CHAPTER 9: TROLLS & GHOSTS
The woods were eerily silent Sunday morning. Though the ice of the early winter wasn't as prominent here, it had still brought about the wildlife's typical end of year response. Many animals had gone into hibernation, and those that hadn't didn't want to linger outside their dens in this temperature. Even the few leaves still clinging to the tree branches barely wavered, as if the breeze itself didn't want to be out right now. In short, everything local was as still and quiet as possible. Ironically, it was the only foreign element – a lone person riding through on horseback – that made the most noise, however little.
Unable to fight the urge from her more irrational side, Elsa glanced over her shoulder to see if anyone was following. There was no one there, as the opposite side of her had suspected. Returning her gaze forward, she released the breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She needed to relax. It wasn't as if she was doing anything illegal, after all. But, she reminded herself, she was still doing something she didn't want anyone to catch her doing. She thought back to earlier.
For the first time in forever, Elsa slept in this morning. In fact, she only got up minutes before Anna did, to everyone's surprise. After all, none of them knew that she'd been up for almost two hours while the rest of the kingdom slept earlier this morning, nor did they know why. Though it meant that she was unable to finish her paperwork before breakfast, Elsa didn't mind; last night had been nothing short of magical, and she was actually glad that Jack had gotten her up.
She'd at first been confused when she woke up to find Jack absent from her bedchamber – something she was rapidly growing accustomed to, she realized with a start – but soon recalled what he'd told her yesterday; he had a few dozen places to visit, to spread snow and ice where winter was having a harder time. He was probably in another country, or even another continent, right now. But he'd assured her that he would be back before midday. His list of places to visit was long enough that he wouldn't be able to cover it all even if he spent a whole day on it – best to just do a little bit every day, and spend his free time here. Besides, they still had an "ice-off" to have, and Elsa's friends to convince.
The latter was just what sent Elsa where she was going. After the usual Sunday breakfast with Anna, Olaf and Kristoff, she had declined going out with them all in favour of the paperwork she'd neglected last night, to their dismay. This wasn't a lie – she did get it done after breakfast – but she didn't go out to join them when she was finished. Instead, she'd pulled a very old book from the shelf and memorized a set of directions. Then she'd taken a horse from the stables, set out for her destination, and hoped none of her friends saw her race off. They would surely have questions – where was she going, why was she going, why didn't she want them with her – that she wasn't prepared to answer.
Elsa seemed to leave the winter weather behind along with Arendelle. The further she travelled, she noticed, the less snow and ice there was, as if she was riding back in time to the autumn she'd ended ahead of schedule (by popular vote, thankfully). She wasn't, of course, but she had no real explanation for it, either. Whether her destination was simply beyond the reach of the early winter she'd conjured, or it was protected by its own magic, she didn't know. From what she'd heard from Anna and Kristoff, it hadn't even been very affected by the eternal winter that had terrorized the kingdom this past July.
Anna has been here at least three times now. she thought to herself. I haven't been here since I was eight...
Despite the thirteen years, Elsa remembered every detail of that fateful visit as if it was last night, and so mimicked her father's actions. She slowed her steed to a halt at the same place he did, tied the reins to quite possibly the same tree branch, and continued on foot. The sense of travelling into the past struck her again, seeming to grow with every step. But where the ride through the woods had simply been like a trip to a few weeks ago, this felt more like she was visiting one of the worst moments of her life, far deeper into the past. Her heart was pounding, tears slowly began to accumulate in her eyes, and her footprints left frost on the ground. At this last symptom, she stopped and closed her eyes.
"Calm down, Elsa." she reassured herself in a whisper. "This isn't like last time. Anna's not hurt. You're in control again. It's not an emergency, you're just here for information. There's nothing to be afraid of."
With her nerves sufficiently soothed, Elsa continued on. Turning a corner, she found much the same sight as all those years ago; a small clearing in this rocky place. The enormous mountain walls all around shielded it from sight unless coming from this direction, effectively isolating it from the rest of the world. Moss decorated the ground, and geysers released hot steam in various places. Few trees dotted the area, and stairs encircled part of the clearing. Though these were part of the stony ground, they didn't seem carved out by tools; they almost seemed natural. Truly, the Valley of the Living Rock hadn't changed much in thirteen years.
One other thing that hadn't changed, Elsa noticed, was its lack of any greeting. The place seemed deserted, populated only by rocks – smooth, perfectly round rocks that seemed slightly out of place, but rocks nonetheless. But the Queen wasn't fooled. She knew that living beings were all around her, everywhere she saw those odd stones.
Reaching the middle of the clearing, Elsa realized she wasn't sure how she would wake the Valley's inhabitants. Her father had called out, pleaded, not caring how rude it might be to wake them at such an hour. Elsa had never heard him so scared in her life. But as she'd already reminded herself, this wasn't an emergency. She didn't want to wake anyone up by shouting when it wasn't a life or death situation.
Well, it may not be that serious... she added mentally. But I think it's important.
"H-hello?" she called tentatively. "Is anyone there? Is anyone... awake?"
No response came right away, but Elsa didn't give up, uncomfortable as she was. Every second she stood here, she was reminded of the night that she hurt her sister, was told her already-hyperactive powers would only continue to grow, and that fear would be her enemy. Much as she knew that today's visit would be far less menacing, the memories of the last one were anything but pleasant. Ignoring her instincts telling her to flee, she waited.
Her patience was rewarded seconds later. All around her, the perfectly round stones began to shift and shake off their slumber, and began to roll toward her. Elsa's first impulse was to jump back, as one does when a rockslide is heading one's way, but she fought that urge off just as she did the last. These would not hit her, after all – they were too kind to.
