What did one usually feel upon being sentenced to twenty years in prison for attempted murder and treason? Apparently, an overwhelming sense of relief – that was what he felt as soon as the door of his new cell closed behind him for the first time. He didn't see those bars as a barrier between him and freedom but as a guarantee of some desperately needed peace and quiet! Living here for the next two decades couldn't be half as bad as what he'd been forced to endure for the past two weeks!
He'd been prepared for the dull, pointless lectures about the dishonor he'd brought on the family and the kingdom – they didn't bother him. He didn't mind seeing his portrait removed from the Grand Hall or knowing that he would go down in history as a traitor disowned by his family – no less than he'd expected. He couldn't care less that all his personal fortune and estate had been seized to pay restitution to the ally queen he'd tried to assassinate – what good would it do him here, anyway? He was amused by the torch-bearing mobs who swarmed the castle during his trial, crying for his blood – he'd figured that the story would spread fast and that the two women would be portrayed as the innocent, sympathetic victims when it did. It was a long drop from the popularity and admiration he'd briefly enjoyed in Arendelle, but, still, he could handle it.
What he couldn't handle was the preaching! He would rather have been given a million lashes, sent to the coal mines, had a limb cut off, or been dipped in boiling oil than listen to what all twelve of his brothers, the jailer, the guards, the judge, and the priest had been repeating since the day he came home. He wondered if they were all in a conspiracy to drive him insane. Day after day, it was the same thing:
"You just couldn't be content with what you had! You got what you deserved."
"You brought this on yourself. You and your foolish ambition!"
"This is what happens when a man tries to quit the sphere into which he was born."
"Maybe this will finally teach you to know your proper place and stay there!"
"Don't be so shocked. You were never meant to be king – you should have known it couldn't end any other way."
"When will you ever learn that, when you try to fly up to the sun, your wings always melt?"
"You never belonged on a throne – how did you ever think you could be anything more than the worthless, last spare prince?"
"You will be a lesson to all future generations on the folly of trying to rise above one's appointed station."
Be content, know your place, don't reach higher, don't aspire to more than your lot, never try to rise above your station... in fact, why had it bothered him so much? It was no different than what he'd heard all his life growing up. The youngest prince who had no hope of inheriting the throne – accept it, don't fight it. Be content – don't want more than you were born to have! Your birth is your destiny. Ambition is the enemy of peace. No one can ever hope to rise beyond their appointed level. Everybody has a proper place, and if they were to try to rise, it would upset the delicate balance of society. Never look for more, never try to quit your proper sphere, never dream of rising!
He didn't know why it had suddenly become unbearable, but as things had stood, it was a miracle he had survived long enough to start serving his sentence. Only one thing had sustained him: the thought that they were wrong. Ambition was not evil; to aspire to greater things was not a sin. He knew this, and nothing anyone said had ever been able to make him believe otherwise. Every human being had a right to strive to be all that they could be. It was human nature to climb to greater heights. It was human nature to want to rise!
He wasn't ashamed of wanting more than what he'd been born into – he was proud! Why shouldn't he be proud of himself? He'd had the courage to try to rise. He'd been smart enough to find a way to become king. He'd formed an excellent plan and carried it out brilliantly, no matter how many unexpected complications arose and how quickly he had to think and improvise and adapt. It wasn't his fault that his plan had to involve lies and murder – the circumstances that wouldn't let him rise any other way forced him into it. He hadn't done anything unfair or unjust – any girl stupid enough to fall for his act deserved to be tricked, and why should any queen born first deserve a throne more than he did for being born last? He had beaten them both fair and square in a battle of wits and cunning – he deserved the prize!
He had never planned on killing for a throne in the first place – much more work, much more complicated, and much more risky than just marrying a queen. But he had never seen a girl he knew he could woo as easily as Princess Anna, and that canceled out the extra effort of ultimately disposing of the sister that stood between him and a king's crown. It would have worked perfectly if it hadn't been for the magic – how could he have been expected to account for that in his plans?! It wasn't fair – they had no right to ruin his best chance to rise! And now he would never get another chance again!
But at least he knew he was in the right. He was the victim here, being punished for his ambition, for his aspirations, for threatening their system by attempting to rise. They had tried to put him in his proper place, but he knew better. He had come too close to succeeding not to know that he deserved a throne and more, that he was the smartest and the strongest of all of them! No wonder they feared him so much! Let them lock him up! Let them preach! He was proud of his ambitions and his determination to reach them by any means necessary, and nothing they said or did could change that! They were wrong, and he was right – as long as he knew that, nothing else mattered.
