It had been several months, just toeing the edge of a year, since The Voice called, since Elsa forced her family to go in search of it (and, she refused to admit, probably made all of Arendelle think she was somewhat crazy. She wasn’t. Well, not too crazy, at least.), since they had lifted the mist, and, finally, since Elsa had abdicated the throne to Anna. She would say that the throne suited Anna a lot better and that being the Enchanted Forest’s crazy spirit suited her a lot better.
‘I’ll never understand how Arendelle trusted you with anything,’ Maren had told her one time. ‘You always have this mischievous spark and this wild gleam in your eyes. I don’t think I would have trusted you with anything official.’
And so what if she was a little crazy and mischievous? Her friends didn’t care that much. Maren had grown used to her good-natured pranks here and there, and Ryder, to Elsa’s chagrin, had learned to avoid going near the water in fear of being splashed by the Nokk. Under Elsa’s control, of course. The Nokk was a kind spirit, he wouldn’t ever do anything to someone unless Elsa asked him to.
Bruni, on the other hand-
Dealing with flames and sparks and fire had grown to be a commonplace endeavour for Elsa. Which is where she found herself now, putting out yet another flame. And all she had wanted was to spend some time with Maren! But of course, Bruni had to make even that difficult. She scowled. Just had to. Her cheeks were streaked with soot when she finally got the fire to go out. Bruni jumped into her palm. She grumbled in anger and was about to yell at him, but as soon as the salamander relaxed into her hands and licked his eyeball in the cutest fashion, she no longer was able to stay mad.
“How could anyone stay mad at this cutie for long?” she grinned, turning to Maren, who shrugged.
“Better question is,” Maren sang with a lilt. “How could anyone stay mad at you for too long?” she poked Elsa’s nose, who rolled her eyes down to look at Maren’s finger.
Elsa silently grumbled for a moment, before remembering that she had actually come over to Maren’s for a reason and had been- might she add, rudely- interrupted by the world’s most annoying, but the best, lizard. “Are you ready?” she asked, extending her palm toward the brown-haired woman.
“As I’ll ever be,” Maren responded, taking it.
Elsa chose to say that she led her, but in reality she dragged Maren down to the sea, where they were met by a cheerful spritz of water as the Nokk embodied himself from the waves. Elsa swung herself up onto his back and then helped Maren up behind her. The Nokk nuzzled her hand with his cheek. “To Ahtohallan,” Elsa whispered. “Please.”
The Nokk took off with a whinny.
The trip was mostly spent in silence, with a muffled ‘oof’ here and there as their faces were met with large drops of water.
The Dark Sea wasn’t this pretty
like Maren the first time I went to Ahtohallan, Elsa mused. It was much more ferocious. Maybe that was because the Nokk for sure still hated me. Elsa laughed but the roll of the chuckles never fully left her lips. Oh my God, why are Maren’s hands so soft- I wonder what the stars would look like from Ahtohallan… Elsa suspected that they were probably very beautiful, shimmering lights dappled across the sky, glowing as they smiled down at her. The thought of spending the night at Ahtohallan hadn’t really crossed her mind before, but now, as she looked back at Maren, whose gaze was fixed on the sea in a look of awe, she thought that maybe it would be nice. And that maybe the thing that was keeping her from doing so was because Maren was in the forest and Elsa couldn't stand being away from her for that long. Because if Maren were there with her, she wouldn’t be Alone. Because being Alone at Ahtohallan, she’d discovered, was a lot bit scary.
The Nokk made it to Ahtohallan and deposited them onshore in a graceful bow. “Thank you,” Elsa murmured, her voice still a little scratchy, and the Nokk accepted it with a dip of his head before melting back into the sea. Elsa had forgotten that their trip had been so quiet, spent mostly alone with their thoughts.
Elsa had thought about the sea and the stars, mostly. Probably.
Okay, so maybe she’d spent three quarters of the time getting distracted by Maren’s arms around her waist.
“So,” Elsa began quickly, blushing as she realized she’d forgotten to acknowledge her- she coughed- friend. She turned to Maren and wipied the water from her palms. “We haven’t even made it inside, but what do you think?”
