The arena was empty save for him. The arena was often empty, now serving little purpose besides providing time-out space to some of the more wild dragons and giving a surprisingly claustrophobic area to someone dragon-shy yet still insisting upon riding one. It was kind of a sick joke in Fishlegs' mind to trap someone in an arena with a dragon, even with the whole "partnership" plan that was in effect. He never had quite recovered from the old dragon training days of… what, a month ago? Yes, even with his attachment to his Gronkle he still had occasional nightmares of a dragon snarling at him. So it was weird he came to the arena. He could admit that much about himself. But the arena was quiet, the arena was calm, and usually empty.
Thus, the perfect reading spot.
Fishlegs liked reading. In fact, the more appropriate description would be that he was obsessive about it. Yeah, that was a good term. He was the weirdo he had read the dragon manual seven times. Currently the count was more like eleven. Even after all of Hiccup's idiotic dragon-related stunts and his incredibly impressive and revolutionary philosophy of dragon-human relationships Fishlegs still liked the horror of the dragon manual. The macabre descriptions, the solemn details, the wickedly awesome illustrations, they were all great. Besides, some of these paranoia-based hyperboles still offered a glimpse into dragon behavior—just without the menacing and evil motivation. It was rather disappointing. And so he still read the book, along with others. He was one of the few non-adults actually trusted with the village's books.
And since his reading was still considered a negative quirk by his friends, he came here in his spare time.
So he sat, munching on some dried meet and reading about awesome dragon-related deaths when a rather large knife whirred right over his head.
He screamed and the book fell into the dust.
"Whoops. Sorry." The cackling voice revealed no true sorrow beyond the words. "Wondering when you would pull your nose out of that book. Haven't you gotten that thing memorized yet?"
Ruffnut strode past him to collect the knife that was pinned and still quivering in a wooden post. Her eyes were focused on it, her mouth set at a firm sneer of satisfaction. "Um, this is an arena, Fishlegs. As in battle. Death. Destruction. Killing things with sharp objects."
"No one uses it anymore since Toothless brought down the chain covering."
"I use it. Duh. Weren't you watching?"
He didn't think she had to aim so well at him.
With a strong twist she pulled the knife from the wood. The blade was in deep, and her final jerk to free it sent her stumbling back a few steps. Still, she had the knife and her smile was still the same. "Move."
"What?" He had picked up the book and was just dusting it off. Some of the pages were bent.
"Move." Her gaze settled past him… on a wooden lining on the opposite side of the arena. Once more over Fishlegs' head. Her arm drew back, then shot forward, knife spinning, actually spinning, from her fingers. Landing smack in the wood. "All right!"
She was good, he had to admit. Really good.
"How come you never did any of that in training way back when?" he asked. "I mean, you're good at throwing knives."
"I threw knives back then. Didn't you pay attention? I threw knives, axes, my brother… were you asleep?"
Probably running from a dragon he had failed to confront properly. "Um…"
"Yeah. That's what I thought. Now, this is an arena. I like to come here to practice. Go take your snobby literature somewhere else if you're not going to join me for a spar."
He found himself nodding, gathering up the books, and wondering just where to head. Ruffnut pulled a second knife from seemingly nowhere and sent it flying. Yes, hanging around there would certainly get him killed. Were there no possible good memories of the arena? He trudged away, the sound of Ruffnut's jubilant cries mixing with possibilities for another reading spot and remaining gleeful thoughts on attacking dragons.
She was loud. He could even hear her above the arena, when he had made it that far. Probably the loudest girl in the village. Definitely a screamer. Vicious. Never much of a threat, but scary. It seemed all the girls his age were scary. But Ruffnut was scary and loud. How had he managed not to hear her enter the arena?
She could scream quite the distance. He stopped, back still to the arena.
"Are you still up there? I practically invited you to come train with me!"
Wow, but she was loud.
"And now you have me embarrassing myself in front of the entire village! I'm going to pound you for that!"
All right, he was nerdy, he admitted that, but he was still a boy and a challenge was a challenge and taking a challenge might get her to stop screaming in that growling tone she had. He turned around and walked to the edge of the arena and stared down.
There she was, looking up at him, furious, both knives clenched in her hands.
"Doesn't your voice hurt after awhile?" he called down.
She glared. Oh, she could glare. "I said, Fishlegs, go take your books somewhere if you're not going to spar. And why would you not want to fight? I can't believe you just walked away from me like that! Get down here now, idiot."
He went down. He wasn't the type to get mad, but she was getting annoying. He slowly made his way up to her. "Can't I read over there while you throw knives? I mean, we can share the place. It's a really big arena."
"Where do you want to read?"
He pointed at a vague spot.
"No. I'm using that spot. Read over there and I will probably kill you."
He must have looked a little frightened, because she rolled her eyes.
"Hel's name, Fishlegs, you are such a dope. A month ago you were all about getting in here and playing with weapons."
"Well, we don't fight dragons anymore."
"So? Using weapons are life-long skills. I can't imagine how I will get by in life without knowing weapons."
"Well, even the best female warriors in the village spend most of their time in their homes keeping up the household and raising babies so I don't think—"
Within a moment one of the knives was pressed against his throat. "How dare you talk like that to me!"
"You're completely insane." He grabbed her arm and pushed that and the knife away from his throat. "You just tried to kill me."
She settled back, fuming. "I warned you. And I don't want to hear any of that domestic stuff."
"I was just pointing out the facts."
"Yeah, and I hate your facts. You do nothing but spew them." She turned around and stomped over to the weapons rack. Not much remained, but she found a short sword that she picked up with a little too much joy in her eyes.
