Chapter 31 – Wait, what?

"Wait, what?"

"I think you should succeed me as Guild-Master," Henriksen repeated.

Kristoff shook his head in disbelief and had no idea how to respond.

They were in the commons room of Odin's Beard, a tavern in the center of Ice Town that also served as one of the headquarters of the Ice Harvesters and Carvers Guild. Lars Henriksen, guild-master, sat at his usual table by one of the hearths, Kristoff standing nearby.

Kristoff had come to the Beard to see Henriksen, of course. The initial trip to Queen Elsa's ice palace now complete, he now needed to co-ordinate with the other ice-harvesters to start shipping further materials, and that was being done through the guild. He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but the guild already had the organization he needed for the project, so for Elsa's sake, he put aside his misgivings and would work with Henriksen. He thought he might have to put up with a few of Henriksen's taunts, but he never expected to hear these words.

"Guild-Master? But I'm not even a member!"

"Sure you are," countered Henriksen. "You pay the fees, you're a member. You might not work with the guild teams, but you're still a brother."

"Oh." Kristoff pondered the revelation a bit. "But guild-master? Why me?"

"I'm getting on in years, and my remaining leg has been hurting me something awful lately, making it difficult for me to travel between here, downhill, and the fields. So I've been considering who should take over for me. You'd probably think I'd support a loyal guild-man, but I think we need something different. So why you? First off, you already have a connection to the Queen. But also, because you're an independent. If I just brought in another guild-man, nothing would change. He'd just continue doing things the same way we always have. But as independent, you'd see things from the outside, have a clear view of what's working and what's not, and be able to make things better for the guild and all ice-men."

"But the other harvesters wouldn't support me. They'd want another guild-man."

"I wasn't planning on turning over the pick and saw to you this afternoon. It will take a little time, but the rest of the guild will get to know you better. You're bringing in more work to your fellow harvesters with the Queen's project, and will be working more closely with the guild men on it. So they'll get to know you better, and the extra kroners in their pockets from the new work will help free up some attitudes."

"Oh," Kristoff repeated. "Um, I guess I'll have to think about it."

Henriksen nodded, "You do that."

"Elsa, you in there?"

Anna slowly opened the door to Elsa's bedroom to find her sister sitting on the window seat, staring out over the castle towers and the fjord, her legs drawn up under her. Anna crossed the room, sat next to Elsa and took her sister's hand in hers.

Elsa wiped away a tear with her free hand. "He wants me to freeze his kingdom? Is he crazy?"

Anna shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, I guess he has a good reason, right? You don't decide to give your kingdom away just for laughs."

Elsa sniffed and took a deep breath, attempting to regather her composure.

"I can't do it. I hurt so many people when I froze Arendelle…"

Anna paused thoughtfully. "Well, not exactly."

Elsa pulled her hand back, defensively. "What do you mean?"

Anna stood back up and faced her sister. "A bunch of ships got damaged when the fjord froze over, but Helga told me that Britta told her that her fiancé told her that everyone got to shore safely, walking on the ice. And there was a bit of crop damage, but you know about that. A couple roofs collapsed, but they don't really count; an Arendelle building can normally take a good bit of ice and snow, but these were half taken apart already and were being worked on because it was summer. A few people slipped on the ice and got hurt, twisted ankle, that sort of thing. But that's about it. No one actually died. Well, except me, but I got better!"

Elsa twisted back towards Anna and sat upright, feet now on the ground, giving her sister her full attention. "How do you know all this?"

"Like I said, Helga told me about the sailors. Yakob told me about the roofs, but he got that from a report from your something Commission—"

"Reconciliation" said Elsa, softly.

"—Yeah, Reconciliation Commission. And Captain Krog told me about the slips, since they happened in the courtyard." Anna bit her lip pensively. "And I heard something else kind of funny…"


"Funny weird, not funny funny. So, the crop damage, that was because the ice coated the stalks of wheat or whatever, which got too heavy and broke. But I heard this from both some guards and some servants… In town, you know some people have gardens or flower beds, and they got covered in snow during the Big Freeze. But when you thawed everything, and the snow flew up into the air, the plants and flowers were all okay. Some say they were better than before the snow."

Elsa sighed resignedly, then stood up. "So where is Prince Henrik now? I supposed I should talk to him."

"Not sure. After you ran off, I found Master Kai and asked him to take care of Henrik. Probably in a sitting room or back in his suite, I guess."

"Who is he? What's he like? You spent a couple days with him."

