I'll start by saying that if you're reading this, I do hope you've already read the prequel, as it is utterly necessary to understanding where this tale goes. I'm having trouble posing a link on this story page, so just go through my profile to find it. It shouldn't be hard, as it's the only other story I have!
As for the rest of you who have already followed the story from the beginning, welcome back! Rather than waste time with forewords, I think I'll get started immediately.
At the end of the previous story, we saw an exiled Hiccup leaving Berk with Toothless, and pushing away Astrid's attempt at remorse and an apology. However, Hiccup felt as he flew away on Toothless bck that something still tied him to the village, and Astrid had no idea what she was feeling.
Chapter One: The Passage of Time
To say that all was well in the village of Berk would, bluntly put, be a great misuse of the truth.
The passage of seven years had left the hardy little township much altered.
A new generation of Viking babies was now being raised on the meridian of misery, the children, at the tiny age of two, were already being conditioned to be tough, resilient and unwavering in the face of great and terrible danger, just like their parents.
Those villagers who were slightly older (but still barely out of their nappies) were growing accustomed to the regular ups and downs of the village, although there were significantly more of the latter.
And the teens were getting on just fine, no worries at all...aside from the endless bickering characteristic of that age group.
There existed a particular generation, a small group of young adults of no more than two decades in age and exactly five in number, upon whom a great burden seemed to lie.
These were indeed the Vikings who had been present seven years previously as one of their number had been banished and cast out into the wide world.
The main problem, the only problem in fact, still facing that hardy little village which jutted precariously out from a small rock face bordering on the far northern seas, was the pests.
While some villages further south had mice or mosquitoes, the Vikings of Berk had...
The tenacious beasts never ceased to attack the village of Berk.
Monthly, occasionally even weekly, the great cry would erupt that a raid was beginning, and every able-bodied man and woman would go to war with their arch enemies; the huge, ferocious, razor-clawed, fire-breathing, reptilian dragons.
And no matter how many times the Vikings drove them off, regardless of how many dragons and humans died on either side, the beasts continued to plunder the villager's food stores, unceasingly stealing every last morsel of meat that they could find, alive or dead, before simply flying back towards the east.
And in the east was supposedly where their nest lay, hidden beneath an eternal sea of mist and fog which covered the ocean stacks and far shoreline for many miles.
Countless attempts had been made to find the dragon stronghold, but each and every one had ended in disaster.
Thankfully, the monsters were to some extent cold blooded, and the inevitable onset of winter seemed to curb their voracious hunger.
But now, as a new spring began to creep slowly over the landscape, the raids began again.
And this is where Astrid Hofferson found herself one early morning in Berk, wrestling with a dragon nearly twice her size on the cold green grass of the village meadow.
As the first rays of the sun began to crest the far oceanic horizons, the young Viking woman grappled with a violent Icebolt dragon which seemed to have no goal apart from tearing out her eyes.
The striking blue beast was stronger and certainly much faster in the open field, but Astrid was a very skilled warrior with great patience and agility, of which the latter was far more useful at present.
"Take that and that and that!" the blond woman snarled through gritted teeth, repeatedly bashing the monster's scaly head into the frozen dirt and grass.
The Icebolt yelped with panic, unable to shake Astrid from her position atop the beast's neck.
Finally submitting, the dragon spread its four wings and flapped haphazardly towards the cliff, Astrid still clinging to its smooth hide.
Leaping from the worm's back, the Hofferson's daughter landed deftly on the edge of the overhang, just regaining her balance in time to avoid toppling to her death on the rocky crags and outcrops far below.
Glancing back over her shoulder, Astrid could just make out the silhouette of the Icebolt, flying away from the village somewhat awkwardly.
Shuddering from the icy chill of the cold morning air, the blond Viking turned back towards Berk just in time to see the last of the dragon flock taking off, heading eastward with a sizeable portion of the village's sheep.
Cursing out loud, Astrid cast around for here axe which had been wrested from her grasp earlier by the fire-breathing fiends.
