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Love Comes At A Cost

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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,” 

Chapter Text

It all started three weeks before, when Elsa had just turned twenty-six. 

 

Along with Honeymaren, Ryder, Yelena and the others, Elsa celebrated her “sorta-quarter- of-a-century birthday”— as Anna proclaimed it at every seizable opportunity— in Arendelle. A full week and a half whizzed through before anyone could fully revel in Christmas celebrations and solstice festivals. For the first time in forever, Arendelle stood hand in hand with the Northuldra, to ring in the winter season with a Yule Bell that sat atop the castle’s facade. 

 

It flourished into a jubilant eleven days, complete with every variant of chocolate-drenched dessert imaginable— fruits with chocolate fondue, chocolate mousse, chocolate tiered cake, chocolate parfait, you could go on forever. The doors to the Great Hall were kept open for the citizens of Arendelle to dance, savour the taste of scrumptious treats and seek refuge from the crisp winter air. As per Queen Anna’s request, the castle kitchen stocked a hefty supply of lutefisk to keep Elsa’s cravings at bay for another week or two. 

 

Elsa honestly couldn’t have dreamt of a more perfect occasion for which she could spend time with her family and friends, Arendellian and Northuldra alike.

 

She returned to the Enchanted Forest at night, welcomed at last by the quiet noise of forest critters and sea breeze. Though her body was tangibly there, kissed by the smoke wafting from campfires, Elsa’s mind had remained to saunter through the hustle and bustle of Arendelle’s winter parties. That was, until she realised how pensive Honeymaren had been throughout their journey to Northuldra. 

 

The two had yet to reach the level of intimacy that Elsa and Anna shared. Despite the stark contrast in their characters, the two sisters could detect each other’s disquietude in as much time as it did a whiff of chocolate from the kitchens— in other words, immediately. Aside from a chilly draft whisking into the room, Elsa had the habit of pressing into her palm where her gloves used to cause an itch, arching shoulders, vacillating around any space you’d call a window or a balcony. Anna usually stammered her way into a blabber, biting her bottom lip, flailing her hands and pacing in a spot altogether.

 

But what about Honeymaren?

 

Elsa dawdled her way to Honeymaren, who sat quietly on one vacant bough near the campfire, petting the nape of a baby reindeer. 

 

“Is this seat taken?” asked Elsa out of courtesy.

 

Honeymaren lips curved into a weary smile as she shook her head. Hesitantly, Elsa plopped down beside her.

 

“Honeymaren,” said Elsa, trying not to sound like an overly concerned parent. She settled with a tone of affability, with just a hint of nonchalance. “Are you okay? You’ve been a bit quiet,”

 

Honeymaren paused to survey their camp. Young brothers and sisters were plagued with a fit of giggles as they chased one another down on winter-crusted soil. In the large, oddly extravagant shed of ice— courtesy of none other than Elsa— reindeer herders could be seen sharpening their spears and daggers. Nourishing the camp with youthful music were the elders, who were either blowing into fadno flutes or plucking zithers. The night was as lively as it was serene.

 

“I’m okay. Just tired,” said Honeymaren. “Thanks for asking, Elsa. I appreciate it,”

 

Elsa tensed at the curt response, as she gently petted the baby reindeer’s hind. Somewhere amidst the reindeer’s soft coos of bliss, she hoped to find a balm to her fluttering heart. “Was Arendelle... a bit too much?” asked Elsa, though her question aimed furtively to the droopy-eyed calf. “I understand if it’s too noisy and colourful and overwhelming—”

 

“What? N-No, no at all, Elsa,” stuttered Honeymaren. Quickly peering into Elsa’s eyes, she placed a hand on Elsa’s back. “I love coming to Arendelle. The things you do with lingonberries! Who knew they could be tastier than they already are? And those boxes that magically tell you the time—?”

 

“Clocks...?”

 

“Clocks! They’re amazing!” Honeymaren let out a chuckle.

 

Every tendril of muscle in Elsa’s body melted as Honeymaren rubbed her back. Any average citizen of Arendelle wouldn’t dare to come three feet into Elsa’s space, let alone rest a finger upon her cool skin. But, the Northuldra saw physical contact as a means of sharing one’s innermost sentiments, relaying passions upon the slightest brush of one’s shoulder, speaking louder than words, unvarnished and raw. 

 

“I’d go there everyday if I could...” said Honeymaren wistfully before looking away. There it was again. The look of apprehension shot to the ground, as if the hook of a piercing gaze could fish a fickle dream out from the barren soil. “I want to know everything there is about Arendelle... And the world beyond...”

 

This restless demeanor was anything but foreign to Elsa. She’d seen it countless times in the eyes of a young blonde, trapped on the other side of her mirror. The Forest to Honeymaren was perhaps what queendom was to Elsa in its dying months. A cage with its doors left ajar. A set of chains with its keys jangling by one’s feet. A trap, tattered, loose and unhinged. 

 

The prospect of breaking free from a prison that was once home, was becoming less and less an elaborate fantasy to Honeymaren and more an optional reality.

 

And it terrified her. 

 

The unknown. 

 

“I should bring you over more often,” said Elsa, before realising what had tumbled out of her lips. “I-I should introduce you to everyone. Give you a tour around the whole kingdom. See my favourite views, my favourite hiking trails...”

 

“Really?” Honeymaren’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You’d do that? For me?”

 

“Of course,” said Elsa in a daze. “Anywhere you want to go in Arendelle. I’m more than happy to bring you around,”

 

Honeymaren’s smile stretched from ear to ear. Just as Elsa opened her mouth to ask what had truly ruffled Honeymaren’s feathers, the brunette cradled the baby reindeer in her arms and rose to her feet, never leaving Elsa’s eyes unattended. “I want to show you something,” She cocked her head to the side and extended a hand.

 

Elsa stood, her hand fastening in Honeymaren’s. For someone who could triumph over her brawn of a brother in a spar, who could hang from a tree upside down, who could hold a baby reindeer then in the crook of one arm, Elsa never found Honeymaren’s hands any less delicate in her clasps. Elsa caressed her thumb over Honeymaren’s, making sure to come off as habitual than deliberate. Sure enough, her skin was just as soft as her touch.

 

“What is it?” asked Elsa, curiously.

 

Honeymaren bumped shoulders with Elsa and winked. “You’ll see,”

 

Fingers intertwined, Elsa let Honeymaren lead her to whatever it was she wanted Elsa to see, stealing glances to the back just in case her snowflakes had stalked them from above. 

 

Elsa was in control. For now. 

 

Into a small clearing, they entered, greeted by the soft amber light of a solitary campfire, on top of which perched a steaming pot of burbling stew. Several wooden shafts neatly lined the outskirts of the area, adjoined by several twines knotted in perfect bows. 

 

Had Yelena decided to bring a semblance of Arendelle’s lamp posts into the forest as decor? 

 

Once Honeymaren drew Elsa to the campfire, she jogged back to the tents to deposit the slumbering baby reindeer. It suddenly struck Elsa that Honeymaren had brought the reindeer along as an excuse to leave Elsa for a moment. 

 

Something was about to happen. Something special. Elsa sensed it. Hoped for it. Wished upon a thousand stars.

