a/n: nearing the end, folks. enjoy this monster of a chapter that completely got away from me :')
"You left out the part where you assaulted me with a bucket," Syd says after a beat, two, mostly because no one else is saying anything and the echoes of ships and fire magic and burnt hands and brothers are leaving through the open library window. Felix holds a gilt candlestick close to his nose and says, after another uncomfortable moment, "I get assaulted all the time, and no one ever cares for me."
"That's because you're you," Anna deadpans. She swings her leg against the wood beneath her and side-eyes the open window. "It's completely different. And Syd, I apologized, like, a million times—"
"Elsa said her powers were gone."
"Excuse me?" Anna's head whips around so fast she feels it crack in three different places along the spine. Albert hadn't spoken a word, not since he'd wandered rather aimlessly into the library and collapsed gracelessly to the floor by the hearth, and he hadn't looked up, or done anything other than let the fop of his stupid fop of foppish curls cover his stupid eyes while he twiddled his stupid thumbs—
"She said," and his voice is dry; he scrubs at his eye, "she said—told me. When I put her in her bed—room," he amends quickly, flushing. "That's what she said. 'My—my curse is gone.'" He fidgets uncomfortably, and maybe it's because Anna's glaring at him like he was the one who faked her death, but whatever, her glaring at Felix wasn't going to stop him from trying to steal their gold and she had nothing against Syd so that left Albert—
"And you just thought to share it now?" There's something like steel lacing her voice. She shoots to her feet, hands clenching. "Are you serious?"
Albert looks shocked. "She didn't tell you?"
"So when he burned her hands," Felix muses, nonplussed, setting down the candlestick and reaching for a book, "he melted her magic?" He laughs a bark of a laugh, flipping the thing sideways in his hands and letting a few pages float by. "It's brilliant. If she really froze the entire fjord, like you told me about—and somehow I sincerely doubt you could make that whole story up—" he looks at Anna over the cover, "then now she's an absolute zero on the threat level—"
"You don't know that," Albert says darkly. "She's stronger than she looks."
Anna purses her lips. The tension crackles between the brothers like the dull blade of a knife, painful and rusted and angry. Syd, leaning against the white door, senses it, too. He says, "Seems a convoluted way of getting things done."
"My brothers defined the word convoluted," Felix snorts, putting the book down. He's speaking at Syd but still eyeing Albert, like he's a cornered animal. "In fact, should you feel the need to look up the meaning of convoluted, it would say next to it only: The Southern Isles."
Anna feels sick. She shivers, toes to neck, and even the warm pulse of the crystal at her neck can't stop it. She licks her lips, because it explained everything, the no talking, the not eating, the heat, the everything, but why hadn't she just said something, why couldn't she just—why hadn't she just—
She snaps, suddenly, "I'm going to talk to her."
She takes five quick, staccato steps to the white doors. Syd leans back, opening them for her, revealing the hall of portraits stretching shadow-like beyond, and he says, at a low drawl, "I think I'll go find the kitchens," and then, under his breath so that only she catches it, "Gotta give those brothers some time to talk, don't you think?"
She laughs, but it tastes bitter and sounds sour. "Yeah. Wouldn't want them killing each other."
"No," Syd sighs, stepping into the hall behind her and letting the door fall shut. "We wouldn't."
"I'm going to kill you," Hans manages, clutching the stitch in his side. His voice scrapes like sandpaper up his throat. He feels feverish—too hot beneath the threadbare blanket his brothers had scrounged up for him amid the wreckage, too cold outside of it. The cabin is a mess,and he doesn't help matters by swinging his hand wildly to the side, looking for water. He knocks over an empty bottle, and nearly spills the glass, before rolling wildly to the floor. He hits hard, knees first, and drags himself up, shaking, by the tips of his fingers, to eye the top of the mahogany nightstand. The goblet of water sits there, placid, demure. He drags it to his lips, and the moment it touches—
He shouts in frustration, throwing the goblet as hard as he can at Niels' head. His brother looks sick, and bored, and not the least bit phased, even as it shatters one of the windows and drops like a rock to the ocean below. Doesn't matter. Ship's a mess anyway. He pulls himself, panting, shivering, back into the bed and flexes his hands. There's too much going on inside of him. He tries to tell himself that he did this to get stronger to ruin them, ruin his family, but then why hasn't he done it already, why—
The king's face looms like the devil in his thoughts and Hans retches dryly between his knees. Nothing comes up but foul-tasting bile. He rasps, "I'm going to kill you." It's a promise to himself. Baby steps. Niels first.
His brother says, "You need to control your emotions."
He hurts. There's ice crawling up his veins and fire rolling to his toes and the only thing keeping him remotely sane is the image he gets when he closes his eyes and sees Elsa's face, twisted in pain, the skin of her hands crackling beneath his own, and he had felt it, melting.
Felt her, melting.
"Stranded in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of dead weight and useless sailors," he bites, jerking sideways. "'Control your emotions—'"
"Hans," Niels begins, but doesn't continue, like it's all he can really think to say, standing there, all sickly and sallow with his stupid book—
Tomas opens the cabin door, eye blackening and mouth devoid of its usual smirk. He says, "The king's ship, spotted on the horizon."
Hans thinks, I'll kill you all.
They run into Kai, which is, you know, awkward, because he's still trying to get over the fact that she isn't dead, which she supposes is sort of a big deal, in the scheme of things, and they had just kinda waltzed in there and surprise, but—
Elsa's door is shut, tightly. Kai looks like he's going to cry. Anna takes her left hand in her right and scrunches up her face and says, "Hi, again."
