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Indentured ♕ (Union of the Crowns)

Chapter Text

    ༺[]♕༺[]༻   

"The marriage was concluded for no fleshy consideration, 

but in order to remedy the disorders of this kingdom (...)" 

 ―Ruy Gómez de Silva

      


Within the Assent Ceremony's first hour, the chairman of Arendelle's parliament delivered an unenthusiastic speech:   

"After a drumfire of unfortunate events, the queenless cousin of Arendelle was ravaged by the Great Famine and the Bovi Fever in 1847. A personal union has been negotiated between both delegations to reinstate Corona and forestall enemy invasion from the Southern Isles on the account that Arendelle represent its foreign affairs, pay its debts, fortify its militarization, nuture its natural resources, and serve other needs. In acknowledgement of our just and reasonable cause, the Bishop of Arendelle has granted a dispensation of incestuous affinity laws to allow matrimony between Queen Elsa of Arendelle, cousin of the late Queen Rapunzel, and King Eugene of Corona, former husband of the late Queen Rapunzel. Her Late Majesty suffered two miscarriages and one stillborn during the first years of their coregency. In 1846, pregnancy complications compromised her last expectancy to a degree in correspondence with her late mother's, but it was blood loss that ultimately took her life.

Collaterally, the marriage between Princess Anna and her consort is a morganatic union, in which neither the spouse who entered with nothing nor any of his children will chair Arendelle. Queen Elsa is therefore obligated to fulfill her responsibilities in favor of the Storting's statutes."

Breathing was becoming harder with each passing second for the Coronian King. His chest felt hard, as if it was filling up with grout and tar calcified together. He didn't expect, nor want, to respond and keep the topic flowing into this smutty direction. He wanted to escape the responsibility of consciousness. According to the damp, flittering eyelashes of Queen Elsa, who all but kept her head forward like a celestial priestess, the supporting actress in this porno was fighting the exact same desire, if not the very marble in her throat.  

"The Arendelle crocus will be dimidiated with the Corona sun on the union flag. Should Her Majesty die during childbirth, then King Eugene will be appointed regent.

This conjugality between Queen Elsa of Arendelle and King Eugene of Corona will reward both countries with preservation, prosperity, and posterity."

...Why didn't anyone ever tell him that this would be the ultimate horror?

Chapter Text

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions,

and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.  He does not set out to be a leader,

but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent."

Douglas MacArthur

 

 The prologue to a man's disaster had no foreword or preamble, but Eugene's read as follows:  


[❄]༻♕༺[☀]

THE UNION with CORONA


We the STORTING of ARENDELLE,
In order to exert Nordic hegemony over Corona,
maintain domestic harmony between citizens,
provide financial equality to taxpayers,
and retain Civil Liberties for Ourselves and Our kingdoms,
have ratified the following body of articles for the consanguineous marriage between
ARENDELLE, the Bride of Corona, and CORONA, the Bridegroom of Arendelle
as first devised in the "Treaty of Union" by Her nominated commissioners on February 10, 1851. 

༻ 


▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ Preservation of Interests ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬


༺๑{ Article I: Legislative }๑༻

( Section 1 ) 


All legislative Powers within the United Kingdom(s) of Arendelle and Corona shall be employed by the Storting, which houses 169 peers. The Storting shall be hereof and forever after entitled to:

  • Collect taxes from the provinces of Corona;

  • Withdraw money from the Treasury of Corona;

  • Preside over Corona's transactions with foreign countries;

  • Remove nugatory financial policies to reduce Corona's debt;

  • Export copper, gold, and any minerals or natural resources mined or extracted from Corona;

  • Calendarize Corona's compensations for Arendelle's expenditures;

  • Rehab the castle of Corona;

  • Declare War with the allegiance of Corona (response will be mandatory)

  • Create all Laws for Corona; 


( Section 2 ) 


  • The Supreme Court of Corona (i.e. People's Court) shall be superintended by Arendelle's Highest Court (i.e. Høyesterett);

  • The Privy Council of Corona (i.e. Council of the Realm) shall be replaced by Arendelle's Council of State (i.e. Statsrådet);

  • The Cabinet of Corona (i.e. King's Council) shall be merged into Arendelle's Council of State (i.e., Statsrådet);

  • The Parliament of Corona (i.e. People's Council) shall be abolished after five peers and bishops have been elected into the Parliament of Arendelle (i.e. Storting);


( Section 3 ) 


  • No money shall be drawn from the Treasury of Arendelle by Corona;

  • Corona shall not enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation with another country whilst still in union with Arendelle;

  • Corona shall not engage in War unless invaded;

  • Corona shall not keep warships in times of Peace;

  • Corona shall not keep arsenal in times of Peace; 


༺๑{ Article II: Migrant Rights }๑༻

( Section 1 )


Coronian diaspora shall have a de facto Right of Abode, thus:

  • Disease-free sojourners shall be allowed into Arendelle;

  • Disease-free internal migrants shall be allowed to live in Arendelle (with limitations on monthly influx);

The Høyre of Blood (Right of Blood) Act permits a halvdel to become a citizen of Arendelle, thus:

  • Citizenship shall not be given to Coronian diaspora unless the peoples have parentage or grandparentage from the Nordic equivalent.

With the exception of halvdeler and nobility, diaspora will be deported if:

  • Laws are broken;

  • Hate Speech is printed.


༺๑{ Article III: Head of State }๑༻

( Section 1 )


Articles 77–79 in the Constitution of 1814 grant the sovereign the right to withhold royal assent from any Bill passed by the Storting, whilst Article 78 allows the monarch's veto to be overridden by the Storting if two thirds support any Bill.  


༺๑{ Article IV: Mode of Amendment }๑༻

( Section 1 )


  • The Act must be countersigned before March 25th by High Councillor Liebermann, Deputy High Councillor Steiner, King Eugene of Corona, and the First Lord of the King's Council, Hänel Constantine.

  • Amendments may be proposed to the Preservation of Interests after March 25th.


Signed, on behalf of the Storting, by

Magnus Lagabøte (Chairman)

Kolbein Stoltenberg (Deputy Chairman)

❅༄ Queen Elsa (Head of State)

Baldor Håakonsson (Prime Minister)



Signed, on behalf of the People's Council, by

Sigwalt Liebermann (High Councillor)

Matthias Steiner (Deputy H. Councillor)

✸༄ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Head of State)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(First Lord)


...

.....Is it possible to unread something that just caused brain cancer?

"Your Majesty?"

Eugene's vision panned up. Staring at him with the face of a dragon was none other than the First Lord of his advisory body, a troglodytic lot he'd like to suspend for autographing this indenture.

"Since the assembly has almost come to a close, have you reached your resolve?"

Eugene examined him for a moment, trying to calculate how many brain cells the reptile might've lost, before scanning the room like a helpless orphan in the middle of a corn market. The Renaissance hall they were sardined into, which was supported by diamond vaults and caryatids, crawled with maggots in jerkins and doublets, but the greater number watched him with crossed arms, high chins, and even higher expectations. Among these captious politicians stood twenty commissioners, the only larvae of their nationality that the room contained. The first swayed his body to and fro as he held his hat down in front of him, flicking an annoyed eye from one man to another before lazily fluttering both back open to Eugene. A part of the king wanted to fan his neck with his collar and comment on the climate in the room, but the other was too hot from his own body temperature to form functional sentences.

Like a sparrow sandwiched between two storks, the commissioner before Eugene held his lips in a fixed grin before parting his teeth to sing: "This has been a most delightful season for politics, Your Majesty." Said no one ever. "Each commissioner put their best foot forward to accommodate each other's needs with little to no controversy."

Typical lying politician.

For months, Corona's delegation was unable to cosign a treaty with Arendelle because their interests in self-preservation clanged badly. Although Arendelle hailed a liberal mentality at its core, the kingdom's conservative commissioners dreaded the 'risk' of, "Corona's immigrants collapsing Arendelle's economy the second Acts of Union are passed." The overall fear of losing independence and cultural identity stopped both sides from moving forward. With Corona's bellies growling louder for change, it was either the hunger in Corona's government that moved them into the uncomfortable intimacy bulletined on this bondage contract, or some backstage foul play Eugene didn't know about.

The commissioner added: "It is all because Arendelle has maintained one of the highest standards of commercial success on the continent, so the kingdom is more than able to mother its dilapidated cousin."

Eugene's eyebrow almost reached his hairline. "...You don't say."

"And, if I may state such, Arendelle admires His Majesty for making reformations in a kingdom with such an outmoded system. Poor, illegitimate, and orphaned children were either illiterate or blocked from the same civil rights bestowed upon the upperclassmen in Corona's bygone days. It is a great thing, a great thing indeed, to have a king who can relate to the oppression of the baseborn. He, compared to noblemen, would know how they feel."

Eugene stared at him like a lawyer who didn't believe a word their client said. He folded his hands on the table of his dais and opened his mouth with a long pause, before clamping his teeth shut, forcing a smile, and blinking once. "...Thank you, Lord ― d'ah..." He stopped to chew the corner of his mouth and twirl his thumbs, gradually rotating his head into the direction of his adviser without looking at him.

The mentor grumbled behind a scroll: "Minister Morgenstierne."

'It'll take me till Thursday to get that out.' Eugene popped his head up with a bigger grin. "―Minister Morgen―...stierne, for that lovely sentiment. I guarantee you that your soliloquies were greatly appreciated by every man in the room who held their breaths and rubbed their eyes just to stay awake for it during recess―"

The man stopped smiling to blink down at his shoes in confusion and offense.

―"BUT...I can't snaffle all the credit. After all, if it weren't for my...trusty 'Knights of the Round Table'..."―he looked at his advisory body with caricatured affection―"I wouldn't have made it this far in one 'stroke-free' piece."

At the table from which the King's Council headed, Lord Constantine and the others pretended to leaf through packets as they swapped approved bills like ants passing rocks down the line.

Eugene's smirk twitched. He wished he could set them on fire.

"To some degree, Your Majesty," purred the commissioner. "In the end, you have still accomplished much alone as a diplomat."

Eugene forwarded his flat look and stiff smile to Minister Morgenstierne before theatrically breaking posture to shrug and carol: "Well, you learn a few things about the clockwork of everyday "kith and kin" when you're born on the lowest rung of the social ladder."

The commissioner did not respond to his backhanded slap; he simply grinned like a scarecrow. "Humbly articulated, Your Majesty."

"Why thank you, Minister. I'd have to say so myself." Common sense, if not expertise, told Eugene that this grifter was just another con artist trying to butter him up for a signature. Even that swordfish nose of his reminded him of a beastlier animal's: one with red hair, chimpanzee sideburns, teacup handle ears, and a sociopathic love for unstitching people's sutures through interpersonal terrorism.

"Your Majesty..." Lord Constantine touched Eugene's elbow. Evidently understanding that the king's inappropriate nonchalance was masking a stratospheric level of contempt, the elder endeavored to bring him back to his formalities: "Are you ready to resume?"

Eugene's blasé smile froze in place like gearwheels grinding to a halt in a clock. As he leaned away from the elder to adjust his golden sash, he had the uneasy feeling of saltwater brining his throat from boarding the sinking ship that was this union. 'Rocking the boat' was by no means his 'modus operandi,' but his conscience could not allow any vessel to hit an iceberg with him on it.

When no answer fountained from Eugene's blowhole, Lord Constantine bellowed in place of the king: "The assembly has recommenced."

There was little change in noise patterns other than the babel of voices shushing others to quiet down. Arendelle's commissioners, who all lined the columns like teeth on a saw, chaired the front row for better earshot. The hall's balconies corbelled coughing representatives of the People's Council and snoring deputies from the Council of the Realm. A tragically bored Clerk of Chamber Operations stood by the dais.

Eugene saw no human eyes looking back at him from the other ends of all those snouts. He only saw dark marbles flashing in the wooden sockets of cobwebbed puppets.

"Delegates of Arendelle and Corona..."―Lord Constantine trailed off to pat his pockets for his lorgnette. Once he found the spectacles, he flipped them open from the handle and peered through the lenses like an owl―"...at the...consequence of time-sensitivity, the Union with Corona Act was classified an urgent matter of importance by both parliaments as of yestermorning. In response, the King's Council has agreed to schedule His Majesty's written declaration in Rhine Hall for the recording and historicization of the date, time, and place of his assent."

Yet there was a war in the king's heart that historians would never caption. Eugene eyed the artist painting the Assent Ceremony for commemoration. He began to wonder how his face looked on the canvas, such as whether the painter had captured the nausea bluing his complexion, or if he'd stuck to characterizing him as another Jesus with his face enshrouded by wisdom, tranquility, and heavenly sunlight.

"At dawn, the Clerk of the People's Council delivered the Union with Corona Act to King Eugene from the commissioners of Arendelle, but His Majesty petitioned to reserve assent until seven o'clock this morning. He shall now announce whether he will grant or withhold assent."

Eugene stared at Constantine like a Neanderthal who had just seen a mammoth give birth.

Constantine lowered his lorgnette to give him an expectant face.

...After clearing his throat once or thrice, Eugene ironed the front of his doublet with his palm and then lowered the indenture to fold both shaky hands on top of it. He stopped to glance at one signature in particular:


Signed, on behalf of the Storting, by

 ❅༄ Queen Elsa (Head of State) 


The sophisticated letters were yoked together by a single glyph of glinting frost. Eugene shook his head and smiled scornfully as a breath huffed through his nose. 

"May the blight of Corona and Queen Elsa's philanthropy guide your decision," yodeled an anonymous invitee.

Eugene dragged his gaze through every Nordic commissioner in the room before frowning back down at the paper with a jutting chin. The old him wanted to be passive-aggressively honest about how the monarchical world seemed to underestimate his intelligence, but for the sake of Corona, the new him had to defer to discretion.

"...And with...that being said, does the delegation of Arendelle have His Majesty's consent for the union to take effect?" asked Constantine.

Eugene thumbed his nose and lifted his glum face to his audience. When he got to his feet, his forehead wore the wrinkles of resolution. Everyone in the hall held pendulous expressions. Politicians ocularly belittled him to the degree expressed by scowling and thrusting their lips forward as if they were working some sour taste out of their mouths. Cottiers stood behind armored troops who were there to prevent riots. Servants sat in glassless windowsills with their scabby feet dangling over the traceried stonework. Wives in coifs, grandfathers in tunics, and orphans who had come to hear about immigration rights made up the remainder.

As the beholder of all this congregated hope, Eugene became syntactically challenged all over again. "I..." ―his fingers flexed―"...hereby..."―he harrumped and steeled his nerves, but his voice ruptured like a blood vessel on the verdict―"...withhold Royal Assent."

Breaths went backwards and eyeballs swelled. Red and blue as they too turned, the commissioners of Arendelle did not feud or rally, but Eugene prepared himself for an earthquake. He had done the best of the worst: shown a defiance that could cause a coup of the royal throne.

"Rattlesnake!" Townsfolk uprooted from their passive reposes to sling colorful vocabulary and rotten potatoes.

"Blessed be the Sun; he has come to his people and set them free from the Cold North's domination!" Patriots sang Corona's national canticle to praise him.

The almost dreamy quality of this tragicomedy made Eugene feel like he was standing outside of himself ― segregated between the real world and the world he thought he reigned ― zooming out of frame as he watched a character wearing his face be attacked by hecklers.

"He's murdered us all!"

Eugene could hear his heart socking his sternum.

"You 'have spat on the king's throne!"

He aimed to speak like a king among laymen, so that no word would trigger resentment or betray perturbation: "I will..."―he clamped his eye shut and drew his shoulders up to his ears after a potato grazed his scalp―"m-most respectfully ask...for full―"

The commotion was pancaked by the sound of hooves and whinnies. Arendellian horsemen in green uniforms and tall shako hats came tearing through the mob to herd people back with their neighing steeds. Children scattered like pearls from a broken necklace as Arendelle's personnel formed a line with Corona's to block all flailing hands from the lancet windows, but the miscommunication between authority and civilian led to what looked like the beginning of violence.

A frown sank down on Eugene's forehead as he spectated these ongoings with darting pupils and squinting eyes before the latter doubled in size. He scooted between bodies and moved shoulders aside to approach the impending disaster, shakily telling Arendelle's men to―"Stand down!"―but his weak voice made no interceptions. The king turned his sights to a Coronian officer who was standing in front of the window to oversee the coercion.

"Listen to me!" Eugene blubbered. "This is completely unnecessary! Tell them to fall back before someone gets hurt!" Once again, his decree fell on deaf ears, but he was becoming increasingly aware that this gargoyle was only pretending to ignore him.

The agenda of a law enforcer, which was to act on behalf of the civilian's safety, seemed eliminated from him for tyrannical gaiety. When the king leaped out of the window to lay a hand on his epaulet, the gargoyle on the other end of that shoulder pad turned to reveal the mug of Flynn Rider's ex-purser ― and Eugene, in that moment, had been unprepared for it. The captain's eyes did not even allow themselves to be startled or subservient; they remained blacker than an empty fireplace with a mountain of glowing ashes that had not been doused. He stared Eugene down like he was waiting to saw his teeth together and growl, "Riiii―der?"

Eugene released the tension from his shoulders as he glared at the chief for as long as their reunion sanctioned. The captain raised his hand and flung his palm open to order the cavalrymen to halt. Spanish stallions reared up to meet his platform in a matter of seconds. One trotted out from behind the last, and with it came the queue of Arendellian riders who regarded the king without salute or hail. Having realized their role in the chaos, Corona's horsemen yanked their steeds still in the sovereign's presence.

Agronomists and orphans immigrated to the streets with empty hopes and stomachs. Not bothering to palm back his blowing forelocks, Eugene slowly peeled his gaze off his challenger's sneer. When he finally flicked it away to march back to the window and climb inside, the hall's attendants were already evacuating the aisles. Doors flung back and kicked the walls until dust snowed from the entablatures. Wooden figurines of Rapunzel and her parents clattered to the floor in the aftermath of their ebullition.

Neither Constantine nor the guards scrambled to regain order. They allowed the crooked line of men to outstrip each other as they decamped with their swearwords against the new king's name.

Chapter Text

 

 ☀ 

"I choose to care for the uncared for by looking out for the interests of the overlooked."

Anonymous 


As at the closing of a bad musical, it took a long time for Eugene to recover from this walkout. He had prepared for an earthquake, but he had no dams for this mudslide. By the time he circled back to his table with Rapunzel's figurine in hand, he picked up the indenture and wore his knuckles down to the bone with his teeth.

"I'd heard that the successor to the Crown Matrimonial of Corona was a tightrope walker who peregrinated through risky endeavors for shock value, but I didn't think it true until now."

The words were an attack on his character. The amount of animus in their ammunition, and the gay pleasure of the archer in his aim, made Eugene peek over his knitted eyebrows to meet the speaker's face. What he landed on was a Nordic man with facial features falling far below the equator of his forehead.

The sinister cad shimmied his hat down onto his scalp and turned with one look of leave-taking. "Arendelle is a constitutional monarchy, but Corona seems to have a parliament that still gives its king some absolutism." After spewing what he had to spew, the commissioner bade adieu, and the king was left alone with the cannibals in his council.

"Do you understand the deleterious effects of what you have done?" Lord Constantine's glare burned holes into the table. "The brinksmanship you have crusaded for today will not only make you an adversary of our parliament, but a rival of Arendelle's. Is that something you can grasp?"

It was silent for an eon. A torn banner with, "MaY GoD SaVe YoU" in Old Norse runes dangled from King Bjørnard's statue before rippling earthwards like a Chinese dragon and hitting the floor.

"...I have a cerebral handle on all of it, Constantine," Eugene replied. He didn't smirk, serenade them, or make any jokes. His head hung from his shoulders with the hunched back of a brooder and his fingertips were joined together in a triangle, the forehead having grown dark from despair. "But I'm trying to optimize our opportunities by giving us more legroom."

Constantine talked to his knuckles. "Our parliament signed this because the Treaty of Union, which is a reflection of its interests, was already signed by its delegation―"

"A treaty I never saw."

"Because your signature is not required for treaty agreements. You still don't know your role. For nearly six years―"

"It hasn't been anywhere near six―"

―"an approximation of twelve thousand Nordic vessels have shipped food and naval units into the ports of Corona. It is therefore my responsibility to remind His Majesty that our villages will be as bald as Weselton's head without this union."

"And I have to disagree on that metaphor, along with those ballpark figures." Eugene's neutrality had expired, his reservations all forgotten, and the pussyfooter he'd been impersonating had finally resigned. "We may not have skyrocketing quotas for trade,"―he dug his finger into the table and scanned his council with a pleading face―"but we've stockpiled more resources from our own land this year than we did last year, so we can't give all the credit to Arendelle."

"Our stability has been erratic."

"Constantine, if there was a problem with equilibrium, then it's because Corona's food prices were astronomical." Eugene's voice was slow, stale, and scathing. "The old High Councillor was going behind our backs to do dirty ― and not to mention costly ― deals with the Southern Isles, so prices were made higher than any peasant could afford while our parliament ate just fine."

Another minister attempted to verbally bludgeon him into accepting hopelessness: "Yet you call it affordable to withhold assent and pick faults with the only nation that will aid us after we've been able to contribute nothing to any other? And this, in part, because of who and what you are?"

Something cold and small rolled down the winding staircase of Eugene's stomach like a stone dropping in a lake.

"Forgive me, Your Majesty, but is it not true that your past looms over Corona like a dark cloud? You've done deeds far and wide for the kingdom, but to the world abroad, you are still inappropriate for the throne."

Eugene's eyes were back to their low slants, looking out of the corners with little shifts of uncertainty. "...Then ask yourself this," he retaliated without sass, and faced the minister with the rigidity of Prince Hector defying Apollo's priests. "Why should the Storting want an 'inappropriate' king on Arendelle's throne without having an ulterior motive?"

"Because you are the queen's relative. You are the legal guardian of her first cousin removed. Unless you abdicate or declare war against Arendelle, her ethics prevent Arendelle from usurping your throne."

Eugene's rationale measured these probabilities with qualmishness instead of animosity, but Elsa's "ethics" were not one pound less problematic.

"Excuse me for just a moment." Constantine tore through the invisible curtain they had pulled between themselves. "I believe Corona has done well to uphold silence when questioned by foreigners about the 'Flynn Rider' alias having any affiliation with the orphaned 'Eugene Fitzherbert.'"

"Well, look, Lord Constantine ― you know we've put our necks out there, you particularly, about how this Hans character is the pinkest devil of his kind, but―"

"Prince Hans's smear campaign is a piddling example of empty sensationalism, Minister Ødegård. The dispensations on record only provide the Letters of Pardon that excused the king's illegitimate birth. There has been no distribution of any other file, so the prince's readers came driven by scandal-hunger and prejudice against His Majesty's unfortunate background."

Inferiority maimed Eugene's confidence for the thousandth time.

"Empty sensationalism is enough to ruin one's reputation," Minister Ødegård sparred. "Therefore it is widely known that it has contributed to our loss of trade partners. It's of no coincidence that not a single ally came to our defense against the Southern Isles, so there is no "legroom" to reject Arendelle's offers ― not when the entire world knows we barely have enough to offer ourselves."

―"And that's where you hit the nail right on the head, Minister Ødegård." Eugene lifted his head with baggy eyes. "We barely have enough to offer ourselves, and because we don't, we can't meet the demands in this Act of Union without starving the poor first."

"Of course he speaks for the poor," someone spat, but Constantine tried to mop away all traces of the spittle by overlapping it with his own input:

"Is His Majesty implying that Arendelle's goal is interpersonal genocide?"

"...Now,"―Eugene put his hands up and sank back―"I'm not saying that, but if they bleed us dry, then the poor in Corona will all immigrate to Arendelle for more resources. The xenophobic forecast in Article II, however, implies that less than fifteen percent would get admission, and that remaining percentage? Will either curl up and die on Arendelle's border or keel over and die in Corona."

Minister Ødegård was unconvinced. "Arendelle can't be that absurd. Draining a struggling country won't boon their profits. How do you know these policies won't be put into effect until Corona is on its feet?"

Eugene pressed his thumb to the heel of his eyebrow. "With all due respect, those are exactly the questions Sigwalt Liebermann should've asked before signing it." If he was asking these questions before they were, then it was because his safety mechanisms were in cahoots with his common sense. "Let me add that regardless of whether we "get back on our feet" or not, these clauses aren't going to help us stay on them."

"You are sailing for Arendelle tomorrow," Constantine tabled. "Wouldn't it be best to sign it today and then propose amendments afterwards?"

Maybe it was just a trick of the light, or maybe he just wasn't putting his finger on it, but to Eugene, these "group protestations" were as bogus as their allegiance to him. "Oh, I can guarantee you―"

The ministers perked up like seagulls.

"―that I won't be signing anything without seeing a new set of clauses first."

Their silence had honed into a cutlass against his jugular vein, but Eugene chucked another log into the bonfire:

"I don't buy for one second that everyone in the People's Council gave a show of hands for it, so I want get to the bottom of whether there were any bought votes or omitted oppositions before we move forward. Once we weed out the turncoats, we'll draft a new Treaty of Union with Arendelle."

This disclosure seemed to deliver some pretty high wattage, because a cry of disgust exploded from Minister Ødegård's lips before he could remember his position as the king's subordinate: "For how long do you plan on being irresponsibly leery of your subjects?!"

Eugene unleashed an over-dramatic exhale from his chest, which deflated like a bag slowly being let out of air, and pretended to twiddle the thumbs on his stomach as he "brooded" at them with a dimpled chin. "Let's see here...for how long do ― I ― plan ― on being irresponsible...?" He upheaved an eyebrow and cocked his head. "Well, as our parliament just so happens to rather eloquently put it, the king's powers allow the king to stop an unforeseen crisis from happening, and that is exactly what I, as the king, am doing."

One of the ministers grunted to another about his accession being a mistake. In truth, the Eugene who was presently oozing more intrepidity than he had agreed with them.

"This is not the time for you to use them―"

"This is the perfect time for me to use them," Eugene interjected, glaring at his consultants now. "And with that in mind, I'm going to write a letter to Arendelle's delegation about why I vetoed their "interests." We'll be in Arendelle for a few days, so the People's Council will have more than enough time to find a new middle ground with the Storting. The delegations of both parliaments can use my letter as a point reference."

"Then His Majesty does not wish to veto the union, but to veto the Preservation of Interests," Constantine translated.

"Bingo. I want 2, 6, 8, and 9 in Article I, Section 1 removed with 1, 2, and 4 in Section 2, and 1 with 3-5 in Section 3."

"It pains us to say that you still don't understand government." Holding a smoke pipe between his fingers, Eugene's adviser combed the hair out of his eyes with the back of his thumb and sighed. "Your way will force two parliaments to squabble over the Union with Corona Act before the actual wedding."

"Precisely the issue!" Minister Ødegård piggbacked him. "There's reality and there's just trashing it, and you don't want to understand the reality of our limitations. While His Majesty has spent his freedoms giving handouts to peasants, we've spent ours breathing and eating Arendelle's politics."

