Other Fan Fiction ❯ Anchor to the Past ( Chapter 3 )

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CHAPTER 3: Anchor to the Past

It was the sea that told her.

For weeks the ocean looked like a cold, rotting soup. Not a
roiling storm of anger, but an inert, lifeless lapping against the
shore. No wind, no swells, no waves. It became impossible to sail a
ship without rowers.

Ariel was human, but she still had a kinship with the sea. When
she placed her foot in the water, the sparkle of life’s flux seeped
into her skin, filling her with that sense of nostalgia. Her blood
danced. It was the same euphoria of singing at a concert or
swimming from a shark or finding a new human treasure. The sea gave
her life, and opened its arms whenever she returned.

But not this time.

There was no joy when she put her foot in. No blessing. Even if
the sea was cold, it was never absent of the vital warmth.
Something had happened. Something big. Something sad. And that was
when she knew.

The full story she gathered over time, asking the few oysters or
panfish that floated close to shore. It happened suddenly. Without
pain, but without warning. Some said it was meant to be–he had
done everything he was meant to in this life. The kingdom was at
peace. His last daughter had grown up and married. He started
falling asleep on his throne, staying in bed longer. He still
recognized everyone. Still smiled at his girls when they came to
his bedside.

And one day he just… faded away.

But Ariel couldn’t come back for the interment. There was simply
no way for her to return to the sea. Once she had seen a human in a
metal fish sink to the edge of Atlantica, but she never found
anything like that on the surface. Nothing that could let a human
revisit her birthplace.

Eric would have helped her, if she’d told him. But they’d been
fighting about… well, lots of different things since the
honeymoon ended. Living up to being a ruler. Bearing an heir.
Shirking responsibilities.

So, one day, she woke at sunrise and spent the day watching the
ocean, making a wreath of flowers. At sunset, she threw the wreath
on the water and wept as night fell.

Eventually, the sea brightened and the winds returned. Because
the Earth keeps spinning, clocks keep ticking, and trees keep
growing, no matter who left or arrived.

The royal graveyard lay at the edge of the palace’s land. She
had explored it a great deal when she was four years old, and thus,
hadn’t explored it since. And like always, devoid of anything
except floating jellyfish.

Moss and coral covered the oldest tombstones, rendering them
unto a reef reaching all the way back to a canyon wall. The first
grave, Oannes, had grown into the rockface of a cliff. A fitting
fate for the first king of the seas.

The freshest graves were the nearest, each a testament to their
resident. She passed by Neried, the most recent queen. Seeing her
great-grandfather Neptune’s tombstone reminded her of the time her
father tried to teach her the sea calliope. Of course, she had no
talent for it, and sloughed her lessons so she could tinker with
the Stringamajigger she’d found, which she now knew was a harp.

Ariel smiled to herself. So many adventures she’d had. She still
had adventures, now that she was human. But they were more about
self-discovery. Learning that shoes were not « foot bags » and snow
could burn your skin. But these were all things everyone else knew.
People at the castle gave her a sense that, after a year, her
stumbles were no longer cute.

Then she reached the final grave. She ran her fingers along the
name, embossed in brass lettering. A bas-relief of his torso stood
above, holding the trident across his muscular chest and wisping
beard. He looked regal, majestic, except for his eyes. Below the
white, bushy eyebrows and wrinkles, there had always been
tremendous weight on his soul. All that was gone now at least.

Below the bust was the royal prayer he delivered at his
coronation, before any of her sisters were born. Each king or queen
had their own–an oath of the ideology with which they intended to
rule.

« To protect Atlantica from all enemies. Let us keep harmony and
affection and reject the wicked and malicious. Bear every burden,
support every friend. Unite every world in one heart, » she
read.

It wasn’t a perfect era. Atlantica had its problems: the ten
year moratorium on music, war with the octopans and sharkanians,
the death of the her mother at an early age, constant xenophobia of
the surface world. But at the end, it all worked out.

