Actions

Work Header

Love Comes At A Cost

Chapter Text

Queen Anna of Arendelle had the likeable disposition of a puppy in summer. Her entire existence seemed to premise upon her providence of love and warmth, even when they were aplenty under the radiant sun.

 

She was fiercely loyal to companions, deft in maintaining her optimism through thick and thin, steadfast in altruistic commitments, to name a few of her many virtuous attributes. She carried herself like a fountain whose liquid provided welcomed relief to parched birds, except with Anna, she did it through sheer benevolence. 

 

Fine, indeed, her feisty obstinacy prevailed at times, be it within the confines of council rooms or private quarters, patiently endured by royal advisors and Kristoff alike. But, it was Anna’s astute mind that allowed her to suspect that some volatile anxiety had been brewing amongst the spirits. 

 

A gust of wind had been bellowing through her study every afternoon. Her fireplace had flickered pink time and time again. A distorted neigh echoed in her ears at every casual passing by the fjord. And, worst of all, she had been tripping over plain flat soil more in the past week than she had in a lifetime! That’s a lot of bruised knees, stained dresses and dismayed grumbles coming from the castle staff! 

 

Maybe, it was just that— coincidences, or Arendelle’s weather throwing a temper tantrum (of its own accord, this time). 

 

Or maybe, it was the spirits. 

 

Maybe… It was Elsa.

 

It all happened during the second game night of January—the month following Elsa’s 26th birthday. 

 

The sun of late had been setting at five in the evenings, painting the dinner table a warm cozy fuschia against the backdrop of a white crisp winter. Clanking away with their forks and knives were Anna, Kristoff and Olaf, joined by Elsa and Honeymaren. 

 

This wasn’t the first time that Elsa had been accompanied by Northuldra guests, but it did strike Anna by surprise when she found the blonde descending Nokk at the docks with none other than Honeymaren. 

 

Upon the touch of Elsa’s delicate fingers on her forearm, Honeymaren wore a courteous smile and said to Anna, simply, as though hoping not to invite any further query, “Ryder had to attend to private matters,”

 

The food was scrumptious that night, wine all the better. Anna’s keen gaze couldn’t help but linger at Elsa as she restrained herself from sipping a second glass. One may compare her sister nowadays to spirits and deities, but she was no god of alcohol. Mild intoxication alone was enough to convince Elsa that sauntering on rooftops was as safe as belting hymns, the prospect of death put aside altogether as myth.

 

“How’s Northuldra?” asked Kristoff, mouth chock-full of braised salmon. “Anna and I have been wanting to pay everyone a visit,”

 

“If my schedule allows it...” Anna chimed in, sighing. “Seriously, Elsa, how did you do it? We were able to share tea dates while you were Queen, and I’m struggling with...” A hand gesticulated in the air, as if to conjure words with magic. “...struggling with small things, like menus for dignitary lunches, village tours, picking dresses!”

 

Elsa stifled a giggle. “Northuldra’s fine, Kristoff. Thanks for asking. And, those aren’t small things at all, Anna,” Proving to everyone that she remained a stickler for manners, Elsa dabbed her lips lightly with the hem of her napkin before speaking any further. “Remember, I was eighteen when I ascended the throne. I had barely turned a new chapter into adulthood, let alone prepared myself enough to serve as sovereign, or be of age for coronation. Every single little thing was as daunting as it could have been…” 

 

Catching sight of her reflection on the impeccably clean wine glass, she looked up at Anna and gave her the tenderest of smiles. “Dipping a pen to write letters was as scary as negotiating trade deals with kings of neighbouring states, likewise with picking dresses or menus for dignitary lunches. It’s all new to you, Anna. Give it time. I’m sure you’d find yourself comfortably acquainted with your role much quicker than I ever did,”

 

“You’re right. A-At least, I hope so,” replied Anna, fumbling with her hands. Her eyes frantically surveyed the room for a comfortable point of fixation. “I mean, it’s only been half a year. I shouldn’t expect to conduct myself as effectively as you did when it probably, no, definitely, totally, took years of practice on your end, I imagine,”

