The novel, which came out in November 2020, is a romance. It explores how Iduna kept her identity secret from Agnarr… until she didn’t. This is a classic kind of tale: two teens dealing with expectations and secrets while falling in love.
And as a special treat for Valentine’s Day Mancusi wanted to share a short story that does not appear in the book. “A Perfect Night” jumps right into Iduna and Agnarr’s married life. Iduna is eager to celebrate their wedding anniversary and has special plans. Of course, a kingdom and two playful daughters can get in the way. It’s a heartwarming tale that emphasizes connection and family, and we’re so happy to share the short story exclusively at
A Perfect Night
By Mari Mancusi
“Time to wake up, Your Majesty.”
I groaned as Gerda cheerfully pulled open the bedroom curtains, sending blinding rays of light into the room. I was about to pull the covers over my head to hide from them when suddenly I remembered why I’d asked her to wake me up.
It was our anniversary day!
I shot up in bed. I’d been planning the day for weeks, carefully orchestrating the most perfect night for Agnarr and me. He’d been swamped at work lately, wrapping up a complicated trade deal with the kingdom of Vassar and its monarch, Queen Runa. And I’d been busy, too, expanding my windmill business to neighboring kingdoms so they could also benefit from the power of wind. Agnarr teased that I was being too hands-on and that as a queen, I should learn to delegate. But I could tell from the twinkle in his green eyes that he didn’t really mean it. He was proud of me—as a queen, a business owner, and a mother.
“The girls—are they awake?”
“They’ve been playing in the Second Great Hall since the wee hours,” Gerda informed me. “I think they said something about building a snowman?”
I smiled. Little Anna had convinced her big sister to use her magic again. Elsa could never deny her request.
“We need to make sure we mop up the floors when they’re finished,” I said. “Last time they got quite warped by all the . . . precipitation.”
Gerda tsked, clearly remembering the unfortunate event. Then she helped me get dressed so I could head down to the kitchen to start my day. First up: baking my very first chocolate soufflé—a recipe that was admittedly not for amateur chefs like me. But it was Agnarr’s favorite. And, well, you couldn’t have a perfect night without your favorites.
Fortunately, I had our expert soufflé maker, Olina, to help, even though she had tried to talk me out of the idea. “You know, Your Majesty, I can easily whip one up for you while you attend to more important matters,” she reminded me as I sifted the flour and she cleaned up the flour that ended up on the table—and me—instead of in the bowl.
“I appreciate that, but I want to do it myself,” I told her. “A special gift for Agnarr. Made with love.”
Olina gave me a knowing smile as she swiped the wet dishrag across the counter. “I still remember the two of you playing around in the kitchen as children. Not to mention sneaking off with all my chocolate! I could tell how much you loved each other even then.”
I couldn’t suppress a goofy grin as I thought of days long before, when we’d believed we were being so crafty, sneaking around behind everyone’s backs, kissing in secret rooms. But everyone had known from the start. And how could they not? It must have radiated from our faces. True love was hard to keep secret, after all.
I melted the chocolate and whipped the eggs until the decadent dessert was ready for the oven. As I poured it into its pan, I imagined how impressed Agnarr would be when he saw it.
“Okay. I can take it from here,” Olina assured me, placing it in the oven. “Come back in about an hour and you can decorate the finished product.”
After thanking her profusely, I left the kitchen. I still had a few more essential tasks before I could rest. I had to wrap Agnarr’s gift—a special book, a signed first edition by one of his favorite authors, imported from the kingdom of Denmark.
And then there was my dress.
I’d managed to purchase some luxurious silk from overseas and had spent weeks sewing a new gown. It had a silver sash, and the dusty-blue skirt drifted to the floor like a cloud. All that was left to do was sew some tiny pearls onto the bodice to make it sparkle in the candlelight.
But first I needed to check on the girls. I headed down to the Second Great Hall and pushed open the heavy double doors. Sure enough, Elsa had transformed the place into a winter wonderland. There were mountains of snow, an ice-skating rink, and, of course, dozens of snowmen of various sizes. (Was that my mother’s scarf wrapped around the crooked one’s neck?)
“Mama!” Elsa squealed, running to me and throwing her little arms around me. I wondered how she could stand playing in there without a coat. I was practically frozen just from stepping inside.
