Warnings: literary allusions, Norse mythology references,
Characters: Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Pabbie, OC
Pairing: Anna x Kristoff (background)
Summary: Elsa had thought she was quite done with these matters. But, as the pile of perfumed letters on her desk attested, there was still a fair interest in her hand.
Ao3 | FF.net
Elsa, Queen of Arendelle, looked with dread and mild outrage upon the small, delicate pile of perfumed parchment that lay upon her desk. Had she no manners at all and even less understanding of the consequences of such a rash action, she would have long ago tossed the offending papers into the fireplace without so much as a second glance. Duty, however, stayed her hand.
“I would have thought that I was finished with such things,” she murmured, more to herself than any other, as she lifted one of the missives.
It smelled of lilac and the corners of the parchment were decorated in white carnations, daffodils, and chestnut. A red and white rose were entwined along the leading edge of the page and she had not even needed to look further beyond that: the meaning of the message was already painfully obvious and, beneath, were easily a dozen more just like it.
This was not entirely unexpected. It had never been a secret that one day she would have to consider suitors to continue their royal line, but with the revelation of her unique gifts, she had hoped that some of the more, ah, ardent lines of inquiry would lose interest. How sorely mistaken she was!
Perhaps, she mused, she should respond with a simple yellow carnation to all of these, as she had done years ago. It would be so terribly easy.
“Your majesty, at least consider them this time,” her advisor implored, “If only for Arendelle’s sake.”
He looked weary and aged, more so than she had ever thought to consider before. Behind him, high above, the portrait of her parents quietly gazed down on her, forever as they once were in her memories. In the distance, she could hear Anna approaching with Kristoff, laughing about their wedding plans. Olaf’s voice rose between them, a cheery childlike wonder to it.
Duty pressed on her like a shroud and, outside, the sky rumbled, dark clouds gathering in the distance. There was thunder in the snow, mirroring the storm in her heart.
It was an unfair position that she was in, to be sure, but… she understood. She had promised to protect Arendelle and she had already proven her conviction in that matter. What was this but one more step on that path?
She drew in a deep breath, sighing, and the storm flickered, thinned, and vanished.
“Don’t worry,” she told her advisor at last, “I will not reject them out of hand.”
She rather doubted she would consider any of them at all.
“How many does that make now?” Anna asked, picking up one of the letters by the corner and examining it.
Elsa sighed, slumping forward on her desk. “I’m fairly sure every kingdom with even one eligible son managed to send a request for consideration.”
Anna shuddered, making an unpleasant face, and dropped the letter back onto the pile. “I’m sorry, Elsa.”
She paused then, hopping up to sit on the edge of the desk, and plucked one of the letters out from under Elsa’s nose. “Maybe you should get away from these for a bit, hm? Gerda’s making her famous hot chocolate.”
At that, Elsa raised her head. Then, her eyes again fell on the pile of letters and she sighed, slumping back down in despair. “I have to do something about these.”
“Hot chocolate first,” Anna said, sagely, “Then we’ll figure out how to get rid of these together.”
“Hot chocolate,” Elsa agreed with a grateful smile.
For a while, the letters were forgotten as the sisters turned to talk of other things. There was a wedding to plan, after all, and there were always matters of state that required addressing. In the distance, storm clouds had begun to gather over the north mountains, and, every now and again, a cold wind loudly rattled the casements, heralding the blizzard to come. It would not be long before the snow began to fall in earnest. Little by little, the day drifted into night and the storm grew closer, servants stirring the hearths and lighting the lamps as the hours passed ever onwards.
In the evening, Elsa retired to her study to read. She had chosen an old book, The Tale of the Knight of the Swan. It was a handsome thing, the old leather dyed deep blue and gilded with embossed swans.
The letters remained neatly stacked, just out of the corner of her eye.
Idly, she rested a hand on the book, tracing her fingers over the familiar words. They lingered on the illustration plate of a handsome knight in a boat drawn by a single crowned swan. Underneath, the name Loherangrin was printed in heavy, swirl-capped block letters.
