Chapter 5 - Conversations with Ice
I raced up the hill, the cold air of the North Mountain burning in my lungs. It felt so good to be here, to be free. When was the last time I’d let loose like this? The last time I’d created something?
Not since childhood.
It’s time to see what I can do… to test the limits and break through.
There was a crevasse in my way, I thrust my naked hands forward. A single thought was all it took and the snow formed a fluffy-looking staircase that stretched halfway across the ravine. I could do so much better than that. I ran forward, hesitating on the first step. Would it hold? The water in the fjord had…
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
This was my life now, a life I would create for myself. I placed my foot on the first step and the spiky diamond dust turned to flawless, smooth ice. I hadn’t smiled like this in forever.
The power gushed through me, strength I didn’t even know I had rushing to ever fiber of my being. It was…liberating.
I began to run. The staircase flowed out in front of me from my hands as I climbed, like each individual particle of snow wanted nothing more than to help me defy gravity.
Let it go! Let it go! I’m one with the wind and sky!
I was the vessel through which the cold flowed. I was every snowflake and shard of ice. In no time at all, the gorge was bridged with a beautiful staircase of ice that glittered in the starlight.
Let it go! Let it go! You’ll never see me cry!
I was free, on my own to discover this brave new life. The power was growing stronger, stronger then it ever had before. But it no longer scared me. I couldn’t hurt anyone here. Here I could create.
Here I stand!
I stomped my foot and a thick, solid floor of ice formed under me accompanied by a release I’d never felt before.
And here, I’ll stay! Let the storm rage on…
My hands traced the air above the surface, feeling every drop of water in the surface under my feet, every trapped bubble of air that longed to expand.
I called to them and lifted them skyward, adding pillars and columns, icy walls and arches. My whole form twisted and coiled, flowing along the direction of the ice. Dancing in the storm, power flying from every point on my body and shooting out in a wide, cold arc. There was no plan, no spontaneous release. It was all perfectly controlled but the result was completely unexpected. I was merely making a mental picture in my mind and forcing it into reality at the same instant. The power had never come so naturally before. This was not casting or guiding the ice, this was creating the ice.
My power flurries through the air into the ground…
Everything in this palace was a piece of me. An extension of my singing soul. Every motion added another piece to the temple. I sent a great burst of energy out from the center of the floor. It crawled up the walls and expanded to form a great pointed ceiling, then dripped downward into a great chandelier.
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around…
Here my powers were beautiful again. Here I could be myself and let this gift of mine shine and expand. This place would become sacred ground.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Elsa forced her thoughts back to reality and really tried not to glare at Theo. She only half succeeded. “Sorry, what was that?”
“I said, you’re making the platform tip. Again!”
Elsa hurriedly tilted the ice block under their feet back upright, increasing its length as it constantly dripped away behind them. “It’s kind of hard to both keep it upright and make sure it doesn’t drip away to nothing in this wind!” She replied, trying not to snap.
Theo shifted her hands and the brisk, warm gale pushing them over the land below slowed somewhat.
“So don’t constantly rebuild it, let it drip for awhile then build it again.” She said through her teeth.
“I wouldn’t need to constantly rebuild it if you would stop melting it every three seconds.” Her only comfort in this argument was that at least she knew she wasn’t making it obvious how hard she was trying to keep cool.
“I am sorry the host of a fire goddess can’t stop radiating waves of heat in the middle of summer.”
Elsa glared at the ice under her feet and closed her lips around her retort. She was tired of fighting. This bickering had been going on in one form or another practically since they’d left the temple. Elsa was starting to regret her decision to escape to the ice palace. At least at the temple she could get away from Theo for a bit or avoid her entirely. The past few hours had been gut-wrenchingly painful. And that was a huge understatement.
Was this her plan all along? Elsa suddenly wondered. Go with me to make me realize she can make my life much worse on her own?
“I’m sorry.” Elsa was startled out of her thoughts by the quiet, nearly inaudible whisper.
“I’m sorry?” She repeated, certain she had heard wrong.
Theo shuffled her feet and looked up at Elsa. Her gaze was hard but it lacked any of the contempt she’d formerly held for the queen. “Garret pointed out to me that I have not been… the most gracious of…I have not…I’ve been kind of a…”
“A stuttering fool?” Elsa offered.
The girl bristled instantly. “You know what, you are just…” Theo trailed off, catching sight of the mischievous glint in Elsa’s eye. She flushed and looked away as she realized the ice queen was teasing.
“It’s fine.” Elsa said, smiling slightly. “It can’t be easy having a new queen coming into your kingdom.” She wondered how she’d react if someone tried to take Arendelle or Anna away from her. “I suppose your behavior is understandable.”
Even though she wasn’t looking at her, Elsa could feel the fire in the other’s gaze burning into her back. “Excuse me? What about you? Your behavior these past two days can hardly be called courteous.”
Elsa turned around. “You kidnapped me.” She reminded her.
Theo shrugged. “You broke my nose with a water pitcher.”
“It was self-defense!”
“Not from my point of view…”
“You tried to set me on fire!”
“Yeah well, I do that sometimes.”
They lapsed back into silence. It was not exactly comfortable but it was certainly a step up from the tense bickering from earlier. The North Mountain was steadily growing bigger as they shot towards it in the moonlight, Theo steering them on the summer wind and Elsa holding them up. Elsa could see a tiny pillar of blue poking out of the western gorge of the mountain and her heartbeat picked up.
“Oh…there’s probably something I should tell you…” Elsa said, remembering what had happened the last time she’d been at her palace.
Theo gave her a noncommittal grunt.
“Well…I haven’t exactly been back to the castle since it was stormed. It may be in slight disarray.” There had been no time since she’d been attacked there to return to see how it was holding up. Elsa feared it had been pillaged or ruined by the men who had taken her from it.
“Oh, I’m shattered.” Theo said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. “Here I was hoping for a flawless creation worthy of the Mother herself…”
“Also,” Elsa continued, ignoring the other girl’s smirk. “my guard may be…well he may…watch out for him when we arrive.” She had no idea what had happened to the big guy. But he wasn’t dead, of that much she was sure.
