Chapter 1: Upon Reflection
The chill grew stronger in the kingdom of Arendelle, its citizens struggling to keep warm. At this rate, there was no way he would be able to return to Weselton. And to add to the ever-increasing frustration, that foolhardy prince that Princess Anna had left in charge was recklessly giving away all the rations and supplies to the people in the town.
Of course, Prince Hans had pulled the "I'm in charge of this place" card when the duke pointed this out. And when the duke suggested the idea that Princess Anna was possibly an accomplice to the sorcerer queen's actions, that friendly face the royal had given as first impressions turned terrifying.
But oh, did the duke ever notice that slight hint of doubt and fear that the prince's "beloved Princess Anna" wasn't the person to help bring back the summer.
It was in that moment that the duke realized that something about Prince Hans was not adding up.
So when the royal gathered volunteers to retrieve the princess, and hopefully end the mad queen's terrorization of the kingdom, the Duke of Weselton decided to take it upon himself to investigate the Prince of the Southern Isles by asking around.
The people of Arendelle were of no help to him.
"Never heard of him in my life," one citizen told him. "But he seems like the perfect kind of man for our Princess Anna."
"I've heard the Southern Isles had thirteen princes, but Prince Hans definitely wasn't as active socially as some of the others," another said. "He certainly carries the same generous spirit his family is famous for, that's for sure."
So on and so forth. But he was no closer to any clues to the Prince Hans' backstory. What was he in Arendelle for? Why not one of his brothers? What kind of rumors surrounded him? Because one knew a lot about a person through what passed through the grapevine. Not what was explicitly said, of course, but there is usually some modicum of truth in them that makes lies seem like they can be taken as facts. All you needed was enough pieces to figure it out.
Surprisingly enough, the visitors to the kingdom had a lot to say about Prince Hans.
"He hates the public in his home kingdom," a dignitary from Spain had told him. "He's rarely seen out and about, and I'm pleasantly surprised that he didn't carry that attitude over here. It seems that he enjoys the work."
"A friend of mine who lives in the Southern Isles told me that he liked to hunt," another visitor said. "Now that's all fine and dandy; after all, a man of his status is expected to engage in some kind of sport. However, my friend said Prince Hans is obsessive about it. Knows the ways of a crossbow like nobody's business. Can kill pretty much anything with one shot, his target never knowing what hit them. Now, that's not even the most interesting thing I heard about the guy: what kind of man who hunts as humanely as possible would tear up the animals like a madman afterwards?"
The duke was almost going to give up on his efforts since it felt like there was nothing to glean from the populace. They were telling him things that he already knew: his contradiction in character, that there was very little that anyone knew about the Southern Isles' prince. Though that story about Prince Hans' fixation about hunting was disturbing.
Then there was one person who had that final piece that put it all into place.
"The people over in his homeland call him a 'fae child,'" the visiting woman told him. "Since out of all of the princes, everyone agreed that he was the most peculiar one, that there's this strange atmosphere around him every once in a while. There were even rumors that there was magic in him, but we all know that's impossible. He's well past the age where they go homicidal, of course. Oh, poor Queen Elsa. Her family likely didn't know about the madness that accompanied her powers. Or Arendelle, for that matter. They don't even have a mandate about magicians, can you believe it?"
While the fact that Arendelle had no policies about people with magic was interesting, the fact that Prince Hans himself was rumored to be a magician was even more intriguing. After all the Southern Isles, while not the strictest when it came to a magician gone mad, was the most thorough in outing them. The fact that one of their own in the royal family had something as dubious as being called a "fae child" in such a place?
This prompted the short, elderly man to wander around the courtyard, trying to piece together the puzzle that was the suspicious Prince Hans.
The lack of congruency in character, the fact that he was already well into his twenties, mutilation of animal corpses, just secretive in general? The prince could just be a by-rote case of insanity, if he didn't appear to compose himself so well.
Add in the possibility that he could be a magician? Now the stories looked like the feeble efforts of a man trying to hide something. Something dangerous. Like magic.
However, it was likely a preposterous idea. Something as bold a statement as that was dangerous to make if one didn't have enough evidence. Queen Elsa made it easy for him due to her very public display during the ball.
Prince Hans, on the other hand? The clues were subtle. Too subtle. Enough for the duke to just go back to square one and ask around again.
But then he caught a flash in the corner of his eye.
He turned his head to see it was light being reflected into his eyes from a mirror just inside the foyer of the open door to the castle. He almost wrote it off as insignificant – until it occurred to him that the sky was overcast with clouds. Such intensity of light should not have been reflected.
He looked around, trying to figure out where the light must have been to be the source of the reflection, even so much as stepping up the stairs leading into the castle. He took care not to slip on the accursed ice as he did.
Then a thought struck him, a faint recollection of the heated events after Queen Elsa fled and left everyone else to suffer.
How in the world did Prince Hans know he slipped on ice when the man wasn't even around when it happened?
The duke looked at the mirror, then the ice at his feet.
With a scowl, he came to a conclusion: Prince Hans was a magician.
The Duke of Weselton made it his duty to end the prince's "perfect" charade.
Chapter 2: Reveal
They couldn't possibly believe their queen was fit to rule this kingdom! Her magic had cursed the place, never mind that she was also the same person to lift it in the end. Couldn't they see that she could do it again, but much, much worse? Was Arendelle really that ignorant?
The Duke of Weselton tried to save a bit of face by hoping to see the accursed ruler one last time, to show just how dangerous it would be to have a monarch with supernatural abilities that could doom an entire civilization with a flick of her wrist. After all, if she could do that while she retained her humanity; what more would happen once the madness took ahold of her? It was doom and death for everyone!
Arendelle should have someone who knew how to deal with these sorcerers. Someone like him!
And maybe be in charge of the trade situation in the kingdom while he was at it. From what he saw, it was pretty dismal how they were handling things. Arendelle definitely had the goods, they just needed proper instruction and regulation from the government in order to profit better. They couldn't just allow willy-nilly handouts like what that Prince Hans did.
Speaking of, there went the prince right now, disgraced by his actions and tossed behind bars of a nearby ship.
Good riddance. The Southern Isles would know what to do with him. And if Prince Hans turned out to be just as devil-blooded as the ice witch Arendelle had for a queen…
Wait a minute.
That man just might be the key to getting out of the punishment in trade between Arendelle and Weselton. He might even have his status lifted in the eyes of the public if he revealed just how dangerous the supernaturally inclined could be. Prince Hans' actions showed that he was close to losing it, if the duke's gut was right about the prince being a magician, that is.
Something about mirrors and trickery. The duke hoped that pushing the prince to revealing his powers wouldn't end up killing people. Mainly him.
"Prince Hans, I know you can hear me!" the duke shouted as he struggled against the heavy hands of the guards. "I know what you are! And I assure you that I will tell the King and Queen of the Southern Isles."
No response from the ship the prince got tossed into.
"I'm sure they'd love to hear that their youngest son is a magician so close to losing his mind!" the duke continued to goad. "What was the punishment that magicians get if they attempt to murder someone? That's right, public execution!"
He looked around himself, noticing that he was drawing in a crowd at his outburst. He was about to prod at the prince again, but hesitated when he saw a tiny, almost transparent image of the prince in the reflection of one of the lenses of his glasses. And not a proud, princely image either, for he saw a disheveled Prince Hans on his hands and knees, begging. The image shook its head, a silent plea for the duke not to follow through with his threat.
So he was right. Hans did have magic.
"You're going to have to do much better than that!" the duke called out. The image in his glasses disappeared. "That's if you want me to keep mum about all of this!"
"What is going on here?!" Princess Anna demanded, that blond commoner she came back from the mountain with at her side.
"Prince Hans has confessed!" the duke cried as the guards pulled at him to his ship. "Everyone! This is what becomes of people with magic! They spiral out of control and lust for murder and bloodshed! Prince Hans is only the beginning! Queen Elsa could be next!"
"Guards, just put him on his boat already," Princess Anna said.
All of a sudden, boats and ships appeared out of nowhere to float in a spiral in the sky, copies of the duke and the princess materialized just as quickly around everyone along with an image similar to the one he saw in his glasses of Prince Hans on his knees before them at the end of the dock. Then it all vanished and everything was back to normal.
"Don't tell them, I beg of you!" came the panicked voice of Prince Hans in the distance.
"What. Was. That!?" gaped the blond beside the princess.
"That, my dear fellow, was a confession," the duke said, smug.
"Guards, take the duke and the prince into the dungeons," Princess Anna instructed. "My sister's going to want to have a word with them about this."
It was said that the Crown Prince Søren of the Southern Isles never truly lived until his parents had enough with children and stopped at having Prince Hans as their thirteenth and final offspring. There was some disappointment in the kingdom at the thought that the Southern Isles wouldn't have their own princess to fawn over in this generation of the royal family. However, the sentiment went away when Prince Hans proved to be quite the charmer, even in his infancy.
Prince Søren, before little Hans came along when he was eighteen, was a private person who tended to shy from the public. But for some unknown reason, having this one brother out of the many he already had sparked some kind of extraversion the kingdom hadn't yet seen in their Crown Prince. It was a curiosity that went without an answer, even until now.
Of course, Søren himself knew the answer. Finally, he wasn't the only one. He was no longer alone in his struggle. Hans was the answer to a rather selfish wish he had to have someone who would share in his misery; a desperate plea to have a hope that while he himself might perish in his misfortune, at least he would have someone to guide to find some way to free every afflicted individual of this curse. If not by antidote, then at least to show that not everyone with their condition was hopeless.
But of course not himself. Crown Prince Søren of the Southern Isles was cursed with being imbued with the fires of hell. He was hopeless the moment he scorched the tablecloth accidentally and blamed it on a knocked-over candlestick.
However, Hans was that hope. Søren knew that he had a responsibility to his brother, to teach him everything he knew in concealment and control. His brother was charming, just not in the way the public had yet realized. It was an easy enough façade to work with. It was made easier when Hans' abilities had finally manifested themselves that Søren knew his brother was harmless, that his littlest brother was not deserving of asylums and decapitations like his contemporaries.
What the public saw as their beloved Crown Prince doting on his baby brother, they themselves knew it was "training" to delay the inevitable.
It was during one of those days of training where precocious little Hans had begun to show the doubt Søren himself knew he needed to fix, for it was an inner voice he knew would come to haunt his baby brother for the entirety of his existence.
Søren inspected his crossbow, making adjustments to the limbs and bowstring. He moved his attentions to the smaller crossbow in Hans' four-year-old hands, making small corrections in the youngest prince's hand placement before nocking a bolt in his own crossbow.
Søren took aim at a nearby tree trunk and fired. The impact of the projectile caused the birds roosting on its branches to take flight. Søren took a shot at the fleeing flock and downed one out of the sky. It was dead before it hit the ground.
Hans did the same, but winged his target. The poor bird floundered on the dirt, screeching and squawking as Søren approached and snapped its neck, killing it instantly. The Crown Prince closed his eyes and exhaled as he felt the scrambled mess of his thoughts reassemble themselves, the worrying desire for inflicting pain and bloodshed waning like a fog lifting from the heat of the day. Those moments of desire were lapsing closer and closer together. Considering the pace and his age, he was pleased to know that he surpassed the expected time where the cursed would lose it since it meant that if it would work for him, it would work especially well for Hans.
But it also meant that his own time of reckoning was also really close.
"Søren," Hans said, lamenting the dead bird. "I don't like killing things."
"I don't either, Hans," Søren said. "But sometimes, as a prince, we have to do things we don't like to do for the good of the kingdom."
The little prince looked at the crossbow in his hands, then at the larger one in Søren's. "Are we… are we monsters, Søren?"
"Heavens, no!" Søren knelt down to Hans' eye level and put down his crossbow to hold his brother's shoulders with both hands. "Especially not you, Hans."
"But… magic will make us want to hurt people. I even heard in the square someone saying that magicians were monsters for wanting to hurt people. And that magician killed someone. A person! Not a bird!"
Hans was only four. He couldn't possibly understand, could he?
Yet even at the age of four, he proved to be serious and dutiful instead of being the carefree child his other brothers were at this stage in life. And considering that Søren might not even have enough years to make his impression in his brother's life, the elder decided not to sugarcoat it.
"That person in the square was scared. When people are scared, they may say and do things that are hurtful."