« No more problems, Daddy, » Ariel whispered to the grave.

It felt good to grieve, but she couldn’t do it forever. The
obligation to stay human gnawed at her. Everyone had sacrificed so
much to bring her to this point, every moment as a mermaid felt
wrong. To change back, she would need the power of the trident. She
needed the power of a god.

The ruler of the sea was the only one who could properly wield
the trident. And the heiress presumptive was Aquata, her
oldest sister. She was good-hearted, but a little aggressive. She
could make a good ruler.

In fact, each of her sisters would make a good ruler. They all
fell into the role. All except herself, who’d rather be searching a
dank cave than doing anything princess-y.

In the dark blue, the palace was a glowing, golden beacon. The
human world had nothing like it. They made their castles small and
stout, covered in walls and towers to keep people away. You
couldn’t do that in the sea. Maybe that’s why Atlantica was so full
of diversity and harmony.

She scurried along a jagged trench, hoping not to be seen by any
passing fishfolk. News of her reappearance would only cause
delays.

In the distance, near the outer grounds, was a curious sign that
wasn’t there before. The writing wasn’t the greatest, so she had to
squint and read slowly.

« If you are being chased by a giant crab, head towards the red
dot. »

Ariel looked around. Way in the distance, there was a signpost
with a red dot in the middle of some spires. But a giant crab? How
ridiculous. Why would there be a giant crab so close to the castle?
The only way-

The trench wall below her burst open. A giant claw sliced
through the cloud of silt and rocks.

Ariel dodged back. The claw latched onto the end of her tail.
Its gnarled grips held her fluke so hard it could tear. She beat
against the crab’s carapace.

The claw held her up to its eyes–one coal-black, the other a
bad opalescent orb on its eyestalk. Hanging like a fish in market,
she banged against the pincer thumb. It loosened just enough to
free her tail as the second claw came swooping down. She darted out
of the way and floated up.

The crab was the size of a cottage. A crosswise crack in its top
shell exposed the pulsating alabaster skin underneath. Ariel took
the chance to catch her breath. At least crabs couldn’t jump-

The giant beast hunkered down, then burst out of the trench.
Sharp pincers jabbed at her like darts in a wind. She weaved in and
out but her muscles were tired–she had been out of the sea for so
long.

Red dot! Red dot!

As fast as she could, she swam to the red dot. The crab leaped
after her. With its buoyancy, it could jump from sand patch to sand
patch. Ariel looked back once. Its spotted claw ripped a seam of
bubbles behind her.

The red dot was in front of an rope and metal framework, with
links big enough to fit through. She swam through the fence and up
to the red dot in the middle.

« Now what? » She looked around.

« Head towards the blue dot! » someone called out.

Blue dot, blue dot. Where was the blue dot? She searched all
around. Fences to the sides. In the back. On top. This whole thing
was a cage.

The crab crashed against fence. Clanging metal reverberated in
her ears. It bashed against the cage, trying to get through, but
unable to. She relaxed-

The bottom of the fence bowed forward as the crab pushed. It
rose like a drawbridge, letting the crab slip under. The gate
slammed shut behind it.

Ariel backed away. Where was that blue dot?

The crab lunged for her, its mandibles rotated like a corkscrew.
She rushed to the other side of the cage as its claw raked behind
her.

« Over here! This way! »

Where was that voice? Ariel saw it. The blue dot. Against a
cliff wall.

Except the crab had her backed against the fence. A claw stabbed
into her path whenever she tried to escape. She couldn’t go through
the legs, they were moving too fast. One wrong step would spear her
like a shrimp.

She grabbed a rock from the sea floor and lobbed it into the
air. Please land right, please land right, please land
right
.

The giant claw seized her pause as its opportunity. Its claw
lanced forward, piercing the fence and trapping her between the
pincers. The moment it closed its grip, she’d be scissored in
two.

