I was inspired by the very beginning of Game of Thrones (show and books). "One who passes the sentence must swing the sword" is quoted by Eddard Stark, and a saying the north of Westeros went by when it came to execution. I felt compelled to write about what Elsa would do in that situation. The idea just popped into my head while I was working on other multi-chapter fics for Frozen. I tend to do that a lot, haha.
Rated M for gore/a beheading scene. You were warned!
Blade of Winter
Too many easily envisioned and envied the privileges that came with being a queen. And too few were aware of the great responsibilities that come with great power.
Arendelle, a kingdom of the cold and unflinching north, continued to carry on Viking culture and traditions. One such belief asserted that there was no honor in condemning a man and letting someone else finish the deed. Like a winter chill, the words embodied the north and daunted the south: One who passed the sentence must swing the sword.
Queen Elsa of Arendelle heard that law cold and clear in her head as she presided over today's trial. From her throne she gazed down solemnly at the young man in chains, just a few years older than her but unkempt and gaunt from his days in the worst cells of the dungeon. He kept his eyes downcast, never daring to look up at his queen. And would-be executioner.
Finally she broke the grave silence: "Gunnar Asgeirsson, you stand before me and the court of Arendelle accused of slaying your younger brother and making a failed attempt to defect from Arendelle. Do you deny it?"
Though he cleared his throat, Gunnar's reply still came out low and hoarse. "No, your highness."
"I see that you've been stripped of your army medals and titles upon your capture and imprisonment. However, a sentence to prison for life will not suffice for the severity of your crimes." Elsa fell silent for a few moments, closing her eyes and clutching the armrests. A heavy sigh escaped her as she looked back at Gunnar. "For your acts of kinslaying and treason, I hereby affirm your execution...which will take place first thing in the morning."
Her cold, hard verdict that resonated throughout the court masked the thundering of her heart and weakness of her legs. If Gunnar ever felt burdened by the weight of his crimes upon his shoulders, Elsa felt crushed by the weight of her duty.
'This was the easy part,' she thought. 'My words must come to fruition by my actions. Tomorrow I will have to execute him myself.'
Even as the trial came to an end and people left the courtroom, Elsa remained sitting on the throne. She didn't have the strength nor will to stand. Feeling both an incoming headache and numb dread, Elsa put both hands to her face and furrowed her brow. Anna, who had been by her sister's side the whole time, gave Elsa a sympathetic hand on the shoulder now that it was just the two of them left.
"I'm so sorry, Elsa..." Anna whispered. "I wish there was some other way..."
She shook her head helplessly. "There is none. I am bound to the law, and I must fulfill it."
Elsa was well aware of the good and the bad that came with assuming the throne. Isolated from Anna and taught by her parents since she was a child, becoming queen was her birthright and destiny. She had been trained for this. But prepared?
'Could I really go through with this?' Elsa thought. 'Am I able to kill a man by my own hands?'
Rising from the throne, she gently brushed away her sister's hand. "I have to practice now," she murmured.
Anna understood, and didn't object. Her heart went out to her older sister as Elsa left the courtroom, trailing a sheen of frost and mounting fear behind her.
In the private solitude of her room, Elsa had no appetite for supper. She left her food largely untouched as she spent her time making practice swings with Snowfall. Handed down to her from the late king, the broadsword was among the oldest heirlooms wielded by those who headed the royal family of Arendelle. Like a shard of ice, the blade gleamed with a cold light and cut just as well. Its name seemed all too suitable for what the sword was meant to do: snuffing out the warmth of life with cold steel. Though Snowfall's blade had been made thinner and lighter for the young queen, it still felt impossibly heavy in Elsa's hands.
She frowned as she stared at the hilt, topped with not the usual spring flower but a snarling wolf's head. Unlike the crest of Arendelle that represented new life and graced practically everything around the kingdom, only the wolf's head would suit the sword's role in bringing death. Elsa could feel the clammy sweat in her hands even as she wore gloves.
'I can't afford to carry out an execution with a weak grip like this.' Her stomach clenched. 'Just a single strong and clean cut...that's all I have to do...'
Gunnar had been a soldier for Arendelle before his treacherous actions. It was only fitting that he who fought with a sword must die by the same instrument of war. A beheading was also a sort of honor, a relatively quick and painless death compared to other gruesome methods of torture reserved for commoners. But having a head severed could be just as painful if Elsa wasn't careful enough to make the fatal stroke. A dull blade or a clumsy grip might require multiple strokes to sever the head. The thought made Elsa shudder.
Late into the night, she couldn't get any sleep. She had too much on her mind, too much worry and fear. She hadn't felt this nervous since her coronation a year ago.
'I wonder how many executions Father had to carry out...'
The late king of Arendelle was remembered as a strong and generous ruler. Though Elsa only knew him as the kind and loving father he had been to her, deep down she knew he wouldn't shy away from a death sentence when the time called for it. Since becoming queen, Elsa fervently hoped she would never have to exercise this dark aspect of her authority. She shut her eyes and clenched a fist.
'I ran away before. I will not run away again. Not even from this.'
Elsa got little rest, but had no problem waking up early. Much as she dreaded today, at the same time she just wanted to get it done and over with. She supposed she felt a little relieved that the execution would be held privately. Criminals sometimes took an odd pleasure in being a spectacle as they were dealt justice. Only a select few individuals would witness Gunnar's beheading today. As the princess, Anna had to be there too. Elsa didn't know whether to feel comforted or even more nervous about that.
