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Taming Fire

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"It's not too late to-" Fergus started with a growl, watching the approaching ships with deep distrust. Elinor hushed him, expression carefully schooled to reveal nothing. "Thought we were done with this suitor nonsense," he went on. The dragons woven into the approaching sales rippled as if they were alive.

"We agreed," Elinor reminded him slowly, "that the Vikings of Berk would be allowed the same chance as the clans. Stoick will present his boy, we will explain that Merida will be making her own choice, and if they make trouble, then you can fight." She patted her husband's bicep fondly.

"Why weren't his lot here last year?" Merida asked as she rounded up her brothers for the third time that morning.

Elinor's expression went distant as she tried to recall. In all the chaos of last year's Games and what followed with Mor'du, it was easy to forget the contents of one poorly spelled missive from someone who was even less of a reliable ally than Lord Dingwall. At least Dingwall could be depended on not to go haring off hunting for dragon nests. "There was an accident, I believe."

Merida was unimpressed by the excuse, and expressed that with a decidedly unladylike noise. Elinor made no comment, instead making an attempted at smoothing her daughter's hair back with a small, genuine smile that quickly went tight when she saw how close the Vikings were. Merida did her best to mimic her mother's expression; whatever else might be said, the Vikings of Berk were useful allies -- any other Vikings who wanted to come raiding had to deal with them first, or go well around, and there was some trade in the form of dragon bits for the things the Vikings couldn't make for themselves. But mostly, Stoick the Vast and his people kept to themselves -- which was clearly how Elinor preferred it.

Merida watched the docking longboat with interest; the men were all great, stout creatures like her own people, and they worked with efficiency as they unloaded the boat. They wore leather and thick furs and no clan tartan that she could recognize, and there was something faintly comical about the horned helms on their heads, like a great flock of rams. Not one of them looked young enough to be the lad that was supposed to be wooing her, but life in the northern islands was harsh, and could easily age someone.

The largest of the lot by far disembarked, and Merida watched her father puff up like a tomcat spotting a rival.

Stoick the Vast's great red beard bristled, free of the gray that threaded her own father's much neater beard, and his feet resounded heavily on the dock as he took three great steps forward. Fergus met him part way, and the two glared at each other as if they were trying to decide if a fight might not be easier than this diplomacy business. Elinor coughed delicately, and the two men moved at the same moment. Beefy hands wrapped around massive forearms, and the two grunted a reluctant greeting.

"Stoick," Elinor murmured with polite coolness, gliding forward while carefully pushing her sons back before they could dive into the gifts the Vikings had brought with them. "A pleasure."

Stoick executed a careful bow in Elinor's direction, releasing his grip on Fergus. "Your Majesty." He'd regarded Fergus with the wariness of one warrior facing another, but Merida suspected that the look that flashed across the Viking's face when he looked at Elinor held more than a little fear. Then his eyes were on her, shrewd and calculating. Merida found herself bristling, wondering if he was going to ask to see her teeth.

Nothing's expected, Merida reminded herself. She could probably get away with disappearing on Angus until the Vikings left -- a happy thought indeed -- and her parents wouldn't say a thing about it. They'd probably help her make excuses.

"And you'd be Merida."

"Aye," she replied shortly, "I would." She did her best to peer around Stoick the Vast (who more than lived up to his name). "And where would your boy be, then?"

Elinor gave Merida a gentle nudge with her hip. Don't push it.

Rather than erupt as Merida expected him to, Stoick slowly grinned and looked skyward. "He'll be along shortly. Needed to make a quick stop- ah!" The grin widened, revealing a surprising number of what Merida could only assume were his own teeth. A dark shape tore through the clouds overhead, too large to be an eagle and only growing larger as it approached.

"A dragon!" Fergus gasped. The men at arms went for their bows, and Elinor opened her mouth to order Merida to get her brothers inside and rally the guards... then she stopped.

None of the Vikings -- men who'd spent their whole lives battling dragons on the bare, gods forsaken rock they called home -- were reacting.

No... that wasn't true.

They were watching the Scots, and they were grinning.

Elinor gripped Merida's shoulder briefly as her face slipped back into the mask of distant civility, and she raised her hand to signal the archers. "Hold your fire!"

The dragon landed as lightly as a sparrow on the bank of the loch, a sleek black thing longer than any horse, and almost as high at the shoulder as Merida's Angus. As the beast settled, Merida finally saw the saddle lashed to it's back, and the boy that sat atop it. There was a rumble of barely suppressed laughter as Stoick spoke.

"Allow me to present my son, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Dragon Tamer."