“You have a guard?” Theo seemed puzzled.
Elsa gave her a wry smile. “You’ll see.” She could feel the life she had given him glistening still, like an icicle that had not yet melted.
The fire-girl shrugged. “Nevertheless, I pity the poor soldier in your army that has to spend all his time freezing his ass off up here guarding your palace…”
Elsa said nothing in reply because at that moment, she had realized the castle was close enough to see.
The horizon was just beginning to glow with rosy pre-dawn light, the mountains in the distance still painted by the fading aura borealis. The palace she had constructed on her first night of freedom sat nestled in its hollow, the pinkish glow of the rising sun and the icy-blue northern lights casting contrasting ribbons of light across its many facets.
Elsa was relieved to see that the palace looked untouched by the recent lapse in cold. All its turrets were still standing and damaged seemed to be no greater than what the skirmish had caused.
She turned to Theo and opened her mouth to tell her they were almost there but the words died in her throat.
Theo was staring at the ice palace with an expression Elsa could only describe as dumbfounded. Her eyes traced over the facets of the castle slowly, desperate to take in every detail, memorize the way the light made it glow.
Elsa was almost tempted to wave a hand in front of her face.
“You…made…that?” Theo whispered.
Elsa let out a giggle at the uncharacteristic tone the girl seemed unable to break out of.
“You should probably let us down, Theonia.”
The girl blinked and looked around. Seeing that they were now right above the staircase leading to the palace, she lowered her hands and the ice platform slowly began to descend as the cushion of warm air fell lower.
Elsa could now see the lumpy pile of snow next to the staircase that was her snow-guardian. She gently reached out to him in her head, stirring him awake.
As their platform disintegrated to allow them to step into the snow, the snow giant awoke. Sleepily, the snow pile shifted and lifted itself free.
Elsa smiled up at him as he rose to his full height and gave her a toothless smile. He seemed smaller than she remembered. Also…Elsa squinted in the gathering light. Was that her tiara on his head?
Suddenly, the snowmonster’s grin faded and icicles began to sprout from his back and arms. He roared and threw himself at the girls, icy teeth having formed in his mouth. To her surprise, Elsa felt a warm pair of hands on her shoulders, shoving her out of the way. She sprawled in the snow and quickly rolled back to her feet.
Her creation roared again as Theo took a step back, readying her red-hot hands.
Seeing Theo about to get crushed and her snow guard about to become a puddle, Elsa did the only logical thing she could think of. She threw up her arms and an enormous, thick ice cage formed around Theo. The sudden action startled the fire-girl so much that her fire-ball fizzed out.
The snow guard landed a single blow on the hard ice shell and reeled backwards as the recoil hit him.
“She’s not a threat!” Elsa told the snowman. “Don’t hurt her.”
The snowman shook its head several times, like a dog that had just climbed out of the water and gave a quiet roar of obedience. The icicles on his back and arms shrank until they vanished entirely and the corner of his mouth turned up in the toothless smile again. It was rather goofy actually. Despite his tough exterior, he had a soft center.
The ice cage around Theo was melting slowly from the waves of heat the girl was releasing. But she hardly seemed to notice as all her attention was on the giant snowman that had just tried to kill her.
Elsa jogged back to her side. “Theo? Are you alright?”
Theo turned to look at her, her eyes wide with shock. “But…but how…how? He…he’s alive?”
Elsa gently took the girl’s wrist and pulled her out of the melting cage. “Don’t worry he wont hurt you unless I tell him too.” Theo stumbled over the snow, gazing up in absolute horrifying admiration. He grinned right back.
“Elsa bring friend?” He asked in his deep voice. “Stay?”
“Uhhh…no.” Elsa replied, not sure if she was telling him that she wasn’t staying or that Theo wasn’t actually her ‘friend’.
She tugged the fire-girl’s arm and pulled her towards the staircase. Theo stumbled along after her, her eyes never leaving the giant snowman, who was now straightening the tiara on his head.
“How…? How did you make him?” She asked, still so amazed that she wasn’t tugging her arm free from Elsa’s grip.
Elsa shrugged. “I’m really not sure.” It had happened the same way she’d made Olaf: without any real thought or effort on her part. She had had only one thought in mind when she’d conjured him up: what scares Anna the most?
So that was why he had soulless eyes, a deep, unsympathetic voice and long icy claws. He was meant to keep her sister away from her by force and fear, since Anna had been adamant about staying with Elsa when Elsa had been a clear and present danger to her.
As they began to climb the stairs across the gap, Elsa waved her hand to repair the damage it had sustained during Han’s raid. The huge hole in the hand rail vanished like it had never existed and the cut-off stairs reformed into a flawless staircase.
Theo ripped her arm out of Elsa’s grip and placed her hand on the rail as if it were a dear friend she had not seen in years. As Elsa watched, astounded, Theo ran her hands up and down the railing, as if trying to memorize the texture and imprint it onto her palms.
“No…no dammit!” Theo guiltily snatched her hands away to reveal a perfect indentation of her hands on the railing where her heat had melted them.
Elsa repaired the damage with another wave of her hand and continued on her way. Theo followed, not saying anything but radiating a guilty silence.
They entered the main hall and Elsa practically heard Theo’s jaw drop.
The ceiling overhead glistened with millions upon millions of tiny ice crystals that formed high pillars and graceful chandeliers that seemed right on the verge of melting. Every room had intricate archways inlaid with graceful snowflake and ice shard patterns and high ceilings ending in graceful upside-down icicles.
Elsa let out a deep breath. Returning here made all the stress and worry of the past few days just vanish. She felt whole again.
Elsa had always studied architecture with a passion and fascination many would often describe as unbecoming of a woman. She couldn’t help it, after all she’d been locked inside a castle for most of her life. Also, ice itself had an invisible, immensely complex architecture that so few could see.
