Chapter 34 – Evaluation
"Ow. Stop it. Why am I putting this on, again?"
Anna gave up trying to close the top button of the latest dress shirt Kristoff was trying on. The jacket was fine, but the shirt still didn't fit. Need to get a bigger one from the tailor.
"For the dinner tonight. Elsa is having dinner with Prince Henrik, and so I need to be there too, and I can't be there alone, can I? I'd be a third wheel… no wait, a third wheel just makes a bicycle into a tricycle, and that's okay. Maybe a third hand? Well, that might actually be useful. How about a third fork? Um, appetizer, salad, and entrée, so you actually need three forks. Three spoons? Soup and dessert, and only maybe for dessert. Sure, I'll go with that, third spoon. Anyway, I need someone to be there with me, and you're finally around and I think this blue jacket complements the green and purple of your sash and medal of office for Official Ice Harvester and Deliverer of Arendelle."
"Actually, I left my medal back in my room at Dag's. This one is Sven's."
"Huh? Well, it still looks nice," Anna gave it a sniff and shrugged. "Yeah, it'll be fine."
"So, it'll be the Queen—"
"Elsa," Anna corrected.
"—Queen Elsa, Prince Henrik, you, a princess… and me?"
Kristoff stared down at the outfit being made for him. Probably cost more than all the clothes he has ever had put together.
"And you said Elsa is going to marry this Prince Henrik? She never said anything about it when we were going up the North Mountain."
"He only just arrived a couple days ago, and Elsa hasn't decided on anything. It's really about inter-kingdom politics."
"You're all crazy, you know that."
"No, really. The rest of us are just trying our best to get enough to eat and a warm place out of the snow, and if we find someone we want to spend our life with, that's something special. And you royals use it like you're playing some kind of game."
Anna crossed her arms and huffed. "Some would say it's a sacrifice we suffer for the good of our kingdom."
Kristoff just shook his head. "So what's this dinner for?"
"That's my idea. If Elsa's thinking that she might need to marry Prince Henrik, for Arendelle reasons, then I want to make sure he's right for Elsa."
Kristoff paused a couple beats. "So you want me there too. Okay, I get what you're trying to do. I'll do it."
"Um… do what?"
"You're making sure he's right for Elsa; you want me to make sure he's right for everyone else, all the regular people."
"Right for the regular… Yeah, that's right. That's why I want you there."
Kristoff smiled mischievously, "I mean, judging from last time, you sure can't tell a good prince from a bad one—Ow. Stop it."
"Well, that was terrible!"
Anna dropped into one of the upholstered library chairs resignedly. "Maybe he'd rather marry Kristoff!"
Elsa laughed. "It wasn't that bad."
"Not bad? Are you crazy? Okay, so he arrived in the dining room, and he's all dressed up nice. Not in his super-formal stuff like last night, because that was an official dinner, but really nice clothes for something more personal. He comes in, he kisses your hand, says some stuff in Gallic, you say stuff back in Gallic, and it's all really cute. Great, maybe we have something here. But then I introduce Kristoff, and it's all over!"
"I say he's the Official Ice Harvester, and for the rest of dinner it's mountain this, and glacier that, and what color are the caves, and what flavor are the rocks! And it's like Kristoff has found his new best friend or something, and he says he'll take him to the top of Mt. Doormouse—"
"Yeah, that one. He's taking Prince Rikky on a trip tomorrow up into the mountains to look at, what, rocks and ice? Is that a thing? The dinner was supposed to be so you and Henrick could talk and get to know more about each other and see if you like each other and, you know, maybe fall in love or something."
"Fall in love? I've only known him for a few days now."
"I know. And I'm hardly one to talk about falling in love. Stupid Hans-jerk-face."
Elsa leaned forward and pulled Anna over to the couch with her. Anna leaned over and put her head on Elsa's shoulder.
"So now what do we do?" Anna pondered out loud. "Try again at breakfast?"
"No. It's probably good that Kristoff takes Henrick away for a couple days. I need more time to discuss things with the council and work out the details of our treaty proposal. Best not to be distracted with things like falling in love."
Anna gave Elsa's arm a playful punch, "You stinker."
There was a light snow falling in Elsa's office when Anna entered it the next afternoon. Elsa was at her desk, the top sheet from a stack of papers in one hand, her quill in the other, and a look of deep concentration on her face. Anna laughed.
Elsa looked up at the noise. "What?"
"Your face, it was kind of funny, your eyes all squinty, and your mouth twisted to one side as you read your paper. I bet you didn't even realize it was snowing, huh?"
