Chapter 1: Prelude/Chapter 1
Thirteen years. That’s how long Berk had been at war with the southern Yorvani. ‘Southern’ was not an accurate term, he supposed. The Yorvani had spread out like a disease over the Wilderwest—nearly surrounding the small country of Berk.
He looked out his bedroom window. From here, he could see miles upon miles of farmlands—and beyond that, the distant Eastern Mountains. And none of what he saw even belonged to Berk anymore. The Yorvani had claimed them as well—thirteen years of bitter war—fighting to the tooth and bone to keep themselves safe and independent—pointless.
At least the people of Berk would be allowed to continue their daily life as usual, not much would change, save for the fact that they would be subject to the Yorvani’s barbaric and cruel rule. His father, the king of Berk, would be kept as a prisoner in one of the Yorvani’s strongholds. Alive and well treated, but a prisoner nonetheless. At least they had the sense to know that his father would be a useless puppet king—he would find ways to have his own bidding done. But the thought of his father as a prisoner pained him. The fact that he would most likely never see him again pained him even more.
It was Yorvani tradition to kill the former rulers of the countries they conquered, and to force their own traditions upon its people. But Berk would be safe from that, at least for now. Reluctantly, Hiccup had made sure of that.
He wondered if what he agreed to do was degrading in some way—he would never be king of Berk, but it was certainly better than a Yorvani execution.
There was a knock on the door, and Hiccup stood quickly, nearly knocking over the candle at the table he was sitting at. The door opened and a guard stepped through. “Milord,” the guard said. He was Yorvani, Hiccup recognized instantly. “They are expecting you.”
Hiccup nodded, glancing at the tall mirror standing at the other side of his room for a moment, before chastising himself. So what if he didn’t look his best? He shouldn’t care about that.
He followed the guard through the castle, wondering if this would be the last time he ever set eyes on his childhood home—the home that should have been his to live in and rule till the end of his days.
As he entered the large reception room, he found, to his surprise and shame, that there were faces he recognized. Lords and ladies of Berk who were spared. But most were Yorvani, looking at him in interest. Most likely they came with their liege—the High War Chief of the Yorvani, eager to see Hiccup and measure him up to their standards.
The crowd parted, and he saw a figure standing facing away from him, clad in intricate armor. Golden hair was pinned to her head in many intricate braids. The guard who had escorted him, cleared his throat, and the woman turned, fixing startling blue-grey eyes on him.
Under different circumstances, he would have thought her beautiful. But at the moment, all he could do was shiver under her attentive gaze. He felt a blush inch up his neck as her eyes traveled down his body, hidden as it was beneath court clothes. Finally, her eyes rose to his. “You are Prince Hiccup?” she asked.
He nodded, unable to speak.
She smiled, nodding her head in slight acknowledgment. Then she turned away, and continued her conversation with the two men she had been speaking with.
Hiccup let out a long breath that desperately needed to be released. Just like that, attention diverted away from him, and he was left feeling cold and empty, relieved as he was not to have over fifty set of eyes on him.
So this was High War Chief Astrid, daughter of the War Goddess Kor, and Divine Leader of the Yorvani.
He supposed there could be worse women to become the consort of.
TO BE CONTINUED?
Consort au except Hiccup is the consort ;))))))
So this is a new au I’ve started, is this a story you guys would be interested in reading more of?
This chapter is a prologue, so it’s much, much shorter than the normal chapters, which will most likely will be longer, should you guys want more :)
Note: The rating of this story may be bumped up to M at some point, depending on how detailed I decide to go on the story. I just haven’t written that far and it’s not clear to predict.
Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own the copyright or IP of the HTTYD franchise.
See you soon (hopefully)!
To his relief, he was sent back to his own chambers after his uncomfortable, and fleeting, introduction to the War Chief. He sat at his table, looking out at the farmlands, squinting his eyes to see the comforting fires and lit windows in the distance. This may be the last time he saw this view.
He was only thankful that he did not have to spend the night with Astrid. He knew that would come eventually—after all, his purpose as her consort had to be more than just for politics. He heard rumors that she needed an heir, to secure her family’s position as the leaders of the Yorvani.
He would not be the king or chief of the Yorvani and their conquered lands. He wasn’t going to marry the war chief. At least, he didn’t think so. At best he was going to be somewhere between a husband and a concubine. He would hold no power in either the state or their relationship. That had been made clear to him by those who negotiated this deal.
He didn’t sleep that night. His things, already packed, were gone from his room, having already been loaded onto the carts that would bring him to the war chief’s home. He slept in an empty room, with an empty, hollow feeling in his stomach and chest.
A knock came at his door during the early hours of the morning. Through the cracks in the closed shutters of his rooms, he saw slivers of dull, greyish light. The sun was rising—but it had not yet breached the Eastern Mountains.
He lay in bed as long as he dared—knocks came quicker and more urgent, until the door opened, and a Yorvani woman stepped in. “Out of bed,” she ordered.
Unlike the war chief, this Yorvani was of a darker complexion, with two greying black braids hanging down her back. She wore a dress of green and grey linens, intricately embroidered. The Yorvani were nothing if not extravagant in their appearances.
Hiccup slowly got up, too tired and emotionally spent to respond with something bitter and sarcastic. Instead, he accepted the clothes that the old woman thrust at him, and then stared after her as she left the room, slamming the door behind her.
He got dressed, spending a moment to look at himself in the mirror. He looked himself—tired, with deep circles under his void eyes. But his clothes were of Yorvani fashion, though similar enough to that of Berk. The difference was instead of simple, practical clothing, they were made of fine cloths, all embroidered with patterns and tales he did not know, though he could swear the scene on his right sleeve was of the Battle of Hourn. It was obvious which side the Yorvani were—for the warriors of Hourn were all beheaded and gruesomely maimed.
The door to his room swung open again, and the Yorvani woman came up to him. “Come, boy,” she snapped, grabbing him by the sleeve and pulling him out of the room. She held onto his sleeve firmly, as if she believed he would make a run for it if she did not keep him in her clutches. Soon, they reached the outer courtyard of the castle, where many wagons with chests and boxes, as well as dozens of horses and riders, waited for him.
“Where is my father?” Hiccup asked, looking around desperately for a glimpse of the man.
“Gone,” the woman said, weaving with him through the crowds of horses and riders. “Set out for Jothrani a few hours ago.”
Hiccup’s eyes widened. “What? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“I did not realize you were needed to send off guests of the War Chief,” the woman said. Hiccup bit back the remark that ‘guest’ was far from the truth for Stoick Haddock. Finally, they reached the center of the courtyard. There, he saw her, War Chief Astrid, standing at the head of a large grey mare. She was not wearing as fancy of armor as she had the night before, but it was still far more ornate than that of Berk. Her hair was now in a single braid down her back, silver thread and red silk ribbon woven into the plait. She turned her head to look at him.
“I presume you slept well last night, Prince?” she asked.
She seemed so calm—as if taking the young sons of her enemies as her consorts was a daily affair. She quirked her eyebrows when he did not answer. “You look cold,” she said. She raised her hand, and a man came forward with an exquisite fur cloak draped over his arms. She took it from him and stepped up to Hiccup.
Though she was a good few inches shorter than him, her presence was suffocatingly powerful. She was close enough that he could smell the exotic oils and perfumes on her. As she reached behind him to place the heavy cloak around his shoulders, he could feel her warm breath on his neck, and his own breath nearly caught in his throat.
Then she leaned back, clasping the cloak with a brooch. “This,” she said, resting her middle and forefinger on the brooch, “Is the crest of my family. It will protect you.”
It will mark him as belonging to her, she means, he thought, wishing he could rip it off and throw it into the mud at his feet.
“Your horse has been prepared,” she said, “Though we have spares. Berk horses are not built for long travels—nor the challenges of wilder lands.”
Another man led his horse forward, a brown gelding by the name of Baron. He accepted the reins, and hesitated, watching as Astrid returned to her mare and fed her an apple from a saddlebag. Finally, he mounted his horse, waiting in the saddle for when they would start.
He took a moment to look around the courtyard. There was such a variety of persons in the large space. The Yorvani were a varied people, originating from all places of the world. Some had dark skin of deep hues, others, a wide range of browns, and many looked no different than Berkians. These would be his people now.
He might live among them, but he would not be one of them.
He would only belong to them. As human property.
He looked back at Astrid, to see her whisper something to her horse, and then walk around to her side, mounting quickly.
Instantly, there was a shift in the courtyard. Orders rang out, and people hurried to their horses and carts. Astrid urged her horse forward, traveling through the crowd towards the gate of the castle. Unsure of what to do, Hiccup urged Baron to follow her,
As they traveled onto the open road, the horns blasting to signify the start of their journey, Hiccup sneaked a glance behind him. The long trail of wagons and carts and riders shocked him. He quickly looked forward, taking in a deep breath.
He wasn’t used to riding this long. His backside was sore from sitting in the saddle, and his legs and back ached. Even his neck and arms were sore. And he was thirsty and hungry.
With a start, he realized Astrid had brought her horse up next to his. “We’ll be stopping in a few hours to rest the horses and eat,” she said. “There’s a river up ahead that we can refill our water supply. Here,” she handed him a leather canteen. Like everything else Yorvani, it was excessively ornate.
“Thanks,” he said, too thirsty and exhausted to be petty and refuse it. He drank with large gulps, and nearly emptied it. He handed it back to her. She smiled as she accepted it, then reached into one of her saddlebags, bringing out a small package of cheese cloth. She offered it to Hiccup.
He stared at it, before looking back at her. “What is that?”
“Take it,” she said. “You look famished. I’m guessing you didn’t get breakfast.”
He frowned, then reached out and grasped the package. He opened it, and found little, round doughy objects inside. “What are they?” he asked.
“Dumplings,” Astrid replied. “Gana made them.”
He looked at her quizzically.
“She woke you up this morning,” Astrid explained. “She oversees my personal servants and house.”
“Oh,” Hiccup said. He picked up one of the dumplings. It was soft and squishy between his fingers. He bit into one, and was surprised to find that there was some kind of cooked vegetable and meat filling inside. “It’s good,” he said with a mouthful of the food.
“They are,” Astrid answered. “Eat up. I don’t want you falling from your horse before we get to the river.”
She urged her horse forward, and Hiccup watched as she headed back to the front of the caravan. He ate another dumpling, watching the back of her golden head, her armor sparkling in the sunlight. Perhaps she wasn’t so bad after all.
But then he remembered all that she did. She murdered countless Berkians—not to mention the already conquered lands. She thrust her people’s traditions and religions on those she conquered. She sent his father away to be a prisoner for the rest of his life, under threat of death, without even letting him say goodbye.
He couldn’t trust someone like her. And he wouldn’t.
When his feet touched the ground, they were numb, and he nearly toppled over. Thankfully no one was looking at him, which saved him the embarrassment from standing like he had been kicked in the groin.
“Boy,” he heard a voice say, and looked up to see Gana walking up to him. The woman was short—at least a foot shorter than him. “Come, bring your horse,” she said, motioning impatiently for him to follow her. He did, and was brought to the river’s edge. Baron drank thankfully from the water, and Hiccup knelt down, scooping the icy liquid in his cupped palms, drinking the crisp water.
“You’re not used to riding this much,” Gana said, stating the obvious.
“No,” Hiccup replied, standing up. He stretched. “How much further is Cartan?”
“About three fortnight’s,” Gana replied.
“A month and a half?” Hiccup asked, eyes bulging.
“No use complaining about it,” Gana snapped. “The only problem is that your horse may not last the journey. But we have others you can use. When we reach Cartan, the War Chief will most likely gift you with one from the royal herd.”
Hiccup frowned, wanting to tell her that he would refuse such a gift, but instead looked out across the sparkling water. “Where will we be sleeping?” he asked.
The question he wanted to ask was ‘where will he be sleeping’. Would he, perhaps, be sleeping in the War Chief’s tent? He hoped not.
“We’ll ride on along the river for a few more hours, and then we’ll set up camp,” Gana said. “It takes a while, with this many soldiers and lords.”
Hiccup nodded. Finally, he looked at Gana. “Don’t you have other stuff to do?”
Gana narrowed her eyes. “Don’t think I will let you out of my sight,” she said. “I don’t trust you, Boy. I don’t know what it was that made the War Chief agree to take you as her consort, but I do not approve. I’ll be watching you. One step out of line, and I will report you to the High Council.”
Hiccup’s brows furrowed. He had heard of the High Council of the Yorvani. But he also knew that they could not have much power—for the War Chief held supreme control and power. Her word and rule was absolute.
“Now,” Gana said, “Come, bring your horse, and let him graze. We’ll get you some food.”
He took Baron by the reins and led him away from the river, following the old woman to where a few men were tending to some horses. She spoke to them in some foreign dialect, and they took Baron’s reins, eyeing him curiously. She then snapped her fingers and he followed her to where a few soldiers were sitting around a fire, cooking meat. “Sit, Boy,” she said. “I must tend to the War Chief. But Hada will make sure you behave yourself.”
She gave a man with flaming red hair that swept in every possible direction a meaningful look, before turning and sauntering away.
“Looks like you managed to piss off the Shrew,” Hada laughed. “Don’t worry, she’ll warm up to you eventually.”
Hiccup gave him a wary smile, before sitting down.
“So you’re Hiccup,” another man, with dark skin and a shaved head, his body covered in golden markings, said.
“Yeah,” Hiccup said, as someone handed him a mug with some broth in it. He took a moment to admire the creativity of the mug—for it was glazed and decorated beautifully, for all that it was clearly simple to the Yorvani.
The men around the spitfire studied him for a moment.
“Well,” Hada said, “Here’s luck to you,” he lifted up his mug, and all the men followed suit, drinking heartily from the hot liquid.
Hiccup wished he could do the same, but the tone and look on their faces made him want to ask questions, not busy himself with food. “Why do you wish me luck?”
Hada looked up from his own ornate mug. “Oh,” he said, shrugging with a wry smile on his face. “The Sun is… you know… a high strung woman. An aggressive and powerful warrior. And as War Chief, her rule is absolute, which I’m guessing includes the bedroom.”
The men chuckled at this, but Hiccup frowned. Astrid seemed pleasant enough. But perhaps he was nothing more than some… thing she owned to boss around and control.
He reminded himself that it was for the greater good. That he was saving countless lives, including his father’s, by ‘consorting’ with the War Chief.
“I think it’s ready,” the man with the golden markings said.
Hada stood up and walked over the spit eagerly, cutting into it with an extravagant hunting knife. “By Kor, it is,” he said. “Alright boys, get your plates ready.”
Hiccup was handed a plate, with meat on it. As he ate, he listened to the men’s bawdy talk, wondering if all Yorvani were like them.
The tents that the Yorvani used were nothing like he had seen before. They were large, and rounded, made of thick material that most likely would ward off most wind and rain and weather. Inside, the floor of his tent was covered in furs, and in the center was a small fire, heating the tent comfortably. There was a cot on the opposite side to the entrance, as well as pillows made into some kind of seat of sorts. There was a short table with food.
He was left alone quickly, though he knew two guards were posted at the entrance. Hungry, and thirsty, he ate the food. It was similar to the Berkian food: stew, bread, cheese, and chicken. But it was spicier than the food he was used to. The drink was milk, thick and creamy, and there was some wine as well.
He listened as the sounds of the camp grew quieter, as outside the air grew darker and colder. By the light of the fire, he walked to the cot and climbed under the covers. He pulled the furs up to his neck, shivering though he was quite warm.
He closed his eyes, ready to fall asleep, when he heard a murmur outside. Someone was there, talking to the guards.
Then the flap of the entrance opened, and a figure stepped in.
Gone was the armor and traveling clothes. Instead, simple and comfortable clothing had replaced it.
He sat up suddenly, staring at her.
War Chief Astrid looked back at him, the hint of a smile on her lips, before walking towards him with slow, decided steps.
TO BE CONTINUED…
What could the War Chief want with Hiccup at this late hour? You’ll just have to wait and see! (Don’t worry, it’s nothing nefarious)
See you soon (hopefully)!
“Stop—” he managed to get out, when she was just past the fire.
She froze, one foot in front of the other, eyes widening ever so slightly. Then, she relaxed, standing there, watching him. “I’m not going to hurt you,” she said, after a moment.
“Yeah, well, from where I’m sitting, you seem a little threatening,” he said. “Unless visiting guys in their bedroom after hours is a regular habit of yours.”
She cocked her head to the side, giving him an annoyed look. “I do not.”
Again, he felt the surge of panic that had filled him when she first entered the tent. He moved away from her slightly. “I told you,” she said quickly, “I’m not going to hurt you. I didn’t come here for that.”
He frowned. “What?”
“You may be my consort—which is why no one bats an eye by my visiting you tonight, but I have no intentions of forcing myself on you—or anyone,” she paused, studying him. “I did not come here to seduce you, but to talk. We won’t get many chances to talk privately until we reach Cartan, if at all.”
“If you don’t want to… then why did you agree for me to be your consort?” Hiccup asked.
Astrid sighed, stepping forward and sitting on the edge of his cot. “Why? Many reasons. I need an heir. Eventually,” she added, glancing at him through the corner of her eyes. “If I marry someone, that man will have the power to unseat me. As it is, I’m afraid I would not put it past some of the other noble families of the Yorvani to try to do such a thing, or any man, really. This way… I can remain War Chief, and eat my cake too.”
“So what you’re saying is that eventually, you and I are going to need to…” Hiccup paused, too embarrassed to actually say the words. “Great. I mean, I knew it was going to happen, didn’t realize all you wanted me for was that.”
“Did you expect any differently?” she asked, giving him an amused glance. “It’s not like I care what happens to Berk. And before last night, I had never even met you. You just happened to offer a plea for a bargain just when I was desperate enough to make one.”
Hiccup was silent.
“But I am not so desperate,” she added, “As to hurry things along. We’ll wait until we’re both ready.” She paused, and Hiccup wondered what she was going to say, “I wanted to get to know you a little better.”
“Huh,” he said, feeling a little taken aback by this statement. She wanted to get to know him? Why?
“After I give birth to a child, boy or girl, it doesn’t matter, you and I can stop… consorting with each other. You do not need to worry about that. After that duty is complete, which will only be attempted when you are ready and willing, you will live your life in luxury in Cartan, separately from me, with visitation rights to the children you fathered.”
He gave a lackluster shrug. A life of luxury as a former consort was worth nothing compared to his right as future king of Berk. And the ability to see his father again.
“I understand that you… have reservations about me. I’m sure you have heard stories about me. I will not lie and say they are not all true. But I will never harm you or force myself onto an unwilling person. You can trust my word on that.”
Hiccup slowly nodded. He was starting to believe that, just perhaps, the War Chief would respect those boundaries. “Well, it won’t be for a while,” he said. “Before I’m ready to… you know.”
She nodded. “I understand.” Then, “You must understand, you are not my husband.”
He frowned. Why was she telling him this?
“You are my consort—you do not have the privileges of being a husband of a War Chief, or a husband of a woman.” She was studying her hands, and he saw that there were a few faint scars on them. “You cannot tell me what to do, or expect me to do your bidding. Nor do you have any claim to rule or govern anyone, save the servants I instruct to care for you in Cartan. As War Chief, you must always do my bidding. I do not mean in the bedroom. But my orders are absolute, for any Yorvani. You may not be one, but you will live under my protection and House. Do you understand?”
“I… I kind of figured that stuff out,” he said. “And, the people you sent to negotiate the deal pretty much left little to the imagination as far as my rights would go.”
She nodded again. “As such, I will not be obligated to tell you anything. Your purpose among the Yorvani is to beget me an heir. Nothing more, nothing less. As I mentioned before, once that task is complete, you will be left alone. You won’t have to worry about… being with me again. But… I have no desire to sleep with a man I do not know or care about. So… I wish, until we are ready to start trying, to get to know you a little. If that is okay with you.”
He stared at her. Her voice had grown somewhat soft, and he realized that the Great War Chief, daughter of the War Goddess Kor, and Divine Ruler of the Yorvani, was in a vulnerable state. Suddenly, she did not seem as scary or intimidating as she was before. “Uh,” he said, unsure of what to say. Not quite willing to offer her a word of comfort. “Sure.”
“What do you like to do?”
“I like to create stuff,” he said, after a moment. “I guess. I mean, is most of the stuff successful? Probably not. But I enjoyed designing things and even when they didn’t work properly it was fun trying to figure out what went wrong.”
She looked at him in interest. “I’ll have to get you a space to work,” she said. “To occupy your time.”
He waited for her to ask another question, but she did not, only looked at him expectantly. “How old are you?” he asked, finally, breaking the silence.
“Twenty-five,” she answered.
“What? Really? Did you know we are the same age?” Hiccup asked, surprised that she was so young.
“I did,” she answered. “Though my birthday is a month before yours.”
“Huh,” he said.
They lapsed into silence. “What was your life in Berk like?” she asked.
Surprised by this question, he took his time in answering. “Well, for starters, things aren’t as… extravagant as your people. We like simple wooden mugs and plates.”
Astrid snorted. “Sounds boring.”
“And we don’t embroider impossibly detailed scenes onto all our clothes,” he added, brandishing his sleeve as demonstration. “What’s with that?”
She looked taken aback, and for a moment, she looked angry, but then she laughed, though it sounded slightly forced. “You’ll have to get used to it,” she said. “We Yorvani enjoy our culture. When we get to Cartan, you will most likely be shocked by the…extravagance,” she rolled her eyes as she said this. “It will be a stark contrast to that dirty little castle you called home.”
“You say that like I’m happy to be leaving there,” he said.
She turned her head to look at him, her eyes measuring him carefully. He could not see any emotion or pity on her face—the vulnerability that she had shown earlier was now gone. “You agreed to the terms,” she reminded him.
“You can’t deny I didn’t have much of a choice,” he said. “Become your consort—or my father would be killed and my people enslaved.”
“Not enslaved,” she corrected. “Ruled by a more fitting hand.”
He clenched the furs with his fists, an act that did not go unnoticed by her.
“I did not come here to quarrel with you,” she finally said. “I came here to get to know you better. But perhaps that too needs time. Perhaps you are not ready to get to know me.”
“Maybe I’m not,” he said.
Her mouth fell into a thin line. “It will be easier if you do. We’ll have to produce a child eventually. It will be more pleasant if we don’t resent each other.”
His mouth curled slightly in a grimace. She said it so easily—as if he could forgive her completely and throw himself into her arms and take her right there. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “I’m rather tired, and sore, and Gana told me they’d be packing my tent up before daybreak.”
She stiffened slightly, and then nodded. “Very well,” she said, standing. “I’ll leave you to sleep, Prince.”
She left, not speaking to the guards stationed outside his tent. He watched the fire for a moment, and rolled onto his side, drawing up the blankets and furs up to his neck again. He wondered if she would visit him often, while they traveled to Cartan. Or if she would now ignore him. He knew she spoke the truth. Sleeping with each other would be easier if they at least liked or tolerated each other. At least he wouldn’t have to be her consort after she conceived a child. That alone should be incentive enough to get the job done as fast as possible. Get it over with.
But somehow, he wanted to make her suffer. He wanted to make her wait. She was clearly eager for an heir. And since she had chosen him to father it… and since she claimed not to be of a mind to force him to do anything he would oppose, he knew it was on his own time that a child would come.
It seemed, in a small way, he held some power after all.
Hiccup yawned, tugging his cloak to bring it closer around him. The caravan had been traveling for almost a week now, and the landscape was starting to look different. Less farmlands, more trees. He would have thought of running off—disappearing into the woods. But the Yorvani were famed trackers. They would hunt him down easily. Not to mention he would be putting countless lives at risk by doing that.
As his tent was packed up and placed on a cart with the rest of the little belongings he was allowed to bring, mostly books and papers and his private work, as well as some clothes, he watched as the Yorvani broke down the camp with an ease and expertise.
The Yorvani were a mostly nomadic people, and originally were exclusively so. Clearly they had skills in getting on the road quickly.
“You don’t have to watch me all the time,” he said, speaking to the two guards who stood a little ways off. “I’m not going to run off.”
They ignored him—only watching him and the surroundings carefully. He exhaled and resumed his silence, standing by Baron’s side.
His guards hardly left him alone all week. One was a short woman with brown skin and eyes and curly golden hair. The other was tall, pale, with black hair and green eyes. They rarely spoke to him, although the blonde sometimes spoke in a Yorvani dialect that he did not understand. Whatever she said, he knew it was unpleasant, for she always wore a sinister smirk on her face, and was usually reprimanded by her companion.
He had not spoken to the War Chief since that first night. She seemed to be ignoring him as well. He couldn’t complain—he would rather not see the person whose people, on her orders and plans, single-handedly destroyed his own country.
The blonde guard, by the name of Camicazi, of House Bog, mounted her horse, as Heather, the dark haired one, did as well.
“Get on your horse,” Camicazi ordered, flashing him a grin, revealing a large gap between her front teeth.
Hiccup gave her an unamused look, before getting into Baron’s saddle. The caravan was starting to move, and he nudged Baron into a walk, his two diligent guards followed on either side of him.
When he could stand the silence between them anymore, he asked, “What is Cartan like?”
Heather shrugged, but it was Camicazi who spoke. “Oh, it’s nice. Nicer too since it’s been changed and improved since we moved there.”
“Since you invaded it, you mean,” Hiccup said.
“The Yorvani lived in those valleys for thousands of years, long before the Murers settled there,” Heather said, speaking up. “It was there the first meeting of the High Council was held—which is why it was a fitting place to claim as our capital, fourteen hundred years later.”
Hiccup eyed her. “Killing hundreds of people, throwing them out of their home, and taking their city and kingdom is… what… justice?”
“Did you know,” Heather said, eyes trained ahead, looking for any sign that might alert her to some danger. “That Halei rests in the valleys of Cartan?”
Hiccup shook his head. He had never heard of a Halei.
“It is a spring,” she continued. “It is… extremely sacred to us, for it is where this world and the realm of the gods connect.”
Hiccup’s brows furrowed in skepticism.
“For all our history, no matter where one lived, or what your clan or tribe was, it was tradition to travel there at least once in your lifetime. To offer a gift to the gods, for blessings, and to win favor to live with them when we die.”
Hiccup and Camicazi waited for Heather to finish what she was going to say.
“The Murers, like all of the Wilderwesterners, made us pay rent when we brought our flocks and herds onto their land to graze. For a nomadic people, it made tending to our livelihoods difficult, having nowhere to go that would not charge us and take advantage of us. But the Murers,” she paused, clenching the reins in her gloved hand. “They charged extra for the right to visit Halei. And when they grew tired of charging us till we had nothing left, they refused to let us visit it.”
