Dear Queen Anna,
The moment I entered my ice palace I knew something was wrong. Touching the translucent doors prickled my fingers, though not from their cold. Gazing at the icicle fountain made the back of my neck itch, though the fractal designs looked as perfect as when I created them. Entering the great foyer unsettled me, though not from its motionless snowdrifts. I had expected this.
All my snowman had fallen to pieces after I had gone too deep in Ahtohallan. I had rebuilt Olaf at once, and it was past time I brought back to life the rest. To do just that, Olaf and I had travelled here together on the back of the water horse, riding upstream, hiking the rest of the way up ice stairs, to the top of the North Mountain.
The snowmen littered my ice palace in mounds of powder. I warned Olaf to stay outside; he might not wish to see this.
“What’s to be scared of?” Olaf strode past me, his carrot nose at a confident angle. “The philosophy of Birta Bluetoes is that tragedy enriches our lives and---NO NO NO NO! AHHHHH! OH, THAT’S NOT SNOW BUT A MASSACRE! SOMEONE, TAKE MY EYES AWAY! TAKE MY WHOLE HEAD!”
To spare Olaf, I wasted no time in remaking his fellow snowmen. Magic flurried between my fingers. I breathed out memories of winter.
The little snowgies popped up with all my feverish love from the time I planned your birthday. You are right, Anna. They are like snowballs with smiles. They raced around the fountain, rolled over the crystal floor, piled on top of each other, and leaped together, higher than my head like a team of acrobats. I laughed.
Then I sighed out a breath of mist as I raised my palace guard. He towered above in his frosty bulk, ice spiked, eyes smoldering blue as a glacial chasm filled with my fear. How happy I am that those days are over.
“Marshmallow! Little brother!” Olaf embraced the guard’s leg, twig arms not quite reaching all the way around the pillar of snow.
The guard’s icicle-cavern maw reformed into what I dare say looked like a self-conscious grin. He spoke in a bellow. “Littler brother! Where did you go?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” Olaf gestured to the guard and the rest of the snowmen. “Gather around, Sludge and Slush and Slide, gather closer, Gelid and Glee and Glissade, and Björn.”
Olaf pretended to know the name of every snowgie, all hundreds of them. Maybe he really does. At least he remembered Björn, my snow bear. He sat on his frosty haunches, along with the rest of the snowmen, to watch Olaf’s reenactment of our latest adventure.
I would’ve remained to enjoy the performance, if not for that lingering sense of wrongness. My snowmen had crumbled. Had my ice palace in my absence begun to crack? I walked across the floor and found the design of my snowflake intact. I ran a hand along a banister and found it smooth. I searched the upper chambers and found them as I had left them, clear and gleaming.
Yes, the autumn sun had warmed the south walls and left ripples and icicles. The outer layer of ice had begun to melt. Resting my palm on the coolness of a column, I let my inner peace flow outward. The exterior refroze, a return to perfection. Yet, all was still not right. Something about my palace felt unstable, unsafe, unwelcoming.
My consciousness spread into the ice. I could do this long before Ahtohallan, but over the years it has become easier. I searched for the flaw within the water crystal. Once, cold spines had jutted from the walls in agony, from my pushing you away, Anna. Once, I had broken my balcony railing, and a falling ice chandelier had almost broken me. I had repaired all that on my last visit.
What then was the problem?
I asked that of Bruni, my dear fire salamander. The little elemental spirit had come with me from the Enchanted Forest and had been napping on my shoulder. He yawned awake, stretched, and then saw we were within architecture of ice. If you can believe it, Anna, Bruni’s eyes bulged even more than their usual.
Bruni blazed down my ice-jeweled dress, around my snowy pant leg, and onto the deliciously cold floor. He did a happy dance, four feet pumping with wisps of steam. He rolled his tummy over the ice, pink tongue lolling in contentment. The fire salamander’s color was similar to the palace’s. Blue flame on blue ice.
As you might have guessed, Bruni was no great help. His feet melted divots into the floor. Did you know salamanders have four toes on their front feet and, on their hind ones, five? His tail made flicking marks on the pillars as he scampered up. I started to smooth over the ice behind him.
Then I stopped. The footprints were adorable, and likely no one would notice them but me. The imperfections didn’t make me feel worse. I began to think the problem wasn’t in the palace itself.
Turning toward the balcony doors, I waited. A tingling spread from my nose down into my chest. I sensed a spirit coming in that direction, toward me with urgency. Closing my eyes, I dipped into my inner vastness.
Last game night you asked what it is like since I became the Fifth Spirit. I didn’t know how to answer. Writing out my experiences at length every week may help. But I didn’t become something different. I always was the Fifth Spirit. I’ve just now realized my purpose, thrown open a door within myself and begun to explore a winter wonderland twinkling with fresh snow. To think it might have stayed locked away within me, forever unseen.
Much about my role as ambassador to the spirits remains unknown to me. That makes it all the more exciting. A fleeting feeling meant Gale was approaching. I began to smile.
