Continuing Tales

For the First Time in Never

A Frozen Story
by JE Glass

Part 24 of 24

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It was well past midnight. The castle was silent save for the sporadic rattle of led-glass windows when a gust of wind buffeted them and the occasional high pitched trill when it found a gap to squeeze through. April squalls were common on the fjord as the seasons changed and winter reluctantly surrendered to spring. Though the storm was still far out at sea and had yet to reach the coast, Elsa could feel the shift in the atmosphere as the air became charged with energy, her scalp tingling and the brand on her shoulder itching faintly. She liked to think it was the oncoming storm that sent the tendrils of quivering energy racing through her body and not the growing dread she knew was actually coursing through her veins.

It's your choice, love. I'll stand by whatever decision you decide to make.

She could hear Revel's words circulate in her mind as she walked the familiar stretch of hallway in the residency wing, the plush carpet muffling her footfalls. With each step her unease grew and with it the nauseous roll of her stomach, the lengthy shadows growing deeper and more ominous as she neared her destination. Elsa had never been afraid of the dark, years of wandering the castle by moonlight eradicating that particular fear, but tonight was different. Tonight she could feel the darkness settle in around her like a living being, hundreds of unseen eyes watching her as she made her way towards the alcove and the choice the awaited her there. Had it not been for Revel lingering behind her at a respectful distance she would have turned around and returned to her room, saving this decision for another day.

But I can't keep procrastinating. This needs to be done...

The queen reached the statue without really noticing, her feet coming to a standstill as of by their own accord. In the darkness it looked like all the other ornate furnishings in the residency wing, cold white marble made all the more cold and lifeless by the faint glow of the wall sconce behind her, features lost to the gloom. But Elsa knew it was Saint Collette and swallowed hard around the lump in her throat, hands tightening around the herb bundle clutched to her chest.

All I have to do is leave the bundle with her. That's what the legend says…leave it and…

Her left hand slid down the front of her dress, fingers splayed over her abdomen searching for hints of life she logically knew wouldn't yet be there. She'd only just discovered the news three days ago, so the baby couldn't be any more than a handful of weeks along, a month and a half at most.

Her sister had been with her when Brynja was summoned to the queen's quarters earlier that week. Revel was with Sigmund that morning, helping the big guard catalog the winter storehouses and take stock of what was still needed. Elsa thought she'd been battling a persistent flu bug that had stolen her appetite and left her nauseous enough throughout the day to cancel most of her meetings. She'd also been more fatigued recently, her usual amount of sleep unable to satisfy her body's sudden need for rest. Though colds and flus weren't all that uncommon in the castle, Elsa rarely became ill, so the idea she had come down with a sickness was a curious matter.

Brynja had gone through her usual examination: checking the queen for fever and asking her a myriad of different questions in order to better determine what was ailing her. No one in the castle had been sick recently, and Elsa didn't recall coming into contact with any ill visitors to the palace or during her walks through town.

"Illnesses are strange like that, Majesty. They can ride the wind very easily." It wasn't until Elsa had mentioned the addition of tenderness in her chest and breasts and sudden sharpening of her sense of smell that Brynja jerked to a stop while rummaging around in her medicine bag and raised her head, eyes wide. Anna, who'd been half-listening from Elsa's writing desk, suddenly looked up with a gasp.

"Have you noticed spotting between your normal bleeds?" the Physician inquired, brow furrowed.

"You know I'm irregular," Elsa sighed, cheeks coloring a bit. She disliked speaking about personal matters that pertained to the strange way her body cycled itself. Unlike her sister, Elsa had never had regular monthly bleeds, her body sometimes skipping entire months at a time while Anna was like clockwork.

"Regardless, this would be something you'd recognize as strange."

"I don't know…maybe? What does that—"

"Pregnancy," Brynja interrupted, and the very word was like a stone falling into a tranquil pond. Elsa felt the room around her grow shockingly warm, dizziness threatening to pull her off the bed.

Oh look at me, I'm swooning. How proper.

She maintained her white knuckle grip on one of the bed posts, ears buzzing. "What…what did you say?" she whispered.

"I believe you are with child, Queen Elsa," the Physician confirmed with a nod, fighting to keep the grin from spreading across her face. "What you've just described to me are all common symptoms of early pregnancy. In my professional opinion, since there are no outward signs yet, you are only a few weeks along."

"I…I…" Suddenly whatever she was about to say dried up on her tongue and she was left mute. Brynja continued to explain the process to the queen, detailing a list of symptoms and changes she'd soon start feeling. She mixed up a quick tonic that would take care of Elsa's nausea but ordered her to more rest in the evenings while refraining from doing any 'strenuous activities'. Though it wasn't common knowledge to the castle staff— really, only Anna, Kristoff, and Brynja knew— Elsa and Revel had continued their training sessions as a way to unwind while keeping them both in top form. The events atop North Mountain with Adrek and Fritz had only fueled the queen's desire to make certain she could continue to protect herself and her family should anything like that ever happen again…though God willing it never would.

"When did you stop taking the tea?" Anna asked once Brynja had taken her leave, sliding next to her shell-shocked sister and taking her hand.

