Chapter 10 - The Journey
It was freezing. So cold, it was surprising that the stairs underfoot were not coated in ice with how damp these walls seemed. Every footstep echoed deafeningly around the stone with a wet smack. The darkness embraced the cloaked figure, carrying them past dozing guards and locked doors alike until the destination was reached.
The man behind the bars raised his head as the visitor approached the cell. He smirked and stepped closer to the door, rattling his chains as they pulled taught.
“Ah, two visitors in one day…I guess I’m finally worthwhile.”
The visitor said nothing. A stolen key was produced and softly, the wooden door creaked open. The cloaked figure stepped inside, face hidden by their hood.
The assassin grinned, showing his teeth at his visitor. “Well? Don’t be shy. Show your face.”
Slowly Prince Christian raised his head, letting the dim light illuminate his features. The assassin’s lips slowly closed around his teeth.
“Do you know who I am?” the prince asked, not lowering his hood. His low drawl echoed softly around the stone walls.
The mercenary raised his eyebrows. “Of course.” He took a seat on the stone bench, keeping his chained hands in his lap. “I wont bother to ask if you know me. You nobles never do.” He laughed. “Funny, it works one way but never the other?”
“Regardless, you know the horrors I will unleash upon you if you do not answer me honestly when I question you.”
“Question away.” The assassin replied smoothly, unmoved by the prince’s threat.
“Who sent you?” Christian asked.
Christian crossed the room in two angry strides. The man didn’t even flinch as the prince grabbed him by the collar and threw him off the bench. “Do not play games with me, boy.” The prince spat.
The assassin slowly sat up and pulled himself back onto the bench before replying. “Games are for children, I work in strategy.” He crossed his legs and glared tauntingly. “Your move.”
Christian clenched his fist tightly to keep himself from lashing out again. “Who is your employer?” He asked through his teeth.
“Someone who wants the queen dead, are you sure you’re nobility?” The chained man tutted, rattling his chains. “I thought your type prided yourself on your education. That which put you above us ‘common folk’.”
Christian considered slapping him but got himself under control enough to only take another menacing step forward. “You and I both know Weselton didn’t send you here.” He said quietly, so much so that the assassin had to lean in to hear him.
“Oh really?” The man sat back. “Am I not ‘weasel’ly enough to represent my homeland?”
“No, you’re too well-trained.”
The man’s face twisted into a mocking pout. “I take that as an insult.” He shook his chains meaningfully. “Especially since my skills were just proven completely ineffective.”
Christian leaned in even closer, his breath ghosting in the cold air around them. “I’ve had a lot of time on my hands here to study, to gather information. And since the loss of trade with Arendelle, your country’s economy is barely holding together. There is no money to hire an assassin, especially not one as highly-ranked and specifically trained as you.”
The assassin said nothing. It appeared the prince had finally made a statement he had no smart comeback to. Silence fell for a moment, broken only by the drip of water and the wind outside.
“You and I both know Weselton is too far south to bother stocking ice picks.” Christian continued. “Let alone train anyone to use them as weapons.”
The assassin sighed dramatically. “Ever hear of poetic justice?” He slouched back in his seat, smug. “It’s something my employer holds very dear.”
“I know my brother hired you.” Christian growled.
“So why ask? Or did you want to know which one? You seem to have a lot, honestly I don’t know how your parents kept track…”
“You know perfectly well which one I am referring to.” Christian interrupted, his chest clenching as painfully as his teeth were.
The assassin shrugged noncommittally. “So we’re on the same page then.”
“Not quite.” The man glanced up at the prince in mild confusion, one eyebrow raised. “Why did my brother hire you?” Christian asked.
“I’d think the reason would be fairly obvious. My occupation is hardly open to interpretation.”
The man grunted as the prince grabbed him by the collar and shoved him hard against the freezing wall of the cell. “No harm must come to the Queen.” Christian murmured in his ear, his voice low and chilling. His other hand slowly tightened around the prisoner’s neck. “Not until after she has served her purpose. My brother knows that. So why did he send you?”
The man shrugged as best he could. “Hell if I know.” He gasped out around the hand at his throat. “He saw I could not refuse, no matter the price. The chance to take out a winter witch?” His eyes hardened despite the lack of air. “I would have done the job for free.”
Christian loosened his grip ever so slightly. “Why is that?”
The assassin twisted, trying to loosen the hold more. “Surely you’ve heard of Weselton’s run-in with her kind?” He cackled humorlessly. “The Endless Winter!”
Abruptly, the prince released him, sending him crashing back onto the bench ungracefully. “Her…kind?”
The man was quiet for a moment, rubbing his assaulted throat. “There was a child.” He said. “Many years ago, a child who could summon ice and snow, just as Arendelle’s filthy queen can. She cursed our land with the winter, so we killed her.”
“How long ago?”
“Twenty four years ago.”
Christian stumbled backwards, doing the math frantically in his head. “And this child…her powers…they were…similar to Queen Elsa’s?”
The prisoner sat up. “Similar?” He spat violently on the ground between Christian’s boots. “They were identical.”
Christian leaned heavily against the cold stone wall, his mind racing. “Another…just before Elsa’s time…” There was no other explanation, everything fit too perfectly. “Then our plan will work…” he might still be able to pull this off, even with his time quickly running out. “there can be no refuting this…Elsa is one of a group. One of the cycle…a reincarnation of the Ancient Ones…There must be others…and she will lead us right too them!” He let out a laugh of exhilaration. For the first time since he’d landed here, Christian had a clear path in mind to his goal and a beacon to light the way.
“It would be better to just kill her.” The assassin deadpanned, snapping the prince out of his jubilant plotting. “Witches are dangerous and not easily tamed. We had our best men handle the child and the storms only got worse.”
Silence fell as Christian pondered his next move. He would
have to act carefully from here on out. “Who else would you tell of this? Of
the dangers of the ice witch who threatened Weselton?”
The chained man’s eyes snapped up to his. “Everyone.” He proclaimed. “The world needs to know that these witches exist. That her kind needs to be eliminated.”
Those words sealed his fate in Christian’s eyes. “And this is where our brief partnership will end.” His hand clenched around the hilt of his sword. “I cannot have you spreading word of these others…coercing others into hunting them.”
The prisoner raised an eyebrow. “No? So what are you going to do?”
The words echoed around the tiny space.
The man scoffed. “You’re no killer. I can see it in your eyes.” He was utterly confident in his analysis. Unafraid.
Christian didn’t move, he didn’t let a single emotion show on his face. “That’s where you’re wrong. Everyone has something they will kill for.” He wrapped his hand firmly around the handle of his sword. “And now, thanks to you…I am one step closer to the ultimate prize…”
His blade swung free with an endless, echoing ring.
“Thank you…for your…sacrifice.”
Everyone froze in their tracks, going still and silent.
“What…” Theo started to ask but Garret held up a hand, silencing her. He took several steps forward, making no sound on the dead leaves underfoot. He crouched and ran a hand gently over the forest floor as if trying to feel for something very faint. The girls all watched him anxiously.
After a moment, the Guardian slowly rose and loosened his axe. “Someone’s following us.”
Theo reacted instantly, grabbing Scara and pushing her behind Garret, taking up a position with her back to the Guardian so that the spring host was between them. Elsa was left alone off to the side.
Theo turned her head slowly, sparks dancing at her fingertips as she scanned the trees around them.
“A little ways behind us.” Garret replied, axe now in hand. “They wont have caught up to us yet. We have maybe a few minutes before they are close enough to hear us.”
Elsa couldn’t even begin to fathom how he had figured all that out from just observing the ground. Perhaps Guardians had a few special talents of their own.
She took a few steps closer to the group, unsure where she fit into their little defense formation. “So what should we do?” She asked taking up a position on Garret’s left. Her hands itched with unformed ice.
Garret thought for a moment. “I’d prefer not to attack them…”
Theo fell into a fighting crouch. “I’m sure we could handle them.” she said, flames twitching at her palm.
“That’s not what I’m afraid of.” Garret replied drily.
Elsa looked around, trying to think of a plan. They were still in the woods to the west of Arendelle, making their way around the fjord on foot until it was dark enough for them to cross the water without being seen. “It’s nearly nightfall,” Elsa observed. “we should stop them now if we want to get away…”
“Or we can keep going by air and lose them entirely.” Theo interrupted, clenching her fist but still refusing to look at Elsa. Elsa stiffened, ice forming at her fingertips.
“I was just almost assassinated by a madman who hates winter’s hosts,” Elsa snapped, her temper flaring immediately at the summer host’s continued ignoring of her. “I prefer not to take chances.”
Theo seemed startled at the news but made no comment. Her neck snapped around and she stared at Elsa with an expression somewhere between fear and hurt. Elsa felt her anger drain away and regret for snapping at her so suddenly. Why did that keep happening between them? The anger followed immediately by this quiet anticipation of some kind of deeper understanding. It was driving her mad.
“There’s still too much light. If we start flying now, we might not be able to escape the canopy without being seen.” Garret said, pulling Elsa out of the moment. “We’d have to stall them somehow.”
Elsa turned back to Garret, forcing herself to ignore Theo. “I’ll backtrack a bit and trap them in ice.” She said. “Then we can be on our way and long gone before they thaw out enough to follow us.”
Garret nodded, smiling. “Impressive. I think that should work.”
“I’m going with you.”
Elsa turned back to Theo at these words and bit her tongue to keep herself from snapping again. “I am more than capable of handling them myself.” She said in a level voice.
Apparently this was the wrong approach because Theo’s temper flared in her eyes. “Says her Royal Highness who was just almost done in by a man with a knife.” She practically spat. Smoke curled from her palm.
“It was an ice pick actually.” Elsa replied coolly.
“Enough!” Scara hissed, startling them both to silence. She was clutching her head, the flower in her hair opening and closing slowly, mechanically. “They’re getting closer. Elsa, go. Theo, follow her if you must but stay out of sight.”
