Elsa received the note in the middle of the day at the start of June. Gale delivered it to her while she was helping Honeymaren make training spears for the children.
I’ll send a more formal invitation in a few days, but I wanted you to be the first to know. Kristoff and I set a date for the wedding! We’re going to be married on the thirtieth of June (less than a month!!) and we’re having the reception at the palace down here in Arendelle. Please, please, please tell me you can make it! I wouldn’t be able to get married without you by my side. Oh, and can you invite any of the Northuldra who want to come, as well? We want all of our people here to celebrate this.
All the love in the world, your sister,
Elsa squealed and Maren looked up in alarm.
“Is something wrong?”
Elsa shook her head, clutching the note close to her chest. She met Maren’s eyes with a sheepish smile.
“Anna’s set a date for the wedding. The end of the month. This was my invitation.” She glanced back down at Anna’s words. “Well, ours, I suppose. She told me to invite the Northuldra.”
Maren smiled. “I’m sure there are plenty who would love to be there. Myself included.”
Elsa grinned back at her, but her heart was suddenly beating faster. Maren. And me. Together. At a wedding.
Oh, that’s just splendid.
Elsa took in the expression on Honeymaren’s face, her heart beating faster than she might have expected. There was sweat on her palms, and her throat felt like it was made of wool. This is ridiculous. Get it together, Elsa. You look like an idiot.
Maren was looking up, taking in the size and structure of the buildings around them. They’d only been in town a few minutes, and already Elsa was keeling over to make sure Maren was comfortable. Arendelle was so different from anything she might have experienced in the forest, and Elsa wanted more than anything for Maren to enjoy herself, to like the place Elsa had called home for twenty-four years.
“Are you intimidated?” Elsa joked, playfully elbowing Maren in the ribs. The Northuldra woman’s head snapped up to look at her, and the sudden eye contact made Elsa blink. Maren was always like that. Always straightforward, always genuine. It made Elsa feel… safe.
“Only a little bit. Should I be, knowing there could be assassins hiding on top of any of these buildings to butcher me in my sleep?” Maren ribbed back, the sly smile looking almost competitive.
“No more than I should be sleeping in a tent surrounded by bloodthirsty reindeer each night,” Elsa responded, folding her hands behind her back. Maren snorted loudly.
“Our reindeer are not bloodthirsty. Wild beasts with horrible senses of humor, yes. But not bloodthirsty.”
“We’ll see,” Elsa said nonchalantly, pretending to have her attention caught by a dress in a shop window. Maren laughed, her hand reaching out to catch Elsa’s.
Before, contact like this would have terrified her. Before, she might have pulled away and run in the other direction, fear and magic swirling so closely together she wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart.
But this was now, and this was Maren. The only flurries Elsa felt resided in her stomach, and seemed to have more to do with the warmth and weight of Maren’s hand in hers.
“Seriously, Elsa, this place is pretty amazing. I can’t believe you grew up around all of this.” Honeymaren was looking around again, taking in the sights and sounds of Arendelle. Her eyes were open, and Elsa reveled in watching her drink it all in, the smells in the air from the shops and the bakeries, the shouts of merchants and children, the buildings taller than anything they had in the Forest, and larger too.
“Well, to be fair, I really grew up in the castle,” Elsa shrugged. Maren turned her head slightly to take in the tall, imposing walls and spires of Arendelle Castle, just a few yards away.
“Is everything here that size?” Maren asked, a little breathless. Elsa tightened her grip on Maren’s hand and dragged her along, laughter on her lips.
Officially, Elsa and Honeymaren had arrived a week before the wedding to assist Queen Anna of Arendelle with the planning of the ceremony and handle some Official Diplomat Business ™ concerning the Northuldra.
Unofficially, Anna had summoned them a week early because she “missed her sister” and “needed to spend some time around someone who wasn’t male or a reindeer.”
The rest of the Northuldra who were coming (Ryder, Yelana, and a few who had grown rather fond of the Queen during her occasional visits to the Forest, along with reindeer invited on behalf of Kristoff) would arrive in five days’ time. Maren had offered to ride with the rest of her people, but Elsa had insisted she come early, to “see the sights and help me keep my cool.” Maren had quipped something about an ice witch likely not needing any help “keeping her cool,” but Elsa had only blushed and offered a bag of supplies, and down to Arendelle they went.
Elsa had been assertive in her invitation, but now, sitting across from Maren at a casual royal lunch, she felt less than confident. Not because of Maren in any way; no, the Northuldra woman was the picture of perfect company, curious but reserved, and her and Anna were getting along splendidly.
