The next morning the royal couple awoke with a sense of trepidation. Now that they knew what obstacles the family was facing, they were itching to find a viable solution. Elsa sighed gently against her husband’s chest, knowing from his rigid posture that he had been awake for some time and had been attempting not to wake her as well. A large, warm hand pressed against her back, drawing her closer.
“You’re awake.” The large chest beneath her rumbled.
“Mmmhmmm...” she murmured in response, unwilling to break the warm embrace. “How long have you been up?”
“A little while.” Came the response, punctuated with a quick kiss to her hairline.
“Liar.” She scoffed, knowing he could feel her smile against his skin. A deep chuckle rolled through his chest, just beneath her ear.
“You know me too well.” Elsa hummed and closed her eyes, enjoying the quiet closeness as her husband ran his fingers through her hair gently. Eventually, he shifted and placed a large finger under her chin, tilting her head back until he could meet her eyes.
“What shall we do today, my love?”
“We’ve yet to explore the beaches and I know how fetching you look without a shirt.” She teased him, stealing a quick kiss.
“Using me for my body?” He scoffed, pretending to be offended.
“Always.” She chuckled before sitting up and wrapping the sheet around herself. “But first, I must send word to Arendelle. If we are to find a solution to this issue, I want the council working on it even if we are still away.”
“Always the dutiful queen...” he sighed sitting up as well. Elsa turned to him, her face serious and drawn.
“No.” She stated firmly, placing a hand upon his chest. “Not queen... WIFE. I will always be the dutiful wife. I will not lose you.” She pressed her forehead against his before whispering, “I can’t.”
Rayce pressed his forehead more firmly against her, using a thumb to brush away her tears. He could feel her trembling at the prospect of losing one another and quickly moved to draw her tightly against his chest. “I’m here, love. I’m here and I will NEVER leave you. Even if I must face the entire Egyptian Army, NO ONE will EVER tear me away from you!”
Both the king and queen knew there was no way to keep such a promise, no way to predict what other perils may come. But knowing that they were equally committed to one another, knowing neither would let the other go without a fight...It was enough for now. It would have to be enough until they could set the matter to rest.
“Who knew marriage would be this hard?” She whispered, tucking her face into the crook of his neck.
“Do you regret it? This? Us?” Rayce tried to keep the fear out of his voice knowing he needed these answers but also afraid to receive them. He shouldn’t have worried because Elsa’s answer was immediate. Her head shot up and she stared him in the eyes with steely determination.
“NEVER. Our love, this marriage and our family mean everything to me and I will fight for it until my dying breath.”
“As will I.” He kissed her deeply before pulling back. “Stay. Rest. I will find Greger and send word to Arendelle. When I return, you and I will spend the rest of the day enjoying all this land has to offer.” She nodded tearfully, watching him slide from the bed and into the washroom.
When he re-emerged, he found his wife had fallen back asleep, curled protectively around his pillow. With a smile, he leaned over and pressed a small kiss to her forehead before slipping out in search of Greger.
“Morning, brother!” Greger greeted him with his usual enthusiastic tone, though his eyes lacked their normal luster. He was worried as well.
“Good morning, brother.” Rayce replied as he slid into a chair at the large dining table. Spread out before them was a wide array of breakfast foods, far too much for the two of them making Rayce assume that the kitchen staff had been expecting more than just the two young kings. Rayce filled his plate before accepting a steaming cup of coffee from a servant.
“Where is Elsa this morning?” Greger asked, shoving scrambled eggs into his mouth with hearty abandon. Though he had mostly re-acclimated himself to castle life, his table manners were still more suited for the cave.
“Sleeping in.” Rayce replied with a small smile as he watched the other man spit eggs across the table. He was quite sure that his son, of the same name, had far better table manners than his namesake. “Between her duties and our boys, it is a luxury rarely afforded her.”
“Ah, yes. The demands of a monarchy.” Greger chuckled. “I used to think sleeping in a cave made it difficult to rest and yet, with a castle full of beds, I can still barely manage a few hours!”
