Never would have Elsa Arendelle thought that buying some cheese for her, suddenly very Northuldra obsessed mother would change her life so profoundly. Well, buying cheese and doing her little sister a favor. Damn those puppy eyes and these pouting lip, that made a full-grown woman look like a six-year-old girl again, tugging at Elsa’s heartstrings, so Anna could ask anything of her, knowing she would get whatever she wanted.
She hated it when she used that dirty trick on her, and she hated it that it always, ALWAYS worked, no matter how much she tried to harden herself against its effects! But if she was true to herself, Elsa did not mind the excuse to escape her job for a few days. She loved being an architect, she really did! It was the perfect combination of her love for math and art but being the granddaughter of the founder and CEO ‘Arendelle’, the go-to place if anyone who wanted to build something in….Arendelle. Gods, she even hated the name nowadays!! What was her grandfather thinking? What had possessed him that made him believe that calling his business after himself and the land he lived in was a good idea??!! Had he no clue how stupid it sounded when Elsa had to introduce herself to potential clients?
‘Hello I am Elsa Arendelle, of Arednelle. It is an honor that you decided to do business with…you guessed it - Arendelle!’
She still could hear the old man, still see his pricing eyes on her as he spoke to her, that one time she had been foolish enough to say something.
‘Your lack of pride in your name is a disgrace. If things were different we would be royalty! Never forget that and try at least to not dishonor our name further!’
At that moment as he lectured her in this annoying, sagely way, she had hated him, hated him for his hurtful words, and all the other demeaning speeches that came before. It was such a strong feeling that she nearly had lashed out, stood up to him for the first time in her life but her well-trained urge to behave, to be a good girl had overpowered, this sudden spark of rebellion, snuffed it before it could do much more than making her feel ashamed of herself.
No wonder she struggled with new ideas for weeks now Elsa let out a long frustrated sigh, one finding her braid, playing with it like she always did when something was troubling her. Coming to the conclusion that she would not find the solution for her problem right now, she pushed them aside for now.
She was, after all on the longest road trip in the history of mankind so she could buy cheese for their mother’s birthday gift…no scratch that, Anna’s birthday gift for their mother! Elsa, of course, had already a perfectly fine gift that had not required a six-hour drive through the wilderness.
‘I should enjoy myself while I am at it!’ she thought, rolling her eyes at herself. Sometimes Elsa could not believe her sister and her wild ideas. Granted it was very fancy cheese, handmade with wild grown herbs and nuts, sounding absolutely delicious the more she thought about it, making her stomach growl but still just cheese!!
And of course, Anna had to have this ‘amazing idea just in time of Elsa's free weekend and had to set her mind on the only store in the whole world that did not deliver to your doorstep. She sighed angrily; mad at some imaginary, insufficient store owner who…did not deserve her crap for not having a postal system that could compare with the one in Arendelle. Not even when she only was thinking it, it was not their fault that they worked in Northuldra. That she could cross the border to of her homeland Arendelle still baffled her. It had been shut off from the world for 34 years by its ruling party, called ‘Dam’. When she was younger and had heard the name in school she had found it incredibly silly, laughing with Anna about it when she was home. Their mother had found them giggling madly while playing a silly game and the pained look in her eyes was enough to make sure that she never laughed about the name again. She did not need to hear the terrible stories she had told them, of what the people had to endure their every day while they could live in peace and freedom in Arendelle, only a few miles further south.
Nearly one year ago the people had risen against their leaders, millions acting as one, and the suppressors could count themselves lucky, that the Northuldra people only sought freedom and peace as they stormed government buildings and police stations everywhere, and not revenge. Elsa still remembered the trials that were broadcasted in Arendelle, and how impressed she was that the Northuldra were so merciful in victory as no death penalty was imposed.
