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all my life has been a series of doors in my face / and then suddenly i bump into you

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Hans knew he should have stayed in the ballroom with the others, nibbling on canapés and waltzing with ambassadors’ wives.  But Hans had survived the Southern Isles precisely because he knew to take risks, to break rules, to seize opportunities.

Hell, that’s why he was here in this godsforsaken country.  His brothers had laughed when the invitation arrived—a coronation ceremony for the new Queen of Arendelle?  Who would go the middle of nowhere for a tiny backwater country like that?

“Are they even civilized?” his eldest brother Franz had sneered.  “Do you think they eat with their hands?”

But Hans had known that this was his chance.  His chance to break away from his family, to forge his own path and claim his own space in the world.  He was the youngest of thirteen in the Southern Isles; he’d have to kill at least eight of his brothers before he could achieve anything there.  But Arendelle was an opportunity …

Admittedly, an opportunity that hadn’t borne much fruit yet.  The ceremony itself was briefer than expected, and a little short on grandeur.  Apparently the Southern Isles didn’t rate a front-row seat, so he barely had a glimpse of the new Queen in his spot from the wings.  She had looked tiny, from a distance.

He had almost written this off as a bust, and was chit-chatting with some frisky-looking widows in the ballroom when he heard it.

“-here yet,” the Countess of Something-or-Other said, while his attention had been focused on her bosom.

“Oh yes,” he agreed, and smiled with his trademark charm.

“But it’s no surprise, the poor dear,” the Countess said with false sympathy while her eyes glittered.  “What with her history and all.”

“And what history is that?” Hans asked, only half-paying attention.

“Oh, don’t tell me you don’t know ?” the Countess said gleefully.

At that, Hans drew his gaze from her cleavage to her face, because that tone meant there was something interesting to hear, and interesting was useful.  “I just got here a few days ago, and I’m afraid it takes a while for news to travel from Arendelle to the Southern Isles.”

“Oh, this isn’t news,” the Countess said, “or at least, it’s old news.”

“Yes?” Hans said encouragingly.

“Well, everyone knows that the new Queen had a sister who died when she was only seven.”

“Yes,” Hans nodded.  This had been part of the précis that the ambassador had prepared for him.

“I suppose the King and Queen were able to stop the news from traveling outside Arendelle, but everyone here knows that she killed her.”

“She killed her sister?” Hans repeated.

“It was supposedly an accident,” the Countess said.  “The two children were playing in the ballroom at night.  The younger one slipped and hit her head. Something like that.  They traveled the country looking for a cure to save her, but to no avail. It was all very mysterious and hush-hush and poor little Elsa was quite changed after that.  Well, I guess she’s poor Queen Elsa now.  Her parents did everything they could to stop the rumors but even they couldn’t look at her the same after.  I’m not sure they ever trusted her again, and they stopped letting her out in public, or letting the public in here.  She was shut away in the palace until their death, and she kept herself shut away after. Until now.”

“I heard that this was the first time the Palace had been open for a while, but I thought it was shut down for mourning for the late King and Queen,” Hans said slowly.  “You’re saying that there have been no public events since the new Queen was a child?”

“Oh yes,” the Countess said.  “You know, most people say that she was jealous of her younger sister for being younger, and cuter, and stealing her parents’ attention, and so she killed her.”

“How fascinating,” Hans said.

“No one’s really sure what’s going to happen now, with the hermit princess coronated our Queen, whether she’ll continue to rule the kingdom from a secluded palace or actually join the rest of us in civilization.”  The Countess sniffed.

“It would surely be a shame if this palace were shut away,” Hans said with a smile, and shortly thereafter excused himself from the conversation, much to the Countess’s disappointment.

Twenty minutes later, and here he was, wandering the hallways of the palace alone—something they had all been expressly cautioned against by the majordomo.  

This was his chance.

A young Queen, only 21 years of age, newly come into her power, who had suffered some sort of tragedy early in life and had been lonely and isolated ever since.  Now she was alone in the world, with no family to look out for her interests, and she must surely be frightened. She must be looking for a friend.

She must be looking for something more

What a prize, ripe for the plucking.

It only took three hallways, twenty-three empty rooms, and one close call with a patrolling guardsman who he ducked by hiding behind a suit of armor, before he saw a light on in the library and knew his moment was here.

He opened the door, then pretended to halt in his steps when he saw the new Queen standing before the fireplace on the other side of the room, facing what must have been a family portrait—when she was younger, when her parents still lived, when her younger sister still lived.

“Oh,” he said, as if startled.  “I’m sorry. Your Majesty. I didn’t see you in here.”

She turned around, and he looked her full in the face for the first time.  Her hair was so pale it looked almost white, plaited behind her and pinned up in some fancy style that set off her tiara to great effect.  She wore a pale blue gown, with a gauzy-looking cape, quite a difference from the severe-looking dress that she had worn at the ceremony, all black and green and purple, colors that did not go well together and not at all the kind of thing that you wear at royal ceremonies in the Southern Isles.  She had looked, then, like a girl playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes.

