And the Epilogue. Without further ado; here is …
Berkian Eddur - 2
Winter in Líf's Holt
Long Winter's End.
Líf and Lífþrasir
Epilogue - Winter is dead
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
"Winter is dead."
― A.A. Milne
Astrid helped Hiccup down onto the blanket she'd brought, and then began bringing the food she'd brought with her out of the basket and laying it across within easy reach. The ale followed, and the water, with pies and fresh baked goods making it all smell sweet.
Brisinga had been planted into the ground at the mouth of the glen, as if inviting Thor to bless this first outing of theirs as a family. The sun, shining brightly from between the sparse clouds, a treat that was so strange even in late Winter, sent bright lights flickering off the blade in reflections dancing on the new grass, and Ætta shrieked with laughter, following the two dragonets around as they pounced on the dancing lights, rolling with them, tackling her to the grass.
It was eight weeks after Snoggletog, and everyone had finally, finally left Berk last week. Not a moment too soon - they would be coming back for dragon training in another six weeks. Hiccup was still healing, but the wound had finally scabbed, and if he did what he was told for long enough, it would also, finally, heal. When Astrid had found out about his usual form of self-medication, which involved dragon saliva and unbelievable amounts of pain, she'd clocked him hard enough to confine him to bed for a day.
She sat down next to him with a sigh, enjoying the crisp air, the sweet child laughter and the high pitched chirps made by the night fury babies. They'd flown on Toothless, Hiccup tinkering with his rig until he could fly alone, and the female, who had resisted all attempts at taming, had flown beside them with the babies riding on her back excitedly. By the way she had begun looking at the sky constantly of late, Hiccup had begun to try to prepare them all to wake up one morning and find her gone. Since Toothless was mostly in charge of feeding and nurturing the youngings, it seemed unlikely that she would take them with her, but he'd been trying to prepare Ætta anyway.
And with the way that girl had begun calling them, there was very little doubt that she would listen to him. She'd come to adore 'papa Hiccup' and any word that fell out of his mouth was like the law. Astrid had more of a struggle, especially since she found it so strange to be called mama by a child who was her niece, but she wasn't about to break the little girls' heart. So Mama Astrid and Papa Hiccup they were, as declared by the child last week, their names a permanent fixture because they weren't her first mama and papa. Hiccup hadn't managed to win his battle with the cousil to adopt her yet, but few in the village doubted that he was her papa, though everyone knew her real father had fed the fishes months ago, and was dining in Ras's hall. Astrid knew it was only a matter of time, now, especially after she had caught Stoick dandling her on his knee, telling her stories as if that was her rightful place and he'd done it every day of his life.
"All this just for us three?" Hiccup said in amusement, raising a brow at her. She nodded, looking at him defiantly.
"We have to start working on your Viking gut," she replied with a laugh, enjoyed the way he snorted and then tumbled into laughter. They were both freshly washed, coming out of the bathtub to escape the village for half a day for this much-needed them-time. Bless her, as much as Astrid loved Ætta, she sometimes wished she could have more time to herself with just Hiccup. They weren't even married yet, and already there was a child to throw a damper on things. At least Astrid had kept the bath-time as strictly 'them' time, Ætta getting washed first with her Grandpa Stoick and then tottering off to get none-too-subtly pampered at the Hall on a normal wash day. Hiccup was still maintaining his strict adherence to his oath, and Astrid had grudgingly accepted it, but the bath-time, at least, was theirs alone.
The strain had increased, though, now that the prospect of their moratorium had lengthened.
Astrid sighed, and Hiccup gave her a sad look. "You're thinking about it again," he said, kindly but admonishingly. She leaned into him, and he threw an arm around her. She fed him a slice of pie.
"I can't not," she replied forlornly. It had been decided last week that Tuff and Cami's wedding would be held first thing next Spring. And Berk could not afford two archipelago-scaled weddings in one season. So their own nuptials had been moved till the Autumn Harvest. It had been a blow Astrid had felt more than she dared to show. She was gasping for her life, finally, to start anew as Hiccup's wife. Even if nothing she did changed, if her daily routine remained exactly the same, something about it finally being set in stone made all the difference to the both of them.
And he'd finally, finally let go of that oath, too.
"I have something for you. I hope it cheers you up," he said with a grin, letting go of her to rummage in a small bag he'd brought with him. to bring out a small sack. Holding up her cupped hand, he emptied to trinkets into it, and bringing them close to herself, she realised they were earrings that matched her necklace.
"Do you like them?" he asked, half smile still on his face.
"Put them on me?" she asked in returned, feeling the usual thrill of his touch as his pads delicately inserted the hooks into her lobes, their slight weight feeling foreign but delightful. His hands descended to rest on her shoulders, and she just closed her eyes and let him kiss her, loving he was initiating their intimacies more and more. They had never really escalated beyond the gentle touch - they'd never even come close to being as intimate as they'd been on Snoggletog morning, not with three babies in the house, but waking up with his heartbeat in her ear every morning was turning out to be an unexpected balm.
