The cover image for "Sister Bear" is a color edit I made by putting together Jin Kim's Elsa concept art and Hbruton's polar bear sketch on dA.
Sister Bear (1)
Elsa dreamed again.
Leaving behind her 18 year old physical body tucked in bed, in her dream world she was 8 again and playing in the snow with Anna. They built a snowman together, like always. They hardly ever played around without Olaf. After they found a carrot nose for the snowman, Elsa and Anna had a snowball fight.
"That's no fair!" Little Anna giggled. "You can make lots of snow!"
Elsa ducked and weaved from Anna's throws. She hid from sight, attempting to surprise her little sister. She crawled around the snow fort they had made earlier. Elsa popped up from a mound of fresh snow. "Boo!" she cried.
Anna squealed with laughter and tried to crawl away.
"Too slow!" Elsa hurled the snowball. To her horror she aimed too high. Anna cried out as it hit her square in the face. She tumbled back onto the hard, icy floor.
"Oh no! Anna!" Elsa rushed over, only to find her sister turning white. There was nothing she could do to stop the ice. Soon Anna was stiff and lifeless, a cold corpse. She had killed her little sister.
Elsa woke up with a terrified scream. She shivered and panted, though she had only been in bed the whole time. She sat up, clutching the blanket tight in her fist and rubbing away her tears with a sleeve. The entire bedroom was covered with a noticeable sheen of frost, an involuntary expression of her fear. Her father and mother, the King and Queen of Arendelle, burst into her room with frantic concern.
"Elsa, what's wrong?" her mother asked. "Are you all right?"
"Always the same," Elsa whispered. "It's always the same. Happy dreams ending in nightmares...I keep dreaming of hurting Anna."
Tears quickly welled in her eyes again. The King put an arm around his eldest daughter and drew her close. "There, now..." he murmured in a soothing voice. "It wasn't real. Anna is safe and sound asleep in her room."
Elsa sniffed. "I...I didn't wake her up, did I?"
"No, dear. Everything is fine...now go back to sleep."
Her parents kissed her goodnight and quietly left her room. Elsa laid back and tried to sleep, but found it futile. All those years ago, she had been so close to killing Anna, accident or not. Her father's fascination with folklore and legends had paid off; the royal family got help from the mountain trolls before it was too late to save Anna. Elsa remembered the old troll saying how her powers were beautiful, but could also be very dangerous. She could only remember the latter. That's why she could never see Anna again. Elsa hated being separated from her sister. But it was because of her love for Anna that she had to close the door on her every time. Years have passed, and Anna still didn't understand why they couldn't see each other.
After minutes of tossing and turning in her bed, Elsa kicked back the covers and moved to her study desk.
That was what she did to cope with her fears and loneliness: read. It was all she could do when spending her days cooped up in her room, hidden away from the outside world. Books were her portals to that outside world. Her favorite was called Animals of the Cold: The Collective Mythology and Biology: a tome of real-life and mythical creatures that lived among the ice and snow. From Tibetan tales of Yetis and Inuit stories of orcas to eyewitness accounts of wolves and polar bears, Elsa felt like these animals were her only friends in her sad, lonely world.
"You like living in the cold," Elsa whispered to the pictures. "But people are afraid of you. If they could see what I could do, they would be afraid of me too. Sometimes I wonder if I'm meant to run in the wild...alone and free, so I wouldn't hurt anybody." Then she sighed. "But I can't. I am the crown princess of Arendelle, with responsibilities to fulfill. I must hide my powers from everyone, including Anna, no matter what."
Elsa nodded off to sleep after reading about the polar bears. She slumped in her chair, the book still spread over her lap. No nightmares came to her this time. Instead she dreamed of bears standing tall and strong like kings of the ice. They bared their teeth and roared. Fierce, fearless, and uncaring of the world. Elsa imagined herself as one of them, being the queen of her own ice kingdom.
Her voice joined with the bears' roars. "Here I stand, and here I stay. Let the storm rage on!"
But the storm wouldn't last. Her dreams of ice and the cold ended when morning sunlight streamed through her window. Elsa covered her yawn and stretched her legs. The book slipped out of her lap and fell with a heavy thump. Startled and fully awake, she quickly put it back on her desk. She scrambled to get ready for the day. Outside her window she watched 15 year old Anna play with her pony on the green field. Her little sister smiled and laughed, blissfully unaware of Elsa's struggle and isolation inside.
'It's better this way,' Elsa thought sadly as she got dressed. 'I'd rather she doesn't know than getting hurt again.' She studied herself in the mirror once she finished dressing. Honestly, she saw little point in taking the time to look nice and presentable when she hardly left her room anyway. Such was the dual life of a soon-to-be queen and a wielder of ice magic.
