This might be the darkest fic I've ever written. I did this more for myself, to practice my writing and explore Elsa's character. But if you happen to like this...much thanks and love from me. :)
In Pain and Blood
As the sole ruler of Arendelle, Queen Elsa had both expected and not expected to marry and have a family.
Strange way to put it at first, but it made sense in her mind. Elsa knew that one of her many duties was to provide heirs for the kingdom, possibly from her sister Anna's family or preferably her own line. At the same time, Elsa never envisioned herself as a married woman, when she already went through much to establish love with her sister. For a long time, she never felt quite ready to take her capacity of love to the next level. All that changed when she met Lord Halvard of Finland.
He came to Arendelle with the initial intention of establishing trade agreements and negotiations. It quickly became so much more than that. Though Halvard was ten years older than her, the age gap only became an asset to the bond they established. Elsa fell in love with a man whose kindness, strength and maturity exceeded that of men her age. He in turn was taken by the perfect blend of her sophisticated grace and warm heart. He also found great beauty in the queen and her powers. Their countries and lives became intertwined through marriage. Shortly following that, they had two sons together. Aron was the product of their wedding night; two years later they welcomed a second prince and son named Aksel, who inherited his mother's icy powers.
Halvard had hoped for a big family; but after three miscarriages, and finally a stillborn birth that had hit Elsa the hardest, he spared his wife further grief and suffering with the love he had for his family, regardless of its size.
Aksel was smart and reticent, with a keen eye and had taken a liking to books from an early age. In short, he was like his mother in many ways. But where the similarities end disturbed her. For one thing, Aksel's problem was not a lack of control. It was his anger that grew into malice. Unlike the love Elsa had for Anna, Aksel resented his older brother for more reasons than one. It manifested one day as ten year old Aron and eight year old Aksel practiced sparring in the castle courtyard. Halvard and Elsa oversaw their play fighting, of course. Though Aron was bigger and older, he was no match for Aksel's superior talent and skill. Elsa had instructed her younger son to refrain from using his powers. It would be unfair and very dangerous, she said.
White-hot anger flared within the young prince as he fought. Aron, the heir of Arendelle. The favorite son, no matter what his mother and father said otherwise. Aron, Aron, Aron. It was always about Aron.
Aksel pressed on relentlessly, his wooden sword seeming to come from all over the place. Aron parried every blow, but clearly looked tired and overwhelmed.
"H-hey, Aksel," he panted. "I think we should take a break now-"
Aksel lunged, catching his brother off guard. Then he struck Aron in the head with a blast of ice, rendering the older boy unconscious and prompting cries of alarm and outrage from Halvard and Elsa. There was nothing subtle about Aksel's blow, nor was it an accident. Luckily Elsa knew what to do. It felt like deja vu as she and her family raced to the mountains and found the trolls.
Old Pabbie was able to save Aron, but the boy would forever have a shock of white hair even paler than his brother's blonde hair.
Aron was immediately sent to bed. But Aksel remained in the library to hear his mother's furious tirade.
"Do you realize the weight of what you have done? Of what could have happened? You almost killed your brother!"
Elsa being angry was a rare and frightening sight to behold. Even Halvard was on edge at the extent of his wife's wrath. But Aksel remained unmoved and unafraid.
"Why can't you get along with Aron? He has done nothing to you."
Finally Aksel burst out in anger. "You're wrong! Why does Aron have to be heir? I'm better than him at everything. I'm smarter and stronger."
Elsa stiffened. That was it? That was his reason for striking Aron? She glared at her son. "That does not excuse you in any way to hit him. I taught you to control your powers."
"It is under control," he retorted.
"Not for abuse," Elsa snapped back. "Even if you were my firstborn, your abuse of power is exactly why I cannot let you have the throne."
At that, Aksel's cold facade fell away, revealing the vulnerable eight year old boy he really was. Shock came to his wide eyes, then anger.