Sure enough, the many rocks stopped their descent toward her mere feet away, all taking up a position around their visitor like they had a designated place in the clearing. And before Elsa's eyes even had time to register their transformation, the rocks were no longer rocks. They were short beings with stubby limbs, big ears, mossy clothes, and wide eyes that looked up at her with wonder; they were trolls.
"It's the Queen!" one exclaimed quietly.
Hushed agreements passed between many of the trolls. Elsa tried not to notice how similar this still was to the last time (the first thing she'd ever heard a troll say was "It's the King"). She offered a smile that she prayed looked more comfortable than she felt.
"Hello... everyone." she greeted hopefully.
"Queen Elsa!" one female greeted her in a friendly manner, making her way through the crowd. "M'boy Kristoff didn't tell us you were comin'!"
Elsa turned to her. Though she'd never met this particular troll before, she recognized her from her friends' stories. While the entire clan of trolls had taken Kristoff and Sven in – the very night Elsa and Anna had first been here, in fact – one took care of them more than the others, acting as a surrogate mother to the orphaned boy and his reindeer companion. This could only be her.
"Bulda?..." she asked uncertainly.
"Aww, he told you 'bout me?" the troll replied, touched.
"Hey, give yourself some credit, 'mom'." another muttered to her.
"We were startin' to wonder if we'd ever see you again!" Bulda went on, ignoring her fellow. "You haven't been here since... Wait. Why are you here?"
Suspicion now ruled Bulda's features. Unprepared for this question, Elsa didn't answer right away. She never got the chance.
"It's not Anna again, is it?" one asked, concerned.
"Is Kristoff okay?" another piped up.
"You didn't set off another eternal winter, did you?!" a third asked, starting to panic. "Great megalith, the end has come!"
"Put a rock in it, Sarsen!" Bulda retorted.
"I'm just saying!"
"Don't be so rude!"
"It's happened before!"
"You're hurting her feelings!"
"Enough, both of you!" a new – yet very old – voice commanded.
Everyone looked to the back of the clearing. As if on cue, the one who spoke stepped forward. If his oversized cape, bushy mane of hair, and necklace of golden crystals didn't identify him as the head of the clan, the way the others made way for him most certainly did.
Stopping before Elsa, Grand Pabbie respectfully bowed before speaking.
"Your majesty." he addressed her quietly. "It has been a long time. Look how you've grown!"
Elsa didn't respond right away. The sight of this being had sent her into the past again. Here was the one who warned her of her growing power and true enemy, and though he'd done so as compassionately as he could, the images he'd conjured up (both literally and figuratively) had tormented Elsa's dreams for thirteen years. She didn't blame him for it – he wasn't the one who cursed her or insisted she hide from the world – but unconsciously, she'd come to associate him with so much of her pain, she realized.
At the numb stare Elsa was giving him, Grand Pabbie tilted his head quizzically.
"Do you not... remember me?" he asked, unsure.
Elsa was snapped back to her senses, blinking at the old troll.
"No! No, I do, of course!" she answered hurriedly, getting to her knees to speak eye to eye with him. "Grand Pabbie, of course I remember you! How... could I ever forget?"
Grand Pabbie sighed, his lips stretching into a small, sad smile.
"Yes, I often think about that night as well." he admitted, gently taking one of Elsa's hands into both of his own. "And I am truly sorry if I frightened you, Queen Elsa. Staying here all my life, my interaction with humans is not always what it should be. I'm sure young Kristoff would tell you the same."
In an instant, Elsa felt the anxiety she linked to Grand Pabbie fade away, replaced with a swell of sympathy. She knew all too well what being cut off from the rest of the world could do to one's social skills.
The troll's smile broadened, turning optimistic.
"But something he tells us is you have mastered the storm within, your majesty." he went on. "I was sure you would one day, even when I didn't know how. We congratulate you on this, as well as on your coronation."
Grand Pabbie lead all of his people in a bow to the Queen. Elsa's smile became more pronounced as she relaxed, the last of her negative feelings toward the Valley vanishing.
"Thank you, all of you." she replied, bowing her head in return. "For everything."
Standing straight once more (though barely any taller than when they were bowing), the trolls all offered kind smiles and quiet words of welcome.
"Bulda does raise a good point, though, your majesty." Grand Pabbie said. "What brings you to our humble Valley?"
Elsa shifted on the ground, getting herself more comfortable. If she was right, she might be sitting here listening for a while.
"Grand Pabbie..." she started, uncertain how to approach the topic. "... you know a lot about... magic and... other things most people don't believe in, don't you?"
She didn't get it right away, but all the trolls – even their wise, composed leader – chuckled to themselves, as if appreciating some joke.
"I should hope so, your majesty." Grand Pabbie replied, his laughter passing. "Especially given that most people don't believe in us."
Silently, Elsa acknowledged the truth of his words.
"Well..." she began again. "... I was wondering what you could tell me about... beings of myth."
These last words left her mouth slowly and tentatively, as she was unsure they fit the person she was thinking of. For their part, the trolls' stares ranged from surprised to perplexed.
"Specifically one named Jack Frost." Elsa added, deciding to be direct.
She didn't have a real plan. This wasn't one of her and Jack's schemes to get her friends to believe in him. If anything, she came here looking for one. With the trolls' seemingly endless knowledge of all things magical, it was Elsa's hope that they were versed in the subject of the Guardian of Fun, or any of the Guardians, for that matter. Perhaps there was a spell that could make Jack visible to non-believers, or a story of how a Guardian once proved his existence that they could replicate – or better still, the trolls themselves could simply corroborate her story to Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven.
"Jack Frost?" Grand Pabbie repeated. "Why this being in particular?"
Inside Elsa was a struggle, as she fought the need for help in all this with the urge to run away and take back everything she'd just said. Telling each of her friends had already backfired to the point that they thought she was hallucinating. If one more person, even Grand Pabbie, agreed with them over her, she didn't think she could handle it. What would be worse? Everyone's concern if she went through, or Jack's disappointment if she gave in?
