Other Fan Fiction ❯ The Sun, the Ice, and the Ocean ( Chapter 1 )

[ A - All Readers ]
CHAPTER 1: The Sun, the Ice, and the
Ocean

« And with that, I declare the renovated Corona Royal Library
officially open. »

Rapunzel squeezed the giant scissors. The thin purple ribbon
split in twain and fluttered away while the crowd gave a smattering
of applause.

« Well done, well done. It’s gorgeous. You are an amazing person.
Astonishing, » the mayor said, shaking Rapunzel’s hand vigorously
while the citizens began meandering in.

This must have been the ten-thousandth time someone had heaped
empty compliments on her. All she needed to feel satisfied was her
subjects with big smiles, holding books, and discussing their
favorites. She didn’t need the praise.

Flynn on the other hand…

« Thank you. Not many people take the time to appreciate. I think
it’s the chin. It has a ruggedness to it that… oh, you mean
her. »

Rapunzel gave him one of her looks.

She accompanied the citizens in, telling the story. Rapunzel had
spent two years working on this. True, she’d fallen in love with
when she first came into town. She expected the day to be her only,
but she still spent that time paging through old fairy tales,
atlases, and novels. Anything better than the same three or four
books.

But once she became the princess, the tiny little shop wouldn’t
do. Not in her kingdom. Once the disorientation died down, one of
her first acts was to install a proper library. The town’s
bookseller had never looked more surprised than when she came in
with a troupe of architects, ready to talk plans. Over two years,
it transformed from a wooden hovel to a literary palace. Not just a
place to come and read, but to foster community.

Most of the books resided on the second and third floors. The
first had some as well, shelved in beautiful bookcases carved from
wood. But also a spiral staircase, a play area for wee ones, and a
ball room. The vestibule resembled a museum, with statues, glass
display cases for Corona artifacts, and fresco ceilings.

« Painted by yours truly. » Flynn squeezed her shoulder. Everyone
stared up at the images of stars and creatures and forests up
above. « And this area can turn into a stage for performing plays.
Pretty neat, huh? »

« My goodness, how amazing. » The old woman nodded. « You should be
very proud dear. You’ve gone through a lot. »

« I don’t see the king and queen here, » another greeter said.
« Where are they? »

« King Frederic is talking to new staff members. Queen Arianna is
arranging a trade treaty. » Rapunzel shrugged. « It’s okay. They’ve
helped me every step of the way. I think they wanted me to have my
moment in the sun. »

The old woman patted her shoulder. « Well, it’s the best thing to
happen to Corona since you came back, dear. And I’ve got to say, I
love how you’re wearing your hair today. »

Rapunzel pinched the brunette curls starting at the nape of her
neck. Since that fateful day a year ago, she hadn’t done a thing to
style it, accessorize it, or brandish it. Others might call it
messy or impossible. She called it perfect.

Flynn glanced at Rapunzel. « I’m going to check out the ‘Tales of
Flynnigan Ryder’ section, » he said with a smirk. Rapunzel
grinned.

A mural of the swashbuckling literary hero covered the back wall
of the second floor. When Rapunzel was finally able to read the
books, she was amazed at how much he resembled her husband. After
crumpling so many sketches, the result was more a lifted burden
than accomplishment. But at least, Flynn said she got the nose
right.

Day dwindled to night, and still it seemed like everyone in town
was here. In the lounge area, people were sitting with their chosen
books–kids, seniors, adults, farmers, scholars. But she didn’t
find who she was looking for–her friends from the Snuggly
Duckling. They were on the other side of the building. Their
appearance had scared other adults, so they found solace with those
who would accept them. In the children’s area.

Between the children, the giant adults sat on bean-filled pouch
chairs and recliners. Von Hooke was turning the pages of a book
called « Classic Techniques of the Old Masters » He accidentally
stuck his hook through a page, then glanced around to see if anyone
noticed. Vladimir was lost in something with a fairy and a rainbow
on the cover. Shorty held his book upside-down, but didn’t notice.
A four-year-old perched over Gunter’s shoulder, poking her finger
into his book of home design ideas.

