This is a plot bunny that had been bouncing around in my head for over a month now. Figured I'd see where it would go.
I borrowed the notion that Ruff & Tuff's mom is a midwife from Backroads, and the rest of it probably belongs to Dreamworks and Cressida Cowell, though my hubby did buy me an HTTYD poster.
Comments good and bad are welcome as I'm a P.E. major and not an English major.
Metal clashed against metal, and the force behind the other blade maintained and grew. Both swords shook as the other slowly but surely pushed its way down in its goal to escape altogether and stab something important. Astrid gritted her teeth and held tight. Her arms ached something fierce and she would have liked nothing more than to drop her sword, admit defeat, and wander off somewhere to die. But that was the loser's path, the way of some little southern farmer stupid enough to believe life was worth more than honor. No, she was a Viking, she would never join any cause without the will to give her life for it, and there was no way she would ever drop her sword unless her arms came off with it, too. Saliva, warm and slightly coppery, welled up in her mouth. She spat it onto the ground. Her opponent wasn't good enough to have it in the face.
Pain. There was energy in every pain and ache. She could be sore after winning. Just because she was a female did not mean she couldn't win. Upper body strength was not all there was. Berk had churned out plenty of women warriors who were no less useful than any man. And she would join their ranks. What had her mother told her? Women bore more pain than men. They were meant for it. That was her advantage. Pain meant life. It would here. She imagined the pain from her muscles igniting, shooting forward through her arm, out her fingertips, into her sword…
Her blade pushed back. The chuckle accompanying the illusion of winning died quickly from her opponent's throat. She felt her teeth ready to break. Use his force against him. Make him lose…
Winners. Losers. Nothing between.
Things were going red and black.
The blades were about ready to cut through each other. Just what she wanted. She jerked her sword down, circled it through the air, and struck the blade against the side of Snotlout's head even as he was yanked forward by the force of his own sword.
"Hey!" he screamed. "Unfair!"
"You lose," Astrid said simply as she put her foot on top of his shoulder.
He mumbled something as he rubbed his head. "That hurt!"
"You big baby." She pulled the sword from his hand and held it up. Not that anyone in particular was watching. The twins were involved in a full-on brawl, weapons long before tossed to the side and forgotten to the evidently more pure art of hair pulling and biting.
"Astrid, I probably have a concussion now," Snotlout whined as he pushed her foot away. "I'll fall asleep. And then I'll die. And it will be all your fault."
This among all his other adorable little shows of bravado. "I thought you were tougher than that."
"A warrior has to protect himself."
She hadn't even hit him that hard. She rolled her eyes. "Here, let me take a look at you.
He climbed to his feet, giving that moronic Snotlout grin all the while. "Haven't heard you say that before."
"You idiot. Look at my eyes and spread your arms out." It would be downright hilarious if he did fall.
But he obeyed and he did not fall and his pupils were completely normal. "You're fine."
He took his sword back. "I demand a rematch."
"Now?" She fought back a sigh. Her arms felt ready to fall off and she had long ago lost any sensation in her back and legs. They had been in the arena all day long. As in all day. And even with winter right around the corner and the dwindling lack of daylight, all day was still an impressive length of time. Shadows stretched in long black stripes across the arena ground and the air was hazy with the approach of sunset. It was time to go home.
A challenge. How she hated challenges and how they loved her. The last drop of adrenaline in her body admittedly came alive with Snotlout's demand. Fight fight fight. Oh, that Viking call. But that drop was a pathetic little drop and Astrid had been blessed with a few brains. She smiled superciliously. "No."
"No?" Snotlout's dark eyes went wide as his voice went up. "Please! Just one more time! I can't the day on a bad note. I just can't!"
"Bad note?" She shook her head and once again realized she would never understand men. "Snotlout, that little spar lasted over an hour! I don't think that was a bad note."
"I know, I know. And you're a fantastic fighter. You're the best in the village. Everyone knows that. That's why I have to fight you specifically!"
This time she did sigh, but she certainly made it express her annoyance. "Let's see. We fought how many times today?" She held up her fingers. "Five times. Count 'em. Five. That's a fair amount for anybody. And don't worry, you fought very well. In fact, two of those times you beat me.
He dropped to his knees. "That's just it! You got the best out of five! And you're the one that wanted it best out of five."
That was true. Another thing about that whole winner/loser problem. She always had to win. And now she had. "Sorry, 'Lout. It's starting to get dark and I have stuff to do. You did fine. I'm sure they'll let you fight, no problem."
