Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
And since your history of silence
Won't do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don't you tell them the truth?
-Sara Bareilles, 'Brave'
Eric was an early riser, but he found Elsa already eating breakfast when he emerged from his tent.
"Your Majesty!" He saluted her, wondering what her decision would be. She seemed prim and a little distant this morning.
"Good morning, Captain." She nodded coolly at him.
After getting his own breakfast from the cooks, he joined her and began eating. She had finished and was sipping her coffee; her eyes were unfocused and staring at the mountain. He could tell she was deep in thought and he resolved to wait until she spoke; patience was his only choice since he couldn't tell if she had made a decision, and if so, what that decision would be.
Finally, she sighed and said to him, "I will agree to your request, Captain. But only on one condition; I must be certain that the men are volunteering to put themselves in this danger."
Her tone of voice and the stern expression on her face told him she would accept no compromise on this point. "Yes, Your Majesty. We can do that."
They were back in front of the Ice Palace, the men in ranks at attention, Elsa and Captain Gunnarsson facing them. Eric had explained to the men what they intended to do that day, and that the Queen wished to address them before they started.
"Gentlemen, I need you to understand that there can be danger in my magic. I don't want to hurt any of you, I don't intend to hurt any of you, and I will be trying very hard not to hurt any of you; but as the Captain has explained to me, training accidents can happen. Do any of you have any questions for me?" Elsa asked the group.
No one wanted to be the first, but finally one of the men raised his hand. "Yes, Guardsman?"
"Your Majesty, what's the worst that could happen?" he asked in a clear tenor voice.
Elsa said grimly, "I could kill you, either by using an ice spike by mistake, or by freezing your heart. My sister tells me that freezing in that way is a painful death." "And still fuel for my nightmares," Elsa didn't share that thought.
The guardsman nodded soberly at her response and returned to attention.
"Any other questions?" Eric asked. He waited a beat and then said, "Her Majesty has asked for volunteers for a hazardous duty. All those willing to volunteer, take one step forward."
As one man, they stepped forward. Eric had known they would. He heard a slight gasp from Elsa, though it was too quiet for anyone else to hear. She clearly hadn't expected that reaction from the men.
"Very well. Stack your arms and prepare for hand-to-hand combat," he ordered. He was proud of his men and their courage. He knew they feared death as much as he did, but they did their duty in spite of that fear.
About an hour later Eric called a halt to the exercise. Elsa had fought off as many as five men at once, even when caught from behind. She would simply create an ice barrier and fling them backwards. Single attackers she saw coming couldn't get within ten feet of her before finding themselves encased in ice up to their shoulders, pinning their arms and freezing their boots to the ground. She was quick to melt the ice as soon as it was clear that the attacker was immobilized. A real assassin wouldn't be so lucky. A real assassin would probably find himself trying to breathe ice.
The last attempt Eric had set up had seen all eighteen of them charge her in an attempt to simply overwhelm her with numbers. She had created a wall of ice completely surrounding herself, then expanded it outward, pushing them all away. Once there was enough clear space around her, she created another wall behind them, trapping them in a prison made of ice, then melted a pathway for herself to walk out of the center. When she emerged she was calm, her gait stately, her face a blank mask. Eric was impressed.
She turned, gestured, and dissolved the icy walls surrounding the guardsmen. Turning back to Eric, she asked, "Well, Captain?"
"Your Majesty, I think it is safe to say that no assassin is going to get close enough to do you any harm that way. I thank you for indulging me in this. I know you were concerned for the men," he replied. "I think we have accomplished all we wanted to do here and can return to Arendelle now. We should be back at the castle in time for dinner."
"I agree. I assume it will take some time to strike the camp and load the wagons?" she asked politely.
"Yes, Your Majesty. Two hours, perhaps," he said.
"I will join you at the camp before then. I would like to spend some time with Marshmallow and Olaf up here before we leave."
"Of course, Your Majesty. I'll leave two men here to escort you back when you're ready." He gestured, and the sergeant pointed to two of the men, who picked up their rifles and positioned themselves to guard the foot of the stairs going up to the ice palace. Elsa had already gone up and inside.
Once inside, she went to the second floor, not out on the balcony, but hidden safely inside. She didn't want anyone to see her. She conjured up a chair and fell into it heavily, put her face in her hands and began to weep. That last melee had shaken her to her core. She had been so frightened that she would make a mistake with so many men charging her it was all she could do to concentrate and hide the fear. It was one thing to use her magic against someone in the heat of battle, with adrenaline flooding her body and fear for her own safety driving the power; it was another to use it in this cold and calculating way, with the fear of hurting someone else choking her. She was oh so familiar with the nuances of the taste of fear; Elsa was a connoisseur of fear.
