When Elsa had told Anders she wasn't tired, she hadn't been entirely truthful – dealing with the drought left her perpetually exhausted. But when the choice was snoring away the hours or spending time with the sister you'd longed to be with for over a decade, there was no choice.
It wasn't that Elsa regretted staying up until one in the morning with Anna. It was just that by the time she finally crawled back into bed, she was vowing to close her eyes and not open them until at least noon, and if half the country starved due to her inaction, so be it.
"Queen Elsa? Pardon me, Your Majesty...?"
Elsa slowly opened her eyes and checked the time. Four o'clock.
That had better be p.m.
"Why are you waking me at this hour?" Elsa sounded considerably more peeved than she'd meant to.
"You told me to." Kai was standing in the doorway. "I was to inform you immediately of any suspicious activity around the town, particularly regarding the recent string of disappearances."
"Mmm hmm." Elsa's eyelids closed back all on their own. "Have there been any developments, then?"
"Err, yes. Another person went missing... right outside the castle this time. A girl in her late teens, reasonably skinny, strawberry blond hair-"
Elsa exploded out of the covers and landed on her feet, wide awake.
"Not the princess!" Kai quickly said. "Just some villager. But, Your Majesty, I can't help but notice of the many poor souls who've disappeared these past few months, nearly half have matched that physical description. Now, it could be a coincidence..."
Elsa sighed and brought a hand to her forehead. "How are we coming along on guards?"
"We've hired as many as we can, but the process has been slow. We've been doing thorough background checks on all candidates in light of the, err, previous attempt to quickly hire guards. And until we can find a new admiral, the hiring is going to be disorganized to say the least. Anders has been in charge, and he won't employ anyone younger than thirty."
"Alright, do what you can. Thank you for alerting me." Elsa had been stressing to the palace staff the importance of coming straight to her should any crisis present itself. Frankly, she was more confident her problems could be solved by freezing them than by hitting them with pointy sticks.
Of course, there was a chance this "wight" had magic of its own. The memory of an ice-eating sword sprang to Elsa's mind. Now, she didn't know where Adrian had gotten that, but she knew it wasn't exactly from Oaken's Trading Post. But – and this was the part that made her stomach churn – there was nothing she could do about that. Magic was impossible to predict or account for. Elsa of all people knew that.
Meaning the only thing she could do was huddle in her castle and wait.
"What about the new bodyguard?" she suddenly remembered.
"Ah, yes, we have at least filled that position..."
Fritz rolled over under his covers. He had slept exactly zero winks last night. He should've had no excuse. He'd finally been given his own bedroom in the staff chambers, after all. It was even one of the nicer ones with a little desk in the corner, a cozy fireplace for the winter time, and plenty of Elsa's ice covering the walls, which was very pretty and reminded him of her.
The problem was any reminders of how pretty Elsa was caused Fritz's conscience to hammer the inside of his head. This was one of two reasons Fritz couldn't get to sleep. The second was the lump under his mattress. If you were to take, say, all those silly portraits that peddler man had painted plus his fifty-page manuscript and put them all together, you'd be left with something maybe kind of sort of close to roughly about the approximate size of the mattress's lump.
Now, Fritz couldn't confirm or deny anything, but suffice to say there'd been a window of time after Elsa gave him that stuff to burn during which Fritz was unsupervised, and anything could've happened. For instance, Fritz could've stowed the illicit goods away, face-down, being extremely careful not to lay eyes on them, and then spent the next several hours trying and failing to gather up the nerve to peek.
Fritz let out a sigh full of equal parts self-pity and self-loathing, then pulled himself out of the blankets. He knelt by his bedside and slowly, hands shaking, lifted up the mattress. There were countless canvases under there, all turned on their backs, hiding the pictures they may or may not have contained. Fritz stared at them. This was about as far as he'd gotten during his several attempts throughout the night.
Of course, Fritz hadn't actually seen the paintings. He didn't know what they were paintings of. Heck, for all he knew, he could've entirely misheard that whole debacle between the peddler and the royal sisters. Maybe the peddler had just painted the sisters too fat? Yeah, that was it.
Besides, Fritz had thus far lived a somewhat sheltered life, so there were certain aspects of humanity of which he was ignorant. And what you don't know can't hurt you, right? And if Fritz didn't know for a fact, that meant he hadn't done anything wrong! On the other hand... Fritz was, by nature, a curious fellow... and what possible harm could come from one little peek? Fritz's arm inched forward.
But then it paused. All that lying awake had given Fritz plenty of time for introspection. He'd come to realize that sometimes it was the little things in life that he appreciated the most. Like his perfect, twenty-twenty vision. Or his hands which, while admittedly pretty sweaty, were also covered in smooth skin without a single hair on them.
