Chapter 1: Late to the Party
"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."
Chapter 2: Just Like You
I know I'm playing merry hell with history and geography, but since HTTYD and Brave exist more in a Once Upon A Never Was than real history, I think the liberties I take can be forgiven.
Here's hoping my dear readers find this chapter to be as good as the last.
"I don't actually expect you to win the girl," Stoick had explained before they'd set out. "This is all just for show -- so be ready to put on a good one."
It'd taken fifteen days to get from Berk to the mainland -- Hiccup and Toothless could have flown it themselves in five, but they'd kept with the ships, and they kept having to stop Snotlout and the twins from wandering off. They left all but one of the ships at Inverness, where they would sell what little Berk produced and buy what they could of what their people needed, and then it had been another three days traveling by river, with the three dragon riders keeping high during the day and camping in the woods at night.
Hiccup would have preferred to go without any of his fellow dragon riders, but Stoick had insisted. The Scots were only nominally allies, and not to be trusted. Given a choice, he would have brought Astrid and Fishlegs... but Astrid objected to the whole business, and Meatlug was brooding over a clutch of eggs with Fishlegs refusing to leave her side.
The whole thing was going to be to be a disaster. Snotlout and Hookfang would set something important on fire, the twins would mortally offend someone just by existing, Barf and Belch would try to eat someone, and Hiccup would take all the blame because the princess would hate him for being a scrawny fishbone of a Viking.
"If you wanted to impress them, you should have just brought Thornado," Hiccup muttered to himself as he brought Toothless down for a landing. But no, Stoick wanted Hiccup to 'make a good impression' since in theory they were there so Hiccup could win some girl's hand. Really, it all translated to give these soft southerners a bit of a scare so I can negotiate from a position of power while we play by their rules.
Snotlout, Ruffnut, and Tuffnut had fallen back on Stoick's orders. So there would be a few minutes, at least, of things not being on fire.
Looking at the Scots, Hiccup couldn't see how they were all that different from his own people. Maybe a bit smaller, and the clothes were a little strange, but that was just clothing. Put Hiccup in their plaids and he'd have blended right in with them; stick a horned helm on any of the Scots and it'd be hard to tell him from a Viking.
Stoick had spent a lot of time drilling Hiccup on the royal family during the long trip south, so he was pretty comfortable guessing that the guy as big as his Dad was probably Fergus the Bear King, which meant the woman at his side was the Queen Elinor that Stoick refused to admit scared him. By process of elimination, the three young boys trying to clamor off the docks and rush Toothless were the sons Stoick couldn't remember the names of, and the girl corralling them was Merida. It was hard to tell what she actually looked like from a distance, but the riot of red curls made her stand out. She looked dainty compared to the likes of Astrid or Ruffnut.
"Lets get this over with." Hiccup patted Toothless's neck before unhooking his flight harness and sliding to the ground. He could feel eyes boring into him, and when he looked up he saw Elinor watching him with an expression that could have frozen fire.
"It's their queen we want to impress most," Stoick had said more than once, but he hadn't really explained why. Hiccup had thought it meant she was a warrior on par with her husband, but Elinor looked no less dainty and ladylike than her daughter. She probably couldn't even haul a sheep by herself (which was the third thing a Viking looked for in a wife, according to Gobber. The first and second were skill with keeping the house from burning down and a propensity towards good cooking). But the warriors listened to her. Even the Bear King seemed to be waiting to see what the woman would decide.
The Scottish warriors parted for Hiccup and Toothless, and he could see his father grinning through his beard. At least someone was happy.
The spring in Hiccup's false leg gave a tortured squeak as he climbed onto the dock. He held back a wince, wishing there had been time to give the prosthetic a once over before now. The leg was sturdy, built to take all kinds of punishment, but the spring still needed special care and replacement on a regular basis. The salty sea air corroded it more quickly than any other part, leading to that painful noise. He scanned the faces of the southern royals; Hiccup had found that he could learn a lot about a person by the way they reacted to his leg.
Fergus shifted his weight, and and a knotted wooden peg leg scraped gently across the dock where the king's left leg should have been. There was no change to Elinor's expression, not even as she helped her daughter continue to keep the three boys from rushing to poke and prod and try to climb all over Toothless. Merida looked down, then back up for a moment, then back down as she snatched one of her brothers by the back of his shirt. "No you don't."
The girl was, Hiccup was willing to admit, pretty, and not so dainty looking up close even with the dress. Her face was broad and round, with a slightly upturned nose blue-green eyes, and the look on her face was a mix of curiosity and wonder when she looked up again, looking right past Hiccup to Toothless. He caught her gaze for just a moment, and she grimaced apologetically as she manhandled her brother. "There'll be no sweets for you, Hamish, if you keep this up!"
The warriors kept well away from Toothless, and Fergus didn't stop glancing at the Night Fury, but Merida and her mother had adapted quickly. At least no one was trying to kill them yet. Hiccup risked a glance at Toothless, who was staring at his own reflection in the loch. After all, the humans had no fish for him, but there might be some to be caught in the water.
It had been a long flight, after all. They'd been on their way well before sunup, eager to reach Castle DunBroch before nightfall. Hiccup's stomach chose that moment to remind him of the fact that most of his lunch had flown away when he'd tried to eat in the saddle, and it did so loudly. Stoick made a face at Hiccup behind everyone's backs, gesturing for him to do something.
Oh, right. Talking. "Uh, hi! I'm Hiccup-"
Up in the sky, Hookfang roared before diving into the water, clearly more impatient than Toothless to catch his lunch. Snotlout let out what normally would have been a very satisfying yelp, cursing his dragon as he swam free. Bows were raised, and for a moment it looked like Elinor was going to give the order to open fire.
"-and those would be my friends-" Hiccup added with a little groan. Toothless raised his head, pupils wide, and shrieked at Barf and Belch as the Hideous Zippleback circled overhead. The twins were arguing, but that was no surprise. "Looks like the gangs all here!" he finished brightly, forcing a smile.
