"Your Majesty." A guard said, bowing towards Elsa, and she nodded to show that she was listening.
Her hair was messy and her forehead was creased with worry, the lines spreading across her brow clearly displaying her concern. She'd awoken to find Anna and Kristoff missing, and though she'd been left a note, on which it was written that they had gone to visit the trolls, to try and clear up a few queries of theirs, she still worried. After the death of Arne, a large shroud of darkness had covered the kingdom of Arendelle; his passing had been so sudden, so unexpected, that naturally, everyone knew about it, and all were suspicious. No doubt, something sinful was slowly spreading throughout the kingdom, and it was only a matter of time before something else awful happened.
"I have an update on the situation with the Prisoner, Dagvin." He said, and this sparked Elsa's curiosity, though she was in such a somber mood that the feeling of intrigue made no attempt to play upon her face. "It would seem that there is a lot we still do not know. Unfortunately, the prisoner seems to have been very... Devoted to his cause. We returned this morning to continue his interrogation, but he'd suffocated himself with his chains."
Elsa gasped slightly, and couldn't help but feel guilty. She' docked him away, so she was responsible in a sense.
He could have killed the baby. The thought passing through her mind was like a drug, calming her, soothing her of her guilt. He deserved his punishment.
"That's... that's terrible." She said, quietly, but then straightened up to take on the more regal posture she was so well known for. "Still, these are circumstances out of our control, so... What information have you managed to uncover?"
The guard paused slightly, as if trying to decide how to structure his response. "Well, we managed to get some details about the situation with Princess Mia. It would seem she is alive, and well, although very traumatised after what she's been through, we can infer from the knowledge we've gained."
Elsa's eyes widened. "What has she been through?" She asked quickly, but she was not at all stupid; it didn't take a genius to know that she'd been tortured. It made her stomach churn and her heart ache that anyone could be so cruel.
This new information backs up our previous theories, Elsa thought to herself, That must mean the cave where we found the blood and the ice really was... where she was. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply for a few seconds, and the Guard's eyes softened at her.
"I can go if you'd like, your Majesty? Perhaps take control of this myself? I'm sure it's tough on you..."
Elsa was hasty to reply, saying, "No, no, no," quickly, trying to regain the composure she'd just lost again. "I must take charge of this. What else can you tell me?"
The guard looked at the Queen with sorrowful eyes. "Well... please, I'd hate to hurt you, your Highness. You don't deserve that and-"
"I can't be hurt more than I already am." Elsa quickly supplied, a slight sigh creeping into her voice. "Please, don't hold back. Every bit of information is truly precious."
"Yes, your Majesty." The man said, bowing his head. "I am sorry. It's just... take this with a pinch of salt, so to speak. We overheard the prisoner talking in his sleep, only a few words, but we think we may have pieced something together."
This intrigued Elsa, and she raised her eyebrows, signalling for him to continue.
"Well, it was all very confusing, but... well, as far as we can tell, there's some sort of plot to use Mia's magic against you, and the rest of your family."
Elsa's eyes widened in shock, as the Guard continued, looking uncomfortable. "We think they may be trying to coerce her onto their side somehow. Turn her against you, but we don't know anything else about her case, sadly."
The Queen nodded in understanding, taking a soft breath to calm her beating heart. "Okay. Did you find anything else out about my niece?"
The Guard shook his head, looking down. "I'm sorry your Majesty, but that's all the information we have at the moment. I've been thinking, though, that it might be a good idea to have the army pay another visit to the cave where we originally found..." He paused, as if trying to decide how to say what he wanted to explain. "Where we originally found evidence that may have linked to her case."
Elsa sighed. "That's a good idea, Captain." She said, nodding, "I give you permission to take some men to this cave and conduct some research, but I also need to decide about helping Corona in this war, as well as finding my husband. I fear he is in trouble."
The Guard nodded. "That is understandable, your Highness. And, speaking of such, we have also gained some information, though vague, on Prince Odd's location."
Elsa's eyes lit up with excitement, and the Captain smiled softly at her hopeful expression. "From the... interview, I guess it can be called... with Dagvin, we managed to discover that Odd is alive, and is being kept somewhere in one of the Southern Isles. That was all he'd say- he wouldn't expand anymore than that."
Elsa nodded, and had to hold back a squeal of joy. "That's good," She said, smiling and nodding, before something hit her. The Guard had said Odd was alive, but he'd mentioned nothing of his wellbeing. Her face moulded into a frowning expression. "You say he's alive... but what of his condition?"
The Guard's expression hardened. "Dagvin would not say, your Highness, but... his expression looked quite gleeful, in a twisted way, when we talked about him. At least a little. So, we can only assume..."