“This is impressive!” I declared, looking around. “You did all this?”
Elsa grinned from ear to ear. “Isn’t it amazing? I’ve never been able to create this much snow before.”
maz-ing!” Anna agreed, skipping toward us, stumbling a few times in the icy wonderland.
“Be careful,” I warned her. “It’s slippery in here!”
“I’m always cawefull, Mama!” she protested. “I’m the most cawefull girl in the world!”
I laughed. “Uh-huh,” I said as she slipped and fell on her bottom. Elsa gasped, rushed to Anna, and helped her up.
“Are you okay?” she asked Anna, checking her for injuries. It warmed my heart to see how motherly she was to her little sister.
“I’m fine!” Anna declared. But I saw her rub her bottom when she thought we weren’t looking, and I smiled.
“You girls are having too much fun,” I teased. “I’m jealous.”
“You can join us, Mama!” Elsa suggested, looking up at me with hopeful blue eyes.
I patted her shoulder. “I wish I could. But I have to finish up my anniversary plans for your father. It’s a big night for us. And I want everything to be perfect.”
“What do you have to do?” asked Anna, always the curious one.
“Well, first I have to decorate the chocolate dessert I’m making,” I told her. I planned to top off the soufflé with a powdered sugar stencil of the Arendellian crest. Simple yet elegant.
At least, I hoped it was simple. And quick. The tasks were piling up.
The sisters exchanged looks.
“Chocolate!”they breathed in perfect unison. I laughed. Like mother, like daughters. And father, too. I was pretty sure Agnarr had never met a piece of chocolate he didn’t devour on sight.
“What next, Mama?” Elsa asked, climbing into my lap.
“Next I need to wrap your father’s present, a special book I got him called
The Little Mermaid. It was his favorite when we were young!”
“A mermaid!” Elsa chirped excitedly, rolling off my lap. She waved her finger, conjuring up a detailed snow mermaid, complete with glittering scales of ice for the tail. Anna clapped her hands in delight.
“Snowmaid! It’s a snowmaid!” She danced around the icy sculpture, somehow managing not to slip this time. “Does she get the prince? Does she get married? Do they all live happily ever after?”
“Sadly, no. I’m afraid this story doesn’t have a very happy ending,” I confessed, thinking back to the first time I’d read it in the Arendelle library after “borrowing” it from Agnarr. Back then I wasn’t sure of my own happy ending, either.
But now . . . I smiled as Elsa joined her sister in dancing around the snowmaid and giggling with wild abandon. If only I could have peeked ahead into my own life, like you could with a book . . . I would have been so surprised!
Elsa stopped dancing. “What else, Mama? What else are you doing for Papa?”
“Well, I’m going to dress up in a brand-new dress that I made all by myself. But I still need to finish it. I have some special jewels to make it sparkle in the candlelight.”
“So romantic!” Elsa swooned.
“Sooo womanticked,” Anna agreed, attempting her own swoon that almost landed her on her bottom again. Her big blue eyes locked on me. “What does ‘womanticked’ mean?”
“It’s when you love someone,” Elsa explained knowingly, “and you do something special for them.”
“Ooh!” Anna clapped her hands. She launched herself at the snowmaid with full force. “Like warm hugs!” she declared as the icy figure toppled over under her weight.
Elsa giggled. “Yup. Definitely no happy endings here,” she joked.
Suddenly, Kai burst into the room, almost slipping on the ice. I grabbed on to him at the last minute, helping him stay upright.
“Your Majesty,” he declared once he was stable, “the king has asked that you hear the petitioners today. He’s locked in negotiations on the Vassar trade agreement and simply doesn’t have the time. They’re all gathered in the First Great Hall, waiting.”
I bit my lower lip. I often agreed to rule over the petitioner sessions for Agnarr when he was wrapped up in other things. But I’d totally forgotten there was one scheduled that day. I looked around at the icy wonderland and the toppled snowmaid with a sigh. We had strict rules about ice magic when there were guests in the castle. I’d have to cut short playtime.
And prep time, too, I realized a little worriedly. So much for getting things ready for that night. But that was part of being a queen—putting the kingdom’s needs before my own. I couldn’t be selfish.
“Thank you, Kai,” I said. “Can you have Olina send up a couple dozen cookies to apologize for the wait? I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Of course, Your Majesty. You know the kingdom loves her cookies.”
