When December 1st rolled around, so did the presents. That’s when the Christmas Calendar comes out, which means children get a present every morning, counting down to the big day. It’s a bit much in my opinion, but then again, most of what goes on in this palace is a bit much. I mean, this is the King who closed down a national theme park for two days just so we could be there in peace.
“Well, I heard your tradition was to also only decorate the tree the day before Christmas Eve,” I tell him. “Look at you now. It’s only December fifth.”
“Where did you learn that?”
I give him a leveling look. “You know I know things. I probably know more about this country than you do at this point.”
His eyes rake over me appraisingly, like he’s sizing me up. “Hmmm. Perhaps you can take my place on the throne. I might want a day off.”
I hate the little thrill that runs through me because what he said is such a throwaway line. But for a split second, I imagine what that would be like. To be a queen. Even the fact that he said that with such ease.
“I don’t think that’s part of my job description,” I tease him. “You might have to pay me extra.”
“How about we start with the glass of port and see where it goes from there,” he says to me just as Karla comes out with the two small glasses, each with a generous pour.
She hands them to us and then leaves, shooting me a curious look before she goes. I wonder what that look meant. Probably the fact that Aksel isn’t one to share his time like this with anyone but the girls.
“Skål,” I say, tipping my glass at him before I take a delicate sip. It tastes expensive as hell.
He opens his mouth to say something just as we hear Clara yelling from downstairs. I turn to see Freja in the doorway to the room, tears running down her face.
“What happened?” Aksel says, quickly putting his drink down on the mantel as Freja comes running over to him. She immediately throws herself at his leg, wrapping her arms around him.
“Snarf Snarf, han er væk,” she cries.
“Han er væk?” I repeat.
“He’s gone,” Aksel says, frowning, glancing up at me.
I shake my head. “I told the girls they could say goodnight to him.” It’s then when I hear Clara yelling again and I realize she’s calling for the pig.
“Clara åbnede døren,” she says, wiping her face on Aksel’s pajama pants. “She opened the front door. He ran outside into the snow. He’s going to be cold.”
Oh shit. Snarf Snarf escaped. It’s late and it’s snowing and he could be anywhere in the city by now, perhaps getting hit by a car. My mind goes to the worst scenario.
“I’m on it,” I tell Aksel, downing the rest of the port for courage and running out of the room.
“Aurora, wait!” I hear him say, but it doesn’t matter. I have to find that damn pig or the girls are going to be crushed, and the last thing they need is to lose something else they love.
I’m dressed only in my uniform, albeit with a light cardigan, so I slip on a pair of rubber boots from the downstairs closet and run to the front door. Clara is outside on the steps, yelling into the night, and of course to the people milling about in the square. They’re all looking at her, some even taking pictures. It’s so rare that any member of the royal family would use this door.
“Clara,” I tell her, pulling her back inside. “Stay inside.”
“But Snarf Snarf,” she says, and as I pull her into the light of the foyer, I can see the pure fear on her face. “I didn’t mean to do it. I thought it would be fun to see him in the snow and there wasn’t as much snow in the back and…” She trails off into a slew of mumbled Danish that I don’t understand.
“I’ll get him back. Just stay inside, okay? Go find your father.” I usher her further in before I step out and close the door.
Even though I probably should head over to the curious onlookers and ask them if they’ve seen a pig, I know that will get reported to the tabloids (“Hog Wild: Nanny Loses Royal Pig in Snowstorm”) so instead I just follow the tiny little tracks in the snow that his hooves have made.
The sight makes me feel sick to my stomach. I barely feel the cold itself, but as the wind and snow are starting to pick up, I just know that Snarf Snarf will get hypothermic fast, if I even find him at all. He may have grown a lot in the last month or so but he’s still a small pig with delicate skin. The more that I follow the prints, leading away from the square and toward Amalie Garden, the more I’m starting to panic. The snow is starting to cover his tracks and the garden is fairly large.
“Snarf Snarf!” I call out as I cross the street to the garden, the wind whipping snowflakes in my hair. I gather my cardigan close to my neck as the air starts to freeze over my skin, following his faint tracks until they stop altogether before a giant hedge. I don’t even know why I’m calling for him. The girls have been teaching him tricks but I’ve yet to see him respond to his name.