"Then perhaps now would be a good time to retire to the castle," Elinor suggested, her mild tone surprisingly heavy with hints of 'order', "so that we might discuss the matters at hand?"
Chapter 3: World Turned Upside Down
“Dragons,” Elinor muttered, fingers digging into Fergus’s arm as he escorted her to her seat. “They’ve tamed dragons.”
They didn’t often see dragons in this part of the kingdom. Conventional wisdom held that Mor’du’s very presence kept the beasts far away. Someone might spot the clear-cut path of a Timberjack deep in the woods, and Scauldrons were a fact of life along the coast, but in general dragons were considered a northern problem. In many ways, they’d been Elinor’s greatest allies in her dealings with Stoick; with the more immediate threats of dragons at his very door, he’d had little interest in her kingdom beyond ensuring they wouldn’t come looking for retribution for past Viking raids.
“I suppose fighting ‘em off is out of the question?” Fergus joked. Elinor gave his arm a hard squeeze; now was not the time. Her eyes slid to Stoick, who was either too engrossed in his food to have heard Fergus, or was pretending not to out of courtesy.
The four dragon riders certainly hadn’t. They were far too busy yammering and stuffing their gobs – all but Stoick’s boy. He responded to the jibes and comments thrown his way with a dry wit that flew over the heads of the other three, but mostly he just watched everything, a silent and thoughtful observer. Not at all what Elinor had been expecting.
Snotlout and the twins – Elinor was still working out which one was Ruffnut and which was Tuffnut, but at least they were different enough that she could tell them apart – were exactly what she had expected; uncouth, loud, and frankly disgusting in their table manners. Naturally, her boys adored them, watching the Vikings with undisguised fascination.
Merida wasn’t even trying to make conversation, not that Elinor blamed her. At least she wasn’t doing anything to start a fight; the last year had seen Merida grow more thoughtful and careful about what she said before acting, and it filled Elinor with considerable pride. She was already dreading the talk she would have to have with her daughter later about just how important this alliance with Berk was becoming, so she hoped this thoughtfulness would remain at the fore.
Damn all dragons and their Vikings.
Fergus settled his ponderous bulk into his chair, leaning towards Hiccup and craning his head to get a good look at the boy. “Must be some tale behind that leg of yours, lad.”
And damn Fergus for good measure.
Hiccup paled, then flushed scarlet. “Oh, yeah, it’s a big one,” he mumbled, shifting uncomfortably on the bench.
“He helped kill a giant dragon,” Snotlout announced, earning a dark glare from Stoick and a smack to the back of his head from one of the twins. “What? He couldn’t have done it without us.”
Hiccup curled in on himself, going pale again even as he forced a laugh. “I don’t like to brag…” He pushed his dinner away, and Snotlout took that as an invitation to help himself. “Dad, you tell it so much better than I do-” The false leg let out a tortured squeak, and the lad’s face lit up. “And I really need to take care of this before anything breaks, and, y’know, I should check on Toothless, so if someone could point me towards the smithy…” He trailed off hopefully.
Perhaps it was wrong to take so much delight in Stoick’s pinched expression, but even Elinor could take only so much before wanting to hang a man’s head on the front gate as a warning to all others, so she would take her victories where she could find them.
Merida caught Elinor’s eye, poised to rise from her seat. Elinor considered briefly, the nodded. If nothing else, she was supremely confidant in her daughter’s ability to handle one boy, Viking or not, if the need arose.
“I can show you,” Merida announced. The triplets were clearly torn; stay and hear the story of Hiccup’s adventures in slaying a giant dragon, or go and maybe see dragons for themselves. They whispered amongst themselves as Hiccup followed Merida out of the hall, and Hamish and Hubert peeled off to scamper after them while Harris remained to listen. Stoick drained his tankard before he began the tale, and one of the maids promptly and wisely filled it again while the squeak of Hiccup’s leg faded into the distance.
“I was leading my band to wipe out the nest of the dragons that had been plaguing Berk-”
My humblest apologies for how long it took to get this chapter up. Real life and rival plot bunnies have been playing silly-buggers with me.
Hiccup found that there was something distinctly off putting about having two identical faces staring at him like they expected him to start doing tricks. It wasn't at all like Ruffnut and Tuffnut; while they were a package deal, they were still individuals. These two boys were just... creepy.
"Smithy'd be this way," Merida pointed out helpfully, leading the way through the twists and turns of the castle. The only thing back on Berk that even came close to being like this place was the Great Hall, and that was really just a very convenient cave that the village had turned into the only thing that didn't have to be rebuilt every other week. Maybe if we built stuff out of stone, we wouldn't have had to, he thought mutinously, fingers trailing over a tapestry as he passed. It didn't matter so much anymore; with the dragons no longer raiding Berk for food, the village needed to be rebuilt only every other month. Building from stone was not the Viking Way, so it was a moot point in any case.
They emerged into the courtyard in time to hear Hookfang roar at the setting sun, circling over the castle before diving into the loch to catch his dinner. The boys gasped in delight while servants and guardsmen scattered, emerging again like frightened rabbits from their dens when the dragon failed to reappear. Merida easily corralled her brothers, obviously used to having to keep them from rushing head first into danger. They'd have made great Vikings.
"That great beastie do that often?" she asked, pulling one brother by his shirt while guiding the other with her hand on the back of his head. Hiccup could hear the familiar ring of hammer on metal, as comforting and homely as the smell of wet sheep and mead. The forge had been part of his life for almost as long as he could remember, with Gobber cheerfully puttering about making weapons, along with the thousand other bits of metalwork the village always needed, but no one gave much thought to until it wasn't there. Fine stuff like needles or jewelry had to be brought in by men like Trader Johan, but for everything else, there was Gobber.