No, the flurries in Elsa’s stomach this time came from the way her heart skipped when the light from the windows caught Maren’s eyes, or her laugh when Kristoff made a joke. She was doing her best to keep her… admittedly confusing feelings down, but Maren was making it extremely difficult.
Spirits be damned, does she have to look so pretty?
Elsa’s face must have given something away, because Maren caught her eye and gave her a questioning look. Elsa shook her head and coughed loudly, doing her best to draw attention away from her wandering thoughts and likely beet-red face. When Anna’s inquisitive eyes darted to her, she plastered on an affectionate smile and asked a benign question about the state of the summer’s harvest.
After lunch, Anna hauled Elsa away to the library for “sisterly bonding time.” Elsa would have liked to spend some more time with Maren, but Anna was persistent, and Kristoff had offered to show the Northuldra woman the stables and gardens before the sun went down. Begrudgingly, Elsa allowed herself to be dragged off to talk.
The second the tall library doors were shut, Anna spun around, her eyes alight with something Elsa had learned usually meant trouble. “So… how are things with Honeymaren?”
Elsa quirked a brow. That was not what she had been expecting. “Honeymaren? Anna, don’t we have a wedding to plan?”
“Oh, the chef has the menu, the seating arrangements are done, Dagmar is almost finished with my dress, and the flowers are chilling in the nevermelt icebox – thanks for that, by the way – ” Elsa shrugged, waiting for Anna to get to the point. Her sister had a tendency to ramble, and while it was adorable, it was also time-consuming. “-and we’ve almost got a handle on the centerpieces. Anywho, the wedding’s planned! I want to know about Honeymaren.”
“Anna, I-” Elsa startled. “What on earth would you need to know about Maren?"
“You know, things! What's her favorite food, her favorite color, her preferred style of ball gown...” The queen flopped rather undignifiedly on the couch and eagerly patted the spot next to her. Elsa sat, still processing, and absentmindedly picked up a nearby pillow to fiddle with, mind spinning. "I want to be prepared," Anna finished with a wink.
“Anna, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.”
“Oh, come on!” Anna threw herself across the couch in a very dramatic way, and Elsa couldn’t help but chuckle. “I saw you making heart eyes at Honeymaren the whole time at lunch. What, you’re gonna tell me that’s a Northuldran thing? I don’t think so, sister. So spill.” She waggled an accusatory finger at Elsa, her face doing something approximating a glare. Elsa loosed a laugh again.
“Anna, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Maren and I are friends. I was looking at her like a normal person looks at another normal person. I was not… making heart eyes.” Though my heart was certainly beating faster than normal, Elsa would have added if she thought her sister would let her live it down.
Anna took one look at the former queen’s posture – eyes in her lap, fingers anxiously twisting the corners of the pillow into submission. She took note of the slightly colder temperature of the normally warm room – and backed off. Elsa had… stuff. Lots of stuff, lots of stuff she hadn’t worked through, even after three years, and Anna knew that she had to do it on her own. Besides, being in the Forest was helping her.
And even if Elsa didn’t know what was going on (or won’t admit it, Anna thought ruefully), she still deserved a push in the right direction. That was all. Just a push. She’ll thank me later.
“Well, like I said, the wedding’s all planned, really. I don’t suppose you’d like to see the dress, though?” Elsa’s face lit up the way it did when chocolate was in the immediate vicinity, and she nodded eagerly. “Only if you take tonight to show Honeymaren around Arendelle. It’s her first time being here, and she certainly seems curious! And you’re the best tour guide we have.”
“Doesn’t Andersson actually give tours of Arendelle to foreign dignitaries?” Elsa questioned, but her eyes were playful, and Anna mentally patted herself on the back for her win.
“Yes, but Andersson doesn’t know Honeymaren like you do. You know what she’ll like! Besides, the townspeople miss you.”
“Or they miss my ice.”
Anna sighed, resting a hand on Elsa’s knee. “Or they miss you, Elsa.” The look her sister gave her was hopeful. Anna prayed that someday she might understand. “Okay, now let’s go see that dress.”
That evening, Elsa met Honeymaren at the gates of the castle, the Northuldra woman bursting with carefree stories of her day with Kristoff. Elsa remained quiet, still mulling over her earlier conversation with Anna. Her sister had dropped the topic fairly easily, clearly aware of her discomfort, but it was like the words had imprinted themselves in her mind, and she couldn’t stop thinking them over.