She waved a hand, snow gathering and rising, spinning until it resembled the fabled man in the book. Another wave of her hand and the snowy features grew more distinct, the armor more detailed, and the eyes opened, blue with the light of her magic. Her creation looked upon her and bowed, extending a hand to her.
Elsa took it, rising from her chair, and let her magic guide them through the practiced steps of a formal waltz. She spun easily out of the twirl, her magic pulling the construct apart once more.
Before her, on the desk, were the hated letters.
“The cold never bothered me much,” she said, staring down her nose at them. “Perhaps we should see how you fare when winter itself is my champion.”
On the wind, there was the faint, scintillating chime of ice striking ice.
It almost sounded like bells.
Anna had always worn her feelings on her face and her expression now was certainly telling.
“I’ll admit, it’s not the best solution,” Elsa admitted, pressing her fingers together into a steeple. “But if I’m to choose, I might as well get it over with all at once, rather than drag it out needlessly.”
Anna pursed her lips, tilting her head to the side doubtfully as she let out a concerned hum. “You don’t even like big parties. Besides, I’m not sure it works like that, Elsa. I mean… you kind of have to have a connection if you want it to work, right?”
Elsa rolled her eyes, looking away in disinterest.
“I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with not having a connection!” Anna said, a little too quickly. “But it’s kind of nice, you know. And you said it yourself, you can’t marry someone you just met.”
Elsa gave her sister a very pointed glance and then sighed. “That’s the idea behind bringing them here. Any dog can be trained to seek out a woman’s favorite pastimes and pleasures – that creature from the house of Westergaard was proof enough of that. No, far better to bring them here and see if they are truly as honest as their letters paint them to be.”
Anna raised an eyebrow. Her expression still looked doubtful, but there was the hint of a smile in the curl of her lip. “You are scary, did you know that?”
Elsa couldn’t help it: she chuckled.
The terms were carefully crafted and the invitations prepared with careful precision. Iris, lint blossoms and wild daisies entwined along the upper borders of each one, while mountain ash, moss and coronilla trimmed the sides and a garland of roses ran along the bottom edge: the meaning of these, coupled with the contents of the invitation, would be unmistakable.
Anna found the whole intrigue delightful and teasingly gave it a formal military operation designation. She then promptly recruited Olaf, who was thrilled by Operation No Bad Guys, and they made quite the show of it, marching up and down the courtyard with the Snowgies.
Her advisor disapproved, but after the tremendous upset the dog of the Southern Isles had caused he could find no fault in the proposed course. Even so, his disappointment was clear.
Elsa pretended not to notice.
They accepted, of course.
The prospect of earning the favor of an unwed queen, even one with powers such as her own, had been far too tempting to refuse out of hand. After all, even the Queen of a lesser principality was still a Queen and for many, elevation to Prince Consort would be a significant boost in rank. Her proposal had not been unreasonable either: if all they need do is present themselves for a series of balls and banquets in honor of her sister’s nuptials and behave, then surely there was no harm in it. The lot of them had, no doubt, the presence of mind to consider that such a thing could only increase their odds of selection, for what better way to court the queen’s favor than to be in her presence and show the greatest of respect to her much-beloved sister?
And, should they fail to win her hand, at least they would have the chance to better their alliances with Arendelle – another prospect too important to ignore, if only to be true to their own patriotic duty as rulers.
Elsa expected nothing less.
Winter turned to spring and spring into summer. Anna’s joy was thoroughly infectious and had spread through the small country like wildfire. How long had it been since the people had a royal wedding such as this? How long since had they had such cause to celebrate so passionately for a princess so loved as Anna?
Too long, said the old, who had mourned the loss of Queen Iduna and King Agnar.
Too long, said the young, who had momentarily forgotten the winter in the dazzling warmth of the long summer days and kindness of Queen Elsa.