"Hookfang? Naw, only when he's hungry. Most of the time," Hiccup couldn't resist grinning, "he just sets himself on fire."
The boys began to whisper excitedly to each other, eyes alight with fascination. Merida looked torn between horror and laughter, like she was trying to figure out if Hiccup was joking or not. "Oh, Mum's gonna love that."
A little ball of dread rolled in the pit of Hiccup's stomach while a wise voice in the back of his head reminded him that it was probably a good idea of Queen Elinor didn't hate them. "Eh, he's a big old pussycat, really," he explained, doing his best to sound completely casual. Merida made a thoughtful noise, and Hiccup decided it really was time to move along. "Anyway, smithy! Time to fix the old leg!"
The princess chortled, still herding her brothers along. "Aye. Then perhaps we might get to see these dragons of yours-" She bent down, mouth level with her brothers' ears, "-if you wee devils behave while you wait outside." She straightened, reaching for the double doors of the blacksmith shop. "Abernethy'll have all our heads if you come in." A great wave of heat rolled out into the twilight, making the curls of Merida's hair move and twist. Hiccup could just picture the kind of trouble a couple of young boys could get in to, surrounded by so many blunt objects and sharp things and all that fire...
There was something universal about a blacksmith's work space. The stenches of wood and coal smoke, sweat, burned hair and hot metal blended together to murder the nose, while the rhythmic clang of hammer and tongs filled the ears, with an undercurrent of the steady hiss of the grinding wheel. The layout of the tools would have been chaotic to anyone not familiar with a forge, but Hiccup could see the underlying logic to it all.
The blacksmith was even a man built along the same lines as Gobber: massive shoulders and arms like tree trunks, one slightly bigger than the other from years of working the bellows, and his clothes covered by a heavy leather apron. His hair was cut close to his skull, and his face was clean shaven, with deep set eyes that seemed to glow with their own fire in the fading light. Abernathy regarded Hiccup with undisguised mistrust even as he laid aside his hammer, plunging a horse shoe into the water barrel at his side. "And what is it you'll be wanting, then?" he asked. His voice was surprisingly high for such a large man, and as finely musical as a skald's.
"Our guest is in need of your tools, and I'm sure Maudie's got something set by in the kitchen for you, Abernathy," Merida said sweetly, not at all subtle in her hint. The smith grunted, looking around his workshop before glaring once more at Hiccup as if to say that if anything turned up missing, he'd come and get it back from the Viking personally, probably with the careful application of a hammer to the softer parts of Hiccup's skull. Merida chivied him along, chattering happily about the last shoeing her horse went through, not stopping until the man was gone.
"Nice guy," Hiccup muttered. "Real friendly."
"He's a pussycat," Merida assured him with a cheeky little grin as Hiccup foraged about for what he needed. "The dragons will be well enough out there?"
Hiccup sat down on a stool, staring down at his leg for a moment before letting his eyes go back to Merida. She had her back to him, watching out the doors for signs of mischief from her brothers, head canted slightly towards him to show she was listening. "They'll be fine. And don't worry about the sheep or anything -- they'll behave. But I'm not gonna make any promises about Snotlout or the twins."
His hands did the work automatically, without him needing to think about it. Merida made it surprisingly easy by asking questions about Berk; what kind of things grew there, did it really snow most of the year, had Snotlout been dropped on his head as an infant? Answering gave him something to think about other than the remains of his leg. She didn't ask about how he'd lost it, and the few times she turned around, she kept her eyes carefully on his face.
Missing limbs were practically standard on Berk. Nobody talked about them. That just wasn't how Vikings did things. You lost your leg, you stuck a peg in to replace it, and off you went. Complaining about pain in a foot that wasn't there was treated as weakness, and Hiccup did his best to show as little weakness as possible, even going so far as to do maintenance on his replacement foot out in the open, no matter how badly he wanted to run to some far off corner of Berk and hide. Gobber had talked about it with him exactly once, when he was deep in his cups and Hiccup was kept awake by half remembered nightmares of giant teeth and four mad little eyes that promised only a fiery death.
Hiccup had been going over the details of Zipplebacks and their nesting habits when he'd realized that his work was done. Hastily, he replaced his leg, pleased that it had finally stopped squeaking when he put his weight on it. "You wanna see one up close?"
"That depends. Is it going to try and breathe it's gas on me?" Merida teased. Hiccup could see her brothers watching him like the half-feral dogs that sometimes roamed Berk, eyes almost glowing in the light of the forge's fire.
"Only if you ask nicely."
As always, apologies for how long it took me to get this chapter up. Between moving, rival plot bunnies, and not being able to find my damn notebook for a couple of days... well, yeah. There's a playlist!
The Zippleback's heads were fighting with each other over the fish it had brought up from the lake, paying them absolutely no mind. The Monsterous Nightmare was still swimming about in the loch, happily chasing down it's dinner as it splashed about in the water. Hiccup's dragon watched them approach, lazing about in the last rays of the sun. As the great beast stretched, Merida was reminded of nothing so much as the great old tomcat who ruled over the kitchen, deigning to allow only a privileged few to scratch behind his torn ears as he stretched out before the fire. For the first time since Merida had seen the young Viking, Hiccup looked completely at ease, approaching his dragon to scratch beneath the broad black head. "Hey, bud," he murmured tenderly. It was clear, for a moment, that he had forgotten all about Merida and her brothers.
Right up until Hamish and Hubert rushed the dragon, scrambling up onto it's back with shouts of glee, digging their heels into the dragon's scaly black hide in an attempt to make it fly.
The dragon looked startled for a moment, then promptly flopped down onto the grass and refused to move. Again, not unlike the old tomcat in the kitchen. Hiccup looked amused by Hamish and Hubert's antics, leaning against the dragon's flank with his arms folded. "Yeah, that's not gonna work."
