Before heading to the castle, Elsa and Hans collected all the weapons from the troops and gathered them into an orderly block; with the leader in the front, Elsa and Hans in the back so they can keep an eye on everyone. As they started to move out, Elsa leaned over and whispered to Hans, "Thank you."
Hans raised his eyebrows, "Pardon?"
Elsa couldn't help but let a small smile spread across her lips, "What you did back there…spotting that man hiding in the forest, pushing me out of the way before the arrow struck me, stopping that man with your knife…it was all pretty impressive."
Hans grinned, "It was my pleasure, Your Majesty." Elsa felt a little disappointed that Hans was speaking to her formally again, she felt a lot closer to him when they were on a first-name basis, but she understood that as long as the troops knew Elsa was a queen, then Hans must refer to her as such. Hans let out a deep sigh which caused Elsa to give him a side glance, "Is everything okay? You aren't hurt, are you?"
Hans swallowed, "I don't think so…"
Elsa bent down to pick up an apple that fell out of the satchel, but faltered when she noticed a few drops of some unknown substance on the ground, "Hans?" She peered closer and touched it with two fingers, then gasped, "Blood?!" She quickly stood up and authoritatively commanded the troop to stop, "Someone is bleeding badly, check for any signs of injury!"
The men starting searching themselves and their neighbors up and down for any sign of bleeding, but they found nothing. Hans cautiously looked at Elsa, "Are you sure it was blood?"
Elsa checked herself and she also couldn't find any blood, "I'm pretty sure…" She froze and noticed that Hans was still wearing his brown coat. She suddenly raced towards him and practically tore the coat right off of him, revealing a large red blood stain by his lower left rib cage. Elsa gasped, "You are hurt! The arrow must have clipped you after all!" She signaled to the leader, "Do you have anything that can help stop the bleeding?"
The leader shook his head, "I'm afraid not, Queen Elsa…any supplies we had were strapped to the horses, but they've all run off."
Two men supported Hans and led him to a large boulder so he could sit and rest. Elsa's mind was reeling; the choices you make on this journey, Elsa, can affect the rest of your future. Elsa snapped her fingers, "That's it!" She patted down the coat she was carrying and found the scarf that she used when they first arrived. Elsa rushed over to Hans, "Someone take off his shirt…" Elsa slightly cringed when she saw the wound; it was a lot deeper than she thought, "Alright…let's hope this works." Elsa wrapped the scarf around Han's chest and made sure to tie it tightly, making Hans let out a sharp grunt, "Sorry, but the tighter the better." After the scarf seem secured, Elsa thought up one more idea, "Just to be safe…" She gently placed a hand on the scarf and delicately formed a very thin layer of ice over the wound, hoping it would temporarily help stop the bleeding, "Perhaps it's a little unorthodox, but you'll be fine."
Hans smirked, "Why is it that I always find you attending to my wounds?"
Elsa rolled her eyes, "Because, Hans, you are extremely accident prone."
Hans laughed, then grimaced when a sharp pain hit him, "We better get back to the village as soon as possible, because it looks like it's about to start rain-"
A loud clap of thunder crashed, making everyone jump, followed by a sudden down pour. One of the troops spotted an awning made of rock from a nearby cliff, "Over there! There's some shelter!"
Everyone ran towards the awning, while two men helped Hans reach the shelter just as another clap of thunder rang out. As everyone tried to squeeze underneath the small awning, Elsa sat down behind Hans, "Well this is just terrific…"
Hans confusingly looked back at her, "Can't you do something about this? You were able to change the weather in Arendelle from summer to winter, then back to summer again."
Elsa firmly shook her head, "I can only create snowy wintery weather," Another clap of thunder crashed, "You want me to add snow to this?"
Hans furrowed his brows, "But you brought back summer, didn't you?"
Elsa shook her head, again, "I didn't bring it back, it was already summer…I just reversed the storm I had created."
Hans nodded, "I see." Hans's eyes began to feel heavy, "Please excuse me, Your Majesty, but I think I'm going to get some shut eye. It doesn't seem as if the storm will lighten up anytime soon and I need to regain my strength."
Elsa thoughtfully nodded, "I understand…" She tried to scoot over so Hans could lie down, but there was no room. Elsa made an executive decision and leaned back against the rock, sitting with her legs crossed, "Hans, don't take this the wrong way, but, you can place your head in my lap."
