Chapter 10: Home At Last
Hiccup raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he looked out to sea from the tip of Eagle Point. The ocean stretched out endlessly to the horizon, formless and ever-changing.
"Do you think Berk's really out there?" Astrid asked, clambering up to join him. "We only have Aeden's word that we're even going in the right direction."
Hiccup turned to face her. "You saw that map as well as I did. I don't think he could have faked that," he replied, "and at that point he had no reason to lie to us."
"Taking directions from somebody who tried to kill us doesn't fill me with confidence," Astrid grumbled.
"Well, it's the only lead we've got so far," Hiccup replied, "So we have to investigate it. But let's not be stupid about this, We'll fly out to sea for half a day, and if we don't sight land in that time, we'll turn around and head back here."
"Nobody ever got anywhere by sitting around all day worrying," Astrid said decisively, turning back towards where they'd made camp. "Come on."
With the ease born of weeks of routine, they quickly broke down their camp and prepared to mount up for what would hopefully be the final time. "I think I'll miss this," Hiccup said quietly.
Astrid looked over Stormfly's back at him, curious.
"I want to get back home and see my dad as much as you want to get back to your family," He replied. "But there's something about... this," he gestured around their campsite, "Just the two of us and the dragons out here by ourselves, that's kind of... nice."
"As tempting as the offer to elope with you is," she responded lightly, swinging herself onto Stormfly, "I think I like proper beds and real food more. No offence."
Toothless nudged his shoulder, and pawed the ground impatiently.
"You too bud?" Hiccup sighed with false exasperation, climbing onto the Night Fury's back. "You just don't want to catch your own food any more, do you, you lazy beast?"
Toothless let out a happy roar as he sprung into the air, easily rising above the treetops, and gracefully turning out to sea. Hiccup felt a smile tugging at his lips, Toothless was happy, the sun was shining, and the wind blowing offshore should carry them straight to Berk.
Sure enough, a few hours into their flight, they sighted land on the horizon. Astrid spotted it first, it was little more than a jagged rock sticking above the ocean, but land it was, and it told them they were headed in the right direction.
Toothless spotted it a moment later. He looked back at Hiccup, a questioning growl in his throat. Grinning, Hiccup leaned forward and patted his friend's neck, "Yup, that's it, bud, we're almost home."
It was mid afternoon by the time Berk finally came into view. Hiccup had realised that they were approaching Berk from the direction of the Berserkers' homeland, and they'd taken a large detour to avoid overflying the island.
Berk still looked the same as the day they'd left. The harbour was bustling with activity, groups of people hurrying up and down the ramps. Judging by the flocks of seabirds and Terrors swarming above the docks, the fishing fleet had just landed with the day's catch. The familiar sight brought a smile to Hiccup's lips, We made it, he thought.
Toothless let out a roar of greeting as they passed between the stone sentinels that stood watch over the entrance to the harbour, the sound echoing back to them, off the cliffs, a moment later. The workers on the docks didn't look up immediately, used to the sound of dragon calls ringing out over the island. However, somebody obviously recognised Toothless' voice, as within a few seconds, every man and woman in the harbour dropped what they were doing and rushed onto the docks. Shouts of "It's them!" and "Somebody go get Stoick!" drifted across the water. In the distance, Hiccup spotted several dragons rising into the air from the direction of the Academy.
A cheer rose up from the crowd on the docks as Toothless and Stormfly flew overhead. Hiccup glanced down at the crowd and made a snap decision. "We'll land in the centre of the village," he shouted over to Astrid.
They came in to land just as Stoick burst out of the mead hall. "What's all this-" He froze, mouth hanging agape as he saw the black dragon landing in the village square. A moment later, he broke into a run, taking the steps two at a time. Gobber trailed behind him, as fast as his peg-leg could carry him, followed a moment later by the rest of the village elders as they streamed out of the mead hall.
Stoick reached Hiccup almost before his feet had touched the ground, sweeping him off the ground and pulling him into a tight bear hug. "My son," He whispered hoarsely, his voice cracking with emotion, "You came back."
Hiccup would have responded, but Stoick had crushed the air from his lungs with the force of his embrace. Just as he began to feel light headed from the lack of oxygen, Stoick finally let him go.
"Hi dad," he gasped lamely.
Stoick stared at his son for a long moment. He didn't cry, but Hiccup could see the tears glimmering in his eyes. Suddenly remembering they weren't alone, he turned to the crowd forming around them. "Someone go fetch the Hoffersons!" He ordered.