"I really don't remember," Elsa admitted in a small voice after rediscovering her ability to speak again. Ever since last year's Trade Summit and the events that unfolded over that fateful weekend, the queen had been busy juggling a tight schedule made all the tighter when she'd begun planning her wedding some months later. She'd decided to forego a Trade Summit that following year in lieu of her wedding being only a month beforehand, instead focusing her attention on the six or seven new trade partners that had come about after making arrangements with Revel's brother, King Symon. Because of the drama of the previous year's Summit, and the crowning of a new king in Asham, Arendelle had become a much talked about topic amongst other kingdoms, temporarily swinging into the public eye. Elsa couldn't say she wasn't grateful for the influx of attention towards her small kingdom, but it did add on layers of pressure and stress for her to maintain a strong hold on goods trafficking while bartering new trade agreements along with maintaining others. So, needless to say, when she retired for the evening with her husband by her side, whether or not anything physical happened that night, the last thing on the queen's mind was making sure to take her dose of no-accidental-baby-tea.

"Are you going to tell him?

The strangeness of her sister's question snapped Elsa out of the chaotic tumble of her mind and brought her back to the present. "No," she deadpanned, giving Anna an amused look, "I thought I'd just keep it a secret until I went into labor."

"Okay…that came out wrong," the princess admitted with a slight wince that tapered off into a comforting smile when she saw fear cloud her sister's eyes. "You know, for once I can tell you, I know what you're feeling right now."

"How am I going to do this? How am I going to raise a child? I was scared enough for you when you told me you were pregnant, but this…" she trailed off and set a trembling hand against her abdomen, suddenly aware that growing within her was a little life that would, in nine short months, makes itself known to the world.

"I know you're scared."

"Scared doesn't begin to describe it. I'm terrified, Anna. There was a good chance your twins would be born with my powers because you're my sister, but my child will most likely be born like me."

"Is that such a bad thing?" Anna frowned, squeezing Elsa's hands. "Would it be so horrible if your child was like you? Are you really that terrible a person?"

"No, but I'm—"

"Exactly, it wouldn't matter. You wouldn't love it any more or less if it was born with ice powers, just like you wouldn't have cared if my children had powers or not. Elsa, powers don't make the person; you know that."

The queen felt herself deflate and laid her head on her sister's shoulder. They were quiet for a long time, younger sister holding older sister, the two lost in personal thoughts. Eventually Anna said quietly, "You know if you're worried about your little one being born with powers you can always keep up the tradition like I did. If what you've told me about Saja is true, you can make certain your baby is born without powers."

Elsa felt her pulse quicken as realization of what Anna was alluding to finally settled on her. "I can't make a decision like that without talking to Revel first."

"You do have a fair point there," Anna admitted. "Do you want me to go get him so the two of you can talk?"

"No, I'll go," she said, sliding off the bed but turned to Anna before her sister could move. "No matter what choice I make, you'll be right beside me…right?"

The uncertainty in her sister's voice made Anna pull up short. There had only been a few times in recent memory where Elsa had bared her soul to her sister, her usual calm mask pulled aside allowing the princess a glimpse at the unsure, and at times scared, young woman beneath her deceptively tranquil exterior. This was one of those moments, and Anna felt a wave of warmth crash over her as she slid off the bed and wrapped Elsa in a crushing hug, determined to push all the confidence and love she had into her older sister.

"I'll never leave your side. We'll do this together, you and me, I promise," she whispered and felt Elsa sag with relief. When she pulled back the queen was whipping away grateful tears.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," she said, planting a gentle kiss on Elsa's cool forehead and walking her to the stairs. They parted ways, Anna going to find Kristoff so she could deliver the news while Elsa descended the spiral staircase and headed towards the royal storehouse after inquiring her husband's whereabouts from a passing guard. She'd barely gotten through the east servants' entrance right off the kitchens, the one closest to the storehouse, when Revel swung around the corner. He saw his wife and jogged towards her, concern etched into every line of his face.

"Elsa, what's wrong?" he asked worriedly, taking her face in his wind-chapped hands, his eyes sweeping over her body as if searching for some unseen problem.

The queen frowned up at him, unsure why he seemed so agitated. "I'm fine, love. Why?"

"I felt…something a few minutes ago," he struggled to explain.

"You felt something?"

"On my mark. I don't know how to describe it, but it was like the feeling you get when looking over the side of a high cliff. It was just for an instant, but then the mark started buzzing. When my thoughts turned to you it started burning, so I thought something was wrong. Are you alright?"

Suddenly, Elsa understood what had happened, and it was both curious and unsettling. Since their time in the troll territory, the queen and her husband had been exploring the depth of their physical connection through their brands. Saja had helped to explain things as best she could, but even the first Frost Born wasn't familiar with all the intricacies of the marriage between ice and troll magic. She surmised that there might be aspects of the connection she couldn't explain which seemed to be the case as time wore on. It was usually only strong emotion that triggered the connection to flare, but sometimes, on rare occasions, certain thoughts, actions or decisions triggered the marks in strange ways.

"It's kind of like we're being guided by something," he'd observed after the first few times the marks had flared.

"But by what is the better question," Elsa retorted, unsettled by the idea.

"Maybe our own intuition? Maybe this is a subconscious thing? We're somehow tapping into each other and acting as a guide?"

Elsa hadn't been wholly certain of anything and let the matter drop, determined to find out what was happening after things settled down. So when Revel had said he'd felt something come through his mark, Elsa knew immediately he'd been feeling her reaction to Brynja's prognosis.

"I'm…something," Elsa admitted and removed his hands from her face but was unable to keep hers from shaking. Her husband felt the tremble, and his frown deepened.

"Elsa?" he gasped when he saw silvery tears sliding down her cheeks. "Love, you're scarring me. What's wrong?"

Unable to trust her voice, she took his hands and gently placed them against her stomach, covering his hands with hers and holding them there. It took him a minute to realize what she was trying to tell him, and when he did the air rushed from his lungs at the same time his body flooded with a potent mixture of shock and joy.

