Other Fan Fiction ❯ Strangled ( Chapter 7 )

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CHAPTER 7: Strangled

Arendelle’s public library wasn’t as nice as Corona’s. But
Rapunzel didn’t expect them to. She had visited whole kingdoms who
didn’t know what a library was. And some villages that hadn’t even
seen a book.

Nonetheless, its non-fiction section provided enough for a few
hours of research. Like every other investigation thus far, they
had accumulated nothing. A page of notes sat in front of them,
in-between the towers of volumes. Half of it was possibly useful
and the other half was doodles.

Rapunzel wrapped her finger around her hair. Her fantastic braid
had unraveled with all the movement she had undergone. Yet she
shunned the idea of having the royal hairdresser redo it. Pascal
sat on one of the volumes, his bulbous eyes scanning pages at
speed.

Anna leaned back in her chair, head up against the ceiling.
« Uuuugggghhh, this is so boring. And we’re not getting any
closer. »

« You’re right, » Rapunzel said. She closed her book and stacked
it on the pile, now as tall as her. They were the only ones inside
library, giving an eerie feeling of quiet and haunting. In her
tower, the one window was always unblocked, so she witnessed every
sunrise and sunset.

Above them, the grinding of ice started again. Kristoff’s
company of men had come back from their break. Inside it sounded
like they were obliterating the roof with giant threshing
blades.

Rapunzel grabbed an armful of books to take back to the shelves.
« Is there another room with archives? Like rare or delicate
items? »

Anna covered her eyes with her twin braids. « I dunno. »

« What about a rare collection? For delicate items? »

« I have no idea. » She yawned. « Maybe this was a bad idea. By the
time we get this figured out, Kristoff will have got rid of all the
ice. »

« It’s a big town, it could take a while. Besides, if we don’t
know what caused it, it could happen again. Remember, we’re doing
this for Elsa. »

« Right, right. » At the mention of her sister, she lowered her
head and got back to researching.

Rapunzel took the books back to their individual shelves. Her
unraveled hair now trailed after her like a blond wedding train.
Once finished, she looked for another door, maybe one that would
lead to the archives or a private collection. A kingdom as old as
this had to have something. And if it wasn’t in the castle, it
would be here.

She found one unlabeled door against the gray brick walls. No
« keep out » signs, so she went in. It looked like a closet, but
without light, she couldn’t be certain. She entered and riffled
through the assorted boxes. Lots of books, but nothing rare. Mostly
editions with broken bindings or torn pages.

The door shut behind her. Darkness swallowed her up. Rapunzel
didn’t panic. Until she turned the knob. It didn’t give. She was
locked in. The handle would do nothing but jiggle. She pulled on it
like a lever. The brittle brass snapped off in her hand.

« Help! » She pounded on the door. « Help, help! Let me out-« 

The scraping sounded. That screeching, air-cracking grind.
Thunder encompassing on all sides. The booming, quaking. Someone
was hammering the walls and roof shut.

Her breathing shortened. Her lungs and chest began to ache, as
if being squeezed. She backed away and toppled onto a pile of
boxes. When she reached up, all she felt was walls. Walls on all
sides.

She screamed as tears came. She screamed and screamed and
screamed.

« No, no, no… » she whispered. She repeated it to herself like a
mantra. « No, no, no… » Images of Flynn, her mother and father,
Pascal. She’d never see them again. Not a single person. Just
herself. Trapped in her mind.

The gray brick walls. The single room. Every rafter, every
floorboard. A metal collar around her neck, weighing down her
neck.

The door opened. « Rapunzel? »

Rapunzel shied away from the bright light spiking her dilated
pupils.

« I… » Rapunzel said between gasps. « I got… locked in. »

« Your hair got caught in the door. » Anna kicked away the blond
hair under the door. Rapunzel’s body lay draped against the boxes,
hands contorted and clutching. Her petite chest heaved up and down,
mouth wide to take in air. « Geez, are you okay? »

« Yeah, » Rapunzel swallowed. « I just… for a minute it felt like
I was… back… never mind. » She wiped the hair from her eyes,
moist from sweat. Without another word, she stood straight up and
walked out of the closet.

« What did they do to you in that tower? » Anna whispered.

« Nothing. I mean… I just… I don’t know. I guess it got
overwhelming with the darkness and the noise and the closed
space. »

Anna looked up and bit her lip. « I think we need a break. Let’s
go back to the castle, » she said as they returned to the table.

Rapunzel picked up Pascal, who had fallen asleep. « I think
that’s a good idea. »

A coach took them back across the fjord to the castle. The
rhythmic clomping of the hooves and gentle vibration of the
carriage helped calm Rapunzel. Anna told a story about the time a
squirrel snuck into her castle.