"But are we monsters, Søren?"
"Everyone has the ability to be a monster, Hans. Even those not like us. All you have to do is prove to them you're not. It'll be hard, I know it will be, but at all costs remember this: Don't be the monster they fear you are. Can you repeat that for me?"
"Don't be the monster they fear you are."
"Remember that, okay? Whenever someone says something like that, whenever that little voice inside your head tries to convince yourself of being a monster, encourage yourself with those words, alright? It's helped me a lot before. And if it helps me, it might help you, right?"
"Good. Now let me just wash this bird blood off my hands and then I do that firebird trick so we can give these dead ones a proper send-off. Sounds good?"
Hans nodded eagerly. He took both Søren's and his own crossbow and took off towards the hunting shed to put them away. In his happiness, tiny motes of light trailed behind him, disappearing just as quickly as they appeared.
That was… new.
Søren's heart sank at the sight. Hans was too young to have the ability to keep his emotions in check. If this was what happened if Hans was happy, and if Hans needed to keep the taint of magic upon him secret…
He was only four. To force him to never be happy for his own good?
Søren wondered if killing his brother would be better than making him live a miserable existence. The prince shook his head. No, Hans's condition had hope. Maybe Hans would one day find people to give him a chance like Søren did, then maybe through all that misery he would be free to be happy.
Even so, it was all unfair.
And yes, to all those people who took note of the chapter title, it is a reference to the laws of reflection (my favorite chapter when I took general physics). For those that don't know about the laws of reflection, don't worry about it too much. It was just me trying to be clever, hahaha.
Chapter 4: Shatter
Warning for an implied suicidal character in this chapter. Nothing graphic.
Prince Benjamin pressed his ear against the doorframe, straining to hear if anything, anything was going amiss in the room.
He had overheard the doctor mentioning that he was running low on his supplies. While that in itself wasn't cause for any alarm, Benjamin did remember his brother snooping around the office rather suspiciously earlier. Sure, it was probably just paranoia. Hans hadn't had a stunt like that since Søren passed away over a decade ago. Of course, everyone—even the entire kingdom—mourned the loss of their Crown Prince. No one took it harder than Hans did, though. Søren and Hans were inseparable, even during Hans' infancy.
But, oh God, if he didn't at least make sure Hans was alright after what happened between him and the stable boy, Ivar, Benjamin wouldn't ever forgive himself. The guy was his brother's friend, for one. Hopefully the trauma of getting attacked by Ivar didn't rattle his poor little brother enough to have a repeat of the events surrounding Søren.
It was a shame. It seemed that everyone who Hans tried to get close to turned out to be a magician in the end. Once was terrible. A second time?
Prince Benjamin hoped his brother wouldn't be so rash like last time. Hans was barely five, himself only eight, and that was quite possibly the worst day of their lives. At that point, Benjamin knew his brother's attempts at happiness would be a struggle from that day forward. No one ever considered such dark thoughts at the age of five, but unfortunately Hans was the exception.
Hearing his brother's pacing footsteps in the room settled Benjamin's nerves somewhat. He took this opportunity to knock and check to see how Hans was faring.
Benjamin peeked his head past the doorframe. Hans' bedroom was dim, the curtains drawn shut, the candles and lanterns unlit. Hans himself was still pacing around the room, both hands in his hair as he sighed every so often. A bedsheet covered the floor mirror at the corner of his room. Benjamin took this as a negative sign.
Hans was vehemently against having one in his room in the first place, citing the fear of vanity and self-absorption as a reason and that a mirror was a symbol of those two vices. Mother and Father made him keep it, though. Hans was a prince and needed to ensure he was going to be presentable, after all. However, seeing it draped for no logical reason other than whatever tormented his brother's thoughts was worrying.
"Are you going to be okay?" Benjamin asked. "I'm really sorry to hear about Ivar."
Hans paused his pace around the room. He rubbed his face and looked at his brother with a weary expression.
"I survived Søren; I'll survive Ivar," he responded. "It'll take time, but I'll be fine."
"Look, I just want to make sure you're safe in here. I overheard the doctor earlier about lacking supplies, and when I saw you around his office earlier seeming like you didn't want anyone to notice..."
"I'm fine, Ben. Really." Hans sat down on his bed, his back hunched over slightly as he rested his hands on his knees. "I went to the doctor to get a cut on my leg looked at. Ivar got me with the spade hard, but the doctor says it's mainly bruising and that the cut is superficial. I just didn't want to concern the others over something so trivial. Thanks for being worried about me, however. It means a lot."
Benjamin sat beside Hans. "No, I really am worried, Hans. I know I shouldn't have assumed, but just remembering you after Søren passed away—"
"I meant it, Ben. You're just being a good brother." Hans gave him a few pats on the back. He huffed. "I think it's safe to say that I officially hate magic. Nothing good ever comes of it."
"Don't worry, Hans. Once Rudolf comes back from his travels abroad, maybe he found a better way to deal with of all the magic."
Hans nodded mechanically, his stare unfocused and his mouth quirked slightly into a frown. "Yes. Hopefully soon. I'm too afraid to get close to anyone else without having to lose them to this curse again."
"But you've got me, at least. No magic on me, so no worries there."
Hans laughed softly. "This is true." He rolled his shoulders and sighed. He reached for something in an inner pocket of his coat and held it in his lap.
In the dim light of the room, Benjamin wasn't sure what Hans had in his possession. It wasn't until his ears registered a mechanical click being the sound of a hammer locking into place that Benjamin realized that the object was a pistol. He froze, not wanting to believe that Hans had a gun with him (Hans enjoyed crossbows a little too much, but a gun?), as he witnessed his little brother lift the muzzle to his own chin.
Benjamin's heart stopped.
Hans looked at Benjamin with a smirk as if he was about to tell him a joke, his green eyes twinkling from some unseen light. Then he pointed the pistol away from his face to the mirror in the corner and fired. Glass shattered from underneath the sheet of fabric, the blanket keeping the shards from flying around the room and containing the damage in a pile.
Hans placed the gun in Benjamin's hands and pulled him towards the door.
"Now that I've gotten that out of my system," Hans said, "do you think that I can finally convince the king and queen to get that thing out of my room? I told them I'm perfectly fine with using the ones in the corridor."
Hans gave him a pat on the shoulder. "G'night, Ben. See you at breakfast tomorrow." He shut the door.
Guards rushed to Prince Benjamin at the sound of gunfire, asking if he was alright, if something happened to Prince Hans, if there was an intruder. Benjamin was still in shock as he handed one of the guards the gun and instructed him to return it to the armory; and that yes, he was okay, but to have servants check on Hans every once in a while throughout the night just to make sure. He also asked if one would bring a dustpan to Hans' room as well.
After that day, Hans kept everyone at a distance.
Maybe it was from some secret fear that they would be taken from him like Ivar. Like Søren. Benjamin couldn't find it in his heart to blame him. Besides, Hans just seemed to have the most terrible luck. He wasn't superstitious, but he wouldn't be surprised if breaking that mirror was just Hans' strange way of accepting that as a fact.
After all, if he were Hans, seven more years of bad luck was nothing.
Chapter 5: Illusion
Warning for self-harm.
Anna couldn't help but roll her eyes at the continued headache the Duke of Weselton continued to pose to Arendelle, even after making a fool of himself on the docks as he was getting sent away from the kingdom, especially even after getting sent to the dungeon to meet with Elsa later. At least Prince Hans seemed to accept whatever fate was given to him and silently made his way to the dungeon as both he and the duke were escorted by a few guards. Heaven forbid the prince join in on the embarrassing spectacle the duke was putting on for the crowd.
Then again, Prince Hans did just blow a huge secret for everyone to see earlier. It was wise to try to lay low for the moment and prevent more freak-outs from everyone else.
Despite how much she wanted to punch him in the face again, she got to hand it to him that he knew a lot more about behaving socially than either her or the duke, even if it was for nefarious reasons. Because if he wasn't, well... He was definitely deserving of having another dip in the fjord.
Unfortunately, the duke didn't end his hysterics when out of the public eye. In fact, it got exacerbated when both he and Hans were told that they would have to behave exceptionally well since they will be sharing a cell together in the dungeon.
"No, I refuse to share a cell with this monster!" the Duke of Weselton cried as he wrestled against the guard holding his arm. "He might go insane and kill me!"
"Due to the damage the dungeon has sustained recently," the guard said, obviously referring to the snow storm Elsa created then dissipated, "this is the only cell that is suitable for holding prisoners."
"A prisoner?" the duke said. "I am not a prisoner! I am a guest to this kingdom and I shall be treated as such!"
"After your behavior earlier?" Princess Anna said as she followed the procession. "As if."
"I do agree with the duke, Princess Anna," Prince Hans said, complying with the ministrations of the guards unlike the nobleman. "I actually might kill him." He gave the duke a small smirk, causing the grey-haired man to start and tug away from the guard even more.
"For everyone's safety, both of you are to surrender your coats and gloves, and turn over all of your pockets," another guard said. "We need to ensure that neither of you have any concealed weapons on you." He looked pointedly at the prince.
The duke grumbled, but complied without question and stripped off his coat. He gave the guards a dirty look, regardless. The prince, on the other hand, seemed to freeze on the spot at the request, his hands anchored on his lapels. Slowly, he reached into the inner folds of his jacket and pulled out something wrapped in an embroidered handkerchief. He handed the bundle to a guard, who unwrapped it to find a small pen knife.
"That's all I have," Prince Hans said. "I'd prefer to keep my coat on, since it is rather cold in these cells."
The duke seemed to pick up on the prince's discomfort and jabbed, "Come now, it's the middle of summer. A youth such as you shouldn't be having any of these maladies at this age."
Hans gave him a threatening glance. The duke cowed away.
"No exceptions, Prince Hans," the guard said.
The prince sighed and walked deeper into the cell, his back facing them. Princess Anna could see him brace himself as he tore off his coat and tossed it over his shoulder for the guards to catch it. He turned on his heel and crossed his arms in front of himself. Despite his body language reading discomfort and nervousness, his face was contorted into mild contempt.
"Happy?" he bit, the notes turning upwards slightly in anxiousness instead of annoyance as he likely intended. He played off his gaff with a neutral expression.
It didn't escape the duke's attention.
"What've you got there, Prince Hans?" the duke asked. "Not hiding another knife up your sleeves? I wouldn't be surprised if you knew a bit of sleight of hand."
"As I mentioned, I'm a bit chilly," Hans said, shivering slightly.
It was obvious it wasn't from the "cold."
Whatever the duke said, it seemed to plant a seed of suspicion in the guards. "Roll up your sleeves, Prince Hans."
"If I refuse?"
"Then we will do so by force."
The prince knitted his eyebrows together, glowering at the duke. "Check his sleeves, and I'll let you check mine."
The duke didn't appear to have anything to hide, so he tugged up yanked up his cuffs with a showy grin while showing the guards he had nothing on him, looking up pointedly at the prince.
Hans bit his lip, his eyes staring in intense concentration at the cuffs of his long-sleeved dress-shirt. He breathed a barely audible breath as he rolled his sleeves up. He visibly grew more confident, his back and shoulders straightening. He showed everyone what laid underneath, void of weapons or any other object that can harm others.
"May I?" Hans asked, peeved.
The guards nodded, and the prince went to tug his sleeves back down. However, the duke intercepted this by grabbing his wrist and pulling it to his spectacled face for closer inspection. Hans's eyes widened and he yowled in pain, yanking his arm back to his body. A quick flash of light erupted from where the duke grabbed him.
Wrapped around Hans's wrist was strips of gauze seeping in blood. Angry red rows of lacerations, equidistant yet crowded from one another lined the rest of his skin exposed by the rolled-up sleeves.
Hans looked to everyone else with a frightened expression, unmoving and still, his eyes searching for some kind of negative reaction. Then, as if a lever switched in his head, he blinked a few times and relaxed, pulling down the cuffs of his shirt back to be flush with his wrists, hiding the injuries from view.
No one said anything, only silence reverberating through the cell walls for minutes. The prince and the princess locked gazes; his nervous and inquisitive, hers shocked and apologetic.
Finally, he cleared his throat and looked to the floor.
"As it now appears, I should belong in an asylum," Hans said. "However, I'm perfectly fine and you shouldn't worry about it."