"At once, chief!" Someone shouted from the back of the crowd, and Hiccup briefly heard the sound of running footsteps over the hubbub surrounding them.
"What happened to you?" Stoick asked, looking his son up and down. "Where have you been?"
Hiccup ran a hand through his hair, he was suddenly conscious that he'd been living in the wilderness for over a month, and it showed in his appearance. His hair was long and unkempt, and the once fine clothes he'd put on for the spring equinox were now worn and travel-stained. "That's... kind of a long story, dad" he replied.
At that moment they were interrupted by the sound of rushing wings. A blue Nadder, a few shades darker than Stormfly was coming into land in the centre of the crowd. Fishlegs, Snotlout and the twins trailing behind him on account of their dragon's slower speeds.
"Sis!" shouted the dragon's rider, jumping down to the ground as soon as the Nadder closed his wings.
"Orvar!" Astrid exclaimed, stepping forward to embrace her younger brother. "It's good to see you again!"
"Who's this?" Astrid asked as she pulled away, indicating the dark blue Nadder, who was chirping curiously at Stormfly.
"This is Jörmungandr," Orvar answered, patting his flank, "I fell off the cliffs a fortnight ago and this guy saved my life, he's been following me around ever since."
Hiccup stepped up beside Astrid. "Well, he's a fine looking dragon, Orvar" he nodded, turning to Astrid he added, "It seems training Nadders runs in the family. I wonder what your mother thinks about having a second one around the house?"
As if on cue, a shrill feminine voice rang out over the crowd, "Out of my way! Coming through!"
Astrid signaled Stormfly, and the Nadder hissed angrily, half-opening her wings. The crowd quickly parted to allow Astrid's mother and father into the circle, Immediately, her mother rushed forwards and threw her arms around her daughter, while her father stood uncomfortably a couple of paces away.
"My baby!" Astrid's mother exclaimed, "you're alive!" She pulled back from the embrace to gaze into her daughter's face. "Are you okay? Where have you been?"
"I'm fine, mama" Astrid replied warmly, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. With a glance at Hiccup she added "It's kind of a long story."
Stoick clapped his hands together, taking charge of the situation. "Balder, Gunhilda" he began, nodding to Astrid's parents, "Maybe we should move to the mead hall, where our children can tell us about their adventures over a goblet of mead?"
"That sounds like a great idea, chief" Balder replied. "Astrid? Hilda?" He called to his family.
Astrid and her mother broke of their private conversation and nodded.
Stoick turned to the assembled crowd. "Everyone please go back to work and let us have some time with our children," he instructed, "You'll find out what happened tonight."
Muttering disappointedly, the crowd dispersed. Most of them went either back down to the docks or up to the pastures, while the remainder filtered back to their houses.
"Better luck next time, eh Snotlout?" Tuffnut taunted.
Snotlout growled and punched Tuff in the arm, before wordlessly climbing onto Hookfang and disappearing into the sky.
Orvar paused on the threshold of the hall, looking between them and Jörmungandr worriedly.
"Is there a problem, son?" Balder asked.
"I've been keeping Jörm in the Dragon Academy when he's not with me," Orvar began, his cheeks flushing red, "So I haven't taught him that dragons aren't allowed in some places yet."
Hiccup glanced at Astrid, "You're the Nadder Expert, do you want to take this, or should I?"
She looked back at their parents, who were waiting impatiently in the doorway. "You do it," she decided. "I'll go on ahead and answer some of their questions."
Hiccup turned to Stoick, "This won't take a minute, dad."
Stoick nodded, and beckoned the rest of the group into the hall, shouting for one of the cooks to bring out a cask of their finest mead.
"I assume the other Academy members have been helping you with him," Hiccup asked, returning his attention to Jörmungandr and Orvar.
"Oh yes," Orvar replied, "Fishlegs has told me all about looking after and training dragons, but..."
"But he's not much use when it comes to actually putting things into practice?" Hiccup finished.
"If Fishlegs could apply half of what he knows about dragons, he'd be a better dragon trainer than your sister," Hiccup commented. "Now let's see what happens when you tell him to stay here."
Orvar took a step backwards, and Jörmungandr matched it. "No." He told the dragon, "Jörm you need to stay outside."
Jörm chuffed unhappily and lowered his head to look Orvar in the eye.
Orvar reached out a hand and stroked the Nadder's jawline. "It's just the mead hall," he said softly, "I'll be perfectly safe."
