Chapter 4 - Special Circumstances
There was another voice, just outside the icy walls.
I turned away from Anna. "Wait…what is that?" Terror shot through me as the doors opened once more. Who had Anna brought with her?
A snowman waddled into the room. A snowman with a fat bottom, long twiggy arms and a misshapen carrot nose. "Hi! I'm Olaf and I like warm hugs!" He shouted happily, running towards the stairs.
But…but that was…I leaned forward. "Olaf?" How was this possible?
He stopped next to Anna, all of his enthusiasm melting into uncertainty. Maybe melting was the wrong word… "You built me…" He reminded me, folding his hands timidly in front of him. "Remember that?"
How could I ever forget him? "And you're alive?" I asked softly.
He moved his arms experimentally. "umm…yeah, I think so…"
I looked down at my hands. I could…this gift of mine could create… life?
"He's just like the one we built as kids…" Anna said, crouching down to pat Olaf on the head. This earned her a bright smile from the snowman.
"…yeah…" I said quietly. He was exactly like the one we built as kids. That had been my only thought when I'd made him. I had wanted my first creation to be something to tie me to Anna, something to remind me of the innocence that had once defined my gift.
"Elsa, we were so close." Anna was saying, obviously thinking fondly of the memories of our childhood. "We can be like that again."
My weighed heart soared. We could…she knew my secret now, there was no longer any reason to hide…to push her away.
My icy blast struck her. Anna fell unmoving to the snow below.
Heart racing, I scrambled across the ice to her still form and rolled her over. "Anna!" I watched in horror as a stripe of Anna's hair turned as white as my own.
I clutched her cold form tightly, as if I could bring her back merely by holding her. The ice around me crackled as it expanded and grew black as the terror rushed through me, mirroring the fear that the life in my arms had already gone out. The power spun out of control and whirled around the room, icing the walls, covering everything in winter's sorrow…
I couldn't lose Anna. I couldn't lose her…
"No." I told Anna, folding my arms around me as the memory of that terror threatened to overcome me and drown me in sorrow again. "We can't."
Elsa blinked and the memory faded.
She wrapped her arms around herself tightly to try to ward off the sudden chill that filled her. She never got cold. Maybe it was this room.
Elsa sat gently on the bed frame, which squeaked slightly under her weight sounding like years of neglect and solitude. At least it didn't feel as restrictive as the last one. Unlike the room she had woken up in, this one had more windows and at a level more accessible to looking out of them. It also had, in addition to the bed, a desk, a bedside table and a large amount of floor space. The walls were made of the same thick stone as the corridors. Except for bars on the windows and a locked door, it could be a prison cell.
Elsa swung her legs, the same way she had fourteen years ago on the first day she'd locked herself away from the world. It was calming, being alone in silence again. Ever since the end of the winter she hadn't had more than a moment to herself. Not that Elsa hadn't cherished, even loved the newfound contact she had with Anna and her people but after being all alone for three years following the death of her parents, it had become such a part of her life that she couldn't let it go.
Apparently confining rooms was another part of that past that refused to die.
Granted, she'd spent most of her life locked away but she hadn't minded it that much. It had been necessary, something she'd had to do to keep everyone safe. It was only since she'd had her recent taste of freedom that she realized just how terrible being in a cage truly was.
The meeting in the chapel was long over. Scara had gone off to 'prepare a little surprise' and Garret had offered to take Elsa to her new room and help her get settled. Theo had remained in the chapel, muttering darkly and avoiding making eye contact with everyone. Now Garret had vanished to find her more furnishings and some food.
Elsa doubted anything he would bring her would ever make this place feel like anything but just another prison.
If her sister were here she'd know exactly how to make this room feel warm and livable. Even when a room was empty, simply having Anna around made it seem like the room was someplace people actually lived, not just another empty room of a castle.
Elsa sighed, a soft flurry of snowflakes escaping with the exhale. She missed Anna so much.
I wonder if she found the sculpture… I wonder if she's still upset…
Elsa tightened her grip on the bed frame and it acquired a thin coating of ice. She looked out the window and saw the edge of a forest. They were probably high in the mountains somewhere, none of the trees were particularly tall but the forest was thick. Obviously the Arendelle logging businesses hadn't reached this swath of woods yet. That was, if they were even still in Arendelle lands.
The bright, burning sunlight of the setting summer sun lit up the room as it sunk into the trees. That would make this the end of the first day since she'd gone missing from Arendelle. By now, people were sure to have noticed. Anna was sure to be worried.
I wonder if she's looking for me. I wonder if she just thinks I'm hiding again.
"This is your room you know."
Elsa turned to the voice and smiled kindly at the speaker.
"Doesn't really feel like home."
Goren rolled into the room but quickly un-tucked himself to avoid another sleeping episode. "Then maybe you should make it more like home." He suggested. "Hang some drapes, maybe a little color, something blue and subtle."
A smile tugged at Elsa's lips. "Surely you're not suggesting I coat the floors in ice and snow and let icicles hang from the ceiling?"
Goren nodded. "It might help." He said. The troll leapt up beside her on the bed and began to pull various food stuffs from gods knew where. "Scara's room is a living forest and Theo keeps her room at a balmy 90 degrees or so." He told Elsa as he laid out a hunk of bread, a large wad of cheese and some small fruits on her table. "But I'm not sure if they do that for themselves or for Branna and Livet's sakes."
"Probably both." Elsa said picking up a fruit and nibbling on it, thinking longingly of her ice castle in the mountains. Why couldn't she be there?
Goren paused in his arranging of the food. "It may help Isen come out of your shell." He said quietly.
Elsa sighed but kept her rising frustration under control as only a queen could. "Why is it so important for me to draw her out?" She asked Goren. She didn't particularly like the thought of having some kind of spirit deep inside her, sharing her mind and skin. Where had that spirit been all those years in isolation? All those times her life had been in danger during the eternal winter? "I'm doing fine on my own."
