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Author's Note: I have had a total blast with this little story, MUCH more than I had thought I would, and most of that is due to you, my lovely, lovely Readers. You truly have no idea how blessed I feel to have had you with me on the trip.
And now, though it does make me a little … wistful to say it, here is the final Follow-Up Chapter: Here I Stand
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Six Days After the Ball
Whatever King Agdar's faults may have been, there were many things he did well. Chief among those was his ability to find talent and put it where it would do the most good in the orderly running of Arendelle. The new Queen found many occasions to offer up a prayer of thanks for her father's foresight in that regard.
While it was true that he usually made his own decisions without much regard for the Council's opinions, that wasn't – in his mind – the main reason that he had a Council in the first place. They were there to execute his will, to turn his broad strokes into the minutiae required for the successful operation of a kingdom. To that end he had appointed men (and one woman) who were skilled at listening, highly competent at their chosen field, and very detail-oriented.
Naturally Elsa knew all of them. They had, after all, been running Arendelle for the past three years during her regency period, and she had sat in on nearly every one of their important meetings. Each appointee – from the Minister of Agriculture, white-headed Geert Lindgren, to fresh-faced Dankert Knutsen, the math prodigy who was not yet thirty and oversaw the economics of the kingdom as the Minister of Finance – had a high degree of expertise in something. On top of that, they had gotten used to acting with autonomy in most things, keeping Elsa informed but not really asking for (or in some cases even desiring) her input.
Her coronation, naturally, changed that dynamic since she was now Queen Regnant and didn't technically need to include them in her decision-making. Her father, however, had taught her better than that, and she was an astute student. So nothing that came to the table in this latest meeting surprised her, though she did find some of their views interesting. When the latest one had made his point, she cleared her throat and offered, "So, Lord Magnussen, you wish to roll back a century and a half of tradition and legal precedent simply for my convenience?"
"What? No! No, Your Majesty, not at all!"
"But you wish to forbid this protest. Is that not the gist of your proposal?"
Lord Kurt Magnussen looked down at the paper in front of him on the table and frowned. "I think 'forbid' might be too strong a word. But I certainly don't want to encourage it."
"These people have an opinion about me – specifically about my more unusual abilities – and feel that they have a valid complaint. They are bringing up what they consider to be serious concerns affecting the kingdom. We can't simply tell them to go away and be quiet."
"We also don't want them leading a rebellion."
"True, but I really don't think it will come to that."
"Nevertheless, as Queen you represent the kingdom. When they speak against you, they speak against Arendelle."
She allowed herself a small, wry chuckle. "If only that were true."
Geert spoke up, "In a legal sense, Your Majesty, it IS true."
"Oh, I know. But loyalty to the land of one's birth does not necessarily extend to the ruling class." She gestured westward. "Take the former British colonies for example."
Almost as one the Council rolled their eyes (as she knew they would). Lord Lindholm stated, "For the record, Your Majesty, those people are not quite sane."
"And," put in Lord Holt, "They have only been a separate state for a bit more than fifty years, and have struggled the entire time. We have no real confidence their 'experiment' will last."
"Yes, just look at France," agreed Lord Magnussen, "The bloodiest revolution anyone ever heard of – not that those idiots didn't deserve it – and their republic didn't even last twenty years before the Bourbons seized power. Now, four decades after that bloodbath, Louis Philippe occupies the throne."
"Which he is holding by the skin of his teeth," observed the Queen. "And it is due to the same lack of regard for the will of the people that brought on the Terror in the first place." She placed both hands on the table and leaned forward slightly. "Gentlemen … I love Arendelle. I love its people, even those who don't necessarily love me back. I cannot be an effective ruler if I don't have their support, and quashing the free exchange of ideas is exactly the wrong way to go about winning that support."
Several of them glanced around at each other, aware now that they weren't going to change her mind. "Very well," answered Lord Magnussen, "what do you propose?"
Elsa gave him a sly smile and outlined her plan.
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The Next Morning
Anna's hand was warm. Her hands were always warm, and Elsa had come to rely on that fact several times each day.
