It hadn't even taken them half an hour in the next day's morning to find Astrid the perfect little Terrible Terror, that would deliver her letter to her mother. It was one with an aqua green color, yellowish spines and magenta wings. Astrid immediately fell in love with it, when she saw, how fast it just could disappear and re-appear again, even startling the poor Toothless for a moment, making Hiccup laugh and Astrid giggle. She somehow felt, that this little guy suited her perfectly, since she saw sneaking as a good, warrior-ish talent, that she hoped would one day come in handy.
And she was even lucky enough to name him, making him from then on known as 'Sneaky'. And by the way he looked at her, he somehow seemed to enjoy that name as well.
But yet it felt so strange, to watch that little guy flying off with her letter, soon making him vanish at the horizon and beyond.
“I still can't believe, that this is actually working!“ She said, while she stood next to Hiccup and Toothless by the docks, still looking over the water with raised eyebrows and crossed arms.
“Oh it will work! We just need to wait and see, if your mother is getting used to this whole 'dragonizing' of things and lets Sneaky return with her answer, or with your Terror and your mothers letter will arrive separately.“
Hiccup was in general a little afraid of how Astrid's mother might react to the letter, since their last encounter hadn't worked out well between them... But he understood, why Astrid has been wanted to write her in the first place...
“I hope she answers me with the dragon. It really is a fast way and correspondence will be only a matter of days – not weeks...“
“Well, that is right. But for now we should not worry about that. Winter is coming. Of what it looks and feels like, we had last night the first frost. Might be getting worse the following days and weeks. I need to get the harvest and the storage done! What will you be doing today?“
“Well...just boring chieftess stuff, I guess... I still need to bless Mathalda's baby, which got a little lost, due to my fainting and the fever. And then I am planning on meeting Stormfly and I am a little afraid, that Ruffnut and Tuffnut are planning one of their shenanigans again...so...yeah...I am pretty occupied then. Boringly occupied, but still occupied.“
Hiccup nodded at that and by the way he moved his lips silently, she felt, that he had something to say.
“Is there something on your mind, Dragon Boy?“
Indeed – there seemed to be something on his mind, but he couldn't quite form it into words. And it didn't even help, that Toothless bumped his head into Hiccup's side, to clear his mind a little.
“Y-yeah...“ He stuttered, suddenly sounding a little nervous. “There is something on my mind. But before I can tell you about that and get you all excited, I need to agree upon it with Gothi. I really don't her wrath upon me or disappoint you. I will tell you later...“
“This is quite unfair – you know that! First teasing me some confusing thoughts of yours, only to let me down. Can't you tell me now and I will talk with Gothi?“
“Ah – sorry! My lips are sealed! And I need to get going to fulfill my chiefly duties! And you need to do yours!“
“I will get you for this, Haddock!“
“We will see about that, M'lady! And see you later!“
And with that he was gone, leaving Astrid to wonder, what he was planning once more. And that for the whole day...
It really had been a hard and exhausting day. Astrid had been first at home, feeling a little restless about the occurrences of the day. Sure – blessing Mathalda's baby boy was quite easy, once the midwife had given her the words she needed to say. And by the joy in their eyes it really had been worth it. Which probably had been the course, on why the midwife had asked Astrid to attend these births more often. Or better to say – every time when a birth was about to happen on Berk. Astrid knew, that the older woman wanted for one part this old tradition to fulfilled and as long as Astrid wasn't the one to actually carry this child to Midgard and as long she wouldn't see things, she would never forget, then she would do this and fulfill therefore her duty with that. But on the other hand, the midwife probably wanted Astrid to prepare for what the future might hold for herself, though she pushed that thought far away and into the darkest corners of her mind.
So, with that agreement, the midwife had wanted for Astrid to follow her around a little, to visit two other soon-to-be-mothers, to get them to know her a little. It was a strange sight, to see these round bellies with an unborn child in it, but she eventually had to get used to it.