“A kingdom never sleeps,” Rayce laughed as he sipped his coffee, enjoying the strong flavor.
“Nor do its monarch’s...” Greger murmured in a slightly bitter tone.
“Speaking of which, I must send word to Arendelle immediately.” Rayce told the other man knowing they were wasting precious time on small talk.
“Of course! After breakfast you may use my study to compose your message and I will have it sent by my fastest ship.”
“Thank you brother.”
“No, thank you. I am sorry we kept this matter from you but I am grateful you’ve forgiven our folly.”
“There is little to forgive. Had I been in your position, I cannot say I would have reacted differently.”
“Then it is settled.” Greger announced with a tired smile. “I pray your council has better ideas for a resolution.”
“As do I.” Rayce agreed quietly. “As do I.”
Later that morning, the honeymooners found themselves relaxing on a beautiful private beach reserved for the royal family. Elsa sighed in contentment as her husband lovingly spread lotion across her back and legs, protecting her fair skin from the harsh sun. The stretch of beach before them was beautiful and Elsa felt much more relaxed without a crowd around, especially considering how little she was currently wearing! Apparently, women’s swimwear in The Southern Isles was much less conservative than Arendelle. The queen would have been more embarrassed had it not been for the appreciative looks her husband was giving her.
“How does that feel, love?” Rayce murmured against the shell of her ear his beard tickling along her skin, eliciting a small giggle.
“Amazing...” she sighed in reply before moving to roll over on the blanket. He raised himself up so she could fully turn to face him. “Would you like me to do you as well?”
“Do me?!” Rayce raised his voice and brows in surprise. “Why, Majesty, such language!”
“I...what? No, I meant... your back...” she stammered feeling her face flush with the implication. “I meant put lotion...on your back.” She finished dropping her face to her hands in embarrassment.
Rayce quickly pulled them away, seeking to catch her eye. “I’m kidding, love.” He told her with a wide smile. “Though your reaction was quite entertaining.”
“That was cruel.” She pouted as he moved to pull her closer, not at all convinced by her display. “You know I don’t like talking about... that.”
“I’m sorry, love.” He told her in his sweetest voice. It still amused him how skittish Elsa could be when the subject of intimacy came up. Just when she seemed to be opening up, old habits would come roaring back. It was the main reason he had known something was amiss the night before. Elsa would never have been so forward, especially in front of others.
“No, you’re not.” She continued to pout looking so much like Anna at the moment.
" I am. What can I do to make it up to you?”
“It’s fine,” she sighed finally. “Perhaps I overreacted...”
“You overreact, love? Never!” He exclaimed in mock surprise, earning a small smile from his wife.
“Oh, stop you!” She exclaimed with a laugh she couldn’t hold in. “You’re impossible. Just lay on your stomach.”
Rayce complied with a small chuckle before settling fully onto the blanket, arms tucked under his head. Elsa settled herself across his broad legs, taking a moment to enjoy the sight spread out before her. She pushed his long hair over his shoulder so she could gaze lovingly at the rippling muscles beneath her. She found her eyes instantly drawn to his tattoo; his devotion for their family beautifully etched onto his skin.
“See something you like?” He quipped when she failed to move for some time. She clucked her tongue in response.
“You know I do.” As she leaned over to grab the lotion, she pressed a small kiss against his tattoo. He jumped a little, the kiss unexpected, before settling comfortably again.
“I do hope your hands aren’t cold.” He joked.
“You know they are.” She teased back, punctuating her point by tickling his sides with shockingly cold digits!
“That’s it!” He declared, quickly rolling over and trapping her beneath him. “I know what to do with upstarts such as yourself.”
“Oh? Do tell, Majesty.” She responded with a sultry whisper. He growled in response as he moved in to kiss her roughly, unendingly grateful that they had the whole beach to themselves.
“Can you see them?” Anna whispered to her husband as he peeked around the nursery door. “What are they doing?”
“I don’t know... ‘Baby stuff’? Definitely nothing that looks magical.” Kristoff answered with a shrug, unaware of what he should be observing. A frustrated huff behind him indicated that he had given the wrong answer.
