"Umph!" The princess of Arendelle grunted as she gripped the rod she was holding tightly and pumped it repeatedly.
With a mighty push, Anna shoved the metal dowel down until the bottom of her fist met the cold, metal lips.
"The world's dangerous, right?" She pushed down a few more seconds, then pulled the thin, metal rod out of the tube she had jammed it into. Anna stabbed the ramrod into the soft ground and hefted the musket she had just loaded. She barely noticed the kaptein's disapproving look at the pole arising out from the muddy ground as she aimed at the target across the yard.
"Oookay," the princess was puzzled as the gun made an audible click, but failed to fire. "Huh?" she pulled back the flint again until it locked into place and squeezed the trigger. The metal apparatus sparked a few inches in front of her nose but once again the gun failed to fire.
A few feet away, Kristoff was still loading his gun. He always seemed so sure of what he was doing, but it was clear to the princess that the rugged mountain man was, like her, in uncomfortable territory.
The kaptein stared at the royal couple with a slightly bemused look on his face that belied frustration. The experienced soldier was always patient with the princess, but this was the fifth time or so that Anna had asked him to teach her to fire a gun.
"Princess, you have to put some powder in the pan. Or else the powder in the barrel cannot combust and the gun won't fire," Hjal added.
Anna stared at the Kaptein blankly, blinked a few times, then pulled the trigger again. Nothing.
"The pan. You have to prime the pan. Otherwise, the spark won't reach the powder inside the gun." Hjal brought his musket up and for Anna to see. The middle-aged captain of the Arendelle Royal Guard had an exasperated look on his face, restrained as it was, as he pointed at the pan on his gun. Anna looked at the same contraption on the gun she held in her hands.
At the back of the barrel, where metal ended and wood began above the trigger, was the pan doohickey that the kaptein was pointing to. It was a thin, s-shaped strip of metal with a nut and bolt that securely held a piece of stone. The princess pulled the top of the contraption back until it locked in place, making an audible click. As she hefted the gun and brought it up, Anna felt a familiar warmth on the small of her back.
"Um, the pan is the thing in front of that thing you just set," Kristoff said, looking down at her with a silly smile on his face. To emphasize, he pointed at that particular area of the gun with his slightly pouted lips.
Anna quickly brought the gun up again and looked at the mechanism. "I knew that!" She countered, shoving an elbow into the ice master's belly. So the 'pan' was the l-shaped spoon in front of that thing...Anna fumbled with it a bit while Kristoff stood over her, arms crossed in front of his chest.
"So why haven't 'you' fired your gun, oh master of all things ice?" She asked as she poked at the mechanism of her gun to no avail. "Oh!" The princess exclaimed as the l-shaped metal piece opened upwards, revealing a small metal indent beneath it. "Hmm, so.
Kristoff took the gourd-shaped metal flask that hung from Anna's belt and put it in the princess's free hand. "That's the pan," the ice master indicated. "Put some gunpowder in there."
Anna pouted at him as she took the flask and shook a few grains of blackpowder onto the shallow indentation. "So why don't you shoot your gun, oh all-knowing ice master?" She pouted harder, if that were possible at all, and closed the pan and righted her firearm.
Remembering what the kaptein had taught her, she pulled the hammer back to its fullest, locking the pan and frizz shut as it clicked in place. The princess brought the musket up to head-level as she slightly bent her neck to look down the length of its iron barrel. She fought the trembling urge in her arms as she aligned the front and rear iron sights and centered her aim on the straw target on the other side of the range, some three dozen meters away. What was it Kaptein Hjal had told her? Breathe and squeeze the trigger? Squeeze and 'then' breathe? Or maybe squeeze 'while' bre-BLAM!
The startled princess almost dropped the musket in surprise as it discharged without her consent. She found herself gripping the stock tightly. Apparently, she also needed better control of her hands. Only then did she start coughing as she had inadvertently inhaled some of the gun's exhaust. So that was why they were called blackpowder weapons, the princess realized too late as she found her head in the middle of a dark cloud of combustion, sulfur and ash.
"Not bad," she heard Kristoff comment. On the other side of the field, the straw man wrapped in paper that was their target bore a single hole, right below where its neck would have been. Anna didn't know that much about anatomy yet – she was putting that part of her training for later - but she knew that would have been a deadly shot. The dainty princess flashed her significant other a rather smug smile, never letting on that she was actually aiming at the target's groin.
"See? That's how it's done." Anna skipped triumphantly and planted the butt of her musket on the ground to ready it for loading. She was getting the hang of this, she thought as she lifted the powder flask to the mouth of the still-smoking gun.
Before she could tilt some more gunpowder into the barrel however, she felt the ice master's sudden grip on her wrist. The lip of the flask hovered inches away from her face. She could see intricately carved floral designs molded into the metal bottle. The Arendelle crocus, was the most recognizable one of course.
"Hey!" She tried to struggle free, but Kristoff took the firearm with his free hand. "Just what are you doing?" She shouted.
"Saving your face," the mountain man lifted her musket to his mouth and blew downwards. A few smoking grains shook free from the tip. The ice master upended the gun and shook out some more bits of partially-combusted blackpowder. "Or your eyebrows, at least." He commented.
Right. Anna remembered Hjal stressing over and over again about safety. She looked at the powder flask in her hand, which probably would have ignited from those smoking grains had Kristoff not cleared the barrel. Yet another brush with death or danger by the soon-to-be late Princess of Arendelle. She shook her head but kept her goofy grin. "Whoops."
She heard the kaptein groan from the sidelines where he was hovering over a wooden table with assorted firearms spread out on top of it. "Perhaps we should have the princess train with a safer weapon? The new one?"
Kristoff nodded at the soldier, and looked at one of the long guns on the table. Anna, for all her ruggedness, couldn't tell which one they were looking at - most of them looked pretty much the same to her. Long metal barrel, wooden body and stock, funky flint mechanism above the ornately-carved trigger. These guns were part of the special armory of Arendelle, not the ones usually used by the soldiers. Or so Kaptein Hjal said. Knowing the current state of the kingdom, Anna was sure some of these antique relics were still in use by some guard on some lonely island facing the North Sea.
