Astrid hurt. It wasn't the usual kind of hurt that came from battle practice-related injuries, but an obnoxious throbbing pain of full-on muscle fatigue that left her all but unable to move. She lay in her bed, wanting to push the covers from her sweating body but knowing Berk night would freeze her if she did. Hel, she did not know if she would have the muscle flexibility required to push the covers away. So she just lay there, miserable, staring up at the wooden patterns of the ceiling and how the shadows played at them, while every muscle in her body screamed at her.
She was pushing herself. Obviously she was pushing herself way too hard and way too much. She had always loosely assumed there was a limit to how far a warrior could go, but she had never imagined she would find herself reaching that point. But here she was, in horrendous pain. Well, maybe not true pain. She had pulled muscles before and knew perfectly well what that felt like. That was serious. That required care. But fatigued muscles? Well, wasn't that why she had actually bothered to go to bed? To rest them? Geeze, but her body could be irritating.
She would just have to push herself even harder. Certainly all the warriors of legend suffered more than she. That was how they entered into legend. One did not make the sagas by being ordinary, by only training as much as the next Viking. She would rest at night, she would take care of her body, and she would spend her days perfecting every little movement and weapon lore she could. She would show those Valkyries. She would be Berk's hero.
But now she should probably be sleeping and she wasn't. She was lying there, aching and wanting to scream and it was all too much to allow her body to go to sleep.
Maybe she should just take a day off. Take a break. Go do something with Hiccup. That boy was so needy, but she should throw him an occasional bone of attention. He would love that.
Whoa. Was she really thinking such thoughts? Take a break? How would that help her be the best? Who took breaks anymore? What serious Viking did? Not a single warrior in the village was "taking a break". What would her father say if he heard what she was thinking?
Her father. Oh boy. Now that was a subject. True to promise she had told not a soul in the village about the training. And it had not seemed that Ruffnut had blathered it out, either. Impressive, as that girl could be quite the gossip. Like it was actually fun to spread dirty secrets around and ruin lives. Maybe Ruffnut was growing up slightly and somewhat. Maybe. But even with that irritation she held toward Ruffnut Astrid herself was so sorely tempted to say something. Especially to her father. He was the reason she had first become interested in becoming a warrior. He was the one who showed so much pride in her abilities, who encouraged her to keep pushing and trying and practicing and perfecting.
Wouldn't he just flip if he found out about her opportunity?
She smiled just thinking about it.
But she couldn't say anything, no matter how happy it would make her father. She would never reveal this secret. She would just… keep at what she was doing. No, she would do better. Much better. She would work until every drop of sweat had poured from her body and ever drop of blood boiled. She would take that spot with the Valkyries. It would be the ultimate honor. She would leave this island and see the world and every place the gods had touched.
If only she could fall asleep and take some pain away from her poor throbbing body. Practice had been torture that night. And Hrist still insisted she was merely instructing the girls in the basics. Warming up, she called it. Just what exactly did the Valkyries normally deal with?
It had taken place under the docks, in the shallow water along the beach, though Astrid would not have been the least bit surprised if Hrist had made them carry swords and axes under water. The shallows were to be representative of the blood baths of battle fields. An image that had thrilled Ruffnut to no end but had made Astrid feel slightly ill.
But that was okay. Ruffnut was good. Very good. But Astrid was better. Even if Ruffnut was suddenly on a learning curve of vast improvement.
In fact, Ruffnut had been the victor of the night.
But that was okay. Every warrior should be prepared for defeat. It was the opportunity for Astrid to examine herself and her skills and find every possible place for improvement.
What was not okay was her sleeplessness. Astrid groaned and rolled from the bed. She was so stiff… But she managed to force her way to the door and make her way down the stairs. Her mother kept herbs that would reduce pain and even bring on a little drowsiness.
The house was quiet. Shadows from the hearth danced against the walls. All perfectly ordinary.
And then something moved.
Astrid froze on the stairs. "Mom?" she called. "Dad?"
No real response, but a tiny hum broke out. Not either of her parents, but a familiar one just the same.
Astrid sighed deeply and marched toward the hearth. Ridiculous. Crazy Valkyrie woman entering her family's home like she owned the place. Did she have no respect for privacy?
Hrist was seated at a loom, humming the same strange song to herself. At first glance it seemed to Astrid to be her mother's loom, but as her eyes adjusted to the darkness she realized this loom was much too large and grand to belong to anyone in Berk.
Astrid had never felt any particular passion for weaving, but this loom was a thing of beauty. It did not seem to be made of the usual wood, but instead gleamed silver. It would not have surprised Astrid if it had been the precious metal. It was large enough to dwarf even Hrist, like the woman had borrowed it from someone else even taller.
For a long time Astrid watched her. Hrist's hands moved quickly along the loom, and the shutter beat fast. Thread seemed to fly and images too precise to be woven in such a manner appeared.
At last Hrist spoke. "You're up, Astrid."
Astrid nodded. "I couldn't sleep."
"It happens to the best of us," Hrist said with surprising gentleness. "I could tell you weren't sleeping, so I came here."
Was there anything freakier than to find a Valkyrie had been watching her so closely. "You brought a loom."
"Ah, not just any loom!" Hrist said with a wave of her finger and a smile. "It's something I wanted to show you."
Astrid looked again at the fabric being woven.
"There is so much more to my job than fighting," Hrist said. "There is… weaving."
"Weaving?" Astrid echoed.
"Not just any weaving. Have you heard of the Norns?"
Bits of stories jumped to the front of Astrid's mind. "They sit at the bottom of the Great Tree. They spin lives."
"Indeed. And Valkyries weave fates of warriors."
The gravity of the statement nearly felled Astrid. "What? You decided who lives and who dies?"
"We don't decide," Hrist replied sharply. "We merely weave. I don't know what will appear on the finished product."
"I…" Astrid fought for the words. "If I'm chosen, I'll be doing that?"
"It's not as grand as you might think, Astrid. You don't kill these men. You don't cheat for them that they might win a war. But what you weave will happen."
"Has the fate of Berk been woven yet?" Astrid hated herself for asking the question. It seemed untrusting. The Valkyries had promised help for Berk, for whomever won the spot.
"No. Not yet. There are still too many threads involved. Yours, for example."
"I don't understand. You can show the outcomes, but you can't weave them yet."
Hrist tilted her head and smiled. Once more Astrid was struck by Hrist's beauty. And deadliness. Suddenly all the training Astrid had ever done became pathetic in comparison. "We would never claim such power. You're yet a mortal. You'll just have to… see. Trust me, it's often better that way."
Astrid stared at the images on the fabric. They made no sense. Men. Swords. But they swam before her eyes into a mist of shadows and nighttime.
"What I want you do, Astrid," Hrist said softly, "Is practice your weaving. I think you could be good at this."
And then Hrist was gone, only feathers in her place.