She released a tense breath, prepared to take her chances.
"I... I know how this is going to sound..." she began. "But... I've been visited by him."
To her relief, none of the trolls looked unconvinced or worried; they looked stunned and puzzled.
"I see." Grand Pabbie answered after mulling it over. "And what do you think we can tell you about him that he can't tell you himself?"
"Hopefully, how to help him." she answered simply. "Even he doesn't know how to do that, so I sure don't."
"I don't understand."
Elsa took a moment to prepare herself, taking in a breath, then releasing it. Talking about Jack to any who weren't seeing him was an increasingly stressful task. Best to just get it over with.
"Jack can only be seen by those who believe in him, Grand Pabbie." she confessed at last. "And only I believe in him. And we've been trying to get my friends... my family to believe in him since we met a week ago, but we just... can't. And I know it sounds crazy, but-"
"Queen Elsa." Grand Pabbie interrupted gently.
Elsa looked up at the old troll, who wore a look of concern. This did nothing to ease her anxiety, but what he said next strangely did.
"Please, don't worry about how it must sound to us. Just tell us how it is to you."
Elsa sighed, realizing how worked up she was getting when none of the trolls had even mentioned overwork yet. Somewhere deep down, a part of her began to think they did have an answer. If they weren't calling her mental health into question, did that mean they knew about Jack, as she'd suspected?
"That was kind of it." she said plainly, her gaze dropping to the ground. "We've tried all these things to show them the truth, and... none of them have worked. And now I'm just hoping you can tell me what else I can do..."
"I see..." Grand Pabbie said thoughtfully. "If I may ask, your majesty, is Jack Frost here with us now?"
Elsa tried not to flinch. Though his tone was innocent, the words themselves hit a little too close to Anna's last Monday night; Do you still see him, is he in the room? she'd asked.
"No." she replied. "He didn't come with me."
"Even though this is about getting others to believe in him?"
Furrowing her brow, Elsa looked up at the troll.
"He..." she struggled to find an explanation. "I... what does that have to do with...?"
"You said you only met him a week ago." Grand Pabbie went on. "But you're devoting so much time and energy to convincing your family of his existence."
Elsa's only response was to stare, utterly lost.
"Why are you helping him, Queen Elsa?" the old troll asked simply.
Lots of reasons. she almost answered indignantly. Because he's lived for hundreds of years, and almost no one has ever seen him. No one deserves to be alone like that, and I should know. Because I want all my friends to get along. Because I want them all to stop worrying that I've lost my mind. Because maybe, just maybe, if we ever manage to touch again, he won't think I'm cold. And most of all...
"Because he's a good person, Grand Pabbie." she said. "He's my friend, and I want to help him."
Lowering her gaze, Elsa paused to fight back the tears she only now realized were in her eyes, whether out of desperation or pity for Jack. When she looked up again, it was to see a warm smile on Grand Pabbie's features, as well as many of his fellows'.
"So can you help us?" she asked in barely more than a whisper.
The elder troll sighed.
"If it's any consolation to you, your majesty, I believe you, even if no one else does." he said.
A murmur of agreement passed between a number of the others, but Elsa didn't hear them; all she heard was the unspoken answer in Grand Pabbie's words, and it sent her spirits plummeting.
"You can't." she realized aloud.
"I am so sorry, Queen Elsa." came the reply. "As I said before, we've spent almost all our lives in this Valley. Much of our knowledge was brought here over the millennia, not sought out there. But to my recollection, none of it speaks of Jack Frost, or any other such figure of legend."
Elsa sighed, trying to look less disappointed than she felt.
"Well, it was worth a try." she said, getting to her feet. "Thank you for your time, Grand Pabbie, I'm sorry to have disturbed you. Take care, everyone."
With a final bow, Elsa turned and began the trek back to her horse. So discouraged by this dead end, she didn't even bother thinking up another idea right away. This hadn't been merely another failed attempt to convince her friends of Jack's existence, but a discovery that there was nothing to even try here; a failed attempt at an attempt.
"Is there nothing else we can do for you, Queen Elsa?" she heard Grand Pabbie call.
She came to a stop... and then looked around. Once more, the environment she found herself in transported her back to the night of her first visit here. This time, though, it didn't merely bring pain and regret; it sparked an idea.
She turned back to the troll clan, a curious look in her eye.
"Grand Pabbie..." she said slowly. "... when I was young, you changed my sister's memories."
"That I did." came the gravely honest reply.
There was a pause before Elsa replied, as she thought carefully, toying with the idea in her head.
"Would you be able t..."
And then she stopped, realizing how bad – not to mention immoral – the idea was.
"No, never mind." she said quickly.
She was gone before any of the trolls could ask her to finish her thought, which she was too horrified of to admit to.
Elsa allowed herself to hang her head as she began the long ride back to Arendelle, barely even at a trot. There was no one around, so who cared how upset she looked?
As she'd begun to leave minutes ago, now knowing the trolls held no knowledge about Jack and the Guardians, she'd felt nothing short of discouraged. Her latest attempt had been crushed before it even existed. She thought this visit could get no worse. But she was wrong.
As she'd left, the thought occurred to her that perhaps Grand Pabbie could help her, if not in the way either had expected. He'd once altered Anna's memories, erasing all recollection of Elsa's ice powers. If he could do that, she'd reasoned, what else could he do? Could he change people's feelings and beliefs? Could he adjust Anna's feelings to be a little more open-minded to Elsa's claims, or modify her memories so that she remembered always believing in Jack?
