A Bluer Shade of White, Chapter 5

She thought that she would feel guilty afterwards, or somehow debased.

Instead, she felt light and airy, like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulder. There was no second guessing herself, no thinking about whether Jack was a person or not, or the ethics of a man created just to please her. It was simply a bliss that left her feeling like she was floating. It seemed too perfect and too quick, but it had been the same with Anna and Kristoff, and now Elsa could begin to imagine how they’d felt about each other.

Elsa swore him to secrecy. She was happy, not stupid. She debated stealing inside his mind and ripping the memory from him, but she couldn’t bear to, and besides that would be compounding one sin with another, and she knew that they would just be together again, no matter what lies she might tell herself.

“Do you still think it’s wrong?” asked Jack as they lay side by side.

“Yes,” said Elsa. “But I don’t care.”

“No,” said Jack. “More than that. You like that it’s wrong. You like the thrill of doing something that you’re not supposed to.”

Elsa had thought about it, and decided that it was true.

Three weeks passed by quickly, and for a time it seemed like Arendelle was settling into a new rhythm. Olaf took over the work of making the ice sailors and pykrete ships, for which Elsa was grateful. They made plans for several more varieties of the ice people, to take on the most dangerous and unwanted jobs in the kingdom. Elsa drew up new laws to pay a wage to those people who would be put out of work. The mines could be dug deeper with frozen water to widen the cracks in the rock, and bracing a new tunnel could be done in minutes instead of days. The more she thought about it, the less she doubt she felt about it, and eventually Elsa felt a small bit of regret that she hadn’t done it sooner.

She spent the nights with Jack, feeling a thrill that never seemed to diminish. It felt ridiculous, to sneak around her own palace, but at the same time Jack was right; she did like doing something wrong. If she were caught, there would be no real consequence. Some people might think less of her, but she was queen, and besides that wielded more physical power than any one person could have a practical use for.

Elsa had just begun to accept the new normal when she saw the first arm made of ice.

“What is that?” she asked the man whose arm it was. She had been walking through the streets of Arendelle with Jack, inspecting properties and making notes about the needs of her subjects when she’d spotted it. It had seemed out of place when she’d seen it, and only after some puzzlement did she realize that the hand of glassy ice was physically attached to an older man with a grey mustache.

“Er, your majesty?” he asked. He seemed nervous, and held his hat in both hands. The icy fingers were as clear as crystal, and looked wrong when set beside the ones of flesh and blood.

“Your hand,” said Elsa. “Show it to me if you please.”

He’d extended it towards her, and she rolled up his sleeve while trying to ignore the growing crowd. His arm was made of ice until just past the elbow. She had expected the ice to join with a wooden cup that touched a stump. That was a design that she had thought up ages ago, before abandoning the project when she hadn’t been able to figure out a way to usefully animate it. Instead, ice was fused directly with the old man’s arm joined with a collar of snow. She used her power to trace the boundary between ice and flesh, and could feel spikes of ice driven into the old man’s bones.

“Where did you get this?” she asked. She kept her voice soft, restraining her growing anger and horror.

“A man of ice came to me two days ago,” the old man said. “I’ve been without that hand for near on a dozen years now. I lost it to a cannonball in the war. When he offered to make a new one for me, a replacement, well I couldn’t say no to that even if I wanted to.” He looked between her and Jack. “Only I’d thought that you knew of this, begging your pardon, your majesty.”

Elsa had been fuming when she reached the palace.

“Are you going to pretend that you didn’t know this would upset me?” she asked Olaf. The last of the season’s balls had been held, and so Olaf had taken up the Great Hall as a workshop of sorts. He could often be found there, usually in the company of the duke.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I just met a man with an arm of ice,” said Elsa. “He had spikes driven into his bones, work done by one of the ice men that you created.”

“It doesn’t cause him any pain,” said Olaf.

“Do you know if the magic goes away when I die?” asked Elsa. She used her power to open up his mind, but it was hopeless. Olaf’s mind was expansive now, and so complex that she had no hope of reading him. She’d have to depend on her wits instead of her power.

