Berk's training ground saw more activity than ever before: having made a peace with the Dragons some three years prior, the subject of Dragon training had changed from killing to riding. It had taken a few months for Hiccup to bring the other teens up to speed on the basics of first contact and initial introduction to the Dragon but it worked well.
Astrid in particular had show great aptitude on the subject: in fact, she'd managed to incorporate her Deadly Nadder, whom she'd named Spike, into quite a few aspects of her chores. Hunting Elk in the forest was now less of a hassle as she could get Spike to fly her above the beasts and get them with her archery skills.
At the moment however, the Dragons were resting while they watched Astrid and Ruffnut spar: the Dragons themselves rather enjoyed the show, it was like watching hatchlings at play.
There was a clang of steel as Astrid's axe was deflected off Ruffnut's shorter sword and it was to Astrid's credit that she was nimble enough to avoid getting struck by Ruff's shield.
"Wow, feeling a little pent up frustration there Astrid?" Ruff teased, falling back into a guard.
Astrid hefted her war-axe up again, both hands tightening around the leather strapping on the handle. Astrid narrowed her eyes and leapt forward to bring a devastating blow down on Ruffnut's shield that if nothing else would deaden her arm.
'Got ya' Ruffnut thought and struck.
With a quick sidestep, Ruffnut moved to Astrid's left and swung the flat of her sword blade low. The strike caught Astrid behind her knee, causing her to fall on her back and hit the ground with a loud thud.
"Well played Ruffnut" Astrid said to her grinning friend; ignoring the sniggering of the other girl's Zippleback.
"Anytime" she held her hand out to help Astrid up.
"It's getting kind of late; you wanna go for a drink in the Hall?" Astrid asked, picking up her axe.
"Suits me. HEY TUFF" Ruffnut yelled to he brother who was dozing beside their dragon.
"What?" he asked groggily.
"Astrid and I are going to the Hall for a drink, you make sure you feed Stinky and Sparky when you take him home" she called as the two left.
"C'mon Spike, I'll drop you off home on the way" Astrid called her Nadder to her.
Hiccup was all the way across the island in Fishleg's home, speaking with the Ingerman senior. Dolph Ingerman was the chief architect of Berk, a tall and mighty man who spent his days shaping timber for houses or to assist the boat builders.
"Well, what you have here should be simple enough. It would take several weeks but it's not the hardest project I've ever worked on" Dolph looked down at the rudimentary but clear schematic on the table.
"Excellent. How much will the cost be to build it?" Hiccup asked with a broad smile on his face.
"Well based on the materials required, and this is before I've spoken with the Stonemason, I'd wager about 200 weights of Silver" Dolph watched Hiccup's face closely.
"I'm reasonably sure my personal stores can pay for that" Hiccup smiled at Dolph, offering a hand.
"Hiccup, may I ask you a personal question?" Dolph asked as he shook the young man's hand.
'He's developed quite a grip' he observed.
"Sure, I guess" Hiccup shrugged.
"Is this a marital home?" Hiccup didn't answer but the boy's face turning the colour of a ripe apple was all the answer Dolph needed.
"I thought so, well, best of luck young man" Dolph picked up Hiccup's schematic and chuckled to himself.
Hiccup smiled, still red faced as he exited the Ingerman home. Satisfied that part 1 of his grand design had been made possible; Hiccup pulled his notebook out and scratched off an item.
'Dad should be back in a few minutes. Better go pick Toothless up from the forge' Hiccup thought as he made his way back to Gobber's forge.
Indeed Toothless was in the forge, and by the look on his face he was very content. The Night Fury liked being warm and Gobber allowed Toothless to stay on the condition that he used his fire to help him occasionally.
"Hey buddy, Gobber been working you again?" Hiccup asked the Dragon, acting like an overgrown puppy, jumped out of the forge and onto his friend.
Toothless made a sound Hiccup had taken to be laughter as the Dragon sat on him. Hiccup rolled his eyes and reached up and gently petted his friend's head before giving his flank a swat. Toothless easily moved off Hiccup, allowing the boy to get up and dust himself off.
"Ah Hiccup, you're dad was here looking for you, I told him I'd send you home if I saw you" Gobber stuck his head through the window.
"Thanks Gobber, I'll be in later to finish those swords" Hiccup called as he mounted Toothless to fly home.
