North Mountain was completely uninhabited. At the peak, the air was too thinfor trees to grow, and aside from the occasional fool who wanted the challengeof a climb, it was completely deserted. It had been the perfect place to buildher ice palace. It was solitude incarnate. If she had been thinking clearly,she would have sealed the ice palace off from any intruders by destroying thestaircase and building a wall twenty feet high. And if she had, everyone inArendelle would have died from the cold without her even knowing about it.
That had been six years ago. Elsa hadn’t returned since then. The ice palacehad cracked and collapsed, and been buried in snow. When Elsa reached out withher power, she could feel it there. Near it stood a new structure. It lookedsomething like a cannon, pointed straight at the sky. The base was cracked -it had already been fired. Olaf stood in front of it, waiting for her. Helooked the same as ever, small and innocent. No one could ever find himthreatening.
“Hi,” he said, when she was within earshot.
She leapt from the horse and stalked through the snow towards him. She reachedout and touched his mind, making sure that she could still feel it. A smallsurge of relief flowed through her when she found nothing blocking her. She’dworried that he would find a way to stop her, but there was no resistance. Shewas ready to destroy him at a moment’s notice.
“What is that thing?” Elsa asked, nodding to the immense structure.
“The air gets colder the higher you go,” said Olaf. “And the air gets thinnertoo. It’s kind of ideal for a person made of snow. So I thought that higherwould be better for making a home, and the natural conclusion was to look tothe stars.”
“It’s not an observatory,” said Elsa.
“No, it’s a - well, we don’t really have the words for it, but it’s a cannonthat can shoot things into orbit around the earth, or beyond,” said Olaf. “I’dshow you how it works, but I don’t think you’re interested.”
“Do you know why I killed you?” asked Elsa.
“Nope,” said Olaf with a grin. “That was a different me. I can guess though.And I can’t really say that I blame you.”
“No?” asked Elsa.
He shrugged. “Sometimes force can solve problems.”
Elsa tensed, thinking that perhaps that would be the words he’d choose tolaunch an attack against her. “Are you going to try to kill me?” she finallyasked.
“No,” said Olaf. “That would be wrong. And I like you.” He tapped his handstogether. “And there’s the question of ontological intertia. I’ve done a lotof reading, and my doubles have done deeper investigation. There was a warbetween genies in Arabia, and when it was over, and one of the genies wasdefeated, all of the changes he had made were undone with him. The princess ofCorona lost her magic hair, and when she did, the woman whose age she’d beenreversing suffered centuries of age at once. There are other examples, enoughthat even if it weren’t wrong to kill a person, and even if I didn’t like you,I still wouldn’t try to kill you just on practical grounds.”
“You’re passing judgement on me,” said Elsa. “For killing you.”
“I don’t think you’d disagree with me if I said you had your flaws,” saidOlaf. “We just disagree with what they are.”
“You wanted everyone to be made of ice,” said Elsa.
“I want to put an end to death,” said Olaf. “I want to put an end to work, andto the whole idea that things have to be scarce. I don’t want people to starveto death. I don’t want people to be tortured. Changing people into ice seemedthe easiest way to do that, if they were willing. And after the first few, itwould have gained acceptance, and more people would have converted, andeventually what was once was small niche thing that people got worried aboutwould be fully accepted, and social pressure would swing the other way, untilthe creatures of flesh and blood were no more.”
“You knew that I wouldn’t stand for that,” said Elsa.
Olaf nodded. “I suspected, anyway. I just didn’t know what you would do aboutit. You had lots of options available to you. And you chose to kill me. Do youknow how many of me those birds took out before I could send one back to you?Hundreds.”
“What now?” asked Elsa. “We go to war?”
“I’m leaving,” said Olaf. “I’m going outside of your reach. By this time nextyear, the earth will be so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that itmight as well not exist.”
“You’ll leave us alone?” asked Elsa.
“No,” said Olaf. “I can’t let people suffer. But I’ll try to be subtle. I’llmake disease vanish from the face of the earth. People will live long, healthylives. Accidents won’t happen. Eventually people will start to talk, but theywon’t know what the cause is. I don’t know how to do all of it yet, but I knowmore every day, and eventually we’ll have a slow utopia. I’ll be a gentlegod.”
“Do you expect me to believe that?” asked Elsa.
“No,” said Olaf. He sounded sad. “I expect you to create more killers to huntme down. I expect you to try tracking me by the miracles that I make. But Icare about you, and I owe you, and so I’m willing to play these games. Peopleare going to die this way. If you weren’t standing in my way, or if I couldbring myself to do one of a hundred terrible things to you, I could savehundreds of thousands more lives. I can see that part of me that values you,that makes that trade off worth it. I’m not perfect. Neither are you. Maybesomeday we will be.”
Elsa was silent. It wasn’t a victory, but it would have to do. “When did youstart making the duplicates?” she asked. “When was it already too late?”
