I don't really know what to tell you guys. By now, 'sorry' just doesn't seem to cut it anymore, now does it? I've been practically non-existent for the past six months or so, with nary an update to my name. I really do feel bad about it, but that only seems to make it harder to get back into the writing-life, which is kind of the opposite of what I've been trying for months, now…
I've made good progress with a bunch of un-published projects, but finally managed to get the inspiration I needed to start working on this one again, as well as Eating Habits. So, hopefully, I'll manage to hold on to it this time, and actually finish these darned stories. We all know it's about time…
I understand that a lot of you will have lost the thread on this story by now. I'm really sorry, but the only solution is a re-read. Or, if you're lazy, unmotivated or short on time, a re-read of the past five or six chapters. Sorry for the inconvenience, and enjoy the new chapter!
"Can't we just leave?" Merida asked for the sixth time in the past few minutes, drawing an exasperated sigh from the blonde queen.
"No, Mer, we cannot just leave. As eager as you are to leave the Grey Gardens, and Esmeralda, behind, I'd like to, once again, point out that Punz isn't here yet, either."
"Fine, fine," the redhead grumbled, arms crossed and face scrunched up in a perfect example of discontent.
"Your Majesty," Novirrin ventured carefully, "how will we be travelling to Arendelle, if I may ask?"
Before Elsa had a chance to respond, Anna piped up. "We'll be flying! It's only a few hours away."
"Provided we don't end up in bad weather," a new voice sounded from behind them, leading everyone to turn around, finding Rapunzel and Esmeralda walking towards them. "But the forecast seems good, so we should be fine."
"Should be?" Novirrin asked carefully, brows furrowed.
"Yes. Should be," Rapunzel shrugged easily, coming to a stop besides Belle. She looked at Esmeralda expectantly, drawing everyone's attention to the package the raven-haired woman was holding in her arms.
"Princess Merida, love," Esmeralda started with a cheeky smile, stepping towards her and ignoring Merida's step backwards. "While I firmly believe I did nothing wrong, and certainly didn't use any magic on you, I do feel bad about making you uncomfortable."
Merida merely narrowed her eyes, making sure to keep her distance as Esmeralda continued talking.
"Granted, not bad enough to change my behaviour… But bad enough that I bought you a gift. Hopefully, it'll make you think more favourably of me," she smiled impishly as she held the package out.
Merida hesitantly reached out to take the gift, lips pursed. "I wouldn't count on it, but thanks. I suppose."
"You're very welcome," Esmeralda winked as Merida started unwrapping the gift.
Once the paper fell away, Merida found her eyes glued to the bow she had seen in the shop's window the day before, made out of exquisite grey wood with delicate designs carved into it. The bowstring gave a satisfying twang as her finger tugged at it.
"I saw you looking at it," Esmeralda smiled easily. "I know nothing of weaponry, really. But it looks like a very good weapon. Befitting a princess, and, more importantly, it's almost as beautiful as you are…"
"God, woman!" Merida scowled. "Don't you ever stop?!"
"Not very often," Esmeralda admitted without hesitation. "Is it starting to grow on you, yet?"
"No!" the redheaded princess bellowed. "And it never will!"
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Esmeralda shrugged. "Does this mean I'll have to return that bow to the store?"
Merida's eyes flicked towards the bow, before returning to the olive-skinned woman. "No, that's alright. I'll… hold on to it. Thank you… I suppose."
"You're welcome," Esmeralda curtsied, before smirking. "… I suppose."
Elsa rolled her eyes fondly, before calling everyone to attention. "Well then, now that we are all accounted for, it is time to start our journey to Arendelle." With a quick wave from her hand, several ice forms started taking shape. "I'd create you all flying horses, but Anna insisted on turtles," she explained sheepishly as all the women awkwardly stared at the icy turtles, each one having wings sprouting from the sides of their shells.
"Sidle up!" Anna cheered, jumping onto the nearest turtle.
"Anna, love, we'll be riding Newa, remember?" Elsa pointed out dryly, chuckling as Anna visibly deflated.
