Anna marched down the hall on loose legs, arms swinging by her side, almost tripping over her too-long new nightgown, all silky and with far too many layers - clearly not designed with a comfortable sleep in mind. Almost wishing she would trip over, just to create a delay. She’d been drinking since the reception and had thrown up three times already, though mostly from nerves. She couldn’t even keep the cake down. Luckily she’d made it out to the garden to do so, only got rained on a tiny bit, and no one had seen her in such a sorry state except for a few servants. Perfect. Now there would be a rumour that she was already pregnant, no doubt, and oh so clever subtle jokes to go with it.
She was now comfortably detached, liquid courage flowing through her veins, flying somewhere between reckless abandon and melancholy acceptance. It was the perfect stage of drunkenness to be brave like Elsa, and face her fate.
Her knuckles felt no pain as she rapped hard on the door, and opened it without waiting for an answer. It was empty, as expected. Dimly lit by a few lanterns. She hadn’t seen Hans’ new bedroom yet. It was understated and surprisingly tasteful, for a man. Very tidy, all in matching reds and greys. Not that she’d seen too many men’s bedrooms before. She hadn’t even seen Kristoff’s bedroom. Come to think of it, she wasn’t sure he even had a bedroom. She’d always imagined him snuggled up in the stables, spooning with Sven under a blanket in the hay, and frankly she’d rather be spooning with a reindeer than doing what she was about to do.
Though Hans had only been here two weeks, his desk was that of a busy man. Neat piles of letters and envelopes. Fountain pens all in a row. Candles melted down to their bases. She flicked through them, finding mostly polite niceties to distant relatives, tasteful descriptions of his new home, a series of identical templates thanking their subject - at this point left as a blank space - for attending the wedding.
One note caught her eye, being smaller than the rest, folded sneakily and just poking out from under a swordcraft book. It read only:
Hans, The hawks are ready. Awaiting confirmation of successful lock. Best, Fritz.
Fritz was one of his brothers, she knew. It was probably some silly sibling game. Anna had always wished for a sibling to share secrets and play games with. Most of the children she’d grown up with always let her win just because of her rank, and that, ironically, often left her feeling rather excluded. As well as being dreadfully boring.
She tried to focus on reading the words. Putting together the story in front of her. Snooping and eavesdropping were a sure-fire way to distract anyone from the drudgery of their own lives. That’s why the servants constantly did it. But in this case, it simply wasn’t enough. With every passing second of anticipation, her heart raced faster. Her urge to vomit increased. Her hands shook harder. Her throat grew drier.
She climbed onto the bed and took long, deep breaths, trying to remember the advice in the marriage manual she’d been gifted. She wasn’t supposed to be excited, rather, an innocent creature of “symptomless sexuality”, but at the same time her husband was supposed to excite her and awaken her dormant passions, and truth be told she hadn’t read all that far through, partly because what she read repulsed her, and partly because she’d assumed it would be different for her. She was a princess. She was supposed to be important. She was supposed to be exempt from the sufferings of the average woman.
But here she lay, on her wedding night, awaiting her fate. Like any other average woman. Feeling a vague sense of anticipatory grief, like she was about to pass a point of no return. To lose something deep within herself that she would never get back. Like her life would be divided into before and after this moment.
She jumped backwards as the door opened, hitting her head on the headboard. It should have hurt more than it did. She was really very drunk.
‘Hello, dear wife.’
Anna flopped onto her back and squeezed her eyes shut, ‘I’m ready. Let’s get this over with.’
His voice was dry and humourless. ‘How very romantic you are.’
‘Romantic? Seriously?’ She almost laughed at the prospect. Wasn’t it enough that she was here, willing to perform her unspeakable conjugal duties without complaint? She sat up and pulled herself into a ball, ‘What do you want, a candlelit dinner? Walk along the beach? Then you can slap me afterwards and tell me to shut up?’
