A/N: I'm mostly posting this as a way to say that I won't be updating this story here anymore. That's why there was a bit of a gap between updates; I just didn't feel like posting it here. This website doesn't give good enough editing options, and I'm tired of having to mangle the formatting to get it to work here. If you're really interested, I'll be continuing to update on ArchiveOfOurOwn weekly Sunday or Monday.
Anna woke to Kristoff and Jonne staring down at them. Jonne was grinning broadly, and Kristoff looked distinctly put out.
"Well," Jonne was saying, "he could sleep with two beautiful women, or he could sleep with…" She tracked her eyes up and down Kristoff. "...you." She shrugged. "Can't blame him for that choice."
Kristoff sighed deeply and nudged the slowly stirring reindeer. "Come on Sven, it's time to wake up."
Anna groaned, stretched, and finally sat up. Elsa made a soft, sleepy sound next to her, and curled more tightly against Sven. At some point in the evening she had rolled from her back to her side facing Anna, and now she was almost in a ball.
Then Sven lifted his head and bleated, and she shrieked, jolting away and clawing at the air. Jonne was laughing immediately, nearly doubled over with it, and although Anna's first reaction was alarm she couldn't help the giggles that bubbled up.
"Are you alright?" she managed to ask.
Elsa buried her face in her hands. "Pillows don't move." Then she dropped them to glare at Anna. "Pillows don't move!"
"Sorry," Anna said, but the truth was that Elsa looked fairly ridiculous with her face still slack from sleep and a fur texture pressed into one cheek, and Anna couldn't have stopped grinning if she wanted to. "I should have mentioned that."
Elsa groaned, and then Jonne was hauling her up. "I smell like reindeer," she grumbled. Jonne laughed, pressed a nose against her neck for a sniff, and gave her cheek a wet kiss. Elsa grunted and pushed her away, flapping her hands aimlessly. "I'm going to wash my face. Someone make breakfast, please."
"I really am sorry," Anna called as Elsa walked out of the room. Her amusement was quickly fading. It might only have been the rough awakening or lingering exhaustion that was souring Elsa's mood, but Anna had seen the look in her eyes last night, and knew something like that couldn't fade away so simply.
Then Elsa stopped in the doorway to glance over her shoulder, one side of her mouth quirked in a soft smile. And Anna beamed.
"She never was one for mornings," Jonne said. "Well!" She clapped Kristoff on the shoulder. "You heard her. Go make breakfast."
After breakfast (which had been prepared by Jonne in a pretend huff), Elsa led them out the front entrance of the ice castle. It was the first time they had been able to see the entire thing, and Kristoff looked very close to crying.
Honestly Anna didn't know what to expect next. Her plan—if such a thing could be said to exist—was half formed and ill thought out. Each step had seemed so perfectly impossible that there hadn't seemed a point to coming up with the one after. All she had now was Get Elsa back to Arendelle, but it was currently clashing with I don't want to deal with the court right now.
Best to let Elsa lead then, at least for now. Elsa had been thoughtful and soft spoken at breakfast, although Anna didn't know yet if that was normal or a result of her tumultuous evening. She didn't have a baseline for her sister yet, and didn't know how or even if she should test Elsa's mood.
She'd have to learn. They had time now after all. There was no hurry anymore. "So," she said once she had managed to tear her eyes away from the admittedly gorgeous castle, "what did you want to do today?"
Elsa said, "Well," and waved her hands, trailing bright, sparkling ribbons of frost from them. Anna gasped in delight.
Elsa could summon snow drifts, and send them whipping around in intricate windblown patterns. She could make a snowstorm sprout from thin air, the snowflakes materializing without a cloud to seed them. Ice sculptures, perfectly formed with unbelievably intricate details, sprouted from the ground. There was a strange light in the magic, bright sparks and flickers that lit up the ice independently of the sheen of the sun. Most fascinating of all almost was the casually graceful way she wove spells with her fingers and the sway of her arms, completely at ease with magic that made Anna's jaw drop and Kristoff choke on his breath.
"I have to be careful making things out of snow," she said while Anna gaped. "Sometimes they come alive."
