She was having the dream again.
He was a large man, broad of shoulder and thick with hard-earned muscles. He was a lumberjack or a porter, some hard physical job of that nature, though in the dream it was never clearly defined. He locked eyes with her and stalked forward, towering over her. One of his hands wrapped around her waist, nearly encircling it, while the other grabbed her by the back of her neck, pulling her in for a kiss that she desperately wanted. When they moved back from each other, the man brushed her lips with his thumb, and she kissed the pad of it. He moved his hands lower after that. Her dress was made of ice, with no seams to speak of. Wherever he touched her, the dress parted for him, beckoning him to tear it from her.
He kissed her again, and his lips were delightfully cold.
Elsa opened her eyes, and for a moment the man was standing over her. His icy fingers were brushing her stomach, and her dress had opened itself to his wandering touch. She blinked twice. She was in her bedroom at the palace, laying on her back, but the man above her wasn’t the one from her dream. He was more slender, his skin pale instead of tanned. He had a gentle smile on his face, and he continued to touch her softly. When he moved in for a kiss, Elsa screamed. The man tumbled backwards, falling off her bed.
Elsa had long been aware of the threat of assassination. With all her power, she was still mortal, and she had little doubt that a rival kingdom might seek a way to rid themselves of her when she was at her most vulnerable. It was for that reason that Elsa layered a solid three feet of ice on each wall each night before going to sleep, the ice so cold and solid that it should have been impossible for a would-be intruder to break through without making enough noise to wake her. So when she awoke with a strange man in her room, she first checked the walls of ice to see whether there had been a breach. They were all intact. Elsa repaired her clothing and reformed it around her into the most protective and severely chaste outfit she could think up.
“Who are you?” hissed Elsa at the man. He was sitting on the floor, rubbing at his head.
“I’m sorry, I thought that maybe it was a bad idea, but in my mind it was this nice romantic gesture, and -“
“Who. Are. You,” said Elsa. She was ready to murder him at a moment’s notice. Early in her reign, she’d procured a pig carcass and practiced on it in the privacy of the woods. There were a thousand ways to kill a person with her power. She could chill his body down low enough that it would shatter with a touch, stop his heart from a hundred paces, or encase him in ice, all with nothing more than a thought. Elsa formed a dagger of ice in each hand, more as a threat than for any practical reason.
“My name is Jack Frost,” said the man. He held out a hand expectantly, but let it fall when it became clear to him that she wasn’t going to touch him.
“Like the children’s story?” Elsa asked.
“It’s just a name I picked,” he said. “I figured that you’d like it, that you would think it was fun.”
Elsa looked closer at him. His skin wasn’t just pale, it was white. His hair, in the dark, had looked blonde, but now that she’d woken up a bit she could see it for what it was – frost. The man, Jack, was made of snow, from his hands down to the bluish suit he wore. He was the most elaborately sculpted snowman that Elsa had ever seen, from the slivers of ice that he had in place of fingernails to the eyelashes made of frost. If she ignored the color, he could pass for a real person, and in the dark that’s what she’d initially thought he was. As she watched, she could see the muscles move beneath his skin when he fidgeted under her gaze. Of course, he wouldn’t actually have muscles, only more snow – knowing that didn’t make the illusion less convincing. Her lips still felt the faint chill of his touch.
“Who are you?” Elsa whispered.
“Jack Frost,” he said, holding out a hand again. Again, Elsa refused to take it.
“Did I create you?” Elsa asked. Olaf had been created through her subconscious desire to reconnect with her sister, a symptom of her attempt to close herself off to the world. If she’d done it again –
“Olaf created me,” said Jack.
“He has the same power as you, though not quite as strong,” said Jack. “I do too. Olaf was just trying to make you happy.”
“By raping me?” she asked.
“No!” cried Jack, looking aghast. “I would have stopped as soon as you said something, or showed the slightest sign of being upset, we just thought that you would never go for it if I were formally introduced to you, so if I came to you while you were on the edge of wakefulness you would be more receptive. And it nearly worked, you were responding well -” He caught her look and swallowed hard, another impeccable mimic of a real human. “It was supposed to be like Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.”