"Oh. Um, he seems nice enough, I guess. Very polite and agreeable. Kind of quiet until you hit a subject where he has an opinion, then he's pretty vocal about it. You just heard his views about the Duke of Weaseltown, which I'd say we agree about. Some of the things did talk about seemed kind of funny for a prince, agriculture and kinds of rocks."

"Liknes is a largely agricultural kingdom," Else supplied. "We used to import grain from them."

"Oh, so I guess that makes sense. Well, it's not like I've had that many other princes to compare him to. Just Hans of the Go-stick-it-where-it-will-never—"

"Anna!" Elsa interrupted.

"—huh? Oh, sorry. So yeah, maybe a not-evil prince is actually interested in his own kingdom. He seems smart. Beat me at chess a couple times. So, yeah, that's Prince Henrik. So what's going on in Liknes that he wants you to freeze it? That does seem kind of a weird thing to ask."

"I don't know. Like I said, we used to import grain from them, but stopped some time ago. Five or six years, I think. I'd need to check Papa's journals and speak to Minister Skarsgård for more details."

Elsa stood up purposefully, having regained her equanimity. "In fact, I think I will do exactly that before speaking any further with Prince Henrik. I can depend on you to keep him entertained for a few more hours?"

"Sure, I can do that. I think I figured out his strategy last time we played chess, so I'm sure I can beat him this time."

Elsa found her secretary in his office and had him send a message to the Trade Minister requesting that he come meet her at the palace in two hours' time. She put it off for that much time because Elsa realized that she had only just returned from a three-day excursion and an attempted assassination, and she really needed a proper bath and change of clothes.

Elsa sipped her tea as Minister Skarsgård explained. "Through much of your father's reign, we imported between 2,000 and 3,000 quarters of grain per year from Liknes, primarily wheat, barley, and oats. Six years ago, that had reduced to 1200 due to lack of supply. Arendelle shifted its imports mostly to Gothenburg and the Southern Isles for the difference. The following year, there was no grain available from Liknes at all."

Elsa put her now empty cup down on her desk. Minister Skarsgård had arrived bearing the requested information regarding trade with Liknes, while Yakob has assisted Elsa in locating any older documents bearing to any treaties or agreements. They now met in the Queen's office.

"Do we know the cause?"

"Not definitively. No official explanation came from Liknes, and rumors simply stated that they were having poor harvests. Under normal circumstances, inquiries could have been made, but given His Majesty's closed gates policy at the time, it was not pursued."

Pouring herself a fresh cup of tea, Elsa spoke of her own findings. "From what I have found in the royal records, Arendelle has had informal contact with Liknes for several centuries, primarily through trade. But we have never had any official connection, no treaties or trade agreements, and so the default tariff was collected on any goods brought in by merchants. Nor has there been any royal visits between the two kingdoms. Prince Henrik's arrival is the first."

Elsa took a drink and continued, "And why would he want me to freeze his kingdom? If they've had crop failure, cold will just make it worse."

Minister Skarsgård shook his head. "I do not know, Your Majesty. Did his documents not explain it?"

"I have decided that I will officially receive his request in count on the morrow, but we will have a formal royal banquet tonight to official welcome him to Arendelle. You and your wife will be able to attend?"

"Yes. Thank you, Your Majesty."

While it was a small affair, as an official royal function it was still held in the Royal Dining hall on the main floor. Elsa, now formally attired, sat at the center of the table while Anna, as crown princess and also formally dressed, sat to her right. Prince Henrik had clearly come prepared, as he now wore a dark formal suit, complete with sash and insignias of office, and sat to Elsa's left.

Across the table sat Elsa's invited guests. Were this another kingdom, other nobles, dukes and counts and such, would have been invited. However, Arendelle lacked an aristocracy beyond the royal family, and so Elsa invited other worthy persons.

The meal had begun late, at the insistence of Chef Hellstrøm, in order to give him and his limited staff enough time to prepare a meal suitable for a royal reception. But given the long summer days, the sun would only now be setting, were it not for the range of mountains that lay to the Arendelle's west. And thus they dined by oil lamp and candle light.

"Prince Henrik," began Elsa once everyone had been seated. "I must apologize for the nature of our initial introduction. While I may not be officially receiving you until tomorrow, I hope this dinner will serve as an adequate, if informal, welcome."

Henrik smiled, his white teeth contrasting against his dark beard. "Thank you, Your Majesty. Princess Anna had made me feel most welcome while we waited for your return. And I look forward to a meal prepared by the famous chef Hellstrøm himself. I am most honored."