Elsa’s head was full of patterns and structures. She knew where every piece had to go to make it all fit together. Constructing this palace had been a colossal outpouring of twelve years of observation, study and memorization coupled with an intense longing to finally create something of her own.
The two of them crossed the entrance hall and made their way up the grand staircase to the second floor. Elsa wanted to check the damage from the raid and Theo was still maintaining her blissful, awed silence.
The second floor grand ballroom remained untouched from the night when the assassins from Weselton had attacked her. The icicles and walls of ice from the battle remained where they were, the balcony was in shards and an icy wind was pouring in through the gap. The rest of the room was littered with the shattered pieces of the fallen chandelier.
Elsa’s jaw clenched in derision as memories of that fight came back to her.
“What…what happened here?” Theo asked, looking at the devastation.
I almost killed two men here. It was only Han’s words that had kept her from becoming a monster.
With a single wave of her hand, the broken pieces of ice were swept out the hole in the wall on a gust of snowy wind. Elsa sealed the balcony with a new set of doors and set about making a new chandelier. This required a little more focus because she had to make the ice drip down from the severance above and then expand and divide into an ornate pattern. Not that it was hard.
Elsa closed herself off to everything else and began to sway in the space, letting the cold fill her. Then she began to create. Even though this time, she had a concrete idea in her mind of what she wanted to make, the act of drawing that design out of her and bringing it into reality was just as smooth as it had been the first time. When Elsa stopped swaying and twirling her hands, she opened her eyes to Theo gazing open-mouthed at a new chandelier.
Elsa took a step back to admire her work. This one was smaller than the original because Elsa really didn’t want to be almost killed by a falling ornament again.
A sharp gasp drew Elsa’s attention back to the fire girl.
Theo was leaning hard on the wall, her hand outstretched on the ice. She was shivering violently.
“Are you alright?” Elsa had thought the host of summer was incapable of feeling cold.
Theo took several deep, breaths and Elsa felt a slight gust of summer air wash through the room. “Branna can feel Isen here…” Theo whispered, as if they were standing in a church in the presence of a god. She swallowed hard and writhed as if in immense discomfort. “She’s here…” Her red eyes snapped to Elsa’s blue ones and the ice queen was startled to see them watering profusely. “Reach out! Reach out!” Theo urged her.
Theo suddenly threw herself off the wall and grabbed Elsa by the shoulders. Elsa flinched not only from the contact but also from the feel of the girl’s hands. They were burning hot. Where she had been touching the wall earlier, there were two watery depressions.
“The memories…They’re too much…”
Theo grabbed Elsa’s hands and slammed her eyes shut. Elsa stopped moving, finding she couldn’t pull her hands away.
For a few seconds, the two of them stood absolutely still in the ice palace. No movement or sound but the gentle swaying and tinkling of the new chandelier overhead.
Finally, Theo let out a long breath and her muscles uncoiled. It seemed whatever had overwhelmed her had passed. She opened her eyes, looked down at their tightly entwined hands and roughly jerked hers free.
Elsa looked down, cooling her red hands with a small conjuring of snow.
A small puddle had formed under the fire-girl’s feet. Elsa refroze the floor but it didn’t last long.
“How are you going to stay here if you keep melting everything?” She asked Theo, freezing the spot again.
Theo’s brow creased briefly in thought.
She closed her eyes and sand began to form under her feet. Slowly, grain by grain, it crawled up her feet until her entire foot was encased in a thick layer.
“Do you mind?” She asked Elsa, gesturing at the piles of sand.
Elsa pointed and the sand froze around Theo’s feet. The ice melted upon contact with the hot sand but the sand clumped together as water bled between the grains. In no time at all, the sand had solidified into tight shoes.
Theo lifted a foot and smiled at Elsa. “Nice and toasty inside, colder on the outside.”
Elsa found herself smiling back. “You think you’re so impressive don’t you? Well so long as we’re changing attire…”
Elsa drew up memories of her first day here and recreated her ice dress, sighing in relief as the cool fabric of her ice crystals settled back into place on her skin. She left the train out for now.
She offered Theo a challenging grin as her ice dress settled into place. I wonder if any of the others can make clothes like this…
The fire-girl blinked several times and examined her shoes. “Nothing…!” She mumbled, scuffing one sand heel on the ice underneath. “It’s…uhhh… that’s very nice.”
Theo was rubbing the back of her neck and very determinedly looked anywhere but at Elsa.
Examining the closest wall carefully, she jabbed her finger at a section of ice on the wall next to her that was spotted with white clumps. “There’s too much air here, that’ll weaken your structure.” Theo commented. She ran the tips of her fingers along the wall until they reached a section where thick ripples had formed. “And this section here has been warped by wind probably from the broken doors. You could fix it if you’re going for the smooth ice look, but I kind of like it.” She snatched her hand back and guiltily wiped the beads of water away on her dress.
Now it was apparently Elsa’s turn to close her mouth. “Are you seriously telling the Ice Queen about ice?”
“Yes.” Theo shot her a glance over her shoulder that could almost be mistaken for humorous if there wasn’t just a hint of triumph in it. “Ice starts to go bad after awhile, even if it’s kept frozen.” She jabbed her finger at the wall next to the balcony doors, flaking away tiny bits of impeccably thin shaved ice. “You’ve got some young ice here, forming on the edges of the old. Probably from when we had to use the dart on you the other day. If you don’t replace this entire section, it could eventually rot all the way through and crack open.”
With a wave of her hand, Elsa cleared away the young ice and strengthened the walls again. “Where did you learn so much about ice?” She asked, feeling kind of cheated that she had no way of dictating everything she inherently knew about her element.
Theo’s jaw tightened. “Circumstances.” That was all she would say.
Elsa coughed. “Well…shall we start the um…the…”
“The meditation?” Theo nodded and tore her gaze away from the walls and walked to the center of the room. “Yes. Yes just…just sit here…” she pointed at the direct center of the room, right under the chandelier.
Elsa crossed to the spot and gracefully folded her legs under her, sparing the chandelier a nervous glance. There was no one here to shoot it down, she reminded herself. It would stay put.