"Oh my god," he breathed, voice barely above a whisper. "I'm… is it—are you—I'm going to be a father?"

She barely nodded, but Revel's searching eyes caught the movement and he let out a choked laugh. Seeing ecstatic elation overtake the shock on her beloved's face, Elsa suddenly felt the heavy blanket of dread and fear slide from her shoulders, turning her frightened tears into tears of joy. Her second nod sent him to his knees, amazement shinning in his green eyes. She broke into a giddy laugh of her own that seemed to have no end, tears still streaming down her face as she ran her fingers through her husband's wavy hair.

Arms sliding around her waist, Revel rested his forehead against her abdomen, his smile so wide it physically hurt. "Hello in there, little one. It's nice to meet you."

"It can't hear you," Elsa said softly.

"I bet it can." He was one his feet in an instant, pulling his wife into a powerful hug that broke off into a string of near frenzied kisses as their laughter and elation grew by the moment. Any second now, Revel felt as if he'd lose his footing on the earth and fly out into space had he not been holding onto his beloved.

It wasn't until much later that evening after a dinner full of excited chattering, most of it coming from Anna, that Elsa finally broached the subject she'd been dreading since the news of her pregnancy broke earlier that afternoon. She and Revel lay together on their bed, the latter settled between his wife's legs with his head on her leg, idly trailing his fingers over her soft skin. It was an unseasonably warm April evening, and Revel had unlatched the window and pushed it open, a gentle breeze lifting the gossamer curtains and filling the room with the sweet scent of blooming flowers and sea salt. He'd been humming quietly to her stomach most of the evening, allowing Elsa time to figure out a way to broach a subject that both terrified and shamed her. Finally, the dreaded anticipation became too much to bear, and she broke her silence.

"Revel, we need to talk about something," she said very quietly, winding her fingers through his hair.

"You don't need to worry," Revel replied lazily. "If it's a girl we'll name her Eira, which by the way is a beautiful choice, and if it's a boy we'll name him my choice, which is Hagan."

"That's…not what I was talking about," the queen said, frowning a little. This seemed to rouse her husband some, and he raised his head while giving her a confused look.

"What's on your mind, love?"

Elsa was quiet for so long Revel wondered if she'd gotten lost in her head again and hadn't heard him, but eventually she said, "What if the baby is like me?"

"I'm sure it'll take after the both of us. I mean, I don't know if you've looked in the mirror recently, but we're fairly good looking people; so regardless of who it takes after, our child will be shockingly beautiful," Revel jested with a wide grin.

"No, you're missing my point," Elsa sighed and closed her eyes, fighting the spike in her irritation. "What if it's like me?" She punctuated her last word by slightly icing Revel's hair causing him to jump and gasp.

"Alright, I see your point. So…what if it is like you? What of it?"

"If our child has ice powers—"

"Then it will have ice powers. Where's the harm?"

Elsa stared down at him, unsure if she should be outraged or perturbed by his flippant attitude. "Have you forgotten what happened to me because I had powers? What I had to go through for most of my life because I was different?"

Sitting up fully, Revel folded his legs under him, face suddenly serious. "Love, what happened to you was because of your parents' doing. Yes," he said, holding up a finger to forestall her interjection, "you put yourself into self-imposed isolation because you hurt Anna while playing as children, but you were also not taught to accept your powers as a natural part of your person. That right there is the difference. Should our child be born with powers, they will not be loved any more or less. They will be taught to accept their gifts, and you will teach them how to control it. You will right the mistakes made by your parents, and I'll be by your side through it all. We all will."

"I don't just fear for our family, Revel, I'm also afraid of how my kingdom will take to having yet another…freak on their hands," Elsa bit out, closing her hands into fists.

"You are not a freak," Revel urged, lifting her chin with his hand. "You're different and that makes you special, just like it'll make our child special."

"But what if there was a way to make certain the baby was born normal?"

There it was, the root of the matter, and Elsa blanched after broaching the subject, unsure how her husband would react. Revel leaned back and blinked, digesting the question and clearly taking his time deciding on an answer.

"You're talking about that superstitious tradition Anna did with the statue, right?" he eventually asked, speaking slowly.

"It's more than just superstition," Elsa said a little too tersely. "Saja confirmed its how all my ancestors born after her son Reinn were born without powers. It's a way for the curse to skip a generation, and had my mother gone through with it, I wouldn't have been born with powers."

"Shouldn't it be our child's decision whether they have powers or not? Isn't it a little unfair to strip their heritage from them?"

"If it protects them, yes."

"That's the same mindset your parents had about you, and look what good it did." Revel argued, knowing that his words would anger her but needing to voice them aloud.

Elsa felt her cheeks color, pulse leaping into her throat, irritation flaring into sudden anger. "Well maybe my parent's had the right idea! They didn't want anyone to hurt me, or vice versa, so they kept me away from the public until I could control my power!"

"But you never learned, Elsa. You hid from the world. Is that what you want our child to do?

"I can't put our baby at risk because of something it can't control! I was fortunate my kingdom didn't want to burn me at the stake for being what I am, but there's no guarantee Arendelle will want another person with ice magic living within its borders. What if we can't protect our child? What if something happens like what happened to Saja's children? Revel, I can't stomach the idea of someone attacking my family or my children just because we're born different. I can't bury—"

She suddenly choked on her words, unable to say the rest, unable to even bring herself to think it. Should anything happen to her children, or her sister's children for that matter, because of her, Elsa knew she'd never forgive herself. Her mind kept flashing back to the dream memory she'd had while in the troll territory, Saja hunched over three little shrouded forms, sobbing herself into exhaustion. Hand over her mouth, Elsa fought back the sobs working to escape her throat, aware Revel had pulled her against his chest and was gently shushing her, stroking her head with soft hands.