Jörmungandr crooned softly and stepped behind Orvar, wrapping his body around his rider. His head nuzzled against Orvar's right shoulder, while his tail curled around the boy's left side.
Hiccup couldn't help but smile as Orvar squirmed under the dragon's affections. Toothless had been the same for his first few weeks in Berk, the Night Fury's protective instincts raised on account of his rider's injury in the battle with the Green Death.
Jörmungandr stiffened as Hiccup approached. He hissed angrily, his tail spines half-erect. Toothless growled warningly, jumping to his feet. "Easy bud," Hiccup told him, not looking away from Jörm.
Orvar muttered soothing words, stroking Jörmungandr's neck, but the dragon ignored him, wrapping a wing around his rider protectively. Hiccup took a deep breath and circled around until the Nadder's tail was between him and Orvar. Holding out his empty hands before him, he cautiously took a step forwards. "Jörmungandr, it's okay, nobody's going to take your rider away from you."
The ocean-blue nadder fixed him with a piercing stare, but didn't make any move to stop him. Hiccup took that a sign he could continue, and slowly approached Jörmungandr until he was close enough to reach out and touch the Nadder. Careful to avoid startling him, or pricking himself, Hiccup stroked Jörmungandr's tail, smoothing down his spines.
As soon as his tail-spines were laying flat, Jörmungandr uncoiled himself from around Orvar, turning around to focus intently on Hiccup. Taking his cue, Hiccup extended his arm, holding his palm an inch in front of Jörm's nose. The Nadder hesitated for a moment, then pressed forwards into Hiccup's palm.
"Orvar's not going to leave you," Hiccup began, taking advantage of the Nadder's attention. "He just needs to go in here and talk to some people, Okay?" Glancing at Orvar, he added, "He promises he'll go flying with you as soon he's finished."
Jörm pulled away from Hiccup and turned back to Orvar, he nuzzled against the boy's chest, crooning unhappily.
Orvar gripped the large blue head affectionately and stared into Jörmungandr's eyes for a second. "What if we left the doors open?" He asked, "Then you could watch me, and make sure I'm okay. How does that sound?"
Jörm chirped happily and promptly sat down on the Mead Hall's doorstep. Thankfully it was a calm spring day and the slight breeze coming in through the open doors wouldn't bother anyone.
"Thank you, this is the first time he hasn't followed me somewhere since we met," Orvar sad to Hiccup as they crossed the mead hall's threshold. "How did you know that would work?"
Hiccup chuckled lightly, "Let's just say I have some experience dealing with jealous dragons."
"He was jealous of the time I was spending with...?" He trailed off. "There's so much to learn..."
Hiccup took pity on him. "When all this started, I didn't even know it was possible to train dragons. It was just me and Toothless alone in the cove and I had to find some way to make it work. But you've got help, your sister is an expert on Nadders. Mark my words, she'll have Jörmungandr and Stormfly doing synchronised aerobatics by the end of the month."
They joined Astrid and the others just as she was explaining how they'd planned to methodically map out the Island to search for a way back to Berk. Nodding to Hiccup as they sat down, she quickly summarised the weeks they'd spent exploring, thankfully avoiding any mention of their new relationship. Hiccup didn't regret what they'd done, but he knew they'd gone against tradition, and wasn't sure how their parents would react. Although, judging by the looks Astrid's mother was giving him across the table, she'd already guessed something had happened between them.
Astrid briefly mentioned their ordeal in the cave, then deferred the rest of the tale to Hiccup. Stoick, Balder and Gunhilda listened in stunned silence as he explained how they'd been captured by the riders from Garrán Nathair, treated to a feast by their chief, then snuck out under cover of night and finally returned to set the dragons free.
"And you went along with this idiotic plan!?" Balder demanded of his daugher, as Hiccup mentioned their scheme to liberate the dragons. "You could have been killed!"
Astrid bristled, and glared at her father. "Actually, dad, It was my idea."
This only served to irritate him further, "Of all the reckless-"
Gunhilda cut him off. "Have you forgotten that a mere fortnight ago a dragon saved our son's life of his own free will? If those villagers were mistreating the dragons like Hiccup says, you should be proud of her for setting them free."
Stoick inserted himself into the discussion before Balder could make another irate comment. "We all know what it's like to be young and idealistic," he began. "What's done is done, and our children have returned home, that's what's important."
