Forever After, Chapter 11

Authors note: This is a reposting of this chapter. Apparently the original post was minus all qoutation marks, some other marks and a few paragraph breaks. Not sure why this happened. I'm using Open Office saved as a .txt file. Anyone know, drop me a line. For those of you who read the original and gleaned anything from it, my congratulations.

Toothless back winged to a landing in the grass near the shepherds huts. The others were dragging the last of some firewood to the cooking pit that had been constructed of rocks from the edge of the trees. Hiccup unlatched himself from the control pedal with practiced ease and slid off of his saddle before Astrid could undo her restraining straps.

"Hey, guys, wait til you hear about what I saw," he called out as he hurried as best he could toward the fire pit.

"Hiccup!" Astrid called after him, her voice full of pleading.

By the time she was able to catch up to him he was already facing the other four teens and describing what he believed he saw. While outwardly appalled that he was going to tell their friends about seeing a troll, inwardly she was pretty impressed that he was able to move that fast on only one good leg. As she came up to Hiccup s side she could see the looks on the faces of the others. Ruff looked curious, Legs appeared to be a bit skeptical and the other two boys were clearly not believing any of it.

"Come on, Hiccup. A troll?" Tuff said. "Those are just for telling scary stories around a fire at night. Do you know anyone that s ever really seen one?"

"Yeah, Gobber said he saw one a long time ago on the other side of the island, back before he lost his leg and hand."

The look on Tuff s face said it all. Gobber wasn t considered all that reliable in the story telling department. In typical fashion, Ruff hauled off and punched her bother on the upper arm.

"Hey, Hiccup was right about the dragons wasn t he? And he was right about how to deal with the monster and then all that stuff on the beach. Like, maybe he s right again," she said, smiling at him.

She completely missed the look that Astrid gave her. In the meantime, Astrid s father had walked up and said,

"Don t be so quick to dismiss the idea of trolls, youngsters. They have been part of Viking traditions for as long as the sagas record them. Personally, I ve never seen one but it wouldn t surprise me to see one walk out of these trees. Keep your eyes and ears open," he said before walking off.

Hiccup chose not to press his advantage and walked over to sit down on a small section of tree trunk that had been placed near the fire pit. Astrid came over and crouched down next to him.

"How's the leg?"

"A little sore. Walking around up there was a little stressful," he admitted.

"How about if I heat up some water and soak a towel in it? That might take some of the soreness away."

"Thank you, that would be great," Hiccup replied with a smile.

Astrid picked up a cast iron kettle and hurried to the nearest small pond and filled it with water. When she returned she found Ruff talking quietly with Hiccup while the boys broke up the various limbs with their hand axes for firewood. She placed the kettle at the edge of the fire and then walked over to Hiccup.

"Do you need a hand getting that off," she said, indicating his artificial limb.

"Thanks, but I think I can manage that," he said as he began to unbuckle the leather straps and then eased the prosthesis off.

"Ahh, that feels much better."

He pulled up the leg of his pants and took off the soft wool sock. From the knee down what remained of his leg was red and puffy. When he looked up he saw the look of dismay on Astrid s face.

"Oh, sweetheart, that looks really painful. You need to take it easy for a while. I'll be back in a bit with those warm cloths. Don't move."

Hiccup watched with a bemused expression on his face. Astrid was being almost overly solicitous and bordering on the domestic. He leaned back and closed his eyes a bit. She was right. After trying to support his weight on the steep rocky slope, the stump of his lower left leg was painfully inflamed. He had a feeling his career as a famous explorer was going to have to wait until the leg fully healed, or spend his time searching from the air.

He opened his eyes when he heard Astrid walking back through the cut down grass. She was holding a damp cloth and when she was close enough she knelt down and gently placed it on his injured leg. Hiccup flinched a bit when first contact was made and then sighed a bit as the just warm enough cloth started to leech out some of the pain. She gently wrapped it all around the stump and tucked in the upper edge to hold it in place.

"How does that feel?" she asked.

"Better, thank you."

"Let me know when it starts to get cool and I'll soak it again. Just stay here, understood?" she said, the last part sounding more like the Astrid he was used to.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied with a grin that got one in return.

Once the fire had burned down to a thick layer of red coals, one of the other shepherds brought out meat and bread dough and began to prepare supper for them all. Astrid's father came over to Hiccup and said,

"How's the leg, son?"

"Better than it was, sir. Astrid is doing a a good job," he replied with a smile.

"She's a smart girl. You better plan on stayin' off that slope for a while. It's too rugged. But no worries, there's plenty to see down here," her father said.

"Um, besides grass and water, sir?"

