Rapunzel sighed sadly as she waved to the ships of Arendelle as they slowly began to sail away into the distance, returning to their home kingdom at last. It was a shame - their presence had been so greatly enjoyed by the people of Corona who, after having felt such loss, seemed to connect with the men who had been fighting to preserve those left in his family.
Eugene slowly came over and pulled Rapunzel into his arms in a hug. "Hey, don't worry, Blondie." He said, softly tickling her under her chin so as to make her giggle and squirm, forgetting that the soldiers from Arendelle were leaving. "We'll see them again soon."
Kicking her husband in the abdomen by accident, Rapunzel grinned as he groaned and backed off, giving her the opportunity to get a little further away, so he couldn't attack her again. Glancing over to the ships again, she gasped suddenly, excited.
"Hey, hey!" She cried out, "We haven't been to Arendelle in so long, Eugene! What do you say... what better way to celebrate Christmas and the New Year and the defeat of the Southern Isles than by going to visit them! And then we can thank Elsa and Anna for sending men to help us!"
Eugene chuckled. "Rapunzel, you always want to go to Arendelle!" He said, grinning, and he reached over to lightly shove her shoulder teasingly. She pouted sadly, her eyes widening to puppy dog eyes, as if she were pleading him. Eugene raised his hands in resignation. "Hey, hey, you're the Queen. I'm only a Prince, remember? Whatever you want to do, but can I just point out that surely we should stay and keep an eye on everyone over the next few days? We've all been through a lot, and they need you to help keep their courage up."
Rapunzel sighed. "I guess you're right..." She murmured, and looked away from him sadly, glancing out over her kingdom. "Sometimes, I wish I wasn't Queen... It's just such a demanding job, y'know?"
Eugene patted her on the back softly. "Hey, hey, Blondie. Don't look so down - it's Christmas after all! Why don't you go down to town tomorrow and help the children paint a holiday picture - I'm sure you'd all enjoy that!"
Rapunzel didn't look convinced. "No, what would I paint. I'm hardly in the holiday mood anymore, and there's so much devastation everywhere. This isn't a proper Christmas, so how can I paint a Christmas scene?"
"You could always paint me? My face always brings smiles to the women's faces?" Eugene suggested, his tone light, but all he was rewarded with was a small, feeble smile. "C'mon, 'Punzel. Christmas is a time for family!"
Rapunzel sighed. "So many families have been torn apart by the fighting..." she murmured, and slowly, a tear rolled down her cheek. "And here we are, starting a new family!" Her hand slipped down to her very slightly swollen stomach slowly, and rested there. "I feel so guilty..."
Eugene's eyes widened. "Hey, hey, 'Punzel! Don't feel like that. Think of it this way... were bringing new life into the world! Surely the fact that you're having a baby counts as saving a child? In a sense?"
Rapunzel nodded slowly, tears falling rapidly from her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. "I guess so..."
Eugene smiled, feeling triumphant. "You're over-reacting, Blondie, is all. Think of how many people you saved out there, not those who you couldn't quite get to. So many people owe you their lives... Don't you think you should go down so they can give you their thanks? I bet many of them feel indebted to you for what you did."
Rapunzel nodded blindly. "I'll go down tomorrow. I'm a mess now."
Eugene chuckled. "Ah, that's true." He commented, and Rapunzel glared at him.
Her reply consisted of a few well chosen words and a sharp slap across Eugene's cheek.
"Your majesty!" A voice called through the still air, and Elsa's head shot up as she watched the man addressing her expectantly. "I think we've got something over here!"
Elsa felt her curiosity peak, and she got up, quickly rushing over to the guard calling for her, looking around with interest. Her heart dropped, however, when she saw what had been found - a scrap of soft blue material, blending into the snow, and a little further off, concealed behind a small hawthorn bush, was something which made Elsa's heart miss a beat, sending pained spasms of shock through her body.
A small pattern of ice upon the floor, shaped in a way which, with no doubt, resembled a skull and crossbones - it was certainly not a natural occurrence, nor created by Elsa's magic, which meant one thing.
It was a sign from Mia.
Elsa's breath caught in her throat, and she quickly rose from her crouching position to look around quickly.
"She can't have been far ahead of us." Elsa said, thinking a plan through in her head as she spoke. "I suggest we search for her on horseback, for she should not be too hard to find if we are moving quickly."
One of the guards opened his mouth to speak, but Elsa's eyes singled him out, their cold glint silencing him; though she knew Mia had probably been taken by someone on a horse of their own, she did not want to hear it affirmed.
"Ma'am!" One guard called out before he could be silenced, and Elsa, tormented with grief and worry for her niece, heightened by her raging hormones and mood swings, spun on him, glaring. To his credit, the man barely flinched, merely looking slightly down so as not to be staring at his Queen eye-to-eye. "I'm sorry, Ma'am, but don't we need horses to search on horseback?"
Elsa remained stiff as she nodded slowly, rolling her eyes. "I know." She replied, testily, and the tension coming from her was thick upon the air. She gestured to her left, where four large Pegasi came slowly walking into view, flicking their manes and stretching their wings out proudly.
"They're perfectly friendly," Elsa promised, as she went over to the first, and largest, stallion and stroked its muzzle softly.
The guards did not look reassured in the slightest, and their lack of movement only served to anger Elsa.