"That's...wow. Wow," Anna said. Of course she knew it was true—Olaf was trotting next to her after all—but she could hardly imagine that kind of power. "Okay. Can you control that? I mean when that happens?"
"I'm getting better at it," Elsa said. "But I'm still careful. Just in case."
They'd been wandering idly away from the castle to give Elsa space for her creations. Now Kristoff let out a low whistle and pointed at a jumbled ice structure. "What's that?"
"Huh." Jonne slanted a hand over her eyes to look. "I think it used to be a ship or something."
"No, that's our summer cottage now, remember?" Olaf said. "I made a garden in the back!"
"We don't always clean up after ourselves," Elsa admitted.
"Right!" Jonne planted her hands on her hips, then reached out to tap Kristoff's arm. "Snowball fight. Me 'n you versus the princesses over there."
"What?" Kristoff said immediately. "No way. She can control snow. That hardly seems fair."
"Aw," Anna called with a laugh, "scared you'll get your butt kicked?"
Jonne sighed. "Alright, fine. Olaf, you're on our team too."
"I said no—"
"Too late." She pegged a snowball expertly at Anna's face, leaving the princess sputtering and spitting.
Elsa tsked, her eyes narrowing playfully. "You're going to regret that." She materialized a snowball in each hand and handed one to Anna.
"Oh no," Kristoff groaned.
The fight was brutal, but surprisingly lengthy, since every time Kristoff seemed close to surrender Jonne would begin it anew. Plus he and Jonne seemed as likely to shove each other in the snow as to launch a successful assault. Finally the two of them lay panting, cheeks red and clothes covered in flecks of ice, while Anna stood over them and gloated.
"We give," Kristoff gasped.
"Never!" Jonne cried, thrusting a fist into the air. Kristoff knocked a snowdrift onto her face. "Okay fine."
He groaned and threw an arm over his eyes. "Have you ever won a snowball fight against her?"
"Yes," Jonne said.
"No, of course not."
Anna laughed and helped Kristoff to his feet. "That wasn't really fair," she admitted. "But it was amazing." She looked to Elsa and beamed. She couldn't remember the last time she had simply played like that. There was too much to do in Arendelle, too many responsibilities and people watching her.
Now Elsa watched her, her eyes bright and a soft smile on her lips. Olaf's disembodied torso, which (along with the rest of him) had been lobbed back and forth several times as well, wandered past.
"Little help?" his head called, and Kristoff quickly put him back together.
"Is this what you do all day?" Kristoff asked.
"Pretty much," Olaf said. "Elsa says we can play as much as we want!"
Anna grinned and clapped her hands together. "Then what will we play next?"
"Sledding's always fun," Jonne said, "but only if you go with Elsa because she can magic you back up the mountains. And there's four of us—"
"First!" Anna cried, thrusting her hand into the air.
"—so we…" Jonne trailed off and looked at her, looking distinctly impressed.
Elsa chuckled and with a wave of her hand created an ice sled. Anna bet it got amazing speed. "Shall we then?"
I've located Princess Elsa. We will both be returning to Arendelle shortly.
Well she couldn't send that. There were already too many questions flying around the court about her abrupt trip, and a letter like this would only spawn a million more.
But try as she might she couldn't find anymore words. Fully explaining everything would take more than a letter; it would be a novel, and she wasn't sure her vocabulary was up to snuff anyway. And what did it matter in the end how it had happened as long as she got Elsa home again? "Kristoff?"
"Theoretically, how would you sum up this whole trip? In three paragraphs or less."
He stared at her incredulously. "Had a terrible time with boats and found out snow magic is real?"
"You're no help." She sighed and tapped her pen against the rough hewn wooden table. Most of the furniture in the castle itself was made out of ice with furs and pillows draped across it, not really appropriate to lay parchment on, so she and Kristoff had retreated to the cave/kitchen area to make use of the plain wood table down there.
Well. That was one reason, anyway. Their play this afternoon had seemed marvelously fun and easy most of all. However, on their return to the ice castle Elsa had asked Jonne to come upstairs with her in a soft voice that clearly wasn't meant to extend to anyone else, and Anna had thought it best to give them their privacy. Being alone in a grand building forged from Elsa's own magic, which seemed almost a reflection of Elsa herself, made her feel more like an intruder than a guest. The natural stone walls of the cave felt more appropriate somehow.