"Elsa, if this is bothers you so much go ahead with the tradition. Ultimately it's up to you because it's your body, but I'll support any decision you make. I just want our baby to be whole and healthy, that's all. Whether or not they have powers means nothing to me so long as they have ten fingers and toes."

Unable to speak, Elsa simply nodded her head and remained wrapped in her husband's arms, scared beyond belief when she knew she should be celebrating. With her the Frosberg line would continue, her child becoming the next ruling monarch after her death. In this she should have found peace, but all Elsa felt was fear.

If Saja couldn't protect her children, how can I hope to protect mine?

That dark thought followed her into eventual sleep and dogged her for the next three days until she'd finally worked up the courage to gather the necessary herbs and make the short trek to the Saint's statue in the residency wing. And that was where she found herself, staring at the cold marble statue with herb bundle in hand, trembling from head to foot. She knew the legend surrounding this seemingly absurd tradition by heart: knew all she had to do was leave the bundle with the statue, kiss its feet, and the child slowly growing in her womb would be born without powers.

All you have to do is plant the bundle and walk away, she told herself numerous times, walking through the motions in her mind. Just set it behind her, kiss her feet, and go back to your room. That's it.

Hands shaking so violently she feared she'd drop her bundle, Elsa stepped up to the statue. Strangely, she couldn't feel anything coming from her brand like she thought she would; Saja's connection either extremely weak at the moment or her ancestor was watching the events unfold, knowing her voice wouldn't make a difference in the queen's decision.

I have to think about my child. I have to think about my kingdom. I have to do what's right. I have to—

"I can't do this," Elsa gasped as if emerging from a trance and jumped away from the statue. Shaking her head, she blinked away her unshed tears. "I can't make this decision because it's the easiest choice."

Warmth suddenly bloomed in her chest, and she felt strength returning to her limbs as fear was quickly burned away under the powerful heat of conviction. Standing straighter, regal posture returning, she stared hard at the statue, imagining all the women who had come to this hallway over the years, leaving offerings and silent prayers, pleading for their children to be born normal. To be born without mistakes.

"I am not a mistake," the queen declared fiercely, ice crusting her fingernails and swallowing the bundle. "My birth wasn't a bad omen, and my powers aren't a curse. I am Frost Born, the first in four hundred years, and I will not forsake my heritage."

A loud crack came from her hand as the bundle shattered, Elsa grinding the herbs to crystalline mist and letting them slip between her fingers like granules of sand that glittered in the weak lamplight as they fell to the floor. She felt Revel step behind her, his long arms winding around her waist, hands resting over her abdomen while his head rested on her shoulder.

"Are you sure?" he asked quietly, solemn severity in his low voice.

"I've never been surer in my life," Elsa replied and rested her hands atop his, leaning back and closing her eyes.

"I love you," he murmured after pressing a kiss against her neck.

"And I love you," she smiled, turning so that she was facing his chest. "Tell me something honestly," Elsa said after a long stretch of silence. "Would you miss this statue if I chose to be rid of it?"

"Can't say that I would," Revel replied with a chuckle. "Why? What did you have in mind?"

"I was thinking about commissioning one of my master masons to carve a statue of Saja that we could display here in the castle."

"I think that's a wonderful idea, though I have a feeling they'll wonder why you're commissioning a statue of a woman who looks just like you." He couldn't keep the grin from his face as they made their way back towards their room, a significant weight lifted from their shoulders.

"I'm just conceited like that," Elsa laughed with a wave of the hand.

"Well regardless of your shortcomings," Revel grinned and danced away from a swat meant for his arm, "I'm sure Saja will appreciate having her likeness placed in the castle."

"Maybe she'll start haunting other people instead of just me."

"She's fond of mirrors, isn't she? Why not put one across the hall from the statue so she can see herself?"

"You're horrible," Elsa giggled, playfully pushing Revel away.

"And you're gorgeous," he said, catching her hand and brushing a kiss atop her knuckles. "Have I told you that today?"

"Many times."

"Well, I feel the need to repeat myself," he rumbled, pulling her into a deep kiss that left his wife blushing around her ears and breathless as he broke away and continued to lay down a line of kisses along her jaw and neck.

"You know, you've already gotten me pregnant," Elsa whispered, unable to keep her flush from spreading across her chest and face or the trembling from her body.

"Have I now?" he grinned devilishly, opening their room door once they reached it and closing it firmly behind them, using the key to secure it and staring at his wife with predatory eyes. "And when will I get to meet this child of mine?"

"In nine short months, I would hope."

"Well, I guess we'll just have to keep ourselves occupied until then won't we?"

Elsa saw the gleam in his eyes and knew she was in for an eventful and inherently sleepless night, a thrill arcing through her body as her husband swept her off her feet and carried her towards their bed. Together in each other's arms, they explored already familiar terrain, marveling at the love and passion they shared for the other and riding the wave of pleasure and happiness well into the wee hours of the morning until exhaustion took root and they collapsed into blissful sleep.