But her faithful weapon, with which she had once killed a Glowdart dragon in front of the entire population of Berk, that stout little axe which had only once in living memory left her side now lay in splinters in a puddle of mud and ice at the edge of the village.
Kneeling down beside the ruins of her axe, Astrid began to pick up the slivers of charred wood and metal which lay strewn about the place; the damage was irreparable.
But, try as she might, she could not bring herself to be angry at the dragon which had done this; after all it had just tried to defend itself from her.
"But then, why do the dragons attack the village at all if there's a chance that they might be killed?"
"Because they need to feed."
"But then how did they eat before Vikings inhabited these parts?"
Astrid's overactive mind began to analyse the situation far too much, and before she knew it, the Viking girl was already justifying to herself why the dragons deserved to be slaughtered merely for existing.
Simply put, Berk was a mess.
Shards of splintered wood littered the ground, mingling with the scorched earth, burnt grass and snowy slush.
Long black marks were smeared across the ground, indicating where a dragon had unleashed its fiery breath.
Here and there a couple houses still smouldered, slowly collapsing into heaps of coal and ash amidst a few solitary beams of charred timber.
Great plumes of murky, black smoke rose high above the village, drifting away with the aerial currents of the cold sky, and mingling with the pure white clouds high in the heavens.
The smell in the air was one of intense, muddy, viscous charcoal and rancid, wet-burning hey.
Never before had a dragon raid caused so much destruction.
"Hey, 'Strid! 'Strid!" Someone was shouting her name, and Astrid turned to see the great bulk of Fishlegs trudging towards her.
The vast Viking was sporting a broken nose and clutching the burnt handle of his mace; his weapon had also been destroyed.
"It's turning out to be a really great day..." the young woman thought bitterly.
Casually noting that this manneristic use of sarcasm did not originally belong to her, Astrid smiled sadly.
"Got you a good one as well, did they 'Legs?" she called back, and Fishlegs grimaced.
The blond Viking herself had also been hurt, albeit not very badly.
Astrid could indeed feel blood running down the side of her face, but the wound was purely superficial, and would heal with time.
Assuming, of course, that Icebolt dragons weren't venomous.
"Which reminds me …" she finished her train of thought out loud. "I've got some more information for your book, 'Legs!" The bulky boy looked pleased to hear this, at the very least.
"Are you alright, Astrid?" he asked uncertainly, stopping a few metres from her. "You've got a nasty cut on your forehead. Looks, more like a bite, actually."
"I'll be fine," replied the blond woman. "...Hopefully..." she finished with a worried thought.
As the rest of the gang began to emerge from the lingering cloud of smoke and ash left by numerous fire-blasts which had emanated from the gullets of hungry dragons, Astrid looked around at her friends.
Ruffnut and Tuffnut were both unharmed, and stood next to their respective fiancés, exchanging meaningful glances; they had most likely been competing yet again over who could kill the most dragons.
But as the score was usually nil all, there was never anything to worry about.
Fishlegs was tending to his lady-friend's injured shoulder; it looked like her shield-arm had borne the brunt of a Nightmare's fire.
Astrid couldn't believe that anyone could fall for such a dork, and a...sizeable one at that, but now that he had got himself into a meaningful relationship, Fishlegs seemed to be showing a truly generous and compassionate nature, comparable in magnitude only to the breadth of his gut.
Snotlout was wiping a large amount of thick, viscous dragon blood off end of his flail.
He had evidently been somewhat successful at fighting the horde of Terrible Terrors which had come hurtling his way near the start of the raid.
Astrid shuddered at the thought of the great bullish Viking swinging his weapon indiscriminately, smashing skulls and wings, crushing legs and tails, with the pained cries of dying dragons all around him – and stopped herself right there.
"Since when does a Viking show a dragon any kind of sympathy?" Snotlout turned his head, tilting it to one side, and gave Astrid a quirky grin.
Seven years had not curbed the brutish Viking's attitude towards her, and Astrid felt a knot clench sickeningly in the pit of her stomach at the hungry look in his eyes.