As Kai turned and walked out the door, I let out a long sigh.
“Sorry, my darlings. We need to clean up. You know the rules.”
“Aww!” Anna pouted. “No fair!”
“I’ll take care of it, Mama,” Elsa said. Then she peered at me closer. “Are you all right?” she added, her brows drawn in concern as she caught my face.
I gave her a small smile. “I’m fine,” I assured her. “I’m just a little worried about how I’ll get everything done for tonight.”
“Poor Mama!” Elsa said, putting a hand to my cheek, as if I was the daughter and she was the mother. “That’s so unfair!”
“You should tell those people to go away!” Anna declared. “Papa is more important!”
“No, my dear one,” I corrected her gently. “No one—not even your papa—is more important than the people of Arendelle.” I rose to my feet. “And helping those who need it is the best gift we can give.”
* * *
Some days petitioner sessions went quickly. That was not one of them. It seemed everyone in Arendelle had some kind of issue to complain about: a florist fussing about the nearby lutefisk stand smelling up her shop, a kindly old man greatly concerned about the growing homeless-cat population, demanding the crown provide food and little sweaters. Even Axel, my favorite shepherd, showed up, ranting that the mysterious person who had been dyeing his sheep pink had disappeared. And no one wanted to buy pure white wool anymore: it was totally out of fashion! When I exited the Great Hall, it was almost evening. I had little time to finish everything for our dinner. But maybe if I hurried . . .
I whirled around to see the girls standing behind me. “Yes, my darlings?” I asked, trying to hide my impatience. I really didn’t have time for interruptions. Dinner was only an hour away.
“Come see!” Anna said, tugging on my arm. “We helped! We helped you!”
“What?” I cocked my head in confusion.
“Remember what you said?” Elsa piped in excitedly. “Helping others is the best gift we can give? And we wanted to give
Curious and a little puzzled, I allowed them to lead me through the castle until we got to the kitchen.
“Ta-da!”Anna cried, throwing her arms toward the countertop.
I gasped as my eyes fell on the monstrosity that sat before me: a sunken mess of smooshed chocolate buried in colorful pieces of hard candy and half-chewed licorice.
“My soufflé!” I cried before I could stop myself.
“We decorated it!” Anna declared proudly. “Just like you said!” Suddenly, I realized her arms were entirely slathered in chocolate.
“It kind of . . . deflated . . . while we were doing it,” Elsa said apologetically, looking a little worried. “Maybe we added too much candy?”
“But it still tastes really good!” Anna chimed in, patting a section that had clearly been nibbled on.
“Though . . . maybe a little salty,” Elsa added meekly. “The salt really did look like sugar. And there was no label on the jar. . . .”
I bit my lower lip, forcing myself to stay calm even as my stomach churned. I’d spent all morning crafting the very difficult dessert. And now it was ruined.
I looked down at their eager faces and sighed. “Thank you,” I managed to say. “I can tell you worked hard on this.”
The girls beamed with pleasure. “That’s not all we did!” Elsa said excitedly. “I also wrapped your book for you!”
I raised my eyebrows in concern. “You . . . did?”
“Come on! I’ll show you!”
I followed my daughters up into their shared bedroom. Sure enough, there was Agnarr’s book, sitting on Elsa’s bed . . . sopping wet.
I took a deep breath and counted to ten before I spoke, although a tiny squeak of alarm did come out. “What . . . what happened here?”
“Oh.” Elsa looked puzzled. “Well, it
waswrapped. I mean, I didn’t have any glue, so I just sealed it with ice magic instead!” She frowned. “I guess I didn’t think about it melting. . . .”
I scooped up the book, my heart sinking. Not only was it soaked, but the ink had smeared, making it unreadable, too.
“Sorry, Mama,” Elsa said. “It really did look very beautiful.”
I closed my eyes, setting down the book. No dessert. No present.
My eyes flew open. “My dress . . .”
“We fixed that, too, Mama!” Anna said excitedly. “Wait till you see it.”
I watched, filled with dread, as she ran to the wardrobe and threw open its doors. There, on a peg, was my once beautiful dress—the one that had taken me weeks to sew. Now it was covered in messily glued-on pearls—and a few chocolate handprints for good measure.
