to get him to trust me.  

My relationships with the rest of the family were a bit awkward at first but they were never unkind.  Eventually I grew to enjoy each member’s company and I even learned with a bit of difficulty to do some chores around the house to help endear me to them.  Uncle Hans (I began calling him that not long after) came by at least once a week whenever he could get away from his duties as Arendelle’s representative in Weselton’s capitol.  But whenever he did, he avoided me and spoke only to the others.  I was on my best behavior to everyone to make sure that I get glowing reports to him.   I made an extra effort to be friendly with Lt. Andersen and Ensign Lorens—the two Arendellian soldiers that Hans left to guard his family whenever he was away.  They were sort of honorary members of his little family too and were my only source of information on the world outside of our safe house.  From them, I learned that Uncle Hans’ ruse to get Heinrik believe I was dead worked.  It was harder to obtain news about the Southern Isles but they told me enough that the civil war went on and that Grandpapa at least was still holding on to power in the capitol even as Heinrik had conquered the surrounding towns.

As the weeks wore on, I grew to genuinely appreciate the family that took me in, but I never lost sight of my goal which was to find a way to regain the throne.  And I knew Uncle Hans was the best ally I could have to achieve this.

He finally spoke to me a day before we were to leave for Arendelle.  He called me over to the living room while everyone was still having dinner in the kitchen.  I obeyed and even brought him a cup of tea. 

“I heard you’re doing well here,” were his first words.  He still refused to look at me straight and his tone hinted of a seriousness that indicated he was still uncomfortable with my presence.

“They’re all very kind to me,” I replied.  “Especially Mama Belle.  She’s been wonderful.”

“I’m glad because when we go to Arendelle you’ll be staying with them,” he declared.   “They plan to rebuild their lives there and I want you to be useful to them.” 

“As what?” I asked.  I was curious to know what identity he wanted for me.

“As my daughter Isabel Westergard,” he said. 

I was surprised that he would choose that for me but then that was a good excuse as any.   My features were close enough to his for me to pass as his daughter.

“Very well… Papa,” I said.  It was strange to call him that but I knew I had to get used to it and my complicity with his plan was essential if I wanted to get his support later on.

He seemed startled by the name but he nodded in acknowledgement.  “Smart girl.  Keep that up and we’ll get along just fine.  Now there are only a few people who know who you really are and I’d like to keep it that way.  The family knows of course and so do Queen Elsa, Lt. Andersen and Ensign Lorens.  They’ve all agreed to keep your secret.   As a precaution, you need to keep a low profile even in Arendelle.  As my daughter you are expected to obey me and get an occupation suitable to your new status.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’ve already spoken to Chip.  He and the family are planning on opening up a little establishment in Arendelle.  I’m terrible at the kitchen but I have a good head for figures so I agreed to help out with the daily bookkeeping.”

A small smile grazed his lips as he probably already knew about my failures in attempting to make anything edible.  He took up the tea I offered but paused to inspect it first. 

“Don’t worry Uncle Hans, I didn’t make that, Patrice did.  I just brought it over. I don’t want to seem ungrateful by poisoning you unintentionally.”

He fought to hide a snicker and failed.  He finally looked at me directly in the eye and I offered him a smile. 

“I promise I won’t give you any trouble,” I assured him.  “Thank you for doing this for me.”

A genuine smile spread across on his face and I knew it was a start.

The journey to Arendelle was uneventful though it was a welcome change of pace from living so long in the isolation of the island.  I kept myself polite but avoided contact among the sailors which I think satisfied Uncle Hans.  In Arendelle, I learned early on that Uncle Hans was revered as a local hero and that he had considerable influence in the royal court as adviser to Queen Elsa.  The Queen herself came to visit the apartments we rented and she talked lengthily with Mama Belle.  We spoke but briefly and in such time, I told her of my gratitude for letting me come to her land.  I gave a contrite apology to any pains Grandpapa caused her and an assurance that I would be no trouble.  I sensed in her a kind-hearted soul for she quickly assured me that all was forgiven and that I was welcome to live my life there at peace. 

From then on, I played the obedient Admiral’s daughter.  I was quiet yet helpful with my new family as they opened the Rose Pub.   The Pub gave me an opportunity to obtain regular news of the outside world as sailors who frequented the establishment were prone to talk.  I was heartened to hear that Grandpapa continued to fight on but I died a little each time I hear of a clash between his forces and Heinrik’s that left casualties in their wake.   There was nothing more devastating to know that my people were dying over a continued war and there was nothing I could do about it.

Uncle Hans became my best hope to do something.  It took a long time before I could put that hope into action.  For months he was reluctant to be in my presence.  I knew from his own words in that conversation with Belle that I was a constant reminder of his brother’s betrayals.  But little by little I tried to make a connection with him.   A cup of tea each time he came home, a kind word of encouragement when he arrived after a tedious court meeting, an offer to patch his worn uniforms (which I only offered but let Madeleine do because I couldn’t sew even if my life depended on it), and nightly games of chess while we talked over philosophy and the arts eventually won him over to me.  

Strangely, even though my motive for these gestures was merely a scheme to get him to trust me, I found myself caring for him.  Maybe it was the effect of grief.   Perhaps the loss of Papa and Grandpapa in such a short time made me reach out to seek comfort for my own ailing heart.  We had so much in common and he reminded me so much of Papa that sometimes I imagined he was Papa come alive again.  And calling him my father on a daily basis in public reinforced the feeling.  

We became close friends so much that he opened up his heart to me.  He told me of the regrets of his past and how he struggles daily to make up to them.  He remembers each murder he committed, each injury inflicted and he recalled them to me in detail as if I was his confessor.  A more recent wound that plagued him was the mass suicide of the Weselton court.

“I never imagined that delivering that ultimatum would force them to do that,” he told me one night in near tears.  “Yes, I threatened them.  I mocked them over the wall and told them a grim picture of their children slowly dying of frost under the Snow Queen’s powers to get them to surrender.  But I never meant for them to kill themselves that way.  And worse, I painted Elsa as the monster so much that she shouldered the guilt when they took their lives.”

That was the night I opened my heart to him in return.  I told him of my grief over Papa, the details of the horrors of my own kidnapping, and the sadness of being forever parted from Grandpapa and my dear friend Flynnigan who now both think I was dead.  My troubles seem so small compared to what he had been through but he didn’t make me feel that way.  He held me to cry on his shoulder for the first time and I realized I loved him as he loved me.   

From then on I opened up to him more.  I told him of my apprehensions in the Southern Isles which he also shared.  But the one thing that I withheld from him was my true goal.  That fact I kept locked away hidden from him until the day he came home from an argument with Queen Elsa. 

I was doing accounts at the Rose Pub that afternoon when Prince Fredrik came by.   Over a cup of tea, he told me the most devastating news he overheard at the council meeting: the latest reports from the Southern Isles told of over a hundred casualties during clashes west of the capitol.  I tried to keep a straight face at this even as guilt plagued me that I haven’t made a dent to influence Uncle Hans to do something about it.

Uncle Hans then arrived and I knew at once he had argued with Queen Elsa.  He excused us from Prince Fredrik and led me to our private quarters above the Pub.  I was shaking the whole time as I sensed he was about to tell me something more than the deaths in the Southern Isles.

“Sit down,” he told me gently after he locked the door.  I sat down slowly on the edge of the bed in my little room but he remained standing that his apprehension was evident.  “I think you already know from Fredrik about the latest casualties in the Isles.”

“Yes, Uncle Hans.  Isn’t there something we can do? Can you talk to Queen Elsa?”

“I have,” he said quietly.  “But before that, there’s something you should know.  A messenger arrived this morning just before the council meeting.  Queen Constanza’s spies discovered something recently and sent word directly to me.  I don’t know how to tell you this but…” he hesitated and gave a gulp.  “Sigurd is ill.”