"Oh, yes. But I don't want to spoil anythin' for you. What about your friends? What are we going to do about feeding them?"

"No worries, sir. We'll let them hunt for themselves. The sea is close enough. They'll leave your sheep alone as long as we're here," Hiccup replied with a laugh.

"I'm pleased to hear that," Mr. Hofferson said before walking over to check on the food preparation.

The meal that followed was plain but plentiful and for a group of teen-agers, filling was more important. They talked while they ate. The shepherds had seen no signs of any dragons that didn't have someone riding them. They hadn't spotted any unusual animals but had heard a number of unfamiliar sounds coming from the trees. The short nights didn't produce anything to be afraid off, either. It wasn't long after they had eaten that the idea of sleep started to sound like a good one.

The hut builders figured they didn't want to have to come back out another time so they built several extra huts against the need when the flock got larger and more shepherds would be needed. This allowed the two girls and four boys to have separate accommodations. Even so, Hiccup and Astrid managed to get in a very satisfactory good night kiss, when her father just happened to make himself scarce.

From inside the boys hut came the sounds of laughing and a few comments with the word troll rather prominent but it seemed to be of the good-natured sort. Things were a bit more serious in the girls' hut. By the dim light of a fat tallow candle, Astrid sat on the edge of a rough wooden bed frame running a sharpening stone down the edge of the hand ax that had been presented to her for her part in destroying the monster dragon. The stone was flat on one side and rounded on the other and fit very comfortably in Astrid's hand. The sound that the flat side made as it was pulled along the edge of the steel blade, while not overtly annoying, did have a way of working on your nerves a bit and give you that uncomfortable feeling on the back of your neck. Ruff sat on her bed watching Astrid work and when her friend looked up at her she smiled a bit.

"You know, Ruff, I just wanted to mention something to you," Astrid began.

"Um, like, okay."

"You consider yourself Hiccup's friend, right?"

"Well, like, sure. We're all friends now. But, like, he went out of his way to make sure I knew he thought we were friends," Ruff replied, looking a little confused.

"Yes, I know. And I'm glad that he did. I'm glad that he is your friend. But understand this, Astrid said, pointing the hand ax at the other girl. He is my everything. That first kiss you gave him that time was a free one and it was your last. Understood?" she asked and for emphasis bought the ax down to stick in the top of the crude bedpost with a dull thunk.

"Oh, um, like, yeah, sure, no problem," Ruff said, her eyes wide.

"Good," Astrid said with a confident smile. "I wouldn't want anything to get in the way of us being friends."

Ruff's answering smile was a lot less confident. The following morning she made a brief inquiry as to Hiccup's well being and then spent the rest of the time talking with or just being around Fishlegs. Astrid did her best to make sure that Hiccup was well fed and doing as little as possible to aggravate his leg.

"Yes, I know I need to stay off the leg, but how am I supposed to see anything if I can't move around any?" Hiccup said, a bit exasperated.

"Why do you have to see anything at all right now?" Astrid responded. "What's wrong with just taking it easy for a bit? You've worked hard all winter long helping get the fleet ready. You need to rest or that leg will get worse and they may have to take more of it off, did you consider that?"

"The girl has a point, young fella," interjected one of the other shepherds. "Gobber pulled the same stunt when he lost his leg. Didn't give it enough time to heal proper and it almost killed him. Was touch and go there for a while. I know us big strong Viking men don't like it when the womenfolk try to tell us what to do, but the smart ones know when it's time to listen and you're supposed to be a smart one."

Hiccup blew out a long breath and then said,

"Okay, but if I have to sit here then you have to sit here and keep me company. And if that's going to be the case then maybe you can teach me something."

"Well, of course I'm going to stay here with you. What is it you want me to teach you?" she asked.

"Um, you can teach me how to throw this," he said holding up his own hand ax. "I'm probably the only Viking that doesn't know how to throw an ax properly."

Astrid smiled and said,

"I guess I can teach you the basics right here but we'll have to figure something out for the practice part since we have to do that standing up."

With that Astrid sat down and showed Hiccup how he should hold the ax, how his arm should swing as he brought it back over his shoulder and then follow through and release. Then she stood up and demonstrated how it all worked. Hiccup frowned when he saw how she stepped forward with one leg as her arm swept forward.

"Um, Astrid, isn t that going to be a problem?" he said, glancing meaningfully at her stance.

"Well, that s the best way to do it, sweetheart, but we can work around it and once your leg is feeling better we can practice with you taking a full stride. I think that springy bit on the end might be a problem here, too. You should probably think of something that will give you a firm footing."

After going through the motions a number of times, the two moved over to where the trees began and picked out a likely target. So just stand here and try and get it to stick. Don t throw too hard in case it bounces back.