His complete confidence in his own righteousness sustained him well. He barely noticed the lack of luxuries in the prison – it was no less than a rebellious hero like him ought to be able to bear. Every hardship he endured now was more proof of their fear of him. He enjoyed the confusion on their faces when they came to visit him, wondering how he could loll around his cell like it was the most comfortable place in the world, why he always sat like a king with a smug grin on his face. Why should they be so surprised? Shouldn't they be glad he'd finally learned to be content?
His oldest brother the king was the first to stop visiting, and the rest of his family eventually followed suit. He had to admit, he did miss the loss of entertainment, at first. The conversations he could overhear between the guards weren't exactly riveting – another prince had gotten engaged, he had a new nephew, their aunt had died, peace had been achieved with Arendelle, a skirmish on the northern border had been quelled, winter had started... same old news every day for over a year.
"Princess Anna of Arendelle has gotten engaged." He rolled his eyes when he heard that.
Three months later: "The king leaves for Arendelle tomorrow." He raised an eyebrow at that.
Apparently, he wasn't only one. "What? After everything that happened?" he heard in reply.
"Yes, apparently, as a gesture that she holds no one else responsible for one criminal's actions, Queen Elsa has invited him to her sister's wedding. He and..." He tuned out before he could hear who was accompanying him.
Two weeks later, as he was lying flat on his bunk staring at the ceiling: "I'm so glad the king has returned safely." He sighed when he realized he wasn't going to hear about the tragic shipwreck he'd been hoping for.
"Some people got worried when he ended up staying away a few days longer than planned."
"Yes, I hear he enjoyed meeting Queen Elsa..." So he was actually falling for that freak? He would.
He closed his eyes but continued to pick up fragments: "The wedding was beautiful... Queen Elsa officially named them her successors should anything happen to her and decreed, should she not produce any heirs, that the throne will pass to her sister's child... Princess Anna and Prince Kristoff seem very happy together..."
His eyes opened in shock – he couldn't stop them. He couldn't stop the gasp that escaped him or the single shudder that ran through his body at the news. It couldn't be! He was trying to calculate how common the name Kristoff was when the words "Imagine – a peasant boy, a common ice harvester, becoming a prince..." crushed all hope.
He knew who he was. He was part of the story that had been told hundreds of times during his trial. Princess Anna had married him?! A commoner?! How was that even allowed?
"Yes, it's amazing they were even allowed to marry."
"Not really – Queen Elsa was the only one who could officially forbid it, and why would she after what he did for her sister? Her advisers and council surely objected, but that was all they could do. I hear other allies and trade partners, appalled by such an outrageous move, have severed ties with them, but that's all they can do, too. No one had the power to stop it."
Yes, if Princess Anna and her sister feared no shame or embarrassment from the scandal, there was no reason why she couldn't marry a poor ice harvester and elevate him to the status of Prince! It made too much sense not to be true!
He got up and began pacing his cell as the implications sank in. A peasant had risen out of his proper sphere. A commoner had aspired to marry a royal princess. But his story ended with success. He hadn't been punished for rising. Any who objected were held in the wrong; such morality was given no weight. A simple ice harvester married to a princess, a peasant become a prince...
For a second or two, he tried to muster up some self-righteous indignation, outrage that he had been forbidden to rise while another had, but it was smothered by a burning desire to know, How? How had he done it?
"Well, I can't think of anyone who deserves it more. If it weren't for him, Princess Anna would have frozen to death in the mountains."
"Yes, he earned it."
He earned it. He had risen on his own merits. Through his courage, perseverance, strength, and selfless love, he earned the respect and gratitude of a princess, a queen, and a nation. His virtues enabled him to escape the sphere into which he was born... He tried to tell himself that this proved that his own struggle to rise was just as admirable, just as defensible, but the glaring difference between their methods stopped the thought. He was strong enough to rise without needing to manipulate, exploit, and harm others... To rise above one's "proper" place was not a sin... only the methods you use to get there. It was admirable to strive to rise... through your own merits, but to strive to rise through dishonesty and force was evil.
His last defense was gone. From that day on, he truly was in prison.