Making a big point of shaking her head in disgust, the blond Viking turned back to Fishlegs.
"Anyway..." she sighed, "I got a very good up-close look at an Icebolt's mouth. They have eight incisors, four top, four bottom, and a set of four longer fangs–Possibly venomous," Astrid rattled off, ending with a casual gesture towards her head injury. "I guess we'll find out soon enough."
Fishlegs was currently in the process of documenting every last little fact and figure on the different varieties of dragons in the far north, and the sudden migration of several new species such as the Icebolt had made his favourite hobby that much more enjoyable.
"Awesome!" the chubby Viking exclaimed with pure enthusiasm.
An odd and slightly abnormal young man he was indeed, but lovable nonetheless.
As the group began to slowly dissipate, the young adults chatted casually amongst themselves and began to clean the village up, and Astrid found herself shifting charred lumps of wood alongside Snotlout.
The great buffoon of a Viking had recently stepped up his attempts to...what was the cliché?
'Capture her heart'?
But even after all these years, she still didn't want anything to do with him.
This attitude surprised everyone in the village, as Snotlout was turning out to be the perfect Viking.
Strong, tough, mean, and with a voracious appetite to exceed all of those combined, this young man should have been the perfect potential husband, and had grown in every sense...except maturity.
Emotional maturity, that was; the kind that Astrid truly longed for.
"So..." Snotlout whistled, attempting to take a rather sizeable chunk of burned timber off Astrid's hands. "You were looking pretty good today.
That was some really neat fighting back there with the Icebolt." His tone was now rather pleasant, but in spite of Astrid's ingrained fondness towards any sort of flattery, coming from Snotlout it meant nothing–Nothing at all.
And she had the fullest intention of making this as blatantly obvious as possible.
"And yet I got bitten," she replied sarcastically; such snide and snarky comments had somehow become Astrid's forte, in spite of the fact that they were highly reminiscent of a certain someone whom almost everyone was doing their very best to try and forget.
"It's just a scratch," persisted Snotlout, still trying to assist the young woman with moving the debris of some unfortunate Viking's incinerated residence. "And a sexy one at that. All real Vikings have scars –"
"Then maybe I don't want to be a real Viking, Snotlout." Astrid cut in scathingly; her wound was starting to feel like something a little deeper than "just a scratch".
But, for once, it wasn't so much the tone of her voice that had surprised the beefy boy, but her choice of words.
Seeing the shocked and suspicious look dawning on his face, Astrid immediately backtracked and corrected herself.
"Sorry." Although she wasn't, really. "I think...I might have taken a bit of a knock. More than I'm used to, anyhow." Snotlout's face immediately shifted from the usual hungry look to one of shallow compassion; Astrid hardly believed that the stupid lout had the emotional capability of anything more than a mug of near-frozen gnat's urine.
"Let me take a look at it," he said with a horrid grin, raising a fat fist to Astrid's head, but she knocked his hand away.
Dropping her load of charred wooden shards, she wheeled round to face him directly.
"Snotlout, how long is it going to take until you get it into that thick skull of yours that I am not interested in you? How many more of your foul and filthy attempts at seduction must I be forced to endure before you realise that you and I have no future together?" She had decided once and for all to stop beating around the bush, and come out into the light with her opinion of Snotlout.
Glaring at him through narrow eyes, Astrid's lips tightened as she prepared for some kind of angry retort typical of such an infuriatingly infatuated numbskull; in a sense, she almost felt sorry for the great buffoon.
For a moment it seemed that Snotlout's brain had shut itself off trying to find a loophole or comeback of some kind.
But, unfortunately for her, find one he did.
"Is that what you think?" he said coldly. "Well, you'd better start trying to like me a little better, or things might get a whole lot tougher soon." Astrid snorted.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded; she was not in the mood for people who talked with any kind of cryptic or hidden messages embedded within their words and sentences.
Snotlout grinned knowingly.
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough," he said slowly, turning to go.
Astrid spat at his feet, a sign of blatant disrespect among Vikings.
