GREECE, 200 AD
The walk home from Thebes proved complicated for Anna. Although nothing had changed, everything had changed, and all with the minor utterance of one syllable. Elsa, her name was Elsa. What a beautiful name, befitting of the girl. What a beautiful voice, even. It had not been raspy or hoarse from disuse, it had rang out loud and true, with power and precision. It had been a year in the making, and Anna was not entirely sure that she had been ready for the revelation - she even now found herself in a state of shock.
The girl had not caught Anna's eye throughout their endeavors in Thebes and the bloated silences were filled by the running commentary of Gerda and Kai, who were over-stimulated by their surroundings. Now that Anna had heard the girl's voice, the silences she left in her wake rubbed Anna raw - she expected conversations to arise about the girl's past and her feelings on being a slave in the household, but Anna was rewarded with none of those. This left her frustrated and was glad to have olive selling to her advantage in distracting her.
The walk, however, once again aggravated the discontent that plagued Anna. Elsa pulled the cart once more; the sun hung low in the sky and the trees along the road cast long shadows that led them on to their destination. Gerda and Kai, their energy finally exhausted from the exciting day, were dozing in the new space in the cart created from depletion of wares in the market. Excepting the creak of cart wheels and the soft footsteps of sandals in the dirt, the silence was complete and made Anna's skin crawl.
She was trailing near the back end of the cart and although she was a mere yard away from her slave, the distance seemed to be miles. She craved contact from the girl, more than she even believed possible. Only hours ago Anna had fleetingly longed for a sign from her slave that she was listening, that she was sane and any torment she suffered was bearable. Anna had gotten a sign, she had gotten a name, and in doing so the girl had changed everything. Now the two women were pretending otherwise and the deceptiveness of it was insufferable. Anna had been given a crumb when she wanted a feast.
Glancing at the children to make certain they were indeed napping, Anna picked up her steps to reach the front of the cart. The girl heard her come and immediately turned her head from the impending confrontation.
"Elsa," said Anna when she had arrived at the blonde's side, relishing the sensation of the name on her tongue. At the sound, the girl's shoulders scrunched noticeably and her hands tightened their grip on the cart handles. Anna knew better than to touch her, but her fingers twitched for the bare shoulders nonetheless.
"Elsa," she started again. "I don't expect any explanations from you for anything. Remember earlier today when I told you I wanted us to be friends? It still applies now. Remember when I said I needed a response from you? The fact that you've given me one does not make me any less hopeful for more."
She phrased it carefully, so as not to intimidate or scare off the abashed girl. Elsa made no sign to have heard - her face was still turned away and she continued dragging along the cart behind her with a steady pace. Her slender arms and hard shoulders were tensed and Anna saw that strands of blonde had escaped from her loose braid and were being lifted by the evening breeze. The urge to reach out and touch the bare skin threatened once more to overwhelm Anna but she held her ground.
They walked in abject silence for another few minutes but finally Anna's patient persistence won out and the blonde slowly turned back to face the front. She still did not meet Anna's eye, but it was a start. Elsa inhaled sharply and held it, as if preparing to speak, and Anna's own breath caught in response. She waited. When no sound followed the inhalation, Anna threw caution to the wind and brought up a hand to lay on Elsa's own, much in the same way the girl had done earlier that day. The piercing blue eyes landed on their joined hands as Elsa's head snapped up to take in the sight, and then, to Anna's satisfaction, rose to meet her mistress' eyes. A moment of wordless communication passed and Anna understood; the girl was not frightened, she was ashamed. She thought it beneath Anna to stoop and converse with a lowly slave. How wrong she was!
"Mama?" Kai had woken and crawled to the front of the cart. Anna removed her hand delicately from Elsa's and reluctantly tore her eyes from the blue, which held her gaze firmly until she looked back to her son. His sandy hair matched his father's and his small hand was rubbing at an eye.
"We are almost home, darling."
"Good! I'm hungry."
"Have some olives."
The silence grew more pronounced now that the women's intimate moment had passed. Anna felt her heart swell as Kai hopped down from the cart and ambled up to Elsa's position, offering her an olive. The blonde grinned and opened her mouth jovially, allowing the boy to pop the green fruit inside. The pair giggled in a close sort of way that almost made Anna jealous to witness - for whose attention she wished, she could not say. Perhaps she only wanted inclusion. Either thought was foolish.
The sun was hidden behind the horizon by the time they had made it back to the cottage. Twilight had an unnatural effect on the orchard to the west - the trees took on a menacing semblance and Gerda clutched at her mother's hand as she led her children into the house, leaving Elsa to collect the last of the wares from the cart and return everything to its rightful place.
Anna could sense that something was wrong as the family stepped inside. It was often that Kristoff went off in the evenings to consort with other men of the village (and who knows what else) and was known to come home more than a little inebriated on wine.
There were no candles lit in the house and the shadows were deep. The children were spooked and immediately ran to the bed in the corner of the room to cower under sheets. Anna felt a hand close on her upper arm and she felt herself fill with dread.
"Where have you been?" His voice was low but steady - wine provoked intensity in her husband which replaced the usual mellow demeanor.
"The market, I have told you."
