Elsa had the dream again.
He was a strong man, who worked with his hands. He stalked towards her like a hunter towards its prey, calm and sure of himself. His hands were warm against her cold skin, and her normally sluggish heart beat a quick tempo in her chest.
She felt foolish when she woke up. She was twenty-seven years old, and shouldn’t have been having such dreams. She cloaked herself in ice, a high collared dress with long sleeves that draped down, all held together with her magic. She fashioned a new crown of ice, like she wore most days, though the design of it changed based on her whims. It was a better symbol of her position within the kingdom than the royal jewels could ever be.
She took a breakfast of boiled eggs and preserved meats in library while she went through her correspondence, reading letters from distant lands. It was a pile of requests for aid, offers for alliance, and some of the false friendliness that royalty seemed required to send each other.
Elsa kept a part of her power attuned to the weather, which she had at least partial control over. She had never gotten the hang of making winds, though she’d heard it theorized that she could accomplish it by chilling and heating large volumes of air. Heating things always felt unnatural to her, a part of her power that didn’t seem to quite fit. She’d never again been able to accomplish the reversal that she had done when she’d kissed Anna, when Arendelle’s bay had gone from solid ice to clear water in a matter of hours, and the snows had melted in the space of a day. She could keep the weather mild though, and spare her people the storms.
“Something’s wrong with Olaf,” said Anna. She leaned against the doorway to the library, with her hands folded in front of her. If Elsa hadn’t aged a day since her coronation, the same couldn’t be said for her sister. Anna had just been a girl of eighteen then, young and naive. She’d saved the kingdom, and had fallen in love with Kristoff. Anna had promised to take things slow with him, to not rush in as she did with everything, but then they’d gotten married six months later, and had their first child five months after that. If Anna weren’t beloved by everyone, the people of Arendelle might have done the math and frowned in disapproval. Motherhood had changed her some, and calmed her. Now her face was beginning to show subtle lines and wrinkles, and there were few who would call her girlish – she was womanly now, less carefree than she’d been before, but still quick to smile and make jokes.
“Wrong?” asked Elsa, as innocent as could be.
“He’s reading to the kids,” said Anna.
“He can’t read,” said Elsa. She set down the letter she’d been reading. “Or at least, he’s never been able to before.”
Anna’s two oldest children were four and five, with the youngest still just a baby. They had their own rooms at the palace, far away from where the serious business of governance went on. Anna and Kristoff had talked about moving to the country somewhere several times, but that idle talk had never resulted in concrete action, for which Elsa was grateful.
Anna and Elsa watched as Olaf read to the children. He had the book upside down, but seemed to be reading the words all the same. It was a children’s book that recounted the story of a devil that made a cursed mirror, and from what Elsa could tell the words he was saying matched the story she remembered. When the children saw her, they got up from their seats on the floor and rushed to hug Elsa around the legs.
“Auntie Elsa!” cried Bjorn. “How come you never come to visit us?”
“I came to visit three days ago,” said Elsa. She knelt down and wrapped both children in a hug. “We had tea together, do you remember?”
“But it was so long ago!” said Gerda.
“I sent Olaf as my emissary,” said Elsa with a smile. “Isn’t that right Olaf?”
“Yeppers!” said Olaf. Whatever changes had happened in his head, he wore the same dopey grin as before.
“Olaf, when did you learn to read?” asked Anna.
“Yesterday,” said Olaf. “It’s pretty easy when you realize that all of the words are made up of letters.”
“Olaf, you’re holding the book upside down,” said Elsa.
Olaf looked down to where his branches grasp the pages. “Am I?” he asked. “What does it say when it’s the right way up then?”
“It says the same thing,” said Elsa, “You read from top to bottom and left to right.”
“Ooooh,” said Olaf. He paused for a beat. “I don’t get it.”
“Nevermind,” said Elsa. She looked down at the children. “Go listen to uncle Olaf read you a story.”
“But you’ll stay to play with us?” asked Gerda.
“Of course,” said Elsa. “There are just a few things that your mother and I have to discuss, we’ll be just outside.”
The children went back to sit next to the snowman, while Elsa and Anna walked a short distance down the hall.
“You’re unhappy,” said Anna. It was more of a statement of fact than a question.
“I’m … I have a lot going on in my life,” said Elsa.
Anna put her arm on her sister’s shoulder. “I care about you, you know that. And with your power, your emotions can sometimes play into how it expresses itself. I worry about you.”
“My power is fine,” said Elsa. “I have it under control. I use it so much now that it’s practically second nature to me. The power wants to be used, and so I use it.”
“What’s going on with Olaf then?” asked Anna.
“I changed him,” said Elsa. “Just a little. I tried to make him smarter. It was the duke’s idea.”
“The duke of Weasel Town?” asked Anna.
“Weselton,” said Elsa, though they’d had this conversation a half dozen times before.
“But they raise weasels,” said Anna, “It’s got to be Weasel Town.”
“They raise civets for their musk,” said Elsa.