 

Out from the thick blanket of looming shadows, Honeymaren reappeared, with what seemed to be everyone else from the camp. Elsa fidgeted with loose strands of hair as the area flooded with family after family— little boys and girls, mothers and fathers, and elders. All eyes locked on her. With Elsa’s tension palpable from miles away, Honeymaren hastily returned by Elsa’s side with a reassuring smile, clasping one of Elsa’s hands with both of her own. For the first time since fleeing from her coronation ball, Elsa’s heart yearned to burst free from her rib cage. 

 

Could everyone see her tremble? Was she freezing the floor? Was that her snow?

 

Yelena finally stepped out, wearing the widest grin Elsa had seen from her. She took Elsa’s other hand, as did everyone else with each other’s shoulders, forming a human spiral.

 

“Elsa,” said Yelena, her deep voice stoic yet tender. “You and your sister have granted our people a freedom we have long abandoned in our prayers. For all the despair that has consumed us for the worst part of thirty-four dark years, you have kindled a flame of hope within our hearts, motivating our people to take steps in mending old wounds, to discover what lies beyond this sacred forest, to unite and thrive together as a community, and to live to our fullest potential. For your undying love to our families, we dedicate a vuelie to you, as a symbol of eternal gratitude,”

 

In an instant, the camp broke into song— into a vuelie that Elsa hadn’t heard before. 

 

Yet, its lilt was as foreign as it was familiar. Elsa’s magic pulsed through her veins to a rhythm not so different. Its cadence reverberated through Elsa’s bones, lulling her storm of thoughts to the peaceful voice she heard ringing in her ears. 

 

Her mother. Her siren. Her call

 

This was a vuelie, specially made for Elsa.

 

Elsa opened her eyes, to see the forest painted in a blue haze, by the ocean of fireflies buzzing behind barren trees, by the moonlit sky splashed a river of stars, by Bruni’s fire which blazed along the posts and their ropes. 

 

Elsa felt her entire body shrouded in warmth. This warmth. It has a name. Proclaimed at times most opportune. Sometimes it teeters at the edge of one’s lips— nothing more daunting than to have its existence brought center stage. It had always been there in Elsa’s life. Lurking behind curtains when Anna met her closed doors. Burning bright in her mother’s lullabies. It was Elsa’s oldest companion. The hot to her cold. The light to her dark. The quencher of her fears. 

 

Breathing life in as far as it echoed, the vuelie hushed too soon after it began and so did the soft buzz of forest critters. Elsa blinked into space, floating into reverie.

 

Yelena shot Honeymaren a glance, before turning to look at Elsa again. “Also,” continued Yelena with a smile. “Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, and have a Happy New Year, Elsa,”

 

This warmth . It was Love. It swaddled her, as if to celebrate her own being— once Princess of Arendelle, once Queen, now Fifth Spirit, now Elsa in her truest element. Elsa felt loved. For all her beauty and flaws, she was loved.

 

Years of preserving queenly composure crumbled as tears rolled down Elsa’s cheeks. The entire camp stood dumbfounded in silence.

 

Yelena seemed like she contemplated a gesture of consolation— a squeeze on Elsa’s shoulder, perhaps. In the end, she simply coughed into a fist. “It was Honeymaren’s idea,”

 

“H-Hey—” stuttered Honeymaren, panicking as Elsa’s weeps turned to sobs. “Elsa, are you—”

 

Elsa pulled Honeymaren into a tight embrace, knocking the wind out of Honeymaren’s lungs as their chests collided. They had never been this close, whimpers seeping into Honeymaren’s ears, shoulders trembling against Honeymaren’s chin. 

 

Worrying others for her personal turmoil was a peeve of Elsa’s that stood the test of time. And yet, she prayed for all that she felt bellowing within the confines of her tightening chest to find its way to Honeymaren’s heart. To have the burden of inexplicable pain be carried in companionship, than in solitude. To be taken care of. To be shared. To be understood.

 

Careful arms wrapped around Elsa. First hesitant, then resolute, Honeymaren rubbed Elsa’s back in a way she knew best— with fondness. Slowly, Elsa’s hug grew limpid. Her sobs lulled to heavy breaths. The weight of her arms rested on Honeymaren’s shoulders. 

 

She felt at ease.

 

If Decadence made itself the crux of one’s love, it would’ve taken the form of a human being named Honeymaren. She was as sweet as her name suggests. As soothing a balm as honey. 

 

“Thank you, Honey,” mumbled Elsa into Honeymaren’s collar. “ I love… I loved it,”

 

Yelena snickered, ambling away from the two. “Told you,” she said to another elder in a loud whisper. “If it’s Elsa, ‘Maren’ is never going to be her nickname,”

 

Elsa pulled away an inch, blushing. “Honeymaren,” 

 

“Yes?” replied Honeymaren, eyes widening.

 

“I-I meant to say ‘Honeymaren’,” Elsa looked furtively to the crowd around them, voice still cracking. “I don’t know why I said ‘Honey’. Well, I-I mean I do know. I just thought about how sweet you— t-this— was. You can be sweet. You are sweet. Goodness gracious. I didn’t mean—”

 

“Elsa,” said Honeymaren softly, wiping the tears off of Elsa’s pink cheeks. “You can call me Honey,”

 

“Oh... Oh , okay,” Sniffling, Elsa threaded her fingers through her blonde hair. “Only... if you want me to...”

 

“I’d like that very much, Elsa,” Honeymaren stroked Elsa’s knuckles with a thumb, blotting out any certainty Elsa had in the furtiveness of her caresses just moments before. Honeymaren hugged Elsa again. This time tighter. Warmer . “I love… I’d love that very much,”

 


 

Turns out that pot at the centre of the camp had bidos simmering away. It was a Northuldra stew that Elsa took delight in but had mixed feelings for— what with the carrots, potatoes… and reindeer meat. The thought of eating Sven, or the dozens of baby reindeer she coddled every morning with warm hugs and icy fractals, had always hovered above her head when she ate bidos, too nebulous to be tucked away, too vile to be hidden and ignored. 

 

Herding reindeer for sustenance was just something that irked Elsa. Or, perhaps, it wasn’t reindeer herding, but the sad reality that furry creatures live in as both epitomes of cuteness and victims of slaughter. Would she feel the same way about whitefishes used for lutefisk or chickens used for roasts, had she lived this close to her food?

 

“Onto your second helping?” teased Honeymaren, sitting beside Elsa. She pretended to thoroughly inspect Elsa’s bowl of bidos. “How unlike you,”

 

Elsa daintily covered her mouth with her fingertips as she swallowed, snapping out of her ponderance. “I like it,” said Elsa with a simper. “I want to… relish in this moment,”

 

“Oh?” said Honeymaren, intrigued. “And what kind of moment is this for you?”

 

Elsa’s eyes fluttered closed as she attempted to immerse herself in her five senses. The past year of meditation practices had proved this to be second nature. “I can see everyone having fun, dancing in the moonlight, chatting around the campfire… I can hear the echoes of my vuelie ringing in my ears.... The waft of embers tickling my nose…”

 

Honeymaren rested her chin on Elsa’s shoulder at this point. Maybe it was sisterly instinct, or better yet, a jolt of courage bestowed by the gods of sympathy themselves. Either way, Elsa found herself stroking Honeymaren’s head. 

 

Elsa figured that fatigue had washed over the brunette, being the mastermind of Elsa’s surprise. Elsa herself had a hand in planning a surprise for Anna’s 19th birthday and that culminated with a snowgie-infested cold. 