“Isn’t it just the beautifulest?” Anna declared, sighing dreamily.
I had to sit down on the bed. I couldn’t believe it. I’d tried so hard to make the day perfect for Agnarr. And now everything I’d attempted was perfectly not perfect.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” Anna asked, crawling into my lap. “You don’t like your dress?”
“We’re sorry, Mama!” Elsa added, looking distraught. “We were only trying to help.” Her lower lip wobbled as she reached up to catch a tear that had fallen from my eye. I immediately felt bad. They’d worked all day to help me. And I was being ungrateful.
I forced myself to swallow back my sobs. “I know, sweethearts,” I said, hugging them tight. “And I appreciate all your help. I really do.”
Now they were crying, too. I felt like the worst mother ever—not to mention the worst wife. I had promised Agnarr the perfect night, and I had nothing to offer him.
Gerda peeked in through the doorway. “Your Majesty,” she said, “it’s time to get dressed for dinner. Are you ready?”
I rose woodenly to my feet. “Yes,” I said. “I’ll be right there.” I walked to the closet and grabbed the splotchy dress. Gerda’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, but I was thankful she said nothing.
“Are you going to wear it?” Anna asked, hope in her big blue eyes.
I forced a nod. “Yes,” I said after finding my voice. “I’m going to wear it. After all, how often does a mother get to wear a special dress designed by her own daughters?”
Their smiles lit up the room.
“Have fun, Mama!” Elsa said.
“Have the most romanticked night ever!” Anna added, leaping up to jump on the bed. Gerda groaned and attempted to grab her.
“I’ll take care of these little monkeys,” she said. “You go get yourself dressed.”
I headed out of the room and went to my bedroom to change. I put on the dress, trying to wipe off the chocolate handprints, but they were ground into the silk. I looked into the mirror with a sigh and thought maybe I should just wear something else.
But then I remembered Anna’s hopeful face and couldn’t bring myself to take the dress off.
So I headed down into the dining room. As I stepped through the doors, I drew in a breath. The room was gorgeous. Gerda had clearly worked overtime to set up the fancy silverware and china plates and goblets filled with wine. There were fresh roses spilling out from baskets. Candles flickered in the dim light.
It was perfect—unlike everything else.
I glanced up to see Agnarr, particularly dashing in his crisp uniform and with his slicked-back hair, stepping into the room. He took one look at me and raised his eyebrows.
“That’s, uh, quite the fashion statement,” he joked.
I felt a blush stain my cheeks. “Didn’t you hear?” I choked out a laugh. “Chocolate handprints are all the rage in Arendelle these days.”
And then I burst into tears.
Agnarr was beside me in a second, pulling me into his arms. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asked. “Why are you crying?”
I tried to speak, but instead sobs broke from my throat. All the emotions I had tried to keep from the girls now burst like a storm through a dam.
“Sorry. I’m overreacting, I know. I just . . . wanted everything to be perfect tonight. It’s so rare the two of us get a moment to ourselves these days. And I love that the girls cared enough to try to help.”
Agnarr chuckled. “I’ve been a victim of their ‘help,’ too, at times. It’s always . . . interesting.”
I couldn’t help smiling a little at that. “I really did just want to make tonight special.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Agnarr whispered into my ear. He took my hands in his own, squeezing them tight. “This night is already special. Because I get to spend it with you.”
I felt my shoulders droop at his words. Of course. I should have known from the start. Agnarr didn’t care about cakes and presents and clothes. All he cared about was me. And that was the most romantic thing of all.
“It’s funny . . . here I was, feeling guilty that I didn’t have time to do anything for you,” he said. “I ordered you a necklace. But it wasn’t finished in time. I was worried you were going to be upset with me.”
“Never,” I whispered. “I don’t need jewelry. I only need you.”
“And I only need you,” he whispered, pulling me close. His lips pressed against mine, and his hands found my hips. Then he quickly yanked them away, realizing they were covered in chocolate. I blushed hard, but he started to laugh, bringing his fingers to his lips.
Maybe tonight could still be romantic after all. . . .
“Mama! Papa! Come quick!”
Or . . . not. We broke from our embrace with a groan.
“What is it?” Agnarr asked as the girls burst into the dining room. Anna yanked on his hand.
“Come see! Come see!”
