Hey guys! I posted this just as I said I would and I am so excited! I've always wanted to write a kind of bildungsroman and I think I've actually managed to achieve it! I can't wait to read your responses to what will soon be a monster of a story, as long as I receive enough reviews and favourites to feel it worthwhile to continue posting on ffnet.
This is going to be a three arc novella of sorts, following both Hiccup and Astrid after the events covered in the Horizons series. It isn't exactly necessary to read those four short stories before reading this, however it would certainly be worthwhile from a comprehension standpoint, especially at the beginning. To be clear, this story is INCOMPLETE. I've only written the first arc out of three and it consists of five chapters, weighing in at about +/- 24,000 words. Needless to say, this thing is a monster.
Trust me when I say that I did a mother-load of research before getting the first arc completed; I really concentrated on the psyche of a lower-limb amputee, especially the self-esteem and body image issues. I especially wanted to focus on Hiccup's tumultuous rehabilitation, particularly because he's such a complex and complicated character; my muse told me that Hiccup would take his handicap pretty poorly and I dutifully obeyed him.
And I also did a major exploration of Norse mythology which was super interesting. While I will provide you with a boat-load of information in later chapters, I suggest that you look some of it up yourself. If you're a fan of Ancient Greek mythology, then you will certainly be enthralled by this!
Finally, I would like to thank my previous readers and urge my new readers to review or message me; as some of you know, I will not continue posting my stories if it looks to me as if no one likes it enough to review it. I write for me and me only; the best kind of writing is the kind that is entirely selfish and self-fulfilling. I write for myself and my friends and if my readers here don't provide me with any reason to continue I'll probably put this on hiatus, which is unfortunate but nevertheless an accurate depiction of what will happen. So please, if you enjoyed this chapter (or didn't) and wish to see more, drop me a line and I'll be sure to reply!
Arc I : Becoming Urðr
The next morning was just as bad.
The exhaustion in his limbs and in his body was more than enough to keep the young Viking at bay. His eyes refused to open as he fought to keep himself awake, his head swimming with vertigo. Even his constant shadow chose not to disturb him as his rider grappled for consciousness, the onyx dragon watching plaintively from the other side of the room with his discerning eyes. The boy breathed out raggedly and brought his teeth down upon his lower lip, his biting hunger rapidly forgotten as he tried to steel himself against the sharp throb of a limb that was no longer there.
His head hurt more than he could comprehend, like something akin to a terrible hangover. He knew for a fact that he hadn't consumed a drop of alcohol the night prior, despite the great feast that had been held in honour of his revival. In fact, he didn't even remember returning to his house after slipping from the candlelight of the Great Hall and being pursued…
He smiled knowingly.
With that thought in mind, he managed to find the inspiration to push himself semi upright, propping one of his elbows beneath his thin body before inevitably collapsing onto his side. He inwardly cursed at himself, his absence of strength stirring more feelings of fear within his heart than he was willing to admit. He had never been very sturdy to begin with, being nothing more than gangly skin and bone, but at least he had been strong enough to drag himself out of bed every morning and not be out of breath. He grimaced and tried to wrench himself out of bed again, sliding his functioning foot off of the wooden base so that it dangled limply over the floor.
He swallowed, considering the situation to be highly ironic.
He braced himself on his elbow once again and stopped there for a moment, finding his strength as he locked eyes with the dark, agile creature some ten feet away. The dragon was watching curiously now as his rider found his bearings, the Night Fury's ear plates raised in unease. He dipped his scaly head to the side, considering whether or not to go over and help the boy; the dragon was nearly halfway to his feet when his rider tossed him a look that could only be described as bitterly loathsome and Toothless quickly conceded to letting the stubborn hatchling fall on his face without him.
Hiccup was convinced that every one of his muscles was working against him, pulling him back into that same prone position where he had spent so many days before. The boy was determined now to get to his feet and at least drag himself to the hearth, if not out the door. His stomach was making snarling noises like a devilish creature and if he hadn't been so starved he would have assumed he had swallowed a bad-tempered Terror whole.