Too long, said the traders, who watched their coffers fill with royal gold.
Ay, far too long, Elsa thought.
Soon, the nights lengthened and summer turned to fall. Each day drew shorter than the last and, finally, the time had come for the celebrations to begin. One by one, ships from various kingdoms began to arrive, bearing an array of honored guests and gifts. The princes, nobility, and representatives from all over the Scandinavian Peninsula were expected guests, as were their allies from Corona.
Elsa watched them all arrive from the castle walls, noting the flags of each ship and their house standards.
Though invited out of courtesy, it was something of a surprise to see the number of ships bearing emissaries sent by far larger and more distant lands. No doubt their royal masters, having heard of Elsa’s great power, sought a greater sense of its scope, else they might not have troubled themselves to send anyone at all. Small principalities such as those native to the peninsula were often deemed unimportant compared to the great empires of the civilized world, except when they presented some form of bother to their greater rule – and, oh, how her power must present a bother – but such was the way of things. Even the Ottoman appeared to have sent their regards, if only as a pale excuse for their emissary to keep an eye on what the Russians and the French were up to.
It was all politics, of course, and would make for much intrigue in the days to follow.
“Your majesty, look,” the watchman called, pointing back out to the harbor. “Another ship approaches!”
Elsa turned, looking once more over the harbor.
Indeed, there was another ship at the mouth of the harbor. It kept a steady pace with the fog rolling in off the sea, remaining just ahead of it, but only just. The boat, old-fashioned and dark with age, slipped through the calm water with nary a sound, growing ever closer. At its prow, there stood a figure in white, a man from the look of it. The ship’s figurehead, carved in the form of a great curving dragon, lay beside him on the deck.
“A ghost?” one of the guards murmured fearfully.
Elsa stepped forward, resting a hand on the parapet, and gazed down at the ship as it passed, noting the gilded name of the ship, Svane. “No,” she said, suddenly. “Not a ghost.”
Her guards looked at her in bewilderment.
“See to it our guests are comfortable for the night,” she ordered, turning away. “I shall attend to them tomorrow, when the last guest has arrived.”
“Your majesty?” one of the guards managed.
Elsa smiled kindly. “He will stand the night in his ship, where all can see him. It is the polite thing to do when one arrives with the mist, after all.”
Below, in the harbor, the man in white stood still and unmoving at the prow of his ship.
The morning dawned grey and cold. Overnight, the fog had settled and thinned into a fine mist, clinging to the coast and blanketing the whole of the town in its chilly grip. Thin sheets of hoarfrost covered the town, but this was not unusual – it was, as they say, just about the season for such things – and it would certainly melt as the day warmed.
Elsa smiled, tracing her fingers along the windowsill.
“You look… cheerful today,” Anna said. She stood in the doorway, dressed in one of her more subdued formal gowns. It seemed that she had indeed chosen to follow her wishes in this matter. This was a game of appearances as much as it was about anything else.
At that, Elsa gave a soft chuckle and pulled away from the window. “I suppose I am. I have… a good feeling.”
Anna gave her an uncertain look. “Is this about the man in the last boat? Is it?”
She gasped loudly, crossing the distance between them quickly, and clasped Elsa’s hands in her own. “It is! Oh Elsa, did you know he spent the whole night standing at the head of his ship? The whole night! Who does such a silly thing anymore?”
Elsa laughed, gripping her sister’s hands, and smiled warmly at her. “No, no, that’s not it. I just have a good feeling, that’s all. Now, come, Anna, let us greet our guests.”
The introductions were a fully formal affair, as such things often tend to be, but this was the way of things. Elsa presided over all, untouchable on her throne, while Anna and Kristoff remained seated to her side on the lower dais. Olaf had little love of such events and Elsa feared for him, so he remained with Gerda in the kitchens and happily so. The herald announced each noble, their title and station, and they showed her their respect, bowing as was expected of them.
Privately, Elsa considered the entire affair absurd.
