It has been about 5 months since Elsa's coronation as Queen of Arendelle, as well as the events that day which changed her life so dramatically. Since the day of her accident involving her sister Anna, Elsa had spent her days in isolation, afraid of hurting others with her powers over Ice and snow, like she'd hurt her sister; and fear of others learning about the powers she'd kept hidden, of their fear driving them to hurt her. Even greater than her fear was the loneliness that she felt in her isolation, a loneliness that only grew stronger and more painful 3 years ago when her parents, the King and Queen, were lost at sea, leaving Anna and her alone in a mostly empty castle.
The day of Elsa's coronation was the day that all her fears came true. When she had a fight with Anna about her accepting the marriage proposal from the handsome prince Hans (a decision that Elsa now totally blamed herself for, due to her sister craving the love that Elsa had denied her at the time because she'd been afraid of hurting her again), Elsa was provoked into accidentally revealing her powers to the entire kingdom. When she fled to the North Mountain, she had inadvertently put Arendelle into a deep freeze that threatened everyone and provoked the Duke of Weselton into sending two of his men to try and assassinate her. And when her sweetly stubborn sister tracked her down to try and persuade her to return and set things right, Elsa's fear caused an outburst of power that came extremely close to killing Anna.
It was only when Anna had sacrificed herself to save Elsa from the duplicitous Hans, an act of true love that actually saved Anna from the ice in her heart that was killing her, it was then that Elsa saw that she'd been handling things all wrong. The key to controlling her powers was not being afraid of them, but rather accepting and using them, and love was the key to reversing the effects of her ice powers.
Since that day, Elsa had gained the acceptance of the people, become one of the most popular and loved monarchs Arendelle ever had. In fact, her popularity had started to become as big of a problem as her difficulty controlling her problems was, and as the now-strained relations with Weselton (with whom she cut off trade relations with due to the Duke's actions) and the Southern Islands (to whom she deported Hans back to) now threatened to be. Eventually, the frequent and increasing requests for her to use her powers led her to proclaiming certain "snow days", on which she would turn the palace courtyard into an ice rink and to create an area where the kids could build a snowman or two (which she assured their parents would not come to life like Olaf or Marshmallow.) Additionally, she declared that any requests for ice must instead be made to ice cutters like Elsa's now-official boyfriend Kristoff, who made their living on the sales of such.
If came as a relief when the first days of Winter arrived and Elsa was finally able to relax somewhat and just be herself. Even more so, Elsa was glad that the people's love for her did not lessen just because they didn't have as great of a need for her powers anymore. Not that she didn't use them this time of year, of course. With her new-found control, she was able to keep the fjord and the waters beyond free of any ice that may cause ships serious trouble, making Arendelle's port one of the safest in this corner of the world.
One of the things that she was most grateful for, though, was the renewed close relationship with her sister. One of her greatest regrets from the events past was that she allowed her own fear to keep her from spending more time with her sister when they were kids. And while they will never be able to get that time back, Elsa was determined that they will not waste another day.
And so it was that Elsa practically dragged Anna out of bed today and helped her get dressed, excitedly insisting that they cannot be late. Today was the start of the annual Winter Festival, and the one this year was especially significant for Elsa. Not only was it her first Festival as Queen, but it was also the first one that she'd been to since the accident that marked the start of her own dark days.
As they reached the field near the lake where the Festival was to be held, Elsa and Anna were greeted by cheers and applause by everyone present, and Anna received a kiss on the cheek from Kristoff, who'd been waiting by the entrance. As they made their way through the crowd, Elsa made no speeches but instead proceeded to the center of the clearing. Then, after asking everyone to take a few steps back, Elsa set to work on using her powers to create the centerpiece she'd been planning for this day. When she was finished, everyone gaped in awe at the giant ice sculpture she created. Over 25 feet tall and set on a large pedestal, also made of clear ice, were beautiful life-like statues of the late King and Queen looking happy and serene, their arms linked and their free hands raised in a wave, as if they themselves just arrived.
