Workmen dumped barrels of sawdust into the water, until it was a dark slurry.
"Make sure it's stirred up for the Queen," called Admiral Pyke to the workmen. He turned towards the queen. "I've found the proper ratio is about six parts water to one part sawdust by weight, your majesty," he said with a gentle smile. "But the mixture must be almost completely homogeneous to work as it should."
Elsa nodded politely. The Admiral was in his mid-thirties, but he somehow seemed younger than her, even if he was really ten years older. He had a healthy enthusiasm for ships in all their glory, and his office was decorated with small models that he'd made himself. He'd once joked that they were simply a grown man's way of continuing to play with toys. That he was without wife or children added somewhat to his seeming youth.
Elsa watched the slurry being mixed around. The air was cool, as it was most days in Arendelle. The experiment was taking place in a drydock, which had been filled with a very specific amount of seawater for their purposes. The workers used long paddles from a ship to stir the slurry around. When they were finished, Pyke nodded to Elsa, and she raised her hands for a bit of theatrics.
Her power coursed through her. She could feel the chill in the slurry, and it took but a thought for her to begin the process of shaping the water into ice. She didn't need her hands, but of course there was the usual group of gawkers and rubberneckers that congregated nearly everywhere she went, eager to see a use of her famed power. It was better for them to have a story that they could take home, and so she waved her hands about and let off small jets of snow as she shaped the ship.
"It may be hard to form ice, your majesty, as one of the many properties is the slow rate of melt," said Admiral Pyke, but by the time he'd finished his sentence the ship was already halfway built.
In the early years, they'd tried making ships from plain ice. Shipbuilding was a difficult and labor-intensive process, and having Elsa craft a ship from nothing but seawater would have been a great boon to not only the navy of Arendelle, but to the merchant fleet as well. They had tried it, but the ice was too prone to cracking and melting, even with a number of variations they'd experimented with. Elsa could make a small rowboat, but anything larger would crack the moment it hit rough seas.
Pyke called the new material pykrete, and it was invented to address the earlier problems. It would still be a ship for cold waters, and wouldn't last too long if taken south in the summer, but if the pykrete ships worked out they would save the country a small fortune. It was amazing what a little sawdust could do when added to the ice.
Elsa built a ship from the blueprints Pyke had given to her, a heavy ship that would take a crew of thirty. There was much more to a ship than Elsa could make with ice, at least if she wanted it to survive away from her continuous influence - pulleys, ropes, and sails would all have to be made to fit out the ship. It was a start though, another ingenious use of her power, and unfortunately another way that the people of Arendelle were made dependent on her.
"Do your tests, Admiral," said Elsa with a nod after the ship had been made. She'd crafted struts for it that would snap as soon as the drydock was flooded, and the ship stood gleaming in the sunlight. Elsa had added a few embellishments to it, and if not for the fact that it was made of ice and sawdust it might have been a match for any ship in the Crystal Sea. If Pyke was right, perhaps it would overcome its humble origins. "I look forward to reading your report."
"You're not staying to watch?" he asked. He wasn't quite able to disguise the hurt in his voice. She knew that he had an affection for her that went above and beyond the normal admiration and respect that her subjects displayed. When she remembered, she wore her ice dress higher when she was around him, keeping the throat of it closed and her breasts fully covered, a more demure look than she would naturally tend towards. Pyke was handsome and intelligent, a good natured man with much to offer, but of course it would never have worked between the two of them. He'd never made a move towards courting her, but she wasn't sure whether that was because she was his superior or because of simple fear of rejection.
"I have a meeting with the Duke of Weselton," said Elsa. "But I look forward to seeing your report on how the ship holds up under stress. In its final form we'll have more in the way of reinforcing support, but - well, you know what needs doing." She offered him a smile.
"Yes, your Majesty," Pyke replied with a faint smile of his own.
Pyke was far from the first man to pine for Elsa, and she was fairly certain that he wouldn't be the last. Most people treated her with deference, and some with awe, but there were certain men who had an admiration for her. They liked her power, not simply the title of queen, but the raw power of her magic. Some people coveted it, and some wished to exploit it, but others like Pike simply wanted to be close to her, to see where the ever increasing power would take her.