“Grandpapa?” I gasped as a flood of worry overcame me.  “Is he… will he be alright?”

He shook his head.  “He’s dying Brigitta.  His physicians confirmed it.  Several months, a year at most… that’s it.  I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t breathe, my heart was aching so much and I just collapsed on the bed and cried.  Uncle Hans held me in his arms but I was past feeling.  All I knew was I was losing Grandpapa and I couldn’t even be there to hold his hand before he dies.

He must have held me for hours for I cried until I could cry no more.  The sky outside the window indicated it was already dark by the time I was able to calm down.  Uncle Hans lit a few candles in the room and then he continued to sit next to me in silence for a long time.

“I’ll be fine,” I said when I finally mustered the words.

“I’m glad,” Uncle Hans said as he held my hand in his.  “Because I need to tell you something more.  I spoke to Elsa today about the situation with Sigurd and the Southern Isles.  I know you love your grandfather but he’s not going to last long and this war needs to end.  You can understand that, can you?”

“Yes,” I told him.  “I know that.”

“You also must know that something has to be done to end the suffering in the Southern Isles.  I asked Elsa today to publicly support Heinrik so he’ll get allies to end the war.”

I pulled my hand away and stared at him in shock.  I knew he hated my grandfather, but it still hurt that he would do this to Grandpapa.  “And did she say yes?” I asked as I fought to control the spite in my voice.

“No, she refused to get involved.  But I have another idea to help end this war.  I want you to come with me to the Coronan Conference.  I will try to arrange for a meeting with you and Sigurd there.”

My hopes surged.  Could it be he was going to help me regain the throne?  Oh I was going to see Grandpapa again and he would know I was still alive.

“I want you to talk your grandfather.  Tell him to step down now so the war ends.  If he does, I can persuade Elsa to grant you both asylum here in Arendelle.  He can live in comfortable exile for the remainder of his days and you’ll have each other.”

Disappointment shook my whole being.  So he wanted to give the throne to Heinrik.  He would remove my Grandpapa from the throne and hand it to that murderer.  And he never even thought about me.  The hurt in me grew to anger and I stood up and moved away from him.

“No.” I said firmly.

He looked startled.  “What? You don’t agree with this?  You’ll be with Sigurd again.”

“Not when it means you will give the throne to Heinrik!” I shot back at him.  “And no, I will not persuade him to give his right up to that man.  You don’t want my grandfather on the throne and I understand that.  But if you think handing it to Heinrik just to spite him is going to make things better for the Southern Isles then you’re sadly mistaken.  He is a cold blooded murderer who will do anything to get power.  If he can murder his own family for his benefit, what’s going to stop him from murdering anyone else? I will never allow him to do that for as long as I live.”

The shock in his face was evident at my outburst.  I had never showed him such harsh opposition before and his eyes flashed angrily.  “And what exactly can you do about that?  Who do you think you are?”

“I am Princess Brigitta Westergard of the Southern Isles!  You may give me a different name but you will never take away who I truly am!  And I will not stand by and let you use me and your influence to Queen Elsa to support Heinrik!”

He bristled angrily as he stared hard at me.  “So you finally show your colors,” he said sarcastically.  “I knew it was only a matter of time.  You’re just like Sigurd, deceiving and manipulative.  I cared for you.  I gave you a second chance.  Were you playing me all this time?”

I hesitated to answer.  Yes, I deceived him.  But it wasn’t all that.  I truly enjoyed his company, I cherished what we had and I loved him like I loved my father.  And it was that love that made me feel like I was breaking into pieces when I answered:

“You know who I am and even if I’m grateful to what you’ve done for me I will never stop trying to regain who I am meant to be.  I was born to be the queen of the Southern Isles.  After my grandfather, I have more right than Heinrik to that throne and you know it!  So you either help me become queen or step out of my way.”

He was astonished at my declaration but he came back at me quickly with a challenge.  “And how do you propose to do that?  You’re just a girl!”

The way he dismissed me infuriated me furhter.  “I’ll do whatever it takes even if you don’t help me.  It doesn’t matter how long.  One way or another, I will be queen and you won’t stop me.”  I paused as an idea formed in my head to convince him how determined I was.  “Maybe I’ll even take a page out of your own book Uncle Hans.”

“And what exactly does that mean?” he asked.

I gave him a bitter laugh.  “You’re not the only one who can get to power by trying to marry into a throne.  I’ll recover the Southern Isles someday with an army and powerful allies at my back even if I have to start by seducing Fredrik into my bed.”

Chapter Text

Did she just say…? Did she mean me…?

OH MY GOODNESS SHE WANTS ME!!! 

Me? Of all the boys that ever looked at her she wants me! And in her be—

I literally slapped my own cheek.  The snowflakes that danced around my head at my sudden euphoria dissipated as her words took meaning.

Oh no.

No. No. No. No. No.

This can’t be right.  She wants to sedu—okay I can’t even say the word in my own head.  She wants me but not for me! She wants me for my crown… not for me. 

I slumped back on the roof and was thankful that the Carpet caught me or I would probably have fallen off.   I lay flat on my back as the Carpet gently nudged me into a safe position.  I felt its tassels tapping on my shoulder in a gesture of comfort but it did little to soothe the ache I felt.

Suddenly, I understood why my mother couldn’t find it in her heart to forgive Admiral Westergard.  The disappointment hurt.  I wanted to go down there and doubly freeze her probably already frozen heart, but the voice of reason in my head told me she didn’t deserve it.  She never did anything to attempt to sedu—that word—or even tried to talk to me more than necessary.  If she ever did in the future, I already know better than to let her get to me. 

I sat up and returned to my position to listen in again.  I could hear King Sigurd talking.

“You know you don’t have to do that anymore, Brigitta,” he said gently.  “If this plan of Hans works, I will be able to pass the throne to you.”

“I know Grandpapa,” she replied as she paced the floor.  “But even then I will need allies to keep the throne.  And my duty as you told me before is first to my country.  Eventually I will need to marry for their sake and the crown prince of Arendelle is preferable.”

And she strikes at me again.  I was nothing to her.  I was just a means to an end.

“What of Flynnigan then?” King Sigurd asked.

She stopped pacing and she seemed a bit sad before her expression returned to one of cool determination.  “Flynnigan is a dear friend.  But that is all he will ever be.”

“Because he will never wear a crown?” her grandfather asked.

“Yes,” she does not hesitate.  “And I have no intention of killing or usurping his brother to give him one.  I will not marry Peter either.   He has no qualities fitted for a king and he will be a liability to the Southern Isles if he is wedded to me.  Fredrik is different.”

“How so?” King Sigurd asked.  Despite the cold way they were discussing these things, I was curious to know how she really thought of me.

“He’s disciplined, diligent, intelligent and has his people’s best interests at heart.  He takes after his aunt.  She and Uncle Hans are molding him quite nicely to become a good ruler.   I have no doubt he will be someday.”

I was surprised that she didn’t even mention my ice powers.  I couldn’t help but feel flattered at her words. 

“He’s not bad looking either,” she continued.  “He’s quite shy but I’m not exactly blind to the way he looks at me.  I think he’s adorable in his innocent way.”

She thinks I’m adorable? Okay, does this mean she actually likes me, even just a little bit?

“I can learn to love him Grandpapa and I think maybe eventually… we’ll make each other happy.”

She wants me happy! Wait—she said a moment ago she just wants me for my crown.  Good Lord—is there any other girl in the world more confusing than this one? 

“And what does Hans think of all this?” King Sigurd said in an almost teasing manner.

“Oh he totally agrees I should marry Fredrik,” she said.  “But he is rather protective of the boy and he even threatened me should I break his heart…”

 

Uncle Hans stared at me open-mouthed for a long moment.  He looked confused and bewilderment but his face slowly morphed into anger.

