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Falling Together

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Honeymaren took a deep breath.

As far as she was concerned this was as near to paradise as a person could get, and she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to leave. How she had lucked into this was still a mystery to her— but then again she knew, as with nature, everything always happened for a reason.

Beneath her chin lay the smooth slender back of the woman she was certain she loved, and who very possibly, felt the same way about her— and warmth spread across her chest at that notion. Absently she traced delicate patterns over the cold sinewy bare skin, running fingers up, down and over the defined contours of her spine. She was so perfect in every way, even her back was somehow perfect as she slept, draped across her as she was, head resting peacefully on her shoulder. She was skinny — weighing almost nothing in her arms — but there were lean ripples of muscle under that skin which provided her a strength not many could see. She was not weak by any means — much stronger than she appeared — and she loved that most about her.

The hot spring they rested in was equally as glorious, enclosed by trees and tucked far up and away into the mountains— and she took it all in, knowing she would never forget this special place. The water was warm, but it felt nice in contrast to the cool body that clung to her— Elsa’s body. For as long as they’d been in the hot spring — and by the angle of the sun it had been a while — it was marvelous how briskly cool Elsa’s skin remained.

She reached a hand over and swept some blonde hair out of Elsa’s face that had fallen there during sleep, and carefully slid her head to a more comfortable position on her chest. Elsa remained asleep, and she was perfectly contented to sit there as long as she needed to rest, feeling the slow rise and fall of her rhythmic breathing. To see her so calm, to feel her so at peace while she slept was something she would probably never get enough of.

With another deep breath, she leaned back further, enfolding her arms around the sleeping girl in them, and holding her securely so that she might never slip away. That feeling of protectiveness slunk it’s way up her chest again, and she knew without a shadow of a doubt, that she would follow this woman to the ends of the earth and back just to make sure she would be ok. Just to know that somewhere, she existed, and was alive and well.

The waterfall Nokk had cantered up at the other end of the spring, lie mostly in shadows now— the misty rainbows all but dissolved by the absence of sunlight. As she watched it flow, something flickered behind it, a small cavern perhaps? She squinted her eyes, trying to focus just beyond the scattered spray of water. It looked like some kind of runes or symbols were carved in the cliffside behind, but then it could just be an illusion cast in the shadowy mist.

Elsa jerked suddenly, splashing water and snapping her out of her reveries. A burst of cold hit her but dissipated quickly in the warm water.

‘Els, hey, hey you’re ok.’ She tightened her arms around Elsa to let her know she was there. Immediately she relaxed.

‘I’m sorry.’ Elsa sat up and quickly slid out of her arms and onto the rock shelf next to her, looking rather like a dazed wounded animal. The look in her eyes broke her heart.

‘Elsa, I’m fine— ’  She reached out a hand and rubbed Elsa’s forearm in reassurance. Elsa allowed it. ‘Did you have another dream?’ Elsa’s brow furrowed and she nodded.

‘Anna again.’ Elsa wrapped her arms tightly around her own middle as she had seen her do countless times before when she was nervous or afraid. Cocooning herself protectively from whatever had unnerved her, pulling in her magic so she would not harm anyone near her.

‘Same as before?’ Maren offered gently. Elsa had told her recently of the dark dreams she’d been having. Dark shadowy spirits attacking her sister, and Elsa powerless to stop it. She suspected it was some manifestation of guilt she knew Elsa harbored, for abdicating the throne and turning the kingdom over to the care of her younger sister. But she also was unsure how to help her alleviate the guilt.

‘It was worse, this time. Something had gotten hold of her and—’  She cut herself off and started to pull herself out of the water. ‘I want to go check on her.’

Before she knew it Elsa was up and out of the water, ice crystals already forming pants and a tunic around her body as she started to wring water out of her hair. Jarred by the quick shift in Elsa’s demeanor, Maren scrambled out of the water after her.

‘I’ve been away too long. I promised her I wouldn’t do that again…’ Elsa was mumbling to herself as she braided back her damp hair.

‘Elsa, Elsa hang on.’ Maren said as she gripped her shoulders and turned her so they were face to face. Two blue eyes met hers as she stopped fidgeting with her hair. ‘Slow down, I’m sure Anna is fine.’ Elsa took a breath as blue eyes flicked over her own, searching them and finding reason there.

‘I know, you’re probably right. But I should check on her anyway. It took me years to get a handle on how everything worked— it’s going to take her time, and I can’t just leave her alone with all that for long stretches.’ Maren just smiled as she watched her continue braiding her hair, it was never Elsa first. It was always others first and she so admired that about her.

‘Let’s take Nokk, I want to get there today.’ Elsa stated, arms overhead as she finished tying back her hair. Maren suddenly realized she was still standing there in a naked stupor and quickly bent to get her own clothes. They were mostly dry, a tad damp as she pulled them on. Quickly re-braiding her own hair and sliding into her boots. Elsa was already at the waters edge when she finished, bent over it, her hand hovering just at the surface, calling the water horse. Nokk appeared, in the same location she had noticed earlier, hovering in the mist just below the waterfall.

‘What is she doing?’ Elsa wondered aloud, placing hands on her hips. The horse just stared at them both, only the top of her head peering out of the mist.

‘I saw her doing that before too, when you were asleep. I thought she was just watching out for you, but maybe she’s trying to tell us something. Look.’ Maren pointed to the cavern she noticed earlier sitting just behind the waterfall. Elsa noticed it too. They exchanged a glance then both started to walk around the small tarn towards the waterfall.

As they drew closer she could see that there was a small path leading up to the cavern, as if the earth had been packed down specifically for easy access. Elsa led the way, mist spraying them both as they skirted their way up the small slope just behind the gushing force of the falls.

‘Look.’ Elsa’s awed voice echoed around the rock as they entered the damp chamber. Maren looked up and saw what was there, nearly covering the expanse of the cave wall was a giant— what looked to be— map? There were four directions carved there, perhaps north, south, east and west with some kind of symbol representing each in a diamond formation. At the top to the north, a mountain rising out of water, to the west a volcano perhaps or smoking mountain? The east looked like a circular valley surrounded by cliffs and in the south, quite possibly a fjord? The only other symbol was in the center of the four, a diamond surrounded by four circles. Other symbols were carved around the map in the form of a language, but it was indecipherable as far as Maren could tell.

‘What is it?’ Maren wondered aloud.

‘I don’t know.’ Elsa was still staring up in wonderment. ‘But Gale and Nokk both led us here, so there must be something about it. Something feels familiar but I can't place it.’ She walked closer to the wall and ran her hand over it, feeling it for something? She stopped and brought her other hand up to the wall, and before Maren knew it, tiny water droplets had started to peel off the wall and mix with the mist from the waterfall, hovering suspended in the air as if gravity did not exist. The droplets began to rotate, to swirl together and coalesce, and she could feel the temperature in the cave drop instantly.

‘Elsa…?’ She offered gently, but Elsa was now fixated on the coalescing water, same as she, watching it with wide expectant eyes.

An ice sculpture began to form slowly as the droplets came together, and she squinted to make out what it could be.

‘Agnarr, we have to find the fifth spirit, it’s the bridge. I know it’s real, it’s the only way I will ever see my home again, my family. The only way to bring balance back and set them free.’ 

The soft gentle voice of a woman echoed loudly around the cave. For the briefest of moments it sounded like Elsa, and she thought it was her until she instinctively glanced over and saw that Elsa’s mouth was not moving.

The faceless voice stopped with the final formation of the statue, which appeared to be a man and a woman kissing in front of falling water. A memory preserved in water and reformed— made tangible by ice. She had seen other ice sculptures like this in the forest when she had first met Elsa, had been told that Ahtohallan was filled with living water memories much like this— but she had never before seen one form before her very eyes.

‘Mother.’

It was Elsa’s shaky voice she heard this time, and saw her rush forward to the statue, running her finger over the woman’s cheek. This woman, upon closer inspection did look remarkably like Elsa.

‘Your parents?’ Maren offered, looking up now at what she assumed was the former king of Arendelle. Elsa nodded and pulled back from the statue, wiping tears from her eyes.

‘She was trying to get back.’ Elsa spoke with a trembling voice as tears continued to spill down her cheeks. She never removed her eyes from the statue. ‘Back to the Northuldra, to the only life she ever knew. I— I never thought about what that must have been like for her. How lonely and scared she must have been. I never knew... Too busy feeling sorry for myself…’ Her voice trailed off, the last bit was barely a discernible whisper.

Maren gently grabbed Elsa’s shoulders and turned her away from the painful memory, looking straight into her blue eyes. ‘Elsa don’t you see, you did everything your mother ever wanted. You are the fifth spirit and you did free us, you and Anna liberated the forest and the spirits.’

‘Too late for her to see…’ Elsa turned her eyes down and away, her only escape. Maren tipped her chin back up so she was looking into her tear-filled eyes again.

‘Elsa, your mother believed in you before you were ever born, before she ever knew you would become the fifth spirit. You were gifted to her because of how great her faith in you was. The day the forest fell, she called out for help, and you were the answer to her call. You two will always be tied together by love, by blood, by the spirits. One of the greatest loves that exists is the love between a mother and daughter, even beyond death.’ The pain floating in Elsa’s eyes was palpable, causing a lump to form in her own throat, so she pulled Elsa into a hug, squeezing her tightly.

‘She would be so proud of you now.’ She whispered into Elsa’s ear. Elsa held tightly to her and continued to cry quietly into her shoulder. Gale had slithered in the small cavern and swirled around them, it felt like a cool hug. She stroked Elsa’s braid, and her eyes flicked over to the statue. It was clear by the way they were kissing that Elsa’s parents were deeply in love, and here of all places. She smiled into Elsa’s hair and couldn’t help but think, how like mother like daughter they were.

‘C’mon, let’s go see your sister, she always cheers you up. You can tell her about all of this while I go check up on Ryder.’ She could feel her eyes roll in irritation thinking about her younger brother traipsing around Arendelle, getting into who knows what, annoying the spirits out of everyone.

Elsa pulled away from her with a chuckle and a quizzical look. ‘He hasn’t left Kristoff alone. Like, at all. I need to go make sure he isn’t driving him insane.’ Maren stated, smiling playfully as she wiped the last tear off Elsa’s face.

You cheer me up.’ Elsa said, breaking into her half smile.

‘Well that’s good, because I’m sure Anna would love some help in that department.’ She jibed swinging her arm over Elsa’s shoulder and leading her out of the cavern. ‘Of course, Anna is still Queen at that game — pun intended— but I’m getting better at it.’ Elsa was laughing now. ‘But seriously, I may kill Ryder when we get there so just be prepared for that.’

‘I think he’s under the Queen’s protection unfortunately.’ Elsa jested back. ‘She’s taken quite a liking to him, and you know they are strangely similar. They have this bizarre thing they do every time either of them says something utterly strange—’

‘Where they look at each other and mouth younger sibs as if no one else can see, and as if everyone else is completely stupid for not understanding it?’

‘Yes, that!’ Elsa laughed. Maren was thrilled Ryder, Kristoff and Anna got along well, though she would still probably have to kill Ryder when they got there— just as she had done after he had occupied Kristoff for the entire night teaching him the Northuldra way to propose. Kristoff had been left behind by Anna and Elsa as they couldn’t find him for hours, and yes, she had had to kill Ryder for that one. She loved him dearly, but sometimes, she just had to kill him.

‘We better get down there then before any more chaos ensues.’

Chapter Text

The speed at which the Nokk could run was still intoxicating— no normal horse could gallop at such a pace and do it so elegantly— and horses were one thing she did know something about. Fast fluid leaps up, over and around, skating gracefully across the terrain as if they were one with it— melding with its features rather than fighting against them. It was as if the Earth itself recognized Nokk’s presence and respectfully bowed itself out of the way of her imminent path. If she closed her eyes, it felt like flying— fears, plans, ruminations that plagued her, life itself all fell away and nothing else in the world seemed to matter except the sound of the wind. She became one with Nokk, and it was pure freedom.

The bonus, in this moment, were the two slender arms that linked around her middle, holding tightly, attached to the warm body that pressed up against her back as they flew through the landscape.

Honeymaren.

She could still not wrap her head around what had slowly grown between them in the past few months, to say nothing of what had transpired in the past few days. Learning things she never thought she could learn, feeling things she never thought she would experience and loving someone in such a way that she never could have foreseen. It was somehow overwhelming, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of it, but it felt so utterly right. One step at a time, Anna had once told her. Simplify. She knew she had the propensity to overthink, and think herself way too many steps ahead. It was part of what made strategizing as Queen so easy, but in terms of her own life it usually left her a mess. One step at a time, simplify, be in the moment Anna had said. So she would do that now. And right now she felt happy— more than happy. It was a completeness that she had never felt before, and it was because of Honeymaren. Honeymaren made her happy, and wherever Honeymaren was, she wanted to be too— and she would leave it there for now.

Nokk abruptly slammed to a halt, jarring her out of her thoughts and sending Honeymaren lurching forward into her. Elsa threw her arms forward onto Nokk’s mane to brace them both from being thrown off.

‘What…? Are you ok?’ Elsa asked over her shoulder, shaken by the bluntness of the stop.

‘Yeah, are you?’ Elsa nodded in response. ‘Look.’

Honeymaren was pointing down the path they were traveling. Nokk snorted and moved backward a few paces. Elsa rubbed the horses neck and squinted to look down the wooded pathway. What stood there was a tall dark figure. Upon closer inspection it looked like a very tall man, but it was not a man. Whatever it was, seemed to be made of twisted gnarled wood in the shape of a man. Little roots, plants and vines were woven into the sinewy wooden muscles of the thing, its fingers and toes a mass of woven twigs. Its beady eyes reflected green, and almost seemed to glow in the shade of the forest, piercing right into her. Elsa had never before seen such a thing, and it unnerved her.

‘Draugr.’ Honeymaren whispered in her ear.

‘What?’ Elsa whispered back. The thing cocked its head unnaturally as if it had heard her. She didn’t like it. Her head suddenly felt foggy, and she had a strong urge to get away from this thing.

‘Draugrs. They’re like cousins of the trolls and Jötnar— earth giants. They possess a lower, minimal form of magic, but I’ve never actually seen one. They normally stay in secluded tribes, very few people have ever seen one.’

‘What is it doing standing there then?’ It came out harsher than she meant. The sudden headache that came on was pulsing in her temples and made it hard to think. It must have been from the adrenaline jolt of Nokk stopping so suddenly.

‘I don’t know…’

The thing— draugr — suddenly lurched forward and started to walk towards them— if you could call what it was doing walking. Clumsily awkward, it lumbered forward in bizarre jerky movements, cocking its head this way and that, piercing her with its strange glowing eyes. She looked away, suddenly nauseated at the sight of the thing. Nokk must have had enough at that point too because she abruptly darted to the right and off the path into the woods. The cool breeze swept over Elsa’s face and alleviated the headache some. She was glad Nokk had run from that thing.

‘Change of plans. Let’s stop home first— I want to tell Yelena about this.’ Honeymaren spoke into her ear. Elsa nodded, not about to argue. She wasn’t sure she wanted to travel all the way down to Arendelle today anyway, with the headache still pounding as it was. Plus evening was upon them, it was best to wait until morning.

 


 

When they reached the outskirts of the Northuldra camp, the sun was mostly gone, leaving them surrounded in a hazy purple twilight. Nokk had steered them to the nearest body of water and they dismounted. Elsa touched her forehead to Nokk’s and stroked her her snout, returning her from ice to her liquid form and thanking her silently as she always did, before the horse dove into the river and disappeared.

‘I love watching you do that.’ Came Honeymaren’s whisper as she laced her fingers with Elsa’s and brought her hand up to warm lips and kissed it. A lovely tingle ran up Elsa’s arm and she could feel warmth of embarrassment spread across her cheeks. Compliments had always made her uncomfortable, and she still wasn’t sure why. She had gotten more of them than most people probably saw in a lifetime in her tenure as queen, but many if not all of them had felt superficial. Not that she cared, if she had to receive them at all, superficial was easier to skate around. It was always the sporadic more genuine compliments that made her uneasy, as if something had probed her in a most vulnerable place. She was thrilled Maren thought that way about her, and yet there was the uncomfortable heat of embarrassment crawling its way up her neck and into her face. Perhaps she would just never fully understand all the odd contradictions that resided within herself. So she just smiled and squeezed her hand back in thanks. Maren always seemed to know what she meant without having to explain herself anyway. And she so loved that about her.

They walked in comfortable silence, hand in hand back towards the camp, and soon the soft glow of firelight came into view.

‘There she is.’ Maren picked up her pace and pulled Elsa towards Yelena. The older woman was kneeling by herself, in front of a fire sipping tea.

‘Yelena!’ Maren called as they approached her.

‘Ladies.’ Yelena answered as she stood to greet them. Her penetrating hazel eyes flicked between them suspiciously, then down at their intertwined hands. Elsa quickly yanked her hand free of Maren’s and clasped her own together. Maren shot her a brief strange, almost hurt look before returning to face Yelena, whose eyes were still uncomfortably suspicious. The look Maren had thrown her hurt somewhere inside, but she wasn’t sure what to do about it right then in front of Yelena.

‘What’s going on with you two?’ Yelena’s voice was laced with suspicion that now matched her eyes. It was more of a demand than a question. Elsa’s heartbeat quickened and she suddenly wished she was somewhere else.

After a heartbeat, Maren blessedly diverted with: ‘Well, we think we saw a draugr.’ Surprise and confusion now replaced the suspicion in Yelana’s features. This was clearly not what she was expecting to hear.

‘I’m not sure, I’ve never actually seen one, but I don’t think it could’ve been anything else.’ Maren continued.

‘Where were you when you saw it, what was it doing?’ Yelena sounded concerned, but not alarmed which eased Elsa. If Yelena wasn’t disturbed by that thing, it was probably nothing.

‘We were riding Nokk back this way.’ Elsa stated and gestured towards the direction of the mountains from which they rode in on. ‘We saw it maybe an hour or two ride from here. It was standing alone in the middle of the path just staring at us.’ She curled her arms up and around her middle thinking about it again. It felt for a moment as if Maren would reach out to her, but there was hesitation, and she didn’t.

‘Yelena, I thought those things preferred to live alone with their tribes in seclusion. What was it doing there?’

‘I don’t know Maren. The small amount of magic they possess protects them from other living beings— it acts as a shield in a way. Cloaking themselves from any living thing they choose— including magic— so they can continue to live peacefully in isolation. Normally yes, they stay closely knit within their tribes, and are not aggressive, so it is concerning that you saw a rogue. Maybe it got separated or lost from its tribe— honestly we just don’t know that much about them.’

Maren was nodding her head pensively. Elsa was glad for the information, but just wanted to forget about that thing for the moment and lie down. It didn’t seem lost or confused, it felt deliberately like it had looked into her soul without her permission. Her head was pulsing again and she really just wanted to leave.

‘Thank you, Yelena. I think I’m going to go lie down. Night Maren.’

‘Are you ok?’ Came Maren’s concerned voice.

‘I’m fine, just, just tired.’ She said it over her shoulder as she started to walk away. The concern in Maren’s voice cut through her like a knife, but all of this was too much and she just needed to get away and collect herself.

‘Can I talk to you please, for a moment?’  It was Yelena, but her voice came in a hushed authoritative tone that she could tell was directed at Honeymaren— the way a mother would talk to her adult child. She felt bad for leaving her there, at the mercy of Yelena alone, but the headache was making her nauseated again. Her chest was clenching and her throat started to feel constricted—  if she didn’t lie down and get away from all the people who were watching her now she was going to lose it.

Once she got to the far end of camp and to her small lavvu hut she was feeling only slightly better. Relieved to be away from people’s prying eyes and Yelena’s knowing gaze, but worse for how abruptly she had left Honeymaren— and she wanted to apologize to her for ripping her hand away like that. She still wasn’t entirely sure why her instinct had been to do that.

It was ridiculous, in her mind, that at twenty-five she still had these unexpected bouts of anxiety like this. Her powers were (mostly) under control, she felt so at ease being around Honeymaren and she was so free now with little to none of the previous queenly responsibilities that she had attributed much of this anxiety to in the past. And yet, here it still was, rearing its ugly head, crawling up her chest at the worst moments— to make her appear even more strange and antisocial then she actually was, and causing her to lie to people she cared about.

She flopped down on her pad and threw an arm over her face, unwilling to continue dissecting the sad confusing state of her psyche. She could think of nothing more she could do to rid herself of this plague of anxiety, and that thought alone was depressing.

All she had really done now was throw much of the cause of it on her little sister, and she groaned at her own selfishness. That’s not solely why she had abdicated of course— it would’ve been near impossible to spend as much time as was necessary for a Queen to spend in Arendelle when she had so many responsibilities in the forest now. But she would be lying to herself if she didn’t at least acknowledge that part of it was to do with being free of the entire anxiety-inducing queenly business once and for all. But could she have really gone back to it? No, she already knew that answer, had spent far too much time on this precise train of thought before she made her final decision, and the final answer she always came back to was no. After finding out everything about herself, her mother, the spirits and the Northuldra and where she fit into all of that— the answer was that she didn’t want to go back to Arendelle and rule it as its queen. She loved being part of the forest, and there was still so much more to discover, about it and herself— she would have been a useless distracted queen with all that obsessing constantly running through her mind. And yet, the guilt about it all and anxiety for Anna had never fully left. She wasn’t sure it ever would completely.

She sighed— she would sleep it off, that usually worked, if the anxiety wasn’t too bad to begin with— and it currently wasn’t by her usual standards. The fact that she even had ‘usual standards’ for anxiety was another miserable deduction and she took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind and relax— as Maren would tell her to do if she were here. She missed her already. She missed Anna too. How was that possible to need to be alone — to want to be alone — to purposely extricate oneself from everyone who cared about you and yet miss them so desperately?

It was possibly the definition of insanity, and sometimes she truly felt insane.

She ran a hand over her forehead and through her hair in exasperation, then returned the arm over her eyes. The pressure from her arm did at least relieve some of the headache.

She tensed when she felt something skitter up her leg and perch atop the one knee she had propped up— but quickly relaxed upon realizing what it was. No ice had formed so that was some form of progress. She raised the arm off her eyes just a bit so she could peer under it.

‘Hi Bruni.’ She smiled at the tiny salamander perched atop her knee as if he was the proud owner of a new mountain summit. Moonlight streaked in the tent just enough for her to glimpse his blue skin before he skittered down her thigh, up her abdomen and curled up just under her neck. A soft sizzle noise escaped under his body as he cooled himself on her cold skin. She giggled at the ticklish feeling of his little feet and hands scampering all over her and the unnatural warmth of his fiery little lizard body on her skin. It was a rather calming presence though, to have him there, and she focused on his warmth over her chest as she drifted off to sleep.

 


 

She awoke in the dark on her side, to the feeling of a warm arm slunk around her middle and a warm body close in behind her and kiss her under her ear. She reached her hand out to the one that was draped over her and fingers interlaced with her own.

‘Sorry to wake you.’ The voice whispered in her ear, smoothing back her braid so she could place another kiss on Elsa’s neck. Elsa shivered.

‘It’s ok, I’m glad you’re here.’ She whispered back groggily, running her thumb over the hand that intwined with hers. ‘I’m sorry about before—’ She started but Maren cut her off.

‘Elsa don’t be sorry. I just had a long chat with Yelena and she reminded me of a few important things.’

‘Like what?’ Maren's other hand continued to run over her head, fingers gliding softly over her hair. It felt nice and made her drowsy.

‘Like the fact that, what is going on between you and I isn’t exactly customary or even accepted in Arendelle. And that I should give you time to adjust to it— that is, if you want to.’

‘Wait, so does that mean it is accepted here?’ This was entirely new information to her. Maren let out a soft chuckle. ‘Yes, it is very accepted here. In fact it’s very strange for me to realize that there are places where it’s considered odd. Ryder and I were raised by two mothers you know.’ This caused Elsa to sit up and look at her.

‘Two mothers… as in, they were in love?’ Her eyes had adjusted to the dark and she could make out Maren smiling back at her.

‘Yep, and the best moms we could have ever asked for. Strongest women I’ve ever known. They loved us so much, I thank the spirits for them every day still.’

‘Loved?’ The past tense use of the word was not lost on her.

‘They passed. Years ago. We think it was some kind of accident— they left on a hike and never returned. We never found any trace of them.’ Elsa was reeling from all of this. There was so much about Maren she still didn’t know, why had she never thought to ask? The surge of emotion she felt just then threatened to drown her though, parents leaving on an innocent trip, never to return. If there was one thing she understood, it was that.

‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I never asked… Thank you for telling me.’ She grabbed Maren’s hand in both of hers and rubbed her thumb over it.

‘Elsa I— Well I just don’t want to lose you.’ Maren leaned forward and put her forehead against Elsa’s. Elsa leaned into her and closed her eyes.

‘You won’t. Yelena was right, this is— new territory for me and it may take me a while around other people. But the one thing I do know is that I want to be with you. I— well I don’t want to lose you either.’ At that warm lips found hers and kissed softly, gently. She returned it, missing the feeling of it. How long had it been since they last kissed? She wasn’t sure, but it felt far too long.

'Stay with me tonight? All night?’ Elsa whispered, loathe to break the kiss but needing to ask. Was there such a thing as wanting to be together alone? That's what she wanted, as contradictory as that may have been.

‘Always.’ Came the answer. They laid down together and arms enfolded Elsa as she curled into them.

‘How’s your head?’

Elsa scrunched her brow in confusion. ‘How did you know about that?’

She could feel Maren’s light chuckle in her chest which was next to her ear. ‘I just know you I guess, plus I could kind of sense it.’ She placed a hand on Elsa’s forehead and started to rub small circles in her temples between her thumb and fingers exactly where the headache pulsed the strongest. Elsa let out a soft sigh, the relief that brought was magic in itself. A tingly sensation spread across her head then, bringing with it more relief, and suddenly her head felt heavy and she was tired. She slung her arm around Maren’s middle and pulled herself closer to her.

‘I love you.’  Elsa thought she heard whisper just over her, but sleep had already taken her.

Chapter Text

A sunbeam arc had wormed its way through the crack in Elsa's lavvu hut and caught her right in the eye. She squinted, opening her eyes to the muted wash of sunlight beating down on the outside of her tent. Some birds chirped in the distance, and the first thing she noticed was that her headache was blessedly gone. She turned to the space next to her in search of the person who had been the cause of that— to find Honeymaren gone. A pang of longing hit her. But in her place was a small plate of different berries, nuts, herbs and a cup full of warm mint tea.

She smiled at Maren's thoughtfulness— and she was hungry. The day before had been so busy, she wasn't sure she had eaten much of anything at all. Maren of course would remember something like that. She always paid attention to little things, especially about Elsa, and she felt safe knowing someone out here cared that much about her well being. The food part of transitioning to the forest had been a tough change in the beginning, but Maren had helped her with that too. She had never been one to eat much meat, it never sat right with her, and unfortunately, a staple of the Northuldran diet was meat and fish. But something had happened to her in Ahtohallan that first time she'd ventured there, and now she couldn't eat any meat at all without getting sick. She was still figuring out all the exact ways she'd been changed after Ahtohallan. At first she had thought it was just emotionally and spiritually, but she came to realize there had been physical changes within her as well. Besides being sickened at the thought of eating meat, her powers had grown. They hadn't necessarily become stronger, but more precise perhaps. She could call the magic with much more ease and fluidity than before, and could accurately control it at much further distances even when she couldn't see the manifestation of it. She felt more connected to her magic after that too, more at peace with it— similarly to how she had since felt more connected to herself in certain ways and to nature.

Maren had noticed about the food right away, and had helped her find other things to eat that didn't include meat. She felt bad at first, as she didn't want to offend the people who had kindly taken her in, but she had quickly learned they were not a judgemental type of people. Maren told her that many of them opted not to eat meat also. For some, like her, it just didn't sit well. Others didn't believe in eating animals, and some did it to raise their vibration and become closer to the oneness of nature. That last bit had intrigued her, as she had then wondered if that was part of what had happened to her in Ahtohallan. It had felt like her energy — or vibration — as Maren would call it, had been heightened when she was in there. She practically felt her whole body humming, and still it happened every time she went back— the glacier itself just felt so alive. It was mostly Maren's hypothesis, but she tended to agree with it. There really wasn't any other explanation for the strange changes to her body.

Elsa quickly re-braided her hair, and changed into her Arendelle travel outfit— the blue tunic and boots she had first worn when she arrived in the forest — the white ice outfit she now preferred was still a bit ostentatious for Arendellians, and she preferred to go unnoticed there as much as possible these days. It was important the people of Arendelle saw Anna as their queen now, and not her.

Once finished, she grabbed the plate and cup of tea and went outside to the little wooden table and chairs she had set up there, to enjoy the morning. The sun was shining and it looked to be a beautiful day— perfect for travel down to Arendelle.

She popped a cloudberry in her mouth and leaned back in the chair. Her mother had shown her how to identify and pick different kids of wild edible berries— she knew the differences between cloudberries, lingonberries and bilberries— all of which were on her plate now, picked by Maren. So many little things like that had come back to her about her mother the more time she spent up here in the forest. Little things she never saw at the time, but now recognized as being clearly Northuldran. She felt closer to her mother than she had felt in a long time living up here, living the way she once did amongst the people she came from. There were times she even felt her presence up here, especially when she was out in the woods by herself— though that could possibly just be her imagination. A heaviness settled on her chest. If only she had put all the little pieces together sooner, perhaps she could've learned more from and about her mother when she was alive. But then again how could she have ever known that her mother was Northuldran? And after finding out the truth about her grandfathers distrust of magic and indigenous people— there was no way to blame her parents for keeping her, her mother and Anna's Northuldran heritage a secret. Though it was still magical to think about the lost little Northuldran girl whom saved, then fell in love with a prince and became queen of Arendelle. She smiled and took a sip of her tea. That was surely the stuff of fairy tales.

Only, her mother had actually lived it. Had found the strength not only to cope with the loss of her family and make a life for herself in a strange new land alone, but had come to love someone who by all rights, she should have hated. The sheer strength her mother possessed was always something she admired, and was something she had held onto, long after her death. Her strength as a queen was what she'd leaned on in her former years of life— and now, her strength as a queen and a Northuldran woman was what she would hold tightly to. If her mother could do all things— then so could she. Or so she tried to make herself believe.

What then, must it have been like to have had two mothers? Two pillars from which one could draw strength and mould themselves after? Probably no different than how she had looked up to her mother and father, but she wanted ask Maren more about what that was like later anyway. Two mothers. The fact that two women — or two men she supposed — could be in love and freely show it was indeed foreign to her, and if she were to admit it— the thought of other people knowing that about her still made her extremely uncomfortable. And yet— it made so much more sense when she thought about it, then did the rigid rules that governed Arendelle via religion. Love was love, and it shouldn't matter what form that took on as long as the people involved were happy. And she knew, her mother would want her to be happy.

'Contemplating the meaning of life again are we?' Yelena's voice startled her and caused her hand to jerk, spilling a bit of the tea on herself— most of which froze midair then sprinkled to the ground.

'Oh, excuse me…' She brushed her hands together to remove the iced tea on them. 'Good morning Yelena.'

'Glad to see you're eating. You're too skinny.' Elsa chuckled at Yelena's bluntness. Her eyes scanned around for Maren, assuming she would be near. She was almost always in Yelena's shadow.

'She's not here.' Yelena stated, reading Elsa's expression. 'She's gone to get Daisy ready for the journey.'

Of course that's where she'd gone. It'd been a few days since Maren had seen Daisy and she knew she didn't like to go that long without at least visiting her.

'May I?' Yelena asked, gesturing at the chair opposite Elsa. Elsa nodded.

Yelena snatched a berry off her plate and leaned back in her chair. 'Did she ever tell you the story about how she found Daisy?'

Elsa nodded. 'She did.'

Daisy was Maren's reindeer— her very beautiful, very rare white reindeer. Maren had had her since she was a girl, since she found Daisy abandoned and hurt in the Liken Meadow fields which, at the time— were covered with daisies.

'She's incredibly beautiful.'

'She is. But did she tell you the whole story about white reindeer?' Elsa shook her head and gave a quizzical look. Maren had not shared this.

'Well, as you know, white reindeer are incredibly rare and as you said, truly beautiful. However, people of old used to associate them with ghosts— spirits, and they feared them. They thought they were dangerous — bad omens — bringers of death and often they would try to kill them if they saw one. Even the reindeers own kind usually abandoned it because of its inability to camouflage into the forest.'

Elsa just stared intently, waiting for the rest. It was so sad, and she empathized with the poor white reindeer, misunderstood and feared just for appearing different.

'Then on the other side of it, were the tribes who wished to capture the elusive white one— as some called it. They thought it was a goddess in animal form and sought to control it and use the magic they supposed it possessed for their own gain. Then still there were others, who revered it and made sacrifices in its name. Despite all of this, as we know, Daisy is just a regular reindeer like all the others — a beautiful and special one at that — but does she not have all the same animalistic needs as the others? The need for companionship and love? Would not it be unfair to deny her these things other deers enjoy, or to set unrealistic expectations of her to be something others thought she was, simply because she's different?'

Elsa had the distinct impression they were no longer talking about Daisy.

'No, it would not be fair to Daisy at all. And Maren,' Yelena smiled softly as she recalled the memory. 'She was the one who figured that out first. She saw through the whole charade of mythos surrounding the white one and simply saw a distressed, scared little baby reindeer, desperately in need of someone to care for and love it. And so she did — much to the chagrin of many of our fellow people — yet now those two are inseparable.'

There was a long pause, as Elsa struggled to find her voice. 'Maren is able to see what's on the inside, not just the outside.' It came out of her throat as no more than a whisper.

'Elsa, look at me.' Her eyes had been dangling over the plate of fruit and she begrudgingly brought them up to meet Yelena's gaze. But her stare wasn't penetrating this time, it was soft and understanding. 'You don't need to fear any feelings you have for her— just as Daisy didn't. It's very normal to feel those things, very human. I realize you grew up in a very different environment where such things are not accepted. But that doesn't mean you need to deny yourself happiness now.'

Elsa felt a tear slip out and she quickly swiped it away, returning her eyes to the plate of fruit in front of her. Something about what Yelena had said felt as though some invisible weight had been lifted off her shoulders and she nodded slightly, unable to find any appropriate words.

'Good. Now, finish your berries and get out of here.' She made a shooing motion with her hands. 'Maren tells me her brother and your sister may have burned down the kingdom by now.'

This caused her to chuckle— and it was possibly not far off the truth.

'Yelena.' She called as the woman started to walk away. 'Thank you.'

'Anytime... white one.' Yelena chuckled as she walked away. Elsa smiled and shook her head. She really had come to love Yelena. It was nice having a motherly presence back in her life again. She hadn't realized until just then how much she truly had missed that. She downed the rest of the tea, popped a few berries in her mouth and grabbed the rest in her hand to go find Maren and Daisy.

When she found them, Maren already had Daisy fixed with the saddle and saddle bags and was brushing her coat with one hand, stroking her neck with the other. A sinister smile crept over Elsa's lips— Maren hadn't seen her. What a perfect opportunity to sneak up on her while she was immersed in Daisy care. Maren was always able to sneak up on her, yet she had yet to be able to do the same to her. It was maddening. It was always her footsteps that gave her away— Maren could hear her no matter how much she practiced stepping lightly. She swore the woman had the senses of a bloodhound. So this time she splayed out a hand and quietly created a small pathway of snow leading right up to her unsuspecting victim. She took a step, then another— not an ounce of noise. She silently congratulated herself— she was in her element now, and Maren didn't stand a chance. Confident in her silence, she crept a touch faster— one foot after the other. She was nearly upon them when—

'I felt the cold from that you know.' Elsa stopped dead in her tracks, her victory crushed. Maren turned around to face her.

'And Daisy was looking right at you.' She smiled and put her hands on her hips as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. 'Also that's cheating.' Maren stated bluntly and gestured towards the snow.

Elsa placed her own hands on her hips in indignation and let out a dramatic sigh. 'And they say I'm the one with the weird powers.' This caused Maren to laugh outright.

'You are kinda weird.' She returned playfully as she tromped over the snow towards Elsa, pulling her into her arms and giving her a kiss. Elsa wrapped her hands around Maren's neck and kissed her back.

'Thank you for breakfast.'

'You don't eat enough.' She poked Elsa's belly, causing her to recoil from the tickle. 'I swear you'd forget to eat at all if I didn't place food in front of you.' Elsa chuckled.

'You might be right about that part.' She admitted guiltily.

'Oh I know I'm right. I guess you'll just have to keep me around forever so you don't waste away and starve to death.' She called over her shoulder as she returned to Daisy.

Elsa smiled and watched her mount up. She looked so regal sitting atop Daisy, her dark hair in stark contrast to Daisy's white coat pulled at her eyes and left her transfixed. She looked so confident— more like a queen than Elsa ever supposed she did— queen of the forest.

Daisy trotted happily over, and Elsa stroked her snout before Maren extended a hand down to her. 'Escort you to your steed m'lady?' Maren had put on her best Arendellian accent and Elsa couldn't help but laugh. She reached up, clasping wrists with Maren who easily swung her up and over the back of Daisy's saddle. She wrapped her arms around Maren's middle and put her chin over her shoulder.

'Lets go see if Arendelle still stands.' Maren jested, and off they flew into the woods.

 


 

'Elsa, my god. What even is this?' Anna muttered to the empty room as she poured over some bizarre diagram Elsa had drawn her. Scribbled at the top in Elsa's hand was 'Trade & Shipping Routes' underlined three times and that was the beginning and the end of what Anna understood of that piece of paper. It was a map at one point— perhaps… But now there were little paths connected to arrows scribbled manically all over the entire thing. Some on land, some through the sea and all overlapping into a miserable indecipherable mess. There was some kind of key or legend at the bottom but it was as useless as the rest of the map. Of course this was Elsa, so surely this had its precise reasonings and accuracies of that she was sure, but tell that to the little people who tried to decipher it. There's no way this kind of ludicrous brain activity was healthy. Was this what is was like in Elsa's head constantly? If so, Anna was ready to abdicate right then and there and fling the entire kingdom right back at her sister. And then get her head checked out by a physician. But no, she would get this, she would get this. She had to get this. For Elsa, she had to. Eventually, with time. You can do it. That's what Elsa kept telling her, though she was seriously beginning to doubt it at this point.

She moved on to the next sheet of paper below the deranged map, which was a detailed list of trade goods and quantities listed numerically by quantity and each attached to the name of a different kingdom. Likely, the kingdoms from which each good came— ok, this at least made a bit more sense— but when and why did she need this information in the first place again? Trade seemed to go on with or without her involvement, so what was the purpose of this little sheet? Was it just for her to review, or was she supposed to actually do something with it? What had Elsa said about it… Something about keeping personal notes to check against the official records… Ugh. Why though? Weren't the official's paid official money to do the official job? Did she really need to keep separate notes? Was there some other reason or was this just a particularly Elsa thing. Probably the latter— but she had no idea and her head hurt trying to think like her sister. No one's mind worked like Elsa's, that much was abundantly clear. And yet, she was always so on top of everything. Nothing ever escaped her notice. How had she done all of this?

Anna slumped back in the chair, resting her head on it and let out a long exasperated sigh. She turned her head to the side and looked at the crown that had been brought in not long before— which was now perched in its stand on the fireplace mantle. Her crown, now. The gemstone had finally been placed in the center of it— the light blue diamond crystal that had been the centerpiece of Elsa's and their mothers crown before her, now resided in her own. She turned her head away from it, unwilling to accept the finality of it. She hadn't done it right away— asked for the crystal to be placed in her new crown. Some part of her hoped that Elsa would still come back and take this all away from her. But that had not happened. Nor would it. Elsa was happy, of that she was sure, and she was happy for her— and when it became overtly clear that this new life of theirs — this new separate life — was permanent, that's when she had decided to have the crystal placed in her crown. A symbol of the great queens that had come before her and hopefully from which, she could draw strength from now. Perhaps when people saw it on her, it would remind them that Queen Elsa and Queen Iduna had once stood before them, and perhaps by that grace they would take her seriously even if she didn't always know what she was doing. It was something at least.

She stood up to walk over to Elsa's balcony. Stupid as it seemed, she hadn't wanted anything of Elsa's touched or moved after she left. Her room, her desk and ridiculous amount of books and papers, her clothes that she didn't take with her, all still resided in her room just as she had left them— and that's how it would stay. She had all but moved in there now anyway. At first she had just started sleeping in Elsa's bed, missing her smell and feeling like she maybe missed her a little bit less when she slept there. But then she hadn't wanted any of the papers taken out either, so she'd resorted to working at Elsa's desk, which took up more time than she ever thought it would, so inevitably she'd just moved in there permanently.

She opened the balcony doors and let the cool spring air wash over her as she leaned on the railing. Of course Elsa wasn't dead, she still came back once a week at least. Maybe less so recently, but either way it was just never enough. She missed her. She wasn't afraid to admit it, but she was loathe to tell her that too often. They were the bridge, this is how it was meant to be and she had to learn to accept it— even if she had initially wanted to strangle the magic out of Elsa when this whole sordid situation had been suggested. But she didn't. Elsa belonged in nature, she knew that. Perhaps a part of her had always known that which is why she'd been so desperate to hold on so tightly to her. She knew one day she would have to leave. And she couldn't deny that she had never in her entire life seen Elsa as happy as the day she had returned from Ahtohallan that first time. She was practically glowing, and Anna had cried upon seeing her. Not just because she was relieved she was alive, but because deep down she knew she was going to lose her again. She had finally found her place, her purpose, her peace in this world, the answers she so desperately needed and so acutely deserved— even if that place was not under the same roof as Anna anymore. If only she could just figure out how to find that same sense of peace herself.

She squinted her eyes across the bright glassy fjord, searching the direction from which her big sister usually rode in on. But there was nothing out there. Just white blinding water and empty mountains. Both only reminded her of Elsa, so she dropped her head into her hands to block it out.

Elsa please, I can't do this alone. Get back here.

I need you.

Chapter Text

‘I’m not even going to try this time.’ Elsa said, waving a defeated hand towards Maren as she walked into the stables. Maren’s back was turned to her again, this time as she unhinged Daisy from all her travel gear.

‘Good, because I saw you walking up from the fjord.’ Maren teased as she heaved Daisy’s saddle over the rack.

Elsa shot her a dirty look and turned to the white horse in the stall nearest her. It snorted happily upon seeing her.

‘Aw, hello Kjekk. Yes, did you miss your Auntie Elsa?’ Elsa cooed in a voice reserved exclusively for babies and animals. She reached her hand out to the snoot of Anna’s horse and stroked his velvety nose. He tried to lick her hand in return. She smiled and reached for a carrot off one of the high shelves to feed him— he snatched it cheerfully from her fingers. Just then Elsa heard the familiar clip clop of reindeer hooves trotting towards her from the other end of the stable.

‘Sven, there you are!’ Elsa cooed in the same baby voice. At hearing his name Sven picked up his pace, nearly running towards her now. Elsa noticed Daisy’s ears perk up when Sven came into her line of sight, and she made a happy little reindeer grunt and tried to walk forward, but Maren still had her trapped in the corner unstrapping more buckles.

Sven nearly plowed Elsa over when he got to her, poking her stomach with his snout and rubbing it there. She laughed at the ticklish feeling and hugged Sven around as much of his head as she could get her arms around. He then began sniffing and poking his nose around her.

‘So, you heard the crunch of a carrot from all the way outside did you?’ Elsa teased and tapped one finger on Sven’s nose. He clearly knew the word carrot because he became more excited when it was uttered. Elsa laughed through her nose. ‘Ok, here.’ She reached for another carrot and gave it to Sven who happily ate it in one bite. This, was apparently too much for Daisy to handle, because she barreled through Maren and trotted over to them, dragging a saddle bag with her.

‘Uhhh.’ Maren groaned as Daisy slipped past her.

‘Sorry.’ Elsa laughed as she reached for yet another carrot for Daisy. Sven, for his part, waited patiently as Daisy received her carrot, and made no attempt to snatch it himself— which for Sven was very odd behavior.

‘What a gentleman.’ Elsa cooed while stroking his chin. Meanwhile Maren had slunk behind Daisy while she was occupied with her carrot, and managed to get the saddle bag fully off her.

‘You spoil her.’

‘She deserves it, doesn’t she.’ Elsa said to Daisy and patted her head. At that Sven took off back the way he came with Daisy close on his heels— out back to the enclosed pasture.

