Yes, it had been quite a bold move from Hiccup's side to move in for a kiss. Not that he regretted it and it had been very worth the wait and the nagging of his friends. But he hadn't wanted to see the previous opportunity come to waste once again. Especially now, that he had wanted to make it absolutely clear to her – and maybe even himself – that he would stand by her side, no matter what would be happening on Hranafall and how this would change the future. He had just wished to show her, that he was caring for her deeply and that he would try everything to make Ljóda like him, for the sake of their blooming relationship.
He didn't even expect that perfect reaction from her, after – well – basically everything. He had expected her to push him away from her, especially since their friends were watching them. But at least that had put an end to the endless 'Either one of them is dying or having an addiction'-discussion to an end. Sure – Snotlout still believed in the later and they still were discussion the outcome of some kind of bet they had made before their wedding, but that was very fine for Hiccup, for he couldn't be happier right now.
And he had also expected her to pull away immediately, only due to the pure fact of him kissing her. He knew, that there was still that lingering fear of men using her for their own lusting needs and he certainly didn't want to exploit her for anything like that! But as she has stated and which was very true to him – they had tried to kiss before, so it had seemed to him, that she had been absolutely ready for that. But no – neither her fear, nor any other urge to get him away from her had emerged and had left him with a feeling of happily dancing behind his friends on this path towards the village and a big, tooth-gaped grin on his face. He thankfully could suppress the first one, but he couldn't help the smile that lingered on his lips.
“Hey – boss...“ Eret suddenly whispered next to him and Hiccup looked over this his friend. “...you should cut of that smile there. After all, we are here, because your father-in-law is sick and maybe even on the brink of death.“
The young chief tried to move his facial muscles and make them relax again. But he failed miserably, when his eyes once again fell on Astrid's back, who was leading them out of the forest.
“I am sorry...I just can't help myself...“
“Ahh...helplessly in love? But can I still ask you something?“
Before Hiccup could have analyzed the fact of 'Being in love', he murmured: “Sure!“ to immediately calm his nerves about that specific topic.
“Don't you think as well, that all of it is just a trap from Astrid's mom's side, to get the two of you here? To get rid of you and to make her stay here?“
“What?!“ Hiccup asked out louder than he had wanted to, making the heads of his friends turn around to them for a second, before they returned to their previous conversation. “What?“ He therefore whispered, more quiet this time.
Eret looked over towards Astrid as well, pressing his lips tightly together.
“It is just smells a little fishy to me...“
„Wait...do you mean...“ The young Dragon Rider immediately stopped walking. As did Eret and thankfully enough their friends didn't notice it and kept on walking. “...do you mean, that she is just pretending to like me?“
The corners of Eret's lips fell upon hearing that and for a moment he looked sadly at his friend. And then, he gave a sharp nod.
“She wouldn't do that!“ He blurted out, being absolutely sure, that Astrid would have not done that! How could she after all – with all the fun they had in the past weeks and with the things he had taught her and showed her and all the things they had been talking about! For Hiccup, there was absolutely no way, that she had pretended her feelings for him.
“I am just saying...the two of you are perfectly acting as if you are happily married. And Berk buys it. And our friends are buying. And-“
“I am buying it?“
Once again Eret nodded.
“Love is blind, boss. And I am just saying, that it would fit perfectly into some plan, that Ljóda has hatched! With Astrid giving you the lovey-dovey eyes, you falling for it and her mother having the knife ready for the kill.“
There was something ugly crawling up his stomach. Something that pushed away the previous warmth and tingling from the kiss. Something, that made him clench his fists and gulp heavily. It was the quiet echo of 'What if?' that spun itself around Hiccup and it certainly didn't feel nice.
“No...that hasn't happened here...I believe in her words and that her feelings are true...“
Sure...there could have been a small percentage, that Eret's words were the truth itself, but he didn't want this doubt and fear of betrayal catch up with him, though he knew, that it would remain for some time there.
“Are you sure?“
He nodded sharply.
“I am! But you might be right about her mother – I certainly will have an eye out for her.“
Eret breathed heavily and the young Dragon Rider knew, that he was still worried and concerned about the Chief's well-being. But eventually he nodded.
“Then I will have your back. Whatever you do, I trust you in it.“
“And so you trust Astrid as well, for I trust her with my life.“
Hiccup returned walking and hurried, to catch up with their friends, with Eret following him shortly after.