The only people in the room genuinely there to celebrate her sister’s wedding were the citizenry of Arendelle and their closest of allies, the ones with whom common lineage united their noble houses, such as Corona. All the others in attendance were there with one singular purpose: they hoped to impress Elsa and, in doing so, win her favor. Her suitors would try to woo her with sweet words and song, dances and promises. They would make fools of themselves and lavish her with gifts, while seeking to learn her heart. Those among the honored guests that had no intention of winning her hand would be little better and even more ruthless in their purpose. They sought alliances in trade and war, assurances that her power would not be brought to bear on their countrymen, and schemed at how to undermine their competition at every turn. It was only the smallest of comforts that none of the princes of House of Westergaard had dared to show themselves.
But then, she thought with savage pleasure, they had been thoroughly humiliated.
The herald at last came to the end of his list and turned to bow. Before he could do so, the doors to the ballroom opened once more and a page hurried to him. They whispered rapidly and then the herald resumed his station, his face flushed red. “Presenting his royal highness, Thorri, prince of Kvenland.”
Low murmurs filled the hall, but she ignored them. Her attention was solely on the man that entered.
He was young and handsome, with brown hair and thick brown eyebrows over bright eyes. He wore a dark blue dress coat with silver buttons and delicate, frost-like whorls of silver embroidery along the sleeves and collar. His pants and sash of state were crisp and whiter than mountain snow. It complimented him well and made him look somewhat like a thing from a dream.
He bowed low and then deliberately raised his head to gaze at her. “Your majesty.”
“How rude!” the herald scoffed quietly.
Elsa ignored him.
His eyes were warm and brown. For a moment, though, they had been unmistakably bright blue.
“Who is he?” Anna asked, later, when they were alone. “This prince, Thorri – I can’t remember ever hearing of him.”
Elsa tsked, stirring her cup of hot chocolate. “You haven’t been keeping up on your genealogies or you would certainly know of him.”
Anna reflexively shuddered, apparently disgusted by the very thought of the dusty tomes. It was understandable. Still, it was important to know these things, especially when one was of royal lineage.
Then again, Anna was not the one who had to worry about such things: she had already chosen Kristoff.
“He is the lord of the House of Winter, come down from the north,” Elsa explained, at last.
Anna gave her an odd look for a moment and then burst into laughter. “Wow, I didn’t know you could joke like that! That was a good one! The lord of Winter, come down from the north, ha-ha!”
Elsa quietly sipped at her hot chocolate, hiding a smile.
The mist did not lift the following day, nor the day after. It lingered, thinning and thickening with the passing of the day into night and the night into day. Each night brought with it a heavy frost and a crisp, bitter chill. The nobles and dignitaries of warmer kingdoms shivered and quietly longed for the warmth of their homelands, far from cold Arendelle. But the servants paid it no mind, stoking the hearth fires to a healthy glow: they joked that it was a sign that winter would come early this year and that these princes should hope the wedding was done before Old Snow came calling.
They needn’t worry so, Elsa thought. She had no intention of letting her suitors, both political and otherwise, linger that long.
“Elsa, what do you think?” Anna asked.
Elsa blinked, coming back to the present. “They’re trolls, Anna. They are probably just sleeping.”
In the corner, Kristoff shook his head. “No, no, something has them spooked. They wouldn’t just hide, not from me and not with the wedding so close.”
“If there was a threat to the land, they would have told us,” Elsa reasoned. “They are trolls, after all, and this land is their home, as much as it ours.”
Again, he shook his head, sighing loudly.
“It’ll be all right,” Elsa told him. “You’ll see.”
If the trolls had been awake, she was sure that they’d have told him that, too.
With all these visiting princes, nobles and dignitaries here, it was obvious that there would eventually be conflict between them. Old houses such as these bred old feuds and blood bluer than the summer sky. Typically, these did not extend beyond a harsh exchange of words. None wished to lose their chance at her favor in any capacity over something as trivial as an argument and it had been made expressly clear that would be precisely what would happen if it should escalate beyond that.
