"Bring forth the accused!"
Two grenadiers of the Army of the Southern Isles, burly and muscular men whose massive shoulders strained the seams of their crimson uniforms to their limits, walked into the dark candle-lit chamber. Between them they carried, or more accurately dragged, a leaner young man with bright red hair and thick long sideburns going all the way down to his jawline. His white uniform was stained and dirtied by coal dust, mud, and even dried spatters of blood. The grenadiers hauled the young man to the middle of the chamber and forced him to his knees, and then they attached a chain between his cuffs and a metal loop on the floor to prevent him from standing up. Once they were sure that the young man was secured, the grenadiers walked out of the chamber without a word.
"The Star Chamber of the Kingdom of the Southern Isles is now in session," the same sharp female voice who had called for the accused continued. "The Councilors of the Star Chamber present tonight are Lady Toksvig, Lord Eriksen, Lord Poulsen, Lord Delaney, Lord Schmeichel the Elder, Lord Schmeichel the Younger, and Lord Billing. Lady Toksvig will be presiding as judge, and the case is the Kingdom of the Southern Isles versus Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, Prince of the House of Westergaard, Count of Svendborg, and Earl of Nakskov on the charges of attempted regicide against Queen Elsa of the Kingdom of Arendelle. Now, before we start," Lady Toksvig said, "is there anything that the accused would like to say to the Star Chamber?"
"Is there anything I would like to say?" Hans repeated in a slurred voice. "Is there anything I want to say?" he said again, and then he looked up at the gathered lords of the Star Chamber with glazed and unfocused green eyes. "Am I now actually allowed to say anything to any of you? Or will my father order my words stricken from the records anyway?"
"Now, now, your Highness, there is no need to be sarcastic," Lady Toksvig replied. "The Star Chamber only wishes to hear the side of the accused first before we proceed to our judgment."
"Your judgment?" That statement seemed to stir Hans back to reality. "Your judgment?" he repeated harshly. "Don't you mean my father's judgment? Because isn't that the reason why I'm still here in the Star Chamber instead of rotting in the dungeons like he really wants?"
"Well, then, your Highness, perhaps you shouldn't have tried to kill the Queen of Arendelle if you didn't want to be brought before the Star Chamber in the first place," Lady Toksvig retorted.
"How many times do I have to tell you? I didn't try to kill Queen Elsa!" Hans shouted.
"Oh, yes, yes, of course you didn't," Lord Eriksen said, speaking for the first time. "You didn't try to cut down Queen Elsa with your sword, and you also didn't leave Princess Anna alone in a cold room to freeze to death. Of course you couldn't have done all those things despite a large body of witnesses claiming that you did. Now, your Highness, pray tell us, what were you thinking when you committed those acts? Why did you do it? Why would you do it?"
"That is exactly my point!" Hans exclaimed, thrusting his opened hands forward. "I have no reason at all to do it! No reason whatsoever! I loved Princess Anna; I love Princess Anna. I had proposed marriage to her and she had accepted it!"
"Yes, of course, and according to eyewitness testimonies, Queen Elsa denied her permission for you and Princess Anna to marry," Lady Toksvig countered. "And that, my dear, frankly, is great enough motivation for you, let alone anyone, to attempt regicide. She was an obstacle to your ambitions of claiming a throne and therefore she had to go."
"No, that's not true! You have to believe me, Aunt Sandra!" Hans pleaded. "I didn't plan to kill Queen Elsa. I had no plans like that whatsoever! My body was moving of its own accord during those moments that people said I tried to kill the Queen and her sister. I tried to stop myself, but I was powerless! I felt like I had been possessed by an evil spirit! This is witchcraft, I tell you. Witchcraft!"
"Ah, yes, the witches made you do it," Lord Eriksen sneered in derision. "And let me guess? It was the fairies and the trolls who locked Princess Anna in that room, is that correct?"
"But I'm telling you, what I say is the truth!" Hans said. "Why won't you believe me, Christian?"