Elsa paused for a few moments, as the wait staff filled the dinner party's wine glasses. "Prince Henrik, may I introduce Arven Skarsgård, Minister of Commerce and Trade, and his wife Hallfrid." Elsa indicated them with her hand, and then moved on, "And Lady Åse Kleveland. She served on my father's council for many years and I am privileged that she now also serves on mine."

Åse raised he wine glass in toast, "To Her Majesty, Queen Elsa. May Arendelle prosper under her long reign." As the guests responded in kind, Elsa could see the elder councilwoman observing and noting the visiting Prince's words and reactions.

"Thank you," Elsa acknowledged, smiling politely towards Lady Kleveland.

"Okay, that's enough of that!" called out Anna excitedly. Looking straight at Henrik, "So, we're all here now, so tell us, why do you want Elsa to freeze your Kingdom?"

Henrik didn't seem taken aback by Anna's sudden directness. He replaced his wine glass back on the table and looked back towards Elsa. "As you said, it will be official tomorrow, but those documents are full of protocol and legalities. I can certainly explain it much more plainly now, if that's acceptable."

Elsa nodded, just as curious about Henrik's request as Anna.

"You are familiar with my kingdom, Liknes?" he began.

"Somewhat," said Elsa. "A modestly sized kingdom on the southern end of the Scandian peninsula, based primarily around the Kvina river valley. Primarily exports are a variety of grains which Arendelle used to import. Currently, your grandfather Herbjørn is king, your father Hergaut is crown prince, and you, as his heir, are second in line of succession."

Henrik folded his hands on the edge of the table, looking somewhat distressed. "Your information is somewhat out of date. My father passed away four years ago, while I was away at university. And so I am now crown prince of Liknes."

"Oh—" gasped Anna. "I'm so sorry." Anna reached over and clutched Elsa's hand, reminded of the pain of their own similar experience.

Henrick nodded in acknowledgement and continued. "As you said, Liknes' primary industry is agricultural. Normally we get generous rains and the network of rivers that feed the Kvina keeps the fields well irrigated. However, seven years ago, the kingdoms on the southern end started experiencing a drought. Normally, this is not a great problem. The snow in our mountains—well, we call them mountains, compared to Arendelle's, they are just hills—the snowmelt feeds the rivers, and there is still water enough to grow the crops, feed the people and the livestock, and still have some for export."

"But through the next year, the drought continued. And that led to less snowpack in the hills to feed the rivers. In fact, during the summer months, the snow fully melted away, leaving the rivers very low, some even dry. Our harvest that year was very poor; not enough to feed the people. Luckily, one of our most faithful trading partners, Wesselton, was quite willing to sell us the grains and other foods we needed. It was a significant hit on the royal treasury, but necessary to keep the people fed."

Henrik paused as the appetizer was served, gravlax, smoked salmon with a dill and mustard sauce served over black bread. Holding up one piece, Henrik declared, "The fishing was not greatly impacted, thankfully, which helped supplement the food supplies." He raised it briefly, as if in toast, and took a bite.

"We had hoped the weather would turn by the next year, but no such luck. Continued drought and little snowpack resulted in the same poor conditions. Again, Wesselton came to our rescue, with food and supplies. We drained what was left in the treasury, but was not enough. But Wesselton kindly lent Liknes the remainder, asking on a few small concessions, advantageous trade agreements and such."

"Then next year was the same, little snow in the winter and poor rain in the summer. The kingdom was now in desperate straits. But again, Wesselton was willing to help, but since the prior loans had not yet been repaid, there would need to be further inducement to extend our credit. And it was at this time that my father took ill and passed away. This devastated grandfather. I was away at school, in Oslo, and would not hear of my father's passing for a week. Father had always worked closely with grandfather on matters of state, but with his loss, grandfather simply agreed to anything Wesselton requested. Preferential negotiating position, their own private docking area in the Liknes ports, even transferring a number of our naval ships to Wesselton's control. Nothing to worry about, of course, as they would continue to patrol the seaways between our two nations."

"The next year, no improvement. Wesselton now requested titles to certain lands, castles, mines in the hills. Our fishing fleets suddenly found themselves regularly beset by raiders, while our patrol ships, or rather Wesselton's, were conveniently needed elsewhere and could not help. At this point, the rivers were dry and the farmlands in ruins."

Henrik drained his wineglass, clearly upset by the telling.

"I now returned from university. I would have come back earlier when father passed away, but grandfather insisted that I complete my education, as I had chosen to include a study of agriculture and geology along with my political, economic, and historical studies. Grandfather was despondent, given the loss of father and the condition of the kingdom. I attempted to send messengers to other kingdoms to request assistance, but our entreaties were suspiciously rebuffed, or the messenger seemed to have never arrived. Wesselton's work, of course."