"And a good thing, that," Merida agreed with a little sigh. The dragon turned it's head to watch her as she went to pull her brothers from it's back, and she watched it right back, doing her best to keep outside the range of it's mouth. "I've seen the other two in books, but I don't recognize your wee beastie." Hubert squirmed and struggled in her hands as she pulled him off the dragon, while Hamish slid down the other side and made a run for it.
Hiccup positively preened as he circled around to inspect the device attached to his dragon's tail. Merida released her brother, noting with some relief that he and Hamish scampered back to the castle, eager to share the tale of their attempted dragon flight with Harris. They'd no doubt try again, but for now, there would be no more attempts to reach the heavens. "Toothless," the Viking explained proudly, "is a Night Fury. He's the unholy offspring of lightning and death!" He gestured dramatically before unbuckling the straps around Toothless's tail, then carefully unhooking the device from the saddle. Up close, Merida could see that something had sheered off part of the Night Fury's tail, and what Hiccup was so carefully inspecting acted in the missing bit of tail's place much the same way his false leg did. There were small tears in the dyed red leather, and Hiccup frowned as he ran his fingers over a rusty spot on one of the rods. "There's nothing in the air faster than us."
From where Merida stood, Toothless looked... smug, the resemblance to the cat only growing with each passing moment. Years of dealing with Angus and every foul tempered horse that had come through the stables told Merida that she'd best be on the lookout for sudden swipes from the beastie's tail, lest she be knocked flat. "Are you now," Merida asked. "I'd wager me and Angus can give you a fair run."
Nothing and no one could outrace Merida on Angus, dragon or not.
Hiccup began the process of reattaching the device to Toothless, eyes narrowed as he studied Merida, a smirk tugging at his lips. "That a challenge?"
It was the smirk that did it. Or possibly just Merida's own pride.
Toothless rolled his great green eyes, laying his head down in the grass with a little exhalation, wriggling until he was comfortable. A great black wing came close to knocking in to Merida's head, but she ducked out of the way before it could connect with a wary glance at the Night Fury. Toothless was still watching her, tail twitching. The false fin opened and closed as it dragged against the grass. "Oh, you are so on."
The last light of the day was slowly fading; too late now to put the Viking in his place. She'd not risk Angus breaking a leg in the dark. Besides, Mum would be wondering what they were up to before much longer. Best to get back to the castle now, and show Hiccup just what Clan DunBroch was made of in the morning.
Hiccup groaned hugely as he untangled himself from Snotlout and rolled out of the bed, fumbling for his leg. Despite Snotlout's own insistence before they'd retired to the room they were stuck sharing, he'd ended up using Hiccup as a personal cuddle toy most of the night. The bed, he thought as he worked his false leg in to place, is too soft.
Sinking into the straw stuffed sack that made up the bed had been a shock, and between the unfamiliar softness and Snotlout's tendency to cling, Hiccup had barely slept. The heat alone had been stifling. Hiccup sniffed, tottering unsteadily towards the basin of wash water the maid had left before scuttling fearfully out of the room. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon, and Hiccup could hear Barf and Belch splashing around in the lake, and when he looked out the tiny window, he could just make out the shape of the Hideous Zippleback cutting through the water. Toothless would be up soon -- if he wasn't already -- and eager for his morning flight. And if that didn't end up being the highlight of Hiccup's day, he'd eat Snotlout's vest without washing it first.
The wash water was tepid, and did nothing to clear the cobwebs from Hiccup's brain.
Snotlout made a noise that brought to mind a particularly testy sheep, and Hiccup watched him for a few moments to see if he would wake. Instead, he gathered the blanket in his arms and began cuddling it in place of Hiccup.
"I'm rooming with the twins tomorrow," Hiccup grumbled at Snotlout. "They don't cuddle."
He was in the process of trying to decide if his shirt smelled entirely too much of his roommate to be wearable when he spotted the ships gliding across the still waters of the lake. He could hear the steady beat of drums keeping the rowers on the same stroke echoing in the stillness of the dawn. Unfamiliar sails caught the wind, bringing the new arrivals closer and filling Hiccup with dread.
Like things weren't crazy enough. Lets throw in some more Scots!
Hiccup could just make out Toothless perching at the end of the dock down below, wings spread as he balanced on his hind legs, like he was trying to get a good look at the oncoming problem. "Sorry, Bud. Looks like our flight's gonna have to wait," Hiccup sighed. It was time to wake his dad.
There was no such thing as pre-dawn stillness in the kitchen.
There was always work to be done; bread to be baked before the day grew too hot, meat to be butchered, dishes to be washed, butter to be churned, meals to be prepared, and people to be fed -- and all the while, people would chatter on like a flock of sparrows. It was a rare thing indeed for there to be absolutely no one at work in the kitchen at any time of day, and Merida was unsurprised to find that that morning was no exception. She filched a bit of hot, fresh bread and listened with half an ear as the maids gossiped, scaring each other silly with tales of Viking wickedness and speculating on when their unwanted guests would set forth on the ravaging and the pillaging.
Merida had heard the very same stories her whole life, of course; it had taken the threat of Vikings invading from the north to bring the four clans together. Peace with them had been hard won, brought about only because the Vikings couldn't fight both her people, winter, and the dragons... but it was so hard to connect the images conjured by those tales with Hiccup. He was little more than a boy, and not even a big, strong one.
The others, she could see it, but Hiccup?
"They're here!" Maudie announced, bursting into the kitchen with an ecstatic squeal, hands flailing. "They've come to protect us!"
The rest of the kitchen flocked around her, leading Maudie to a stool and plying with her tarts and a tankard of small beer until she calmed enough to make sense.
"Who's here, Maudie?" Merida asked, feeling her patience already beginning to wear thin. She loved Maudie, she did, but years of dealing with the young princes had left the woman taut as a bow string, and Merida had little interest in waiting the time it would take her to calm down.