But he sadly he had to admit to himself, that his friend's words have sown a seed of doubt within his brain and it was impossible for him, to get that wide grin back on his lips. As a matter of fact – his face stayed blank, though he desperately tried to give Astrid a bright smile, when she had turned back at him. And since he couldn't know for sure, of what exactly the truth was, he only could calm his nerves, until he would know more.
And asking anything wouldn't be possible either, since they were already reaching for the end of the path, with Hranafall's village already spreading in front of them. With it's stony houses and busy streets. And a wide array of people living here with their livestock and different occupations, just as one would find them on Berk as well.
But strangely enough, there were no dragons to be seen in that very moment, which made this village very different from their home island. And gave Hiccup an even stranger feeling inside is guts – but seeing Astrid stopping for a moment to look around with an irritated look on her face, he somehow felt, that she must be thinking the exact same thing.
“There must be tiny dragons on this island. I can't see one!“ Tuffnut said, scratching his head about that.
“Yeah...or they are invisible...“ Ruffnut agreed, looking around as well.
“Or they are simply not existent!“ Snotlout blurted out loud, raising his eyebrows at that.
“I don't understand that...“ Astrid mumbled, turning, to walk over to Hiccup once more with a worried look on her face. “Normally there would be dragons crossing the skies above this village – not even caring for the people here, unless they were attacked. And with the contract...I am just not sure, what is happening here...I mean...father has written in his letter, they were trying to get along with them...“
“Maybe your mother knows something?“ Fishlegs asked.
“Or is behind that...“ Eret murmured behind the young chief, who pressed his lips tightly together, now even more unsure of what to expect from all of it. Yet, it seemed to be him, who needed to make a decision as a leader, so he tried to bring up a confident smile and laid the hand, that was not holding onto the bedroll, on Astrid's shoulder.
“Don't worry. There probably is a explanation behind that. We should go and find your mother. And of course see your father...“
She looked him deeply in the eyes and Hiccup desperately tried to understand the emotions that were hidden in them. But there was just...something unsettling in them. Something he could read or understand. Something, that was past any redeemable worry and seemed to be twisting right into some bitter terror. And something told him, that she now knew, that bringing them here, might have been not the best idea at all.
And though he knew, that all of this really seemed odd – especially regarding the missing dragon population of this island – he would stand by his word. He still would trust here. He wanted it, since there was no reason, on why she would betray him once more...after everything that had happened between them.
Therefore he squeezed her shoulder a little tighter, to make sure, that she knew that as well.
“Isn't that...?“ Somebody behind them suddenly asked out loud, making Hiccup pull his hand by surprise and Astrid twirl around to the sound of the voice.
“Yeah – it is her!“ Another voice agreed, this time coming from a middle-aged woman, who had a basket in her hands and who's face immediately lightened up, upon seeing the blonde Valkyrie in front of her. „M'lady Hoffer-“
“Hush. It's Chieftess Haddock now!“ The man next to her corrected her, bowing his head a little, upon realizing, who was standing in front of her.
More and more people gathered around them, whispering and mumbling, when they realized, who had returned to their island. Most of them seemed to be overjoyed, crossing the space between them and the young woman to ask her different questions about the wedding and marriage and about the truths of the stories they had heard about Berk. Then there were a few tribesmen, who had started to inspect their friends – curious about their looks and of what they could tell them.
And lastly there were those people – mostly men of different sizes and ages – who eyed the young chief with suspicion and even some antipathy. Well – these were probably Astrid's past suitors, Hiccup guessed, by the way they were looking between him and back to the young woman with longing and lustful looks. And of course they were exactly of how Astrid had always discribed them – muscular and with scars and tattoos and thick, bushy beards. And suddenly – before Hiccup could have helped himself, a sting of jealousy stirred within the mix of confusion and doubts as well and whenever he had the chance, he eyed them back just as much provocation he could muster.
“Get off of these poor people! They must have been arrived just now and need some rest and not so many annoying people!“ A small, older woman suddenly shouted and glared at everybody, who wouldn't walk away from them immediately. And the young chief had to hold back a grin, when he noticed, that this woman somehow reminded him of Gothi – though this woman here seemed to be more of a talkative side. “And Chieftess Haddock is probably here to see her poor father. You guys really should be ashamed of yourself to encircle her and her friends like that! Now get away!“
The people did as they were told, though some remained in the background, to still get a look on the gang, that still stood in the middle of the path. And though very flattered by that attention – their friends clearly didn't seem to know, what just had happened there.