The first battles had come at the banquet. There was a kind of fine mastery to the art of insult and it was something that the nobility rather prided themselves on. After all, how else does one cut another when swords are not an option?
Some were clearly better at it than others.
Henrik, one of the princes of the eastern principalities, was famously clever and quite the scholar. He would have been almost tolerable as a potential bridegroom, were it not for the fact that he had quite the scathing tongue, which he frequently chose to employ with ruthless precision. He’d already thoroughly humiliated two of the lesser dukes before the second course could be served and was currently looking for another target. Mercifully, he had the sense to avoid antagonizing the Russians and the French, neither of whom were exactly fond of Norwegians in general, much less their noble houses.
Elsa could almost see the exact moment his eyes latched on to the prince of Kvenland.
“This Kvenland, I’ve never heard of it. Where is Kvenland, exactly?” Henrik asked, pausing in his meal.
Thorri smiled pleasantly and it was quite clear that he knew exactly what Henrik was up to. “It is well to the north, as his highness would undoubtedly know, were he to have brushed up on his geography a little.”
Henrik gaped, caught flat-footed for the first time in the night, as the other guests smiled in amusement. He sputtered and hotly remarked, “His highness should perhaps take his own advice, since the only Kvenland worth noting hasn’t existed in a thousand years! Unless, he’d rather we believe he’s merely been asleep for the past thousand years!”
“Better to have been asleep for a thousand years than to have all the charm of a yapping dog,” Thorri merely quipped, “And none of the bite.”
There was no disguising the guffaws that rung out from the other nobles at that exchange.
“At least this yapping dog is of certain pedigree, unlike the vagrant mongrel wagging his useless tongue,” Henrik fired back.
“The overbred dog thinks so highly of himself,” Thorri countered smoothly, “That he chases the winter wind all over Jotunfjeldene, convinced to his dying breath that he has caught a wolf, when in fact it is the son of Old Snow, great-grandson of the wind, that has caught him and blackens his limbs.”
The other nobles laughed, those from the continent understanding only that Henrik had lost the game and none of the references. Yet, Henrik did not laugh. Instead, a silence had fallen upon him, a very strange expression settling on his face as he regarded the prince of Kvenland. It was as if he had all at once come to some great realization and was now caught in it, somewhere between awe and terror.
Later, Elsa tried very hard to feign surprise and disappointment as Prince Henrik expressed his deep regret that he would be unable to stay and would be immediately leaving for his homeland to attend to urgent matters of state.
Neither of them was fooled for a moment.
He paused at the door, looking back at her. “I do hope you know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Elsa merely smiled.
“Ah, I thought as much,” Henrik admitted.
He really was terribly clever.
The day was filled with paperwork and perfunctory meetings between various diplomats. Their gifts and well-wishes having already been received, that left only business matters to attend to. Elsa sailed through them with the poised calm of years of training. There was a course to these things, as her advisor was so fond of reminding her, and she bore the burden with grace.
At times, she longed very much to remove the proverbial gloves and give some of the more distasteful representatives a what-for, but she refrained.
It was not the time.
Besides, it was only proper to at least hear their ridiculous veiled threats before making a… ah, frigid counter with her own.
“I don’t envy you,” Anna admitted later on, as they made preparations for the night’s ball. She made a punching motion with her hand, winding up for her famous right hook. “I don’t think I’d be able to hold my temper, not one bit!”
Elsa gave her sister a warm smile, recalling the satisfying crunch that had been her sister’s fist impacting with the face of that Westergaard dog, and she rather fondly imagined the same fate befalling a certain set of faces.
The thought left a smile on her face that lingered for quite some time.
Dance cards were a terribly silly thing, Elsa considered privately.
Yet, for a formal ball, they were all the latest rage on the continent. She, of course, had spared no expense for her sister’s celebration ball. The cards were expertly done, detailing the order of the dances for the night, and decorated with elegant silver leaf ‘ice’ fractals. Embellished with a rose and crème colored cord and glittering glass beads, the cards could hang from either wrist or ball gown just so.
