Queen Elsa awoke with a start. It was in the dead of night, and she was lying, awake, in her soft, azure bed. The stars and moon outside cast pale, milky light into her room, where everything was still.
Unable to sleep any more, Elsa sat up, threw the covers off, and slid out of bed. She walked over to the triangle-shaped window and sat on the sill, staring blankly into the space beyond. The sky was very dark, and the stars twinkled very prettily. Below, the city and the fjord were dark and quiet, and past those were the green fields of the dale.
It was not the first time, in the eternity that seemed to pass since that day, when Elsa found herself here, at this window, staring at a world so large and small; a world so large that Elsa could not see it all, and a world so small that it could fit in the palm of her hands. This, she knew from her long years of tutelage, was the great paradox of the monarch. The monarch must rule and make decisions for the lives of others, more than she could count even in a lifetime, although she may not know the life for whom she decides, nor the ultimate path it traces across the skeins of fate.
"There is no heavier job," her father had said; "and no greater calling."
And Elsa had asked, because she did not understand, "Why do we rule?"
"Because they let us."
"But why do we rule?"
"Ah." He had ruffled his mustache. "Because of our name."
It had been so very long ago that Elsa had thought on those words, and longer still that she had first heard them. But they came to mind often these days, and accompanied a persistent revision, a new question that she asked every day and night, but for which there was no answer: "Why me?"
She did not know why, but she felt the stars would know, if any would, for it was with the stars that all this had begun. The stars that granted wishes, as they surely ought, no matter who you were. The stars that had answered her prayers before, and could answer them again.
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the cool pane of glass.
She whispered, "Please, bring my sister back to me."
She sat like that for a long time, before she pulled away from the window and opened her eyes again. She stared silently at the dark, calm sky, and still the stars twinkled, and the wind blew, and night turned into day.
The day had come that all had anticipated – not just those in the Arenborg, but all those in Crystalwater and the kingdom at large. The news had spread like wild-fire of the fall of Lord Hans and the end of the Long Winter, and as the sun shined its handsome face once more upon a land long-starving for want of it, an entire country seemed to wake and rise as one, stirring like a bear from a deep winter's slumber. In unity, they cried for the blood of the tyrant.
The excitement was palpable in the air itself. Queen Elsa walked down the long corridors that lay between her tower and the throne room. Once there, she would preside as her small council interviewed the prisoner; and then she would issue her judgment. But as far as she was concerned, the matter was already settled, and it was her bitterest regret that there was no sentence harsh or strong enough to undo what had been done.
She entered the throne room to a cacophony of applause. How different the court looked, now that so many of its members had been replaced. Her eyes immediately snapped to the familiar Lord Hugoss, seated at his place at the small council table, his face sallow but his eyes burning. Next to him was Sissil Morey the godswife – a survivor, that one – and Kai, the Master of Letters. And then there were the new faces: Ser Martin Olaf, the Marshall – his face hard and his beard brown; Lady Maple Linnaeus, the Court "Wizard" (an inappropriate term, as she was wont to say, but a title was a title); Ser Flynt, the Captain of the Guard; and, finally, seated in the middle was her Chancellor, the young Lady Ysmir Corel – the one whom all called "the Valkyrie."
Lady Corel was seated upright with her hands clasped together. She was a hard sort, shrewd and calculating, much like her mother – not, in other words, a warm person. But then, neither was Elsa.
They rose at her entry and bowed as one. "Your Grace," greeted Ser Martin, "the prisoner is being brought up from the dungeons to stand trial as we speak."
"Very good," said Elsa tersely as she strode purposefully across the room. "I do not want a repeat of yesterday's trial. You are my own small council, and you can do better than that."
Despite her words and tone, the various councilors flashed knowing grins at one another. Even Lady Corel's lip twitched. The sentencing of Lord Myles had been almost farcical, but then Elsa felt little sympathy for the man anyway. His time, and the time of his son's, would be well-spent in the town stocks.
Elsa climbed the dais and sat straight-backed in the stone throne. How odd it felt to be presiding over court again. It had been months, but the novelty, the queer nostalgia, refused to subside. There was little surprise there, however: something was missing, after all.