"You are." Goren acknowledged. "Remarkably well. I haven't read records of a host with your control since Ileana, Isen's first host."
He patted along the bed frame until he was close enough to lay a comforting hand on her arm. "But connecting with Isen isn't just about learning who shares your body and gave you your powers. The connection quite literally links you to the soul of winter itself. You feel everything in the winter, you are every snowflake that falls, every icicle that drips into being. You no longer just create the elements, you are the element. Your powers may double, exceed your wildest dreams even!"
Until two days ago, Elsa had never been particularly interested in letting her powers grow. Now however, the troll's words intrigued her. "How so?"
Goren's gaze was focused out the window but she could see his eyes gleaming like he was recalling a favorite legend. "My father knew hosts of Isen's who could build glaciers in the middle of summer, who could shape and sculpt the ice of winter into impossible structures and heal wounds with their breath. One was even able to carve the land 's waterways using ice and snow. Ileana was said to have been able to create life when she let Isen control her body."
Elsa looked down at her hands and experimentally flexed her fingers.
"The ice becomes a living, breathing shield protecting you and those you love." Goren continued. "It moves without you even consciously telling it to." Elsa's head shot up at that but she kept quiet.
"Not to mention you also get someone inside your head to give you help and advice who has literally lived for thousands of years. Isen is one of the more tame spirits." Goren assured Elsa. "She's nothing like Branna's fire. She doesn't tend to lash out."
"So how does one do it?" Elsa asked. "Draw out the spirit?"
"Depends on the host. Sometimes the spirit awakens in times of great distress. Others have to be coaxed out through meditations with your element."
"Meditations with your element?"
"Surrounding yourself with your creations and conversing with them." Goren said. "Theo does it all the time, particularly in the winter, you could ask her for advice."
Elsa much preferred to think she would never ask the uptight, temperamental Theo for advice on anything. Not even something like this. No, especially not something like this.
Someone knocked on the door. Two short raps on the thick wood.
"Come in!" Elsa called, standing up to greet the newcomer. Garret entered the room, holding a stack of blue sheets.
"Found these for you." He told Elsa. "Thought they would match the ice."
Elsa nodded in gratitude. "Thank you Garret."
"You haven't settled in yet." Garret pointed out, glancing pointedly at the ceiling, floors and walls that he clearly expected to be covered in ice. He stood in the doorway, not moving any closer, the sheets still folded over his arm.
"Not planning to." Elsa replied.
Garret's brow creased in surprise and confusion but he said nothing.
Elsa turned back to Goren. "This meditation…" She began. "Would it work somewhere I created?"
The troll thought for a moment. "I suppose so, any place you felt particularly connected to the world around you through your powers."
Elsa felt a genuine smile turn up her lips for the first time all day. "Garret, I think I know of a way to allow me to talk to Isen." She told the guardian.
Garret's face lit up, his eyes warming up considerably. "Great! What can I do to help?" He asked.
Elsa folded her hands in front of her. "I need you to get me out of here." She told him in her best court voice.
Garret's smile wavered. "You know I can't let you just walk out of here." He reminded her. "Against Theo's orders and the Mother's doctrine. I'd be duty bound to keep you from running away."
"I'm not running away." Elsa assured him, clasping her hands tightly at the mention of 'Theo's orders'. "I have somewhere I want to go. Somewhere where I first felt really connected to my powers. Somewhere I actually felt pride in my abilities. I want you to take me there."
Goren glanced between the two, his expression making it hard to determine who he was siding with.
Garret bit the left side of his bottom lip, his eyes darting from Goren to Elsa to the sheets in his hands as if they had something to do with his decision.
Elsa waited patiently, her gaze never wavering. She knew he was faltering. She just had to tip that falter to her advantage. She could read Garret, he was a sensible man, bound by duty but with a soft spot for those he protected. She hadn't quite made it into that spot yet but she was close she was sure.
Finally, the guardian let out a sigh and placed the sheets down on the bed. "I'll talk to Theo." Garret told Elsa with a defeated sigh. "She's not unreasonable but she is stubborn. But she owes me one, so I'll see what I can do. Come with me."
As he turned away to lead them out of the room, Elsa allowed herself a small triumphant smile.
"Don't get confident." Garret said without turning around as the three of them left Elsa's room. "I don't give so easily when your safety is on the line."
Goren winked at Elsa. "Scara keeps asking to travel to Corona to see the spring time there. Fourteen years and he hasn't budged an inch on that issue."
"I know all the tricks." Garret replied. "I grew up protecting Theo and Scara from themselves and the dangers of the world. I've seen it all: the eyes, the smile, the screaming…" He shot a glance over his shoulder at Elsa that was one part kind, one part dominating and perhaps just a little seductive. Elsa felt her heart jump to her throat and stick in place.
Garret ran his thumb along the side of his nose, mirroring the smirk on his face. "There is no trick you know I can't resist."
Theo was back in the isolation room. It was becoming something of an obsession with her to enter the dream-like state that allowed her to fully merge her consciousness with that of the fire-spirit. She suspected it was because of the waning summer and her desire to milk as much use out of the strength the summer gave her before the seasons turned again. But she was not here to link herself to Branna again.
The summer host spun in the center of the room, softly releasing the flames from her fingers. They scattered across the wall, several of them hitting and lighting the torches hung on the walls but most of them hitting the stones and fizzling out.
Theo growled under her breath, thinking of Elsa's fine control of the snowflake in the chapel. She clenched her fist and the torches on the wall fared briefly in her anger.
How does she do that? And at the time she should have been weakest?