 

Surprises were no easy feat.

 

Elsa felt grateful but guilty, indebted to Honeymaren’s acts of kindness, compelled to repay her with the same sweet type of affection. A strong compulsion then surged into her conscience, coaxing her to try something that she’d seen Anna do to Kristoff time and time again. Gulping, Elsa threaded her fingers through Honeymaren’s thick black hair, and slowly, gently, casually, massaged her scalp. 

 

Honeymaren was pleasantly warm to the touch, like blankets that had been soaked overnight in body heat, or carpet tassels lazed before hearths. As if Honeymaren’s own body had betrayed her adamancy to not respond— not through the weakest of whimpers or the softest of sighs— she grew warmer and languid as Elsa’s fingers leisurely ventured their way from her crown to the spot behind her ear, before finally adding pressure right where her head met her nape.

 

Her silence was stifling to Elsa. Perhaps, there would’ve been no harm in continuing with a description of this moment. Which human sense was this? Touch? Once a taboo to Elsa. Now, an unspoken language of Elsa’s deepest desires. “The feeling of… your hair… in my hand,”

 

Honeymaren chose that moment to flinch away, staring intensely at the crowd, whose backs were all that could be seen from their seats. Elsa figured her caresses had truly gone unnoticed this time. Did Honeymaren hate head massages? Did Elsa cross a line? She should’ve asked. She wasn’t thinking through…

 

“I-I’m sorry,” stammered Elsa, hoping to squeeze some wisdom out of her thick skull as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “I shouldn’t have— Not everyone— I’m sorry,”

 

Something tickled Elsa’s wrist. Looking between her fingers, Elsa found Honeymaren trying to clasp her hand. Her soft grip seemed to say “look at me” and “look away”, all at once.

 

“Sounds like four senses,” whispered Honeymaren, her hot breath tickling Elsa’s ear. “That leaves taste,”

 

Elsa’s shoulders arched. “O-Oh… Well... I can taste bidos... lingering on my tongue,”

 

Honeymaren peered downwards, paying no heed to Elsa’s awkwardness. “I haven’t had the chance to... have a taste,”

 

Elsa took a deep breath. 

 

One thing she’d learned from Anna and Kristoff was that couples spoke in code, like a cypher of romance. Just that, she didn’t know if Honeymaren had actually meant to use it. 

 

They were merely friends after all.

 

So, was Honeymaren flirting? Or… Was she asking for a bowl of bidos? Was Elsa supposed to lean forwards and kiss her? Or stand up… and… grab Honeymaren a bowl of bidos? 

 

Should she ask what Honeymaren meant? 

 

That would’ve been pathetic. 

 

An embarrassment.

 

Time stood still, arms crossed, as Elsa listened to the cacophony of her thousand bickering thoughts. Her silence reeked the scent of docility. It was tempting. Magnetising. 

 

As if their proximity wasn’t all too indicative, Honeymaren inched closer.

 

Not before long, a strong gust of wind suddenly meandered its way through the crowd, taunting them with a sweep of dust and leaves. 

 

“Mama!”

 

“Be careful of the fire, sweetheart!”

 

“What the...?”

 

“Is that—?”

 

“It’s winter! The last thing we need is wind!”

 

“Hush! Do not anger the spirits!”

 

In a heartbeat, the gust of wind halted before Elsa and Honeymaren, circling in a spot by their feet. Everyone spun around to trail the beast of a breeze, as Elsa and Honeymaren shifted away from each other, putting enough room to fit a reindeer between themselves. 

 

Honeymaren dipped her face into her palms.

 

“G-Gale?” called Elsa, acutely aware of everyone’s curious stare. The change in mood hit her like a whiplash. “Is that you?” 

 

Gale swivelled around Elsa’s wrist, yanking her by the arm. Stumbling forwards, Elsa found herself falling on all fours, palms digging into dirt.

 

“Gale? What’s wrong? What happened?” asked Elsa, flicking dirt away from her hands. She could tell how frightened the Wind Spirit was by its frantic whiffs.

 

The breezy spiral around her arm brought with it some dark liquid. As the embers of the campfire flickered across the soil, Elsa caught sight of a red tinge. 

 

It was blood.

 

“Water has memory…”

 

Holding her breath, Elsa blasted a small stream of ice, letting Gale reconstruct a scene they had witnessed. Building layers upon layers, the snow congealed into ice, and the ice crystallised into a sculpture of intricate detail. 

 

The crowd broke into murmurs of fright and confusion.

 

The sculpture took the form of a Nothuldra man with his back against a boulder. A dagger was unsheathed, perched atop unclenched fists. There was only so much that could be deciphered. But, that figure was as lifeless as it could have been for an ice sculpture. 

 

His hair was unkempt, nose wide, brows thick and chiseled.

 

Everyone made no mistake in thinking that it was Ryder.

 

Elsa didn’t dare turn to face Honeymaren. 

 

She shut her eyes and grimaced, bracing for a shriek, a swooning body, a clambering towards the sculpture, as she had done with Anna’s frozen form years ago. Instead, she found Honeymaren seemingly turned into a statue herself, speechless and riveted to the ground. 

 

Elsa felt as if her body was dunked into the depths of Ahtohallan.

 

“Honeymaren,” called Yelena, squeezing her way out from the crowd. She trotted to the two young women. “Honeymaren. What’s Ryder—“

 

“The reindeer,” stuttered Honeymaren, her voice suddenly small. “The herd… was missing one or two reindeer. He went to look for them where they were last grazing on lichen,”

 

Jumping to her feet, Elsa strode to a stream trickling down close by. “Nokk!” called Elsa, voice laced with panic. “Nokk, we have to go! Gale, lead the way,”

 

Amidst the yelps of awe and shock from the crowd, a vehement neigh echoed throughout the forest and a ferocious water horse emerged with a splash. Gale circling beneath her soles, Elsa mounted Nokk without an inkling of hesitation.

 

Elsa was about to click her heel when Honeymaren ran towards them with a staff in hand. “Lemme come with you,” said Honeymaren, as a statement rather than a request.

 

“Honey,” replied Elsa, her heart aching. “It might be dangerous. I—“

 

“No! Stop!” Honeymaren tugged Elsa by the knee. “He’s the only family I have left! If anything happened to him, I need to see it with my own two eyes. Please.”

 

Elsa paused as those very eyes filled with hot tears. She’d do the same for Anna. How obtuse must Elsa be to deny Honeymaren this right? 

 

“Okay,” said Elsa, extending a hand. Time was of the essence. “We do this together,”

Chapter Text

Winter had the notoriety of draining life in as far as it nipped at everything it touched. Trees and shrubbery, once lush with leaves and fruit, stood in the cold nude as Gale rustled through their barren twigs, their rattles a soft howling plea. 

 

Honeymaren remembered when the Enchanted Forest had painted her world in blotches of orange and red just a few months ago. But, as she and Elsa rode Nokk in the moonlight, speeding through the bare thicket, squinting for any figure that could be Ryder, she couldn’t begin to imagine how this forest wears anything but the deepest shades of pitch-black darkness. 

 

Winter was cruel. It bore the stench of bitter solace. It ensnared the lonely meek by its teeth.

 

And yet, it gave birth to a miracle. 

