Original A/N: A couple things before we get started. This story will eventually be Anna/Elsa, but it's a slow burn because I have to cover their entire lives up until they find each other again. Also this will probably be a very long story.
I wanted to bring in the Robber Girl from the original fairy tale, but since she's a scant (but awesome) character I had to flesh a lot out myself, and the robber girl you see here is mostly an OC. I tried to keep the spirit of the Robber Girl from the original story though. If you don't like non-canon characters at all, this might not be the story for you.
Much thanks to Mag for being my pre-reader, sounding board, and for providing the lovely separator images you see below. I couldn't have done it without her.
Editied A/N: This is a story I've been posting to Ao3 for a while now. Someone suggested I post it to this site, so I decided to give it a shot. I'll be posting a new chapter every two days until it's caught up to Ao3 (around chapter 11 or 12), and then it'll have a weekly update schedule. If you're curious though you can look it up on Ao3, and also see the lovely separator images that you can't actually see on this site.
You're okay, Anna, I've got you.
The ice was spreading, creeping up the walls, along the bookcase, crossing the minute gap between each volume. Snow brushed her cheeks and forearms, settled in her hair and gathered around her feet. Elsa wished as hard as she could that it would stop, that it would go away. But the snow wouldn't stop, and Anna wouldn't wake up, and even the wishing hurt.
Mama had bundled little Anna in a blanket and rocked her like she was a baby again, making soothing and shushing noises, even though Anna still hadn't spoken or moved at all. Papa was flipping through a large book, his movements awkward and exaggerated, almost violent with frustrated purpose. Elsa's throat was tight and painful; her chest heaved erratically. Tears stung her eyes, and she wanted to cry, wanted to apologize again, but it was hard to draw breath and she was sure any sound she let out would get caught on the lump in her throat and choke her.
"Here," her father said, and reached for her. She flinched, hard, but he was only resting a hand on her shoulder. "Elsa, we're going to get help. I need you to be brave a little while longer."
Brave? She didn't know how to be brave. The idea of it slid like oil down her throat, tickled her lungs, came out as a choked sob. But little Anna was still so cold and pale, and she nodded as best she could.
He guided her from the library then. His hand was gently firm, but his stride was quick and purposeful, and she stumbled to keep up. Every step his shoes went crunch on the snow beneath them, the snow she couldn't banish, and it was loud and frightening and wrong wrong wrong.
He released her as they approached the stables; strode ahead, threw open the doors, and commanded, "Go, get out of here!" in a voice that made her quake. There was a gasp, a thump, and rapidly fading footsteps as the stable boy fled.
He fetched two horses, two sets of tack, and set about dressing them. But it was taking such a long time, and Elsa felt every second like a blow. What if they were too late? She stole a glance at her mother, who had not once looked away from her youngest daughter, and now pressed a kiss to her cold cheek.
"Elsa." One horse stood fully tacked, and her father had begun the second. "We must hurry. Can you get on?"
She nodded again, and fetched the small wooden steps she used for riding lessons. The palace horses were well trained and gentle natured, but as she reached for the horn of the saddle, the horse flinched and began to dance on nervous feet, confused by the swell of icy wind on the warm night.
"Papa!" she cried, at the same time her mother said, "Josef," and handed him Anna so she could mount her own steed.
"I'm coming, Elsa," he said. Anna changed hands again, and he quickly climbed into the saddle and pulled Elsa into place behind him. "Hold very tightly to me, Elsa, and don't let go." She did, fisting her hands in the fabric of his coat and burying her face against his back, where she couldn't see the light in the sky, or the snow falling around them, or Anna's still and silent body. And with a lurch, they were off.
Kristoff couldn't hear the large ice cart anymore, or see its lanterns bobbing through the forest. That was all right; he and Sven were a team. They didn't need anyone to take care of them, and they knew this path perfectly well. It was kind of fun being on their own, he thought. He could pull twigs off bushes and tie them in knots and sing any songs he liked. It was like being on an adventure, almost, or like being a grown up. He felt very grown up indeed, harvesting the ice all by himself, with his own tools and his own sled.
Maybe it was because he couldn't hear the men in the large cart that he could hear the hoofbeats approaching, far away but covering ground quickly. If he hadn't turned in time he wouldn't have seen the horses fly past, maybe wouldn't have known which way they were going. But he did see them, and more than that; sparks of blue and flurries of white, covering the ground in a perfectly formed path of ice.
"Ice?" he said instinctively. Kristoff knew ice. He knew where it could be found, and when. He knew it fell from the sky as snow, and covered the ground as frost, and could reach not just all the way across a lake, but deep down beneath it's surface too.
He had never seen ice falling from horseback, ice that formed when the weather was warm and then only along one trail.
He had never seen a witch either, but the ice men insisted they were real. Kristoff had always known it to be true, so when he saw ice that shouldn't be it took only a moment to understand what was happening.
"Magic ice!" he cried, and hopped up to quickly unhitch Sven. "Come on, buddy!" Their sled and tools and normal ice could wait. There was magic in the mountains, and they would find it. He clambered onto Sven's back and took off.
