(A/N: I apologize in advance for the long chapter. We need to the last section of this story.)
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: FOR THE HEART OF JOAN
Don't give up on this Elsa, dear. Something tells me she closer than you think.
Anna didn't understand the elderly woman's words. The more she tried to think about it, the foggier her mind became. It didn't hurt but it felt like one dark cloud was descending upon her mind one after the other, robbing her of her focus so she couldn't discover something important. What was stranger than that was the sudden disappearance of the elderly woman that was just talking to her. Am I losing my mind? The thought of not getting enough sleep had occurred to her since she made that vow never to sleep in a soft, warm bed until Arendelle was free from the Duke. Ella told her how important it was for her to sleep, but how could she when the people of Arendelle suffered under the Duke's forces who enforced curfew, job cuts and whatever the little weasel could think of since he believed he was King of Arendelle?
She went over to Ella who was tending to civilians that lost their homes to the Duke. "Ella? Where's the elderly lady that was just sitting by me?"
Ella gave her a strange look, glancing at the spot where Joan was just sitting. "Joan…you were sitting by yourself over there. Are you okay?"
Anna grabbed her head, the cloudy feeling in her head was getting worse, but she forced herself to go investigate the commotion up front when Kristoff called for her, "Joan!"
She forced herself to act strong, putting on a regal front to mask the unpleasant feeling as she approached the front where Kristoff was.
The harvesters parted ways for her as she worked through the crowd and found someone in a fancy, royal outfit. He was a handsome, young man with red hair and chops that perfectly framed his angelically carved face. Harvesters had him on his knees and holding his arms. He looked up at her and asked, "You are the leader I assume?"
"Who are you?" Joan demanded confidently, but inside was feeling off. What's going on with me?
"I am Prince Hans of the Southern Isles and I have come to help you dethrone the Duke of Weselton," he answered loudly causing a stir in the crowd surrounding them.
Anna stumbled against Kristoff, holding her head, feeling faint. This alerted Kristoff instantly. "Joan?!" He held her as she fell into his arms and looking very ill all of the sudden.
The harvesters became worried and some gathered around Kristoff. "Give her room," Kristoff said urgently and they backed away. Henrik knelt by Kristoff who was holding Joan's body. He checked her pupils and her pulse. "I think she's sick. She's showing signs of a bad fever."
Lars grabbed Hans by the hair, "Or maybe THIS one poisoned her. Us finding him near our lair seemed too convenient." Others around them agreed, feeling protective of Joan.
"Agreed, Lars. Take him down below and lock him up in a room separate from the other prisoners. We'll question him. Kristoff, follow me with Joan," Henrik instructed, taking charge. Kristoff picked up Joan's unconscious body and quickly followed Henrik who explained silently to Ella and Ella rushed to gather things to tend to Joan. Meanwhile Lars and a couple of other dragged Hans away and he yelled, "I swear I didn't poison her!"
Lars hit him hard in the head with the handle of his axe. "Shut Up!"
Kristoff laid Joan on a bed at the lodge after arriving there with Henrik and Ella. Oaken's storehouse was no place for her in her condition, especially with their new prisoner. He was greatly troubled by the sweat coming from her forehead. He took a rag, wet with cold water, and pressed it against her forehead. "Please…feel better, Joan."
"She'll be fine, Kristoff," Ella said at the door behind him. He turned. The worried look on his face made Ella smile inside. It was the face of someone who truly cared for Joan. "I have medicine in some soup. Can you feed her while I get a pitcher of cold water.? It's important she eats all the soup and drinks as much water as possible as she rests. It'll help her break the fever."
"Of course, Ella. Anything to help her feel better," Kristoff immediately answered, taking the soup. Ella turned back outside the door to watch Kristoff carefully raise the bowl to her mouth to feed Joan the soup that had the medication inside. She smiled before leaving, knowing Joan was in good hands.
Anna felt lost. She was dressed in a green dress with her hair done like her mother's and a special tiara sat on her head. It was a crystal tiara that had four triangles of various hights. She was sitting in her mother's throne. "Where am I? Am I-? Am I dreaming?"
She froze when she looked before her again and saw guards presenting a prisoner to her. A man concealed in the shadows stood on Anna's left. His eyes were a fierce yellow, like a hungry predator waiting to devour her. "What is this?" Anna demanded.
The figure made a gesture with his hand and the prisoner was revealed to be Elsa. She was hurt, covered with lacerations that were still fresh and her beautiful dress was torn, revealing her soft, beaten pale skin. Her hands were in shackles and were pulled tightly to prevent her from freeing herself with her ice powers. "Elsa?"
Elsa looked up weakly, her eyes filled with painful tears. "Anna. Please…help me."
Anna saw the two-armed guards standing behind Elsa with two sharp javelins. She tried to stand but the figure in the shadows grabbed her shoulder with a cold, death like grip and kept her seated. Anna was deeply shaken by the fear that flooded her being when she looked to see a dead white bony hand. She shook as she looked up at the terrifying eyes. Her heart ached with even more fear when she could barely make out an amused evil smile in the darkness. She looked away when the figure's face emerged from the shadows and drew close to her ear and neck. "Such a beautiful Queen." Anna shook and teared up with fear as his bony hand stroked the side of her face and neck. His hand then grabbed her chin, but she couldn't leave the chair she was so paralyzed with fear. "Those eyes…those pink, soft lips." She could feel his repulsive breath that smelled of death and decayed flesh, bathe her face and neck as he spoke so closely to her. "Now I understand why you favor her so much, sister."
Elsa surged forward slightly with fierce anger, "LEAVE HER ALONE!" The guards pulled back hard on her chains. One of the guards struck Elsa with the heavy shaft of his javelin, making one of her fresh wounds bleed worse onto the floor. Anna teared up more seeing Elsa in pain and suffering. "Please…stop," Anna begged.
"Why do you defend her, Your Majesty?" the figure whispered in her ear. "Did this WITCH not invade your home and disrespect your parents in their own home? Did she not kill your parents by allowing the Nokk to drown them in the Dark Sea and hold you against your will in her palace?"
"She's not like that anymore. It wasn't even her fault," Anna defended Elsa. "I forgave her!"
The figure smiled, "Have you? Look at this criminal before you. She deserves death for all that she has done to you…your family…your kingdom…the world. You have the power to end this, Queen Anna of Arendelle. You can save the world. Just give the order and Elsa will be struck down and wiped from existence."
Anna met Elsa's terrified eyes as the guards positioned their javelins to run them through Elsa's back. Anna's eyes leaked with more and more tears as she shook her head before she somehow broke free of her fear and ran for Elsa to save her but Elsa's body instantly vanished and her dress fell to the floor right as the javelins struck her. Anna fell on the dress and held it close to her weeping face. The room was completely dark and see was all alone.
The figure returned behind her. "It's for the best, Anna." Anna shook her head kept whispering "No."
"Yes. You are free from her hold. Now… rest," Anna turned toward the sound of the voice to see those terrifying yellow eyes drawing close to her again. "Sleep…JUST LIKE ELSA!" His mouth full of razor-sharp teeth lunged for her throat.
"ELSA!" Anna screamed as she woke up in a soft bed at the lodge, soaked with her own sweat and her breasts rising and falling quickly as she panted trying to compose herself. She looked to her left when she heard snoring and saw Kristoff sleeping with his arms crossed across his chest while he sat in a chair. She sat up and watched the large man inhale and exhale deeply. She then realized she was in new clothing and immediately hit him over the head with a pillow, assuming the worst.
"What?! What?!" Kristoff yelled started, but saw Joan sitting up with a red face. "Joan, you're okay! That's great!"
Joan quickly got up from the bed and backed away, "Nuh, uh! None of that! Don't change the subject! Did you change my clothes?!" The thought of Kristoff seeing her naked was too much for her flustered heart to take.
He instantly understood and stood awkwardly from his chair, "What?! No! Ella did! She made me leave the room while she gave you a sponge bath and gave you fresh clothes! She thought doing both would help you feel better."
She was still blushing but yelled back, "Good."
"You can say that again," Kristoff muttered with relief.
Something about that statement offended her, "Wait, what?"
Ella came in, surprised to see Joan awake and hugged her. "I'm so happy you're awake, Joan. We were all so worried. You were asleep for three days."
Anna pulled away, "Three days? The last thing I remember is- What about Prince Hans?!"
Henrik entered the doorway, "We have him locked away in Oaken's storehouse. We interrogated him and he never deviated from his story once. We're still unsure of him."