As the crowd passed by her, complimenting her on her work and thanking her for coming, as they went to pay their respects at the beautiful monument Elsa had just created, her servants Kai and Gerda laid comforting hands on her shoulders as Kai said, "Your parents would be so proud of you."
"I sure hope so," Elsa said as she smiled back at them.
Then, with the solemn moment through, the Winter Festival began in earnest.
There was events ranging from sledding and snowman building, to skiing and figure skating. Of course, lovable Olaf wanted to participate in them all, though he pouted a bit when informed that he wouldn't be allowed to take place in the Pie Eating Contest. Elsa herself didn't participate in most of them, but she took great delight in the joviality around her. Of course, one thing she did do was go skating with Anna, and Elsa had to admit that her sister was getting rather good at it. Elsa concluded that the time she's spent practicing with her since the coronation had really paid off, and when Kristoff took her place as Anna's partner, Elsa thought that she spotted more than a few jealous glances directed at him by the guys (even the ones who had partners), despite that Kristoff looked better suited to walking across the ice rather than skating gracefully across it.
So integrated was she in the happy atmosphere that almost felt it immediately, like a sudden drop in air pressure, as one of her soldiers came running into the clearing, and from the expression on his face he was not in a Festival mood.
"Your Highness!" the guard said in a frantic tone as soon as he caught his breath, "In the ocean out beyond the fjord, there's a….we actually don't know what it is! An unusual weather pattern?"
" 'Unusual weather pattern'?" Elsa repeated in confusion.
"That's the only way I could think to describe it, Your Highness," The soldier explained, "It looks like a low hanging cloud moving along the ocean's surface. However, it's rather small for a cloud, and it's not spreading out the way a fog cloud would be. And it's moving steadily towards the fjord."
That certainly does qualify it as being "unusual", Elsa thought to herself, It may be nothing more than a curious anomaly, but… Aloud, Elsa said, "I'm going to check it out real quick. You guys say here and enjoy the festival, and I'll let you know what I found out when I return."
Of course, nobody listened.
By the time Elsa and the soldier had reached the docks at the fjord, with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and most of the others from the Festival following behind her, they all saw that the anomaly had already moved past the fjord's threshold. As such, they all saw that the soldier's description was fairly accurate. What was moving across the water did indeed look like a small cloud, one that you might see on a warm summer's day. However, Elsa knew that clouds only appeared to be small because they were so high up in the sky. This, on the other hand, was on the surface of the water, and was not showing any signs of dispersing.
When the other soldiers, who had been watching the strange object guardedly, saw Elsa and the others approaching, they immediately took up defensive positions around her, with a couple taking point before Anna.
"What is it, Captain?" Elsa asked one of the soldiers.
"I do not know, your highness, but it has showed no sighs of slowing down or stopping since we first spotted it," the captain admitted, "I recommend that you and the princess retreat to the castle, and that the citizens return to their homes while we sort this matter out."
"Wait," Elsa said as an icicle with two flat ends formed in her right hand, "let's determine what this thing is before we start getting everyone alarmed."
Elsa then put the icicle to her eye and used it as a spy glass. Looking at the magnified image, Elsa still thought it looked like a cloud. A perfectly ordinary cloud, with the only odd things about it being its low altitude, and its formation at said altitude. Just as Elsa was about to give up on puzzling it out, she spotted something jutting out of the top of it. Concentrating on the icicle growing longer to increase the magnification, she saw that the object she spotted had a very distinctive shape.
"A crow's nest," Elsa breathed, then louder she said, "It's a ship! There's a ship in that cloud!"
This news spread through the watching crown like a wild fire as they began to discuss it nervously.
"Who is it?"
"Are we being attacked?"
"Mommy? Why is that ship traveling in a cloud?"