"The young Lords!" Maudie surged forward, clasping Merida's hands in her own before pulling them to her great bosom. "Oh my poor darling, it's almost over now! We'll be rid of those horrid Vikings before the day is out, you mark my words!"
Merida couldn't keep back the groan that rose in her throat. "Thank you, Maudie."
It took some work to wrest her hands free from Maudie's grip. For all her apparent fragility, she was strong as an ox.
"Fionnlagh, get back!"
If Wee Dingwall heard the shouts, he paid them absolutely no mind. His mild gaze was focused entirely on the two heads waving back and forth before him, clearly as confused by the young lord as he seemed to be about everything. Lachlan MacIntosh drew his sword, fear that he dared not admit to threatening to turn his guts to water. He'd faced down Mor'du, but for all the demon bear's terrible power, at least the beast hadn't been able to breathe fire. He could hear arrows being drawn back, but young Boyd MacGuffin shouted for them to stop, lest they hit Dingwall's only son along with the beast.
At least, that was what he thought Boyd said. It was hard to tell. Still, no arrows were loosed. One of the beast's great round heads came close, sniffing at Wee Dingwall's hair before turning to the other head as if consulting with it.
"Fionnlagh!" Lachlan repeated, hoping the use of Wee Dingwall's given name might jar him from the dream world he lived in. Four sets of slitted eyes latched on to him, making his skin crawl. But at least the dragon had lost interest in Wee Dingwall. It would have been a great shame for the lad to be eaten, even daft at he was.
Now if only they could all get through the day without ended up in the belly of a beast. Then Lachlan would the day a great success indeed.
So yes, I went and gave the Young Lords first names. As always, apologies for long delay before getting this chapter done.
Chapter 7: The Gods Hate Hiccup
Taking a few liberties with Zippleback anatomy based on some suppositions. Also, I know next to nothing about horses, and I hope I didn't do too badly with Angus.
As always, the gods themselves conspired against Hiccup. Barf and Belch studied the oblivious blonde with obvious confusion, trying to decide if he should be set on fire or not. A thin trickle of gas leaked from between Barf's teeth while Belch leaned closer, sniffing the boy's hair to see if he might be a fish in disguise -- something Belch clearly often suspected of Tuffnut.
Both heads turned abruptly to the dark haired boy calling Fionnlagh's name; he was backed up by more bow wielding Scots than Hiccup would ever be comfortable with. "Don't shoot!" Hiccup yelled, charging towards the Zippleback. He head Stoick utter an oath to Thor as he thundered after, half a curse for sticking him with such a son and half a prayer that they would make it through the day unscathed.
At least when I get perforated by arrows, I won't be alone.
Hiccup went for the dragon. Stoick went for the boy, not that either of the Zippleback's heads were paying the least bit of attention to Fionnlagh anymore. Not when there was an obvious threat to be blown up. The gas flowed steadily from Barf's jaws, and sparks fell threateningly from Belch, a warning if ever Hiccup had seen one. At least the twins had gotten their Zippleback to the point where it wasn't explode things first, worry about it never. "Whoa, whoa, easy," Hiccup murmured as calmly as he could manage, painfully aware of the certain death to come if he couldn't defuse things quickly. At this range, some of those arrows could penetrate even a Zippleback's tough hide, and there was no shortage of swords and axes to help finish the job.
Not to mention squishy, fragile me.
Stoick could probably take a volley of arrows and keep going, not that Hiccup was eager to see that theory tested.
Barf and Belch came down to inspect Hiccup, in case he too was secretly a fish (or had at least brought some with him). "There we go, that's right, nice and easy..." he continued to murmur, reaching up to rub the delicate skin beneath each head's jaw. The Zippleback flopped contentedly onto the grass, all four sets of eyes closing in bliss.
"The gods hate me," Hiccup groaned. Barf and Belch both snapped back to attention, pupils shrinking to thin lines. Stoick reached for his belt knife, clearly wishing for something more than a few inches of steel. The Scots seemed torn on which was the greater danger -- Stoick, or Barf and Belch. If anyone had been listening, Hiccup might have pointed out that while the Zippleback was a few tons of scaly, fiery doom, Stoick had been killing bigger and nastier things for years, and was still alive and whole. Barf and Belch were only really dangerous if they thought you were food.
The boy who had called Fionnlagh's name drew his sword with a flashy twirl, sweeping the dark, flowing hair from his face briefly to glower at Stoick. A great mountain of a blond stood at his side, thick slabs of muscle rippling beneath his shirt. He carried no weapon, but with his size, Hiccup doubted he really needed one. Stoick bristled, shoving Fionnlagh towards the Scots with a snarl.
Hiccup could see it now. There would be a fight, Stoick and Barf and Belch would end up killing someone who was probably important, and then it would be war.
Just to add another layer of awfulness, Toothless charged into the fray, placing himself between Stoick and the heavily armed Scots. The Night Fury rose up on his hind legs, spreading his wings and letting out a threatening roar.
That was when the first arrows flew, only to be burned to cinders by Toothless and a plasma blast before they could hit their mark.
Which, on the one hand, was great. Because nobody liked getting shot with arrows. But on the other hand, swords. And axes.
"MacIntosh, you put that sword away! Now!" Merida arrived like a Valkyrie descending from Valhalla, astride a mountain of a horse, red hair flying. She brought her mount to a halt between Toothless and the shirtless swordsman, giving a glare that would have done her mother proud. "None of you will be breaking the peace today!" She barely turned her head when she addressed Hiccup, still staring down her people. "Can you get your wee beasties under control?" she asked as her horse danced in place, shying away from Toothless.
"People stop firing arrows and we'll be hunky-dory."
Toothless let out a growl, echoed by Stoick and the Zippleback.
"I'll not stand for a breach of our hospitality!" Merida raised her voice so she could be heard over the growls. "They are guests, just as you are, and you'll be putting your weapons away now!"