 

Elsa. Queen of Ice and Snow. A spectre of frozen fractals. Winter personified.

 

Elsa. The warmest human Honeymaren had met.

 

Honeymaren tightened her squeeze around Elsa’s middle. Elsa reminded her about something important. As much as winter sucked the warmth out of people’s worlds, it reminded them about the warmth inherent within themselves, that they could give and receive. 

 

There could be more campfires when the sun dipped too early. More cuddles when the chilly night prickled skin. More blankets and bidos. More warmth. More love. Even when winter had turned their world into a bleak void of frost-encrusted despair.

 

And, Ryder… might still be alive.

 

This sliver of hope was all that kept Honeymaren from breaking apart.

 

Elsa patted Honeymaren’s hands. She didn’t say anything. What could she have said? Anything optimistic and Honeymaren might’ve crumbled under false promises. Anything realistic and Honeymaren would have sought no reason to continue. 

 

Still and all, Honeymaren felt safer in Elsa’s clasps. They would get through this, together

 

What felt like an eternity came to a staggering halt once Gale finally led them to a clearing. The barren patch of land didn’t span all too wide, looking much like a singular footprint left behind by a mega-titan-sized Earth giant. The moonlight poured over the soil unobstructed, the sudden expanse now a jarring contrast to the stifling thicket.

 

Gale swivelled around Elsa’s arm again, nearly tugging her off of Nokk. The two women quickly got the message, and jumped off immediately. 

 

Ryder is here, thought Honeymaren.

 

Gale took careful whiffs through the soil and occasional shrubbery. There, at one end of the field, stood a lonely boulder, upon which Ryder rested, as pale as a ghost, eyes closed, lips chapped, head tilted to his left shoulder, unclenched hands twitching at an unsheathed dagger. 

 

Honeymaren broke into a sprint. Plopping down to her knees, she hugged her brother, hoping to inject warmth through her vigorous rubs and set him alight through friction alone. 

 

“Ryder!” yelled Honeymaren, frantically tapping him by his cheek. Though faint, his chest rose and fell with every staggered breath he took. Honeymaren turned to Elsa, who quickly jogged behind. “H-He’s breathing! But spirits know how long he’s been out here in the cold…”

 

Elsa stopped a small distance away from the two, squinting. “I-Is he hurt? Gale brought blood. I was expecting...“

 

“Y-Yeah, me too. But…” Honeymaren lifted his arms, nudged him to the side, inspecting every inch of his coat but found no stain. “I don’t see any blood… Unless…” She flicked his long tufts of black hair away, narrowing her eyes at exposed skin. It was barely noticeable under dim light but on the right side of his neck, halfway between his sharp jaw and collarbone, bore two small holes surrounded by a patch of young bruises. “Elsa, I think… he was bitten...,”

 

Elsa blinked. “Bitten? Like, by a wolf…?”

 

“No. Small punctures... Like fangs…”

 

Fangs?” Elsa crossed her arms, anxiously scanning the ground. “Like… snakes? Venomous snakes? In Northuldra? Sounds unlikely…”

 

Ryder made a low wheezing groan as his face contorted into a grimace and his eyes fluttered open in a daze. Sliding down the side of the boulder, his brawn of a body thudded against Honeymaren’s shoulder. His arms flailed in his startled wake.

 

“Ryder!!” exclaimed Honeymaren, beaming in relief. She gave him the tightest squeeze. “Oh, thank goodness! It’s me, Honeymaren!” Sniffling, she tore herself away and one of her fists came punching at Ryder’s arm. “I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!! I swear, if this is one of your stupid pranks with Gale, Ryder— I’d pray I’d see the light of day if I were you!!”

 

Ryder tried to sit upright, one hand on his neck, the other on Honeymaren’s shoulder. “What…?” He grunted. Confusion dawning upon his face, he peered around, and then up. “Who…?”

 

“It’s me,” said Elsa calmly, crouching to his eye level. “It’s Elsa. Gale informed us. Honeymaren and I came as fast as we could,”

 

His eyes widened. “Elsa… ?”

 

Elsa paused, sharing a glance with Honeymaren. 

 

“Ryder?” asked Honeymaren. She placed a steady hand on his chest as soon as his breaths grew shallow. “Hey, are you okay? Does it hurt to breathe? Do you remember what happened?”

 

“IT’S DANGEROUS!!” blubbered Ryder, getting on his knees. “W-We have to get out of here! We have to…!” Suddenly, all colour drained from his face, eyes transfixed at the clearing behind Elsa. “Oh, no, NO, NO!! ELSA, WATCH OUT—!”

 

Just as Elsa spun around and jolted up to her feet, a cloaked figure slithered its way to the Snow Queen in a speed unparalleled to any other mammal. 

 

Honeymaren had just enough time to turn around and see a crackling blur of ice spiking up from the ground, striking the figure just as it made contact with Elsa. A sleek sound of wet rips tore through the silence, before something shiny spun out from the shadow’s grasps and clattered against a spot on the boulder between Honeymaren and Ryder. 

 

It fell and thudded against the ground. 

 

The two peered down. Honeymaren gasped, clapping her mouth shut.

 

A dagger. With blood. Fresh blood.

 

The next thing she knew, Elsa had stumbled backwards, trembling hands clenching her left side, right below her ribs. Seeping out between Elsa’s fingers was blood, trickling down the side of her dress, staining white with dark crimson.

 

Elsa was stabbed. 

 

“ELSA!!” shouted Honeymaren in abject horror. 

 

She stood up, extending an arm to pull Elsa away from the evil creature, but instead found her hand nearly engulfed by a towering wall of green flames. She flinched away and tumbled down, her back pressed against the boulder. The fire crawled across the clearing and loomed over them, trapping Elsa and the figure within a ring of hellish flames.

 

Honeymaren wanted warmth. Yearned for a semblance of its heat. But not like this. 

 

Not like this.

 

Honeymaren felt her breath hitch, her heart pounding against her chest, as she saw, beyond the flickers of green flames, the hooded figure yanking Elsa by the shoulder, thrusting her to the ground. Elsa yelped as she collided with the dirt, hands clenching folds of bloodied fabric, then screamed in agony as the figure pulled both of her hands above her head, locking her wrists in one smooth grip. 

 

The figure straddled Elsa by her hips, pinned her to the ground with its weight. In a pace that was drawn out for the sheer pleasure of pure torment, the figure descended, tilting Elsa’s head by the fist full of blonde hair in its other grasp, bringing its fangs closer and closer to the porcelain skin growing taut at every choking sob that escaped Elsa’s quivering lips.

 

With the precision of a vermin, the hunger of a panther, its fangs punctured through Elsa’s skin. 

 

Elsa screamed a plea without words, a note of deference lacing her hitched whimpers. But, the figure paid no heed, drawing blood, lick after lick, swallow after swallow. Honeymaren shuddered just as a tremor seized Elsa’s limbs, succumbing to what Honeymaren could only imagine as being inexplicable pain.

 

“GET UP!” shouted a voice beside her. Ryder stood with knees that seemed close to buckling any second. He hunched, fingers rubbing his temple, blue eyes now glinting in green. “Come on, Honeymaren. We need to get help—“

 

“The camp, it’s too far!” yelled Honeymaren, voice cracking. “We can’t go back now!”

