Continuing Tales

For the First Time in Never

A Frozen Story
by JE Glass

Part 19 of 24

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"Pain is weakness!" Elsa heard Saja shouting as if she were trying to communicate with her from far away. "It fractures our magic. Emotion is our strength. Concentrate, Elsa. Concentrate! Don't lose your grip!"

But she was losing her grip. The dream was fading like smoke in the wind and taking Saja and her warnings with it. From some faraway place, Elsa heard chimes that grew louder with each peal. It was the ringing of the bells that dragged her reluctantly out of the sweet embrace of sleep. She didn't even remember nodding off on the small couch in her study, but apparently her exhaustion had been stronger than she'd previously thought. With a groggy groan, Elsa sat up and dug the heels of her palms into her eyes, chasing the remnants of her dream. Unsurprisingly, she didn't feel rested at all. What time was it, and why on earth were the bells ringing? It had to be well past sunset, past any reasonable hour for bells to be tolling, so why—

Elsa scrambled to her feet, the fog in her head evaporating under the heat of her sudden awareness. There wasn't just one bell ringing like it did when chiming the hour or calling patrons to Mass; all the bells in her kingdom were tolling at once, a cacophony that shook the air with a frenzied chaos. The queen knew what those bells meant, though she never believed she'd ever hear them in her lifetime. Her first reaction was stunned amazement. A prisoner escape—in Arendelle—it simply didn't happen. Then a far darker thought touched her mind and she stopped dead in her tracks. Revel was loose and his brother was docked in the harbor, but how? She'd placed guards…she'd done everything right….she'd…

Someone helped him escape, Elsa realized like a smack in the face, and her previous stupefied amazement turned to simmering anger. She had no doubt someone had freed Revel. Those bells wouldn't be ringing for anyone aside for Arendelle's most recent prisoner turned escapee. Turning sharply, she rounded her desk and snatched up the letter found in Revel's ransacked room. Elsa knelt down and felt around for the hidden panel in her desk where all sensitive documents remained until they could be sealed in the vaults. For the time being, until she could figure out what had happened and why, the letter of Adrek's disinheritance would remain safely hidden. It was only after she'd secured the panel that the queen took her leave to find Kai for the second time that day.

Earlier that morning, Elsa had anxiously sought out the manservant, the letter clutched tightly in her hands. The truth behind King Gregor's death had been earth-shattering and left Arendelle's queen speechless, but for some insane reason, she somewhat believed that the letter was a hoax of some sort. Forgeries of royal seals and signets weren't all that uncommon, so this could very well be one of those situations. She'd found Kai instructing a small cluster of castle staff where to take the books he'd ordered and pulling the manservant into an unoccupied room.

"Majesty, is something wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Kai, are you familiar with the royal seal of Asham?" Elsa had asked, her voice shaking almost as badly as her hands. She was having trouble keeping frost from crusting her fingernails or from creeping out from under her feet.

"I…yes, Majesty, I am. Do you need me to look at something?"

"Yes." Elsa handed him the letter, and Kai took it with such care it was like she was handing him a venomous serpent. "Read it as well."

The manservant turned the letter over and stared at the seal for a moment, eyebrows scrunched together. "This looks like King Gregor's personal seal, but I can't be sure until I cross-reference it with the seal on file in the library." He then gently opened the parchment and began to read, his expression going from curiosity, to bafflement, then to stunned shock. Unlike Elsa, who hadn't expected the physical blow the letter would deliver, Kai weathered his surprise well and straightened, cleared his throat with a small cough. His eyes were still as large as dinner plates and he'd gone a shade or two paler. "Majesty, this…this means…"

"I know. This changes everything."

"A king, Captain Revel is…the rightful ruler of Asham."

"Meaning his brother is an imposter as well as a murderer."

"And…the rest of the letter. The reason for his disinheritance—"

"We will not speak of that aloud. Not right now," Elsa said with heavy finality. "Are you certain we have Gregor's seal?"

"He and your father had dealings before Gregor's death when you were ten. The late Asham king visited a few times and regularly attended the Trade Summit. He would have had to use his seal to register with the palace guards. I'm more than certain I have that same ledger in the library, but it will just take some time to find."

Elsa exhaled slowly, her mind racing. "Check the ledger, but let no one see this letter, Kai. No one."

The manservant bowed and slid the letter into his breast pocket. "I will go check immediately."

"Thank you, Kai," Elsa said and tried to force a smile. Nothing happened, her face was still frozen from shock and worry, so she pursed her lips nodded instead. "Has there been word from Adrek?" she inquired as the two of them walked towards the door. Judging by the manservant's sudden stiffness, there had.

"King Adrek wishes to meet with you as soon as possible. I assume it will be to continue the discussion of extradition. If you like, I could stall for a while longer so you can—"

"No," the queen interrupted, her hand on the door handle, "we cannot let on that we know something is amiss. I will go to the meeting while you look for the seal. When you find it, have one of the servants come and fetch me. It is imperative not to raise Adrek's suspicion."

"As you wish, Majesty," Kai bowed again and hurried down the hall at a fast clip.

So Elsa had done exactly as she'd said; venturing into the meeting with the king of Asham that lasted well into the afternoon with no headway made on either side. She would not budge on her policy of extradition and Adrek would not take no for an answer.

"My extradition law stands, King Adrek, and I will not change it for the benefit of one man or one kingdom," Elsa ground out, her patience with their circular argument wearing thin.

"This is not a matter of allowing one over the other. My brother is guilty of murder and will answer for his crimes!" Adrek shouted, pounding the table with his fist.

"A sentence that can be served here! You forget, Revel is also guilty of impersonating a member of my royal staff, and this is a crime I do not take lightly. His incarceration for both crimes should be enough to sate your desire for justice, or is it solely blood you crave?" the queen growled, frost slowly starting to overtake the chair she was seated in. She feared her temper and frayed nerves would eventually betray her the longer they argued, the gravity of her knowledge hanging like a weight around her neck. She could destroy him with a word, strip his title as easily as ripping a cloak off his shoulders. All she had to do was mention the letter, but until its authenticity had been verified, Elsa understood that she did not, in fact, hold all the cards. And if she pushed too hard there was a chance the topic of war could be broached. That dark thought alone was enough to squeeze the queen's lungs with abject terror. She would not let Arendelle descend into war.

So when Gerda came to fetch her a little before dinner, she'd excused herself and gone directly to Kai who was waiting for her in her study. One look was all she needed. The letter was real, the seal was real, the implications were real, and so was the imminent threat to her kingdom.

"I need to think," Elsa mumbled, moving over to her large, dark wood desk and slumping into the padded chair.

"I've left the ledger open on the table for you," Kai indicated. "Do you need anything more, Majesty?"

"No…no that will be all. Adrek has returned to his ship for dinner. Inform me the moment he's back in the castle."

Kai bowed silently and slipped from the room, closing the door quietly behind him. That's when Elsa had sprung from her seat and began to pace in earnest, pulse rushing in her ears. She eventually took a seat on the couch before the fire, head in her hands and ice at her feet, and remained like that for quite some time. She didn't remember falling asleep, didn't even remember closing her eyes, but was later jerked awake by the toll of the alarm bell.

And those bells were still ringing when she stepped from her study and hurriedly made her way towards the Great Hall, passing clusters of nervous servants. Each step brought her closer to an answer, but it also fanned the flames of her anger. Revel had been in custody for only a day at best and already something had happened. The worst possible something, actually.

Escaped, how is that even possible? Elsa fumed as she began to descend the spiral staircase, ice trailing behind her on the banister and stairs. You stupid, fool of a man. Do you realize what you've done to me? What kind of mess I have to clean up. Do you even care?

Yes, the farther Elsa walked from her study the angrier she became. If the swirl of arctic air following her wasn't enough of an indication that the queen was in a dark mood, the stormy set of her face and the gentle glow of her eyes sent servants scurrying out of her way. It was just unhappy luck that Sigmund, Revel's lieutenant now turned acting captain, was standing in the center of the Great Hall when the queen appeared. He was addressing a group of guards, one of which was supported on either arm by concerned comrades while holding a bloody rag against his head. When the small squad of guards caught sight of the queen they stiffened and attempted a salute.

"Majesty," they all mumbled in unison, swallowing hard.

Sigmund, who'd had his back to Elsa, turned sharply on his heels and snapped a smart salute. "Queen Elsa, I regret to inform you that Captain Revel has—"

"He's no longer your captain," Elsa snapped with more bite in her tone than she'd anticipated. "And I am well aware of what those bells mean. How did this happen?"

"The fault is mine," Sigmund began before any of his guards could open their mouths. "I should have had more detail on the dungeon door."

"It's not your fault Sig— um, I mean— Captain Sigmund," the guard holding the bloody rag said, attempting to step forward. Apparently his equilibrium hadn't yet recovered because he began to tilt sideways and would have crashed to the floor had his friends not grabbed him and hauled him back up.

"Tell me what happened," she commanded, making sure to keep her eyes locked with his.

"He's a new recruit," Sigmund jumped in quickly, sensing the queen's anger and propelled to protect the men that were now his responsibility. "He shouldn't have been stationed there in the first place. Please, Queen Elsa, this is my—"

Elsa held up a hand to silence him, but her cutting glance would have been enough. Sigmund wisely stepped back, his cheeks coloring a bit. Instinct told Elsa that Revel's escape had most certainly been an inside job, but finding whoever had broken him out was going to prove to be a daunting task. The queen wasn't under any disillusion that the royal guards weren't still loyal to the man who had been their captain for more than five years. Revel was well-liked by all and had trained his men well. The person responsible wouldn't come forward willingly, and the guards, if it was indeed a guard who'd done this, would protect their own.

"Tell me what happened," she commanded again, her voice low.

"Majesty, I'm…I'm sorry, I don't want to make excuses, but I don't really know what happened. I heard a ruckus in the chamber that sounded like someone hitting a pan against the wall. I ran in, thinking the cap— thinking Revel had somehow gotten out of his cell or someone had gotten in, and when I came around the corner something hit me in the side of the head. I…I went down and tried to rise, but whoever was in the dungeon hit me again in the back of the head. When I awoke, I was locked in the cell and Revel was gone." The guard finished his story and hung his head desolately. He looked like a man who'd just lost everything or was preparing to.

Elsa slid a look over at Sigmund, posture as rigid as a plank of wood. The big guard returned her gaze with an unreadable stare. "Is this true? Is that how they found him?"

"Yes," Sigmund confirmed quietly. "There were a few crates stored in the dungeon for the Summit, and we suspect whoever broke Revel out used a frying pan from one of those crates. The…weapon was found next to the cell door."