"Interrogate? You didn't beat him, did you?" Joan asked.
"I gave Lars the go ahead. We needed answers, Joan," Henrik explained seeing her shocked face.
"What's his story?" Kristoff asked. Anna wanted to know too.
Henrik explained all that Hans shared with them, "He was exiled by his father trying to gather soldiers behind his father's back, but got caught. His father and the Duke are associates, but Hans and one of his elder brothers didn't approve of how the Duke was treating people in Arendelle and tried to do something about it. His brother was executed but he was exiled when his mother intervened."
"Wow," Anna whispered. A prince from a different kingdom was exiled because he wanted to help Arendelle.
"That doesn't explain how he knew where we were hiding," Kristoff pointed out.
"He learned about the Oaken and was trying to contact us through him in order to offer his support. He says he has information on the Duke, but will only share it with our leader…Joan," Henrik said looking at her. Kristoff and Ella looked at her as well.
"Okay, I'll see him," she said but could feel the sudden tension in the room. The others weren't so supportive of her choice. "He came to help us. He's trustworthy…right?" They stayed silent. "Look. I was a stranger when I first came here and said I wanted to help. I wasn't the first, but you all trusted me regardless. He deserves a chance too."
Kristoff was about to debate with her, but she already headed out. He followed. Before he could catch up with her, she was already on a horse and was riding for the Oaken's warehouse. Anna came to a screeching halt, pulling on the horse's reins when Kristoff came out of nowhere on Sven and blocked her path. "Kristoff! What are you doing?! Get out of the way!"
"It's not safe, Joan. He KNEW you were the leader. No one outside the group knows you are leading us. Henrik was very insistent on that. It's not safe for you to be around him. There's something off about him," Kristoff explained, "You have to trust me. I can feel it. Something is not right about him."
"That's it? You magically already have him figured out," Joan yelled back at him.
"It's called instinct," Kristoff explained calmly. "Something you apparently have very little of."
"Well, I need more than just your instincts, Kristoff," Anna argued. His attitude around her was getting her riled.
"I trust my instincts because they kept me alive all these years. Whenever you lied to me, I could tell. I wanted to doubt you, but EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING told me I could trust you…and I do, Joan." Joan was silent after he shared that. "Was I wrong about you?" he asked before riding Sven down the path for Oaken's warehouse and Anna rode after him.
"Where are you going?" she demanded.
"I'm going with you. I don't trust him to be around you alone," Kristoff yelled back.
"Oh, I see. You're jealous. He's a prince and you're just a delivery boy. Afraid he'll seduce me with his extravagant charm?" Joan teased him with laughter.
Kristoff felt bothered by her statement about being JUST a delivery boy. He thought Joan saw him as something more than that, but kept his pain to himself. "Try and keep up, slow poke," he challenged her and rode past her. Sven was faster than any horse.
Anna snapped her reins to catch up with him, "Fine, but I do the talking."
It had been a few days since the group he sought out locked him away in a small dark room. Food was minimal and the only things to keep him company were his thoughts, the sound of his own breathing, the sound of water drops echoing in the cold dark hallway outside his door and the throbbing headache he had after one of them beat him for information. He braced himself for the extra beating when he heard footsteps approaching his door.
His eyes widened when the door opened and he saw a beautiful woman with red hair. His slightly split lip curled into a smile. Joan.
"Prince Hans of the Southern Isles," Joan spoke.
Hans stood and gave a bow of the head, "M'lady." When he looked at her, Joan blushed. The way he greeted her like a gentleman made her skin tingle. It was strange not having this experience before. It was refreshing, making her smile and move hair behind her ear.
Hans may not have inherited brute strength like his older brothers, but he was clever, always paying attention to details most people overlook. It always gave him the edge out in the real world. Right now, he could read Joan like a book and knew how to win her over with a little charm.
"It's an honor to meet you, Joan," he smiled, stepping closer to her. He could tell she liked it the way her face became flushed and she smiled. "Your reputation proceeds you. I've heard so much."
Kristoff stood between them, earning a scowl from Joan. "How do you know about her?"
"Kristoff, stop. You're embarrassing me-" Joan whispered but Kristoff nudged her with his arm, a silent request to let him handle it.
"I spent a little time in Arendelle after I was exiled. I quickly heard rumors of people opposing the Duke. That's when I sought out Oaken," Hans replied confidently. "I heard rumors among the people a woman with red hair was leading the group."
Kristoff remembered them taking in civilians. Was it possible someone learned about Joan?
Hans smiled, "People talk. Which is how I learned of important information regarding the Duke that could tip the scales in our favor."
"I doubt that," Kristoff said, stepping towards Hans, but Hans wasn't intimidated as they both entered a serious stare down.
Joan interfered and pushed Kristoff away, "We have to hear him out, Kristoff. We've been waiting for a shot to stop the Duke and liberate Arendelle."
Kristoff's face softened as he looked down at her teal eyes. He looked at Hans as the so-called Prince questioned, "Lady Joan is right. Can your group really afford NOT to take that chance? Since Oaken was arrested by the Duke, you can't provide for the people of Arendelle. How long do you think this rebellion of yours will last on scraps you steal from the Duke? Your people will starve and be slaughtered by the Duke. Let me help you and I will give you the kingdom of Arendelle."
Kristoff's eyes rejoined Joan's as she whispered, "He's right. We need to end this conflict now. The people of Arendelle won't last much longer. We have to hear him out." The urgency in her voice weakened Kristoff's resolve to not trust Hans. There was something that didn't add up with him, but he sighed and nodded at Joan.
Joan took the keys and unlocked the cold shackles around Hans' wrists. Hans looked at her with surprise as he rubbed his wrists. "Please help us save our home, Prince Hans," Joan begged.
Hans smiled warmly before taking her hand and planting a tender kiss on her hand, which sent a pleasing sensation up her arm to her brain. The affectionate act made her eyes widen with surprise and her lips part as her face became flushed. Her strawberry lips curled into a smile as he spoke softly, "Just Hans."
She replied, "Only if you just call me Joan. No need to be so formal with me, good sir."
Kristoff stared in disbelief at Hans charming Joan. Kristoff couldn't trust him and didn't feel Joan was safe around him, so he quickly pulled her away, which embarrassed Joan and made her scowl at him. Hans observed the exchange of looks they were giving each other and smiled with amusement at Kristoff's jealousy and Joan's defensive attitude towards him.
"Come with me, Prince- I mean Hans. We have a map of Arendelle I can show you. Kristoff will gather the others so we can plan our next attack," Joan said, taking his hand and quickly guiding him out. Hans could feel Kristoff's glare from behind.
Everyone's eyes were on Joan and the prisoner, startled he was free. Kristoff followed behind them. He eventually stopped and just watched Joan walk away on the arm of a prince. She was smiling. Something he hadn't seen the past couple of months. Before the speech, before the uprising against the Duke, Joan was full of life. In many ways, she still was, but Kristoff noticed she began to smile less as if the conflict going on around them was slowly sucking the life out of her.
He began gathering everyone. The other harvester guys he talked to before about Joan came over. "She released the prisoner? What is she thinking? Do you even trust that guy being out of his cell?"
Kristoff's eyes left Joan, "I don't, but she trusts him." He left them to meet with the group and the others looked at each other before following.
Everyone gathered around the map of Arendelle that Joan got out and unrolled onto a large table. There were marks and notes indicating camps for the Duke's forces, routes for supplies and more. Hans was amazed, "Impressive. You've been busy."
Joan smiled, "I couldn't have done it without them." She looked up at them. "We suffered loss. We learned. We adapted. We grew stronger as individuals and as a group. Every victory belongs to them and those that died fighting to save Arendelle." Several of them smiled at Joan's praise.
"Their deaths won't be in vain," Hans said, "You are obviously aware of the supply deliveries due to the raids you made, but the Duke has secretly created stashes. Very few are entrusted with this information."
"How do you know it then?" Lars questioned.
"Lars-" Joan spoke up firmly but was cut off by Hans.
"No. No. That's quite alright, Joan. Lars and everyone here should know how I came into contact with this information. It was entrusted to me by your spy within the Royal Palace," Hans revealed and this shocked everyone. Henrik most of all since he was the only one entrusted with the secret identity of their agent within the Royal Palace.
"What's her name?" Henrik demanded. Not even Joan was aware their spy was a woman and became more curious.
"Gerda," Hans replied. The mere mention of her name made Anna's heart skip a few beats.