Theo crouched in front of Elsa. “Now, I need you to just relax.” She told the ice queen, her warm breath washing over Elsa’s face. “Open your mind and think of whatever drove you to make this castle. Whatever thing inside you sparked life inside that snowman outside. These things are Isen. She will respond if you speak to her.”
Elsa nodded, feeling nervous for some reason. “Do you mind?” she asked, indicating the very little personal space Theo had left her.
The black-haired girl blinked several times before she realized just what Elsa meant. “Oh…! Of course…” Theo backed several feet away and watched Elsa intently.
Elsa closed her eyes and tried to open herself up as Theo had instructed.
For awhile, she felt that this was going to be a huge waste of time. Her mind refused to quiet down, wondering everything from how Theo knew so much about ice, to what Anna was currently doing to why the color of grass varied so much. As these thoughts finally quieted down, she became aware that her hearing had improved considerably. She could hear her own heartbeat, the wind through the walls of the castle, the big snowman clomping around outside and the quiet shifting of Theo as the girl watched her from across the room. And under that, there was a gentle humming. No, a moaning. Someone was moaning.
Elsa focused entirely on the sound, blocking out everything else. But as soon as she did, the sound faded, becoming nothing more than an echo. Desperate to hear it again, she flung her thoughts outward until they encountered the walls and turrets of the castle around her. The moaning returned and intensified.
Elsa sank into the noise, letting it fill her entire body and being, taking over her thoughts and feelings. As soon as she did, she became aware of one single beautiful, obvious fact.
The moaning was the ice. And it wasn’t moaning, it was singing.
She felt everything in the castle, every weak point where air longed to burst free, every miniscule crack from where the palace had briefly melted in the thaw. The ice sang to her as it expanded and breathed, the cold wrapping its long, solid fingers around her and immersing her in a complete lack of feeling. She felt nothing, not the ice under her, not the dress on her skin, not even her skin itself. She had joined the cold and danced with it to the music of the ice. The softly falling snow kept time.
She floated in this oblivion, this complete freedom from worry and sense. If she could still feel her eyes, she knew she would be crying. But the tears were just as much a part of this world as she was and here, there was no distinction.
This was who she was, this was where she belonged. She was the cold that healed and soothed, the ice that preserved and hardened. The snow that made all rest and rejuvenate for the coming Spring.
The ice sang louder and drew her closer, closer until she sank right into it and felt the curves and ripples and air bubbles mold seamlessly to her flesh.
There was something there…under the sheet of ice, deeper than even she could bare to go, something was stirring softly as if deep in meditation and hearing its name called through the blackness of deep thought...
“…sa! Elsa, come back! Come back to me! Elsa!”
There was a burning warmth spreading all though her. Someone had lit a fire…a fire? The ice would melt…
Opening her eyes was the hardest thing Elsa had ever had to do. It felt like she was swimming for the surface, her lungs bursting but unable to tell which direction she had to swim.
When she finally managed to see again, a pair of burning ruby-red eyes greeted her.
“What…what happened…?” Her voice sounded hoarse. She blinked several times, her vision blurry and shifting.
She became aware that Theo was gripping her arms very tightly. “The entire castle was glowing.” She said, her brilliant eyes doing the same. “It blazed with ice-blue light. And you may have added several new rooms…you were slipping too far...”
Elsa looked around, trying to get her vision to clear. She was sitting in a small pile of snow and several sheets of ice were sticking vertically out of the floor below her as if trying to seal her into a cage. One of them had been violently blasted through, a large hole steaming and dripping water to the floor. The trail of steam and water continued until it reached the place where Theo crouched in front of her.
Elsa blinked one last time and was met with the full, painfully clear vision of Theo’s gaze. The summer host was staring at her, her face set in a fiercely tender expression Elsa had never seen before. She stopped and stared back.
Neither of them was moving. They hadn’t moved for over a minute. The sleeves of Elsa’s ice dress had begun to drip onto her lap but they didn’t seem to notice or care. Theo’s eyes were searching her own, moving back and forth so subtly it would have been impossible for Elsa to tell if she had not been this close to her. Burning fire-red pierced right into the icy azure-blue.
In that moment, Elsa forgot everything except the feel of a warm hand on her arm and the way her breath quietly scraped up and down her throat.
It lasted only a fraction of a second but Elsa would remember it forever. Theo’s eyes darted down to her lips. Almost like it was a learned reflex, Elsa felt her tongue dart out to quickly moisten her bottom lip. Her mouth had gone very dry.
A tiny flame had sprung to life in her chest, its light softly spreading through her entire body.
The connection evaporated like steam as Elsa hissed in pain when a tiny whip of fire curled against her arm, melting the sleeve of her ice gown off completely. She pulled her burned arm free and blew an icy gust of breath towards it. Theo backed away from her like she had the plague and folded in on herself, almost defensively.
The icy breath soothed the burn so effortlessly that there was no pain. She almost felt like she should assure Theo of this but couldn’t find any words that would sound anything but hollow.
Elsa glanced towards the window and saw that the sun was starting to drop back towards the horizon. How had so much time passed? Immediately, she realized just how deeply she had gone into herself. Hours passed and it felt like nothing…
Theo cleared her throat quite suddenly, startling Elsa. The girl ran a hand through her hair.
“I’m… I’m going to go step outside… cool off a little…try to find the big guy again…” The rest of her excuses trailed off into incoherent mumbles as she practically ran from the room, her sand shoes beginning to crumble.
Elsa watched her go, feeling lost and a little confused.
Had that actually just happened?
Having spent most of her life either in the library studying to be queen or in her room cursing her powers, Elsa had never had an ‘encounter’ of any kind with another human.
When it came to matters of the heart, she was barely more than a bumbling idiot making educated guesses. But…what had that been?
Elsa stood and slowly wandered back down the stairs to the entrance hall, trying so hard not to think about what had just happened but finding it was the only thing she could think about. Theo wasn’t in the entrance hall but a few loose grains of sand were lying on the icy floor.
