By The D23 Team
It’s time to venture into the unknown, readers! The latest Twisted Tale—an anthology series of “what-if” imaginings of beloved Disney stories—envisions what might have happened if Frozen’s Anna and Elsa never knew each other. Enjoy an exclusive excerpt from author Jen Calonita’s Conceal, Don’t Feel: A Twisted Tale below. To find out what happens next in the story (where is Anna?!), you can download the free eBook from March 30—April 4 via Apple Books, Google Play, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo!
Chapter One: Elsa
“Presenting Princess Elsa of Arendelle!”
Elsa stepped out of the shadow of her parents and into the sun. Her people were waiting, welcoming her presence in the village square with thunderous applause. There must have been hundreds of subjects gathered, young and old, waving flags with the royal family crest, throwing flowers, and cheering. Children sat high on their fathers’ shoulders, some people stood atop carriages, and others leaned out nearby windows. Everyone wanted to get a better look at the princess. Her parents were used to interacting with their kingdom, but at eighteen, she had only recently been invited to join them on official outings.
Truth be told, she still preferred to live life in the shadows, but duty called.
“Welcome, Princess Elsa!” the people shouted. Elsa and her parents were standing on a raised platform that had been constructed for the event. It overlooked the large courtyard outside the castle gates, giving her a good vantage point, but it also made her feel as if she was on display. That was probably the point.
“Look! It’s Arendelle’s princess,” she heard a mother tell her small daughter. “Isn’t she beautiful? Offer her your gift.”
The little girl was standing in front of the stage holding a bouquet of purple heather, which was Elsa’s favorite flower. Every time she reached up to hand the bouquet to Elsa, she was knocked back by the crowd.
Elsa looked to her mother for guidance. The queen gave a small nod, and Elsa descended the steps, holding the bottom of her pale blue dress, which she had paired with a matching fitted jacket for the occasion. She and her mother shared similar light eyes, but she looked more like her papa with her light hair, which she usually wore in a braided bun at the nape of her neck.
“Thank you for the lovely flowers,” Elsa told the child, graciously accepting the bouquet before stepping back up onto the platform to speak to the crowd. Her father had been teaching her the unique power of presenting to a large group.
“We are pleased you could all join us this afternoon as Axel Ludenburg unveils the sculpture of the royal family he has so graciously gifted our kingdom,” she began. The people applauded. “One note before the unveiling: as Mr. Ludenburg has spent years working on this piece, I suspect I will look much younger molded in bronze than I do standing before you today.”
The crowd chuckled and Elsa glanced back at her father proudly. That line had been her idea. He gave her an encouraging smile.
“His contribution to this kingdom is paramount.” Elsa smiled at the sculptor. “And now, without further ado, I would like to introduce Mr. Ludenburg.” Elsa moved aside to allow the older gentleman to join them.
“Thank you, Princess.” Mr. Ludenburg bowed to her, his white beard almost touching his knees; then he turned to the crowd. “I am thankful to King Agnarr, Queen Iduna, and our fair princess, Elsa, for allowing me to create a sculpture in their honor. It is my hope that this piece will greet every guest who journeys from villages near and far to visit Arendelle’s castle and stand inside its gates.” He looked to his assistant, who dashed forward, untied the rope around the sheet concealing the sculpture where it stood in the middle of a fountain, and pulled it off. “May I present the royal family of Arendelle!”
There was a loud gasp from the crowd, followed by rapt applause.
It was the first time the king, the queen, and Elsa had seen the completed sculpture. Elsa remembered sitting for Mr. Ludenburg’s sketches when she was around eleven, but she’d almost forgotten he’d been working on it until recently, when her father told her she’d be the one to speak at the royal engagement for its unveiling.
“It’s beautiful,” Elsa told Mr. Ludenburg. And she meant it.
Seeing the bronze sculpture was like looking at a moment frozen in time. Mr. Ludenburg had molded the royal family perfectly. The youthful king looked regal in his crown and robe as he stood next to the beautiful queen in her tiara and fine dress. Nestled between them was their only child, Princess Elsa of Arendelle, who looked much younger than her eighteen years.