"Come on, men. They're exactly the same as normal horses, except they can fly. Just hold on tight and I'm sure you'll be fine." Her eyes flashed with frustration, and she grinned slightly, mocking her men. "Besides a bit of fear is always good; it doesn't shut you down, it wakes you up. You need to be alert, so I'm doing you a favour really."
Reluctantly, the men got on, and the second the last guard had mounted his own icy horse, Elsa kicked her own on, so that it began to run quickly before taking off into the air. Her stallion flew upwards with strong beats of his wings, and Elsa felt suddenly more cheerful, even if only a little bit, as she gained height, before softly patting the pegasus' neck, telling him to stop. The pair stayed in place in the air for a few seconds as the rest of the men caught up, looking like they'd never seen anything more terrifying in their lives.
Mind you, they probably hadn't.
Elsa smiled as she angled her stallion downwards and quickly dived towards the ground, pulling up halfway through her descent to fly closer to the ground, scanning the area for any signs of little Mia. As it was, they were currently searching for the girl above the forests - no doubt if they had to search the villages, the sight of them would terrify the people, and they'd probably be shot down.
A minute passed, then two, then three, but there seemed to be no sign of little Mia anywhere, and Elsa sighed, her previous confidence that she'd find her niece shattered, until she felt her stallion plummet. Coming to a halt just a metre above the trees, his massive wings blowing the leaves around him, he quietly snorted and gestured with his head, looking down.
Elsa gasped at what she saw - a blonde haired woman, and with her, a small toddler with bleach blonde hair and stunning blue eyes.
Elsa frowned when she saw the woman come forward, and had to hold back a snarl as she slapped her, knocking the child over, making her cry out.
Oh, no you don't! Elsa thought savagely, as ice materialised in her palms. Revenge is going to be so sweet... In fact, I have a feeling that it's going to be... epic.
"Trying to run off, were you?" Ayla's voice was cold as her palm connected with Mia's cheek. "Hans told me that you'd disappeared, and he couldn't find you again after you'd escaped from him when the firing began. I had to leave my post protecting the kingdom to come and find you, selfish child..."
Gripping Mia's wrist, Ayla pulled the girl closer to her face, her blue eyes cutting into Mia's soul. "Do you know the old phrase, little one? Oh, how does it go..." She lowered her voice to a whisper, speaking slowly and pronouncing every syllable carefully, making her sound so very dangerous. "Oh, yes. I remember. 'Happiness can always be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the lights...' I do like that phrase, don't you?"
Ayla sighed, and pushed Mia back to the ground. "Usually, I'd say that phrase holds a fair amount of truth to it, but there's always a catch... How is one meant to light a lamp for the light, without anything to light it with, eh? If you've not a match, for instance, then you have no way to ignite the gas. Do you understand where this is going, little one?"
Mia looked at Ayla with blank eyes, lost in the woman' song speech, and the said sorceress shook her head in frustration. "Of course you don't; you're just a child, a very naïve, toddler. Look at it this way, Mia; without anything to light up the darkness, you'll never be able to see, and you'll never be able to find happiness. This fits your situation perfectly - you have nothing anymore, no family, and you will get no respect from any of us either. You will forever be living in the dark, and you'll never find relief."
Mia whimpered in fear, even though she didn't understand what Ayla was saying, because the underlying message was clear.
"You are nothing but a tool, little Princess." Ayla whispered harshly, "I have more magic than you... Tonight, you shall wake up and not remember a thing of your past life, but don't worry, dear... We won't hurt you if your dear Aunt will comply to our rules."
Mia whimpered as she heard the word 'hurt', and she knew that Elsa was also involved in the situation now. By the deadly look on Ayla's face, it wasn't a good thing.
Concentrating, Mia whined quietly as she tried to bring forth another of her magic mind-controlling snowflakes. Her eyes widened as she felt soft powder falling upon her head, and realised she had actually made it snow, too, but Ayla, instead of looking worried, just laughed.
"What are you going to do, Princess? A little chill isn't going to stop me." She snarled, and grabbed Mia's hand as the special snowflake materialised there, floating around for a few everlasting seconds as if it's summoner wasn't currently being man-handled, before settling on Ayla's forehead. It melted quickly, and then slowly disappeared, seeming to disappear into her skin. The sorceress' eyes softened for a moment, and her grip on Mia's wrist slackened just enough to allow her to pull free, but the strain upon her mind, her soul, even, was excruciating, and Ayla clearly had a stronger will than Hans, amazingly. She made multiple jerky movements, as if struggling to break free, only to be pulled back again, and the effort of keeping the mind control working made Mia's vision go blurry.
With a grunt, Ayla yanked her arm free of the control, and the rest of her body followed suit quickly after, so that in next to no time, her free will had returned, and now, she grinned at the Princess with an even colder glare. Exhausted from the effort, Mia simply lay on the floor, breathing heavily, too exhausted to move, her injured foot throbbing again, the pain sending waves of nausea through her.
"Tut, tut. Don't you know never to bite the hand that feeds you?" Ayla snapped, and the toddler just whimpered again, raising her head feebly, before groaning and laying it back down upon the snowy pillow. Through partially opened eyes, she could see the woman approaching, and as she closed them, she saw a bright flash of light.
With a deep breath, she let her body go numb in the snow, and though she tried to fight it, she could already feel herself drifting off.