A saddened look fell upon her face. “When we took back the land—the Halei had been ravished, soiled and polluted. It took two hundred years, and it is not yet fully healed. Its holy waters had been defiled by those who held it in no meaning and honor.”
Hiccup took in a slow breath, his mind reeling from this information. A part of his mind reminded him that she might be lying—but the desolate look on her and Camicazi’s face nagged at him. “Well, the Murers are… not very nice people,” he said.
“Berk wasn’t much better,” Camicazi said. “Your kings had a habit of chopping the ears, sometimes the heads, off those of us who could not pay their debts.”
Hiccup looked away. It was a nasty part of Berk history he would rather forget. “We haven’t done that in over half a century.”
“No,” Heather agreed. She finally turned her head to look at him, her mouth curling into a slight sneer. “Because we’re the ones chopping off ears now.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
She’s speaking figuratively, of course. Though, admittedly, the Yorvani do have a habit of beheading those of power of the Wilderwesterners who might try to cause uprisings (such as former kings).
EDIT: the "thousands of people" was a typo. I meant to write hundreds.
A little more information about the Yorvani’s history is revealed. More will be revealed as Hiccup learns about it.
Thanks so much for reading!
See you soon!
“Have you eaten your mid-day meal?”
He froze for a moment, quickly tying the laces to his trousers, before turning around and facing Astrid. “What do you want?” he asked, annoyed that she had bothered him while he had been relieving himself.
Her fingers tapped her side, hands on her waist. “I don’t like repeating myself,” she said. “It’s a waste of valuable time. And unnecessary, when I know you heard me.”
“I haven’t,” he said, after a moment’s silence of glaring at her.
“Good,” was her answer, and he could tell she was pleased. “You’ll eat with me in my tent.”
She turned to leave, but he stood rooted to the spot. When she sensed he was not following her, she paused, turning to look at him. “Did you not hear me?”
He quickly looked away, before meeting her gaze again, his own gaze hard. “You’ll just order me to eat with you—just like that?”
“You have two options,” she said plainly, sounding bored, “You can come with me freely—or I’ll have your guards bring you by force.”
With a sharp breath of frustration, he stepped forward angrily, falling into step with her. They traveled through the camp, gaining the attention of those eating their meal and tending to the livestock and horses. They reached her tent, which was far larger and grander than his own or anyone else’s.
A guard lifted up the door, and she entered, Hiccup following.
It was the first time he had been in the War Chief’s tent, and he hesitated just inside the door, looking around in awe. Furs of the highest quality lined the floor. There was a table with maps and papers, and a shorter table for eating, as well as pillows with intricate patterns and embroidery. There was a large bed on the other side, and a bathtub near it.
“Well?” she asked, “Do you like it?”
“It’s a lot nicer than any other place here,” he said stepping in farther.
“Yes,” she nodded. “I am The Sun, after all.”
“I’ve heard some people refer to you as that,” he said, leaving the question hanging on his lips.
She nodded, gazing down at the fire in the middle of the tent. “I am the War Chief, but my title is Sun. For I am the daughter of Kor, Goddess of War and Light.”
“So… The Sun, is not a Yorvani title for the War Chief?” Hiccup asked.
“It is, but in my case, it is divine providence that it should be my title.” She shrugged, motioning to the food. “I have food for us to eat—I’ve decided to have you acclimated to Yorvani food, as you won’t find Berkian food easily in Cartan.”
He glanced at the short round table, and the multitude of food there. “We’re eating all that?”
“Of course not,” she laughed, and he looked at her sharply, not having heard her laugh so pleasantly before. The sight of her smile pressing into her soft cheeks, her eyes crinkled in amusement, almost made her look prettier than usual. “I want you to try different things. These are, of course, made with limited supply. And the leftovers will be handed out to my personal staff.”
“Well, I am the adventurous sort,” Hiccup said, taking a step towards the table.
“Wait,” Astrid’s voice cut in as an order, causing him to freeze. “Not like that.”
He turned to look at her in confusion. Not like what?
“You’re filthy,” she said, “You haven’t had a proper bath in nearly two weeks, not since you left Berk, and even then, I don’t trust you Berkians to know true cleanliness.” Her nose wrinkled at this, as if recalling bad memories.
“So you brought me in here to, what, show me delicious food and then claim my people don’t know how to clean themselves, and taunt me for the fact that I’ve been traveling on the road for two weeks?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Aren’t you the romantic.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, “You will eat—after you bathe.”
His arms dropped to his sides in surprise. “What?”
His eyes drifted over to the tub—and saw now that there was steam rising from it. In a moment, he felt conflicted. He desperately wanted a bath. Dirt, dust, grime and sweat, not to mention other foul things that come from not washing oneself often enough, made him feel repulsive. He had been dreaming of a bath since the end of the first day of riding. But did he want to have a bath in Astrid’s tent? And… would she even leave for him to bathe in privacy?
They stood there, watching each other. He rocked from his heels to the balls of his feet, anxiously waiting for her to say something. To tell him she’d be back soon, or even to just say anything that might give a hint as to her intentions.
Then, slowly, a smirk formed on her lips. “Well?” she asked.
“Well?” he countered quickly.
“Aren’t you going to get undressed?”
His eyes widened slightly. “With you in here?” He looked around, and saw that there was no squared off section for privacy. If he got undressed with her in here, she would be able to see him.
“You say that like we’ll never see each other naked,” she said, sounding amused.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to force me to do anything I didn’t want to do?” he asked.
“You don’t want to take a bath?”
The smirk was still on her lips.
“You have to be here for me to bathe?” he asked, “What, afraid I’ll drown in the water?”
“I have the only bathtub in the camp. And the bath is already been prepared, so naturally, we cannot move it to somewhere more private. And besides, this is my tent. I’m not leaving you alone in here,” she said. “There are too many valuable things to leave you unattended.”
“Think I’ll steal something?” he asked drily.
“No, things can be reacquired. But information,” she gave a short shrug. “There are plans and documents in here that are worth far more than your life. And I’d rather keep your life.”
He stared at her.
“The water will get cold if you keep standing there, gaping at me like a fish,” she continued.
He gritted his teeth. He supposed her being in the room while he was bathing was better than spending the next month depending on their being a river or lake to rinse himself off in. With jerking, annoyed movements he reached to his side to undo the sash around his middle, dropping it to the ground. His tunic loosened around him, and he brought it over his head, dropping it to the ground as well.
He grabbed the hem of his undershirt, before pausing, looking up at her. She was watching him expectantly. “Do you mind?”
“I don’t,” she said, her voice still amused.
He dropped the hem. “You’re enjoying this too much.”
“Maybe,” she said, with a nonchalant shrug and a sly smile. She turned around and walked to the bed, sitting down, facing away from him.
He walked over to the tub, glancing over at Astrid’s back, before quickly disposing of the rest of his clothes, and stepping into the tub. The hot water stung him, but in such a pleasant way he could only let out a small sigh as he slowly sank into the misty, aromatic water. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the edge of the tub, which was lined with padded cloth.
After a moment of enjoying the tingling sensation of the hot water, he grabbed the sponges off the small table by the tub, and dipped it in the bowl of fragrant soaps. The smell was overwhelming as he scrubbed his body with it, and he knew he would smell far too nice for a day or two.
He placed the sponge back on the small plate, and was just about to start scrubbing his hair, when he heard rustling behind him. He stiffened, as he sensed someone kneel behind his head. Two hands appeared in his vision, dipping into the water, careful not to touch him, before retreating just as carefully.
Out of the corners of his eyes, he saw her pour some balm into her hand from a vial, and winced when he felt her hands sneak into his hair, the tips of her fingers digging slightly into his scalp. “W…what are you doing?” he breathed. His breath hitched and his eyes closed automatically as she began to massage his scalp.
He felt his skin grow hot, as she massaged the oils and lotions into his scalp and hair, and his eyes grew lidded, his mind growing numb—and suddenly he jumped away from her, realizing that if this continued, he’d be in a worse predicament than her just seeing him unclothed. “I—uh,” he said, looking down and then over his shoulder. She was kneeling behind him, eyebrows raised in confusion. “I’m sorry, I’m just…”
He knew his face was redder than the ornate band around her head. “Oh,” she said, then she smiled, and he wanted to say something biting and sarcastic and intelligent to smack the smile off her face, but instead he found that no intelligent thought could penetrate his mind for long enough to make it to his lips.
She licked own her lips slightly, and the next words she said nearly ripped through him like a knife through butter. “Do you… need help?”
He stared at her. Did she just say that? “What… what about not doing anything until I’m ready?”
“If you’re not, I won’t,” she said with a shrug.
“Then why were you… doing that thing with your hands,” he said.
“What? Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of washing hair,” she said with a grin.
“But why did you have to do it, and do it like that,” was his desperate attempt to win the argument.
“It’s Yorvani tradition to wash the hair of your lover,” she said.
He stared at her. “You could have mentioned that before.”
“Well, I apologize if you found it distasteful. I promise, I had no… ulterior motives. You’ll have to get used to people washing your hair when we reach Cartan. It is no different than a servant washing it, since we are not lovers yet.”
“It’s entirely different,” he muttered, looking away from her.
He heard her rise to her feet. “I’ll go to the other side of the tent. You can get out and get dressed in the clothes I set for you.”
After a few moments, he glanced over his shoulder to see her sitting at the table with food, back to him. He took in a deep breath, rinsed out his hair, and stood, getting out. The clothes she set for him were of Yorvani fashion, and he quickly got dressed.
“Are you finished?” she called to him. “The food will get cold.”
“You did that on purpose,” he said, harshly, walking over to her. “You’re going back on your promise.”
“I would never,” she said, visibly bristling. “I did not realize you would react in such a way.”
“Didn’t you wonder why lovers do it in the first place?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I’ve never had the chance to try it out. I merely thought…” she paused, her voice face turning slightly pink. “I merely thought it was a nice gesture. It is not just lovers who wash hair—but anyone intimate. Family, some friends. It’s…” she bit her lip.
He frowned, wondering why it was so difficult to answer.
“As War Chief, it is… inappropriate to lower myself to do it for anyone. Except someone who is either my husband or my lover—and even that has its limitations. The lover has to be of more than just someone of romantic interest. Someone permanent—like… the future father of my children.” She studied the cup she was holding, “I wanted to try it out, now that I… have someone that qualifies.”
“Oh,” Hiccup said after a short while, feeling slightly awkward. “I’m… sorry I got angry with you.”
She shook her head. “I should have told you what I was going to do. Or asked you for permission to do it. You do not know our customs and… I… am not used to explaining myself to people. I won’t do it again.”
To his detriment, or rather, against his petty desire to resent and reject her, he wanted to tell her that he had, in actuality, rather enjoyed it. And that is why he had reacted so angrily. He could see in her that she spoke the truth, and that she had no intention of taking advantage of him. He simultaneously wanted to tell her that he did not want her to do it again and that he did, very much. Instead of contemplating on these thoughts, he changed the subject. “What food is this?”
“Oh,” she said, perking up. “Well… there’s gaju,” she took off the lid of a small clay pot, and reached in, taking out what looked like a fat ball of white stuff.
“Dumplings?” he asked.
“Cheese,” she answered.
He frowned, “Cheese?” That seemed normal enough. He reached out and she placed it in his palm, and he nearly dropped it in surprise, for it was soft and pliable, having a consistency similar to snot. “This is cheese?” he asked, skeptically.
“Yes,” she answered. “But don’t eat it yet. You slice it and put it on this,” she took a small piece of hard looking bread, a cracker of some sort, and spread some kind of deep red jam on it. Then she reached into the pot and took out some more of the strange cheese—gaju—and sliced it with a knife, placing it on the jam. She placed a strange green herb on it to top it off. She got up from her seat, taking it in her hands and walking to his side of the table. “Open up,” she said.
“I can feed myself,” he protested.
She sighed. “Fine.” She placed the cracker with its toppings on the table, and sat back, waiting for him to try it.
He took it in his hands, and put it in his mouth—for it was the perfect size for a single bite.
His eyes widened in surprise at the pleasant mix of spice and texture. “It’s good,” he said.
She smiled widely, seeming almost excited. Then she turned and spooned out some kind of stew. “Eat this, next,” she said, offering it to him.
This time she placed the spoon in his mouth, and he nearly choked, the avalanche of flavor and spice overwhelming him. “That’s…” he coughed. “Very… spicy…”
“Your tastes are clearly not ready for Taijhan food,” she laughed. “They have the spiciest food of all the Yorvani.”
“Taijhan?” he asked, after he had drunk the creamy milk from the mug she handed to him. “Who are they?”
“One of the clans that make up the Yorvani,” she said. “You know one: Ramir.”
“Ramir?” Hiccup said, remembering the man with the golden paint markings on his body and face. It made sense, for he was always complaining that the others did not put enough spice in their food, though it was always well enough spiced for Hiccup. He looked around the table, eager to try more, when a sudden thought crossed his mind. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, turning to look at her suspiciously.
“What do you mean?” she asked innocently.
“Why are you… being so nice to me—letting me bathe, trying to bond by washing my hair, giving me this feast…” Hiccup narrowed his eyes, waiting for her answer.
She sighed. “You made it clear two weeks ago that you have little intentions of getting to know me. I wanted to change that. I’m afraid I accidentally overstepped the cultural boundaries with the hair washing but… I do want to get to know you. Even after we conceive a child, and you won’t have to even see me again, you’ll still be the father of my child. I want to make sure you and I get on—and that there is little animosity between us. For the sake of the child.”
“Oh,” he said, blankly, not sure what to say.
“And… I do not wish to lie with a man who strongly dislikes me,” she added. “There seems to me that there would be little pleasure or satisfaction in that.”
He couldn’t help but agree there. But how could he make her understand that it would take a long time before he was ready to lie with her? That he could not help but think about his people, forced to live under her rule. About his father, a prisoner for the rest of his life. He would never see his father again.
“Well,” he said, taking another sip of milk, “You’re off to a good start, I guess.”
She smiled. “Tomorrow we will reach the city of Hatharlhu, where we will stay for a few days. Then it is merely a few weeks journey to Cartan.”
“I think you will like it there,” she said. “You will live comfortably, and… will want for nothing.”
He was tempted to remind her that he was perfectly content in Berk, before she and her people conquered them and he was forced to make a desperate decision to save his people and father. It seemed to him that she had rarely a thought that he would find resentment towards her. That he would fault her for anything. He supposed the supposed daughter of a goddess, and the leader of a people like the Yorvani, would think herself above such thoughts. That he should be thankful she spared his life and his father’s. He sighed.
He knew it would be easier if he learned to trust her, and at least stopped hating her enough to get the job done and over with. But he couldn’t. He wanted to make her wait and suffer, knowing that she needed him to produce an heir, unless she chose someone else.
Perhaps that would be best. He wondered what would happen if she decided that another, more eager man, would be better. Would he be beheaded for being useless?
As he ate the food, he decided that he could, perhaps, trust her enough not to kill him for refusing her. She did not seem that barbaric.
So for now, she could wait.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thanks so much for reading!
See you soon!
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thanks so much for reading!
See you soon!
Chapter 5: A Dark and Stormy Night
Long time no see! (at least with this story.)
Anyway, I'm getting back to finishing some fics that I've started over the past few months (years)... and this one was at the top of the list! So I decided to dust off some chapters I had written, and see if anyone is still interested in this story of mine.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He had never seen so much open space in his life. The Plains of Rain, or the Haleithir, as the Yorvani called it, were incredibly vast. To the left he could see the Eastern Mountains, purple and grey in the distance. It had gotten warmer the farther south they drew, but here on the open plains, with nothing to stop the heavy gusts of wind, it was freezing. It was worse at night—not on only one occasion did he consider going to the War Chief’s tent, if only for the warmth of another body. But that, of course, was a ridiculous notion, and not one that he let occupy his mind for too long.
Instead, he focused on the grasslands around him. They stretched for miles—and at times he could see herds of animals with their shepherds, moving across the landscape in the distance. There was a sort of… culture here, deep within the earth. Though he had not seen up close or spoken to any inhabitants of the Haleithir, he could feel it in those around him. There was something sacred about these plains, in the earth, the grass itself, the sky. Every once in a while, Heather and Camicazi would tell him something about the land, some mythos or legend, something to occupy his time during the long, and mostly, and unusually, quiet trek.
“You come from droplets?” he asked, squinting into the horizon, trying to picture the image that Camicazi had painted into his mind.
“Golden droplets,” Camicazi corrected. “Straight from the world of the gods.”
“So… you’re saying the droplets… grew out of the earth… into people?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “And all the plants and beasts also grew from these magic raindrops from the sky?”
“You’re not from our culture, so of course you’d have a hard time believing,” Heather answered. “But yes, that is how it goes.”
“Hm,” Hiccup rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’s actually… quite interesting.”
“And the Halei,” Camicazi continued, “The waters from the Halei came from that very same rainfall. Which is why the water is so sacred.”
“All water on Baë originated from the rainfall,” Heather cut in. “But the Halei is still the most concentrated. Or at least… it was. And,” she turned to give Hiccup a smile, “Do you know what halei means?”
“Rain,” Hiccup answered. He had guessed that much already.
“Very good,” Heather said.
“I’ve actually begun picking up the language,” he said, changing the subject. “Or at least, I think I am. So many people here speak different ones.”
“Different dialects,” Heather corrected. “We all speak mainly the same language, but each group uses slightly different dialects. One can communicate relatively efficiently with anyone, even if you don’t know all of them. To some extent of course. It’s not uncommon to find a dialect that has evolved too far and too differently for even those most knowledgeable about the different dialects to understand.”
Astrid had informed Hiccup that he would be receiving tutelage from Cartan’s most prestigious teachers when they reached the city. Despite his current situation, he found the idea… exciting. It would give him something to do, at the very least. “What is Astrid’s… what is with her lately?” he asked, after a moment of contemplating silently.
Heather looked at him sharply. “Do not call her that,” she growled.
“Don’t mind her,” Camicazi laughed. “She’s just resentful.”
“Because I’m a Wilderwesterner?” Hiccup asked, meeting Heather’s glare with a challenging one of his own.
“No,” Camicazi said. “Because you are the Sun’s consort.”
Hiccup’s eyebrows rose. He looked back at Heather. The implications were clear. Heather stared forward, glowering at the backs of those ahead of them, confirming what Camicazi implied.
“Well, we can trade places anytime,” he joked with a shrug.
Heather kicked her horse slightly, urging it forward. She trotted ahead, then rode steady enough before of them to be mostly out of earshot. Hiccup and Camicazi watched her for a good few moments, before Camicazi spoke. “Don’t mind her… she’s always had eyes for the the Sun, but…” she shrugged. “Doesn’t matter, anyway. Not to you, at least. What was your question?”
“What is with As—the Sun?” Hiccup asked. “Two weeks ago she invited me to her tent to eat with her, and then she’s barely seen me since. I mean, we’ve run into each other a few times, or more, she’s sought me out for a few moments’ conversation, but…” He supposed this sounded like complaining, and considered correcting that implication. It was confusing that Astrid would be so intimate with him and then ignore him for two whole weeks.
“It’s nothing personal,” Camicazi said nonchalantly. “She’s been meeting with some of her generals—doesn’t have time to devote to you.”
Hiccup looked at her, startled. “Don’t tell me you’re getting ready for another war.”
She shook her head. “No, we generally like to rest our people after one. But there’s always uprisings. And other countries coming to the aid of their allies. You know, most of the countries we conquered were done so because people attacked us.”
He stared at her. “Because you attacked their allies!”
She chuckled in response to this. “We attacked the Murers, certainly. And then their neighbors came to their aide. So we fought them, and defeated them. And they wouldn’t accept defeat, so… we took over their lands. Of course, we did outright attack some people, but… sometimes we were just defending ourselves.”
“And killing people, such as the rulers of that country, and forcing your customs on their people?” Hiccup asked.
“No different than what any country does, when a war is over,” Camicazi shrugged. “It’s a cruel world, Hiccup. No different than what we suffered for centuries at the hands of your people. It’s all a matter of perspective. Where in time you happen to be born.”
Hiccup couldn’t believe his ears, nor her audacity. But he could not find a proper argument to fight against her. He was too tired from hours of sitting in a saddle fighting the cold.
“And besides, they could leave Baë, and return to the lands your people came from, if they’d rather. We always give them that option.”
“But this is their home,” he protested. “And we’ve been here for centuries—some for a thousand years.”
“It was our home first,” she replied with another shrug.
Hiccup let out an exasperated sigh. But as he did not feel like losing anymore arguments, he kept quiet. It was confusing enough, to have these conflicting facts running through his mind. To an extent, what Camicazi was saying made a sort of sense. But he hated to admit it. Nor, he thought, would he ever aloud.
“Good news, though,” Camicazi said. “We’ll be reaching Hatharlhu soon. You’ll like it there. You’ll be able to sleep in a real bed. You might have to sleep with the Sun though,” she added as if in an afterthought.
“What, why?“ he asked sharply, staring at her in horror.
“Because, it’ll be expected,” Camicazi said. “Most people know that she took you as her consort. While most don’t approve, many more think it’s good fun, turning a Wilderwesterner prince into a glorified concubine,” she sniggered for a moment, and Hiccup glared at her. “But,” she continued, “They’ll expect you two to be… in the throes of passion still. Like rabbits.”
“But we’re not in the throes of passion,” Hiccup hissed. “And I doubt rabbits have much passion either.”
“But that’s what your purpose is, right?” she asked. “Like rabbits?”
He let out frustrated noise. He would have to speak to Astrid—tell her that he insisted on a separate room. Separate tent or house if possible. He was sure she would agree to that.
He tried to ignore Camicazi’s lewd chuckling. He looked up at the sky—it was halfway from noon to sunset. That meant that they would be slowing soon, to break for camp.
These past few days they had sometimes traveled through the night, trying to get through the plains as quickly as possible, not to mention it was warmer to move instead of lying still. Hiccup could understand the rush. The plains were beautiful, but there was no relief from the conditions, and it was tiring.
Soon, the horn was blown, signifying it was time to stop.
Hiccup dismounted, thankful for the chance to stretch his legs and and walk on firm ground. He could not wait until they reached Hatharlhu, and beyond that, to Cartan. It was strange. When he first left Berk, he wanted nothing more than to turn around and go home. Now that he was closer to the Yorvani capitol, he found himself wanting nothing more than to just get there. And to sleep in a proper bed. And to take a bath as often as he’d like. And to not have to ride a horse ever again.
As the servants and solders began to set up the camp, Hiccup saw two persons walking towards him out of his peripheral vision. Hada and Ramir. He sighed, before turning to face the two men.
Ramir’s golden markings were starting to fade, but they still contrasted beautifully against his skin, catching the eyes of anyone who might be in his vicinity. His clothes were pristine and orderly, with not a stain on them. Hada looked as much the opposite as was possible. His bright red hair seemed to stand out even more, despite the fact that Hiccup strongly suspected the man had not bathed since they left Berk. His clothes were haphazard, and looked like he neither washed nor changed them since they started out from Hiccup’s home, and he had his usual crazed look on his face, his blue eyes beaming at Hiccup.
“Good evening to you, Consort,” Hada said, giving a little mocking bow. “I hope the ride was not too cumbersome?”
“It was quite pleasant, actually,” Hiccup lied.
“It’ll be another cold night,” Hada said. “So cold, one would be a fool not to…” he gave a shrug, and a slight bucking of his hips, “Bundle up with another.”
“Are you suggesting we bundle up, Hada?“ Hiccup asked, as he removed Baron’s saddle. “I’m flattered, but you’re not my type.”
Hada’s smile dropped away, as Ramir sniggered. “That ain’t what I’m suggesting,” Hada said irritably. “I was…” he swore in Yorvani, then spat in Hiccup’s direction and stalked away.
“You shouldn’t make jokes like that,” Ramir said, still chuckling. “To insinuate publicly that someone wants to bed you, when you already belong to the Sun, of all people… that’s dangerous business. Anyway, he was merely going to ask you if you’ll be sleeping with Astrid tonight,” Ramir continued, chuckling again. “You see that?” he pointed in the direction of the horizon. Hiccup’s gaze followed his finger, to see that he was pointing at low, grayish, purple and pink clouds.
“Clouds?” Hiccup asked, looking back at Ramir, confused.
“Those mean a storm is brewing. We won’t be able to travel for a few days. It’ll be cold and miserable enough that one might actually want the warmth of another person.”
Hiccup frowned. “And why are you telling me this?”
Ramir shrugged. “Hada wanted to see your face when he suggested you spend the night with Astrid—and if you’ll take my advice, it’s not a bad idea.”
He turned and walked away after Hada.
Hiccup finished his work on Baron, and handed the reins to one of the horse masters. “Will it really be bad weather?” he asked Heather.
She nodded. “We might be stuck here for up to two or three days,” she said. “At least, that’s what news from the front says. Camicazi and I will be in our tent, not yours. It might behoove you to stay in the Chief’s—if only for the company.”
Hiccup scowled. He didn’t fancy spending the night—two, maybe three, with her. Even if it was just for practical reasons. He joined Heather and Camicazi, and a few others, for a meal, and then retired to his tent. The fire was burning on peat, giving his tent a distinct smoked smell.
He heard the rain hit the roof of his tent… and the sides, which was not to his surprise, but soon the rain put out the fire, as it fell through the top vents that let the smoke out. It was not long that he began to worry that should he fall asleep, he may not ever wake up. Shivering violently, he made a rash and desperate resolution, before it was too late. He flung himself off his cot, grabbed his cloak, and donned it, wrapping it tightly around himself.
When he stepped out of the tent, he found himself assaulted by wind and rain. Soon his eyes watered, though he could not tell what was tear or what was rain. And this was only the beginning. Very soon, no one would be able to stand up without supports, according to those he ate dinner with. There were no guards about, the only life that he could barely see through the thick downpour were the livestock and those that cared for them, miserable in every sense.
He did not know how he got there, except by pure luck and upmost desperation. There were no guards posted outside, and when he slipped past the door, warmth hitting him like a pleasant dream, he finally managed to breathe properly.
His relief from reaching his destination was short lived, for moments later, he found himself pinned to the ground, a knife to his neck, his arms held tightly behind him.
“I didn’t think one of my own company would take advantage of the Haleitar to try to assassinate me,” a voice hissed in his ear.
“I’m not taking advantage of anything, you stupid woman,” he growled back. “And I didn’t come here to assassinate you.”