The table lapsed into silence, and Hiccup took the opportunity to finish their tale. In a few sentences he described their journey from the village to Eagle Point and then their flight across the sea to Berk.
"Well it sounds like you two had quite the adventure," Gunhilda commented when Hiccup finished. "I'm sure you'll have lots more to tell us later," she added, with a pointed look at Astrid.
Hiccup, Astrid and Orvar took their leave shortly after that, Hiccup and Astrid flew straight to the Dragon Academy, while Orvar headed up into the clouds to keep his promise to Jörmungandr.
When they arrived at the academy, Hiccup repeated their tale to Fishlegs and The Twins (Snotlout was apparently still off in a sulk). Fishlegs naturally nerded out over the mention of new species of dragons, and The Twins demanded an almost move-by-move recount of the nighttime battle over Garrán Nathair, and it took well over an hour to recount the whole story.
At some point during the conversation, Snotlout wandered into the arena. "Hey, babe," he called, walking up to Astrid and casually wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "I heard you've been stuck with Hiccup for over a month, I thought you might need reminding what real male company is like."
Astrid calmly, but firmly removed Snotlout's arm from her body. "Snotlout, we need to talk," she said in a measured tone.
"Oh dear," Tuffnut commented to no-one in particular, drawing his finger across his throat.
"We are talking, babe" Snotlout replied.
Astrid took a breath, and in an instant Hiccup understood where the conversation was going. He suddenly wished that the ground would open up and swallow him, or that Thor would strike him down with a lightning bolt. Neither of these things happened, and he remained rooted to the spot as Astrid turned to face Snotlout.
"This has to stop," she told him simply. "It isn't going to work between us, I don't feel anything for you, and you can't change that, so stop trying."
"But..." Snotlout murmured.
"It's not your fault," Astrid continued. "My heart already belongs to someone else."
Hiccup could see the cogs turning in Snotlout's mind but, to remove any doubt, and make sure that he died of embarrassment, Astrid marched over and kissed him firmly on the lips. His arms automatically wrapped around her and pulled her close, and for several seconds they were lost to the world.
Then Astrid was reluctantly pulling away from him and they looked up to four shocked faces. Ruffnut was the first to recover. "Told you," she muttered, holding out a hand to Tuffnut. Hiccup saw metal glint in the sunlight as her brother grumbled and handed over a handful of coins.
"You had a bet on us, Ruff?!" Astrid demanded, almost incredulous.
"We made it when you kissed him after the battle with the Green Death," she replied, "I didn't think it would take this long."
Astrid bristled, and Hiccup didn't know where to look.
"Oh, honestly," Ruffnut rolled her eyes, "You two have been dancing around each other so long it was getting embarrassing."
Hiccup felt his cheeks go crimson, "Was it really that obvious?" he mumbled.
Thankfully, at that moment, a blue blur shot overhead with a great rush of wind. Everyone turned around to see Jörmungandr backwinging to land at the entrance to the arena. "Hiccup, Sis," Orvar called from his back, "They're setting up the mead hall for a village meeting now, Stoick wants you back there."
"We'll be right there," Hiccup replied, glancing over at their dragons. Toothless and Stormfly were curled up side-by-side against the arena wall, fast asleep after their long flight to Berk. "Let them rest," he told Astrid, "We'll walk."
"Did you have to do that?" He asked her as they crossed the bridge back to the village.
"It was going to come out eventually," she replied, "And I wasn't going to get through to Snotlout any other way. Plus I had to show Ruffnut that you were off the market."
Hiccup playfully punched her in the arm - not that he could have hurt her if he'd tried. "That's for even suggesting-" he began, mimicking her, then their eyes met and they both burst out laughing.
Hiccup yawned and rubbed his eyes, trying to remember the question Stoick had just asked him. The sun had set by the time he and Astrid got out of the mead hall. Their story had gotten a mixed reaction from the rest of the village, the younger men and women - most of whom had dragons of their own - had cheered when they mentioned the liberation of Garrán Nathair's dragons, while the older villagers turned to their neighbours and grumbled about 'needlessly antagonising rival tribes'.
Stoick's eyes softened as he looked at Hiccup. "I'm sorry, son," he began, "You've had a long journey. I should let you get some rest."
Hiccup sat up straight in his chair, "I'm fine dad, honest."
"We can carry on this talk later," he said firmly. "I need you awake to negotiate Astrid's mundr with the Hoffersons tomorrow morning."