Then I stopped. I had not yet composed a letter for Gale to carry to you. Our mutual spirit friend was coming early, and she was coming faster than ever before. I wondered if I had sensed her earlier but mistaken the feeling as coming from my ice palace. I strode to open the balcony door, to welcome her.
A shadow fell over me and the crystal floor. My snowman guard, Marshmallow, had lumbered closer. His voice sounded like a glacial groan. “Queen Elsa.”
I began to explain how I had abdicated in favor of you, but Marshmallow took my hand in his ice claws. He rested it against his chest. “Do you want it back?”
The sight of your sister pulled close to the hulking snowman may have confused you, maybe even frightened you. I thought of you then, and had you been there I would have reassured you that Marshmallow was gentle. I was overtaken not by his strength but his vulnerability.
You see, he wears my old tiara, though not on the outside. He must have found it here years ago and buried it within his own snow. I had rebuilt him around the crown. Now he was asking if I wished for it back.
No, I neither wanted the tiara nor needed it. Feeling a lump of something heavy in my own chest, I said I know how it can be to hold a part of yourself hidden inside. Marshmallow could wear the tiara in plain view, if he wanted to.
He grumbled, the sound of ice splitting granite apart, bit by bit eroding it to dust. I took him to mean he prefers to keep his crown a secret.
I opened my mouth to tell him he should not hide a part of himself. Instead, I hesitated. Perhaps what was right for me could be wrong for another. Anna, what should I have done? What I did was pat his chest, and, yes, I told him he has a heart of gold.
Just then Olaf skated in, ahead of a snowgie avalanche. “Elsa, Elsa, we decided to move in with you in your new palace, Ahto-halls-decked-with-snowmen!”
“Ahtohallan,” I tried to tell them and that it was far greater than any mere palace. However, the excitement level of the snowgies had reached full blizzard.
“I promised to give them a repeat performance,” Olaf said with a theatrical wave of his arm twig. “Bet glaciers have the best acoustics.”
I loved the idea of showing Olaf and the others the faceted azure of Ahtohallan’s caverns. We could sail there on an iceberg. I would invite you too, Anna, though I know well how much time is required being queen.
The snowmen and I may have begun the adventure, if not for the interruption of one even grander.
That was when the balcony door burst open, and in came Gale. The wind spirit whirled in greeting. My cape twirled around me in a vortex of gossamer and snow glitter. The familiar Gale refreshed me. The stranger she came with thrilled me.
A second spirit gusted in after her. Colder, stronger, fiercer, this one rattled the chandelier’s crystals in a chiming cacophony. I had wondered why Gale was moving faster. She and this second spirit had flown together. Now they filled the room with a roaring.
The snowgies fell still as new snow. Their mouths opened in awe.
Marshmallow shielded me, but I waved him back, savoring the buffeting wind. I asked Gale for introductions.
The elemental spirits do not speak to me in words, per say. Still, I am beginning to better understand them. The stronger wind came from the north, over mountain range and below arctic sky. She had rested on beds of glaciers, gathered speed around snowy peaks, and gusted across a lake topped with white ice and ringed with black beaches. I had a sense of it. It exhilarated me, even from so far away, but then in my vision, the sand turned from black to crimson.
My ice palace flickered red.
I inclined my head to the spirits. I understood their meaning. Something had happened near that waterfall valley that requires me. Here was an opportunity to fulfill my duty as the Fifth Spirit.
Excitement lifted me to my tiptoes. Or maybe that was the wind spirits.
As they murmured and hissed past my ears, my sense of the lake sharpened. Frost capped the black stones of its beaches. The sense of red lingered out of sight, like skin beneath riding breeches rubbed raw. All was not well, and there was something strange within the frozen lake. I couldn’t make it out, but I did spy nearby a distinct formation of rock: a cliff of steps, a honeycomb of columns.
Anna, could this be in Weselton? Even if so, I no longer fear the duke or his men. I will depart as soon as I finish this letter. Gale will carry it to you, and the arctic spirit will convey me to the lake.
As weightless as I feel, I don’t think I should try to travel through the empty air. I will give the wind wings and a form for me to fly on. Today I’ll craft one more snowman: a great snowy owl. I cannot wait to try it.
You once couldn’t stop talking about a winter owl. Skipping down the halls, you pointed out windows to frosty trees. “Elsa! Elsa! Do you see her?” I never did, but now I will and much more.
The horizon beckons. The sun descends toward the Arendelle cliffs in triumphant reds. Twilight fills the sky with mysterious purples. There I will fly, to be where I’ve never been, to do what I can barely imagine.
I will bring you with me, Anna, as best I can with these letters. If I am gone for longer than a week, please forgive my absence.
Thinking of your forgiveness, I now realize what is the matter with my palace. The flaw wasn’t within its ice but its past. High on its balcony, sunset reflecting below me, I see the memory of striking you inadvertently. It was my fault that ice entered your heart. It happened here, within my first masterpiece and second shame.
I regret bringing it up. Now I worry I have only pricked you again.
Though my ice palace will ever be a refuge for snowmen and spirits, I do not think I could live here again. I would not be sorry if I never return.
I am going now to the north. This letter flies to the south, to you. May winds be swift and the aurora bright.