This is a story idea that's been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while. An AU where a few events went just a little different from cannon, resulting in some major changes.
Please note that while the first chapter or two might come across as pretty dark, I don't plan on this story being an angst-fest. There will be a bit of angst, sure, but I have a hard time picturing Vikings dressing all in black and cutting themselves. (Now cutting other people, sure….)
The Lost Boy
Astrid made her way down the path carefully. It was evening, and the sun was already sinking below the horizon, throwing long shadows across the ground. Soon only the moon would provide illumination. But that was okay. She didn't plan to stay long.
Fishlegs hadn't been a very good friend after all. Come to it, he hadn't been a very good warrior either. But they'd gone through dragon training together, and that counted for something. He hadn't been a bad Viking, per se. But he had always been happier out in the fishing fleet, helping keep Berk fed. Which just made his passing ironic. Or perhaps appropriate.
Regardless, he had been a fellow trainee, and that was enough to earn him some respect. Not many people had been particularly friendly with the large man, so Astrid took it upon herself to occasionally come to visit his memorial stone. Burials were rare things in the rocky soil of Berk. Funeral pyres were easier. But when a Viking went on to Valhalla, a marker stone would usually be left behind, for remembrance.
And thus Astrid was heading for the Field of the Fallen, a rocky promontory that hung out over the ocean waves. And she was heading there this late in the evening because her day had been busy. And, well, if she was seen visiting Fishleg's stone by others, they might take it to mean there had been something between them. Which could not be further from the truth.
Still, best to avoid that sort of gossip if possible. She was certain that the Fishlegs would understand and not hold her behavior against her. He had always been a surprisingly gentle fellow, and could never really hold a proper grudge. Besides, few bothered to visit his stone, and beggars could hardly be choosers.
The sun had mostly set when she arrived at the edge of the field. She slowed her pace, pausing as she heard something ahead of her. A voice, perhaps? Slivers of conversation in the distance? Her eyes narrowed. Who else could be here at this hour? Berk had seen plenty of deaths lately, but none within the past week or so. It was unlikely that grieving family members would be about so late, or after so long. The evening shadows lengthened, trees and rocks casting deep impenetrable pools of darkness. Her hand shifted to her axe as she slid closer, silent as a shadow herself.
Sliding around a large boulder, a low rumbling noise met her ears. And then a voice... Definitely a voice. Male by the sound of it. But one she couldn't recognize. And Astrid knew most every Viking on the island… She strained her ears to hear.
"Heh. So, they thought so little of me they just assumed I hadn't made it." The voice sounded amused. And that strange rumbling followed it a moment later.
"I suppose you're right. Really, I'm surprised they put a stone out at all. Or didn't cast it into the sea." Astrid continued to listen as she rounded the stone slowly, trying to get a look at the trespasser. Because whoever he was he did NOT belong here.
"I'm surprised they left my whole name. Thought that would be stricken off for sure." There was another pause, and then the man laughed again. It was a cold, humorless sound. "Right, right. Death DOES end dishonor, doesn't it? What was I thinking."
Another stretch of silence. "And they even recorded that little scuffle before we left. Imagine that."
By now Astrid had rounded the boulder in her path and could clearly see the field of stones. And she could see a strangely dressed man kneeling in front of one in particular, placed at the end of the field, close to the edge of the cliff. As she watched, he stood up and dusted off his furs.
"Well, I guess we'll just have to show them they were wrong to write us off, won't we old friend?" He turned his head, seeming to address an especially dark shadow beneath one of the few trees to grow on the rocky promontory. He seemed ready to say more, but paused abruptly before whipping his head around with surprising speed to stare straight at the blonde haired Viking.
The tree beside him rustled, but Astrid paid it no mind as she stepped into view, brandishing her axe. She'd already been spotted, so there was no point in hiding.
"HALT! Who are you? And what are you doing here?" She demanded, eyeing the stranger. The figure was poorly lit by the moonlight and covered in furs, so she couldn't make out many details. All she could tell was that he was about her height, had red hair and piercing green eyes. Everything else was cloaked in shadows.