‘Have her back by eleven young man!’ Maren called after them. She then turned mischievous eyes on Elsa. ‘You know, I do love hearing you talk cute like that.’ She said and slunk her arms around Elsa’s middle, drawing her close. ‘We should do that.’ Maren nodded her head in the direction the two deers had just run.

Elsa raised an eyebrow. ‘Eat carrots together?’ She jested. Maren playfully squeezed her sides and she jumped slightly at the tickle.

‘No, well yes. We should eat together— or something. We should go on a real date sometime.’

‘Don’t we already eat together?’

Maren smirked and raised a playful eyebrow at her sarcasm. ‘No, I mean, what do people do in Arendelle when one person is interested in another? Don’t they like, eat a fancy dinner together, or go to a party or something?’

‘Well, you’re asking the wrong Arendellian. Anna would know much more about this than me.’

Maren scrunched her brow asking the silent question. Explain?

Elsa smiled, slightly unsure how to explain it all. ‘Well, when men would take an interest in me, it was usually platonically related to what their kingdom could gain through marriage to me— not romance.’ She paused, but Maren continued to look at her with those concerned eyes so she continued. ‘Mostly it involved boring political talk at parties, then they would usually get drunk and try to get closer to me than I was comfortable with, which I always wanted to escape from— Anna intervened most times— but really, parties in general I just dreaded.’

There was something in Maren’s eyes that was unfamiliar to her, anger was it? ‘I’m glad Anna intervened. I would have shot an arrow at them.’ Maren deadpanned. Elsa couldn’t help but smirk at the thought of that. ‘I’m serious.’

‘I know you are that’s why I’m smiling.’

‘Well, you never struck me as a party goer anyway. If those idiots couldn’t see that— see how uncomfortable they made you, then they deserved to get an arrow whizzed right past their heads.’ Elsa was still trying to cover her amusement. The image of Maren clad in her forest gear, tromping through a socialite party and taking aim on some unsuspecting suitor was far too delightful an image to push away. ‘Were you ever… interested in any of them?’ Maren asked it with some hesitancy.

‘No.’

She surprised herself with how quickly the answer had come out. But it was nothing less than the truth. ‘I— well I spent so much of my life so focused on trying to control my powers, to conceal them and not feel anything— that I never allowed myself to entertain the idea of any type of romantic attraction. I just didn’t have the emotional capacity for it at the time— feeling something for someone was a dangerous variable that I could eliminate, so I did. It was safer that way…’ Maren had reached her hand up and was playing with the stray tendrils of hair at the nape of Elsa’s neck. Her eyes never left Elsa’s. ‘Then I suppose, a few years ago, after Anna and I reunited—’  Maren was nodding, remembering the story. ‘And I realized I did have more control over my powers than I thought— well then I started introspecting. I watched Kristoff and Anna interact and I started to think that maybe one day I could have something like that. But I could never visualize what type of person that could be— what type of person could see me in that way.’ She had to pull her eyes away from Maren’s or risk drowning in them.

‘I see you.’

The sincerity of those words cut through her, so simple were they, yet so powerful. ‘And I love what I see.’ Elsa brought her eyes back up to drown. ‘I see someone strong and courageous and smart and kind and beautiful— inside and out. Someone who cares more about everyone else than she cares about herself. Someone who has been through hell and back and still has one of the kindest hearts of anyone I’ve ever known.’ Maren moved her hand to cup Elsa’s cheek.

‘That’s the way I see you.’

Elsa could feel her throat closing up and her face get hot— she did not want to cry so she diverted. ‘At least now I understand why I was never interested in any of those men— why I was never going to be interested in men. I’ve never felt anything in the world like the feelings you make me feel.’

Maren brought her other hand up to Elsa’s cheek and kissed her, holding her face in both hands. Soft, slow and meaningful— a message that she understood. Elsa sighed into the kiss, her kisses were so overwhelming with emotion sometimes, and Elsa couldn’t get enough of it. Maren broke the kiss and put her forehead to Elsa’s, letting out a sigh of her own.

‘The things you make me feel can’t be formed with words… Elsa, I just don’t want you to miss out on anything— all the normal stuff you never got to do. I want you to have everything.’ She was so sincere so full of honest emotion that all Elsa could do was pull her close into a tight hug.

‘Maren, I don’t need everything. I just need you.’ She whispered in her ear. ‘Riding through the woods, picking berries with you is the best date I could ever ask for. I mean that.’

Maren pulled away and held Elsa’s hands in her own, rubbing circles over them with her thumbs and nodding as she looked down. ‘Careful, or you’re going to make me fall in love with you.’ 

‘Maybe I don’t want to be careful about that…’

Maren smiled and shook her head. ‘Alright, enough of this or you’re going to make me cry.’ She teased. ‘You should go spend some time with your sister, I’ve been monopolizing you. She needs you too. There’s just not enough of you to go around.’ Maren poked her playfully in the belly again. Elsa chuckled and pecked her on the cheek.

‘Your coming?’

‘No, you two should have some sister time. Plus I still feel this clawing need to go find Ryder. I saw Iskko out back before, so I know he’s here— and I have a pretty good idea where to find him. Big sister duties call— for both of us.’ Maren leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. ‘I’ll see you in a while.’

Elsa reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her back in and giving her one more kiss. ‘Bye.’ She whispered after the kiss. Maren smiled, brought Elsa’s hand up to her lips and kissed it.

‘Bye.’ She then turned and walked left out of the stables towards town. Elsa followed, but instead of left she went right in the direction of the castle. She had to find the right way to tell Anna about her feelings for Maren, but she wasn’t sure how to do it, or even if she should do it with how overwhelmed Anna had been lately. She would have to play it by ear. And she had to admit part of herself was terrified about how Anna might react. Surely she wouldn’t stop loving her, but she wasn’t sure she could take it if Anna started to look at her differently. She also knew keeping that from Anna was impossible— they both vowed never to keep things from each other again and she couldn’t live with herself knowing she was breaking that promise. And she didn’t want to keep it from her— she wanted to share everything with her about Maren— all her thoughts and feelings— just as Anna had shared with her about Kristoff. She would have to find a way to tell her, no matter her fears.

The evening sun had already dipped below the mountains— the days and nights nearly equal for the brief time before the days would begin to swallow the nights whole. She found herself already at the cobblestone pathway leading up to the castle, which was cast in the reddish hue of dying light that still managed to worm its way up and around the mountains. The street lamps had just been lit, and hardly anyone was out. Likely at home or in a pub eating dinner and she was thankful for the timing— few if any would see or recognize her as she made her way up to the open castle gates. The smell of salty ocean air hit her again on a warm breeze— and she was home.

‘Her Royal Highness has returned!’ A guard called from atop the gate. Elsa smiled at him but cringed inwardly— Lieutenant Mattias had clearly not spoken to him yet about the subtle way in which she usually desired to arrive. She did not wish to be announced anymore. Still, she waved in acknowledgement to the guard and continued into the courtyard, which was empty except for the few guards on post, who all bowed their heads respectfully as she passed.

‘Your Maj—! I mean Your Highness!’ It was Kai who called to her from the doorway.

‘Hello Kai.’ Elsa spoke with a smile as she walked up the stairs to greet him. She leaned down to the portly man and gave him a hug. She had known him since her birth and Kai was like family. ‘I don’t suppose you could try just Elsa?’ Kai threw her a deadpanned look.

After a beat: ‘No, that’s not possible Your Majesty.’ Kai cringed at using her former title. ‘I will work on it. Old habits die hard.’ He said with a kind smile. She chuckled.

Elsa’s eyes glanced upward for a brief moment. ‘How’s she doing?’

‘She is— she is trying very hard.’ Elsa frowned at the cryptic assessment of her sisters wellbeing. Reading her expression Kai followed up with: ‘She simply has different strengths and weaknesses than you did, and we are working through them.’ Elsa scrunched her brow, indicating she needed more details. ‘She is struggling with the paperwork and diplomacy aspect, but she is excelling at winning the people over—she does beautifully at social functions. People absolutely adore her.’

‘Of course they do.’ How could they not. Elsa smiled, remembering how beautiful Anna had looked at her coronation. Stunning green dress and cape that fit her perfectly and matched her eyes, her hair done up in the same fashion as her own and their mother’s when they had ruled. You couldn’t look at her and not be overcome with a powerful sense of endearment. It was the first time she had really seen Anna transform before her eyes from a cute bubbly girl into a regally beautiful woman— and she had cried upon witnessing it. It was the first and only time in living memory that she had allowed herself to cry publicly. For the beauty that was her sister, for what she knew that day meant, and for how gracefully Anna had accepted it. Her heart had nearly burst that day, and she couldn’t have stopped the tears even if she had tried. She had cried a lot since then too with Anna, for Anna— perhaps another change within her since Ahtohallan.

‘I won’t let anything happen to her or the realm, you know that.’ Kai interjected pulling her out of her thoughts. She placed a hand on his shoulder.

‘I do.’ Kai had been her fathers closest advisor and had been regent in the years after her parents had died before she was coronated. He had taught her so much about diplomacy, and she knew he would do the same for Anna, and that eased her some. ‘Where is she?’

‘She’s upstairs. She’s been holed up in your room for days going over paperwork. I’ve tried to convince her to take a break but she is stubbornly determined.’

‘Days..?’ Elsa said with a sense of urgency and took off for the stairs. ‘Thank you Kai, please let’s speak more later.’ She called over her shoulder and caught him nod as he walked away.

Once upstairs she reached the door to her room in a matter of a few long hurried strides.

‘Ann—’  She started as she opened the door, but abruptly cut off her voice. Sitting at her desk, slumped over in a mess of paperwork was a sleeping Anna. Her head rested on one arm and the other was hanging down next to her legs, quill still held loosely in hand dripping ink. ‘Oh, Anna.’ Elsa whispered sadly and shut the door gently. She walked over and knelt beside the chair, sweeping Anna’s braid off her face and behind her shoulder.

She gently removed the quill from Anna’s dangling fingers which caused her to stir.

‘Hi baby girl.’ Elsa whispered and smoothed Anna’s bangs back. Her eyes blinked sleepily until they found Elsa’s, widening with surprise.

‘Elsa!’ Anna cried and dove off the chair and into her arms, nearly knocking her backward with the force of it. Elsa laughed and caught her, holding her tightly.

‘You’re really here right, I’m not dreaming? Because I’ve been having these dreams lately and if this is another dream I’m going to be really mad.’ Anna said into her hair. Elsa chuckled at Anna’s ramble.

‘It’s really me.’ She confirmed and rubbed Anna’s back.

‘Sorry not done yet.’ Anna said and squeezed Elsa tighter, not letting her go from the hug. Elsa chuckled again and continued to hold her.

‘As long as you need.’

‘Forever is what I need.’ Anna joked, finally releasing her from the hug.

‘Done.’

Anna smiled and stood up, reaching out a hand to pull Elsa up with her.

‘Sorry its such a mess… I’ve kind of— taken over a little bit here…’ Anna said, a hint of embarrassment in her voice. Elsa glanced around. Besides the papers strewn all over the desk, Anna had clothes draped all over the place as well— an empty food tray sat on the near table accompanied by several empty mugs that were once probably filled with coffee. The bed was unmade and doors to the balcony swung open in the breeze.

‘Anna, how long have you been in here?’ Her sister blinked, seriously considering the question.

‘That’s a good— Um. Well I’m not entirely sure. Only like a day— or two at the most?’ The question in her voice told Elsa she had no clue how long shed been holed up in there.

‘Kai tells me it’s maybe been a bit longer than that.’

‘Well I go down to get food and coffee sometimes, and I see Kristoff.’ She offered weakly in defense.

‘Anna.’ Anna cast her eyes away from Elsa’s unable to meet them.

‘I just really really don’t want to mess this up.’ Anna’s eyes were still looking down and to the right away from Elsa’s. Something about the way she stood there, disheveled and defeated threatened to break Elsa’s heart.

‘You’re not going to mess anything up.’

Anna let out a long sigh. ‘You don’t know that. You were— you were so good at everything Elsa. I’m just not you.’ She let her hands drop loudly onto her legs.

‘Anna come here.’ She gestured towards the bed and walked over to sit on the edge of it. Anna followed, sitting cross legged on top of it facing her. ‘You don’t have to be me. In fact you shouldn’t try to be. You should only be you— you are so much better at so many things than I was. People love you for you. You need to understand that about yourself.’ Anna’s brow creased and she looked to the side, contemplating. ‘Anna, talk to me. What’s going on?’

After a long pause and a deep breath: ‘It’s the letters again… I keep… mixing them up. It makes me feel so stupid Elsa.’

Elsa grabbed Anna’s hand in her own and squeezed. The letters— words. Of course. Anna had always struggled reading and writing them, ever since they were kids. Especially aloud in front of others. She knew this was one of Anna’s main worries about becoming queen.

‘Anna, look at me. You are not stupid. Don’t ever say that about yourself— you are one of the smartest people I know. I’ve seen the sheer number of books you’ve read and all the journals you’ve filled up with your stories. Mixing up the letters is just a weird thing your brain does, it doesn’t in any way make you stupid. You have to believe me on this.’

Anna’s eyes squinted at her. ‘Wait, you didn’t actually read any of my journals did you?’ Elsa chuckled and shook her head.

‘No, of course not.’ Anna let out a visible sigh of relief.

‘Good because those are going to my grave with me… In fact I should just burn them. Actually I think I will.’ Anna’s face was a shade redder than usual and Elsa was smiling at her embarrassment. She had not read them, but based on the romantic novels Anna was always reading she could just about guess what the stories she had written contained. And from Anna’s embarrassment it was most likely very suggestive romance Anna was writing.

‘But I would love to read them sometime—’

‘Nope. Not happening.’

‘Ok.’ Elsa chuckled. ‘Anna listen to me, we will figure this out. When you write up a draft of something, have Kai or Gerda look over it for you when you’re done. And Kai can read your official letters out loud for you, that’s not strange, he used to do that for me all the time. Speeches you can memorize— actually its better if you do anyway it comes across more genuine. And if anyone gives you a hard time about anything, I will come down and make them regret it.’ This caused a much needed smile to spread across Anna’s face. ‘I will help you, you’ll always have me.’

‘I know.’

‘And don’t spend your days in here trying to fix this. There is nothing that needs to be fixed in you. Go outside, make Kristoff take you on a date.’

‘He’s been trying, maybe I will take him up on it.’

‘You should. I’ve also had another thought— actually I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time, but I think now may be the right time.’

‘For what?’ Anna’s perky interest returned and warmed Elsa’s heart. She couldn’t stand seeing her so down on herself.

‘Well, I was thinking of taking you to Ahtohallan.’ At that Anna’s eyes grew wide with excitement.

‘Really?’ She was practically bouncing on the bed as she said it.

‘Yes. There’s a lot there that you need see— about Mama and Papa. Not just that, but I was hoping you might also be able to see some of the memories that were taken from you. I wanted to wait until you were settled here, after the coronation and everything…’ Anna cut her off with a squeal that would shatter even the thickest ice in Ahtohallan.

‘Yeeeeeesssssss!!! Yes, yes yes yesssss!’ Elsa squinted and laughed at the piercing noise Anna was still expounding. ‘Oh I’m sorry, I’m just so excited. This is amazing, I’ve been wanting to do this since you told me… Oh my gosh, when, when??!’ She had Elsa’s hand in a vice grip and was shaking it violently. Elsa was laughing.

‘Well I rode in today with Honeymaren, she wants to spend some time with Ryder. But I figured as soon as we’re all ready we could go. I assume Kristoff will come also.’

‘Of course. But will it just be you and me at Ahtohallan?’

‘Just you and me.’

‘Good. Now, tell me all about it again…’

Chapter Text

Blodgett’s Bakery.

Maren glanced up at the wooden sign swinging slightly in the breeze and chuckled to herself. As many times as she had visited Arendelle— and probably as long as she would continue to visit in the future, she would never get over some of the ridiculous customs of this culture. A bakery, she had learned, made all kinds of absurdly sweet foods that usually made one feel sick after eating them. Why one would willingly imbibe substances that would knowingly make them ill was still a mystery to her. Apparently many Arendellian’s enjoyed this? She did not. Elsa’s sister was one of those who partook regularly in eating these sweet things and she was mysteriously immune to the ill effects of them. Chocolate in particular had been hard for her to understand at first. Both Anna and Elsa loved it, yet to her it had looked something akin to the stool that came out of a reindeer, and she could not get past that even after she’d tried it. A smile crept across her lips at remembering how Elsa had giggled when she had nearly spat out the chocolate she and Anna had been so excited and insistent she try. To her, it had tasted as disgusting as it looked. Are you ok? Elsa had asked in that concerned quiet voice of hers, to which she managed a nod and swallowed the offensive substance. Anna was trying desperately and failing to hold in laughter and then offered: Sorry, we didn’t think anyone couldn’t love it.

She smiled and shook her head as her thoughts turned to Anna. Anna, Elsa’s shorter goofier half— sister to the woman she loved, friend, and now queen of Arendelle. The girl who had truly been the only constant source of love and support in Elsa’s whole life— and for that, she said a silent thank you to Anna. Like Elsa, she had had a soft spot for her right from the start. Her first impression of this gangly red headed girl had been endearment— Anna had struck her as a grown child. The way she clung to and followed Elsa protectively around everywhere she went as if the sun rose and set on her, was strange to witness at first, but oddly endearing. It reminded her of how Ryder used to follow her around, albeit when they were much much younger. Nonetheless, the love Anna expounded for her sister with her actions alone spoke volumes about her person. It wasn’t until Elsa told her the whole story of their upbringing that she gained a much clearer understanding of Anna’s extremely attached and protective nature. In retrospect— even the way she had arbitrarily pointed a sword in the wrong direction that first time she’d seen her, had been humorously childlike. The sword was too big for her body and it was clear she didn’t know what she was doing with it. Perhaps, much like the kingdom she had just inherited. Yet to her credit, she still tried— the girl was brave and determined, much like her sister, and she had to hand it to her. Without Anna, and of course Elsa, she would still be trapped behind the mist in the forest.

Maren stopped her feet on the empty cobblestone streets and turned around. Towering in the distance against the twilight sky, loomed the shadowy silhouette of the castle, where right now Anna was probably greeting Elsa enthusiastically. What would they talk about, she wondered? Would Elsa talk about her? Would she tell Anna about what had grown between them, that it had become more than friendship? She knew either way it would put Anna in a bad position. Among the other customs of Arendelle she could not wrap her head around, the biggest one was their basic denial and general intolerance of same sex relationships. It apparently went against the accepted religion of the realm— so much so that people were supposedly afraid if it— which was just strange. She had grown up with it being perfectly normal—  had seen firsthand how beautiful it could be— so why would a religion that knew nothing about it shun it so indiscriminately? It made no sense. Yet Anna was now leader of an entire people who followed and accepted this religion, and yet the person she loved most was in supposed direct violation of it. That could cause a lot of problems for her, and the last thing she wanted was to cause the sisters more trouble. Especially Anna who was still finding her feet as a new ruler.

Yet, knowing Anna as she did, and knowing how much she loved Elsa— her gut instinct felt that Anna would not be off put by the news that she and Elsa had developed feelings for one another. Anna’s cheerfulness always seemed to increase the happier Elsa was, and this should be no different. But then again, Anna had grown up here like Elsa— and she had seen first hand how uncomfortable Elsa had been just holding her hand in front of Yelena. Perhaps she really didn’t know how Anna would react. Well, she wouldn’t push it, she would wait and follow Elsa’s lead and see how she chose to handle it with Anna. She did hope though that Elsa would find some way to tell her, even if they had to keep their relationship quiet in Arendelle for now— she did not want to be the cause of secrets and rifts between them.

Looking up from her thoughts, she realized that her feet had carried her to the outskirts of the town. The sign above her read Oaken’s Pub and, taking one last glance at the castle in the distance, she went inside. Upon entering the familiar place, the smell of ale, cooked food and noisy chatter of rowdy men hit her immediately. One man strummed a lute at a corner table as others sang with him. Some played cards or were wrestling arms over a table filled with mugs of ale. This place, she had come to realize, was situated on the outskirts of town as it was the main pub that the ice harvesters and woodsmen frequented. This also meant that for once in Arendelle, she did not really look out of place— aside from being the only female there.

‘Mare!’ A voice called excitedly from the chaos. ‘Mare over here!’ Her eyes found her brother, sitting at the front counter, ale in hand waving her down like an excited five year old. A smiling Kristoff sat next to him and gave her a smaller wave as she walked over to them. Ryder jumped off his stool and pulled her into a vice grip hug, forcing the breath out of her.

‘Mare I’m so glad to see you, I didn’t know you were coming!’ Ryder smelled like ale, and even for him this was overzealous affection. He was drunk.

‘It was sort of last minute… Ryder I can’t breathe.’

‘Oh, oh sorry. Sit sit!’ He released her and slid over a seat so she could sit between himself and Kristoff.

‘Hi Maren.’ Kristoff said as she sat down, a guilty look on his face. He had ale in his hand as well but appeared mostly sober. ‘He’s only had three, really I’m keeping an eye on him.’

‘Excuse me, I don’t need either one of you keeping an eye on me thank you.’ Ryder said with a hint of a slur in his words as he pointed between her and Kristoff— spilling some of the ale from his mug on his hand. Maren locked eyes for the briefest moment with Kristoff before returning to Ryder. ‘Mare, have a drink with us just once, please, c’mon this stuff is great! I can’t believe I went my whole life without trying it!’

She had tried it. Once, and it tasted abhorrent. And if drinking it would cause her to start acting like Ryder was just then, she would rather not.

‘Björn!’ Ryder was now waving at the man serving drinks and food behind the counter. ‘Björn, I want you to meet someone!’ A large muscular blonde man turned towards them, who she had not seen before but assumed must be said Björn. He was at least as tall as Kristoff— maybe even bigger, and he had very soft kind blue eyes and facial features to match. His hair was cropped short at the sides, but on top it had grown longer and was pulled back into a tiny bunch at the back of his head. ‘Björn, this is my sister Honeymaren— most people call her Maren or Mare but you can call her either and can you bring her an ale?’ Ryder hadn’t paused for a breath in that whole sentence and she had to resist the urge to roll her eyes.

‘Maren, will be fine.’ It came out more stern than she had intended and she wasn’t sure why— so she softened: ‘No ale thank you, please.’ She said and glared at Ryder who looked pouty and defeated. She continued to stare at him, waiting to be introduced.

‘Oh, Mare, this is Björn. He works here sometimes, his dad owns the place and he helps out. His dad also owns this amazing trading post out in the woods— that’s where I’ve been staying. You should see it! I’ve been helping out there too in exchange for a room. Oh and when he’s not working here Björn’s an ice harvester like Kristoff— these two have been showing me the ropes.’ He playfully leaned over her and punched Kristoff in the arm.

‘It’s a pleasure.’ Björn smiled and reached out a hand to her. He was very mannerly. Which was out of place amongst such a rowdy group and his niceness annoyed her for some unspecified reason. She reached out her hand, which was nearly swallowed entirely by his as they shook.

‘Nice to meet you. I hope my brother hasn’t been too much trouble.’ She smiled and nodded her head to the side. Björn released her hand and his eyes flicked over to Ryder and back to hers. A small smile formed over his lips.

‘No not at all.’

Well he was certainly a person of few words and she was having a hard time reading him. This also annoyed her. And the way his eyes kept flicking over to Ryder was not lost on her.

‘Can I get you anything else?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Kristoff?’

‘I’m good, thanks.’

‘Excuse me then.’ Björn said and hurried off to a table of men clanging their empty mugs on the table. She turned to find Ryder staring after Björn with this strange faraway look in his eyes. She snapped her fingers in front of his face.

‘Hey. What’s going on here?’ Ryder blinked and returned to reality.

‘Mare. I think I’m in love.’ Ryder whispered dramatically so that only she and Kristoff could hear. She blinked a few times to make sure she’d heard him correctly then turned briefly to look at Kristoff who just looked at her and took a sip of his ale.

‘I’m sorry, what?’ She asked, returning to Ryder.

‘Mare. Do you know that they think it’s weird here for same sex people to be together?’ He whispered it so loudly he might as well have shouted it.

‘Yes, yes, I do know that. Keep your voice down. Are you trying to tell me that you and Björn…’

‘Mare it’s like, I’ve always had these feelings right— you know this. But when I met Björn it just felt so right, d’ya know what I mean?’ Of course she knew. But she was still entirely blindsided by this whole ordeal and was having trouble formulating her thoughts.

‘Does he… does he feel the same way?’ This was the most important thing. If Ryder had a crush on a man in Arendelle who did not feel the same way, she was afraid of what could happen.

‘I hope so.’ Ryder said wistfully, staring off into space.

‘For what it’s worth,’ Kristoff chimed in. ‘I’ve known Björn most of my life, he’s a great guy— I know his father really well too, and Björn definitely swings the other way. His dad does too.’ Maren gave him a puzzled look. ‘Likes men, they both like men.’

‘Right.’

‘Listen, I know this may not be the norm in Arendelle but I was just telling Ryder before you got here that it’s not strange to me, and personally I don’t have any problem with it. Neither does Anna. I grew up around the ice harvesters and if I’m being completely honest, most of them swing the other way too, they just aren’t public about it.’ Kristoff stated. Neither does Anna. Neither does Anna. A surge of excitement ran up her at those words— she would need Kristoff to elaborate on that later, but not now.

‘Mare, what do you think of him?’

She glanced over to where Björn was pouring ale to a group of men. He seemed nice enough, and he was definitely handsome but she really didn’t know a thing about him. ’I think, I would like to get to know him better. But, he seems very polite.’ She paused, reconsidering her words. Ryder was a grown man now, even if he didn’t always act like it— and he deserved to figure out his own way just as she was doing, without her worrying in his ear. ‘Ryder, go for it. I saw the way he was looking at you. Just be careful and be happy.’ At that he practically tackle-fell off the stool onto her and pulled her into a hug, kissing her forehead.

‘Woop, ok.’ Maren braced as Ryder slumped onto her. He clearly did not have the means to fully stand back up on his own. Kristoff grabbed him under the arm to pull him off of Maren and another hand had grabbed Ryders other arm to steady him. She looked up to find hulking Björn standing there, gripping Ryders arm.

‘Here, help me take him to the back so he can lie down.’ Björn said to Kristoff. They slung Ryders arms around their necks and hauled him away around the counter and through a doorway to the back of the pub.

‘I just love you guys.’ She heard Ryder’s slurred voice echo as they carried him off. All she could do was stand there and watch stupefied. She sat back down. Maybe she should have ordered an ale… Well one thing was for sure, her instinct to check on Ryder had been accurate, only this is not at all what she had foreseen happening this night.

After a time, two of the three men returned— Kristoff sat back down next to her and Björn returned to the other side of the counter and started wiping it down.

‘He’s asleep— he can stay here while I finish up, if that’s ok. I’ll take him home after, I have a wagon.’ Björn offered.

She scrunched her brow, not sure what her answer should be. Did she trust this man she had just met that clearly had some kind of feelings for her brother, to safely deliver him home? Kristoff certainly seemed to trust him, and that was something, but this was such an odd situation.

‘I think that would be fine— Maren?’ Kristoff prodded asking for her confirmation.

‘Sure.’ She found herself saying, unable to formulate a better solution. ‘Thank you.’ Björn nodded and smiled.

‘Can I walk you back to the castle?’ Kristoff asked as he stood, apparently ready to leave. She was more than ready to leave herself.

‘Sure.’

‘Thanks again. See you tomorrow buddy.’ Kristoff clasped hands with Björn who nodded.

Ryder talks about you so much, it was great to finally meet you. I’m sorry I couldn’t spend more time talking with you all tonight.’ Björn said to her with a sad smile.

‘It’s ok. Another time. And thank you for taking him home.’ Her abject stupor had finally started to dissipate and she was maybe sure that Björn was not going to murder Ryder as he slept.

‘Not a problem, I’ll see you both again.' Björn looked pointedly at her while he spoke.

She waved and followed Kristoff to the door where he had opened it for her.

‘You ok?’ Kristoff asked once they were out into the quiet night air.

‘Yeah— yes. Yes, I am. That was just a lot to take in.’

Kristoff chuckled. ’Yeah, but you know they are really into each other. I’ve been with them every day practically, I can see it. And Ryder is doing really well for himself here.’

‘He’s really happy here isn’t he.’ It came out a quiet statement that she already knew the answer to, more so than a question.

‘Sure seems like it.’

‘What did you mean before, when you said same sex relationships didn’t bother Anna. Is she really ok with it?’

‘As far as I can tell yes— and Anna isn’t really known for keeping secrets.’ Kristoff chuckled. ‘She just loves love, period. When people are happy and in love, then she’s happy. She doesn’t really question it. Especially when those people are people she cares about.’

‘That’s— really, well I’m not surprised. But do you think it will cause any problems for her, to support it as queen of a nation that largely opposes it?’

Kristoff’s brow furrowed. ‘What I know, is that Anna goes to battle for the things she cares about and believes in— that’s one of the things I love most about her. Will there be trouble if she openly supports this? Maybe. And I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that scares me for her. And maybe she doesn’t need to openly support it just yet— but when her mind is made up there is no changing it— queen or not. She’s stubborn.’ Kristoff chuckled. After a moment of silence: ‘Why are you so interested in this?’

‘Just… for Ryder, you know. I’m worried about it all. Especially if he’s going to stay here.’

A long pause. 'Is that the only reason?’

‘What do you mean?’

He shrugged. ‘Just wondering what side you swing with. Where you’re from this is not exactly taboo I gather.’

This caught her off guard, but after witnessing how Kristoff had handled the earlier events of the evening, there was no reason not to tell him. 'I’m attracted to women. Always have been.’

Kristoff nodded. ‘Women in general or just one woman in particular?’

She stopped walking and turned to face him. ‘What?’

He stopped walking and shrugged again. ‘I’ve just noticed that you and Elsa spend a lot of time together, that’s all.’

She blinked, unsure how to respond to this. Had they really been that obvious? Or was it just because Kristoff knew Elsa so well. Either way he was insinuating that he suspected something— something that was definitely true. She wasn’t sure she could come up with a cover story quickly enough. Then suddenly: ‘It’s ok, I won’t say anything to Anna.’ He was smiling at her.

‘But, how did you…?’

‘Well,’ He started walking again and she followed suit. ‘First of all, I was raised by mountain trolls. I don’t know what you know of them, but they are considered love experts by many— among other things.’ She had heard of the mountain trolls that resided in the valley of living rock, but she had never seen them and knew next to nothing about them. ‘You see, they can sniff out love before the people in love even know— and this I learned how to do from them. Besides, I’ve known Elsa over three years now and I have never seen her spend personal time with anyone other than Anna. Until you. It was pretty clear to me.’

Another long pause. 'Does Anna know?’

‘No. She’s— she’s been dealing with a lot of other stuff lately.’ Kristoff’s voice had a sad tone attached to it suddenly.

‘Is she ok?’

‘She will be.’ He smiled and deflected her question. ‘I’m really glad you and Elsa came back though, I think she really needs her sisters support right now.’ Maren smiled at that.

‘Elsa really misses her. And worries about her all the time.’

‘I know. Anna’s the same way. What are we gonna do with those two.’ Kristoff smiled and shrugged.

She chuckled and shook her head in return. Love them was all she could think, but she didn’t say it.

The courtyard was upon them suddenly and Maren couldn’t believe they were back at the castle already. They walked together in silence through the entrance hallway and up the stairs. Once at the top, Kristoff turned towards Elsa’s bedroom and Maren stood at the top of the stairs watching him with a puzzled look. He nodded his head and gestured for her to follow him over. She said nothing, and walked over to where he stood as he knocked gently at the door. They waited a beat, but got no response. Quietly he opened the door so that he and Maren could poke their heads in. What she saw was a room scattered with clothes, papers and empty food trays. Her eyes followed the mess over to the bed where she saw both sisters fast asleep. Anna was nestled in Elsa’s arms, with Iduna’s scarf wrapped around her. Elsa had fallen asleep half sitting up, her arm draped protectively over Anna. They looked like two young innocent girls sleeping soundly— curled around each other as if their lives depended on it— they did not, in that moment, look at all like two queens who held the weight of the world on their shoulders. Maren couldn’t help but smile at the sight.

Kristoff shut the door quietly. ‘She’s been in there for days.’ He said sadly. ‘I haven’t been able to get her to take a break, maybe Elsa can.’

‘I’m sure she will.’ Maren said with a sad smile. So, Anna had been more overwhelmed than either of them had thought— Elsa’s instinct to check on her had been correct also.

‘So I’m pretty sure I drank my dinner tonight and now am starving, are you hungry?’

‘Actually yes. I’m starving.’ Maren chuckled. She hadn’t eaten a thing since this morning.

‘Come down to the scullery, I’ll make us some sandwiches before bed. Sandwiches are Anna’s favorite so I know how to make no less than twenty different kinds.’ He smiled and this caused her to laugh outright.

‘Ok, deal.’

Chapter Text

By mid morning two days later, the group of them were on their way to Oaken’s Trading Post, and Anna was more excited than she had been in what felt like months.

To be outside again, in the woods with the people she loved and away from all that frustrating paperwork was bliss. The plan was to stop at Oaken’s— Kristoff needed to purchase a few things and Maren would say goodbye to Ryder— after that they would set off for Northuldra and get to camp by nightfall. Then, weather permitting, she would be off to Ahtohallan with Elsa by this time tomorrow, and she couldn’t wait.

Much of the previous day had been spent with Elsa and had slipped away quickly. Elsa had called the ladies in first thing to clean her room, and then they had spent the rest of the day immersed in paperwork. They initially intended to only spend part of the day getting all the paperwork sorted, but it had proven to be a much more arduous task and had swallowed nearly the whole day— and of course she’d felt guilty about it. Elsa kept reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault, as they trudged together through the tedium at a snail’s pace— but most of the slippage had definitely been her fault.

It wasn’t on purpose of course, reading through and retaining everything just took her more time than the average person— and writing anything was always a depressing journey as it invariably had to be re-written due to her constant spelling errors— and it frustrated her to no end. The stupid letters always jumped around on the page and she consistently read and wrote them in the wrong order, and once it fixed itself she would forget what she was reading and would have to start the whole ridiculous process over. It wasn’t so bad when she could do it at her leisure— enjoyable even, sometimes— but the pressure of suddenly having deadlines within which to work had been her ruin. She couldn’t keep up with all of it.

She had to admit though, the way Elsa broke everything down simply and concisely, did make it all seem much more manageable— and she felt a lot more confident now that she was caught up. However, that was only because Elsa had verbally explained it all to her, if she had had to read through all that paperwork on her own, she’d still be sitting slumped miserably at that desk. Her worry was that Elsa was not always going to be there to explain things to her, and she desperately needed to find some kind of system so that she could move through the busywork at a quicker pace on her own. Elsa had brought Kai in mid way through yesterday, and they had discussed strategies for this. For the interim, he would read things aloud to her if she felt she was slipping, and they had talked about hiring a personal assistant for her after the trip to take notes and write her official letters so it only had to be done once. Kai would keep things moving for her while she was away so she didn’t fall behind again. It brought some sense of relief, to at least have some kind of solution loosely in place, but she was still embarrassed at the idea of having to use an assistant to do such basic things as read and write.

‘You’re unusually quiet.’ Elsa’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts and a cold hand rubbed her back. She hadn’t realized how hunched over deep in thought she was.

‘I’m ok.’ She smiled and Elsa scrunched her brow as if she didn’t believe her. Elsa then put a finger to her own smiling lips and tilted her head and eyes to the front of the wagon to where Kristoff and Honeymaren sat. Listen. Elsa curled her lips in to keep from laughing. Anna had been so immersed in thought that she hadn’t heard the constant din of arguing coming from the front of the wagon.

‘I’m telling you that’s not the right way to do it.’

‘I’m telling you it is. Brushing in circles with a mud brush is a myth. It just spreads the dirt around that way, it doesn’t actually remove it. I nearly lost it watching you do that to Sven yesterday.’

‘Fine, I want to see this magic brush you use that perfectly removes all dirt and debris with straight brushing.’

‘Fine. I’ll show you all of them tonight.’

A pause. ‘How many brushes do you use?’

‘Seven.’

Elsa locked eyes with Anna as they both tried and failed to stifle laughter.

Another longer pause. Kristoff cleared his throat. ‘Oh look, we’re here!’

Anna turned to see Oaken’s Trading Post approaching in the distance. It had been some time since she’d been out this way, and she smiled at the memories she had of this place.

‘Aw, honey look, it’s where we first met.’ Anna said playfully to Kristoff.

‘Best day of my life.’ He turned his head to her and said with a smile.

‘Worst day of mine.’ Elsa chuckled under her breath only loud enough for Anna to hear. She cocked an eyebrow and swatted Elsa’s knee playfully.

‘Wait, you two met at this trading post?’ Maren asked with an air of incredulity.

‘The day of my coronation…’ Elsa chimed in dully.

‘Oooh, right that.’

‘Yep, I rode out here in a blizzard completely underdressed in search of my crazy sister.’ Anna laughed. Elsa swatted her back this time and she recoiled, but didn’t stop giggling.

‘And then she commandeered me to take her the rest of the way, and little did I know, she had also commandeered my heart.’ Kristoff said theatrically.

‘Aw, that’s possibly the cutest and dorkiest thing I’ve ever heard you say.’ Maren jested. Kristoff shot her a dirty look as he pulled Sven and Daisy to a stop. Anna laughed at Maren’s jibe— the girl always had a good zinger hidden in her somewhere.

Woo hoo! Hello favorite young people!’ The door to Oaken’s flew open to reveal Oaken himself, taking up nearly the entire doorframe with his large figure. ‘You here for supplies for your journey yah?’

‘Yeah the usual Oaken, I’ll be right in.’ Kristoff called as he got out of the wagon.

‘Ok I get it ready, bye bye!’ At that the door slammed shut. Oaken was nothing if not abrupt and blunt, and a shrewd businessman— though somehow still very polite.

‘Wow, so that’s— Björn’s father?’ She heard Maren’s surprised voice from the other side of the wagon. She must have met Björn yesterday when she went to the mountains with Kristoff and Ryder. Anna wondered if Maren knew just how close Björn and Ryder had become. Hopefully she would be supportive— she didn’t want to think about what it would be like for Ryder if Maren gave him a hard time about his choice of a partner. She could see how much he looked up to her — could seriously relate to it herself quite frankly — and knew the devastation he would feel if Honeymaren didn’t support him. Maybe she could talk to her about it sometime… Tell her that as queen at least, she was fine with it. Maybe it would help. Kristoff had told her about Ryder and Bjorn’s relationship and personally she had been thrilled to hear how happy he was and how well he seemed to be doing in Arendelle. Starting off on your own in a new place couldn’t be easy, and she was rooting for him. They were a lot alike, and she wanted to see him succeed. Maybe then she could believe she might also succeed…

‘You get used to him, he’s a good guy.’ Kristoff said in answer to Maren.

As they started to walk inside, something caught Anna’s eye off in the distance. She turned to look and squinted at what she saw. It looked like two reindeer in a compromising position, one mounted on top of the other. She had never seen this happen before and she was strangely transfixed on it even though her rational mind was telling her to turn away.

‘Kristoff…’ She asked, eyes still transfixed on the deer. ‘Is that…?’

‘Iskko— Ryder’s deer. Yeah.’

‘And that’s…’ She pointed a finger at the other deer, the one on top.

Björn’s deer, yep.’

‘And aren’t they both…’

‘Males, yeah.’

‘Huh.’

‘I guess nature doesn’t discriminate against same sex attraction.’ Maren offered with a chuckle. ‘Nature speaks.’

‘I guess you’re right.’ Anna said in awe, finally pulling her eyes away from the deer in search of Elsa. ‘Elsa did you see—’

‘Yes, I did. Can we go in now?’ Elsa was facing away from the deer, a hand cupping the side of her face blocking them all from her vision. ‘I think they deserve privacy.’ She hissed from behind her hand.

Anna had to stifle a laugh at how uncomfortable this made Elsa. ’Elsa, you’re not embarrassed are you?’ She teased. ‘It’s just natures way. It’s perfectly natural.’

‘Mmhm.’ Elsa mumbled and started walking for the door, keeping her hand steadfastly up to her face. Kristoff and Maren exchanged an amused look and then started after her.

‘It’s kind of beautiful I think…’ Anna muttered to herself and shrugged, then jogged to catch up with Kristoff and Maren.

Upon entering the trading post Anna was immediately tackled and pulled into a hug by Ryder. ‘My favorite queen!’ He said as he squeezed her, then slung an arm around her shoulders. ‘Not letting the older ones walk all over you I hope.’ He said in a hushed tone, yet everyone still heard. ‘Stand strong, my comrade.’ Elsa and Maren both rolled their eyes dramatically and Anna giggled.

‘Of course! I’m the queen now remember?’ She said theatrically for effect, playing along.

‘Yes! Power to the younger sibs!’ He roared and squeezed Anna’s shoulders, shaking her gently.

‘Very good. Why don’t you use that power to go load our supplies into the wagon Ryder. Chop chop.’ Maren’s words were laced with sarcasm as she clap clapped at him.

‘You know, I don’t always have to listen to you.’ Ryder said with a raised eyebrow as he picked up a crate of supplies. ‘I’m doing this in service to my queen.’ He said defiantly, then walked out the door to load it in the wagon. Maren let out an exasperated sigh. Anna tried to cover her smirk.

‘What did I miss?’ Kristoff said after he finished paying Oaken.

‘Don’t ask.’ Maren said flatly.

‘Oh good, you’re still here!’ Björn’s voice came from the door that led to the back of the store. ‘Here, please take these back to your people.’ He said as he handed Maren a small box of glass bottles.

‘What is it?’ Maren’s face was clearly confused.

‘Healing balm of our own invention. Ryder and I have been working on perfecting it, and we would love to hear how well it works on your people.’

‘Oh, thank you.’ Maren’s surprised voice came as she looked into the box. Björn smiled and nodded enthusiastically. Anna smiled too, it was clear Björn was working hard to make a good impression on Maren— which she thought was adorable.

‘That’s so nice Björn, maybe you and Ryder could pass some out in town too. If it works well you should sell it!’ Anna said excitedly.

‘That’s the plan.’ He smiled at her, then easily picked up another crate of supplies and walked out the door to take it to the wagon. Kristoff grabbed the last crate and Maren followed him out with the box of tinctures.

‘So, aren’t you glad I’m not that kind of annoying sibling.’ Anna nodded her head in the direction of Ryder and slunk her arm around Elsa’s waist with a smile.

‘Mm hm.’ Elsa smirked with a raised eyebrow and slung her arm over Anna’s shoulder shaking her head amusedly. They started to walk out but Elsa stopped, pulling away from her.

‘Anna?’  Elsa’s eyes were doing the anxious thing they did when she was nervous. ‘I need to talk to you about something.’

‘Ok…’ She tried and probably failed to restrain the worry in her voice. But Elsa’s sudden facial expression had worried her. ‘Is everything alright?’

‘Yes, yes it’s fine. Um—‘ Just then the door opened and Björn returned.

‘Oop, excuse me ladies.’ He said as he shuffled around them. Elsa glanced behind them, and Anna followed. Oaken also had come out of the back room and was now at the counter counting coins, chatting with Björn.

‘You know what, later. Later.’ Elsa said resolutely, taking a deep breath and nodding once. Whatever she wanted to say, she clearly wanted Anna alone.

‘Ok, you sure?’

‘Yes.’ She smiled. ‘Lets get going so we can get you to Ahtohallan.’ She raised her eyebrows excitedly and put her arm around Anna’s shoulder again, leading her out. Anna threaded her arm back around Elsa’s waist and squeezed her with a side hug. She still didn’t like the worrisome look Elsa had writ across her face just moments ago, and later, she would make a point to pry out of her whatever was going on. If she didn’t, Elsa would likely never bring it up again. She was like that sometimes — most times — and it frustrated her immensely.

‘Have a safe trip!’ Björn called to them as they exited.

‘Bye Björn.’ They said in unison.

‘Bye bye!’ Oaken waved before returning to his coins.

Outside Maren was being dwarfed by a bear hug from Ryder and Kristoff was strapping down the crates to the wagon. ‘Stay out of trouble please.’ She said through labored breaths as Ryder squeezed the air out of her. Elsa chuckled at the sight as they approached.

‘You worry too much.’ Ryder said as he turned away from Maren and towards Anna.