The rock landed on the crab’s back. It reared up and burbled
with pain. Ariel took the chance and slipped through the fence,
rushing to the blue dot.

The crab slammed its claws against the cage, searching for where
it came in. But the doors only swung one way, keeping it
trapped.

« Yyyy-ess! » called out a voice, hiding behind a rock. A pudgy
yellow and blue fish wearing silver shoulder pads jumped out,
pumping its fin. « Are you all ri-… Ariel? »

« Flounder? » It couldn’t be. Not Flounder. Flounder was a
scaredy-catfish. Why was he wearing a royal uniform?

« I… I can’t believe it. Ariel! » He launched forward and hugged
her. They tumbled end over end. « I haven’t seen you since you
turned human. What are you doing here? »

« I… it’s a long story. What about you? Did you build this? »
She gestured to the angry crab, slashing at its bonds.

« Yep. That guy’s been terrorizing the outer palace for a while
now. He’s got a nasty temper. We call him Mr. Pinchy. »

« We? »

He puffed out his yellow, scaly chest, showing the silver sash
across his chest. « Official warden of the royal defense force.
Charged with outer grounds security. »

« I can’t believe it. » Ariel’s jaw dropped. « You’re a palace
guard? »

« Can’t call me a guppy anymore, eh? »

« Never again, » she grinned. « Never in a million years. This is
what you do now? Chasing giant crabs? Building giant cages for
them? The Flounder I knew would turn eight shades of yellow at
that. »

Flounder shrugged. « When you left, I had to find some way to…
well, I guess without any adventures, I had to grow up and make my
own. » He grinned sheepishly. « I got the idea from a human thing we
found. Remember? I got stuck inside and you freed me? »

Ariel nodded. « Scuttle said it was a fazzamagorff, that humans
used it for a sport called blonskerball. »

« You tried to get the ball inside, but no one could get the ball
out, so they threw the net away after each game. » Flounder
chuckled.

She offered her arm to Flounder. « Well, would the palace’s
finest guard be willing to escort the youngest princess into the
palace? »

« Of course, my lady. These are dangerous waters. I hear there’s
giant crabs about. »

Ariel giggled. « I hope there are brave fish about who know how
to take care of them. »

« Nope, no one here but us guppies. »

They swam by the crab. It snapped a claw at them, bouncing
against the cage. Ariel and Flounder jumped. Then looked at each
other and laughed. They stuck their tongues out at it and continued
on.

« You know, technically, you’re not a princess anymore. You’re a
queen. »

« Not just yet, » Ariel said. « He’s still a prince until his
mother and father relinquish the crown. They rule from the
mainland. Eric’s castle is like their summer home. He lives there
since he loves the ocean so much-« 

« No, I mean here, » Flounder said. « Even though Attina is the
eldest, but she never had a coronation. She kept putting it off.
There was almost going to be a second Sargasso War, but Alana
jumped in and signed a big treaty. Then Dudley found an old law
that whoever held the king’s crown at his passing was the next
ruler. And that was Adella. Meanwhile, Andrina has been holding the
most court time. But Aquata and Arista have been traveling to other
kingdoms, handling foreign affairs. »

« So basically, they’re all queen at the same time. »

Flounder nodded. « Too much time passed. So all six of them were
trying to claim it and there was a huge fight. Sebastian came in
and told them all to stop. »

« Sebastian’s still around? I thought he retired by now. »

Flounder sighed. « The king’s death hit him pretty hard. He
spends most of his time sleeping on the throne. »

« The throne? »

« The girls don’t use it. The girls spend all their time in the
meeting chambers, arguing with each other. I think he feels
responsible for them. He has to stick around and make sure they
don’t kill each other. It’s… not been the most successful
reign. »

« Really? I always thought I was the black fish in the school.
They always got along great, and I was the one who made father
mad. »

« It’s been constant bickering for the past six months–what
ministers to appoint, what laws to sign. It always seems they’re
split down the middle–three against three. » They arrived at the
top of the steps to the palace. « Maybe you could help break the
stand-offs. »

Ariel chewed her lower lip. « You know what? I think I’d like to
talk to them on my own. I mean, it’s been a year. »

« Sure, sure, » Flounder nodded. « I bet it’ll be a touching
reunion. You’ll be all ‘hey’ and they’ll be like ‘waaah!’ and then
everyone will be all ‘yay!’. »

Ariel held her mouth as she laughed. Same old Flounder.