“Don’t you dare hurt that boy, do you hear me?” he said dangerously. 

“I’m not planning to,” I said.

“No, you’re just going to break his heart the way I broke his mother’s.  That won’t work to your advantage.  You know how that ended for me.”

“Well unlike you Uncle Hans I don’t plan to kill any of his siblings,” I replied.  “I only want to marry him.”

“And use his powers both the magical and the political to bend to your will?”

“Yes, it doesn’t mean he needs to suffer for it.  I’ll keep him happy.”

He huffed.  “That’s easier said than done.  Do you even know what goes on inside the bedchamber?”

“I know enough,” I replied in a confident manner although the range of my knowledge on it was confined to what my handmaids told me and none of them really gave enough details.  I do know that the intimacy a woman can give in bed can be a very persuasive tool.

Uncle Hans opened his mouth to say something but closed it again as he seemed to think better than to speak.  He paced around the little room apprehensively before he sat on the edge of the bed and buried his face in his hands.  Finally, he emerged and stared at me as if he was assessing me in a new light.

“What makes you a better choice than Heinrik to rule the Southern Isles?” he asked.  “He has years of experience both in the Southern Isles’ navy and court.  What do you have?”

I could sense he was testing me and I knew his support depended on the answer I give him.   I tried to think of the ways I could prove to him I was better than Heinrik but all I could remember was that young prostitute in the brothel and how much I wanted to end her suffering along with countless others.

“Unlike Heinrik, I would not start a war or prolong it unnecessarily for my mere personal gain.  I would not go on to murder six people of my own blood to steal something that isn’t mine.  I would fight when necessary but I would rule with the best interests of the citizens of the Isles. I would sacrifice my happiness to uphold the peace and the prosperity of my kingdom and my people, even if that means I need to seduce the right man that will help me rule and marry him without forever knowing love.”

He stared at me intently and I held my breath in anticipation even though my gaze never wavered from his.  Finally, he spoke:  “You’re just like Sigurd.”

My heart fell.  He hated Grandpapa.  He won’t support me now.

“Sigurd placed the interests of the kingdom way before his own family, to the point that they were neglected and made to feel unwelcome, unimportant and insignificant.  Why do you think I ended up the way I did? Or Heinrik? Or Gregor? Or any of my brothers that rebelled against him? No,” he shook his head.  “You’re not making the same mistake he did.  You want to be Queen?  Well you better learn to find a balance between serving your people and taking care of the ones that should be closest to you.”

I was confused.  Was he actually telling me how I should be as a Queen?

“You’re a smart girl Brigitta and you have the right disposition.  I think you have potential to become Queen someday, but only if you’re willing to take the extra mile and have the humility to listen and learn.  I’ll help you get there but don’t make me regret it so you better step up.”

His tone was severe but I knew I won him over.  I felt my lips turn up in a smile but I suppressed it to reply with equal seriousness. “I am and I’m willing to listen and learn, I promise.”

He finally broke into a smile.  I threw myself at his arms and he hugged me back.  “Thank you, Uncle Hans.”

He kissed the top of my head.  “I’m sorry too for not even considering you.  We’ll do this together, but we’re going to do this the right way.”  He pulled me away to look at me and he resumed his firm countenance.  “And you’re going to start by not hurting Fredrik.  If you toy with that boy, I will withdraw my support from you faster than Elsa can make a snowman.”

“Okay,” I nodded.  “Lesson one: don’t break Fredrik’s heart. I got it.”

“I do think Fredrik would be the ideal husband for you but he’s still very young and so are you.  There will be time enough for that.”  He ran a hand nervously through his auburn hair and I can tell he was uncomfortable with the next question. “And about the issue of er… intimacy, exactly how much do you know on what goes on in the bedchamber?  And be honest with me.”

I couldn’t look at him directly as I admitted to him the truth.  To my surprise, he launched into a long talk on a subject I never expected him to broach.  I was blushing the whole time as he told me in detail what really goes on between and a man and a woman…

 

I felt my cheeks flare with heat and I was sure I was also blushing at what I’ve just heard.

“She just wants to marry me for my crown,” I whispered softly to myself.  But even saying those words did nothing to stop my idiot heart from considering the possibilities:    What if she does grow to love me?   Would it really be that bad?  Eventually I would need to marry too for a strategic alliance.  Why not her?  Like she said, maybe we could end up happy together.  And since Admiral Westergard practically told her off not to try to play around with my feelings, maybe she and I can naturally fall in love and find our happily ever after.

Yes, that’s definitely it.  I’m going to make sure she loves me.   I mean it’s not like I’ve got a rival and she already thinks I’m the best choice out there.

And she thinks I’m adorable.

I sat back down on the roof and listened on.  I hoped she’d say more nice things about me but the topic of her tale had shifted to other matters that were no less interesting…

 

Since that evening, Uncle Hans and I had regular talks and we formulated our plan to help me obtain the throne.  I had always admired his brilliant mind and I delighted in the whole new level of openness we now shared.  I think he enjoyed planning these things with me as much as I did.

My role in the plan was simple at first: I was to maintain my new identity for the moment while he sought allies to support me.   The Coronan Conference in particular was crucial in garnering strategic alliances.  However, I was not prepared for the sacrifice that he asked of me to take the plan into the next level:  I was going to see Grandpapa only one last time during the Conference to convince him to go along with us before I disappear back into the guise of Isabel Westergard until his death.  My heart rebelled against it and I protested to him hotly that there must be another way but he answered me:

“If you want to reach your goal you know there are sacrifices to be made. I can return you to your grandfather right now but don’t expect Heinrik to stop this war just because you now appear in the picture.  So you choose Brigitta: you can either come home to Sigurd to comfort him in his last days or you can see him once and end this conflict the easiest way possible.”

I could not contest his reasoning.   So I agreed to it without any further protests though silently I mourned for my own personal loss even as my anger for Heinrik grew.   Selfish, selfish man.  I would kill him if I had the chance.

It had been years since anyone in Corona saw me last.  I looked quite different in appearance since I was nine years old so we were confident enough that no one there would recognize me.  It was exactly what happened for Prince Eugene and the Coronan guards that I met before didn’t even look at me twice when Uncle Hans introduced me as his daughter.  However, there was one person in the welcoming party who was not so easily fooled. 

I tried to avoid his gaze like Uncle Hans told me, but the moment our eyes met, he knew.  And seeing Flynnigan again after so long and the anguish of not being able to tell him that I was alive for these many months made me forget even my promise to Uncle Hans not to reveal my identity to anyone.  I communicated to Flynn with one look not to disclose my secret and he understood and kept silent when I was introduced. 

I didn’t have to wait long for him to come to me.  On the first evening in Corona, while our whole party was still at an official dinner, he passed me by and discreetly slipped a note on my hand:

‘I need to see you.  Meet me at the Grecian garden at midnight – F’

Before midnight, I stole from the Arendelle wing in a cloak and proceeded to the Grecian garden as he instructed.  I found him waiting for me by the little Greek temple.

“Brigitta,” he whispered.  It was refreshing to hear my name from someone else other than Uncle Hans.  But I shushed him and warned him never to say my name again out loud.  

I thought it would be awkward as we haven’t seen each other in years.  It felt a bit strange to see him so grown up for I always associated the image of him as the shy but smart seven-year-old boy that I played with in that one short summer we spent together.  But the moment he made me sit beside him and tell him everything, it felt so natural.  He listened with a sympathetic ear and offered his shoulder to cry on.  In those few hours that we spent together, it felt like a balm was poured over my heartaches.  And when I had cried all I could he simply wiped my tears with his own handkerchief and declared:

“I will guard your secret with my life, and I will be here for you.  I’ll help you in whatever way I can so you can become Queen.  I’ll convince Mama and Papa to support your cause.”