‘Weaklings! No wonder they were oppressed for so long!’ her grandfather had said, and Elsa felt again something close to hate for this stubborn old man that she was unlucky enough to have in her family. Her hands gripped the wheel tightly, her knuckles turning white and she had to take a deep breath to calm herself. At least the view was breathtaking; the woods on the side of the small road were beautiful, beckoning Elsa to stop her car and take a stroll, wandering on and on, leaving these crushing responsibilities her grandfather burdened her with behind…..
‘Yeah like this could ever happen.’
Elsa thought bitterly like she could leave Anna behind like that. She sighed deeply; pushing these complicated feelings down, now was not the time. She had to be a good sister, a good daughter; there was no time for an existential crisis right now, she had to get this stupid cheese, drive home, deliver it to Anna and then maybe she could spent the Sunday in bed not moving a muscle before she had to face the new week.
And a short look on her GPS told her that she only had two hours to go…
As she finally arrived at her destination she sat for a moment in her car, the only one on the neat parking lot, and looked at the not so small shop…. more like a manufactory really. Everything was neat and clean, clearly build with a great eye for details and outstanding craftsmanship.
She wrote a quick text to Anna that she had arrived before stepping outside, letting the door of her car snap shot, without taking her eyes of the charming building, feeling ……weird, but happy to be here?
Shaking her head lightly she strolled over to the door that looked like it was for costumers and sure enough as she entered she found herself in tasteful decorated salesroom, spotless and even for Elsa high standards, perfectly organized. A young woman, around her age, greeted her; a friendly smile on her full lips, her green eyes had a cheeky spark in them as she spoke.
“Welcome, how can I help….”
She stopped, suddenly all friendliness gone, her face like a mask of pure astonishment, her mouth slightly open as she started for a whole ten seconds, not moving a muscle, then-
“Mother!! Mother, she is here!!” the young woman bellowed, opening a little door behind the counter, rushing through it and before Elsa could do much more than blink, and wonder if costumers were such a rare occurrence that such a reaction was justified as she returned with an old woman on her heels, her long white flowing behind her, her face strict but she could see that around her eyes many wrinkles appeared as she smiled at Elsa like she was her long lost daughter or something. Where there tears in her eyes?!
“Elsa.” she said, sounding like she had a bad cold and Elsa’s head started spinning as a total stranger, who knew her name, was hugging her so tightly that she could barely breathe.
‘And she knows my NAME!!!’
A few moments later she found herself sitting in homily kitchen, holding a steaming cup of coffee in her hands, which Iloh, the young woman that had greeted her in the shop, placed in front of her, a sympathetic smile on her face, her mesmerizing green eyes sparkling even in the dim light kitchen. The hot beverage burning away some of the shock, helping her to braced the whirlwind in her head, as she tried to, listen to Yelena, the older woman that Iloh had gathered in a hurry, calling her mother even though she doubted she had ever seen two women who looked less alike.
‘Maybe Iloh is adopted? NO! Concentrate! Listen to these strangers that totally change your life right now! I just wanted to buy cheese!!! I am going crazy here!?!?!’
She took a deep breath again, pushing her spiraling thoughts aside! Now was not the time to freak out!
“Ok, bear with me and walk me through that again if you don’t mind…..so my mother was…is a …”
“Yes child, she was born here in Northuldra, she is one of us and by extension so are you and your sister.”
“How do you know about us?”
“Some of our people could flee before Dam started operation Mist and closed the borders so there are a lot like you! Many children who were born and had no clue of their heritage not to mention the fortunes of their families had to leave behind as they fled. We want to return it to them, so we have collected information, hired detectives and lawyers to reach them. We have files of all of them including you.”
“Why did you never reached out?”
“To be honest you and your sister were not high on our priority list. You grew up well, with loving parents and there is no property for you left to inherit, but there are many young children, some only infants who where taken from their parents or are the sole survivor of their family line, given away to spirits knows where and to get them back is the more pressing matter right now.”
“Why did mother never told us about any of this?”
As she spoke she knew the answer. Both her father and her grandfather were men of Arendelle through and through, very traditional to the point of closemindedness and even though her father was sweet and kind-hearted, she was not sure how he would have reacted to mother being a Northuldra-refugee.