Elsa and Theo regarded each other silently for a moment then Elsa turned and began backtracking. She heard Theo following her but keeping her distance, remaining out of sight.
Elsa ducked into the trees, moving along as silently as possible as she followed the path they had just come along. She felt more than she heard Theo following a dozen steps or so behind her. Being alone with Theo nearby had Elsa’s heart churning in nerves and fear. Every nerve in her body was attuned to the presence behind her, snapping and fraying as she anticipated Theo watching her every move. She felt like she should talk to her. Now they could finally discuss…what had happened. She contemplated turning around but couldn’t. She didn’t know how to begin that conversation. Plus, if they started shouting at each other, it effectively ruined any chance they had of sneaking up on their pursuers.
A twig snapped and Elsa heard the quiet murmur of voices in the trees up ahead. Immediately she stilled and called her ice to her fingers, turning to get Theo’s attention. Two dozen feet behind her, Theo caught her eye and gestured her to step behind a tree. Elsa hid herself, ice crackling in her palm, listening to the footsteps coming closer…closer…
When Theo gave a nod, Elsa stuck out her hand and let loose her ice.
The forest floor iced over, ice shooting in all directions. Their pursuers gave cries of surprise as Elsa blindly and effortlessly guided the ice to freeze them in place. Threatening spikes rose from the ground. Then she stepped out, her palms glowing, ready to face whoever dared to…
She nearly screamed in surprise. Thankfully, she managed to tone it down to an incredulous: “Olaf?!”
The snowman’s head was spinning on the ice on the forest floor, his body impaled against a tree by an icicle several feet away. Nevertheless, he looked positively overjoyed to see Elsa. The one stick arm still attached to his body gave a cheery wave.
“What are you…?” But then it hit Elsa. There was only one reason why Olaf would be following her. And that reason was currently frozen to the tree next to his.
Her stubborn sister tugged vainly at the hands attached to the tree behind her by the ice cuffs. “Hey.” She said flatly. Several icicles were pointed at her, three of them a bit too closely for Elsa’s liking.
She rushed forward, running her hands over Anna’s face. “I could’ve killed you, Anna!” She said, thankfully finding no injuries. She ran her thumbs over Anna’s cheeks anyway.
Anna pulled her face back slightly, breaking Elsa’s touch. “But you didn’t, I’m fine. Think you could let me down now?”
Normally, that would have been the first thing Elsa would do. In fact, normally, she would have already done it. But this was not a normal circumstance. Ignoring her sister’s request, Elsa glanced around. Sven was several feet next to her, tossing his head and nervously pawing the ice on the ground. Strapped to his back was a small pack of supplies and a saddle. When he saw Elsa however, he sprang to attention, tongue lolling out of his mouth and bounded up to her, rubbing her affectionately with his nose.
Elsa petted him, gently pushing him away from her so she could focus on her disobedient sister. Anna herself was dressed in riding breeches and a loose tunic, probably one of Kristoff’s. Her sword was strapped to her waist and her husband’s cap was on her head.
“You were spying on me.” Elsa said, unable to keep the icy anger from her voice. She took a slow breath as a biting wind whipped briefly around her. “You just blindly followed me from Arendelle into the wilderness again.” She could not keep the bitter disappointment from her voice.
Olaf, by this point having successfully taken every part of him that was not impaled apart and haphazardly rebuilt himself was trying to pull his impaled midsection from Elsa’s icicle. His head was shouting instructions and encouragement.
“That’s it! And one, two…heave! Okay…okay just put yourself back together and try again…”
“I brought my sword, and Olaf and Sven.” Anna defended herself. She shifted against her restraints but they did not give. She did not have the luxury of escape Olaf did. “I came prepared this time.”
“You shouldn’t have come at all.” Elsa didn’t recognize her own voice as it growled from her throat.
Anna bristled immediately. “Yes I should!” She shouted, her voice cracking slightly. “I’m your sister, Elsa! Do you really think I’ll ever stop coming after you when you run away?”
Elsa clenched her fists. “You’re also pregnant.” She pointed out.
Anna blushed crimson under the hat. “Only by a few weeks!”
“Have you told your husband yet?”
“As a matter of fact, I have.”
“And where is he?”
“Back in Arendelle, keeping an eye on things.”
Elsa paused momentarily at this revelation. “By himself?” She couldn’t see Kristoff willingly agreeing to such an arrangement.
Olaf’s body slid off the end of the icicle and began to roll away. His head rolled right into its path and ended up embedded in his stomach. The rest of him limped over, trying to make sense of the jagged mess of snow he had become.
Anna was looking at Elsa suspiciously. “Don’t you trust him?”
“Of course I do but that’s not the point.” Dimly, Elsa was aware that Theo had not come out of hiding. She might still be among the trees, watching this exchange. She could probably hear this entire conversation. The thought made Elsa wish she sounded less like a politician, less like a parent scolding a child. She struggled to put that out of her mind and regain the train of her argument. “The point…the point is that Arendelle is your responsibility. You are needed there.”
Anna glared at her, her eyes narrowed. Elsa wished she would stop doing that. It hurt too much. “First of all, it’s technically your responsibility. And you just left without warning. Again.”
Elsa closed her eyes, as if that could somehow keep the truth of Anna’s words from piercing her. “Secondly,” Anna continued. “Arendelle is in more than just Kristoff’s hands. The Informers will keep an eye on things.”
Elsa opened her eyes again. “I’m not sure that’s best, Anna.” She said softly but in no way gently.
Anna lifted her chin. “I disagree.”
“They are children.”
“Children, who have already successfully helped us satisfy the citizens and prevent an attempt on your life.” Anna reminded her, just a hint of pride in her words.
“They were spying on me.”
“They saved your life, I’m not going to apologize for that!” She struggled again and her sword tapped against the trunk behind her. “You’ve never liked them!”
“I’ve never been comfortable with them.” Elsa replied, crossing her arms defensively. “The only reason I agreed to let you continue to keep them working was because I was suspicious of Prince Christian. It seemed wrong to spy on our people that way. And you using them to spy on me was unnecessary.”
Anna stopped fighting the ice and fixed Elsa with a gaze that Elsa found she could not figure out. “You are my responsibility. I need to make sure you’re okay.”
The queen stiffened. “I’m fine.”
“I know when you’re lying, Elsa.”
Elsa said nothing, her jaw clenched so tightly she was sure Anna could tell. Olaf had successfully liberated his face with a little help from a reindeer trying to catch falling snowflakes from his flurry.
“You really expected me to just sit there while you ran away again?” Anna asked, her voice softening. “I thought you were done running Elsa. I thought…I thought you’d never leave me alone again.”
Her arms snaked around her middle, hugging herself tightly as a familiar pain returned. “I’m not running away, Anna. I’ll just be gone for a few days. Then I’ll come home and I’ll never leave without telling you again.”
“But why?” Anna pleaded, conveniently not mentioning that that was precisely what Elsa had promised last time. “Why cant you tell me now? Where are you going? Who are those people?”
Elsa looked at her sister, at the one person she could never hurt. Anna looked back at her with wide, pleading eyes. She just wanted her big sister. She just wanted to know everything was okay, that it would be okay forever.
Elsa knew at that moment she had to make a choice. If she told Anna, she could never be just Elsa again. Never just that big sister. There would always be that gulf between them of the sister with the spirit and the sister without. Anna would never look at her the same. Theo was listening. For some reason, that knowledge gave Elsa a chilling feeling in her lower gut. If she told Anna, Anna would be in danger. She would be dragged into this life of spirits and goddesses and ancient secrets all to keep Elsa from facing it alone. She would insist upon meeting the others, joining their fight. Sacrificing herself for her big sister. The way she always had.
Elsa was not that selfish.
Elsa closed her eyes, unable to see the look on her sister’s face as she made her choice. The only choice, really. “I’m the queen, Anna.” She said in a flat voice, completely devoid of emotion. “I don’t have to tell you everything.”
“You can at least trust me!” Even without looking at Anna, Elsa could feel the hurt on her face in those words.
She wrapped her arms around herself. “Like how I trusted you with the Informers and still you used them to spy on me?” She asked quietly.
“They saved your life!” Anna protested but the impact was dulled somewhat by the guilty quiver in her voice.
Elsa smiled but it did not reach her eyes. It did not make her feel any better. “That ice will melt in an hour. By then, we’ll be too far gone to track. So when you are free, you’d better jump on Sven and all of you,” she said with a pointed look at Olaf as he turned to face her, finally put back together, his arms outstretched for a hug. “head straight back to Arendelle.”
Olaf’s arms drooped slightly and he cocked his head to the side. Even Sven let out a sad-sounding groan.
“I’m not leaving you out here alone with them.” Anna said stubbornly, her voice thick with tears.
Elsa risked a glance back. She wished she hadn’t. “Yes, you are.” Anna’s face, broken by the abandonment, her eyes swimming in tears plastered itself to Elsa’s heart. That look would never leave her for as long as she lived.
Resigned to that burden, Elsa left her sister behind, frozen to the tree and walked back through the forest. Anna did not call after her.
“How’d it go?” Garret asked as she made it back to their rendezvous point.
Elsa shook her head to keep the tears from falling. “It was my sister.” She said by way of explanation. Her arms tightened around her middle.
“Oh? How is she?” Scara asked brightly as if they were discussing the matter over tea.
Elsa didn’t respond but ice began to creep up the trunk of a nearby tree, cracking the bark and snapping lower branches clean off. She took a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself down.
Garret observed this and stepped forward placing a gentle hand on Elsa’s shoulder. “Why would she be following us?” He asked.
“She…” Elsa swallowed hard and the ice stopped moving. “I haven’t told her the truth. About you. And about me.”
To her surprise, Garret clapped her on the shoulder and nodded. “Good.”
Garret pulled her around to face him. “We are a secret Elsa.” He told the queen. “The most important secret in history. As your Guardian, I can tell you now that letting your sister know about us is the worst possible thing you could have done.”
“Why is that?”