"Is she alright? She hasn't reported to the last two check-ins," Henrik pressed, a sense of urgency in his voice.
"I don't know. She was being suspected among others in the palace. She had no choice but to entrust me with the information. Her situation appeared desperate. It was how I knew to try and find Oaken. You must've told her when she joined the group at some point. I thought Oaken was the leader of your group, but then I heard the whispers about…you, Joan." Hans replied, looking at Joan.
The room was silent. Hans spoke up, "The Duke is not a stupid man. He made contingency plans and has been secretly storing large stashes of goods. It's how he has been able to remain in power for this long despite your raids. He'll start to lose power once we cut his supply lines. It is guarded by light security. We take his goods and no one except the Duke will be going hungry. It will bring you so much closer to finally liberating Arendelle. No more false kings."
"No more false kings," Joan repeated with a whisper. Hope that this bloody conflict was coming to an end had returned to her heart and it gave her strength. "Show us where these stashes are."
Hans took a pen and placed an x in five different locations. "We will divide into five groups and hit these stashes all at once. Fast and hard. They won't see it coming."
"No," Henrik said making Joan look at him.
She walked over to him on the other side of the table. "Henrik-"
"You may trust this Prince Hans, but I don't. For all we know, this could be a trap," Henrik explained silently, "What good is this rebellion if we lose all our people. We have to be smart about this. You didn't want to have absolute power which is why you picked me to keep you in check. I will send two to scout out one of the locations to confirm that what Hans has shared with us is true. Understand?"
Joan nodded. "I'll take Hans-"
"No," Henrik said firmly.
"I wasn't asking. Hans stays with me so I make sure you and the others don't beat on him anymore," Joan spoke more boldly with Henrik.
Henrik sighed. There was only one other woman who spoke to him like that. His wife, Ella. Now it was Joan, the young woman standing before him like she was a queen or something. However, he wasn't going to back down from her. Not this time. "Kristoff and Lars will take Hans and go. If this Hans learned about you, then chances are the Duke may know about you too. You are staying."
Joan recoiled slightly, "Henrik-" She froze seeing his firm eyes. "Okay." She once had feelings for Kristoff, but things have now become awkward for them both. She tried distancing himself, hoping that would get rid of the ache in her chest, but it only made it worse and seeing him only ignited anger and frustration. No matter where she went, she would see him by her side or helping one of the others nearby. She didn't know how to confront the conflicting feelings in her heart. There were different voices speaking to her inside and she didn't know which one to listen to. All she could do was silence all the voices and only listen to the one she believed mattered the most: her heart, but her heart was feeling conflicted as if being pulled in two separate directions. What do I do?
Henrik placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and looked over at Hans and Kristoff. "Kristoff. Lars. Take Hans to one of the locations and confirm. Lars, see me before you go."
Kristoff took Hans to get Sven ready. Henrik pulled away from Joan and guided Lars aside. "I don't trust Hans one bit and Joan is letting her emotions cloud her judgment. If it turns out Hans was lying…I want you to kill him. The crows can feast on his flesh for all I care."
Lars smiled, "No problem, Old Geezer." He gave Henrik a pat on the back before grabbing his axe and heading out the door. Henrik looked over to Joan who was sitting alone and looked like she had a lot on her mind. He barely took a step to her but Ella halted him. "Let me. I know a complicated love triangle when I see one."
Henrik kissed his wife on the cheek before leaving her to it. Ella walked over, "May I sit with you, Joan?"
"Yeah, sure," Joan replied awkwardly, trying to hide her gloomy state with a forced smile.
"Thank you," Ella sat beside her and gently took her hand. "I know what's on your mind. Would you like to talk about it?"
Joan was hesitant but confided in Ella, "Oaken revealed to me on our first trip there that Kristoff gave up Tora's lute to get my necklace back for me. He explained that was what love was…but…Kristoff hasn't spoken to me about his feelings. I felt so close to him when I first met him, then I just became confused. Did Oaken misinterpret Kristoff's actions? I was so convinced that he felt the same way about me that I did for him."
"Oh, the romance of a new relationship. The first two weeks are always so full of passion that every young adult is convinced they found their soulmate and have to get married right away and have a bunch of babies. I remember what that felt like when I was your age, but Joan- Love is more than just feeling. It's deeper than that. It's about-"
"Putting another's needs before your own," Joan finished.
"Exactly," Ella smiled.
"It's not that simple though, Ella. I just don't know what I'm supposed to feel. There's Kristoff and now…this Hans," Joan replied.
"Dreamy. Handsome. Charming. Yes, the Prince is indeed, but you can't play them both Joan. You are in a very vulnerable state as a young woman. Giving your heart to someone else will either bring you happiness or pain. You have to be careful about who you choose. It's not my place to tell you about such things, because only you can truly know what is best for you, but you must not confuse your WANTS and your NEEDS. It's time for you to look inward and ask who are you and what do you want? Ten years from now, Joan, what kind of man do you want to see standing by your side? A mountain man or a foreign prince?"
Joan was left with much to think about as Ella left her to sort through the mess of feelings she was having. Kristoff has always been by my side. Would he still care about me once he finds out who I really am? When the Duke is dethroned and I claim the throne, who do I need to sit beside me in Father's throne in order to rebuild Arendelle? She covered her eyes with a hand. "Elsa, what do I do?"
Kristoff, Hans and Lars all took went scouting one of the locations and found five random guards standing guard in a clearing. As they hid behind trees, Lars noticed the wooden door in the ground and silently pointed it out to Kristoff. Kristoff was suddenly questioning his own judgment about Hans. Hans was right.
"According to the information given to me by Gerda, one stash alone could feed Arendelle for a month. The Duke has five, gentlemen," Hans reminded them.
"What are we waiting for? Let just take them and take the food," Lars said.
"And tip off to the Duke we know where his stashes are? He'll most likely move the goods," Hans said.
"Hans is right, Lars. We'll return to the lair and report this to Henrik," Kristoff said. "We'll figure out a way to raid all the stashes."
Lars was heading back, but Kristoff halted Hans. "I don't know what game you are playing with Joan, but she is off limits."
Hans laughed, "Excuse me?"
"She lost someone very important to her and is very vulnerable right now. So, STAY. AWAY." Kristoff said before walking away. Kristoff recalled Joan weeping about Elsa potentially dying and her confession as she wept in his arms. Joan somehow knew Elsa and the way she declared her love for Elsa made him interpret it as something more than just familial love. He felt the need to bury his own feelings for Joan and shield her heart. Especially from Hans.
"She looks everything BUT vulnerable. You say she's weak but what I've seen is a strong, capable woman leading a rebellion. She's capable of taking care of herself, Kristoff. I think it's time to stop treating her like she can't," Hans gently advised before following Lars. He stopped and smiled smugly at Kristoff, "As for who should claim the heart of such a beautiful woman…it looks to me like you already had your chance. Maybe you shood just step aside and allow her to know what a real man is like."
Those words triggered Kristoff and caused him to strike Hans across the face. Hans struck the ground hard. Kristoff stood over him, "A real man…right. Tell me something, HANS. What good is an exiled prince with no army? I'm not going to warn you again about Joan."
Hans sneered at him with anger as he forced himself to his feet and followed Kristoff.
Hans was forced to remain behind at Oaken's warehouse while everyone was divided into multiple groups. Joan was forced to stay behind as well for her own safety. Henrik wouldn't hear it when she argued with him. However, he didn't trust Hans around her either. So, he had Kristoff stay behind as well. He and Joan were instructed to go through weapons acquired from the Duke's forces. They had crossbows. They had shields. They had swords that differed from the swords Arendellean soldiers wielded. Anna could remember the guards she befriended as she explored her home. The memories made a warm smile come upon her tired face as she just stared at the swords hanging on the walls.
Kristoff noticed Joan's strange behavior and poked her cheek to pull her out of her pleasant memory and back into a sucky reality. This upset her and made her slap his hand away and give him a scowl.
"What?!" Kristoff didn't understand what he could've possibly done to make her hate him.
"Let's hurry up and finish," Joan said with an edgy tone in her voice. She was obviously still irritated with him for poking her face.
"You were smiling just now. What was on your mind? You looked like you were lost in thought," Kristoff asked.
"I fail to see how any of that is YOUR business!" Joan snapped at him. He saw her becoming guarded again, like whenever he asked her too many questions about her or her past.