And indeed nine months later, two days after the start of the new year, a new life was brought into a world thrown into chaos. The wind was howling like a savage beast, throwing itself against the castle and threatening to break the glass in the windows with its ferocity. The blizzard was the worst on record for normal January storms: ice, wind, and snow screaming in from the mountains and whiting out the countryside, burying Arendelle under so much snow no amount of shoveling or sweeping could keep it from piling into waist-high drifts. Townsfolk huddled in their homes desperately stoking their fires as the storm raged, unaware of what was unfolding in the castle.

The queen had gone into labor earlier the previous day before the storm had swept in from the mountains and broken over her kingdom. At first she'd been able to bear the pain with a quivering kind of dignity, but that was soon abandoned as the contractions intensified and the weather took a sudden turn. Body braced against the pain, Elsa struggled to breathe as she clung to her husband's hand, knuckles white and sweat starting to bead along her hairline. Revel had been prepared to remain by her side through it all, but at some point in the evening Brynja pulled him aside and asked him to leave. Of course he'd flat-out refused, but the royal Physician wasn't having any of it.

"Men think that by staying next to their wives during this process it somehow helps and eases their mind, but it does the exact opposite. Elsa needs to focus on delivering the baby, but her attention is split between her body and you. If you want your wife to deliver your child without complication, you will leave and let me and my apprentices do our jobs."

Revel had been on the verge of another heated refusal that would have undoubtedly escalated into something far more physical had Anna and Kristoff not been there to step between the two.

"You need to let her do her job," Anna said, gently echoing Brynja's words as the Physician locked the door behind her.

"I don't care what that woman believes; I can't just leave Elsa in there to do this on her own!" Revel raged, fighting to keep calm. The last thing they needed was him flying off the handle, but what was he supposed to do while stranded in the hallway while listening to his wife's muffled cries?

"It's better you're not in there, trust me. After Kristoff left I was able to deliver Jorg and Thea much easier," Anna smiled, putting a reassuring hand on Revel's shoulder.

"Elsa's not you," the king consort snapped and regretted his tone. He knew his temper was ultimately the direct result of his fear of uncertainty and the feeling of helplessness. Anna, however, seemed unperturbed by it.

"You're right, she's not. But I am her sister, and we do share some similarities."

Unwilling to press his argument, Revel began pacing the empty hallway like a caged animal, listening to the storm as it continued to slam into the castle. He went to the closest window and squinted through the dark panes of glass, watching the snow quickly accumulate along the outer sill as it blew at a near horizontal angle.

"I've not seen a storm like this since the Great Freeze," Kristoff commented in an attempt to break the fragile silence. Despite the misgivings he still harbored towards the former captain turned king consort, he understood how Revel was feeling and could at least sympathize with him. Having to wait outside for Anna to give birth had been agonizing.

"It just came on all of a sudden, and it sounds like a bad one." Revel couldn't help but wonder if this was Elsa's doing or if it was just a coincidence a whiteout blizzard hit on the night of his child's birth. After all he'd been through Revel was inclined to believe that there were no such things as coincidences.

Reaching out, he placed his fingertips against the window and felt the cold bite into his flesh as the glass shuddered and bucked in its pane as if the wind were trying to shatter the glass so it could invade the castle. A bloom of frost worked across the window as another muffled cry arose from the royal bedchambers, leading him to suspect that there was indeed something supernatural about the storm. The trio waited anxiously in the hall for another half hour before one final agonized cry drifted through the hall, its echo lingering for an unnatural stretch of time. It seemed to go on for eternity, branding itself into Revel's mind, frozen fingers closing around his heart. When it finally faded the silence was as tangible as it was absolute. All three royals realized with a jolt of shock that not only had the queen fallen silent but the storm had as well like the world had ground to a halt, taking all the sounds in life and nature with it. Then a single, tiny wail, sharp in the beginning but softening as it slowly diminished, drifted down the hallway, shattering the unnatural calm into thousands of pieces.

The brand on Revel's chest suddenly flared with such intense heat he audibly gasped and pressed the heel of his palm against the mark. Knees buckling, he would have toppled over had he not grabbed ahold of the windowsill at the same time Kristoff grabbed his arm and pulled him upright. Panic descended upon him since his brand never flared like that, causing Revel to turn and stumble back towards the door. He was about to throw himself against it when one of the apprentices yanked it open, ice snapping as she did. A wave of cold rolled from the room, raising goosebumps along Revel's arms and jerking him to an abrupt stop.

"Elsa," he panted, fingers clutching his chest, "is she—"

"See for yourself," the woman interrupted, rubbing her hands together and blowing on them in order to breathe warmth back into her skin.

Revel stepped past her and the line of apprentices leaving the room and pulled up short when he saw the snowflake spreading along the wall behind his and Elsa's bed, reaching fingers of ice continuing to snap and pop as they settled in place. His wife had been propped up against the headboard with dozens of pillows, holding a small wrapped bundle against her chest as Brynja threw a bundle of logs into the fireplace, hungry flames quickly consuming the dry wood and forcing warmth back into the freezing room. The Physician smiled tiredly at him as he approached the queen, breath turning to vapor around his head. Elsa looked haggard and exhausted; her face more pale than usual causing the dark circles under her eyes to stand in stark contrast to her porcelain skin. Her hair was a sweaty, disheveled mess that stuck out in a tangled snarl much like Anna's did, and Revel thought she never looked more beautiful. Brynja reached the queen before Revel did, gently patting her cheek in order to wake her. Elsa slowly cracked open her eyes and leveled them on the Physician who leaned down to whisper something into her ear. The queen turned her head and smiled tiredly at her husband, her eyes starting to return to their natural cerulean blue from the static white they'd glowed at the moment of birth.