‘Really?’ He stood closer now. At the edge of the bed. 'A girl as mouthy as you isn’t accustomed to a little slap now and then?’
‘No! I’m a goddamn princess! People don’t slap me. People give me flowers and let me win at games and tell me how beautiful I look even when I’m hungover. And I’ll have you know that many people find my outspoken and bubbly personality delightful!’ She was crying now. The one thing she swore she wouldn’t do. She wished she hadn’t drunk so much. It hadn’t helped the fear at all, only made all the other feelings worse. ‘This is my kingdom. People love me! I'm the one they all turned out for today!’
‘And I am a prince.’ Technically he was a duke, now. He couldn’t have a higher title than her. But she didn’t say that. There was enough venom in his quiet voice and rage in his eyes already. ‘Women threw themselves at me, back home! All sorts of women were desperate for a chance to get into my good graces. Local women. Rich women. Poor women. Exotic women. Women who knew how to please a man and make him feel good about himself. And here you are, blind drunk and crying, with your eyes all shut like some kind of pitiful wharf whore, lamenting her broken dreams, about to debase herself for some pox-ridden, illiterate sailor just to pay the rent-’
‘Whoa! That is...disturbingly detailed and I don’t wanna know how you-’
‘I didn’t choose this, Anna, any more than you did! I’m not asking you to pretend to love me.’
‘Good! Because I will never love you.’
A brief reprieve fell upon them, a breath between the anger and spite. It didn’t excuse any of his behaviour, but it was interesting to hear that Hans hadn’t been particularly pleased about this arrangement either. That he hadn’t wanted to leave his home. That in his own callous way, he was doing his duty.
‘But I do love my country.’ Anna thought of the beaming faces that had gazed at her today, full of pride and adoration. It was their good graces that kept her family in its comfortable position of riches and power and relative luxury. She owed them...something, at least? Her head was beginning to throb painfully, sharp as knives behind her eyes. She steadied her voice and lay back down on the bed. ‘And I guess you love yours. So let’s hurry up and make a stupid heir.’
Anna felt the bed give under his weight next to her, and her whole body clenched tight in response. This was it. It was happening. She held her breath and gripped the sheets below her.
‘I do love my country.’ Hans’ voice was surprisingly weary, ‘And we do need to make an heir. At some point. But whatever this is,’ he motioned to her stiff, prone form and clenched fists, ‘it’s just...insulting.’
‘Huh?’ Was she really getting out of consummating the marriage? That easily? All she’d had to do was damage his pride and sense of manly virility? It seemed like such an obvious solution, now, but she’d been too sick with nerves to think clearly. ‘Are you saying...we’re done here?’
‘Yes, girl, we are done here. You stink of wine...and vomit. Get off my bed.’ Now he truly sounded hurt. And disappointed - perhaps he’d really expected Anna to please him and make him feel good about himself . Gross! ‘Go away, get your shit together, maybe read some erotica, and come back when you’re ready to act like an adult.’
The relief far outweighed any sting in those words. She stumbled off the bed and toward the door on wobbly legs, still breathing raggedly, then scampered down the hall like a very drunk mouse escaping from a bored cat. Still in disbelief, she felt like he might change his mind at any moment and drag her back into his cave to have his way with her.
Back in her bedroom, Elsa sat on the bed, gripping the sheets with white knuckles, her face twisted in painful suspense, awaiting an update.
Anna looked at her, smiled weakly and simply shook her head.
The two of them melted into sighs of utter relief. Melted into each other, and into small, anxious giggles from the sheer stress of anticipation. And finally melted into sleep.
‘Have fun at the Trade Convention!’ Anna squeezed her mother tight.
‘We don’t go there for fun , Anna.’ Iduna rolled her eyes but she squeezed back, ‘It's not a party.’
‘Sure, sure,’ Anna gave an over exaggerated wink. ‘If you say so, Mama.’
‘My goodness, aren’t you in a playful mood today?’
