Anna sat demurely as she watched Grandfather open yet another of his correspondences. He was speaking to her as he worked the sharp letter opener to break apart yet another wax seal before casually glancing at the missive and tossing it onto one of several piles. Although she smiled politely and nodded, she gave him little of her attention. She scanned the rise and fall of his voice for key phrases that would prompt a different response such as “Shall we send your father off to America this time?” or “Have you given any more thought to Hans’ proposal to come and stay for the summer?”. But Anna had learned years ago that if she wanted to maintain her sanity, or at least not be imprisoned for regicide, it was best she not listen too closely.
“You did very well at last week’s banquet, Anna,” he said as he brushed some flecks of red wax off his cuff. “Maintaining discipline within one’s realm is a large part of being a ruler, but maintaining diplomatic ties is just as important. And you managed to accomplish both. Several visiting delegates complimented me on your choice of menu, the décor, the dancing – you’re a natural hostess.”
“Thank you, Grandfather. I appreciate you trusting me enough to oversee such a big event.”
“Of course, my dear.” He paused and frowned. She tensed. “And I want to acknowledge that your feat is made all the more impressive by the fact that you had to speak of your mother and sister during your speech.”
“They’re traitors.” She waved a dismissive hand and curled her lip. “It’s a pity we even have to mention them each year. But it’s important for the people of Arendelle to know what they did. To the kingdom. To my father. To me. To you!” He smiled, but hesitated with a letter in his hand. She continued. “Everyone knows how they tried to kill you, Grandfather. How they fled like cowards to escape your justice. And I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. And for my father, even if he’s still addled by my mother’s enchantments from time to time – to help us stand apart from the shadow of their treachery.”
Anna had cut a few of those lines from the second draft of her speech for being too over the top to be plausible in front of an audience, but subtly was lost on Runeard. She relaxed as he sliced open the next seal.
“Still. It was impressive and I offer you my most sincere congratulations. It just proves to the kingdom and to our allies what a remarkable young woman you’ve become. I look forward to toasting you at your upcoming eighteenth birthday ball.”
“Thank you, Grandfather.”
“Hans will be there, you know.”
“Will he? He had mentioned in one of his letters that he would like to attend.” She forced herself to blush the way her father had taught her. “I didn’t want to be too bold and forward by inviting him myself.”
“That’s a fine instinct, Anna.” Runeard nodded approvingly. “Especially for someone of your standing. But of course I invited him. He’ll be a fine match for you in due time.”
Anna’s eye twitched and she wanted to scream, but she maintained her beatific smile. “I’m sure in a few years, we’ll be very happily wed. If you think it’s the right match.”
“I think he’s a smart young man who knows how lucky he would be to marry you. And I saw how well you got on with his family. All those brothers and nieces and nephews. You’ll have little ones of your own in no time.” He wagged a finger at her. “And family, Anna, is where true happiness comes from. Knowing that you’re leaving a legacy behind. A firm foundation on which the future of our land rests.”
He sighed. “And Hans comes from an old royal line. A storied pedigree. It’s a shame that in these modern times people even care about such things, but they do. And while your mother was the equivalent of nobility among those savages, that doesn’t hold much weight on the continent. Your children will benefit from his blood.”
Again, the scream rose in her, but she suppressed it and spoke evenly, calmly. “I think he’ll make a wonderful consort and father. And we do get on very well.”
* * * * *
Agnarr sat in the library at a small table, reading a book and drinking a tiny glass of port. No one could fault him for being there. Sergeant Kornhonen, his usual escort, had taken two days of family leave to welcome a visiting brother. Since Agnarr was not scheduled to leave the castle, no one had bothered to assign another guard to follow him. He had been so well behaved the last several years that Runeard had grown a bit lax. Every few weeks or so, he found himself with a few hours where he was completely alone.
He heard the door open and close. A lock snapped into place. He smiled faintly, but kept his book open until Anna came into sight. She grinned at the sight of him as he rose to pull her into a fierce hug.
“How have you been, Anna?”
“Good, Father.” She squeezed him back. He released her and motioned to an empty chair. “I almost didn’t get your message in time.” She nodded at the atlas where they left their clandestine notes.
“Yes, I’m sorry. Kornhonen didn’t know his leave was approved until two days ago. It’s good to see you. Has your grandfather been treating you well?”
“Yes, he’s very excited that Hans is coming to visit again. One of the guests of honor at my birthday ball.” Agnarr rolled his eyes. That boy was pompous, overly polished and entirely untrustworthy. It galled him that even Marte had been taken in by the man’s charming act. Anna laughed. “I know, I know how you feel about him.” The light in her eyes dimmed and she bit her lip.
“He was also very happy with my speech at the banquet.” Agnarr reached out and took one of her hands in his own. “I know why it’s important for me to get up in front of everyone and say what I do, but I feel so . . .I hate it. I feel like I’m betraying Elsa. Betraying Mother.”
“You’re not. Your mother and sister both love you so much. They would never want you to do anything that would put you in harm’s way. Keeping in your grandfather’s good graces is the smartest thing you can do.”
“I know.” Agnarr felt a pang as Anna slumped in her seat, looking weary and wracked with guilt.
“Anna, when I had to publicly denounce your mother and your sister it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.” He sighed heavily and bowed his head. “Even knowing that it’s what your mother would have demanded I do to keep you safe – it took me a long time to forgive myself. I’m still not at peace with it. But saying those words, even if I had to swallow back my bile, that was the price I paid. My biggest regret is that burden has now fallen to you.”