Garret hesitated a moment before answering as if he were weighing his words carefully. “Why do you think we don’t have families?” He asked Elsa. She shrugged. She hadn’t really given much thought to the others’ families. Not while her own was first on her mind. “You are too precious, too dangerous to have such attachments. It would only end badly for them.”
Elsa suspected his words were meant to comfort but they failed in achieving their intended effect. Instead they filled her with a crushing sorrow that, if she wanted to keep Anna safe, she was going to have to go back to the way things were. Before the Freeze. She was going to have to close the door again. And she didn’t think either of their hearts could take that.
Elsa wiped her eyes and nodded, pretending Garret’s words had given her strength. He smiled and squeezed her shoulder before stepping away. He could not possibly understand the sacrifice he was asking Elsa to make.
Elsa gave a squeak of surprise as Scara hugged her tightly, clearly of the same mind as Olaf: that hugs fixed everything. Scara’s didn’t but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant.
“We are a family, Elsa.” Scara said to her, looking up at her with huge, bright eyes. “We care for each other. And now, we’re going to rescue our troubled sister.”
Elsa smiled at her, if only to reassure the girl that she was in this for that. She didn’t think she could ever replace Anna, Kristoff, Gerda, Kai, Sven and Olaf with this new “family”. No matter how many spirits told her it was what was right. It was only then that she suddenly realized something important.
Elsa glanced around. “Where’s Theo?”
“What do you mean the Queen is gone?”
It was far too late to be having this conversation. Nevertheless, it had to be had.
“She slipped out! Earlier this evening if what the Prince saw was correct.”
Christian leaned back in his chair, taking a deep breath to keep himself from exploding. “How does anyone,” He began, in a deceptively calm and slow voice. “let alone the Queen just slip out of a castle in the dead of night? Especially after an assassination attempt?”
“The queen prefers small staff and she has no personal guards…”
“Not even after an assassination?! Does she have a death wish?”
Lord Wilfred’s only answer was a shrug. The popping of the fire filled the tense silence of the room. It was cool, even for an October evening and the smaller conference room the prince and his confidant had met in was freezing despite the roaring fire in the hearth.
Christian was still on edge from his encounter with the assassin earlier. He’d spent the last hour cleaning his blade. “If this plan is to work, she has to be alive. Alive and unharmed and here.” Something Hans was by no means making easier at this moment. “I foresee none of those coming to pass at this present moment.” Christian told Lord Wilfred.
The man fidgeted, drawing his cloak more tightly around himself. “Perhaps this is not the best time to mention that Princess Anna has also left.” He muttered.
Christian rounded on him. “Then who is running this kingdom?” He demanded.
“The…the princess’ husband? Lord…sorry, Prince Kristoff.”
Christian felt his lips curl up in a sneer. “That commoner is sitting on the throne?”
The prince stalked to the window and glared out at the wavering moonlight. This was so wrong, so very wrong…
“I don’t see why this would be upsetting…” Lord Wilfred continued as Christian ran over his options in his head. “isn’t…isn’t this the perfect chance to strike?”
“I am not here to take the kingdom by force!” Christian replied with a snarl that sent Lord Wilfred cowering back away from him. “Elsa is my first priority. A simple coup will not work!”
A knock at the door made them both freeze. Slowly, it slid open and a messenger slid inside.
Christian tried to calm himself down. He did have something of an image to maintain. “What do you want boy?” He snapped, somehow managing not to snarl.
The boy had very fair hair, almost white, so tightly curled that it appeared plastered to his skull. His jacket was pinned haphazardly in the front, so badly that Christian nearly yelled at him for lack of proper regard for appearance. But he supposed if he were a messenger boy working this late at night, getting his uniform on correctly would have been a challenge.
“I…I have a letter for you, sire.” The boy stammered, holding out a shaking hand. In it, was a ragged envelope covered in untidy scrawl. When he saw it Christian practically leapt the table to snatch the letter from the boy’s hand. He clutched it to his chest as if it were something no one else was meant to see.
“Out!” He shouted, making the boy flinch. “Out both of you!” He cried, gesturing animatedly at Lord Wilfred.
Bewildered, the man stood and followed the serving boy out of the room, no doubt wondering what in the world had gotten into the prince.
Christian slammed the door shut behind them both and hurried over to the fireplace. In the flickering light, his fears were confirmed. He swallowed hard against the sudden rush of bile and fear that had risen from his chest and settled itself in his throat.
This letter was far worse than any he could have received from Anderson.
His hands shook as he stared at the seal holding back the contents of the letter. Firelight flickered over the entwined letter and snake on the hardened orange wax.
This letter bore the crest of his youngest brother.
“Tip up. Tip up! Elsa! ELSA!”
Garret’s panicked shout startled Elsa a moment too late. The ice platform they’d been riding on skidded along the canopies of the trees, jarring all the occupants. They slammed into branches, careening roughly from side to side.
“Whoa! Hang on!” Elsa saw Garret place steadying hands on Theo and Scara’s shoulders as their platform shuddered violently and then shattered under them. They all fell, plummeting downward through the thin canopy under them.
Branches and twigs scraped at Elsa’s forearms as she covered her face. The ground was flying up too quickly…
Before Elsa could even think of conjuring snow, a branch cradled her, arresting her descent and gently began to lower her to the ground. She landed hardly but not painfully on her rear end.
Theo was dropped not two feet from her, Garret some dozen feet ahead of them. Scara descended slowly, giggling as tiny twigs and budding leaves sprouted along the branches wrapped around her, dancing over her skin as if she herself were a branch.
Elsa pulled herself to her feet, gently brushing leaves from her dress.
“Well that was fun.” Scara said brightly as the branches deposited her on the ground and slowly curled back into place in the canopy. “I cant remember the last time I had to stop us from falling with branches!” Her voice was far too cheery for such an occasion. It was a little unnerving.
Theo scoffed as she pulled leaves from her hair. “A bit of a warning before a landing would be appreciated next time.” She said, glaring at Elsa. These were the first words she had spoken to Elsa since they’d last stopped. And they weren’t even spoken directly at her.
Elsa felt her temper flare immediately along with a burning desire in her stomach to…what? To slap Theo? To shoot ice at her? To kiss her again? She really had no idea how she wanted to react. Ice crackled at her palms and she looked away silently, not caring that Theo was still watching her. She didn’t want to think about any of that now. It had been bad enough looking for Theo after leaving Anna behind.
In the end, they’d found the summer host crouched by a nearby river, curled in on herself watching dead leaves float past on the water. She rocked slowly back and forth, mumbling softly to herself. Elsa had ignored the way the last beams of twilight cast beautiful shadows on Theo’s neck and shoulders and told herself she was just still worked up from her fight with Anna.
Theo had not responded to their calls but when Scara had walked up to her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder she had followed them without a word.
They had been in the air since, guided by the moonlight as the night progressed and the southerly wind that Scara had conjured to push them along. Now they were somewhere far south of Arendelle, a place Elsa had never visited or even read about before.
“Where are we?” Scara asked, petting the branch of a nearby bush as if it were a dog begging for attention. “Theo?”
The summer host glanced around, getting a good look at the small trees and scraggy brush around them. “I’m not sure, we must be only a few miles from the shore by now…” Her voice trailed off suddenly, as if she had been hit over the head with something. Elsa followed her gaze and saw a small clearing not too far from where they were standing. In the center of this clearing was a huge, moss-covered outcropping of rock. The moonlight painted it a strange silvery-green as if it were a giant sleeping troll.
Garret noticed the catch in Theo’s voice as well. “What is it?” He glanced up, saw the rock and fear shot across his face. “Oh no…”
Slowly, Theo walked towards the clearing, her eyes sweeping back and forth across the small trees, the dead leaves on the ground. “We’ve been here before.” There was a tremor in her voice that Elsa had never heard before.
Garret tensed up, as if he were anticipating a fight. “No we haven’t, come on let’s keep moving.”
“That’s the rock isn’t it?” Theo asked, pointing. She didn’t appear to be listening to him. “That’s where…”
Her eyes glazed over as memories swirled through her mind.
“Why are you following me?”
The boy leapt down from the rock, using the staff in his hands to balance his landing. “I have to.” He said simply.
“Leave me alone.”
He stepped closer. “No.” Warmth shone in his black eyes.
“I’ll hurt you! Get away!”
A burst of heat. The crackling of dry wood being licked by flames.
Elsa watched Theo carefully. Emotions flickered across the host’s face in quick succession: fear, despair, anger, grim realization. She dropped to her knees and began tearing at the ground violently. Garret grabbed for her hand but a crippling heat wave and stinging particles of sand drove him back. Theo tore away the covering of dead leaves to reveal a sandy soil underneath. Her fingers dug deep into this earth, flinging it aside. Not two inches under the surface, her fingers hit something black. She stopped digging, her hands turning black as they touched the charcoal under the soil.
Theo scrambled to her feet and looked around frantically. It seemed as if she were seeing the landscape anew, with an entirely different meaning behind each twig and leaf. “We’re here again…it’s the forest…the one…” Her entire body was shaking. The soot on her fingertips peeled itself away from her skin and circled tightly in the air around her hands.
Garret approached her slowly, his arms in front of him like he was trying placate a wounded animal. “Theo…calm down, you’re fine…we’re too far west, this cant be the same woods…” His voice was smooth, calm, completely rational, even as his eyes darted around in fear.
Theo sprinted away from him and Garret reacted immediately. The summer host raced to the giant rock in the clearing and dove under an overhang, her hands scrabbling at the dirt. Garret dove after her, grabbing her by the shoulders and trying to wrestle her back out. Elsa and Scara watched, utterly lost.
“What’s going on?” Elsa asked Scara.
She only shook her head. Scara had no idea what was going on here.
Garret finally dragged Theo back out into the darkness, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist. Theo had gone limp, resigned to losing this fight. Slowly, they reentered the moon-light, Garret half-supporting the stumbling summer host.
