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Worthy Queen of Greatness
The Hunting Lodge
By Anne B. Walsh
Um. Surprise? And as ever, I own nothing you recognize from anywhere other than right here, whether that's characters, words, settings, what have you.
"Here is one of the most important things you will ever learn about being royal," said King Gunther to his daughters as they approached the door of a very well-built, but otherwise quite ordinary-looking, hunting lodge. "There must be times and places when you are not. Otherwise what you are will consume who you are. Thus, your mother and I have this place." He gestured to the door of the lodge. "Here, we are not the King and Queen of Arendelle. We are simply Gunther and Brigitta, a hunter of wild beasts and his wife who holds the household. Which means that while you are here, you are not the Princesses Elsa and Anna, but simply Elsa and Anna the hunter's daughters."
Anna squeezed her hands together in excitement, but Elsa looked dubious. "What do Elsa and Anna the hunter's daughters do?" she asked.
"From their father, they will learn how to track the animals he hunts," said Brigitta, herding her daughters in through the door Gunther was now holding open. "How to tell which animals are allowable to hunt and which are not, and how to conduct a hunt properly, so that the quarry does not suffer. And from their mother…" She smiled as she flung back the curtains over one of the windows. "They will learn how to make food, how to mend and tend clothing, and how to keep a home clean and welcoming. For hunters' daughters have no servants, and even princesses who do have servants should know how to care for their own belongings."
"And both hunters' daughters and princesses may go on adventures someday," Gunther added, shutting the door and going to the fireplace, where he knelt down and began to build a nest of tinder. "Everyone must fend for themselves on an adventure."
"I want to go on an adventure, Mama!" Anna bounded up the room and back again as her mother and Elsa pulled open more sets of curtains, letting the soft afternoon sunlight into the room. "I want an adventure like Gerda had in the story, where she rode on a reindeer and found the flowers and met the robbers and the crows and the women who did magic!"
"Did somebody say magic?" Grinning, Elsa conjured a snowball into her palm. Anna squealed and ducked.
"Elsa, not in the house," Brigitta said firmly. Elsa made a face but twisted her hand in a circle, sending the snowball back into the nothingness from which it had come. "Thank you. Once we have the beds made up, dinner started, and the table set, then you girls may go outside and play for a little while. But stay in sight, do you understand me?"
"Yes, Mama," came back to her in a resigned two-part chorus.
"Good." Brigitta smiled as a curl of smoke rose from the tinder onto which her husband was gently blowing. "We will work in the bedrooms until your father has the fire started both here and in the kitchen, and then we will see what is in the pantry so that we can decide what to cook for dinner."
Anna stuck her nose into the chest her mother opened, then sneezed three times in rapid succession. "That's strong!" she complained, backing away. "What is it?"
Elsa took a more circumspect sniff. "Fleabane?" she said, then reached forward and picked up a small sprig of a woody-stemmed herb with pointed leaves. "And rosemary. To keep the linens fresh, and keep bugs out of them."
"Very good." Brigitta lifted out the first set of sheets and set them on one of the beds, reaching back in for a second set. "But as Anna has discovered, they can smell a bit strong when they first come out of storage. So we will hang them outside on the clothesline, to let the sun and the fresh air work on them."
"What clothesline?" Anna peered out the window. "I don't see a clothesline."
"Not yet." Brigitta removed a small coil of thin rope from the chest as well. "We still need to put it up."
"Put it up where?" Elsa came to the bedside and accepted one set of sheets into her arms, Anna bounding over to take the other. "In between two trees? Won't that put the sheets in the shade for part of the day? I thought they needed to be in the sun."
"They do." Brigitta led the way to the door. "Which is why it would be very kind of you to oblige me by building two posts which will last most of the afternoon."
Elsa sighed, and bundled her sheets into Anna's arms. "Here, hold these," she said, and pointed her finger at a spot in the dooryard of the lodge. A moment later, a tall post of ice shimmered there. "Like that, Mama?" she asked, relaxing her concentration.