‘Safe journey.’ He said and gathered her into a hug.

‘Come visit when I’m back?’ She asked hopefully when he released her. ‘I will be there my favorite queen.’

‘No offense.’ He said playfully to Elsa and pulled her into a hug as well. Ryder was very expressive with his emotions and Anna giggled at watching him crush a stiff Elsa in a bear hug.

‘Some taken.’ Elsa jested as he released her.

‘Well, if it’s any consolation, I think you are Maren’s favorite queen.’ He said in a low voice with a smirk. Elsa made a strange noise then cleared her throat and smiled. Before Anna could analyze Elsa’s strange reaction Ryder turned back to her.

‘No offense.’

‘Some taken.’ Anna joked back.

Maren and Kristoff were already back in position, with Maren at the reins this time. Elsa and Anna climbed into their respective sides in the back of the wagon ready to go. They all waved to Ryder as Maren took them off and into the woods.

The day wore on, she and Elsa chatted comfortably or slept. They stopped to eat sandwiches Kristoff had prepared, switched seats— Anna moved up to sit with Kristoff while he drove, Elsa sat with Maren while she drove— both situations never lasted long as they quickly discovered neither Maren nor Kristoff could stand sitting in the back for very long. So most of the day consisted of both of them up front, switching driving periodically, and dissecting or arguing over various things about reindeer or the wagon that neither she nor Elsa had any interest in. Finally the sun began to set and they were close to arriving.

‘I literally cannot believe you two are still dissecting which type of lichen is more robust for a reindeer diet.’ Anna said exasperatedly as they pulled to a stop outside of the Northuldra camp. This caused both Kristoff and Maren to abruptly cut off their involved conversation.

‘Anna and I will take Nokk next time.’ Elsa said with a chuckle as she slid over the side of the wagon and patted Maren’s shoulder. Kristoff and Maren looked at each other and shrugged. Anna climbed out then too and joined Elsa near the front of the wagon.

‘Why don’t you two go on ahead.’ Came Maren’s voice as she stood up in the wagon. ‘It’ll take us a bit to unhook these two and get them fed and settled.’ She gestured to Sven and Daisy. ‘Also I can show you how to brush them properly.’ Maren said under her breath in the direction of Kristoff. He made a face but nodded his head in agreement. Anna looked at Elsa and they both smirked and shook their heads.

‘See you soon.’ Elsa said and turned to walk towards the soft glow of firelight in the distance. Anna waved to Kristoff and Honeymaren before turning to catch up with Elsa.

‘I’m really excited to be back here.’ She said, and linked arms with Elsa as they walked.

‘I’m glad you’re here. I’ve really missed you.’ A cold hand squeezed her own. ‘I need to get you out here more often.’

‘I would love that.’

‘You know, sometimes, when I’m out here alone I swear I can feel mothers presence?’ Elsa had closed her eyes and turned her head upward breathing deeply— a small smile had formed over her lips. Anna smiled too. She only ever saw Elsa this peaceful when she was in nature. The breeze blew loose tendrils of hair away from Elsa’s face, and she couldn’t help but admire just how truly beautiful her sister was. To her, she still looked like a queen — regal and competent — two things she herself felt desperately lacking in. ‘I feel like mother is here now with us.’

‘Really?’ Anna asked and glanced around, immediately aware of how ridiculous it was to physically look for a spirit. Elsa opened her eyes and nodded.

‘Here, close your eyes and listen.’ Elsa took Anna’s hands in hers. ‘Take a deep breath and try to listen beyond the sounds of the forest, listen with your heart.’

Anna closed her eyes and tried to do what Elsa said. She could hear the leaves rustling with the wind, people’s muted voices in the distance, she could smell smoke from the fires even but she wasn’t sure what she should be listening for.

‘Keep listening.’ Came Elsa’s quiet voice and she squeezed Anna’s hands. Anna tried to ignore the sounds of the leaves and muted chatter and all the other little cracks and creaks the forest made, and eventually she was able to push those noises to the background and a calm quiet enveloped her. She took another deep breath and heard the sound of the breeze whistle gently above them. It sounded melodic, almost like a faraway voice carried on the wind.

Aaaa-Aaaa.

‘Elsa.’ She whispered incredulously, keeping her eyes closed and listening again.

‘I heard it.’ Elsa whispered back and squeezed her hands again.

Aa-Aaa-Aaaaa. She had absolutely heard it that time, a breathy melodic voice on the wind. It would be missed if you weren’t actively listening for it— and it sounded incredibly like the calm mellifluous voice of their mother. The breeze swooped down on both of them then, carrying with it the smell of purple Saxifrage— a scent she would know anywhere. The sweet smell of their mother.

Her eyes shot open and hands flew up to her mouth as she gasped. She found Elsa’s eyes and stared at her with wide shocked eyes before the image of her sister became blurry with her own hot tears.

‘How?’ She managed to squeak out, blinking as a tear rolled down her cheek.

‘She’s here with us Anna.’ Elsa spoke through glassy eyes of her own. ‘Always.’ Elsa smiled and opened her arms, inviting Anna in. She stepped forward and practically fell into her sister, burying her face in Elsa’s neck and letting herself cry. ‘And so am I.’  It was barely a whisper she heard from Elsa but it made her cry harder for some reason.

It wasn’t just her mother she cried for in that moment, it was everything. It was the realization of how much she truly still missed and needed Elsa in her life, of the crushing weight of ruling a kingdom she was in no way competent enough or prepared to rule. Why did it all have to always be so difficult? Why couldn’t she just for once live with Elsa like normal sisters did, happy and peaceful— bickering about clothes instead of balancing the responsibilities of a kingdom and the natural world simultaneously. It was a cruel joke, and she was beyond tired of it always being at her own expense. So she let the sad, angry, frustrated tears flow. Elsa just held her quietly and stroked her back and hair and pressed her cheek into the top of Anna’s head.

‘I know.’  Was all she said, calm and soothing— and Anna clung to her, sobbing like a child unable to stop. And she didn’t care.

After a long moment: ‘Anna look.’

Reluctantly she pulled her wet face away from the crook of Elsa’s neck and found her eyes, sniffing and quickly wiping her nose. Elsa was smiling sadly at her and wiped tears from her cheeks, then looked upward. Anna followed her gaze up through the trees to the twilight sky, and sucked in a sharp breath at what she saw. The muted purples and reds of the crisp evening sky had started to give way to the blazing greens, purples and pinks of the aurora borealis. Millions of colorful shafts of marbly light shot down from the sky directly on top of them, undulating with color and life— and she clung to Elsa’s arms as she witnessed it. The auroras were so much brighter this far north, and they too, somehow reminded her of Elsa and their mother— and she stared transfixed at the oscillating rainbow, unable to pull her bleary eyes away.

A stronger breeze swirled around them then, forcing her to look away as their hair was suddenly blown in all crazy directions. Elsa chuckled.

‘Hi Gale. Yes, Anna’s back.’

Chapter Text

 

‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ Elsa asked carefully, stooping slightly to look into Anna’s puffy eyes.

They were still tucked up in the dark tree line, away from any eyes that might be watching from the camp, so she couldn’t see Anna’s face well enough to know for sure.

‘I’m ok now, yeah.’ Anna assured her with a smile, wiping one hand across her eyes just to make sure the tears were all gone.

Anna hadn’t remotely been herself since Elsa had arrived in Arendelle two days prior— and she had sensed this starting long before then. Though she mostly knew why, it was still heartbreaking to watch Anna slip into this melancholic depression, and worse to sit by idly while she sunk further. She was determined to help her out of it, but as for how to do that completely— she was at a loss.

So instead she went with: ‘Let’s get you something to eat.’ Then took up her hand and lead her into camp.

They maneuvered through large and small lavvu huts, around people sewing, cooking or repairing tools near small fires. Some nodded to her in recognition, most went about their business as if she and Anna were not there, and that was perhaps what she enjoyed most about living with the Northuldra. No one treated her differently or looked at her strangely here— she was not a queen to be bowed before nor different from the other elemental spirits of which the people were used to dealing with. Here, she was just Elsa— and right now, Anna could just be Anna.

Before long they emerged in a clearing surrounded mostly by trees and lavvu huts, with a large central fire and massive pot of stew warming above it.

‘That was certainly a short visit.’ Yelena’s voice called to her from her seat around the fire. ‘And I see you’ve brought the new queen. Queen Anna.’ Yelena stood and nodded her head respectfully as she approached with Anna in tow.

‘Anna, please. Just, Anna.’ Anna said with a smile when they reached Yelena. There was just a hint of strain in her voice and Elsa felt her hand tense at the word queen. ‘It’s great to see you again Yelena.’

‘Please ladies, get some stew. It’s mountain sorrel and potato— no meat Elsa.’

‘Thank you Yelena.’ Elsa said and reached for a wooden bowl.

‘Anna, we have some fish cooking over there if you prefer.’ Yelena put in.

‘Stew is just fine, thank you.’ Anna said as Elsa passed her a filled bowl. She scooped some for herself and then sat next to Anna who had sat down next to Yelena.

‘Wow, this is really good!’ Anna announced upon trying the soup.

‘The secret,’ Yelena leaned in so she was closer to Anna, ‘Is arctic thyme, birch leaves and lichen moss.’ She said with a nod as if the secrets of the universe had just been revealed to Anna. Elsa smiled and took a sip of her soup.

‘Lichen, you mean like the stuff the reindeers eat?’ Anna asked.

‘One and the same— though there are many different variations of it. It’s extremely healthy for both us and them.’

‘That explains why Kristoff and Honeymaren were talking about it for over an hour today.’ Anna chuckled under her breath.

‘So, tell me, how have you been adjusting to your new role in Arendelle?’

Anna paused and looked down at her soup, studying it for a moment. ‘It’s um, well it’s been an adjustment.’ She said finally.

‘Mm, I see.’ Yelena sat back and studied Anna with those knowing eyes that only days before had been turned on her. ‘Change can be daunting, but without change we would never see progress or growth.’

Anna pulled her eyes up from her stew to look at Yelena. ‘Take the seasons for example. They change constantly, yet the change is never bad— it just is. It is the natural cycle of life bringing with it growth and rebirth each time.’

Anna nodded her head. ‘But, what if — say I love summer — which I do. Well, I always feel so sad when summer comes to an end and I’m almost never happy with the cold dreary change that autumn brings. The days get shorter and everything just gets brown and sad. I don’t think that change is good.’

‘Well, therein lies your own perception of what is good and what is bad— it doesn’t make autumn itself bad. Someone else,’ Yelena lifted her eyes and raised her eyebrows at Elsa. ‘may absolutely love winter.’ Elsa smiled and shrugged her shoulders in admission. ‘Do you believe there is beauty in winter Anna?’

‘Of course, I love it!’

‘Well, you see, without autumn, there could be no winter. The change autumn brings, while seemingly sad to you at the time, is actually making way for a different kind of beauty than summer brings. Again, no better, no worse than summer, simply different. Two sides of the same coin— and both are necessary for the balance and cycle of life to continue moving forward.’

‘But summer and winter can never exist at the same time…’ Anna whispered sadly.

‘No, unfortunately that is true.’ Yelena chuckled. ‘But if you can shift your perception to see that even the toughest forms of change ultimately give way to something new and beautifully different— then you’ll be able to grow yourself into something new and better— and that, is the point of life is it not? It’s only when change is feared or resisted that it fights us back tooth and nail.’ Yelena said with a smile.

Anna nodded and returned her eyes to her soup, contemplating. ‘I sense something else is still bothering you.’

Anna lifted her eyes up to Yelena then turned to Elsa, searching her eyes. Elsa nodded encouragingly and rubbed her back. Go on.

Anna took a breath. ‘I guess, well, I have this problem where I struggle with reading and writing— I mix letters up sometimes and it slows me down. I normally don’t feel dumb except when I have to do either of those things.’ Anna said quietly, returning her eyes to the soup. The pain and heaviness in Elsa’s heart hit hard— the look on Anna’s face and the use of the word dumb in the same sentence as herself threatened to crush her. Again she could do nothing, so she placed a hand on Anna’s shoulder and squeezed to let her know she was with her.

‘Can you show me?’ Yelena asked.

‘What?’ Anna’s eyes popped up again, clearly surprised by this request.

‘Show me what happens when you read. Elsa, would you get one of your books?’

‘Sure.’ She said and put her soup down, also surprised by Yelena’s strange request. She returned a moment later with her copy of The Little Prince — one of her favorites.

‘Good, now Elsa give her a simple passage to read.’

She opened the book to one of the pages she had earmarked. ‘Here try this.’ She said, handing the book to Anna and pointing to two lines of text she had underlined.

‘Ok.’ Anna took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. She put her finger under the words to follow along as she read.

And now here is my scr-eets— sorry, se-cret, a very simple se-cret: It is only with the heart that one can see tightly— right-ly; what is exceptional —no sorry— e-ssen-tial is in-vis-i-ble to the yes— eye.’ Anna finished and let out another breath. ‘Sorry, it’s worse when I have to read out loud.’ She said defeated.

‘No, no don’t apologize. I wanted to see exactly where and how you are struggling.’

‘Now,’ Yelena said, pulling out a scroll from her belt loop, ‘read this.’ She unfurled the scroll and placed it in front of Anna.

‘But these, these are Northuldran symbols? I can’t read Northuldran?’

‘Tell me what you see then.’

‘Ok.’ Anna answered, clearly baffled. ‘Theres a tree, then a deer, a leaf, a diamond, circle, square, a mountain, the sun, a flower I think.’ She said cocking her head at the interesting symbol. She’d started at the top left of the scroll and moved horizontally across the paper as she named them off one by one, pointing to each as she went.

‘Now, what does this tell us.’ Yelena stated. Anna scrunched her brow.

‘That she has no problem recognizing images in a sequence.’ Elsa said excitedly. Anna’s eyes grew wide with recognition.

‘Your right…’ Anna said amazed.

‘Anna, are you artistic? Do you paint or draw or do anything creatively?’

‘Yes.’ Elsa answered for her. ‘All of it. All the time, since we were little— and she’s very good at it.’

‘Anna, remember before how I said two things can be different, but that doesn’t make one better or worse than the other? That both can still be beautiful in their own way even if they are vastly different?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, that’s what’s going on inside of your head. You process information much differently than most people. It doesn’t make it wrong, or make you less than. You process images much more efficiently than letters— that’s what makes you so creative and such a fine artist. Where you struggle with the sequence of letters, others couldn’t even begin to see an image in their head let alone draw it down on paper. Believe me I know, I’m one of those people.’ Yelena chuckled.

Anna just sat there like a statue, soup in lap with her mouth hanging agape. ‘Now, I want you to try one more thing for me.’

Yelena turned the scroll over to the backside which was empty and pulled a pointy charcoal stick from the fire. ‘Take this.’ She gave the blank sheet and charcoal pencil to Anna. ‘Elsa, I want you to read that same passage again only Anna I want you to draw what she’s reading to you. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just something so that if you look back on it later you would remember what the passage means.’

‘Ok.’ Anna said excitedly, poised to draw.

Elsa picked up the book, opened it to the same page as before and read:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’

Elsa smiled and watched as Anna began scribbling on the paper, furiously sketching and shading with her fingers, — tongue sticking slightly out to the side — as she had seen her do so many times before. A girl on a mission. Of course there was no haphazard sketching with Anna, nearly everything she drew was almost always amazing even if she wasn’t trying very hard. Elsa’s eyes narrowed as she watched the drawing take shape and form before her eyes.

‘There.’ Anna said at last, holding up the sheet proudly.

Elsa took it from her slowly and studied it, careful not to smudge the charcoal. What Anna had drawn was a beautiful portrait of the both of them from the waist up. In the drawing, Elsa was looking down, her eyes downcast and sad— a hand to her heart. It was extraordinarily realistic. Next to her on the page, Anna was whispering excitedly in her ear. Elsa felt a tear slip down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away so it wouldn’t mar the artwork.

‘Anna this’ She was having trouble finding the words to express just how in awe she was.

‘Look see,’ Anna began, reaching over to point at the drawing. ‘Your hand is on your heart because of course the secret the passage is referring to is love. Obviously. Because love is invisible but clearly its there and it is definitely essential. So yeah, drawing you and me was a given because that’s how I’ll remember that. And no offense but it took you a really long time to realize that love was the essential answer to see yourself the way I see you — rightly — even though I was basically trying to tell you that for years, so hence why I drew me telling you that secret— even though it really wasn’t a secret, it’s a really simple concept, you just didn’t understand it— so that’s how I’ll remember the simple part. Also I drew both of our eyes closed to remember the invisible part, because even though you were technically invisible to my eyes for years, I still loved you.’

Elsa just stared and blinked awestruck— just like that, Anna was back. The bubbly upbeat girl she so desperately loved revealed herself once again before Elsa’s eyes. She had not taken a breath while she acted out the entire symbolic meaning of the passage nor while animatedly explaining love better than any philosopher Elsa had ever studied.

And then: Elsa laughed.

She laughed and pulled Anna into a tight hug swaying her back and forth as a few stray happy tears flew from her eyes. ‘You are the smartest person I know.’ She laughed in Anna’s ear. Then she felt Yelena reach over and steal the drawing off her lap.

‘I know.’ Anna said, and she could feel her smile in the words causing her to laugh more.

‘This is very good, artistic indeed.’ Yelena said as she studied Anna’s work. ‘I’ve decided I’m keeping this— I could use some artwork to decorate my otherwise drab lavvu.’ Yelena said with a smile, rolling up the scroll and placing it back in her belt.

‘I’d like a copy of it sometime.’ Elsa said as she released Anna from the hug.

‘Oh I’ll make another, easy. Maybe next time I’ll paint it.’ Anna said already lost in thought.

‘Perhaps I could commission you to paint something on the outside of my lavvu?’ Yelena asked absently, her eyes faraway— formulating a plan neither of them could see. ‘I can envision it now, yes, a beautiful winter-scape— no a sunset with wolves — no, yes and trees— blues, greens and purples of the auroras…’ Yelena’s hands were out in front of her as she painted the scene in the air that only her mind could see.

Anna laughed. ‘See Yelena, you can see a creative vision in your mind!’

‘Yes well, I suppose we are all always learning aren’t we. Give me a paintbrush though, and I’m lost.’ She said in a low voice close to Anna's ear.

Anna laughed again. ‘I would love to paint a mural on your lavvu sometime. Maybe you can even help me.’ She said with a smile.

‘Hm, yes… We shall see about that.’ 

‘What did we miss?’ Kristoff asked as he and Maren marched towards them— both looked tired and a bit disheveled.

‘Sorry it took us so long, Sven was very— well he really needed a proper brushing.’ Maren said exasperatedly as she plopped down next to Yelena clearly exhausted. Elsa smiled. Maren’s dark hair was frazzled and slipping from her loose braid and Elsa couldn’t pull her eyes away from her. Maren noticed and locked eyes with her, giving her a small smile.

‘He wasn’t that bad.’ Kristoff muttered.

‘Have some stew you two.’ Yelena put in, no room for argument.

Kristoff filled a bowl and handed it to Maren, then took some for himself and sat next to her.

‘She really does have seven different brushes.’ He said before gulping some soup.

‘Each one has its purpose, as I hope you now can clearly see.’ Maren shot back between gulps of soup.

Kristoff made a vague non-committal noise and kept drinking his soup. Anna giggled beside her.

‘So, young Anna here is going to paint a mural on my lavvu.’ Yelena stated proudly. ‘I’m thinking of a winter-scape with wolves and trees and maybe a sunset— definitely the auroras. Or maybe a full moon.’

Maren chuckled. ‘Really Yelena, I didn’t know you were artsy?’

‘Yes well Anna has inspired me with her work— may I?’ Yelena asked Anna. Anna nodded, so Yelena pulled her drawing out from her belt loop and showed it to Maren and Kristoff. ‘I’m going to hang it up in my lavvu.’

‘Wow, Anna, that’s really beautiful. I didn’t know you could draw like that.’ Maren said, her eyes wide taking in the artwork.

‘Amazing.’ Kristoff said with a proud smile, clearly unsurprised at Anna’s talents.

‘So, yeah. I have commissioned her to spice up my lavvu. I’m quite excited. I may even help with it.’ Yelena said, clearly pleased with herself.

‘Well that will really be a task Anna— I’ve never known Yelena to be able to draw even stick people.’ Maren jested. Yelena shot Maren a look and she immediately stopped laughing— quickly taking another sip of soup.

‘We all have hidden talents.’ Yelena shot back at Maren who was still trying to hide her smile behind her soup bowl.

‘I’m sure it will turn out amazing Yelena.’ Anna reassured, then faded into a yawn.

‘Yes I must admit, I’m getting quite tired too. I want to sleep so I will have fresh inspiration tomorrow as I plan my design.’ Yelena said excitedly. ‘Come Anna, I can show you to your lavvu.’

Kristoff stood as well. ‘I’m coming.’ He said as he stretched. ‘I’m sore from how many times she made me brush Sven.’ Maren shot him a look but said nothing.

‘You staying up?’ Anna asked, turning to Elsa.

‘For a bit, still finishing my soup.’

‘Ok, love you.’ Anna said and hugged her.

‘Love you too.’ Anna kissed her cheek then stood. ‘Get some sleep so you’re all rested for tomorrow.’ Elsa said and raised her eyebrows excitedly.

‘I will! Night Maren.’

‘See you both tomorrow.’ Maren said as Yelena led Anna away, Kristoff in tow. She waited until the footsteps were far in the distance before moving over next to Elsa.

‘Hi.’ She said in a low voice that made Elsa’s stomach flutter.

‘Hi.’ She returned with a whisper then flicked her eyes around.

‘We’re alone.’ Maren confirmed and ran her fingers over Elsa’s cheek and bottom lip.

‘Good.’ Elsa breathed, inches from Maren’s face. She could smell the scent of pine on her, and it was all she could do to keep from tackling her right then and there. Maren closed the distance between them  and kissed her soft and deep as if it had been years since they’d last kissed. Elsa sighed with the pleasure of it and they stayed that way for a long moment, memorizing each other with their lips until Maren reluctantly pulled away.

‘I’ve wanted to do that to you all day.’ She sighed, catching her breath and running the tip of Elsa’s braid through her fingers. Elsa rested her forehead against Maren’s as she caught her own breath.

‘Me too.’ She breathed. A stick crackled on the ground in the distance and Elsa immediately jerked away from Maren, turning to see a few Northuldra men walking in the distance laughing amongst themselves.

‘Sorry.’ She said, closing her eyes in frustration. ‘It’s just, instinct to pull away.’

‘It’s ok. We have all the time to work on it.’ Maren smiled and rubbed Elsa’s thigh. ‘So, tell me what I really missed tonight. I don’t believe Yelena was talking about painting her lavvu for over an hour.’ She snickered. ‘Actually, I can’t believe Yelena was talking about painting her lavvu at all.’

Elsa smiled. ‘She really, really helped Anna out with some things tonight.’

‘Oh yeah, with what?’ She said, genuinely curious— her hand still on Elsa’s leg as she turned to straddle the log she was on, facing Elsa now.

Elsa took a breath, unsure if Anna would mind Maren knowing this— then again if she was going to tell Anna about their relationship, she knew Anna wouldn’t expect her to keep things from Maren, especially important things. So she made the decision to trust Maren with this, supplemented by her ongoing resolution not to hide things from those she loved.

‘Anna struggles with reading and writing— she, mixes up the letters and it slows down her ability to read and write at pace.’ Maren’s brow creased, waiting for her to continue. ‘She’s been like this since we were kids — it’s not her fault — it’s just something strange her brain does, and it breaks my heart because she is so incredibly intelligent, but she goes through these bouts where she gets so down on herself and questions it— questions herself, and I feel so helpless most of the time. And it’s been worse with all the paperwork now that she’s queen and I just keep feeling like— like it’s my fault for putting her in this position.’ She let out a breath, not realizing that last part until she had verbalized it out loud. She did blame herself for putting Anna directly in a position to fail. She’d known of Anna’s struggles long before she pushed the crown on her— and yet she’d done it anyway. Because she was selfish, and as always Anna had paid the price.

‘Elsa, this is not your fault. It’s no more your fault than being born with magic was. Your place is in nature, you know that— you feel it because of your magic. Having spirit magic and choosing to live in nature among the spirits where you’re needed and feel most at peace is not a crime. All you can do is be there for Anna and support her through this, which from what I can see, you’re doing a fantastic job of.’

She smiled at Maren’s words and grabbed her hand. It was truly a gift how she was able to distill the chaos down into basic truths — and it did help— some. Her worry for Anna though, would probably follow her to her grave regardless.

‘Besides, if you want to know the truth— your language is quite convoluted and I don’t even blame Anna.’ Elsa scrunched her brow in confusion. ‘I grew up learning to read and write both Northuldran and Arendellian and let me tell you, learning Arendellian was no picnic.’ She chuckled. ‘Our symbols are so much more straightforward than the bizarre letters and silent letters you’ve got going on.’

Elsa nearly laughed at that, how bluntly and concisely Maren had just trivialized an entire language— it was very her. Anna would probably agree. ‘Thats actually what Yelena discovered tonight. Anna doesn’t have a problem reading images and symbols— just the letters. So she practiced sketching out imagery for things that were read to her, so that she could look back later to remember the content. I think it really helped, she was nearly back to her old self afterward.’

‘Yelena always has the answers.’ Maren said with a smile. ‘And Anna’s strong— like you. I’m confident she’ll find her way through this.’ Maren squeezed her hand reassuringly. She nodded in return. ‘I suppose, with all this going on, you haven’t had a chance to tell her yet— about us?’

Elsa shook her head apologetically. ‘No, I just haven’t found the right moment. I tried back at Oaken’s today but we were interrupted. Which probably wasn’t the right place to do it anyway— tomorrow we will have plenty of time alone together at Ahtohallan, I’m going to do it then.’

‘It’ll happen when the time is right. If it helps any, according to Kristoff she took the news of Ryder and Björn’s relationship really well. I know you’re her sister so it might be different, but still.’

‘Ryder and Björn? I had no idea, that’s wonderful.’

Maren smiled with soft eyes and nodded in confirmation. She looked like she wanted to say something else but was holding back.

‘What?’ Elsa prodded.

Maren took a breath. ‘I don’t mean to rush you with telling Anna, please believe that— I just, could barely stand keeping my hands off of you for two days.’ She said with a guilty almost petulant look. ‘The one time you touched my shoulder in the wagon today I nearly lost it.’ She looked down and shook her head as if punishing herself in embarrassment. Elsa smiled, she hadn’t realized her touch was that powerful to Maren— she was still so used to being wary of how she touched people— she never registered that anyone would actually enjoy being touched by her.

‘I didn’t… know you felt that way— I’ve always had to be so careful about the way I touch people.’

‘You have power in those hands, more than just ice.’ Maren chuckled. ‘I can tell you that.’ She ran a hand over the top of her head, taking a deep breath as she looked towards the sky. She seemed frustrated— or anguished somehow— like she again wanted to say or do something but was warring with herself. Elsa just stared at her, a mix of feelings swirling within her— want and need and admiration and longing and love. Definitely love. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the wispy tendrils of hair that escaped her loose braid. And she so wanted to run her hand through it, then down her muscular arms with her fingers, over her jawline, so gracefully upturned to the sky, parted lips she wanted so badly to kiss. It was in that moment something inside of her snapped— and she decided, she could do something about this growing need. Three days was far too long and she couldn’t stand it anymore.

‘Come on.’ Elsa said, finalizing her decision with words. She grabbed Maren’s hand and stood hurriedly, pulling the girl up with her. Maren locked eyes with her, an amused quizzical expression was laced across smiling lips. ‘Three days is way too long.’ Elsa said exasperatedly and hauled Maren off into the trees, pulling her by the hand.

She could hear Maren’s quiet laughter echo behind her as she strode at a clip — more nearly ran — through the trees looking for what, she didn’t know. Just someplace far enough away that she could shut off her thoughts about anyone else watching or hearing them. She wasn’t thinking clearly — she wasn’t thinking at all really, she was— feeling? And the feeling was chaotic. Sort of a desperate need that had no type of premeditated thought attached to it — which was completely foreign to her — and probably dangerous, but the din of her rational mind was so far removed she couldn’t grab hold of it, and she didn’t want to.

How long she charged through the trees dragging Maren behind her she wasn’t sure, but eventually they came to a small clearing where she could no longer see the glow of any bonfires, and she released her hand, whirling to face her. It was dark, nothing but the glow of the auroras illuminated Maren in a pale greenish cast— and she stared at her. Mesmerized once again, her mind all twisted up with different thoughts of all the ways she could touch her— the only noise came from their heavy breathing— and that sound too, gripped her with need.

‘What are you doing?’ Maren said with amused eyes that probably thought she was some kind of a madwoman. Maybe she was.

‘I have no idea.’ She breathed with absolute honesty.

They stared at each other for another half second before: ‘Whatever you’re thinking, hurry up and do it before I do.’

That was all she needed— she strode the two or three paces it took to get to where Maren stood and threw her arms around her neck, kissing her passionately. Maren let out a sigh of relief and grabbed her around the hips, pulling her close as they both stumbled backward slightly. Elsa kept pushing them back, and back some more as they kissed, until the giant tree that she somehow knew would be there materialized behind Maren, and she pushed her gently up against it.

‘I want to touch you.’ Elsa breathed between kisses.

A pause.

‘Then do it.’

Maren sighed desperately as she pulled Elsa’s hips into her own, sliding her back and forth there. Their sensitive areas met and an undetermined noise escaped her— causing her to nearly lose focus on what she wanted to do. The desperate need within her was growing stronger and she was having a hard time thinking clearly. This was much different than the first time she’d done this with Maren, those times she was learning and still unsure about what was going to happen— and Maren had led nearly all of it. Now she knew. She knew what to expect, what she wanted and how she wanted it. She let this new primal unthinking urge guide her, and she ran her hand down Maren’s chest, grabbing her breast in her hand and caressing it. Maren moaned at the touch and that stirred something in her — she could make her feel things just by touching her — good things— and that became a seductive driving force. She ran her other hand down Maren’s neck, the muscles of her arm, finding her hand and locking fingers with her there. Maren’s free hand grabbed the back of her thigh and pulled her in as close as she could. Elsa’s other hand slid further down, feeling Maren’s ribs and muscular abdomen as she went— her breathing ragged and crazed as she kissed her. Finally she reached the area she so frantically wanted to explore and she opened her eyes searching Maren’s for an answer.

‘It’s ok. Go.’ Maren whispered, and so she went. She kissed her deeply, pushing her against the tree, and gripped her hand between Maren’s legs, working her fingers in and around feeling every inch of her as she went.

‘Fffffffff…’

Maren breathed out heavily and threw her head back against the tree, her closed eyes tilted skyward as she bit her bottom lip. She squeezed Elsa’s thigh and hip where her other hand now landed— that and the sound Maren made caused a shockwave to shoot between Elsa’s legs. She had no frame of reference for what she was doing other than what Maren had done to her, so she kept going, driven by something she had never felt before— massaging in slow repeated circles all over her area taking in every sigh and moan Maren elicited. She worked her hand faster and faster as her own burning excitement built, Maren’s hips arched and pushed into Elsa’s fingers rhythmically, grunts escaping her upturned face as her hands slid up and down Elsa’s back, pulling her closer and making concentrating impossible. Elsa kissed her neck with a sigh, leaving her mouth there, breathing raggedly through her nose as she worked which caused Maren to moan again. Her thoughts were a jumbled mess and nothing seemed to matter except feeling Maren and getting her to elicit more and more of the good noises.

A power was building in her hands suddenly, which confused her as it collided and intertwined with the powerful throbbing between her legs. In the space of a heartbeat she recognized what that power was— and her eyes snapped open, unwillingly allowing in an old friend she did not want back. She flung herself back and away from Maren as far as she could go in the short span of time she had to react, throwing her arms out to the sides just in time as a gush of ice exploded out of them. She let out a wracking cry as the sharp force traveled up from her center, down her arms and spewed from her palms— blasting two unfortunate trees in its wake, and loudly snapping branches in a spectacularly disastrous cacophony. She fell to her knees gasping, bewildered, drained and frightened from the abruptness of what had just happened and also the pain of it. The sudden shift from excited energy to ice had been painful as it shot upward and out of her and this she didn’t understand. Her mind wasn’t processing it— why was there ice? She wasn’t scared— or startled? Hadn’t she learned to control it the last time she’d done this? She could’ve killed Maren in a split second if she hadn’t realized what was happening in time— just like she had nearly killed Anna when she had gotten too careless before. And the sudden thought of hurting either of them devastated her as she stared down at her shaking hands with sheer hatred— her hands, her false allies, tricksters and ultimate betrayers.

‘Els? Elsa look at me.’  The sound hitting her was muted and muffled and she couldn’t understand it beyond the roaring ocean in her ears, and even if she could she didn’t particularly care to respond to it at that point. There was foreign pressure gripping her shoulders which she didn’t want there — no touching — but she was too fixated on the disgust she was feeling as she stared at her hands to do anything about it. ‘Els, no, please don’t do this— you’re ok.’  Two warm hands covered hers just then, causing her eyes to blink, and she yanked her offending hands away from another thing they might hurt, staring now at her knees below her.

‘Elsa look at me.’ Maren’s sharp voice cut through to her and suddenly she was staring into two brown frightened eyes, which were attached to hands holding either side of her face in a vice grip. ‘You’re ok.’  Maren’s voice was soft now, pleading as she said the words slowly. You’re ok, you’re ok. The words rang in her ears and she clung to them as a drowning person might cling to a raft. Of course she was ok, she was always ok— it was everyone else around her that was never ok. They were the ones always hurt or killed because of her. She wanted to say this but found that her voice, like her hands, had mercilessly betrayed her. Her whole body in one grand rebellious tantrum, defying her will as it always had done. The roaring in her ears slowly started to fade, her bodily sensations returned and she slumped. She could feel that she was shaking, hot tears started to spill from her eyes and the brown eyes that were anchoring her there became suddenly blurry.

‘You’re ok.’ Maren repeated and pulled Elsa into her arms, rocking her gently as she slumped between Maren’s legs. She tried to fight her, to push her away so she couldn’t hurt her— she was still too unstable to be this close to her— but she lacked the strength and sheer energy to overpower her. ‘Relax Elsa.’  Maren whispered and clutched her tightly to her chest, holding her arms down from fighting her. Warm calmness spread over her then, her breathing slowed and the shaking subsided. She felt like a baby, a baby who couldn’t control herself and she hated it.

‘This was too fast, too much. We shouldn’t have done this tonight— I should’ve known better. I’m so sorry.’  The arms that held her were still rocking her as Maren spoke.

‘My fault.’ She finally was able to bleat out, unable to stand hearing Maren blame herself for this. She was able to prop herself up just enough to turn and look Maren in the face. ‘This was my fault.’ She said again to make sure she heard her.

Sad eyes found and searched her own. ‘No, Elsa it wasn’t. You need to believe me— and you didn’t hurt me. The first time we did this, we went much much slower and we were careful. This time, we just got carried away too quickly and it overwhelmed you— we haven’t practiced with your hands yet. If anything I should’ve foreseen this and I didn’t— with everything going on with you lately you were not in the right headspace for this tonight. Please don’t blame yourself.’

She shook her head, Maren was making too much sense again. Yet still— ‘I could’ve killed you.’

‘You did not almost kill me.’ Maren snorted. ‘What do you think I am, a wallflower?’ This caused a smile to crack on Elsa’s lips and yet it felt wrong to be smiling.

Maren stood up, and extended a hand down to her, she hesitated, but reached up and took it anyway. Maren pulled her to a wobbly stand and two hands held her shoulders— and again she allowed the precarious action— why? She couldn’t comprehend. Perhaps it was her selfishness again, knowing full well she could kill Maren on the spot yet chancing it anyway for her own pleasure, her own needs. Gambling with others lives because she was so sick and tired of being alone with this— of having to fight every step of the way to touch and be touched like a normal person. And right then, despite her fears, she wanted nothing more than to be touched and comforted and not left alone.

Maren was still staring into her eyes, trying to read what was there as she always did— and most likely failing, finding only abject chaos that she herself couldn’t even sort through.

‘We will figure this out together, ok? I’m not going anywhere. We’ll take it slow from now on, and you will be fine, I promise.’ Maren said and brought Elsa’s hands up to her lips and kissed them. Elsa believed her too, that was the worst part. Or she desperately wanted to and found herself nodding slightly. The way Maren spoke was so sincere, so honest and she clung to that promise even though her rational mind was raging against it. Her rational mind, the thing she should have listened to earlier instead of beating it down with a stick.

Maren put an arm around her then, rubbing her arm.

‘Come on, let’s go home.’

Chapter Text

‘Elsa.’

‘Pssst…’

‘Elsa!’

‘Wake up.’

The whisper hiss of Anna’s voice floated through the darkness, stirring Elsa from an already restless sleep. A dull headache thudded behind her eyes from the precious few hours she’d only slept, and possibly left over from the stress of the previous night. She was sore too— it had been a good while since she’d had a panic attack as bad as that one, and her body was clearly out of practice with dealing with them. Maren had stayed with her for the better part of the night, and they talked about what had happened— rather, she had talked Elsa down from more panic until she was ready to drop from exhaustion. Then Maren had left — for this specific reason — because Anna always found her way into Elsa’s bed on random occasions no matter where they were. What Anna was doing up now, at this ungodly hour, she couldn’t guess— but it clearly wasn’t urgent. It was still dark out, and she wasn’t about to risk opening her eyes, knowing full well she would not fall back asleep if she did— which she would surely try to do once she sent Anna away.

‘Anna… go back to sleep.’

‘I can’t. The sky’s awake and it woke me, and I’m just really excited about today.’

‘Go back to bed or lie down here, I’m not getting up yet.’

A pause.

Shuffling blankets and jostling. ‘Oof.’ Anna’s elbow connected with her back as she scooched in next to her.

‘Sorry.’

Another pause.

‘What time do you think we’ll go?’

‘Later.’

Another longer pause.

‘How much later.’

Elsa sighed. ‘When the sun is up and I’ve had more than three hours sleep.’

‘Oh. Ok.’

Pause.

‘Why were you up so late?’

Elsa’s eyes snapped open at the question and she quickly shut them cursing inwardly and willing the possibility of more sleep not to elude her. ‘I couldn’t sleep. Anna I have a headache, please let me sleep for a few more hours or I’m going to be useless at Ahtohallan.’

‘Ok, sorry.’

‘Elsa?’

‘What?’

‘I love you.’

Elsa’s lips curled into a small smile. ‘Love you too.’

 


 

This had possibly been, one of the absolute longest, most boring mornings of her life— and she had had a lot of boring mornings. She knew trying to wake Elsa up at the crack of dawn was not going to work, but she’d tried it anyway on the three percent chance that it might. It hadn’t. But trying it was still better than laying in her own lavvu hut, wide awake from excitement, listening to Kristoff snore. So instead, she’d spent the next grueling hour or two trying and failing to sleep, listening to Elsa’s quiet breathing, and her occasional fitful jerks in what seemed like troubled sleep— which she would need to prod her about later. Something was bothering her sister, something she had tried to tell her at Oaken’s — but ultimately had not — and not knowing what it was, unsettled her. It couldn’t be anything too bad— she reasoned, otherwise Elsa would have told her right away — unless — she wouldn’t have. Which yes, Elsa had done before. More than once. She would need to prod her, she decided — sooner rather than later — a thread of dread worming its way into her. Things Elsa did not tell her directly, or right away were never good things.

But now wasn’t the time to worry about it, now, finally came the end of her torturous morning of wait. Now, finally, she could see the Dark Sea just beyond Elsa as they cantered towards it.

She had assumed that she and Elsa would leave camp on Nokk and make their way to the Dark Sea alone, and she would have time to talk to her then— but, that had not been the case. Kristoff had insisted on riding with them, repeating over and over that he did trust Elsa, it was just the Dark Sea he didn’t trust. So he adamantly refused to stay at camp, and was going to wait for their return on the shore. Anna had pointed out that even if they somehow, unlikely, ran across trouble on the sea— there was absolutely nothing he could do about it from shore anyway. Her logic went on deaf ears and he insisted on coming anyway— to which Maren decided to come in order to keep him company and they both decided it would be nice for Sven and Daisy to spend the day together again. She couldn’t even be mad at him about his insistency, annoyed maybe, but not mad. He loved her, and this was just how he showed it, and she loved him for it.

But soon, it would be just she and Elsa, running on the back of Nokk deliriously carefree across the open water— a magical day with only her big sister. Not only that, but maybe to recover her memories about their childhood, Elsa’s magic and her parents— memories that had been mercilessly taken from her so long ago, was something she never in a million years thought she would get to do. And she couldn’t wait! She couldn’t remember the last time she and Elsa had been able to do something together like this, just the two of them, for fun and no other reason, and she was practically bursting with excited energy.

‘Are you ok back there?’ Elsa asked with a chuckle over her shoulder. Anna hadn’t realized she’d actually been bouncing, she thought it was just in her mind. Oops.

‘Yes I’m just, I can see the sea!’ She let out as calmly as possible though it still came out at a higher more shrill pitch than she meant. It was a beautifully brisk sunny day — not a single cloud in the sky— the kind of day where you never wanted to go inside and never wanted it to end. The air even smelled crisper and fresher today or maybe just this far north it was always like this. She inhaled deeply, letting the cool rush of freedom and salt air into her lungs, intoxicating her and making her head swim. The Dark Sea, she noted, didn’t look so dark— in fact it looked beautifully bright. The sun glinted off the whitecaps and she couldn’t tell where the cobalt sea ended and the sapphire sky began. The only thing that was dark was the jet black sand — or tiny pebbles — she observed, as Nokk crunched over them, which lined the coast up and down as far as she could see.

Elsa pulled them to a stop just before the water, Kristoff and Honeymaren coming up beside them.

Kristoff took a deep breath and glanced between the two of them from atop Sven’s back. Worry in his eyes. ‘I’ve tried to keep quiet about my worry over this, because I know how excited both of you are, but please, please be careful.’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll be with my sister, the fifth spirit, former queen of Arendelle and ice-water mistress extraordinaire!’ Anna said theatrically raising her arms high above her head. Kristoff’s face did not even begin to crack a smile as she’d hoped. ‘She’d never let anything happen to me.’ She said a bit more seriously, appealing to his logic when her theatrics did not have the desired effect.

‘The weather can change on a dime out here, so just keep an eye on it please.’ Maren put in, glancing at Elsa. ‘Kristoff isn’t off base with his concerns…’ 

‘I have done this before.’ Elsa added with a raised eyebrow.

‘I know.’ Kristoff and Maren said in unison, glancing at each other for a beat at the awkward timing, then returned to face the sisters. Kristoff leaned over and grabbed Anna’s hand, swallowing it in his.

‘Really, I mean it. Nothing crazy.’ He said quietly, his hazel eyes looking directly into hers. He was serious, and worried. Now was not the time for more jokes.

‘I promise.’ She said seriously, then leaned down and gave him a quick kiss which he returned.

Elsa walked them forward then, into the shallows of the waves. ‘Hang on.’ She said followed by: ‘Watch this.’ Just then Anna could feel the cold beneath her legs give way to a less solid form. She glanced down to see Nokk melt from her solid icy state, to a clear liquid form right before her eyes, and she sucked in a breath of awe. The feeling of a liquid horse beneath her legs— cold, firm yet soft and jiggly—something akin to sitting on gelatin— caused her to giggle. She could see the distorted ripply sand and water below them through Nokk’s body and her eyes went wide with amazement. ‘Woah… This is amazing!’ She practically yelled in Elsa’s ear to which Elsa chuckled.

‘We should be back long before sunset.’ Elsa added. Maren and Kristoff nodded.

‘Not too much reindeer talk you two.’ Anna added on a last ditch effort to lighten the mood. It seemed to work as both Kristoff and Maren smiled.

‘See you soon.’ Kristoff said as Elsa turned them to face the open sea.

‘Are you ready?’ Elsa asked in a taunting tone over her shoulder.

Do the magic, do the magic! She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, but thought better of blowing out Elsa’s eardrums and potentially having to cancel the trip. So instead she went with: ‘Yes!’ In the most controlled voice she could muster, which still wasn’t much below a shout. Then she tightened her grip around her sisters middle, ready to go.