He finally managed to swing his bad foot over the ledge of his bed and for a moment he seriously contemplated crawling on all fours over to the smouldering fire in the middle of his lodge. Though one thought of the embarrassment he would feel should his father walk in was enough to make him quickly change his mind. He reached over with his dominant hand and grasped at the wooden bed post closest to him, pulling himself upright with all the force he could muster. He bit back the feelings of nausea as the pain in his non-existent leg intensified, hoisting himself up onto his good foot and balancing precariously as he fought the insistent sting.
Toothless finally rose from his perch and ventured closer to the boy, sensing the abrupt change in his rider's demeanour. Beads of sweat began to form on the boy's brow and upper lip, the smell of salt stinging the air. The dragon nudged him gently over and over again until he broke the young boy from his laboured reverie, at long last drawing his attention and helping him over to the hearth. The forlorn look in his rider's eyes was more than a little unnerving for him and the Night Fury fought to keep the boy's attention as he sat. He gestured his great head towards the pot of simmering stew more than once and finally the boy took the time to feed himself, taking care to stay off of his bad foot as he did so.
The morning continued on in silence, the young Viking often forgetting he was eating at all. Toothless found himself having to continuously nudge his elbow, waking him from whatever lucid dream he had been lost in moments before. The hatchling's carelessness was beginning to worry him and the dragon wasn't sure how else to help.
It was the great body of Stoic the Vast that successfully tore Hiccup from his catatonic contemplation, bursting through the door like the huge lumbering man that he was. The village Chief smiled warmly at the sight of his son wide awake and went to clap him heartily on the shoulder. He stopped himself just in time – Hiccup, who had been unconsciously cowering away from his father's meaty hand, pried open one of his tightly shut eyes and let out a sigh of relief when he saw that the man was already busying himself a few metres away, ladling out stew.
Never one for small talk, Stoic the Vast sat opposite of his teenage son and ate his stew in silence, content for once to be in the serene company of his cognisant son. The young Viking, though puzzled, made no comment on his father's unusually sunny demeanour and kept his silence, satisfied with the comfortable quiet of the lodge.
Hiccup quickly finished his stew and pushed himself off of the wooden chair as best he could, stumbling all the while. He fought to keep the pain from reaching his face with remarkable tenacity, and for the most part he was able to conceal his grief from his father. After all, the Chieftain had just begun to accept him, which certainly had required some sort of divine intervention from Frigg herself. Hiccup was more than convinced that something was going to go horribly wrong as it always did when he was out and about, being the unfortunate curse upon the village that he was.
And now look at him.
Bidding his father an acknowledged farewell was like the taste of some exotic fruit pressed to his lips; it was a strange sensation, albeit not entirely unpleasant. His father smiled kindly in reply and Hiccup wasn't sure why it felt like his heart had just leapt into his throat but it did and he didn't know what to make of it. As he staggered towards the doors of his lodge he realized it might have had something to do with that fact that it had never happened before.
His dragon followed him out the exit, crooning unhappily at his rider's forlorn expression. Though neither could understand each other's respective spoken language, the dragon and his crippled rider were more than compatible in other ways of communication. They worked together seamlessly like some well-oiled machine, complimenting each other in a way that neither of them could fully understand. But the others took notice of course, commenting from afar on the way they fell into stride with each other, their handicaps corresponding harmoniously. Hiccup barely took notice of their stares as they quickly made their way out of the village, save that one damned word that struck out painfully like the very blade of Odin himself.
The footprints he left in the mud as he passed over the creek were awkwardly mismatched and they inspired a sort of phantom feeling to fall over him. It felt as if a ghostly hand had taken hold of his stomach and thrashed it about, leaving him with a sickening sensation akin to something far worse than nausea. He swallowed the queasiness it triggered and continued on out of the village, desperate to get away from the greetings and the garish voices that beckoned him nearer for a slap on the back. He ventured into the heavy brush of the forest, his loyal Night Fury dutifully at his side, and wanted nothing but to be hidden from their brutish smiles. The tack adorning the great beast flashed brilliantly in a burst of sunlight and, catching it out of the corner of his eye, the boy leapt on without warning, taking to the skies.
