This is a short chapter, but it didn't quite fit with the other one. And it's darker than I was expecting it to be.
None of these characters belong to me.
The king's bedchamber had three tall, latticework windows on its eastward-facing wall. Moonlight came down in sharp slices, so bright that Anna had to wait a moment for her eyes to adjust.
Paneled murals covered the other walls. The bed itself was set back in an alcove. A cold fireplace waited on the room's far side, framed by carvings in its white limestone. Queen Savitri and Prince Kay stood there, and they turned around together when the guard brought Anna. Both still wore the clothing she had seen them in earlier that day, Kay with his sash and Queen Savitri with her lace gloves. Neither appeared particularly surprised.
A third figure sat in the velvet slipper chair beside them, but her face was so masked in shadow that it took the snap-snap-snap of a fan for Anna to recognize her.
"Oh, look, Hans." Lady Helene tapped her fan against a powdered cheek. "Here comes your bride."
Hans had already been dropped to the floor. His hands were shackled behind him, this time. He rested with his bleeding leg stuck out at an angle, his head bowed down between his shoulders. The other guard held him upright by the back of his collar.
Queen Savitri studied Anna for a moment, and lifted a shawl from where it hung on a chair. "Shame on you, Viktor. You should have let her dress. Princess Anna is a lady."
She opened the shawl between her arms, skirts swaying around her as she came forward to place it over Anna's shoulders.
Anna flinched away. Her chains rattled. "No, thank you."
Savitri stopped abruptly. Her sunstone earrings clicked together in the silence. The shawl was red silk, to match her dress, embroidered with yellow suns, and she gathered it up against her chest.
"Ah. I am sorry."
"Don't bother, Savitri," called Prince Kay. He strode towards them, passing through the light and shadow in long, spring-heeled strides. "But Lucky Thirteen's bleeding all over your floor. Isak, haven't you got something to stop him up with?"
"That's right, Isak. This is a Guli Farang rug. I'd hate to be the one responsible for ruining it," Hans said in a tilting voice.
Anna looked down at him.
His face had turned almost white. A gloss of sweat covered his forehead and wicked the hair around his neck. The muscles of his back seemed to contract with each breath. He kept his eyes fixed on his mother, although Lady Helene was not returning his gaze. She looked at some point through the window, instead, posed with the easy indifference of a porcelain doll. Snap-snap-snap went her fan.
Anna edged closer to the guard. "There should be a blue scarf in his pocket…No, the other one. He stole it from my luggage. See if you can use that."
Isak nodded, drew her scarf out with two fingers, and bound it around the wound. Blood colored its shimmering fabric in an instant. Hans did not give the action any acknowledgement.
Kay gestured towards her with his left hand, the one missing part of its index finger. The remaining ones were long and knobby beside it. "Thank you, Princess. I'll be sure it's returned to you."
Anna grimaced. "I don't want it anymore."
"I understand." And he smiled at her, showing small, straight teeth, which together with the fingers and the stride suggested a kind of efficient brutality. "I wouldn't either."
The door opened again. Viktor suddenly took Anna by the shoulders and pushed her aside, allowing Magnus to pass. He did not glance at any of them, although he did step neatly over a growing stain of blood on the rug, but crossed the room to lift something off a bedside table. Squinting, Anna saw that it was a white meerschaum pipe whittled into the shape of a bird.
He went to a writing desk next and shook its jammed drawer free. He lifted out a sack of tobacco, along with a metal tamper. He portioned some out into his hand, careful and meticulous, and began to fill the pipe.
"Leave us, please." Magnus did not lift his eyes from what he was doing. "I'll summon you back when I require you."
Isak and Viktor gave matching bows before they left. There was the click of a lock as Anna felt the door shut behind her.
Her bare toes curled against the carpet.
