Another night. Another night with a stranger sleeping in his bed, though of course she was less of a stranger now. The princess was not what he had expected; though to be fair, when he was hired for this job he hadn’t really thought of her as a person at all. More as some sort of valuable cargo, to be conveyed to its destination.
There was still a fair amount of that; a pile of boxes that he’d stacked next to the sled. He’d repack it in the morning, then they could see if the road through the pass was open. If not, they might be able to get through with just Sven. Otherwise…
Well, better to cross that bridge when they came to it. Here in the valley it was hard to judge the severity of the storm, and how deep the snow might be further on. Only one way to find out.
Admittedly, it had been a while since he’d come this way. But it had been this year, hadn’t it? This time last year at the latest. There had been a clear path through, wide enough for the sled.
Now, though, it wasn’t so easy.
Kristoff told Anna to stay in the sled while he investigated but he didn’t have much hope in her actually doing it. She did sit for a minute; but when he didn’t come straight back she stood, then hopped down.
“Is everything okay?”
“Mm. We might not be able to get the sled through.”
“I thought this was a road.”
“It was. Looks like some rocks have fallen down, and now of course it’s covered in snow. I expect we can get through with Sven, though.”
“And leave the sled here?”
“No - let me just see how bad it is, then we can see what we need to do. Stay here.”
She stood, with her hands folded demurely, and watched him climb up onto the lowest rocks. They were slippery with ice and it was hard going. How had they got so icy? He didn’t know if Sven would be able to make it up here, and it was a long way to Blackstad if they were walking. They’d need to go back for more supplies, at least.
“Can you go up the side?”
“What?” He tried to step from one rock to another, catching himself before he overbalanced.
“Over there. It looks smoother.”
“That probably makes it more difficult, not less.”
“I bet I can do it.”
“You stay there.”
“No, I’m sure I can. Let me try.”
He rolled his eyes and looked for a better foothold. Then he realised why the rocks were so slippery. There had been a stream along the other side of the path, above the pass; the rocks’ movement must have shifted it slightly to cross the path, and now it had frozen.
“Look out for ice,” he called over to where Anna was scrabbling about.
“The stream has thrown a lot of spray about, look out for ice -”
Kristoff glanced sideways. Anna had a foot on one rock, and another on a second that was some distance away, and was biting her lip as she tried to work out what to do now. He shook his head and turned back to his own challenge. He was becoming afraid that it was impossible.
“Here’s the stream,” he heard Anna say to herself. “I wonder if it’s frozen solid? Okay. Big step -”
And then a squeal, and a crack, and a splash.
She tried to reply, but her teeth were chattering too hard. Stupid, stupid. Well, it nearly worked. If she could try again -
And then he was there, grabbing her elbows and pullling her to her feet.
“Did you fall in the water?”
“...a little bit?”
“You look like you went right under.”
Kristoff groaned. “Come on, then. Home. Now.”
“I think I have the measure of it now, let me try again -”
“While you freeze to death?” As he spoke he was leading - almost dragging - her back to the sled. “You’re soaked.” And then he swore - Anna didn’t know the word, but she knew swearing when she heard it.
“I’m fine -”
“Anna!” He bundled her onto the sled seat and climbed up beside her. “Do you have any idea - you need to get out of those wet clothes, okay? This is serious.”
They were moving fast already, bumping back along the path, and okay, she was pretty cold now. She tried to pull her cloak round her but it was soaking and just seemed to make her feel worse; but the cold air on her other clothes was just as bad.
“As soon as we get in, I’ll get the fire going, then you need to undress,” Kristoff said, not looking at her. Was he blushing? “Everything, whatever princesses wear under their dresses, I don’t know. You have some dry clothes in your trunk, right? I’ll - you wrap yourself in a blanket and I’ll put them through the door. Okay?”
“I can’t,” Anna forced out past her chattering teeth. “I can’t take everything off.”
“What kind of man do you think I am -”
“It’s not that! I just, I can’t. I need Birgitta to help me and she’s not here. My, my corset, it laces at the back. I can’t undo it myself.”