« I would move the washtub there and the flower pot is ugly so
get rid of that and the walls need to be purple with polka dots and
get the fur off the chair ’cause it’s gross… »

Gunter remained stone-faced as his pint-sized assistant droned
on. Rapunzel shook her head and smiled. She turned to leave
them–far be it from her to interrupt a good book.

In the shadows of the bookcases stood a woman in a maroon dress.
A hooded cloak covered her face.

Rapunzel gasped. No… was it her?

The woman pulled back the hood. She shook out her long black
hair.

Rapunzel’s breath caught in her throat. It couldn’t be. She
couldn’t still be alive.

A small child ran up to her and the spell broke. The woman bent
down and caressed the child as a mother would. Now Rapunzel could
see the differences. The body wasn’t hunched enough. The eyes were
a different color. The hair wasn’t even curly. How could she have
ever thought…

Flynn clapped her on the shoulder. « Hey, look! » He held up the
book More Tales of Flynnigan Rider. « I didn’t even know they
made a sequel. And it’s a different author. I wonder if…. You
okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. »

« It… I just thought… »

Flynn followed her gaze. « Ohhhh, » he sighed in
understanding.

« I know, » Rapunzel forced a snicker. « It’s silly. I know that.
Just looks like… »

« It’s okay. She’s dead. She can’t hurt you anymore. She’s not
coming back. »

« I know. I know that. It was just for a second… » She took a
deep breath and ran her hands through her hair.

« Have you eaten anything? Atilla made some excellent cupcakes. »
Flynn escorted her to the table next to the checkout desk with a
steaming teapot and plate of pastries. An old man in a blue Corona
Navy Officer uniform brushed crumbs out of his mustache. He lit up
at the sight of Rapunzel.

« Well, bless my soul. The princess herself, » he said in a gruff,
but kindly voice.

« Admiral Rosenbluth? I didn’t expect to see you here. »

« Bang up job you’ve done. Quality is astounding. So much space.
State of the art. And you designed the project from start to
finish? »

Rapunzel shyly shrugged. « I know how to keep busy. » Eighteen
years in one room would do that to a person.

Rosenbluth adjusted his uniform. He was still a well-built man,
but age and changed him. Tiny legs supported his barrel-shaped
torso which thrust out his many medals. « This will be great for me,
once I retire. »

« Only a few days left, right? » Rapunzel asked.

Rosenbluth nodded. « All I’m really doing is walking around the
castle, pretending to be busy. Commander Ansel is taking to the
position like a fish to water. Done everything short of move into
my office. And he hasn’t even gotten the official promotion yet. »
Rosenbluth guffawed.

« I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet, » Rapunzel said.

« Oh, you will. His list of goals is as long as my arm. I’ve
never seen anyone so ambitious and young. I think he wants to make
Corona’s navy the strongest on the continent. In fact, I think
that’s where your parents are now, helping with the
transition. »

« And you don’t need to be there for that? »

« He’s learned everything from me he needs. He’s a Rear Admiral
now, and some things just can’t be trained out. »

« Like what? » Rapunzel raised an eyebrow.

« To tell the truth, his reach tends to exceed his grasp. Oh,
he’s a capable officer. I just worry about his leadership skills.
He’s… well, not so sympathetic. Now, I look at you, and I
know you’ll be a fine leader. You have a personality that
inspires people. God save the queen, but I look forward to the day
you take the crown. Ansel… he gets things done. But he’ll step on
toes in the process. »

« We’ll keep him in line, » Flynn said.