Maren didn’t quite answer, more like made a sound of amazement that fell from her lips, but Elsa took it as wow, Elsa, this is the second best thing that I’ve ever seen. Behind you, of course.
The gravelly sand of Ahtohallan’s shore crunched under their feet as they made their way to the cavernous entry. Elsa scowled as another rock wedged itself between the arch of her foot and the sole of her sandals and she shook her leg to dislodge it. At least Maren’s boots went almost to her knees, which helped protect her from the annoying rocks getting stuck in her shoes.
Ryder had been busy today, since he always was on Sunday (and Saturday, Thursday, Wednesday, and Tuesday) mornings since that was when he tended to the reindeers.
And Elsa had not planned their trip around that just so she and Maren could be alone. They descended upon the entrance to the ice, and were instantly greeted by a chill. Elsa had spent nearly nine of the eleven months since she’d abdicated working up the courage to go back to Ahtohallan. And since then, she’d only been one more time and almost immediately had to turn back. And maybe she’d sobbed in Maren’s arms for three hours after getting back to the forest. There was this gripping fear that held her back, she supposed. For someone who had been so lonely all her life, she sure was terrified of being Alone.
Even now, the chill brought on unpleasant memories and a suppressed whimper dripped off her lips. Maren heard this, and took Elsa’s hand, rubbing her gloved fingers across it.
“You’re okay,” she said quietly. “I’m going to be here to keep you from going too far. I promise.”
Elsa nodded stiffly and stopped in her tracks as they greeted the first of the ice.
“Welcome to Ahtohallan, the river full of memory,” she spoke in an almost melodic tone, the words echoing around the entryway chamber.
“Wow,” Maren gasped, tracing her fingers over the ice. “This is beautiful,” she said. Just like you, Elsa chose to hear.
“You haven’t even seen the best of it yet!” Elsa beamed, excited by her friend’s reaction. The tone of awe melted her worries away. And Maren would be there beside her, like she’d promised. “Come on!”
The sound of their feet pattering along the floor reverberated through the icy walls. “I want to take you,” Elsa licked her lips to moisten them. “To where I was… I guess you could call it coronated… re-coronated? Anyway, to where I became the Fifth Spirit. Or to wherever something all like cool and fun happened.”
a sound that warmed up the cold. And Elsa breathed in that warmth- And Elsa held Maren’s hand tighter and reminded herself that she was still there. That she was okay and alive and here. With Maren. Who wasn’t going to let her get away.
After a while, their footsteps started to grow farther between. Elsa anxiously rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s longer than I remember,” she mumbled, chewing her lip. “It sure felt a lot shorter when I was here the first time.”
“I don’t mind,” Maren rubbed the back of Elsa’s hand again. The worn-down feeling of her leather was calming, and Elsa was sure that given the time and the chance, she would have been able to count the individual wrinkles.
(Given the time and the chance, she would probably be able to count Maren’s individual freckles too. Not that she wanted to. Of course not. It was just an observation.) “It gives me time to take in all of Ahtohallan’s beauty. Our people have told stories about it for centuries… and I’m one of the first people to actually get to see it in person. And with you, too,” Maren poked Elsa’s nose again. “I’m sure that I would enjoy this far less without you.”
The only reason I haven't fled yet is because you're here, Elsa thought, but didn’t say.
“I think that I really love it here,” Maren commented a little while later. Elsa’s face brightened as the duo rounded on a familiar sight: the ice pillars she’d created. After crossing these, they would enter the cavern where the real light show had happened. A breeze lifted Elsa’s hair up and it floated around her head, reminding her of the weightless, carefree freedom she’d initially felt. Before-
Elsa’s grip on Maren’s hand tightened enough that Maren let out a slight hiss. But Elsa couldn’t bring herself to let go, not with the way the flames of fear licked at her chest.
Before she froze.
Before she died.
And left Anna behind.
“Elsa,” Maren’s voice shook her from her thoughts. “Look at me,” she said, and Elsa forced herself to. “I’m not going to let you go. I’m not going to let you go too far.”