"Two more years, and it has only gotten worse. Anything we had of value has been turned over to Wesselton, and the Duke was now insisting that the court now accept a full time "advisor", who would speak on behalf of the Duke, taking de facto control of the kingdom."

Henrik then faced Elsa directly, a brightness returning to his expression. "But then we heard about the events in Arendelle, of your great magic, and how you discharged the Duke, and it gave us a hope. And, hoping the Duke was sufficiently distracted, I came here to beg for your help."

"And when I heard, shortly after arriving, that the Duke was no more, it was a relief. Half of our kingdom's condition may now be resolved. But as for the rest, my kingdom is still in ruins."

Anna looked around the table. Minister Skarsgård appeared deep in thought, as if performing mental calculations. His wife, however, held a handkerchief to her face, as if to hold back her upset. Elsa's expression was neutral, but Anna now knew that Elsa was also processing Henrik's story. Oddly, Åse Kleveland simply continued sipping her wine, her eyes upon Elsa.

It was finally Elsa, who broke the silence. "And how can my freezing Liknes help. The unseasonal cold would only further damage your fields, will it not? You require rain."

"The fields are already barren at this point, the cold will do it no further harm. And were there a sorcerer with power over the rain, an embodiment of the god Freyr perhaps, we would be trying to enlist his aid, certainly."

Henrik paused again, considering his words. "What I am asking is this. Bring the temperatures of Liknes down to near freezing, then lay perhaps a foot of snow across the land. Keep the temperature just above freezing, so the snow will melt, but slowly. The ground is parched, and strong rain or rapidly melting snow would just wash over and take what little topsoil remains with it. Instead, a slow melt from the snow will allow the land to gradually absorb the water. It is not ideal, of course; regular rainfall over the course of the season would be better, but at this stage we are desperate. After perhaps a week, allow the temperatures to slowly return to normal, and hopefully whatever seed remains in the land will take root and grow. Additionally, rebuilding the snowpack in the hills. We need to regain a reserve in the heights to feed our rivers, and through them irrigate the land. Is this something you can do for us?"

The room had grown distinctly cold and quiet, only the sounds of the servants delivering the main course breaking the nervous silence. Anna could feel the icy pressure from Elsa hand which she still held.

"I believe," started Lady Åse, "that we should allow Her Majesty some time to—"

"I'll do it." Elsa's voice broke through like ice cracking. Then, more mildly, "If I can. I've never used my powers at such a scale before, but if I can do it, I will help you and your kingdom."

"Thank you," said Henrik, visibly appearing relieved. "We can begin writing up the treaty for the transfer of sovereignty as soon as you have officially received our petition. Grandfather supplied me with documentation affording me the power to negotiate on the kingdom's behalf as well as his seal—"

"There is no need," interrupted Elsa. "I am happy to do it just for the future friendship between our kingdoms."

"Actually, Your Majesty, I must insist," countered Henrik.

"Huh?" Anna jumped in. "You want to give up being your own kingdom? Why?"

"Well, first of all, we have nothing left in trade. Wesselton has already removed everything of value that we could negotiate with, leaving us nothing for payment but the crown itself."

"Again, I do not require any payment," Elsa repeated.

"And while we appreciate Your Majesty's generosity, there is more. We would also have your full commitment to Liknes. You could do this for us this year, but then, what if the drought continues, and it is needed again, but due to considerations with whatever new power rises in Wesselton, the Southern Isles, or elsewhere, it becomes politically inconvenient to do so. Liknes would just fall back to the hard times it is now suffering."

"However," Henrik continued, "if Liknes were to join with Arendelle, you would not refuse to repeat your efforts. Liknes would not be another kingdom, but a duchy within the greater Arendelle. The people of Liknes would be your people, the lands of Liknes your lands. It would be your duty as our monarch to serve us in the same way you do the original Arendelle."

"Wow," said Anna. "That's something."

"Yes," agreed Elsa, giving Anna's hand a final squeeze before letting go, "It is something."

"Your Majesty," Minister Skarsgård spoke up, "Perhaps this matter would be best addressed by yourself and the royal council."

Elsa turned to the more elderly councilwoman. "Lady Kleveland, do you agree?"

"Oh, certainly, Your Majesty," she responded. "There are many interesting aspects to this proposal that merit discussion."

"Very well. Let us put aside any further discussion of the matter. Until then, let's just enjoy the dinner."