Glancing up, Elsa frowned. "I was so deep in thought; I guess it just happened." She waved her hand, quill still clutched in her fingers, in a circle above her head and the snow gathered up into a large snowflake floating just below the ceiling. And with a flick of her wrist, the snowflake dissolved, and a droplet of ink, stuck in the quill's nib, fell, startling Elsa as it struck her right cheek. Dropping the quill back onto the desk blotter, she absently tried to wipe it away, only to discover it wasn't a bit of leftover moisture from the snow, but black ink, now smeared across both her cheek and right hand.
Elsa looked incredulously at her hand, then at Anna standing on the other side of her desk. "What the—?" she started, but anything else she was going to say was drowned out by Anna's laughter.
Not sure if she should be annoyed or laughing herself, Elsa vainly attempted to wipe her face and hand clean while waiting for Anna to finish. It took Anna three tries to stop laughing, only to relapse again each time, Elsa finally joining in.
"I guess I've been working too hard," Elsa hypothesized.
Anna nodded. "You missed lunch, so I came to get you. Can't let the future empress get too hungry."
"I'm not going to be an empress. Arendelle and Liknes joining isn't an empire… it's more of a dominion."
"So, what does that make you? The Dominion…press?"
"I don't think that's a word. No, still 'queen'." Dropping the cloth, now hopelessly smeared with ink as well, Elsa stood up. "Better take a break to eat," raising up her hand, "and clean up. Meeting the council again later."
Circling her desk, Elsa carefully gave Anna a one-armed hug, the inky hand held carefully away from either woman's dress. "Come with me while I clean up. We can talk."
"Elsa, you in here?"
Anna pushed open the door to her sister's bedroom—it still felt weird to open it after so many years of it never opening—and looked around.
"I'm in here," came her sister's voice through the open inner doorway to the bath room, followed by some light splashes.
"Sorry I took so long. I tried to find someone in the family kitchens, but no one was around. So, I went down to the main kitchens, and still no one. I started looking around, and then I heard noises coming from the servants' kitchens. When I went it, it was weird; they were in two groups, one on each side of the kitchen, cooking like crazy, with Chef Hellstrøm yelling back and forth between them. When I came in, they all stopped. So, I told them we wanted something for lunch, and then suddenly they're all going crazy making us something to eat. They're either sending up some sandwiches or a five-course banquet, I'm not sure which—oh!"
Anna was expecting, having heard the splashes, Elsa to just be at her wash stand with the basin, washing away the ink stains. But rounding the corner into the bath room, she found the free-standing copper bathtub full of steaming hot water, and Elsa sitting in it, her hair pinned up, and everything else in full view.
Elsa, soap in one hand and washcloth in the other, turned to Anna. "What?"
"Huh? Oh, I didn't know you liked a hot bath. I thought you liked it cold."
Elsa shook her head, "The cold doesn't bother me, but the hot water works and feels a lot better." And as if to demonstrate, Elsa dipped her washcloth into the water, then, withdrawing it, soaped it up and proceeded to scrub the smeared ink from her face. Reaching out of the tub, Elsa picked up a hand-mirror from the floor. "Could you hold this?"
"Sure." Anna stepped over to the tub and knelt down next to it, taking the mirror and holding it up so Elsa could scrub her face properly. And from that vantage, she could see Elsa, I mean really see her. And wow, she was beautiful. Anna had seen Elsa in her coronation dress, and then in her ice dress, and other fancy dresses since then, and she could see how beautiful her sister was. She actually looked a lot like their mother, a bit taller, a bit slimmer here, and a bit fuller there. But she hadn't seen Elsa like this, not since they were little and took their baths together.
Feeling kind of funny, Anna turned head away a bit. "So, um, are you going to marry Henrik?"
Elsa had finished her face, leaving her right cheek a bit red, and had started scrubbing her right hand. "No. I'm not going to marry anyone. At least not any time soon." She plunged her hand into the bath water to rinse it, then resumed scrubbing. "I discussed things with Lady Kleveland, and I think she's right. So, I've decided that I won't even consider marriage, political or otherwise, for two years. Maybe more, we'll see. It's important that the world sees me leading Arendelle on my own, independent, and in control. Thank you."
The last was to Anna, Elsa having finished the ink, no longer needed the mirror. Anna took the mirror and sat down on a chair near the wash stand while Elsa continued washing.
"So, no men for two years?" Anna asked kiddingly.
"Not exactly. I guess if Henrik, or anyone else, wants to visit, to court me, I'll entertain it. It's just marriage won't be considered until after the two years."