Elsa's heart plummeted, and there was no doubt in her mind any longer. "Captain. Take some of your men to search this cave this afternoon. I want you back by nightfall, and be prepared. I don't want any casualties, except anyone who may have been hurting my niece." She took a deep breath, and clenched her fists. "Tomorrow morning, we will leave for the Southern Isles, and we will get this straightened out once and for all."
The Guard nodded, bowing as he exited the room, and Elsa rose, deciding she had to tell her sister this news. She would be, after all, looking after the Kingdom while she was away at war.
"Don't worry, Anna. Grand Pabbie will help us, I'm sure." Kristoff assured his wife, as the two cantered through the path to the valley of living rock. Anna nodded, smiling, as she began to slow Misty down to a trot, a walk, and finally a stop as she hopped off.
"I know, Kristoff. Come on - let's get this sorted out. I'm so confused, I need some reassurance that everything will be all right at the end of this."
Kristoff hopped off of Sven, and placed his hand on Anna's shoulder, calming her, as the reindeer trotted up behind her bouncily. Sneaking his face up next to the Princess, he softly licked her cheek, and she squealed, jumping away from him and knocking her husband over, landing in a heap. Sven watched and bleated in amusement, his tongue lolling out as he sunk to the floor and dramatically dropped his head on top of the girl's stomach.
Anna grunted, and laughed as she pushed Sven off. Kristoff tickled the reindeer's chin, chuckling.
"Come on," He encouraged, "Let's go."
Anna nodded, following behind faithfully, her previous anguish forgotten, for a moment.
"Come on, Mia, you can do it." Ayla said, and the young child screwed up her eyes in concentration, focusing on making the icicles thaw. She'd made them by accident, her confusion too great that the ice had simply sprung up, almost as if it came on it's own accord. "Just concentrate on thawing it!"
Mia whimpered quietly at the cold glare she was getting from the sorceress, the woman's impatience beginning to show through. She moaned slightly as she continued to try, and her face lit up as she felt the slight tug as small snowflakes began to thaw away, an image, a small memory of the adoring looks she'd received from her Mother, Father, Aunt and Uncle playing in her mind. Ayla looked completely relieved behind her, letting out a loud sigh, and the image snapped from the small child's mind in an instant. The thawed ice sprung back quickly, and a cold blast of wind blasted throughout the room, encompassing everything in a light dusting of cold, brittle snow.
Ayla scowled, and clenched her fists, before breathing deeply, and then letting out the breath she'd been holding, repeating a few more times until her rapid heart rate decreased, calming her down and she turned her head away.
"Good progress, little child." She said, patting Mia's head roughly, still frustrated. "Keep practising."
Standing up, she turned and left the room, having to fight the urge to slam the door shut, and stormed down the corridor, flexing her fingers in a way which calmed herself down. Reaching up, she pulled her thick blonde hair into a ponytail, drawing it back away from her neck where it had been frustrating her, and she stalked into the large drawing room, collapsing on the sofa, sighing as it accepted her, the plush material wrapping around her body comfortingly.
She relaxed into the sofa, and her weary eyes fluttered shut, exhaustion finally setting in after a long day. She'd been trying to teach Mia to control her powers all day, for at least five or six hours, and the little 'brat' had made next to no progress. Admittedly she'd achieved to thaw a few little bits of ice, but it had all been for nothing, really; attempting to get the girl to use her powers for the cause was impossible if she couldn't control them.
Ayla's hand slipped from it's resting place upon her stomach, and dangled over the edge of the sofa, hanging limply like the arm of a rag doll, swaying slightly in motion before coming to a stop. She let it remain there, as she felt her breath slow down into a calming beat, her hair spilling across the pillow in waves.
A soft touch on the dorsum of her hand shocked her into activeness, as she shot up in a flash and let her palm connect roughly with smooth skin with a satisfying thwap. Her eyes shot open, bright blue irises blazing in the dark light of the room, glowing in an eery, almost cat-like way, as she flicked her fingers and the man was sent flying across the room into the opposite couch.
"Hans!" She gasped, feeling a little guilty, before the feeling settled in her heart and she sat up straighter, leaning back into the sofa casually, bringing her knee up over her other leg to sit in a more comfortable position. "What did you do that for, anyway?" She folded her arms, glaring at him in frustration.
Hans rubbed his neck, wincing slightly. "I was just coming to talk with you, so cut it out." He narrowed his eyes, peed off at being flung across the room like a rag. "If you want to remain in my good books, you'd better do what I say."
Ayla smiled, looking as if she'd just been on the receiving end of a rather mediocre joke. "In case you've forgotten, Hansie-boy, I think it's more a matter of you staying in my good books. I'm the one with the magic, I'm afraid, and I'm perfectly fine with you betraying me. I'll only... skadoodle off to Arendelle and help them." She made a show of twiddling her fingers in a way which suggested her running off. "It really makes no difference. Whichever side I choose is the winning side, so unless you really want to risk everything and end up getting your whole country killed, you'd better be nice to me."