Still, it can’t hurt.
“Snarf Snarf!” I yell again in a high voice.
I listen. I don’t hear anything but the snow and wind and the occasional car driving past.
I shiver, my nose and ears now officially frozen and continue walking into the park. I don’t even have my phone on me to use as a light, and in the darkness the lampposts seem few and far between. I head toward the fountain in the middle, thinking maybe he went there to get a drink, but I only see a couple, hand in hand, taking an evening stroll.
They give me a funny look as I pass them since I’m obviously not dressed for the weather in my woolen mini-skirt. “You haven’t seen a pig, have you?” I say, teeth chattering.
They glance at each other and keep walking. Proof right there that not everyone in this city speaks English. Or maybe they do and the fact that I’m barely dressed in a snowstorm and searching for a bloody pig means I have a screw loose or two.
I can’t deny that either. I shouldn’t be out here. I’m getting colder by the minute, and the longer I look, the more my heart starts to break. I just know I can’t go back without the pig. I just can’t. To give up now means he’ll die and I…
I’m not sure what comes over me.
Panic has me by the throat.
Tears start to blur my vision.
Aksel will be so angry, anger that will get directed at me for not supervising them. But more than that, the girls will be crushed and he will drown with guilt. None of this is his fault but I’ve seen how protective he is over them, I’ve seen how he harbors this sadness over Helena. I know he was in the car with her when she died—maybe he feels responsible.
Either way, I can’t fail. I can’t let them down. I can’t fuck up again. I’m so invested in him, so invested in the girls, I can’t lose them. And if I lose him, I feel like I’ll lose everything.
For the first time in my twenty-six years, I feel like I’m actually living a life I love. For the first time, I have everything to lose.
“Snarf Snarf!” I yell, my tears freezing on my face. I’m fully aware of how ridiculous I sound yelling that name into the wind but I can’t help it. I continue to stumble along in the slippery snow, now running out of the park and to the promenade along the waterfront. The opera house is shining across the water, probably filled with music and joy and tuxedos and all I can feel is the kind of terror that makes your heart sink so low in your chest you don’t think it will ever rise again.
Please let me find him, please let him be okay.
Aksel’s voice booms across the park and I turn to see him jogging toward me.
“I can’t find him,” I cry out. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He stops in front of me, skidding in the snow. He’s wearing pajama pants tucked into boots, and a coat, with another coat in his arms. His eyes are wild, shining in the waning light of the lampposts.
“For helvede,” he swears, putting the coat over my shoulders. “Aurora, what are you doing? You’ve gone mad.”
His hand goes to my cheek and he winces. I barely feel it. You’d think that for the first time he’s touched me in such an intimate way that my body would be dancing with fire, but I can’t feel anything at all. “You’re frozen,” he practically growls at me. “I’m getting you inside.”
“No,” I cry out. “I have to find him.”
“Aurora, I need to get you inside.”
His arms go around my shoulders and he tries to push me toward the palace.
“The girls…” I sob, looking around me, trying in vain to spot him. “They’ll die if he dies. I can’t see them like that. I can’t have them go through that.”
“They won’t!” I yell at him. “And you’ll blame me!”
He flinches like I’ve slapped him across the face. “Blame you?”
I take the moment to rip out of his grasp and start running along the water, calling for Snarf Snarf over and over again.
Then my foot hits an icy patch of snow and I go sliding forward, trying to catch my balance and falling anyway. My knees crash into the pavement and I yelp, pain shooting through me, making me crumble until my cheek is pressed into the snow.
I’m full-on crying now, everything coming out of me, things that were lying dormant, things I didn’t know still existed. I’m in pain and I’m cold and I feel like I’ve finally found my place in the world, only to realize how temporary it really is.
I finally have a family and they aren’t mine to keep.
I’m crying so hard I barely realize that Aksel is behind me, his warmth coating me like a shroud, pulling me to my feet. I’m both aware that he’s a king and he’s out in public like this and at the same time I’m torn by grief I’d never recognized. Grieving for a loss that hasn’t happened yet.