Eugene parted his fingers to let the paper sail back down onto the desk. "Let me try this again with a little more...ardor." After resting his ink quill a little cynically, he issued his statement with more flatness than a professor explaining Darwinism to his pupils, "I'm not co-signing an installment plan when the 'Terms of Use' read like a snow-job, and if we can't get a fair deal before the wedding, then the wedding will be getting a new date."

"...What in God's name is a 'snow job'? I always need a word-finder for your idiolect."

Eugene opened his folded hands at the thumbs as he rambled, "A crooked deal, a swindle ― you can just about take your pick from the 'Western Thesaurus,' Ødegård."

"The nerve of you...!" The discussion between council and king somersaulted back into a sword fight, and Minister Ødegård's counterstroke stuck Eugene in the liver: "Your peasant breeding will hold this country hostage."

Eugene's ego bled, but he bandaged it with mordancy: "...Aw'right." He cleared his throat with a fist to his mouth before shimmying down into the chair with sashaying shoulders. "I'm going to add a caption here and ― lemme just ― make sure that we're all on the same page about me being Corona's subjugator. Says in Article I, Section 1: 'The Storting of Arendelle shall be hereof and forever after entitled to withdraw money from the Treasury of Corona,'―BUT―'No money shall be drawn from the Treasury of Arendelle by Corona.'"

Once again, Minister Ødegård's counterblow came down on him like a scythe, "Naturally!"

"Please don't shout," Eugene asked dryly. "I like my tympanic membranes just fine."

"How else should I react? Any courtroom would agree that Arendelle needs compensation, so they can't have us taking more funds!"

"You know..." ―Eugene's eyes scrolled down the document with a flint-hearted smirk―"I'll bet someone up there promised you a chair at the Storting's lunch table, didn't they?"

The face in the bed of dark circles seemed to deform into a feral cat's. Hatred swelled in the man's face like snake venom in a wound, pinching the center with lines and veins until they resembled brackets above his nose. "..."

Eugene tapped his chin before looking up with a mock expression of undivided attention. "...I'm sorry ― were you saying something?"

Minister Ødegård draped his arm over the back of his chair, flicked his hand without talking, and then looked at the wall.

"Happy to hear it. Now, where were we? Ah! Right here at the not-so-cryptically stated: 'The Storting of Arendelle shall be entitled to declare war with the allegiance of Corona,' but Corona can't, 'engage in war unless invaded, keep warships,' or 'arsenal,' but that's, you know, fine by us for some plausible reason that I just have yet to figure out..."

"Your Majesty―"

"Haaang on, almost finished." Eugene was laying this on thick because he was angry, but his ire was the type of ire that would never become anger, only patronization. 

"Your Majesty, you've never signed an Act of Union." His personal adviser watched him through the blue wreaths of smoke curling up from his pipe in filigree shapes. "Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the losses and gains of forming a political union."

Eugene waved the tobacco clouds away. "I may be unfamiliar with the P's and Q's, but I'm not unfamiliar with losses and gains. Partnership doesn't mean getting the short end of the stick unless it's a con. Proportional to what I just read, the goal of the Act isn't to unite parliaments. It's to muzzle Corona's legislators and make the people reliant on Arendelle's―"

"As we are," Constantine hectored.

Blink. Blink. "I beg your pardon?"

"Have you not consulted Queen Elsa behind the council's back through letters for three or so years?"

Eugene stopped chewing his top lip and raised an asking eyebrow. "...What's the real direction your narrative is taking here, Constantine?"

"That it was you who agreed that the endless supply of largess had been made possible by her. It was we who agreed that the only way to secure Corona's future was this union, so you know very well that we've been reliant already."

"...I can vouch for that, but once again, this was supposed to be a union, not vassalage. The whole synopsis about unions solving economic problems is watery on its own. Parliament is only asking for someone else to perform clean-up duty because Corona has been more concerned with short-term needs than trusting any of my ideas for retrenchment. With all the gerrymandering, 'bloodline' rights, and legal surgery talked about in this Act, the long-term side effects of that auction are what I'm worried about."

"That condescension is why the public will flagellate you," returned Minister Ødegård. "When Arendelle's royal navy escorts us to their capital tomorrow, this story will have reached the shore before we do, and it'll have ran like wildfire."

...Eugene leaned back in his chair to massage his eyelids and sigh. When he felt composed enough to respond, he surrendered his palms and mumbled wearily, "Look, I'm not trying to sound insensitive, or unconscious, or ungrateful...because I'm not." The king leaned across the desk and uttered, very huskily, while watching the impact each word made upon the elder, "But what makes you think that the king of any country would be able to sleep at night after signing this?"

No one flogged him.

"Now, I know I'm not my father-in-law, and I know I'm not Rapunzel..."―his voice wobbled―"and I know most of you think I shouldn't have a crown on my head, but I made a promise to them that I would take care of Corona the absolute best way I knew how, and today I have to reconcile with the fact that my best hasn't been good enough." That sentence almost stung his mouth. "If...the parliament wants Rapunzel's cousin to share custody, then I can't keep her from that even if I tried, but it has to be done right for everyone involved."

"...Your Majesty," Constantine began, "this all comes down to one concern of mine, and that concern is this: just because the Storting might listen to changes does not mean that they will enact them. Politicians don't owe it to you or us to act in Corona's favor."

Eugene's quietude held the laidback simplicity of speaking his mind as if there were no penalties. "Then that's the gamble we should get riled up about taking, because it'll either be all or nothing, or nothing for all if we don't."

There came a hanging shadow over Constantine's face. "And if Arendelle should refuse your gamble...will you refuse Arendelle and starve us all?"

The ball rolled into Constantine's court.

"...I know how dealerships work," he tried to assure himself than his council. "If the Storting wants reimbursement, it'll buckle at the knees."

Minister Ødegård climbed back into the conversation's window: "Then you believe Queen Elsa is trustworthy since you must think your affinity is what will prevent Arendelle's stationed soldiers from threatening us into a union? ...Or have you forgotten that their fleets are still here?"

Eugene's face cracked like a vase.

"How long will it take for those spontoons protecting us from the Southern Isles to turn against us?"

Again he was struck by the thunderbolts in their fusillade. His iris caught the castle of clouds tenting Corona's coast. Cornered by his own paranoia, he deflated the debate with a petition: "Let's...discharge for the morning and reassemble for the letter at twelve o'clock...alright?"

The ministers countersigned it by nodding their heads in tight-lipped compliance.

Chapter Text

 

 ☀ 

"Wherever you go you will find people lying to you, and as your awareness grows,

you will notice that you also lie to yourself."

Miguel Ruiz


Constantine hobbled up from his chair with a packet of signed laws under his arm. "Twelve o'clock it is, gentlemen," he echoed back. No sooner had such an agreement been reached did Constantine, who was the most passive senior of the group, turn with the swirl of his cape like a clergyman preparing to reschedule his retirement plan.

Minister Ødegård waved his hand in dismissal of Eugene's ineptitude and joined the bevy of men without fuss. The instant they waddled off the dais, Eugene expelled the sigh of a warrior who had just seen a peace treaty being signed between the Trojans and the Greeks. He clapped his hands over his face and swiped the sweat glistening under his eyes, lethargic from having spoken so much about other people's lives. It had taken much less time than he expected to remind him of his placement in the world. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, he could never be totally accepted by society no matter how many amethysts he owned, and in his desperation to survive such reminders, his emotional residence was forever marooned on some lonely island thanks to one judgmental alienator or another.

'Thirteen years ago, that used to be the plan for a reason...' Eugene rubbed his nose and endeavored to concentrate on his next move by thinking about blueprints instead of pity.

―"Have you not consulted Queen Elsa behind the council's back through letters for three or so years?"

...Eugene's wide eyes darted to the side. He dove into his congested drawer, wrestling out the snowflake-brooched letters he had ensconced in Rhine Hall for precautionary measures. The, "come on ― come on ― come on!" spluttering out of his mouth was briefly interrupted by the action of him licking his thumb as he flicked through the old pile to check for stolen papers. As if the writer had sprinkled stardust over the parchment, a crystalline constellation of cursive characters sparkled on the front of one:


༺()❅()༻

D e a r   C o u s i n

From:
Queen Elsa


Eugene stared at the glittering font with a finger on his temple. He'd been safeguarding this thicket ever since Rapunzel had left him all alone. Contact had stayed limited to the condolences Elsa would pen, but he realized ― with a renewed inkling of the worst ― that it didn't take long for her condolences to transition into negotiations that would enchain him for eternity. It also didn't take long for her to distinguish her communication style from her sister's:

However "chummier" and more energetic, the younger's vocab was a squiggle away from an alphabet circus. Sharp u's favored v's while springy n's somehow trampolined into m's, and instead of writing traditional English, she used the Nordic style of dotting or slashing phoneme characters with diacritics. The queen meshed perfect text with legible calligraphy, but he couldn't tell what was mere protocol between in-laws and what inferred real kinship on her end. Her lexicon had this way of being maternally warm and hospitable ― so much so you'd think you were penpalling with Mother Mary ― yet impersonally polite at the same time. He, on his own reticent part, only entertained their letters for business, not bonding.

Eugene had made strategies for famine relief, saw the success in Arendelle's graceful handlement, and consulted its rich queen to bite her secrets. Within less than a year, his "master plan for retrenchment" had been wholly influenced by her guidance. He should've reached out sooner, he'd thought, instead of circling his cousin from the outpost. Every recommendation Elsa gave incorporated objectivity with integrity instead of opportunism and imposition, and it was here where he found his cerebral equal. Between the decaying flowers of Corona's health, his sanity, and her safety, their business relations bloomed into something he had grown to nurture with gardening gloves.

Elsa had appeared to him from the fog as someone ― the only one ― who understood the tribulations of being an outlaw in Crown society. Her wisdom, compassion, and sensitivity sledgehammered his oyster and broke it in three. The more the world turned their backs on the genocide of his people, the more she became a lifeline he couldn't afford to snip. The more Hans's ugliest brother victimized her by trying to force her into marriage, the more protective he became; this was the power of her manipulation. The Southern Isles had done everything from secretly poisoning him to openly poisoning his reputation, yet her "unconditional" loyalty to Corona still stood tall and unbent.

As starvation and zoonotic viruses raped the country, ships docked with food and inoculations from Arendelle. When King Ragnar of the Southern Isles rose and fell against his sword, fleets docked, too. Arendelle's squadron was two sunsets too late, and there was no magical savioress aboard, but his message response was embarrassingly dewy, with here and there a line of sappy gratitude, the discovery of his High Councillor's betrayal, the sincerity of his promise to repay her, and the vehemence of his parliament's firestorm against his idea for tax retrenchment. She coyly stressed that no payments should be made between consanguineous kingdoms, advising him to try his hand at brokering a middle ground between his legislators instead. He clumsily thanked her, shy of his own uncomfortable warmth; she received it with the motherliness of hers.

And now all that warmth he had for her was gone.

"Pardon me―"

Eugene shot up like a wooden plank and mowed the letters off the table.

His interrupter gaped at him with their palm hovering over the lorgnette by his elbow. "...No need for theatrics, Your Majesty." Constantine blinked. "I had simply forgotten my spectacles."

"..." Eugene snatched his lips in. "...Oh." He forced an apologetic smile. "Can't forget those specs! Ehe..."

"Unfortunately not." Constantine reached for his bifocals and cleaned them with his cape. He minded the grandfather clock. It was twenty minutes to eight. The nobleman bowed to the king and made a beeline for the door.

Eugene removed the tall crown from his aching scalp―

"Oh, and Your Majesty"

The thunder in his voice threw Eugene into such a storm that he juggled the headgear between all ten fingers before shoving it back onto his head.

"...Is it possible that you harbor some hint of paranoia?" Constantine cautioned, not seeming interested in any of Eugene's quirks as he watched the crown sink like a slanted cathedral, but rather choosing to catapult them back into the shenanigans of the previous conference.

Eugene, although a little irritated by having to step over this dead horse, fixed his crown with a subtle pout. "Well, if evolution developed that sixth sense to protect any and all homo sapiens from danger, then my answer is yes: I feel paranoid."

"Let me rephrase my question."

"Please, there's...really no need―"

"Do you think Queen Elsa is the one 'snowing' you?"

Why are they having this conversation? "Constantine, you know how I work."

"Of course."

"And you know I don't like fostering dependency―"

"That much is known, but unless your monotonous delivery is leading up to your point, then it doesn't answer my question." The oracle that was in all elders repossessed him, and Eugene found himself thinking about calling an exorcist. "I'll commend you on your perseverance, because you have faced this monarchy instead of turning the other cheek. You experientially ― instead of emotionally ― assess the pros and cons of tight situations, set out to achieve objectives with ambition, and focus on drawing out what is useful in dead ends. You also know the world isn't fair, and that most law-makers don't play by the rules."

Uh. Perks of being a thief, no?

"So while I don't believe there was any intentional selfishness on your part, I do think that your conduct here today has been disrespectful towards the queen."

This again.

"She's gone to bat for Corona for a long time and collected debt in the process. The Storting and its constitutional monarchy could just as well be twisting her arm behind her back."

Eugene's tongue stabbed the pocket of his cheek. His expressionless features began sinking together, becoming moist and puppy-like, and ultimately gave up the devil-may-care facade by dropping into regret.

In his pensive walk toward the dais, Constantine's heel and toe met the floor consecutively. Eugene noticed that his nose was pointing at the object on his table. "...They knocked her over, didn't they?" 

Eugene felt his eyebrows draw together as a surge of weakness watered him. He looked at the wooden figurine dozing behind his ink quill. His tremulous fingers slipped under its body and flipped it over, reeling its face up to his. Rapunzel's chipped visage grinned back at him, having been stepped on and kicked about by the shoes of uproarious guests. Eugene rubbed the back of his neck to distract himself from the damp pressure on his eyes.

With a shaky thumbnail, he nudged the clumps of dirt out of her emerald corneas, passed that same digit over her lips, and then smiled... 

"How are you feeling about the less political part of this, Eugene...?"

It took some swallowing, but he showed Constantine his teary eyes. The widower looked down again, shook his head with a quick wag of the eyebrows, and then stopped shaking it to look up at Constantine with a stony smile. "What'd you want me to say...?" He shrugged a shoulder. "I'm marrying my wife's cousin to save an entire kingdom from falling apart..." 

Constantine nodded grievously.

"...But, this isn't about romance." Eugene chopped the air with his hand. "This isn't about an emotional relationship, and it's not about me, her, or us. We don't have to be...touchy-feely or, get all romanticIt's just a custody deal," he said as though he was memorizing a lecture for oration. "The marriage part of it will be for show, and the titles 'husband and wife' will just be corsages to wear to the ballrooms. And...that's fair. That's fine. I can do that..." He kept squinting as he spoke, trying to find his words, trying to be comfortable with his stipulations, but his voice was crumbling. "It's just...all a matter of how that Foreign Marriage Act pans out."

"Technically, it's all a matter of how your veto of their first Act pans out."

"...And that as well."

Constantine cast him a grave look. "Eugene, everything you've done in your adulthood is wrong according to the virtues of high society...but here you are. You've somehow become a beacon of knighthood, grossing your legacy as Corona's unlikely hero, serving the king as his best negotiator, and proving how much there is to be admired in a once misguided pauper. Yet Minister Ødegård raised a fair point: is it possible that your appeal is also your handicap? And if so, would it be best to tell Elsa about why you have that handicap?"

...How many volunteers were being filed out of Hades to tear him down today? "Alright. I get it! I'm not exactly the most popular king in the yearbook―"

"Well, there I beg to differ. Women love you, orphans idolize you, and peasants relate to you; we can all agree that your character is chummy and charming. As the grantee to the Crown Matrimonial, you are...misplaced."

"...Thank you, Constantine. I feel a bit better," Eugene cooed like a bather who had just settled into a Japanese hot spring. 

"Please do not lose confidence because of it. Simply remember that you have more to prove now than ever before." After folding his body into a bow, Constantine turned around. "And please don't forget to finish volume thirty of "The Tangled Tales of Rapunzel" when time allows some leisure. Your marriage to Elsa will give you an abundance of it after the wedding that we hopefully still have."

The elder's afterword dinned in Eugene's ears as the doors roared shut. In one haggard movement, the king seized his crown and lifted it, causing the mop of hair atop his head to stand up like hay. He studied in his hands the glinting symbol of divinity that captained and enslaved him. The teeth wore rubies, diamonds, and sapphires with a four inch height all mounted on the frame of a bronze fringe, but it was no prize. Eugene stroked the center diamond with his thumb, and in its kaleidoscopic reflection, saw his hangdog face frowning back at him.

The only thing he could do anymore ― and this, because of his ineptitude ― was look at each and every one of his splintered selves in the polygonal mirror.

...Eugene dug his thumbs into his eyelids with shaking shoulders.

There should've been someone else who could take up the spear and shield of Prince Hector in this Iliad.

Chapter Text

 

"We cannot forgive ourselves for not being perfect.

The result is that we wear (...) social masks to keep others from noticing this."

Miguel Ruiz


"The Storting of Arendelle says Corona is a rather backwards country," cawed Kai, who stood like a sultan in the garden with a tower of plates in his palms. "Officers apparently don armor instead of aiguillettes, and court apparel still smacks of the Cavalier Era."

The tubby Master of the Household, who'd been demoted to plate holder before daybreak, was dressed in gay attire for the "grand welcoming" due at forenoon. His yellow and white blazer made a fine deviation from his usual stodgy coats of green, but a change in gear could not change a posh conviction, for his nose was still to the geese when he quacked about industrialization:

"It has even been written that bicycles are deemed 'exotic' by their bishops because the kingdom is so behindhand in modern development."

Gossip's greasy devices, however, were operating very differently on his recipient ― which was to say not at all.

"H'okay, h'okay ― here we go..."

Kai cracked an eye open without lowering his beak. The crystal sockets of an ice sculpture glared back at him with slivers of sunlight blinking off their rims. Chiseled locks of hair framed one cheek in a perfect 'C', accentuating the beefy cupid's bow of a mouth, and the triangular nose, triangular jaw, and monumentally triangular chest, conveyed the ideal figure of a king. 

"...Stiff," drawled the haughty tone of an unimpressed critic.

Kai found it superb in all areas of anatomy, but the artist judged the art with a mind for irrational perfectionism and nothing else. Elsa's eyes narrowed into their own triangles as she smashed her cheek against her knuckles and pouted in contemplation. With a pirouette of the finger, she dissolved it down to a new model, but every revision made the nose too pointy ― the nostrils too equine ― and the bearded chin started to resemble a banana instead of a goatee.

"It bears an astonishing likeness to the real thing, Your Majesty," Kai fibbed.

He watched her eyebrows curl in embarrassment while the curve of her lips jitterbugged with amusement. The old fellow felt a seismic urge to let his dimples show, too ― because whenever one of those rueful smiles made a guest appearance on Elsa's muzzle, it would infect the nearest host with its charm. Before he could loosen a muscle, she raised the bridge of her finger to her chin and gave the model one last evaluation. Upon flicking her hand, her decision was thus concluded, and both critics watched the sculpture ebb down to a miniature tornado of snowflakes until it was no more.

"...It really was quite impressive," Kai muttered in loss.

Elsa's eyes gentled. "...I can't even remember what he looks like," she confessed with an ashamed smile. Her voice was divided between chuckling pity and whispered regret.

Heartburn stormed his chest. The queen looked for all the world like a wilted crocus flower in a glade. One hand fisted the silk shawl around her shoulders as it fluttered in the breeze like window curtains, adding morbidity to the anemic face and blonde sunlight that haloed every flyaway in her tousled hair. Said vision was by all means angelic and decrepit in one gander. She was so beautiful, yet so aged by her perceived culpability before it had been time for her to grow old.

"I think you've made a splendid simulation, Your Majesty," he encouraged.

But as part and parcel of Elsa's character, her confession had been more of a private reflection than a reply, so it was of no surprise to him when a sigh from the pharynx ended with her going back to being all spinning wheels and neurosis as she flitted from table to table like a blue jay in a cricket field.

"Does Her Majesty know what hour the king shall grace us in?"

Elsa flung open the last tablecloth and let it float down around the furniture like a parachute. "Well," she exhaled, "if he departed at noon on the 20th like we planned,"―the sheet's wrinkles were smoothed out by her palms―"then he should be here no earlier than seven o'clock."

Kai sidestepped the maidens cascading into the garden with fluted vases. Elsa dropped a sunflower in each at locomotive speed, only pausing to rearrange a petal or two as the women moved down the line. Within reasonable proximity marched an army of footmen who lowered Chiavarina chairs in front of Rococo tables. The seclusion of the last table's location, together with the frozen beads swaying from the birch trees overhead, suggested that it was reserved for King Eugene and Her Majesty. Banners displaying Corona's sun rays embraced by the dendrites in her snowflake consummated the marriage that had yet to be formalized.

Pacing up and down at the heels of the handlers was Queen Elsa herself, who wrung her fingers and peeped over epaulets to point out where an ornament should be placed, at which angle of the sun it should be facing, and to what degree, only to make such corrections in private. Red with second-hand embarrassment, Kai abstained from shaking his head. Her machinery could be, in a word, horrifying. At only five in the morning, she was a rock-ribbed workhorse in full swing, indefatigably orchestrating ambiance and details without a thought to her own health, but her commitments seemed, to him, motivated half by genuine dedication to the cause, and half to distract herself from the cause.

"Her...Majesty met the king as Prince Eugene at coronation, did she not?" Kai inquired, knowing only that the man was eight years her senior ― a chap shoring his forties from what was grapevined ― and therefore not her coeval.

A flashback of the relative sizing up Prince Hans from the lip of his wineglass screened in Elsa's mind. "...Not quite," she downplayed. She sanded her hands up and down her legs as she scuttled across the garden to hover one pair of wiggling fingers over a box of cutlery. "We saw one another, but..."―sigh―"we never met..." Fork bouquets were distributed to maids behind a feeble smile.

These proceedings bothered Kai's pancreas like a gallstone. Sovereign and servant were equals in turning Arendelle's royal garden into a brunch patio when it was absolutely inappropriate for Her Superior to be assisting her inferiors.

―"I think your ice sculpture looked handsome, Your Majesty!" flapped the gums of one decorator. "I hear that King Eugene is a dish! The finest fella on the continent, even."

Elsa gave her an almost smile. "Thank you, Åsdis."

Such fraternization may not have been as scandalous as installing a plumbing system in mud and heels (*), telling underclassmen to treat her like a person instead of Divinity (*), or sneaking into peasant choirs as a villager (*), but it was enough to make Kai eyesore.

"That placement is perfect," Elsa complimented, resting one palm in the other as she circled the staff. "And please remember to give the tulip glasses instead of the tumblers to King Eugene and I."

The discomfort she spliced onto those last syllables went undetected by all except Kai. Behind appending a second passage to the first conversation, he closed his eyes and dignified his posture when she approached him to inspect his silverware, "I had the pleasure of being nose to nose with him, and he's not a coherent fellow."

Elsa held a saucer up and squinted at it with her mouth stretching into an arrow. "And, by coherence, you mean...?"

"A confusing blend of "larger than life" flamboyance and "down to earth" sangfroid, so to speak. He imparted an animated verbal routine designed to awe, often alternating between bookworm vocabulary and savvy one-liners, but he spoke like he was the only chap in conversation with himself, as if he didn't care whether his listener actually understood him or not. I suppose such is the way of storytellers, but just know that if you happen to find yourself in need of a translator, it's no one's fault except his own."

Elsa's shoulders bounced with a snort that was crossed between a sigh. She wiggled her eyebrows and ticked her head, daintily placing the plate back in his stack with her fingertips. "I prefer to make my own judgment calls, but I'll keep that in mind." 

This rivulet of humor that was shining through the keyhole of her personality, Kai grasped, was faint.

When she looked up to shine her smile on Kai, his expression differed from the first. It was torn, soggy, and so fiercely studying every freckle on her cheeks that her saliva went down the wrong windpipe. "What's the matter...?" she asked, much like a caregiver itching to press their hand against their grandfather's forehead.

"...Nothing, Your Majesty." Austerity faded from his crow's feet like wet sand dripping to the bottom of an hourglass. He blinked his damp eyelashes and let his dimples show. "It's just that you've grown exponentially..."

A rueful smile broke out on her face with the loveliness of a sunrise climbing the horizon. A fatherly one trembled up on his own. In the ruining of this special scenery, lurs and bukkehorns were blown from the castle's bartizans in deep, blaring bays.

The silhouettes inside waved their arms to and fro to alert the queen. "King Eugene is nearing the border, Your Majesty!"

Elsa clapped a hand around her throat with the other cutting off the circulation in Kai's arm.

"Oh, peace be still!" Voices could be heard from the castle's windows in rippling brooks of panic as housekeepers unyoked from their composure.

The pond's honking swans took flight in a blizzard of white, owing in great part to the decorators who hotfooted it through the shrubberies. Elsa was just about clapping her hands like a seal and making traffic signals to keep people from abandoning their stations. One servant with a teetering tray scuffed Kai's shoe and dove straight into another's groin. These acrobatics caused the crystalware to fly up and shatter into little spinning chips of glass right before Kai's feet.

"...It would seem King Eugene has arrived earlier than anticipated," Kai's wooden announcement of the obvious was gravely swallowed by his recipient.

The number of catastrophes going on at once would've been enough to put Elsa into a coma. She beetled after one group with her hand clamped to her temple and the other reaching for compliance, before lagging behind a second herd that stampeded in the opposite direction. Agitation soon supplanted anxiety, and after one fed-up grunt, she jammed two digits into her mouth and whistled.

Heels skurrrrrr-ed to a grinding halt.

The heated queen motioned her hands like an equerry calming horses. "I need everyone to just ― calmdown."

They blinked at each other before blinking at her.

As sleepy and sweaty as she was, she recuperated her staying power and pulled her shawl over her breasts. "King Eugene won't be docking for another thirty minutes," she patiently shared, "so that leaves us some time."

The servants gauged her words with chagrin.

"Now as you were, please."

Bows, curtsies, and apologies were given before they billowed out and did as instructed.

Once everyone had fallen back into formation, Elsa's voice was whittled down to a woozy quiver by her own dismay: "Kai..."

He faced her with a troubled look.

A smile flickered through her lips before waning like sea foam. "Make sure everyone is ready before we open up the gates."

Kai bowed from the neck. "...Yes, Your Majesty."

Elsa thanked him for his kindness and grabbed the bottom of her cyan nightgown (*) to make haste.

Chapter Text

 

"Our personal power is dissipated by all the agreements we have created."

Miguel Ruiz


The sentry ejected the queen from the cloister and ushered her into the Great Hall. Going up, debris rained from the balusters as brooms swept the staircase. Elsa's breath was wasted on hiking the steps and chiming timid greetings to her housekeepers. They tweeted back as nervously as finches in aviaries. Gabled windows swung open to the cawing seaside one by one as she sped past the blurry grid of bodies and sunlight with her middle finger on her forehead.

Elsa doddered into her sister's quarters. "Anna?" Light poured into the otherwise dark bedroom as the door's gap widened with a creak. An adagio of loud snores filled the space. Elsa shook her head and rolled her eyes, annoyed by her next task. She folded her shawl under her arm and let herself in.

