Secrets and Revelations
The next afternoon the royal couple stepped onto the deck of their ship, hastily adjusting their garments, just in time for docking. There were two figures beaming up at them from the small private dock, a contingent of guards just beyond that. Greger and Amina had done as the queen had requested and kept the reception small.
This vacation was supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable and if there was one thing that Elsa did NOT enjoy, a thing that put her the most on edge, it was crowds. She had been perfectly content to meet her friends without any pomp and circumstance.
Amina squealed as she squeezed her sister-in-law tightly. The queen had barely been able to step off the gangplank before being swept into the crushing embrace. She hugged the older woman back, embracing her just as fiercely despite the fact that the pair had parted barely two weeks prior. Greger stood aside beaming until Rayce approached the group.
“Welcome, old boy!” He exclaimed before surprising his friend with a hearty embrace. Rayce awkwardly patted the other man’s back, shooting his wife a pleading glance. She merely shrugged and laughed as Amina led her towards the castle.
“It’s good to see you too,” he told Greger sincerely despite the awkward hug. With a sharp tug, Greger was towing him toward the castle behind the women, chatting as excitedly as they were.
“I can’t believe you’re here...” Amina spoke quietly as she helped Elsa unpack. The queen had traveled rather light, hoping to acquire some new fashion while away from home.
“Neither can I.” Elsa admitted quietly as she pushed the last drawer in and sank down onto the bed. “I didn’t think I’d ever have a reason to come back.”
Amina set down the gown she was fussing with and came to sit beside her sister-in-law. She reached cautiously around the queen and was relieved when Elsa sank into the embrace.
“I’m sorry. I know your last visit was ... terrible is probably not a strong enough word. But the country is beautiful and the people...Oh Elsa, I know you’ll love them!”
“I’m sure I will.” She responded with a small smile. “Besides, if I hadn’t come, who would help you with wedding preparations?”
Amina stiffened beside her and Elsa knew she had struck a nerve. She glanced at the door to ensure no one was in earshot before she asked the question that had been plaguing her for weeks.
“Why are you marrying Greger?”
“What?!” Amina stood abruptly, putting distance between the two women.
“I said, ‘why are you marrying Greger’? It is a simple enough question.” Elsa’s voice was steady, her gaze level as she waited for an answer.
“Why does anyone get married?”
“A variety of reasons.” The queen responded. “And love is not always one of them, I’m afraid. You know... my father used to say that avoiding a question is akin to admitting guilt.”
Amina ignored that comment and whirled to face the queen. “If someone asked you why you married my brother what would you say?”
“Honestly?” Amina nodded and Elsa took on a thoughtful tone. “I would say that I wanted to. That I love Azim with all that I am and felt sick at the thought of living without him. What are you not telling us, Amina?”
“Nothing that you want to know. I need you to trust me. Trust us.”
“Can I?” Elsa asked cautiously, causing the older woman’s face to twist with hurt at her words. “I want to, Amina. You are Azim’s sister; you’re family, our family!”
“And yet you find it hard to trust me?”
“Because I can tell that you’re hiding something!” Elsa responded sharply, rising herself.
“Please try to understand my position. All I want to do is protect you and my brother. Greger feels the same...” Amina sighed heavily as she leant against the dressers, shoulders slumped in defeat. Elsa approached her cautiously before wrapping her arms gently around the other woman.
“Amina...” she began quietly. “Azim and I love you and while I appreciate the sentiment...I am a big girl, more than capable of handling my own problems. We both know Azim would never want you to put his needs above your own. So, tell me, what is so dire that a political marriage is the only way to solve it?”
“If I tell you...” Amina hesitated. “You mustn’t tell my brother!”
“I can’t promise that. If you or Greger are in danger, he would never forgive me or himself!”
“Elsa, you must promise! I cannot allow Azim to get involved and once I explain, you’ll understand why.”
Elsa was torn. She had never lied to her husband and knew with certainty that the king had been just as honest. To keep secrets from him, especially involving his sister? The queen knew exactly how she would feel if he were keeping secrets about Anna.
“Just allow me to explain...” Amina pleaded with her again.
“Fine. Explain. But if I do not like what I hear, I cannot guarantee I will not tell Azim.”
Amina nodded sadly; resigned to the fact that Azim may very well end up involved. But she was tired, so tired of keeping this secret and someone needed to know; to understand. She sighed and let it go!
Later that night, Elsa and Rayce sat down for a quiet dinner with their hosts. The queen marveled at the grandeur of the castle’s dining hall, realizing with a start that it would have to be massive to feed twelve sons at once! On this night, there were only five places set at the enormous oak table; four for the royals and one for Katerine. The physician had come a few days before the royal couple to visit with old friends and relatives. Since Greger had cleared Katerine of all wrongdoing, overturning his father’s convictions, the old woman was once again free to be with her loved ones.
Elsa was pleased that her friend was able to move through the kingdom freely once more but also worried that Katerine may choose to return to the Southern Isles now that she could do so without repercussion. The queen knew it was a selfish thought but she couldn’t deny her feelings of abandonment when she contemplated the old woman leaving. No, she told herself, if she wishes to go I will not hold her.
She glanced across the room at Amina, watching the woman intently as she chatted happily with her brother, all thoughts of the afternoon’s conversation seemingly pushed away. It would seem that she was better at concealing her feelings than even the queen. Elsa still felt uneasy but schooled her features into a soft smile as Azim approached her, two drinks in hand.
