“Your Majesty,” said the Lieutenant, bowing hastily as he entered. Elsa looked up mildly from the papers of which she had been looking. “A strange craft has been sighted, heading for the harbour.”
“You have made to intercept it?” she said. It was barely even a question, but there was something about the Lieutenant’s demeanour which concerned her. More than that, to send her a sudden message in the middle of the day, even if they had apparently been able to spare a Lieutenant to send it, had to mean that something untoward had happened. Or was about to do so.
The Lieutenant looked uncomfortable; Elsa set aside her pen and gave him a long, steady look. “Our ships are attempting to do so,” he admitted, finally. “It is proving difficult.”
There was something about his words that made her not quite sure what to think of them. Elsa rose from her desk and turned to her wide window, which looked out over the fjord. She could see one of her own ships, one of the smaller and more agile ones, but not whatever it was they were pursuing; with a sigh, she opened up the window and leant out right over the sill.
“When I say strange, ma’am,” continued the Lieutenant, “I do not just mean unknown to us. I mean…”
He stopped short as she raised a hand for him to do so. It was quite clear what he meant, because she could now see the ship; it was smaller than anything that they had, with a single triangular sail, but most curiously two hulls. One main one, perhaps the size of a rowboat although with the deck above it larger, and a small slender one some feet out to the side.
As she watched, one of her ships approached it, rowing against the wind. The single figure on the strange craft did something with the ropes, and all of a sudden their boat was moving in an entirely different direction, a turn so sharp that it could surely not be achieved even by the most skilled of sailors.
Elsa felt something in her chest, like hope and fear mixed together. Her breath almost quickened, but she forced herself to be still. Perhaps it really was just a trick with sails and rudder, and the style of boat that somehow made it possible. She watched the little craft jink around her men, but as a slightly larger ship approached them the water moved , not current nor wave but a true shift, and Elsa snatched in her breath with her eyes going wide as the craft moved with it around an impossible bend.
She drew back, leaving the window open. This was magic , or at least something so close to it that she had to know it all the same. She had spent twenty-four years believing that she was the only thing in this world to have magic at all, and now it seemed that someone with magic was only a breath away. And it was not hidden, not cloaked in shame; it was open and fresh and seemed almost joyful , even in the chilly spring air of Arendelle’s fjords. The water had seemed to sparkle, with even more than the sunlight, as it moved.
“Take the message back to Admiral Pedersen not to engage,” she said. She started for the door, which had been left open in the Lieutenant’s wake.
“You have your orders, Lieutenant.”
He fell silent, or perhaps simply fell silent until she had swept from the room and started down the corridors. To go through the town - no, no, it would take too long and require too much ceremony, and doubtless there were people already trying to head down to the seafront to catch a glimpse of what was happening. Perhaps there would be some fear; she hoped that it would be minimal. There had been nearly four years for them to grow used to her magic, to feel its advantages and know that its dangers were few and well-contained now.
She knew another way, though. The old servant’s entrance, to the narrow dock that was not used now because the seas alongside it were so shallow. There was a bolt, on the inside, but it was nothing at all to throw it aside and alight the stone steps. Now it was impossible to ignore the fluttering in her chest, the thrill of hope at the thought of some magic other than her own.
For a moment, at the edge of the stone, Elsa hesitated. Nearly four years since she had used this door, in circumstances so very different but still so closely tied with magic.
It would be different, she told herself. This time, she would have control.
She heard the guards at the door behind her, clearly having been caught off-guard by her hurried steps. They stepped through, but she turned to look straight at them, holding up one hand in a gesture of peace again. One of them said something to the other, who hastened away; if she knew the castle right, they would be looking for Anna.
A flit of motion caught her eye, further along the fjord, and she looked back out just in time to see the strange, small craft come into view fully. She could see the sailor now, and realised with a strange twinge that they were a woman, brown-skinned and dark-haired, wearing cream and coral clothes and managing the boat effortlessly. Tattoos wove up her arms in intricate patterns. The woman looked straight back, and for a moment despite the distance Elsa could have sworn that their eyes met.
The craft turned, straight towards her. Elsa took a deep breath, and stepped out onto the surface of the fjord.
It froze beneath her feet, reaching out in a hexagon that spread out in front of her in a long, smooth walkway. It was far more even than her first wayward flight all those years ago, far more like the bridge she had later made, like the walkways and bridges at which she had developed some skill with time. Part of her wanted to run, but she forced herself to a walk that, if not quite stately, at least did not look too overenthusiastic for a queen. There were faces at the windows of the castle, and at least some of the city would be able to see her as well as she reached the end of the tongue of ice, broadened it to form a square, and with a flick of her hand even raised a cleat to which the boat could be lashed.