The rough fabric of her papa's coat had rubbed Elsa's damp cheeks red and raw, and it was this soreness that finally made her lift her head. The ride was rough, and her bones ground together with each unsteady bounce. Mama was racing next to them, one hand on the reins and the other clutching the bundle that was Anna. Elsa wanted to shrink away, or maybe huddle closer. Either way there was nowhere to go, and her hands flexed reflexively, uselessly.
Then she felt it. The familiar prickle of ice scraping against her palms, of snow brushing against her knuckles.
Her stomach dropped, and she whipped her head forward. There, on her father's jacket—frost, creeping inward and around. She gasped, wrenching her hands away. There was another large bump that lifted her from her seat; then, for an instant, the jostling beneath her stopped, and the ride was smooth. For an instant she saw not trees, but the sky, beautiful and brilliant and strangely blurred.
Then she hit the ground, and there was a shock of nothing: no breath, no voice, no stars, no comprehension. Until pain blossomed in her head and her back, and she understood.
She tumbled; came to a stop on her belly, scrambled to her knees and tried to call out. Papa! But her breath hadn't returned, and a sharp pain was spreading behind her eyes, ringing in her ears. She gasped, struggled desperately to her feet, and tried to call out again.
The words caught in her throat. In front of her, her parents raced onwards. Raced to save Anna. What if they had to turn back? What if it took too long, what if they were too late to help her? The guilt was like a rock in her stomach, and the pain in her head and shoulders felt like an extension of it. Felt almost right. And still there was snow, snow all around her.
"Stop it!" she begged her hands, her feet. "Go away!" she cried at the ice gathering on the ground. In front of her was Anna's salvation. Behind her was a trail of the very ice that had hurt her, stretched as far as she could see. Both paths seemed impossibly difficult. Elsa clutched her face, sobbed, and fled into the forest.
The ice men liked their stories, stories and song to pass the time and make the hard work a little easier. Most of the stories made no sense to Kristoff; they were stories for men, not boys, and he would instead play with Sven until someone came hollering for him. The ice master and his wife fed him, gave him a little cot and clothes their sons used to wear, but didn't care where he was so as long as he came back in time to finish his chores.
Sometimes though, one of the men would tell a story of magic or witches or trolls, and Kristoff would creep in close, as quiet as he could, and listen. Of course there's magic in the mountains, he thought, and magic in winter and in ice too, of course! How could it be any other way? He only hadn't seen it yet because he was so young. Because he was new to the mountains and the harvesting. But now the mountains were giving him his own story to tell.
He didn't know exactly where the ice was coming from until he saw the girl fall. Only he was so far away he didn't know it was a fall at first; he saw an arch of snow, frost splashing across the trees like water disturbed by a stone, and then the girl, struggling to her feet.
He almost reared Sven to keep him from getting too close. You had to be careful with magic, after all, and he would be fine, but he didn't want Sven getting hurt. He thought he ought to call out though, to try and help, but before he could draw the breath the girl was running into the woods.
"Wow," he breathed, watching the glittering trail of ice follow her. Then he realized that where she went, the magic followed, and his excitement was renewed.
"Follow the ice, Sven!" he said, tugging the reindeer to the right. This was his story to tell, and he was going to see it through to the end.
It only took a moment for King Josef feel the missing weight behind him, to call out to his wife and rein his horse. But a moment was too long, and when he looked back it was in time to see Elsa run into the woods.
"Elsa!" he yelled, already turning.
"No, no, here," Frida said, handing him Anna. "You go ahead, and I'll get Elsa. There's no time."
For a second his face was stricken. But he took Anna, and clasped Frida's hand before she could withdraw it. "Be careful," he pleaded.
Her own expression was drawn, her mouth thin. She nodded and said, "Hurry."
She didn't watch him go, focusing instead on the angled path of ice that led to Elsa. For the first time she thanked God for Elsa's ice and snow, and her lack of control. Both her daughters were hurting, and she could do nothing for her youngest, but the ice would lead her to Elsa. And she would make it right, just as Josef would make it right for Anna.
God, they had to.
Elsa, was running, running. She wanted to leave it all behind, to outrun her snow and her fear and her guilt. She didn't hurt anymore. Everything was numb, numb and cold, she thought, although she had never really been cold in her life. Harder and harder she pushed, but it was no good. The faster she ran, the faster the snow fell, the faster the wind whipped against her back. Go away, go away go away go away! The snow fell so heavily that she couldn't see the forest or the ground, couldn't see anything at all, and the wind pushed her ever onward, roaring in her ears and in her head. Faster and faster, until she couldn't feel the brush that scratched at her, or the branches that caught her hair, or even the ground beneath her feet. I have to go away.
For a few minutes Kristoff thought he would catch up to the girl, that he could stop her and ask her how to make the ice. None of the other harvesters knew anything like that! If they did, they wouldn't have to go all the way up into the mountains, that's for sure.
But the wind was starting to blow really hard behind them, and although it pushed them forward, it seemed to be pushing her even more. She was getting away, or maybe just getting hidden by all the snow; either way he was losing sight of her.
"Hey!" he yelled. "Hey! Where are you going? Hey, come ba—" His words died in his throat as the girl suddenly lifted up, raising towards the treetops, before falling again.