Burritoed between the pillows with a yarn ball of hair on her head was her irreplaceable little Anna. She wasn't properly little anymore, but to Elsa, she would always be. Anna's nightgown had ridden up her waist during hibernation ― flashing Elsa with a triangle of freckled legs ― and her drool was dangling from her chin like a suspended raindrop that wouldn't fall.

"Oh, Anna..." Elsa's sigh stretched into a long rasp as she bent down to remove the confetti in Anna's mane. She flicked the motes over a trashcan and then mounted her bedside. 

Anna smacked her lips and slurred about stolen shillings, making the drool on her chin jiggle. Gravity defied the goofy glob. Evidently it had taken on Anna's resilience.

The queen's eyes shrank into chinks as she curved a smirk to the best of her ability. After letting both shoulders laugh in place of her mouth, Elsa slipped the blonde streak behind her sister's ear and twirled its cockscrew curl. She set a motherly hand on her shoulder and leaned in. "An―na," she singsonged with a whisper.

Anna gurgled.

"...Anna."

She turned over with the flop of her arm.

"Anna."

The startled princess shot up from the bed with her hair sticking up like the sun. "Mu'whut...?!"

Elsa hid a giggle behind her hand.

Anna's bleary vision tuned in and out of clarity before it finally steadied on the blonde and white image smiling sheepishly in front of her. "El―sa...?" She massaged her eyelid with her thumb. "Whaddya ― SSSSS!" Her hands flew up to her head. It felt like ten Kristoffs were plowing into her skull with ice axes. "Ahhh ― ow, ow, ow, ow!"

Elsa bit the side of her finger before brushing the haystack away from Anna's temple. She began scolding her with all of the inflections of a groaning mother as she massaged it. "Anna, what did I tell you about overdoing the aquavit last night?"

"Yeeeaaahhh, I know, I knowiknowiknow," Anna hissed under her tongue in constipation.

"Just hold still."

Anna pouted, dying to retort, but she was too stiff in the neck to argue. She sat there and let Elsa rub the loins of her noggin, slowly feeling her aggravations lighten up on her. "Daaahhh...that's the spot...right there; that feels so, so, so good...That ― Ooh! That's a keeper..."

"Better?"

"Suh'ho much better."

"Good." She patted the bed. "Now get up."

"...Hu'what?"

Elsa mixed laughter with urgency as she departed: "Or else you're going to be late."

"Late fer'..." Anna yawned and scratched under her armpit with a drunken smile. "Late fer' whut~?"

Elsa opened her wardrobe's doors, causing a whiiishhh of air to whip Anna's hair back. "Anna, please don't tell me you forgot what today was?"

Anna gasped. "Oh, that's RIGHT! ...Wait...oh ― no, that's right!" Anna keened. She covered her face and plunked back into the mattress. "Noooo, no, no, no...not today, not today, not to-day."

Elsa riffled through her hangers. "Well, it's going to have to be some time today, now isn't it?"

"But Elsa, my legs weigh two hundred kilograms! Mmm-hm-hm-hm-hmmm~..." Anna muffled her whines with her palms as she dragged her nails down her cheeks, leaving rake lines in the skin. "Mmm — No, h'okay! I can do this," she tutted, slapping her face. "I can get up. It's just legwork, Charley horses, and...a hangover, after all."

Her "sister mom" found the frock she was looking for and laid the dress on the bed, admiringly splaying her fingers across its sequined breast pockets. Content with her choice, she passed the body mirror in her gliding "morning" gait, but then abruptly slowed down to rewind her steps. The Elsa in the reflection looked on the outside the way she felt on the inside. Sagging from the porches of her eyes were grey bags laden with insomnia, and her thin mouth was a taut bowstring. She rubbed her cheek with a frown before lowering her pink eyelid.

Leaning back in dissatisfaction, Elsa swiped her palm across her collarbone. The fabric of her nightgown petered away as magic ate the cotton until flying comets of frost left behind a stelliform dress. She sucked on her finger and used its wet tip to curl the strand on her forehead, having applied cosmetic spells to disguise any signs of decrepitude. 

In one choppy breath, Elsa tacked on a smile and spun around to Anna. "―So!" Her hand elegantly cradled the other. "How does that dress fit you?"

The snoring hibernator was sprawled over the bed with her butt in the air.

"...Anna!" 

Anna snorted awake. "I'm up! I'm up!"

Stomaching the laziness of her sister, Elsa, who had prepared herself for the day's landslips, made it a matter to scold Anna like a neurotic parent as she flayed the dress's plastic wrap without yielding any control over her wrists. So erratically did she fight with it, for the thirty seconds or more during which people like Elsa would fumble with synthetic material, that Anna began to worry. She felt her sister's nervousness, which had taken on an antsy personality of its own, and saw the latent aftereffects of insomnia besieging her.

"Elsa, lookit you!" Anna reeled her in by her hands. "You're shaking all ov-er!"

"I'm fine, Anna―"

"No, you're not fine," Anna bickered. "You're all over the place." She sighed. "Okay." Her finger stood up. "You need to breathe first BEFORE you do anything else. It's good to do breathing exercises, remember?"

"...Breathing exercises?" Elsa's repartee dripped with causticity. "You can't be serious. We don't have time for this―"

"C'mon~, just try it with me." Anna jiggled her arms. "Jus' REAL quick."

Elsa stared at her cynically before dropping her shoulders and rolling her eyes back to her. Anna beamed brighter than the North Star. Another sigh soughed out of Elsa. She reluctantly closed her eyes and stuck her chin out to participate. "Fine."

Elsa's nasally drag on the word "fine" made Anna grin. "That's the spirit! Now breathe IN...and breathe out. Breathe IN, then out. Goood~, you got it."

Elsa suctioned her last breath into her nostrils, held it, frowned, and then paused to shake her head with her eyes still closed. "...Why exactly are we doing this again?"

"...Uh, hel-looo! Respiratory purposes?"

She deadpanned. "...Anna."

"What? It relaxes the stress hormones! That's what Grandpabbie said, isn't it?"

Elsa pressed the dress against Anna's torso. "Anna, we don't have time for this. Now I want you to rehydrate to get up and get dressed." 

"Alright, alright, alright ― jus' gimme fifteen extra minutes to go along with that twenty, and I'll be downstairs before y'know it."

"...Just, fifteen extra minutes?"

"Just fifteen extra minutes!"

Elsa's eyelids thinned before widening. She blinked thoughtfully.. "...Alright." She retreated from the bed and stood up. "Fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes!"

"And fifteen minutes only."

"Gotcha!" Anna sent her two thumbs-up.

Elsa sighed, but then smiled weakly. "I'll make sure Gerda sends up coconut water and Lutefish."

"Okay, great." Anna watched her sister leave.

Elsa smirked with crinkled eyes as she wagged her finger at the princess through the door's shrinking crack.

After Anna heard it click shut, she returned to the dress, held it up to look at it, and then nosedived face-first into the bed with her legs kicking up behind her. "Ugh..." She turned her face to rest her cheek on the mattress. "Why'd it hafta be today...?" 


―"The preparations have been secured, Your Majesty."

"Thank you, Kai."

Elsa trembled at these developments, because she had been separated from the one rock in her current. The regnant, clueless to her sister's current "business," strove to reach the castle's anterior alone. A winding lane was opened up by the throng of servants in the foyer like a centipede moving its body aside for a boulder. As she preceded them with the flashing effect of silver hit by sun rays, they succeeded her with caged doves. The doorkeepers at the fore of the procession bowed to the monarch before unlocking the twin doors.

Upon the doors rumbling open, the portal of sunshine engulfed her body until it melted into its glow. Behind the dissipating wall of light stood representatives of the Storting and the Statsrådet who bulwarked the bailey. At the marrow of these dour men smiled Archbishop Nidaros and his brethen all dressed in the shimmering chasubles of the Church. Every man watched Arendelle's national cavalcade footslog into the harbor to receive Arendelle's new king with their instruments. 

Bodies waited and shivered against the wet draft braiding their bangs. Although not much of the Hanseatic port was visible at this misty hour, the shoulders of the wharfside houses were distinct. 

Archbishop Nidaros turned to his clergymen. "Why is it that we don't hear any music from the band?"

Elsa's fatigue ebbed and flowed like seaweed lapping along the shore of her mind. Before she could lose all consciousness in the spectral shapes fogging her vision's fjord, a trumpet touted.

"Do you hear that?" hurrayed one parliamentarian.

An unhooked ripcord was whipping around inside of her now, and with her glassy eyes, she watched for her cousin-in-law. 

"Wait―..." the archbishop spoke, lifting his hand.

Arendelle's flag flickered in the wind so harshly that Elsa thought it would rip off. Hooves could be heard clucking hard on the cobblestone, but they didn't belong to the cavalcade's mares, because they galloped without music. These unknown advancers ― these tremors in which they made the quiet earth quake ― darkened the courtyard with an overcast of dread.

"What's happened here?!" bawled the archbishop, bewildered and appalled.

It was Corona's Captain of the Guard who appeared from the mist like a bat out of hell, together with three or four coast guards of Arendelle's Royal Navy, and a lineup of the now bruised commissioners who'd been sent to deliver the Union with Corona Act.

Chapter Text

 

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"Listen to other people tell their story, but don't believe them.

Be skeptical, but learn to listen.

You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you."

Don Miguel Ruiz


The commissioners marshaled in by the Spanish stallions and Fjord mares, while suspiciously short of seventeen members, were not bandaged or battered, but there was proof that they had been tarred, feathered, and mistreated enough to make washing every ounce of gunk off their flesh inexecutable before docking.

"...What is this...?" Elsa's demand was feebler than a little girl's before it magnified in bass and volume: "Captain, what's the meaning of this?"

Corona's Captain of the Guard ― an ugly bullfrog of a man exceeding what could be presupposed as fifty ― slung his leg over his saddle and plonked down from his mustang, but he did so without answer. Standing tall on the end of her glare, the cuirassier chose to move in to look at her ― to dissect her ― to probe her ― and shed his helmet from his head to let her look at him. She noticed his singed hair first, his greasy cheekbones second, the bloodstained mustache third, and lastly, her hurricanic loss of self-control.

Arendelle's coastal commandant was about to speak before he heard a warble of whimpers and pants. He saw crystal heels come clambering down the steps in trips and wobbles, susceptible to breaking the ankles they shoed, and Queen Elsa's glittery cloak slithering after them faster than a snake.

"My God," ejaculated the Coronian captain. "She is a sorceress..."

Discerning the inappropriateness of his immersion, Archbishop Nidaros, who had broken the man's trance by stomping his crosier staff on the ground, turned red at the gills. "Coronian captain, lower your gaze; Admiral Øyvind, answer to your queen."

"Your Majesty, King Eugene's ship..." At the bottom of the portico that she was nearing, Admiral Øyvind nervously met her on the steps, but she zipped by him.

"Kai―"

―"Yes, Your Majesty." Kai was the only man who understood the conclusion she had reached. "Send for the equerry to get the queen's horse!"

Corona's captain held his helmet against his plackart as he watched Elsa's cape ripple behind her with the beauty of a starlit river. He turned his own toward hers when it dashed past him. "The king is not here...Your Royal Majesty."

Her jog died into a pigeon-toed stop. The heaving of her shoulders, along with the sound of her whimpering between huffs and puffs, did not.

The captain dug inside the neck of his breast plate and pulled out an encapsulated rotulus. "King Eugene is unharmed, but he will not be coming."

Her hands curled into the safety of her chest. While clergymen jabbered, Elsa's downturned eyes skated back and forth across the floor before she slued her head over to the man with tears trapped behind them.

"Her Majesty's other commissioners are being evaluated in her wharfside infirmary as we speak."


With all the momentum of a rock tumbling off a cliff, the velocity at which the day had turned could've given a cheetah whiplash:

―"Would Minister Slåke of Foreign Affairs, Minister Solheim of Finance, and Minister Morgenstierne of Children and Equality please explain to Her Majesty and Their Excellencies, in thoroughly clocklike recountals, what happened to all twenty commissioners prior to their arrival?"

From the stage-fright of being the holders of such galactic attention, the trio stood with their heads lopping like bellflowers, trying their damnedest to nerve themselves to deliver the explanation they owed. The neo-classical treaty room they were sardined into, which was honeycombed with a coffered ceiling and starred walls, was overrun by journalists in bunads and knickerbockers, but the greater number watched them with crossed arms, high chins, and even higher expectations. Rows of housemaids could be seen from the doorway Kai monitored behind the ink slingers.

One green bonnet belonged to Gerda, who'd been following the concourse without being able to get a good eye in. "I can't see a THING with all these beanstalk hats." She hopped and stomped her foot down, wresting with her apron. "Oooh! I want to take a broom to them―"

The royal overseer grabbed the handmaid's elbow to corral her. "Just listen." He mopped his forehead with his handkerchief.

The fourteen Councillors of State, constitutionally known as the statsråds of the Statsrådet, surrounded the bearers of bad news in a rectangle of stern faces and regency cravats. Three lounged on the canapé sofa against the room's drapery, ten rocked back against the cerulean horsehair chairs, and Prime Minister Håakonsson sat adjacent to the queen's private secretary at the treaty table.

"Because the following information is a capital concern," the prime minister prefaced, "the press is legally allowed to document your testimonies for print―"

A columnist popped between the maids like a bar of soap. Everyone rocked forward to glare. Baldor Håakonsson waved towards the last available fauteuil. Embarrassed, the man tipped his hat with a woebegone grin before tip-toeing to his seat.

"...―as to give Arendelle's wharfside residents some enlightenment on what they saw," the interviewer resumed.

Like a sparrow sandwiched between two storks, the commissioner juxtaposed to him held his smile in fixed position before parting his teeth to speak: "..."

"Minister Morgenstierne?" The prime minister inclined his head.

Comparable to the others, the bruises on the thenars of the commissioner's palms were not deep enough to be classified as lesions, but his mental wellness had been an uninvestigated casualty.

"Minister Morgenstierne..."

"I'm sorry..." The interviewee chuckled as he turned his hat in a circle. "...My...throat it's ― you see ― it's still..." He discontinued, upon hearing in the outback of the assembly, a soft purling by the candelabrums.

Minister Morgenstierne tilted sideways to find the music's maker, as did most of the newswriters abaft him. What he discovered was Queen Elsa's back. He watched the bony wings of her shoulder blades flex and stretch under the skin as she dunked a ladle into a bowl of hot apple juice, cinnamon sticks, chopped cloves, and ginger root.

"Your Majesty," the prime minister nagged.

Elsa shakily tapped the spoon against the edge of a goblet until the last drop hit the brim. She set the silverware down with a clatter. When she looked over her sweaty shoulder, the commissioner was not granted a face glaciered in ice, but a sensitive, rosy thing moist with care, remorse, and consternation, as well as the compassion that had been amputated from politicians in parliamentarism.

As she turned and came forward with a cloud-walking grace, executives caressed their right bosoms and bowed. Minister Morgenstierne kneaded his wrists while the progressive click――clack――click――clack of her icicle heels closed in on his heartbeat. His concentration whizzed up from the queen's swollen ankles to her rouge lipstick, which tried to bend its upside down bridge into a smile. After unfolding the raisiny fingers in his fist, the goblet she held was placed in his palm.

"Please take your time, Minister Morgenstierne," the queen softly advised.

He blinked soddenly and looked down at the reflection that was rippling between the cloves.

Elsa squeezed his wrist in an endeavor to encourage him to hold the cup steady. "You don't have to explain anything to the council and I until you feel able." She dropped her head to see behind the mortcloth of hair palling his face. "And that doesn't have to be right now."

The prime minister flunked his eyes open to the queen's private secretary, who shook his head back at him.

"I...I cherish your goodness, Your Majesty." Minister Morgenstierne closed both palms around the goblet and bowed until his chin was in his jugular. "Her Majesty is...too kind for the tongue."

Although she still smiled, tucked into the navel of her forehead was a frown. For all of her seeming composure, her placid bearing was artificial. The limelight forced her to keep her subjects calm by decanting the equanimity of queenship in opposition to the hysteria she had paced the office with an hour ago, but inside, she was in shambles. Every acre of her body was afraid ― for Corona's sake, Eugene's, and her own.

"If Her Majesty shall permit me, what happened in Corona needs to be revealed for Her Majesty's welfare, not the king's."

She would've questioned the minister's phrasing, but her tongue had a pin in its cushion for claustrophobic reasons. The occasional pressman would peer into the conversation and arm his hand with a fountain pen to squiggle a scrawl of embellished imagery or hyperbolic statements about her behavior. She downed the unavoidability of media exploitation and transatlantic jeremiad taking today out of context. Permitting Morgenstierne to start the gabfest, Elsa collected her nerves at the treaty table. Her chair was latterly pulled out by Kai and dusted by his brush.

―"Corona has gone back on their oath, Your Majesty," blasted Minister Slåke from out of the blue. "King Eugene did not arrive in place of us because he vetoed the union before his patriots vandalized our vessels."

Elsa, with her hand still on her abdomen in mid-squat, immediately locked up in the hamstrings before she could even sit down. Kai, with his hand still on her chair in mid-leave, stared at the minister like he had just axed an infant.

"It's been said that he think you a traitor."

"What piffle is this?" The prime minister entered the monologue with loaded cannons. "A traitor, Minister―"

"Please." Elsa held up her hand in her almost arthritic state.

Minister Slåke loudened his voice to address any and every ear that would receive him, "The rhetoric was that Her Majesty drew him into a web of financial debt and emotional manipulation."

The animadversion fired up the crowd instantly.

Elsa blinked her eyes as if she would faint or vomit, but then shut them tight, shaking her head once to restore her equilibrium. Miserably, she spoke with no conviction, "Minister Slåke―"

"He was dismissive of our allegiance and your affections for him, Your Majesty―"

Outrage skyrocketed. Pens wagged faster.

"Minister Slåke―"

"And more, because what loyalty could be reciprocated by a crowned criminal―"

"Minister Slåke."

"..." His lips clamped over his glimmering teeth.

Elsa peeled her lids apart, which were canopied by a heartbroken frown, and glared at him with pink eyes. "...Please refrain from repeating false allegations made by the Southern Isles in my presence."

Minister Slåke dispatched a heartsick look ― the look men telegraph to a woman when they want to comfort and coddle them like a father does a tyke.

She battled to discipline her jittery hands and flaring nostrils. "Now I want you to tell me who told you about King Eugene's accusations," she asked it strongly, without belittlement, offense, or vindictiveness, as if nothing but total ethicality and accuracy was relevant here, but her showmanship was pitiful in the optical lenses of Minister Slåke.

"Journalist J. Abelard, Your Majesty." He adjusted his glasses. "He had not written any papers on it yet, but in his notes, he confirms that he was told by one of the king's ministers."

Chapter Text

 

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"We crucify ourselves between two thieves:

regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow."

Fulton Oursler


"..." Puffy-eyed, jaw-slacked, and syruped in sweat from throat to chest, Elsa almost scoffed: "...Journalist J. Abelard...Minister Slake...?" She tetanically felt the urge to smile, titter, and shake her head at him, but in light of the comity demanded by the media event, she did none of the three.

Kai looked at Elsa, cuing Elsa to look at him, but the queen, with her lissome arms and petite hands arranged into a "V" above her groin, preserved the guise of a goddess among mortal men. He grew in tune, however, with that goddess's anxiety by watching the bust of her bodice bob up and down.

Minister Slåke, to the detriment of the queen, decoded her somatic signals out loud: "Your Majesty, I understand your enmity. I can see it oozing from the pockets in your skin―"

The press looked at her dewy cheeks, which were honeycombed with pores.

Her prime minister sawed his mouth with the back of his finger before guiding his attention to her wrinkled forehead. "Sit down, Your Majesty," he whispered.

Elsa remained as static as a thundercloud.

―"but whilst Abelard's libels and conspiracies were ― sophistical and...prejudice against your "mystique" in the past, my meeting with him hours after King Eugene rejected our union was candid and educational," promised Minister Slåke.

Her lips squirmed in passing. She raised her chin, eyelids batting drowsily. "Can you provide any...proof or eyewitness of J. Abelard's interview with King Eugene's minister, Minister Slåke?" Her cynical eyebrow wagged. "Maybe even a name?" The patronage in the request was couched under polite indulgence, for she had already decided that the elder was electing a liar for the position of informant.

Minister Slåke stalled to study the dark bags hanging from her eyes like spider egg sacs.

"Can you provide any voucher or proof of an irrefutable connection between my cousin and your attackers?"

Neither Minister Morgenstierne nor Minister Solheim volunteered. Minister Slåke opened and closed his fists. For all of her deliriousness, the regnant waited on him with a ladylike diplomacy. Kai chewed on his thumbnail as he overanalzyed her body language from afar. Both he and the prime minister were doing a mental countdown on how long it would take for either of them to catch her.

Should she pass out from sleep deprivation, the entire conference would go to pieces.

"...Minister Slåke?"

He was unresponsive.

Holding in her growl, Elsa moved her cloak behind her waist and folded the dress under her legs to sit down. "Please go on, Minister Slåke."

"I can provide my word for the former," he vowed.

This was the unspoken "validity" that had touched Elsa's sixth sense. Minister Slåke seemed determined to legitimize his loyalty to the Crown over the legitimacy of his sources, and there was no dependability in that. The very valor of the scabbed man standing on her rug, looking as cocksure and gallant as Lancelot before Guinevere, made her head detonate from the ludicrousness of the parody. If the jellyfish that was her brain had slopped down onto the treaty table right in front of her, she wouldn't have sown it back in.

"J. Abelard's veritable citations were as unbiased as they were onerous, Your Majesty."

"But, in the meantime,"―Elsa shuttered her eyes to knead her temple with her third finger―"your...verification of hearsay comes from more...hearsay, Minister Slåke?" They opened unevenly to squint up over her forehead and read his face with what little clarity they could capture. "Is that what you're implying?"

"The verification is King Eugene's absence and our presence, Your Majesty," he reasoned.

Her fingernail hovered by her temple as her brow unpuckered. She demoted her hand to the armrest of her chair and endured the brunt of that realism by looking at him through the oval cracks of her vision.

"My lack of physical proof or eyewitnesses are not nullifications of what's before you right now."

The prime minister imposed on their colloquy, "Before you wend your way further, Minister Slåke, please recount that Arendelle and Her Majesty still need Corona and His Majesty just as much as they need them, so if there is any word spoken here that is part of a trumped-up story, then the repercussions will permanently hamper Arendelle's access to Corona and Her Majesty's line of succession."

A wheezer coughed in the room. Elsa palmed her face to hide her reaction. She then squeezed her eyelids with her thumb and her pointer before tucking tussocks of frizzy blonde hair ― the most protuberant evidence of her deterioration ― behind both ears. She rocked her head over to the prime minister and opened her frosty eyes. "Baldor―"

"Minister Slåke!" A journalist wiggled his pen in the air.

The prime minister edged away from the table's oil lamp to head him off at the pass: "Mr. Bylund, questions are to be withheld during any exchanges between Her Majesty and her commissioners."

The man sawed his scalp with the pen's nib. "I understand that, Prime Minister Håakonsson...um ―Your Excellency, sir...―but it shan't take long."

His Excellency reopened his eyes to Elsa's profile, which had been nothing more than a trembling blur in his peripheral view. The regnant gave him her consent by lowering her chin.

The prime minister returned to the exchange, "Make it concise, Mr. Bylund."

Mr. Bylund torpedoed pop quizzes at Minister Slåke, "Does the minister in question have a name, Your Excellency? And if he does, what were his intentions when he leaked this defamatory information?"

Minister Slåke squeezed the brim of his hat, leaving compressions in the wool. "...I was not...exactly told his name, Mr. Bylund―"

The audience threw their hands up and awed in anger. Having foreseen the inevitable minutes before her men did, Elsa inhaled deep and exhaled hard in one go. Kai fetched a glass goblet to push it near her wrist with his thumb. Her forefinger reached up to stroke the vein on her nose as she groped the cup's star-cut foot―"Thank you..."―before puckering her lips against the rim.

―"but I was told that his name would be censored out of respect."

Elsa's bitter eyes sallied up to Minister Slåke as she drank, unmindful of the sweat zigzagging down the side of her head.

"I don't find this information inauthentic," Minister Slåke defended. "It explains perfectly why the king withheld assent."

Mr. Bylund's brainwork was in sync with the queen's, "On the contrary, Minister Slåke, it explains perfectly why repeating it is so irresponsible in the event of the king withholding assent. Furthermore, if a journalist can't tell you the name of his informant for Her Majesty's benefit, then the journalist himself is, by those standards, a propagandist and a liar. What if the writers in this room took his prevarications and exacerbated them at the cost of peace with Corona?"

...Pens stopped wagging.

"Would that not make it impossible for Queen Elsa and King Eugene to consummate their marriage―"

Elsa's shoulders lurched in the middle of her coughing up water.

"―if there could be any united kingdom now at all?"

Kai scooched sideways to stage-whisper behind her neck, "Are you alright, Your Majesty?"

Lips buttoned and cheeks still whooping, Elsa set the glass down to crush a tissue against her chest and wave his concerns away. "Fine,"―her voice was thin and embarrassed. "F-Fine. I'm perfectly fine." She cleared her throat after a few hurrums.

"You must get used to hearing this," the prime minister told her.

She unbuttoned her lips―

―"There are probably no two kingdoms more destined to be one than Corona and Arendelle, but they may never be united under one Crown because of one infamous newswriter dropping a bug in our commissioner's ear―"

"Mr. Bylund, this is not a debate, a soapbox, or a trial," the prime minister curveballed. "We have opened the doors of Her Majesty's Treaty Room for the media to witness and relay the event. You may question these commissioners after their testimonies have been lain to Her Majesty and Their Excellencies, but you will not peck at them."

An agitated Mr. Bylund slumped in his armchair. It made his chin press comically against his chest, but no one laughed.

Elsa stared sullenly at her shoulder before she spoke up to take the ox by the horns: "Mr. Bylund made a point that should be debated, Prime Minister."

Minister Slåke faced her. His eyes were not egotistical, but puzzled.

She rocked her own away from her shoulder to imprison him with their gloomy glare. "While I'm thankful for your loyalty, Minister Slåke, unsubstantiated information is not trustworthy, stable, or authentic." His waftish "damsel" crystallized each utter with the self-possession of Aphrodite seated upon her beryl throne. "On the strength of your own bias, you're asking me to believe a journalist who distorts and withholds facts over a relative I speak with personally. He deserves a chance to explain himself to me just as much as you deserve yours."

The overemotional commissioner whined, "He hasn't written back in months, Your Majesty. We have no way of knowing what his thoughts about you or Arendelle have mutated into since―"

She stonewalled him with, "Please choose your words wisely, Minister Slåke."

Minister Slåke's volume was conquered by hers. Despite the sharpness of her command, Elsa's calm display pervaded her acerbity. Because he said nothing else, but only explored the dry wasteland of her face, she knew that she had unhorsed him. Alas, he had indeed called her bluff and hatched a logical argument.

"...Your Majesty, I simply..."―he chortled apprehensively―"I simply thought it was only fair to warn you about what would soon inflame the continent."