There was barely a ripple of wind, but the boat made good time towards her; she kept her eyes on the figure upon it. The woman did something with rope at the back of the ship, then straightened up, stepping up alongside the mast and resting her oar over her shoulder. This time, her gaze most definitely did meet Elsa’s, bold and striking, and there was a smile on her face. She did not look at all surprised by the ice, and neither did the chilly air seem to make her inclined to cover her bare arms or feet.
Silence hung in the air between them, as the boat slowed and came perfectly to a halt without the woman needing to touch a rope. She stepped from boat to pier, without even pausing to moor her boat, and looked Elsa straight in the eye.
There was something more than confidence about her, and it made Elsa feel giddy. Words failed to come.
“Elsa!” Anna shouted, from behind her. Elsa glanced round in time to see Anna all but fling herself down the steps and out onto the icy pier, then stop and catch herself, looking in shock at the woman beside her. “Wait, who is this?”
For that, Elsa looked back to the woman herself.
“I am Moana of Motunui,” she said, “demigod and wayfarer. And I’ve heard there might be magic in these parts.”
The official story was that an important visitor had come to see the Queen, their style of arrival simply a little unorthodox, and to be fair that was not all that far from the truth. For her part, Elsa was not at all sure how one was supposed to greet a demigod, save for that a demigod almost certainly outranked a queen and so for the first time in many years she was the host for the situation.
The best that she could manage was inviting Moana to her private parlour, summoning afternoon tea from the kitchens in what might have been a moment of madness, and ushering everyone else, including a wide-eyed Anna, out of the room. She did feel a little bit bad about Anna, but something told her that she was going to say or do something that was not particularly queenly in the next few hours, and did not want anybody there to witness it.
Finally, she closed the doors behind Anna, and paused with her hands resting on the handles for a moment. One breath, that was all the time that she could allow herself, and then she turned.
Moana was sitting in one of the chairs at the small table, looking utterly out-of-place and yet completely at her ease. The oar that she had carried rested against its back. Elsa did not recognise the style of the clothing that she wore, the bright colours or the fluttering flowers that adorned the neckline and the one shoulder of her top, but something in her recognised the composure, the calm gaze.
“It’s hard to be a leader, sometimes, isn’t it?” said Moana.
Something in her voice was so sure, so knowing , that Elsa laughed. Only a brief giggle, breaking out through her composure, and then she regained herself and clasped her hands in front of her, glided back to take her seat at the table in turn. “You are one,” she replied, equally certain.
“Once.” For a moment, Moana’s eyes were harder to read. “I was Chief to my people.”
Elsa’s smile faltered.
“But that passed to my daughter a long time ago.” Moana shifted, crossing her legs, and leant back more into her chair. “And I could sail again.”
Demigod , she had said. “How long?” said Elsa, softly.
For a moment, Moana did not answer, running her finger over the delicate rim of the china cups that Gerda had set out. Then her eyes flicked up to meet Elsa’s again. “Over two thousand years,” she said.
Somehow, she did not gasp, or even move. Elsa simply stared, felt herself staring and could not stop it, as Moana surveyed her as if waiting for a reaction. But there was not one in her, it seemed; the idea was so huge , so world-tilting, that Elsa simply did not know how to respond to it.
“I was human, once,” Moana continued, perhaps as it became clear that Elsa could not find words. “Then the Ocean chose me as…” she glanced at the oar, as one would another person. “As part of it, I suppose. Or its champion.” A quirk of a smile. “I noticed after a couple of decades, but the Ocean’s never been much of one for answers.”
“You… control the ocean?” said Elsa, thinking of what she had seen the ship do.
But Moana shook her head, smiling. “More like I negotiate with it. Sometimes it helps… sometimes it does what it wants. But it’s the Ocean. I couldn’t expect anything else.”
“But you have powers,” Elsa said, hearing the desperation in her own voice as soon as the words left her. She straightened up in her chair and looked away, abruptly embarrassed at herself. “My apologies.”
“It’s, it’s fine,” said Moana. She reached back over her shoulder, took hold of the oar, and spun it round itself as she brought it over and down to rest across her lap. “Some of it’s me. Some of it’s… this.” The oar was old wood, even Elsa could see that, worn smooth with countless years and countless touches. But there was a carving in the flat of it, a slightly jagged heart and a definitely jagged fishhook. “The gods do that, it seems. But even without it, I’d still be immortal. I’d still have my way with the sea, like Maui has his way with words.”