Hans surprisingly raised his eyebrows, "Are you sure about this?"
Elsa folded up her coat and placed it on her lap as a pillow for him, "I think so…just do it before I change my mind."
Hans lightly chuckled, "Okay…if you're sure." He carefully leaned back and placed his head on her lap, at first he looked awkward but then he quickly got over it, "Hmm…not bad."
Elsa laughed, "Comfortable?"
Hans gratefully smiled, "Very much so, yes." He looked around and noticed that everyone else was already asleep, "Thanks, Elsa."
Elsa smiled, "It's the least I could do after what you did for me today."
Hans closed his eyes, "Why don't you get some sleep, too…you deserve it."
I've been asleep for thirty-six hours straight; I couldn't possibly fall asleep now. Elsa placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, "I'm okay…I'll be just fine."
Elsa noticed that when she put her hand on Hans's shoulder a small smile grew upon his lips; Mama and Papa were right…he really does care about me.
As soon as the rain stopped, the sun's rays streamed through the clouds, signaling that it was morning. Hans was the first to wake up, "What time is it?"
Elsa, who had stayed up the whole night, whispered, "About an hour past sunrise."
Hans jumped and blinked his eyes several times at her, "Oh! Good morning, Elsa."
Elsa smirked, "I didn't mean to scare you."
Hans stretched, "Scare? Nah…you didn't scare me, startled me perhaps. I just temporarily forgot you were there."
He slowly sat up with Elsa's help, "How are you feeling?"
Hans grimaced, "Good as new."
Elsa helped Hans get on his feet, "You're lying through your teeth."
Hans chuckled, "Maybe a little…but in all honesty, I do feel better than I did last night. And I have you to thank for that."
Elsa jokingly rolled her eyes, "Well I wasn't going to let you bleed all over the place…because that would make for a terrible mess that I would not want to clean up."
Hans playfully pouted, "You wound me, Elsa."
Elsa laughed as Hans looked around and admired the beauty of nature after the rain, he sauntered over to the edge of the cliff and softly recited, "Your love comforts me like sunshine after the rain. If you admire the rainbow after the rain then, why not love again after the pain?"
Elsa raised her eyebrows in surprise, "Hans?"
He kept his intense stare over the scenery, "It's something my mother used to say to me after every rainstorm…"
Elsa smiled, "Your mother seemed like a wonderful person."
He nodded, "You and Anna remind me a lot of her…"
Elsa raised her eyebrows, "Really? How so?"
Hans continued staring off into the distance, "Well, at a younger age, my mother shared the same characteristics as Anna; free-spirited, loving, playful, optimistic, fearless, feisty, and kind-hearted. Perhaps that's what captivated me when I first met Anna. But, anyways, once she realized that I was being treated badly by my brothers, she became more like you; protective, regal, elegant, fierce, powerful, caring, reserved. She decided it was time for her to grow up and step in more, I suppose."
Elsa looked up at Hans, "Why did your brothers treat you so poorly? There must be a reason."
Hans looked down at Elsa, his eyes meeting hers, "A number of reasons actually; I was the youngest, I was the "unlucky thirteenth" child, I wasn't supposed to be born…I was a mistake. Probably one of the biggest reasons was that I was very close to my mother, and being too close to your mother apparently makes you seem weak as a man or as a son…therefore I was picked on a lot."
Elsa frowned, "There is absolutely no logic in that reasoning."
Hans shook his head, "My brothers are anything but logical or reasonable…which is what worries me about going to see Kendrick."
Elsa expression softened, "You don't have to see him; we can just go to Eir's place, get the antidote, and jump on the next ship to Arendelle."
Hans looked away, "It's something that I need to do. I don't know why, but I feel like I need to confront my brother."
Elsa and Hans heard the troops stir and decided to end their conversation there. They turned towards the troops and made their way over to the group as they slowly woke up and got their things together. In about five minutes, they were back on the road again.
After a silent five hour hike, the troops spotted the village from a short distance. Elsa glanced at her scarf that was underneath Hans's shirt and coat; I sure hope nobody notices me…
Hans felt her gaze and noticed where she was looking, "Don't worry…I'll protect you."
For the first time, his words actually comforted Elsa. Before their journey, Elsa would have spat out, "I can protect myself", but now she gave Hans a kind smile, "I know…"
Fortunately for them, it was still morning so not many people were out and about. Hans took account of the lack of people; probably still hung-over from the night's festivities.