Elsa shook her head in exasperation. "I knew someone who was the youngest of thirteen brothers. Thirteen, Aksel. And you complain about being born second? Put your pettiness aside, go straight to your brother's room and apologize."
No sign of remorse appeared on his face. Instead he met his mother's eyes with a chilling gaze. One an eight year old boy should not have. "No, I won't. He's the one who should be sorry for being so weak."
Elsa whipped a hand across his face.
The boy stumbled back but did not fall. Blind rage had taken her as she snapped and moved faster than she ever had. It left her just as shocked as Halvard when she realized what she had done. Aksel was shocked too, but no tears came. A layer of frost had protected his cheek; otherwise the blow would have been serious.
He was right. He was better and stronger. That realization stirred Aksel from his stupor and he gazed steadily back at his mother. Elsa brought her trembling hand close to her side and turned away.
Her voice was tight and clipped. "I'm very disappointed in you, Aksel. And you should be ashamed. Halvard, take him to his room. Right now."
She really didn't want any more to do with him that night.
Halvard made a weary sigh and put a firm hand on Aksel's shoulder. "Come along, son." He too felt angry and disappointed, but his wife had already voiced much of what he wanted to say.
They left the room, leaving Elsa alone to sink into a chair and fight the inner turmoil that raged like a storm inside her. Where did she go wrong? She always made sure to treat the boys equally. She never loved or favored one over the other. Furthermore she had always been Aksel's mentor, teaching him how to control his powers and embrace his unique inheritance. Apparently that wasn't good enough for him. He wanted another kind of power. A power determined by birth and far beyond his control.
Halvard and Elsa didn't speak to their son for days. Aksel spent much of his time shut up in his room, with only the servants coming in or out to communicate or provide his needs.
Elsa tried to talk this out with Anna as she confessed her misgivings about Aksel. But Anna too was at a loss. Her children never had that problem. Anna never did, either. She had never been jealous of Elsa's powers or status as heir.
Halvard could tell Elsa was greatly troubled and distracted, even as they tried to push away their worries by making love in bed one night. He had always been quite good at eliciting long, loud cries of pleasure from his wife. He took pride in the way he sometimes drove her to screaming in wordless ecstasy. But not tonight. Elsa turned away as soon as they finished, breathing heavily but laying wide awake. Unable to rest and unable to get any peace. His calloused yet warm hands rubbed circles over her bare shoulders.
"What's on your mind, love?"
"I'm thinking of separating them, Hal," she said softly.
He frowned. "That didn't work out for you and Anna all those years ago."
"This is different," she insisted. Elsa turned back to gaze up at him. His heart skipped at the sight. Her hair had fallen loose from her braid to softly frame her face, still flushed from their prior intimacy. He would tell her how lovely she looked if the situation at hand wasn't so serious.
"I never meant to hurt Anna," she continued. "I struck out of fear...I tried to save her, and I failed. But Aksel knew what he was doing. He had all the serious intent to hurt his older brother. Worst of all, he didn't even apologize."
She blew out a frustrated sigh. "I'm not my parents. I don't want to do the same thing they had done to me and Anna. Their intention was good, but it wasn't the best way. I...I feel so lost, Hal. I don't know what to do."
He pulled her into a hug, their arms and legs intimately entwined beneath the bedsheets. He planted a soft kiss on her forehead, his beard tickling her skin.
"We did all we could, Elsa. It's up to Aksel to learn from his mistakes and grow up. I'm sure he will, in time."
"I pray you're right."
She wanted to sleep in his strong, broad arms and forget it all. Her fingers traced the scars on his torso, ones accumulated from many years of hunting and fighting for game on horseback. Halvard was very fond of the sport.