« So then I started chasing it, thinking I’d show it to Elsa. And
it could be our little pet. But then it ran behind the dresser. So
I got this little pillow for a bed, and a bowl of sunflower seeds.
I made this little collar while I was sitting there and saying ‘and
we can go see the concerts and you can live on my head and be my
hat and when its dinner time you can brush your fuzzy tail against
the ladies’ legs and make them scream… »

Rapunzel was smiling when they passed through the castle gates
and exited the coach.

« So what do you want to do? We have some games in the parlor, »
Anna said.

« Do you have chess? »

Anna made a face. « I don’t like chess. Elsa does though. I’m
sure she’d play you when she gets back. »

« What about puzzles? »

« Mm, puzzles are boring. You just put together a picture that
someone else broke? But there’s cards, knucklebones, Fox &
Geese, Hazard, if you like gambling. »

Rapunzel didn’t like any of those games, but she could make
allowances for her cousin.

Kai met them at the castle entrance, holding a yellowed
envelope. « Princess Anna, this letter just came for you. It says
it’s urgent, but the address only says ‘the ruling monarch of the
kingdom of Arendelle’. It may be referring to Queen Elsa. But since
you are the current ruling monarch, perhaps you should look at it.
You’ve been gone all day. »

« Right. Sorry about that. Kingdom still in one piece, right?
Nothing bad happened? »

« Yes, madam. Anything that came up, I took care of it. »

Rapunzel detected a hint of resentment in his tone. Resentment
that flew over Anna’s head. She ripped open the envelope and pulled
out a single sheet of paper. Her eyebrows squelched.

« It’s just a blank piece of paper, » Anna said. She showed
it.

« Would Elsa understand it? » Rapunzel asked.

« Who knows. » She stuffed it back in the envelope and handed it
back to Kai. « Put it in Elsa’s room. Maybe she can figure it out
when she gets back. If it was that urgent, you’d think they would
have used words. Come on, Rapunzel. » They left Kai behind while
Anna led Rapunzel further into the castle.

They played Tric-Trac and other games which excited Anna, but
left Rapunzel disinterested. Gambling and games of chance weren’t
as fun with two people. But it did help get their mind off their
failures.

During lulls, Rapunzel plucked out the hairpins and barrettes
from her braid. As well done as it was, the royal hairdresser’s
work had essentially disintegrated.

Near the end of the night, they heard a strange booming outside
their door. Like a giant walking down the hall.

« What’s that? » Anna asked.

« I don’t know. It’s your castle. »

The door to the parlor burst open. Rapunzel shirked back. A
frost-giant stood in the doorway, covered in black fur with flecks
of snow. A hand-axe gleamed in its giant ebony paw.

« …carrots, » it said.

« Kristoff! » Anna ran up to him and hugged him. « Ooh, you’re so
cold… and wet. »

He pulled the fur down from his face. « Where are the carrots?
Sven needs them. »

« Aren’t there any in the kitchen? »

Kristoff started the process of peeling off his gear–thick
coat, hat, gloves, sweater. « I looked. The staff said they’d been
moved to help feed the town. »

« Ooh, I bet Kai did that. Good man. I’ll see if Gerda can help
out. Are there any other vegetables Sven likes? Onions? Leeks?
Turnips? Rutabagas? »

Kristoff raised an eyebrow as he pried off his last boot. « Are
you being generous or just trying to get rid of foods you don’t
like? »

« You’ll never know. On an unrelated note, he can’t have any
chocolate. »

Kristoff chucked his last boot into the pile. Now clad in
nothing but long underwear, he stretched his legs. « Oh, that feels
good. My fingers feel worn down to nubs. »

« Uh, Kristoff… » Anna gestured to Rapunzel behind her. She had
remained so still and quiet he didn’t know she was there.

« Oh, uh, hi… » Kristoff backed away and covered his sensitive
regions with his hands.

Pascal peeked out from Rapunzel’s hair. His eyes grew wider.
Rapunzel gently shoved him back into her mane.

« Why didn’t you stop me? » Kristoff asked.

« Because this was funnier. » She patted his shoulder. « I’ll be
right back. » Anna picked up her skirt and went to find Gerda.

Kristoff looked down at the pile, weighing whether or not to put
his clothes back on. « Soooo… » he rubbed the back of his head.
« How have you been liking it hair- I mean, here? »

Rapunzel stifled a laugh. « It’s good. Anna’s been showing me
everything. It’s much different than Corona. »

« Yeah, that’s kinda funny. Two kingdoms ruled by cousins, but
they’re so different. Is this your first time in Hairendelle- I
mean, Arendelle. »

Now Rapunzel couldn’t help but laugh. « I’ve been here before
once, for Elsa’s coronation. »

« I don’t remember meeting you. »

« I had a different look at the time. But so much was happening,
I’m not surprised. The funny thing is, you know what I remember
most? I couldn’t go barefoot at all. »

« Anna loves going barefoot too. Must run in the family. »

Rapunzel looked down at her toes. « Yeah. It took everyone in the
castle a while to get used to me walking around without shoes. »

Anna came back at that moment and jumped on Kristoff’s back.
« Saves on socks! » She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled
into his shoulder.