I had never felt more fortunate than to have him as my friend.  I wanted to stay longer in the comfort of his company but I knew I needed to go back before anyone discovered I was missing. 

He showed me a more discreet route to the Arendelle wing.  “Can I see you again tomorrow night?” he asked before we parted.

“I don’t know if I can get away again,” I replied. 

 “Try,” he begged.  “The Grecian garden at midnight.  I’ll be there every night for you, Gitta.”  Only he ever called me that since we were children.  I found it endearing to hear him speak it.

We met again for the next two nights and each time I felt as if I could tell him anything.  I even told him the one thing that I concealed from Uncle Hans:  That I would kill Heinrik if I could.  I didn’t think I would have an opportunity for certainly I would not be meeting Heinrik again until I return to Isles and make my identity known.  It wasn’t likely he would be coming to the Coronan Conference with the war still going on in the Southern Isles.

To my astonishment, Heinrik did arrive at the Coronan Conference the following day with a Southern Isles contingent loyal to him.  Uncle Hans and I were a bit apprehensive at his sudden presence and he told me to stay put at the Arendelle wing for the rest of the conference for safety.  I obeyed him that night so I failed to meet Flynnigan for the first time. 

The morning after a little golden flower—the symbol of Corona—was left by my doorstep.  It was one of the blossoms that thrived in our garden meeting place so I knew Flynnigan waited for me and that he would continue to do so every night as he promised.  That little flower became subject of gossip among the ladies I shared my rooms with.  Lady Anja told me she knew I snuck out for the last two nights.   She tried to pry it out of me but I refused to say a word.  When the other ladies began speculating that I was having a romantic rendezvous, I didn’t deny it so it would throw suspicion away from what I was really doing. 

It was so much easier to sneak out after that.  While everyone was busy at the conference, I wandered around the Coronan castle and in the village surrounding it.  I spoke to guards, maids, footmen and cooks and learned where Heinrik was staying.  When I met Flynnigan that night and told him about it, he took me to a tower that overlooked a garden that adjoined the Southern Isles contingent apartments.  We stayed there for several hours and, I was rewarded by the sight of Heinrik and one of his cohorts lounging in the garden.  I knew just by looking that he was within range of an arrow from where I stood.

 A thought suddenly struck me:  Why should I have to wait until Grandpapa dies? This war can be over with Heinrik’s death.  And when he is dead and the war is over, I can go home to Grandpapa and all will be as it once were. 

“Gitta don’t,” Flynnigan whispered to me.    

“Don’t what?” I said to him although we both knew what he meant.

“I know what you’re thinking.  He’s your granduncle.  He’s part of your family.”

“He stopped being part of my family when he had my father murdered,” I told him bitterly.

“It doesn’t mean you have to kill him for it.  It’s wrong,” he insisted.

I didn’t reply.  My mind was too wrapped up with the anger of seeing Heinrik sitting in that garden.  He was most likely plotting at other ways to end my grandfather’s reign and the thought sparked my hatred for him even more. 

“I shouldn’t have brought you up here,” Flynnigan said.  “Come on Brigitta, let’s go before anyone catches us.   Your Uncle Hans’ plan is going well.   Just stick to that.”

He pulled at me and I followed him but I formed a plan in my mind.  One shot.  All it takes is one shot.  No one need ever know.  I knew I could do it from this tower.  I wasn’t the Southern Isles champion archer for nothing. The thought of killing someone frightened me but I told myself, this was something I needed to do not just for me or Grandpapa but for my country. 

Uncle Hans came to me the next day with news that he met with Heinrik the night before.  That horrible man offered Uncle Hans the restoration of his position as Prince of Southern Isles if he can convince Queen Elsa to support him.  And even worse he planned on selling the Weseltonians for profit and even offered a cut with Uncle Hans.  Uncle Hans was livid at the idea of slavery as he had been a slave himself at one point.  Personally, I thought it was a despicable practice and I knew Grandpapa felt the same.  I convinced myself, this was more reason why Heinrik should die.

I did not dare tell Uncle Hans about my own plan for I knew he would stop me.  I carried on as usual around him and even willingly gave him the lock of my hair and the pendant that he asked for.  (He wrote to Grandpapa to entice him to come to the Coronan Conference on the guise of handing over my mutilated body.  The personal items I gave would be used as proof to Grandpapa that he had my supposed corpse).  As I handed to him the items, I said a silent vow: “Just wait, Grandpapa, one more night or two.  Soon he’ll be dead.   I’ll come home to you and you can put that pendant back around my neck where it belongs.”

It was easy enough to obtain a bow and a few arrows.  The guards from our contingent had plenty with them.  A few words of flattery and an offer to clean weapons to one of the guards that I knew fancied me and I had what I needed. 

I returned to the tower that night with my weapons but Heinrik never showed.  By midnight, I gave up.  I hid my weapons and went to meet Flynnigan in our usual place in the Grecian garden.

“You went back to the tower, did you?” he accused me the moment I arrived.

I said nothing for I couldn’t lie to him.

He clasped my hand with his own.  “Gitta, I know you hate him but what you’re planning to do is dangerous.  If he finds out you’re alive your Uncle Hans’ plan will be ruined.”

“I’m careful,” I argued back.  “He won’t find out.”  I didn’t add that he will be dead before he realized I was alive.

“Then promise me you won’t go back into that tower,” he demanded.

I mentally cursed him. I didn’t know why I just didn’t lie and told him what he wanted to hear.  Instead I pulled away and said sharply:  “Leave me alone Flynn!  What I do is none of your business.”

“I’m your friend and it is my business to stop you if you’re planning to kill him.”

“If you’re really my friend then you’ll help me seek justice for my father,” I spat back.

 He said nothing and shook his head.  I walked away from him but he followed after me and forced me to face him. 

“Gitta stop!  Don’t you see I care about you?  I’ll do anything to help you, but don’t do this.” 

I pushed him away and kept walking.  He let me go and I was nearly at the other end of the garden when I felt the disappointment claw at me.   I had hoped he would support me.  I turned around and threw the one card I had left to get him on my side.

“If you’re really my friend and you’re willing to help me with this, meet me tomorrow at noon by the bridge outside the village,” I said.

“And if I’m not there?” he said harshly.

“Then this is goodbye,” I uttered just as harshly.

I turned around and half-ran back to the Arendelle wing so he wouldn’t see my tears. 

I slept little that night and when I woke the next day, I counted the hours until noon.  I slipped away to the village at midmorning and lingered at the nearby market to wait for him.  The Coronan village was busy and crowded and I had no trouble blending in with the crowds.  Noon came and went but Flynnigan didn’t show.  Still, I lingered, hoping that he would change his mind. 

At hour and a half past noon I walked by an open square that had beautifully painted cobblestones.  I stopped as I spied a familiar face and my heart leaped.

He came.

But he didn’t come alone.  Fredrik was with him. 

Some street musicians began playing a gay tune and people began to pair up in an impromptu dance.  I felt a hand grab mine and I felt relieved.  I was ready to apologize to him only I realized it wasn’t him.

“Hi Isabel.”

“Prince Fredrik,” I said. “ I didn’t know you were here.  I thought you were in the conference.”

“Well… uhhmmm… Peter and I were just taking a break,” the Arendelle Prince stammered as he blushed. 

“Oh… that was Prince Peter,” I said as I fought to conceal my disappointment.   “I thought it was… well I couldn’t really tell him apart from Prince Flynnigan.”

“I think Flynn is still in the conference,” Fredrik explained.  I knew then he had no intention of meeting me at all.  It pained me to lose him as a friend and I deeply regretted giving him that ultimatum.

Fredrik led me to a dance and I schooled my features carefully so he wouldn’t notice my apprehension. 

“Do you know how to do this?” I pretended to laugh as I followed the steps of the people nearby.