The Captain had no idea what he was asking Elsa to do when he had set up the morning's activity. ELSA hadn't seen this coming when she first suggested the training, how could he? For thirteen years, she had lived in guilt and fear. Guilt for hurting Anna, and fear of doing it again. Even when attacked by the Duke's men in this very room, she had only managed not to kill them by the narrowest of margins and the calculated words of an enemy calling her back from the brink. Even when Weselton had attacked last fall, her magic had only defended, not killed. Pierre was dead at her hand, and that still haunted her dreams. All morning, she had been terrified she would slip up somehow and injure or kill one of her own guards, volunteers or not.
Now that she had managed to get through the morning without a mistake the reaction set in. She had to pull herself together before she could go down and face them again.
Marshmallow and Olaf came in from wherever they had been in the palace.
"Lady Elsa?" rumbled Marshmallow.
Olaf ran up to her and said, "Elsa? Are you okay? Do you need a warm hug?"
She wiped her cheeks and sniffled. "Yes, Olaf, I do. Please."
The hug made her feel a little better. Enough so that she could get back to Arendelle and Anna. She knew they would need to talk tonight. Anna would understand. She wiped her eyes and cheeks again, cooling her hands to help erase any puffiness caused by her tears. She had to put her queenly mask back on.
She stood and looked up at Marshmallow. "Thank you for helping us, Marshmallow. It was necessary for us to learn how to protect me."
He rumbled, "Whatever is needful for you, Lady Elsa, I will gladly do. It was … fun." His deep bass laugh echoed off the icy walls.
"Come on, little guy. We're going home." Elsa took Olaf by the hand, and the three of them went down the stairs.
Elsa was quiet on the trip back to Arendelle, although she had composed herself well enough to smile and say a few words to the guardsman driving the wagon as they began their journey. She was glad that it was practically impossible to have a conversation with someone riding a horse next to the wagon, so she didn't have to keep up a discussion with Captain Gunnarsson. She just wanted to get home. She was tired, cranky and she itched in places queens couldn't scratch. She wondered how Anna could go camping with Kristoff for fun. Elsa preferred civilization and indoor plumbing. She chuckled a little at her own decadent attitudes.
When they arrived at the castle, she thanked the Captain and the other guardsmen and went in to clean up and change for dinner. A washbasin in a tent was just barely adequate for her sense of cleanliness, and she was looking forward to a hot bath after dinner and then a good night's sleep in a real bed. She would have Kai cancel anything she had scheduled for tomorrow. She wanted to sleep in and wallow in slothful laziness for a day after the exertions she had just gone through.
Anna ran into her room as she was finishing changing for dinner. Wrapping Elsa in a big hug that practically lifted her off her feet she squealed, "Elsa! You're BACK!"
Elsa had to laugh. She had known that Anna was the cure for the mood she was in.
She hugged Anna in return and said, "Yeah, and I'm starving. We skipped lunch to get back in time for dinner. I hope the cook made something substantial tonight." She hooked Anna's arm in her own, and they went down to the dining room.
Elsa chatted amiably with her sister over dinner, but Anna had a finely tuned 'Elsa mood detector,' and she could tell that something was bothering her even if no one else could see it. Over dessert and coffee, Anna said, "Well?"
Elsa just sighed. Anna was almost telepathic when it came to Elsa's emotions. "We need to talk, but can it wait? I think it's going to be a night for hugs and sisterly angst, if you know what I mean." She threw in an eye roll for emphasis.
Anna just smiled and nodded. She was up for that. "How about a bubble bath first?" she asked slyly.
"Oooohh … I have been thinking about that all the way down the mountain. You are a devil, and I will gladly sell you my soul for a hot bubble bath after the last two days of washing up in a bowl of tepid water," Elsa sighed wistfully. "Add some chocolate, and I'll throw in my first-born snowman."
Anna smirked, "Not in the tub with us, I hope. I like my hot baths, hot – and less crowded, thank you very much."
Giggling, the two sisters went off to the baths for a long hot soak in the bubbles.
Elsa had Just finished drying and brushing her hair in preparation for sleep when Anna came into her room. Jumping onto the bed and bouncing a little, she asked Elsa, "So? Tell me about the expedition to the North Mountain?"