« You couldn’t do that where I grew up. You’d end up with broken
toes, » Kristoff said.

« Your family must have heavy feet, » Rapunzel said.

« You don’t know the half of it, » Kristoff said.

« Your family… Of course. » Anna turned toward him. « They might
have an idea of what’s going on. We need to go see them. »

« I don’t think they’d know much more than us, » Kristoff said.
« But it’s worth a shot. Wait, you don’t mean now? »

Anna raised her eyebrows roguishly. She grabbed Rapunzel’s hand
and dragged her out of the parlor. From the hallway she said, « Go
get Sven ready. Hitch up the sled. We’ll get dressed. »

Kristoff looked down at his clothes and said, « Does this mean I
have to put all this back on? »


Maybe because they were tired, night seemed to never end on this
island. Puffy sick clouds crossed the moon, dimming and brightening
the water. Torger heaved back and forth, rowing the two of them to
the opposite side of the island. Craggy cliffs and moors made most
of the coastline unusable, making it a perfect location for a
hermit.

Elsa sat across from him, staring.

« How much further? »

« Have a heart, lass. It’s the middle of the night, I didn’t have
a good dinner. Look at my arms. Skin and bones, » Torger said
between breaths.

« Keep rowing. » Elsa flexed her bare fingers on the trident. She
had to hide her smile when Torger’s eyes went wide. « Ariel? »

« Still here. Coast is clear, » Ariel said from behind the boat.
She kept one hand on the aft edge, offering a gentle push when she
wasn’t keeping an eye out.

Torger grumbled to himself. « Hope you choke on whatever she
gives you for her. »

« I’m not ‘selling’ the mermaid, » Elsa said. « She’s my friend.
You’re taking us to Naidra for answers. »

« She’ll pluck out your eyes just as soon as part with any spell,
I guarantee. And you best address her by title if you aim to keep
your tongue too. »

« Have you ever seen her before? » Elsa asked.

« Not once. And the sun will grow cold before I do. When I was a
boy, me and the lads dared each other into the cave. Stig went the
furthest, but then we heard a scream. He had the coughing fits for
three days. Doctor said it was mountain flu, but we all knew it was
the witch. I felt the rancid mist of the spell. »

Elsa didn’t lend much credence to this. Rumors and reputation
could provide a convenient smokescreen for people who wanted to be
left alone.

When they saw the entrance, they knew only a witch could live
there. Ocean water flowed into a stony cave entrance. Onyx
stalactites surrounded the ceiling and water’s surface, like a
dragon’s mouth. The only way in was by boat.

« Take us inside, » Elsa said.

« I’m not going in there, » Torger said, shaking his head.

« Do it. » She tightened her grip on the trident.

Torger rowed as if afraid of the cave’s jaws shutting on him.
Inside, a narrow stone walkway led along one edge of the cave
wall.

Elsa, never letting go of the trident, placed one foot on the
stern, peering as far as she could. Darkness placed a pitch black
curtain at a certain point within, separating outside light from
whatever was inside.

Torger dropped an oar and pushed her forward. Elsa and landed
head first in the water.

« Elsa! » Ariel dove toward her. Elsa thrashed. Pockets of
incarnate chill popped around her as Ariel pushed her to the
surface. She rolled Elsa onto the walkway adjacent to the cave
wall.

Elsa hacked up water in a sticky puddle under her chin. Ariel
clutched the trident she’d recovered.

« I’m all right, » she coughed out. « Where’s Torger? » She wiped
the wet hair from her eyes and stood.

The dinghy floated beyond the cave entrance, with Torger rowing
as fast as he could.

« You said you’d let me go if I took you here. Didn’t say nothing
’bout taking you back, » he shouted.

« That dirty sea slug, » Ariel said. She held the point of the
trident forward and fiercely. The enchanted hum sounded. But
instead of lightning, a tall upsurge of water undulated out toward
the ocean. It swelled into Torger’s boat, carrying him further out
to sea.

« I didn’t mean to do that, » Ariel said. « I can still get
him. »

« No, » Elsa said. « There’s no point. We can get back ourselves.
Besides, his arms will fall off by the time he’s back at
shore. »

Ariel swam beside Elsa, head above water like a sea lion, moving
further in. The two of them walked slow, in case of traps or witchy
curses.

« You know, if I could make a wave like that, maybe I can make
more than lightning. I just wish I knew how. I never thought I’d
have to use this thing. My six older sisters would have become
queen before me. And I never had any interest in ruling the kingdom
anyway. »

« Maybe it’s not your lineage or anything that’s the problem.
Maybe it’s something else, » Elsa said.