A warm hand on her shoulder or side or back had accompanied her awakening every morning this week, and neither young woman had tired of it yet. Privately, Elsa suspected Anna never would … at least not until she met a man she'd rather sleep with. The Queen found herself oddly discomfited by that thought.
Her sister's warm hand gave Elsa's cheek a reassuring caress before and after every public address she had made thus far.
That soft, soft skin lay clasped in hers as the two made their way around the castle, steadying, buffering, supporting, protecting. For so many years Elsa had isolated herself, avoided touching others, walled herself off. Now, with Anna close and warm, her presence and faith, loyalty and love buoyed the Queen in her new duties and responsibilities, and Elsa craved the touch. A void had been filled, a lack answered, so that she could never get too much … and Anna was more than willing to provide. Her hurts, though different, had been nearly as deep; she needed the contact just as much as Elsa did.
So it was today that they walked hand-in-hand out to one of the royal carriages, stepped up, and took their seats side by side, shoulders touching, fingers laced, as a score of the Queen's Own Guard formed up around them. The small parade moved briskly out of town on the main road to the south, traveling for some quarter of an hour until they came to the wide, rocky dome that Elsa had chosen for her meeting with the "opposition party".
There aren't that many of them, she thought, perhaps … forty or so. "Good," she murmured.
Anna caught the utterance and shot her a questioning glance, but the Queen just smiled before giving her sister's hand a final squeeze and climbing down.
The Guard had already been instructed to maintain their distance, and they did so, lining up on either end of the carriage, facing the protestors huddled together some seventy or eighty paces away. Their carbines were loaded, but Elsa hoped fervently that they would remain peacefully hanging from their saddles.
The Queen walked the negligible distance to the center of the tiny monadnock and clasped her hands in front of her waist. "Good morning," she greeted them, smiling a little.
The two men facing her, the leaders and instigators of this movement, did not return her smile. The Reverend Elias Dorn, an Austrian from an offshoot Anabaptist sect, and white-haired Father Udo Ostberg, a Catholic priest, would not normally have been associates (they would not normally have acknowledged one another's existence) but identifying Elsa as their common foe had forged an uneasy alliance. Her goal that morning was to make them converts to a different line of thought.
She looked between the two for a moment. Father Ostberg she knew. He had led Arendelle's small (primarily Irish) Catholic population since about a year prior to the shipwreck that claimed Elsa's parents. Elsa had accompanied the late King on two occasions to meet with the priest.
The other man she had never seen before. He was relatively new to the area, and two of her Councilors had briefed her on him. He wasn't exactly a zealot, but he did have some VERY strident opinions about other forms of Christianity, and a charismatic oratory style. He had ended up in Arendelle due to having been run out of every other city he had tried to preach in. Elsa found his particular brand of "Free Will" Arminianism rather odd, but freedom of conscience was a cherished right in her homeland, and she wasn't going to censor him unless he actually broke a law.
The men traded a glance and Reverend Dorn murmured, "After you." Father Ostberg took a step toward her, ran through a quick series of Latin phrases, and held a crucifix out to her.
Elsa looked at him quizzically. "Am I to take this?"
"Touch it. If you dare."
"Very well." She placed the palm of her hand over the upper point and held it there, giving him a confident eye.
His brow clouding into a frown, he muttered something and pulled back.
The Reverend stepped forward and handed her an open Bible, which she took and held, scanning the page. A tiny smirk came over her. "Would you like me to read this passage you have underlined?"
"You can try."
She cleared her throat. "Starting with Verse 17: 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.'" She looked up at him. "You know, though, I've found myself more partial to the portion that says, 'Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'"
"Surely you are not setting yourself up as equivalent to the Saints!" exclaimed Father Ostberg.
"Surely you know that under Christ, we who follow Him are all saints."
He narrowed his eyes at her, but didn't answer.
"That thing with your crucifix," she said, waving at the object, "What was that supposed to accomplish?"
"You shouldn't have been able to touch it without pain."
"And why is that?"
"You know very well why! The Divine and the Profane cannot coexist!"
Elsa tilted her head slightly. "So you really do think I have some sort of connection to the Underworld?"