 

“Then,” Ryder strode over to Honeymaren’s side, picking up his dagger. “We fight,”

 

The two split their ways, frantically searching for an opening in the wall of fire. As they scoured either side, ice hissed beneath their feet, spreading through the clearing like a thin crisp tsunami. Soon after, the fringe of Elsa’s ice left the clearing and began creeping up the trunks of trees, encasing every leaf, twig and stone in white frost.

 

In seconds, the area had turned into a winter tomb, ripping out the last breath of all flora into a chilly fog that seeped out from the ground.

 

Even then, the flames boasted no signs of wavering. It blazed on, dyeing Elsa’s ice and mist a wicked lime. 

 

How could this creature’s fire quash the power of a Fifth Spirit— a Snow Queen?

 

Honeymaren halted to a skid at the sight of Nokk, standing on its hind legs. From the tip of its mane came a blast of water, jetted to the base of the flame. Alas, still no dent on the fire. Nokk trotted from side to side, neighing in panic, just as Gale’s gusts proved to share the same futility.

 

Honeymaren eyed the flames.

 

Apprehensively, she prodded the fire with her staff, waiting for it to burst into flames in her hand, but it never happened. Swishing it away in the air, her fingers danced around her staff, perplexed to find that it was biting cold

 

Jolted by courage, Honeymaren plunged a hand into the fire, retracting it as soon as she felt every bark of her skin and every tendril of muscle scorch in heat. She screamed, dropping her staff. Nokk rushed to her side, encasing her hand with one of its cool liquid hooves, but what they realized next bewildered them even further. 

 

They both looked down to a hand that seemed as perfectly fine as it could be. It didn’t singe. 

 

Not a blemish.

 

Honeymaren blinked.

 

The flames didn’t react to Elsa’s ice, Nokk’s jets of water or Gale’s bursts of air. The flames didn’t set things ablaze. The flames did nothing of what you’d expect from fire, except feeling and looking like one.

 

If that were the case, thought Honeymaren, then she’d have no issue in crossing the fire, aside from feeling charred alive. 

 

Elsa’s shrieks echoed amidst howling winds.

 

Now or never.

 

A prayer under her breath, Honeymaren snatched her staff and dashed into the fire, screaming for what felt like a thousand smoldering thorns puncturing every inch of her body. She staggered out of the flaring barricade, dropping on all fours as she felt her skin being scraped by molten blades, her world spinning, Ryder’s horrified screams ringing in the distance. Catching her breath, her vision cleared, she found her body as it was before— unscathed.

 

Not a moment to spare, Honeymaren darted across the clearing, staff in hand, the back of the hooded figure’s head now the centre of her glare. Honeymaren wanted to kill, if it meant bringing Elsa to safety. 

 

But this creature deserved no mercy, not even the sweet release of death. Just the pain of eternal writhe. And that was exactly what Honeymaren hoped to give them.

 

Honeymaren raised her staff, her arms tensing with a jolt of pure unbridled rage, before thrashing it down to the figure’s crown in a force so brutal that her staff broke into two. 

 

It did the trick.

 

The hooded figure flinched. Now inches away, Honeymaren had a thorough look at the soon victim of her lambaste. The figure was about as tall as Ryder, if not taller. Every move carried out by its gangly physique bore a lithesome and nimble character, like a deer that escaped the captivities of an underworld. Its velvety cloak, dyed an onyx black, was adorned with an intricate embroidery of a similar colour, which could’ve gone unnoticed had Honeymaren’s attention not been so acute.

 

Thrown off balance, the figure spun around unsteadily, groaning in what was undeniably the voice of a woman. Even so, Honeymaren found herself staring at a face uncanny to any human, with huge round bulging eyes that could only belong to owls, and with layers of black feathers tiling its forehead and cheeks, beetling over brows and ears. 

 

The only thing human were its plump lips dripping with blood. 

 

Elsa’s blood.

 

Honeymaren swung her staff again. 

 

In a blur, a thud cut through the whizzes of her attack, as the fractured end of her staff got caught in her enemy’s steady grasp. The figure hissed, baring sharp white fangs, readying itself for a pounce, when a fence of icy spikes erupted from the soil, splintering Honeymaren’s staff into tiny pieces. Had the figure been anything but agile, it would have been Honeymaren’s first view of death by decapitation.

 

The figure wobbled backwards. 

 

Suddenly, with a boom, a white beam of ice came hurtling over to its head. It all happened so quick, that it took the figure to be hurled ten feet away for Honeymaren to realise that Elsa had set it up for a trap. 

 

And it worked. 

 

Elsa got her headshot.

 

Surprise,” said Elsa shakily, her voice barely a whisper.

 

The wall of green flames dissipated into wisps of smoke, leaving the soil without a trace. In an instant, a smattering of crystalline spikes crackled out of the frost that blanketed the clearing, as if Elsa’s powers had finally gone unshackled, untethered, keen to the prospect of going rampant. Prancing in with the palpably adamant zeal to kill was Nokk and Gale. 

 

A huffing and puffing Ryder trailed behind them. Immediately, he came between Honeymaren and the figure, both hands clenching onto his dagger. “Are you okay?” he asked Honeymaren, shocked to have witnessed his only sister lunging into fire.

 

Honeymaren nodded, mute.

 

Vexed and hurt, the figure floundered to hide the right half of its face behind trembling hands. It narrowed its eyes to slits at Nokk and Ryder, then trailed its gaze to Honeymaren’s hands, which shakily covered the small chasms of Elsa’s wounds.

 

Once its dark feathers started bleaching into white, its body quivering like a leaf, the crouching figure gave a low snarl and clicked its fingers. Huge puffs of black smoke oozed out from the folds of its cloak, ebbing into thin air as soon as it engulfed the figure’s body whole. 

 

In mere seconds, everyone found themselves staring at nothing but barren soil.

 

The figure had fled.

 

Honeymaren sighed in relief and trepidation, turning hesitantly to look at Ryder. “Are they… Is it really gone?”

 

Ryder’s trembling hands hovered above Elsa’s shoulder, screaming the feverish desire to hug her close and chase her pain away. “I-I don’t know, Maren— I hope so. H-How about we… Let’s just get Elsa back to the camp. She’s lost some… Oh, Spirits,”

 

The deep raspy breath Elsa took broke into shallower pants, as her chest rose too far for her to handle the hot stings of a gaping wound. Half-lidded eyes searched for Honeymaren’s. When they did, Elsa’s mouth opened and closed. She had so much to say with what little energy she had left, the carcass of her soul now dangling by a single thread. Breath strained, Elsa whispered, like a prayer, like a child’s soft cry for help, “Honey...”

 

Honeymaren blinked hot tears away, feeling the phantom of Elsa’s pain in her own stomach. She looked over to Elsa’s surprisingly small pool of blood. “Shh, it’s okay, Elsa. Don’t worry,” She squeezed Elsa’s hands in as much force as it took to not crush a brittle leaf. “You didn’t lose as much… as I thought. You’ll be fine,”

 

Elsa’s lips stretched into a weary smile. “Good. B-Because… I c-covered my wound... with f-frost,”

 

Ryder gasped. “Won’t you get frostbite?”

 

Elsa cocked a brow at him.

 

“Right,” replied Ryder, simpering. “Of course, you won’t,”

 

Elsa paused, staring at Ryder. Slowly, she turned her head, resting her temple against the soil, and studied her icy spikes sprouting out from the soil behind him. “Actually… You have a point… I might lose control sooner or later...”