Magnus straightened, brushing a few leaves of tobacco from his coat lapels. He pulled a match out of his pocket. It gave a hoarse gasp when he struck it, firelight kicking up into his eyes when he laid it against the pipe's bowl. Blue smoke curled from between his lips. He shook the match out just before it burned his fingertips, filling the room with a smell of sulfide, and then he peered over at the fireplace.
"It's too dark in here," Magnus said, around the pipe stem. "Savitri, if you'd be so kind?"
He exchanged a look with his wife.
Savitri slipped the shawl around her own shoulders but did not move, so Magnus lowered the pipe to smile at her.
He seemed to nod, very slightly.
Then, her sunstone earrings throwing light as she went, Savitri walked back to the fireplace. She removed her long lace gloves, turning them inside out when she plucked them off. She tucked her skirts under her knees, the way a well-bred girl was taught to while kneeling. She pushed aside a black curl of hair and slipped the shawl's trailing ends beneath her arms. She laid both small, bare hands over the coals, and stayed like that for one, two, three, four breaths.
And when Queen Savitri drew her hands away again, the coals were pulsing with fire.
"No," Anna heard herself say. She took another step back. "No, no, no."
Kay inspected his thumbnail. Lady Helene stirred the coals with an iron poker, throwing sparks out onto the hearthstones and grinding them under the heel of her white kidskin boot. Magnus sighed another plume of smoke. Anna glanced to her left and saw that Hans, at least, had the manners to look somewhat perplexed, although the blood loss may have been a factor.
She tried to speak again. But her thoughts broke into fragments, like river ice, the pieces lining up along jagged edges before drifting apart again:
("I do hereby request the presence of her highness, Princess Anna of Arendelle," the letter had said, and she had answered it. "They say the queen can turn an ocean to ice," Klaus had said. "My grandmother used to tell me about the snow witches who lived up north, at the top of the world," Jens had said, and she had answered them both "Your father was a very good man, yes?" Queen Savitri had asked, and she had answered her. "By the way, did my brother ask you to come here alone?" Hans had asked, and she may as well have answered him, too. And then – )
"'No'? That's not the reaction I anticipated from you, Princess Anna," Magnus said. "I thought it seemed only fair. Your people have their old stories about the snow witches, and the people of Sempore have their fire worshippers. The West India Company had her weaving cotton in a textile mill, if you can believe that. Kristian found her for me."
Savitri looked down at her hands with something like shyness. "A little gift. Not so much as your sister can do, Princess. Or as my mother could. They are only small, little things."
Magnus knelt to kiss the corner of Savitri's mouth, and he helped her to her feet. Her hands almost disappeared inside of his.
"Never mind. We'll be patient." A curl of his thick, pale hair brushed her forehead. "Well done."
The sharp fragments of ice swung together, locked for a moment, and split apart again.
(- And then there had been Anders placing his hand on Anna's shoulder, a silent request. There had been a little handkerchief sewn with pink flowers. There had been another set of hands, shaking inside white gloves, and the open surprise on Hans's face after they read his sentence. There had been the touch of cold iron cuffs against her cheek, and Elsa's cold arms around her as she said goodbye, as she said – )
Anna's ribcage seemed to be curling in, all of her joints coming unlocked, and perhaps this would be enough to wake her up soon. Until then, she drew a long breath.
(-"Come back," Elsa had said to her. "Come back.")
"What do you –"
Magnus shifted sideways to face Anna, his eyebrows raised.
" – What do you want from my sister?"
Smoke drifted up around him, turning gold the firelight.
"That's secondary to what your sister wants from me at the moment, Princess Anna. But I don't want to spoil the ending." Magnus gestured toward her with the pipe. "I'll have Viktor take those cuffs off, if it's any consolation. There's no need to treat you like a common criminal in the meantime."
Kay had leaned against the wall and crossed his legs at the ankles. He bit at the thumbnail he'd been inspecting. "Magnus? Are you sure?"
"I am." Magnus walked towards the door. "How many men would you say accompanied you here, Princess?"