"And no one saw him leave the castle? With all the guards we have making near constant circuits, no one saw him leave with this mysterious person?" Elsa growled, her temper growing hotter with each exhale. The men standing before her shifted nervously. "So I am to believe that one man, secured in my dungeon, under guard, somehow slipped his bonds, incapacitated his goaler, and snuck through a castle full of patrolling guards unnoticed. Do we even know if he's still in the city? Do we know if he's armed?" her voice was slowly rising in octave along with her magic, shoots of frost skittering across the marble floor.

"That's the only explanation we have, Majesty, and I can assure you, we're as baffled as you are."

"You think me baffled?" Elsa gaped, the brunt of her anger breaking the surface. The men took a collective step back when they realized her eyes were starting to glow. She didn't want to be angry with her guards, knew it was wrong to blame them for what had happened, but the truth was she was furious as much as she was terrified. Revel was gone, which meant his brother would assume that she was the culprit for freeing him. Hadn't she refused to release him into the Asham king's custody? Hadn't she told him that Revel would remain in Arendelle to serve out his sentence for impersonation? And now, after their last big meeting filled with heated words and veiled threats, the prisoner in question was gone and the best explanation she had for his escape was fantastical at best.

This will start a war. Oh sweet God, I'm about to go to war.

"Baffled is what I was just a few moments ago when I awoke to the sound of alarm bells," Elsa spat, advancing on Sigmund. "Baffled was what I was coming down these steps and seeing you four standing here. I am far from baffled at the moment. I'm furious. No, I'm beyond furious, I'm—"

A movement out of the corner of her eye stopped her dead, and if it wasn't the movement that arrested her seething anger it was the look her sister gave her as she attempted to shimmy around the corner and head for the residency wing stairs. Anna had visibly winced. It was fast, too fast for anyone not accustomed to reading the princess's lightning-fast expressions, but Elsa was an expert by this point and felt her stomach do a flip. The princess, who hadn't moved from her stop on the stairs after being spotted, had adopted a cautious curiosity, and her nervousness at approaching her sister spoke volumes to the queen. Something clicked into place in Elsa's mind, and she felt the floor buck under her.

No, Anna. What have you done?

Revel had vanished without a trace. That was a fact, but how he'd done it was still a mystery—well, until now. She should have known her sister would know about that particular secret passage with all the exploring Anna had done over the years. It had been something Elsa's father had shown her shortly before his death. King Agdar wanted to make certain that his queen-to-be daughter knew about the dungeon passage should events in the future take a turn for the worst. She didn't understand why he had shown her that one and not the one in the royal chambers, but Elsa surmised he'd meant to but died before telling her. As it was, the queen now fully understood what had happened, and her forge-hot anger turned to sleet in her veins.

"Captain Sigmund," Elsa snapped, pulling her stare away from her sister. "I am making it your sole responsibility to find and detain Revel. Spread your men throughout the city. Find him and bring him back. That is your top priority, and if King Adrek attempts to aid in the capture, send him directly to me. He is to remain on his ship until further notice…for his own protection."

Elsa saw something dark move behind the big guard's eyes when she mentioned protecting Adrek. Sigmund didn't believe Revel had committed the crimes he'd been accused of either, which would have been reassuring to the queen had she not currently been in a life or death balancing act. The acting captain nodded once and motioned for him men to follow. Elsa didn't watch them go, instead turning her full attention onto her sister.

"Hey, what's all the commotion about?" Anna asked innocently, watching the guards depart with hesitation.

"Come with me. Now," Elsa growled, taking Anna roughly by the arm and dragged her into an unoccupied room. The princess gave a squeak of protest and attempted to pull herself free, but her sister's grip was like a vice. With one hand, Elsa opened the parlor door and shoved her sister inside, icing the door behind her.

"What the hell is your problem?" Anna stormed, rubbing the sore spot on her upper arm where her sister's nails had dug into her skin.

"What did you do?" Elsa demanded in a harsh whisper, back pressed against the door.

Anna blinked and frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't you dare lie to me!" the queen exploded, anger pulling stalactites of ice from the ceiling above her. She was in front of her sister in two quick strides, their height difference making it so that Anna had to look up at her. "What. Did. You. Do."

The princess was frozen, her eyes the size of dinner plates as she shrank under the queen's withering glare. She'd not seen rage like that in Elsa's eyes in a long time, the blue almost nearly overtaken by tendrils of glowing white. It squeezed the breath from her lungs and made her feel small and insignificant. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was regretting her decision to break Revel out, but the damage was done. She had to face her sister now, though she'd hoped for a little more time to come up with a more convincing argument about why she'd thought it a good idea to break the law. But locked in a staring contest with her sister, Anna forgot all the witty things she'd come up with, all the relevant excuses, all the heart felt apologies. What she felt now was threatened, and Anna wasn't a person to take threats lightly, not even those from her sister. Like a branch whipping back up after a passing gust, Anna straightened and squared her shoulders, her own brand of anger coloring her cheeks and lighting a defiant fire in her eyes that clashed with the queen's icy stare.

"What you should have done," Anna accused in a raspy whisper, her hands curling into fists at her side.

"What I should have done?" Elsa echoed, mouth agape in disbelief. "You don't know a damn thing about running a kingdom!"

"This has nothing to do with ruling!" Anna pushed back, advancing a step and purposely invading her sister's personal space. "You can't always be queen, Elsa. You can't always follow your head instead of your heart!"

"Don't bring my emotions into this, Anna. This has everything to do with the fact that you broke a prisoner out of jail and assaulted a guard in the process!"

"He's fine," Anna scoffed. "He was wearing a helmet."

"That doesn't change a damn thing! You assaulted one of my guards while participating in an illegal act. An act that could very well see you put in the same cell as Revel!"

Anna's eyebrows snapped together at the same moment she took half a step back, appalled. "You would throw me in jail for releasing an innocent man? Gee, what a benevolent queen you've become," she sneered.

Elsa pointed dangerously, ice spreading across the carpet in every direction. "Don't you dare mock me. By the law, I could have you arrested, and as queen, I should. Where do you get off thinking you somehow live above our laws?"

"So you'd sacrifice your own sister in order to save face in front of that scum from Asham?" Anna seethed, shoulders bunching as her body tensed. She couldn't believe she was hearing this from Elsa. She'd thought three years together would have mended the wound that thirteen years apart had created, but apparently there was still a fair amount of ice in the queen's heart. "Wow, seems like you should have just left me as a frozen statue on the fjord then. Hell, make Revel into one as well and send Kristoff and Sven packing. Then you can finally be alone with your frozen heart, Snow Queen."

Elsa stood in quivering rage, the storm insider her roaring like a maelstrom. Anna continued, mistakenly viewing her sister's silence as her gaining the upper hand in the argument. "That's right, I said it. All you are is a frigid ruler. It's always Arendelle first and the rest of us second. It doesn't matter if Revel loved you because you're a selfish woman who will only ever love her kingdom above all else. That's what Papa taught you, isn't it? To conceal everything until you can't even feel the beating of your own heart! Well, I hate to break it to you, dear sister, but you're not the only one who has the power to command. I may not be queen, but I'm still royalty, and if I say Revel can go free because my sister is too much of a coward to do it herself then—"

Anna heard the backhand before she felt it, her words ripped from her mouth and thrown into empty space. A second later she felt two things simultaneously: her lower back hitting the armrest of the chair behind her as she stumbled, and the right side of her face throbbing from the vicious blow. Trembling, she raised a hand to her cheek, her glassy eyes darting back to stare at her sister. Elsa's face was absolutely devoid of color and so contorted with rage it could have been considered monstrous. The knuckles of her left hand were starting to redden from where they'd cracked across Anna's face.

"You stupid, naïve little girl! I have sacrificed everything for you and this kingdom! Everything!" Elsa raged, the temperature in the room dropping to an abominable degree. "My life, my happiness, my future: all of it for the sake of you and Arendelle. Three years ago, I even tried to sacrifice myself for the good of this kingdom, so don't you fucking tell me I have ever been selfish because you've never had the weight of a crown on your pretty little head! You, little sister, are the selfish one, putting your childish wants before your kingdom and your subjects. If I'm the Snow Queen, then you're a petulant child trapped in a grown woman's body. "Did you think that Adrek would somehow forget his brother was here and just leave? That he would forgive us for letting an accused murderer escape? It's time to stop living in a fantasy and grow up!" Storming to the door, Elsa wrenched it open, shards of ice exploding around her and falling to the floor in glittering chunks. "You've single-handedly doomed Arendelle to war because of your actions, unless I do something about it. So I will join the hunt for Revel and bring him back. Until then, you will remain locked in your room until I return. And if you so much as step foot beyond the threshold, I will instruct the guards watching your room to throw you in the dungeon. And this time," the queen said over her shoulder, her words as brittle as lake ice, "you'll find that passage door iced shut." And with that she exited the parlor and slammed the door behind her with enough force she was sure she'd cracked the crown molding.

Anna stood staring at the door in stunned silence for a few moments before the backlash hit her and tears welled in her eyes. Before she could stop herself, the princess collapsed into the chair behind her, a heavy sob tearing from her throat. After the first escaped more came on like a flood, and Anna buried her face in her hands and cried. Everything had gone so wrong so fast. She'd expected Elsa to be mad…but this? Her sister had never raised a hand to her before—ever. It wasn't like she didn't deserve it; all those horrible things she'd said came rushing back, and on top of the burn of her cheek and the embarrassment of making an ass of herself, the weight of her guilt settled on her chest like a boulder, making her sob all the harder. That's where Kristoff found her a little while later, sitting in a chair in the parlor, her eyes puffy and red, cheek swollen and starting to bruise. Her sister was a lot stronger than she looked.

"I really screwed up, Kristoff," she hiccupped, bright blue eyes, made all the brighter from crying, locked on the unlit fireplace.

"We both did," he sighed, picking her up and carrying her from the room. There were no guards waiting for them, whether or not Elsa had actually given the order to detain her sister and brother-in-law was unclear, but regardless, Kristoff took his wife back upstairs and set her on their bed. Gently, he stroked her soft hair and thumbed away a few wayward tears until Anna turned away from him and curled onto her side. Sighing sadly, Kristoff went to the window and pushed it open. From here he could see the courtyard and the knotted mess it had become as guards swarmed the area. And somewhere, amongst the chaos, was the queen, battling her way against an overwhelming tide of crushing guilt, frustration, and confusion.

Neither Anna or Kristoff knew this, but after leaving the parlor in a rage, the door slamming shut behind her with a resonating bang, Elsa stood in the hallway, frozen like a deer caught by a hunter. For a handful of seconds she wasn't able to catch her breath or control her magic. Ice swept down the hall in either direction, chasing the shadows and climbing the walls in crackling spurts. She felt the onset of tears, the telltale burning in her nose, and hiccupped, fighting back a wave of guilt and disgust. Back against the door for physical support, she couldn't help but hear her sister's sobs, and Elsa's heart all but imploded. Looking down at her hand through the wavy vision of tears, she saw that the knuckles of her left hand were a vivid pink and almost vomited. She'd hit her sister. Not just hit, backhanded, and here was a big difference between a backhand and a slap. A slap was meant to be sobering or to bring someone to heel. It's embarrassing and galling, but it hurts ones pride more than anything. However, a backhand is a power play. It's a show of dominance, a physical, painful reminder that the one struck is not in control and can be harmed. It's not meant to gall but rather to subdue and, more often than not, it leaves a bruise.