"Hey," she managed in a small voice; exhaustion mixed with the numbing tea Brynja had given her making it difficult to string a proper sentence together.

He hadn't planned on saying anything witty, now wasn't the time for jest, but whatever words Revel had started to say suddenly dried up on his tongue as he closed the distance and crawled onto the bed next to his wife, staring at the child in her arms, sleepy little face turned towards its mother. Revel noticed in the warm glow of the crackling fire and the bedside lamp that the baby already had a few strands of pure white hair growing from its pink, wrinkly scalp. After a moment his shock abated some and he could speak once more.

"Is…is it a—"

"Hagan," Elsa whispered and shifted her son so that Revel could see him better. Hands shaking, he reached out to touch his child— his son— unsure when the tears had started falling from his eyes but uncaring either way.

"Hello, Hagan," he greeted in a quivering voice, curling around his wife and child, unable to stop from touching them both. It was unclear whether it had been Revel's voice or touch that had done it, but little Hagan grunted and scrunched up his face, tiny eyes cracking open as he shifted in his mother's arms. Even in the dim light, Revel could tell his son had his mother's eyes due to their unnatural brightness. Hagan's little mouth formed a perfect "O" as he broke into a wide yawn before settling back to sleep.

"He's perfect," Revel whispered, planting a gentle kiss against Elsa's temple after grabbing the tangled blankets at their feet and pulling them over his wife's bare legs. Immune to the cold or not, he wanted her as comfortable as possible.

"He is," she replied sleepily, stroking Hagan's chubby pink cheek with a cool finger.

"And so are you," he finished, fighting the urge to pull her against his chest.

Anna and Kristoff entered the room a few moments later, the latter carrying a small pouch the Physician had given him to give Revel with instructions what she'd be back in a few hours to check on the queen. They stayed with the two for a little while until exhaustion finally claimed the queen and she fell into a restful sleep beside her husband. Kristoff pulled his wife away and bid them goodnight, leaving Revel alone with his sleeping wife and child. Unwilling to disturb either, he pulled Elsa close and spent a few more minutes staring at the life they had created, unable to find a place inside himself that could contain his happiness. Finally, after so many years of running and searching, he'd found true happiness in a young queen gifted with ice powers and the child they'd made together settled contently in his mother's arms.

"Hagan," he said quietly, stroking the newborn's brow with gentle fingers. "Welcome to the world."

Bishop Arren hurried towards the door and whoever was pounding on the iron-studded wood, grumbling under his breath as he walked down the dark aisle flanked on either side by lines of warm-wood pews. Throwing the latch, he was forced to brace himself against the door as the howling wind pushed against him, stinging snow and ice assaulting his face and making him wince. Squinting through the squall, he waved the messenger in, the man shaking snow from his heavy cloak and stamping ice crystals from his boots and cloak hem.

"What's the trouble, my good sir? Why are you out in this ungodly storm?"

"I was told to bring you word, Holiness. Queen Elsa has gone into labor, and the Physician believes the child will be born before morning."

"God be praised," Arren smiled and lifted his rosary to his lips. "I will be certain to pay the queen a visit first thing in the morning. Thank you, sir. I would urge you to stay, but I know you have duties to attend to."

"Indeed, Holiness. I must return to my post immediately."

"Then may God bless your return to the palace, but be quick about it. This is a deadly storm and not one to be caught in."

"Sound advice, Holiness. I'll be on my way then." The castle guard nodded once before replacing his snow-dusted hood and pulled open the door, snow choke wind swirling around the two, dusting the marble floor with a layer of white powder. Eager to return to his quarters just off the main chapel and the warmth of his fireplace, Arren forced the door closed and groped for the latch, sliding it shut and securing the door. Despite his warm cloak and clothes, the cold still bit through the thick wool, chilling him to the bone and making him silently curse the unpredictability of the weather.

The storm had been a troublesome turn of events, driving many of the townsfolk from Mass earlier that evening as it bore down on the kingdom with an almost vengeful fury. Arren had been forced to close the cathedral in the center of town, urging those who lingered to light candles and pray to return home with haste lest they find themselves stranded in the blizzard. The bishop himself had lingered in the cathedral for quite some time, either bent in prayer over a cluster of squat candles glowing from within colored holders or copying notes for his next sermon. When it had become apparent no one else would come calling, he'd retired to his quarters but was awakened a few hours later by the messenger pounding on the large double doors.

Awake more than he'd like to be at such an early hour, Arren decided a few more prayers couldn't hurt matters. This was the queen's first birthing after all, and she'd need all the prayer she could get. Turning away from the rattling door, the wind still battering against it, the bishop made his way towards the semicircular apse at the back of the chancel where the candles were arranged under the feet of a modest crucifix. He made it past the last set of pews in the aisle and was about to mount the three shallow steps to the apse when he heard the doors loudly shudder once before creaking open, cold hinges squealing in the pitch black darkness.

"Hello?" he called, turning to squint down the aisle, brow scrunched in puzzlement. He was more than certain he'd locked the door. "Is someone there?"

When no one answered him save for the howling wind, Arren sighed irritably and began making his way back to the doors but froze when a new sound reached his ears. At first he thought it was just his imagination or perhaps just the strange noises that oftentimes accompanied powerful storms, but the more he listened the more it became apparent that the low growling wasn't just the wind blowing through cracks in the stone. Both perplexed and a little frightened, Arren edged towards the altar, old eyes searching the blackness that swallowed much of the stone structure. The covered wall sconces behind him provided just enough light to illuminate the apse but nothing more. He could hear a faint hissing and crackling sound like spreading ice moving towards him, the already chilled room growing colder by the second until he could very easily see his breath. The hairs on the back of his neck and arms suddenly prickled, Arren's body becoming aware that there was a presence with him in the cathedral.

