The young woman awoke with a startled gasp, drenched in cold sweat and heart racing.
“Lady Goldbloom? Is everything okay?” a gentle voice spoke beside the bed.
Drawing a deep breath, Lady Rapunzel Goldbloom stood from her bed. “I keep having nightmares, Miriam,” she said and stepped towards the bowl of water by the vanity table.
“Should I call on the healer? He can make you something to sleep soundly.”
The blonde woman shook her head negative. “No,” she said slowly, looking into the water in the bowl. She saw her own reflection; deep green eyes staring in concentration, as if trying to penetrate themselves in search of answers she didn’t have. “These aren’t normal nightmares. I hear Mother Gothel’s voice.”
“The Enchantress? She’s dead, Milady.”
The lady looked up at her servant. “What if her magic isn’t?”
To this the elderly woman had no answers. If the lady had asked about gossip she would have asked the right person, but the Enchantress? Miriam only knew rumours about her.
“I need to make sure. Draw up a bath and cancel all meetings today. If Mother Gothel still have active magic in the realm there’s a chance she may return.”
“Don’t call her by her name, Milady. It’s bad luck. She’s the Enchantress,” Miriam berated her.
Rapunzel looked up, displeased. “I am an Enchantress too, Miriam. Send for Eugene.”
“You will return yourself and everyone to their original state when you can trust, and when you hold the love and trust of a stranger.”
Morning. Jackson Overland blinked groggily as his sleep was disturbed by the sound of their rooster’s persistent cawing. Another day in the middle of the week in the village of Berk. Jack stretched his sleepy limbs every which way and yawned widely. Apparently his cat had spent the night on his bed, because Jack felt his little paws on his leg and heard a thump when the sand coloured tom hit the floor
Blue eyes stared sleepily towards the door from where the pudgy cat glared indignantly at him before slipping out.
“Come on Sandy, we go through this every second morning,” the teenager yawned and threw the blanket off his body, the chill of the morning waking him up better than the rooster outside that apparently had made it his life’s mission to wake the entire world. It was no secret Jack would enjoy the day that bird ended up his dinner. But then the damned thing would probably continue to caw inside his stomach.
Speaking about noisy stomach, Jack’s growled at him as if he needed the reminder to fix breakfast.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m on it,” the boy grumbled and got out of bed, first stopping at the bowl on his drawer to wash his face and hands before he found something to wear.
It was early autumn and the trees outside were more yellow and red than green, and when Jackson opened his window he breathed in the fresh scent of fallen leaves, a very faint hint of mushrooms and much more strongly; fresh bread from the bakery.
Jack’s insides rumbled again.
“Will you shut up, stupid stomach?”
He quickly put on a pair of pants, socks and his shoes before pulling his arms and head through a light blue shirt, tucked it in and threw on his vest, leaving it open for the moment. Which meant; until he caught sight of his reflection in the hall mirror, seeing how the shirt was so baggy it made him look even leaner than he was and quickly buttoned up the vest. Not that it helped his case any; he was still a very slim teenager with white hair and blue eyes. How he wished he knew why his hair had started whitening on him after he hit puberty. It had been a lovely chestnut brown before that!
Sighing in defeat Jack headed downstairs, grabbed a basket and went outside. The sky was a variety of different blue and purple colours with only the moon and a few faint stars stubbornly hanging on in the far west as the sun hadn’t started to rise yet. This was the time of the day Jack loved the most, the calm before the real dawn, before the town awoke and began to buzz with life. Right now it was only Jack, the rooster that finally shut up now that Jack was out and had thrown some corn at him to eat, the water wheel splashing on the other side of the house, the early insects singing quietly and the goat that bleated at him in greeting from the barn where she’d poked her head out.
“Good morning to you too, Mary. Got any milk for me today?” Jack asked and went in to the affectionate old animal.
And so the morning continued. Jack milked the goat, fed the hens, collected only two eggs, which would have to do for breakfast for Jackson and his father, who by the way opened his window and leaned out just as Jack gave up his search for more eggs.
“Morning Jack. Lovely weather today no? How are you, son?”