Flanked by Baldor, a tall and burly man who bore the sheathed Snowfall for her, Elsa was the last to make an entrance into the courtyard. It was a cold day, but she hardly felt it. Hiding her anxiety behind a stiff mask, Elsa surveyed the faces of her subjects, her sister, and lastly the accused. A pair of guards roughly pushed down Gunnar so that he knelt before the block. Elsa saw no trace of fear in his face.
"Gunnar Asgeirsson, do you have any last words?" she asked.
He looked up with dull eyes. "Arendelle is doomed to fall. With you as the Snow Queen, I only saw a future of endless raids upon our land. Warlords and kings would either want a challenge or a taste of your icy powers. My brother and I planned to leave the army and sail for the Southern Isles. But his resolution wavered, and he paid the price. I lost faith in my queen, so I must pay the price too." His intense gaze sent a chill running down her spine. "Prove me wrong, your majesty. Swing down that sword without hesitation and give me a quick death."
He fell silent and said nothing more. Shaken by his last words, Elsa finally acknowledged him with a curt nod. At this, the guards pushed his back so that Gunnar laid prostrate on the block. All eyes were on Elsa. She turned and unsheathed Snowfall. She clasped the hilt with both hands and let the point touch the ground in front of her.
"In accordance with the law and for your crimes against the kingdom...I, Queen Elsa of Arendelle, sentence you to die."
Absolute silence reigned over the courtyard. Despite her bowed head, Elsa couldn't take her eyes from the whiteness of Gunnar's exposed neck.
'You heard what he said,' she told herself. 'Give him a quick death and be done with it.'
Elsa hefted the sword so that the blade seemed like an extension of her arms. She tightened her hands on the hilt so that she felt the jaws of the wolf head bite into her palm. 'This is justice, not murder.'
With that thought, and just as she had practiced, the young queen swung the sword so that it arched in the air with a flash as the blade caught the sunlight. Then it came down with all her strength like justice in the form of steel.
The blade of winter took Gunnar's head clean off. The headless body slumped against the block as dark red blood gushed from the open neck. Sickened, Anna turned away. But Elsa couldn't afford to do that. In front of her subjects, she had no choice but to stare down at her grisly work, to see if she had done her job properly. Her initial reaction was numb disbelief.
'I can't believe I did it...'
It was when she laid eyes on the severed head, that glassy gaze, the mouth still moving in a slow, involuntary gape...Elsa felt her stomach twist into knots. She weakly gestured for the guards to take away the remains that was once a living, breathing man. Baldor gently pried the blood-slicked Snowfall from her hands.
"You did well, your majesty," he said softly.
Elsa only nodded without a word and took smooth, quick steps to leave the courtyard. Anna and the subjects made to accompany her, but she waved them away.
"Please, I need to be alone," she said in a wavering voice.
Feeling a terrible sickness seize her, Elsa ducked into the shadows of a nearby alley and violently threw up. She leaned against the wall to keep from collapsing. Hot tears ran down her face and her body shook like a leaf. Disgusted with herself, Elsa stumbled a few feet ahead before sinking to the floor, paying no heed to her dress as it pooled over the cobblestone. She hunched her shoulders and clutched her stomach, feeling lightheaded. As she sobbed, she almost didn't hear her younger sister call out.
"Elsa? Are you okay?"
The distressed young queen kept her face buried in her folded arms. "Anna...I told you to stay away..."
She stiffened when she felt her sister's arms embrace her. Instead of pulling away and collecting herself, Elsa leaned against Anna and cried even harder. Seeing Elsa like this broke Anna's heart.
'She carries such a heavy burden. She does her best to carry it on her shoulders, but I see her struggle under its weight. With no king or husband, Elsa had to handle the execution all on her own. The law can be so cold, even for the Snow Queen...' Anna felt nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for her older sister. 'I'll never be able to understand how she felt then, and feels now, going through all of this...All I can do is be there for her.' Anna rubbed her older sister's back, trying to suppress the shaking of her shoulders.
"I...I've never killed anyone before," Elsa sobbed. "He was a traitor, but he had a family and a life...And just like that, I took off his head." She would never forget the way it fell away and rolled on the floor. Thinking of it made her want to vomit again. She gritted her teeth and more tears welled in her eyes. "I'm such a monster..."
"No, you're not," Anna said with gentle firmness. "You did your duty. You had the strength and honor to carry out the sentence right to the end. You're a good queen, Elsa. Believe me."
Elsa looked away. "Easy for you to say, because you're my sister..."
"I speak on behalf of our people too." Anna took Elsa's trembling hands into her own. "You're strong, everyone knows that. But you have a good heart, too. The proof is right here." Anna reached out to touch Elsa's tear-streaked face. She managed a little smile. "I could never have the strength to hold Snowfall the way you did. Then for you to shed tears over a man you had to kill...you truly are amazing, Elsa. Arendelle's in good hands with you ruling. I have absolutely no doubt about it."
Elsa wiped away her tears with a sleeve and gave Anna a grateful smile. She let Anna help her up and they headed back inside together. It would take her days before she truly got over the execution. Elsa felt as if she had blood on her hands she could never wipe away. But in the mean time, she felt so blessed to have Anna by her side. Flower of life or wolf of death, in times of peace or war, Elsa would always be the queen of Arendelle.