Hiccup had to clutch the edge of the table to stop himself falling off his chair. I cant have heard that right, he thought, a million different things going through his head. "Dad, did you just say Astrid's bride-price?" he asked, unbelieving. .
Stoick chuckled lightly. "I assume you don't object to this match?" He asked.
"No, I love her, it's just-" He stumbled over his words. "Why now?" He finished simply. Hiccup knew that he and Astrid were older than when most Vikings married, but the introduction of dragons had turned life in Berk upside-down, and neither of them had given the old traditions much thought.
"To protect you from her parents," Stoick replied cryptically.
Hiccup scratched his head; this conversation was rapidly becoming too much for him to handle. "Why would I need protecting from Astrid's parents?" He wondered, "They like us."
His father suddenly fixed him with a hard stare. "Hiccup," He began, in a serious tone, "You spent over a month alone in the wilds with a woman who - by your own admission - you have have feelings for. Do you mean to tell me you didn't do anything ... untoward with her?"
Hiccup blushed crimson as he realised what his dad was getting at. "Dad, I'm sorry. I, uh, I mean we..." he stammered.
"It's okay son, these things happen," Stoick reassured him in a gentler tone. "Provided the two of you are happily married before she shows any signs, nobody will ever know."
Hiccup didn't know what to say. He found himself staring blankly at the table, unable to meet his father's eyes.
Several awkward seconds passed. Stoick coughed uncomfortably. "I'm sorry son, I have to know how urgent things are. How many times and when?"
"Just the once. About a week ago." Hiccup replied in a monotone, desperately hoping he could blank this conversation from his memory.
Stoick nodded, and immediately began muttering dates under his breath. A moment later he stopped and looked at Hiccup, his mouth hanging half-open. "Right! Goodnight son," He mumbled, quickly getting up from table.
"Goodnight dad," Hiccup called after him.
Hiccup sat there in darkness for a long time, trying to force his mind to accept the sudden upending of his life. He was going to get married. Until a few short minutes ago, marriage had been a distant, far-off prospect for him. Now it was his immediate future.
He'd dreamed of marrying Astrid for so long, now that it was actually happening it seemed almost unreal. He didn't doubt that her parents would accept the proposal - there were few families on Berk who would refuse an alliance with the chief's family. But he'd avoided bringing it up with his dad in the past out of respect for Astrid's feelings, and fear his father would refuse in favour of a political marriage to the daughter of some rival chief.
However, not all of him was excited at the prospect; part of him dreaded another lot of changes to his life. He refused to even consider what might come from his and Astrid's night together - there was only so much his mind could handle at one time - there was enough to occupy his thoughts without that. He and Astrid were going to need somewhere to live, and they were going to have to work out how to manage the various domestic tasks associated with running a home. Hiccup couldn't imagine Astrid cooking and cleaning around the house, and while he knew a little about these things due to his mother's absence, it would hardly be the usual arrangement for a married couple. Not to mention that they both still had commitments to their dragons and the Dragon Academy.
A low thump from outside caught Hiccup's attention, and he wearily got to his feet. Sure enough, a few seconds later he heard a scratching at the door, and he opened it to find Toothless looking up at him pathetically with wide eyes. The Night Fury nudged at his thigh and whimpered quietly, gesturing upwards with his nose. Hiccup smiled and gave him a quick scratch behind an ear-flap. "Go back upstairs, bud," he told him, "I'll be up in a minute."
Toothless blinked at him a couple of times, then turned and headed around the side of the house; shortly afterwards Hiccup heard a scrabbling of claws on wood as he leapt back up to his window. Yawning, Hiccup closed and locked the door, then clambered up the stairs to his room. Mechanically, he stripped off his clothes and tossed them into a corner.
With a sigh, he collapsed onto his bed and stared up at the ceiling. It took a while, he thought, but our journey is finally over...
And tomorrow I'm going to negotiate for Astrid's hand in marriage. It was too much for him. Rolling out of bed, he walked over to the stone slab that Toothless rested on and nudged his side. One large emerald eye cracked open to look at him, then with a pleased murmur he shifted over and raised a wing. Hiccup gratefully lay down against his Night Fury's side, and shortly found himself enveloped in a warm, dark cocoon. Immediately Hiccup's unruly thoughts quietened, and he succumbed to the soft embrace of sleep minutes later.