He knew that she had a reason for not revealing who she really was and he accepted that, but that didn't make the tone of her voice towards him any less hurtful. "I'm sorry, Joan. I didn't mean to upset you." He knelt down to pick up a dirty sword, oblivious to Joan's remorseful gaze.
Joan felt bad the way she just snapped at him like that and the sound of his gentle apology made her speak up, "I'm the one who should be sorry, Kristoff." Kristoff turned his head to look at her as she continued, "I guess I'm still a bit upset Henrik benched me. This mission to recover food is important and would strike a big blow to the Duke."
"You wanted to be a part of that. I understand. You have every right to be upset. I am too. I'd rather be out there with the others instead of babysitting our new guest," Kristoff replied.
"It's still not right. You were my first friend when I came back to Arendelle. The way I lashed out at you was wrong and I never want to do that again. Especially not you," Joan said sincerely, taking his large hand in her two smaller hands.
Kristoff felt a charge travel through his body from her touch. He thought he could feel what they once had rekindle but she pulled her hand away, taking that feeling with her as one of the swords caught her eye.
"This sword looks a lot different from the others," Joan observed as she got closer to the decorative double-edged sword.
Kristoff stepped closer to Joan, secretly hoping the close proximity would allow that feeling he experienced to return and it did, but did she feel it? He shook his head to lose the romantic thoughts. It didn't feel right for him to act on what he was feeling. She loved Elsa and lost her. It was too much like manipulation, like he was taking advantage of her fragile emotional state. "That's actually Prince Hans' sword. It was strapped to his waist when he was caught by the others. They removed it right after you blacked out."
Joan snatched it, "Kristoff, can you finish up in here?" Before Kristoff could say anything, she took off with the prince's sheathed sword, her red hair a red blur behind her head as she sprinted like a mad demon.
Hans preoccupied himself in the far end of the warehouse by training his body. His body was getting stiff and weak being cooped up in a cold, wet building. He just finished a high rep count of push-ups, which left him panting with a racing heart and a lightly sweaty upper body since he removed his royal jacket and the other dressy tops underneath. The adrenaline gave him awareness and energy, which made him feel more alive. Being the thirteenth prince of a warrior kingdom, he trained in combat and swordsmanship in hopes of earning the respect of his father and elder brothers, but it was all in vain. The memories of their mocking laughter made his chest burn with rage and his jaw tighten. His hands clenched into tightly, shaky fists which caused the veins in his arms to threaten to pop out of his skin. Just you wait! Soon, I will be KING OF ARENDELLE!
He saw something hanging low enough from the ceiling that had an edge he could grab. He leaped up and grabbed it with his fingers which strained as he did pull ups.
"Hans?!" Joan's voice called. The sound of her voice approaching brought a mischievous smile to his face. He lowered himself in time to see Joan freeze and blush a deep red seeing him shirtless. He pulled himself up for one more rep.
Joan was mesmerized by seeing the prince's lean and toned body exposed for her to see. The lean muscles were so defined beneath his sweaty skin that she fought the urge to slowly feel his chest and abs with both her hands. Hans dropped, "Is there something I can do for you, M'Lady?"
"Just stand there and let me look at you," she accidently muttered out loud dreamily. She instantly recognized this and her eyes widened and her face blushed from embarrassment as she fell into an adorable fit of awkward rambles that amused Hans as he slowly approached her. "Did I say that out loud? Of course not. I mean that would be very embarrassing and I-" Hans was suddenly in her personal space and she stared into his green eyes. She was breath taken by how handsome he was up close. He had to be carved by angels. "Your gorgeous. Wait, what?"
Hans just laughed, "Your even more beautiful when you ramble, Joan." This made Joan smile with red cheeks. Hans noticed she had his sword, "My sword."
Joan presented it to him, "You should have it back."
Hans backed away, "They took my sword because they don't trust me. I shouldn't have it until they do."
Joan respected his desire to make her friends feel safe but stepped forward, "They will. You showed them where to find more food. You were right about the stashes. Once they all come back, they will welcome you with open arms as a trusted member of our rebellion. Please."
Hans hesitantly drew the sword from the sheath and stepped back more. Joan watched with amazement at his skilled swipes as he practiced certain moves with his sword. He smiled after finishing, "I forgot how good this feels in my hand."
"That was amazing. You're very skilled with a blade. Were you always that skilled?" Joan asked.
Hans chuckled, "Oh, no. I had to learn just like everyone else. I was fifteen when I began training with a sword. I was pretty terrible with a blade until I mastered it under my teacher."
"Well, you couldn't tell from the way you did that just now," Joan complimented.
Hans could tell she was interested and smiled as he offered, "Would you like me to teach you?"
"Oh, me?" Joan asked with surprise but Hans was already close behind her, placing the sword in her hand. His left hand gently squeezed her shoulder as his right hand held her hand around his hilt and did a few guiding moves with her, "Don't think of it as a weapon. Think of it as an extension of your body." Joan was having trouble breathing, feeling his warm strong body against her back as he held her during this. She glanced over her right shoulder at his perfect lips which she greatly desired to taste. "However, Joan, always respect the blade. Take care of it and it will take care of you." She turned more to see more of him and he noticed her longing stare.
He smiled as his left hand traveled down from her shoulder to her hips, holding her firmly. His right hand slid across her slim neck and caressed the side of her face. She watched intently as his perfect lips opened slightly and draw close to her's. A warm feeling flooded her from head to toe, making her shiver with desire, as his lips met her's. His kiss was soft and gentle as he sucked on her pink lips causing her to become shaky as a primal need for pleasure took over her. There was no way for her to pull away, even if she wanted to. Why should I? Why should I push Hans away when it feels and taste so good? I only dreamed of what it would be like to become intimate with a man, but THIS- THIS is EXCEEDINGLY…ABUNDANTLY beyond what I could ever dream. His grip became firmer around her hips as he pulled her close, joining her at the hips and swaying briefly.
The pleasure she felt overwhelmed her and she tried to pull away, but his hand traveled into her red hair, untangling the braid and causing her brain to light up as his hands gently traveled along her scalp. The kiss of his lips became more aggressive and hungrier, threatening to eat her alive if she didn't keep up with his pace. As she did, a new realm of pleasure opened to her. It was too much for her to contain. She responded to his passionate extravagance with her own, but his reaction surprised her.
He raised his input even more, pinning her to the nearby wall at the hips. It was like a fight. She escalated by kissing him deeper and he would escalate even more as if not wanting her to get the upper hand over him. She gasped as his teeth bit into her neck. "Hans-"
Kristoff rushed to the front when he heard that the others had returned. He smiled, seeing they had multiple wagons full of goods. Henrik approached him, and Kristoff's smile faded seeing the look on his elder's face. "What's wrong?"
There was such urgency his voice as he demanded, "Where's Joan?"
Back deep in the warehouse, Anna continued to lose herself in the passionate affection of the prince. Being an experienced man, he smiled with amusement, instantly telling that this is her first time go this far with a man. Oh, Joan. The things I'm going to do to you.
He masked his selfish intentions with genuine concern as she finally pulled away, gasping for air and her cheeks were stained with a permanent blush. "Joan? Are you all right?"
She lacked the breath and focus to speak, but managed with a smile. "Ye- Yeah. Oh, wow. I never did that before."
Hans chuckled, lifting her head up by the chin with his fingers. "I knew you never did this before."
She bit her lower lip and looked to the side with embarrassment, "I- Is that bad?"
His hand stroke her blushing cheeks and slid down her parted lips, "No. Never." He leaned in to kiss her again but she pushed against his chest and looked up at him timidly. "Strange. You never striked me as a woman who was afraid."
She smirked at his tease and got free of him, "Someone's sure full of himself. I take it you're not used to being told no."
Hans smiled slyly as he stepped closer to her, "No…since no woman ever has."
The confidence oozing off of him made her tremble inside as she backed away. Suddenly, she was against the wall and blocked by Hans who drew near to her and gently caressed her face. His lips were an inch from her's when he challenged her, "You want to be the first to deny me what I want? Go ahead, Joan. Tell me no and try to put me in my place." His voice was soft and seductive, so much that it weakened her resolve to distance herself from him. She had to, fearing how far she would go if she lost herself to him one more time. Before his lips could meet her's again, she quickly switched places with him and smiled, "No." His eyes were wide with surprise. This filled her with new confidence and made her slowly walk away.
This awoken something deep in Hans. He was a prince of the Southern Isles who always got his way, especially with women he desired. This woman before him, Joan, was unlike any woman he has ever known. The way she carried herself as someone above him and dared to tell him no. It made him smile since he loved a challenge that no woman has ever given him before. He pulled back his insatiable hunger and replied with an innocent smile, "My apologies, Lady Joan. I don't know what came over me."