Naturally, Anna had filled her dance card as soon as she obtained it, Kristoff’s name occupying all save one space. This one had been allotted to Kai, one of their most true and loyal servants. It was a complete breech of etiquette to be sure, but Anna had never taken much stock in that and it was hard to refuse her where her happiness was concerned.
“It is the least I can do,” Anna explained regarding their faithful servant, her expression thoughtful. “Kai has been a good friend to us.”
“Indeed,” Elsa agreed. How could she not?
Kai, along with Gerda, was one of the longest-serving members of the castle staff. He had practically helped raise the both of them and he had tearfully expressed his joy over Anna’s engagement, in addition to taking over the management of organizing the castle for the extended celebrations. He, too, was a sworn agent of Operation No Bad Guys and, had Anna not already occupied the principle seat of command on the matter, would have been its most stalwart champion.
“So…” Anna said slyly. “Do you have any names on your card?”
Elsa had not so much as looked at the silly thing since she had slipped the cord over her glove. “No, not yet.”
“You know, the whole point of a ball is to mingle,” Anna said, letting out a mock-exasperated sigh.
“Well, if I should have a quadrille with the prince of Prussia, I shall have to fear for my toes,” Elsa quipped. “Still, you should at least let our cousin from Corona dance with you once. As you said, it’s about mingling.”
Anna made a face at her, recognizing she’d been caught. Then, she gave her a look out of the corner of her eye. “Is he an agent of the Operation?”
“Naturally,” Elsa replied. “We do have our allies in this battle.”
Anna fidgeted in place, rolling her shoulders a little as she considered. “Hmm, perhaps I have room to pencil him in. After all, he is our dear ally and cousin.”
“Perhaps,” Elsa agreed, smiling.
“Who else among our cousins is in on the Operation?” Anna wondered aloud, absently examining the card. “I wonder.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Elsa noticed a glimmer of light.
It was frost, shimmering on the wall, curling in delicate swirls.
She inclined her head, smiling, and then opened her dance card, swiftly writing in a name.
“Elsa, are you coming?” Anna asked, tugging at her arm. She suddenly paused, seeing the open dance card. “Is that…?”
Elsa smiled mysteriously. “I do believe my toes have just been spared.”
Elsa approached the ballroom floor as if it were a battlefield and, in many ways, it was. As the queen, Elsa was allowed her choice of partners, but etiquette demanded that she not be monopolized by dancing with a sole partner for the night. Furthermore, there was the matter of politics. It was expected that she dance with certain parties, such as her cousin from Corona and other more distant relations and royalty from the continent, and to refuse would not only be impolite, but also impolitic in the highest degree. Principalities such as theirs could not afford to spurn any current or potential allies over petty slights in etiquette.
Besides, it was not as if dancing was unpleasant. She rather enjoyed it, far more than she’d imagined possible. Previously, she had only read of balls such as these in letters and books from the continent. Never had she quite imagined that she, with her powers, would ever hold such grand occasions. And yet, here she was.
Her dress, a pale blue moiré silk patterned with her signature snowflakes and trimmed in the finest white lace, shimmered with her every movement across the ballroom floor. For the first time in a long time, she wore gloves and she did so solely for the sake of modesty. It would not do for the Queen of Arendelle to be anything less than proper, after all.
And yet, yet… in spite of the sore toes and careful conversations, she was enjoying herself, more than she had dared. She felt like she could dance until dawn.
“Dawn is so terribly far away, don’t you agree?”
She blinked, woken from her reverie, and inclined her head in greeting: “Prince Thorri.”
“I beg her majesty’s pardon,” he said, bowing and offering his hand, “but the trumpet calls and, if I am not mistaken, we are engaged.”
“Is that so?” she asked, taking his hand.