Fritz's gaze eventually did fall on a picture, but it wasn't one from under his mattress. It was one propped up on the little desk in the corner of the room – a small painting of a beady-eyed, gray-haired, lumpy-headed woman glaring sternly. Fritz's momma had forced him take her portrait with him during his move to the palace.
Fritz closed his eyes, sighed, gathered up all the overturned portraits, then all fifty loose sheets of paper, and dumped them in the fireplace. Before he had time to change his mind, Fritz grabbed the tinderbox and set it all aflame. He watched the fire turn the contents of the paintings into a mystery that would last the rest of his life. Somehow, the smaller the burning paper shrank, the bigger Fritz's relief grew. He felt... vindicated. More free of sin than any baptism could hope to leave him. It was like... he could finally look Elsa in the eye again.
"Fritz?" There was a knock on his door, followed by a feminine voice. "Are you awake?"
AGH! He hadn't meant right this second!
"One minute!" he squeaked, frantically stamping the blackened paper with his foot. A moment later he opened the bedroom door.
"Did you light a fire?" Elsa's eyes immediately fell on the fireplace.
Fritz looked over at the burnt paper, ash, and fumes of smoke. "...No."
"Did all the ice make it too cold in here?" frowned Elsa. "I'm sorry, I've been trying to use my powers to regulate the temperature-"
"No, no, it's fine! You do a great job, uh, regulating!" Fritz blurted out, wiping beads of sweat from his brow. "Did you need something, Your Majesty?"
Elsa shut the door behind her. All of a sudden, it occurred to Fritz that he and Elsa were in his bedroom alone together. Specifically, they were alone together because Elsa had walked into his room of her own volition. Fritz felt the sudden urge to change into his guard uniform, which, while ill-fitting, was considerably more dignified than long underwear.
He couldn't put his finger on it, but Fritz once again felt that peculiar sensation he'd had while agonizing over peeping at the portraits, only multiplied tenfold.
"Yes, I... I did need something. Fritz, I... you... There's been something I've been meaning to say for some time now, and... I've never been quite sure how to put it..." Fritz gaped in astonishment as the usually eloquent queen stumbled over her words, hanging her head in a manner that was almost shy.
A hundredfold! Multiplied a hundredfold!
"Fritz, when you first started working here, I honestly didn't pay you much attention, and... I'm sorry about that." Elsa met his eyes. Hers were so very wide and blue, and looking into them was like staring down a boundless glacier. "When I had nightmares, you immediately tried to help, even though you barely knew me. You risked getting hurt by my ice, and when the rebels attacked, you didn't hesitate for a second. You've spent several nights now at my bedside because I asked you to. You didn't have to, and... you never complained. You seemed glad to help. I see now that you really care about me. And that... Well, it means a lot to me, Fritz. More than I've expressed to you."
She took a deep breath and paused, seeming to choose her words carefully. "I guess I was so caught up in myself that I didn't notice before, but... I've come to realize that the two of us are... The two of us can be... really good friends." She smiled and gave Fritz a friendly pat on the shoulder
It felt like someone had rung a bell inside Fritz's head, and now the sound was echoing in his ears. Friiiiiiiiiiiiiendsssssssssss... friiiiiiiendsssss... friiiiendsss...Fritz had a rare feeling bubbling inside his chest usually only experienced by death row inmates in those precious few seconds before the guillotine falls.
"I... would... love to be your friend!" he found himself saying.
"Thank you." Elsa eased up, seeming to revert back to her usual, composed self.
The part of Fritz's brain that spoke up every seven seconds wondered if there was any chance of segueing into the possibility of being more than friends.
I don't know, Fritz thought. If she says no, it'll make things awkward, and I don't want to ruin the friendsh-
You FOOL! snapped Fritz's brain. Can't you see that's precisely what she WANTS you to think? You've fallen into her TRAP! And now THERE CAN BE NO ESCAPE! ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER THE FRIEND ZONE!
"I don't really know how else to show my appreciation," frowned Elsa. "Would you like a pay raise?"
"You don't have to do that," Fritz reflexively answered.
"Oh, okay, then."
"But if you insist, I'll take it!"
Elsa let out a giggle. It sounded like gently falling snow... Fritz thought about the voice of his good friend who he apparently was like a brother towards. "Alright, Fritz. I'm... I'm glad you're happy here, and I promise there will always be a place for you on the staff, but..."
Wait. There was a but? Why did there have to be a but?
"...I've hired a new bodyguard."
Snckt went the guillotine.
"A... A new guard?" repeated Fritz. "A new guard besides me, you mean?"
"But, but, uh, why would you need two bodyguards?"
There was a brief silence.
