Elsa opened her eyes, for the briefest of moments she thought she was still in the diary when she saw the vaulted ceiling above her, but it was quickly replaced by the recognition of the thatched roof above the rafters. Suppressing a groan, she rolled over under the covers. Everything ached, and the movement started a low pounding in her temples. She shut her eyes, the images of everything that she had learned floating across her mind's eye.
It was a lot to take in, but now that she was free from the emotions involved, she could reflect upon it quietly. The tragic figure of Freja was too familiar, she very well could have wound up a monster had she lost Anna- but it was the love of Freja's mother that had saved Elsa's ancestors, much in the way Anna had saved her... yet, this was inevitably the source of the curse; and the power running through her veins was proof that an act of true love was simply not enough to lift it.
'What more can be done?' Elsa wondered, feeling the weight of hopelessness once again press on her heart. 'If not even Alva could reverse Freja's- no, Maleficent's, spell when it was new- how can I hope to lift the curse now?'
The shuffle of paper got her attention, and she warily opened one eye to see who was in the room with her. Francis' hunched profile near the fire place was a welcome sight. In the semi-dark of the room, his nose was practically inside the book he was trying to read. He leaned back and shuffled forward a few pages, then he dove back in.
Elsa watched him for a few moments, trying to place a warm feeling that came over her. With Francis, she felt safe. She wanted to know more about him, why he'd come to study at the Monastery... how he could read the magical book that had brought her to this place- overall, he was still a mystery to her- this bookish, slightly clumsy, brave young man that had held her hand through this entire experience. She found herself mesmerized by his profile, wondering what he thought of her.
As if he could sense being watched, he glanced up from the book and turned his head her way. Embarrassed by her thoughts, Elsa quickly looked away and lightly coughed.
"Elsa, you're awake!" excitement leapt into his features and he uncurled from the chair, grabbing a tankard from the desk.
"Here's some water, I'm sure you're thirsty- you've been asleep a while."
She wasn't surprised to find she was thirsty after he mentioned it, and graciously accepted the offered drink.
"How do you feel?" he sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, a familiar position from the past few days.
"Like I've caught in raging rapids and lived to tell the tale." Elsa answered honestly. "Everything aches, my head is pounding- and I'm not sure what to do now, Francis."
She looked down into the tankard, the dark water reflecting fractals of light.
"I came here to find answers about the origin of the curse... and I have- but what I thought would lead me to a cure has only presented me with the possibility of a longer journey... and has not done much to bolster my hope of ending the curse once and for all. If anything, I'm less sure now that it can be done than three days ago."
Francis took her hand and squeezed it gently. "Would it... would it be so bad if the curse could not be lifted? You've learned how to control the powers of ice; knowledge you could pass down through to future generations."
"No." Elsa sighed. "No, it's not enough. I don't want this to continue; to have anyone else know the pain and isolation that the curse can bring... I have to end it."
Francis was silent for a moment. "I-I have been doing some research while you were resting. I think I've figured out a few things from what Alva tried to show us through the diary- and what you've told me about your powers. To me, it seems like all of this magic is deeply connected to the feelings of the user. Fear and anger great negative curses, yet love, the deeper, the more powerful... is a fighting force for those emotions. The secret to controlling Fae magic, seems to be in the ability to control one's emotions... I think that may be the real reason Freja did what she did... in removing her heart, she removed any chance love could save her... and by delivering the curse in the way she did- inadvertently she may have given us a way to break it."
"Really?" Elsa leaned forward. "You really think so?"
Francis glanced away. "It's only a theory... something Alva said, but... there's a big problem if I'm right."
"What do you mean?"
"I think Maleficent may somehow be crucial to removing the curse- Alva alluded a lot in her final moments to that... but according to my research, she's... well, she's been dead for 50 years."
"What?" Elsa gasped. "No... How could that be? If you're right, then-"
The door burst open, a large figure barrelled into the room with shouts from the monks ringing behind him. Elsa nearly jumped out of the bed when she recognized Kristoff's frantic face.