Elsa clamped one hand over her mouth to muffle her cries, while the other clutched her chest, tears trailing down her cheeks. Something inside her was breaking apart, splintering like wood under the blade of an axe, and the brand on her shoulder began tingling like trapped electricity. The idea of causing any harm to her sister was sickening, and if she'd had the power, she would have cut off her offending left hand and throw it into the fire.

But a hand doesn't fly without being told, she thought miserably.

Unable to take hearing Anna's sobs, and unable to bring herself to face her let alone apologize, Elsa hurried away from the parlor and took solace in the deep shadows overtaking the hallway. After a few shaky moments, she was able to pull herself together, though her magic was being less that cooperative. Strangely, it manifested in fits and spurts, stuttering to life or winking out entirely when she reached for it. Slightly disturbed, Elsa pushed her worry aside and headed into the courtyard and the chaos that had overtaken it. Sigmund had called every available guard who wasn't already patrolling the castle to join him in the search for Revel. It had been roughly an hour and a half since his escape, meaning he could be anywhere. Arendelle wasn't a large city, so it was very likely Revel had stolen a horse and ridden into the forest or surrounding mountains. If that was the case, tracking hounds wouldn't even be enough to aid in his capture.

Elsa offered her support where she could, directing men and taking reports from returning guards. The northern half of Arendelle was clear and the citizens, who'd emerged confused and frightened from their homes, were told to be on the lookout for the former captain. There was no hiding the truth from them despite the fact that the queen knew he wasn't the one the guards should be looking for. Adrek should be dragged from his ship in chains, Fritz as well. Unlike Anna, Elsa had the instincts of a seasoned monarch and knew the Asham champion wasn't blameless in all of this.

The search went on well into the night, torches lit throughout the kingdom and a soaring bonfire built in the town square to provide both light and direction for the search parties. From the parapets above the gate, Elsa could see squads of guards roaming the streets in long, winding bands like fiery serpents, their glow preceding them even as they disappeared from sight. Few people saw her leaning against the rough stone walls supported by her crossed arm, looking out across her kingdom with flat, lifeless eyes. Not many saw the sadness that pulled at her shoulders, or the hard set of her jaw, or the thin line that had become her mouth. So it was no surprise that no one saw when the queen staggered back from the edge of the parapets with a startled cry, hands pressed against her temples. Dizziness yanked her to the ground, and it took Elsa a few terrifying seconds to realize what was happening.

Mother-creator, someone approaches, a voice like shifting glaciers rumbled in her ears, though she knew that no one but her could hear it.

"M-Marshmallow?" she gasped, blinking to clear her hazy double vision. No, it wasn't simply double vision, Elsa was seeing through both her eyes and the snow golem's. Whatever he was seeing was superimposed over what she was seeing like two different images of stained glass laying atop one another. This had only happened once before a little over a year ago. A group of ice climbers had gotten lost in the mountains and stumbled upon her castle. Marshmallow had reached out to his creator for permission to remove them from the premises. It had been during dinner, and Elsa had accidentally iced the entire table out of startled reflex when the golem had first made contact. She'd completely forgotten he had the ability to communicate with her over long distances. Even now, a year later, the connection was unsettling. Marshmallow, unlike Olaf, wasn't a conscious creature. He lived solely to serve and had few personal thoughts, preferring to react on instinct because that's what Elsa had made him with, the pure instinct to protect her and her family. The golem would not move into action without her express consent.

In the confusing swirl of images, Elsa could make out a snowy, craggy landscape that could only be the highest face of North Mountain. The snow was aglow in the soft moonlight, a silvery blanket that covered nearly every dark surface in ethereal light. Marshmallow was turned in a specific direction, west if she was reading the stars correctly, and watching a gray shape make a steady course towards him. Within a few heartbeats, the shape crested a steep rise and Sven came into focus, but it was who was ridding him that set her pulse aflutter. Revel clung to the reindeer's back, his face crusted with frost and expression set in a grimace.

Do I engage the stranger accompanying little brother? Marshmallow growled.

Little brother? Elsa wondered quizzically until she spotted the tiny cloud hovering above Sven. Olaf was with him.

"Engage but do not harm. Keep the man riding Sven within the castle. I'll be there shortly," she commanded, hauling herself to her feet.

Yes, mother-creator.

The connection was abruptly severed without any preamble and its absence felt like a chunk had been taken out of her mind. Shaking her head in order to bring Arendelle back into focus, Elsa hurried down to the stables. She didn't need to look into the stall to know that Sven was gone, though she could kick herself for not looking there first. If Anna had sprung Revel from jail it only made sense that he'd also escape the city while riding the reindeer. Only an animal as surefooted as Sven could make the trek up North Mountain in such a short amount of time.

"Stable Master Florren!" she called, pushing the lower half of the door open and looking around expectantly. A burly man in his late forties staggered out of a stall to her right and bowed so deeply his nose could have touched his knees.

"Queen Elsa! Is there something I can do for you?"

"Saddle Gralysningen, immediately," she commanded, "and bring him to the guard shack in the courtyard."

"Yes, Majesty," Florren confirmed with a nod and rushed off to saddle the queen's fjord pony.

Not wasting any time, Elsa ran to the shack where Sigmund was still taking reports and sending men to search different areas. Upon seeing her running toward him, he jumped from his seat and met her half way.


"Call your men back, Captain. I know where Revel is."

Sigmund blinked in surprise, his mouth opening a few times before his tongue decided to work again. "Wonderful news, I'll let the nearest squad know so that they can apprehend him."

"Call them back and keep them here," Elsa said quietly, stepping close to the acting captain so that her words were only heard by him. "He's at my ice castle in the mountains."

"How do you know this?" Sigmund frowned, canting his head.

"I have my ways," Elsa replied cryptically. "I will retrieve him myself and bring him back. In the meantime, keep your men here."

"Queen Elsa, I cannot, in good conscience, let you climb into the mountains alone and unprotected. Please, allow me to accompany —"

"I am not without protection, Captain, or have you forgotten that you speak to the Snow Queen?"

Sigmund stiffened, clearly at odds with what he wanted to say and what she should say, but pressed on. "I have not, but, with respect, your magic did little to protect you a year ago when a man very nearly took your life during the spring festival."

"I am aware of the risk, Captain, and I command you to remain here. Revel is not a threat to me. Nothing in the mountains is." Just then, stable master Florren appeared with Gralysningen, a cool gray fjord pony with black and white zigzag designs cut into his cropped mane and snow white legs. It had been a while since the queen had last ridden, horses were her sister's thing not her, but Gralysningen nickered happily as she swung into the saddle and took the reins. She shifted in order to get comfortable and couldn't help but feel the power of the beast under her when the fjord pony cantered sideways.

"Majesty," Sigmund pressed, grabbing the horse's bridle and holding it in place, "please, this is ill-advised. Let us handle this."

"This mess is my doing, Captain," Elsa sighed quietly, offering him a helpless smile before her queenly mask snapped in place. "My sister is acting Majesty until I return. Defer to her and Baron Kristoff. I will return shortly."

Sigmund stood helpless as the queen turned Gralysningen in the direction of the gates and spur the beast into a shockingly fast gallop. Though it had been a while, Elsa remembered how to handle him and turned him sharply towards the mountains, wind ripping at her clothes and pulling at her hair. People in the town watched, mouths agape, as their queen galloped past them. They noted the determined set of her face and her strange choice of clothing, Elsa still wore her sparring uniform from earlier that morning, reminding many of the paintings they'd seen of warrior queens riding into battle. Following the shore of the fjord in the opposite direction of the harbor and the sea beyond, Elsa spotted an opening between two docked rowboats and made a sudden decision. A crafty smile worked onto her lips as she steered Gralysningen towards the water. If the fjord pony was worried about barreling straight towards a body of water he didn't show it, picking up speed obediently when Elsa gently urged him with her heels.

"Let's see if you remember how this works," Elsa mumbled, patting the horse's wide neck and feeling a wild thrill spread across her body. The moment his hooves should have hit water, which moving at the speed they were traveling would have ended in a disastrous tumble, Elsa gripped the reins as tightly as she could and sent her magic trailing down onto the horse's hooves. Magic bloomed under him in an impressive explosion of ten-foot snowflakes, each heavy hoof beat spreading iridescent blue and white ice in every direction. Despite her situation, despite the daunting task that lay ahead of her, Elsa couldn't help but let out a triumphant laugh as Gralysningen galloped across the fjord on a bridge of iridescent ice.

In seconds horse and rider were under the cover of the forest, the queen's magic lending the big pony added speed and surer footing. Elsa knew she'd reach North Mountain in half the time it took Sven and Revel to get there, but the question was what would she say to him when she finally saw him? Their last face-to-face conversation had ended poorly, and Elsa didn't know if she had the courage to do what she knew must be done. Hunkering down, the forest flying by in a blur of silver moonlight and acrid black shadow, the Arendelle queen leaned into the wind and lost herself in the power of her steed. Gralysningen knew the way, she just had to provide the added push to get him there before her kingdom imploded into war.

Revel couldn't remember a time he'd been so sore and so cold. Well, that wasn't entirely true; his years living with the poachers after fleeing the burning of Brekemel had provided him with plenty of cold nights and sore muscles. Still, he couldn't help but wince and stifle a groan every time Sven took a sharp turn or jumped over an obstacle. Nearly ten years as a guard had strengthened him in many different ways, but that didn't mean his inner thighs and lower back weren't screaming knots of agony. And to make matters even more uncomfortable, the higher they climbed the colder it became. Revel was suddenly very thankful that Anna had forced him to don one of Kristoff's old ice harvesting outfits. Despite still being three sizes too big, the wool helped stave off the chill and kept him warm. Even the oversized hat was a blessing until it was blown off by a savagely cold gust of wind that brought with it hints of mountain frost and flurries. Hunkering low, Revel clutched the coarse fur on either side of Sven's neck.

His original plan was to ditch his guide and ride once they reached the base of North Mountain. It being April, the surrounding forest was usually thawed by now, meaning he could escape without leaving any visible footprints. Not that he was worried about Olaf and Sven tracking him even if there were. His years with the poachers and the hunting he did while off duty had taught him how to move through the forest while remaining practically invisible. However, his carefully crafted plan was derailed when they encountered the tail end of a wintery storm winding its way into the craggy peaks. Apparently, winter hadn't entirely left the countryside behind. Desperate as he was to put as much distance between himself and Arendelle, Revel wasn't a stupid man who took nature for granted. He had no provisions to speak of. The sack Anna had given him contained only a pair of his clothes, boots, a few days' worth of edible provisions and a small knife, leaving him with nothing to make a shelter with and no real weapon to defend himself. Spring was a tumultuous time in the mountains. Large predators would be waking from their slumber and searching for a quick meal. More than once, Revel had come face to face with wolves and bears while hunting and had no wish to meet either of the large animals without proper protection. As much as he hated to admit it, he was stuck on the back of the galloping reindeer until a new plan came to mind.