« Like what? »

« Well, when I was little, I thought keeping my power suppressed
was the way to control it. But every time I got too afraid or
upset, it came out. I was so afraid of hurting anyone, I shut
myself away from the world, suppressed my emotions. But when I went
away from everyone and could use my power, I made wondrous
things. »

Ariel twirled the tines before her. « The first time I used it, I
don’t think I was upset. I was focused. I was calm. »

« For me, the answer was love. Love of my family, love of the fun
and joy winter brings. Without it, all I could do was make ice. I
couldn’t take it back. »

« I have that. I have love from my husband. My friends. It feels
like I have what you were missing, and missing what you always had.
When you want to use it, what do you do? »

« I’m not sure how to explain it. Willpower? Focus? It’s so
natural I don’t even think too hard about it. »

The conversation dropped as they realized they couldn’t see.
They looked at each other, questioning whether to go further.

Ariel sighed and swam on. Elsa took cautious steps forward, one
hand on the wall, making sure there was ground before taking a
step. It smelled of sour candy, old pickles, like the dank corner
of an unused kitchen.

Further on, light returned like a gentle blue sunrise,
illuminating a curve in the path. Small blue grubs, stuck to the
riffled wall, glowed bioluminescently. The waterway ended at a
chamber. An old woman sat in a rocking chair in the middle of the
room, her back toward them.

It stank of mud and birds’ droppings. A large iron cauldron hung
from the ceiling, squeaking as it swung from the iron talons.
Against the wall stood a large apothecary table–small drawers with
scrawled labels arranged in a grid–along with other cabinets,
alchemy beakers, candles, and a straw bed.

But the most horrifying things were the shelves. The top had
rows of different birds, all alive and twitching, perching
restfully. Below and beyond were glass tanks of lizards, frogs,
mudskippers, turtles, skinny snakes, and other scaled, slimy
animals. Their bulbous, viscous eyes tracked their movement. The
covered every inch of wall space as far as they could see.

« So you made it past the veil of darkness… » said a cracked
voice. « Not many people do. They see the black abyss before them
and run the other way. Me? »

She turned in her chair. Milky white pupils stared at them.

« I don’t see anything but! » she cackled.

Purplish skin sagged from her eyes, pocked with liver spots and
warts. Long gray bangs sprang from her forehead and earholes.

The old hag chortled like a wheezing fireplace poker. « One of
you is smells like ice. That crisp tang of frosted iron. And
other’s still in the water. » She sniffed. « A sea maiden? Well, this
is an interesting combination. Frozen fish. » She chuckled with
high-pitched glee. « But you don’t reek of evil. Not yet at least.
So come in and know me better. »

« Are you Dame Naidra? » Elsa asked.

« Eh? Speak up. I have a hard time hearing these days. As you can
tell. » She brushed her gray hair past a puckered hole where her ear
should have been.

Ariel gasped. A light gray cockatoo with purple wings flew down
from the shelf. It perched on the edge of the cauldron. Elsa raised
her arm to protect herself.

« Some call me the fabled dame. For now. My identity’s as ancient
as the wind and untamable as the sea. »

« Were your ears really bitten off by a harpy? » Elsa asked.

« I have lost all my senses, child, » Naidra said. « I
cannot see, nor touch, nor hear, nor taste, nor smell. All lost in
the pursuit of erudite lore. A given sacrifice for power over
wonder and privilege of spirit. » She stood and hobbled to one of
the glass tanks. A small yellow snake wrapped around her hands.

« Then how are you hearing us? » Elsa asked.

« These pets as my eyes and ears. »

They looked up. On every shelf, each rat, each toad, each raven,
was focused on them, watching like a judge’s council.

« What they taste, I taste. What they smell, I smell. The price
of agelessness is utter dependence. You know how I stay alive? When
Death comes, I ask him for the time. When he gives me his pocket
watch, I set it back. » She erupted in a fit of hysterical cackling
laughter.

She approached Elsa and offered her the snake. Elsa held up her
hands, palms up in refusal. But that didn’t matter–the white
serpent wound its way up her bare arm. She tensed, eyes
bulging.

« A snake’s entire body is a sensing instrument. Heat, vibration,
hermetics in the air, » Naidra said.

The snake stopped and relaxed, curled around her forearm like
morbid jewelry.

She laughed again. « You’ve had your bravery tested before. So
whatever you want must be important. »

« It is. Do you know anything about magic? » Elsa asked.

« I am all kinds of magic, child. The natural, the supernatural.
Magic of blood and bone. Powers divine and demonic. Arcane and
runic. I can pull a soul from a shadow and twist logic into chaos.
Say your heart’s desire, and it becomes. »

« We actually don’t want anything, » Elsa said.

« Eh? » Naidra said. She looked disappointed.

« Well, except for an explanation. You see… » Elsa did her best
to explain what had happened. Ariel’s side of the story helped it
make sense, but out loud, the coincidences seemed paper thin.