"Queen Elsa!" Kristoff fell to the floor in a less-than-graceful kneel. "I rode all night, day- you have to return at once!"
Elsa's heart leapt to her throat. "What, what is it? What's wrong?! Is it Anna-"
"Anna's fine." he took in a deep breath. "At least I think so- I'll explain on the way; but you need to come home, now."
Her fingers slipped from Francis' and she climbed out of the bed, her legs barely willing to support her.
"Elsa!" both men gasped simultaneously as they moved, but it was Kristoff that caught her.
"I'm fine." she smiled in weak reassurance at him.
She glanced back to Francis. "I'm sorry, I have to go."
"But milady, in your condition-"
She waved off Francis' valid concern. "It's my sister."
He sat back down on the bed, a swirl of emotions playing in his green eyes. "Then go, your highness. Safe journey."
"Francis-" she wanted to reassure him somehow that she'd return quickly, that she wanted to finish her quest with him by her side, but Kristoff lifted her up and quickly turned, blocking her view. They were out the door before she could utter a farewell, and she could feel her chest contract, a pain unfamiliar and frightening at the thought of leaving him.
Frost began to form at her fingertips as Kristoff sped down the stairs. It was a miracle he didn't fall or drop her at his speed.
He glanced down as her fingers clutched his tunic. Misinterpreting her fear, he reassured her again that Anna should be okay.
Startled, Elsa let go of the fabric as he ran. "Please! Please tell me what the emergency is, Kristoff."
He bowled through a group of startled monks, heading not for the gate- but for the infirmary.
"Your Prince arrived early." he huffed.
She blinked, trying to make sense of his words as her fingers thawed.
"Only he's an imposter- Anna's with him."
Elsa frowned, trying to process what he was trying to say. "I don't understand, what-"
"Here." he set her down gently, supporting her with his shoulder. "I don't know how to tell you properly; but I think Anna's in danger."
"You said she was fine!" Elsa wanted to scream. He'd shown up a mess, ran her around the courtyard like someone was dying, and for what?!
"I'm not going anywhere until you explain what's going on, Kristoff."
"A thousand apologies, madame." a rough, weak voice can from inside the infirmary room. "This is my fault."
Elsa turned from Kristoff, her irritation immediately dissipated at the sight of the bandaged man on the bed a few feet away.
"Are you-" she gasped in horror. "Prince Stig Rusul Sala?"
Francis stared at his hand, he could almost feel the warmth of hers... true, it had only been a few days, and there's no way she would have ever stayed- part of him had always known that this was more of a fantasy than anything... but that didn't make it hurt any less.
"Ah, my dear boy, there you are." Grand Master Belgr sat down on the bed next to him. "Our uninvited guests have created quite the stir- I daresay, the monastery can't contain much more excitement."
"Guests?" Francis glanced at the old abbot. "Oh yes, it seems the ice-fellow has brought the Queen's betrothed into the infirmary. I gathered some details, but- dear me, are you all right Francis? You look like someone just told you your puppy died."
Betrothed... Elsa's fiancée was in the abbey? Elsa was engaged?!
"Francis?" Master Belgr frowned. "Oh my. I thought as much. You've grown rather fond of our young queen, haven't you?"
"I'm sorry." Francis flinched. "I swear, I haven't forgotten my duty as a monk, it's just... it's just..."
He glanced down at his bandaged ankle, the truth caught in his throat. He'd barely admitted it to himself, how could he tell the abbot? "I wanted to help her... I would gladly do anything to ease her pain. She should be happy. Even if... even if I never see her again... she should be happy. That's all, master."
"I see..." Belgr stroked his beard. "Well, if that's the case- there is only one thing to do."
Francis sighed. "What is that?"
"You should nurse the southern prince back to health!"
"What?!" Francis fell of the bed in shock. Was the abbot punishing him, after all- and to decree such a cruel command! Was there no mercy at all in those old bones?
