1. The Overlook
Elsa set the letter aside. "Who's next?" She combed a hand through her snowy hair and sighed.
Chancellor Johan looked through the replies sitting on the table between he and the Queen, selected one with his long, delicate fingers, and handed her the letter. "Your Majesty, the next reply came from King Ragnar of Cliffdale. He accepted the invitation to your ball, and included one of the more interesting requests we received."
Johan stroked his short charcoal beard. If anything, the beard made his long face appear even longer. "Apparently, his kingdom's main village has fallen under some sort of magical curse. He is hoping you can help."
Elsa read the letter with some confusion showing in her blue-grey eyes. "I don't see how. I know little of magic."
"However, you are magical. I suppose King Ragnar may not know where else to turn."
She thought about the Chancellor's comment, letting her gaze wander about the conference room. Positioned adjacent to the throne room, the chamber was well lit by the early fall sun streaming through a high window. With heavy wall hangings and thick carpet, it provided a quiet place for working through the affairs of the realm. "Very well. I should have time at the ball to confer with him. Who's next?"
As Johan reached for another reply, Elsa's younger sister, Anna, burst into the room. "It's done!" she said with a bright smile.
Elsa turned. "What? The new road?"
"Yes. It's all done. Well, maybe not completely done. There are still a few workers doing things, but we can get everything up to the hilltop. We can leave as soon as you want."
Elsa wanted now. Going through the guest list had grown tiresome. She followed Anna through the throne room and palace, outside to the courtyard. "The supplies are all loaded?"
"All loaded, along with the servants. We have so much to move that I needed to hire some extra help. I'm so excited! I've been waiting for this all month!"
Walking across the courtyard, they viewed a small horse and cart convoy, laden with supplies and servants. Two servants brought horses to the sisters.
"I'm relieved we can get the preparations done today," Elsa said. "I would hate to have to do this tomorrow, same day as the ball."
"We could have made it work," Anna replied. She mounted her horse, a white stallion with a coat fading to grey at the legs, nose, and tail, and rode toward the convoy's rear.
Elsa mounted her coal black mare, glad she had chosen to wear sensible clothes today, rather than more formal wear, or the now-famous, so-called 'ice gown'. She noticed Anna's boyfriend, Kristoff, near the convoy's rear, and surmised that Anna had hired him on to help move supplies.
Elsa rode to the front of the convoy, and they set off along the causeway connecting the castle to the mainland, then through the small village of Arendelle. The convoy proceeded along the main road through town, and into the valley at the northern end of the fjord.
At the rear, Anna moved alongside Kristoff. "Sven does not look pleased," she observed.
Kristoff lowered his voice, pretending to talk for his reindeer, "I don't like pulling a cart. I want my sled." With his normal voice the ice merchant answered back, "but Sven, we have not had much snow this year, not counting Elsa's."
Anna smiled. "Don't worry Sven, we should get some snow soon." Sven stared at her, raised a hairy eyebrow, shook his head and snorted.
Kristoff smiled at Anna, the wind blowing through his blond hair. A good-looking young man, his years harvesting and delivering ice had given him a strong, muscular build. He had a fair complexion with a dusting of freckles and light brown eyes. "So why a Michaelmas festival party?" he asked. "Is celebrating the cows being brought home from their summer pastures really worth a royal ball?"
Anna gave a small sigh. "It's not about Michaelmas. We decided on that date so we could call the event 'The Arendelle Michaelmas Ball'. We are hoping to mend some fences, and satisfy people's curiosity about Elsa and her Power. Most accept her, but not all. Many people were upset after the events at Elsa's coronation."
"Given what the Queen did, I can understand how they would be. But why make a new ice palace? Why not have the ball at the first ice palace, or at the castle?"
Anna turned to him and smiled. "You should have seen all the acceptance letters we received. They all mentioned the ice palace."
A shift in the caravan distracted Anna, as it moved to the side of the road. Ahead she saw someone approaching, a traveler coming the other way. "Oh, look! There's a Michaelmas celebrator now!" As they passed by, they waved to the herdswoman, leading her flower-decorated cows home from their summer pastures.
Before Anna could continue, the convoy came to the new road. Branching sharply to the right, practically heading back the way they had come, the new road soon had them climbing steeply into the hills above Arendelle.
Anna resumed her explanation. "Practically all the letters said things like, 'We are so excited to see the ice palace' or, 'Will there be tours of the ice palace?' Everyone wants to see it. But the palace is way up on the North Mountain. Can you imagine leading all the guests there? 'Don't worry, we only have to hike another 15 miles, uphill. Ignore the wolves, they were well fed by the last group of tourists.'" Anna gestured toward the North Mountain, momentarily forgetting she held the horse's reins.
"Whoa! Watch where you're going," warned Kristoff.
"Sorry! Now where was I. Oh, the old ice palace. When I mentioned the idea of holding the ball at the ice palace to Elsa, she didn't like the idea. She didn't want to go back. Too many bad memories I guess. So I talked her into making a new one and having the ball there."
