Hiccup had never been this nervous, by his own estimation at least. In fact, right now he'd sooner take on an angry Monstrous Nightmare in his underwear with a spoon. After all if he failed that, the outcome would only be marginally worse than failing these negotiations.
'Risk and reward I suppose' Hiccup gulped as Stoick knocked on the door of Astrid's home.
The door was answered by Annar Hofferson, Astrid's father. Her mother was sitting at their table with a very carefully measured look on her face. Stoick stepped forward and took Annar's hand in a powerful shake between men. Hiccup was still carrying his chest of tributes so bowed his head respectfully to the older man.
"Annar Hofferson, I Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third do come seeking to make a contract of marriage between our two names with your daughter, Astrid Hofferson" Hiccup spoke the first thing that come to mind, fortunately he'd become good at official wording.
"I recognise you, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Please, enter my home and be seated" the large warrior replied.
"Thank you sir. I have with me my father, Stoick the Vast, to act as my advocate" Hiccup entered first, his father smoothly coming in behind.
With gentle ease, Hiccup placed his tribute chest on the far end of the table so it would not obscure the faces of either party. Embla Hofferson was still tracking Hiccup like a hawk, appraising him in a way befitting a smith: breaking him down to his basic components.
'I always thought Astrid got her stare from her father, but it would seem I am mistaken' Hiccup thought as he sat down.
"For the record, Annar, though it has not been announced, Hiccup has been appointed with a title, 'Hiccup of the Forge', and the Elders have approved it" Stoick handed over a small document to the other man.
"I see" Annar was trying to keep a straight face; he didn't believe his daughter really wanted to marry this man.
"Annar, let us get down to the heart of the matter. Hiccup wishes to make a marriage contract with Astrid: what do you bring to set the bridal price?" Embla Hofferson spoke for the first time since Hiccup had arrived.
"I offer as the Mundr, 20 small weights of silver" Stoick played their opening card.
Hiccup in the meanwhile opened the chest on the table. While Embla and Annar took in the sight of the silver ingots in the chest, Hiccup withdrew several scrolls from his satchel.
"I also offer proof of the commissioning of a marital home" Hiccup spoke this time, spreading out the schematic out on the table.
Annar had to admit: Hiccup had designed a very attractive home. It was a full sized long-house with separated areas for eating, resting and bathing. He also took note that it was large enough for Astrid's dragon to walk around in, to say nothing of what looked like a small barn for the creatures to reside privately. Embla also saw a small room adjacent to the bedroom, like room for a newborn.
"You have Dolph Ingerman's seal on the document. I had wondered what he was laying foundations for" Embla nodded in approval of the home; the child's room made her smile.
"Yes, we negotiated its construction last month. The home is bought and paid for" Stoick remained impassive, trying to get a read on Annar Hofferson.
"Is there anything else" Annar asked, his eyes trained sharply on Hiccup.
"Indeed there is sir" Hiccup gently rolled up the house plans and now placed several small sets of schematics in front of them.
"Forged by my own two hands, I also offer a full suit of armour to consist of a mail shirt, canvas undershirt, leather Gamberson, leather dungarees, new pauldrons and boots, and a helmet" he pointed to each item in turn as he mentioned them.
"And also, a new axe to go with it" Hiccup laid a final sheet down.
The axe, as far as Annar could see would be a masterpiece. It was of no particular design that he recognised but its construction, weight and balance had all been clearly thought as evidenced by formula and smithing short hand all over the paper.
'He's offering me a King's ransom here' Annar was honestly surprised: he had not expected the young man to go as far as he did.
"This is a most attractive offer, Hiccup, an incredible one even" Annar paused for a moment.
"Embla: could I respectfully ask that you and Hiccup leave the room, I wish to speak with Stoick privately" Annar saw Stoick's eyes narrow to dangerous slits.
"Of course, Hiccup, would you join me in the back yard, I'll fetch us both a drink" Embla stood up, her measured expression never leaving her face.
"As you say" Hiccup quietly stood up and followed Mrs. Hofferson out of the house, stopping to obtain a cup of cold water first.
It was a tense moment until the door closed...
"Explain yourself Hofferson; and I'll only ask once" Stoick's fury was bubbling under the surface.
"Stoick, your son's ability to support Astrid concerns me" Annar began.
"Don't insult my intelligence Annar, you and I both know a skilled smith like Hiccup will never be out of work" Stoick shot back.
"And he's no great warrior either, no disrespect intended" Annar knew that he was now treading dangerous ground.
