"You've got to be kidding me," said Fishlegs.
"It's tradition," one of his cousins said.
"It's not tradition. It's risking the wrath of the dead."
"No, it's a tradition," his father assured. "Albeit one that is rarely done. This land really isn't meant for barrows."
But there were still the occasional barrows, and Fishlegs now found himself far from the village in a little clearing in the trees staring at one particular barrow. It belonged to his great-grandfather. And all the men in his family stood around, expecting…
"None of you ever did this!" Fishlegs protested. He could not remove his eyes from the barrow.
"I did!" his father said proudly.
"There were other swords," said another cousin. "You're the second youngest of the clan, ancestral swords are hard to come by when you come in late in the generation. This is all that's left. Unless you want someone longer dead."
"I'm not going in there." Fishlegs had always considered himself reasonably brave. Not the bravest in the village, but there were bigger cowards. "I am not going into a barrow."
"The wedding is tomorrow."
As if he needed reminding. He had been sick for the past three weeks. He hadn't seen Ruffnut since that day in the blacksmith shop, but that hadn't made things any easier. Tuffnut had approached him a few times, as kind and as demure as Tuffnut could possibly be, claiming peace and that his sister's fury was "nothing personal". Fishlegs didn't care. "Do we really need the sword?"
"It's tradition!" everyone said in unison.
Great. Just great. He was surrounded by burly Vikings all bigger than he was, which was saying something, Vikings who expected him to climb into his ancestor's grave for a sword for a wedding to a crazy girl. Maybe he should go in there, plunge the sword into his own heart, and end it right there. That would solve all problems.
He took a deep breath.
"Chicken!" a cousin called out.
"Chicken" was an insult known to bring out his Berserk tendencies. They were just asking for trouble. Still, he released the breath and took another one. Calm down. He had to calm down. Suicide or killing family members in a frenzy were not the right answers. It was just a marriage to a crazy girl. There were worse girls he could be marrying. Maybe. He couldn't think of any off the top of his head. But there were probably girls who would do worse things than insult him or try to kill him. Somewhere in the village.
The rock that blocked the single non-plundering entrance into the barrow had already been moved. The smell drifting from the tunnel was positively awful. What stupid tradition was this? Couldn't he just get a sword from someone else in the village? Why did the girls get to have theirs made fresh?
"Doesn't Great-Grandpa need the sword?" he asked in a final and desperate plea.
"Fishlegs, go," said his father.
The next breath he held against the smell. Then, in a moment of insanity left over from the near-Berserk, he entered the barrow.
Even holding his breath the stench was overwhelming. And the sight was worse. He had been given one candle, but the barrow was small and the light was plenty. The sword had to be obvious. Where would a sword be? The light bounced from the earthen walls, revealing every other weapon under the sun but no sword…
Then he saw it. He wished he hadn't seen it. It was in the hand of the rotting skeleton that had once been his great-grandfather. Fishlegs considered the fact that he should probably be feeling some sort of veneration, but he just wanted to get out of there.
"Sorry," he muttered, trying to take the hilt without touching the skeletal hand. It was impossible. And speaking made him lose his breath. The smell hit him so hard he nearly passed out. The finger bones were cold as he ripped the sword from the hand. Should he say something about how he needed it to continue the bloodline or whatever? No, he needed air. If he were cursed, he was cursed and that was all there was to it. He didn't care.
He rushed out of the barrow to the mad roar of his family. He considered holding up the sword as a trophy, but he was too busy gasping in the clean air and trying to erase the memory of touching a dead body. No one seemed to notice the lack of championship. They all slugged his shoulder and clapped him on the back. They had better be proud of them. None of them had ever had to do anything that stupid.
The sword was a mess. Rust had set in. Apparently it had not been prepared before being placed in the barrow. And it smelled like the place.
Wouldn't Ruffnut just be thrilled?
Fishlegs spent the rest of the day trying to avoid everyone. Which was difficult. Snotlout had heard about the barrow incident and instead of being duly impressed like everyone else he had taken to leaping out from behind things screaming like a draugr and then laughing about it as if it were the funniest thing in the world. Short of berserking, however, Fishlegs didn't give the best reactions and all it took was a "I hope you're next!" to shut him up.