 

Honeymaren shared a glance with her brother. “Elsa?” she said, waiting for Elsa to turn around. “Are you thinking about thawing the frost on your wound?”

 

Elsa nodded hesitantly. “But…”

 

“That’s okay,” said Honeymaren, smiling reassuringly. “We’ll get you home. Ryder and I, and everyone at camp— we'll take care of you,”

 

“You have nothing to worry about,” Ryder added, resting his palm on top of Honeymaren and Elsa’s hands.

 

Elsa gave a small nod.

 


 

Had Elsa been left with more energy, perhaps she would’ve been writhing and groaning in pain. But, as the three rode Nokk through the thicket in silence, Honeymaren figured that Elsa was too weak to do either, barely managing to grip onto Honeymaren’s arm like a blankie. Honeymaren held her closer, letting Elsa rest her legs on top of her right thigh, while Elsa’s forehead pressed against the crook of her shoulder. 

 

Elsa took a deep breath and wheezed, “Gale.”

 

Gale came swivelling gently around Elsa’s knees.

 

“Please,” said Elsa, extending a blood-stained hand as if she could pat Gale. She looked away from the stains she’d left on Honeymaren’s sleeve. “Don’t… tell Anna,”

 

Elsa ,” exclaimed Honeymaren in hushed whispers. Gale whizzed in disbelief, and Nokk followed suit with an exasperated neigh. “Anna has the right to—”

 

Trust me,” continued Elsa, a hint of queenly assertion in her voice. “I won’t last… Please, don’t tell her... Not yet… Not until I return for Arendelle...”

 

Clenching her jaw, Honeymaren could only offer Elsa comfort in the form of back rubs. That was all it took for Elsa to drift asleep, brows no longer furrowed. 

Chapter Text

A throbbing heat pulsated in the gashes of Elsa’s wound, sharp yet distant. Flitting past tree after tree, a white mist expelled at every jagged breath, she listened to padded thumps against the snow as she took one hasty stride after another.

 

She wasn’t sure where she was heading to or what she was running away from. 

 

Why wasn’t she with the Northuldra? Had she been followed? Where’s Honey? And Ryder? Nokk and Gale?

 

She wanted to look around and search for a semblance of life in this expanse of barren shrubbery, but her eyes remained steadily trained on what laid ahead. Slowly, an Arendellian village emerged beyond the light sleet of snow, possibly home to not more than twenty families.

 

Candle lights flickered behind frosted window panes. Loud snores rattled old bed frames. Perhaps, if the wind hadn’t been howling like a terror-stricken wolf, Elsa could’ve heard a lullaby seeping through the thin weather-beaten walls of the house right in front of her.

 

Everyone was asleep.

 

Careful steps brought Elsa closer to these houses, each painting a picture of their respective family’s lives in one way or another. 

 

One house boasted a calculated tidiness, which paralleled that of royal chambermaids; books were nestled in shelves if not stacked atop dusted tables; lacquered pine bowls glistened under moonlight; jackets of various sizes were neatly piled on a sturdy coat stand. One neighbouring house also seemed to shelter a family with children; though, their boots were scattered from the kitchen to the living room.

 

Another house revealed hoards of wooden planks beyond sawdust-coated windows, perched against any surface that could be found by the carpenter presumably living here. 

 

Elsa peered further into this house, her forehead pressing against the window. She figured this carpenter lived alone. Every piece of furniture that wasn’t commissioned seemed buried under a stack of wood, some intricately carved, some freshly axed.

 

Elsa inched closer to the front door, turning its knob with an adroit twist. She entered to find strong whiffs of Arendellian pine wafting through the unkempt first floor. Roaming further inwards, she gingerly stepped over large debris and chiselling tools that were strewn across the floor, and soon began climbing up a flight of stairs. 

 

Elsa wasn’t sure why she had intruded upon this man’s home, let alone her little venture into his private quarters. Perhaps, he could help Elsa in some way. 

 

He was sleeping soundly, this carpenter. He couldn’t be more than forty. Beetling over parted lips was his brown moustache. His shoulders were broad, muscles on his arms as chiseled as his woodwork. 

 

Slowly, Elsa found herself climbing into his bed.

 

Her heart skipped a beat.

 

Elsa could feel her muscles tensing in restraint but it didn’t stop her body from crawling its way closer to this innocent man. 

 

Elsa’s breaths grew shallower as panic washed over her. 

 

What was she doing?

 

Her right hand snaked its way up this man’s cheek, brushing against his stubble, rousing him, before closing his mouth with a firm clasp. Startled, the man’s eyes fluttered open, widening at what was undeniably the former Queen of Arendelle sitting comfortably atop his chest.

 

Elsa felt her stomach churn.

 

She wanted to offer the poor man some form of explanation, ask for help, apologise. But, she was trapped in a body with a mind of its own.

 

The second this man grabbed a fist full of Elsa’s blouse, Elsa found herself shackling his limbs onto the bed frame with ice. 

 

Muffled against Elsa’s palm were his frightened screams.

 

Elsa could feel the thump of her heart in the chilling quiver reverberating within her bones. She was helpless. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t scream, couldn’t cry. 

 

She couldn’t screw her eyes shut.

 

She had to let this play out, run its course, witness all for the horror it was.

 

She descended, her mouth ajar, the bulbous vein protruding out from the man’s neck snapping her attention into place.

 

She bit him. 

 

He screamed.


 

Elsa jolted awake, sitting upright, vision blurred, drenched in cold sweat. Instantly, ripples of hot stinging pain came shooting up from her left side, scorching the inner cavities of her chest like molten lava. Tears streamed down her face. Pained whimpers tumbled out of her lips as she gasped desperately for air. 

 

It was dark. 

 

But, the lustrous sheen of a dark pelt blanket was barely visible, as small pockets of sunlight pierced through the cracks of this Northuldra hut. The patches of white freckles on this blanket looked like a small constellation of stars. They had only ever piqued the interest of one person. And that was Elsa, with her eye for patterns worthy of some artistic appeal. 

 

This was her favourite blanket.

 

Elsa was in her own bed, she realised. She must’ve been in the Forest this whole time then. With the Northuldra. 

 

She was safe.

 

It was all a dream... A nightmare.

 

As if her world had plunged into the Dark Sea, Elsa’s vision was terribly hazy. The monochromy of her belongings in Northuldra was far from helpful. Except for the small fire blazing at the centre of this hut, her desk, bed frame, satchel and baskets barely diverged from the singular shades of beige and brown. Had she been surrounded by the extravagant splash of colour that adorned her Arendellian home, perhaps she could’ve discerned the ground from her furniture by rosemaling alone.

 

Clutching her throbbing side, Elsa found herself wrinkling crisp folds of white cotton fabric. She was wearing… an oversized tunic? Kicking her blanket away, she peered down to two legs.... in brown leather-hide pants….

 

What happened to her clothes?

 

What happened to her?

 

Slowly, she rummaged through her memories, finding fragments of images, like pictures ripped into tiny pieces… A small forest clearing… A boulder… Ryder… 

 

Then, one led to another… a shadow slithering on the ground… blood trickling down her hip... fangs piercing into her neck... a dark mass pressed against her body… blinding green flames... her screams scratching at her throat… 

 

That couldn’t have been a dream. 