Kicking her legs up into the air, Theo began to dance in earnest. Sparks burst to life along her arms as they cut through the air. A burst of flame seared across the wall as she kicked one leg high. She dropped and spun and a crippling heat wave burst from under her feet and rippled up the wall. She was the summer, she was the heat and the fire and the winds that carried the rains. A tear came to her eye as she jumped and twisted. The dance went on, a frightening and beautiful blending of fire and movement until it seemed Theo herself was just another dancing flame in the black grate of the isolation room.
After a few minutes, Theo stopped, panting smoke from between her lips.
I wonder if Elsa has ever danced...
There were simply too many unanswered questions and anomalies when it came to the Queen of Arendelle. Theo hated mysteries.
She felt a slight twinge in her gut but ignored it as best she could. She didn't want to deal with that right now.
As she so often did when she was stressed out, the sand began to form in her hands. Without even a conscious thought, her hands became white hot. Blowing softly, she added air to the mixture until it achieved a thick, molten viscosity that was almost transparent. Her other hand gently pulled the fluid into shape, pulling excess heat from it as she did so. Slowly, a glass ball took shape above her hands, looking more like a drop of reflective liquid then a solid object as it pulsed with residual heat.
Theo released it and left it to cool floating in the still air. The hot glass glowed softly with red light, casting more light than torches around her.
Briefly, Theo wondered if Elsa's ice powers glowed with a light of their own the same way hers did in the summer. They probably did. They probably glowed all the time.
She felt the twinge again, only this time, an unwelcome thought accompanied it.
Don't ignore me, Theonia.
Theo looked upwards into the dark recesses of the ceiling in exasperation. "I don't really have much of a choice…" She formed a flame in her hand and then smothered it absently just to have some semblance of control.
When a host ignores one of us, it only makes things worse…don't you remember the stories I told you about your predecessors?
"No please Branna," Theo moaned, letting her head fall into her hands dramatically. "No more life lessons from past hosts…" She collapsed onto the meditation mat she had spread out in the room.
300 years ago, I had a host… Belle, no… Nora I think…one of them that century anyway…they tried to ignore me for three years. It was terrible, without their consent, my power came unbounded. Everything she touched melted or caught fire, even in the winter. Summer heat melted all of the ice in the far north…there was flooding, landslides, the ocean itself fought back! An entire city vanished beneath the seas…
"Branna!" Theo interrupted. It was like talking to herself. If she was more inclined to ramble and considerably less concerned about time. "Was there a specific reason you decided to invade my thoughts this time?"
You need to calm down and think about this.
"About what? About her? I shouldn't even be sparing her a thought right now! It was supposed to be simple! Finding her was supposed to be our big break in the search! Instead she has made this whole thing twice as complicated and four times as irritating! I wasn't supposed to deal with a royal! Who can deal with a royal?" Branna was mercifully silent on that matter. "We don't have a lot of time before the cycle turns and we lose this power again. If I can't reach Død soon, all could be lost."
Theo took a few deep breaths to calm herself and bring the flames in the torches down. Her glass ball had been blazing with light during her outburst. "And Elsa was able to do these things when her powers should have been weakest." She finally mumbled in defeat.
Are you jealous?
Theo sighed. "Is there any point in lying?"
Not to me.
"She was our last hope of contacting Død." Theo whispered, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. "Now what are we going to do?"
There are other ways we can search. We can always wait for the wheel to turn further and let Livet and her host engage Død as the winter sets in. And let us not give up on Isen. She's in there somewhere, she's probably just afraid to come out after what happened to her last host.
"What did happen?" Theo had never gotten the spirit to open up about what had happened to Isen's previous host, it was something both of the spirits and the records had been uncharacteristically silent about.
We didn't get there in time. Our partners had just backed out on their roll and we couldn't find the host. An eternal winter set in in the providence of Weselton and Isen's host was murdered to bring it to an end. Their winters have been short and mild since, causing harvest amounts to shrink and rivers to dry up.
It wasn't long after that that the other hosts died and the cycle began again. For the longest time the temple was empty, no one but the record-keeper.
Theo stared at her glass orb, which had solidified. "I know this part already, why tell me again?"
Because obviously we missed something. Something important. Elsa was kept from the temple for twenty-one years, a more than sufficient amount of time for Isen to make herself known and guide her host here. Isen must have known the temple was empty, she must have known that awakening early would have made her the Head for the first time in almost 500 years. But she didn't take it.
"I thought you spirits were above the whole 'squabbling like humans over positions' political dance…"
Don't be smart Theonia…I can make your headache considerably worse…
Theo smirked but it faded when her
head ached mercilessly.
Isen is up to something. She's using Elsa for something. There has never been a host like her before.
"Agreed. How can a royal be a host? I thought only the most worthy were chosen?"
And those cannot be royals?
"They have never been before."
"Well, what does that mean?"
A double knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Theo's head shot up. She knew that tap.
"Come in!" Theo called, unfolding herself from the floor. Garret entered the room, followed by Elsa and Goren.
"Do you have a moment?" Garret asked her. "There is something we need to discuss."
Theo nodded. "I was just conversing with Branna." she told Garret but her eyes darted to Elsa.
Elsa's eyes were fixated on the floating ball and Theo smirked as she noticed the thinly veiled amazement on the queen's face.
You have your snowflakes, I have my orbs. She thought triumphantly. She snapped her fingers and the orb fell into her hand. Elsa looked away from her sharply as if trying to hide that she had been interested in the ball. The blonde ran her finger absently along the wall and seemed surprised when it came away covered in soot. Scara had reacted the same way when she realized the walls of this room were not actually painted black.
"Elsa had a suggestion to help her contact Isen." Garret was saying.
"She can't go home." Theo interrupted turning away to place the orb gently on her mat.
"That is not her suggestion." Garret said calmly as Elsa started to open her mouth. "It's actually quite ingenious."