“I’ve never liked that story,” said Elsa. “Olaf and I have some talking to do.”
Elsa got up from her bed and swept past Jack, noiselessly splitting open the ice to give access to the door. Now that she knew what he was, her fear had begun to leave her. She could kill or immobilize with a thought, and that would go double for a man made of ice. Nonetheless, she shifted her clothing, putting in plates of compressed ice and cascading a thin sheet of snow above her head into a hood. To this she added a long flowing cloak that hid the armor, the better to not alarm anyone who saw her, though she knew a single glance at Jack would raise more than enough probing questions.
She found Olaf in the sitting room. Jack stood behind her, looking nervous, but Elsa couldn’t have cared less about how he felt.
“Olaf, what have you done?” asked Elsa.
“You were lonely, so I made you a companion,” said Olaf with a pout. “I was just trying to make you happy. You don’t like him?”
“Olaf, I didn’t even know you could do this, that your power extended so far,” said Elsa.
“You could make them like this too,” said Olaf with a hopeful smile.
“I’ve told you why I don’t,” said Elsa. “Did you stop to think about what it would mean?” She gestured to Jack. “He’s a person now, he can’t just be unmade.”
“I know that,” said Olaf. “But you’ll like him if you give him a chance, and if you don’t like him he can change!”
“Do you understand why what you did was wrong?” asked Elsa. “Do you promise not to do it again?”
“I screwed up?” said Olaf. “I’m sorry. If I’d known you’d have a problem with it, I wouldn’t have done it.”
“Even if I didn’t have a problem with it, it would still be wrong,” said Elsa.
Olaf shifted from foot to foot for a moment. “I kinda sorta don’t agree,” he said. He held up his icicle hands. “I get where you’re coming from and all, but if I think about all the things I want to do, and I think about how happy I am that I was created by you, I feel like making more people can’t be a bad thing, and it will help us to do more for the world, and for ourselves, right? And yesterday you were saying that there was a lot of work that had to go into making a person, and that you didn’t want all the responsibility, so I thought that we could get around all that by having me make a person, and I did it for you.”
Elsa used her power to reach into his mind. It was a different place than the day before, with more changes to his patterns of thought in the space of twelve hours than in the entire six years before. Yet as she looked around, she could still see that he’d been acting with good intentions. She felt herself soften somewhat. She had said that he was her responsibility, and she had meant it, but he was coming to be so independent of her that even with the ability to look inside his mind it was hard to understand him. Elsa retracted her power and stared at Olaf.
“Olaf, promise me you won’t make more,” said Elsa.
Olaf kept shifting from foot to foot, looking distressed. “No,” he said after a time, and cringed back from her, as if expecting to be struck.
Elsa stared at him. In the past, Olaf, had done as he was asked. He would make mistakes and misinterpret instructions, and sometimes even complain, but he always made an honest effort to do as he was asked. It would have been easy for Elsa to reach inside his head again and change him, to snap him into obedience, but she wasn’t confident in her ability to do that without breaking him in some unexpected way. Besides that, while she thought making a new person was ethically questionable and fraught with peril, she had little doubt that altering a person’s fundamental being without their consent was an act almost beyond redemption. The trolls had done it to her sister, and she’d never forgiven them. Doing the same or worse to Olaf was out of the question.
She could lock Olaf up, but that would hardly be any better, and if he were really set on defying her, he could escape from practically any prison she could build, given that he had access to the same powers she did. She could freeze iron to be so brittle it would shatter, and no chains could keep her for long. A prison of ice would fare even worse. The same would be true of him.
Elsa decided to take a third way.
It had been a little more than five years since Anna had gotten engaged to Kristoff. Elsa had wanted to put her foot down, to make them wait longer, especially after what had happened with Anna’s first so-called love. Elsa liked Kristoff, but he hadn’t been family then, and the speed of their relationship was worrying. She was queen, and could have simply stopped the ceremony from happening, but she knew that the end result of that would be a more distant relationship with her sister. So instead she’d put her heart into making the wedding a nice one, and helping the two of them in whatever way she could. If Anna was going to throw caution to the wind, then Elsa would stand behind her and make sure that everything went well, from the wedding to the marriage itself.