Kai inclines his head. "Your highness." But he's really secretly grinning and politics, sheesh—Anna bites her lip, looks sideways for a beat, two, at Syd, and then thinks screw it. She takes three steps and wraps her arms around Kai's shoulders, startling the steward into taking a step backwards. He sputters a moment, propriety and all that, but they'd been so busy trying to get Elsa back to her room that she hadn't had a proper moment to, you know, really—
"Princess Anna," Kai begins, and then, "Anna. I'm so—so happy."
She feels him returning the hug, and she likes this—thinks kingdoms should be run on hugs alone, hugs and good feelings and mandatory free chocolate samples—
Anna lets go and steps back and boom, no longer almost-father figure and daughter, back to steward and princess, back to politics. She asks, "Can you show Syd to the kitchens?"
"Of course, your highness."
"Great. Thanks. Thank you." She fights the urge to scrub her eyes. Kai looks harried and portly and really tired and he's sizing Syd up, like he's waiting for the man to pounce with a knife or something, so Anna feels the need to add, "He's fine, pretty much. Just threaten him with buckets."
Syd rolls his eyes. Kai doesn't get it.
Anna looks over his shoulder, towards the staircase, but the palace is quiet, and empty—or, at least, it feels empty. She fidgets uncomfortably. Ever since she had gotten off the dock, she'd been looking for that head of blonde, that big nose, that stupid smell, and she kept starting, thinking she'd seen him out of the corner of her eye, but no, he was nowhere in town, and no, he had not been in the palace, and she's afraid to ask, but she guesses she has to, maybe, probably—
"Yes, your highness?"
She blinks, looking at him expectantly. Kai's face remains composed, but there's a twitch of his eyebrow, a slight downturn of his mouth that makes her stomach flop like a thing already dead. He's not dead, you know that, he's not—
"He left shortly after your—funeral, highness. We have not seen him since."
"Left…?" And she blinks, because the words don't quite process. "Left where? Where could he possibly leave to, he has everything he ever wants right here!"
Syd walks past her, giving her a pointed look over his shoulder. "You're not very bright, are you?"
Anna's too busy trying to add together the word Kristoff with the word left to muster up enough indignant-ness over the jab. She wants to leave, now, right now, run outside and hit the forest and bring his stupid butt back home—
Her eyes flit to Elsa's door. She opens her mouth slowly. She says, "Well, if he, um, comes back, you let me know right away."
Kai looks sad again. "Yes, your highness. Of course."
"You going to continue to ignore me, then?"
Albert gets to his feet, wiping his hands across his knees. He stands there, back to hearth, the man-who-was-his-brother tapping the spines of the books fifteen feet away. He wants to keep quiet. Wants to walk to the door and slam out into the hall. That's what he wants to do; what he thinks he should do; but instead he says, pushing his hands through his curls, "I'm not sorry I punched you."
"Fine. That's fine."
There's a long pause, and in that pause there's the hallways of the Southern Isles; there's games of hide-and-seek; there's lessons; there's sneaking out when the palace is asleep, and the fires have died down; there's drinking his first ale in a back-tavern, the liquid burning like fire down his throat.
And then there's nothing.
"I meant to tell you," Felix says. "Sooner or later."
Albert snorts. The cut across his stomach throbs. He finally looks up at the man-who-was-his-brother, the bleached hair, the tanned skin, the sharp eyes, the piercings—nothing royal about him. Nothing to mark him as being Albert's brother, except his word, and those eyes. Albert asks, "How many?" He's proud his voice doesn't shake. He's angry, and that's why. Everything is barreling down to those intervening years where Felix had left him and Fredrik with the wolves. "How many knew?"
"Just Lukas," Felix says quickly. "That's it. For logistical purposes. I—" He stops, rubbing the back of his neck. "I wasn't supposed to turn into a pirate." He laughs. "But then that thing off the coast of Spain happened, and I met Mira."
It hurts, like glass in his chest, cutting up his insides. Yes, I didn't care about you after all. Just like the rest. Albert says, but without much feeling, "Mira?"
He thinks of Elsa, lying in her room, hands bandaged and powers gone, and her eyes had glittered dully, sadly, but there was something there, in the very back, something almost hidden but not dead, not yet. Steel. Fire. Call it what you wanted. And he couldn't help her, not really.
He felt so useless.
"I—how've you been?"
Albert laughs, bitter, caustic. He finally meets Felix's eyes. "Fantastic, really great," he says, choking on his sarcasm. "Viktor and Tomas enjoyed beating me up, after you left. Fredrik joined up with Marcel. And Hans—" Albert throws up his hands.
"That boy has been a lost cause for a long time, Albert, don't put that on yourself."
"That's how we treat each other, is it? Everyone's a lost cause, because it's too much work to try and fix them."
"That's not what I—"
"Shut up. That's exactly what you meant. It's what we always mean." Albert remembers Hans breaking the nose of the servant when he didn't get his way and his grin, when he gives it, is fractured around the edges. "He wasn't always like this."
"He chose to be like this, just like Viktor and Tomas and Niels and Alfons chose to be like they are—"
"Product of circumstances, though, don't you think—environment and—"
"And then there's you, who is—was there for us until suddenly you're weren't—"
"Something tells me we're on different pages, here—"
"Why did you leave?" If he wasn't so hyper-aware that this was Elsa's library, that she touched and own everything in it, then he would have long ago thrown something. Something heavy and big, just because he was about to burst and couldn't handle it anymore.
Felix smiles bitterly. His hands are hanging limply at his sides. He doesn't belong in this library, and Albert can tell—he's too gull-ship-ocean for it, too bleeding around the edges, too rough and ragged. "Because I'm a fucking coward who would rather run away from his family than try to change it."
Albert stares at him, almost incredulous.