"Here," their trainer handed her another musket. Upon first glance, it looked like the others she had been using the past few weeks. However, there were some slight differences that the princess couldn't place.
"What's wrong with the one I was using?" She pouted at Kristoff and the kaptein.
"Nothing," Kristoff casually answered. "We just think this one might be right up your alley." He motioned to the gun in her hands.
Anna looked down at the weapon she was holding. Unlike the other muskets, this was just a bit shorter. It certainly looked stockier, maybe a bit heavier. Unlike the other guns, this had no traces of rust on it, little to no streaks or abrasions. The reddish wood of its stock smelled fresh, without any smudges or dark spots where dozens of soldiers had handled it before.
"It's brand new, neat. Aside from that, I don't see the difference," the princess commented, turning the gun around. On the butt - Anna snickered at the term for the part of the gun that went against her shoulder when firing - was etched 'SoM.K.47'.
Kristoff kept looking at her with a grin on his face, as if waiting for her to notice something about the gun. She looked back down at it. The firearm felt sturdy, thick and solid. Wait, there. Anna realized. This one didn't have the twirly part that she had to put powder in. In fact, the hammer-thingy she had to pull back to strike it wasn't there either. Puzzled, she turned it over and saw two triggers, a larger one in front of the usual slip of metal that discharged the gun.
"Ok, I'm stumped." She took it by the tip and looked down the barrel. Just inside, she could see several grooves arranged in a spiral. They disappeared into the depths of the gun's long barrel.
"New toy, straight from the factory courtesy of our 'neighbors' down south." The ice master beamed. There was clear excitement in his eyes, like a little boy showing off some insects he had caught by himself.
"Cool," Anna eyed Kristoff oddly, not sure what to make of his enthusiasm. Then again Kristoff was always amused at the oddities he acquired when they travelled overseas. Of course, this wasn't really from 'overseas' was it?
"Kammerlader, milady." Hjal approached with a bag of shot and powder. The soldier put them away and brought out a small wooden box filled with what looked to Anna like tiny, paper-wrapped sweets. The kind that were oh-so-popular on the mainland.
"Yum, I'm hungry!" She took one and brought it up to her lips before she felt Kristoff grab her wrist for the second time today. 'What is it now,' she thought as she prepared to shoot him an angry look.
"Not food!" He shouted worriedly as he took the wrapped pastry with one hand and the new gun with the other. "That's the bullet."
Anna stared at him. "You want me to shoot the bad guys with candy?" Her eyes narrowed into suspicious slits as she turned her head while maintaining her sideways-stare at her prince. "Is this one of Olaf's jokes?"
"No, no, no." Kristoff went to her side and showed her the gun's left side. There was a small crank-like lever that he turned, flipping up the rear part of the barrel.
"Wow. Breech-loader?" Anna asked as Kristoff slipped the paper wrap into the small, open tube.
"You know what this is?" He exclaimed as he returned the barrel to its original position by flipping the crank the other way.
The princess stuck her tongue out at her mountain man, grabbed the gun, and brought the stock to her shoulder. "I'm not stupid, hon. I'm just...Anna." She gave him a grin right before raising the gun towards one of the targets and instinctively cocked the hammer underneath the breech, right in front of the trigger.
"Besides, I like these things. They sounded fun to use." With one final tongue jab stuck out sideways at the ice master, Anna pulled the trigger and the barrel of the firearm erupted in a flash of smoke and flames.
The bullet made a solid, noticeable indentation in the target's chest. Drat, the princess thought to herself. She had been aiming for the head this time. Still, Anna grinned. She could definitely get used to this. No ramrod, no powder, no jamming an oversized lead ball down a long, metal tube. Balls were never meant to go down tubes, she thought. There wasn't even that much smoke, since there was very little powder igniting in front of her face.
"I like it. Camel-lander, you say?" The princess looked over at her beau.
"Kammerlader. New from Kongsberg." He replied in between huffs. Kristoff was once again trying to shove a ball down the barrel of a long musket. It looked to Anna like the same one he was struggling with earlier.
"Cayman-lender, got it." She looked over at what Kristoff was doing. It seemed like he was having trouble just pushing the ball down the gun's long, tubular barrel. Which struck Anna as weird since he was much stronger than her, and it hadn't taken her too much effort to tamp down both ball and powder back when she still used the muzzle-loaders. "What is it with you and that gun?" She asked.
Kristoff paused to wipe his brow with his right sleeve, leaving half of the ramrod sticking out from the tip of the musket's barrel. "It's rifled." He threw her one of the balls from his stash. Except it wasn't a 'ball' by any standard. Anna looked puzzled at the conical wad of lead that sat in the middle of her palm. At the base of it ran two grooves cut into the 'ball'. Yeah, that was going to be hard to jam down a three-foot long barrel.
"And you have to wrap it in paper." Kristoff added, seemingly to impress his princess with the complexity of his chosen firearm.
"Which you keep forgetting," Hjal's voice chimed in from the armory table. The soldier had a small pistol disassembled, its parts neatly arranged on the wooden table in front of him.
Kristoff replied with a guilty look towards the princess. He waved a small sack from which he took the candy bullet earlier. "At least you don't have to worry about that since you're using percussion cap cartridges."
"Cussy partridges, got it." Anna nodded at Kristoff. She saw a hint of familiar frustration flash over his face for a brief instant, before it reverted back to good old Kristoff-face. The princess grinned internally. She loved making Kris squirm with her quirkiness, even to the lengths of exaggerating a little. Besides, what was life without a little fun? Her gaze drifted back towards the far wall with the straw bales.
She was itching to try shooting at the target again. She had to hit what she aimed at eventually. She had to be good enough, to defend herself. Or more important, she had to be good enough to defend the people she loved. Anna's gaze floated a bit towards the castle interior. Somewhere in there, her sister was signing papers or whatever it was she did. Queenly stuff.
"Well, shall we?" Anna hefted her new breechloader excitedly. It was heavy but somehow it felt right. As if the gun itself whispered to her. After weeks of trying out different muskets and crossbows, she had found just the right one for herself. She smiled at her ice master.