“And a civet is a type of weasel,” said Anna proudly.
“No, it’s not,” said Elsa with a sigh. “It’s no more of a weasel than a mongoose is a weasel. You could be forgiven for thinking that a civet is a weasel, but all the same, it’s not nice to call it Weasel Town. They’re our allies.”
They both turned toward the playroom and listened to Olaf in silence for a moment. Anna was just being silly, and Elsa had to go bringing facts into it. They were sisters, and they loved each other, but sometimes it was easy to see the gulf between the two of them, and the ways that they weren’t quite compatible.
“You can really do that? Make him smarter?” asked Anna.
“Apparently,” said Elsa. “It’s odd, going into his mind. Marshmallow and the snow beasts aren’t nearly so complicated. The more I looked, the more I could see there, and I felt like I could simply have looked forever, always finding something new in his thoughts. All his memories were there, from the time that he was first created. And more than that, there were our memories – my memories – from when we’d made him. It feels like that was ages ago, doesn’t it?”
They were silent together for awhile, as Olaf read children’s stories in the background.
“Why do it?” asked Anna.
“I don’t know,” said Elsa. “I’ve been feeling like I need to do something more with my life. The duke asked me to, of course, but it’s more than that.”
“More with your life?” asked Anna with an arched eyebrow. “You’re the queen of the most prosperous kingdom in the world.”
“I appreciate that, I do,” said Elsa. “And the kingdom means the world to me, but I sometimes look at your and Kristoff, and your children, and … well.”
Anna let out a long sigh. “You can talk to me about these things. In fact, you should talk to me about those things. Even after what happened after the coronation, you bottle things up so much. It’s not healthy, and with your power … well, we know what happened last time. If you want children, all we need to do is find you the right man, and given how eligible you are that shouldn’t be -“
“I can’t have children,” said Elsa softly.
Anna stood back a step. “Says who?”
“Three different midwives, all highly regarded, as well as a doctor from Italy,” Elsa replied. “My body is colder than normal, nearly thirty degrees on Lord Kelvin’s scale. Everyone I’ve talked to has said that it’s unlikely that I could have a child, though there’s some disagreement on what the problem will be. The doctor suggested that the children would be stillborn, while two of the midwives told me it was unlikely I’d be able to become pregnant at all. Do you remember when mother told us about a woman’s blood? I’ve never had that, not once in my life, and the midwives took that as a very bad sign.”
“Oh Elsa,” said Anna. She wrapped her sister in a hug. Elsa felt a tear roll down her face. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’d had concerns for awhile, practically since mom and dad … since they passed,” said Elsa. “I decided to ask around just after Bjorn was born. And of course you had your hands full then, and it didn’t seem proper to overshadow your firstborn with my own unhappy news. After that, it seemed easier to deal with on my own.”
“We’ll … we’ll find something, some way. The world full of so many things Elsa, so many wonders, there’s got to be something,” said Anna. She was crying, and Elsa didn’t know what to do to comfort her.
It felt good to tell someone, to get that truth out there. There was nothing that Anna could do, but at least she could empathize. Elsa listened to Olaf reading the children another story in the playroom while Anna cried. The duke had talked about progress and advancement, but for Elsa it was something deeper and more primal – the hope that she might create something that would outlast her. There were other problems, but Elsa knew that they were small and petty, more the product of her own mind than anything she should whine about.
Four years ago she’d been hosting one of the grand balls that Anna liked so much. Elsa had danced a slow waltz with a handsome prince from a faraway kingdom, and they’d talked throughout the whole of it, gliding around the Great Hall with a gentle rise and fall. She’d talked about the ice garden she kept near the palace, full of sculptures she’d made herself, and the prince talked about his many sisters and the horse-riding they’d do together.
Afterwards, they’d gone to one of the balconies together, and looked out over the Crystal Sea. They talked for a bit, and then she turned to face him, and he turned to face her, and they kissed each other. At twenty-four, it was her first real kiss. She’d felt herself blushing and pulled back from him, and she saw a look on his face that almost instantly crushed her spirit. He was thinking of how cold her lips were, and thinking of what it would be like to have those be the only lips that he touched for the rest of his life. He was reconsidering her, in an unfavorable light.
Elsa was well aware of the double entendre intended when she was called “The Snow Queen”. Perhaps the prince was thinking less delicate thoughts that caused the frown to grace his face after kissing her.
Later, she’d heard laughter from a group the prince was with, along with the words “cold fish”. Anna tried to convince her otherwise, but she knew she was the subject of conversation. It was a casual cruelty that had stayed with her for a long time.
Elsa wished that she could change herself as easily as she had changed Olaf. If only she could splay her mind open and remove all of the anxiety and insecurity, all the bad memories, the resentment she felt towards her parents for keeping her locked away, her anger with the trolls for removing Anna memories and setting their life on a dangerous course …
For now, improving Olaf would have to do. Perhaps she could create a more perfect Arendelle, and that would fill the hole in her heart.