“Couldn’t be better. Come down and help me with breakfast.”
“Okay. See you downstairs.”
Jack sighed in content. It was only him and his father, but they were okay. The goat gave them milk, the hens gave eggs to eat and a chicken to sell once in a while and they had a little piece of land where they grew vegetables. This way it didn’t matter that they weren’t wealthy; they had enough to eat to keep at least Jack satisfied. It was a tad bit worse on North, Jackson’s father.
Meeting the man inside the kitchen Jack carefully looked the man over once he’d given North the milk and eggs. He’d lost quite a few pounds since his wife left with Jack’s little sister two years ago. She’d wanted to take Jack too, but Jack had refused to leave his father behind and North himself had begged on his knees to keep the boy with him. And while North Overland was still a large man, it was like half of him had disappeared since that time. Half his heart too.
“Jackson? Are you okay?”
The teenager startled and looked up into his father’s concerned blue eyes. Apparently he’d zoned out without realizing.
“Oh yes dad, sorry. I’m just…” his stomach rumbled.
“Hungry?” North finished with mirth.
“Very funny, dad,” Jack grumbled.
“Come on, son. Lay the table for us. And if you’re done with your chores, could you run an errand for me after breakfast?”
“Of course. You fixed that toy for old Stoick?” Jack asked as he took two plates and mugs from their shelves and headed towards the table.
“I did, and it’s not a toy, it’s a music box.”
“A toy. Only children play with those things.”
“Jack,” North berated. “That music box was Stoick’s wedding gift to his late wife. Poor guy lost his son too. The boy apparently loved the melody. You shouldn’t insult things that are important for other people.”
Point taken, Jack had the shame to blush. Of course North would always side with anyone who had lost their wife and/or child. Compared to Stoick who lived on the hill overlooking the village, North was lucky to at least still have one child.
“I’ll take it to him after we eat,” Jack promised.
North smiled tenderly at him. “Thank you, son,” he said and turned back to the porridge and boiled eggs he was making.
The village of Berk was a sturdy little place surrounded by fields on one side and forests on the other. The forest grew around cliffs, enormous rocks and made travelling through it a challenge not many wanted to take. And that said something. The villagers weren’t cowards; far from it. They fought anything that picked a fight, be it bears, a pack of wolves or bands of bandits. The king of the country thought the village was too far away and too close to the border to send any help if they would ever ask for it.
But he religiously sent his tax collectors.
Jack rolled his eyes after a glance at the village board that said the tax collector was due in two days. The last collector that had come by to demand the taxes be paid had left followed by the villagers howling in laugher and with a lot less tax money than anyone else in the kingdom paid. But it wasn’t like the guards were a match to a village full of rough and hardened bullies. Jackson couldn’t even blame the villagers. They were perfectly good people (with exceptions, of course) once you learned the horrible names they threw after you were actually affectionate. Jack hadn’t learned it until he had exploded on the baker one day and the man had been so moved he actually shed a tear and had given Jack two extra lumps of bread and a couple of pastries.
“Nobody has complimented me like that since I married!” the baker had said to a wholly flabbergasted Jackson Overland.
Jack still took the long way around the village to reach old Stoick’s house. The man who had lost both wife and son and best friend and whom few people spoke to these days. Jack wasn’t exactly sure what had happened, he hadn’t lived in the village all that long. He and his father had moved here after his mother left. According to a few stories Jack had heard on nights when he went to collect his father from the inn, there had been dragons in the country, and the village of Berk had been taming them. But one day all the dragons just vanished, along with a good half of the villagers and all of the dragon trainers. Stoick’s son had apparently been one of those trainers.
The house Jack arrived to at last was made of stocks and decorated with old-fashioned dragon heads and symbols of the Gods he worshipped. A vine grew up the wall on the south side and was quickly becoming a deep red in the season.
North’s son knocked hard on the door and waited.
Jack knocked again…
…and nearly jumped out of his boots in fright. Stoick “the Vast” Horrendous Haddock had come up behind him. It was amazing how a man as big as Stoick was such a natural at stealth. He was bigger than North with wide shoulders, a broad back and arms that swelled with so much muscle Jack was just a little worried about breaking if the man touched him.