Thorri chuckled as he guided her back to the floor. “Is that not my name on your card for Della crudele Isotta?”
“Perhaps,” Elsa replied, smiling. “Of course, things are not always as they appear.”
“Is that so?” he asked as the orchestra swung into the strains of a waltz adapted from Gaetano Donizetti’s latest opera, L’elisir d’amore. All at once he had whisked her into the dance, his expert steps in perfect time with her own.
“Indeed,” Elsa told him, “as his highness well knows.”
He smiled, inclining his head in both acknowledgement and approval.
Round and round they went, the ballroom fading to nothing as they moved through it. She was transfixed by his eyes. They were bright blue again, the blue of ancient sea ice and of magic. Frost flecked his hair, traced along his pale skin, and threaded across his dress uniform, but his breath never fogged and his steps never faltered.
The music stopped and it was as if the whole world came rushing back to her all at once. She stood there for a moment, blinking as reality reasserted itself, and only dimly registered his formal bow to her, all evidence of frost and magic having vanished as if they never were at all.
“Your majesty, are you well?” he asked, offering her his arm once more to conduct her to her seat. Nearby, the next promised engagement on her dance card lingered. He would wait until she had rested and the trumpet called again.
Elsa blinked, taking a deep breath as she flicked out her fan, and graciously accepted his proffered arm. “His highness is too kind. We are in need of some air.”
“As her majesty wishes,” Prince Thorri said, inclining his head.
“My champion,” she said in relief, sotto voce.
Outside, snow fell lazily from the darkened sky.
Elsa braced herself against the edge of the parapet, looking out over the fog-choked harbor, and let out a deep breath. There was still time until the next dance.
Behind her, Prince Thorri waited, framed by the light of the doorway.
“I know who you are,” she said, turning to face him. “Does that change the rules?”
He smiled mysteriously, stepping closer and offering his gloved hand. The color had drained from his skin entirely and his hair was rimed with thick frost once more, turning it the color of pale snow. Once more, his eyes were the glittering glacial blue of magic and old ice.
“Will you disappear if your true name is spoken,” she asked, taking his hand, “Carried away by the swan once more, never to return?”
He laughed and the wind flared around them, snow whirling wildly. “Can the swan stop the turning of the seasons or change the course of the wind?”
“No, I suppose not,” Elsa agreed.
The trumpet flared, a distant note in the cold air.
“Alas, I fear I have an engagement with the Duke of Nemours,” she sighed. “Would my champion be so kind as to escort me back to the ballroom?”
Prince Thorri inclined his head, the frost shimmering and vanishing. “It would be my pleasure, your majesty.”
Softly, the snow continued to fall.
It was late when Elsa woke. Outside, a soft carpet of fresh powder covered the whole of Arendelle. There was nowhere she was really expected to be for hours, as was customary for the day following a formal ball, so she took breakfast in her chambers, dressed and then went to services in the private family chapel.
She busied herself with preparations for her sister’s wedding. It would be on the following day and there was much to do still. Kristoff had insisted on having the trolls come down from the mountain, for they were his family, and they still had yet to appear. It was a cause for much concern on his part.
“I will go to them,” she promised and had Kai prepare a carriage.
“You shouldn’t go alone,” Kristoff said, concerned.
“I will not be alone,” Elsa told him. “Prince Thorri shall be my escort.”
“Prince Thorri?” he managed. “But… you hardly know him.”
“You needn’t worry. I know him very well,” she countered. “He is a dear old friend. I can trust him completely. And if you cannot trust him, then at least trust me.”
Kristoff looked terribly troubled, but at last relented. Even so, his eyes were hard and wary as he watched her ride out of the palace with the prince of Kvenland.
I have left Anna in the best of hands, Elsa thought to herself.
The snow had not avoided the Valley of Living Rock. Here, it had fallen heavily and crunched underfoot. They had to leave the carriage behind and proceed on foot to the center.
Pabbie was waiting for them. The other trolls were nowhere to be seen. Every rock, every tree, and even the very air was still.