“Alright,” said Elsa finally. “You can make more. Talk to me before you do it though, and I will help to make them. I don’t want anything to go wrong, and if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it right.”
Olaf ran forward on his stumpy legs and gave her a hug, and Elsa reluctantly returned it.
“What about Jack?” Olaf asked, his face buried in her ice dress.
Elsa turned to look at Jack, a man made of ice in a misguided attempt at curing her of her loneliness, delivered in the worst possible way. She had no idea what was to be done with him, only that she wouldn’t destroy him.
“I could be your assistant?” he asked.
Elsa nodded. “That will work. The floodgates have opened, I’m afraid, and it would do my subjects well to see me with one of the new breed. Olaf, how many more were you planning on making?”
“I don’t know,” said Olaf. “I’ll ask before I do though, I promise. Thank you.”
“I’m going back to bed,” said Elsa. “No more interruptions.”
In the morning, Olaf asked for permission to make the frozen sailors for Admiral Pyke, and Elsa had reluctantly agreed to meet him at the docks later in the day. After a quick breakfast of rabbit stew and quail eggs, she met with the duke of Weselton.
“So he’s smarter?” asked the duke without preamble, the indiscretions of the previous day seemingly forgotten.
“It seems that way,” said Elsa. “Also, I have a surprise for you, something that I think you’ll like investigating. A peace offering of sorts. Jack?”
Jack stepped out from the doorway, a grin on his face. “Yes, your majesty?”
“My god,” said the duke. “He’s … he’s made of ice and snow.”
“Olaf made him,” said Elsa.
“Olaf?” asked the duke. “The snowman, that Olaf?”
“He’s smarter, as you said. He has goals now, and he’d making use of cryokinesis in achieving them,” said Elsa. “You’ll see more men like these from now on.”
“So lifelike,” muttered the duke. He stepped towards Jack. “But why?”
“Why?” asked Elsa.
“Why make it look like a human?” asked the duke.
“I’m a him,” said Jack with a frown.
“Yes, of course you are,” said the duke with a laugh. “But my question is why, if Olaf could make another frozen creature, would he make it like that? What’s the purpose of the clothing, of the eyelids? Surely those eyes have no need to blink. And he’s propelled by magic, not by muscles, but the look of everything, it’s all – well, perfect.”
“Thank you,” said Jack. “And the reason I was created like this is that Olaf originally intended me to be Elsa’s groom.” Elsa stifled a groan; she could have done without that information being known to anyone. She would have to have a discussion about discretion with Jack at a later date.
The duke sat back in his chair with his mouth hanging half open.
“And … and is that plan … I mean, the controversy it would cause, not to mention that your line would end there -“
“No,” said Elsa. She was thankful that when she blushed it was nearly imperceptible. “Olaf acted in error.”
“Oh, thank god,” said the duke. “For a moment I thought that you’d taken leave of your senses.” He sipped at a cup of tea beside him. “Well, this is certainly interesting, and has some wonderful implications. You could have a whole workforce without the trouble of making them yourself, if you so choose. I’d talked of eliminating work for the people of Arendelle, and this makes it much easier by a wide margin. Why, you’d only have to make the first worker, and instruct him to make more workers, and then -“
“Have you heard the tale of the sorcerer’s apprentice?” asked Jack. “He enchants a broom to fetch water from a well, and soon the floor is awash in water. He tries to murder the broom, but when chopped in half it regrows into two more brooms, which work at double the speed. I believe that our queen has some fear of such a scenario.”
“But you see!” said the duke. “You can reason through these things, and not make the same errors. The broom in that story was mindless in its task, the same cannot possibly be said for you or Olaf.”
“My queen worries of new errors, different errors that we might not be able to see coming until it was already too late,” said Jack. Elsa smiled at him, despite herself. It felt good to have someone on her side in one of these exchanges.