"Take on both the twins. They'd love that." And with that she walked off, only half-listening to Snotlout's challenge to Ruffnut and Tuffnut.
The breeze from the ocean was stronger away from the pit of the arena. She stood a moment on the walkway and took in the smell of salt and water. The salt would no doubt wind up stuck to her sweat, but at the moment there could be nothing more soothing. She had always loved the smell of the ocean, even the fish. She loved everything about the ocean, for that matter: the size, the ever-changing colors, the range of its moods, everything she could see far on its horizon.
She loved Berk. She could not deny that. It was her home. But an island was an island and even though she would always come back to Berk it would not be so bad to see something else for a change. Sometimes the itch to leave the island was so strong she could hardly bare it. Perhaps that was why she enjoyed flying so much. Riding a dragon was an instant escape from Berk and the promise of something else. She and Hiccup had spoken of it several times: Pack a few supplies and just… explore for a few days. As it stood in the meantime, next ship out of her would have her on board. And with rumors of threats floating around, that could be soon. Better fight somewhere else than home.
The sun began its descent into the horizon. She had always liked how the orange and yellow spilled over the water and streamed into blackness. For a few minutes longer she indulged her fancies and watched it before continuing home.
Her family's house was set squarely in the middle of the village. She had always liked that, how everything interesting surrounded her. It was a rare piece of gossip that managed to avoid the Hofferson home. She pushed open the door.
"Astrid!" Her mother looked up from her knitting and smiled. "Dear, you look tired."
Astrid nodded. "You have no idea. I could fall asleep right now and be fine."
"I take it you fought well, then?" Her mother's smiled widened.
"Still the best!"
"That's my girl." She set down her knitting. "Any wounds I need to clean?"
Wounds? Astrid quickly glanced over her body for any significant cuts. She had long ago learned how rare it was to actually feel something beat you down in the midst of battle. "Not seeing any."
"Good. Feel free to fall asleep, then."
Another normal night would have meant last-minute chores shoved her way, but the recent mindset was one of battle, and that meant anyone of age and skill was in no way blamed for thinking of nothing but. Sleep did sound wonderful. "Thanks, Mom."
She was about to head upstairs when the door opened and shut again.
She turned and smiled at her father, who gazed upon her with arms folded. "Hi, Dad."
"You spent the day in the arena, I hope." His voice not unkind, not even stern. It was just… her father's.
She nodded. "Since sunrise."
"Good," he said with a smile. "Fought hard?"
Another nod. "The hardest I could. I beat Snotlout three times, Fishlegs twice."
"Only twice?" The smile flipped to a frown.
"I sort of fractured his wrist. Or something. He said he couldn't feel his arm after that."
"That's good then." Her father crossed the room to sit across from his wife. "Did you fight anyone else?"
"Just those two." How long would the interrogation last tonight? "It took all day. Snotlout kept wanting rematches."
"Really? Good for him. But better for you. Though I advise you to find someone more worthy of your talent. You need real practice. You don't know what you find yourself against in battle."
"I know, Dad." She took a moment to study her parents. Such opposites. She had taken after her mother in appearance, and when she was feeling shallow she was thrilled for that. Dagny was feminine through and through and always had been, and Astrid didn't know of a time when her mother had ever picked up a weapon in anything but self-defense. Dagny preferred her home and her garden and was probably the greatest housekeeper in Berk.
Her father, Seastench, was something else. Astrid didn't remember him as anything but old, at least twenty years older than her mother. His hair had always been gray, his face lined and scarred. It was a face she had always loved. He was tall, not especially bulky, but strong. He had taken down many dragons in his younger years and even now was legendary. If given his way he would speak of nothing but battles and weapons. He had provided her with a wooden sword the moment she could walk.
"Darling," her mother said to her father. "She's trying to go to bed."
"She's tired already?"
He sounded so shocked Astrid couldn't help but laugh. "Goodnight."
She had barely lain down when something pelted against the closed shutters. Oh great. Hiccup. She pushed herself back up and made her way to the window and opened it.
There was Hiccup, a hand full of pebbles and that adorable dopey grin that made her heart melt. "Let's go flying!" he called up to her.
"I'm trying to sleep!" she hissed down at him.
"Yes, this early! I've been practicing fighting all day and I'm tired."
His smile didn't waver. "Can I come up, then?"