Astrid awoke to the morning sun on her face and not one, but two deadly Nadders at her window. Throwing aside the covers, she smoothly rolled to her feet and strolled over to the window. She greeted Stormfly warmly, then turned cautiously to Jörmungandr. The male nadder was a couple of inches taller than Stormfly and broader in the chest. His most striking feature were his eyes, which were a rich amber colour, in contrast to Stormfly's yellow. "Hey there Jörm," she said warmly, extending her palm towards him. "I'm Astrid, I see you've already gotten to know Stormfly."
Jörmungandr snorted and nuzzled into Astrid's palm. She indulged him by scratching underneath his chin, until she saw Stormfly start to bristle with jealousy.
"Looks like Orvar's not the only one with an overly possessive dragon," she said with an embarrassed chuckle, pushing Jörm away gently. She rested her arms on the windowsill and started to consider how she was going to spend her day when her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Chief... Hiccup...," Her mother's voice drifted up to her. "We weren't expecting you. To what purpose do we owe this honour?"
"Is Balder here?" Stoick asked, "The Sjóknapa is still having it's rudder repaired, so I hoped I could speak with him."
Astrid didn't hear any more of the conversation as she moved away from the window and began to dress herself. The Sjóknapa was a fishing boat owned by their family. She was by no means the largest boat in Berk's harbour, even among the fishing fleet, but she was a hardy vessel and had been in the family for several generations. Normally, her father would have left the house before dawn, to make sure the ship was ready to sail with the morning tide.
All conversation in the main room of the house stopped as Astrid entered a few minutes later. Hiccup glanced up at her, then quickly looked away. He was sat next to Stoick at their table, and her father and brother sat opposite them.
"What's going on?" She asked casually, as every face in the room - besides Hiccup's - turned to look at her.
Nobody replied for a moment, then her father coughed awkwardly. "Astrid," he began, "Why don't you go for a flight with your dragon? Stoick and I have some business to discuss."
Astrid felt her temper rise. "Why are you trying to get rid of me, dad?" She demanded, "Don't I have a right to know if this 'business' concerns me?"
"Astrid..." her mother put in gently.
"Oh, for Frigg's sake!" Hiccup snapped, looking up and meeting her gaze. "Astrid, my dad wants us to get married; we're here to discuss the mundr with your father."
"Oh," she said quietly. After a moment's indecision, she grabbed her axe from where it hung on the wall and hurried towards the door. Hiccup stood up to follow her, but Stoick restrained him with a hand on his arm, muttering something she didn't hear. Then she was out the door. A few paces later she slumped heavily against the wall of a neighbouring house. She closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, trying to calm the maelstrom in her chest.
"Marriage." The word slipped from her lips like a curse.
She opened her eyes at the sound of their front door opening. Orvar stepped outside and walked over to her.
"Hey," she greeted him wearily, nodding.
"Are you alright, sis?" he asked, leaning against the wall next to her.
"I think so," she replied, "Now that the initial shock's worn off, I ... I don't know what to feel..."
Orvar looked at her thoughtfully for several seconds. As always, Astrid felt like his piercing blue eyes were seeing into her soul and reading her emotions.
"You love him, don't you?" he asked quietly.
"How did you...?"
Orvar chuckled softly. "The Astrid I grew up with would have fought tooth and nail against being married to anybody. The fact that you're even considering it with Hiccup told me he's special to you. That, and Fishlegs may have told me what you did in the Academy yesterday."
"Oh, that," Astrid muttered, her cheeks reddening slightly.
"The way I see it," Orvar continued, "it's a win-win situation. You get to marry the man you love, and our parents get an alliance with the chief's family."
"You're right, as usual" she replied. "It's just..."
"You're worried you're going to have to give up your freedom and become a housewife?" Orvar finished.
"Right again," She paused for a moment, when he didn't reply immediately, she added "Go on then, tell me how I'm being stupid and needn't worry."
"I wouldn't dream of calling you stupid, sis," Orvar replied with a smile. "But everybody knows Hiccup's completely mad about you, so he's not going to force you into a life you're not happy with. You're both smart, I know you'll work something out, even if it's a little unorthodox."
Astrid let out a long breath, feeling a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Thank you," she breathed, "What would I do without you litli bróðir?"
They both looked up as the door to their house opened again. Balder was coming out, followed by their mother, Hiccup and Stoick. They stopped a short distance away, "Astrid," he began, an odd formality to his tone. "May I present your betrothed, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the third?" He beckoned Hiccup forwards.
"Hi Astrid," he said a little awkwardly.
