In the Great Hall of the Royal Palace of the Southern Isles, the eldest four of the princes were deep in discussion about their errant brother.
"We can't just execute him," Prince Aleksander insisted.
"Why not?" Crown Prince Valdemar asked coldly.
"He's our brother," Aleksander practically shouted.
"He is a criminal," Valdemar retorted. "Should we treat him any different from any other traitor? The people would not approve." He cast a meaningful look at Prince Ragnvald, who was sitting silently in his corner.
"We cannot," King Wilhelm interrupted his younger brothers. "But that does not mean he should be put to death. There may very well be mitigating circumstances, which must not be ignored."
"Ignored," Ragnvald repeated. "Funny word, that. Hans used it an awful lot."
"That he did, brother," Wilhelm sighed.
A hush fell over the room.
Finally, Valdemar spoke. "Criminals must be punished," he whispered. "All of them. Like it or not, we are complicit. If we had just listened to him..."
"Nothing would have changed," Aleksander finished. "He was desperate for power."
"That's strange," Wilhelm noted. "It sounds almost like you want him to be punished now."
"I do," Aleksander said. "He must be punished for his crimes. But that doesn't mean we should put our own family to the sword."
"The point still stands," Valdemar said. "We are no more innocent than Hans."
Wilhelm laid a hand on his brother's shoulder. "We have all made mistakes where are brother is concerned, yes, but we are no more traitors than Ragnvald."
Ragnvald grinned to himself. "There are three," he noted.
Wilhelm looked at his brothers carefully, then leaned down to look Ragnvald in the eye. "I leave the decision in your hands, then," he declared.
Ragnvald tilted his head to the side, closing his eyes and listening to the silence. "We are in agreement," he said.
"What have you agreed?" Aleksander asked.
"We are in agreement," Ragnvald recited tonelessly.
"About what?" Aleksander demanded, face red with anger.
Ragnvald shrank back in his seat.
Valdemar pulled Aleksander back gently. "Why don't you ask Gustav or Sigurd?" he asked. "They'll know too."
Aleksander sighed. "Yes. I'll do that."
Wilhelm clapped his broad hands together. "Wonderful," he proclaimed. "We'll have this mess sorted in no time. You are dismissed. All of you."
Aleksander and Valdemar bowed and left, although it was the mocking bow of brother to brother. Ragnvald didn't move.
"Will you be alright?" Wilhelm asked gently.
Ragnvald shook himself. "I will be well," he said clearly. "They were quite...adamant regarding Hans. It's not surprising. They tend to be fond of their princes."
"Can you tell me what you meant earlier? What you agreed on?"
Ragnvald's lips curled into a hollow smile. "You know I can't. You know more than I do." He pulled out a knife and started absentmindedly carving the wooden table. "Please. Go. Sigurd at the least still remembers. They have not let go of him yet. Go."
He couldn't find Sigurd, but that was hardly surprising. The eleventh son of the late King Leopold was always dashing about on some adventure or another. Aleksander had gotten lucky, though.
He ran up to Wilhelm breathing heavily. "I caught Sig before he could leave," he reported. "He's off to the docks of all places."
"Why would he want to go there?" Wilhelm chuckled.
Aleksander shrugged. "Why does Sig do anything?" he asked rhetorically.
"Did he say anything about Hans?" Wilhelm asked.
Aleksander's face darkened. "He says Hans must be given a second chance."
Wilhelm took a deep breath. "Then we will grant him that, god help us all."
"This can't end well," Aleksander predicted.
Six months, five escape attempts, three acts of domestic terrorism, and a briefly successful coup of the Duchy of Weselton later, all twelve brothers reconvened in the Great Hall.
"Well, this has been an unmitigated disaster," Viggo said wryly.
"We have completely lost all trade with Weselton," Edvard reported.
"Which includes the sword steel I need for my next creation," Viggo added.
"And also the grain we will need to survive this winter," Torben noted. "Which is a somewhat greater concern, I should think."
"Oh, are you thinking now?" Viggo snarked. "That's new. Don't strain yourself."
"How long did it take you to come up with that retort?" Torben asked. "A year? Two?"
"It wasn't really a retort," Lars whispered to Gunnar, who snorted.
"Is this relevant?" Wilhelm asked icily, cutting through the debate.
"Completely," Viggo said. "I need the steel to reinforce the balustrades. After Hans's last...adventure, we're almost completely defenseless."
"That does not mean you need to harass your brother," Valdemar pointed out.
"And it brings us back to the reason we're here: What do we do with Hans?" Aleksander said.
The hall was silent for a few long moments. Ragnvald, Gustav, and Sigurd shared a long, meaningful glance.
"We already told you what you need to do," Sig said. "It's pretty obvious really."
"We have given Hans a second chance," Aleksander said. "And a third. And a fourth. He has squandered all of them."
"And why the hell wouldn't he?" Jannik scoffed. "Why would he care about redeeming himself to us. If he gets his second chance here, what would that get him? A lifetime of being ignored. I think he's proven that he doesn't want that."
"I hate to say it, but Jan's right," Gunnar said. "He won't even try here."
"Don't call me that," Jannik snarled.
"Sure, poppet," Gunnar laughed.
Jannik leapt over the table at his elder brother. Viggo caught him in one hand and set him back down.
"Anyway," Lars said, after allowing a moment for the awkward silence, "Jannik's got the right idea. Why don't we send Hans to someone else?"
"That's a wonderful idea," Wilhelm said with a sigh of relief. "Now the question is: Who can redeem our brother?"
Edvard pulled out a few notes and flipped through them. "That's an easy enough question to answer," he said. "In fact, the realm with the highest number of reformed prisoners is-"
"Wait, wait, wait," Sig interrupted. "Someone actually figures that stuff out?"
Edvard glared at him. "Yes. As I was saying, the realm with the highest number of reformed prisoners is, by an incredibly large margin, Arrendale."
Everyone turned to stare at him incredulously.
"What?" he asked self consciously.
"Are you serious?" Aleksander asked.
"Of course," Edvard said. "Why?"
Torben leaned over and whispered in his twin's ear. Edvard blushed. "Oh. Right."
"So. Now what?" Lars asked.
Gustav snapped his fingers twice. When every eye had turned to him, he wrote down a short note.
Sig read it over his shoulder. "He says we send Hans to Arrendale anyway. If anyone can deal with Hans, it's Queen Elsa."
Valdemar steepled his finger like he always did when he was considering a particularly tough challenge.
"I think Jannik's idea has merit as well," he said.
"Yes," Ragnvald said.
Wilhelm looked at his brother for a few moments, then he stood.
"It is decided," he intoned gravely. "Edvard, send a message to Queen Elsa. Aleksander, Viggo, and Gunnar, if she agrees, and only if she agrees, you will escort Hans to Arrendale along with two of your guards.
"I wanna go too," Sig said.
"No," Wilhelm said. "The journey would kill you."
"Princess Anna left Arrendale for days and she lives," Sig insisted.
"Princess Anna had troll magic to protect her," Valdemar pointed out.
"My word is final," Wilhelm declared.
Sig pouted, but acquiesced, already planning his escape.