“Excuse me, M'lady. You know, that these common people can get a little annoying, if a celebrity is nearing them.“
Hiccup raised his eyebrows a little at the words, that the older woman had chosen to use, but he wouldn't question it now.
“Don't worry Ingunn...I should have known, that the presence of me and my husband should have caused havoc in any way.“
“Eh...especially with your sutiors, M'lady. These muttonheads still believe, that you would have returned alone and pure and ready to marry one of them. But well – as it seems – none of that have happened. Looks like an heir is on the way and I am most happy to meet your husband now. Ingunn Andrson. I am the healer of the Hunter Tribe.“
While Astrid was blushing a bright shade of red and looked down on her stomach to wonder, on why the older woman would have said something like that, Ingunn bowed deeply in front of Hiccup, who in courtesy bowed his head as well, trying to ignore the whispers of his friends, who were suddenly asking, if Astrid really would be pregnant – with Tuffnut even asking, if it happened from the kiss before.
“Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. It is an honor to meet you as well, Ingunn.“ He said in return and was very glad, that the woman seemed to be too interested in him, than in his friends behind them.
She nodded satisfied at that, reaching out with her long, slim fingers, to raise his head, turning it from left to right, to get a good look at him. And he let her – after all, she was one of Astrid's people and if this was one of their strange ways, he would let them do that. It could have been worse after all...
“By Odin and Thor and sweet Freya. Never thought, that one would have so much of good old Stoick in your eyes.“
His eyes widened at that and he stumbled a step backward.
“You knew my father?“
“Oh I knew him very well. Well...at least good enough. Whenever he and Hakon were meeting, I would have been there as well, since I would sometimes advise the Hranafall's chief as well. Haven't seen him in years and certainly was sad when the Valkyries have taken him...But, don't dwell in the past – I always say - and it looks like you are getting along as chief pretty well, yes?“
“That is good! Very good! And look at that – how handsome you are! Well, M'lady, keep out an eye on that one here, or I might take him from you!“ Ingunn said with a sassy wink directed at the young woman. “Good for the two of you, your father's made this pact! You suit each other pretty well! And I so know, that you will make many beautiful babies and-“
While the gang behind them giggled and snickered about everything that the older woman was saying, it was Astrid, who stepped in to interrupt her:
“Ingunn – there will be enough time to catch up on everything, later...“
“Ah – I am most sorry! You and your servants must be tired of your journey-“
“Friends...“ Astrid corrected her kindly, while Eret thankfully slapped a hand over Snotlout's mouth, before he could have exploded at the older woman.
“Friends? Oh well...fine, then – I will bring you to a place to rest. And then you should see your parents...Come...“
Hiccup felt some irritation coming from the older woman, when Astrid had referred to the other Dragon Riders as her friends. Sure – how could the healer know that, if Ljóda hasn't told her fellow tribes people about the letter that her daughter has send to her and the current developments of her stay – including the fact, that she had found herself friends. But it still made him smile a little, seeing, that she was embracing her own change, even now that she was on her home island.
“Don't worry, Hiccup...she likes to tease people every now and then. You shouldn't take everything too serious she is saying. And I guess, that she is very fond of you...“
“Oh – I definitely don't worry – though I have been wondering, how I got you pregnant in the first place...“ He joked back, reaching for her hand to lace their fingers – something he felt was very necessary with Astrid's past suitors watching them carefully with eagle eyes.
“Oh stop it! I am already wondering, of what my parents have told them anyway!“
“Well...remembering Hakon's departure, he seemed to be very keen about the fact, that we have spend our wedding night in the same house, without killing the other. He...was most excited about the fact, that there was probably a new heir coming soon...“
“Then he definitely told Hranafall, that the marriage is an success – if you know what I mean...No wonder everybody is looking at me, as if I am hatching a egg – oh by the gods – you know what I mean, even without the puns!“
He chuckled a little at that, before he got serious again, watching Ingunn carefully in front of them, who had taken a strange interest in the twins now.
“Can we trust her?“
“Ingunn? Why are you asking?“
“I would like to ask her about the missing dragons...“
Astrid nodded a little at that, now looking back to the older healer as well.