"Hi," she nodded to him, then turned back to her father.
"You don't have any objections to this arrangement?" he asked.
"Of course not!" She hesitated for a moment, then threw her arms around him. "Thanks dad!"
Hiccup stepped away from the anvil and yawned, wiping the sweat from his brow. With a pair of tongs, he picked up the faintly glowing sword blade he was working on and plunged it into a nearby barrel of seawater. The metal hissed angrily as it touched the water, throwing up a cloud of steam. As he was apprentice to the village blacksmith, Stoick had insisted that he forge his own wedding-sword, despite the surplus of fine blades that their family owned.
Rubbing his eyes, Hiccup wrapped the blade in a collection of rags and stowed it in his back room. Stepping out into the cool night air, he leant against the wall of the forge and surveyed the silent village. In the dim moonlight, he could just make out the darker patch of ground on the edge of the village where the foundations for his and Astrid's house had been laid. The days since they'd returned to Berk had been exhaustingly busy. Along with his duties in the Dragon Academy, and helping Gobber with a backlog of work in the forge, he had to oversee the construction of his house. Which meant the only time he could work on his wedding-sword was late at night. Toothless had gotten bored and wandered away hours ago - likely he was already curled up asleep on his stone slab in Hiccup's bedroom. With a weary sigh, Hiccup pushed away from the wall and started down the path home.
He didn't make it five steps down the path before he heard a whistling of wings, and a pair of claws fastened around his shoulders.
A surprised yelp escaped his lips as the ground dropped away beneath him, and he instinctively clutched at the claws holding him aloft. These are Nadder Claws said a small part of his mind that wasn't preoccupied with not falling to his death, and he had a pretty good idea which Nadder these particular claws belonged to. "Astrid!" He shouted. "What are you doing?!"
"Isn't it obvious?" Her voice drifted down to him, "I'm kidnapping you!"
Hiccup's stomach lurched as Stormfly banked and glided down towards a field on the edge of the village. She came in low over the field and let him go. He stumbled forwards a few steps and caught himself as Stormfly backwinged and settled to the ground in front of him.
"Astrid..." Hiccup began.
"It's stupid!" She growled, cutting him off. "We're going to be married in a few weeks, and they won't let us spend any time together without at least three people watching! Do they expect us to start going at it like animals the moment we're alone?! Gods forbid a woman might want to get to know her future husband!" She looked at him and her voice softened, "I missed you, Hiccup."
"I missed you too," Hiccup replied gently. He was surprised how much he'd felt the lack of her presence, having gotten used to their easy conversation during their time in the wilderness. "If your mother knew we were having this conversation, she'd have my head," he commented.
"What was it you said?" she began, holding out her hand to him. "Then I won't speak. Just let me show you."
Hiccup smiled, remembering the tense beginning of their first flight together. "I thought you'd never ask," he responded, grasping her hand and pulling himself onto Stormfly behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist. "It's been a while since we last few together," he whispered.
"I know," Astrid breathed, placing a hand over his. At her signal, Stormfly spread her wings and took to the air with a single powerful leap. Unlike their first flight, there was no wild, terrifying ride to start. Instead, Stormfly gracefully spiralled up over the village, beating her wings lazily. A flicker of light caught Hiccup's eye, and he looked up to see the Northern Lights blooming all around them, bathing them in a soft, green glow. For several minutes, they flew in silence, gazing in wonder at the vast curtains of light.
Eventually Hiccup turned his attention to the woman in front of him. "Now that we're finally alone," he began softly "How are you taking all this?"
It was several seconds before Astrid replied. "I'm nervous," She admitted, "There's so much they tell us about what to expect when we get married..." she trailed off for a moment. "But then I remember that its you that I'm marrying, and I know it'll all work out."
"I love you," He breathed into her ear, illustrating his point by nuzzling aside her braid and kissing the smooth skin of her neck. "Whatever I need to do to make sure you're happy with me, it's worth it."
Astrid murmured affectionately and pressed back against him. "Thank you," she whispered.
Hiccup held her tightly, pressing his lips to her neck. "I assume this isn't the last time we do this?"
Sighing contentedly, Hiccup turned his head and rested it on her shoulder, looking down at Berk spread out below them.
This is Berk, he thought. It may be an eternally damp speck of rock in the middle of the ocean, inhabited by a people with more stubbornness than sense, but, as long as those I love live there, it's my home.
And I wouldn't give it up for anything.