There was a pause, and the knife slipped away, his arms jolting as they were freed from her grip. The weight lifted from him, and he got to his feet. He turned to glare at her, and found her gazing at him curiously. “What did you come here for?” she asked.
“My tent was freezing,” he answered. He realized he was hugging himself, as if proving his point.
“And you came here?” she asked, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
He stood, not sure what to say, or how to say it without implying what he was considering. “If you’d rather I return to my own tent, I can,” he said finally.
“No,” she answered, shaking her head. “It will be warmer in here. In fact…” she paused suddenly, as if reconsidering her words. “No. It will be warmer in my bed.”
He frowned, if only to hide his thoughts. “We’ll be sleeping together often, I presume,” he said with a shrug.
She smiled, but her eyes were wary. “Are there particular activities that you have planned for tonight?”
Irritated, he shook his head defiantly. “Is that the only thing you think about?”
It was her turn to shrug. “Only when you’re concerned.”
“So,” he said, brushing off his clothes, before slipping off his soaked boots and cloak. “That’s all I’m good for?”
“That’s all you’ll be needed for,” she said. She watched him as he took off his outer clothes, leaving only his bedclothes afterwards. His clothes were wet, and clung to him. “You’ll catch your death, if you don’t remove those,” she said, voicing his thoughts.
He glared at her. “That’s just what you want, isn’t it?”
She smirked. “I won’t look. I’m afraid I don’t have much of a fire anymore,” she looked skeptically at the fire pit, which, while sizzling, seemed to have no flames and little coals. “This tent was not made for Haleithir, and especially not the Haleitar. But we make do. Luckily, it’s waterproof.”
“How do you stay warm?” he asked. “I come from the North, and I’m frozen.”
“Coals, under my mattress,” she answered. “Once those go out…” she shrugged. “We haven’t had a storm this bad while passing through in some time. I’m sure rumors will start once it passes.”
“Rumors?” he asked, standing awkwardly, hugging himself, not sure what to do now that he was here in her tent.
“That it’s you,” she said, “That brought the rains. Good or bad, has yet to be seen.”
She gave him a sharp look. He realized his teeth were chattering painfully, and his body tense from trying not to shudder equally as violently. “Get out of those clothes,” she said, in a sharp and commanding voice. “This is freezing rain—a rare specialty of these plains, even this far south. I am not jesting when I say you will die if you do not get warm and dry soon.”
Startled, and believing her, for they had freezing rains in Berk, he began to undress. She quickly turned away, walking over to a chest and drew out some clothes. “These should fit you,” she said, turning round and walking towards him. He quickly covered himself.
“Do you mind?” he demanded.
“Don’t be prude,” she snapped, throwing the clothes at him and turning away irritably. “You came here, remember? Besides, this isn’t exactly…” she trailed off, waiting for him to dress.
He was thankful that the clothes did indeed fit him. Astrid may be a woman, and slightly shorter than him, but she was muscular and strong. He was all scrawny arms and legs, and though strong himself, he was wiry. The clothes were much finer than those he wore usually, no doubt made of the finest silks and linens.
Astrid had gotten into her bed, and he wondered if it were large enough for the both of them. Shivering, he decided he didn’t care. He slipped in after her, laying on his back, perfectly still, so as to not to accidentally touch her. He stared up at the tent ceiling, wondering if she was looking at him.
Daring to sneak a peak, he turned his head slightly.
She was looking straight ahead, sitting up, and hugging her knees to her chest. She seemed tense, as if him being there made her uncomfortable. In fact, she almost seemed… afraid.
“What, never shared a bed with a man before?” he joked.
She shook her head. “I never wanted to conceive,” she answered. “I mean, of course I did. I need an heir, and… I do want children. A family. But if I slept with a Yorvani, the father would have claim to my throne, if he gained the support of the people.”
“I thought The Sun had absolute power?” Hiccup asked, raising an eyebrow.
She snorted. “That’s how it should be. But it is not how it is. The Yorvani have more than one system of government. There is me, leader of the military, and… well, overall leader of the peoples and lands, and then there is the High Council. They oversee many things, things that can be taken out of my control if they so wish.” After a few moments of contemplated silence, she said, “You think I would willingly choose to have my heir fathered by a Wilderwesterner? The mere thought is preposterous. But my family has been on the Yorvani throne for over a century. The other clans and families are growing restless. They’ll want to unseat me soon, replace me with a new clan or house. That’s why my heir must not give anyone any… ability to make that happen sooner. That’s why… I chose you.”
He stared at her in the darkness, the only light other than the embers in the fire pit was a small lantern on her side of the bed. Her face, therefore, was cast in shadow, but even then, he could see the troubled look on her face. “Oh,” was all he said. He knew all this already, but the look on her face now told him much that he did not know before.
“It’s warm,” she said softly.
“Yeah,” he replied stupidly, “The coals are nice.”
“No,” she shook her head. “I mean, with you here.”
“Oh.” Then, “Yeah, you’re right.”
She shifted closer to him, almost touching him. She was lying on her side now, her eyes closed, but she wasn’t sleeping. “Hiccup…” she said, quietly.
“Yeah?” he asked.
But what she was going to say, she did not get the chance to. She was soon asleep. He stared at her restful face—wondering when he would fall asleep himself. She looked so peaceful, he almost wanted to just lay here and watch her—somehow seeing her like this made her more human. More likable. More… vulnerable.
And he realized that he could do something that would upset the balance of everything that had happened in the last two hundred years.
He sat up, reaching with shaking hands for her neck. He could catch her unawares. He would be killed, of course. Mutilated and horribly tortured. But the Yorvani would be in such chaos, each clan and house vying for the chiefship, that perhaps the Wilderwesterners could have a chance to cast them out of their lands. Moments before his skin touched hers, he paused.
She breathed in slightly, a small, shallow breath, and when she exhaled, a soft smile twitched her lips.
And he realized he couldn’t kill her. Not now. Not while she was sleeping and defenseless. He made to move away, but his fingers brushed against her neck, and her eyes fluttered open. “What… is it?” she murmured drowsily. And he suddenly realized something else. She had fallen asleep with him here. Him, her former enemy, intensely so for thirteen years. Him, her prisoner of war. Somehow, she trusted him enough to let her defenses down.
“Nothing,” he said quickly, settling back down onto the many pillows. He stared up at the ceiling, wishing he could fall asleep. The intense warmth of the coals beneath him and a living, sleeping body next to him granted his wish, lulling him to unconsciousness.
The coals had gone out. So had the lamp. He shivered. He wanted the warmth back. There was heat to his left, and he moved instinctively towards it. He came into contact with something warm and soft and comfortable. It didn’t take him long to wake up enough to realize it was Astrid.
He made no attempt to move away, but strong arms slid around him, holding him close to her. “Stay,” she murmured, buying her face in his chest.
He was content to stay there, his mind too numb with sleepiness and comfort to deny her.
“Hiccup,” she said, her words slurring with drowsiness.
“Yeah?” he asked, allowing himself to drape an arm across her waist. It was hard to hear her over the roar of the winds and rain outside.
But she was asleep again, and soon, he followed.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thanks so much for reading!
He was aware of being warm. Very warm. A little too warm. He opened his eyes, realizing that his body was reacting to something—some pleasant dream he might have had. He quickly realized that dream was reality.
That dream was Astrid.
He quickly moved away from her. Instantly, she stirred, then sat up, reaching under her pillow and drawing out a hunting knife. She had him pinned down in an instant. He wished she hadn’t. It wasn’t helping his current situation.
“Hiccup?” she asked, her eyes clearing of drowsiness. She let out a breath, removing the knife quickly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” she trailed off, frowning.
He felt the color rush to his cheeks, and after a moment, her eyes widened. For a moment, she seemed unable to decide if she was upset or amused. She teetered between the two emotions, before rolling off him with a chuckle.
“Is something wrong?” she asked, seeming to decide on amused. She propped herself up on her elbow. “You seem a little… flushed.”
“You know exactly what is wrong,” he snapped, sitting up and turning his back to her.
The storm was raging outside, and it was still dark, though he knew it was morning. There would be no leaving the tent. He was stuck here until the storm passed. He closed his eyes, focusing on things that he did not find arousing. Trying to not let his mind wander to the feel of Astrid’s body flush against his…
“Hiccup…” he heard Astrid say softly. “Hiccup… You can go… to the other side of the tent… if you need to…”
He rolled his eyes, before turning around to look at her. “Don’t think this means anything.”
She raised her eyebrows, her lip curling slightly. “Is that so?” she asked.
“Yes,” he nodded. He took in a deep breath, and reluctantly slipped back under the covers. “This sometimes happens to men… it usually doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
“Oh,” she said softly.
His back stiffened slightly as she drew up next to him. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“It’s warmer like this,” she said. “It’s freezing… or didn’t you notice?”
“I hadn’t noticed,” he lied in bland tone. “But I don’t see how that—”
“Just… shush,” she said. “I’m not forcing you to do anything. I’m just… snuggling. Completely harmless, no?”
He sighed. He supposed she was right. But then again, they snuggled last night, and look what happened. He lay there, relaxing, rather liking the feel of her pressed up against him, despite the person who the body belonged to.
“Do you hate me?” she asked, surprising him. “No, don’t answer that.”
“You don’t want to know?”
“I already know,” she said quietly.
They listened to the rain pelting against the tent. A fast, erratic drumbeat.
“You know,” she began, “I spent a few years on the Haleithir.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Yes, when I was a child,” she said, nodding gently against his arm. “My father thought I would be assassinated… and there were other reasons too… reasons that… it was not safe for me to remain in Cartan.”
“If your father was the War Chief…” Hiccup said slowly, “Then doesn’t that mean he could just… do away with any threats against you?”
“Not all threats,” she said. “Some were even beyond his reach. Anyway,” she hastily continued on, before Hiccup could ask her to elaborate. “My father sent me to live with my uncle Hachai, the Head Herdsman of Hatharlhu. I lived there for five years, until I was of age, at fifteen. Ramir went with me as my companion.”
“Ramir?” he asked, surprised. “How old is he?”
“A few years older than I,” Astrid said. “He was mainly my tutor. The people of Hatharlhu put more energy and importance in the natural knowledge that Bae has to offer, rather than letters and mathematics. Ramir was there to make sure I was properly educated in Cartan fashion, by the time I returned.”
“So the two of you are friends?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Ramir and I are close friends. Though we do not see each other often now. I am… busy…”
It seemed she was about to drift off to sleep, when suddenly she started awake again. “Oh,” she said. “That’s right… Hiccup…” she sat up, placing a hand on either side of his head, peering down at him. His breath hitched, the sight of her braid tumbling over her shoulder and her unbound cleavage visible to him was somehow erotic in the low light. She smiled, “I have food here. Are you hungry?”
“Oh,” he said, both relieved and surprised at his own disappointment. “Right, yeah, I could eat.”
“Okay,” she said, moving off him and slipping out of bed on the other side. “Can you get the fire going again? It would be nice if we could fill the coal boxes before we get back into bed.”
He set to the work, watching as Astrid prepared the food, all meant to be served cold. After a moment, she brought over a tray. She set it down, sitting down next to him. “Eat,” she said.
He did, watching her as she eagerly ate some food herself. “You seem different,” he said. “More pleasant. More natural.”
She looked at him in surprise. “I suppose…” she said softly. “It’s just… no one will interrupt us, you know?”
He drew his hand away from his mouth, the piece of bread forgotten, and gave her a quizzical look.
“You know,” she said, rolling her eyes and heaving a breath of resentment. “I have a certain image to keep up. ‘High War Chief’ and all that. Hardened by long years of battle,” she added in a deep, gravelly voice. “No mercy for her enemies, no pity for traitors. That last part is true, of course, but…” she looked at the bread, a heavy and deeply regretful look on her face. “The other things…”
She quickly took a bite of food, and after she swallowed, she said, “Tell me about Berk. I rarely hear about what countries we conquer were like before we… well… conquer them.”
“Oh,” he said. “What would you like to know?”
“Do you have any holidays?” she asked, after giving him a flat look.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Snoggletog. It’s around the winter solstice.”
“What is it like?” she asked.
“It’s…” he said. “It’s… well, it’s… kind of like this winter festival where we give gifts, and create trees out of axes and shields, and decorate real trees, and… it’s all great fun. Or at least… it was…”
“But the people of Berk can still celebrate it,” she said. “We did not impose the High Councils laws on them.”
“The High Council?” Hiccup peered at her curiously.
“Oh,” she said, a look of understanding dawning on her face. “Right, you wouldn’t necessarily know, would you. Well, about thirty-five years ago, during my Grandfather Juther’s time as War Chief… the High Council, the other system of government that we Yorvani have, they are a kind of… uh…” she searched for a word, “They deal with the laws of our people. Anyway, they decreed that any land under Yorvani rule would follow our customs and culture.”
He stared at her. “So it was the High Council that decided that?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “My grandfather tried to fight the decree, but there was nothing he could do about it.”
“Why don’t you fight against it?” he asked.
She frowned. Then blew out through her nose irritably. “Every few years,” she said. “The people of Cartan demand a revote of the decree. Claim it is against Yorvani values and the laws of the gods to impose it. But… the Chairman of the High Council is… a formidable man. Even I cannot cross him or oppose him without consequences.” Her hand shook slightly at this, as if remembering something she would rather stay forgotten. “He was the one who proposed the decree thirty-five years ago. An official decree. We encouraged, perhaps even strongly encouraged under some rulers, the conversion to our customs and religions prior to that… but we never enforced it.”
“Sounds like a pleasant man,” Hiccup said drily.
“You’ll meet him when we reach Cartan,” she said. “But, I warn you, do not mix yourself up in his affairs. Do not… do not let yourself be ensnared by him. He is not someone to cross—but he makes a bad ally as well. And he’ll disapprove of you, I’m sure. I’m sure he’d love to replace me. He’d be happy to have a more ‘puppet-like’ War Chief on the throne,” she spat. “He’s always hated me, and… not, at the same time. In his own, strange, twisted way.”
She glared down at the piece of bread in her hand. Then she popped it in her mouth and chewed furiously, and when she was finished, she was back to a more pleasant version of herself. “Tell me more,” she said, “About Berk. I am curious.”
“Well,” he said. “What else do you want to know? My friends that your soldiers killed? The lords and ladies that were executed for being a threat? My father who was sent to prison?”
Her face was still impassive, but there was a fire in her eyes. “It is true,” she said, “That your father is in prison. And I know the names of every lord and lady who were executed. All unfortunate, but necessary. As for your friends who died on the battlefield, I claim responsibility for my soldier’s actions, but not for the morals of those actions. War is terrible. There are many casualties… for both sides.” She stared down at her hand for a moment. “I lost many a friend in this war as well, Hiccup. You are not the only one who was left scarred by loss.”
He watched her. “Why not stop, then” he asked. “Why keep fighting, instead of allowing us our freedom? Why keep conquering and conquering?”
Her jaw clenched, anger in her face, but not directed at him.
After what seemed like minutes, she said, “Let us talk of this no more. Instead, I will tell you about our own winter holidays. Mid-winter.”
“Is that not a period of time?” he asked.
“No, no, I mean, yes,” she corrected, “But… that is what it is translated to in your speech, and as I speak it, I hear how generic it sounds. It is called Julethe in our tongue. Or at least, in my native dialect. It is honoring the God and Goddess of winter—Balathanion and his wife, Noronna.”
“You mean there is a celebration that is not exclusively celebrating the Great Goddess Kor?” he asked sarcastically.
She rolled her eyes. “Kor is an important goddess,” she said. “Especially to me and my clan. But… not everything we do is centered around war, you know.”
“Wow, and here I thought war was the only thing you barbarians cared about,” he muttered.
She sighed. “There are many festivities, and the celebrations go on for two weeks. It’s two weeks entirely comprised of feasts, and dancing, and more food, and… oh… I gain so much weight afterward,” she laughed. Then frowned, “Don’t tell anyone that,” she said. “It’s not so much to look at, under my clothes, but… I do gain weight.” Her face reddened. “I don’t know why I told you that,” she muttered.
“No, no,” he said, shaking his head and grinning at her. “It’s good. Keep going. Blackmail material.”
She gave a fake groan of frustration, and then leaned forward. “Don’t get me drunk,” she whispered. “Or I’ll end up handing you all the blackmail material you could ever want.”
“Dangerous words,” he replied with a wink.
She laughed, reaching out and playfully pushing him slightly with her hand. He laughed as well, taken unawares by this sudden drop of her usual visage. They looked at each other, realizing all of a sudden how naturally they were behaving with the other. Looking pleased, and pleasantly surprised, she grinned into her drink as she took a sip. Hiccup too could not help the corners of his lips tugging, though feeling somewhat disconcerted. He found it more difficult to blindly hate her when she acted like this. More natural. More… what he could see—what he hoped, was her true self.
If only she could act this way all the time, perhaps he would not be so reluctant to father her children. Perhaps this arrangement might even be a pleasant one, if never an ideal one.
As Astrid launched into explaining a translated folks’ tale, he listened, watching her features, feeling that, should this be the real Astrid, he might find it hard to hate her after all.
Hatharlhu was not much of a city, at least compared to Hiccup’s idea of cities or villages. There were no buildings, or structures of stone or wood, only tents and stalls to sell food and wares, and pens and transportable huts for the livestock. The people of Hatharlhu were nomadic, traveling across plains of the Haleithir endlessly, bringing the city of Hatharlhu along with them.
“I suspect we’ll expect a little war chief soon,” Hada said with a wink, as he rode past Hiccup towards the city.
Hiccup glared at his receding back. Word had spread quickly that he had spent the night in the War Chief’s tent three days ago, for two days. And though he had not slept there since, no one, other than Heather, Camicazi, and perhaps Ramir and Gana, seemed able to fathom that in those two days and a night, Hiccup and Astrid did not go ahead with the plans to have a child together.
Villagers came out of their tents and stopped their tasks to watch as the War Chief rode into the city, her soldiers and servants following behind. He watched as Gana smiled and waved at some, and wondered if perhaps she spent time in this city as well.
The ware-sellers and tradesmen were selling mostly leather products and pottery, with very little weapons, except hunting knives, and knives for eating and spoons. There seemed to be very little wood products, which did not surprise Hiccup, for there was not a tree to be seen for miles.
Curious faces looked on as the caravan entered the city, traveling through towards the center. Soon, they reached it, and Heather and Camicazi motioned for Hiccup to ride to the front and dismount, though Heather put up a hand to stop him from moving to where Astrid stood.
Astrid stood before an elderly man, clearly the head of the city. He wondered it was perhaps her uncle. The man bowed low to her, and drank from a cup, and offered the cup to her to drink from. She drank, and handed it back to him. Then they embraced, their foreheads touching, and then walked into a larger tent together, Gana and Astrid’s generals following.
“What was that?” Hiccup asked.
“A greeting,” Camicazi said.
“So what do I do now?” Hiccup asked.
“Wait until nightfall,” Camicazi said with a shrug and an evil smile. “Then… rabbits.”
Hiccup rolled his eyes as a few people came forward, taking the reins of their horses and leading them away. Then two women came forward and bowed, and spoke to Hiccup in an Yorvani dialect.
“They want you to go with them,” Camicazi said. “They will help you bathe and dress into something fresh, and give you food.”
“I can bathe myself,” Hiccup began, before turning to the two women. He spoke in jumbled Yorvani, a mix of the different dialects he managed to piece together, “I can bathe myself.”
The two women looked surprised by this, but nodded, motioning for him to follow them. He did, and they brought him to a small tent, where hot, steaming water in a shallow tub was waiting for him. They stood there, waiting. “You can leave,” he said in Yorvani.
They looked exceedingly uncomfortable with this.
One of the women spoke, trying to explain, or at least, Hiccup thought she was trying to explain, that it was customary for the servants to help lords and ladies wash themselves. When he replied that he’d did not want women to help him bathe, they seemed affronted.
Clearly offended, they turned and left. He stared after them, before shrugging and taking off his clothes. The water was a warm welcome and he stayed in long after it started cooling off. The tent itself seemed to be made for this very purpose, for the room was heavily steamed from little furnaces and oils and his own bath. Finally, he heard the door rustle open. “I said I didn’t want—” he began, but stopped when he realized it was Ramir. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Well, you sent the maids away,” Ramir said, looking amused.
“I don’t need you helping me bathe either,” Hiccup said.
“I’m not here to help you bathe,” Ramir said, sounding amused. “Trust me, it is far beneath my station to wash a consort concubine. Even if you are the Sun’s.”
“So what are you here for?” Hiccup asked, unable to even bring himself to feel irritated at the man. Ramir had a sort of… charm. It was difficult to take offense to whatever he said, no matter how offensive.
“I think I need to explain something,” Ramir said. “You truly offended those maids. It’s customary for the opposite sex to bathe you. Especially those of high class. Anyway, I’m here to remind you of something.”
“What’s that?” Hiccup asked, beginning to scrub his feet again, so as to distract himself.
“It’s important,” Ramir said, “Not to make any mistakes. People are already hesitant about their future Chief being the child of a Wilderwesterner.” He raised his eyebrows slightly in self-recognition, “Even I have a little trouble understanding what the Sun is thinking.” He paused, thinking reflectively. “But it’s a decision she’s made, and I suppose I can understand the semantics of it. Point is, you don’t want to make any more enemies than you have to. Publicly rejecting our culture isn’t going to make you any friends.”
“So, what are you saying?” Hiccup said.
“Let the women bathe you,” Ramir said, standing. “And if you really want to make a good impression, bathe with the War Chief.”
Ramir winked, before slipping out of the tent.
Hiccup watched Ramir leave with horror in every fibre of his being, before quickly looking down at himself, wondering how he could handle being bathed by a bunch of women. Maybe bathing with Astrid would be less… horrifyingly humiliating. Didn’t the Yorvani worry that he might… be tempted by one of the women? What if things got out of hand?
His mood ruined, as well as his desire to stay in that tent any longer, he rose from the water and dried off, quickly getting dressed. When he stepped outside, he found Heather and Camicazi waiting for him.
“We could bathe you, if you like,” Camicazi said with a smirk.
Heather snorted indignantly, and Hiccup ignored the both of them. “I’m starving,” he said, “Is there any food?”
“Yes,” Camicazi said. “After we head to your tent for a while, we’ll be heading to the feast.”
“The feast?” Hiccup asked, as he followed the two women towards his own tent. They entered, and he sat down with Camicazi at the small round table. “How many people will be at the feast?”
“Oh, a great many,” Camicazi said. “Most of the city, I would say. Those that are here to celebrate, anyway.”
“What are they celebrating?” Hiccup asked.
“The end of the war,” Camicazi said with a shrug, “The return of the Sun… all things to have joy over.”
Hiccup frowned, but nodded.
He was eager to see more of the Yorvani people. Perhaps he could talk to a few, get to know them. He wanted to know more about the people who disliked what their leadership is doing to the Wilderwesterners. He wondered if the people of Hatharlhu also felt the same way.
He could not believe his eyes, when he first spotted the festivities tent. But then, he realized it was merely many tents combined, spreading out throughout the city. It was beautiful, with bright lights hanging on strings. As they got closer, he took a moment to study the thick fabric. He saw that it was meticulously embroidered, from the bottom to the top, and cared for with expertise, so that there was minimal weather damage. The Yorvani were nothing if not experts in such matters, he was quickly beginning to realize.
As they passed through the opening to the tent, he realized why it was so big, and why they needed so many tents. There had to be more than a hundred people inside, sitting on the ground, some around small tables, some eating out of large bowls on carpets on the ground. Slowly, a hushed silence drew over the crowd, as all eyes turned to face him.
Astrid, who stood on a sort of dais, stood, wearing her ceremonial armor, the very same she had worn the first night he had met her, and held out her hand to him. He quickly realized it was not to beckon him over. She spoke to the crowd, and Hiccup heard his name, “Berk,” and “Consort,” as well as, he thought, “Child.”
No one spoke.
Astrid, clearly able to sense the tenseness in the room, said something else that Hiccup did not understand. Immediately, the mood in the room shifted. People laughed. Then they turned back to their own conversations and food, and he was suddenly ignored.
“What did she say?” he asked.
“She introduced you,” Camicazi said, grinning slightly, “And told them your purpose.”
“But what did she say after that?” Hiccup asked, as he was led to a low table. It was empty, seemingly set for him and his guards. He sat down, eyeing the food, and wondering if it was more or less the same as he had eaten so far.
Camicazi and Heather exchanged looks. “Well,” Camicazi said, as Heather smirked smugly. “There’s a kind of… thought about Wilderwesterner men… you know…”
“I don’t know,” Hiccup said tartly.
“You know…” Camicazi said, suddenly looking both uncomfortable and amused, as if she couldn’t decide whether what she was trying to say was funny or embarrassing. “That your’e… you know… not much. Down there.”
Hiccup’s eyes furrowed, as he realized what she was trying to say.
“Small,” Camicazi continued. “And… unsavory. And not very good at… doing anything… in bed.”
He stared at her. “So what did she say?”
“She just said,” Camicazi said, a snigger in her voice, before she was suddenly unable to speak. She seemed fighting back the urge to laugh.
“She said she hoped you would be capable of fathering a Yorvani child,” Heather said. “Since there’s a good chance, as a Wilderwesterner, your member and… seed, are not up to the task.”
His mouth dropped open. “She said what? That? In front of all these people?”
“It was a joke, Hiccup,” Camicazi chortled. “I doubt anyone took her seriously. After all, we know plenty well that Wilderwesterner men are capable of fathering children with Yorvani women.” Then she frowned. “We have stronger laws about rape than your people do.”
“Berk doesn’t tolerate rape either,” Hiccup said bitingly. “And might I remind you that I’ll be fathering a Yorvani child against my will?”
Both Heather and Camicazi had the grace to look uncomfortable. The three of them looked up to see a woman approach. “Oh no,” Camicazi muttered. “What is she doing here?”
The woman was wearing robes of sheer material, which left little to the imagination. She settled down next to them, eyeing Hiccup with interest. “So…” she said. “You’re Prince Hiccup.”
“He’s not a prince anymore, Jatha,” Heather said.
That comment turned Jatha’s hazel eyes on Heather, eyeing her with contempt. She turned back to Hiccup.
She was as beautiful as the Chief, but more adorned than Astrid generally was. Her face was heavily painted; she wore so much jewelry that Hiccup wondered how she was able to walk. Her lips were plump and pink, and her skin flawless. Her dark brown hair hung in many braids down her back, many woven into a pattern around her head, mirroring, in a way, the way many other women, including Astrid, wore their hair tonight.