“Does that mean no more new intelligences?” the duke asked Elsa. “You’re putting a stop to it?”
“No,” said Elsa. “Jack serves as a proof of concept of sorts.” And she wasn’t willing to turn Olaf into an adversary. “We’ll move ahead. Slowly, though. We’re meeting with Admiral Pyke later in the day, to see about getting him the crew to man the ships I’ve been making him.”
“I know that you’ve had your concerns,” said the duke, “But I don’t see how this can be anything but a good thing. Now, if we’re to meet later today, I have other business to attend to, as I promised your sister that she could have harsh words with me.” He bowed to both of them, and left quickly, seeming far too happy for Elsa’s tastes.
“Thank you,” said Elsa to Jack.
“He can be excitable,” said Jack. “A man of ideas. I know most of what Olaf knew of him.”
“He’s an advocate for progress,” said Elsa. “We have a complicated friendship.”
“I can imagine,” said Jack.
“Do you know, you really don’t seem like you were born yesterday,” said Elsa.
“Oh, if I’m by your side you’ll see more than a few blunders, I’m sure,” said Jack. “Olaf’s read quite a few books, but not enough to get a full understanding of how people behave, if that’s something you can even learn from a book. I apologized for last night already, but I feel like I have to say I’m sorry again. There’s no way to make a second first impression, but I swear that my solitary goal in life is to make your life better, in whatever way I can.”
“And what of Olaf?” asked Elsa. “What of his goals? He’s become his own person, it seems.” Elsa reached out and touched Jack’s mind, to look at its inner workings. She didn’t ask, and like Olaf, gave no indication that he knew she was doing it as they continued to talk.
“He wants a better world,” said Jack. Elsa could see no deception or ill intent, but there was more to his mind that could be uncovered in a brief span of time. She saw a warm red glow that she realized with embarrassment was his love for her, and she slowly closed the connection. Jack continued on. “You might disagree with him, but ultimately you want the same things. I think he knew that when he made me. I was made to be a bridge between you and him, a gift of sorts, but it’s clear that I’m lacking in some ways.”
“You’re not – it’s not that,” said Elsa. “I like privacy. I like solitude and personal space. You’re an intrusion on that, as nice as you might be.” She didn’t add that he was a glorified snowman.
“I think that you don’t really mean that,” said Jack. “I think that you push people away because you worry that they’ll hurt you or reject you. You don’t like the solitude, you only think it’s better than the alternative. But I love you, fully and with all my heart, without conditions. Olaf had hoped that would be enough.”
“You have a knowledge of love as given to you by a snowman I dreamed up with Anna when I was five,” said Elsa.
“All the same,” said Jack. He stepped closer to her.
He’d changed his looks in subtle ways. When Elsa had first seen him, he’d been somewhat effeminate, a slender man dressed in a formal outfit. He seemed larger now, more manly – more like the man from her dreams. He was changing to please her, but trying to be careful about it, no single change so extreme that she would have noticed it. He was closer to her now, close enough that she could feel the chill rolling off his body.
“You’ve altered yourself,” she said.
“I have,” he admitted. “It might have been better for you to believe that I was my own person, divorced from what you want, but that’s simply not the case. I can be anything for you, anyone, you just need to get past thinking about the fact that I’m only that way because you wanted me to.”
She could see that he’d given himself more muscles, a figure that filled out his outfit much better and hinted at a brute strength. A part of her was wondering how he knew to change himself in those ways. Another part was worried that she was finding him attractive. She tried to think of him sneaking into her room in the middle of the night, but the memory of violation twisted into a fantasy where she had let him have his way with her. She wanted to stir up some anger or revulsion, or even some bit of common sense that would tell her all the reasons to put him at a distance. She came up short.
“Do you want me to remove that love?” she asked.
“It’s what I am,” said Jack. “To remove it would be tantamount to murder.”
“It’ll make you unhappy,” she said.
“It doesn’t have to,” he replied. His eyes seemed to pierce her. She wondered how he had learned that.
“I can’t,” she said.