Not long after, the doors to the throne room opened and in strode a contingent of at least twelve men, eight of them flanking the four who held the ragged, decrepit, red-haired man between them.
Elsa's hands curled into fists, but she kept it under control. Hisses emerged from the crowd of courtiers lining the walls, and a few audible curses could be heard as well. To their credit, her small council was keeping silent.
The men dragged the gray-faced man to the center of the room, where they let go. He wobbled weakly in place, his hands chained together by the wrist, and stared with baleful emptiness at the table in front of him.
Lady Corel leaned forward in her chair. "I'm surprised you haven't managed to magic yourself out of here, my lord," she said coolly.
Hans did not respond. He spat on the ground and glared at Lady Corel, who gave a thin, mirthless smile. Of course, she remembered, too. She was there.
"Unhand me, you swine!"
Hans struggled against the soldiers that had grabbed his arms. Elsa's eyes were still sodden, and they streamed with tears as she looked at him now. He lifted his arms…
She had screamed with rage. She felt the energy course through her, saw the world change its shape, and her mind said the words before she was even aware of it.
She was standing and the men who had been holding Hans were thrown back. Ice had erupted from the floor of the tower room to encase his hands and legs, and he struggled fruitlessly against their restraints.
And then, his eyes grew wide. "My magic…"
"You won't be using my magic anymore," Elsa growled darkly. She was bubbling with rage. She raised her hand to finish it, and then felt the firm grasp on her wrist.
Anna's squire. He looked older now. Anna's squire…
Elsa cleared her throat loudly. "Ser Martin, you may proceed with the charges."
Ser Martin stood, and unrolled a roll of parchment that had been sitting on the table. He peered at it for a moment, and then began speaking in a loud, deliberate voice.
"Prince Hans," he announced to the room at large, "you stand accused of conspiring against Her Majesty Queen Elsa of Arendelle, the First of Her Name, the Ice-Blood, and the crown and people of the Kingdom of Arendelle. You further stand accused of perjury, of instigating rebellion, of masterminding the assassination of the late King Agdar and his wife, the former Queen-Consort of Arendelle, and of fomenting war between the Kingdom of Arendelle and the neighboring Duchy of Weselton. Add to this list the deaths of countless more – lords and ladies, knights and peasants – in whose killing you were complicit if not downright responsible."
The entire throne room had started hurling jeers at Hans, who only stared hatefully back. When the noise had died down, he rose his voice. "Is that all?"
"Hardly," injected Lady Corel, as Ser Martin sat down again. Her voice was smooth and soft as butter. "You further stand accused of precipitating, through dark and unspeakable sorceries, the Long Winter to which all in the kingdom were held hostage." She said the words with apparent relish, and none could fail to notice the smirk that formed on her face.
Hans spat again, and gave a short, derisive snort. "That winter wasn't me," he growled.
"The evidence is insurmountable," said Lady Corel. "I trust you know the punishment for practicing dark magic in this country."
"It wasn't me," he snarled, and then, quite suddenly, changed tacks. "Why bother charging me on this? Is the punishment for treason and murder not enough?"
At this, Lady Corel grinned with definite relish, and looked half a predator as she said, slyly, "Your father will want to know what's happened here, won't he? You know this, I'm sure. I expect some clemency on that count is your only hope at this point. But nobody from here to Nassau would even open their mouth if they knew it was a dark wizard we were executing, and not just some spoiled brat from the isles."
Hans grunted. "Well, the storm wasn't my doing," he said, and his voice was a pitch higher now. "If you want someone to charge for that, look no further than your precious queen. She's a witch, you know!" His voice soared into the upper registers, and his body convulsed as he all but screamed, "A WITCH!"
The entire small council burst into laughter, and Hans's face melted with furious disappointment. Lady Corel cleared her throat and sat back in her chair. "That is quite a claim, my lord," she said with a tone of airy concern. "I will investigate."
She turned around in her seat and locked eyes with Elsa. "Your Grace, are you a dark, evil witch?"