"It was too much, Al," Felix's voice cracks, and his hands raise, and he shrugs. The old nickname rolls easily from his tongue. "Too much of a power struggle. I didn't care. I didn't want the title, or the crown. So I left."
"That's a—a horrible reason."
"I know." Felix shrugs. "I'm selfish. What can I say." He cants his head, piercings jingling. "I didn't regret it, at first. I didn't regret it for a long time. There's nothing like the ocean, Albert—just—freedom."
Albert jerks his head towards the closed door. "And you found a new family."
Felix doesn't deny it. Just says, "I regret it now."
"You regret that you were a coward."
He sighs. "Yes. I suppose."
His anger is fading, sloughing away like a second skin. He's just tired. He looks at the door and thinks of Elsa beyond it. He asks, "Are you going to be a coward now? Are you going to run away again?"
Felix snorts. "Mira wouldn't let me." Pause. "Besides, I'm tired of running. And Anna and the queen—" he shrugs. "Seems to me like they've had a hard enough life. They don't deserve this."
Albert stares hard, but he can't find a hint of a lie in Felix's eyes, just weary acceptance.
Felix asks, "Do—can you forgive me?"
Albert is taken aback, for a moment, two. He shrugs. "Maybe some day. Not right now."
Felix's grin is sharp. "I'll take it."
Anna stands with her back to the door and looks at her sister lying on the bed and asks, "Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you tell me?"
Elsa stares at the ceiling. "Because it doesn't matter." She turns her head, looking flushed and sick against the pillows. There's a half-smile playing across her lips.
"Elsa!" Anna stamps her foot and clenches her fist. It's the most she can think to say, to do. The room is crowded with a mess of debris and that stupid navy canopy that she hates with a burning, fiery passion. "It does matter, stop pretending like it doesn't! Look, we're going to fix this, ok? You're obviously not feeling well, and you look like you've been hit by a sleigh, but I'm sure Grand Pabbie could fix you up, I mean, he seems pretty wise, you know, and the trolls are great at fixing people up—"
"Anna," Elsa says firmly. There's nothing in her voice. Anna's teeth clack together. She takes her left hand in her right and gives a helpless sort of shrug. Elsa gingerly pats the bed.
Anna asks, as she picks her way through the remnants of the wardrobe and dresses, "Do you need help with your water?" There's a full glass sitting on her nightstand. She almost manages to knock it over as she slides the last few steps and collapses in a heap across the end of her sister's bed; Elsa is shaking her head.
"Can I do anything?" Anna asks, and she hates how small and, like, whiny she sounds, but honestly, all she did, all she ever did, was mess things up or not do anything at all or get herself fake-killed—
"You can sit here, with me." Elsa struggles upward, propping herself gingerly on the pillows behind her with minimal use of her bandage hands. "Keep me company."
"Ok." Anna bites her lip.
"Kristoff's gone," Elsa says after a beat, two.
"I know," Anna replies, scrubbing her hands over her knees. The crystal pulses warmly at her throat. "Kai told me. He's ok though, right? I mean, he's—he's fine, you know, he's probably out harvesting. Blowing off some steam." She tugs at one of her braids. "When was the last time you saw him?"
Elsa says, "At your funeral."
"Huh," Anna replies, like that's a normal thing to tell someone, but mostly she's trying to forget about the Kristoff-shaped hole in her life. "Was it a good funeral?"
"No," Elsa shakes her head.
"Too bad. You really missed the opportunity to spill all my dark secrets, sis."
"You don't have any."
"I have tons! I secretly have chocolate making magic, and I might turn the whole palace into spun sugar if you don't stop me—" she clams up, thinking that maybe that was in poor taste, but Elsa manages a small laugh.
"I'd much rather have been born with that power."
"Is it—are they really gone, Elsa?"
Her sister stares intently at her bandaged hands. She says, "There's something missing, in my chest. And I feel too hot. I can't call the ice—it used to be as natural as breathing." She shuts her eyes, lets out a long sigh. "I don't miss it though," she finishes firmly.
"Liar," Anna calls, and she wants to say we'll get them back, we'll reverse this, we'll send those stupid jerks packing but then she doesn't want to, because they might all be lies if she does.
So she settles for saying nothing at all.
"If it's magic," Felix flings his hands wildly through his hair, "there's nothing we can do. I'm not remotely magically, and neither is anyone on my crew, or you, or Anna."
"He can't have just taken them away," Albert replies, tugging on one of his own curls and squeezing his eyes shut. "If she was born with the powers, then they're—ingrained, right? How could you—erase that—"
"Melt it. They gave Hans some strange mumbo-jumbo." Felix pauses. "Damn."
"You can't think of anything?"
"Well I don't know, Albert, do you think that because I've seen more of the world than you that I'm the magic expert? Here, let me pull out my Big Book of All Things Magical, and we can look up the cure—"
"Wait, stop." Albert springs to his feet, hitting his head on the mantel of the fireplace. He winces. "Ow, ok, that's—what did you just say?"
"We can look up the cure?"
Albert waves his hand. "Before that."
"You want I should find the Big Book of All Things Magical? Albert, I'm sorry to inform you, but that doesn't exist—"
"A book! But not a book," Albert snaps his fist into the palm of his waiting hand and takes a clumsy step forward excitedly, "a diary."
"Excuse me? You are not reading my diary."
"Not—no, I—oh, just come on."
The handle of Elsa's door moves once, twice, and she lies there, feeling helpless as a newborn against the pillows, and closes her eyes, because she didn't want to see anyone, not now, but the door cracks open and—
"Elsa? I brought you some cookies! I wish I could try them, but I don't have very many teeth."