Momentarily lost in thought, Kristoff stared ahead, watching the convoy round a turn. "So the Queen is going to build a new palace. I'm glad I'll get to see it. I really didn't get a chance to explore the first one."
"Elsa is relieved we finished the road today. I think she was worried we would disappoint all the guests by holding the ball at the castle."
They rode on for a few minutes before Kristoff remarked, "I didn't know you had this many servants."
"We've been hiring. Father had reduced the staff to a minimum when I was a child, to help keep Elsa and her secret hidden. Now Elsa is rebuilding the staff. We have new servants, new Royal Guards, a new Captain of the Guard, and this new Chancellor." Anna's head dropped slightly on mentioning the Chancellor.
"You don't like him?" asked Kristoff.
"It's not that. He's a real stickler for proper protocol and etiquette. Johan can be annoying sometimes, although I know he means well."
Sven began looking tired as he pulled the heavily laden cart up the steep road.
"Don't worry old buddy, I got your favorites once we reach the top" said Kristoff, waving a carrot in the air.
They passed some men attending to the remaining details of the new road, others carrying tools back down. After less than an hour, the convoy arrived at a large, flat hilltop, bordered by rising terrain on the south and east, and a drop-off to the north and west. Workers were moving a few remaining rocks from the area near the road's end, piling them against the slope to the east, to clear the area for horses and carts.
Scattered high clouds softened the early afternoon sun. The location had an excellent view, overlooking Arendelle, and the fjord. Elsa rode to the hill's edge, where the ground dropped away and formed a steep cliff. From here the view expanded to the north, with the village directly below, and the North Mountain visible in the distance. As she admired the landscape, her architect rode up beside her. "Are those people standing in the streets?" she asked him.
"Yes, Your Majesty. You appear to have a large audience. Half the kingdom came out to watch."
Elsa turned to him. A small man middle-aged man, he had a round, clean shaven face and short brown hair, beginning to bald. He reached into a saddlebag, fetching the plans for the new palace. She looked across the fjord again, through the clear air. This spot had been chosen for its view and accessibility. What had not occurred to her, until now, is everyone in Arendelle, or the entire fjord, would have a good view of the palace, and its construction.
Anna came to her sister's side as Elsa dismounted. "We sure have a nice view from up here. Can you make out your first ice palace on the North Mountain?" she asked. Her strawberry blond hair lay in twin braids on her chest, her typical style. Her hair color contrasted with her sister's near glacial white.
"Maybe with a spyglass," Elsa replied, as she turned away from the cliff's edge. She made her way to the hilltop's center, motioning for the architect to follow. A slim young woman, the Queen had recently come of age, an event marked by her disastrous coronation. She wore her hair up; twisted across the front of her head to support a tiara-style crown, then back, to where it was wrapped into a bun. Elsa usually preferred a different hairstyle, wearing her hair down with her braid forward, over her left shoulder. Chancellor Johan discouraged her from that style, telling her the importance of appearance and protocol when it came to royalty. She acquiesced to his judgment, most of the time.
As she approached the spot intended for the palace's great hall, Elsa reached for the architect's plans, and unrolled them. "Your design still appears awfully blocky," she said, examining the plans.
"Ice is a weak material. We don't want the structure falling on your guests, now do we?"
Elsa straightened a bit, and gave the architect a disapproving look. I should not be treating the Queen like a child, he thought, bowing his head. "Apologies, Your Majesty."
"My first ice palace had several delicate structures. They did not fall."
"Have you seen it recently? As part of my research into the new one, I journeyed to the old. Your first palace stands in ruin. The entrance stair has collapsed, as have all the spires and most of the balcony. The walls are shot through with cracks, making me suspect the entire structure could fail at any time. I believe your Power, your mere presence, had been sustaining it."
Elsa had mixed feelings upon hearing this news. On one hand, she felt sad at losing her first large creation, and the place where she had accepted her Power. On the other, the place held several bad memories, giving her a feeling of relief knowing her first palace would soon be gone. She looked the plans again. "At the time I thought I could well spend the rest of my life in that palace. This new one will be for special events, and to show to visitors. I do not intend to live here."
"Thus, the need for more robust construction."
Elsa took one last look at the plans. "Very well." Then to Anna, "get everyone clear." She re-rolled the plans and handed them to the architect.
Anna turned and shooed everyone back to where the road ended, at the hill's north-east corner, leaving Elsa alone on the hilltop.
Remembering half the kingdom was watching, Elsa felt her body tensing and her heart racing. She had demonstrated her Power before others many times, but never with such a large audiance. The first ice palace had been made without an audience, in solitude. She could feel her Power inside her, threatening to erupt, uncontrolled. The feeling reminded her of her coronation, when she became the Queen of Arendelle, holding the orb and scepter, hoping no one would see the frost forming on them. Now she would show why she had earned another name, the Snow Queen.
The plans called for a thick ice sheet to serve as a foundation. She started as she had many times before, by lifting her right leg and dropping her foot sharply, focusing her Power into the ground. A sheet of ice radiated from where her foot fell. She extended the ice sheet to cover an area as large as the great hall, the palace's central feature. She held her arms out and down at an angle, and then slowly raised her hands upward. The ice responded to the flow of Power by thickening, raising her a dozen feet. Next came the support columns. She spun in place, arms outstretched, raising them . . . and became immersed in her Power.