Elsa forced a smile and replied, automatically, "Not that I know of, my lady."
Lady Corel turned back around with a smile of her own. "I have concluded my investigation," she announced. "As the Chancellor of Arendelle, my verdict is that you, Prince Hans, are guilty of all the charges that have been filed against you."
The throne room erupted into raucous noise as all started jeering at Hans, whose face was white as a sheet – noise that only died down when Ser Martin banged the table with a fist. "Guilty is the verdict!" he cried. "All opposed?"
None said a word, and Ser Martin banged the table again. "Very well, then!" he declared, and the throne room burst into noise once more. "Prince Hans is found guilty of far too many crimes to count! Your Grace, what should the punishment be?"
"A month in the stocks," said Elsa at once. "Keep him watered; I'm sure the townsfolk will keep him fed. Afterwards, we'll put that Royal Executioner title of yours to good work, my lady." She gave Lady Corel a punctual nod, one the lady returned with an unconcealed grin.
Lord Hans was taken away, all but dragged from the room by the soldiers surrounding him, his face a mask of pointless fury. When he had gone, Elsa stood, and the rest of the small council stood as well. With a wave of Elsa's hand, the court was dismissed. She stepped down the dais and was met by Lady Corel, who placed a fist over her heart in salute.
She greeted Elsa quietly, her demeanor grim again now that Hans had been taken away. She was tall, and dressed in long, padded violet robes. All around, courtiers were speaking to one another as they filtered out of the room, and the other councilors were absorbed in their own conversations. "Your Grace, I only wanted to ask if you still meant to…"
The Valkyrie knelt. She was at the head of a column, no; a battalion of men and women at arms. They had to be at least two or three hundred of them crowding the throne room, and all of them bowed as she did.
She pulled a long sword from her belt and placed the tip of it against the floor. The sound of scraping steel against leather filled the room as others did like.
"Your Grace, my sword is yours."
Elsa kept a still face. She looked down on the Valkyrie and her men as impassively as she could. It was odd; ironic, almost, that in another context, she would be at the mercy of this band of warriors. But here they were, though they outnumbered her three hundred-to-one, bending their knees and swearing their fealty, after nearly two years of civil war, strife, and conflict. How much her name seemed to mean, that those long, dark months seemed a dream, now.
When the Valkyrie stood again, Elsa lifted her chin and addressed her in the name of ceremony: "Lady Corel of the Wings, I name thee Chancellor of the Kingdom of Arendelle."
Appreciative sounds murmured from the crowd, and all rose and said, in an uneven chorus, "Long live Queen Elsa! Long live the Valkyrie!"
Later, the moon rose on a warm, green midsummer. The city and castle were alight with celebration, and amidst the dancing and the revelry, Elsa was reminded inextricably of her coronation: of the feasting and the partying that had taken place that August day almost two years ago; of the young, red-haired woman that Elsa had long since lost hope she'd ever see again.
It was lucky that so many were so distracted by dancing and drinking to notice the tears that had rolled down her cheeks. But Lady Corel had noticed, and she moved very quickly. Elsa remembered being helped out of her seat and guided away, remembered seeing her violet eyes glow with concern – no, empathy.
She had held Elsa until the tears dried. Elsa wiped her cheeks with her sleeves. "I'm sorry," she said, barely keeping from choking. "You shouldn't have seen that."
"There is no shame in loving someone," Lady Corel said quietly. "I also know what it is like to lose a loved one."
A spasm of guilt filled Elsa's heart. "I… I am…"
Lady Corel cut her off with a tender squeeze to the shoulder. "I know. I'm sorry, too."
"Yes," said Elsa tersely. "The summer is almost over."
Lady Corel nodded, hesitating slightly, then seemed to compose herself. "There is some news regarding the succession crisis in Weselton," she said, changing the subject, "I've received word that the baron of the Dyngehus is interested in replacing House Weselton with another interested party, and has assembled a conspiracy to this effect." She inclined her head slightly. "He implied that House Linnaeus might have a claim."