“You’re no use!” Anna exclaimed before storming into the nursery, eyes wild. What she found inside were two adorable little princes playing with wooden blocks while Gerda kept a watchful eye.
“Hello, dear.” Gerda greeted her with a smile from one of the rocking chairs. In her lap was undoubtedly some new outfit for her favorite little princes, every stitch made with love. “Come to see the boys?”
“Um...yeah. What have they been up to today?”
“Oh, nothing much. Although we did take a walk in the gardens that ended in a bath! I swear they possess an uncanny ability to find mud and dirt wherever they go.” The old handmaid cackled, always amused by her pseudo-grandchildren.
“Any, uh, other abilities show up today?” Anna asked as she eyed the children nervously. The boys looked up at her with the most innocent eyes but there was something there.
“Abilities? Dear what are you going on about?” Gerda inquired, brow furrowed in concern. “I was there the day your sister was born and there was no denying how special she was. If the boys were going to be special in that way, don’t you think we would have noticed by now?”
Anna paused for a moment. Maybe Gerda was right? But she knew for a fact she hadn’t imagined what happened the other night and, no, Kristoff was there too so it couldn’t have been a delusion. She knelt down on the carpet and crept closer to the boys, ignoring Gerda’s concerned looks.
“Nana!” Griffin exclaimed happily, offering her a block.
“Uh, thanks...” she mumbled, accepting the toy. “Hey Griffin, can you show ‘Nana’ what you showed me the other day?”
The baby’s little brows drew together in a frown as he regarded Anna. So smart, Anna mused. How in the world can they be so smart this little? He watched her for another moment before throwing his little arms in the air.
“Up!” he demanded, earning a tsk from Gerda.
“What do we say Griffin?”
“Up, peesh.” He replied and Anna swore he rolled his eyes. As she scooped him into her lap Greger scooted closer so as not to be excluded. He passed Anna another block.
“Nana, play!” he exclaimed as he pointed to where she should place the block.
“In a minute Greger, I want Griffin to show me how he made it cold...”
“Mama cold!” Both boys exclaimed as the most unbelievable thing happened. Snow began to fall lightly on the nursery earning a shocked gasp from both Gerda and Anna.
“H-How?” Gerda stuttered, catching a few flakes in her upturned palm. “It’s not possible!”
“I knew it!” Anna exclaimed lifting Griffin high in the air. “I knew you could do it!” She grinned before a thought struck her and she glanced down at Greger. “Did you... was it both of you?”
“Mama cold!” Greger exclaimed again with a toothless grin as Anna sat down heavily on the floor. Both boys squeaked in excitement as the snow kept falling. Gerda sat in the rocking chair, completely gob-smacked and Anna suddenly wished she hadn’t been right.
“We need to take them to the trolls! Now!”
Blissfully unaware of the turmoil in Arendelle, the afternoon found the young lovers indulging themselves in a luxurious midday nap followed by a hearty, but slightly late, lunch. Elsa had expressed her desire to spend the rest of the afternoon riding, had even brought Glacier along on their voyage in case the opportunity for a ride arose. Despite her earlier assertions, she had in fact noticed how beautiful the countryside had been when they rode through previously. Unfortunately, at the time much more serious concerns occupied her thoughts. Now, however, the young queen was free to explore with gusto and Rayce was more than happy to be her willing escort.
In truth, the young husband had already known his wife would insist on exploring the area aboard her cherished steed. Elsa had been non-too-subtle about her intentions when she arrived to lunch in her riding clothes, hair pulled back and face gloriously free of makeup. Rayce had always thought she looked so much younger this way, though no less stunning. He relished in the times when his wife was cosmetic free for then he could kiss her with wild abandon; not needing to worry about pesky makeup stains to give them away.
He chuckled to himself as Elsa practically dragged him out to the stables, chattering the whole way. Few got to see this side of the queen, Elsa at her most open and honest but, Rayce found it would always be his favorite version of her. They arrived at the stables and Elsa immediately rushed in to greet Glacier. He whinnied in response, nudging her side with his large head as if urging her to open the gate.