Naidra sniffed deep. « Ah, there it is. The stench of time gone
bad. Yes, someone’s undone your accomplishments. That’s what’s
happened. More’s the pity, isn’t it? You worked so hard to shed
these hardships. » She gestured to Elsa. « You, your bondage to your
power. » To Ariel, « You, your limitations as a maiden of the sea.
Everything you worked so hard for has been undone. »

« Is there a way to put it back? » Ariel asked.

« I made a vow never to test mettle against the sands of time.
Too much can go wrong. Too much potential to unravel existence
itself. But some fools are always trying to swim upstream. »

« Someone else did this. » Elsa finished. « Is there a way to find
who? Or what? »

« My wager, it’s a who. » She turned her pearl-colored eyes to
Ariel. « You, I think I can help. It’s too much a misfortune for you
to be sea-locked through all this. I could mix something up to help
you, little princess. »

Ariel whispered to Elsa, « If she tries to take my voice, you
know what to do. » Elsa nodded.

« Eh? What was that? Speak up child. We mustn’t keep secrets
between guests. It’s rude. »

Ariel leaned in. « I said I’ve dealt with a sea witch or two. So
we’re prepared for anything. »

« Sea witch? No, I’m no enchanter or charmer. Though I’ve known a
few in my time. »

Ariel tightened her grip on her trident. « A sea witch tried to
cheat me out of my voice so she could take over the kingdom. »

« Was her name Ursula? »

Ariel’s jaw dropped. « You know her? »

« Know her? I trained her. »

Ariel nearly dropped her trident.

« Yes. That surprises you, doesn’t it? She apprenticed under me.
Learned what I had to teach. A cecaelian, if I recall. »

« She was a monster, » Ariel said. « My father banished her. »

Naidra sniffled. « I’m not surprised. Had more ambition than the
seven seas have water. What happened to her afterwards? »

« She sold magic to merpeople who were desperate. Except no one
could ever fulfill their end of the bargain, so she captured them
in her grotto. Transformed them into polyps. She nearly did it to
me. But that was the last contract she ever made. »

Naidra nodded. « It would take a strong heart to work around her
half-truths and deceits. I knew her young and fierce. Natural
talent. Enthused with power. She had a devilish appetite for
watching others squirm beneath her. Treating them like dolls or
game pieces. Moving them around. It satiated her. Sounds like it
undid her as well. » She chuckled. « Don’t worry, child. I ask no
price for this. You have gone through enough. »

« How are you going to help? » Ariel asked.

« I know a potion that should alleviate this curse. I can brew it
up this night. »

« Will it turn me into a human? »

Naidra cackled. « Let me guess. Your sea witch offered you
something similar, but its power lasted only three days? »

« That’s right, » Ariel said with astonishment.

Naidra smirked. « Amateur. Either incompetence or by design. My
command over these forces outshines any. Though I admit certain
limits can’t be overcome. You will be human by daylight. But when
the sun sets, its power subsides and your seamaiden form
returns. »

Ariel shook her head. « Why is it always sunset? »

« You should consider yourself lucky this offer can be made at
all. But your question has merit. It is not so much the lack of sun
as the presence of moon that makes the difference. The duality of
man drives everything man accomplishes. Harness its energy and
that’s where miracles come from. »

« Is there anything for me? Anything that can dissolve ice? Or
melt it? » Elsa asked.

« No, little queen. Your problem has no solution I can
provide. »

« What about pyramite? » Elsa exclaimed. « I was on my way to
Corona to see if they had some. I know it wouldn’t fix what
happened now, but some kind of defense… »

« You seek to nullify your greatest strength? » Naidra laughed to
herself. She hobbled to another side of the cavern and pulled
something out of a drawer. « You’re right, child. There is such a
thing. But what do you expect to do? Cover your kingdom in it? » She
tossed something at Elsa.

Elsa caught it. It was a metal shard, gleaming dull gray like
liquid metal. « This is pyramite? »

« Among the rarest of the rare metals. The entire world’s supply
could fit into a barrel. Good luck finding it anywhere else.
Consider it good fortune the earth contains so little potential to
how back yours. »

Elsa couldn’t help herself. She tried freezing the shard, but
nothing happened. The air formed a light coating of frost, but it
disappeared. « It’s still warm, » she said to Ariel, with a strange
delight.

« So do you know how this happened in the first place? You said
it had something to do with time, » Ariel asked.

Dame Naidra took two bottles from a shelf, one blue and one red,
and set them by her cauldron. « There’s only one devilry I know
capable of addling time such has been done. And its master is long
dead. » She poured the blue liquid in. It vaporized in a puff of
violet smoke.

