Chapter 2 – Weasel Town
Trade Minister of Arendelle, Arven Skarsgård, sighed and read the slip of paper again. It's not that he didn't understand it; it was quite straightforward. "The ship Caroline requests permission to dock and do business." The Caroline was a trading ship, currently anchored at the fjord entrance, guarded by the Arendelle navy ship The North Star, owned by the Verenigde Handeldrijvend Compagnie, and flying the flag of the Duchy of Wesselton.
Arven Skarsgård had served as the head of the Ministry of Commerce and Trade under King Agdar for five years, and in other positions in the ministry for an additional seventeen. He was in his late fifties and was considering retiring when the king and queen were lost. And when it was decided that the Minister of Trade should be a member of the Regency Council during the interregnum, he decided, for the good of the kingdom, to continue serving until Princess Elsa took the crown. Despite closing the castle doors, and thus not personally entertaining foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries, King Agdar had pressed a strong policy of trade, and it had served Arendelle well and made it prosperous.
Once a month, the regency council would meet with Princess Elsa to discuss the affairs of the kingdom, and seek her council. Until the princess was crowned, the regency council had the authority to handle all matters of state, but tradition dictated that the council should seek the advice of the crown prince or princess. (Though this tradition was almost considered a joke one hundred twenty years ago, during the unfortunate regency of Crown Prince Henerik, who was only two years old when his father King Osterfal fell ill and died quite suddenly. His mother, Queen Benonete, doted on her son, but took no interest in the running of the kingdom, leaving the council to request advice from a boy far more interested in his toys.) Crown Princess Elsa was normally quiet during these meetings, but always sat attentively, listening to every councilor, usually just nodding in acknowledgement to their report. But when she did have questions, they were relevant and insightful, showing a keen mind behind her tacit façade.
Therefore, Minister Skarsgård felt that once the Crown Princess had been elevated to Queen regnant, he would only need to serve another six months, perhaps a year, to ensure that the transition was complete, and he would be confident in the abilities of Her Majesty and whomever his successor would be.
But the events around the coronation sundered all his plans. Reports of Queen Elsa's… abilities?... would put the small, innocuous kingdom of Arendelle onto the world stage. And effecting him more directly was, of course, the declaration of embargo on the Duchy of Wesselton. Perhaps an easy thing to declare, but not so easy a thing to implement.
Petar Sigmarsen, Arven's secretary for almost a year, was working through a stack of papers at his own desk. Arven turned to him, holding out the troubling slip of paper, and said, "Petar, what do you make of this?"
Petar took the message and read it. "The Caroline. That's the one anchored in the fjord?"
Petar further queried, "Which one is it? There are several Carolines that come to Arendelle."
Arven responded, "It's the one with Verenigde Handeldrijvend."
Petar nodded, understanding. "It's a Weaseltown ship, so we don't let it dock."
Given recent events, Arven now appreciated the epithet, though he might not use it himself. Not professional. He countered Petar, "But it's not quite that simple. If its sister ship…" Arven paused, quickly opening a ledger, flipping a couple pages and pointing to an entry, "the Beatrice, sailed in, would we deny her entry? She flies the flag of Bruges. But they're both owned by Handeldrijvend."
Arven continued, "Verenigde Handeldrijvend is a large company; lots of ships. But it doesn't belong to any one kingdom, no company does. Well, except Wittmund, of course." Wittmund Trading Consortium, the worst kept secret in the Northern Sea, solely owned by the Duke's family.
"Verenigde Handeldrijvend Compagnie has depots in a dozen cities along the North Sea coast and some down along Great Ocean, cities in at least half-a-dozen kingdoms or other states. If it belongs to anything, it would be the Hanseatic League, to which most of those cities belong. It just flags some of its ships in each of the kingdoms. Wesselton just happens to be one of them."
Arven hesitated, just now remembering something. "You're from Wesselton, aren't you?"
Petar shook his head, "Not exactly. It's complicated…"
When Arven didn't interrupt, Petar continued. "My father's family were farmers in Lübecktal, in the Lübeck river valley area, and my mother's from Lübeckberg, up river. When the drought hit, about fifty years ago, my mother's family, like so many others, moved downstream to Lübecktal, where they became tenants on my grandfather's land. That was just before the prince of –tal married the princess from –berg, and they merged the kingdoms back into Lübeckstadt, like they were a hundred years before. My father didn't want to be a farmer, so he joined up with Schlichting-Jürgen, as a sailor on one of their ships. After a couple years, he was promoted to cargo-chief. My mother also worked for S-J, as a clerk in their Lübeckstadt terminal. I think she got that job just to be close to my father. It worked, I guess, because they got married, and a few years later, I was born. So with me as a baby, he didn't want to be away on ships all the time anymore, so he got himself transferred to Wesselton where he managed the Schlichting-Jürgen warehouses. We spent about twelve years there. So yes, I'm a weasel-boy. But that was around the time the old Duke died and his son took over, the current Duke of Weaseltown. He was all for the shipping companies, making all sorts of laws, rules, and edicts, always in their favor. Great for them, great for the Duke, not so great for the regular working people. So eventually, we packed up, moved to the city-state of Copenhagen, where my father and mother ran an imports shop, making good use of the connections he had built up over the years. When I came of age, I started sailing with the companies as well, but it got old for me after a couple years. One day I found myself on shore-leave here in Arendelle, and I decided to stay."
Arven laughed. "I've seen you with your reason; very pretty."
Petar smiled as well. "That's Magda. We're getting married in the fall."
Holding up the slip of paper once again, Petar asked, "So, what are you going to do about this?"
Arven sighed, then answered, "Well, it is ultimately the Queen's decision, but my recommendation is to turn the Caroline away, as well as any other shipped flagged with Wesselton; but any of their ships flagged elsewhere should be welcomed. The companies will know our dispute is with Wesselton, and not with them, and so they will need to make a choice. They can take their ships to another port, like Oslo or Skagen, and either try to sell their goods there, much less profit to be had that way, or reload their goods to other ships and come back, a waste of both time and money. And that's what they'll do at first. But long term, it will be easier for them to reflag their ships away from Wesselton and to other kingdoms. That's simple enough to do and won't cost much. But it will cost Wesselton; the Duke makes his money from the customs and tariffs, licenses and permits, and, of course, the outright graft."
"And it won't be just docking rights with Arendelle they'll be doing it for. We've already received word from several other kingdoms that had representatives attending the Queen's coronation, Donegal, Lorraine, Corona, that they will also be enacting an embargo of Wesselton. Apparently, attempted regicide is not the most diplomatically advantageous of endeavors. And that should strike the Duke right in his most sensitive spot, the coin-purse."
- I imagine that in the Disney Princess-verse, there are many small kingdoms, principalities, duchies, and city-states, similar to Europe in the 17th and 18th century. For more discussion of the Princess-verse politics, see my blog. (link from my author page.)
- Verenigde Handeldrijvend Compagnie is dutch for "United Trading Company." Think of it like the real world's Dutch East India Company.
- Hanseatic League, in the real world was a group of cities and their merchant guild forming a trade network across northern Europe from the 13th through 17th centuries. Given the more disparate political nature of the Princess-verse, I think that such an organization would likely continue to exist much longer.