Chapter 9 - As Autumn Approaches
It had been two weeks since the wedding and she still could not stop worrying.
Anna’s hand danced to her hip, missing the comfortable weight of her sword strapped there. As much as she wanted to, she did not carry it everywhere with her. Despite her affinity for the blade, people would not take well to an armed princess, especially one so notoriously clumsy otherwise. She walked down the hallways of the castle, hand on her naked hip, looking for her sister.
It was mid-morning and the sunlight was painting the stone walls a bright, happy yellow color through the high stained-glass windows. Anna, however, was in no mood to appreciate the sight. She was alternating between wringing her hands and reflexively reaching for a sword she knew wasn’t there. If she stopped either action, she might cry.
Anna had checked the royal chambers, the library, Elsa’s office and even the dungeon her sister seemed to have an odd habit of visiting sometimes but there was still no sign of the queen.
Another wave of anxiety and nervousness passed through the princess and she hugged herself tightly. She had to find Elsa. Anna trembled slightly and bit her lip. She couldn’t be alone anymore. Not now.
Not when Anna needed her big sister.
Elsa had gotten better at opening up in the months before the wedding; coming to Anna with problems and always opening her door when Anna needed to talk. Elsa had spent a lot of time with Kristoff before the wedding as well, teaching him castle etiquette and the history of their ancient family lineage. The three of them had spent several afternoons together, swapping childhood stories and laughing about Anna’s latest antics.
But since she and Kristoff had married, Anna had seen the walls begin to creep back up in her sister. Elsa was busier and when the sisters did spend time together, she was distant and at times even cold. Anna knew Elsa wasn’t put off by the fact that her sister was now married. Elsa and Kristoff were practically siblings already with the way they discussed everything from ice harvests to religion and Kristoff’s unspoken agreement with her that the path up to Isen lake always remained just icy enough that he didn’t need to use his wheels to cover the distance.
No, it was definitely not Kristoff making Elsa act so…different. Anna wasn’t even sure it was entirely about the lapse in control in her powers that had happened that night. She had spoken to her sister the following day and Elsa had assured her that she would stay in control so long as she stayed calm and relaxed. It had been a one-time thing and it wouldn’t happen again. The statement had been almost off-handed, as if Elsa didn’t really think it was that concerning, even though she had been unintentionally making small flurries the entire conversation. No, Anna knew this was a little more complicated than Elsa worrying about her powers.
Elsa had been drawing more and more in on herself since the wedding and Anna still had no idea what to make of it. This was not the fearful isolation that had characterized Elsa’s childhood and the first few days after the Thaw. This was a thoughtful isolation, as if Elsa were contemplating something troubling or difficult to fathom and retreating into her thoughts hoping to find an answer.
Anna poked her head into the empty kitchens, contemplated the chocolate briefly then left again. She switched her actions to biting her lip and tangling her fingers together.
She knew Elsa was worried about something. Something other than losing control and hurting people, other than Anna and Kristoff’s marriage. But what?
Anna considered the possibilities. Matters of state she tended to vent to Anna about. When it was the Isles she got very quiet and flustered until Anna coaxed it out of her. If it was about her disappearance a few months back, she went very blank and changed the subject. When it involved personal matters…
Anna stopped walking. Her hands fell limply at her sides.
Personal she tended to draw in on herself. Grow cold and distant and never tell Anna anything.
The princess smacked herself, both mentally and physically. How could she have missed that? Elsa had hid behind doors her entire life dealing with personal matters. And it was up to Anna to drag her back out and talk about them.
If only she could find the door Elsa had hidden behind this time.
Out of rooms to check and quickly losing her fragile hold on her confidence, Anna slipped out the servant’s entrance and into the private back courtyard of the royal family in the hopes that fresh air might clear her head.
The elaborate and spectacularly well-maintained garden of the back of Arendelle castle was a sight reserved only for those of the royal family and the caretakers. Anna and Elsa’s mother had created the garden and worked tirelessly in her spare time to make it flower and flourish. After the death of their parents, Elsa had ordered a caretaker brought in to tend to the garden endlessly throughout the year. It truly was a work of art: the former queen of Arendelle had had a gift for mixing and matching arrangements so that the garden remained healthy and vibrant every season. Even now, as autumn tightened its death-grip on the land, toad lilies and zinnias were proudly bursting open with intricate patterns and the tall oak trees that surrounded the courtyard were dripping in reddish-purple leaves.
This garden had always been a place of serenity and bittersweet joy for Anna. It was a piece of her mother, preserved forever in a private spot of the castle. She’d spent many afternoons here, listening, as if she could hear her mother’s voice again, singing quietly as she tended the flowers or fed the ducks.
Anna took a deep breath, her mind quieting as she entered the special space. Her heart leapt when she realized she’d also finally found Elsa.
The princess’s eyes widened as she watched Elsa move around the courtyard.
Her sister was alone in the center of the courtyard, dancing. It was such a poor attempt to describe what the queen was doing but Anna couldn’t think of a better word.
Anna herself had often described Elsa as boundlessly graceful and impossibly fluid in her movements. She would have been a superb dancer without the aversion to touching others holding her back. If she had to chose a metaphor to describe her sister (and Anna was terrible with metaphors) the best she could approximate was a snowflake, twisting and turning peacefully on the wind as it plummeted to the earth below.
Elsa took no notice of her sister. She was lost in a world Anna could never begin to understand.
Her wrist drifted out to her side the rest of her body following in a gentle, whip-like snapping motion. The other hand swung down, making a flurrying circle as it passed her knee before cresting upwards. She stepped out with one foot, her entire body shifting effortlessly into the new position, her ice cape swirling on a cold breeze.
Her movements were careful, controlled, each one appearing to require great focus and years of hard discipline to execute. But if Anna knew her sister, Elsa was doing this all by feel. It was as natural to her as breathing.
Every motion of her body added a new pattern or spire to the creation above her. Every twist and gesture made the snowflake more complex and unique. As the snowflake swelled, Elsa suddenly threw both her arms up in the air. She absorbed the entire creation, the power pulsing through her. Throwing her hands out, the queen released the snowflake, suddenly twice its original size and set it spinning across the garden. Before it had even begun to drift downwards, Elsa had begun construction of her next one above her head.
Anna glanced around. There were several dozen giant snowflakes drifting around the courtyard, each one distinctive and impossibly detailed.
A smile pulled at Anna’s face. Oh yes, this was definitely yearning heart behavior.
She stepped forward, attempting to catch her sister’s attention. But Elsa remained oblivious to her audience, still dancing on. Her beautiful snowflakes accompanied her in her dance, not a single stray drip or shard of ice touching any of the delicate flowers surrounding them, not a breath of wind moving the snowflakes further up or down.
Clearly, this was taking a lot of control.
Briefly in her dance, Elsa turned to face her sister, her eyes closed, her face arranged in a careful expression of concentration. But there was desperation there too. A desperation to hold that concentration no matter what. It was her ‘conceal, don’t feel’ face.
Anna watched her sister with a mixture of pride and sorrow. Could Elsa have met someone at the wedding?, Anna wondered. Someone she now couldn’t stop thinking about? Even though Anna smiled at the thought of her sister finally having someone to love in her life, she couldn’t help but hate the idea a bit.
For the longest time, Elsa had never given anyone the slightest hint that she was at all interested in marriage… or carnal desires.
Elsa finished another giant glittering snowflake and sent it spiraling away from her on a miniature tornado. Just before it hit the wall of the garden, it changed direction and sling-shot back past its creator, joining the dance.
Anna tightened one hand into a fist, her own nervousness momentarily forgotten as she contemplated her sister’s romantic inclinations. Yes, Elsa deserved someone. Someone who loved her but could share her. Anna didn’t want to lose Elsa ever again. She’d only just gotten Elsa back after years of separation. She wasn’t about to go sharing her with some prince or lord. Least of all without getting to know him first anyway.
“Elsa?” Anna called.
Her sister stopped, freezing in place like she had just turned to ice. The snowflakes stood still in midair, holding their breath. Waiting for the creator to set them free again.
“What are you doing?”
Slowly, Elsa turned around. “I was just…I…I was…I was dancing.” She reached up and tangled her fingers nervously in the loose end of her messy braid.
“Yeah, okay.” Anna began, far calmer than she felt. “Why?”
Anna could practically feel the stress rolling off of her sister, like gusts of wind over the snow. Her entire body was coiled and stiff like she expected to have to run at any second. Whatever was on her mind, Elsa didn’t want to talk about it.
Doubt began to creep into Anna. Elsa was scared. Not a: I have feelings for someone and it scares me kind of scared. This was a crippling kind of fear, the kind that had sent Elsa running to the mountains and made ice creep over the fjord.
Anna glanced down, seeing frost crawling out from her sister’s feet in all directions, threatening to encompass a tiny lily that had sprouted at the water’s edge. Perhaps this was a little deeper than a crush.
Unsure of what to do, Anna did what she did best: blurted out something completely unrelated.
“I didn’t know you ever came here…”
Elsa uncoiled, if only slightly. “I…usually don’t…for the longest time I was afraid of…of killing everything.” She confessed. The light frost around her evaporated. The lily was spared.
Anna tore her gaze away from the delicate flower and smiled
softly at her sister. “So why now?” She asked gently.
The queen was wringing her hands. “I needed the space…” Elsa confessed. “the privacy.” She waved her hands at the motionless snowflakes and they faded into nothing.
“Oh Elsa, don’t destroy them!” Anna protested, running forward. “They’re beautiful!” But it was too late, the snowflakes were gone.
“They have no place here, Anna.” Elsa said sadly. “They have to go.”
Now that she was closer, Anna could see the physical changes in her sister. The dark circles under her eyes that stood out prominently on her pale skin. The dent in her bottom lip where her top teeth had worried it. The curl in her hair where she’d twisted strands of it continuously around her finger.
She’d never seen Elsa look so…vulnerable. So lost. Anna knew it was not the time to push Elsa too hard. She might bolt. But that was okay. As much as she wanted to, Anna didn’t need to know what was bothering Elsa right now. Right now, she needed her big sister.