Elsa lifted them into the air on a flurry of snowflakes and watched them spin together for awhile.
She had never questioned her sexuality, never considered anything other than the inevitable: marry a suitor, have an heir and live out her days on the throne. Her out-of-control powers had thrown that plan a cliff to scale but had by no means made it impossible. The king and queen had always been optimistic that Elsa had plenty of time and would eventually find someone who could tolerate her “unique abilities” to carry on the line. Or if that were impossible, the line could always be carried on through Anna.
Elsa let the swirling sand-snowstorm drift off into a corner of the palace and die down.
So no, she’d never considered the possibility that she liked women instead of men. But…when she’d looked into Theo’s eyes…
That tiny flame was still flicking brightly in her chest, making her insides feel like they were beginning to shine as wetly as the ice did under Theo’s touch.
…could she be…?
But of all people, for Theo?!
Elsa sighed and looked up into the alcoves and spires of her creation, desperate to stop thinking about such dark and dangerous questions. The sunlight reflected endlessly among the spires, casting rainbow shadows along the floor. Her thoughts returned to the music of her meditation, the power that coursed through her and brought her no closer to her bodily companion but filled her with an overwhelming, confirming sense of self. Of identity. But no ‘other’. No spirit.
I went so deep and I still found nothing…how can I possibly contact Isen like this?
The memories just came crashing back full-force as the door slid open again and her very first creation waddled inside. Elsa stared just like she had that first time. “Olaf!?”
The tiny snowman raced across the room and threw himself at Elsa, wrapping his twiggy arms around her middle and wiggling his legs as he squeezed her as tightly as snow could.
“Kristoff said you were kidnapped!” The snowman babbled, his carrot nose digging painfully into Elsa’s stomach. “I don’t know what that means but it sounds bad! Are you okay? My flurry vanished and Anna got really sad and then we visited the trolls and they said you’d be wherever your powers felt strongest and I said ‘I know exactly where Elsa is!’ Then we ran all the way here!”
Elsa struggled both to keep the snowman from falling and to follow his rambling train of thought. But the one thing that really stuck in her mind was the first thing the snowman had said. “Kristoff?”
Elsa looked up at the new voice. The ice man raced into the room, sliding a little on the slick floor. He was panting, probably from having sprinted up the ice stairs. He looked absolutely relieved to see her. Elsa couldn’t help glancing behind him and feeling more than a little disappointed that a strawberry-blonde head was not following him.
“Kristoff what are you doing here?” She asked, dropping Olaf. He straightened his carrot nose and beamed up at her. “Where’s Anna?” Elsa had only known the ice master for a few days but in all that time, she’d come to trust him with her sister. After all, he had risked everything just to make sure she was safe.
“Anna wanted to come but I made her stay.” Kristoff told her. “The kingdom’s been unsettled enough recently. They needed her there to take charge.”
The thought of her little sister in charge of a kingdom on the verge of financial collapse both terrified and frustrated the queen. Terrified because she knew Anna had a terrible record with trade calculations (She had once accidentally calculated the price of a standard shipment of Arendellian cod at roughly the same value as 300,000 bars of Melonia’s finest chocolate. Something about tacking on a few extra zeros accidentally…). Frustrated because she couldn’t be there to bring up that story and laugh about it with her while they worked this out together.
Elsa waved her hand and recreated Olaf’s flurry to keep from replying right away. The snowman giggled and jumped up and down several times in glee as his body became fully solid once again.
“I’m going to go find Marshmallow!” He called, apparently completely satisfied that everything would be okay now that he’d found Elsa again. He waddled off into the back rooms, calling Marshmallow! over and over.
Elsa looked at Kristoff. “…Marshmallow?”
Kristoff smiled, looking like the action had been long forgotten. “That’s what he calls the big guy.”
The two of them chuckled uneasily.
“What are you doing here, Kristoff?” Despite her pleasure at seeing him, Elsa couldn’t help but sound slightly accusing as she asked him again.
The mountain man who Elsa had barely gotten to know over the past few days was bundled up in the same garb he’d been wearing the last time he’d visited the palace. But now that she looked closer, Elsa saw bags under his eyes and angry read streaks of windburn on his face. He’d rushed here to find her.
The blonde man wasn’t bothered by her tone. He’d seen much worse from her, after all. “I’m here to take you home.”
If she’d heard those words this morning, Elsa would have thrown her arms around him in gratitude and left without a second thought. But that was before she’d head the ice sing. Before she’d felt that connection deep inside to the ice around her.
Elsa took a step back and shook her head. “Kristoff… I can’t leave…” She was torn. She needed to go home, she needed to help her kingdom heal and reach out to her sister. But now there was this.
“Elsa…” Kristoff’s gentle voice only made her shake her head more violently.
“I can’t go back…they’ll find me…”
“Elsa, the trolls told us about the temple, about the others, about…you.” His eyes shone with a strange mixture of pity and fear. In the short time she’d known him, Elsa had seen him stumble over formalities then profusely apologize when he remembered he was addressing a queen even if said queen insisted he address her by name. Now, she realized, he knew he was addressing a whole new level of authority. The host of goddess.
“Please,” Kristoff pleaded with her, his head falling slightly. “this isn’t the life for you.”
Elsa folded her hands, trying her best to adopt her queenly regality. She hated that this man she’d accepted into her life now as nearly a brother felt he had to address her formally again but if it helped her make her case, she’d gladly exploit it. “Kristoff, look I appreciate you coming after me but really, this is something I need to do.”
Kristoff’s head snapped back up. “Says who?” He said bluntly, all traces of formality and meekness gone. “Some other spirit trying to put you in another cage? That’s not the solution and you know it. You were doing just fine before they came along.”
Memories of her meditation swirled in Elsa’s mind. Of that vast well of something just sitting there inside the ice that she couldn’t reach. “But I could be doing better.” She told him. “And now there’s something they need my help with, something that could help me help all my citizens.”
“They want you to help them find Autumn don’t they?”
Elsa supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised how much the trolls knew but hearing Kristoff say the words so bluntly made her stare at him.