The tip of Olaf's pointed nose, and then his bright eyes and large smile, spill into her room. He's got a platter of cookies balanced precariously on his little stick-hands, but the whole thing tips and falls once he sees—
The snowman barrels forward and collides with Anna's knees. Anna laughs.
"Albert was telling the truth, you're alive!" Olaf steps back and claps his hands, then forces her to her feet and begins a thorough examination of her hands and legs. "Are you hurt? Huh? Huh? Did you fall off the same cliff Marshmallow kicked me off? Is there—"
"Olaf," Anna laughs, and then double-takes at him dramatically. "Olaf, your flurry!"
The little snowman glances up at the cloud cover above him, smile almost too big for his face, and then flexes his fingers. "Yeah. Why?"
"It's still there!"
"Elsa—" Anna turns to her then, a bundle of nerves and energy clacking over the bed. She practically falls on top of her, like when they were kids, and she only just manages to raise her injured hands above her head, stiff and broken in their bindings, before Anna's pinching her cheeks in her hands and saying, "Your powers are still there because Olaf is still here!" Then, turning around: "Olaf, I could kiss you!"
"Elsa's powers are gone?" The snowman gasps.
"No, no, no, everything's fine, we just gotta find them again, don't you see? Ok, Elsa," Anna orders, sitting back and crossing her arms, "just look really deep inside yourself and find them. I know they're there."
Elsa feels her mouth falling open. She manages, "But I can't."
She's looked. She's tried. That entire time, rocking on the ship, she spent it trying to figure out where her curse came from, why it wasn't coming back, why this, and why that, but there was nothing, a void—
Yet Olaf, staring at her with a worried expression—
"Don't you see," she repeats, almost desperately, letting her hands fall to her lap. "I can't."
Albert slides to a stop at the entrance to the hall of portraits. There's the book, where he dropped it, spine pitted with age and cover practically falling off. The pages, inside, are a molded yellow, and the ink on them is a tight cursive that's hard to read.
Behind him Felix says, "That? Really?"
"I only had just started it—" Albert flips to the front cover, scanning quickly, "but there was—interesting things—here—"
He points to the first page, where someone had written: A N in large, neat print, most of the word smudged out, and then, beneath that, in the tight scrawl of the rest of the work, and added at a later date, in darker ink: the first queen of Arendelle.
"No, there's—this'll help. If there's stuff about how this place came to be—so if Elsa was born with her powers, then maybe the answer lies in here." He claps the book up and looks expectantly at his brother, and for a second he's eight and he's caught a lizard and Felix is congratulating him and then they let it go in the back garden nothing's happen. He gets to his feet.
Felix nods. "It is worth, as they say, a shot."
"Leave the ships," the king says. "We'll take my vessel."
"And the excess men?"
"Have them shot. And quickly. We must reach Arendelle while the queen is still powerless."
"Oh, there's no need to fear on that front," Niels says grimly. "I do my job well."
The king looks down at Hans, shivering and half-delusional on the bed, and says, "I would not be so sure of that."
There's a knock on the half-open door. Elsa glances over, trying not to get caught in the wave of Anna's enthusiasm. Albert is there, standing uncertainly in the hall, and she can just make out the tip of his curls. He's eyeing the cookies spilled over her already mangled floor with confusion. Felix is peering over his shoulder, and he says, sadly, "What a waste."
Elsa takes in Albert's face and she feels a little less hollow, which is strange, all things considered.
She manages, "Yes?"
"Can I—may I—" he tugs at the sleeve of his tunic. "May I come in?"
"Too polite, brother," Felix drawls behind him, giving him a shove, and then the two are tumbling inside, the door pushed shut behind them. Anna deadpans, "Not enough polite."
Felix grins. He picks a cookie off the ground and begins to eat it.
"I—found something," Albert begins, hands nervously flitting over the book in his hands. He steps closer to her bedside, and if she wasn't so tired, so, so tired, she would hate for him to see her like this. "Something that might help with your powers."
"Funny," Anna struggles to her feet, dusting off her hands, "we were just talking about—"
"IT'S ALIVE!" Felix shouts. It's more of a screech, Elsa thinks, but she also doesn't think the pirate would like to have his actions described as such. As it is, he turns smartly on his heels and manages to hit his head on the wall instead of finding the door.
Olaf waves. "Hi, I'm Olaf."
"Don't be a baby," Anna sighs, going over to Felix like a weary mother hen and dragging him to his feet.
"I told you all about—"
"I didn't actually think—"
"Well, then, you're an idiot—"
"It's a diary," Albert begins, stepping closer and ignoring the two behind him. He holds out an old book, balanced on the palms of his hands, and he looks so proud of himself that Elsa can't help but manage a half-grin.
"Your diary?" she croaks, forgetting, for a moment, the pain of her hands and the hollow in her chest.
"What?" he flushes. "No! That's—Elsa. It's the diary of the first queen of Arendelle."
Elsa frowns. "That can't be right. I'm sure someone would have mentioned it before now."
"It says so, right here." He cracks the book open to the first page and shows her the neat, printed script. She's already shaking her head.
"Can't be," Anna says from behind him, bickering on a low ebb. "They would've made us study that during history lessons if it was."
"See, brother?" Felix breaks in, close enough to clap Albert across the back, hard enough that he stumbles forward and lands awkwardly half on the bed and close enough that she can see flecks of brown in his eyes. She feels her own widening. He flushes. Felix continues, nonplussed, "You can't believe everything you read. This is why I, myself, do not condone the practice."
"Yes, princess lady ma'am?"
"Yes, princess lady ma'am."
