I haven't written anything for a long time, so I'm not quite sure where this came from. Hans is a terribly intriguing character, I suppose.
Frozen does not belong to me and is the property of Disney.
He comes into the world a week later than expected, one shoulder thrust so far forward that the midwife needs to break his collarbone. They drop the name Hans onto his face along with a handful of cold baptismal water, which is also the name of a dead king and a dead saint and a dead brother.
Everyone calls his mother Queen Helene, although she had been Helene Elisabeth von Vieregg as his father's royal mistress, so there are of course others who call her by different names instead. Hans often stands beneath portraits of the other two, the first two.
There is Duchess Louise of Reventlow, with the curling hair like Magnus and Niels and Erik and Gustav and Kristian all possess. There is Countess Sophia of Clausholm, with the bright black eyes like Adolph and Ludwig and Albert and Siegfried and Harold and Elias and Kay. Every name is written into his memory, just the way they are written with gold ink in the chaplain's book.
Except that instead of dangling alone from Mama's title at the very bottom, Hans always imagines his own name first: because even with the curling hair and the bright black eyes, neither woman in the portraits is as pretty as his Mama and that means that Papa must love her best of all.
Mama does not like bright or noisy things, but this is alright because neither does Hans. The palace offers enough dark, quiet places, where he knows nobody would find him even if they looked.
And nobody does find him: Magnus, Niels, Erik and Gustav are men grown and married with children of their own by the time Hans is four, while Kristian and Albert stay out at sea. But that's alright, too, because they give him old books, old toys, old maps with kingdoms that haven't existed for two hundred years. He spreads them out on the floor to study, and the servants step neatly over him.
Sometimes Hans exhausts himself, rolling a glass marble down the grand staircase's banister and then running to catch it at the bottom. And there are other things he can't do, like play checkers or win races or split a sandwich down the middle.
(One day he takes a mathematician's compass and measures the space between the Southern Isles and Arendelle, which on the map is marked as little more than a port city. He spins both the compass's metal arms around. They move in perfect synchronization through the rivers and mountains and forgotten towns to form a circle that encloses the two names.)
But it's alright, because Papa loves Mama best, better than the others, and in all the stories he reads the youngest brother is the bravest and the cleverest and the luckiest anyway.
Papa loves Mama so much, in fact, that he keeps more paintings of her than of his first two wives put together. And it's funny, because she grows younger in every one, but none of them make her happy. She dismisses each commissioned painter, hand and foot out the door, whether they depict her with curls or dimples or round shoulders or small hands or dark eyes; Mama asks for a new portrait once a year.
The summer Hans turns eight is no different. He finds Mama in the western drawing room, because that is where he always finds her, but he still peers through a crack between the double doors just to be sure. He must always have a good reason for bothering her, Mama has said, maybe because she thinks he is a bright and noisy thing too, but Hans knows he has a very good reason indeed now.
The painter is tall this time, with a thick black mustache. He looks back and forth from the canvas to where Mama sits in a damask armchair, floating amongst the red tempest of her skirts. Both hands are poised one over the other on her lap, laid out like flowers, except her left hand wears a glove while the other is bare. Several copper-colored ringlets hang around her ears and down the nape of her neck, the rest held in place with a bone comb. Over in the corner, a maidservant sits doing embroidery.
Mama does not turn her head to see him approach, because naturally you have to keep very still for portraits.
"What are you doing here, Hans? I thought you would be practicing in the yard. "
"I did. I do moulinets and parries better than Master Ivan does, so I knocked him flat and told him he was getting old." Hans shifts his weight from foot to foot. The carpet is dense enough that he makes no noise. "Will you watch something for me?"
"Don't speak so loudly. What have I told you before?" Mama closes her eyes. A sigh flutters out of her, and she looks beyond Hans to the painter. "Do you see, now? I'm going to pieces and the boy never thinks to consider me."
Mama worries very much about going to pieces, which makes little sense. Queen Louise had died of the fever, Hans knows, and Queen Sophie had died in child-bed; Hans knows that, too. He thinks perhaps it has something to do with the way Mama looks at herself in the mirror each day, as though its surface is a deep pool she's trying to see the bottom of, but maybe she's really inspecting it for fractures and spider-web cracks.
Hans crosses the last few feet between them. He makes an effort to whisper as he asks, again, "Do you want to watch something for me?"
"What is that you're holding?"
