It snows the day after the celebration, but only lightly. Feathery little flakes land on the grass and melt almost immediately into the earth. Queen Elsa says it's a natural snow, so she doesn't stop it, but she does guarantee it won't grow bad enough to interfere with any travel plans.
Indoors, the morning is a flurry of activity as most of the palace guests start to pack up and leave. Kai and I came here with nothing, and our grandmothers have little, but Sonja wants to send us off properly in a royal carriage.
"With extra guards this time," she says. "Just in case."
Though I think we'll be alright. Merla will be riding as far as Ciera with us, and she's been teaching me self-defense. She gave up on using Olaf when I absolutely refused to stab the little snow man, but he still stands by and cheers me on as I practice.
It's mid-afternoon, and I've said all my farewells. I've hugged Queen Elsa goodbye, promised Anna and Kristoff and Ida that I'd visit, thanked Swiftwing for all of her help. My snow globe is packed up safe and tight in a cushioned box. I'm a little sad to be leaving, but I'm happy to be going home.
It's funny, but I until I spoke to Queen Elsa, I hadn't given much thought to the future beyond rescuing Kai. I am certain that I'd like to finish school. My spelling needs practice, I know; Merla and I have been reading books from the castle library, and I keep tripping over the big words. Beyond that, I'm not sure where I'll go. Maybe I will return to the castle someday as a flower mage. Or maybe I'll go travelling with Merla, or stay in Ciera with Kai and our grandmothers. Possibilities unfold before me like daylilies opening to the morning sun.
While we're waiting for the carriage to be ready, I tell Kai about my discussion with Johanna. He only nods. Apparently he had a similar conversation.
"What did you say?" I ask him.
"What could I say? I told her I didn't hold her responsible for anything she did while illused, but I hoped she'd understand if I never wanted to talk to her again." He shakes his head, his brown hair flopping side to side. "I try to hate her, but I can't. She was illused too. Then I try to hate the goblins, but it wasn't their fault either. Only the ones who made that mirror. I wish they could just fix it, get rid of the illusions once and for all."
"Oh!" I completely forgot that I was allowed to tell Kai what I saw. "Actually, they did."
I look around, but our grandmothers are nowhere near, off on some last minute walk through the menagerie. So I fill him in on the night I couldn't sleep and how Queen Elsa let me sit in while the Mages cast an Outcome spell on the mirror.
"Can we see it?" he says.
"I haven't asked," I say, "but I think we could. Do you want to?"
Kai hesitates. Then he nods. I feel foolish that this didn't occur to me sooner. Kai has spent the past year trapped in the Snow Queen's palace, ensnared by a goblin illusion. Of course he wants to see that things will turn out alright.
We run to the throne room and nearly slip on the floor. The room has become an ice rink.
"Oops," says Elsa. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting anyone." She waves her hand and the ice on the ground disappears.
"Aw," says Anna, stopping short where she was gliding only seconds ago. "I was just getting the hang of it again."
"Is everything ok?" Elsa asks us. "I thought you were going home."
"The carriage was delayed," I say, "and we were wondering if …" I suddenly feel nervous asking. "… if we could see the mirror?"
"Is that ok?"
Elsa nods. "I think I can give you that much. Kasper?"
The old servant comes running through the door, holding a pair of ice skates. "I knew I had these somewhere. I—ah." He spots Kai and me, sheepishly tucks the ice skates behind his back. "How can I be of assistance?"
"Gerda and Kai would like to see the mirror before they go," says Elsa. "Would you take them there? The ice rink will resume when you get back."
Kasper bows. "Certainly, Your Majesty."
"And hurry. I can't walk in these things," says Anna. She hobbles forward, trying to move in ice skates when there's no ice beneath her. Elsa laughs and links arms with her sister, steadying her. The last thing I see of the queen and her sister are the two of them laughing, arm in arm, waving goodbye as Kai and I leave the throne room. I wave back. It's good to know it won't be goodbye forever.