“Are you busy?” Anna asked timidly. Her hand danced to her hip again.
Elsa stiffened. Immediately the queen mask snapped back into place. Elsa was hiding behind her duties. Again. Closing the door on personal matters. Again. “When am I not? Lord Wilfred wants to go over trade agreements again before his departure, something about ice sculptures…I’m hosting a lunch with three potential suitors, despite venomous protests on my part…and…” she sighed heavily, her fists opening and closing several times. “I have a meeting with the Isles in less than an hour. Prince Christian has finally haggled me enough to establish a definite negotiation for the relationship of our kingdoms.”
Disappointment crashed through Anna, making her knees tremble. Elsa was too busy for her. “Oh…right.”
Something in Anna’s quiet voice slid under the mask, slipped right under the door and slapped the queen in the face. “What is it Anna?” She asked her gaze softening.
The princess shook her head violently. “Nothing! It can wait.” Anna backed away, fumbling with the door back into the castle. Tears burned in her eyes. Elsa was busy now, she had political affairs to deal with and her own feelings. She didn’t need her whiny little sister taking up her time. Not right now.
“Anna.” Her sister’s voice made her stop but not because it was full of the queen-like demand for obedience Elsa could project effortlessly. Anna slowly turned back to Elsa. “Don’t ever run away from me when you’re scared.” Elsa said gently.
Anna felt a tear slip down her cheek. The next thing she knew, cool arms were around her. She gave a little grunt of surprise. Elsa had never initiated the contact. She had always accepted. Never initiated.
Anna buried her face in the crook of Elsa’s neck, breathing in the scent of freshly fallen snow and icy wind. It was Elsa. It was comforting. Elsa stroked Anna’s shoulder lightly, trying to still her trembling with careful attention. “What’s wrong?” She asked.
Anna just shook her head, fighting back more tears. She was choking on the words.
Elsa pulled back so that Anna was forced to look her in the eyes. Elsa was scared but this time it was different. This time, she was scared for Anna. “Anna, what’s happened?”
Anna could feel Elsa’s ice crackling along the palms on her arms, agitated by her concern about her little sister. The freezing touch was somehow comforting.
Anna swallowed hard, gathering up the scattered fragments of her courage to finally say what she’d discovered this morning.
“I’m…I…” How was it these were the hardest two words she’d ever had to say? “I’m pregnant.”
Elsa was silent for a good long time. So long that Anna began to worry. The wind rustled through their mother’s garden behind them, sending a few dead leaves drifting into the pond, breaking the serenity of the surface.
Anna started to pull away but Elsa’s grip suddenly tightened.
“Come with me.” She tugged Anna’s arm, pulling her not towards the castle but deeper into the garden.
Anna protested half-heartedly, flailing her free arm. “But…I thought…you…meetings…the suitors Elsa!” She didn’t want her sister to miss out on a chance to see her crush again just because she couldn’t handle this herself. Her protests were cut short as Elsa pulled her into another hug.
Anna felt Elsa smile against her cheek. “My schedule suddenly opened up.”
The queen gently stroked Anna’s bangs back from her forehead. The tenderness in her eyes made Anna feel like she was five years old again. “My little sister needs me.”
It wasn’t working. The snow just kept coming, thicker and thicker, building into a blinding wave. She waved her hands at the swirling winds, thinking of her sister, of happiness, of lifting the Great Freeze.
She could hear the screams of people freezing to death mingling in the howl of the icy gale that spiraled tightly around her. She flicked her hands at the howling winds, ineffectively batting at the storm from the epicenter. They only howled louder.
It was out of her control.
She fell to her knees, to the hard ice on the fjord. Frozen tears pricked at her eyes, crackling along her skin as they fell. Above her, the storm raged on.
How do I stop it!?
Suddenly there was a warm gust of wind slicing through the frozen air. A hot knife through frozen water. The gust caressed her as it passed, making her heart stop. The snow winds stopped swirling. A strong scent of smoke and sand surrounded her and rippled across the fjord. All of Arendelle fell silent.
The other descended from above, carried on a summer breeze. Smoke and sand swirled around her, mingling with her hair and curling around her skin. Her eyes glowed with fire and warmth. Confidence. She was…beautiful.
Summer stopped in front of her, gazing warmly down into her eyes. Red meeting blue. Fire melting ice. The warmth dispelling the cold.
“Take my hands…” Hands slid into her own. Warmth gushed through her along with the realization that everything would be okay. They were together again.
Together they could reverse the storm.
Strong, hot arms circled around her, lifted her from the ice and into the warm air. “We’re a matching pair…” Said the voice in her ear, like smoke curling around a burning stick. “we balance each other out…” the warm breath traveled across her cheek drifting ever closer to her lips…burning her…
Elsa jolted awake with a cry. She was alone. No warm breath on her face. No other there with her. In the bed. That same bed where…
“Dammit!” The rare swear slipped from between her lips before she could stop herself.
Elsa buried her head into the sheets and jammed the pillow over her head to muffle her sobs. Snow drifted quietly down from the ceiling and formed tiny piles all over the bed-sheets. This was the third time a dream like that had happened since the kiss.
Elsa clawed at her ears, wishing she could forget the comforting sound of that warm voice, the tingling of her skin where the breath had stroked her, the accompanying freedom that had washed over her as they came together.
It couldn’t happen. It would never happen.
Elsa bit back a wail of pain. This was almost worse than the never-ending nightmares.
Far away, behind thick stone walls, a host was arguing with her tutor. Again.
“No, Goren. There has to be some other way!”
Goren took a deep breath, trying not to get angry. “Mistress, I’ve told you time and time again, this is how it has always been done. This is the only way to remedy such a problem.”
The troll winced as smoke dribbled from between his mistress’s lips. He unconsciously pulled the flammable book of Erin’s scriptures closer to him as Theonia pushed herself off of the library table and threw her hands in the air.
“But this is IMPOSSIBLE!” She roared. Luckily, it was late autumn so the outburst only triggered a little hot air and a few grains of sand. “The princess shouldn’t even be alive! She shouldn’t have even been conceived! HOW IS SHE ALIVE?!”
Goren brushed sand off of the table before replying in a very calm voice. “Because my family gave up their obligation. We stopped monitoring this. We stopped acting on it. They broke the Mother’s Doctrine.”
He could see his mistress trying desperately to calm herself down, to bring herself back under control. Goren watched her with concern. Things had been rough for the Head Councilor these past few months, that much had been obvious in the sand storms that had become a daily occurrence after she returned from Elsa’s ice palace. But it hadn’t just been the storms, her physical appearance had changed radically as well, more violently these past two weeks than he’d thought possible. She’d lost so much weight that the temple dress drooped on her frame. Her eyes looked sunken, dark and dim and he could see marks on her arms where she’d dug her nails into her own skin in anxiety. Her hair had grown out further than it had in years, probably because she’d stopped trimming it herself with fiery fingers.
She was suffering in silence. But why, he could not fathom. Usually, she spoke to Garret or himself about anything at all that troubled her. She may be the one in charge but they were a family. They suffered together. Yes, their situation was rough but not that rough. Not yet anyway. Everything could still work out. Maybe. He wasn’t going to let her worry herself to death over this.
“Perhaps this is a sign that the Mother’s rules have changed.” Goren suggested, struggling to pile one of the large books back on a stack. “It’s happened once or twice before.”
Theo snorted. “Coinciding with a spirit refusing to emerge? I don’t think so. No, this is a punishment for breaking the rules.” She wrung her hands. “We’re all being punished for this imbalance…”
With her disheveled appearance and her crazed muttering, Goren couldn’t help but think about the stories he’d read of Erin towards the end of her days, when she became obsessed with writing prophecy and degenerated into, as the stories put it ‘a batty old lunatic’. “So what are you going to do?” He asked.
Theo’s eyes snapped to him and he saw her fire return, if only slightly. “Nothing! It is not my responsibility!”
“But still it concerns you greatly.” He pointed out patiently.
“It does not!” She protested vehemently, banging one fist on the table. “I am merely baffled by the circumstance.”
Goren stared her in the eyes firmly. “Mistress, don’t think I haven’t noticed that you haven’t been sleeping.”
Theo was silent at his observation. She averted her gaze.
“are you and Branna fighting?” The troll asked.
Theo sighed, softening slightly. “Not quite.” She paused. “Can it be called a fight if I always lose?”
Goren did not reply but they could both feel his sympathy in the silence.
The two of them had been in the library for four days straight, pausing only for desperately needed rest and food breaks in their endless quest to track down Død. Now it was nearing dawn of their fifth day. But so far, the only promising lead they’d gotten was an image that Theo claimed kept haunting her when she and Branna reached out in meditation.
Walls of decaying leaves…pillars of skulls…a moat of blood…
A palace of Death.
“Apparently, Død’s host went to the Elsa school of hiding herself…” Theo had muttered at one point as the two had pondered what the image could possibly mean.
“Or…” Goren had suggested. “she wants to be found.”
Goren watched Theo collapse in a chair and reach for the Quill again. She ran her hands over it, pulling the barbs gently through her fingers. She did not attempt to write anything. After all, there was nothing to say.
They had nothing else to work from. Only ancient predictions and a name on a scroll that still made no sense.
“Let’s focus on one thing at a time here.” The troll suggested, pulling himself back to the present concerns. “Get Autumn home and calmed down and then we’ll deal with this.”
Theo laughed humorlessly. “Deal with this? You sound just like Branna…”
“What does she want you to do?”
Theo poked herself on the wrist with the sharp tip of the Quill. From the look on her face, Goren thought she was trying to draw blood to use as ink.
The disturbing thought was accompanied by another. “Oh merciful Mother…does she…?” Theo looked up from her poking, meeting his gaze steadily with her tired eyes. Goren swallowed hard. “Branna wants you to…to…?”
“She wants me to do many things. I am incorrigibly stubborn.”
“But…what about what happened between you and Elsa? Did she say anything about that?”