He waved a fin. « Let me know how it goes. I’ve got to check on
Mr. Pinchy. See you later. »

Ariel kept waving until Flounder was out of sight. Instead of
entering the palace, she swam up and around the many spires,
sneaking through the pores of the towers. Everyone in the castle
was asleep.

At least, she thought so. Until, close to the throne room, a
burst of shrill noise emitted from the meeting chambers.

« You can’t expect all the oysters to get up and move like
that! »

« We don’t have a choice. How do you expect the caravans to get
through the gulch? »

The first voice was Attina. The second, Aquata.

Unable to resist, she ascended to the ceiling and peeked through
a hole. Down there were her sisters, sitting around a semi-circle
table. Arista’s head lay on the table, her pink tiara over her
eyes. Adella was doodling something. Alana stood next to an easel
of seaweed parchment. Aquata and Attina pointed at each other while
Andrina tried to call their attention to a scroll in her hand.

« Why do we need all those shipments of octopus ink anyway? It’s
expensive, » Attina said.

« How else are we going to write up all these laws! » Aquata said.
« Sawfish-head here keeps creating new ones. »

« I am not a sawfish-head, » Andrina said.

« Ahem… » Alana tapped her pointer on the easel. « We still
haven’t talked about the Memorial Garden. If we put it closer to
the Grand Tetras, we can put in an extra row of sea daisies. »

« I thought we already made a decision on this, » Aquata said.
« Adella, what do the notes say? »

« I don’t know, » Adella said sleepily. « Arista’s supposed to be
the pen pusher this time. »

« Then what are you writing? » Andrina looked over her shoulder.
« Is that a list of boys coming to the ball? »

Adella covered her page. « Maybe. Shut up. Bug Arista. She’s the
one sleeping. »

« Arista, wake up, » Attina yelled.

Arista perked her head.

« Stop napping. You’re supposed to be taking notes, » Attina
said.

« I can’t help it, » Arista yawned. « These meetings are ruining my
beauty sleep. I’m going to look terrible for the Mermaid’s
Ball. »

« Remember when we could solve everything by having a party? »
Adella said.

Ariel shrank back. Yes, she remembered those times. Now Attina
had bags under her eyes, Arista’s fingers clenched like a sea
spider. Ruling the sea had taken a heavy toll on their youth.

This was not the time to make her presence known, even if she’d
wanted to. If they knew she was returning, they’d pull her into
their problems. She was only here to turn herself back to a human.
The trident wasn’t with them, so she left the window.

The throne room’s walls were dark and grimy. The chair had begun
to grow barnacles and they hadn’t remodeled the room to fit the new
regime. Six sisters couldn’t sit in the throne at once, and so it
became underused.

The trident sat in its holder–a golden metal flower–behind the
throne. It also looked neglected. The sea kingdom was at peace, so
no one needed to take it out. It wouldn’t be like her sisters to
declare war on anyone. Nevertheless, it still maintained a guard
complement of one–an old friend.

« Sebastian… » Ariel whispered. Then she hummed a tune Chef
Louie always sang. « Les poissons, les poissons… »

His yellows eyes bulged. He jumped up, shrieking. « Aieeeee! What
are you-? How could you-? »

Ariel giggled. « It’s just me, Sebastian. »

Sebastian blinked. « Am I seeing tings… Ah-ree-el? Is dat you,
child? »

She smiled. « It’s me. You’re not dreaming. »

« I never taut you’d come back. Not after… » he looked away.