Kristoff stepped closer, his face set. “Elsa…I know it’s not my place to say, but…” He took a deep breath, overcoming his newfound apprehension of her. “This is not your concern. This is their problem, something they have dragged you into against your will. Arendelle is your priority, first and always. Arendelle needs you.” He paused, letting those words sink in before he delivered the final, fatal blow. “Anna needs you too.”
Elsa flinched visibly, her hands clenching. “I know.” She knew she was abandoning her kingdom by doing this, the guilt never left her. She knew how much it must have hurt Anna to have woken up and not be there like she had promised. But there was nothing she could do. This was out of her control now. She was a part of this cycle, if she left, it could all fall apart. But she would do whatever she could to free herself again. To get back to Anna and Arendelle. Even if it meant going back in a cage for awhile and wearing away more of her bond with Anna.
Kristoff was quiet, watching her emotions flicker across her face. “So why?” He finally asked her.
“Elsa?” Theo took that moment to poke her head into the room, startling everyone in it. Upon seeing Kristoff, her gaze darkened and her hands became encased in glowing fireballs.
“Get back!” She shouted to Elsa, readying the balls for throwing.
If anything, the mountain man seemed more shocked by the presence of Theo herself than by the flames in her hands. “You?!” Kristoff exclaimed, staring at the fire-girl in amazement as he spoke. Theo glared at him, the fire in her hands slowly burning brighter and hotter. But after a few seconds, her glare softened and the fire in her eyes dimmed considerably as they widened. It was clear that she recognized Kristoff.
Elsa looked between them. “You two know each other?”
Kristoff glanced from Theo to Elsa to Theo’s hands. “It’s…well…it’s been years…I…I thought you were dead.” He finally said to Theo, sounding like he was accusing her.
“Yeah well, can’t kill me that easily.” Theo said drily.
“You…you never came back.”
Theo shifted out of her attack stance, closing her hands around the flames to smoother them. Smoke leaked out from between her fingers. “No one wanted me.” She said quietly, coiled tensely in on herself.
The silence lingered in the room.
Finally, Kristoff turned back to Elsa. “Elsa…” He began, glancing at Theo. “we need to take you home. Anna’s devastated without you, you know? She just got you back and this feels like she’s lost you all over again.”
Elsa could feel the truth of Kristoff’s words twisting into her heart but she was determined not to let the pain show on her face.
“I can’t…” She began to protest but was cut off by Theo.
“My little sister.”
Theo’s face fell, confusion melting off of her features and solidifying again as the hard mask of realization. “Go.” She wasn’t speaking to Kristoff.
“I was right,” Theo commented, gesturing around the ice atrium. “this place is too conspicuous. Someone’s already found us, imagine how quickly others will come.”
“But you said…”
Theonia glared, her eyes blazing as only they could. “Go home, Elsa.” She turned away from the ice queen and Kristoff, her shoulders and neck tightening.
“Why now?” Elsa asked.
“Keep trying to contact Isen.” Theo said, completely ignoring Elsa’s question. Her hands closed into fists. “Promise me that. Don’t give up until you speak to her.”
“Why the sudden change of heart?”
Theo bristled but no flames jumped from her fingers. “Just go!”
Elsa had a sudden desire to pull the girl back to face her, to force Theo to stare into her eyes again so she could see why she was acting so strangely. Her fingers twitched towards the action but Theonia saw it and flinched away from Elsa.
“Leave!” She roared, and a brief blast of heat swept through the palace, making the occupants flinch and the hanging decorations tremble and sweat. “The Mother commands that you return to your kingdom!”
Then with a sound like a howling hurricane, a warm tornado whipped through the hall, picked up the summer host and deposited her at the top of the grand staircase. Without a backward glance, Theo vanished up the icy stairs to the upper floor.
Kristoff let out a long, low breath. “Wow. She’s…changed.”
Elsa turned to him but found she had nothing to say.
Kristoff tilted his head back towards the entrance to the palace. “So are we going or…?”
“Yes.” Elsa glanced upward towards the recesses of the palace briefly. “We’re leaving.”
Theo remained alone in the ice palace as the sled pulled by Sven containing Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf headed back towards Arendelle. She was standing in the second floor ballroom again, underneath where the new chandelier hung, glittering in the light of the dying sun.
It truly was a work of art. Up close, each hanging bangle fell in a perfect teardrop of ice, looking ready to drip from the heavens and splash upon the floor. But from a distance, the entire thing resembled a beautiful snowflake, dangling precariously above a perfectly reflective surface. When the sunlight hit it, it changed colors rapidly and unpredictably.
This entire palace was like that.
From the moment her eyes had first gazed upon it, Theo was paralyzed by the beauty around her. Being inside was like being under the ice again. Cut off from the world, in complete isolation, her senses at once engaged by the complexity around her and soothed by the simplicity of the ice.
Theo’s finger ghosted past an archway inlaid with miniscule snowflakes, each unique. A tiny moan escaped her lips. She dared not touch them, lest she make them melt into obscurity.
Theo’s love affair with ice was an unfortunate circumstance of her backwards life before she had discovered the spirit living within her and the fate that had been written for her because of it.
She loved the ice, its many facets and folds, the way it simultaneously reflected everything from its past and played an integral role in the shape of the future.
Everything about it completely contrary to everything she could do. Everything she touched was ruined. Fire destroyed all. Occasionally, the heat transformed what it destroyed, like how she formed glass orbs from her sand. Ice could destroy too. But ice eventually melted. Water evaporated. Fire only burned. And the scars remained forever.
The ground under her feet had begun to shine wetly as her agitation bled through in heat waves.
Theo crafted herself a sand platform and lifted herself free of the ice. She floated under the chandelier, gazing up at the endless patterns upon patterns. She couldn’t stay here, not while she was this strong and out of control. She’d melt this entire beautiful creation. She should probably just go back to the temple.
But she couldn’t bring herself to leave yet. She hovered in the recesses of the castle, drinking in the familiarity and novelty of the ice she had missed so.