He presents the little wooden puppet to her. It hangs from strings tied to the fingers of both his hands. He has polished it with beeswax to make the joints move, so they all knock together when he holds it up.
"Harold said he didn't want this anymore. It doesn't have a rod, but that's okay. Do you want to see it dance?"
"Oh, Hans. Please stop."
"I can make him bow, too. See?" Hans raises his right index finger, lowers his left. The doll seems to nod its obliging head forward and lift a gracious arm in response. Hans deepens his voice to say, "'Hello, my lady."
Mama turns to the maidservant, who has paused her needle mid-stitch. "Please take him away. Tell one of the tutors it's time for his lessons."
"But Mama, I already did my history lesson today. Harold bet me this puppet I couldn't recite the names of all the kings from the Gesta Danorum, and I told him any half-wit king should be able to do that, so I did and I won this all on my own. I can keep it so long as I apologize to Kay for fighting with him last week. Don't you want to watch?"
She reaches out the gloved hand and holds his face by the chin, saying nothing. Hans looks at her and thinks it has been a long time since he has been this close, so close he can suddenly only see her in separate parts and pieces.
And he realizes that he can also see the bones of her skull, at her temples just above her brows, that her face is dry and chapped beneath the white powder. Sharp creases grow from the edges of her eyes and he remembers that she is thirty-six, which makes her older than some of his brothers who have been to wars and killed men and won medals.
("My mother died having a baby you know," his brother Kay had told him, last week, his eyes bright and black. "She was a countess and she was a queen and they let her die like a slaughtered sow, and before her body was even cold Papa went off and married one of his harlots.")
Hans steps back from his mother's hand.
Behind them the young painter pauses, his brush lowered. A smear of vermilion red runs from his ear to the wick of his mouth. The maidservant rises from her seat.
"Please take him away," Mama says again.
"Yes, my lady."
("I heard the Chancellor say, 'I suppose it's true, old men really are twice children.' They laughed at him. 'King Frederic's gone and married his mistress,' they said, and they laughed. They laughed at all of us.")
The maid, birch-slender and pale, touches Hans lightly on one shoulder. Her skirts rustle as they leave the room, Hans holding the puppet at skewed angles in his arms.
("She died and they had to cut the baby out of her, except it was dead too. I saw that monster before they threw it into a coffin. Its back was curved in the middle like a fishhook and it would've been a cripple if it had lived.")
The maid does not lift her hand from his shoulder once they are out the door, though. He looks up at her as she looks down at him, and while Hans cannot know what is in his face he thinks he knows what is in hers. Some sort of understanding presses itself over him like a gloved hand.
"…Now wait, wait a moment, let's see what I've got for you, your highness…" She reaches down into the pockets of her apron, frowning as she does, and pulls out a spool of gold thread. "…Here, how do you like this? Some fancy string for your little gentlemen there."
Hans accepts the spool but does not thank her. Blood hums in his ears, so that he does not notice as she shuts the door again, either. There is the noise of a key turning inside its lock, though, and he presses a cheek to the warm wood in time to hear, faintly, his mother's voice as she speaks to the painter again.
"Poor boy. If only there was someone out there who loved him."
("And you know what else? That was the one Papa was going to name Hans, first." Kay had gone on staring at him, which made it the first time in a year that he hadn't looked over or through Hans as though he were invisible. "That was supposed to be you.")
Hans pulls out a bit of the thread, winding it around his palm. He thinks about the gloved hand against his face, about the portraits and the mirrors and the names in the book.
Well, he thinks, that's alright.
He sets his wooden doll down on the floor. He unravels a bit more thread, then walks down to one end of the hall and loops it around a doorknob in a perfect sailor's bowline knot. He wraps it next around the lip of a vase, running backwards as he goes. He hooks it under a wall sconce, pulls it through the hooped armrest of a chair and ties it to another door, watching it fly away in a blur between his fingers.
He weaves across the whole length of the hall this way until his thread stops short.
The upper corridor is too dark to see much of anything, the curtains drawn at Mama's request, so that the thread is almost invisible. But every now and then a flash of light will come through the curtains of a tall, tall window, and then the thread will glint and sparkle: and it's his, just his, a perfect thing only he knows about.
With this Hans drops the empty bobbin, turns his back on the hall, runs down the stairs whose thick red velvet silences his footsteps, and leaves the golden web waiting behind him.
A/N: Naturally sociopathic? Tragic backstory? I suppose it's anybody's guess with this kid. Please let me know what you think, and thank you for reading.