Elsa nodded, her reaction only delayed slightly by the twinge of disbelief that she felt but quickly shut down. “Okay,” she uttered, the words coming out scratchy. “I believe you."
Elsa took a deep breath. “Onward, shall we?” she offered bravely. Maren nodded.
“If and only if you’re ready.”
“I think,” Elsa hesitated. She wanted to be ready, she really did, for Maren-
For Maren. “I think-”
Elsa’s jaw wavered slightly. Her head felt fuzzy, like it was stuffed with wool. A wave of dizziness overcame her that was so strong the edges of her vision clouded over and she almost toppled to the side, but Maren caught her and steadied her.
“I think I need a breather,” Elsa finally decided.
“Okay.” Maren pursed her lips and guided her to a covered inlet, where Elsa sat down. “So…” Maren sank to her knees in front of Elsa’s. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Elsa sniffled. Her bottom lip protruded. “We’re so close and I really want this and I really want you to see this and I want you to go and I- but I can’t- I can’t, it’s so scary… I’m just gonna go too far again because I always mess up just like that and I’m just going to die and leave all of you alone and I don’t wanna die!” she sobbed.
“Elsa, you’re not going to,” Maren whispered. “I’m not gonna let you.”
“You promise?” Elsa’s voice was weak, and the words came out sounding more like: ‘you pwomise?’
Maren’s eyes softened and she regained her grip on Elsa’s hand and held it tightly. “I promise.”
There was a whistling sound from behind Maren. Elsa, through a blurred view, looked up at the direction the sound came from. The icy figments of lights she’d seen strung together to create the images of the spirits had appeared, forming geometric, glowing shapes. A turquoise sphere, a magenta dodecahedron, a violet cube, and a cyan pyramid.
Maren hopped to her feet and helped Elsa shakily stand. “What’s happening?” she asked, sounding both a little fearful and a lot amazed. Elsa reached out her hand to one of the crystals.
“I- I- I-” she stammered. “I’m not sure.” She moved forward, tracing her hands along the shapes. “It’s similar to what happened the first time but…”
In a flurry of ice, the crystals began to swirl around them. Elsa felt the wind whip around her, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Maren’s hair float in a cloud around her head.
She looks like an angel… Elsa’s thoughts stalled, and then returned with: Maren is an angel.
“I think they want to show us something,” Maren’s brows furrowed, meeting at a crease in the center of her forehead. “Look.” She pointed to where the crystals had configured into some kind of vaguely defined shape. Elsa squinted, but still couldn’t make it out.
“What is it?”
“I- I’m going to drop your hand now,” Maren said. “I just need to get a little closer-”
Wait, Elsa wanted to say. Don’t leave me Alone. But she didn’t.
Maren sensed her worry, though, and gave her hand a final reassuring squeeze. “I’m not going to leave you, just trust me.”
“Okay,” Elsa nodded. “I trust you.”
Maren dropped her hand and moved forward into the torrent of ice. “Ohhhh….” she muttered, tracing her fingers over one of the blob-like shapes.
Elsa gnawed her lip. “What can you see?”
“Look,” Maren gestured for Elsa to come closer, and nervously, Elsa complied. “They’re showing us different symbols and I think that-”
Suddenly and quickly, the ice shards flew away from them. Maren gasped, reaching back for Elsa’s hand, which Elsa gladly took. Elsa bit down on the inside of her cheek.
She looked up in time to see the crystals collecting themselves into what (she could now see it defined clearly) was a snowflake. A cold feeling settled in the pit of her stomach, a gnawing sense on her gut that something was to come. Whether good or bad, she couldn’t tell. But something.
Elsa blinked, and that split second was all the time the something needed to come. The ice above them cascaded down upon their heads, scattering across the floor. The bridge of ice they stood on had faded into nothingness and Elsa was met with a wave of nausea at the feeling like there was nothing below them. And nothing above. But she could still see Maren. And Maren, the angel she was, was still holding her hand tightly. The crystals glinted like thousands of stars or glimmering jewels, reflecting light in prismatic rainbows around the cave. Against the pitch black darkness, it was beautiful. And almost as much so as Maren was.