 

Elsa smile grew even wider. Having just endured being the subject of a portrait painting, Anna was dressed in full regalia that night, with her velvet train whipping in the wind and tiara twinkling lustrously under candlelight. But Elsa saw the same sprightly kid with pig-tails as she peered into the teal eyes of her younger sister—now Queen and no longer a Princess. “Yup, years of practice,” said Elsa, before adding, “You don’t have to reign as I did, Anna. Please, conduct yourself as you see fit. You are your own person after all,”

 

“Well, y-yeah, of course,” said Anna, returning the smile. “But there’s nothing wrong with—I mean—it’s recommended to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors, right?”

 

Pursing her lips, Elsa swirled her wine as though to exude an air of nonchalance, before, to everyone’s surprise, imbibing the wine all in one gulp. Anna felt her voice hitch. That must’ve scorched her sister’s throat for sure. It was far from difficult to notice the reddish hue that crept up to her sister’s porcelain cheeks.

 

Upon the loud creak of doors opening by the far end of the Great Hall, Kai stepped in to announce that dessert was ready to be served. Over citrus palate cleansers and parfait, Honeymaren endeavoured through the flurry of questions of which Olaf had a curiously endless supply. 

 

“What are your thoughts on pranks?” asked Olaf, at one point.

 

“Pranks?” Honeymaren cocked her head. “Fun, in moderation,”

 

“Fantastic!” The three short twigs that sat atop Olaf’s crown gave the faintest quiver. “With an ample amount of time on my hands, I can afford to entertain my personal interests,”

 

“Like… planning pranks?” asked Honeymaren, brows furrowed. The royal family of Arendelle defied convention, but a snowman taking stock of ideas in horseplay was new terrain.

 

“Yes, pay attention,” snapped Olaf. “I recently made a list of pranks that I thought might be fun to try with a close companion of yours,” Honeymaren and Elsa shared a nervous glance. Bringing a twiggy palm to his forehead, Olaf heaved a theatrical sigh, “No, not Elsa. Nokk ,”

 

At that response, the four adults shared an exclamation of surprise.

 

“Oh, good!” continued Olaf, smiling. “I see my suggestion is already garnering desired effects! You see, I read that potassium explodes upon contact with water—”

 

“O-Olaf!” stuttered Anna loudly. “That’s a fantastic idea! I’m sure we’d like to hear all about it tomorrow morning. Didn’t you say something about, um, saving good stuff for later makes you feel happier, more excited, or something—?”

 

“Oh, why yes, Anna! How can I forget: greater satisfaction as a result of greater delays in gratification! An excellent suggestion. In that case,—” Olaf winked. “—I’ll save it for later,”

 

“Good!” Anna’s eyes sparkled, as she turned to face everyone else. “Who’s up for games?”

 


 

Games could not have come sooner. 

 

Sitting still was never Anna’s best pursuits, let alone standing statuesque in full regalia with an orb and scepter in hand for a portrait painting. It took a painstaking two hours, enough for the newly anointed queen’s mind to wander from the colour scheme of bed sheets to apocalyptic war. 

 

Rubbing salt to Anna’s wounds, the court painter then had the audacity to take a photograph as reference for his final touches— “Live painting still carries the best merit, ma’am,” he had said with his nose pointed up to the ceiling. Had Kristoff been elsewhere, the court painter would have met Anna’s fists shortly before being delivered to the doorsteps of his Maker.

 

Anna’s arms were itching to flail about. Her foot tapped impatiently against the timber as she gawkily handed her dress to her lady-in-waiting and fumbled to wear her nightgown, first inside-out, then backwards, and finally, as it should be worn.

 

Striding out in haste, Anna’s hair remained tightly wound in a singular bun, as had been the tradition with queens of Arendelle. But upon the doors to her study, Anna found herself nearing a dither. 

 

Frantically, she ruffled her hair into loose locks. 