“No,” said Olaf. “I don’t know.”

“And if I die, what happens to that man’s arm?” asked Elsa.

“If the power evaporates, then it will seize up, and he’ll lose it when it melts,” said Olaf. “But it’s pretty unlikely for you to die, since you don’t lead a dangerous life and you don’t seem to get sick very often. You can defend yourself if anyone attacks you, and you have Jack to defend you while you’re sleeping.” Elsa tried her best to show no reaction to that. She couldn’t quite tell if that was intended to be a slight against her. “That man was old, and he wasn’t likely to outlive you. So if we try to figure out how much of a benefit he gets from having both his hands and weigh that against how terrible it would be to have the ice melt away combined with the low chance that you’ll die and the somewhat larger chance that when you die the magic will go away, then I think giving him the hand made the most sense. It was better than not having the hand, even with the risks.”

“I’m not mad that you did it,” said Elsa with a scowl. “I’m mad that you did it without saying the smallest word to me about it. That is unacceptable.”

“If I had asked you before I’d done it, would you have said yes?” asked Olaf.

“I would have had a half a hundred questions about how it works, and I would have to know how it’s animated to follow his will,” said Elsa. “I might have said yes.”

“I already asked all those questions myself,” Olaf said. “It’s safe, except maybe if you die. He doesn’t feel any pain from it. And it helps him. Explaining things to you and getting your permission takes time, and it’s always better to do things faster if the result is going to be the same anyway.”

“I disagree,” said Elsa. “If you’re going to simply do what you want regardless of what I think – well, there has to be a way for us to arrive at a consensus.”

Jack and the duke were in the great hall with them, both watching the exchange. Neither had said anything. As Elsa looked to the duke, she noticed something off about his stance, and on instinct reached out with her power. Once she had, it was clear why he wore a glove on his left hand.

“No,” said Elsa with dismay. “No, you didn’t, you couldn’t have.”

“Your majesty, I can explain,” said the duke. “I have my own reasons, and if both Olaf and I are fully aware of the slight risk involved, then it should be none of your concern.”

“What reasons?” asked Elsa. “What possible reason could there be? You had a fully functional arm, one that you lopped off to be replaced by … by this mockery.”

The duke slipped off his glove and held the frosted hand up to the light. “It’s more than simply a duplicate of the hand I had,” said the duke. “Of course it is, otherwise what would the point be?”

There was a sharp crack of ice, and the duke’s hand had transformed into a sword held up in the air before him. With another sharp crack it became a shield, then what looked like a musket, and finally a fluted glass, which filled itself with melted water. The duke sipped at it and gave a hopeful smile to Elsa.

“You gave him my power?” Elsa asked Olaf.

“He didn’t,” said the duke. “I asked for it, of course, but the arm is quite limited in the scheme of things, only able to expand to a certain volume and not capable of much in the way of moving parts. Nor can it replicate itself, or divide into different parts. Still, far more useful than my arm once was, and well worth the exchange.”

Elsa was aghast. Though there was no sign of it now, she could imagine that the amputation had been done in this very room. And there was still a lingering question, one she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to.

“Olaf, how does he control the arm?” she asked. It was the one problem that had stopped her from making a simpler, less extreme prosthetic, the kind that required no permanent alterations. The project would have been a boon to veterans and hard laborers alike.

Olaf was silent for a moment. He and the duke looked at each other for a moment. “There’s a sliver of ice in his brain,” Olaf began.

Too far. Elsa reached out to Olaf’s mind. It was wilderness now, a vast and unknowable mass of things that Elsa could only guess at. All of it was interconnected. There was no safe way to do mental surgery on him, no way to change him back to the way he was without remaking his personality from the ground up. Elsa closed her view of his mind. Then she snuffed out Olaf’s life.

The snow that made up his body collapsed to the ground, no longer held together by any magic. The two arms of ice fell and shattered against the floor. In time it would become a puddle, and nothing would be left of Olaf but the carrot that sat in the middle of a pile of snow.

