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Bending the Aether

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“I never realized how boring those meetings were.”

“Why do you think I never gave you the details?”

Anna sighed, leaning against the stonework of a tower’s balcony, “Secret queen stuff?”

Her sister rolled her eyes but smirked at the dramatic display.  

“Trade tariffs and taxation percentages are important, I guess,” the queen continued, shrugging, “Thanks for sitting in.  I know I got this...but having you as an advisor is nice.”

Elsa smiled.   “Of course. After you signed the treaty with Yelana, it makes sense for either myself or her to show up occasionally to represent the Northuldra,” she took her sister’s hands with a gentle squeeze, “You can be an independent leader proving yourself while still respectfully and maturely listening to input from others.”

The hands in hers squeezed back.  “Spoken like a queen.”

Elsa let go and walked to the balcony’s edge with a laugh, “Ex-Queen.”

The redhead observed as the other woman seemed to survey the city below them.  Months ago, when witnessing the same practice, Elsa’s brow was always wrinkled with worry.  Now, she looked quietly amused, admiring the view, her glittering gown lightly moving in the breeze, bare feet on the stone underneath them.

Anna walked up and bumped her sister’s hip with her own before resting her elbows on the stone railing.

“Is it weird?”

“Is what weird?”

“I mean, you’ve had a crazy past few years.  You went from shut-in princess to queen to magic sorceress to...what would you call it?  Supreme Goddess of Nature?”

Elsa snorted, “That’s extreme.”

“You still get my point.”

“Life feels different now, especially in the forest.  Like I belong,”  After a beat, Elsa suddenly turned to her sister, “Not that I didn’t feel that way with you and our friends!  It’s just...For once, I think I finally feel almost completely myself, magic and all.”

“Almost?”  Anna asked, elbowing her companion when she didn’t get a response, “Elsa.”

The other grumbled, turning to now look up at the castle’s spires.

“I can’t explain it.  I’ve always been so preoccupied concealing my powers or leading Arendelle or some other traumatic affair.  Now that I finally feel at peace with myself and my existence in life, I’m wondering for the first time if maybe…” she paused, sighing, before finally looking back at Anna,  “Maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to share that existence with someone.”

“Oh.  Oh!” the younger woman shrieked, “This is so exciting.  I’ve only been waiting for you to have a crush on someone for, like, ever.”

The blonde shook her head.  “That’s ridiculous, it’s not a crush.  A small desire for companionship maybe.”


“I can want friends.”

“I thought you said you had those already?”

“This is different.”

“Exactly my point,” Anna exclaimed triumphantly, before asking with a devious smile, “Who is it?”

Elsa started to walk away and too calmly, too smoothly, stated, “No one.”

Anna practically bounced to catch up to her sister. “Elsa, you’re twenty-five years-old, it was bound to happen at some point.  I mean, if you were to look at me and honestly tell me that you never have and never will be romantically interested in someone, I’ll believe you.  Cousin Joffrey was like that.  It’s very normal.”

Her response was a sigh.  They walked in silence a few steps across the bulwark. 

Anna waited.  She had waited almost twenty years.  Casually, she hummed a small tune as they walked, resisting the urge to poke her sister until she broke.

Elsa’s muttering was barely heard over the breeze from their tall vantage point on the wall.  “I’ve always pushed people away.  This is new.  And a little terrifying.”

“You died and came back.  A crush is terrifying?”

“You died and came back.  Not that unique and terrifying for us.”

“Dork,” the queen grinned, “I’m sort of glad this could be something you want though.  I know you have all these cool powers and the forces of nature at your beck and call, but the thought of you having someone with you makes me happy.  Someone has to keep you company in that forest,” Anna slyly glanced next to her, “If they are in the forest?”

Elsa shook her head but was nevertheless back to smiling.  “I’m fine on my own, and I always come back to visit.”

Anna looked out over Arendelle.  Her Arendelle.  “True.  But why be just fine when you could be happy?”

“How have you gotten even sappier since being engaged?”

“I found my person, and now we get to be together forever,” Anna beamed before turning back to her sister with wide, horror-filled eyes, “These royal wedding planners though...yikes.”