The figure chuckled, and suddenly she could make out one more feature. A set of gleaming white teeth bared in a smirk.
"Me? I'm just passing through. As for who I am?" He seemed genuinely amused. "Apparently I'm a ghost." And then he just laughed and turned away from her.
"Hey, stop! Where do you think YOU'RE go… " She started to run towards the stranger as he turned away from her, but as soon as she began to give chase he began to sprint off as well. Both his speed and his direction were surprising to Astrid. Rather than try to pass her and head for safety he sprinted away from her with a slightly odd gait, heading straight towards the cliff! She could only watch in shock as the figure, still laughing merrily, reached the edge of the precipice… And leapt straight off it without an instant of hesitation.
She paused in shock, then hurried over to the precipice, a cold chill running down her spine as a stiff breeze blew across her. Reaching the edge, she glanced downward at the rocks below, expecting to see the moonlight tinted crimson on the rocky beach. But there was nothing. Nothing she could see anyway. Just laughter echoing faintly in her mind.
Feeling numb, Astrid shakily stood up. Could it truly have been a spirit? Eyes narrowing, she backtracked to where she'd first spied the figure. He had been standing in front of a particular stone.
It didn't take her long to find it. She had to use her axe to reflect some moonlight onto the inscription, but if she squinted, she could just make the words carved roughly into the rounded stone.
"In Memory of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, Slayer of the Red Death."
The silence didn't bother Stoic the vast. At least not most of the time. He'd had six long years to get used to it after all. And he was a Viking! A CHIEF of Vikings! And Vikings didn't let little things like quiet houses or battle scars or missing friends slow them down!
Most of the time.
Most of the time Stoic didn't have time to mope or dwell on the past. He was too busy with his duties as chief to think back to the days when his home had been filled with the thunder and laughter of his beautiful wife. Or the cries of a newborn babe. Or the thuds and thumps of his clumsy son.
No, most nights he was too busy to think about such things. Or too tired from a long day. Or too drunk from hoisting one too many tankards at the main hall.
But sometimes… sometimes.. when the moon was high in the night sky.. . when the ever-present wind stilled and went silent… When he'd had enough mead to make his mind wander but failed to drink enough to shut it down fully…
On those nights he'd sit silently at the main table, alone with a few flickering torches, and stare at what had once been a helmet. What had once been half of a matching set.
What had once been his last gift to his son.
He would stare at the lump of metal. Stare at the large, scorched dent in its side. Stare at the blackened stump of one horn and then at the point of the horn that remained. The point which had been driven into his door on a dark night over six years past.
And he would remember. He would remember things he would rather forget. Things he worked so hard during the day and drank so hard at night TO forget. But here, in his home, alone, there was no one and nothing to distract him from his treacherous thoughts. From his memories.
Some of the men are wondering if there even IS a plan. And, if so, what that plan might be…
Gobber. Oh how Stoic missed his brother in all but blood. Even after all these years, he could still feel his old friend standing at his shoulder. Hear his voice whispering in his ear. How often had he turned his head to reply to the peg legged Viking's comments, only to find naught but air and shadows?
"A plan." He muttered to himself, picking up the helmet and staring at it with unseeing eyes. "Ha. As if anyone could plan for THAT. If only I'd known… How could ANYONE have known..."
Please, dad, for once in your life LISTEN to me!
"I was a fool." The blackened steel stared back at him, soaking up the dim torchlight and giving nothing in return.
Don't you think you were a bit hard on the boy Stoic?
He's been hiding a DRAGON Gobber! A Night Fury!
Aye, he has. Been this is Hiccup we're talking about. You know how your son is.
Loki take it! I'll handle it later! When this is done!
But later had never come. Or rather, it had come in a form Stoic could not have imagined. And the chance to fix things between himself and his son had been denied him.