Audience forgotten, she swept the six columns upward with a graceful wave. With another dance-like turn and a hand gesture, she created the flying buttresses, growing outward from the columns. She spun about and the walls grew, filling the space between the main columns. A sweep of her arms formed the grand staircase, winding upward, along the walls. A glance over her shoulder and the lift of a hand caused arches, forty feet tall, to form over the entranceway. Balanced on one foot she made another turn, another gesture, forming the main doors, then the chandelier.
At her coronation, she said she did not dance. Mere hours later, she had, for the first time in her life, let the Power flow through her body without limit. Then, as now, she found it impossible to do anything else but dance during this creative act.
Elsa stopped, lowered her hands, and looked about. Although the great hall appeared complete, the ice lacked the character she wanted. Closing her eyes she raised her hands above her head. She visualized her goal as Power gathered, then brought her hands sharply down, pressing a wave of light into the ice beneath her.
The wave flowed outward, through the floor and up though the walls, filling them with structure and light. Glacial blue and aurora-green hues filled the room. Behind her, Elsa heard an audible gasp from the assembled crew. Quickly she looked about. Have I made mistake? Is something about to fall? Then, the crowd broke into applause.
Regaining her regal poise, Elsa turned, and bowed to them, a gentle smile on her face. All her tension had vanished, replaced by a cool calmness. Looking to the architect, she motioned for the plans. She had the secondary rooms to make, for storage, food preparation and meetings. The balcony and several other secondary structures also needed to be constructed.
Anna and Kristoff stood, hand in hand, gaping at the new structure towering above them. "I didn't know she could do it so fast." Kristoff said, softly.
"That's my sister."
"Wow, that was amazing!" They both turned to the new voice, seeing a small white figure standing near them, an animated snowman, with trigs for hair, branches for arms, and a somewhat droopy carrot for a nose.
"Olaf! I haven't seen you for a while! Your nose looks a little droopy there," said Anna, reaching for and lifting the tip of the carrot.
Olaf felt his nose. "So that's what's been smelling odd."
"You can smell your own nose?" asked Kristoff.
"Sure! Can't you smell my nose?"
"Ah, well, we can. Let's get a new one for you." Kristoff left to get a new carrot. He always had a few extra, as they were Sven's favorite snack.
"Where have you been?" Anna asked Olaf.
"Looking for summer. I cannot find it anywhere. Did Elsa take summer away?" Olaf slowly turned all the way around, as though looking for something.
"No, silly. Summer's over. It's fall now. Soon it will be winter."
Kristoff removed Olaf's old nose and pushed a fresh carrot into place. "Oh! Summer fresh!" Olaf exclaimed, fingering his new nose.
"Take good care of that one, there will not be too many more before spring." said Kristoff. Holding the old carrot, he reached behind his back, not looking. Sven quickly devoured the treat.
"Winter? So summer's gone forever?" Olaf looked quite sad.
"Don't worry. Summer will be back next year," Anna reassured him.
"Oh, that will be wonderful!" Turning to the ice place he asked, "Can I go see? Is Elsa in there?"
"Sure. Please try and stay out of the way. We have quite a bit of moving to do."
Anna began directing the unloading of the carts. "This palace needs furnishings. We're going to host a royal ball here tomorrow. We have tables, chairs, food, and dining utensils. We brought along several rugs and wall hangings too." Anna busily directed their placement about the great hall.
Half an hour later, Kristoff came to where Anna directed the placement of some rugs. "All my load is in."
"Good", she replied.
Anna looked across the hall. Several workers stood there with food, plates and other dining utensils, waiting for Elsa to finish. Blue flashes and waves of light shown through the ice as Elsa used her Power.
"I'm going to have to leave, and finish my deliveries," said Kristoff.
"How much ice do you have left this time of year?"
"My ice house is getting a little empty," responded Kristoff. "Although I have some buried deep in the straw."
"Alright. How about our deliveries? Do we have enough ice?"
Kristoff looked around the great hall. "Ah . . ."
"Not here, silly. At the castle."
"Oh. I delivered yours this morning, when I came to collect the supplies to bring here."
"Smart thinking." Anna gave Kristoff a hug. "See you tomorrow night at the ball," she said.
He turned to leave, then paused, a thought coming to mind.
"Have you heard any of the rumors? About some sort of trouble in Cliffdale, down the coast?" asked Kristoff.
Anna cast him a worried look. "Yes. King Ragnar is coming here to talk to Elsa about it."
"Usually I get a lot of orders for ice from them, but recently, I have had almost none. I wonder what could be the problem?"
Michaelmas is a traditional Scandinavian festival, taking place on September 29.
Warning: This story is very hard on Ice Palaces!
For those considering skipping ahead: The major conflict resolutions occur in Chapters 12 and 13. Both will make much more sense if you at least read Chapters 2 and 4.