"Easy, bud." Hiccup sidled up to Toothless, catching his father's eye before giving his knife a pointed look. Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Stoick sheathed the short blade. Toothless dropped to all fours, still growling as he circled Hiccup protectively -- much to the displeasure of Merida's horse, who stamped his hooves and moved fretfully beneath her. Merida made soothing noises at her mount, rubbing his neck with one hand and using the reins to turn his head away from the dragons. The blonde giant said something incomprehensible and gave MacIntonish's woad painted shoulder a hard shove until he put his sword away.
"That two headed beast nearly ate Wee Dingwall!" MacIntosh pointed out stridently. Inwardly, Hiccup groaned as his father's hand returned to the pommel of his knife.
It would be a Dingwall.
If he'd been born a Hooligan, the Dingwall boy would have been a Hiccup.
In spite of dragons, in spite of Vikings, in spite of Queen Elinor herself coming down to glower at everyone over breakfast, the wee lad was still away with the fairies, barely aware of his surroundings, not unlike Hiccup when he was caught up in his own thoughts. More than that, he didn't look strong enough to life a belt knife, let alone a proper weapon -- but neither had old Dingwall, and Stoick knew all too well the power of the lord's sinewy arms. He'd had no trouble splitting the skull of Stoick's own father in twain.
Wee Dingwall was oblivious... but Queen Elinor was not. While the other young lords were busy trying to take the measure of Snotlout, Hiccup, and the twins, and Fergus seemed totally absorbed in stuffing his gob, Elinor watched Stoick, and didn't even bother to pretend that she wasn't. She saw everything, and she remembered the price that had been paid for peace between the Hooligans of Berk and her people.
Well, Stoick hadn't forgotten, either, and he meant to get his own back. He wasn't a lad under siege from both Scot and dragon any longer. He'd keep the peace, but it was time for a change.
Chapter 8: Breakfasts, Battles, and a Critical Lack of Information
It seems they can't even go an hour without a fight breaking out.
Finally, at long last, long after everyone had given up hope!
My apologies for how long it took. I'm... not particularly good at writing fight scenes, and suffered an unfortunate case of Real Life for a while there.
Up until Wee Dingwall started gnawing on the boy’s head, Elinor thought things had been going astonishingly well. Glares flew across the table rather than daggers, and insults were muttered too quietly to provoke a fight… though the queen knew all it would take was one tiny spark, and the room would explode like a barrel of flour. The young Lords had been quick and not nearly so subtle as they likely thought in separating Merida from the Vikings, and Elinor recognized the expression on her daughter’s face as being especially mutinous. Time was beginning to soften the edge of the girl’s temper, but she still cared very little for being ordered about and ‘protected’, no matter how well meaning the protectors might be.
The vikings were devouring the food laid out on the table, appetites utterly unaffected by the glowering Scots. Stoick was doing the best job of it. After all, what was the pack of puppies to an old wolf? He finished his breakfast and left the table, growling an order to behave before he left.
Fergus, at least, wasn’t actually glowering at anyone. It was entirely too early in the day for him to manage more than a bit of unfocused staring.
Maudie, poor soul, hustled back and forth, flinching at every belch and whimpering every time someone stabbed a slice of ham from the platter.
Elinor split her attention between the oncoming storm and the morning correspondence. After all, a kingdom did not cease running just because there were Hooligans at the table.
Merida had been reaching for the ham when one of the twins speared the last several slices with his knife, laughing as he stuffed them into his gob.
The rest happened quickly, as fights often did. Young MacGuffin and Young MacIntosh thrust Merida behind them while Wee Dingwall launched himself across the table, sending crockery flying as he latched on to the viking’s head and began to gnaw.
The other twin let out a bark of laughter while one of the boys -- Snotlout? Something like that -- tried to pry Wee Dingwall off his victim. Merida repaid Young MacIntosh’s chivalry with a shove that made him stumble while Young MacGuffin reached across the table to use his stout strength to try and detach Snotlout from Wee Dingwall. The viking lad took great offence to the interference, driving his forehead into Young MacGuffin’s nose. The ungnawed upon twin finally came to the other’s defense; Wee Dingwall retaliated with a surprisingly forceful punch, knocking the blonde viking back.
“Hey! Nobody hits my sister but me!”
The twins and Dingwall exploded into a ball of violence as Elinor attempted to absorb what she had just learned (it really was entirely too early in the day for this), shattering one of the benches in their attempts to brain one another, quickly drawing in Snotlout and MacGuffin, then Merida and MacIntosh. Fergus was swiftly absorbed into the battle after that, beset on all sides by both vikings and their own young lordlings while he struggled with wakefulness. Only Hiccup and Stoick seemed able to keep free; the boy ducked and dodged with surprising grace while his father stayed steady as a rock, keeping his breakfast safe from being scattered as everyone else’s had been. It was Hiccup who succeeded in separating Snotlout from MacGuffin for a few moments, even as Elinor kept the MacIntosh heir from slicing someone’s fingers off with a dirk -- in the confusion, Elinor wasn’t really sure who had been in danger of maiming.
Let the girl complain, but there was a reason why Elinor forbade weapons at the table.
Meanwhile, Wee Dingwall switched his attempts at biting someone to death from the viking to Fergus while the twins fought each other.
Enough, Elinor decided, was enough. She drew herself up to her full height and inhaled deeply, then reached out and grabbed Wee Dingwall by the ear, giving it a vicious twist as she stuck the dirk she’d taken from Merida into the table. The boy released Fergus as the battle finally, mercifully, died. Even the twins ceased their wrestling, allowing Elinor a good look at them. Careful study confirmed that one of them probably was female, though she didn’t look all that different from her brother. A bit of roundness about the chest and hips that Elinor hadn’t noticed before then. Her face was certainly no softer than any of the boys, and there was nothing about her manner that Elinor recognized as feminine, but perhaps that was just how viking women were.