Anna couldn't move back any farther. She tried anyway, and felt the door's carvings dig against her shoulder blades.
"I don't have to tell you that."
Kay and Magnus exchanged a look. Both of them laughed, loudly and openly like children, and out of the corner of her eye Anna saw Hans jump at the sound. Magnus covered his mouth with one hand.
"We're sorry, Princess," Kay said. "You're just a bit smarter than we expected you to be, that's all. Hans really didn't give you enough credit."
"Quite," Magnus added. "But it's alright. I happen to know the exact figure - you arrived with an entourage of seven men, including your chief mate Anders… Folkestad, was that it? Or maybe it was Fjerstad. Klaus showed me the ship manifest that you gave him. Either way, I promise we'll keep them all safe while you're here."
He paused. The skin of his face was strained across the temples, around his brow, the way a goldsmith's face usually looked. And there was a kind of weight to his pause, Anna thought, like the space between swings of a pendulum, so she leaned back more against the door.
"But if you take it into your head to try anything rash and make me regret being lenient with you, I'll have one of their hands cut off." He made another gesture with the pipe, dropping ash on the floor. "I think that's much more practical than just killing my leverage, and it leaves room for twice as many offenses."
"Four times as many, counting their eyes," Kay said. "That's economic of you."
Magnus craned his neck to look back over one shoulder. "Not something I learned from Father, eh? But please don't make me do that, Princess. I know we can keep everything civil so long as you behave yourself."
Anna rocked her head back against the door, so that she was looking him in the eyes. She figured she was close enough to kick at his shins, or to strike the pipe from his hands, or maybe even launch herself at him like a spitting cat, but she didn't want any part of her body to touch him.
She was spared the decision when Hans laughed, a harsh and sawing sound that shook its way out of him and ended in a long, ragged, breath.
"Oh, Magnus," he said. His voice made Anna think of firelight, of a hand on her face. "What are you doing? You and I both know this country can't afford a war."
"As a matter of fact, I do. I also happen to remember when it could. I remember the kingdom our father inherited, which is why I don't really expect you to understand any of this..."
He bent down in front of his brother, legs straight with both hands clasping his knees. Anna noted again the similarity of their profiles, although there was a certain precision to Hans's that Anna could only find mirrored in the woman across the room.
"...But then we lost the Second Jutland War, and we lost the Rendsburg War along all with our claims to the North Sea, so we sold our territory on the Gold Coast to cover its cost." Magnus stayed like that, bowed over his brother, but his face and posture gave the impression of a flag pulled taut in the wind. "Then Father threw it all away and I, Hans, I had the inestimable privilege of inheriting what was left."
He stood and walked away.
"Now, your execution was supposed to be a way of giving the people a display of my equanimity, even when it comes to my own kin, but Niels reminded me that you're not the best subject to use for that lesson...So what should do with you, Hans? Any ideas?"
Hans tried to put himself upright. "Kill me, if that'll shut you up."
Magnus came to a stop before the fireplace and stood there, arms behind his back again. Anna watched another comma of smoke rise from the pipe, clouding the back of his head from view.
"I've been thinking about that. You'd be amazed how many men claim to have no fear of death until they try it for themselves." He tapped his thumb, one, two, three, four times against his wrist. "But since you asked so courteously, I think I'll let you live instead. We'll just have to disappoint the crowds tomorrow with an announcement that you managed to escape sometime during the night."
And here there was another pause, another drop of the pendulum. Magnus drew on the pipe again, blew out the smoke, and glanced over at his brother. "Kay."
Magnus pointed an elbow towards where Hans sat. "If you don't mind."
Kay pushed himself away from the wall.
"Not a bit."
He crossed the room again in several of those snapping strides, moonlight glancing off of him so that he seemed to appear and vanish in unsteady flickers like a moth. He came closer, silent, both hands at his side until he stood in front of Hans, and he bent to grip those spidery fingers through Hans's hair.