Three hours later he was still trying formulate that plan when he caught the first glimpse of the ice castle and all thoughts of running left his head momentarily. It was a treasure nestled in the dark crags of ugly, ancient stone; a masterpiece hidden away from the eyes of the world like a precious jewel. Revel had no earthly idea how Elsa had crafted the multi-leveled monstrosity in only a few short hours. Hell, he didn't even know if it had taken her that long, but regardless, its beauty was breathtaking. During the day, the castle somehow absorbed the rays from the sun like a sponge, light shimmering through the intricate fractals and facets like a diamond in the daylight, and later, once the sun was a memory behind the horizon, that ambient light would shine through the ice like a beacon that could be seen for miles. Purple, blue, red, pink, white, orange, lavender, and colors that had no earthly names glowed within the smooth crystalline ice, it's spires and vaulted peaks reaching up to touch the star dusted heavens above.

It took Sven another couple of minutes to climb the final few slopes snaking around the mountain, the bull reindeer knowing exactly where to tread in the knee deep snow. They passed through a tight crack between two soaring peaks, dark stone walls swallowing all light save for the snippets of stars that peeked out every now and then as the clouds rolled past. Still, the reindeer knew where to go, and so did the little snowman who hopped down just as they rounded a corner and stepped out onto a wide ledge. Revel glanced over the edge and swallowed. The drop alone was two hundred feet to the nearest ledge, but even that was uncertain in the shadows. It could be farther. Regardless, it was a lethal fall he had no wish making this particular evening.

"It's a lot less snowy up here than the last time Sven and I visited big brother," Olaf chuckled happily as he waddled towards a nondescript ripple of stone. It was near invisible in the darkness, but Revel knew there was a split in the mountain that opened to another wide ledge centered in front of the ice castle and the chasm that split the castle's foundation from the main mountain peak like a moat.

"How is this less snowy?" Revel shivered, arms crossed tightly across his chest. Even through the added wool layers he could feel the biting cold every time the wind blew, and it was blowing something fierce the closer they got to the castle and the summit of the mountain. He'd slid from the reindeer's back, desperate to work feeling back into his stiff legs and back, but regretted that decision rather quickly. The former captain sank into knee deep, bone chilling snow that bypassed his layered clothing and soaked into his oversized boots and pants legs. Revel trudged after Sven, hissing from the bitter cold and tucking his hands into his armpits for warmth. He hunched his shoulders to build heat along his core and clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering.

"Sven almost couldn't make the last trip home. We got caught in a storm and had to hide with Marshmallow," Olaf explained as he disappeared between the stones, with Sven following behind with an excited grunt as if he'd understood what Olaf was saying.

Watching them go, Revel knew this might be his only chance at escaping. If he hurried and didn't stop, he could make it back into the forest by dawn and build a shelter under a fallen tree. Once situated, he'd wait out the search parties that were surely looking for him and move off at dusk the next day. Glancing over his shoulder, Revel stared down at the snowy, winding path behind him and swallowed. He didn't doubt he'd be able to pick his way down, but there were too many unaccounted variables; the very important one being the unpredictability of the weather. North Mountain wasn't known for its kind weather. It was an inhospitable place, a cruel place, a place where humans rarely visited because of the difficulty in reaching it. Elsa had chosen the location for her palace of isolation perfectly. There was also the matter of it also being the dead of night. Revel might have been a capable hunter, but he didn't have the ability to see in the dark, and descending a mountain at night, in the snow, with no provisions or equipment would be suicide. They'd find his frozen corpse years later huddled against a boulder or smashed to pieces at the bottom of a gully.

You wouldn't have to worry about running from your brother then. Dead is dead. Revel thought to himself darkly.

But dead means you can never see Elsa again, a deeper part of himself insisted. A sharp pang of longing sliced through his chest, and he turned in the direction of Arendelle with a sad sigh. Seeing Elsa again wasn't even a possibility. The farther he was from her the better, but that didn't mean he was running willingly. Every step he took away from the kingdom that had become his home for the past decade was its own tiny war. Even at the top of one of the tallest mountains, Revel could feel the magnetic pull of Arendelle and the woman he'd given his heart to. He idly wondered what she was doing right at this second. Surely she was asleep, letting the guards handle his escape.

Fool, you know she's out there looking for you right now. She could be heading up this mountain with a contingent of guards to capture you and bring you back.

It wasn't fear that he felt at that thought but rather sadness. It had been a mistake letting the princess push him into running. Anna's heart was in the right place, but really it was just perpetuating the problem. Adrek wouldn't rest until his brother was caught, and if that meant declaring war on Arendelle and its queen, so be it. Revel knew his brother could be a ruthless man when pushed, especially when he held someone like Fritz in close company. So there was a sudden fork in the former captain's path, and he had to choose which road to take. Go back to Arendelle and turn himself in, or continue to run and hope that Adrek left Elsa and her kingdom alone. Really, there wasn't any choice in the matter for him. He would never let anything happen to his former lover. Even if she didn't feel for him in the same way, Revel would gladly give his life for her and her family.

"Hey, are you coming, cause you look really cold?"

Revel turned towards Olaf. It was still a little disconcerting spending time with an animated snowman. Of course the former captain had met Olaf in the past, he was a regular fixture in the castle and oftentimes followed Anna and Kristoff around, but he'd never had any one-on-one time with him. Truly, there was a childlike innocence to him seen whenever he smiled or laughed or even walked. Tossing a look over his shoulder at the deep depression Sven's hooves had made in the snow, Revel made his decision and followed the snowman. He'd leave at first light and return to Arendelle.

"It is rather cold," the former captain ventured as they slid through the gap in the rocks and stepped out onto the second ledge. "I hadn't expected there to be—"

Revel broke off and stared in awestruck wonder at the castle. Even at a distance it had been beautiful, but up close? Up close there weren't any words that could describe the shier wonder of it, so Revel just settled with staring in slack-jawed amazement. As a young boy, his father had taken him, Adrek, and Symon on a few of his excursions to Venice, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Within the confines of the watery city, Revel had seen architecture that could bring a tear to the eye and artwork that could render a person speechless. He'd marveled at the grandeur and beauty around him and never thought he'd ever see it's equal. Apparently all he had to do was climb a mountain to see something that made Renaissance art seem dull. Everything paled in comparison to Elsa's ice castle, and it very nearly squeezed the breath from his lungs despite this being his second time venturing to it. The first had been three years ago while accompanying Prince Hans.

The memory of that dark day lit a small fire in his blood. Had he known Hans' plot from the start, Revel would have never let him near the queen. He wouldn't have let those Weselton thugs within a hundred yards of her either. He'd known they were suspect from the start, Duke Weselton himself was a twisted old man used to getting his way, but Hans had been a complete surprise. Hans had gotten the closest to the royal sisters, had gotten the closest to taking Elsa's life on the frozen fjord. Revel remembered in great detail the battle that had ensued upon their arrival in this very spot three years ago, how the snow golem had risen out of the snow to tower above them. Ice spines spring like the quills of a porcupine across his body. Jagged fangs elongating within his mouth and his roar echoed for miles. Revel had moved on instinct and commanded his men to engage if only to give Hans an opening to chase after the Weselton brothers.

But today there was no massive twenty foot snow golem standing guard next to the arching ice bridge that connected the mountain to the castle. It was just an open area blanketed by silver snow. Olaf was moving towards the bridge with Sven in tow, yammering about something or other. Revel had tuned him out, his eyes wandering the expanse of the castle, until Olaf turned towards him and his little face lit up with a massive smile.

"Big brother, there you are! Were we supposed to play hide and seek again?"

It was then that Revel felt two things simultaneously: one was a looming presence behind him that blotted out the stars, and two was a blast of cold air washing against the back of his neck as something growled gutturally behind him. Suddenly, a hard and unmercifully cold hand closed around his waist and shoulders and hauled him off his feel as if he were nothing more than a doll. There wasn't even time to utter a startled cry, earth and sky switching places in a dizzying flip.

"Marshmallow, no!" Olaf shouted in alarm, waddling as fast as his little legs would carry him after the snow golem. "He's Sven and my friend! Don't throw him off! He's supposed to be here!"

Marshmallow either didn't hear or was choosing to ignore the snowman because he turned wordlessly towards the ice castle, his heavy steps remarkably leaving no print behind. Revel suddenly remembered Anna's story of her and Kristoff's chase from the mountain, how the golem had tried to physically throw them off, and began to struggle in the inhuman ice grip around his torso.

"Hey…hey! Put me down! I'll leave ok? Just set me down over there and—"

Revel shrank back when the golem stopped mid stride and lifted him nearer to his face, eerie hollow eyes squinted into a scowl. Unlike Olaf, there wasn't a curious intelligence in those deep pits or in the slightly lumpy, Neanderthal-ish sweep of his brow and face. Marshmallow had been created for one purpose and that was to be a sentinel, but there was still a spark of life in him and the knowledge that he had a task to complete. He was a guard, he did as he was told, and would do so until his mission was complete. This is what Revel saw and he swallowed hard because there was no reasoning with a creature like that.

"Mother-creator said you can't leave. She's coming to get you," Marshmallow rumbled, his voice an extraordinary deep baritone.

"Elsa's coming?" Olaf stopped his fufutile shoving on the golem's icy knee, and it was like a switch was thrown. Suddenly, his little face lit up, stick hands covering his mouth as he began to bounce around. "Elsa's coming! See? I told you she loves you! Oh this is perfect, now you two can be together forever!"

Not for the first time, Revel felt his blood run cold. He knew he'd been wrong to leave but had done it anyway in the thin hope that Adrek would chase him away from Arendelle. If Elsa came up the mountain to get him, how was he going to explain to her that he'd had every intention of returning? Would she believe him or would it come across as a flimsy lie meant to placate her? Would she be happy or angry to see him, and would it just be her coming and not a contingent of guards, both Arendelle and Asham?

"Olaf, get him to put me down!" Revel shouted as he continued to struggle.

"Why? He's just taking you inside," the little snowman smiled. "You'll love the ice palace, just wait!"

"I can't be here!"

"Why? This is the best place on the whole mountain! Plus, you're safest here!"

"I know, it's beautiful, but if Elsa's coming… she and I — we— Olaf please…"

Olaf made a friendly scoffing noise and pushed away with his arms. "Elsa's gonna be happy to see you. You can give each other warm hugs and stuff…though not too warm because apparently babies happen when hugs are to warm." The little snowman laughed and bounded after Marshmallow who was starting to climb the stairs arching over the ravine.