"Whoever you are, show yourself!" he demanded in as commanding a voice as possible, clutching his rosary fiercely tight. When the growling grew in pitch he summoned his courage and stepped forward, facing the darkness head on. "In the name of Christ, I demand you show yourself!"

Out of the darkness the wolf emerged, shadows clinging to its body like strained vines, head lowered and teeth bared. It was far larger than any natural lupine animal, its shoulders taller than the pews that flanked it on either side. Arren felt his heart leap into his throat as the creature neared, slipping from the cloying, clinging shadows like a demon, ice spreading out across the floor wherever it set its massive hand-size paw. But if the presence of the unnatural beast wasn't enough to scared the bishop, the fact that it was made entirely out of glittering blue ice put such a seizing fear in Arren's chest he feared he'd stop breathing.

Mind whirling, he backed away from the beast and bumped into the altar behind him, jarring the contents of the table. Distantly he remembered he'd left the decanter of holy water he always kept on hand for quick blessings on the altar and sent up a grateful prayer. Spinning, he snatched the small, tin decanter and preparing to douse the unholy creature when a hand suddenly materialized out of seemingly thin air and caught his forearm. The bishop felt his legs turn to jelly at the same moment his world came crashing down around his ears as he stared up at the woman before him, the cold rolling off her naked body almost painful to be near. She was a good head and a half taller than he was, and her grip was powerful enough to shatter bones into dust.

"Holy water," Snaer said in an eerily harmonic voice, a wide, humorless grin stretching across her angular face, "cannot help you now."

Arren's jaw fell open with shock, his mind slow to process what was happening. Behind the woman the wolf remained, body still poised to pounce should the command be given, four inch long fangs glinting in the dim light. Snare proceeded to squeeze his forearm until he dropped the decanter with a pained gasp, but even then she wouldn't let go, forcing the bishop to his knees with barely any effort on her part.

"Be gone…demon!" Arren managed between gritted teeth, body beginning to shiver from the unnatural cold assaulting him. Already blooms of frost had formed under them, climbing the bishop's robes.

"You filthy holy men have no inkling what true demons are," the winter goddess sneered, looking around the cathedral with open disgust.

"What d-do you—"

"I'm here to raze your kingdom to the ground," Snaer interrupted. "But you should already know that."

The confused and terrified look on Arren's face briefly puzzled the winter goddess. She stared hard at the holy man, her unnatural gray eyes piercing him to his very soul but it wasn't until she touched his forehead with a long, spindly finger that his mind was laid bare before her. Arren felt the alien presence shifting through his memories as easily as if riffling through the pages of a book and felt violated in the worst way. After what seemed an eternity, Snaer removed her finger and therefore her consciousness from the bishop's, leaving the slender old man gasping and retching in her grasp.

"You humans and your arrogance. You think that simply because something is believed to be myth or legend that there isn't truth behind the stories. Well holy man, this was a legend you should have taken to heart. I will destroy your kingdom."

"I have…no kingdom or wealth of any kind, devil," Arren spat, regaining some composure and drawing on his faith to give him courage. "And any war you rage against Almighty God will end with your destru—"

Snaer's laugh was as cold as it was cruel, ice creeping along the floor and accumulating along the walls as she drove the words from the bishop's throat with a blast of arctic cold that sent fingers of frost crawling across his skin. Behind him, Arren became aware that the prayer candles, which had been extinguished up until now, were aglow with dancing blue flames that gave off cold rather than heat, the dip in temperature felt at the same moment he caught the scent of high mountain frost.

"The kingdom I speak of is the one built on the back of your false god who disguises the greed and corruption in the hearts of men behind high walls of opulent splendor and masks of kindness. I'm here to exercise the stain from this land and return it to glory it once held. And you, holy man, will aid me in doing so."

"I w-would r-r-rather die!" Arren fought to say, the arresting cold beginning to steal his senses. "I w-will fight you, devil, with…e-every ounce of my being and m-my God w-will—"

"You think that your faith will save you or that your god cares? Where he is now, holy man? Who stands before you: me or him?" Snaer snarled, yanking Arren to his feet and grabbing him by the throat, her face mere inches from his. This close and the cold was destructive, his skin beginning to blister and burn. "No, your god will not save your people, and he will not save you. You who is the descendent of the man who killed my grandchildren; you who bear his taint in your veins as surely as ice sings in mine. I have waited centuries to have my revenge, and no god, not yours or those who still slumber, will stand against me. So yes, holy man, you will aid me, but I know you will not do so willingly. That, however, I can change."

Arren screamed as a cold so powerful it registered as heat engulfed his forearm, burning through his robes and flesh alike until it touched the very marrow of his bone. It crept up his arm and across his skin, bitterly cold fingers invading his mind and pushing themselves deep. At first he tried to fight it but without an anchor to grab ahold of Arren buckled under the onslaught. Snaer eventually relinquished her grip and the bishop crumpled senselessly to the floor, cradling his branded arm against his chest. Ice crusted every inch of exposed skin, very nearly gluing his eyelids shut as he shivered and convulsed on the floor. When at last he opened his eyes the winter goddess stood a few feet away looking off into the direction of the castle, the storm that had been raging only seconds ago falling silent. She was running her fingers through the icy fur of the wolf at her side; a surprisingly pleased smile twisting the corners of her lips as she felt her fourth living descendent enter the world, the spark of power in the child like a beacon shinning in the night.