He turned back to Elsa and offered her a smile. Theo felt her stomach clench as Elsa bowed her head slightly in a regal acknowledgement of Garret.
"There is somewhere I can go." The Snow Queen began. "I built a palace of ice in the mountains when I fled Arendelle during the winter storm. It is a place of utter solitude and cold. When I'm there I feel the closest connection to my powers. I think I'd be able to speak to Isen, as you put it, if I spend enough time there."
It took a good four seconds for the words to register in Theonia's mental picture. "Wait…wait. You built a palace of ice? Where?"
"The North Mountain." Elsa replied.
"You do realize that is the absolutely worst way to hide right?"
Elsa's left eyebrow twitched at Theo's condescending tone but otherwise her face remained infuriatingly calm. "What do you mean?"
"You went to the mountain to be alone, so you built a palace of ice and just assumed, 'oh, no one will notice…'"
"Yes I did." Elsa's voice was flat and calm but Theo saw her fist clench. "And it worked out fine."
A razor-sharp smile graced Theo's face. "Uh huh, how many days did it last before someone stormed the castle?"
Elsa hesitated, her mask slipping slightly. "Two…" She finally admitted.
"Exactly. You can't go." Theo turned away, barely concealing a triumphant smile. "It's too conspicuous, too far away and too close to the place you are trying to run back too. I can't keep an eye on you, Garret can't protect you and I can't trust you not to run away."
"Now wait a minute," Elsa implored in a slightly harder voice. "you want me to contact my spirit, I really feel like this could be the way to go."
Theo ignored her which she knew would only infuriate the queen further. "Goren, tell her why she can't go."
"Actually I think it could be a good way to reach out."
Theo's neck nearly snapped at the speed with which she turned it. "What?" She growled, furious for the troll's betrayal.
"Previous hosts have had great successes contacting their spirits in meditations." Goren pointed out. "I think Elsa being in her ice palace would be equivalent to you in this room. It would focus the energy and help her see deeper."
"Besides, I would go with her of course." Garret spoke up. "Protect her and keep an eye on her."
Those words terrified Theo even more than accidentally setting fire to Scara's room would. "No you will not, what about the rest of us?"
"Well… it… I…" Garret trailed off and ducked his head to avoid Theo's piercing gaze.
"Oh I see." Theo said slowly, eyes moving slowly from the guardian to Elsa to the troll. Only one of the three would meet her eyes. She let the uncomfortable silence hang in the room.
As predicted, Elsa was the one who broke it. "If my presence bothers you so much, I'd be glad to take my leave and never return."
Theo met her gaze with a look cool enough to rival the ice queen's. "It would give me great pleasure for you to do as your told, for once." She said smoothly. "I am not here to accommodate your every wish."
"I am a queen."
"As I keep being reminded." Theo snapped back with enough venom to make Garret take a step back. "This is not your kingdom, your majesty. And you would do well to remember your place!"
"Well you were the one who kidnapped me. And you seem to be the only one really stuck on forcing me to stay."
Elsa didn't know what happened, suddenly there was a wall of ice that barely sprung up in time to block an enormous fireball. The ice shield slowly melted into a puddle, revealing Theo. Her body was coiled like a spring, the fingers on her outstretched hand smoking.
"I am forcing you to stay because this is how it is meant to be!" She hissed, smoke leaking from her lips. "The world is significantly larger than your tiny kingdom and like it or not, you have a role to play in it that does not extend to being a queen. You are and always have been one of us and you will follow my rules and obey my commands!"
Elsa found herself losing her cool entirely. She'd had enough of this insane woman lashing out at her. "You are infuriating!" She spat at the woman. "You cannot treat any of us like this, like your subjects!"
"You are a spoiled brat!" Theo shouted back. "Who are you to judge me for treating people like subjects?"
Without thinking, Elsa shot a flurry of ice shards and wet snow in the woman's direction with blinding speed. It collided with the column of fire Theo had released in the space between them and the two swallowed each other. With a hiss, the entire room filled with blinding, choking steam.
As the fog cleared, Garret was quite suddenly in between them. He didn't say a single word but his intentions were etched so deeply into his face that they were impossible to miss. He would not let them harm each other. He would stop them if he had to.
"Elsa, Goren, I wonder if you could give Theo and myself a moment alone?" Garret asked, with a pointed look at Theonia.
Elsa glanced between them, the tension so thick she could have sliced it with an icicle. "Of course." She gave Theo a stiff inclination of the neck then turned on her heel and left the room, breathing hard to try to get herself under control. Snow kept gathering at her fingertips that she kept willing away. Goren briefly considered the humans remaining in the room then tucked himself into a ball and rolled backwards out of the room after Elsa.
"What is going on with you?" Garret asked as the door closed.
"Don't ask me." Theo snarled. "I blame her." She scooped up the glass ball from her mat and furiously tossed it from hand to hand to force her palms to cool down.
"Don't." Garret said sternly. "She's actually very smart and incredibly insightful."
"I thought you had distanced yourself from all human desires?" Theo asked through her teeth.
"I'm not blind." Garret replied in an equally dry voice. "And you have not made the slightest effort to get to know her since she has arrived."
"That is just as much her fault as it is mine."
"Is it though?" Garret asked. "Have you two said more than three words to each other without having it descend into a shouting match?"
Theo didn't reply but she hurled the glass ball angrily against the wall. It shattered into tiny fragments and littered the floor like a storm of ice shards.
"You can at least ask the Mother." Garret advised Theo.
"I already have."
The corner of Garret's mouth lifted in a small smile. "She's going to go." He said when Theo gave no indication to mention what the Mother had commanded. "I honestly think it will help her."
Theo was silent.
"Complain all you want but in the end, you really only care about fixing this problem." Garret said, taking full advantage of Theo's silence to gently lecture her. "You letting Elsa get to you has nothing to do with this apparent power structure imbalance in your head."