Not that she didn't want to enjoy her husband. Damnit, she had every right. But … they were happy with the place they were in right now, finally full of happiness and light.
When he moved away from the mellow, languid kiss, leaving her heart a soggy mess she was now used to, they lay down on the blanket, looking at one another, trusting the dragons to take care of all three children.
"I have something else," he whispered. She scoffed at him, but smiled, watching the answering toothy sunshine that had nothing to do with the one in the sky. He brought a sack out of his pocket, made out of silk, and dropped two rings between them.
"You smithed our wedding bands?" she asked in excitement, unsure whether she could reach for them yet. She wanted to snatch them up really badly.
"Almost. Something better," he said, rising to one elbow and picking on circlet up between his fingers. "Go on, give me your hand. The other one… there." He slid it onto her right ring finger, smiling, offering her his own. She put it on him with some confusion, which she decided to ignore as the rest of the happiness made no other emotion worth keeping.
"Promise rings," he whispered, and her eyes lit up.
"To wear until the real things come on," she continued. He shrugged.
"And after, if you like. I'll still wear mine. As many marks of ownership as I can seems be the road to make you happy, I think," he pretended to squirm pointedly - his trousers were in soft suede today, so he was just being an idiot. "Or so I've noticed."
"Not my fault you're a stud," she chuckled, kissing him and earning a groan. She moved back, and it was her turn to bring her gift out. Ever since he'd begun officially courting her, she'd been showered with gift after gift, the hall smelling of fresh flowers every day, and she'd been feeling terribly remiss about not returning the favour. But at last, it was ready.
She didn't have his dramatic flair. The chord just went over his head and the wooden figure of Mjolnir bounced against his chest.
"There," she said with some satisfaction. She'd agonised over every single carving, every tiny curve of wood and polished edge on the minute hammer of Thor. If he was going to wear one, she was going to make it the best one she'd ever done.
At least until she gave him a first born.
The thought made her blush, but luckily, he was kissing her enthusiastically the next moment, so it was easily disguised with her happy panting. They lay down flat again, Astrid allowing her ear to find its habitual place within the curve of his shoulder to listen to his heartbeat.
"So how did Thuggory like the new pulley system you installed on all the ships?" she murmured, a grin already forming on her lips. When they had seen the Meatheads off a few weeks ago, they'd had a little bit of fanfare, as most of the other tribes had left too. So they'd broken out the dragon formations and the fleet in a farewell display. Everyone had been more than eager to participate; they had all won a significant victory together.
"He was utterly green with envy. I told you he would be. When the sails unfurled all together, with a single tug? He was demanding the pulley as some sort of first-child gift, or wingman gift. Toothless threw him into the sea.
"Rightfully," Astrid said, laughing as she imagined it. She'd been up in the air leading a dragon formation, while Hiccup, still confined to the sedentary life, had been put in charge of the fleet with Stoick. "No one beats Toothless in the wingman department."
"But he's too busy wooing his own lady," Astrid replied with a smile. Lauga was turning out to be a sweet, even-tempered girl, and good match for the idiot blockhead. "Still, I'm waiting on that promise of yours to teach me a few new dances you learned while you were away, so no macho competitions till that leg is healed." She smirked, knowing what was going to follow. "Or I'll tie you to the bed."
"Oh, the horror," he replied in a flat voice, pretending to shiver. "I don't know what's worse, being tied down, with a beautiful woman hovering over me, or teaching you how to dance, getting to touch those long, long legs …"
"Tease," she snorted, kissing his neck in retaliation, and he groaned. His hair tickled her nose, and she huffed. Sitting up, she cupped his face and moved it to the side, then grabbed his overgrown messy mop at the base of his neck and began working.
"What … are you doing?" he asked, face slightly smooshed and looking at her in askance.
"Braids," she replied shortly. "So your hair doesn't annoy me as I torture you."
"Huh, good to know that you at least admit it," he replied, eyebrows arched up in a near irresistible way. Her fingers make short work of it, leather thongs still in her pockets, and she tied off two braids.
"One for each conquest," she murmured, kissing his nose.
"Huh?" was his smart answer. He was such a dweeb sometimes.
"The Queen dragon," she said, gently pulling one braid. "And the Beserkers." She looked down at him as his face darkened with a shadow. He'd eventually found out what had really happened, despite her and Stoick's attempts to keep it under wraps. He'd been mightily upset that they'd fed him piss, but he'd been even more upset to know that he had killed, and did not even remember it. At least they had managed to convince him that the actual number of his kills had been an exaggeration - pretence aided by the fact that the rumour mill kept increasing it. If he ever found out he'd killed sixty men, it would be a blow. She'd save him from it for as long as possible.
"So … the prisoners?" she asked, brushing his fringe out of his face. "They've all been dealt with now?"