"Wait, what? She said what?"

"That's what Anna told me. Who knew a hug could be too warm."

"I…" Revel stammered, mouth falling open, all thoughts of wiggling out of Marshmallow's vicelike grip gone. He wasn't prepared to have this conversation or trail of thoughts. "Olaf, I don't think it works like that."

"Sure it does! Babies come from love, and where is there more love than in a hug?"

It was such innocent logic Revel didn't have the heart to correct him. It wasn't like Olaf would ever be in the predicament of creating children…could he? Had Elsa…?

I'm not even going to entertain that thought. Nope, we're not going down that road today.

Giving up all hope of escape and blush a free conversation, Revel went limp with a groan in the golem's hand and hung there, too tired and frustrated for words. He'd find a backdoor or something in the castle and leave that way, but for now he'd play the role of helpless prisoner….again.

Marshmallow edged open the massive double doors with his hip and scooted inside, careful not to bang the human in his grip against anything as he did. Sven and Olaf stayed behind, the latter of the two shouting that he'd wait here for Elsa. Suddenly, the little snowman seemed to remember something and called for the golem to stop. Marshmallow did and slowly turned, his face set in a deep scowl.

"I almost forgot! I brought this back to you!" Olaf grinned and shoved a tiny stick hand into his abdomen just left of his first three black coal buttons, or as far as anatomy went for a three snowball snowman, and withdrew something shinny. Revel squinted at it in the soft ambient light emanating from the castle but couldn't make out what it was. Apparently, Marshmallow knew exactly what it was because a tiny smile twisted the edges of his curvy mouth.

"It looks better on you, big brother," Olaf said happily and trotted up to the golem, gently laying a triangular gold tiara in Marshmallows only free hand. Revel stared at Elsa's old coronation crown, words escaping him, because it was absolutely the most bazar exchange he'd ever seen. She'd mentioned it had gone missing up in the mountains, but apparently that wasn't entirely the case. With a satisfied grunt, Marshmallow turned and entered the castle, the doors swinging shut with a resounding bang behind him.

"Are you going to put me down, or am I just going to hang in your hand like a sack of potatoes?" Revel sighed, letting his arms and legs flop around.

Marshmallow growled grumpily but set him down with surprising gentleness, making sure his feet were on the ground before letting go. Revel took several slippery steps away from the golem and shook himself out, adjusting his baggy clothes and sweeping his mussed hair out of his eyes. The two regarded each other for a few moments, two unhappy souls trapped in a massive ice palace.

The first thing that Revel realized once he'd gotten his bearing was that it was strangely silent within the castle walls. Silent and slightly warm. Even while walking through Arendelle castle, the sharp trill of wind rushing through gaps in the old stones or rattling the led glass windows could be heard every once in a while, and drafts were absolutely normal in some of the older parts of the structure. It was just the sounds of a palace, but none of that could be heard here in the ice castle. Despite it being at the top of a mountain where the wind was a constant, blustery companion, Revel could have heard a pin drop it was so silent. The effect was like stuffing his ears with cotton after the continuous noise of the mountain.

"Is there any chance you'd let me go?" Revel ventured, taking a stab in the dark. His voice echoed loudly around him, bounded and rebounded in the spacious chamber.

In response, Marshmallow sank into a sitting position in front of the door with a thunderous boom. Glaring, the golem took the crown Olaf had given him, surreptitiously took it between two massive ice fingers, and set it atop his head in a very regal way.

"Mother-creator said you stay," he rumbled, crossing his arms over his chest like a petulant child. "So you stay."

Sighing, Revel slung his pack over his back and turned to face the rest of the great hall behind him. Not surprisingly, it was stunning, carved entirely out of near translucent blue ice that soared dizzyingly above him. The walls, the floor, the pillars, the vaults in the ceiling, the sweeping double staircase: all of it was perfectly symmetrical and perfectly flawless. Not a crack anywhere, not a blemish or a bump to be found. It was like standing in the center of an icy cathedral, a Notre Dame built at the top of the highest mountain in the land. Revel felt a quiet reverence swirl in his chest the longer he stood in awed wonder. Truly, this was a place of peace and stillness, built for quiet moments and beautiful sunrises, and not for the first time he felt a stab of want arc through him. He wanted Elsa here with him but under different circumstances. He wanted her by his side, the two tangled together, alone and at peace, reveling in the silence and in the intimacy and warmth of their close bodies.

It's a pretty dream but one that can't come true. Not now anyway.

Carefully, because even if the floor looked like marble with massive snowflakes suspended within it was still frictionless ice, the former captain made his way towards the stairs and the chambers beyond, stopping momentarily to marvel at the frozen, three tiered fountain centered between the staircases.

It won't kill me to explore a little bit and get my bearings, Revel reasoned as he started to climb, aware that Marshmallow was watching every move he made. Surely he'd have enough time to change into whatever sensible clothing Anna had provided before the queen arrived. And maybe, if luck was on his side, he'd even think of something to say to her once she got there.

Fool, he thought gripping the cool banister, you're horrible with words when it comes to women.

Sigmund couldn't remember feeling this level of stress before. He could practically feel the ulcers forming in his turbulent stomach every time a search group approached with more grim news that they had yet to recapture Revel. The big guard was on the verge of chewing on a lump of packed ash in order to settle his stomach. It was embarrassing, it was aggravating, it spiked his blood pressure and was everything Sigmund hated about being in command and then some. For the life of him, he couldn't recall why he'd ever coveted Revel's position. There was nothing glamorous about being guard captain when your top priority was participating in a man hunt that was primarily your fault. There was nothing glamorous about getting ripped apart by visiting royalty when he demanded to know what happened and why his brother had been permitted to escape.

Permitted, Sigmund growled, his anger hot and dangerously close to the surface. It galled him to no end that the Asham king would assume that he and his men, that Queen Elsa herself, had just allowed the former captain to slip away. The big guard had to ball his meaty hands into fists and bite into his cheek until it bled in order to keep himself from smacking Adrek and that sneering little shit Fritz. The both of them were a dangerous pair and made the knife scar between Sigmund's shoulder blades tingle. Neither of them were men he'd ever turn his back to, ever.

"How inept are you that you let one man, in chains, under guard, slip through your fingers?" Adrek had seethed, face twisted and flushed a deep scarlet. "I demand to speak to the queen! Now!"

"Queen Elsa is spearheading the search herself and has named her sister Acting Majesty until she returns," Sigmund had grated out, back so stiff he was starting to cramp.

"So the queen rides off to bring back her wayward lover. How quaint," Fritz said drolly with a lazy yawn that would have felt at home in a penny opera drama. Adrek snapped a look at his champion, a silent command to shut his mouth, but the slight to the queen's name and honor had already been made, and Sigmund was spoiling for a fight. He didn't think he could straighten any taller, but he did and the fire in his eyes could have incinerated an entire armada to embers at a hundred yards.

"You may be foreign royalty, Highness," he rumbled, standing to his full height which was a good four inches taller than the king of Asham, "but this is Arendelle, and to speak ill of the queen or any member of the royal family is a jailable offence. See to it your champion keeps his tongue behind his teeth because I would have no trouble laying a fucking poker across it should he speak ill of my queen again."

Adrek, purple with rage for being talked to in such a way, did his best to defuse the situation by ordering Fritz back to the ship and offering a snarled apology to the big guard. Sigmund had nodded his acceptance but refused to leave the wharf until Adrek was back on his ship and out of the way. It took a few reluctant minutes, but eventually the Asham king returned to his quarters and Sigmund had thought the matter dropped until one of his squads reported seeing two riders leave the docks and head into the mountains along the same path the queen had taken. None of the Arendelle guards had crossed the fjord and all of the Asham guards were accounted for. So that left Sigmund with one grim possibility that pushed stomach acid into the back of his throat and made him nauseous. Adrek and Fritz knew were the queen had gone and were on their way to the ice castle.

That thought rang over and over again in his head like a chime as he ascended the staircase to the residency wing and stopped in front of the princess's door. Shaking, because he knew he'd screw things up from the start and was doing a pathetically horrible job at being captain, Sigmund mustered up his courage and knocked gently three times. A moment later the door cracked open and Baron Kristoff was there looking just as haggard and tired as the rest of them.

"Captain Sigmund," Kristoff nodded but didn't step aside or usher him into the room.

"Baron Kristoff, I apologize for the late hour."

"Please, it's not like any of us are sleeping anyway," the mountain man mumbled.

"I…very true, sir. Please, I've come to speak to her Acting Majesty, Princess Anna. It…it involves the queen," Sigmund said, fighting to keep from hanging his head.

"What'd she do this time?" Sigmund heard Anna call bitterly from the room beyond, her voice raspy. "Barricade the fjord? Maybe even sink a few ships? Wouldn't that be a travesty."

"Anna," Kristoff admonished gently and turned towards her after motioning for Sigmund to enter.

The big guard took three strides into the room and stopped at a respectful distance, fixing his eyes ahead in the usual thousand yard stare he adopted whenever speaking directly to royalty. "Your sister has departed the kingdom in search of the escaped prisoner."

"Yeah, thank you, I already knew that," Anna grumbled from her place at the foot of the bed.

"She believes Revel is hiding out in her ice palace," Sigmund frowned, unsure why the princess was being so…cold towards her sister or the situation. Glancing out of his peripheral vision, the big guard couldn't help but notice how disheveled Anna looked, and certainly couldn't miss the large bruise spreading across the princess's right cheek just under her eye. His jaw clenched so tightly his teeth ached, and he turned his burning attention towards Kristoff. Had he hit her? God help him if he had…

"Again, I already know this," Anna said, interrupting Sigmund's thoughts. "That's the only reason she'd make me Acting Majesty. Is there something new you've come to tell me, or is this just a follow up visit?"

To hell with this, Sigmund thought and dropped his rigid posture like a heavy pack from his shoulders. He turned his full attention onto the princess and let his message sink in. "Princess Anna, two riders were spotted leaving the wharf a short time after your sister rode into the mountains. I suspect that the Adrek and his champion are following the queen without her knowledge. What their intentions are, I don't know, but, speaking frankly, I can't imagine anything good can come from it. As Acting Majesty, I ask your permission to—"

"Adrek and Fritz are gone?" Anna gasped, jumping to her feet. A bright fever lit her eyes, the flames of desperate fear making the blue shine. She'd begun to shake. "Damn it, you were supposed to make sure they stayed in their ship!"

"I sincerely appolo—"

"Get Kai! Now!" Anna shouted and pointed for Sigmund to get moving, which he did at an almost run. A few moments later he returned to the princess's room with a nervous Kai at his side, but only Anna waited for them. Kristoff was gone.