When it was almost noon, the King and Queen entered their daughter's room.
"Elsa, come have lunch with us," her father said. "We have a very important matter to discuss."
She followed them out of her room, both pleasantly surprised and curious. It had been a while since she dined with her parents. She also wondered what they could be talking about with her. With Anna playing outside, the rest of the royal family didn't have to worry about walking in the castle halls with Elsa exposed. In the monarchs' office, and over a lunch of tea, flat bread and smoked lamb, Elsa heard what her parents had to say.
"Elsa..." her mother began. "10 years had passed since you and Anna were forced to live separate lives. Your father and I are sorry that we've been putting you through this. It's time that we end it."
Her father stopped eating and he gazed at Elsa. "I'm sure you've heard of Iceland from geography class with your tutor."
She nodded. A large island cut off from the rest of Europe by leagues of water, yet still heavily influenced by Viking culture and heritage like her own country.
"What about it?" she asked.
The King continued. "I've heard all sorts of stories, from books and sailors alike. The volcanoes of Iceland have been said to possess potent magic. The fire that dwells within burns so full and bright with life...that they had been used in the past to lift the worst blizzards. Some Icelanders believe that volcanoes are tombs of fallen dragons, some dormant over centuries and some active from the dragons' lingering wrath. That wrath from active volcanoes...they call it Dragonfire."
Elsa bit her lip. "What are you saying, Father?"
The King and Queen of Arendelle exchanged a glance. Then her mother replied softly, "We believe that if we expose a little bit of this Dragonfire to you, it might purge you of your icy powers."
Elsa stifled a gasp. She looked down and stared past her half-finished plate. How was she supposed to feel? Elated? Devastated? She rejoiced at getting rid of the one thing keeping her from being a normal daughter, sister, princess...everything. At the same time she was frightened of never using her powers ever again. It was all or nothing.
"So...this means we have to go to Iceland," she finally said.
The King nodded. "We've already made preparations for the voyage. We just wanted to let you know before the day comes to set sail. Until then, we'd like you get ready as well."
"Yes, Father. I'll start packing my things today." Elsa returned to her room after finishing lunch. She barely packed anything; despite being born into a wealthy royal family, she never felt too attached to material possessions. Nor did she need many coats to keep her warm. Days passed by, and with each day Elsa anxiously waited for the time she would have to leave Arendelle. She still couldn't believe that there was actually a way for her to be free of her powers. It had been a part of her since the day she was born; it would be like removing a part of herself if her family made it to Iceland and Dragonfire really existed. But that was a risk and a sacrifice she was willing to make...for the sake of her kingdom and family.
When the day of voyage finally arrived, Elsa watched sadly from her window as her parents embraced Anna. 'When I come back from this voyage, I'll be able to hug them too. I'll be able to feel their warm embrace without hurting them.'
After a few minutes, the King and Queen came into Elsa's room and beckoned her to come out.
"It's safe to leave now," the King whispered. "We explained everything to your sister."
The King smiled apologetically at Elsa's hopeful face. "Well, not quite. We still can't tell her about your powers, or our trip overseas to find the cure."
"We just told her that we have an important business trip," the Queen said. "And that we're taking you along to prepare for your future as queen."
"Oh. All right." Part of Elsa wished her parents had told Anna the whole truth. But she knew this was for the best. It was still dark out when the royal family slipped quietly outside of the castle. The King and Queen shivered from the chilly morning air and tugged at their fur coats, but Elsa didn't mind the cold. It was a part of her, after all.
Elsa could easily see their ship docked at the port. Iceland was a long distance away, so their ship had to be big and strong enough to safely cross the sea. Wearing a blue hooded coat over her dress, Elsa kept her head low as her family approached the ship and its crew. Though the men her father had hand-picked were well aware why they went on this journey, she didn't want to draw too much attention. When the sun began to peek from the horizon and morning started proper, the captain signaled for the ship's departure.
Elsa had never been away from Arendelle before. As the ship sailed from the port she kept turning to look back. It might just be her last time seeing the castle. She wished she had the chance to bid farewell to her little sister. "Goodbye, Anna..." she whispered. "When I return, I won't have to shut you out anymore. We could be real sisters again." Elsa tried not to cry. "We could build a snowman again."
The King put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "All right, Elsa...Be a good girl and go inside."