The day was passing way too quickly. As fast as the past three weeks. It was completely insane.
He pushed open the door of the new house, not knowing what had brought him there. The very sight of the house had filled him with terror ever since he discovered its true purpose. Oh, it was well-built and hopefully no dragon would burn it the ground. Could he convince his Gronckle to do that? No, Fishlegs could never intentionally destroy a building. It was a small house, a single room. Pieces of Ruffnut's dowry had already been moved in by her father. A loom, even though everyone knew she couldn't weave. The bed had been pushed into the far corner. One bed and all that meant. Possibly the best thing about the situation. Except it was Ruff.
He needed to stop that. He wasn't being fair. He had known Ruff all his life. They had gotten along just fine up to this point. And at this point they barely saw each other. Maybe she had calmed down. She had, after all, only said she hated him once. That was pretty good, all things considered. They had gotten along before, they could do it again.
Everyone else was forced to when they were married.
Though she had yelled at him two weeks before in the blacksmith shop. That had been a disaster. Maybe he shouldn't have been in there, complaining about Ruff. Why had he? He wasn't a complainer. He thought he had handled the situation very well. What had possessed him to tell Hiccup, of all people, everything that drove him crazy about Ruff? She was whiney, she was rude, she couldn't do anything, she was insane… He had been in an uncharacteristically bad mood that day. Bad manners, yes. He could admit that. Though Gobber had found it all very funny, for some reason.
Well, he was going to stop the complaining and be a man about this.
It was nice house. He had helped with it. Odin's bloody one eye, he had been tricked into helping with it. But it was new and smelled fresh. He had always liked the fresh wood smell.
The sun had already set when he stepped back outside. The house had been built on the edge of the village, close to the sea. Now they could always wake up to the smell of fish. Great planning there. Still, otherwise a nice house. He stared outwards into the water.
He couldn't believe the sun had set. Now it was just one night.
Something moved in the field next to the house. He turned to see a blonde figure trudging through the grass. Someone he hadn't seen for nearly two weeks.
Ruffnut, heading down the hill.
He needed stop staring at her. She was way too good at sensing stares, and now she was returning the stare with a lot more ferocity.
She really was crazy.
"Are you running away?" he asked.
"Why in Hel's name would I be running away?" she snapped back. "Do I look like I'm running away? We're on an island, how far could I get were I to run away?"
Why did she have to be so… beastly? "They locked up that Zippleback, didn't they?"
She hesitated. "No one trusts me! I'm not a coward. I'm a Viking!"
Tuff had said something about her constantly making sacrifices. "Are you getting an offering for Gefjon?" Apparently that was a goddess very popular with Ruff as of late, according to the word.
Another hesitation. "I'm going home."
The house was suddenly awkwardly larger as she stared at it in disgust.
"Are you going to keep being a brat about this?" he heard himself say as she turned back up the hill. Maybe not the best thing to say to her, but it was true.
She stopped. "I'm not being a brat about this, idiot. So what if Gefjon hates me. I'm not running away, I'm not arguing, and I'll see you tomorrow. And we'll do this and then whatever. So don't you dare call me a brat!"
He took an instinctive step back. "Sorry."
Should he mention the death sword? Would that interest her? Nah, she'd find out soon enough.
She stomped back up the hill to her family's house.
draugr: animated corpse, though more ghost-like than zombie-like
So while the bridal sword is to be brand-new, the groom's sword is not and comes from an ancestor. There are various ways of getting this sword. We chose, for our own amusement, to have Fishlegs get this sword in the most basic and pure form we could find: grave-robbing! Variations upon this theme included more mild processes: still using the barrow, but having a living relative pretending to be the dead guy giving the sword, acting out the barrow process somewhere else entirely, or merely getting a sword from someone still alive. Though the Viking Answer Lady (who is quickly becoming our first source of research, just type the name into your browser) says she couldn't find any actual incidents of grave-robbing mentioned, we did it any way.