Years later, shortly after Aron turned eighteen and Aksel turned sixteen, Halvard embarked on a hunting expedition that would be his last. Men returned to Arendelle bearing his body on a makeshift stretcher. His death both devastated and puzzled everyone. Though Halvard had been attacked by a bear, his wounds weren't fatal and he was supposed to recover in a few days. Elsa took this hard. Struck with grief upon seeing her husband's body, she mourned for days after the funeral.
Anna had been her source of comfort and strength. She never grew weary, even as her sister cried into her shoulder for hours. They would hug each other without exchanging words; Anna couldn't find the right ones to comfort her sister, yet her silent support was all Elsa needed. In a way, they made up for that terrible time when they had grieved for their parents, divided and isolated.
When Elsa had work to do, she hardly left her desk. Most of the time she simply sat there, leaving her paperwork largely untouched and burying her face into her folded hands.
Aron came through the door without a sound. At eighteen he had grown into a tall and handsome young man, taking after his father save for the white hair.
He put a hand on her shoulder and shook her as gently as he could. "Mother? It's late...you need to sleep in bed."
She stirred upon hearing his soft whisper. Looking up at him brought a fresh wave of pain through Elsa.
'He looks so much like Hal...'
She averted her eyes, and a soft sob escaped through her clenched teeth. Aron wrapped his arms around her shoulders. He suppressed a shiver. His mother had always been cold to the touch. She felt even colder now, deep in her grief and despite the fire warming her study. Still, he didn't relent in his firm, loving hug. She reached up to squeeze his hand and give it a grateful kiss.
Aksel stepped through the half-open door. He kept his distance, standing straight as a rod and keeping his hands folded behind him. "What's going to happen, Mother? What's the future for us and Arendelle?" His voice was calm, measured.
Elsa gazed wearily back at him. "I will have to continue ruling as queen, until Aron comes of age on his twenty-first birthday."
"Three years from now?" Aron bit his lip and looked away, doubt and panic clear on his face. "This is all so sudden. I...I don't know if I can."
"You can do it, Aron. You must." The insisting tone in Aksel's voice took Aron aback. He put a hand on his older brother's shoulder, his smile breaking the mask of ice on his face. "Don't be afraid…I believe in you."
Aron shivered at his brother's icy touch, but he didn't shrink away. He was both surprised and grateful for his kindness. Aksel was older and more mature now...he wouldn't dare hurt Aron. Elsa smiled at this. There was hope yet for the two brothers. Love was the answer…it always had been.
She was pleasantly surprised by Aksel's change in attitude since her husband's death. She had expected far worse, especially when she made it clear that Aron would be king, not Aksel. It was like salt on a wound, fuel to the fire. Or rather, more wind to chill the ice.
Perhaps Aksel did away with his frozen heart, after all. For the next three years, he worked hard to restore his rocky relationship with Aron. From giving advice on kingship to encouraging Aron to kiss a girl he liked, Aksel became the good brother Aron desperately needed. With Halvard gone, Elsa had her hands full with ruling and protecting Arendelle. Seeing Aksel and Aron get along was like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. The future would be bright for them all, she was sure of it.
But just a few weeks before Aron's birthday and coronation, Elsa found she was wrong. Aron mysteriously fell ill, stricken with such sickness that he couldn't get out of bed. Afflicted with chronic stomach pain and coughing up blood day and night, Aron's life was in danger once more.
Even stranger was Aksel's change in behavior. The eighteen year old prince oscillated between fretting over his bed-ridden brother to shutting himself away in his room. Elsa sympathized with his agitation and inability to rest.
Kai, her aging yet ever faithful steward, came into her office one day. "Queen Elsa, I come on behalf of the council."
"Not now, Kai. I have enough things to do right here."
"This cannot wait, your majesty."
Elsa looked up upon hearing the insistent urgency in his voice.
He leaned in and whispered, "It's about Prince Aksel."
The queen instantly stopped whatever she was doing. She burst into the council chamber with worry etched on her face. "Has something happened to Aksel? Is he-?"