"That's what you get for picking on a weak little girl!" Briar bellowed, watching the wolf dangling from the vines she'd used to string it up. Without paying any attention to the animal's pitiful howl, she turned around and continued her journey north.
Just using those three vines to defend herself from that wolf had taken more out of her than it should have. That stunt she'd pulled at the Grey Gardens had taken more energy than she liked to admit, even to herself. "To be expected," she muttered under her breath as she made her way through the thick underbrush. "It's not every day I mobilise an entire forest."
The fact that it hadn't been enough to accomplish her goal was what really stung, though. She'd used the full extent of her power, but she'd barely managed to make a dent in the Grey Gardens' defences. From her spot in-between the attacking trees, she'd seen the Ice Witch of Arendelle, freezing Briar's beloved plants to death.
Right beside her, she'd spotted the traitorous general… Whatever they'd done to make Novirrin betray her and Lady Yuwin, Briar couldn't even imagine. The torture they'd put her through must have been agonizing. There was no way Novirrin would willingly turn her back on all of them.
For the third time in only an hour, Briar felt the unforgiving need to sit down and rest. If she kept this pace up, she wouldn't reach the Onyx Tower until next week. And with all the recent setbacks, Briar shuddered to imagine Yuwin's dismay at her tardiness.
With laboured breath and burning legs, the young girl forced herself to continue her winding journey through the forests, dreading her destination almost as much as the place where her journey had started…
Colton heaved a sigh of relief, looking at the clear skies and the tranquil water surrounding them. Last night's storm had been one of the worst he had ever seen, but all of their ships had made it through without so much as a scratch. They'd lost about twenty sailors, but they could easily be replaced once they returned from successfully decimating Denmark's naval defences.
"Lord Colton," the captain barked. "Once we pass that island there, it'll be open seas. We'll be able to see them, and they'll be able to see us. If there's any reason not to move forward, you need to tell me now."
Colton's mind briefly flashed to the letter Yuwin had sent him. The one he hadn't been able to read. What were the odds it'd been an order to retreat, he wondered. Surely, it had been a reminder of the harsh punishments waiting for him if he were to fail…
"We might as well get this over with," Colton smiled confidently. "We have twelve of the most advanced warships the world's ever seen, and last time we checked, they only had four measly ships guarding the border. We'll smash them and have it done and over with before lunchtime."
"As you wish, m'lord," the captain nodded, before barking orders to his men. Several minutes later, they rounded the island, coming face to face with the same sigh Colton had seen here when he'd spotted Denmark's defences. A rough, open sea, and a solid fog keeping them from seeing the horizon ahead of them.
Calling upon the power of the eagle, Colton's stare penetrated the mist again. As before, he only saw the four ships bobbing on the water. Small, lonely sentinels of Denmark's border. This should, by all rights, be child's play.
But if that was the case, Colton wondered, why did he have this sense of foreboding?
"You doin' alright, M'lord?" the captain asked. "You needn't worry 'bout the waves. They're nothing compared to last night's storm."
"I'm well aware," Colton spat back. "I'm not worried. Tell your men to hurry up!"
The captain shrugged with narrowed eyes. "As you wish."
Predictably, their landing at Arendelle Castle's courtyard caused quite the uproar, despite them having sent word in advance to Hans, hoping not to be shot out of the sky upon arrival.
"What… are those?" Hans asked with a look of confusion, pointing at the icy creatures as they all dismounted.
"Flying turtles," Elsa sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.
Hans snickered. "I'm guessing those were Anna's idea?"
"You bet!" Anna smiled, looking entirely too pleased. "Aren't they the cool-est?"
Hans rolled his eyes in acknowledgement of Anna's pun, before shaking his head. "Sorry, M'lady, but they look utterly ridiculous."
Several members of the travelling party snickered behind them, and Elsa merely shot Anna an indulgent smile as the redhead pouted. The blonde cleared her throat, looking at Hans, Kai and Gerda. "Gerda, Generall Novirrin and Miss Esmeralda will be our guests for the time being. Could you please ensure they are properly situated?"
