Chapter 33 – Contractual Obligations
"Gentlemen, Lady Kleveland, thank you for coming. I have passed the document to you for your review and I would appreciate your counsel on this matter."
It was the morning of the third day since Elsa's return from the North Mountain. On the second day, the Liknes Proposal, as it was now being referred, had been formally presented by Crown Prince Henrik of the selfsame kingdom to the Court of Her Majesty, Queen Elsa of Arendelle.
She had held court before, twice now since her coronation, to hear the supplications of her subjects; but that was considered low court. This was the first matter requiring the full ceremony of her office, in that she was meeting with royalty of another kingdom. Guards in formal attire, court crier, full ceremonial costume. Elsa had sat in the now anachronistically named King's Throne, and Anna had even attended, at Elsa's request, as heir apparent, sitting in the Queen's Throne.
It was mostly a formality. Prince Henrik had already laid out his request during the previous night's dinner, and word had already spread across the city. But such high matters required formality.
It was a lengthy document, full of much of the standard verbiage for treaties. Her father had assigned Elsa to read many such documents during her education, both those of Arendelle and of other kingdoms, and so Elsa felt herself well versed in the forms and protocol for such matters. The meat of matter was just as Henrick had described: Liknes becomes part of Arendelle, and thus Elsa becomes its queen; she is then to use whatever means she has to alleviate its hardship, i.e. use her magic to save her new kingdom. The rest of it was just the details. Liknes was a much larger kingdom than Arendelle, and was partitioned into multiple jurisdictions, and had its corresponding aristocracy, all of which would require some amount of redefinition as part of a greater Arendelle, much of which was described in specific detail.
After her review, the proposal was then turned over to her counsel. Yakob Lefferson, her secretary, was able to summon a team of scribes at short notice to produce several copies of the proposal, so it would not be necessary for her to relinquish the original.
"A matter of great import, Your Majesty," offered High Priest Jaegerhold. "A decision not to be taken lightly."
Admiral Ørsted stood up, his moustache twitching, "Indeed, it would be a significant increase in responsibility. Liknes, at this time, has no standing naval forces. Whether the vessels surrendered to Wesselton can be reclaimed will take some time to resolve. In the meanwhile, our ships would be stretched well beyond their capacity. And due to Liknes' greater size and location, it has, or had, a more significant army, which would need to be reconstructed, and quickly. Liknes' instability, both now and during any transition of sovereignty, will like embolden other kingdoms to lay claim to territory, which must be defended."
"I take it, then, that you do not recommend accepting this proposal?" said Elsa.
"On the contrary, Your Majesty, it is imperative that you do accept this proposal. To reject it will be perceived as weakness and will invite hostile interests to take action. King Yorril had pursued an activist foreign policy, forming many bonds and alliances, as needed for a small kingdom. King Agdar's policy of isolation, as well meaning as it may have been, Your Majesty, presented an image of docility, and it was only through the redoubled efforts to protect our merchant fleet and borders was Arendelle able to maintain peace."
"I say, that's quite a one-sided interpretation," spoke up Minister Skarsgård towards the Admiral. "King Agdar's continued emphasis on trade and commerce were critical in maintaining our inter-kingdom relationships." He turned back towards Elsa. "However, I must agree. Arendelle has only just started the process of re-establishing inter-kingdom relationships. To refuse this offer will give the appearance of resuming the policy of isolation. Had King Agdar's policies continued uninterrupted with Your Majesty's elevation, the kingdom could likely have continued its quiet existence for some years yet. However, given the events surrounding Your Majesty's coronation, and the political repercussions, Arendelle cannot be perceived as withdrawing from the world stage. While Wesselton's instability may temporarily halt its aggression, we cannot predict the intentions of whatever power will take control, or that of its allies without the Duke's guidance. And we do not know the position of the Southern Isles, with their significant naval forces and mercantile reach. Arendelle must maintain its appearance of strength, both of the kingdom, and now, of yourself."
"And joining with Liknes has can have a significant economic advantage," Minister Skarsgård continued. "Once it has recovered from its drought, whether through natural changes in the weather or Your Majesty's intervention, it opens numerous new markets for Arendelle. Liknes would be a ready market for Arendelle's ice, metals, and finished goods, now traded without customs. And Liknes' potential agricultural production is significant, create a large and robust portfolio of exports for the combined Arendelle-Liknes."
"I see…" Elsa shifted in the throne uncomfortably. She turned to Stoltenberg, "Guildmaster?"
The man shrugged. "It's work, Your Majesty, work for the guildsmen and others. Liknes will need more ships, Arendelle will need more ships, that's work for the shipwrights, and the craftsmen of all guilds."
Elsa nodded. She had expected a bit more controversy, more argument. She turned towards the High Priest.
"Your Majesty," he began, "the Aesir have bestowed upon you a great gift. A people have come requesting their beneficence, I do not see how, in good conscience, they could be refused."
"Not all believe my power come from the gods," Elsa countered resignedly.
"Then this is an opportunity for you to prove that you are in their service. I am not advising this lightly, Your Majesty. The power you possess has not been seen in centuries, and those who held it cannot be said to have been of good will. The admiral and trade minister have advised showing strength. I advise showing compassion."
After a moment's silence, Lady Kleveland finally spoke up.
"I am somewhat surprised, Your Majesty, that you would be willing to do this thing. It does seem a bit precipitous."
"To be honest, I don't know that I can do it. I have never used my power to such an extent. When I froze Arendelle, it was an accident, I had never meant to do what I did. And when I created my ice palace up on the North Mountain, and expanded it as I just did, it was a great use of my powers, but it was very localized. Liknes is a large kingdom; I don't know that I can use my power over so great an area."