Elsa had to keep from laughing. "Your wife is going to be a very powerful woman."
"She already is." Lady Corel smiled slightly and bowed her head. "By your leave."
Elsa nodded and watched as her Chancellor walked away to begin talking to her wife, the Court Wizard. No sooner was the conversation ended than Ser Martin approached, bearing a long, thin package of gunnysacking in his arms.
"Your Grace," he said, dipping his chin. He wore his leather armor, painted on the front with the insignia he had taken for his own: a black mountain, tipped with snow. "I've brought what you asked for."
She was in her room, hours after it had happened. It was mid-morning, Midsummer Day, and the city was being secured by the Valkyrie's forces. The castle was taken and, all over Crystalwater, City Watch were waking as if from deep sleeps, confused, lost, and frightened.
"Don't do it," Ser Martin had said as he held her wrist. "My queen –"
It was the look on his face that did it, that caused her to go limp, that brought the picture of what she really was to the front of her mind: a monster.
She didn't remember anything after that. The Valkyrie's men carried her to her tower, sick with grief beyond reckoning. It was like her heart had been cut in two, and nothing – nothing – nothing – nothing at all was right.
The grief washed over her in waves, and she lay drowning in moments and gasping in others between the vivid flashes of the nightmare that wouldn't end.
She pinched herself, flung ice at the walls, rolled on the floor and bit her wrists so hard it left marks. At last, she rolled into a ball and lay sobbing, silently, on the ground.
In her room, hours after it had happened. She watched a ray of sunlight creep across the carpet, let in by the large, triangular window that, for the first time in many months, felt the warmth of the sun.
She didn't hear the door open. "Queen Elsa."
She unrolled her hands, and felt a slight pain in the crooks of her palms where her fingernails had been digging. Slowly, she pushed herself into a sitting position. The room swam before her, the bright morning light stinging her eyes, and Ser Martin knelt beside her.
"Are you okay?"
Elsa couldn't bring herself to speak. Her voice stuck in her throat, and she shuddered violently. How could she begin? There were no words for what she felt, for the grief and fear and hatred that consumed her.
Suddenly, her mouth was moving, and she heard her own voice dull and tinny in her ears. "I can't be your queen."
Ser Martin's brow knitted in puzzlement. "I'm sorry?"
"I can't do this" – she stopped abruptly, realizing that she did not know this man's name, the name of her squire. "I – I can't. I'm not fit to…"
Her body convulsed, and she screwed her eyes shut as she keeled over. "It should have been me," she whispered. "It should have been me."
Ser Martin did not immediately respond. She felt his presence, though; felt him kneeling there, unmoving. And then, softly, she heard his voice.
"I can't begin to imagine how you must be feeling," he said. "But you should know that I trusted Ser Anna more than I have trusted or believed in anyone. I was her squire, you know; I am prouder of that fact than anything." He sighed. "Before we… well, she told me that she knew the wages of our mission here, and you should know she did not flinch in the face of that fact."
He paused, and for a long moment, Elsa thought he was done speaking. Then, "My father used to tell me that I had to go into the same line of work as him – mercenary, fighter. He said the most important thing a good mercenary had to know was that the best fighters are the ones that survive, and the ones that survive are the ones that keep their sense of self about them – the ones that don't get caught up in nonsense above their head. There were no true knights or paladins, he used to say, because they were the addled idealists who were the first to die – doomed fools, all of them. On the battlefield, all that mattered to a fighter was his life and his pay-day.
"As a child, of course, I believed every word. When the kids in town attacked me, I really believed it was my own fault for being weak. And then, I met her. At first, I didn't really believe she was real, though I really wanted to. And now…" His voice shook a little, and he cleared his throat before continuing. "Now I know that he was wrong all along. Even in a world of mercenaries and selfish men, there were still true knights. Maybe they were doomed, maybe they were fools – but they were still there, and just by being there, they made the world worth living in."