And probably there could be worse things for her to do...
…, like trying to convince the twins to not blow up a few trees in the forest, since that could disturb a few dragons, that were sleeping nearby. And she knew what she was speaking of, though there certainly was no comparison to one tree falling due to the use of an axe or a few trees flying around in all directions, because Berk couldn't contain their chaotic twins.
But thankfully enough, they soon found this idea quite boring anyway and soon began to plan a few things with a yak, a sheep and their dragon Barf and Belch. And for now she hoped, that the outcome of this would be less dangerous...
And still had all of this taken so much time, that it had already gotten dark outside and she was quite glad, that she had the chance, to buy a loaf of bread from a trader, as well as some smoked salmon for dinner, just after she had visited her beloved Stormfly. The Nadder had been really happy to see her, though Astrid wasn't yet confident enough, to take a flight alone, when Hiccup or his friends were not around. And knowing that they all were quite busy, she didn't want to bother them in any way. But this pure time of bonding was for now enough for the young woman and her dragon.
And for the food she had bought - sure – it wasn't the most extraordinary meal in the world, but she wanted for once give Hiccup a meal, when he would return home. A meal, which would include no cooking and hopefully filled stomachs enough to find a peaceful slumber. And after all - cutting come salmon and bread could she handle as well.
While she prepared the plates and a few mugs with water, she once again wondered, what Hiccup had wanted to tell her in the morning, but for now, couldn't quite come to a conclusion.
But thankfully enough she heard the familiar flapping of the Night Fury's wings and soon enough the silent thump of them landing, just outside of the door, followed by their footsteps and the sound of the opening door.
“Hey...“ Hiccup mumbled, smiling, though very much sounding exhausted “...you are already here...“
“Yeah...“ She answered, returning his smile, while pointing at Toothless' feeding bucket, to show the black dragon, that she had already filled it as well. Tiredly he walked over to it, half lying and half sitting in front of it, only to feast on it with delight.
The young chief walked over to the chair, where he usually sat on and Astrid immediately noticed the pained expression in his face and the slight limping of his feet. She immediately knew, that it really had been a harsh day for the young man.
Though she feared some kind rejection, she still asked:
“Can I help you in any way? And please – don't tell me, that you are fine!“
He smiled once again, pointing at the laid table in front of him.
“You have taken care of the dinner, enlightened the fireplace and gave Toothless something to eat. And I didn't even ask for it...“ The end of the sentence was trailed of and Astrid knew exactly, that there yet was something he wanted to do.
“Really, that is enough and I am really thankful for everyth-“
“What else, Hiccup? You have done so many things for me in the past, that I for once can lend you a hand.“
Though she normally felt really flattered by his chivalry, she now felt quite annoyed by it and even crossed her arms in front of her chest.
Which made him sigh a little and avert his eyes from hers.
“Would it...bother you, if I take off my leg?“ His words were so quite, that Astrid really had a few difficulties to hear them correctly. But she did and her first instinct was to immediately ask, how he would be able to 'take off a leg', before she pressed her lips back together, silencing herself.
Of course he could take of his leg – for his left leg was missing and replaced by a prosthetic one. For some time she hadn't noticed this anymore, being far to normal for her by now, nearly even forgetting about it all along.
It was just something, that...didn't matter to her, because it was neither influencing his behavior, nor the way everybody was seeing him as the real Viking, that he was.
As did she.
So the aspect of 'taking off the leg' had never occurred to her once, since she had never before seen him doing that before. Or asked her about her permission. Probably since he was only doing this, once she had gone to bed.
But why...would she be bothered by that?
“Oh – I am sorry! I shouldn't have asked you that!“ he blurted out, once he wasn't getting a response from her. “I can wait until you go to bed! It is not bad and-“
“Of course you can take it of, if you want to!“
He looked back up to her again and she could see the surprise gleaming in his green eyes.
She shrugged and sat down next to him, to be on eye level with him.