Jonne ambled into the cave. "Time to start thinking about supper, yeah?"
"We are not cooking for you," Kristoff said flatly.
"No, but you'll help me check the traps for game if you want to eat tonight."
Kristoff paused and glanced at Anna, looking distinctly pained. Help me, his eyes said. She smiled and remained silent. "Fine," he said. "Fine. Let's go before it gets too late."
Jonne grinned and then for some reason winked at Anna. Sven trotted after them as they headed out the back of the cave; then she heard Kristoff's muffled voice and the reindeer wandered back, looking forlorn. Elsa's ice tower had been a one way trip, and he was stuck up here for now.
Anna spent several minutes more staring at the abbreviated letter and not managing to write a single stroke. Then she heard a soft footstep, and looked up to see Elsa in the doorway.
The sight still caught her breath. Quickly, Anna scanned her sister. She looked alright; no tear tracks that Anna could see, and while her posture was still a bit stiff her face was smooth and her expression warm. "Hi," she said dumbly.
"Hi," Elsa replied. She glanced around the room. "Where is everyone?"
"Oh, well, Jonne went to go check the traps, and she took Kristoff with her. Um, I haven't seen Olaf in a while though."
Elsa had made her way down the steps leading into the cave, and paused at the base of them, looking at Anna in vague confusion. "The traps?"
"Yeah." Anna shrugged. "For dinner, I guess."
Elsa stared for a second more. Then her mouth began twitching into a half-smile. "We don't trap food."
"The wolves hunt for us." She nearly had a full smile now, and pressed her lips together to try and suppress it. "There's no traps on this entire mountain as far as I know."
"Oh." Anna blinked. "Oh! Oh, well...heh, Kristoff's going to be mad when he figures that out."
"I'm sorry," Elsa said. "She's always been—"
"No no, it's fine! I mean," Anna waved her hands dismissively, "Kristoff might not be so happy, but it's fine, he's a mountain guy."
Elsa smiled full out now, and walked towards the table to look over Anna's shoulder. "What are you doing?"
Anna wanted to hide the contents of the letter for some reason; maybe because they hadn't mentioned Arendelle once since the previous night, and part of her was afraid that if she were to bring it up Elsa would take back her word. But she held her hands still and watched as Elsa read the scant missive. "Writing a letter to send back home. So everyone knows what to expect." She wanted to twist her hands together, but settled for tucking a braid behind her ear. "It's harder than I thought. I don't really know what to say."
While Elsa pulled back it was with a crease between her eyebrows and thinned lips. But her expression smoothed out again quickly enough, and she said, "Why don't you work on it later? Tell me about Arendelle."
"Of course," Anna said at once, standing to face her. "What do you want to know?"
"Everything." Elsa's smile looked sad now. "Everything I missed."
Anna told her everything. Every detail she could remember from her childhood, which wasn't much anymore, but she tried all the same. Every moment she wished Elsa could have seen in person, which was all of them.
By the time Kristoff finally returned they were curled together on a couch, Anna's head in Elsa's lap while she chattered and gestured animatedly. "No game," he snarled, stomping the snow off his boots. "None at all! How can someone who lives in the mountains be so bad at trapping?"
Anna bit her lip and sat up. She was surprised to realize from the slant of the sun that at least a few hours had passed. "Well…"
"I don't know how you haven't starved yet," he said to Elsa. She squeezed her lips together again, doing a better job of hiding her giggles than Anna.
Kristoff looked between them and sighed. "What now?"
"There, uh, are no traps, Kristoff," Anna said.
"I think she was just trying to get you out of the building…?"
Just then Jonne entered, looked at everyone, and smiled. "Had a good time then?" she asked the sisters.
Kristoff glared at her. "They said there were no traps. But I know you didn't just drag me all across this mountain for no reason."
Jonne stared at him for a minute, then slapped his chest. "You mean you forgot to put out the traps?" She threw her arms into the air. "Useless!"
"You—you—!" He flexed his fingers, growling. Jonne grinned at him, then pivoted on her heel and walked casually away.
"I'm hungry," she said cheerfully. "Who's cooking?"