« Good. I worked hard in the high command so I could have a
peaceful retirement. The next time you see me I’ll be rocking on my
front porch with a lemonade in one hand and an old book in the
other. » He clapped Rapunzel on the shoulder. « I think I’ll start
looking for my first volume right now. Where do you keep the
history section? »

« Aisle four, » Rapunzel chirped. « We have a wonderful shelf about
old war battles, if you want to check it out. »

Rosenbluth twitched his mustache. « I believe I shall do just
that. » He thanked the little girl and walked off.

« Ansel. He sounds… interesting. » Rapunzel took a sip of hot
tea. « I wonder why I haven’t seen him before. »

« It’s not like we need to. We’re not at war, » Flynn said. « The
last time Corona had to mobilize their Navy was to look for the
lost princess. »

A passing child holding his mother’s hand pointed to the front
door. « Look, mom, there’s a horse coming into the library. »

A barrel-chested white house pranced through the double doors,
waving his blond mane. He held a piece of paper held in his
mouth.

« That horse is captain of the guards, dear, » his mom said.
« Watch your mouth. »

Maximus scanned the library until he made eye contact with
Flynn.

« Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. »

He trotted right up to the thief and loosed his lips. The paper
unrolled–a blueprint of the castle exterior with black
markings.

Flynn bent down and examined the document. « Oh, so you think
you’ve got a strategy, huh? »

For the past year, Flynn and Maximus had been improving castle
security by competing with each other. It started when Flynn
sounded off against the last eighteen years of break-ins, two of
which he’d been responsible for.

« You had nine guards in the chamber, all facing the same way.
Couldn’t you have spared one of them to actually watch the crown? »
Flynn had said.

As newly promoted captain of the guards, Maximus was charged
with protecting the royal family. And Flynn–who better to stop a
thief than a former thief?

Of course, their first collaborations ended with broken
furniture and scrabbles on the floor. The idea didn’t take flight
until Rapunzel suggested making it into a game. Flynn would do his
best to break into the castle while Maximus tried his best to stop
him. This exposed the exploits and vulnerabilities in security.
Each time Maximus thought he had sealed them up, Flynn would try
again. In the beginning, Flynn’s ingenuity astounded everyone. But
since Maximus had won the last three times, the king and queen felt
security was solid.

« What’s this? » Flynn asked, studying the handwritten notes. « You
think you finally got the castle airtight? »

Maximus neighed, jabbing the paper with his nose.

« And you even sectioned off the latrine tower. I hadn’t even
thought of that yet. Is this all you do all day? Eat apples and
think of ways to make me look stupid? »

Maximus neighed satisfactorily and tapped his front hooves.

« You need to relax. Here. » He slid a book out from the pile
under his arm. « Try this one. It’s about a policeman chasing an
escaped convict during the French revolution. You’d love it. » Flynn
set the book onto a display stand.

« Pascal, can you help? » Rapunzel asked.

A green chameleon crawled out from a fold within her the back of
her dress. It shuffled down her arm and jumped onto Maximus’s nose.
When he flicked out his tongue and turned the page, Maximus’s eyes
darted across the words. Flynn put his hand on his hip and
smirked.

A little kid skittered up to Rapunzel. « Princess? One of your
friends got his hand stuck in a book but he told me not to tell
because he was em-bar-rassed so can you unstick him? »

Rapunzel looked up to the kids’ corner. Von Hooke’s hook had
skewered the binding. He tried shaking it off, then met her gaze,
and pretended he was just waving.

Rapunzel rolled her eyes and smiled. She walked over and slid
the leather binding away. « Thanks, » Von Hooke mumbled. « I got a
little carried away. »

Another rugrat ran up to her, holding up a book. « Princess
Rapunzel, Princess Rapunzel, can you read us a story? »

« Oh… well, uh… »

« But you have such a great voice for reading. P-weeeeease? » The
other children crawled up and gathered around her, like fish
nibbling at food flakes. The pub thugs’ eyes scooted cross-legged
behind the children.

