Prodigal Son 1

Astrid stared at the recruits assembled in the training arena. Numbering two dozen in total, they were the next generation of warrior. Not so long ago, she had stood in the ring herself, poised to receive the same training. She saw in their young faces the same anxiousness, fear, and determination she had felt during that first day.

The arena itself had looked different then. Back then the walls of the arena had been hard, heavy and flat, solid and reassuring. Now they were pock-marked and blackened with soot. Craters and crevices marked where dragonfire had heated and split the granite. The iron net which covered the roof, before a sign of Viking dominance over the beasts, was twisted and melted. Welds had cracked, and though it was still heavy enough and solid enough to keep Nadders and Gronckles contained, Astrid didn't dare unleash a Monstrous nightmare into the arena. She had been forced to kill the last one, a sad day for dragon training, but it was that or watch it destroy the arena and escape into the streets of Berk. In his smithy, Gobber the Belch tried his best to keep up with the demands of the island, but without his assistant, he was swamped. There was no time for repairs anymore and no manpower regardless. Above the cage, the sky was grey and cloudy. Mist hung in the air around them, soaking their clothes. In a few minutes the morning chill would set in. She had to get her trainees moving.

The young Vikings waited patiently, their eyes flitting between her and the enormous barricaded wooden doors behind which, they knew, their enemies waited.

"Not today." She said, ignoring their sighs of disappointment. "Not until I think you can handle it. Anyone remember what happened to Slug-Lout?"

They did. Everyone in the village did. Snot-Lout's youngest cousin had been caught by the Nadder during the stealth and agility maze. Instead of staying in its blindspot, the little one had panicked and run. The Nadder had chased him. Gobber had tried, but with his wooden leg, he couldn't reach them in time. That was the day Gobber retired from Dragon Training. No one blamed him, of course. Getting wounded or killed was a part of Viking life. It was an occupational hazard. Besides, his workload at the forge was more than he could handle as it was. Yet what little light was left in the man's gentle eyes had been extinguished that day, and Astrid had stepped up to the plate. No one could deny her qualifications, and everyone else was too busy. Yet Berk desperately needed new warriors.

As a fun warm-up, she set her trainees into pairs. Armed with wooden swords they danced around one another, thrusting, dodging, blocking and parrying the way she had taught them. She moved from pair to pair, commenting and correcting mistakes as she saw them.

After that came the running. The young ones circled, lap after lap around the arena's perimeter while she set up barrels and crude wooden walls, creating an obstacle course for them. Then there were push-ups, sit-ups, stretches, and at long last, aching tired and sore, they were allowed to enter her arena, and start the training itself.

Astrid did not use a real dragon to train them. She wasn't going to. Not until she was certain they could handle it. She did not want a repeat of what happened to Slug-Lout. They had to be physically capable and mentally strong enough to handle facing one of the fire-breathing demons. Instead she had a carved wooden dragon's head mounted on the end of a pole. She taught them how to approach, putting herself at the center of her carefully arranged obstacles, and making them approach from the circle's edge. Every time the false head swung in their direction, they were to duck down and remain motionless while the others snuck up from behind. If she spotted one of them, she'd yell 'fire!' and that recruit would be consigned to more running, more jumping, more sparring. More activities to hone his body and sharpen his wits before he was allowed back in the circle. In the meantime his surviving companions would continue to sneak forwards, slowly getting closer to their goal: the 'dragon head' which Astrid carried with her.

It was a good exercise, Astrid felt. She had invented it herself. It taught teamwork and stealth. It taught them when to move, and when to stay down. It taught them how to look, and how to move without being seen, and she was not going to present them with a real dragon until the group as a whole could consistently make it to the dragon's head without losing a man.

After the game, they practiced with bows and slingshots, using seagulls as targets. The fisherman regularly caught the birds down at the docks, and there was a seemingly endless supply of them. Enough, in fact, that they were eaten in Berk on a regular basis. If they could hit a gull, they could certainly hit a dragon.

The sun reached its apex, and Astrid knew her recruits were hungry. Hefting their weapons and equipment on their backs, she jogged them out of the arena, and through the streets of Berk, leading them on a winding path up and down the slopes of the city. All around them, the sounds of hammering and sawing could be heard. Vikings were perched on the tops of almost every building, trying to finish repairs from the last attack before the afternoon rains set in.

At long last, they arrived at the patched and charred Great Hall, standing proudly despite its blemishes. Inside, she knew Iona the cook would be preparing an enormous meal for them. It was part of the training regimen she had arranged with Stoick the Vast. Astrid had stressed the need to keep her recruits well fed and well watered, so that they could grow healthy and strong in preparation for their future as defenders of Berk.

Her severity was the trademark of her training; Astrid never gave her recruits anything. Every reward, including food, was earned. To that end, she split them into pairs once again. Those who won ate first. However those who hurt each other or neglected safety and control, ate last. Those who lied, tricked their way through the sparring session, or claimed they'd hit when they hadn't, didn't eat at all. A few of the children had tried that at the start, but with her sharp eyes, Astrid always caught them. They were fast learners.

"These are your battle brothers." She would say, "You live with them. You eat with them. You fight with them and you die with them. If you're willing to trick them, you don't deserve to be among them."