 

That felt real.

 

Hesitantly, she lifted her tunic, narrowing her eyes at the mortifying thought of bones flashing behind morsels of torn flesh, all mottled crimson. Her rush of adrenaline quickly dissipated into relief when she found her middle neatly wrapped in bandages, her aesthetics unthwarted by the small knotted bow on her ribs. 

 

She was all fixed up.

 

Breaths pacing steadily, chest unwrapped from its vice, Elsa recovered a sense of peace she thought she’d long lost in green hellish flames. 

 

She took a deep breath. 

 

“You’re okay,” she said to herself. “I’m okay,”

 

Suddenly, the door creaked open, a stream of bright sunlight flooding into Elsa’s hut. 

 

A silhouette came into view. Dark. Petite. Masked by shadows. Stealthily quiet.

 

Elsa’s blood ran cold.

 

“You’re awake,” said a woman, her full-bodied voice as smooth as silk. “Yelena, she’s up!”

 

“Thank spirits,” replied Yelena from afar, her voice hoarse as usual. Her silhouette joined in, as she peered into Elsa’s hut. “I’ll check on Bruni. If you don’t mind, could you—”

 

“I’ll try,” 

 

“Thank you,”

 

With that, the figure entered, closing the door behind her. 

 

It was... Honeymaren...

 

Elsa squinted through the dark, wondering if her eyes had played tricks on her. When she was certain that the woman standing before her had jet-black hair peeking underneath a fur-hemmed cap, Elsa let out an audibly shaky breath and hid her trembling lips behind delicate fingers.

 

“Oh, dear,” gasped Honeymaren abruptly.

 

In a beat, she grabbed a large bowl by the fire and placed it on Elsa’s lap. Plopping down to her knees, Honeymaren swiftly tucked loose strands of blonde hair behind Elsa’s ear, holding long locks in one hand.

 

“There, there,” whispered Honeymaren, her other hand rubbing Elsa’s back. “I’ll hold your hair,”

 

It took Elsa a while to register what was happening. “O-Oh,” she stuttered. “I-I’m not feeling sick… but thank you,”

 

“Are you sure?” asked Honeymaren softly. “Nothing to be ashamed about,”

 

“N-No, I’m fine… Really…”

 

Honeymaren waited a tad too keenly for something to happen— a projectile of vomit, perhaps— before stowing the bowl away at Elsa’s insistence. Curiosity getting the best of her self-control, Honeymaren slowly brushed over Elsa’s lips with a thumb. 

 

Elsa’s heart nearly leaped out from her chest. 

 

“Your lips— they’re bleeding,” said Honeymaren in genuine concern, rubbing the stain off of her fingers. “Did you notice?”

 

“No…” replied Elsa, tasting metal upon a darting tongue. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all. Maybe she had sleep-walked her way to Arendelle and ravaged the neck of a poor unsuspecting carpenter. “Is it... a lot? The blood?”

 

“Oh, no, not at all,” responded Honeymaren quickly. “Nothing to worry about, Elsa. You must’ve been biting them in your sleep, that’s all,”

 

“You… really think so…?”

 

“Honey absolutely thinks so,” Honeymaren smiled reassuringly. “For she sees the imprints of two cute bunny teeth on your lower lip—“

 

Elsa simpered. “They’re not bunny teeth!”

 

“Oh, but they are,” 

 

Elsa giggled. She didn’t think that laughter was humanly possible by that point. But then again, when did Honeymaren’s humour ever fail to tickle Elsa’s nerves? Not too soon after, Elsa found herself slouching forwards at the jab of pain from her wound, stifling a whine.

 

“I’m sorry. I-I shouldn’t have made you laugh,” said Honeymaren, studying Elsa’s grimace with widening eyes. She reached for a piece of cloth on the bedside table. “Let’s clean your lips. It’s all chapped. I’ll make us some hot tea later. How does that sound?”

 

Elsa couldn’t help but note Honeymaren’s choice of words— ‘us’, not ‘you’. An imminent grin tugged on her lips. “Tea sounds good,”

 

Honeymaren was just about to wrap the cloth around her finger when Elsa heard her grumble softly to herself.

 

“What is it?” asked Elsa.

 

“N-no, it’s nothing. It’s just… Well… ” 

 

Elsa dangled her legs off the bed and tried to wiggle away her pins and needles. She hunched closer to find Honeymaren gripping onto a mug, containing a solid block of ice. The Northuldra suffered a winter much crueller than Arendelle’s. But never had Elsa seen water freeze in huts— especially, toasty ones with a fire like theirs. Unless…

 

Her vision now as clear as glass, Elsa peered around. Sure enough, the hut was encrusted in frost. Throngs of ice laded wooden crevices. Spikes sprouted up from sharp corners.

 

“Is that… my ice?” asked Elsa, inspecting her hands. The last time she’d woken up to a frozen room, she was nine. It had been seventeen years.

 

Honeymaren paused, her realisation of Elsa’s stupor apparently sinking in. “Yes…” she said hesitantly. She put the mug away and slowly reached for Elsa’s hands. “Hey, it’s okay… The Northuldra are used to long harsh winters. We don’t mind it,”

 

“The Northuldra...? We...?" said Elsa, brows furrowing. “Did I freeze the entire camp?”

 

Honeymaren winced. “Elsa… I-It’s okay—“

 

I did—?" A ball formed in Elsa’s throat.

 

Slipping on ice meant falling prey to injuries— like actual concussion. And children weren’t the most pervious creatures to well-intentioned advice. Their parents must’ve been muttering Elsa’s name under their breaths by then. And their food, their water well— had the camp suffered malnourishment as a result of her ice too? Had more reindeer been slaughtered to make thicker coats? Did Yelena leave to check on Bruni, because the poor salamander had to toil away at Elsa’s thick tendrils of ice with a tiny pickaxe of fire?

 

Honeymaren didn’t seem to breathe, but she spoke anyway, “Elsa…?”

 

“For how long did I freeze the camp?”

 

Honeymaren glanced at the vines of frost encasing the wall behind Elsa. She paused and shook her head. “Not… long,”

 

Elsa was unconvinced.

 

She looked over Honeymaren’s shoulder to find the small clock on her desk striking 10.30 in the morning. Had Honeymaren lied, Elsa could’ve frozen the camp anywhere between then and the night before….Only, she had no recollection since...

 

“How long... have I been asleep for?” asked Elsa, her heart clenching.

 

Honeymaren’s gaze fell onto Elsa’s hands. She gave them the faintest squeeze, looking as if she’d fallen into a ditch, wishing nothing more than to escape. “Elsa…”

 

“Be honest with me,” demanded Elsa, sounding more like a queen than a friend. “Please. Just tell me the truth,”

 

Finally, Honeymaren met Elsa’s piercing eyes. “You couldn’t… bear the pain,” she spoke, carefully choosing her words. “So, we had to put you to sleep, for one whole day. The incident, with the figure— that happened two nights ago,” She took a deep breath. “The camp froze once we started tending to your wounds… and had been frozen ever since…”

 

Elsa couldn’t help but feel vexed at herself. Three years of supported practice with Anna, an Ahtohallan-sized spark of self-discovery and four seasons later, she was back to square one. She had done it again. Inconvenienced everyone. Put their lives in jeopardy. Butchered their trust. 

 

“...And?” asked Elsa.