Hiccup placed himself between Snotlout and MacGuffin, just as Elinor and Merida did with the lordlings. Elinor focused on soothing ruffled feathers while Merida launched into a lengthy tirade about breach of hospitality again that had poor MacIntosh looking like he would have loved to be anywhere else. Wee Dingwall sat himself on a relatively intact part of the broken bench, scooped a loaf of bread up from the floor, and began to chew with a vapid expression that reminded Elinor of a particularly slow sheep. His eyes seemed locked on the vikings; Hiccup made a poor joke about mad dogs and Hooligans, forcing a laugh while he insisted that it was way past time that they checked up on their poor, neglected dragons.
The viking girl tossed a look over her shoulder, giving her brother a little shove that he returned in kind.
Wee Dingwall raised a hand and waved.
The Monstrous Nightmare was sunning itself beside the loch, his eyes half closed in sleepy contemplation of a full belly and clear skies. If he noticed the the three young princes scouting him from the dubious cover of a barrel of salted fish, he gave no sign. Curious children were nothing new, after all, though there were few this far south who ventured so close.
A saddle was laid out on the grass, just waiting to be strapped on the dragon so some clever lad -- or three -- might take to the skies.
At least, so it seemed to the boys.
There had been some argument between the three before they’d escaped the nursery over who would get to ride the dragon first. A Monstrous Nightmare’s neck was thin, and observation of this particular dragon’s rider in action told them that the rider needed to sit high enough on the neck to grab the horns. Theoretically, all three of them could fit on the dragon’s neck, if not in the saddle, but only one of them could really be in control, and study and debate had lead them to decide that one of them needed to be on the ground with a fish lure.
In the end, Hamish had ended up on the bottom of the dog pile, and so it was up to him to use the smoked eel to keep the dragon in place while his brother’s got on.
The Monstrous Nightmare rubbed his jaw against the long, prickly grass as Hamish left the cover of the fish barrel, his chest thrust out and the eel held high. His brothers scuttled to the saddle, wrestling it off the ground.
To ride a dragon! To master the skies on the back of one of the great lizards! None of the princes had ever seen one so close before, and now they were going to sit astride one!
Maudie would die of shock.
Hamish glanced at his brothers, waiting for Hubert to give the signal. The moment he got the go-ahead, Hamish summoned the courage of generations of brave Scot warriors and marched forward with his lure waving.
Hamish had only a moment’s warning; the Monstrous Nightmare’s nostrils flared, it’s eyes shot open, and it reared back with an unholy howl as it set itself on fire. The boy scrambled back, tossing the eel in the other direction in hopes of distracting the dragon. All three princes were safely hidden in the fish barrel once more before anyone emerged to see what was wrong.
“We need a new plan.”
Chapter 9: The True Nature Of Diplomacy
No one is getting married, Snotlout is a bore, and diplomacy comes more naturally to some than others.
"We can tale 'em," Snotlout insisted. Of course it would be Snotlout. Hookfang followed the haggis Snotlout was waving about to illustrate his point with rapt interest. The Monstrous Nightmare cared nothing about Vikings and Scots, not when there was food to be eaten.
Especially food that could be stolen from Snotlout.
Hiccup pried open one of the barrels of salted fish, checking for eels. "Sure, Snotlout. You can distract them by getting chewed on."
"Yeah, that was great!" Tuffnut pulled his head from between Belch's jaws, triumphantly holding aloft the saddle bag Barf and Belch had been using a a toy. "Especially the part where you started screaming all high pitched-" He attempted to imitate Snotlout's war-squeal and got a face full of haggis for his trouble. Barf helped free Tuffnut of his new burden, nibbling delicately on the sheep's stomach while Belch took a share.
Satisfied that there was no eel lurking within, Hiccup shoved the fish barrel towards Toothless. "We're not here to fight them," he tried to remind the others.
"Yeah, we're here to get 'em to take Hiccup," Ruffnut added brightly.
The thought seemed to cheer Snotlout, still sore over losing his haggis. "Oh yeeeah... how's that going? I bet Stoick can get three -- no, four sheep for you, easy! Maybe even an ox that isn't too old, if he throws in a couple battle axes."
Snotlout had been making the exact same joke three times a day since before they'd left Berk. Astrid had threatened to bury an axe in his skull and feed him to Gothi's Terrible Terrors if she had to hear it one more time, but that had only stopped him from telling it when she was in earshot.
Hiccup could sympathize with her view.
"We're here so Dad can negotiate a new treaty. No one's getting sold off, or married, or anything else."
"No one," Merida said tartly, "is getting married, especially me."
It warmed her heart to see Young MacIntosh shrink into his seat. Merida had been on the receiving end of more than a few lectures in the tower room that Elinor had long since designated as a classroom, and there was something about being the one to deliver the rebuke that gladdened her. "They steal women, you know!" he reminded her defensively. "They're marauders and raiders-"
"And here under flag of truce," Merida retorted. "They're not the ones starting fights over breakfast! If you can't keep the peace, perhaps you should just take yourself home." It was galling, the way these boys seemed to think Merida couldn't see to herself after everything they had all been through, and she'd have been perfectly happy to see the back of them. She'd thought the three of them over viewing her as some fragile flower to be protected.
Young MacGuffin enveloped Young MacIntosh's shoulder with one of his massive, meaty hands, keeping him from rising. Only Wee Dingwall, seated at the window, was unaffected by the mood of the room. He hummed softly -- not tunelessly, but not anything that Merida recognized either.
'This is what Mum feels like all the time.'
"They are here," Merida reminded her three erstwhile suitors, "as a sign of good faith. Once everyone is satisfied that they've been given all due respect, they'll go again. No one's carrying me off, or marrying me off, or anything like that. It's diplomacy."