The next morning Anna woke before Elsa again. Kristoff gave her a look that said he was clearly surprised to see her up so early, and willingly at that, but the thin bedrolls and excessive natural light in the ice castle meant she hadn't been sleeping especially well. Not that she'd ever say a word about it to Elsa.
She returned to her letter, meaning to finish it before Elsa woke up. Still no words would come, and after another quarter hour staring at the mostly empty page she signed it in a fit of frustration, sealed it, and handed it to Jonne when she wandered through.
"Do you think you could find someone to deliver this to the postmaster?" she asked.
Jonne turned the paper over in her hands. "I'm sure I could, but the courier would cost a bit of coin." Anna rummaged through her coat and handed over her coin purse. Jonne blinked at it, pursed her lips, and handed it back. "No, this doesn't feel right. Here, you try to fight me off and I'll take it from you."
"What? No, you can have it." Anna handed it back to her. Jonne pouted, but went for her coat and cap.
As soon as she had disappeared from the room Anna was filled with regret. That was undoubtedly a poor decision. But maybe even a short letter was better than none at all, and she could spend an eternity waiting for the right words.
Elsa found her a few minutes later. Her eyes were still sleepy, but her hair was neatly braided. "Good morning."
"Good morning," Anna said.
"Olaf wants to show you his garden," she said. "If that's alright."
"Absolutely," Anna chirped.
One corner of Elsa's mouth quirked in a smile. "And later you have to finish telling me what you did with the atlas Master Niels got you."
Anna gave a bark of laughter. "I will, but you have to promise never to tell him."
"It's a deal," Elsa said.
There was a part of Elsa that wanted to be able to play and talk with Anna forever, or at least a lifetime. To make up for the lifetime she had missed. And she certainly tried to. But deeper than that was a jittery chill that said she needed quiet, needed space, or she wouldn't be able to hold together. It wasn't anything against Anna, who was bright and cheerful and agonizingly fearful of pushing Elsa away. So Elsa was gentle and smiled even when she didn't meant it. It was alright, she thought. It wasn't a lie because she wanted to mean it.
But she was used to just Jonne, who was affectionate but independent, and Olaf, who only needed simple attention. Now her home was twice as full, at least three times as noisy, and she didn't know how to deal with it anymore. Their play this morning had tired her out more than she expected, even though Jonne hadn't even shown up until the morning was half gone, apparently off on some errand or other. It wouldn't be so bad in the evening, she knew, when Jonne would distract Kristoff with half made up chores and she could quietly send Olaf away. When it was only her and Anna talking to all hours of the night. But for now it was too much, and she needed at least a short break.
She felt terribly guilty for it. Would have felt even worse trying to explain it to Anna. So she took Jonne upstairs after their morning games under the pretense of needing to talk. She didn't want to talk to anyone, not really, but Jonne made a decent buffer. It was easier, certainly, than telling Anna that she just wanted a little while alone, and in doing so implying she didn't want to be around her sister.
Because Anna really was the brightest and best part of her day. Her confusion had faded, and while she still sometimes looked at Anna—at her sister—with a measure of disbelief it felt more real all the time. Especially now that Anna was filling in her childhood so completely, beginning shortly after Elsa had disappeared and going through the following years in order, just the way Elsa would have experienced it if she had been there.
She told her own stories too, but didn't stay to any particular order. Instead she plucked out the most interesting ones to share, and left out the times she and Jonne had simply been tired or hungry or hurt. She tried to make it sound like an adventure instead of the toil it typically had been.
(Off adventuring wasn't a good enough reason to have abandoned Anna, but it was all she could manage right now, and Anna was still too nervous to ask too many questions. The truth would come out in time.)
In the quiet moments she thought of her parents. She had expected a deep and abiding grief. Instead, after the jagged shock had worn off, she felt mostly a sense of unease and hazy confusion. She had hardly known them, after all. The idea of them was more complete in her head than the actual man and woman themselves were, and how could she grieve someone she didn't know?
Jonne was in the corner cleaning some leather. "Do you ever miss your mother?" Elsa asked her.
She paused, thought, and then rolled her shoulder into a shrug. "Can't say that I do."
Elsa frowned. "Not ever?"
"Not that I remember, no."