"Of course, Your Majesty," the older woman curtsied, motioning for Esmeralda and Novirrin to follow her as she scurried away.
"Hans, Kai, anything of interest happened here while we were gone?" Elsa asked, already striding into the castle herself.
"Quite," Hans nodded. "Would you like us to fill you in now, or would you rather take some time to get freshened up?"
Before Elsa could respond, Anna interjected. "Why don't you two meet us in the Royal Study in an hour? We can go over everything then."
"As you wish," Kai bowed, before grabbing a pile of chairs and walking off with them.
"What's he doing?" Elsa asked, confusion evident in her voice.
Hans shrugged. "With him, I never really know. But I think he's helping out with the wedding preparations. Now, if you'd excuse me, I have so business to attend to… I'll see you two in an hour."
Inside the castle, their travelling party quickly dispersed, everyone returning to their own rooms to refresh themselves and tend to the business they'd had to leave undone during their brief absence.
Anna took Elsa's hand and started dragging her towards her own quarters, quickly slamming the door shut behind them once they'd arrived. "An hour isn't long enough for me to take a bath," she murmured, "but I'd like a quick change of clothes, at the very least. Care to help me out of my dress?" she added with a radiant smile.
"Anna, you know how I feel about-"
"Propriety, yes," Anna nodded. "I'm not asking anything indecent of you, Elsa. It just so happens none of my servants are here, and I can't very well untie my own corset, now can I?"
"Very well," Elsa relented. "But no funny tricks, you hear me," she added with a mock-scowl.
"I can't help it you find me irresistible," Anna snickered, turning around to give Elsa access to the ties holding her dress in place.
"That's true," Elsa murmured idly as her fingers deftly tugged at the ties, making short work of them and watching as Anna rustled out of her dress, which pooled on the ground around her feet and left her in just her underclothes. "I can't help it you're that beautiful," the blonde added accusingly.
Anna, now sporting a modest blush, turned around and took a step towards her fiancée, ignoring Elsa's warning glare. "Anna, you're barely dressed. You should really-"
"Kiss me," Anna whispered hoarsely. Her mouth started to form a faint smile as Elsa immediately followed Anna's request, their lips slanting together, and the familiar softness setting her insides aflame.
Her fingers reached upwards to find blonde tresses and tangle into them, keeping Elsa from pulling away, even if there was no indication of such an intention. Quite contrary, Elsa pushed closer towards her, humming against Anna's mouth as she attempted to deepen the kiss.
Instinctively, Anna parted her lips, a soft moan escaping her as she felt Elsa licking into her mouth, their tongues coming together in a frantic exploration. One of the soft hands resting at her hips moved upwards to the small of her back, pulling her in closer, and pressing her up against Elsa.
As their kiss dragged on, occasionally interrupted for a sharp intake of breath, but then immediately resumed, Anna felt Elsa's hands becoming bolder. The one resting at the small of her back seemed to unconsciously wander downwards, before it was fully resting on her backside, with enough pressure to keep the redhead from moving away.
The other, meanwhile, caressed her ribs, moving upwards high enough for the tips of Elsa's fingers to touch the underside of Anna's breast through the soft fabric of her chemise. Her own hands were still tangled in Elsa's hair, but the desire to explore her fiancée's body seemed to burn in her fingertips, leaving her buzzing with excitement.
She gasped for air as Elsa's hand reached up further, coming to rest on her breast entirely with the faintest hint of pressure. The gasp, however, had the unfortunate effect of startling Elsa from whatever trance she was in, hands pulling away as if the blonde had burned them.
"Anna, I'm-" she started to stammer.
"-Sorry," Anna finished with a sigh. "Propriety, I know. I know…"
Elsa sighed too, looking both flushed and sheepish. "I didn't mean to lose control like that…"
"That's okay," Anna smiled gently, cupping Elsa's cheek. "You may have noticed I didn't mind so much, really…"
"Good grief, I can't wait until we're married," Elsa sighed, letting her head fall backwards against the wall.