 

Her heart had once beat aflutter when Elsa stared at Anna, as though to find their mother somewhere behind the fabric of her younger sister’s regal mien. “Mother’s gone,” Elsa had mumbled pensively, before realising what had tumbled out of her lips. “I’m sorry, i-it’s just… the resemblance is uncanny,” 

 

“Anna?”

 

Returning to present time, Anna turned to find Elsa and Honeymaren jogging down the hallway in their nightgowns. “Oh,” said Anna, mustering composure. “That’s unlike you to be late—”

 

Elsa pulled Anna into a tight embrace without a moment to spare. “I’m actually excited,” she whispered, pulling away. “I’ve been practicing with Honey,”

 

“She has,” Honeymaren nodded over Elsa’s shoulder. “Though, there remains room for improvement,” 

 

“Just last night you said I was excellent,” Tapping playfully on Honeymaren’s shoulder, Elsa turned the door handle with an adroit twist of the hand as she had done countless times before as queen, and held the door with a smile. 

 

It must have taken Anna a full moment to realise that Honeymaren had been standing abreast, giving her the courtesy to enter first. Anna stumbled into the study. Every piece of furniture was in its rightful place— the sofa was riveted in the center, curtains drawn, paintings of her Father’s and Elsa’s coronation hung behind looming shadows— and yet, the expanse of the room felt foreign. 

 

Anna suddenly blurted, “You two...were talking about charades, yeah?”

 

Her words hung in the air for a moment too long, waiting to be plucked as prophecy. Elsa darted a look at Honeymaren, before her nimble fingers started fiddling with loose strands of hair. “What did you think we were talking about?”

 

Anna shrugged, blushing. “Nothing... I-I don’t know. Never mind me,”

 


 

The midnight chime of the old grandfather clock came sooner than expected. Kristoff announced that he best retired to bed or he’d slip into slumber right then on the sofa. 

 

“Just admit it,” said Anna. “You don’t want to clean up the mess you’ve made,” She pointed at the litter of paper on the floor. Kristoff could only offer a yawn in response, before racing out of the room with Olaf.

 

“Boys,” said Honeymaren. Raking in a load of paper balls with her hands, she piled them up into an idle bucket sitting dangerously close to the hearth. Its once blazing wood had now reduced to crackling embers, dimming the study down to the haze of blue moonlight.

 

“Thanks, Honeymaren,”

 

“I’ll put out the fire,”

 

“Oh, no, actually, don’t… It’s a bit cold...” Anna paused, trembling at the sudden chill that trickled down her spine. As she wrapped her arms around her middle, Anna’s eyes trailed around the room, tracing the familiar figure of a certain quiet someone. Sure enough, standing in solitude on the balcony was Elsa. Her loose blonde locks and purple satin dress fluttered in the strong breeze that drifted its way into the room, threading along curtains, lapping against carpets, hushing cinders to the lullaby of distant tides.

 

Without so much as a pardon, Honeymaren ambled towards the windows left ajar, making her presence known to Elsa by placing a tender hand squarely against the small of her bare back. Anna watched that very hand falter in its attempt to provide comfort, as it trembled to give gentle pats. Yet, how ever cold a fortitude of silence Elsa bore, it melted, came undone at the seams, shed its mask of immaculate armour, once Elsa leaned forwards to rest her elbows languidly against the railing, as if to ask for back rubs instead. Like a steed to its master, the Queen of Ice and Snow bowed her head ever so slightly to her Northuldra companion. 

 

The whistle of the breeze lulled, leaving Anna in the placidness of stale office air. Quietly, Anna joined them, smiling appreciatively at Honeymaren’s warm nod of encouragement. 

 

“Elsa?” said Anna. “Is everything alright?”

 

Elsa seemed transfixed at the undulating ridges of mountains, which caressed the heavens as much as it dived into the earth behind the town’s lofty roofs and spires. She turned to Anna, with a smile stretching across quivering lips. “My favourite view of Arendelle,” she said in faint whispers. 

 

Catching Honeymaren’s averting gaze, Anna sensed that her sister meant to say something else.