"I've missed your mother sometimes."
"That's good, then, that someone did."
Elsa bit her lip and wrung her hands together. "You sound cold when you talk like that."
"I don't mean to." Jonne looked up. "I love her all the same, of course, but what does it mean to miss her? That I want her with me, or myself with her? I haven't felt that, no."
Elsa sighed and sat on the floor next to her. "Don't you want to be with the people you love?"
"I suppose? Only it doesn't matter if I'm with them or not. Why should love depend on that?"
Elsa tipped her head against Jonne's shoulder. "I can't tell if you're very clever about love or if you don't really understand it at all."
"You'll not go wrong betting on my dullness." She slung an arm around Elsa and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "You know I love you, don't you?"
"Of course I do."
"Then I suppose I know well enough after all."
They sat in silence for several minutes more. Elsa needed the quiet. Needed to be able to center herself. But the deep chill in her bones was fading, and now she needed to see Anna more.
So with one more squeeze from Jonne she stood up, steadied herself, and went to find her sister.
Jonne scampered into the room in front of Elsa. She grinned at Kristoff and opened her mouth.
"No," he said at once. "We're not going with you anywhere ever again."
Jonne planted her hands on her hips. "Well that seems a poor way to repay my hospitality."
"Hospi—" He ground his teeth. Elsa could hardly blame him. The evening after the "trapping," Jonne had invited him to gather firewood, a legitimate chore that somehow ended up with him returning covered in sticky sap and thistles. The next she had cajoled him and Sven into going into town to help her haul supplies, only to return with nothing more than a new belt and some spices. She wasn't sure what scheme Jonne had cooked up this time, but she wouldn't have trusted her either.
Anna watched the goings on and laughed. She was draped across one of the ice chairs, and Elsa grabbed a pillow and a few furs and summoned another one right across from her. "You don't even know what she's going to say," Anna pointed out.
"I don't care what she's going to say."
"Well!" Jonne huffed. "I see how grateful you've been brought up to be. I'll go all on my own then." She stalked out of the room, giving Anna a cheeky smirk along the way.
"Kristoff, just go with her," Anna said. "Me and Elsa aren't going to be doing anything except talking."
"Well…" Kristoff said with a scowl, "...maybe I want to talk to Elsa."
Anna's eyebrows shot up. Elsa smiled encouragingly at him and said, "Of course." She extended her chair with a wave, turning it into a short couch, and patted the spot next to her.
Kristoff hesitated. They hadn't really gotten a chance to talk at all yet; almost everything she knew about him was from Anna's stories, which had only just reached her ninth birthday. But the boy in her stories was a constant playmate and an obviously deeply cared for companion (the one Elsa should have been), and she did very genuinely want to know him.
He took a seat next to her, sitting stiff and straight with his hands on his knees. He opened his mouth and said, "So...ice."
Anna burst into laughter, tipping against an armrest. "Are you serious?" she gasped.
He glared at her, crossed his arms, and said, "Hey, Elsa, did Anna tell you about the time she was eleven and had a cake—"
"NO!" Anna shot through the gap between their seats, landing hard in the sliver of space between Elsa and Kristoff and slapping her hands over Kristoff's mouth.
He laughed and pried her hands away. "See there was this Spanish dignitary—"
"Kristoff!" There wasn't really enough space on the couch for her, and she writhed half on Elsa's lap, with Elsa dodging her elbows as she tried in vain to silence Kristoff again.
Elsa giggled and pulled Anna fully in her lap. "So," she said, "ice."
"Right." Kristoff made a quick face at Anna. "So I'm an ice harvester."
"Anna told me."
"Yeah?" He looked both surprised and pleased. "Well, I was kinda wondering, can you make ice that doesn't melt?"
"I can," she said, "if I want to."
He let out a low whistle. "Well hell, that would drive me right out of business."
She laughed. "Don't worry, it's not for sale."
"Ooh!" Anna cried. "You two could go into business together! 'Arendelle Never Melting Ice' or something!"
"But what do we do after we've sold the ice to everyone in Arendelle?" he asked.
"Take over the world, obviously."
"Ambitious," Elsa chuckled. She squeezed Anna's hips and then gently pushed her up. "How did you learn to harvest ice?"