« Well, all right. » She sat down in the middle of the rug, her
pink dress fanning around her. The cover featured a giant in the
clouds looking down on a farmer’s house. « Hm, Jack and the
Beanstalk
. Oh, this is one of my favorites. »

Rapunzel read through the opening exposition–the poor family,
selling the cow for magic beans, the mother throwing the beans
away. « Overnight, while Jack and his mother slept, the beans
nestled into the garden. In the magic of the full moon, the beans
sprouted into a beanstalk. And it began to grow… and grow… and
grow… « 

The children’s eyes went wide. Their jaws dropped.

« And they kept growing until the beanstalk reached the sky, »
Rapunzel continued.

The children and the thugs dropped their jaws. « That’s awesome! »
one little boy said.

« How are you doing that? » another little girl asked.

Rapunzel smiled humbly. Was she telling it that well? « Doing
what? » Rapunzel asked as she brushed a stray hair out of her eyes.
They continued to stare.

Wait a minute. She hadn’t need to brush hair out of her eyes
since…

Her finger kept going down. It kept going, and going… and
going. The library had become dead silent.

She tugged a lock of hair in front of her eyes. Bright golden
yellow, spread all around her.

« Blondie, you’re… blondie… again, » Flynn said.

Her original hair, infused with the glow of the magic flower,
had sprouted and fallen around her. All seventy feet of it.


Moonlight shone into the grand hall, still and empty. Prince
Eric and Sir Grimsby entered at the same time from opposite ends.
Eric was wearing his bathrobe and bedclothes. Grimsby, still
dressed from the day, balanced a nightshade bottle on a silver
tray.

« Ah, Eric, » Grimsby said, surprised. « The princess forgot her
nightly medicinal. I thought you were in bed already. »

« I thought I was too. The little ones got too noisy. » Eric
yawned. « I decided to get up and get some work done. »

They walked up the staircase together. « Not asleep at this
hour? » Sir Grimsby asked.

« Ariel tried putting them to bed, but they get all wound up when
they’re tired. She ended up playing with them instead. »

Grimsby’s wrinkled lips smiled. « She’s quite taken to
motherhood, hasn’t she? »

« Yeah. She says it reminds her of frolicking with seals, » Eric
said sleepily. « At first, she was afraid because she barely
remembers her mother, but she’s doing just fine. Although, I wish
she’d be a little more… » Eric searched for the word in his
haze.

« Strict? »

« Disciplined. I wish she’d do more than play with them. Raising
babies isn’t all fun and games. You’ve got to feed them, keep them
clean, set down rules, enforce those rules. »

« I suppose that’s a princess’s prerogative. It’s the servants
who have to do the nasty jobs. »

« That’s the problem, Grim. Have you ever seen her once take an
interest in the affairs of state? Or how the ministry operates? I
know being human is still an adventure for her. But at some point
she’s got to learn how to run a kingdom. »

« I seem to remember giving a similar speech to a young man about
a year ago. Telling him to settle down? »

Eric laughed. « I suppose you’re right. But it doesn’t sound like
she was ever trained in diplomacy or politics, from what she’s told
me. »

« She’ll latch onto it. Let her have her fun. Enjoy these
moments. The little ones just learned how to walk. We’ve always
wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet in the castle. »

Eric stopped at the double doors to his bed chambers. He bowed
his head and sighed. « So did I. But I expected two. Not
thirty-two. »

Eric pushed open the door to the bedroom. Ariel writhed on the
floor, giggling like a ticklish dolphin as eight sheepdog puppies
mauled her.

Max, the proud papa, panted in the corner, keeping a watchful
eye. The little ones crawled over Ariel’s pink nightgown, pawed
her, licked her face. She kicked her legs and laughed.

« Looks like you really tired them out, » Eric commented.

« I… Sorry… we were having so much fun. They’re just… so
cute, » Ariel said between breaths.

