Courage & Kindness

Chapter Two – Social Anxiety

. . .

The sky had dimmed to a fiery shade of crimson red and the village was far less crowded. Selby's pulse was much calmer this time but most of her face remained obscured by her lengthy locks. Ruffnut kept an arm hooked around her cousin's, steering her crudely as they trekked up a flight of stairs.

"Come on, cookie, perk up!" scolded Ruffnut, lightly smacking Selby's arm.

A string of heat sped down her spine as she threw her shoulders back, smoothing her hair behind her ear.

By the time they reached the top step, Selby's chest tightened as her breath wore thin. The Great Hall was just about half full: enough to send her into a panic. Her hands went numb as they began to shake irrepressibly.

Eventually, Selby could not repress her tears any longer and her vision began blur.

"I'm sorry, I can't-I can't," stammered Selby as she pried herself from Ruff's arm.

She heard her cousins shout her name as she darted to the door. Outside, she inhaled shakily, filling her chest with the frosty air.

Oh, the sweet smell of deliverance. . .

Selby pinched the seam of her sleeve and dried her eyes. But just as she began to wholly relax, something twined around her ankle. A Terrible Terror, peering deep into her soul.

"Hey, come here, little guy," called a kindly voice.

The critter turned its head and swiftly scurried away, allowing Selby's pulse to slow down.

Back by the door, a gargantuan young man knelt before the Terror and fed it a fish. His smile was as warm as a ray of morning sunshine and his touch appeared gentle. As the tiny Dragon wandered off, he beheld the long-haired young lady, waving to her. Selby waved back, avoiding direct eye contact and lowered her head as he strolled on over.

"Hi, Selby."

What; how the hell do you know my name, mister?

"The twins have told us a lot about you."

Oh, you're a friend of my cousins'? But you don't seem like a mass destructor.

"I'm Fishlegs—Fishlegs Ingerman."

Selby smoothed her hair aside and shook his outstretched hand. Now with a closer look, she began to vaguely recognize his face.

"Have we met before?" she asked.

"A long time ago: like 15 years."

"Oh, yeah I remember: you were the kid who rolled on top of me."

The two shared a laugh.

"Right, sorry about that."

"It's okay, it wouldn't be the last time I'd end up face down in the snow."

They laughed a moment more.

"So, how do you like it here, on Berk?"

"It's nice; a little more populated than I'm used to. But I'll get used to it, I'm sure."

"I'm sure you will. You know, if you ever need any peace and quiet, you'll definitely get some at the cove."

"That sounds nice."

"Or if you like flowers I've got a whole garden full of varieties. I can show you around anytime you like."

Selby smiled. "I'd love that. Thank you."

Odin, you are surely looking down upon me right now.

"You're welcome. So, you want to join us inside for dinner?"

Fishlegs noticed the color quickly drain from Selby's face and prudently put an arm around her.

"Come on, it's not so noisy in the back, I promise."

She had only just met this gentle giant and though she still lowered her head, his presence provided her ease as they sauntered back into the Great Hall.

The duo joined the twins and a few others at a table way in the back. It indeed was less noisy and the drifting smell of hot yak stew soothed her nerves even more.

"Selby, these are Hiccup, Astrid, and Snotlout," presented Fishlegs.

She smiled at her new acquaintances, waving timidly.

"Selby, it's great to finally meet you," said Hiccup.

"You guys, too," she murmured.

"You want to speak up there, Sellie?" Ruffnut rebuked her.

"No, it's okay, Ruff, I could hear her."

The new girl fiddled with a strand of her hair; those nerves flaring up again.

"We've heard so much about you," said Astrid.

"Hard to believe the twins were talking about a relative," said Snotlout.

Astrid rammed her elbow into Snotlout's side, getting a high-pitched grunt out of him. And Selby chuckled at this despite her instinct to cry.

"You hungry?" asked Hiccup.

Selby nodded but remained seated as the others rose up. And because the twins were so eager to eat, she would not be dragged against her will this time. Fishlegs gladly offered to bring her a portion.

Now alone at the table, the golden-haired girl could finally let those tears fall. It felt good physically, but mentally she could hear her parents reproach her. She intuitively shielded her face in embarrassment and ducked under the table as the others returned. Thankfully, no one witnessed her waterworks.

The yak stew tasted just as good as it smelled. And the light mead the bartender brought over washed down every bite with a heavenly caress.

Halfway through dinner, Selby smoothed her hair behind her ear and began to participate in conversations. They discussed work, hobbies, relationships, and as soon as dragon training was brought up, the newcomer felt compelled to ask, "So, how did you guys make peace with the dragons?"