Sven stopped suddenly, and it was only by clutching desperately at his ears and snout that Kristoff managed to avoid being pitched off. As it was he ended up doubled over Sven's head, staring at the forest floor. "Sven! What...oh." The ice stopped. They were standing where the girl had flown into the air, and snow dusted some nearby tree branches, but the ground was clear.
Kristoff righted himself and looked around. In front of them, where the girl had come down again—frost and snow, just like before. "Over there, boy! Come on!"
They had left the castle without torch or lantern, and while the open road had been vividly visible by the light of the aurora, the shadows beneath the trees were a dark and impenetrable. Frida kept one eye on the icy trail, and with the other scanned the forest. "Elsa? Darling, it's going to be all right." There was a strange, cold wind blowing tonight, and she didn't want to think about its source.
It was dark, much too dark, and Frida had a sudden vision of Elsa against the snow, her pale skin and hair blending in so naturally that she couldn't be seen until it was too late. Until she was trampled underfoot.
No. No. Panic would not find Elsa. Frida breathed in, deeply. The breath shuddered and caught in her throat, but it would have to do. Just follow the ice.
"Elsa," she tried again, "don't be frightened. Come here, we'll find Papa and Anna." She nudged her horse forward, and snow crunched under its hooves. Until it didn't.
The frost had stopped. Elsa wasn't there, and the frost had stopped. Fear gripped her then, working its way, cold and sharp, into her heart. "Elsa! Elsa!"
There. Up ahead, the snow began again. Forgetting care, forgetting decorum, she urged her horse into a gallop. "Elsa!"
Kristoff could see her, almost; could see the ice storm surrounding her, at least, which was kind of the same thing. The wind was blowing so strongly that Sven could barely keep his balance, and Kristoff was beginning to think this wasn't such a grand adventure after all. That maybe ice should just stay out on the mountain lakes where it belonged. Magic hadn't seemed quite so frightening when it was trapped in a story told 'round a campfire.
He didn't have time to decide whether or not to keep going. The wind made that decision for him, sweeping the girl up once again. This time he could feel it lift, from his feet to his back to ruffling his hair last of all. This time, she didn't come down. Her foot—or so he thought—caught a treetop as she went, covering it with a thick layer of snow. Then she was gone, beyond the trees he could see, and he and Sven slowed to a stop. His ears and cheeks tingled, and he could still hear a roaring in his ears even though the air was suddenly completely still.
A roar, or a pounding? From behind them something was coming, and coming quickly. Sven brayed and begin to stomp nervously, and Kristoff suddenly realized that maybe he should be afraid.
Elsa wasn't afraid anymore. She wasn't sad, or worried, or in pain. Her fingertips tingled pleasantly, snow brushing so thick across them that all she could see was white. She was surrounded by cold, and ice, and wind, and it was right. Maybe the whole world was only this, the wind surrounding her, and the snow around her and inside her too.
She could go, on and on, like this always. She knew she could. Could feel it in the palms of her hands, the balls of her feet, deep in her chest.
Anna, are you okay?
There was the wind, and the sky, and Elsa. She flew.
There! A small figure moving on the snow. Frida was off her horse and rushing forward before she saw that it was a small boy on a reindeer, looking as surprised to see her as she was to see him. She paused, tamping down on the words of relief desperate to spill from her mouth, and approached him.
"Please," she said, because he looked ready to flee, "have you seen a girl? My daughter. Has she come this way?"
He nodded, and pointed towards the northern sky. "She flew away."
Nothing in all the strangeness of this night could have prepared her for that. She was about to come undone, faint with fear and worry, and this child was playing games. "What, what did you say? Where did she go?"
He furrowed his brow, and hesitated. She wanted to scream, to shake him and demand he tell her where Elsa was. Instead, she listened as he said, "She was running really fast. And the wind was blowing really hard. And then she went...up." He lifted a hand in demonstration. "The wind carried her away." Frida gritted her teeth and prepared to lash out when he said, "See?" and pointed a tree, covered in snow, but only at the very top. "She hit that when she went."
Like a blizzard, carried on the north wind. Her protestations died before she could form them. She knew then it was perfectly, impossibly true.
Josef picked his way along the road carefully, trying not to jostle Anna. The trolls had helped him, as he knew they would. Her mind was clear from magic. He would have to tell Frida and Elsa. Explain to them the new rules that must be enforced as soon as they got home. For the good of everyone.
The old troll had given him a warning with the healing. She will struggle greatly until she learns control. You must help her. And he would; he would do what had to be done to protect his daughters. Already plans and proclamations were swirling in his head.
Anna made a sleepy, contented sound, and his heart melted. They had had a close call tonight, but all would be well. He would make it so.
Frida and Elsa didn't meet them in the trolls' hollow, nor on the road leading to it. Worry niggled at the back of his mind, mixed with guilt. He should have been holding Elsa in front of him, where he could keep her safe. He would make it up to her; take her home, comfort her, teach her the right way to handle her powers. Surely Frida had caught up to her, and was soothing her even now. Surely.
He pushed his horse into a cantor as they reached the site where the trail of snow lead into the woods.
"Frida? Elsa?" he called. Anna was beginning to stir in his arms, but there was no helping it. She clutched at him, her hands brushing the wet patches were ice had formed and melted.