At that Nokk took off like an arrow, faster than Anna had ever felt a horse move before in her life, and she clutched Elsa, hanging on for dear life. The salty air whipped at her face and caused her eyes to water, tears forming in attempt to wet her dry eyes and then streaming down her face as she smiled with probably the stupidest grin that had ever graced her face.

‘I like fast!’ She declared, but got no response from Elsa who was maneuvering Nokk up and over a small wave. For a moment they flew in the air, smoothy clearing the wave before jumping up and over the next and the next. The waves got progressively bigger as they moved out to sea, with Nokk running up and over the bigger ones instead of jumping them— and Anna suddenly wondered how they were going to get over the approaching waves that were taller than Nokk.

Her question was answered before she had finished the thought, as the first large swell was upon them. Instead of going at it head on, Elsa swerved and turned Nokk to run parallel to it—into it. The wave curved and Anna was sure they were going to be swallowed by it, but they were not. The wave curled over and around them and then they were inside of it, Anna’s eyes went wide as she looked at her own reflection in the curling wall of water just inches from her face. Time seemed to stop and she couldn’t believe this was happening— she was inside of a wave. She reached out a hand and let her fingers graze across the curling water, giggling as she drew squiggly trails in the sunlit wave as she went. Nokk kept her parallel direction to the wave, angling only slightly upward as they went, so that when the tube closed behind them with a loud gush and a spray, she jumped over the top and to the back of it. Anna laughed from getting spray in her face and Elsa glanced behind her with a pleased smile. So, this is what Elsa did all day, Anna thought with a twinge of envy and awe. No wonder she wanted to stay here.

Two perhaps three more large swells were cleared in the same exhilarating way, before they gave way to a much calmer, much smoother rolling sea. Anna was almost disappointed that there were no more waves to ride, but the ride itself was still no less thrilling. Out here resembled something of a rolling meadow, only how fascinating that it was made of water instead of earth. Anna never wanted to set foot on a ship again, for this, was the only way to travel the sea.

She clung to Elsa as the journey rolled on, and realized for the first time, just how muscular her sister had become in her short time living up here. Anna could see how riding waves on a regular basis as they had just done would increase someones strength— and she was glad for it. Elsa had always been thinner than average — beautiful still of course — but thin — and somewhere it had always worried her — like Elsa could break or snap in two if too much force was applied to her. Her worry wasn’t entirely unfounded either, as it had nearly happened once— a drunk suitor had grabbed her wrist too hard at a party, yanking her in an attempt to dance— and it had left a bruise. Anna had been irate about it, had been the one to first see it happen and had lunged for the man, shoving him away from her sister before Elsa could even react. He made no attempt to resist her, too drunk apparently and then Kristoff had materialized and picked the man up by his collar and dragged him violently to the door where the guards took him away. No one had tried to touch Elsa without her permission again after that incident.

Elsa, for her part, had pretended nothing had happened and tried to return the party to normal, which partly worked despite the uncomfortable air that still hung there. Anna had been too irate to contain herself, and spent much of that time letting out her irateness on Elsa, as her real target — the suitor — had been taken away. Kristoff tried and failed to calm her down and she later regretted not listening to him sooner. Though that incident potentially explained part of the reason why Elsa was never interested in any of the suitors, the other part Anna knew was still her fear of her powers. Of them seeing the real her and not wanting her, which broke her heart. Admittedly, she had never seen one man amongst all the suitors who she thought was good enough for Elsa— so she hadn’t pushed it. But still she hoped, and somewhere inside of her she knew, someone out there was good enough for her sister, could make her happy— she just hadn’t found them yet.

‘Look.’ Elsa said, turning her head so the wind carried her voice back to Anna. The sound brought Anna out of her thoughts and she looked ahead. There, approaching in the distance stood — finally — Ahtohallan. Anna’s eyes went wide as she took in the tall glacier, sun sparkled off the opaque ice and it looked like a white mountain cutting through the water. Too small to be a mountain but too large to be an iceberg— an ancient river of ice, flowing into the sea.

The waves started again as they rode closer, only they were behind them this time. Cantering on top of the white crest, again riding parallel with the large waves, allowing it to fluidly carry them down, handing them off into the spray of the next. It felt, somehow, as if they were part of the waves, riding with them, not on them— so vastly different from a ship that fought against the waves constantly. This was so much smoother and more enjoyable! And fun!

Eventually the waves delivered them to the icy shoreline and Nokk bowed her head and ducked down, letting them both slide off easily. Anna watched as Elsa put her forehead to Nokk’s in a silent thank you, then turned to grab her hand.

‘Let’s go.’ Elsa said with excited eyes.

Anna was bouncing again— at least this time she was aware of it.

‘From what I’ve been able to figure out,’ Elsa said as they walked up the snowy incline and into the massive crevice, ‘I think Ahtohallan is somehow alive —or sentient— alive with the memories stored in ice. Every time I’ve come here, it seems to show me exactly what I need to see in that moment— so while we can hope to see your forgotten memories there is no guarantee. I just want to prepare you— it’s up to Ahtohallan what we see and when.’

‘That’s ok, I trust whatever it want’s to show me.’ Anna said, trying to hide the hint of disappointment she felt. But whatever they saw, would probably still be amazing.

‘The crevice gave way to an icy corridor as they walked in— which really just looked like a cave made of ice. Holes in the walls and passageways led off in all different directions, and Anna wondered how Elsa ever found her way through this place. It all looked the same. The sun beat down from outside, permeating the opaque ice and illuminating it— causing it to look as if it was glowing turquoise, which made her feel as if they were back in the tube of the wave— only the wave was frozen and unmoving this time.

As they moved deeper in, the turquoise glow faded and it grew dark, nearly too dark to see and Anna wondered how they were going to get through if they couldn’t see. Once again her question was answered wordlessly as Elsa put a hand to the ice. Brilliant light the same colors as the auroras immediately illuminated the ice around them and it pulled at Anna’s eyes, mesmerizing her.

‘Elsa…’ Was all she could get out.

‘Say hello.’ Elsa encouraged her. ‘Put your hand on the ice.’

Anna blinked, trying to process what Elsa had said— say hello? But at this point, there really was no questioning the miraculous things Elsa told her to do. So she walked over to her and put her hand up slowly, a bit tentatively, and pressed it to the slick icy wall. Again the chamber lit up with the brilliant colors of the auroras, swirling through the ice only as Anna had seen them do in the sky!

‘Hello.’ Anna said shyly and giggled.

The light then shot down a passageway, illuminating the way for them. So that’s how Elsa figured her way through here… She glanced at Elsa, who had the same mischievous look in her eye that Anna did— they smiled knowingly, then both took off at a run following the light and giggling like little girls. Anna ran and laughed as she followed the elusive sprite-like glow. It did seem alive as it played with them, and Anna wanted to catch it. She only lost her footing once but quickly recovered— quite proud of her unusual coordination and at keeping up with Elsa. Elsa’s smoother, longer, graceful strides beside her only slowed when Anna stumbled the once, but then they were both off again, sliding to a stop as the passageway came to an end. Rather, Elsa stopped. Anna did not, she kept sliding until she slid right into Elsa and took them both down in a spectacular tumbling affair. Elsa was laughing ridiculously hard as Anna lay on top of her— and Anna was too. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard Elsa laugh like that— certainly never when there were other people around. This might just be the best day of her life so far, and it was only just beginning.

‘Sorry!’ She laughed and rolled off Elsa, still laughing too hard to catch her breath properly. Elsa just lay there too, knees up, holding her stomach and giggling.

‘Good thing we stopped.’ Elsa jested as she sat up, propping her arms behind her and pointing.

Anna looked where she pointed— a ways to the left of the icy dead end they had slid into was a pit that dropped off into what— Anna didn’t want to know.

‘Wow.’ Her voice echoed as she stood, taking in the vast chamber that opened up before her. As she neared the edge she could see that the passageway continued on the other side, much lower than where they were now. Spread across the pit were what looked like hexagonal pillars— stepping stones perhaps, raised from ice and spread way too far apart for any normal person to step across.

‘Elsa— did you jump across these?’ Anna asked incredulously.

‘Guilty.’ Elsa said nonchalantly and shrugged her shoulders.

Anna shot her a disapproving look. ‘You wonder why I worry? This is why.’ She said and cast her hand out over the pit, gesturing to the dangerously tiny pillars of ice that loomed over a pit with no foreseeable bottom.

‘I’m sorry, I’ll fix it.’ Elsa said, pulling her mouth into a guilty expression. She raised her hands and the stepping stones — stepping icy pillars — whatever they were, lowered into the abyss. Good riddance. In the next moment she cast her hands out forward and Anna watched in awe as a long icy staircase replaced the pillars.

‘Better?’ Elsa asked when she finished.

‘Better. And don’t ever jump across it again please… Give me a heart attack…’ Anna muttered under her breath. Elsa chuckled and led the way to the stairs. It didn’t take long to cross the trench— and Anna only dared to peek over the railing just once. Only blackness stared back at her and she quickly recoiled and hurried down the stairs. Yep. Bottomless. No more jumping, crazy person.

The stairs gave way to a similar passageway, though shorter than the last and the light led them down it and towards a triangular shaped opening at the end. When she got closer Anna could see that the triangle was formed by giant shards of ice laced together at an angle as if— it had purposely been made that way. It looked vastly different from the rest of the natural glacier— like something Elsa might make.

‘Did you make this?’ Anna asked curiously.

‘No, nothing beyond this point was me.’ Elsa said.

‘Then who—?’ Anna’s voice trailed off as they moved through the opening and into the next antechamber. This one too had clear icy hexagonal pillars lining the walls that looked like they had been deliberately placed there. If Elsa hadn’t done it then— who had? The light danced in the pillars and pulled her from her thoughts, illuminating yet another triangular shaped opening. Or at least, it looked like an opening. It was in fact covered with a layer of ice. Four diamonds were embossed in the ice around the door, and Anna decided to stop questioning how these things were made right then.

‘I keep this part sealed when I’m not here, just in case.’ Elsa said, picking up on Anna’s confusion about where they would go next. ‘Stand back a bit.’ Elsa said, and walked up to the doorway— if that’s what it was. Anna moved back a few paces without question. Elsa then threw her hands up and dragged them down forcefully— violently shattering the ice in the doorway and, leaving tiny diamond shaped crystals floating in the air in the chamber just beyond Elsa.

Anna brought her hands up to her face to block the force of the shattering ice, then slowly lowered them once it settled. ’Woah.’ Was all she could say. These diamond crystals Anna recognized— she had seen them once before floating in Arendelle, just before the elements had gone awry.

‘This is it.’ Elsa said and grabbed Anna’s hand, leading her into the chamber. The light did not follow them here, and Anna could barely see anything save for the bit of light that somehow glinted off the gazillions of tiny crystals that still hung motionless in the air— the deep arctic heart of Ahtohallan. Elsa led her deeper into the room and she gasped suddenly as light illuminated the ice in the floor just in front of where they stood. What Anna saw, was what looked like four giant diamond shaped crystals, blue, turquoise, pinkish-red and purple arranged almost like a star just below the surface of the ice. In the center of them, a smaller white, four pointed star resided, it too just below the surface of the ice. The design was beautiful, and glowing enough so that Anna could see Elsa’s arm that was holding her hand.

‘The fifth element symbol…’ Anna said in awe, taking her other hand to point at the same design that was etched in the sleeve on the outer part of Elsa’s bicep.

Elsa just smiled and squeezed her hand in confirmation. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Do. The. Magic!’ She yelled dramatically, pleaded really, suddenly so excited she was unable to contain it this time— not caring how childish she sounded in that moment.

Elsa squeezed her hand again and pulled her forward onto the white star in the middle of the design. What happened next Anna would never be sure, but her whole world exploded in an array of color and blinding white light. The ground below them lit up as bright as the night sky and shot outwards on the floor around them. It shot upwards too, from under their feet, the light of the aurora borealis encasing them as if they were in some kind of portal traveling up to meet the sky. Her long hair and Elsa’s even longer hair swirled around them loosely as the force traveled upward, and she held onto Elsa’s hand for dear life, the only tangible thing she could feel at that moment — the only thing linking her to any sense of reality — until she heard the song. Their mothers voice again, only this time she was sure of it. There was no mistaking it.

‘Where the north wind, meets the sea…’

Then, as if the show of lights around them couldn’t get any more spectacular, it somehow did. All the light that was shooting skyward gathered together at a point above them, then exploded outward like a firework, raining down a brilliance like a waterfall or tidal wave of light. It illuminated the shape and sheer size of the entire chamber— and as the light cascaded down the walls, it became alive with moving fractals— glowing with life, and Anna’s eyes widened when she saw that there were moving images reflected in these fractals— living memories. Millions of memories spread around them in the fractals, too many for her to absorb at once. It was as if the chamber knew she was overwhelmed because all at once the memories dimmed— throwing her briefly into panicked confusion, her eyes darting around frantically, desperate to see the memories.

‘Anna.’ Elsa said softly, and touched her shoulder gently, indicating her to turn around. And then she heard it:

‘Come my darlings homeward bound.’

She turned slowly in the direction of the voice, knowing what she would see there yet not remotely prepared for it. Tears burned her eyes as she turned, and she couldn’t help but throw her hands over her mouth when she finally took it in. For what felt like the first time in forever— the beautiful, kind, loving face of her mother, gazed down at her from above— not just gazed but looked at her. Her mother was looking at her as if she could actually see her. As if the past six years had not happened and she was right there, just like before— only looking at a now twenty one year old Anna instead of the fifteen year old she had left. Her breath hitched and she tried to suppress the tidal wave of emotion that threatened her— all she could get out shakily was:

‘Mother.’

Chapter Text

The quiet echo of Anna’s sniffles reverberated around the otherwise ominously silent glacial chamber. Never before had Anna heard such pure unadulterated silence in her life, and it unnerved her. A strange thought to have in this moment, but then when didn’t her brain stir up random unrelated thoughts in order to mask the true emotional pain she knew she wasn’t strong enough to handle.

All.

The.

Time.

It’d been her coping mechanism for as long as she could remember, only it seemed wildly inappropriate in this moment when she for once, didn’t want to block out these painful memories.

She thought she was stronger than this.

She thought she was ready for this.

She clearly wasn’t.

Her Royal Majesty Queen Anna of Arendelle— what a joke.

Of course she knew what to expect here, Elsa had told her, and yet— how could anyone be ready for something like this? Her thoughts still weren’t making any sense as she clung to Elsa and sobbed, her back purposefully turned away from their mothers face, unable to cope with looking at it. She hadn’t lasted but a moment staring into the icy reflection of her dead mother’s eyes before she had to rip her eyes away or risk being ripped apart herself.

She thought she was more mature than this.

Mature like Elsa had probably been. Here. Alone. How had Elsa faced this by herself? Thank god Elsa was there supporting the weight of her now, or else she knew she would be a mess of a puddle on the floor. Her face would probably freeze right to it with how wet it was with tears, and she almost laughed at that thought— almost. More random inappropriate thoughts.

Stop.

She had to get a grip, get control over this like an adult so she could see everything Ahtohallan wanted to show her— she had to. She was not leaving here until she did.

‘Anna, shhh. It’s ok, I cried the first time too.’ Elsa said gently as she swayed and rubbed her back.

Fine, so Elsa had cried— cried in Elsa’s way, which meant crying but still one-hundred percent functioning. No. She was not that, she tried but she could never be. Emotions were the bane of her existence, always giving away every thought she had, overwhelming her so tremendously that she couldn’t even function at five percent right now so that she could just enjoy these damn memories. More sobbing. She had to shut this off.

Stop it Anna!

She hadn’t even behaved like this at her parent’s funeral so, what was this?

‘Anna, what did you say to me, about how you pulled yourself together when you were lost in that cave and thought I had died?’

‘I don’t remember.’ She choke-mumbled into Elsa’s hair.

‘Well I do, I hum it like a song nearly every day— especially when I’m struggling. You said:

I won't look too far ahead,

It's too much for me to take,

But break it down to this next breath, this next step,

This next choice is one that I can make.

You can do that now. Take a breath, we will do this together.’

That was true, she had said that, had done that even after she thought Elsa had died. But that was different. She was so beyond caring about her own life in that cave, that pulling herself up and out once she realized that fact had been easy— she did it for Elsa. One last time. She did it to finish the job Elsa had started, and then, she’d wanted those giants to kill her too. That had been her motivation, her plan, morbid as it was. Finish the job and die. Finally, once and for all, she was going to defy the spitefully sardonic universe, hellbent on keeping them apart — laugh in its cruel face just once — one final hoorah — and go quietly to her death however the giants deemed fit— to follow Elsa one last time into the great unknown, finally, permanently together. Of course she’d never admit to that, especially to Kristoff, and she hadn’t done it thankfully— and Elsa was right. She had pulled herself together before and she could do it now. Especially since Elsa was right here with her, right now, and not dead. She could do this— she felt her chest relax and she gained a small modicum of control over her faculties. She nodded into Elsa’s hair, her breathing slowing.

She could do this.

‘Good.’ Elsa said quietly.

It was all that she could do to detach herself from Elsa’s shoulder, slowly and reluctantly she turned once again to face the tender eyes of their mother. Her shoulders back, resolute in her stance, braver than she actually felt— she took in her mother again. So much love was there, so much kindness and familiarity and she had missed it so — sadness, happiness and everything inbetween — yet, what was this other feeling she couldn’t tamp down? A feeling she always knew was there but refused to even let but a spark of it escape the deepest depths of her soul. It was growing stronger now, and stronger, persistently burning right in the middle of her chest as she stared at her mother— and she did not like it. It was ugly.

It was— anger.

And this she was not ready for.

‘Elsa, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ She said and started charging for the door.

‘Woah, wait Anna.’ Elsa said with a tone of surprise and grabbed her arm, holding her there.

‘Elsa let me go, I can’t do this.’ She said, her tone rising, her voice nearing on the edge of breaking again, wiggling her arm trying to pull it away from her sister.

‘Anna, what? Talk to me.’ Elsa spun her, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her to look directly at her face. ‘Talk to me.’

‘I can’t. Do. This.’ She hissed quietly, slowly as more accursed tears streamed down her cheeks. Please don’t push this Elsa. She looked down to avert her eyes from Elsa’s penetrating gaze, the anger was bubbling.

‘What can’t you do?’ Elsa stooped, searching her downcast eyes for an answer she would not find there.

‘This! All of it, I just don’t want to do it!’ She yelled and yanked herself from Elsa’s grasp, suddenly very annoyed— flinging her arms up and around her, gesturing to all the stupid memories hanging in the air. It was better to just leave them forgotten and buried rather than to go through this angry pain— and she just wanted to leave.

Elsa stood upright, blinking and staring at her for a long moment— she couldn’t read Elsa’s expression. ‘I was mad at them too you know.’ Elsa said finally, quietly yet still it cut through the deafening silence like a knife. ‘For a long time. Part of me still is.’

The blasted tears would just not stop and more spilled down her face at Elsa’s words— giving her away. She did not want to be mad at her parents. Did not want Elsa to know how mad she was at their parents. She wanted to look lovingly at her mothers face, maybe cry a bit with Elsa and then move on to other happier memories. She did not want to feel this rage that was building inside of her— that is not how she wanted to remember them.

Anna was shaking her head, eyes closed. ‘I can’t do it.’ She whispered, eerily calm, which surprised even her— then turned to get out of this wickedly silent chamber.

Elsa grabbed her once again, spinning her around, gripping her shoulders and stooping to look directly into her eyes. ‘What are you angry about Anna.’ She said with a low, deeply sincere voice, it wasn’t a question, it was a command— a non-negotiable command that she’d only heard Elsa use at diplomatic meetings. Elsa’s icy blue eyes pierced her own, compelling the truth out of her.

More tears. She felt her lower lip quiver, her breathing increased and the burning anger in her chest had built to a point where it felt like it might just explode. For the first time, she truly realized what it must feel like to be Elsa— an unwanted power building in ones chest, it can’t stay there but you can’t let it out either. So crushing yet there was no escape for it. Madness.

‘I’m mad at them for everything!’ Her voice rang out finally, echoing the ugly words all around the chamber, mocking her. There it was, and she couldn’t take it back now as the room said it to back to her fifty times.

‘Tell her then,’ Elsa said firmly. ‘Or tell me.’ She released Anna’s shoulders. Anna’s bottom lip was going again, so she bit it down.

‘No one ever listened to me.’ She said through gritted teeth, quietly, exasperatedly— still embarrassed by her previous outburst and desperately trying to reign this anger in. Elsa just nodded with sad understanding eyes. Eyes that would never have been this sad if her parents hadn’t forced them apart all those years.

‘No one ever asked me if it was ok to just rip you away. One day it was just done — accept it Anna — and oh, also take her memories so she really has no choice in any of this.’ She flung her arms above herself and dropped them dramatically. Her throat felt like it was closing up but some of the pressure had released from her chest.

‘I begged them, pleaded with them to tell me what was going on — to let me see you — that I do remember. For years. And I got nothing. No answers, no apologies, just cryptic words: Elsa is out of your life forever Anna, it’s for the best, you’ll understand when you’re older, learn to accept it and smile through it all Anna. Well I never learned to accept it. And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t. Because I was right all along! But they never listened to me! No one ever listened to me! And I’m glad I didn’t listen to them, because they were wrong! Every. Step. Of. The. Way! If I had listened to their terrible advice, I would have never seen you again!’ She was shouting, her hands flailing in all different directions as her words still hung in the echo chamber— and she didn’t care this time.

‘And then they died!’ She shouted at Elsa and felt bad because it wasn’t Elsa she was mad at— Elsa, the other unfortunate victim of her parent’s grossly disastrous ineptitude. This rage in her was so unfamiliar it scared her a bit, and she had no idea how to control it or shut it off now that it had started.

‘AND THEN YOU DIED!’ She turned and screamed blindly up at her mothers still smiling face. ‘And you left everything on us! Left us alone— left me alone! Left Elsa to deal with her powers and rule your kingdom ALONE.’ She shoved an accusatory finger violently up at her mothers face— tears blurring her eyes. ‘We didn’t even know you were Northuldra mother— how do you just keep massive secrets like that from your own daughters? We had to figure all of that out ourselves— figure out how to rule your kingdom for you, how to fix your forest for you. ALL. ON. OUR. OWN!  AND IT ALMOST KILLED US BOTH!’ She was heaving with breath but she couldn’t stop the spew of rage spouting from her mouth, like a volcano, it apparently had to flow until it was all out.

‘AND I DON’T WANT TO RULE YOUR KINGDOM FOR YOU! I JUST WANT TO BE WITH MY SISTER!’ She heaved one last time and then collapsed to her knees, finally done, and immediately regretting those hateful words as they mocked her from every corner of the chamber. ‘You should still be here to do it…’ She whispered in defeat, giving into the tears and nearly choking with lack of breath.

And then: Elsa was there on her knees, holding her, hugging her and she didn’t know what to do. What must Elsa think of her now, now that it was all out there? ‘I’m sorry.’ She whispered through hitched breaths as Elsa held her.

‘I was wondering when this was going to happen.’ Was all Elsa said as she stroked Anna’s hair. That was not the response she’d been expecting. ‘It’s ok to feel this way Anna, I understand it, believe me.’ She clutched Elsa’s shoulders from her position on her knees, screwing up her face and then giving in and and crying into her shoulder again. They stayed that way for a long moment until:

‘Iduna get down from there!’

A voice echoed around the chamber. Anna broke away from Elsa on instinct, searching for where the strange voice had come from, calling their mothers name. Her eyes turned up to where her mother had just been, and found— still their mother, only as she was as a young girl. She was standing at the top of a dangerously high precipice overlooking a body of water and giggling.

‘Watch this!’  Iduna shouted and leapt fearlessly off the precipice towards the water. ‘Catch me!’  She squealed midair. Just then Nokk shot from the water, catching her on her back, delivering her safely down into the water.

‘Iduna, just because the spirits have a special connection with you, doesn’t mean you can take advantage of them!’  The other angry voice shouted.

The scene faded out and another unfolded before their eyes, their mother again— perhaps a bit older now, smearing paint all over a rock wall with her hands— creating a beautiful mural of a water horse at sea.

‘Thank you.’ She said to no one in particular, paint all over her hands and face as a mysterious gust of wind lifted her up so she could paint a higher portion of the cliff.

Anna spun to the left as yet another scene unfolded there. Her mother as a child again sliding on ice and laughing. ‘Winter is my favorite!’  She cried.

Then she was running through the forest, sliding to her knees in front of a river and crying.

‘No one will listen to me!’ She cried into the river. ‘I tried to tell them the dam is hurting the forest, but no one will listen!’ Nokk poked her nose up from beneath the water and Iduna stroked it. ‘I’m so sorry girl. I tried.’ She said defeated, then: ‘No, I’ll keep trying until they do listen.’ She said resolutely then sighed. ‘I know, I wish you could come on land with me too.’

Then the chamber dimmed and Anna blinked, bewildered, shocked, unable to process it all.

‘Mother…’ Was all she could squeak out. ‘She was...’

‘Just like you.’ Elsa finished with a knowing smile. ‘I felt like I was watching you Anna. She even looked like you. Fearless, determined, artistic, stubborn,’ Elsa smirked with playfully squinty eyes. ‘Unwavering love and belief. Anna that’s you.’

Anna smiled and wiped a few stray tears from her eyes. ‘She did always love winter.’ She whispered sadly, memories flooding her.

Then sudden violent fighting broke out, surrounding Anna and Elsa on all sides of the fractaled chamber. Anna jerked, startled by the violence of this new scene. She watched, as what her father once told them unfolded before her eyes. Vicious, brutal fighting between Arendellian soldiers and the Northuldra. Then there was their mother again, in front of the same river, her hands waving frantically in front of Nokk as the fighting continued in the background.

‘No, girl calm down its ok.’  Iduna pleaded desperately. Nokk reared aggressively on the water, her eyes glowing with menace before turning and diving violently down into the river. Fire burst out in the trees around their mother then and she jumped, clearly frightened. She started to run.

’No, no no no— help!’ She screamed as the ground shook beneath her, sending her flying into a rock wall. She sat up, visibly shaken and dazed but noticing an unconscious boy not far from her. Another blast of fire shot near her and she put up her hands defensively. She glanced around, and upon seeing no one, rushed over to the boy and examined him. Another blast of fire hit near them and she hunched over him protectively.

‘Help, please!’ She wailed. ‘Help!’ She screamed one final time, pleading desperately towards the sky. And then, she cupped a hand to her mouth and sang — an ancient Northuldran call to the spirits — and they answered her. Anna watched with wide teary eyes as some invisible force picked them up — her mother and her father — and carried them safely onto an Arendellian freight wagon just as the mist descended behind them. But— that couldn’t have been Gale who carried them… The elements were already in full rebellion at that stage and that would include Gale. No, this gust of wind looked like it had— Anna gasped and threw her hand over her mouth.

Snowflakes.

There were snowflakes in that arctic gust of wind that carried her mother and father to safety, yet the season looked like summer. These particular snowflakes Anna knew — was so familiar with— had seen so many times she would know them in her sleep. It was not Gale, it was—

‘Elsa…’ Anna whispered and grabbed her sisters arm, clutching it harder than she meant to. She wasn’t sure if she was in shock or simply about to pass out. At least she was only kneeling if she did eventually pass out. She pulled her eyes away from the scene long enough to glance at Elsa, whose eyes were also wide, glassy and fixated on the fractals.

‘Elsa that’s…you…your…’

‘Spirit…’ Elsa breathed, barely an audible whisper, her eyes still glued to the scene, wide with shock.

‘But…how…?’ Anna whispered into the ether, not expecting an answer.

‘I don’t know.’

The scene turned again, this time to Arendelle. Anna recognized the room, Elsa’s advisers— rather her advisers meeting chambers.

‘She is not of the Northuldra, and I don’t want to hear that uttered in my court again, do you understand me!’ It was the voice of their father now, a grown man — a king — as he slammed his fist down on a table full of advisers. Anna had never seen her father react like that in the entire fifteen years she knew him, and it frightened her a little.

‘The fact of the matter is, Your Majesty, that the people think she is. They still call for the imprisonment of any indigenous natives that are found within our realm — the people are still frightened — and rightly so after what they did to your father and the strange, disturbing practices of dark magic and — othersinful customs they engage in.’

‘I don’t give a damn what the people think, or anyone else for that matter— I am their King! Iduna is to be my wife, their Queen, and if you want to keep your job I suggest you figure out a way to convince the people of the truth! That she is not of the Northuldra— and I will have no more discussion of this in my court! Enough is enough!’

The fractals shifted again, revealing her mother and father kissing, only it appeared as if her mother was— pregnant?

‘Iduna you’re freezing, here put on your scarf.’

‘I’m not cold, I promise.’ She smiled. As a young adult no more than Elsa’s age, Anna couldn’t help but think how much she really did look like Elsa— Elsa with dark hair.

‘But your skin is nearly freezing to the touch.’ Agnarr said, a hint of worry in his voice, wrapping the scarf around her anyway.

‘This little one is special Agnarr, I can feel it. But I’m not afraid.’ Iduna said lovingly as she looked down at her protruding belly and caressed it. Anna dared a quick glance at Elsa who now had tears of her own wetting her cheeks. She reached out and grabbed her sisters hand as the scene shifted again.

A wispy blonde haired little girl ran down a long corridor of the castle, her hair streaming behind her in a tiny braid, leaving a trail of little snowflake flurries in her wake.

‘Mama!’ She cried happily and ran into Iduna’s outstretched arms. Little Elsa, before Anna was born. Anna smiled and squeezed her sisters hand.

‘When, when?’ Elsa squeed excitedly, and placed a hand on Iduna’s once again, pregnant stomach.

‘It shouldn’t be long now my darling.’ Iduna answered with a smile and stroked Elsa’s hair.

‘I can’t wait for her!’ Three year old Elsa said and put an ear to Iduna’s belly— listening.

‘How do you know it’s a she?’ Iduna asked curiously.

Little Elsa shrugged. ‘Oh, I just know.’ She said and hugged Iduna’s leg before skating off down the hallway. Anna’s eyes were burning with tears again and all she could do was squeeze Elsa’s hand to try and suppress them. She did not want to miss any of this.

Then: Little Anna lying in a crib— Elsa not much older than the previous scene, perched on the side of it, her arm clinging to the edge of it, peeking over and giggling. Her other hand swirled above baby Anna and rained down little snowflake flurries onto her. Baby Anna giggled and smiled as a snowflake landed on her nose, she reached her arms up to the falling snow.

‘El… El…’ She called up in a baby voice. Elsa giggled and rained down more snowflakes. Anna’s breath hitched, dangerously close to losing control again.

‘Iduna, what do we do about this? She’ll be queen someday— how do you think the people will react to her?’ Agnarr said, fear and sadness laced in his voice.

‘We do nothing. She isn’t hurting anyone— and the people will learn to accept her one day as they have learned to accept me. She’s so smart and kind hearted Agnarr, she will make a great queen someday. Perhaps she is even the key— the key to uniting our people and freeing the forest.’ Anna felt a swell of pride in her chest— Elsa had been a great queen, a fantastic queen— their mother had been very right about that.

The fractals shifted again and Anna’s eyes whirred as images from her childhood flashed before them— familiar images. Images she sort of remembered but didn’t remember completely. She and Elsa ice skating— only in summer? Elsa had made the ice. Sledding— Elsa propelling them with snow. Playing enchanted forest in a mound of snow inside the castle. Elsa reading aloud to her from a story book, acting out the story with snow sculptures as Anna danced happily with them. Building a snowman and sliding around on ice inside the ballroom! Anna’s eyes watched with teary glory as the faded memories returned to her head at last— as if from a hazy dream they emerged— one she could remember but not quite grasp entirely.

She felt Elsa’s hand tense, bringing her out of her mesmerized glory. Confused, she glanced over at her, and saw that she had cast her eyes down and away from the scene. Why?

Anna looked back to the ballroom scene, unwilling to miss but a single second of—

The ballroom.

This is where it happened. Elsa had told her, not entirely the specifics, but now she needed to see it for herself. The proverbial moment that changed their lives forever. It was time to see it. She was ready— even if Elsa was not.

Anna watched as her younger self ran up the first snow mound and leapt to the next, long before Elsa had built it.

‘Hang on.’ Little Elsa said and shot a snow mound out of her hands as Anna jumped.

Elsa caught her, swiftly, gracefully as only Elsa could do. Little Anna leapt to the next and the next and the next— the snow hills growing progressively taller with each jump. She was getting quite high— high enough to be dangerous if she fell…

‘Catch me!’ She heard herself yell — so like her mother — and Elsa caught her yet again.

‘Wait!’ Little Elsa yelled. ‘Slow down!’

Then: Elsa slipped.

She slipped.

Slipped.

As if in slow motion her sister simply slipped, on ice of her own making. Elsa never slipped. At least not in any recollected memory Anna ever had. Elsa was practically perfect in everything she did— perfect.

Always perfect—

Because of this. Because she had slipped now? Here? Once, when she was only a little girl having innocent fun?

Adult Elsa ripped her hand out of Anna’s just then, but Anna couldn’t bring herself to tear her wide eyes away from the scene in front of her.

Little Elsa squirmed on the ground, clearly horrified Anna was going to fall — which she would if another snow drift did not catch her. Anna watched with wide eyes as little Elsa threw out her hand in one hasty last ditch effort to break Anna’s fall, but she had missed.

Missed.

Elsa never missed.

But she did— and with that miss, she hit little Anna in the side of the head, sending her tumbling down, unconscious into a nearby snowdrift.

‘Anna!’ Little Elsa wailed and ran to her sister, cradling her head in her lap as a white streak snaked through her red hair.

‘Mama, Papa!’  Little Elsa screamed, and Anna watched as frost spread out from underneath her as she cried — scared icy frost — she had come to recognize over the years, and she felt her throat close up at watching little Elsa in pain. Frost collapsed their little snowman, crawled up and around the entire room creaking and cracking as it went.

‘You’re ok Anna, I’ve got you.’ Little Elsa whispered over her— scared and still crying, yet she clung to and comforted little Anna. Anna felt a tear slip out.

‘Elsa what have you done!’  Their father burst through the icy doorway followed by their mother— and immediately Anna hated the harsh accusatory tone he used with her. It wasn’t her fault! Anna wanted to scream at their father— wanted to undo everything she’d just seen. It was an accident!

The room dimmed, and all the memories faded leaving Anna blinking in anger as her eyes adjusted to the darker room. Elsa’s sniffling brought her to her senses.

‘Oh Elsa.’ Anna said softly as she glanced at her sister. She was slumped to the side, one hand propping her up on the ice the other digging her fingers into her scalp— her eyes completely averted from where the memories played. Her shoulders were spasming with silent heaves of tears and Anna scooted over on her knees to face her.

‘I’m so sorry Anna.’ Elsa whispered and shook her head, keeping her eyes fixated on the ice below her— one tear fell down and splattered on the ice.

What words could Anna offer her now, that she hadn’t already said? There were none that she could think of, and for once she was at a loss. All that was different after watching that memory was that it confirmed once and for all that Anna had always been right. That Elsa had never been to blame and that keeping them apart for an accident as trivial as what she had just witnessed was the single greatest mistake her parents had ever made. So instead she hugged her, pulled Elsa into her arms and squeezed her with a thousand words that she for once did not know how to speak. Elsa clutched her back and cried, and the only thing she could think to say in that moment was:

‘I love you.’

Chapter Text

‘Elsa?’

‘Elsa listen to me, I need you to listen to me ok? I listened to you before, so I need you to hear what I’m saying to you right now.’

Anna held her, and she didn’t try to fight it. She let the tears and pain and regret consume her and just cried. Anna had seen, seen it all now, so there was no more a point to try to mask how deeply it still affected her. And she couldn’t even if she tried— that was old Elsa, and she’d been long gone for a while now. The fact though, that this did so deeply affect her after all these years— to the point where she couldn’t even look at that haunting memory, was the real problem. Rather it was mildly ridiculous— it had been an accident, she knew this, and she thought she was past it. Or at least, had it under control enough so that she could be the support Anna needed through these memories, and not the other way around— not have a breakdown of her own. That was not the plan— and once again, the focus was back to her and away from Anna and that was not what today was supposed to be about. This day was for Anna, for her healing. But seeing that terrible moment literally unfold right before her eyes again had been too much— and honestly, she didn’t know what to do about it anymore. The fear and pain that was triggered by that specific incident never truly went away did it? The events with Maren just last night proved that didn’t they? And would it really ever leave her? Probably not. It may snake away for periods of  time, long periods even, pretending to be gone so that she could feel happy and normal for a time— but never would it truly ever leave her. And that thought was utterly depressing.

Anna pulled away from her, held her shoulders and looked into her teary eyes. Anna’s eyes were sad, warm, but she had a slight smile on her face— what could she possibly be happy about right now?

‘You’re a human being, Elsa. Did you know that?’ Anna slid her hands down Elsa’s arms and grabbed her hands, holding them in her lap. ‘I think you forget that most times.’

‘What?’  It was all she could get out through sniffles as she was utterly baffled by where Anna was going with this.

‘You slipped.’ Anna let out a breathy chuckle and shook her head— unbelievable. ‘Slipped.’ She said again, turning over the words as if she was still processing them. Her eyes returned to Elsa’s. ‘You know it’s ok for a human to slip right— for a little girl to make a mistake?’

‘It’s ok for other people to make mistakes Anna, not me. I can’t afford it.’

‘Yes you can!’ Anna said and shook Elsa’s hands in her lap. ‘You do not need to be perfect all the time Elsa, it’s killing you slowly. It has been for years. You need to do what’s right for you, not everyone else.’  Elsa shook her head, mistakes of hers always had disastrous consequences. She couldn’t afford it, Anna was wrong about this one.

‘Elsa, despite all of this,’ Anna gestured around the chamber, and Elsa felt as if she was gesturing to the entire glacier. ‘Despite your magic, despite the fact that you’re the fifth spirit, despite the fact that you were Queen of Arendelle— you are, quite simply, a human—’ She said with wide eyes as if willing Elsa to grasp the simple concept like a child. She then picked up Elsa’s hand and poked it playfully, as if to prove she was a solid person. ‘A physical fleshy human, just like me— and humans slip. They fall, they hurt people, they make mistakes, and they get back up— and you know what? That’s ok. It’s how we learn, but it doesn’t have to define the rest of your life Elsa— it doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect all the time so that you never slip again. It’s humanly impossible! Trust me, I know.’ Anna said playfully with a smile. ‘You should slip again, in fact I’ll be worried if you don’t, because then that means you’ve really turned into a spirit and then I’ll have to come fetch you yet again, from whatever spirity realm you’ve gone off to.’ Anna threw her hands out to the side dramatically and rolled her eyes with a smile as if chasing Elsa down was the last thing she ever wanted to do again—  Elsa cracked a smile. That was good to hear, because, she had slipped again already. Just the night before. And it made her feel grossly human— and that had scared her.

‘I used to follow you around and look up to you like you were a goddess, you know. I still do, if I’m being honest— but not for the reasons you might think. Everything you did, I wanted to do too, not because of how good at all of it you were, but because I wanted to be just like you. I believed in you, in the things you said and taught me, I loved who you were as a person Elsa — who you are — not the things you can do. If you never had magic, if you weren’t ridiculously smart or fantastic at riding or all the other things you do effortlessly perfect, I would still have loved you the exact same way. Because I love you for you Elsa, not what you can or can’t do— or did or didn’t do. And I always will, even if you freeze my head or my heart or ask me to rule a scarily complex kingdom and are sometimes terrible at charades.’ Elsa couldn’t help but smile at that last bit.

‘I’m getting better at charades…’ She chuckled in defense.

‘No, you’re not, but it’s ok. I love you anyway.’ Anna said with a smile. Elsa raised and eyebrow and smirked.

‘I love you too Anna — so much — I can’t even tell you.’ She grabbed Anna’s hand and squeezed it. Anna smiled.

‘Just promise me we’ll always be able to talk like this, I can’t take any more secrets Elsa.’

Suddenly butterflies shot into her stomach— no more secrets. The other thing. The other thing she promised herself— and Maren she would talk to Anna about. Why should that jump into her head now? Now wasn’t the time, not with everything that had just happened. She would have to find another time—

‘What is it?’ Anna asked, her brow quizzical, eyes searching Elsa’s. Anna must have read something on her face, she was always able to do that if Elsa wasn’t careful.

‘Nothing— it’s, nothing. Let’s head back, it’s getting late. It doesn’t look like Ahtohallan has anything more to show us today.’ She stood, and brushed herself off. Anna followed.

‘No, it’s not nothing— something is definitely going on. I saw it in your eyes— its the same look you get when your worried, the same look you had at Oaken’s— wait is this about what you were trying to tell me there? Tell me now, we’re here, we’re definitely alone.’

Elsa froze. She hadn’t thought remotely about how to do this, or what to say— just that she had to do it. She had no plan, no sage words, nothing — and she did not know how to function without a plan — this would have to wait—

‘Elsa, we promised about this. No more secrets, just tell me whatever it is.’ Anna said exasperatedly— she was in her stubborn mode and would not let this go, and it was true— she did not deserve to be lied to by anyone, ever again.

Think Elsa!

‘Ok.’ She said finally, and took a breath. Anna was uncharacteristically silent, giving her no time to formulate her thoughts. ‘It’s about Honeymaren.’ The words were out before she knew what had happened.

‘Okay… What about her?’ Anna asked, worry laced in her voice.

How Elsa, how? What comes after this? ‘Well, we’ve been spending a lot of time together, quite a bit actually.’

‘I’ve noticed.’ Anna said, still a hint of confusion in her voice. ‘I’m relieved actually, that you have such a close friend up here — it keeps me from worrying more than I already do— and Honeymaren is fantastic.’ Anna said with kind understanding eyes. ‘What is this about Elsa?’ She said after a beat— her brow quizzical, still searching Elsa’s eyes, prying for an answer — how to say it…

‘Yes, we’re friends—’  Elsa paused, unsure how to proceed. Still Anna stayed deathly silent so she continued: ‘She’s really looked out for me, since I came to live up here— she’s taught me so much about nature Anna, about life— things I never knew, things about myself I never knew—’ She trailed off, this was probably just baffling Anna at this point. ‘I just, don’t really know how to do this…’ She ran a hand over her hair and looked up then let out a long breath. Her eyes burned as if she might cry again, and she had no idea where that was coming from, she could not cry right now. Get it together.

Anna’s eyes were darting side to side, her brow was scrunched as if deep in thought— puzzling something together and Elsa had no idea what she was thinking. Finally she stopped, her eyes grew wide for a second, then returned to normal. She turned them on Elsa, her brow creased and concerned. ‘What are you trying to tell me Elsa?’ Her voice was soft, kind but compelling— it was now or never, and never was not an option.

She took a breath to fight off the burning tears, looked directly at her sister and said: ‘I think I love her Anna.’ She shrugged, raised her hands and let them drop on her thighs defeated. She shook her head, and then, the tears came. Not violently, just silently streaming down her cheeks and why they were there, she couldn’t comprehend.

‘Love her.’ Anna repeated quietly, scrunching her brow— contemplating. ‘Like how I love Kristoff?’ She asked slowly, but she didn’t seem confused. ‘Like Ryder and Bjorn?’

Elsa was nodding, looking up again, her eyes scrunched closed as the tears rolled down, raking her hand through her hair suddenly extremely embarrassed and mildly disgusted with herself. This was so foreign to her, she felt so exposed and vulnerable and she wished she could take it back— why had she decided to do this right now? She could just keep it secret, only be with Maren when she was with the Northuldra. Forget Arendelle, this was clearly too much for Anna to handle— and she herself couldn’t even take the embarrassment of it. Why, why had she decided to do this right now? It was a terrible idea. Snow started to swirl around her and she suddenly wished she was anywhere else.

Then Anna slammed into her, knocking the wind out of her with a hug. The abrupt force startled her, but as soon as she realized it was Anna squeezing her, she felt immediate relief. ‘Oh Elsa, why didn’t you tell me sooner?’ Anna cried and sounded choked up, and so she hugged her back instinctively. ‘What kind of a sister am I? I should’ve seen this— I saw how much time you two we’re spending together, how happy you were. I can see how much she cares about you. How did I miss this?’  Anna wailed dramatically.

Elsa pulled away from her. ‘Anna, you’ve had plenty to deal with lately. I really wasn’t sure myself until recently— rather, I finally understood and started to accept what I’d been feeling for a long time. As soon as I figured it out I came to Arendelle to try and tell you, it’s just, talking about this kind of thing is not easy for me— you know how I am.’ She shook her head, even she didn’t know why this was so difficult for her.