That thought remained for less than fifteen seconds before Elsa discarded it; that was how long it took her to realize she couldn't go through with it. Not only was it a bad idea, but a wrong one. Reaching into her sister's mind, pulling and planting memories like it was gardening, messing with her feelings and beliefs wasn't just risky, it was downright invasive, worse than reading her diary. She could only imagine how terrified of their firstborn daughter's power her parents were to have gone through with this the first time. Now, not only did Elsa feel defeated, but something else, something she hadn't felt since the Great Thaw; ashamed of herself. Ashamed to have even considered such a course of action. It would have been unfair to Anna, and she doubted Jack wanted to get people to believe in him this way. And even if they ever forgave her, she would never forgive herself.
Now, as Elsa rode home, she didn't know what was worse; that an idea had brought her only temporary hope, or that her thoughts had even gone to such a dark place. She recalled the morning she and Jack had resolved to gain her friends' belief in him. She was the one who realized a less direct, more personal approach would be required to get there... but a literal mind game like this couldn't be the answer.
Mind game... she repeated mentally.
Her brow furrowing thoughtfully, Elsa reined her horse to a halt. "Mind game"; something about those words struck an odd chord inside her, but not necessarily a bad one. A mind game – not the cruel, literal tampering of someone's memories like she'd considered earlier, but an actual psychological play – would definitely qualify as an indirect approach in this scenario, but would it be wrong? Would it really be much different to simply asking Anna to be open-minded? How would she go about it if she did?
Slowly, Elsa stepped down from her steed, too lost in thought to tie the reins to anything (she was confident that the steed was well trained enough not to run off during its few-minute pause). She thought back to what Jack had told her Wednesday night, how he'd dressed himself in snow in an attempt to convince Kristoff of his existence earlier. She thought back to last night, how Jack had used only powder snow to show her something incredible, something she could barely believe. Believe...
Is it possible? Elsa wondered. Would that work?
Experimentally, she triggered her gift only in the slightest. In response, a cloud of powder snow appeared in the air before her and, with only a fraction of her concentration, remained aloft. Elsa nodded to herself, pleased thus far, and then focused a little more. The cloud warped and flexed as she wished, spreading this way and that before resuming its original position.
"Okay, so far, so good." Elsa breathed. "Now let's step it up..."
She willed the cloud into a different shape; two long legs, a torso, two arms, and a head. The man-shaped cloud descended gently until it seemed to be standing on the ground. Nodding to herself, Elsa added some detail to her creation; fingers and toes, a loose-fitting sweater, untidy hair, and a staff with a twisted head – in short, a puff of snow shaped just like Jack. She could even vaguely make out his eyes, nose, and lips!
Satisfied, Elsa tried something else. Remembering to maintain the existence and consistency her creation's shape, she mentally commanded it to move. To her glee, the cloud raised its "hand" and gave her an amicable wave. This was as easy as playing with a marionette!
But now came the part she was unsure of. It was easy for her to maintain and manipulate ice when it was in sight – keeping her dress in existence, for instance, was practically an unconscious act – but how would she fare at doing so when she wasn't looking? Elsa turned her back on the cloud of snow, breathed... and exerted her will.
She almost expected to hear footsteps behind her, but then, she recalled that her creation had no weight to make such noise. Her success or failure would only be seen.
And then, there it was. Moving with all the grace of the true Jack Frost, the snowy cloud walked over to stand in front of her once more, every movement easily coordinated by the queen. Elsa gave a laugh.
"It works!" she exclaimed quietly. "It can work!"
With renewed confidence, Elsa abandoned her creation, got back up onto her horse, and began to ride back to Arendelle, this time more quickly.
She had a plan; she would play a mind game of her own, one far less immoral. Having her memories altered would have been a mind game Anna had no choice in; with this, she would have it. And Elsa had faith that she would choose right.
Upon returning to the castle, Elsa was surprised to find a familiar Guardian waiting in the courtyard.
Perfect! she thought. We can get started right away!
"Oh, look what the cat dragged in!" Jack joked as she drew closer. "The Queen of Arendelle! And where have you been all day?"
"I could ask you the same thing." she shot cleverly.
"Uh, no, you couldn't, 'cause I told you the places I was going." the Guardian shot back with charming arrogance. "You, I thought you'd be here when I got back from jolly ol' England. Instead, I blew almost an hour following Kai around trying to find out where you were."
Shrugging, Elsa dismounted and lead her horse to the stables.
"Would you believe me if I said I went to see a family of trolls?" she asked.
"Sure." Jack answered with a shrug. "I'm not the one around here who's got trouble believing in stuff."
Reaching the stables, Elsa didn't respond immediately, instead handing her horse's reins to a stable hand with a word of thanks, then turning to go inside.
"Well, I think I know how to fix that." she said when she was certain she was out of any staff's earshot.
"You got an idea?" Jack asked with sudden interest.
Elsa stopped before the gates and turned back to Jack, biting her lip to try and contain her excitement.
"Okay, okay, okay..." she said quickly. "You just wait out here until I say, all right?"
"What?" Jack's smile fell. "That's it? You're not gonna tell me what we're doing? I thought we already agreed-"
"You'll know what to do when you see it!" Elsa called as she withdrew inside.
"When I see what?! Elsaaaa!"
It was no use. The last thing Jack saw before the gates were closed in his face was the Queen's excited smile.
"Darn it, Elsa..." he grumbled. "This better be a good one."
Anna wandered the halls in search of her big sister, who'd been mysteriously absent since breakfast. At first, she'd suspected Elsa had just gotten lost in her work, but when she checked the study, she found her seat vacant and the last of the paperwork done. Wherever she was, she had evidently decided not to come out and rejoin her friends afterward.
Upon hearing that she had ridden out on a horse – without word of her destination to anyone – Anna had grown more suspicious. Tempted as she was to go off in search of Elsa, she had no idea where to start. In the end, she asked a stable hand to inform her when the Queen returned.