Theo was staring at her left hand, oblivious to the world. “It’s here…it’s…” Clutched in her hand was a tiny, misshapen glass orb.
Garret’s arms were suddenly around Theo.
“You’re okay…” He said softly, gently stroking her hair. “It’s alright, look. See how it’s come back?”
Theo let out a strangled sob and buried her face in the Guardian’s shoulder. The hand holding the glass ball dangled limply by her side. Garret softly stroked her hair as she broke down in his arms.
Watching them, Elsa felt something burst to life in her chest, a fire born of the spark that had burned in the deepest, darkest part of her for the past few months. But to her surprise, the feeling was not directed at Theo but rather, at Garret. It was a steady, burning desire for him to let her go, to step away so that her own arms could take up his task. The feeling overwhelmed her, running down her limbs and clouding her sight until all she could see was them, all she could imagine was the way Theo’s head would fit against her shoulder.
Elsa took an unconscious step forward, intent on knocking him away from her to put some kind of physical distance between them but stopped abruptly, her hand outstretched. Was this…jealousy? The realization was enough to make her retreat backwards, shame quickly replacing the burning in her chest. Neither Garret nor Theo had noticed her momentary desire to take the Guardian’s place. Garret was still murmuring comforting words to Theo, she was still clutching the glass orb, crying unabashedly into his chest. Looking more closely, Elsa realized that there was nothing at all intimate about the way they were wrapped up in each other. There was no desire associated with the closeness, instead, there was a deep, comforting need for support that seemed to be inherent in the embrace. Theo was at her most vulnerable and completely relying on Garret to hold her together both physically and emotionally. He was only concerned with letting her know that he was there, keeping her safe.
The shame burned even deeper when Elsa realized she had been ready to rip that assurance away from Theo, all for the sake of this selfish desire.
“Where are we?” Scara asked softly.
Garret half turned to them, Theo’s face still pressed into his chest. “These are the woods where Branna was awakened.” He said in a reverent whisper. He looked down at the girl in his arms with a tiny smile in his eyes. “This is where I found my first host.”
There was smoke everywhere, making it impossible to see. Impossible to breathe.
Deep inside there was a rumbling voice, a voice that was not her own filling her head with endless thoughts and visions: a flickering lantern at dawn, vast fields of ice melting in a summer’s gale, a quill writing in blood-red ink…
A tree crashed down, embers flying everywhere. Everything was burning, screaming.
Suddenly he was there, his arms were all around, his eyes blazing hotter than the flames around them. He saved her. He would protect her. Always.
The woods around them were silent and still, not even a bird or bat called to break the silence, not a single animal crawled in the undergrowth. Even the trees around them, little more than twelve feet tall seemed stiff and unreal, incapable of rustling in a breeze. Now that Elsa noticed it, the entire woods seemed too unnatural. Even the moonlight looked different, stiff and more haunting, creating more shadows than it did light.
Theo sobbed and shook her head into Garret’s chest. “I burned these down…I…I almost…” She looked up at Garret with huge, sorrowful eyes. Tears streamed down her face.
The guardian gently pulled her into an embrace again, resting his chin on her head. “It’s in the past, Theo. Nature has restored the balance…you’re in control now.”
She stiffened against him. Her eyes snapped open. “Am I? Am I in control Garret?”
A spark snapped from her right hand followed quickly by another. The dead leaves under a nearby tree smoldered softly, several tiny flames beginning to breathe to life and lick at the trunk. The tree suddenly seemed more like a tree, creaking and stirring as the fire began to eat at it again.
Garret tightened his hold on Theo and turned to Elsa worriedly. “Put it out!” He shouted at her. “Put it out! Now!”
Reacting more in surprise than obedience, Elsa shot ice at the flames until the base of the tree was covered in rime and the fires had dwindled to nothing but smoke. The forest remained silent.
“She’s so strong…” Theo murmured, as if to herself. Her knees trembled and it seemed like Garret was the only thing keeping her from crumpling to a mess on the ground. “A human was not meant to hold such power…”
Elsa’s lips parted slightly in surprise. How many times had that thought plagued her as a child? “We should stop here for tonight.” She suggested. “She needs to rest, we all do.”
Garret turned to Elsa again as Theo’s head lifted from his shoulder. “We can’t stay here.” He told the queen. But Theo was nodding in agreement, regarding Elsa with an expression somewhere between gratitude and remorse. She pulled herself away from Garret, trying to assume the strong, self-sufficient demeanor that she had always carried about her.
He made to grab her shoulder but Theo shrugged off his hand. “I’ll be fine.” She told him. “Let’s make camp.”
They stayed in the clearing, near the giant rock that had caused Theo to come apart. The shadow cast by its overhang made a perfect spot for the small group to tuck themselves out of the way for a night in the strange forest.
‘Camp’ Elsa learned, was just a fancy way of saying ‘make yourself comfortable for a long night’. Scara shaped herself a hammock of vines and branches to suspend her between two trees. She offered Elsa one but Elsa politely declined. She’d just been thrown from a tree, she would not spend the night hanging in one. She opted instead to create herself a soft snowbank under the overhang. She would have made an entire bed from ice but decided against it when she saw Garret curling up to sleep on the ground, his axe his only companion. He too had refused a hammock.
With her back against the side of the enormous rock, Theo started a small campfire with a flick of her fingers and crouched forlornly next to it. She was still playing with the glass ball in her hand, watching the way the light from the fire flickered across its uneven surface.
“What is that?” Scara plopped herself down next to Theo and gazed at the ball in her hand. “It looks different from your other ones.”
A smile flickered across Theo’s face for the briefest of seconds. “It was the first one I ever made. I had no idea what I was doing. It just kind of…happened.”
Scara ran a gentle finger across the glass, a dreamy look on her face. “What was it doing here?”
Theo weighed the glass in her palm as if contemplating smashing it. “Whenever I visit somewhere I hope to return to, I leave a glass ball there.” Theo told her. “That way I never forget a place. And a piece of me remains for me to eventually reclaim. I guess it was time for me to get this piece back.” She turned the ball over in her hand, her gaze clouding. “Sadly it’s one I never wanted returned…”
Scara curled her arm around Theo’s and tucked her head onto the older girl’s shoulder. Theo leaned into the touch, if only slightly.
“Why is that?” Theo and Scara both looked up as Elsa joined them. She couldn’t just watch from a distance anymore. Garret was falling asleep at the edge of the overhang and she had no desire to face her nightmares yet. “Why leave one here if you never wanted to come back?” Elsa asked Theo. She stood at the opposite side of the fire, keeping the flames between them as if it would somehow help ease this conversation.
“I left it before I set the forest on fire.” Theo replied in a clipped voice. “I had forgotten about it.”
Scara shifted slightly and the annoyance immediately fell off of Theo’s face.
“It’s very late Scara,” Theo told the spring host gently. “you should think about sleeping.”
Scara yawned, almost obediently. “Livet says we’re close…she can feel her sister crying out…” A tiny shiver raced through her as she said those words. The toad lily in her hair closed tightly, like a Venus flytrap ensnaring a bug.
Theo helped the girl stand, a motherly arm on her shoulder. “Try to sleep,” She brushed the bangs back from the girl’s forehead. “please?”
Scara nodded absently and stumbled off towards her hammock. Theo didn’t take her eyes off of the girl until she had settled into her bed and closed her eyes.
“She seems…different out here.” Elsa observed.
Theo did not respond, instead she turned back to the fire and stared at it intently. As if she believed that if she took her eyes off of the flames for a second, they would spring out of her control and set the trees on fire again. Her brows were knit tightly together, casting dark shadows over her red eyes. The piece of glass in her hand glowed a light bluish color from the angle Elsa could see it.
Her heart pounding, Elsa moved and sat in Scara’s vacated spot, although not nearly as close to Theo as the spring host had been sitting. For awhile, neither of them said anything and the fire filled the silence as it hungrily devoured the sticks upon it. Elsa knew there was really no reason for her to keep Theo company. All the same, she couldn’t help but feel that the fire-girl didn’t want to be alone right now. Just as she didn’t want to be alone.
A slight breeze wafted through the clearing, sending a few dead leaves drifting past the two sitting in heavy silence. The trees did not move. “It’s very warm for October…” Elsa said casually. Great, small-talk about the weather. She berated herself silently for her terrible choice of conversation prompts.
“It’s like this all over.” Elsa turned to Theo in surprise as she answered. Theo was still staring into the fire but her gaze had relaxed considerably. “Warm when it should be cool, raining when it should be cold.”
“Not in Arendelle.” Elsa pointed out. They’d already had several frosts and Kristoff had reported normal conditions in the mountains only a few days ago.
“It must be because you’re there.” Theo said. She glanced up at Elsa. “Maybe that’s why Isen has remained hidden all this time. She’s trying to keep the balance.”
“Why would that help balance things? Wouldn’t she be better able to do that if she were awakened?”
Theo just shrugged. “Nothing makes sense anymore.” She said, curling in on herself forlornly. She closed her fist tightly around the glass ball. “Autumn’s gone into hiding, Branna’s getting more upset, Livet’s powers are strengthening too quickly…It all just seems like a viscous cycle that just wont stop…”
“Would waking Isen fix it?”Elsa asked.
“Possibly. It would at least help with our Autumn problem.” Theo lifted her head from her knees and gazed into the fire again. “You have a special link to Autumn, the kind that runs differently than that between her and Scara and Scara and myself. Død and Isen were very close, Død trusts her more than she does Branna or even Livet. Autumn opens the way for Winter.” She held up her glass ball again and studied it carefully, as if searching for flaws. “If anyone can wake Isen when she’s this deeply buried, it’ll be her favorite little sister.”
Elsa tensed noticeably at those words. It did not go unnoticed by Theo. She watched her with narrowed eyes as if trying to see something she only suspected was there.
“What did your sister want?” She asked, placing the glass on a rock beside the fire.
“I don’t want to talk about her.” Elsa snapped. Theo flinched and turned away.
