The Royal Ball
Chancellor Johan stood with his back to an ice wall, a passageway opening to his left. “Your Majesty, I have been talking to the guests. There’re a few things you should prepare for.”
“Such as?” Elsa’s voice came through the passageway, from a back room of the ice palace where she worked to finish her preparations for the ball.
Chancellor Johan continued. “Many guests have expressed quite a bit of concern about you, and your control of your Power. They are worried, even scared. Expect to have your every move watched.”
“That sounds rather impolite.”
“Several guests came here to examine you on behest of their government. They are essentially messengers. Do not hold them to blame for their behavior.”
Elsa walked out, wearing Anna’s two gifts: The tailored version of the ice gown and the silver ring crown, allowing her to wear her hair down, her single braid draped forward, over her left shoulder and across her heart. “I have nothing to hide when it comes to my Power.”
Johan looked alarmed at Elsa’s appearance before quickly regaining his composure. “Your Majesty, we have discussed this. I . . .”
Elsa raised her hand, silencing him. “I will appear as I wish in my palace. My guests expect the Snow Queen and they shall have her. Now announce me.” She had spent most of the day rehearsing her little speech.
Outside the palace, Anna stood by the entrance, welcoming guests. The sun had just touched the horizon, and a cold wind blew in from across the fjord. Anna kept warm by staying wrapped in her white, fur-lined calf-length cloak. In the gathering dark, she saw Kristoff coming up the road, riding in one of the carriages being used to transport the guests.
“You made it! I was getting worried,” she said.
“I had a little trouble with the clothes your tailor found for me. I’ve never dressed formally before.”
“They belonged to my father. You look wonderful! Let’s go in.”
Kristoff stopped to admire the blue gown under Anna’s cloak. “What are you wearing? Did the Queen make you a copy of her dress?”
“Oh, no. I had this gown made by our tailor. It’s not ice, it’s cloth, designed to look like Elsa’s ice gown. I had one made for Elsa too, only she does not have to wear this fur cloak to stay warm.”
Kristoff looked to the west, to where the setting sun was hidden behind structure of the palace. “Do we have a little time? We have a clear horizon tonight, we should be able to see the green flash.”
“I’ll show you. Let’s walk over here, to where we can see the sun.” Kristoff lead Anna around the flying buttresses supporting the palace, to the cliff edge. “As the sun sets,” he explained, “the last little bit, just before it disappears, turns green. You can only see it if there are no clouds blocking the horizon.”
“You’re making that up.”
“No, I see it quite often. It’s easier to see if you’re in the mountains, looking over the ocean.”
They reached the cliff edge, seeing that only a little slice of the sun showed above the horizon.
“Now watch closely, for that last little speck of sun.” Kristoff said, pointing with one arm, while wrapping the other about Anna. Together, they watched the sun disappear. With the sun’s last light, Anna sighed with wonder.
She turned to Kristoff with a delighted smile. “It really was green. I had no idea.”
“Sailors consider seeing it a sign of good luck.”
“Shall we go in?”
The two walked back to the entranceway, and then climbed the stairs to the great hall. As they entered, they heard the chancellor announcing Elsa.
“Queen Elsa of Arendelle!” Chancellor Johan proclaimed, carefully hiding his annoyance.
Elsa walked forward, stepped onto the dais, and gave a slight bow.
“My turn, see you in a minute. Here hold this.” Anna took off the heavy cloak, handing the garment to Kristoff. She composed herself and walked to the dais as the Chancellor announced her as well. Anna stepped up and stood beside her sister, the two showing off their near identical dresses.
“You wore that?” whispered Elsa to Anna.
“Sure. Why not?”
“We should not wear the same thing. We look like a couple of book ends.”
“Sorry. I thought we would look good together. I’ll get my fur cloak soon, otherwise I’ll freeze. At least the guests dressed warmly.” The word had been sent to the guests that they should dress for the cold, even if that meant compromising a purely formal look.
Before Anna had a chance to retrieve her cloak, Duke Marcus, accompanied by his brother Anders, came forward and requested a dance. Both women accepted.
