Author's Note: A big thank you to all those who've reviewed and still have interest in this fic. I know it's been a few years since this has been updated, and to be honest I've had this document "ready" for years, but I wanted to know where the following chapter would end up going before I posted this one. I've decided to just wing it and hopefully finish this before I need to retire from working lol.
Warning for graphic events. I don't believe that they're super specific, but putting this as a precaution.
Even after leaving the boat, Princess Anna felt like the ground was miles away and yet crashing into her, the world colliding and abandoning her from all sides. Kristoff was gone.
During the chaos of their failed attempt to bring Pieter to justice, Anna's mind was frail and fragile and easily impressionable. So when whatever enchantment or poison that clouded her consciousness finally lifted, her thoughts weren't ready to take in the full gravity of what happened. Kristoff was gone, reality told her. Blame was the easiest thing to splice together, and it was simply put onto Pieter.
Denial bloomed into sadness. Sadness to grief when a month passed and there were no leads to where Kristoff was nor were there any leads to how they would find him.
Grief to depression. Depression to…
Anna didn't know what it was. But she knew it crawled and bubbled in her gut whenever her sister would always assure her, "We'll find him."
She hated all these emotions, foreign and so tiring.
The princess's awareness was stuck in a glass box. She inhaled the bite of cold sea air at the docks of the Southern Isles, stood with trained poise when the constable exchanged pleasantries with her sister, spun around once cries for the death of royalty rang out — yet each of these were like pebbles bouncing off of her transparent mental enclosure. Nothing slammed hard enough into her lonely figurative cage to reach her.
Something about all of this was screaming at her to just wake up from her listlessness and give herself a slap on the face and tell her, "This isn't you!"
Steady hands hustled her into a nearby shop, and still that scream from within didn't reach her yet.
The slap in the face came from one of the twins.
Adrenaline shivered her spine as the shop front smashed away into a gaping hole, the chaos shattering her little glass box. She blinked and latched onto Elsa's arm. Her fingers tugged her sister close to her and a spray of wood and stone and mortar washed over them. A pinprick of pain drove into the middle of her forehead and she reached up to rub at it, fearing that maybe a piece of wood wedged itself into her brain somehow. Turned out to be nothing.
She sucked in her teeth and grimaced, shaking off the feeling.
Maybe something to worry about, but there were more pressing matters. Like trying not to get smashed by a hulking ball of flying metal.
She crawled on hands and knees to the decimated storefront and peered around the corner. A tug at the hem of her dress. She froze in place and flinched. Did she accidentally topple something over? Did she make matters worse? Was it her fault that they…?
Anna checked behind herself. Elsa's stared at her wide eyed, her pale face now sheet-white. Her sister's hand was wrapped around the hem of her dress, begging her to stay back.
Something else drove the princess to check on the commotion. Curiosity, perhaps? Anna crawled closer to the shattered wall before her and craned her neck, risking an eye to stare down the market street.
Another stab of pain in her forehead, but instead of recoiling back, she stuck her head out further in full view of a cannon. A heavier hand pulled at her shoulder to bring her back, but she ignored it.
"Ian! Ian, stop!" she heard Rasmus cry on the other side of the street before she saw the twin tore off toward the cannon. Hans ran off in pursuit. A few heartbeats later, she saw the other twin start off toward them.
She saw Hans successfully trip Christian just as the cannon fired, the metal ball sailing over them safely.
Jakob blared a bloodcurdling scream.
Breath clung to her throat. Her heart threaded. Her arms collapsed under her.
Her eyes were able to process Hans being able to destroy the cannon and render the attackers useless, but whenever she blinked there were flashes of Jakob being struck back from the force of the cannonball with a spray of blood and gore. She saw Christan disappear into an alleyway. The heavy hand at her shoulder pulled away, and she saw Anders tear off along with Rasmus toward the body.
She wheezed in a breath.
Another flash of pain in her head, her vision tunneled away to blackness, and the last thing she knew was her chin hitting the ground as she passed out.
How did he miss it? What happened?
Hans paced down the row of cells of the constable's headquarters, ignoring the stares of inmates. Their eyes bore holes into him, likely wondering why some Arendellian guard (if they didn't know who he was) or layman (if they didn't recognize the uniform) would be stalking around their jail block.
Hans met the far wall at the end of the hallway for the umpteenth time, pivoted on his heel, and traced his steps back to start his pacing over again.
He lost focus. How could he mistake a twin for the other so easily? How did he not notice Ian giving him the slip?
Denial was a bubble fluttering in his stomach. So delicate that if he were to wrap his thoughts around it for too long, it would pop and give way to grief. He knew, because he had done the same for Kristoff, and Hans couldn't afford to do it again so soon.
He clenched and unclenched his hands. A spot in his awareness said the scythe and sword were still in the office with the constable, his brothers, and the sisters. A twinging muscle in his neck reminded him to ease up a little before he coiled into a ball of stress. Again.
These fellow criminals were not the best audience for another breakdown.
"They're not your fellows," he imagined Anders chiding him.