The leaves were beginning to turn as autumn set in across the island and Hiccup wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Would the dragons stay? Would they migrate past the Southern Islands? Would they even return? He glanced to his left and caught a glimpse of a gaggle of Nadders flying eastward, chattering and whistling noisily at each other. The dragons were bickering about who was to lead the formation and Hiccup couldn't help but smile despite himself, the oppressing fame of his heroics temporarily forgotten as they flew past the flock. He leant his body against his dragon's spine and scratched Toothless behind his ear plates, shaking his head and smiling – Nadders were implausibly and exceptionally vain, but at least they provided enough comic relief to placate the entire village.
The seamless match soared beyond the rocky crags of Berk on the other side of the island and drifted idly over the endless ocean, catching an errant updraft every so often. The sun was high above the horizon but Hiccup felt as if he could continue on until he reached the very end of the earth, flying beyond the great cascading waterfall into Hel and into the stars.
He wondered absently if anyone had really been to the end of the world at all.
He'd be the first, he decided. He'd be better off there anyway.
After a few hours they returned to their island, the perceptive dragon sensing his rider's imminent exhaustion. Hiccup's arms and legs felt as if they were made out of gelatine and the muscles in his torso burned with overuse. He groaned and shook his head, grinning half-heartedly at his smirking dragon – he was terribly out of shape.
They landed just out of reach of the village in an empty field, its sowed grains freshly reaped. He hopped off of his steed and immediately regretted it as he landed, his aching muscles and swollen stub screaming in protest. He ignored it as best he could, disregarding the knowing glances his constant shadow threw at him as he hobbled back into the village, biting his tongue all the while.
The first of the fallen leaves began to pepper the weather worn trails leading towards his lodge and the rest of the elite quartier, the crunch underfoot oddly satisfying beneath his soles.
He refrained from looking downwards and kept walking.
Within minutes, the adorned roof of his home could be seen above the thinning trees and the young Viking quickened his pace slightly, unwilling to be intercepted. But with such an obtrusive shadow following his every move, the young Viking was quickly enveloped by a legion of eager villagers, all of them wanting a piece of their hero. He slapped on his typical façade and smiled weakly as they whacked him on the shoulder, guffawing and grinning at Hiccup the Useful, finally deserving of the title of the Chief's son. He was no longer the embarrassment of the tribe, something of which Hiccup was more than happy to accept. It was just the other things he had lost in the process that were entirely unwelcome.
It dawned on him for a moment that he was being tremendously selfish acting the way that he was, but the thought was immediately whisked away as one of the villagers ruffled his hair with his warrior paws and grinned lewdly:
"Some battle scar eh lad? Yeh be a man now, look at ye."
Those same words echoed over and over again in his ears as he laid in bed that night, the wooden cot finally rearranged back into the bedroom. So this is what it took to be a man? To lose half your leg? He rolled onto his side, his aching muscles forgotten as he seethed privately. 'What use am I if I can't even walk straight?' he thought bitterly to himself for the fourth time that night, drawing his good leg close to his chest. He wanted the stump as far away from him as he could manage.
As if he could forget it.
The next morning arrived earlier than he would have liked and after nearly throwing up most of his porridge Gobber strode in and manhandled him into the brisk autumn sun. The young Viking muttered something almost incomprehensible under his breath as the seasoned blacksmith led him towards the forge, the latter conveniently ignoring the newly handicapped teen's lethargic tendencies. Gobber was privy to the feeling, that blank canvas of verity as reality came crashing down. The older man could already see the signs of this, as did the Chieftain that had warned him privy. And if the words that had just slipped out of the teenager's mouth had not been enough proof, the look on his face certainly confirmed it. The only way to beat his depression was to keep him busy, even if it exhausted him to the point where he did nothing but sharpen swords and sleep until winter. After a season the transition would be easier and surrounded by his friends and family, perhaps it wouldn't affect him so bad.
Gobber looked over his shoulder at the boy, dragging his feet a few yards behind him.
He snorted – not likely.
It had been three days since she had nearly kissed the life right back out of the boy into the wee hours of the morning, where she had been too caught up in her fumbling emotions to care. She had helped him home then, the boy too delirious with exhaustion to make it there himself, and then she had kissed him goodnight; the memories were still fresh in her mind.
But she hadn't seen him since.