Anna scrunched her brow. ‘Elsa, if you had a hard time telling me this, then I’m not doing a very good job as a sister.’ She said defeated. ‘Did you think— I would stop loving you or something?’ She asked in disbelief with a look that threatened to crush Elsa.

‘No, no— Anna, your love was never in question. Ever. It was just— it’s just me. Everything. I don’t know how to explain it. The way we grew up, the stigma around this whole thing, it just — I guess I had — have a lot of shame around this that I’m still working through. It’s just one more thing that makes me grossly different from everyone else yet again, and that’s just, still really hard for me to deal with.’

‘Shame?’ Anna asked with a look of surprise, as if Elsa had lobsters crawling out of her ears. ‘But it’s love—’ She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. ‘and you do really love her right?’ Elsa nodded in confirmation. ‘Elsa, there’s nothing shameful about love— or being different. You being different is what makes you special, it’s what freed the forest, it’s what gave me my memories back and brought us here— and I don’t want you any other way.’

All she could do was smile and nod as she fought back more tears. The simple yet profound wisdom her sister espoused never ceased to amaze her. ‘I meant it you know, when I said you’re the smartest person I know.’

‘Well, I know that. But you better not tell Honeymaren.’ Anna smirked and wiggled her eyebrows. Elsa smiled.

‘Anna, are you really ok with this?’

‘Ok with it? Elsa. How do I explain this so you will finally understand it— I just want you to be happy, to be loved— and ideally to be in my life everyday.’ She smirked. ‘Since I can’t realistically have the last one, I will settle for the first two— and I don’t care what that looks like? I’ve lost sleep over the amount of suitors you’ve rejected because I so deeply want you to experience what I have with Kristoff. Admittedly, now I understand why you really did that— and I didn’t like any of them really anyway, and I’m still more than little annoyed with myself that I didn’t see this sooner— but if Honeymaren makes you happy than that makes me happy. I don’t know how else to say it.’ She said and dropped her hands to her sides. Then, as if to confirm it, Anna pulled her into a hug again. She squeezed her back, flooded with relief and love and thanking all the spirits that of all the people that could’ve been her sister, it had been Anna.

‘I’m so happy for you Elsa, you deserve this and so much more— please be happy for yourself.’ Elsa nodded. Anna released her then, and put a hand up to her heart, rubbing a circle there and letting out a long relieved breath.

‘Are you ok?’

‘What? Yeah, I just— the way you lead up to this made me think you were dying or something. Turns out it’s actually good news for once, and my heart doesn’t know how to cope with it.’ Anna smiled then giggled.

Good news.

Anna thought this was good news. Elsa smiled to herself— it was good news wasn’t it? She found somebody she loved and who possibly loved her back and that was good news— it was great news. It had taken her until just that moment of Anna saying the words to realize that simple fact, and it was a glorious feeling.

Just then, the fractals around the room started shifting again with memories. Elsa watched with surprise as images of Kristoff and Anna filled the room— their first meeting at Oaken’s in the blizzard, Anna throwing a bag of carrots in Kristoff’s face with a mortified look on her face. Elsa chucked at that. Kristoff flinging Anna from the sled to the back of Sven before it went off over a cliff, then Kristoff jumping over the cliff himself. Anna, clinging awkwardly three feet up on a rock ledge and Kristoff trying to hide his amusement. Kristoff protectively shielding Anna when she fell to her knees after Elsa had accidentally struck her in the ice castle. Elsa kept her eyes on the scene this time— she would not look away again. But then it shifted to Kristoff digging Anna out of a deep snow drift, giving her a look she’d now seen him give her many many times. Love. Then he was carrying her on Sven, she was nearly unconscious— riding at top speed towards the castle. Then he was alone, looking downcast in the woods but noticed a storm— her storm, brewing over the castle and immediately he jumped on Sven and blazed in the direction of the storm. Kristoff was charging across the frozen fjord, until he stopped, a mortified and heartbroken look on his face at seeing Anna frozen. Elsa watched herself cling to a frozen Anna, and a rush of pain hit her again— but she kept watching. 

It shifted again and she saw Anna pulling Kristoff along the cobblestone pathway of the castle, excitedly presenting him with his new sled. He picked her up, twirled her and then kissed her. Elsa smiled and it warmed her heart. Then Kristoff and Anna were in the woods— he was teaching her how to light a fire, and pointing to all different things as Anna looked on with interest. Elsa remembered some of these outings, Kristoff and Anna had taken her with from time to time and she always enjoyed being out in nature with them. Then they were in the ballroom at a party, dancing— Kristoff in a proper suit dancing stoically with a giggling Anna and clearly having no idea what he was doing. Elsa remembered that time and she covered a smile. Kristoff had looked dashing but also utterly uncomfortable— yet he had suffered it for Anna. Then Kristoff and Anna walking hand in hand through town, looking in the windows of shops— then walking through the woods hand in hand while talking. Anna’s birthday party— the year Elsa had gone overboard and then gotten herself sick. Kristoff was (poorly) painting ‘Happy Birthday Anna’ on sheets of paper that he then clumsily tried to string up in the courtyard. He mixed up some of the sheets of paper, sighed, then climbed up again to switch them. Elsa felt a tear slip out— seeing the bursting love Kristoff had for her sister all at once like that was almost overwhelming— and the happiness she felt at knowing Anna had Kristoff to love and care for her was nearly the happiest feeling she’d ever had in her life.

She stole a glance at Anna who was smiling deliriously as she watched, a tear rolled down her cheek as well.

Love was truly beautiful.

But Ahtohallan did not stop there. Again, the fractals shifted, only now it was not Kristoff and Anna she was watching— she was staring at herself and Honeymaren.

Her eyes went wide and she froze as she watched their first conversation around a campfire, a rush of adrenaline shooting through her chest. Maren was telling her about the existence of a fifth spirit— that had been the very first time she had helped Elsa. Little did either of them know at that time that Elsa was the fifth spirit— and little did she know that the feelings she was feeling that night were something greater than she ever could have imagined. Then she saw the events of the forest take place through Maren’s perspective, watching herself put out the fires— Maren smiling widely when the Northuldra began to chant and sing around her and Anna— then joining in on it herself. Her sad and confused face when she realized Elsa and Anna had left camp abruptly in the middle of the night. Then Maren’s wide amazed eyes as she took in the sky for the first time after the mist lifted — glancing around looking for something — finding Anna then watching with confused eyes as Anna ran to the edge of a hill and slid down to the beach. She followed Anna, tentatively, quietly and saw Elsa ride across the sea on Nokk, watched as she hugged and held Anna and cried. Maren was smiling, with kind eyes so familiar— then she slipped into the trees away from the scene.

Then recent memories, very recent memories that Elsa remembered clearly— the first time she realized meat made her sick. Maren hunched over her in the forest, a hand to her back, making sure she was ok after getting violently ill. Then walking through the forest with her, Maren pointing out different berries and herbs and roots that she could identify and eat. Maren teaching her how to light a fire on her own. She smiled at that memory— it had been an experience, and took her much longer to get the hang of it than she supposed it should have. Then showing Elsa how to pick out the right walking stick when they’d first started going on longer hikes. Riding Nokk, with Maren clutched behind her as they flew through the forest. Maren leaving a plate of berries in Elsa’s lavvu as she had done so many times before. Then finally, kissing in front of that waterfall— their waterfall as Elsa had now come to think of it— and one of the best days of her life. And she felt her cheeks flush and a twinge of embarrassment at having Anna witness such an intimate moment. But she had seen Anna kiss Kristoff, here and in person and so really, this was no different. Then the chamber dimmed, finally, seemingly done.

‘Oh Elsa!’ Anna turned to her, her face flooded with tears. She ran to her then, slamming into her with yet another hug. ‘That — was — so — beautiful!’ Anna wailed through labored breaths into her shoulder, squeezing the air out of her. Elsa just smiled and hugged her back, so utterly relieved that Anna now knew— and how much lighter she felt without the burden of yet another secret!

‘I guess we fell for them in the same way.’ She said into Anna’s hair, smiling. Anna nodded.

‘It’s like I just watched both of us falling together.’

Chapter Text

'The end of the ice age, the river found but lost. Magic source— Elsa's source.'

Elsa pulled away from Anna, keeping her hands rested on her smaller sister's shoulders. She squinted her eyes, cocked her head— listening. Then glanced back at Anna whose eyes locked onto hers with the same curiousness she felt in her own.

'Mother again?' Confusion still crested over Anna's brow.

'Her notes from the scroll?' Elsa offered, remembering her mothers handwriting etched on the corner of the scroll they had found in the wreckage of their parents ship.

Both of them paused, still and unmoving, waiting silently, expectantly, for they were both familiar enough now to know that Ahtohallan had more to say.

And so it did.

The whole chamber whirred once again, fractals shifting all around them into white light so blinding, they both had to throw up their hands in order to shield their eyes.

Surrounding them on all sides was a massive world of incomprehensible ice and snow, constructions far greater than anything Elsa could have ever imagined existed or conjured herself. Mountains, walls and jagged pillars of ice covered the vast landscapes— glaciers so big it looked as if they spanned many kingdoms. Drifts of snow so colossal they swallowed any signs of green life. Icebergs as large as islands floated in the seas— a lifeless winter world, that covered everything the eye could see.

'Elsa— what is this?' Anna's eyes were wide with wonder as she spun in a slow circle, taking in the staggering icy monoliths of this strange world.

'The ice age.' Elsa whispered in answer, awestruck and unable to tear her eyes away from the beautiful, silent, lifeless world that surrounded her. Something about it was eerily familiar— like a dream she could reach but not quite hold— and it filled her with a sense of dread, trepidation and glorious longing beauty all at the same time.

Then there was a person— a young woman, standing atop one of the highest glacial mountain peaks she had ever seen — and it looked remarkably like — herself? But it wasn't her, she could see as she studied the face, it definitely was not her— more like a friend she'd always known but had long since forgotten. Everything but the face was just so strikingly familiar. The woman's hair was the same white blonde color as hers, it flowed loose behind her in the wind, eyes the same icy blue as her own— her body too looked almost exactly like Elsa, especially— her outfit. That was what was most peculiar— she donned the same ice outfit Elsa had created when she first came to Ahtohallan— the one she wore now.

How could this woman, who was not her, be wearing the same outfit that she herself knew she created? Admittedly, her ice outfits had zero amount of forethought put into them— it was almost as if, when she had a powerful need of something— to change or to grow or understand something desperately— the ice would fractal and splinter out of her body in whatever design it deemed fit— encasing and providing her with exactly what she needed— as if it were alive. A reflection of her true self for all to see. She'd never really put much thought into it before, it was so second nature and she had done it so many times at this point— but seeing it on another was shockingly unnerving.

The woman's stance was resolute, determined. Her shoulders were back, brow creased as she studied the landscape around herself with a piercingly icy gaze— and was it, a hint of fear or sadness Elsa saw etched in her features? Like a person on a mission, set course to do something that was going to be hard, was going to be difficult and painful, yet resolved to do it anyway— she knew that look well from the mirror. The woman looked skyward, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and then, lifted a foot and stomped it down onto the glacier, causing something like a massive earthquake to shake the lands and the glacier upon which she stood. At the same time, she raised her arms and the snow around her immediately started to lift and dissipate into the air.

Anna grabbed and clutched her arm then, squeezing it with a force that almost hurt— and Elsa nearly forgot Anna was with her until that point.

The sea rose around the glacial peak the woman was standing on, as the ice and snow continued to melt. The woman scrunched her eyes as if struggling, and fell to her knees as the fractals on the wall shifted. The lands far and wide were melting, rivers began to flow into the sea again, lakes and oceans formed— snow dissipated into thin air. Mountains and rock became once again visible— the world returned slowly to life.

Then the woman was there again, kneeling on the glacier, hunched yet still holding her arms up as the landscape melted— until she was knocked over violently by some force Elsa hadn't been quick enough to see. But there it was again moving so quickly, so nearly invisible that it would almost be missed— a black streak of mist or smoke? That was what had hit the woman, then another struck her. She stood and shot an icy blast at yet another that came for her— which deterred the thing. Then she raised her arms yet again and the melting continued. Snow and wind started to swirl around her, encasing her in a powerful icy vortex— the black wispy smoke went for her again but was sucked into the vortex with a primal scream that sounded utterly inhuman. Then one, two no three more black wisps went for her— circling her so fast it looked like a black tornado was swallowing her. She screamed, and with that scream she expanded her own icy vortex and pushed back— the inhuman scream from the wisps returned and Elsa watched with wide eyes as one, two then finally the last black wisp was sucked into the vortex. The woman's scream still pierced the air as she brought her arms closer together slowly, bringing in the icy vortex with her, into her chest until it dissipated— and then, with one final yell she splayed her hands out wide and colors burst from her in four directions. They looked like the colors of the aurora borealis— turquoise shot out of her to the north, pinkish-red to the west, purple to the east and blue to the south. Four rainbow colors radiated out of her as she screamed, and she glowed with the brilliant white light of a thousand suns.

Then, she stopped.

Silence.

She collapsed.

Her body fell to the ice.

Lifeless.

The world around her was changed, thawed, melted— no longer a lifeless world of snow and ice. The sea had risen so high, that only the peak of the glacier she was on peeked out of the water— still massive in its own right.

Then, her body dissolved into snow. Elsa watched with a horrible sense of déjà vu as the wind picked up and carried that tiny bit of snow, into a crevice of that very glacier, and realization dawned on her as she stared at that glacial peak. It was—

'Ahtohallan.' She murmured, barely a whisper. Anna's grip on her arm was cutting off blood flow.

The fractals shifted then, jarring her from the previous scene which she had not had enough time to process.

Suddenly they were viewing a forest, a beautiful forest that looked much like where she lived now. People were gathered around in a large group— a native people that looked similar to the Northuldra— only perhaps much more primitive and ancient in their dress and facial features. A female leader spoke before them:

'We gather here today, to give thanks and gratitude to the spirits of nature that have finally returned to our world, and with them brought back life, restoration, balance and prosperity.'

'The frozen world we lived in was dying. With each season the cold became harsher, the days shorter, the animals scarcer as more and more of our people perished— we knew our days we're limited. But our people never gave up. We sang, we chanted, and prayed for help, a plea to the spirits to make their return and bring back the balance of nature that our ancestors once knew, to save our way of life— and my people, the spirits have answered us!'

Cheering rang out from the crowd of people gathered.

'The fifth spirit of ice and snow was born to us, born as a human to our people so that she might understand how to help us — how to be as a human and what that means — and so we raised her as our own. We taught her how to live as a human, how to feel and grow and love as only humans can. She learned from us, all this and more— in exchange she reminded us how sacred is the bridge between humans and the magic of nature— and we must continue to honor and cherish this bond. For it was with this hallowed bond that she brought back balance and saved our world!'

The crowd erupted in cheers again.

'Never must we forget this sacred knowledge, just as she will never be forgotten amongst our people. As truly, never a person have any one of us known as kind and as brave as she— and she is what we are here to honor and celebrate today— the fifth spirit of nature!'

Cheers and hoots expounded from the people, louder and louder.

Rock formations rose from the ground before the people then, terraforming the earth into four megalithic structures of stone— and Elsa recognized these. They were the four stone pillars that loomed over the entrance to the forest— the gateway into the forest and the Northuldra territory.

'A tribute to her, marked upon the earth so that her memory will span the ages— stone as strong as glacial ice, that will last the epoch of time. A reminder of the four elemental pillars of nature, upon which all life is built and which she gave her life to restore. May we protect and respect these elemental spirits, so that in turn, they may protect us— and we shall live together in harmony with them, for all eternity. The fifth spirit may be gone, but she lives on in our hearts, and each and every one of us knows— she will return. All we must do, is call to her with purity of heart in our greatest hour of need.'

Then the crowd began to chant, to sing a song she recognized as they fell into a spiral formation, each person touching the shoulder of the next. The spiral— the representation of the constantly changing, ever evolving interconnectedness of nature— or so Maren had taught her. Her throat started to close up with emotion and her eyes burned with tears as the people sang the ancient chant of the Vuelie— the same chant the Northuldra had sang before she and Anna, that first night they had met.

The chanting song rang out and reverberated around the glacial chamber as the memory dimmed and faded. Elsa stood there, stiff as stone reeling, unable to process all that she had just witnessed and still overcome with emotion from that final song. Who was that woman, why had she felt so familiar? They had called her the fifth spirit, but how had she been here before? So many questions yet no answers came into her mind, only more and more questions.

'Elsa, what was that?' Anna asked in a scared, demanding tone.

'I— I don't know.'

'Well, why— why would Ahtohallan show us that— the girl died at the end of all that Elsa... Who was she? Why— how did she have your powers?' The pitch in Anna's voice was rising to a steady panic and it did little to settle her own burgeoning anxiety.

'I don't know Anna.' She took a deep breath and paced a bit, frustrated she could not answer Anna's questions that she was well within rights to want to know. There had to be a reason they were shown this, it must mean something— but it didn't necessarily mean something bad. Maren would probably know, she always had the answers Elsa needed, or knew how to help her find them.

'Lets get back, Maren knows a lot about all of this— the ancient customs of the Northuldra. Maybe she can help— and relax, this doesn't mean anything bad.' She assured Anna in response to the look of near panic in her eyes, even though she wasn't entirely convinced herself.

Anna took a deep breath and closed her eyes. 'Ok, ok, yes. You're right. Let's go.'

As they turned to go, another blindingly white flash seared from the center of the chamber— up from the white star in the middle of the floor. They both stopped dead in their tracks, flinching and covering their eyes from the abrupt light.

'Hold on to each other my darlings, and never let go.'

Anna found Elsa's eyes with alarm. It was their mother's voice that rang out again— and it sounded almost like a warning, or rather just sound advice.

'What now?' Anna said in a worried voice.

'Look.' Elsa said curiously and pointed. In the center of the room, not far from where they stood— hovering several feet above the white star of the fifth element symbol, was a floating crystal. It hung suspended in the air, cloaked only in a white hazy mist leftover from the blinding flash of light. It sparkled with a turquoise hue and as Elsa approached it, she could see that it was diamond shaped— so small it could fit easily in the palm of her hand. She studied it for a moment, raised her hand up to it, hovered over it, tentatively testing the safety of the air around it. She glanced at Anna.

Anna sighed and grabbed her hand. 'Be careful.' She breathed exasperatedly. Elsa's eyes returned fixedly to the crystal. Slowly, she put her free hand underneath it, feeling the air there— and immediately it dropped down into her palm.

She examined it closely, trying to understand what might be its purpose. It wasn't made of ice, she was sure of that— it was a real crystal. Anna peeked around her to get a better look.

'What do we do with it?' She asked hesitantly, voice laced with a slight bit of contempt— as if she'd rather discard the ominous crystal on the spot and leave the place in a hurry. Elsa wasn't so sure she disagreed with that plan, but Ahtohallan had never been the slightest bit malicious. There was probably nothing to fear from it— as with the last memory, there had to be some purpose for providing this crystal to them at that specific moment— but what that was, she had no idea. Maren could help her figure it out. Ahtohallan never did anything without sound reason.

'We take it with us. Ahtohallan provided it to us for a reason right now— we need to figure out what that is.' She said resolutely, her decision already made. An annoyed sigh escaped quietly from Anna and she reluctantly nodded her head.

'Let's just get out of here before anything else weird happens.' Anna said and glanced around nervously, as if the walls were watching her.

Elsa encased the crystal in ice and secured it with a band of ice to the inside of her wrist for safekeeping.

'Ok, let's go.' She said and grabbed Anna's hand, leading her out of the chamber. Once Anna was out, she turned and raised her arms, sealing the triangular door that now separated them from chamber with a layer of ice.

They made their way out the same way they came in— the day had shifted to late afternoon she noted, as they neared the entrance. The bright turquoise hue that shone through the thick ice when the noon sun hit the glacier, had dimmed drastically. They had spent much longer in there than she had anticipated, longer than she had promised to be gone— and she hoped Maren wouldn't be worried.

'Wow it's later than I thought it would be.' Anna observed, also noting the rising presence of early evening.

'I know, it's so easy to lose time in there. I hope Maren and Kristoff aren't worrying.'

'Im sure they are.' Anna said with a sigh. She was smiling though.

Once out of the glacier she could see clearly that it was much later than they thought. The sky was red orange, but it was still more than bright enough to see clearly. They walked down the snowy slope that led from the crevice to the sea, and Elsa bent over the water, her hand hovering over it— silently calling Nokk.

Nokk burst from the water then, spraying them both with water and causing Anna to break down in a fit of giggles.

'Hi girl.' Anna said cheerfully as Nokk skated playfully over to her. Anna stroked her nose. 'Did you miss us?' She said in a baby voice— Nokk snorted happily. Then Nokk turned on Elsa and walked over suspiciously. She poked Elsa's hand, the one that had the crystal tied to it and sniffed it.

'What, you don't like it?' Elsa said playfully and held up her wrist so Nokk could see the crystal. Nokk eyed it suspiciously, sniffed it and snorted, shaking her head.

'Yeah, I'm not too keen on it either.' Anna said, petting Nokk as if the horse was the only one in the world who understood her plight. Elsa raised an eyebrow and gave them both a look.

'C'mon, let's get going.' She said, and swung herself up onto Nokk. She reached an arm down, Anna grabbed it, pulling herself up behind Elsa. 'Ready?'

'Ready.' Anna confirmed, and off they shot into the waves.

The journey started much like the previous, easily skipping over small waves, jumping over bigger ones. Elsa had Nokk jump higher than necessary over some of the smaller waves, just to she could hear Anna's laugh as they flew through the air. She smiled to herself, if only she could keep Anna this happy all the time— she would give anything for that. Then finally the bigger swells found them as the sea opened up, and Elsa smiled again— she had been so excited to surprise Anna with how she learned to ride the waves, and Anna had loved it just as much as she knew she would.

Anna tightened her grip with excitement as they approached the first swell, and Elsa could feel her bouncing slightly. Riding the waves on Nokk truly never got old— and this evening, with a clear sky turning all different shades of red orange and pink, the inside of the waves were sure to be a sight. Anna would love it.

Elsa took them up into the tube of the first wave, and as sure as she knew, the inside of the curl of water was ablaze with the fiery reflection of the twilight sky. Anna squealed behind her and ran her fingers through the curl beside them— Elsa smiled and did the same briefly before the wave closed. She turned Nokk directly into a smattering of spray as they jumped over the back of the wave— which got Anna right in the face, and they both laughed hysterically.

After three more rides, the sea finally calmed into its soothing rolling waves, and Elsa settled in for the quiet ride across the Dark Sea. She was so pleased that Anna had seen all those memories, had gotten back a modicum of what she had lost and more. The anger Anna had finally expelled had been well worth it as well. Her sister was rarely, if ever truly angry— she bottled it all up as if acknowledging it would some how manifest it— and Anna always did everything in her power to remain cheerful and happy. So it had been a small victory to finally get her to acknowledge and release the anger, anger Elsa knew had been festering in her for years, even if Anna didn't really know it — and for that today, she was grateful to their mother. Even if Anna's anger and some of the memories had been difficult to witness, ultimately it had been a fantastic day and she felt so much lighter that usual. Anna now knew about Maren, and had been unconditionally supportive— as Elsa had so prayed she would be. Yes, quite possibly this day could not get any better. Except that soon she would get to see Maren— perhaps the day could still get better she decided with a smile.

The other strange memories Ahtohallan had shown them still remained a mystery to her. She had felt a very bizarre familiarity or connection to the woman who they had witnessed and it was unsettling— but she could figure that out later with Maren's help. Right now she was too happy to dwell on that, or the odd crystal attached to her wrist.

They had reached the point on the journey where for a brief time she could see neither shore, not Ahtohallan nor the coast of the Northuldra territory. Everything around them was vast open ocean— it was both pure freedom but also slightly terrifying to be so far away from any land mass should something ever go wrong. But this open stretch never lasted very long, and before long they would be back with Maren and Kristoff— and she smiled at the wonderful thought.

It was perhaps the shift in the twilight sky or the slow setting sun that caused a murky darkness to fall underneath them in the water. An eerie shadow engulfed the water they ran across and she suddenly felt an ominous sense of foreboding. She had never really seen the water look like that in the evening— but then how long had it been since she last rode this way during twilight? She wasn't sure, and it was probably just the normal way water looked during sunset. She glanced back at Anna who was also looking down, inspecting the strange shadow beneath them.

Before she knew what had happened something shot upwards out of the water just beneath them, sending them both flying into the air as Nokk burst apart. Elsa hit the water hard and fast and saw blinding white for a brief moment before her vision returned. She kicked quickly to the surface, sputtering and gasping for breath as she tried to gain her bearings. There was a searing pain on the inside of her arm, but she ignored it. What had just happened? She had no idea— but where was Anna? She glanced around frantically, but what she found was not Anna— she watched in horror as a giant tentacle rose out of the sea — not far from where she was — and started to swing down violently right on top of her. Instinctively she threw up her hands in protection, and a giant icy spear grew out from her, piercing the massive tentacle and causing it to recoil, instead of coming down to crush her.

'Anna!' She screamed, her eyes darting around frantically for her sister as she treaded water. Still she could not see anything beyond the rolling waves. She had to get Anna and get out of there before that thing attacked again— whatever it was.

Then suddenly, Nokk was beside her and she pulled herself up quickly. 'Anna!' She yelled again, and finally saw her. Not far from where they were, Anna was floating— her face was turned down into the water, arms splayed out to her sides completely unconscious. 'Anna!' She screamed again and took off like an arrow towards her. The shadow of another tentacle loomed just to her left beneath the surface, but she saw it this time and Nokk dodged it just before it came spearing out of the surface of the water. What was this thing? What did it want? She had no time to figure that out now as they finally approached Anna. Nokk melded with the water, lowering herself down so that Elsa's lower half was floating in the water. She grabbed Anna's wrist and hauled her over towards them, flipping her over in her arms so that she could breathe. Anna was not breathing, and she had a huge gash in the side of her forehead that was bleeding profusely.

'No, no no. Don't you dare do this to me baby girl.' The words came out of her mindlessly, a desperate mumble as she positioned and maneuvered Anna in front of her in the water.

'Ok girl.' She said to Nokk when she had Anna where she wanted her. Nokk rose slowly from the water. As they left the buoyancy of the water, gravity hit hard and she clutched around Anna's middle to keep her from sliding off Nokk. She laced one arm under Anna's, gripping her around the chest for stability— and with the other she grabbed Nokk's mane under Anna's other arm. Anna slumped forward and it was all she could do to hold her in place, but she had no choice. Another shadow was coming for them in the water— and they needed to get away now.

'Go!' She yelled to Nokk, and the water spirit took off just as another tentacle shot from the water where they just were. Anna slid back into her from the force of the speed, and it was everything she could do to hold onto Nokk's mane with her free hand. Her arm was shaking from the strain of it, but she could not let go and risk dropping Anna— so she froze her hand and arm to Nokk's mane to ensure they would stay on. Nokk abruptly dodged to the right avoiding another tentacle that shot upwards from the waters depths. Anna slipped sideways and she yanked her back to center, barely keeping them both on the horse. How big was this thing? What was it? A giant squid or octopus? Why was it attacking them? The questions ran through the back of her mind as she focused on securing Anna from falling. Nokk dodged another tentacle and again she barely held onto Anna.

Finally, finally she could see the shore. The black sand beach from which they departed still far in the distance, but she could see it. She pushed Nokk faster and faster, desperate to outrun an onslaught of any more tentacles. She knew if they both fell off now, there would be little she could do to save them. The searing pain in her arm was getting worse, and she could barely hold onto Anna with it. She couldn't tell if she was bleeding, or if it was Anna's blood all over her, but black was creeping around the sides of her vision and that couldn't be a good sign. Please, please let them make it back to shore. Let Anna be ok, please. She had to tell Maren, tell her that she loved her, that Anna knew— had to see her face again.

Please...

Chapter Text

Wherever Daisy went, Sven seemed always to be right behind her.

He followed her around because he wanted to be near her, to protect her and make sure no other reindeers tried to claim her— that was abundantly clear, anyone with eyes could see it. He seemed almost ornery even, if he didn’t know where she was, and would look around frantically until he located her or her scent— and Maren empathized with Sven. She’d become recently aware of her own tendency to grow increasingly neurotic when she couldn’t find Elsa right away, or thought for a moment something was wrong with her— and she wasn’t sure that was ever going to go away— and she didn’t really want it to.

But there seemed to be a deeper connection between Sven and Daisy beyond that of normal deers. They genuinely seemed to enjoy being near to each other, whether they were pulling the wagon, grazing in the Arendelle pasture or eating lichen moss together off a rock as they were doing now. Were they in love? Was that even possible for reindeers? It certainly appeared that way, though Maren had never actually seen it unfold before her eyes such as this. Usually a male deer just took a sexual interest in a female, might battle a few other males for dominance and then nature would take its course. Never had she witnessed what appeared to be emotions and or affection between two deers ever before in her life.

Leave it to Daisy to be the first.

Daisy had always been different, nothing with her had ever been done by the book, and that’s one of the reason’s why Maren loved her so. Who would want to raise a normal reindeer, when you could have one as special and as beautifully different as Daisy? Maren chuckled to herself— she almost felt bad for others who would never get to experience what she had with Daisy. She could sense Daisy’s emotions from the first day she’d found her— scared, alone and bleeding in the Liken Meadow, nearly on the brink of death. She had a connection with her right away, and didn’t care what the others thought of her bringing home a nearly dead white reindeer. Oh and had there been a stink made over it! Everyone told her to just put Daisy out of her misery, that white reindeer were a bad omen anyway and to let nature take its course and weed out the weaker reindeers unfit to reproduce. To hell with all of them, is what she’d said, or as best she could in her ten year old stubbornly defiant way.

And she had been right.

Daisy was the best friend she’d ever had, had grown into a beautifully strong adult with Maren’s care, and their connection too had only grown stronger over the years— to a point where she basically considered Daisy a human. She was always able to tell what Daisy wanted or needed, what she was thinking or feeling— much like Kristoff could do with Sven. And Daisy always understood Maren somehow. Oh and how Daisy had taught the other members of the Northuldra a thing to two as well! How not to be so superstitious as they had come to understand that Daisy was not the mythical omen they all feared, but a playful and friendly regular deer that most of them had come to love as well.

If Daisy had to choose anyone to partner and mate with, she was thrilled that it had been Sven. Kristoff understood Sven in the same way she did Daisy. Sven was like Kristoff’s brother, and perhaps it was this deep human connection both deers shared from such a young age, that allowed them to have this beautifully human relationship with each other now. Words were not needed, only actions and gestures of care and affection seemed to suffice for these two reindeer— and perhaps that’s what love really was. A meeting of two souls who decided their life was better with the other in it than to remain on this journey alone.

She couldn’t even imagine her own journey without Elsa anymore.

She envied Daisy and Sven in a way— how freely and openly they were able to be together and to express how they felt without a worry or care in the world for what others thought of them. That seemed like true utopia. Nature was so easy and simple— maybe in her next life she would choose to be an animal.

‘Anyone home?’ Kristoff whistled and waved hand in front of her face, dragging her out of her thoughts.

‘Oh, sorry.’ She responded, and collected the bundle of sorrel she’d been picking. ‘Did you say something?’

‘I was observing how quiet and distracted you’ve been for the past half hour, you ok?’ He asked.

‘Oh, yeah, I was just lost in thought— watching those two bozo’s.’ She nodded to Sven and Daisy with a smile. ‘They seem happy together. Makes me happy that’s all.’

‘Mm. Then why do you look so moody and brooding?’

She shot a look at Kristoff but he was smiling. ‘This is my happy face didn’t you know?’ She said and pointed to her face with a playful layer of sarcasm.

‘I see, then I guess I don’t ever want see you really happy. That might be dangerous.’ He chuckled and whistled to Daisy and Sven. They trotted over and all four of them started to walk back to the beach. ‘So what’s really on your mind sister?’

She took a deep breath. For some reason it was nearly impossible to hide anything from Kristoff, he had this way of knowing when something was bothering her and he would probe it until she gave in. Whether this was an innate character trait or he had learned it from Anna— or both, she wasn’t sure, but there was no use fighting against it she discovered.

‘Elsa’s plan is to tell Anna today.’ She paused. ‘About, us. About she and I— well, that was part of the reason for going today, most of it was for Anna’s memories.’

‘Oh.’ He said with a tone of surprise.

‘Yeah.’

‘And you’re— nervous?’

She took another breath. ‘Yeah.’

‘Maren, we’ve talked about this. I don’t see Anna having any problem with this, you need to believe me.’

‘I do, I do. I know you’re right, I know Anna— I believe you. I don’t know, it’s still just nerve-wracking for some reason. I guess I’m also just worried about Elsa, the Ahtohallan journey, telling Anna and then last night—’ She cut herself off. ‘I mean, she’s just been dealing with a lot lately.’

‘Last night?’ Kristoff questioned. Damn him for picking up on that. ‘What happened last night? She seemed fine when we went to bed?’ He paused. ‘Unless something happened after we went to bed— Ooh.’ He stopped himself, curled his lips in as if holding back a smile. ‘You wanna talk about it?’ He said sincerely, yet still the stupid smile was on his face.

‘Not really.’

‘Ok.’ He paused for a long moment considering. ‘You know for what it’s worth, Anna was really nervous the first time we— you know. We had to go really slow for a long time, she’s a uh, tiny girl you know?’ He coughed awkwardly.

Maren’s eyes went wide. ’Ok very good, I get it. I get it.’ She said hastily, cutting him off from revealing more than she ever wanted to know about Anna.

‘All I’m trying to say is that those two can be really similar in certain ways. They are sisters, that’s all. Elsa probably just needs to go really really really slow. I’m only saying it because I care— not just about Anna but about Elsa too. She’s like my sister.’

She nodded. ‘No, I know, and you’re very right.’ She paused and took a breath. ‘She— had a mishap with her powers last night and I’m just afraid it really set her back. She was doing so well until that happened.’

He nodded with sincerity. ‘Just give it time, and take it slow. I know how much you care about her, so I’m not worried.’ He said and put a hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s pretty amazing you’ve gotten her even this far, knowing Elsa.’ He smiled.

She smiled back at him. The ease with which she could talk to him about these otherwise absurdly uncomfortable subjects was something she would never take for granted. How did he always manage to make her feel better and more at ease about her problems? ‘You cannot tell Anna any of this.’ She said, suddenly in a panic. Kristoff chuckled and raised a hand as if taking an oath.

‘I won’t, although if she asks I really can’t lie to her anymore. It’s been killing me to keep this whole thing about you two from her.’ He shrugged. ‘But I doubt she’ll ask me about this— most likely she’ll ask Elsa and wrench it out of her whether Elsa wants to tell her or not.’ He chuckled.

Maren nodded in agreement and smiled. If Anna targeted Elsa about this subject, Elsa was on her own. She chuckled to herself thinking about Elsa trying and failing to get away from Anna’s probing questions about this.

‘I really thought they would be back by now.’ Kristoff said as the beach opened up before them. ‘It’s getting late.’ A tone of worry was laced in his words.

The sun was setting and the sky was a beautiful red-orange over the sea. Hadn’t Elsa said long before sunset they’d be back? Elsa was almost always unnaturally punctual, something felt wrong about this.

‘Elsa is practically never late.’ Maren said, a thread of distress laced in her own voice.

‘I know.’ Kristoff responded, pausing to think. ‘But I’ve known it to happen when she’s with Anna— because of Anna. So it’s probably fine.’ It sounded as if he was trying to convince himself more than her.

She turned to put the sorrel she’d collected into Daisy’s saddle bag, then turned to join Kristoff as he sat down on the black pebbles facing the sea. He picked up a rock and skipped it into the waves.

‘I still can’t believe she did this alone the first time.’ Maren said absently as she stared out at the darkening evening water. The turbid waves were getting higher, and she really hoped they would get back soon. Elsa had crossed this sea in a storm the first time, at night, alone, and gotten Nokk under control to boot—  but that was something she did not wish her to repeat again. Ever. Once was enough, there was no reason to chance that again. How she had even managed it that first time was still impossible to think about— then again it was Elsa.

‘I still never hear the end of that from Anna.’ Kristoff said with a chuckle. ‘Elsa has done some crazy things, that’s for sure. But she always has a good reason for the things the does. That I do know.’ He said sincerely. ‘The way Anna always gets hurt in the process though, is an entirely different story and is never ok with me.’ He said with a creased brow, his eyes fixated on the waves— then he softened. ‘But I know Elsa doesn’t set out to hurt her— usually quite the opposite. It’s just the way she handles problems— she drives forward to fix or remedy them on her own without considering the cost to others. Especially others who care about her.’

Maren scrunched her brow and stared at Kristoff. Elsa did do that, didn’t she? But how do you become angry with someone who puts their own life at risk, selflessly even— when in their mind what they’re doing is to protect the ones they love? That selflessness is probably part of what made Elsa such a great leader— a great queen.

‘Maybe that’s something you can get her to understand.’ Kristoff added, eyes still on the sea. ‘For Anna’s sake, and yours.’

‘What do you mean?’ She asked, wondering on the specifics.

‘Show her that it’s not a weakness to ask for help, to accept help. She doesn’t have to save the world and everyone in it alone— people are stronger together. One of these times, she really is going to get herself killed. Or someone else.’ He added, and Maren had a good idea of who he was talking about. All she could do was nod.

‘I’ll try.’ Was all she could think to say, her eyes returning to the sea. Elsa did have some self destructive tendencies, she had noticed that herself— but her intentions were always so good, so pure and technically strategically correct that she had never really put much thought into it before. It’s just how Elsa operated. Her own feelings and sometimes the feelings of others came in secondary to her innate drive to bluntly, accurately and swiftly fix a problem even if it put her own life in danger. Which wasn’t technically wrong, in fact the way her brain worked at solutions was rather creatively genius at times— but her reckless actions could definitely be disrespectful to those who loved her — by way of endangering herself — however unintentional it was on her part. Perhaps she could benefit from regular reminders that people who care about her are not ok with that kind of behavior. She would probably listen to that— probably. Maybe if she and Anna reminded her simultaneously it would sink in eventually…

‘There they are.’ Kristoff interrupted her thoughts and stood up to get a better look.

Relief flooded through her at his words and she stood quickly, squinting her eyes and putting a hand over her brow to block the glare of the setting sun, trying to see them amongst the darkening reflective waves. Far in the distance she could make out a tiny spec glistening towards them on the rolling sea. Nokk, she smiled. She continued to squint as they drew nearer, disappearing down behind a huge swell before reappearing on top of it, coasting down on the crest of the wave. Nokk was running, rather she was cantering, very slowly which was strange— it wasn’t unusual but she had seen how aggressively Elsa had ridden the waves outbound and now it looked as though she was riding very slowly, very tentatively by comparison. Why would she be doing that? She stayed on the same wave, and made no move to jump to another, just gently glided closer and closer to them on that same wave— until she pulled back off the wave entirely into the calmer shallows. As they approached she could see Anna’s red hair bouncing out in front— but why was Anna in front? Elsa would never have taught her how to ride Nokk on an open ocean, the Dark Sea no less.

Something was wrong.

‘Somethings not right.’ She said out loud, absently vocalizing her thoughts. Kristoff glanced at her then returned to the sea.

‘Why is Anna out front?’ He questioned, his voice a touch shaky. Both of them had no choice but to wait until the girls got close enough to see what was going on.

As they neared, the gravity of something being wrong was grossly understated. It looked like— like there was a lot more red than just Anna’s hair— and that red looked like blood, stark red pools of it smattered over Elsa’s white outfit. Whose blood was it on Elsa? This thought sent her into a panic and she was vaguely aware that she’d started walking towards the sea. It was then that she noticed, Anna looked unconscious. Elsa was clinging onto her with one arm wrapped protectively around her— the other arm was frozen to Nokk. Anna slumped back into her, her head bobbing around unnaturally as Nokk trotted forward.

‘Anna!’ Kristoff yelled so loud it started her, and he ran down into the waves. The girls were still too far out to reach, but she followed Kristoff into the shallow waves without hesitation.

As Nokk drew closer, something did not look right with Elsa either, and that’s when true panic set in. Elsa was slumped forward a bit as she held Anna, and suddenly Nokk dropped quickly to lie down in the shallows. She watched in slow motion as Anna started to slide off, Elsa made a move to grab her which she did, but she was not strong enough to stop them both from sliding off Nokk and going over into the shallows.

‘Oh my god.’ Kristoff said and started hastily fighting his way through the water. She started after him, but trudging through the waist deep water proved slow going. Each wave sought to knock them backward and back again— they were making no progress this way, and she cursed the relentless waves.

‘Elsa!’ She screamed when she finally saw them. Elsa was holding Anna just barely above water, and making a feeble attempt to drag her towards land. She looked up briefly with wide scared eyes when she heard Maren’s call but then was hit with a wave. ‘Auugh!’ Maren yelled in frustration, then dove forward and under the next wave to swim out to them.

When she surfaced, finally, finally she was nearly upon them, with Kristoff right behind her.

‘She’s not breathing.’ Elsa choked out in desperation when they reached them. Elsa was nearly under water herself but, she was still somehow keeping Anna’s head above it. ‘Get her out of here.’ Elsa’s voice was ragged, distressed, pleading and it nearly caused her to cry at hearing it.

Maren reached them first, and threw herself down to grab them both and haul them higher out of the water. The water was deep, but she could stand on the bottom at least, keeping most of their upper body out of it.

‘Elsa.’ Was all she could whisper and put her forehead to the side of Elsa’s. She had them now, they would be ok— she was not letting them go. She looked down briefly at Anna who had a huge bloody gash on the side of her head. Kristoff was there in an instant silently taking Anna from Elsa’s arms and lifting her from the water in his own. He turned back to look at her, his eyes wide and  panicky.

‘Go, go I’ve got her.’ Maren assured, and Kristoff turned immediately and started moving swiftly towards shore. She turned her attention back to Elsa who was leaning heavily into her now, her head slumped, resting on Maren’s shoulder. Another wave crashed around them and she tried to shield Elsa from it as best she could, still it collided with and swept them forward a few paces. Her arm that was around Elsa’s waist slipped when the wave hit, so she reached out and grabbed Elsa under her left arm to pull her back. Elsa let out a painful hiss and groan so Maren immediately released her and just barely snagged her back around her waist before another wave hit. That’s when she noticed the blood coming out of Elsa’s arm where she had just grabbed her. Her heart started racing and jumped into her throat.

‘What happened?’ She asked in alarm and pulled Elsa tighter to her. She took Elsa’s good arm, swung it around her shoulders, grabbed her waist tightly and began hauling her towards shore.

‘Something attacked us.’ Elsa got out, barely a whisper. Then the last wave finally threw them up on shore and she caught Elsa just as they both dropped to their knees, breathing heavily. She pulled her close and examined her arm. Elsa hissed again and scrunched up her face in pain.

‘I know baby, let me see it.’  She said softly as she gently extended Elsa’s bloody arm. There was a massive gash on the inside of her arm running from her elbow up nearly to her armpit— and there was a profuse amount of dark red blood coming out of it. She held the wound closed with her hand and squeezed pressure onto it, desperate to stop the blood. She also noted the presence of a small crystal that hadn’t been there before— secured to Elsa’s wrist with ice — though it was mostly covered in blood now. How had she held on to Anna and gotten them back like this? A surge of pride and love rushed over her— that was her girl. She kissed Elsa’s forehead and pulled her close. Thank the spirits Elsa had been able to get them back here.

‘Anna!’ Elsa’s eyes widened at seeing Anna and Kristoff not far from where they sat. Kristoff had Anna positioned on her side on the ground as he thumped her back forcefully with his hand. Elsa tried to stand but stumbled— Maren caught her and supported her weight as they staggered over to where Anna lay. They fell to the ground beside Anna. Elsa was crying as she brushed Anna’s hair back from her face and off her wound.

‘No, please baby girl— breathe.’ Elsa pleaded as she stroked Anna’s head, tears streaming down her cheeks. Maren put her Arm around Elsa’s back and watched as Kristoff continued to strike Anna’s back, a determined look set in his face— and she could feel her own throat closing up with tears. She almost didn’t feel as though she were in her body watching this unfold— it was so surreal — this couldn’t be the end for Anna, no, she would be ok. It couldn’t. They couldn’t lose her right now, they wouldn’t.