The battle. The battle was seared into his mind. Something no amount of hard work or alcohol could dull. The horrific losses. The incredible destruction. And the terrible, terrible mistakes he had made. Those memories needed no special circumstances to invite themselves to the forefront of his mind. Especially in these dark times, with Berk facing troubles so similar to those days of old.
No, it was what followed that preyed upon the chief's mind in the dark of night. The boy's disappearance. The fruitless searches. Then his brief return with that beast, that DEVIL, before his final departure. Leaving in the dark of night. Leaving despite his grievous wounds. Wounds which had never been fully tended to. Leaving with but a few belongings, despite injuries that would surely mean death for any Viking left on their own.
But it was the words that hurt the most. Words delivered to him by others. But in his mind he would forever hear them spoken in Hiccup's voice. Quite possibly the last words his son had ever spoken.
Tell Stoic the Vast that he was right. I am not a Viking. And I am not his son.
Strong words. Harsh words. Words that burned Stoic to the depths of his soul.
Words Hiccup had emphasized with a thrown helmet and a blast of fire from the beast.
That was what he had found when he rushed home following the commotion. Some stunned teenagers, his son long gone, and a charred, dented mass of metal that had once been a helmet nailed into his door by its one remaining horn.
His hands slid over the dented and disfigured steel of what little remained of the companion to the helm that rested upon his own head. They were a matched set, made from the breastplate of his beloved Valhallarama and shared with his only son. A totem to keep her close. To keep their family safe. To keep them together.
His eyes were fixated upon the helm, but he did not truly see it. All he could see was a blurry outline, and his memories.
He didn't even notice the moisture leaking from his eyes, his graying beard soaking up each drop without a trace.
Silence tried to envelope the Thorston residence, but was kept at bay by the continuous, rhythmic sound of stone against steel. The low grinding sound of metal being honed to a razor sharp edge by a careful hand.
The sound kept the silence at bay, but it could not defeat it. Not alone. Not when it's only accompaniment was the soft, regular breathing of the building's sole occupant.
The sound kept the silence at bay, but it was not enough to defeat it. For it was practically the ONLY sound echoing in the large home. Its only accompaniment was the quiet breathing of the buildings sole occupant
Ruffnut Thorston ran the whetstone alone the edge of the speartip in her hands, her eyes focused on the gleaming metal with an unnatural intensity. The tip of the weapon was already sharp enough to draw blood at a light touch. Even if the rest of the spear was in far worse condition. The long wooden shaft was nicked and scratched from years of use, and worn smooth from as many years of care and attention.
But it was the fresh damage that drew the eye. The long gouges halfway down its length. The darkened splotched where freshly exposed wood had soaked up blood. And, of course, the rough shattered stump where the last foot and a half of shaft should have been.
But Ruffnut paid no attention to those defects, focusing solely on sharpening the weapons edge until it could cut the wind itself.
The Thorston twins were no strangers to loss. Father had died in their youth, lost on a raid of a neighboring village. That had left their mother to care for too rambunctious, energetic, and rather violent twins. A task she somehow managed to accomplish while maintaining her sanity.
Their mother had been a seamstress, not a warrior. And so they had been spared the loss of family that so many suffered through following the Battle of the Nest as it came to be known. But it seemed that the gods were not content to allow them such good fortune, because no more than a year and a half later their mother fell ill during the winter. The sickness sapped her strength until on night she fallen into a sleep from which she had never awoken.
And so Ruff and Tuff were left alone in the world. But it didn't matter, because they were, well... rough and tough. And they still had each other. They were twins. And despite all their fighting, they were close. After their mother passed on, their fights only grew rougher and more frequent. Because, secretly, fighting was their way of telling each other 'I'm still here.'
And now there would be no more fights.