Joan smirked again, hearing the playful tone in his smooth, charming voice. "Yeah, right. And it's Joan, remember, Little Prince?"
He smiled, knowing he was still on first name basis with her and her little nickname for him ignited a hunger in him. Her back was to him. His eyes examined her from head to toe. Underneath her light winter dress, he could tell she possessed a toned and strong body. He could only imagine how perfect their children would be, children born to be kings and queens. Something about Joan enticed Hans like no woman ever has. The hunger demanded he get closer to her.
Joan smiled and glanced out the corner of her eye as he approached her. Her skin tingled as his fingers grazed her neck as they moved her hair over her right shoulder. She bit her lower lip as she felt his warm breath grace her neck. The sensation made her knees week and her body pant with arousal. "What a magnificent masterpiece you are. I've never known a woman like you before," he whispered affectionately in her ear. "Tell me, Joan. Where have you been all my life?"
"Hmm, well maybe that's because you surround yourself with the wrong kind of women," Joan replied before taking a step away.
Hans smiled before taking her hand and twirling her like in a dance back into his arms. Joan abandoned her coyness as he led her to a nearby crate and began to kiss her softly again. Her hands wrapped around his back and her fingers dug into his back as he kissed her more deeply. She froze when she saw Kristoff standing there watching with shock. She ceased immediately and pushed Hans away. "Kristoff, I-"
"Henrik needs to see you, Joan," he said casually. There was no emotion in his face. She fixed her hair and dress and walked past Kristoff who was scowling at Hans the whole time. "I thought I told you to stay away from her."
"You what?" Joan demanded.
"I was all the way down here doing my training. I was well away from her. She came to me," Hans defended himself. "Joan is a grown woman and can handle herself. You may want to ease up on the leash before you choke her to death with it."
Kristoff stepped forward with a growl but Joan blocked his path and raised her voice, "Stop, Kristoff! That enough! I don't need you to protect me! I can do that myself! And who I choose to spend my time with is my choice, not yours!"
"Joan, I'm just looking out for you. Do you not remember crying after you learned Elsa was dead? You lost someone you loved and this HANS…doesn't care about your emotional state," Kristoff continued, "He only cares about what he wants. You are a grown woman. Have some self-respect. Elsa wouldn't-"
Kristoff's sentence was cut short with a slap across the face and Joan warned, "Don't you ever use her name to lecture me, Kristoff. And what could you possibly know about what I need?"
Kristoff and Joan were in a brief stare down before he said, "Go find Henrik."
"Are you king, Kristoff?"
"Then stop telling me what to do!" Anna was already storming off, leaving Kristoff and Hans alone.
Hans chuckled, "What a sassy woman." He got himself decent and was going to follow Joan back, but was halted by Kristoff's hand.
"I know guys like you. Joan doesn't mean a thing to you. All she is to you is a piece of meat. You don't care about how she feels at all. She's only going to get hurt because of you. I won't let you hurt her. Stay away from her. Final warning," Kristoff warned firmly before following Joan.
Hans drew his sword slightly, fighting the urge to kill him right there, but held back and followed. Kristoff joined Joan's side. She was shaking. Whatever Henrik was so eager to share with her had already been shared. "Joan? What is it?"
Joan was in tears as she turned to face Kristoff, "Henrik just learn that Oaken is still alive and is imprisoned in the dungeons of the royal palace. The Duke is going to execute him publicly tomorrow in the market square."
"What?!" Kristoff exclaimed, horrified by the revelation. "What are we going to do?"
"We have to do something," Joan said.
"No. That's what the Duke will be expecting," Hans said and he had to explain further when Joan stared at him in disbelief. "Joan. Hear me out. The Duke made stashes when this group began to raid his supply wagons. He is no fool. For all we know, this is a trap and he has countless soldiers ready to strike as soon as we show up."
Henrik and others agreed with Hans.
"I can't believe this," Joan muttered, looking at everyone. She looked with pleading look at Hans, with who she just shared an amazing and intimate experience. "Hans, please."
This struck Kristoff deep. He and Joan have always been partners on runs. He was always by her side on the field. Whenever she needed company or someone to back her up, it was him, but she called HIS name.
Hans's expression softened as he stepped closer to Joan, "Then I'm going with you."
They both looked at Henrik, who sighed, "Kristoff and Lars will go with you. Be discreet. We are not ready to engage the Duke's forces in a head on fight."
"I know a way," Joan said before taking off after grabbing a short sword. Lars grabbed his axe. Kristoff grabbed a sword. Both followed Joan and Hans into the night.
Oaken sat secured by many chains in his small cold cell. The cold winter air swept over the fjord and through his barred window. He didn't mind the cold. He was a mountain man and was used to winter's harsh conditions, which is why he grew into such a large and strong man. His chains didn't allow for much movement. After the violence he displayed before he was finally subdued, his captors wouldn't take the chance at him getting loose again. The only thing he could do is sit or stand to look out his window at the frozen fjord. Despite the curse of Eternal Winter slowly dying, the fjord remained frozen still, yet Oaken could sometimes hear the faint echoes of the ice starting to crack. Soon, Arendelle would be free of the curse, but how would his allies fair against the Duke's forces when they no longer have Elsa's winter to conceal their activities and escapes. This troubled him greatly.
"Psst, Oaken!" a feminine voice whispered. The familiar voice drew his tired eyes to the window.
His face lit up, "Joan." He quickly stood, causing his chains to rattle. Oaken noticed Joan and three other men standing outside his window on the sliver of land surrounding the palace. "You crossed the fjord? That's very dangerous, gentlemen."
"I know," Kristoff said, obviously shaken by what Oaken was hinting at. Kristoff remembered Oaken and Tora being friends when he was little.
"It was Red's brilliant idea," Lars replied with sarcasm.
"Brilliant…and insightful," Oaken muttered, looking into Joan's eyes as she held onto the bars.
"I just thought the guards wouldn't be looking at the fjord," Joan quickly defended herself.
"Why are you all here? It's dangerous. The guards could've-" Oaken questioned.
"We came to save you. The Duke is going to execute you tomorrow in the Market Square," Joan said urgently.
Oaken just smiled at her warmly and his hands covered her's on the bars in his open window. "No. I have lived a long and happy life. I am at peace and ready for my fate. I'll soon see my family again."
Joan was shocked and was cut off by the sound of guards approaching. Kristoff was trying to pull her away but Joan held onto the bars, "No, I won't let that happen. We'll raid the execution. We'll save you, Oaken." There were tears in her eyes.
Oaken was moved by her sadness and gave her hands a gentle squeeze. "No. That's what the Duke will expect. Run, Joan and don't come back. Don't come back."
Tears ran down his cheeks as Kristoff finally managed to rip Joan free from the bars and hurry away with the others. Oaken was still facing the walls, barely able to contain his soft weeping. He had prepared his heart for death, but after seeing Joan again, Oaken was suddenly afraid to die and he discovered a new reason to live on. A friendship that brought him the only warmth he has ever felt since his family was killed.
Joan was struggling as Kristoff was forced to manhandle her to get her away. "Let go of me!" Joan yelled breaking free. "We can't leave him behind! We can't!"
"Joan-" Kristoff began.
"It's Oaken, Kristoff! I know I didn't know him that long, but he's a good man! He doesn't deserve this!" Joan yelled with tearful emotion overwhelming her heart.
Lar looked put out. "How do you expect we save him then, Joan?" Lars wasn't fooling Kristoff one bit. Kristoff knew Lars well and Lars had a deep loyalty and defensive nature towards members of their group. He cared and wanted to save Oaken just as much as she did. "How can our small rebellion fight our way into the royal palace that has greater numbers? Our ambushes were what gave us the element of surprise. We would be going into the Lion's Den."
"Unless we strike during the execution," Hans quickly suggested, "We can free him and make a quick escape amongst the crowd the Duke will summon to bear witness."
"Sounds like a plan? But won't the Duke be expecting that? He's bound to have extra guards there," Lars pointed out. Joan could feel the unease in everyone and knew their resolve was crumbling.
"So what?" Kristoff asked and the others looked at him. "He may not want to be saved, but he's our friend. We'll be there with him until the very end."