“An old friend of mine. Even older than I am.” Moana tapped the carvings on the oar. “He has this fishhook, and it’s the source of most of his powers. Not quite all, though - he can still spin a tale with the rest of them. Was still immortal, still strong. And this,” another tap of the oar, “it adds some things. But the Ocean and me, we go way back.”
The sight of the boat, dipping and weaving impossibly, had been impressive enough; as soon as Elsa had seen the swing of the water, its impossible and magical movements, she had felt weak at the knees. The thought of something more was enough to all but shatter her thoughts. She swayed at the waist, putting one hand on the table, and her vision swam. The next thing that she knew, there was a warm, rough hand on her shoulder, fingers of the other pressing into her wrist as Moana checked her pulse.
She laughed, unsteadily. “My heart is fine.”
“It never hurts to check,” said Moana. “Breathe deeply, now.”
She did, knowing panic well and having long since learnt how best to counter it. But there was something in Moana’s voice that helped, and it took only a few breaths for her to be able to straighten up again. Moana released her wrist, but kept a hand on her shoulder.
“Sorry,” said Moana. There was something almost self-deprecating in her voice. “I’m normally gentler with these things. I figured since you had magic, you might be a little more aware.”
Elsa shook her head. “No. There has only ever been my magic. That or the trolls, but they are… well, not human.” She looked up, aware that there was still something hopeful and a little desperate fluttering in her heart. “Is there less magic, than there used to be?”
“The same amount, I think. But more people. So it feels like less.”
That made sense, Elsa supposed. She managed to nod, and finally Moana’s hand slipped away from her shoulder as the demigod sat back down again. There was something strangely mundane about it, sitting opposite each other at the table with a teapot, jug of mint lemonade, light finger cakes and even small sandwiches. Elsa wondered whether the word demigod had been relayed to the kitchens, and what their response might have been. A sorceress-Queen was strange enough.
“So the Ocean chose you.”
“Yes. When I was a baby. I don’t really remember it,” said Moana, smile becoming fond, “but from time to time I dreamt, glimpses of it. For years, by parents tried to keep me away from the sea, but I kept finding my way back. And eventually, with a little help… I sailed. And it felt right.”
Elsa forced herself to breathe calmly, although she could feel the tightness returning in her chest. There were familiarities in Moana’s words, no matter how wildly different she guessed the details had been. “And the Ocean is… God?”
Arendelle had been Christian for centuries. “There’s only one God,” said Elsa, automatically.
But Moana shrugged. “We call them gods, the ones that interact with us. Perhaps you know them by another name. I’ve had language barriers before,” she added, more offhand. “You should try arguing with the Ocean. Gives a whole new meaning to non-verbal communication.”
Despite herself, Elsa laughed, breathlessly, again. “I… can only imagine. But you…” she swallowed, and pressed her question again, “You do have powers. Even without the oar.”
“Yes. I’m immortal,” said Moana, which Elsa could not help but find obvious considering she still appeared to be perhaps in her twenties, then realised was still extraordinary. Magic could do such strange things to perception. “I’m strong - not like Maui, not pulling up islands, but strong - and tougher than I was before, and I can breathe under the water. With this,” she reached back and tapped the oar at the back of her chair again, “it can shapeshift into weapons for me, and I can do some shapeshifting of my own.”
“Shapeshifting,” Elsa said. She had meant it to be a question, but somehow could not make it one.
Moana nodded. “A few forms. Fishes, insects, a falcon.” Her voice became more tender, and she touched the tattoo on the inside of her left wrist, a manta ray leaping from the waves. “A manta ray, sometimes. But I rarely use that one,” she added, looking up and with her eyes brightening again. “Mostly at night. But now,” she looked almost haughty, but there was a playful touch to her smile. “I did come here for a reason. You have magic of your own, I see.”
She waved to Elsa’s dress, and Elsa looked down before she even realised how absurd it would make her look. Surprised at her own dress. It was her usual gown, blue, although she had waved away her cape even as she had hurried through the castle to the water.
“Yes. I suppose that is rather apparent.”
“The ice on your castle roof as well. It’s not as warm as my homeland, my homewater, but it is your summer here. That ice is magical?”