Now, she almost wanted to believe she'd been misinformed. She'd received word of Elsa's return, but couldn't for the life of her find her. What was up with her sister today? (Or lately, for that matter?)
"Elsa?" she called again.
No reply. Anna's suspicion was turning to worry as she walked. Her eyes swept over everything, on the lookout for even the slightest clue, as she drew near an intersection of this hallway and another. Crossing the perpendicular hall, she glanced down either end before continuing on her path.
Then she froze.
Anna remained there, mid-step and staring numbly ahead, for several long seconds as she struggled to process what she'd just seen. In the fraction of a second that she'd glanced left down the hall, she'd caught a glimpse of someone at the end. This wasn't surprising; even on a Sunday, there were still some staff members to keep the castle in order. Only in the dead of night was there ever no one doing anything. But what she saw was no member of staff, or the sister she was looking for. No, the person she saw was white as a sheet from head to toe – and much too tall to be Olaf.
... Did... I... really just... see...? she asked herself, fighting to get her thoughts together.
Slowly, hesitantly, Anna leaned back... and turned her head to look down the hall.
At first, she thought she really had imagined it, as the white being was no longer standing where she'd seen them. But at the last second, she caught the last of them – their heel – disappearing around a corner as they strode down another hall. Anna's lips parted and, if at all possible, her eyes widened even more. Before she even knew what she was doing, she moved to pursue the mysterious being, her original quarry forgotten.
And once she was gone, Elsa stepped out of her hiding place, beaming after her beloved sister.
It turned out to be a longer pursuit than Anna had expected. Every time she rounded one corner, it was just in time to glimpse the mysterious being vanish around another corner. A few minutes had passed since she first saw them, and she was no closer to even knowing more about what they looked like. Whoever this bleached-white person was, they walked swiftly, and if they were even aware that they were being followed, they gave no sign of it. Anna wondered if she should be worried about that.
Once again, Anna rounded one bend just in time to see the last of the figure disappear around another.
"Hello?" she called, a little afraid to ask that of a possibly dangerous person with no business in her home.
No answer came, but Anna hadn't really expected one, and so sped up her pace to catch up to her quarry. When she turned the next corner, her increase in speed was rewarded. Though this sighting was brief as well, it was longer than the others, revealing one detail she'd missed the other times; whoever they were, they were wielding some kind of staff, rather reminiscent of a shepherd's crook.
And then, they were gone.
"Excuse me!" she called a little louder. Not waiting for a reply, she began to jog after the being.
Two more turns later, Anna started to catch back up, affording her another brief look and another detail she hadn't been able to catch before – one that stunned her so hard, she actually stopped for a moment. In the short moment she saw them, she was sure, she saw through the being; light from a window opposite them both seemed to shine through the being and onto the floor. Whoever this was, they seemed to be transparent, like a ghostly spectre – a thought that chilled Anna in a very way different from Elsa freezing her heart last July.
And yet, once this "spectre" was gone from sight again, she remembered to run after it, determined to get to the bottom of this. It was several more corners before she even caught a flash of this being again, and this was not lost on Anna. It seemed like this being – "the ghost", she decided to refer to it as – had sped up, as if trying to get away from her without it looking so obvious. Was that the case? Was this ghost aware of her chasing it, even though it hadn't so much as looked back at her at all?
Rounding another bend, Anna caught sight of her prey once more, this time for at least two full seconds. And if at all possible, she grew ever more shocked.
The ghost wasn't really white or transparent, she realized; it was made of snow! Not solid masses of the stuff like Elsa's living creations, but rather some sort of cluster of snowflakes, all swirling around in the shape of a man, though not one as tall or muscular as Kristoff.
And then once again, it (Not "it", "he". Anna thought) vanished around the corner.
"WAIT!" Anna called reflexively, abandoning all traces of cautious quiet.
The princess bolted after the ghost as fast as she could, too desperate for the truth to be afraid. And deep inside, some tiny, insignificant part of her just barely began to believe...
Not wanting to overshoot the next turn, Anna grabbed onto the wall as she rounded the corner, and gasped! There at the end of the hall, the ghost reached a balcony overlooking the castle's antechamber and, forgoing the stairs, swung his legs over the railing and dropped to the floor some twenty feet below, out of her sight! Anna was so stunned that she again almost forgot she was chasing this being, but soon took off at top speed! Reaching the balcony, the princess looked down to the floor below to see... nothing. The ghost was gone.
As she looked around the antechamber, Anna could make no sense of it. From where the ghost had to have landed, there was no way he could have escaped her sight so quickly, even if he had run. True, he was fast – even though she had not seen him run back in the halls, she had barely kept up with him – but was he really that f...
Wait. she thought to herself, looking behind her. The halls...
Until this point, she realized, the chase had practically taken her in circles around the second floor. Only now that she'd seen so much of this intruder – his physique, his staff, the snow that made up his body – had it lead her here. Lead her...
Have I been baited here? she realized, thunderstruck.
Turning back to the antechamber, Anna gave a start. There, right in front of the gates, stood her mysterious ghost. Yes, stood. No longer was he fleeing her, but was just standing there like no one's business. Even that wasn't as shocking as the direction he was looking; right at her.
He was waiting for her, Anna realized. It may have been a trick of her mind, but something about the ghost's essentially featureless face made her think he was smiling mischievously up at her. Once more, she didn't know what to feel about that – awe or fear. So full of questions was she that she didn't even notice the guards' absence from their posts at either side of the gates.
"Who are y-" she called.
Before she could even finish her question, the being she addressed it to vanished. No, he didn't vanish – the snowflakes that made up his body dove through the cracks in the gates and into the courtyard beyond. Much like a real ghost, he passed through a solid door. What on Earth was Anna dealing with?
That question was what possessed her to race down the stairs and across the antechamber, not even bothering to dress warmly. It wasn't just that she wanted to know – she needed to.