Elsa tried to carve out an expression of condolence and forgiveness, but she only made the effort look like it was an effort. "Minister Slåke, this is not an insult to you. Please try to understand that. I understand your reasoning, but we've gathered here today to talk about what happened on your journey, not Corona's gossipers. I don't ever want any of you to suffer what you had to suffer on my behalf again."

Even if she had to choose her own words wisely in front of her Germanic and Slavic onlookers, she included that addendum sincerely. "The king's veto and Corona's reaction need severe attention. I'm not denying that, but you can't take it upon yourself to make a dubious connection between King Eugene and rebels because of something he may or may not have said about me. Common sense would lead him to believe that he can't afford a violent reaction from Arendelle. He wouldn't chance it regardless of holding onto some kind of personal grudge."

Minister Slåke's ego would have none of it. "King Eugene's feelings―"

"How King Eugene feels about me isn't important," she lied. "He is my responsibility the same way Corona and my first cousin are. Whatever perception he has of me, I'll work to change it for peace's sake."

Polar to the ataraxy within her deportment, the commissioner still tasted the queen's lies. "Because he is its king, I presume."

The prime minister squeezed her knuckles. "Your Majesty―"

She pulled her palm away and impulsively reengaged, "Explain what you mean."

By her doing so, Minister Slåke managed to bayonet straight through her cartilage with what was still lurking between her thoughts, "Without the crown, he is not under Arendelle's responsibility or immunity. He knows this. King Eugene, for that matter, does not base your loyalty on affinity or consanguinity. He told his council that he thinks disdainfully of your character because you passed the Union with Corona Act, which was, in his words, a 'snow job.'"

Elsa's heart rate ping-ponged from stagnant to unstoppable. Such jargon was indisputably Eugene's style.

"He did not know about your original abstinence from signing it."

The crowd's rowdiness intensified, but their criticisms were a mixture of sideswipes at Queen Elsa and King Eugene.

"Minister Slåke," the prime minister chided, "that information is not for public consumption."

"Its confidentiality has done more harm than good. From where King Eugene limps, Her Majesty's sentimental letters have been part of one big sociopathic scheme to play on his broken heart and lure him into indentured servitude."

The hooked dagger in Elsa's chest drove all the way to the hilt, and the blood that squirted from it was irrepressible.

"From where we tower, he has excavated and used Her Majesty to better his own financial devices like the con man he is rumored to be."

In the absence of evidence, the objective side of Elsa resisted against these third party remarks, but the composition of Minister Slåke's sentences, as she passed from one neurological paralysis to another, made her skeleton vibrate to guilt and phobias she had long suppressed. No other intuited her entangled subconscious, but Minister Slåke had pulled it open like a yarn ball unraveling down a flight of stairs. Degeneracy reawakened all around her, jailing her in:

"I've heard enough of this hoax!" A journalist shot up with his notepad under his armpit to wade through the botryoidal cluster of pressmen.

Other journalists uprooted from their passive reposes to sling colorful vocabulary and vicious obloquies:

"I believe Minister Slåke!"

"But why has he profaned Queen Elsa's crown when it is she whom Corona rightfully belongs to?"

"Because he's a solipsistic, unctuous, double-crossing wheedler, that man!"

The almost dreamy quality of this harlequinade made her feel like she was standing outside of herself ― frozen between the real world and the world she thought she reigned, zooming out of frame as she watched a hostage wearing her face be raped by the opinions of men. The ghoulish shadow of Minister Slake's body swallowed her whole as he trudged forward. The sick regnant now sat staring catatonically at the man, and the man watched the catatonia cloud the regnant's judgment.

"―Therefore," he lamented, "it saddens Her Majesty's commissioners to watch her compromise her health for Corona when its king may very well think her a monster of Prince Hans's caliber."

Elsa's fingers ticked one by one ― like a ripple effect ― before gripping the armrest harder. Her voice limped when she unshackled its broken legs: "Enough, Minister Slåke―"

The recalcitrant man paused at the base of her dais so that his slurs were out of everyone else's hearing range: "The fiancé you call cousin, like the other potential husbands who have swatted your hand in revulsion of your birth―"

The moist shelf of her bosom rose inside the bodice. Her nose was tingling with the pressure one feels when it reddens. "Please―"

"―has given you his back with an even iller reason for such contempt―"

"―I said, 'Enough.'"

Minister Slåke shut his cakehole. She had also given her company a scare. 

"...Please, that's..."―her hoarse voice deepened by one octave―"That's enough."

Minister Morgenstierne frowned between Minister Slåke and Queen Elsa before blinking hysterically at his shoes.

"I pray that it will be," answered Minister Slåke.

―"Enough of your commentary, Minister Slåke," Elsa clarified. Her womb harvested a storm that she had to weather without empowering, for she could not let journalists grope through the rubble of her heart. "I don't need to hear another word of it. Now please withdraw from my dais and retire from the conference at once."

The commissioner disembarked with a leer of satisfaction seen only by Minister Morgenstierne and Minister Solheim.

Kai judged Elsa's microscopic, and applaudably controlled upheavals, as a subliminal sign of her holding her ground and crumbling on the bedrocks of it at the same time. When he saw her chest sink, and her head turn down and away like a deer, he knew she had been cowed. Her aura was too weak from the morning's little hells and horrors ― too depleted from indefatigably orchestrating ambiance and details without a thought to her own health ― to buttress walls built by years of maturation. To think that she had endangered her blood sugar levels for this and this alone put his own opinion of Eugene in the sewer. He should've been here to protect Elsa from looking foolish for cornicing his feet with her shoulders.

Despicably, that Cad didn't give two shillings about Elsa's vertebrae. The verification, when all was said and done, was his absence.

 ༺[❄]༻♕༺[☀]༻


 Author's Note: 


 Just a shout out to @betagyre for making this lovely piece of fanart:

Chapter Text

 

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"Heroic ambition seemed to have been the cause of much of the world's pain."

Criss Jami


With her thoughts in shreds from not knowing what to think, Elsa was also subjected to another trial outside of her limbo: a public autopsy. Like the lab rat all monarchs were in the maze of politics, she had to withstand the pain of her observers' scalpels prying back her mangled conscience. Every face she panned across pitied, dismembered, and picked at the flabby remains of her fortitude with one glaring incision after the other to see the heartworms inside. 

Gulping down a tidal wave of nauseousness, the eyelash weighed down by dew twitched once as she regathered her breath to husk, "Minister Solheim?"

"Um, present!" A young chap of twenty galumphed and gimped onto her dais.

The prime minister gestured at him to remove his hat. He plucked it off, exposing a meadow of hair that sprouted out like uncut grass. Elsa was too distracted by the gauze around his wrist to focus on his manners.

The regnant crossed her hands over each other and asked anxiously: "How did you get that wound, Mr. Solheim?"

"Oh, this little misfortune?" Minister Solheim shook his sleeve open. "One of the fellows who tarred me in my clothes had scratched me up a tad. It got a bit infected on our way here, but I'm better now," he chuckled. "Better as better could possip'bly apply in these conditions. The tarring was quite minimal."

Kolgrim Ásgrím, the Private Secretary to the Sovereign, voiced on Elsa's behalf, "Her Majesty doesn't want you to feel overexerted, Minister Solheim, but if you could be so noble as to pick up where Minister Morgenstierne began and Minister Slåke left off―"

―"I would be grateful," Elsa finished, kindly butting him out. "But if you'd rather be home―"

"N-No! It wouldn't exert me at all!" Charmed by her humility, Minister Solheim complied: "To start with, it's not...ahm, quite as...I believe it's been interpreted."

Minister Slåke's eye gouged him.

"The king didn't ― necessarily ― let patriots attack our ships because of his repellency against the Act. They were rebels who protested against a speech he made regarding his choice, which was to veto its sections only to ask for revisions."

Elsa's face whitened before flushing into the red color of vexation―

―"I did not withhold this willingly, Your Majesty," apologized Minister Solheim.

He and Minister Morgenstierne glimpsed at the pale Minister Slåke under the shadows of their eyebrows. The pucker between Elsa's reappeared as the loose joints of this contorted story began to pop into their sockets like magnet chips ― the strained jig-saw pieces that Minister Slåke had tried to jam together with his own abridgments ― and the threats he might've made against his own colleagues to smuggle it into the conference. Never did she have a reason to oppugn her statsråds for deceit. They were her professors, her grandfathers, her uncles, and, to her misgiving, her wardens, but today, Minister Slåke was not the man who had tutored her from birth. Before she could ferret out his temerity, he piped up to extenuate the discrepancies:

"With all due respect, Your Majesty, I did not say King Eugene sicced them on our vessels."

"Minister Slåke, did you or did you not tell them to go along with your presentation so that all of Arendelle would think King Eugene was waging a "rebellion" against us?" She had no plans to keep her voice small or stable; Minister Slåke had probably prepared for an earthquake, but he had no dams for this mudslide.

"I did not," he testified with a straight face.

Turning her head at an angle, Elsa speechlessly narrowed her eyes at him before parking them on Minister Solhiem when he spoke:

"The rebels pledge loyalty to King Eugene's best interests, thus they...um ― according to them, that is ―...act in his favor despite acting without his authority."

Minister Morgenstierne eyeballed Minister Slåke, who tossed him an icy glance before looking offward and elevating his chin. The former dismally concentrated back on his feet.

Elsa caught these telecommunications. "Is that true, Minister Morgenstierne?"

"U-Uh!" He flinched like he couldn't andle the exposure, or the responsibility of exposing. "Yes, Your Majesty...b-but in Minister Slåke's defense, there is no proof that the king doesn't support vigilantes."

She henpecked him angrily: "Is there any proof that he does, Minister Morgenstierne?"

"No, Your Majesty, but I say that because Germanic halberds, poleaxes, and hand cannons are restricted to Coronian soldiers and border guards, yet these rebels had access to old oubliettes teeming with weapons beneath the castle's mural tower. Our men searched the oubliettes without informing the king, where they confiscated firearms such as matchlock guns and calivers."

That muzzled her.

"Could it've been an ambush, then?" journalists nattered.

On the surface, Elsa didn't succumb to the presupposition, but below the ether, she was suctioned into the vacuum of a greater paradox. The hidden guns listed were not native to Corona or shared among their brigades. They belonged to the hussars of the Southern Isles. 

"Where are they right now?" she panicked, shoveling for more intel. "The rebels?"

"Imprisoned, Your Majesty."

"All of them?"

"Every last one."

She wasn't keen on believing or disbelieving the new dump of crapola, but before she could issue what was practicable to be done, she manhandled the oppressor of the group: "Minister Slåke?"

The pits of his nose dilated.

Elsa outglared him. "You are hereby discharged from your functions as the Minister of Foreign Affairs."

Minister Slåke's body housed an ungodly aura. It may have been her imagination, but for a second, she thought she saw his soul rise up behind him and take the silhouette of a demon. What she didn't imagine was his clear disinclination to obey her order.

Correlating this obstinance with gender discrimination, Elsa rose from her chair, squared her shoulders, and folded her hands in front of her pelvis. "Please excuse yourself from our presence, Cedolf Slåke." 

He wrestled with his own devil to conceal the flames behind his tear ducts, for he knew that this was only a postponement of a penalty. He backed away, bowed, and tore through the men like a tornado. After him left six reporters who gunned down the Statsrådet with mutinous looks before their secession.

Once all was as powerfully quiet as a prairie, her rigid vocals were diminished to a tired, tiny lilt after her gaze dropped along with it: "...Carry on, please."

The last commissioners standing were attacked by questions from the press.

The prime minister squeezed his knee. "This betrothal has brought out the worst in both sides." He slid a look of sympathy over to Elsa. His fingers brushed the cold hills of her knuckles. "Are you alright?"

"Yes," Elsa swore breathlessly, flicking a stressful smile to him without peeling her eyes off the desk. "But now we have an even bigger problem on our hands." She moved her clammy palm out of his reach and paid the untouched rotulus some mind.

The calfskin wound about its wooden staff was sealed inside a capsule with the embossed image of Corona's sun, but it had no traceable clasps to unlock.

"Coronian trinkets," he said. "Only its makers could tolerate fiddling with such a complex thing. We've tried without getting any results."

Enticed, Elsa submitted a solution, "Kai, would you mind summoning the Captain of the Guard from the infirmary at eight o'clock?"

"You wish to grant him audience after the conference?"

"Brief―"

The syllable was drowned out by the hubbub of interviewers:

―"Aren't you going to tell us what happened after King Eugene revoked the union?"

Minister Solhiem pampered them like a celebrity at an autograph signing. "Corona was in a very...― how should I say...? ― divided state."

"What kind of divided state?"

"One of violence. There were people who were glad and others who were angry. The Captain of the Guard ― his name is Captain Hitler, if my memory serves me ― yes, Captain Hitler said the ones who tarred us were the angry ones. They belonged to a rebel party called the 'Brotherhood.'"

Elsa's face fell as slowly as a daisy breaks. Listeners took up talk, but Elsa was so motionless that Kai wasn't sure if her respiratory system was still operating.

Minister Solheim unclasped a leather case, which he took from beneath his coat. It appeared to hold pages made of vellum, but many of them were eaten away by saltwater. "These were incomplete illustrations from the capital's commemorator. Captain Hitler was nice enough to safeguard both these and the rotulus while I had the pine tar removed with lard." He deposited the distinguishable ones onto Elsa's desk. "I can assure you that they aren't fabricated. Perhaps artistically exaggerated, but true to events."

She spread the papers out until they made a wing on the table. "These are reenactments?"

Minister Solheim picked in his ear before pointing his finger and wiping it on his coat. "Um, y-yes ― to give you a better visual beyond oral testimonies. It follows a bit of a storyboard that you may find more...'educational' than me simply opening my gab."

Frowning at his implication instead of his impropriety, Elsa looked him up and down before holding her throat and looming over the artwork. The first sheet showed food being hurled through the keyhole-shaped windows of Rhine Hall. Identical to church paintings of men being damned by God, Eugene was drawn under a column of sunlight with his wrists roofing his head. Elsa gasped just before her fingers flew over her mouth to cup and squeeze it. The very skin on his body was clenched to the easel of his skeleton like a starving farmer's.

Sketched behind him was a haze of ominous faces that watched the harassment go on rather smugly.

"Some of the islanders who supported the union heckled the king after he withheld assent," Minister Solheim narrated.

"But he can't look like the chupacabra drawn here," her horrified prime minister abjured. "Her Majesty has fed the king's household consistently."

"Her Majesty has also not heard from the king in over five months," her secretary grievously reminded. He stationed his eyes on Queen Elsa's profile. "Isn't that right, Your Majesty...?"

As proven by eyelids that were flickering without actually blinking, the queen was too comatose to comment. Her spirit had evacuated her body, and during this period, her council felt awful to have seen her age so quickly.

―"King Eugene is only a tad thinner than he was as Prince," Minister Solheim remarked. "He's not as undernourished as the sketch depicts." He laid a page on top of Eugene's body. "If you peruse the complete storyboard, you'll see where he calmed the kingdom that afternoon."

The crosshatched lines limned a portrait of Eugene standing on a lectern before a crowd. Contrary to his audience, his face had been painted with watercolors. The goatee she remembered was a thin beard feathering his jawline. Hair that was once short stopped at his shoulders. The quality of his skin, while leathery, looked unnaturally ageless, but those niceties weren't the troublemakers.

Elsa's fingers bobbled off her lips as they deserted her mouth, trickled down her throat, and clenched into a fist against her bodice. The inked fibers inside his irises made his eyes favor sunbursts boring into hers under the lids of a miserable man who had been subjected to his own public autopsy. The accusatory grimace on that face damned her while Minister Slåke's voice echoed down the hallway of her mind:

―"From where King Eugene limps, your sentimental letters to him have been part of one big sociopathic strategy to play on his broken heart and lure him into indentured servitude."

Fluid, hot and prickly, seeped up from the bottom of her eyeball and sleeved over her pupil, creating a glassy sheen. 

"Kai?" Minister Solheim called. "I'd like to show our pressmen as well."

The wooden easel used for oral presentations was transported from the back of the room to the front of the room.

"I don't want these drawings distributed to the public," Elsa whispered frightenedly to her prime minister without locking eyes.

Minister Solheim clipped the artwork to its canvas. "If you'd take a look here,"―he tapped the storyboard's second comic strip. It had violent, dark strokes scribbled over a black background with spiky circles that were either torches or lanterns held above the hats of faceless people―"this took place outside of the palace that night," he explained. "The rebels were shouting, "Get the fish eaters out. They're trying to take our country!" As they did this, other members went into the harbor disguised as Arendelle's officers. They then dumped the food sent by Her Majesty and sank the ships as a demonstration of their patriotism and...'rejection' of Queen Elsa.'"

"More evidence of Corona wasting our money and fidelity senselessly," her adviser mourned.

Elsa was stone. The white bulbs of her sockets, which were likened to cracked eggshells, did not look like they were seeing anything in the room except patriotic phantoms with nooses. Kai dropped his hand on her shoulder to pull her neck against his stomach. Her body jolted at the unexpected warmth, but his presence lulled her eyelids to fall like blinds as her hand reached up to braid their fingers together.

―"The king and ourselves rushed on scene with his cavalry a few hours before dawn, but that proved fatal. Our ship was already sinking when we got there. King Eugene..."

"...Was...he also―"

"To a point, Your Majesty," he tragedized.

"..." She waited for him to recant his statement. When he did not, her next question was laced with a mucus-congested chuckle: "But I thought―"

"He wasn't attacked or harmed; that much is true, but he did lose consciousness after his horse fell. Although he wasn't awake when we left, Lord Constantine told us that he would be fine. Only we were barricaded and snatched off the dock by the rioters."

Mr. Bylund needled him again before she had time to be sick: "And, every single member was caught?"

"As far as we know. Though to make up for our losses, Lord Constantine offered us Thor and a sliver of their cavalry. They were meant to convoy the king to Arendelle, but he offered to lessen our royal navy's responsibilities. Captain Hitler even volunteered. His deputy and the rest of the cavalry remain with the king at his bedside."

Chapter Text

 

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"You may dream of independence, but you won't get it.

From now on, everyone will push and pull you for their own advantage.

Politicians, whatever their creed, always resent the monarchy."

Queen Adelaide


The conference, in response to the queen's tottering condition, was dissolved at ten o'clock on the dot. Footprint scrubbers made it their business to lather up rumors instead of soap, and thus "castle talk" whirled behind the crocus-embossed doors of the treaty room in typhoons. From the maids poured a downrush of sympathy for Eugene ― "That poor handsome man!" ―but from the men spumed an inpour of nasty tirades over his debatable disrespect of Elsa. All chatter was extinguished by a, "Hush up!" from Gerda when the royal physician came down the antechamber to knock on the study's doors. He was accosted by Kai, who saw him in before seeing himself out.

Decorators bounced back to removing ribbons and wall flower arrangements as the royal overseer walked between them.

"I had so hoped for a wedding this spring," Gerda moaned upon joining him. "With all the letters in the past, I thought that perhaps, maybe...he'd be fonder of her."

The foyer's double doors were opened by the Pages of the Presence. Kai stepped outside, gripped the collars of his coat, put his nose in the air, and then confronted her with a different notion: "It would be of my greatest regret for there to have ever been one in the first place."

Dumbstruck, Gerda watched the doors close on his aloof face. She crestfallenly returned to the antechamber with a goblet of tea in possession, hoping to get more updates on the controversy by muscling into the office herself. Two knocks and a curtsy led to her admission, and she was upon Elsa's company before she could say good day―

―"This has been ongoing for too long,"―the chants of a statsråd jackhammering away at Gerda's ears startled her out of her bonnet. "It took Corona's commissioners forever to shake on this after months of sass. When they finally act right, the king gives a line veto and asks for another intermission. Then chauvinists throw our people's taxes overboard and tar our men. What part of the union is affordable anymore? We should pull our navy out and cut back deliveries―"

"We can't leave Rapunzel's people to starve."

Gerda's big, blinking peepers pinpointed the female objector. She had expected ― and hoped ― to see her lolled back in a chair while the physician checked her pulse.

What she received was Elsa ― if she could be recognized as that ― watching her toes as she paced from window to wall with her elbows in her palms. Wisps of hair, which curled this way and that way in corkscrews, made the French braid on her back look like one big knot of wool, and those kangaroo pouches under her eyes were still darker than coal. "If we abandon Corona now, there won't be a future for any of them."

"Kindness is expensive, Your Majesty," sorrowed her private secretary. "And sadly, you've pulled much kindness out of our banks by advising such."

The heels brushing against the bottom of Elsa's gown paused. Judging by the enormity of her eyes, she wanted to confute the point spoken behind her, but had no point to confute it with, so she hugged her sweaty arms, sank her tired gaze, and sulked.

"Oh, Your Ma-jes-ty," Gerda gnarled to herself behind the tiles of her teeth. Of all the childhood habits her old oglers could do without, this pessimism topped the list.

Elsa's statsråds encircled the prime minister to form their own little penguin flock. This geographic division between queen and council was a perfect spoof of the separation of powers in these matters.

"Corona is a watering hole of goods that has not been properly tapped into by its primitive government," whispered Baldor Håakonsson ― a too young prime minister who was no handsomer than a viking. "There are many nest eggs to eke out."

"But those patriots, who inspired Slåke to lie, have made a revolution," puled Håvard, who administered the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. "If the press publish their protest, people in Arendelle will react with their own patriotism. And what of the wedding? The ceremony is abreast; invitations were sent in February―"

"We take the boomerang," ended he. "A proxy marriage can not be done, but if we must push it back for the king's recovery, we will. We can't break it because he couldn't control delinquents, a concussion, or Slåke's mouth. We have invested and will earn too much."

Håvard's nervous system was inconsolable. "Do you think our guests will be blasé about their travel expenses? Foreigners are docking as we sit. Change was already in practice. The bishops expect a wedding in a few days. . We've boarded a sinking ship―"

"Because not a single one of you apart from Baldor listened to what I told you from the beginning." Elsa gave the council her front.

Although she had the queen's rear, Gerda could still tell that she meant business. As for the statsråds, not a man of them moved, but each beheld Elsa like a guilty juvenile being chewed out by their principal.

"You were all too confident about Corona's dependency on Arendelle to even consider a retaliation against the nonsense in that treaty agreement." Fitful and irate, she doubled back to the rug she had trampled. Her forehead was indentured by a rather unpretty depression. "The Storting chose to plan ahead before contracts were signed and assumed Eugene would just fall in line because he was 'desperate.'" Elsa clutched her elbows tighter, bringing her shoulders higher to her ears. "I warned everyone that he wouldn't stand for this."

Elsa's diatribe made Gerda feel like a fearsome revolt overhung them. She slunk behind the candle holders of the vestibule as the skittish physician finally migrated across the room.

"I advised you to use your reserve powers in private because I agreed with you," Baldor reminded, "but we can not dissuade or fight the Storting's majority vote. To battle it because of your own partiality would involve a breach of your coronation oath." 

"The king's disrespect of his parliament is a tiny example of what happens," her secretary pitied, "and the Storting won't tolerate such a personality when he marries Your Majesty. You must teach him discipline."

Elsa's shoulders dropped as she looked up at the chandelier with wet eyes. The sigh she emitted sounded like a growl in the belly of her throat. 

Håvard smiled prudently at Elsa's nape. "And don't forget that these early schedules were requested by the People's Council anyway, Your Majesty." 

She finally turned around. "That doesn't make agreeing to them reasonable, Håvard." Lowering herself with a wobbliness that indicated it hurt to bend her arms, Elsa inched down into her chair and sat back with a wince after being walked to it by her physician. "Expecting everything to go according to plan just because one parliament said it would is why we're in the situation we're in."

"Then it's his parliament's fault, too," Håvard timidly carped. "Our kingdoms grew closer after the Isles invaded theirs. Neither foresaw this tension. Both entered betrothal with blissful ignorance, hope, and dreams of happily ever after. Was it short-sighted? Yes, but our surety came from refusal not being a choice for Corona. That was what the king and his parliament said. If we couldn't meet each other's terms, they promised that we'd keep at it until we did. Your wedding date and the treaty was settled by his parliament's delegation with expectations the king evidently did not meet."

"You're missing the point," Elsa croaked while her pulse was being squeezed by the physician. "Regardless of whatever it was the People's Council said or did, we have to take responsibility for our part in this mess by meeting my cousin halfway. Unlike the Storting, the People's Council can't override the sovereign's veto." She groped her desk for the crocus handles of her drawers. "First and foremost, the cargo that was destroyed will have to be replaced, but we can't afford to send in more men or fleets." She foraged for her dossiers, only reclining to dab her slick temple with her wrist.

"Our battalion in Corona is fine," averred Baldor. "The Isles and its scanty army won't be sneaking ashore. They know Corona plans to enter into union with Arendelle after the marriage is consummated."

Elsa stilled. "...That's right." Her eyes drifted over the top of the folders until she was gaping at the void.

"Something of consequence?"

The sweat on her nostrils gleamed like grease on a frying pan. "...The weapons Morgenstierne mentioned..." She glued her lids shut, trying to shake her head out of its stupor. "―I didn't want to say it in front of the press because there could be other factors I'm missing, but Coronian arms have never used or imported guns. Matchlocks and calivers are the Southern Isles' property." Her face somatized a palpable sense of biting back embitterment and desperation as she swung it over to Baldor.

Baldor impugned her conjecture: "Smugglers can't get past our security systems. The rebels could have picked them up after the invasion failed."

Elsa trickled into a silence possibly intended to express that she warehoused better theories, but she confiscated Baldor's and ranked them higher. Sighing, she stressfully covered her eyes with one hand and leaned her temple on her digit to ride out a migraine. "I have to write a letter to Lord Constantine and Eugene before noon," she moaned. To Gerda, it was a weep.

"I'd advise you to rest before your body shuts down."

She subtracted her finger from her dome to squint at the physician through spiderwebs of hair. Feeling that was her signal, Gerda hurried in. The closer she crept, the sooner she realized that Elsa was not only more tormented than she thought, but in dire need of medical attention. Her sclerae incubated little red tree branches that sprouted over her pupils, and her skin had more precipitation than a window on a rainy day.

"You've overworked your functions by not allowing them to rest," the physician diagnosed.

"I don't have a choice," she agonized. 

"If you continue on in this nose-to-grindstone manner, you will have no body at all. It is my input that King Eugene has not excavated or drained you of anything except your own health."

Elsa swallowed his prescription, but her face was sour as she did it.

―"I'll have a letter written to Constantine." Kolgrim stepped up. "I will also have our battalion look into it."

 "...Thank you," Elsa sighed. Having won the great victory over her pride, she turned her head away to look at her armrest with the heavy-heartedness of a sedated patient. "If you could also help me inform the Storting about a possible departure, I'd appreciate that as well."

"That's not recommendable."

She raised her head to scowl at Baldor. "After everything that's happened, you still want to hold me hostage?"

"In the event that there is famine and disease in another country, the Storting may shelter you as a precautionary measure because of the way your powers react to the latter," he justified. "That was not holding you hostage. Ambassadors and doctors were removed from the travel ban the safer Corona's capital became, but the removal of yourself was scheduled for your honeymoon. Now that we don't know when that will be, it'll be burdensome on the Storting to meet over the Union with Corona Act, the Embargo Act, and other civic bills for an undetermined three or less weeks should Eugene still be in recovery."

