Okay, earlier in the year, I gave Disney’s Frozen a bad rap. I admit, I was pretty harsh.
Since then, it’s been bugging me. Not that I gave it a bad review, but because I couldn’t give a solid answer to what I would do instead. See, I learned a few years ago not to slam anything unless I could map out how I would have done it differently and better. It’s how I got the idea for a NaNoWriMo a year or so later, and how I got the current ideas I’m writing about, including Critical.
So, for your reading pleasure is the first half of Tony Graff’s version of Frozen. I’m still writing the second half, but that should be up in a week.
Once upon a time, the king and queen of Arrendale had two daughters, Elsa and Anya. They were the finest of friends and the closest of siblings. Nothing, not even Elsa’s gift of winter, kept the two apart for any length of time. This gift, a blessing bestowed by a fluke gene in her father’s line because some ancestor had found favor with a wizard of the snow and ice, gave her the ability to manipulate and even produce snow and ice at her command. For a child, this was the coolest thing ever. Elsa could fulfill the dream of building a snowman whenever she wanted, even in the middle of summer. It didn’t live as long during those hot days, but what could you do about it? Kids will be kids.
The King and Queen, being the king and queen, decided that the easiest way for her to enjoy her gift was to repurpose one of the ballrooms into the designated snow fort room. Really it was the most logical answer. It was either that or teach the poor bugger patience and what royalty was ever good at that?
Anya had a particular craving to play in the snow one warm August morning, and so she did the most logical thing for a six year old to do: invade her sister’s room and make annoying noises. This succeeded in waking her snow-potent sister up, and getting rolled off the bed in a heap. Elsa nevertheless obliged her sister in the romp through snow, building successively higher snow mounds until Anya took a swan dive off a particularly tall one before Elsa could build the next one. She tried to create a snow drift to catch her and ended up hitting Anya directly in the face with a burst of magic.
Fear took over the poor girl, sending concussive waves of magic through the room until her injured sister now stood the very real possibility of frostbite. So, Elsa called for her parents, who came as quickly as they could to find their younger daughter in the arms of their older daughter who knelt sobbing in the snow. No doctor of medicine could restore Anya to health, but a healer among the trolls could. So off they sojourned to find the rock people.
“This looks grim.” The healer proclaimed as he examined the injury. “I can heal her, but it’s a price you won’t want to pay.”
“You must save her.” The queen pleaded. “There is no cost too great.”
The healer shook his mossy head. “I can’t remove the injury without also removing every memory of what caused the injury, the memories are linked, just like the link through the generations that gave Elsa her gift.”
Elsa scrunched her face at the thought of the weapon she had used on her sister being called a gift. Her sister hadn’t moved, hadn’t woken, since that morning. Since she had hurt her sister.
“You mean… she’ll have no memories of Elsa’s gift?” The king forced himself to stay resolute.
The healer shook his head again. “If she were keep even one, the thought would pull the rest back into existence. and undo any healing I could do. If she were to even discover Elsa’s gift again, it could still undo every memory and bring the pain back to the surface.”
“And… can you do anything for Elsa?”
“That I can help with much easier.” The healer offered what he hoped was a kind smile. “Fear is what causes her power to lose control. If she cannot tame that fear, then it will eventually control her.”
“Very well.” The king straightened. “That I know how to manage. Do your magic, my friend, and you shall have my blessing and my favor as king.”
The troll healer nodded and took Anya from her parents’ arms. With a look of agony, he pulled every memory of Elsa’s gift from Anya mind. The girl had been healed, but had no idea what her sister and her parents were now forced to keep secret.
The king didn’t know how magic worked, but he did know how fear worked. As soon as the royal family returned to the castle, he took Elsa to the ballroom that used to be the snow fort room. “Now, Elsa,” he held her by the shoulders so she could only look at him, “you must control your fear. You must be able to control your gift so well that Anya never finds out again, just like the healer said, remember?”
“It’s not a gift.” Elsa crossed her arms over her chest. “I hate it.”
“No, Elsa. Listen!” The king cupped her chin in his hand. “You were given this gift for a purpose we can’t yet understand. But it will always be a gift. Do you understand me?”
With tears in her eyes, Elsa nodded.
“Good.” The king stood to his fullest. “Now, to control your fear, you must overcome it. You can’t run from it, you can’t cover it with a blanket and hope it will stay in one place. It must be broken.”
“You’re going to leave me alone in the dark?”
The king closed his eyes and turned away from his daughter. “Yes.”
“No, Daddy, no.” Elsa ran and clung to his leg. “I’ll do anything, please. I don’t like the dark.”
“I know, Elsa, I know.” The king clenched his jaw. “But you need to do this if you’re going to protect your sister. Can you protect your sister for me?”