Truth be told, she had not asked the Mother for permission to send Elsa back. It had just been something she had decided in that moment, with no input from Branna and no silent, instantaneous prayer to that other voice that hung around her shoulders and ears like a scarf and spoke its will at the most inopportune moments.
Why did you let her go if it was not the Mother’s command…?
“She’s been silent on the entire matter of Elsa.” Theo told Branna tiredly. The Mother refused to speak directly to her children, preferring instead to offer her voice of command only to the host of the first awakened: the Head Councilor.
So you take her fate on yourself?
“What else can I do?”
Stay. Keep her under watch. The way you said you would.
Her fist clenched. “I can’t be around her right now…”
Theonia. Do not let this revelation or whatever you think you are feeling cloud your judgment. Do what must be done…what you know has to be done…what is required…
The sand under her feet had fused under the heat of her stress and formed a great glass sheet. Curls of smoke drifted from the edges and every so often, a flame would briefly burst to life. “No, Branna!” Theo shouted, forcefully containing the heat as close to her body as possible so that she would not damage the ice around her. “This does not concern you and it never will! For once, keep out of my head!” A great crack split the glass sheet.
And for the first time since she had awakened, the fire spirit was blissfully silent as Theo fell to her knees on the splintering glass, breathed deeply and tried to keep the burning tears from sliding down her face.
Anna hadn’t slept all night.
The princess-turned-Acting-Regent had stumbled out of the royal office several hours after dawn, gently brushing away Gerda’s offer to draw her a bath, saying she needed to look something up in the library for the trade records. She’d spent all night reading reports, sorting them based on priority and trying to make sense of years worth of her sister’s careful, beautiful calculations that seemed just as complex and unique as the snowflakes Elsa created. The whole night, she’d kept the small brown book tucked out of sight between her legs.
Now she was trying to find somewhere to read it in private, somewhere where none of the staff would happen to find her should any more royal business come up.
Anna descended the staircase to the main floor, the book clasped tightly against her chest. She felt like she was sneaking around. She didn’t want anyone else to know she was holding a book of Elsa’s secrets.
Anna fingered the small book nervously. It had effectively been handed to her. And Elsa had promised there would be no more closed doors. So she shouldn’t feel any remorse about reading it right? Anna had a right to know. Especially since the quick glimpse she’d gotten last night had imprinted itself in her brain and across her heart. I just almost killed my sister…
What could that possibly mean?
All the same, she felt like she was holding a piece of her sister’s soul in her hand. It felt like something unbelievably fragile and precious, a piece of her sister that Elsa had broken off and hidden away because of the pain of carrying it around. Anna wanted to know her sister’s pain. She only hoped that it was something she could handle. She had no idea where her relationship with her sister currently stood but if this could help…
Anna rounded a corner, walking a little too fast without much regard to where she was going. Her shoulder hit something, Elsa’s book flying out of her grip as she stumbled.
“I do apologize…”
Before Anna could react, an auburn head of hair crossed her field of vision, reaching for the book.
Anna froze. No, not him. How could he be here?
The man straightened up, holding out the book for Anna.
“Here you go.”
It took Anna’s sleep-deprived mind several seconds to realize that she was not looking at Prince Hans but rather, someone slightly older, with blue eyes and a thin beard.
She snatched the book back, mumbling a quiet thank you.
The man bowed considerately to her. “Prince Christian of the Southern Isles, my lady. Fifth in line to the throne.” He straightened up and offered her the same smile Hans had given her that a mere five days ago had made her swoon. “I was told the queen was expecting me?”
Anna bristled, holding the book tighter. “Who told you that?” She demanded, not even bothering to introduce herself as she was fairly certain he already knew who she was.
If the prince was surprised by her lack of manners, he hid it well. “Your steward? Kai, I believe the fellow’s name was?”
Anna nodded. “Yes.” She said nothing else, letting the silence hang uncomfortably.
Prince Christian cleared his throat self-consciously and played with his sword belt. He was built a little larger than Hans and had the air about him of a gentle giant who was acutely aware of his own strength. “Well if she’d busy now, I can always…”
“The coronation was five days ago.” Anna interrupted him, not feeling at all guilty. “I’m afraid all our accommodations have expired and we will be unable to entertain you.” She didn’t care that she was being rude to a guest. As far she was concerned, anyone from the Southern Isles was little more than dirt.
Prince Christian smiled courteously, his perfect court manners were starting to annoy Anna. “I am not here for pleasure my lady. Far from it. My ship was late for the coronation, I arrived only this morning…there was a hell of a storm.”
“So why are you here now?” Anna asked, shuffling her feet but not breaking eye contact.
The Prince’s gaze darkened and Anna immediately experienced nostalgia of the moment Hans had locked her in the drawing room to die. Apparently, evil facial expressions were something all the Princes of the Isles shared. “Well, after I received the queen’s message about my little brother’s behavior, I hurried here hoping some kind of agreement could be made. Her Highness told me we could meet as soon as I docked.”
Elsa spoke to the Southern Isles? When? Although logically, Anna knew that her sister probably had a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, she couldn’t help the tiny flare of betrayal that took that opportunity to burst to life in her stomach.
“What sort of agreement?” She asked.
“Financial.” Prince Christian replied. “We would not like my baby brother’s unfortunate behavior to ruin the relationship between our two kingdoms.”
“Well I’m afraid her majesty has been up all night reviewing trade agreements and local issues.” Anna told him. It wasn’t exactly a lie. At the moment, Anna was acting queen and she had been up all night. And she wasn’t getting to sleep anytime soon. Not while the book in her hands remained unread. “She will be unable to meet with you today or tomorrow as she is otherwise occupied.” I just wish I knew where. Anna thought sadly to herself.
Prince Christian inclined his head respectfully. “I understand. My men and I will retire to the inn we are staying in. Please do have your steward send for us at the queen’s earliest convenience.” He turned around and made his way back towards the entrance hall. Anna watched him go, her heart sinking.
Great, the Southern Isles wanted to make a deal of some kind.