Seeing the image of her eleven-year-old self flooded Elsa with emotion. Life in the castle had been lonely for her as an only child. Her parents were busy with kingdom affairs, and while she had numerous studies, she still spent a lot of time roaming the empty rooms, watching the hours tick by. Of course, her parents had found her playmates in their stewards’ and noblemen’s children, but it wasn’t the same as having a sibling to grow up with and confide in. This was a weight she kept to herself, never wanting to burden her parents with her feelings. Her mother had been unable to have more children after Elsa.
“Isn’t the sculpture of us lovely, Mama?” Elsa asked.
Her mother was standing quietly beside her. Elsa watched her blue eyes take in every inch of the bronze statue before she gave a deep, almost inaudible, sigh. When she glanced at Elsa, her eyes seemed sad. “It truly is,” she said, squeezing her daughter’s hand. “It’s a lovely portrait of our family and who we are. Isn’t it?” she added to the king.
For such a joyous occasion, her parents seemed slightly melancholy. Was it that the statue reflected a time when they were much younger? Were they sad to think how quickly time had passed? Her father was always talking about the day when she would take the throne, even though he was still a vibrant king. Elsa wondered what made them sad, but she kept her thoughts to herself. It wasn’t her place to question her parents in public.
“Yes, it is quite the honor,” Papa replied, and looked at Elsa. He seemed to want to say something more but held his tongue. “You should thank our subjects for coming, Elsa,” he said finally. “We’re hosting a dinner in Mr. Ludenburg’s honor back at the castle, so we must return and get ready to greet all our guests.”
“Yes, Papa,” Elsa said, and did as she was told.
“To Axel Ludenburg and his fine work!” the king said, holding his goblet high above the banquet table in the Great Hall. The other guests did the same.
“To Axel!” they shouted, and clinked glasses.
The food was plentiful, the company boisterous, and the seating at the long table at capacity. The king had asked Lord Peterssen, his most trusted friend, to join them at the celebration. Mr. Ludenburg’s family was there, too, having traveled by ship from the nation of Weselton, a longtime trade partner of Arendelle. The Duke of Weselton had come with them, and seated himself next to Elsa.
“And to Arendelle and Weselton!” the Duke added. He had a big mouth for such a small man. Elsa couldn’t help noticing he was at least a foot shorter than most guests at the table when he stood up. “Long may our countries grow together and prosper!”
“To Arendelle and Weselton!” everyone echoed.
Elsa clinked glasses with her mother.
“I’m so glad we finally have a chance to dine together,” the Duke said to Mama as the supper plates were taken away and the staff prepared to bring out dessert. “It is a pleasure to meet the princess and witness Arendelle’s bright future.” His brow furrowed. “I’ve long noticed she doesn’t come to many public events.”
Elsa politely returned his smile but said nothing. One of the roles of being a princess, as Mama kept reminding her, was to listen to people but wait to speak till something important needed to be said.
“Elsa is so busy with her studies that we haven’t asked her to join us on many public outings yet,” Mama told him, and looked at Mr. Ludenburg. “But of course, we couldn’t have her miss the unveiling of our family sculpture. That is what this whole evening is all about: family.”
Elsa covered her mouth to hide her smirk. Her mother had a knack for keeping conversations focused.
This was Elsa’s first time meeting the Duke of Weselton. Already she could tell she preferred the Duke of Blakeston, who had kind eyes and always came to the castle with pocketfuls of chocolate, which he snuck to the princess during particularly boring dinner discussions.
Correction: important negotiations. As her mother kept reminding her, she needed to be ready for the throne when her time came. These days she divided her time between lessons on handwriting, science, and statecraft with her governess, and Papa’s meetings. She was also now old enough to attend the banquets held at the castle, of which there were many. Gone were the days when she was trotted out to say hello to guests, then sent to another room to have supper. Life was less lonely, but she still longed for someone her own age to confide in. The days of hosting playmates were long over.
“Agreed, agreed! But she is too much of an asset to be locked away.” The Duke pounded the table as if to make a point. He moved so much when he talked his toupee kept flipping up on the back of his head.
“Fine point, Your Grace,” said Lord Peterssen, joining the conversation. “She’s a young lady now and ready to take part in the kingdom’s conversations.”