She looked, now, like an easy mark.

“I do apologize for interrupting,” Hans began, with his most charming smile, a bit sheepish.  “I was just looking for a book.”

“Were you?” the Queen said, and her lips curved into a faint smile.

At that smile, even from a distance, it was everything Hans could do not to take a step back.  That smile was not tentative, it was not shy. That smile was watchful, and it was alert. And those eyes … those eyes concealed a darkness, and Hans knew with dead certainty that he was out of his depth.

“Majesty, I didn’t mean anything by it,” Hans said, not letting his charming smile drop, because the youngest of 13 grew up knowing how to put on a good show.  

“You’re … from the Southern Isles, right?” the Queen said.

“Yes, Majesty.  I’m Hans, youngest prince of the Southern Isles.”  Hans swept a low bow, going for courteous rather than folksy now.  “May I say, on behalf of my nation, congratulations on your ascension to the throne.  I’m sure you shall bring peace and prosperity in your reign of Arendelle.”

He moved as if to take a step back, and heard the door slam shut behind him.  His expression didn’t slip, but his skin prickled.

“Prince Hans of the Southern Isles,” the Queen said.  “I remember now. I’m surprised you came, really. I thought we were too primitive and uncultured to be viewed as peers to nobles with such a long history as yours.  That’s what your brother Franz wrote when he chose not to attend my parents’ funeral.”

Hans’ expression didn’t change, but he seethed inside.  Of course Franz would do something like this, and not even forewarn him.  It was deliberate sabotage. “I apologize on behalf of my older brother,” he said.  “He’s always been a bit snooty, and none of the rest of us like him much for it.” He allowed his expression to become rueful.  “But he’s the oldest, so we siblings have to do as we are bid. I mean you no offense, Majesty”

“Your older brother?” the Queen asked, turning back to look at the portrait behind her.  “I used to be an older sister.”

Hans wished he could take the Queen’s turning her back to him as a dismissal, but alas, he knew it was not the case.  “I heard, Your Majesty. My apologies for your loss.”

“Her name was Anna,” the Queen said.  “And she was young, and bright, and curious.  And I loved her, even though sometimes I found her annoying.  I’m sure you know how siblings are.”

He didn’t, not really.  He would never profess to love any of his brothers, as they were nasty brutes, each and every one of them.  He’d grown up bullied by them, the runt of the litter, and the only emotion he might profess towards any one of them was resentment.  

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he lied.  “I felt the same way about my brothers as a child.”

The Queen turned back to him, and there was something in her eyes that made Hans quite nervous, though again, he did not show it.  “This portrait was painted of my family just a week before my sister died.”

Hans’ eyes went involuntarily to the portrait, the young and carefree laughter on the two small girls’ faces, and the kind eyes on the parents’.  Of course, a good portraitist knew how to draw genuine laughter and kind eyes on all of his patrons, for who would pay for a portrait if it weren’t becoming?

“You look happy,” he said involuntarily.

“I was happy,” she said, her voice quite melancholy.  “That was back when I still had a heart, back when I knew how to love.  That was one of the last times I was happy.”

Hans didn’t say anything.  Sometimes, people talked at you because they wanted to hear themselves. When they did, especially if they were more powerful than you, it was best to let them talk themselves out.

“Do you know what happened one week later?”

You killed your sister, Hans didn’t say.  He didn’t know how to defuse the situation, didn’t know what magic combination of phrases might allow him to escape.  “What happened, Your Majesty?” he said finally.

“One week later, I murdered my sister.”

Her words dropped in the middle of the room like a fullsterkur none could lift.  Her lips curled in a facsimile of a smile.

“Yes, you are standing in the presence of a murderer.”

Hans weighed a few responses— surely not or she must have deserved it or tell me more —and he ended up going with a noncommittal noise of encouragement.

“After that, my parents were afraid of me, left me to my own devices.  They never touched me again.” At those words, the Queen’s hand lifted to her face, as if involuntarily.

Hans’ eyes went again to the portrait, where the late King and Queen each had a hand on a daughter, hugging them tight with affection.

“I learned, eventually, that fear is useful.”  The Queen stepped towards Hans and he froze, in spite of all of his intentions otherwise.  “Hans. Do you know why I am telling you this story?”

“I don’t, your Majesty, but this humble servant is happy to hear it nonetheless,” Hans said, stumbling over his words as the Queen walked across the room toward him.  He did not step backwards. It would probably be rude to show his fear too blatantly.

“Why are you here, Hans?” the Queen asked.

“There was a book-” Hans began, but he couldn’t get the words out.  The Queen had stopped in the middle of the room. Was it his imagination, or had the room gotten colder?  Somehow, he knew he should not lie to her. “I came seeking you,” he said finally.