Morning came. A stage was made and a noose was prepared. The crowd was gathered and Oaken led to his noose. The blurry man's eyes froze on someone in the crowd. Joan. Kristoff. Lars. The stranger that was with them the night before. Each gave him a nod to let him know they were going to be there for him until the end. The Duke stepped forward with the executioner. "Oaken of Arendelle has been charged with treason against the Crown of Arendelle by lending aid and comfort to radical rebels. I find him guilty and sentence him to death!"
Joan shook with anger. She saw something in Oaken's eyes. It was different from the night before. Fear. They were the eyes of a man who deep down didn't want to die but live. This made the royal blood in her veins boil, demanding she intervene and save an innocent man. The Duke raised his arm to signal the executioner to cut the rope with his sword and cause the door beneath Oaken to open and strangle the prisoner to death. That was when Anna snapped, "Stop!" She stood on top of something to see above the crowd, concealed by a cloak. "Your reign is over, Duke! Down with the False King!"
She drew her sword and thrown it with great accuracy, almost impaling the Duke's face, but only a half of his ridiculous mustache was sliced off. "Do it! Do it now!" the Duke ordered the executioner, but Hans came out of nowhere, killing the guard and freeing Oaken. The crowd was worked up by Joan's chanting and caused a riot when the Duke's soldiers tried to apprehend Oaken and the attackers. This gave Oaken and the opportunity to escape through the violent crowd after a cloak was thrown over Oaken to disguise him.
Oaken couldn't see, but felt Joan's warm hand grab his and lead him to safety. The joy he felt inside moved him to tears. Finally, the hood was removed. He already knew who was standing before him, yet more tears flowed down his cheeks all the same. Joan's smile faded, recalling his final wish to her. "I'm sorry, Oaken. – I couldn't you-"
She was cut off as Oaken bear hugged her and lifted her into the air in a strong embrace. "Thank you, Joan. Thank you. Thank you."
Joan smiled, realizing he wasn't upset, and hugged her friend back. Finally, she was put back down on her own two feet. The snow crunched underneath her boots as she stepped back and looked at the others smiling. She spoke up when she saw Oaken look at Hans, "Oh, you two haven't met! Oaken, meet Prince Hans of the Southern Isles."
"You're a prince?" Oaken asked with surprise.
Hans bowed formally and greeted Oaken with a smile. "A pleasure to meet you, Oaken."
"A prince. Yeah. Don't be too wowed Oaken. He's exiled so don't freak out over his…title," Lars joked. "He's a human being just like everyone else."
Joan gave him a scolding, "Lars!"
Hans' hand gripped her tense shoulder, "It's true, Lars that I've been exiled for attempting to rally soldiers to aid Arendelle, but royal blood still flows through my veins. No one can take that from me." He spoke somewhat calmly, but Joan could hear the wounded pride in his defensive tone.
"Royal blood, huh?" Lars asked with amusement, "You say that like it's any different from mime. Tell me…is it really blue like elites say?" His body language was threatening, but that didn't keep Hans from punching him in the face and making Lars fall to the ground.
Oaken just watched with shock as Joan and Kristoff intervened to pull Hans and Lars apart.
"Lars! Stand down!" Kristoff yelled, holding back a bloodthirsty Lars back.
Joan, who tried to hold Hans back around the waist, was pushed back by Hans who drew his blade. Joan was horrified by the sight of Hans. Once a charming Prince, now someone out for blood. She quickly got up and blocked his path as he attempted to cut Lars down. His blade halted immediately when it came close to Joan's neck.
Joan's expression softened when she looked Hans in the eyes. There was anger. Frustration. Helplessness. The eyes of a proud prince brought low. For the first time since Joan met him, she finally saw the true Prince Hans for the first time. Hans looked at Joan, tears were forming in his eyes as he dropped the sword and walked away.
"Hans, wait!" Joan called.
"Some prince," Lars laughed. Joan turned and smacked him across the face before picking up Hans's sword. "Kristoff, take Lars and Oaken back to the lair." Joan went after Hans.
Hans came into a small valley where he sat down on a large boulder. He knew Joan was approaching. He inhaled deeply before turning, "Joan, I'm sorry. I-"
Hans was cut off when Joan's warm, soft lips crashed into his and her hands caressed his face. "It's okay," she repeated in between kisses. Finally, she felt him calm and she pulled away with a smile.
"Please, don't let what Lars said get to you, Hans. He's just a boy trying to sound important and tough," Joan encouraged him and this made Hans smile.
"How do you do it, Joan? How do you lead the rebellion and have their respect?" Hans asked.
"I'm one of them," Joan tried to answer but Hans wasn't convinced. He could hear her weariness as she chose her words carefully. She was hiding something and it only fed what already believed.
"No. You're more than them. I can feel it, Joan, ever since I first laid eyes on you. The way you carry yourself as a leader," Hans explained. The more he spoke, the more she shivered. He stepped closer and stroked her face. "You're HER. Aren't you, Joan? Or should I say…Princess Anna of Arendelle?"
She inhaled deeply before answering, "I am."
Hans backed away with shock. He smiled, "I knew it! But who else knows?"
"No one and they can never know. Not until the Duke is dethroned and Arendelle is free. Promise me, Hans," Anna begged Hans.
Hans kissed her on the lips. He didn't speak, but his kiss assured her that he would keep her secret. She felt relieved, feeling the burden of concealing her identity lighten as she shared it with Hans. Deep down, her heart fluttered because she discovered the answer. For Arendelle to be free and prosperous again, she believed she had discovered the man who would rule by her side. The man who she would give her heart to for the rest of her life. "I love you, Hans," she whispered, feeling free and safe in his arms as he held her firmly and his lips kissed her's with aggressive hunger.
Hans smiled, seeing he had won her heart, "I'd speak the same, but perhaps I can…show you instead?"
Anna pulled away, blushing by his intimate request. Her body ached for him, recalling their private time at the warehouse. She wanted to lose herself to him again, but she remembered the others. "We should find the others. The Duke will no doubt go on the offensive after we humiliated him. We need to prepare for war."
"The others can handle it. You should learn to relax and allow someone to treat you, Your Majesty," he spoke seductively with a smile.
"Hans, we can't. Not now," Anna giggled. As much as I want to.
Hans nodded, "Lead the way, Queen of Arendelle." She smiled slightly as she left and he followed. Hans' eyes stalked Anna intently. His desire to become a king was so much closer know that he knew Joan's secret. She was the long-lost heir of Arendelle, the TRUE ruler of Arendelle. She had more claim to the throne than the Duke and Hans knew the people would rally to her if they knew who she really was.
Anna could sense his anxious thoughts. "What's wrong, Hans?"
Hans was silent. Anna turned back to him, "I know it's a lot to take in."
"It's not that," Hans quickly explained, taking her hand. "You're the worthy heir of the throne. If everyone knew…the people-"
"They can't, Hans!" Anna replied urgently, "Not yet."
"But why, Anna?" Hans questioned, "The people love and are devoted to the Royal Family. To you. If they knew you were back…they would rally to you and would aid in driving away the Duke and his soldiers. The people of Arendelle together possess greater numbers. You know it! Your mere presence would inspire your people to rise against the Duke and his soldiers."
"Arendelle is my home, Hans, and these people my family! I can't endanger them with the secret of my identity," Anna replied back.
"But the throne-" Hans raised his voice.
"Is not more important than the lives of the people," Anna finished, but confused by how Hans was focused on the throne, but not the people. "A true ruler would know that, Hans."
Hans' frustrated expression softened before he sighed, "Of course. You're right. My apologies. I was only stating-"
"I know. Come on," Anna encouraged softly, stroking his face before hurrying off.
Hans remained where he was. He gritted his teeth and his hands squeezed into tight fists as he became overwhelmed with frustration and anger. Finally, he calmed and followed.
Kristoff, Lars and Oaken were walking through the wilderness, eager to return to the warehouse. Kristoff kept looking back. There was this nagging feeling he shouldn't have let Joan alone. "What are you doing Kristoff? Worried about you're little girlfriend?" Lars teased, looking back and noticing Kristoff's behavior.
"I'm just worried. I don't trust him around her," Kristoff replied, his eyes on where they've been.
"Don't worry, Kristoff. I'm sure she's having fun with him right now," Lars teased, but received a punch in the face from Kristoff. "Getting better," Lars laughed, complimenting Kristoff's punching ability, "Joan teach you that? You know I'm right! She's totally smitten with the guy. She's a simple commoner and he's a handsome, charming prince. You should know by now who she was going to choose! An actual prince or a simple delivery boy?! You didn't have a chance and you know it!"