This was it. She was going to be a warrior or bust.
It was later on in the day, when the sun was behind the mountains and the sky was streaked with hues of red and orange, when Queen Elsa chose to join the ice master and the princess in the castle courtyard.
Anna found herself sitting on the cold, stone ground, holding a damp cloth to her right shoulder. Her inner blouse lay crumpled in a pile on the ground at her feet, leaving her clad in the rough cloth of her sleeveless outer garment. A fine mist of sweat covered her glistening right arm as she stretched it out in front of her. As she did, her shoulder complained, sending a dull, throbbing pain radiating from where her arm joined her chest. Anna swore, she was going to wake up with the imprint of her gun's butt plate on her shoulder.
"Hi Els." Anna attempted to wave, but her arm refused.
"Hey Ann...a." Elsa seemed to try to hold that last syllable in as long as she could, but it came out anyway. Anna grinned. Quite uncharacteristic of her sister to try to adopt her mannerisms. Or Anna-risms, as Kristoff and Olaf had designated her quirks.
"Your majesty," Hjal knelt down on one knee to acknowledge the arrival of the queen. Personally, Anna wasn't a stickler for the formalities of royalty, and she knew Elsa wasn't too keen on them either. But Hjal was Hjal and well, you gotta let people do what makes them comfortable.
Out of the corner of her eye, Anna saw Kristoff's face perk up and wave towards her sister. The mountain man had been sitting on a pile of straw right behind the table where the guns were on. He had dragged it from one of the targets they were shooting at for the past few hours. Beside him, Sven half-stood, lazily munching on the straw pile. Every now and then, the reindeer would spit out a partially-chewed wad of lead. There was already a small pile beside the duo, which Hjal said he would melt back into balls later in the week. It was a bit odd to see Sven without Ola. The two were usually inseparable the past few weeks. Anna paid the snowman's absence no heed.
The princess bugged the Kaptein to let her help, and he had reluctantly agreed. His initial complaints were just the typical 'princesses should leave the gun-cleaning and maintenance to their servants'. But if she were to be a true warrior princess, Anna knew she had to be able to take her gun apart, put it back again, and make her own bullets. Despite the fact that her new Kammerlader used non-spherical bullets in pre-wrapped cartridges with the percussion cap integrated into the round.
"So what brings you here, oh so queenie sister?" Anna teased. It was usually late into the afternoon, sometimes even past sundown when Elsa would leave her office these past few months. Work, work, work, Anna surmised. She's sometimes ask Kristoff, but the carefree princess couldn't be bothered to stay put and listen about details that barely interested her.
"I just wanted to spend some time with my sister, silly!" The queen uncharacteristically plopped down beside her sister, right on the cobblestone floor of the castle courtyard. It seemed like a spur-of-the moment decision for the normally-uptight queen. Which, by the way, was also odd for her.
Anna gave her sister a suspicious look. Elsa's long, green skirt bunched up under her folded legs, clad in thin stockings of the same color. She had clearly headed here in her formal clothes. Just a tad dressed down, for Elsa at least.
"Really, Elsa. What's up?" Anna reiterated, poking her sister in the shoulder with her index finger. The princess tried to ignore the cold that radiated from her fingertip as she felt her sister's soft flesh even underneath layers of cloth. She tried to keep it in contact with her sister's lumpy shoulder as long as possible before the ice broke through the thick layers of fabric that separated the two.
"Nothing. I really just wanted to see you two," Elsa nodded at Kristoff in the distance. "Familiar faces, you know." The queen rubbed her shoulder, wincing as she did.
"Hmmnn," Anna replied.
"And I guess I wanted to see what you two are up to. I mean, it's hard to concentrate with explosions go off outside your window every few minutes." Elsa drew her legs inward beneath her. "More of this training you've been at for the past month?"
"Yeah," Anna mumbled. In the distance, Kristoff and Hjal seemed to fawn over yet another one of the doohickeys on the armory table. It seemed like Kris' last trip down South had been rather fruitful. "I just thought that since you were getting some training done with your powers, I can't let myself be left behind."
"I thought we were just trying to make sure that I wasn't a danger to well," Elsa wrapped her arms around her waist as her voice softened into an almost-whisper. "Everyone."
Anna play-punched her sister in the same shoulder she had poked moments earlier. "You're not a danger, Els. We're just getting you to be uh, better."
"And what of you? Of this?" The queen held her arm out towards the straw bales on the other side of the courtyard. One of the closer, bigger targets had several holes in it, suspiciously in the shape of the letter 'a'.
Anna grinned. "Well, I'm making sure that I can be a danger! When I need to, I mean."
Her sister nodded, shrugged, and shook her head. A tiny little smile escaped from the corner of her mouth, fast and fleeting enough to be unnoticeable by all except the one person who knew the queen the most.
Minutes passed, with the two sisters sitting motionless beside each other. No more words flew between the two halves. No words needed to. Anna savored moments such as these. Time with her sister, when Elsa didn't have to be the responsible older sister. Times when Elsa didn't have to be the queen of Arendelle. Times when Elsa didn't have to be the snow queen, a walking powder keg that could potentially explode from one random spark. They sat there as they were. Just sisters.
"You should try it." Anna finally broke the silence.
"Huh?" Elsa's brows knotted, seemingly no idea what Anna was talking about.
"Training. I mean, my training." The spunky princess nodded towards her ice master boyfriend, still engrossed in conversation with the kaptein of the royal guard. They seemed to be fawning over a short little pistol this time. "Guns."
"Anna," Elsa stammered.
Anna knew that tone. It was the same tone that her sister used when they were children and the younger Anna would pull her older sister out to the stables to ride the horses unsupervised. It was the tone that Elsa used when Anna tried to pull her outside the castle in the middle of queening during the day. It was the same exact tone she used when Anna once tried to get her to eat that one delicacy made of what seemed like rotten eggs that Kristoff had brought home. Anna smiled.