Elsa nodded. “That as well. My magic is, well… it sounds limited, compared to yours.” That was strange to admit, in so many ways - to have someone else to compare to, and to have someone whose magic was, at least in some ways, more . “It is ice. I create it, form it, whatever you want to say. From fabric, to…” she waved in the vague direction of the North Mountain, “to a building. It’s all ice.”
Picking up one of the cakes, Moana turned it back and forth in the sunlight, as if examining it. “May I?” she cocked her head. Elsa nodded with a vague murmur of assent, and Moana popped the cake into her mouth whole. She chewed thoughtfully, then gave an approving nod and swallowed. “They’re good. Different. And you say it’s limited but, for all I can do,” she spread her hands, “I can’t make something where there wasn’t something before.”
“I guess it’s just… narrow focus.”
“Might be a better way to think of it,” Moana agreed. She picked up another small cake, and frowned at it. “Is that coconut ?”
“Quite possibly. Anna has a taste for it, especially with chocolate.” At least sleeves of ice did not need rolling up in the way that fabric ones might. Elsa put a hand to the handle of the teapot. “Would you like some tea?”
At least when she took tea alone, she had always been in the habit of pouring for herself. Moana nodded, although she looked somewhat distracted, poking at the dessicated coconut on top of the small cake she had picked up. Elsa was just pouring the second cup of tea, still aware of the absurdity of the whole situation, when the door opened.
She turned, admonishment of Anna - the most likely culprit to actually have the audacity to walk into one of Elsa’s rooms unannounced - on her lips, and found her tongue tied.
“Hello!” Olaf chirped. His eyes fixed immediately on Moana, and he hurried over. “Ooh, are you Elsa’s new friend? Hi, I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs!”
He held out his stick arms beseechingly. Moana was looking at him in bemusement, and Elsa sighed and put down the teapot again. “And… there’s Olaf,” she said. Moana’s eyes flicked up, then back to the snowman. “And Marshmallow. And the Snowgies. But Olaf’s the only one who lives in the castle.”
“He’s…” Moana pointed to the snowman, looked at Elsa with raised eyebrows, then went back again. “Oh. Oh, wow . He’s alive .”
“Uh-huh,” said Olaf, still with his arms held out pointedly. When Moana remained in her chair, he learnt his head towards Elsa and spoke from the corner of his mouth without really looking away. “Is she okay? She seems kinda quiet.”
“Olaf, remember that people not from Arendelle are often surprised to meet you,” said Elsa. She cleared her throat. “Olaf, this is Moana of Motunui. Moana, this is… Olaf.”
“Of Arendelle,” Olaf supplied helpfully.
“No hugs, Olaf,” said Elsa. Olaf looked disappointed, but did indeed lower his arms. “Olaf is… also from my ice.”
“I’ve never met anyone whose magic could give intelligence like this,” said Moana. She sounded fascinated. Olaf, apparently unaware, pottered round them and dragged another chair over to the table. Her eyes followed him all the way. “I know of those who can turn life into life, one creature to another, whether with the help of the gods or by coaxing the animals themselves to change… but he is now? It is not a function of the carrot?”
“Oh, my nose?” Olaf hopped up into the third chair, dangling his stubby feet, and put both hands to his nose at once. He plucked out the carrot and extended it to her. “Here, you can look at it if you want.”
“Apparently not,” Moana said. She accepted the carrot, turning it over in her hands as if looking for anything strange in it, then handed it back with a smile. “I must say, Olaf, you are the first thing that has truly surprised me in a very long time.”
“You’re welcome,” Olaf said, retrieving his nose and putting it back in place.
Without warning, Moana burst out laughing. She put her face in her hand, and when Olaf shot Elsa a confused look she could not do anything other than shrug in response. Finally, Moana recovered, and her smile looked brighter with the edge of laughter still behind it.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “For a moment, you sounded just like a friend of mine.”
“So there are… more?” Elsa probed gently. “More people with magic? People like… you? Or me?”
“Well, I don’t know if you’re a demigod,” Moana said. “That’s the word that we’ve always used, at least in my part of the world. People who are chosen by the gods - or however you might know them,” she added quickly. “The powerful… beings. Forces.”
“Gods will do,” said Elsa. “But… I was born with these powers. Not chosen. I’m not… I wouldn’t claim to be like you.”
Moana was too much, too incredible, for Elsa to ever claim comparison. Confidence as warm as the sun radiated from her, her hair rich with sun and sea and a sparkle in her eyes. Tattoos curled up both of her arms and over her left shoulder, with a thousand intricate details that Elsa could not begin to divine. She glowed , whether with magic or not. And Elsa… was just a girl who had been born with magic in her fingertips, and had denied it for almost a lifetime.