Theo pulled her shoulders up and shrank back from him. “I don’t want to talk about it Goren.” There was no anger, only a tired plea for him to leave the subject alone.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Goren assured her. “It’s only natural that Branna and Isen are drawn to each other.”
“I’m not ashamed of it. Elsa and I nearly killed each other once.” Theo deadpanned. “I hardly call that attraction.”
Goren wanted to say something to make his mistress laugh but found himself at a complete loss. He wished Garret were here, he could always make Theonia feel better.
“Is there any way to end it?” Theo asked in a quiet voice.
“The attraction?” Goren shook his head. “I’m afraid not, not unless Branna and Isen mutually agree that their bonding is no longer necessary and seeing as…”
“Yes, seeing as Isen is still not awake…”
Goren grimaced. “She really must be deeply buried if she’s reaching out like that…and if Branna’s unconsciously reaching back…”
Theo actually laughed. “Oh, her reaching is by no means unconscious…” She said bitterly, dropping the Quill back on the tabletop where it rolled to a stop atop a biography of Død’s past hosts. “If she’d had her way, I’d have taken Elsa right then and there with no preamble.” Her fists were clenched tightly and trembling.
Goren pondered this for a moment as only a scholar could. “There was really no reaction when you kissed?” He asked. There hadn’t been an attraction between them this strong since the days of the first hosts. If he were the scribe that got to witness such a thing…!
Theo shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that. Elsa was pretty angry about it…”
Goren was a little disappointed. “She didn’t appear to enjoy it?” He was certain he’d seen the potential there in Elsa when they’d spoken. Not that he was an expert in human love but he’d gotten the distinct impression that the snow queen was not without her own inclinations towards the fire host, however deeply buried and confusing they may be. Especially after what Theo had told him about what had happened in the ice palace.
“No.” Theo said in response to his question. She pressed the palms of her hands again her eyes and sagged against the table.
He didn’t believe that. “Are you sure?” Goren pressed. “Maybe she was just surprised.”
“You weren’t there.” Theo mumbled into her hands, not looking up.
“I know Elsa better than you think. I think you’re entirely ignoring what she might feel.”
“Don’t say things like that Goren.” Theo said in an uncharacteristically shaky voice. “Even if she did, it wouldn’t work. It couldn’t last. We’d kill each other.”
“It worked out well for Ileana and Erin.” Goren reminded her. He pulled a scroll towards him and scanned the Arendelle birth records again.
“They were legends.” Theo lamented. “They were practically gods themselves.”
Goren didn’t look up from his work. “You and Elsa could be too. There is that potential in any host.”
“I don’t want to be a god, Goren. I’m already a terrible host.”
“You are not.” He said firmly. “Branna chose you. She knows what you are capable of and more.”
“Be that as it may, no matter what she thinks I’m capable of, I don’t like my body being used as her personal puppet.” Theo shifted slightly, so that her hands were covering her eyes again. “To her, this is all just a matter of prophecy, of circumstance, she doesn’t take our feelings into account at all.”
“But they only do this with good reason.” Goren told her, his gaze scanning down the long list of names. “They feel the attraction, it is something that always exists between Branna and Isen the same way it does between the twins, Livet and Død. But it is only reflected and expressed in the most powerful of their hosts. Those who become most necessary for preserving the order.”
He’d finally found the name again: Princess Anna of Arendelle. Born about nineteen years ago. Recently married. Currently with child.
It was that last part that troubled him, although he could not quite say why.
“Ileana and Erin really just let themselves be used like that? They were okay with it?”
He looked up to find Theo had uncovered her eyes. She was looking at him in mild disbelief. “For a greater purpose.” He said. “They bonded themselves and ended the Turmoil of the Descent. Years later, they died together.”
Theo’s gaze darkened. “Romantic. Was that their choice or did Isen and Branna decide they wanted an even playing field for the next generation’s council?”
“You need to give them a little more credit.” The troll told her. “They don’t know what’s going on here anymore than we do. They’re afraid for their sister, they’re afraid for the future and for all of you. So they are taking precautions.”
Theo pushed herself away from the table and stood up. “Yeah, well so am I. But I’m not prepared to hurt Elsa like that for this.”
Goren softly observed her again, studying her resolve, the fire in her eyes. There was something she wasn’t saying and she knew he was aware of that. Apparently his assumption about her feelings towards Elsa had been right. And that only complicated this whole thing more.
Goren sighed softly. He knew Theonia didn’t entirely believe that the spirits considered their hosts as anything more than a temporary body. She’d always had a bit of skepticism that the spirits had the best interests of the humans at heart, a trait which had been growing stronger in her since she’d met Elsa. Goren couldn’t blame her. With everything that had happened to this generations hosts, between Isen remaining infuriatingly silent, Død torturing her host, Livet accidentally psychologically damaging her host and Branna’s continued manipulation of everyone, the spirits were certainly appearing more malicious than he had ever been told they had in the past. Truly, these were trying times.
Goren tried a different approach.
“What has the Mother told you about all this?” He asked, looking down at the scroll again. “About the princess and what you must do?”
“That’s just the thing.”
Goren froze at the tone in the Head Councilor’s voice. A chill went through him and his grip on the scroll tightened. He looked up.
“She hasn’t said a word. Not since I learned of Princess Anna’s existence.” Theo turned to face him and now he truly saw just how far she had fallen. Theo’s eyes were distant and hollow, lost in an insidious, crushing hopelessness.
“The Mother has stopped talking to me.”
Anna couldn’t sleep, not after all the events of the previous day. It was just past dawn and she was uncharacteristically wide-awake, her boots propped up on her mother’s old desk, staring at the parlor ceiling.
She was pregnant. With a child. Kristoff’s child.
She ran one hand across her stomach but felt no change under the touch. But she couldn’t deny it. She was late, for one and in the past few days she’d stopped craving chocolate at all hours yet she was able to smell what was for dinner from half-way across the castle. Something was clearly wrong with her.
Not wrong. Anna thought with a smile. She laid her hand flat against her stomach. Something is very, very right.
She still chuckled at the way Elsa had reacted.
“So soon?” The queen had asked as they sat together in the zinnias, Elsa creating several new snowflakes to swirl among the flowers.
She knew Elsa hadn’t intended to make her laugh with that. But it had. So much. And that had just been the beginning of Elsa helping her feel better about all this.
Anna had paced and babbled, trying to express just how nervous and scared and just unprepared she was for this. How worried she was about health and the process of giving birth. If she would be a good mother.
Elsa had listened attentively and patiently to the whole thing but at this point she giggled.
“Anna,” She had said, smirking. “Your child is the luckiest child in the world.”
Anna had cocked her head to the side, confused. “Why?”
Elsa had smiled, the action lifting the fatigue from her face, chasing away all fear, if only for a moment. “Because they will have you for a mother.”
Anna had been shocked to silence. She had listened as Elsa calmly and nonchalantly spoke to her.
Elsa may have had far less experience with marriage, intimacy, relationships and children than Anna did. But she was still her older sister. An incredibly wise and thoughtful older sister. She still knew exactly what to say to comfort and assure her little sister that everything would be okay.
And it would be, the princess realized. She’d have people to support her, she’d learn as she went just like Elsa said. She was not alone.
Smiling in contentment, Anna tucked her arms behind her head. The ice bangle on her arm clinked.
Anna’s eyes snapped open as her heart stopped.
Right. She still had to tell Kristoff.
Anna looked around, not at all surprised to see Reba slipping out of the door behind the fireplace.
The queen’s parlor had been equipped with an emergency escape route for the royal family: a door hidden by a clever laying of the bricks behind the fireplace. It was impossible to see unless you stood inside it. This was part of the reason Anna had chosen this room. The Informers could easily enter the castle without attracting suspicion, as the other end of the tunnel came out near the docks.
Anna smiled pleasantly at the quiet girl. “Yes Reba?” Except for perhaps Dagrun, Reba was Anna’s favorite Informer. The girl was very sharp and perceptive and she had a wall about her that Anna couldn’t help being fascinated by.
She did love to break down walls.
“I wasn’t expecting a report today.”
The young girl stood next to the fireplace, unwilling to come any closer. But she kept eye contact with Anna at all times. “This isn’t a report ma’m.” Reba said. “I’ve come with a warning.”
Immediately, Anna sat up straight. “A warning?”
“Someone’s been following Elsa.”
Anna reached for the scroll where she’d been keeping track of reports of her sister and who she met with. “Someone we’ve seen before? Is it Christian?” Despite months of unsuspicious behavior from the prince, Anna was still convinced the Informers would soon catch him in a criminalizing act. With the Isles it was only a matter of time.
Reba shook her head. “No ma’m. It’s a new foreign visitor.” She told Anna.
“I don’t know but one of ours overhead him asking about the castle and the queen in the tavern.”
Anna put the scroll aside. “What did he look like?”
“Small, thin with a very mean face. Our kid bumped into him and said that it felt like he had something hidden under his cloak. He left the tavern an hour ago and headed towards the town center.” Reba’s perfect, calculated recitation of the report always amazed Anna. The child had an uncanny memory.
“Where is Queen Elsa now?” She asked her spy.
“Our last reporter said she was on her way to the harvest ceremony for her royal address, princess.”
They were supposed to have gone together. Elsa had left her behind. Anna stood up, grabbing her sword. It lived in the parlor room, another piece of her Ice Informers project. Another part of the secret life of Arendelle’s princess.
“Thank you Reba.”
“Do you want me to come too, miss?”
Anna nodded. “Take the route from the docks. Go straight to Elsa and keep an eye on her. And if it looks like anything is about to happen, stop it.”
Reba nodded in understanding and slipped back out the secret door.
Her heart pounding, Anna buckled on her weapon and dashed out the door, heading for the stairs.
Kristoff was standing just outside the door, his hand raised to knock. “Anna! The festival is starting, I thought we were…wait where are you… Anna!” She ignored her husband entirely as she jumped on the banister and slid down it as fast as she could. She was halfway down before she’d realized that she’d just missed her opportunity to tell Kristoff their wonderful news. But that would have to wait.