They drove on a bit more in silence.
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t,” Anna said after a moment. “And I could - I mean. It’s just the lacing, if you loosen it, I can get it off without you. And I can put it back on, not as well as Birgitta does, but well enough.”
This was supposed to have been a quick job. Easy money. Two days there, hand her over, two days back. Stock up on a few things in Arendelle for winter, then go home.
Now he was kneeling on the rug, in front of a fire as hot as he could make it, trying to work out how a princess’s underwear was held together.
The knots were tight and small, and Kristoff was half-tempted to get out his knife and slice through the whole lot - but then Anna wouldn’t be able to put it back on again. She waited, kneeling in front of him with her head bowed, and he was glad to see that she was starting to shiver as she warmed up but it still wasn’t exactly helpful. She held a blanket against her front, and of course she had her shift under the corset, but this still felt - wrong. Surely the Royal Guard was going to barge in at any moment and drag him off to the dungeons.
Anna’s plaits hung forward, leaving a pale triangle of skin on the back of her neck. When he put a hand on her shoulder to steady her his thumb brushed her bare skin and she shivered again.
Finally Kristoff got out his knife and managed to use the point to unpick and loosen the tightest part of the knot. Then he was able to undo it, and loosen the lacing all the way down. Anna held up her arms and he lifted the corset over her head.
“You have some dry clothes in one of those trunks, right?” he said.
“Yes, yes - somewhere - I didn’t pack them - but if you could find me a dry shift -” she shivered again and moved to pull the blanket all the way round herself.
“I’ll bring one in and you can find what you need.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Before leaving he put a kettle of water on to boil - no harm in being warm on the inside as well.
When he got back into the cabin a few minutes later, Anna was standing, arranging her clothes to dry. She’d put her frock over the back of the chair and was spreading it out; her corset stood to one side (Kristoff couldn’t imagine wearing a piece of clothing that could stand up by itself but it hadn’t seemed to bother her).
And her shift was hanging from the side of the table. If she’d taken it off, then that meant that, under the blanket casually tucked under her arms, she was naked.
He could feel himself blushing. Everyone’s naked underneath their clothes , he told himself. You can’t see anything more than you could if she was wearing a ballgown that showed her shoulders. Grow up.
Kristoff put the trunk down by the side of the room, and undid the clasps to open it. Anna rushed over, nearly tripping over the trailing blanket. She steadied herself on his arm then sat down to rummage through the neatly folded clothes.
“I’ll wait outside while you dress,” he said, turning back to the door.
“Oh, no, it’s fine! You don’t have to stand in the cold. I’ll have a shift on in one minute, just turn your back.”
He had opened his mouth to explain why he absolutely could not do that when the kettle whistled. He went over to take it off the heat, and heard the blanket crumpling to the floor behind him.
Make some tea, Kristoff, you know how to make tea. Tea. Teapot. Cups. Staring straight ahead at all times. It’s easy.
There was the sound of more rummaging about, cloth moving, bare feet on the wooden floor. And Anna’s narration. “Where is it….here we go….yes. Okay, why are the buttons done up when the next thing I’m going to do is put it on, why wouldn’t you put it away with the buttons undone? But, okay, there we go. Buttons. Ugh, my hair is soaking . If I put the blanket round me in a minute and put my hair on top - but I should brush it out so it dries - I wonder where my hairbrush is. Oh! It’s here! That’s handy, I didn’t know this trunk had a pocket there. Last button. That’s better! Blanket, okay. You can turn round now.”
She was sitting on the rug, by the fire, with the blanket covering her almost completely, undoing one of her plaits. A silver-backed hairbrush sat beside her.
“So we can’t get to Blackstad,” she said, and “Thank you,” as he put the cup of tea down next to her.
“No. Not soon, at any rate.”
“And I can’t go back to Arendelle.” Anna picked up her hairbrush and fiddled with it “So. I guess I have to stay here. If, if that’s okay.”
“I guess it has to be.”