"Finally," he sighed. "You heard dad talk about it yesterday at supper?" She nodded. "Mildew didn't last long, and the others were too far gone. They'd all just been trying to make personal gain - even out of each other. I still can't imagine how Sleet came to be that man's daughter. Still, that's over with …"
"Hmm," she said, fiddling with his second braid. "At least she has Dogsbreath now, if I'm not too much mistaken."
Hiccup grinned up at her. "Did you put a few sheep on it too?"
"A whole yak," she smirked.
"Where are you getting the yak if you lose?" he asked with an incredulous laugh.
"I figured I'd just get Gobber drunk and cover him in yak pelt," she snickered back, enjoying the way his throat bobbed as he threw his head back and laughed. He looked up at her fondly.
"No braid for my greatest conquest of all?" he intoned, obviously teasing.
"That would be?"
"The most beautiful woman's heart," he replied, preening. Said heart gave a jolt, both of happiness, but also of slight worry. She was getting used to it, that powerful word falling occasionally from his mouth. But she wasn't quite ready to say it herself. Perhaps, she was beginning not to have a problem between her and herself that what she was feeling for him was, in fact, an emotion larger, more all-consuming than care or affections. But the leap to her mouth hadn't happened yet.
So smiled at him with as much guile as she could put in there. His answering blush made her feel on top of the world.
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Master Hiccup," she purred. "First give me a wedding night, and then we'll see about giving you the heart."
"Argh, cruel woman," he replied in mock agony, and they both burst out laughing. She rested against him again, Ætta's voice counting in the background as she obviously played the hopping game with the tiny dragonets. They had discovered hopping through the little girl, and they were adoring their brief moments of being airborne as they glided back down after each hop. The distinct night fury laugh meant that someone had either fallen over or made a hash of things - but they were too comfortable to move, his arm passing under her to caress her back while his other moved up to cup her shoulder.
"Towards the Great Beyond." he murmured. Astrid smiled.
"I love that. I never said thank you, by the way," she said softly, caressing his front. "I've learned those two verses off by heart."
Hiccup tensed underneath her, and for a second she was confused.
"There are three," he said.
"Three?" she asked, rising to look at him again. "Three what?"
"Three verses." She blinked, startled. He gave a sheepish smile. "You didn't find the third one?" he asked.
She shook her head, feeling both dismayed, and annoyed. And then excited; he was looking so sheepish, a flush rising up his neck in a way that spoke volumes.
"So what is it?" she asked, proud she kept her voice even. His head rose, lips murmuring against her ear until she was fairly trembling. When he was done, she squeezed him to within an inch of his life.
"In Autumn," she said, her voice happy but tinged with some regret. "Hold that thought till Autumn. Hold it till forever."
"Till forever," he agreed, bringing his arms up to hold her as tightly.
The moment was broken when two tiny - but surprisingly strong - dragonets pounced on them, obviously thinking their hug was a pile invitation. Ætta joined in, and Toothless dropped his chin on everyone, eliciting a great groan. The female rolled belly up, laughing until her tongue lolled out.
"Well, then," Astrid sighed, pushing everyone off. "Who wants fish and pie?"
Laughter and hubbub ensued as the food began to change hands and get munched, water and drink pouring, voices rising in both human and dragon communication. The warm patch of ground glowed around them, the balmy afternoon sun inviting the grass and the flowers to shoot up towards it, filing the world in green reaching out to blue, and blue blending with green.
Astrid looked at Hiccup, over Ætta's head, and smiled at him, her heart beating wildly when he just smiled back.
Till next Autumn. Or till forever. Winter was almost over, and Spring was at the door.
Think of me when swinging
This gift I give unto
She who Freyja favours.
Cleave ye the mighty foe
Who will stand in your path
Towards the Great Beyond.
Have mercy on the one
Of whom you own the heart
Whose fires wrought this blade.
And this is the end, once again. I hope you enjoyed the ride. For all those who have questions – especially about how this fits into the second film, well… I haven't seen it yet, obviously, so I have a GOOD idea of what goes on there from the great big spoilery trailers, but I may be wrong. I have also decided that the Red Death's demise was a trigger for all the happenings that followed, and therefore the events that happen in 2 will occur – but later, months or years down the line.
I also really, really hope they address the baby-abandoning tendencies of one 'Valka Haddock', because frankly, all the feels I'm getting for her with every new trailer is a deep-rooted hate for leaving a one-year old (I'm guessing) Hiccup behind, and as Foxy and I discussed, every single dragon and human death that happened until Hiccup stopped the war is her fault, because she could have been teaching training for a lot longer if she'd, you know, bothered to go back to her village sometime.
We'll see. I'm going to miss Chris Sanders a great deal, but I'm sure Dean made a good job.
Regaring the Dróttkvætt – Astrid was not looking for another verse, and neither was Fishlegs, because this form of poetry usually only has two verses. And if you recollect, Hiccup was actually agonising over whether to add the secret third one, and made sure to hide it very well.
Cheers! I hope you enjoyed the second ride on the carousel. Don't hold your breath for any more, at least for a good while! Professional life calls. Summer is conference season.