As she sprinted out the front gates, Anna lay a hand gently over her middle. Telling the father could wait. It would have to. She had something much more important to deal with first.
Christian was not a violent man. Still, that didn’t mean he wasn’t sometimes inclined to want to hit something.
He slammed a fist against the table in the king’s parlor, the smack ringing in the silence. So close and still…
An unattractive snarl slipped from his polite lips. He’d missed his chance, again. Time was running out.
He’d arrived at the castle early today, hoping against hope that his punctuality would somehow allow him to meet with Elsa first thing in the morning. But once again, luck had not been on his side. Today was the last day of the harvest festival and the queen had left at dawn to oversee it.
To keep himself from hitting the table again, Christian turned away and faced the window. He’d had to make special concessions to even get the queen to agree to the meeting yesterday and then she’d gone and cancelled on him. For a family concern.
Christian scoffed as he looked out over the courtyard below him. He had twelve brothers and family concerns popped up once a week at best. Queen Elsa appeared to have family business everyday! How was that possible? She had no family, except…
He gripped his sword tighter. That princess was a problem.
He hadn’t thought so at first. Sure, she’d been an obstacle but not a problem. Now though, after spending several months here, he was beginning to see what Hans had mentioned. The bond between those two sisters ran deep. Impossibly deep. Elsa cared for her sister very much and let her feelings influence her duties and political decisions.
Christian paused in contemplation, stroking the slight beard he had acquired during his stay here. But maybe this could be used to his advantage…Anna was young, recently married and prone to getting in trouble. And she loved her older sister. A lot.
Christian narrowed his eyes. A potential weakness for the queen perhaps. Little siblings had a habit of causing that…
The door behind him slid smoothly open, startling him out of his scheming.
Christian spun around, reflexively loosening his sword. A young blonde girl smiled at him from the doorway. Christian did not recognize her. After spending several months here, he knew most of the nobles and servants who frequented the castle. This girl was not one of them.
She entered the room, her smile not faltering for a moment. She was dressed in a simple but colorfully decorated black dress. A toad lily was tucked behind her left ear. Her bright, wide eyes took in everything, glinting in mirth and child-like wonder. In spite of himself, Christian found himself smiling back.
Before he could say anything to the girl, someone else entered the room. “Scara…how many times do I have to tell you not to…oh, hello.”
The oddly-dressed guard, the girl’s brother perhaps, bowed slightly to Christian. “Please do pardon our interruption.” He said politely as he straightened up. There was a large battle axe strapped securely to his back and several knives glinting at his waist. “We are looking for the queen. Any idea where she might be?”
Christian stopped himself from trying to guess the boy’s age and answered the polite inquiry. “I believe her majesty is in town today.” He recalled. “Some kind of harvest festival.”
The girl perked up instantly if that were even possible with how excited she already looked. “a harvest festival? That sounds fun!” She gripped the man’s arm. “There must be some great flowers and plants around, Garret. Maybe we could…”
“Thank you sir.” The man said, giving the girl a sharp but warm look. “We should be able to find her.” He took the girl by the hand and tugged her out of the room. Christian found himself smiling again as the girl waved goodbye.
Christian turned back to the window, for some reason unable to stop thinking about the people he’d just met. And of course that meant he couldn’t stop smiling.
The girl seemed familiar, and not just because of her friendliness. He touched his ear gently, as if the girl’s flower were resting there. Her blonde hair and green eyes…almost like the description he’d read about a girl from Corona who could bring life with her touch…
Before he could consider the thought any further, the door opened once more. Christian spun eagerly but it was not the girl again. Rather, a young messenger boy had entered, baring a letter for him.
He knew his disappointment was prominent, especially in how he snapped at the boy to leave him alone, sending the lad scurrying out of the room.
Christian shook himself, trying to overcome his unjustified frustration and examined the letter in his hand. It was sealed with the crest of his elder brother, Anderson. The Crown Prince of the Isles. And over the seal was a golden X.
His blood froze.
No…no…my time has run out…
Without even bothering to break the seal he tore the letter free of the envelope and shook it open. His eyes scanned the page desperately, each word that he read making his heart sink further and further…
The Arendelle Harvest Festival was usually a pretty subdued affair. The Arendellians did like their parties but they were a simple folk, happy with simple festivals honoring traditions rather than grand achievements.
This year however, their festival was elaborate and ornate, decorations hanging from every window ledge and barrels of the finest glogg lining the streets for the common folk to indulge in. Musicians and street performers had been called in from all over the country to make the streets come alive with sounds and tumbling acrobats. The Lights of Autumn were hanging from every high place available across the city; tiny lanterns meant to ward off demons and ask for good fortune this harvest.
Elsa had suggested the expanded festival this year at the approval of her advisers. It was meant more as a morale booster for the citizens. Things were looking better and it was time they celebrated this.
Today, the last day of the harvest, was the conclusion of the festival and the festivities were in full swing. Elsa walked alone down the streets of her city, mingling with her people in the early morning light. Well, mingling was not entirely accurate. The people cleared a path for her as she came, as if she were a parade, pulling their excited children back and scolding them for trying to reach the ‘fun snow queen’. Elsa tried not to let the distance bother her, instead, she did her best to greet everyone she passed, even pausing for a longer conversation occasionally. They all seemed genuinely happy to see her, thrilled that she was taking the time to interact with them.
But Elsa knew that for some, it was a smokescreen. She longed to slip in among them again as she had so many months ago while tailing Christian, just to see how much easier it would be now after months of adjusting to crowds and intimacy. To hear them talk of her without the seal of royalty holding back their true opinions.
“My queen!” Elsa paused to greet the owner of Arendelle’s Snowflake Tavern (a place that, contrary to popular belief, had had its name for twenty years prior to the queen’s birth).
“Holger. Good to see you sir! How runs the ale?”
The portly man chuckled at the line Elsa’s father had often used in greeting the city’s inn-keepers. “Well, my queen. It looks like we will survive the winter after all! I must say, the Freeze granted the grain a particular chill that my customers have quite enjoyed.”
Elsa fought the guilty twinge and smiled pleasantly at him. “I’ll have to come by and taste it for myself sometime soon.”
He seemed startled and bowed deeply. “It would be an honor, my queen.” Elsa smiled at him and continued on her way, her skirt swirling around her legs. No ice dress today, instead she’d chosen a soft, violet dress that was simply but beautifully adorned. Several people had already commented on how much like her mother she looked in it. Elsa found the comparison both humbling and troubling.
By this point, the sun had fully risen and the light lit up the fjord in a burst of late-fall red. It was time for the last day of the festival to officially begin. The last day of harvest.
As Elsa turned, making her way towards the erected dais in the center of town where she would make a short speech about how they had overcome the challenges of the past few months, a familiar voice suddenly screamed, loud enough to pierce through the mindless chatter of the other civilians. “Elsa!”
At that precise moment, a child broke from the crowd and smashed into her, hard enough to make her stumble. Elsa turned in surprise as she regained her footing. What was…?
There wasn’t a chance to finish the thought.
Had Elsa turned just a second later, the blade would have pierced right through her heart, killing her instantly. Instead, the fine point of the ice pick sheared across her left side, biting into her flesh and drawing warm blood. It seeped across the violet fabric, turning it the color of dying leaves.
Before Elsa could even summon her ice, before she could even really comprehend what had just happened, the assassin had drawn another deadly sharp probe and had it headed for her heart. It was shattered by a blow from a much larger weapon.
Then the wave of pain hit her and Elsa fell to her knees. “…Garret.”
The guardian brought the handle of his axe up, smacking the assassin under the chin. Elsa heard a crunch of breaking bone and the man fell to the ground, blood pouring from his mouth and nose.
In a second, Garret was over him, stepping on the man’s hands to prevent him from drawing more weapons. The assassin cried out in pain and fear as he looked up at the towering man before him.
“’The enemies of the Mother’s children will be dealt swift justice from her Guardian…’” Garret said in an ominous voice, his eyes like chips of flint. “’Any who wish her children harm will meet the Mother by his blade…’”
He lifted his battle-axe like an executioner, the razor-sharp edge glistening. The assassin’s eyes widened and he went still and silent. The surrounding crowd was as still as a frozen lake, struggling to understand what they were witnessing.
Garret readied his weapon, blind to all but his victim. “’…And the cycle shall continue unbroken.’” He finished.
“Garret, no!” Every head in the crowd turned from the scene to the voice that had cut through the silence. A young blonde girl was standing beside the kneeling form of the queen, her green eyes swimming in barely held-back tears as she clutched her chest. “Let Elsa decide his fate.” The girl said, her voice quivering.
The guardian paused, his axe held over his head. He glanced over his shoulder at Queen Elsa.
Elsa swallowed hard, forcing her voice not to dry up. “Lock him away. I will speak to him.”
Elsa was relieved to see the fury and lust of battle immediately drain from Garret’s eyes.
“Of course, Elsa.”
He lowered his axe and allowed the stunned Arendelle guards who had swarmed to the commotion come forward and apprehend the assassin. The crowd was descending into confusion and uneasy mutterings as everyone tried to figure out what had just happened and who the queen’s strange protectors were.
Holding one hand to the bleeding wound, Elsa tried to rise to her feet, to reassure her subjects that she was fine but found she could not. She got one foot under her but it quickly gave up, sending her back to her knees. The wound in her side burned and she couldn’t seem to think straight enough to summon ice for it.
Elsa looked up and noticed a small head of ginger-red hair melt effortlessly into the shifting crowd.
Was Reba…was she watching…? Did she warn me?
Elsa stumbled again but this time arms encircled her as she fell and held her up. Yellow-blonde hair fell against her face.
Scara was subtly pressing a large leaf to the bleeding wound in Elsa’s side. “It will help heal you…” She whispered, her voice thick with tears. “Just hang in there…”
Elsa could only nod, her head starting to swim. The pick must have been poisoned…
Another arm circled around her shoulders and supported her. Elsa heard the rumble of Garret’s voice as he began to lead her back towards the castle, taking care near her injured side.
They walked past the guards, who had successfully apprehended the assassin and were leading him towards the dungeon.