“Why would I mind? If it hurts you, then take it of! This is your house, after all and you really shouldn't feel bothered by me...“
“I just...rarely take it off in front of people...And the sign of it is really...strange! And really not pretty!“
“I can look away, if you feel insecure or anything. But just for you to know – I don't mind at all!“
She stood back up, making it up for him to decide, whether or not he wanted to remove his prosthetic. And she hoped, that it would be easier for him, when she had turned away from him, to cut a few more slices of the bread.
And it didn't even take long, until she heard an unfamiliar sound of rustling leather and metal and a thumb to the wooden floor. She smiled a little to herself, knowing, that he had taken off that heavy burden.
And for Hiccup – it really had been a relief, though it still felt a little strange, to sit there without his prosthetic leg on. And he hoped, that she really wouldn't mind.
“Had it been a harsh day?“ She said merely, as if nothing has happened, walking over the table, to place the tray in the middle of it. And by the slight smile on her lips, he knew, that she wasn't minding that at all! And of course he was glad, that they had changed the topic.
“Oh, basically, we have been on our legs all day. Or in the air to hoist heavy crates with food in it. But thankfully enough the fields are completely empty now and of what I have heard from the outposts – Dagur and Mala's ships will arrive early tomorrow with even more goods. So we absolutely don't need to worry about the upcoming winter.“
He sighed, taking a piece of bread, biting into it once, before he continued:
“Oh and then there were the twins, who were trying out...just something with a yak, a sheep and their dragon! I had the feeling, that it somehow meant for them to burn down half of Berk or something similar to that!“
“What...again? I have also convinced them to not blow up the forest!“
“Ah...that's why they were so pissed, when I told them to find something else to do...“ He mumbled to himself, before he looked back over to Astrid:
“We really need to contain these two. I really don't want to know, what they will do, once the Winter has arrived and it gets even more boring for them!“
“Can't Eret control at least Ruffnut? I mean...she is heavily into him and maybe she could need a little distraction...And for Tuffnut...maybe he should start to raise a barn full of chicken?“
Hiccup's features saddened a little.
“Well...for Ruffnut's part that might be...But for Eret...“
Astrid understood immediately.
“He is not into her...“
The young chief nodded, leaning a little bit back into his chair, watching Astrid carefully.
“He might be living here on Berk just recently – only a few weeks longer than you – but every now and then I have deep conversations with him.“
“Deep, emotional, male conversations?“
„Yeah...the real emotional stuff!“ He joked back and Astrid was glad, that he was taking this so lightly. “And he confessed to me once, that he found Ruffnut really...really nice and all, but...“
“He can't fall in love with her...“
“Yes. You know – he told me, that back there on his home island, he had a girl. And he really had loved her for a few years. Like childhood friends, that developed a deep, emotional conection to each other... And she loved him back, until...“ He sighed sadly, before he pointed between them. “...the exact same thing happened.“
“She was married off to another guy...“
“And of what he had told me, she got a child with that other guy, too. And therefor Eret took on his father's Dragon Hunting career to flee this whole situation. Since he doesn't want to see his girl with her happy family again...“
“That really is a harsh story there...“
“I agree. And I can't imagine how it would be like to love somebody, only to loose them to somebody else. And I can understand Eret on why he doesn't want Ruffnut to get so close to him. He doesn't want to get hurt, again...“
For some time, this was the last word, that either of them had spoken, while they were eating there in silence for some minutes, until it was a strange thought, that crossed Astrid's mind.
“And what about you?“ She asked him all the sudden, making him look up in shock, while he still had bread between his teeth. And to give him some time to chew up and swallow, she added: “Has there been a special someone who you can't get over? Or...someone, who you haven broken their heart?“
“Yeah! I mean – you have always been the son of the chief. You have learned how to ride dragons all on your own. You are best buddy with a Night Fury! And you are not that bad looking either!“ Sure – she could have told him, that there was something attractive about this tousled, brown hair, his pale skin and freckles and that he dearly enjoyed his smartness and kindness, but she did not know, how he would react to that.