« Do you always sleep on Daddy’s throne? »

« Well, since your father is passing, it just… reminds me of
him. »

« I understand, » Ariel said.

« And he never told me how comfortable it is. Mmm, like a sea
sponge on a bed of sand. »

Ariel laughed. « Well, he did have to sit in it a lot. » This felt
like old times. Sneaking around the palace, talking to Sebastian,
escaping danger with Flounder.

« What are you doing here? » He gasped. « We got to have a
celebration. »

« Shh, no, no. I’m not… I’m not here for long. Somehow I turned
back into a mermaid. I don’t know who or what did it or how. But I
need the trident to change back. I figured if it turned me human
once, it could… »

Sebastian followed Ariel’s gaze to the holstered weapon. « But
only de true ruler of the sea can use its full power. »

A few times in her past, she’d… ahem… acquired the trident
to defend herself or the palace against some nasty thieves or
octopuses. She’d never been able to get it to do anything but shoot
energy bolts.

« I know. But if the daughters of Triton are the rightful rulers
of the sea, I could use it now, right? »

Only members of the royal bloodline could take it out of its
pedestal. Ariel reached and took out the trident with ease. It
hummed with an ethereal metallic sound.

Sebastian sighed. « I don’t know child. De king told me it took a
lot of self-control using de ting. »

She held out the trident, brandishing it like a long sword. What
did she have to do, just wish? Will it to happen and it would?

Ariel turned the weapon so the three tines pointed at her. She
looked like she was about to stab herself. Just as she was about to
try, she remembered she was deep underwater. She remembered
transforming in Urusla’s lair, flailing her arms, struggling to
breathe and only taking in horrible deadly water.

« I’m going to take this to the surface… just in case something
goes wrong. »

Sebastian chuckled like an old crab. « At least you’re finally
learning from your mistakes. »

« See? I did pay attention in school. »

« School wasn’t de problem. I was always finding you in school.
It just was nevah your school! »

« If everything works, I’ll return the trident as soon as I reach
shore. Tell my sisters what I did and I’ll send a message where I
dropped it. » She bent down and kissed him. « I promise, you’ll see
me again. Once I get this all straightened out, I’ll drop you a
line. Er, I mean… »

« Hah, you have been around humans too long, » Sebastian
barked. « Go on, child. Go back to your prince. I’ll keep de throne
warm for you. » He yawned and settled back into the chair.

Ariel rolled and rose past of the castle. She halted at the
ocean’s ceiling, short of breaching it.

After a deep breath, she gripped the trident with two hands and
concentrated on turning herself human. Nothing happened at first.
Then it began making its signature thrumming sound. The golden glow
brightened.

Lightning shot out of the central spire. The staff flashed,
bolts of electricity shooting left and right. It vibrated in her
hands.

« Wha… what’s going on? » She tried to let go, but her fingers
stuck fast, no matter how she writhed.

The water around her roiled, churning up and down as if stirred
by a great spoon. Cerulean colorant darkened to a sickly gray.
Streaks of lightning whorled out like crossbow bolts.

Ariel struggled to the surface as waves tossed her about.

Above was no better. Whirlpools formed under swelling tides,
cresting in frothy white foam. The sea had become a seething vortex
of destruction.

What was happening? Why couldn’t she control it? If she couldn’t
stop it, it might spread across the whole ocean.


The K.N.M. Freya cast a long shadow over the dock,
encapsulating Elsa and Anna.

« That’s a big ship, » Anna commented.

Captain Hemming leaned over the edge of the ship. He was
middle-aged, but still kept a tone frame.

« Ahoy, my queen. » He shivered. « Bit nippy out today, isn’t
it? »

« You could say that, » Elsa called up to him.

« We’re ready to sail when you are. »

The first mate shoved a loading platform over the side. It
landed with a thunk, scattering ice chips.