The duke harrumphed. "So, you willingly admit those are self-inflicted? Bah, 'fine.' This is not fine, Prince Hans. You are obviously not alright in the head to think any of this is acceptable."
"If only you knew," Hans murmured, shaking his head. He let out a half-hearted chuckle.
Anna gave the duke a reprimanding glance, silencing another jab at the prince from him. Instead, he crossed his arms and looked away, peeved.
To Hans, she only had one question, "Why?"
The prince appeared to consider her monosyllabic question intensely, his mouth in a frown. "Because the man you thought I was is just an illusion."
His ambiguous answer confused her even more. "So, what, are you trying to kill yourself?" As she thought about it, she probably should have worded that better. Or maybe said it nicer.
The question made Hans glower at her, his jaw setting as he huffed a long breath out through his nostrils. He caught himself and rearranged his features into one that was friendly and amicable.
"Actually, I'm just trying to keep myself from killing you," the prince said with a smile.
Chapter 6: Aberration
Warning for self-harm.
Life in the orphanage in the Southern Isles, while already difficult enough trying to live through childhood without a family, was exceptionally lonely for Ivar. The matrons were friendly and helpful, and he didn't get into many squabbles with the other children, so he had no complaints there. No, he knew the loneliness was entirely his own fault. It was a necessary evil, after all.
No one was to know he was a magician. Because once they knew, there was no way to stop them if they decided to tell anyone else. Then there was no stopping whoever they told, so on and so forth. There was no question he'd get stuck into an asylum like all the other magicians. Sure, maybe he'd feel less lonely once the secret was out; but then again, at least in the orphanage it felt like he had more opportunities to fulfill some sense of purpose in his life, compared to living the rest of his existence in an asylum.
Existence. It certainly wasn't going to be a life.
It didn't help the hurt at all, though, when he would watch the other children play and he'd have to fake disinterest. He had to continually convince himself that the freedom once he was out of the orphanage would be worth it, be it through adoption or merely outgrowing the need for caregivers. He knew he didn't have any problems hiding any hint of magic about himself, which was fortunate since everyone else seemed to have problems hiding it. And even if he did slip, it wasn't like he could kill anyone unlike the man who called a swarm of wasps upon the citizens of Corona when he was overcome with "the Curse of Magician's Madness," as the populace liked to call it.
Ivar's magic was just innocent little butterflies. Literally.
But, oh God, did the loneliness burn something fierce in his chest. It nearly drove him mad, enough to get him paranoid enough that he was driving himself closer to that Coronian wasp-man's fate.
It probably wasn't the best idea he ever had, and it easily could have gotten him killed if it got infected, but the loneliness and frustration was eating away at him so slowly. And then to top it all off, no one wanted him because he was much too close to manhood, continually being passed up for the younger ones even though that meant he was yet another day closer to gaining his independence...
Stupid idea. Worst idea in existence. Had absolutely no rationale behind it. But...
To retell the events plainly: he took a knife from the kitchen, cut his hand a few times, then hid underneath his cot so that no one would know what he just did. If they noticed, he just brushed it off to clumsiness and made sure to keep the injuries a lot better hidden in the future. Fewer reasons for people to ask questions, the better.
It hurt. It hurt like hell. But to him it hurt less than the loneliness, that's for sure. Above all, though, somehow it worked. The noise in his head from trying to deny himself the want for companionship was quiet.
And so it went that Ivar covered up a secret with yet another secret. But he was fine. Absolutely fine.
Then the opportunity presented itself when he was seeking employment in the town square so that he could ensure that he wasn't homeless once released from the orphanage. He was turned away, again and again, the day of his independence fast approaching with living on the streets within sight. He didn't want that.
But then he somehow caught the attention of Prince Hans as the royal was doing a welfare check of the citizens with the rest of the Royal Family, as they were wont to do every other month. Gaining the youngest prince's attention was an extraordinary feat, since out of the many princes the kingdom had no shortage of, Prince Hans was the one who seemed least likely to concern himself with the goings-on of the citizens. In fact, he was rarely seen ever since the late Prince Søren passed away eight years ago. Even sightings of the youngest prince in public eye within those eight years could be counted on one hand.
"Good day, Your Highness," Ivar said, making a bow as the prince hovered around him uncomfortably.
"Good day to you as well," Prince Hans said, his hands clasped behind his back, his face neutral and professional. "If I may ask, how old are you?"
Ivar grinned. "Not much older than you, Your Highness. I am sixteen."
"Are you looking for work?"
"Yes I am, Your Highness."
"I heard word from the other citizens that you are having problems procuring a job."
"That I am, Your Highness."
"Are you good with your hands?"
"Yessir, that I am, Your Highness. The matrons have me help the builders when making repairs at the orphanage and I help in the kitchen sometimes."
Hans gave a stoic nod. "I have recently acquired a horse. Do you believe you are capable of working in the stables?"
"I'll do any labor people put me to, as long as it's honest, Your Highness."
This response seemed to please Prince Hans, since he gave him a small grin. However, the mirth from the prince ceased and his eyes began to scan left and right in distress, though his expression returned to mild interest of the situation.
Any evidence from either the amusement or distress was void from Prince Hans's voice as he said, quite matter-of-factly, "Gather your belongings together from the orphanage. Tomorrow, you will report to the castle and live and work there as a stable boy." Then he turned his attention away and went to the elderly woman beside him to hear what she wanted to say.
Ivar couldn't believe it. He still couldn't believe it when he was later showed where his lodgings would be in the castle. Despite the hand he was dealt in life that pointed to a world of misery, just one chance encounter had turned everything around for the better. He had work, lodging, and servants he worked alongside that felt like the family he never had. He couldn't ever hope to repay Prince Hans and the rest of the Royal Family for giving him this chance, and still they did it.
However, when Ivar tried to thank Prince Hans personally, he found that it was a harder task than he realized. The other princes were very approachable, so it wasn't a matter of social or political status. When asked if Ivar might have the chance to thank the youngest prince face-to-face, the princes just hemmed and hawed and said that it was best to leave him be since Prince Hans preferred to be alone most of the time.
Prince Benjamin, however, suggested that he might catch him coming back from his frequent hunting trips in the nearby woods, but to keep the interaction short.
When asked why, Prince Benjamin said, "I think out of everyone, Hans was the one who took Søren's death the hardest. It was probably the trauma of the death in his early childhood or the trauma of his actions soon afterward that made him withdraw from everyone. Maybe both. Søren and Hans were inseparable. Søren pretty much raised him, in addition to the king and queen and other caretakers. Though don't go mentioning this to everyone else. It's still a sore subject for everyone and it's best to not go picking at wounds that everyone else is trying to recover from."
The death of the late Crown Prince Søren? Of course it was a sore subject.
"May I ask how was his reaction was after the loss, Your Highness?" Ivar asked.
Prince Benjamin pursed his lips and rubbed at his neck uncomfortably. "As much as I'm glad to see your concern over my little brother, I'm afraid that information would either stigmatize him or cause you to worry for him even more. I mean no offense to you, but some things are best kept in the past to never be remembered."
It wasn't even in his intention or position to pry, so the explanation was enough for Ivar, though the mystery and curiosity surrounding the youngest prince had only heightened.
Perhaps this was why the common folk liked to refer to him as a "fae child." The rarity of being close to him, both figuratively and literally, was akin to a sighting of a mythical beast in the wild. But Ivar was optimistic that he'd have more of a chance unlike everyone else. Ivar was probably the closest to being a fae as any human could get.
It didn't surprise him when he took Prince Benjamin's advice and waited near the hunting shed after he was finished with the horse stalls and saw the fabled prince return to put away the crossbow. The two locked gazes, inspecting one another.
Prince Hans looked dreadful: animal blood soaking the front of this shirt, the trophied carcasses hanging from a rope against his back (likely to be a part of dinner later), sweat soaking his hair and forehead, dirt caked into his boots and pants from what appeared to be from a long period of kneeling in the mud.
"Ivar the stable boy, correct?" the prince asked.
"Yes, Your Highness," Ivar responded. He mustered courage. "I just want to thank you with the greatest sincerity that you have given me such a tremendous opportunity; a complete stranger, an orphaned peasant, no less."
Prince Hans shrugged, the hunted animals twisting about on their tethers from the small movement. "I haven't done much good for the kingdom unlike the rest of my family. Might as well impact at least one person's circumstances before I die; it would be a waste of privilege if I didn't, right? I'm pleased to know that you appreciate the help, and my family and I are grateful that you are able to help us in kind."
The response wasn't anything he'd expected from Prince Hans, someone younger that him, for Pete's sake. Why so dire? Why do solemn? It was like all the joys of childhood were sucked out of him, and in Ivar's eyes, Prince Hans was still a child. Sure, Ivar himself didn't have a great childhood either at his age. But seeing history repeat itself, especially in someone who gave him such a life-changing offer—
It occurred to him that Prince Hans might not have a friend either. Well, if that were the case, Ivar took it upon himself to do just that. And considering how private the prince was, well…
Ivar gave a bow, waving his hand towards the shed behind his back so that Prince Hans wouldn't see the gesture. The he walked away as if to return to the stables. He looked behind him just in time to see a giant cloud of butterflies pour out of the hunting shed, Prince Hans dropping everything as he stepped back in shock, then looking around him in wonder and laughter of the colorful display of the insects. He looked to Ivar questioningly, who just shrugged innocently in response.
That was how their friendship started and Ivar's pain of loneliness ended.
It was nice, finally having someone to confide in, both his secrets of magic and inflicted pain out in the open between the two. Even Hans—he made it adamant to drop his title when it was just the two of them—had confided everything to him. Even though Hans didn't have such a secret like hiding magical powers from everyone, he still knew the loneliness of keeping magic secret. According to Hans, Prince Søren was also a magic-wielder, but with powers everyone could agree was destructive and dangerous. So when the rest of the family inevitably found out, they went with Prince Søren's wishes to continue to keep it secret as he let himself wither away into nothing before he died. They let the public believe that Prince Søren died due to illness.
Ivar still noticed that Hans was still sad for some reason, so with every chance he could take, he'd try to cheer him up with secret displays of magic or with just being there when the prince needed it. Even the Royal Family were encouraging of the friendship since they said it was the first time they'd seen Hans so much more cheery and social.
"I'm very glad to happen upon you, Ivar," Hans said one day. "One day, maybe we can prove that not all magicians are insane, blood-thirsty destroyers."
"I hope you're not going to reveal my secret anytime soon."
"Of course not! At least, not until much later of course."
Much later came after two years, when Ivar was eighteen and Hans fifteen. Ivar had recently started hurting himself again, much to his chagrin, when scary and… violent ideas started cropping into his mind on a daily basis. Somehow, they would subside for a while from the blood and the pain, but would return much later for the cycle to continue again.
"You can't keep doing this," Hans pleaded. "There's no way anything good could ever come from anything like this."
"I-I-I just don't know what's wrong with me, Hans," Ivar stammered. "I'm just scared that one day I might give in and then I might seriously hurt someone."
"Please, promise to at least try. You've been there for me in the past, let me be there for you this time. I don't want to see you getting seriously hurt either."
Ivar promised, and he stopped.
When it inevitably got bad again, he hesitated, the little paring knife from the kitchen hovering a few inches from his forearm. Then he remembered the promise, put down the blade, and sought out Hans.
Everything after was a blur.
There was screaming and shouting and too much light and too many images of Hans and there was a spade involved somehow. And then there were horses and blood and guards and crying and dark cells and chains and gallows and nooses—
And then butterflies. So many butterflies.
Chapter 7: Distortion
Both themes of suicide and murder in here soooo… um… beware guys.
It passed through Viktor's mind that the scene before him was actually quite beautiful. The sun had barely risen and its young, new beams reaching toward the earth had signaled the start of the day. (Had he really been sitting here for that long?) The light touched the air above the aqua sea, driving away the marine layer and the cool of night and brought forth a salt-tinged, curling breeze that swept across his face.
Longer, he waited.
The sun no longer hiding under the horizon, the endless water a blanket it finally shrugged off. In the distance, he heard the stirrings of activity of the kingdom behind him starting to wake. The cool rocks he sat upon slowly reviving themselves under the sun's guidance and warming with the seaside air. Birds began to chirp and chatter amongst themselves.