Kristoff beamed. "Well…"
By the time Jonne returned from whatever errand (or more likely game) she had been entertaining herself with, they were all three reclined and laughing easily. "I found one of Olaf's arms," she said, holding it up. It writhed independently of its host.
"Oh dear." Elsa stood. "Have you sent the hounds after him?"
"Yep. Hopefully he hasn't gone too far though. It's going to start storming out there." She held the twig to her back, and it scratched her obligingly enough. "Ooh."
Anna stood as well, looking nervous. "Will he be alright?"
"Oh, sure enough," Jonne said. "The hounds run as well through snow as through anything, and he's been in a worse way before."
"Jonne's put him in a worse way before," Elsa murmured.
Jonne grinned. "Impressive he put himself back together though, isn't it?"
Kristoff had joined them, and Elsa leaned over to him and said, "When Anna was four she got her dress stuck on the top branches of a tree she was climbing, and Papa had to go up and carry her down naked."
Kristoff choked, and Anna gasped. "Elsa!" She just laughed.
The storm lasted for four days. Each day Anna looked a little more nervous, but Elsa was mostly grateful for the chance to breathe. To prepare herself.
She was going back to Arendelle.
She had never thought she would, and still wasn't sure that she actually wanted to. After so long there would be nothing familiar in Arendelle. And she didn't...didn't know what responsibilities or expectations were waiting for her. She was quite sure whatever they were she wouldn't be up to fulfilling them.
But Anna would be in Arendelle with her, and that was all that mattered.
Once the storm had abated Kristoff and Jonne bundled up the furs and the books and anything else they didn't need to carry with them, and delivered it all to the healer's hut. Elsa sent along most of her wardrobe as well. None of it was appropriate for a royal palace, but she kept a few of the least worn dresses.
She still wasn't quite sure what to do with Olaf. She made him a small flurry to follow him around and cool him in anticipation of the trip down the mountain, but he couldn't travel like that indefinitely. The cloud and fluttering snowflakes would be impossible to hide. She'd just have to keep him close to cool him if need be.
Not that he seemed to have any fear about his potential melting. He ran around while the castle was cleaned, asking about gardens and summertime birds and what the animals of the forest looked like without their winter coats.
After the last question he stumbled to a stop and asked, "What are we going to do about Snowy and Marigold and Lily and Chilly and—"
"They'll be fine on the mountain," Elsa interrupted.
His face fell. "We're leaving them?"
"Yes." She stooped to his level. "But they'll have each other, and it'll be alright."
"And we're going to your home?"
Was it? She didn't know anymore, but it was past time to find out. "Yes."
He smiled and patted her shoulder. "I bet it'll be amazing!"
"Yeah." Her lips wobbled, and she quickly stood up.
As the last thing she pulled apart the ice castle and their leftover play places. She whispered to the wolves. "Guard the mountain, and if you see a fallen traveller bring them to the village." She didn't know if the command would do any good, but she felt as though she owed at least that to the people she had been quietly protecting.
"Are you ready?" Anna asked. She had been quiet in deference to Elsa's obvious unease.
If it had been Jonne asking she would have said, "No," and gone down the mountain anyway, because they both knew that some things had to be done regardless of the cost, and that she wouldn't let her feelings get in the way of her responsibilities. But it was Anna who was asking, Anna who she had already hurt, so she smiled as well as she could and said, "Yes."
Then there was nothing to do but leave.
She wasn't sorry to come down from the mountain. It had never been home after all. But she was anxious and edgy, and watched the mountain fade from the back of Kristoff's sled.
They stopped outside the little port city where Anna's ship was docked to finally figure out what to do with Olaf (who had caused no end of trouble on the ride by skipping off the sled to chase insects of pick flowers).
"He can stay in the royal suite with me," Anna said. "There's plenty of room, and no one should bother us."
"But how are we going to get him there?" Kristoff asked.
"Just wrap him up like luggage," Jonne said with a shrug. "S'long as he doesn't talk or move on the way in it'll be fine."
"Mum's the word!" Olaf cried.
Jonne tapped her lips. "Elsa maybe you ought to freeze him so's he doesn't make a mistake."
"That's terrible," Anna said at once, but Elsa just bit her lip.