"You're not a criminal, Hans," a voice framed by white-blonde hair and eyes like winter would have said, should Hans ever let her know his insecurities once more.
Hans met the far wall again. Instead of pivoting away, he let himself slump against it and stared down the corridor. The stone walls carried the faint voices of the royals conversing with the constable, planning. Indecipherable, but the seriousness was distinguished. He knew he should be there with them. His mind was put to better use with trying to enact their net phases of their plan.
But now he was doubting the usefulness of his brain. He was no genius, nor did he have photographic memory; he could only claim to be above average at observation. There was no way he could've missed Ian's escape. Even when under pressure.
He touched a hand to his forehead. Perhaps Pieter messed with him somehow?
"Pieter sends his regards," Christian had said. Was he in on it the whole time? Or was this another mind control situation?
"Oh, lookie here!" one of the inmates slurred. The reek of alcohol wafted in the air as the man opened his mouth. "Seems like the king's graced lil' ol' me with his preshens… pre… presence. How goes it, King Pieter? Come to bail me?"
Hans quirked a brow. "I'm not Pieter." And while there were some family resemblances, the eldest and the youngest looked nothing alike.
"Aha!" the drunk inmate said. "I'd know the man who got me in here with a blindfold, Your Majesty. Took my son away from me, too! Can't ever forget a face like that."
"You have the wrong—"
"Ever! Say, how's Mikelo doing? Been too long since last update. Is he really a painter now?"
Hans' preoccupations halted. "Did you say Mikelo?"
"Did I stutter? Course I said Mikelo. I only got one son. Unlike you and your thirteen. Ya know what causes that, right?"
Hans rolled his eyes. "Count Mikelo Ludoviko, correct?"
"I'm speaking your tongue, aren't I? So? You gonna release me or not? Been here a week."
"Ah. Too bad. Was gonna tell you that my son's involved in a plot to kill you. In that case, good luck with that."
Hans vaguely remembered Mikelo mentioning his irresponsible father. How pleasant to see that Ludoviko Sr. didn't seem to have changed. He also appeared to have lost some sense of reason in his old mind if he thought that Hans was his father.
"I hope it pleases you to know that King Pieter the First is already dead."
The man's face paled and gaped as if Hans was a ghost. "Oh."
The prince sighed. "So, tell me, how long did you know about this plot?"
"Not long, I hope. Don't try to lie to me, either."
"If you're not King Pieter, who're you?"
"I'm someone who's… having a very bad day." He smiled.
Oh, we was so exhausted right now.
"He's the murderin' prince!" one of the inmates blabbed. "Workin' as a killer for Arendelle now."
Hans allowed the silence to ring around the cell block for a moment. "While you're not wrong, I'm technically their executioner."
"You're not here to kill anybody, I hope?" Mikelo's father asked.
"I will if it comes to it. You still aren't answering my question. How long have you known about the assassination plan?"
"I've known about the plot for a few years now."
"And how did you come to know about it?"
"One of the other princes."
"Ah, I can't say. If what you say about the king is true…"
"Not Pieter the Second, is it?"
The man's eyes bulged. "How'd you hear about that?"
"Mikelo told me. Tell me why you didn't warn anyone about this until now."
"Ain't it obvious? I'm stuck here 'til they say so, 'less I get a king's pardon. You'll tell the new king I'm in here, right? Maybe tell my son? He's got connections."
"Both have been deposed."
"What? Why? How? Deposed in what way?"
Hans frowned. "Answer me first: what do you know about Pieter, my brother?"
"Other than the plot?"
"Well, uh… I'm not s'posed to say. He was just interested in some information I know about these books—"
"Yes… but I'm not saying much else about that."
The prince flashed a grin. "I'll be back after a few moments."
Anders had locked himself away in an office, Hans departed on his own to clear his head, and Elsa was trapped in a room with too many questions as she tried to revive her sister from her fainting spell.
The queen was grateful that the cannon spared her sister; she felt horrible for the princes.
"We'll announce Jakob's… passing… It has to be before the coronation of Holger," Prince Rasmus said, returning to the emotionless statue he was when she first met him. "A search for Christian should be instated immediately."
"I'm one to agree," Constable Henrik said. "However, shouldn't we focus on sending Queen Elsa to the capital first? We need to ensure the safety and security of Prince Holger, else we risk anarchy."
"What do you suppose we do, Queen Elsa?" Rasmus said, turning to her.
"I agree with the constable," she said. She flipped the cool, damp cloth on her sister's forehead, chilling it slightly.
"I also agree," she said as she saw Rasmus about to retort, "that we need to search for your brother, too. I believe it would be a good immediate order from Prince Holger himself to help lift him up in the eyes of the people as a leader."
"Are you sure?" Rasmus asked.
"Can we be sure about anything now?"
"…no." Rasmus sighed. "Alright, I suppose it's best to fulfill our original tasks before we take on new ones."
A knock at the doorframe of the office and Hans entered the room. His shoulders were scrunched, and his hands still twitched, but Elsa was relieved to note that the sharpness in his eyes had softened. He was composed enough to rejoin them.