He was aware of her looking him up and down, and he wondered why she looked so familiar. It was as if he had seen her before somewhere. “I can see why Astrid chose you,” she said. “We were all surprised, when she decided she would take a Wilderwesterner as her consort.” She leaned forward suddenly, and he got a clear view down her front. He quickly looked up to her face. “And have the two of you fucked yet?”
“That’s enough, Jatha,” Heather stood up, walking around the tableand standing threateningly above Jatha.
Jatha did not look up, nor did she seem bothered by Heather’s dangerous tone of voice and looming figure. She merely stared at Hiccup with interest, before standing up slowly, and walking away.
“Keep away from her, if I were you,” Camicazi said. “She’s a courtesan. Don’t know what she’s doing so far away from Cartan.”
“She lives in Cartan?” Hiccup asked.
“Don't’ even think about it,” Heather said. “The Sun hates Jatha. They were nursed together—Gana is her mother. Astrid was born from a goddess, but as a half human, she was unable to be nursed by her mother. So Gana nursed her. They grew up together, in a way, and are like sisters, but they’ve always been rivals. Astrid wouldn’t like it if you and Jatha—”
“What, slept together?” Hiccup asked.
“Just don’t do it,” Camicazi said. “I”m sure after you father a child, The Sun won’t care if you take lovers, but… not Jatha. I know she’s beautiful but… The Sun wouldn’t like it.”
Hiccup turned to look at Jatha, sitting by a group of women and laughing. He wondered what would happen to him if he did sleep with Jatha. Would Astrid cast him out? Would she kill him? Or would it merely hurt Astrid in a vulnerable way he would not expect?
Suddenly, he felt the strong desire to do just that.
“Hiccup, try some food,” he heard Heather say, distracting him from his thoughts.
He turned back and looked down at the food before him. “All this for us?” he asked.
“They’re expecting you to eat a lot,” Camicazi said, before adding with a wink, “Rabbits.”
He ignored her, before reaching out for something with his spoon. Some kind of rice dish. He tasted it, and nearly choked for the spice.
“Don’t make that face,” Camicazi roared with laughter. “If you think this is spicy just wait until you reach Cartan!”
Then she offered him some of the cheese that Astrid had fed him the other day. “Try this, it’ll calm the flavors in your mouth.”
He took it thankfully, and chewed it. It did somehow lesson the flames wracking his senses. Then Heather handed him a bowl of thick, creamy, fatty milk. He drank it heartily.
“You’ll want to get used to it,” Heather said. “You won’t survive if you don’t like the food.”
“I like it,” Hiccup said, reaching for something else. When neither woman complained or stopped him, he took bite. It was not as spicy as the rice dish, so he ate it. To be truthful, he rather liked Yorvani food. He just wished he had the ability to stomach it better. Hopefully that would come with time.
He was aware of eyes watching him, and turned to see Jatha looking at him, a soft smile on her lips. He returned the smile, albeit a little uncertainly, and then sensed another pair of eyes on him. He turned to see Astrid watching him from the dais. She seemed to have been watching the exchange between him and Jatha, and there was definite frown on her face.
He did not smile at Astrid, before turning back to his food.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Ahhh! So sorry this chapter is so late!
It’s been written a long time (long before I posted Chapter 5) but I just couldn’t bring myself to post it until now >.>’’’’
Let me know if this story is one you’re still interested in reading and I’ll see about posting more chapters :)
Thanks so much!
The next morning, Hiccup set out with the determination of exploring. He pinned Astrid’s family crest on his chest, and convinced Heather and Camicazi to hang back a bit, so that he would not be bothered by them. He visited the leatherworkers first, curious as to their craft. Reluctantly at first, they began to show him how to carve out their designs, as well as how to design them. One even let him try on some scrap leather. An hour later, he was heading off to the potters.
He learned that the ground of the Haleithir plains were mostly clay in some areas, and when harvested and prepared properly, could create many different types of pottery. He also learned that the Yorvani people had been living in the Haleithir plains for many thousands of years, especially when the Wilderwesterners migrated from the west and forced the Yorvani to take residence in this area only. But the people of Hatharlhu did not dwell on this subject much, unlike the soldiers Hiccup had been traveling with. Instead, they talked about things that Hiccup found most interesting.
The weather in each of the different seasons.
The life cycle of the birds native to the Haleithir plains.
The ceremonial designs.
How they herd their animals.
When they knew when they needed to move their city.
It wasn’t until a gentle hand was lain upon his shoulder, that he realized that he had spent upwards of four hours talking to the people in the market square. He turned in his seat, looking up into the smiling face of Jatha.
“Oh,” he said, blinking up at her, “What are you doing here?”
“I…” she said slowly, a small smile on her lips, “I’m staying here too, you know. Or did you forget meeting me last night?”
“Right,” he said quickly. He stood up, then turned and bid the tradesman goodbye.
“I see you’re trying to get to know the locals,” Jatha said.
“Yes, they all have such a wealth of knowledge,” Hiccup said honestly. “I feel as though my head is going to crack from all that’s been stuffed inside it today.”
“Really?” Jatha asked, skeptically. “Most don’t even know how to read.”
“But they know other things,” Hiccup said. “They know all about the earth and the sky and the weather and the creatures that live around them.”
“Hmm…” Jatha murmured thoughtfully. “What till you reach Cartan,” she said. “The people there are far more… well… modern. Educated, might be a more accurate word.”
Hiccup shrugged. The people on Hatharlhu seemed quite well educated to him. They knew so much that he doubted he could learn everything they could teach him if he had a year to learn it. They did not seem to think they themselves were suffering for not being great scholars of a literary kind. “What are you out and about for?” he asked her.
“A courtesan can have her leisure time,” Jatha said, grinning at him. “After all, I cannot be fucking men night and day.”
Hiccup looked at her uncomfortably.
“I jest,” she said, sending him a winning smile. “I only perform my… work when I am in Cartan. This? This is my holiday.”
“Oh,” Hiccup said. “Well, that must be nice.”
“It is, I suppose,” she said with a shrug. “It is very nice, actually. I might not have gotten a chance to meet you, had I not come here to see my mother.”
“Right, Gana is your mother,” Hiccup said. “Was it nice to see her again?”
“Of course it was,” Jatha said. “I worry often, when she rides to war with Astrid. It is not often, but…this time she did. My heart mourned for what may have befallen her…” she looked somber for a moment, before looking at Hiccup in interest. “So… you are Astrid’s consort… tell me, have the two of you…”
“No,” Hiccup said, without thinking. Afterwards he wondered if perhaps he should have said something evasive and vague.
“Really?” Jatha looked interested. “I can understand why you wouldn’t want to—Astrid is… well, she often doesn’t see other people’s perspectives. You’re in a tricky situation, from what I hear.”
“Yeah,” Hiccup said slowly. “Yeah, it kind of is.”
“I would say so,” Jatha said adamantly. “After all, you’re somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place, aren’t you?”
“I suppose so,” Hiccup answered.
She stopped, turning to look at him. “Hiccup,” she said, holding out her hand, “I would like to formally offer my hand in friendship.”
He looked at her hand, bangles and bracelets of gold and jewels adorning it, as well as many rings. He looked at her face, and found that a genuine smile was adorning it. He took her hand and shook it. “I accept your hand in friendship,” he said.
“Good,” she said, stepping forward so her face was close to his. “You know… you and I could become great friends…”
She gave him a wink and took his hand, pulling him along. “Come, you must be starving. The people of these plains might be uneducated, but they’re good cooks. Come!”
He followed her. They ate something akin to a honey cake as well as some soup, and some flat, hard bread that one dipped in the soup. His disagreement with Jatha over the Hatharlhu’s people’s educated status aside, he had to agree. They were good cooks.
“That was delicious,” he said, sighing contentedly.
“Oh,” Jatha gave out a short laugh, looking amused. “You’ve got a little… do you mind if I?”
He blinked, and she reached up, brushing her finger against the corner of his lip and chin. He shivered at her touch, and she drew her hand away, sticking her finger in her mouth. It was… oddly sensual, though he suspected she was trained to make most things she did sensual to men. Then she looked to the side, and he followed her gaze.
Astrid stood at he other end of the market square, her generals and uncle talking together. None noticed Hiccup and Jatha, save Astrid. Astrid watched them with a troubled expression. For a moment, Hiccup felt a sudden surge of guilt.
He shouldn’t be with Jatha—he shouldn’t be letting her flirt with him.
But why shouldn’t he? A small voice said from deep within his mind. It is not as if Astrid could stop him.
But he connected with Astrid, the other day, he reminded himself. They found common ground, in a way. They acted naturally together. It was… nice… did he really want to ruin that just because a beautiful woman was acting interested in him?
But was it so bad, the small voice replied, to partake in the affections of a woman who is truly affectionate towards him?
He did not have time to contemplate his thoughts, for he found a hand in his own, pulling him along, a gentle, flowery laughter filling his ears as Jatha brought him to the next attraction.
“I don’t understand,” Hiccup said, once he was finished with breakfast. “Why is Jatha held in such high regard?”
Both Camicazi and Heather looked at him in surprise. “Royal Courtesans are held in very high regard,” Camicazi said, finally. “It’s a noble profession—typically, they’re lovers of the Chiefs, as well as anyone else who could afford them. Many Chiefs had Royal Courtesans as their mother. Of course, Jatha and Astrid were nursed together, and in a way grew up together, so they’re like sister’s, not lovers.”
“Sister’s who hate each other,” Heather muttered.
“Why, exactly, do they hate each other?” Hiccup asked, curiously.
“Well,” Camicazi said, with an awkward shrug of her shoulders. “It’s rather complicated—and I’m not entirely sure the whole story. But… if I understand it correctly… it seems that Jatha was arranged to marry someone.”
“But she’s a courtesan,” Hiccup interrupted. “How can she marry someone?”
“What does that have to do with it?” Heather asked. “Just because she’s a courtesan doesn’t mean she can’t find love. Though many courtesans stop their profession after marrying, since many of them didn’t exactly choose to be a courtesan, or at least, wouldn’t have chosen if better options had been presented. I doubt Jatha would stop if she married. She likes wealth too much. And she is wealthy.”
“So she was going to get married,” Hiccup said, glancing back at Camicazi, for her to continue her story.
“Yeah,” Camicazi said, “Yeah, she was going to get married—and the War Chief, she… well, she sent him off to war. He was slain.”
There was silence. “That sucks,” Hiccup said, “And I’m really sorry for Jatha, but surely she can’t blame Astrid for that. She’s the war chief, I mean,” he paused, wondering why he was defending Astrid. He could not help but think back to their time spent together during the storm. He found it hard to believe that the woman he saw there would purposefully try to harm the woman she grew up with, who was like a sister to her. “I mean,” he continued, “Surely lots of young men go to war.”
“But Evein wasn’t a warrior, or a soldier,” Camicazi said. “He was a scholar. Not a bone or muscle in his body that could withstand any fight. Very brittle—the healers of Cartan believed he was cursed by the gods, because all you had to do was push him over and he’d get hurt. I remember once he broke a bone just from—”
“Point is,” Heather interrupted. “We needed more men on the front lines, an Evein was just as good a body as anyone else.”
“It was still… unfortunate,” Camicazi said. “They were so in love with each other, Jatha and Evein. Whenever they were together, she was a totally different person. She wasn’t as… well, as she is now. She was real. Her real self, that is. She really took it hard when he died. Blamed Astrid for it.”
“Which is ridiculous,” Heather snorted.
Camicazi shrugged, as if this was still up for debate. Then she eyed Hiccup suspiciously, “You’re awfully curious about Jatha… why?”
“I just am,” he said, with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders.
Camicazi narrowed her eyes. “You know, you remind me a bit of Evein…” she leaned back, still studying him.
“What about me?” Hiccup asked. “My useless body? Or useless wits?”
Heather laughed, but Camicazi merely frowned. “It’s not a joke,” Camicazi said. “Evein was a genius, and from what I’ve seen, so are you. But you even… yes, you do have the same body shape, not that that matters. I’d stay away from Jatha if I were you. Astrid would not like you around her.”
“I don’t see how that’s something she could enforce,” he said. “After all, once I beget her a child, she’s told me plainly I can do what I want.”
“But not with Jatha,” Heather said. “I doubt she’d care if you took other lovers, but Jatha?” she shook her head with a sort of grimace “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Hiccup shrugged his shoulders. Didn’t matter—They were leaving in two days, and he was only thankful he hadn’t been forced to sleep in Astrid’s tent. He wasn’t sure how she would act here, when people might barge in and see her with her guard down. He might have enjoyed her company, if the woman he had spent time with before could shine through. Perhaps when they reach Cartan.
There was a slight clatter outside, and someone entered, a servant girl. She spoke to Heather and Camicazi, and Hiccup recognized The Sun, and Consort. Sighing, he realized he was finally being summoned to Astrid’s tent.
He slipped inside, eyes adjusting to the low light. He realized, however, after his eyes adjusted, that it was actually quite brightly lit, considering. Sun filtered down from sheer cloth at the roof of the tent, and there were lanterns hanging all around.
“Come in, Hiccup,” he heard Astrid say. He looked over to see her sitting on the bed, and she was wearing her robe. He stood rooted to the spot.
“I’m already inside,” he answered. When she sent him an annoyed but amused look, he continued, “Why’d you summon me?”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It is against the law for me to summon one of my subjects?”
“Im not your subject though,” he said blankly.
“But you do have to do as I say,” she said, getting off her bed and walking towards him. Her robe was somewhat sheer, and though presented no details, it did little to hide the shape and curves of her body. He quickly looked away.
“I thought you weren’t going to force me to do anything until I was ready,” he said, quietly, studying the floor.
He saw her bare feet, and oddly, her toes were painted with color. “I think we felt quite plainly the other morning how you feel about that,” she said.
“You must not know much about men if you think that actually meant anything,” he muttered, still studying her painted toes.
“Maybe I don’t know anything about men,” she said slowly, her voice losing its pleasantness. She turned away, walking over to a large table in the middle of the room, and pouring two cups of wine. “But I know something about politics.”
“You need an heir quickly,” he said, allowing himself to look up at her again.
She took a long drink from one of the cups, then motioned for him to come and take the other She sat on a pillow, lounging back on one hand. He came forward and took the other cup, sitting down on a pillow near her. Het took a sip, then another.
“My clan has been in power for almost a century, and that is unprecedentedly long,” she said. “People are already upset that I chose a Wilderwesterner to father my children.” After a pause, in which she studied her cup with a frown, she continued. “While most of the Yorvani are loyal to me, especially the common people, there are those of the noble clans that would be happy to unseat me and take the throne in their power. And, of course, I do not have the support of the full High Council.” She glanced up at him. “That is, of course, why I need an outsider to father my heir.”
He waited for her to continue.
“I am twenty-five years old,” she said. “It is… also… unprecedented to not have a child by now. Already there are rumors that I am barren, and therefore, am unsuitable to rule.” She took another angry drink, before looking at him. “I won’t force you to sleep with me, Hiccup. But I strongly encourage you to make up your mind quickly.”
He looked down at his glass. “So, what,” he said, “You want to be pregnant by the time you get to Cartan?”
“That would be ideal,” she said, her voice somewhat void of emotion. “Though I doubt, even if we were to sleep together right here, right now, there’d be time to know by then.” She paused, “You are not my first choice, and if given the choice, I would… wait until I found a man I love and trust. As it is, I have little choice, if I want to keep my position, and even my life. I want you to take your time in deciding when you want it to happen. But do not prolong the decision because of spite alone. Or I may have to choose someone else who would fulfill his duties more eagerly.”
Hiccup’s brows furrowed. “What would happen in that case?” he asked.
She sighed, but did not answer. “If I were to die—that is, if I were to be replaced as War Chief, I would… not be able to protect you. The High Council would revoke my amending their decree upon Berk. Your father would certainly be killed, as would you, I suspect.”
“How charming,” he finally said.
She nodded, a look of worry on her face. “It is important to remember, Hiccup, that this situation isn’t easy for either of us. Perhaps less so for you, perhaps more, I cannot say. But I myself am not too fond of sleeping with a man I have not come to trust or have feelings for. To be honest… I’m rather…”
She stared down at her cup, as if deciding if it were wise to say whatever it was she was about to. Finally, she shook her head, clearing her thoughts. “Doesn’t matter,” she said, smiling at him. “I need a father for my children, and I need him to be alive and real enough to claim paternity. Otherwise I would have just… slept with any random Wilderwesterner who was willing. And, of course, your royal blood is important.”
Hiccup gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. A silence fell upon them, and he could hear the gentle sounds of people talking somewhere outside. There was the sound of a hammer hitting something for a bit, the wind rustling amongst the tents, the bray of a horse and the bleat of a sheep and goat.
“Perhaps…” she said, inching towards him, “Perhaps we could try… not that,” she added, hurriedly, “Just… just a simple thing.” She held out her hand for him to take.
He slowly took it. They sat there, holding hands. Her own palm was calloused, and after a moment, she squeezed his hand. Her hand felt pleasant in his, and he found that he liked the touch of her skin. It sent shivers, a good kind, down his spine.
“Hiccup…” she said. “I feel as though… you could be that person. A person I trust. I hope you can find it in yourself to help me. We both agreed to this arrangement, and we both need to see it through, lest… lest we both suffer the consequences. I know you may never trust me, and I know that you will never love me.
“I know you are likely reluctant to find either with me, if it is not already impossible,” she added. “But I ask you, do not… be with Jatha. I know she is beautiful, and that she often gives men exactly what they need or are lacking, but…” she trailed off. “Of all the women on Bae, she is the last woman I am comfortable you… being with.”
Hiccup raised his eyebrows at this. “So now you get to decide who I sleep with?” he asked.
“I, of course, cannot enforce my wish,” she said, after taking another swig of wine, in a most undignified way, after letting go of his hand. “But I can implore you. She is only doing it for revenge.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “Or perhaps she sees a kindred spirit.”
Astrid looked at him sharply. “What did she tell you?”
“She hasn’t told me anything,” he answered. “Now, was there anything else you called me here for?”
She breathed in slowly through her nose. “No, there wasn’t. You may go.”
He nodded, putting down his cup of wine and getting up. When he reached the door, she called out to him. “And Hiccup, do be careful. Jatha is… a good person. But… do not let her use you to be a means to an end.”
“Worried she’ll be just like you, then?” he asked, before slipping outside, joining Heather and Camicazi as they walked back to his tent.
“Your Lordship!” a voice called, and Hiccup looked over to see Jatha upon a white mare, riding up to meet him.
“Jatha,” he said, “Or… er, I actually don’t know your proper title.”
Jatha smiled at him, giving a small laugh. “You may call me Jatha, my lord,” she said. They rode side by side, and Hiccup gave Camicazi and Heather short nods, indicating that they should give him some space. Both looked wary, like they would much rather stick by his side, but reluctantly fell back, keeping a close eye on him and the woman riding beside him.
“So,” he said, “You’re coming to Cartan with us?”
“That is my home,” Jatha answered pleasantly. “And I thought I would travel back with my mother, since she is whom I went to Hatharlhu to see.”
“Ah,” he said, “Gana.” Hiccup peered ahead near the front of the caravan, where he could see the back of Gana’s black and grey braids.
“Yes,” Jatha nodded. “I have not seen her in many months, as I told you the other day.” Jatha cast her eyes down, then looked at him. “I am so sorry, about Berk… I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose your home.”
Hiccup did not answer, and Jatha continued on hesitantly. “War is a terrible thing… though I daresay Astrid does not agree with that sentiment.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Hiccup said, recalling their conversation during the storm. “Do you spend most of your time in Cartan?”
She nodded. “Yes, I do. I have lived there all my life, though sometimes I travel. Usually with someone,” she added. “But I prefer to stay in the city. It is… pleasant there.”
“So, Hiccup,” she said. “Do you think we’ll have news of a little War Chief soon?”
He nearly choked on the air he was breathing. “No,” he spluttered finally. “No, like I told you the other day, any news of that sort would be quite impossible for now and for the near future.” He wasn’t sure why he said it, except that for some reason, he wanted Jatha to know he had never been with Astrid. Somehow it was important to him for her to know.
A small smile flittered across Jatha’s lips, before disappearing. “I’m sure that will be remedied soon,” she answered. “After all, there will be plenty of chances for such things to occur.”
“So, tell me about yourself, Hiccup,” Jatha said. “Is it alright for me to call you that? Hiccup? Or do you prefer, “Your Lordship”?”
“Hiccup is fine,” he answered. “I’m not really a prince, anymore.”
“No, you’re not, I suppose,” she said, looking pensive. “I am sorry about that, too. To have the life you knew taken away from you…” she looked down, her dark brows furrowed slightly. Then she looked up, smiling brightly, the forlorn look completely replaced. “Tell me about yourself,” she said. “What do you like to do?”
“I like to invent things,” he said.
“Oh?” Jatha seemed interested. “Do you really?”
He nodded. “Well, I try to,” he said. “I like inventing things, even though my father always disapproved of my hobbies. He thought I should dedicate myself to the art of war. In a way I wish I had, perhaps I could have made a difference in—” he paused, glancing at her, but found she did not look surprised.
“Well, now that you are… as you say, no longer a prince, you should have plenty of time to invent things,” she said. “I myself enjoy the occasional… creation. I attended University,” she said. “I still take classes every once in a while, and teach them too.”
“University?” he asked. “Oh, I heard of that,” he added. “Some kind of… school, is it?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I started attendance when I was eleven, I was one of the youngest members. One of, that is. I attended with someone just a year younger. My former betrothed, Evian.”
“Oh,” Hiccup said softly. “I heard about him. I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “It’s not you who should feel sorry,” she said quietly. Then, as if realizing what she had said, “And besides, that is the cost of a country oft at war.”
“Indeed,” Hiccup agreed. “I lost quite a few friends, in the war. And afterwards.”
There was a thoughtful silence, when was broken by Hiccup. “What did you study at the University?”
“I studied law,” she answered. “Though one studies a bit of everything first. But by the time I was fifteen, I had settled into… law.”
“So why did you not become an advocate?” Hiccup asked, “Or a law maker? Surely, if you were gifted enough to enter the university at such a young age, you could have—”
“Oh, well,” Jatha interrupted. “I’m afraid that… my position in life was such that I could not afford to become an advocate. I could now afford it, I suppose, but…” she shook her head. “I doubt that Astrid would allow me to take the exam and become one. She is afraid of what I might do if I gain any power.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Hiccup said, astounded. “She’s keeping you from doing what you want to do, just because she’s worried you’ll… what?”
Jatha shrugged. “I had the potential of one day joining the High Council. Astrid would rather have me beheaded than allow me that much power. But it is no matter. I am far wealthier now than I would ever be as a simple advocate,” she flashed him a grin. “Perhaps when we reach Cartan, I can… show you where my study is. Show you my books—I have collected quite the library, and perhaps I can even show you the University.”
“Really?” he asked. “The would be amazing.”
She smiled brightly at him, her eyes crinkling, crows feet at the corners, giving her a charming look. “I”m afraid it would make Astrid quite jealous,” she said thoughtfully, as if in an afterthought.
“You know,” Hiccup said, with a shrug, “That makes it all the better.”
They shared a smile, before riding on in silence. Hiccup pondered Astrid’s last words to him, wondering if Jatha truly was safe to trust. She was pleasant and friendly enough, but there was something underneath the surface that warned him to be wary. But he found he did not want to care.
The enemy of his enemy was his friend.
He first spotted it from a glint in the distance. A strange flashing of sorts… as if some storm-less lightning was occurring somewhere along the mountain ridge, or something of a great size was reflecting the sunlight. “What is that?” he asked Heather, staring enchanted at the bright flashes.
“Cartan,” Heather answered.
“Why is it… doing that?” he moved his head, but that merely intensified the flashes.
“It is the sun,” Heather answered. “It reflects upon the domes in the city, and the gates.”
“Domes?” Hiccup asked.
“Yes,” Camicazi jutted in. “The domes—great round tops of buildings, made of metals and gold, in some places. I think you’ll like them.”
“You’ll notice,” Heather continued, pointing in the direction of the city, “That green surrounding Cartan on the mountainside is the Jungle.”
“What is the Jungle called?” Hiccup asked.
“There is no true word for it in our language,” Heather answered. “But we mainly call it The Jungle.” She turned to face him, a deeply serious look on her face. “Do not go there. It is dangerous, and you do not know its ways. There are beasts inside that are strange and dangerous to you, and even other, more foul things in its depths.”
Hiccup raised an eyebrow.
“You shouldn’t go in there,” Camicazi confirmed. “You’d be eaten alive or killed or, perhaps just as likely, sink into one of the sinkholes.”
Hiccup sighed, looking at the glinting city in the distance. “When will we get there?” he asked.
“Tomorrow morning,” Heather answered. “We’ll camp out on the fields tonight, and make the last leg of the journey in the morning.”
Hiccup nodded, wondering how the people of Cartan would react to him. He had heard that news had reached Cartan of their War Chief’s decision. He wasn’t sure he was looking forward to finding out their reaction. Nor, he thought dismally, their reaction to the fact that he and Astrid had very much not conceived a child yet.
“What is the city like?” he asked. “And what are the people like?”
He was curious, not only to see what the city looked like, but to see the people themselves. To meet them and know for sure if they truly were more sympathetic towards their enemies and conquered lands than he and his own people were led to believe. If Astrid was right… perhaps there was hope after all.
“The people of Cartan hail from every tribe, clan and house of the Yorvani,” Camicazi said. “They come from all over the place. You’ll even find lots of Wilderwesterners there… those that willingly adopted our customs. Many of them married Yorvani. Intermarriages are not so uncommon for the common folk these days. Very common, in fact. It’s only the elitist upper classes do you see spite for such unions.”
“Not only,” Heather said. “People will still be shocked that Astrid chose a Wilderwesterner as her consort. They might not mind intermarriages in their own lives, but the Sun having a child with a Wilderwesterner? It’s unheard of. Never happened before.”
“So, what… I’m ‘soiling’ the good blood of the War Chief?” Hiccup asked drily.
“Something like that,” Heather said, at the same time Camicazi said, “No one is really going to think that… at least, none of the people. You’ll find some nobles that will really disapprove of you, and Astrid’s choice of you, but… they’re also the ones who fund the wars and conquests and things, so… they’re kind of biased anyway.”
“The taxes of the people don’t fund the wars?” Hiccup asked.
“Oh no,” Camicazi shook her head. “I mean, some does, but Astrid’s grandfather, as head of the military, refused to allow any to go towards conquests. The only money from taxes the army gets is during times of peace, or to our widowed families. He was a good man…” she said softly. “Not that I think it’s important, mind you. The Wilderwesterners are only getting what they served up until two hundred years ago.”