And her grandfather…well, ‘keeping to ones flock’ was the nicest thing she had heard him ever say about mixed couples. He was ‘traditional’ in the worst kind of way!
“I can’t speak for Iduna but my guess is that she stayed quiet for safety reasons. Dam was very dangerous. Jellet Uthale, your grandfather, spoke very openly against them and instead of targeting him, they go for his family. He tried to bring the youngest of his kin to safety and….well, he succeeded in his task with Iduna….”
A sharp sting shoot trough Elsa, a dark thought reaching her.
Yelena did not need to speak for, the sadness in her eyes telling Elsa all she needed to know.
“I am so sorry child…. Dam was very…thoroughly. I am afraid you three are all that is left of the Uthale line.”
It was the weirdest feeling - she did not know anything of these people, and even though there were blood-related they were strangers to her, yet she felt robbed of the opportunity to meet them and…..incredible sad that there were forced to fight like this….die like this, only to be free. It was all so unfair; so much to take in that it surprised her little as one or two tears escaped her eyes. She reached for her jacket to get something for her running nose but Iloh was faster, reaching behind her, opening a drawer and grabbing a big box of tissues, placing them with a wink and a kind smile in front of Elsa before refilling her cup with more coffee.
“Thank you.” Elsa said quietly, whipping her eyes and offering Iloh a thankful half-smile as she hold on to her warm mug like a lifeline. The young woman made a small hand gesture, that probably could be translated as ‘Don’t sweat it’ and besides everything Elsa laughed lightly, earning a big smile from both women.
“Look Elsa, I know this is a lot to take in. Why don’t you drive home, talk to your mother, your sister and let this entire…mess sink in. In private if you want to hear my advice, there must be a reason why your mother had not talked to you sooner after all. Here.”
Yelena opened another drawer behind her, pulled out a pen and some paper, swiftly writing something down.
“My number. Call me if you need anything. Give it to your mother and sister as well. Whatever it is, we will try our best to help you!”
The determent look on the old woman’s face left no doubt in Elsa’s mind that she spoke the truth, making her feel… safe?
‘Sure why not? The goal for today: feel safe with total strangers? Check.’
But Elsa only smiled and nodded, honest gratitude flowing through her, despite her sardonic thoughts. Yelena and Iloh brought her to her car, but not before Iloh had equipped her with so much cheese she could carry, a cheeky smile on her face as she helped her to store everything in her trunk.
“Our cheese makes everything better! Believe me, you and your family need a pick me up after you are done talking.” she had said, winking again and Elsa decided she liked this one, her friendly sassiness reminding her of Anna.
“Drive safe, child. And call if you…” suddenly her eyes grew big, looking at something behind her and before Elsa could turn around, Iloh grabbed her, pulling her to the side, just in time before the deafening sound of metal hitting metal exploded around them, and something heavy made the air move behind her. As she turned she found her car a few meters from its original parking place, a true monster of a car pushed it there. While Elsa still stood there dumfounded at hat had just occurred, Yelena already rushed to the car, ripping the door open, helping the driver with the airbag, asking urgently: “Ryder, are you alright?” as workers from inside the manufactory came running to see if they could help.
“Yeah, I am fine! Don’t worry about me.”
Deftly a tall, very athletic, young man with black hair and piercing blue eyes, jumped out of the car, looking indeed very alright, yet his face looked like a painful grimace and as she followed his gaze she mirrored his expression! Her car was looking less than fine.
‘Next time I get a car like this!’
Elsa thought as she sat next to Ryder, the guy who just crushed hers on an empty parking lot, rendering it useless for its intended purpose, while his car remained nearly unharmed. It was a real boneshaker, but with personality and the sturdiness of a mountainside apparently, still strong enough to pull her car to wherever he took her.
The poor guy had stumbled over himself to apologies, while Yelena gave him a stern lecture and the onlookers consisting of Iloh and the workers of the manufactory, bite their lips, all really trying not to laugh.
“You have to look when you drive you fool! Now bring her to your sister!”
