This story takes place shortly after the events of "The Spare"; however it is not necessary to read that story to enjoy this one. The few references made here should be clear from the context.
Elsa decides that it is long past time that she actually practice using her magic. She has a proposal for the Captain of her bodyguard. He agrees, and training begins. They head up the North Mountain to meet Marshmallow.
As it happens, Elsa learns more than she bargained for. So does the Captain. This story has three chapters.
The Admiral found Elsa standing at the window of her study, staring out at the fjord pensively. She didn't notice him until he cleared his throat. She turned, and he could tell that she had tried to put on her usual businesslike expression, but it took her a beat too long, and he saw that she was troubled.
"Your Majesty, how may I serve you today?" he said as he bowed. She gestured to his usual chair, and they both sat.
"Admiral, I've been thinking quite a bit about what happened last month," she began. "Not the obvious part, but the part where I keep running into danger and upsetting my guardsmen." She managed a wan smile for him.
Well, that was certainly unexpected. He looked at her quizzically because he wasn't quite sure what to say. She was referring to the foiled assassination plot that had almost succeeded. It hadn't succeeded only because of a bit of bad luck for the plotters, and Elsa's willingness to use her magic at the risk of her own life. Of course, she had saved many lives by doing so, including that of her beloved sister, Anna. By now, there wasn't anyone left in the kingdom who didn't know that Elsa would do anything to protect her sister. Anything.
"And how may I help, Your Majesty?" he finally asked.
She got up and began pacing restlessly in front of the window.
"I've been thinking about what you said that my guards aren't trained to protect me when I run INTO danger. I think we need more training," she stopped and turned to him, waiting for a reaction.
"Well, they train extensively, but if you think they need more, then ..."
She cut him off with a sharp gesture. "No, I said 'we', and I meant 'we'." She had a determined look on her face now.
"Ah, I'm afraid I don't quite understand, Your Majesty."
"I would like to train with my guards. With my magic," she returned to her seat as she said this.
The Admiral was startled. She let him think about it for a few moments, but then asked, "Well?"
"Ah, Your Majesty, I must admit, you leave me at a loss for words," he finally managed to say. "This is highly … unconventional."
She simply smirked at him with a raised eyebrow. "I'm not the most … conventional … monarch ruling a kingdom these days, am I?" She hadn't often seen Mikael Naismith at a loss for words, or flustered, for that matter. There was a reason his nickname was "Hard as Nails" after all.
Briskly, she continued, "Admiral, I have control of my magic, but I really don't use it that much. I did so to repel the Weselton attack, and I used it at Baron Thorstad's manor and the warehouse. However, I really don't understand its limitations nor the best way to accomplish things with it. Particularly things like, perhaps, repelling attackers without killing them." Her expression was grim as she spoke that last sentence.
"Your Majesty, killing Pierre was completely justified and ..." the Admiral began, but she put up a hand to stop him.
"I know that, Admiral. It doesn't change the fact that there may be other situations where it may not be. My point is, personal combat is a skill, one that your Marines and my guardsmen spend much time training for. Even for self-defense, I think it would be useful for me to learn some basics from my guardsmen. If only so that they become comfortable with what I can do when I run toward the very things they are trying to protect me from." She looked a bit chagrined at that last.
"I think 'comfortable' is too strong a word, Your Majesty. However, I must agree with your logic here. Where do you think we should undertake this training then?" he asked.
"Where else?" she smiled. "The North Mountain."
Elsa and the Admiral had called her Guard Captain in to explain what she wanted to do. Initially, he was as dumbfounded as the Admiral, and more than a little bit alarmed, but once he calmed down he had to admit she was right. One did not reach his position of critical trust and authority by being rigid and stupid. It was clear that Queen Elsa of Arendelle would continue to personally protect and defend her realm and her people, so he might as well accept that and move on. He would never like it, but then life was full of little disappointments.
Eric Gunnarsson was the Captain of the Queen's Own Guard; he had served in the guard for almost 19 years. He began as a recruit when Elsa's father was the King and she was only two years old. He gradually rose through the ranks until he was the Captain. He had been promoted by her father shortly before the disastrous sea voyage that had resulted in Elsa becoming Queen at far too young an age.
Since she had remained secluded until her coronation, almost never going out in public, almost never coming out of her room or her study for that matter, his job had been easy and somewhat boring. Until her coronation. It had become far too … not boring ... since then.