"Acting Majesty, what's going—" the manservant stopped when he noticed that Anna was dressed in winter clothing complete with heavy wool cloak and fur lined boots. "Princess Anna, where are you—"

"I'm going to go get my sister," she said hurriedly, her fingers fumbling with the clasp of her cloak. Didn't that line sound familiar? "Kai, you're Acting Majesty now. Take care of things until I get back."

"But…but…" he stammered, eyes wide. "Princess Anna, you can't just—"

"I can, and I just did!" Anna snapped and made a strange gesture in the air while muttering in broken Latin. "There, everything said in Latin is official. You're Acting Majesty until I get back."

"Princess Anna, please listen to reason!" Kai shouted after her as she shoved her way past him and a gawking Sigmund and hurried towards the stairs. The captain was faster and caught up with her, baring her path with his bulk, arms spread wide.

"Princess, I was forced to watch your sister ride off into the mountains alone. I cannot let you do the same. Not while you're in your current condition. It would be too dangerous. Please, listen to your chamberlain."

"You don't understand! My sister knows, but she doesn't at the same time!" Anna shouted and attempted to push Sigmund aside, fear and adrenaline making her exceptionally strong at the moment. The big guard had to grab hold of the railing in order to keep from toppling down the stairs.

"What are you talking about?" he managed as he hauled himself upright.

"She's read the letter, but she doesn't know what Fritz said! I never got a chance to tell her. If she reveals to Adrek that she knows about it, he'll kill her! Kai, they're going to kill them both!"

Kristoff had told her about the letter he and the queen had found in Revel's room. It certainly brought some of the nagging questions she'd had about Revel's past and his flight from Asham into a clearer light, but it had done little to diminish the hurt Anna felt towards what her sister had done in the parlor. Elsa had never raised a hand to her before, so the confrontation they'd had was exceptionally jarring and hurtful. So jarring, in fact, that Anna had forgotten what she'd been meaning to tell Elsa in the first place. All that changed the minute she was told Fritz and Adrek were gone. That's when fear had gripped her so completely she feared she'd go into early labor. Fritz had told Revel in the dungeon that if Elsa really did know about the letter and the reason for Adrek's disinheritance he'd kill her, and Anna, in the chaos that had taken place after she'd sprung Revel, had completely forgotten to tell her sister about Fritz's threats. Well, the queen certainly knew about the letter, and so did Revel. What better way to be rid of two witnesses than to follow them into the seclusion of the mountains and strike without warning?

Unbidden tears welled in her eyes, and Anna was powerless to stop them from falling as she came to grips with the crushing fact that it was her fault Elsa was even heading into the mountains…again. "Please, Sigmund, they're going to kill her. She knows too much. She'll confront them…she'll—she'll challenge them, and—"

Going to his knees on the stair, which pretty much brought the exceptionally tall man eye level with the princess, Sigmund took Anna's quivering hand and bowed over it. "Princess, I swore on my life that I would protect her Majesty and her family. If what you say is true, then your sister is in grave danger. I will take a squad of my best men up the mountain and stop the King Adrek before he can strike. I swear it!"

"You're not going anywhere without me. That's an order," Anna hissed, and the matter was settled then and there. Sigmund would never defy a royal command, but he could make damn sure the princess was protected at all costs. So much to Kai's dismay, captain and princess descended the stairs and quickly made their way towards the stables where Kristoff waited. He seemed to grasp what was happening fairly quickly and nodded his thanks towards Sigmund as he helped his wife into his cart and jumped into the seat beside her.

The guard captain rallied a few of his best men and met them at the gate, mounted on a large black and gray horse. Four other mounted guards joined him, grim faced, crossbows slung over their backs and swords hanging from their hips. They nodded once to the royal party as Kristoff snapped the reigns, and fjord pony surged into motion with a tremendous jerk. In no time the party was climbing the steep trail that wound into the mountains, eventually ending at the tallest peak in the kingdom. Clinging to the foot rest in front of her, Anna hoped and even dared to pray that they weren't too late.

"Dragging me up the side of a mountain…" Elsa grumbled to herself, repeating the mantra that had become her preferred mutter of choice for the past hour. She ducked under a particularly low branch, sticky sap tacking to her fingers and forearm, and glowered at the back of her horses head as if she could find an answer in his mane. When nothing came, she huffed an irritated sigh.

It went without saying that her mood had not improved much since leaving Arendelle. Though the ride was a rush she'd not experienced in a long while it soon became a tedious climb that left both horse and rider exhausted and sore. The queen had spurred Gralysningen as hard as she dared during the first legs of her journey, but apparently she'd pushed him too hard too fast. Already he was slick with sweat and blowing steaming breaths into the air in an attempt to catch his breath. On a good day, a trek to the ice castle took a normal horse three to four hours to make. Sven could make it in two and a half to three because he was used to the terrain, but Gralysningen had remarkably made three quarters of the journey in a little over an hour, setting a new record. But at what price, Elsa didn't know. She didn't dare spur him on for fear of him collapsing.

And that only served to darken her mood. She was putting her horse and herself under unnecessary stress all because one man couldn't have enough faith in her to make things right. Did Revel know how hard she'd fought for him? Did he realize that by doing this he'd doomed himself and her kingdom in one fell swoop?

"What the hell did you think this would solve?" she growled, conjuring an image of Revel's face into her mind. "You think this endears yourself to me? You think it valiant? You think it smart? Oh yes, lets run away into the mountains at my sister's prodding because it makes so much more sense running from your problems than facing them head on."

Just like you did when you froze your kingdom, a voice whispered to her from the darkness, and not for the first time, Elsa pulled up short and spun around in her saddle. This was the second time she'd heard voices in the woods, and she was almost certain she'd heard footsteps in the trees beside her, muffled but distinct. There had even been the faint growl of something large hunkered in the shadows that accompanied the voice the first time, and she'd spurred Gralysningen into a heavy trot to put some distance between her and the predators of the forest.

Seeing nothing and sensing about the same, the queen turned hesitantly back around but was unable to shake the niggling feeling of being watched. It took a few silent minutes for her pulse to settle and her mind to catch up. Maybe she was just hearing things. Maybe it was just the wind…she doubted both explanations but couldn't come up with anything better at the moment. So she turned back to her grumblings but was unable to push aside the returned feeling of guilt that accompanied the phantom voice's taunt. Funny how three years later the roles would be reversed and it would be her and not Anna trudging up the side of a mountain in order to drag a loved one back to Arendelle.

As if I could drag him back. Clearly he wants to run, so why am I even bothering?

Because you love him, a deeper part of herself answered back matter-of-factly.

Elsa didn't know if that was the case anymore. If anything, she felt confused by the whole situation and would like to take a moment to compile her thoughts into something cohesive. She knew she was angry with Revel for running, but there was also a fair bit of hurt mixed in. He'd run without ever giving her the chance to make things right. She wasn't going to let Adrek take him away, she'd never even entertained the thought, but it seemed like he didn't have any faith in her abilities to protect him.

I thought that one of the hallmarks of loving someone was trust. Why couldn't you have just trusted me?

The same thought had crossed her mind when the queen thought back to her confrontation with Anna. Why couldn't her sister have just trusted her and given her some time to work. Didn't Anna know that she walked a tightrope every day and knew how to maneuver through the murky depths of bargaining?

Why can't anyone in my kingdom trust me?

The answer to that question wasn't one she wanted to hear, but it came to her anyway. Because for thirteen years she'd shut herself in her room and refused to come out. Three years of open rule hardly made up for the near decade and a half she remained isolated. Of course her subject, her sister, her…lover…couldn't trust her entirely. How could they put their faith in a woman they hardly knew?

I have so much to make amends for, Elsa thought sadly and slumped a little in her saddle. But her moment of grief passed and was replaced with the smoldering embers of her anger and indignation. She knew half of this was her fault, but Revel hadn't helped matters, and neither had Anna.

"Damn that man!" she shouted when her anger sparked into a sudden flame and threw out a hand to release the pent up magic swirling in her palm. The blast would have been enough to send an icy projectile through a tree or at the very least freeze it, but a concussion like a powder keg explosion rocked the area as javelins of smooth ice exploded from her hand, nearly throwing her from the saddle. Gralysningen reared, eyes rolling with fear. Elsa clung desperately to his neck, stroking him and trying her hardest to keep him from bolting. After a moment he settled, grunting and stamping unhappily but at the very least still.

"I'm sorry, Gralysningen. I'm sorry," Elsa soothed in a whisper, unable to pull her eyes away from the destruction she'd just caused. It was the ballroom during her coronation all over again. She'd uprooted at least three trees, wickedly sharp flutes of ice impaling full grown oaks and pulling them from their earthen bed. The rest of the forest beyond the wave of translucent spines was encased in jagged quills of ice that stretched away from her like splayed fingers. Even the queen's right hand was encased, ice spiraling up her forearm like a wintery gauntlet. Distantly, through the haze of her shock, she recalled the fragments of her last dream and Saja's fading words.

Pain is weakness. You have to control it, the Frost Born had shouted. But what the hell did that mean?

Was it a jab at Elsa's own mental weakness because she'd once again gotten worked up over a man, or did it have to do with physical pain? Very few things the Frost Born told her made sense anyway, her messages cryptic at the best of times. So here was yet another puzzle piece laid before her, yet another unanswered question to pile on top of the rest.

"Focus," she whispered to herself and closed her eyes. Unbidden, Revel's words drifted back to her. "Your ice is a part of you that lives and breathes alongside every aspect of your life. It's as much a part of you as your arm and leg, which means you solely control it." Funny how he still had the ability to calm her after everything that had happened.

So the queen did as he had suggested, sinking into herself and focusing on the swirling mass of arctic blue energy behind her solar plexus. It's wasn't hard to realize that her magic was as agitated as she was, bucking and tumbling like a flag in the wind. Slowly, gently, Elsa reached for it and willed it to calm, to still its writhing and be at peace. Something deep within her shifted aside, what it was she didn't know and couldn't name, but it unblocked the flow of power to her extremities and filled her with tingling energy. Opening her eyes, the queen let out an icy breath and felt her finger crust with frost. A blue ball of undulating light appeared in her turned up palm, a sure sign that everything, for the moment, was at peace.

Taking the reins again, Elsa nudged Gralysningen forward, careful not to spur him into anything heavier than a trot. The terrain was only going to get worse the higher they climbed and she wanted him rested enough to navigate through the deep snow that usually blanketed the mountains this time of year. Spring may be happening along the coast in Arendelle, but winter was almost an eternal presence in the mountains.

Half an hour later, Elsa slid from the saddle and felt the knee keep snow crust under her feet. It was one of the added benefits of her power that few people realized she had. The queen never broke the surface of any snowfall, walking atop the fragile crust of even the deepest, most powdery drifts as easily as if she were walking on a marble floor. It was an aspect of her icy abilities that she greatly appreciated as it made making journeys likes these into the mountains that much easier. Gralysningen wasn't as lucky, he was not a magic horse after all, but with the queen by his side he was able to walk atop the snow as well with a little added support on Elsa's end. Together, the two made the last legs of the journey up into the halls of dark stone and silver snow.