I barely heard Fredrik’s reply.  I had a natural rhythm for dancing and I was able to perform the steps easily even as we changed partners.  After a turn with a nice old gentleman I found myself face-to-face with Peter.

“So you’re the admiral of Arendelle’s daughter?” he said with a flirtatious wink.  “You think you can take me up into your Papa’s ship?  This conference is boring me to death.  How about you and I go out to sea on an adventure together?”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes at him.  He was so different from Flynnigan.   I was glad I escaped from being tied to this one in marriage.   I feigned laughter at his jokes and let him lead me on in the dance.  He kept up a steady stream of nonsense that I blocked out until we had to change partners again.  I was relieved to end back with Fredrik and even more so when the music ended.

“That was a good dance, your highness, thank you,” I said politely.

“Pleasure was all mine,” he said while he continued to hold my hand. 

From behind him, I saw two soldiers in the familiar uniform of the Southern Isles walk by.  I knew that if they saw me they would recognize me immediately and report it back to Heinrik. I clenched in sudden panic and hid my face on Fredrik’s shoulder.  I locked against his body to prevent him from leaving me exposed.  Fortunately he didn’t seem keen on breaking away from me.  I waited for a long time before I let go of him.  

“Is something wrong?” he asked me with a puzzled expression.

I babbled some sort of barely discernible excuse and moved with the crowds.  I carefully navigated my way back to the castle and I didn’t stop until I was in my room.   I took the letter I received from Uncle Hans this morning that came from my grandfather.  I re-read the words of his reply of confirmation to meet Uncle Hans.  The bitterness of that letter showed the anguish beneath that my Grandpapa felt and it hardened my resolve to put my plan to action again tonight.

I stole out of the Arendelle apartments once more with a quick lie to Lady Anja that I was meeting someone in the garden.   I waited in the tower and saw that some kind of party went on in the garden below.  Although, Heinrik was there, there were simply too many people around for me to get a clear shot of him.

I saw Fredrik join the party and the whole group continued to talk together for about another hour.  Finally, the guests began to depart one by one until only Heinrik and Fredrik were left.  They seemed to be having an argument of some sort.  

I would prefer to catch Heinrik alone, but I may not have another chance like this.  When Fredrik moved a distance away from Heinrik, I knew it was the time to strike. I readied my bow and pulled the arrow into position.

One shot. Just one shot. This will all be over.

I took a deep breath and let go.

Only someone pushed my arm forcefully up at the last moment so my aim went awry.

No!

I faced the person that ruined my shot.  I wasn’t surprised to see Flynnigan.

I stared down into the garden.  My arrow was on the ground.  It was encased in ice several feet away from my target.  Heinrik was still very much alive and crouched behind an ice made shield with Fredrik.

“How dare you...!” I raised a fist to strike at Flynnigan but he grabbed my wrists so forcefully I couldn’t release myself. 

“There’s no time for this!  We have to go now!” he whispered urgently to me.

He dragged me almost violently down the stairs and into a hidden door located halfway between the top and bottom staircase of the tower.    He led me through a maze of passageways but in my rage I fought him at each step.  At one dark corridor he paused and let go of my wrist only to slam my body onto the wall before he pinned me with his.

“Stop it Brigitta! It’s over,” he said menacingly as his face hovered inches from my own.  His brown eyes bored into me I was suddenly afraid he would hurt me.  But his face slowly softened and he whispered—”

 

Brigitta abruptly stopped speaking.  I had just shifted my position over the roof as I dangled even closer to the hole from which I was peering though.  Her story was so compelling I wanted to see the expression on her face more clearly.   She and her grandfather stared at each other but neither spoke. 

Brigitta slowly stood from her chair and walked around to a part of the room where I lost visual sight of her.  I shifted my position again to look closer.

And saw her with an arrow pointed at me.

She fired.

In a split-second of panic I let out a blast of frost to stop it.   I heard rather than saw the arrow clatter harmlessly down.  I fell back into the waiting Carpet but my nerves were so strained that I didn’t realize I was still releasing ice.  The familiar crunch of forming ice alerted me to the fact that I had just frozen the Carpet and part of the roof. 

Crack!

Oh no!  I heard that sound before: on the frozen lake when I was five years old. 

I screamed as the iced Carpet and I fell towards the stone floor below.  By instinct I shot at the floor to create a mound of fresh snowy powder to break my fall.  But the impact of coming into contact face first with snow still hurt. A lot.

“Owww…” I groaned as I rubbed my sore head.  I lifted my face and found myself staring at the sharp end of an arrow and the fierce green eyes of the girl that was pointing it at me.

“F-fredrik…” Brigitta gasped as she slowly lowered her weapon.  “It was you…? Were you… have you been listening in… all this time…?” she asked. 

I couldn’t look at her or her grandfather.  I was caught and now she knew that I heard all she said about me.  Ice began materializing all over the tower which seemed to reveal more evidence of my guilt.  I wished the ground would swallow me right now.  How can I even speak to her again?  Things couldn’t go possibly more wrong than this.

The door on the floor suddenly burst open and my aunt emerged followed by Admiral Westergard who held a mirror in his hand.

“I beg your pardon for this interruption your majesty,” she said hurriedly.  “But I need to collect someone who shouldn’t be here.”

Aunt Elsa turned her gaze at me and for the first time I felt as if her blue eyes were aflame.  I was wrong.  Things just got a million times worse. 

“Fredrik,” she said with all the coldness of a true Snow Queen.  “Out. Now.”

Chapter Text

“Fredrik.  Out. Now.”

I have never felt so ashamed in my whole life.   The moment Aunt Elsa gave her cold order I grabbed the frozen carpet and just obeyed.  I went down the spiral stone staircase of the tower with my gaze directly ahead so I wouldn’t meet anyone’s stare.   Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard spoke to King Sigurd and Princess Brigitta but I didn’t stay to hear what they said.  At the bottom of the tower, I found Albert standing with Lt. Andersen and Ensign Lorens who were surrounded by about a dozen Southern Isles guards.  The look of guilt on Albert’s face told me he was also caught by my aunt and no doubt everyone here knew what I just did. 

I felt my aunt behind me and she didn’t need to say a word.  Her gaze told me to start marching away from the tower.  Albert and I complied.  The walk felt so slow and torturous that I felt the heaviness of the ice I was making under my shoes with each step.

We exited the valley through a gap in the rocks hidden by a curtain of vines.  We moved through the woods until we came to a clearing of trees a distance away from the entrance of the valley.  It was only here that Aunt Elsa spoke.

“Lt. Andersen, Ensign Lorens, please take Albert to the castle,” she said calmly.  “I will return shortly.  Admiral Westergard will escort us back and see to our safety.

“Of course, your majesty,” her two faithful guards replied.  Albert gave me a last look of pity before he obediently marched back to the Castle.  I was grateful that at least she was sending them away and would not be a witness to my further shame.   The moment they were out of ear-shot, my aunt faced me.

“What were you thinking?! What could possibly make you do something like that?”

I hung my head and kept silent.  Frost began appearing under my feet and coated the trees around me while it started raining snowflakes.  I wasn’t exactly sure if it was me or my aunt who was making all of this but it hardly mattered now.  

“Spying on the King of the Southern Isles!  Don’t you realize how rude, inappropriate and dangerous that is?  Not to mention that it just caused us a diplomatic scandal that might have untoward repercussions in our future relations with Isles.  I did not raise you like this.  Neither did your parents.  I’m so disappointed in you, Fredrik.”

Tears prickled at my eyelids.  She was right. I failed her in the most horrible way because of my stupid curiosity over a girl.

“What am I supposed to do to you Fredrik?  I have half a mind to send you back on the first ship to Arendelle come daylight.” My aunt heaved a sigh.  “What have you got to say for yourself over this?”