 

“And... it’s gotten just slightly worse this morning… Snowfall, winds… But, I-I can assure you, it’s nothing we can’t handle,” Honeymaren reached for Elsa’s cheek but the blonde flinched away.

 

Stop. Just...” mumbled Elsa, wringing her hands together as soon as she raised them in protest. 

 

Something about Honeymaren irked her— the worrisome glint of her eyes, the quiet seconds it took for her to utter her words as if they meant life or death. But, for Elsa to aim her petulance at Honeymaren felt terribly amiss. It wasn’t Honeymaren as much as it was something else more sinister. It barged into Elsa’s mind, like a mother on the hunt for a room in disarray, or a circus man searching for a reason to cage his freak. 

 

She had seen this before. 

 

Except, she didn’t expect to see it plastered on Honeymaren’s beautifully sculpted face.

 

“I look at you, Honey,” started Elsa. “And… I see Mama and Papa… I see Kai, Gerda… Their terrified faces,” The blonde ducked her head low and glared at the soil beneath her feet. Cracks formed at the fringes of her voice. “I can’t remember what happened. But… I must’ve frightened you. I have, haven’t I? A-And, now you’re terrified— everyone’s terrified— that I’ll lose control even further… I’m so sorry,”

 

This time, concern trampling over restraint, Honeymaren cupped Elsa’s cheek. “Elsa, I don’t fear you. I fear hurting you,”

 

Elsa looked up, perplexed. That was the first. 

 

“You’ve been through enough, Elsa. More than any mortal could take,” said Honeymaren, her brows furrowing in fervour. “What that monster did to you... I can’t imagine the pain and shock that you’re going through. And, I don’t want to frighten you anymore than you already are,”

 

Elsa blinked. “So… You’re not… scared of me losing control?”

 

Honeymaren shook her head. “Not as much as seeing you like this,”

 

“... Like what?”

 

Honeymaren wiped the tears trickling down Elsa’s cheeks. “Like this,”

 

How could Elsa forget that kindness was the pinnacle of Honeymaren’s assets? And Elsa had the audacity to take Honeymaren’s beating-around-the-bush for subterfuge— the blade that had once threatened to sever her sisterhood with Anna.

 

“I‘m sorry,” said Honeymaren softly, placing a gentle hand on Elsa’s thigh. She slowly parted the blonde’s knees just enough to squeeze herself in between them. As their shoulders grazed and their chests heaved into one another, Honeymaren wrapped her arms around Elsa’s waist, moulding their bodies together. “I thought I’d protect you from more pain if I told you less. I should’ve been honest with you. I’m sorry,”

 

Elsa felt herself turn to ice, her hands hovering in the air. “Honey…”

 

“You won’t hurt me,” the Northuldra said with a conviction that could defy the word of deities. She rubbed Elsa’s back tenderly. Annoyed by the friction of crisp cotton, her hand slipped underneath and rubbed between Elsa’s shoulder blades where her skin was free from bandages. She tilted her head, searching for Elsa’s eyes. “Does this feel good?”

 

Elsa would remember this moment forever— when the layers of armour she’d worn all those years decided to unhinge themselves to the floor, leaving her bare, out in the open. Hot blood rushing to Elsa’s cheeks, her hands crept up the sides of Honeymaren’s neck. She hugged her leisurely, haltingly, lest she came off too eager. “Yeah…” whispered Elsa, struggling to contain her passions. “It feels good…”

 

Honeymaren rested her chin on Elsa’s shoulder. “You’re safe,” she said. “I’m here. We’re all here. Everyone’s safe,”

 

Elsa nodded timidly, ashamed to have lost her temper with Honeymaren. Of all people. “So much for being Guardian of the Enchanted Forest…” said Elsa. “Some protector I am...”

 

“You’re only human after all, Elsa. What are we without each other?”

 

Honeymaren was profound in her thoughts despite her brevity. It was a quality that struck Elsa by awe at every notice. Upon that question, she drifted into reverie. No other creature could be more hopeless if left to fend for themselves alone. Humans were meant to live in the company of others, if not in companionship. Elsa knew this all too well, and forgets it all the same. 

 

They stayed in each other’s arms for a long while, back rubs unceasing. When Honeymaren shifted, Elsa hugged tighter than before, the thought of tearing apart all too jarring. Elsa shrouded herself in Honeymaren’s warmth, imbibed her scent of wildflowers in comfortable silence. And for a moment, even if short, the vague memory of a cloaked figure felt distant, unreal, like a figment of imagination.

 

Could there be avarice in wanting this second to last forever? 

 

The sound of twinkles finally roused Elsa. 

 

Her ice… It was flurrying away. And so must her ice casted upon the entire camp.

 

Honeymaren spoke, her tone wary but fond, “I’ve always found your magic beautiful,” 

 

“How come...?”

 

Honeymaren pondered, tracing circles on Elsa’s back. “You haven’t a single drop of malice in you. You’re a good person, Elsa. And part of me believes that your magic is reacting the way it is because... it loves you. It’s trying to protect you, the same way you try so hard to protect us and Arendelle,”

 

Elsa nuzzled her nose in Honeymaren’s tufts of jet-black hair. She let the Northuldra’s words sink in and line her throat like the sweet film of honeysuckle milk. Hitched against Elsa’s lips was an affectionate phrase. Surely, the three words she said so often to Anna couldn’t have been so easy with Honeymaren, even if the pain that wrapped her chest in a vice was not panic after all, but a familiar urge, a craving, a deep yearning for something more. Elsa knew too little to make an impression worthy of honest praise. And yet, Honeymaren seemed to know just enough to fiddle with Elsa’s heartstrings, making music from the deep howling chasm of noise residing within Elsa’s very core.

 

“What did I do to deserve you?” whispered Elsa.

 

Honeymaren pulled away slightly. “What do you mean?”

 

Elsa only buried herself further into the crook of Honeymaren’s shoulder. She needed to say this. She needed to get this off her chest. But god forbid anyone saw her face.

 

“You’ve been so... unbelievably kind to me, Honey,” mumbled Elsa. “I wouldn’t have survived this past year if you hadn’t been there for me, every step of the way. Then, you threw a party for me. You convinced the others to dedicate a vuelie to me. You even knew that bidos is one of my favourite dishes! And then...you saved me...”

 

Elsa suddenly tore herself away, inspecting Honeymaren up and down. She remembered. The scream. Honeymaren’s scream. “YOU RAN INTO FIRE!! To save me!!”

 

Honeymaren laughed. “And without magic… Surely Anna would count this for badassery,”

 

“E-Even after that,” continued Elsa, certain she was as red as cherries at this point. “You took care of me. And I got angry with you, instead,”

 

Elsa heaved a shaky sigh. 

 

“What did I do to deserve you, when you don’t deserve me?” asked Elsa, her voice laced with tremor. “I want to be a better friend to you— I-I really do— but I don’t know how. All I know is that you’d love to explore Arendelle. And that you love clocks… a-and lingonberries. But, what then...? What next…?”

 

Honeymaren seemed shattered. “Elsa, I don’t do those things for you and expect something in return. You don’t owe me anything,”

 

“But why, Honey? Why do those things for me anyway? Why bother with someone like me?”

 

Moment of truth.

 

Deep breaths.

 

“Because… I love you,”

 

Elsamaren Chap 4