"Rest assured, your majesty, Prince Aksel is perfectly fine and healthy."
Elsa breathed a sigh of relief at the advisor's interjection. She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence. It was harrowing enough to worry over one son.
"Why have you summoned me, then? Surely nothing else could be so urgent."
Elsa surveyed the gathering of advisors and ministers. Then she blinked in surprise. She spotted Kristoff, Pabbie and a few Arendelle guards among them. One of them stepped forward to speak.
"Your majesty, we were part of Lord Halvard's hunting party three years ago."
"Yes, I remember..." she murmured.
The guard looked both sympathetic and nervous. "Forgive me for making you remember that tragic day, Queen Elsa. But we've come upon something much too serious to keep quiet about. The symptoms Prince Aron has...are the same King Halvard had before he died."
Elsa's eyes flew wide. "What? How have you come to this?"
The guard flinched at her sharp inquiry; perhaps sharper than she had intended. "I-I still remember well," he managed to say. "During that hunt, a bear had attacked us and threw Lord Halvard off his horse. We killed it after some time, but he came away with gashes on his chest and legs. He could barely walk, let alone get back on his mount. We gave him wine to numb his wounds. He drank some, too. It was supposed to make him better, but his pain grew even worse and his wounds became infected. We tried to rush him back to Arendelle, and get him treated with proper medicine and a physician." The guard shook his head in despair. "We were too late."
Elsa mulled over this. She already knew much of what she heard. But this time, its link to Aron's dilemma unsettled her.
The guard turned to Kristoff, imploring him to speak.
Anna's husband stepped forward with a grave expression. "Pabbie and I had tried to figure out how Halvard died. We couldn't conclude anything back then. But since Aron got sick, we resumed our investigation. Pabbie wasn't able to detect it before, but now..."
Kristoff fell silent. Elsa felt mounting dread as she pressed: "What is it? What did you find?"
Pabbie spoke this time. "Nightshade. Poison derived from an herb after it's been fermented and extracted. Very rare, very deadly, and very hard to concoct. I found traces of it in the king's flask of wine." His solemn voice bore so much weight that everyone in the room felt it all too well.
Elsa's breath hitched in her throat. "You're telling me that my husband had died from poisoning? And Aron...he's been poisoned, too?"
"Pabbie and I checked up on Aron yesterday," Kristoff said. "We asked him if, by any chance, he remembered getting some food or drink from Aksel somehow...before he got sick."
"And what did he say?"
Kristoff visibly swallowed. "A few weeks back, Aron proposed to Hannah and she said yes. He and Aksel...they drank a toast to celebrate."
Elsa had to grip the table's edge to keep steady. It was all coming together, like a storm that threatened to knock her down. 'This isn't happening. Please tell me this is all just a dream. None of it is true...'
Everyone exchanged fearful glances, reluctant to divulge terrible news to the queen. But they had to. "All things considered, we have reasons to believe that Prince Aksel...is responsible for the death of Lord Halvard, and the illness of Prince Aron."
Her denial was instant. Maternal instinct. "No. It can't be. Aksel may be a difficult young man, but my son would never do such terrible things."
Or could he? If everything about her beloved Hal was true...Perhaps there was more to her son than she knew. Intelligence and ill intentions were a dangerous mix. Elsa knew what it was like to keep secrets. What secrets did Aksel have?
Elsa fought to keep her voice from trembling. "Tell me this. If Aksel was the one to slip the poison into Halvard's wine, how was he successful the first time and not with Aron?"
"Like the troll elder said, the poison is quite rare," a minister replied. "Prince Aksel must've gone great lengths to obtain the herb, and even greater to make the poison. I could only suspect that he must've known about this poison through intensive studying. It would take a great amount to poison a big, strong man like Lord Halvard. Prince Aksel must've used most of his supply in the first attempt. What he has left to poison Aron isn't enough to kill him."