“Is that a compliment, M'lady?“
“Oh – come on – you know exactly what I mean! It is just, that I can't understand, why you haven't married earlier to someone who is into you, just like you are into them.“
He leaned back forward, places his elbows to both sides of his plate and laid his chin on top of his hands, watching her once more with deep carefulness. A strange gleam was in his green eyes, while a slight smile danced on his slim lips.
“And what if I tell you...“ He finally said after a few agonizing minutes of silence “..., that there hasn't been 'A Someone' before? Because I had no time to think about stuff like that I have been far too busy with Dragon Training and fighting off evil madmen.“
A little interested about this, Astrid mimicked his pose, leaning herself against the table as well, while she was watching him just as he did.
“Then maybe I would be interested in how you got yourself into these situations – of 'Dragon Training and Fighting off evil madmen'. I think – as your pretentious wife – there is still so much for me to know...“
“Oh...that could be hours filled with stories. And for that, we just might invite the others, since they might want to share their perspective, too...And it might be a little more entertaining...“
“Oh, I would gladly skip on that...“ She said, while she was suddenly noticing, that they both were speaking with hushed voices, as if they didn't want to weak up the dragon behind them, that had fallen asleep. Or maybe – just maybe – there was something else, that could explain their strange behavior. “...Ruffnut has already told me a few stories at my Cleansing Ritual and I quite can't believe them.“
“Now I am curious – what has she told you?“
Astrid gulped a little, looking straight into Hiccup's beautiful green eyes and hoped, that it was the right thing to do, to press forward with this topic, which had burned itself deep into her mind. And – granted – now that he had removed his prosthetic, while she had been present, was quite a fitting time.
“Well...“ She said, hoping that Hiccup would not get angry, if she actually tell him that “..., she has told me, that you have killed a Red Death and lost your leg in the process. And seeing you as one, who would never dare to hurt a dragon, I can't imagine you to do something like that...“
His smile immediately vanished and Astrid knew exactly, that she had hit a weak spot there. Which seemed to be one, that wasn't for her to touch, yet.
And all he could do, was to look at her with that blank look on his face. But well...he guessed, that the day would eventually come, where she would ask something like that. Since – sure – there were enough people out there, who could have told her that. And he wasn't even mad at them – or Ruffnut in this case – for doing so.
“So...“ He murmured after some moments “She has told you that?“
“We don't have to talk about that!“
“Oh, don't worry. And I mean – you are right – it would be nice, to know a few things about the other. So...yeah... We defeated the Red Death. I mean - Toothless did most of it to make that thing clear!“
A soft grumble behind them seemed to reject this statement, though it had been only a noise from Toothless' sleep.
“And I guess...we were just on the lucky side there. It had been a giant nest of dragons and the Red Death was something like...their queen. And the other dragons – those, who plagued our island – were delivering it the food it needed to survive. Provoking fear and terror in them and eating them, when they did not deliver. And those dragons fled, when my father and the other Vikings opened up the nest, exposing the Red Death in all its power and scariness...“
Astrid listened carefully and didn't even dare to blink.
“Me and the other Riders, we were there just right on time. And we were fighting it with the little knowledge we had. And thanks Thor – all of that has worked somehow. And the Red Death – it began to fly, following me and Toothless into the air and he – Toothless – shot a blast right into its mouth, burning it from the inside. And before you ask – we had to do it. Kill it, or Berk would have lost all its warriors. And maybe even flew over to Berk, destroying it for good...“
“Oh that?“ He asked grinning “That only was a little collateral damage! And it could have been worse, if it hadn't been for Toothless, who had saved me, while we were falling from the skies and right into the flames of the exploding Red Death...“
“Mhm...“ She mused, making Hiccup his eyebrows raise. He had expected many emotions from her and many things, that she might have wanted to ask him, but 'Mhm' was not one of them.