She laughed and immediately wished she hadn't. Laughs encouraged him. "No, you may not!" Hero or not, her father would break Hiccup's neck and not feel an iota of remorse if he caught him in her bedroom. He didn't think she needed those kinds of problems to distract her from becoming a warrior.
"But I feel like I haven't seen you in ages. You're always off… fighting."
"While you make weapons." She didn't know if he would fall for that line. He had the oddest need to constantly fit in all the time even when it didn't really matter. Hiccup was one face in their age group she had not seen around the arena. He was still occasionally unsteady in merely walking, and there was the unspoken debate of whether he would ever become a great warrior. She didn't mind, and anyone who should matter to Hiccup didn't mind, but for some reason he did. She continued before he could respond to that. "Take Toothless. Enjoy some time with him. And… and I'll see you tomorrow."
"No excuses?" He looked doubtful.
"No excuses," she promised, blowing a kiss to him. "Goodnight." She pulled the shutters closed.
Ruffnut was going to have to kill her brother. Kill him dead and chop that corpse into itty bitty pieces that would then be tossed into the ocean for the fish. In fifteen years together he had never done something so malicious and horrible and awful. There was no forgiveness from her.
"Will you just get over it?" Tuffnut had the nerve to ask as they walked home in the dark. They had been the last to leave the arena, and only when some creepy busybody woman (who was probably out looking for cats she might collect prophetic entrails from for all they knew) had screamed at them it was too dark to be messing around in the arena.
She tried to slug him, though truth to be told she could barely see him the dark and only managed to jar his elbow. "You're a creep."
"Ruff," he said with a sigh that only proved how much of a moron he was, "It's not like I maimed you for life or anything. It's nothing and you're being overly sensitive and you know it."
The perfect remark to set her blood boiling. Fifteen years and he still could not figure out how to talk to her. She whirled on him and this time managed a greatly violent shove to the ground. "Overly sensitive?" she screamed down at his surprised form. "Overly sensitive?"
"You're proving my point right now!" He tried to get up, but she pushed him down again.
"Do you have any idea how long it takes to braid a monkey's fist knot?" She held out the end of her braid for his examination. The end of it was a snarled mess with the broken twine still indefinitely twisted into it. She would probably end up cutting it out, and it was all his fault.
"It's hair!" He kicked against her legs. "You're just going to undo it all tonight and do it all again in the morning. Like you do every stinking night and morning. It's just hair."
He was the insensitive one. He just did not get it. She kicked him back, then stomped quickly ahead of him. He was the one who was weird about his hair. Vain. That was the word for him. Disgustingly vain. Maybe she should just cut all his off in the night. Hair his length, unbound, would only be a hazard in battle. Wouldn't it be great to watch him figure that out? That would teach him to stick a knife into someone's hair.
"Ruff, wait!" he called from behind. "It's dark! I can't see."
How hard was it to follow a path? The house was just ahead, and she would be the first to tell their parents all the juicy little details of the day before Tuff came in to brag. And it was good to have a moment to her self, however long that would last.
The night was freezing. She loved that feeling on her skin. Her body was warm from fighting, blood still happily pumping through her. Getting to sleep tonight would be impossible, but she didn't care. She could lie in bed for hours enjoying the sensations of a post-battle body. The greatest feeling in the world. She stretched her arms out in front of her and let those muscles stretch. She was sore, of course, but she had never had a problem with being sore. Sore meant the day had been fun and there was nothing she liked more than fun.
Everyone spoke of possible battles these days. Ruff hadn't heard of any certain enemies and she didn't particularly care one way or the other. But the idea of a war was exciting. She felt the itch to club someone just thinking about it. Today had been a good practice for that. Mostly with Tuffnut, but she had a few good matches with Fishlegs and Snotlout both, though Fishlegs had this obnoxious issue about not hitting girls and she had declared no more wrestling matches with Snotlout after he had tried to get his hands where they had no business. So much for a happy medium with anyone but her brother.
She pushed open the door to her family's house.
"Auntie Ruff!" She was immediately met with the impressive force of a three-year-old throwing himself against her.
She caught herself quickly before she could tumble backwards and planted a kiss on the forehead of her nephew Bloodboil. Ah, so her sister was visiting. "Hey, cutie!"
The blonde-haired boy looked up at her with delight. "You're supposed to watch me."
"Yes, please!" Ruff's older sister Sigrid sprung into view, looking very impatient. "I've been waiting for you to get here. Would you mind putting him to bed?"