Theo shifted away from him, pretending she wasn't listening by focusing on one of the torches. The flames began to twist and curl into tiny flowers and vines as she focused intently on them.
Garret watched silently for a moment, letting his words sink in. "I'd better prepare to escort Elsa to the North Mountain." He finally said. He bowed to Theo and turned to leave the room.
The voice surprised him. He turned around with his hand on the doorknob. "Theo?"
Theo smothered the torch with her hands before turning to face Garret. "I'm going with Elsa. I need you here to look after Scara. You know how weak Spring gets as Autumn sets in. And I need you to keep on the tail of Autumn. I don't like it when a name vanishes from the Død scroll. We have to find out why."
Garret took a moment to contemplate his answer before speaking. "Why are you going to accompany her?" He finally asked in a neutral tone of voice, as if trying not to startle a bird.
"Does there have to be a reason?" Theo said, sounding tired.
"No, but I'm a little concerned that both of you will not return from this trip. At least not fully intact."
"Call it an experiment."
Garret fought to keep a wicked smile off his face. "Come on Theo, just because the legend is written that way doesn't mean you two are actually…"
"Garret!" She whirled to face him, a small tongue of flame bursting from between her lips. Garret was already in position, ready to paralyze her if he had to but his eyes were still glinting with mirth. Theo's eyes briefly flickered down to his fingers then back to his eyes. "That is the last thing on my mind. I merely want to see her control in action, learn what it is she does to do…what she does. How she does it."
"Eloquently put." Garret congratulated her, biting his lip. "You should lead with that when you two are alone."
"I swear to the Mother, if you were not protected by her grace I would burn your soul to hell right now…"
He grinned, glad she was in a better mood now. Or at least her anger was redirected at him. "I'd see you there I'm sure."
"Garret," Theonia said, suddenly very serious. "if she can help me learn how to make the flames vanish on command, do you know how many lives I could save? How many forests?"
Garret placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You can't change the past Theo…" He told her gently.
She sighed and leaned against him. "But I can prepare for the future."
It took Kristoff until sunset to reach the Valley of the Living Rock.
"Guys!" He shouted, jumping down from the sled and hurrying to unhook Sven. "Wake up! We've got a problem!"
Olaf hopped down from the sled, wiggling his slightly slushy legs. He'd managed to avoid melting entirely by hiding out in the dungeons until Kristoff came to take him up into the cold air of the mountains. His snow cloud had not reappeared but being this high in the mountains had stopped his body from melting further.
"So tell me again why we're visiting your rock family?" Olaf asked Kristoff.
"They know all the tales and legends of the land." Kristoff explained, rubbing Sven anxiously. "They'll know where this barb came from and most likely, who shot it."
"They'll know where Elsa went?" Olaf asked, leaning on a rock next to him.
"Yes, Olaf." Kristoff said, rubbing Sven's neck to keep himself calm. He'd decided not to tell Olaf the truth yet about why Elsa had vanished. He hadn't wanted the snowman to worry the whole way here. The snowman hadn't exactly figured out that Elsa being shot with a dart meant she hadn't left of her own free will.
"Great! Then she can come home!"
Kristoff nodded absently. He certainly hoped that was what would happen. Sven bumped him gently to remind him that they would figure this out.
The rock Olaf was leaning on suddenly shuddered and popped open to reveal Bulda, Kristoff's adopted mother.
"Kristoff!" She shouted, jumping up into his arms for a hug. Kristoff stumbled a little under her weight but hugged her back, blowing her grassy hair out of his face.
Her shout seemed to have been the alarm call for all the other trolls. With a noise like a crashing wave, the stones of the valley all rolled forward and popped to life. Kristoff spent the next few minutes trying to get his family to calm down enough to listen to him.
"That's great everyone…really great but there's something I need too…" His request was interrupted by Syonte jumping onto his foot to beg him to lift her up.
"Let him speak!" Bulda finally shouted and all the others reluctantly quieted down.
"Go on Kristoff," Bulda urged him, her eyes lighting up the way they had when they'd thought he'd brought Anna as his girlfriend. Kristoff knew he was about to disappoint them all again.
"Elsa's been kidnapped!" He told them. Kristoff pulled the barb out of his pocket and held it out towards Bulda. "Someone shot her with this and took her away!" Bulda's eye locked on the barb and she backed away slowly, all happiness gone from her expression.
"Yeah, Elsa's been kidnapped!" Olaf echoed happily. "Wait…what does that mean?"
Kristoff patted Olaf on the head, a silent promise that he would explain later.
To his surprise, none of the trolls looked shocked or even worried. Instead, an eerie silence spread across the assembly like a blanket of snow. Softly, the sea of rocky bodies split to allow Pabbie to roll forward to Kristoff.
Kristoff dropped to his knees. "Grand Pabbie…" Kristoff was surprised he was up twice in one week. The troll had been known to sleep for weeks at a time, unable to come out of hibernation because of his old age.
Pabbie groaned softly as he looked up at Kristoff's face. "I knew this day would come…" The ancient troll said sadly. "I just hoped it would be far in the future. Perhaps past Elsa's time."
"What is it Grand Pabbie? Who's taken Elsa?"
Pabbie took one of Kristoff's hands in his own, his rough skin scraping against Kristoff's hardened palms. He regarded the barb laying there as if it were a dear friend who had done him a great wrong. "Elsa… has returned to the bosom of the Mother." He said softly.
"Kristoff, among the trolls, there are stories that I have forbidden the others from telling the humans, even yourself."
