(get right to the heart of matters; it’s the heart that matters more)
It was far too early to be awake.
Princess Anna drew her cloak tighter around her and stamped her feet against the cold. The stableyard was busy despite the early hour; it was still completely dark but men were readying horses and loading boxes into sleds. Anna herself had nothing to do but wait.
Most of the workers were people she recognised, at least vaguely. Guards and grooms and footmen. Two of the guards were coming with them, and her maid, Birgitta; Anna knew they were all riding in the larger sled. The smaller one was being loaded with trunks and boxes and it had a reindeer harnessed to it rather than the pair of horses on the larger. She guessed that must be for their guide.
I mean, she knew why they had to leave so early, but why did they have to leave so early.
“ - and I told the queen, today’s not the day for travelling. Look at those clouds!”
“Her Majesty is very insistent that -” that was Kai, the castle steward.
“Yes, I know she is. And I’ll do it, but if we get half a mile and have to turn back it isn’t my fault,” the first man said.
“It is very important for her safety that the princess leave Arendelle immediately -”
“And you think she’ll be safer on the mountain, in the middle of a snowstorm?”
“I think you should do the job you’re being paid for.”
“And I thought I was being paid for my experience, but you don't seem to want the benefit of it.”
The man stomped - there was no other word for it - over to the front sled and started rearranging the things that had been packed in the back of it, banging the boxes together and muttering under his breath. Looking up, he caught Anna’s eye, and to her surprise he looked away quickly, embarrassed.
“Your Highness,” and this was Kai again, now, at her elbow. “Everything is ready, if you'd like to take your seat?’”
“Yes - of course - is that our guide?”
“Oh, yes, I'll introduce you.”
She followed him over to where the man was standing, seemingly talking to his reindeer. Kai cleared his throat. “Princess Anna, this is Kristoff Bjorgman. He’ll take you over the mountains and Prince James’s men will meet you in Blackstad. Mr Bjorgman, Princess Anna of Arendelle.”
“Charmed,” he said. “Princess Anna, I feel obliged to inform you that I have already advised anyone who will listen that it is not safe to travel today. It's going to storm, we should wait for it to pass before we attempt the mountain.”
Anna looked at Kai. His expression was firm. “We need to leave today,” she said.
“Fine. Fine.” Bjorgman looked at his feet for a second, then back up. “Let's go, then, and see how far we can get before we have to turn back.”
By the time the sun rose they were well above the town. The sleds moved easily on the snow, and Anna felt they must be making good time. It was dull, though; the sky was grey with clouds (and from what she could see, their guide spent more time looking at them than at the road) and no one in her party was especially good company. One guard drove, and the other sat silent and alert. Birgitta dozed. And Anna fidgeted in her seat, and watched the horizon in front of them and the town behind them, and wished she had someone to talk to.
So after their brief stop for lunch she climbed onto the bench of the front sled.
“Princess Anna,” the guide said, surprised. “Is something the matter?”
“No, nothing! I just thought I’d sit with you for a bit. If that’s okay! And you can call me Anna. Can I call you Kristoff?”
He nodded but said nothing.
The sleds continued up the mountain path. Anna turned in her seat and looked behind them; she could barely see Arendelle now, just snow, stretching out all around them.
“Do you really think it’s going to storm?” she asked.
“Yes. That’s why I said it.”
“If it does, what will we do? Go back?”
“ When it does - no. We’ve come too far, now, and it’d take too long, even though it’s downhill. No, we’d probably head into a valley and try and make camp. Or if it holds off a while longer we can probably make it to the caves where I was planning we would camp tonight.”
“Yes. It’s not that exciting. Don’t you get out much?”
“No. I’ve never been out of Arendelle before.”
“Not even this far?”
“Huh.” He looked sideways at her for a moment, then away. “And now you’re going all this way. What’re you going to do in Blackstad?”
“Oh, I’m not staying there, they’re just collecting me from there. I’m going to Karlstad to get married.”
“To this Prince James.”
“That’s right. What about you, are you married?”
“There’s no Mrs Bjorgman? No little blonde children waiting at the window for Papa to get home -”
“You must be lonely.”
“I manage.” He set his jaw and turned back to the road. Anna tried again.
“Is this what you do all the time? Guiding people.”
“No. Usually I cut ice.”
“Oh, so that’s how you know the mountains. Do you often go as far as Blackstad?”
“Not often. But sometimes. We’ll be there by dark tomorrow, weather willing.”
“I hope so because they’ll be waiting for us. For me.”
They drove on in silence for a little while. They were approaching the top of a ridge, now, and the road ran at an angle to it as they climbed.
Then Kristoff spoke. “Can I ask you something? What’s with the birds?” He jerked his shoulder to the pile of supplies behind him, on top of which was strapped a rectangular birdcage with a rug tied over it. “Couldn’t you have left them at home?”
“Oh no, they’re not pets. They’re messenger birds. I can send a message back to Arendelle with them.”
“They didn’t look like pigeons.”
“No, they aren’t. They’re - different.”
They were made of ice. The day before, Anna had watched her sister spin them out of fresh air, with their delicate sparkling beaks, flashing eyes and wings made of feathers soft as snow. But no one else was supposed to know about Elsa’s magic and what it could do.
“Elsa has some too,” Anna said. “So she can send me messages.”
“I never heard of a bird that could find a person.”
“Well, these ones can.”
He looked sceptical. Then he said “Oh, no.”
It was; just a few flakes at first, but as they watched over the next few minutes more and more began to fall. Anna pulled her hood over her head. “But we want it to snow, right? It’ll cover our tracks.”
“It’ll cover us if we’re not careful.” Kristoff leant backwards and shouted at the sled behind them, his words nearly lost in the wind that was already whipping at the trees. “Stay close to me! Don’t - “ then he swore.
“What? What is it?”
“Sorry - I think they’re turning back! We’ve come too far - blast it.” He hesitated for a moment, thinking. The snow was falling heavily now; Anna realised with alarm that she could only see a few yards in front of them - then only a few feet. Her thoughts were rudely interrupted when Kristoff grabbed a rug from the back of the sled and threw it on her lap.
“Cover up and hold on. We’re going to go fast now.”