She led her band inside in strict, orderly lines. They each thanked Iona in turn, as Astrid had taught them. The Viking cook acknowledged them and stepped back from the pot boiling over the central firepit. Wooden bowls and spoons were distributed to each of them. Astrid doled out the meals herself, quizzing each hungry child on dragon lore as she served their food.

"How many shots does a Gronckle have?"

"Where is the Nadder's blindspot?"

"How do you spot a changewing?"

"How many heads does a zippleback have, and which one should you chop off first?"

"What is the first move you should make when fighting a Monstrous Nightmare?"

If the children answered incorrectly, they were to retake position at the end of the line.

"You have to know this." Astrid declared as she did every day. "You have to live and breathe these facts. They have to be at the front of your mind. During battle you don't have time to think you have to act on instinct and these facts will save your life! These facts will save Berk!"

The Book of Dragons was read from during the meal. Astrid flipped through it at random, sometimes throwing out more trivia, at other times reading entire passages. The meal ended and she set the book down, allowing her pupils an hour of respite to let the food settle. They slouched against walls, or lay on benches, resting their sore muscles and full bellies.

The eight-year-old Osmand, youngest of the children, grabbed the book and flipped through it himself. Astrid sipped from her stew, watching as he sat nearby, absorbed in the dry, cracked, and yellowing pages. He flipped from entry to entry, starting at the Terrible Terror, and reading through the book. He skimmed past the Monstrous Nightmare and the Gronckle. He paused and shivered at the Whispering Death, flipped past the Zippleback, Snaptrapper, Deadly Nadder, and Timberjack. He paused again, reading the entries for the Scauldrons and Thunderdrums. The pages flipped by; Changewing, Boneknapper, and Skrill. At last he reached the entry on the Night Fury.

Osmand read the short passage with a keen eye. He looked up at her, his eyes flickering in the firelight. "Miss Hofferson, what do you know about the Night Fury?"

"There hasn't been a Night Fury attack on Berk since before you were born." Astrid said severely. "Your father's a fisherman. You should read about the Scauldrons and Thunderdrums he has to fight off on every voyage. One day you'll join him out there."

"But what do you know about them?"

"No one knows anything!" she replied curtly. She began to recite the passage. She didn't need to read the book. She hadn't touched it in ten years. There was no need when every passage was memorized. "Speed: Unknown. Size: Unknown." She leaned forward, taking a small amount of pleasure in the way the boy's eyes widened in fear. "The Nigh Fury is the unholy offspring of lightning and death itself. Never ever engage this Dragon. Your only chance: hide and pray to Odin it does not find you."

"Also it doesn't like Eels." The boy said, glancing down at the Book.

Astrid stared. "What?"

"Eels." Osmand repeated. "It doesn't like them. I don't either. Eels are gross."

Astrid straightened up, frowning. "Where does it say that?"

"Right here." Osmand pointed into the book. He flipped the page over and grinned in surprise. "Hey! There's a picture!"

"Give me that!" Astrid snapped, springing across the table to yank the book out of the young boy's eager hands.

There was indeed a picture. A view of the dragon from above, with the wings spread. The drawing was crude, yet detailed enough to show that the artist had gotten quite close to the creature. She recognized the broad, gentle brushstrokes of course. There had been a time in Berk's past when the forge was covered in technical drawings with those same broad strokes.

"Tyr's missing hand…" she exclaimed quietly.

Osmand was giggling. "Someone wrote in the Dragon Manual!"

"Quiet!" She hissed sharply. The boy's mouth clamped shut and his eyes filled with worry.

"You mustn't mention this to anyone!" she said, "Go lay down with the other children and don't tell them either, okay? It's our secret. Just between you and me."

"But who drew it?"

Astrid took a deep breath and stared down at the drawing. Her fingers traced the gentle lines and careful details. It had been a very long time since she had thought about him. Longer still since the last signs of his presence had disappeared from Berk's day-to-day life. Drawings could still be found, untouched in the back room of Gobber's smithy. Rumor had it that the tiny bed in the upstairs room of the Haddock Hall was still there, along with all the books and papers, gathering dust. The bed was unmade. Paper, charcoal and quills lay strewn across the desk; half-finished technical plans and lines of careful poetry, all caught in a moment which would never have another.

Astrid said, "Berk's Lost Heir."

Hello everyone. My name is Commandocucumber. I'm delving into new territory here. I want to work on something which will hopefully be a little lighter in tone. HTTYD is a guilty pleasure of mine, and thought I'd take a crack at a fic. I'm not sure how far this'll go. Perhaps it'll depend on the response I get from all of you.

Yes, it's another Hiccup Ran Away fic. Like there aren't enough of these, but between Hitchups and the Becoming trilogy this type of fic has really shown its potential for an effective and affecting storyline. I can't say I'll be staying as close to the reality of Viking life as Midoriko-Sama, but I'm also going to try and avoid the mysticism and scope creep which appeared in Hitchups. Btw if you haven't read Hitchups, or the Becoming trilogy, you're missing out on two of the best fics in this fandom.

I want to find that middleground which the movies and TV show portrayed. The 'Berk' Viking way of life, as it were, and perhaps explore a few of Hiccup's adventures on the side. That being said, expect a slightly harder edge than shown in the movies or the TV series.

I know I'm new here. It's always a little nervewracking, breaking into a new fandom, but in writing when you've got the itch, you've got the itch…