She didn't doubt that some men found her attractive in her own right. She made one wall of her room into a mirror of ice every morning, and took a long look at herself before dressing. She was pale, with hair so blonde it was sometimes mistaken for white. Her skin was flawless, though whether it was because of the cold that permeated her to her core or simply a gift of her birth she couldn't say. Pretty, yes, but even when she was resting and calm there was something in her nature that she could see might keep people at a distance, and it wasn't just the enormous amounts of power she wielded.
Walking back to the palace was an exercise in keeping up a smiling face and pretending at humility and grace. By and large, the people of Arendelle loved her. Her power had given rise to a booming economy, and peace and prosperity like the kingdom had never seen before. Anna and Kristoff were more loved, of course, and Elsa had allowed them to take up as many of the traditional royal duties as possible. Anna opened the market in the morning, and Kristoff would smash a bottle of wine against the prow of a newly made ship. Elsa would consign herself to the library to work out a better tax policy. They all played to their strengths and worked together in harmony to keep the kingdom happy. Anna and Kristoff had three children now, and so had less time to visit and idly talk. Anna could often be seen carrying her youngest around town with the two older children following close behind.
Elsa often told herself that she wasn't lonely.
When she had finally made her way through the mindless chatter of her subjects and her hands had been warmed by shaking a dozen hands, she closed the doors to the Great Hall behind her and made her way up to the sitting room. Olaf was in front of the fire, roasting a marshmallow as his own personal storm cloud kept him from melting.
"Hiya!" he called to her. His marshmallow combusted as he looked at her with a goofy grin.
"Hello Olaf," said Elsa with a sigh.
"Aw, what's got you down?" asked Olaf. "It's a beautiful day!"
"I've been thinking too much," said Elsa.
"Never been a problem for me!" said Olaf.
"Have you seen the Duke of Weselton?" asked Elsa.
"He's in the library," said Olaf. He turned back towards the fire, not seeming to mind that his marshmallow was a blackened cinder, "Do you ever think that books are like a marshmallow?"
"No," said Elsa.
"Yeah, me neither," said Olaf.
The library was one of Elsa's favorite places in the whole of the palace, and the Duke of Weselton sat in the chair right next to the one Elsa had worn a groove in, waiting for her.
"Did you know," he said as she came in, "That the princess of Corona had the power to heal people with her hair?"
"I did," said Elsa with a nod. "She lost the power when her hair was cut, if I recall."
"And yet it raises so many interesting questions, doesn't it?" asked the Duke. "How did the magic know what a healed person was like? How did it know what to fix and what to leave as it was? If a person lost a finger, would the magic have known what to make a new finger look like? It was fabled to even have the ability to reverse aging, yet how did it know to remove the wrinkles and tighten skin? It suggests either that the magic could read the intentions of the princess, or that there is some true platonic ideal which the magic was hewing to. The princess wasn't a surgeon of course, and yet it's claimed that she could heal a broken bone or even internal injuries without knowing the specifics of what was actually wrong."
The new Duke of Weselton took after his father before him in many ways. He was short and wiry, with thick glasses and a moustache that bordered on ridiculous. Where his father was an arrogant and greedy military man, the new duke was energetic and boundlessly helpful. He'd taken the title two years prior, and had spent much of his time in Arendelle since then, almost exclusively in the company of Elsa. His name was Quincy, but for the most part they called each other by their titles.
"I suppose you're going to relate the healing hair to my own power?" Elsa asked.
The duke blinked twice. "Why of course I was. You see, the central question here is one of agency and intellect. Does your cryokinesis have some guiding intelligence of its own? Olaf can know things that you don't know, but if the brain is indeed the seat of the soul, what then of a snowman without a brain?"
"Have you ever thought to come to me without questions?" asked Elsa.
"Where would be the fun in that?" asked the duke with a smile. When she didn't return it, he frowned. "What's the matter?"
"This power," said Elsa. "I look out over my kingdom and I see a thousand uses for it, perhaps a hundred of which I've put into practical application. Yet part of being queen is looking beyond the here and now and instead thinking of what the kingdom will be like in two or three generations. What becomes of the kingdom when I die? If I were killed in the middle of the night by an assassin, entire industries would collapse."
"Surely you exaggerate," said the duke. "The kingdom existed long before you, and will exist long after."