This triggered Kristoff, but he calmed himself when he thought he heard something. At first, he thought it was Joan, but it sounded louder. "Run!"
Lars was confused, but then he heard the noise. The Duke's soldiers were coming for them.
Anna suddenly heard the noise. On top of the hill, she saw the Duke's soldiers making their way through the wilderness, heading in the direction of the other three. They were gaining on them. Lars! Oaken! KRISTOFF! She tried to run after them, but Hans seized her. "Hans! Let go!"
"There's nothing you can do for them! Look, Anna! There are easily a hundred soldiers! You don't have a sword! What good can you do?!" Hans yelled, forcing her to submit by holding her firmly. "What will happen to Arendelle if you die?! The throne will be useless."
Hans was doing it again. Anna could see it. He was focusing on the throne instead of the people. She struggled against Hans's hold, but it was useless. "KRISTOFF!"
Kristoff turned in the direction he heard Joan's voice scream his name. She needed him. She needed him now. "Lars, get Oaken out of here! I have to help Joan!"
"I got this! Go! Let's go, Oaken!" Lars said back, pulling Oaken in the opposite direction. They had to get to the lair and warn the others.
Kristoff took his sword and ran in the direction he heard her call for him. The soldiers were forced to split. Some in Hans' and Joan's direction since she gave away her position by calling for Kristoff. Others pursued Oaken and Lars. The rest pursued Kristoff who split from Lars and Oaken.
Kristoff raised his sword to slash and stab at enemy soldiers that stood between him and getting to Joan. His strength and energy were instantly replenished by the adrenaline coursing through his veins. Each swing of his sword instantly struck down each foe he faced with a fatal attack. I'm coming, Joan!
Hans was trying to carry Anna away by force. "Why are you fighting me?! I'm trying to save you! Do you want to perish that badly, Anna?!"
Anna escaped his arms and faced him, "It's not about me, but the throne. You don't care for the lives of the people! Only the throne!"
Hans looked at her like she was crazy, "Do you HEAR yourself, Anna?! Arendelle has been without a true ruler since the mysterious vanishing of the Royal Family. They have been forced to endure the reign of the Duke! For the people of Arendelle to be free, you must LIVE!"
Anna stared at him with more understanding.
He smiled and stroked her face affectionately, "It needs a King and a Queen."
Anna was instantly turned away by his last comment. "Kristoff was right. You care nothing about me. You only want me alive to give you claim to the throne. Well forget it! I will NEVER marry you and you will NEVER be KING OF ARENDELLE!"
Han's true self revealed itself through an angry scowl on his face, which made Anna back away, especially when he drew his sword and approached her slowly. "I am a PRINCE of the SOUTHERN ISLES! A warrior kingdom that rules through strength and conquest! I deserve a crown! I deserve a throne! I deserve to rule!"
Anna dodged his blade in between his sentences, fearful of the Hans that stood before her. Kristoff!
Kristoff came out of nowhere and defended her with his sword. The area echoed with clings as their swords met. Kristoff may have had strength and size on his side, but Hans was the superior swordsman in the fight and took advantage of his speed and athletic ability as he fought. Anna stayed a safe distance from the fight but followed as the fight led them to a cliff overlooking the still frozen fjord that echoed with gradual cracks.
Anna jumped on Hans back to prevent him from hurting Kristoff but Hans just grabbed her by the hair and threw her down at his feet so he could finish her off with his sword.
Kristoff kicked Hans hard in the chest away from Joan. Kristoff quickly and protectively picked up Joan and guided her behind him. She was horrified by the sight of Hans. He was lost to his anger. He wasn't thinking. Only acting on impulse like an angry, violent animal. "Hans, you have to stop! Look at yourself!"
Hans froze, realizing what he was doing. His expression softened and he lowered his blade.
Kristoff kept his sword ready. Joan tried to approach him, but Kristoff blocked her path with his arm. Joan just placed her gloved hand on his arm and gave him a nod. Kristoff calmed. An arrow came out of nowhere, hitting Kristoff in the shoulder and making him stagger to the edge of the cliff they found themselves on.
"Kristoff!" Joan yelled with worry. Suddenly they were swarmed with the Duke's soldiers. There was no way to escape, none that she could see.
Hans already had his sword raised and backed to her and Kristoff. Anna noticed Kristoff's shoulder wound was bleeding bad. He was struggling to focus and stay upright.
A soldier aimed his loaded crossbow at her. He like the others were given strict orders by the Duke. Hunt them down and kill them all! Kristoff quickly moved in front of her and took the arrow to the chest. As he slowly fell backward and off the cliff, Joan's eyes slowly widened with horror. Her voice was a muffled scream as she called for him and reached out for him, but she was too late. He fell into the frozen fjord below.
Anna's eyes were overflowing with tears as she cried, "Kristoff…no."
"Surrender to the Duke and your deaths will be merciful," the guard barked.
Anna stood tall with a scowl before she instantly jumped off the cliff, breaking through the ice and into the freezing cold water. She frantically swam for Kristoff's unconscious body as it sank deeper and deeper. Bubbles erupted from her mouth as she yelled loudly, but it was muffled by the water. She finally grabbed his gloved hand and pulled desperately to get them both to the surface, but it was useless. The water was against them and she wasn't strong enough to get them both back to the surface.
Let him go, Anna. Save yourself.
NO! I'M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT HIM! She pulled and pulled with all her might, but it was all in vain as she slowly blacked out and became unconscious along with Kristoff.
That's when she felt a hand grab her and bring her out. Her frozen body felt the warmth of the sun as she was dragged to the shore and left. She tried to see who rescued her, but her vision was so obscured, she couldn't see. Suddenly, the familiar voices of her friends as multiple figures approached them.
"I found them! Over here!"
"Get them to the lodge! The rest of you, follow me! We'll hold off the Duke's men!"
There was nothing but darkness, but Anna could hear a voice calling her. Anna.
Anna knew the voice instantly and it brought her to tears. Elsa?! Anna knew it was Elsa without a doubt because she could feel Elsa's presence. Just like whenever Elsa was secretly watching her in the Ice Palace on Ahtohallan. However, Anna was hesitant.
There was something different about Elsa's presence that Anna found strange. Elsa's presence was always…cold…distant…angry…malicious…terrifying. However, since she was five, Anna had grown used to it. The presence she felt was maternal…warm…loving…caring…yet still distant…and Anna could still feel something. Fear? Guilt?
"Anna, wake up," someone else said and Anna could feel Elsa's presence instantly vanish.
Elsa, wait! Please! Don't leave me again! Come back! Anna was woken from deep sleep, feeling broken from the separation from Elsa again. Ella looked down at her with great concern. "Joan? What's wrong? You were stirring in your sleep. I was afraid you were having a nightmare."
"No," Anna replied with a slight smile as she wiped the tears from her face. "Something beautiful."
"Beautiful? I don't understand, Joan. Can you explain?" Ella questioned.
More tears leaked from the ginger's eyes and her smile widened more with joy. "You wouldn't understand. You didn't know what it was like to have her near when you never felt more alone in the world."
Ella was completely lost. She didn't understand Joan. "Right." Ella decided to change the subject, "I'm glad you are all right."
Anna remembered the recent events. Feeling Elsa's presence had freed her from the worry temporarily but it all came flooding back since Elsa's presence wasn't there. Anna sat up quickly, "KRISTOFF!"
Ella held her by the shoulders, "It's okay, Joan. Kristoff is right here." Anna followed Ella's gaze and saw Kristoff lying beside her, shirtless and bandaged around the chest, shoulder and his head. She instantly drew close to him out of worry.
"He still hasn't wakened yet, but he should be okay. Don't worry," Ella assured her.
Seeing Kristoff hurt made her tear up again, "Why didn't I listen to you Kristoff? It's all my fault."
"No," he muttered.
"Kristoff?" she said softly, caressing his face, waiting for him to open his hazel eyes again.
"Not your fault. You love him. How could you feel otherwise?" Kristoff asked weakly and barely opened his eyes to briefly look into her's before closing again.
Her eyes teared up more and she moved her hand slightly and cried, "Kristoff."
"He just needs to rest. In the meantime, I'll get you some hot soup," Ella encouraged and offered.
"No. Not until he wakes up," Anna insisted.
"Please, Joan. Kristoff wouldn't want you to go hungry because of him," Ella pleaded quietly.