Ser Martin stopped speaking, and Elsa raised her head to look at him. He was smiling, somewhat wistfully, and looking vaguely in the direction of the sun-filled window behind her. "She was the best of us," he said finally, "and she never stopped believing in you. So, too, with me." At this, he reached to his side and pulled a short, narrow sword off his belt, which he laid flat on the ground between them. "My sword is yours, my queen."
"Thank you," said Elsa, and she accepted the package tenderly. It was heavy, and shifted in her grip.
"You're sure that you don't want help?" asked Ser Martin tentatively. He was truly a devoted man – he would make a good Lord Protector.
"No, thank you," said Elsa, and turned to go. "Meet me in my solar an hour from now."
"An hour?" Ser Martin rose an eyebrow, and immediately Elsa began to wonder if she underestimated the task.
"I may be late," she admitted with just a hint of sheepishness, "but I won't dawdle. An hour."
Ser Martin only nodded, so Elsa turned on her heel and left the throne room. Two guards rushed to take her side as she left, but she waved them off.
She left the castle and stepped into the warm, August air of the mid-day.
A leaf fell to the pavement in the castle courtyard, the first, no doubt, of many to fall that season. Soon, its brothers and sisters would join it in littering the earth, and they would fade into wind and soil, and then only ice would mark the spot as their grave.
Spring and summer had exploded out of Midsummer Day, when the clouds cleared and the storm ended, with more force and vigor than any thought possible. Crops thought long-dead and buried under years of snow burst from the ground, branches heavy with an abundant harvest, and all the forests began teeming with unprecedented lushness and life. It had been called the Miracle Spring, and the short, hot summer that followed was a season of celebration.
Elsa knelt and picked the leaf up off the ground. She looked at it, and spun it around by the stem. It whipped like a carousel until her fingers had completely crossed one another, and then it whipped the other way as they moved back.
She tucked the leaf into her dress. When she was certain it was secure, she hefted her package and continued on through the gates.
The man at the gates saluted her. "Your Grace, will you require an escort?" He looked somewhat doubtful, anxious as he said it.
"No thank you, Ser," Elsa replied coolly.
The man relaxed visibly. "Very good, Your Grace."
She walked the cobbled path by the fjord, the field alive around her with the bright green colors of that fierce, short summer. It was a summer that had had too little time, yet in that time blazed more fiercely than any summer that had come before. A strong breeze came off the water, and Elsa paused to feel it on her skin. She liked the way the wind tousled her hair.
Her eyes lowered to the green fields. There was another reason this summer was remarkable, as well, as she looked at the dancing flowers. The golden crocuses swayed prettily in the breeze. August was usually marked by their paucity – but not this August. They didn't seem to want to go.
She continued down the path to the Royal Cemetery, where the grass and weeds had grown thick and ugly. Nobody came here anymore – by royal decree. She did not want to risk anything. It was – had been – her last hope. So much had she hoped the hot summer meant something, was a sign from the gods that her prayers were answered. Every night she went to sleep hoping that the next day would be the day it happened, and every morning she woke from a dream it was true. She had walked this path hundreds of times now. But now, she knew she wasn't dreaming. She held the package in her hands. The nightmare was real.
Elsa stared at it – no, her. Was she a statue, now? Could those eyes see anything, or were they as inert and lifeless as stone – as ice?
The statue looked exactly as she did when she spoke her final words. She was kneeling on a marble slab, held feet above the ground by a dark timber scaffold for better to catch the sunlight. But for all that, she was still unmoving, still an icy statue, her hand still outstretched to cradle a cheek it had died holding.
"Here we are, again," said the prisoner.
Elsa had dismissed her guards. It had been weeks. As she stared at him, the cold fury in her heart grew more and more pronounced.
"Yes," she agreed, "here we are again."
Hans smiled thinly. The effect was somewhat ruined by his coarse beard and ragged look, but Elsa knew – better than most – that old habits died hard.
"I suppose you want a confession out of me, then?"
Elsa wrinkled her nose. "Not quite. I don't need you to confess and, frankly, I don't care if you do. Neither does anyone else in my kingdom."
Hans snorted. "There's still my father," he said, a little vaguely.
Elsa laughed. "Your loving father, yes. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. No, I don't want a confession, Hans. I want to know…" She leaned forward. "Why?"