Agnarr grinned at me. “I guess we need to go see,” he said. I nodded, not sure I was ready for any more surprises.
But we followed them anyway, through the halls and out to the castle courtyard. As we stepped through the door, Agnarr shot me an impish look, and I couldn’t help giving him a small, conspiratorial smile in return. What were we in for now? Whatever it was, it was bound to be
And it was.
I gasped as my eyes fell on a spectacular sight in the center of the courtyard: our special tree, now covered in crystals of ice, sparkling brilliantly under the full moon.
“Do you like it?” Elsa asked. “I did it myself!”
“It’s . . . beautiful,” I whispered, so in awe I could barely speak.
“And I got you a new dessert!” Anna declared. She held up the two chocolate reindeer I’d bought her the day before at Blodget’s Bakery. I was shocked she still had them. She pushed the reindeer into our hands, beaming from ear to ear. “Chocolate
I raised my eyebrows at Agnarr. We both knew chocolate was a big deal to our youngest daughter. The fact that she was willing to give hers away . . .
“Thank you, sweetheart,” I said. “But you don’t have to—”
“Yum!” Agnarr cried, chomping off the reindeer’s head. “Best dessert ever!”
Anna giggled and I couldn’t help smiling as I took a nibble of my own reindeer, remembering the very first thing Agnarr had ever said to me.
Chocolate makes everything better .He’d been right about that.
“One more thing,” Elsa said. She reached into her bag and pulled out a stack of papers, scribbled with her own handwriting.
“What’s this?” Agnarr asked, taking it from her and paging through it curiously.
“Mama got you a new book called
The Little Mermaid,” Elsa explained. “But it got ruined. So I rewrote it for you!”
“That’s amazing!” Agnarr declared, looking up from the book. “I can’t wait to read it.”
Elsa smiled proudly. “Of course, I might have changed it around a little. Gave it a happy ending.”
“She gets married!” Anna burst in. “She marries the prince!”
Elsa groaned. “Also, she gets to keep her legs and has the freedom to do what she wants in life, which is a way bigger deal than marriage . . . just saying.”
“It sounds perfect, sweetheart,” Agnarr said, picking her up and twirling her around. “Happy endings are my favorites.” He pulled her into his arms, hugging her close. Elsa beamed.
And I felt tears well in my eyes all over again.
“Mama! Why are you crying? Are you still sad?” Anna asked worriedly.
“No, my darling,” I said, pulling her into my arms. Then I walked her to Elsa and Agnarr so we could have a family hug. “I’m crying because I’m happy.”
“That’s weird,” Anna declared. “Crying ’cause you’re happy? Who does that?”
“Not me, that’s for sure!” Agnarr asserted, shooting me a look. I smiled back as I watched him brush a tear from his own eye.
“Thank you, girls,” I said, nuzzling my face against Anna’s auburn hair before setting her down. “You did good.”
“Yay!” Anna crowed. “We did good, Elsa!”
“We did,” Elsa said. “But now we need to leave them alone.” She dropped to the ground from Agnarr’s embrace and pulled Anna by the hand. But Anna planted her feet.
“But I want to be romanticked, too!”
“Someday, sweetheart,” I said with a laugh. “I promise you’ll find the perfect person to be romantic with.”
somedayis a long way away!” Anna sulked, still not moving. “You know I don’t have that kind of—”
“Hey, Anna,” Elsa broke in. “Do you want to build a snowman?”
Anna’s face lit up. “Is that even a question?” she squealed in excitement. I watched as she ran toward the door at full Anna speed. “Can it be a snow lady? Can she have a prince? Can they get married?”
Elsa looked at me and winked. Then she followed her sister out of the courtyard, leaving Agnarr and me alone. He pulled me into his arms, love radiating from his leaf-green eyes—eyes I could get lost in forever even after all these years.
“My girls,” he whispered. “How did I get so lucky?”
He leaned in, his soft lips brushing my own. I kissed him back, wrapping my arms around him, suddenly feeling very warm. And very happy.
Because, I realized, nothing else really mattered—not a dress, not a dessert, not a fancy gift wrapped in a bow.
Just Agnarr. My Agnarr. And my girls. My sweet, darling daughters.
Nothing could be more perfect than that.
You can read more of Iduna and Agnarr’s story by purchasing a copy of