Kasper leads us up flights of stairs and down long hallways to a nondescript wooden door. He inserts a bronze key into the lock. The door creaks open, and it takes my eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light. There, in the center of the room, sits the mirror that has caused us so much pain. I take a hesitant step through the doorway, and Kai follows. Kasper stands outside, waiting.
"What do you think we'll see?" Kai says, his voice hushed.
"I don't know," I say, but in a moment we are standing in front of the mirror, and we know the answer.
It's us. Kai and me. Standing in this room.
"We look the same as we are right now," I say. "Well, you look the same. I look older."
Kai shakes his head. "You look the same. It's me who looks older."
I take a step closer to the mirror. Despite the cracks, it's pretty clear. "We haven't seen our reflections in so long. We are older."
"I think you're right. We're not really children anymore, are we?" I thought Kai would be disappointed that this was all the mirror will show, but he looks relieved. I realize that this was all he needed to see. Both of us, standing together despite everything. Kai reaches out and touches the cracked glass of the mirror. His reflection does the same.
My reflection reaches out and touches the glass too, and I gasp. I haven't moved. My hands are still folded in front of me.
"Gerda!" Kai looks back and forth from me to my reflection. "Do you see—"
"I see it too."
Mirror Gerda winks at me. A tiny green vine springs from her hand and wraps itself around the frame of the mirror. Pale pink flowers blossom from it. I see her laugh in delight.
"I didn't know you could do that," says Kai.
"I can't," I say. "Or I couldn't. Queen Elsa said my powers might start changing as I get older, but I didn't expect it to happen like this." I start to reach my hand towards the mirror, then hesitate. I'm frightened of what's to come. I look to Kai, and he nods encouragingly. Slowly, I reach out and touch the frame. My fingertips grow warm, and from them a little vine shoots out, just as it did for Mirror Gerda.
"Oh!" I laugh. The pink flowers are clematises. I can see that from this side of the mirror. I touch one. It's soft and real.
"What does this mean?" says Kai. "Does the mirror want you to stay at the castle and become a flower mage?"
I don't know what the mirror wants. Maybe nothing. Maybe it's only a mirror. Magic mirrors are powerful, but they are, after all, only reflections of the people who make them.
I watch the little pink flowers bloom at my fingertips. Flowers that I made. I couldn't do that before, but I can do a lot of things I couldn't do before. I've grown up in the past year, I think. I've seen love and death, magic and mirrors, illusions and prophecies. It's big and exciting and a little bit frightening, and it's changed me. But that's ok. Everyone changes. It hasn't changed what's really important to me. If anything, it's only made me more certain.
"I don't know what the mirror wants," I say. "But I know there's a rose bush sitting in my window box that wishes it had a friend. And now I know exactly how to give it one."
I hold out my hand. Kai takes it. It's time to leave this adventure behind. The wars are over, my best friend is safe, and home is waiting for the both of us.
A/N - Oh my god, you guys, I can't believe this is the end! Writing/sharing this story has been such a wonderful, terrifying, frustrating, amazing experience, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate every last one of you for sharing it with me! You have all been so positive and encouraging, and, even if you never commented, just the fact that you were here reading every week, bumping up the stats that I way-too-obsessively pored over, that meant a ton to me! Thank you, thank you!
This was the first novel-length story I've ever finished, so I'd love constructive feedback! (Though I'm an embarassingly fragile flower when it comes to that sort of thing, so do be tactful with your critiques.) There won't be a sequel, sadly, although I may come back with one shots or borrow aspects of this world for an original story. If you want to see what other projects I've got coming up (like recording an album-eep!), I have a website at www . daydreams and chocolate . com and I hope you'll visit me there!
I enjoyed writing this story so much, and I hope you enjoyed reading it! If you liked To Death, I hope you will share it with anyone else who may like it too! That's the highest praise you can give me. :) Thanks again and wishing many warm hugs to all of you!