She knew where he was of course, but that didn't really help her any. She was being kept busy by her mother as the tribe prepared for the onslaught of winter and she did what she could to stock supplies or weave linen or anything else that needed doing.
But she could honestly say that her heart wasn't in it. It was somewhere a little ways off, hammering steel and stitching tack within the fiery depths of the forge.
The sun had just begun to dip below the horizon and she quickly finished binding the last few threads of the half woven bedspread she had been painstakingly weaving all day. Her mother was nowhere in sight and she happily took advantage of such a rare opportunity, slipping out of the house and leaving her damned loom behind. Uncertain of her mother's whereabouts she made sure to keep to the shadows of Berk, entirely unwilling to be dragged home by the scruff of her collar after making it this far.
The echoes of metal against metal could be heard from the other side of the square and, from the absence of any other sound resonating from the forge, she was more than certain that it was the blacksmith's apprentice working within. One could often hear Gobber's thunderous bellowing from the other side of the village when he shaped weapons, which is why he usually left it to Hiccup these days. She didn't think the young rider really minded; he was a clever boy, and at least the monotony of steel against steel would keep him out of trouble.
On a good day.
She paused outside the forge, her hesitation unexpected; what would she say to him? She had never been one to plan for the future, no matter how near, but at the moment she felt awkwardly unprepared. She considered just marching in and winging it but her nervousness got the best of her and with an uncharacteristic but never the less violent punch at the closest semi-soft object, she ran off through the village without looking back.
She spotted her Nadder at the crest of one of the larger hills leading up past the village, sprawled out in the dying warmth of the sun. Only a few dragons remained outdoors as dusk quickly turned into nightfall and she wasn't at all surprised that her beast would still be seeking out the light. She was worried about what would happen when the first frost hit; would all the dragons leave for a warmer, more hospitable climate? What if they liked it down there better? Would they come back? She bit her lower lip absentmindedly as she approached her dragon and settled down beside her great head, smiling widely when one of her golden eyes riveted on her.
The question was simple enough and she knew her dragon couldn't understand her words but when the Nadder stared back with an accusing look of comprehension, she couldn't help but feel two feet tall. The damned beast was far too observant and it unnerved her, never being one to wear her heart on her sleeve. Astrid sighed and got to her feet, rubbing the Nadder's nose in begrudging understanding; the dragon crooned shrewdly and jerked her head towards the village square.
Astrid grimaced, "Know it all."
She ignored the great beast as it puffed out its chest in inflated pride and simply rolled her eyes instead, taking off down the hill en route to her initial destination. She weaved to and fro between straggling villagers, eager to get home after a long day's work in the ships or at the shops. She ignored them, having only one goal in mind.
She froze in her stride, skidding unceremoniously to a halt. She turned around slowly, carefully even, her eyes screwed shut as her mother's thunderous steps drew nearer and nearer.
"Astrid Hofferson! I asked you explicitly this morning to fill up the water barrels! I went to make stew not twenty minutes ago and the barrel was a dry as a bone!"
Ah yes, she had forgotten about that.
"Sorry mother," she conceded, taking the wooded bucket from her mother's accusatory fingers, heaving a defeated sigh.
"Be quick," she replied curtly, her tone sharp, "I'll not wait another minute and certainly not for that boy, Chief's son or not."
With a final glare, her mother retreated in the direction of her lodge. Astrid scowled furiously, staring daggers at those who had stopped to watch the Hofferson family spectacle in the middle of the square. She pursed her lips together and stomped towards the well, fuming the entire way. How dare her mother embarrass her in front of the whole village? And what did she mean by 'Chief's son or not'? Why was that even important? What did it matter? She barely restrained herself from chucking her bucket at the closest inanimate object and continued on, her anger never ebbing. It was beginning to get dark and she knew that as much as she would like to rebel against her mother and break into the forge to be with her…boyfriend, if that's what he could be called, she knew she wouldn't be able to because of the black.
She reached the pump and dropped the bucket dramatically, kicking it to keep it from falling sideways.
Hiccup would just have to wait.
And he did.