“I was just wondering…” She muttered quietly. “Doesn’t seem like you to just leave her frozen to a tree in the middle of the woods.”
Now it was Elsa’s turn to flinch. “I had to. To protect her.” She once again wondered how much of that conversation Theo had heard and how to go about figuring that out.
Theo shook her head in disbelieve. “How did you do it?” She asked. “Know that you had that much control over the ice? That you could make it go where you wanted it to without even seeing it? How did you possibly know that you wouldn’t hurt her?”
“I didn’t know it was her.” Elsa admitted. “And I don’t know…it just kind of happened that way. Ever since I learned control that’s just the way it’s been.” She stared into the flames, watching them lick and devour the sticks and logs in their way.
Elsa looked up. “What?”
Theo stood up, her face falling into shadow as she left the immediate firelight. “Show me how you do it.”
Elsa rose slowly, using the rock for support. “Okay…well.” She waved her hands and a tiny snow flurry appeared above the fire, making the flames sputter and spit black smoke. With a twist of her wrist, the flurry disappeared again.
Theo watched hungrily, undeniable desire in her gaze as she watched Elsa’s fine control.
“I cant really explain it.” Elsa warned her, a little nervous under that gaze. “It’s just something that started happening after the Thaw.”
Theo gestured for Elsa to step out from under the overhang, back into the open air of the clearing. “Again.” She demanded.
Elsa conjured up a snowball and threw it upward, letting it burst into a snow flurry and rain around them. She gathered the falling snow into a spiral around her and made it form a snowball once again. Then, she dropped it and it vanished before it could hit the ground.
Theo watched all this with a desperate fascination, as if she were trying to memorize exactly what Elsa was doing so she could replicate it later. She was a warrior studying battle strategy, Elsa realized. Something Elsa had certainly never had to do.
Elsa let her hands fall to her sides. “Now, you show me.”
Theo blinked, confused. “What?”
“I haven’t been in many fights.” Elsa admitted. “Particularly not with others like me. Well, except…” She offered Theo an apologetic smile and was surprised to receive a timid one in return. “Plus, I have no idea what we’ll be fighting tomorrow, if we do fight. So maybe…you could…show me some things?”
Theo considered the request for a moment. Raising a hand, she let a tiny amount of smoke leak from her fingers and studied the way it drifted in the cool night air.
“Branna has taught me everything I know.” She finally said. “She has watched over a hundred hosts of Isen learn to control their powers, we can teach you a thing or two.” She closed and lowered her fist, the remaining smoke disappearing into the sky. “You and I are the conjurers. Scara and Autumn’s host are the manipulators. They cant create the matter, only control it. You and I, we create the snow and the fire.”
She shifted slightly and beckoned for Elsa to come a bit closer. The queen complied, feeling anxious. “Now, our elements respond to two things,” Theo continued. “know what they are?”
Elsa knew one all too well. “Emotion.”
Theo nodded. “Correct. The spirits are complex and emotional beings. Their emotions are so unfathomable to us that they can only be seen deep within the rippling effects that they produce. Branna’s anger creates flames, her sorrow stirs the sands. Isen is similar: her fear calls the ice and her loneliness is the cold.”
“And her love thaws it.”
An unreadable expression crossed Theo’s face. “Apparently.”
“What does Branna’s love do?” Elsa wondered aloud, suddenly very curious. “To your sand and fire?”
Theo gave her a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I wouldn’t know that.” She said quietly. “I’ve never been loved enough to know.”
“Surely you have.”
She gave a curt shake of her head. “Nope.”
“What about your family? Or Garret and Scara?”
“Elsa,” Theo said in a very controlled voice. “there is a difference between being loved and being tolerated.”
Elsa shook her head. “I refuse to believe your family never loved you. I refuse to believe that Scara doesn’t. She treats you like a sister.”
“All the same, if one is not taught love young, it becomes impossible to feel love when older.” The summer host turned away from the queen slightly, looking back at the fire.
Elsa took a step closer, reaching out for Theo. “Surely there is someone you love?”
The gentle question made Theo turn back. She was silent but her gaze bored into Elsa so deeply that Elsa found had to look away. It was a look she knew all too well. The look of someone who wants so desperately to love but is afraid to do so.
The trees around them bowed slightly in a sudden breeze as if only just remembering how trees are supposed to react in wind. They swooshed and swayed briefly before going still again. Elsa glanced around the clearing, following the movements, her eyes wandering back to the flames by the rock. The fire they had been sitting at had burned itself down to a tiny controlled flame, barely more than a candle. But there was still plenty of untouched wood on the fire. The flame did not seem to feel the wind as the trees did. It seemed merely as if the fire had no desire to consume anymore, it was content just to be a tiny flame. Elsa stared at the dying flames, completely dumbfounded. Was this…?
But as soon as Elsa noticed it, the fire suddenly flared back to life.
“Like I said,” Theo continued, apparently having not noticed the momentary taming of the fire. “I’m not so good with loving. Maybe I was loved once, maybe I am loved now. But I have never been able to let myself love anyone. That is the difference.” Her voice bore the kind of conviction Elsa knew it would be useless to argue against.
Elsa turned back to her. “So what’s the second thing?” She asked, wrapping her arms around herself.
Theo took a moment to collect her thoughts before she answered. “We are the centers of these raging storms.” She began. “We are the source of the power. And in order to be a good source, we must be a sturdy structure and clear channel for the elements. Posture and form. That is what guides the element. This is what we’ll teach you.”
She spread her legs and swung her arms in a wide, rotating circle. Sparks and tiny tongues of flame formed a ring within her moving hands, gradually growing larger and brighter. Elsa got the sense that Theo could release this wheel as a burst of flame whenever she decided to.
Crouching and splaying her fingers, Theo let the flames stretch into the surrounding air and slowly dissipate. Then she stumbled, breathing heavily. “That’s about the best I can do right now.” She panted, wiping her forehead. “Branna’s strength is almost gone because of the coming winter. Brute strength will have to come from you.”
“What?” Elsa exclaimed. “So I’ll be…?”
“You’ll be our main prong of attack.” Theo clarified. “Neither Scara nor myself will have the strength to hold Autumn back at her full strength. If we end up having to fight her tomorrow, I cant be worrying about you. Død’s attacks can be sneaky, you’ll have to be quick on your feet and ready for anything. And the best way I can prepare you for that is to teach you how to let the forces flow unrestricted. If Isen really is in there somewhere, she’ll be able to move the ice far faster than you can. She’ll be able to protect you if you cant.”
“But I can already do that.” Elsa said stubbornly. “I can control myself and protect myself just fine even while Isen’s asleep.”
Theo shrugged. “Humor me, let’s see if it changes anything.” She stepped closer to Elsa. “You never know, maybe this time it’ll finally work.”
Elsa bit her lip as Theo stood behind her. She raised her arms as if about to conjure ice. She could feel Theo watching her.
“Turn your hand like this.” Her hand slid down to cover Elsa’s and she felt an involuntary gasp leave her lips. Theo either ignored it or was very good at pretending not to hear it because her hand did not leave Elsa’s and she did not pull away. Gently, her fingers tugged Elsa’s into a flatter, more streamlined shape. “Keep your fingers like that but loosely, don’t stiffen or you’ll hurt yourself.” She briefly shook Elsa’s wrist to get her to relax her fingers. Her hand followed Elsa’s arm until she reached her elbow. “Bend this slightly.” She gently applied pressure until Elsa complied. Her hand drifted up to Elsa’s bicep, curling around it softly. “Now, call the ice to you…” Already the cold was swirling at Elsa’s fingertips, the ice in her veins pulsing to the time of her racing heart, desperate to be freed. “and direct a steady blast towards that tree…”
Elsa tried to call to the ice but it didn’t respond. There was a breath of warm air by her ear. “Don’t even think, just let it happen. Don’t try to let the ice come, just let the energy flow, unrestricted.”
Cool air began to drift from Elsa’s fingertips, just as naturally as a breeze. There was no effort on her part. All the same, it felt like it was her doing it. It was just like the feeling her powers had given her during the years she couldn’t control them: a steady flow of power from her center outwards into the world. Only this time, she knew she could stop it. She knew that if she wanted to, all she had to do was command them to stop and they would. There was a steady, almost pleasant pressure in her chest, like breathing very cold air and feeling it warm within her lungs before exhaling. Elsa let out a shaky breath and let the feeling consume her. The grip on her arm tightened reassuringly.
Ice shot from her palm in a concentrated flurry, solidifying into an enormous icicle mid-flight. It sliced right through the tree, the bark and wood cracking with a sound like thunder. Everything happened far faster than Elsa had ever known it to.
Theo let go of Elsa’s arm and the pressure in her chest vanished.
“Of course, this is all theory.” She remarked drily, watching the tree crack and slowly fall onto the rock where the wood shattered completely. “Branna can tell me a hundred times to bend my knees more but ultimately the flames will go where they want to go. Where she decides they need to go. Me bending my knees more will only make it easier on my body in the long run.” She sounded dejected as she walked away from Elsa, back towards the fire.
“Have you tried slowing down at all?” Elsa asked.
Theo paused. “What?”
Elsa remembered the intense concentration she’d had in her mother’s garden a few days ago. Then, the creations had been of her own concentration and mind, her movements carefully planned and executed to allow for the proper shapes and structures. “It’s worked for me, concentrating deeply, letting myself just flow through the motions. Giving in to a positive emotion and just consciously doing. It’s what guided me in making my ice palace I think.”
Theo scoffed quietly. “That’s the difference between us. You flow, I burn. Snow drifts, fire dances. My movements have to be quick and precise. Ice can be shaped and formed but fire just destroys.” She sat back down against the rock and stretched her hands towards the fire. It snapped and flared in response and she glared back at it. “You can practice. I don’t have that benefit. One wrong move, one slip of control and I burn down an entire forest.”