« Who was that? »

« Temeris. A sorcerer who lived when the world was young. In
those days, you could deal with dark spirits courteously. They say
he played games with death himself. His followers became a cult,
claimed he was part god. Maybe they were right. When he died, his
followers preserved his flesh, brain, and heart. Put them in
canopic jars and kept worshipping him. Called them the ‘three
faults of Temeris’, because they were the trappings of his mortal
form. »

The red elixir cascaded in. As soon as it hit bottom, a foul
smell of mud and egg yolks wafted up. Ariel and Elsa cringed.

« Is Temeris’s cult still around? » Ariel asked.

« No. It dwindled into history. A strong leader can keep any
group together. But only a great one can make it last beyond
death. » She wafted the pungent fumes away from the cauldron. « Now,
stand back. » She raised her wrinkled arms over her head.

« Venis earth, venis air, venis mare mulier
Take heed to the writ that I call
Summon fire, summon water, take ocean’s fair daughter
Muta hominem luna et sol »

The cauldron shivered. Naidra dipped in a ladle, bringing out a
viscous, pale-purple goop as thick as oatmeal. She spooned it into
a square vial and corked it.

« Drink this, and it will be done, » Naidra said as she handed it
to Ariel.

« Thank you, » Ariel said.

« I’ve given you all I can. And given it without recompense. I
suppose you’ve caught me on a generous day. » Naidra grinned,
revealing a gummy mouth speckled with black, cancerous marks. « Now,
I suggest you leave as fast as you can. »

« Wait, we still need more help. Where can we go- » Elsa
started.

« It’s a full moon tonight. And you don’t want to see me when the
moon is full. »

Ariel asked, « What do you mean? What happens when the moon is
full? »

« Is there any way to get rid of the ice if-« 

« I said, go. GOOOOOOOOOO… »

An shrill banshee scream exploded out of her puckered mouth. The
stone reverberating against the sound. Each squirrel and lizard in
their cage rattled and shook.

Ariel backflipped and swam away. Elsa picked up her dress and
sped back into the tunnel as fast as she could. The old witch’s
cackles echoed in the cave, leaving them to wonder whether it had
all been a joke.


Anna and Kristoff led Rapunzel through the rough valleys and
craggy hills, up into a mountain plateau. Rapunzel had to fight
sleep, but the rocky terrain kept her bouncing back and forth,
keeping her awake.

« All right, here we are, » Kristoff said.

He stopped Sven at a highland. Rounded boulders and moss dotted
the flat rock. Rapunzel bounded out of the sled and approached
one.

« Wow. Look at these rocks. So smooth and round. It’s like
someone rolled them here. » She knelt and rubbed one of them.

« What? » Kristoff said.

« I had a book on geology in my tower that I read… several
times. This was the site of a glacier cold flow, I bet. The glacier
quarried them and basal sliding rounded them down and left them
here. » She draped herself over one. « Mmm… so nice and cool. Is
this basalt? »

« Uh… I don’t know. » Kristoff scratched his head.

« It feels like basalt. »

« It’s so nice to meet someone who knows their minerals. »

The rock popped up, turning into a small dwarf with a bulbous
nose and endearing eyes. She did what anyone would in such a
situation. She screamed.

« Gnomes! »

« Trolls, actually. Rock trolls. Emphasis on the rock, » the troll
said. « Kristoff’s never appreciated how smooth this granite is. And
check out these deposits of quartz. » The dwarf turned its backside
and pointed to his posterior.

« Yes… they’re very nice. » Rapunzel crab-crawled away and
bumped into another rock.

« Hey, careful, dear. Don’t bump your head. »

Rapunzel stumbled over her hair. Kristoff and Anna tried to
catch her, but weren’t in time. She tripped and rolled herself up.
Suddenly a group of trolls were standing over her, peering down.
Their bodies were covered in moss instead of clothes and they wore
necklaces with glowing crystals woven in. Sprigs of grass topped
their heads.

« Wow, look at her hair, » said a child. « She must be overwatering
it. »

« Don’t step on it, dear. You’ll get arrested for
tress-passing. »

« It’s so long. How does she get it that long? »

« I need to trim mine back every four weeks or it starts
flowering. Then the pollen gets into my eyes. »

« Why is it that color? She must use a honey comb. »

« Guys, guys, back up. She’s new, okay? » Kristoff pushed himself
into the crowd. « Sorry about that. They mean well, but they don’t
get to see new people too often. »

Anna and Kristoff helped Rapunzel up and unweaved her from her
self-inflicted prison. « Family? » Rapunzel asked.

« Well, they raised me since I was eight. » He addressed the
group. « Everyone, this is Anna’s cousin, Rapunzel. »

One of the trolls waddled up to her–a female judging by the
long blades of grass drooping from her head.

« Ooh, this is a good one. Come here darling, let me take
a look at you. »

« Bulda… » Kristoff warned.

Bulda squeezed Rapunzel’s cheeks with her stony palms.

« How… how is this… » Rapunzel stammered. Bulda turned her
head this way and that.