Elsa looked somewhat uneasily towards the long gun that Kristoff and Hjal were now passing to each other. She had that classic wide-eyed look that the princess had seen on so many 'Elsa runs away' moments. A crackling sound emanated from the queen's hands as her palms frosted over. The frost quickly built up into a ball of snow, which she gripped with her fingers until it melted away into nothingness.
"You're not always going to be able to ice up, you know. I mean, what if they catch you in the middle of the night, before you've gotten your rest?" Anna prodded.
"You know," Anna chimed. "Bad guys."
"Yeah, bad guys. People who wanna hurt us? Hurt you?" The princess squinted at her sister with the most serious look on her face. "Well, they may not always be guys. I mean, they may be bad girls. So yeah, bad girls too. Or just bad people. But then again, there are probably non-people baddies out there who are out to get us. Baddies, that should-"
"Anna." Her sister's voice was solid, resolute with a tinge of pleading in it. And a heavy dose of confusion. The princess paused, deciding a change in tactics was in order. She was going to get Elsa to fire a gun that day or else.
"It's fun." Anna said, almost alluringly.
"Fun?" Her sister's tone changed. That tiny thread of curiosity that seemed out of reach earlier had surfaced just enough for the princess to tug on it. Elsa swung her head towards Anna, a coy, almost-naughty smile on her face.
"Your majesty, a firearm is not something the queen should concern herself with," Kaptein Jorgen said respectfully. Anna saw a hint of resignation in the soldier's eyes though, as if he already knew his protests would fall on deaf ears.
"But a princess would?" Elsa gave the kaptein a raised eyebrow as she glanced in the direction of Anna. The look on the kaptein's face was as if the queen had made him drink a rather unsavory drink.
"Anna...I mean, Princess Anna was very insistent, my queen." Hjal stammered. Anna grinned a guilty grin towards her sister, waving vigorously with her free hand.
Elsa looked at Kristoff, who held his hands up in a sign of surrender. There was Kristoff being Kristoff again. Anna stuck her tongue out at her mountain man.
"I have to be able to protect you, Els." The princess beamed, cocked her gun, and aimed it squarely at her sister.
The kaptein crossed his arms, closed his eyes and shook his head. "You can start by not pointing it at her majesty," he said disapprovingly. "Princess..." He added, almost as an afterthought. Even though he was the closest to the royal family, almost like a younger half-Kai, the kaptein still tried to be formal and official when around Elsa.
The princess kept her sister's head right above her iron sights. Looking at the snow queen from this perspective, Anna realized just how easy it would be. One pull of the trigger, at this range...no, she shook her head. Elsa would block the bullets for sure. Anna tried not to think hard about the fact that these were much, much faster than crossbow bolts, which her sister could barely stop. She turned to her older sister, who had a somewhat determined look on her face.
Elsa held her palm out and manifested a small snowball the size of a small cannonball. "My magic..."
"Has its limits." Kristoff finished her sentence. From the look on her face, it was exactly what the queen was going to say. Anna couldn't believe it. The king and queen of squaresville agreed on something that she herself thought was a bit too adventurous. Granted, it was Elsa - and Anna felt a bit too overprotective of her older sister ever since they had started talking to each other again. "Besides, I'll make sure she doesn't blow herself up," the ice master said confidently as he handed Elsa the same musket Anna had started the day with.
"Excuse me, mister can't-load-his-own-gun." Anna strode over to the two, placing her Kammerlader into Elsa's arms. "Besides, I'm a better shot." She added, knocking Kristoff with a slight elbow to the ribs. Aping his better half, the larger man stuck his tongue out in a very Anna-esque gesture.
"Fine," her iceman admitted. "We can both make sure she doesn't shoot anyone." He turned to Hjal. "She'll be fine." Kristoff assured the captain of the guard, who clearly still had a look of concerned disapproval on his face.
"Um," The queen's small, low voice added to the mix. "You said it yourself. My magic has its limits. I have to-no, need to know at least the basics." Anna giggled internally as her sister seemed to have trouble holding both guns, slung across and over her arms like a dinner tray.
"Doesn't the actual kaptein of the guard get a say?" The grizzled soldier asked.
"No!" Three voices responded in unison.
"As you wish. Perhaps the princess and the prince," he paused, continuing after a few seconds. "...ahem, ice master...would like to show the queen how to shoot a gun?"
"Ooh me! Me!" Anna had her arm up the instant Hjal made his suggestion. Despite today being the third or fourth time she had handled a firearm, the princess felt relatively confident she could pass on her knowledge to her sister. Then again, it was Anna. She felt confident about anything.
"Um," Anna heard her sister hesitate, the same way she did whenever Anna and Kristoff would pull her off to have some fun.
"What?" Anna looked back at Elsa. Her sister was struggling with the two guns, their barrels rattling against each other while her arms shook.
"This is too heavy for me." Her sister's voice trembled with strain.
"Whoops," Kris apologized for his princess. Anna loved it whenever he did that. It was as if they were a well-oiled mistake machine. Anna would make the transgression while her Kristoff would apologize for her. The iceman took Anna's new gun from the queen's arms, leaving the older musket for the monarch to train with.
"Anna," Elsa whispered in a low, hushed tone.
"Yup?" The princess answered, a bit too loud for Elsa's intentions it seemed. The look she gave Anna made it seem like she didn't want Kristoff or Hjal to hear what she was saying. Not that the two men were over at the weapons table talking about what powder load and bullets to let the queen train with safely.
"This..." Elsa had a guilty look on her face, her eyes shifting to see if the boys were within earshot. "The gun is still too heavy." She made an attempt to lift it but immediately brought the barrel down as her arms started shaking almost right as the firearm was parallel with the ground.
"Aw crap," the princess took the musket from her sister. "Uh Kris?" She called out in the general direction of the arms table where the ice master had gone to return Anna's Kammerlader.
Elsa's eyes widened and she quickly shook her head from side-to-side, so fast that her braid waved left and right like a thick, blonde serpent on her back. Anna was surprised. Elsa hadn't done that since they were children, when Anna wanted to show Papa something Elsa made with her ice magic.
Her sister's expression turned to absolute dread as Kristoff's shadow came over them.