It was two weeks past the autumn equinox by the time the blonde warrior finally made it to the forge, gazing silently as a brooding boy she wasn't sure she recognized disappeared into one of the back rooms. She found him again only by the tuft of his hair, the rest of him obscured by one of the huge moulds used to craft weapons. They weren't often in use as they were cumbersome and often difficult to replace should they ever be damaged; the only times they were pulled from the side walls were for the preparations of the Spring Raid or for some other special order, like a coming of age gift or a hand fasting sword.
She could tell he was trying to pry open the large block of granite by the sounds of his grumbling and she took her time finding a place to recline without disturbing him. She tucked herself away into the closest corner and sat cross legged on the wooden countertop, her eyes scanning the various weapons laid out across the shelves and tables in the forge. She recognized a few of the swords and hammers due to the family crests welded into the handles and she studied some of the other weapons from afar. There was one in particular that she had never seen before but was instantly drawn to; it looked like some sort of malevolent hybrid son of a bow and a miniature catapult all wrapped up into one. She leant over and picked up the considerably sized device, placing it in her lap in order to study it more closely.
The bow catapult was seemingly armed with a projectile, though the long range weapon was cut considerably shorter than most of the arrows used when hunting. The fletching was fitted with sparrow feathers, the small brown plumes greased and precisely balanced. She held the thing by what she assumed to be the handle and her fingers unconsciously slid into a crevice beneath the wide base of the device. She lifted the contraption and caught a glimpse of the lever that sat precariously close to her fingers, following the connections of the trigger with her eyes until she came to the mechanism that held the bow taut and armed.
Startled, she clenched the trigger and set the device in motion, the arrow shooting out of the bow catapult at breakneck speeds. The little weapon flew directly at Hiccup who cried out in alarm and ducked, the arrow skimming the top of his head by a centimetre. The weapon hit the other side of the forge and lodged itself in the grout of the stone walls, wavering innocently as Hiccup peeled himself off the floor.
"Odin's beard Astrid! Want me to lose an eyeball too?"
Astrid nearly threw the device sideways as she leapt to her feet, her apology immediately forgotten at his irritable tone.
"I'm sorry you're such a magnet for trouble!" she snarled back, "What in Hel was that thing anyway? It's horrible."
Hiccup, already prepared to spit out a sarcastic retort, shrank back at her words, "It's…it shoots arrows for you."
"Well I discovered that much," she snapped, her bitterness still obvious in her intonation, "Why would you make something like that? It's not hard to shoot an arrow."
Hiccup turned around slowly, deciding that it was better not to respond to her comments. He could barely walk, let alone wield any type of weapon without considerable effort and he had hoped that his invention would have been praised rather than scorned. He hobbled over to the fires and started stoking the dying flames, "What do you want?"
Astrid's tone was scathing, "Well excuse me for wanting to see you. You've been locked up in here for weeks!"
"It's not like I asked for it," he replied, glaring over his shoulder, "Gobber's off with the hunting party on one of the Southern islands and I have to finish the rest of the wedding orders for next Thursday."
Astrid frowned, folding her arms across her chest, "Why don't you just take a break? It can't be that hard."
"Hard?" Hiccup smirked humourlessly and snatched a hammer from the counter, taking a molten sword in his other hand so he could pound the metal into submission, "It must be nice to be an able-bodied warrior with all your limbs still intact! Get a real job and you might—"
It wasn't just the words that were flying from his lips but rather the manner in which he had said them that made her step back; she had never truly seen the boy this furious nor had she ever been at the brunt of his wrath, his face beet red as he pounded the daylights out of the sword in his hands. Beads of sweat she had not seen earlier were glistening on his brow and she could see the vein in his temple pounding dangerously from afar. She had an incomprehensible urge to step nearer but thought better of it after eyeing the smelting sword in his hands.
"Look Hiccup, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you upset."
"I'm fine," was his reply.
She sighed, "To tell you the truth, I just came by here to talk to you," she sided up the nearest counter and hoisted herself onto the splintered wood, "I missed seeing you around."
Hiccup kept smashing away at his sword and Astrid took the lack of sarcasm as a good sign.
"Umm…" she started out awkwardly, tossing the bangs out of her eyes. Small talk had never been one of her greatest talents, "The prototype saddles are working out pretty well. Except 'Lout I guess. Firewyrm keeps setting herself on fire whenever he straps it to her body. 'Lout keeps pitching a fit every time but I think she just likes all the attention he gives her when she does it."