Not wanting this conversation to arise again, Hiccup ignored her. “And what is the city itself like?”
“You’ll have to see it to believe it,” Heather said. “It’s not like any Wilderwesterner settlements. I’m sure it’ll take you quite by surprise.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hiccup said.
“She just means,” Camicazi said hurriedly, “That you’ve probably not seen a city like this before. And therefore… you probably can’t imagine it well. But it’s very warm colored, and… very warm too. The lower level is made of stone mostly, from the earth—kind of sandy. And it gets very hot. Luckily the palace in the citadel stays relatively cool most of the time, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble.”
“I think you’ll like it,” Heather said. “It’s most magnificent.”
As he lay in bed hours later, dually looking forward to and dreading the next day, he heard rustling at the door, and soft female voices. The door opened, revealing Astrid. She stepped in, wearing her long outdoor robes that covered, he presumed, her nightdress.
“What do you want?” he asked, nonplussed.
She paused, cocking one head to the side, peering at him in the dim firelight. Then she crossed the distance and sat down on the edge of the cot beside him.
“What do you want?” he asked again. He kept his voice of emotion, but inside he felt the conflicting emotions that usually accompanied the equally conflicting thoughts of Astrid.
She did not look at him. She only stared straight ahead. “These last few weeks…” she began. “I had hoped we could… grow closer together.”
He did not answer right away, and when she fell silent, he wondered if she were merely waiting for him to say something. Finally, he spoke. “We sort of have, more than I would have expected.”
She nodded. “It is true that we’ve… been able to come to some sort of understanding, to an extent,” she said. “But… I don’t believe it is to the point that you need.”
He shrugged. “It helps, I guess.”
She nodded. Then she sighed. “What can I do,” she said, “To make things easier for you?”
“You can free my father and let him return to Berk,” Hiccup said quickly.
She looked at him in surprise. “I would be handing him the reins to rise a rebellion,” she said. “I am so sorry, Hiccup, but that is one thing I cannot do for you, even if I had the power.” She sighed again. “But I can allow you to correspond to him. And perhaps, one day, after I have given birth to a healthy child, you can visit him.”
Hiccup’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?” he asked hopefully.
She nodded. “I will send word to Jothrani to allow Stoick to write back to you, should you decide to—”
He leaned forward and drew her into a hug, unable to stop himself in the moment. She froze, stiffening slightly in his embrace, then relaxed into him. After a moment, he realized he should let her go, but her weight against him made that difficult. Instead, he merely held her for a few moments. “That helps,” he whispered. “It really does. Thank you, Astrid.”
She nodded. “If my father was still alive,” she said. “I would want to be able to speak to him. I would not want to be sundered from him for the rest of my life… like I am now.” She drew away from him slightly, looking at him intently in the eyes. “May I kiss you?” she asked.
He blinked in surprise. Slowly, he nodded. “Just a small one,” he allowed.
She smiled hesitantly, and leaned forward, pressing her lips gently against his cheek, close to his mouth, but not against it. As she drew away, he instinctively moved with her slightly, as if his body wanted for something more concrete and desirous. He realized it was not just his body.
“You are happy, at least happier than I’ve ever seen you,” she said. “And I think your opinion of me has improved. As such, I would not want to take advantage of your good mood, however temporary it will be.” She rose from the bed and walked towards the door, pausing just before leaving through it. “Goodnight, Hiccup.”
To be Continued...?
END OF PART 1.
Thanks for reading so far! Sorry for any mistakes in this chapter, I just sort of posted it after only reading it through a time or two. Things start looking up for Hiccup and Astrid in the next few chapters, so there's that to look forward to :)
Thanks for stopping by!
The City of Cartan, was, in fact, the most beautiful thing Hiccup thought he had ever seen, or perhaps would ever see, save only the sight of the capitol of Berk on the horizon. He now knew why it had glinted orange and red and yellow in the distance. The walls of the city were made of some kind of stone—not quite marble, too sandy for that. It was of a orangish-yellow complexion, and looked surprisingly smooth to the touch. As they approached, he saw on it great murals, also mainly in oranges, yellows, and reds. Upon closer inspection, he saw that it was the victories of the Yorvani. Specifically, he guessed, by the bright yellow and red hair of the enemies, of the victory over the original inhabitants of the current city, the Murers, the first of the Wilderwesterners to be conquered by the Yorvani.
To his knowledge, the Murers, like most Wilderwesterners, had similar architecture and lifestyles to the Berkians, though somewhat changed and adapted to a warmer climate. And so it crossed his mind that the Yorvani must have made many changes, to the city, to match their own homes, when they did settle here again.
The great doors of Cartan were made of some kind of glistening, golden metal. He supposed it could be gold, though that would not supply a very supportive structure. Perhaps, he thought, it was only coated with gold. He was relatively close to the front of the caravan, and so he could see, if squinting against the bright reflections, markings inlaid on the surface of the door. Though he had no interest in gazing at the murals of death and destruction, he was rather interested in whatever was carved on the entrance.
Another great horn blasted—the same as the one when they were approaching farther back, but this was echoed loudly, seeming louder than the other one, and causing Baron the shift nervously.
“Keep your horse under control,” Heather muttered to him.
He could hear shouts and cheering, as the great doors slowly drew open, coming towards them, not in. They moved slowly, a sound like a thunderstorm scraping along as their heavy bodies shifted on hinges. Farther in, he could see a long, road, winding forward, brightly colored stones and paint clearly marking it. At it sides, people stood, shouting, and cheering, and waving their arms in victory. He saw towers with domed roofs, and buildings made of the same material as the outer wall, but painted in many colors. In the distance, he could see another wall, and another gate, though smaller, and above that he saw greater towers and buildings. And risen above the all, greater and grander than anything he had ever seen, stood a great palace, in a bright citadel.
Breathless, he barely noticed when Baron moved forward with the others, and the cheering grew louder as Astrid passed through the gates, looking noble and superior in her black ceremonial armor, an axe in her hand.
He looked around, at the people on either side of the road. Some looked poor, some wealthier, but most of all, what shocked him, was just how… normal, they all looked. They looked like people he would be happy to get to know; pleasant people, enjoyable people, fun and story-loving, with hopes and dreams, and full of life.
He was thankful that it was not obvious, him wearing Yorvani clothing, that he was a Wilderwesterner. There were plenty Yorvani who looked like him. Therefore he got no curious glances, nor any accusatory ones. He could ride by without the knowledge that the people judged him, or hated him, though he had no doubt they hated him as much as he wanted to hate them.
To his surprise, or perhaps not, if he really thought about it, the cheering continued as they traveled down the long road. It seemed to be a many miles, before they reached the second gate. Again, a horn blasted, and the doors opened. Beyond this gate, was where Hiccup instinctively knew the nobles of Cartan lived. The buildings were larger, and more detailed, and the architecture more complicated. The domes were coated with gold, not just metal, and glinted as much as the front gate did.
“You look like a fish,” Camicazi told him, finally able to speak, now that they left the lower circle, and, consequently, the noise, behind.
“You can hardly blame me,” he said. “Berk is… different.”
“We know,” Camicazi said smugly. “We were there.”
He ignored this, and continued to look around. He itched for a sketchbook and charcoal or pen and ink, to truly take in the surroundings and immortalize them. He may hate the Yorvani for their revenge tactics, but he could not deny that they were masters in many things. As they reached a third gate, he found that the party halted. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Not everyone is allowed within the citadel,” Heather said. “Only those of the War Chief’s personal guard and staff, and any nobles among our party, are allowed.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Of course,” Heather said. “And no one complains, since they are all eager to rejoin their long awaiting families.”
With a start, he realized that those who had been traveling with him must have families somewhere. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, sisters, brothers… it seemed strange to him, and an alien and unwelcome thought.
As the crowd behind him began to disperse, people laughing in relief and clapping each other on the back, heading to their homes, Astrid turned in her seat and caught Hiccup’s eye. They gazed at each other for a short while, before she turned away, as the gates opened.
A soft sigh escaped his lips, when he lifted his eyes to see the castle above him. He had never seen anything like this in his entire life. And he doubted he ever would. Baron moved forward again without his instructions, and the small group that was left entered the citadel, the door closing hard behind them. He saw Astrid ride forward a bit, and almost instinctively followed her, if not for Heather stopping him. He and everyone else hung back, dismounting from their horses as stablehands led them away. He watched as Astrid approached the steps that led to the palace, and approached the five figures that stood there.
She looked tense, from the stiffness of her movements, as she stopped before them, and tilted her head slightly in recognition. The five figures slowly bowed in return to her, and then straightened. One, the middle one, a tall, broad man wearing dark grey and brown robes with inlaid gold, stepped forward and grasped Astrid’s hand. Hiccup watched as Astrid stiffened at the man’s touch, then relaxed only when the man let go and began walking away, Astrid following.
“Who was that? And who are they?” Hiccup asked his two guards, watching as Astrid and the five figures walked up the steps.
“They,” Heather said, “Are the five persons that make up the High Council. You’ll meet them tomorrow night at the celebration.”
“And that man?” he asked, referring to the man who had clasped Astrid’s hand in greeting.
“Head of the council,” Camicazi said, “You’ll meet him tomorrow too. Here, let’s get you to your chambers. I’m sure you’d really, really like a bath. You smell.”
“So do you,” he retorted, following them towards the steps as well.
At the top of the long climb, was a courtyard, stones forming some kind of mosaic on the ground, pillars all around with the figures of what Hiccup could only assume were the gods of the Yorvani. As the enters the large doors into he palace itself, he found once again that words escaped him. “I would like very much to be able to paint or draw all this,” he said, looking around, when he finally gathered enough thought to talk.
“You’ll be able to draw and paint plenty from your apartments,” Heather said.
“You mean I won’t be able to leave?” he asked, starting and looking at her in surprise.
“Of course not,” Heather said, giving him a look that clearly showed she was doubting his intelligence. “Let you run nilly willy wherever you want? You’d be dead by the end of the day.”
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“There are those that aren’t very fond of the idea of a Wilderwesterner being a Sun’s father,” Camicazi answered.
They passed another set of doors, guarded by four guards, and entered a courtyard, with a lovely garden. Surrounding the courtyard was a kind of patio, with pillars and doors, each with a guard posted in front of them. There were many floors, rising up high, at least three or four, each with their own balcony wrapping around the courtyard.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“The War Chief’s apartments,” Heather answered. “Your apartments, a section of this one, is over there,” she pointed across the courtyard, and they made their way over.
His apartments were pleasant, if small. Shaded, and yet brightly lit by natural light. It was also cool, which he was thankful for—for the heat and dirt of the journey, and the heat radiating off the stone of Cartan, made him feel hot and light headed.
Upon entering the room of the lower floor, he found that it was large, a room for eating and entertaining guests. There was a strange, spiraling staircase, much like that one would find in a tower, except this one had no walls, only a thin railing, and was made of metal. There were musical instruments in the room, as well as some books, tables, chairs, and other things for entertaining oneself and guests. But what truly startled him, was the sight of a young girl standing in the middle of the room, bent at the waist, bowing to him.
“Who is that?” he asked.
“Ipti, your personal servant,” Heather said. “You’ll have others, too, of course, but Ipti will be specially yours.”
He looked at her, as she’s lowly straightened. She looked to be about fifteen, with a long black braid down her back, black eyes, and loose fitting, simple clothes on a lanky, thin body. She looked frightened, and somewhat apprehensive. In clear and perfect words of the Wilderwesterner speech, she said, “A bath is waiting for you upstairs, Milord. May I fetch you some food after you are finished bathing?”
“Uh,” Hiccup said, taken aback. “Sure.”
She bowed again, and then stood there.
“She is waiting for you to head upstairs,” Camicazi told him.
“Why?” he asked, before his two guards hurried him upstairs, and they entered the second floor.
“Servants of nobles and royalty must not be seen doing their work,” Heather said. “They must do it without their labors being observed.”
“Why?” Hiccup asked, flabbergasted, as he looked around the room.
“Why? Because it is the skill of a servant to be able to do their work seamlessly and secretly,” Camicazi said. “Anyway, I’m sure you’ll put an end to it, although you might insult Ipti if you try. Ooh, I can smell your bath. I assume Astrid—”
“Don’t call her that,” Heather snapped.
Camicazi gave Heather a side-long glance. “I’m sure the Sun sent word ahead that you don’t like being bathed by women.”
“Or anyone,” Hiccup said. “I’m perfectly capable of bathing myself.”
“Right,” Camicazi said skeptically. “Well, hurry on, and bathe.”
Hiccup stepped forward, leaving the room that looked like a more informal eating and lounging room, and entered what was clearly a bedroom. Then, past that towards the smell of oils and fragrances, was a bath room. A large tub stood by the window, and there was also a basin with water and a mirror. The floors were tiled, with rugs of fur.
With another sigh, he began to undress, walking towards the tub, thankful that there was a curtain that, while letting light in, would hopefully not allow anyone in the opposite windows or balcony to see him. He stepped into the deep bath, and sank down. It was much nicer than the small tub in Astrid’s tent, and much nicer still that he was able to bathe alone. He leaned back, enjoying the heat of the water, and the pleasantness of the whatever was added against his skin. After a moment, he moved the curtain slightly, to look out and down. There were a few gardeners in the courtyard, tending to the plants. He wondered if he would even be allowed into the courtyard.
He snorted. They could try to keep him contained within the apartments, but he doubted they would be completely successful. He would lay low and obedient for a few days, give Heather and Camicazi and the guards at the entrance to his apartments a false sense of security, and then he would go off and explore. Perhaps draw a little.
After his bath, he got dressed in simple clothes, though much finer than the Yorvani clothing he wore while traveling. Then he left the bathing room to explore the bedroom. The bed was large and comfortable, and there were many wardrobes and chests of clothes, more than he thought necessary or possible to wear.
As he rose to the next level, he found that there was a library of sorts. Tall bookcases lined the walls, and after inspecting a few, he found that they were mostly in the dialects of the Yorvani, but many were in the speech of the Wilderwesterners. There was a few chairs stuffed with down feathers, and covered with velvet, and there was an ornate table, with a matching chair, towards one end. He sat down, running his fingers across the detailed embellishments, admiring the handiwork. He opened the drawer, and to his upmost pleasure, he found that inside was plenty of parchment and ink. And not just ink, ink of many colors. This much ink, and of such varieties, must have cost a fortune.
There was also a small leather-bound journal, and Hiccup drew it out, opening it. It was blank inside, and he guessed it was for his use.
He gazed at it, contemplating his options, whether it was safe to use. Finally, he decided he would risk it, and opened it, picking up a quill that was a strange, dramatically colorful feather. He dipped it in blue ink, and began to write.
I have finally reached Cartan, and it has exceeded my expectations. I may hate the people of the Yorvani for what they did to Berk, my father, and my people, but I cannot say that I hate this city. It is beautiful.
He paused, thinking about what to write next. Regardless of how carefully he hid the journal, he would have to be careful about not divulging too much information.
He marked the date, blew on the ink to dry it quickly, and closed the book, binding it shut with the string. Then, he rose, walking over to one of the shelves and slipping the book behind some of the books. It should be safe there, unless Ipti dusted the shelves. He would have to be careful around her as well. He was sure she was a spy for Astrid.
He left the library, heading down the two flights of stairs to the bottom floor, where Ipti was laying out the food. She froze, blushing deep red at being caught in the middle of her work, and quickly finished her task, before bowing and asking, “Is there anything else I can do for you, Milord?”
“That’s all,” he said, sitting down at the table.
She waited, and, tiredly, he waved her off.
She hurried out of the room.
Camicazi joined him at the table, helping herself to food, but Heather sat in a chair, looking out the window. “They’re adding an addition soon,” she said, pointing tot he windows. “A greenhouse—for your studies.”
“My studies?” he asked through a mouthful of food.
“Yes,” Heather said, looking at him exasperatedly, “Didn’t you say you like to invent things?”
“Oh,” he swallowed. “Right.”
Camicazi sniggered, and then reached for some flatbread. “Eat some of that on this,” she said, pointing to a red jam like substance.
“What is it?” he asked, reaching for it. As he spooned it onto the bread, and took a bite, his eyes bulged. He spluttered and coughed, as Camicazi howled in laughter, handing him a mug.
“Thanks,” he gasped, downing the thick, creamy milk.
“I had Ipti bring that for me,” Camicazi laughed, “But I wanted you to try it.”
“Thanks,” Hiccup muttered, his throat and mouth still burning.
“At least you swallowed it,” Heather said.
He nodded. His nose was also burning, as if being cleared of whatever was inside. Slowly, he began to eat again. He picked up a tall, narrow bottle and popped the cork out, sniffing it. He poured it into the empty milk cup.
“Easy there,” Camicazi said, “That’s strong stuff. Drink all that and you’ll be swaying on your feet.”
“So what?” he asked. “Gotta drown out my sorrows, right?”
Camicazi watched on nervously as he took a sip, and nearly spluttered again. She was correct: it was strong stuff. With a determined air, he downed the rest of the cup, putting it down on the table when he was finished. He breathed out slowly, blinking slightly, before smiling at Camicazi. “Not so bad,” he said.
“Just wait,” she said, eyeing him nervously, “You’ll be passing out soon if you don’t eat more to balance yourself.”
He shrugged, but ate more anymore, more for hunger than for any desire to lessen drunkenness and the numbness that accompanied it.
But it came, nonetheless, and soon, he was stumbling upstairs and collapsing onto his bed, asleep before he hit the pillow.
To be continued…?
Hi! Thanks so much for reading this chapter/the story so far! Sorry for the late update.
Also sorry for any grammatical/spelling errors in this chapter! I figured Posting the chapter was better than agonizing over the grammar/spelling until I gave up on posting a new chapter ;)
See you soon (hopefully)!
Ipti wrung her hands nervously as she watched him adjust the robes he was wearing. They were designed by a man named Master Cha, who apparently was the royal tailor. He had, of course, balked and looked deeply affronted at being called ‘tailor’, but he and his assistants had made the necessary adjustments and went on their way with little comment on Hiccup’s outlandish ways. He peered at himself in the mirror. He was wearing robes of deep blue, but there were shades and hues of other colors, dark green and black. The collar wrapped around his neck, and, overall, he found the outfit odd and a little too… stuffy and fanciful. “How do I look?” he asked Ipti, putting his arms out in welcome of critique.
She continued to wring her hands, looking like she very much wanted to speak, but dared not do. “Right,” he said, nodding. “Good enough.” He walked towards the door. “Please have some food and drink waiting for me for when I return,” he told her, as he left his bedroom. Once he descended the stairs, he found Heather and Camicazi waiting for him. They both wore lovely dresses, and looked up at him appraisingly.
“Master Cha outdoes himself as usual,” Heather said. “He made you look acceptable.”
“Har, har,” Hiccup said, rolling his eyes. “Are you two going to the ball as well?”
“We were invited by Astrid,” Camicazi said excitedly all in a rush. “But I mainly think she just invited us to keep an eye on you.”
“Why?” Hiccup asked, as they walked out into the courtyard. “Think I’ll do or say something in true Wilderwesterner fashion?”
“Possibly,” Camicazi said, shrugging as if this was expected.
The courtyard was as far as he had been allowed to go the last day, though he slept most of the morning, and spent the rest of the day nursing a hangover. He resolved to stay away from that drink from now on, or at the very least, drink only the acceptable and healthy amount.
As they left Astrid’s compartments and entered the main part of the palace, Hiccup looked around, marveling at the detail and beauty of it. “It’s… magnificent, just like you said, Heather,” Hiccup said. “I couldn’t have believed it at first.”
“I told you,” Heather said matter-of-factly.
“Did the Murers build it?” Hiccup asked.
“Oh no,” Camicazi said. “The Murers didn’t have this kind of eye for detail and design. No, the city and palace was designed by my great-great-great-grandfather. He was a very grand man. Oh look!” she said, pointing, “There he is.”
Surprised, Hiccup followed her pointing finger, and saw a large—very, very large, painting on the wall. They stopped in front of it. In the painting, wearing fine clothing and holding a roll of parchment and tools in each hand, was a tall, handsome, dark skinned man, gazing serenely out of the picture. “He also started the University,” Camicazi said proudly. “At the time he was one of the most educated, by books and letters and mathematics, at least, in all of Baë. He wanted to share his knowledge with everyone who was willing. Great man…”
Hiccup looked back at the painting.
“The Sun is expecting us,” Heather said. “We shouldn’t keep her waiting.”
They continued down the hall, and reached a large set of doors. There were people waiting to be let inside, and Hiccup watched as they sent hims strange and curious looks. “What are they looking at?” Hiccup whispered in Camicazi’s ear.
“You,” she replied. “They’re curious about the Wilderwesterner that managed to ensnare the Sun’s heart.”
“But I didn’t,” Hiccup said.
“Well, they know that too,” she said with a shrug. “But that doesn’t stop them for thinking it’s strange. You know, her choosing a Wilderwesterner. It makes some sense, I’m sure they know. They’re probably jealous. Upset that they weren’t able to have her marry their sons or themselves. That way they’d get more power. Oh, it’s your turn,” she said, pushing him towards the doors.
“Aren’t you coming with me?” he asked, stopping and turning to look at them beseechingly.
“Oh no,” Camicazi said, shaking her head hurriedly. “We wouldn’t dare enter at the same time as you. It would be… well, it would be rather presumptuous, wouldn’t it?”
He gave her a weird look, before turning and walking towards the door. The two guards bowed, then opened the doors, and he stepped through. He heard his name announced, as well as the words “The Sun”, and “Consort”, and as he stepped into he glittering hall, his eyes widened.
He stood at the top of a set of golden stars, that led down to a painted floor. The ceiling was impossibly high, with painted wood and metal jutting out in beautiful, ethereal designs. Lanterns and chandeliers hung, lighting the room.
A hushed silence had fallen over the crowd below. He saw a figure step out and leave the others, walking towards the steps, pausing at the bottom. Realizing it was Astrid, he walked down the steps towards her.
He now realized why he was wearing the colors and clothes he was. He was clearly dressed to match Astrid. She wore a dark blue-green gown, with strange, puffed sleeves, and the front revealing much of her cleavage. The dress was tight around her bodice and waist, but flowed out down to her feet. When he reached the bottom of the steps, she held out her own hand for him to take. As he put his hand in hers, she gave his a gentle, comforting squeeze, and the crowd behind her seemed to breathe again, the gentle hum of hushed voices rising from the former silence.
“You arrived,” she said, “I was worried you had lost your way.”
“Heather and Camicazi brought me here,” he answered.
“Well,” she said, leading him away. “Would you like a refreshment?”
“Oh,” he said, realizing she was still holding his hand. Then, as if sensing his thoughts, she let go of his hand and took his arm. She let him to a manservant, who was carrying a tray of a drinks.
“Here,” she said, taking one of the glasses and handing it to him. She took another for himself. He took a sip, finding it to be pleasant and fruity, and alcoholic.
“This won’t make me pass out, will it?” he asked, taking another sip.
“No,” she said. “Not unless you drink a lot. And I mean a lot. I’d stick to this though,” she added. “There are other drinks available tonight that might make you more drunk than you might feel comfortable being.”
They sipped their drink, her hand on his arm, when a couple approached them. “Ah,” Astrid said, smiling at them. “Hiccup, may I present Lord and Lady Ashton and Mariy Bryce.” She tilted her head in recognition, while they bowed low to her, then turned their interested eyes onto Hiccup. “May I present,” Astrid said, looking up at Hiccup with a smile. “Prince Hiccup of Berk.”
They bowed to him, though not nearly as low and respectfully as they did to Astrid. “It is with great pleasure to finally meet you, My Lord,” Lord Ashton said. “And with great curiosity.”
Hiccup smiled and bowed. “A pleasure in return,” he said, as he straightened. “It is a great honor to finally see the City of Cartan.”
The Lord and Lady smiled appreciably, then went on as another couple came forward to introduce themselves.
Hiccup had lost count of the people he had been introduced to, when music began to play. “I don’t suppose you know Yorvani dance,” Astrid said.
“No, I don’t,” he admitted.
“I’ll have a tutor assigned to teach you,” she informed him.
“I’d also like a tutor for the language,” he said.
She looked at him in surprise.
“I want to get to know the dialects better, so I can communicate better with people,” he said.
She smiled, a genuine smile. “It will be so.”
She looked away from him for a moment, frowning. “It seems,” she said, “That the time has come.”
“The time?” Hiccup asked, as she led him away.
“Yes,” she said “The time for you to meet the High Council.”
“Do I have to?” he asked, half jokingly, harkening back to her descriptions of the High Council before.
“Yes,” she said. “Do not worry, not all of them are ‘intolerable’. Just don’t… say anything, or do anything, or draw any attention to yourself. If they speak to you, you may answer.”
“It seems even my tongue is under your command,” he said drily.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snapped, though there was some humor in her eyes. “I am merely looking out for your wellbeing.”
They passed through the crowd, and reached a small group of five persons. They turned to face Astrid and Hiccup as they stopped before them. “Lords and Ladies of the High Council,” Astrid said formally, bowing before them. “May I present my consort, Prince Hiccup of Berk?”
Hiccup bowed as well, and when he straightened, he took in the sight of the five persons. Three were male, and two female. But the one that drew his attention the most was the man standing in the middle, the man whom Astrid had greeted yesterday before entering the palace. He was a tall, very tall, and very broad-shouldered man. He had cunning, bright eyes.
“Hiccup,” Astrid said, “May I introduce you to the Head Chairman of the High Council, Drago Bludvist.”
Bludvist twitched his head in the slightest of acknowledgements. He keen eyes were gazing at Hiccup with interest—a foul kind of silent interrogation, as if sizing up his worth. “I knew your father, once,” Bludvist said.
“Oh?” Hiccup asked.
“Yes,” a slight sneer curled Bludvists’ lips, “I daresay I won’t get many chances to see him again, though. Pity. I would have enjoyed bragging about The Sun’s victory over his people.”
Hiccup bristled, and he opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced when Astrid squeezed his arm warningly. “Lord Bludvist,” she said coldly, all pleasantness that she had been directing at Hiccup throughout the night disappearing in an instant, replaced by the hardened warrior he had been introduced to himself two months ago in Berk. “I might remind you that such a subject is not to be spoken such in good taste.”
“Of course,” Bludvist tipped his head in her direction. “Forgive me, Sun. Now, if you excuse me… I have matters to attend to.”