Of course she was in a playful mood. Her parents were leaving for two whole weeks! That meant only a scant few council meetings because no major decisions could be made without her father. No open court. No state dinners or banquets. Just plenty of time to frolic and meander and well, play!
‘Was someone pleasantly surprised, on her wedding night?’
Yes, Anna was pleasantly surprised on her wedding night. But not for the reasons her mother meant. She decided to go along with it, as the last thing she needed was her parents on her back about making an heir. Lamenting their grey hairs and old, achy bones so very unsubtly. They were a morbid old pair, sometimes.
‘Oh! Yeah! We totally uh...lay together as man and wife.’ The lie didn’t flow at all. She sounded squeaky and unconvincing. ‘And it was just so....’
She was shaking her head. Straight up betraying herself.
‘Awesome. It was so awesome and not gross at all, and it definitely happened.’
Too far? Too far.
‘Oh, darling,’ Iduna’s face fell into a mix of pity, disappointment and concern, somehow all at once. ‘The longer you hesitate, the bigger it will become in your mind.’
‘Mhm.’ This conversation was really ruining her playful mood.
‘He’ll get frustrated-’
‘Actually, Mama, he’s happy to wait a little while until I’m ready.’
‘And I suppose you think that’s a good thing.’
‘Uh...yeah?’ It may have been twisting the truth a little but yes, however scornfully, Hans had sent her away and hadn’t pestered her for sex since. How was that not a good thing?
‘So he’s out philandering already,’ Iduna sighed casually like she was noticing a rain cloud in the distance. ‘No red blooded young man is just happy to wait ‘till you’re ready . You’ll see. Give it fifteen years, you’ll have hoards of illegitimate children coming out of the woodworks, making all sorts of claims. Gathering little rag-tag armies. Thank the gods your father and I will be long dead-’
‘Mama! Please! Do you have to be so morbid?’ As much as they frustrated and enraged her, and hurt her feelings almost daily, Anna couldn’t bear to think of losing her parents. Deep down they were still her place of safety. Not that the other suggestions were particularly nice to think about either. Anna shuddered, picturing a literal hoard, hundreds of screaming, auburn haired adolescent boys and girls, all with big fluffy sideburns, climbing over the gates and storming the castle. The stuff of nightmares.
‘Oh, my sweet little girl,’ Iduna stroked Anna’s face so tenderly it almost seemed like she was about to say, actually, you know what? Don’t worry about making an heir at all. We’ll just send Hans back to The Southern Isles and things will just sort of work themselves out . But she said, ‘You just need to find a way to take the fear out of it. Familiarise yourself with the male anatomy. There are plenty of books in the library-’
A knock on the door interrupted them. The last minute documents were all signed, bags were packed and the carriage awaited. Anna gave her mother one last squeeze and whispered, ‘that’s disgusting.’
‘The more you hesitate, the scarier it gets!’ Anna cringed a little at how similar she sounded to her own mother. But this was different. This was fun. ‘So promise you’ll follow me this time!’
‘Anna, are you sure...’ Elsa gripped the handlebars and gazed down the hall, wobbling slightly on the bicycle but for the most part fairly competent for having only learnt to ride a few days ago.
Anna rode along beside her at a reasonable pace, speeding up as they approached the stairs, ‘it’s not as hard as it looks, I promise! The trick is to keep pedaling, no matter what. And whatever you do, don’t slow down!’
‘What if I break some priceless artifact?’
Before Anna could answer she felt the familiar bump-bump-bump of the stairs beneath her bicycle tyres and the rush of momentum, tumbling downwards faster and faster, flirting with gravity, guiding the bike like a shooting star through the great entrance and toward the dining hall. She slowed down, ready to stop and turn around. No doubt Elsa would have skidded to a halt at the top of the stairs, like the last three times. But when Anna squeezed the brakes lightly, she found Elsa whizzing past on her, straight through the door and into the dining hall.