As she moved about the dance floor, Anna caught a few glimpses of Elsa and Marcus, enough to see he knew how to lead, carefully guiding her so that neither she nor anyone else stepped on her train.
Anders also knew what to do to avoid any entanglement. Looking at her dress, he asked “Princess Anna, are you like your sister in that you cannot feel cold?”
“No! I’m freezing. In fact, could you guide us over there?” she asked, tilting her head to here Kristoff stood holding Anna’s fur cloak. He expertly led her to the side so she could retrieve the item. Anna continued. “The Queen does feel cold. She talks about how nice and refreshing it feels. But I have never heard her complain about being too cold.”
“I’m curious, how large is the Queen’s army of snowmen?”
Anna looked at Anders, surprise showing in her face. “What? She has no army. Well, the Royal Guard. She only made one snow monster, and we have not seen him for months.”
“Isn’t that him, right over there?”
Anna looked where her partner indicated and saw Olaf. She had not known he was in attendance. Some guests watched him talk and dance about, apparently relating some story. “Oh, that’s Olaf. He’s no monster, or a soldier. He’s just . . . Olaf. As children, Elsa and I used to make snowmen that looked like him. Somehow Elsa made one that’s alive.”
“Are you saying there’s some other snow monster wandering about?”
Anna stopped, releasing her grip. “I think I do not like your tone.” She turned and walked back to the dais. Anders’ eyes followed her before noticing the disapproving looks from the other guests.
Anna stepped onto the dais and sat on her throne, gathering the fur around her. A few minutes later Elsa also returned, a troubled look on her face.
“What happened?” Anna asked.
“Duke Marcus . . .it was as if he was scared to touch me. Like I would bite him or something.”
“Or freeze him. I had an odd experience as well. His brother thinks you have a rampaging army of snow monsters.”
The two exchanged concerned looks. “People are a little scared. We need to reassure them.” Elsa said.
Another guest came forward and Johan announced him. “Prince Harold of the Southern Isles.” Startled, both women rose to their feet.
“What? Who?” Anna exclaimed.
“The Southern Isles? Are you any relation to Prince Hans?” Elsa said, her voice laced with tension and anger.
“Your Majesty, I regret to say that Hans is indeed my younger brother.”
Both women remembered Prince Hans distinctly. He first seduced Anna, getting her to accept a marriage proposal. A couple of days later, he tried to kill Anna, seize the throne of Arendelle, sentence Elsa to death, then kill her himself, all in the space of an hour.
“I wish to apologize for the actions of Hans. I can assure you, my kingdom does not take his actions lightly, and he will spend the rest of his days in prison. As recompense, I wish to present you with these gifts.” He bowed while holding two small boxes in his extended hands, one for each sister.
Elsa took hers. Harold watched her intently as she opened the lid. The box held a necklace, a single diamond on a silver chain. She looked at Anna, seeing she held a similar piece, one with a ruby red gem on a golden chain. Elsa lifted hers from the box, admiring the diamond’s cool sparkle.
“Your Majesty, if I may?” Harold asked.
Elsa handed Harold the necklace, then tilted her head and lifted her hair out of the way so he could fasten the clasp. She felt his hands brush the skin of her neck. Touching her throat, she could feel that the short chain placed the diamond high on her chest, at the collarbone. Then she watched Anna receive hers.
“Thank you. I hope we can put the past events behind us and have continued good relations with the Southern Isles,” said Elsa.
Prince Harold bowed, and moved off.
“Nicely said, sis.” Anna said, her voice low.
“I’ve been practicing.”
“I’m sort of surprised you sent the Southern Isles an invitation. I don’t remember seeing a reply.”
“Nor I. I told Johan to invite everyone who attended my coronation. I remember excluding the Duke of Weselton and Prince Hans. I’ll check later.”
“His Majesty, King Ragnar of Cliffdale,” announced Johan.
“Your Majesty.” Elsa gave him a little bow.