 


 

Anna tossed and turned in bed at the break of dawn, begging herself to catch a few more minutes of sleep before Gerda would come knocking at her door. But, her attention seemed to have overstayed its welcome in the deepest recesses of her mind, hitched against some dark suspicion that her sister was shackled again by an old habit of hers—keeping secrets, namely ones that bode misfortune. 

 

Elsa had three years following their parents’ departure to break to her sister that she possessed magic, but chose not to until she had casted Arendelle into winter. She had weeks to tell her family about hearing a voice, but chose not to until Arendelle had nearly crumbled into the earth. Elsa was never irresponsible, however, far from it. Quite simply, she was often paralysed by fear, and would care less about herself than to worry the people she loved about problems beyond her control. Anna learned that she needed to entice her sister into conversation, remind her of the unceasing support she had, or suffer the consequences.

 

It didn’t help that the chilly breeze of last night had invited itself into Anna’s bed. Getting up meant falling prey to shivers—all the more reason to stay warm under quilted sheets.

 

Just as Anna’s eyes fluttered shut, a loud bolt of footsteps trailed outside her room, dying down as quick as it came. Anna jolted upright. 

 

“Gerda?” called Anna, breathless. Quickly, she tumbled out of bed. Opening the door just enough to pop her head out, she looked left and right to find the hallway properly deserted. “I must’ve been dreaming...,”

 

Convinced that the rush of adrenaline would have done little to allow for more snoozes, Anna decided to officially start her day. Game nights this past year were usually followed by a day off for Anna and Elsa to catch up, over tea cakes, horse rides, picnics, village tours, anything. This time, however, as Gerda had been sympathetic to remind the young queen, the governor of Jorgenfjord had requested an urgent audience with her for that morning. Replacing a sister bonding session with a meeting was the last of Anna’s desires. But, the least she could do for Elsa was to lend her ears, be a shoulder to cry on, to support however she can, before rushing into the first task of the day.

 

Dress neatly donned, hair tightly wound in a bun, Anna made her way to Elsa’s room. As with all monarchs following their coronation, Anna moved into her parents’ room, which had been Elsa’s until she abdicated. So, quite simply, Elsa was forced to return to her childhood room.

 

Anna rapped a familiar tune on her sister’s door, before rubbing her cold hands together.

 

No response.

 

“Elsa?” called Anna, knocking again. “I’m sorry if it’s a bit early. Wait, actually, this should be past your usual waking time, unless you’ve gotten lazy in the forest! Hah! Can’t blame you. I-I’d do the same. I can tell you that this is definitely not my usual waking time, though. Still isn’t! At least not for another year! Way too early. Anyway, Elsa, like I said yesterday, I have to attend an early meeting. Before you go for your walk around town, I’d really, um, appreciate it, if we can talk. Talk? That sounds too serious. I-I just want to have a little chat , really, that’s all.”

 

Anna bit her lip and clasped her hands tighter, hoping to squeeze some warmth into her palms. The permeating silence became indicative of another failed attempt to elicit a response. Taking a deep breath, Anna opened the door to peek inside, to check if Elsa had, for the first time in forever, overslept. To her surprise, the room was empty—so empty, in fact, that the stack of towels and fruits that Gerda had placed carefully on the bed seemed completely untouched. 

 

Anna blinked, confused. 

 

“Anna?” croaked a voice from behind.

 

Anna turned to find Elsa walking down the hallway in her white dress, rubbing circles into her eyes. “Elsa! Good morning,”

 

“Good morning,”

 

“I-I was knocking on your door but…”

 

Elsa halted beside her sister, squinting at the familiar row of snowflakes that adorned her white door. “...but what, Anna?”

 

“Elsa, did you… come from Honeymaren’s room?”

 

Elsa nodded. “Yeah?”

 

Anna’s eyes widened, sparkling. The redhead opened her mouth to scream but frantic hands clasped it shut. The epiphany slammed into her like a hustling reindeer, jamming all colours of emotions into her core, waiting to burst into shrieks of rainbows. 