"No, but, um, see," Albert scrambles back to his feet, face flaming, flipping through the first couple of pages. "If it belonged to the first queen," he gestures to the front of the book, "then it should chronicle the founding of Arendelle, and I think it might have a clue as to the source of your—powers," he finishes, lamely, shoulders slumping, and Elsa can't bear the thought of spending the next few days alone, in her room, with nothing but her thoughts to keep her company, so she says, "Why don't we read it, then?"
"Elsa, no!" Anna says, crossing her arms. "We have to find out where your powers went, not where they came from!"
"This'll help, I know it," Albert breaks in.
Elsa asks, "How did you find it?"
"You told me to read," he smiles, quick as a flash, "so I did."
"Well, then, let's all pull up a chair. Or a broken piece of wood." Felix collapses on the floor. "I, for one, am ready for a good story."
Anna takes up residence at the foot of her bed, looking less-than-happy. Albert opens the book once more, still standing rather awkwardly a few feet away, and she pats the useless curve of her hand against the bed next to her and, softly, so softly—"Why don't you sit?"
"Are—I mean, yes. Ok. Of course." He stumbles forward a bit and perches gingerly on the edge of the bed, setting the book in his lap and focusing on it intently. Enough that she can stare at the crooked bent of his nose without his noticing. She doesn't fail to see Anna rolling her eyes.
Albert coughs once, then licks his lips. "Ok, um, let's—let's begin."
This is the only thing I saved. Papa says that I won't have time to write in it, but Mama gave me a candle, so I can at night. I don't know where she got it from. Our house is very small, but maybe the people who lived here before us had some candles. Mama says we're going to need to learn how to make them. Papa says the cold won't let us have wax. I say I have a candle now, so later doesn't matter.
I must go fetch some wood.
Papa says usually the snows have stopped by now, and he doesn't know why they haven't yet. He says we're lucky we made it through the storm. I didn't like being on the ship. I don't like ships.
I can hear Papa. I have to go.
The snow has stopped, but there is ice covering everything. Mama looked at the clouds after breakfast this morning and said that more would come later. She knows these things, but I don't know how. Like, she says how we are living in a dell, and she says this because she says dells are small valleys surrounded by trees and we've just replaced the trees for mountains. There are trees though.
Papa finally let Mama and I go to the village, and I met a lot of nice people. The houses are like ours, just closer together—there are no big castles, like I remember there being back home. Papa says I must stop calling the back-there home, because it is not home anymore, because we don't live there anymore. But I liked it more. It was warmer, and there were always candles. I did not have to go and fetch the wood. Doing that makes my hands bleed.
Papa says all these people need to bring them to greatness is a leader. He says that even though we were banished from our old home, we can still be royalty here.
Mama says to stop saying such things. She says the people here are good and hard-working. They harvest ice, and they raise reindeer, and they're a sturdy folk. She says we should learn to be like them and put the past behind us.
Papa did not look happy.
Mama was sick this morning. She told me that she was expecting a child. I said she was lying, because I could see her stomach, and it was flat. She said she wasn't very "far along," but that soon she would be. I said, does Papa know, and she said, not yet. I don't know if she wants Papa to know, and I don't understand why. I don't much want a sibling. I like having Mama all to myself.
She says she hopes it will be a girl. I said, if it's a girl, can we name her Hanna. Hanna was my best friends name in the before. I'm hoping that if I name my sister that, she will become my best friend, too.
Mama told Papa she was pregnant, and he asked, how long? Only he sounded very angry as he asked that—I know he was angry, because he gets very still and very quiet when he's angry, and that's what he was like. She said that she had known since before the banishment, but that she hadn't been sure the baby survived the crossing until recently.
Papa slammed the door then. I think he went into the forest, but he forgot his gloves, and had to come back. He said, when he did, that he was getting more firewood, only when he came back he didn't have any, and I had to go out and fetch some, because our fire was running low.
Mama got some fur from Trader Sam in town, and she made us a big cozy blanket with it.
Papa says that the snow should have stopped by now. I said that I heard the villagers saying that the snow never stopped in this dell, and he said that couldn't be, that that wasn't possible. And I said it was possible, because the villagers told me so, and they've been living here longer than us. And he said I was being rude, and to go to bed.
I went into the village today, because Mama wanted me to trade one of her bracelets for more food. It was sad, because it was a beautiful bracelet—it was my favorite, and Mama knew, and she said she would've asked "your father" or done it herself, and I said no, it's alright.
I walked the path from our house to the village. It cuts through two little hills that are always white with snow. It used to belong to an old farmer, but he died, and the villagers say they found his body frozen solid one day, sitting in the front door, and he was grinning, but I think they're just saying that to scare me. It doesn't. I'm not scared.
Anyway, I walked down the hill and into town. There's a dirt square, but it's always covered in snow, and a few buildings, and a tavern, but I haven't been able to go in there yet. Old Lady Mags was out there to trade, and as I was showing her Mama's bracelet—such a pretty thing, with rubies and gold—I asked, "Is it true it's always winter here?"
And she spit to one side and her spit froze before it hit the ground. (Or, at least, I think it did.) She said, "What did you expect, when you came to this dell?"
"It never snowed all the time back home."
"'Course not. You ain't have no mountain spirit cursing your land."
And she pointed behind her, at the North Mountain, which is curved a bit and looks like a claw. She said, "The spirit of the peak lives there, and she's what makes it snow eternal."
I said, "Well, why does no one stop her?"
Old Lady Mags laughed.
I said, "Well, why does nobody leave?"
Old Lady Mags laughed again. She took the bracelet and broke it in half. (That made me sad.) She gave me half and then a whole bundle of dried food, and she said, "Nothing past those mountains, and we've long since been a folk who've given up on sailing. We're trapped here."
I went back home with the food and the bracelet. Mama said, for now, I could keep it.
Papa is giving me lessons in diplomacy.