Eric picked up one of the sheepdog pups. « All right, fun’s over.
Time for bed. » He placed the puppy in front of Max. « Come on, you
old knucklehead. Help out. »

Max picked up the puppy by the scruff of the neck and pranced
out of the bedroom. Five of the eight formed a proper line and
followed their father. Three remained–one trying to rip off
Ariel’s hem, one snuggled in her arm, and another pouncing on her
chest.

« But they’re not tired, » Ariel said.

« Grim, can you help? »

Grimsby had just enough time to set down the tray as Eric placed
three puppies in Grimsby’s arms. « Mom’s in the courtyard. Hopefully
if they see her sleeping, they’ll follow. »

« I’ll tuck them in myself, » Grimsby whispered. He left the room
and closed the door behind him.

Now alone, Ariel sat up. She brushed off the thick layer of gray
and white hair from her cotton nightgown. « I was just waiting for
my bath to cool down. Is it our bedtime too? »

« Not for me. Just have time for a nap. Tomorrow’s the meeting
with the agricultural committee and I’ve got to prepare. »

« But you appointed that committee. Can’t you change it? » she
asked.

Eric rubbed his face. « Can’t really wait. Still trying to make a
deal with the barons and livestock and figuring out how to create
usable farmland. And after that I’ve got to talk to the army about
the new defense plan. And so on. It’ll probably last until
midnight. »

Ariel sat down at the seat of the bay window. The ocean warped
the light of the moon with its twisted onyx waves.

When Eric got caught up in work, she grew depressed. It made him
mopey and ill-tempered, not like the handsome man she fell in love
with.

« It’s just because the economy is down, » she sighed.

« The economy is down, » Eric snapped, using his commanding prince
voice, « because the kingdom’s revenue is cut in half. We’re
surrounded on three sides by water. This country depends on the
ocean for most of its food. We’re just trying to figure out a way
to keep everyone fed. »

« I never asked you to do this, » Ariel said, still looking out
the window.

« But you didn’t say no when I asked you if I should. »

After she and Eric were married, they could no longer ignore the
sea cow in the room. One day, Chef Louis prepared his Sole
Meunière. Ariel stared down at the plate of crispy, buttery
fillets, the lemony scent wafting up. Eric saw the pouty look on
her face. He’d known they would have address this at some
point.

« I just can’t… I can’t risk them hooking a friend. I know
that’s how humans are, but… if there was another way, I would.
But we’re not totally destitute. There’s new territories to
explore. And trade with other countries. »

« What will we have to trade with? » Eric asked.

Ariel’s eyes widened, like she was being disciplined.

« I know, I know. I’m trying to make it work. That’s what all
these meetings are for. » He stood beside her and stroked her hair.
« We’ll figure something out, don’t worry. »

She looked up at him with bright blue eyes.

« Are you going to have your bath? »

« Ooh, I forgot. It should be cool enough now. »

Ariel stood up and wrapped her arms around him. He breathed in
her natural scent of cool wind, with a hint of dog hair. She left
his embrace and entered the bed chambers’ adjacent porcelain
bath.

Eric undid his collar. « Don’t forget your tonic. »

« I know. I’ll take it. » Ariel eyed the dark opal flask. She
uncorked it and the smell of vinegar and sugar puffed out. « Are you
sure this is supposed to help me have a baby? It tastes so
bad. »

« That’s what the chemist said. It’s worth trying. » No doctor
could tell she hadn’t always been human. Those close to Eric who
knew Ariel’s secret life began to wonder if she could even become
pregnant. Perhaps some elements of the sea remained in her body.
Elements that nullified the continuation of the royal line. « It’s
important to the kingdom that we have an heir. Especially given how
anxious people are.. »

« You don’t have to tell me. I was born in a royal family too. »
Water suppurated as her body eased into the bath.

Eric examined a daguerreotype of Princess Ariel propped on his
dresser as he changed shirts. She looked more regal and mature than
she ever had. The artist had done an excellent job of capturing
what was not there.