“Mhm? That is your reaction to my whole story.“ He said, almost sounding a little offended and the strange way his features reacted to that, made Astrid giggle a little.
“Don't feel offended by that! It is just, that this must be the most intense story, of how one got lost his leg. It is definitely more interesting than all the old, boring warrior stories, that I have heard back on Hranafall!“
“Yeah – I mean – you would clearly never hurt a dragon, only if this would mean, that your people are in severe danger! Plus – how old were you back than?! You were a teenager and your saved your whole village, defeated a dragon, that only exists in our tales – though my people like to pretend, that it would take them only 20 man to kill a Red Death – and you survived all of it to tell these stories!“
“It definitely sounds more exceeding, when you say it that way...“
“And I can't wait to hear more of your stories...“
He smirked, feeling, that he had trapped her. And sure – he would gladly tell her more about his past adventures, but before, he wanted to hear a few things from her past.
“Not so fast there, young lady! Before I tell you more about me, why don't you tell me something about you beforehand. Like – wasn't there a 'Special Someone' who would always wait for you, or even try to conquer you back, now that you are here on Berk? And what was up with all the Dragon Fighting and Killing and that fierce attitude of yours...I know, that there is more to it, than one can see!“
“More to it?“ She repeated, shaking her head a little at that, sitting up straight and suddenly avoiding his gaze completely. And he suddenly feared, that he there had stepped to far in certain territory and shouldn't have been so eager to know everything.
And yet...it just has felt so right. Right here and there, while they were alone and undisturbed – completely private - with a certain amount of easiness between them. But before he could have apologized, she opened her lips.
“Sadly...there is not more...Because that is all that ever was there.“
He desperately wanted to tell her, that it was okay for him, if she didn't want to talk about it and if she felt insecure about something in her past. But he didn't want to stop her, once she started to speak again:
“Sure...I had my far share of suitors. These big, hairy men, who had probably only seen me as the Chief's daughter and a nice trophy due to the fact, that I could hold myself in a fight pretty easily. But that is all. I have sworn to myself, that I would take my time to find me the right husband, since...well...they all haven't felt 'right' at all. Sure, it was nice to flirt with them, because they gave me their attention, or bought me expensive gifts, which I didn't need anyway. But it felt nice for my self-esteem.“
“But you have tons of self-esteem. You don't need that...“ He said, trying to sound reassuringly. And he even looked at her hand, that still laid on the table surface and thought about it for a minute to touch it. But he didn't dare to, fearing, that she would pull away anyway.
“Maybe...“ She answered to that with a sad smile, shrugging a little. “..., but on the other hand I had nobody, who would talk to me beyond daily casualties, or because they were asking audience to speak to my father.
Because – and I dare you to not laugh at me – when I have been younger, I thought, that dragons were actually nice and...I have always dreamed to have one as a friend. I have always admired, that they could just fly off to where ever they wanted and to never come back. That they had actual feelings! But everybody laughed at me for that. Because all they did, was to destroy our village, or the precious goods and kill people. Because we were fighting them with everything we had, to get them away from Hranafall and leave us to be the friendly trading tribe, that father has always wanted them to be.
And...maybe it was painful for Mother and Father to look at their daughter, which was called names and humiliated each and every day, because she didn't quite fit in and had now friends. And so they have decided to give me the best training they had. And mother...giving me all these crazy thoughts, that dragons only were killing machines and savage and didn't care about any other lifeforms. And this idea has manifested itself over years in my head until...well...now... Because, like it seems, I have been right about it all along...”
Hiccup felt some pressure, now that had hurt the full extend of her past behavior and suddenly he understood...everything. Because in front of him sat a young woman, who was only misunderstood and formed into a different shape, only to fit in perfectly. Since the heir needs to be somebody, that the people can look up to. Because a heir protects them.