Anna was silent and hesitant, but eventually nodded. Ella returned with a bowl of soup which Anna took with both hands and sipped since they didn't have silverware. After finishing, she laid close beside under his blanket so she could wrap her arms around his arm. The warmth coming from his body was comforting to her. Her worried mind became set on Kristoff and it led her to any memory associated with him.
Him finding her in the blizzard and holding her unconscious body in his arms as he carried her away. Her waking up in a barn as he cooked delicious smelling stew. Him saving her from the Duke's men who tried to rape her. Him giving her a new dress in the barn before they left. Him defending her when Lars confronted her. Them bonding incredibly on their first trip to Oaken. Him giving up his lute to get back her necklace for her. Him being by her side since they began fighting back against the Duke's forces. The way she reacted to him whenever he got protective of her made her heart ache with pain and guilt. Him taking the arrow for her. "Why, Kristoff? Why did you do all that for me?"
"Isn't it obvious? Love, little one," Oaken chuckled.
Anna looked at him with shock, "Love?"
Oaken leaned in close and whispered, "Let me tell you the secret of Love. Love is putting someone else's needs before your own. Always remember that and your life will shine bright. Can you do that for me?"
The love she felt for Kristoff as they rode back after learning Kristoff's secret from Oaken. It moved her to tears as she laid beside him. However, she was confused. Does he still-? "Please, Kristoff…please wake up. I- I have to know."
The last thing Kristoff remembered before blacking out was the searing pain in his chest from an arrow and Joan reaching out for him and screaming his name as he fell into freezing darkness. The fear he felt caused him to instantly stir awake. Ymir's Lodge. He was laying in front of a fire place shirtless with a white bandage wrapped around his chest, shoulder and forehead. He groaned when the sudden movement caused an ache in his head and the pain in his chest flared.
There was something holding his arm. He looked down to see Joan sleeping peacefully, cuddled close as if seeking comfort from him. Among the freckles that dusted her beautiful face, he saw tear stains. She's been crying? Why? He stroked her face. "Hey."
Joan woke up to see Kristoff smiling over at her. Her eyes widened with joyful tears, "Kristoff!" She lunged into his arms, wrapping her's around his neck firmly, so relieved he was awake.
"Joan- You're hurting my-" Kristoff groaned, gesturing with a frantic finger to his bandages.
She pulled away, "Sorry."
Kristoff forced a smile for her benefit as he sat up more, groaning from the pain that flared up slightly. "Did everyone make it back?"
Joan went silent, remembering Hans. "Oaken and Lars are here, according to Ella, but no one has seen Hans yet. He was still there surrounded by the Duke's forces when I jumped off the cliff after you."
Kristoff snapped, "You what?! Out of all the-! You could've drowned, Joan!" The sudden movement of his body caused the pain to flare intensely, rendering him still as he bared it.
"Serves you right," She teased, playfully hitting his bandaged shoulder and earning a scowl from him. Joan stifled a laugh. He looked too adorable that she could take his angered voice serious.
"So, they must have Hans," Kristoff thought out loud. The remainder caused Joan's smile to fade.
A knock was heard at the door and Henrik entered. "Glad to see you both awake. Here's some medicinal soup to help with your injuries, Kristoff."
Joan sat up more, "Is Hans with you, Henrik?"
Henrik was briefly silent. "While Lars and some of the others took you to the Lodge, several of us repelled the Duke's forces as best as we could. There was no sign of him. Everyone was moved here since worst case scenario, Oaken's warehouse is compromised. Hans is a liability if he's been captured."
"He would never-" Joan quickly defended Hans, but Henrik cut her off.
"I know. I know. However, we can't take that chance. It was a security matter I decided on for everyone's safety."
"He'll be back," Kristoff assured them, "You should've seen him with his sword."
Henrik's interest peeked, "He fought against the Duke's forces?"
Both Joan and Kristoff hesitated. They couldn't mention the fight between Hans and Kristoff. Kristoff quickly answered, "He sure did. He wouldn't let them take him alive. He'll be back."
Joan looked at Kristoff confused by him shielding Hans by lying.
Henrik nodded, "I'll send a couple out to look for him and bring him here, then. You both rest up. You earned it, saving Oaken. The rest of us will be going through the goods and sneaking it out to the people tonight." Henrik left.
Kristoff smiled and began to sip his medicinal soup, oblivious to Joan looking at him intently, trying to figure out why Kristoff did that just now. Finally, Kristoff noticed and lowered his bowl to look back at her inquisitively.
"What is it?"
"You just lied for Hans. Why didn't you tell him about Hans fighting with you? You could've ratted him out, but you didn't," Joan said.
Kristoff thought briefly, "I may not like him, but I know YOU do. You were worried for him when you asked Henrik."
"Of course, I'm worried. I know he may have messed up drawing his sword like that, but-" Joan tried to answer.
"You love him," Kristoff said, interrupting.
Joan was surprised by that statement. She remembered telling Hans she loved him when they were alone and in a passionate kiss, but the side of Hans she witnessed out there made her reconsider. "I thought I did. I don't know what I feel now."
"What do you mean?"
"I was charmed by him, sure. His smile. His eyes. The way he greeted me with royal etiquette. The taste of his lips on mine. He was the first man I ever kissed in that way before. I thought it was true love, but- Then I saw him out there. The way he lashed out at me and had a complete disregard for the people. He didn't care at all."
"I'm confused. Can you explain?" Kristoff requested.
Joan looked him in the eye and dreaded what she was going to tell him. She looked down. "I told him who I really was." She looked up to see Kristoff's eyes widen in shock briefly before looking down at the bowl he held on his lap. She felt guilt, thinking Kristoff was hurt that she told Hans and not him after they had their talk.
"I see. Well, this complicates things," he thought out loud.
"Kristoff, please let me explain-" Joan said urgently, getting closer.
"He could talk if he's captured. Which means you are in danger, but it's okay, Joan."
This surprised her, "It is?"
"It was your secret. I know you told me you couldn't reveal the truth until the right time and you found someone you could trust," Kristoff explain with understanding, surprising her more. She ached when he continued, "Someone you love. If anyone was to know, it was Hans."
No, it wasn't. It was you, Kristoff. It was always you. "Kristoff-" She tried to speak up.
"Despite what he did, you haven't given up on him. You really love him. I know I haven't been very supportive, but if you truly care about him, Joan. When he comes back, I promise I won't get in the way."
"I don't- I don't love him," Joan confessed. "Today, Kristoff…my eyes have been opened to the truth. What I felt for Hans wasn't love…merely infatuation. I was an ignorant girl who thought she found true love but wouldn't listen to you when you warned me about Hans."
"What are you saying, Joan? I'm lost," Kristoff said, shaking his head to try and process what Joan was confessing.
"I-" Her heart was thumping so loud and hard as she struggled to confess. "I'm in love with someone else!"
"You are? Who?" Kristoff asked, scooting closer and eager to hear more. His face was so ignorant and innocent like a child's.
She laughed and teared up, "Oh, Kristoff."
"What? Come one. Tell me," he prodded.
Anna bit her lower lip and looked down. She looked at the fireplace which was finally starting to die out.
"Hold that thought, Joan. I'll throw another log on the fire," Kristoff said, about to get up.
Joan stopped him by putting her hands on his chest, "No, don't. I-" She froze again seeing his face look at her. His handsome face covered with gentle shadows from the dying fireplace. "I- I love you, Kristoff."
His eyes widened and his lips parted in surprise. "You…love me?"
Joan nodded and slowly moved closer to him. Both their hearts were beating loudly as Joan slowly made her way onto his lap and look down at his face.
Kristoff's heart was beating faster under her hand as she drew closer and her hands slid up to caress his face. As the fireplace went out, their lips met in the darkness.
In the Great Hall, the Duke stood when he saw guards bring someone before him and forced him on his knees. The Duke's eyes widened. "Prince Hans of the Southern Isles? Well, isn't this a surprise. You couldn't be a greater disappointment to your family if you tried."
Hans smiled, "Yeah, perhaps." He stood casually and approached the Duke. The guards were about to act but the Duke raised his hand to halt them. Hans and the Duke laughed as if old friends and shook each other's hands.
"What do you have to report to me?" the Duke asked.
"The true identity of their leader and the location of their second lair. Victory is as good as yours, Duke of Weselton," Hans chuckled. The memory of him secretly following everyone to the lodge played in his mind.
The Duke smiled evilly, "Tell me."
(A/N: Sorry for the late update. This was a very difficult chapter to write and I had to keep changing my progress to make it all work. Please let me know what you think in your reviews!)