He loved her as a wife, but as a princess… sometimes he
regretted getting married so quickly. She was still immature,
curious, learning what it meant to be human. He still found forks
in her vanity drawer. She asked for a « sneeze blanket » instead of a
handkerchief. Just a week ago, she had a pickle for the first time.
The expression on her face left the royal court laughing the rest
of the night.

But more important, her eyes glazed over whenever he talked
about social issues or political problems. He asked questions about
roads and she spent dinner asking if horses could roll downhill.
She was the youngest of her seven sisters, so he figured that had
something to do with it.

He had to keep reminding himself that she was seventeen. He
didn’t want to pressure her to sacrifice her values or bear
him a child. But it wasn’t just him he had to think about, it was
the commonwealth. People who didn’t know her grew sour dispositions
when they saw her dancing in the fountain. They lost confidence in
their leader when she laid out on the carpet, or « floor softener »
Plucky, energetic, and to some, bratty. The sober girl in the
portrait was the person Ariel needed to be.

« Eric! »

Eric rushed across the room. She sounded panicked. Water was
splashing on the floor.

« Ariel! » He skidded to a stop in the doorway of the bathroom.
« What? What? »

She lay in the bath, head above water. A giant, green fishtail
stuck out of the foot of the bath. Its thin membrane-like fluke
unfolded like rolled paper.

Ariel stared at Eric with fearful, innocent alarm. Eric stared
back in disbelief. It was all he could do.


« Okaaaaay… moving on… to line item… number…
two-ninety-four… »

Elsa scattered the pages again. She had given up hope of
organizing them, and now just shifted documents from one pile to
the other to find the right one. Anna came in, but she was
concentrating so hard that she didn’t hear.

« Elsa? You’re still working? »

« Still working, » Elsa said.

Minister Gudmund across the table paid her no mind. Anna had
come in a few times today. Plus he was so mole-eyed, he could
barely see her across the table.

« I’m getting there though. You knew I was spending all day
here, » Elsa whispered.

« I know. I just don’t see how you can stand it. »

Elsa shrugged. « You should have seen the pile that the clerics
wheeled out. Now we’re just on small stuff. Like this. We’re
deciding if it’s better to use ‘and’ or ‘or’ here. » She pointed a
sentence at least sixty words long.

Anna’s jaw dropped. « You’ve got to be kidding me. No wonder
you’ve been here all day. »

The day had started with thirty-six chairs filled by council
members and their clerks, all wanting different work done. Nobody
could form smaller committees to work together. It was Elsa or
nothing.

As the day went on, the representatives got their business done
and left. Now it was down to the minister of geography. And the
only reason he remained was because he spoke… so… slowly.

« On paragraph… sixty… I believe the meaning… would come
into play. Here. Let me try… reading it… out loud. »

Elsa groaned. She would have been better off appointing a
turtle. But she put on a brave face. This was what being a queen
meant. It was what she had trained for all her life.

« Hey, Elsa, » Anna sidled up to her as Gudmund droned on. « You
want to go sledding? »

« No. I’m busy. »

« Come on, you’re almost done. You missed all day and now you’re
going to miss tonight. »

« I’m trying to get as much done as possible. Once this batch is
complete, I think we’ll be back where we were before we cut ties
with Weselton, » Elsa said. She had come to respect the duchy since
the split. Not everyone was thrilled to trade exports with a
sorceress who had killed half the kingdom’s crops in one day, so a
notable amount of territories sided with him. « Then we can stop
rebuilding and start making plans for the future. »

« Come on, » Anna whined. « It’s a beautiful night. All the stars
are out. »

« Why don’t you go with Kristoff? » Elsa whispered.

« Aw, he’s on the far side of the fjord, gathering ice. They’ve
got a huge demand. It’s the busy season, I guess. « 

« Summer usually is. »

« He’s been no fun ever since he got new workers. Well, I mean,
he’s not unfun. He just thinks overseeing a team is super-fun,
which sounds like no fun, but I guess for him it’s fun. Anyway, I
want to have some fun. » Anna propped her arms on the table.