"I... don't." Elsa was getting that look about her again which Fritz now realized was less of a "shy" look and more of a "How can I fire you politely?" look.
"Oh," said Fritz. "I... I understand..."
Don't. Cry. Whatever you do, don't-
"I'll go pack my things, then." Fritz hid his face, but the volume of his sniffle betrayed him.
"No, no, no, I'm not firing you!" Elsa quickly said. "I'm just... reallocating you. There's another job I have in mind."
Horse poop. Fritz had heard that one before, and it invariably meant shoveling horse poop.
"Here, let me go fetch your new job." Elsa moved for the door. "While I'm gone, you can introduce yourself to the other guard."
"Uh, yeah, sure." Fritz had already decided the new bodyguard was a jerk and he hated him.
Calm down, maybe it won't be a big deal, he tried to tell himself. I mean, Elsa just called you her friend. You have something special with her, and that can't be replac- He was halted mid-thought by the door swinging open.
His long, flowing, dark hair was the first thing Fritz noticed. It was like black silk trailing off his scalp, and it came to a perfect spit-curl at his forehead. The second thing was his size. This guy made 6'3'' look like 3'6''. He was as big as a small whale, and there wasn't an ounce of fat on his body. His emerald guard uniform was unbuttoned, revealing a patch of chest hair poking out the top of his undershirt. This didn't comply with royal guard dress code, but when you reach a certain muscle mass, your shirts start unbuttoning themselves no matter what anybody says or does.
"Nice to meet you." The man flashed a set of perfectly straight, white teeth and extended a beefy hand to shake. "The name's Samson."
"I'm F-F-Fuh..." Fritz proceeded to get his fingers crushed into powder.
"And I cannot tell you how honored I am be serving under such a magnificent and dare I say beautiful queen." Samson smoothly ended the shake and knelt to kiss Elsa's hand.
Elsa was skilled at keeping her face stoic and formal at all times, but Fritz had memorized it down to the smallest pore. It was only there a fraction of a second, but Fritz knew what he'd seen – Elsa had blushed. He could see the subtle shift in her posture, the way her eyes flickered ever so briefly at that chest hair...
The guillotine had landed ages ago, and now the executioners were dragging out Fritz's headless corpse so they could tap dance over it.
"Thank you," Elsa finally said. Her voice sounded as collected as if she wasn't talking to the manliest man in Arendelle, but that meant nothing to Fritz. He'd already decided she was madly in love with Samson, and one day Fritz would be an old bodyguard watching as the two of them raised ice-spewing neanderthal babies together.
"Now I'll leave you two to get acquainted." Elsa shut the door behind her, trapping Fritz alone in his bedroom with the giant set of abs with legs.
"So..." Fritz said conversationally, "you're gonna be a twenty-four hour bodyguard, huh? Must be pretty hard being away from your wife for so long... Doyouhaveone?"
Samson let out a laugh that could churn butter. "I'm not married," he said brightly, "but you wouldn't believe how frequently I get asked that!"
"Uh huh." Fritz had to force his gaze away from the chest hair. Maybe if he didn't acknowledge Samson's existence, it would be like he wasn't real...
"But y'know who I would like to marry?" Samson's big, ravishing grin nearly blinded Fritz.
"Haven't the foggiest," he said dully.
"I had heard the queen had ice magic," said Samson, "but nobody told me she was so gorgeous."
"Really?" Fritz's voice like nails scraping a chalkboard. "I hadn't noticed."
"What do you think, buddy? Do I have good chances with her?" Samson let out another chuckle. It was dawning on Fritz that Samson's smile wasn't a facial expression so much as a permanent fixture.
"Uh, no, sorry." Words were tumbling out of Fritz's mouth that he swore had never passed through his brain. "She's got an... ice-power thing where, uh, anyone who gets too intimate with her... freezes to death. Your... appendages would turn black and fall off. And then you'd die. Horribly. It's the absolute worst way to go."
"Oh, I don't believe any of those rumors," said Samson. "I'm sure the queen would never hurt anyone."
"Okay, but I'm warning you-"
It was at that moment that the door re-opened and Elsa entered the room, and she'd brought someone with her.
"Whoa! Is that my new bodyguard?" Anna let out a wolf-whistle. "What's his shoe size?"
"Funny story, actually," said the hulking behemoth of man-meat. "I had to make a special arrangement with the cobbler. He had so much trouble fitting me at first-"
"No, actually, Anna, that's my bodyguard," cut in Elsa. "You're getting Fritz."
"Oh." Anna moved her gaze from Samson to Fritz, her enthusiasm fading. Fritz glanced at the pair of size two boots sticking out of his clothes closet.
"Uh, Queen Elsa, could I speak to you for a minute?" Gathering his resolve, Fritz ushered Elsa out into the hallway. Normally he'd be too paralyzed with fear to take this kind of initiative, but Samson's existence had a strange way of motivating him.