“Your Majesty.” Ragnar returned the bow. An older man, the King’s fair skin had a few lines, giving character to his handsome face. A small amount of grey accented his dark hair and beard. His grey eyes, speckled with black, regarded Elsa with interest and kindness.
“Could you recommend a place where we can talk?” he asked.
Elsa indicated a small table with two chairs, partially hidden behind the columns supporting the grand stairway. The location had been chosen as an informal meeting place where one could have a little privacy without cutting oneself off from the party.
Once they both arrived and sat, Elsa realized she still held the jewelry box. She set the container on the table off to the side. “You have some sort of issue with your Kingdom?” she began.
“Yes,” replied the King. “The problem began about three weeks ago. Something happened that took all the beauty and joy out of my main village. The people have become despondent, melancholy. Almost as if their spirit has been frozen.”
“That does not sound like any effect of my Power. You say this problem started three weeks ago?”
“Yes, well after your accidental winter. Even that had only a small effect at Cliffdale.”
Anna came over to Elsa with Kristoff in tow and reached for Elsa’s hand. She raised her arm to the side, freely offering it to Anna, while keeping her attention focused on the King.
“Your winter brought us little more than a small snow flurry and some ice in the harbor. A couple of days later, the weather cleared and returned to normal. This new . . .” The King trailed off, his attention attracted by Anna’s activities.
Elsa followed his gaze. Anna had borrowed Elsa’s Power to make an odd lump of ice.
“That’s a beautiful, ah, porcupine,” said Kristoff.
“It’s an ice swan!”
“Yes, of course. I see that this is it’s . . . ”
“That’s a wing.”
They looked at the misshapen ice sculpture, laughing before wandered off, hand in hand.
King Ragnar turned back to Elsa. “You lead a very interesting life.”
“It can be.” Elsa stifled a small giggle.
The King resumed. “The timing does not work out. Your activities occurred several weeks before our problem. Unless you have been using your abilities since?”
“I use my Power several times a day. It’s part of me.”
“Usually I use it for small things, nothing like before, when I could not control it. Maybe you do not know the entire story.”
“I was unable to attend your coronation”
“I had an argument with Anna. I became upset and accidentally released my Power in front of all my guests. Until then, I had been keeping it secret. My accident scared everyone. It scared me. I ran in fear, up to the North Mountain. That’s where I made the first ice palace, and at the time I expected to live the remainder of my life there, away from anyone I could hurt. I had not realized what my Power had done. The town, the fjord, everything had been frozen. My fear is what froze everything. It was overwhelming. Since then, the only times I have used my Power extensively was a demonstration to my Captain of the Guard, then to repel the Weselton invasion two weeks ago, and finally to make this palace, which I did yesterday.”
“So you can see why I do not think you are the cause. However, the problem persists. My kingdom is dying. The people are losing their will. The fishing fleets are getting smaller as more and more sailors don’t bother reporting for work. When they do set sail, they come back with meager catches. The entire village is falling apart.”
Elsa became more concerned. Not only did the King’s people need help, also, much of Cliffdale’s fish catch came through Arendelle as part of their trade agreements with customers farther north. This curse would affect her people too.
“What do you think I can do to help?”
“Come to Cliffdale. See the situation for yourself. Maybe you or your power can be of some assistance.”
Elsa considered. She could think of little else she could do, making for an easy choice. “Very well. I’ll start preparations as soon as possible.”
“Excellent. I’m sure you will do all you can.” King Ragnar paused for a moment, then resumed. “I must say you are doing well with dispelling the rumors about you.”
“Rumors? What rumors?”
“There are several. You care for no one but yourself, your skin is like ice, your power is out of control and everything you touch becomes frozen.”
Elsa smiled. “That’s partly what this ball is about.” She searched for an item to pick up. Her eye alighting on the jewelry box, she reached for it. “As you can see I can touch anything . . . ”
Elsa stopped, a sudden series of thoughts tumbling through her mind. Prince Harold handed me this box. He watched me intently as I took it. Despite the cold, he did not wear any gloves, allowing him to feel my skin when he placed the necklace on me.