"There is no other explanation!"
She drew a long breath, centering herself and controlling her responses. They don't know. They lack only information. "If you say so. But please know that I am a follower of the Lutheran faith, as are most in Arendelle, and have been a faithful daughter of the Church my whole life."
"Lies!" snorted Reverend Dorn. "No true Christian would perform sorcery!"
She handed his Bible back to him. "I could not agree more."
That stopped them. Father Ostberg stuttered, "B-but … but you …"
"I am no practitioner of the dark arts. What I can do is create and manipulate ice. That's all. It's a talent I was born with, and which, regrettably, I tried to suppress for the past thirteen years."
They were listening intently.
"It hadn't … I had been through an … unfortunate incident when I was eight. I was playing with Anna," and here she cast a quick glance back at her smiling sister, "and there was an accident. I injured Anna with my ice."
"So it IS a curse!"
"… Actually," she admitted, "that is what I thought at the time. Really, up until a week ago, to be honest. My … parents … got us some help. They saved Anna's life. But the accident frightened me so badly that I hid myself away in order to protect her from it."
"What do you mean, 'hid yourself away'? How?"
"I separated myself from Anna. Stayed in my room most of the time. We rarely spoke and never played together again."
The Reverend asked, "You hid for thirteen years? Seriously?"
She nodded, sniffling. She'd told herself that she would maintain a calm demeanor, but her self-imposed exile had ended only a week ago, and was still intensely fresh in her mind. "It was … very hard. But I never could control it … not fully. The ice would escape. My room would fill with frost, or the ceiling would festoon itself with icicles. Or the door would freeze shut. It's why I wore gloves all the time. It was a sort of … psychological crutch … a way to help cope." She dropped her gaze to the ground and shook her head. "So many poor decisions."
The two men shared a quick glance. "What happened to change that?" asked the priest.
A smile bloomed, making her eyes sparkle. "Anna happened. It's really all her doing. During my Coronation Ball, we had a … small tiff, and my ice got away from me again. That time, everyone saw it. My secret was out, and I was convinced then and there that my life was over, that I would have to run away. And I would have, except for some people who loved me very, very much." She didn't bother trying to restrain the tears that tracked her face. "Anna, chief among them. And that was when I learned that love is the antidote to fear. And it is love that has motivated me these following days." She steeled her resolve, stepped forward and took the two men's hands, giving them a watery smile. "Father, Reverend … I know you don't understand these things I can do. I don't understand them myself, and I've been studying them my whole life. I don't know where they came from or why I was chosen to bear them. But please know this: I love Arendelle. I love her people. I will do my utmost to honor the memory of King Agdar, and to be the sort of Queen this kingdom needs."
Reverend Dorn was still frowning. "And just what, exactly, is it that you can do? To be frank, we have heard a lot of wild stories."
"Yes, so have I." She gave a tiny giggle, dropping their hands and wiping at her eyes. "I sometimes wonder if they are talking about some other Queen Elsa." She regarded them both for a moment, fought down a secret smile, and then asked, "What would you like to see?"
That made them think. They drew back a few steps and conversed in low tones before approaching her again. Reverend Dorn said, "Two of my flock were in the castle the night of your Ball."
She nodded. "So they saw the decorations and seals and so on."
"Yes. They did. And the ring of spikes; it frightened them."
That pulled a long sigh out of her. "I can certainly understand THAT. I spent over a decade staying frightened of my powers most of the time."
"Yes, well, that's as may be. I would like to see you build something." He reached furtively into a pocket and withdrew a small, rectangular object.
Elsa noticed the movement and gave the thing a narrow look. "What is that, if I may ask?"
He opened his mouth to make an excuse, but then closed it again, his lips thinning. Realizing that secrecy wasn't working, he held it out. "A fragment of the True Cross."
Her eyes round, she looked closely at the ancient piece of wood. "Indeed? That would be amazing!" She met his eyes. "But what is it for?"
"It will disrupt demonic magic. I know because I've done it before."
"Truly? What a wonderful thing to have!"
Her enthusiasm startled him. "This doesn't disturb you?"