It was all so tranquil, so beautiful… Viktor almost reconsidered just to admire it all indefinitely.
But then the full commotion of the kingdom broke through the serenity, drowning out the subtlety of the world reawakening through the droning of a busy day in the markets.
Imagining all those people going on about their day rekindled the loneliness and isolation within him, hollow, heavy, and cold at the center of his chest. He swung his legs as they dangled from his precarious perch at the top of the seaside cliff as the waves below rhythmically washed over the rocks, welcoming him, enticing him to join the aquatic symphony.
The day was indeed beautiful.
It was a good day to die.
A great boom of an empty cannon rumbled in the distance behind him. To celebrate the twenty-first birthday of the essentially nonexistent youngest son of the king and queen of the Southern Isles, he remembered mildly.
How ironic, he thought to himself, that the entire kingdom's attention was invested in someone who might as well be a part of fiction; whereas someone like himself who worked so hard as an honest man to survive in a world where if enough people were convinced you were a sorcerer, no matter how untrue it was, you were easily ostracized and everyone would turn a blind eye to your existence. Then again, it was probably that people put more worth in the royal family than to someone who would sweep the streets for a living.
There was no such thing as justice in this world. Family meant nothing, and friendship and loyalty even less so.
Viktor wanted no part of it.
"A lovely view, isn't it?"
Viktor almost toppled forward from the sudden intrusion of his solitude, but a steady hand caught his shoulder before he could lose his balance and plummet into the sea prematurely. Indignantly, he turned to look at the stranger beside him, annoyed that he no longer had this moment to himself anymore. Just this thought alone caused tears to prick and well in his eyes and he had to turn away to look at the waves below again, not able to properly identify the intruder.
Through tear-blurred eyes, he could make out a pair of expensive leather boots with just as exquisite trousers tucked creaseless into them, a gold stripe of embroidery running along the side seam he could see. The shorter pair of legs dangled just as dangerously over the seaside cliff as his own were, but they were stock-still like a statue.
Viktor couldn't bring himself to make eye contact. He didn't want some stranger's face to be the last thing on his mind as he went through with this. It felt sacrilegious for some reason.
"How are you faring?" the stranger continued. "Well, I hope?"
Viktor shrugged a shoulder, but kept silent.
"I hope you know this isn't a good idea, nor should it be seen as a solution."
Viktor hunched over and covered his face with his hands, the tears finally spilling onto his face.
"I'm just so sick of all of it," Viktor said. "Why does it always happen to the innocent people?"
"Does what happen?"
"I lost everything!" Viktor snapped, finally glaring at the stranger, getting a good look at his face.
Except the stranger wasn't a stranger. Not completely.
Viktor jolted in surprise, but this time he lost his command of his precarious perch, it felt like he was ultimately going to fall off the cliff like he intended.
Or he would have, if he wasn't tackled just in time away from the edge and to safety, Viktor's back now screaming in protest as tiny rocks poked into his skin.
"My apologies, Prince Hans," Viktor said, in shock, everything around him a blur of movement, the prince casting a worried look over him as the royal twitched and jittered from what was apparently adrenaline. "I didn't intend to speak in such a harsh manner."
Either Viktor was still in shock and he must have hit his head, or there was a trail of motes of light or tiny luminescent raindrops that floated around the prince as he moved away from him to sit on his heels.
Or more like little mirror particles, as if they were caught in a different frame of time as they flew, suspended in the air; a split-second moment when silvered glass shattered and spread its pieces everywhere.
As soon as he noticed, they vanished, and the prince seemed near the brink of panic now.
Hm. Yes, it appeared that he must've hit his head very hard. He wondered if Prince Hans was worried about his wellbeing, or if he was concerned that, should Viktor die, he'd surely ruin the family reputation for accidentally killing a peasant.
Of course, it would've been because he was trying to save a suicidal peasant, but that was beside the point.
The Southern Isles was rather strict—even to its princes—after all.
"Where is your family?" the prince asked.
"I have none," Viktor said simply. "They threw me out."
"A home then?"
"Landlord threw me out as well."
Viktor couldn't help but offer a feeble laugh at this point. "My answer would further remind me of why the seas call me, if you understand this line of answers to your questions."
The prince sighed. "Tell me why, then."
"Like this concerns you."
Prince Hans brought his feet out from under him to sit cross-legged beside Viktor, an undignified manner of sitting unbecoming a man of his social and political status. Prince Hans leaned back slightly as he took in his surroundings. "What is your name, then?"
"Viktor…" the prince seemed to be searching his memory, then snapped his attention away from their surroundings back to him. "You don't happen to sweep the streets, do you? Wife a seamstress?"
Viktor gaped in surprise. Prince Hans must have excellent recall if he knew that about him.
Or was strangely fixated on him, morbidly enough.
"Used to, until the rumors ruined my life."
"But according to the records, you were cleared upon the conclusion of the investigation."
"By law, I am not a magician; but in the eyes of the people, suspicion still dominates. I can never be free from that mark, not even after I get hanged from the gallows like they want."
Prince Hans turned his eyes toward the seas just a few feet from where they were.
"I've learned very early on that magic is unfair," the prince said. "Everyone it affects, it twists and bends a person beyond anything recognizable, including those without the curse. Then one day, that person will get the chance to see themselves reflected in the mirror of reality and see how much of a monster they've devolved into and consider what you're considering. Friends betray you, family would no longer care if you lived or died, and you yourself can no longer see the good in the world. Because of this, I've learned to hate magic and all it represents."
"So why do you care so much about my situation?" Viktor asked.
The prince didn't tear his eyes away from the ocean. "I had suspicions about the treatment of those acquitted from accusations such as yours, and I intend to do something about it, I just needed more proof to help my case. And considering that something looked amiss in the square, I noticed that you were missing."
"But how did you know to find me here?"
"This cliff is rather popular for the hopeless." He shrugged. "My brother found me here when I was little, and no one really comes here just for the view, as he said."
The two of them let that statement settle for a while.
The sounds of celebration in the kingdom continued in the distance, music and cheering flew through the trees to remind them of a world they weren't participating in. Viktor shut his eyes at let himself just soak in the separation between him and civilization, to just simply be.
"I've also learned," the prince continued in a lower voice, cutting through the weighted silence, "that I'm willing to try anything to ensure the safety of the Southern Isles, especially from myself."
Viktor blinked, the sudden dark tone catching him by surprise.
"What do you mean?" Viktor asked.
Viktor blinked, and suddenly he was surrounded by the ocean as he lay harmlessly on top as if the water repelled his presence. His ears and his eyes couldn't quite agree if the water was right next to him since the sounds of the seas were far off in the distance while what he saw said otherwise. Prince Hans was nowhere in sight.
He blinked again, and he was back atop the cliff beside the prince as if nothing happened.
"You're a…" Viktor trailed off. He couldn't bring himself to say it. This was a prince. How in the world did the Southern Isles let this happen when others like him couldn't retain innocence?
"Yes, and no one knows," the prince said.
"If we want to get into semantics, except you and Prince Søren."
"Prince Søren knew?"
"Only because he was a magician as well. I owe it to him to test out this theory I've had for a while."
Viktor was afraid to ask. "Which is...?"
"Magicians tend to lose their sanity later in adolescence, often trying to kill someone for no reason. I've just turned twenty-one and I haven't had that happen to me yet, and I have my methods to resist the urges. But I've been wondering if I could be rid of that day altogether if I just… kill someone while I'm still sane."
Viktor stood up in alarm, his head spinning and he stumbled around. He forgot about his head injury.
Prince Hans stood up even quicker, grabbing his wrist, twisting it behind his back, and covering Viktor's mouth to keep him from screaming out for help.
"This life isn't worth living, Viktor," the prince said, voice wavering. "But I know that if I destroy myself, I can never save the innocent people, people like you. Prince Søren's death would have been in vain, the pain and injustices my friend Ivar had to endure would continue in others, and people like you would die to be forgotten in history with no one that cared for them anymore.
"But I have a duty to the kingdom. I want to make this a better place for anyone to live, magician and non-magician alike. Believe me when I say that I never wanted to resort to anything this drastic, but I'm desperate. I need to know, so maybe I can pass this knowledge to someone in a similar situation like me where their powers aren't inherently dangerous."
Viktor began to cry. He didn't want this, not anymore. His sobs were muffled behind the prince's hand. Prince Hans began to cry as well.
"I'm sorry," Prince Hans whispered. "I'm so, so sorry." He heaved a long breath. "But you were the best candidate for this and I can't let this chance escape me. No one would doubt what happened to you once I tell them that you jumped to your death after I failed to convince you to reconsider. You have all the motives, and you walked here on your own accord." He started to lead Viktor back to the cliff, twisting his arm harder as he struggled. "At least know that if there is an afterlife and should your actions be judged, it wasn't yourself who dealt the killing stroke but someone else. But I promise you and whatever powers that be that happen to be listening, I will not take another's life ever again. I've fallen far, but I'm not going to fall so far to make this into a habit."
With one swift motion, Viktor felt a boot kick him in the back as hands released then re-grasped him by the side of his head. His head twisted to the side suddenly from the strong hold on him, he heard and felt his neck snapping.
It wasn't instant as Viktor had hoped.
His body limp from his injured spine, he was helpless to react to his plummet into the ocean. He screamed on the way down, and his voice still carried on even as he sank into the water and his useless limbs did nothing to save him.
He spent his last breath cursing Prince Hans before his lungs filled with water.
Chapter 8: Mirror
The ruckus that met her as soon as she entered into the dungeon elicited a flinch from the Queen of Arendelle. She paused in the middle of her stride, took a long breath, held it, then resumed with measured steps to meet the prisoners when she felt her nerves settle a bit and her confidence to maintain control boosted when she recalled the not-too-long-ago dissipation of the snowstorm she created.
Nagging doubt, however, returned when she remembered her desperation when she herself was held a prisoner in one of these cells tugged at the chains of fear still encapsulated around her heart. They yanked themselves harder when she heard one of the guards tell the prisoners they they needed to share a cell since there was only one still functional.
The guard didn't need to say why. It was obvious.
The dungeon was no longer structurally sound in many areas. Because of her.
She was able to hold up some places that would've collapsed with blocks of ice, a temporary fix for when reconstructive efforts to the rest of the kingdom were finished. But mere ice, especially with criminals crafty enough, wouldn't be able to contain prisoners unlike sturdy stone and mortar. It also went without saying that she wasn't expecting the dungeons to be used so soon, either. Anyone who was high-profile enough to be put in the castle dungeons themselves were already on their way back home, the last set of ships set to sail in just a few hours.
Elsa came back from her rumination when the voices grew quieter and she could finally hear Anna's voice as a mixture of concern and indignant inquisition, the words too faint to be heard despite Elsa's closing distance. A low voice came in reply, notes of warning interwoven in a friendly, formal tone.
The queen finally rounded a corner and saw the length of hallway that housed the prisoners that Princess Anna had urged Queen Elsa to visit. Considering that this news was delivered to her through a servant instead of through the princess herself, she assumed that it was a high priority.
With Anna and the guards finally in view, Elsa could see that Anna's brows were scrunched together in a manner that suggested frustration or anger, or perhaps bewilderment. Elsa had never really been around Anna enough to be able to pick up the nuances of her sister's emotions, she noted sadly. It didn't escape Elsa's notice that the door to the cell was still open. She couldn't decide if it was a good sign.
Princess Anna took notice of her arrival and strode over to her from her position in front of the cell.
"Elsa!" Anna greeted, her earlier mood vanishing.
"I assume this is urgent?" Elsa asked.
"There is actually no need for urgency, Queen Elsa," came a voice from within the cell. "I'd rather bide my time than rush into decisions."
Elsa felt a rush of anger as she recognized Prince Hans' voice, traces of her magic willing to dance around her fingers in response to her emotions. Her shoulders tensed as soon as she recognized the start of a slip in her control of her powers. Yes, she now knew the ways of proper management of her magic should she mess up; no, it didn't mean that she wouldn't regret her actions if she did.
Don't be the monster they fear you are.
She could hear those words echo from when they were said up the North Mountain, seen in the prince's eyes as he stared at her, studying her with an unreadable expression. It was terrifying, remembering her desire to hurt the men attacking her, pushing her to do so much more. It wasn't her. At that time, it wasn't.