He left, leaving Hiccup both furious with his words, and feeling relived that he was no longer under the man’s scrutiny. The two women and the other man left as well, after Astrid briefly introduced them, leaving the last council member. He looked remarkably familiar, as if Hiccup had seen him before.
“Hiccup,” Astrid said, visibly relaxing with the absence of the other four, and smiling at the man. “May I have the honor of introducing you to Rafan of House Taijhan.”
Hiccup blinked, recognizing the name of the House.
“You met my son, Ramir, on your journey here,” Rafan said, grinning at Hiccup.
“Oh!” Hiccup’s eyes widened in sudden recognition. “Of course! I was wondering why you looked so familiar.”
“My son bears a striking resemblance to me,” Rafan said, nodding his head. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Hiccup. Astrid is like a daughter to me, and I am most pleased that she is finally starting a family of her own.”
Hiccup, and Astrid, shifted uncomfortably at this, and Rafan frowned slightly. “Well,” he said, recovering quickly, “To your health,” he raised his glass, and Hiccup and Astrid raised theirs in toast as well, before the three drank.
“Come, Hiccup,” she said. “You seem like you need a breather.”
She led him to a quiet, or at least, a more private, section of the ballroom, and they sat down on the chairs set there. Hiccup let out a long breath. “Bludvist is a charmer,” he said. “He makes you look like a cake.”
“Thanks,” she said drily. “And please, don’t ever compare me to that man. I hate him more than anything else.”
“Then why not unseat him?” he asked, “And put someone else in his place? Like Rafan?”
“I have no power over the High Council,” she said, “And it is not wise to say such words here. There are ear everywhere.” She looked around, as if she expected someone to have been spying on them at that very moment. “But it does not matter, anyway. I’ll explain later,” she said, when he looked at her quizzically. “Point is, don’t get meddled up with him. He’s… he’s not a very… ethical man. Trust me, I know.”
She was glaring down at her ringed fingers, and Hiccup suddenly felt the burning desire to ask her what was on her mind, but something held him back. He sighed, and drank the rest of whatever drink was in his glass. “I feel I’ve had enough of tonight,” he said.
“Here,” she said, rising and offering him her hand. He accepted it, and she pulled him to his feet. “I’ll walk you back to your chambers.”
They passed through the crowd with little attention, but when they ascended up the steps, he was aware of many eyes following them. “Ignore them,” she said. “The worst that’ll happen is that they think we’re leaving to go fuck.”
By the time they reached Astrid’s personal courtyard, it occurred to him that they had no guards with them. “Is it safe?” he asked.
“To be without guards.”
“Oh,” she said, waving her hand dismissively, sitting down on a bench. “Not really, but no one would attack me in the palace. And besides, the ballroom is quite close. Any guards on patrol would hear our shouts.” She grinned evilly. “And I can withstand any attack, I assure you.”
“I’m sure you can,” he said, sitting down beside her. Above he could see the stars, and he could hear the distant rumble of celebrations. “Is the whole city celebrating?” he asked.
She nodded. “Though they are celebrating the return of their men and women, not the victory,” she said. She sighed contentedly. “To be honest, I am glad we came back early. It gave me the perfect excuse—I had been looking for one.”
“Excuse for what?” Hiccup asked.
She gave him a side-long look. “I hate those things,” she said finally, breathing out heavily, releasing some sort of major secret. “And I always have to attend, when I’m in Cartan. I’d much rather not.”
He snorted through his nose. “Does that mean I’ll have to attend as well?”
“Of course not,” she laughed. “In fact, you’ll rarely attend. Tonight was an exception because… well, because you’re, you know, being introduced.”
He gazed up at the waxen moon. “Thank you, you know,” he said softly.
She looked at him, startled.
“For letting me write to my father,” he said. “I was too hungover today to really do anything about it, but… can I send him a letter tomorrow?”
“Of course,” she answered.
“Thank you.” For a moment, he contemplated what to do. Then, he leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. She froze against his touch.
“Oh,” she breathed, as he drew away.
To be continued...?
Thanks for reading!
See you soon?
Astrid has allowed me to write to you. I never expected to see you ever again, let alone have correspondence. But I am thankful that she has allowed me this.
I know… calling her “Astrid” makes her almost human. But she’s… not so bad, I suppose. Compared to some of the others here, she’s… well, she’s tolerable. I still can’t bring myself to trust her, though. Mostly out of spite, I’ll admit.
I haven’t… you know… beget a child with her. But I think that’ll come soon. She’s letting me chose when it happens, but she’s becoming desperate for an heir, I think, so I doubt I’ll be able to put it off for much longer.
I’ve been thinking about Berk a lot since I left it. I miss it. It’s hot here, though not as hot as the summer is, according to my guards. Nor as hot as the southern lands get… but there the seasons are reversed, or so they say.
I wish I could leave my apartments, and courtyard, but I’m afraid I am confined to these quarters for the rest of my life.
I wish to know how you are being treated, and if it is well. I hope you are.
My journey here was… interesting…
It started with meeting Astrid.
He dipped his quill in the inkwell, looking down at the parchment before him. He has just finished copying down the lines his tutor had assigned to him, when he heard what appeared to be rustling. Looking around, he saw that he was, in fact, alone. Ipti would never come in here while he was here, unless it was to deliver a message or bring him something.
Getting up, forgetting his lessons, he walked to the door and descended the two flights of stairs until he reached the bottom floor, the entertainment room, where he found a plethora of servants preparing for some kind of meal. The servants froze when he entered, and one, a tall, reedy looking man with white hair and blue eyes, stepped forward. “Greetings, Lord Hiccup. The Sun has organized for the two of you to have luncheon together.”
The persons behind the man looked uncomfortable, as if they didn’t know if they should continue preparing the meal, or if they should stay where they were. The man turned around spoke to them, and Hiccup got the distinct impression he was telling them it didn’t matter if Hiccup saw them at work. “And who are you?” Hiccup asked, looking at the man shrewdly.
“I am Victer Hofferson,” the man said, bowing slightly. “The Sun’s paternal uncle.”
“Oh,” Hiccup frowned, realizing where he recognized those blue eyes now. But somehow, the eyes belonging to the man before him were cold and distant, not full of emotion like Astrid’s were capable of. “Very well, then.”
He turned and walked back upstairs, to his study, deciding to let Astrid’s uncle and the servants do their work without him bothering them. Ipti came into the room with a tray of tea.
“How long will the Sun be here?” he asked her, and she jumped, startled that he was talking to her.
“I don’t know,” she answered meekly. “At least an hour, I would say.”
“I haven’t seen her in a week,” he said. “Not since the ball.”
Ipti nodded slowly. “She…”
“What?” Hiccup looked at her, interested in what she could have to say.
“They say—the servants that serve her… that she had gone to a healer yesterday,” Ipti said.
“A healer? Is she ill?”
“No! It’s more that…” Ipti blushed, looking deeply embarrassed and regretful she had brought it up. “Apparently the healers told her that her body is in perfect condition to conceive a child… maybe that’s why she’s here today.”
“Oh,” Hiccup said, now also wishing that Ipti hadn’t brought it up. “Right. Well.”
Ipti took the tray and hurried away, her face a deep crimson. Hiccup watched her go, before taking another sip, when he heard a slight knock at the door. He jumped in his seat, startled, and looked over to see Astrid standing there.
She wore a simple tunic, not quite so intricately embellished as she usually wore, and britches, her feet bare except for soft, silk slippers. She stepped inside, smiling at him. “I’m sorry for staying away,” she said. “Meetings all week—such a pain,” she looked like she meant it. “How have you been?”
“Good,” he said. “My tutors are very strict,” he motioned at the countless pieces of parchment before him. “But I’m glad you got them for me.”
“Good,” she said, repeating the word with a smile. “I’m glad you seem to be enjoying your lessons. I saw your servant… Ipti? Her name is? She seemed… embarrassed about something.” Astrid looked over her shoulder, an amused look on her face.
“She was just telling me about your trip to the healers,” Hiccup said.
“Oh,” Astrid said, looking at him quickly. “Well, seems our servants talk to each other. No matter, it was hardly a private visit. I’m actually pleased rumors are spreading. Might give people the impression there’s actually a chance I might conceive a child soon.”
Hiccup gave out a short laugh, as she sat against his desk, staring up at the ceiling. “It’s small,” she said. “You do like it though?”
“I wish I could go out and about,” Hiccup said. “A quick, three-minute-max walk around the courtyard gets a bit… boring after a while.”
She said nothing, just stared at the ceiling, a vague expression on her face. “Hiccup,” she said, but did not finish what she was going to say. She gave out a noise that was a half sigh, half laugh, and stood up. “Come, let us eat,” she said. “I have limited time until my next meeting—the High Council is not pleased with me… I am afraid I have incurred their wrath.”
“What for?” he asked, concerned. He got up from his seat and followed her out of the room and down the stairs. Whatever the problem was, it had to be serious for Astrid to be in trouble. But he did not doubt that whatever it was, she must be nervous. Implicitly or explicitly, he got the impression the High Council were not to be crossed. He did not fancy the only person keeping him and his father and people safe being executed.
“Astrid,” he said, realization dawning on him, as the two of them reached the bottom of the steps and walked over to the tables, they sat down, and Astrid began to eagerly serve herself. “Is this because… because of me?”
Astrid looked up, her face unreadable. “Never you mind,” she said. “It’s none of your concern.”
“But,” he insisted, “Is this because you did not impose Yorvani rules on Berk? And kill my father and I? Is Drago—”
“Hiccup.” Her voice was harsh and short. She gave him a furious, warning look. “It is wise,” she said. “Not to speak such things… unless one is sure… it is safe to do so.” She uttered these words quietly, without moving her lips much. His brows furrowed, as her expression brightened, and she offered him a plate. “Eat,” she said. “I had them prepare some Berkian food. My chef was, of course, insulted he had to stoop to that level, but…I think he managed it well enough.”
Hiccup accepted the plate, and looked at it. Mashed potatoes, chicken leg with salt, and boiled vegetables. He felt a rush of nostalgia for his homeland, feeling suddenly lonely and homesick. “Thank you,” he said, accepting it. “So besides meetings of dubious intent, what else have you been up to?”
“Oh, this and that,” she said.
“Right,” he said slowly, when a long silence occurred after her words. “Right, well… I’ve been busy as well. But…” he trailed of for a moment. “I was wondering, if I could…. Go out.”
“Go… out?” she asked, looking up at him, her mouth full of food, raising an eyebrow in question.
“You know… outside of the courtyard and my apartments,” he said. “Explore the palace and citadel… maybe even go out into the city… the jungle…”
“No,” she answered shortly.
“But—” he began.
“No, Hiccup,” she said.
“Well, when can I go out?” he demanded.
“You’ll stay here until I decide it is safe for you to do so,” she said.
“Safe?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Surely you have guessed most people are not pleased I chose you to father my children,” she said, as if speaking to something unintelligent. “Until I conceive, I need to keep you alive.”
He stared at her. “Is that all you want from me, then? I thought—”
“You thought what?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I thought we had a connection,” he said, just as shortly as she had spoken.
She looked at him, her expression again unreadable. “Hiccup,” she said, and her tone had a slight irritation to it. “Don’t be insulting. I know just as well as you do that you do not, and never will, want any ‘connection’ with me.” She began cutting a piece of meat, but instead of putting it in her mouth, she just cut it into smaller and smaller pieces. “In fact, I bet you would just love it if you could strangle me in my sleep one night, wouldn’t you?”
She looked up at him, meeting his gaze.
He met hers. He couldn’t agree with her, but he couldn’t disagree either. More than anything, he felt winded. Wounded. Somehow her saying these words cut into him and infuriated him. He wanted to shout at her. How could she say that? But more than even his anger at her for thinking he would be so heartless, he was angry at himself. For realizing that his heart had, in a small way, let her in. He was furious that he had made a connection with someone he had sworn to hate.
He sat back in his seat heavily, expelling the air from his lungs, suddenly exhausted. “That’s cruel,” he said.
“Maybe,” she answered. “But it’s the truth, isn’t it? A pity… I think I’ve grown a little fond of you. If we met under different circumstances… I can even see myself growing… quite fond of you. It truly is a pity…” she looked out the window, a contemplative look on her face. “I almost wish…”
He felt something stir within him. Not love, or affection… but some small cunning voice. A voice that told him to mark this moment of weakness in her. This frailty… this… moment of her almost confession of caring about him. He could use this. Not now, perhaps. But eventually. He could use this weakness.
“Well, we don’t have to talk about that,” he said. He ate quickly, hoping to distract himself from that small, cunning voice.
They ate in silence, and when they were finished, Astrid cleansed her palate with wine, and walked over to the wall, and sat down on the floor against the many pillows. He cleansed his own palate, and walked over as well. He sat down next to her. “That wasn’t fair,” he said, finally.
“What wasn’t?” she asked.
“What you said,” he answered. “That I… will never want to care about you. When we have a child… I’ll at least care about you as the mother of that child. Even if I never… care about anything else about you.”
She snorted. “Hiccup, you don’t have to be so noble. I know you hate me. I know you… would do anything to hurt me, if you could. I trust you enough not to do something rash. I am, of course, protecting you, and your father, and your people. You’re not stupid. But…” she said, nodding her head firmly. “The circumstances are against you. And that creates… conflict.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. She sighed. “I’m… I’m afraid of… the thought of…” her voice was slightly tight.
“Afraid of what?” he asked.
She sighed through her nose. “Afraid of being with you,” she said softly.
“What, like…” he trailed off. “Like what?”
“Of sleeping with you,” she said, her voice irritated again. She drew away from him.
“Why would you—”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said quickly. “Doesn’t matter to you, anyway, I’m sure. Point is…” she sighed again. “We’re stuck together, for a bit. At least until I get pregnant. So… we should probably get that over with soon, so you don’t have to deal with me anymore.”
She gave him a tight smile, before slowly standing up. “If you behave yourself… I might let you beyond the courtyard with Heather and Camicazi. Only with Heather and Camcazi, though maybe Ramir and Hada would suffice.” She looked down at him, studying him carefully. “I’m leaving Cartan for a week or two—there’s trouble in the West. I’ll see you when I return.”
He watched her leave, his chest feeling heavy with conflict.
“I’m just going up to bed,” he said, rising from his seat.
“What, already?” Camicazi asked. “It’s the middle of the day.”
“Funny how having nothing to do can make you tired,” he answered. He walked up the steps to the second floor, where he fell backwards onto his bed. Astrid had been gone two days, and somehow he… missed her presence. But, he had to admit, it wasn’t all bad. With her gone, he had a little more freedom. Such as now.
Getting up quickly, he dressed in simpler Yorvani clothes, servant clothes he had ordered Ipti to get for him. He then walked up the remaining steps to the library, and walked out onto the terrace. He had tested them out yesterday, and these rose trellis were sturdy enough to support him. He took in a few deep breaths, readying himself, before hoisting himself up. From this angle, the guards below in the courtyard should not be able to see him. And Camicazi and Heather wouldn’t dare enter his bedroom to check on him. And Ipti, while he wasn’t sure if he could trust her to keep his secret escape a secret, seemed trustworthy enough to keep quiet until he got back. She did procure the clothing for him.
Partway up the wall, he peered to the right, his eyes widening at the sigh he saw. He could see the rest of the expansive palace and citadel, and beyond that, the full breadth of Cartan, blinding in the bright sunlight. For a moment, he hung there, gazing, transfixed, before returning his attention to the task at hand. His arms ached already, by the time he reached the edge of the building. Grasping it, and realizing a flaw in his plan, he managed to hoist himself up, breathing heavily as his legs dangled off the edge. Managing to reach out, he pulled himself the rest of the way.
He rolled onto his back, staring up at the blue sky, feeling hot and sweaty. Then he sat, and looked once again out onto the city and the fields beyond.
It was… beautiful. If only Astrid allowed him to explore it. Then, shifting his eyes ahead of him, he saw it. A green mass of tangled forms. The Jungle. His breath hitched.
He read books on it, on the fauna and beasts. But he wanted to see them for himself.
He stood, shakily, looking out, and grinning, only barely being able to hold in a loud, celebratory ‘whoop!’ The last thing he needed was the guards discovering he had escaped them. He held out his arms, letting the wind whip past him, tugging on his loose clothing, and then set to finding somewhere to climb down the other side, where hopefully no one would discover him.
He found it, another rose trellis, and climbed down, hiding in some bushes while two sentries walked past. When they rounded a corner, he stepped out, looking around for any more guards. There did not seem to be any, and so he hurried on. With any luck, he may find a way out of the palace, though his chances of doing so unseen would be greatly—
He let out a grunt as he collided with someone. The person yelped, stumbling backwards, and he automatically grasped their arm to steady them. Looking down at the woman before him, he realized with a shock that it was Jatha.
“Oh,” she said, looking at him in surprise. “Hiccup. What are you…” she looked around, a worried expression on her face. “Is it safe for you to be by yourself?”
“Perfectly,” he said with a shrug. “What about you?”
“It’s safe for me as well,” she said, with an awkward laugh. “But are you sure—”
“I’m fine,” he said firmly, letting go of her arm. “What are you doing here?”
“I was…” she gave a little shrug with a wry smile. “Working. What about you?”
“I was,” he said with a shrug of his own. “Doing nothing, per usual.”
They stood there awkwardly, before Jatha said, “Well, since we are both now doing nothing, perhaps you would like to go for a walk with me?”
“There’s no need to worry,” she said. “I doubt any guards will care as long as you’re with me. They’ll just assume you’re one of my clients.”
“Oh,” he said. He wasn’t sure that was much better. What would Astrid do if she found out he had been with Jatha, even in just theory? He didn’t like to think.
“Here,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him through a dark doorway. Up a steep set of stairs, and they came out, blinking in the bright sunlight. When his eyes adjusted, he found that they were on some kind of balcony. “Come…” she murmured softly, pulling him towards a lounging chair. They sat. “Tell me, how have you been entertaining yourself?” she asked.
“Well, I have tutors… and… the like,” Hiccup said casually.
“You haven’t been spending time with… Astrid?” Jatha asked, curious.
“N…o,” Hiccup said slowly. “No, I haven’t. Not lately, with her being gone,” he added, not liking where this conversation had headed. The last thing he needed was to think about how much trouble he’d be in with Astrid if she knew who he was spending his afternoon with.
“Really?” Jatha seemed interested. She leaned closer, and her perfumes were overwhelming his senses—causing him to feel slightly nauseas. “You… still haven’t…”
“Not with her,” Hiccup said. “Not with anyone since leaving Ber—I mean,” he coughed slightly. “Not with her, no.”
He stared straight ahead, focusing on a flock of birds high up in the sky.
“I see.” Jatha seemed pleased by this revelation, and he wondered briefly why that was. She couldn’t possibly be interested in him, could she?
Before she could say anything else on a dangerous subject, he quickly moved the conversation on. “I… want to go out and explore.”
“Is that not what we’re doing?” she laughed.
He gave her an appraising look, before shaking his head ruefully. “I mean, go out freely—go to the Jungle and explore—explore the city… get to know the people who are going to be led by my children. I don’t know… I hate being stuck in my apartments all the time. I want to just… go out and actually… feel for once that I’m free.”
Jatha hummed in appreciation and understanding. “I cannot imagine what it would be like,” she said softly. “As I am free to go where I wish, within reason. Perhaps you can make a bargain to the Sun to allow you to attend University.”
He looked at her quickly. “Really?” he asked. “You think she’d—you think she’d let me?”
“Why not?” Jatha shrugged. “It should be perfectly safe—and it’ll occupy your time well enough. It is very intensive.”
“Huh,” Hiccup said, looking out across the city with renewed interest. Perhaps he should ask Astrid. No doubt she would deny him… but maybe he could convince her. Maybe he could do something that would incline her towards granting him his wish. He could kiss her… give her a good snog… or even… “What are you doing in the citadel, anyway?” Hiccup asked Jatha.
“Business, like I said,” she answered with a noncommittal shrug. “But I’m done for the day. I live in the upper circle,” she pointed, and he followed her gaze. “That dome is the tip top pinnacle of my mansion. You can come visit anytime, if you wish.”
“Visit?” he asked, squinting against the brightness, trying to make out the shape and color of the dome.
“Yes,” she said. “Visit.”
“When I’m attending University, you mean,” he said.
“No…” she shook her head slowly, smiling at him as if he had said something amusing. “I mean… you know.” she raised her eyebrows, suddenly looking embarrassed that she had to elaborate.
And he suddenly knew exactly what she meant. “I don’t know,” he answered, a feeling of unease settling upon him.
Her teeth played with her bottom lip for a moment, and she looked hesitant, and yet eager, and she suddenly leaned forward, pulling him into kiss.
To be continued…?
Thanks for reading!
See you soon?
He nearly dropped his quill in surprise. He sprang to his feet, almost running to the stairs, before realizing that would look like he was excited to see her, not whatever she brought with her. Forcing himself to move slowly, and forcing his mind not to remind him that a small part of him would be glad to see Astrid again, he descended the stairs and reached the bottom floor, where Astrid was standing, wearing traveling clothes.
“Astrid,” he said, in a short greeting.
She turned towards him, a peculiar look on her face, and he wondered if it was his constant use of her first name. He was, it seemed, the only person to call her such to her face, or even when she wasn’t around. “Hiccup,” she said, answering in turn. “How have you been?”
“Good,” he said quickly, then looked at her. She had nothing on her, it seemed. He wondered if she was hiding a letter within her clothes. “How was your trip?”
“It was fine,” she said, sounding weary. “Berserkers have, once again, tried an uprising. I missed most of it, just coming in on the end.”
“Oh,” was all Hiccup said. Normally, he’d be fascinated by this news—eager to hear more. But now all he could think about was news of his father, and hopefully, he prayed, a letter from him.
“Hiccup,” she said, walking over to him, as if sensing the direction of his thoughts. “I have something for you.”
She reached into the breast of her robe, and drew out a letter. She handed it to him. “For you,” she said. “No one has read it except your father, and, now, you. I had it on me the whole time.”
Though the seal crest of the Haddock Family was not broken, he wondered briefly if she was perhaps lying. Why wouldn’t she be suspicious of him writing with his father? They could start an uprising easily. But he decided to trust her, even if just in the moment. “Thank you,” he breathed, taking the letter from her and ripping the seal.
“Hiccup,” she said, forcing him to freeze on his way to the stairs. “Hiccup… I’m afraid I have news.”
“News?” he asked, tearing his eyes away from the parchment to stare at her. “News about what?”
He felt panic inside him. Panic that he could not quell.
“Nothing bad,” she shook her head as if to emphasize the point. “It is just… there is talk… and… I cannot… go much longer without news getting out.”
“Getting out?” he asked.
“I must get pregnant soon,” she sighed. “It’s… important. Rumors that I am barren are starting to stick, with you here. Before I could get away with it… since I had no public lover. But with you here… and with me pronouncing that you will father my children… people are starting to talk.”
“Right…” he said slowly. “So… what are you saying?”
She sighed, closing her eyes. “I’m saying,” she said, just as slowly, and yet with none of the sarcasm that his own voice had held, instead holding a sort of weariness and reluctance. “That we’re going to have to get it over with. Anyway, thought I’d let you know. There’s still time—a few months, I’d say, before people get too suspicious. Thought… you should know. Enjoy your letter.”
She turned and walked briskly away. He watched her leave for a moment, pondering at her sullen and quiet mood, before hurrying upstairs to his bedroom and flopping himself down onto his bed. He opened the letter with shaking hands, closing his yes for a moment, before opening them again.
His father’s hand was just as it always was, no indication that Hiccup could see of mistreatment.
My dear Hiccup,
Your letter brought me hope… more hope than I could have imagined. That you are alive and well… I cannot explain what that means to me.
I am doing well myself—it is not so bad here. They seem to realize that as a former King, I am deserving of certain comforts. But, like you, those comforts are not worth my freedom. How I wish to be back in Berk… and all this to have never happened. But that is not how life has turned out.
Indeed, it is interesting, the War Chief. I expected her to be different, but your description of her, particularly when the two of you are alone, surprised me. Perhaps this could turn well in your favor. What I mean is… children should have parents that enjoy each others company… and as you know, a child that can grow up with both their parents, getting along and present, is always best. I am glad that you have found a kind of common ground with the War Chief. Perhaps even… love could be in the future for you.
I do not say that to anger you, for I know that you are rolling your eyes at this very moment. I mean instead that… perhaps you can find comfort in her. Perhaps you can… become her friend. And by doing so, influence her in ways that will benefit yourself and those you care about.
I do wish I could meet my grandchildren, when they arrive in this world. Perhaps in a few years, you could bring them here and introduce them to me.
Hiccup read the rest of the letter with prickling eyes, unable to keep them completely dry. It felt wonderful, to have this connection with his father again. It was almost as if his father and he were not separated.
There was no news of any rebellions, and his father was careful to keep things neutral. The most scandalous or treasonous part was manipulating Astrid. And that alone was not a foreign concept to him. He had full intentions of doing so.
He rolled onto his back, staring unfocused at the letter, before setting it carefully down beside him.
He would have to write to his father soon, and hope that Astrid would let him send it.
And then he would have other things to worry about.
“Astrid,” he began, and she looked at him over the mountain of scrolls and books and important documents he was not allowed to look at. Things that she brought with her to his apartment, because he was not yet allowed to step foot in her private quarters.
“Yes?” she asked, not looking up from her documents.
“Can I… attend University?” he asked.
She looked up again, squinting at him quizzically. “Why?”
“I want to learn,” he said with a shrug.
She continued to look at him, now shrewdly. “You’re already well educated. And besides, I have already assigned tutors to you.”
“And I appreciate them,” Hiccup said, slowly, “But I want to attend University. I want to… you know. Learn more. At a higher level. With others. I think it’ll give me something to do. Jatha says—” Astrid’s face twisted into something ugly, and he stopped talking. Her face was quickly replaced by something placid, and he continued on, hesitantly, “Jatha says that they often assign assignments to work on. I thought it would give me something to do, while waiting for… you know. The baby to be born.”
She squinted at him again. “Well, there’s no baby yet.”
“But there will be, eventually,” he said. “When you and I finally… you know.”
“Right,” she said, nonplussed, looking down at her documents again. “But until then, you’ll stay here.”
“You can’t keep me locked up here, like a bird in a cage,” he countered, irritably.
“It’s not safe for you to leave,” she said, still focused on the document before her. “You think there aren’t people who would be thrilled for you to die before I get pregnant? It’s not safe for you to leave and wander around—and yes,” she finally looked up, giving him an annoyed look of her own, “I know quite well your little… ‘escapades’ into the citadel. And I know with whom you meet.”