“Magic,” said Moana, reaching over to take hold of the oar again. She spun it, over, and with a flash of blue-white light it became a wooden club, edged with triangular teeth - shark teeth, Elsa vaguely recognised - that rested perfectly in her hand. “Is magic. Yours or mine, they’re all part of the greater pattern. I suspect the trolls here are a remnant, refugees from Lalotai. The Monkey Men certainly were,” she added; Elsa did not dare ask. “We have different names for it, but it is a sort of underworld, or otherworld, and there are portals from the surface that lead to it. The monsters there have slaughtered the good beings, while in our world demigods and heroes fight to destroy the monsters. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” said Elsa softly.
“The gods, they are… huge.” Moana rested the club across her other hand, and in a flash it spread out into the oar again. “Powerful, and ancient, but they move slowly. So they choose humans, and make us into demigods, give us powers and items that channel those powers. We hold back the monsters, to protect people. And we help them find their way.”
Elsa shook her head, averting her eyes. “That’s not what I am,” she said. “Nobody chose me.”
“They’re quieter now,” Moana said. Elsa looked up again, to see that Moana’s smile had softened, her eyes hardened, the leader swelling forward in her expression. It was strange not to be the leader in the room. “They speak less. But they are there. In islands, mountains, in the deep water, in the moon. All over the world. I’ve never met a demigod who knew all of them; I don’t think one person can.”
“You think I am a demigod,” said Elsa simply. She should have seen it coming, she supposed; why else would Moana go to seek her out? And what she had said had mentioned humans, and demigods, and nothing in-between. “Or… becoming one.”
“Yes. Perhaps demigod is not the word that you would use,” Moana added. “But it is the word I know best.”
Elsa looked at her hands again. Even they looked so unlike Moana’s, slender and pale and with long, rounded nails. She had been on board ships, and knew how they were sailed, but it had not been her doing the sailing. Her hands were tools for writing, for holding, for her magic. They would not have the strength to guide a ship.
“So there are gods,” said Elsa, “and there are demigods chosen from among humans, for reasons that… may never be explained. And you think that’s what I am?”
This time, Moana just nodded.
Perhaps she should have felt dizzy again. But somehow the enormity of the idea was not weighty, not a pressure on her shoulders, but instead a huge wide vista that opened up around her. Ideas like immortality swirled around her, but she could not quite grasp them.
A warm touch on her hand bought her back to the moment, and she blinked and looked up properly. Moana was kneeling in front of her, and as Elsa sat struck dumb she twined their fingers together, firm and comforting.
“I know it is a lot,” she said. “I remember .”
“Did someone explain this to you? Like this?”
Moana shook her head, looking rueful. “No. I put some pieces together as I got older but didn’t look it. My strength grew, and I took some blows that should have injured me badly. And I never felt whole without that damn oar at my side. When my daughter was grown and able to lead our people, I went in search of Maui again, and found him fighting taniwha. When I went to his aid, I was cast into the water and… suddenly, I was a manta ray. I swam back up, leapt from the surface, and was a human again. And that was when I knew.”
It took a moment for Elsa to breathe it in. She was grateful beyond words for the hand in hers, holding her to the ground. “Then thank you,” she said. “For telling me.”
“Elsa,” Moana said, with a slight pressure from her fingertips that was not quite a squeeze. Just a reminder of their presence. Her name on Moana’s lips made Elsa’s heart flutter. “It is a lot, but I will tell you one thing: there are many of us. You are not alone in the world.”
Not alone. Not some strange changeling creature in a world of humans. The fear had always nagged at her, at its worst when she looked around and only saw humans upon humans, even her parents something that she could never be. Perhaps she had always known; the idea did not terrify her as she might have thought it would. To be both human and not-human seemed somehow to be a solution that she had not thought to look for.
She looked deep into Moana’s eyes, and saw nothing but warm honesty there. It was comforting.
“No!” Olaf said, breaking through her thoughts. Crumbs around his mouth suggested that he had been distracted by the cakes as they spoke, although rapt listening was also a possibility. Even after all this time, he seemed no less charmed by the world than ever before. “You’re not alone! You’ve got me, and Anna, and Sven, and Sven-”
“And me,” said Moana, softly. She ran her thumb over Elsa’s skin.
Elsa spared a smile for Olaf, but it was to Moana that her eyes were drawn. “Then it seems that you have me, as well.”