“I’m sorry,” I muttered quietly as I felt tears stream down my cheeks. 

“Well, sorry isn’t going to be enough Fredrik,” Aunt Elsa said as the snowfall above my head grew in strength and started becoming a localized blizzard. 

I could picture myself arriving home in disgrace.  People would laugh and they would never respect me again.  I’ll be branded as some kind of peeping tom.  I would never be able to show myself to anyone in Arendelle after this.  And worse, my aunt and parents would be blamed for raising a boy with little regard to good values and propriety.  It made me feel even more terrible.

“Elsa, please…” Admiral Westergard’s voice cut through the swirling snow storm and made me look up from my self-pity.  “The boy’s embarrassed himself already.  I think it’s punishment enough.”

The blizzard suddenly reduced back to a light snowfall.  My aunt breathed in deeply before she slowly thawed the icy clearing.  Then to my astonishment she moved towards me and enveloped me in a huge hug. 

I burst into fresh tears at her gesture.  I cried openly in her arms.  She said nothing but she held me close and kissed my head.  When I finally looked up to her she held my gaze with such kind eyes I knew I was forgiven. 

“I’m not going to say anything about this to anyone else except your parents.  You’re staying on for the rest of the Conference but I trust you not to do this ever again and to exercise good judgment in the future,” she said gently though I knew it for the warning that it was.

It was more than what I’ve hoped for and I was so grateful to her that I sobbed anew.  “I won’t. I promise.  I’m so sorry Aunt Elsa.”  My parents would probably punish me in their own way, but it didn’t seem so bad anymore.  

We parted and I came to face Admiral Westergard.  I felt my cheeks turn red at facing my commanding officer and I couldn’t look at him straight.

“Now, then we need to settle some matters,” he said in an almost business-like tone.  “Fredrik, I think you know by now who Isabel really is.”

I nodded.   “She’s Princess Brigitta of the Southern Isles, King Sigurd’s granddaughter.”

“I figured you heard enough that I don’t need to explain things,” continued Admiral Westergard.  “But I need to know I can trust you to keep her secrets.”

“Yes Sir, I won’t say a word to anyone about her.  I know it’s important to help end the civil war in the Southern Isles.”

“Good,” he replied.  “And I apologize as well for lying to you about the mirror and for keeping you in the dark on these matters.  Now you know I hope I can count on you to support us in this.  You must understand that this is necessary to establish peace not just in the Southern Isles but also in the region.”  He shared a look with Aunt Elsa who nodded at him. 

“I understand Sir.  And you can count on my support in any way.”

“Thank you Fredrik,” he said solemnly. 

My Aunt placed a cool hand with ice she created on my forehead.  I suddenly remembered I had a swelling bump there when I fell.  It was going to leave a nasty bruise but it was such a minor thing after all this trouble.

“Keep your forehead iced and we’ll have it checked when we get back, Fredrik,” my aunt spoke.  “How exactly did you get on that tower roof?  Albert was muttering something about a carpet. I couldn’t quite understand him.”

The Carpet!  I’ve almost forgotten.  It lay on the half-frozen patch of grass beside me, still covered in my ice.    I quickly unfroze it and it fell limp on the ground.  I was suddenly worried I killed it.

“Carpet?” I asked.  “I’m so sorry! Are you alright?”

Aunt Elsa and Admiral Westergard stared at me as if I was crazy but I didn’t mind them.  I gently caressed at the Carpet as if I was touching an injured puppy.  I hope my touch soothed whatever pain I caused it.

The Carpet’s tassels slowly lifted and then it shook itself as if it was shivering from the cold.  It finally straightened and flew on its usual horizontal position with its usual energy. 

Aunt Elsa shrieked and jumped up into Admiral Westergard’s arms.   He nearly bowled over but he regained his footing quickly.  He tried to put her down but she clutched tightly at his neck.

“Get off me Elsa! I’m trying to get my pistol!” he complained.  “Fredrik, what is that thing?!”

At the word “pistol,” the Carpet ducked behind me in fear. 

“Don’t hurt it!  It’s a friend!” I said.

My aunt slowly went back to her feet but she continued to press against Admiral Westergard’s torso like he was a lifeline.  “Is-is that… the carpet I got from Weselton…?” she gasped. 

“It’s the same one,” I said.  “It’s a magic carpet just like the stories in the Arabian Nights.  It flew Albert and me here.  Let me show you.”

The Carpet leveled to the ground and I hopped in.  I heard my Aunt cry out in surprise as the carpet and I took off and flew above their heads.   We made a few turns around the clearing before we landed back down.

“It’s perfectly safe,” I assured them.  “Want to try it?”  The Carpet morphed once again into a ladder for them to climb on.

“I don’t know,” my aunt began but Admiral Westergard came forward and tentatively touched the Carpet. 

“I think it might be alright,” he said as the Carpet playfully waved its tassels at him.  “This is amazing.”  He finally hopped on next to me and it levitated us a few feet before it flew us around.  Admiral Westergard seemed to get acclimated with the Carpet rather quickly and he seemed to enjoy the ride. 

“You think it can hold all three of us?” he asked me.  “I should be taking you and Elsa back to the Castle now, it’s getting late.  The Carpet can get us there faster.”

“I’m not sure.  I know it can hold at least two but I don’t want to abuse the Carpet too much.  How about you take Aunt Elsa back then you can come back for me?  Then you can borrow the Carpet and get Isa—I mean Brigitta back.”

“Thanks Fredrik,” he replied as we returned to the ground.  I hopped off while Admiral Westergard stood up on the Carpet and offered a hand up to her.  “Come on Elsa, your turn.”

“I… I don’t think so…” she said unsurely.  The Carpet’s tassels reached for her hand and gave it a kiss as gallant as any gentleman.  It made her giggle.  “Oh hello,” she said and I can tell she was warming up to it.

Admiral Westergard offered his hand out again to her.  “I won’t let you fall Elsa.  Do you trust me?”

She met his reassuring gaze and small smile lit her lips.  “Yes.”

She stepped on the carpet and held on to his arm as they flew up in the air.  I saw Admiral Westergard plucked a flower as he passed a tree and handed it to my aunt before they disappeared completely from my sight.  I thought they looked good together and I couldn’t help but be happy for their brief little romantic carpet ride.

I pictured myself getting the courage to take Brigitta up on a magic carpet ride too someday but I knew after tonight, the chances of her ever talking to me again were next to nothing.

“Prince Fredrik?”

I froze.  Literally.   Ice erupted under my shoes and I think I might have frozen my own feet on the ground.  I knew her voice anywhere but I couldn’t make myself turn around and face her.

“I… I’m sorry if I startled you,” she spoke from behind me.   “I wanted… I wanted to apologize for nearly shooting you and for… for… whatever it is you heard… I mean…” she trailed off and I can sense she was just as embarrassed as I was over this.  “I didn’t mean any of it and I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

The silence that stretched between us was killing me but I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“I understand if you don’t ever want to talk to me again,” she continued.  “I’ll… I’ll leave you alone now.  I’m really sorry…”

I heard her footsteps move away and it took me a long moment before I snapped back into reality.  I unfroze my own feet but when I turned around but she was gone.

I buried my face in my hands and crumpled to the ground. 

I’M THE BIGGEST IDIOT IN THE WORLD!

She attempts to talk to me and I didn’t even say one word.   Stupid, stupid, stupid me.

I was in the middle of berating myself when I felt a slight breeze blew in.  I turned around and saw that Admiral Westergard had returned with the carpet.

“Elsa is back at the Castle.  It’s time you went back too,” he announced then stopped as he probably noticed my morose expression.  “Are you alright Fredrik?”

I nodded and joined him on the carpet.  We took off in silence. 