"I can do that, Sigrid!" called out Tarnish, who was twelve and should never be allowed near a baby. "Come here, Boil!"
Ruff ignored her younger brother and instead hoisted Boil to her hip. "Where's Mom?"
"Someone or other has her baby coming like right now and Mom's been there for two hours and I'm supposed to be there helping but I've been waiting for you because I don't know where my idiot husband is. You had better have kicked someone's butt really good. Dad is out gathering the sheep, I think, and the twins already went to bed. Do not ask me where Sting is. You didn't see her on the roof reciting romantic verse to herself, did you?"
"Not that I noticed." Now to find a ten-year-old. At least the twins were asleep. Hopefully. The second set of twins in the Thorston household had actually wound up as the good kids. So far. How their mother dealt with Sting and Tarnish was nothing short of a miracle.
"Oh, well. Serves her right if she falls. I'll be back hopefully soon. Thank-you! Bye, baby!" Sigrid gave her son a kiss and headed out the door.
"Bye!" She watched her sister go, wondering how Sigrid could stand to assist in a childbirth while pregnant herself. Nineteen and already expecting her second.
"I don't want to go to bed!" Bloodboil declared as soon as the door was closed.
"All right." She probably should put the kid down to bed. "Want to wrestle?"
"I do!" Tarnish called at the same time Bloodboil gave a roaring baby "Yes!"
"Awesome!" She gently tossed him into the air, then squeezed him to her as Tarnish tackled her legs. Laughing, she dropped to the floor as Boil attacked her with tickles and Tarnish got in some fairly impressive punches.
The door opened again, and she was barely able to catch the sight of Tuffnut entering with a giggling Sting with her arms around his neck. Bloodboil had found the tickling spot behind her shoulder.
"Help!" she shrieked to Tuff as she shoved Tarnish's face away. "Take Tarnish!"
But instead Tuff just laughed, set Sting to the ground, and jumped right into the fight while Sting stood back laughing.
It was all play fighting, of course, though with Boil out of the picture it would have been slightly more vicious. Tarnish had their father's stockier build, and with another year of growth he would probably be ready to take on Tuff. Sting did not participate—she was going through a phase where she wanted to be rescued by some saga-worthy hero and carried off into the sunset—but she did make a mighty good cheerer and called them all on by turn. But even play fighting was fun. Perhaps even more fun than real battle because you could usually trust family not to try to kill you. She could still get in a few good kicks and punches that no one would mind. At last it ended, and all of them lying back on the ground, exhausted and panting.
And Bloodboil yawned.
"Perfect!" Ruff said as she scooped him back up. He instantly dropped his head against her shoulder.
"I want to play with some more!" Tuff complained.
"Me too!" said Tarnish.
Sting just rolled her eyes. She was as blonde as either of her sisters and could demonstrate all the combined attitude. "Sigrid said she wanted him in bed. Ruff got him tired, so he needs to go to bed. He's a baby and he'll get sick if he doesn't go to bed."
Bloodboil muttered something about not wanting to go to bed.
"Thanks," Ruff said to her little sister as she carried Bloodboil to their parents' room. He was asleep before she even laid him down, thumb in his mouth.
Back in the main room Tuff was fishing for something to eat while Sting and Tarnish played a game on the floor. Probably wouldn't hurt them to go to bed, either. Their mother had never put Ruff or Sigrid in any kind of parenting role, but there was something about being the oldest responsible sibling at home and a girl that just made Ruff feel in charge from time to time. "Bedtime!"
"But Mom's not back yet!" Sting said.
"And I'm twelve!" said Tarnish, like it would count as a reason.
"Dad'll be back any moment," Tuff said between bites of food.
The younger two scampered off upstairs. As well they should. Tuffnut Senior expected obedience from his children. They could be as chaotic and destructive as they wanted, but they would obey.
Barely were the kids upstairs then he walked through the door, mumbling about the idiocy of sheep.
"Daddy, I fought for five hours straight!" she declared as she went to hug him. "I did not even get tired. I took Snotlout down by wrenching his arm around his back and then I immediately did the same thing to Tuff."
Her father immediately looked much happier and hugged her back. "Any blood spilt?"
"Not this time. But lots of bruises. See?" She held up her arm for him to inspect. "This one looks just like a killer whale, don't you think?"