"Soon, Moondrop," Anna murmured against her throat. "Soon."
Sitting in the Royal Study, Anna and Elsa had both moved the piles of paper on their desks to the side to make room for them to work. Hans and Kai had pulled up chairs, and the redheaded prince awkwardly shifted under Elsa's icy gaze. "So, I left you the kingdom for a little over one day, and both my desk and Anna's are practically collapsing under the amount of paperwork that's accumulated here. What, pray tell, have you been doing during our absence?"
"Well, you see," Hans started, before trailing off into silence. He awkwardly cleared his throat. "It turns out that running a kingdom, or even a castle, is a lot more work than it seems from the outside. I tried to do everything to the best of my abilities, but after meeting with the stable master about an injured horse, going over the daily financial report, and meeting with your wedding planner, I just sort of…"
"He fell asleep, Your Majesty," Kai finished when Hans trailed off into silence again, looking quite gleeful at being the one to deliver the news.
"I see," Elsa sighed. "That's unfortunate. But, no matter. Anna and I will manage to diminish the backlog soon enough, I suppose… But first, please fill us in on everything we've missed out on."
"Yes, of course," Hans smiled, back straightening. "That I can do. Alright, for starters, Princess Jasmine, whom I had stationed in the Onyx Tower, has returned with one of Lady Yuwin's trusted lieutenants. The one they call the Druid. According to Jasmine, he has broken free of her control and is entirely willing to tell us everything he knows."
"Good," Anna nodded. "We can meet with him and Novirrin at the same time and question them both. That way, we'll get a full account of everything they know."
Elsa nodded her agreement. "Let's see them later this afternoon, in the throne room."
"I'll make sure to arrange that," Kai nodded, scribbling something down on a notepad.
"A letter arrived," Hans continued. "According to the envelope, it came from the mountain temple. We didn't think it was our place to read it, so we left it on your desk. It's the purple envelope with little orange flowers on it."
Anna got up from her desk and sat down on the armrest of Elsa's chair as the blonde opened the envelope and unfolded the letter.
Your Majesty Queen Elsa of Arendelle, Your Majesty Future Queen Anna of Arendelle,
After your visit, I set to work on repairing the Mirror that was gifted to us so very long ago. I've had some success, but there's still quite some work to be done. Good thing we trolls don't age much, right? So, with a bit of luck, we'll be able to use it again in the future.
But that is not the reason for my writing this letter. Something so trivial would not warrant me going through the effort of writing this. Troll hands are not made for handling quills, I can tell you that.
We trolls have recently started to sense a strange development around your castle. Energies that haven't been felt in this part of the world for a long time seem to surround it. I can only imagine there is something magical at work, but it appears more powerful than anything anyone is capable of. Yet, the energy doesn't seem to be doing anything at all.
It may not be of any relevance. Or it might be. I cannot tell you that. Once I know more, I'll send word, but I thought you ought to be aware of it, nonetheless.
"Interesting food for thought," Elsa murmured, folding the letter and placing it back on her desk.
"Interesting choice of envelope design, too," Anna added with a small smile. "We should discuss this with the other magic users in the castle. Perhaps someone's been up to something, or at least noticed something…?"
"Yes," Elsa nodded. "We should. Well, Hans, what's next?"
Hans cleared his throat, scratching his sideburn. "The Duke of Weselton arrived in Arendelle late last night. He insisted he be allowed to see the queen straight away. Once we informed him of your absence, he demanded he be invited into the castle as soon as you returned."
"What does the Duke of Weaseltown want with us?" Anna wondered out loud. "He didn't seem to eager to be here last time we saw him…"
Elsa looked out of the window for a moment, before turning her attention to Hans. "I guess we'll have to ask him. But not today… Where is he staying?"
"On his ship, Your Majesty," Kai informed them.
"I see… Send a messenger to let him know Anna and I have returned to the castle. We can see him tomorrow, sometime in the afternoon. Let's say around four? That should keep him waiting a bit. It's important he knows that he is not that high on our list of priorities."