He started yesterday, and he was talking about treaties, but then I told him it wouldn't matter, because we weren't royalty anymore.
He hit me.
It hurt, but Mama put ice on it and said it was important to listen to him.
So I will.
I can't write as much as I want to. Papa is teaching me diplomacy and I still have to find wood. Mama is getting bigger. She's all round around the center, but she's too thin, I think. I'm going to bring my bracelet half back to Old Lady Mags tomorrow and get some more food.
Old Lady Mags is dead.
I traded my bracelet to Christian and he gave me three rabbits and half a deer for it. Papa skinned the rabbits, and Mama lined my gloves with new fur.
I miss my bracelet.
It's my birthday. Mama made a cake, and it was the first cake we've had since it happened, and it was wonderful. There was even icing on it. I ate two whole slices. Papa went to bed early, but Mama and I stayed up, and she told me about where she grew up. I asked her if she believed what the villagers said, about the spirit of the mountain cursing the land to eternal winter, and she said she couldn't say.
Sometimes I think it's true. Sometimes I think it's true because when I'm trying to go to bed, late at night, I hear the whispering through my window—
Songs of ice and snow.
Mama fell today. I don't know how it happened, but Papa was in town for more food. He never hunts, because he says it's beneath him. I had to get Mama back to her bed all by myself, and it was hard, because even though she's thin, she's heavy with the baby. I asked if she needed anything and she said water. She said she'd be ok, that the baby had just kicked. I asked if I could feel, and she said of course, and I felt it kick.
I hope it's a girl.
Mama is dead.
I don't care.
Papa hit me again, because I couldn't get the baby to be quiet, but Mama wasn't here to stop the bleeding, so I bled all over my dress. No one is here to make me new dresses, anymore. Papa says we shouldn't have to anyway, because we're royalty. I told him we aren't royalty anymore, and the sooner he got that through his head, the better. Then I ran outside before he could catch me and box my ears. I shouldn't have left the baby alone with him.
But he wouldn't hurt a baby, right?
The baby had a cough, and I was afraid she wouldn't last through the night. I made the fire up real high, and sat up with her the whole time while Papa slept.
It's been a year.
I want to write down what happened so I don't forget it.
There was a coup, back in our kingdom. Papa taught me what a coup was a week ago, so I know. You don't say the 'p.' He got really angry when he was talking about it. He said that his brother betrayed him. I remember that there was a lot of fire, and shouting, and Mama grabbed me roughly by the hand and pulled me through one of the side passages. It led from my room to the front gates, and I'd been forbidden from using it. Then Uncle led us to the harbor and gave us a boat with a few supplies and said we could never come back.
I'm not as sad as I used to be. I used to miss everybody, and not having to do things, but I like the villagers here just enough. And we're over the worst of this never-ending winter, and the baby survived.
All is good.
The light dips beneath the horizon, causing the words to bleed and blur together. Anna is snoring. Albert looks across at Elsa and finds her asleep, too, something like peace playing out across her face, and he smiles. He gently shuts the book. When he looks up, Felix is grinning at him knowingly.
"Oh, brother. You've got it bad."
"Shall we, um, pick it up—where we left off?"
"Alright, let's—It's been a year—"
"Past that," Anna says blithely, trying to get two pieces of the wardrobe to fit together. Outside the sun is shining brightly. "Next one."
"Oh, right." Albert adjusts his position on the bed and smiles sheepishly at Elsa. "Let's just—here."
I want to go into town but my eye is black, so I can't. I'm out of candles.
Papa says he's tired of living like peasants. Earlier today, he said he had a plan to get us to be royalty, again, but I don't believe him and I don't want it. I want warmer clothes for the baby and more food. I'm so hungry.
We've been out of food for two days, and the baby won't stop crying, so I had to go hunt. It was the first time I've ever tried, and I took Papa's knife that one of the villagers gave him when we first got here. I went the back way, out of the house, and I walked aways into the trees, and then I stood still, and waited, because I think that's what you're supposed to do on hunt, only there wasn't anything coming out. Just a lot of snow and ice. But I heard the wind singing, again, and it was pretty, and it seemed to lead me to a berry patch that the ice had somehow missed. I gathered a whole basketful, and I kept half for ourselves, and fed some to the baby. Then I went into town and traded them, and people liked them more than that ruby bracelet. I got two full deer, some cheese, and a loaf of bread.
All for some stupid berries.
Papa said he was beginning to believe the rumors of the mountain spirit. He left two days ago for the woods. I've been with the baby. She likes me, now. I think she thinks I'm her mother.
I miss Mama.
Papa is still thinking about his trip to the mountains. He came back some time ago, but all he does now is sit at the table in the kitchen and look out the window. He doesn't even help with the wood. So now I have to get up and get the wood and feed the baby and do everything, and I'm tired.
Papa forgot my birthday.
I'm fifteen, now.
I spent it with the baby, and we talked all night.
It was grand.
News! Actual news!
A caravan of merchants and gypsies came over the mountain pass! It's the first we've ever gotten, and even sour-faced Christian was excited—I watched them rattle into town with the baby on my hip. They were bundled up in furs and patterned clothes and pretty, long dresses from the cold, and the women all wore their hair plaited. (I tried to do the same to my hair, when I got home, but I couldn't manage it.) They brought supplies with them, and even put on a small show for us—the village managed to pull together a sort of feast for everyone in the tavern later that evening! Papa didn't want to go, but I did. He was in a rare mood, and said he would watch the baby for the night.
The tavern was very crowded, but that meant it was very warm. I watched everyone dance in the center of the room, and then—oh, you'll never guess—someone asked me to dance! He was a boy and he had tanned skin and dark hair and dark eyes.