"That's nothing!" Tuff pushed her aside and pulled up his shirt. "Check out this color! It's almost green! I've never had a bruise go that color."
"I gave that to him, Daddy. With one hand. I swung back, concentrated, and punched."
"Dad, I got her back for that. I swear. Look!" He grabbed her braid and held up the ruined end.
Their father just laughed. "You messed up her hair? Son, you've got a long way to go."
Ruff stuck her tongue out at her brother. "By the way, Boil's asleep on your bed. Mom and Sigrid went out to deal with a birth."
He nodded, still smiling. "Just let me get a drink and sit down and you can tell me the rest."
Ruff was truly too pumped to sleep. She sat on the bed she shared with Sting and set down her brush. Her nightly ritual of hair brushing. Tuff made fun of it, of course, but it was necessary with the amount of she had. It would have been longer, too, if he hadn't cut the ends off it once when they were six. She had never forgiven him for that. But it was still pretty long and now it was all brushed and soft and pretty and ready to be once more braided in the morning. She considered just lying down and seeing if Sting's soft breathing wouldn't lull her to sleep, but felt no real desire to do so. She wasn't bored or restless. She was just awake.
Outside was her Zippleback. Maybe she should go flying. Tuff hated it when she called it her Zippleback, but the creature did prefer her. She didn't yell at him like Tuff did. That could be fun.
She pulled out the rope she and her siblings kept by the window and let herself down the side of the house. Her parents had known about the rope since Sigrid's time, but that did not change the fun of repelling down the wall. Her hair was stuck in her mouth by the time she landed on the ground. She should have waited till later to unbraid it. Oh well. She tied it in the best knot she could without any kind of twine and considered it good enough.
The dragon was tragically asleep, and she knew better than to mess with a sleeping dragon. What was the saying? Let sleeping dragons lie?"
Ah, well. Now what? She could always head down to the dock and untie knots in fishing nets. That was always good for a next-day laugh. She broke into a run. It was a new moon and completely dark, but she had run down the hill plenty of times and knew when to stop before falling into the ocean.
She was walking across the docks to where the nets were kept when she heard a hissed "Who's there?"
Ruff stopped, then looked off the dock into the water. "Astrid?"
"Oh, Ruff, just you. Thank Odin. I was dead tired after the arena today and I was so ready to go to sleep but then Hiccup came and made me feel guilty for not spending any time with him and after that I really couldn't fall asleep so I decided to go for a swim. My clothes are still up there, right?"
"Um…" Ruff studied the dock, but it was too dark to see much of anything. "Yes, they are. They're fine. Wherever they are." A swim sound really nice.
"What are you doing up?"
"Couldn't sleep, either. Mind if I join?" She was already pulling off her shirt.
"Yeah, though it's freezing."
"When is it not?" Ruff finished undressing and dove into the water. The ocean was deliciously black. What was it about the feeling of near ice that was so exhilarating to her? She popped up to the surface, shivering and gasping for air, her hair flowing all around her. But Astrid wasn't turning blue yet, so they still had time. "So you blew off Hiccup? That's unlike you."
"I didn't blow him off! I was really tired at the time, but you know how insecure he can be. I love being with him, you know that. Heck, I even overheard our dads talking marriage plans."
Ruff grinned. "Really?"
Astrid nodded with a grin of her own. "Don't know how serious they were, but that's what I heard!"
"Well… possible congratulations to you."
"Possible thank-you." Astrid sighed. "Gods, it's nice to not be thinking about battle for a moment."
"That's because you don't get any fun out of it." Ruff took a few strokes out to see. The ocean was reasonably calm, no danger out this far.
"It's not fun. If we go to war with anyone, it would be serious!"
"I can't wait," Ruff replied. "I don't get you. You're so talented with a weapon and yet…" Her voice trailed off as footsteps steadily crossed the docks above them.
Astrid swore under her breath.
"Hello, girls," said an unfamiliar female voice. A few white feathers that seemed to gently light themselves floated down into the water.
At least it was a woman, Ruff thought. She could get in all sorts of trouble as long as it wasn't some lecherous boy watching them. She looked up.
A young woman stood on the dock. She was the tallest woman Ruff had ever seen, and probably the most beautiful. Her red hair was pulled back in a braided ponytail, and she wore exquisite armor that seemed to glow as brightly as the feathers. She held a spear taller than her.
"Excuse me, who are you?" demanded Ruff.
The woman smiled. "Put some clothes on, girls. I want to speak to both of you."