"It's not that we don't believe you," Eriksen replied. "It's just that wherever you go, trouble seems to follow you. And by trouble, I mean diplomatic incidents. And now you have brought back the mother of all diplomatic incidents, regicide."
"But I didn't kill the Queen! Anna stopped the blade from cutting down Elsa—"
"It doesn't matter whether or not you actually killed the Queen!" Lady Toksvig suddenly shouted. "Attempted or not, regicide is still regicide. You have no idea how lucky you are to still be alive to face the Star Chamber after all that you did," she continued in a calmer voice. "You have no idea how many favors your father pulled, how many concessions he made just in order for Arendelle to not make a fuss about this whole thing and bring it to the attention of the Continental Council."
"Really, Lady Toksvig?" Hans asked with more than a hint of sarcasm dripping from his voice. "My father did all that just for me? I find that hard to believe. My father has hated me from the moment that I drew my very first breath. Are you sure that it was him who negotiated for my return back to the Southern Isles, or did Mother have to talk him into doing it?"
"The Star Chamber will not accept such slanderous statements, and as presiding judge I move that the Prince's previous statements be stricken from the record on account of their slanderous nature," Lady Toksvig said, and she pounded her gavel before anyone else had even spoken to either second the motion or refuse it.
"But how can my statements be slanderous if they are true, at least from my point of view?" Hans asked.
Lady Toksvig ignored Hans' latest statement. Instead, she said, "Once again I shall ask the accused this: is there anything that you would like to say before the Star Chamber reaches our verdict?"
Hans frowned, and then he set his jaw tightly and squared his shoulders, at least as much as his chains would allow him. He then looked at each of the lords of the Star Chamber in the eye and said, "I, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, do solemnly swear that everything that I state after this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I swear this on the honor of the House of Westergaard. So it was, so it is, and so it shall be."
Lady Toksvig shook her head and sighed. "If you will please kindly continue with your statement, your Highness," she said in a bored tone.
"I, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, love Princess Anna of Arendelle," Hans said. "I truly love her. I do. I would never do anything to hurt her or harm her. And she loves me, or at least she did before all of this happened. I would never do anything to lose her love, the one thing that I have never had as a prince. I knew that I would never ever get my father's love because I was, I am his unwanted son. I was born the thirteenth son of King Christian of the Southern Isles, at a time when he and my mother actually desired a daughter. My father never loved me; he saw me only as yet another rival to my brother Crown Prince Jannik's claim to the throne of the Southern Isles, and because he was superstitious he saw my being the thirteenth son as being incredibly unlucky. And Mother, much as she says that she loves me, she never actually shows it when she should. If she did truly love me then she wouldn't stand for my father treating me like trash. That is why, as soon as I was of age, I wanted to leave the Southern Isles at the first opportunity.
"I embarked on a grand tour of the continent as soon as I was of age," Hans continued. "However, no matter where I went, it seemed as if there was simply no place where I ever felt truly accepted. I was an outsider no matter where I went; there was never a place where I really felt welcome. That is, until I arrived at the Kingdom of Arendelle and met Princess Anna. It was love at first sight; I knew it was, I know it is, and I know it to be. And I know, I know, that Princess Anna was similarly besotted. I proposed marriage to her at the evening reception of her sister's coronation, and Princess Anna readily accepted it.
"And then Queen Elsa revealed her ice powers for the whole continent to see, and through circumstances which I did not personally witness, she shot a bolt of ice into Anna's heart. Anna was told that only an act of true love would stop the ice in her heart from freezing her solid, and there I saw my chance to prove my love for her and perform the act of true that was freezing her heart. But as my lips moved to touch hers, I was struck dumb. I do not remember anything between the moment I made to kiss Anna and the moment that I found myself standing on the deck of a ship in the middle of Arendelle's harbor, and by that time Anna was looking at me with loathing and disdain, and she punched me into the water immediately after."