"For the time being, you stay here," Elsa said, patting Gralysningen warm flank after conjuring an icy overhang for him to stand under and tying off his reins. She didn't know how he'd react to Marshmallow and didn't want to take the chance of getting thrown from his back. The fjord pony nickered his thanks and nudged his mistress with his nose as she moved off to find the snow golem.

Finding him wasn't really necessary. The second she was within sight of the castle the golem, as if sensing her nearness, emerged from the castled and trudged towards her with thundering steps. Elsa stopped a little ways away from the ice bridge, remembering when she'd traversed the ravine for the first time, her power washing free of her body in a wave of almost orgasmic ecstasy. Thirteen years of back build can lead to one hell of an explosion, but thankfully she'd actually put that explosion to use and built something useful…like a multistory ice palace clinging to the face of the tallest mountain in her kingdom.

"Hello, Marshmallow," Elsa smiled warmly and put out her hands. The golem shuffled forward, his previous stoicism and grumpish attitude transforming into the uncertain shuffle of a child approaching a parent. "I'm sorry I haven't come up to see you in a while. I really am."

Marshmallow shifted from foot to foot and eventually extended two icy fingers and touched Elsa's open palms. She felt his consciousness brush against hers, the simplistic urge to protect his creator temporarily pushed aside in lieu of something that could have been akin to love. Whatever it was, it put a ball of warmth in the queen chest. Moonlight winked off of something atop the golem's head, and she smiled all the bigger.

"My tiara looks good on you. I'm glad you found it." Marshmallow made a noise somewhere between happy purr and rumbling avalanche that made Elsa's ribs vibrate. He sank down to his knees and elbows and lowered his head until he was level with the queen. "You make a very good ruler of North Mountain. The best the kingdom's seen in centuries."

Marshmallow grinned and wiggled his fingers under Elsa's palms. "Makes me like mother-creator."

"Yes it does," the queen nodded and placed a hand on his lower jaw. "Will you do me a favor? Will you stand here and keep watch? I have someone I need to speak with inside."

Without a word, the golem rose to his feet and stood tall, resuming the pose of a sentinel once again. Task given, Elsa knew he'd remain there until she returned with Revel. It wasn't that she feared him eavesdropping, she just wanted her privacy.

"Elsa!" The queen turned just in time to catch Olaf as he rushed into her hip and wrapped his stick arms around her. "I knew you'd come!"

"Hello Olaf. Fancy seeing you up here," she said scratching him on the head and giving him a mock ponderous look. "I thought you'd be down in the stables with Sven. Imagine my surprise when I discovered you'd run off to the mountains with a certain important someone."

Olaf giggled and bounced from foot-to-foot. "It's awesome fun playing hide and seek in the mountains! Marshmallow was supposed to help too but he's been watching Revel. You know, he's really a funny guy. I can see why you love him so much."

"Olaf," Elsa blinked in surprise, not expecting to hear that declaration come from him. "I really don't know—"

"And now you two can be together!" he continued as if not hearing her. "Oh, this is perfect. I told him you'd see each other again, and I was right; cause you know, I'm pretty much a love expert. Now you can have all the warm hugs you want, but remember not to make them too warm because babies happen when hugs are too warm."

At that revelation, Elsa felt her jaw drop. "Where on earth did you hear that?"

"Anna told me when I asked how she and Kristoff were having a baby," the little snowman replied with a wide smile.

"Ah…I…I see," was all she could come up with, a deep flush working up her neck and into her cheeks.

"Anyway, Sven and I are going to go visit the trolls. Bulda said she'd show us where the fire stones are hidden. See you later! Come on Sven!" With that the little snowman waddled over to a waiting Sven who bugled at Elsa happily before turning and trotting down the path. "Tell Revel bye for me when you see him!" he shouted and waved.

The queen watched him go, slowly rising out of the stupor Olaf's comment about how babies were made had thrown her into. Leave it to Anna to give him a highly exaggerated explanation. Elsa sincerely hoped he didn't take to running around Arendelle warning people about their hugging. Exhaling a deep sigh, she turned with a measurable level of reluctance towards her castle and the man waiting for her there. The massive double doors opened and closed smoothly behind her, sealing her off from the mountain and the world beyond like a stone rolling in front of a tomb.

For a brief handful of moments, Elsa allowed herself to stand in the center of her great hall, close her eyes, and just breathe. She could smell crisp, clean air, frozen water, and the faintest scent of magic. This was her sanctuary; this was her true home. Yes, Arendelle was her kingdom, which she loved dearly, but here in her ice castle, in the isolations of the mountains, she was truly at peace. Nothing could touch her here. In essence, though a part of her hated admitting it, she was the goddess of her domain, the first and the last, Alpha and Omega. This was the crowning achievement of her power and the only thing she could truly be proud of. Not many people could boast having built an ice palace at the summit of a mountain. Breathing in the cathedral-like serenity, Elsa opened herself to the magic swirling around her like an invisible vortex. Breath after breath, eyes still gently closed, she allowed her power to rise to the surface and cling to her skin like an aura, crackles and sparks of blue wonder leaping from her fingers and roll down the center of her back. Her final exhale was slow and deliberate, the weight of her worry and fear sliding off her shoulders and sinking through the floor. The effect was immediate and blissful as she was buoyed out of the boiling cauldron of mixed emotions. It honestly felt as if at any second her feet would leave the ground and she could fly.

"I'm home," Elsa whispered with a toothy smile, heat building within her chest.

The peaceful, worry-free moment ended when she looked up through the layers of glowing ice, the colors shifting between blue and pink in response to her mood, and spotted a dark shadow on the fourth floor. It moved back and forth as if pacing, shifting from one end of the room to the other. Mouth pressed into a thin line, Elsa gathered her courage and started for the stairs.

Footfalls eerily silent, she climbed past the decorative second floor where her throne room and guest chambers resided. It had been after battle with Hans and the Weselton brothers, the queen had returned to fix the damage and decided to actually add rooms and décor to her icy home, furnishing it as she saw fit. She'd moved from open area to open area, envisioning what each new room would look like and sculpting everything from the ground up. The throne room had been the last thing she touched, preferring to keep it simple because, really, there was no need for a throne while atop the mountain. She wasn't a queen here, just a woman with a swirling, snowy tempest trapped inside her. But still, some habits were hard to break, and when you're raised your entire life to be queen there are remaining stereotypes, and a throne room is just one of them.

The third and fourth floor where for her own private use and the section of the castle she'd spent the most time working on. The sizable ballroom which opened into a stunning balcony a hundred or so feet off the ground took up most of the third floor. Her bedroom, study, and observatory took up the final triangular peak of her castle. As far as she knew, Anna and Kristoff used the guest bedrooms she'd built for whenever they got a wild hair and wanted to spend some quiet time in the ice castle, but Elsa suspected her sister and brother-in-law preferred the royal suite as it had a better view of the mountain range vista and sunrise. That's where she headed via a beautiful spiral staircase just off the third floor ballroom enclosed within a cylinder of ice accented with snowflakes that swirled and danced within the ice like trapped butterflies. The stairs were wide enough three people could walk shoulder to shoulder comfortably, and she scaled them two at a time, pulse rising the closer she got to her bedroom.

The stairs opened into a small antechamber just outside the hallway in front of her room, and Elsa paused there to catch her breath and compile her thoughts. She still didn't know what the hell she was going to say to Revel. Should she be angry? Should she be happy? Should she throw caution and formality to the wind? Truthfully, she didn't know, and her indecision rankled her.

You're a queen damn it, start acting like one, she admonished, smoothing out her sparring outfit and adjusting herself accordingly. Satisfied she looked as regal as she could, Elsa squared her shoulders and walked into her room, chin held high. He's a fugitive. He ran from you, he broke the laws of your kingdom, he—

Her careful train of thought ground to an abrupt halt when she saw him standing with his back to her, the first few rays of a spectacular pink dawn just starting to warm her room with color. He was wearing a dark blue tunic, black pants and boots, and his hair was a tousled mess that bounced ever so slightly as he moved around the room admiring the queen's furnishings. Apparently, Anna had provided him with a pair of clothes after his escape, and Elsa couldn't help but notice how the fabric hugged his wide shoulders and chest. Dragging her eyes away from his body and the unexpected flare of heat that bloomed in her stomach, she stepped into the room, aware that he was muttering to himself as he stared at the fur lined, four poster bed.

"I can't believe she made all of this," he whispered, running a hand down one of the ornate posts.

"It took a lot of tries to get it right," Elsa said quietly, suppressing a smile at his complement. Revel jumped and whirled, the traction spikes along the bottom of his boots thinly scratching the ice, his eyes wide. Clearly she'd startled him, which had been her hope.

Catch him off guard and keep him on his toes.

"Elsa," he exhaled, hand over his thundering heart. "…um…hi," he offered with a lopsided, uncertain smile.

"Hello," she echoed back with a nod and felt like the biggest fool in the kingdom. Where had her royal demeanor gone? Where had the fire she'd grappled with during her ride up here gone? Suddenly she was speechless in front of the man who had run from her and her kingdom, and who had probably doomed Arendelle to war if she didn't return him to his cell.

I can't be his lover and his queen. One or the other, I have to choose, and this can't be about me.

Latching firmly onto her choice, Elsa felt steel strengthen her spine and resolution darken her features. She was a queen first and foremost. "I think you know why I'm here," she said evenly, fixing him with a piercing stare.

Revel felt whatever hope he'd cradled wither under the gravity of her stare. He'd seen the transformation; he knew he was speaking to the queen and not his Elsa. "I do," he replied quietly, body going still.

"I can't fathom how you thought this was a good idea," she began slowly, building towards the heart of the matter, "how running would make everything right."

"It was a foolish thing to do, but I had every intention of returning," he tried to reason and knew that he sounded like a coward flinching at a blow.

"Did you?" Elsa laughed mirthlessly, advancing towards him. "Really? Somehow, during your ride up here, you grew a spine and realized that what you'd done was perhaps the worst course of action to take? Forgive me for doubting you, but I think not."

"It's the truth," Revel countered, feeling a flush of warmth rise into his cheeks. Judging from the crackle and pop of the ice around him and the hard set of her jaw, he'd said the wrong thing.

"Since when have you ever told the truth?" Elsa glowered, balling her fists at her side. Yes, here was the anger, white-hot and dangerous. She reached for it, and it was like holding the tail of a thrashing dragon. "You do not get to speak about truths because everything about you is a lie. You lied to me from the beginning, you lied about who you were, you lied to me after your arrest, you lied about your father's murder, and you're lying to me now in my own home. You've manipulated everything so perfectly up until now, but the game has come to an end."

"I'm so happy you can read my mind," Revel growled, tensing. "Tell me, when did your ice grant you that power?"