It was quite a convoy that was headed up to the North Mountain. There were several wagons carrying the equipment the expedition would need since they intended to stay for several days. Tents, food, and all the other supplies necessary to keep 20 mounted men and one queen in reasonable comfort was fairly bulky. The men were all experienced with field exercises and were used to sleeping in tents. The Captain was uncertain how the Queen would manage, however. He was uncomfortable with the idea that she would be living in a tent like the rest of them. It offended his sense of propriety; royals were to be protected and pampered in his worldview. To say that Elsa fell outside the boundaries of 'proper' royal behavior exposed the inadequacies of the language.
Elsa was riding in the lead wagon next to the teamster. Olaf was also along, The Queen had insisted that the little snowlem accompany them, but the Captain had no idea why.
Gunnarsson was riding alongside the lead wagon, and was curious as to why she wanted to come all the way up here to 'train'. There were plenty of open fields closer to the castle, after all.
"Captain!" Elsa called out to him. "We should stop here. It looks like a good place to set up our camp."
Eric signaled a halt and dismounted. He looked around. She had picked a spot that was free of snow. It was early May, and the weather had been struggling to be spring-like. Even so, this high up the mountain could sometimes remain snow-covered even through a normal summer. There was in fact snow not that much farther up the slope. They were still low enough that there were some trees around, so firewood should be easy to gather.
"Sergeant! Set up camp. Normal field protocols, please. Her Majesty's tent should be central to the camp, with sufficient distance for … privacy. Horse line down there, privies over there. That creek we just passed should be adequate for clean water. Be sure the men who gather it do so upstream of us!" A quick salute from the sergeant and the men began the bustle and busy activities necessary to set up a camp in the field.
Elsa had dismounted from the wagon with the help of the teamster and waited until the Captain had given his orders and the work of setting up the camp was well under way. Eric passed the reins of his horse to one of the men and approached Elsa. Olaf was with her, having ridden in the back of the same wagon. He was looking around and giggling.
"Your Majesty. It is late in the afternoon, so we will be preparing the evening meal shortly. Is there anything you need until we get your tent set up?"
"No, Captain Gunnarsson; I'll be fine. As a matter of fact, I have something I would like to show you before tomorrow. It isn't far from here and we should be back in time for supper." She was smiling, but seemed somewhat distracted.
"Yes, Your Majesty. Jorgensen! You and one other will join us!" he ordered the sergeant.
The little party began a hike up the mountain, Elsa in the lead. Well, actually Olaf in the lead. Eric was intrigued to see that the snowman seemed to know where they were going and skipping in his enthusiasm.
After about 15 minutes of hiking, they had come to a small clearing on a steep cliff face. Since Eric didn't think that Elsa had wasted their time by bringing them to a dead end, he wondered why they were here. Olaf was hopping from one foot to the other and giggling again.
"Captain, Sergeant, Guardsman, I must warn you that what I am about to show you may be somewhat overwhelming. I'm very proud of it, but … well, I know that the men who came up here with Prince Hans weren't believed when they returned to Arendelle and told their stories." She didn't even try to hide her distaste when she spoke Hans' name.
"Olaf, lead on," she spoke to the snowlem, and he clapped and giggled.
"Come on; there's a staircase that takes us right where we want to go!" And he disappeared into the rock face.
When Eric and the others followed, they saw that there was a passage through the cliff. Elsa had followed Olaf, so the Captain was the first of the three guardsmen to emerge and see what Elsa was talking about. He stopped dead in his tracks, stunned at the sight before him. Jorgensen and the other guardsman almost knocked him over since they had not expected him to halt.
Olaf had gone skipping up the stairs of the Ice Palace. Elsa was standing next to a large pile of snow, talking to it. The guardsmen didn't notice this odd behavior; they were far too busy gawking at the magnificent creation reaching to the sky.
"It's made of ice!" exclaimed the sergeant. "It's a palace made of ice!"
The wonders of the North Mountain weren't limited to the icy creation they were staring at; Elsa was suddenly overshadowed by a much, much larger snowman than Olaf. She smiled at Marshmallow, who was bowing to her. "Lady Elsa, it is good to see you again!"