I danced with him, but I never got his name.
I hope I see him again.
Night falls, day breaks. Anna groans when Albert enters Elsa's room once more, at the slowly-becoming-appointed-time.
"Aren't we almost done with that thing?"
"Oh, please," Felix drawls lightly behind him. "You love it."
Albert meets Elsa's eyes. He tries to smile, hopeful, tries to convey that today will be the day we find something, but he isn't so sure, and he knows they're running out of time.
Without another word, he begins.
The visitors said that we should try and appease the mountain spirit. That maybe then this winter would stop.
I wonder if they're right?
The window shutter got open in the night and froze one of our walls. It's taken me all afternoon to dry it out.
I hate today.
I haven't written in awhile, because I've been so busy.
The boy's name is Markus.
He's very good with animals, but most especially reindeers, and he's been showing me all the tricks to surviving in the forest. He tells the most wonderful stories, about far off kingdoms and daring sword fights and princes in disguise. I could listen to him talk all day.
I asked him if he and his people were planning on leaving anytime soon.
He said the journey into the dell was hard, and he didn't think they could afford to. Then he looked at me funny and said, "Besides, I'm not sure I want to."
Father has me at the lessons again. He says he's planning something big, and it's more important than ever that I understand the workings of the state. He says when he was a child, he didn't have the luxury of free time.
I want to tell him that I don't have that luxury either.
The baby walked today. More trouble for me, then.
Markus says he knows of places that celebrate the spirits around this time of year. He says that they honor their dead, and try to hide from the demons by wearing masks. I wonder, if I wore a mask, if I could hide from this winter. I don't remember what the sun—true sun, warm and hot—feels like.
I also wonder if I would see Mama.
Markus kissed me behind the blacksmith's. It was snowing, and he tasted of what I imagine the woods would taste like.
I enjoy kissing.
Father says he knows how to stop this winter. He told me that, and then he left.
The baby said her first word. I don't know if that's late to speak, or early. She got in trouble not two days ago, for getting into our dwindling supply of milk and leaving it out of doors. It froze solid, and now we have nothing.
Markus asked me to run away with him. I said I wouldn't know where to go. He said it didn't matter, just so long as we went somewhere. I said we couldn't get past the mountains, anyway. He said I had little faith.
It was our first argument.
All is well with Markus.
I kissed it better.
Father back. Won't speak of it.
Father told me his plan.
I feel sick.
When I was ill in the kitchen, he told me I better have more resolve.
I tried to find Markus, but I couldn't. I want to run away. I think I have enough faith now.
Father called a meeting of the village. Everyone gathered in the tavern. He got on a stool behind the bar and stood towering over everyone, and made me stand at his side, holding onto the baby. I kept looking around for Markus, and found him by the door, and couldn't stop looking at him the rest of the time.
"Gentlemen," my father began, and his voice boomed, and it is what I imagine he would've had to sound like as a king. "Ladies. For too long we've been under the thumb of this oppressive winter—forced into near poverty and starvation by a spirit to whom we have done no wrong!"
There was a murmur of agreement, but no one looked much convinced of anything.
"Fortunately, and after an arduous journey of discovery—I know how to end it."
Everyone scoffed at that. There was a lot of yelling. It frightened the baby, and she buried her head in my skirts. I patted her hair.
"You're a liar!" someone shouted. Lots of others agreed. Markus looked intently with his dark eyes at Father's face.
Father did not rise to the objections. Instead he straightened the tails of his coat and said, after the room had quieted, "I merely wanted you to know where the impetus came from, when spring does come." Then he stepped down from his stool. "Come."
I followed, because I didn't want to get hit in front of everyone. I stared at Markus all the way out, because I'm afraid it'll be the last time I see him. He's very handsome.
Father says that the spirit of the mountain is so angry because she isn't human, like the rest of us. She can't feel the joys and pleasures of it. He says he's going to offer her a deal—a human host, for the end of the eternal winter.
I am to be the human host.
Today is to be the day. Father says the baby will be fine for the time we'll be gone, so long as we lock the door from the outside. I'm not so sure, but he doesn't want anyone to know where we're going.
He says that I'll soon be a savior, that I'll be the one to raise the family line back to royalty. He says that he's going to start a new kingdom, right here, to rival the one his brother stole from him, and he's going to name it after me, after my sacrifice. I don't think it's fair. The value in sacrifices comes from their selflessness, and I'm not selfless about this.
Father will not listen. He's prepared for a journey into the woods. We're going to find the heart of the mountain, and the spirit that lives there. Right now he is saying we must go.
"Arendelle," he mused earlier. "It has a nice ring to it, does it not, Aren?"
"Woah, woah, woah, hold up," Anna stops Albert's narration, holding up her hands and raising her eyebrows. Outside the sky had turned violet or something, and the light was fading, and this whole story was making her depressed and still no progress on the powers front—"Are you saying her name was Aren?"
"Yes?" Albert licks his lips. He re-reads the entry he had just gone over, silently, mouthing the words, and Anna is already shaking her head because no, just—
"That can't be right. Hanna was the first queen of Arendelle. Everyone knows that. Duh."
Albert shifts uncomfortably, perched as he is on the edge of Elsa's bed, and Anna thinks he's just a teensy bit too close, but whatever—he points down at the page. "But that's what it says. Right here. Aren."
Anna looks past Albert's foppish curls to meet Elsa's eyes rather incredulously. "We've been listening to a sham this whole time," she begins, sending a wild point in Felix's direction. "He was right. We need to quit reading!"
"Maybe there's a mistake—a second-half of the diary," Albert tries, "belonging to the actual queen—an—"
Anna watches, blinking in disbelief, as Elsa sits up. Her eyebrows are drawn, and she's almost-glaring at her hands. Anna asks, "Elsa? Are you ok?"