She followed her parents into the cabin reserved for the royal family. Despite her first time ever traveling overseas, Elsa wasn't seasick as she had feared. The ship sailed smoothly over the waves, with a pleasant wind pushing the sails along. She was told to stay in her cabin at all times; her parents would bring her food, and when it was time for bed she'd share the room with them. To avoid being bored, Elsa had packed up a few books to read. But as days passed by, she could only read the same things for so long. Whenever her parents left her alone in the cabin, she would make little bursts of ice and snow to entertain herself. She felt as sneaky and guilty as a child stealing cookies from a jar. Elsa would quickly go back to reading as soon as she heard her parents return.
At night, Elsa would stare at the glowing lantern swaying overhead, imagining that it was Dragonfire that would finally make her a normal girl. "Father?" she whispered.
The King, half-asleep, stirred beside her. "Yes, dear?"
"Does Dragonfire really exist? What if we made this journey all for nothing?"
He touched her chin with his fingers. "I'd do anything for you and Anna. Even if the Dragonfire was all the way in China I'd still take the risk. You've spent all these years trying to conceal and not feel. Now you have to believe in me and your mother. A little faith goes a long way."
Elsa smiled at her father's loving reassurance. "Okay...I'll try to believe."
With each subsequent day of more boredom, Elsa consoled herself with the hope that kept her spirits up. She was sure that Anna had the same hope of her family returning to Arendelle after a successful voyage. One day, her parents entered the cabin looking quite concerned.
"I just talked with the captain," the King said. "He says there's a storm coming our way. We better stay inside."
Elsa's heart sunk. She knew she had to be good and obedient. But frankly she was getting tired of staying in the cabin all the time. The young princess yearned to see the open sky and waters. All she could do was nod at her father and return to reading about trolls and dragons for the umpteenth time. That night, Elsa felt the whole ship rock to and fro. She heard the storm roar and rage overhead. She snuggled firmly between her parents, all three of them swathed in fur blankets and coats. Closing her eyes and trying to sleep only made the storm seem all the more louder and violent. It drowned out Elsa's groan of frustration. She glanced at her mother and father, and inched ever so quietly out of the blankets. With hands on the walls she crept to the door of the cabin. She climbed onto the deck clutching the rails, almost blown away by the buffeting wind and ocean spray.
Elsa looked around and saw no one else on deck. 'The crew must've hunkered down too,' she thought. 'It's just me up here.'
The realization made her spirit soar. Alone and liberated, Elsa felt immersed in the storm and marveled at its power raging all around her. She knew she was a downright fool to be in the middle of a storm. She just didn't care at the moment. Anyone else would've been overwhelmed by fear or guilt and went straight back inside. Elsa remained on the deck, enjoying the mixed torrent of rain and seawater. Flashes of lightning briefly illuminated the tumultuous waters. She stared in awe at the sheer size of the crests. Her stomach dropped as the ship dipped through the troughs of the waves, then bucked up at the crests.
"Let the storm rage on," she said to herself.
And it did. The storm showed no signs of stopping. Eventually fear replaced her excitement. The ship fell under the merciless grip of the sea and wind alike. She heard panicked shouts of crewmen as they burst out of their cabins.
She had to shout to be heard. "What's going on?"
The captain was about to run past Elsa when he whirled around, utterly startled at the sight of her.
"What are you doing out here, Princess?" he roared. "Get inside right now! We're being thrown off course! My men and I have to secure the ship."
"We've been hit!" the lookout shouted from above. "Huge hole in the hull!"
The captain swore. "Get the King and Queen out of their cabin! Hurry!"
Elsa gasped. "Mother, Father!"
She ran after the men sent to reach the royal family. As they wrenched open the door, seawater surged out to knock them flat. Elsa cried out as it swept over her. The ship dipped, sending her flying across the deck. A burly crewman caught her before her body went over the rail. "Get to a lifeboat!" he shouted at her. "Royalty first. Save yourself, Princess!"
She struggled and cried out in protest as he carried her with one arm. "I'm not leaving my parents behind!" she cried. He ignored her pleas and bodily slung her into the nearest lifeboat.
Elsa clung on for dear life as the boat swayed like a pendulum meters above the water. Darkness and rainwater obscured her vision. Crashing waves and booming thunder assaulted her ears. She couldn't see or hear any of the crewmen as they desperately struggled to save the ship. The sea rapidly overwhelmed the ship like a terrible, hungry beast. The vessel groaned like a dying animal as its deck got flooded and the masts strained under the buffeting wind.
Suddenly a deafening crack split the air. Elsa looked up and gasped in horror. It wasn't thunder. One of the masts gave way. Splinters of wood flew everywhere as the mast tipped and fell into her direction.
"No!" she cried.