"No problem. Come on Phil, Snappy, lets go" Gobber spoke to his pet sheep and the Gronkle that had adopted him.
Stoick the Vast sat on his favourite chair in his home enjoying the fire in his hearth. He raised a goblet of warm mulled wine to his lips and took a drink before shifting the cup so a Terrible Terror he'd named Biffer could drink from it, using Stoick's shoulder as a perch.
"You're a strange wee beast" he muttered as Biffer burped.
The door to his house opened and Hiccup and Toothless came in, Stoick felt pangs of guild when he heard Hiccup's uneven gait due to his prosthetic leg. Hiccup smiled at his father as he sat down.
"Hiccup" Stoick greeted amiably.
"Hey dad: can we talk?" Hiccup asked, looking awkward as Toothless sniggered and curled up by the fire.
'This is interesting' Stoick nodded and sat up a little.
"Dad this is going to be really, really hard for you to hear so just bear with me" Hiccup reached for a goblet and dipped it into the pot of wine.
"I'll do my best" Stoick answered as he watched his boy drink the entire goblet's worth of wine in one gulp.
"Okay, I want to get married to Astrid" Hiccup started, shooting Toothless a glare as the Dragon rolled his eyes.
"Okay, so far so good, I don't see a problem here Hiccup" Stoick took another sip of his wine, edging the pot away from Hiccup.
"On the other hand, I don't want to be Chief" Hiccup said.
This caught Stoick's attention quite handily. Although the giant man didn't explode like Hiccup had expected Stoick did put his cup down and lean forward, eyes narrowed.
"May I ask why?" his voice firm.
"Because, I'm not a great warrior, we both know that" Hiccup's reasoning was not unexpected.
"Well that giant dead beast back on Dragon Island would speak otherwise don't you think?" Stoick referred to his son's victory against a Dragon referred to now as the Green Death.
"I did that because I had to; there was no other way to beat it. And half of that victory belongs to Toothless" Hiccup indicated his sleeping companion; Toothless wagging one of his head fins in response to his name.
"Hiccup, if you give up being Chieftain you may not be able to marry Astrid; I've a pile of letters as high as Toothless there from other tribes asking about her. What do you intend to use as an incentive if not being Chieftain?" Stoick asked.
Hiccup let a smile slowly grow on his face; Stoick knew that look. Whatever his boy lacked in physical prowess, which after three solid years of Dragon riding, training and blacksmithing had brought well up to Viking standard, he still made up for in sheer cunning.
"If I marry Astrid, she becomes part of our family, and she can be the Chieftain" Hiccup explained.
Stoick's busy eyebrows shot up past his helmet. A woman as Chieftain was not unheard of among their tribe as being able to do your job was a might more important on their island due to the Dragon attacks compared to their cousins across the sea. However, as Stoick thought about it, the more sense it made.
'Astrid's fully appraised of the Dragons and helped shape their role here as much as Hiccup, and she's as fierce as any man I've ever met twice her age' Stoick had to admit, Hiccup's plan was clever.
"You've been planning this for a while haven't you?" Stoick asked of his son.
"For the past six months or so" Hiccup admitted.
Stoick burst out into a peal of boisterous laughter and slapped his knee: leave it to his boy to once again, turn the village of Berk on its head, and probably improve it greatly when all was said and done.
"Alright, tomorrow, we'll go and see Astrid's parents. You'll both need titles though, any ideas?" Stoick asked.
"For Astrid, not really, she's probably thought of one for herself though. For me, even less actually" Hiccup admitted.
"Well, I have one" Stoick stood and picked up a warhammer sitting by his chair.
With a deft motion he gently lobbed the warhammer at Hiccup who caught it with a steady hand and held it in mid-air looking confused at his father.
"Four years ago you'd a dropped that or caught it and fell over. Your body's become as strong as your spirit my son. People in the streets stop and show off things you've made for them. You're a builder Hiccup. In light of that" he paused and motioned for Hiccup to stand.
"I do bestow upon you the title of Hiccup of the Forge, shaper of steel and men" Stoick took Hiccup's arm in a warriors shake.
"Thanks dad" Hiccup smiled back at his father.
Astrid was sitting down in the Mead Hall with Ruffnut, a sizable set of empty tankards already amassed in front of them. A server had also brought them a fresh roast chicken and a side of mutton.