‘Let go of me.’ Elsa said suddenly, turning to her. Maren gave her a confused expression in return. ‘Trust me.’ Elsa said, her blue eyes resolute— on a mission. She had a plan.

Maren released her without question and watched as Elsa closed her eyes and turned towards Anna. She put one hand out in front of Anna’s mouth and the other on the side of Anna’s neck. She concentrated for only a moment and then suddenly a stream of water came spurting out of Anna’s mouth and she began choking, coughing and eventually vomited the rest of the water out. Her eyes fluttered for just a second, and she gasped for breath. Kristoff continued to pat her back until she got all of the water out of her, rubbing his hand up and down her arm to warm her up. Anna was breathing again, and relief washed over her.

Elsa was still crying, hunched over Anna whispering in her ear, she kissed her forehead. ‘You’ll be ok baby girl, you’ll be ok.’ Anna’s eyes had fallen closed again, and Kristoff had moved her onto her back. He pulled a knife from his belt and swiftly cut a long strip of fabric from his tunic. ‘What happened?’ He asked placidly, never taking his eyes off Anna as he worked. He moved calmly, focused— almost as if in a trance as he gently lifted Anna’s head to wrap the fabric around it.

‘Something attacked us— a giant octopus or squid. I don’t know—’ Elsa trailed off, her voice suddenly weaker— she sounded exhausted and Maren put her arms around her again as Elsa slumped weakly into her. Her own heart thudded in her chest and she reached her hand out to close up and put pressure on Elsa’s wound again. Kristoff simply nodded as he tied off the makeshift bandage and pulled his eyes from Anna for the first time to look at Elsa. Then he turned his eyes on her.

‘She’s bleeding badly, can you get her back?’ He asked, desperation mixed with determination in his voice as his eyes gestured to Elsa.

‘Yes, yes. Go. Find Kalle when you get there— she’s our medicine woman and healer.’ His eyes searched hers then glanced at Elsa then back to her.

‘You’re sure?’

‘Yes Kristoff, go. Hurry, we’ll be right behind you.’ Already she could feel the weight of Elsa pressed into her and turned her head so she could see her face. She had passed out. ‘No, no Els wake up. You can’t go to sleep right now baby.’ Her voice was suddenly desperate— a bloody hand on the side of Elsa’s face shaking her gently.

‘Maren I can’t leave you two—’

‘Kristoff go!’ She shouted, tears clouding her own eyes now. ‘You need to get Anna help, I will get Elsa back, I promise.’

He took one more glance at them, nodded, picked up Anna and got on Sven. ‘Hurry.’ He said in a deadly serious voice, his eyes locked on hers. She nodded resolutely. Then he turned and off they ran down the coast and into the woods. Daisy was dancing nervously nearby, finally coming to lay right next to Maren and Elsa.

‘We’re going to get her back girl, yes we are. It’s ok.’ Maren said offhandedly to Daisy as she laid Elsa down on the beach. She had to stop this bleeding before she took her anywhere. She grabbed the knife from her own belt and mimicked Kristoff— cutting a long strip of her own tunic. She wrapped it around as much of Elsa’s arm as it would reach, then tied it off tightly to stop the bleeding. The fabric was soaked through instantly with blood, but at least the gushing blood had subsided somewhat— this would have to do until she could get her home.

‘Elsa, baby come on, you’ve got to wake up.’ She had Elsa’s head in her hands and was shaking her gently. She quickly brushed the tears out of her own eyes— she needed to focus right now. She lifted Elsa’s upper body into her arms and leaned her into her chest.

‘Els, come on, wake up.’ She jiggled her again in her arms— Elsa’s face was slack and her eyes didn’t even try to open. She had to at least get her to stand up so she could get her on Daisy. To their left Nokk was pacing uneasily back and forth in the shallows of the shoreline. ‘What do I do?’ She whispered in desperation to Nokk. Nokk flipped her mane towards them and Maren flinched as a spray of water hit them both. Elsa’s eyes fluttered.

‘Hey, hi Els open your eyes, that’s it.’ She pleaded gently, sitting Elsa up further and patting her cheek. Elsa’s eyes finally opened and found Maren’s. She felt hot tears of relief spill from her eyes at seeing those beautiful blue eyes stare back at her. Elsa looked completely disoriented like she might fall back asleep, so she kept jiggling her. ‘You need to stay awake baby, listen to me. We need to get back to camp ok?’ Elsa was nodding, good she could at least understand her words. ‘Ok, I’m going to lift you, you think you can stand? We need to get you on Daisy.’ Elsa nodded again and made a move to get up. Maren lifted her easily, her arm wrapped tightly around Elsa’s waist. Once up Elsa staggered and started to fall down again. Maren held tightly to her, keeping her up— but had no idea how to get her up on Daisy.

Suddenly a strong gust of wind kicked up— it was concentrated and swirled right around only them and Maren felt her feet lift off the ground.

Gale.

She held on tightly to Elsa as Gale lifted them both and set them gently on Daisy’s back. ‘Thank you Gale.’ Maren said, relief flooding through her. Elsa sat in front of her but was still swaying dangerously forward.

‘Lean back into me baby.’ She said near Elsa’s ear and pulled her back so she was leaning into her chest. She moved her arm forward around Elsa’s bad arm, and laced her other arm beneath Elsa’s good arm grabbing the reins with both hands. ‘Try not to go back to sleep ok?’ She said into Elsa’s ear. Elsa nodded weakly. ‘Hold on.’ She said and kicked Daisy off into a run down the beach. Nokk followed with them along the coast until Maren turned them off and into the woods.

The ride felt like the longest-shortest ride of her life. It seemed agonizingly slow although she probably made the trip in record time. Daisy had run nearly all of it, only slowing to get around objects that lie in their path. Somewhere in the back of her frazzled mind, she made a mental note to get Daisy an extra bag of carrots later. The auroras lit up the sky and they had made it back just as it became nearly too dark to see, and she said a silent thank you to the spirits that they were home. Elsa had not improved, somewhere along the way she had passed out again, and Maren had to use one hand just to hold her in place as she’d kept slipping forward. The bleeding had started again too, though not as badly as earlier— it was running down her arm— red splattered all over Maren’s leg and down Daisy’s white coat. She rode directly into the center of camp, ignoring the gasps and hushed chatter of onlookers. She needed to get Elsa to Kalle— she was sure she could fix her.

Finally she made it to the large central lavvu hut where Kalle usually held her healing ceremonies.

Kristoff shot out of the lavvu the instant they pulled up. ‘Oh god.’ He said, his eyes wide, taking in the bloody sight of the three of them. ‘Give her to me.’ He said hastily and moved to pull Elsa down from Daisy. Maren helped to swing Elsa’s leg over and eased her carefully down into Kristoff’s arms. He spun and rushed her into the hut. Maren jumped down from Daisy and followed him in.

There was a central fire going, the familiar smell of incense hit her as she entered and immediately saw Kristoff laying Elsa down on a pad not far from Anna. It appeared Kalle had already worked on Anna, she had a fresh bandage on her head and seemed to be resting comfortably.

‘Is she ok?’ Maren asked nervously, gesturing to Anna.

‘I think so, Kalle thinks she will be.’ Kristoff answered.

‘Move, move please.’ Kalle said swatting Kristoff away from Elsa so she could take a look. Kalle’s blue eyes found hers. ‘How did this happen? He tells me a giant squid?’

‘I don’t know, I wasn’t there— but yes. Elsa said a giant squid or octopus attacked them at sea.’

‘Mm.’ Kalle mumbled as she extended and studied Elsa’s limp arm. Then she examined her face, pulling open Elsa’s eyelids so she could see her eyes. She turned to Eret, her apprentice. ‘Bring me the herbs.’ She commanded. Eret ran to the side of the hut and returned momentarily with a small bundle of herbs. ‘She must stay awake right now, she has lost too much blood.’ Kalle stated and waved the herbs under Elsa’s nose. Elsa coughed and her eyes shot open. ‘Keep her awake.’ Kalle commanded offhandedly to Maren and thrust the bundle of herbs into her hand.

‘Hi baby, you’re ok.’ Maren said, inches from Elsa’s face and stroked her cheek. ‘I need you to try and stay awake right now, ok?’ Elsa smiled weakly at seeing Maren’s face and nodded slightly.

‘Anna?’ She whispered.

‘She’s ok, she’s right over there, she’s going to be just fine.’ Maren assured her and kissed her hand. Elsa nodded again and fought to keep her eyes open.

‘She needs stitches. Whatever attacked them nicked an artery, that is why there is so much blood.’ Kalle announced matter of factly, as if she was stating that the sky was blue. Eret started bustling around again making preparations.

‘Wait, wait— you’re going to give her something first?’ Maren said, panic rising in her voice.

‘No, I’m afraid I cannot. The herbs we have for pain relief would not do enough and are too slow acting, we must stitch now— she has already lost too much blood. And I cannot give a sedative or she may not wake up.’

Maren felt her stomach drop, not wake up? No, that was not a possibility she assured herself. But she had to keep Elsa awake while they sewed her arm back together?

‘I’m sorry it’s the only way.’ Kalle responded, picking up on the horrified look Maren knew must be plainly writ on her own face. ‘We will go as quickly as we can.’

Just then Yelena burst in the hut. ‘What happened?’ She asked in alarm, taking in the sights around her.

‘Later, Yelena.’ Kalle said flatly. ‘Young man— Kristoff. I need you to hold down her legs.’ Kalle gestured for Kristoff to move towards Elsa’s legs. He obliged and scooted over, placing both his hands on Elsa’s thighs. ‘You need to keep her as calm as possible.’ She turned and said to Maren, locking eyes with her. ‘No matter what, hold her down.’ Maren stared at her and nodded with determination.

‘I— I don’t know exactly how this is attached to her, but we need to get it off of her.’ Kalle said as she inspected Elsa’s ice outfit.

Maren bent close to Elsa’s face again. ‘Els, baby you need to melt your shirt so they can fix you.’ She said softly and ran a hand through Elsa’s hair. She moved her hand to Elsa’s heart and sent loving energy there to help her. Elsa closed her eyes, let out a sigh and the top of her outfit melted away. ‘Good, that’s it.’ Maren whispered and kissed her forehead. Kristoff averted his eyes from Elsa’s torso, and Maren had the sudden urge to throw herself over Elsa to cover her exposed body. What she did notice however, was that Elsa also had several large bruises and another smaller cut on the side of her ribcage just beneath her bleeding arm. Unexpected rage suddenly flooded through her. What had that thing done to her?

‘Blanket is there.’ Kalle pointed, and Kristoff wasted no time retrieving it and spreading it over Elsa’s body, leaving only her arms exposed. He then returned to his position over Elsa’s legs. ‘We will deal with the arm first.’ Kalle announced and readied herself with the suture and needle. Eret had finished wiping down Elsa’s arm with warm water and was now pressing Elsa’s shoulder down, holding her wrist extended with his other hand so Kalle would have open access to the inside of her arm. Kristoff was holding her legs.

Maren bent low to Elsa’s face, and put a hand to the side of her face, holding her there and blocking her from seeing what was about to happen. She laced her fingers with Elsa’s other hand and squeezed.

‘Hold on to me, and don’t look away from my eyes. You’ll be ok.’ She said resolutely and kissed Elsa’s clammy forehead again.

Elsa nodded. ‘Do it.’ She whispered and stared with scared determined eyes into her own. Maren turned her eyes briefly to Kalle and nodded. Kalle nodded back and started to work.

Elsa scrunched her face and let out a painful hiss as the needle went in. She felt Elsa’s hand squeeze hers and she squeezed it back. As Kalle moved up her arm Elsa’s breathing got heavier and more erratic, her cries of pain became louder and each one pierced through Maren’s soul like a knife.

‘Shhh, you’re ok baby.’ Maren whispered as she put her forehead to Elsa’s willing the pain away from her. She still had her hand pressed to the side of Elsa’s face, keeping her turned away from the stitching. About halfway up Elsa’s arm Kalle was getting to the worst part of the wound. Elsa’s back arched and she let out an earsplitting cry of pain— ice shot out from underneath her coating the floor around them.

‘Kristoff her hips.’ Kalle said firmly, still entirely calm and ignoring the ice. Kristoff too ignored the ice and moved his hands up to press and hold Elsa’s hips down. The temperature had also dropped drastically in the room.

‘Yelena please do not let that fire go out or I will not be able to see what I’m doing.’ Kalle said offhandedly as she continued to work with a practiced hand, carefully yet swiftly up Elsa’s arm.

‘Almost there, you’re doing great baby. Remember? Push your magic and the pain down into the earth, breathe. Stay with me.’ Maren coaxed and Elsa nodded weakly, her eyes still scrunched closed in pain. Maren moved her hand back to Elsa’s heart and tried to push as much love and calming energy in there as she could. Elsa visibly relaxed a bit and let out a breath. ‘That’s it, release it into the earth. Keep breathing.’ The ice on the floor remained, but the temperature in the room rose a bit and the fire blazed again as Yelena tended to it.

‘Nearly there.’ Kalle announced. Elsa let out another wracking cry of pain louder than the previous and the temperature dropped again. This time her head rolled to the side and her eyes closed. Sweat beaded on Elsa’s forehead and dark black circles had formed under her eyes— she looked like the life had been sucked right out of her.

‘Els— Elsa?’ She could hear the rising panic in her own voice as she shook Elsa gently. ‘Wake up baby. Wake up. Stay with me.’ She put some of the herbs under Elsa’s nose again but this time she did not open her eyes. Kalle had finished, and was now chanting a shamanic healing song over Elsa.

Tears burned her own eyes again— she was not going to accept this. She was not going to lose Elsa right here, right now. It was not going to happen. ‘Elsa, stay with me, do you hear me? You are a fighter, do not let go right now.’ Tears blurred her vision and one fell onto Elsa’s cheek. She ran her hand down the side of Elsa’s face then kissed her, willing her to stay with her. She could feel her own quiet sobs starting as she hunched protectively over Elsa. She didn’t know what else to do, all she could do was plead with the spirits in a whisper:

‘Please stay with me.'

‘I love you.’

Chapter Text

Berries.

Cloudberries in particular.

Elsa loved them.

They were her favorite.

Cloudberries reminded her of Elsa now— as did so many other things.

Whenever she saw cloudberries, her first instinct was to gather some for Elsa.

That was her life now.

She saw Elsa in almost everything she looked at.

She also loved cloudberries.

Elsa knew this, and liked to pick them for her too—

and that’s also why she loved cloudberries.

When was it, the first time Elsa had brought her some — wrapped neatly in a small parcel — perhaps near a month after Elsa had moved to the forest? The timeframe was irrelevant, but the memory and profundity of it hardly so. It was perhaps one of the best moments of her life, and she would never forget it. Elsa had placed the small parcel in her hand, brushed her cold fingers against Maren’s only briefly, said nothing, but smiled her small half smile that ignited a passionate longing within her to this day.

‘For you.’  Was all Elsa said finally. Simple, concise, profound, Elsa. Words, she did not waste, but used the select few she chose like an artist would — brushstrokes on a canvas— each meticulously chosen and thought through for a very specific reason, to paint a deeper portrait of what she meant in the most penetratingly earnest way possible. Meant only to be understood by those who could look deeply enough — a barrier of sorts, keeping out those who could not handle her depths— or who might try to sneak in and do harm. It’s as if Elsa knew the weight of her own conflicting feelings could never be truly expressed or understood by most with words alone, so she didn’t even bother and try.

Her eyes though, were a different story.

Those had lingered on Maren’s for just a moment longer than ever they had before, and spoke volumes in that brief space of time more than any words could have. Thank you. Is what they said. I’m starting to trust you. How had she seen that dancing in Elsa’s eye’s back then? There was no logic to it, but she had now seen that look many times since, and knew it to be true. The look Elsa gave only to her, clinging to her with that deep gaze as if she were the only safe thing to hold onto in the entirety of Elsa’s complex world. As if she were on the brink of drowning and Maren was the only rock she could cling to to keep her head above.

She had always taken that seriously.

She would always take that seriously.

She would always be Elsa’s rock.

Elsa may not have understood her own feelings at that point, but Maren had. She’d already been deeply aware of her own rapidly escalating feelings for Elsa, and that moment was the first time she saw a glimmer in Elsa’s eyes that told her she might feel the same. A twinkle of something more than friendship that could only be felt with intuition, with the heart. And she had been right. Elsa’s eyes never lied to those who knew how to look— to those who bothered or cared enough to truly look. That glimmer had turned into a spark, which turned into a flame that now burned so brightly only death could extinguish it— and she wasn’t even sure death could— regardless, death was not an option.

Elsa had not come this far to lose it all now.

And if she couldn’t fight death, then, Maren would fight it for her— she would protect her from it.

She would not let death drown her—

She was Elsa’s rock.

‘Maren, Maren. You’ve got to let go of her.’ It was Kristoff’s voice that cut through to her, sounding very far away. He was removing her hand that had been intertwined with and squeezing Elsa’s, he was pulling her shoulder away so she was no longer hunching protectively over Elsa. She jerked away from him— she had to keep Elsa here, get her to wake up— why would he pull her away right now?

‘Maren!’ Kristoff grabbed her shoulders so she was now forced to look at him. ‘Give them space to finish.’ He said, his voice and eyes softening as he looked into hers. Tears still filled her eyes, she blinked them away and let him pull her away from Elsa.

Still on her knees, she turned to look again at Elsa.

Her fear, was that if she didn’t keep her eyes constantly on Elsa she would somehow slip away. She moved reluctantly, just far enough away to allow Kalle and Eret the space they needed to finish working on her— her eyes following every movement they made with hawklike focus.

Eret was pouring a thick liquid from a glass bottle — a glass bottle she recognized from the box Bjorn had given her — onto Elsa’s stitched arm. By the spirits, please let whatever concoction Ryder and Bjorn had conjured work its healing magic on her. She bartered with the spirits— she would never nag Ryder again if what he’d helped create would save Elsa. She would hug him and buy him an entire barrel of ale if only this would help Elsa now.

Kalle had pulled the blanket down, exposing Elsa’s torso and other wounds again. She looked so vulnerable, so broken and exposed lying there like that, that Maren instinctively started moving towards her again— but Kristoff’s arm on her shoulder held her firmly in place.

Kalle and Eret went about cleaning the blood off Elsa and the area surrounding her. Once finished Kalle then poured some of Ryder’s syrupy healing balm on a cloth and pressed it firmly into the smaller wound on the side of Elsa’s ribcage. A small quiet groan escaped Elsa’s lips, but her eyes did not open — Maren tensed — but a groan was a good sign, she concluded.

‘This one should be fine to heal without stitches.’ Kalle mumbled. With her free hand she palpated along the bruises over Elsa’s ribcage and another soft groan escaped Elsa’s lips. ‘She has cracked a rib, but it will have to heal on its own— there is nothing to do for that except rest.’

Kalle stopped to look up at Maren and Kristoff, then gestured to Anna. ‘Her sister has suffered a concussion, and with the severity of these injuries,’ She gestured down at Elsa. ‘I’m afraid they will both need to stay put for some time to heal.’

Kristoff was nodding along side her. ‘Will they be ok?’ Maren asked hesitantly—hopefully, not entirely sure she wanted to hear the answer, but needing to ask it anyway.

Kalle licked her lips, glanced down at Elsa then back to Maren. ‘We will see what the night brings, and we will do more healing chants. If they improve by morning, then I would say yes, they should both make a full recovery.’

She felt Kristoff’s arm tighten around her shoulder as if he feared she might do something abrupt, but she didn’t. The words had nearly paralyzed her, she couldn’t move even if she wanted to. If they improve…

All she could do was stare blankly and watch— watch as Eret carefully lifted Elsa’s tiny limp upper body, supporting her head, back and injured arm so that Kalle could start wrapping the bandaging cloth around her lower torso. It was a precarious position he held her in and Maren wrung her hands together helplessly, nervously, agitatedly as she watched— don’t you dare drop her. Kalle wrapped Elsa’s torso methodically, tightly, neatly working her way up over Elsa’s ribcage and breasts. Eret set Elsa back down gently and moved to extend her injured arm. Kalle maneuvered the bandaging up, over and around Elsa’s shoulder a few times, then started wrapping it down her stitched arm until she reached her wrist and tied it off there. Finished.

Maren let out a sigh of relief.

‘She should not move the arm. Whoever is with her when she wakes needs to communicate that to her. She must stay calm, using her magic will not be wise until she is further healed.’ Maren nodded. ‘I will leave these herbs to take for pain— they are slow acting but will be better than nothing. She should chew them every hour — both girls can — and we must get them up to drink water as soon as possible. The blood loss causes dehydration which will stall the healing.’

Maren finished listening to Kalle, then extracted herself from Kristoff’s arm to move near Elsa’s side again. She picked up Elsa’s hand and squeezed it, bending her arm at the elbow so she could kiss Elsa’s hand and massage her forearm with her other hand. She was going to get her though this— she would see that funny side smile and those deep blue eyes again in no time.

‘Move her over there please— carefully.’ Kalle instructed to Kristoff, gesturing to a clean bed pad next to Anna. Maren hesitated, she could move Elsa herself, and she wanted to— but in the fragile state she was in it was probably safer for Kristoff to do it. So she reluctantly slid over so he could pick her up from her good side. She moved around to the other side of Elsa so she could carefully support her stitched arm as Kristoff lifted and moved her.

He placed her down gently next to Anna, and Maren did the same with her arm. Then they both plopped on the ground, took a deep breath and locked eyes for a moment— both in near disbelief of what had happened on this day.

Silence engulfed them all for a time as they sat there, Kristoff staring at Anna, Maren staring at Elsa. Finally Kristoff spoke:

‘I’ll go find some water, we’re going to need to try and get them to drink soon. I’ll also get something for us to eat.’

‘Thank you.’ Maren whispered, still staring at Elsa— she wasn’t hungry. She could feel Kristoff’s eyes on her and was grateful he had offered to get the water though. She was not in the mood to leave Elsa’s side yet.

‘Keep an eye on Anna.’

‘I will.’ She glanced over at Anna who still seemed to be resting peacefully — and breathing —blessedly.

Her eyes returned to Elsa and she ran a hand through her hair, tucking some of it behind her ear. She stared at the dark circles under her eyes, so contrasted to her pale skin and ran her thumb over them and down Elsa’s cheek. Then she bent low so she was next to Elsa’s ear and whispered:

‘I love you Elsa, and don’t you forget I said it. You need to wake up so I can tell you properly.’ She moved her lips from Elsa’s ear to her cheek, planting a kiss there then ghosting over her lips to kiss her lightly there.

The night wore on, agonizingly slowly. Kristoff returned with Eret carrying water, cups, soup and cloth. She managed to rouse Elsa for a brief moment and tried to tilt some water in her mouth, but Elsa was too out of it and the water mostly spilled down her neck instead. Kristoff was not having any more luck with Anna.

Kalle returned periodically with her rainstick and drums. Eret beat the drum rhythmically and chanted while Kalle chanted and sang — tapping her stick in rhythm to the drum and moving her hands over the girls. Maren joined in eventually. The more power behind the ritual usually helped, and she knew what she was doing. Kalle had been training her in shamanism and energy healing for years. Which is what she spent the rest of the night doing on Elsa and Anna.

She had been interested in the healing arts, ever since she found Daisy wounded. For as long as she could remember she had a deep innate desire to help people, and when she finally got to do it for Daisy— it had ignited something within her and after that she couldn’t learn enough about it. It wasn’t an exact science, for the most part she knew how to heal energetic injuries— to calm mental and emotional trauma and ease pain or duress— physical injuries though, were a different story. They could be healed energetically by the rare individual, but she was no where close to mastering that skill— Kalle couldn’t even do it. But she decided it couldn’t hurt to try anyway.

This night however, was difficult because her own emotions were extremely turbulent. She usually needed to be in a calm presence of heart and mind to channel the spirit energy correctly— but this night it was exceedingly difficult to concentrate and connect. She rubbed her tired eyes in frustration.

‘You need to relax.’ Kalle whispered to her, and she nodded in return with a sigh. Kalle was right, though it was much easier said than done.

Bruni had slithered in at some point during the night, curling up on Elsa’s chest. Then he had crawled onto her own shoulder while she worked energetically with Kalle, and she found that Bruni’s presence did seem to help her focus more.

Kristoff sat quietly out of the way and watched the entire ordeal unfold— and she nearly forgot he was there until Kalle summoned him.

‘Young man, do you play any kind of music?’

Kristoff looked confused. ‘Me?’

‘No, the other young man sitting there doing nothing. Yes. You.’

‘Oh, I guess I can play the lute?’ He shrugged, still confused.

‘Did you bring it with you?’

‘It’s in our lavvu.’

‘Go and get it please.’

Kristoff returned in short order with his lute. Kalle motioned, and he came to sit crossed legged next to Anna.

‘You love her?’ Kalle asked bluntly.

Kristoff looked surprised but answered immediately. ‘I do.’

‘Then your music can help her. Music can be used for healing purposes. It holds its own energy vibration just as people do, and its rhythms can be used to soothe and call the spirits to heal the physical or emotional body.’

Kristoff was nodding with a creased brow. ‘The trolls do something similar…’ He muttered. ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing though…’

‘You don’t have to know, just play the music that’s in your heart. Feel it, feel the love you have for her and play it in rhythm with the beat of the drum.’

‘I can do that.’ Kristoff nodded.

‘Do this too Maren, I can feel what you feel for her.’ Kalle’s eyes followed to Elsa then locked back onto her own with a raised eyebrow. Maren nodded, understanding what Kalle wanted her to do. She retrieved a reed flute from the side of the hut — her instrument of choice — and returned to Elsa’s side.

Kalle began singing, a low haunting ancient healing song. Her voice went up and down in pitch as if she were speaking directly to the spirits, calling them to help with the healing. Her hands moved again, slowly over Elsa and Anna’s head as she sang.

Maren closed her eyes and swayed, the music had already started to affect her. She put the flute up to her mouth and played, softly at first, in tune with the feeling of Kalle’s voice and in rhythm with the slow methodical beat of Eret’s drum. She lost herself in the powerful sensation of Kalle’s voice as she played— chills running up and down her spine. The feeling of love she felt for Elsa was bursting in her chest, and she focused it into her music— calling the spirits with music from her soul.

Not long into her trance Maren heard the quiet finger picking of the lute start, and opened her eyes just enough to peek at Kristoff. He too was swaying to the music with closed eyes as he picked at his lute, adding an eerily calming layer of strings to the collective sound.

Outside the hut Maren caught the soft emotional hum of the bukkehorn join in and meld with the music they played. The symphony of the combined instruments was powerful, and Maren had to be careful to keep herself present, or she risked slipping into a full meditative state.

How long they played she wasn’t sure, it could have been minutes, it could have been hours— she felt entirely calm and removed from time in that musical trance state. Only was she pulled from it when Kalle’s voice finally wrapped its final notes, finishing in completeness the musical story she was weaving with the spirits.

Maren opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was Kristoff, staring wide eyed at Anna, dazed, his eyes glistening with tears from the power of the music. The sky had a soft blue glow to it now, morning would be upon them soon.

‘I will be back to check on them in the morning.’ Kalle stated, rising from her knees. ‘Remember my instructions, and get some rest you two.’ She said pointedly to her and Kristoff. Maren doubted she would get any sleep this night.

‘Are you alright?’ She asked Kristoff once Kalle and Eret had left. He’d already brushed the tears out of his eyes and was nodding.

‘I’ve just, never heard anything like that before— it was…’

‘Ethereal.’ Maren finished, when he was at a loss for words.

‘It was beautiful. All I could think of was Anna during it.’

Maren smiled and nodded. She knew what that was like. ‘I’ve heard it many times and it only gets more powerful each time.’ She paused. ‘Why don’t you rest, one of us needs to be cognizant at all times and I can tell you already I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.’

Kristoff paused, considering her logic. ‘Are you sure?’

‘I’ll wake you if Anna wakes up.’

Kristoff nodded and got up to drag a pad over, laying it horizontal by Anna and Elsa’s feet.

‘Wake me.’ He said, looking at her one last time before laying down on his back and putting his hat over his eyes. It took no more than a moment before she heard his breathing slow— asleep.

She glanced back down at Elsa and Anna, who remained unchanged, still breathing deeply, slowly. She carefully pulled the blanket up a bit higher on Elsa, not for warmth, but to cover her bandaged torso a bit more. Then she sat and turned her gaze to where the night sky was steadily giving way to dawn through the opening of the lavvu.

She stared at the slowly brightening sky for perhaps another hour, or maybe it was only minutes, absently running her fingers through Elsa’s hair as she waited for this hellish night to end.

Then, something caught her from the corner of her eye— Anna had stirred. She turned to Anna and saw her eyes flutter. Immediately she scooted around the girls head’s until she was beside Anna.

‘Anna?’ She asked in a soft whisper. Anna’s eyes fluttered open and found hers, dazed and confused.

‘Maren?’ She asked, her voice quiet and hoarse, eyes puffy and tired. Maren nodded with a smile. ‘What? Wheres Elsa?’ Anna's voice was suddenly frantic and she was about to move her head around to look.

‘No, no Anna don’t move your head, you’ve got a concussion. Elsa is fine, she’s right next to you. Move slowly.’ Anna blinked, registering Maren’s words, and Maren said a silent thank you that her memory was still sharp and undamaged by the injury. Anna turned her head slowly to the left, taking in the sight of her sister next to her. Her hand came up over her mouth but to her credit she did not make any sudden movements.

‘Maren what happened? I don’t remember anything.’ Anna whispered, her eyes terrified as they returned to look at Maren.

‘Elsa said a giant squid or octopus attacked— you don’t remember any of that?’

‘No— the last thing I remember was looking down at a strange shadow in the water and then… Nothing.’

Maren was nodding with a creased brow as she watched Anna try to piece the events back together. ‘The tentacle hit you in the head and knocked you unconscious, it caught Elsa under the arm. They had to give her stitches there but I think she’s going to be just fine.’ Maren assured her with a smile, not entirely believing her own positivity. Anna turned her eyes back to Elsa then and moved her hand to grab Elsa’s good hand.

‘She saved me.’ Anna whispered, then returned her sad gaze to Maren’s ‘And Kristoff—’

‘He’s resting, down there.’ Maren gestured with her eyes to Anna’s feet. ‘I’m on duty.’ She said with a smile. ‘Elsa got you both back to shore safely.’

‘Kristoff brought me back here?’ Maren nodded and watched as Anna puzzled the pieces of the story together. ‘Then you— you saved my sister.’ Anna whispered with a curious look in her eyes. Maren smiled and nodded.

‘Of course.’ She said, looking into Anna’s teal eyes with the sincerity she truly meant.

‘Maren,’ Anna reached for her hand and Maren took it, her eyes had a seriousness to them that Maren did not often see on Anna. ‘Promise me you will take care of her, no matter what. Especially when I’m not there to do it. I can’t bear to see her get hurt anymore.’ Anna’s eyes were glassy, but there were no tears and they pierced right into Maren’s soul, very much like her sister.

‘Anna,’ Maren paused. ‘I— I care deeply for Elsa. I will always protect her, I promise you that. Always.

Anna smiled and then tears did start rolling down her face and she rolled her eyes. ‘Give me a hug.’ She demanded in a petulant, very Anna tone of voice. Maren smiled and laughed, then bent down to gently hug Anna, careful not to disturb her head.

Anna wiped her eyes with the hand that was not holding Elsa’s. ‘Now, even when she’s moody, even when she wants nothing to do with people— you need to keep on her. Don’t take it personally. Push through that, because secretly she doesn’t want to be alone, she just gets overwhelmed and thinks she needs to be alone, but she’s wrong. I’ve seen it too many times. You can tell her I said all that too.’

Maren chuckled at Anna’s rant, so glad she was herself again. Anna was so right, and with every passing day she herself learned more and more how to speak Elsa language. It may take the rest of this lifetime, but she would master it eventually. ‘Anna shhh, you need to rest. We can talk about this later when you’ve recovered. Let me wake Kristoff— I promised him I would, and I don’t want to hear it from him for not waking him right away.’

Anna snickered. ‘We are so not done with this conversation!’ She hissed up into empty air from her prone position as Maren moved away from her to wake Kristoff.

‘Anna!’ Kristoff shot up from his pad and scooted over next to Anna. He bent low and kissed her, and Maren remained back to give them privacy. He made her drink some water before she started again.

‘Kristoff I love you, but please let me finish my conversation with Maren!’ Anna hissed. Maren moved back to Elsa’s side.

‘Anna you can talk to her about Elsa when you’ve had more rest. Now is not the time.’

Immediately something in Maren registered that that was not the correct thing for Kristoff to say in that moment.

‘Wait— you know?’ Anna hissed at him with a dramatic air of incredulity. ‘You knew before I did!’ Her voice was still a whisper hiss and she hadn’t moved but it was scathingly cutting nonetheless.

‘What? I— no, I didn’t know. I mean, yes I did know, but no one told me. I— I sort of pieced it together— then I basically pried it out of Maren…’ Kristoff's eyes found hers, searching for help.

‘Anna, you were the first person Elsa told. I promise. Please rest.’ Maren interjected, desperate to calm her down. Anna snorted, but her eyes still looked deathly tired.

‘Alright, alright. I’ll go back to sleep— but please wake me when Elsa wakes up?’ Maren and Kristoff nodded in unison. Anna then flicked her eyes back to Maren’s.

‘We are not done yet.’ Anna whispered, then closed her eyes in a huff, her hand still gripping Elsa’s.

Maren smiled and shook her head, then returned her eyes to Elsa.

Come on baby, please wake up.

Chapter Text

Elsa swam.

Turbulent swelling waves surrounded her, threatening to crush her from all sides— so she cut through pitched black water, desperate to get away from them— only able to see by the occasional burst of lightning overhead.

She was in the Dark Sea.

Someone needed her help. That’s right, Anna was drowning. She had to find Anna. Save her. Her parents were drowning too — she had to get to them — had to save them all— she would be all alone if she lost them.

She would not lose Anna again.

Where was Nokk? She looked around frantically and tried to call the spirit mentally, but she did not come. Where was she?

She cried out for Anna but her voice was drowned by a clap of thunder.

A wave came crashing down on her then, thrusting her deep below the waters surface and spiraling her around so she had no perception of what was up or what was down. The wave passed as quickly as it had come and left her floating silently in the ominously dark sound. It was calmer down here, beautifully quiet. No waves were pushing and pulling at her, she didn’t have to fight— and she gave herself over to the the gentle flow of the current, her mind blissfully silent for once.

It was rather nice not having any sensory input— no smells or sound, no manic thoughts or erratic magic, just simple serene weightlessness and peaceful blackness — and she didn’t really have any desire to kick to the surface.

She was tired.

Breathing didn’t seem necessary— in the back of her mind she questioned this, but as quickly as the thought was there it vanished. Why hadn’t life always been like this? Had she learned this type of flowing calm much sooner, maybe everything would have been different. Maybe she never would have hurt Anna, maybe she never would have had to see the devastating looks of pity, frustration and disappointment on her parents faces.

Things could’ve been so different…

A sudden sense of loss and nostalgia overcame her as images from her childhood flooded through her mind. Images of Anna, her parents then years of ice and isolation. The sudden jolt of the familiar repressed emotions from her formative years clenched at her heart and filled her with pity for that young girl she once was.

What a waste…

So many lost years…

But it didn’t matter anymore…

‘Please wake up baby.’ A soothing voice whispered to her from very faraway. It was hard to hold onto the tangibility of that voice— it slipped away as suddenly as she heard it and she was once again lost in the alluring dark tranquility.

Time didn’t seem to exist in this place and she briefly wondered if she was stuck there — but that thought too vanished instantly.

‘Wake up sis— please don’t leave me again.’ Another voice, again too faraway to grasp before it slipped from her awareness.

Soft.

Calm.

Flowing.

Tranquility.

Darkness.

Peace.

Something else eventually cut through the thick darkness to her, softly at first then increasingly louder, clearer and constant—

Music.

The sound of a voice rippled in a distorted manner through the current and circled around her, mixed with other musical sounds she couldn’t quite place. For a moment she thought it was her mother calling out to her again, and she had a desire to ignore it — too tired to answer this time — but this voice was different and it wasn’t the most prominent thing she heard.

Hauntingly bewitching flute music is what totally encapsulated her— filling her with love and warmth and blissful happiness, and suddenly she didn’t want to be in this dark soundless place anymore. She wanted that sound, to follow it— to follow it to light and love and colors and—

Life.

She wanted to live.

She didn’t want to waste any more time in isolation as she had done so long ago— now was her time to truly, finally live.

The music tugged at her insides and pulled her up, up towards the surface of the water, like a siren call— and she let it carry her, transfixed and enamored by every note as it enveloped her completely. It felt like she was falling upwards instead of down— falling together instead of falling apart. Her soul was entirely absorbed in the feeling of the music, yet her mind could only focus on one thing, one person: Honeymaren.

Maren.

Life.

Those two concepts were mutually intertwined in her mind now— one did not exist without the other. Living was to be with Maren and being with Maren was living.

Maren had shown her what it meant to live, to truly feel alive — the freedom and beauty it could be — and she wasn’t ready to give that up yet.

A sudden desperate urge see her, to hold and be held by her and get out of this dark place overwhelmed her. She started kicking towards the surface, letting the music pull her up while kicking with a force, a desire, a will to live.

Wake up.

Anna. Anna needed her too.

Several voices called to her now and mixed together— the closer she got to the surface the clearer she could hear them. Maren, Anna and— her mother.

Wake up Elsa— Wake. Up.

 


 

Elsa’s eyes fluttered. For a moment she was completely disoriented, it was dark and she wondered if she were still underwater. Slowly her eyes adjusted and she realized she was not, she was in a lavvu and light was streaming in through the hole in the ceiling, casting just enough light into the hut to see.

Immediately she tried to place where she was, why she was here but it wasn’t coming to her. Slowly she became aware of her bodily sensations and realized that her left arm and ribs were sore— rather her whole body felt like it had been trampled by a horse. She glanced down and realized she was naked from the waist up, except for the bandaging that wrapped her entire torso and arm.

Then all at once it came back— the squid attack, her arm, the horrible stitches, Maren and— Anna.

Anna.

Where was she— was she alive? Her head jerked frantically to the side searching, which was a mistake as it sent a dizzying headache straight to her eyes. It only lasted a moment then her eyes found and focused on her sister, sleeping peacefully to her right, a bandage wrapped around her head. Anna’s hand was holding hers. She squeezed it, said a silent thank you then let out a breath and relaxed.

‘Elsa?’ A voice whispered from her other side.

Maren.

She turned her head, slowly this time to find two warm brown eyes smiling down at her.

‘Hi baby.’ Maren smiled and let out a sigh.

She smiled back with tired eyes. She had to fight to keep them open, but it was worth it to be able to look into those brown eyes, so full of emotion— she was sure one day she would finally drown in them.

Maren let out another breath and bent down to kiss her. Softly, gently and lightly she kissed and Elsa returned it, needing it so.

‘You really scared me.’ Maren whispered. Elsa could feel her breath as she spoke only inches from her own lips. ‘I thought, for a minute I’d lost you.’ A tear slipped down her cheek and onto Elsa’s.

‘I love you.’ The whispered words flowed from Elsa’s hoarse throat before she could analyze them, she spoke what she felt— what she’d been feeling for a long time and it felt so good to finally say it. She’d nearly died without telling Maren, and she couldn’t lose another precious second keeping it inside.

Maren pulled further from her face to look into her eyes, tears welling but she was not crying. Looking as if she wasn’t quite sure what Elsa had just said, but her eyes told Elsa she had heard.

‘I should’ve said it before.’ Elsa whispered, her voice quivering and her own eyes burning with emotion, but tears did not come. Maren smiled, shook her head slightly, then tears did start to roll down her cheeks. She said nothing, but held Elsa’s face in her hands and bent down to kiss her again, and Elsa could feel her quivering, holding back emotion in her lips as they kissed. Finally she pulled away, her lips still hovering just above Elsa’s.

‘I love you too baby, so much.’ Maren whispered with a smile into Elsa’s mouth and her breath hitched. Elsa smiled too— hearing those words from Maren’s lips was the sweetest sound she had ever heard and her heart swelled with the love she felt. They kissed again and Elsa gently extracted her hand from Anna’s to reach up and place it over Maren’s that was still holding her cheek. Maren finally broke away and leaned one arm over Elsa’s torso, propping herself up there and leaving her other hand on Elsa’s cheek, stroking it with her thumb.

‘I felt myself slipping away— in the darkness. It was so calm and peaceful and I wanted to stay— but I heard this beautiful music and it snapped me out of it.’ Maren was still smiling at her with soft teary eyes. ‘Maren, all I could think about in the darkness, and out at sea when I wasn’t sure we were going to make it back— was you. I was so afraid I was never going to see you again.’

‘I’m right here baby. I’ll always be right here, I’ll always be the rock you can grab hold of in the darkness.’ Maren grabbed her good hand and brought it to her lips and kissed it. ‘Always.’ Elsa took a deep breath and smiled. Maren had this way of speaking words directly to her soul, getting her to feel always deeper emotions than she ever knew she was capable of.

Suddenly, sniffles could be heard quietly coming from the right side of Elsa. Elsa and Maren both turned their heads in surprise.

‘I’m sorry— you guys, but— I heard all of that—’ Anna sucked in another breath and let out a sob of tears, unable to finish her thoughts. She was looking upward, fanning her face as she usually did when she tried to get her emotions under control.

‘Anna.’ Elsa smiled and reached out for her hand. Anna grabbed it and squeezed. ‘I’m so glad you’re alright.’

‘Me too. I mean you, I’m glad you’re ok.’ Anna said and moved to sit up. Elsa felt Maren tense.

‘Anna, careful.’ Maren said quickly, but Anna was already up sitting cross legged looking at them. She closed her eyes for a minute then opened them again with a smile.

‘Whew. Sorry, dizzy.’

‘You have a head injury.’ Maren deadpanned, sitting upright, her eyes wide as if she feared Anna might tip over unexpectedly.

‘I’m fine now, it’s fine.’ Anna said waving her off. Anna was smiling, her eyes still looked tired but very alert and they kept flicking from Elsa to Maren and back to Elsa again as if she wanted to say something but was holding it in.

‘What Anna.’ Elsa asked when her sister continued to say nothing, but stared at them with a knowingly pert smile tucked to the side of her lips.

‘Nothing, nothing. I just wanted to get a better view of this.’ She gestured her hands between Elsa and Maren. ‘Carry on.’ She said and was deadly serious.

‘View of what?’ Elsa asked with a chuckle.

‘This, just this. You two. I just love it.’

Maren curled her lips in to keep from laughing and glanced at Elsa. ‘Well you need to drink.’ Maren said and picked up a cup of water. ‘You too.’ Maren said and squinted her eyes at Anna. Anna rolled her eyes.

‘What I have two bossy older sisters now?’

‘I’m not bossy—’ Elsa started but Maren already had the cup to her lips cutting her off. Anna snorted. Elsa drank.

‘Ryder will be hearing about this from me.’ Anna jibed. Maren chuckled and rolled her eyes.

‘You get one free pass Anna, because you’re injured. After this it’s free game. If you and Ryder start a sibling war, Elsa and I will be forced to finish it.’

Elsa turned her eyes to Anna and shrugged. She has a point.

Anna squinted her eyes playfully. ‘Fine. Next game night. Younger siblings versus older— be there or be square. Then we’ll see who has the last laugh.’ Anna cackled in a creepy low tone. ‘Because— we will, get it, because Elsa’s really not that good at—’ Anna stopped herself. Elsa and Maren were both glaring at her. ‘Anyway I’m going to stop talking now because I’m outnumbered and scared.’

‘Wise girl.’ Elsa said.

‘I’m going to go find Kalle so she can check on you both. You two will be alright for a minute?’ Maren asked and looked to Anna. Anna nodded. ‘I’ll be right back.’ Maren said to Elsa and smiled, squeezing her thigh before standing and exiting the lavvu.

Anna’s eyes turned back to her with a creased brow and she looked her up and down for a moment before speaking. ‘She loves you, you know.’ Anna said with a smile.

‘I gathered that.’ Elsa said with smile.

Anna smiled and took up Elsa’s good hand in her own, concern still etched in her features.

‘How are you really?’

Elsa took a breath. ‘Ok. I’m— ok. Really sore. Still tired. How’re you?’