"Fortunately there's time to save the prince," Pabbie said. "Bulda and I have mushrooms and herbs containing rare antidotes. They can counter the poison and get rid of the toxicity in his body. More treatment and rest in bed is what Prince Aron needs before he can fully recover."
Hearing that relieved some of the tension in the room. But not by much. The room suddenly seemed much colder, largely because of the upset queen. Elsa felt many things at once: fear, sorrow, disbelief, anger. Finally she had to make an effort of relaxing and unclenching her tense body. "I can't believe it..." she murmured. "I just can't. I thought my son's desire for the throne died long ago. Could he really have kept it a secret all this time?"
Everyone looked to her with grave sympathy.
Though she expressed her disbelief, it all made sense to her now. Halvard's mysterious death. Aksel's dedication to study. The way he unexpectedly rekindled a friendship with Aron for the past three years. Was that friendship merely a ploy, an act of deceit to build trust between the two brothers? Aron had let his guard down, and he paid the price.
"Will you tell Aron about this?" Kristoff asked.
Elsa shook her head in despair. "I cannot. Aron loves his brother. At least, he loves what Aksel wants him to see. Hearing the truth will break him."
'Just as it broke me...' No. She was the queen. She could not afford to break. It took all her inner strength and willpower not to do so in front of the council. With her beloved husband gone, Aksel suspect for serious crimes and Aron deathly ill, Elsa stood as the sole pillar of strength for Arendelle. If she collapsed, what could be said about the rest?
The charges the prince would face were very grave. Sending him to exile or keeping him in prison for life would only increase the risk. Everyone knew what had happened when Elsa exiled herself to North Mountain, even with good intentions. One could only imagine with dread how much danger Aksel could wreak if he was banished against his will. He must be dealt with before he became a danger to everyone. The council did not have to say much on how precisely that would be done. Because Elsa was the one to settle it.
She declared with heartbroken finality: "I am the queen and his mother. He is my responsibility. I will kill him myself."
Elsa could not risk an open fight with him. Aksel had a terrifying degree of control of his icy powers. To have mother and son fight with ice and snow would wreak disaster upon the entire land. She would have to catch him off guard, when he least expected it. Perhaps he could even die not knowing who killed him. The fact that she quickly came up with a good plan terrified her. She knew his weakness all too well.
After the secret emergency meeting, the council dispersed, Kristoff and Pabbie went to treat Aron, and Elsa approached Aksel's closed room. She gently rapped her knuckles on the door. She never poked her nose into her sons' rooms; she respected their privacy. To her surprise, Aksel opened the door.
"Yes, Mother? What is it?"
She tried not to look like she scrutinized him with suspicion as she stared back. "Come with me, Aksel," she finally said. "It's been a long time since we took our horses through the forest."
His eyes widened with rare delight. "Just with you?"
"Just with me."
He followed her without question to the royal stables, where they mounted their horses and spurred them to a trot outside the castle.
Elsa tried not to worry about Aron. With Aksel under her watch, Aron was safe from harm. She imagined her firstborn son tucked firmly in bed…either drinking the trolls' herbal brew or sleeping away the fever, with no idea of what his mother had to do. She would let him live in blissful ignorance. She had to. She could even have the trolls remove from him all memories of Aksel. Yes, that would be best.
Snow fell lazily and heavily, filling the air with the stark white beauty of winter. Their horses' heads bobbed and mist billowed through their flared nostrils as they worked their way up the snowy slopes.
It had been years since Elsa was here with her whole family. They were happy times. But grief and sorrow fresh in her mind, and the horrible revelation about Aksel, made those memories seem like a hazy, faraway blur. Aksel seemed elated that his mother finally diverted her attention from Aron. It showed in the way he soaked in the sight of the trees and sky touched by swirling ice and snow.
They stopped their horses by a steep cliff, which overlooked the kingdom of Arendelle.
"The castle looks so beautiful from here...doesn't it, Mother?"