“I made a dozen the night that I made Jack,” said Olaf. “We split up, thebetter to protect ourselves from a terminal threat.” He paused. “Jack didn’tknow.”
“Why did you make him?” she asked. She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t stopherself.
“There’s a good chance that you’ll take me with you when you die,” said Olaf.“Until I can figure out a way to stop that from happening, or prove that won’tbe the case, I need you to be safe. Jack is there to protect you. He loves youso that you would love him back, and keep him by your side.”
“I can protect myself,” said Elsa.
Olaf said nothing, and turned back towards the structure, working to repairthe cracks and prepare it for a second firing. The conversation was over. Elsadebated killing him, but didn’t see that it would accomplish much, aside fromgiving her some satisfaction. There were surely duplicates. She walked throughthe snow, back to the horse she’d made, and took off back to Arendelle.
Elsa used her powers more aggressively in the months after. The more shethought about Olaf, the more she thought that he had a point. The eliminationof death, and abolition of work, theses were goals with a certain nobility tothem. She drew up a plan to use the power of ice to progress her kingdomforward. She took the idle people and offered them jobs, and within half ayear, Arendelle became a center of scholarship as well as manufacturing. Shebuilt towers of ice for housing, and an immense library with a full collectionof books from all over the world. Elsa founded what she called the WinterUnion, a group that included only Arendelle at first but rapidly expanded toinclude a large number of kingdoms. She controlled the weather of all themember polities, and expanded the industries of ice beyond the borders of herhome kingdom.
There were hints of Olaf. Her scholars had tracked down tales of a genie ofcosmic power in the Cave of Wonders in Arabia, but when she went thereherself, propelled at incredible speeds on a road made of ice, she found itempty. There was no way that Olaf would hear a tale like that and notinvestigate it himself. Secret potions of the Incan empire, a plant fromCorona that healed the sick, and foul magics from the deeps of the ocean, allwere stolen before she could track them down. Olaf hunted the wonders of theworld, finding them before Elsa could. To what end, she couldn’t say.
There were other signs. As Olaf had promised, the world became a better place.People grew sick less often. Accidents became infrequent. On occasion, shipswould report that they were moments from capsize when the sea was coated inice, stopping them in place. And there were other, darker signs, ones thatkept her up at night. On occasion, the dying would vanish from their rooms,leaving nothing but frost behind. Storms of ice aided revolutionaries intaking over a kingdom. From time to time, a story would reach her about limbsmade of ice. Olaf wouldn’t kill, but he had little qualms about causing chaosand destroying property. No one else seemed to notice, but then few people hadas much access to information as Elsa did. She sent out agents, even some ofthe ice people Olaf had left behind, but nothing was ever found. Olaf workedin the shadows.
“You’re keeping Jack for good then?” asked Anna over breakfast one morning.
“I know you disapprove,” said Elsa.
“Are the two of you …” Anna trailed off.
“Yes,” said Elsa.
“People are talking,” said Anna.
“They talked before,” said Elsa. “They whispered about me in the taverns, andmade up perversions far worse than what I’m doing now.”
Two years later, Elsa announced a formal engagement to Jack. No one knew whatto make of it, and Elsa lost much of the goodwill she’d been gaining. Anna andKristoff didn’t understand, but tried their best to be supportive. She knewthat they found it creepy, and tried not to care. It meant that Anna’schildren would take the crown, but Elsa continued to stay the same age, soperhaps that point was moot. The marriage was legal only because Elsa wasqueen. She’d made the wedding a small one, with few guests.
Nine months later, she was pregnant.
What followed were seemingly endless months of anxiety and boundless questionsabout how that could be possible. Elsa was worried that the infant would comeout stillborn, or as a creature of pure snow, and perhaps the former would bepreferable to the later. Jack was the father, however that had worked, andElsa was frightened to no end by what the result would be. As it turned out,the pregnancy and birth were purely ordinary, with no complications orsurprises, save for the fact that the baby girl’s skin was cool to the touch.It was exactly what Elsa would have wished for from a genie, and Elsa thoughtthat perhaps she owed Olaf a great deal for that particular miracle. Peoplebegan to take it for granted that Elsa defied conventions wherever shepleased, and the controversy eventually settled down.
Sometimes she wondered at Olaf’s true design. There were days that she thoughtshe was an arrow, fired from his bow to arrive at precisely the center of sometarget. His rebellion and the conversation they’d had on the mountain hadchanged her, in ways that she could barely put into words. Her life had morepurpose now than it ever had before, and for the first time in forever, shewas truly happy. Perhaps that was an outcome that Olaf had intended all along.She tried not to think about it too hard.
Her astronomers reported seeing new planets in the heavens, white specks thatcould only have been created by Olaf. He had taken to the stars, as he’dpromised.
She might have been imagining things, but some nights she looked up at themoon and imagined that it was a bluer shade of white.