The assassin spit in Elsa’s direction as she passed him. The little flecks of his spittle and blood hit Garret’s cheek and hair.
“Filthy ice witch!” The assassin growled. “You don’t belong in the world of men!” A guard cuffed him roughly on the side of the head for that comment.
“You will show the queen the proper respect, villain!”
The crowd once again split open as Elsa approached, although this time, it looked like they were clutching their children to them in fear. Elsa couldn’t tell. The world was becoming muted, colors were swimming together. It was like a dream. A terrifyingly real dream.
She fell against Garret and felt him adjust his grip so that he could carry her completely. The arm she had draped against his back was touching the handle of his axe. Scara was holding the other hand. Her touch felt gentle but unbreakable. Calming in this storm.
She was slipping away fast. Just as her vision began to fade, Elsa saw her through the crowd. The one person she didn’t want to witness what had just happened but, who undoubtedly had seen everything. She squirmed once in Garret’s grip, reaching out.
Then she blacked out.
When Elsa woke, it was to her sister’s anxious eyes hovering over her.
“Oh thank the gods!” Anna pounced on her, pulling her into a tight embrace that made the queen’s head spin.
Thankfully, Anna loosened her grip. She pulled back, holding her sister by the shoulders so she could look into her eyes.
“We were so worried! Reba came and told me you were being followed, so I rushed out to warn you but by the time I found you in the crowd, you’d already been attacked. That man, with the axe, he was going to kill that assassin, he carried you up here by the way. Not the assassin, the man with the axe…and the girl stayed by your side the whole time…”
Anna continued to babble and Elsa took a moment to slowly sit up and get her bearings. They were in her room. Late afternoon sunlight streamed in through the window, falling across her blue sheets. The festival was long over.
She shifted and realized her dress had been removed. A thick wrapping of bandages circled her chest, covering the wound on her left side.
“Who was that?” Anna suddenly asked. “The man who saved you? And the girl?”
Elsa stiffened, the action sending a painful twinge through her head.
“I’ve never seen them before.” Anna said. “They’re not from Arendelle are they?”
Elsa wrapped one arm around her bound chest, gently touching the covered wound. “Where are they now?” She asked. She was deflecting and she knew Anna knew. But she wasn’t about to tell her sister about why Scara and Garret were here.
“I sent them to the drawing room.” Anna replied. “They didn’t want to leave you but I assured them you were safe with me.”
Elsa glanced down. Anna was still wearing her sword.
“How do you know them?” Anna asked.
“I don’t.” Elsa said, not entirely dishonestly.
“But if you don’t know them then why did you trust them to save you?”
Elsa leaned back, placing one hand on her forehead. “Everything just happened so fast Anna…”
“Don’t blame it on that Elsa.”
Her eyes snapped open. Anna was angry. “What?”
The princess’s gaze was hard, she was gripping the sword at her waist rather tightly. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.” She said harshly, throwing Elsa off guard. “We were supposed to attend the festival together.”
All her political training informed Elsa that in a confrontation such as this, looking away would show guilt. Looking away would open her up for further attack leading to a loss of ground. Looking away was the wrong thing to do.
She looked away.
Elsa blamed it on the fact that she’d just been attacked, that there were still remnants of poison coursing through her veins, that her head still swam. But she knew the real reason. She would let Anna hurt her forever. She didn’t want to fight back against her little sister the same way she did her political opponents.
If Anna realized the significance of the gesture, she didn’t show it. “Why didn’t you call for me?” She asked, the anger slowly fading from her voice. When Elsa didn’t answer her face fell. There was a moment of silence. Then realization seemed to strike Anna like a bolt of lightning. “You…you knew…” A shaking, accusatory finger was pointed at the queen. “You knew someone was coming!”
Elsa closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see how she had betrayed Anna. “No. But I suspected. So I protected you.”
The anger from before boiled back to the surface. “I am not a child Elsa!” Anna shouted at her. “I don’t need your protection! What about you! He was going to kill you!”
Elsa glared at the snowflakes patterning her bedspread. “I know. And I wasn’t about to expose you to that.” She sighed. “I didn’t call you because I didn’t want to put you in danger.”
Elsa heard the faint sound of a blade rattling in its scabbard. “You…you really think I couldn’t protect you, don’t you?” Anna asked softly.
Something swelled within Elsa. Something that stung but comforted all the same. A feeling that would not let her lose this argument. “What about your child, Anna?” Elsa said calmly. Her sister froze, one hand reflexively dropping to her middle. Elsa looked away again but the damage was done. “What if something happened to it while you were defending me? What then?”
Anna turned away from her, tears burning in her eyes, one arm wrapped tightly around herself. Elsa couldn’t look at her. She hadn’t meant to reprimand her sister. But the way Anna had looked outside; sword drawn, eyes burning, ready to fight an army to defend her sister. It had frightened Elsa. She couldn’t let Anna sacrifice herself so recklessly for her. Not again. Never again.
Elsa threw back the sheets, needing some space to think, to process. To keep Anna away from her.
Anna would of course, make that infinitely difficult. “Where do you think you’re going?” She demanded as Elsa stood on unsteady legs.
“The dungeons, to interrogate the assassin. I want to know who wants me dead.”
“Oh I don’t think so.” Anna said and Elsa could hear the shaking attempt at their mother’s voice in the words. “You were just almost killed, you’re staying in bed.”
Elsa ignored her and reached for a dress. “I feel fine Anna. I’m doing this.”
“Then I’m coming with you.”
“No.” She pulled the dress over her head, not noticing right away that she had picked up the black temple dress completely by accident. “I have to do this alone Anna.”
She walked towards the door but Anna blocked her way, arms spread wide. “What makes you so sure that you have to do everything alone?” Anna asked her, her gaze piercing Elsa straight to her core. “I thought we were past this Elsa! I thought we were a team!”
Hating herself, Elsa played her final, most powerful card. “Have you told Kristoff yet?” Anna silence was a good as an answer. “Don’t you think you should?”
For a moment, the power struggle raged silently between them, neither daring to slip the slightest for fear the other would swoop in to claim victory. It was like a negotiation between nations, relations on the brink of war if there was only one wrong move.
It was not the way sisters were supposed regard each other.
They remained that way a good long while. Stuck once again. Another wall they could not scale.
Finally, a victor was decided.
Anna’s shoulders slumped. Her eyes narrowed. And (to Elsa’s amazement) she backed away.
Elsa left the room, leaving Anna behind, biting her lip to keep the pain at bay. Someday, Elsa hoped Anna could understand how much it hurt the queen to have to treat her like a politician. Just how much it hurt to push her sister away. Just how much of Anna’s life would be salvaged from all that pushing.
Anna could not be a part of this life.
Not if Elsa wanted to keep her sister and her new niece or nephew safe.
Memories of the dungeons were understandably anxiety-inducing for Elsa. Not just from her time as a prisoner here but now from all the failed attempts at meditation that had seemed to be only a painful look into her deepest psychological disorders.
But for once, she was not down here alone. For once she would not be the one in the cell.
As she approached the dungeons, Elsa dismissed the three guards who had accompanied her down into the bowels of the castle.
“I’ll be fine.” She said as the captain went to protest. “He’s in chains and I have no intention of letting him get close to me. Wait outside.” She had a feeling she would want to question this assassin alone.
Outside the door leading down to the cell was a small alcove for the guards. It hadn’t been used for quite some time, seeing as the last prisoner in the dungeons had been Elsa herself and she’d kept it empty in the months since to practice meditations. She dismissed the guard behind the desk as well, preferring no one hear what might be exchanged between the man and herself.
Before going down, Elsa examined the belongings taken from the prisoner, scattered on the guards’ table for her observation: a number of those sharp ice picks, one of which was covered in her dried blood, a small money purse, a vial of greenish powder, a flint, a long cloak and a rough whetstone. She took careful note of each one. She picked up one of the picks (not the one with her blood on it). Then she entered the dungeon.
The man looked up as she entered, his tiny eyes narrowing as he saw who his visitor was.
“Ah, if it isn’t the Ice Witch herself…come to freeze me to death?”
Elsa ignored the jab and the venom in his voice. It was certainly odd to not be the one in chains in this room. Although she could sympathize with the prisoner, she felt no sympathy for him. The man before her was not the Duke of Weselton, nor anyone she recognized as one of his associates. But everything about him reminded her of that little man: his nasally voice, his wiry hair that looked fake, his tiny, mean face and the distinctly rat-like air that oozed from his words and movements. And who else would send an assassin meant for her?
Elsa held up the pick so the man could see it. “I must say, for an assassin, you did not come well-prepared.” She kept her distance from him, standing by the door. Even with the chains, she was taking no chances with the man who had just failed to kill her.
He moved back slightly, the chains binding him to the floor rattling. Elsa experienced a moment of unwanted empathy. “I was not expecting the witch to have protection.” The prisoner spat. Dried blood from Garret’s attack covered his mouth and chin.
Elsa shrugged. “It was self-appointed.” She said, her voice set. “I wasn’t expecting him either.” That in no way meant she was unhappy about Garret’s perfect timing. “Who sent you?” She asked him.
The man curled in on himself. “I’ll tell you nothing!” He hissed at her defiantly shaking his manacled hands in her direction.
Elsa coolly ignored his dedication to his employers. “I had no idea Weselton took our trade severance this personally.” She said off-handedly, placing the ice pick down on one of the wooden benches, far out of his reach.
The assassin flinched at her words. “How did you…?”
“How did I know Weselton sent you?” Elsa smirked. “I didn’t, you just confirmed my suspicion.”
The assassin closed his mouth and glared at her, angry at being tricked.
Elsa let the silence hang for a moment before resuming her interrogation. “Why did they send you to kill me?”
He scoffed. “Isn’t it obvious? To such a clever witch?”
“I think this runs a little deeper than mere political revenge.” Elsa said, eyeing him carefully. She gestured towards the weapon on the seat next to her. “seems oddly specific to want to kill me with an ice pick.” The man shifted, his eyes glinting and darting briefly to the tantalizingly close weapon. “Tell me the truth.” Elsa demanded.