‘Eh, I feel pretty good actually. I get dizzy if I sit up too quickly and I still have this dull headache but I feel mostly fine. You need to take some of those herbs Kalle gave us, they work amazing for the pain.’ Anna said and wiggled her eyebrows. Elsa smiled and nodded.

‘I’m really sorry Anna— I had no idea. I— still have no idea why this happened. I’ve gone that way across the sea so many times…’

‘Don’t Elsa. Don’t start doing that again. It was an accident. Who knows why— we’ll have to figure that out— but later. You saved my life. Can you just focus on that for once?’

Elsa paused, blinked then nodded. Anna was right.

‘Hey, what did you mean before— when you were talking about the darkness. You said, you wanted to stay?’

Elsa blinked again and creased her brow— how to explain that to Anna. No more lies. ‘I did want to stay.’ Anna’s brow creased, she was looking down. She had turned Elsa’s palm face up and was tracing patterns in it with her finger. ‘It was quiet and dark and completely tranquil. I can’t remember ever feeling that calm or at peace in my entire life. It was all encompassing. No thoughts, no magic no fear. Just, peace.’

Anna was still looking down, tracing designs in Elsa’s palm and nodding slightly. ‘I can see why you’d want to stay there.’ She whispered sadly.

Elsa grabbed Anna’s hand and shook it then, forcing her to lift her eyes back to her own. ‘But I didn’t stay. Because of you. And Maren. I couldn’t bear to be without either of you.’

This caused a small sad smile to crease over Anna’s lips. Her brow was still scrunched and she looked like she was trying to work something out inside of her head.

‘What is it?’

Anna took a deep breath. ‘Nothing. Just something I need to work on with myself I think. I’m trying to be better about not freaking out whenever I think I’m going to lose you somehow. It’s just, hard. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.’

‘Anna I’m never going to leave you.’

‘I know. I believe you. I’m just on edge I guess, with all of this. Seeing that other girl like you die in the Ahtohallan memory— I don’t know.’ Anna shook her head slightly as if she were frustrated with herself. ‘I don’t know why it showed us that specifically…’

Anna did have a point, that was a very strange memory Ahtohallan had chosen to show them. ‘Well we will figure out what it means together, try not to worry about it in the meantime. Please.’

Anna nodded just as Maren, Kristoff, Kalle and Yelena came strolling back into the lavvu.

‘You should be lying down.’ Kalle commanded as she came near. Anna flinched as if she were in trouble. ‘You are finally awake, good.’ Kalle said to Elsa as she knelt beside her. She lifted her chin and looked into her eyes, pulling Elsa’s eyelids up and down and inspecting. Ouch.

‘Good.’ She announced. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Good, mostly. Tired. Sore.’

‘The pain, how is the pain?’ Kalle asked as if she were speaking to a child.

‘Oh, um it’s bearable. Not great.’

‘Take these.’ Elsa’s eyes went wide as Kalle stuffed a handful of herbs into Elsa’s mouth. ‘Chew them each hour. The pain will subside.’ Elsa made a face as she chewed— she had tasted better things. Anna snickered.

‘I wouldn’t laugh, you’re next.’ Kalle said offhandedly as she felt the pulse on Elsa’s wrist. Anna immediately closed her mouth. ‘Your pulse is still weak from the blood loss, you need to eat. She doesn’t eat meat right?’ Kalle asked Maren over her shoulder as if Elsa were not there. Maren nodded. ‘Then make sure she eats a good amount of nuts as a replacement. You both must eat slowly at first. Tell someone if the pain worsens or if you feel ill in any strange way. We will change the bandages in a few days.’

‘Now you.’ Kalle turned her hawklike gaze on Anna. Anna’s eyes went wide and she protested.

‘Kalle I feel fine, you checked me earlier, I’m good. Please?’

‘That is the pain herbs talking, I will check you anyway.’ It was Elsa’s turn to let out a quiet snicker. Anna shot her a nasty glare.

Kalle moved over to Anna and did the same procedure of yanking her eyelids up and down, looking for any signs of who knows what.

‘Ow.’ Anna said when Kalle finished. Kalle narrowed her eyes at Anna.

‘Any dizziness, headache?’

‘Headache is better. I get a little dizzy if I sit up too quickly.’

‘Alas, why you should not be sitting up at all.’

Anna let out a sigh.

‘You can prop them up so they aren’t laying entirely horizontal, but they need to stay put and rest.’ Kalle compromised, nodding to Kristoff and Maren. ‘I will be back later.’ Kalle got up and left as swiftly as she had come in, like a brief deadly tornado.

Yelena lit a fire in the central pit— evening was upon them already. Elsa realized she must have slept most of the day.

‘You two gave us all quite a scare.’ Yelena said as she tended to the fire. ‘The Fifth Spirit and the Queen of Arendelle must take more care than most. Your lives affect many others. Keep that in mind girls.’ Yelena said staring at them both then glancing at Kristoff and Maren. It wasn’t a reprimand— but it was something very close to one and Elsa felt like a child in the presence of it. ‘I’ll leave you to rest.’ Yelena said then left the hut.

‘Oh boy, she’s mad at us.’ Anna said nervously after Yelena left.

‘That’s just how Yelena gets when she cares. Don’t worry too much.’ Maren said casually. ‘But she’s not wrong. You two need to be careful— I know this was an accident, but it’s still good advice.’ Maren said as she walked over and knelt next to Elsa. She had a bowl of sorrel soup and a plate of berries and nuts with her. She set it down and gently lifted Elsa to prop her up higher so she could eat. Elsa winced.

‘Sorry.’ Maren whispered. ‘Which do you want, soup or berries?’ She asked. Elsa made a face. ‘Els, you’re never hungry, but you need to eat.’ Maren said exasperatedly.

‘Eat.’ Anna commanded over her shoulder, taking a breath from the soup she was already gulping down that Kristoff had handed her.

‘Honey I think you should slow down.’ Kristoff tried to interject, but Anna was clearly starving and having none of it.

‘Berries.’ Elsa decided finally. The thought and smell of the soup made her nauseated.

‘Unsurprised.’ Maren said with a smirk and raised eyebrow then placed the plate of berries in her lap.

Anna had already set her bowl down, completely empty. She sat very still looking straight ahead with a strange look on her face.

‘Anna?’ Elsa asked, suddenly concerned with the ill look on her face.

Yelena and Kalle walked back in suddenly. ‘We forgot the—’

Just then Anna turned and vomited all her soup back up right onto Kristoff’s lap. He flinched, but then sighed and held Anna’s hair out of the way as she finished.

Elsa just stared, mortified, her mouth slightly agape.

Yelena and Kalle stopped abruptly, and let out simultaneous exasperated sighs. 'Drums.' Yelena finished, a dead look in her eyes.

‘Eat slowly I said.’ Kalle lamented.

Anna sat up and wiped her mouth, glancing around at all the people staring at her. She smiled sheepishly and shrugged:

‘Sorry.’ 

Chapter Text

By late afternoon three days later, Elsa wasn’t sure if she wanted to pull her own hair out, or throw her book at Anna and end her own suffering. She hadn’t been able to get through more than a single page without some kind of interruption from her sister. This time, it was Anna’s newly acquired pan flute — gifted to her by Maren no less — that she had started playing— again. The notes were not coming forth as was intended from the small wooden instrument, but instead came out as a series of screechy off-pitch whistles that made Elsa cringe every time Anna blew into the thing.

‘Anna. I thought you were going to take a break from that and draw?’ Elsa said with a sharp undertone.

‘Maren said I should practice— she thinks I might have a natural aptitude for healing.’ Anna said proudly, seeming entirely nonplussed by Elsa’s irritation. Of course, Maren had said that to Anna. Of course she had (purposefully no doubt) gifted it to Anna, blissfully unaware (or more likely very aware) that her little present was slowly, agonizingly driving Elsa insane. She made a mental note to think of a way to get Maren back for this, once she was healed. ‘Besides, I’m bored of sketching right now.’ Anna stated and blew again into the flute. A high pitched screech emanated from the thing and Elsa winced again.

Anna was clearly bored with many things, Elsa quickly learned as the week had rolled on. Besides incessantly playing the pan flute — which was a more recent development — when she wasn’t drawing or talking animatedly, Elsa had at least been able to read aloud to her and get through some of her book. But still it was never more than a paragraph before Anna would chime in with her own thoughts or analysis or go off topic completely, derailing any comprehension Elsa had of what she was reading.

Anna finally set the flute down, blessedly taking a break. Elsa let out a sigh of relief and returned to the sentence she’d been trying to read for the fifth time in five minutes.

After a minute Anna sighed dramatically, a clear indication that her boredom had returned with a vengeance but Elsa ignored it. Maybe she would take her advice and draw again— silently preferably.

‘Elsa?’ Elsa closed her eyes, took a deep breath, bookmarked her page, closed the book and set it down gently at her side— resigned to the fact that reading it was not in the cards tonight.

‘Yes Anna.’ Elsa said flatly.

‘Oh, sorry did I interrupt?’ Anna asked guilty, finally reading Elsa’s irritated tone. Elsa let out a quiet sigh.

‘No no, it’s fine. What is it?’

‘I was just thinking— you and Maren kissed already, I know that. I mean, of course you have, because no one says I love you unless they’ve at least kissed. That’s obvious— well actually I accepted Hans’ proposal before any of that, but that was different and stupid of me and I know this now. Anyway—’ Anna turned to face her completely, a gleaming look in her eye that Elsa couldn’t quite read. ‘So— you’ve kissed.’ Anna stated again and looked at Elsa pointedly, as if coaxing her to respond to something obvious.

Elsa blinked and her eyes shifted side to side as she looked at Anna, baffled by what she wanted. ‘Yes we have, you saw it at Ahtohallan— so what?’ She said and shrugged, confused by what Anna’s point was. Anna let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes.

‘So— have you done anything else…? Besides kiss?’ Anna pressed, an eager smirk rising up her freckled cheek.

Elsa smirked internally, understanding now where Anna was aiming with this. ‘Well, we pick berries together sometimes—’

‘Elsa!’ Anna practically shouted and threw her arms up and slammed them dramatically on her knees. ‘Sex! I’m talking about sex!’

Someone Elsa didn’t recognize walked by outside just as Anna shouted that— the person paused briefly then hurriedly continued on their way.

Elsa smirked and looked at Anna with a knowingly raised eyebrow. Anna deserved to be teased after her annoyingly bored behavior all week.

‘Oh my god, so you have!’ Anna shouted excitedly.

‘I didn’t say that.’ Elsa replied calmly then returned to her book. Anna snatched the book away from her immediately.

‘Yes, yes you did your eyes said YES ANNA WE DID HAVE SEX. TELL ME NOW ELSA.’ Anna was practically foaming at the mouth and it was all Elsa could do to keep up her little charade without bursting out in laughter. Perhaps she was getting better at charades.

‘Elsa please, I have waited for this literally my entire life.’ Anna had shifted rapidly from pushy to desperate begging and Elsa had to curl her lips in to keep from laughing.

‘That’s an interesting thing to wait your entire life for—’ Elsa started but Anna cut her off again.

‘Elsa you know what I mean!’

Elsa chuckled. ‘What do you want to know?’

‘Well, for starters how was it? Was it good— was there ice when you—? Did you even— I mean were you able to— you know…’ Anna made a gesture with her hands that looked something like an explosion, her eyes wide and expectant.

Elsa smiled, slightly embarrassed by Anna’s direct line of questioning. Then she nodded and shrugged in guilty confirmation.

Anna let out a high pitched squeal that caused Elsa to wince as she chuckled. ‘Ice?’ She asked expectantly, shaking Elsa’s good hand vigorously.

‘No— well not the first time at least.’ Elsa clarified.

‘The first time?!’ Anna’s face looked shocked as if she couldn’t process the words Elsa had just said. ‘Wait, how many times have you done it?’ Anna’s eyes were still wide and she had the largest, dumbest grin on her face that Elsa had ever seen.

‘Um, three.’ Elsa confirmed guiltily. ‘And a half— sort of.’ She trailed off, unsure how to classify the most recent attempt. Failure?

‘Three!’ Anna squealed, and looked skyward with her arms splayed out, as if she had just had a profound religious experience. Then she reigned herself in, her brow creased. ‘Wait, what do you mean and a half? What happened?’ Anna’s excitement quickly shifted to concern and Elsa suddenly wasn’t sure she wanted to explain this to Anna. Anna must have picked up on her reluctance because she continued: ‘So the first few times there was no ice, which is great because I know you were always terrified of that.’ Elsa nodded in confirmation. ‘Then the last time, there was?’ Anna pressed, trying to piece together the confusing situation. Elsa nodded again, still unsure how to go about explaining it.

Just then Kristoff walked in smiling. ‘How are you two doing?’ 

Anna spun on him so fast Elsa worried she might get whiplash and injure her head again. ‘Honey not now, go away. We’re having an important sister conversation.’ Anna waved her hand dismissively, shooing him back out of the hut. ‘I love you.’ She added over her shoulder, as if to soften her abrupt dismissal of him.

Kristoff smirked, rolled his eyes and turned around and left.

‘Ok, so what happened the last time that made it different?’ Anna asked, concern still laced in her voice.

‘I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure it out. The first few times I was nervous, but Maren kept me calm. Even though I was nervous there was no ice and—’

‘And it was good.’ Anna finished for her with a knowing smile, nodding her head and wiggling her eyebrows. ‘See, love is stronger than fear.’

‘Yes.’ Elsa chuckled and looked down, her cheeks burning a bit from embarrassment.

‘So the last time?’ Anna coaxed, still trying to pry an answer from her. ‘Did Maren do something wrong or— hurt you?’ Anna asked, her brow creased in concern.

‘No, no. Nothing like that— it was me. Maren is, she’s so good Anna, and careful about everything, this wasn’t her fault. I was— excited. Really excited. I felt like I finally knew what I was doing and I wasn’t nervous— but then I sort of— lost control. A lot.’ She shook her head with a creased brow as the memory flooded back to her.

Anna was nodding pensively as she listened. ‘Elsa, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you are still really new at this. You’re going to make mistakes— Kristoff and I definitely did. And don’t start on me again about how you can’t afford to make mistakes, because you already know what I’m going to say to that.’

‘I almost hurt her Anna.’ Elsa said seriously, hoping the gravity of that would sink in. ‘I just can’t risk—’

Anna made a face which stopped Elsa’s train of thought. ‘Maren is a big girl Elsa, she knows what she’s doing and can take care of herself.’

Elsa just sighed, it didn’t matter how competent Maren was, her ice was still deadly— could be deadly to anyone who was ten times her strength and size.

‘Look, do you remember when Kristoff and I first started doing it?’ Elsa nodded— how could she forget. Anna had been so nervous and excited she had nervously chattered Elsa’s ear off for days leading up to— whenever it precisely ended up happening. Elsa had also felt terrible and like a grossly incompetent older sister who couldn’t give Anna the wisdom and advice she should have been able to give at the time. ‘Well, the first time was absolutely horrible, remember?’ Elsa nodded again, remembering how difficult it had been for Anna. It had taken some time before she and Kristoff had gotten it right. ‘Right, we couldn’t even finish because it was so painful for me. Well, just because we had those issues at first— doesn’t mean we just stopped trying. We figured out other ways to— you know, make it work. Then eventually it all came together and now it’s amazing.’ Anna stated with a smirk. ‘I’m sure it’s a little different with your magic, but the concept is the same. Maren loves you, and you’ll figure it out. Just give it time and don’t be so hard on yourself about it.’ Anna’s large eyes were sad and hopeful at the same time.

Elsa nodded and reached out her hand, Anna took it and squeezed. ‘This is the talk I should have been able to give you back then.’ Elsa said sadly.

‘Elsa, you were there for me exactly as I needed you to be then.’ Anna smirked and raised her eyebrow. ‘Besides, I don’t think you were ever going to be equipped to give me advice about men — or their — parts.’ This caused Elsa to chuckle.

‘No, I suppose you’re right about that.’ Elsa smiled and shook her head.

‘Are we interrupting?’ Maren’s voice carried as she poked her head into the hut, Kristoff behind her.

‘No, not at all.’ Elsa called and waved them in.

Maren came over and knelt beside her, giving her a quick kiss, Kristoff did the same to Anna.

‘How are you feeling?’ Maren asked, an excited gleam in her eyes.

‘Good, better than I’ve felt in days really.’ Elsa cocked her head and squinted at the strange look in Maren’s eyes. ‘What are you up to.’ Elsa prodded suspiciously.

‘Well,’ Maren glanced quickly at Anna who was smiling mischievously then returned to Elsa. ‘I’m glad you’re feeling better, because, I want to take you out on a date tonight.’ Maren smiled. Anna let out a tiny squeak.

‘A date?’ Elsa asked, a smile crawling up her lips.

‘Mmhm. I think you could use some fresh air. It’s all planned, all you have to do is say yes.’

‘Yes.’ Elsa added without hesitation a smile already on her lips.

Maren smiled then glanced to the doorway. ‘The sun is starting to set, we should go soon.’

Elsa glanced down at herself, suddenly realizing she was in no state to go outside. The only thing covering her upper half were bandages, and she hadn’t washed her hair in days. She was about to voice these concerns when Maren set down a sleeveless Northuldran tunic and boots next to her. ‘You can wear one of mine, it shouldn’t disturb the injuries.’ Maren started to unfold the outfit when Anna interjected.

‘Kristoff, don’t you and Maren have some reindeer things to attend to outside?’ Her eyes were wide, staring at Kristoff and she motioned with her head towards the door. Subtlety was not a strength of Anna’s. Maren froze, the tunic still in her hands and stared at Anna, picking up on her not-so-subtle request. A small smile formed over her lips and she set down the tunic.

‘Yes, you’re right Anna. Many reindeer things to prepare. Kristoff shall we leave them to it?’

He nodded with a smile then he and Maren both got up and left. Anna spun back towards Elsa, fire in her eyes.

‘Ok first we need to get this thing on you, then I’m doing your hair. You are not going on a date like this.’ Anna was deadly serious and started to crawl around Elsa to the other side of her. Elsa reached up to feel her own hair, suddenly self conscious at how bad she must really look. ‘It’s not that bad.’ Anna amended, reading the expression on Elsa’s face. Elsa moved her good arm to prop herself up and winced, Anna supported her behind her back and helped her sit up the rest of the way.

Anna picked up the sleeveless tunic and shook it out, then slid an armhole up Elsa’s bandaged arm to her shoulder— Elsa tilted her head to get it through the neck hole, and suddenly found herself stuck in a very ridiculous position, unable to get her other arm through the tunic. ‘Anna, I’m stuck— help me get it over—’ Her voice came out muffled, as her mouth was buried behind the hem of the garment.

‘I’ve got it, I’ve got it.’ Anna grabbed Elsa’s good arm and pulled it through the other armhole, nearly choking Elsa in the process. ‘There.’ Anna said, satisfied. Elsa let out a relieved breath. ‘Oh thank god she brought a hairbrush.’ Anna breathed a sigh of relief. ‘You know, being with someone who understands girly needs is really a bonus.’ Anna mumbled offhandedly, then moved behind Elsa to brush her hair. Elsa smiled and shook her head— Anna was right about that. ‘Don’t move your head.’ Anna reprimanded. Elsa rolled her eyes and kept her head still.

‘Anna I can brush my own hair.’

‘Not with one arm you can’t. Plus I’m not just going to brush it.’

Elsa scrunched her brow, wondering what Anna was going to do and realizing she was powerless to stop it whatever it was. ‘Just don’t overdo—’

‘Elsa.’ Anna cut her off and sighed dramatically. ‘I have waited my entire life to help you get ready for a date. Let. Me. Have. This.’

Elsa immediately closed her mouth and nodded, a smile spread across her lips. ‘And stop moving your head!’

‘So dramatic.’ Elsa mumbled under her breath with a smirk.

‘What was that?’ Anna asked sharply as she brushed and pulled at Elsa’s hair.

‘Nothing.’ Elsa assured. Incurring Anna’s wrath when she was in these passionately driven moods was never a wise decision, she chuckled to herself.

‘That’s right nothing.’ Anna mumbled under her breath. ‘Oh, wait. Just a second.’ Anna got up and left the lavvu, then returned instantly carrying something Elsa couldn’t see. She returned behind Elsa and continued brushing, pulling and weaving Elsa’s hair. It felt as though she were braiding it into something.

‘There.’ Anna said finally, and moved around to the front of Elsa to admire her work. ‘Perfect.’ She added with a pleased smile. Elsa reached up and gently patted what felt like two thin braids starting at her temples and pulled back behind her head where they weaved into one larger braid. She also felt that Anna had weaved something into the braids— flowers perhaps? The rest of her hair hung in loose waves. Elsa smiled.

‘Thank you sis.’

‘You are beautiful, my sister.’ Anna smiled and swiftly kissed her cheek. ‘Oh you need this.’ Anna picked up the cloth sling Elsa had been using every time she’d needed to stand. Anna slipped it around her neck, pulling her hair out from under it and helped get her arm bent and situated in it. Anna scrunched her brow, studying her work then smoothed a piece of Elsa’s hair into place. Finally she smiled and announced excitedly: ‘Ok let’s go.’

She took Elsa’s good arm and carefully hauled her up to stand. Elsa braced then winced from the pain caused by standing that she’d become accustomed to in the past few days. Anna helped her slip into the boots, then they started making their way to the exit. Walking was still slow going, as any small movement sent pain through her arm and ribs, but being up and dressed and mobile still felt markedly better than lying on that pad for days on end. Elsa had no idea what Maren had planned for tonight, but whatever it was she hoped it didn’t involve much walking— she winced again as pain shot through her side. Anna hovered closely and held Elsa’s good arm as they walked, and eventually they made it outside the hut.

What greeted her there was a beautiful twilight sky and Maren, standing near Daisy who was hooked up to a very small wagon of sorts. Rather it was like a tiny open chariot made for two passengers at most. Elsa noticed Daisy’s neck and antlers were all decorated with several chains of daisy flowers. It was very pretty and Elsa smiled at seeing it. Daisies. That must be what Anna had woven into her hair.

‘Have fun.’ Anna whispered in her ear and squeezed her hand as a smiling Maren approached them. It was not lost on her how Maren’s eyes moved up and down the entirety of her, and Elsa felt her face burn hot. What a sight she must be, she mused sardonically— wrapped in bandages and crookedly leaning heavily on Anna.

‘You look beautiful.’ Maren said, her eyes still scanning Elsa up and down. Elsa felt something warm stir in her chest at hearing those words and she smiled at the feeling.

‘I take credit for her hair, you can thank me later.’ Anna chimed in, Maren chuckled. Elsa squeezed Anna’s hand again.

‘I love it.’ Elsa smiled at Anna and kissed her cheek, then extracted herself from her sister so she could stand on her own. She wasn’t standing long before Maren moved in and snaked her arm around Elsa’s waist, supporting much of her weight. She was silently grateful for it as standing even this long proved to be more exhausting than she anticipated.

‘You ok?’ Maren whispered near her ear as they walked to the chariot.

‘Mmhm.’ Elsa confirmed, still needing to focus much of her energies on walking as painlessly as possible.

‘Have fun you two!’ Anna called behind them. Kristoff joined Anna and put his arm around her shoulders.

Maren helped her carefully into the chariot, and Elsa let out a sigh of relief when she sat down. Maren climbed in next to her and put her arm around Elsa— she smiled at the warmth of her, and leaned into her. ‘Where are we going?’ She asked, unable to contain her curiosity. She didn’t really care where they were going, just as long as she was going somewhere— anywhere with Maren.

‘You’ll see. It’s not far.’ Maren rubbed her hand up and down Elsa’s good arm and started Daisy at a walk.

Truly, it wasn’t far at all. They cleared the trees of the forest in no time, and what opened up before them was a wide rolling meadow surrounded by trees. They had come out at the higher end of the meadow, and the view down the slope of it out across the vast forest beyond was breathtaking in the light of the setting sun. Daisies filled the entire place, causing the ground to look more white than green— almost as if snow were covering it. The Northuldra moved camp from time to time, and as long as she’d been with them she had never come across this place. It was so stunning, she decided it should be immortalized in a painting— perhaps she could convince Anna to paint it one day.

‘The Liken Meadow.’ Maren stated as she pulled Daisy to a stop. ‘This is where I found Daisy.’

‘It’s beautiful.’ Elsa breathed, awestruck and unable to tear her eyes away from the scene.

‘I thought you might like it.’ Maren smiled and moved to help Elsa down out of the chariot. Once down, she saw that Maren had spread blankets and pillows down on the ground. There were also several bouquets of picked daisies laid down on the blanket.

‘What’s this?’ Elsa asked, unable to contain her grin.

‘For stargazing.’ Maren replied excitedly. ‘I haven’t been able to get enough of it since the mist lifted, and Anna tells me you’re something of an expert with the constellations.’

That was partly true— rather it was more just an overall fascination with the unknown that always held Elsa’s interest— studying the stars and the universe itself just happened to fall into that category.

‘So I confess, part of this date is me selfishly hoping you’ll teach me about the stars.’ Maren had a playfully guilty expression on her face.

‘I love talking about the stars.’ Elsa replied honestly. Maren couldn’t have chosen a more perfectly casual date. Anna knew her well.

Maren led her to the blankets and helped her sit down, then went and quickly unhitched Daisy so she could roam free. Elsa picked up one of the bouquets of daisies that was near her and lifted it to her nose. They were still fresh, Maren must have come earlier to set all of this up and had probably picked the flowers then. Elsa smiled into the bouquet— she would probably forever associate daisies with Maren from now on, and this place.

‘Those,’ Maren said, gesturing to the daisies as she returned to sit next to Elsa. ‘Are my payment for your astronomy lessons.’ She said, then leaned over to kiss Elsa’s cheek. Elsa smiled but cocked her head in confusion. ‘Here watch.’ Maren picked up her own bouquet and plucked two daisies from it. ‘Make a small slit in the stem of one with your fingernail, then thread another flower through that slit like this.’ Elsa watched as Maren repeated the process, threading several flowers together into a short daisy chain. Elsa separated several flowers out from the bouquet in front of her then picked up two and repeated the process of threading them together that Maren had just showed her. It took her a moment to fidget her bad arm into a position to be of use, but she got the hang of it. She smiled once she had a strung a few together, it was a relaxing process and the result was looking rather beautiful.

‘So how is Anna’s pan flute playing coming along?’ Maren teased and Elsa removed her eyes from her chain to shoot Maren a sharp look. ‘I didn’t know she was going to play it that often.’ Maren said and pulled her mouth into a guilty expression.

Elsa smiled and shook her head. ‘While I may hear that music in my nightmares for the rest of eternity, I’m glad you gave it to her. She really does enjoy it.’

‘Well, I meant what I told her. She has the makings of a healer— she’s very empathic and has so much love in her heart. That’s the core of healing.’

Elsa nodded in agreement. ‘The girl is bursting with love— she’s always had such an innate desire to help people. I keep trying to tell her that that alone is what is going to make her a great queen.’ This time Maren nodded in agreement. ‘She was able to see our mother at Ahtohallan you know.’ Elsa added and Maren’s brow quirked in interest as they continued to make their chains. ‘She was finally able to release quite a bit of anger she had stored up over the years at our parents. I think it was really good for her— very healing.’

‘Healers usually have to heal themselves before they can heal others.’ Maren added. ‘I’m really glad for her. Sounds like she’s really starting to come into her own.’

‘She is.’ Elsa smiled as her thoughts drifted to Anna’s happy face.

‘What about you?’

‘What about me?’

‘How have you dealt with your feelings towards your parents?’ Maren asked carefully. Elsa had to stop working on the chain and think for a minute.

‘Well, I was angry with them for a long time— even before their death— I still am in bad moments. But I think I’ve largely forgiven them. I realized what their motives were for doing everything they did, and while I still don’t agree with them, it’s no use to stay angry any longer. The past is in the past, and I’ve learned to mostly let it go. It was different for Anna— no one ever told her anything, and that confused frustrated anger just kept building over the years until she finally let it out.’ Maren had looked up from her chain as well and was nodding as she listened.

‘Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do— but one of the most freeing when we are able to do it.’ Elsa nodded in agreement. ‘Not bad.’ Maren stated and held up the long daisy chain that she was now tying off into a necklace of sorts. Elsa glanced down at her own which was considerably shorter than Maren’s, but decided for using mostly one hand it was pretty good, and so she tied it off into a small crown size.

Maren knelt in front her. ‘Some say, daisies represent new beginnings, beauty and true love.’ Maren smiled and looked directly into Elsa’s eyes. ‘They suit you.’ She said and placed the daisy necklace over Elsa’s head and around her neck. Elsa smiled and reached up to put her little daisy crown atop Maren’s head.

‘True love.’ She whispered and stared into Maren’s eyes, searching the depths of those brown eyes that had become so familiar and safe to look into. Maren leaned in then and kissed her softly, hands on either side of Elsa’s face and Elsa sighed. Maren leaned her back and gently laid her down on the pillows and they continued to kiss.

‘I love you.’ Maren broke the kiss briefly to whisper the words. Elsa felt warmth spread across her chest and she smiled into Maren’s mouth. She would never get tired of hearing that.

‘I love you.’ She whispered back then pulled Maren’s head back down into her waiting lips and kissed her deeply, passionately, running her fingers through Maren’s hair and down her braid. Maren slid her hand down the length of Elsa’s thigh and Elsa sighed and rolled her hips into Maren’s thigh that was positioned between her legs. She winced at the pain that movement invoked and Maren pulled away from the kiss with a pained sigh.

‘We can’t, we can’t.’ She breathed, and Elsa sadly knew she was right.

Elsa let out an annoyed breath. ‘I know.’

Maren smirked at her mischievously, reading Elsa’s irritation. ‘But when you’re healed I’m going to show you just how much I love you.’ She whispered and kissed Elsa one more time on the pulse point of her neck before moving off of her and laying down next to her. The throbbing between Elsa’s legs did not diminish with the absence of Maren and she let out an annoyed groan. Maren chuckled. ‘Focus woman, I came out here for star lessons, not to get frisky.’

Elsa made a face and rolled her eyes. ‘You’re impossible.’

‘So I’ve been told.’ Maren chuckled, and Elsa kept watching her as her eyes turned upward towards the gloaming sky. Her eyes were wide and filled with childlike wonderment, a small smiled formed over her lips, her hands clasped casually behind her head. Maren was stunningly beautiful and a small smile crept up Elsa’s cheek knowing that she was all hers. Watching Maren watch the sky was far more entrancing than watching the sky itself, Elsa decided.

‘You’re staring at the wrong thing.’ Maren said, never taking her eyes off the starlit sky.

‘No I’m not.’ Elsa stated, a small smile quirked up Maren’s cheek. ‘I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have never seen the sky.’ Elsa said sincerely, still watching Maren.

Maren took a breath, this time she did tear her eyes away from the sky to look at Elsa. ‘I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have been constantly trapped behind castle walls.’

Elsa quirked her brow then finally turned her gaze skyward. ‘Good point.’ She said finally. ‘I did always have the stars though. Something about them was comforting— I just knew there was something bigger out there. Some bigger purpose for everything than what most people can see. Bigger than even I could see.’

‘How so?’

‘Well, I mean look at us. We’re so tiny in the vast configuration of the cosmos. The Sun is really just a tiny star among many millions of stars we can see,’ Elsa gestured her hand up and around them. ‘and we’re on an even tinier planet orbiting around this tiny star. It’s humbling.’

‘I guess so. I— well I was never really taught any of that.’ Maren said, sounding slightly awestruck. ‘I mean my people know that we cycle around the Sun, it’s how we tell time and seasons— but with the mist we were never— rather I was never able to directly see the Sun.’ She paused, considering. ‘So, all of those stars up there are actually Suns like ours?’

‘Mmhm. Just incredibly far away so they appear tiny. Maren, there could be other planets just like ours, with people just like us out there orbiting any number of the stars we’re looking at right now. I sometimes used to wonder if maybe there were ice planets out there where everyone had ice powers, and I somehow got dropped here by mistake.’ Elsa chuckled.

‘An icy visitor from another planet hm. Well, I would still love you anyway.’ Maren jibed. ‘So what makes you think we’re not alone? That we’re not the only ones in the entire universe?’

‘Well, I don’t know for sure, I just like to think about it. The more I learned, the more that theory made sense I suppose. I spent so much time studying cosmology over the years because, I was always searching for something. Searching for answers about everything unknown, hoping that I could find some missing puzzle piece to understand why I have these powers, what to do with them— how they work. Why I’m even here at all— why anyone is here really.’

‘What did you come up with?’

‘Well, I don’t know if other people exist out in the universe, but what I do believe is that it seems everything we can see has an underlying design to it and that design seems— intelligent? Premeditated? Like everything was created this way deliberately. You can see the patterns almost everywhere you look, from the tiniest atom to our large solar system.’

Silence hung in the air for a brief moment.

‘You have entirely lost me there. Who is Atom?’

Elsa smiled and shook her head. ‘Nevermind. Here, look at this.’ Elsa held up her good hand for Maren to see and created ice in her palm. It bloomed as it always did, fracturing outward in a geometric design that looked something like a flower. ‘What does it look like?’

Maren studied it for a moment then responded with a smirk: ‘Ice?’ She chuckled and Elsa rolled her eyes.

‘What does the design look like.’ Maren studied it again and responded seriously this time.

‘It looks like a flower?’

‘Yes, but it’s not a flower— it’s just how my ice forms naturally. I’m not making it do that, yet flowers— which are made of an entirely different substrate— form almost the exact same way— so do pine cones and about a hundred other things in nature.’

Something clicked in Maren’s eyes and a smile of understanding spread across her face. ‘So, what does it all mean?’

‘Well, that I don’t know yet— but there is something important about this underlying geometric pattern that seems to be the basis on which everything forms— including my ice. It looks almost like artwork, in these patterns and designs you can see the innate style of the artist who is creating all these things around us that we call reality. I just know there is a bigger point behind all of it— whether it’s the God I was brought up to believe in or the spirits of nature or Ahtohallan or the universe itself. Something is behind all of this— so I guess, if this pattern permeates the entire universe, why couldn’t other stars and planets form the same way ours did and contain life as well?’

Maren was staring at her, her mouth slightly agape and Elsa suddenly realized she had never told anyone else this theory of hers— probably because she knew she would get the look that Maren was giving her right now. Disbelief.

‘Well I wanted an astronomy lesson, I sure did get one.’ Maren said, a smile forming on her face. ‘I’m going to need the next year to process all of that, but it actually does make a lot of sense. Your mind also scares me sometimes with how you think.’ Maren chuckled.

Elsa smiled, she could feel her cheeks grow from hot from embarrassment. ‘I had a lot of time to study and think over the years.’ She added, trying to salvage herself.

‘I love it.’ Maren whispered and leaned over to kiss her cheek, evaporating any feelings of self-consciousness that had started brewing within her. ‘So what else should I know about all this, dare I ask?’ Maren asked playfully and swiped her hand above them, gesturing at the heavens.

‘Hm, well it’s spring. During different seasons we can see different constellations in the sky as we move around the Sun. People use the stars to navigate their way— right there, see that grouping of stars that looks like a lion?’

Maren pointed in the general direction of the star cluster. ‘There?’ Maren asked. Elsa put her hand on top of Maren’s and guided it down slightly to the correct location.

‘There.’ Elsa corrected.

Maren squinted then smiled. ‘Yes I see it!’

‘That one is called Leo. Then over there, the one that looks like a snake— that’s Hydra.’ Elsa glanced over at Maren whose eyes were smiling wide as she continued to point out the visible constellations.

‘Which is your favorite?’ Maren asked once Elsa finished the tutorial.

‘That one.’ Elsa said, and pointed to the inverted double mountain peak shaped constellation that was right above them. ‘It’s called Cassiopeia.’

Maren scrunched her brow. ‘Why that one?’

‘Well, I like the story behind it— not so much the constellation itself.’

‘Tell me?’

Elsa took a breath. ‘Cassiopeia was a queen, she and her husband King Cepheus were not exactly great people— they claimed that their daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than all the Nereids — sea nymphs. The God of the sea, Poseidon, was not pleased about this so he sought to punish them for their vanity by sending a flood to decimate their kingdom— unless the King and Queen sacrificed their daughter. So they chained her to a rock to be eaten by a sea monster.’

Maren’s eyes were wide with horror. ‘Elsa, that’s a terrible story.’

Elsa rolled her eyes. ‘I’m not finished. So along comes Perseus, he sees Andromeda chained to this rock and helps to free her. They fall in love and then they moved somewhere far away from the kingdom and lived happily ever after. As punishment, Cassiopeia was placed in the heavens, forced to remain stuck there forever for her crimes.’ Elsa paused then added: ‘I would’ve preferred if Andromeda had figured her own way out of her predicament, but on the whole I like the story.’

Silence hung in the air for a moment before Maren spoke:

‘Elsa, she was chained to a rock at sea.’

Elsa just shrugged and made a flippant face.

‘Accepting help isn’t wrong you know.’

Elsa shrugged again. ‘I guess not.’

Maren propped herself up so that she was looking directly into Elsa’s eyes. ‘You have people who love you Elsa— deeply. It’s ok to accept help from us. You don’t have to shut me out, or Anna or even Kristoff— you’ve got to talk to us when there’s a problem. Don’t just do it all on your own, please.’ Maren’s eyes had a sincerity there that Elsa could barely look at. It was the most sincerest look of love Elsa had ever seen before in her life.

‘I can promise I’ll try.’

‘I’ll accept that for now.’ Maren said, then leaned down to kiss her again.

Chapter Text

‘Don’t make a noise, and don’t use your magic.’

Maren’s whisper cut through the darkness and roused her from sleep. Elsa blinked as her eyes adjusted— the only sound, calm even breathing above her. Maren was crouched over her, tense, staring at something behind them with an intensity Elsa only saw in her eyes when she was hunting or tracking something. She couldn’t see from the prone position on her back, so she tried to twist around to look at what Maren was staring at, but Maren’s hand was holding her wrist down so she couldn’t move. Elsa’s thoughts started to race— what was behind them? An animal? Was it going to attack? She needed to flip over— just in case.

‘Daisy no!’ Maren hissed and Elsa jerked on instinct, trying again to see behind her. Maren still held her in place and made a clicking noise with her mouth— calling to Daisy.

‘What is it?’ Elsa hissed, desperate to understand what was happening.

‘Draugr— I think.’ Maren whispered back, never taking her eyes from the tree line behind them. ‘Get up, slowly. We need to leave— and do not use your magic.’ Maren’s voice carried with it a gravity Elsa wasn’t used to hearing. She understood the seriousness, and started to move as quickly as she was able, with Maren quietly, swiftly pulling her up into a sit. Immediately a headache surged into her temples, and she resisted the urge to grab her head as Maren hauled her to a stand.

Her arm braced firmly around Maren’s shoulders for support, she turned to the tree line where Maren was still staring and saw, just barely, two greenish glowing eyes leering sinisterly in the darkened woods. A very rigid Daisy stood between them and the pair of eyes, her ears perked— the only movement came from her front hoof, which thumped the ground repeatedly in a territorial manner. She appeared as a ghostly specter, her white coat glowing radiantly even in the dark of the night. She stood out — too much — like a beacon, and Elsa did not like it. She felt exposed and had the sudden urge to get the three of them out of there.

Maren, ever ahead of her, made the clicking sound with her mouth again, calling Daisy as she ushered Elsa slowly, quietly to the chariot. Daisy did not listen, but started to bellow lowly— a menacing sound Elsa had never heard her make before. ‘Daisy!’ Maren hissed through gritted teeth when the clicking noises were ignored.

They made it to the chariot and Elsa grabbed the side of it for support, releasing Maren, who swiftly grabbed her staff and turned towards the draugr. Realizing what Maren was thinking Elsa snagged her by the arm. ‘Don’t.’  She hissed. It came out more icy and authoritative than she meant, but no less serious. Maren’s eyes looked startled at the command, but quickly softened.

‘I need to get her away from it. Stay here— and don’t use your magic. Yelena said those things can shield against magic and I don’t want to find out what that means with you as the test subject.’ Maren’s voice was equally commanding and Elsa couldn’t think of a response, so she released her grip on Maren’s arm. There was no time to argue, but if it came down to it— she would use her magic if necessary.

Another louder bellow from Daisy caused them both to snap around, just as the tall shadowy figure of the draugr came lurching out of the trees, its glowing eyes fixated not on Daisy, but on Maren and Elsa as it jerked towards them. The throbbing headache suddenly shot through her skull and felt as though it might split her in two. She clutched her head on instinct, squeezing blindly to try and alleviate the pressure.

‘Daisy no!’ Maren yelled and Elsa looked up just in time to see Daisy charge at the thing, her head down, antlers bared as the draugr continued to jerk and lurch awkwardly in their direction.

Maren took off at a run towards them, her staff in hand and Elsa couldn’t have stopped her even if she tried— the headache was making her dizzy and nauseated and it was all she could do to focus on what was happening and stand upright. The earth beneath her felt lopsided as though it were tilting back and forth— but what she was able to see, was Daisy’s antlers connect with the wooden sinews of the draugr’s middle and send it flying. It hit the ground with a thud and crackle— some part of its brittle wooden appendages snapping with the force. It stood up instantaneously, unnaturally quick, unhindered apparently by the hit— its beady eyes still focused intently on her, and started to lurch forward again.

Maren had reached Daisy and ran out in front of her brandishing her staff at the draugr. It made no motion to stop its forward motion, nor did it seem threatened by Maren in the slightest— and this sent a wave of panic into her chest.

‘Maren stop!’ She yelled, and the call of her voice caused the draugr to halt. It stopped dead in its tracks and pulled its gaze away from Maren to look at her again, its green eyes piercing into her even at this distance, those glowing eyes making her feel as though she might be sick. She slid to her knees clutching her temples but forced herself to look back at it. Maren’s gaze followed the draugr’s to Elsa briefly, then turned back immediately to face it.

No Maren.

She took a swing at the draugr’s face and connected sharply with a yell. Elsa heard a crack and watched as her staff snapped cleanly in two, leaving her defenseless and exposed, within reach of the draugr. It took its advantage and swung a twisted, gnarled hand at her, which she attempted to dodge but was not quick enough— and it clipped her in the shoulder, sending her sprawling to the ground.

‘Maren!’ Elsa screamed and felt the magic intertwine with anger and course through her, frost crackling in her palm ready to be released at her target. She could feel the draugr’s attention shift to her again and away from Maren and she was glad for it. Leave her alone, come get me— I’m the one you want right? She was too far to aim properly though, and the ground still felt tilted at an awkward angle as her head pulsed— if she tried there was a good chance she would miss and hit Maren or Daisy instead. Let it come closer to her then.

Maren shot up from the ground as quickly as she had gone down, rolling up to a stand in a gracefully fluid arc. Just as Elsa was about to call out to it again, Daisy let out a primal bellow and charged again, and again connected, lifting it clean off the ground with her antlers and sending it flying into the darkness. This time, Maren did not wait for it to get up, but jumped on Daisy’s back and took off towards her. Elsa clawed her way to a stand, using the chariot for leverage as Maren finally reached them.

‘Are you alright?’ Elsa asked, clutching the side of the chariot, begging the earth to stop tilting and trying to keep her voice steady.

‘I’m fine, fine.’ Maren confirmed and quickly hopped down from Daisy. She paused, concerned eyes lingered on her briefly but Elsa waved her off.

‘Im fine. Go, go.’ Elsa managed and Maren, still looking entirely unconvinced, led Daisy around to the front of the chariot to start hooking her to it. Now was not the time to hesitate.

Elsa turned her gaze back to the darkness where she suspected the draugr had landed, and expected to see it coming towards them again within seconds. She squinted her eyes, straining to see, but saw nothing — no movement, no glowing eyes, not even a sound. The eerie calm unnerved her. ‘Where did it go?’ She hissed under her breath, scanning the darkness again with strained eyes.

Maren joined her side. ‘I don’t know, but let’s get out of here before it shows up again.’ She grabbed Elsa’s waist and guided her into the chariot. Elsa slid in with Maren right behind her, and Maren took them off immediately in the opposite direction from where they had seen the draugr disappear.

They made it the short way back to camp quickly, silently and without incident, constantly scanning their surroundings for the slightest sign of movement. Elsa was tense and hyper vigilant of the darkness around them, half expecting something to jump out at them at any moment. Maren, quieter that usual, matched her mood, her eyes scanning around them with a focused intensity.