"Don't be daft: a good smith is worth ten warriors. Something else is bothering you Hofferson, you were always dreadful at keeping secrets" Stoick leaned forward, a sharp look in his eyes.
"I don't think your boy can run this tribe, Stoick. There, that is my concern. Being wife to the chief isn't worth anything if you can be deposed" Annar got his frustration to the front: thinking Stoick would now call off the negotiations in disgust.
What Annar hadn't expected was Stoick leaning back in his chair with a thoughtful look upon his face, almost as if he agreed. Annar was further surprised when Stoick allowed a wicked grin to cross his face beneath his beard.
"Okay, speaking hypothetically, what would you offer in dowry if you accepted this contract?" Stoick asked.
"Given what's been offered as opposed to what I can provide, I'd offer 60 small weights of silver, obviously the ceremonial sword and a new weapon for your son. I understand he's got a taste for war hammers" Annar answered carefully.
"How many offers for Astrid have you had from the mainland?" Stoick changed track.
"A lot, as you well know. Most of them not worth the ink they've been written with" he retorted, reaching for a glass of water.
"If you can keep your mouth shut for a couple of months, I will tell you right now, how much more this offer is worth" Stoick reached for his own satchel.
"Impress me, Stoick" Annar said.
Stoick unfurled a scroll bearing the crest of the Hairy Hooligans, his seal and Hiccup's seal. With dramatic flourish, he placed it on the table under Annar's nose. The man took a swig of his water, and then nearly spat it out upon the table.
"The morning gift: Astrid will be the Chief" Stoick folded his arms, looking at Annar with a perverse glee.
"By Odin's hammer" the other man was almost speechless.
"Let me paint a picture that frankly, should already be clear to you. Hiccup loves Astrid, and I know it because when I look at them I see the same look in his eyes that my father had in his eyes when he looked at my mother" Stoick removed his helmet and rubbed his eyes.
"I know Stoick, he's a good man. Past behaviour aside, I always knew he'd be a good and decent man, I just never imagined he'd change the fabric of our way of life. And yet here he is, offering well above and beyond any contract I've ever heard of. Did you even go over this with him?" Annar asked.
"I did, and he justified it in a frighteningly rational and yet Viking way: bigger is always better, so he used his only resources and make sure he offered something so monumental that no one could match it: he offered his birthright" Stoick was proud of his son's cunning: he just hoped it paid off.
"I can't offer a dowry equal to this Stoick, it's too big. I know Astrid's a good woman, much like her grandmother" Annar now sounded less like a man discussing a deal, and more like a father discussing a daughter.
"You could offer Hiccup a pair of shoes and he'd think you over committed. He'd offer the treasures of Caesar himself and still think the sum too paltry for her...or so his thinking goes" Stoick felt himself relax now.
"It's her he wants isn't it. Name, title, prestige...none of it matters to him. He'd offer this if we were paupers or Gods" the realisation hit Annar like a thunderbolt.
"Caught up I see" Stoick offered him a skin with a powerful liquor in it.
"Okay Stoick, we accept the contract. If I didn't, I'd catch mayhem from three generations of Hofferson women. I hope your boy knows what he's in for" he paused and took a swig of the liquor.
"What on Earth is this dragon piss?" Annar asked as his face contorted from the drink.
"Something Gobber and I used to cook up as teenagers. We found it had multiple uses; getting drunk, polishing armour and killing grass" Stoick answered and stook another belt.
"What's in it?" Annar seemed disturbed Stoick would drink the foul tasting booze.
"Don't remember off hand" he shrugged.
The two men then burst into an outrageous laughing fit as the absurd insanity of their even being there sank in. Hiccup and Astrid would have stayed together regardless of this outcome: Annar saw the way his daughter looked at the young man, she'd reject any suitor that wasn't him for time ever more if he tried to pull the wool over her eyes and Hiccup...well Annar had never seen him angry and given several years of pent up and often justified frustration and anger, he didn't want to be there when Hiccup did finally lose it. Not when he commanded the loyalty of every free Dragon on Berk.
"Just so we're clear, I can still wind him up as is a father in-law's duty right?" the Hofferson man asked.
"Go mad" Stoick smiled and they shook on the contract.
Hiccup stood outside enjoying the breeze as best he could while Embla Hofferson watched him closely. The older woman noticed Hiccup's gaze occasionally drifting up to the graves of the honoured dead.
"She'd be proud of you, I hope you know that" Embla knew Hiccup often thought of his mother.