"Yup?" He asked, holding a rather large powder flask in his hand.
"Nothing," Elsa quickly replied.
"She needs a smaller gun," Anna answered at the same time. The look on Elsa's face was priceless, as if she had been caught doing something unsavory. It was an odd feeling for the younger princess, seeing her sister's face turn red with embarrassment. Elsa was always so calm and composed, or at least...composed. That expression wasn't an 'Elsa face', not one she was used to. It made her think for a moment. Was it the gun? Anna looked at the ice master.
"A...smaller gun?" Kristoff looked a bit confused at the musket Elsa had cradled in her arms. "But, ah." He cut his comment short and turned to the Kaptein. "Hjal, do we have any carbines for the queen?"
"Carbines?" The older soldier asked. "They're with the patrol. All of them. All eight of them." He had a stern expression, his voice stressing the amount of guns they had. Anna didn't really pick up on what the two men were talking about after that. Something about well, carbines.
She watched Kristoff head to the armory with Hjal, a door into one of the castle rooms against the wall.
The princess turned to her sister and reached for the antique musket that Elsa was still trying to heft into a firing position every now and then. "Really, sis? Too big?"
"I guess I'm just not as...physical as you are, Anna." She could tell when Elsa was forcing a smile. They both knew Elsa had always been the less physically active of the two sisters. This had not always been the case, before the accident at least. Elsa being sequestered for thirteen years only reinforced this lack of physical activity. Anna didn't want to admit to herself, but her sister was a wuss.
"It's ok, Els. Maybe you really are a magicky girl." The princess relieved her sister of the musket she had been holding herself earlier. It was a stark contrast, Anna easily lifting with one hand the firearm that her sister had struggled with.
"No, wait." Elsa placed one velvet-gloved hand on Anna's arm. "I have to do this."
"Are you sure?" Anna asked with concern. "We can always do this another day."
"No, today. Now." Elsa said, with a straight face.
"Well then use this," Kristoff interrupted the sisterly moment with a flintlock pistol dangling in between the sisters.
Anna scrunched her face at the handgun her boyfriend was handing her sister. It wasn't small, but it was smaller than the guns she had been learning to use the past few weeks. It was a flintlock, like the other muskets. Simple, straightforward, and nothing like her Kammerlader. Honestly, it looked to Anna like a musket with most of the barrel sawn off. And most of the butt as well. 'Hmmnnn,' ideas flew through her mind as she looked at the other guns.
Beside her, Elsa took the flintlock and held it at arm's length. "I think I can handle this," she paused a few moments, then withdrew her arm back closer to her body. Anna swore she saw her sister's elbow trembling as she was holding out the pistol.
"What next?" The queen gave Anna and Kristoff a rather helpless look. As if she had no idea what to do next. Then again, Anna realized, her sister had been cooped up in her room for thirteen years. And then busy with kingdom ruling stuff for the past four. She probably really did have no idea what came next.
"You have to load the gun," Kristoff started, handing her a handful of lead balls.
"And, you have to put powder in the pan!" Anna excitedly shouted, shoving a powder flask in her sister's face.
Elsa's already large, round eyes only grew larger as she stared at the hairs on the back of her younger sister's hand.
"Uh," she managed to mumble, obviously confused. "Load the pan?" The queen reached towards both Anna and Kristoff's offerings, quite unsure of which one to take. She looked at Kaptein Jorgen for advice.
With a look on his face that was a mix of patience and exasperation, the kaptein motioned towards the ice master, palm up and open with lead balls nestled in the cup of his hand. "Wait," he corrected himself and walked over, taking the flask from the princess. "One at a time," he gave both another look. "You two are confusing even me."
The kaptein of the guard placed the flask in Kristoff's other hand. "Powder in the gun first," he said. "I think it best if Master Kristoff instructs you by himself, your majesty." He gestured towards Anna. "The princess, as adept as she may be now, uses a different firearm with a different mechanism."
Anna looked at her Kammerlader. He was right. She had only started training with the breech-loader today and already, the muzzle-loaders seemed inefficient and slow to use. If only they had a breech-loading pistol, or even those ones she had only heard about, with the cartridges in a spinning cylinder that could fire shot-after-shot multiple times before reloading.
Someday, she'd get her hands on a pair of those. Or find someone who had a pair. Someday, Anna vowed. The princess looked at the antique pistol in her sister's hands. This would have to do for now. One day at a time, the princess reminded herself.
"Don't get my sister killed, you big lug." The princess laughed and slapped her boyfriend squarely on his behind. Her palm hit his meaty buns with enough force to make a rather loud sound that reverberated throughout the courtyard.
Hjal was just shaking his head, quite used to Anna's rather honest and shameless displays of affection. Kristoff, also used to the princess being quite free and handy, simply gave her a sideways glance, topped off by a smirk. He usually slapped her back on her ample behind, but for some reason, the ice master deigned to give his usual reply. Anna could tell however, that her sister was used to no such displays of public affection. Elsa's face was beet red as she was staring downwards, fiddling with the mechanism of the flintlock she was holding, obviously no clue what she was doing.
Anna flicked her eyebrows up and down towards her sister, the widest, tooothiest grin on her face, and then strode over to the corner of the courtyard, across from the armory table. She watched Hjal give Kristoff a few more pointers, Elsa listening intently.
For a brief moment, the princess wondered if it were possible to know what they were saying. If only she could read the movements of their lips. Anna squinted and stared at the three older people and tried to figure out what they were talking about.
'Ermat fungap stuptat'. Anna lay back and started drawing figures in the sky. It was between deciding whether one particular cloud was a bear or an ox when she felt the presence of a fellow human being beside her. It was a good thing she was too tired to lunge for her ice master, no matter how much she yearned for his touch. She craned her head sideways expecting to see the soft hide and leather of the mountain man's day-to-day coat, but was surprised to see the dark green wool of Arendelle's royal guard.
"I thought you were showing my sister the flinting and the locking?" Anna pulled herself halfway up to a sitting position, her stomach muscles burning as the ox-cloud disappeared from view. Beside her, Kaptein Jorgen had uncharacteristically sat down, cross-legged, with rags and a tin of oil.