Anna was sleepy, so sleepy. Wasn't it night time? Why was she with Papa on a horse? Why were her slippers wet and her toes cold?
Papa was yelling now, calling for Mama and Elsa. Were they here? Anna rubbed her eyes and looked around. There was a forest, and there was the sky, and there was another horse, idly wandering around. She didn't see Mama, or Elsa, or anyone.
There was a burst of noise, and Anna woke up fully, crying out; but it was only Mama, running from the forest and clutching at Papa's leg.
"Josef," she gasped, "Josef, I can't find her. The ice stops and she's not there and I can't find her. This boy," she motioned, "he said the wind carried her away."
"The wind, like it carries a snowflake, or carries a storm—Josef, the wind took her."
Papa climbed off the horse and set Anna on the ground. There was snow, and instantly her already damp slippers were frozen through. She shivered. "Anna, listen to me," he said, "you must not move from this spot. Do you understand? Don't you move for anything."
"Why?" Anna called, but he was already running off with Mama, and they were both yelling for Elsa. "Papa! Mama!" Tears pricked at her eyes, rolled down her cheeks, and melted small holes in the snow beneath her. "Elsa?" she tried, but the only thing that greeted her were Mama and Papa's cries of the same.
"Hey," someone said, and she cried out again. It was a little boy, walking with his hand on a baby reindeer. He shuffled on his feet. "Are you okay?"
"No," she sobbed.
He looked at the reindeer, then looked back. "Um, do you know who Elsa is?"
"She's my sister," she sniffled. "Do you know where she is?"
The boy looked at the sky for a long moment, then at the snow on the ground, and said, "No."
Anna crouched, then gave up completely and let her legs give out, dropping her onto the snow. She keened.
There was a snuffling near her ear, a slightly wet touch on her bare arm. It was the baby reindeer, come close to see. The reindeer was soft and warm; it reminded Anna of her stuffed bear, and that was all the prompting she needed to throw her arms around its neck.
Kristoff edged closer to Sven and the little girl. He could barely hear her parents still yelling in the distance, and it was making him nervous. Or maybe sad. He was quite ready to find his sled and go home and curl up on his little cot in the corner of the ice master's den and try to figure out magic from a safe, warm place. That would be best.
But the girl, who he thought was called Anna, was clinging to Sven, so maybe...he should stay?
He didn't want to be alone, at any rate, so he went and sat on the other side of Sven from Anna. She didn't seem to notice, not even when he started scratching Sven's ears.
He was wearing thick leather trousers and a warm tunic and gloves besides, but she was in a thin little nightgown and was trembling. Don't you have a coat? he wanted to say, or You shouldn't sit in the snow, or I'd give you a coat if I had one, or My family got lost once too.
There was a trampling in the underbrush that was growing louder. Her mother stepped out from behind the trees and cried, "Anna!"
"Mama!" Anna leapt to her feet and threw herself into her mother's arms. Her mother scooped her up and ran a hand up and down her back, making shushing noises.
Anna's father appeared behind her. However, he only spared a look and a brief touch to his daughter's cheek, and then he walked over to Kristoff. Kristoff had never seen anyone look quite so solemn without looking angry too. It made him nervous, and he scrambled to his feet. Sven stood as well and stayed by his side, which make him feel a little better.
The man knelt in front of him. "What's your name?" he asked."Kristoff. A-and this is Sven."
The man rubbed at his chin, even though there was no beard there. "Kristoff, did you see what happened to my daughter?"
"The, the other one?" Kristoff asked. "She, um…" He held his hand front of his chest, then moved it up and across to simulate the flight the girl had taken.
"Was carried away by the wind," the man filled in.
"Right." Said like that, in the man's serious voice and with his serious face, it sounded silly. But it was true. Did he think Kristoff was lying?
"Where are your parents?" he asked.
"I don't have any." Kristoff threw his arm around Sven's back. "It's just me and Sven. Oh, we have a job though! We harvest the ice." Maybe the man would believe him if he knew how hard they worked. That they were useful.
The man was quiet for a moment, and then he stood. "Frida. Take Anna back to the castle. Send the royal guard. I'll stay to guide them." Then he gestured to Kristoff. "Take this boy too; make sure he has a meal and bed. He may be able to tell us something that will help."
Castle? Royal guard? Kristoff and Sven looked at each other. He realized then that the man's clothes, while not especially warm, were very fine, and the horses, too, were much nicer kept than any he saw in the city square.
Anna and her mother were mounting one of the horses. Her father picked Kristoff up and set him on the back of the same horse. "Hold on tightly," he said harshly, and Kristoff squeezed as hard as he dared.
"Sven!" he called as they began to gallop away, keeping his voice as low as possible, feeling any volume would get him in trouble. "Come on, boy!" Sven bleated and raced alongside them.
"Mama," Anna was saying, "where's Elsa?"
"We are going to find her," her mother said, her voice rough and thin. Kristoff looked back to where he could see a single snow covered tree disappearing. He thought of darkness and magic and people who got lost in the woods and the cold north winds.
Somehow, he didn't think they would find her in the forest.