Heart eyes. Honeymaren. A thought, unbidden, popped into Elsa's head. Do I have a crush?
Elsa didn’t do crushes. She didn’t do feelings at all, really, but especially not romantic ones. Her whole life, she had seen marriage as a political agreement between one country and another, between her and some relatively handsome foreign noble. Her parents were an anomaly, one that, though she knew her father loved her mother dearly, it was made clear would not be repeated.
You’re too different, Agnarr used to tell her, to break the rules the way I did. Your people need to see you as a pillar of strength and tradition. Otherwise, Arendelle cannot stand.
Elsa was pulled out of her brooding by Maren’s loud gasp. “Wow…”
They had left the castle, and the main square was as busy as it usually was in the evenings. People wandered about, greeting one another, talking animatedly. Children played around on the cobblestones. The noise was loud and joyous, and smiles shone in the fading light. For Elsa, it wasn’t that much different from the Northuldra camp at night, albeit a little louder. But Maren had never seen Arendelle before.
“So many people,” she whispered reverently, and Elsa chuckled.
“Yes, there’s quite a few of us.” She gave Maren a concerned look. “I know it can be a lot, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed…”
“No!” Maren’s head whipped around, her eyes meeting Elsa’s. “I want to see it all. Will you…” If Elsa wasn’t mistaken, a blush was filling her cheeks. “Will you show me?”
Maren fidgeted a little, and Elsa’s breathing hitched as she came to an understanding. Maren was nervous. Whether because of her lack of knowledge or the prospect of spending the evening with Elsa, she didn’t know, but ironically it calmed her a bit to know she wasn’t the only one feeling a little anxious tonight.
She offered her arm to Maren, who took it eagerly. “It would be my pleasure.”
It turned out there was a lot more to Arendelle than could be shown in one night. Elsa did her best, bringing Maren to the pier, the flower carts, the statue of her mother and father as children which Anna had commissioned as her first act as queen, and the pub, where Elsa discovered Maren could really handle her ale.
Their final stop was the chocolate shop just before it closed, and with bags of treats in hand, Elsa brought Maren to her favorite spot in Arendelle.
“It’s so quiet,” Maren marveled as they found seats at the base of the fountain. It was hidden away, a small alcove of a courtyard behind the clock tower. It was shaded from the sun and faced the large, hilly cliffs on the western side of Arendelle without much of a view. There weren’t many people who frequented this particular fountain, and Elsa usually found it quite peaceful.
“This is the place I always came when I felt overwhelmed,” Elsa admitted, crossing her legs underneath her. “It’s so calm back here, away from the crowds. It helped me to get my bearings, a bit.”
Maren was giving her a look she couldn’t understand. “Thank you for sharing it with me.”
“You’re welcome.” Elsa met those tawny amber eyes and felt her breath catch. Maren was right, it was quiet. Almost like the forest, without the pleasant cacophony of birdsong and running water and the whispers of the trees. It was a jarring shift, but Maren’s eyes were an anchor, something familiar even when she felt out of place. A buried instinct itched to reach forward and take the other woman’s hand.
But Elsa just cleared her throat, smiled, and reached inside her bag of chocolate.
“Okay. Now I know you’ve never had this before, and it’s definitely different, so you’ve got to stay with me, okay?”
Maren nodded, her eyebrows tugging together to show her confusion. Elsa merely smirked, as devious as Anna when she came up with another scheme. “Open your mouth, and close your eyes.”
Maren was still confused, but she did as she was told. Elsa selected a plain sweet chocolate with a creamy center and leaned forward, ready to place the treat in Maren’s mouth. She was close to the other woman, close enough to map every dark freckle on her tan skin, to see the small scar above her eyebrow where Maren told her she’d once been hit by a stray stone from one of Ryder’s slingshots, to smell her scent, birchwood and cloudberries and fresh morning rain.
Elsa had almost forgotten about the chocolate in her hand, and by the noise Maren made, she knew the other woman was only getting more confused. She cleared her throat, laughing awkwardly. “Are you ready?” The other woman nodded, her face moving about as if trying to taste the air. Elsa giggled, and placed the chocolate on Maren’s outstretched tongue.
The Northuldra woman closed her mouth and shifted her jaw, moving the chocolate around in her mouth. Elsa watched as she savored the taste. She was not at all prepared for Maren’s loud moan when she finally swallowed.
“Wow. I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.” Honeymaren opened her eyes to see Elsa, flushed, ice-blue eyes wide, staring at her. “What?”