She frowned when she saw him make a beeline for his scythe.
"What's going on, Hans?" she asked.
"A prisoner has information," Hans responded.
"And you intend to get it."
He shrugged and turned to go back to the cells once he obtained his scythe. Uh oh.
Elsa eyed Rasmus and gestured to her still-unconscious sister. The two of them swapped places as she went after Hans.
She found him before a cell at the end, twirling the handle of the scythe lackadaisically so that the blade spun dangerously around the top of his head. The rows of cells were still and silent as if the inmates sensed that death was in their midst.
Hans spoke in a low voice, even and measured notes dotting the quiet air. A quieter voice responded, quivering as the owner spoke.
She took her strides faster. "Hans."
He didn't look at her, but he bowed his head. "Queen Elsa."
"P-please, don't hurt me," the quiet voice said. It was an elderly gentleman, his prison garments ragged and soiled, and there was a distinct stench of alcohol about him, but his wide and bloodshot eyes suggested that he sobered at the presence of Hans. He looked pleadingly at her.
There had to be a reason why Hans was intimidating this man. He wouldn't resort to forceful questioning tactics if he didn't have a good reason, right? But he had just lost another brother. As cool and collected as Hans could be in the worst of scenarios, she knew that there was a tipping point for everyone. And being so distant from him nowadays, it was hard to know if he was reaching that point.
She decided to keep quiet. She'd intervene if he was about to cross lines she knew he would regret later. At least, lines that she knew he would regret and never be able to recover from.
"Where is this library?" Hans asked. "What did he get from it?"
"The library is in what was once the Kingdom of Gavallande before it fell. According to the last correspondence I received from my son years ago, he was in search of an old family heirloom — a book, you see. King Pieter the Second took much interest in it."
"And the plot?"
"Ah… T-there's a…"
Hans ceased the twirling of his scythe and deepened his frown.
The man backed away and implored Elsa, "You're not going to let him kill me, right?"
Elsa felt the urge to respond and was formulating words in her head carefully when Hans interrupted.
"There is no force on earth that can stop me from killing anyone," Hans said.
Those words stopped her, and a rare chill rolled up her spine. She didn't know why. She was already inching away when she realized that something was very, very wrong here.
"Who are you?" she found herself asking aloud. Mainly to the man in the cell, though a part of her knew she was also asking Hans. The prisoner looked between her and Hans, lingering on the latter each time for moments longer.
"I'm… I'm no one important," the man replied.
"This man is Ludoviko," Hans said, "Senior." He turned to the man. "What do you know of the Order of the Lynx?"
The man paled and shuddered, both hands over his chest, his eyes wide. "Nothing. I know nothing."
Hans' brow furrowed and he pounded the end of his scythe on the ground, rattling the floor. Elsa fumbled and steadied herself on the bars of the cell. Ludoviko fell against the wall.
The prince huffed. "It's not in your best interests to lie."
"I won't say a thing."
"Via denaska lingvo."
The man blinked. "Ĉu vi parolas?"
The prisoner's demeanor crumpled as the interrogation continued in the foreign tongue that Elsa couldn't understand. Each time, Hans posed a sharp question; Ludoviko in turn would stick his head out as far as the bars would allow him, as if paranoid someone else was listening in before answering the question. There were a few times that Elsa felt the need to come between the frustration that Hans had obviously directed to the prisoner, yet simultaneously decided that the bars was enough to keep Hans out as it was to keep Ludoviko in.
Merely tinfoil in actuality, but hopefully it served as a visual reminder to Hans that there were boundaries he shouldn't cross. Then again, some people aren't themselves when they're grieving and it's different every time.
Maybe Hans was the kind of person to put it off? Maybe that's why he'd been acting so strange?
"Thank you for your cooperation," Hans finally said. The turned from the cell.
Elsa turned to leave as well, but was stopped by a heavy hand clamping around her wrist.
"Pieter sends his regards," Ludoviko said in a low voice before pulling her to the bars without enough time for her to react and put her in a headlock, her airway crushed. She struggled in his grip and attempted to burn his arm with her freezing hands. With a strangled cry, she blasted him away with an icy wind, knocking him away from her and into the far side of the cell.
She rubbed her aching neck and backed away, catching her breath. The prisoner laid in an unconscious heap, likely to have hit his head against the wall.
There was a twang of metal and clattering wood. Elsa started when strong arms pulled her into an embrace, but relaxed when she realized it was Hans. He rubbed a comforting hand on her back.
"Are you alright?" Hans asked.
"He was too fast, and I—" He turned away. "I suggest you return to the others." She followed his gaze and saw the scythe on the floor. He bent down to pick it up from the floor.
"You should come with me." She didn't like the expression on his face — or the lack of one. She tugged at his arm. "Don't do anything you might regret later."
Still as stone, Hans stared at the unconscious prisoner. The air was thick with silence, nearly enough to forget that there were more inmates in the cell block. One let out a nervous cough in the background.
She took his hand. He followed her back to the constable's office.
Author's Note: I did what I could. Sorry I haven't been able to get this to you guys sooner. Better late than never, eh?