"Why would it? I have explained already that my powers are not Infernal in nature."
"Then prove it. Build something."
She had secretly hoped for the opportunity, having talked over her idea with Anna and the Council, and couldn't suppress her grin. "If you would please go back and stand with your congregations?" She waited until they were out of the way (noting how the Reverend held his relic to his forehead while praying), then oriented herself, faced west, drew a deep breath, closed her eyes … and stomped a foot onto the bare rock.
Eight massive pillars of ice erupted around her. Every last person watching her gasped audibly.
She began her dance of creation, pulling walls and floor, windows and ceiling together into a seamless whole, the huge structure rising to a dizzying height, slender spires growing up and up from four corners. The roof peaked steeply, climbing to the same level as the spires, then a much larger spire burst from its center, reaching another ten man-heights toward the sky before a spray of frost revealed an enormous Celtic Cross … with a snowflake at its center.
More of her magic swirled around the base, crawling over the walls and windows to leave intricate decorative touches in many shades of pastel, ending with an intense glow at what soon became the large front double-doors. After another half-minute of muted streams or bright flashes of light, the doors opened and she walked out.
Striding in a controlled and stately manner over to where the protestors stood (and noting the nearly-unanimous slack-jawed, glassy-eyed looks), she stopped and clasped her hands together. "Will that be a sufficient demonstration, gentlemen?"
"I … that's … you …" Father Ostberg swallowed, composed himself, and stated, "That … is a cathedral."
"A small one, yes."
"Made of ice."
"But … won't it melt?"
"No." At his disbelieving stare, she gave a one-shoulder shrug and added, "It's magical ice. It won't melt if during the construction I decide I don't want it to melt."
"You've been planning this."
She dimpled. "Perhaps. But only for a little while."
"This is … it is simply … simply …"
"… I'm sorry, what?"
"You may recall that my father visited you at your request to talk about repairs and remodeling that needed to be done on your church building."
"Ah … yes." He was still staring at the sparkling construction. "He … he, ah, said there weren't funds for it at the time, but he would look into it … later."
"Yes. But he never followed through on that, and then …" She had to swallow once herself. "Then he died."
"I mourn with you, my chil- my Queen."
She silently noted that not-so-subtle change. "In any case, I do realize that your current structure is wholly inadequate. So you may have this one." She raised a hand toward the carriage (where she could see her sister standing and bouncing so madly the entire conveyance was rocking) and motioned to a retainer. The man guided his horse over and handed a rolled parchment to the Queen before wheeling around and returning to his place. Looking Father Ostberg in the eye, she said, "I had this drawn up last night, and only read through it once, but I believe it is free of errors." She handed him the scroll.
Very hesitantly did he take it, and unroll it, and begin reading … then he started sharply. "This is a deed."
"Actually, it's a lease. A perpetual lease, so it should serve the same function as a deed. We didn't have time to go through all the legal niceties of a true deed, so technically this is still a Crown property, but your church will have exclusive rights to the land."
"Your … Your Majesty … I don't know what to say." He blinked back his tears. "This morning has not, ah, developed as I had expected, to be very blunt."
Reverend Dorn jumped in, "He's right. I was almost half expecting to be martyred, especially after seeing all your Guard."
"Martyred!" Elsa was deeply shocked to hear that. "But …"
"A thousand pardons, Your Majesty. We had … assumed some things that were … obviously inaccurate."
She gave him a look bordering on incredulity. "Obviously."
"So, is this," and here he gestured at the new church building, "um, indicative of a new policy in Arendelle's government?"
She had expected a reaction like that, so wasn't surprised, but asked anyway, "What do you mean?"
"You just … gave them a CATHEDRAL. Surely you are aware that such a thing can take generations to build, and yet you … you … in but a handful of minutes …" He raised his arms helplessly and then let them flop. "I can scarcely …"
"I think I understand your question." She had seen the look, almost of envy, that he turned toward the magnificent building. "And to that end, yes. If the Crown deems a congregation in need of a place of meeting, I will be happy to supply it."
