As the grandfather clock behind her chimed out the hour, a smile tugged at Elsa's lips. She began to silently count, waiting for the sound of footsteps. Any moment Gerda would step through the door with a tray of tea and assorted snacks, just as she had every morning for the last four years.
Since Elsa began using her father's study, after his passing, they had followed the same routine. After the Great Thaw Gerda continued the ritual, unless Elsa was trapped in a meeting or away from the castle. At first, Elsa had thought it was just Gerda's way of making sure she ate something during the day. But overtime she had come to understand it was not just Elsa's eating habits the servant was concerned about.
The tray was always set up before the chaise, never at the desk. Even when Elsa made room for it, Gerda would suggest the young woman would be more comfortable on the chaise. When the custom first began Elsa would, at times, ignore the tray to continue working. Gerda would stand by the chaise, hands folded in front of her, dropping gentle reminders that the tea was getting cold.
When tactful hints failed the handmaiden would become more direct. More than once she informed the then future Queen that she had been working all morning and it was time for a break. As Gerda worked on setting up the tray, they would share small talk. Elsa had grown accustom to the daily chats and found she missed them when her schedule would not allow it.
The clock chimed ten and no footsteps came. Elsa's count reached twenty and still only silence greeted her from the hallway. She frowned at the empty door. It was not like Gerda to be late. The woman ran on a time schedule that would make a ship's captain proud.
There was only one person who could keep Gerda from tending to Elsa and that was Anna. But her sister was away for the day, having joined Kristoff on his trip to the ice harvester's camp. She shrugged off a growing tug of concern and turned back to her work. She was being silly, Gerda had an entire castle to run, even she could be late once in a while.
As the clock chimed quarter pass the hour, Elsa paused in her work. Something was wrong. She was about to stand when she heard footsteps treading down the hall. Tension left her shoulders, as a relieved sigh slipped from her lips. Gerda's normally light, steady steps where heavy and a bit clumsy. If she didn't know better, she would think Anna was in the hall.
Her attention turned once more to her paperwork. A smile turned her lips upward as she thought of how she would tease the older woman for her tardiness, looking forward to a sassy reply.
She looked up with a broad smile as the maid stopped in the doorway. The smile dropped at the sight of a young woman, holding a tray in her unsteady hands.
"Your Majesty." She curtsied as best she could, nearly spilling the teapot as the tray tipped. "I have your tea. Where would you like me to set it up?"
"The coffee table will be fine." Elsa motioned toward it with her head, shaking off her confusion at the maid's presence.
With another clumsy bow the girl scurried across the room. She sat the tray down, causing the china to rattle. Red blush spread up the girl's neck and face at the clumsy motion. "Sorry."
Elsa caught the whispered apology. She tried to keep her focus on her work as the girl fumbled with the contents of the tray. The girl had turned eighteen in the spring and joined the house staff a week later. One so new and young would rarely have access to the Queen. But the girl was Alma's niece and Gerda had taken her under wing. From day one she had been shadowing Gerda, hoping to learn her responsibilities in the castle and too the Royal family.
Margit could be a challenge some days. She had all the grace of a reindeer in a china shop. On more than one occasion Elsa had overheard Gerda scolding the girl for stomping down the hall.
China clattered against silver as the girl struggled to set up the tea cup and saucer.
She spun so fast she nearly toppled over. "Ma'am?"
"Where is Gerda?"
The color drained from the girl's face as quickly as it had rushed there earlier.
"Yes, Gerda, tall woman, graying hair." Eyes like a hawk. Elsa kept the last to herself.
"She's not here, ma'am."
"Yes, I can see that." Silence lingered as the girl's fingers fiddled with her skirt, her eyes looking everywhere but at Elsa. It was taking some effort for Elsa not to grit her teeth. "Would you please tell Gerda, I need to speak with her about the menu for the dinner with Ambassador Negil?"
"You need, Gerda, to come here?" The girl blushed.
Elsa looked up. "This is where I am, so yes."
"Begging your pardon, Your Majesty. But could Auntie, I mean, Alma, be of service to you instead?"
"No," It was taking some effort for Elsa not to snap at the girl. "I need to speak with Gerda."
"Yes, ma'am" The girl began ringing her hands, but made no move to leave.
Elsa felt the last of her patience wane. "Margit, is there a problem?"
"No, ma'am, I mean yes. Gerda can't come here."
Elsa laid down her pen and folded her hands atop the desk. Her face blank. "Is she in the castle?"
"Then why can't she come?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you, ma'am."
A delicate eyebrow arched. "And why not?"
"Gerda said, I wasn't to tell you or the Princess."
Elsa leaned forward, fixing the girl with an ice cold glare. She spoke slowly. "Margit, I'm going to ask you one more time, and I better get an honest, complete answer. Where. Is. Gerda?"
The girl swallowed hard before blurting out. "In her chambers."
Anger turned to concern. "Why, what's wrong?"
"Why do you think some thing's wrong, ma'am?"
Pale hands slammed down atop the desk, leaving a faint dusting of frost. "Margit, if you answer one more question with a question, so help me, I'll freeze your toes to the floor. Now, why is Gerda in her chambers?"
The young woman bowed her head, accepting defeat. "She's sick, ma'am."
As she stood, Elsa's chair slid back with an ear piercing squeal. Margit cringed at the sound. "Sick? What did the doctor say?"
"She refused to call for him, ma'am."
"Of all the pig-headed…" Elsa started for the door.
Margit scrambled to follow after her.
"Get the doctor and tell him to go to Gerda's chambers. And he is not to leave until he has given her a complete exam, Queen's orders." She whipped around, causing Margit to slide to a halt mere inches from colliding with her Queen.
The maid scrambled back several steps.
"Do you understand?"
"Yes, Your Majesty." Margit tried to curtsy.
"Never mind all that, go." Elsa shooed her away with a wave of her hand.
Alone in the hallway Elsa tried to remember when she had seen Gerda last. Was it breakfast? No, she wasn't there. Come to think of it, she hadn't been there to see Anna off. She silently cursed herself for not noticing earlier. With a wave of her hand the ice beneath her feet vanished. There would be time for reflexion later, now she needed to act.