"Just for a little while, Olaf," she said. "So you won't melt."
"Don't worry, I understand," he said. "Icicle mode, go!" He held his arms down close against his sides, then cleverly plucked off his carrot nose and tucked it under his chin so it wouldn't stick out.
Elsa covered him in a layer of ice, and Jonne quickly wrapped him up with some leather and rope, and shoved the whole bundle into Kristoff's arms.
"Okay then." Anna's smile was wobbly when she looked to Elsa. "Let's go find the ship."
The ship was a sleek one, much finer than anything else in the harbor. A short, stocky man with a pockmarked and uneven face lumbered down the gangplank towards them. He glared at Elsa with a fair amount of suspicion. "Captain Hagen," Anna said, "this is my sister Princess Elsa."
Elsa wasn't quite sure his face had any elasticity left to convey understanding or surprise. He simply stared at her mutely for a moment, then said, "So you'll be wanting to set sail soon?"
"As soon as possible, please," she confirmed.
"It'll take a few hours to gather the men and the supplies, miss."
"Oh." Anna tapped her fists together. "Well. Just...as soon as possible, like I said." There was a waver to her voice that Elsa wanted to ask about, but before she could Anna turned to the rest of the group and said brightly, "So! Anyone want to go shopping before we leave then?"
"I haven't got any money," Jonne said immediately, which Elsa knew wasn't strictly true.
"That's alright. I need to close the crew's accounts with local merchants anyway. Just take what you like." Jonne beamed, and Elsa fought back a sigh.
Over the next two hours Jonne must have asked if she could buy everything in the town that wasn't bolted down and could conceivably be carted away. Over and over Anna agreed, only for her to quickly abandon whatever bauble had caught her eye and move on to the next thing. For the first hour her expression got increasingly more ecstatic. In the second it slowly turned contemplative.
"I don't know if there's room in the hold for that wagon," Anna eventually said, "but if you want we could get it shipped back to Arendelle."
Jonne scratched her chin and looked at Elsa dolefully. "All this time we could have had the coffers of a kingdom behind us."
"As if I'd let you near the kingdom coffers," she retorted.
"As if you could keep me out of them," Jonne shot back.
Elsa rolled her eyes. "Stop fooling around. Do you want anything or not?"
Jonne smirked, and she regretted asking at once.
In the end she bought new, sturdy boots and a pistol. Elsa picked out a new dress and some thin leather gloves.
When they made it back to the ship Kristoff and Sven were already on deck. "I, uh, put your luggage in your room," he told Anna as they climbed the gangplank.
"Thank you," she said. "Captain?"
"Elsa will be staying in my chambers. Please find a bed for Jonne here."
"And I'm going to ask that no one bother me in my chambers except in an emergency."
Elsa thought he took a beat too long to answer, but then he said, "Aye, miss," again. Anna led Elsa below deck.
The bundle containing Olaf was propped in a corner. They quickly let him loose, and Elsa summoned his little flurry again. "Thanks, guys!" he said. "It was dark in there."
"Now Olaf," Anna said, "we don't want to be too loud, okay? We're being sneaky."
"Oooooooh." He winked and whispered, "Gotcha."
Elsa, meanwhile, was looking around the room. There were many, many books, which immediately gave her a thrill. But besides that the chambers were oddly appointed. The furniture was dark and masculine, with weaponry for decoration and no paintings, which she seemed to remember were a focal point of the Castle Arendelle's decorations. Had this been their father's boat?
Anna was wringing her hands and biting her lip. Alarm tingled up the back of Elsa's neck, but she forced herself to remain calm. "It looks different than I was expecting," she said.
"Yeah." Anna cleared her throat, and then tugged a thin leather necklace from beneath her dress. Elsa had noticed the band around her neck, but it hadn't seemed worth asking about. "Well, it's not my boat, exactly."
Anna had pulled off the necklace and now picked at the knot with nervous fingers. There was a charm hanging from it that Elsa couldn't quite see in the dim half light below deck. "It's from the Southern Isles. It, ah, belongs to Prince Hans of the Southern Isles."
"Ah." That was strange, wasn't it? Arendelle was a seafaring kingdom, and surely there were many boats in the Royal Navy for use. But all she said was, "It was kind of him to loan it, then."