Pabbie slowly stumbled towards the center of the clearing, the others parting to let him through. "In every generation," Pabbie began, waving his hands. "there are four girls doomed to a life of solitude and servitude: Branna, Livet, Isen and Død." His hands glowed with magic and the air above his head shifted until shapes began to form. Four women appeared, each of them a different color: red, blue, green and gray. "Ages ago, the souls of the seasons were banished to the Earth by the Mother. Unable to build bodies for themselves, they were forced to invade another's." The four figures suddenly seemed surrounded by a thick haze the same color as their bodies. "The spirits select them in the womb and enter them at the moment of their birth." Pabbie said. "They give them great powers but doom them to a life of servitude. The girls must be taken to the palace of the Mother, where they live in isolation from the outside world in order to guard their exposure to the world and keep the seasons in check." As Pabbie spoke, the figures in the air followed his diction, gathering in a group in a hazy building. "Their emotions trigger the weather patterns of their spirit parasite, just as Elsa's fear set off Arendelle's eternal winter."
The blue figure broke off from the others and wandered off on her own, casting snowflakes around her.
"When we learned of Elsa's existence, we had hoped the cycle would be changing, perhaps even ending. We did our best to hide her away, until she could control her powers. But it seems the others finally became aware of her existence." As he spoke, the blue figure began to resemble Elsa. First it hid itself in a stone cage then it broke free, then the other figures confronted it and carried it back to themselves. Pabbie pointed at the barb in Kristoff's hand. "That barb is used only as an absolute last resort to bring the hosts to the Temple. They waited too long, Elsa was too powerful when they tried to take her. So they had to use the sleeper potion to suppress her powers. And now the consequences are known: cold ceased to exist for several hours."
Kristoff, Olaf and Sven silently watched the figures retreat to a large cage. There they formed a circle and swayed back and forth. Even the snowman seemed quieted by the display. Olaf's eyes were wide with sorrow and fear. "Why did you hide Elsa, Grand Pabbie?" Kristoff asked. "I thought you tried not to get involved with the affairs of humans?"
Pabbie closed his hands and the figures faded. He turned to face Kristoff, Sven and Olaf, his eyes overflowing with sorrow and guilt.
"Because Kristoff, not so very long ago, it was us who stole the children from their families and took them to the Temple."
Kristoff didn't know what to say. He glanced around at the others but only the youngest of them would meet his eyes.
"The Mother charged us with this when the spirits were first incarnated as humans." Pabbie said. "Whenever a child host was revealed, it was our sacred duty to take her from society and deliver her to the temple. I cut off our involvement. We could no longer steal the children of the humans, no matter the reason. But there was one family line that remained dedicated to the Temple cause."
"You don't mean…Goren?" Kristoff had met the troll only once many years ago. It had been late, he and Sven were supposed to have been asleep but the shouting had woken them. The trolls never shouted. He'd snuck into the cave where Pabbie held meetings and he'd seen Pabbie speaking angrily to a younger troll and a much smaller troll who couldn't have been much older than a toddler.
"Yes. Goren and his son chose to leave the tribe to continue their dedication to the Mother." Pabbie said. "They returned one night to ask us for help in finding the Autumn and Winter hosts. By that time, we knew of Elsa's identity but kept our silence out of respect to the royal family."
Kristoff was quiet for a long time, letting it all sink in. Olaf laid a gentle hand on his, trying to offer comfort but it wasn't really helping.
He'd known the trolls had secrets they couldn't tell him, it was just part of his life being raised by ancient, wise beings. But to have a secret so shameful and dark? Kristoff dealt with a lot of tough things but this…this might possibly be the toughest.
Bulda was looking at him in concern, like she wanted to run and hug him but was afraid he would push her away.
Kristoff turned back to Pabbie to avoid looking at his heartbroken mother. "When did you stop doing this?" He asked.
"At the beginning of the current cycle." Pabbie replied, his gravelly voice catching slightly. "Just about the time Elsa was born."
"We suspected something was different about this cycle when the weather patterns began to change inexplicably after the birth of the princess." Pabbie began. "So even when we learned of the births of Død, Branna and Livet's hosts, we refused our duty to retrieve them. And when Elsa came here as a child, I knew that she was not like the other hosts. She was unlike any of her predecessors. Her power ran deeper, stronger, it could not be separated from her."
"The hosts are selected by the spirits completely subjectively. All the power comes from the spirit themselves. So long as the spirit is within her, she can create ice and snow. Should the spirit choose to leave her however, her powers would vanish." Pabbie paused, as if contemplating casting more visions in the air but then shook his head. "But when I first laid eyes on Elsa and saw her powers, the burden that had been laid upon her, I grew afraid. Her powers did not wax and wane as the others' did. They only grew stronger as she grew older. It was dangerous to let her go to the Temple. Her emotions were too strong. I knew I could not separate her from her family, especially not from her sister. The trigger was too deeply imprinted on her. If I had taken her away, she would have lost control entirely."
"What would have happened?"
"You just saw it." Pabbie replied.
Kristoff recalled the winter, the storm, the blinding whiteout that had almost toppled Arendelle and taken Anna away from him forever. He shivered.
The valley was silent for a long time as Kristoff poured over all the new information. Even Sven didn't make a sound. Olaf fidgeted but kept silent as well.
"What do we do about everything melting?" Kristoff finally asked.
"Nothing." Pabbie replied. "As soon as Elsa overcomes the effect of the potion, cold will return and nature will eventually recover."
Kristoff nodded, glad that both Olaf and his business would be alright. "Where do I find Elsa?"
"We cannot reveal the location of the Temple." Pabbie informed him."We ourselves do not know where it is. Only Goren does."
Kristoff sighed softly in agitation. "What can I do to get her back then?"
"She cannot leave the Temple. Not without the Mother's consent." Pabbie said. "The Head Councilor will be forcing her to stay."
"So what, I have to appeal to the Mother?" Kristoff wasn't liking this. He wasn't a religious person and he generally didn't like dealing with others on principle. He was a man of action, not a man of words.