“Ingunn is something...I would see as the closest thing I had as a friend here on Hranafall. Not the same thing I have the gang and definitely far away from what I have found in you-“ Warmth spread through him and he was astonished by all these feelings, that Astrid made him feel in such a short time “-She is something like an odd aunt, you can ask about things, you would never dare to talk with your parents about. And with whom you can joke, but can get on your nerves quite easily.“
“Ah...something like Gobber to me. I see.“
“If you see him that way, yes...exactly that way...“
“So... you trust her?“
Hiccup nodded about that, feeling thankful, that there was somebody Astrid trusted. He should keep that in mind.
“Then we should ask her. When Ingunn really was that close with Hakon as she had stated, then maybe she did know something, don't you think that as well?“
“That is true. But we should wait, until the right moment...“ Unsure she looked around, seeing, that there were still a few people that watched them.
“Right...“ He mumbled, before they stopped walking once more.
It was a long house with dragon ornaments at its walls and roof, that extended right in front of them. The shutters were closed, indicating, that nobody was currently inside. Also - there was no smoke coming from the chimney and something told him, that this must be the guests hut, that Astrid had been talking about.
“Make yourself comfortable!“ Ingunn said, opening the door for them and went straight to the fireplace in the middle of the enormous room. “There should be enough space for all of you. Hranafall is expecting no other guests right now. And M'lady – if you don't mind - I will prepare a small celebration for your and your husband's arrival. Shall I prepare some Yaknog, or do you want to?“
“Yaknog?“ Fishlegs asked with interest, after he had laid his bedroll. “Is it something to eat?“
“It is a traditional Hranafallian drink, we like to make during Winter time. And some like to make it on special occasions, like when guests are staying here.“ Astrid explained, helping the older woman to make a fire.
“Sounds good.“ Snotlout said, probably happy to get something into their empty stomachs.
“Ingunn – will you prepare some? I would love to visit my parents and I don't think I will have the time to do so.“
“Of course and as you wish! My Yaknog is the best on this whole island anyway...“
It felt kinda nice to meet somebody, who had been always that close to Astrid. Ingunn really seemed to be a kind – maybe a little eccentric – woman and he even believed, that Astrid had always a friend in the old healer. But never noticed it. Probably due to the fact, that the older woman sometimes acted more like a servant towards the young Valkyrie, and like a friend. And maybe now Astrid will see that as well – with having some experience in friendship due to the other Dragon Riders.
This was the moment, when he noticed, that Astrid was looking over to him, who then pointed at the older woman with a movement of her head, before she slightly nodded. Hiccup immediately understood.
“Ingunn – may I ask you something?“ He asked, just as she was finished with the fire.
“Sure...“ She mumbled, stretching a little her back, which seemed to be hurting do to bowed posture.
“Your village is really a beautiful one – well – at least from what I have seen. I was just wondering...“
“Where you can find the dragons?“
He raised his eyebrows, but eventually nodded at that.
Ingunn laughed a little, even holding her belly for a short moment.
“Sure you won't find them here. Chief Hakon has ordered for them to be brought to an island not far away from here, to learn from them and train them. After he had returned, his first attempts of following the contract were not...working too well. And he nearly burned down the docks, but thankfully enough Thor had gifted us with rain that day...“
“Uhhh...sounds like our Dragon Academy!“ Fishlegs exclaimed, sounding very excited about that. “We need to see that!“
“And we need to hear more of how he nearly burned down the docks...“ Ruffnut mumbled.
“Yeah...for researching porpouses...“ Tuffnut said, but Hiccup glared at him, since he knew exactly, what they meant with that – they were far too interested in using that information for a prank.
„So, you guys deported the whole dragon population far away from Hranafall? Without any help?“
“Our dragons had mating season a month ago and chose that to fly of to another island. Hakon chose that as an opportunity to have them away and save for their training. And of what I have heard from one of the guards, they are close to archiving the first flight on a dragon's back. And I hope they hurry up, for I definitely want to learn that, too, before my time on Midgard is up!“
She then suddenly stopped and had a surprised look on her face, just as if she had noticed something:
“M'lady – how did you arrive in the first place? I mean – where you not coming here by dragon yourself? And I definitely haven't seen a new ship in the docks!“
Now it was Astrid, who shared a worried look with Hiccup and he knew, that she was quite unsure of what to tell Ingunn. But thankfully enough, it was Snotlout, who blurred out their little secret:
“Oh, we did. Our dragons are hiding in the forest-“
“Hiding?“ Ingunn asked, sounding a little irritated by that. But after a blink of confusion, she smiled again: “Oh sure. Nobody knows, how a bunch of Vikings would react, when a few dragons landed by the docks out of no where, right? Pretty clever there, M'lady Haddock. But I wouldn't expect something different from you. Shall I get something to eat for them? Fish it is?”