“You can,” said Jack. “No one has to know. But it’s bad to keep your emotions so constrained, to keep your desires buried. I won’t hurt you. In fact, I can’t hurt you.”
“No,” said Elsa. It took all her effort to step away from him, to put some distance between them. She could sense something animal in him now, and wondered whether that was only because it was exactly the sort of thing that she’d been wanting – craving, if she was being honest with herself – for a long time.
“Why do you say no?” asked Jack. “We’re so far into the realm of the new that there can’t possibly be a taboo against it. And you like me already, I can tell.”
“You’ve been alive for less than a full day,” said Elsa. “Even if -“
Even if she were lonely, and even if she could admit to liking his touch, and even if it would have been simple to frost the windows and seal the door shut with ice, even then it would still have been a bad idea. She couldn’t say it out loud though, because if she did, the reasons would sound too convincing to her.
“Thinking?” asked Jack.
“We should go,” said Elsa. “They’ll be waiting for us at the docks.”
“Certainly, my queen,” Jack replied. Elsa couldn’t tell whether she’d imagined a faint smile on his face.
The docks were bustling with activity. The merchant fleet of Arendelle had swollen even before the addition of the pykrete ships, and it was clear that the docks would need to be expanded in the near future. Raw goods came into Arendelle, and finished goods left it, all at a pace that nearly beggared belief. The primary limit on Arendelle’s growth seemed to be the size of its population, even with a fairly forgiving policy for immigration. Today, they would begin testing a possible solution for that labor shortage.
They talked for three hours before making the first one. The variables involved were staggering, and every time that it seemed they had a complete list of requirements, someone would think of some corner case where their plan wasn’t quite ideal. More often than not, that person was Elsa. No one told her that she was being over-cautious but she could tell that they were thinking it, even Olaf, who seemed anxious to get on with things.
Finally it was time. It might have been better with some ceremony, but Elsa was tired of the flashing blue sparks and showers of ice, and so simply snapped her fingers and made the man of ice appear.
He would love the sea, and love sailing for his own sake. He would be loyal to Arendelle, but not overwhelmingly so. He would have access to the power of ice, but hesitant to use it, especially for violence. Elsa would have stripped the ability from him altogether, but she couldn’t see a way to do that without dooming him to a slow death from cracks in his body that he wouldn’t be able to repair. He would have masculine features, but none of the usual anatomy, both because he’d have no need or desire for it, and because the very thought of making it strained Elsa’s sense of propriety (and at the back of her mind, she wondered whether Olaf had gone through the same thing when creating Jack).
She gave him a sense of self-preservation. There was some discussion about how strong that should be. The duke had said that it should be weak, as after all, his life would be worth less than the life of a human, and likely even less than the cargo a ship would be transporting. Olaf had not contributed to the conversation, but Elsa couldn’t help but think that he should have taken it as a slight. The admiral had argued that these men would be nearly impossible to kill, and thus self-preservation was hardly an important issue. In the end, Elsa had decided to make the man brave but slow to act.
Much of the rest was left to her subconscious, which would fill in the gaps, and a design that would allow for limited growth. Every roadblock and limitation she engineered into him felt like a betrayal, as though she were intentionally creating a cripple, but she turned her thoughts again to the blizzard that had buried Arendelle, and decided that caution was prudent.
All of that thought had solidified itself into an icy form at the snap of her fingers. He came out looking like a pastiche of various sailors she had known, and he was dressed like them, though that was an unnecessary embellishment. She touched his mind as soon as he was created, and confirmed that it looked like she had intended.
He looked around at them, and nodded to Elsa. “Where’s my ship then?” he asked. He was terse and business-like, just as she’d planned.
Olaf made the ones after that, and Elsa checked each one. There were subtle variations in them, slight differences that would bloom into full personalities if given time and differences in stimulus. None of them knew how to sail, since Elsa didn’t know, and they would have to be trained, but if she and Olaf had done it right, they would take to it quickly.