"I have a feeling Elsa is trying her best to escape." Pabbie said, a small smile coming to his hard face. "And if she does… I think we both know the place she would go to hide."
"Oh! Oh! I know! I know!" Olaf, unable to keep silent any longer, was jumping up and down, holding one of his arms above his head. "I know where Elsa would go!"
Elsa had retreated to the highest open place she could find, which just happened to be a rooftop balcony two floors above her room. There seemed to be no end to this stone fortress. She'd gotten lost twice just trying to make her way up here.
Now she sat on the edge of the balcony, letting her legs swing over the courtyard below. Most unbecoming of a queen but she didn't particularly care at this moment. She gazed out over the forest, trying once again to figure out just where she was. But even this high up, there was nothing to see but stunted forest and hills for miles in every direction. Far in the distance, just to the right of the setting sun there was a mountain but it was so obscured by clouds she couldn't be certain it was the North Mountain.
"Elsa?" For a split second, Elsa thought Anna was calling her and turned sharply.
"I've been looking all over for you!" Scara said brightly. She danced lightly up to Elsa, a thick trail of wildflowers and vines dragging on the ground behind her.
"I thought you could hang them in your room, over the windows." She said holding the curtain out to Elsa. "They bloom at night and close during the day. It'll be like having curtains that open with the sun and close with the dark." She leaned closer to Elsa. "They're also cold-resistant." She whispered with a wink.
Elsa took the flowers gently. "Thank you Scara." They were indeed beautiful and surprisingly fragrant.
Scara plunked herself down next to Elsa, her legs taking up a similar rhythm of swinging. "So what have you been up to?" She asked. "Do you like your room? Have you decorated yet?"
Elsa suspected Scara had not yet found out about the argument between herself and Theo. "No," she replied, softly running the curtain of flowers through her hands. "I haven't decorated yet. But these will be a nice start, thanks."
Elsa momentarily toyed with the idea of telling Scara everything that had happened but she did not. She could clearly see how the younger girl looked up to Theo in spite of her aggravating flaws. "It'll remind me too much of home. And of my ice palace."
"You built an ice palace!?" Scara was openly gaping at Elsa now. "Where?"
Elsa chuckled, glad for the younger girl's response. "The North Mountain. Every room is made entirely of ice. Everything in them is sculpted from the ice. When the sun sets, the entire castle glows red and orange."
"I'd love to see that!"
Elsa smiled openly. "I'll have to decorate my room just like it."
Scara giggled. "Maybe Theo will take us there sometime!"
Elsa turned away so that Scara wouldn't see her angry scowl. "Somehow I don't think she will."
The spring girl shrugged. "Yeah, you're probably right." Scara gestured towards the fading silhouette of the mountain in the distance. "The mountain's not too far from here." She said, confirming Elsa's suspicions. "But Theo, she's too careful. We don't go places unless absolutely necessary. She was on her own with her powers for a long time so she tends to get rather agitated in new places."
Elsa sighed. "Yeah I know the feeling." While she hated that she and the fire-girl now had something in common, she couldn't help feeling a little sorry for her. She knew all too well how hard it was to hide such power. Constantly worrying about just a little bit slipping through, the fear that a single touch could give you away…
Scara's hand on her own broke Elsa from her thoughts. "She means well. She just wasn't meant to shoulder this burden."
Elsa scoffed. "What? The one where she gets to boss us all around?"
"It's her duty." Scara told her. "She's the first-awakened of the Council. Her spirit presented itself to her when she was eight, so by birthright, she became the Head Councilor."
"So that would make you second?"
Scara shook her head. "Oh no, I'm third. We know Død has been awake for a long time. In fact we're certain of it. She awakened about the same time as Branna. Her host just hasn't come to terms with her yet, which is why we're so desperate to find her. Her powers are most likely spiraling out of control while they figure out who's in charge of the body."
Elsa's heart sank. "So does that make me…?"
"Yep, by birthright, you're actually the lowest on the Council because Isen hasn't actually awakened yet."
"Great." She was without power here, doomed to the commands of someone else. She didn't like it.
"Theo's not such a bad ruler." Scara assured her, "She's tough but reasonable. She's always kept me safe, even at her own expense."
Elsa was quiet, watching the young woman next to her. Scara swung her legs with a small smile on her face, reminding Elsa so much of her sister it physically hurt. It was clear just how much Scara loved Theo but she hadn't realized that Theo's whole tough act might just be another expression of an overwhelming desire to protect someone else even at the cost of your own safety and sanity.
Great, something else she had in common with her.
"Elsa." The two of them turned to the voice. Theo stood behind them. It was impossible to tell exactly how long she had been there but Elsa was willing to bet she had heard the whole conversation. Her eyes darted briefly to Scara then back to Elsa. "How soon can you be ready to leave for the North Mountain?" She asked in a clipped voice.
Elsa couldn't believe she had just heard those words. "You're letting me go?" She clarified.
"We're going to Elsa's ice palace?!" Scara said hopefully.
Theo's expression didn't waver. "Well? When would it be convenient for her highness to take her leave?"
Elsa ignored the heavy sarcasm. "I don't exactly have anything to take with me." She replied.
"Good, you and I will leave in an hour." Theo turned on her heel and went back to the trapdoor that led off the roof, still ignoring Scara who now looked crestfallen that she would not be going with them.
Elsa nearly slipped off the roof in her haste to stand. "We?" She asked in confusion, scrambling to catch the train of flowers.
Theo stuck her head back up onto the roof. "Yes. I'm coming." She clarified. "You're going to need someone to help you converse with Isen when we awaken her." She smiled at Elsa but it could not easily be called a pleasant smile and continued on her way.