Hiccup tried balancing on the one crude crutch as he concentrated on smoothly bringing the hand ax forward in a smooth motion. It did hit the center of the tree trunk but had over rotated just a bit and the top of the ax head made contact and the ax rebounded a bit and dropped to the grass. Astrid looked at him and said,

"Not bad, really, especially with you not being able to move well enough. Try not to snap the wrist quite so hard."

She retrieved the fallen ax and brought it back to Hiccup. He tried again and was rewarded with the ax just stuck in the bark with the upper edge of the blade. He made several more attempts and although none of them could match Astrid's for being solidly embedded in the tree, it was clear he was making progress. As she carried both their axes back to where he stood she smiled.

"You're doing great, sweetheart. We'll make a Viking of you yet," she said and then froze when she saw Hiccup regard her with raised eyebrows. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said it like that."

Hiccup saw the chagrined look on her face and smiled a bit. He extended his free arm and pulled her into an embrace.

"It's okay, Astrid. I know it's hard to break the habits of a lifetime and I don't look like much of one so it's understandable."

"I know it should, but that doesn't help much. I still feel terrible," she said as she put both arms around him and held him tightly. "Come on, I think we've done enough here for today. Let's go see what they have for lunch."

As Hiccup hobbled and Astrid walked alongside carrying the two axes, it was clear that her inadvertent reference to his less than Viking demeanor was still weighing heavily on the girl. He was wise enough to know anything he said at the moment wouldn't help so he decided to go for some distraction.

"So did your dad give you any idea about what he was referring to when he said there would be plenty for me to see without going up on the slopes?"

"Not really. He did mention something about the warm water pools at the edge of the meadow and the marshier ground over that way," she said pointing to the northwest section of the bowl. "But I don't know if he was referring to plants or animals or whatever. I know a couple of the dragons had been nosing around the pools but I don't know if they found anything worth eating there."

"Maybe Toothless can hop us over for a look after we eat," Hiccup offered.

"Okay, but you're still not putting your leg on."

"Yes, ma'am, he replied with grin and he was happy to see he got one in return."

Lunch turned out to be a fish stew, provided mostly by Snoutlout's dragon, Rumbles, who returned from feeding earlier with a large fish in his talons. As Hiccup sat on the same section of trunk with his bowl of stew in his lap, Toothless reclined next to him, apparently asleep. When Hiccup mentioned the idea of a short hop to the edge of the meadow for a look see, the big green eyes popped open and Toothless raised his head, warbling the question.

"Okay, Toothless, I see you're in favor of the idea. Anyone else want to go along?"

He got positive responses from Tuffnut and Snoutlout but Fishlegs said he wanted to take a look along the edge of the trees for signs of animals and Ruffnut volunteered to help him. Hiccup missed the look she gave him and then Astrid, who was watching and nodded once. So after lunch, Hiccup and Astrid climbed aboard Toothless and RatnTat took Snout and Tuff and they made the quick glide to the end of the meadow that met the pools and marshes at the far west end of the bowl. As the four friends climbed down Snout said,

"Okay, so what are we looking for?"

"I'm not really sure. Astrid's dad suggested that there was plenty to see over here but wasn't real specific about anything. Maybe there's some animals or something in the water," Hiccup offered.

With the dragons looking on from behind, the four teens moved along the edges of the pools. Hiccup had to be especially careful since the edges were a bit soft and his makeshift crutch wanted to sink in if he leaned on it to heavily. Snout sniffed at the air and said,

"Smells like old chicken eggs. Where's that coming from?"

Tuff pointed to the far edge of the warm pool and said,

"Look at all those bubbles, maybe it's that."

"It does smell like some of the stuff coming from that volcano near the beach," Hiccup offered. "I wonder how hot the water is."

Before anyone could answer, RatnTat, made a sort of leaping dive and plunged into the dark water. The teens shouted but it was obvious that the dragon was more than happy to be in the water. Most of the dragon's body was submerged but the heads made plunging dives under the surface and then settled in until only the tops of the head and snout were above water. Toothless made a less dramatic entrance and simply walked into the water and with wings folded along his back paddled around. The churning of the water increased the sulfurous smell but not to uncomfortable levels. Hiccup laughed as he said,

"Terrific. We come all the way out here and the first useful thing we discover is a dragon bath."

"I dunno," Astrid replied, "if someone lays claim to it and charges a fee, they could get pretty rich. I bet this will be pretty popular come winter."

While obviously meant as a joke, which she and Hiccup laughed about, Snout and Tuff shared looks that were much more speculative in nature. Then the four turned and watched as the two dragons continued to enjoy the warm sulfur spring.