She smiled sweetly, and waved her hand, a poppy blossoming in her soft palm. She flicked her fingers and the new bloom floated over to Hans's shoulder, setting just below his chin, to the right slightly. "So, Hans? What's it going to be?"
Hans sighed, defeated. "Fine, fine." He groaned, and sat up straighter, smoothing back his hair. "Anyway, I wanted to talk with you. How's it going with Mia? I have a bad feeling something is going to be happening soon, and I want to be ready when it does."
Ayla frowned. "Still nothing. Well, next to nothing. We nearly got somewhere today. but it was all for nothing in the end, really." She paused, "Still, though... if its snow you want, I've got it here." She clicked her fingers, and Hans gasped as he felt his hair freezing up. He groaned, as he brushed the ice out of his auburn hair, little crystals flicking out of his locks.
"Nah. See, you're... a jack of all trades. At least, in terms of magic. You've got it all, but her... no matter how much I hate the child, especially considering her parentage, she's still the best at magic. Maybe she's not as strong as her aunt at the moment, but she's still very powerful when it comes to ice magic, and more so than you can be." He grinned at Ayla's slightly annoyed face, knowing full well that she couldn't even deny it. He enjoyed being able to win the fight for once."Besides, she can get close to the Queen and co easiest."
Ayla sighed. "Yeah, you're right. But... well, I hope you have a backup plan, considering our 'progress' so far."
Hans smiled. "As a matter of fact, I do." He smiled, signalling to a large painting of a friesian on the wall, and Ayla frowned, completely lost. "Queen Elsa could easily make a whole snowman army with a wave of her hand. You can't do that, but there is something you can do, and it involves him."
Ayla smiled, as she waved her hand, and the painting began to shift, as the horse reared onto its back legs, neighing loudly as it launched out of the painting, shaking its head. The black mane flowed through the air, and the silky tail swished around the equine, who was snorting, frustrated, her strong legs pawing at the ground, her powerful hindquarters kicking out against the air, feathers swirling around the shining hooves.
"What a beautiful mare," Hans admired, "A perfect match of grace and strength. But they're also very faithful to their handlers. But they're also gentle creatures, and that's one flaw in our plan."
Ayla smiled, muttering, "I've got that covered," as she waved her hand and the horse whinnied in fear, as a dark fog swirled around it.
She raised up onto her hind legs, front hooves flailing, and she let out a terrified scream, before the fog settled on her skin, seeping through into her body. Her legs thickened, not so graceful anymore, as her body morphed into an even stronger, more powerful, more sturdy build.
The cries of fear slowly subsided, as the mare settled down, and she wasn't the beautiful, graceful friesian anymore. Instead, a large black shire stood in her place, still beautiful, but not the same. Her coat was a duller shade of black, and her eyes had a slight red tint to them.
Standing there, her large nostrils flaring, she pawed the ground and shook her head again, but this time, the sight was much more threatening, less graceful and clumsier. The mare's enlarged size only made her more intimidating, and Hans grinned.
"Nice trick, Ayla. Now, let's perfect it, shall we?" He grinned, as Ayla nodded, smiling back at him, and the mare trotted over, rubbing her nose a little forcibly against the sorceress' arm affectionately. She laughed, stroking the shire softly, but quickly drew back when the horse tried to bite her.
Anna gasped, and quickly dropped to her knees to wrap her arms around Kristoff, who was sat on the ground, shocked into disbelief.
"What... what... what..." He stammered, his words not forming correctly, merging together in a drunken slur of sounds only capable of those who have lost someone close. "Pab... Pabbie..."
Anna softly pushed herself into his lap, trying to comfort her with her presence, but the man was immune to all emotion but incredulity. Sven bleated loudly and fell to the ground too, with his two humans.
Bulda looked at her son sadly. "I know, Kristoff." She said, sadly. "It's not fair..." She hung her head, but then looked up to the peak where the yellow rose grew. "But it's not so bad. In the end, everything will be as it should be."
Anna frowned, but Kristoff seemed to understand Bulda's riddling words. It was amazing how much she sounded like Grand Pabbie had, but only served to remind everyone of the loss.
Kristoff took a deep breath in, and tried to calm himself. "Thanks..." He muttered, and stood up shakily. "Come on, Anna. We'd best get back."
"Don't worry. I'll explain on the way."
Kristoff and Anna slowly left the valley, and Bulda watched her son and daughter-in-law leaving with fondness. She turned her head slightly, and watched the flower on the distance, an unknown force drawing her attention.
She smiled, and as she turned her head away, the yellow rose bud opened very slightly, growing a little more towards the sun.
The flower shone in the light, and a small aurora flickered above the butter-yellow rose.
And not for the first time, the sense of magic that surrounded Grand Pabbie spread throughout the valley.