“I know,” she told him gently.  “I am not blind, and I am not weak.  You came tonight because you are an opportunist.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” Hans said.  “Forgive me, your Majesty.”

“No need for forgiveness, Hans,” the Queen said.  “I happen to need an opportunist at just this moment in time.  My people have not seen me for years, they do not know me, and they fear that a Queen alone is not strong enough to rule.  I happen to need a King, Hans, and I have been waiting for the right man to present himself.”

Hans waited for the other shoe to drop.

“Look at me Hans, look into my eyes.”  

Hans could not help but do as she commanded, gazing into her ice blue eyes, hypnotized by her voice.  

“I know a little about you, Hans.  I know a little bit about each of my guests, but you in particular intrigued me when my majordomo presented me with your dossier.  The youngest of 13 boys, you must have grown up hungry. Hungry for love, hungry for attention, hungry for your own place in the world … hungry for power.”

With each word, Hans felt himself drawn to her, though he did not move an inch.  It was if her speech were a siren’s song and with each rhythmic beat, he felt himself swaying closer.

“As I said, I happen to be looking for a King right now, Hans, and I think that King might be you.  I am offering you an opportunity to win the love of my people, the attention of my courtiers and advisors.  You would have your own realm, one you do not share with piles of brothers, one where you have authority.  Hans, I am offering you power.

“But Hans.  Power makes men greedy for more.  I need a man who will be loyal to me, to obey my every word.  I need a man satisfied with the power he is given, who will not be greedy, who will not betray me.”

Hans could not look away from the Queen’s heavy gaze.  “I would not be greedy, Majesty,” he promised, and he might almost have meant it.

“No, you won’t be, Hans.  Because instead, you will fear me.”

As Hans watched, astonished, tendrils of ice began to snake their way across the floor, crystallizing across the carpet like white flowers.  Hans began to understand how the Queen might have murdered her sister once upon a time.

“Do you fear me?” the Queen’s voice asked.

Hans had stopped staring at her, and instead watched the ice creep closer to him, felt the room grow colder, felt the metal buttons at his collar and his cuffs grow so icy that they seemed to sear his skin.  “Yes,” he said.

“Good.  I need a man who will fear me.  But I need a man who, despite the fear, will still be my King, will still rule by my side.  Are you that man?”

What other answer was there?

“Yes,” Hans said.

“Kneel.”  

The tone of her voice had not changed, but Hans recognized the command nonetheless.  He knelt.

“Come towards me.  Crawl.”

Hans did not hesitate.  No telling how the Queen would react.  He crawled forward on his hands and knees, not bothering with his dignity.  The Queen was not looking for a man with dignity. When he reached her, he stayed on his hands and knees, but looked up, awaiting his next order.

He knew there’d be a next one.

“Lick my shoe,” the Queen said, sticking one slippered foot out from under her dress, and Hans immediately bent his head to do so.

This was a “game” he’d played with his brothers once.  Two of his cruelest brothers had forced him into a dark closet and refused to let him out until he’d kissed their feet, and licked the mud off their shoes.  He’d refused, and they’d shut him in there for 12 hours, until he’d pounded on the door until his fingers bled, and when they’d made the same offer again but this time required him to do so while they pissed on him, he’d accepted.  After, they had sneered at him for being so weak as to abase himself.

But Hans knew then, as he knew now, that it was not weak to survive.

He licked.

Hans did not realize, until he licked the Queen’s shoe, that what he had thought were slippers of crystal were actually slippers of ice.  He would not be surprised if her entire dress was made of ice.

It wasn’t like any ice he’d ever licked or eaten before—it did not slick against his tongue.  Rather, his saliva froze with each lick, though his tongue didn’t stick to the ice as he’d half-feared.  This was, he realized, a demonstration of the degree of control she had—freezing his saliva after it left his tongue, but not when his tongue met the ice.

If this was a demonstration of her power, he could use it to demonstrate his as well.

As he licked, he allowed his eyes to rise, so that he made eye contact with her with each lick.  It was tricky, with the angle of her shoe, and with the fall of her dress, but Hans had had his head up enough women’s skirts to know at what angle his puppyish features were most alluring.  He began lapping at her iced slipper coquettishly, to drop kisses between each lick, to draw the toe of her shoe between his lips—ah, there!

Her cheeks had reddened.

She was sheltered, but somewhere deep inside, she recognized or guessed at what he offered with his lips, and she was intrigued.

“Enough,” the Queen said, and he sat up on his knees.  “Good boy.” She settled her hand at the top of his head.

A chill went down his spine.  This was a path down which he could not turn back.

Her hand curled in his hair, and tightened.  “Good boy.”

But then again, why would he want to turn back?  Hans leaned his head against his Queen.

“Good boy.”