It was Eret, who stepped in now:
“It would be nice, though I suggest, that we will take care, that they are feeded.“
Hiccup knew, why his friend was saying that, before one of their other friends would have had the chance to answer. He didn't want the location of their hiding dragons give away – at least not until they knew more of what exactly was going on here. And he somehow was thankful, that one of them was not completely blinded by Hranafall's offerings.
“That is doable. Though I hope to get a look on your dragons. I have heard, that you – Chief Hiccup – have a real Night Fury...It would love to see one with my own eyes...“
“I might introduce you to Toothless, when we still have time.“ He said calmly and took Astrid's hand. “But I think, that we first should pay respect to Chief Hakon and visit Chieftess Ljóda...“
“True...“ Astrid said, nodding, making Ingunn chuckle about that.
“Ah...the annoying reunion with pesky in-laws, right? But regarding the face of death Hakon might encounter soon, it is an honor, for you to be here as well.“ She looked now towards Astrid directly and lowered her voice a little “...I hope your mother will see that as well...I will come by later this evening and provide him with some new medicine I came up with. I dearly hope it helps...“
As sad look emerged in Ingunn's eyes and pushed away the previous sassiness that had been hiding there.
“You really have a strong father, M'lady Haddock. If only I had a cure for whatever has entered his body. But I promise you to do everything, that is in my power to get our chief back on his feet. Maybe the sign of his beloved daughter will help...“ She sighed deeply, before she turned back around towards their friends and now happily exclaimed: “And now to you, you infamous Dragon Riders. Tell me your stories!“
Hiccup took this as the opportunity to get Astrid – who was paralyzed now by the older woman's words and who's hands felt icy in his own hands – out of the guest's hut and to finally get her to her father.
He pulled at her hand to get her outside and closed the door, just as Snotlout has started to tell their story.
“'Face of Death'. With not even Ingunn is knowing how to heal father's disease, then he really is doomed, isn't he?“
“Wait, wait, wait – we will see about that! Astrid – I know, that things might not seem to be so good for your father right now, but there is still hope. I know that!“
Or at least he knew, that Gothi had a vast knowledge of illnesses and diseases and maybe they really should consult her in that case...
Astrid's breath came out in shaky puff's and it took her some time to collect herself again. But eventually she did and she looked back up in his eyes.
“Since when isn't Eret trusting me anymore?“
This startled him and he even took a step back.
“How do you-“
“He is constantly eyeing me with suspicion and as if I would jump at you with a knife at any minute...One must be blind or pretty stupid to not notice that.“
That was true and she clearly wasn't one of the two things.
“Hiccup...do you trust me?“ There was something completely new in her voice – something he had never before heard like that. Something she had never before felt that way or until that way was just too good of an actor to hide it. It was genuine vulnerability and it nearly froze and broke his heart upon realizing, what made her feel this way.
“As I said before – I do trust you. Sure...he gave a few good points on why I should have an eye on you, but that doesn't change the way I am feeling for you. And it mostly concerned your mother...“ He told her that without hesitation. After all – why should he lie to her and spread even more doubt between them?
She heavily sighed.
“That is true...But...Hiccup...what do you wish for me to do, to prove, that I have nothing bad in my mind...?“
Finally a tiny smiled reached his lips again and he reached with his free hand for her cheek.
“My wish? Just be yourself...this won't give me a reason to not trust you...“
This seemed to give her some hope back, for she finally started to smile as well.
“Oh...I think I could do that...“
Sure – this had been the most perfect moment to recreate that sensation of the kiss they had shared early. But before he had the chance to act on it, somebody else had already grapped Astrid by the shoulders, swirled her around and hugged her tightly.
And it had taken Hiccup only a few seconds to realize, who this person had been...
“My daughter!“ Ljóda exclaimed with a tiny sob at the end “You have come!“