Elsa took a deep breath. She turned to Anna. « I’ll be back as
soon as I can. I promise. Remember, you’re in charge until I get
back, so try to be a role model. That means not stuffing chocolate
in your face. »

Instead of laughing, Anna looked away, despondent. She leapt
forward and embraced her sister. « Please, please be all right. »

« Everything will be fine. I sent word for Kristoff to return.
He’ll be back in a day or so. »

« I know. It’s just… ergh, everything is so floopy. Just… be
careful. »

« I will, » Elsa nodded solemnly. « Come on, Olaf. »

« Elsa, someone crushed this tree flat. We need to take it home
and help it, » Olaf said.

« It’s not a tree, Olaf. It’s how we get on board. »

« Ohhh, okay. » He stepped onto one of the wooden nubs. « Okay, I’m
on the board. Now what? »

Elsa rubbed her nose. « Just… wait for me. »

« Elsa… » Anna said. « One more thing before you go. I’m sorry, I
have to ask. You aren’t leaving to… avoid dealing with the
people? »

« What? No. Of course not. I’m leaving to find a solution for our
problem. It’s just good luck that Corona happens to be our
allies. »

« Okay, good. I didn’t think you were trying to run away. »

« Run away? What do you mean? I’ve never run away. »

« Well, right. I mean, except last year. At coronation. »

« That was different. That was… » She turned away. « I have to
go. »

Olaf and Elsa climbed up onto the ship’s deck.

« Welcome onboard Her Arendelle Majesty’s Ship Freya.
We’ll take off as soon as you give the word, » Hemming said.

« The word is given, captain, » she said. « How long will it take
us to get to Corona? »

« The Freya is the fastest schooner in Arendelle’s fleet.
We’ll get to Corona in a day if the weather’s good. »

The captain signaled to his crew on the forecastle, who set to
work throwing ropes and turning gears. Olaf walked past them,
oblivious of the action. « Wow, this is bigger than I thought. »

« This is the magic snowman? Your… creation? » Hemming
asked.

Elsa nodded. « Is it okay? »

« Oh, yes, of course, » he stammered. « Just that… well, I was
expecting something… er, is he always like that? » the captain
said.

Olaf approached the main mast and wrapped his twig arms around
it. « Hi, Freya. My name is Olaf and I like warm hugs. »

« Most of the time. You get used to it, » Elsa said.

As the ship left port, the queen and her companion waved
politely to those on the dock. Elsa blew Anna a kiss before she
could see her no longer.

Her kingdom faded into fog. A wispy mass of clouds swirled over
the city. It didn’t look to be following her, just like she had
suspected.

« But if it’s not me, then who is it? » she whispered to
herself.

Elsa headed to the bow to watch the sun set and to get out from
under the sailors’ heels. She leaned forward, bracing her arms on
the cabers where the bow came together. Wind pelted her face.

The sea felt like a different world. One where nothing stayed
still and pleasant. It was constant change, constant motion. Here
one moment and gone the next.

Maybe this was a bad idea. Could Anna even handle running the
kingdom for a few days? She never took to schooling as well. Elsa
threw herself into her studies because that was a way to control
her power. Her parents let her get away with less education in the
ways of queendom because they pitied her. She had to remain in
seclusion through no fault of her own. They probably expected–and
quite correctly–that she wouldn’t need to take the throne.

And what did Anna mean–trying to run away? She never tried to
get around her responsibilities. Leaving to find help was an
unfortunate consequence. Her people loved her now. She was « the
snow queen »

The people could hardly be blamed for being suspicious. But when
she tried to explain that the evidence was circumstantial, they
jumped back to distrust.

Why did this keep happening? The ice skating parties, the open
gates. Didn’t they understand she wasn’t a monster anymore? What if
they were standing at the docks with torches and pitchforks on her
return? She’d never be able to come home again. This might be the
last time-

The wood under her hands crackled. A film of frost spread
outward. She yanked her hands away.