"Diplomacy is wytin till after denner tae trow the axe," Young MacGuffin said knowingly.
"... right. So! If you're keen on staying, you're being diplomatic. Understood?"
"I ken," Young MacGuffin gave Young MacIntosh's shoulder a small shake, getting a reluctant nod from him.
"I'm staying," We Dingwall announced, never taking his eyes from whatever it was out the window he was so fascinated with.
Astrid lowered the spy glass, keeping one hand on Stormfly's neck as she watched the Outcast ships sail off into the distance. There had been worry that the Outcasts might hear about Stoick's little jaunt and try to take advantage of it. Astrid and Fishlegs had been patroling the waters between Berk and Outcast Island, just waiting for Alvin to make his move.
They sailed south, away from Berk. Taking the same route Stoick and Hiccup had taken.
"There's a lot of South," Fishlegs reminded her with brittle brightness. "They could be going anywhere."
Astrid shot Fishlegs an annoyed look. "Have we ever been that lucky?" The spy glass went into her saddle bag as Stormfly took to the air from her perch on a barnacle encrusted rock, heading for home.
"No," Fishlegs conceded. "No, we're not."
A brief stop in the village for supplies and she'd be off again. So long as the weather held, she could be in DunBrock before the Outcasts could make landfall.
Finally, at long last, after eight friggin' months, an update.
Chapter 10: Escape
In which some escape, and some bond, and dragons are a good dowry.
Boys were insufferable .
Merida had suspected the fact before, but now she was absolutely certain. There had once been a time when she didn’t think she could ever get her fill of a proper brawl, but that had been before suffering through a week of breaking up battles. When it wasn’t McIntosh and Snotlout picking at each other, it was Dingwall and the twins exploding into violence for no reason.
Meanwhile, Mum’s mood grew darker and darker after each closed door meeting with Stoick. She muttered to herself, and Merida wondered if her mother wasn’t giving serious thought to taking up axe throwing as a hobby, with the Hooligan chieftain as her target.
Merida might have been glad that her brothers weren’t adding to the chaos, if she hadn’t learned years before their their silence only meant they were plotting something spectacular. Her only hope was that it wouldn’t be as bad as the time they exploded the stables with a barrel of flour.
If the goal was to keep her from speaking to Hiccup, then they had been well and truly successful. They’d barely had a chance to exchange more than a few words before someone threw a punch, or set the ends of someone else’s hair on fire-
Enough was enough. Merida could play the good hostess only so long.
Angus was saddled, loaded with enough provisions that Merida would not have to return until well after supper, and no force could make her return until she chose to.
Her bow on her back, she climbed into the saddle, making her escape with the breaking dawn.
There was something comforting in how children, no matter where they were from, were so very alike. Hot ale chased the morning chill from Stoick’s bones, and only a few stone lengths away from him, Fergus leaned on the parapet and let loose a familiar, weary sigh. “Does your do this?” Fergus asked, waving a tankard in the direction his daughter was going, her hair a rapidly shrinking red banner in the early morning light.
“Aye. At least yours can only go as far as a horse can take her.” Stoick cast his eyes towards the loch, and his own offspring taking to the sky.
They agreed, silently, that they had never been like that.
Had Elinor or Gobber been there, they might have provided significant evidence to the contrary. But as both were absent, King and Chief could rest comfortably in their certainty that their offspring were terribly irresponsible, and they had never been so pig headed.
Elinor had been going over the week’s menu when she heard it. The noise was unmistakable -- she’d heard it directed at the castle walls more than once in the last year.
If Wee Dingwall could be said to have one saving grace, it was his fine voice.
Sadly, he had little sense of rhythm, and a penchant for crowing like a cock with the sunrise. He’d been delightfully quiet since his arrival -- when one didn’t include the fights -- but Elinor had known the peace was too good to last.
What made her drop her pen, spattering ink across both the menu and her dress, was the new name lurking amongst Dingwall’s lackluster lyrics. Even Maudie, ever a fan of the young lord’s lyrical style, was scandalized as Wee Dingwall sang of the virtues of Ruffnut’s fine eyes and fair skin.
If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Lord Dingwall would have a fit the moment word reached him -- and reach him it would, the way his son was wailing. Then he’d be storming the castle with his whole clan, which would send Stoick into a rage, and-
Dragons or no, Dingwall would have war if this wasn’t handled with the greatest of care.
Had I a dragon , Elinor thought, already composing a missive to Clan Dingwall in her head while giving orders to the kitchen staff, I would speak to Dingwall myself .
The letter would not go to Lord Dingwall himself -- Elinor knew the man was barely literate -- nor to his lady, a sweet and simple soul who was the fourth woman to be granted the honor of being Lady Dingwall.
No, Elinor would make her case with Morag, the eldest of Dingwall’s daughters. Elinor knew the woman to be Lady of Dingwall in all but name, and that she was blessed with a shrewd mind that made up for a face and figure that bore an unfortunate resemblance to her father’s.
There was much, Elinor thought, to be said for a sister-in-law who brought a dragon as part of her dowery.
Dragons had never been much of a problem in the lands around Castle DunBroch. There were stories of Mor’du leaving half eaten carcasses of Monstrous Nightmares on the edges of his territory -- before the vikings had come, Merida had never seen anything more interesting than a Timberjack, and then only at a distance.
So she wasn’t actually sure what it was perched atop the Fire Falls. It was a beautiful creature, with scales the color of a clear sky and rows of spines like fine plumage that it dug it’s beak into, grooming them with all the attention to detail that her mother put into her own grooming.
The lovely but deadly dragon was almost enough to distract from the lovely girl with the battle axe in one hand, and a stone that seemed to glow with sunlight in the other.
Another chapter up! Once again, apologies for how long it's taken. In my defense, I AM working on a webcomic ( http://www.bmr-comic.com/ which you all should read if you love me), real life, and doing terrible things to monsters on Diablo 3.