“Thank you, love.” She told him with a small smile and peck on the cheek as she took the wineglass. Azim smiled back before leaning in closer.
“You seemed tense. I thought a little wine might help...”
The queen forced herself to smile again, annoyed her husband had seen through her ruse so easily. She needed to redirect his attention, quickly.
“Liar,” she whispered as she took a sip of wine. By the gods it was delicious! “You’re just trying to get me drunk. I assure you, Majesty, it is not necessary.”
Azim choked on the wine he had been sipping, giving his wife a quizzical, sidelong glance. Though the pair thoroughly enjoyed their married life, rarely did the queen play the part of aggressor. She flashed her mate an amused smile before leaning in to kiss the spilled wine from his face.
“Delicious.” She murmured against his lips. The king responded immediately, pulling her closer for a hungry kiss that would be considered inappropriate in most circles!
“Ah, so it seems the royal pair are hungry for something other than roast quail?” A dry chuckle from the entryway had the king and queen hastily separating, Elsa trying desperately to rid her husband’s face of her lipstick while he blushed.
“Katerine!” Greger exclaimed, throwing the embarrassed couple a bone. “So pleased you could join us. It has been awhile since you and I were able to eat in this room together.”
“I’m still mad at you! I will not forget what you’ve done to my sweet children even if they have forgiven you.” The old woman scowled at Greger as she stalked into the dining room.
“Katerine, please...” Greger begged his elder, growing tired of the argument.
The old woman waved him off. The king may have been able to make peace with Arendelle’s royalty, yet Katerine still saw the horror on Elsa’s face when her mate was injured, felt the queen’s sorrow over the loss of their child. She marched right over to the embarrassed royals with a smile.
“Don’t stop on my account,” she whispered as she nudged Rayce with an elbow. She hugged the queen tightly before holding her at arm’s length, looking Elsa up and down. She leaned closer to Rayce and added, “It’s always the quiet ones. They make the best lovers!”
Katerine cackled wildly as they all moved to take their seats at the table and Elsa wondered how her ears still managed to burn with ice powers. Rayce pulled her chair out, pushed her in, and then sat with an embarrassed thud though his warm hand still came to rest on her thigh beneath the table.The queen managed to compose herself as she fell into an easy and familiar rhythm of conversation.
Laughing at Greger’s tales of growing up with eleven siblings, Katerine chastising him for his part in the antics, Amina asserting that Rayce had been a little hellion in his own right. All of it made the young monarch feel at home, content to the point that she almost forgot what perils may lay ahead of them. Almost.
Each time she caught Amina’s eye, there was a question lingering there. Have you told him? Her expression seemed to say. No, not yet. Was the slightly irritated expression in reply. Despite the jovial nature of the dinner, the two young women actively avoided conversation with one another. Greger and Rayce seemed oblivious to the tension yet Katerine was not so easily fooled. After dinner she shooed the men away to the study for a drink whilst dragging the two younger women to the library.
“Well,” the old woman began once the three were seated behind closed doors. “I will only ask this once: What the hell is going on?!”
Both young women gaped at the old physician, completely mortified that they had been exposed over the course of just one meal.
“Katerine,” Elsa tried to keep her face and tone neutral as she responded. “I really have no idea what you mean.”
The old woman stared at her for a long while before huffing and folding her arms in irritation.
“Honestly. For someone trained from birth to be a politician, you my dear, are a terrible liar.”
“What?! I’m not...” Elsa moved to protest.
“Of course you are! Don’t play innocent with me. Spill! Or I’ll tell your husband what I suspect.”
“You don’t know anything!”
“But I suspect there is something going on and if I am suspicious, he will be too. You think you can lie to him as easily?”
Katerine leaned in close and poked the young queen with a withered finger to emphasize her point. Elsa sighed and stole a glance at Amina who was actively avoiding the conversation, busying herself with non-existent lint on her bodice.
“I...it isn’t my secret to tell...” She gestured weakly towards Amina who stared at her in betrayal.
“Ah,” the old woman crooned. “So my future granddaughter-in-law has something to tell me?”
“Your what?!” The women exclaimed!
Katerine just chuckled before explaining that Helmut’s first wife, Greta, a pretty commoner who had caught the young King’s eye, had been her daughter. It was the main reason Katerine had gone into exile, to protect her beloved grandson once Greta died mysteriously in his youth.
Greger was Greta’s only child and Katerine loved him as her own. As she spoke, the younger women noted the crystal blue eyes and hair that was most likely a deep chestnut like the young king's. Helmut kept the familial connection a secret when her remarried, ensuring that Greger had not been aware until after her exile.
“You remind me so much of her...”Katerine told the queen wistfully as she gently cradled Elsa’s cheek. “So much...”
Elsa leaned into the caress, a few tears slipping free as she met the older woman’s eyes. “I knew you had lost a child but I never imagined...I’m so sorry...” She whispered.
“Thank you my dear.” She responded with a small smile. “I miss her every day. But being with you, with Anna... It makes it hurt a little less.”
Elsa wrapped the woman in a warm embrace, trying to communicate all her care and concern into the gesture. Katerine had filled a similar void in the royal sister’s lives and they were forever grateful. As the women embraced, Amina looked on, eyes shining with tears, waiting patiently until they parted.
“I want only what is best for you,” Katerine explained sincerely. “For both of you.” She pulled Amina closer. “Which is why I will not tolerate secrets! So tell me Amina, what is it you don’t want your brother to know?”