"We're gradually putting ourselves in a position where the entire kingdom depends upon my power," said Elsa. "The kingdom of old was robust, but the kingdom as it stands now is built on the possibilities of limitless ice and snow. What happens when that foundation crumbles? What will the kingdom do when the houses that I've built of ice begin to melt after my death? If I die at eighty, will anyone even remember how to harvest ice from the lakes for themselves?"
"My, you really are in a mood," said the duke. "You worry about the diplomatic aspects as well."
"It wouldn't do to discuss that with one of the parties in question," said Elsa with a small laugh.
"We are your stalwart allies," said the duke.
"And it has nothing to do with the prospect of facing me on the field of combat?" asked Elsa.
"That's part of it," said the duke. "There are benefits to being your ally, and a great many reasons not be your enemy. More than seeing you stalking towards a fortress with scythe made of ice and crystalline armor, we worry that you would simply visit an eternal winter upon us. You could bury our kingdom in snow and ice from the safety of your palace, and we could do nothing to stop you. Eventually we would either be force to capitulate or die of starvation and frostbite. If I said these scenarios didn't factor into our calculations, you'd take me for a fool or a liar. But I have to say that the more we get to know you, the better we like you, and the happier we are the your power would fall into the hands of someone as kind and just as you are."
"Do you feel that I'd be swayed by such simple flattery?" asked Elsa. Yet she could feel herself buoyed by his words, and her dark mood began to leave her. "What did you come here to talk about, anyway?"
"Can't a man come for a simple chat with his favored queen?" asked the duke with a smile.
"Not in my experience, no," said Elsa. "You want me to try something with my power again?"
The duke nodded. "The ice mills worked wonderfully, didn't they?"
"Yes," said Elsa with a slight frown. "But it's yet another way that the kingdom grows dependent upon me."
The ice mills sat on the edge of town. They were designed much like a watermill or windmill, with a large central shaft that was used to operate any number of things - an oscillating saw, a grinder to turn wheat into flour, a loom to spin fibers into thread and weave thread into fabric, or a dozen other things that could translate the simple spinning on the axle into some kind of useful work. The difference with the ice mills was in the form of motive power. Each of them had an ice beast that stood two stories tall and spent its day turning a crank. The practical effect was that Arendelle had more mills than all the neighboring kingdoms combined, and even without a pykrete fleet it made a good deal of economic sense for other kingdoms to send their raw materials to Arendelle to be transformed into finished goods. If the tests of the pykrete went well, it was quite possible that Arendelle would be responsible for nearly all of the milling within a few hundred miles.
"We don't know for certain that the snow beasts will evaporate or cease their movement in the event of your death," said the duke. "It may well be that they continue on, giving you all the more incentive to make as much as possible. And - forgive me for saying it your majesty, but we don't know for certain that you can die in the first place."
"Ridiculous," Elsa said, though she'd had the same thought every so often.
"I've known you for six years now, more or less," said the duke. "You haven't aged a day. The physical effects of your magic are unknown, but an immunity to the cold and a lower body temperature might only be the tip of the iceberg, if you'll forgive the pun. But that's not what I wanted to discuss - I wanted to talk about Olaf."
"No," said Elsa.
"I haven't gotten around to asking my question," protested the duke.
"I know what it will be," said Elsa. "We had the same conversation with regards to the ice beasts that power the mills. I agreed to make them because they would have no driving intelligence, no consciousness and sentience. Olaf is something else, a living creature with his own thoughts and feelings. I won't create such a thing lightly."
"I don't ask you to," said the duke. "But surely you can see the benefits inherent in creating a workforce. The people of Arendelle wouldn't have to do the dangerous jobs of mining and hunting anymore. They could spend their lives in leisure."
"And in exchange, a new race of slaved golems would take up their work," said Elsa. She shook her head. "There's a reason I haven't created any more ice creatures like Olaf - and him I created on accident."
"Then make Olaf better," said the duke. "Please, this is such an opportunity, I'd be remiss if I didn't try my best to convince you to expand your powers."
Elsa was silent for a moment. She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. "Better how?"
"I don't know," said the duke. "Stronger, faster, smarter, more focused - better." He'd gained enthusiasm as they talked, and was now animated with a bubbling energy. While she didn't appreciate the pressure he was applying, this was how she liked the duke best. He could become a man with an expansive imagination and a clearly visible passion.