“Mister Haddock,” Jack greeted once his heart had settled down a little. “Dad sent me. I have your music box.”
He pulled out the little box from his satchel and watched the man’s blue green eyes fill with sorrow, almost despair.
“You know what, keep it for a while,” the big man said and tried to smile. “I… I can’t take it back… not right now.”
Jack couldn’t say anything as Stoick walked past him and into his house. The expression on the big man’s face broke Jack’s heart. Stoick still grieved this much. Maybe the loss of a child really was a wound a parent never fully recovered from.
Placing the music box back into his satchel, Jack wondered what to do now. He didn’t feel like he could just go home when he hadn’t even been able to complete his errand.
Well, if he was lucky, younger sister Arendelle would be at the bookstore.
Ruffnut turned another page. If anyone asked her what the book was about though she couldn’t answer since the words never stuck in her memory. She wasn’t here to read after all; it was just the only place she’d found where she could escape.
The shopkeeper’s redhaired daughter, Anna Arendelle, kept grunting irritably at the costumer that rarely bought anything and instead just sat on the floor reading with dead eyes.
“If you like that book, you can bring it home,” Anna tried, like she did almost every time Ruffnut was here.
The blonde on the floor didn’t bother with an answer. Berk had gotten a lot of newcomers after the dragons disappeared and none of them truly believed that dragons even existed. Anna and her prim little family were all newcomers, so Ruffnut didn’t feel like wasting energy on trying to explain why she was here to someone who wouldn’t understand or believe.
The doorbell rang and Anna’s face broke out in a sunny smile.
“Jack!” she greeted enthusiastically.
Ruffnut just turned another page.
“I see Ghost Girl is here today too,” Jackson Overland, another newcomer, spoke in a low voice.
Ghost Girl. That’s what they called her these days; the ghost of a girl who had once been one half of the Terrible Two. At least until the dragons had disappeared, along with Tuffnut, Ruffnut’s other half. And after years of fruitless searching where neither the dragons or Tuffnut or any of the other riders had reappeared, Ruffnut had felt like she had died.
So once in a while the twin that was left behind could be found in the new bookstore; the only place where she didn’t have any memories of the dragons, her brother or any of her old friends.
“I wish she would at least buy something, or go away!” Anna whispered hotly. “She’s just in the way.”
“Come now, she’s not bothering anyone, is she?” Jackson asked.
“She’s bothering everyone by sitting there looking miserable! She’s making you uncomfortable too, I see it in your eyes!”
Ruffnut turned another page.
“I’m not bothered by her; I feel for her,” the white-haired boy whispered.
Anna paused. “Why?”
“Well, imagine if Elsa just up and disappeared and you never found out what happened to her. Wouldn’t you feel rather terrible?”
Anna let out a sigh. “Jack, I know Ghost over there has lost her brother, that doesn’t give her the right to…” she waved an irate hand in Ruffnut’s direction.
“Grieve? Search for an escape? You do know she’s listening, right?”
She looked over and saw Anna stare at her as if she couldn’t believe Ruffnut was actually alive and had ears. It actually made her feel a little better to watch the newcomer flustered. So she stood and walked over to the counter with the book.
“Ruffnut,” was all she said as she dropped the book onto the counter and left.
Jack stared after the tall blonde while Anna huffed and sputtered. Yes, Jack liked Anna in general, but he really couldn’t tolerate how she treated Ghost…
“Is that her name? Ruffnut?” Jack asked. It wasn’t the worst he’d heard. One of the other teens in the village was named Snotlout, son of Spitlout, and Jackson would never understand how anyone could carry such names as proudly as those men did.
“Who cares! To me she’s Rudebutt!” Anna cried angrily and picked the book up to put it back on the shelf.
That was Jack’s cue to leave. Pretty; yes. Funny; yes. Sensitive/considerate; to a chosen few. Tactful; not at all. Jack sighed as he trudged home. He’d heard stories of how Ghost –oh right, Ruffnut– was when her brother was alive, and thought it was a real shame. He had a feeling he would have gotten along perfectly with those two, turning it into a Terrible Trio!