He did not reply, just looked at her expectantly.
“I rather suspect I’ll become an aunt, before I become a mother,” she said, with a slight curl of her lip.
“Is that what you’re so irritated about?” he asked. “You think I’m sleeping with Jatha?”
“You can have me followed but you don’t know the answer to that?” he retorted. “Your spies need better training.”
She looked up sharply, glaring at him. “Perhaps you are not sleeping with her. But you do spend time with her.”
His own lip curled in anger, and he forced himself to stay calm. “I am not your husband,” he finally forced out. “You’ve reminded me of that fact constantly when we were traveling here. So you have no right to demand that I stay ‘faithful’ to you.”
She moved as if she were about to rise, glaring at him with such intensity that he almost, for a moment, believed she really was the daughter of a war goddess. “Do not speak to me that way,” she hissed.
She suddenly seemed to become deflated. “I am just… jealous…” she said slowly, glaring tiredly down at the document before her.
“Jealous? Of Jatha?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“You seem fond of her,” Astrid said. “I would not be surprised if she did bear a child of yours one of these days. And I could hardly blame you. But… you seem… to have a tenderness towards her.”
“And you’re jealous of that?” he asked, blinking at her in surprise. “Are you saying you wish I had a tenderness towards you?”
She refused to look at him. “I’m fond of you,” she said slowly. “I cannot promise more than that… but I dislike the idea of you fathering children that are not mine. I know that might be selfish…”
“You want me all to yourself, then,” he said, looking at her with a lidded expression.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” she said, but she flushed with embarrassment. “I’m just… it is difficult,” she said, pausing, “To have a tenderness towards someone who despises you.”
He gazed at her. “I don’t despise you,” he said finally.
She looked up, out the window at the greenhouse that had been added to the exterior of Hiccup’s apartments, a look of upmost exasperation on her face. “Don’t flatter me,” she said harshly. “You’ll never love me. You may not hate me entirely, but you’ll always hate me deep down in your heart. And you’ll never… care about me, more than the person you might exact revenge on.”
“And you’re the expert of my heart, then, are you?” he asked, his voice rising slightly. “Just like that, you’ll dictate that I’ll never care about you? Are you really that unlovable that you cannot imagine someone caring about you?”
She froze, still staring out the window, her expression still. It transitioned into something void of any emotion. She slowly rose, and snapped her fingers. Servants rushed forward from outside, gathering her books and papers and scrolls into their arms, and walking out of Hiccup’s apartments.
He watched this with a startled feeling, which rose into a panic as Astrid strode towards the exit herself. He stood quickly. “Astrid!” he called out, but she did not respond, merely disappearing from his sight. He hurried outside to the courtyard, and ran towards the grand doors that led to her own apartments, but the guards barred the way with their spears. He stood there, breathing heavily, glaring at them, before turning away and storming back to his own rooms. He sat down heavily on his bed, groaning with frustration.
He was angry.
Both with her, and with himself.
He did not see Astrid for a week after the unfortunate visit. The guards would not allow him to enter her apartments, nor leave the courtyard. He was stuck, hoping that Astrid would finally grace him with her presence so that he could apologize. But… did he even want to apologize? He could not help but feel a sick sort of satisfaction, that he was finally able to get under her skin. That he said something that clearly cut into her.
But that alone was worrisome. Did she think she was unlovable? Or at least, did she truly think he would only ever hate her, no matter what changed between them? He kicked at a decorative stone, and winced painfully as he sustained more damage than the stone itself.
“You’ll break your toes if you do that,” a curt voice said from behind him.
He spun around, eyes wide, staring at her. “What are you doing here?” he asked quickly.
“This is my home,” Astrid said, giving him a lidded look. “Why are you kicking stones?”
“I was…” he glanced at the stone, feeling foolish that she had caught him doing something so childish. “Doesn’t matter. Will you come inside?” he motioned to the door to the greenhouse, and she hesitated, before following him.
He watched as she slowly made her way around the long room, glancing at the diagrams and papers he had been working on. “You seem quite smart,” she said, thoughtfully. “That’ll be good for our children.”
“Thanks,” he said, not sure if she was complimenting him or insulting him. “Astrid… I’m…”
“No,” she said, the word cutting across the room. “Don’t apologize,” she continued. “I cannot expect you to care about me—after everything I’ve done. I shouldn’t have… imposed upon you that I want you to.”
“It’s not that I don’t,” he said, “I’m just… surprise that you do want me to.”
She looked at him, raising an eyebrow, before sighing. “I hate that I do,” she said drily. “You are the last person I would have thought I could care about… in that way.”
“… Thanks,” he said, in a dryness of his own.
“I don’t mean you, I mean… a Wilderwesterner,” she said with a shrug. “You were merely supposed to be a means to an end. Just like you accused me of using you as. And… Now I… find myself…”
He moved towards her, but she put her hand up, stopping him. “I find myself wondering why the gods cursed me, to start to fall for someone who… would strangle me given the chance.”
“I haven’t,” he said, feeling stung, despite its truth, or past truth.
She shrugged. “Semantics.”
“Listen,” he said, the frustration building inside him bubbling out angrily. “Just because you don’t think someone could love you—or that I couldn’t love you, doesn’t mean that I don’t. I mean, I don’t,” he added quickly, when she looked at him sharply. “But you can’t dictate that for me. You order me around, keep me locked up here, have me followed, for my so-called ‘protection’, and when I am allowed to leave, treat me like I’m some glorified concubine, but you do not have dominion over my heart. It is not your say whether or not I fall in love with you. I am the only person who can decide that.”
She stared at him.
Then she laughed.
He glared at her, fists clenched at his sides, his back rigid, as she stood there, guffawing at him. “Oh Hiccup…” she said softly. “I don’t say these things because I want to control your heart, I say them because I know what it feels to hate someone based on the actions they commit against you—”
Before he realized what he was doing—before he could stop himself—he strode over to her. Immediately, her hand flew to the hunting knife at her side, but he grabbed her wrists, pulling her into a kiss. She stiffened against him in surprise, as he let go of her hands and placed his on either side of her waist. He drew away, glaring down at her. She stared, open mouthed and wide eyed, up at him.
“What… did you do that for?” she asked, a little breathlessly, a lovely flush rising to her cheeks.
He swallowed angrily, and said, bitterly, “I’ll explain after I do it again.”
This time she was ready for him, her hands on his neck, drawing him in as he leaned down. He deepens the kiss, and became astutely aware that she seemed nervous, while seemingly experienced. When they broke apart a second time, he held her close to him, not wanting to feel the absence of her body.
“Hiccup…” she murmured, just as out of breath as he was. He felt soft lips against his neck, and he shuddered as a violent wave of heat flooded through his body.
In a quick motion, in which she let out an undignified sound in both protest and surprise in a most uncharacteristic manner, he lifted her up and pushed her onto the table. She sat there, grinning a little sheepishly, and he continued to glare at her. He settled himself between her legs, running his hands up her thighs and waist, until they reached the curve of her breasts.
He had wanted to do this since that night he spent with her on the Haleithir plains.
He liked this—this sense of power he suddenly felt. The feeling of being in control of a situation. Astrid lips parted slightly, her eyes closing as she took in a sharp intake of breath as his hands worked, his breath heavy against her neck, and—Hiccup stepped away, gazing at her, his breath labored with the effort of not continuing.
She sat there, body tense with longing, her breath hitching, waiting and expectant, before she opened her eyes, looking at him in hazy confusion.
“I’m not ready,” he said. It was both a lie and a truth.
“Oh,” she breathed, a look of disappointment on her face.
“But if I’m allowed to have a hobby… to study…” he said slowly, “I’m sure I’ll… be more inclined…”
“Oh,” she said again, frowning, the disappointed look disappearing from her face. Instead, a look of understanding settled onto her face. She knew what he was doing. “I see. Yes, well…” looking a little flustered, she hopped down from the table, and straightened her clothes. “I will speak to the head of the University, and tell them that you wish to attend. You’ll be tested for academics and… you can perhaps start next week.”
He watched her leave the greenhouse, a dull ache of guilt gnawing at his gut.
TO BE CONTINUED...?
Thanks for reading!
See you soon?
Heather and Camicazi led him to the gates of the citadel. It was an uncharacteristically cloudy day for Cartan: overcast and dreary. But Hiccup was in high spirits. As they distanced themselves from the Citadel, he felt a distinct sensation of relaxation. If only he could convince Astrid to let him out into the city more often—or better yet, into the Jungle.
“Here,” Heather motioned for a servant to bring out his horse. He quickly got into the saddle, as Heather and Camicazi did the same for their own horses, and followed them through the streets, three other guards surrounding him. It was all rather silly, if he could have an opinion. He stuck out like a sore thumb.
He could hear the distant rumble of bells, and saw the great golden domes of the university, and knew that they were soon approaching.
Heather made a tsk-tsk sound, and muttered to Camicazi that ‘they would be late’. Hiccup was too engrossed the the engravings and murals to notice anything she said. Great depictions of learning and philosophy, of ancient myths and legends, or perhaps parts of Yorvani history. He could see what he assumed was the pantheon of their beliefs, and wondered if he would be learning more about the gods and goddesses that the Yorvani entrusted their beliefs in.
As they made their way to the gate of the University, Hiccup noticed that their horses slowed. “We’ll walk from here,” Heather told him. He nodded, dismounting and following them through. The ground of the courtyard was a brightly colored mosaic, with designs too complicated for him to decipher what they were. In the center of the large courtyard was a fountain, a few students sitting on the ledge, discussing something. They looked up when they saw him, frowning. At first he wondered if he looked outlandish to them—but quickly realized it was his small battalion of guards that cause them to immediately recognize him.
“I’m pretty sure,” he said to Camicazi and Heather. “That all of you surrounding me is making me more obvious.”
“Well, sure,” Camicazi said, with a nonchalant shrug. “But who knows what assassins may be lying in wait for you…”
“Right…” Hiccup muttered. They made their way to the great steps, and ascended them, to where an old man was waiting.
“Consort Hiccup,” he said, bowing low. “Thank you for coming. I am Javesh. We are honored that you have decided to attend our humble institution.”
“Uh, thank you for letting me attend,” Hiccup said, before bowing as well. The man looked amused, if a little embarrassed, at that.
“Please, follow me,” he said, motioning to the great doors, which were open. Inside it was much cooler, and a tad darker, although still well lit. Hiccup looked around, marveling at the tapestries and the murals on the walls. It wasn’t until they reached a small, plain, white-walled room with only one small window that he realized that they had reached their destination. “We will test your language and learning capabilities,” Javesh said. “Please sit.”
Hiccup glanced at the small table and chair in the center of the room. The man motioned for Heather and Camicazi to leave, but both stood their ground. “Oh, by the gods,” Hiccup muttered to himself. “You two,” he said, sliding into his seat. “Just go. I can’t go anywhere and no one can fit through that window. I doubt Javesh is much of a threat.”
Javesh gave him a small, thankful smile, and Camicazi and Heather reluctantly stood outside the door. Hiccup could hear the pitter-patter of feet outside on the marbled and stone floors, and the quiet voices of students chatting and discussing things he could not decipher. He couldn’t wait to be among them. “Here,” Javesh said, taking out a pile of papers from a cabinet in the wall behind Hiccup. He placed the piles of papers on the table in front o Hiccup. He then handed Hiccup an ink well and a few quills. “Please, take your time. I will be waiting outside.” Javesh then left, leaving Hiccup to his work.
The tests were relatively easy, at least, the language part was. Hiccup knew he made some mistakes, but he was able to comprehend most of the questions. The second set of tests were enjoyable, and not challenging. He had gotten out of practice in things of architecture and mathematics and the maths that are needed to build things and contraptions, but it all came back quickly enough. The part that truly stumped him, was the sections of the test on the natural world of Cartan. Of course, he would barely know any of that—as he had not lived here and this was the first time he spent any time outside of the Citadel since he arrived. But the more he read, the more fascinated he became. With the flora and fauna, of course, but mostly with the animals mentioned. He wanted to study them all, even the mythical Majara, a creature that was sacred to the goddess Kor. By the time the test was finished, he heard the bells ringing again, and for a moment he feared the day was over, but it was merely the bell indicating the mid-day meal. He stood up, walking to the doorway and peered out. Students were streaming out of the hall and doors into the courtyard, and he quickly retreated back into the room, taking his tests into his hands.
He left the room again, handing them to Javesh. “Here,” he said.
“How did it go?” Javesh asked.
Hiccup shrugged. “I think I did alright—but some parts were harder than others.”
Javesh nodded, smiling. “I shall have these graded by tomorrow. I’ll then sort you into classes based on your test results.”
Hiccup nodded. “Does that mean I have to wait until tomorrow to start classes?” he asked.
Javesh frowned, before slowly shaking his head. “No… you could visit some classes today—spend some time around the university grounds, if you wish. You mustn’t disturb the students and teachers from their work, but—”
“I won’t,” Hiccup promised quickly. Heather and Camicazi smirked at him, and he sent them a quick, half-hearted glare.
“Very well,” Javesh said, “Shall I give you a tour?”
“No, I wouldn’t want to disturb your work,” Hiccup said, again quickly, “I’ll just explore on my own—with my… guards…”
He glanced at Heather and Camicazi, who were looking at him expectantly.
“Very well,” Javesh said again. “I will see you tomorrow—unless we run into each other today again.”
Hiccup nodded, and bowed to him in farewell. Javesh bowed as well, his face pink tinged with embarrassed. “Farewell for now, Milord,” he said, bowing again before leaving.
“Why was he so embarrassed?” Hiccup asked, as he and Camicazi and Heather began walking through the hall towards the doors.
“You bowed so low to him,” Heather said. “That was giving him more respect than your’s or his station would allow.”
“I thought I was no better than a glorified concubine?” Hiccup asked.
“It’s true you hold no real power,” Camicazi said. “But you are still The Sun’s consort. And you will be the father of the next Sun. Therefore… you should get used to… well, most people giving you lots of respect. At least the people who don’t look down on you and The Sun for… procreating.”
Hiccup ignored that last bit, blinking into the bright light as they left the building and descended the steps into the courtyard. A few faces turned their way, but most people were too enthralled in their own conversations to notice him. Perfect, he thought. He walked to a small group nearby him, and casually said, “Mind if we join you?”
The three faces looked up, curious, and paled when they saw him and Heather and Camicazi. They made to move to their feet, but Hiccup put up his hands. “No,” he said, “No need for that. I don’t want to draw more attention to myself.”
Looking sheepish, and a little unsettled, the three students nodded, motioning for him to sit on their blanket. He sat, Heather and Camicazi sitting as well. “You’re Prince Hiccup,” one of the three students said. “I heard you were going to attend here, but I didn’t think it was true.”
“You’re the Sun’s consort,” another, a young man, said, looking awed. “What is she like? I mean—really like?”
He was nudged hard in the ribs by the third student, and she turned to look at Hiccup. “What he means to say is, welcome. Have you joined any classes yet? I’m Lora, by the way.”
He shook his head. “Just took the test,” he said.
“How do you think you did?” the second student asked. “Oh, my name is Lavi, I’m Lora’s brother.”
“Younger brother,” Lora said. “And it shows. And this is Beorna, he’s an upperclassman.”
She turned to look at Hiccup. “So, how do you think you did? Was the test hard? I know it’s in Yorvi, were you able to understand most of it?”
He nodded. “I can understand most dialects by now—Astrid has tutors for me—”
The three students gasped, and, surprised, Hiccup stopped talking, frowning. “Did I say something strange?”
“You just referred to The Sun by her first name—only by her first name,” Lora said, mouth agape.
“So—you must know what she really looks like, I mean, under all that armor and stuff,” Lavi said. “Is she as scarred as they say?”
Hiccup glanced at Heather and Camicazi, who subtly shook their heads, warning him to be careful. Hiccup turned back to the three students. “I can’t really talk about that,” he said.
“Oh, of course he can’t,” Lora said, sending Beorna and Lavi a warning look of her own. “So, are you excited to start Uni? That’s what we call this place—it’s easier than just saying ‘University’ all the time.”
Hiccup nodded. “Yeah, pretty excited.”
“Don’t you have lunch?” Lavi asked. “What, the Sun doesn’t feed you?”
“Lavi!” Lora hissed.
“I was supposed to return to the Citadel for lunch,” Hiccup said.
“Here,” Lora said, handing him a small box. “You can have some of my lunch. I’ve got to head to the library anyway—i have an exam to study for.” She stood up, smiled at him, before leaving. As she passed her brother, she nudged him in the ribs with her foot, giving him a look that clearly was an order to behave. Hiccup opened the box and a began to eat the food inside. It was spicy, but not overly so. It was nice to know that he was starting to become accustomed to Yorvani and Cartan food. At least in that way life here was getting better.
He and Lavi and Beorna, as well as a few others who joined them once they recognized him for who he was, chatted until the bells rang again, and he got up. “Come with us,” Lavi said, slinging an arm around Hiccup’s shoulders. Heather stepped forward menacingly, but Hiccup quickly waved her off. “You’re interested in the creatures of the jungle? Our next class will be going on an expedition to the outer rim of the Jungle tomorrow—you should join that class and…” Lavi trailed off when the formally loud courtyard quieted, everyone stilling.
Confused, Lavi let go of Hiccup and looked around, before he paled slightly.
Hiccup turned around to face the gates, and saw… Astrid standing under the archway, a few guards surrounding her. She was wearing armor—though of the ceremonial kind, and under that a rather pretty dress. She smiled at him, before nodding for him to follow her. “Come on,” Heather said, as she and Camicazi began to walk towards Astrid. “Time to go home.”
Hiccup glanced apologetically at Lavi and Beorna, before promising to join that class as soon as he could, and following the others to the gate to where Astrid was waiting for him.
“How was your first day?” she asked, as they rode up to the gates of the Citadel.
Hiccup shrugged. “It was okay—the real fun began once lunch started.”
“Yes,” Astrid mused, glancing at him with humor in her eyes. “You were seeming to enjoy yourself. I see that allowing you to get an education will be good for you.”
“Allowing me? Please, Astrid, don’t be crass,” he retorted. “Besides, I’m well educated.”
“Not by Yorvani standards,” she said, shrugging. “Though you are good at inventing things…”
Hiccup ignored her quip, and instead focused instead on how to convince Astrid to let him join that class in particular, and how to let her join them on their expedition to the Jungle. He had to do it—the other students mentioned that there were rarely any trips to the Jungle these days. Too many people disappeared into them, never to be seen again. He didn’t know when his next chance would be.
They rode in silence until they reached the Citadel. He and Astrid walked together, in silence, until they reached the Sun’s Quarters, and he was not surprised that she followed him into his own apartments. He did not mind when she followed him up the stairs and into his private library. She sat on his desk, watching him as he swept around the room, looking for any books with more information on what he might find in the Jungle and the Majara.
“You seem in high—or at least, energized—spirits,” she said.
“Some of the students are going on an expedition to the Jungle tomorrow,” he said. “I hope to go with them.”
He sensed a tenseness behind him, and turned around, looking at her. She was frowning at him, before she said, coldly, “I will not consent to you going there.”
He made a grimace, and put the books in his hands down on the window sill. “Astrid,” he said, “You can’t keep me locked up here forever.”
She looked away. “I’ll allow you to go to the University at will. But the Jungle is too dangerous, Hiccup. For anyone. It’s off limits to all but a few.”
“Then let me go into the Jungle with the other students—surely if I am with them—“
“No, Hiccup,” she said. She looked at him again and heaved a sigh.
He walked over to her, placing his hands on either side of her face, peering into her eyes with a curious expression. “Are you worried about me?” he asked.
She quickly looked away, and he chuckled. “It’s not funny,” she said, an embarrassed blush rising to her cheeks. “Of course I’m worried about you.”
“There’s no need to be—I survived the war for thirteen years, I think I can survive a single day in the Jungle.” He contemplated this for a moment, before leaning down slightly to peck her on the cheek.
Surprised, she seemed to nearly slide off the desk in shock. She looked at him, wonder in her eyes. “What was that for?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I felt like it,” he answered. He grinned, grabbing her hips and sliding between her legs, his breath hot against her neck as he began to kiss her there.
“Oh!” he heard her moan, her body careening against his. His hands worked on her body—trying to find the sweet spots that would make her moan like that again.
His lips found hers, and the kiss started out surprisingly chaste—he wanted her to deepen it. She did not take long to comply. Her arms automatically wrapped around his neck, her hands playing with his hair, and when they broke apart for air, Hiccup wasn’t sure he had the self control to stop. He kissed her jaw, then her neck again, then her collar bone, before reaching behind her and fumbling with the straps of her leather chest plate.
“W—wait,” she mumbled, and he froze. There was something odd about that tone in her voice. He himself had no real intention of going much farther, but he was curious as to Lavi’s comment, as to whether Astrid’s body had any evidence of battle—of scars. And perhaps, a small part of him desired the body of a woman—Astrid—in his arms. It had been some time since he had slept with someone.
But there was something in Astrid’s voice that caused him to stop, let go of her immediately, and step away, looking at her with concern. “What is it?” he asked.
She shook her head, before forcing a smile at him. “It’s nothing,” she said, shaking her head. “Perhaps… perhaps…” her face flushed, humiliation clearly written on it. “Perhaps I’m not ready… for this…”
He blinked. “Oh,” he said, a little dumbly. “I’m… I’m sorry, Astrid.”
“No!” she said quickly, looking at him with horror. “No, it’s not you, Hiccup. I rather enjoyed that. It’s more that I’m not quite ready for the final act.”
“I wasn’t planning on—”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Thank you, Hiccup, for…” she sighed, smiling softly at him. “I know it must repulse you to have to do that.”
He gave her a lidded look. “Regardless of how I feel about you or your actions against my people, you’re still a beautiful woman,” he said. “I’m sorry, I just assumed, since you’re so desperate for a child, that…”
“I am,” she said. “But I also…” she trailed off, staring out the window, before turning to look at him. “If you’d like to go to the Jungle tomorrow, I’ll allow it.”
He blinked. That hadn’t been his intent with the kiss, and her sudden consent took him by surprise. “You will?”
She nodded. “But you must stay with the group,” she said sternly. “Don’t go off on your own.”
“I won’t,” he promised quickly. He reached out for her, but hesitated, looking at her questioningly. She rolled her eyes, and grabbed his hand. “I’m not a delicate flower,” she said, pulling him closer. He settled between her legs again, looking down at her, and felt something startling stir within him. A fondness. A fondness for Astrid. For a moment, he couldn’t believe himself. How could he feel anything except hatred towards this woman? And yet here he was, wishing he could take her in his arms…
He kissed her again. It was more chaste than their previous kiss, and soon, he broke away, panting slightly. She smiled at him, and asked, “Do you find yourself more… agreeing to… you know. Father my children?”
He shrugged. “I’m not ready yet.”
She smiled, and nodded. “Neither am I. Though my neck surely desires it,” she added, rubbing her neck thoughtfully.
He cocked his head, looking at her quizzically.
“I’m most likely facing a beheading soon if I don’t produce an heir quickly,” she explained, a little too nonchalantly. “But regardless—I don’t want you to… consort with me unless you want to.”
But did he want to? He enjoyed kissing her, but he might as well have enjoyed kissing anyone, not just Astrid. “You have to understand, Astrid,” he said, “You’re keeping my people hostage—my father hostage, and me hostage here. And in exchange for their lives—and my life—I’m… I’m forced to sleep with you.” He looked at her, resentment clear in his face. “Regardless of how I might feel, or not feel, that is hardly… something to look forward to.”
She looked away. “I’m not proud of this arrangement, Hiccup,” she said. “If I could, I would…” she trailed off, before looking at him again. “I will see you tomorrow, after your first day at University. Perhaps we can have dinner together.”
He nodded. She slid off the table and walked toward the door, before pausing, holding her hand out to him.
Surprised, Hiccup took her hand, and she squeezed it comfortingly. When she let go, just a few seconds later, and left the room, he stood there, stunned. Though their kissing had been passionate, that moment, that hand holding, had been… more intimate, somehow.
He wanted to hate her. He wanted to hate her enough to kill her at any chance he could have. But every day that passed, he found that harder and harder to feel.
He wanted to despise her. And he did.
So why was he starting to have feelings for her?
To be continued…
I had to take a bit of a break from fic writing/posting due to some personal stuff, but I’m slowly and hesitantly easing my way back into it. I’ll try to get Chapter 13 posted next weekend :)
Thanks for reading!
See you soon (hopefully ;)
Her quick, erratic breaths, coupled with desperate moans, caused Hiccup to grip her tighter, her legs wrapped around his head, her hips twitching as he—
Hiccup woke with a start, out of breath and eyes wide, drenched in sweat. He sat there, panting, and blinking in surprise in the early morning darkness. It was a dream, he realized, and felt disappointment. Biting back irritation at being disappointed a dream like that about Astrid hadn’t been real—he glanced down at himself. He certainly had reacted to it as if it were real.
He lay back down, closing his eyes, but the dream played behind his eyelids, giving him no rest and causing shivers of pleasure to run through him. Groaning, he sat up and threw the covers off himself. He needed exercise. Something. He sat on the edge of the bed, running and hand through his hair. At least this was the first official day at the University. He would be intellectually stimulated now, at least. His breathing was returning to normal, but he found the memories of the dream still distracting him. He stood up and paced his room.
It wasn’t the first such dream he had had of Astrid, but it was certainly the most vivid. He walked to the window, and saw outside Astrid standing in the courtyard, talking to a tall man with black hair and tattoos on his chin. Hiccup frowned, tilting his head as he watched them speak. Finally, the man bowed, and turned, walking away. He saw Astrid visibly sigh, before turning away. As if sensing someone watching her, she looked up, and Hiccup blinked in surprise. She smiled, and gave him a small wave.
Automatically, he waved back, and watched as she turned towards her own chambers. A part of him, a very specific part of him, wanted to run downstairs and grab her and make his dream become reality. At least then perhaps he would be able to concentrate for the rest of the day. But she had made it clear yesterday that she also was not ready for more intimate relations.
It was strange, he thought. She had put so much pressure on him to beget a child unto her, and now she was taking steps backward to make sure they did not. What that was about, he wasn’t sure—but he hoped he would get to the bottom of it before they actually had to conceive a child. He expelled a breath of air, before turning and getting dressed before Ipti came to his chambers.
He ate his breakfast heartily, wishing to get an early start to the University. Camicazi and Heather watched in amazement as he ate, and Heather remarked more than once that she had never seen him so… energized before.