“My sister is marrying Kristoff tomorrow,” Elsa told him. “It would be our pleasure for you and your daughter to attend.”
Pabbie grumbled, looking at her directly, and forced a smile. “Dear child, these things are the affairs of humans. We will not be able to stay very long, but there we shall be.”
Elsa curtseys, bowing her head in gratitude. “Kristoff and Anna will be delighted.”
“Elsa,” Pabbie spoke, his tone grave as he raised one stony finger to indicate her companion. “Your escort, do you know who he is?”
Prince Thorri stepped forward, his hair rimed white with frost and his smile a sharp, unpleasant thing. In his bright eyes, blizzards raged. The wind howled through the mountains high above the valley and swept the trees, branches hewing under the added weight of the snow. For a moment, it was blatantly clear that he was something other, something unfathomably great barely contained by human shape.
With only a simple gesture of peace from her, his countenance softened, the wind died, and the evidence of his true nature slipped away, hidden once more behind the veneer of humanity. He immediately seemed so much smaller.
“He is my champion,” she answered simply, truthfully.
Pabbie pressed his lips together in a thin line, nearly blending back into seamless rock. “Are you certain of what you have done in making one born of the line of Kári your champion? He, like us, is far more than he appears.”
“I know,” Elsa said, standing firm. “I invited him, after all.”
The wedding was beautiful, as expected.
If there was a purer source of joy in all the world, it could not compare to that which radiated off Anna, such was her happiness. Her gown, gilded with the lace of their mother’s wedding dress and gleaming with enchanted blue ice crystals, was stunning. In her hair, she wore the crown of her station and a bridal crown of dried wildflowers. She walked beside Elsa, radiating sun-bright even as they passed from the grey daylight to the golden candlelight of the church.
In between the gathered guests and shadows, Elsa spotted the trolls. When she looked to the other side, she saw Thorri, half in shadows. Before them, at the altar, the priest waited.
She stepped aside, forcing herself to remember that she was not giving away her sister, but gaining a brother-in-law, one in whose capable hands she knew her sister would find safety and comfort to the end of her days.
Anna’s smile as she took Kristoff’s hand in her own and the way he returned it with such tender kindness was all the assurance Elsa would ever need.
When they exited the church, the sun had poked through the fog for the first time in days.
Thorri was nowhere to be found.
After the celebrations had finished, the guests set sail, hoping to beat the winter storms that even now gathered on the mountains. It would not be long now and soon the winter would fully set in, making travel a difficult prospect at best. Elsa bid them all farewell, per protocol, and privately kept note of those she had found tolerable enough to continue communication with, at least for diplomacy’s sake. She didn’t doubt that many of her suitors had suddenly recalled there were far more appealing and amenable royal women they could approach for marriage prospects.
“Where is Prince Thorri?” Anna asked. “I wanted ask him something.”
“Oh?” Elsa asked.
“I looked up the genealogies, as you suggested,” Anna said, her face drawn with worry. “Elsa, Prince Henrik was right. He cannot be who claims to be. He’d have to be… why, he’d have to be a thousand years old!”
Elsa looked at her sister and then smiled. “You needn’t worry about him. He is as I said, the lord of winter.”
Anna’s expression said that she clearly did not understand.
“More than that, he is winter,” Elsa explained, kindly. “The fog and the snow were his doing.”
Anna turned her head, looking out over the harbor. She placed her hands on the parapet to steady herself. There was something distant in her expression. “Are you sure?” she asked at last. “Are you sure he’s not just… someone like you putting on airs? Or your creation, like Olaf?”
Elsa moved to stand beside her sister. “I am sure. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I knew who he was the second I saw him.”
And how could she not have known him?
He had the face of her Loherangrin, come to life in a way she never could have managed on her own, and drawn to her by boat like the story.
“He’s coming back, isn’t he?”
“Of course,” Elsa replied. “Winter is here, is it not?”