Roses Bloom and Cease to Be

Note: This is an AU inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" with Elsa as Gerda and Anna as the Little Robber Maiden. I originally wrote it for Day 7 of Elsanna Week, but was so proud of it I decided to upload it here. I hope you all enjoy! Thank you for reading!

In the forest, you lived as you could. There was no magic in the trees, no mother's spirits in the wood, to grant wishes and fineries to one. The forest was dark and, more often than not, cold. In the forest, you lived off what you could get. So Anna's mother told her night by night, hunched over the fire, the flames glaring up at her haggard face.

Anna kept her old mother's words close to her. Kept them almost as close as her knife.

They were robbers by trade, so, of course, one dark night, they looted a carriage plated all over with gold. It had shone insolently like a flame, as though it thought its brilliance would ward off the shadow surrounding it instead of drawing all manner of unsavory creatures into its light. They tore apart the coachmen, the footmen, the postilions. Then they tore into the carriage as though it were the egg of the old riddle, breaking it open and spilling its contents out into the world.

That was the first time Anna saw Elsa.

She was dressed in silken garments, but there was none of the usual aristocratic haughtiness in her face. She may have looked like an ivory-pale carving of ice amongst the robbers, but there was a softness on her lips and a tender earnestness in her eyes. Anna had always scoffed at silly fairy stories, but, looking into that face, she felt perhaps she was in the presence of a true princess.

She was the most beautiful creature Anna had ever seen.

Right away, she sprang to her defense. This was her princess. She deserved more than to be thrown into a cauldron and made into a stew. Anna's knife flashed as she swung it about her. If anyone tried to touch this girl, they would feel its edge on their throats.

Anna made herself clear enough.

On the way homeward, Anna rode in the carriage with Elsa. It was there that she learned her name. As it turned out, Elsa was no princess, though she had gotten the coach and clothes from one. (Anna scoffed at this. If her new companion wasn't royalty, well, she ought to have been. She said so directly and Elsa's cheeks went pink.) Elsa had come from a long ways off. She was in search of a young man, she said, who had once cared for her and then did not, but would again, she said, if she could find him. It had all to do with an enchantment. It was a curious story, of the kind Anna usually dismissed, but the sincerity with which Elsa told it touched Anna somehow.

The robbers made their camp in a ruined castle in the deepest darkness of the forest. It was there that the carriage came to a halt. With more delicacy than she was accustomed to using, Anna drew Elsa down from her seat, holding her close as they entered the courtyard. A horde of the robbers had set up a bonfire there and were dancing about it wildly. Anna heard Elsa gasp, felt her press more tightly against her as they passed.

Elsa stayed a long while among the robbers, so long that they grew to treat her as one of their own. If it pleased her, she might have left, but something kept her in spite of everything. She was allowed a place by the fire where she would often cuddle up beside Anna. Sometimes, they would dance with one another in the glow of the flames whilst the robbers sang out, played music, and cavorted around them. The two of them had become inseparable – racing along the castle walls, laughing in shady hideaways. Laughter was a sound rarely heard in this forest – at any rate, laughter that was free-spirited and clear. Anna knew that she had not laughed like this before.

Indeed, thanks to Elsa, Anna felt a change in her whole demeanor. She had prided herself on being as hard as the stone of the battlements and as sharp as the blade she so recklessly twirled between her fingers. Yet, she let a softness creep into her because of Elsa, an uncharacteristically sunny warmth. She found she wanted to be there for Elsa. She wanted to make Elsa happy.

That was when news came from the North… news of that young man.

Elsa had not spoken of him, or indeed, thought of him for some time. He was behind her until word came of his whereabouts and then he seemed to fill her thoughts again. The stories were broken and confounding, speaking of great ladies and spectral mistresses and, always, of the frozen realm. There seemed to be precious little hope of Elsa seeing him again, but if there was any, that was enough for her.

To Anna, it all seemed so damned foolish. Hadn't he scorned her? Hadn't he been the one to run off and desert her? Did he really deserve having someone go to the ends of the earth for his sake?

Could he care for her like she could?

Anna implored Elsa to stay with her. It was not something she would have done before, letting herself be humbled before anyone. Still, Elsa felt compelled to go. Did she feel for the youth the same way as when she began her quest? No, but she said she felt a certain sense of obligation.

That was Elsa, Anna thought with a harsh laugh, ready to sacrifice her own well-being for another, even unto an absurd degree. It was frustrating, yet it was part of what had made Anna so entranced by Elsa in the first place.

In the end, she could refuse Elsa nothing.

It was cold when Elsa departed, riding on the back of a reindeer. Anna tried to make her words cold too, steeling herself against the very moment of parting. Even so, she could not help but wipe Elsa's tears at the last and tell her to be strong. It was one last sign of affection for the young woman who had almost made her believe in fairy tales.

Only after Elsa was gone did Anna break down weeping herself.

The forest was dark, but the world was wide.

Therefore, Anna's mother was not surprised to find, one morning, that her daughter was gone. In truth, the old woman had expected it. Anna had let herself be touched by the light. The dreariness of a robbers' den was no place for her now.

Less than a week later, Elsa returned.

She was much changed and more somber, having gone to world's end and, from there, back to the quiet security and simplicity of her village – only to find that the plain wood of her grandmother's chair and the clarion-clear call of church bells were… no longer what she wanted.

The robbers gave her sustenance and told her what they could. She thanked them and, ere long, was on her way again.

As before, she was heading northward, this time after something tangible.

She found Anna on horseback on a wintry slope, recognizing the same white steed that had pulled her golden carriage, oh, a lifetime ago. A pair of pistols was tucked into her belt.

"You… came back," she murmured, rolling the words around her tongue as though making sure what she said was real.

Elsa merely nodded.

Something halfway between a laugh and a sob pealed from Anna's lips, something truer than fairy tales or the phantoms of the past or the sound of bells. She pulled Elsa up onto her mount, tossing her one of her weapons, and the two of them rode forth under the splendor of the Northern Lights.