"All I have is what dad told me about this loud, passionate woman he fell in love with at first sight" Hiccup chuckled and then turned to (hopefully) his future mother in-law.
"Did you know her?" he asked suddenly.
"Yeah, I knew your mother. She seemed to run hot and cold. Always very business-like in a fight or at the meetings which she co-chaired with your father" Embla stopped to stifle a giggle.
"What?" Hiccup looked confused.
"Then it would be feasting time and she would transform into this wild spirited woman who spent her time getting drunk, bragging about her swordsmanship and dancing with her husband. Even before she was pregnant with you, she's spin tales of how her son would become the mightiest Viking in the history of Berk" Embla finished.
"For a while I thought it was better that she'd passed away; thought maybe when I was little I'd been a bit of a disappointment for her; dad mentioned I'd not been an easy child for her to birth" Hiccup still had some hang ups about the string of bad luck that had followed him most of his life.
Embla Hofferson strode over to Hiccup and gently pulled him into a tight hug. Hiccup blinked, unsure as to why she was doing this.
"You're mother, the woman I knew, would have punched out anyone who dared to speak ill of you. I remember her giving Ruffnut's grandmother a huge dressing down for saying it was a shame she wasn't born a boy; rather spectacular effort for a woman so close to childbirth herself" she whispered with a hearty chuckle.
"Thank you, Mrs.." Hiccup was cut off by Embla holding her hand up.
"Hiccup, you're a grown man with more prestige than anyone in this village is ever likely to have. I think you've earned the right to call me by my name" she drew back and smiled, her light grey eyes shone softly.
"Thank you, Embla" Hiccup nodded and sat down on a log.
"HICCUP!. EMBLA! Back in here please" Annar Hofferson called out.
Offering honours to Embla, Hiccup followed her inside and they both resumed their seats on the respective sides of the table.
"Before you say anything else, Annar, I'd like to add that I love Astrid very much, and that I will always make sure she and our future children are well provided for" Hiccup spoke his last piece, making sure to use the man's name.
"Hiccup of the Forge, your contract has been accepted graciously. As is our custom, you will be wed after the harvest of this year. You have until that time to produce the armour and axe, the silver will be taken now as pledge of your honourable intentions" Annar stood up and held his hand out to Hiccup.
"And I shall honour that compact, or face the penalty most befitting of the crime" Hiccup took the man's hand in the strongest shake he could.
'Astrid was right, he's grown' Annar smiled and shook Hiccup's hand.
"Annar, I'll come over later to discuss our special arrangements, agreed?" Stoick asked.
"Agreed" the man affirmed.
The four then shared a drink together to celebrate the successful conclusion of their agreement; but Stoick could tell that Hiccup was itching to go and get Toothless so they could find Astrid and share the news. Stoick then planned to allow them to go to the mainland for a couple of weeks: they'd have precious little time together in the follow up to the wedding between the responsibilities they'd have to each other, and Astrid most of all would have extra things to learn.
'A crash course in chieftainship' Stoick thought as he waved his son off.
It wasn't five minutes later he heard the joy filled cry of his son, joined by the distinctive cry of Toothless as the pair took to the sky.
Hiccup ran as fast as he could with his formal prosthetic down to the smithy. In his excitement he'd bumped into a few other people but paid them no heed as he arrived at his destination. Gobber was preparing some iron for smelting and Toothless was heating up the smelting pit when Hiccup literally vaulted over the counter.
"Beard of Thor, what on Earth...Hiccup?" Gobber looked up and saw an ecstatic Hiccup.
Toothless could tell his friend was happy: he was standing straighter and his smile was wide and bright. Sensing success, Toothless jumped up and threw his forepaws around Hiccup and crooned; rubbing his head against the young man's cheek.
"Successful then I take it?" Gobber asked, smiling broadly.
"Yeah. Come on Toothless, lets saddle up and find Astrid" Hiccup said, nodding his head towards the saddle rack.
Hiccup saddled Toothless up as quickly as he could, his excitement causing a few fumbles with the gear system but Toothless simply allowed Hiccup to make his mistakes and clear them up. After triple checking the gears and straps, Hiccup got up and went back inside to his workshop. Hiccup quickly replaced his formal prosthetic with his flying one and made his way outside and jumped up onto Toothless. With a nod, the dragon leapt up and began to fly, both of them making a triumphant cry as they ascended.
"Okay buddy, let's go find my wife" Hiccup whispered.