With a sigh, Elsa crawled under the covers and held them up for Anna to join her. She snuggled into her sister's arms and settled her cheek on Anna's shoulder.
"It was exhilarating, it was fun, I learned a lot, and it scared the … daylights out of me. I didn't realize what I was letting myself in for when I suggested the idea." Elsa shivered a little and Anna hugged her closer.
"What scared you, honey? I thought the idea was you were going to learn how to use your magic better. A very good idea, I might add. Every skill is better with practice."
"Yes, well, I was doing fine until the Captain suggested that I needed to fight off the 'attackers' by freezing them." Elsa mumbled.
"Oh – yeah." Anna said, smoothing Elsa's bangs back from her face. "I can see where would be hard on you, but you've got pretty good control of your magic. You haven't had a single time where it did something you didn't want it to since you thawed Arendelle out last summer," Anna said. "Why did you think you'd lose control this time?"
"This is the first time I've tried to use it on people since then; people that weren't enemies, I mean. During the Weaseltown attack I wasn't really fighting off people, just freezing the ships and harbor. The snowmen did most of the damage, and they didn't kill anyone. I killed Pierre, but that was in self-defense, and it still really upset me," Elsa explained. "This time, we were deliberately trying to see if I could be overwhelmed, and I was worried, so worried, that I'd make a mistake and hurt or kill one of the guardsmen."
"It still scared me." She sniffled a little, trying not to cry. "I just wish I were brave. The Captain said he wished I wasn't so fearless, but I'm not fearless – I've been afraid of my magic my whole life. And I was so afraid every time I used it – up there – like that – I was screaming inside. I just wanted to quit … for the whole thing to stop." Elsa looked forlornly at her sister, embarrassed. "But I couldn't tell him that; he'd lose respect for me if he knew how frightened I was."
Anna simply caressed her sister's hair and kissed her tenderly on the cheek while she thought about the best way to explain to Elsa how wrong she was.
"Honey, I think you have it backwards," she finally said. Elsa was calming down as Anna cuddled her.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you really think that being brave means you're not afraid?" Anna asked.
"Well, doesn't it?" Elsa didn't understand what Anna was trying to say.
"Actually, no. Someone who isn't afraid when their life is in danger isn't brave, they're stupid. Courage, REAL courage, is when someone is afraid and does what they have to do anyway. That's what you've been doing your whole life, Elsa. You're the bravest person I know."
Elsa pulled away and raised herself up on one elbow to look at Anna. "Who told you that?" she demanded.
Anna just reached up and stroked her cheek tenderly. "Which part? As far as you being the bravest person I know, that's all me, watching my big sister put herself between danger and the people she loves time after time after time." Anna could tell Elsa was a little embarrassed at this, and still skeptical about the other part of her statement. She pulled her back down into her arms for more hugs.
"As for the rest of it, I learned that from Bishop Norgaard. Did you know he was in the Marines before he joined the clergy? Anyway, it was after that Weaseltown attack, and I was still a little shook up about the whole 'kidnap Anna' thing and we were talking about it, and I said almost the same thing you did; that I wished I wasn't afraid and wondered how brave people like the Marines did it."
Anna could tell Elsa was listening closely; she was hardly breathing. Continuing her story, she went on, "And he looked at me and smiled and asked me if I had been afraid when I … when I … ran up to you ... you know … with Hans. And I said of course I was afraid."
Elsa started trembling at this memory and couldn't hold back a sob. Anna tried to soothe her. "Shh, shh, it's okay Elsa, we lived through that, it's okay."
Elsa clutched her more tightly and nodded into her shoulder. "I know, Anna, I know. But that's still the worst nightmare that comes back to me … looking up at you and ..." she sniffled again.
Anna let her calm down a little before she continued the story. Anna felt Elsa position her head so she could hear Anna's heart beating. When they slept together that was what comforted Elsa the most; knowing that her sister was alive and warm. Anna's heartbeat was a lullaby that soothed Elsa to sleep when she was troubled.
"You better?" she asked. A muffled sound that could be 'yes' reassured her and she went on, "So, anyway, the bishop told me that really brave people were the ones who were able to do their duty even through their fear; that it was only human to be afraid, and that only fools weren't. He had learned that as a young man in Marine training, and his experiences in life since then showed him it was true."
Elsa sighed and said, "So, what you're saying is that both of us are brave; both of us did what we had to, even though we were afraid."