As they made their way to the castle, Hans suddenly stopped walking. Elsa turned around and looked at him with worried eyes, "What's wrong, Hans?"
Hans signaled Elsa to come closer, "The Balembo fruit?"
Elsa gestured her head forward, "Eir's shop is still coming up…we haven't passed it yet."
Hans discreetly nodded, "I know, but…I've been thinking about it and I want you to stay in the village with Eir."
Elsa took a step back, "What?"
Hans put his hand on her shoulder, "I don't want you to meet Kendrick-"
Elsa shrugged his hand off, "Why? Is it that you don't want me to meet your brother or you don't want me to meet your former girlfriend?"
Hans looked dumbfounded, "This has nothing to do with Annaliese-"
Elsa gave him an impish grin, "Good…then we will go visit the King and Queen together as soon as I drop off the ingredient." Then Elsa strode off ahead of everyone else, making sure that nobody in the troop knew where she was headed.
As soon as Elsa turned the corner she tried her best to casually fast walk to Eir's shops as quickly as she could without looking conspicuous. Before she even got a chance to knock, the door swung open and Eir pulled her inside, swiftly locking the door behind her. Eir brought Elsa in for a quick hug, "Elsa, you're back…" She pulled apart from the hug and gave Elsa the once over, "…and in one piece too! That's always a plus! Did you get it?"
Elsa just laughed and held up the fruit, "Yes, I got the Balembo."
Eir squealed and grabbed the fruit, "Perfect! It'll take me about three days to whip up a vial of the antidote, so you and Hans will have to sit tight for a few more days." She quickly stopped what she was doing and looked around the room, "Where's Hans? Is he okay?"
Elsa nodded, "Hans is okay…well not exactly 'okay' we had a little run in with-
Eir walked into her laboratory, "Some bandits who are actually spies for the King?"
Elsa followed her into the other room, "I forgot that you had the power of foresight. But yes, then Hans got clipped with an arrow and was a bloody mess, but I managed to somewhat patch things up."
Eir started pulling out several vials, "You can bring him here and I'll look over what you did."
Elsa started to wring her hands, "Actually, Hans and I were on our way to the castle-
Eir nearly dropped the vial in her hand, "CASTLE?! For the love of all that's good, why would you go to the castle? "
Elsa wore an earnest expression, "Hans needs to confront his brother about things and since our cover was blown, we might as well stay in the castle so we can avoid as much trouble as possible…that way you can solely focus on the antidote instead of worrying about our safety."
Eir looked at Elsa and sighed, "Your Majesty, you are positively persuasive when you want to be." Eir cracked a small smile, "Go ahead…just don't have too much fun and forget about little ol' me."
Elsa laughed, "I don't think that's possible." She started for the door, "Thank you, Eir!"
After Elsa left, Eir chuckled to herself, "Well…I didn't see that coming."
Hans was trying to slow down the troops who wanted nothing more than to get back to the castle so they could get something to eat and drink. He was hoping that they wouldn't realize that they outnumbered Hans and could easily do what they wanted. Luckily for him, the leader of the troops feared Hans since the knife incident in the forest, so he was not going to be the first one to bring up the idea. The leader casually walked up to Hans, "Sir, I don't mean to pry but why were you and Queen Elsa visiting our forest?"
Hans subtly searched for Elsa, "We originally came to deliver food and supplies for the kingdom…it's a new trade thing the Queen is working on."
The man nodded, "I see…so why were you two trying to avoid King Kendrick?"
Hans looked a bit agitated, "Kendrick is one of my twelve older brothers, all of which treated me poorly when I was a child. Kendrick was one of the worst, though. Therefore, in order to avoid opening old wounds, I figured it would be easier to come and go without seeing him."
The man remained quiet for a moment, then decided to press Hans further, "That doesn't necessarily explain why you and the Queen were in the forest…"
Hans was about to tell the guy to take a long walk off a short cliff until Elsa came trotting up behind him, "Okay, I'm back! Let's get going!"
The man bowed and walked away, "Yes, Queen Elsa."
Elsa felt the tension between Hans and the man, "Is everything alright?"
Hans huffed, "Some people just need to learn to keep their nose out of other people's business."
Before they knew it, the troop was walking through the castle's large steel gates into a very depressing courtyard. Elsa felt a chill go down her spine, "This place is anything but friendly."