Maren licked her lips and bent down to look at the ice, tugging Elsa down with her. Elsa picked up a few crystals and rubbed them between her fingers. She recognized the symbols on the first four of the ones she picked up.
“Air,” Maren muttered at the same time she did. “Fire, water earth…”
But the symbol on the last one, a clear one that sent rainbows every which way, was obscure. Elsa rubbed it to try to gauge out the pattern, but came dry. She looked at Maren, who was strikingly gorgeous with rainbows dappling her face. The brunette had a serious expression on, her mouth moving wordlessly as she stared at the final one.
“It’s Northuldra writing,” she finally said. “But not any close to what I’m familiar with… it seems… like it might almost be ancient,” she breathed. “Or magical.”
“You can’t read it?” Elsa queried. Maren shook her head.
“What does that mean?”
“It feels like it’s tugging on a memory,” Maren elucidated. “Like there’s something there, I just can’t-” her eyes widened and she fell short with a gasp.
“Ráhkesvuohta,” she finally said. “I don’t know from where or how I know that…”
Something about the word felt familiar to Elsa too. Like Maren had said, there was something there. Something behind the clouded walls keeping her from finding it. She traced the symbol furiously with her thumb. “What are you?” she whispered curiously. “What do you mean?”
Maren gasped and her head shot up abruptly. “Love.”
“Love,” Elsa repeated, her voice only a shallow echo in her mind. She barely even heard herself or Maren speak. She stood up and cupped Maren’s cheeks. “Mun ráhkistan du,” she murmured. It felt... Right, even if she didn’t know what the words meant. It was like something had overcome her, a wave of pleasant calmness. And whatever it was, had taken her words from her, speaking for her. Maren smiled and pressed her palms to Elsa’s cheeks, bringing their foreheads together.
“The five spirits,” she said. “Air.”
“And our love,” Maren finished.
“Wait… what?” Elsa blinked, slowly.
“I love you,” Maren said. “I love you, and I’ve waited so long to say that. I love you.”
“I- I love you too,” Elsa admitted. She almost choked as a realization flooded her. What she’d said before, it meant just that. That time, she’d said it out of her control. Under someone- some thing’s control. But this time, she was in control. And these words- they felt even more right because of that. “I love you, Maren.”
Maren brought her lips to Elsa’s, pulling her taut to her chest and holding her there. For what was maybe the first time since arriving at Ahtohallan, Elsa felt safe. Fully, completely, safe. And not Alone.
And then their world lit up from the light refracting through the prisms, turning into rainbows that danced across the sky.
“What was that?” Elsa asked after she pulled away for air, in shock- the good kind. And then, feeling bolder, she added: “And can you do it again?”
Maren chuckled and kissed Elsa again.
They returned to the forest a few hours later, both practically floating in their giddiness. Bruni met them as soon as they dismounted the Nokk, greeting them with a cheerful chirp. He jumped into Elsa’s palm when she did no more than nod at him and stuck his little lizard-foot at the ground. Elsa curiously tilted her head to see whatever he was showing her. “Mare- wait,” she held up her palm. “Bruni wants me to see something.”
Maren came up next to Elsa. Bruni tittered and jumped from Elsa’s palm into a pile of pebbles. Elsa winced at the deflated sound that emitted from his chest, but sighed when he scurried around the small stones.
“Is he arranging them?” Maren’s voice shone with a smirk. Elsa shrugged.
“He’s doing something,” she giggled and looked up at Maren. Bruni chirped again and drew back Elsa’s attention. She looked down at the sound.
The salamander had arranged the pebbles into… some sort of formation. And he was clearly adamant that Elsa pay attention to whatever it was.
“Wow…” Elsa feigned amazement. “That’s really awesome, Bruni. Thank… youuuuu…” she pressed her fingers to her temples. “ButMarenandInowhavetoliketelleveryonethisbecauseshootthisisabigdealandIhavetogo…. Bye!”
Bruni sent a puff of flames that singed the hem of Elsa’s dress and chirped something that Elsa could have sworn was Bruni-ish for ‘you didn’t appreciate my wonderful pebble creation enough!’
She spun around to look at whatever he had done with the stones one more time, and maybe, just maybe, made out the word: Finally.