"Do not mock me, Revel. Ever," Elsa warned, eyes flashing like hard chips of ice.

"Then I would suggest not accusing me of being a liar for my own sake!" he shouted and took a few steps towards her, closing the distance and stoking the fires of both their angers. "You don't know what I've been through! You don't know the horrors I've seen and the things I've lost because of the secrets I've had to carry."

"I would have if you'd just let me in! Did you think I was too weak to handle the truth? Do you think so little of me?"

"No, never, I just—"

"Well the truths out now, Revel, and I know who you are. Your brother's disinheritance letter explained everything, and all this time the only thing you had to do was just let me help you and none of this would have happened. But no, you're so used to running from your problems you figured it best if you ran from your most recent disaster and left me holding the pieces!"

"I never wanted to lie to you! I never wanted any of this to happen, but I couldn't help it. I tried warning you, I tried to keep you from prying into my past, but you just wouldn't let it go."

"How is your arrest at the Summit somehow my fault for being curious about your past? I never did any digging on you! I never had a reason to be suspicious about the man I—" she almost said loved but stopped herself, "the man who was closest to me. You set everything in motion all on your own, so don't push the blame onto me. Had you told me the truth in the beginning, I could have protected you."

"There is no protection from Adrek," Revel muttered bitterly.

"There is if you'd just let me do my job and trusted me!" There it was; the throne at the bottom of the festering wound. Elsa felt a hitch in her chest saying it out loud. Under it all, under the layers of regal propriety and obligation, under her explanations and misgivings and feelings of betrayal, the root of the hurt the queen felt towards her lover was his inability to trust her. She'd given her everything to Revel, heart and soul, and he, in return, had kept secrets. Before she could stop them, tears welled in her eyes and a painful ball swelled in the back of her throat.

"I..I wish y-you had just—" but that was as far as she got before her throat closed. Hot tears rolled from her eyes and down her cheeks, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep the building sob trapped inside.

Look at you, she scoffed at herself, crying like a damsel when her white knight turned out to be something less. How utterly Arthurian.

She didn't know long she stood in the center of her room, arm around her waist and hand over her mouth, but at some point Elsa realized there were arms wrapped around her shoulders and she was being squeezed with a desperate tightness. His scent filled her nose and she turned into his chest, burying her face in his shirt. He was murmuring something over and over again like a prayer, and it took a moment for her to realize what he was saying.

"I love you. God, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry for everything, and I love you."

Those three small, seemingly insignificant words held more power than Elsa expected they could. They worked like magic she'd never seen or experienced before. Each time he said the words it was like an incantation summoning the brightest, whitest light that engulfed them both in arms radiating a new kind of warmth. Revel strung them together like a master weaver, one atop the other, the spell growing in strength and buoying them out of the cloying darkness of anger and stinging betrayal. For the first time in a long time, Elsa felt a true note of peace hum through her like a chord being plucked, and the purest kind of music filled her. She overflowed with it and realized that it manifested in a bubbling laugh that started out small but inevitably flowed from her like a mountain spring. Slowly, she unclenched herself, snaking her arms around Revel's waist and clinging to him. The sob she'd been trying to keep trapped inside suddenly split in half and slipped past her lips as a half sob half laugh. It felt good to release the pressure, the bubble in her chest finally popping, and she sagged against the man she loved, the man she couldn't ever truly be without.

Revel leaned back and gently lifted her face into the pink light of sunrise warming the chamber. Elsa had never looked so beautiful, tears and all. Her smile broke off into another half sob half laugh that lasted only a second before his lips connected with hers, capping the stream of emotion and drawing both their bodies together like powerful magnets. He reveled in the sensation of her, in the lukewarm temperature of her cheeks under his palms, the soft brush of her hair between his fingers, the salty taste of tears on her lips, the splay of her cool fingers against his chest. Never in his wildest dream had be imagined falling in love with someone like her, but she was his and he was hers, and for the moment it seemed like the universe wasn't against them.

"I really am sorry," Revel whispered, his forehead pressed against hers, hands gently cupping her face.

"Me too," Elsa replied, resting her hands atop his. Just for this moment she wanted to close her eyes and feel him because she didn't know when she'd get the chance to be this close to her beloved again. Going back to Arendelle, they'd be facing a tidal wave of laws and demands. Elsa would be forced to stand as queen and pass judgment on the man she loved, but whatever the storm, whatever came her way, she'd fight for him until her last breath.

The universe, however, seemed to have different plans. The queen felt Marshmallow's consciousness brush against her and jerked back with a gasp, startling Revel.

"Elsa, what's wrong," he frowned.

She was seeing in double vision again and watched through her golem's eyes as two riders crested the rise. It wasn't necessary to see the sigil on their saddles, she knew who they were and felt her stomach drop through the floor.

No, I thought I had more time.

Mother-creator, two men approach. Do I engage? Marshmallow's baritone voice rumbled in her head.

"No, let them pass," Elsa replied, which only deepened Revel's concerned frown.

"What are you talking about?"

"It's Marshmallow. He…he was telling me two men are approaching on horseback."

The fear in the former captain's eyes mirrored the feeling of trepidation clawing its way through Elsa's veins. He quickly threw open the balcony doors and stepped out into the soft pink dawn that now had a tinge of red to it. Wind assaulted him from seemingly every direction, but he was able to see two small black shapes hesitantly move past Marshmallow and dismount a little ways away from the ice bridge. Adrek and Fritz stood for a moment, clearly in awe of the structure, but their gawk only lasted seconds. Adrek was the first to cross the chasm and pound heavily on the castle's door. Whirling around, Revel shut the balcony doors and leaned heavily against them, heart in his throat.

"Did you know they were following you?" he choked, unable to keep the shake from his voice.

"No, I didn't see anyone when I rode out," Elsa answered, her own voice colored with unease, pulse flying under her skin. She should have known it wouldn't be that easy.

"I have to go to them," he said in a rush, raking his hands through his hair. "I have to face him. This…this can't go on anymore."

Elsa caught his hands and held them against his chest. "You can't go to them. Adrek will kill you on sight and claim self-defense, and I can't let that happen. Please, he doesn't know you're here. Let me go down and talk to him. I can make them leave."

"No!" Revel gasped and squeezed her hands tightly. "I can't let you do that. They're dangerous, Fritz most of all. There's still so much you don't know about him. He killed my father in cold blood. Slit his throat and stabbed him six times. And that wasn't even his first murder! No, I'm not letting you near either of them."

The information was shocking but not surprising. Elsa had suspected Fritz was involved in King Gregor's murder, but Revel had confirmed it. What the former captain had seen that dark day only he could know, but she knew he wasn't exaggerating the details which didn't make the situation any better.

"But they're in my home," she pressed, looking up at him. "This is my domain, and you've taught me well. They're not going to attack me. Not here."

"I'm not letting you near them!" Suddenly, Revel's arms pulled her tightly to him in a crushing embrace. The queen could feel him trembling and squeezed back, wishing they'd had more time, that the universe wasn't such a cruel master. The dawning of this beautiful day, once drenched in love, was now soured and shadowed by fear and past sins, and it put such a sadness in her she felt the sting of fresh tears again. "I can't lose you like I lost my father…I can't watch them hurt you because that's what's going to happen. They'll hurt you to get to me."

Elsa clung to him, forcing herself to remember his musky scent and the feel of his skin against hers. It made her feel strong and gave her the boost of courage she needed. "It's okay, Revel; it's okay, I understand," she soothed, fingers stroking the length of his spine. She was happy he was preoccupied with their embrace, but it killed her all the same. When he felt the cold seal around his feet and jerked up in surprise, it was already too late. The queen moved back, hands raised apologetically, pain shinning in her cerulean eyes.

"Elsa what—what are you doing?" Revel looked down and saw ice starting to ascend his legs and began struggling in earnest. This wasn't will ice, she wasn't trapping him here, just slowing him down. Each time he broke free more would swallow his feet and lock him to the floor. "Elsa, no!"

"I'm sorry," she choked and backed away towards the chamber doors. "I'm so sorry. I can't let them know you're here. I can't let them take you away from me."

"No no no no you can't do this!" he shouted, reaching for her in desperation as he struggled to keep his balance. "Elsa you can't go to them, they'll kill you to get to me!"

"They won't do anything if they don't know you're here," she pressed still backing away.

"You know that's not true!"

The queen could feel her resolve breaking alongside her heart and whirled away. It killed her to do this, but they couldn't know she harbored a fugitive. If she could get Adrek to leave maybe she'd have a chance at…something. A plan hadn't yet formed. For the moment, the queen of Arendelle was moving solely on instinct, and she prayed to whatever would listen that she was right in her decision. Elsa calmed the ice around Revel's feet and pulled it back into herself as she stepped over the threshold. Revel, wasting no time, rushed for her but the doors slammed shut in his face, the seam between both massive pieces of ice dissolving, making it one impenetrable, three foot thick wall.

"Elsa!" he screamed in a terrified panic, pounding at the ice with both fists. "Please, don't do this! He'll kill you! Fritz will kill you! You don't know what he's capable of. Elsa, please!" He could see her watery reflection through the ice, her forehead resting against it. It wasn't clear enough to see whether or not she was crying, but the gentle shake of her shoulders told him she was. His own tears rolled free from his eyes as he mirrored her stance, forehead resting above hers, hand shadowing where hers rested on the other side. "Please," he sobbed, not caring if his tears fell or not, "please don't do this. I can't lose you too. I love you, god I love you! Please, don't go to them."

"When you say you love me," she whispered, and he could hear her despite it being muffled, "do you know how much I love you? I love you, Revel so…so much."

Revel rocked back with the shock of her words and felt his world start to collapse. During all their quiet moments and stolen seconds, Elsa had never said those three small words. Like the former captain, it shone in her eyes whenever she was close to him, but she'd refrained from speaking them aloud for fear of tying herself to something she could never have. She'd wanted to say it, the words burning her tongue like a live ember, but Elsa had swallowed them back down, saving them for a later time. Well, that time was now, and hearing them spoken with so much emotion, with so much pure honesty, nearly brought Revel to his knees and drove the air from his lungs. It also didn't help that the way she'd said it almost seemed like it was a goodbye.

And in effect it was. Elsa quickly turned away from the door and headed towards the stairs, Revel's screams and pounding echoing behind her. He was smashing himself against the wall, screaming for her to wait, to think about what she was doing, to stop, but she did none of it and headed to the first floor to usher in her uninvited guests. The queen of Arendelle wasn't a stupid woman, she knew what Adrek and Fritz were after. She just hoped that with the knowledge she had about the disinheritance letter and Gregor's murder it would be enough to make the king of Asham think twice about threatening her in her own home.

This is my turf now, Adrek. Let's see how good your footing on ice really is now that you're skating on such a thin layer.

For the First Time in Never

A Frozen Story
by JE Glass

Part 19 of 24

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