‘But you told me not to stop pedaling!’ Elsa narrowly missed a suit of armour and knocked over chair after chair as she hurtled through the hall and into the kitchen. Anna deftly followed through the trail of delightful destruction, catching a glimpse of Britta the seamstress drinking a sneaky cup of ale with the kitchen girls and two strapping, square jawed guards. With her parents gone, apparently everyone was letting loose. They all jumped out of the way as Elsa sped between them, knocking over a barrel of potatoes and yams, and Anna, in an effort to avoid the vegetables, crashed into a bag of flour and left the poor staff coated in white like a bunch of snowmen.
‘Sorry!’ She quickly got back on her bike and followed Elsa out the kitchen’s back door into the courtyard, ‘Elsa! Stop pedaling!’
‘But you said not to!’
‘I don’t know what you want from me!’ Elsa just kept pedalling, but she was losing control, wobbling from side to side, straight into the fountain with a glorious splash that sent water flying up into the air and splattering onto the ground all around.
Anna skidded to a halt, jumped off her bike and held out her hand, ‘Elsa, are you okay?’
Elsa stared back in shock for a few seconds with strands of wet hair stuck against her face, blinking like a stunned rabbit in the low afternoon sun. She reached up shakily, grasped Anna’s hand tight and yanked. In one swift movement, they were both in the fountain, soaking wet and laughing.
The flour-covered staff stood at the doorway, watching, with arms crossed and heads shaking, which somehow made it even funnier, and the two were helpless against the fit of giggles that overcame them. The laughter was only overpowered by the biting cold that soon crept up Anna’s limbs and into her chest, turning her feet numb, her hands painfully stiff and her breaths shallow.
‘Oh, shit, Anna! I’m sorry.’ Elsa climbed out of the fountain and pulled Anna out of the water and into her arms, ‘You must be freezing.’
‘Yeah, just a bit,’ she shivered through her words, ‘aren’t you.’
Elsa shook her head as they headed back inside the castle, leaving the bicycles abandoned in the courtyard, ‘Cold doesn’t bother me.’
Of course it didn’t.
The parent-free days passed in a haze of bike riding, cake-stealing, wine-drinking, climbing, swinging, and general frolicking around the castle. One could almost pretend that this was Anna’s whole purpose in life. To run around the castle having fun, just like when she was a child. Unlike when she was a child, however, she had a partner in crime. And most unlike when she was a child, Anna found herself one evening lying on her stomach, on her bed, surrounded by a spread of open books depicting a range of bizarre and confusing sex acts from all corners of the world. As per both her mother and Hans’ recommendation, she had gone and gathered a collection of erotica from the library to psych herself up for marital life. To take “the fear out of it”. But so far it was having the opposite of its intended effect. She ran her fingers over a picture of an ancient statue from India, trying to untangle the mess of limbs and mouths and very round, very exposed orifices. The position of the bodies looked honestly excruciating, but if their faces were anything to go by, they were all having a whole lot of fun.
‘According to this record,’ Elsa ran fingernails lightly over Anna’s lower back while she read, her voice an unusually low husk, ‘Cleopatra is said to have kept a small box, which could be filled with bees and then pressed against her genitals for vibrating stimulation.’
‘Did she?’ Anna squirmed. The horrifying thought of bees anywhere near her crotch combined with the sensual tingling of fingernails on her back, against the backdrop of the knowledge that she was essentially studying for sex created a deeply confusing internal state.
‘Ooh, my goodness!’ Turning to see what had elicited such a reaction from Elsa, Anna found a drawing from the Far East of a woman doing something unspeakable with what appeared to be an octopus!
She threw the book to the floor and rolled over onto her back, ‘You know what, this isn’t helping at all!’
‘You’re really determined to go through with this,’ Elsa now lazily drew her fingernails over Anna’s stomach, ‘aren’t you?’
‘I have to.’ She thought hard about this for a moment, but that was the simple truth of it. ‘What other option do I have?’