Kai nodded, writing the instructions down again. "Of course, Your Majesty."
"Anything else?" Anna asked.
"The wedding planners pressed unto me the importance of the wedding preparations," Hans smiled. "Somewhere in those stacks of paper, you'll find their suggestions for invitations, guest lists, seating arrangements, security precautions, and a million other matters of utmost importance, I'm sure."
Elsa nodded determinately. "We'll make sure to contact the wedding planners with our input as soon as we have had a chance to look things over and discuss it."
Hans nodded, turning his eyes to the ceiling for a moment in thought. "Oh, right. The Grand Council has requested a meeting to be informed of everything that's currently going on."
"We'll make arrangements for that, too," Anna smiled, hopping off the armrest. "Was that all?" she asked chipperly.
Hans cocked an eyebrow. "Wasn't that enough yet?"
Anna shrugged. "I don't know. I kind of feel like working through that mountain of paperwork."
"I'll… leave you to that, then," Hans chuckled dryly, getting up from his seat.
Her eyes were focused on the bullseye in front of her, the entire world around her seeming to fall away. With a bow in hand, Merida could forget all of her worries, and just do what she was meant to do. She didn't have to worry about wars, politics, magic, or strange emotions when she focused on a target. It was just her, her bow, and her arrows.
"Hello," a sultry voice sounded right behind her just as she was about to release the arrow. The redhead jerked in reflex, incredulously watching the arrow fly several feet higher than intended, shattering a window on the first floor of the western tower. "Bloody hell, I could've killed someone!" she yelled as she turned around.
She reflexively took a step backwards, finding Esmeralda to be standing closely behind her. "Oh, I'm so sorry," the woman pouted, hands folding over her heart. "I did not mean to startle you. Please, don't stop on my account. You are very alluring when you're focused like that," she smiled seductively.
Merida felt the heat crawling up her cheeks again. She wasn't easily stumped, but right now she could not come up with any proper comeback.
Esmeralda did not seem to mind. "I especially like that you're using the bow I got you. Is it any good?"
Merida wanted to tell her no. She wanted to tell her it was a useless piece of wood. But she couldn't bring herself to lie. "Yes," she grumbled. "It's… good."
"Now, now, Mer," Belle's voice suddenly chimed. "Just a few minutes ago, I distinctly heard you saying it was phenomenal. Possibly even better than your own bow, right?"
"I… I did not!" Merida objected feebly. Turning to Esmeralda, she crossed her arms. "I did not!"
"Ahw, you're so cute when you're flustered," Esmeralda smiled, taking a step closer to Merida. "I hope to see this a lot more in the future."
Esmeralda seemed to get closer and closer, and Merida found herself unable to move away. And, strangely enough, she wasn't even certain she wanted to move away. Seeing those full lips stretched into that seductive smile, Merida's thoughts even wondered what it would be like to feel those against her own. What they would taste like. What those elegant hands could-
"Stop doing that!" she yelped, stepping backwards and almost stumbling over her own quiver.
"Doing what, exactly?" Esmeralda asked, forming a perfect picture of innocence.
"Using your magic!" Merida explained heatedly.
"I told you before," Esmeralda started with a small frown, "I'm not using my magic on you."
As she crossed her arms in front of her, Merida's eyes wandered to her chest, admiring the way her arms were pushing her breasts up and- "You've gotta be!"
"And why's that?" the woman asked easily.
"Because… Because if you're not- I… It's-"
Without finishing her sentence, Merida grabbed her bow and quiver, before turning on her heels and high-tailing it out of the courtyard.
Esmeralda gave an airy sigh, fanning herself with her hand. "So adorable…"
Belle smiled indulgently. "Yet this might not be the best way to win her affections."
Esmeralda grinned mischievously. "Perhaps not, no. But it's so much fun! And even if the journey takes a little longer, I'm sure I'll still reach my destination, Your Majesty."
Belle's smile turned into a grin as well as she watched Merida, now on the other side of the courtyard and still trying to create more distance between them by bolting up a set of stairs.
"I have no doubt you will."