"Yep. I still don't feel like a hero, and I know you don't, but I guess that's just the way it works. You might be afraid of being killed, but you're more afraid of letting someone you love be hurt, so you do what you have to do."
Elsa had been caressing Anna gently as they talked, and she felt the scar where Pierre had stabbed her. "I was so afraid that you were dying in that warehouse, I would have walked … oh … barefoot on broken glass through that fire to save you."
Anna giggled. "I think that walking through fire period is pretty impressive, ice powers or not. What you and Kristoff did was amazing enough without adding a little ..." Anna snorted and rolled her eyes, "broken glass? You … you … drama queen." Even Elsa had to smile at that. Anna gazed down at her sister and continued, "Did I tell you I thought you were an angel coming to get me when I saw that white cloud through the smoke? Well two angels, one of them in this really handsome suit, too."
"Poor Kristoff; his nice suit, ruined by the fire. You'll have to help him get another one." Elsa chuckled in return.
Anna relaxed; she could tell that Elsa's mood had lightened and she was feeling better and would be able to sleep now. She buried her face in Elsa's hair and took a deep breath. "Mmmm you smell a lot better than you did before dinner. I thought I was going to have to start calling you the pungent Snow Queen!"
Elsa squeaked indignantly and slapped Anna playfully on the arm in response.
"G'night, Elsa. I love you."
"Me, too, Anna. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Well, you'd have to learn to sing to the ducklings yourself, that's for sure."
Giggling together they fell into a peaceful sleep.
Late the next day, Captain Gunnarsson was reviewing the training exercise with Admiral Naismith in his small office in the castle. Naismith generally spent most of his time at the Admiralty, but Elsa kept a small office for him so that if their schedules required his presence, he didn't waste all day running back and forth. Eric, of course, and the rest of the Queen's Own Guard had their quarters in the castle.
"I have to say, Admiral, I was skeptical when the Queen first suggested this, but it worked out much better than I could have imagined. The training really added something to my plans on how to protect her, and the men picked up some new techniques as well."
Naismith replied, "I'm glad it worked out. Maybe now she will be more willing to let you and your men do their jobs keeping her out of danger."
Eric was rueful as he responded, "Probably not … she's fearless, that one. Utterly devoid of any care for her own safety. We'll just have to keep her away from those kind of situations as best we can, and cope with it when she throws herself into battle again."
Naismith didn't say anything, but he wondered if Gunnarsson really believed what he had just said. The Admiral had known Elsa longer and was privy to secrets that were not his to share, even with Eric. "She's not fearless, boy, just very good at hiding her feelings. Thirteen years of practice will hone any skill to a fine edge."
But he couldn't say that out loud, even to a man who was willing to die so Elsa would live.
They had continued to discuss the exercise for a few minutes when there was a knock on the Admiral's door. He wondered who it was … he wasn't expecting anyone, and the Queen would normally just walk in after knocking, as was her privilege. "Enter," the Admiral called out.
"Princess Anna!" The two men rose quickly as she walked into the room. Her visit to the Admiral's office was unusual. Anna rarely sought out either man, even though she was friendly and cordial when she saw them in the normal course of the day.
She nodded to acknowledge them and sat in the chair Eric had used. He held it for her and then stood next to the Admiral's desk for lack of another chair.
"Your Highness, what can I do for you today?" asked Naismith.
Anna hesitated and gathered her thoughts before she answered him. She wanted to make a point, but had to be circumspect as there were things she couldn't share about her sister with anyone, even these two men. Anna didn't do subtle very well and it was hard for her to figure out the right words to use.
"Ah, well, Admiral, Captain, there was something I thought you should know because I think you might have the wrong impression about the Queen."
"And what might that be, Your Highness?" Eric said.
"The Queen and I were discussing her … trip … Captain. It was interesting. But she mentioned something that made me think there was a … misconception about her that you may have." The two men could tell that Anna was clearly uncomfortable with this conversation, but she plowed on.
"I, uh, just wanted to tell you that my sister is one of the bravest people I've ever met. Thank you for your time, Admiral, Captain." She rose with as much dignity as she could muster and left hastily.
Eric just looked at the door as he sat down again. "What was THAT all about?"
Naismith was thinking, "Oh, ho, so the Queen has one person she trusts with her soul. I should have known." He could tell Eric was still puzzled, so he thought about how best to clear up the confusion without appearing condescending or giving away any secrets.