Elsa repealed this respectfully: "I understand that you and the Storting have reservations, but the position we're in as a result of those reservations is already burdensome. We all have to work tiresomely to correct it. I don't know what will happen in the next few days, but I want to prepare for the best and the worst." 

"But it wouldn't be smart to go in a generation like this, my dear," Håvard cautioned. "There are Coronians like the Brotherhood, who..."―he turned to Baldor for help―"What was it that was said about Corona's theology?"

"'Any drop that falls from the sun falls from heaven itself, and any bearer of the drop becomes the sun herself,'" Baldor paraphrased.

"That's exactly it," yawped the nervous Nellie that was Håvard, "therefore conjurers who did not bear the drop are seen as black magic practitioners to many citizens, and Coronian extremists hang whomever they think are witches. Those who want you to be queen know they have no other savior. Others are grateful for you but don't accept you unconditionally. Unless we can be sure the entire Brotherhood is detained, your welcoming party could be an assassination attempt."

Elsa did not look rattled more than she looked harassed by her councillors for parroting psalms she had already memorized, but it was obvious that she was holding her breath to perpetuate the mask of queenliness. "I have to face Rapunzel's people, Håvard," she gravely whispered. Her own ambivalence was hearable. "I can't keep avoiding a kingdom that will be under my crown. As I told Slåke about Eugene, whatever perceptions they have of me, I'm committed to working hard to change them in the name of peace. It's not just my powers that bother them; they've misunderstood my intentions. The Brotherhood is an important part of that audience."

Feeling that the discussion had fallen away for good, Gerda bulleted across the room and bent over Elsa's shoulder to present the cold tea.

Her tremulant hands received it with a slow, confused look before blinking up at her server. She rewarded Gerda with the type of smile people make when their day has been so unbearable that they can't do anything but smile, because working up the energy to cry or scream just isn't possible anymore. "Thank you."

"No thanks necessary, Your Majesty," Gerda silenced humbly. "Would you like these old bones to shake Princess Anna awake, too? That child won't be coming to until twelve if she's left to her own hours."

"She can sleep. I don't want to trouble her with this right now..."

―"Your Majesty."

Heads turned to the melancholic figure standing in the vestibule.

"The captain is crossing the courtyard now," Kai informed. 

Elsa, though still out of kilter, nodded. The councillors, the physician, and Gerda bowed to her two by two before leaving. To Gerda's wonder, Baldor stayed behind. She rounded back to pop her eye into the break of sunlight spilling out of the door's crack. Elsa was facing a curtainless window; the chubby bugle of her cheek, the curled whiskers of her eyelash, and the pink snout of her nose were all Gerda could see of her face, but even from this angle, Elsa embodied a tragic empress watching her empire turn to powder in the sunrise.

Gerda thought it unusual, however. In a situation as hellish as this, she pictured Elsa at her desk with her arms curled around her head as she shook, sighed, and hiccuped on shuddering sobs all alone. 

"...Is it wrong that I believed him when he said Eugene persecuted me...?" Elsa's cheek moved to the mumble. "...―I don't...want to, but I'm...h-having a hard time..."

"You should rest, Elsa," Baldor suggested from some undiscoverable corner of the room. The intimacy in his murmur was the most improper thing Gerda had ever heard. "I'll talk to the captain. Don't worry yourself with Coronians or thoughts about what story the press will print."

"And exactly how am I supposed to rest in this situation? I have to fix what I broke."

"You couldn't've done what Eugene did to prevent this. His choice was just, but unlawful."

"I know that. My coronation oath was designed to ensure that Parliament could function without my interference in treaties of union, but I didn't expect his delegation to sign the treaty agreement. I didn't know where his or Corona's mindset was anymore after that...―or even before that. He wouldn't respond to any of the letters I sent him. Now he's lying in bed without me or Anna by his side because of a violation I signed. And..."―sigh―"those drawings of him..." Here her tearful voice gave way to breathless blubbers. She gripped the sides of her arms again and shrank into her own body. "I can't just stand here and do nothing―"

"We don't know how factual they are," Baldor soothed, "and what you can not do is keep living in fear for Rapunzel's family. Whatever you thought then, you had to respect your constitution first, and whatever you think now, you still must do so. To reconcile with the Corona of today, you'll have to make it fall in love with you as you said, but before that, the king."

"What...?" Elsa fired a frown over his shoulder. Because it inadvertently flew into Gerda's direction, the maid scurried away from the door and flattened her back against it with her fingers under her teeth.

"Widowed men are swayable," Baldor elaborated. "Beauty and kindness go a long way. Countries less so, but you're no stranger to that."

"...Do you have any idea how heartless you sound? I'm not going to take advantage of my own cousin's widower, Baldor."

"I wouldn't dare call your letters to Eugene conniving or flirtatious, but I know why Slake's words have affected you, and I don't judge you for it because I was your adviser on your exchanges."

'What's he saying?' Gerda shoved her nose into the crevice―

"AHEM." A padded finger tapped her shoulder.

She rocketed into the air with her feet pedaling like a roadrunner's. When she earthed, Gerda clutched her apron and whipped around to her tapper.

"In Corona, eavesdropping is considered treasonous, but it seems you've overheard something that would be of value."   

Chapter Text

 

  ༻ 

"The most dangerous people in the world

are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts,

but those who do the acts for them."

Suzy Kassem


"P...P-P-Pardon?"

"Is this not the case?"

"No, Captain! Not the case at all! It's just weather gabble, really! Nothing of value―"

"It must be if you're putting your profession and your life on the line," barked the sunburned foreigner barring her way. Compared to this morning, he was unhelmeted and clean, but his gravelly voice, which was fixed in the baritone of a general saddled for war when there was none, lent him an unapologetically permanent meanness.

"You misunderstand this scenario entirely! I'm...well, ehm...ahhh..."

The piglet was becoming mumbly and stupid as she sounded out vowels instead of words. He gripped the pommel handle of his scabbard to abate his anger and asked as patiently as his temperament would permit: "May I see Her Majesty as scheduled, please?"

She grinned. "...Yes, I-I'll...let Her Majesty know that you're here." Her chunky hands pushed the study's door so that the other two-hundred pounds of her could toddle in.

He dried the gleaming seeds of sweat in his mustache on his sleeve before snorting.

"I never did what you advised me to," Captain Hitler could hear the queen bristling. The wooden barrier between his ear and her cry made her sound like she was talking underwater.

"You did not embrace it, but you allowed it to trickle into your letters discursively," a man gently said. "Before either of you spoke of union, you pined after what the marriage would grant you as much as I."

Running his eyes all over the oak door in alarm, the captain pressed his shoulder against it and bent his head down to the airy gap.

"All politics and kingdoms aside, I wanted him for you, so I don't judge you with vilipendency; I judge myself. I thought he'd make an eligible husband who'd treat you with kindness and acceptance because of what he told you after your first betrothal failed. You must have thought it then, too."

"Baldor, I don't even know what you're on about."

"The letter that he wrote on September 12th in 1848. Do you still have it?" 

A drawer yawned. Papers rustled.

"Idolization is objectification, and it's a lot lonelier to be the object of someone's affection over a real, whole person meeting them on their level. I never wanted Rapunzel to feel like I defined her by her hair, powers, or title for that reason: she doesn't need magic or tiaras to make her special. It takes the "human" part away, or more importantly, the "Rapunzel" part...

Although I hate to say it, I think you needed to experience a so-called "love" like Aloysius's to get a sample of it. So the next time someone comes along who isn't interested in you because of your powers, crown, or their perception of "perfection," you'll know he's the better option because he's not treating you like you're made out of magic. To that guy, you'll have cells, organs, and an identity. You'll just be "Elsa.""

"...I―...did think that, during that time, but I didn't want―"

"Your Majesty!" The train of drivel jackknifed and turtled once the maid finally crashed it. "I know this is not my place, but Captain Hitler is here to see you."

There was a choked up pause, and then a stomping thud-thud-thud-thud. The captain hopped back from the entrance as the door swung open. He bowed to the executive out of respect, who did not nod in requital, before stepping aside to let him through.

"...Arendellian pissant." Captain Hitler looked over his shoulder to snarl at his back. 'They all suffer from coldness and arrogance. I'd rather accept genocide than marry into their kind as a people...'

"Captain?" the maid knelled.

After hocking up a loogie and spitting it onto the rug, he released the hilt of his scabbard to step inside the treaty room civilly. At the cervix of the vestibule waited the notorious sorceress of Arendelle, Queen Elsa. Sunlight bled in through her silk drapes, illuminating the dust that orbited her in schools of white. Her sweetheart bodice contoured the roundness of her teardrop breasts rather beautifully (so God help him). The floor plan below them ruined his peace of mind. Spoon-shaped hips that complemented her slim thighs and baluster calves had blessed her with the figure of a sand glass.

He perspiringly noticed the leg playing peekaboo with him from the gash in her skirt, and dared to think without any abashment himself, 'That cunt-struck Rider would've had a field day.' 

Her whore gown, vampire makeup, and Gothic hairstyle were against law and religion, but they were perfect for Rider's lechery. Among more noble men of the civilized world, maidens and queens alike were not allowed to show one thigh, leg, or shin in public, yet here this pantalet-less temptress was, flashing her own depravity. Such glimmering perversion was so hypnotic that the lust it crippled him with offended his ego as the superior sex. The dress was obviously tailored to parade her lack of subjection to patriarchy. 

"I bid you welcome, Captain Hitler," she said kindly.

He shivered at the vibration of her wise voice echoing all around him.  "I am―...honored to be granted audience, Your Majesty." He bowed.

On her face curled a smile of modest character. "I apologize for my appearance..." She pressed on her fingertips. "But I wanted to thank you for making sure my commissioners got home safely. I don't know what would've happened to them had you not been there when the rebels rioted."

Such a grovelling little jezebel. The twinkling swan even looked down at her hands as to appear humble and angelic. Her mansuetude didn't fool him, though. There was no doubt in his head that it was in her unclean nature to get on her knees, smirk seductively under a politician's belt, and offer her slurping mouth to the hip-thrusting men before him in an effort to maintain popularity.

"As my future queen, any man of Her Majesty's is a man of mine." He closed in on her with lingering steps, intimately searching the blue wells of her eyes. 

The eyelashes that wreathed them began beating faster than dragonfly wings. "That's ― too kind of you, Captain," thanked the pythoness, all the while upholding her cautious smile as she challenged his piercing stare with the scimitar in her own. "But if it isn't too much trouble, I wanted to ask you for your help myself."

Visibly closed off and befuddled, she seemed unwilling to undress for him by dropping her mask around her ankles. Had she kicked it off to the side and bared herself, it would've given him a reason to prosecute her as the witch she was. 

The captain stopped a foot away. "I am willing to service Her Majesty in every way that I can."

"I'm happy to hear that." She picked up his rotulus and handed it to him with a frown. "Because I was having trouble with your delivery."

He disappointedly took it from her.

She crossed her arms afterwards and brushed her elbow with her hand. "It doesn't seem to like me very much."

"I doubt such would be the matter here." The captain pressed the capsule's top, and out flew the rotulus from the bottom.

"Oof!" The conjurer squatted down and juggled it between both palms before finally trapping it. Elsa shoved a curl behind her ear and unbended her knees to hold the object to her eye level. "Thank you," she huffed. "I've been fumbling with it since this morning."

"It is my pleasure," he lied while she studied it from the sidelines. The captain saw that her eyelids were satisfyingly droopy.

She could not, even then, feel the heat from his gaze burning her cheek like a flame against a candle, because his formal exterior kept his feelings cooled and obscured.

He lifted a finger to the curl bulging from her braid and turned the edge of his nail against it, feeling the silkiness of the cuticle. Frost pearled the angel blonde strand. 'Such a beautiful evil...' His hand reached for his scabbard to slowly unsheathe the flashing dagger little by little. Without touching her, the other hand shadowed the elegant line of her back and grazed the sleet.

The captain's trembling fingers hung in suspension when she rotated and walked away with her eyes still on the rotulus.

"Is there any information that you can disclose to me about the Brotherhood, Captain?" Her hand followed the path of the table's rim as she walked around the desk, taking her diamante cloak with her.

His lungs rotted in his stomach. "...Only―...as m―much as I'm sure you've been...told, Your Majesty."

She placed the rotulus in her drawer, noticeably refusing to read it in front of him. "I'm afraid I haven't been told nearly enough." 

This put him on the spot. "To our...knowledge, Your Majesty, Corona's famine has given birth to two surviving rebel groups."

She sat down and braided her fingers together, squinting.

"One is the People's Liberation Party, which supports the union. The other is the patriotic organization for "saving the country's independence," which is the Brotherhood. To distinguish themselves from the former, the latter has branded their fellowship with symbols of Corona's sun, making their followers easy for my men to find. Every member appeared for the protest that prevented the king and your commissioners from boarding their ships this morning, so they were all arrested."

"...I see," she said. Something about that intelligent face, however, put him off. It was the face of a woman who was hiding her true thoughts, and no good came from a woman who hid her transparency. "Can you give me an estimation of how many members were involved?"

"I am inclined to say a hundred."

The count blanched the sorceress's cheeks of their rosiness. "A hundred?"

"I'm afraid so. That is why King Eugene and our forces were overwhelmed in the beginning. When I left with your commissioners, your men were trying to repair the damage that was done to the land and our people's composure. The king had suffered a critical concussion himself. It takes a month or so to fully recover from one of those goblins after consciousness has been restored. Boarding a ship and engaging in festive activities will be impossible for him until he has healed."

Her bobbing mouth had a hard time closing. She swallowed the brimstone on her taste buds and nodded blindly. Poor wench; she would suffer an irrecoverable loss of money and guests because of such a last minute cancellation. "...And, what about..."

He read the name that was on her face. "...We don't see her. Only he does, because she stays locked in her room."

The wings of her eyebrows snapped into a scowl. He could even make out a lattice of bunny lines on the crown of her nose. "And why is that?"

"That is something you will have to ask His Majesty the King." How he hated calling a thief his king. That would pass soon, however. 

She fell back against her chair, annoyed and dejected. "Then what of his veto? Surely he wrote a letter to the Storting about the line items he wanted to change."

"I was not asked to deliver it. Political paranoia and distrust of the seas without a decent number of Arendellian fleets to follow us, perhaps."

She was having trouble battening down her sangfroid now. "Please tell me how long the Brotherhood has been active in Corona, Captain Hitler." 

"Since the union was proposed, Your Majesty." 

"But I'm just hearing about it now?"

"I can not speak on behalf of my superiors."

Elsa grew angrier than she had the energy to be. "Have they indulged in violent activities since the union?"

"I believe not." 

Sighing, she perched her elbow on the table to hold her head with her pointer and her thumb, before wearily looking up at him from the awning created by her palm. "Then I have just one more question for you, Captain, and then we can move on."

"I will answer as honestly as I can." 

She docked her hands on the desk and frowned at him with saltwater shining in her eyes. "How has my cousin been throughout the famine in the eyes of his captain...? I'd like to hear the answer from someone who has no reason to make light of it."

"Her Majesty hasn't kept in contact with the king?"

 "Not for a year." She looked down at her knuckles wistfully. "I told my council that he hasn't spoken to me in over five months because I didn't want them to think any worse of his character than they already did. This new rumor about his disdain for me hasn't helped."

"I do not turn my ear toward hall dialogue, but I will say that King Eugene has kept his household in as decent of health as our misfortunes have room for. His body has not degenerated; he puts it to use with the crops and its maidens often, though his trust in the monarchy, as well as his allies, has thinned greatly."

Her eyelids clamped shut. "...I'm, sorry,"―she tittered, shaking her head. The blue chemical fire ringing her orbs scared him a bit when she unlidded her eyes. "You said he puts it to "use" with its maidens?" 

"Women are...coping mechanisms for the king, or to put it best, challenging temptations. There are even some who claim to carry his offspring."

Her jaw tightened. She didn't look like she was with him in the room anymore. The thief's one last confidante on the continent was trying to decide whether or not she believed him, and she couldn't seem to isolate herself from the fact that she possibly could. "...You've given me more information about the king than I expected to receive, Captain..."

"I knew him before he became a prince, Your Majesty," he finally leaked. "No man in Corona knows King 'Eugene' better than I. I am open to answering any questions you have about him."

She was rubbing her hands incessantly. "Thank you, Captain Hitler. Your candidness speaks volumes, but perhaps another time would be better for both of us. Right now, I'd like to visit your men."

He had broken her hymen. "They would be honored."


The captain was asked to wait on her in the courtyard. From there, he was convoyed to a coach by her infantrymen. In it he climbed, and fifteen minutes after him, she came. Her eyes were swollen from having to grind over the words on the rotulus in private, and what depressing words they were; he remembered every curvilinear letter without failure. The queen joined him by sitting on the opposite side of the carriage like a refined madam in a painting, determined to convey this silly image of invincibility.

'Just break down already.'

They wagoned through the fish markets with little talk of life in Arendelle, prompting him to stare at her thigh as their bodies swayed to the bumpy motion in silence. The window preoccupied her somber thoughts, but from time to time, she would look at him and crack a smile under the drops of sweat that mustached her lip. To stab her uterus now would be impracticable, for she'd kill him with ease. When her coach horses pulled up to the infirmary, her rickety legs made it unimaginable for her to dismount with dignity, so her foot guard offered his assistance. The doors were quickly opened for their company by the building's sentries.

Flocks of old women in skauts ambulated about the institution like shepherdless sheep. Once they saw the queen standing in the vestibule, all clamoring ceased, and their dresses opened like umbrellas as they dropped into curtsies. The queen acknowledged each commoner with the courtesy of a niece greeting aunts at a family reunion before paying her respects to the Brotherhood's pinatas. His phalanx of unsmiling comrades were by no means as injured as they were drained; hers, however, wore burn marks and cuts that needed the disinfectants Corona couldn't supply. Only one man had it particularly bad, but he became a volunteer for something breathtaking. 

The queen, despite being weak herself, sat at his bedside. She placed a hand on his stomach and asked for his permission to perform an operation. The patient told her it would be an honor. Captain Hitler then saw a blue light glow under her palm. The vein in the man's throat went as taut as a violin string as he tilted his head back into the pillow and curled his toes.

After twenty minutes, she removed the palm from his belly, and the glowing blue handprint evaporated. The man shed the gauze from his body, awed at whatever it was he saw, and then kissed her hands and sang praises as she shyly begged him not to. The ring of nurses laughed and beamed about this open display of witchcraft, too. 

The captain stalked the conjurer all the way to another man's bedside to see what this was all about. "What was it that you did to him?" 

She twisted her head around, looking him up and down with a grimace, before slowly redirecting a soft smile to a sleeping man whose brow she sponged. "I used a cryotherapeutic spell to close his lesion, Captain." 

He was floored. "Your conjury?" 

"My gift," she corrected brusquely.

He refrained from forcing her to explain the meaning of "cryotherapeutic" in order to pick up the fragments of his own reserve. His interpretation of the queen's malison, which was consistent with the rest of Corona's, had been synonymous with Armageddon. It was conjury that could kill, wipe out, and eclipse the earth as well as the sun, not heal. Anything pure and sacred should not be able to kill, so never had he considered the compossibility of that same magic having the power to mimic the Golden Flower. It must have been a trick, he settled; by sundown, the man's lesion would probably return after her witchcraft's illusion wore off.

"Once you're all well nourished, I'll have you returned to Corona on Vör; she's a good ship who's served me well over the years," he overheard her telling his infantry. 

They showed gratitude ― perhaps even infatuation ― but the captain knew they were pretending. There was no way in Hell that his men could be fooled by such sickly-sweet gimmicks from a witch. Gothel had played those same cards on the cavalry in his youth.

"Were you not ready to die for your country's independence, Captain?" a man said behind his shoulder.  

He didn't have cause to look back. The way the man's plummy voice smiled revealed his identity. 

"He won't be happy," his interlocutor chuckled, contradicting the content in their conversation. 

The captain glanced at the sun ray tattooed on one of the man's clavicles before looking at the profile of Elsa's smiling face. "He'll come to terms with it after today, for I'm a dead man regardless." 

Chapter Text

 


  ༻ 

“Impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile.

The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close."

Alain de Botton


Captain Hitler and Queen Elsa left the infirmary at noon. To the captain's glee, Queen Elsa's already delicate constitution had degraded. The head she laid against the window's jamb bobbed and rolled about as the carriage bounced, leading him to believe that she was either fading or losing her false front. How and when to get her alone bedeviled him now. He took a stab at asking her to grace him with her presence at daybreak, but she declined.

What she did promise to cede was one of her apartments. His "valiant men" would be rewarded with the same comforts, she assured, unaware of the trap that such an arrangement would set. After he thanked her for her naivete, she coggled out of the coach and into the arms of a page. The lad's heroics were turned down by her pride, but he and four others accompanied her to the castle's portico anyway. The captain thereupon shadowed her to the staircases, where he saw the tail of her cloak slither behind the door post of a room on the upper level.

"That must be her boudoir," he gathered.

"Actually, Captain,"―Kai appeared behind him with the key to his own bedchamber―"that, would be Princess Anna's." 


With her house shoes still hanging off her heels, Princess Anna's body was perpendicularly stretched across her bed like a wooden plank on a table. A tottery hand reached out to slip the blonde streak behind her ear and twirl its corkscrew curl. Anna's face rolled out of the cheek print on her mattress to smile dopily at its fiddler. The double images of two Elsa's meeting and separating from their equator slowly merged into one. 

Anna sucked in a breath, turning on her voice box to scream―"Omigosh I'm gonna be LATE!" ―but it conked out the second she saw the shape her sister was in. 

To call Elsa a corpse would've been an understatement. She was drenched, powerless, and teetering towards collapse.

"...El―sa," Anna whispered. She snapped out of her  trance to sit on her knees and catch the tilting queen. "EL-sa, what happened to you?! Why're you―..."

The rising and falling of Elsa's chest was rapider than an overheated bird's, but what addled the princess more was the fact that she was too bushed to open her eyes, dewily shine them up at her, and rasp out an excuse for her self-negligence. 

"Alright, that's it. This isn't healthy anymore." Anna's frenzy converted into anger. "You need to rest." She towed her sister into the bed.

Elsa lied on the pile of pink pillows in a starfish position. After five seconds, she bent her knee and arm to sit up. "I have ― mmpf ― something important that I need to tell you first―"

"Later." Anna grabbed her shoulders to gently drive her back down.

"Anna, you don't under-stand. It's about the S―"

"Which I'm sure is doing just fine." Anna thumbed off Elsa's heels and sat a bowl of rosewater on her nightstand. "Elsa, this is too much; you get sick for four days three times a year because you get to a point where everything hits you all at once, and now you've reached your breaking point." She squeezed a rag, spanked it out, and then roughly patted down Elsa's skin. "You skimp out on sleep, you put off eating..." Anna snatched her chin and scrubbed away her lipstick, which Elsa reacted to by curling her lips under her molars and squeezing one eye shut. "You're practically killing yourself―" 

"Awnmah...!" Elsa's rejoinder was stifled behind the cloth smothering her mouth. 

"―day in and day out, but do you ever listen to me when I tell you to tell me when you need help? No, because you're un-be-lievably stubborn and choose to do loads of stuff behind my back. You're not a Shire horse, for crying out loud! All that hard work and planning you did for almost two whole two months! Have you even eaten since yesterday morning?!"

Elsa sighed before pulling Anna's hand down to glare at her through bead curtains of sweat. "Anna―" 

"Hold that thought!" Anna rocketed off the bed to wrench her door open. "GERDA~?!"

Groaning at the shrill racket, Elsa sank further under the anthill of blankets to rub her temples.

"Could you whip up a bowl of soul for Elsa? The one mom used to make whenever I had REALLY bad flues? Oh, and that roseroot from Glittertind would be great! Thank you so much!" She shut the door, huffed, and then stomped back to the bed with balled fists. "H'okay, now I'm going to tell Eugene that you're not feeling well and that you can't have brunch, lunch, or dinner with him today...or ever―"

"Anna." Elsa used that rocky tone she loved to milk whenever she was losing her patience with her.

"What?"

"Eugene isn't coming."

Anna stopped to gawk. "...Wait...what?!" She climbed aboard the bed and folded her legs with her palms on her knees as she leaned into Elsa. "You're...joking, right?"

Elsa bowed her head and shook it sadly, cradling her elbows like she did when she wanted to disappear.  

"Well, why not?" Anna groused, flying into another rage.

"There was a protest in Corona...."

"A protest?"

"Over the union," she suffixed at an almost inaudible volume. "It left Eugene and my commissioners injured."

"Oh, no..." Anna paled. "...I-Is everyone alright?"

"They're recovering now. They were brought here by Corona's infantrymen on a Coronian vessel, but Eugene hit his head after he fell off his horse, so he stayed behind." Elsa explained it like she was the one who had been lanced. 

"Eugene..." Anna sponged all of this up until her head was too heavy to hold everything, but as her horror-stricken eyes lowered to her toes, she was unnerved by another uphill battle for Elsa and Eugene. "What's going to happen to the...balls and...the banquets and the municipality visits and wedding rehearsals you two were supposed to attend together? Does this mean everything you arranged all by yourself is going to be cancelled?"

"I have to cancel them," she rued. "The Captain of Corona delivered a message from Lord Constantine that said they didn't know when they'd be able to sail to Arendelle."

"But that's not the same thing as not being able to make it before the wedding, right?"

"I can't keep guests hostage here to play the waiting game, Anna. We have to cancel it."

Anna's heart went out to her aggrieved sister. She knew she didn't want to marry Eugene; she didn't want her to marry him, either. She'd much rather prefer her marrying someone she loved, but Elsa said there was a lot of good that would come out of it ― good that had cost time and money to procure, neither of which she had more to give, and both of which she had allowed to corrode her.

The princess rechanneled her umbrage from the marriage to the Brotherhood. "Well, what about these goons who attacked everyone?"

"The commissioners and Captain Hitler told me they were behind bars, but I want more information on them." 

 "Like what?" She wormed under the covers with Elsa and began unbraiding her sister's knotted plait.

"Like who their providers are, for one. Minister Morgenstierne said our men found matchlock guns and cavilers in Corona's old oubliettes. The wardens don't use them anymore because Rapunzel and Eugene outlawed them. I remember Eugene telling me that the mural tower was destroyed during the invasion, so it's possible that no one is patrolling its underground oubliette, but―"

"Woah, what? Wait, hang on! Since when did Corona even have firearms?! Only the Southern Isles and all those other countries they'd trade that stuff with use them, like Weselton, Norrlind, Bolungar, and ―...wait. Yer' not thinking―"

"I was," Elsa repined. "That's why I wanted to leave as soon as possible. One of the elders in the People's Council betrayed Eugene for the Southern Isles in the past, but Baldor might be right about them hoarding what Ragnar left behind. It's the more likely option, though I still want to confront the rebels who are in jail along with Eugene's castle servants."

This worsened Anna's trepidation. "Did you ask the captain about all this first?"