Hoof-beats pounded against the earth as Nokk carried Elsa across the plain separating the outskirts of the capital to the forest.  Her visit with Anna following their oficial business had been pleasant.  Though the land she travelled was once foggy and impenetrable, the sunlight, even at sunset, now easily brightened the way, pink light glistening off melted snow.  The grass and ground eagerly peaked through, as if eager for the first warm season following the breaking of the curse.

There was harmony in the elements and peace, and Elsa smiled into the wind blowing her hair wildly as the duo charged forward. Could she thank Gale for such a beautiful day, such a pleasant breeze on this eve of Spring?

Thinking the name alone seemed to suddenly bring on a dizziness, an ache. The rush of air from riding seemed deafening now, but the horse was now gone. The sounds of footsteps, gone.  Her vision of the woods grew misty in the edges and a voice, almost singing, whistled in her head.

Sssssssomething movessss the treesssssss.  Sssssailss asssssking me for fiiiiiilling. Ssssneaking and ssssailing.

“Lady Elsa!”

As if waking up, Elsa found herself jolted by the sound of her name, the forest suddenly in full force before her.  Nokk trotted towards the Northuldra village; Elsa somehow knew, somehow felt, that the spirit had followed some unspoken command in her heart to bring her home .  Perhaps she had fallen asleep during the ride.  Could it be merely a dream?  She set aside the questions bubbling in her mind, focusing on the person greeting her.

Yelana continued to wave her over, quickly finishing a conversation with what appeared to be a returning hunting party.  As they walked away, she turned to the woman as she slid gracefully off the icey spirit’s back.

“Lady Elsa, what a pleasant surprise.”

The blonde produced a small package and replied, “I have a gift from the Queen.  For you,” she leaned in with mock seriousness and whispered, “I was told to keep it very secret.”

The Northuldra leader delicately removed a tiny section of the wrapping to reveal a label of Arendellian whiskey.

“Oh this is a mighty gift indeed for us out here.  I take it she liked my engagement present?” she asked, eyes glittering with mirth.

Elsa laughed, “Even I do not know what magic you work on those berries to make a mead that strong.  She had hoped this would be an even trade nonetheless.”

“You’ll have to give her my thanks next time you see her,” the elder said before draping an arm across Elsa’s shoulders, steering her into the camp, “Come, there’s a nice fire tonight, you should join us for supper.”

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Please, you should know you’re always welcome here.  You’re here so often, I should really just give you a tent by now.”

“Sleeping on the beach is shockingly comfortable,” Elsa replied sheepishly, but she did not fight the old woman, allowing herself to be led deeper into the camp.

Yes, Nokk had delivered her home.  That fact however was still unspoken out loud to anyone.  She was of Arendelle, born and raised to rule the capital.  That should be home, where Anna was.  And yet, deep down, the woman who had abdicated the throne and embraced the world of magic knew that the People of the Sun were now her family. Months of sitting by their fires seemed to make it obvious.  She knew them so well now, became so invested in their lives; and they seemed genuinely happy to have her amongst them.

Still, Elsa found attention and socializing hard, even years after her isolation in the castle had ended.  Old habits left her feeling embarrassed as she politely listened to issues and daily struggles from the Northuldra.  Their reverence was almost god-like, and they treated her as an extension of the spirit themselves.  Yes, she technically was.  No, that did not make advising on their troubles any easier.  Like Anna had asked, what even was she?

“Lady Elsa, which fields do you think will be blessed with a large crop this year?”

“My Lady, would the water spirit accept our offering so it may rain this week?”

“Lady Elsa, is the birth of my grandchild ill-fated under the North Star or ordained to bring us fortune under the Summer Solstice?”

The former queen answered politely, if not vaguely, with as much sincerity as she could muster.  Politics in the forest weren’t all that different from the city.

It was one particular voice that finally arrived at the campfire once the sun had completely set and diverted her attention wholly.

“My Lady.”

Honeymaren claimed a spot on the same log next to Elsa, an easy, relaxed smile warmly reflected on her face in firelight.  ‘Lady Elsa’ seemed stuffy and formal when everyone else used it, as if it harbored some dying remnants of the official title she lost when she renounced her queenship.  On Honeymaren’s lips, however, it was teasing, hinting at a game they had been playing for some time now.