“I know, I know...” she told him with a sympathetic cluck of her tongue. “You want to run! Don’t worry, we’re going soon...”
As much as she pretended it was for Glaciers benefit, Elsa too wished to feel the wind in her hair. Unbeknownst to most, the queen was an accomplished “horsewoman” though she rarely got an opportunity to showcase her skills. Queens were required to ride sidesaddle or in a carriage and never were they encouraged to perform tricks or jump their steeds. Rayce knew for a fact that Glacier was trained to do both and had relished in watching his wife beat most of his men in riding exercises. She had clearly made the most of her private lessons, even if it was only known by those closest to her.
“Patience, my friend,” she cooed to Glacier offering him an apple. “We cannot go until we find our king a suitable steed to ride.”
“Any mount will do,” the king spoke up as he surveyed the selection. The royal stables had a fine selection of horses to choose from. Elsa strolled ahead of him peeking her head in stall after stall muttering things like “Fine but no,” and “You simply won’t do at all,” before stopping in front of the last stall.
“What about this one?” She asked innocently as Rayce stepped closer to inspect her pick.
What he found in the stall took his breath away! Before him stood the most beautiful animal he had ever laid eyes on. An Arabian steed with a hide as black as coal and a mane thicker than the toughest bramble watched him with soulful eyes.
“He is... truly magnificent...” The king gasped, unable to stop himself from approaching the great beast. The steed lowered his head in greeting, allowing Rayce to gently stroke his muzzle.
“You really think so?” Elsa teased. Rayce could only nod wordlessly as a wide smile broke out on his wife’s face. “Good! Because he’s yours!”
“Mine?” Rayce gaped looking between his wife and the animal. “Dearest, this is too much... I couldn’t possibly-”
“You can and you will Azim!” The young queen commanded, hands on slender hips. She scowled a moment before moving closer, her expression softening. “You have given me so much and ask for so little. Will you please accept this token of my affection?”
Behind him the steed nudged Rayce with his nose as if pushing the king to accept him, to be his master. After a moment, Rayce broke into a wide grin that mimicked the one he his wife had worn just a few moments ago.
“You are amazing, you know that?” He told her beaming before scooping her off her feet and spinning her around! “So amazing...” he finished with a passionate kiss.
The kiss ended all too soon for the queen’s liking as Azim broke away to inspect his new prize. He ran his hands over the steed’s neck and shoulders feeling the quiet power that rested just beneath the surface. Though slightly annoyed at being ignored, Elsa could not help but smile at how absolutely giddy her husband was over his new companion. She knew Azim had a steed in Egypt, an animal he had raised from a foal; an animal that was cruelly taken from him when he resigned his commission. She had noted with worry that in the nearly five years her husband had been in Arendelle, he had declined to pick a mount. The young queen could hardly imagine how she would feel were Glacier to be taken from her.
“What is his name?” Azim finally addressed her again.
“He doesn’t have one.” She replied. ” I thought I would leave that up to you.”
Rayce took a step back, eying the animal before he grabbed his muzzle gently. “Abda Anoud.” He stated, holding the animal’s gaze.
“It’s beautiful,” Elsa gasped. “It means ’strength, and ‘power’, yes?” Her husband turned and smiled at her.
“Yes! Your Arabic is getting quite good, dearest!”
“I have a wonderful teacher!” She nudged him lightly with a small smile. “Shall we take him out?”
Rayce nodded eagerly as he opened the gate and led the animal out. He glanced around with a look of confusion.
“Missing something, love?” Elsa asked in what he now recognized as her ‘surprise’ voice. He turned towards her slowly, lips quirking into a smile.
“It seems I am in need of a saddle. Any suggestions, love?”
“I might have a solution...” she singsonged before ducking around the corner and emerging with a finely crafted black leather saddle. She struggled under its weight and he moved quickly to take it from her.