"The market," he repeated, turning to the room at large and dragging Anna roughly with him. He kicked the door closed forcefully and the slam made Anna jump.
Her husband was not villain. He was not an evil man. But every man had flaws and Kristoff was no exception. He was frequently kind and hardworking, though not particularly attentive, preferring to spend his time outside away from his family. Only occasionally was he cruel, and he had to have been drinking to cause him to be. Anna did not hate him, but neglect had stifled her to the point where she would be happy to be rid of him, for there really would be nothing changed if he was gone.
Nights like this did not help the matter. Kristoff tossed her from his side carelessly and she caught herself on the wall. She glanced over and saw two pale heads poking out from under sheets in the corner and went to stand between her husband and them, in case he got any ideas.
"We sold a good amount of olives, Kristoff." She spoke carefully, trying not to incite anything. "Here are the earnings from the day."
He snatched the coins from her hand and peered at them, counting. He queried the price. She gave him the number. He slapped her.
"That's all? Those olives fetch double that!"
He was shouting, the children were cowering, and Anna was on the ground massaging her cheek. The noises brought someone - the door opened and Elsa stepped inside. Of course it was Elsa. She took in the scene with wide eyes but Kristoff did not see her enter. Probably for the best.
He was still screaming at Anna, but she held her ground and glared into his face. The only way to end these tantrums was to endure and keep the casualties to a minimum. That was the plan, however, until Anna's lack of response earned her more rage and a swift kick to the stomach.
Doubled over in pain, Anna did not realize that Elsa had come forward to attack Kristoff, but she heard the smack of flesh on flesh and Elsa's gasp of pain before the slave was on the ground beside her. Kristoff towered over them - he made a move to strike Anna again but Elsa vaulted herself from the floor once more to claw at her master. With a wrathful roar, he captured her slight shoulders in his grip and hurled her away - she landed painfully at the foot of the bed. Anna saw the glint of fear in her children's eyes and it was this as well as Kristoff's advancement on Elsa that set Anna off.
Her husband had threatened Elsa on many occasions but he had never laid a hand on her. It was this injustice that proved the final straw for Anna - she exited the cottage and took up the first object she found, a shovel discarded in the dirt outside. She stormed back in, weapon raised high. Kristoff managed to strike Elsa across the face one last time before Anna brought the metal tool down on his skull. There was a sickening thump as it struck and then Kristoff was motionless on the ground.
Anna dropped the shovel with a loud clang and dropped to her knees beside Elsa. Purple bruises were blooming on the side of her face on which she was struck, but she otherwise seemed unhurt, just shaken. Anna had made up her mind.
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know."
Soon they were back outside and packing up what little they had into the handcart. It was slow work in the dark, and Anna was unsure how long she had bought them after rendering her husband unconscious. Elsa worked methodically, shushing the children and tending to them as Anna loaded up the cart. She did not know where they were to go, but she knew that here was not where they needed to be.
They walked slowly - the loaded cart was heavier than if it only bore olives so Anna helped Elsa with the burden. Anna had the children walk beside them, though their lids drooped heavily. She needed them to be able to run if Kristoff caught them up. After an hour or two of travel in the gloom, the group came upon a small copse of trees that looked to Anna a promise of shelter from the road. With a grunt, she steered the cart off the dirt road and into the grass that led to the trees. With the cart tucked carefully in the shadows, she bid her children and Elsa rest first, as it was her decision that had them fleeing in the first place. Elsa helped Gerda and Kai into the cart, then climbed in herself, leaving Anna with nothing to do but study the moonlight.
How truly and resolutely had everything changed in one day! The realization disturbed and elated her simultaneously. The future was unfathomable and yet must be tremendously preferable to the past. When exactly had Anna chosen the companionship of her mute slave over that of her spouse by law? It had not been a conscious choice, but now that she had set herself on this path she realized that it had been a year in the making. Things had not simply changed in a day - they had changed the day she had found Elsa sobbing in the orchard. Anna now understood that to be the day her heart had been shaped - and her destiny.
Her thoughts led her back to the cart and the precious cargo inside. Elsa had curled up on her side, and the children fit easily into the warmth of her arms. Anna smiled softly down at the trio, enjoying the cozy intimacy of the moment. Raising her hand gently, she allowed her fingertips to ghost over her daughter's cheek, her son's unruly hair, and come to hover over Elsa's bruised face. After some hesitation, she closed the gap and brought her fingers delicately down the side that was less marked by violence and found she enjoyed the closeness. After all they had been through tonight and the whole year in which Elsa had been their household slave, Anna had longed for this kind of contact and had not even recognized the desire.
She did not care if she roused the girl; in fact, found she hoped for it. It came as a pang of joy, then, when her ministrations of Elsa's damaged cheek caused the blue eyes to flutter and open, focusing on Anna above. Elsa was not startled; she actually smiled faintly and closed her eyes to enjoy the sensations, but not before meeting Anna's gaze purposefully. The shared look was clear; no matter where they were or where they went, from now on they would be inseparable.
A/N: You are all wonderful. Don't forget to be awesome and keep an eye out for expansions ;)
P.S. I recommend listening to Lana Del Ray's cover of "Once Upon a Dream" when you're done reading this because it was a huge inspiration for this whole fic.