Her guards suddenly realized that there was something more astonishing than a palace of ice in front of them. Their protective instincts kicked in; they charged at what they saw as a threat, and Captain Gunnarsson screamed, "Your Majesty!"
She turned and held up a hand to stop them from attacking Marshmallow. "There is no danger, Captain! This snowman is my guardian, not a threat. He is one of the reasons I wanted to do the training here."
The three guards had stumbled to a halt and were looking up at Marshmallow with expressions of awe mixed with unease. "Your guardian, Your Majesty?" Eric finally managed to ask.
"Yes, this is Marshmallow, Captain, he guards my Ice Palace from intruders." Elsa smiled indulgently as a deep rumble of laughter came from Marshmallow. "He will be taking part in our training, as well."
Eric just looked at her in disbelief. "Excuse me, Your Majesty, did you say that it ..."
"He, Captain. He."
"He … would be ..." Eric couldn't finish the sentence.
"Yes, because neither your weapons nor my ice magic can hurt him. It will add a level of realism to the exercises that wouldn't be possible otherwise," Elsa finished.
She waited a moment or two to allow him to absorb this. She knew he would need it.
Finally, he turned to her and asked, "Your Majesty, if you have this," he waved a hand indicating the Ice Palace, "why would you sleep in a tent?"
She just smiled and shook her head. "Captain, it's a beautiful thing to look at, I'm very proud of it, and the cold certainly doesn't bother me, but it's just not very practical. Think of it as a … as a work of art, something to appreciate aesthetically, not as something to actually live in."
As they returned to the camp, Captain Gunnarsson's head was reeling with what he had just seen. Elsa had taken the three of them into the palace, but it was just a short tour. She had promised a longer one and an explanation of how it came to be, but just the glimpse was enough to shake his faith in his own eyes. He suspected the other two were similarly unsettled.
The tidy camp was set up, with the men sitting around their fires. There was a cook and his mate to prepare everyone's meals, but each squad of six men had their own fire and coffee pot. As far as Eric could tell, the cook was ready to serve supper, but they had apparently waited for the Queen to return before doing so.
"Captain, are they waiting for us?" asked Elsa. He nodded.
"I appreciate that, but in the future, please don't wait for me. I know it is protocol, but … these men risk their lives for me. It's not necessary for them to wait for me before eating. Certainly not in the field like this."
"Your Majesty, I'll be sure we aren't late for meals again, so the issue won't arise," the Captain responded. He appreciated Elsa's concern for the men.
After eating Elsa sat with the Captain and Sergeant Jorgensen in front of her tent. Most of the men were around their fires as well; some played games of chance; others cleaned their weapons. Several were on guard duty patrolling the perimeter of the camp. The temperature was cool, but above freezing. Elsa was intrigued as she watched the whole group. She had never done anything like this before, and found the experience strangely exhilarating. She sipped from her mug of coffee.
"Ah, Your Majesty?" the Captain asked.
"Forgive my presumption, but … could I ask about that remarkable palace? And the … snowmen?"
She chuckled. "Of course, Captain. It isn't presumptuous at all since I promised you an explanation," she held out her mug for a refill. "Sergeant, would you please?" He poured more coffee for her.
She settled back in her camp chair and looked up the mountain. Olaf had decided to stay with Marshmallow for the night.
"I assume you remember my rather … exciting … coronation celebration?" she smiled. Seeing their nods, she continued, "Well, after I had frightened everyone and ran off across the fjord, I found myself up here somehow. The journey is somewhat of a blur, as you can imagine. My state of mind was a mix of panic and exhilaration."
She gestured with her mug toward the mountain towering above them. "When I got here, I realized that for the first time in thirteen years I could use my magic without hurting anyone, and it was something I suddenly wanted very much to do. Almost the first thing that I did was build Olaf although it wasn't until later that I realized he was alive."
"Is he? Alive, I mean?" asked the sergeant.
"Well, he thinks so. He walks; he talks; he certainly has feelings. I'm not a philosopher or a theologian, sergeant, but Olaf seems to be alive by every external measure we could come up with," Elsa replied.
"Can he … die?"
Elsa looked reflective and a little sad. She knew that Olaf's and Marshmallow's existence would end when she died. That much she had gleaned from her research into her powers shortly after her coronation. But, before then? She wasn't sure.