“He was trying to make a better world,” said the duke. She could hear the sadness in his voice. She’d expected him to be more distraught.

“Better in whose eyes?” asked Elsa.

“He made duplicates of himself,” said the duke. “This isn’t over. You’ve only made things more difficult for the both of you.”

Elsa nodded. “I thought that might be the case. I might have done the same, if I were him.”

“I didn’t – don’t – know him perfectly,” said the duke. “But I think this was a test that you failed. If it means war -“

“I’ll deal with that when it comes,” said Elsa. “I think you should leave now.”

The duke left slowly, looking back at notes that he clearly wanted to take with him. When he was gone, Elsa and Jack were left alone. Jack hadn’t said a word since they’d entered. Elsa turned to look at him. His appearance had changed substantially since that first night, and now he more closely match the man from her dreams. He was rugged and powerful, and knew her better than anyone had before, even her own sister. They’d spent long nights together talking, in his bedroom or hers. It had been a whirlwind romance that was too fast and too perfect.

“He built you to distract me,” said Elsa.

“He did,” said Jack.

“You knew?” she asked.

“I suspected,” he replied.

“You know I can’t trust you now?” asked Elsa. “If Olaf were clever, and I think that he was, he might have left instructions hidden from your own thoughts.”

“It’s possible,” said Jack. “But I doubt it. He knew that you could look inside my mind.”

“All the same,” said Elsa.

“All the same,” Jack agreed.

Elsa reached out to touch his mind. She started out thinking that she would kill him too, that she would wipe away everything that made him a person and reduce him to a puddle on the ground. As she looked in his mind though, she saw the memories of their time together, making snow angels in the ice garden, and kissing softly under the moonlight. She didn’t know how long she spent replaying those memories, but Jack said nothing the whole time. At the core of his personality was the soft red light, a warm glow of love for her buried in the cold ice. When she found it, she began to weep.

Jack moved towards her and wrapped his arms around her.

“It’s okay,” he whispered.

She shook her head, but said nothing.

Elsa used her power to feel out the ice and snow in Arendelle. Every time she found one of the ice men, she probed his mind. She was looking for Olaf, or for instructions that Olaf had buried. If he was going to attack her, he would do it soon. Killing him once had been emotionally difficult, but the hardest part of doing something is often doing it for the first time.

“There are too many to check,” said Elsa after a half hour of probing outwards. Anna and Jack sat with her. Anna had been filled in, and though it was abundantly clear that she wanted to say “I told you so”, she had so far refrained.

“Was this a part of his plan?” asked Anna. “To make enough creatures that he could hide among them?”

“Not everything was machination on his part,” said Jack. “He wasn’t evil, not exactly, just a different kind of good.”

Anna turned to him. “You think what he was doing was right? Messing around with people’s brains?”

There was a tension between the two of them that went beyond mere disagreement. Elsa didn’t have time for it.

“He wasn’t going to stop,” said Elsa. “It would start with a sliver of ice in the brain, and from there – there are possibilities that I’ve considered, and things that I would never do. Things I can’t allow Olaf to do.” Flesh converted to ice, her subjects made into creatures of ice and snow, undying and unkillable. The conquest of the known world, and an iron grip of authority. If he could implant a shard of ice in the duke’s brain to control an arm, what would stop him from replacing the brain wholesale? “I’m not sure what he would do, and that’s why I have to stop him. I should have scooped out his mind the moment -” She looked to Jack. “I should have stopped him earlier.”

“Is this going to become a war?” asked Anna. “Do I need to move the kids away?”

“I don’t know,” said Elsa. “I don’t know what his next move is, because I don’t really know what really motivates him. Before the duke fled, he said that Olaf had been testing me, but I don’t know to what end. And I don’t know whether Olaf would try to kill me, since I don’t know whether he believes that his life will end with mine.”

“He has other options if he wants you neutralized,” said Jack.