His eyes the very definition of hopeful, he opened his mouth to speak. But she beat him to the punch. "We will examine your meeting house, and make a judgment on the need for improvements before the week is out."
"Thank you, Your Majesty."
She looked down at the relic in his hands, then caught his eye. "May I?"
"Of course." He handed it to her.
The wood was very light, understandable given its great age, and thousands of hands had polished it as smooth as a pearl. Lying on her palm, it was slightly warm … and gave her a tiny, pleasant tingle of joy. She bit her lip to hold back her tears, kissed the object, and handed it back. "May God richly bless you both."
Father Ostberg looked between the rest of his group and the new building and asked, "Do you think we could …"
"Of course! Come, come!" She led them all inside.
The congregations stood amazed for a minute, pausing in the narthex and ogling the fine details everywhere until Anna showed up with a muted "squeeee!" and glommed onto her sister. Elsa shooed them on into the nave where they could see all the pews, and the bank of enormous windows down each side. Father Ostberg stopped, his jaw dropping, then turned around slowly, whispering, "So … beautiful," and looked at each window in turn before facing the Queen. Obviously holding his emotions in check through sheer willpower, he stammered out, "Y-you … how did … th-those are the Stations of the Cross."
"It seemed appropriate."
Over the next half hour the people wandered around inside. Father Ostberg moved slowly and reverently down the nave to the transept, stopping to gaze up into the dome and pausing for several minutes to say his Rosary. A slightly faster tour of the apse and ambulatory ended with him standing beside Elsa under the dome again.
Pointing upward, he said, "Chandelier. Right?"
"Chandeliers have been known to do that from time to time."
Her sarcasm was lost on him. "Will it glow all the time?"
"It will. The light lasts as long as the ice does."
He took her hands (and she didn't even flinch!) his eyes clearly showing his wordless wonder. "Your Majesty, the rest of Arendelle needs to hear of your generosity and goodness."
"In time, Father, I will make my way around the kingdom and introduce myself. I have been becoming acclimated to my new duties, and it has been … somewhat tiring."
"And we put this crisis on you on top of all that. You have my deepest and most sincere apologies."
She squeezed his fingers and let go. "There was need. I don't begrudge anyone the opportunity to voice his opinions."
"But those opinions need to be informed."
"And they will be. Eventually."
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Supper was only a memory. The sun had found its berth an hour gone. Elsa and Anna sat together in the library under the glow of a pair of lanterns. The younger girl had her head in her sister's lap, lying quietly for once and listening while Elsa read from a book of old legends, and played subtly with her red locks.
"… 'So Loki and Logi started at each end of the long trough full of meat, and ate their way toward the middle. Wotan and Surtr stood at the center mark, facing each other over the trough. They would judge the winner.
'For a night and a day without pausing the giant and the god ate, and finally came within sight of each other. Over the last hour of the contest they seemed equally matched, and truthfully did they arrive at their mutual goal at the same time.
'But while Loki had eaten all the meat, and licked the trencher clean, Logi, whose name means Fire, had consumed both the meat and the trough itself. He was judged the winner.
'Then Surtr laughed at Wotan. "So you see, All-Father: even the gods may not win at everything." And proud Wotan would have struck the giant, save that Frey intervened, staying his hand. "No, All-Father, the time is not yet."
The Queen paused in her reading. She hadn't been totally sure that Anna was still awake. "Yes, Dear One?"
Anna grinned at the endearment. "I love hearing you call me that." She cherished the closeness she and Elsa had developed over the course of only a week.
"And I love saying it. You've no idea. I never thought …"
Reaching up to give her hand a squeeze, Anna asked, "When that preacher guy handed you his Bible, what did you read?"
"Ah." She allowed herself a small smile. "A passage from the Sermon on the Mount."
Anna frowned a bit. She hadn't paid anything like as much attention to her liturgical lessons as Elsa had. "Jesus did that, right?"
"Yes. It was the first of His Major Discourses. It contains the meat of His philosophy."
The chaise squeaked a little as Anna turned onto her back so she could look at her sister's face. "That's where that 'meek' thing comes in, right?"