But it was so easy to let it consume her should she follow through.
A harrowing experience was what she decided to call it. An anomaly she did not want to repeat.
The quiet between them was broken when she heard the Duke of Weselton cut in, irritation tugging at the corner of Elsa's lips into a frown.
"Queen Elsa!" the short, elderly nobleman barked. "This is an outrage! I will not accept the terms of severance between Weselton and Arendelle. I will treat it as grounds to break our alliance! Keeping me as a prisoner will count as an act of war!"
"Be glad that your act of treason in sending your men to kill the queen hasn't seen you hanged," one of the guards said.
"She cursed the kingdom! I only did what I thought would save it!"
"By that same logic, Prince Hans would be just as innocent as you."
Elsa held up a hand, keeping both the guard and the duke from furthering their exchange.
"I had both of you sent to your respective kingdoms to be tried for your crimes there," Elsa said, donning an air of regality that she was admittedly unpracticed with. "Considering that Princess Anna has decided that both of you be sent to the dungeon instead, I'm assuming that there are new circumstances surrounding your cases that is hindering my original decision. And because of this, I'm here to discuss those new developments, and I will not hear anything else from either of you, especially of previous events that I've already made my orders in."
She could see the duke begin to retort.
"And yes, that includes the severed trade relations," Elsa said.
She looked to both the prince and the duke, hoping either of them would divulge any information as to why Anna put them here. Neither seemed willing to offer anything. She looked to Anna.
"Hans has magic," Anna said. "And the duke's hoping to get him executed because of this. I was wondering if you wanted to have a say."
Elsa turned to Hans. His face was still unreadable, but there was a rigidity in his stature that wasn't there before. Had she been anyone else, she wouldn't have noticed. But she knew about keeping secrets, and with such a big one on the line put out there so off-handedly by someone else, she knew that his reaction confirmed that this was the case.
She'd do the same in his place.
She decided to give him a chance to confirm it himself. "Is this true?"
"About the duke wanting my execution?" Hans said. "Yes."
He was beating around the bush, and she couldn't understand why. No one else reacted when Anna said anything about Hans having powers, so they've certainly witnessed it firsthand. Was he hoping she wouldn't notice?
"I was asking about the magic," Elsa said. "Was that true?"
The prince's eyes swam with a multitude of emotions, his face twitching slightly as he cycled through each one, his gaze avoiding hers as he stared off to the corner of the cell that wasn't in her line of sight. His jaw clenched as returned his attention to her, his emotions settling on hate as he returned to having an air of indifference.
She saw that the hate wasn't directed at her.
He sighed as if he was bored and took a step backward, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wall. He exchanged glances with both her and Anna. Then he closed his eyes.
A quick flash of intense light, and before her in the middle of the cell was… her, as if she was looking into a reflection of herself in a mirror. She reached out to touch it, the copy of herself doing the same, and her hand passed through the apparition. She looked to the side and saw Hans, eyes opened again. He stared at the manifestation in the middle of the room with the same hate she saw briefly earlier. His body was tensed and he had a hand digging his fingers into his upper arm deep enough where it looked like he was ready to tear into his shirtsleeve.
Anna appeared to take notice and reprimanded him. "Stop doing that with your shirt."
Elsa looked to her sister in askance. Anna gave her a terse look that said she wasn't going to elaborate yet. Elsa grew more confused when she saw Hans shooting her sister a dirty look, yet still complied.
"Interesting," Elsa said, referring to the illusory image before her.
The prince set his eyes to the floor and gave a hmph in response, his lip curling into a frown. The illusion faded away.
She had so many questions.
She wasn't the only one with powers after all? How long had he been able to do that? Were his affected by his emotions like hers were? Was this why he was able to strike her when she was weakest with his words, because he himself knew just what would hurt him?
"Why do you keep your powers hidden?" Elsa asked.
Hans set his jaw as his frown etched itself deeper onto his face. His eyes opened slightly and flashed a warning as if the question offended him. He gave a half-hearted, menacing chuckle.
"You really are ignorant, are you?" he said, the laugh spilling into his words. "You don't have the slightest idea just how dangerous is it to be a magician?"
It was Elsa's turn to feel offended. "You don't believe I haven't lived with that fact since I hurt Anna as a child?"
He shook his head, mocking her with yet another laugh. "No, Queen Elsa, I'm talking about why someone like myself would be considered dangerous enough for execution. As you already witnessed, my magic leaves nothing tangible behind. I can't possibly destroy nations the way you and many other magicians can."
"So there are more of… us?"
Hans tsked. "How wonderful it must be to have been so isolated from the world where even that wasn't apparent to you. Yes, there are many magicians out there. But most of them are locked away to be forgotten in an asylum and wither away into nothing once they lose control."
"But… I know how to control my powers, and so do you, apparently."
"The magic itself isn't what I'm referring to."
"What are you referring to, then?"
"Remember, up in your ice palace in the mountain? That sudden need to inflict pain and suffering and to kill?"
Anna shot a worried look to Elsa, her eyes showing bewilderment and distrust at what Hans said. She looked ready to rebuke him and claim that the otherwise was true about Elsa.
The queen pressed her lips into a thin line.
"That, is what I am referring to," Hans continued. "And that is why I'll be executed if this rat"—Hans nudged his head in the general direction of the duke—"were to instill that fear in my family. What he doesn't understand is how much that will destroy them and the Southern Isles. It's been the status quo in my kingdom for the longest time: lock away the magicians, try to find a cure, fail to find one, have them put to death in secrecy once it appears that the afflicted no longer have an ounce of sanity left in them. Public execution is only reserved for those who've done the most heinous crimes, and publicly executing a magician who's had a hand in political affairs for years? No, I'd never want that backlash on my family, which is why I've tried so hard to maintain control as long as possible, because then people will want to investigate things deeper. And that will bring about more ruin they don't deserve.
"But control while you're in your right mind means nothing once the magic turns itself against you. It's like a parasite that nips away at your mind, only growing stronger as you grow older. By the time you notice its existence, it's already too late and you find yourself yet another victim of the curse."
After he finished speaking, she noticed that everyone around her was shivering, Anna trying her best to keep from overtly rubbing her arms. Elsa looked to her hands and stifled the dread and fear that she didn't notice she was feeling. One of the guards let out an almost-imperceptible sigh of relief as the discomfort around her ceased.
Even more questions. Even more things she wanted to know, especially about his family since it probably would explain why he tried to kill her and Anna, but the hurt in his voice made it plain that he wasn't willing to share.
She was worried she might end up facing the same dilemma he was at some point.
"There's no way to stop it?" Elsa asked.
"Elsa, you can't seriously be believing whatever he's saying," Anna said.
Elsa bit her lip and looked to the side, her eyes tracing the cobblestone floor. "You weren't there when I…"
When she wanted to kill those Weselton men.
She was only intending to defend herself, and somehow… Somehow she almost pushed herself past the line between defense and cold-blooded retribution. It wasn't her, though. It wasn't!
"When you what?" Anna asked.
Elsa shook her head. "He isn't lying," she said, not wanting to bring up the situation only herself and the prince had witnessed, the only ones that knew the true gravity of her actions, especially now that she knew exactly how slippery that slope easily could have been.
To Hans, she asked again, "There's no way to stop it?"
The prince closed himself off and considered her intensely. He knew something, but she wasn't sure if he simply didn't want to share it with her, or was afraid to share it in general. It appeared that she passed some kind of mental test since he dissolved into himself and slid to the floor, his previous confidence and large personality gone, leaving a frail and weary one instead.
She wondered if this was him showing his true self.
"Considering how little you know of the phenomenon of magical powers in humans, you aren't familiar with Szaera's work," Hans started. "She was a researcher who wrote a book compiling everything there was to know about magicians and their effects on society. Unlike many others like her at the time, she was the only one whose goal was to find a remedy, not simply make sense of the phenomenon. She didn't find one, but noticed that those who… gave in, but in small quantities, were able to thwart the madness much longer than those who didn't. I put her theories to the test, and there is merit to her research. I only need more time to find out if there's something more permanent."
All of a sudden, Anna grew incensed.
"No, you are not going to suggest that to my sister, you creep!" the princess screamed. "Don't you realize how much she's been tortured by isolating herself? Now you want to go ahead and make that worse?"
"You think I wanted this?" Hans growled, his tone restrained and words forcefully slow. "I told you before, I'm only doing this to keep myself from killing everyone around me. Don't you think she wants to have that decision herself?"
"It shouldn't even be a decision!"
"What else can she do? I saw how easily she could have slipped, and you should thank me that I was able to intervene."
"After trying to kill both of us? No, you deserve whatever punishment your family's going to give you! You're nothing but a bloodthirsty monster!"
The blood drained from the prince's face as he fell silent, his mouth parted slightly as he looked to Anna in disbelief. He composed himself and stood up, that unreadable mask once again taking control of him.
"Then I spoke out of turn," he said. "How foolish of me to suggest such dreadful, dishonorable acts to the righteous Queen of Arendelle. Such depravity should never grace Her Majesty's considerations."
Elsa looked between her sister and Hans, confused.
"Would you like to elaborate?" Elsa said, finally finding the courage to reengage in her interrogation.
"No," Hans said. "I've said enough. I'll take whatever punishment awaits me. My family is honorable and just, they will not give an exception to me since no one is above the law, and I am one to agree with them."
He couldn't just leave it at that, could he? She needed to know how to keep those evil whims at bay! She didn't want it to happen again.
But she knew that look. She wore that same one many times whenever she caught glimpses of Anna when they were growing up. No matter how much she would try to get an answer from him, the figurative door would not open. Even on the threat of death.
He didn't just close himself off, he was running away.
Chapter 9: Diffraction
Warning for a suicidal character.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Prince Benjamin stared a mile off past the tombstone that had his eldest brother's name on its face. Prince Clement, his brother closest in age at being just one year older, clamped a heavy hand on his shoulder. The slight trembling transmitted through the epaulet of his formal, black mourning clothes silently told Benjamin that Clement was close to breaking down in tears despite how stoic the older was trying to be, much like the other princes.
Benjamin tried hard to ignore his surroundings, Clement's trembling sapping his last traces of saving face. Benjamin was half-tempted to push Clement's hand off of him, but he knew that Clement was probably hurting inside just as much as he was. And, considering Benjamin was only eight and Clement nine, there was no way either of them were capable enough to pull off the emotionless façade.
The public announcement a few days ago of Crown Prince Søren's death sent a shockwave of sadness throughout the kingdom. However, no one was surprised. It was well-known throughout the Southern Isles and the allied kingdoms that Prince Søren was gravely sick with an illness he fought for weeks. An illness he finally succumbed to.
The royal family were the only ones that knew any better.
Prince Benjamin remembered hovering around the king's study, wanting to request joining the second-eldest Prince Rudolf on his tour around the globe as an ambassador. (Benjamin was still too young at the age of eight to request his own voyages, needing to ride the older brothers' coat-tails until he turned sixteen or so.) He remembered having to wait outside since Søren was with Father, discussing his own political ventures with allies, from what bits and pieces Benjamin was able to make out.
The conversation had grown heated. Something unheard of between mild-mannered father and mild-mannered eldest son.
And then he heard the king scream out in agony.
Søren swung the door open, the wood rebounding against the opposite wall with a slam and rattling the hinges. He looked at Benjamin with a paper-white face as he barked out, "Get Mother, Ben! Quick!"
After the queen mended the king for burn wounds across his chest, the secret truth about the Crown Prince was made known to the rest of the family, one kept hidden from everyone for years.
Prince Søren was a magician, and he was losing it.
A slow death he didn't deserve.
It was Søren's idea to seclude himself, suggesting to Father that the public were to believe he came down with a grave and unknown illness to explain his sudden withdrawal from the public sphere. To save the benevolent reputation the royal family had carefully built over the years and preserve it from scrutiny if Søren's magic were made known.
And no one who wasn't immediate family was allowed to know.
The curse of magic was swift to ravage all of Søren's personality, his last days turning him into a violent and feral monster. The last memory Benjamin had of Søren still being alive was making eye contact with him when he brought him food. It was like that one time Benjamin wandered and got lost in the woods alone like an idiot, staring down a wolf ready to attack him. Søren and Hans were the ones that found him, the former saving him with a well-aimed arrow between the beast's eyes.