What was so wrong with the girls his age? The girls five years older and younger than him were all so sweet and sane and wanting to do, well, girly things. Cook, weave, be girls.
But no. He had to be born around the same time as Astrid and Ruffnut who liked to whirl around battle axes. And here was the latter, not with a battle axe but a sword that looked freakishly sharp.
"Pick something!" she said, pointing at the rack. "You're a big guy. Get the giant axe. It's so cool."
"You want me to slash you with that?"
"I won't let you."
"Are we even supposed to be messing around with these things?"
"If we weren't, they would have been hidden. Now fight me." And with that command she ran at him, screaming, sword ready to cut. The weapon rack was conveniently behind her.
Fishlegs screamed as well and dodged her. She skidded to a stop and spun around, sword still elegantly balanced for attack. Why had he agreed to come back? He ran to the weapons rack and pulled out the giant axe she liked so much. Now what was he doing? Fighting a girl?
Ruffnut held her ground, face twisted into a scowl, ready to duel.
No, this wasn't a girl. This was a crazy thing that happened to be female.
"Come on!" she demanded. "Come at me!"
Definitely not girlish at all. He sighed, raised the axe, and charged at her.
Her sword met the axe blade. He wasn't sure if swords and axes were the best of opponents, but she certainly put a lot of energy behind that sword. She pressed into the hilt with her whole body, and a few moments of standstill passed.
But, well, Fishlegs was about three times her size and had the whole male upper body strength thing going on for him. He pushed the axe against her sword.
"Hey!" she shouted as her feet kicked at the dusty ground. "You can't do that."
"I'm the one that wanted to read. You're the one that wanted to fight me. So I'm fighting you." He continued to press the axe down.
She clung to the sword and held it defensively and strong, and it became the perfect lever forcing her to the ground. And still she tried, grimacing and grunting, until she was lying on the ground. How stubborn was she? "I want to go again."
"This is stupid," he said. "I'm not going to fight you."
"Is it because I'm a girl?"
"Why should I fight girls? I just came here to read."
"Your stupid books?"
"They're so cool, though!"
She sighed and stared up at the remainder of the chains. "Come on. Another round. Tuff is the worst at sparring with me. He either goes easy on me or shows me up."
Great. Twin drama. Always the twin drama. For that matter, it seemed everyone had drama. Fishlegs never understood why anyone had to be involved in any drama. "No! I don't want to be here. I'm putting the axe away." He tossed it. The blade landed in the wall.
"Show-off," Ruffnut muttered. "What velocity stat was that? Care to share?"
"I don't know. I'll see you later." He turned to go.
"Aren't you going to help me up?"
He stopped. "Why? Are you hurt?" That wouldn't be good. He didn't want to hurt her.
She continued to lie on the ground, hair spread around her. She sure had a lot of hair. "Because I'm a girl, moron. You're supposed to help me up."
She had a point. He sighed and grabbed the hand she had extended.
"Thanks. See? That wasn't so hard."
"I didn't mean to be rude to you. I just—"
With a scream worthy of war she pushed both hands into his shoulders and knocked him to the ground. "I'm not letting you out of here without a fight."
What had possessed him to come back in? "Ruffnut, I just want to go home."
"Yeah, to read your stupid books. You're so boring." She lay on top of him, clearly expecting to wrestle. Or something. The old taunt of "Love on the battlefield" rose up to haunt him. To think he had thought that funny at the time.
"Yes, yes I am. And you're crazy." He grabbed her wrists and pushed her away as he climbed to his feet
"Fishlegs, you're unbelievable."
"Can I please just leave now?"
But no, she was already reaching for the sword. Stupid, stupid sword.
He closed his eyes and braced himself for the attack. No, that was dumb. He opened one eye. She had darted away a good pace. Now she was probably going to run at him with the stupid sword. Girls were insane. With a deep breath he ran for a shield. Barely had he forced it in front of him than the sword clanged hard against it. She certainly was ferocious.
All right, he could play this game too. He could show her. He was stronger than her, he could force her right into the wall and get rid of that sword once and for all. He fixed both hands around the shield's handle and locked eyes with her. For a moment there was fear in hers before she shook it away. And he forced her backwards.
He didn't respond. He just kept forcing her back towards the wall.
"Stop!" It was the loudest yet. More of a shriek than her usual growl. The sword dropped from her hands as she threw herself to the ground.
"Back away, you lug, before you crush the poor thing. And don't drop your shield on it." Ruffnut was crouched over something in the dirt, her face suddenly soft.
Unnerved, he carefully set down the shield. "What?"
"Isn't it pretty?" she whispered. "Tough little thing, managing to grow in here. Probably because of less people and dragons tramping through. Good job!"
She was looking down at a flower. A pathetic-looking little red blossom poking up from a crack in the ground.
"You almost made me step on it," she said. "You would have killed it! I would have crushed it and that would have been the end of that. Poor little thing!"
A flower. All of that and now a flower.
"It needs water. The ground here is terrible. A wonder it managed to thrive at all. I'm so glad I happened to glance down and see it."
"You like flowers?"
"Yes. So? They're pretty." She smiled at the sad little plant. "Well, this one isn't. Which is why I'm going to have to take care of it."
"You never seemed like the type—"
"We've known each other since infancy, Fishlegs. But here I am thinking you would actually enjoy fighting. No, you just like your books. No sense in getting you to fight like other boys. You're impossible. Now watch my flower. I'm going for water." She ran off, hair bouncing behind her.
She thought he would like fighting her? Why would she think that?
His heart did something very weird. Something that felt good.
So she liked flowers. That was good to know.
His eyes followed her as she ran along the platform above the arena. He had a sudden urge to find her a whole bunch of flowers.