Hans looked nonplussed. "Why? Why not? There are only a handful of ways to become rich and powerful, and fewer still that are legal."
Elsa glared at him, still, leaving unspoken the real object of her anger. She wanted to will in him the pain and suffering that she felt now, at ten thousand times. But she very much doubted if Hans had ever loved anyone. It was with genuine despair that she reflected there was no punishment at all that would serve for him.
"Or is that really the question you're asking me?" he went on. "Are you mad because your sister is dead?"
The cold fury bubbled with sudden heat. No, she thought, don't let it get to you…
"Because I'm not the one you should be talking to, in that case. I'm not known for freezing much. You, on the other hand…"
Hans grinned. "I don't know what you're so upset about. You should embrace it. For millennia hence, bards and poets will speak of these days as a second great winter. Me, I will go down as the dashing, handsome villain – and you, the heroic, rightful queen. If it's good enough for the history books, it should be good enough for you. Think of it: The Legend of Elsa, they'll call it. And what a gripping tale it will be."
Elsa exploded. Ice scattered across the walls and floors, and the temperature in the dungeons plunged below freezing. Hans's grin vanished and he retreated to the corner of his cell, where he wrapped himself in moldy, old sheets.
But there was nothing Elsa could say. She left the dungeon consumed with hatred – not for him, but for herself.
Elsa composed herself. It had been months. Her fingers played at the edges of the gunnysack package in her hands. She promised she wouldn't dawdle.
"Well, here I am," she said lamely.
The statue did not respond.
Elsa bit her lower lip. She promised she wouldn't dawdle. "It's funny," she said anyway, "most of these past few years has been you coming to me, hasn't it? Now here I am, coming to you, and you're…"
The statue did not respond. It was still smiling and staring blankly.
"I tried everything," she said defensively. "Well… not everything. I can think of one other thing that might… but… I'm afraid." Her gaze flickered away. "There's no guarantee that my death would bring you back, anyway. And I can't… I can't just leave all these people."
Even though she knew the statue couldn't hear, and wouldn't answer, the words still felt meaningless, vacant.
"Not like you did." She said it with more venom than she meant, and her heart twisted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I know why you did it. I just…" She swallowed. "I just wish it didn't have to be so."
She stared down at the package in her hands. "The second time we kissed," she said slowly, "I, uh, I liked that one better, I think. I didn't feel as bad about that one. It felt surreal, really. When you asked me to kiss, I couldn't believe it. I wanted more. Not just kisses, but… you." She looked up again. "I wanted more time with you."
The statue smiled.
"I wasted so much time not spent with you, because I was afraid of what being with you would do to you. You know what? It turns out I was right, but…" She laughed darkly, hating herself more profoundly than ever. "I don't care about that, right now. If I could do it all over again, I'd have kept you close from the start."
A weary, acidic feeling settled in her stomach, and she exhaled heavily. "I guess that's the difference between you and me," she said, and now she really, truly felt the finality overcome her. "I'm selfish, and you're the best of us."
She blinked, and, tears in her eyes, lifted a hand. She grabbed the statue's cold, outstretched fingers, and held them for several long moments.
She dropped her hand and went to the package. She undid the fastening and undressed the contents within: a long, blue-hilted sword with a scintillating silver blade, and a shovel.
Elsa set the shovel aside, and held the sword in her other hand. "I thought it would be fitting if you took your sword with you," she explained. "And I thought, since I'm the one who killed you, it was my job to… bury you."
Elsa considered the sword for a moment, and then the pedestal on which Anna knelt. She supposed that, at least for as long as it took to dig the grave, the sword might as well be close to its owner. Briefly, she wondered if there was some way to fix it in Anna's outstretched hand – but no, that would be grotesque. She'd place it at Anna's knees.
She took a single step and tripped on the hem of her dress.
With a cry, she fell forwards, her arms flailing in the air. The sword swung up, and then down, and she heard an unmistakable crack as the edge of the sword slammed against the frozen statue.