"Eric, do you remember the briefing I gave your class of recruits 20 years ago?" he began. Getting a nod from the younger man, he continued, "What did I tell you hot-blooded young men champing at the bit so eager to die for king and country about courage?"
Gunnarsson chuckled, "You told us that anyone who didn't fear death was a stupid fool, and that real courage was doing our duty in spite of our fear."
He still hadn't put the pieces together. Naismith asked quietly, "And do you consider Queen Elsa either stupid or foolish?"
"Of course not, Admiral, she's one of … the … smartest … " It finally dawned on him. "Oh my god!"
"Indeed." Naismith let him reflect on that thought for a few moments. He knew the look of a man whose world had just turned upside down; he saw the realization of how wrong he had been about Elsa play across Eric's face.
"Don't feel too bad, Eric. Even as the Captain of her bodyguard, you haven't seen much of her, and you certainly weren't privy to … well, a lot of things that went on before her coronation. Just know that she will do her duty no matter what it costs her. As you will do yours."
Elsa and Anna were in the garden laughing over some story about how they had tormented their nannies when they were little. It was almost time for dinner. The day had been pleasantly warm, warm for April in Arendelle at any rate; they had been enjoying a day of leisure after sleeping late. Elsa felt good; she would be glad to get back to work tomorrow, but for today enjoying Anna's company was delightfully relaxing.
"So then when I froze her tea, you laughed so hard you snorted milk out your nose!" Elsa was filling Anna in on one of the childhood incidents that had been erased from her memory. Pabbie was right; sharing was the best way to bring them back. If Anna had been drinking milk right now she would have snorted it out her nose again. Her sides ached from her laughter as she visualized the scene Elsa was describing.
Anna noticed Captain Gunnarsson come into the garden and look around. He spotted them and approached them, saluting when he came up to the bench where they were sitting. "Your Majesty, Your Highness."
"Good afternoon, Captain. What can I do for you today?" Elsa asked with a smile.
"I just wanted to check in with you on your schedule for tomorrow. Will you be going into town or anywhere else outside of the castle?" he asked.
"Hmmm, no, we have the Royal Council meeting in the morning, and then I believe I have individual meetings with the Admiral and some of the other members in the afternoon. Why?" she responded.
"There's a new class of recruits starting tomorrow, and the Admiral asked me to fill in for him because of the Council meeting. So I wanted to be sure that I wouldn't be needed to command your detail," he explained.
"Oh? And what will you be doing with the new recruits?" Anna asked.
He chuckled wryly. "Every new class comes in breathing fire and pawing the ground like young bucks eager to show their mettle, all full of s..pit and vinegar; it's up to us old salts to explain that the world doesn't work the way they think it does."
"What way is that, Captain?" Elsa was intrigued.
"Well, I think this just may be a conceit of young men, you know how young men can be, but they come in thinking that bravery means they must have no fear of death; we need to teach them that courage can't exist without fear; being brave really means doing their duty in spite of their very real, very genuine fear. And that every one of us feels that shiver inside when we go into danger; it's not something to be ashamed of, just something to be harnessed to serve us. That prickly intensity can actually help keep us focused and alive in battle."
He smiled at them. "I had to learn that; I still remember the speech the Admiral gave us when I was a recruit. I had to get that bravado knocked out of me just like the rest of the 'young gentlemen'. Now I'm the 'old man' teaching the new kids. I feel decrepit." He shook his head at this last.
Elsa just nodded solemnly and totally deadpan said, "I think 'decrepit' is far too strong a word, Captain. I'm sure the young men will only consider you … elderly." Anna snickered. Did Elsa just make a joke?
Eric grinned and saluted her. "I'm sure you're right, Your Majesty. I'll try to remember to take my cane."
The two sisters sat in the afternoon sunshine in companionable silence until it was time for dinner. After the Captain had left Elsa had taken Anna's hand in her own, caressing it absently, and Anna could see out of the corner of her eye that her sister had a tranquil smile on her face.
"Thank you, Captain." Anna knew what he had done and why. She could tell that Elsa knew also. But they would never say anything, and he would never admit it.
~ The End ~
As always, thanks to stillslightynerdy for beating me over the head with 'Strunk and White' until I get it right.
This story was actually prompted by the following quote:
Courage is the complement of fear. A man who is fearless cannot be courageous. (He is also a fool.)
Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988)
It was going to be a chapter in 'Walk In The Park' but got out of hand pretty quickly. I hope you enjoyed it.