Elsa closed her lips around her protest. "Wonderful." She managed to say. I can already feel the tranquility setting in…
"I'm jealous." Scara said sadly. "I wish I could come with you two."
Elsa could already tell that this trip was not going to end well.
"How does Elsa do this?"
Anna slammed the book shut on the desk, sending several papers scuttling off the desk to the floor. With a huff of frustration, she bent to retrieve them, her aching spine protesting the movement. Anna had been sitting at her sister's desk for the past five, no…six hours reviewing what could only be trade agreements from hell.
Elsa had mentioned this plan to her once and it had seemed like a wonderful idea. Increase trade with Corona and North Melonia to provide subsidies to the businesses hurt by the winter. Elsa hadn't mentioned just how difficult all the paperwork was going to be.
Requests were pouring in from all over the kingdom of businesses demanding various forms of compensation for the three-day winter. Corona wanted a long-term agreement that eventually would be mutually beneficial for years but the commodities they demanded cycled over the years and cycles were unpredictable at best. North Melonia wanted ice. Magical ice from the queen.
Anna let her head fall forward onto the desk with a loud thump. The numbers just weren't adding up. Arendelle couldn't provide the amount of fish demanded by Corona because the cycles were currently on a lull. Arendelle couldn't provide magical ice because all of it had just melted. Even with these new trades, Arendelle was looking at a deficit that could stretch the royal coffers to their maximum to meet the requests of all the citizens.
"Elsa made this look so easy…" Anna mumbled into the desk.
It had been a very trying day for the young princess. She'd hoped people wouldn't notice if Elsa was missing, after all, the Queen did have a bit of a reputation as a recluse.
She'd failed to remember however that there was kind of a giant sign hanging (or rather, dripping) all over the castle that the Queen was gone.
"Where is the Queen?" Several townspeople had asked her as they stood ankle deep in the water left from the melted ice rink, watching Elsa's decorations slide off the castle.
"Queen Elsa was called away on urgent business to the far North." Anna had lied far more smoothly than she should have been able to. Her insides were still clenched with fear for her sister. "She will be back in a few days. In the meantime, I am Acting Reagent." The townspeople had bought this, although some with a little more complaining than others. Anna hadn't liked the hushed whispers the blacksmith and some of the merchants had had as they left the courtyard. But the people trusted Anna and many of them respected her for the way she had handled the challenges of the eternal winter. But it didn't make Anna feel any better.
Anna groaned and lifted her face just enough that she could rub her aching eyes. "Elsa where are you?"
Her head shot up, a piece of paper stuck to the corner of her mouth.
"Wuzzit?" Anna batted the sheet of paper away and caught sight of Gerda in the doorway, holding an enormous box. "Yes Gerda?"
Gerda, as always ignored the princess's antics. She'd looked after the young woman practically since the day she'd been born. She'd seen it all.
"These are Elsa's trade notes." Gerda said hefting the box as she entered the room.
Anna raise an eyebrow. "From what, the last hundred years?"
Gerda dropped the box on the desk, making the sturdy wood creak ominously. "These are just the last two decades."
"Oh, well now I guess I know what she was doing all those hours alone in her room." Anna said, slightly louder than she had meant to.
Gerda smiled softly, like a mother silently recalling a painful time in her child's life that had been overcome. "Just after your parent's death, Elsa worked out a brilliant trade agreement between Arendelle and our western partners." Gerda told the princess, pulling a few of the top papers free and handing them to Anna. "It was truly remarkable, quality work. Everyone on the council was blown away by her plan and insight at so young an age." Anna took the papers and glanced over the calculations. Her sister's perfect script and numbers covered the pages looking like a flurry of snowflakes falling across the page.
That's my sister, Anna thought proudly. The prodigal queen. And then there's me, the useless spare.
"I thought that these might be helpful in your calculations." Gerda was saying. "Due to the loss of both Weselton and the Southern Isles as trade partners and the damage caused by the winter, I know the queen was looking for alternative sources of income or exports we could exploit to make it through the winter and keep the coffers intact."
"I know." Anna said, trying not to let her exasperation show. "Is this all of it?"
"There's another box, I'll go get it."
Anna sighed dramatically. "Great…"
Gerda shuffled out of the study, leaving Anna alone with her worst enemy: homework.
Anna was far from a perfect student. Not to say she was dull, she was actually quite bright. Her troubles with studying usually stemmed from her inability to sit still and her curiosity for all things outside the gates. Books just weren't the same as meeting someone new or walking around town.
Standing up, Anna hefted the box off the desk and turned it upside down over the floor of the study. She got a strange sense of pleasure that the well-organized papers tumbled out in a heap and fluttered across the floor.
It reminded her of a snow drift. Of Elsa.
"Oh Elsa…" Why did everything have to remind her of her sister? Especially right now?
Anna missed her sister terribly. It wasn't just the separation, she was immune to that. Fourteen years of staring at a closed door would do that to you. No, this time it was the shear emptiness of the palace. At least when the door had been closed, she'd still known that Elsa was there, even if she never came out. Now, the palace just felt empty. Alone.
"I thought we were okay." Anna said to the emptiness. "I thought the door was finally open and you'd never close it again. I know it's hard for you but I'm here. I'll always be here, waiting for you to be ready. Just please come home soon Elsa." The emptiness offered no reassurance.
As her eyes aimlessly traveled the field of papers looking for a semi-interesting place to start, something caught her eye. "What is that?" Anna threw a few papers aside to get a better look at what had caught her attention.
It was a small brown book clasped tightly with a delicate string. It must have been hidden deep in the box, tucked among the other papers and forgotten.
Assuming it to be a book of calculations or something of the sort, Anna peeled open the cover.
She recognized the handwriting on the cover page. Her heart jumped to her throat.
This book wasn't full of figures.
"My name is Elsa. And I just almost killed my sister."