"Excuse me, your Highness," Lady Toksvig said, raising her hand. "Let me get one thing clear. According to your testimony, you were, as you said, struck dumb right at the moment before you attempted to kiss Princess Anna. You claim to not remember anything from that event to when the princess punched you into the harbor. Would you care to elaborate about this?"
"What do you want me to say?" Hans asked back. "That I am making this up? No. I will not say that because that is not true. I truly tried to save Princess Anna, but I was unable to do so because some sort of trickery or sorcery overtook me and rendered me unable to remember what happened in those crucial moments. I did not try to kill Anna or her sister! I did not! You have to believe me. A sorcerer used to me to commit regicide, and if you shall find me guilty then you are letting the true would-be murderers walk free! You cannot condemn me for something I did not willfully do!"
The Star Chamber remained unmoved by Hans' pleas. "Unfortunately, your Highness, since the Star Chamber has long established that there is no such thing as witchcraft or sorcery, you cannot submit a charge of witchcraft to the Star Chamber for judgment," Lady Toksvig explained coolly. "So if you wish to accuse anyone of witchcraft then do not do it in front of the Star Chamber. Now that the testimony of the accused has been received, does the Star Chamber have any questions for the accused?"
The rest of the Star Chamber remained silent, and Lady Toksvig took this as a collective no. "Very well then. The Star Chamber is now ready to reach a verdict," she said. "Lords, please state your verdicts for the record. Lord Eriksen?"
"I, Christian, Duke of Middelfart, find the accused–"
There was a loud thud as the door to the Star Chamber suddenly swung open and crashed violently against the wall. Everyone in the Star Chamber, even Prince Hans, turned around to look at the new arrival. He was a tall, muscular, well-built man with thick brown hair, a full beard, and dark blue eyes. He wore the outlandishly garish crimson uniform of the Army of the Kingdom of the Southern Isles, complete with gold thread, medals, and sashes. A red cape hung from his shoulders all the way down to the calves of his riding boots. He walked with the swagger of confidence to the point of arrogance, someone who thought very highly of himself with little regard for what anyone else thought of him.
"Sorry I'm late," he said without any hint of actual contrition. "I have just come from the King's Counsel to bring the Star Chamber the news that the King has decided upon the fate of the accused."
Lady Toksvig sighed heavily and, with conscious effort to not roll her eyes at the man's effrontery, said, "The Star Chamber recognizes Lord Bendtner, Duke of Rosenborg and Commander of the Royal Arsenal of the Southern Isles. Now, Lord Bendtner, pray tell us His Majesty's decision with regards to the accused."
Lord Bendtner walked into the Star Chamber, sweeping his cloak at Prince Hans' face with all possible disrespect intended. "His Majesty King Christian of the Southern Isles, Tenth of His Name, through the Grace of God, long may he reign, called for me upon receiving news that the Star Chamber has been tasked to reaching a verdict for the accused," he said. With another grand sweep of his cloak, he took his seat below Lady Toksvig.
"His Majesty the King clearly understands the great sensitivity and gravity of the case brought before the Star Chamber," Bendtner continued. "Inasmuch as His Majesty the King has decided that this matter must be dealt with swiftly, His Majesty the King wishes that the Star Chamber will not make too big of a spectacle of the case of his wayward son. I hope you all understand what he means by this. This is very much a tragic affair, but His Majesty the King hopes that it will also be a forgettable one, one that the next generation will never learn about."
Silence descended upon the Star Chamber as they pondered the words that Lord Bendtner had just given them. It was uncommon, but not unheard of, for the King of the Southern Isles to push the Star Chamber, or at least certain members of it, to vote for a specific verdict. And today it appeared as if the King had summoned Lord Bendtner to sway him and the rest of the Star Chamber to vote for a quiet resolution to the unsavory diplomatic incident between the Southern Isles and Arendelle.
"So, has the Star Chamber reached a verdict?" Lady Toksvig asked after a protracted silence.
