Welcome, everyone. It's been quite a while since I've published anything here. Foxy-girl managed to coax me into putting this up after I shared the document with her (despite me feeling it was rather superfluous as it is just another instance of a different turn in the original tale), so … thank her if you like it, and blame her if you don't!
Berkian Eddur - 1
Astrid became a woman the same day she was to enter the Arena for dragon training the first time. Her mother had looked at her with a judging eye, but nodded. Her father had looked at her with pride before he boarded the ships to search for the nest. Astrid had taken it as a clear sign; her childhood was over, for good or for ill. She was an adult now, who needed to shoulder that responsibility, or be crushed by it. And Astrid knew the way the Hofferson clan went; no Hofferson had ever gone down without a fight.
She had been in horrible pain the whole time. She felt hot, cold, sweaty and clammy, and she had not known her lower belly to ever twist into such agonising knots, even when she'd eaten rotten shell-fish on a dare. But her challenge was clear, and she'd be haunted by Loki himself before she let herself surrender. Her mother was always ready for her at the end of the day with hot compresses and brews, fresh rags and warm arms and fires, so she didn't see that she had anything to complain about.
That is, of course, until they faced the nadder. Fending off both the dragon and the stupid boy trying to talk to her all the time, on top of the pain, had brought her to the brink of her tolerance. Her lower belly felt the worse it had yet, and Snotlout would not shut up and go away. The nadder itself was no walk on the beach either; it was sharp, alert, precise and quick. In any other situation, Astrid may have actually enjoyed being pitted against the proud creature, because danger with no challenge was not worth its salt, and this dragon set her blood racing with the excitement of a good hunt. Together with her discomfort, her sluggish, shivering body, and the gadfly of a Jorgensen, however, it left her in a foul temper.
So it was that when she landed on the foolish boy, who tried to be inconveniently kind instead of pushing her off to get them both disengaged and escaping, she had no patience left to speak of. As soon as her adrenaline faded from blindly swinging the shield-embedded axe at approaching foot-long teeth, she whirled on the ridiculously cowering boy with the same viciousness of the reptile.
"Is this some sort of a game to you?" she hissed. "Our parents' war is about to become ours." She took a breath, her lower belly gave a vindictive spasm, as if the dragon had bitten into her, and the cowering form of Hiccup on the floor suddenly became unsupportable. He hadn't a scratch on him, hadn't a bruise, but there he was as if he'd been hit and had a right to be resting. What right had he, when she was in so much pain! "It's no wonder your father is so ashamed of you!"
The arena went quiet, even more so than the post-battle lull. Hiccup was still for a few seconds, looking at her with wide, shocked eyes, before something changed in them. He pushed himself off the floor and stood straight enough to almost reach her height, then, with more strength than she'd given him credit for, shoved her in the shoulders.
"That's not true. Dad loves me; don't you dare speak ill of my father again," he hissed at her, his eyes narrow and cold. The kind, mild and ineffective person she was used to seeing wasn't there, and it shocked her for a moment, that this hard-eyed man was hiding behind the spineless boy. But no Hofferson would get shoved and let it slide. She punched him in the stomach, hard, and enjoyed watching him go down with a groan.
"I'd only be speaking ill of him if it wasn't the truth. What's there to be proud of, Hiccup Haddock? All you do is make messes for the rest of us to clean up and get sent to your house in disgrace. Which father wouldn't be proud of that!"
Hiccup flinched, glaring at her violently with gritted teeth and straightened himself. His eyes had gone even stonier – it was almost like looking at Stoick himself for a moment – but then he huffed at her and turned his back, leaving the arena stiff-backed without saying a word. Gobber gave her a stern talking-to about teamwork and holding her tongue and being respectful to their chief, but Astrid was too busy looking after Hiccup, and seething.
Hiccup's answer had come in the most unexpected way, and proved he was a worthy opponent by being the soundest blow possible. Slowly, but surely, Hiccup had stopped being the useless toothpick who always got chased around and wasted the training session asking pointless questions, and began overtaking her in skill and dexterity against the dragons. Even worse, when she decided to confront him directly, he was never there; he came to training, left them all far behind and gaping, diverted their talk and questions with mild manners and kind words and then disappeared for good. He seemed to have forgiven Astrid her indiscrete tongue, but she wasn't stupid. She hadn't forgotten the look on his face, so different and so much more determined, and this was too perfect a way to get revenge on her to be a coincidence.
Her father made it worse when he returned; he laughed uproariously instead of being outraged alongside her that the honour which seemed almost divinely ordained for her had been snatched away by someone like Hiccup. Stoick's stock had finally come to fruit, he'd laughed; about time too, but he supposed it was Stoick's own fault for keeping the boy from what was obviously his true calling all these years. It wasn't a shame to be beaten by a Haddock, he said, they weren't the leading bloodline and chief clan for nothing after all. It was like losing Thawfest to the Jorgenson clan – annoying, but not surprising.