 

She and Kristoff had a fair share of amorous intrigues before their engagement— hiking up trails, serenades in stables, rowing in the great expanse of Arendelle’s fjords, sneaking into the castle just before her quiet disappearance caught the attention of her sister. This, with Elsa, was similar. She knew all too well.

 

Elsa looked concerned. “Anna, what’s wrong?” She placed a hand on Anna’s forehead. Anna shuddered at the touch and flinched away. “O-oh, I’m so sorry, Anna. Was it cold?”

 

“Elsa!” exclaimed Anna in hushed whispers, rounding her sister towards the windows. “This makes so much sense. I knew it! Something was bothering you!”

 

Shoulders arched, Elsa fidgeted with the hem of her sheer cape. “Y-you do?” said Elsa to Anna’s back. “Oh, Anna. I was actually planning to tell you last night with—“

 

“—Honeymaren!” yelled Anna, barely containing her excitement as she saw the confused young Northuldra approaching the two sisters. Anna dashed to Honeymaren’s side, tugged her by the wrist and nudged her towards Elsa. “I know, Elsa, I know. First, you didn’t bring Ryder because you didn’t want me to get confused,”

 

Elsa and Honeymaren shot a flabbergasted look at the redhead. “Wait, what?” queried Elsa, brows furrowed.

 

“During dinner, when I talked about following in your footsteps, you gulped down that glass of wine like it was coffee because, hah, I’m with Kristoff! Of course , I don’t swing in the other direction,”

 

“Anna—“

 

“And, oh, seriously, Elsa? I thought you were good with subtlety but I stand corrected. ‘Just last night you said I was excellent’ ? You really think I can believe you guys when you say it was about ‘charades’ ?” Anna winked.

 

Elsa and Honeymaren were now as red as berries, realising what Anna had meant. “A-Anna,” started Elsa. “You got it all wro—“

 

“Last night! At the balcony! You wanted to say it to me. You wanted to announce that you and Honeymaren are in love!” At this point, Elsa nearly ducked behind Honeymaren—god forbid anyone saw in her furiously blushing state. “But you couldn’t, so you talked about the view! And Honeymaren—“ The Northuldra turned to look at Anna but her gaze seemed to have pierced right through Anna’s body and out the window. “—Oh, Honeymaren, the way you rubbed Elsa’s back, how intimate, how romantic ,” Anna glanced at her old room, whose amenities were meant to extend to Honeymaren alone. “And now, you two are sharing a bed —”

 

“Y-Your Majesty—“ stammered Honeymaren.

 

“Say no more,” responded Anna, bringing a finger to her lips. “You have my blessing,”

 

Feeling a tug on her dress, Honeymaren found Elsa crouching by her feet, bringing her knees to her chest. Ice fractals crackled beneath her soles. “Elsa,” whispered Honeymaren. “I thought you were planning to tell her—“

 

“Oh, why, yes, of course!” gasped Anna. “You’re absolutely right, Elsa. It’s like I never learn. I take it back. I don’t give you two my blessing. You have to court each other, for at least three years like Kristoff and I, before you could even think about something as huge as marriage,”

 

As Honeymaren and Elsa stared blankly into space, the breeze outside howled louder and louder, whistling through the cracks of windows, rustling through scraggy trees. Either Gale, the Wind Spirit, was thoughtful enough to spare them the pain of listening to their own thoughts, or Gale was having the cackle of a lifetime.

 

“Your Majesty,” called Gerda from afar. She took a few quick steps towards the three young women before giving a deep curtsy. “Your Royal Highness,” She bowed her head at Elsa, and turned back to Anna. “Your meeting, ma’am. It starts in ten minutes,”

 

Anna wrenched Elsa by the arm, forcing her up her feet, and gave Elsa and Honeymaren a hug that squeezed all the air out of their lungs. “That’s my cue! I love you! See you for lunch!”

 

With the click of her heels, the young queen was off to the council room. Gerda followed closely behind but darted a concerned look at Elsa. In all her years of taking care of Elsa, she had never seen the blonde so pink.