"Yes...yes, it does..."
To anyone unawares, his remark might've seemed like one of innocent observation. But Elsa only saw it as one filled with dangerous longing, that Arendelle in all its beauty would be his one day.
She wished he was a small child again, an innocent boy who cared for nothing but the warmth and love of her embrace. Everyone saw how he thirsted for power. But Elsa remembered when he had thirsted only for her milk. She remembered how, as a toddler, Aksel always begged his mother to read a bedtime story before going to sleep. She remembered the awe and pride on his face when he first discovered his powers. It pained the queen to see that her baby had become a ruthless murderer. She wanted to hold him tight to her chest, tuck locks of his pale blonde hair behind his ear and tell him everything would be all right. But how could anything be all right if he was responsible for everything wrong? Aksel had killed his father, and nearly did the same to his younger brother. Had he been successful, she would've been his next target. He could not live any longer. That much Elsa knew, even as her heart broke at the thought.
'I've failed you, Aksel. It's my fault, too. Now this is the price I have to pay.'
Elsa fought to steady her trembling hand. She had a blade sheathed beneath her long, flowing cape. Longer than a dagger, but short enough to be kept hidden. She couldn't let him hear the rattling of the blade's scabbard, or know what she was about to do. The wind in her eyes dashed away her welling tears. She couldn't cry. Not now. Nothing should be in the way of delivering the fatal blow.
Aksel kept staring down at Arendelle, his face turned away from his mother. His eyes would used to be filled with pensive wonder and thoughtfulness. Now all she could see was dark, cold ambition. No longer the eyes of a boy, but eyes of one who schemed and killed.
High above the kingdom, out of sight, just the two of them immersed in the winter storm. The perfect time and place to end the life of her son.
Her lips moved, but no words came out. 'I love you. I'm so sorry.'
Aksel never saw the blade coming. Just as he had never seen her hand hitting his face all those years ago. A single, clean and lethal stroke. That was all it took. Elsa's blade cut through his neck with blinding speed. For a moment streaks of blood stained the white winter air. His headless body tipped from the saddle. It sprawled heavily onto the snow. Aksel's horse shied and whinnied in fear from the smell and sight of blood. Arendelle guards sprang from their hiding places, two of them reining in the horse. By Queen Elsa's orders they had hidden in foliage by the cliffs, close by and ready to defend her should Aksel put up a fight. They found that they didn't need to. Elsa had done her terrible duty.
The queen didn't know how she had the strength to dismount from her horse. Only then, when she saw her son's body and the blood that flowed from it, she lost all feeling in her legs. She fell to her knees. The blade slipped from her limp hand. She clutched her arms tightly around herself and doubled over, as if she took a wound to her stomach. Sobs racked her body. Tears ran down and froze on her cheeks. She shut her eyes and let out an anguished wail. She let it go.
In pain and blood she had brought him into the world. In pain and blood she brought about his death.
He may have been born a prince, and died a murderer. But to Elsa, he would always be her boy. If she tried hard enough…if she wanted to…could she keep in her memories only the innocent, lovable child he once was? Her broken heart ached and bled, torn apart from the grief of a mother rather being hardened by the justice of a ruler.
The guards stood still and silent. They were tight-lipped, and some were even close to tears themselves as their hearts went out for the grieving queen.
For a long time, no one moved or said anything. Only the wind and snow howled a dirge around them, mourning with the queen.
Finally, one guard broke the silence with a soft inquiry. "What shall we do with his body, your majesty?"
A shuddering sigh escaped Elsa. She rose to her feet. Her ragged whisper, filled with despair and weariness beyond her years, was almost lost amid the wind. "Take him back to Arendelle...bury him in an unmarked grave. There will be no ceremony."
Soon Aron will be crowned king once he recovered. Aksel will be forgotten in time. Only Elsa would keep proof of his life and death forever in her heart.
"Treat him gently. He's my son."