« No, no, control it. Control it. »

She remembered Anna, Kristoff, Anna and Kristoff together.
Sledding and royal feasts and traveling minstrels and all the new
people they had met. New people that made her self-conscious and
awkward-

No, don’t think about that!

« Hi, Elsa. Whatcha doin’? » Olaf said.

Elsa unclenched her eyes. The little snowman looked up with doe
eyes.

« Olaf? Am I a good queen? »

« Of course! Wait, why? Is your crown not fitting anymore? »

Elsa touched her tiara. « No, the crown’s fine. I’m just not sure
people want me to wear it. Since I was coronated, there’s been
nothing but trouble. Always fixing past mistakes, and there’s these
new ones. What if it’s me? What if I’m not a good queen? Or even,
what if I’m not a good person? »

Olaf gasped. « Of course you’re a good person. Anna loves you so
much it thawed her frozen heart. »

« Anna thinks I’m running away from the troubles. »

« Oh… like you did on coronation day. »

« Right. But that was because people thought I was a witch. »

« And when you ran into the castle when they were chanting ‘take
it back’. »

« I… That was different. They jumped on me. If they would just
wait until I’m ready… »

« And when you didn’t answer Anna’s question at the dock a few
minutes ago. »

« It’s not my fault. It’s only been a year since we opened the
gates. I’m still getting used to everything. It’s like being a new
me. Why can’t they understand that? »

« Ye didn’t stay to make ’em understand, » said a third voice.

A sailor sat on a barrel further down deck, cutting up an orange
with his utility knife. He offered a wedge to her.

Elsa shook her head. « What do you mean? »

He swallowed his orange. « You don’t do well with eyes staring at
you, do ye? Surprises. The unexpected. Not your fancy. »

« No. But it doesn’t matter. The people will get their answers as
soon as I find them. It doesn’t mean they have to act like a
mob. »

« An’ how about your sister, the princess? I saw how ye reacted
on her. Bit of a shut-‘er-out ye gave. »

Elsa scowled. « That’s not your concern. Maybe I acted a little
like I used to, but I was under stress. I’m still getting used to
being queen. She needs to understand that. Everyone does. Everyone
needs to wait while… »

« How long you expect them to wait? » the sailor said. « Because
they don’t wait around forever. Can’t spend a lifetime expecting
someone to shape up. Take me. » He swallowed his orange. « First
thing I did on shore was shack up in a tavern. M’wife didn’t
understand. She hated that I didn’t come to her first. Waited for
me to figure it out. I didn’t. She left and found another man who
didn’t need a drink by the fire and a few friends. »

« I think she was right. You couldn’t give her what she
wanted. »

« Didna say she was wrong. » He gestured with his knife. « I’m
saying people only got so much patience for flaws. They only got
one lifetime. Can’t spend it cooing over some bad piece of meat. If
they can’t find it, they’ll find something to replace it. »

Elsa looked away. She almost destroyed the kingdom to escape her
isolation. Even after the castle gates were open, people still
gathered at them calling for her head.

And Anna… she had made her sister wait ten years before
opening up to her. And when times got tough, she lapsed. She had a
decade to make up for and Elsa still had trouble tearing herself
away from work. Arendelle could replace their queen, but what if
Anna wanted to replace her sister? Would Anna stay if things
slipped back to the way they were?

The sailor’s eyes widened. He stood from his barrel and looked
into the horizon. In the distance, dark gray clouds were sweeping
towards them, made more ominous by the absence of sun. Like the
black wool of a sheep, the clouds roiled toward them, spreading in
all directions.

« Ooh, what is that? » Olaf said, struggling to see over the edge
of the boat.

« Storm coming, » the sailor said, his mouth full.

« They usually come up this fast? » Elsa asked.