"So, you and Hiccup, how's that going?" Ruffnut asked, enjoying the look of embarrassment on her friend's face.
"What kind of question is that?" Astrid asked, going red.
"One that makes you uncomfortable and makes me laugh" Ruffnut sniggered, taking a swig from her tankard.
"You are incorrigible, and besides, why do you want to talk about Hiccup?" Astrid asked, narrowed her eyes.
"You have been very, vigorous in your training. Lots of pent up emotion and extra energy, frustration" Ruffnut was not known for her subtlety any more than Astrid was.
"What are you insinuating?" Astrid asked in a strained whisper.
"I'm saying that Hiccup is a rather honourable young man, more than you're comfortable with anyway" Ruffnut's tone became serious.
"Very funny" Astrid took a very vicious bite of the mutton.
Ruffnut was starting to wonder if perhaps Hiccup had a grand plan or was just too scared of what might happen to Astrid's reputation if he wanted to be as intimate with Astrid as she wanted. Either way, something had to give before Astrid really got cranky.
"You think maybe he's worried?" Astrid said quietly.
"About what? His father, your father, the law or himself?" Ruffnut outlined the many obstacles between Astrid and her current goal.
"When did you become an expert in the matters of men?" Astrid huffed.
"I'm not, I do think I know a bit about my best friend and the way her suitor thinks, and I think he is so terrified of losing you because of his leg, that he's going to keep you at arms length" Ruffnut said, finishing her drink.
"His injury doesn't bother me, never has. I don't see a deformity or an injury. I see a sign of courage and sacrifice"
"You ever tell him that?" Ruffnut asked sharply.
"He knows" Astrid insisted.
"Come with me" Ruffnut stood up, crossing her arms over her chest.
Astrid didn't even respond before Ruffnut turned and began walking which caused her friend to jump to her feet quickly, bumping into people as she left the hall.
Ruffnut jogged lightly down the stairs and towards Berk's small trading area. Most of the shops were shut or at least closed from business. Dark windows and barred doors, except one.
'The forge' Astrid thought as Ruffnut slowed to a stop.
"Look in there" Ruffnut pointed into the open window.
Hiccup was in the forge, Toothless by his side as was the Dragon's habit. They appeared to be working on something. Most of the big items had been finished as of late and Hiccup appeared to be working on something small, delicate. However that was not what drew Astrid's attentions.
'Oh my' she felt a blush rise on her cheeks.
Hiccup wasn't wearing his apron or his tunic for that matter. Astrid had seen his arms, no longer wet strips of paper but now hard sinew and muscle. Smaller muscles than hers but better defined. There were small scars and old burns visible on his chest and arms from fighting and forging.
"Exactly why are we doing this?" Astrid asked.
"You need to go in there and make your claim, seriously mark your territory" Ruffnut paused and pointed to a shop counter.
Astrid's eyes narrowed: she could see a few of the younger girls in the village hiding behind the counter, watching Hiccup….her Hiccup.
"Everyone on the island knows how strongly you feel, except the most important person" Ruffnut gave Hiccup an appraising look.
"I'm not good at this sort of thing Ruff, it's never been my thing" Astrid admitted.
"Look, Astrid, Hiccup loves you, and frankly it wouldn't kill you to tell him. It's either that or risk losing him to one of those baying fangirls down there" Ruffnut repeated something she'd heard her mother say.
Astrid stood ramrod straight and got that look in her eyes. Ruffnut had seen it a thousand times; it was the same look in her eyes when ever she laid the beat down on anyone who put her down, anyone who'd said a bad word about Hiccup or her Dragon. Only now her target was Hiccup and her intentions were…amorous.
'I wonder what I've just set in motion' Ruffnut smiled as Astrid approached the forge.
Toothless was carefully firing the metal on the forge, bringing it to the right temperature to be shaped. So far as Toothless could tell, Hiccup was making a sword or other bladed weapon. Watching Hiccup work was rather fascinating for the Dragon as it allowed him to watch his friend in his element. While outside he had many peers, and even in the sky there were new riders showing great skill: here, Hiccup was at his zenith.
"Okay bud, need another blast here" Hiccup said.
Toothless reared back and with great effort, he produced a lump of his fire. Normally he was launching it very quickly forward to make things explode. However Toothless, as long as he was very careful, was able to produce a solid mass off his fiery projectiles and gently lay it down: made for quick, easy cooking fires when he and Hiccup went camping or hunting.