"Judging by what I saw of his character, I had a feeling he would say he didn't know anything about it."

"Still, now is the time to grill them more than ever. Want me to grill 'im for you?" 

"The people I want to grill are Eugene and his councillors, not his captains." 

"I highly doubt Eugene is mixed up in this." 

"I doubt that as well, but it's possible that he hasn't been as open with me as I thought." 

"What makes you say that?" 

"...I'll go into detail another time, Anna." Elsa inhaled and exhaled shudderingly, turning her head forward and resting her eyes. Their hoods were so dry that the purple powder caking them had desert cracks. "As of right now, Baldor is asking the Storting to consider rescheduling the embargo's annulment. Once that happens, I'll go to Corona immediately." 

"Ohhh no. Not like this, you aren't." 

Elsa raised her eyebrows again, but she didn't open her eyes. "Anna, I don't have the energy to argue with you about this."

"Which is why we'll argue about it later. You just focus on getting better for now, because you can't go to Corona as weak as you are today. It won't help Eugene or the kingdom; it'll just make you a target." 

Elsa unhooded her eyes to the vanity table at the end of the bed. Their white nooks were shiny and red, indicating that there was some self-sabotaging activity going on in her brain. 

"...What else is wrong besides that?" Anna gathered the strands there were pasted to Elsa's greasy throat.

The queen continued to have a staring contest with the table. "...I haven't done enough...and he knows that," she mumbled, the saliva in her mouth sticking to her teeth while she talked. Her breathing was irregular. "He's always known that, but he's been masking his resentment this entire time. Now he has an outlet for it."

Anna had no idea what induced her to say this or what Eugene did to make her think it, but she wasn't going to accept it. "Elsa, no." She cupped her sister's face and snapped it in her direction, accidentally squeezing Elsa's cheeks to where her mouth was pursed into a beak. "Eugene has always, always, always been more than grateful for your support, and not just the financial support, but the emotional support, too. You gave Corona your everything―"

Elsa's eyebrows pushed back the river of wrinkles on her forehead as her sandwiched lips moved to the mutter: "Except me."

"...What'd you mean?" Anna didn't stop her when she removed her palms and looked down defeatedly. 

"I wasn't there." She paused. "...Again."

Anna understood what the throaty "again" referred to. "This is completely different. You didn't have a choice―"

"Before the invasion happened; before the embargo; before the funeral, I wasn't always physically there, and if Eugene ever felt wary of me in the past because of that, I could understand why he would distrust me now without a second thought―"

"He doesn't," Anna retaliated.

"You don't know that he doesn't―"

"You don't know that he does."

"Anna, please."

"I read some of your letters―"

"Wait a second, you did what?" 

Anna made a sorry face. "Just a couple." She reverted back to her serious angle. "But he did nothing but praise you for how much you helped, so there's no way he would change his opinion of you that fast. You got to know each other too well―"

"We only got to know what we chose to show one another."

That sounded weirdly self-incriminating, and also a little disturbing if it applied to Elsa's participation, but Anna shelved the soliloquy.  "From what I read, you both really cared about each other, and none of that looked fabricated."

"Anna, exactly how much did you read?" 

"Just enough to see that what you're saying right now isn't true."

Elsa sighed deeply, adjusting her head on the pillow to turn away, and lidded her eyes again, blocking out her encouragement

"He was completely torn up when you got sick over Corona the first time, especially when that virus hit you. He blamed himself for stressing you out and making you spend so much money. He went totally berserk when other all those people tried to flush your reputation down the toilet just because you were still helping him after the thief rumors got out. Sure, you guys might've had some road bumps here and there, but I thought he was really starting to respect you. Even if he doesn't feel that way about you anymore, he wouldn't throw you to the wolves after everything you've done for Corona.

Unless, of course, he's a total idiot who doesn't know what's good for him, which would totally warrant getting smacked upside the head once or twice, preferably by me, if you don't mind―...Elsa?" Anna's smile slumped into an "o" when she realized Elsa wasn't listening. "El―sa..." The redhead turned her sister's chin with the tip of her finger, and saw that Elsa was asleep.

As heavenly as the vision was ― especially with her pretty platinum hair splayed out around her ― her forehead was still pleated with worry lines. Even in sleep, she worries.

Her sibling pulled the covers up to her throat and pecked her temple. "You just rest..." Anna sprang off the mattress to ransack her closet for an iconic dress. "Aw'righty then! Time to put the big gloves on―....or, mittens. Are these gloves or mittens...? Gloves." 


Anna's first mission was to sniff out Kristoff, but it was next to impossible to pick up on his scent in the fish market, something that was usually way easier to do. "Um, 'cuse me ― yes, hi, comin' through! I jus' ― need to get wiggle on through here~ and ― OH! Fredmund!" She waved her arms to the young man on the dock. "Hey! Over here!" 

He flicked up his cap and blinked at her. "Princess Anna...? Princess Anna! Ahoy, there!" He used his hat to wave back. 

Fredmund was one of Elsa's youngest suitors (*). At bed-wetting age, he had lavished her with gifts and kindness in hopes of winning her twenty-two year old heart, but asking for her hand in marriage was turned down with an invitation to be her ice-sculpting apprentice instead (*). Now a young captain, he helped with Corona's food shipments as his way of proving his undying loyalty to Elsa. He'd also aided her in getting one of her snowgies over the border whenever the pigeon post closed down for winter after the embargo, so he was nifty in a pinch. Hopelessly in love, but an all around swell guy.

"What're you doing out so early?" he teased puckishly. 

Anna jogged onto the pier and dropped her hands on her knees, panting. "I was ― just ― gonna ― whew, hang on a sec' ― gotta-catch-my-breath..." Her head finally shot up. "Have you ― seen Kristoff anywhere? He stayed ― with his friends ― in Hardanger all December through February for harvest season, but he was s'pposed ta' be back by this morning." 

Fredmund helped her stand up. "Haven't caught a glimpse of him yet, but I'll keep a look out."

"Awgh! UN-be-LIEVE-able! Where is that big goof? I told him not to be late! ―...Well...h'okay, thanks anyway―"

"Um ― before you go, I just wanted to ask how Queen Elsa was doing?" He rubbed his throat. "I haven't really seen her since November, so I was wondering if...maybe I could see her sometime this evening? I mean, I know she's going through a rough patch with King Eugene and all this parliament stuff, but..." 

Freddy's lovelorn face ripped Anna's heart. "She's..."―the princess scavenged for the words―"r-resting. She's resting. It's been...a really long day for her, so I don't think meeting up is a good idea, but I'm sure she'll be happy to see you another day." 

Had he been a dog, his ears probably would've drooped. "Okay. That's understandable." 

"But...thanks again for all your help." Anna put a caring hand on his shoulder, trying to smile at his cheek. "I promise to come visit you and your mom soon, okay?"

He looked at her and smiled joylessly. "She'd like that."

"Uh, oh, and by the way, just ― wondering, but...do you still have a healthy appetite for defying corrupt politicians by some slim chance?"

"Defying corrupt politicians...?"

"Yeah, you know, like ― helping your favorite princess in the whole wide world smuggle herself into Corona with your cargo?"

His eyes enlarged. Evidently not. "I'd...love to, Your Highness, but we're not supposed to be setting sail for Corona with any food until the morning after tomorrow. Those rebels really did a number on Arendelle's ships. It wouldn't be wise for you to leave with us."

Anna quailed. "They attacked the ships..?" 

She gleaned from Fredmund the details of the attack in addition to the hate speeches of its assailants. It explained why more people were huddling around gossipers than they were buying fish. Because the taxes were inflated by Arendelle's enmeshment with Corona, the attitude in the port town had been restless, but now it was volatile. This wasn't at all how she expected things to pan out. She decided to drop by the infirmary to brighten up the faces of the commissioners for an hour before barreling her way back to the castle.

Questioning the statsråds for info Elsa might've omitted was like trying to draw blood from turnips, and Captain Hitler seemed to purposely disappear when she asked Kai to retrieve him for her. Left with little else, Anna retired to her bedroom to babysit Elsa. This surveillance outlasted the hours in the day and eddied into the hours of the next. Elsa would constantly change positions, moan in her sleep, and flutter her eyes groggily, yet she would always slip back into an oasis of dreams. At first, Anna supposed it was just her body paying off all the debt it had collected from over-spinning its cogwheels, but she started to worry about whether there was something graver at work or just a really awful immune response..

Her rash plan to sneak aboard Fredmund's ship tomorrow with or without Kristoff was fast becoming a bygone thought. Although sleep came later to the princess, she arose from her slumber just as late as she had fallen into it. Elsa had somehow emigrated from the pillow to the foot of the bed with the sheets tangled around her ankles over the course of that time. Thanks to its much thicker grade, her bed hair rivaled Anna's, but the crocodile texture of her skin was back to its china doll smoothness, as if her body had finished a much needed detox. Relieved, Anna and her seaweed legs pottered over to the window.

The sunset outside was a scrambled egg and the sea was maple syrup-brown, which was normal at this time of day, but she was pretty sure that the pod of foreign frigates in the harbor weren't supposed to be there. Anna rubbed her eyes with her knuckles to blink wider at the orange edelweiss on some of their sails. "Wait...those aren't flowers, those are―..." She gasped. Anna tucked her fists under her chin and bit her lip, hopping up and down.

Beyond ecstatic, she catapulted back into the bed and attacked Elsa's arm. "Elsa, you have GOT to wake up! You won't believe―"

Elsa unconsciously dragged the blankets over her head and grumbled, "Anna, go back to sleeeep...."

The redhead blew a curl off her nose and pouted, crossing her arms. Taking Elsa's debility into account, she bargained a deal with her sleeping back, "Fine, then. I'll let you rest like I promised, but don't take it out on me if you miss the parade from the window." She cocooned Elsa in another blanket. "I need to have a word or two with Eugene myself before he says 'I do,' anyway." Anna planted a big fat smooch on Elsa's cheek, which Elsa's dimple smiled against.

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“When people believe that the local government and economy serve their needs, there is little to protest.”

Auliq Ice


"Welcome to the Kingdom of Arendelle, Your Majesty!" belted the dockmaster.

He didn't know what it was to faint, yet he did know that for the next little while his whole body felt headless. His council had been grooming him for this day for weeks, but no amount of preparation could equip him for what it would feel like to be here ― to walk down his ship's plank, step out onto the dock, and stand before hundreds of judges. International ambassadors, who happened to be boarding their caravels at this light, were as gobsmacked by his egression as he was by his own courage.

"It's the king!" a girl tolled.  

Her broadcast undammed an avalanche of activity from the flower market. Adolescent maidens came capering into the harbor to shove elders out of the way; children bolted from their houses with half-eaten bread in their mouths, and sailors stopped all work to toss their caps and cannonball into the torrent. Bodies began to precipitously fill the marina like fish in a salmon run. The townspeople who were mulish enough to breaststroke their way to the front went completely still when they saw him, and he, in return, went completely white when he saw them. There were eyes aglow with questions and others aflame with virulence, mouths open with amazement and others curled with happiness.

Behind the epaulets of his armored infantry, Eugene took a step back on the pier and gulped. The expression his quivering eyebrows pavilioned was no less nauseous than it was when he first sold his freedom to Corona on coronation day. His female attendant handed him a cloaked red bundle, but he was reluctant to take it. The King's Guard blocked the bubbling crowd with their pointed weapons out of fear and confusion. Not one soldier between them could tell excitement from exasperation, so their jumpiness infected everyone else's good sense; this was the stage Corona's revolts had set.

"Put down your polearms!" Spontoons were aimed back at them by the flushed Queen's Guard.

The screeches of scared and angry citizens weakened their poor gumption. The former's rabid pushing and shoving had escalated to the point where thrashing arms and shaking fists were bursting from the seams of the cavalry that kettled them. Helmetless Coronian guards barreled out of the infirmary with halberds. The Queen's Guard didn't seem to understand that the unarmored foreigners were trying to help them, so their mounted colonel whistled for backup.

Frightened for everyone's lives, Eugene dispatched the bundle back into the care of his attendant and grabbed her shoulders to communicate his message: "Gunnel, go back inside the ship and don't come out until I tell you to."

The twenty-two year old dandelion looked deeply into his eyes. "What're you planning on doing?"

"Stopping this before it gets any worse." 

His determined gaze froze her for a time before he squeezed her shoulders and walked away. "Oh, b-but...Eugene!" She lunged out to catch his wrist, but he was long gone.

The king jogged into the glade of the harbor to raise his hands and shout, "Lower your weapons!"

The townsmen surprisingly stopped frothing, but both guard divisions remained on edge.

Sweat rolled down Eugene's jowl in a wavy line. He looked between the foot guards with his heart pounding in his eyes. "We didn't come all this way to cause any more trouble than we already have," Eugene said guiltily. "No one means anyone any harm!" Alas and alack, if the riots in Corona had front-paged Arendelle's newspapers by now, then the townsfolk had reason to trample the union's signatory.

The colonel of Arendelle's division walked from the beginning of his unit's line to the end of it, sizing Eugene up the way an agitated constable would size up a criminal. He spat on the dock and thundered, "Lower your weapons!"

Spontoons were retracted ambivalently after every Arendellian guardsman looked his comrade in the face. Eugene's men reciprocated the gesture by withdrawing their halberds and frowning helplessly at their king. Relieved, Gunnel touched the grey wolf fur on Eugene's cloak with a gentle hand. He shook the kiss-curl out of his eye and levered the bundle out of her arms, dropping into a dip to properly heave it up against his chest. The little body beneath the velvet blanket was frail and runty.

"Still as fast asleep as a newborn kitten, she is," Gunnel whispered by his ear. Her hazel eyes smiled down on the tot. 

Eugene's fingers peeled back the first layer of the blanket to unveil the sleeping beauty underneath. A garden of auburn curls covered her forehead. Smiling, he extended a hand and pinched her marshmallow cheek. She reacted by wiping her cherry nose and turning her head to sleep on the other cheek.

"Eugene, perhaps it would be best for I to take her while you enter the crowd―"

"It's fine," he objected smilelessly, pulling the child closer to his throat. "I'd rather have her with me than with someone else."

Gunnel scraped off the rippling strands that had been slapped across her face by the draft. "Perhaps if you had told Queen Elsa you were bringing her, you wouldn't feel the need to be―"

Trombones disrupted their chit-chat. Both peered at the town to catch the glitter-costumed cavalcade flooding the streets. At the hub of their triangle strolled six coaches carted by Holsteiner horses. The cherub Eugene held wiggled and shuddered, slipping a hand out of the blanket to tug it down over her scalp. 

Marquard's boots clomped on the plank as he exited the king's ship. "The drama never ends with this chap...―Well, don't just stand there gawping like a goldfish! We mustn't leave your bride waiting!" He waved his handkerchief in Eugene's direction before smothering his cough with it. Marquard's bandaged forehead, palsied hands, and walking cane connoted what they had left back in Corona. "We have already broken one too many promises to augur a warm reception from these people."

"You're not gonna make it like that," Eugene warned, coming to his side to hold his elbow with his free hand. "You should stay on board until I get someone to bring out a bath chair."

"Nonsense. I am a man of Corona and we do not, I repeat, do not, buckle at the knees when under pressure." He stood tall and proudly yanked on his lapels. "Besides, my gait is just fine."

"Your Royal Majesty."

Eugene rotated his head to frown between the blowing strands of fur on his shoulder.

The colonel with the bad attitude held out his arm and declared spitefully, "Corona's beautiful bride awaits you."

Eugene didn't know whether the walrus was talking about Elsa or Arendelle, but the reminder that he would soon be shackled to the ankles of both brides was plenty to make him cataleptic. As he took a second to take in the Hanseatic Wharf and its bridgework of fanged rooftops, it took every muscle in his legs to not flee back to his ship.

"On you go, then," Marquard motivated. "Go on."

Eugene swiped the sweat on his jaw with the collar of his doublet and went afoot with the colonel to be squired to his prison. Two lines of Coronian and Nordic guards cleared the path for his debarking council. A rabble of pubescent girls pushed through the grove of elbows to fan their handkerchiefs at him while rose bearers threw petals at his feet. The king's fur capelet gave his shoulders an intimidating amount of broadness while he walked, touting his gravitas as one of Apollonian omnipotence. To inflate this effect, Corona's Sovereign Wreath ― a ruby-stoned state coronet of gleaming gold ― coerced his grimacers to remove their hats and bow to what would be a new Arendelle. He looked at the number of people outfitted in embroidered kirtles, beaded caps, top hats, colorful shawls, and red woolen stockings to reflect how cold Arendelle's springs were, for spring in the fjords only bloomed in late March. 

One boy used the time to scribble something on a piece of cardboard and hold it up: 


FIX UR OWN COUNTRY


Eugene panicked and swiveled his head away, holding the tot tighter with the grey color of dread bleeding the honey out of his complexion. As a thief, it was no conspiracy that he was used to living life on a tightrope, but as a king, his balance was shaky, and he knew that he could fall into the moat of crocodiles at any moment. Rescuing him from the quicksand in his head was a black and gold carriage designed in Corona's likeness. Instead of going ahead of them, Eugene helped Marquard, Constantine, and Gunnel mount the stagecoach first. All three took refuge in pretending to be engrossed by the commercial buildings as it pulled into the thoroughfare.

Corona's king sat wedged between Marquard's waist and the window like a child being carted to an orphanage. In truth, that was exactly what he was reliving: the sob story of being orphaned, now for the third time, and adopted into a new home that did not want him.

"Arendelle Castle, Your Majesty," informed the coachman after having opened the carriage's door.

Eugene looked at the dusky shades of twilight falling on his face in hues of violet. The sun had clunked into the sea like a gold nugget, and there was no moon or stars to light the dark. 


Anna slid down the fourth floor's winding staircase and hopped off the volute. She skated to a stop after a humming white figure boinked down the hallway. "Wh―...Olaf!"

"Mm-hmmm~?" Olaf twirled around on his toe to blink at his caller. The snowman grabbed his cheeks and gasped happily upon seeing the redheaded princess. "ANNA!" The cloud haloing him bounced in sync with his hops as he gamboled up to her and tackled her stomach.

Anna squeezed her arms around him and nuzzled his head, humming with him in contentment. She set him down on the rug to cup the elbows of his twigs. "Olaf, where's Kristoff?" 

"Somewhere outside with Sven!" he sang, not quite in harmony with the emergency. His bark claws latched onto the bottom of her dress and fluttered it. "Didja see all the people and all the boooats~ and horses and instruments outside? It's like one great BIG fiesta!"

"Wait, what? They already started the parade?! You have got to be kidding me!" Anna pushed off her knees to ran into the Cross Gallery. "We were supposed to welcome him in, so we hafta slide into it now!"

"Hurray!" Olaf clapped excitedly. "I LOVE parades!" He boinked after Anna.

Manservants and maids rushed to place decorative ribbons and flower wreaths back into their yestermorn spots. They breezed past Anna with such big gusts of wind that she had involuntarily mastered three pirouettes before she could reach the third floor. 

"Soooo?" Olaf selected the worst time to be a chatterbox. "Who's this Eugene, hmmm? Anybody I should know?"

Anna was too short of breath to explain in detail. "He was ― Rapunzel's husband ― remember?"

"Ooohhh, of course I re-mem-beeerrr! He's the guy who everyone hates!"

"Uhhh...weeell, that's...one way to put it right about now, but not exactly the nicest, Olaf."

"Sorry about that..." 

By surviving the labyrinth of rooms and passages, Anna came out at last upon the library balcony that would let her grab a panorama of the Hanseatic Wharf. She unlocked the glass-paned doors with a jerk and a rattle before jarring them open to fling her body against the parapet. "...Woah."

Olaf waddled out and shoved one eye into the baluster's diamond hole. "...Woooah-ho-ho-hooo! Now that is what I call a fanbase!"

So many flag-wavers were gathered in the courtyard that Anna couldn't even see the color of the ground. Arendelle's Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment had completely clogged the artery that ran from the capital's bridge to the heart of the castle's bailey, and citizens were still foaming from the town. Scoping out the perimeter further finally brought her eyes into contact with the six coaches parked around the fountain.

"Princess Anna!" Kai loped toward her. The sweaty sheen on his bald spot made it shinier than a newly laid egg. "Where is Her Majesty the Queen?" he panted, patting his eyelids with a green handkerchief.

"Um, she's, uh...getting...―ready!" She didn't want to lie to Kai on the spot, but he would hold her up with lectures if she gave him the low-down. 

 "Your Highness, she was supposed to be ready for his welcoming reception at the gates of Arendelle twenty minutes ago, but neither of you answered to our calls!"

"Twenty min...? Shoot! Knew I was late! U-uh, where is Eugene now? Is he downstairs or is he being shown to his bedchamber?!"

"He's in the foyer as we twaddle!"

An exclamation mark appeared in the thought bubble above Anna's head. Having acquired the info she needed, she jetted off in a mushroom cloud of dust. "Thanks!"

Kai was bamboozled. He belatedly remembered something of critical importance. "Princess Anna, he also brought..."―his lips stopped flapping after he realized that she was already down the stairs―"...his child with him."

Anna's novel energy endowed her with the sonic speed to duck under the maid's vases, zoom past flying petticoats, and sprint to the final vestibule's double doors. Only Olaf caused her to dig her heels into the rug when she saw him reaching for the crocus knob. "Olaf, freeze!"

His fingers hovered over the doorknob in mid-reach, but his joyful face was still beaming at it. Olaf moved his pupils to the corners of his eyes and blinked.

"Um, Olaf...maybe you should..."―Anna bent down with her hands on her knees and smiled at him sorrily―"...hang back here for a little while."

"Why?"

"Eugene's not really...the 'talking snowman' type." 

Olaf just stared at her with his bug eyes, furrowed eyebrows, and immobile smile. He blinked one time in slow motion without changing the expression. "'Talk―ing snow―man' type...?" he sounded out, trying to wrap his head around what she was trying to say. 

"Last time I was in Corona, he got totally freaked out when I started talking about you, and I~ think he almost broke his broom as well as his back when Elsa sent a snowgie to his mailbox over three years ago." She closed her eye to exaggerate her wince. 

Olaf's mouth shrank into the shape of a tang fish's. "....Ooohhh, I geeet it. He's uptight! Need me ta' ease 'im on into me? To take it see-low?"

Anna's chuckle coughed into her words, "Just, uh ― lay low for a bit, at least until we round everyone up for a family dinner."

Olaf saluted her. "Aie, aie, Cap'n!" The snowman trotted off to mingle with the busy servants. "Hey, guys!" he shouted to them. "Can I help?"

"No!" they chorused. 

"Awww, come ooonnn! Don―...Guys? Guys, I can totally still see you." 

Anna watched him prance around the corner in pursuit of them. She vacuumed a deep breath into her diaphragm, pushed it out, and then challenged the double doors. The darn things were a lot heavier than she recalled them being once she got to pulling, but her nerves weighed over a ton by the time she'd made it on the other side of them. The first and only Coronians she saw were the slews of men in black breeches and red tunics with ridiculously puffy sleeves. They even wore capes over one shoulder and wide-brimmed hats crowned with black peacock feathers, taking her back to the era Corona still extolled.

One look at their pointed beards made her fear that they would slice a woman's chin off should any dare to make-out with the men themselves. Between these tricked out ministers ironically stood the only other petticoat in the foyer. Anna bit down the edge of her lip. Its wearer was pretty― not prettier than Elsa, of course; no one was prettier than her Elsa ― but pretty enough to distract a man, especially a lonely king. Especially an Eugene.

The honey blonde hair piled on top of her head was stacked in a beehive of swiss roll curls to create a fontange updo. Two ringlets emerged from her nape with four more blossoming from the pomaded part in her scalp. Most daunting was the width of the crinoline under her hoop dress. Overkill aside, the chubby legs sticking out of the blanket in her wardship was what nabbed Anna's attention.

"It's the princess!" 

Twenty eyes opened fire on her flinching body. Anna parted her lips to screw them up into a painfully embarrassed grin. Before she could wave or speak, the ministers broke apart to reveal her new brother-in-law-to-be, who stopped scolding the mustached Coronian guard in front of him to look back at her with bright eyes.

Chapter Text

 


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“The danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions,

that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.”

Sylvia Plath


To say Eugene was an eyeful would've been putting it lightly. 

His floor-length cloak, however highly it would have been ballyhooed in the "royal fashion" magazines, reminded Anna of a suede onyx rug that belonged in a hunter's cabin. Held together by two gold chains, its capelet wings flared out with the bushy fur of some poor critter pelting them. The ruby pommel on his gold-plated scabbard flattered the ones gemming the merlons in his coronet. On the lung of his grey doublet gleamed a small sun brooch to consummate their magnificence, and beside it winked the lustre on King Frederic's sun medallion. The blue quartz crystals and larimar stones festooning the necklace vaunted ornamental excess that had always come under fire for being "tackily over-the-top" to foreign noblemen, but Anna found it gorgeous. 

It sharply smote her that Eugene was just as. His handsome face, apricot skin, and silky hair made him everything a Camelot reader would envision a king to be.

Her inner voice sputtered that a vision this majestic could've been a mirage caused by the drought in her mouth, so she addressed him to make sure he was the real deal: "Eug―...Eugene?"

The dazzler brightened his expression by doing four very Eugene things: widening his eyes, grinning with closed lips, cocking his head, and opening his arms like an uncle who was popular with children. "In the flesh."

Joy expanded in her chest with the rapidity of helium filling a balloon. Had she been a more perceptive girl like her sister, Anna would've seen his mask for what it was, but her emotions transcended her wit. She lifted her dress above her toes to dart between the colonnades of bowing men and throw her arms around him.

"Woah-ho-ho!" Eugene flapped his arms as their bodies seesawed back and forth. He regained balance by placing his foot on the ground and holding her shoulders. "Woah there, little Robertson..." The thirty-eight year old king peeled her off after giving her a great big squeeze. "Easy..." His pink lips stretched into a shy smile that dimpled his cheeks with arrows. "I still need those lungs later for the politicians," he warmly murmured.

Tittering, Anna rubbed her snout with her wrist before sniffling and beaming up at him with teary eyes. "You're finally here! You're really here! Oh, Elsa and I-I were so worried! We thought you weren't coming and then you―..." She held him back by the forearms to blink at him. "...You look amazing."

Nowhere on his visage were there marks of a man who had been lanced by rebels, famine, or age. Dried blood from an obvious fight encrusted the cut on his eyebrow as well as the slit on his mouth, but not a single wrinkle or pore ruined his complexion.

"...A little too amazing."

"look ridiculous," he amended, self-consciously tugging on his capelet.

"No ― I mean ― well, sort of ― but that's not what I meant! You look, like, weirdly no different than you did at Elsa's coronation ten years ago." Anna wasn't phrasing it as a compliment so much as she was an oddity.

"I was forced to shave on our way here." 

It dawned on her that he was trying to broom her off the topic with divertive humor. Her supposition was substantiated by his behavior when he rerouted his eyes to the Coronian soldier beside them. Their visual communication was loaded with unmown tension that implied this scene was only the continuation of a standoff.

"You and I will readdress this in Corona," Eugene sorted. "You're dismissed." His order was remarkably cold.