"Master Bjorgman said he could handle instructing her majesty the basics of modern firearm use," he said as he reached for Anna's weapon.
The princess pulled her barrel just out of his reach and instead grabbed the rag he had set down on his lap. "My gun, I clean." She stuck her tongue out and started wiping the long, dark barrel with the rag.
"The queen seems more comfortable with Master Kristoff anyway. You know how she is with people who aren't you or him." Hjal handed Anna the tin of oil and motioned her to dip the rag in. It was true. Despite re-entering the public eye after her coronation, Elsa was still only truly comfortable around family. And family meant just her and Kristoff.
"Yeah," Anna's voice trailed off as she watched her sister listening intently to whatever Kristoff was saying. The ice master had that look in his eyes, determination mixed in with that stoic confidence that filled the princess with a sense of pride. He was 'in the zone', as Anna called it. Her sister seemed transfixed as she watched him measure powder out of the flask and tap it into the gun.
"They seem so cute together," Anna blurted out loud. "I wonder what would've happened if he had met her before me," the princess mused. Her mind drifted back to when the two lovers had first met, during the Great Freeze, right after Elsa had frozen the kingdom and run away. Anna had foolishly run after her sister without supplies or a clue. After losing her horse and falling into the water of a frigid stream, she had met Kristoff at a trading post that was fortuitously nearby. The ice harvester was already on his way to the North Mountain when Anna had pressured him to take her along with him.
If she hadn't been there for any reason, she surmised that Kristoff would have proceeded to the North Mountain on his own, and presumably met her sister in her ice palace. How that meeting would have gone, she had no idea. But seeing the two most important people in her life just being so perfectly engrossed in something was enough to give her some idea of how things could have turned out.
They were so at ease with each other. Kristoff seemed very mindful of Elsa's invisible borders, knowing exactly how far he could hold his hands from her bare skin, how long he could safely hold her through gloved hands as he helped her load the flintlock. Elsa for the most part, was incredibly at ease. Her sister had come a long way even in the past few weeks. She rarely flinched as Kristoff put steadied her hand, guiding the powder down the flintlock's relatively short barrel. In fact, she was saying something and it didn't look important or formal at all. She was chatting. Something she didn't do. Aside from the fact that she was still a little red and blushing from that stunt Anna had pulled earlier, Elsa looked less like a queen and more like a giddy little girl. Simply put, her sister and her lover seemed perfect for each other. If only he weren't hers.
"You ever wonder, Hjal?" Anna mused out loud.
"Princess?" The Kaptein replied, waiting for her to finish her question.
"About...things. You know. If things happened differently." Anna continued, her mind still swirling with thoughts of how things could have been different if she hadn't met Kristoff. If Elsa did. If she had died during that sudden blizzard, frozen in the snow beside a tiny stream in the middle of summer.
"Who doesn't?" The kaptein answered, pausing at the last moment, as if he had stopped himself from saying something.
In the distance, Kristoff was supporting Elsa's arm as she held it out to her side, pointing the cocked flintlock at a target.
The kaptein cleared his throat. "It's actually why I'm alright with this, despite what you may think I believe." He added. "Not that I have any real say in the matter, your highness." Hjal continued. It seemed like he had something more to say, something he wanted to say to the princess. "I still think we should familiarize you with all the other weapons."
"Uh huh," Anna replied. She could almost feel the rough, flaky, rusted barrel of the antique muzzleloaders from the armory. It took just a few hours of using the new rifle for her to realize how awkward and ineffecient the older guns were. The princess stole a glance at Elsa straining as she rammed a bullet into her flintlock. Someone should really make a breech-loading pistol, she thought.
Anna rubbed her hands together, instantly noticing the roughness of her palms against the softer skin of her wrists. Already, she could feel two new bumps building up on her thumb, and the web that joined it to the rest of her fingers was warm and throbbing. "You know, I'm glad you're on my side about this. The whole weapons thing I mean." It was true. Of all the royal guard she had asked, only Hjal had acquiesced to teach and train her and Kristoff. All the others had waved her off with a variation of 'princesses should not bother with unwomanly things,' a mindset that just infuriated the princess further.
"Why are you so on board with my training anyway?" Anna asked. Kaptein Hjal had been somewhat accepting, even to the point of seeming eager to train her.
"Princess Anna," the kaptein paused. "I just want to make sure you can defend yourself." The soldier stood up and brushed some gunpowder residue from his shoulder. "Defend yourself well."
The princess nodded. "This isn't for me though. I can handle myself." Her last few words trailed off as a sliver of doubt jabbed at her from within. Her gaze drifted down to the dusty rockwork between her boots, her feet swiveling on her heels in a fan-like motion. "I'm doing this to protect her." Her voice stressed the 'her' as she lifted her eyes towards Elsa and Kristoff. "I just want to make someone'll always be there to protect. Those clueless two over there? They're all the family I have left." Anna smiled and waved at Kristoff, who gave a tiny wave back as he turned back to Elsa. "You know how that feels, Hjal? Do you even have family?"
"I actually do." Kaptein Jorgen cleared his throat as he sat back down beside the princess. "Did." He corrected himself. "I had a sister."
'Had'. The word jumped out at Anna and bit her right on the tip of her tongue. She had to look once more in the direction of her sister.
"What happened?" Her words escaped her slightly-parted lips in a barely-audible whisper. There was a familiar taste of copper in her mouth, along with a stinging sensation when she pressed her tongue hard against the back of her teeth.
Hjal pulled both legs into a crossed-legged sitting position. Anna barely noticed that was quite uncharacteristic of the career soldier. "It was back when I was younger," he paused. "Before you were born."
Anna leaned forward and turned her head to stare at the soldier. Kaptein Hjalmarr Jorgen barely looked like he was in his forties. He didn't look that old, not as old as the other people that had been in the castle's employ from before the great freeze. It did just strike Anna that he had been in the service of their family since before she could remember.