"That the meek will inherit the Earth? Yes."
"Master Shepherd was never very happy with my efforts. And he told me I wasn't meek enough to inherit a rock, much less the Earth."
Elsa had to laugh at that. "He had a point." She remembered their liturgy tutor as a rather joyless individual who seemed to live in the perpetual suspicion that someone, somewhere might be having fun … and it distressed him. "But I wouldn't have you any other way." She leaned over and dropped a kiss on Anna's forehead.
"Wasn't there something in there somewhere about love?"
"He told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us."
Anna's solemn stare left Elsa becalmed. After a few breaths, the redhead stated, "Seems to me that's what you did today."
The Queen rolled her eyes. "Oh, Anna, those men weren't my enemies!"
"They sure could have been. They were ready to be. They almost were."
"But then they weren't."
"Because you loved them."
"… Well … yes, I suppose, in a way."
"You love Arendelle. You've said so several times."
"So do you, as I believe you've mentioned."
Anna nodded. "That's what I mean." She raised a finger and 'beeped' Elsa's nose. "Best Queen Ever. Any other monarch would have tossed 'em all into the dungeon … or maybe even hanged 'em."
"That's an appalling thing to say!"
"I'm not wrong."
Elsa opened her mouth to object, but then thought it over and subsided. "Perhaps."
"But wasn't there something else about love there, too?"
"Can you give me a context?"
"Something about love always hopes."
"Oh!" The reference crystallized for her. "That's not from the Sermon. It's from Corinthians." She cleared her throat and brought the passage to mind. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
"Yes! That's the one."
"I've always liked that passage."
"Yeah. It reminds me of you."
Elsa blushed, but didn't say anything.
"You know what I think?"
"That thing you built. The cathedral."
"It was really pretty. Crazy pretty. But you gave it to that church."
"That was not an accident."
Anna took the end of Elsa's braid and toyed with it. "I think you need something like that for you."
"… For me?"
"For yourself. A place where you can be … alone … without being lonely."
"What … what do you mean?"
"I know this is really new and different for you, and I think you're doing totally great at it, but I have noticed how tense you get around crowds."
Elsa's lower lip got the benefit of her attention while that idea bounced around in her head.
"All I'm sayin' is that you probably ought to have some place you can … withdraw to. Somewhere that you can just enjoy … you know, far enough away from everyone that you don't have to worry about your ice escaping. Somewhere that you can be YOU without any reservations. Somewhere that you can take all your magic, wad it up in a big ball, and just let it all out."
Blue eyes stared into Anna's for a good bit longer than the younger girl was comfortable with. "Just let it go?"
"Yep. I know you cut loose pretty good today, but think about what it would be like to be so far out that there wasn't even the remotest chance of someone getting hurt."
"Far out? You don't mean outside our borders, do you?"
"Huh. That hadn't occurred to me." She shook her head. "No, I was thinking more like one of the mountains that just about choke this area. Specifically, North Mountain."
The Queen considered that for a moment. "Very well. Why the North Mountain?"
Fingers got ticked off. "We can get to it in half a day. You can see it from Arendelle … the higher points of town and castle, anyway. It's above the permafrost line, so it'll never get warm enough to melt it, even if something happens to un-magic the ice. It's not a volcano. And I bet you could see some of Arendelle from there."
The more she considered the idea, the better Elsa liked it. "I think you may be onto something."
"And you can make it as big and lavish as you want. Does that sound … fun to you?"
"… Yes. Yes, it really does." She gripped Anna's hands, a glorious smile transforming her face. "Anna, I want to do that … soon. Like in the next day or two. Oh, my! The things I could do!"
The younger girl grinned again. "Okay, now that that's settled, I have one more question for you."
"And that would be?"
"Do you want to build a snowman?"
. . .
. . .
End Note: And we have arrived.
This, yes, is the end of THIS part of their story. However, my Muse and I have fallen completely in love with this incarnation of Elsa, and more of the story needs to be told. So there will be sequels.
First, though, I have to finish "Meltdown". That one is totally chewing on my butt.
Please review. I am deeply interested in your thoughts on this little excursion.