"Is everything alright?" asked Elsa.
"Um, uh, don't you think it would be better if I stay with you and the princess gets that other guy?" Fritz stammered out. "Y'know, because you and I are... used to each other. It would be, um, impractical to throw off our rhythm at this point."
"No, Fritz, listen to me..." Elsa leaned in to murmur in his ear. Hearing her whisper sent a shiver down Fritz's spine, but it was a good kind of shiver. "Anna's had a... bad experience with a stranger. I need to leave her safety to someone I know I can trust."
"You- You think I can protect her from this 'wight' thing?"
Elsa shook her head. "That's up to the town guards. Anna's not leaving the castle until this mystery murderer is caught. It's giving her cabin fever. Kristoff and I have been so busy lately... I was hoping you could give Anna some companionship."
But I'm your companion! Fritz had to stop himself from saying.
"And Fritz, if you see anything suspicious around her... even from her boyfriend... I want you to come to me immediately. Can you do that for me?"
"Y-Yes, of course!" squeaked Fritz.
"I'm putting a lot of trust in you, Fritz, but I know you can handle it." She patted him on the shoulder again.
What Fritz had actually heard was, "Ooooh Fritz, my sister is sooooo important to me, and I need somebody valiant and chivalrous to take care of her! If you were to do that for me, I would be VERY appreciative, if you know what I mean..." By the time he and Elsa returned to his room, Fritz was feeling much more willing to guard Anna.
"Samson and I will be going now," Elsa told them.
She remembered his name? She remembered his name? If green was a feeling and not a color, Fritz would be feeling positively verdant.
"Don't worry," Samson told Fritz as he and Elsa made for the door. "Queen Elsa is in good hands." He gave a painfully unsubtle wink.
The door clicked shut, leaving Fritz alone with the princess. It's okay,it's okay, he told himself. Guarding Princess Anna can't be that bad. I mean, how different can it be from guarding Queen Elsa, right? He looked over the girl. She was currently wearing a beautiful, expensive-looking dress covered in dirt.
"Hi," said Anna brightly.
"So... have you been outside?" asked Fritz.
"Huh? Oh yeah-" Anna glanced down at her filthy clothing. "I was gardening. My boyfriend said I needed a hobby and I was like, hey, how hard can gardening be, right?"
"Uh... But why didn't you change into clothes you wouldn't mind getting dirty?" said Fritz. "That way you wouldn't ruin your nice dress."
"Huh." Anna looked genuinely enlightened. "I hadn't thought about that." She conceded the point. She didn't, like, go change clothes or anything. But she conceded the point.
"Well, um, you wait outside my door, and I'll put on my guard uniform," said Fritz.
"What? I don't care if you wear a uniform or not. Try and keep up, okay?"
Anna was already out the door and speeding down the hallways, forcing Fritz to chase after her in his long undies.
"Princess Anna, wait!" Fritz didn't understand her. Elsa had probably never touched dirt or sprinted anywhere in her entire life. How could this girl possibly be related to her?
As far as bodyguards went, Fritz wasn't in the best shape, meaning he was soon out of breath, and when Anna rounded a corner he lost her completely. Fritz leaned against an icy wall, panting.
Fritz could see it now – The instant the princess was out of his sight for two seconds, she'd get killed by the wight, and Elsa would stand over her corpse, sobbing, "This is all Fritz's fault!"
Luckily, Fritz found Anna alive and well out in the gardens.
"Oh, there you are, Fits." Anna was kneeling by a row of exquisite bushes full of countless breathtaking flowers.
"Fritz," he said. "Wow, did you plant all those yourself?"
"Nah, those are Gerda's. Mine are over here." Anna pointed to a large mound of overturned soil to the immediate left of the bushes. It looked like the place dead flowers go when they've been bad.
"Um... Are you sure you're doing that right?" Fritz stared at the scattered plant seeds stuck halfheartedly in the dirt-mound.
"I'm a princess – We're naturally gifted at this kinda stuff," Anna said as she attempted to transfer a wilted potted plant into the soil by pouring it like a cup of water.
"Hey, look, here comes Gerda now," said Fritz, glancing over at the horizon. "That's pretty nice of her to let you mess up all the soil right next to all her pretty flowers like that."
Anna froze. "I just remembered something I have to go do. Here, hold this." She rose to her feet and handed Fritz her spade, which he unthinkingly accepted. Then Anna ran towards the castle at full speed.
Fritz didn't quite catch the meaning of this until Gerda arrived and started screaming. It occurred to him that Samson was probably making out with Elsa right this minute.
Fritz wondered if it was too late to salvage any charred paper from the fireplace...