Elsa slowly made her way back to her spot by the fire, contemplating what Theo had taught her. “Is this what Isen would have taught me?” She asked, sliding down next to Theo, perhaps a bit closer than she had previously. “Were she awake?”
“Yes.” Theo replied. Their shoulders were brushing but neither of them seemed to care.
Elsa shook her head. “Where was she all those years I needed her? All those years I struggled to control it?” All those times she’d sat alone in the dark and the cold, wishing for some semblance of control over her life again. Just wishing not to be alone.
“I don’t know that.” Theo replied. She was playing with her glass orb again. “But I may know why she’s hiding.”
Theo met Elsa’s eyes. “This could be my fault. We were kept apart for so long…it probably drove Isen into hiding. She knew I would not be around to help you if she awoke. After how things went last time, with Mirabelle, she probably thought it would be best if she kept quiet as long as possible.” Her gaze held a thousand apologies, all of which made Elsa wonder how different her life might have been if Theo had been in it from the start.
Elsa laid a gentle hand on Theo’s arm. “But you’re here now.” She assured her.
“That doesn’t forgive my absence.” Theo said, the muscles in her arm under Elsa’s hand contracting slightly. “Isen is delicate and she depends on Branna to be her support.”
“Why is that?”
Theo sighed. “Remember how I told you they were married?”
Elsa nodded, an uneasy feeling floating up out of her stomach.
“Isen was the Mother’s oldest child.” Theo began, staring into the crackling flames. “Branna was the daughter she adopted from another deity, that of the banished Light Goddess. Isen became Branna’s friend, sister and confidant. They grew up together, studied together and taught each other. Eventually, the two of them fell in love, even though it was not really possible for them to be together. After all, they were technically sisters.”
“Branna was a scribe by trade, recording the stories Isen told and the scriptures of the Mother. But when she learned of her true parentage, she trained to be a warrior in the tradition of her brothers: the Sun Soldiers who served the Light Goddess. They fought in a great war to restore their Goddess to the realm and bring back the sunlight that had been banished by the Night Realm. In the midst of this great battle, Branna was struck and gravely injured.”
“Isen was an Oracle, a Seer. She often had visions of the past and present and occasionally, even the future. She saw that Branna had fallen, and, believing her love to be dead, she fell into a deep despair. A Long Winter came from her sorrow, one that even the Mother could not lift. The ocean itself froze, the ice came down the mountains and covered the land. With the Winter, the war ended and the Light Goddess was restored, hoping that she could end the suffering. But the air had become so cold that even the newly-restored sun lost its heat. The entire land remained cold and frozen.
“Branna eventually recovered and when she woke, trekked diligently across two realms to make it back to her love. When they were reunited, Isen was overjoyed but found she still could not lift the winter. Her spell had been cast and there was no way to stop it. But Branna had discovered something in her time at war, a fire deep within her much like that of her birth mother. A fire that provided a perfect contrast to Isen’s cold. A great gust swept through the land, unlocking the rivers and warming the skies. Slowly, the land thawed.
“The Mother granted the two of them permission to marry when she saw how they complimented each other, just how right they had been about being together. When the spirits were banished, even as Winter and Summer were separated and brought about at opposite times of year, Branna vowed that she would keep them together, no matter the cost. Erin and Ileana shared a birthday, they ruled the first Council together…”
Theo abruptly stopped. She seemed embarrassed that she had been speaking so long. “Branna and her hosts have transcribed all the stories.” She offered by way of apology, rubbing the back of her neck awkwardly. “So I know them all…”
“What about the other spirits?” Elsa asked, curious to learn about these legends. “Spring and Autumn, were they also adopted?”
Theo shook her head. “No, Branna was the only one. Livet and Død are the Mother’s twins, born just before the Mother adopted Branna. They are complete opposites but they are so intrinsically linked that they feel everything about the other.”
Elsa glanced towards the hammock. “Is that why Scara’s so…?” Elsa didn’t have a word to describe Scara’s current state.
Theo clenched her fist around the glass ball. “Scara’s missing half of herself while Død’s host rejects her. She’s withdrawn again…everyday I see her regress more, silently, trying not to draw my attention to it. And it’s killing me. To see her like this again…” She swallowed hard and let her fist fall open again. The glass glowed orange in the firelight. “She needs Autumn. Only when they are together again will she be able to grow up, to move on. She’s been like this ever since the day we met.” She glanced over at the hammock, her gaze softening. “Always incomplete, always caught somewhere between childhood and growing up into the fine young woman I know she can be. Her life has been a constant, fruitless struggle as she tries to achieve something she cant without her other half.”
Elsa stared into the fire, watching the flames lick hungrily
at the logs. “What about you?” She asked, suddenly feeling bold enough to try.
“What about me?”
“What was your childhood like?”
Theo stiffened. “I didn’t have one.”
“Everyone has a childhood.”
“Not me.” Theo folded her hands in her lap, keeping them tightly bound together, the glass pressed between her palms. “Most of my life, I was on my own. My parents were wood-folk and after the third house, they started to realize I brought the fires.”
Elsa was silent. She suspected this was a rare moment of honesty for Theo. A peek into a dark room lit only by the tiniest of candles. So she kept quiet and still and watched.
Theo gazed up at the short canopy overhead, watching the tendrils of the northern lights flicker, almost as if she were contemplating her story. And how much she should tell. “They called me a curse, a demon. When I was six they gave me away to Antony, a friend who brought me up to the mountains to live among the ice-harvesters. It was there that I learned the real power of my apparent gift, and the danger. I accidentally melted so many frozen lakes, the harvesters also began to call me unlucky. They wanted to get rid of me but Antony wouldn’t let them. He protected me and cared for me. He taught me how to read and how to think. He showed me the beauty in ice. The others kept their distance though. The only reason they kept me around was because of my uncanny ability to split ice with a single strike. I suppose that’s where I met your friend, although I confess, I don’t remember him that well. I was never very good at getting to know other children. They never made an effort to know me.
“Then one day, Antony and I were standing on supposedly stable ice when it suddenly vanished beneath us. We were both pulled under the lake, down into a river. I survived and was eventually able to climb out.” Her fingers closed around the glass ball again. “Antony… was not so lucky.”
Sand. Sand was freedom. It was stability. Feet found purchase, lungs finally found air.
Cold and sharp, it rushed in, clearing away the blackness from the water’s pressing. Coughing, sand scraping everywhere.
“…Tony…” No sign of him. Steam curled from clothes, twisting in the cold night air. Skin was warm, feverish. Stars blazed overhead, pinpricks of fire in the dark ice still hanging overhead.
There was no answer.
She tore her gaze away from the stars. “I couldn’t go back, not with his death on my hands. The other ice-masters would have just driven me out or finally killed me. So I left, I wandered through the northern woods, fending for myself in the northern mountains. It was so cold…but I felt nothing. All of me was consumed with fire. Fire so intense I felt like I was burning where I stood. I would have died if not for my powers. I wanted to die.”
Theo swallowed hard, the firelight illuminating wetness in her eyes. “My sorrow and desperation awakened Branna within me and she drew Garret to me. He’d been training in the mountains, waiting for the day when the spirits would be awakened and he could assume his duties as our guardian. He was only twelve.”
One hand absently traced the rock at their back, fingers scraping across the rough surface. “I tried to run from him at first, scared of his attachment to me. He followed me for days, tailing me to this forest. I tried to scare him off but only ended up setting fire to this area. He carried me out in his arms, severely burning himself in the process. I nursed him back to health and I’ve never left him since.”
“We found Scara a few days later. Livet had awoken in her because she sensed my proximity and wanted to be found. Scara was playing quietly outside an overgrown cottage, waiting for her parents to return.” Theo’s gaze darkened. The memory was not a pleasant one. “Her story is even worse than mine…”
“Who are you?” Garret asked the young girl kindly. He froze as she smiled up at him, his eyes flashing green.
“My name is Scara!” She said happily. In her tiny hands, she was holding several blades of fine spring grass, twisted together into a braid.
The Guardian fell to his knees and bonded himself to his second host, the little girl of Spring. She watched him complete his ceremony with curious, trusting eyes not even wincing when he had to take his own blood.
“Are you angels?” The child asked, her brilliant green eyes taking them in warmly.
“We’ve been traveling through the forest for many days.” Garret said, standing and placing his hand on her shoulder. The touch was calming. “Are your parents around?”
Scara shook her head.“You must be tired! Go inside and help yourself to food.” She told them. “My parents will be back soon!”
Together they entered the house, needing both of them to push open the door. Inside it was dark and cool, the air thick with an unpleasantly strong flowery scent.
The entirety of the tiny cabin was clogged with thick, flowering vines. It was nearly dark inside, all the windows having been smashed by the plants which were twitching restlessly.
Bile rose. Nostrils burned.
“Garret!” He turned and looked up.
Hanging from the ceiling, dangling in the vines were two soft, decaying corpses.
Elsa drew a sharp intake of breath. “She…she killed her own parents?”
Theo opened her eyes and looked at Elsa sharply. “She doesn’t know. And she is never to find out. She was only five, her powers spun out of control in those crucial first moments of Livet’s awakening. Død was in turmoil so Livet had no one to stabilize her and she lashed out. Even life can bring destruction. We took her away without letting her look inside.”
“You never told her?”
Theo looked at Elsa hopelessly. “Would you want to know?” She asked. Elsa didn’t answer. “Scara has always seen our powers as wonderful gifts. The world she knows is a beautiful and precious place, life is a good force, gentle and giving. I cant take that away from her. We told her someone had taken her parents away, that she was our responsibility now. And she came with us, never looking back.”
Theo leaned her head back against the rock, seeming physically drained from saying so much. “Somewhere, deep down I think she knows. Or at least suspects. Livet feels guilty about it, I know. She has gone to great lengths to help Scara. She hardly ever lets her full power loose so that it’s easier for Scara to train and control herself. On the spring equinox she leads Scara to a special place near the temple and helps her create a magnificent garden.”
“So what happened after you found her?” Elsa prompted.