Ruffnut's eyes hardened as she looked over the weapon. It was something Tuffnut had never strayed far from. It was practically a part of him. Just as her spear was practically a part of her. And in a way, that meant he was still with her when she carried it. Just as he had been throughout her life. Just as he had been that terrible day out at sea…
They called it The Green Death. The older generation, the ones who had witnessed the Battle of the Nest, dubbed it that. They said it was nearly the same size as The Red Death that had inflicted such terrible losses upon the warriors of Berk, though it was much different in shape. Whereas the Red Death had been massive and ponderous in its stupendous bulk, this new monstrosity with long and sleek and very, VERY fast.
And whereas the Red Death had been content to remain in its nest and sate it's appetite with stolen sheep, this new beast seemed far more willing to do it's own hunting. And it clearly had a taste for fish. And for the fishermen who dared to compete with it.
After several fishing ships disappearing into the ocean to never return, Stoic had ordered more warriors loaded upon each boat as guards against whatever fate was befalling them. The ship that the twins were assigned to was one of the first to return with an explanation and a description of the cause. And their escape was due in no small part to the actions and bravery of those 'Crazy Thorston Twins.'
Though by the time they returned to the docks, there was only the one crazy Thorston twin left.
Ruffnut's hand tightened around the shaft of the weapon, muscles creaking at the strain as she stared at the spearhead, a look of grim determination on her face.
"I swear to you, brother, I will KILL that damned dragon. I'll kill it and any other beast that gets in my way."
She stared at the sharpened steel for another few moments, her eyes unfocused, her teeth clenched in rage. And silence once again descended upon the room. It didn't last for long.
Within moments, the sound of a whetstone sliding across steel was once again echoing through the empty house.
Snotlout sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he stared at the map on the table in front of him. After another few moments of examination, he threw himself back into his chair with a petulant sigh.
"This sucks." He groused, taking a moment to adjust his helmet from where it had gone askew atop his head.
Snotlout hated waiting. He always had and he suspected he always would. He was more of an action oriented Viking. Though when you came down to it, most Vikings preferred action over planning. Still, over the years Snotlout had learned the value of patience, and of thinking things through. Failing to do so had cost him dearly in his youth. Had cost him what he had once thought to be the most important thing in the world. But at least he had learned from his mistakes.
That was an important attribute to have if one wanted to be chief someday.
Being smart also helped. But thankfully book smarts were not a required part of Viking leadership. Snotlout may have grown up a bit, but he still hated books. And he hated having to waste time reading things. Why read about things when you could be DOING things instead?
Now maps, maps were another story. Maps were nothing like reading. Maps SHOWED you things. A good map could show you the terrain before you arrived there. A good map could tell you where the fishing was best, or the hunting was easiest. A good map could tell you where an enemy village was, and the best place to start a raid from. A good map could be marked up with all the places you had been, all the villages you had raided, all the merchants you had dealt with, or merchant lanes you had preyed upon. A good map could be a badge of honor and victory.
This… This was not a good map.
This map was mostly covered with scraps of parchment held in place with a variety of knives and daggers and small weapons. Most of them were marked as spots where ships were lost. Or rather where ships were suspected of having been lost. All too often there were no witnesses on other vessels, and no survivors to tell the tale.
This Green Death was proving to be a menace of epic proportions. Far worse than the regular dragon raids of old. Sure, those had resulted in many a burned building and plenty of lost sheep. But actual deaths were, if not exactly uncommon then somewhat infrequent. And since the Battle of the Nest dragon raids had dwindled down to a mere trickle. Mostly the occasional snatch and grab by a handful of dragons at most, and some pestering by things like Terrible Terrors.
Not so with this new monster. Now ships left the docks and simply didn't return.
Losses were mounting. Worse yet, whatever the beast was it was as slippery as an eel. Ships had returned from the Old Nest, and found no signs of dragons living there, let alone the Green Death. And it tended to fly low and fast, coming out of nowhere and disappearing against the waves and into the horizon just was quickly.
In short, they didn't know where it lived. They didn't know when and where it would attack. And they didn't even know if they COULD kill it. The Battle of the Nest had gone… poorly for the Vikings of Berk after all.