Elsa shook her head. “She’s scared of the dark, too.”
“I know, but I’ll be right here beside you until you can look it in the eyes. Then you won’t be afraid of it.” The king smiled at his daughter. “Can you give it a try? For me?”
Blinking back the tears, Elsa nodded this time.
“Good. Now, hold my hand.”
Elsa obeyed, her hand barely reaching around two of his fingers. The two of them stood in the middle of the empty ballroom while servants drew the curtains over the tall windows. Elsa’s grip tightened on her father’s fingers as the last one snuffed out the light.
“You’re going good, Elsa. You’re doing good.” The king’s voice echoed across the room.
“I’m scared, Daddy.”
“I know, baby. But you’re still here. There’s nothing that can hurt you.”
The two stood in the darkness for what felt to the young princess what felt like forever. All she could recognize was her father’s calloused fingers in her grip.
But the lights did come back on. One by one the curtains were opened, and the stood in the center of the room, the same as before.
“There, now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” The king knelt down and wrapped his daughter in a hug. “That’s my brave girl. Can you do it again?”
Elsa did it again. This time, thirty seconds became a minute. The next time it was two minutes. Then three, then five. When Elsa could go ten minutes in the dark, the king picked her up and held her close.
The next day, the king brought her to the ballroom again. “We’re going to face the dark again, okay?”
“Okay.” Elsa’s voice came timidly, but stronger than it had yesterday. She reached up for her father’s hand only to find it just out of her reach.
“Not this time, Elsa.” The king held his hand above her. “I’ll still stand here, right beside you. But you will be on your own.” He repeated that he would be right beside her as the servants drew the curtains closed.
Just like yesterday, when Elsa had survived a single minute, it progressed until she was standing by herself in the dark for ten minutes.
The following day the king stood by the doorway and left Elsa alone in the center of the room. Then he stood just on the other side of the door.
“You’ve done it, Elsa.” The king scooped her up in his arms and embraced her. “You’re on your way.” He pulled out a book and wrote the dark at the top of the first page.
In the coming years, Elsa tackled wild animals, fought men larger than her, met monsters and squared off with them. While she faced each fear, the king winced and struggled with each animal unleashed on his daughter. Pages in the blank book began to fill, spilling over to the next one and the next one. Her father would show her the pages of fears still left to be conquered, and Elsa met each one with a half grin that said “bring it on.”
Through all of this, Anya never saw anything of Elsa’s gift, though it became the weapon she used to conquer her fears. She stayed happy, if curious why her sister remained distant. Sounds came from the ballroom, human roars and the occasional scream, but no one would ever tell her what went on behind the one closed door in the entire castle.
The king and queen stayed by their daughters’ sides until they were almost twenty, and old enough to be married according to their custom. For Anya, her royal parents were leaving on a vacation to open peace talks with a neighboring kingdom. For Elsa, it was a quest to fill the remaining pages of the book. There were still creatures she couldn’t control, still fears that hadn’t been mastered.
As the king and queen boarded their ship, the king turned to Elsa and raised his fingers, showing the barely half an inch of blank pages left in the book. Elsa responded in kind. This was their secret way of saying they loved each other and only they knew what it meant.
That ship met with disaster on the high seas, burying the book in the depths of the ocean along with the king and queen of Arrendale. The entire country became shrouded in black as they mourned the king and queen who had done so much for them, kept them safe and prosperous, and pledged their lives to the happiness and success of their kingdom. The two daughters hid in the castle for most of the ceremonies and funerals, but mostly because a council would be deciding how the country would continue without the presence of the king.
The council agreed that the peace talks on which the royal couple were bound should be postponed for a time, so that Elsa could be trained in diplomacy and royal tactics. She would be crowned queen of Arrendale in a few months’ time. This thought drove the girl to a closet she used to hide in as a child, before her father began their training together. She discovered that her sister had had the same idea.
Elsa wrapped a blanket around both of them, and the two sat in the foot of the closet. There were no footsteps outside, no one looking for them, and hardly any light came in from the crack under the door.
“I’m hiding here because I’m scared.” Anya whispered.
“Me too.” Elsa said for the sake of her sister. The dark didn’t bother her. Political turmoil didn’t bother her.
“What do you have to fear?” Anya asked.
Elsa froze. She remembered the last segment of the book she and her father shared. She knew most of them had been filled, but she couldn’t remember. Weren’t there still some dragons in Berk that she hadn’t fought? Some enchanter from the far bayous of New Orleans she hadn’t faced? Terror filled her. The feeling that brought out her power. Elsa quickly moved out of the closet without so much as a word and raced to the dungeon, far from her sister.