“Hey! Looks like the snow sprite is early this year!”
And maybe Jack would have a couple less bullies if he’d had the twins as friends.
“Yeah, and you better watch yourself, Snotlout, or you’ll find your bed full of frost!”
The other boy made a face. He was much bigger and stronger than Jack, with beefy arms covered in skull tattoos, but his brain was about the size of a walnut.
“There’s an easy solution to that, isn’t there, Frost? Maybe I should just set your house on fire?!”
The boy beside Snotlout started laughing, but Jack seethed.
“Sure, you go ahead and destroy my physical body and kill my father. That is; if you’re eager to never experience warmth again.”
“We’ll see about that!” Snotlout called after Jack, like a threat.
The teen supressed a shiver, hoping Snotlout wasn’t actually that insane.
It was strange actually. Snotlout was said to have been one of the dragon trainers, the only one who didn’t disappear, but it seemed he had no memory of it. Every time anyone mentioned dragons around him, he went dragon hunting with the nearest weapon, be it a sword or a shoe.
When he wasn’t hunting dragons, Snotlout pranced around as if he was the king of the village with a huge kid named Dogsbreath Duhbrain like a bodyguard by his side.
Sometimes Jackson wondered if Dogsbreath was his actual given name or one that had stuck with him. It was rather accurate after all since the boy’s breath tended to smell like bad fish or rotting seaweed.
The white-haired boy froze, cringing. His luck seemed to be on vacation. “Hi Flynn. Good to see you,” Jack lied with a sweet smile plastered on his face. He didn’t like Snotlout and Dogsbreath by any means, but he’d take them over Flynn Rider any day.
The man was in his mid-twenties, looking stunning and well dressed as usual this morning, but his eyes didn’t match the rest of his smiling face.
“I’m happy to see your nose. A rare sight indeed since it’s always buried in those books you know. Did you discover the greatness of reality?”
He might as well ask outright if Jack had been making out with Anna in the bookstore. Luckily Jack wasn’t so easy to catch in such traps.
“Actually yeah; I learnt Ghost Girl’s real name.”
The surprise that flashed across Flynn’s face was sweet victory to Jack. He wasn’t even sure if Flynn knew who Ghost Girl/Ruffnut even was. But Flynn was always annoyingly quick to respond.
“Your books have permanently ruined you, Jack,” he said with a condescending smile. “You have even started to see ghosts around the village. What will your dear father say about that.”
“He would probably ask who Ghost Girl is before he jumped to the same conclusion as you,” Jack smiled.
“Not that the girl in question ever made a lot of noise,” another voice cut in, smooth and cool like marble.
Turning around, Jack and Flynn faced yet another person Jack was happy to not talk to.
“Pitch Black,” Flynn greeted pleasantly. “Dear me, for a second I thought you were a walking corpse.”
“Save me your malice, Rider. What’s this about Thorston’s remaining twin?”
Pitch Black, son of Mildew Black, cast his half-lidded eyes on Jack who tried not to shiver. He’d never understood this guy’s scheme that sometimes felt like disgust and sometimes like flirting.
“She told me today her name is Ruffnut,” Jack shrugged. “And I’m sorry to leave all of a sudden, my father is waiting for me.”
“The starving toymaker? I don’t think it’s you he’s waiting for.”
Once again, Jack froze mid-step, anger flaring in his gut like a lit match. He glared hatefully over his shoulder.
“One day, Flynn Rider, your mouth will be your death,” he growled and marched home.
He was almost at the bridge at the boarder to his home when Pitch caught up with him.
“You can’t let him get to you,” the tall man said, his voice smooth, probably intended to be soothing, but Jack still got chills running down his spine.
“It’s not about getting to me, it’s about respect.”
“There are plenty of interpretations of that word,” Pitch said, and somehow it sounded like a warning.
“Sure. My own interpretation is for others to take a hint and leave me alone!”
And with that Jack crossed the bridge, feeling Pitch glare draggers at his back. It was only morning, and it already felt like this was going to be a horrible day.