Anna paused only for a few seconds, wondering if this was the safest decision, before pulling open the gates and stepping outside, never noticing Elsa smiling down at her from the balcony.
Jack was bored. Big surprise, Elsa's instruction for him to wait out here hadn't left him many opportunities to be entertained. There were no kids around for him to get into a snow fight, and he could only be immersed in his icy powers for so long. If something didn't give any minute now, he would be in real danger of falling asleep, Man in the Moon forbid.
He wondered what Elsa was up to right now – though he shouldn't have been wondering, he reminded himself, he should've known already. After the failure with the schoolchildren, the two of them had come to an agreement to keep each other in the loop about their plans. Even if they couldn't contribute to each other's ideas, it would at least help for them to understand the whole situation. Neither wanted to repeat the other's mistakes.
Now, Elsa seemed to have put a plan into motion that actually included him, but the only clues she'd given him was to wait until he saw something – which made even less sense, Jack realized too late. If she was executing her scheme indoors, what would there be to see from here?
He got his answer when a faint rustle – the unmistakeable sound of powder snow brushing a solid surface – reached his ear. He glanced in the noise's direction and, to his confusion, saw snowflakes squeeze through the front gates and take to the air. They didn't go far, though; just a few yards from the gates, they stopped to hover in the air like a cloud, then began to swirl around, rearranging their overall shape into... him, he realized!
"The heck?" Jack asked himself, getting to his feet.
He didn't go far before he realized the truth. Human eyes would never have detected it, but his magical ones saw it in a second. This was no living being; it was just a soulless puff of ice crystals, no more alive than the "friend" he'd given Olaf yesterday. Its movements, seamless as they were, were those of a puppet in another's hands, most likely Elsa's.
What is it doing? Jack wondered. Er, what is she making it do?
The snow puppet just stood there, its back to him, its nonexistent eyes on the gates. It seemed to be waiting for something...
Before Jack could even ask what that was, he found out. The gates opened, and Anna stepped out into courtyard. And just like that, everything made sense. Jack cracked a smile.
"Elsa, you're a genius." he murmured.
Anna looked around for the ghost – not an easy task with the rest of the snow all over the courtyard – and jumped when she located him close by. There he stood, seeming to still be waiting for her, just within arm's reach. Mesmerized by the existence of this being, Anna began to lift a hand before she even realized it...
Out of nowhere, the ghost made a quick movement, leaping gracefully backward and putting a few more yards between he and her. Anna recoiled her hand. Did he not like to be touched? Had she frightened him?
No. she realized. This is just like the halls, and the antechamber. He's leading me somewhere... to something... but what?
Carefully, she took a step toward the ghost, her eyes ever upon him. This time, the only move he made was to shift his weight to one foot, as if making himself comfortable while he waited. Waited for her.
"Who... who are you?" she asked carefully, taking another slow step forward.
The only reply she received was another grin – not sly or menacing, but welcoming – she may well have been imagining. Anna was dumbfounded to realize that, deep down, she may have already known the answer to her question...
Unbeknownst to her, she was not the only person approaching the "ghost"; as she drew closer to it from in front, Jack slowly closed in on it from behind, an excited grin upon his features. Something else Anna didn't see was Elsa using the gates she left open to slip outside quietly, a broad smile on her face as she waited for the moment of truth.
While Anna didn't notice her, Jack did, glancing past the Princess and at the Queen. Their eyes met, and he worked everything out before she even gave him her nod of confirmation. Jack took another step forward, toward Anna and the puppet between them. He now stood mere inches behind his snowy twin. Anna took one more step as well, and stopped. Once again, the ghost was within reach of her. She stared at him with wide, shocked eyes. Opposite her, Jack grinned widely at her. Her eyes were practically upon him – and he decided to change "practically" to "really". Drawing a confident breath, he took the last step.
He'd guessed Elsa's plan correctly. Upon meeting him, the Jack-shaped cloud welcomed the true Guardian of Fun into itself, folding around him to be worn like a suit, one that encompassed him from head to toe.
Enjoying the gentle prickle of snow on his skin, Jack looked down at the girl in front of him – looking right at him. Anna was staring at him with utter amazement. He offered her a welcoming smile, and he wasn't the only one; just a few paces behind, Elsa was watching her little sister with the utmost fondness.
"Who are you?..." Anna repeated, regaining Jack's full attention.
As he watched, slowly but surely, she lifted her hand again, intent on touching him to ensure her eyes weren't fooling her. Jack gave a quiet laugh.
"Nice to meet you, Princess." he said simply.
Over her shoulder, Jack saw Elsa's smile widen. She looked as satisfied as he felt, and her next action cemented this; with barely a flick of her finger, she dispelled her creation, letting the puppet's snow collapse to the ground, lifeless, revealing Jack Frost in all his magic.
Anna froze, astounded. Her hand stopped its approach. Her eyes didn't follow the snow to the courtyard floor – they remained fixed upon the space they once occupied, upon Jack. A long, long moment passed before Elsa finally broke the silence.
"You can see him now, can't you."
Anna jumped and whirled around, having still not realized her sister was standing right behind her. Jack snickered, and Elsa offered the Princess a kind smile.
Anna, though, stared at Elsa, mystified, for a few thoughtful seconds before her eyes widened. Her lips moved a few times as if she was trying to speak, but she found no words to convey this moment.
And then, her eyes widened... and all wonder disappeared from them, leaving only shocked revelation.
"Th... That was you?..." she asked softly.
Elsa blinked, having not expected this question. She cast a brief look of confusion at Jack, but he just shrugged.
"I... No, I... I mean..." Elsa returned her gaze to her sister, scrambling for an explanation. "Er... well, yes, I mean... it's true, I did... make that thing, that... Jack Frost puppet, and... yeah, I had it lead you here, to the real one, but... but it worked!"