"But Henrik wanted a marriage treaty to join the kingdoms. If you're not willing to do that, is it even going to happen?"
"Henrik, and Liknes, needs me to help with the drought, so we'll work something out. Since I'm not going to agree to a marriage treaty, I'll have to agree to something to assure him of my commitment."
Kristoff and Henrick sat next to their campfire, a simple stew cooking in a pot suspended over the flames. Sven, a short distance off, munched contentedly on lichen growing off some nearby rocks.
Henrick was an unusual prince, thought Kristoff. Not that he knew any others for comparison; just Prince Hans very briefly on the ship after the big melt, right before Anna punched him. The only other royals he knew were Elsa and Anna, and they don't really count, do they? Still, he hardly expected a royal prince to be so knowledgeable about the mountains. Kristoff didn't really know what princes did, but he expected it was attending parties, eating fancy food and drinking expensive wine, and looking for a princess to marry. And while Henrick was no ice-man, it seems he had spent a good amount of time travelling around the hills of Liknes.
During their climb, they had discussed the mountain and ice, but once they reached the peak and stopped for dinner, the conversation changed to other things, particularly Elsa and Anna.
"…and you've been to her ice palace?" started Henrick, "Is it really what they say? I've seen some of her magic ice sculptures in the castle, but they're small in scale…"
Kristoff nodded. "Sure. Twice, actually. First with Anna when she was trying to find her sister to stop the Big Freeze. And I was with Elsa, um, Queen Elsa, when she made a bunch of improvement just a few days ago. It's almost as big as Arendelle Castle now, but made of ice. It's really something." He turned his head, peering into the distant, diminishing light. Pointing, he continued, "You'd be able to see there, on the North Mountain, if it weren't for the clouds."
Henrick turned his own head and looked vainly in the indicated direction. Turning back, he paused, warming his hands over the fire, before broaching the next subject.
"So, you've become well acquainted with the royal family here, Queen Elsa and Princess Anna. But you have an official position in the royal household, so that's perhaps expected. But I've noticed a rather," he waved his hand while looking for the right word, "familiarity between them and the people, especially Princess Anna. Is this normal for Arendelle?"
Kristoff couldn't help but laugh a bit in response. "The royal family of Arendelle is anything but normal… but Anna, yeah, she'll chat up anybody, royal or common. And my position as Official Ice Master and Deliverer, I'm pretty sure Anna just made that up. As for Elsa, well, being around people is still a little new… you heard about that, right? She pretty much never left the castle since she was little until her coronation. I mean, she still saw some people, the king and queen, castle servants, and, um… the council, I think—at least that's what Anna told me. Elsa doesn't really talk about it much."
"That is… interesting. I hope it doesn't become an issue. Myself, I've traveled a good bit, in Liknes and abroad, and am rather fond of it. While a royal marriage is a formality and the couple need not like each other or even spend much time together, it is better if they do. While I barely remember my mother, my father always spoke of her so lovingly. But my cousin Lewellyn, a prince across the sea over in Ringkobing, he and his wife cannot stand each other. She spends most of the year back home with her family, and when they are together, it is constant arguments. I hope Elsa and I can find some things in common."
"Do you like ice?"
"Sure. But I prefer snow, better for skiing."
It had been a long and tedious session with the Queen's Council, but Elsa believed that they had finally come to a proposal that would be acceptable to both Arendelle and Liknes. It was long past dinner (they had had a working meal sent to the council chamber), and the sun was starting to set behind the western mountains, casting long shadows across the castle halls.
Elsa was walking across the grand hall from the council chamber towards the residential wing, escorted quietly by a single guardsman. She had hoped to meet Anna in the library, but it seems he had left the castle to meet up again with Helga Alweign and her classmates from the Siggenskole. Elsa had mixed feeling that Anna had found some friends to spend time with. Elsa would love to spend more time with Anna, but she had her duties as queen which consumed most of the hours of the day. But then she also hoped Anna's new friends didn't draw Anna away so often that they wouldn't be able to have time together when her duties were complete… like now.
But since Anna was out, Elsa elected to retire to library for the evening with some tea and a good book, where she could wait for Anna's return whereupon she would be regaled with tales of Anna's latest adventures. Having decided this, Elsa and her escort turned the corner by the grand ballroom, only to notice light emitting from its unexpectedly open doors. And it wasn't candle or torch-light, but something more like sunlight; but that was impossible, for there were no external windows in the ballroom, and the sun was in the wrong direction.
Starting towards it, she halted when she heard a voice call out, a child's voice, "Throw it here!" Then she saw it. She probably should have seen it before, but she was still learning. There was magic. The flow of it exuded out through the doorway and back into the room, maintaining something, the light Elsa surmised, within.