The tail of the man's handlebar mustache twitched in acknowledgement of that coldness. His face responded to it by turning redder and puffier than an overcooked sausage in boiling water. With a grunt and a bow, he took to his heel and exited the castle.

Anna suppressed a yeesh. "What was that about?"

"Just my lack of knowledge that he was going to be "volunteering" here under the decree of a certain First Lord while I was blacked out," Eugene crossly recapitulated.

"Oh, that's right! How's your head?" She touched it.

"Um...eheh..." Eugene careened to the left. "It's ― a lot better than what I'm sure you've heard,"―he closed his hand around her fingers and untangled them from his hair―"but, of course, Constantine assumed the task of telling Arendelle the opposite." Her relative nudged his head in the direction of the stout man, who, like the other rubberneckers, were bemused by Anna not greeting the king's diplomats one by one as protocol required.

Anna dialed her voice down to match Eugene's volume. "So then, you didn't have a concussion or...?"

"Not one that would keep me off my ship for a week or five." Eugene moved his interest to the double staircase behind her. When his gaze finally fell on her face, he gripped her shoulders and leaned closer, stooping down a tad to level their gazes. "Anna," he began with the gravest tone she had ever heard from him, "I need to talk to your sister alone."

The cadge made her blood harden into calcium.

"Where can I find her right now?" By the sound of it, he wasn't asking because he wanted a family reunion. He had a bone to pick.

"Elsa's exhausted," Anna snubbed, removing his hands and stepping back. "Unless you want to see her to talk about how she's doing, it wouldn't be wise to start tanking her with politics." Her sister's spine was split down the middle like a lightning-struck tree from carrying miseries he hadn't been there to shoulder. Anna didn't need Eugene blitzing her while she was limping; she needed him to pillow her head.

Eugene pulled her aside to make his intentions clear. "Anna, believe me, I get that, but Elsa and I need to have a serious talk about more than just politics―"

A whimper stopped their duologue from snowballing into an argument. Anna looked at the pretty blonde woman with the cub. She was pursuing her lips against its ear to shush and soothe his or her moans until they droned into sleepy sighs.

"Hold on a second." With his hand sliding off the small of Anna's back, Eugene released and deserted her to check on the tot. "Is she alright?"

The childminder blushed. "Aroused by the hullabaloo, but not awake, Your Majesty. That, or she's faking dreams again."

Eugene didn't requite her conspicuous crush by doing anything soppy, but the picture of them hovering over the child was one Anna associated with memories of her own mother and father. The parental love on the girl's face as she stroked what was hidden under that blanket didn't disspell the preconception tightening Anna's belly. Her intestines curled and curdled like paper being eaten by a flame when she saw Eugene smile at her. Eugene's life with Elsa wasn't going to be roses and romance, but to bring an illegitimate baby into their picture before Elsa was even down the aisle yet―

"Your Highness," Eugene announced, "this..."―he cradled the codling and brought it to her like a dignified pharaoh with his newborn heir―"is the love of my life..."

Anna was about to dropkick him.

―"Isolde."

Blink blink blink. Anna squeezed her cheeks and dragged a gasp into her lungs. "Rapunzel's Isolde! ...Bah ― wait, b―but I thought―...sick Isolde? The Isolde you wouldn't let get near a ship...?!"

"She's in better shape than she was a year ago," he explained, parking next to her with the tot's head tucked into the bend of his arm. "And after the way Corona reacted to the treaty, well..." Eugene hoisted his forlorn eyes to Anna, which were crowned with a frown. "I was at the end of my rope as far as options were concerned..."

The princess was a statue. Rapunzel's womb had been rotted by baby carcasses prior to her death during childbirth, but from the last delivery spilled the body of one child ― a resuscitated child ― a sick child ― an allegedly "non-able-bodied child who could never continue the line of succession" ― whose feeble life had been treated like a top secret government file neither cousin could access. Word that the girl would die hours after her mother had bled to death was what prompted Elsa to console Eugene despite their nonexistent relationship:

" I am writing to you on this morning, not only to tell you how sorry I am for being unable to take you into my arms tonight, but to remind you that you are not, never were, and never will be alone. My only hope is that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for not taking the time to open mine until today. I once tried very hard to get to know yours on a deeper level than what you allowed, but over the years, I felt forced to avoid doing anything that might stir an argument or make you feel more uncomfortable than you already felt. I understand how hard it is to be an open door in a room full of people, as well as how much easier it looks to lock yourself in and shut the world out; each and every one of us has our own way of functioning when we're in too much pain to function at all anymore, and I would be lying if I told you that I'm still functioning right now."

Unable to sail to him directly, Anna could remember how little her sister had slept and eaten before she dragged that pen through the tears patting her paper. They were tears of regret for having let her crown curtail her opportunities to see her relatives ― for having to put it on Anna to fill her seat at their banquets ― for "not having done enough to get to know Eugene outside of Rapunzel" ― but the fault, Anna felt, was Eugene's. Either he was too insouciant to invest into anything with Elsa past polite birthday cards or he was always coincidentally halfway across the globe "negotiating" for their uncle while Rapunzel visited.

Rapunzel's funeral forced Elsa to break that cycle by docking in Corona. Tragically, Eugene was bedridden from what they would later learn to be poison instead of the "self-starvation, depression, and fever" headline that was published by the King's Council, so Elsa was limited to funding the Lying in State ceremony and composing an eulogy without his participation. Eugene's council, and Isolde's conditions, made seeing her impossible in the meantime. It was only after departure that Elsa had received a letter from him with the following elucidation:

" Corona's parliament has a practice in place called, "Care of King During Illness." This statute basically allows the King's Council to act "in my best interests" without my consent. The parliament therefore chose to appoint my First Lord (in your country, the "Prime Minister") to ward the kingdom as the "Guardian of the Crown," so while I fell into the role of "suffering from a life-threatening illness," he fell into the role of calling the shots. In accordance, I was suspended from my royal functions two days before you docked.

(...) I didn't order anyone to keep you and Anna away from me or Isolde. I had no idea any of this was going on. That so-called poisoner I mentioned had studied my handwriting astoundingly well. Banning you was an issue that Constantine and our High Councillor took into their own hands, and based on what you've written, they took it way too far. Did Isolde have complications that we didn't want anyone exploiting while the whole world's eyes were on Corona's half-empty throne room? 

Yes, in fact, she did. Because my little girl was born prematurely, she's been under an intensive care system for low immune tolerance. During her first five days of life, she wouldn't even open her eyes. After the sixth, she caught an infection from her wet nurse's breast milk. There are still mornings where she'll suddenly stop breathing for ten seconds, so we've been trying to look for more adequate ways to deal with this ever since.

Due to all of the above, there were plenty of concerns that I had in the beginning. Unless it was me, I did only want her nurses to be around her, but after I was "incapacitated," some of my concerns were blown out of proportion by my council, because not once did I ever say, "Make sure you treat Princess Anna and Queen Elsa like assassins when they get here." Never in a million years would I sic an order like that on you and Princess Anna." 

But now the drawbridge had been lowered.  Isolde's health issues had made up a bite-sized fraction of why Eugene abstained from boarding a twenty-something-hour cruise to Arendelle, so to behold her today was to behold a once elusive fairy. Anna pressed her hands against her heart and leaned in to cherish Corona's unicorn. "She's beau-tiful..." The sheet swaddling the child stopped at her mouth, but Anna could see just enough to make her heart sing opera.

Stringy hair several palettes darker than her own mantled Isolde's head, giving it a red chestnut glow. Wanting to see more of her, Anna started to pick the blanket's petals, but Eugene caught her wrist.

"Let's go upstairs first," he bespoke. "She'll be more comfortable in a less crowded room."


It was not very long after his supplication that there occurred the first of many headaches Eugene would have in Arendelle. As a precursor to the introductions hand-balled between herself and his commissioners, Anna entreated her servants to show them to their apartments without wasting another verb. Thenceforward, Anna grabbed him by the wrist, babbled something about there being no time to lose, and yanked him off his heels. It took Eugene twelve seconds to grasp that he had been abducted by the ragamuffin in all of ten.

"I can not WAIT for Elsa to see you two! Our rooms are up here, so you'll be down the hall from us!"

"Would you mind considering possibly slowing DOWN?! Because I'm getting an awful wave of motion sickness back here!" Eugene choked out. He watched the bottom of her dress bob up the stairs as she dragged him to his bedchamber like a yo-yo ball with a scissor-proof string.

"Just a hundred more ta' go!"

"A hundred?! How do you get downstairs day in and day out without having a stroke?!"

"Exercise! It's good for you!"

Once they hit the fourth floor, the entire hallway felt like it was jogging up and down. Anna broke her run to jiggle the knob of a door. She shoved it open with her shoulder. "This is your room — well, your temporary room since — y'know — but Elsa decorated it herself! She wanted you to feel completely comfortable, so she replaced the original paint with Corona's warmer colors. Do you...like it?"

He graded it even though he was seeing triple. Aesthetically, it appealed to the ego in him that was avaricious. Jacobean furniture was well furbished and well placed, complete with chair-back settees, beige walls, cornice moulding, ogee millwork, and a massive four-poster oak bed curtained by silk drapes. Ideologically, it sickened the ego in him that was as averse to lodging in Arendelle as it was to kissing its queen. "It's..." Eugene saw Gunnel's silhouette scooting into the corner of his eye and looked at her plaintively.

The nursemaid was patting Isolde's back in the hallway while Arendelle's porters moved his luggage into the boudoir. All at once, something blurry and white dashed behind her and vanished behind the other wall. Eugene leaned back with bulging eyeballs to peek over the candle holders blocking his view.

"Eugene?"

His head snapped around to Anna. "Huh?"

"Um, dooo you like it...?" His owl eyes were creeping her out.

"Oh, um — yes, of course," he imparted, smiling back at Anna weakly. "It's...perfect, actually...but I'm—...uh..." He looked back at the hallway. "A little daunted by the, uh—"

"Oh, oh, oh!" Anna bounced from foot to foot. "And there's a crib right here!" She pointed out the canopy toddler bed abutting his bedstead. "It's Baltic Birch wood, the best of the best!" Anna linked her fingers together behind her back, smiling bashfully. "Elsa and I made it back when she was trying to get you to come live with us three years ago. Of course, you said no, which didn't go over well with her, but we decided to build and keep everything in here just in case."

Passing his hallucination off on enervation, Eugene paid attention to what Anna was showing him. "Where is it again?"

"Right there, y'big goof! It's a good thing we didn't take it apart, seeing how you didn't tell us you were bringing her for the wedding and all." Anna's irritation over his aloof antics in the past year was buried under her twinkly voice.

"Unintentionally." Eugene shook the wood to test its durability before performing a cursory inspection from top to bottom. A blue snowflake was painted on the headboard with a yellow sun below it. "It's, uh...really something. I can't thank you girls enough," he said with discomfort, "but Isolde is going to be sleeping with me while we're here."

"Oh..." Anna's face dropped. She tried to pick it back up with a smile. "Well, that makes sense! Gotta get 'er used to the new environment and everything, right?"

"Right." Eugene smiled back. This time, Anna read the fine print on his face that said the smile was bogus.

Gunnel curtsied to Anna before walking past Eugene to set Isolde down on his mattress.

Eugene snatched off his coronet and placed it on the lamp table with a clink. The removal of his "royal halo" was the removal of his majesty. Now, he was just Eugene, a widowed relative who was round-shouldered and downtrodden, not the invincible king with the unscalable stature and straight back. "And just to let you know," —he paused to squeeze his eyelids like the eyes behind them were throbbing with pain—"the rest of the People's Council will probably be here at midnight, so there's more of us coming."

"I'll log that away." Anna cleared her throat. "And, just to extend an invite, we usually eat dinner at six, but it's already seven, so...I can push it to nine, if you want? You must be starving, after all!"

"We're fine, actually. We ate dinner aboard just before we docked. This is around Izzy's bedtime, anyway."

"Oh...well, okay." His rejection made her think he had some weird idea that the food wasn't safe, but his energy made her feel like it wouldn't be a good idea to press him the way she normally would.

"Are you okay?" he queried, sensing the schism in her conscience's cathedral.

"Huh? Oh! Yeah, I'm perfectly fine! It's just...well, you're...finally here! After years of not being here, you're FINALLY here! And you're...marrying my sister." Anna twisted her fingers. "Going to take a while to wrap my head around that."

Such bosh wasn't what she was going to follow the confession up with, but it was too late to be candid. The atmosphere was awkward, if not smothered by the things they wouldn't say, such as their mutual distaste for the contract that had brought him here. Telling him about the rioters and hidden guns in Corona was a forgotten tibit in this conjuncture's rear view mirror.

"Well...then that makes two of us." Because Eugene's back was glaring at her, she couldn't see the face he was making. His half-lighthearted, half-heavyweight reply, however, encouraged her to leave the conversation on the carpet.

"So, what was it you wanted to save for upstairs...?" Anna traveled to his region of the room.

Gunnel glanced at Eugene worriedly.

Eugene didn't glance at her. The light in his pupils trembled under the moonlight cascading from the bedroom's balcony as he stared at Anna. "You have to promise me first that you won't make a sound."

She was getting irritated again. "Okay, okay! I'll be as quiet as a mouse."

Exhaling, Eugene gathered the pleats of the blanket into his fist and pulled. The cover slithered down Isolde's face and over the knolls of her shoulders. In seconds, Anna's excitement fizzled out and transmuted into something closer to horror. The tissue of the child's lip made a split in the gums that curved like a fishhook. Horrendous indications of where the margins had been sutured and scarified by a cautery made it look worse. The stitches hadn't done the job of closing the fissure more than it did marring the folds and causing an ugly shortening of the lip.

Anna removed her palms from her hanging mouth. "...What happened to her?"

"The people in Corona call it the "harelip" curse," Eugene's deeper cadence echoed.

Anna's head ticked until her wet gaze anchored on his profile.

Staring down at Isolde, distressed, broken, and aged, was a king she did not meet in the foyer. The cancer in his eyes was unbearable to watch spread through his heart. "I've never...read a living record of anyone like her because kids with this, based on what I found, were either ridiculed, thought to have had supernatural powers and therefore removed from society altogether, or killed on the spot. People who did terrible things like that called it a means of removing evil omens and preserving the "safety" of the villages. Other babies didn't live longer than a month because they couldn't be fed properly."

Eugene's finger whisked away the moist curl that was flattened against Isolde's chin. "Dr. Waldus and Dr. Ingul, on the other hand, told me it was called notched mouth medically, and that it's just a birth defect. But because of the harelip superstition, which has been around since Plato, a lot of people prefer to think an omen has something to do with it. So-called "sorcery" has already been proven to the world and the clergy that it exists here and in Corona, after all. I was lucky enough to end up finding a foreign surgeon in Corona who had written a book about harelips. He explained that it would be better to operate on Isolde when she was four, but...obviously, the scar didn't disappear like he said it would, and now she's stuck with the proof..."

Anna's soul flew back into her mouth. She slurped in the breath she was holding and caterwauled, "But why didn't you say anything about this to Elsa while she was writing to you?"

Eugene put the conversation on hiatus to sit on the bed and sigh, dangling his folded hands between his splayed legs. "I was...threatened, for lack of a better word..." His thumbs parted from the zipper his fingers made. "Threatened to not say anything on paper that was too explicit..."

Despite the fact that Eugene did look tortured by the burden of keeping Isolde's secret, Anna stuck to her guns: "You still should've told her! Elsa would've protected you—"

 "Anna, your sister couldn't even protect herself, let alone set foot in Corona." He put his hand on his knee and talked with the other one. "I couldn't depend on her to rescue me from what was going on in my own council room before the invasion happened. Her 'assistance' had a limit." It was hard to understand whether Eugene was talking out of spite, reason, or a combination of both.

Anna waterboarded him with objections, "You could've depended on her after! The conspirators in your court were rooted out, weren't they? Elsa's been trying to contact you for a year ever since then!"

The knot crinkling Eugene's nose unwrinkled. "..."

Anna recoiled. "...Wait, are you...saying you didn't get a letter from her for a whole year?"

Now Eugene was staring at her with a more intense look than before. "I never got anything from your sister after her prime minister sent me a 'petition for marriage' that my council and hers drafted up behind my back. But apparently Elsa—..."

"Apparently Elsa what?"

"..." Eugene's jaw locked up as his eyebrows locked in, and whatever he had wanted to say was elided by his better judgment. "Apparently, Elsa and I have a lot to talk about. If you'd be willing to tell her that I want to see her tonight," he pleaded, "I think both of us would have a better shot at making tomorrow less...miserable."

 

Chapter Text

 


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“Women are quite able to make friends with a man; but to preserve such a friendship that no doubt requires the assistance of a slight physical antipathy [on his part]."

Friedrich Nietzsche


Anna bluely opened her bedroom door and looked around the edge. Elsa's arm was the only body part bulging from the mountain of covers she was under. Her snores were louder than Oaken's ice engine, which was a common telltale sign that she was down for the count (*). Anna left the door ajar by three inches and beckoned a housekeeper to come in. The stout madam entered with a wooden pail and tiptoed into Anna's bathroom to clean the bath shower.

The first thing Elsa would need was a wash-up. After that, some nutrients. The one-on-one Eugene wanted to have wasn't the sort to be had on an empty stomach, but Elsa wasn't the sort to eat before she cannonballed into a lake of politics, so Anna would have to play maestro. She just hoped Eugene would respect Elsa like he promised he would. If he didn't, then he was going to wake up with a black eye in the morning.

Anna rolled back the blankets. "Elsa?" 

Her sister had her cheek smashed against her arm with her mouth wide open. A small creek of saliva flowed down her wrist and dampened the mattress padding it, completing the picture of sophisticated grace.

"Awgh, she's out like a candlelight!" Anna smacked her own forehead. She rolled her invisible sleeves up to her elbows and shook Elsa's shoulder. "Elsa...?" When she didn't budge, she shook it harder. "Pst! Elsa!"

Elsa's snore hiccuped into a snort that was superseded by a moan. She furrowed her nose and closed her mouth, swooshing her lips from side to side. Her eyes butterflied open to Anna.

The redhead smiled hesitantly. "Ahoy there, sleepy head..."

Elsa blinked back the fog misting her sight. Once the fog melted, her pupils dilated. The eyebrows above them fell down like two separate ends of a bridge joining together. "Anna..." The name throbbed off her tongue. She lifted her head and looked around in confusion and shock. "...Why am I in your room?" 

"You fell asleep because you were so exhausted." Anna stroked her arm. "How're you feeling?"

Elsa held the blanket against her chest and sat up on her elbow. She raked her fingers through her roots to get the tresses off her face. The strands got caught in the tooth comb of her fingers, and when she flattened them, three cowlicks stuck up like a cockatoo's feathers. "For h-how long have I been asleep...?"

Anna sniggled, then corrected the action with a harrumph. "Um, since yesterday." 

"What?" Elsa bleated. She sighed before reaching for the sheets and fussing, "Then why didn't you wake me up?!"

Anna was going to blurt, "Hello! You don't think I tried? You slept like a log!" She switched her rejoinder to, "Because, Elsa, you needed it. You obviously slept that long because it was overdue. Do you feel any better?"

Although preparing to quickly dismount from the bed, Elsa countenanced her point. "I guess I feel a little better, but―"

"Great," Anna corked her before she could drain the positivity out of the conversation, "because Eugene is in the room right down the hall."

The drain-stopper worked so well that Elsa choked on her own spit. "Wh―...wait, you're not...?"

Anna shook her head with her lips wrapped under her teeth.

"...Anna!" Elsa ripped off the covers and planted her bare feet on the wood.

"I tried to get you up before he got here!"

As Elsa went on a shoe hunt, her breathless words ran together like bathwater from a tap as she rabbited on about headaches she had to discuss with Eugene, plans she had to reschedule, choreography they had to learn, which phrase to greet him with, how sick she was going to be, and a cataract of other tizzies that got lost in the combers.

"Um, Elsa?" Anna watched her hop around the room on one leg as she tried to get a shoe on. Elsa's cheeks puffed up like an angry blowfish's the more she fought with the rascal. "Elsa, you might wanna...―Elsa!"

Her one-legged sister canted sideways so much that she keeled straight into the purple chair beside the nightstand.

Anna's pigtails stood on end as the room rumbled from a miniature earthquake. She unlidded one eye after the other before shrieking, "Elsa!"

The queen was seeing stars and planets. Anna rushed over to Elsa's legs, which were draped over the seat, and grabbed her wrists to heave her up. "Al-right," Anna grunted between gritted teeth, "that's enough excitement for one day." She helped Elsa stand, who was rubbing her head as she ow-ed about how much that really hurt. "You need to just calm down, clear your head, and clean yourself up before you go kicking down Eugene's door with your heels."

Elsa retired her hand from her skull and nodded queasily, her eyes focused on nowhere. "Right. You're right. I-I need to get a hold of myself." She looked down at her dress and twirled her finger. Her gown melted off her legs and liquefied into a pool of blue. The puddle inched up the door of Anna's wardrobe like a caterpillar until it reached an empty hanger, where it stretched back into the sleeves, bodice, cloak, and skirt of her dress.

The dress's maker was left in that crotchless underwear the royal seamstress had customized for her because she didn't wear pantalets. She pulled them down her calves with a shimmy and stepped out of them.

It instantaneously occurred to Anna that she wasn't going to be the only person who saw her sister naked anymore. The thought of Eugene's eyes trespassing on Elsa's body without her pretty dress on made her sick to the stomach. 'Has Elsa even thought about that? What about Eugene? ...Wait, scrap that thought. He better not've!'

Elsa folded the undershorts on Anna's mattress and hurried into the bathroom. After receiving the housekeeper with a stammer, Anna heard her stumble into the basin and blast the water. "So exactly how long has Eugene been here, Anna?" 

'Well, that was an accusatory tone.' "Uhhhmm, since~ sunset, perhaps? He said his blackout wasn't as bad as everyone told you."

She sighed her frustration. The violent scrubbing added to the many sound effects coming out of the bathroom."He's probably wondering why I wasn't there to welcome him at the gates...You should've gotten me up!"

"I tried," Anna repeated, "but it was like trying to wake up a mummy! Eugene jumped down my throat a few minutes ago to get you up because he wanted to talk to you in..." Anna discontinued. She had told him to wait in the parlor where they could dine (unbeknownst to him), but now she was considering a place where her spyglass would come in handy. "In the garden! He wants to talk to you in the garden! A-At eight-thirty!"

"That late? ...Anna, are you sure that's what he told you?"

"It's only eight! Besides, it feels great outside!"

"Anna, it's March."

"Maybe Mother Nature is in a good mood tonight! Who knows? Either way, he said he wanted to have dinner with you alone. You know, like a proper reunion."

"...He said that?"

"I'm telling you, Elsa; he wants it real fancy, the whole nine yards. After all, he didn't eat much himself. Maybe you could even impress him with your magic?"

Elsa made a helpless whimper. Anna thought she was going to gripe about it and refuse, but instead she stuttered out with another lisp, "Fine, whatever, just...I-I wanna know what he looked like when you saw him. Did he look hurt or thin? What about the Union Act? Did he mention anything about the Brotherhood?"

"No and no. To the first one, he was wearing this huge cloak, so I couldn't exactly weigh his body mass and everything, but he looked―" 

"WAY dreamier than Gerda said he was!" Olaf popped up in front of Anna.

"Olaf!" Anna jumped back. "Wh...! Where'd you come from?"

"From the hallway, though usually from thin air!" Olaf grinned back at the bathroom. "Oh, and that girlfriend of his is a total cupcake!" 

"Wha―...Girlfriend?

Anna pictured Elsa sneering. And then freezing Eugene alive. "N-No!" she squawked. 

"Yep!" Olaf chirruped.

"Olaf!" Anna hissed. 

"She's this cute wittle daisy with blonde hair and a poofy dress! You should see the way she looks at him; totally in love! And he tries to play it off by not looking at her, but you can tell he thinks she's a looker―"

"He's joking! He's joking! He's totally...―Olaf, tell 'er you're joking!"

"I ― am ― dead serious."

Silence. 

"...W-Wait, start from the beginning ― who are you two talking about?"

"His..." Anna reevaluated what Olaf had burped up. She didn't see any shady business in the foyer, but she honestly hadn't been looking after that intro scene played out against her suspicions. "His nursemaid! She's just his nursemaid! Um, I-I mean, Isolde's nursemaid."

The water stopped spurting. Elsa came out of the lavatory with her towel hanging in one hand and her fist on her collarbone. Droplets starred her body and hair.

"Ooh~!" Olaf admired her. "You look nice and refreshed!" 

"He brought Isolde?" Elsa's orbs would've looked like empty white balls had it not been for the dots trembling in them.

"He brought her," Anna validated. "She's sleeping right now, but I got to see her, and―..." Anna had been trying to figure out how to bring up Isolde without bringing up her deformity, because Elsa would've squeezed it out of her. She thought back to what Eugene made her promise, which was not to say anything before he addressed it first, something she partially agreed with. "She's the most precious thing you'll ever lay eyes on―"

There was a bang on the door. Both sisters gasped.

"J-Just a second!―Elsa, finish drying off!" Anna told her.

Elsa draped the towel around her body and backed into the bathroom, still trying to take in what she had just heard.

Anna opened the door.

Kristoff was standing in the entrance with his wrist against the frame. He looked up from his uggs and frowned at her imploringly. "Anna, we need ta' talk―" 

Anna shut the door behind her and grabbed two fistfuls of his tunic to super-glue their lips together. He held his hat back and blinked at her freckles. Just as he was starting to close his eyes and smile against the kiss, she pulled back and thwacked his chest with the back of her hand.  

"Ow!" Kristoff held his breast. "That hurt!"

"Where on EARTH have you been for the last thirteen hours―"

"Fifteen," he dryly edited.

"―Fifteen hours? I have been looking all over Arendelle for you! Do you know how many gray hairs I have?!" 

"Re-lax, Feisty Pants," Kristoff chuckled. He circled his arms around her waist and squatted a bit to tip his chin down and look at her over his bangs, shaking his head without breaking eye contact. "I was just taking care of Marshmallow like Elsa asked me to. He helped with the harvesting again (*), but getting him to stay put on my way back was easier said than done. You know how lonely the big guy gets up there (*). These four just happened to hitch a free ride on my sledge behind my back. Literally."

Although her palms were resting on his pecs, she was too riled up to break her temper and concentrate on his body heat. "Who four? What four?"

The heads of four snowgies popped out of the mountain rucksack strapped to Kristoff's back. "Those four."

"Kristoff!" Anna's face was a page of exclamation marks. "Have you completely lost your mind?" she lowered her voice so that only he could hear her. "We can not keep them in here!"

"Do you see masochist written anywhere on my forehead? I didn't bring them here on purpose. It took me almost three hours to round them up after they spazzed out over that parade you guys were having for Eugene, which didn't go too well at first, by the way, so there's no way I would actually choose this type of torture for myself."

"Then hide them until we can take them back! If Eugene sees this many snowgies in one sitting, he's going to have a stroke!"

"Well, if Eugene is marrying into this side of the family, then he's just gonna have to get used to it." Kristoff sounded offended. "After all, Grandpabbie and everyone else are coming, too. They wanted to be a part of the wedding."