Elsa couldn’t help but note that their minds were far less complex than either Olaf or Jack’s. For some reason, it made her uneasy. The sailors were simple, and easy to check over. Would she know if Olaf started to walk a dangerous path?
They made three hundred in total, enough to sail the pykrete ships. A crowd gathered to watch. She’d expected them to mutter amongst themselves about this expansion of her power, but few people showed the same concern that she did. They’d been living with her ice powers for six years now, and the miraculous had become everyday. Most of them probably worked alongside the snow golems in the mill, and perhaps they couldn’t see the difference.
She and Jack walked back to the palace together while Olaf constructed quarters for the sailors. Each would need no more than a small nook, since they needed no sleep and were conditioned for life in the cramped quarters of a ship.
As they walked, Elsa stumbled slightly, and Jack grabbed her arm to steady her. They walked arm in arm after that. He was cold to the touch, in a way that made Elsa feel quite comfortable. It would occur to her only later that he might have been the one responsible for tripping her in the first place, but when she checked his mind she could see no memory of it. Either way, the physical contact felt nice, and if they got some looks she could chalk that up to him being made of snow. A man holding a lady’s arm in the street was far from improper.
Elsa stopped by to see Anna. The children were visiting the trolls with Kristoff, giving Anna a much needed rest. Elsa talked about her day, and Anna’s frown grew deeper and deeper as she listened.
“I wish you’d change Olaf back,” said Anna. “I liked him the way he was. From what you say, he’s not so pleasant now.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” said Elsa. “He’s just different.”
“And he’s getting more different?” asked Anna.
“What happens when he’s smarter than you?” asked Anna.
“He might be already,” said Elsa. “It’s hard to tell. But so long as he keeps being good, I’m not so worried. And if worst comes to worst, I can deal with him.”
“You wouldn’t want to deal with him now, before he becomes a problem?” asked Anna.
“You wouldn’t change your childrens’ minds around, would you?” asked Elsa.
Anna gave a light laugh. “That’s half of what parenting is,” she said. “We just don’t have that much control over it. We teach and we make corrections, but it’s all about shaping their little minds. And if the children have taught me anything in return, it’s that they can be very sneaky if they want to.”
“Implying what?” asked Elsa.
“Jack,” said Anna. “Do you really think that Olaf didn’t know what he was doing, that he made a mistake?”
“I can look inside his head,” said Elsa.
“You admitted to me that it was getting harder to tell what’s going on there,” said Anna. She lifted a cup of mulled wine to her lips. “And he can change his own mind, you said, so he could have removed anything that made him look guilty afterwards.”
“I suppose that’s true,” said Elsa quietly. She could feel Anna’s eyes on her.
“And despite that, you actually like him,” said Anna.
“He’s been our companion for the last six years,” said Elsa.
Anna shook her head. “No, not Olaf, Jack – he was made just for you, and you like him all the same. Even if it was part of some unknowable plan.”
“Is that wrong?” asked Elsa.
“Well, it’s not right,” Anna replied.
Elsa had trouble sleeping that night. She’d done away with her mattress years ago, and slept on a bed of snow, which she could shape and fluff as she pleased. The cold had never bothered her, of course. That night though, she couldn’t seem to get comfortable, no matter how she shaped the snow beneath her, or how she changed her clothing. Her thoughts kept turning to Jack, and the night before. After two hours of sleeplessness, she redressed herself in a long flowing nightgown and stalked through the palace.
She found Jack in the room that a bewildered steward had made up for him earlier in the day. He was standing at the window, looking out. He didn’t react to her entry.
“I’d thought maybe you’d come to my room again,” said Elsa.
“No,” he replied. He turned towards her. It was dark, and she couldn’t read his face.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.
“Your company wouldn’t have been unwelcome, is all I’m saying,” said Elsa. “Just for someone to speak with.”
Jack looked into her eyes, then strode across the room towards her. Elsa opened her mouth to say something, but he kissed her instead. She had told herself that she was just seeking him out for some company, but she’d known it had been a lie. His lips tasted like ice, as cold and bracing as a mountain spring. She felt like she should push him away, but the truth was that she didn’t want to.