"Arendelle was still a fledgling kingdom back then," he continued. "A few kingdoms had sprung up in the twenties following the war – but that was before even my time. The bigger countries didn't like us. Sweden, the Southern Isles, even Norge from which we broke off from. It was a very different time." Hjal's eyes started to glaze over as he recalled the past. Anna kept uncharacteristically quiet, only nodding here and there, letting the kaptein proceed with his story.
"I was fifteen at the time. A young officer in the Arendellian corps, being commanded by a superior not that much older than myself." He shook his head. "We were kids. Children, fighting battles that the adults had died and left us."
Hjal stopped for a minute. It was one of the longest silences Anna ever had to endure. "I wasn't home. My older sister, not that much younger than you are now, she never married. Stayed home to take care of mother." He looked at Anna, his brows creasing as he seemed to be looking not at the princess but at a vision superimposed on her face. "Burglar." He shook his head, his right hand going up to his forehead as he bowed down. "She fought. Tried to. There was a struggle. She hit her head on the stove. At least that's what mother could remember at the time. I wasn't there." The kaptein's breathing had become shallower, as if he were cautiously controlling every breath. "I wasn't there."
"I'm sorry," Anna tapped the older soldier on the back with her palm. The kaptein, unused to contact from the royal princess, flinched. "Do you ever wish," Anna thought of that one night back over a dozen years ago as she realized what she was saying."...that you could change what happened?"
The kaptein shook his head. He then nodded slightly. Then he shook his head some more. "I wish I had taught her how to fight." He answered. "When I came back to the house, after we buried her, I can still remember looking up at the mantle. It was our father's musket, sitting there in plain view. Powder and balls were still right behind it where I usually left them." Hjal laughed, but it was the stifled laughter that was more of an expression rather than a reaction. "She kept urging me to take her out hunting when I did. I never took her seriously. Thought it wasn't fit for a girl."
Without a word, Anna nodded. She now understood why Hjal was the one who voiced very little dissent about her learning how to fight. Why he had also agreed to teach her sister how to shoot. Still, the concept of 'what could have been' nagged at the princess. "But if you could go back, would you have wanted to be there? To do something?"
Hjal laughed again, louder this time. Kristoff and Elsa were too engrossed in their training to notice. The soldier and the princess barely reacted to the sound of gunfire coming from the other pair, instantaneously followed by a yelp of surprise from the queen. The kaptein smiled, a genuine smile this time as he quickly replied to her question. "No."
"Why not?" Anna responded, puzzled by the kaptein's sudden change of demeanor. The sadness had evaporated from his voice, to be replaced by something more confident.
"The night my sister died, I took a bullet meant for my commanding officer." He pulled down his lapel to show the princess a slightly roundish bullet scar below his left collarbone. "Saved his life." The wound looked like it would have been a serious one. From what Anna remembered from her yet-to-be-started anatomy studies, it seemed pretty close to the heart, or the lung at least. Maybe the liver.
"Must have been some officer," Anna continued to stare morbidly at the scar, even after the kaptein had buttoned up his garment. "I mean, if I were to take a bullet for someone, it'd have to be Elsa. Or Kristoff. Although I have a feeling he'd just pick me up and retake the bullet himself." She tried to imagine the pain of being shot, but couldn't quite find the right mix of horror and imaginary pain. Would she take a bullet for her sister? She wondered.
"He was," Hjal looked up at the clouds in the distance. "God bless his soul." It was nearing late afternoon, and the clouds had started to take on an amber hue as the sun dipped below the mountains of Arendelle. In the distance, Kristoff shouted a triumphant cry as Elsa hit one of the targets with her pistol.
"That must suck," Anna replied. "You took a bullet for him but he died anyway?" It seemed like some sick joke, she thought. The princess remembered a saying she had read in one of the library books somewhere in the castle. 'Fortune favors the bold'. The princess shook her head. More like 'fortune favors the living.'
"Life has a way of working things out, princess." It was Hjal's turn to pat Anna on the back. The kaptein then probably remembered that they were in the presence of the queen and quickly withdrew his hand.
"Seems like one of life's cruel jokes. You put your life on the line for someone who dies anyway." Somehow, an image of Elsa crying in the snow interjected itself into Anna's thoughts. Her sister, crying over a crystalline ice figure of herself. Frozen for all eternity. An image of what might have been.
"While I regret many things in my life princess, this is not one of those things." The kaptein smiled at her. "That officer I took a bullet for? He died many years after," he looked straight at the princess. "But not before he and his young wife had their second daughter. A beautiful daughter. One that would grow into a very headstrong and sometimes thick-headed princess."
"Oh." It took the princess minutes of silence to process the kaptein's words, a silence punctuated only by the sound of a flintlock shot every now and then somewhere in the distance.
"Fate may have taken my sister that night," the soldier stopped for a while to gaze at the clouds behind the castle spires. "…only later to bestow onto me another." Hjal's words touched the princess in a manner she hadn't felt in a long time. It reminded her of those days when her father was still around.
Anna slowly turned her head towards the soldier, seeing for the first time not a bodyguard that kept her from doing fun things, but an older brother that simply cared for her safety and well-being.
Minutes of silence passed, punctuated by occasional gunfire. An occasional whoop from Kristoff, even rarer from Elsa.
"What was her name?" The princess asked.
"Eirin," Hjal responded.
"Eirin." Anna repeated.
The princess stood up, as tall and straight as she could muster. With her hands on her hips, she faced the kaptein. "In her name, I promise you. I'm going to be the best warrior I can be." Her attention was pulled by another shot ringing from across the courtyard. Anna looked at the ice master and the queen. Her sister finally seemed to be getting into the whole gun thing. "I'm going to be the best princess I can be." A thought entered her mind. Anna grinned at Hjal, who was in the middle of getting up himself. "I'm going to be both. A warrior and a princess. A warrior princess." Her grin grew bigger, almost elated.
The older soldier laughed. He laughed out loud, a hearty and soulful laugh. It seemed like the somber mood had finally dissipated, thanks to the princess as usual. "Warrior princess. Sounds good. I don't know about the others though."
"Oh come on! A lot of princesses have been warriors," Anna replied. "A few," she corrected heself. "One?" She really should have paid attention to her history tutor.