He was just about finished, when someone stepped into the room, and Hiccup looked up to see Astrid standing there. She smiled at him, before jerking her head at Heather and Camicazi, and the two guards nodded, rising from their cushions and walking out of the room. Hiccup swallowed his food, before gazing at Astrid questioningly. “What is it?” he asked.
She rolled back on her heels for a moment, before stepping forward. “I wanted to know how you were feeling,” she said. “About your first day at University?”
“You’re not that excited?”
“Oh, I am,” he said, helping himself to another portion of a dish.
She hesitated, before joining him at the table. “I…” she began, “I wanted to apologize for yesterday.”
He looked at her in surprise. “For what?” he asked.
She looked down at her lap, a faint blush heating up her face. “For leaving things the way they were. I feel I may have given you the indication that I did not enjoy it—or that you did something wrong.”
He put down the fork, and peered at her curiously, waiting for her to elaborate.
“It’s just that…” she began, before she gave a hard sigh. “The why doesn’t really matter—not to you, at least,” she added. “The point is, please be patient with me,” she looked at him, “And I’ll be patient with you.”
He nodded, “You don’t have to tell me that, Astrid,” he said. “It’s not just that I’m reluctant to sleep with you, if you’re feeling reservations, I’ll respect that without question.”
A look of relief crossed over her face. “Thank you,” she said. “And… I thought about what you said. I’ve… been thinking about those things for a long time, actually.”
“What things?” he asked, putting another spoonful into his mouth.
“About your father, your people, and you,” she said. “I understand what you were saying, Hiccup. I don’t like those Yorvani traditions either. When the war ended, I was… I was so angry at all my people had lost those thirteen years, my friends and loved ones, that… I wanted to punish Berk, too. But… I know that revenge isn’t always as sweet as one thinks it will taste.”
He gazed at her, “So…” he said, slowly, “What are you saying?”
She looked up, meeting his gaze. “I’m speaking with the High Council today,” she said. “To see if I can… work out a deal with them.”
“What kind of deal?” he asked.
“A special one,” she said, softly. “I can’t speak much on it, at the moment. But know that if I do, you might…” she paused, glancing around. “Regardless,” she said, “Know that I am trying to look out for you, Hiccup. I… I care about you, as much as it pains me to say it.”
He sat back on his legs, watching her as she stood. “Have fun at University,” she said. “If I have time—if I get out of the meeting in time, I’ll try to be there when you’re done.”
He nodded mutely, watching her leave. He wasn’t sure what that all was about, but he supposed he would find out soon, regardless.
“Hail, Whore of the Sun!” Lavi said, loudly, his tone filled with good naturedness, as Hiccup stepped into the room. The walls were made of some kind of white clay, and windows without panes or glass opened up into a large luscious garden. The room was filled with light, and felt quite cool, despite the heat outside.
Everyone turned to look at Hiccup, and he stopped in the doorway. “Hail, Jackass,” he responded, and Lavi roared with laughter, then beckoned Hiccup over to sit with them. Hiccup made his way over, and sat down.
“The school is abuzz with word of your attendance,” Lora said, “Everyone is talking about you. Everyone wants to meet you, too.”
“Why?” Hiccup asked, alarmed.
“Why?” Beorna gave a short, amused laugh. “You’re the Sun’s consort! You’re famous.”
Hiccup didn’t like the sound of that. Not for being Astrid’s consort. “Right,” he said, “Well, Astrid has given me permission to go on the trip to The Jungle today.”
“Nice!” Lavi grinned excitedly. “Just you wait,” he said. “The Jungle is crazy—crazy cool—”
“And crazy dangerous,” Lora interrupted. “You’ll have to be careful, Hiccup.”
“I can hold my own,” he said. “I’ve had good training of survival and battle, I am a prince, after all.”
“That’s right,” Lora said, blinking in surprise. “I had forgotten that you were a prince—but not really anymore, are you?” she sighed, shaking her head. “That’s part of why I’m studying law,” she said. “I hope to make it the High Council one day, and change that stupid law.”
Hiccup smiled at her appreciatively.
“It’s all Lord Bludvist’s fault,” Lavi muttered, “He’s the only one who wants to enforce it, and most of the High Council is too scared to go against him.”
“Lavi!” Lora hissed. “You know it isn’t…” she glance around, “Safe to talk like that.”
Lavi shrugged. “Anyway,” he said, looking at Hiccup in interest. “All prepared for the trek into The Jungle?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Hiccup said, wondering if this was some kind of trick question.
“Good man,” Beorna said. “It’s rare that we get the chance to go in—so this is a treat. I’m glad you were able to join us.”
His two companions grinned at Hiccup.
“I just wish those two didn’t have to follow me everywhere,” Hiccup said, glancing over his shoulder at Heather and Camicazi, who stood towards the end of the room, on alert.
“Right,” Lavi said, frowning. “Well, it’s only natural. You are the Royal Consort, after all.”
“In name only,” Hiccup muttered under his breath. Though he was officially the Sun’s ‘consort’, he had no power that usually came with the role, however small. His duty as consort lay merely in impregnating Astrid.
“You are Prince Hiccup?” a cool voice asked from behind him.
Hiccup turned to gaze at a tall, thin, reedy looking man who stood looking down at him with a curious expression. “Yes,” Hiccup said, standing up. “I’m Hiccup.”
The man nodded serenely. “I am honored to have you in my class, my lord. And will you be joining us on our expedition to The Jungle?”
“Excellent,” the man said, “With that, I think we will head out.”
Hiccup stood with the others, and, hating that Camicazi and Heather followed close behind him, followed everyone out of the room.
It seemed the front gates were not the only in-and-out of the city. Towards the North was a small outlet in the great wall, allowing only a few persons through at a time, and was, apparently, a secret. It seemed no one, except a worried glance between Heather and Camicazi, even bothered to be suspicious of Hiccup, as he took mental note of how many sentries were posted, how many people could conceivably sneak through at any given time, and other such useful facts. As they passed through, they passed into a heavy thicket of woods.
But it was unlike any woods that Hiccup had even seen. He wasn’t even sure it warranted the name.
‘Woods’ seemed far, far too gentle and civil a name for this place. This place was wild and dangerous, and Hiccup felt a thrill of excitement as they delved deeper down the path.
The instructor was talking about various things, pointing things out. Hiccup found it difficult to listen. He was too enraptured with the surroundings, the noises, the darkness, that kept growing the deeper they went. The smells and the sensations.
“Make sure you do not stray from the path,” the instructor said, “For one could get lost for the rest of their life, and be only a few feet from the path itself.”
Soon, they came to the end of the path, to a small clearing. The sky could be seen in a small patch in the middle of the clearing. Everyone set their packs on the ground, and began to migrate to the edge of the clearing, to study the fauna growing at the borders. Hiccup joined the section that Lavi, Lori and Beorna were studying, and knelt by the a tree, examining the bark. It was interesting, but…
He heard a creak in the brush, and looked up, his eyes meeting green-yellow ones, hidden in the cramped fauna. The eyes gazed at him, unblinking. His eyes widened, and as he stood quickly to back away, the eyes disappeared.
“What’s wrong?” Lori asked, confused. “Is everything alright?”
“It’s—” Hiccup began. “I mean… didn’t you see…?”
The other three gazed at him quizzically. “What’s wrong?” Heather was at his side, grabbing him and pulling him behind her. “What did you see?”
“Nothing,” Hiccup said, still slightly shaken.
“Are you sure?” Camicazi asked. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
Hiccup shook his head. “I’m fine, obviously.”
Heather and Camicazi glanced at each other, before each glared at Lori and Lavi, who were closest to Hiccup, as if they had something to do with his fright. Then they retreated to the path, where they had been stationed so as to be out of the way of the students. Hiccup breathed a sigh of relief.
“So…” Lavi said. “You care to explain that?”
“I thought I saw something,” Hiccup said, kneeling down again. “Eyes in the brush.”
“Oh, there are lots of animals that live in The Jungle,” Lori said, “Some are quite curious about humans.”
“This one wasn’t just a bird or a rodent,” Hiccup said. “It looked… predatorial.”
His three companions glanced at each other. “Well,” Lori said, looking like she was thinking deeply. “There’s quite a few predators that live in The Jungle… but…”
“But what?” Hiccup asked.
“How big were they? The eyes?” Lavi asked.
Hiccup took his sketchbook, and sketched out what they looked like. He showed it to the others. “It almost looked like a cat’s eye,” he said, “But much, much too big.”
The others looked at each other, before Lori looked back at Hiccup. “That’s impossible, Hiccup. They haven’t been seen in ages.”
“What haven’t?” Hiccup asked, frowning.
“What you drew,” she said. “The Majaras.”
He frowned. He read a reference to that species while taking his entrance exam, but not in a section of the natural world, but instead in a section on the gods and goddesses of the Yorvani. “You mean,” he said, slowly, “Those giant cats that are sacred to Kor?”
“Yes,” Lori nodded. “They’re not just sacred to her, they’re… they’re practically gods themselves.”
“Most believe they’re just legend, now,” Beorna added.
“Really, Hiccup,” Lavi laughed. “You almost had us there.”
“I’m not joking,” Hiccup said.
Lori shook her head. “You probably just saw a panther or jaguar’s eyes… they’re rather common around here—and harmless, as long as you stay on the path and have people around you.”
Hiccup frowned, irritated that they weren’t taking him seriously. He had seen a panther and jaguar in a traveling circus once, and this thing was far, far greater and bigger than those. But the others would not budge that he merely saw a normal large cat, and he went back to sketching the bark.
They stopped for lunch, and a few hours after that, the instructor rang a bell, and the students began to pack their things. “These trips always go by too fast,” Lavi said wistfully. “The Sun only allows certain visits to The Jungle, so… it’s a special treat when we’re able to go.”
Hiccup nodded, one of the last to leave the clearing, before glancing behind him, at the tangled web of brush and tree and thorn. He knew he wasn’t crazy or lying. He did see something strange between the leaves of the jungle. “Hiccup?” Heather appeared at his side, gazing at him worriedly. “Are you alright?”
“Are you worried about me?” he asked, absentmindedly. He was still staring at the spot where he had seen those eyes.
“We need to go back,” Heather said, “The group is already on the move.”
Hiccup nodded, before turning and following her. They had just reached the path, when, as if called to do so, he turned his head and spotted those eyes gazing at him from deep within the brush. His eyes widened.
Without thinking, without so much as a second thought to his own safety or others, Hiccup dashed between the trees, following the eyes as they retreated into the leaves.
He could hear people shouting his name. Camicazi’s voice was high with fright, and Heather’s, sharp with anger. But he didn’t listen, he hurried through, crashing through the leaves and trees, until the voices were distanced, gone, and—
He stumbled, forcing himself to halt, as he reached a cliff’s edge. Breathing heavily, he looked out, and saw that he was on some sort of mountain cliff—and beyond that, miles of jungle, which eventually petered out into farmlands. He must be facing west. But where was the creature?
He looked around wildly, half expecting it to jump out at him, and half realizing how idiotic this was. Why had he gone crashing into the jungle? He took a few steps away from the cliff’s edge, breathing heavily as he tried to catch his breath from the run. It was almost as if something had compelled him to run into the jungle. As if he had been pulled in. But that was stupid, he thought to himself. Nothing had that kind of power. Not the gods that were long forgotten by his people, and he didn’t believe in the Yorvani gods. He turned around, and faced a vast, thick, impenetrable web of trunk, branch and thorns. How he had managed to even get through it to this side was beyond him. He stepped up close, peering into the thickets, and decided he would try to find his way back to the path.
The words of the instructor came drifting through his mind like the memory of a bad dream.
For one could get lost for the rest of their life, and be only a few feet from the path itself.
Hiccup took a sharp intake of breath, when his eyes met large, golden-green ones, somewhere deep in the greenery. He hastily stepped away from the wall of trees, and his eyes widened, as the creature stepped out. The branches, so throttled together before, creaked, almost as if they were moving of their own accord, accommodating the great size that was the creature.
The description on mythical creatures had little accuracy as to the magnitude and majesty of this beast. Hiccup took a few some more hasty steps away from the creature—too hasty, he tripped on his own two feet and came crashed to his side, only a foot away from the cliff’s edge, and his death.
He turned to gaze at the large creature—almost catlike in appearance, like some kind of mutated, giant Panther, as it barred its fangs, narrowing it’s eyes. Its large paws, each at least twice the size of Hiccup’s head, tensed as the creature crouched, growling.
Hiccup swallowed, unable to move under the gaze of the creature. Its tail swished behind it—definitely cat, he thought. “H—hey now,” he said, as friendly as he could. “There’s no need to—”
The creature pounced. Hiccup rolled quickly out of the way, and the beast skidded to a halt—too late. It seemed even the divine could make mistakes. Hiccup scrambled to the edge of the cliff, watching as the screaming creature plummeted into the depths below.
To be continued.
Thanks for reading!
See you soon (hopefully!)
Finding a way down the cliff was more difficult than Hiccup had anticipated. If he had rope—but no rope would be long enough to be completely useful, he reminded himself, as he shimmied down a particularly straight part of the cliff. He didn’t know why he was doing this—trying to find the creature. It would most likely kill him, if he did find it. If it wasn’t dead already.
Perhaps it was because it, the Majaras, were sacred to Kor. And Kor happened to be the supposed mother of Astrid. He could just leave it to die, he thought. Or kill it himself.
But, for reasons besides Astrid, he wanted to find the creature. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t dead. He wanted to make sure it was still alive. And if it wasn’t… he felt guilt grip at him again. He hoped it wasn’t dead.
It wasn’t that… he was against the killing of animals, not when people had to eat, and, at least in Berk, the land was unforgiving and food was often sparse. But this creature wasn’t like anything else he had ever seen.
It wasn’t… it wasn’t natural. Or, perhaps it was too natural. An original creature from an older world.
And he wanted to know more about it.
Besides—he wouldn’t necessarily be able to find his way home the other way—at least going downhill and westward, he might find his way out the The Jungle. He dropped the last few feet, and nearly stumbled over the edge, but managed to grab a root and hang tight, regaining his balance. His breathing was difficult—sitting in his comfy apartments all day had weakened him, making him lose some of his muscles he had gained in the war. He sat down on the ledge, looking over and down, trying to decipher where the Majara had fallen. He heaved a breath, before looking out across the jungle. It was vast—deadly—and beautiful. He could hear birds calling to each other shrilly, and other sounds that could only belong to animals, but what kind, he did not recognize.
He removed his pack from his back, digging inside to take out a water flask. Lifting it up, he nearly drained it all, but saved some in. It would take hours, if not days, to finally find his way out of The Jungle. He had read that some of the streams in here had properties that could drive one mad, and that one was never to drink from any water within the Jungle.
He had lost a shoe on his way down—and his foot was aching and the skin on the soles were starting to shred. Not good, he thought to himself.
He breathed out slowly, his breath returning to normal, and his face not quite so hot. He needed to get out of the sun—but here on the cliff, where little foliage grew, it was hot and almost dry, and the dirt burned him, even through the soles of his boots. Carefully, he rose to his feet, and began to look for another way down the cliff.
By the time he found shade, the sun was almost setting. Not quite—it would take approximately two more hours before full darkness, but Hiccup felt anxiety creep over him. What kind of creatures lived in The Jungle? And… how many of them were hungry enough to eat a human?
He wished he had a torch—or even some flint and stone, to light a fire. But alas, he had nothing but his water flask, the cloth that had held his lunch, and his sketchbook and drawing tools. The next time he stupidly rushed into the deadly forest, he swore to himself, he would come better prepared.
He sat down next to a tree, leaning against it, thankful for the shade and comfort of rest. He closed his eyes, listening to the birds, as they gave their last songs.
A twig snapped.
Hiccup opened his eyes, looking around wildly, but saw no sign of life, except a bird two trees away from him. Finally, he looked up.
The oddest creature blinked lazily back at him, moving so slowly that Hiccup at first thought it was a corpse, hanging from the tree. Long claws gave him concern, but he quickly realized that, unless this creature had the intelligence to move agonizingly slowly as a deceptive tactic, he most likely could outrun it.
“Hello,” he said, giving it a tired wave.
The creature blinked again, and it almost looked like it was smiling at him. It inched along the branch.
“What are you called?” he asked.
The creature, rudely, did not answer. Hiccup sighed and shrugged, before leaning his head back and closing his eyes. He needed to sleep. He was too tired to continue. He would have to ask Camicazi or Heather to spar with him once—if—he got out of here alive. He needed to tone up. He was out of shape, and—
He opened his eyes with a start, blinking into the darkness. The only sign of light was bright flowers that were suddenly in flower all around him, glowing in the dark. When had he fallen asleep? How long? He stumbled to his feet, looking around. The slow creature was gone, and he could not see any sign of it.
He must have been asleep for longer than he had thought.
Thanking the gods that he had rarely prayed to that no hungry animal had come across him while he had been sleeping, he hurried through the trees—careful not to step in any pools of water or streams. It was difficult, for the water looked tempting at times, and his throat and chest ached with the need to drink. But at other times the water looked murky and dark—though it could have just been the low light.
Hiccup felt a breath of relief expelled from him when he suddenly stepped out into a clearing, and the sky above, speckled with stars, lay above him. Somehow the night sky seemed bright, compared to the darkness that was the tangled trees and foliage of The Jungle. He closed his eyes. How could he have been so stupid? Even if he had felt like some other force was calling him—forcing him to run into The Jungle, he should have fought it. Where was his sense of self-preservation? Gone, long ago, he thought.
For the first time, all he wanted to sleep in his own bed back at his apartments. He would even welcome Astrid’s company to the eerie loneliness that he felt now. He heaved a breath, swallowing hard, and walked to a lone tree in the middle of the clearing, and curled up under it. As he drew his knees to his chest, resting his chin on his knees, he felt tears prick at his eyes. He didn’t feel like a child, though, when faced with a living nightmare.
He realized with a start, that he missed his apartments. That it was starting to feel home. A strange type of home. A prison-like home. But it was comforting, in a way. It was safe. Even Camicazi and Heather he missed. And Lori, Lavi and Beorna.
He forced himself to stay awake.
Until he fell asleep.
He woke, with the acute awareness that something was sitting on him. Opening his eyes, he peered down to see a kind of large duck sitting on his chest. Opening his eyes wide—he grabbed at it, but it deftly jumped off him and scurried towards the woods. “Wait!” he cried out, hunger stabbing at his stomach as he dashed after it, urging him to move faster than his exhausted body and mind were capable of.
He grabbed the duck just before it reached the woods, and quickly snapped its neck, sinking to the ground and sighing in relief.
Well, he wouldn’t die today, and that was good news, if there ever was one. Now he just needed to find good, clean, drinking water and he might survive.
He plucked the duck clean, before realizing that he had nothing to cook it with. No flint or stone. That didn’t deter him for long—for he remembered his grandfather teaching him how to start a fire by rubbing wood together.
It took at least an hour and a half to start the flame, for most wood in The Jungle was damp, but he finally started it. At first, he feared that it would sizzle out, and he would be without fire or food, but it finally caught, and soon he had a large enough flame to cook the duck. He had buried the duck in the dirt, and placed a thin layer of dirt above it, hoping that the coals would cook it.
It took enough hours that it seemed past midday before he was able to eat. He tore into it, and would have eaten the whole thing, dirt and all, if his stomach did not hurt from the effort of eating, and lack of water. He resolved to put the rest into his pack to save for later.
He continued on, looking for any sign of the creature as he went. He didn’t fancy being a hungry—angry—supernatural cat’s lunch.
When it was halfway between midday and dusk, he stopped by a stream. He had long run out of water, and his throat was now parched. He knew he wouldn’t go on long—or survive long at all, if he continued like this. Berating himself not for the first time—nor the last—for running off the trail yesterday, he knelt down, and examined the water. It look clear and cool—and safe enough. Enough.
He would drink anything at this point, if he could. Anything to make the throbbing in his head go away. He lifted a cupped handful of water to his lips, looking up as he heard a twig snap—his eyes widened. He grabbed his hunting knife from its sheath, and stood, forgetting the water, as the Majara gazed at him. He blinked. It wasn’t moving—it wasn’t dead, but it was laying down, and it looked almost pained. Finally, the creature let out a low, long whine, and turned its head, and Hiccup heard licking sounds.
Hiccup looked over his shoulder, as if making sure no one else was seeing this, before walking forward. The creature turned its head towards him, and let out a slow growl. Hiccup took a hasty step backwards. “Hey now,” he said, putting up hands in defense. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The creature cocked its head, giving him what could only be considered an ‘austere’ expression. He himself had given it to Astrid plenty of times. Not for the first time he felt innately that this creature had an almost human intelligence. The feeling was unsettling, but he ignored it, inching around the beast, giving it a wide berth, and saw to his dismay that it was nursing a severed rear paw.
How the creature had not bled to death, he didn’t know. Perhaps the myths were true. Perhaps it was some kind of god-animal. He shook that thought from his mind, and walked towards the paw. The creature growled again, and Hiccup put up another hand, before realizing that the creature was not looking at his hand--but rather the other hand, the one that held the hunting knife. “Oh,” he said, “Here,” he dropped the knife, and kicked it away. The creature tilted its head in confusion.
Shaking the feeling that it was indeed an intelligent creature, Hiccup inched towards the foot, crouching down. When the creature growled again, he paused. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. The creature narrowed its eyes, examining him.
He started inching forward again, the creature following him with its eyes. “I’m just going to look at your wound,” he said. “You know… see if there’s anything I can do for it.”
The Majara did nothing except watch as he knelt by the foot. An excessive amount of blood lay in a puddle around the severed paw, and Hiccup had the feeling that if the Majara was going to die from this wound, it would have done so hours ago, if not yesterday. He set his jaw, guilt stabbing at his back. This was his fault. This majestic creature would be maimed for life, because of him.
He looked up, meeting the gaze of the Majara. “I’m sorry,” he said. The creature blinked at him.
He looked back at the paw, then took a double glance. Though the paw was gone—there was almost no blood coming out of the wound. In fact, if Hiccup didn’t know better—it looked like it was… “It’s… healed,” he said. He looked up at the Majara, his eyes wide. “You’re… You’re not really an animal god, are you?”
The creature gazed at him shrewdly.
“Don’t answer that, please,” he said, turning his head to look back at the paw. “But still, this must hurt. Here,” he removed his pack, and then shrugged off his tunic. He began to wrap it around the wound—but the creature hissed and winced away from him. Apparent strange magical healing powers or no, the creature still felt pain it seemed. “It’s okay,” he said, “I need to wrap it so it doesn’t get dirty…”
The creature gazed at him, and stilled, allowing him to do his work. “What’s your name?” he asked.
The creature gazed blankly back at him. He shrugged—still an animal, it seemed. Godlike or no. “That’s okay, you don’t need a name,” he said. “I’ll just call you Majara.”
The creature blinked, and Hiccup stood, examining his work. The creature slowly, and carefully, rose to its feet, balancing strangely with its hind paw drawn up and away from the ground. “You okay?” he asked, but the creature ignored him. He shrugged again, and grabbed his pack, slinging it over his shoulder. He needed to get out of here as soon as possible. Though the Majara was clearly not—at least for now—a threat to him, he needed to get out of The Jungle. He didn’t fancy another night here.
“I’m heading out,” he said, awkwardly. It seemed strange to say goodbye to an animal, but he suddenly felt strange leaving it—as if he didn’t want to. He stood there, and he and the Majara gazed at each other, before the creature blinked at him, as if acknowledging his farewell. “Right,” Hiccup said, rocking on the back of his heels for a moment, before turning around and heading towards what he hoped was West.
He jumped in surprise when he saw the Majara come into his vision, walking slowly, but awkwardly beside him. He looked up into the cat’s face, as it walked, in a strange, and almost jumpy fashion, next to him. It obviously had difficulty walking with only three legs—but that did not deter it. “Joining me, are you?” he asked. “Thanks, I could use the company.”
The creature let out a soft, but non-threatening, growl. “Thanks,” Hiccup repeated.
They walked in silence. Slowly, for the creature was hopping along and would often need to stop to rest, but Hiccup was thankful for its company. With the Majara, even with it injured, he was less likely to become another animal’s dinner. Every once in a while the creature would turn and walk somewhere else—and Hiccup had the distinct, and uncanny, impression that the Majara was actually leading him. Sometimes the creature would pause to drink, and Hiccup did as well. That, at least, saved his life.
“And then, Astrid said—” Hiccup said, recounting a memory, a few hours into their trek, but stopped short when the Majara did. “What is it?” he asked, looking around worriedly, before realizing that he could see light ahead—bright light. The setting sun.
His eyes widened, and he took a few stumbling steps forward. He paused, turning to gaze at the Majara. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll… I won’t forget you. I’ll come back—I’ll figure out a way to help you walk.”
The creature gave a small yowl and turned, shuffling awkwardly on three legs up the hill and back into the Jungle.
Hiccup heaved a breath, before heading out into the grasslands, more than ready to go home.
Before he reached the gates of Cartan, he realized his foot that had lost its boot was now bleeding. He was limping severely, and his clothes were battered and he smelled. The only thing that had kept him going the last few miles were the thought of a hot bath and a bandaged foot. The guards in the posts gazed down at him shrewdly. They called out to him in Yorvani, but he did not understand what they said. “I’m Prince Hiccup of Berk!” he called up to them, feeling irate at being kept longer from his bed than was necessarily. “Consort of the Sun.”
He saw the guards’ faces blanch, and a smaller gate opened for him to enter. “Lord Hiccup,” one of the guards said as he passed through. “We did not recognize you—”
“Alright,” Hiccup said, waving him off. “Do you have a horse I can use? I don’t think I can walk any longer.”
The guard nodded, and dashed off to fetch a horse. Another guard led him into the guardhouse, and he sat down. The feeling of sitting on a cushion was the most incredible feeling in the world.
“Word has been sent to the citadel,” one of the guards said. “The Sun should be on her way here any moment.”
Hiccup nodded. Now that he was here, he found himself weakening. The trek through the jungle, and then along it and the walls of Cartan to the gate had him pushing himself beyond what he was capable of—on little food and water—in order to survive. Now that he had arrived and was safe, he found himself unable to do almost anything that required any form of physical or mental strength.
He found himself growing drowsy, and suddenly, or perhaps time had passed while he was unaware, a guard appeared in the doorway, and said, breathless, “The Sun—she’s almost here…”
He heard an announcement of sorts—someone greeting someone else—before a shadow fell upon him, and he looked up to see Astrid standing above him.
To be continued...?
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