"Yes, we have," Lord Eriksen nodded.
"Very well then. Lords, please state your vote for the record."
"Christian, Lord Eriksen, the Duke of Middelfart, finds the accused guilty of the charge of attempted regicide," Lord Eriksen said.
"Yussuf, Lord Poulsen, the Duke of Odense, finds the accused guilty."
"Thomas, Lord Delaney, the Duke of Fredriksborg, finds the accused guilty."
"Peter, Lord Schmeichel, Duke of Aarhus and Baron Gladsaxe, finds the accused guilty of the charges against him."
"Kasper, Lord Schmeichel, Count of Kolding, finds the accused guilty."
"Philip, Lord Billing, the Count of Esbjerg, finds the accused guilty of all charges."
"And I, Nicklas, Lord Bendtner, Duke of Rosenborg and Commander of the Royal Arsenal of the Southern Isles, find the accused guilty," Lord Bendtner announced loudly and pompously.
Lady Toksvig sighed and shook her head as she reached for her gavel. "The Star Chamber has spoken," she said. "The Star Chamber finds Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, Prince of the House of Westergaard, Count of Svendborg and Earl of Nakskov guilty of attempted regicide against the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle and her sister. The Star Chamber sentences the accused to reclusion perpetua in the Isle of Horses. There he shall spend his life sentence shoveling manure and night soil from the stables for use in the castle fireplaces and furnaces. So it was, so it is, so it shall be." Lady Toksvig pounded the gavel on the table twice to confirm and codify the Star Chamber's verdict.
"No!" Prince Hans cried out. "You can't put me away! I didn't do it! I didn't do anything! I swear on my life! I was overcome by dark magic! I didn't try to kill Anna or the Queen! You have to believe me!"
"Guards! Take this regicidal filth away from my sight!" Lord Bendtner shouted, and the same grenadiers who escorted Prince Hans into the Star Chamber went into the room to drag him out. Meanwhile, the disgraced prince continued pleading for his case even as it fell on deaf ears. "You have to believe me!" Hans said. "I would never do the things you accuse me of having done! You have the wrong man! You are putting the wrong man behind bars! The real murderers are still out there!" he shouted as he was carried away by the grenadiers.
"Oh, it is truly such a shame to see a nice young man with such potential throw away his life, his future like this," Lady Toksvig muttered sadly as she shook her head in disappointment.
"You really thought that Hans was a nice man, milady?" Lord Bendtner asked, or rather scoffed. "Hans Westergaard is a rotten apple, and always has been. I've known him since he was six, milady. I've never seen such a petty and hateful child trapped in a man's body."
"And I suppose you have the evidence to prove your claims, my lord?" Lady Toksvig asked loftily from her judges' perch above Bendtner.
"You needed proof, milady? It was right in front of you all along," Bendtner replied. "You saw how he tried to sway us with tales of his love for the princess and his claims of black magic seizing his body. He knew that he was in an inescapable situation and yet he still tried to find his way out of it. I for one am glad that His Majesty the King has finally seen fit to reign in his thirteenth son. Thirteenth sons have never been anything but bad luck for their families. The sooner that Hans Westergaard is forgotten by the people of the Southern Isles, the better."
The grenadiers hauled Hans through the dark and cold stone halls lit inadequately by thin torches in iron brackets before finally emerging into a stable. They led Hans to a carriage made out of wrought iron and wood with tiny barred windows. "In you go!" one of the grenadiers said as they practically threw Hans into the carriage. The same grenadier then locked the doors of the carriage before Hans could attempt to escape. "To the Isle of Horses he goes!" the second grenadier told the driver of the carriage, who complied with the order with a silent and curt nod, and then the driver whipped his reins to get the horses moving.
Inside the carriage, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles began to grab fistfuls of hay from the floor of the carriage and bundled them around his body to give him even a small measure of warmth against the strange winter cold in the middle of the Southern Isles' summer.