And Hiccup gladly told her the whole story. Selby was on the edge of her seat throughout the breathtaking tale of Night Fury befriending. Sometimes her jaw would drop with awe or she would hold her heart with compassion.

Wow, Hiccup, you weren't so different from me. Hard to believe with your tremendous self-confidence.

"And as I pulled back the bedsheets, I discovered that my leg was gone."

She gasped, placing a hand over her mouth.

"And Toothless guided me to the door, where I came across a very different Berk. The dragons had finally been revealed as the gentle creatures they truly are."

Honestly, would a standing ovation be too much?

"That's amazing," gasped Selby. "You are such an inspiration, and I wholeheartedly mean that."

Hiccup blushed; his girlfriend playfully nudging him.

"Aw, Selby, thank you."

After a bit more chitchat and a few at the table going back for seconds, the time had come for dessert. There was a varied selection of dishes but the newcomer, who kept herself safely inserted between Fishlegs and Hiccup, simply picked out a couple of cookies.

Later on, she met Stoick the Vast and Gobber the Belch. She was noticeably stiff when presenting herself to the Chief.

"Don't worry," said Hiccup, "my dad's not known to bite."

And that claim was quickly proven true by the bearded giant's warm smile. "Welcome to Berk, Selby Thorston," he said. "I hope you'll feel right at home here."

Gobber's kindness was proven just as quickly. He made her laugh with his mischievous tales of misadventures, not to mention his beer mug prosthetic.

You Berkians aren't so frightening. Maybe I will survive 31 days here, after all.

At the end of the night, the young adults exited the Great Hall together. Selby bid all her new friends a goodnight, inadvertently yawning through her words.

"Wake up there, Sellie," scolded Tuffnut, squeezing her shoulder in a vigorous shake.

"The night is still young," added Ruffnut.

Young? It's like the peak of 9 o'clock, you crazies!

"Oh, come on, you two, Selby's made great progress for her first day here. She's been mingling for over five hours. 1 night down, 31 more to go. Give her chance to settle in."

Fishlegs Ingerman, you are officially my new favorite person.

The twins gave it a moment of thought.

"We want to hear that from her," insisted Tuff, his sister nodding in agreement.

"Fine. Ruff, Tuff, I am indescribably exhausted and I would absolutely love to head back to the house and take some well-earned beauty rest."

"Good girl," said Ruff, patting Selby on the head. "You get a good night's sleep because we're picking up right where we left off first thing tomorrow."

And knowing you two, first thing tomorrow means the crack of noon.

"Come on, Selby, I'll walk you home," said Fishlegs.

The now vacant streets were ablaze in the fiery glow of strung up lanterns and to make matters more blissful, some snow began to flurry from the foggy heavens.

Thank you, Thor!

"So, what got you interested in medicine?" asked the giant.

"I was about seven… I had suffered a nasty fall down a rocky hill and I was so fascinated by our healer's treatments for every scrape and cut. Aloe, Lavender, and Tea Tree oil, just to name a few. I later began planting and delivering herbs to the healer. We became rather close before long, but she was without a doubt fed up with all my never-ending questions as one day, she lent me her years-worth of medical journals. Absorb to your heart's content, she said."

They both laughed lightly.

"I remember staying up all night, filling my little head with all the knowledge I could. The very first medicine I made was an Evening Primrose tea for my dad's high blood pressure. Since then I've studied different medical books and also started learning massage therapy. I have yet to use my masseuse skills on anyone other than myself, though."

"That's really cool, Selby. You'll make an awesome healer one day, I'm sure."

The golden-haired girl blushed, overcome with a warm and fuzzy sensation deep in the pit of her stomach.

"Thank you, Fishlegs. That is a job I'd kill for: metaphorically speaking, of course."

The bulky blonde chuckled.

"But I just don't think I could handle all the socializing."

"Hey, you handled yourself pretty darn good tonight."

A toothy beam etched its way onto Selby's face. "You're so sweet. When I pray to Odin tonight, Fishlegs Ingerman is going to be the first thing I thank him for."

He smiled warmly at her. "And I'll be sure to thank him for Selby Thorston."

Arriving at the front door, the young lady hesitated for a moment but ultimately folded the gentle giant in a goodnight hug. He didn't waver, giving her a horizontal rub on the back.

"So, maybe I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah; the twins will definitely be dragging me somewhere."

Sharing one last moment of mirth, the duo went their separate ways.

Closing the door behind her, Selby leaned back for a minute, heaving a sigh of content. It had been a good night.

She made her way to the bathing room, careful not to wake her aunt and uncle. She washed her lengthy golden locks, braiding it over her shoulder and treated herself to a long Lavender oil bath.

At long last, cozy under the bedsheets, the tired young lady slowly drifted to sleep, where she dreamt of the upcoming day with her new best friend.