His entire frame swelled up and hardened. “I would never forsake the sacrifices of my father by conversing with a being such as you!” The man roared. “I’ll die before I help you in any way!”
Elsa didn’t bat an eyelash at his outburst. She slowly let the cold radiate from her body to fill the cell. The man scuttled away from her as far as the chains would allow but his eyes remained defiantly hard.
“So you are afraid of me.” Elsa said, taking a single step closer. “Of what I can do.”
The assassin’s eyes flickered from her to the weapon to the door in quick succession. “Weselton fears winter.” He finally said around his teeth. “Every child knows the story. Twenty-four years ago, a witch cursed our land, killing our crops and freezing our rivers. Everything stopped, for two whole years we suffered winter’s wrath.”
Elsa recalled the Duke’s irrational and overwhelming fear of her abilities. A rush of excitement and dread ran through her. Her predecessor perhaps? It had to be. The last time Isen had been awake.
The man was still speaking, his glare never wavering from Elsa. “Then finally, we discovered the cause, a young witch with the power to call upon ice and snow,” he paused, then spit in her direction again. He missed. “…just like you. We begged her, we threatened her and even tortured her but still the storm raged on. She would not stop it. So we removed the cause. Only then did the winter cease.”
His words sent both a strange chill and an overwhelming sense of déjà vu through Elsa. She clenched both her fists, keeping the ice inside as best she could through her rage and disgust. “So you murdered a child.” She clarified, her voice like ice.
“To cease the slaughter of hundreds more!” the man defended, thrusting his chest forward as if he himself had committed the act and were damn proud of it. “And we would have done it a hundred times if necessary.”
Elsa didn’t have a name for the emotion currently consuming her. It was some odd mixture of rage, fear, disgust and sorrow. “Monsters.” She spat at him through gritted teeth.
The man’s tiny eyes narrowed even more. “You’re the monster, sorceress!” He shouted at her, his eyes glowing with hatred and conviction. Elsa could tell he had never wanted to kill her more than he did right now.
“I am not a monster.” She said softly but in a voice that had quieted many angry politicians.
It had no effect on him. “Tell that to the hundreds who died when the endless winter struck Weselton twenty-four years ago. Tell that to the children who grew up without parents, the parents who watched their children freeze to death. Tell that to my brother, my parents’ first born!”
Elsa had to turn away as he said those words. Words from her nightmare. “That was not my fault. I was not even born.” She fought to keep her arms from wrapping tightly around herself. She had to stay strong. The cut on her side was burning again through the tight bandages.
“But you carry the legacy and therefore the blame.” There was a smirk in his voice, she knew he could see her weakening. “You froze your kingdom as well. Your people have all suffered because of your sorcery. They all fear you.”
Elsa rounded on him, her eyes flashing. “I ended the winter.” She said, in a careful, calm voice. “My people love and respect me as I love and respect them.”
He sneered at her and snapped his chains against the ground. “If your winter storm had lasted much longer, soon enough those same people would turn on you too. Do you think even your most loyal would not hesitate to kill you if they knew it would save their children from freezing to death? Do you think it is not a thought in their heads now as they watch you walking free, flaunting your magic, reigning over them? Do you think that fear or loyalty will keep them in check for long?”
Elsa had nothing to say in response to that. He had just named another of her nightmares. And a fear that chased her all though the day as she looked out over her people.
She turned away. “We’re done here.” Her voice was thick and low.
A dark chuckle came from the cell behind her, echoing eerily among the walls. “Not going to kill me? Coward. Some queen.”
Elsa paused, fighting down the fury that threatened to blind her and impale him with an icicle. “I am not a killer.” She said, recalling how close she’d come to making that statement a lie. She picked up the ice pick from the bench. It felt too hot to hold but she closed her hand around the handle. “I consider life far more precious than anyone from your forsaken country obviously does. I will not kill you. Nor will I return you to Weselton.”
She turned her head slightly, so that he could see the anger and fervor in her eyes as she delivered her sentence. “You will be banished. To the northern provinces. There, you will live and slave away in the ice and the cold for six years under a battalion of Arendelle guards and ice harvesters. Then you will be free…to do as you please. ”
His chains smacked against the floor again. “I will still return to kill you!” He snarled happily.
“Perhaps. But perhaps not.”
He shuffled forwards slightly, his chains dragging with him. “You really think a few years in the cold will flatten my resolve?” He chuckled darkly again. “People don’t change, sorceress. You are merely a reincarnation of the monster before you. Death and destruction follows your kind. You’re a danger. A MURDERER!” He continued to shout and scream, descending into a deranged chant: “Monster! Monster!”
Elsa left the cell, his shrieking voice and haunting laughter following her until the heavy wooden door slammed mercifully shut behind her.
The guardian and the spring host were seated in Elsa’s drawing room: Garret examined the ivory-inlaid chess set on the table while Scara hung upside-down off the couch, her long blonde hair trailing on the floor.
“I thought a queen was always safe.”
The spring host’s quiet statement broke Garret’s focus on the pieces and he blinked. “What?”
Scara kicked her legs against the back of the couch. “I mean they live in these giant castles. Isn’t it like our temple? No one can get in? People protect her.”
Garret shrugged. He had about as much experience with royals as she did. “We protected her.” He pointed out.
“But we’re not always here.”
“Elsa is very powerful.” Garret replied, picking up a pawn and spinning it on his palm. “And she knows how to take care of herself.”
“But that still didn’t save her.”
Garret could think of nothing to say to reassure the young girl.
“The man that attacked Elsa.” Scara continued, sounding troubled, an emotion that she rarely displayed. “He got through so easily. And he looked so…angry.” Garret glanced at her and found the spring host’s eyes swimming in tears again. “What had Elsa ever done to him?” She asked.
Garret placed the pawn back in its place, turning it to face the opposing army. “He was probably hired by someone who doesn’t like Elsa.” Garret turned around and was greeted with a stoic face looking at him from the wall. Curious, he took a step closer and examined the portrait of the late king.
“Who could not like Elsa?” Scara mused. “Well, except Theo.”
“Theo likes Elsa.” Garret said without thinking.
The atmosphere in the room visibly brightened as Scara smiled. “I knew it!”
Garret knew he shouldn’t get Scara’s hopes up about that, especially with the way Theo was currently dealing with her feelings. But he would tell Scara whatever he thought would make her happy. He would tell Theo whatever would help keep her sane.
“Elsa is a queen.” Garret said, examining the medals on the painted man’s chest. “She has enemies, people scared of her powers most likely.”
Scara shook her head in bewilderment. “He tried to poison her. To kill her.” She tilted her head upright so that she could look at him better. “Was he one of those evil men?”
Garret nodded, all traces of a smile slipping off his face. “Yes Scara, you want to stay away from devious men like him.”
Scara let her head hang backwards again. “Devious…like the people who took away my parents.”
Garret said nothing. His fist was clenched so tightly he felt blood trickling down his palm where his fingers dug into flesh. He stared up at the portrait of a man he had never known and felt rage course through him.
“Never trust men who kill for a living.” He whispered, unsure if Scara heard him or not.
Silence returned and Garret continued to examine the portrait of Elsa’s father, his brief anger beginning to fade. Even though he hadn’t known the man, he felt like he understood him just by looking at this painting. He was calm and powerful and though his gaze in the painting was relaxed, he could feel the weight of expectation in it. This was a father who loved his children but hid it under high expectations.
Garret had never known his parents. Being the Guardian, he had been separated from them at birth, destined to wander and train until he found the hosts. But he’d always wondered what it would be like to have a father.
His thoughts returned to the moment back in the square. The moment when the Mother’s will had overcome his own and he’d nearly chopped a man’s head off in a blind fervor of protection. A terrible man but that didn’t make it any better. That man might have been a father. Perhaps he had a son back home. A child who would miss him just as Elsa missed her father and Garret wondered about his.
“Scara?” She looked up at him. He was still gazing at the King but no longer really looking at him. “Thank you.” He said.
Scara sat up straight, regarding him with confusion. “For what?”
“For stopping me from killing him.”
“Livet didn’t want to lose him, not yet.” Scara said it matter-of-factly but Garret had seen the tears in her eyes back in the square. She hadn’t wanted to see him kill. Not again.
The door was suddenly thrown open, banging against the wall. Scara and Garret looked up, expecting the queen.
But it wasn’t Elsa entering the room.
Scara smiled brightly at the stranger. “Hello. I remember you.”
“Nice sword.” Garret commented, gesturing at the weapon. “Well-made and well-maintained.”
The woman before them tightened her grip on it. “Thank you.” She said stiffly. Her strawberry-blonde hair was tied neatly in two braids. A thick crop of freckles dusted her nose. She was regarding them the same way Garret imagined she would regard the assassin from earlier. She didn’t trust them, that much he could tell.
“Have you studied it long?” Garret asked kindly, gesturing at her weapon again.
He saw her loosen up but only slightly. “Only a few months.” She admitted. “But my instructor says I’m a natural.”
“That’s great!” Scara said, standing up. “I wanted to learn some swordplay but Theo wouldn’t let me touch Garret’s broadsword…not after what happened last time I got my hands on a blade…”
Garret placed a gentle hand on Scara’s shoulder to silence her. He saw the girl fighting to hold back a smile at Scara’s outburst.
“You are the one who cares for the queen, yes?” He asked their visitor. He recognized her as the woman who had accompanied them into the castle with the unconscious queen. In all the confusion, Garret hadn’t had a chance to ask her name.
The woman straightened up, all traces of a smile falling off her face. “Yes. That’s right.” She fingered her sword again and Garret noticed a shining bangle on her left wrist. “I protect her. I’m her sister, Princess Anna.”
Garret felt his heart stop. “Princess…” So this was her. Elsa’s impossible sister.
Next to him, Scara twitched uncomfortably and through the hand he still had on her shoulder, he felt her deflate slightly as if someone had sapped all the happy energy out of her. The two of them stood there, unmoving, unsure what to do.