Elsa heard all of this, and even the captain's repeated suggestion that she get to safety, but her mind flashed back to that dreadful moment 3 years ago when her parents left on their trip and never returned. Back then, she'd prayed and hoped that they would turn up okay, that they merely had been blown off course by the storm and lost their way. However, when everyone gave up after finding no trace of them or their ship, eventually Elsa had to resign herself to the fact that they weren't coming back.
Looking though her Icicle again, she scanned the object all over until she saw the tattered remains of a flag on another mast jutting from the top of the cloud. There wasn't much left of it, but what little she saw told her that it wasn't her parent's ship, nor did it belong to any country that she was familiar with.
Her heart sinking from the surge of false hope, Elsa turned over who it might be in there. Either they were simple traveler or merchants who got caught up in that strange anomaly, in which case they could ne in trouble of crashing into the dock or another ship because they cannot see where they're going; or those inside may actually be creating that cloud somehow, in which case they may be attackers using the cover to hide their true intentions. Either way, Elsa decided that the cloud had to go!
Unleashing a wave of her power, Elsa directed it at the cloud cover in order to turn them into snow clouds that she could manipulate. As she started to move it away, however, what she saw shocked her so much that she lost her grip on the cloud and it moved back into place; the area of the hull she'd exposed had a large hole that went down to the water line, and it showed a hollow space inside that gave a clear view of the opposite hull, which was itself riddled with holes, and the clouds on the opposite side.
As she stared at it in shock, she heard the others muttering about it being a ghost ship. For one dreadful moment, she once again thought it might be her parents, coming back because they were displeased with her about creating a statue of them for the Winter Festival. As soon as that thought crossed her mind, however, she shook it off, as she'd concluded earlier that it couldn't possibly be her parents' ship. But who could it be, and how is it possible that the ship is still floating?
It was a moment before she realized that the captain of her guard was trying to get her attention. "Your Majesty?" the captain asked urgently, "Your orders?"
Before she could say anything, the ship shed the cloud cover on its own as it drew nearer to the docks, and Elsa heard more than a few people screaming in fright. She couldn't blame them; this vessel looked more ghost than ship. With tattered sails, whole sections seemingly floating in mid air, and more holes in the hull than wood, Elsa could not see how it was holding itself together, much lest still floating. And yet it was, as it glided effortlessly into position at one of the docks.
What was most disturbing to Elsa, however, was the fact that there seemed to be no one on board. Not a single soul. Even the mooring lines, each of which was tipped with a metal cap, seemed to move of their own accord as they tied themselves to the posts. As the remaining mists around the ship continued to clear, Elsa amended her earlier assessment as she saw a single figure just now leaving the wheel. When he leapt over the railing towards the docks, Elsa saw him clearly for the first time and her heart caught in her throat. The man was unspeakably gorgeous! With his close-cropped and wind-swept brown hair, the small scar on the left side of his chin, and his eyes as deep blue as the sea itself, this stranger's rugged appearance put even the finely groomed handsomeness of Hans to shame. Elsa couldn't place his style of dress, save for that it appeared simple and functional, but that didn't matter to her. What drew Elsa's attention to him was his eyes, for while they seemed to have experienced joy and laughter, horror and triumph, anger and peace, what Elsa saw buried in their depths was sadness and pain, a pain that revived an echo of the pain that she had felt some months ago, the day after her coronation
As soon as the man's feet touched the pier, the ship he was on suddenly fell apart as it collapsed into a mass of flotsam by the port where it had been tethered.
"Sorry if I startled you folks," The man said with a hint of weariness in his voice as he dusted himself off, "but I didn't have the opportunity to repair my vessel properly before I left my last port, and I'm afraid that most of the repairs I did make came undone during my journey here. I figured that the cloud cover would be much less alarm inducing than seeing something sailing in that should be resting on the bottom of the sea."
"What….how…" Elsa stammered, then she shook her head to clear it as she asked, "Who are you?"
"My apologies for forgetting proper etiquette, Your Majesty," them man as he bowed low and introduced himself, "My name is Julian Hynes of Wistermere, and I have traveled long and far over the seas of time to be here today."