Beyond the relief to have her father back safely and her first woman's blood gone, Astrid had been outraged at her father's attitude. Hadn't he taught her that every challenge must be met and surmounted, or it would bury you? Hadn't he been the one who drove her to be the best there ever could be, so that she would always have first pick and choice in all the most important things? No, Astrid Hofferson was not done fighting – nor was she done seething.
And it was so that when she saw her opportunity, she sunk her nails in it deep. Coming up into her room, she immediately noted something amiss – sharp eyes caught first a folded piece of parchment on her bed, then an open window she knew to have closed. Rushing to it, she immediately noted the retreating figure of her rival in the sparse moonlight and without a second though, threw herself out the window to follow.
It was no easy feat; Hiccup was more adapt at stealth than she gave him credit for – another surprise, but she supposed it was an advantage to his slight body. She thanked the gods that she was a skilled hunter, and managed to keep track of him without making noise as he entered the forest and navigated the undergrowth expertly.
Then, suddenly, she lost sight of him as if the earth had swallowed him and she almost cursed out loud until she heard his voice. Moving cautiously, she edged towards what she realised to be a ravine, and saw a wide, deep opening, circular, only illuminated by the sickle moon's reflection on a lake of water within. Getting closer was no easy feat, but she found an opening that lead into the cove, and edged her way in until her back hit a boulder she thought he was close to. Astrid sacrificed seeing the boy – sense with which she could do nothing much between the darkness and distance – to hear what he was saying.
"Yeah, I'm glad to see you too… good, huh?" There was a strange noise, like someone smacking their lips noisily. Hiccup chuckled – it was rather flat. Whoever he was speaking to noticed, because there was a deep groan. "I know, I'm fine … only, I think I've decided, bud. It just isn't right, for me to do this to Berk, and to dad. And to you, too."
Astrid frowned. Who was he speaking to? And what did he mean? She readied her axe, blood rising with excitement – he had to be speaking to the one responsible for his improvement in the ring. No one got that good that quickly, especially not him. No matter what her dad said, Hiccup had a secret, and Haddock or not a challenge was a challenge. She would not be the first Hofferson to be crushed.
Before she could leap out, there was another groan that froze her in place as she tried to ascertain the location of her unsuspecting prey without visual cues. Hiccup's companion hadn't said a word, and the noises of rustling, dragging and leather seemed to indicate that things were being moved around. Just as she was about to leap out, axe at the ready, Hiccup gave a shaky sigh.
"I guess … this is goodbye, then. It's for the best. It is." He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. He also sounded vaguely tearful.
Astrid wouldn't let him bury his secret before she discovered it. She had to find out what his secret was and who he was speaking to, now!
Just as she leapt over the boulder she'd been hiding behind a gust of strong wind and something soft but solid hit her upside her forehead, sending her ass-over-teakettle until she was dizzily looking up at the stars framed by the cove. Groaning, as there was no point in stealth now, she sat up, expecting to find a cold-eyed Hiccup and whoever his companion was glaring down at her. Instead, she found nothing but an empty glade and quiet lake, rustled only by the late-summer breeze. Damn him, he'd escaped her again!
She hissed and cursed, calling out to him to come out, but he never did. She realised too late that she should have listened for signs of his or his companion's retreat, but when she climbed out of the cove, there was no frush of undergrowth big enough for a human. Promising herself a confrontation, first thing tomorrow before their final lesson, Astrid conceded this round to Hiccup and headed home.
The moment she approached her bed, she caught sight of the parchment and her heart leapt – of course, she had forgotten about it completely in the heat of the chase. Ripping it open, she sat on her bed to read curiously, and got more horrified the further down she went.
Please forgive my forwardness for coming into your room without permission; it is an occurrence that will not happen again. I only wanted to say thank you, and to apologise.
You were right, all those weeks ago, when you told me that I was nothing but an embarrassment to my tribe, my clan and my dad. I hadn't wanted to see it, because of course, who would want to? But that I did not see it only shows how right you were, and how much of a burden my selfishness has been to Berk. I have done my best to be of good Berk stock, but it seems it is not my purpose, and so it is time to move on.
I would like to thank you for having the grace to tell me what I didn't want to hear; I appreciate your honesty. No one else seemed to think me worth wasting time on, but your directness and clear thinking have always been something I admired. It has helped me make the right choice.
I have asked my father to nominate you as his next heir – out of us, there is no one more capable, of that I'm sure, and my father will see it. You will make your father and mine proud; it has always been in you, and I've always admired you for it. I am in no position to ask for favours, however, I will still ask for one; please take care of my father, and make him proud, where I can never.
Your axe needs maintenance only about once a month – ask Gobber to fix the third axels most of all. He will understand.