Because the heir is one person, who fits in perfectly and would without a doubt take over the tribe when the old chief can't rule over them anymore.
And Hiccup understood, that maybe, they were not so different at all, though it had been Astrid's parents, who shaped her and it been Hiccup, who had shaped his tribe. But before that – all they have been was a misunderstood child.
“Don't get me wrong...“ She soon mumbled, finally being able to look back up and over to Hiccup again “..., I really, really enjoy fighting and it makes me happy, that I can beat an outgrown Viking men in a matter of minutes. It is just...things might have been easier for me, if mother hasn't told me so...so many things, that suddenly don't seem to be so true anymore.
After all – she has always told me, that men only see weakness in women and only want them as their birth machines. That the only reason, why they had a wife, was for them to clean up their houses, take care of their children, to massage their feet, when they have returned from battle. To...fulfill their needs. But then I came here and suddenly saw that everything is so different from what she has told me. Like you, who just would not fit into this mold. Or even Fishlegs, Snotlout, Tuffnut and Eret! Or Gobber, or all the other men out there, who seem to be anything but that! And I even guess, that my father, is not like that, either...“
The wish of just gripping her hand and hold it tightly was growing even more inside of Hiccup. But he suppressed it, by holding with one hand onto the knife and with the other on a piece of bread.
And she was pulling her hands from the table anyway, to lay them on her lap, a pained expression of defeat on her face.
“I guess...that there are men like that... But I can at least say to myself, that haven't found them, yet...“
Her blue eyes shifted, focused on Hiccup and a slight smile tucked on the corners of her lips, again.
“...thankfully...“ She whispered, and seemed to be very glad, that it was him, to sat across of her.
Though Hiccup still didn't know what to say exactly, since something wasn't quite working right in his brain, while she looked in this most gorgeous way at him, he still opened his lips, hoping, that some intelligent words would escape them.
But thankfully the slight croaking sound, that escaped them was all too suddenly interrupted by a scratching from the already closed window shutters.
Both young Vikings were a little surprised by this and raised their eyebrows, before yet another scratch echoed through the room.
Hiccup laid the bread and knife back on the table, wanting to stand up, put his prosthetic leg back on and to walk over to the window, but Astrid had already stood up to do so and carefully opened it to peer outside. Se lightened up a little, when she saw the Terror sitting there, flying inside and straight onto the table and in front of Hiccup.
“Looks like we have some late delivery there!“ He said jokingly and thanked Thor, that the small dragon arrived, before he could have said something pretty stupid, which could have ruined the mood. He then grasped the letter, that was attached to it, while Astrid sat back down and began to feed the small dragon some salmon.
“And who wrote this?“ The young woman asked, while she tore her eyes from the small guest and looked up to the young chief, who was reading eagerly and with a small smile on his face.
“Its from my mother!“ He finally said, rolling the parchment back together. “And what would you say, if we have a little trip tomorrow, once Dagur's ships have arrived.“
“A trip? Where to?“
“She wants to show us something on her mountain.“ Well, basically Valka had only asked him to come, probably since she didn't know about the changed bond between them, but he guessed, that she would not mind, if he brought Astrid with him.
Still a little confused, Astrid wasn't answering and merely looked unsure at Hiccup.
“It is a few hours away on the back of our dragons. Well...actually it might take us two or three days, depending on what she will show us, and until we return to Berk. But it would mean, you can train a little distance flight and could see a few awesome dragons. And you could escape from your duties for some time...“
„Well..., the harvest is finished, I will help to storage the goods that Dagur and Mala delivered us and basically Gobber knows how to handle Berk every once in a while. Are you in?“
He stretched across the table, holding out his hand, for her to shake it in agreement.
And yeah – he was right – what was holding her back?
So without hesitation, she took his hand in hers, shaking it.
“Let me guess – she only asked you to come and does not know about me and might therefore be a little surprised?“ She asked, quirking an eyebrow at him, to which he could only smirk.
„Oh, you are so right!“