Her hands flew up out of instinct to defend herself. And out of instinct, ice flew from her hands to counter the impact. The ropes tethering the lifeboat to the ship snapped. She fell. Elsa screamed in pain as the boat hitting the water in turn slammed into her back. The force made her fly from the boat and into the water. Cold, icy wetness enveloped her. She gulped in some seawater as she tried to gasp for air. Eyes wide open and heart thundering in her chest, Elsa felt nothing but confusion and fear.
Then, in an awful, surreal moment, she stopped struggling when she saw the entire ship submerged underwater.
Elsa saw, but couldn't comprehend. The ship sank lower and lower, into the dark depths below. Somehow she found the strength and will to keep moving. She kicked as hard as she could, fighting to reach the surface. She broke out of the water with an explosive gasp. Her arms flailed, desperate to get a hold of anything other than seawater. Her right hand struck something hard. Wood. By some miracle, the lifeboat hadn't drifted away from her reach when she flew overboard. Ignoring the pain of the hand she might've broken, Elsa scrambled to climb onto the lifeboat. The heaving waves actually helped her by carrying her body up and then in. Her soaked dress pulled her down like dead weight, yet she gritted her teeth and fought to stay inside the boat. She slipped into unconsciousness. It seemed no different than the darkness all around her.
Dried salt from the water had almost sealed her eyes shut. Elsa had to struggle to blink her eyes open.
'Am I dead...?' she dully wondered.
Her body ached all over. The afterlife wasn't supposed to hurt this much. Somehow, she must be alive. She laid flat on her back, feeling herself dip up and down along with the water. A painful groan escaped her as she forced herself to sit up. For a moment she couldn't remember what had happened. Then she doubled over and whimpered. Her head seemed to split at the torrent of memories rushing in.
'The storm. The sinking ship. It was no nightmare...it really happened.'
Elsa looked down at herself. Her dress was utterly soaked and ruined. Her hair had been tousled from the howling wind and stormy waters; now her braid hung limply and heavily over her left shoulder. To her immense relief, she still had her gloves on. She needed them to keep her powers in check. Her right hand and wrist, numb from the cold, still throbbed with pain. She pulled off her glove and pressed at it gingerly, biting back a wince and feeling for any broken bones. She could still move her fingers. To her relief she concluded she just sprained her wrist. Spots of livid bruises already began to appear on her pale white skin. She slipped her hand back into the glove to cover her wound.
Then Elsa looked around. All around her the sea was eerily calm and quiet. Three other lifeboats floated nearby. One was turned over. That was all she could see as evidence of the shipwreck last night. The rest sank below the waves. Still, hope fluttered in her chest.
'Maybe they escaped somehow. Maybe they're just lying unconscious in a boat and I have to wake them up.'
Elsa cupped both hands around her mouth and shouted, "Mother, Father, are you there? It's me, Elsa! I'm on a boat. Please, answer me."
She called and called until her throat grew hoarse. There was only silence. Finally, she gave in to the terrible reality as she collapsed and sobbed. The King and Queen of Arendelle, along with the crew, had perished that night. Only she survived. Her disobedience had saved her life. Had she stayed in the cabin with her parents, she would've drowned with them too.
"Mother, Father...I'm so sorry. I don't know what to feel. I don't know if I should be grateful I'm alive, or wishing I had went down with you."
She grieved for the crew too, the captain and all those men whose names she had not and will never know. After what seemed like hours, Elsa couldn't shed any more tears, though her shoulders still heaved and her heart ached.
'I can't keep crying forever. The sea has enough salt water. Mother and Father would tell me to be strong and look for a way out of this.' Much as it utterly pained her, she steeled herself and turned away from where the ship had sunk.
Looking down at the lifeboat she sat in, Elsa felt it was time she got better acquainted with what she had...all that she had, now that she lost practically everything but a kingdom she'd someday inherit and a little sister who never really knew her, both so impossibly far away.
Elsa found a pair of long oars strapped together at the bottom of the boat. She hauled it upright, quickly getting her fingers sore from undoing the ropes. A princess would have no knowledge of sailor knots. Out of frustration, she grabbed a knife and hacked away at the ropes. She looked back and saw a large white tarp covering the end of the boat. She strained to pull the tarp away and rummaged through to see what she could find. She found a long and hefty whaling spear, a set of skinning knives, a whale bone whistle, rations of dried biscuits and venison, a bundled up fishing net and some sealskin coats. Elsa hung the whistle around her neck and frowned as she got a feel of how heavy the harpoon felt in her hands.
'I have no idea how to use much of these tools, but I'll keep them anyway. They might prove useful later.'