« Sorry, I have to get this done, » Elsa said. She straightened
her shoulders and concentrated on what Gudmund was saying.

A half-sheet of paper emerged into view. « I made a new
design… » Anna teased.

It was a sketchy blueprint of a sledding track, full of swoops
and curls. Elsa’s eyes glistened.

« Ahem, » Gudmund interrupted, adjusting his cloudy pince-nez.
« Queen Elsa? You have been… listening… haven’t you? »

« Of course, » Elsa said. « I understand completely. »

« You do? » Gudmund asked.

« Yes, but a…, » she searched for the word, « compromise might be
in order. I think if we change it, we’ll have to rewrite the entire
article so everything matches. Would you be willing to do
that? »

« Oh, certainly, Miss Elsa… be glad to… » He reached under the
desk, searching for some paper. « Now, I say… I seem to be… all
out of parchment… Would the lambskin do or… »

He looked up.

« Miss Elsa? »

Elsa and Anna bounced down the hall through the empty corridors,
giggling and holding hands.

They headed out the back, into the crisp night air, and to the
new greenhouse. The giant glass-paneled shed was for botanists to
breed hardier varieties of crops, to replace those that had been
killed. None of the equipment had been moved in, which made it
perfect for a self-contained snow fort.

Elsa moved to the center. « Are you ready? »

Anna hopped up and down, her sled pressed against her body. « Do
the magic! Do the magic! »

Elsa slammed her foot down. An ice blue flake spun outward and
grew. The floor flooded with packed snow that seemed to grow from
the ground. In a matter of moments, the base layer half-filled the
greenhouse. While Anna held up the blueprint, Elsa sculpted the
snow to its specifications. As a finale, she pointed beneath them.
A mound of snow pushed them up to the greenhouse ceiling. Her
sister squealed with delight.

Anna lay the sled on the hill’s apex, adjusting its center with
the chute. Elsa examined her completed handiwork from afar and
frowned. It didn’t look as intimidating on paper. She had no idea
if Anna’s design was safe and sound.

« Come on, » Anna said.

Elsa climbed on the back of the toboggan. Anna pulled them
forward by her heels until inertia took over.

« Here we gooooooooo, » Anna shouted. Bright white wind rushed
past them, forcing Elsa’s eyes shut and tearing. Her white braided
hair flew behind her like a kite tail. Shards of snow spiked her
cheeks, but her jaw was clenched too tight to feel it.

On the first, sharpest bend, the toboggan slid up the track’s
edge. Elsa feared they’d tumble upside down, forcing out a high
pitched scream. It lurched around the bend and down a steep slope.
The sled crested over a small hump, catching air for a
split-second, then smashed back on track.

At the halfway point, Elsa started enjoying herself. Her scream
became one of delight, reaching a harmony with Anna’s.

They reached the last hill, sliding into a straightaway that
terminated without slowing down. The sled dropped from beneath
them, making them airborne, as they headed for a pile of fluffy
powder. They made impact butt-first with a soft whoomp as a misty
cloud of frost appeared .

Elsa lay still for a few moments, unaware she was breathing
fast.

Anna thrust her arms up out of the snowdrift. « That was totally
awesome! »

Elsa brushed the snow out of her hair. « Phew… that… I think
that’s your best design yet. »

Anna laid back, using the fluffy flakes as a pillow. Elsa rested
on her side, enjoying the cool drain of adrenaline. This felt like
being sisters again. Catching up on the playtime they used to have,
the intimacy of their own world, the comfort of being
themselves.