"And his father, as it turned out, has taken a shine to the Terrors. They follow him around like he's some sort of deity and though he keeps trying to blow it off, you can tell that he loves it," Astrid smiled quaintly, enjoying the subject matter no matter how one sided their conversation had become. At least he was listening to her, "They followed him right into the meeting the other night and I thought your father was going to throw a tantrum! It was pretty funny."
Hiccup faltered for a moment at the mention of his father but recovered quickly, maintaining his systematic rhythm.
"And then Fishlegs managed to get himself hurt. Róta said that he probably broke a few bones in his hand after crushing it between boats and he won't be able to use it again until spring.
Hiccup's voice surprised her and in her hesitation she seemingly lost his attention, "She's the village healer now that Grid has passed to Valhalla. You've met her apprentice at least right? I've seen her slip in here to wrap your…err…leg."
Hiccup's expression darkened and he thrust the cooling sword back into the fires of the furnace. He left it to reheat and limped over towards his workshop, disappearing behind the tattered curtain. He emerged a few seconds later with a large chunk of bread in his hands and broke the piece in two, offering the blonde warrior half.
Astrid tried her best to smile in gratitude and nod, taking the chunk of bread into her hands in order to take a bite. It was surprisingly decent and Astrid had a sneaking suspicion that it hadn't come from the ovens of the Haddock household.
"Who baked this? It's good."
Hiccup didn't look up as he disappeared behind the granite cast yet again, only to reappear a moment later holding an axe in his hands, "Ruffnut dropped it off yesterday, along with a few of her father's hammers. Said I looked thin and disgusting."
Astrid could barely stifle the flare of jealously that rose in her gut as she sought to reply, "Sounds like something she would say."
Hiccup started the sharpening wheel and kept wrenching the thing until it was spinning rapidly, "I agreed with her and took the bread, not that it'll help. Her mother is a bread making goddess though…I mean, Odin knows Ruff doesn't have the patience to stitch a button, let alone make bread."
Astrid was feeling far too indignant to reply as the device sped up significantly, and without inquiring about how he had learnt of the girl twin's less than stellar sewing skills, she settled on watching the boy instead. He finally finished getting the stone wheel up to speed and stood up with an unbalanced waiver, righting himself on the wheel's wooden frame as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
"I'll be back," he said quietly, retreating again from the main forgery into his workshop in the backrooms. She heard him scuffle with something or other for a minute or two and the blonde continued to wait impatiently until he ultimately returned. He had shed his long sleeved tunic and in its stead wore a short sleeved top of the same green fabric, cinched at the waist with a thin leather rope. He slapped guards onto his wrists as he ambled back over to the sharpening wheel, the leather so worn it was practically white.
For Astrid, the change in appearance was…uncanny.
She had never seen the boy so physically exposed in all her life as he hauled the axe from the counter onto the spinning stone and began sharpening its edges. His upper arms were by no means burly but the lean, sinewy muscle beneath his pale skin told her that he was stronger than he seemed. He flipped the axe effortlessly in his palms, grinding the steel against the stone as an explosion of sparks and embers threw his features into sharp relief. They filled the room with an ambiance akin to a radiant sunset as the cinders rose and fell like impromptu confetti, extinguishing languidly on the ground.
From what she could see of his dim profile against the shadows of the forge, he had managed to fill out considerably. The flesh had returned to his cheeks and he seemed to be far healthier than he had when she had seen him last, although he looked as harried as an elder, troubled beyond his years. His brows were furrowed past the point of mere concentration and his lips were pursed in a distraught scowl, something she wasn't used to seeing on the characteristically quiet boy she had kissed all those days ago. She wasn't sure what to think as he ran the blunt of his fingernail across the blades of the axe to check for sharpness, her mind at a loss of coherence as his eyes followed the curvature of the weapon before resting again on her.
It was more of a statement than a question but she treated it like the latter, "Yes?"
"Do you…" he trailed off, wringing his fingers in his hands nervously before stepping closer, setting the freshly sharpened axe onto the ground.
"What do you know about the end of the world?"
Don't forget to review and I'll see you guys after the jump! Happy Christmas and New Year!
Love and fluff,