"I can only say … I don't know. As you'll see tomorrow, Olaf and Marshmallow can't be hurt by conventional weapons. It might be that if they were thrown into a big enough fire, they would melt, but we're not going to experiment with that," she explained.
Continuing, "So, after building Olaf out of a memory of a snowman my sister Anna and I had built when we were children, I continued further up the mountain and started building the palace. I've always been interested in geometry and architecture; I suppose it was just my subconscious wanting to see what I could do. It was almost a dance, raising the structure until it was what you saw. Truthfully, when it was finished, I was as astonished and awestruck as you were today; I never knew what I was capable of."
Elsa sipped her coffee. She suddenly realized that the camp was completely silent except for the crackling of the fires. All of the men were hanging on her every word. She blushed.
Eric became aware of the men listening as well. He stirred, intending to order them back to their own activities, but Elsa put a hand on his arm to stop him. She raised her voice a little and said, "Gentlemen, please, if you would like to hear this story, you are welcome to join us."
The men didn't need to be asked twice. They clustered around the Queen, some on camp stools, some sitting on the ground. She smiled at them.
"So, where were we? Oh, yes, finishing the Ice Palace," her eyes twinkled in the firelight. "Truthfully, once it was finished, I found myself at a loss. Now what? Here I was, completely alone in a palace made of ice. I hadn't really thought that one through. Sleeping on a bed of ice didn't strike me as very comfortable, however indifferent to cold I was. I was beginning to think that I should have brought a book along, a thick one. Fortunately, my sister came along shortly afterward to rescue me."
"Rescue you, Your Majesty?" Eric asked.
"From boredom, if nothing else, Captain. More seriously, it was Anna who told me that I had left Arendelle in the middle of a howling winter. Until that moment, I hadn't realized that, and it horrified me. My intent in leaving and coming up here was to protect the kingdom from my magic, not freeze it over. She wanted me to come back to the castle and bring back summer, but I didn't know how to do that, not yet. That knowledge didn't come until later, on the fjord, after Anna saved us all."
"It was Anna's visit that resulted in Marshmallow. Olaf had led her here, and came in asking for warm hugs a few minutes after we started talking. I was surprised to see him; he had been 'just' a snowman when I left him. It was quite a shock to realize I could create animate snow, as you might imagine. In any case, Anna was insistent that she wouldn't leave without me, and I was still too afraid of doing more harm than good by returning. So I created Marshmallow; he chased Anna and Master Bjorgman down the mountain."
"Excuse me, Your Majesty, is that how you made those frost giants to defeat the Weaseltown attackers last fall?" This question came from one of the guardsmen.
"Yes, guardsman, it is. But I won't be doing that again. I realized how serious a responsibility it is to create a sentient being like that." Her expression was so troubled that no one felt comfortable asking any followup questions to that one.
Elsa continued in a softer voice, "Later, when Prince Hans and his party came looking for Anna, Marshmallow fought them off without being harmed, even when his leg was severed and he fell down that chasm. Which is why I'm sure we can use him in our exercises tomorrow without hurting him."
"Your Majesty, what exactly do you hope to accomplish here?" asked another one of the guardsmen. Eric knew what she had told him, but he was curious as to what she would say to this.
"Guardsman, I know that I am a trial to you all, since I have this terrible habit of running toward the danger you all try to protect me from," she smiled, and got a low rumble of laughter from the men in response. "My magic is a gift, and control of it has come at great cost to me. At my coronation, I swore an oath to be the 'protector and defender of the realm'. Now I realize that usually the monarch does not literally take up arms, at least not in these modern times. But I am not going to hold back when I can make a difference. So, I intend for us to practice together with my magic, so that you and I both understand its limits." Many of the men nodded at this.
Eric glanced up at the stars and noticed it was quite late. "Your Majesty, I thank you for your indulgence, but I think it is time for us to rest up for those exercises tomorrow, don't you?"
Elsa nodded and rose, and the entire group scrambled to their feet in respect. She acknowledged them and went into her tent.
Eric and the sergeant just looked at each other and shook their heads. This job certainly wasn't boring any more.
You know that comment Elsa makes about wishing she had brought a book with her when she built the Ice Palace? That idea came from a really cute cartoon by Amy Mebberson. If you go to her tumblr page and search the hashtag #elsa, you should be able to find it pretty easily. And if you don't follow 'Pocket Princesses' by Amy, you should!