Princess Anna stared at them, her gaze unreadable. Garret wondered if she was waiting for them to bow or just trying to screw up courage to ask them something. She was older than Garret had expected her to be and not at all as he expected a princess to be. Then again, her sister was a rather unconventional queen so he supposed it wasn’t that much of a surprise.
The princess was youthful and beautiful, with toned muscles in her arms and torso. There was a bruise on her left cheek and a healing cut under her chin. Her eyes were a beautiful teal color, a shade darker than Elsa’s but the exact same shape as the queen’s.
Garret looked away. He couldn’t look into those eyes. Not without feeling like something was very wrong. Like there was something here he needed to fix. A scaled that needed to be balanced. The axe on his back suddenly felt very heavy.
“Who are you?” The princess asked, her gaze shifting back and forth between the two.
Scara was the one who answered. “Your sister hasn’t told you?” Garret heard the unease in Scara’s voice and knew she was feeling the same odd sense of imbalance he was feeling.
The princess crossed her arms, glaring between them. “Why are you here? How do you know my sister?”
Garret glanced at Scara, still unable to meet Anna’s gaze. “We…we are…”
“We’re not here to hurt you or your sister.” Scara told Anna, reinforcing the words with a smile. “We just want her to be safe. To be protected.”
Anna was silent for a moment. Scara’s answer seemed to have thrown her slightly. Her arms had loosened. “Are you the ones that took her away last summer?” She finally asked.
Scara glanced at Garret for guidance but he had nothing to offer. He wasn’t sure what to do here. Why hadn’t Elsa told her sister about them?
“Yes.” Scara finally replied.
The change in Anna was immediate and apparent. “Why?” She asked through her teeth, her shoulders tensing and her fingers dancing along the handle of her blade.
Scara took a step back, her shoulder trembling and Garret felt the change in the air, the thickening of the atmosphere as Scara’s unease manifested in Livet’s power. He could smell pollen in the air and out of the corner of his eye saw a potted plant in the corner twitch ever so slightly.
Garret’s hand tightened on Scara’s shoulder reflexively as he tried to put his thoughts in order. It was his duty to keep the hosts safe and that meant keeping them from revealing their powers as much as possible to ordinary humans. But Anna was Elsa’s sister. She knew about these abilities. But did she know about the others? If she attacked them, what would he do? He’d protect Scara, that was a given but could he really hurt Anna? Would that fix anything?
Thankfully, he was saved by making a decision by Elsa entering the room.
As soon as she did, the heavy air in the room cleared instantly. “Elsa!” Scara was clearly overjoyed to see her new sister again. She leapt forward and swept Elsa up in a crushing embrace. The queen didn’t tense up under the touch but she did not hug Scara back. She only had eyes for her sister.
“Anna, what are you doing here?” The queen asked as she gently pushed Scara off of her. Garret’s eyes narrowed. Something wasn’t right. Elsa looked troubled. Clearly she had been up to something since she had woken up from her attack. He saw the same dark circles under her eyes that plagued another one of his girls.
“Getting answers.” The princess replied. “Elsa… who are these people?” Her eyes swept over to Garret who was now looking between Anna and Elsa uncomfortably.
There was a moment of silence in which the heavy atmosphere of the room could not be attributed to the power of a season. Garret and Scara watched uneasily as the princess and queen stared each other down. Clearly there was something else going on here. Something they were not meant to witness.
“Give us a moment please.” Elsa didn’t wait for a response from Garret and Scara before she pulled Anna out of the room and into the hallway, slamming the doors shut behind them.
Garret turned back to the painting, breathing slowly to try to calm himself. The blind rage had almost overcome him again. He’d almost lashed out.
Scara collapsed heavily back on the couch. “I thought she’d be younger.” She said in a tiny voice.
Garret laughed with relief. “Yeah… me too.”
“I…I thought I was going to...” Scara was crying softly, her fists closed tightly. The plant in the corner had overgrown, bursting out of its pot and sprawling silently on the floor.
Garret left the painting and knelt in front of the spring host. She looked up at him, helpless. “I would have stopped you.” Garret told her, his voice shaking too.
Scara nodded. “I know but…this…this feeling.” She wrapped her arms around herself and took a deep breath. “Livet was clenching all my muscles, she was going to lose control if Anna drew that sword…” Her eyes were wide, she had turned white. She’d almost lost control and it terrified her. Livet had asserted her dominance, something the spring spirit rarely did. But when she did, Scara fell apart. Her control was already fragile enough, Livet taking over only made it worse.
Garret gently drew Scara into a hug, leaning her head on his shoulder. Tiny vines tugged at his tunic but the Mother’s Grace kept them from tightening.
Scara buried her face in his shoulder. “Why Garret?” She asked him as he stroked her hair. “Why is she tipping the balance? What do they want us to do to fix it?”
Garret wished he had answers for her. But he didn’t. He was but their protector, he didn’t have answers to the Mother’s mysteries.
The door opened once more and Garret caught the end of Elsa’s statement. “…Anna please. Please trust me when I say that this is important.” He tilted his head to the side, trying to catch more. Was Elsa pleading?
Whatever response the princess might have had was cut off by the doors slamming shut behind Elsa as she entered the room.
Garret offered Elsa a smile. “So that’s your sister.” He said conversationally, patting Scara gently as he stood up.
“I don’t want to talk about her.” Elsa snapped, ice crackling at her palm. The temperature in the room dropped several degrees and ice began to form around the fireplace. Scara let out a tiny hiccup and Elsa flinched at the sound. Immediately, the room began to warm, the ice started to drip. Garret was impressed. Even now, under clear emotional stress, Elsa had incredible control.
The queen took several deep breaths and folded her hands. “Garret, about earlier…” She said in a very controlled voice. “thanks.”
Garret felt a smile tugging at his lips. He waited until Elsa looked at him to answer. “No need to thank me. I’d never let anything happen to my girls.”
Elsa smiled back but he could still see the worry behind it.
Scara stepped forward again and offered Elsa another hug, this one more subdued than the last.
“Livet was afraid we were going to lose you.” She told the queen, her voice still thick with tears. “She gave me her most powerful cure so that I could draw out the poison.”
Elsa nodded, brushing a loose strand of platinum hair behind her ear. She seemed very distracted.
“What are you two doing here?” She asked.
Scara answered before Garret could. “We are ready to go after Autumn.” She said, her voice unusually subdued. “We’ve come to take you to the temple for final preparations.”
Ice shot along the edges of the mantle as Elsa panicked. “I can’t leave now!” She exclaimed, looking from Scara to Garret. “We’re barely out of financial disaster, my sister just got married, I have meetings with suitors and I was just attacked!” She rubbed her hands together as if trying to warm them but fractals of ice were dripping from between them at the action. “This is the worst possible time I could leave.”
“Elsa…” Garret began, wondering if this was the best way to word his response. “this is important.”
He saw her glance up over his shoulder, where he knew the portrait of the former king hung. “So is my kingdom.” Elsa said, her eyes not leaving the painting.
It appeared Garret had been right about the king. “We have to go now.” He told the queen sternly. “Autumn has been on the loose for two weeks, we cant afford any more delays. She could have killed everything in her homeland. And even though her power will be strong at this time of year, we have you.”
Elsa laughed humorlessly and looked him in the eye. “What difference will I make without Isen?” She asked, her voice laced with a level a self-doubt Garret hadn’t even suspected she possessed.
“I thought you had more faith in yourself.” He said. “We need the spirit of winter certainly but we will need her ice first.” He shrugged. “And who knows, maybe being in proximity to Død will provide the kick Isen needs to wake up.”
Elsa still looked torn. “This will be good.” Garret told her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. Elsa searched his face with the same expression she had observed the painting behind him with. Garret found the weight of it both inspiring and terrifying. “Finally you’ll all be together again. Maybe then this whole imbalance will work itself out. We just need to get Død home.”
“Død is lost…” Scara said. Both Garret and Elsa glanced at her. She was sitting on the couch again, her eyes wide and distant, a dreamy look on her face. “She’s all alone and frightened…” The air in the room thickened again, even Elsa tensed up at the atmosphere.
Garret left Elsa’s side and knelt in front of the girl again. “Scara…stop. You don’t need to do that.”
“It will help calm her.” Scara said in a strong voice. Her gaze had hardened. The plant in the corner was growing again and the wood on the couch was becoming riddled with cracks. “Livet wants to help her sister…”
Garret ran a hand along Scara’s arm, trying to get her to look at him. She wouldn’t. “You cant reach her. It will only drive you insane. Remember what Theo said.”
Scara’s fingers tightened on the cushion under her and tiny plants began to sprout from every piece of wood in the room. “Theo is wrong. I have to try…Autumn is crying…” Her eyes began to flash gold and a strong breeze swept through the room, toppling over the chess pieces.
“Scara, no!” Garret lashed out, his protective side taking over. A quick jab to Scara’s left shoulder and a tug of her left earlobe knocked the host unconscious. All the plants around them shrank and crumbled to bits as her eyes closed and she went limp. Garret caught Scara as she fell and laid her flat on the couch. He brushed a stray strand of blonde from her face. I’m sorry, Scar…
“What’s going on?” Elsa asked, her voice shaking. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Livet and Død are twin spirits.” Garret explained as he stood up. “Half of a whole. They feel each other’s emotions, share each other’s pain.”
Elsa stepped closer and gazed down at Scara’s prone form. “So she’s been like this all this time?”
Garret shook his head. “Only when she actively reaches out. The rest of the time, Livet protects her from the worst of it.”
Elsa knelt and gently touched Scara’s forehead. Garret saw small, cooling particles of ice leaking from her fingers to soothe the spring host’s fevered face. “Why did you knock her out then?” Elsa asked him.
“Livet wasn’t protecting her.”
They were silent for a moment until Scara shifted slightly and murmured. Her face relaxed and her eyes began to flutter.
“Where’s Theo?” Elsa asked suddenly. He’d wondered when she’d ask that.
“Still at the temple, making some final calculations with Goren.” Garret replied. “She’ll meet us at the border. We asked her if she wanted to come but she was very adamant that she not come near Arendelle.”