Elsa smiled at him. Papa and Lord Peterssen were so close he wasn’t just an advisor; he was family. Elsa had always thought of him like an uncle. And like an uncle, he had warned Elsa before the dinner about the Duke’s tendency to pry.
“Exactly!” the Duke agreed. “Princess Elsa, I’m sure your studies taught you a lot about fjords and how instrumental they can be.” Elsa nodded. “Well, in Weselton, it was my grandfather who discovered the first fjord. It is because of him that we…”
The Duke droned on and on till Lord Peterssen cleared his throat. “Fascinating, Your Grace! Perhaps we can finish this conversation later? I believe dessert is being served.” He turned away before the Duke could interrupt him. “Mr. Ludenburg, I hope you are still hungry!”
As if on cue, the staff appeared at the doors with platters of fruit and sweets, which they placed on the table.
“We have all these treats and more in Weselton,” the Duke piped up as he helped himself to a piece of cake and two cookies.
Elsa knew it was wrong of her to think it, but “Weselton” sounded a lot like “Weaseltown,” and the Duke did have a weasel-like way about him. She glanced at Papa. Had he ever noticed this connection between the Duke and his country’s name? His thoughts were always veiled. At the moment, he was having a side conversation with Mr. Ludenburg’s wife. Lord Peterssen was speaking with the sculptor himself about his next project, which left the Duke, Mama, and Elsa unengaged.
“Your Majesty, you have a lovely daughter,” the Duke said, making Elsa immediately feel guilty about her thoughts. “She will make a fine queen.”
“Thank you,” Mama said. “She truly will.”
“My parents have taught me well,” Elsa added, smiling at Mama. “When my day comes, I know I’ll be ready to lead Arendelle.”
The Duke looked at her with interest. “Yes! Yes! I’m sure. It’s just a shame you’re the only heir. Why, in the Southern Isles, the king has thirteen sons in line for the throne.”
Elsa clutched her goblet on the table to keep from saying something she would regret. Strangely, the goblet was ice cold. “Sir, I hardly think that’s—”
Mama cut her off. “What Elsa is trying to say is, that is a lot of heirs.” Mama was seemingly unperturbed, having been asked about this before. “My fate was to have only one child, but the world is full of surprises.” She looked at Elsa, her eyes shiny. “I know that she will be fine in the future.”
“Our kingdom only needs one strong leader,” Elsa added, her voice firm. “They already have that in me.”
The Duke frowned. “Yes, but if anything were to prevent you from taking the throne—”
“We are fully prepared to lead Arendelle into the future, Duke, I assure you,” Mama said with a smile.
The Duke scratched his head, his toupee shifting slightly. He looked from the queen to Elsa over his spectacles. “She will be of age in a few years. Are there any potential suitors on the horizon? A match between our two nations or with another trade partner could be prosperous indeed.”
Elsa stared at the napkin in her lap. She felt her cheeks burning.
“Elsa has plenty of time to find a suitor,” Mama said. “For now, we just want our daughter to focus her attention on her duties to this kingdom.”
That statecraft test her governess was giving her in the morning was a lot more pressing than finding a suitor. “Thank you for thinking of me, Your Grace,” Elsa added. “When I do find a suitor, I’m sure you’ll be one of the first to know.” She was being wry, but the Duke seemed pleased with her response. Mama gave her a reproachful look, but Elsa couldn’t help herself.
When the Duke finally retired and Mr. Ludenburg and his family had said their goodbyes, the king, the queen, and Elsa headed to their private chambers.
“You handled yourself well,” Mama told her. “You were excellent at conversation and you impressed the Duke with your knowledge of trade negotiations.”
“He looked surprised I knew as much as I did,” Elsa said. Her shoulders felt tense, as if she’d been carrying the weight of her kingdom on them all evening. She was starting to get a headache and she longed for the quiet of her room.
“I’m very proud of you,” Papa said, letting his guard down for the first time all evening. He smiled at Mama and placed his hand on her arm.
She loved watching her parents together. They still looked so in love. It was hard not to envy the connection they had with each other.
“You will make an excellent queen someday, Elsa,” he added.
“Thank you, Papa,” she replied, but didn’t think anything of it.
Becoming queen was a lifetime away.