A flash blinded Elsa, and she felt the sword fly from her hands. Stumbling, she fell backwards just as another crack split the air and the marble pedestal shattered.
Colored dots filled her vision as a warm body collapsed on top of her.
Her heart started hammering wildly as she heard someone gasp. She strained to see, and then, suddenly, very clearly, she did.
She tried to speak, but it felt like too many words were forcing their way up through her throat for any one to make it out.
Anna was lying on top of her, her piercing blue eyes blinking furiously between bouts of staring at Elsa's. Their faces were inches apart.
Elsa started feeling queasy, feverish. No, she thought, not another dream, not another dream…
Anna pushed herself up slightly, and then Elsa knew.
The sword. The sword. Anna was flesh and color once more, and it was all thanks to…
"The sword," breathed Elsa, and she burst into tears.
She launched herself into a sitting position, throwing Anna back as she did. Without restraint or inhibition, she wrapped her arms around Anna's body and held her close and tight. If this was another dream, damned be if she was going to let it go.
"You're alive!" Elsa sobbed. "Oh my gods, Anna, you're alive."
Anna said nothing, and, for a moment, Elsa wondered if anything was wrong. She pulled back so that she could see Anna's face, though taking care not to unwrap her arms. Yes, it was still the face that she knew and loved, warmer and healthier, in fact, than ever she had seen it before – but very, very confused.
"I'm… alive?" she said quietly.
Elsa felt the sobs come again, and could only nod her affirmation. "Yes!" she burst. "Gods, yes!"
In that moment, it seemed to hit Anna too, for her eyes widened ever so slightly. "Of course. The sword." She held up her hands and looked at them, then carried a copper-strawberry braid over her shoulder and looked at it. "I'm cured," she said flatly. "Cured."
Then, without any warning, Anna threw herself against Elsa, and their lips locked together. But Elsa, who was lost to the sheer ecstasy of the revelation, could not respond in kind. She let Anna push her down, let her mouth be assaulted by clumsy, eager lips, and let her pull away when she was finished.
Elsa opened her eyes, and she saw Anna was as red as her hair. "Sorry," she said. "I just had to…"
"Don't apologize," said Elsa, breathlessly. "My gods, you're alive…"
Anna lifted herself off of Elsa and extended a hand to help her up, one Elsa gladly accepted. Together, they stood, and Anna held Elsa's arms as they gazed into one another's eyes.
"I'm the one who should apologize," said Elsa bitterly. "For everything. It was my fault that you…"
"No," said Anna, "it wasn't."
"But my magic…"
"Your magic didn't kill me," said Anna. "At any time, I could have walked away. But I never did – I didn't want to."
Elsa blinked stupidly. "But… why?"
Anna moved very close, and placed the tip of her forehead against Elsa's. "Because I love you," she said softly.
Elsa closed her eyes and, for a blissful moment, enjoyed the feel of Anna in her arms. It was almost too much, too much to know that this wasn't a dream, this was real. All of the thousands of thoughts and regrets of the past few months surged forth, the hopes, the missed opportunities, the promises…
As suddenly as a lightning strike, she remembered.
Elsa opened her eyes and squeezed Anna's arms tightly. "Anna!"
Anna opened her eyes as well, and blinked a few times. "What?"
"Come with me! Quickly!"
Not letting go of Anna's arm, Elsa pulled her along behind her, passing the tombstones on the way out of the cemetery. She climbed the small hill at the cemetery's edge and crested it, sweeping her braid behind her ear as she looked at the fields beyond."I promised you!" she said, and turned to look down the opposite slope.
Anna gasped. Fields and fields of golden crocuses, swaying in the breeze – the golden flower, the sigil of Crystalwater and Anna's heraldry, the spring flower that had waited all until August for this moment alone.
"They're beautiful," Anna murmured. She tore her eyes from the scene at the same time Elsa did. Neither said a word. Elsa lifted a hand to cup Anna's cheek, and Anna did the same for her. As they drew together, Elsa brought her lips to Anna's. Her heart was never lighter nor freer, and, for the first time in forever, all was right in the world.