She couldn't help but smile as she got what she was trying to say out. Her hands found Anna's arms.
"I got you to believe in Jack Frost!" she went on, relieved. "And now you see him standing there!"
Anna didn't respond immediately, only continued to stare at her big sister, eyes wide and lips parted. After a pause, she turned back to look at Jack, who offered a friendly grin.
"Heya." he greeted with simple openness.
Anna didn't answer, still so stunned. She instead looked at Elsa, then back at Jack, and finally returned to Elsa.
That was when her look of shocked revelation turned to horrified realization.
"No...!" she finally said, her voice quivering with fear.
Elsa and Jack were taken aback.
"Wait, what?!" Jack exclaimed.
"What?" Elsa asked, jarred.
Anna tore herself from her grip, backing away – almost into Jack, who yelped and jumped aside – staring at her sister with a look of horror.
"I don't see him!" she almost shouted. "All I see is you! That you tried to fool me!"
"Anna?" Elsa queried, reaching out to her.
"No!" Anna skittered back as if she was being threatened. "How could you do this to me?!"
Turning away, Anna paced back and forth a few steps as she processed this... this betrayal. Her breathing was ragged, and she ran her hands through her hair until she reached the top of her head, clutching at it as if in pain. Not wanting to be so close to such distress, Jack came to stand near Elsa, looking on with her in alarm.
"I thought someone might've broken into the castle!" Anna said, though whether to herself or Elsa was unclear. "Or that we were haunted! Or that I was going crazy!"
Maybe she was waiting for a response, as she said nothing more for a moment, but Elsa didn't speak up. Anna finally looked at her again. She let her hands drop to her sides, and her breathing seemed to steady... but her eyes were filled with hurt, devastated, betrayed, horrified tears.
"But it was you!" she said in barely more than a shaky whisper. "My best friend... and you tried to trick me!"
By pure reflex, Elsa brought a hand to her mouth, fighting her own tears back with all of her might. She had no idea what to say. Jack, meanwhile, was still staring at Anna is complete disbelief.
Anna didn't wait long for an excuse from Elsa. Gripping her upper arms tightly and barely stopping herself from crying, she made to go back inside.
"Anna!" Elsa started after her, reaching out. "Wait, I'm-"
"DON'T TOUCH ME!" Anna all but screamed, quickening her pace.
Elsa recoiled her hand at the tone, while Jack, hanging his head in defeat, seemed to barely notice when Anna ran right through him and into the castle, slamming the gates behind her. A long, agonizing silence took her place in the courtyard, broken only by the Queen's shuddering breaths as she fought not to burst into tears.
There was a long moment before Jack looked up at Elsa, but he had no idea what to say. For her part, she didn't even look at him, still staring at the gates Anna had slammed shut. Finally, she could look no more. She walked a few steps, turned, and sank to the ground, resting her back against one of the fountains. Her eyes ever upon the ground, she laid her head in her palm as if nursing a bad headache. She looked nothing short of forlorn. Jack couldn't blame her.
But he could blame himself. This was entirely his fault. "Upset" didn't even begin to describe Anna's feelings toward Elsa right now – who knew if she would ever forgive her? – and it was all because Elsa was helping him. This all started with him, with a problem he couldn't solve himself. True, this latest attempt hadn't been Jack's idea, nor had he known about it before he could stop it, but Elsa would never have conceived such an unhealthy idea if he hadn't laid his problems at her feet – problems, he should've realized, she shouldn't have had to bear, but would volunteer to nonetheless. He'd damaged her relationship with her best friend merely by stepping into her life.
You're Jack Frost. a past foe's words echoed from the depths of his memory. You make a mess wherever you go.
Worse than that, Jack knew Elsa would blame herself for this. After all the harm she'd caused in the past, it was simply her way. Somehow, she would connect everything that had gone wrong to herself, and find only guilt in that.
Jack couldn't have that. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if Elsa took responsibility for even one of his mistakes. She had to know, he had to tell her this was his fault alone – even if she wound up hating him for it.
"Elsa-" he started.
Before Jack could get a second word out, Elsa moved, if only barely. Her gaze remained grounded, her posture remained slumped, but almost too fast to be seen, she sharply reached a hand out to him and held up her index finer; an evident demand for quiet.
With speech no longer an option, Jack didn't know what to do. He began to wonder if he should leave, even if only temporarily. If Elsa wanted silence, and her thoughts were all she wanted to hear, then maybe solitude was what she really needed.
Then Jack blinked, catching himself.
No. he realized, recalling what she'd told him. She's been alone enough for one lifetime. She needs someone, even if she doesn't want to hear them. Even if that someone is... me.
Being careful not to make a sound, Jack shifted his weight to a mildly more comfortable posture. All he could do was wait.
And wait he did.
How long did the two of them remain there? An hour? Two? Even as a being with an eternal life, Jack could honestly say it felt like forever.
Were he in better spirits, he would have commended himself on his patience. Usually, he could barely sit still, hopping from one place to another, or at least pacing if he couldn't have some real fun. But since the disastrous failure with Anna, he'd done no more than occasionally roll his weight from one leg to the other. His feet had stood on the same bricks in the ground all along, and he hadn't made a peep while doing it. He looked at Elsa again, and felt guilt grip him once more.
Since lowering her arm once Jack fell silent, Elsa had moved even less than he. Her head was still in her palm, and her comportment was not queenly, but desolate. The sight of her could break anyone's heart. Jack wondered how long it would be before someone came looking for her, or she finally moved-
Elsa moved, to his surprise. It was nothing more than a breath in, but it was the deepest, most audible one he'd heard since Anna's departure. He almost sighed in relief; while he hadn't thought she'd died, it was good to know for sure.