Elsa was no longer dizzy, but the headache remained and a nagging feeling was growing inside of her— something was telling her that these particular headaches were somehow related to the draugrs. The last time she had had such an intense headache come on that immediately, had been the first time she’d seen one— the first time its beady eyes had looked into hers. Possibly, it was entirely unrelated, coincidental even— but something deep inside of her told her it was not.

‘You have a headache again, don’t you.’ Maren stated worriedly, more so then asked. Elsa turned to look at her and nodded, not sure she wanted to accept or even acknowledge the theory that the headaches were related to the draugrs— or what that meant if it were true. Maren’s eyes locked onto hers, seeming to read her very thoughts, but she let it go and said nothing.

‘Well we need to figure out what is going on with all of this.’ Maren stated, pulling Daisy to a stop in front of Yelena’s lavvu. ‘Stay here, I’m going to wake Yelena. We need to get a perimeter of scouts set up— just in case.’ Maren hopped down from the chariot and ran inside Yelena’s lavvu.

Elsa sighed and rested her head in her hand, squeezing her temples, willing the headache to vanish. Something wasn’t right about all of this— the first draugr sighting, the giant squid attack and now this again. She had only lived in the forest for a few months, yet never had she seen or even heard any of these creatures mentioned up until recently— and now suddenly, not only were they cropping up frequently, but attacking?

Attacking her.

They weren’t going after anyone else— just those that got in the way of her, or so happened to be near her. At least that’s how it appeared. She was the common denominator in these three episodes, and she needed to figure out why. Two people she loved had been hurt because of this now, and if it was because these creatures were after her, she would to see to it that it did not happen again.

Maren came out of the lavvu finally and returned to the side of the chariot, pulling her from her thoughts.

‘She’s going to get the scouts and warriors assembled.’ Maren stated, extending her hand for Elsa to take. Elsa took it and got down, realizing on top of the headache, just how sore she still was. It was as if the excitement had blocked out the pain from the injuries, only to have it all come crashing back down on her now.

‘Come on, you need to lie down.’ Maren stated, wrapping her arm around Elsa and leading her the short distance to her own lavvu. ‘You look really done for.’ Elsa didn’t protest, letting Maren lead her through camp and eventually into the dark lavvu.

Something skittered near her boot, then suddenly the fire pit burst into flames causing her to jerk at the abruptness of it. Bruni was there, looking pleased with himself— he then skittered quickly to Maren’s bed pad and curled up, waiting.

Elsa chuckled at Bruni, then turned to Maren. ‘Take your tunic off.’

Maren raised an eyebrow. ‘What?’ A look of surprised amusement met Elsa’s eyes.

‘Take your shirt off, I want to look at your shoulder.’ Elsa repeated, a smile curling over her own lips.

‘Is this a ploy to get me undressed?’ Maren asked playfully. ‘Because I won’t be taken advantage of so easily.’

Elsa rolled her eyes and smiled. ‘Shirt. Off.’

Maren smirked. ‘Bossy.’ She mumbled as she slid the tunic over her head and tossed it to the side, leaving her in a sleeveless undershirt. Elsa allowed her eyes to roam freely, just for a moment, over Maren’s muscular torso, until her eyes landed on the huge bruise that had bloomed over her left shoulder.

‘Oh Maren…’ Elsa frowned and shook her head as she ran her fingers lithely over the bruise, inspecting it. The area was red and inflamed, but her skin didn’t seem to be torn. There was no blood.

‘The cold feels nice.’ Maren whispered. Elsa looked away from the bruise to find Maren’s eyes closed, her lips pulled into a slight peaceful smile. She studied the look on Maren’s face for a beat, still astounded that her touch could be so soothing, and a smile crept over her lips at this notion. She placed the entirety of her cold hand gently on the inflamed bruise, which caused a pleasant hum of relief to escape Maren’s lips. Lips Elsa suddenly couldn’t take her eyes off of— lips belonging to the person who had saved her life, protected her, and been nothing but wonderful and kind from the first moment they met.

Love was such a funny word, too small, too simple to contain the enormous, expansive feelings of admiration and gratitude she felt for the woman who stood before her. Rather than try to explain those unexplainable, complex feelings, Elsa leaned in and kissed her, softly, gently, thanking Maren for loving her— and wishing desperately she had use of her other arm so she could pull her closer. Maren as always, two steps ahead, grabbed hold of Elsa’s hips and pulled her in. Elsa slid her hand from Maren’s shoulder across her collarbone and slowly up her neck, holding her there gently as they kissed, feeling the soft warmth of Maren’s neck beat into her palm.

Maren scooted her backwards towards the bed pad— she was so absorbed in the kiss that she barely registered Maren helping her sit down, then laying her down on the pad. They both winced in pain and then chuckled, breaking the kiss.

‘What a pair we are.’ Maren said and smiled at her.

‘That we are.’ Elsa whispered and pulled her back down for another kiss. Maren kissed her more deeply this time, and she allowed herself to run her fingers under Maren’s shirt and up her smooth back, feeling the ripples of muscles and tracing her spine as she went. She ran them back down slowly, tentatively, then pulled away, breaking the kiss.

Maren looked at her with sad understanding eyes, but smiled softly. ‘That felt nice. We’ll work on it.’ She assured then brought the palm of Elsa’s hand up to her lips and kissed it, her eyes closed, sealing an unspoken promise. ‘I need to go back out there— make sure everything is alright.’ She released Elsa’s hand.

Elsa quirked her brow. ‘Ok, I’ll go with you—’

‘No, you absolutely will not.’ Maren stated, cutting her off. ‘You’ve got those dark circles under your eyes again, and it has me worried. You need to rest— I probably shouldn’t even have taken you out tonight.’

‘Maren, no. Tonight was wonderful. I loved it— I needed to get out. Really.’

A small smile crept up Maren’s cheek. ‘Just stay here—’ She leaned down for another quick kiss. ‘And I’ll be back soon.’ A warm hand ran down her arm, squeezing her hand before releasing it and reaching for her discarded tunic.

Elsa quirked her brow again in defiance, realizing she was probably fighting a losing battle. ‘Elsa, I will go get Anna if I have to, to make sure you stay here.’ Maren threatened lightly, reading the dissatisfied expression on her face. Elsa took a deep breath and rolled her eyes.

‘Just be careful— and hurry back.’ She conceded, not entirely confident her body would cooperate and get up again even if she willed it to.

Maren finished dressing, looped her knife to her belt, swung a sack of arrows over her shoulder and grabbed her bow that was leaning in the corner. ‘Sleep.’ She commanded with a raised eyebrow and a smile. Elsa nodded as Maren slipped out into the night. Bruni got up suddenly from beside her and skittered out of the hut after Maren— the fire in the pit dimmed to glowing coals.

‘Watch out for her Bruni.’ Elsa mumbled and tossed her arm over her eyes then sighed, realizing the irritating sling was still on her arm. She fidgeted with it, finally working it off over her head and discarded it to the side. She let her injured arm stretch out with a sigh of relief, then flexed it a few times and winced. Admittedly it did feel much better even though sore— Ryder’s medicine must have sped up the healing some. She did quick mental math in her head— tomorrow was the day she was due to get the stitches out. Good. She hated having to be fussed over— staying in this hut like some kind of hapless invalid. The sooner the stitches were out, the sooner she could figure out her next move, but to decide that she needed more answers first. Answers about these creatures, their origins, what kind of magic they possessed exactly, why they were suddenly becoming aggressive and how to subdue them. Tomorrow, she would talk to Maren and Yelena and see what more they knew about any of it. If she needed more answers after that— well, then she would do what needed to be done to get those answers. No one else was going to get hurt because of this. But she wouldn’t think about that just yet. Too many steps ahead— one step at a time.

Her head hurt.

She let out a breath and threw her good arm over her eyes again, putting pressure on her headache, and let sleep take her.

Chapter Text

Elsa toyed with the crystal attached to the inside of her wrist, running her fingers back and forth over the smooth facets and sharp symmetrical cuts. Sunlight glinted through the tree branches and skated across clear turquoise, refracting light differently off the crystal each time it was tilted— and she was briefly mesmerized by the internal anisotropic nature of it, which was in direct opposition to its outward symmetry.

Contradictory.

She snorted. Much like herself, she thought dryly. Outwardly structured and composed, yet inwardly so strange and different that there was just no complete understanding to be had. Too many different facets to reconcile into a single coherent entity.

Naturally the closest thing she could identify with was an inanimate crystalline rock.

A rock.

Typical that was, as far as her life went— and yet not very helpful, thank you. Then again, ice spoke to her on the regular, so perhaps her personal identification with a rock was a step up.

Or down.

Anyway.

She sighed and shook her head, studying the crystal once more, trying to work out why it might be created in this conflicting manner. It was a rather beautiful shade of turquoise she noted, like water and ice when sunlight hit it just right— the same color as Anna’s eyes. Likely it had something to do with the water element, if it’s color and the fact that it was hidden in a glacier were any indication. However, it was definitely made from minerals or some earthly substance, not ice— she’d already tried and failed to melt it. Though its structure did suggest a similar geometric nature to how her ice crystals formed. More patterns she could see but not quite fully understand or link together into coherent answers.

Frustrating.

There was a power inside of it too, she could nearly feel it pulsing with energy— similarly to how Ahtohallan felt.

A vibration.

A presence?

Life force?

Something.

Unexplainable, yet it was there.

Perhaps the confusing inner structure of the crystals had something to do with their ability to hold this power or presence— perhaps it was how the crystalline ice constructs of Ahtohallan contained the life force of memories.

But why had Ahtohallan presented her with this crystal at this juncture? Never before had it given her something tangible like this, yet it had clearly done so deliberately now.

Maybe it was related to the strange behavior of these creatures— a key to subduing them? Then again she’d had the crystal with her last night and when the squid attacked, yet it had done nothing by way of protecting her. Was the crystal causing the creatures to become aggressive? The squid had attacked directly after she’d received it, and it had coincidentally injured the same arm that she had the crystal attached to. But then she had seen the first rogue draugr days before she’d ever had the crystal— although, it hadn’t attacked then. But whose to say it wouldn’t have if they hadn’t ridden away when they did? Ahtohallan wouldn’t knowingly give her something that would put her in danger—

Would it?

Truthfully, she did not know. There was still a lot about Ahtohallan that was a mystery to her.

Yet Ahtohallan had given her so much, had provided her the answers she’d desired and sought after for so long that she had never once considered second guessing it— and she didn’t particularly want to start now.

‘If you scrunch your brow any further it’s going to get stuck that way.’ Maren announced, pulling her from her thoughts. Elsa blinked and turned to look up at her with a quirked brow. ‘I can practically hear you thinking all the way across camp— what’s going on up there?’ She asked, her head cocked slightly with concerned eyes.

Elsa hadn’t noticed Maren materialize front of her, yet she wasn’t surprised. She was sitting up against an out of the way tree near the outskirts of camp— a place she came from time to time when she wanted to think or read or be alone— and Maren knew this and respected it. Though as much as she sometimes needed to be alone, it was never uncomfortable when Maren found her here and would quietly join her. Together alone. Another contradiction, yet somehow it worked. She didn’t understand that either, but found she greatly enjoyed it.

‘Confusion, about the enigmatic contradictions of nature and life.’ Elsa answered honestly and sighed.

‘Oh, is that all.’ Maren stated wistfully and chuckled. ‘And here I thought you were thinking about something important like me.’ She smirked.

‘I’m always thinking about you.’ Elsa said with a raised eyebrow and patted the ground next to her. Maren would never sit unless Elsa invited her to, though she couldn’t think of a single time she had ever turned Maren away from joining her. The level of personal respect Maren afforded her, never ceased to amaze and enamor her.

Most people, quite simply, were just not like that.

‘I’m glad you slept. You didn’t get back until after sunrise.’ Elsa noted when Maren had settled next to her. It had to be well into the afternoon by now.

‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’ Maren made an apologetic face but Elsa waved her off then kissed her cheek.

‘No more sightings I take it?’

‘No, nothing at all. Which was— strange. I expected there would be more so I stayed in the scouting rotation until the Sun came up.’ Maren slipped her hand under Elsa’s and pulled it into her lap, threading their fingers together. ‘How’s your arm?’ She asked, changing the subject and glancing at Elsa’s newly bandaged arm. ‘I spoke to Yelena, who spoke to Kalle so I know you went early to get your stitches out.’

‘I did.’ She confirmed. ‘It was fine, I barely felt it. I feel better than I have in days actually.’

Maren smiled and squeezed her hand. ‘Wish you had woken me, I would’ve gone with you.’

Elsa shook her head. ‘No, you needed to rest. Anna was up early too so she came with— apparently Kristoff was out all night with your group.’

Maren chuckled. ‘He was, he has a keen sense for sniffing out trouble. Where are they now?’ She asked and glanced around, as if she expected to see Anna come bounding out of the trees any second. Which normally would’ve been an accurate assumption except:

‘Anna is a bit— indisposed.’ Elsa chuckled. ‘She had a rough morning.’

Maren quirked her brow, a wary smile crawling up her face. Should I ask?

Elsa smirked and shook her head. ‘She didn’t handle the removal of my stitches very well.’ She said in answer to Maren’s unspoken question. ‘She started gagging as soon as Kalle snipped the first one and had to turn away. I told her to just wait outside, but she refused, so then after a few more dramatic rounds of gagging, Kalle finally had enough and ordered her out.’ Maren’s lips were curled and Elsa could tell she was trying desperately to conceal a laugh. ‘After that we had breakfast and I filled Anna in about the draugrs, then she went to go check on Kristoff.’ Elsa paused and nodded her head in the general direction of her sisters lavvu. ‘That was over an hour ago.’ She finished and rolled her eyes.

‘I see.’ Maren was still curling her lips in attempting to stifle laughter. ‘Well I’m glad she seems to be feeling better.’ She shrugged and a repressed chuckle escaped her.

‘Mmhm.’ Elsa muttered wryly, arcing an eyebrow in faux disapproval of her sister.

‘I’m glad you’re feeling better too.’ Maren breathed in a low hum just below Elsa’s ear, causing her to shiver and her eyes to flutter closed. ‘Kristoff and Anna have the right idea.’ She brushed Elsa’s hair away from her neck and kissed her lightly there, sliding her other hand around Elsa’s waist to hold her hip. Elsa sighed and rested her arm on Maren’s, welcoming the tingling feeling of warmth that spread across her from the close proximity of Maren’s body.

‘Hope I’m not interrupting.’ Yelena’s curt voice cut through the air, causing Elsa and Maren to jerk apart so fast that Elsa winced and grabbed her arm in pain. Maren sucked in a sharp breath and rotated her shoulder while rubbing it, shooting Yelena a reproachful glare and an exasperated sigh.

‘Were starting within the hour. Don’t be late.’ Yelena said sharply, looking pointedly at Maren, then giving Elsa a quick glance. ‘You might want to include the queen— wherever she is.’ Yelena said tersely, then sauntered off as soundlessly as she had appeared. Half the time Elsa couldn’t tell if Yelena was annoyed, or if it was just her natural acerbic disposition. This time though, she seemed distinctly annoyed— as a mother might be, presiding over a hoard of unruly children.

Maren rolled her eyes and waved a dismissive hand after Yelena. ‘I swear she does that on purpose sometimes.’

Elsa smiled but quirked her brow. ‘What’s within the hour?’

‘Yelena has called a Norraz— it’s a meeting of all the household leaders. She wants to discuss the draugr situation, fill people in and see if we can come up with any solutions or answers. She wants you and Anna there too, that’s why I came to get you.’

‘Oh good. I wanted to talk to her about all this anyway, and you.’

‘Me?’ Maren glanced down at Elsa’s wrist, then took her hand and opened it palm up, revealing the crystal. ‘About this? I’ve seen you fidgeting with it since you got back from Ahtohallan.’

‘Yes, partly about this.’ Elsa said and ran her thumb over the crystal. She took a breath, not entirely sure where to begin.

‘I’m listening.’ Maren said, and turned so she was facing her more directly. Elsa leaned back against the tree and looked into Maren’s soft brown eyes.

‘Remember the night we first met, and you told me about the existence of a fifth spirit?’

Maren smiled and nodded. ‘I’ll never forget that night.’

Elsa returned the smile and looked down, still absently stroking the crystal with her thumb. ‘How did you know?’ She returned to Maren’s eyes. ‘That there was such a thing as a fifth spirit?’

Maren appraised her with confused eyes for a moment then shrugged. ‘It was taught to me. It was always just something that was known amongst our people.’

Elsa squinted at her, biting her lip in thought. ‘What was known? I mean, what did everyone think the fifth spirit was before you knew it was me?’

‘Well, the story taught to me was that the four elemental spirits— earth, fire, water and air exist in harmony with people and the earth— together, they make all life possible. The elemental spirits can take on any form they choose. For example, Nokk takes the form of a horse, Bruni chose to take the form of a salamander.’ Elsa was nodding, so easily engrossed whenever Maren spoke to her about these things.

‘The fifth spirit, it was said, is the bridge between the magic of nature— the nature spirits and all creatures who possess magic— and us, human beings.’ Elsa knew this much already, so she stayed silent waiting for more. ‘People always assumed that meant that the fifth spirit would choose to take on the form of a human— meaning, she would be born as a human, of humans.’ Maren was looking pointedly at her as she spoke now. ‘The first night I met you, after I saw your powers, I suspected it was you— that you were the fifth spirit. That’s why I chose to tell you about the fifth spirit then, I thought it might help you realize the truth.’ Maren’s demeanor then quickly shifted from sincere to playful. ‘Though, I had only just met you, and didn’t know the first thing about you— so I wasn’t about to tell you I thought you were this mystical being and scare you off.’ Maren chuckled.

‘I suppose I did have to come to that conclusion on my own.’ Elsa smiled and nodded. ‘But, where do these stories come from in the first place— how do they tell about me before I ever set foot in this forest?’

‘The stories date way back to ancient times. They’ve been passed down for more generations than I can count. They were told as a warning, sort of a reminder to always respect and live harmoniously with nature — so that nature in turn will respect and live harmoniously with us. That’s what the fifth spirit does — she restores and keeps the balance between people and nature when it gets thrown off. They say the last time she was born was during a time of a great ice age when nature and people had become so imbalanced that the world almost came to an end.’

Elsa’s eyes wen’t wide, remembering the desolate, icy, lifeless world Ahtohallan had shown her, it certainly looked like the end of the world. ‘What does that mean— the last time the fifth spirit was born? I was never here before?’

Maren smiled knowingly and arced an eyebrow. ‘Elsa, we’ve all been here before.’

‘What?’ Elsa asked as her thoughts returned to the woman from Ahtohallan, the woman who looked so strikingly familiar, who had also possessed powers of ice and snow.

‘The stories say that the fifth spirit will come to those who call to her in a time of great need, if their desire is pure of heart— selfless, and she will help restore the balance of nature. This time, I believe your mother called you here when the chaos broke out over the dam— the balance between people and nature was thrown off that day, and your mother knew it. The dam was killing the forest— it has been slowly doing more and more damage all these years and would’ve kept getting worse if you and Anna hadn’t brought it down. Eventually, I believe it would have killed our way of life— that’s why our people continued to sing and call to you all these years until finally, you came back to us.’

Elsa smiled absently at Maren’s words, but her thoughts were still hooked on what Maren had said previously.

‘This time?’ She turned the words Maren spoke over as she repeated them, trying to understand. ‘What do you mean, we’ve all been here before?’ Elsa was shaking her head still trying to reconcile the woman she saw on that mountain peak with herself— who she was now. There were definite similarities, sure, but that was clearly a different person— Elsa had seen that in her face.

Maren took a breath, looked up — thinking — then returned to Elsa’s eyes as she let out the breath. ‘Your religion doesn’t teach about reincarnation does it?’ She said, sounding completely unsurprised.

Elsa shook her head. ‘I’ve read lightly about it from other cultures, but I just, don’t really— understand?’

Maren took Elsa’s hand and rubbed her thumb over the back of it as she spoke. ‘Basically, what we believe, is that everything has a life force. From people to plants and animals to the nature spirits themselves— and we don’t just come to live here on this Earth once.’ She paused, gauging Elsa’s reaction then continued when Elsa gave her a nod. ‘So when we die, when anything dies, its life force— its spirit can come back again and again to have another chance at life in whatever form it chooses, as many times as it desires. It’s all part of a greater learning, no one gets something perfect with just one try.’ Maren chuckled.

Elsa felt her mouth hanging slightly agape and closed it at once, blinking and shaking her head in awe. What Maren was saying was striking a chord with her, it made way more sense than it should have. It would explain the eerie connection she felt to the woman she saw, so like her it was unnerving. ‘I— how do you know if this is true?’

Maren shrugged. ‘Many of us can visit previous lifetimes while meditating or during vision quests. Some can communicate with their deceased ancestors in the spirit world— others have animal spirit guides they look to for guidance. It’s not as eccentric as is sounds.’ She added with a smile, reading the awed expression Elsa knew must be written across her dumbfounded face. Of course it made sense. Did not she hear her dead mothers voice calling to her from Ahtohallan? Did she not ride a spirit horse that helped to guide her? Perhaps the woman Ahtohallan had shown her had been her own past lifetime. It all started to make sense.

‘No, it doesn’t sound eccentric, it feels— correct somehow. More accurate than anything I was ever taught.’ She paused, thinking. ‘Maren, with these, previous lifetimes— do you suppose things that happen to us in those lifetimes will repeat themselves in this life?’

‘Yes, I think they can.’ Maren answered sounding thoughtful as she considered the question. ‘I’ve heard of instances where certain themes might be repeated or continued if something was left unfinished— some call it destiny or fate.’

Elsa looked down, nodding. ‘Do you think — is it possible to — change destiny?’

Maren shrugged. ‘Maybe. I believe we have free will to make our own choices. But alas, only Ahtohallan knows of our destiny.’

‘Ahtohallan.’ Elsa whispered, nodding in agreement. ‘Ahtohallan does know.’ She confirmed, as if speaking it would solidify the truth she wasn’t quite ready to accept. Ahtohallan had shown her exactly what had happened to the previous fifth spirit— very likely, her past self. Was it a warning to show her what might become of her in this life? Or was it showing her what will become of her, what must happen. Reminding her of her own inevitable fate.

‘The fifth spirit’s destiny is to protect the balance of nature — to protect people— to protect the world. No matter what.’ Elsa’s voice trailed off to a whisper as her thoughts returned to the haunting vision of the woman’s body collapsing lifelessly and dissipating into snow.

‘Hey.’ Maren said softly and bent down to meet Elsa’s downcast eyes. ‘That’s not the only reason you’re here. You’re here to live and enjoy and experience everything being human means. To love and be loved and all the good and bad that comes along with it. And remember, whatever is going on, I’ll help you figure it out. Just because you’re the one with magic doesn’t mean you have to protect everything on your own.’ Maren raised her eyebrows and smiled with kind eyes.

Elsa let out a breath and looked directly into Maren’s eyes.

‘Doesn’t it though?’ She spoke openly, honestly— tired of dancing around this subject. Maren quirked a confused brow at her. ‘That is my job Maren, to protect. That has always been my job— my destiny, in every lifetime apparently— whether I preside over a kingdom or nature itself. Ahtohallan knows it—  that’s why she called me here in the first place.’ She shook her head and looked down, unable to meet Maren’s eyes. ‘I cannot protect people if I accept help that would put them directly in danger.’

Hurt was apparent in Maren’s eyes and— was it a hint of betrayal? ‘What? Elsa, no— who will protect you?’  Maren asked, hurt and confusion threaded together in her voice. Elsa was already shaking her head. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt her, but she needed Maren to understand the gravity of this. ‘Elsa, if you keep trying to do everything on your own, you will end up dead— you’re still just a human. Humans can get hurt, they can die. Please let me help you— I can’t lose you.’

Elsa sighed and shook her head with closed eyes, unable to look at the pain in Maren’s eyes that was apparent in her voice. Yes, she probably was very likely going to die fulfilling whatever destiny the universe had in store for her this time, but no one else needed to be dragged down with her. ‘You sound just like Anna. Neither of you understands this.’

‘Understand what? That we would both rather die trying to protect your stubborn self than live with losing you? I think Anna and I understand that all too well— it’s you who can’t seem to grasp it.’ Maren’s heated voice cut through the air and hung there for a moment, briefly rendering Elsa speechless. She had never seen Maren get like this, let alone direct it at her— and it ignited a frustration within her that she didn’t know was there.

‘I don’t want anyone else to die for me!’ She snapped, surprising herself with the outburst. A light snow had started swirling around her suddenly and she stood up quickly, instinctively curling her arms around herself and needing to get away at once. Maren just stared at her, apparently dumbfounded at her sudden flare and also at a rare loss for words.

‘We have to stop pretending that I’m a normal person.’ Elsa said quietly, almost coldly. ‘I’m not. I never will be.’ She turned then and strode away at a clip, shaking her head and hugging herself tightly with anger and frustration as she went.

‘Elsa wait—’ Maren’s pleading call from behind her cut through her like a blade, but she scrunched her eyes closed and kept walking, squeezing herself tighter until it physically hurt, welcoming the distraction of pain from her freshly removed stitches.

They just did not understand this. People who tried to help her, or got too close always ended up hurt or dead. How many more times did this need to be proven before they listened to her? Who else would have to die to make this point clear? Maren? Anna? Talk about wanting to die. If one more person she loved was killed because of her, that was it. She would be done with herself and with life itself. There would be no coming back from that for her. Anna had been able to pull herself out of that cave after she thought Elsa had died— but then Anna had always been stronger than she. The fearless, loving stalwart girl who was going to lead Arendelle into the future.

That was Anna.

She was Elsa.

And what had Queen Elsa done when she thought she’d killed Anna? Collapsed, that’s what. She’d given in, succumbed to the pain and fear and overwhelming grief once and for all and accepted death like the weakling she knew she truly was. She wasn’t stupid, or deaf— she had heard Hans’ sword unsheathe behind her, had known exactly what was coming for her— and she had done nothing. In fact she welcomed it, finally righteously someone would put an end to the monster that had killed the only person who truly loved her. There existed, a very dark place within her that if faced with again, she would not recover from.

And where was she headed now? Her past self had died a violent death, and what could anyone have done about it? Absolutely nothing, except perhaps get themselves killed in the futile process of trying to save her— and where had she seen that play out before? That’s just the way it was, that was her life— her fifth spirit hell storm of a life, her destiny— and there was no point to pretend it was other. Protect. Restore. Keep balance. No matter what. For everyone else except herself. That was what she was born to do, and other people were not figured into that equation. She accepted it, and Maren and eventually Anna, would have to accept it too. Alone. If one thing was ever abundantly, repeatedly, consistently clear about the circumstances of her life, it was that. Everyone was better off when she was left alone.

Several more aggressive strides finally landed her in front of Anna and Kristoff’s lavvu. She stopped in front of the door, ran a hand over her head, took a deep breath and forced the irritating snowflakes that were swirling around her to dissipate. Anna would notice and she was not in the mood to dodge her probing questions right now. She heard no noises coming from inside — blessedly — so she knocked.

No answer.

‘Anna.’ She knocked again.

Nothing.

She knocked again harder. ‘Anna Yelena is holding a meeting and wants us there.’

Shuffling inside, then a grunt and an ouch in Kristoff’s voice. Finally the door cracked open a sliver and a teal blue eye peeked out at her, squinting at the bright sunlight.

‘Right now?’ Anna hissed in an exasperated tone.

‘You have maybe fifteen minutes.’

‘Ugh. Ok ok, we’ll meet you there.’ Anna said then closed the door in Elsa’s face.

Elsa sighed and turned away, absolutely not in any mood to put on a regal fifth spirit appearance and answer pointed questions she had no answers to. But she had done this before, many times in Arendelle, and so she would do it again now. She straightened up, threw her shoulders back, exhaled, clasped her hands together and dredged up the infallible persona that was almost too comfortable to slip back into.

Queen Elsa.

Her mask. Her shield. A facet of her personalty so ingrained into her being that it would probably take nothing less than death to sever from it completely. The perfectly formed outer shell of her stupidly complex fragile inner self. She glanced down at the crystal on her wrist as she walked and had to suppress the raging desire to rip it off and fling it into the trees, along with all its glaring, confusing, idiotic contradictions.

Who was she today? Was she fifth spirit Elsa, set course towards a lonely tragic destiny? Or Queen Elsa, so rigidly suppressed that she had murdered any semblance of the girl who may have once been known as Elsa. Right now for her, existing in equal states of frustrated anger and consternation, she seemed to be both, yet desperately wished she was neither.

Could she ever just be goddamn Elsa?

Free to touch and love and live like a normal human being?

Probably not.

She wasn’t normal. She never would be.

Who even was this girl, Elsa?

Did she ever exist?

She must have existed once, because Queen Elsa had murdered someone to become what she was. Then fifth spirit Elsa had overtaken Queen Elsa— though that seemed far less tragic than Queen Elsa murdering Elsa the girl.

There were other signs of her though, ghostly specters of this Elsa girl, rising from the dead, emerging sometimes in the presence of Anna and Maren, but not strong enough to overtake fifth spirit Elsa.

Fifth spirit Elsa was too important. She had a dangerous destiny she was born to fulfill — one that Anna and Maren weren’t to be a part of.

Without Anna and Maren, fifth spirit Elsa would probably be who she finally became permanently, while Elsa the girl slipped slowly, quietly into non-existence.

That was sad.

It was necessary.

It was confusing.

Too many facets.

Personas.

Contradictions.

Uncertainties.

Sadness.

Anger.

Fear.

No.

No fear.

Conceal it, don’t feel it.

No.

Yes.

No.

Yes, for right now.

Tamp it down.

Don’t let it show.

Don’t let them know.

Just for now.

By the time she reached the clearing she felt like her head was about to implode. It was also abundantly clear that she was late— which thrust her into anxiety anew. She was never late— lateness suggested a complete lack of respect for the other parties involved, and it was not something she wished to project, especially now, to these people. Yelena, Maren and all the other household leaders were already gathered, sitting cross legged, each on their own mat arranged in a large circle. Three mats remained empty, one next to Maren and two next to that one— presumably for her, Anna and Kristoff.

‘Sorry I’m late.’ She said quietly when it was apparent that everyone in the circle was staring at her. She wasted no time striding to her place beside Maren, moving as fast as she dared without looking ridiculously hurried. Maren’s soft, apologetic eyes locked onto her for a moment, but she couldn’t think about that right now. No feelings.

‘Is Queen Anna coming?’ Yelena asked as Elsa took her seat. Yelena’s usual hint of irritation was present in her voice, but perhaps not as obvious due to the formality of the circumstances.

‘She’ll be along shortly.’ Elsa answered in a calm measured tone.

A few calming breaths then: shortly suddenly became now as Anna and Kristoff came running towards the circle in the same direction from which Elsa had arrived.

‘Crap!’ Anna muttered as her boot caught on a stick and she lurched forward, nearly tripping, catching herself just in time to come to a fumbling, abrupt halt in front of the circle of people. All attention rapidly shifted from Elsa to Anna and Elsa closed her eyes, biting her lip in exasperation. Anna.

No, no emotion.

‘Sorry… Sorry.’ Anna mutter-giggled as she nervously skirted her way around the circle towards Elsa. ‘Sorry Yelena.’ She said again when she was near, then took her seat on the pad beside Elsa. Yelena let out a long sigh and Anna’s eyes flicked to Elsa nervously. She gave Anna a quick tight lipped smile, then turned her attention to Yelena.

‘Thank you both for finally joining us.’ Yelena said curtly. Elsa winced inwardly at the subtle dig but smiled and nodded. ‘This matter affects us all, so it is imperative that we are all present and all contribute today.’ Yelena continued.

‘Many of you are aware of the situation, some are not. It has been brought to my attention that rogue draugrs have been making appearances near our camp, and one has recently acted in an aggressive manner. This is out of character for them— as we know draugrs to be typically reclusive and benevolent creatures of magic. So, for the benefit of all present, Honeymaren will recant the details of the two known encounters with the creatures.’

Elsa listened as Maren rehashed what they had experienced during both draugr encounters, including the perimeter of scouts that were constantly patrolling.

‘The problem is,’ Maren stated in closing. ‘We don’t yet know what has suddenly caused the draugrs to emerge, let alone act aggressively. And that is what we need to understand before any further measures are taken against them.’

‘What of the kraken?’ An older man spoke out whom Elsa didn’t recognize. He was perhaps near an age to be her grandfather, though he still looked very strong and fit. ‘We saw what it did to the fifth spirit and the queen. This is another instance of a creature attacking that we should discuss.’

‘You may call her Elsa, Gunnar, please she has a name.’ Yelena cut in sharply.

‘Apologies. Elsa, Queen Anna.’ Gunnar turned to face them as he spoke. ‘I am Gunnar Somby, head of the fishing household— we want to understand why the kraken attacked you as well. Since that incident the fishermen have been cautious about going out to sea. They are afraid of meeting the same fate.’

Elsa paused for just a moment, making sure he was done speaking and that it was appropriate for her to answer. When no one else spoke up she answered him: ‘Yes, the kraken,’ She decided to use his word for the colossal squid to mitigate any confusion. ‘It attacked me and my sister on our return trip from Ahtohallan. Unfortunately I have no more understanding why it attacked us than I do about the strange behavior of the draugrs. These creatures are new and unfamiliar to me, I was hoping to gain better understanding of them to learn how to deal with the situation.’

‘The kraken, much like the draugr is very unknown to us as well— as neither have ever attacked us before. According to the stories of old, these particular creatures are benevolent protectors of nature and attack only when they feel threatened— was there perhaps, something threatening in the way you approached them?’ Gunnar’s question was carefully accusatory, yet it was a legitimate question to ask.

‘No, there wasn’t.’ Maren snapped quickly before Elsa could answer, her tone sharp but measured.

‘Forgive me Maren, but your relationship with the fifth— with Elsa, I fear is clouding your judgement. I would prefer if she answers for herself.’ A wave of embarrassment hit Elsa— did that many people really know about them already? She stole a sideways glance at Maren with her eyes. Maren’s eyebrow was raised in righteous indignation as if she couldn’t believe Gunnar had just said that to her— a look Elsa had come to learn Maren used when she thought something or someone was utterly stupid. Usually this look was aimed at Ryder but right now, it looked as though she might pounce on Gunnar. Elsa had the sudden urge to reach out and grab Maren’s hand to hold her there, but she didn’t. Instead, Yelena cut in.

‘What are you trying to say Gunnar, speak freely. Spit it out.’ Yelena said curtly before Maren could respond— Elsa was grateful for Yelena’s interjection.

‘Respectfully, I am suggesting that we were much safer when we were behind the mist— before the fifth— before she arrived we were never attacked by spirits or magical creatures.’ A few nods of agreement, hushed whispers susurrated around the circle, and Elsa suddenly felt extremely mortified and ashamed.

That was true— and these people knew it and did not want her here.

At least, they did not want her living amongst them where her mere existence would put them and their families in danger. This made painful sense.

‘That’s insane!’ Maren jumped in, and slid to her knees to gain more height. ‘We were prisoners behind that mist!’

‘We had no choice but to take the actions we took.’ It was Anna who spoke now, calm and measured unlike Elsa had ever heard her speak before— very authoritative, and it surprised her. ‘The dam — and mist— had to fall, it was killing the forest, the spirits were ravaging everything and it was the right thing to do. Our grandfather had no right to impose it upon your people.’

‘Don’t pretend like you brought down the dam for our sake, Queen Anna. We all know it was done in a last ditch effort to save your own kingdom from the wrath of the elemental spirits— which I might add, were reawakened with a vengeance by none other than the fifth spirit herself.’

‘Bringing down the dam sent a massive flood that nearly decimated my kingdom!’ Anna shot back in disbelief. ‘I did it to save everyone! And Elsa brought the spirits back into balance, if you were paying attention at all.’

‘That is enough of this!’ Yelena cut in harshly, commanding silence from everyone. ‘We are all adults here and need to act like it. Gunnar, the mother of these girls was Northuldran, they are one of us. I don’t care if one is the fifth spirit or the Queen of Arendelle or the bloody creator incarnate, you need to show them more respect than this. We are Northuldra, the people of the Sun. We protect our own, and work together to find solutions to problems that affect us all — that is our way— or have you forgotten this?’

Gunnar nodded his head, but said nothing further.

‘Perhaps, are you able to put the mist back in place? At least, until we figure out why the creatures are attacking— so that we will be safe?’ A woman chimed in, aiming the question at Elsa.

Elsa took a breath and looked at her. ‘No, I can’t do that, I’m sorry. I don’t know what formed the mist— it wasn’t my magic that created it or brought it down.’

‘Then what did control the mist?’ Another man asked.

‘I don’t know.’ Elsa answered honestly, painfully aware that she had not been able to give these people one concrete answer to any of the questions asked.

‘What of Ahtohallan?’ Another woman asked and others nodded in approval at the question. ‘What does Ahtohallan say we should do?’

Elsa sighed. It showed me the most likely way I will probably die. She thought sardonically but responded unemotionally. ‘Ahtohallan didn’t give us any insight on the creatures specifically.’

Grumbles and displeased sighs once again susurrated through the group.

‘It did provide me with this crystal.’ Elsa offered, and held up her wrist, wanting to give them something useful, and desperately needing to probe for possible answers. ‘I don’t yet know why Ahothallan gave this to me when it did, but I’m hopeful that it holds some key to the solution we seek about the creatures.’ She finished and more whispers and excited noises circulated.

‘Do you plan to go back to Ahtohallan for more answers?’ The same woman asked.

The air was thick with silence, everyone waiting on her answer. ‘Yes, I do.’

‘What?’ Maren and Anna both hissed simultaneously from either side of her. She closed her eyes and let out a breath, ignoring them.

‘Eventually, yes. If there is no other solution to be found, I will go back to find the answers we need.’

‘I would advise against that.’ Kalle put in from the left hand side of Yelena.

‘I agree.’ Yelena added. ‘It is too great a risk to go back there right now.’

‘Then what are we to do in the meantime?’ A woman to the left of Kalle asked. ‘Are we to just sit here and wait?’

‘I suggest we start brainstorming solutions.’ Yelena answered. ‘We already have a perimeter of scouts set up, we have a strong faction of warriors should anything attack. We also have Elsa’s magic to protect us.’

‘Yes, but what if it is her magic that the creatures are attracted to? The elemental spirits are drawn to her— they sense her. What if she is the reason the creatures are coming now?’ Gunnar was at it again, making her distinctly uncomfortable with his painfully accurate accusations.

‘Then I will leave.’ She said sharply in a strong commanding voice and stared straight at Gunnar. ‘I will leave.’ She reiterated again making sure all had heard her. She could feel Maren’s eyes boring into the side of her face, but she dared not look at her now.

‘No, absolutely not—’ Maren started in a heated tone but Yelena cut her off.

‘No one is suggesting you leave.’ Yelena said with a softer tone of voice than Elsa had heard her use all day. Of course, that was exactly what Gunnar was suggesting— and who knows how many others agreed but were refraining from saying so.

‘Yes but, suppose, just suppose it is her magic these creatures are drawn to— she would be putting us all at risk by staying here Yelena.’

‘And what would you have her do out there on her own Gunnar, get killed in her sleep by one of those things? Have you completely lost all sense of the ways of our siida? We are stronger together.’ Yelena shot back at him sounding as if she were dangerously close to losing her temper.

‘But what if the creatures attacking are completely unrelated to Elsa’s magic— then we are left here as sitting ducks if she leaves.’ A man to the right of Gunnar added with an apologetic face.

It was in that moment, that Elsa realized what these people wanted from her— they wanted her protection from afar. To stay close enough to protect them but far enough away not to be a threat. Welcome, but unwelcome. An omnipresent ethereal being, as queens and magical spirits were— of this world but not of this world — keeping watch from the invisible place on high, yet not truly existing in their reality. There, but not there. 

Non-existent.

Invisible.

Alone.

‘I think leaving might be a good idea.’ Kristoff cut in and it surprised her, dragging her from her thoughts. His voice was calm as usual but there was a slight layer of acerbic venom laced in his words that Elsa rarely heard from him. ‘I have friends who know a lot about nature— crystals in particular. If no one here has anything else useful to contribute, I believe we should leave and seek help from them.’ He offered lightly, yet there was still a snide air of acid in his words.

‘Yes.’ Anna added, her tone still far more mature than Elsa was used to hearing— very un-Anna like. ‘We will visit Kristoff’s friends, and then, until this is solved, Elsa will stay with us in Arendelle — where she will be welcomed and protected.’ Anna finished with a raised eyebrow as she stared daggers at Gunnar. ‘Does that sound like a solution that would please everyone?’ Anna was still staring pointedly at Gunnar while she spoke but her unusually authoritative— almost cold tone of voice caused others around the circle to nod in agreement. Elsa was staring at Anna, trying to reconcile the sister she knew with this new person who was speaking right now.

‘If you feel that is what’s best, I will not try to stop you. But please Elsa, know that you are always welcome here. As are you Anna.’ Yelena said and looked directly at them, her eyes soft and kind. Elsa nodded and smiled, but only half heard Yelena, her thoughts already formulating her new plan.

‘We will convene again, when any new information is confirmed.’ Yelena announced, effectively ending the Norraz. With that, a low din of chatter and whispers started to rise, while others stood up to leave.

Maren shot to a stand, her eyes locked on Gunnar and she started to stride towards him. Yelena, already standing, moved into Maren’s path causing her to stop abruptly.

‘Don’t.’ Yelena commanded in a low tone only audible for Maren and anyone in her immediate vicinity to hear. ‘Not right now.’

‘Come on.’ It was Anna who spoke, grabbing her hand and shaking it. ‘Let’s go.’

She didn’t question her sister, but got up wordlessly and allowed Anna to pull her off and away from the group.

‘Screw him.’ Anna hissed once they were far enough away so no one could hear, spinning to face Elsa. ‘He’s a coward. Willing to throw you to the wolves at the first sign of danger. So fine, we’ll leave then— go and find our own answers. We’ve always had to do that anyway, why stop now.’ Anna was pacing now as she spoke, her hands gesturing all over the place, animating her thoughts. ‘Useless…’ Anna muttered as she continued to pace. Elsa just stayed silent, her hands clasped, watching her sister vent her frustrations.

Anna finally stopped and looked at her. ‘Elsa—’ She said, quirking her brow then walking over to face her. ‘Elsa don’t.’ She said shaking her head. ‘You can’t take anything that man said seriously!’

Elsa just nodded in agreement. All of Gunnar’s points had been extremely valid concerns, but she was not in a mood to argue this with Anna right now. Anna eyed her suspiciously before continuing. ‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll go visit the trolls and then you’ll just come back to Arendelle until we figure this out.’

‘There you two are.’ Maren called out, letting out a relieved breath. ‘If you’re leaving I’m coming with.’ She announced as she approached them. ‘Gunnar is a biru jalla 1 . He’s always been like that, don’t listen to him.’

‘A what?’ Anna asked, quirking her brow at the Northuldran word Maren had slipped into using. Though by the tone of voice she used Elsa was fairly certain she knew what the word meant.

‘It’s— never mind.’ Maren sighed and waved a dismissive hand.

Anna’s eyes returned to hers, still squinting suspiciously. ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ She asked and grabbed Elsa’s hands.

‘I’m fine.’ Elsa confirmed, though Anna still looked at her as if she didn’t believe her. Anna glanced at Maren then back to Elsa.

‘I’m going to go find Kristoff, we should probably leave tomorrow morning.’ She said and squeezed Elsa’s hands. Elsa nodded in response. ‘I’ll see you two later.’ Anna said, glancing again at Maren before releasing Elsa’s hands and walking away.

Maren waited until Anna was out of sight, then turned to look at her, searching her eyes as she always did. ‘Elsa, I’m so sorry about before. About what I said.’

Elsa was already shaking her head. ‘Maren don’t. You don’t have to—’

‘No Elsa, I do. I just—’ She let out a breath and looked up for a moment before returning to Elsa’s eyes. ‘I just care about you so much— the thought of anything happening to you— it scares me. And I get protective, I guess — I didn’t mean to —’

Elsa moved forward and kissed her then, effectively shutting up the apology that Maren didn’t need to say— that Elsa knew she didn’t deserve. It scared her even more, the thought of something happening to Maren. Of course she didn’t blame her for feeling the same way— and she tried to communicate that with the kiss. How like her, Maren was and yet different in all the right ways. They truly were a perfect match, and she loved her so much. The only problem was: while Maren’s presence always made her feel safer, Elsa’s innate existence constantly put Maren’s life at risk.

And that, she simply could not allow.