"Yes, exactly." Brigitta chuckled. "And now, to measure how far away the other post should be…"
A few moments later, Anna giggled helplessly as she ran with all her speed around her mother, careful not to rip the sheet she was holding. She had started at Elsa's ice post, and Brigitta had backed up until the sheet was fully unfolded, to get the length of one of the sheets they would use on their beds. Now they had to extend that length three more times, and the quickest way to do that was for princess and queen—or rather, hunter's daughter and hunter's wife—to pivot around one another, first Anna, then Brigitta, then Anna again. Elsa, standing by with the other sheets in her arms, was stifling her own giggles by biting down on the end of her braid.
"Here!" Anna shouted triumphantly, stamping her foot on the spot as she stopped for the second time. "Elsa, put it here!"
Draping the sheets over one arm, Elsa pointed carefully to Anna's left, sprouting a second post of ice identical to the first.
"Excellent," said Brigitta, motioning Anna closer and folding the sheet up into her younger daughter's arms as Anna danced towards her. "Now, I will put up the clothesline, and we will hang out the sheets, and then you girls will learn how to dust and sweep out a bedroom…"
That night, after a meal of flatbread with berry jam and stewed dried meat, the family sat around the fire in the main room of the lodge. Elsa and Gunther played with their puzzle shapes on the floor, each of them taking a turn to arrange them into an outline and challenge the other to guess what it had been meant to look like. Anna cuddled against her mother, her eyes drifting shut, as Brigitta brushed her hair and sang softly to her.
"There," said Elsa, positioning the pieces. "An easy one."
"Hmm." Gunther frowned, looking over the arrangement. "A number?"
"No." Elsa shook her head. "A letter. There aren't any numbers that look like that, Papa!"
"Are you sure?" Gunther crooked his finger. "Come and look at it from my side, my little Snow Queen."
Elsa sniffed once, but got up and circled to stand behind her father. Once there, she frowned, staring down at the pieces. "It does look like a number," she said slowly. "But I meant it to be a letter…"
"And if I were looking at it from your side, it would be." Gunther laid one hand atop the pieces and gestured underneath them with two fingers of the other hand. "Ice, please."
Elsa waved her own hand, and a small sheet of ice appeared under the puzzle shapes, allowing Gunther to rotate them cleanly through half a circle. "Here, you see?" he said, taking his hand away. "This is what you made, isn't it?"
"Yes." Elsa nodded. "That's my letter. But from over here, before you moved it, it did look like a number."
"Which means you could have argued all night long, one saying it was one thing, one another," Brigitta put in, her fingers braiding up Anna's hair. "And both of you would have been right, and both of you would also have been wrong."
"And a king," said Elsa slowly, "or a queen, can't ever see just their own side of things. They have to think of how everyone else will see it too."
"Very good." Gunther reached up and ruffled Elsa's hair, and her cheeks flushed with pleasure. "A great many people much older than you never learn that lesson. You can use that to your advantage, and Arendelle's, by learning how to show people only what they want to see. That will keep their attention off what you don't want them to see."
"But isn't that cheating?" Elsa evaporated the ice under the puzzle shapes with a swirl of her fingers, frowning once more. "I don't want to cheat. It's wrong."
"Yes, it is." Brigitta sighed, tying off one of Anna's braids. "But it may also sometimes be the only way to keep your land and your people safe."
"In general, you can deal honestly with the honest," said Gunther, drawing Elsa gently down by his side and cupping her hands in his. "And most of Arendelle's neighbors and trading partners are honest. But if you also learn how dishonest deals look, how they can be made to seem honest, and all the tricks and traps that can lurk inside them, then you can unmask dishonesty when you meet it, even if you never use those skills for yourself. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Papa." Elsa laid her head against his shoulder. "How come Anna couldn't have been born first?" she complained halfheartedly. "I don't want to be queen."
"Do you think Anna would make a good queen?" Brigitta asked.
"No." Elsa craned her neck to look at her mother. "Not without having to do a lot of things that would make her very unhappy."
"So, that is why." Brigitta tied off the other braid, then lifted her sleeping daughter in her arms. "Or enough of why for tonight. Come along, Elsa. Bed."
"Yes, Mama." Elsa covered a yawn as she got to her feet. "Will we go back to the palace tomorrow?"
"No, we have a few days to spend up here on the mountain." Brigitta and Gunther exchanged smiles. "We may even sleep outside in a tent one night, all huddled up together to stay warm. Like a family of bears."