“Nothing,” Elsa said breathlessly. “I’m- I’m glad you liked it.”
Maren reached into the bag for another chocolate, and Elsa sat in silence, hands under her legs. The peaceful quiet suddenly felt stifling, and she was brought back to her conversation with Anna.
What if she did have a crush? Was that even something that could happen? Elsa knew next to nothing about romantic relationships, only what she’d read in books when she was a child and secondhand knowledge from stories her mother and Anna told her. She wasn’t quite sure what liking someone really felt like. She wasn’t quite sure what feelings felt like.
Her father hadn’t even entertained the thought of a relationship for Elsa. And to be honest, it wasn’t like she wanted one. When she was younger, all she could think about was keeping her powers at bay and learning to be a good queen. Feelings were as foreign to her as the shores of Corona. Besides, it wasn’t like she got out much to meet people anyway.
But Elsa’s whole world had been turned on its axis. She had a home and a purpose and a family. And she had Honeymaren, who made her heart flutter and her palms sweat and her breathing uneven, who made her laugh and smile and feel things, who she would spend every waking second being around if she could, and oh, maybe she did have a crush.
“Elsa?” Elsa was startled out of her thoughts by Maren’s voice, gentle and calming as the breeze wafting around them. “You’ve been quiet. Is there something wrong?”
Elsa was tempted to brush it off and say no. Three years ago, she might have. Three years ago, she wouldn’t have been here, at peace in Arendelle with someone she could absolutely say she trusted, at all.
“I’ve been… off lately. I apologize if it’s made you feel awkward,” she said, and Maren shook her head, reaching out. Her warm hand landed on top of Elsa’s, and sparks shot up her arm. She glanced at their hands anxiously, and Maren, sensing her discomfort, moved away.
Honeymaren cleared her throat. “It hasn’t made me feel awkward at all. But I want you to be happy, and I can tell there’s something wrong. So if you feel comfortable, would you talk to me about it?”
And there it was: a way out of the conversation, an excuse. For once, Elsa found herself not needing it.
“I’ve… It’s been strange, being back in Arendelle again. I don’t feel like I used to, and- well, I’m not the person I used to be- anymore. I don’t think. And being back here feels like, well… like I need to be that person. And- and I don’t know how to be her anymore. And I can’t help but feel like… well- like maybe I haven’t become a better person after all.” Once the words had left her, Elsa cringed. She sounded like an idiot child who couldn’t manage her own feelings. It was awful of her to saddle Maren with this, awful of her to be here-
“I feel like I can see you about to get up and run away,” Maren quipped, and Elsa’s quivering muscles stilled. “Thank you for telling me. I know it wasn’t easy.” Elsa hummed to acknowledge her, and they sat in silence for a minute more.
“I know how hard it must have been for you, coming up to the Forest. And I think you’ve been doing so well, with everything. I meant it when I said you belong there.” Elsa cracked a small smile at the memory, at the rush of feeling that accompanied it. “Is all of this because I’m here? Like, your worlds are colliding?”
Maren’s smile was sheepish, and Elsa shook her head, eyes widening. “No! No, of course not. It’s wonderful, having you here.” She took a breath, willing herself to let it out, let it go, let Maren in. “It’s that… my whole life, I’ve been an outsider in Arendelle. I was the princess, and then the queen, and with my powers… I never truly felt like I fit into that life.” Maren was nodding in understanding. “But what made it hardest was this place.” She sighed, looking around them. “Arendelle is full of people, good people, and I… even after the Great Thaw, once I was queen, I knew that they all saw me as different. The people who don’t fear me see me as an ice dispensary. I love Anna with all of my heart, but she doesn’t always see the way people can be sometimes. When I come back just to visit her, I avoid the town and everything’s fine, but now… Sometimes- sometimes I think Arendelle breathed a sigh of relief when I moved to the Forest.”
There it was, out in open, for better or for worse. Elsa held in her breath, watching as Maren processed her words. They were still sitting close, so close Elsa could see herself reflected in Maren’s eyes. Eyes that held pain, then anger, than mellowed out into sadness and understanding.
“I know I can’t speak for these people,” Maren said finally, gesturing around them, “but I don’t think I’d be wrong to say that you mean more to them than you realize.” She reached for Elsa’s hand again, and this time she didn’t pull away. “You mean more to me.”
Elsa’s breath caught once again. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but Maren was reaching for another chocolate, and the moment broke.
And she didn’t exactly feel better, but when she went to sleep that night, she dreamt of flower crowns and snowmen instead of angry crowds and jagged ice.