“We wandered for a few more months, Scara and I ignoring the voices in our heads that kept trying to talk to us and fighting the strange powers that seemed desperate to burst forth from us.”
The fire snapped, almost as if in response to Theo’s words and the summer host glared at the flames again. “The spirits led us to the hall of Mother, where we have remained ever since.” She continued. “Upon finding it, Branna asserted her dominance over me and declared me Head Councilor. We entered a deep meditation, rendering me inert for nearly a week. When we emerged, we had reached our agreement and I had acknowledged my birth-right. The Council was forming again.”
She sighed heavily. “By the time I reconciled as Head Councilor, I was thirteen. No longer a child. I never had that luxury. My early years were a constant battle to protect those around me from myself. First my family, then my fellow harvesters then Garret and especially Scara. Then it became a struggle for survival. I had to keep Scara safe and make sure we stayed alive in our isolation. That’s all I’ve been doing. All my life. It’s all I can do.”
Elsa was quiet for a long time, letting the story sink it, marveling at its resemblance to her own. Something about it bothered her though, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
“If it helps,” She said after a few minutes of silence. “I didn’t really have much of a childhood either.”
Theo looked at her. “Oh really?”
Elsa nodded. “My parents locked us inside the castle. Until I learned how to control my powers.”
“They were afraid of you.” There was no accusation or disdain in Theo’s words. Just a painful truth.
Elsa smiled sadly. “Not always.” She said quietly. She let her mind drift back, to memories she hadn’t considered in years. Her parents were still a sensitive subject with her, even almost four years after the shipwreck. There were still days Elsa awoke, thinking that today her father would be with her in a meeting, her mother would teach her proper French etiquette and let her read from the archives.
Those were the same days she unconsciously reached for the gloves upon waking.
“For awhile, they didn’t think anything of it.” Elsa recalled, not looking at Theo as she began her tale. “They turned a blind eye mostly. Maybe they thought I would outgrow it, as most children do their strange quirks and skills. For several years, my powers were just a secret plaything that Anna and I used to have fun.”
Tears pricked at her eyes. “I used to build her snowmen…” And laugh with her, and be her big sister. Her one companion in a giant castle. “But that all changed with one accident.”
Elsa could tell Theo was watching her intently, she could tell the fear and pain was evident in her voice. But she ignored it and plowed on. It was cathartic, almost. Telling everything like this instead of keeping it locked up in her memory. “We were just playing one night…a night like any other. Having fun, not worrying about anything. Then…” Elsa swallowed hard, as the moment that had come to define her life flashed through her mind’s eye yet again.
Cold. Unmoving. Silent.
“I struck her.” Elsa choked out, not realizing she had begun to cry. “She wasn’t moving, she’d frozen like ice. The trolls were able to save her but at the cost of her not knowing about my powers anymore. And they warned that they could not save her again. Nothing could save her from me. My parents decided it would be best for both of us to be protected from the world: me from my dangerous powers that people would grow to fear and Anna from the possibility of being hurt by those powers.”
“So they closed the gates. And I stayed away from Anna. To keep her safe.” A tear fell from her cheek, splashing onto her knee. Elsa tried to get herself back under control but the story would not be stopped. It poured out of her, desperate to be free. “For fourteen years I kept a door between us at all times. But she just didn’t give up. She was always knocking on my door, begging me to come play with her, to build snowmen with her. She’d sit outside my door for hours and tell me stories, slip me notes under the door and leave me gifts of chocolate and pastries. And the whole time, I had to act like I didn’t care…just to keep her safe. But she never gave up, she just kept trying.”
“On top of that, I was trying to keep my powers hidden away constantly. My parents were always trying to keep me down, keep my true nature repressed.” Elsa flexed her naked fingers. “’Conceal, don’t feel.’ They used to tell me. So I learned to hide myself away. Tried not to feel.”
“But part of what made the control so hard was that it was so imperative that I not feel anything. And how could I do that when Anna was always there, knocking on my door, wanting nothing more than for me to play with her?”
Elsa felt her fingers clench tightly around her own arm. She wondered if she had the strength to finish her story. “And then…after our parents died……I…I couldn’t be there for her.” Elsa closed her eyes, feeling the tears flow steadily down her face. “She sat outside my door and cried and begged for me to come out.”
“And I couldn’t.” It came out as barely a whisper.
Suddenly, a warm hand was at her chin, gently tugging her to look around. Theo wiped Elsa’s tears away with her thumb, offering her a smile.
“You really love Anna, don’t you…” Theo said shakily.
“Anna is…everything.” Elsa said honestly. “She’s my world.”
The two of them sat there for a moment, in a position that had somehow managed to become comfortable between them: Theo gently holding Elsa’s face, gazing into her eyes. They had faced similar struggles, Elsa realized. They bore similar burdens of leadership they did not feel worthy of. Maybe that’s why they hadn’t liked each other when they first met. They had each recognized a kindred spirit in the other; a thick mask hiding a fragile, scared little girl. A mask they both despised because of its familiarity. A mask they both thought they had cast off.
Theo looked down and slowly let go of Elsa, her fingers lingering a bit. “That’s something I never anticipated…” She said, more to herself than to Elsa.
Elsa quickly dried her eyes. “What?”
Theo was quiet for a moment, as if she hadn’t heard Elsa’s question. She was gazing down at the glass in her hand. It was glowing blue again. “Elsa when we first discovered you…when we realized just who you were and where you were…we knew about the gates being closed for fourteen years. Goren had the records.” Elsa wasn’t sure how to feel about this. But the compelling, quiet confession was so unlike the Theo she had come to know that she kept silent.
“The day we found out about you…” Theo continued softly. “I’d been searching, calling out to Isen with Branna, hoping I could finally find you. And then Goren rolled into the room, announcing that it was snowing in summer…” she paused, licked her lips and took a slow breath. “I don’t know just…something about the thought of you as a scared seven-year-old, all alone in that huge castle with your powers…deep down I think I…I felt something for you. A kind of…kinship.”
She looked at Elsa, seeming a little ashamed of her confession and suddenly, Elsa knew what it was. She knew why Theo’s story had bothered her. Whenever she spoke of her past, Theo got the same look in her eyes that had glanced at Elsa from every mirror when she had been behind the door. Behind the fury, her eyes blazed with the same self-hatred that Elsa knew all too well. Theo was still behind a door, Elsa realized. She had no one to pull her out from it, to show her a world of possibilities that lay beyond it. She had always been trapped. And now, she was reaching out.
Theo chuckled uneasily at Elsa’s silence. “Then of course I met you and it all came crashing down.”
Elsa couldn’t help the giggle that burst from her at that. “Oh really? What was your first impression of me?”
“Spoiled, self-centered, desperate to be accepted.” Theo said smoothly with a hint of a grin.
Elsa quirked an eyebrow. “And now?”
Theo shrugged. “Now…I’m not really sure.” She admitted. She brushed a lock of hair back. “Every time I see you it seems like a new facet of you is revealed. When I first met you, I realized you were strong, stronger than I could ever hope to be. Not just in your powers, in your emotions. And you stood alone so effortlessly, defending what you loved. In the temple, I saw how well you handled Branna’s wrath, even though she was a goddess. And still you stood up for yourself. You were brave, fearless. When we were at the ice palace, I saw how you cared about life and beauty. How you built castles in your mind to keep yourself sane. How you saw beauty and functionality in your gift.”
Theo turned to look at Elsa, her cheeks tinged a slight pink. Elsa was wondering just what Theo had learned about her after kissing her but it appeared Theo was done recounting her revelations. “Tell me what happened there.” Theo asked gently, moving a little closer. “At the palace, you were so desperate to cover everything up, to just repair the damage and move on. Why?”
Elsa turned away. “I…I almost did it.” Theo didn’t say anything, she just waited for Elsa to continue. Elsa took a deep breath, finally feeling ready to say the words that had been haunting her for months. “I was ready to kill two men. I nearly did it.”
“Was that the memory?” Theo asked. “The one you recalled when…?” She stopped, seeming suddenly to remember why that had not been brought up between them this night. Elsa looked away from her, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
“Did…did you?” There was no fear or resentment in her tone, simply a request to know if such a deed had been done.
Elsa shook her head. “No. Thankfully.” Thankfully she hadn’t. “Someone…someone reminded me that I was not a monster. That I shouldn’t become one. And I stopped.”
A warm hand covered hers, loosening the strangle-hold her own hands had locked themselves in. Elsa looked up and found herself staring into red eyes that burned with understanding. “Taking a life is never easy, no matter the circumstance. Especially if it is someone you don’t really know.”
It took Elsa several seconds to ponder the true meaning of those words. “Theo…have you…?”
The silence was confirmation enough.
“It never leaves you.” Theo said, staring at Elsa. “It hangs over you forever, whether you meant to do it or not. You hear their screams forever.” She let go of Elsa’s hand and sat back against the rock, hand gripping her head. “It makes you feel like a monster.”
Elsa reached out and firmly took the warm hands in her own cool ones, tugging them back down. “You’re not a monster.”
Theo regarded her uneasily, as if she expected there to be a rebuttal to follow that statement.
Elsa ran a thumb over the knuckles in her grip. “Theo…I think you’re…incredible. You care so deeply for Scara and you…you’re a great leader, you always think of others first. You protect what you care about. So even if you hate your powers, even if you think you’re a monster, I know you’re not. Scara and Garret and Goren know it too. They speak very highly of you. They look up to you. You’re not a monster to us, you’re a good person.”
Theo looked down, her lips pursed at Elsa’s praises. “I don’t hate my powers.” She admitted. “Maybe I did, but not now.”
“What changed?” Elsa asked.
Theo raised her head, her grip tightened ever so slightly. “They…brought me here…” Elsa found each breath to be a labor, as if the forest had decided to steal all the air for itself and leave none for the two sitting by the fire.
“A little nobody living in the woods and her majesty, Queen Elsa of Arendelle.” Theo continued. “We’d never have met if Branna and Isen hadn’t chosen us.”