"I'm not going to change his mind around," said Elsa. "No more than I would change your mind around if it were in my power."
"Even if that's what he wanted?" asked the duke. "Even if he requested an enhancement?"
Elsa paused again. "Maybe then."
They made the trip down the wide hallways of the palace, back to the sitting room where Olaf still sat roasting marshmallows. He couldn't eat them, since he had no stomach, so instead he'd simply set them in his mouth for a bit and let them melt his snow before putting them back on the stick - which was his left arm, in fact.
"Olaf, do you want to be smarter?" asked Elsa.
"Boy do I!" said Olaf with his dopey smile.
"You do?" she asked.
"The reindeer keeps beating me in checkers," said Olaf. "And he doesn't even know how to play."
Elsa turned to the duke, who nodded.
"Olaf, I'm going to try to change you now," said Elsa. "Is that alright with you?"
"Sure!" said Olaf. "But I'm not even wearing my diaper."
"No, I'm going to make you smarter," said Elsa gently.
"'kay," said Olaf.
Elsa turned to the duke again, who had a giddy grin on his face. She considered Olaf to be a living creature independent of herself, but she was one of the few people who felt that way. The others couldn't feel the power that Olaf had, a small shard of herself that was settled over him like a cloak. She didn't feel lesser for having Olaf in the world, nor for having created Marshmallow or the ice beasts that ran the mills, it was more like she'd copied a small part of herself to power them. They were of her, and without experiencing that sensation for themselves, most people would simply assume that her creations were only puppets propped up by her in some way, even after she'd explained it to them. Making ice was one thing; making life was another.
She reached for that shard of herself, a reflection of her childhood, crafted by accident without her having even known about it. When she closed her eyes, she could see it clearly, the embodiment of the time that she'd spent with Anna in the Great Hall.
Elsa didn't know quite what she was doing, but she pressed on anyway, trying her best to add in more memories of an older girl, one who spent a great deal of time with her nose in books, studying the histories of the kingdoms to learn the lessons she'd need to be queen. Olaf's mind wasn't an ordered thing, or even all that predictable. Instead, it was a chaotic swirl of parts of herself, along with new pieces that she could only imagine had been created from whole cloth as he lived out his life. All of it was bound together by her latent power. After a few minutes she had added everything that she could think to add, and she pulled back from Olaf, who had been standing there patiently.
"Done," she said with a breath.
"Do you feel different?" the duke asked Olaf.
"Nope!" said Olaf. "But I don't really know what smart feels like, so maybe it doesn't feel like anything at all."
"We should run some tests," said the duke. "But perhaps we should have run the tests before any modifications were made in order to get a baseline."
"I love tests!" cried Olaf.
"Can you do math?" asked the duke. "I mean, could you do math before?"
"Math?" asked Olaf with a raised eyebrow. "What's that? Can you sum it up for me?" He laughed long and hard at his own joke. "But no, I can't do math."
"I'll explain the basics to you, and we can move from there," said the duke.
"We'll leave him be," said Elsa. "I don't think it worked."
"No?" asked the duke. "Well, that doesn't mean that we can't try again with another creation."
They left the sitting room, and the duke idly chattered away about future plans and a world of possibilities ahead of them. Elsa cast a look back at Olaf. She'd felt something happen. Though the duke was a close friend, he didn't need to know everything. Elsa would watch the changes herself.
Author's Notes: Pykrete is a real thing, though it was invented in the 1940s during World War II instead of whenever Frozen takes place. It never saw widespread use, for a variety of reasons - mostly because the war ended. You can see it in action in Mythbusters episode 115.
The question of when Frozen takes place is a fairly interesting one, but for this fic it's assumed that it takes place sometime between the 1750s and 1850s. It at the least post-dates the invention of the sandwich, mentioned in the song "Love is an open door". Also, the giant snow golem is named "Marshmallow", and the modern marshmallow wasn't invented until the 1800's when it became the snack we know and love today - and actually became white instead of being made with oats. The lack of firearms in favor of crossbows is a little curious given that timeline, but whatever.
Sorry if I spammed your e-mail with story updates - kept eating my formatting, and I didn't realize it was so zealous about sending out updates from a repost.