Elsa woke to a light tingle moving up her calf, like an insect crawling. She tried to kick her leg, but her muscles were stiff and unresponsive. In fact, her entire body was sore, and the bed beneath her was damp and rock hard. This isn't right at all, she thought, and opened her eyes.
There was a girl, with dark skin and dark eyes and wild hair, leaning over her. She had in her hand a knife that was just barely pressed to Elsa's leg. "Oh!" the girl said. "You're alive!"
Elsa shrieked and tried to scramble away, but her hands were slipping on ice and she was too stiff to move quickly. The girl sheathed her knife at her belt and rocked back on her heels. "I thought you were dead. You ought to be, anyway. You fell asleep on the worst snow around, you know. And you don't even have a coat! Are you stupid?"
"What?" Elsa panted. There was at least some distance between them now, and she chanced a look around.
Directly beneath her was thick snow. Her nightgown was dirty and torn, and her stocking were ripped to pieces. All around the ground was covered in a light frost, and towering above her were dark and gnarled trees she didn't recognize. Panic started rising in her throat.
She looked back down and saw that the girl had snuck closer, was right on top of her. She skittered quickly backwards, fresh snow blooming under her hands when she reached the edge of the ring she had been laying in.
"Oh," the girl breathed, watching her intently. She stood, and Elsa quickly followed suit, folding her hands against her stomach.
"Please," she said, keeping her eye on the knife. "Where am I?"
The girl furrowed her brow and looked around them. "...The forest?"
The forest. She had run into the forest. Guilt dropped like a stone in her gut, actually forcing the panic back slightly. "Please," she said again, "I need to go back to the castle. Do you know how to get there?"The girl immediately perked up. "Of course I do! Come on!" She grabbed Elsa's hand, but Elsa quickly pulled it away. Undeterred, she took Elsa's sleeve instead, and pulled her roughly forward.
They walked for some time, winding deeper into the forest. Elsa was getting scared again. "Are you sure this is the right way?"
"Of course I am. It's right up here. Look." They turned the corner, and Elsa saw—well, it was technically a castle, maybe, or at least a well fortified manor house. But it was dark and crumbling, the court yard overgrown, with fierce looking dogs roaming around.
"What is this?" Elsa asked.
"It's the castle. I live there!" the girl chirped.
"No, this isn't where I wanted to go," Elsa pulled away, and dodged when the girl grabbed at her again. "I, I meant where the king and queen live."
The girl made a face. "We haven't got a king and queen around here, and this is the only castle. You really don't know very much, do you? Come on, my mama's inside." She started towards the steps. Elsa stood paralyzed. Then one of the dogs barked, and she raced forward, clutching the girl's shirt.
Where in the world was she?
"Mama!" the girl bellowed once they were in the doors. She was suddenly off running, and Elsa scrambled to keep up. They ended up in a kitchen, where a large woman with a craggy face was rocking near the fire and smoking a pipe.
"—going on about...oh!" she cried she saw Elsa. "What in the world is this? What have you done now?"
"I found an ice fairy!" the girl crowed. "See?" She grabbed Elsa's wrist and touched her hand to the table leg. Instantly frost enveloped it. "I'm keeping her."
"Stop that!" Elsa cried, jerking her hand back. The girl was smiling, and the woman had dropped her pipe, and Elsa just wanted to hide.
"What in Heaven's good name is this?" the woman asked, scratching at the frost. Shame, greater almost than the fear, overtook her, and she began to cry.
"I can't make it stop," she whimpered.
"Oh dear, oh dear." The woman scooped her up and held her tight to her chest. "There now, dear, don't you worry about a bit of ice. There's a fire right here to melt it." She ran a soothing hand down Elsa's back, hummed a lullaby in her ear, and Elsa just fell apart. She was so tired, so confused, so hurt and frightened. She sobbed and squeezed and cried and clutched until she was weak and trembling. "Just let it out, that's right, dear."
She did for a good, long time.
When Elsa had finally calmed down, her sobs reduced to sniffles and hiccups, the woman set her back on the ground. "There, now," she said, patting Elsa's hip. "There's a girl. I've got chores to do, and I need to think about all this besides, so you two go play, hm?"
"Yes! Come see, come see what I've got!" The girl grabbed Elsa's hand again and dragged her deeper into the crumbling castle. Elsa's legs were still trembling and untrustworthy, but the girl forced her forward. Every once in a while she would stop and point out some scratch or dent she had apparently made, or would take Elsa to see some animals she had caught and now kept locked up, including an entire flock of pigeons, some rabbits, and a particularly angry badger.
Through it all the girl kept Elsa close. Every time she tried to wiggle away the girl would just grab her again, winding an arm around her neck or her waist or her elbow, or plucking at her sleeves and skirt and hair. It made it difficult to see, and more difficult to walk.
She noticed, however, scattered piles of the most random collection of items she had ever seen. Large nets that looked like they had been ripped from fishing boats, a full summer wardrobe that looked like it belong to a rich, thin woman, two bicycles (one missing the front wheel, and the other its handlebars), a frame with scraps of a painting still clinging to the edges, carriage wheels with no carriage, and an enormous brass globe.
"Where did you get all of this?" she asked.
"From people that come through the forest."
"They give it to you?"
"Well, not without a fight, usually."