Momentarily distracted by the sound of Theo saying her complete title without a hint of disdain, Elsa fought to find a suitable reply. “You never know…we could have.”
Theo shook her head slightly. “We never would have gotten this close…how many commoners do you interact with on a daily basis, Your Highness?”
Elsa smirked. “A good number.”
“And how many of those have you kissed?”
Elsa felt her heart stop. Neither one of them had noticed that the fire had once again shrunken to a tiny flickering candle. Neither one saw the ice forming sharp, hanging crystals in the air around them. They were once again locked together. Blue staring into red. Red staring right back.
“You kissed me…” Elsa breathed in retort. The hands in hers were burning hot.
Theo’s lips parted ever so slightly. “That’s debatable.” She said in barely a whisper.
It was happening again, Elsa realized. The pull, the unconscious attraction that kept drawing them together, that made their thoughts shut down and their actions take over. Sometime during their previous conversation, it had snuck up on them and fallen over them like a thick blanket.
She could see the look of utter desire in Theo’s eyes, how much she wanted to just lean in and kiss her again. The grip of their hands tightened, gazes went dark as they leaned closer, noses brushing, tiny sparks and fractals of ice snapping and shimmering along their skin.
Elsa had forgotten her nightmares, she had forgotten the shame and confusion of the past few weeks as she fought these thoughts. Her heart was light, freed from the confessions she’d been holding back and her mind was full of stories about another like her. It was a good feeling, the kind of feeling she had tasted once before on a frozen fjord, hugging her still-alive sister. Now it consumed her entirely, wanting to claim her forever. She was ready to surrender, to feel those lips against hers again and lose herself in the feeling of ice and fire coming together once more.
So the fact that Theo leaned away snapped Elsa back to reality like a slap in the face. She lurched backwards, blushing a deep crimson as she realized what they had almost just done. Again.
“It’s late…”Theo said, looking away from Elsa again. “we have a long way to go tomorrow.”
Elsa stood up quickly, very glad that the darkness would hid her blush. “Right.”
Confusion swirled within Elsa as snow swirled without. She picked her way back to her snowbank and lowered herself onto it.
Nothing made sense. If these feelings were just a result of Isen and Branna’s romantic history, then how did she feel them without Isen being awake? Was it just Branna making Theo say those things? But that didn’t explain the jealousy earlier, the overwhelming desire of just a few moments ago.
And tonight, tonight they had actually opened up to one another, shared histories they would have rather forgotten or buried. And Elsa couldn’t deny what she had started to see in Theo: someone just like her. Someone who needed saving and deserved love.
But…did she…could she actually really like Theonia?
And if Theo liked her back, why was she the one pulling away every time?
Elsa laid back but her eyes refused to close. Everything about this was terrifying and not just because of the political and social implications. She tried to curl up comfortably in her snow and coax herself to sleep. Even though the cold didn’t bother her, something about the makeshift bed just seemed too flimsy, like there was nothing solid for her to support her as she fell asleep, plagued by her thoughts and her returning nightmares.
Would be better with someone else beside me… She decided, convincing herself she had wished for Anna in that moment rather than the girl sleeping on the far side of the rock.
There was a quiet whooshing sound and the light against Elsa’s eyelids dimmed considerably as Theo smothered the fire in preparation for sleep.
Well, regardless of who felt what for whom, it didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends, officially. Right? After tonight, there was no denying they had finally reached a certain understanding.
“Theo?” Elsa called out timidly.
A body shifted on the other side. “What, Elsa?” She called, sounding annoyed.
“For breaking your nose when we first met.”
There was a pause, filled only by the quiet snap of dying embers. Then Elsa heard a quiet chuckle. She burrowed deeper into her miniature snowbank and began to drift off glad that the water had finally passed under that particular bridge. As sleep started to claim her, she heard Theo say in barely more than a whisper.
“I’m sorry too.”
I was Alone.
But that was alright, I was used to the Lonely. In the Lonely was the Cold and the Cold was my friend. It came to me in the Lonely. It sang to me and rocked me to sleep. It was part of me. It chased the Lonely away.
Mother was calling. She was Far Away.
I ran, faster than I thought possible. This time the Cold accompanied me, it swirled around my steps, making no sound as I ran. Closer…and closer…the Lonely was following, nipping at my heels.
Blurs of Colors and Places. Echoes of Lonely everywhere. Protected by the Cold.
There was Mother. Not Lonely. In one arm, she held an Other. I stopped running. The Lonely crashed into me and passed right through me. It let me go. Without a fight.
Mother looked at me. Her hand came towards me. Beckoning.
I crawled across until I reached Mother. And the Other. The Other who had banished the Lonely. “This is her, dear daughter…” Said Mother in her Voice. “your little sister.”
I stretched out a hand, fingers brushing Other’s. My sister. My precious, precious sister.
The Cold became snow. I Became the Cold.
No more room for Lonely.
Lonely’s power was broken but the Cold remained. Sister had no Cold. No Lonely. In Her was a gentle warm. A flicker of Fading. A burst of Other. The Ending.
Sister opened her eyes and Looked at me. Sister would never feel the Lonely. Not while I Watched her.
I will always protect you.
So why haven’t you this time?
“Stop. Stop please! Just stop!” Elsa awoke suddenly, blinking in surprise at the voice that had interrupted her first pleasant dream in weeks.
“It’s been five months and I haven’t folded, you can’t make me…! Urrghhh!” Elsa sat up, peering into the darkness. The fire had long since gone out but the tiny embers that remained were pulsating with tiny blasts of heat.
Only one person could affect fire like that.
“Let me sleep…please…please!”
The embers briefly flared back into flames and Elsa made out a hunched form on the far side of the fire. “I don’t know.” Theo snarled, gripping her head tightly in both hands. “And I wont. You can’t make me!”
There was a choking sound, as if Theo had bitten her own tongue. Elsa saw her double over, curling in on herself as if in immense pain. There was no one else around. Theo was talking to no one.
The summer host, drew a heavy gasping breath and pulled herself back into a crouch. “…why did you pick me then?” She cried desperately. “Why me?”
“Theo?” The woman stiffened, sitting rigidly upright. “Is everything okay?” Elsa asked.
Theo half turned to face her. In the dim light, Elsa could make out a small smile on her face. “Everything’s fine. Go to sleep.”
Elsa was not convinced. “Who are you talking to?”
Theo only gestured at the air above her head as if to indicate the fire spirit that sometimes sat there. “Be glad Isen isn’t awake.” She told the queen grimly. “Having arguments in your own head is never fun…”
“Arguments? Sounds more like she’s torturing you.”
Theo didn’t answer. She stood up and stepped out of the light, leaving Elsa staring at embers that had all but died. “Go back to sleep, Elsa.” Said a voice in the glow.
And amazingly, Elsa found she was able to.
After walking furiously for nearly a quarter of an hour in circles around the rock, Theo did not curl up next to the fire again and try to sleep. Instead she crossed to the pile of cloth at the edge of the overhang that was Garret’s sleeping space.
“I know you heard all that…”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Muttered the pile of cloth, innocently. “But she must be glad you’re finally opening up to her. I’m sure she cares for you just as much as you pretend not to care for her to the rest of us.”
Theo clenched her fist. “Don’t say a word about her Garret,” She whispered through her teeth. “she and I can never be together, not if Branna gets her way.”
Garret shifted but did not roll over. “Does that mean you’re going to give in?” He asked.
Garret sighed. “It’s getting harder though, isn’t it?” He observed.
“Everyday.” Her voice shook at that word.
Garret spoke quietly but his voice seemed to echo around the clearing. “So why not just give in?”
Theo did not answer.
“You deserve some happiness in all of this.” Garret told his oldest friend. “Perhaps you can find it in her.”
“No. I cant.”
“Really? It seemed like you were pretty happy just talking to her before. What’s holding you back? Really?”
“Branna.” The name was spoken with disdain.
Garret rolled over and looked up at Theo. Black eyes met red in the dark. “I thought she was the one who wanted you together?”
Theo lowered her head. “She does. And that is precisely the problem.”
“She doesn’t just want me to join with Elsa.” A pained look crossed her face. The spirit was preventing her from saying more. Theo fell to her knees in front of Garret, biting her lip. “Make her stop…please. Just for a bit?” She pleaded gently.
Garret flinched but remained steadfast. “You know what that does to you.”
“I need peace, Garret. Please.” She was fighting back tears now, months of torment and pain weakening her and weighing her down. “I can handle one night of nightmares.”
The Guardian was silent for a moment. “Come here.” He finally said, opening his arms to her.
Theo sat and slowly lowered herself until her head was on his chest. His heart thudded comfortingly in her ears. She felt him gently press a point on her lower back, then one on her left shoulder. Branna went grudgingly silent. The emptiness in her head was glorious.
She let out a shaky breath. “Thank you.” Theo made to get up again, to return to her spot by the fire but Garret gently tightened his hold.
“I only suppressed her for a few hours.” He told her. “You should go to sleep. I’ll keep watch.” Theo resisted only for a second before her resolve crumbled. It had been years since she’d let him hold her like this. It had been even longer since she’d let herself feel comfort from the embrace. Garret was warm. Not her own fire, just another’s heat, warmth. Life. Theo let herself give in to the comfort of his arms, to sink into that protection and forget the horrors of the surrounding world. It would be so nice to sleep through the night…for once.
She felt his hand gently stroking her arm. “We’re not alone.” Garret said. “Not anymore. Never again.”
She knew that was true. It wasn’t just the two of them against the world anymore. “We” no longer consisted of two outcast kids struggling to survive an unfair destiny. Now it was the four of them. Soon to be five. So long as Autumn cooperated.
“What would I do without you Garret?” Theo mumbled sleepily, her eyes closing.
He smiled and gently kissed the top of her head. “You’ll never need to find out.” He promised. “Now stop worrying and go to sleep. Tomorrow, we storm Autumn’s castle.”