He turned it around in his arms so he could inspect it closer. As to be expected from his wife, the piece was exquisite. Sweeping filigree covered the main area, the seal of Arendelle hidden amongst the designs. Towards the front of the saddle, another much more personal design caught his attention. Burnt into the leather with astonishing accuracy was his tattoo, a design only known to his family. He turned to Elsa in astonishment.
“How did they get my tattoo? No one has seen it but you...”
Elsa blushed before approaching him, laying a gentle hand on his arm. “It was definitely a challenge,” she chuckled. “Thankfully, you are a heavy sleeper love and though my talents could never rival yours, I was able to sketch a reasonable approximation. How they got all this from my chicken scratch, I’ll never know!”
Without warning, Rayce tossed the saddle over his right arm and with his left pulled his wife into him for a passionate kiss! This time it was she who pulled away quickly, blushing furiously.
“If you keep doing that, we’ll never make it to our ride...” she muttered, trying desperately to compose herself.
“Indeed.” He responded with a low growl then managed to rein himself in, knowing how badly his wife wished to ride. He, too, was eager to test out his new mount in the rolling countryside. “May I propose a wager then?”
“A wager? What are the stakes?”
" A race; to the edge of the woods. The loser must bathe the winner AND the horses. Do we have a deal, Majesty?”
Elsa pursed her lips wondering if there was any possible way she might lose the wager. After some deliberation she realized the wager would end in her favor either way, winning or losing still got her into a warm bath with her husband.
“I accept.” She shook her husband’s hand firmly, already planning her strategy. Rayce used his strength to pull her in for one last kiss before stepping aside so the stable hands could ready their steeds. Like his wife, win or lose, the king knew he was in for an eventful ride and an even better night.
Dinner that night went much more smoothly than the previous. Now that everything was out in the open, conversation flowed freely between the young royals despite the danger lurking off the horizon. Once dinner was complete Amina excused herself with an easily seen through premise of retiring early whereas Greger headed down to the beach to train on such a warm night.
“Care to take a walk, Majesty?” Rayce stood beside the dinner table slightly bowed, hand extended.
“It is a beautiful night.” Elsa replied with a wide smile, laying her hand in his.
Scant minutes later, the pair was strolling down the dock hand-in-hand, enjoying the quiet beauty of the moment. Eventually, they ended up leaning against the railing, Rayce pressed behind his wife, enveloping her in his presence. Just a few years prior, Elsa would have felt painfully uncomfortable so close to another person. Now, his warm skin pressed to her felt right, it felt like home.
“I feel like I could see the fjord from here if I look hard enough.” Elsa whispered, noting how clear the view was, the water disappearing into the horizon.
“Perhaps if we squint, we can see our boys terrorizing your sister!” He added with a hearty laugh.
“Azim!” She scolded him playfully with a swat on the arm before adding, “I’m sure Anna can handle it otherwise I would not have left!”
“Yes, I know. And yet even then, I practically had to carry you on board...” His voice trailed as he turned his head slightly. “Did you hear that, love?”
Before his wife could respond, more than a dozen masked assailants surrounded the pair! Rayce shoved his wife behind him, cursing his lack of vigilance. And where were their guards? He had given Skogerson the night off but there should still have been three men guarding them. Were they dead, killed in their majesties’ service? The thought made the young king’s stomach twist as he realized he was the only thing standing between his wife and certain death.
“What the hell is going on?” The king bellowed at the group before them.
“Rayce Askari Azim,” a man to the king’s left spoke up. Rayce stiffened at the formal use of his name.
“You’re Egyptian.” A statement, not a question. The man ignored him.
“Come peacefully and the woman will be spared.”
“Like hell!” Elsa piped up behind him showing the royal spunk that most people only attributed to Anna. She was unwilling to let him go without a fight. Outrage flashed in the man’s eyes.
“You would dishonor yourself further by letting a woman speak for you?” He challenged Rayce.
“My QUEEN speaks true! I’m not going anywhere.”
“So be it.” The man replied grimly as swords were drawn all around them.
Rayce felt Elsa grip his upper arm in fear and the king too swallowed a lump of dread. All that mattered to him was ensuring his mate’s safety yet that goal may well have been out of reach.