“I know,” said Elsa. It would be nearly impossible to build a prison to hold her, but putting her in a coma would probably work. There were poisons that could accomplish that, or magics. She could also imagine an icicle piercing her brain, giving her a lobotomy. Elsa let out a long sigh. “I need to find his duplicates and put them down. I can’t be constantly worried about retribution. And even if retribution isn’t in his design, I can’t let him go to such extremes.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Anna.

“Escalate,” Elsa replied.

She designed a new construct. It looked like nothing more than a crystal shard, no more than a gilder wide. She gave it a small mind, one bound in a thousand different ways and simpler that even the snow beasts that ran the mills. It had only a single objective; to seek out minds of sufficient complexity and destroy them. She carefully crafted an exception for Jack. After a moment’s thought, she gave it small wings to flap like a bird, though its movement would be accomplished by its own raw magic instead of proper aerodynamics.

Elsa looked it over and then walked over to the double windows. She threw them open and let her little bird go. One would be nearly useless though, and so she gathered up her power around her and then let it loose in a wide torrent of creation. An outside observer might have thought it was a flock of birds, a seemingly unending stream of them, taking off and departing in different directions.

“They’ll find him, one way or another,” said Elsa.

Anna stared at her with wide eyes. “How much power do you really have?” she asked.

“An infinite well,” said Elsa. “Bound only by concentration and imagination. I’ve always said that, but I don’t think people quite grasp what I mean. I sent the birds to wipe Arendelle clean of anything too complex, but I’m doubtful that they’ll manage it. If he’s smarter than me, he’ll see this coming, though I don’t know how he’d plan around it.”

There was little to do but wait. Elsa moved out into the ice garden with Jack. Here were her sculptures, immense works of shaped ice that she’d made for the people of Arendelle to view. If she were attacked, she would prefer to see it coming, and fight in the open air where she wouldn’t have to worry about anyone around here. The palace would do little to stop Olaf.

“Anna knows about us,” said Jack.

“Yes,” said Elsa. “Maybe she’d only guessed before, and hadn’t know for sure, but … she knows now.”

“She thinks it’s disgusting,” he said.

“I know,” Elsa replied. “I have more important things on my mind than my sister’s opinion of me.”

They sat in silence, waiting for an attack that didn’t seem to be coming. The air was mild, and Elsa could hear people talking away in the distance. She hadn’t raised the alarm, or notified her subjects. There was little they could hope to do with the information, aside from panic. If Olaf wanted to kill them all, he could do it in the space of several heartbeats.

“Don’t hate me,” said Jack.

“I don’t,” said Elsa. “I hate myself for being weak. For being so easily drawn in by you. I was ripe for it, and Olaf saw it. You’re a distraction, if not something worse, and I hate that I can’t bring myself to kill you. This is what being raised in nearly complete social isolation does to a person, I guess.”

Jack frowned. “I wish that there were something I could say to make it better,” he said.

“The rational thing to do would be to kill you,” said Elsa. Jack said nothing. Perhaps it was clear to both of them that she never would, rationality be damned. “If you break my heart -“

Elsa caught sight of single snow bird flying towards her, one wing slightly torn. It fluttered in the wind, struggling to stay aloft, and Elsa nearly felt sorry for it before realizing it for the theatricality that it was. It was a message from Olaf. She beckoned the bird closer to her, and let it land in her hand. It cringed back from her touch, in obvious pain.

Elsa opened up its small mind. It was a mind too tiny for real pain, and the movements had simply been scripted into it. As a message, it was wholly enigmatic, but the mind showed her clearly where the bird had been – North Mountain, where Elsa had made her palace of ice so long ago. Olaf was waiting for her there, and through the bird’s memories she could see his patient stance.

“I’m leaving,” she said. “Alone. When I get back, we’ll have to figure out what I’m going to do with you.” Jack nodded. “If I don’t return, tell Anna that I loved her dearly. And tell her that I’m sorry.”

Elsa built a horse of ice and mounted it swiftly. She dug her heels into its sides, and felt it surge beneath her. Olaf had refrained from sending an assassin. In return, Elsa would allow him the courtesy of a conversation.

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A Bluer Shade of White, Chapter 5

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