« Why, cutie, you don’t need no love advice. I can see it in your
eyes. You’ve already got a good man. Bit of a scamp, but who
doesn’t like a dip of danger every now and then? » She elbowed
Rapunzel. It felt like a brick jabbed in her ribs.

« She doesn’t need love advice, » Kristoff said. « We’re
here to see Pabbie. Something’s happened down in Arendelle. »

The trolls wandered around Rapunzel, picking up her hair and
examining it. One of the little ones took a lick, made a disgusted
face, then said something about how it was « not gold »

Pascal dug his way out and hunkered into a defensive position.
He watched the trolls with shifting eyes as he splayed his arms and
legs.

A child with a red and white toadstool on his head pointed.
« Hey, she’s got a mushroom too. »

« Could we please stay focused? » Kristoff shouted out. « We have a
real problem here. »

The trolls hushed. Something was coming through their ranks,
making a group of gray heads stand aside. A larger, older troll
with thinner grass hair walked toward her. The ruff of green reeds
around his neck looked like a lion’s mane.

Kristoff let out his breath. « Grand Pabbie, you’re here. »

« There is trouble, isn’t there? » he said in a raspy voice.

Anna knelt before him. « Arendelle’s been hit by a terrible ice
storm, like last year. Only it’s not Elsa. We don’t know what to do
or what caused it. »

« I don’t mean the kingdom. I mean her. » He pointed at
Rapunzel.

She looked around, as if he was referring to something behind
her.

He waddled forward. « I can sense the magic. Magic that’s not
supposed to be there. It’s powerful. »

« It was supposed to be gone forever, but it came back. Stronger
than before, » Rapunzel said.

« Like the ice storm, » Pabbie replied.

Anna and Kristoff looked at each other. « So the ice storm and
Rapunzel’s hair have something to do with each other? »

Pabbie picked up a stream of hair and held it up to his eye,
rubbed it between his fingers. « This hair. It gathers no leaves, no
insects, no dirt. Stronger than diamond. This is the root of your
magic. »

« When my mother was giving birth to me, there were… problems.
So everyone searched for a magical golden flower that could heal
people. »

« A drop of sunlight. It fell to Earth and became that flower.
Very potent. »

« My mother and I would have died if she hadn’t gotten that
flower, » Rapunzel said.

Pabbie raised his hand. « I do not blame you, child. Rest
assured, it is not the first of its kind. Ages ago, when I was just
a neolith, a similar miracle happened. This time from the winter
night. But this had the unfortunate luck to land on a nobleman. We
could heal his wound but the magic power still flowed within his
blood. And forever cursed his lineage. One day, his descendant
would be born with the same power. I believe you know her. She’s
your cousin. » He turned to Anna. « And your sister. »

« Elsa? » Anna cringed. « You mean this has all happened
before? »

« This, yes, » Pabbie said, gesturing to her hair, « But what’s
happening now? No. It’s too illusive for me to read. All I can tell
is that it’s no accident. There is intent behind this. »

« So someone’s responsible, » Kristoff said. « But who? And what do
they want? To take over Arendelle? »

Pabbie sighed. « I doubt whoever conjured this wants your
kingdom. This magic is bigger than that. Ancient. Full of peril and
deceit. Someone is tapping into the heart of the world. Using power
that was hidden many eras before yours. Power that strong would
corrupt one’s soul to the core. Few would survive such a
saturation. »

« Then maybe we don’t have anything to worry about, » Anna said.
« Maybe whoever did it is already dead? »

« Perhaps, » Pabbie said. « But foolish hope extends little
minds. »

« What? » Anna said.

« He means we shouldn’t stop looking. » Kristoff took a deep
breath. « Man, I am out of ideas. »

« Me too, » Anna said. « Rapunzel, what do you think? »

Rapunzel glanced between the two of them. « Um, I guess… we
just keep doing what we’re doing. Keep clearing the ice as best we
can. Keep looking for causes. Maybe Elsa will have a better idea
when she gets back. » She stood up and shivered. The night had
brought the cold mountain air billowing in, and she had
underdressed for this hike.

« Let’s go back home, get some sleep. I think we’ve earned it, »
Kristoff said. He started back down the path with Anna
following.

Once they were out of earshot, Pabbie touched his stone-cold
hand to Rapunzel’s warm arm. « Young one, wait. »

« Yes? »

Pabbie gestured for her to bend down. He whispered, « You have a
great power within you too. Like your cousin. »

Rapunzel nodded.

« But you don’t wish to show it. »

Rapunzel shook her head.

« You fear it a danger. But yours is a mending magic. »

« I know. But it threatened me. It threatened my husband, my
family, my friends. I came here to escape that. If word got
out… »

« I understand, » Pabbie said. « But all secrets unlock in the end.
Know that, child. »

« I do, » she said.

Pabbie let her go. She ran off to rejoin Kristoff and Anna.
Around a bend in the rocks, Kristoff was discussing the issue with
Anna’s arm in the crook of his.