Elsa stopped suddenly, and the girl, who had entwined their arms, came up short as well. "What do you mean? Did you...did you steal it?"
"Yes!" the girl said brightly. Then she narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
"Well, that's—that's terrible! You shouldn't steal things!"
"You'll…" get in trouble, Elsa wanted to say, but that felt silly, here, somehow. "It's not right. You should work and earn money and pay for things."
The girl made a face and stuck out her tongue. "Do you work and pay for things?"
"Then what do you know anyway?" Apparently bored, she dragged Elsa into a corner that was covered in furs and blankets and pushed her down. "This is where I sleep. You'll stay here with me." She crouched to look at Elsa's face, and sighed. "Come on, don't look like that. We haven't got any other way to get things except taking them. Here, wait here and I'll show you something nice." And she darted off again.
Elsa hugged her legs to her chest. This wasn't, as far as she could tell, any kind of bedroom at all. There was no bed, and no cupboard. No door to close them in and keep them safe, and no toys she could see, unless the large hunting knife and handlebars at her feet counted as toys.
It certainly wasn't anything like her and Anna's room in Arendelle.
The girl returned, carrying a brown hare that she dropped on Elsa's lap. The frightened animal immediately tried to flee, but the girl shoved her hand in front of it, and it shrunk back against Elsa and trembled.
"Oh no!" Elsa cried. "Poor little thing." She gave it her fingers to sniff, and gently scratched it on the head.
"He was a very fast one, but I caught him all the same," the girl said proudly. "Now, tell me your name. Or don't fairies have names?"
"I'm not a fairy," Elsa said, carefully stroking the hare's back. "I'm a princess."
The girl immediately beamed and leaned forward. "Are you really?! Mama and the men will be glad to know that! Are all princesses magic?"
Elsa shook her head, and the girl's face fell. "Um, what do you mean, they'll be glad?"
"Princesses are rich, aren't they? If you're rich, they can kidnap and ransom you, and get lots of money."
"What?!" Elsa clutched her hands to her chest. She heard, distantly, a crack of ice. The hare, seeing his opportunity, bolted, and the girl cried out and ran after him.
That wasn't real, was it? Mama and Papa had told her stories of people that would hurt her, had told her to avoid strangers and to not wander off. Only she had wandered off, she realized, and here were the people who would hurt her. Fear rushed in to squeeze out her confusion and her sadness, and around her ice raced up the walls.
"What'd you do that for?" the girl ask as she returned. "Now I'll have to catch him again, or another one." Then she saw the ice and bounced with delight.
"What did you mean?" Elsa demanded again, hoping, desperately, that she was wrong. "They wouldn't...would they really kidnap me?"
"Well…" The girl screwed her face in concentration, then gave up and flopped down against the furs. "No, I guess not. They wouldn't have to, since you're already here."
She quaked. But… "If they ransomed me, would that mean they'd send me home?"
The girl looked at her as though she were stupid. "Why would they ever do that? They couldn't get anymore money that way."
Elsa felt hot tears spilling again, and quite unwillingly let out a sob.
"Oh," the girl said, "oh no, don't cry." She sat up and shuffled forward, wiping Elsa's damp cheeks with the bottom of her sleeves. "You're mine now and I'm going to take care of you. I don't care if you're a fairy or a princess or nothing at all." Snow was falling around them, and she cupped Elsa's face, forcing her to look up. "Look, that's what we'll tell them, that you're nothing at all, and they'll leave us alone. I'll hurt them if they don't. It'll be a secret, that's all."
"I want to go home," she wailed.
"Alright." The girl laced her fingers behind Elsa's neck. "I don't know anyplace except the forest, but when the men come in we'll ask them how to get to your home, okay? Don't cry, I don't like it when you cry."
A secret. They were only interested in her if she were a princess, so she wouldn't be a princess. And the girl was looking at her with such fierce determination that Elsa believed, at least a little, that she could protect her after all. Elsa hiccuped, and finally nodded.
"Good, see? Now tell me, what's your name?"
She gently pried away the girls hands so she could wipe at her own face. "It's Elsa."
The girl grinned, and scuttled backwards a bit. "I'm Jonne! Now you ask me a question." She leaned forward to listen intently, crossing her legs and grabbing her ankles.
"Um." Elsa glanced around at the crumbling walls. "How long have you lived here?"
"Not all my life, but as long as I can remember." Jonne jiggled her legs as she thought. "Do you know any other princesses?"
"Just my sister," Elsa said, and felt a pang of loneliness. Jonne looked at her expectantly, and she considered for a moment. "How old are you?" she asked.
To her surprise, Jonne looked momentarily confused, and then her expression closed. "Well...how old are you?"
Elsa blinked. "I asked you first." When Jonne just pursed her lips, she said, "I thought that was how the game worked."
"Alright. Well. I'm three months older than you."
Elsa stared at Jonne. Jonne stared back. "You don't even know how old I am," she pointed out.
"How old are you?"
"Right, and I'm three months older."
"But you don't know when my birthday is!"
"So? What's that matter?"
Elsa let out an unwilling, disbelieving laugh. Then she had an idea, and fought down a smile. "My birthday's in December," she said.