"Yeah." Anna had managed to work the charm from the leather band, and slipped it on her finger. Elsa suddenly realized it was a ring. "He's...he's my fiancé."
Elsa felt nearly as dumbfounded as when Jonne had first told her of the woman she had found in the mountains. A fiancé? Anna—Anna, her baby sister, who had gotten into a snowball fight with her and laughed so brightly while sledding—was engaged?
"Elsa?" She blinked and found Anna twisting her fingers together and looking intensely guilty. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I didn't mean to hide it, it's just that we were talking about when we were kids, and I only got up to when I was fourteen in my stories and I didn't meet Hans until I was seventeen, and I knew I had to but I didn't know how to?" She winced at whatever she saw in Elsa's face. "I'm so, so sorry."
"No," Elsa said distantly. "No, that's—I'm surprised, that's all."
Anna winced again. "I'm sorry."
"No. It's just…" She shook her head. "You've grown up."
"Yeah," Anna said quietly.
"I've always wanted to see a wedding!" Olaf cried. Then he clapped his hands over his mouth, and lowered his voice to say, "Can I come to your wedding, Anna?"
"Of course," she said warmly. Elsa wanted to tell her not to promise things she couldn't deliver, but the words died on her tongue. Maybe things would be different in Arendelle after all. Olaf squealed, but then was distracted by the globe fastened to a desk, and went to spin it.
Anna was still nervously twisting her hands though, and blurted, "Are you and Jonne lovers?"
Ah. "No," Elsa said. "Not anymore."
"Oh, so you…" Anna frowned. "Well, why not? It was just the two of you up there, right?"
"That's a terrible reason to be with someone," Elsa pointed out.
"Right!" Anna said quickly. "Right, of course, I'm sorry—"
"And it was most of the reason." Elsa gave a half smile and shrugged. "That's just not who we were to each other in the end. We're better as friends."
Anna flapped her hands. "Oh no, I totally get it. I mean, I love Kristoff and everything, but I can't imagine kissing him. I don't even want to think about all the secondhand reindeer spit I would get."
Elsa blinked. "He, ah, kisses Sven?"
"No no—well," Anna rolled her eyes, "of course he does, who am I kidding. Plus they share food, like each taking a bit and...uh, he's, he's a nice guy."
"He is," Elsa said.
Anna smiled. Then the ship lurched, and she paled. At the look of concern on Elsa's face she said, "I don't really like ships."
"Well." Elsa took her hand and guided her to sit on the edge of the bed. "What can we do to help?"
A smile flickered half-heartedly across Anna's lips. "Tell me another story?" Elsa was casting her mind about when Anna said, "Maybe something you remember from Arendelle?"
From the desk Olaf clapped his hands, then dropped his chin into them. "Yeah, story time!"
Elsa paused, redirecting her thoughts. "...Do you remember we used to have two dolls that looked like us? We got them for Christmas."
"Yes!" Anna said at once. "They're still in my room! I thought it was sweet how Mama and Papa gave me the one that looked like you, and you got the one that looked like me."
Elsa smiled widely at that, and felt some of her tension at Anna's news begin to dissipate. "That's not quite what happened."
Anna blinked. "What?"
"That was...oh, you must have been three, because I think I was six. And you couldn't read yet, of course. So when there were two identical boxes you just started opening the one closest to you, even though it was my present."
Her eyes were wide with dawning realization. "So…"
"You were supposed to get the Anna doll, and I was supposed to get the Elsa doll."
"Aw!" She smiled at Elsa. "And you let me have your doll."
"No," Elsa said with a laugh. "No, I was so mad. I didn't care that the dolls were almost the same, I just knew you had opened one of my presents and wouldn't give it back. Mama actually got really angry with me and told me to just let you play."
Anna laughed. "Oh no!"
"Well, I was only six. And I think I liked your doll better once I had calmed down."
"They were together all the time anyway."
"That's right," Elsa said softly. Anna sighed happily and dropped back on the bed. Elsa laid down next to her.
"I'm glad you're coming home." Anna took her hand and squeezed it.
"Me too," Elsa said, returning the squeeze. And in saying it, she realized it was true.