Elsa raised her head from her grasp, her eyes shut, paused for a moment, and exhaled. Jack had assumed she'd been crying silently, but her features yielded no sign of it, even when her eyes opened. At long last, she climbed to her feet.
Jack was the one who now stood frozen, staring blankly at the queen. She did nothing to acknowledge his presence, making him even more unsure whether he should speak up or not. She seemed so composed right now; he didn't want to disturb that.
Looking at the ground before her, Elsa reached a foot out and tapped it down gently. Before Jack's eyes, ice formed at her touch, and rapidly began to spread out across the courtyard floor. Ordinarily, this wasn't a particularly impressive trick, but after the trauma he'd just seen Elsa endure, any of her usual magic was enough to please Jack.
The ice spread over the ground beneath his feet, but he remained unaffected. In seconds, the courtyard had become an ice rink, and Elsa put it right to use. As Jack watched, the Queen of Arendelle skated gently away, then back around. Her eyes, he noticed, were closed, but she easily avoided running into anything, knowing this courtyard so well. Effortlessly, she glided this way and that. She didn't do any fancy tricks like a figure skater, but she moved with a grace no ordinary human could ever possess. As she passed by, Jack's ears caught something, a gentle murmur. Elsa, he realized, was humming to herself as she skated. Jack listened carefully, but from what he heard, he didn't recognize the melody. At a time like this, he could only assume it had some special meaning to Elsa.
And then, there was silence once more. Elsa's song reached its end, and she stopped skating. She sighed to herself, and from where he stood, Jack saw her expression was one of peace.
"Elsa?..." he called gently, too confused to remember she may still want hush.
To his surprise, she looked at him. Her gaze turned sympathetic, and she started toward him quietly.
"I'm sorry, Jack." she said as she drew close.
Jack shook his head, unsure he'd just heard those words.
"You're... sorry...?" he repeated uncertainly.
"That this didn't work." she clarified. "I was so sure that it would, but..."
Trailing off, Elsa looked away with a sad half smile, seeming lost in thought. After a moment, she gritted her teeth and released a soft, frustrated growl.
"Oh, but we were so close!" she exclaimed quietly. "I know it, in my bones, I know it! Just for a second there, she really started to believe!..."
If she expected Jack to agree, she was to be disappointed. When she looked at him, he knew, she saw the dumbfounded stare he was giving her.
"What?" she asked, perplexed.
"... That's it?" Jack exclaimed, stricken. "That's what you're sorry for?"
Elsa blinked, not following.
"What do you mean?" she queried.
"I'm more worried about you!" he answered. "You and Anna, are you gonna be okay? Did you see her back there, she looked devastated! Please tell me you haven't agonizing this whole time just because she still doesn't see me!"
"No, I haven't." Elsa assured him. "You're right, I was really upset over what we did, what I did to Anna. I still am, honestly."
Jack stared disbelievingly at her face; clear, composed, open. There was no sign that her guilt was still tormenting her.
"Well... you seem pretty calm, all things considered." was the only thing he could find to say.
Elsa offered him a reassuring look.
"Because I have faith that I'll be able to fix things with Anna, Jack." she said honestly. "Yes. I did something terrible. And yes, while it wasn't the first terrible thing I've done, this was a very different line to cross."
Shaking his head vaguely, Jack gave an equally vague shrug, her logic lost on him.
"But Anna and I have been through too much not to be able to make amends." Elsa went on. "That's what I believe in."
Jack didn't reply, but with a final smile, Elsa turned and started to leave. His mouth agape, the Guardian of Fun could only stare after her like a blind man seeing the sun at last. Even after getting to know Elsa so well over the past week, she continued to find new ways to surprise him. Her ability to move on, he realized, was vastly more impressive than he'd originally thought. It was one thing to pardon one who'd hurt her without regret – it was quite another to forgive herself for hurting one of her loved ones. Yet, after all her past mistakes and culpability, Elsa seemed to have mastered it in a special way. She still felt terrible for what she'd done, but she was not just going to sit and wallow in guilt; she was going to work toward fixing what she'd broken, and keep faith that she would succeed. In essence, she just let it go. And Jack couldn't help but be astonished.
Elsa turned back to him, a mildly curious look in her eye.
"So." she began. "What do we try next?"
Author's note: Okay, let me ask you this, because I am legitimately curious; do you think Elsa went too far this chapter? Even when I first came up with the idea for this "mind game" on Anna, I wrestled with myself for a long time, trying to figure out if this was crossing a moral line – heck, even Elsa and Jack wonder that before long, which I hope at least balances it out a little.
In the end, though, I wound up going through with it. I reason that, psychopathic though it may be, it wouldn't be the first such choice in the Frozen universe – altering one daughter's memories and isolating the other from the world, anybody? Yeah, I think we can all agree that it was kind of nonsensical and maybe a little twisted, but it was a decision Elsa and Anna's parents made because they were desperate and had no idea what else to do. That, and I argue that's kind of how traditional fairytale storytelling goes; they may have obvious solutions, but the problems develop the themes and fantasy enough that we accept it. I think that reasoning applies to Elsa's trick this chapter.
Something else I'm wondering is if Elsa's willingness to forgive herself is a little too ideal. Is she coming across as too forgiving, too much of a role model? Personally, I argue no, because she's still not perfect, she still messes up in a lot of other ways. This may have been a simple – not easy, but simple – answer for her, but other things (especially next chapter) aren't so obvious. And after the events of Frozen, I like to imagine she's learned not to torture herself with guilt so much – to let it go (bear in mind that I still haven't seen the sequel).
But those are just my thoughts – the thoughts of someone whose moral compass has been called into question time and again, I might add. I genuinely wanna know, did not only Elsa, but I as a writer, cross a line with this attempt? Was this a sick thing to do? Did I have Elsa pardon an unforgivable sin too readily? I look forward to finding out in your reviews.