 


 

Anna was practically hopping to the council room when Lieutenant Mattias came to her visual periphery with a steaming mug in his grip. He extended a polite hand, halting the young queen in her tracks.

 

“Your Majesty,” he said, bowing his head. “Would you like a cup of hot chocolate milk?”

 

“Why yes!” said Anna, accepting the mug. “Did you make this specially for me?”

 

“No, ma’am. There was a surplus in the kitchen,” Mattias responded. He shifted his weight and crossed his arms, waiting for the young queen to take a couple sips. His voice quieted down to a whisper. “The kitchen staff said that Honeymaren requested for two cups of hot chocolate at 5 in the morning. She was as pale as a ghost, they said,”

 

Anna nearly spewed milk at Mattias’ face. “Wait, what?”

 

“Ma’am,” continued Mattias, looking around. “It is not my intention to startle you before your meeting but I think it best to know if anything had gone amiss. I can help you… check on things while you attend the council meeting,”

 

Anna nodded slowly. “Oh… Okay…?”

 

“Did Elsa say or do anything that struck you as… strange or peculiar?”

 

Anna took a step back, her stomach tightening. “No, I mean…S-She seemed nervous and preoccupied, b-but—” Anna shook her head. “Nothing too suspicious. What’s wrong?”

 

“Several guards with clandestine posts have just reported to me that she had been in Arendelle for at least one day before she arrived in this castle yesterday,” replied Mattias, wearing the most empathetic look he could muster for the young queen. “She was first spotted northeast of the castle, in the forest, which I believe you would know to be—“

 

“—close to the Valley of the Living Rocks. The trolls...,” said Anna, brows furrowing.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” responded Mattias. He hunched forward to whisper further into Anna’s ear. “The same day, she was spotted in Jorgenfjord, whose governor, you are about to meet in five minutes,”

 

Anna paused. Tears formed at the rim of her eyes, as her breaths grew shallow. Elsa was keeping secrets from her. All those letters they wrote to each other and Elsa had chosen not to mention a single hitch. Anna felt the hollows of her chest kindle with fire, its cavities ignited with a fury that wanted burn every morsel of her sister’s failure once more to deliver promises of honest disclosure— promises to never shut each other out again.

 

The thing is, Elsa did express her intention of confidence. Just that, Anna hadn’t given Elsa the chance to even catch her breath this morning. 

 

Anna stood in silence. 

 

It was her fault. 

 

Elsa wanted to talk, but Anna didn’t make it clear that she was ready to listen.

 

“Mattias,” sputtered Anna. “I-I don’t know what all of this means. For all we know, she was just giving Honeymaren a tour around Arendelle! But... I know one thing for certain. Elsa would only request for hot chocolate at that hour if she had a nightmare. A bad one. She started getting them before our journey to Northuldra,” Anna paused. “I need you to go into my old room—the one with crocuses on its door—and check for any sign of Elsa having blasted ice in the room,” Anna gulped her chocolate milk down. “And send for royal guards to follow her. Discreetly. Keep her safe,”

 

Mattias simply nodded, motioning for the queen to wipe the chocolate moustache off her lips.

 

As Anna steeled herself and entered the council room, Mattias dashed to Anna’s old room, wondering why Elsa had swapped rooms with Honeymaren. He entered to find the room clean and dry. Either the maids had done an impeccable job of discarding any evidence to suggest that Elsa froze the room or Elsa had gotten better at thawing every last snowflake. 

 

Mattias had barely touched the door handle to make his exit, when a bowl of fruits on the mantelpiece caught his eye— what a curious place to put a fruit bowl. He approached it, and picked up an apple. It seemed badly bruised, as if it had been tossed to the ground and trampled by the hooves of a stampede. Squeezing it slowly, the apple molded into the wrinkles of his fist, smushed into gooey pulp.  

 

“You can’t find ice that has been properly thawed,” Mattias mused to himself. “But you can find the effects it’s left behind,”