'Here we go' Hiccup picked up the blade he was working on and placed the tip of it over the fiery ball Toothless had provided.
When he was satisfied that it was hot enough, Hiccup moved the sword to the anvil and began hammering. The loud clanging rang in his ears as he shaped the tip of the blade to a fine point. It was the last part of the blade he had to work on and now it was finished. Dropping the hammer, he hefted the blade to the slack tub and dipped it in the water.
'Never do get sick of that sound' Hiccup though as he brought the blade out and placed it on the rack.
"So this is what you do when you're alone at night" a sultry voice made Hiccup turn around.
Astrid was leaning in the door way, a relaxed smile on her face. The light of the forge was playing over her face, making her eyes look incredibly luminous and her skin, tanned from lots of outside training glowed like hot iron, bar the slight pink on her cheeks.
"Astrid, wha, what are you doing here?" Hiccup gulped, looking at Toothless.
Toothless himself was no fool. He knew that the village girls had been spying on Hiccup tonight and they'd been there before: he'd smelt them on the light breezes that blew in from the ocean but diligently ignored them. Furthermore, while no expert on human mating rituals and customs, Toothless knew Astrid.
"I can't drop in on my suitor while he works at night in this very, very warm forge?" she asked, walking forward with an exaggerated hip sway.
That was all the hints Toothless needed. Without warning he got up and walked out of the forge, closing the windows with his snout and the door with his tail. Desire was pouring off Astrid in waves and the bonds of friendship stretched only so far. Besides, he was hungry.
…perhaps Stoick had some fish.
Hiccup was feeling more than a little small right now and very conflicted. As though in cahoots with his beloved, Toothless had left the forge and closed the doors to allow them privacy. There was no one down here so far as he knew, there were furs in the back office and…
'Oh by the Gods she is beautiful' Hiccup thought as Astrid stood nose to nose with him.
Astrid had grown taller than he was but by virtue of his father's strong blood, he was broader than she was. Hiccup gulped again as Astrid reached out to gently stroke his exposed chest. Hiccup tried to backtrack to when he'd taken his tunic off and why he thought it was a good idea.
"You've grown into a good man, Hiccup Haddock, a man of principal and strength of character. A forger of sharp blades and mighty axes" Astrid started pushing him towards a wall.
"And you've become a great warrior, and a beautiful woman" Hiccup thought fast to repay the compliment.
Astrid snorted in response.
"I know, you tell me quite constantly. I want to ask you something Hiccup" Astrid was so close now that her lips nearly touched his.
"Okay" Hiccup stared straight ahead into her eyes.
"Are you afraid of me?" Astrid asked, cocking her head to one side.
"I don't understand" Hiccup looked very confused.
"Every time I try to get close to you, you recoil a little and it's starting to bug me" she hissed, planting a kiss on his neck.
"Well, I, uh, uh" Hiccup was losing his composure rapidly and Astrid's hands splayed on his chest wasn't helping.
"If you're worried about the leg, don't be, because while you might see a missing limb, I see a man who was brave enough to lose a part of him to make us whole again" Astrid wasn't sure if what she was saying made sense, but hoped it did.
"Would this be a good time to say 'I love you'?" Hiccup asked, calming a little.
"It would be a great time to say it" Astrid smiled, gently rubbing her cheek against his.
"In that case, Astrid Hofferson, would you be my wife?" Hiccup spoke directly into Astrid's ear.
Ruffnut was still waiting up the hill a bit from the forge, her interest spiking when she saw Toothless leave the forge without Hiccup and then close the doors. He even looked over to where the other girls where hiding, now standing. Ruffnut sniggered when Toothless gave them a triumphant snort as if to say 'Show's over'. The Dragon then made its way up to where Ruffnut was.
"So, what are they doing?" she asked the Night Fury, rather pointlessly.
Toothless just winked at her and went on his way back to the Haddock house. Ruffnut watched him go; thinking that whatever was going on was very private as it usually took the powers of Odin himself to pry the Dragon from his friend.
"YES!" a loud scream, Astrid's to be precise, belted from the forge.
"Wow, did not know you had it in you Hiccup" Ruffnut nodded approvingly before going on the hunter herself.
'Now, where is Fishlegs?' she thought.