"Time goes by as day and nights are turning into years, but I'm lying in your arms.
It's the place where I know that I am closest to your heart, where the dark is torn apart.
I know you feel the same as I inside, It feels like in a dream where we can fly."
-Amaranthine by Amaranthe
Jörmungandr - the mythical sea serpent that encircles the world in Norse Mythology (AKA the 'Midgard Serpent') - I think it makes a cool name for a dragon :D
Sjóknapa - (Icelandic) Sea rider
Litli bróðir - (Icelandic) Little brother
It's taken way longer than it should have to get here, but we've finally reached the end of Winds of Change. I understand some of you may be disappointed that this story doesn't give much closure to the story of Rían and Garrán Nathair, but to paraphrase something I said to regular reviewer 'The Dark Eccentric':
Winds of Change is ultimately Hiccup and Astrid's story, so the fate of Rían and Garrán Nathair is left to the reader's imagination. Maybe Rían is able to convince his people to change their ways, maybe he isn't. With their dragons gone, and being a landlocked village with no navy to speak of, its going to be some time before they are capable of being a threat to Berk.
That said, I do have some rough plans in my head for a spin off/sequel to this story starring Rían that explores the aftermath of Hiccup and Astrid's actions, hence partially why I left the ending open.
I'll let you readers in on something: My original outline for this story ended after chapter 9, with only a short epilogue like I did in Digimon Tamers: Reemergence (for the like 6 people who actually read that) which showed Hiccup and Astrid happily together back on Berk. Although, as I said in my last Author's notes I was kind of reluctant to leave this story. So originally this chapter was envisioned as going all the way up to and through Hiccup and Astrid's wedding. However, later on I realised that if I followed my original vision this chapter would probably be twice it's current length, and was in danger of degenerating into meaningless fluff, so I came up with the Romantic Flight callback at the end to suggest that Hiccup and Astrid get a 'happily ever after' in order to satisfy me (and hopefully you) while at the same time keeping the length of this story manageable.
I guess I should talk about Astrid's parents for a bit. As soon as I decided that I was going to write the reunion scene, I knew was going to have to come up with my own take on Astrid's family. Balder and Orvar are both names from Norse mythology, while Gunhilda is a scandinavian name derived from the Old Norse words 'Gunnr' (War) and 'Hildr' (Battle) which seemed appropriate for Astrid's mother.
A lot of fanfic writers tend to write Astrid's family as being quite poor, so I decided to do something a bit different. They're not the richest family on Berk, but they own a fishing boat, so they're not the poorest either. I was toying with ideas for whether Astrid had any siblings when I came up with the idea of her younger brother following in her footsteps as a Nadder rider, and things just snowballed from there. I threw in the scene where Hiccup trains Jörmungandr to give a little bit more on Orvar's bond with his dragon, and then when it came to writing Astrid's response to her betrothal, I had the idea of showing a slightly softer side of her and expanding on her relationship with her brother.
You may have noticed that I dropped a few hints in this chapter that Hiccup might have more modern, progressive attitudes towards women's roles than most men of his time. While some fanfic authors manage it without breaking Astrid's character too badly, and I'm not suggesting that Hiccup becomes a house-husband in this story, I dislike the idea of 'Astrid the housewife' so I hinted that they might have a more 'equal' marriage. Also IMHO, it fits with Hiccup's character, if he can overcome the traditional Viking attitude towards Dragons, why shouldn't he do the same towards people?
As I seem to have gotten into the habit of making fanfic recommendations in these notes, I'll leave you with a final one that isn't really related to this story but deserves a mention: 'Wild Hearts' by CuriosityRedux is a brilliantly written AU fic told entirely from Astrid's perspective that asks the question 'What if Valka took Hiccup with her when she was taken by Cloudjumper?'.
Okay, I think I'll draw this to a close. The last two times I've ended fics by promising that I'll work on some original stories, and nothing has come of those promises. While I do plan to work on an idea I have for a fantasy novel now that WoC is finished, I don't know if that will ever see the light of day, and I already have several ideas for more tales to tell in the HTTYD universe, aside from the 'Rían's Story' spin-off I mentioned previously. These include: a one-shot spin-off from this story focusing on Orvar and Jörmungandr's origins, and my own take on the 'Toothless transforms Hiccup into a Night Fury' genre. So you'll just have to wait and see where my muse takes me!
So, until next time, thank you for reading and sticking with this story through to the end, and no matter what you thought of the story, please leave a review!