Hearing his attitude, Anna chose to trod on the matter with more sensitivity. "They are? But, how will they get here?"

"Trust me, they can travel like armadillos. Also, Grandpabbie had something he wanted me to ask you." He squeezed the wrinkles on his forehead as he tried to remember. "Nrgh, something about ― something about magic and souls. He said he wanted to know if Elsa knew ― or if you knew ― if there was any other magic in the castle."

"...Why would there be other magic in the castle?"

"Beats me."


It was past eight when Eugene's beseechment had been rewarded with a twenty-minute wait in the Royal Parlor. The room's modest Stave church design was the opposite of his grandiose renaissance parlor in Corona's onion domed castle, echoing the incompatibility of their royal occupants. He began to feel the minutes crawling over his arms like centipedes as he mused on the marriage that would dovetail them for life. 

'Save your vomit for another day,' he pepped. 'Don't think about that right now. Now is just now. Just meeting in the castle to get the answers she should've given you a long time ago.'  Ironically, his advice was easier to pitch than it was to apply. Playing thumb wars in his lap didn't mollify him, so he circuited the parlor's art gallery to pass the time.

Portraits of Elsa's progenitors were rife for yards, but not one casement framed Rapunzel's parents. A timeline of Elsa's childhood turned out to enwound his interest. In the paintings she posed for, she evolved from a girl with shy smiles to a girl with none. Then, as if there had been a death in the family, she was no longer featured in any.

Eugene reached the gallery's appendix. Towering over him with a height and width that made him stumble back was Elsa's coronation portrait. The twenty-one year old did not bear the aplomb of a monarch or the ferocity of the monster she had been called that night. Her expression, which caged bulbous eyes and tight lips, fit that of a convict before a mob. It took Eugene down two memory lanes: his own grisly coronation, and his attendance to hers.

His old knack for conning people made a woman's psyche clearer to his spyglass than her outward appearance, so he'd spotted the anxiety tinned inside the queen during her coronation. When Elsa's eyes flashed down to the Crown Jewels, his had instinctively followed, and lo and behold, there was ice on her regalia. After rubbing his eyes with his fists in screwturner motions, he opened them to the image of Elsa smiling with her hands clasped as though nothing had happened. The archbishop who pillowed the Crown Jewels didn't seem to detect anything odd about the items in his custody, either. These negations forced him to blame the phenomena on landsickness, visual migraines, sunlight, eye floaters, and other phosphenes even while his shoulder angel was saying, "she has magic like Rapunzel did." 

The ballroom shindig took the cake on the list of bad experiences. He remembered Rapunzel's mood oscillating between butterflies and willies as they stood in the line of dignitaries exalting Elsa. She wasn't loath to meet Anna because they had written to each other before. Elsa had only written once a year after her accession, and when she did, it was to politely congratulate her on a birthday, not to reciprocate the closeness Rapunzel sought; oftentimes she didn't even reply to Rapunzel's gratitude. Eugene spent three years trying to kill Rapunzel's notions about "why Elsa hated her" by saying Elsa hated herself. Because he'd slain a similar demon, he believed one's self-image was the only reason why a person would shut the world out and divorce themselves from their family.

Where Elsa's problem made Eugene uncomfortable was his knowledge of the side effects. People that isolated were apt to grow up without empathy, which harmed everyone who tried to get close to them. Most turned out sociopathic or schizophrenic. As Rapunzel's watchtower, he kept an eye on the new queen's interactions with Princess Anna before allowing his wife to engage. When Elsa smiled upon the party with Anna, her face paralleled Rapunzel's on the day she saw Corona's markets. The childlike fascination, if genuine, implied that she did crave intimacy with people, but it faded the more Anna goosed her, which fatally backfired on Anna. The redhead abandoned Elsa's dais to flounder into the arms of Satan, and Elsa, who chased her back with her eyes, had left to flounder into the arms of depression.

Eugene had no intention of stalking the little grenade to lure her into Rapunzel's den of female fans and anti-Eugene envoys. He'd separated from the social dragnet to return with refreshments, but he found himself docking on the balcony to unpin his sun brooch for reexamination. Undulating with the impression that her skin would tear if touched, Elsa stood some feet away from him as foreigners whispered about her unfitness to be queen. The silence prolonged by their damp gazes was shattered by a drove of dukes who abducted her to "talk trade."

Elsa recovered from the abduction with grace by putting on a polite mask that hid what she was really feeling, yet there was something troublesome about her eyes, something she was trying very hard to hide. Her royal overseer liberated her before Eugene could take a shovel to it. Minutes later, Eugene ditched the premises to find his wife, who was, by that time, free to face Elsa, but finding either sister was impossible, and the couple was scheduled to leave Arendelle while the night was still young. They were made to regret that decision after Corona caught wind of Arendelle's tale, but Elsa, who'd utilized the following years to be as openhearted to the world as possible (via paper interviews and all), still failed at being the consistent cousin Rapunzel had wanted.

Eugene put the rotten reflection to bed as he walked down the last row of paintings. His eyes arrived to the heart-stopping art of what he reckoned to be a goddess from Arendelle's pagan myths. Though the subject's hands were folded primly, her cocky smirk and mischievous eyes contradicted her pose. He was sure to have seen a shimmery femme fatale like her on his orphanage's book shelf―

"Your Majesty?"

"Uh!" He cleared his dry throat and tracked his crier's voice back to the open door. "Yes?"

A liveried manservant stopped in the center of the room to report, "Her Majesty the Queen will not be holding audience in the parlor tonight―"

"What?" Eugene paled. "But Princess Anna promised me that Elsa would meet me here, to-night." He pointed to the ground to punctuate his urgency.

"Her Highness has made arrangements for an outdoor dinner instead, Your Majesty. Is that not what you requested?"

Eugene pinched the ceiling above his nose before staring at him with the face of an unimpressed crocodile raising its head above the water. He smiled sourly and sugared his reply with a bittersweet cadence, "I'm sorry...but can you run that by me one more time?

"Princess Anna made arrangements for your dinner with Queen Elsa. According to her, the change was made at your behest." 

Eugene rocked forward on his soles.  "At my behestyou say. Ah-huh. Interesting." He rocked backwards and folded his hands behind him, nodding up at the ceiling with a contemplative look, before cocking an eye at the talebearer and smirking out of irritation. "And, where exactly is this collaborative tête-à-tête taking place?"

"In the royal garden, Your Majesty. Princess Anna told Queen Elsa that you wanted to meet her for a lavish dinner, so Her Majesty has been...persuaded to wait for your arrival."

"...Un-believable. I ask for conversation, and Anna sets up a blind date in the cold." There was not much he could do except drag his body into Anna's trap with his tail between his thighs, so Eugene fixed the collar of his gold doublet and followed her bloodhound outside. His legs were as supportive as jello as he walked between the veils of Monkshood flowers that chandeliered the pergola. The rock troll statues fringing the footpath were exceptionally creepy, which didn't help his goosebumps.

In spite of how uneasy he was about meeting Elsa for the first time, Eugene made it past the final pilaster without mishap. Crystal beads swung from the garden's trees like glowworm strands dancing in the breeze, conceiving the illusion that he was walking through stars.

"...Wow,"—couldn't even begin to describe the fireflies imploding in his stomach. Within five seconds ― or even less ― he had forgotten a fourth of his worries. Not because his worries were one brick less heavy than they were before, but because an old and powerful adrenaline rush from his boyhood mowed them out of his mind for a wink. It was the same high he would get when he used to escape into a library of folklore on lonely nights. "...I could get used to a view like this," he mumbled without a smile. Eugene's fingers unrolled from his palm to touch a scintillating thread―

"This way, Your Majesty." His navigator presented the entrance of their destination. 

With his heart performing cartwheels, Eugene walked away from the bead curtains and into the garden beyond. Trees covered in constellations of fairy lights bracketed a tall pergola on the flagstone patio ahead. The composition was so dazzling that anyone could've mistaken it for a fay haven where demigods served Greek heroes. Eugene forgot how to walk, breathe, and think simultaneously. What he did remember how to do was hold onto the nearest crutch in case of a heart attack, which just so happened to be his guide.

The chaperon lost the feeling in his forearm as he tried to catch the king from tripping backwards. He pulled Eugene toward the pergola's mouth, where wisteria blossoms dangled from its latticed roof like purple waterfalls spilling over a precipice. After Eugene swam through them, he ducked his head under the last floral stalk and marveled at the magnificence five feet away. 

Rated by him as the most beautiful fixture he'd ever seen, a crystal chandelier tied to the pergola's latticework hung above a fancy table. On the table-for-two stood a silver candelabrum with three lit wicks. The silver candelabrum was companioned by napkins, wineglasses, and silverware, but there were no plates or Elsa. Clanking sounds dispelled his assumption.

"Maybe next time," a man said. 

Eugene looked to his right. The object on the floor took the breath he'd been working overtime to save. What he at first fancied to be a runnel of diamonds was actually a sheer cloak redolent of Nimue's manteau in King Arthur. A longer inspection told him that it was bespangled with crystals. He followed the cloak's sparkly road to the glass heel pedestaling an ankle, and then hiked up the curve of the calf emerging from the wearer's gown―'Great balls of fire...'―before settling on the shimmer dusting a bare pair of shoulders.

The silver-blonde hair on the head between them was styled into a scrollwork coiffure, spoiling his eyes with a filigreed tracery of calligraphic curls and spirals. ''Wait ― t-time out...' Eugene's vision zoomed out. The subject in the frame was standing beside two footmen who were hassling with buffet servers.

"I'm sure your magic will work again once you sit down with the king, Your Majesty. A barren stomach makes it harder to think clearly."

"It worked just fine the first time." The human sapphire turned around and carried two loaded plates to the table, never looking up from the mental argument she was having with her toes. Her cloak floated on the air currents like a cobweb bedewed with water as she glided past Eugene.

Eugene watched the glinter with a total suspension of thought. Her thigh, which flaunted the pearlescent glow of chinaware, disappeared and reappeared in the high cut of her gown until she stopped to lay their dinner on the tablecloth. When she felt his eyes touching it, her eyes finally touched his.

Sweat flowered under Eugene's armpits. '...This is going to be an even bigger nightmare than I thought.'

Chapter Text


 

[]♕༺[]༻   

“I was just about ready to drop my sword and offer my head to Ragnar so that my daughter could live,
but then I saw your crocus flag flickering in the wind, and I couldn’t get off my knees fast enough to run over to
who I thought was you standing on that pier. To my surprise, it wasn’t you at all.
The person waiting for me at the end of the quay was your admiral. I don’t want you to think I was any less grateful or relieved or anything of the sort....
It’s just that I was really hoping, after everything I’d been through, that the very first person to run up to me on that pier
would be you."

Eugene Fitzherbert (My Dearest Cousin)

 

 

Code by Layouttesst



The season in Elsa's face changed from a dreary winter to a dewy summer dawn, and her eyes, which didn't blink, were not the same twinklers of the chilblained demoiselle on coronation day. They were wise, they were alive, and they were seeping right through him.

"...Ah...ha...." A queer phenomenon thawed the most calloused parts of Eugene. It moved surely between the couloirs of his conscience without name or interruption, cascading into memories that canoed him back to the night in December of 1849, when a silhouette had materialized from the snow hours ahead of Corona's war with the Southern Isles, before dispersing in the wake of two blinks

The hands of that manifestation's creatress walked over each other on the back of her chair as she came around the table. Eugene was too ensorcelled by the stardust she was gowned in to process her progression, but he dimly realized that her bodice was closing the gap thirteen years had widened between them. What he didn’t realize was how far back he was leaning until two skinny arms pulled him forward. A whimper gushed from Elsa’s mouth as their bosoms collided. She perched her moist chin on his epaulet and held his shoulder blades with her palms, squeezing him against every grain of magic on her body.

With his chin tucked into the bevel between her shoulder and her neck, Eugene blinked dumbly at the glitter that blinked back at him from Elsa’s nape. His heart stuttered when he felt the dimple in the corner of her mouth smile against his skin, the sigh leaving her piping hot nose to fall into his hair, the briny tears kissing his neck, and the little jackhammer punching his ribs. His body felt all of her—all of her melting into butterflies and chrysanthemums and pollen-drunk summer mornings ripe with rebirth—like the hug had just allowed her to breathe, to be. He didn’t, however, feel his eyes dripping despite the mess they were making on his cheeks.

“I sincerely wanted to be that person running down the dock to pull you into my arms, Eugene..." — 

By no volition of his own, the steel sutures of his grudge came undone in Elsa’s arms. She expelled what sounded like another breath of uncontainable happiness before peeling her cheek off Eugene’s neck. He looked all over her parting form with a strand of her hair pasted against his wet nose, taking in her crystal-studded scalp and fluffy cowlicks. The fingers that slid into his hands and held them like tulips were not the icicles journalists had pilloried; their temperature was below sixty degrees, to be sure, but they carried the soothing coolness of a spring breeze. He looked at Elsa's face to look for Elsa.

Elsa's eyelashes, which were glued together by tears, feathered cheeks that held the same hue rosing her lips. Inch by inch, she hoisted her chin with the serenity of a nun raising her head from prayer, and then hoisted her lids at half-mast to bare her heart to Eugene. Like someone had shone a ray of sunlight through blue shards of glass, her eyes unleashed a kaleidoscope of emotions onto him. In their core quivered a cosmic concentration of love, a soggy collection of all the letters she never sent, the words she never wrote—words he'd longed to see with hands and eyes and a face that was actually real. And now that she was here—moving those scarlet appendages called lips—crying with tear-soaked cheeks that looked shinier than a lacquered table—he couldn't hear a single word she was saying.

It hurt to talk, so he didn't. Couldn't. His chest was flooded up to the ceiling with cold and warm feelings—unfamiliar and unforgettable feelings—feelings from a time when she had said that he mattered and was a king whom Rapunzel would've been proud of, a king whose side Arendelle would bulwark through hell and high water.

—"You don't have to repay me for anything in any lifetime. You are still my cousin before you are my ally, and Corona is still Arendelle's brother before it is her trade partner. All I've ever really wanted from you was for you to open up without shutting me out or hiding behind a false front..."—

Something hot and heavy tapped Eugene's top lip. 

—"It's okay not to hide behind a joke after something traumatic has happened. It's okay to open your heart. It's okay to say that you can't take it anymore. It's okay to not be okay."

Eugene could no longer tell if he was gazing into Elsa's eyes. The canvas they peered out of was fuzzy and misshapen behind the pall of tears soaking his beard, but he could feel her fingernails stripping his damp forelock off his cheek. He could feel her hands cupping his quivery jaw and smearing the tears under his eyes with their thumbs. He could feel the mucus that cottoned his nostrils skating down the groove of his mouth and settling inside the cleft.

Elsa inched closer, holding his eyes like a breath. He ticked his head, lips bobbing in an attempt to speak. Her eyes rolled shut as her mouth pressed against his forehead the way a cloud would press against the sun.

—"Before you go to bed every night and after you wake up every morning, I want you to tell yourself that you are not a murderer; you are trying as hard as you can; you do have the strength to get through this; your existence does matter, and you deserve to be loved."—

Eugene shuddered. Cracked. Opened. Whimpered. Elsa's thumbs stroked his ears as she peeled her lips off his burning third eye and leaned back to see him.

He had to look at her mouth because he couldn't look at her eyes. Too much cored them—too much affection and security and vulnerability that he'd always wanted to see but couldn't now because...because...

—"Being taught from a young age that the world isn't safe and people can't be trusted will obviously not be easy to taper off."—

 Elsa continued to speak without sound as the cursive letters in his head spoke with smarminess.

—"I just hope you understand now that my loyalty is unconditional."—

Yesteryear's yesterfears demolished the couloirs of his conscience without warning or interruption, rolling over memories that oared him back to insomniac nights smothered by paranoia, regicides foaled by traitors, propaganda penciled by invaders, and the ineludible fear of trusting warm gazes ever again... 

—"Even if I could only give you so little for a few moments, I wanted you to see that you weren't completely alone."—

His tears were too heavy and it hurt to breathe...

—“Eugene." Volume synced with Elsa's lips. "Eugene, look at me." She had to hold his head in order to keep it from going limp because his tears were too heavy and it hurt to breathe. "Look me in my eyes..."

Shaking, Eugene looked at Elsa's mouth. He looked at her mouth because he couldn't look at her eyes.

—"For as it is Arendelle's obligation to protect Corona from genocide, it is so my duty to devote my love and blood to you, and thus I will stand in this indentureship until I have no blood left to bleed."—

Elsa parted her lips to say—

“You lied,” he filled in, guillotining her speech with the astonishment in his blubber.

Her lips stood open. Eugene looked up. Elsa was staring at him with the lifelessness of a vegetable. A tear surfaced and rolled down her cheek, painting it with a skid mark. His fingers wrapped around her wrists and pulled them down.

Elsa watched her hands sink as his face abandoned her palms, leaving them empty and alone. She looked back up at him in a panic. The whites of her eyes glistened like the insides of a seashell.  

Eugene stepped back and melted into the shadows, shaking his head as he frowned at the soggy water colors that were now becoming her face. "That whole t-time..."—he squinted—"...you lied—"

"No..." It was such a lonesome sound — such a paralytic, weak, and injured little whimper holding as much huskiness as it did faintness, that it was a wonder whether she was denying his accusation or hallucinating some other nightmare entirely.

With his voice shaking like a rope being walked on, more vitriol fountained from Eugene: "You said everything—...everything I needed to hear when I needed someone...and then stopped once you had everything you needed from me—"

"No, that's not — I-I didn't—..." Elsa's eyelids flew shut. Wrinkles crowned the corners. "I never lied to you, I-I—"

"Not telling me that your plan all along was to force me into some—...sham wedding was you not lying to me...?" If Eugene had been sound, he would've pelted his anger at her with more force, but his clogged pipes made every word a breaking dam. "You lied about having my back without Arendelle needing anything in return—"

"Eu-gene—"

"You lied about your whole—...revulsion against getting married—"

"Eu-GENE"

"And you lied about doing everything in your power to protect me and my daughter from them"

"Eugene, I didn't LIE to you!" She was helpless from her own anger now; he could hear the bewilderment in her pants even though he couldn't see its projection on her face. "Would you just—"

"Why didn't you come back, then? You, you...y-you said that you were going to use your snow bees to come back, but you never did—" 

"Just let me speak!" Her outburst was a thunderclap in its own right, leading Eugene to reread the ten year old mental note he'd made to stay away from Elsa if she ever became volatile. She appeared to have read the reason behind his silence, because her sigh was shadowed by a softer approach. "Just..." Elsa surrendered her palms and relaxed her shoulders, opening her eyes as wide as she could make them. "Letme—explain..."

Eugene's nostrils stood out and throbbed.

"...Please."

The water in his respiratory tract rose to his trachea, and he failed to moor his expression in the tide. He needed land. He needed an island. He needed to be alone. Walking away from Elsa provided a shoreline, but Elsa's voice harpooned him in the back:

 "You can't, run from this, Eugene!"

His blood ran cold.

"...Neither of us can..."

The cold ran out of him. He didn't know how, or why, her descent from exasperation to desperation in two trembling sentences made him focus more on the gravity in her point than the gravity of his pain just then. He stopped staring into the void his thoughts had carved to look at the fate his reign had created.

This brumal replacement of Rapunzel's sunlight, who represented the bastille that would imprison him till death do them part, returned, halfheartedly, to the asperity that made her the queen. "...But we both have explaining to do." Seven watery words, rough shore-slappers in their dispatch, and she'd canoed them away from war and into the harbor of a new treaty.

Eugene couldn't dock his thoughts or his emotions, and he blamed being stranded at sea on her, but there was no swimming around the whirlpool that was their wedding. They would be married whether he loved her or not. They would be sharing sheets whether he wanted her or not. Although he's soldiered on, wept and ran sightlessly through this bloody battlefield called sovereignty, Eugene didn't have a brave bone in his body. Nothing in his blood told him that he could survive this. 

He docked his bottom on a chair by the table and slid his hands down the sides of his nose, sliding old tears off his face. The glittering sediments on his heart lines were an embarrassment to his dignity. He folded his fingers into his palms and squeezed them with his thumbs. Eugene's heart regressed whenever it felt gimleted, impelling him to run away from the stabber and cut off all emotional ties for the comfort that distance promised, but Corona's status made it to where he had no other choice except to depend on Elsa's favor. 

"Kings do not run or hide," the ghost of his father-in-law thundered as it stood behind him. "They must weather whatever storm their crown has thrown their way."

Eugene opened his eyelids and breathed, shattering the illusion. "...Fine," he mumbled more to his father-in-law than to Elsa. He sat back with his arms akimbo and rolled his head up to her, expressionless. The tears still sheened his cheeks. "I'm listening..."

Elsa's chest sank and swelled like a sea wave that was gradually calming. Her lucent shoes pulled her towards him until their toes were at a comfortable distance. Eugene should have felt uneasy from having to look up at her, but the unease stemmed from beholding her. His glance fluttered down to her dress before sitting back on her face. He gulped.

She was breathtaking, and he hated it. Unlike ten years ago, her beauty was enhanced by her making a scintillant art out of being herself, an unapologetic statement that gave society the finger, and acknowledging how beautiful that statement was felt like a betrayal against Rapunzel.

In the way of a constant worrier, Elsa stood with her forefingers and thumbs joined at the nails below her navel. She was making a point not to look away from him, to his frustration, but there was effort in her gaze, as well as a little less softness than before. "Do you remember when I told you that I can't use my snow bees as often as I thought I could because the teleportation depletes my energy?"

Eugene's preoccupation drifted from the curve of her shoulders to the collarbone bared by her modest décolletage. Her noticeable inhale, at the fault of her bodice, derailed his train of thought. He looked down, and then looked away, angrily tapping his fingernail against the table. "Something to that effect..."

"...Do you remember when I said to you that if my thoughts break the connection, I can't make contact?"

Eugene looked away from his guilt to look at the fingertips standing on the table. They glided towards him with the grace of a swan sailing across a lake. Small, shiny beads blinded him with quick flashes as the gown they were sewn on swayed with her hips. Caution and other conflictions made themselves visible in the tightness of his fists.

"I traveled to Corona eight times before and after the Petition for Marriage had been signed, but I only managed to reach your castle twice in all eight of those times. On both occasions, I found Isolde's room. I figured you'd be there, because that's where you said you always tried to be at night." Elsa paused, both in speech and stride. "...When I got there, I saw her artwork on the walls and floor."

Eugene's thoughts changed direction.

Elsa presented her fist to Eugene ever so hesitantly. The fingers inside unfurled from the palm like a flower opening. "There were paintings of Rapunzel, you, and her...hugging under what looked like lanterns, as far as I could tell." Three blue snowflakes waltzed above the base of Elsa's hand. Their dendrites grew limbs and heads until they formed three recognizable people doing exactly what Isolde had painted.

The season in Eugene's face changed from a dreary winter to a dewy summer dawn...

"...And then, I saw youBoth of you, sleeping on a bed that was two sizes too small. You were only silhouettes at the time, but I could see the bed clearly. It was a pink castle bed with...lavender turrets and...cream stairs." A castle built by concentrated particles of snow dust replaced the first incarnation, adopting the architecture of the real deal.

Overwhelmed, Eugene's face pinkened.

"I don't exactly remember every color, but...I remember seeing Rapunzel's paintings on the wooden towers...." A warm smile could be heard and felt in Elsa's narration. "They were paintings of vines and pink roses planted by you, Rapunzel, her parents, Maximus, Pascal, and your pub friends. They looked like they had been painted with love..."

Eugene felt a tremor widen from his center like a ripple in a pond. Sunlight from an old memory ate his vision until it was all that he could see. Inside the sunlight flowered pink shoulders and brunette hair on the back of a nape. The hand that extended from the frilled sleeve guided a red paintbrush across a wooden turret. Echoing from what sounded akin to the bottom of a canyon was the wistful voice of Rapunzel, "I feel like I've already met her in a dream..."

The flashback dried up, allowing Elsa's face to reblossom in Rapunzel's place. He couldn't see enough of it to loathe the transition. He couldn't see anything past the water running over his eyes and drowning out the world again. Eugene blinked, which was an action that only hatched more tears, and then degraded his gaze to his lap. Two splotches browned his pants.

Eugene's thumb and index finger lifted to squeeze his gritted eyelids, applying pressure against pressure to stop what was surging up. Then it exploded out. The second Elsa's hand touched his elbow pit, the uprush exploded out. Spasmodic contractions of the throat, the inability to catch his breath, the failure to fight the calcification in his lungs, the tsunami of tears — he couldn't weather any of it alone. He felt sick and helpless.

He felt abandoned.

The anchor on his elbow pit graduated to his nape during the storm. Its presence was uncertain and timid as it rested there, perhaps because its admiral didn't know how much he would let her into his blizzard, but the coolness she distributed felt nice against his boiling skin. Eugene's breathing started to find its rhythm after his body started to lose its strength. Everything, from tears to tenacity, had been wrung out of him, and his mind was left with space, ache, and memories of what it felt like to have Rapunzel's head on his chest. Elsa's touch glissaded down his wrist and splayed over his knuckles to fill the lonely gaps between his fingers with her own.

Now he really looked at her. 

Her blue, blue eyes danced back and forth across his brown ones as she sat on her haunches, reflecting his intense gaze like light from a mirror."You're not alone," they said. "I'm here with you. I've always been..."—her grip tautened—"and I always will be." 

Every muscle in Eugene's face worked to dam the groundswell in his chest. He drank down his anguish before looking at his knees. "I-I thought..." Speak. Start with something. Anything. "I thought that you n-never...you n-never..." 

The fingers that were so tightly braided in his disentangled from them to squeeze his right hand. The palm that was so soothingly cooling his nape took hold of his left. Elsa's grip on both gave him the strength to look into her eyes.

Elsa pulled his hands closer to her chest and craned her neck, milking every syllable in her testimony, "I always...tried to come back for you, Eugene." She desperately searched his eyes for understanding. "I came back as many times as I possibly could. You have to believe that."

Three tears fell from his goatee and splashed against her wrist. "...I..." He blinked.

"..." Elsa's frown tightened.

"..." Eugene's frown receded. "...I..." He tried to pour everything that afflicted him into her eyes. "...I-I..." He was drowning in his own storm again, and couldn't hold the words long enough in his throat to vomit them up. Forced to forfeit, he broke eye contact and allowed his tears to soak his knees. 

Elsa sighed before frowning at their plaited fingers. Her mouth reeled open and stayed open, showing the bottom row of her teeth. "Eugene..." She stroked the length of his thumbs with her thumbs. 

He suddenly had the feeling that she was leaving him. Not just physically, but emotionally, too. When her fingers began to slip away like the cool water his body needed after so many years in the desert, he panicked. Without neither knowing nor thinking, 'Why?' — he panicked.

"Before you and I go any further tonight..."—Elsa returned his hands to his lap, refunding his sentiments. Something had happened. Something had changed. The color in her nose bloomed redder than a rose, but she calmly regained control over her expression—"we need to talk about the Brotherhood, and your captain's reliability."