"Mark my words," the bullish boy called over his shoulder as he trudged off down to the centre of the town where all of the Vikings appeared to be congregating. "You will."
As the morning wore slowly on, more and more Vikings simply gave up trying to clean the village after the night's kafuffle, and dragged themselves wearily off to bed.
By midday, barely one tenth of the population of Berk could be spotted outdoors.
Astrid happened to be one of those still in full control of her physical energy; it would take more than just a desperate, half-hour struggle with a horde of violently coloured, fire-breathing monstrosities to sap her will to fight...although her fight was no longer against the beastly dragons, but with a large wooden beam.
The cursed thing had somehow managed to lodge itself in the side of the chieftain's house, and Astrid had, for some reason, decided to place the onerous task of shifting it to a more civilised and out-of-the-way location upon herself.
Sweating and straining at the beam, the Viking woman had almost moved the stubborn timber, when she suddenly stopped dead, staring at a most suspicious sight.
Half-way down the hill which ran through the village of Berk, the chief of the tribe was talking secretively with none other than that slimy serpent Snotlout.
Astrid's grip tightened on the lump of wood as she froze where she stood.
Stoick finished speaking to the Jorgenson boy, and gave him a small pat on the back, a faint smile hidden beneath his massive beard; this did not bode well.
The chieftain then turned towards Astrid, and the young woman quickly snapped her head back to the task at hand.
Finally dislodging the wooden beam, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Stoick was making a beeline for her.
"Probably just checking out the house...it is his home, after all," Astrid tried to reassure herself.
But she could not shake the feeling of a deceptive shadow slinking ever closer.
The inkling had come over her earlier, as Snotlout had been boasting about having to try and start...what was it?
"Having to start liking him a little better..." Astrid snorted with disgust at the thought of being seen in a romantic relationship with the stupid oaf.
Noticing that Stoick was now standing directly beside her, Astrid slowly set the lump of wood on the ground and straightened up to face him, trying in vain to wipe some of the soot and ash from her face.
It was only polite; he was, after all, the chief.
Looking attentively up at the Vast man, Astrid saw that he was smiling half-heartedly at her felt the knot of suspicion in her stomach clench even tighter.
As strange as this may have seemed, the whole village had become so accustomed to Stoick's solemn, taciturn and even unfriendly attitude towards everyone and everything that it was truly a rare occurrence when he smiled, one that would normally be celebrated.
But Astrid could see as far as some and further than most; Stoick had always used a particular brand of smile whenever he had something to say that had the potential to come across as bad news, and this was precisely that kind of smile.
"Ah...thanks for helping to fix mah house, lass. Those wretched beasts sure did a number on it!" He stared for a moment up at the burned roof of his home, before turning back to young woman in front of him.
"Listen, Astrid, erm...perhaps you should hurry on home; your parents might be worrying that you're alright, and haven't been gobbled up by a dragon!" he chuckled, but the smile on his face disappeared as Astrid's eyebrows shot up into her fringe faster than a timid Terror; this was NOT normal Viking behaviour, especially not for a great warrior and chieftain like Stoick.
"Go on, lass," he said quietly, "I'll finish off here. And I think your parents might want to talk about...stuff. Yeah..." The Vast man turned away to deal with the beam which Astrid had so laboriously removed from his wall, indicating to the young Viking that she was dismissed.
Trudging back down through the village of Berk, Astrid looked around at the Vikings which stood here and there, lugging and tugging bits and pieces of their houses or conversing with one-another in low tones, the occasional one glancing round to give Astrid a faint smile.
As fearful as it may seem, it were as though the village were beginning to fall apart.
Large numbers of Vikings no longer bothered to meet for the regular communal dinners, opting instead to stay at home with their families.
The old, cheerful attitudes had been replaced by cold indifference and stiff resistances towards invitations to any kind of social gathering.
Even the annual traders were starting to become somewhat put off by the Hairy Hooligans' newfound animosity towards anyone and anything not originating in their own village –
And even towards some their own people.
The frequent dragon raids didn't help either.
