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Turn Around and the Time Has Flown

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They had been married for a year and a half before the need to talk about baby names with any sense of immediacy arose.

Cuddled in a window seat, Iduna felt cold despite the summer sun streaming in and turning their refuge a small greenhouse. As they tried to name the life that was growing, the life that would make them a family in a new way, Iduna enjoyed needling Agnarr by choosing the names of his foreign would-be brides. The women who would have been queen if Agnarr had consented to match-making for an alliance.

“I had so hoped to name our first daughter Tunde, or perhaps Erzsebet.” She sighed dramatically and placed a hand on her waist, where only the faintest roundness showed that a baby would be born in another six months.

Agnarr had beads of sweat on his forehead from their spot in the sun, but stayed next to Iduna, one arm around her shoulder as he held her, his other hand tracing delicate circles around her middle. “Oh? And is your very favorite name Alexsandra? I hear it’s all the rage on the continent.”

Iduna laughed, pleased he had known she was having fun, and not still tender about his time hosting and wooing women from several kingdoms.

“And what if it’s a boy? Shall we name him after your father?”

Agnarr sighed. “I suppose that would be expected. But that’s a heavy burden to carry, the name of a king who died in battle. Maybe one of your brothers’ names?”

Iduna wondered if her brothers were even alive. They might have died in the battle too. It was a sad thought for what should be a happy time, a birth recalling those who were dead one way or another in her life here in Arendelle. Naming her child for in honor of her Northuldra family might be the only way for those names to live. But it might also reveal her origins and put the baby in danger.

“I think my brothers’ names are too foreign for Arendelle. People will wonder.” She thought some more, wanting a way to be herself and be safe. It was a delicate negotiation she began during her first days at Eir’s and continued now even as Queen. “My grandmother’s name was Elsa. She was the one who made my shawl, who wrapped me in it when I was born. I’ve heard that name here, too.” Iduna shivered slightly, the warm memory of her grandmother not changing how the very breath inside of her felt cold.
“Elsa. I like it.” He leaned in to kiss her, willing the heat of his body to warm her, to stop this chill that seemed to grow with the baby.

***

Elsa was an easy baby and grew into a happy, pleasant toddler. She was content to be near her mother even if her mother did not rise from the bed. She sometimes refused her soup by freezing it in the bowl, but mostly was intrigued by the snow she accidentally made, surprised and delighted each time by its appearance.

She was a quiet child, content even at a year and a half to play silently with the figurines Henrik brought her as a baby gift.

“Noah’s ark? For a baby? Isn’t that a little gruesome?” Iduna had asked when Henrik presented it to the new parents at the baptism.

“It’s a Bible story! I’m trying to be respectable. Considering some of the other gifts I’ve offered Agnarr over the years - ”

Agnarr had cut him off with a hearty clap on the shoulder and a laugh. "Thank you, Henrik. It's very thoughtful. I'm sure Elsa will love it."

Agnarr, while proud and delighted that Elsa had the gift of magic, knew it wasn’t wise for the whole kingdom to know. The prejudice against magic had only grown since the failed Northern Expedition. The Arendellians still suspected the magic of the Enchanted Forest was to blame for both the massacre and the mist that kept its secrets, denying closure to those whose loved ones had vanished behind it.

He knew keeping her secret close was the best way to protect both his magical daughter and his Northuldra wife. And in a northern kingdom like Arendelle, it was not hard to explain away the chill or the wet that followed in the small child’s wake. What babies weren’t wet in one way or another?

It became harder to keep magic a secret with Iduna’s second pregnancy. Only Midwife Jora was allowed to tend to Iduna, in bed, feverish with an unbreaking consistency. Elsa was in the room, cooling it intermittently with the ice magic she couldn’t control.
The fever-reducing remedy had no effect and even Elsa in the room could offer little relief for the heat building inside of the Queen’s body. Iduna felt thick and swollen, was thick and swollen. The constant, oppressive heat made her feel like she was in the mist surrounding the stones that marked the border of the Enchanted Forest. It was wrapped around her, pressing in, giving her days the sensation of a strange dream.