The lower caves and the sheer rock beach are strategic hazards, as are the lack of ramparts at the back of the island facing due east of Raven point. Remind my dad of them, sometime. I have, but he will listen to you better, for good reason.
I wish you well – lead Berk prosperously, Astrid. Ignore Snotlout when you can, and put him and the twins in the places where you want things to break and get bruised; they're a force to be reckoned with. And listen to Fishlegs when you have patience for it – he will see strengths and weaknesses faster than any.
May you all be safe, and luckier now that I can no longer leave messes to clean and resources to waste. Be well.
Astrid stared at the neat rows of black runes on the parchment with an open mouth, unable initially to comprehend. A vague voice at the back of her mind garbled various thoughts – silly boy, what was he doing, running away like a child. And ah – so his goodbye in that cove wasn't to his companion, but to Berk. And wasn't it a lovely thing, that he would no longer wreak almost more havoc than the dragons?
The last thought seemed to slice through her haze of disbelief, and caused a sharp pain to pool in her stomach, a mixture of horror and guilt and terror. She'd been harsh, competitive, relentless; she hadn't meant to drive him away. She'd only meant to rise to the challenge, to be better, to strive to win and persevere as she always had. The echo of her cruel words rang in her ears as she re-read the part where he thanked her for it. The hints to help, the gaps in their defences, even the tone in which he spoke of his departure all sounded as if even though he knew they didn't want him – so much that he was leaving – he was still so desperate to help.
A part of her angered at how pathetic it sounded, how weak and feeble it was to run away simply because fitting in was a problem. But a larger part was drowning in the guilt of having driven a boy away from his home and convinced him his father was ashamed of him, while she suddenly remembered his last words in the cove, his tone and its new meaning in this light. She was responsible for having run off the only son of the chief.
She ran a frightened hand through her hair and almost cried out when her fingers came across something cold and foreign trapped between a snag in her hair and her kransen. Wiggling her fingers, she felt that there, under the leather, was something round and flat, and after some careful and delicate handling, she managed to take it out. Lighting a candle, she held it up to the light.
It was the strangest thing she'd ever seen, flat, black as the night and letting only very little light through with a very dark blue hue of midnight. The edges where smooth and thick, round like a coin but tapered off on one side. It seemed to be a precious stone, the most beautiful she had ever seen, as turning it in the light revealed different hues of dark blue in mottled patterns, like pipe smoke rising up against the night sky.
Astrid's fist closed around in as she bit her lip; this stone was lodged in her hair when she was hit – probably by Hiccup's companion – as they escaped. He had to be rich, and strong to have knocked her over, and dropped this stone from his clothing, scabbard or leathers. Whoever he was, Astrid was not going to surrender it back: this was hers now, a reminder of her stupidity, and her unnecessary cruelty.
A shaft of light penetrating her wooden window shutters alerted her that it was morning; new panic overcame her – she shouldn't have been sitting here and commiserating herself, she should have been out there, preventing Hiccup's foolish escape with someone who was obviously foreign to Berk, headed the gods knew where to do the gods knew what, with terrible scenarios of slave markets and indecent things running through her mind.
Rushing outside, she was not expecting to find Berk in an uproar. When she stopped long enough to realise that everyone knew, however, she realised that Stoick was already on the hunt. A part of her felt relieved – with Berk on his steps already he wouldn't get far with so slim an advantage. Another part of her was sick with fear that her role in his disappearance would be discovered – but then, she would deserve it. Steeling herself, she went to look for her father, because if she was going to shame the clan, he had a right to know. He and her had always worked well together to solve problems after all, and she was willing to admit – if only to herself at least – that she was truly, for the first time in a long time – scared and confused. She really just wanted her father. The same way Hiccup had only ever just wanted his.
With that sickening thought, she launched herself out the door.
That is the first prologue, which I hope you enjoyed. There will be two other such prologues, that I will post on alternate days, and then I will take a once-a-week schedule for posting. The story is actually written and complete, which is how I like working (I will finish a story, usually, before posting it) so there should not be any delays unless life or hardware problems decide to get petty with me.
An Eddur is plural for Edda, and it is either a prose or a poetry piece, and that was one of the literature types used in the Viking age. Most of the words being used in Becoming in reference to Viking culture will be in Icelandic, as that is where most of what we consider to be Norse mythology nowadays originates - not all, mind you, just most. The title of this story itself is in Icelandic, as the þ clearly indicates, as it is part of the Icelandic alphabet. I will be explaining the meaning of the title at the end of the story. Anyone who does know, please no spoilers! ;)
I am also from a different side of the pond, and will be writing in my native British English. Hope that doesn't disturb your reading experience. Thank you again to Foxy for being my own personal Berta - er, beta. No one safeguards me so thoroughly while my spell-check is out pillaging.