Jonne nodded firmly. "Right, and mine is three months before that."
"Ha!" Elsa clapped her hands in triumph. "I was fibbing, my birthday's in July!"
Jonne huffed and crossed her arms. "Then mine's three months before that! In…"
Elsa quickly counted back. "April?"
"You're lying!" Jonne did her best to look offended, but by now Elsa could see the smile she was trying to hide. "You are, you're making it up!"
"So were you!"
"I told the truth the last time."
"Well maybe I did too."
Elsa scoffed. "I don't believe you."
Jonne tipped her head back, and when she looked at Elsa again she was laughing. She leapt to her feet, and pulled Elsa up with her. "That's enough of that! The men will be home soon. You're a mess; here, you can have some of my clothes. But not the nice ones."
"The men" were, to a one, loud and rambunctious. Some of them were the largest men Elsa had ever seen outside of the royal guards that patrolled the palace; others were barely more than boys. Jonne danced excitedly at the edge of the room, and when they were all in and settled she grabbed Elsa and pulled her into the dining hall.
"Look!" she crowed. "Look what I've found! She's not a fairy, but she can do magic!" Elsa grabbed at her arm, suddenly frightened. No one was supposed to know about that!
"Here's, what this?" said the man nearest them, who had a crooked nose and exceedingly broad shoulders. "What a pretty little thing! Have you been playing games with her, Jonne? What imagination!"
"It's true!" Jonne insisted. "She can make ice and snow!"
"Ssh, ssh!" Elsa hissed desperately.
"Ah, it's nice that you have a playmate, but wherever did you find her?"
"Is anyone going to come looking for her?" asked another man, this one with a deep scowl and a crooked scar on his cheek.
"In the forest," Jonne said sullenly. "Making snow."
The first man opened his mouth again, but before he could speak another voice came from near the first pit. "It's true, Sabbe," Jonne's mother said. "I saw it earlier. The girl is magic."
"What's this, Meartá?" the man asked, but by then a hush had settled over the room, and everyone was watching them. Elsa shrunk back, trying to hide behind Jonne. She suddenly thought maybe she didn't want the help of men like this after all.
"Come on," Jonne said, "come on, show them!"
"No," Elsa cried softly, turning to run away.
Jonne grabbed her arm and shook it. "You did it earlier, I saw, come on!"
"No!" Elsa wrenched her arm away, the momentum sending her stumbling backwards. There was a sudden roar of noise from the assembled crowd, and she looked down to see a jagged circle of ice radiating out from beneath her foot.
"Oh," she whimpered, "oh no, oh no."
"Yeah!" Jonne cried, leaping with excitement. "You see, I told you!" The men, meanwhile, exploded.
"In all my years—!"
"Is she cursed?! Isn't it a curse?"
"We ought to take her back, Lord God Almighty—"
"She can't stay here, put her out!"
"You'll not touch any child in this castle!" Meartá bellowed, drawing herself up. "Listen to you! Like a bunch of frightened children. It's a sad state when little Jonne has more sense than the lot of you." Some of the men looked deeply offended at that.
"What should we do then?" asked one of the youngest of them, who was almost a child himself. "She's a witch, ain't she?"
"That's right, a little witch," Sabbe said gently. "Come here, little witch. Let's see, yeah?" He beckoned Elsa, but she shrunk away, and he dropped his hands. "Don't listen to these fools. Most of them have never seen anything grand or wonderful at all. Now come, tell us, where are you from? Where's your family?"
At this question Elsa remembered why she had come, and the plan she had come up with. She tried very hard to settle her breathing, and said, "My parents are dead."
Jonne whipped her head around, her face wild with surprised glee. Elsa silently pleaded with her to keep quiet and not ruin anything. "They died a little while ago, and I was trying to get to Arendelle. To find my family there."
"Arendelle?" one of the men asked. "I've never heard of that place. How far do you have to go?"
Elsa's heart sank. "I...I don't know."
"Do you know where it is?" Jonne asked Sabbe, shoving him hard in the side. He pondered for a minute and then shook his head.
"I can't say I've ever heard of it. Sorry, little witch."
"Arundel?" someone else asked, and Elsa's eyes snapped to him. The other men shook their heads, but he pressed forward. "Arundel Mills? That's a little village to the east, isn't it? They make wonderful crispbread there, I remember."
Elsa wilted, and she shook her head.
"Hey," the man with the scar was saying, "do you think her parents are really dead?" Elsa and Jonne exchanged a nervous glance. "Or did they turn her out because of her magic?"
"They wouldn't do that!" Elsa blurted, and the man sneered.
"Hush yourself, Rikkar," Sabbe said. He reached for Elsa's hands again, and this time she let him take them. "So you're trying to go to Arendelle? To find some distant family, to take you in?"
Elsa nodded, and hoped he wouldn't ask her much more. She hadn't thought anymore of the story out.
"Do you think they would take you, if you showed up on their doorstep?'
She hunched her shoulders. "I don't understand."
"I only mean that most people are only as decent as they have to be. And most people don't want another mouth to feed. It'd be a shame to go all that way and find out you don't have a place after all."
Anger welled up in Elsa, and she tugged her hands away again. "They wouldn't turn me away! They'd take care of me!" She had a home, and a family. A better place than this.