His heart ached at the memories, and he brought himself back to the present at the thought of Hans and a sudden realization.
Hans was missing.
Benjamin scanned his eyes around the gathered mourners, the sea of blacks and grays blending everyone into a cloud. The archbishop standing before them continued on with the funeral ceremony, his voice like a low rumble of thunder. Benjamin shrugged off Clement's hand and tapped the side of the older's arm to get his attention.
He mouthed, "Where's Hans?"
Clement seemed to stuff back his sadness and looked around the crowd with urgency. Clement pulled out a small pocketbook from an inner pocket of his coat with a bit of charcoal. He jotted down "Ben and I will look for Hans" before tearing out the page and handing it to Prince Rudolf beside them.
The second-born looked at the scrap from the eleventh-born and then to the both of them. He nodded and turned his attention back to the bishop, slowly handing the sheet down to the next prince beside him to be passed down one by one to the king and queen, the whole family being notified of the missing thirteenth prince.
Benjamin and Clement, as respectfully as they could, separated themselves from the mourners and left the gravesite.
"Did you see where he went?" Clement asked once they were safe from disturbing the funeral.
"Wasn't he right next to you?" Benjamin said.
"Yeah, but I… kinda spaced out. I didn't want to think about…" Clement looked over his shoulder, back to the ceremony they waded themselves out of. He shook his head as if snapping himself back to the present. "Hans isn't one to sneak off alone. I'm worried."
Hans always found himself around the king and queen, or one of the eldest brothers, namely Prince Søren. With Søren gone...
Benjamin nodded, understanding, and reached out for his brother and took his elbow, pulling his arm gently. "Let's find our baby brother."
"Did you even see him leave?"
"No, I was also spaced out."
The younger of the two decided to ask the guards that surrounded the premises of the graveyard if they saw the youngest prince. None of them had noticed anyone leave from the ceremony save for Benjamin and Clement.
"If anything, Your Highnesses," one of the guards said. "He still might be somewhere in the graveyard." One of the guards decided to help the young princes with their search, Benjamin and Clement searching one half, the guard searching the other.
Clement was the one who spotted the missing prince first, huddled behind the tombstone of their great-great-great-great-great grandmother or something like that. Benjamin found history about his family to be boring and never really payed attention. Something like that was more of Clement's thing.
"H-Hans, what are you doing?" Benjamin heard Clement ask as he approached after being waved over. From his point of view, he could only see Clement standing behind the tombstone, hands covering his mouth and his face pale.
Benjamin turned the corner and finally caught sight of Hans. There was a fancy-looking knife in his little brother's hands, stabbing the heart out of a pigeon he somehow caught. The five-year-old Hans' shoulders quivered, twitching with each sob he let out.
"S-Søren g-gave it t-to me," Hans hiccupped out. "H-he to-told me I nee-need t-to... B-but I can't."
"He told you that you need to what, Hans?" Clement asked.
"I don't... I don't..."
"W-want to be a monster. Søren s-said he wasn't and then... and then he hurt Father... And he said I wasn't... And... I... But a cat... and the bird... And Søren said I need to do the right thing but..."
Benjamin tried to piece together what happened. "You saw a cat hurt this bird?"
Hans nodded, resuming his sobbing.
"And the bird was dying, wasn't it?"
"And you... showed it mercy?"
Hans' sobs grew louder as he chucked the knife off into the distance, his hysterics drawing attention of the guard who helped Benjamin and Clement to look for him.
"Showing mercy" was something of a new concept for Benjamin. On Søren's final day, he was given a mixture of something, and that mixture killed him. Father explained to them that he had to show Søren mercy, saying that Søren didn't want to continue on with his condition because he was suffering and there was nothing anyone could do except end his suffering quickly.
Father explained that sometimes such things were the right thing to do. Hans had done the same to the bird.
Benjamin was trying to process everything, until Hans let out a bloodcurdling scream.
"I want to die! I hate this! I hate all of this!" the thirteenth-born shrieked. He slammed the back of his head against the tombstone behind him. Then he did it again. And again.
Both Benjamin and Clement looked on in shock, frozen and unable to comprehend what their little brother was doing. The guard rushed over and scooped up Hans, holding the little prince in a tight embrace to keep him from harming himself further.
"Why? Why Søren? Why? Why?" Hans continued to scream, this time drawing the attention of everyone else at the funeral. He squirmed in the guard's arms, struggling to free himself. "Let me go! Let me die! I miss him! I miss him! I'm a monster! I can't do the right thing! I can't!"
Something grabbed into the middle of Benjamin's abdomen. The twelfth-born ran up to the guard and tapped him on the back.
"Let me hold him," Benjamin said.
The guard looked between the writhing bundle he held and the not-much-older prince before him, hesitant. He let go of Hans, who was deftly wrapped in his brother's arms and pulled to the ground, both on their knees on the dirt.
Benjamin buried his head into his little brother's shoulder. "Please don't, Hans. I can't lose another brother, too. Please stop. I miss him, too. You're not a monster, Hans. Søren was really sick. You're not sick like him. Please."
Only the royal family knew what he meant by "sick."
Hans, being much smaller than his brother, planted his face firmly against Benjamin's chest. But he grew still and silent, the occasional hiccup jostling the both of them as he calmed down. Benjamin gently checked the back of Hans' head, letting out a relieved sigh when it looked like his brother didn't do any damage.
Benjamin didn't understand mourning or death or wanting to die, but for some reason he knew Hans had more experience with them than he did. He didn't understand why, but he knew.
He heard his other brothers approach the two of them, their voices distorted with worry and sorrow. He felt hands hold both him and Hans, prying the two of them apart to be comforted separately.
Prince Benjamin had so many questions that he knew only Hans would know the answer to. Benjamin knew, and he knew that he should never ask those questions.
Everything about this felt so wrong.
Author's Note: I haven't been updating in so long, argh. Bear with me, since I feel like my writing has gotten lackluster and out of practice. I'm sorry if this chapter isn't as great as the previous ones.
Chapter 10: Interference
Warnings for themes of both suicide and homicide, as per usual.
The cries of fear at her terrible power silently rang in the halls of her ice palace. She tried to shut out the roars of her abominable creation chasing her sister from her safe haven by closing the double doors to her balcony.
There was no such thing as "safe." Not while she was still here. She was so stupid to think that she would ever be free. She was born with this curse, after all. It was idiotic to believe she would die without it.
"Don't feel, don't feel," Elsa said to herself.
She exhaled, trying to calm herself down. She looked down at her hands, then her eyes drifted onto the intricate giant snowflake embedded into the floor of her ice palace. She felt the ice shift underneath her, the palace groaning menacingly as if telling her that she wasn't worthy of possessing the destructive power of winter.
Of course she wasn't. She was too timid. Too weak.
If only her powers held no danger to them, only the beauty and splendor like when she created the palace.
But of course, it was never that easy.
The palace continued to creak and groan. She backed herself away when she saw icicles prick and grow from the faceted walls and ceilings.
She couldn't stop it. No matter how many years she tried, she couldn't hold it in; and now Arendelle was ruined because of it.
She never wanted any of this to happen. But perhaps... she should have? Would it give her the control she needed? Would all the storming rage of power inside of her finally heel if it had a master to compliment it? There would be no regrets, no internal torment, no guilt.
The troll told her that fear would be her enemy. And she was scared. Should she embrace the danger instead? Love the terror and destruction?
She closed her eyes and huddled into herself.
No. Thinking like that was wrong. She needed to fix this. Somehow.
"Mama? Papa?" Elsa whispered into the thin mountain air. "I don't know what to do. How do I stop this? How do... How do I stop... me?"
Her eyes trailed off to the balcony. Should she...? Would it even work?
Elsa felt the faintest pull towards the ledge, the space and void before it tempting her; but her feet turned her around to the crystalline staircase that lead to the foyer the floor below. She clutched her sides, hunching even more inward as the ice cracked in response to her terror at the mere thought of willingly falling to her death.
No. There was no way to know if the cursed winter would even end if she died. She shook her head and breathed rattled breaths.
She was scared. She didn't know what to do. She couldn't, can't control her powers. Her fear was unstoppable. It clamped and choked her throat, begging her... forcing her to watch herself buckle under the crushing weight it built up in her chest.
She couldn't breathe. Oh, God. She couldn't breathe. She was going to die.
She held on for dear life against the rail of the staircase, her head beginning to grow lightheaded as it continued to feel like her airway was constricting. Elsa couldn't tell how long she clung to the rail. Time felt like it was spinning out of control, yet crawling into a stop.
Suddenly, the doorway to her ice palace bursted open, two men throwing themselves into the chamber below her with crossbows at the ready. They spotted and shouted after her as she rushed back up to the top of the stairs.
Her heart beat in her ears, each pull of her lungs a chore. The abundance of adrenaline in her veins livening her feet as she thoughtlessly and instinctively ran for self-preservation. Her mind finally caught up as she found herself back in the upper chamber, the two men having caught up with her.
She begged them to stop. She didn't want to hurt them. She didn't want to die.
Her fear brought her powers closer to the surface, its energy tingling across her skin. She backed away slowly.
A crossbow fired. An arrow whistled in the air. The queen flinched.
Cracking open her eyes upon realizing that the arrow hadn't hit its mark, she saw that she subconsciously created a wall to intercept the crossbow bolt's trajectory. It almost hit her in the head.
Something inside of her snapped in that moment.
Instinct completely overrode her judgment, the will to fight for her life influencing her actions when the rest of the time she felt like fleeing. She thought nothing of pinning both men down in quick succession, and even less when the idea of just getting rid of them entered her mind. There was a creeping sense of joy that danced in her chest, welcoming the thought of bloodshed at her hands.
"Queen Elsa! Don't be the monster they feel you are!"
The voice cut clear into her consciousness, bringing her back to the present. She realized that she almost impaled one of her pursuers and nearly shoved the other off the mountain. A sick feeling settled in her stomach at the thought that she almost killed two men without any restraint. Those pleading words saved her from becoming what she feared the most.
She wasn't like this. She never wanted to hurt anyone.
Still the rush of almost committing murder electrified her, feeling at home in her bosom. That was so… wrong.
What was happening to her?
Chapter 11: Retroreflection
Usual content warnings, though the predominant one this time is the one for self-harm, albeit not as blatant as in other chapters.
To His Royal Majesty, King Sigurd of the Southern Isles,
Prince Hans has been charged with attempted regicide against myself and Princess Anna while visiting Arendelle for the coronation. His delay in his return home is due to keeping him for questioning. It has come to light that Prince Hans is, what it appears the general public calls, a magician.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to receive further details from him regarding motive, nor from Princess Anna due to the essence of time. Because of this, I have sent Princess Anna along with a gentleman companion named Kristoff to provide testimony should you choose to convict him. I have not made him stand trial in my kingdom because I do not believe he is of sound mind and I cannot convict him with clear conscience; and because, as a sign of good faith between our kingdoms, I believe you should be the one with full discretion as to what becomes of Prince Hans.
May your rule continue to be merciful and just.
Queen Elsa of Arendelle
His hands on the paper turned weak. He looked up to the crowd in front of him in the throne room, an entourage of guards, both from Arendelle and the Southern Isles. At the front stood a red-haired woman dressed in a gown befitting a royal meeting with the court — Princess Anna of Arendelle, he presumed — along with a blond-haired, muscled man in clothes more plain and practical; the princess' companion, Kristoff.
At the forefront, knelt down in obeisance with chains at his wrists and ankles, face turned to the floor, shoulders tensed, was his son. His youngest, most reclusive son, Prince Hans.
King Sigurd ran quivering fingers through salt-and-pepper hair, reading and rereading the letter in his hands. It was so formal, lack of any attempt from the Queen of Arendelle to establish a hint of what kind of leader she was. All he could perceive was distance, especially in regards to his son's case.
Also, that was a peculiar way to end a letter. Did she really mean for him to be merciful toward his son? Was she implying that she didn't find him guilty? Or was she taunting him with those words? Was she intending the Southern Isles to suffer the headache and infamy of putting one of the princes on trial, as consequence for the charges set against his son—
His son was only "charged."
No trial, no final conviction of guilt.
Was Queen Elsa intending him to read between the lines?
Chains clinked in front of him. A sniff.