« So, if I understood right, Pabbie thinks that Rapunzel’s hair
and this ice are connected? But Rapunzel wasn’t even here when the
storm came. And what does hair have to do with it? And… and…
and… I think my brain’s broke. »

Kristoff unraveled Sven’s reins from around the sleigh’s front
piece. Anna yawned. « I have literally never been so tired. Why
didn’t Elsa get you a sled with pillows? Whose idea was it to come
out here this late? »

« Yours, » Kristoff said.

« Oh. Right. I guess I forgot we had to head back. »

Anna sat in the middle, between Kristoff and Rapunzel.

« Okay, maybe we should do what we do when approaching a large
piece of ice. »

« Lick it until it’s smaller? Slide it around? » Anna asked.

« Break it down, piece by piece. First ‘who’. Who is doing this?
What does he want? »

« Or she… » Rapunzel added, thinking of her mother.

Kristoff nodded. « Where can we locate them? When did they do
this? How did they do this? Why? »

« Maybe they wanted some ice for their drink and went too far? »
Rapunzel asked.

« But we have Elsa for that. And I’m the Royal Ice Master and
Deliverer. » Kristoff said.

« You’re the royal ice master? » Rapunzel asked. « Why? When Elsa
can make ice out of thin air? »

Kristoff paused. « Hey, that’s a good question. Anna? Why did- »
Kristoff ribbed Anna…

…who promptly snored. Her head flopped onto Kristoff’s
shoulder.

« Dead asleep. She really did have a long day. »

They hit a bump and Anna’s head lolled onto Rapunzel’s lap.
Rapunzel nudged her back up, where she flopped back onto Kristoff’s
chest. A thin line of drool hung off her bottom lip.

« Naw, this is how she sleeps. She’s impossible to get up in the
morning. Uh, so I’m told. She told me. I don’t have firsthand
knowledge or anything. »

Kristoff let that hang in the air. Then coughed. Rapunzel rolled
her eyes and smiled. « What did Pabbie mean about ‘power so strong
it would corrupt one’s soul’? » she said.

« I’m not sure. Once, when I was ten, Grand Pabbie showed me a
dead tree. He told me it was the last to shed its leaves for
winter, as if it wanted more time to grow. It tried to take water
from the cold snow, sun from the dim light, all to be the tallest.
Its bark was split and gnarled and bumpy. All kinds of moss and
fungus. Its leaves were spotty and blue. Not a pretty sight. All
because it tried to take more than it deserved. »

« Creepy, » Rapunzel said, hugging her knees. Whoever did this was
someone that knew about her « gift » Someone willing to exploit it.
To the point of extremes to get at it, no matter who got hurt. « I
think I know the exact kind of person who would do this. »

« You do? »

« Well, not personally. I mean, the person I’m talking about…
died. We’re looking for someone vain, manipulative, obsessive,
elegant… » Her voice drifted off. This was getting too scary. Too
many thoughts she didn’t want to think about.

« Well, we still got to find a way to fix it, » Kristoff said.
« The ice isn’t melting, but at least we can cart it away. But the
clouds haven’t moved off. If we don’t get some sun, Arendelle’s
going to be in trouble. »

He looked to the west, with the frigid fjord below them. On the
wharf, dockworkers had assembled on a single pier in bunches.

« That’s odd. Wonder what’s going on down there? » Kristoff
said.

« Let’s check it out, » Rapunzel said.

Kristoff whipped the reins. Sven veered down to the shoreline
huts and kiosks. Two men wearing dockworker uniforms approached the
sled at the entrance to the wharf. Sven skidded to a stop, no easy
feat on the icy roads.

« Princess Anna. Princess Anna! »

Anna rolled over. « Na ga ma. Take the bilberries out of my
hair… »

Kristoff wiped the drool off his shoulder. « Anna, they look
serious. »

Anna rubbed her eyes. « What? What’s going on? »

« Princess Anna, you’d better come and see this. »

The three of them followed the dockworkers down to the water.
One man knelt near the end of the dock.

Olaf’s head lay in the water, looking up at the sky. The other
spheres of his body bobbed near other docks, where workers waited
for them to float close enough to catch.

« Oh, hi, Anna. I didn’t expect to see you here, » he gloated.

« But you’re in Arendelle, » Anna exclaimed.

« I am? Wow, I’m back already. I don’t even remember what Corona
was like. »

« Olaf, where is the boat? »

« Oh, well, we hit a little snag when we ran into a giant storm
and the boat was destroyed. »

Anna looked up. Waves carried several rowboats brimming with
sailors toward land, along with chunks of wood and debris.

« The boat was destroyed? » Anna swallowed.

« Princess Anna… »

The dock worker held up a dripping piece of wood. On it was the
letter « A » from the embossed emblem of the ship. Anna held her
hands to her mouth and gasped.

Moment in the Sun
Chosen