Her guardsman moved a step ahead of her, hand on the pommel of his sword, but Elsa stopped him. "It's all right. Wait here."
Drawing up to the doorway, she turned. Within, she saw six people, and she recognized one of them immediately, Alde Östberg, the healer who had taken care of Kristoff the night of the ball and assassination attempt. And while she had not met them personally, Elsa deduced that the two girls were likely her daughters. The others, then, she knew as well, for she has signed the papers granting them refuge in Arendelle. All of them, people with magic.
And on the floor in front of her, about ten feet into the room, was the source of the light. There were several lit braziers about the room, but they paled against this. A scale model of Arendelle Castle, its peak rising to about six feet, made of brightly glowing white light.
"Bună, îți place?" A tall man, thin, with worn and oddly styled clothing, standing nearby, called out upon seeing Elsa, waving his arm towards the castle of light. Further into the room, the two girls were playing catch, but floating between them, instead of a ball, was a sphere, about six inches across, that appeared to be made of swirling smoke, its edges undulating slightly as it sailed through the air. Another man, in his middle years, short, dark-haired and with a trimmed, graying beard, stood near one of the braziers, his hands held out over the flames, another smoky sphere slowly appearing between them.
And she could see the magic. A good bit flowing about the model, and smaller bits amounts swirled about the new, smoky toys.
"Îți faci asta?" said the man, holding up his right hand. Magic flowed, she could see, from around them to the man, though him, his arm, his hand, and into the air above it. Forming there was a snowflake. Not quite Elsa's snowflake, but a well detailed one. Made of light.
"Și tu o faci," he now said, mysteriously. But the waving of his left hand from Elsa to the snowflake gave her some comprehension. Stepping a bit closer to the man, she pulled on a small flow of magic herself and, raising her own right hand, pulled her own snowflake made of crystalline ice into existence.
"Queen Elsa, have you come to practice magic with us?" The others had gathered around Elsa and the– "what," she thought, "photomancer?" –and it was the elder of the healer's two daughters who had spoken.
"Practice?" she repeated absently. She had been so distracted with the activity regarding Prince Henrik and the Liknes treaty that she had forgotten about the new arrivals, the magical refugees as they were being called. After a quick mental count, she asked "Are we missing someone?"
"Gamlemor Fridgunn," (Old mother Fridgunn) "is in her room," explained the other man, the one who had been making the smoke-bubbles. "She's not very social. She's been spending all her time going through her supplies and books, always complaining about what was lost or had to be left behind."
"Had to be left behind? What happened to her?"
The man shrugged, "You'll have to ask her. She just goes on about how the villagers wouldn't have been able to find her if it weren't for some kids."
"And what brought you to Arendelle?"
"Almost the same thing, actually, ma'am. People from the village started saying I was talking to demons. And that's crazy, of course. The vættir aren't demons, they're peaceful air spirits. Well, most are peaceful, anyway."
"You command air spirits? That's how you do your magic?"
"Well, I don't command them. I ask them, and they do what I ask if it's something little, like making a ball of air," he waved towards the smoky sphere the youngest girl was holding. "Bigger things, like a strong wind blow to drive the ship faster, that would take more negotiating."
"And what about him," referring to the man sculpting light, "do we know anything about him?"
Alde Östberg spoke up, "His name is Jarik Tezar, and he's from Slovakia. There's a woman from town who speaks his language that Master Kai knew, so he brought her here to translate. But once she came in, she and Jarik started bickering in Slovak like an old married couple. But we learned a little. He wasn't chased away from his home or anything. Probably doesn't even have a home, he just travels around a lot and decided to come to Arendelle when he heard about you."
Elsa glanced around the room, and at the five individuals looking back at her. They all came to Arendelle because of her, because of her magic. She thought back what Pabbie, the troll elder, had told her about magic, how some were taught how to manipulate it, and how some were born to it. Elsa could feel the magic gather throughout the room and wondered. Are any of these people like me?
"I am sorry that I haven't visited with you before now. I have duties as Queen, many quite pressing right now. But I can stay for a while tonight, and will try to find more time in the future."
Smiling, the younger of Alde's daughters rushed up and grabbed onto Elsa's arm. "Can you show us more of your magic?"
Elsa summoned the magic to her, and smiled back at the girl. "Are you ready?"
Author's Note: wait, what? I'm back!
Life, work, family, stuff. All that got in the way of fanfic writing for a while. But much of it has cleared up, so I should be posting stuff again. Yay.