“Do you really think the people of Arendelle believe they’re as evil as he says they are?”
“It’s hard to tell. Some probably do. People don’t always question things the way that they should. They fell for your grandfather’s lies about the Northuldra invading hardly twenty-years ago.” He scratched his chin. “I fell for them as well. Your mother was brave enough to let me see the truth about a number of things. But your mother was so kind to so many. She did so much good while I was being shipped off every year. I have to believe that a number of people don’t think it’s true, but are too afraid to say anything. It’s not wise to cross the king.”
“I’ve been having dreams about them again.”
Agnarr gave her a sad smile. “My darling girl, I never stopped having dreams about them. You’re having happy ones, I hope?”
A wistful grin spread across her face. “Mostly. Things from when we were young. Elsa letting us goad her into playing pranks on the adults in the Enchanted Forest. Mother singing while you’d play the violin at the Sommerhus. Skating with Cecilia and Destin on the fjord when it froze for the winter. It’s mostly memories. Or the way I want to remember things.” She rubbed her arms.
“But sometimes, it’s hard to explain. When I dream the memories, I’m a part of the dream. I sometimes have other dreams where Elsa looks like I think she must look like by now. She’s taller. And she’s in Ahtohallan.”
“The river of memory?”
“Only it doesn’t look like a river.” Anna laughed. “There’s just this inky blackness and silver shimmering light. People rise up out of the snow and swirl around her.”
Agnarr thought back to everything Iduna had told him about the legends and magic of the spirits. How her family had enjoyed an unusually close connection to them. Valde had hinted there might be more to it than merely Elsa’s powers, but didn’t want to burden her as a child with any more expectations and responsibilities that she already carried.
“How odd. She’s safe though?”
“I think so, I never see her face in full. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of it through the shadows, but she’s always moving.” Anna paused. “And I see Mother too. She has some wisps of gray in her hair, but not much. More, you know, lines around her eyes and mouth. And her hands are stiff in the cold.” Anna rubbed her own hands together as she stared vacantly at the bookshelves. “Sometimes . . .sometimes I see her holding a baby. Or I see Elsa holding a baby. The same one.” Her eyes locked with his. “Do you think it means anything?”
Agnarr tried to force a laugh. “I think I was the only one without any magic in this family, Anna. You, your mother and your sister – you could all have the spirits at your beck and call. Maybe not like Elsa did, but the Earth Giants loved you. The North Wind had such an affinity for your mother that it never stopped helping her cheat at tag. All it ever did for me was dump me into various trees and mud puddles which made your mother laugh.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what it means.”
They had to be alive. He believed that like he believed the sun would rise in the morning. If anything happened to either of them, he knew that he would feel it. As a father. As a husband. He felt their physical absence so keenly, it was impossible to think that if their souls left this world he wouldn’t feel it as painfully as though his own heart was being removed.
Besides, Mr. Bjorgman’s unconventional adoptive family had confirmed that they were alive. If Anna’s pure affection for the young man hadn’t been enough to win over Agnarr, his halting way of asking permission before he made inquiries through the trolls about Elsa and Iduna’s well-being would have won him Agnarr’s lifelong approval. Although they were unable to use their odd brand of magic to divine much beyond the mist, claiming that the powers of the spirits left them blind in many ways that humans could not understand, their means and powers allowed them to determine that his wife and daughter were alive and healthy.
It was more than he had a right to ask for, but still left him longing to know more. Were they happy? Robbed of her crown, had Elsa stepped into a leadership role in her mother’s tribe? Had she found someone to share her life with? She was twenty-one. He knew married women younger than she who already had children. He might be a grandfather by now.
Had Iduna found another to comfort her? He doubted it and he was torn between not wanting to lose her a second time should the mist vanish and not wanting her to feel as desperately lonely as he did every day. The pain of missing her had not abated in the least. He would never wish that suffering on her even if it meant being replaced, but he couldn’t bring himself to sincerely hope she had found another.
Mattias usually stopped him from pouring another drink when they got to this part of the conversation as they discussed being separated from their loved ones. Such thoughts did no one any good. Agnarr cleared his throat to clear his mind.
“Have you been able to steal any time with your good friend lately?”
“I did!” Anna’s smile grew broad and bright. It warmed his heart to see an expression of genuine happiness on her face. She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Just before the banquet. There was talk of a birthday surprise.”
“Yes, it’s been in the works for some time.”
They were both careful not to speak Kristoff’s name or even discuss a ‘him’. It was unlikely that Runeard had anyone listening to them, but given the disastrous consequences that would come from discovery, it was best to be discreet. They had even agreed to refer to him as “Cecilia’s Youngest Cousin” if they ever had to discuss him in public should the need arise.
“You know what it is?” She looked delighted. “Can you give me a hint?”
“That would ruin the surprise, Anna.”
“Oh, come on. Surprises are overrated!” She groaned. “You know I can’t wait two weeks.”
He laughed. “I think you’ll enjoy it. Your friend put a lot of thought into it.”
She relaxed back into her chair with a smile and gazed out the window. “I’m sure I will enjoy it. It will be nice, you know? When things are . . .different.” When Runeard was dead. Though it pained him to think of Anna wishing death on anyone, to have that kind of hatred so concealed in an otherwise full and loving heart, the king’s death would mean her freedom. Agnarr drummed his fingers on the table and nodded.
“It will be.”