"No, not that." Hjal replied. "Guns, I mean. Milady. Not that I myself have anything against the matter. But some other members of the guard have expressed reservations with the princess and now the queen." He nodded at Elsa aiming at the target on the other side of the courtyard. "Learning to use firearms." A single shot rang out as one of the targets received a small hole in its midsection.
"Go Elsa!" the princess shouted her encouragement too late as she realized the target that was hit was not the one directly in front of her sister. Elsa was being a good sport about it however, and simply smiled as she reached for the powder flask in Kristoff's hands. Elsa seemed a bit more comfortable now than she had earlier.
"They're just weapons, aren't they? They all are. I mean, I'm already learning how to swordfight. And Kris is kinda teaching me how to fist-fight. What's the difference if I'm also learning how to uh, gun…fight?" Anna commented, smiling at that last combination. She wasn't sure it was a real word. Add another to Olaf's list of Anna-isms. "I mean, daddy and I used to play with real metal swords when he was still around." The princess picked up a discarded ramrod and swung it in a wide arc above her head, then back-and-forth in front of her as if she were dueling an invisible opponent.
"Princess, those are display sabres. Light and unsharpened," Hjal countered. "Your father was very, very adamant that we only let you use very un-sharp swords. Because well, you were you." He winked and shook his head at the same time.
"Oh," Anna lowered the ramrod and picked up one of the muskets on the ground. Absentmindedly, she guided the tip of the rod into the barrel of her gun and started pumping. "No wonder I couldn't even cut a melon with it," she mused.
"You're right though, they are all weapons. But there is one major difference with a gun and a sword or a knife." Hjal pointed to the gun that the princess was now holding. It was heavy and old, much like the one she had been learning how to use before today.
In the distance, Elsa was flipping the pan on her flintlock shut, presumably primed. Fast learner, her sister. Anna shook her head and thought about how she had just figured out the pan today. And she had been shooting targets for a few weeks now.
"A sword can be used to cut a melon, as you've so appropriately expressed." Anna nodded as she pulled out the rod to let the excess powder and ash out. "A knife can be used to cut rope, an axe chops wood." Hjal continued.
"But a gun, a firearm. From the smallest flintlock, to your breech-loader to muskets and rifles, they were made for one purpose and one purpose alone." The Kaptein's voice had taken on a rather serious tone and he was looking at Anna in a manner that made her a little uncomfortable. "These are weapons of war, princess. They were made to kill people."
Anna nodded, looking down at the weapon in her hands. It was an antique, quite old. Older than her. It looked older than Hjal, probably even older than her deceased father. For a moment, she wondered how many people that gun had killed. How many lives it had taken. An idea came to her. "Wait, we use guns to hunt food, don't we?"
Hjal nodded. "We use guns to 'kill' animals, which we then cook to eat." He corrected. He was right. Still killing. Anna remembered her father taking her out riding as a child while the rest of the grown-ups hunted.
But Hjal wasn't finished. She felt the weight of his hand on the barrel of her gun as he looked into her eyes. "Princess Anna. I may be teaching you to use these, and you've been a rather...energetic pupil. But the final decision, the entire point of what you're learning, that lies with you." Kaptein Jorgen paused. "If the time comes. When the time comes. Will you be able to pull that trigger? Are you willing to kill another person?"
Most people would hesitate at the question. To wilingly end the life of another human being is not a decision to be made lightly. Princess Anna of Arendelle took no time to reply to the kaptein's question. Lips pressed together and with a fiery determination in her eyes that burned bright, she looked the older soldier in the eyes and responded.
"Yes. Yes I would." Anna immediately blurted out without hesitation.
"If the people I love were in danger, I so certainly would." The princess looked down at her hands, stained dark with grease and gunpowder residue. These were not the hands of a soft, pampered noble. They weren't the hands of a princess. "I have to," she mumbled, her attention shifting to the two people in the world that mattered to her the most. Her sister was still awkwardly fumbling with the small pistol in her hands. Beside her, Kristoff patiently helped the flustered queen in whatever way he could. Elsa didn't have it in her, Anna knew. Her sister was no fighter. Kristoff on the other hand, was the kind of person who did what he had to. But Anna knew him enough to know that as big as he was, the mountain man was actually a soft and caring person inside. No matter how much of a rough facade he tried to put on. He'd be able to do it, but it wouldn't be a Kristoff thing to do. He wouldn't be the man she fell in love with. He probably wouldn't be able to deal with it. She could.
"I have to." The princess said again, much louder and with a level of confidence in her voice that surprised herself. "If the time comes..." Her voice trailed off as she shook her head. "No. When the time comes. I can't let them carry that burden. Someone has to. I have to." She repeated.
"I have to."
The princess was somewhat amazed with the clarity of mind that came with these thoughts. But she knew, deep down inside, that as with everything she did, her words came straight from the depths of her heart. She meant every single word.
A moment of silence hung heavy in the air as the kaptein's eyes took on a new sense of respect for the young woman. The older soldier stood straight, much straighter than he typically did. He faced Anna and saluted her like he did with the other members of the royal guard, like he used to with her father.
"Princess Anna. I am honored to serve someone as honest, straightforward and passionate as you. If the time comes, I would be honored to fight by your side. You father would be very, very proud of the woman you have become."
The princess tried to return the kaptein's stance, standing as formally straight as she could muster. She returned his salute the way she remembered her father used to do, all those years ago. It was a good thing Elsa and Kristoff were too distracted by their training – Kris would never let her live down how formal she appeared at that moment. But that didn't matter. For the first time, she actually felt like the commander that the royal guard had been treating her all these years. "I hope I'll earn this." She nodded back.
As the two warriors casually headed towards the queen and the ice master, a thought crossed Anna's mind. "Hjal," she asked. "Would you take a bullet for me?"
Without missing a beat, as if he already had the answer prepared before she had asked her question, the grizzled soldier replied. "Of course." Hjal then grinned, cleared his throat and added. "Besides, I already did."
The warrior-princess of Arendelle chuckled, stuck her tongue out at the kaptein, then broke into a trot towards the only two people in the world that she herself would take a bullet for.