King Sigurd looked away from the page again. Hans was quivering as he sobbed into the floor.
The monarch's heart clenched.
No. He will not lose another son. Not again. He can't...
He cleared his throat, "Prince Hans."
The sudden flinch of the prince's entire body hurt the king. Had he not shown all of his sons that he loved them? That he was kind and would never lay a hand on them? He never wanted them to experience the knot of fear he felt towards his own father, once upon a time. Was he turning into him without his notice?
Prince Hans seemed to try to rein in his emotions, his breathing slowing as he pulled himself together. He didn't look up as he responded, "Yes, Your Majesty."
His son was already condemning himself. He could hear it.
"My son, have you read the contents of this letter?"
"I have not."
The king turned to everyone else. "Are any of you aware of the contents of this letter?"
Everyone answered in the negative.
"As far as I know, Your Majesty, you are the only person who's read it. Kristoff and I have a general idea of what it might say, though."
King Sigurd nodded and folded the letter along its creases. He stood up to a candelabra beside his throne and looked into the flames. His soul mourned for his firstborn, Søren, as he remembered the day he witnessed fire erupt from his son's breath after a heated, private discussion with him. He couldn't recall much after that, though. He remembered waking up, likely not long after the accidental magical display, his chest throbbing from second-degree burns.
But it was nothing compared to the torture he experienced when he helplessly witnessed one of his precious children deteriorate into irreversible madness. And here he was, going to have to face the same situation again.
No. He refused to lose another.
He rent the letter into two and set the halves alight from the candle flame, the parchment dangling delicately between his fingers. He dropped the burning letter to the floor between him and Prince Hans.
Hans finally looked up from the floor to look at the flaming pieces, then to him. His eyes were bloodshot, and tears stained his cheeks.
King Sigurd took off his crown and placed it atop his throne before he knelt to the floor before his son. He needed Hans to know that he wasn't being his king, but his father. He took his son's face in his hands, remembering the day he was born, fretting if he was able to love yet another child of his own, fearful about whether or not he had enough love to give like he had with the twelve others before; because, God forbid, he would raise a neglected child.
He remembered the joy of holding the tiny infant and finding that, yes, Sigurd was able to love another son; that even though he saw traces of his own father in his son's features, there was no fear or regret, but an all-consuming desire to protect and embrace the child.
"My son," Sigurd said, feeling his own tears well into his eyes. "Hans, don't be afraid of me."
Hans looked back at him, his face unreadable.
Sigurd turned to the other occupants in the throne room. "You are all dismissed. Please escort Princess Anna and her companion to the guest chambers."
They all bowed and left, leaving father and son alone on the floor, silence pervading in the air.
Prince Hans was a magician...
He wondered what severe wrong he'd done to have two of his children to suffer from this curse.
"Are you... are you really a magician?" King Sigurd whispered, his voice breaking into silence at the last word.
Without breaking eye contact, Hans nodded wordlessly.
"Can you show me?"
Hans shook his head. "I can't. I don't... I don't want you to hate me."
"My son, I can never hate you."
"But... I'm dangerous. I should be executed. I failed our kingdom because I didn't do the right thing and turn myself in years ago and—"
"No. You didn't fail the kingdom. I know that, given the circumstances, you likely weren't even aware—"
"But father, I... I've killed a man."
Hans inched himself away, curling in on himself. "I've made too many mistakes, father. I thought I could fight it... but it was foolish. The guilt of killing that man ate at me instead. I shouldn't — no, I won't be allowed to live. Everyone will know, and I've ruined our family name and—"
The prince began to hyperventilate, his body shaking, eyes wide in a panic. "Oh God, I've tried so hard. I can't do this anymore, father. I'm just... I'm scared of myself. I thought escaping to Arendelle would help me forget about Viktor. I thought that I could avoid revealing what I am if I fled from everyone who was suspicious of me. I was wrong."
Sigurd watched helplessly as his son continued his downward spiral, lost in his own mind and no longer speaking to him, saying things that jumped from one subject to another, admitting and denying guilt, questioning if he was a monster or not, if everything was for naught in the end. His son grew more frantic, outright condemning himself, a lost look overcoming him.
It started out as a faint sense of... wrongness of the room around them, like their surroundings were echoes of sorts, the feeling in the king's gut not matching up with what his eyes were telling him, his sense of balance and his general sense of presence telling him another story.
And then a corner of the chamber behind his son shattered like glass.
Hans' frantic words grew more jumbled, blending incoherently with his sobs. The shattering cascaded through the entirety of the throne room, the world's shards pushing and coalescing further into ruin, as if the image of reality was a mirror that broke to reveal another mirror underneath to continue the cycle with increasing speed. The room turned, Sigud's stomach lurching along with it, his feet telling him that nothing was amiss, yet his eyes telling him the world was ending, a storm of pure chaos erupting around him.
At the center of all of it, his son remained kneeled and unaware of the spectacle happening around him, his hands curled into fists around clumps of hair at the sides of his head, his mouth forming sentences that no longer made sense.
King Sigurd reached out to Prince Hans, taking one of his son's wrists into his grip.
Hans yelped in pain and drew his wrist away, slipping out of the king's hand, awareness returning to his eyes. He blinked a few times at the king, the turbulent throne room flashing into white.
Then the world was back to visual silence.
There was a stickiness in Sigurd's hand. He looked at it and saw that there was blood. He looked to Hans in alarm and saw rows of lacerations along his arms that he hadn't seen before. Hans eyed the blood on his father's hand, wide-eyed. Another, smaller flash of light, and Sigurd was no longer able to see the wounds. He doubted if he even saw them in the first place.
"Father, I ask that you don't pardon me," Hans said.
King Sigurd stilled, still kneeling on the floor in front of him, his mouth barely moving as he responded, "My son, I ask that you trust my judgment as king of this land and as your father." He pulled him into an embrace. "And on my honor as both, I promise you that, no matter what, I love you and that we will make this right."
And if it was right to end all his son's suffering by means of... "showing mercy..."
Maybe Sigurd wasn't fit to be a ruler. Maybe his late father was right all along.
He shook his head and banished the thought.
Chapter 12: Looking Glass
The plan was to sneak Prince Hans out in the cover of night and bring him back to the dungeon before anyone in the kingdom knew he was gone, especially Princess Anna.
Kristoff knew he was pretty much asking for trouble when he fell in love with a princess; trekking through a violent winter just to save Princess Anna was fine, but having to work with her would-be murderer was definitely pushing it.
He sure had hoped Queen Elsa knew what she was doing.
Had hoped. It wasn't even a minute after speaking with the troll when it became apparent that she had no clue what was going on or even if the trolls were going to help. Sven laid on the dirt, returning to the sleep he was interrupted from earlier. The prince just hid from the meeting behind a pine trunk, the wide hat of his disguise blocking his face from view, silent.
Kristoff would bet his new sled that the prince was the one who put Elsa up to this.
"If you think this is going to get you out of prison for what you've done," Kristoff said. "You're mistaken."
"You don't even know why we're here," the prince said, voice low.
"And what makes you think that?"
Prince Hans tilted his head slightly, an eye peeking out from under the hat. An unnatural gleam twinkled within it as if it caught the light of a bright campfire between them. The prince turned his head back down, hiding his features again.
"This is more for her than for me," Prince Hans said rather ominously.
"You didn't answer my question."
Prince Hans shrugged and returned to silence.
Kristoff grumbled under his breath and dug his back into the tree he was leaning on. Must've been a magic thing.
"Kristoff, who were you just talking to?" he heard one of the trolls ask him after rolling over to the edge of the clearing. She turned her head to the side and saw the prince. "Oh! Kristoff's brought another visitor! What, no introductions? We raised you better than that, Kristoff!"
She exuberantly grabbed at Prince Hans' arm, a low hiss coming from him at the contact, and dragged him over to the center of the clearing where Pabbie and the Queen were having a hushed discussion. Kristoff bit back a snort of laughter. The guy probably wasn't used to such rough handling by the trolls like he was.
The two interlocutors turned their heads, surprised to see the newcomer.
Kristoff could see that Prince Hans was trying very hard to keep his face hidden by using his free hand to pull the brim of his hat even lower on his face. The troll tugging him along tsked and swatted away his hand before yanking the hat off of his head.
"Welcome," Pabbie said to the prince. "Who might you be?"
Flustered, Prince Hans sputtered a bit before composure finally hit him. "I am Prince Hans of the Southern Isles."
The elder troll hmphed and nodded before reaching over and taking the hand his kindred passed to him. "I sense that you have powers as well. Are you the one Queen Elsa has been speaking of?"
"I… suppose it depends on what context."
Pabbie gave a hearty laugh before inspecting the hand. "Point taken. Were you born with them?"
The prince hesitated. "My eldest brother said I was."
"Ah, quite right. No one can truly know the events of one's own birth." He furrowed his brow, the mirth in his face draining. He turned to face the prince, then to the queen. He let go.
"What is it?" Kristoff asked.
"It's the mirror. It's..."
All of the trolls paused what they were doing and gaped, the excited troll now wearing a frown of disquiet.
"Leave," Pabbie ordered the prince. Hans looked about ready to turn away before Elsa intervened.
"No. Stay, Prince Hans," Queen Elsa said. She turned to Pabbie. "Why?"
"I keep trying to tell you that we can't fix this."
"And yet you're still not telling me why."
Pabbie's frown deepened, and he closed his eyes. "Because we were the ones who created this disaster in the first place. We will only make things worse." He turned to Kristoff, who had remained at the edge of the clearing to not interfere. "Take him back to where he came from, and he is to never return here."
"I'm sorry, but I'm the one who made Kristoff do this. He will not leave unless I tell him to."
Pabbie still addressed Kristoff, "It wasn't just a story, child, but a warning." He turned to Elsa. "I implore you to leave at once, Your Majesty. I do hope you'll one day find the solution you're seeking."
Elsa knelt down to his level. "Please. We need help."
The troll's face softened. "We cannot help you, Queen Elsa." He looked away. "There are things we've done that are best left alone."
Kristoff stiffed, slack-jawed.
His eyes bounced between the queen and the prince, the trolls that raised him, his own two hands.
"That hobgoblin...?" Kristoff asked warily.
Pabbie nodded sadly.
It wasn't just a scary tale the trolls spun for him as a child. The Snow Queen. Kai and Gerda's adventures. The eerily similar symbolic parallels he experienced just a few days ago. The mirror… It couldn't be. He couldn't have been raised by the very same monster like in the story. Pabbie and the others were too nice. Too loving. They gave him everything he ever needed.
Queen Elsa and Prince Hans looked to him in worry.
He was going to be sick.
Chapter 13: Tarnished
The smell of the blooming flowers, the fresh-baked bread of the square, the roasted meats, and the sweet, herbal aromas of newly-harvested fruit and vegetables welcomed Prince Rudolf home from a month-long voyage. His muscles ached at the thought of returning to his own bed that awaited him in the castle. The jostling of his carriage didn't help matters.
Booing and jeers off to the side met his ears.
Rudolf's eyes started to veer to the direction of the commotion, but he refrained once the corner of his vision caught a glimpse of chained wrists and his nose whiffed the odor of rotting food.
Citizens bowed in greeting to him as he passed, and he exchanged pleasantries with those not too in a hurry with their business. The sounds of a man being punished with public humiliation continued to drone in his ears as he continued on his way back to the castle.
Rudolf choked back a sigh.
The good and bad of the Southern Isles certainly made a point to welcome him.
Carriage wheels clattered against masoned roads. Scratches of broom bristles from the street-sweepers. More smiling faces greeted him. The insults of the rowdy crowd faded away as he was brought to the gates of the castle. He smiled when he saw familiar faces greeting him.
"Rudy!" Prince Gabriel welcomed as he unlatched the door to the carriage. He regarded him, eyes flickering up and down. "Oh my, you've gotten fat."
"Is that so?" Prince Rudolf chuckled and pounded a fist into Prince Gabriel's shoulder before stepping off. "Your manners haven't improved since I've left, Gabe."
Gabriel snorted and rubbed at his shoulder. "Sorry to disappoint, but the Southern Isles' hospitality doesn't involve food."
"No, it involves annoying little brothers."
"Payback for not letting me join you this time."