In one hard yank, he had pulled him to his feet. He forced Hans's head left, right, back, as though in appraisal.
"God, you really did shave your face for the headsmen, didn't you? I couldn't bring myself to believe Henrik when he told us."
Lady Helene, who had remained silent, snapped open her fan and looked through its lace edge. "I can see why you were carried away with him, Princess Anna. I suppose I should take some responsibility for the whole ugly business, shouldn't I? He always did keep himself well-hidden behind that pretty face."
Kay laughed again. "That's Lucky Thirteen for you. Never ran into a problem he didn't think he could charm your way out of."
He glanced at Anna, and searched her face for something. He looked over at Lady Helene, at Magnus, at the room, at the slanting moonlight. Then, gradually, his gaze settled on the fireplace with its glowing embers.
Hans flattened his lips over his teeth. His breath came in a hard, sharp gasp, and a clarity seemed to seize his whole body.
"Savitri, please leave. Viktor will escort Princess Anna to her quarters," said Magnus, backing clear of the hearth. "This isn't something either of you need to see."
Savitri fixed the shawl around her shoulders. Kay pulled his brother forward, and they passed each other in the middle of the room. Hans tried to dig in a heel, to sink out of Kay's hold, but this put weight on the wounded leg and he staggered. Kay did not loosen the grip on his hair.
"Wait," Hans repeated. "No, no, no. Magnus, tell him to stop. I'll do whatever you say."
"Listen to that, would you?" Magnus finished his pipe and dumped it out over the coals. The leaves all burned up in a flash. "He'll behead a girl when she's not looking, but get a fire going and he turns into a model diplomat. You might have made a good king after all, Hans."
Savitri reached Anna and put an arm around her, which Anna could not summon the energy to shrug off. She saw Kay drag Hans all the way across the floor as he struggled, hobbled and limping and gasping for air, and bring him to his knees on the flagstone. Hans's voice began tightening in turns, like a screw digging into wood, and he jerked his head sideways to face Lady Helene.
"Mother, Mother, please say something."
"Don't whine, Hans." Lady Helene reached over to chuck him beneath the chin with her fan. "It's unbecoming in a man."
Then snap, and she rose from her chair to leave.
Hans was breathing so quickly now that his lungs did not seem to fill, and he threw himself back from the fireplace one more time. The blue scarf around his leg had turned almost black with blood. He overbalanced, fell onto his side, and when Hans looked up at Anna through the moonlight his expression was as wild and startled and conscious as a child's.
And maybe Hans opened his mouth, and maybe he started to speak, but then he shut it again and said nothing.
("Oh, Anna, if only there was someone out there who loved you.")
Anna saw Kay place his other hand on Hans's shoulder. He pulled him to his feet. This last moment made the windows, and the paneled walls, and most of all that near future into which Magnus had so firmly placed her, seem to grow small and dark.
"Come, Princess,"Savitri whispered. "We will go now."
Anna turned to leave.
"No, no, no," she heard, although it came to her like sound carried over a frozen lake. "No, no, please, no."
But she glanced back just in time to watch Prince Kay shove a tall, fair stranger's face down into the burning coals, and through the closed door between them she could hear him scream.
Oof. I honestly didn't know Kay was going to do that until about a paragraph beforehand, while I was planning this chapter out. I upped the rating on this, just in case.
King Magnus was referring to agni hotris in India, who carry out ceremonies and rituals to the Hindu god of fire and sacrifices, Agni, although I'm not sure how far his own understanding extends. I also tried to allude to Savitri's abilities (her name means "of the sun"), and I hope it fits with the rest of the story, but I actually found it harder to believe that Elsa was the only person in this entire canonical universe with elemental abilities. More on the mythos and magic later.
We should be getting back to Elsa in the next chapter. And Kristoff, who I haven't forgotten about.
As always, thank you for reading.