Or...she had a family. She suddenly remembered little Anna, still and cold. Did she ever wake up? Did they manage to warm her? Could she go back if the answer was no?
Sabbe was raising his hands in a placating gesture. "I meant no offense. I was only telling the truth."
"Please," Elsa said, her voice and legs shaking. "I have to go to Arendelle." She felt Jonne's hand wrap around her elbow, and when she looked over the other girl was smiling, but her eyes were worried.
Sabbe scratched his chin, and looked around at the other men, all of whom were shrugging or ignoring him. "I've never heard of such a place, but I'll keep my ears open. Maybe something will turn up. How's that?"
Elsa nodded weakly and staggered backwards, utterly drained. She wanted nothing more than to lay down and cry, maybe forever.
"Hey." It was the boy, the one who had called her a witch. "What you did with the ice—can you do other things?"
She didn't want to do anything else at all, not even talk, but now Jonne was looking at her expectantly too. So she said, "I can do lots of things. I can make it snow." She could do so much more than that, but snow was enough. Snow was safe.
A wide smile flitted across his face before he forced it down. "That's—that's real—could you show me?"
"Dinner first," Meartá said, appearing next to the girls and pushing them both towards the table. "Niikko, fetch some stew. You can play later."
Elsa wanted to insist she wasn't hungry, but as soon as the bowl appeared in front of her she realized she was, in fact, starving to death. Jonne watched her eat intently.
"See, Sabbe will help," she whispered, which was not in fact very quiet. "That was a good lie! You're smarter than I thought. Of course, I thought you were very dumb."
"Ssh!" Elsa hissed again.
"And of course, you don't have to go," Jonne continued, ignoring her. "You can stay here as long as you like. Hey." She nudged Elsa, and grinned. "Will you really make it snow?"
Niikko and Jonne were staring at her. A few of the other men had followed them outside as well, but most of them stayed in the castle, crowding the doors and windows. Elsa took a deep breath, and began to twirl her hands.
Blue sparks quickly began to gather, forming the base of a ball that wasn't snow, not really, but was the potential for snow. Everyone near her was slack jawed. Everyone inside was murmuring. Elsa straightened her shoulders, feeling as though she were putting on a show. Feeling almost proud.
The ball of soon-to-be-snow streaked upwards and exploded in a burst of light and ice. Niikko tilted his head too far back and fell over. Jonne shrieked and began to jump around. Someone somewhere was laughing disbelievingly, and then someone else too, and then almost everyone.
Elsa looked around, smiling. All around large, frightening looking men were catching snow on their fingers and watching it with wonder, as if they had never seen a winter storm before. Jonne ran amongst them screaming, and Elsa—Elsa was laughing. It was so, so different from playing alone with Anna.
Then she looked to the castle. Some of the men in there, too, looked amazed and excited. Others though—like the man with the scar—looked angry or frightened. Her smile quickly faded.
"Elsa! Elsa, Elsa, Elsa!" Jonne tackled her in a hug and spun her around. "You're amazing! You have to do this all the time!"
All the time? No, she wanted to say, she can't. Her powers were a secret and lonely thing, meant only for quiet moments with herself or Anna. Her parents had made that perfectly clear. It had to be a secret. It was for the best.
But it wasn't a secret now, was it? Elsa looked around again. There were at least a dozen men outside now, playing in her snow. And it was alright, wasn't it? As long as she was careful, it was alright.
Overwhelmed with emotion, she threw her arms around Jonne. For a second Jonne staggered, but then she squeezed back even harder. Elsa laughed again as the snow fell around them.
That night she curled up next to Jonne on the furs and told her about Arendelle and Anna and the magic she hadn't meant to cast and the wind that had seemed like a dream, but had somehow brought her here.
"You might have gone a very long way after all, then," Jonne said.
"Yeah." Elsa pulled the blankets tighter and squeezed into a ball.
"I wonder where your parents were going. Who undoes magic?"
"I don't know." I hope it worked, she wanted to say. Or, I hope Anna's okay. I hope it wasn't too late. But the words got caught in her throat. Hoping had done her so little good so far that she was almost scared that saying them out loud would make the opposite come true.
"I bet your sister's fine," Jonne said suddenly, and Elsa started. She propped herself up on an elbow.
"Why do you think that?"
Jonne seemed to seriously consider for a minute. "Because I'm very lucky, and I say she is, so she has to be."
Elsa flopped back down. "That's not how it works."
"Sure it is."
"You're very lucky?"
"I must be." Jonne looked at her. "I found you. How many people find magic? I must be incredibly lucky."
Elsa wanted to believe it. So, at least for tonight, she did. "Thank you," she said.
"You're very lucky too," Jonne pointed out, "so that helps."
"How am I lucky?"
"You found me."
Elsa snorted, and shoved at her. "You're more silly than lucky."
"That works too." Jonne rolled over and threw her arm around Elsa's neck. "Good night." And within seconds she was snoring.
Elsa stayed awake for a very long time. The furs weren't as comfortable as her mattress at home, and Jonne was incredibly loud, and the castle was drafty, and somewhere some of the men were still yelling and singing. It wasn't anything like home. But just for tonight, it was alright.