Elsa’s eyes widened. “Why?” She asked, standing up so she was level with the Guardian.
Garret shrugged. “Who knows?” He was lying. But he doubted Elsa could tell.
The queen looked away, biting her lip. She was staring into the fireplace, watching the flames lick at charred logs. Scara shifted again and slowly began to wake from her trace.
“So.” Garret said quietly, barely softer than the crackle of the flames. “Are you ready, Elsa?”
Her sword hidden behind the curtain in the corner, Anna ripped open the file Kai had delivered and tried very hard not to tear the documents to pieces. As she examined the papers, Anna had to wonder if the poison that had almost killed Elsa or just the trauma of being attacked had turned Elsa into some kind of secretive monster with poor judgment. Why else would she make her meet with Prince Christian about trades?
Anna smiled as pleasantly as she could at the prince as he entered the conference room where they were meeting. The months of his constant presence still had not dampened Anna’s hatred of the foreign prince, nor her suspicion of his motives. No amount of polite interactions or uneventful Informers’ reports could convince her otherwise. But she had gotten better at hiding her disdain. Her stomach was in knots and Anna briefly wondered if it was nerves or if the baby didn’t like Southern Isles princes either.
So no, Anna was in no way pleased about this meeting. It was also keeping Anna from eavesdropping on whatever was happening in the drawing room. She hadn’t even had a chance to get a message to Dagrun, telling him to listen in on the talk.
Anna sat down, clearing her throat. “Well, Prince Christian, shall we begin?”
He nodded and opened his papers, his silence throwing Anna for a loop. She’d expected him to demand a meeting with the queen or to inquire how she was in that annoyingly polite voice he had. Not that she was complaining, his silence was much appreciated.
“Alright, so I know Elsa wanted me to ask about the numbers regarding our ice-basalt trades, especially now as we have a great surplus…”
“I’m sure whatever deal the queen had in mind would be fine.” Prince Christian interrupted, waving a hand. Anna paused. Something wasn’t right here. He’d just interrupted her, something she’d never known him to do. His court manners were more polished than Elsa’s and they usually reflected Anna’s own inadequacies with political affairs right back in her face. On top of that, he’d been asking for this meeting for months. Anna highly doubted it was just to say yes to their every demand.
“Great. I’m sure Elsa will be thrilled.” Anna shifted papers. “Let’s move on…”
Anna continued the discussion for several minutes but quickly realized her intuition had been correct. Something was off with the prince today.
“Is there something wrong, Prince Christian?” She asked as the prince spaced out for the third time in ten minutes.
Christian shook himself but it didn’t seem to help. “I’m very sorry princess.” He apologized. “Thank you for taking this time for me but I’m afraid we will have to reschedule. I cannot discuss this right now.”
The prince looked very disoriented and very upset. Anna could see where his beard was disheveled from him running his fingers through it. His eyes darted from her to the table and back.
Anna sighed. “That’s alright, I’m really not in the mood to discuss trades either.” She stood up. “A man from Weselton just tried to kill Elsa.”
Immediately the prince’s whole manner changed. “Is she alright?” He demanded, leaning aggressively forward over the table.
Anna nodded, shocked at the reaction. “She’s fine, thankfully. The assassin is locked in our dungeon until we can send him off for punishment.”
Christian settled back in his seat, distant once more but with a darkness about him that reminded Anna a little too much of Hans.
“Is everything alright?” She asked.
“My father has taken ill.” Christian finally said. “Prince Anderson, my eldest brother has assumed the throne as Acting Reagent.”
Anna was about to attempt to offer her condolences but Christian was gathering up his papers, still talking. “I’m afraid my brother’s goals are not quite the same as my father’s were. I will have to discuss with him before we proceed in our discussions.” He stood stiffly and inclined his head in her direction. “Thank you princess but I must wish you good day.”
“Prince Christian.” He paused as Anna called out. Anna swallowed hard, all thoughts of distain and anger fading from her voice.
“I…I hope your father recovers.”
The prince said nothing but he nodded stiffly in thanks. He left the room, the door slamming behind him.
Anna stood and walked to the window, relieved that she’d gotten lucky like that. They hadn’t been talking for very long. Maybe she could still get Dagrun to listen in on Elsa’s discussion.
As she reached behind the curtain for her sword however, Anna caught sight of her sister outside. She was leaving the castle. With them.
Anna pressed her face against the window, watching in disbelief as Elsa voluntarily left the grounds with the strangers, the young blonde one holding her hand. Elsa was still wearing that stupid dress, the black one that she seemed to have picked up when she’d disappeared last. She didn’t look back.
Anna pulled herself away from the window and buckled her sword back in place. When she’d demanded that Elsa tell her who those visitors were, the queen had only pushed her towards the conference room, telling Anna nothing except that they were here on business with her and Elsa would speak to them alone.
Anna could tell Elsa was not pleased that she had ambushed the visitors in the conference room so she did not push her luck. The weight of their previous conversation, the debate that had raged silently between them still hung heavily in their interaction. Anna wondered if that was why Elsa looked so upset. Either that or her conversation with the assassin hadn’t gone well. Anna was already making plans for the man who’d tried to kill her sister and they involved a gag and Kristoff’s spare banjo. No one tried to kill her sister without receiving proper punishment from Arendelle’s princess.
But those plans might have to be put on hold. Elsa was keeping secrets from Anna again, something she’d thought they had overcome these past few months. Anna had been patient with this secret, thinking it was too traumatic for her sister to tell but her patience had run out. It was time for answers.
Anna left the conference room, mentally planning the quickest route to the castle gates. If Elsa still would not tell her, even now when her life was in danger…
Her hand tightened reassuringly on her sword. Anna had ways of gathering information. She would find out what was happening. Even if it killed her.
“Anna!” She turned a corner and suddenly found herself being crushed in the embrace of her husband. Even though he had interrupted her vital mission, Anna couldn’t help hugging him back.
“Anna, I heard what happened, is Elsa alright?” Kristoff pulled away from her, his face contorted in anger. “Where’s that assassin, I’m going to make him wish he’d never even heard of Arendelle!”
Anna gently stroked his arm, trying to get the murderous fire to simmer down. Later they could take those feelings out on the assassin together. “She’s fine, Kristoff.” She assured him. Briefly Anna told him about the assassination attempt and the two strangers who had helped Elsa.
“…and now she just left with them!”
Kristoff seemed puzzled. “Really? Why?”
“Well that’s what I’m going to find out.” She held up a hand before he could say anything. “I need your help, Kristoff. Please.”
As she gripped his arm, she caught sight of the bangle on her wrist again. It winked at her demandingly, accusingly, accompanied by a sharp reprimand in Elsa’s voice. She took a deep breath and held his hand. Their bangles grew to bind together.
“But first, there’s something I need to tell you…”
The trio left as twilight blanketed the castle. Elsa glanced back at the high gates as Garret led her and Scara towards the hills alongside the western edge of the fjord. They were to wait for nightfall then Elsa would craft them an ice platform to carry them westward to the temple. Scara would provide the wind.
The spring host had recovered from her episode in the drawing room and was back to her perky, if somewhat subdued self.
The trio reached a ridge on the outskirts of Arendelle’s capitol just as the tip of the sun met the horizon. Turning back to see the castle on the fjord, the home that had once been a prison, the throne she had proudly inherited from her father, Elsa found she could not take another step.
She stopped walking and stared down at her kingdom, recalling her flight several months ago, when she’d thought she was leaving for good. But she had returned, despite all circumstances. Then when the others had taken her away, saying she’d never return. But she had.
For some reason, she felt that if she left this time, she would never see her kingdom again.
Garret looked back as he realized Elsa had stopped following them. Scara skipped back to Elsa’s side and slid her hand into the queen’s again.
“Don’t worry.” The spring host said. “Your kingdom is in good hands. Anna will be fine.”
Garret placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Hopefully this will take no longer than a week.” He said, squeezing her arm reassuringly. “Then everything will be back to normal.”
Elsa nodded, pursing her lips and trying to believe them. She wanted desperately to believe them. One week. Just one week. But of course, that week would be spent with…
“At least as normal as it can be.”
As one, the queen, the host and the guardian spun to the voice.
A woman stood quietly under the shadow of an oak tree, completely still except for where the wind set her short hair billowing out like smoke…
“Theo!” Scara jumped up and threw herself at the summer host. Theo hugged her briefly, lifting the younger girl into the air, then set her down.
Garret was looking at Theo questioningly. “I thought you were meeting us at the border?” He said.
The summer host shrugged. “I got impatient.” Scara had an arm around Theo’s waist, a distant smile on her face like she was lost in her own world.
Theo didn’t even look at Elsa. She ignored her like she didn’t exist.
“Still doesn’t explain why you came all the way here.” Garret pressed, tucking one hand into his tunic pocket and regarding Theo with mild suspicion.
“I came straight here.” Theo said, sounding tired but determined. “Goren got a definite lock. We have a location.”
Immediately, the distant smile melted off of Scara’s face. “Where?” She asked, her voice taking on a desperate tone Elsa had never heard from her before.
Theo noticed the change too and a flicker of concern crossed her features. “South of here.” Theo told Scara. “A small island of the coast of Belmore. We can be there by tomorrow’s sunset if we leave from here immediately.”
Everyone, even Scara was silent. Elsa suddenly realized they were all waiting for her to say something. She looked up and immediately wished she hadn’t. Theo was looking at her.
The confusion of their last encounter, a kiss that perhaps should have remained hypothetical hung heavily in the air between them, twisting and falling like trapped steam.
Elsa knew the dark shadows under her eyes painted there by her nightmares were glaringly noticeable. Theo looked even worse than she did two weeks ago.
Elsa could already tell this trip to retrieve Autumn would be consumed with the two of them trying not to discuss what had happened two weeks ago in her room. Trying not to snap at each other. Trying not to make the nightmares real.
Garret looked between the two of them, his eyes observing small hints and subtle signs between the two. But when he turned to Elsa, all he said was: “Let’s go.”