Personally, Anna wanted to sock this prince in the jaw as well and send him on his way with damaged pride and an icicle in his pants. But Elsa had called this meeting, Elsa knew that severing all ties with the Isles could very well lead Arendelle to financial ruin. Elsa wouldn’t let emotional reservations towards the Princes of the Isles get in the way of providing for her people. Which is why Elsa was the queen and Anna was the stand-in.
Elsa. Anna’s exhaustion returned full force as she thought of her sister for the millionth time. The only reason she’d pushed through all the paperwork was for her sister. Some part of her had convinced herself that if she could just figure out this whole economic mess, Elsa would come back, smiling and beaming with pride and gratitude and promise her she would never leave again.
But here she was, sleep-deprived, no closer to a solution, plagued by another prince of the Southern Isles and about to read her sister’s book full of dark secrets.
Anna hurried on her way, thinking perhaps that the kitchen would be nice and empty at this time of the day and she’d be able to cozy up somewhere with a few cookies and dive deeper into her sister’s secret book, safely out of the way of royal duties and prying servant eyes.
She pushed her way quietly into the kitchens, not making a sound. Years of secret raids on the kitchens both with and without Elsa had taught her the stealth skills necessary to navigate the creaky, haphazard-filled kitchen.
As Anna had predicted, the kitchen was empty, the servants having finished their breakfast and gone off to do their chores and the royal chef having retired until lunchtime.
Anna grinned and made her way over to the pantry where the tin with her favorite shortbread cookies were kept. Finally, time alone with the book!
“What the…?” As she pulled open the door to the pantry, someone came tumbling out.
Anna’s first impression was that it was an animal because it was just so dirty and its hair stuck up every which way. But as the thing stumbled, dropping several dried fruits and a loaf of bread, she realized it was human.
“Who are you?”
The grubby-looking boy’s eyes darted to the door and he made a dash around Anna towards freedom. He would have escaped too, if Anna hadn’t started moving the moment she saw his eyes move. Anna caught him around the middle and pushed him back into the room.
Although Anna hadn’t pushed him very hard, the boy fell backward and landed hard on his bum, his legs spread wide. Several more dried fruits tumbled from the recesses of his tunic. “Please don’t have the queen freeze me!” He begged Anna, his eyes watering. “I don’t want to lose any of my fingers!”
“Why would she freeze you?” Anna asked him, reaching out a hand to pat his shoulder.
He flinched away from her, holding his dirty hands in front of his mouth like he expected to be hit. “’cause I stole from her!” He wailed. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” He began to cry in earnest, his thin shoulders shaking.
Anna sat back on her heels and took a good look at the boy. He clearly was not one of the servants, nor any of the servants’ children. He was far too dirty and haphazardly dressed to have anything to do with the palace. His shoes were two different sizes and the tunic he was wearing was at least three sizes too big for him and looked like it had already been thoroughly loved and then discarded by its owner. He had no shirt. He was younger than she expected him to be. He couldn’t have been much older than six.
As the poor boy sat there, shaking in fear and desperation, tears tracing tracks through the mud on his face, Anna felt her heart go out to him.
“Is that all you took?” She asked him, gesturing at the fruits scattered around the floor.
The boy gulped and nodded, refusing to meet her eyes.
Anna grinned. “Well then, you have to try the chocolate!”
He looked up in surprise. Anna winked and crossed to the cupboard opposite the fireplace. Inside, hidden behind rows of flour and yeast, Anna kept her secret supply of emergency chocolate. This definitely counted as an emergency.
She broke off a generous piece, split it in half and walked back over to the boy.
“Elsa wont freeze you.” She told him.
He wiped his nose noisily. “Howdyou know?”
Anna gave him her warmest smile. “Because I wont let her. And Elsa doesn’t just go around freezing people! She’s much to kind.”
The boy blinked in surprise. “Wait…are you Princess Anna?”
She handed him the chocolate before replying. “That’s me.”
He held the chocolate like it was a priceless gift he’d never dream of receiving. “Wow…you’re even prettier than he says!”
Anna blushed slightly. “Then who says?”
“My brother.” The boy told her, folding his legs to get more comfortable. “He’s sick, so I’m stealing food for him. He always says Princess Anna has hair like crackling flames and eyes the color of the harbor!”
Anna joined him on the floor, biting her own piece of chocolate. She placed the book carefully in her lap.
“Where are you parents?” She asked him gently.
The boy didn’t answer. He gave the chocolate an experimental lick and his eyes lit up. He took an enormous bite, smearing chocolate across his cheek.
Anna giggled at his complete abandon so similar to her own and found her laughter was not alone. Although he was young and had obviously seen hard times Anna could never dream of, his laugh was that of a child. Young and hopeful, bursting with potential.
Anna was glad he’d calmed down and warmed up to her. Anna had that effect on people. Her sister inspired both awe and fear. She inspired trust and love.
The boy shyly ducked his head and absorbed himself once again in the treat, as if he’d only just realized he was laughing with the ‘beautiful’ Princess Anna.
Anna looked him up and down again as she nibbled on her chocolate. “What’s your name?” She asked the boy as he devoured the chocolate.
“Dunnot have one miss.” He mumbled, eyes on the floor.
A bad liar herself, Anna knew all the signs children displayed when they were lying.
“Alright then, I think from now on I’ll call you Dagrun.” Anna told him, choosing a name from one of her favorite stories of a brave prince at war.
The boy shrugged; he didn’t care what he was called. “Alright miss…”
“Where do you live Dagrun?” Anna asked the boy kindly, polishing off her share of chocolate.
The boy wiped chocolate off his cheek then sucked on his hand to get as much of it as he could.
“Wherever I can, Princess.”
So he was a street orphan. Anna had suspected as much from his clothes. Arendelle had several dozen such children running around. Most were from poor families or the children of castle servants but a few were orphans, children of shipwrecked sailors or slave runaways from neighboring kingdoms.
Anna leaned forward a little twinkle in her eye as the plan solidified in her mind. “I have a little job for you.”