Anger filled her. She reached to her throat and tore the chain off her neck. “This wasn’t a present! It was a test!”
In her anger, Elsa forgot Ragnar, or proper etiquette. She surged from the chair and stormed into the center of the great hall, scattering the dancers. “Harold! Prince Harold! Where are you?” The color emanating from the walls changed, from blue-green to yellow. The guests looked about nervously, then backed away from the Queen.
The musicians stopped playing as Elsa scanned the crowd. She saw the Prince by a brazier, warming his hands. He turned toward her, a concerned look on his face. “Your Majesty?”
Elsa came closer and held out the necklace. “What was this? A present? Or a test?”
“Your Majesty, please! Let me explain!”
She threw the necklace at Harold’s feet. “You admit it? Does your entire family know nothing except lies and deception?” With growing rage, she took another step forward as snow began to swirl about her. Instinctively, she raised her right hand to waist level, an upturned palm flickering with white power.
Prince Harold raised his hands and took two steps back. Everyone else took three. Except for one.
“Your Majesty, do not blame the messenger.”
Elsa stopped and shot a glance at the speaker, Chancellor Johan. He stood to the side, a few feet in front of the guests, imperturbable, a solid lighthouse in a stormy sea.
She lowered her hand, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. About her, the snow settled to the floor. When she opened her eyes, she pinned the Prince in a cold, steel-grey stare. With as much control as she could muster, she ordered, “Explain yourself.”
Harold lowered his hands, looked at the floor for a moment, then bravely raised his gaze to the Queen’s, and addressed her. “After Hans returned in disgrace, we decided to offer you and your sister gifts as an apology. When we were informed of this ball, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to present them to you. But Hans kept making several outrageous claims about you, about how you and your power were totally out of control.”
“You believed him?”
“Few did. However, despite his crimes, he continues to have supporters. The royal court decided we should try to find the truth for ourselves. I would come to deliver the presents, to observe you, and report back what I learned.”
“What will you report?”
Harold stooped, recovering the necklace. “That Queen Elsa is a beautiful young woman who is fully capable of controlling her powers, even when insulted by a buffoon.”
Elsa looked off to the side, thinking about how to respond. Should she accept this apology? His explanation made sense. Then again, could Harold be tying to deceive her once more? Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Johan give her the slightest of nods. Very well.
Harold still held the necklace, his arm extended. Calming herself, Elsa realized she had to demonstrate to him, to everyone, that she had accepted his apology. After regaining her regal poise, she gestured toward the floor, sending a wave of Power through the ice. The color relaxed, changing from yellow back to blues and greens. Calmly, she walked to Harold, turned and moved her hair aside. He understood and replaced the necklace. With a glance from Elsa, the musicians began to play. She turned to face him and waited, an expectant smile on her face. Let’s see how he likes being tested.
A moment of hesitation, then he bowed and offered his hand. “Would Your Majesty care for a dance?”
She placed her hand in his, and he acted without hesitation. Apparently he trusted her to not freeze him on the spot. Soon others resumed dancing as well. The ball returned to normal.
“That was rather exciting,” Prince Harold said.
“Maybe a little too exciting. I don’t think I would have reacted quite so strongly if it were not for my experiences with Hans.”
“I’m beginning to wonder if that was his plan all along.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m thinking that he knew his lies were in fact lies. He said them in order to sow suspicion. Hans has made some rather wild accusations, including at once you attacked him with a giant snowball while we was working in the prison stables. Perhaps he hoped that when I came here to see for myself, you would realize I had, ah, ulterior motives, and in a fit of rage, lose control. Hans could then claim he was right all along. In addition, it does not help that, officially, I was not invited.”
“I wondered about that.”
“I took advantage of custom. It’s uncommon for royalty to be turned away. I must apologize again.”
Several thoughts ran through Elsa’s mind as she considered what Harold said. She had never dealt with this sort of plotting before.
Harold decided to change the subject. “This palace is amazing. You can change the color of the ice?”
“If I wish. Sometimes the ice changes on its own. When I’m angry, the ice tends to gain a yellow cast.”