The palace guards looked at the two foreigners with steely gazes and unwelcoming expressions. Hans sarcastically commented, "I heard Sperca was one of the most hospitable kingdoms around these parts."
Elsa covered her mouth in order to hold in a laugh, "Be nice, Hans." He said nothing in response, but instead he wore a smug expression on his face.
The troop came to a stop as Elsa and Hans stepped up front and center. Everything was very quiet and still, until a handsome young man came down the steps. He was definitely around Hans's age, tall, broad shoulders, chiseled facial features, dark brown hair that was neatly combed back, a little bit of facial hair on and around his chin giving him a roguish look, and deep chocolate brown eyes to finish the ensemble. Elsa raised an eyebrow; that cannot be Kendrick could it? He doesn't have the genetic sideburns that Hans has…nevertheless he is very handsome.
The man stood before Hans and Elsa with a complacent expression, "Captain, who are these people?"
The leader of the troop walked over, "Sir, this is Queen Elsa of Arendelle and-"
Hans interrupted before the Captain could reveal his true identity, "Her servant…sir." Hans politely bowed.
The man briefly acknowledged Hans because his eye were transfixed upon the beautiful Queen of Arendelle, "My name is William, and I am the royal advisor to King Kendrick." William respectfully bowed to Elsa, "It is a pleasure to meet you Queen Elsa."
Elsa slightly bowed her head, "Thank you…I wish to speak with King Kendrick about trade alliances and other matters, if he is available."
William seemed a bit embarrassed, "My apologies, Queen Elsa, but I'm afraid that the King is still asleep…he, uh…he had a long night."
Elsa curtly looked up at the castle, "Is he hung-over?"
William shifted uncomfortably, "Ah…yes. But I can offer you and your servant a room in the castle if you wish to stay a few nights?"
Elsa softened her expression, "Very well, then. Thank you, William."
William smiled a very charming smile, "My pleasure, Queen Elsa."
While all this was happening, Hans tried so hard to keep himself from gagging over how hard this man was trying to flirt with Elsa. Eventually, when they climbed up the steps leading to the inside of the castle, Hans managed to sneak a childish eye roll behind William's back. Elsa caught the eye roll and playfully slapped Hans's arm, signaling him to remain on his best behavior.
As they made their way through the corridors, William continued to talk about the castle's history, artwork, artifacts, etc. Hans honestly couldn't care less, but Elsa tried hard to remain interested and engaged with the conversation, "You seem to know a whole lot about this castle, how long have you've been working here?"
William looked around the halls, "All my life…my mother started off as a cleaning maid here but now she is currently a lady's maid to Queen Annaliese. This castle is where I grew up…this is the only place I've ever been."
Elsa thoughtfully looked at him, "You didn't go outside and play with the other boys in the village?"
William shook his head, "By the time I was born, the revolution was slowly starting up, and my mother wanted to avoid any sort of trouble so she just kept me here. It is just as dangerous for a castle maid or footman to step foot outside these castle walls as it is for any monarch."
Elsa's eyes met his, "That's terrible…did you have anyone to play with? Friends, siblings?
William sadly looked down, "Nope…I'm an only child. And no other children were raised here, either. What about you, do you have any siblings?"
Elsa smiled, "Just one, my younger sister Anna."
William smiled, "Well one is better than none, right?"
By this point they had reached the guest bedroom for Hans and Elsa. William unlocked the door and held it open for the Queen, "Queen Elsa, if there is anything that you need, feel free to ask me at anytime."
As Elsa and Hans stepped into the room, Elsa looked back and nodded, "I will…thank you, William." With one more polite bow, William was dismissed.
Elsa closed the door as Hans dejectedly sat on the bed, "You forgot didn't you?"
Elsa leaned against the door, "Forgot what?"
Hans took off his coat, revealing the blood stain on his white shirt, "I'm still bleeding, you know after saving your life?"
Elsa's jaw dropped in shock; she quickly opened the door and called for William to get a doctor. She closed the door again and looked guiltily over at Hans, "I am so sorry…I feel terrible!
Hans leaned back against the pillows, "No, no…it's fine. I can understand how all that flirting can make a girl's mind turn to mush."
Elsa crossed her arms, "I was not flirting."
Hans teasingly looked over at Elsa, "If you say so…but one thing is for sure, that man has got it bad for you. You could practically see the hearts forming in his eyes and drool coming out of his mouth."
Elsa laughed and sat at the edge of the bed, "Play nice, Hans."