In fact, the stories had it that Hiccup, scrawny, goofy, crazy Hiccup, had slain the Red Death. From the back of a Night Fury of all things! Snotlout would have sworn that the entire older generation had been touched in the head by one of Loki's tricks had he not witnessed Hiccup's brief return himself. Even then he could barely give credence to the tales.
But it hardly mattered. With his injuries, Hiccup had surely passed on into the afterlife. And if there was one thing about the battle that all the older Vikings agreed upon it was that the Red Death had been an opponent without equal. And, when soused with enough ale, some of them would even shamefacedly admit that they didn't know if all of Berk could have prevailed over it, even had they been prepared for such a creature. And wasn't THAT a comforting thought.
His eyes drifted across the map once more, to several scraps of paper representing three ships that had been dispatched some weeks before. They had been sent out towards the East, where both fishing and raiding were sparse. And they had been sent out following a suggestion Snotlout himself had made to the council. A suggestion that had been backed by many of the other, older Vikings, including the chief himself.
Snotlout suspected that the Green Death was hanging around areas where food was plentiful. So areas with plenty of fish… and plenty of fishing boats. By sailing into the rising sun, he hoped the vessels would escape the beast's attention. The captain of each ship had been given a bit of treasure, and orders to seek out any weapons that might help them battle the Green Death. Or any other Vikings who might wish for a chance at glory and honor battling a legendary monster.
There were stories of traders from further south. Of people who built giant bows that could throw an arrow the size of a tree trunk across the length of Berk itself. Surely they were exaggerations, but a weapon or two like that would surely do some damage to the monster in their midst. At the very least it should work better than the catapults were said to have done against the Red Death.
Plus, if they returned with anything like that, it would be quite a boost to his reputation. And a step closer to being made chief when Stoic passed on.
Snotlout snorted to himself, leaning back in his chair.
"They had best come back with SOMETHING." He muttered to himself. "Or else I don't know if there will BE a village left for me to be chief OF." He groused.
The Elder leaned against her walking stick, staring out into the star filled sky.
She had had a name once, in her youth. But she had discarded it long ago, along with so many other things over the years. Her youth. Her innocence. Her beauty. Her vitality. And far too many of her teeth. (In truth, that last one annoyed her the most.) Somewhere along the line her name had ceased to be important, replaced by her honorific. Elder.
And she truly was the Elder. The oldest Viking in all of Berk. Repository of so much of the island's lore and history and wisdom. All of which she had been passing on to the girl she had chosen to succeed her of course. But that girl, a whisp of a thing with barely thirty five years behind her, as no Elder.
No, she didn't have the Sense. The tingle in your bones that told you something was coming on the winds. The sensation in the pit of your stomach that told of storms, or the itching of your palms that let you know that danger had passed and calm times were on the horizon.
Truthfully, the Elder suspected that the closer one was to passing over into the next world, the more in tune one became with the realms of the gods. And she knew she was very, very close to passing over. She had been for years now. At her age, every morning she awoke was a pleasant surprise.
But somehow there was still some life left in her old bones, and she was hardly going to complain. If nothing else, her extra senses seemed to grow stronger with each passing year that Death stayed it's bony hand..
Which was why she was standing out in the cold night, staring at the cloudless sky. Because the sky WAS cloudless. And unnaturally still. Which was odd, since her body was telling her that there should be a massive storm breaking over Berk right now. A storm that had been building up for weeks. A storm that her eyes told her didn't exist.
And so the elder stared at the night sky, and smiled.
"I hope the Gods don't call me just yet." She murmered to herself. "Because I think the next few weeks will be worth hanging around for."
With a soft chuckle, she turned and shuffled back into her home.
I'm somewhat loathe to post this as it's own story, since I'm far from certain I'll manage to finish it. My muse has left me, and churning out this story is proving difficult. Especially since I'm trying to slowly unveil what happened in the past without giving it all away at once. On the other hand, I have most of the story plotted out in my mind, and I think it's interesting enough to be worth writing out. So I'll be giving it a shot. But this story is likely to be updated VERY slowly if at all.