As soon as she pulled open the sack, just a whiff of the rations inside reminded her how ravenously hungry she was. Peeling off strips of dried meat, she took her time gnawing on it, getting as much flavor out as she can and savoring the taste while it lasted. To swallow down all the saltiness in her mouth, she took bites of biscuit. Surrounded by nothing but deep blue water and a clear sky above, it was as if the storm never happened at all. It came and it went, taking away her mother and father in one night. Elsa felt mocked by the beautiful weather, as if the world moved on and never stopped to take pity on the orphaned and stranded princess of Arendelle. She felt so small, so insignificant. The winter sun couldn't warm the emptiness of her heart.
Suddenly something caught her eye. Elsa straightened from her slouched sitting position and squinted. At first she took it as the sunlight's reflection on the water, white and blinding. But it moved steadily closer by the second.
Elsa couldn't believe her eyes. It was a polar bear.
'The smell of dried meat must've attracted it.'
The bear kept its small black eyes trained on the boat. Sea mist flared from its nostrils as the bear snorted and grunted.
Elsa didn't know how far away from Arendelle she was. She could only make a wild guess that she was stranded somewhere between Iceland and Norway, in the middle of nowhere. But she knew for certain that polar bears never reached this far south. They usually kept to the sea ice all the way up at the Arctic circle. Unless that sea ice broke up and drifted for miles away, or food was scarce...Whatever the cause, Elsa knew this bear was far from home.
She bit her lip with unease. 'I wonder if they eat people.' Then, as she took pity on the bear floundering aimlessly in the water, she thought of something even more unsettling: 'At this rate, with nothing else around, the bear could get tired and drown. I could let it into the boat.'
She quickly stopped herself. She wasn't taking any chances. Only a complete fool would think of bringing such a dangerous animal onboard. She didn't even know if the boat could support the bear's hefty weight. The bear was so close she could hear its dogged pawstrokes in the water. She heard its claws scraping on the wood. She gasped in alarm as the bear poked its head and huge paws at the boat's rail, tipping the whole thing ever so slightly. Elsa seized the harpoon and pointed it at the bear.
"No! Get away!" she shouted.
The bear growled at her, curling its black lips back to bare long and sharp yellowed teeth. But it looked too tired to heave itself onto the boat and tear her to pieces. Elsa thought she'd never live to see a polar bear up close. She looked into its beady black eyes, and beyond the surface of animal instinct she saw loneliness and fatigue within. There was doubt and fear beneath that fearsome strength.
'This polar bear is just like me...'
Elsa closed her eyes, thinking for a long time. What should she do? Chase it away and leave it to die like a monster, or take it in as a friend? Then she slowly turned the whaling spear so that she offered the blunt end to the bear. "Well? Do you want to get on or not?" she demanded.
The polar bear stared dully at the spear inches from its face, suspicious and unable to understand.
'It came because of the food. Then I'll persuade it with some.'
Elsa fished out a chunky piece of venison from the sack she had opened. With thin rope she hastily tethered the meat to the end of the harpoon. She extended the weapon again. Only then did the polar bear snap its jaws shut on the spear, just as she predicted. Elsa pulled on the harpoon, gritted her teeth and leaned back as far as she could, using herself as leverage for the bear. There was no way in the world her strength alone could pull up the bear. Thankfully it made an effort to climb on, saving Elsa from the danger of breaking her back. Her eyes grew wide with fear and alarm as the boat began to tip from the bear's weight.
Her powers responded to her fear. Thick sheets of ice formed underneath her feet, weighing down Elsa's side of the boat as the bear clumsily climbed aboard. When the bear had all four paws in the boat, it finally let go of the harpoon. Elsa yelped as she fell back and nearly flipped headfirst over the rail. She clutched at the wood, wide-eyed and out of breath. Then she blew out a gusty sigh of relief, the ice dwindling as her fear faded away as well.
She finally got a good look at the polar bear now that situated itself on the boat. It was just so big. With seawater slicking its yellow-white fur flat, Elsa could only imagine how enormous it must be when its fur dried. Its paws, broad, flat and tipped with long claws, could break her bones in a single swipe. Its teeth looked just as deadly. The polar bear grunted as it sat down on its big haunches and finished the meat. It ruffled its wet fur, splashing drops of water all over Elsa. Her hands flew up to shield herself despite the fact she couldn't get any wetter.
'Okay...now what?' she thought, feeling completely lost.
Her parents were gone, and so was her one chance to get rid of her powers. She would probably never see her home or her little sister either. Elsa looked up at the sky, so blue and vast as the sea beneath her. Then she looked to the bear, shaking her head in disbelief at herself.
"God and St. Olaf protect me," she breathed. "I'm stuck at sea with a polar bear. I saved its life...but have I doomed myself?"
I hope you've enjoyed this so far. I welcome any comments and feedback!