« No… » he trailed off. « This ain’t no natural storm. »

The ship’s deck tossed up and down more violently than when they
started. Streaking bolts of lightning of yellow fired from every
which way, as if the sky was raging.

« Ohhhh! » Olaf said. « The stars are exploding with joy! »

The captain called from the man deck. « Man the rigging. Batten
down the hatches. All hands! To your stations! »

Elsa stayed at the bow, out of the way of the yelping sailors,
creaking wood, and growling thunder.

Then the rain came. Tiny needle-sharp pellets stung her skin
like tiny darts. The wind added to the blast, forcing her to turn
away. Olaf slid back and forth, waving his stick arms in the
air.

Sailors rushed around the deck, tossing ropes and tools to each
other. Others swarmed to the mast as the ship rolled like a baby
cradle. Heavy gales tossed the men swinging on ropes like wind
chimes.

One of the sailors heaved a shoulderful of rope across the deck,
knocking into Olaf. His head bounced across the deck.

« Whoa, here I go. » Olaf’s head spun along the deck, caroming off
the kicking legs. « Look out! Here I come! Watch your feet! »

Elsa chased after him, weaving between the passing workmen. Wind
and rain pushed against her. A rough hand grabbed her shoulder.

« Queen Elsa! Best you get down below! » Captain Hemming shouted
over the wind.

« I will, » she shouted. The wind carried her words out to sea
before they left her lips. Another midshipman pulled the captain
toward him.

« The ship can’t take this! We weren’t ready! »

Elsa took the opportunity and grabbed Olaf’s head.

Olaf said, « You know, this is my first time on a boat, but I’m
having mixed feelings about it. »

Elsa ran across deck to Olaf’s body and put his head back on. A
sound like the rending of earth rose muted every gust of wind and
shout. The erratic sailors ominously paused. Elsa didn’t see what
they were looking at.

« Watch out! The main mast! The main mast! »

Sailors scattered at the tremendous creaking, trying to avoid or
repair the damage. The giant tower careened like a giant chopping
arm and smashed into the deck.

Elsa snapped back from her gaze of horror, and ran to the front
of the ship. Shards of wood joined the rain stabbing her face. All
she could think was that her parents died while sailing into a
storm.

Ice formed under her fingers, spreading along the wood. No,
no,
Elsa thought, not now. She turned around, lifting
her hands free, even as the boat threatened to toss her off deck.
Icicles trickled down the crossbars of the sails. Iceball chunks
formed in the air and dropped, gouging the deck. She turned back to
the sea.

There was an iceberg in the water below her, maturating from the
pounding rain. It grew larger with each lightning flash. Sharp,
jagged spires protruded from the mountain. The waves carried them
closer together.

Elsa shouted to warn the crew. They were too busy trying to save
the ship. She pointed. She jumped up and down.

Then the iceberg hit.

Her panic set in as the ship’s hull shuddered from the
impalement. The deck shook back and forth. Gravity grabbed her and
yanked her over the side. In her flailing, she found the edge of
the boat. Hanging over the side as the boat rose and fell, she
yelled soundlessly for help. The wind sucked her words out into
nothingness.

Olaf leaned over the side. « Elsa! I’ll give you a hand! »

His arm separated. She stuck it back in his snowy body.

« Okay, not what I intended. Um… maybe the other arm. »

A huge wave buffeted the ship. Ice cold water reached up and
licked her feet. Olaf fluttered his arms and fell over the
rail.

« Olaf! »

The three sections of his body separated, drifting away from
each other in the swells. At one crest, his twig arms waved as his
head shouted « I’m good! »

The frosty ice forming under her hands gave her some traction.
Elsa looked down at the pitch black seas.

The waves reached up like formless fingers, greedy to grab and
consume her. Bright light flashed again. She couldn’t risk turning
her eyes away. In the murk, she thought she saw a glance of red. On
a girl floating in the waves…

Retread Paths
Don't Break the Ice