That night, in the bed they share, Kirsti begs Annemarie to tell her a story. Stories, and fairy tales especially, are important to the Danes—the most famous storyteller of all, Hans Christian Andersen, was Danish himself. Kirsti begs for a story about a king and a queen, and Annemarie obliges, spinning a tale about a castle full of royalty—including a beautiful princess named Kirsten, Kirsti’s full name. As she tells the story, Annemarie thinks of Denmark’s real king, King Christian. Beloved by his people, he is “not like fairy tale kings”—he takes morning rides on his horse alone through the streets of Copenhagen to greet his people.
Fantasy, stories, and fairy tales are an important cultural tradition in Denmark—but in this moment, they are important to Kirsti and indeed to Annemarie because they let the girls escape the fear and pain of their uncertain times.
Sometimes, when Annemarie was little, she and her older sister Lise would go out to see King Christian ride by. As Lise enters Annemarie’s thoughts, though, she grows sad, and tries to push her sister from her mind and focus on King Christian—who is still alive, though Lise is not. Annemarie remembers another story her Papa told her about witnessing the German soldiers’ confusion at the sight of the king riding through the city unattended by bodyguards. A young boy on the street turned to the soldiers and told them that “all of Denmark” was the king’s bodyguard.
The Danish people are proud, resourceful, and loyal. Annemarie stands to inherit a tradition of solidarity and sacrifice—these values will be tested in her even sooner than she thinks.
When the occupation first began many years ago, Annemarie struggled to understand why King Christian didn’t put up a fight against the Nazis and keep them out of Denmark. Papa explained to her that the tiny Denmark stood no chance against their “enormous” German enemy, who had occupied the neighboring nations of Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France, as well. Denmark’s only unoccupied neighbor was Sweden—a place Annemarie had never been, but had seen many times across the narrow North Sea at her Uncle Henrik’s seaside home.
The strategic details of the war are often a mystery to the young Annemarie. This passage makes it clear that she has only recently begun to understand just what’s at stake in the war, and how total the Germans’ power really is.
Annemarie turns her thoughts away from war and back to Lise, though it is painful to think of her “tall, beautiful sister” who died in an accident just two weeks before her wedding to the Resistance rebel Peter Neilsen. Annemarie often looks through a blue carved trunk in the corner of the bedroom which holds all of Lise’s treasured possessions and fine linens, including her unworn wedding gown. Everything has changed since Lise’s death—Peter, once an ebullient older brother figure and a constant in the Johansen household, has become secretive and serious, while Annemarie’s Mama and Papa have grown tired and “defeated.” Annemarie’s whole world has changed—only the fairy tales she and Kirsti tell have “remained the same.”
Annemarie’s home life is painful and shrouded by loss. Everything has changed since Lise’s death, and the worsening of the Nazi occupation has only compounded how bleak things really are. This passage makes it clear that Annemarie fears for her family’s emotional well-being as much as for their physical well-being, and yet can’t keep up with the pressure to put on a brave and happy face all the time.