"It is said that only seven, gods or their descendants, need walk this earth in order for the old gods to return, and I will be the first to ascend. Only seven, holy man. In your case, it will be seven devils. My daughter was the second to my first, her son the third, your queen the fourth, and her son the fifth. I have no doubt the last two will come in time, and when they do I'll destroy everything you love. I'll tear down your beliefs and false gods, purge this land of your sins and return it to the beauty it once held."

With that she turned and made her way towards the doors and the black winter's night beyond them, the storms power waning and taking her power with it. Arren watched her go through barely open eyes, his convulsions subsiding some but his shivering only growing worse. He'd not noticed it before because Snaer had been facing him, but the winter goddess's spine and shoulder blades were charged with power, the bones under her skin glowing bright blue in the darkness. She came within feet of the doors before suddenly spinning, bringing her arm down in a sweeping arc. Arren felt something sail over his head, the air split by its passage, and strike the wall behind him. A half second later whatever had been struck fell to the ground with a tremendous clatter that caused him to jerk and whimper in pain as his frozen body shifted. Glancing over his shoulder, he gaped in avid terror as he stared up at the desecrated crucifix, half of Christ's body lying on the ground at his feet.

"Cherish the peace while it lasts, holy man, for it will be short lived. Rovdyr-ulf and I won't be far."

And then she was gone, disappearing into the night as quickly as she came. Arren remained where he'd fallen for quite some time, curled in a fetal position, mouth moving in silent yet frantic prayer. He would have never known it, but he wasn't the only soul that evening praying for the protection of his land. Up in the high mountains amongst the stones and moss, Pabbie jerked awake with a sudden gasp, his eyes bright with fear. When asked what had drawn him from his slumber he was only able to utter two trembling words that acted like a shockwave rippling through his people, the stones around his neck glowing so brightly they could have been tiny suns.

"Snaer's awake."

Back in Arendelle, while the unsuspecting townsfolk slept, unaware that the storm that had just ended was merely the precursor for what was to come, an old seamstress rummaged through an equally old trunk, her deft fingers searching desperately for the tool she needed. Eventually Ingrid found what she was looking for and stood with a barely stifled groan, bones creaking and popping with age. She tottered to a low table set before a roaring fire, ancient hands holding the equally ancient leather pouch to her chest, eyes closed in silent invocation.

"Did you get lost in thought, you old hag?" the raven perched on her bedpost croaked, canting his head as he watched his mistress prepare the casting.

"Call me that again and I'll use all of your tail feathers for quill pens," Ingrid muttered, eyes still closed as she called on power always close at hand.

"You do that and who would take my place as messenger? Huginn? Bah, he's worthless."

"Since he's your brother, doesn't that make you useless as well?"

"Clever," the raven grumbled. "So are you going to cast or not, because at this rate I'm liable to die of old age."

"You think you can do any better?" Ingrid snapped with irritation, still unable to shake the shiver from her spine. Something was wrong; she could feel it in her old bones as sure as she could feel the unnatural power walking through the storm. The disturbance had awoken her moments ago, the need to cast so profound she'd almost broken her neck scrambling out of bed.

"Let me cast this time lest you misinterpret things again. Wouldn't want to repeat past mistakes now would we? Your eyes are old, witch."

"Woodcarver," Ingrid mumbled, tossing the bag over to the raven which caught it smartly in his sharp beak. "Cast your runes then, Muninn. I cannot wait forever."

"Much obliged," Muninn croaked, flapping his wings until he'd gotten enough height to glide over to the table. Just before he perched on the back of a squat chair he let go of the pouch and sent its contents skittering across the table with a clatter.

"You couldn't have just tipped the bag over and let them fall, could you? Oh no, wanted to make a show of it while making an old woman crawl around on the floor looking for lost chips. This is payback for not giving you that bauble, isn't it?" the old seamstress grumbled, forestalling her search for any missing runes after getting a good look at the ones lying face up on the table. What she saw turned her blood to ice.

"What do you see?" Muninn asked, hopping off the chair and onto Ingrid's shoulder. Usually this earned him a swat but the old seamstress' attention was devoted solely to the carved wooden chips stained with her blood in the deep grooves.

"Nothing good." Spreading her hands she leaned close and examined the only three runes starting back at her. "Haglaz," she indicated, pointing to a rune that looked like an "H", "rune of destruction. Isa," she continued, pointing to the next rune that looked like an "I", "rune of ice. And finally…" Ingrid stopped, unsure what to make of the last rune or what it could possibly mean. She picked up the third and final chip, feeling it tingle between her fingers.

"Perthro?" Muninn inquired, further canting his head.

"Perthro, rune of hidden things, of mystery. Why are you here?" she wondered, speaking directly to the rune. Of course it didn't answer her, none of them would. They were just the rough indicators of what was to come, and though the casting was chilling, the final rune raised many questions. Gathering the chips, Ingrid prepared for another casting, unaware she was missing one final rune that had gone unnoticed as it slipped from the table. Sitting just shy of her left foot was a rune that looked like a stylized "Y". It was Agliz, rune of protection. It had fallen after Perthro, a fourth rune in her casting and perhaps the most profound. In Agliz there was protection, the foretelling of a guardian meant to arise and protect that which was threatened, but it also foretold of hidden danger, of corruption of divine forces, and was perhaps the most telling rune of all.

For the First Time in Never

A Frozen Story
by JE Glass

Part 24 of 24

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