Rudolf yanked his brother into an embrace and tousled his hair. "Yeah, yeah, you'll get your turn if you ever figure out how to be more diplomatic." He looked to the side and saw his youngest brother, Prince Hans, rigid and eyes averted to the floor. Rudolf kneeled and placed both of his hands on the child's shoulders.
"Hi, Hans," he said.
"Hi, Rudy," Hans said. His feet shuffled as he continued to stare at his boots. "I heard you were coming back."
It had only been a month. It was obvious that the wound of losing Søren was still fresh and aching. He wouldn't be surprised if Hans hadn't smiled in weeks.
And to think, it wasn't even that long ago where he and Søren were trying to outdo one another with how many languages they would be able to speak for their ambassadorial trips, or who had the largest coin collection of currency from around the world. Søren was his confidante for complaining about being forced to find wife by now; and in kind, Søren would gush about one of the princesses he somehow didn't manage to scare away.
Søren would've been an amazing father with how much he did to watch over the younger princes. The sacrifices he made to ensure they were given as much care and attention as the elder prince received when growing up. It was obvious that Søren found it hard and difficult considering he tended to shy from human interaction, but the past few years since Hans had been born...
He knew he couldn't speak for him, but Rudolf knew that his brother was finally starting to come into his own. Hans had made Søren so happy for some reason, though Rudolf suspected it was due to knowing that his time was coming soon and that Hans was possibly the closest thing to having his own son.
Now that Søren was gone, Rudolf felt so guilty. He could never live up to the expectations or the legacy that the public looked forward to once Prince Søren became king. Instead, he died before father did at twenty-three, and Rudolf had to reconfigure his life at twenty-two.
His jaw clenched.
Magic was evil. Something like this was never to happen to them again.
"I brought some material our archives," Rudolf said to Hans, remembering to keep his voice soft after reminiscing, hoping the grit of grief was well hidden. "I wrote down a few stories I've heard about magic while abroad."
"Really?" Hans said, looking up. "Did you find a cure yet?"
Rudolf shook his head. "Sadly, not yet. But I feel like I'm getting somewhere."
He grabbed the five-year-old by the waist and swung him around before settling him to sit on his shoulders. Hans squealed with glee, but was cut short. Rudolf felt Hans' arms cross on top of his head. He didn't need to look at his face to know that Hans was pouting.
Strange child had been adamant to keep anyone from knowing he was happy.
"You're rubbing off on Hans."
"At least it's me and not you."
He shook off the memory.
Rudolf turned to Gabriel. "You don't mind taking my suitcase, do you?"
He turned to the coachmen, asked them to take the rest of his belongings, and thanked them.
"Sure," the third-born said. He reached into the carriage and lugged out the case with a heave. "Man, I think this thing weighs as much as you, and that's saying something."
"Oh, come now. You're just jealous that adolescence was kinder to me and gave me a more muscular frame than yours."
"Besides, I think men keep growing until they're twenty-one, right?"
Gabriel shoved him to the side. Rudolf snorted and responded with a bump of his hip.
"Quit that, I'm holding precious cargo," Rudolf said as he made his way to the library in the castle.
"Yeah, yeah," Gabriel said. He turned his face up to look at Hans. "Sorry about that, but don't you think Rudolf needs to be taken down a few pegs?"
Hans didn't respond. Gabriel sighed.
The rest of the walk to the library went with silence, save for a few greetings of the servants they passed by. Rudolf set Hans down once they reached the library and took the suitcase from Gabriel.
"Father and Mother told me to tell you that they're going to be expecting you at dinner tonight," Gabriel said. "Don't be late again."
Rudolf waved him off. "Unless you want to watch me do nothing but read for a few hours, I suggest you find something better to do."
"Hey, I meant it."
"Fine, fine. I'll go check on August and the triplets. Can you believe I found Einar trying to teach Jørgen how to make a rope ladder out of bedsheets?"
"And who was the one who taught Einar how to do that? Now go."
Gabriel gave him a mock salute before running off down the hallway. Rudolf sighed and turned to Hans, pointing a thumb at Gabriel's direction.
"He's a bad example," Rudolf said. "Tell me he's straightened up some since I've been gone."
"That's good." Rudolf sighed. He offered his free hand. "Want me to tell you a story I heard?"
Hans' eyes lit up, the first real sign of interest Rudolf saw in his baby brother upon returning home. Hans took his hand and followed him into the library. Rudolf greeted the librarian dusting the bookshelves as he made a beeline to a chair beside a table. He set the suitcase on top before hoisting Hans to sit on the chair. Rudolf unlatched the suitcase and pulled out the first book.
"This one's a good one," Rudolf said. "It's perhaps a little too advanced for you right now, but when you're older, you can read it for yourself."
"What's it called?" Hans asked.
"'Magic and Humanity: A Comprehensive Guide,'" he responded, turning the book's title for Hans to see. "It was suggested to me by numerous researchers I've come across. It's a really old one, over a hundred years old in fact, but all modern researches and experiments use this as the basis for all their knowledge."
"So you think the answer might be in there?"
"Possibly, but considering its age, I doubt it."
A crestfallen look overcame the youngest. "Oh."
"Hey, you want to hear that story I heard?"
Disappointment apparently forgotten, Hans nodded.
"It's not in the book and the origins of this tale are unknown," Rudolf started. "I don't believe it particularly myself, but I find it interesting. It says that magic was created by this wicked demon in the form of an evil mirror. Once upon a time, it was intended to turn everything that was seen in it to something hideous and distorted, no matter how beautiful and good it was. But then the demon tried to use it on the angels in heaven and dropped it when he was flying. It shattered into many pieces and scattered around the world, corrupting people."
"So the magicians are... evil?" Hans asked.
"Oh, no, no, no, not at all." Rudolf shook his head vehemently. "Søren was certainly not evil, and all those people Father had to place in the asylum... Definitely not. Just unfortunate."
"But the mirror was evil?"
"That's what the story said."
"Oh." Hans focused on a spot on the floor, deep in thought.
"What are you thinking about?"
Hans scraped his front teeth along his bottom lip, turning it white then pink again with the pressure. "Is the story true?"
"It's a story, Hans. I don't think it is."
"But what if it is?"
Rudolf ruffled Hans' hair. "Then that means that magic is evil. C'mon now, you don't think that's right, do you?"
The young boy pulled his legs onto the seat, improper sitting for a prince but Rudolf didn't mind much due to his age.
"It took Søren from me," Hans whispered. "It's more than evil and I want it gone."
He'd come to the same conclusion himself. An unpopular opinion in the kingdom, especially with the rest of the royal family's sentiments, the majority viewed magic as misunderstood. While it was still rather rare, Rudolf couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't simply something to understand or ignore.
Even though Hans was still too young, at least Rudolf finally found someone who shared the same opinion.
Rudolf sighed. He scooped Hans up into his arms. "Then you'll help me get rid of magic, won't you, Hans? No one should have to lose people they love the way we did."
Hans rested his head against Rudolf's chest. "How do we get rid of it?"
"Father and I disagree, but if I were in charge, I believe any signs of it should be eradicated as soon as possible until a better solution is found. Those people shouldn't have to suffer for so long."
While the Southern Isles tended to hide away the afflicted, his travels told him that it was atypical to keep these people alive for so long. And it was increasingly more apparent why. King Sigurd wanted to exercise mercy as much as it was appropriate, but Rudolf didn't believe — couldn't believe — that the lives these people lived in the asylums was merciful at all. Not after all he'd seen.
He almost didn't hear Hans' voice when his little brother asked, "Can we go get dinner now?"
Chapter 14: Symmetry
"You've been found guilty of obstruction of justice and custody of your children will go to your husband. You will be escorted to the asylum and will be given a week to get your affairs in order before then." A gavel pounded against a wooden block atop the stand. "Court is adjourned."
Judge Gunther rose from his stand, the rest of those in the courtroom stood along with him. He scanned the room once before disappearing into the door that lead to his office outside of the courtroom. He spilled into the chair at his desk and sighed as he pulled off the black robe and tossed it aside. A knock pounded against his door.
"You may enter," Gunther said.
Prince Hans stepped into the office and clicked the door shut behind him. Gunther rose from his seat and bowed once before plopping back into his seat.
"This is, what, the fourth one this week?" Judge Gunther said, smiling at the youngest prince. He removed the powered wig from atop his own mop of blond hair and ruffled the sweating strands to air them out in the humid summer. "And here I bet your brother that the party would put you in a sour mood. Well… sour-er. To whom do I owe for the rarity of a visit from the illusive Prince Hans without one of his brothers accompanying him?"
"Thank the newest person you landed in the asylum," Prince Hans grumbled. "She was a tough one to find."
The judge clicked his tongue. Crown Prince Rudolf was a tough man to get to crack a smile, but at least it was possible. The same couldn't be said about the thirteenth son of King Sigurd. Oh well, nothing lost if he kept trying.
"I do want to thank you for making my job easier," Gunther said. "The fewer violent cases that I have to deal with in a month, the better."
Prince Hans nodded and looked to the side, his eyes catching a look at himself in the mirror on the wall. His eyes flickered open and closed before he shook his head and stepped closer to the judge.
"How do you deal with it?" Hans asked.
"With what? The cases?"
"Well, for one, I try to keep myself impartial so that I can deliver the verdicts as justly as I can."
"Don't you ever feel remorse? Ever wondered how it would be on the other side of the ordinance?"
"Of course. I'm only human," Gunther said. "Are you feeling alright? These are rather strange questions to be asking me, even from you."
"To be honest, I'm quite distracted lately."
"Ah, is it the Viktor case?"
The prince flinched. "Is it that obvious?"
"Prince Rudolf mentioned it."
"Anything else he mentioned that I should be aware of? I've just been informed that bets are being made behind my back."
"Nothing to be worried about, and I do mean it. You're not supposed to find everyone, and I say that with the utmost respect, Your Highness. Just the magicians you've tipped everyone off about are enough, and even then you're doing above and beyond what everyone asks of you. I'm just surprised that you continue to submit the information anonymously when there are complaints about you just sitting in the castle, twiddling your thumbs, doing nothing for this kingdom. Take some credit, why don't you?"
"So you're admitting that there is something."
Gunther scoffed and hung his handkerchief around his neck before scooting his chair into his desk and gesturing to another seat positioned across from the table. The prince bit his lip, as if considering something, before sitting down.
"It's hot out, Prince Hans," Gunther said. "There's a coat rack right there. I'm surprised you're not baking in all those layers."
The prince looked down at his attire briefly, a small bead of sweat forming at his temple. He shrugged. "I'm only here for a few moments, and what does my choice in clothes have to do with the Viktor case?"
"One day I'll get you to stop being so business-minded and just have a pleasant conversation," the judge sighed. "But yes, there is 'something.' They found his body washed up on the beach. Right now there's an investigation. But considering everything, it sounds like it might be an apparent suicide, though I'm not ruling out murder. There were quite a few people who've had it out for him ever since he was under investigation for being a magician, even after he had a not-guilty verdict."
"Anyone that sticks out to you?"
The judge shrugged. "That's all I know about the situation. I try to let the investigators build the case against someone, not me."
Gunther raised a brow. "Rudolf has mentioned that you've been even more withdrawn since Viktor's disappearance. He thinks the rumors about you are getting to you."
Hans sighed. "I suppose they are."
"I'm not surprised. It's almost similar to Viktor's circumstance. You're worried that the people will turn against you, too, hm? Don't worry, I've never convicted anyone just on rumors. With hard evidence however…"
"How could I forget? You had my friend killed, after all."
Gunther recoiled. "I apologize if you felt my reaction to the case was harsh, but I am unrepentant for serving justice."
Hans shook his head vehemently. "Let me rephrase that. I'll never forget the fact that you're impartial. I wouldn't be surprised if you wouldn't think twice about having me executed if I ever were guilty of anything."
"I beg your pardon?"
Hans rapped his knuckles twice against the desk and nodded, then he sighed and scrubbed a hand against his face, tracing it upward into his hair to thread through his sweaty scalp. The minute contractions along Hans' face spelled expressions that were too small to read. There was a flash of disappointment, however, as if Gunther failed a test in the prince's mind. The disappointment disappeared as soon as the judge realized it was there.
"Never hold back your rulings, judge. Bit by bit, you'll make this world a better place."
The prince stood and tipped his head forward before leaving the office.
Hm. What a peculiar visit.