“Fredrik,” Admiral Westergard said after a long time.  “I don’t know what else you heard tonight but I hope you don’t think any less of Brigitta.  She might come off as a bit strong but she’s only human and has been through quite a lot.  She will have a challenging time in the days ahead.  She could use all the friends she needs and I was hoping you could at least be one of them.”

I felt my cheeks flush at the thought of her and all I heard tonight.  I knew Admiral Westergard supported the idea of my marriage to her in the future.  I sensed he was trying to ease things between us.  I was grateful to him that he defended me against her intentions and I felt he was the one person that would understand.

“She came to apologize to me just now,” I blurted out.  “And I… didn’t say anything… I couldn’t… I didn’t know… what to say…”

“It’s okay,” he patted my hand.  “Give it time.  Sleep on it when we get back.    You don’t have to see her or talk to her for the moment if you’re not comfortable.”

I just gave him a nod of assent and was grateful that he didn’t press the issue further. He reverted to a safer topic.

“So about this Carpet, it’s an amazing find,” he said. 

“It is,” I agreed.    “Prince Karl would probably tear at his hair when he finds out that he traded a mere painting for this.”

Admiral Westergard gave a snigger.  “I’m sure he would, but I don’t think it’s wise to announce the Carpet’s abilities outside our circle.  This can be a very advantageous little mode of transport and I don’t want it falling in the wrong hands.”  The Carpet answered with a friendly little ripple that indicated he was agreeing with the Admiral.

“Don’t worry Carpet,” I said. “You’re staying with us and I will take care of you.”

The Carpet gave another friendly bump as if to say ‘thank you.’  

“I think the Carpet’s been through a lot in the past,” I said as I patted it affectionately and noted the parts where it was singed.  “When I took it out of the glass case, I felt like it was in some kind of prison in there.”

“How did you manage to get it out of the case?” Admiral Westergard asked. 

I shrugged.  “I just took it out by prying the lid open on the first try.”

Admiral gave me a puzzled look.  “That’s strange.  Eugene and I tried opening it when we first saw it buried with the other objects in the Weselton royal vaults.  We were trying to transport it into one of the ships that would take it to Corona and we thought we could save some space if we just removed it from the case and rolled it.  We’ve tried everything from wedges to wrenches.  We even attempted to smash the glass with a hammer but it didn’t yield.  I don’t even know how that lid is sealed shut, it doesn’t seem to have any locks on it.  We were able to talk to one of the peasants in Weselton that used to work in the palace and he said the Carpet’s been in there for as long as anyone can remember and nobody has been able to open it.  In the end, we just didn’t bother and shipped it as is.   We didn’t think it was valuable anyway and we even let Prince Karl know it was a nightmare to remove from the case to make sure he’d be averse to receiving it.  But you said you just lifted the lid on the first try?

“Yes,” I replied.  “It wasn’t that hard.”

Admiral Westergard scratched his head and thought for a while.  “You don’t think that case was enchanted to keep the carpet locked in?

“What do you mean?”

“It opened for you but it didn’t for me or anyone else I know that tried.  Maybe… it might have something to do with your powers?”

It was an intriguing theory and it was unfortunate that the carpet couldn’t talk and just tell us.  But when we reached back into Aunt Elsa’s bedchamber where she was waiting for us with Lt. Andersen, Ensign Lorens and Albert we already had a plan to prove or disprove our hypothesis.

We told our companions about our theory and we found the glass case in her sitting room just as where I left it.  The Carpet seemed to shy away from the case that I had to reassure it, I was not going to put it back in there.  I created a small ice replica of the carpet then locked it in the case.  Admiral Westergard then attempted to reopen it but it held.

“Okay it’s locked, it’s not coming off,” he said after he made several attempts to pry it open.  “Okay, Fredrik try opening it.”

I did and the case yielded for me with the same ease I first opened it.  I relocked it and made my aunt have a turn.  The case opened for her as easily as it did for me.  Albert, Ensign Lorens and Lt. Andersen each took turns opening the case and they even went as far as trying to smash it with some hard pieces of furniture but not even one could make a dent on it just like Admiral Westergard.

“I don’t think this is glass,” Lt. Andersen said after he put his full weight on the thing and produced not one single crack. 

“It’s enchanted glass,” I said.  “But why do you think anyone would keep the carpet locked inside it?  It’s not exactly harmful to normal people.”

The Carpet made a gesture that indicated he meant no harm to anyone.

“Maybe it wasn’t meant to keep the Carpet in but was meant to keep non-magical people from using something so precious,” my aunt said.  “You know I’d love to see if Rapunzel, Chip and Ariel can open this thing.  I’d like to know if anyone with a special ability or previous enchantment on them can also open it.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Admiral Westergard said.  “I can ask the two queens to give it a try later.  When we go home we can let Chip try it out.”

“You don’t suppose there are other enchanted objects like these in the Weselton vault do you?” Aunt Elsa asked. 

Admiral Westergard pondered over it for a moment before he exclaimed.  “Wait, I do remember another object encased in glass like this.”

“What was it then?” I asked.  “Another carpet?”

Admiral Westergard shook his head and his face morphed to dread.  “Why didn’t I think of it before?” he gasped.  “If the story surrounding the carpet is true and that other object is also encased in enchanted glass…” he stopped and ran his hands over his fiery hair.   “Oh no, this is bad.  This is really bad.”

“What?” my aunt asked.

Admiral Westergard paced the floor.  “I didn’t even give it a second glance.  I didn’t think it was valuable and I let Heinrik take it.”

“What was it?” Aunt Elsa repeated.

He stopped pacing and stared seriously at her.  “A golden lamp.”

Chapter Text

“A golden lamp?” my aunt asked.  “I don’t understand.  What does the lamp do?”

I knew from the stories of the Thousand and One Nights, lamps were magical vessels and I proceeded to explain it.  “It’s not what the lamp does.  It’s what the lamp contains: a genie with almost omnipotent powers that can grant three wishes to whoever rubs it and becomes his master.”

“But wait, Belle told me that story,” Albert said.  “The genie was freed after his kind master Aladdin wished him free. So if that’s the same lamp it wouldn’t contain anything.”

“Yes,” replied Admiral Westergard.  “That’s a possibility and I’m hoping that’s the case here.  But there is another story that takes off from where Aladdin’s story ends.  I found it in one of the books in the Southern Isles library and Belle told me she had a similar one in her old library in France.”

We all sat down around him for we had a feeling this was something that needs to be heard in a more comfortable position. 

“There was this old Arabian manuscript that contained something of a different kind of fairy tale,” Admiral Westergard related.  “It briefly told how a sultan of Agrabah suffered a mortal wound in the prime of his youth.  He had a friend who was a magical being that traded his freedom for a potion that can extend the sultan’s life.  The potion did work and the sultan lived to a good old age and he kept his magical friend safe for decades.  But as a mortal, the sultan eventually died.  And when he did the lamp passed on to other hands and the magical being was forced to serve other masters that used his powers that caused so much destruction on the land.   The magical being was so dismayed at the sorrows he inadvertently caused that he prayed for a way to end it.   A powerful fairy came to his aid and she imprisoned him in a cell that can only be opened by one that was touched by her magic.  Belle and I discussed this at length when I was a child and we both came to believed that the sultan and Aladdin are one and the same and that the magical being is in fact the genie of the lamp.”

“So if this story is true,” I said.  “My powers and Aunt Elsa’s came from this fairy’s magic?”

“Yes, that’s a possibility,” replied Admiral Westergard before he turned to my aunt.  “So how did you get your powers, your majesty?”

My aunt looked away from him and I could tell she was uncomfortable with the question.   It struck me as odd now that I never really thoroughly questioned where we got our powers.  Mama and Aunt Elsa said they were just God’s gifts.  We were born into it, not cursed or granted powers through wishing spells like in fairy tales and I never really asked them further about it.  I just accepted it as natural just as the rest of the kingdom did.  But now as I eyed my aunt, I wasn’t so sure.  Something told me in her manner that this was another secret she had kept from me.