« Hey, Elsa, » Anna said. « You ever think about getting
married? »

« Wait, what? »

« Not me. No, no way, pflah. I meant, like, in general. What it’s
like to be so close to a person you spend the rest of your lives
together. »

« I don’t know. I guess I’d have to find someone I feel that way
about before I start thinking about it. »

Anna flopped toward Elsa. « Is there anyone you like? You must
see the men staring at you during the balls. »

« Of course they’re staring at me. I’m the queen. » Elsa
sniggered. « They just want to help their political ties. Like
certain people we may have been engaged to. »

« With certain exceptions, not all men are like that. »

« I know. Just the men I’m around. » Elsa laid back in the snow.
She would be expected to marry, wouldn’t she? To bring forth an
heir. She did not look forward to that day. « To tell the truth, I’m
afraid of being around the same person all the time for the rest of
my life. I feel more comfortable by myself. »

« Yeah, even with the gates open, you still kind of… stay away
from everyone. »

Elsa gave a half-hearted shrug. « I guess I’m just that sort of
person. »

« Ooh, I have an idea. »

That voice didn’t come from Elsa or Anna, but one between them.
Olaf’s head poked out of the snow between them.

« What if you write a note? » he continued. « Oh! Or say something.
Then hide behind the throne and wait for them to answer. »

« Olaf? What are you doing here? »

« Well, I was outside looking at the stars, and I walked by this
glass house and I thought ‘who lives in a glass house? Glass
people?’ And then I remembered Kristoff’s family is rock people, so
maybe there were glass people. But there was just you two. I
guess they moved out. »

« Olaf, it’s a greenhouse, » Elsa said.

« It is? » He looked around. « But it’s clear. Except now, when
it’s filled with snow. So that makes it the white house. »

« It’s called a greenhouse because there’ll be green things in
it, » Anna answered. « We’re going to grow plants here. The glass so
the sun can come in. »

« Ohhhhhhhhh… like a house for summer! Ooh, except when
it’s cloudy. Clouds are no good. »

Anna giggled. « Well, we can’t control that part. »

« Oh. Then we’ll have to tell those ones to go away. »

Anna and Elsa looked up. Thick clouds hovered overhead, thick
and roiling like cotton blankets.

« It was clear just a moment ago, » Anna said.

« Yes, it was, » Elsa said with concern. « They look kind
of… »

« Stormy? » Anna ventured.

« Unnatural, » Elsa said.

Olaf jumped onto the snowpile. He waved his stick arms. « Go
away, clouds! Go away, we don’t need you right now, » Olaf
yelled.

There was a plok. A raindrop smacked against the glass roof.

« Oh, they’re rain clouds! » Olaf said. « I love a summer rain,
with the smell, and the mist, and the raindrops tickling your
nose. »

Another plok. Loud, like a ball bearing hitting the glass. A
roll of bassy thunder. Then another, and another.

« I don’t think that’s rain… » Elsa said.

The greenhouse echoed with heavy smacks. Each drop clouded the
glass with blurry water, instead of dribbling over the side. One
glass pane cracked.

« It’s an ice storm! » Elsa said. The two of them climbed out of
the snow as more streaks appeared. Freezing rain cracked against
the panes like shattering rock.

Elsa freed both her arms and pulled Anna out. « Run, run! »

A panel in the roof shattered, sending shards of glass raining
in the center of the room.

Anna picked up Olaf’s body. They sped out of the greenhouse.
Droplets of ice pelted like small stones raining down. It felt like
needles stabbing their scalps.

« Ow, ow, ow, » Anna said.

Finally, they reached the overhanging eaves of the castle. Now
in safety, the three of them stared up, jaws agape. The sleet
covered the land, coating each blade of glass, each rock, each
roof, in thick ice. And it wasn’t stopping.

« Why is there an ice storm in the middle of summer? » Anna said.
« Elsa… what did you do? »

« Nothing, » she replied. « This isn’t my power. I think. »

In case it was, she held out her hands. She thought of love, of
the two next to her, and tried to take back the ice. Nothing
happened.

« Whatever’s happening, it’s not me. »

Elsa bit her lip. She just hoped the citizens understood
that.

Prologue
Retread Paths