"Rrrr-arrrr," Anna growled in her sleep, moving her arm like a bear's paw.
Elsa's second yawn was hijacked by giggles.
The mountain lay silent under its blanket of snow, ever-shifting lights tracing colorful paths through the sky. Snow drifted, swirled into patterns, then parted to reveal Elsa's small figure. Waving an imperious hand, she wafted the snowflakes about herself in imitation of the patterns glowing above her.
"The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen," she whispered, spinning in place and whipping a funnel into being. "A kingdom of ice-olation…" She giggled at her own pun. "And it looks like I'm the queen!" Stopping short, she flung her hands above her head, sending pinwheels of snow spiraling high into the air.
"Impressive," said a voice from behind her.
Elsa squeaked in shock and spun to face the interloper, a handful of icicles sprouting in her right palm, ready to throw.
"Hey, watch it!" protested the speaker, dodging to one side. "You could put somebody's eye out with those things!"
"You're…" Elsa blinked to clear her eyes and looked again. "You're a talking bear!"
"Yeah, so?" The half-grown white bear sat up, shaking snow out of his fur. "You're a girl shooting ice out of her hands."
"Touche." Elsa allowed the icicles to shrink back into her palm. "How did you learn to talk?"
"How did you learn your powers?" the bear countered, nodding to her hands.
Elsa shrugged. "I can't really remember a time when I couldn't handle snow and ice."
"And I can't remember a time when I couldn't talk. So, we're even." The bear huffed his breath upwards, clearing an errant bit of fur off his nose. "I liked the way you were making the snow dance with you. It looked almost like the wind during a strong storm, only it wasn't."
"Thanks." Swallowing her fear, the Princess held out one small hand. "I'm Elsa."
"Berni." A great, broad paw lifted to press gently against her palm. "Nice to meet you, Elsa. Or should I say Your Majesty, if you're the queen of the mountain?"
"I'm not really a queen." Elsa felt her cheeks warm slightly with a blush. "Not for a long time yet, I hope."
"Yet?" Berni drew back a little. "Are you—I beg your pardon, Your Highness. I shouldn't have intruded on you."
"You aren't intruding on me." Elsa shook her head. "I'm the one on your mountain, aren't I? If anything, I should apologize for intruding on you. But I'd like it better if we didn't bother with apologies." She tried a smile, and saw an answering wrinkle through Berni's furred face. "If we could maybe just be friends."
"I think maybe we can." Berni nodded once. "Friends, then." He snickered once, the sound decidedly strange from something so large. "And we'll be even better friends if you happen to know where I could find some fish."
Elsa glanced back towards the camp where her parents and Anna slept, and the remains of the salmon dinner her mother had cooked over the campfire. "I might be able to get you some fish," she said with a small grin. "If you'll let me ride on your back."
"Deal." Berni crouched to allow Elsa to clamber onto his broad shoulders. "Your Highness."
In a swirl of snow, bear and princess were gone.
Okay, so I just need to stop talking about how long it's going to take me to update next. Every time I do, I jinx myself…
Greetings, O readers, and apologies. A great many emotional issues later, here I am once more. As mentioned just above, I will not be making any comments about length of time until next update. I will, however, state the following:
I have just won National Novel Writing Month for the tenth year in a row. The story thus created, The Black Archer, may or may not become an actual readable novel. We shall see.
I have also recently finished a holiday collection of stories for the fourth year in a row. Masters in This Hall, set to be released tomorrow, December 1, 2015, joins 2014's Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, 2013's In the Bleak Midwinter, and 2012's Sing We Now of Christmas (theme titles? Me?) in being available on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, the Apple Store, Kobo, and other fine e-book retailers, as well as paperback copies available through both Amazon and my Etsy shop. You can find it by searching for the title and my name, Anne B. Walsh, at your favorite e-book store, or by following one of the useful links at my website's Useful Links page (handy, no?).
And finally, just this week I pulled together my Fiction Friday and Made-Up Monday flash fictions from 2015, originally published on my blog, Anne's Randomness, in a handy collected form for the second year in a row. Week in Review 2 can be found in all the same places as Masters in This Hall. End of shameless plugs.
Thanks, as always, for reading.