Elsa tried to hide a smile as she invoked her own nickname for the woman with mock seriousness, “Shepherdess.”

Her response was a smirk. “How was your trip?”

“Uneventful,” Elsa shrugged before eyeing the large dirt and mud stains on Honeymaren’s tunic, “Dare I ask how your day fared?”

With a sigh, the Northdran removed her cap, explaining, “The snow is melting, Spring is coming, and the herd is restless.  Wet ground and running beasts didn’t work out very well for me today.”

“Do you not like Spring?”

She glanced from the fire to the blonde, still blatantly cheerful despite her lamenting.

“I’ve grown fond of Winter,” she stated simply with a smile.

Elsa looked away shyly, down at the log between them, but she found her lips curling upward. 

“In that case, hold still,” she murmured, holding up her hand and spreading her fingers.

If someone asked Elsa how her magic worked, she would have no idea how to explain that it simply happened.  For years, it often happened without her consent. Somewhere in between the balance of fear and love, she had learned control, but how or why was still lost on her.  One fundamental principle, however, was always obvious to her; ice was the element of lawful order.

Despite the chaos of nature, the wild instinct of magic, ice was extremely organized, solidly based in fundamental principles of math and geometry. A simple study of the various possibilities and combinations of snowflake creation and design easily demonstrated this fact.  From her mind and into reality, Elsa had created architecturally flawless castles, sparkling gowns, and even living snowmen. Clothes were by far the most simple; fabric was interlocking grid lines and patterns. Ice easily replicated those structures. Ice to water was fairly straightforward. Cleansing dirt and then dismissing it altogether was a simple progression of logic.

Therefore, when a flick of her wrist frosted Honeymaren’s clothing, and the following wave of her hand removed the ice and dirt completely, it simply made sense.  The outfit was now spotless.

“Amazing,” Honeymaren muttered, looking down her own torso.  When she heard Elsa scoff in response, she looked up immediately, exclaiming,  “No, really, you are.  I know you’re probably sick of people telling you that everyday, but I mean it.”

“Please.  No one says that,” Elsa replied, looking down at her hands that had returned to a folded position on her lap, “I still got a lot of stares back in the city today.”

“Even those of us that have known the forest spirits and magic our whole lives are in awe of you.”

Elsa looked up from her lap to the fire before them.  She could feel the brunette's eyes on her.  While she should accept the complement and move on, as most social norms would dictate, she couldn’t bring herself to hide the truth from this woman.

Maybe Anna was right about letting people in.

“Awe always seems to come with a dose of fear. People simply hide it better when they benefit from it,” Elsa explained, her voice quiet but her tone firm.

Even she was a bit shocked at the bitterness she felt as she said it.  The revelation made her turn quickly to Honeymaren.

“Not you, not your people.  It was like that for a few years in Arendelle, once my secret was out, so to speak.  You all embrace enchantments in your daily lives gladly,” she smiled, “You were right when you said I belong here.”

Honeymaren met her gaze and seemed to slowly mull over her words.  Her expression did not bear traces of anger or sadness at Elsa’s small act of self-pity nor did it boast its usually bright smile.  It was one of quiet contemplation, but her eyes remained fixed.

She leaned forward and rested her hand on Elsa’s.  Her voice was exceedingly calm and gentle  as she explained, “Elsa,you’re amazing, with or without the magic.  That’s why you belong here.  Because you think a lizard that can set our whole camp on fire is cute.  Because even if you didn’t have the powers, I’m completely convinced you’d still walk around barefoot in the woods.  It’s you.”

And Elsa believed her.  As she stared back into those brown eyes, she knew for at least this one single person, it wasn’t about the magic that made her a god or a monster.  It was just her.

Nokk really had brought her home.

She knew she was blushing as she looked away to the fire once more, muttering with a small smile, “Thank you.”

Honemauren’s tumb completed one loop on the back of her hand before letting go, seemingly content with Elsa’s response, and she moved to return her cap to her head.  

“You should come see the reindeer tomorrow, they miss you.”

“Perhaps I shall, Shepherdess.” 

“Whatever you wish, My Lady.”

They stayed side by side at the campfire until the elders let the flames dissolved to embers.