“What is even more amazing is that you made the palace in the few weeks you had since the invitations went out.”
“I hope this is not another test.”
“May I plead curiosity?”
Elsa smiled, remembering that she planned this ball partly to help satisfy people’s curiosity about her and her Power. “I made this great hall in less than a minute. The back rooms took a bit longer, as my architect insisted I follow his plans.”
Harold stiffened, missed a dance step, looking surprised and astonished. Elsa realized that most of the guests had little idea of what she could do.
“Here, let me show you.” Elsa said. They stopped dancing and she led him off to the side of the hall, between the musicians and the refreshments, at the base of the spiral stair. “Now, strike a heroic pose.”
Harold did so. Elsa studied him for a few seconds, extended one hand to her side, keeping her gaze on Harold. Power flowed, ice formed. Seconds later Prince Harold saw himself rendered as an ice sculpture. Entranced by the sight, he walked to the newly formed ice. He touched the sculpture with a finger, as if to see if it was real. Behind him Elsa stifled a giggle as she watched his reaction.
Much later, Elsa collapsed into her throne, exhausted. She looked at Anna, already resting in hers. Anna had pulled her legs onto the seat of the throne, covering them and herself with her heavy cape. Only her head showed above the fur.
“Is that the last of them?” Anna asked, watching a few guests leave though the main entrance.
“I think so,” replied Elsa. “All the guests are headed down the hill. Even Olaf is leaving.”
They both watched the little snowman walk to the coat and hat check. “One flurry please,” he said. Somewhat apprehensively, a servant used a broom to push a small cloud out to Olaf, and then watched in wonder as he walked under the cloud and adjusted its position with his twig arms. He turned and waved goodbye to the sisters.
“How does that even work?” asked Elsa, confusion showing on her face.
“If you don’t know, who does?” asked Anna.
Elsa could do nothing but shrug.
“Quite a night. And we received jewelry,” Anna said, smiling. “I heard you had some excitement.”
Elsa related the events, including how she came close to using her Power on Harold. “It all worked out in the end. We are still on good terms with the Southern Isles.”
“I can see the travel brochures now.” Anna held up an arm, moving her hand left to right as if framing the words. “Come to Arendelle, see the ice palace, attend a royal ball, be terrorized by Queen Elsa.”
“You’re not helping.”
“We could sell commemorative plaques to all the visitors. ‘I survived an audience with the Snow Queen.’” Anna turned to Elsa with a bright smile.
Elsa shot her sister a dirty look. “Where were you all that time?”
“Kristoff and I were up on the balcony, watching the storm come in over the fjord. It’s starting to snow out there.”
“All you were doing was watching the weather?”
Anna just smiled back.
Elsa rolled her eyes. “Maybe we better head home ourselves. I had been thinking of sleeping here.”
“We have beds? I don’t remember beds being brought up.”
In reply Elsa extended the fingers on one hand, making a little snow.
“What were you planning to do? Make a bed of ice? Sleep on a mattress of snow?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Anna regarded her sister for a second, then fought her way to her feet. “Come on, get up, and let’s get going.”
The two started across the great hall. “What did King Ragnar want?” Anna asked.
Elsa told her about the problems his village was having. “I agreed to go there and see if I can do anything.”
“That’s a long journey. The road through the mountains winds around so much that it will take about a week to get there. Then another week to get home.”
“It’s only two days by sea.”
Anna halted abruptly, and turned to Elsa, reaching for her arm. “By sea? Elsa, our parents . . .”
Elsa remembered. Three years ago their parents embarked on what they thought would be a two-week trip by sea. They never returned. “I know. King Ragnar offered to escort my ship on the voyage to his kingdom. A sea voyage is still safer than an overland trip.”
They resumed walking to the entrance. The few remaining servants awaited them at the doors. “Will you watch over the Kingdom for me while I’m gone?”
“Of course.” replied Anna. “Just make sure to come back. Now, I want to get into a nice, warm bed! Let’s head down this mountain and back home.”