'What, indeed." The abbot coughed. "If you truly care for her happiness- shouldn't you see what kind of man he is?"
Francis blinked. Was... was he serious? Did Master Belgr really want him to measure a prince's worth? It wouldn't matter what kind of man he was... they were already betrothed. Why should Francis torment himself anymore?
"Master, please... delve me any punishment you see fit for my lapse in concentration... but do not ask this of me."
"I'm not asking, Francis. Tend to the prince."
His heart fell to his chest, and his feet were too heavy to move. Without a word, Francis stood and forced his body to move forward, an agonizing step at a time to the door.
"Francis- one more thing." the harsh commanding tenor had left his master's voice, replaced by something akin to pity. "Try to keep up spirits, my boy. I will personally see to the research into the Queen's Curse."
Francis felt some relief. "Thank you, Master."
It did not, however, make his descent down the stairs any easier.
Elsa sat on the edge of the bed, still absorbing the Prince's tale. Kristoff gently shook her shoulder.
"Elsa, we need to return to the palace. Anna's waiting."
"Yes." she nodded. "I know."
Her sister was alone with an imposter prince with unknown intentions- but Anna was strong. It was just as likely that she would have the fiend jailed by the time they got back than anything nefarious to happen. Still, it was all very strange and puzzling.
"May I just say," Prince Stig reached for her hand, and he brushed his lips across her palm. It was a gentle caress that sent a shiver up her spine.
"It has been a pleasure meeting you, Elsa of Arendelle. I look forward to being able to court you properly."
She could feel the heat on her cheeks, but didn't know what to say. She could still see a pair of green eyes swirling with pain that tugged her heart.
"Rest well, Prince." she removed her hand and nodded at Kristoff, who gently picked her up.
The prince smiled from his bed, a handsome smile as any. "Now that I have seen you, I am sure that we will be very happy together. I will aim to make you see that too before we marry."
She wasn't sure how to respond, she still wasn't sure she wanted to marry this man. The strange situation of his arrival had definitely not relieved any anxiety she had about it. Before she could reply, Francis entered the infirmary, looking as miserable as she felt.
"Francis!" she wanted to run to him, but her body still was not cooperating, so she had to wait for Kristoff to turn so she could properly face the young monk. He was staring at her like she was a ghost.
"M-Milady, I thought you had left-"
"Kristoff thought I should see Prince Stig-"
"Oh." they both fell silent.
After an awkward moment, Kristoff cleared his throat. "So yeah... we'll be going now... kingdom to save, and all that good stuff..."
"Yes," Elsa rallied herself. "Yes, we were just leaving. Please take care of yourself, Francis... and..." the word almost caught in her throat, jammed together with all the thoughts that she couldn't express. "Farewell."
Kristoff moved towards the door, and she ignored the curious glances he shot her as they exited.
She turned in Kristoff's arms, and he slowed down.
"Elsa-" Francis took a deep breath. "Elsa... Grand Master Abbot Belgr has promised to do all he can about what you came here for. He'll find your answers, and we'll meet again, I know it."
"Francis." her heart fluttered. He was promising to see her again; and she hadn't realized until now, that was exactly what she wanted to hear. "Farewell, dear monk. I'll hold you to your word."
With another clearing of his throat, Kristoff pushed forward, and Francis disappeared around the wooden door jam.
As they made their way through the courtyard, Elsa slumped against him, completely exhausted.
"So... want to tell me what that was about... or why you're so drain you can't walk... or really, any explanation about what's happened since you ran away from the castle?"
He gently set her down as Sven bounded up to them and kneeled for mounting.
"I didn't run away." she protested indignantly as they climbed up on the reindeer's back.
"Took a mini-vacation, then?" he snapped the reins and Sven shot off like a crossbow bolt through the monastery gate.
"It was your idea." Elsa mumbled. "You said they might have answers here... so I came to find them."
"I swear." he shook his head. "Sometimes you and your sister are just alike."
"Anna..." she gave a silent prayer. "Please be all right. I'm coming home."