Finally she spoke carefully.  "What I am about to tell you is something that is strictly confidential.  Can I have your word that you will not reveal anything of what I will say to any other person?" 

We all swore solemnly to her that we will keep her secret and it was only then that my aunt spoke again.   

"Are you familiar with the legend of the Snow Queen?" she asked. 

"Yes," Lt. Andersen replied as we all nodded.  Everyone knew about that fairy tale about a wicked sorceress who kidnaps young men and freezes their hearts until they were nothing more than her slaves.  It was such a popular folklore of my people that until now even the ice harvesters still sang about it as they went about their daily tasks.  I even learned the same song from Papa: 

 

Born of cold and winter air 
and mountain rain combining. 
This icy force both foul and fair 
has a frozen heart worth mining. 

 

So cut through the heart, cold and clear. 
Strike for love and strike for fear. 
See the beauty, sharp and sheer 
Split the ice apart 
And break the frozen heart 

  

"I heard the story from my Papa," Lt. Andersen related.  "But that's just an old wife’s tale intended to scare children to behave.  Her majesty is the true Snow Queen and you are nothing like that." 

"Thank you for the vote of confidence, Andersen," my aunt said as she gave his hand a grateful squeeze.  "I am heartened by your support in me and I assure you I am not that sorceress at all.  But it doesn't mean she didn't exist." 

"So that story is true?" Admiral Westergard asked.   “I heard about stories like that as a child too even in the Southern Isles but just like what Andersen said everyone thought that was just a myth until your coronation day.  I must admit when I went to your ice palace I expected to find you with…”

He stopped and blushed and my Aunt raised an eyebrow at him.  “With what?” she asked.

“Not important.  You were saying about the Snow Queen legend?” he said in an attempt to get her back to the topic at hand but my Aunt didn’t let it slide.

“You expected to find me with what?” she repeated more urgently.

Admiral Westergard squirmed uncomfortably and muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

“Say that again?” my aunt insisted.  Her gaze flickered dangerously at him in a manner that demanded he confess.

He heaved a defeated sigh.  “Look, your majesty, all due respect, I didn’t know you then.  I thought you’d be like the Snow Queen in the legend.  I expected to find a few… errr… kidnapped young men locked up in your ice palace.”                                                                                                                                                                             

He said the last words in a rush as if that could ease the revelation.  I couldn’t help but find his manner hilarious.  I suppressed a giggle by clearing my throat and I knew I wasn’t the only one because Albert and Ensign Lorens were suddenly attacked by coughing fits that I knew were their way of suppressing their own laughter.

“Sir, is that the reason why you immediately ordered a headcount and the security of all the boys ages seven to twenty after you were left in charge of Arendelle?” Lt. Andersen asked.  “I remember being told to stay in the castle premises after that night with the other boys.  We weren’t even allowed to go home to the village.”

Admiral Westergard buried his face in his hands in obvious embarrassment.  “It was a precaution,” he whispered before he looked up at my flabbergasted aunt.  “But I don’t believe you are capable of what that Snow Queen did your majesty.  And nothing you tell me can change that.  I believe in you and you have my word.   Whatever this secret is, I’ll carry to my grave and I’ll protect it as my own with my life.”

“Your faith in me is greatly appreciated Admiral,” Aunt Elsa replied and her features seemed to brighten for a moment before she turned to me and resumed a solemn expression. 

"Fredrik, Anna and I planned to tell you this in time but I think given our situation you should know the whole truth to our powers.  They originate from the Snow Queen and she is as wicked as they said she was as I heard the confirmation from one of her victims."  She paused to heave a breath and continued. 

"You see, our own Kai was taken against his will by her to her ice palace when he was a young lad of fourteen.  He said the whole time he felt cold and saw only ugliness of the world even as he felt a blind almost manic devotion to her.  She ordered him to complete this broken mirror that he had to build as a whole from hundreds of little shards.  It took him months, but finally he almost completed it, except there were two shards missing.  It turns out one of the last pieces was in his eye and it was what made him feel the way he did.  He realized that the Snow Queen had kidnapped every single young man who had a shard in their eye, ordered them to complete the mirror then killed them when they gave up their piece.   Kai was about to be killed too, but his beloved Gerda rescued him.”

“Gerda?” Albert exclaimed.  “We’re talking about the Gerda who runs the royal household right?” 

My aunt nodded. 

“But she always looked so timid,” Ensign Lorens commented.

Well, there's a lot more to Gerda than you think,” Aunt said with a fond smile.   “She has always been a strong-willed woman with so much love to give.  She’s such an inspiration to me.  She was only twelve years old when she set on a quest to recover Kai.   She said she went through snow storms, encountered robbers and was nearly imprisoned by another sorceress.  But she got through on pure nerve, resourcefulness and her unwavering faith.  I'll leave the rest of the story out to Kai and Gerda to relate to you later when we get home.  But to shorten the story, Gerda broke the mirror and her love for Kai was what defeated the Snow Queen." 

"That must be some feat," I whistled.  "But how come we never knew about this?  If Gerda was indeed a heroine we should celebrate what she did." 

My aunt shook her head.  "That is something we can never tell the world and both Kai and Gerda agreed to keep it secret because her rescue of Kai was just one part of it.  You see, Kai was not the only prisoner Gerda rescued that day when she defeated the Snow Queen.  There was one other young man she found there.  He had been kept so long by the Snow Queen that his family already gave him up for dead."  Aunt Elsa hesitated then uttered.  "He was the crown-prince who later became King Fredrik VI of Arendelle." 

My mouth fell open.  "King Fredrik? As in my Great-grandpapa Fredrik?  The one I was named after?" 

"Yes," my replied.  "Grandpa Fredrik disappeared when he was fourteen and no one knew where he had gone.  He had been the Snow Queen's prisoner for six years until Gerda freed him.  And when he was rescued, he brought home with him his infant son… his child with the Snow Queen." 

We all gasped at this piece of news.  "He had a child with that sorceress?" Ensign Lorens uttered.   “This is unbelievable!”

Aunt Elsa nodded.  "Yes.  And he brought that child up and his later wife, Grandmama Elsa adopted and loved him like he was her own.  Together they tried to hide from the world of his true origins because they feared that people would try to kill him out of fear.  That child was my father." 

"Then that means..." I uttered.  "The Snow Queen was my..." 

"Great grandmother," Aunt Elsa finished for me.  "Her blood runs in our veins and our powers came from her.  My father grew up without powers but he tried to stamp out the memory of his true mother and propagated the idea that the Snow Queen's legend was just a legend.  And when I was born with the same power as she did, he was so frightened of me becoming like her he tried all means to make me control and suppress them.”

Now I understood why my grandparents had to hide the secret of my Aunt’s powers from the world.  I tried to imagine how Grandpa Agdar must have feared for Aunt Elsa’s life.  If people knew that her powers came from someone known to be evil people might accuse Aunt Elsa of being a sorceress or witch and might demand for her life.  Queens in the past have been executed for far lesser charges than that.   And even with my Aunt’s reputation to be a good perfect monarch today, I wouldn’t want this fact to be known by the greater public.  It was ammunition to bring her and the rest of our family down politically.

“Papa never told me himself about this fact,” Aunt Elsa continued.  “Only Kai and Gerda did when he died.  They said Papa felt I was already burdened enough knowing I had this uncontrollable power.  He didn’t want me to feel I was inherently evil.  He blamed himself that he carried the genes that gave me this curse in the first place.”

“It’s not a curse,” Admiral Westergard assured her.  “It doesn’t matter where its origins came from.   You chose not to be like that Snow Queen and that’s what counts.”

“Thank you,” she replied to him and he smiled back with reassurance