"It's possible to erase people from history, isn't it?" she asks, and Anna rolls her eyes.
"You don't actually believe—Elsa! We don't have time for—"
"Yes," Felix yawns, from his lounge in a pile of dresses. "We erase rulers all the time. Four kings ago. We called him Better off Dead—"
Elsa struggles to push the blankets from her with useless hands, and Anna shakes her head. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Following," Elsa grimaces as her hands jostle together; Albert springs almost-comically to his feet, "a hunch."
The hallway is bathed in growing shadows, reaching like crooked knuckle joints from every corner. Elsa stands at the entrance to it for a moment, two; it feels to her as if every pair of eyes is straining to glare her way—to glare at the ragged queen in the wrinkled dress with the burnt hands.
I'm the queen.
It had been like a feather touch at the back of her memory; she had found it so long ago, a lifetime ago, when things were still looking—hopeful—
Elsa feels Anna at one shoulder and Felix behind her; Albert is standing to her right, book clutched tightly to his chest. That book. That diary. Elsa says, softly, "This way." She enters the hall of portraits, quick steps all the way to the end in a way that makes her breath come quickly—she hasn't been this active in days, and the hollowness in her chest is threatening to swallow her whole.
She stops in front of the painting. Faded, and old, despite the lack of direct sunlight, in the style of the time—broad, loose brushstrokes. There is a feeling of purples and whites, elegance—a sharp-nosed man and his softer bride. Queen Hanna and King Rolf, the first rules of Arendelle. Hanna, who should have written the diary, but who hadn't, and there, the cracked oil in the bottom left corner, something white and shining through the dark navy—
Before she can think, she brings her hands up to scratch at the chipping paint. Her bandages touch the surface, but her nails are hidden, and she can't bend her fingers without pain. She steps back quickly, settling for pressing her arms close to her body, and says, with a small jerk of her chin, "There. Someone painted over another picture." She licks her lips. "Albert, will you—"
"What? Oh, yeah, sure I—here." He hands her the book, and she cradles it in the crook of her elbow, and Felix smirks, "This should be interesting." Albert approaches the picture, squinting at the small speck of white peering through the bottom corner. He brings his hands up to the painting, then pauses, then drops them; he does it again. He looks up at the two rulers in the picture. Then he scrubs his hands through his hair and turns around and says, "It just seems so sacrilegious—"
"Oh, here," Anna sighs, "I'll do it."
Her sister bumps Albert out of the way and then vigorously begins scrubbing at the corner, nails chipping the oil, dying the pads of her fingers navy.
"I hate navy," she grumbles, and it's such an Anna statement that Elsa smiles, small, quick. "So do you think," her sister continues, biting her tongue between her teeth in concentration, "that if we found the heart of the North Mountain, we'd find a way to get your powers back?"
"Is that—is it dangerous?" Albert asks, glancing at her. Elsa blinks.
"Isn't everything?" Felix drawls, then: "You're making too slow a job of it, here." He steps forward, beginning to help Anna scrub. Elsa takes an almost-involuntary step backwards, and then glances behind her, at the stern painting of her parents. She focuses her attention elsewhere, but can feel them, a physical presence at her back. Albert steps closer, gently taking the diary from her hands.
"Do you have any idea where it might be?" he asks, voice low, so that Felix and Anna can't hear them over their bickering. Elsa shakes her head.
"No. The area's huge, and even if we did find it," she wants to clench her fists, but can't, "there'd be no guarantee that the spirit of the mountain still even existed." She sighs. "What a mess."
Albert cocks a half-grin. "But actually."
"Was there anything else? Past that entry?" Elsa moves her arm in the direction of the book. Albert opens it, skimming the pages. He flattens his lips.
"The last thing is—I am afraid. Then blank pages," he flutters through the end of the book. "But she—somebody went back and wrote the Queen of Arendelle at the beginning of this thing, so it had to work—"
"I wonder what happened to her," Elsa muses, softly, quietly, looking at the increasingly destroyed painting and trying not to feel bad that she was erasing someone's legacy. "They tried to blot her out of everything."
"I found the diary pushed behind a copy of The Odyssey and Beowulf, and only because I was looking for things to get my mind off of—" he pauses.
She looks at her feet. "Off of what?"
"Well, you know. You doing something stupid."
"I have your gloves."
"Elsa, you really gotta look at this," Anna says, rather breathlessly. Elsa tries to ignore the strange stuttering of her heart and looks up at the painting and her mouth drops open.
The corners are still a bleeded navy, but the majority of the paint was seeping into Anna and Felix's hands, revealing a white throne room beneath it. There's a girl standing in the center of the frame, and in one hand she holds the golden globe, and in the other the scepter. Her skin is pale, as pale as Elsa's had been before the—and her hair is white, and her expression is utterly, horrible familiar, because it's one that Elsa herself had worn countless other times—
The loose brushstrokes that marked Hanna and Rolf's painting are no more. There's a tightness in the lines of the work. Elsa finds herself stepping closer, closer—
"Is that Aren?" Anna breathes.
Felix says, after a cough, "Well, I imagine it worked."
Elsa can only stare.
"So if you can find where this dove went to make the deal with the mountain spirit," Felix starts, pauses, then: "you can find the source of your powers."
The figure looks so familiar that it hurts.
Anna says, "If only Kristoff were here, he'd know where the heart of the North Mountain was. Stupid jerk, leaving us to—wait. Wait. Kristoff."
Elsa breaks out of her reverie, turning to look at her sister. Anna's eyes are wide and she keeps pointing to her forehead and then—
"I know where it is."