Ryder had jumped at the idea, happy to have a solution for the mess he made.
“Yes, perfect! Don’t worry Elsa, Honeymaren can fix everything and she has room so you can stay the night!”
She was not really surprised anymore that he knew her name at this point, just happy that her laptop had survived the crash, and she had reception so she could call Anna, who promised to take care of the rest.
‘Thank the gods for that girl!’
She had not told her sister what she had discovered about their heritage, sensing that a talk from eye to eye would be best for this subject matter. With the request to meet up as soon as she could make it back to Arendelle and to bring mother along Elsa had hung up, the worry in her sister’s voice eminent but she did not press further, trusting her blindly and Elsa felt her heart swell.
She did not deserve her!
They drove in pleasant conversation, Ryder pointing out some landmarks, telling her all he knew the land of his ancestors. Their ancestors, her ancestors!
‘I can’t believe this…’
Her head started spinning again and to think about something else she let her eyes roam around the car that was filled with folders, for Ryder was one of the lawyers Yelena had spoken. The folders came in all shapes and sizes, some red, some brown. It was hard to believe that this innocent looking guy could hold his own in a lawsuit, but never judge a book by its cover.
“Can I?” she asked, more to distract herself further, then being actually interested in its content, and as Ryder nodded she randomly grabbed one of the red ones and opened it. Inside was a full-body picture of a girl, with yet black hair, dark skin, and face covered in adorable freckles while beautiful light brown eyes reminded Elsa of ambers gleaming in the sun. The picture was followed by a short personal description, age, birthplace and so on, and some names scribbled on a piece of paper, all crossed out so Elsa could not read them, followed by a list of neighboring countries with question marks behind them.
“Ah, picked the best one.” Ryder said, his voice suddenly gloomy, sadness and wild determination gleaming in his eyes.
“Gelwa Gattar. They got her shortly before we crushed Dam. Killed the whole family, expect her great-grandfather. He is very sick and they left him…left him lying among them as a cruel joke and a warning to us. Took the girl and sold her to spirits knows were…..but we will find her and bring her home!”
Elsa felt pity for the poor girl and her great-grandfather but the way Ryder spoke told her that he would try everything in his power to make his words come true, and suddenly she could see him in a courtroom, fiercely fighting for what he believed was right and respect joined to the feeling of sympathy she held for the young man, besides the fact that he played a very one-sided game of chicken with her car. Suddenly his face lost its stern touch, as he smiled again, his eyes glancing somewhat sheepish between her and the road.
“I was reading that file while driving. That’s why I….you know…crashed into your car….” he trailed of, on hand leaving the wheel to rub his neck, the tips of his ears turning pink in embarrassment. Elsa couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled in her chest, finding him utterly adorable.
“Well, if your sister can, like you said, repair everything then I might forgive you for your carelessness.” she jested, smiling though, already not mad anymore.
“Don’t you worry! Honeymaren can build anything, fix anything and pretty do anything else in between as well!”
‘Ok, I like this guy too!’ Elsa thought, turning to look at him, smiling at his deep conviction.
“Ah, here we are.” Ryder said, honking to make their arrival known to his sister and as Elsa looked, her eyes grew wide.
Only mere seconds ago there had only been the small road and the deep woods surrounding them, and now she found herself in the middle of the most beautiful yard she had ever seen. Not big and boastful like the one of her grandfather’s mansion, but smaller, yet well kept, a medium-sized workshop on the left, a chicken coop gracing its right side, it inhabitance peacefully picking for grains, not caring about Elsa’s and Ryder’s arrival. In the middle was a small house, build out of wood and stone, simple yet beautifully framed with the woods around it.
Ryder had not even stopped the car as Elsa jumped out, ignoring Ryder who called after her, her architect heart nearly danced with joy, inspiration hitting her like a train, ideas flooding her mind and she really wished she had pen and paper to hand! And then she was attacked, so swiftly that she had not even time to scream as something huge reached her, dark and strong in its onslaught, and she went down.