Elsa shrugged, ‘you could run away.’
Anna could have argued. Could have gone on about the plethora of noble houses who were just frothing for a viable claim to the throne, and the lengths they would go to, the atrocities they would commit at the slightest whiff of a genuine opportunity to seize power. Or about the goodwill of her people and how she belonged to them, and they to her, in ways she could never truly explain. She would never understand the burdens Elsa carried, being what she was. And she didn’t expect Elsa to understand hers. Instead she looked up into hazy blue eyes and said, ‘How’s that approach worked out for you?’
‘Not so bad,’ Elsa stopped tracing circles with fingernails and instead trailed one fingertip slowly, softly from Anna’s belly button slowly up to her chest, between her breasts, and along her collarbone, ‘I’m here with you, aren’t I?’
The light but unyielding touch left a tingling trail behind, a ghostly sensation of heat under her blouse. All her words evaporated into flustered energy. Heat in her chest. Flip-flopping in her stomach. She pulled Elsa down into an impatient kiss, pressing their bodies together. The pressure between them grew more delightful and electric every second, building inside her like a star bursting into existence.
The needy lips pressing back against hers, the soft weight of Elsa on top of her, the warm, wet tongue pressing for entry sent bolt-like energy through her body, sending her heart racing like she was about to run or jump or fight, and she flipped them both over so that she was on top with Elsa’s legs between her own, hips pressed together. The solid pressure of the body beneath her with its delicious curves and dips in all the right places ignited the overwhelming want that flowed hot in her veins. She deepened the kiss, feeling a hand softly caressing the back of her neck, another sneaking under her blouse to the sensitive skin of her lower back. She moved her own hand in turn under Elsa’s blouse and up the side of her ribs along wonderfully soft skin, toward her breasts, but found her fingers shaking, her throat closing, unable to caress the prize that was so close.
She broke the kiss, gazing down at the impossibly beautiful human beneath her. Graceful as always, pale and delicate and ethereally feminine. But blushing deeply with her lips glistening wet and just enough desire on her face to drive Anna even madder! Mad with excitement and delight and, when in this particularly compromising position, a hunger so desperate it veered almost into possessiveness.
And yet her hand still shook against Elsa’s breast. Her body had gone tense. She felt frozen.
‘Anna?’ Elsa withdrew her hands and placed them over Anna’s own shaking ones, ‘you always seem to get so nervous...around this point…’
‘Sorry,’ It was true. They’d played this game for the last few days, kissing and touching and stopping awkwardly. Anna just didn’t know what was wrong with her! She’d wanted this, on some unspoken but undeniable level, since she first met Elsa down in the dungeon. She’d never expected Elsa to want her back. She’d never expected it would go this far. ‘I don’t know why I’m so nervous. I just- you’re so beautiful and I get so excited, I don’t know...I don’t mean to tease you.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Elsa squeezed her hand, ‘I really like being close to you, like this, but I would never want your first experiences of intimacy to be uncomfortable or...frightening.’
The concern in her voice softened all the tension in Anna’s body. How did Elsa always manage to say the right thing?
‘Well technically it’s not my first experience of any intimacy.’ And how did Anna always manage to say the first stupid thing that popped into her head?
Oh, that can of worms was opened, now.
‘Well I’m eighteen, you know,’ Why did she feel like she had to explain herself? Like she was caught out? Why was her heart racing again? ‘I mean, I’m just saying, it’s not like I don't have any life experience.’
Elsa kept a cool and unreadable face. One eyebrow raised. ‘And here I was, all twisted up in knots over the prospect of deflowering the precious princess, and she’s already-’
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up, now. Nobody was deflowered !’
‘Then what happened?’
‘Nothing!’ This was really the worst time for the ghost of Astrid to make an appearance. Not that she was dead, of course. More like...the ghost of Anna’s recklessness, bad luck and very poor timing, conspiring with her great big mouth to ruin everything wonderful in her life, apparently.