Lady Kleveland opened her mouth in surprise. "Oh, I didn't mean that. In matters of magic, I am sure there are those who have some experience you can talk to. You seem to be gathering a cohort of them right here in this castle. No, no, not that. I was referring to the marriage."
Elsa sat bolt upright. "What?"
"Yes, I had thought you would take some time to establish your regime as Queen Regnant first, before taking a husband. Wouldn't want the world to think you were dependent on some man. Still, it is your choice."
"You and Prince Henrik, to join the kingdoms." She flipped a few pages over and pointed to a paragraph. "Yes, it's right here in the proposal."
"I can't believe I missed it!"
Elsa had worn clear a short path in the snow that now covered her bedroom floor with her pacing.
"Elsa—" Anna tried, now for the third time, to interrupt her sister's self-directed diatribe, still unsuccessfully.
"All the years I've been studying, all the reading, all the research, and at the first real negotiation, I mess it up!"
"And what kind of queen do they see me as now, I'm such a fool to miss something so important." Whereupon Elsa flopped face down on her bed.
Finally seeing an opportunity, Anna jumped in. "It couldn't have been that bad. It was buried in all the mumbo-jumbo part of the proposal, right?"
When there was no response, Anna continued, "Besides, I saw it too, 'joined by blood.' I just thought it was part of an old Viking ceremony, you know, where you and Henrik would cut your hands to make them bleed a bit and shake hands, right?"
Still no response.
Anna crossed her arms and grinned triumphantly. "Anyway, I have it on good authority that 'you can't marry a man you just met.'"
A noise now came from the bed, unintelligible through the pillows and snow.
"What's that?" said Anna, taunting.
Elsa rolled onto her side, now facing Anna directly. "You can't marry a man you just met, but I can."
Anna dropped her smile. "Huh? What do you mean?"
Elsa pushed herself up to a sitting position on her bed, brushing some snow off of her dress skirt. "It's Arendelle law. If you, as a princess, had wanted to marry a prince, or more often, it had been arranged for you to marry a prince, there would be a lengthy period of time before it would actually happen. The joining of royalty of two kingdoms is considered a Marriage Treaty, and all the details would have to be worked out diplomatically, and that takes time. At least a year, sometimes more."
"Oh. So when I came to you with Hans and said we wanted to get married and you said we couldn't, it wasn't because of love or that he was a total drittsekk, it was because of that."
Elsa nodded and then slipped off the bed to her feet. Feeling a bit more collected, she began dispelling the accumulation from the room.
Anna waiting until Elsa was finished, then continued, "So what do you mean you can? Wouldn't a treaty for marrying a queen be even more complicated? And take even more time?"
"Normally, yes, that's exactly right. But again, in Arendelle law, there's a special stipulation that the monarch, under conditions of extreme exigency, may dismiss the required interval and may proceed with the marriage immediately. Now, the specifics of the extreme exigency are not specifically listed, but were typically considered for two situations. First, an unmarried King fathering a child with another royal; if they can be wedded before the birth of the child, all the better as it will not require formal proclamations of acknowledgement and such."
"Very romantic," Anna commented sarcastically. "And the other?"
"The threat of violence or military action. Suppose an invading force has landed in Arendelle, and their leader says that I must marry their king or prince, otherwise they will rampage across the kingdom, burning homes and slaughtering the people. Our naval forces destroyed and our armies few, I would have no choice if I was to save my people."
Anna stood still, mouth agape. "That's horrible! But you could just use your powers and freeze them all, you wouldn't have to do that."
"The law wasn't written with me in mind, just normal kings and queens. The gods be praised, it has never been required."
"But neither of those things are going on."
"The law doesn't saw it has to be Arendelle that is under extreme exigency. The people of Liknes are starving. He may have connived them into beggary, but Wesselton provided them food. Without that support gone, Liknes will soon run out of sustenance, and many people will die. How can I allow that to happen?"
"But do you have to marry him? Can't you just go there and do the magic?"
"Of course, I could. But Prince Henrik is right, too. He needs the assurance that Arendelle will continue to support Liknes over time, and the best way to get that is to join with Arendelle. That requires a treaty with the corresponding commitments, and marriage treaty has always been the strongest. He'd be foolish to not insist on it."
Anna bit her lower lip thoughtfully. "I don't know. Do you even want to get married? Henrik or whoever."
Elsa sat back down on her bed dejectedly. "I never really thought about it like that. It didn't matter if I wanted to get married; as a princess, Papa would find me a prince and when we were old enough, we would get married. You too, of course."
Elsa continued, "But then I also knew that because of my powers, it would be too dangerous for me to get married. I couldn't control my powers; I would hurt him. I wouldn't even be able to touch him, without risking freezing him. What kind of marriage is that? I certainly would never be able to produce an heir, never touching my husband."
Elsa raised one hand up and produced a swirl of snowflakes. "But now it's different. My powers aren't dangerous to anyone," she grinned mischievously, "unless I want them to be," and sprayed Anna with a sudden light snowy mist, to her sister's laughter. "So, I guess a marriage is possible. But do I want it? I don't know."
Brushing the new snow out of her hair, Anna responded, "Well, if you're considering it, then I'll help you figure it out. You and the council will deal with the negotiations. Hey, what happened with the meeting?"
Elsa twisted her mouth, contritely. "I just ended it and asked them all to come back tomorrow. Then ran to my room."
"Fine. You and the council can work on the treaty. I'll work on Henrik. You got to at least like each other if you're going to get married, right? Well, that'll be my job."
now now Elsa, language... do I need to up the maturity rating of the story? meh, my kids have heard worse in school.
drittsekk - Norweigan for "asshole"