Elsa would walk over to her mother, touch her head and arms with her cool hands, and Iduna would stroke her daughter’s hair, fighting through the haze to be present.

A raven appeared at the window one day and Elsa clapped to see it, called to it saying "Hi Bird! Birdy!"

Iduna turned in the bed to see, already a cumbersome process even though the baby was not yet large. She turned white at the sight.

"It's a raven."

When Agnarr came to the room the night, she told him, crying at what she had seen, able to express her fears now that Elsa was tucked in her own bed down the hall and would not witness it.

"It was a raven. They bring death." Her voice hitched on the last word. Agnarr took her in his arms, cradling her like a baby. She seemed smaller to him somehow, this pregnancy was diminishing her in a way that alarmed him. He would speak with Midwife Jora in the morning. Surely she knew something else they could try besides ice baths and cooling cloths.

"It's an Arendellian Raven. They bring messages from the old gods, from Odin himself. It's a good sign. It's a sign of blessing, of favor. Not ill will."

Agnarr said so in his king voice, the one he used to give commands and quell disputes. As if by ordering it, by wishing it, he could will the baby healthy and his wife whole.

"Then why do I feel death close?" she asked, barest of whispers, a layer of sweat keeping her body wet and uncomfortable.

She was right, though she didn't want to be. In her seventh month, Midwife Jora helped with the too-early delivery and baby Revna came out in a rush of red and heat. Iduna slept for an entire day and, when she woke, the heat was no longer a palpable force inside of her. She had aching breasts filled with milk and arms that ached to hold a baby. Midwife Jora laid cabbage leaves on her breasts and served her sage tea, and Iduna wondered how part of her body could be so ready for a baby although she had failed to bring that baby into the world alive.

***

After Revna, they didn't want to choose a name until the baby was born. Iduna felt wonderful the entire pregnancy; hadn't even realized she was pregnant until the fourth month. Her cycle had not been regular since her first, especially after Revna, and it wasn’t until she felt the baby stir inside her that she knew.

She was used to pregnancy making her entire body feel foreign - too hot, or too cold. But this time, she just felt joyful. It was a gift, to feel like herself. To play with Elsa and dig in the dirt and accompany Agnarr to council meetings. As she got larger and larger in the summer months, she and Elsa would take off their shoes and stockings and wade into the pond on the castle grounds. Iduna and Agnarr showed Elsa the gardens and grounds and all of the surprises one could find there, the lichen and boska and rosemary touched and felt and brought back to the castle for observation. And, often, frozen accidentally on the way.

Agnarr delighted to watch his wife and daughter through the castle windows while he was confined to a council meeting or dictating correspondences. Though Iduna had no complaints this time, he once again moved Midwife Jora into the castle. He watched his wife warily, waiting for the fevers or the chills to plague her again. At night, she soothed him. "See how strong I am? See how strong the baby is?"

She stroked his face and kissed his mouth and laid her head on his chest, trying to give him the strength and calm she felt in her bones. But still, the memory of Revna was too close. Naming this child felt like claiming something the spirits and gods hadn’t yet decided to give them. Neither one of them dared to name the still-growing child, afraid a name would make the grief unbearable if this child too could not take a breath.

So when she was born, kicking and squalling, they both felt it was a gift beyond compare, riches beyond their comprehension. "She's a gift, our Anna. A gift of grace and beauty." Iduna cupped Anna’s head, seeing the hint of red hair, delighted to see Agnarr in miniature.

"Two daughters! Sisters! I hope they'll never be as lonely as we were as children. They will always have each other,” said Agnarr.

At Anna’s birth, his joy was so deep and complete he had to be reminded to attend to the duties of king. For the first time, he forgot about council meetings, forgot about troop reviews and ceremonial duties. He stayed next to Iduna, holding this tiny miracle child who survived, who thrived, who looked like him when no one else on earth did.