‘It sounds like something happened.’
‘Well...this, I guess.’ Anna motioned to the two of them. Herself sitting astride Elsa. Elsa with a hand still covering Anna’s, resting lightly over her own breast. ‘This happened. We just kissed...very, uh, passionately. Several times. And then we got caught.’
Anna climbed off Elsa and sat on the edge of the bed, trying to rein in all her emotions. It was such a sore topic, but it wasn’t Elsa’s fault, the way things had gone. She mustn’t get defensive. Elsa was not judging her - that would make no sense, given she was engaging in improper relations as well. But something about her reaction just seemed...off.
Anna waited for clarification.
‘I suppose that was um...quite a scandal?’
‘Papa covered it up very...thoroughly. But the staff all know and they’ll never see me the same. And the way Papa carried on, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up! He still carries on about it, like I’m some kind of depraved pervert. Mama says I’m...afflicted.’
‘You are the furthest thing from depraved, Anna. You’re beautiful, inside and out. And your affections are beautiful. I’m sorry they made you feel that way.’
‘Eh, it’s over now. Can’t change the past, right?’ Anna was sick of this downer. Sick of always paying penance for Astrid. She crawled back onto the bed to find Elsa sitting on the other side, and nuzzled against her back, breathing in the scent of her hair, planting soft kisses on her neck.
Elsa didn’t resist. But she didn’t lean into it either. She asked, ‘where is she, now?’
‘In the countryside, somewhere.’ This was annoying. Anna wished she would drop it. She kept planting kisses up Elsa’s velvety smooth neck, nibbling on her earlobe.
‘What was her name?’
Anna grunted with frustration, ‘It doesn’t matter. Can’t we drop it-’
‘Did you love her?’
Oh. Oh, it was all making sense. ‘You’re jealous!’
‘Of course not.’ Elsa held her voice very steady. But not quite steady enough. A terrible liar. ‘I’m just curious.’
‘Aw, don’t be like that!’ A playfulness returned to Anna’s voice. It was flattering, if she was being totally honest! It made her feel rather special. ‘Come on! Elsa, that’s not fair. Surely you’ve had someone special in your life before, all those years, running around those different places. Are you even a virgin?’
Okay, so that last part might have been too far. Bigmouth strikes again. But the prolonged silence spoke for itself.
‘Oh, so you’re not!’ Anna kept her tone light and playfully jiggled Elsa’s shoulders. She didn’t want to come off as accusatory, but she was painfully curious about Elsa’s past. And she’d been so very patient. But ever since she’d seen that yellow figure in the mist, up at the Valley of the Living Rock. She just had to know. Perhaps she was a little jealous, too. ‘Who was it?’
Anna trailed her hand down to the amulet with all its secrets, heavy over the burn that she tenderly washed, covered in salve and applied fresh bandages to, every morning and every night. Not tenderly enough though, apparently. The metal still didn’t budge.
‘Was it him, the yellow one from Pabbie’s story, who betrayed you?’ She’d been putting the pieces together and she had a fairly plausible theory by this point, ‘Did you sleep with a Fae? Did he break your heart? Because if you did, I would never judge you! I’d probably do the same, if I had the opportunity, just out of curiosity. I’ve heard they don’t even have the same kind of parts we do, like, down there-’
‘No.’ Elsa’s voice rasped barely above a whisper. ‘That’s not what happened.’
'Then what happened?'
'I'm sorry, Anna,’ A single tear slowly made its way down her cheek. ‘I just can't talk about this right now.'
'But I told you my thing!'
'You wouldn't understand.'
'I would if you would just tell me! You can trust me!'
‘Please, I just…’ Elsa planted the softest kiss on Anna’s forehead and headed toward the door, ‘I just need a little time. Alone.’
Elsa left, with her secrets and her amulet and her few delicate tears. And Anna was left to face the night alone with her big fat mouth.