Although the beasts never managed to take enough food to leave Berk starving, the attacks sometimes left a Viking or three dead, and their grieving family feeling alone and alienated from the rest of the tribe.
The twins had lost their mother in such a raid four years ago, and although they seemed to have shrugged off any lasting emotional trauma, it was now becoming clear for all to see that the scars of battle did not heal so easily...
The only piece of consolation seemed to be that, in seven years of life in Berk, not a single dragon attack had carried with it the terrifying scream of a Night Fury.
This fact did, however, carry a special meaning for one particular Viking, a harsh reminder past mistakes.
Practically staggering through the door to her house, Astrid collapsed into the nearest chair, grabbing a lonely mug of water and downing the lot in one go.
Her parents stared.
"Astrid? What's going on?" her mother asked worriedly; Hilda fretted eternally over her youngest child.
Her daughter sighed.
"Nothing." It was the worst lie she had ever told.
"That's the worst lie you've ever told." Astrid felt her pulse rise with anger.
"I know –" she began viciously, but instantly stopped herself; previous arguments had taught her the benefits of keeping her frustration in check.
Taking a deep breath, and ignoring the shocked looks on her parent's faces, she continued.
"I know – but that doesn't matter right now." She decided to cut directly to the chase. "The chief said you'd something important to discuss with me."
Astrid knew to watch her parents carefully; their actions in such situations often gave away exactly what they were thinking.
And the calculated glances which the pair now exchanged were indicative of something quite serious.
"Astrid, dear," Hilda began, with some uncertainty, "your father and I have been concerned lately about your lack of self-esteem."
"Typical," scoffed Astrid to herself, "of them to worry about me so much. They fussed so much over Johan..." Her older brother had moved away of the village to live with his new wife as soon as possible, and it had been clear to all why.
Apparently, her parents had not learned from their past mistakes.
"You've changed quite a lot since the...incident with the pen-dragons almost a year ago," stated Gunnar objectively, but her daughter shuddered; as if she needed to be reminded of that little mistake.
Though it wasn't really so little.
Roughly a year ago, Astrid had found herself directly responsible for the escape of not one or two of the captured dragons used for the training of young recruits, but all of them.
Her spotless record as the perfect Viking daughter had been permanently tarnished, and Stoick had spoken harsh words with her in front of the entire village, purely to set an example to those who might follow in her fumbling footsteps.
The young warrior had quickly redeemed herself in the eyes of the chief by assisting in the capture of several new and exotic training dragons, but a cloud of personal failure still hung over Astrid to the day, weighing heavily upon her mind.
"And...we both feel," continued her father, "that it's time for you...to get married." Astrid spluttered into her mug, spraying water over the table.
"W-what?" she choked, as her parents once again exchanged those infuriating glances. "No! I – I don't want – I mean, for one thing, there isn't anyone who I..." her voice trailed off at the knowing look on her mother's face.
"Which is why, dear Astrid," Hilda spoke carefully, "we have chosen for you." Being the kind of person who had to control every last element of her own life, this statement did not go down well with Astrid, and she clenched her fists slightly; the thought of being forced into a marriage she did not consent to was disgusting.
"Who is it?" she growled, albeit with an inkling of what the answer was going to be.
"Now dear, first let us explain," her mother continued, pushing Astrid's question to one side. "This marriage is not only to help bring some stability into your life, but also to benefit the entire village." Gunnar nodded in agreement.
"We have discussed the proposed union with both the groom's parents and Stoick, and have concluded that this wedding will be something of a morale boost for Berk." Astrid knew that her father, being head of the tribe's trading parties, had a knack for formal talk, but this was ridiculous to the point of being somewhat condescending.
However, what he had just said had scared Astrid.
Stoick had been talking to Snotlout earlier, just before he had spoken to her.
"The marriage is between yourself and Snotlout Jorgenson," Hilda stated, confirming her daughter's worst suspicions.
For a moment Astrid just sat there, heart pounding in her chest, utterly revolted by her parent's decision.
"Astrid?" But the young woman suddenly stood up, clenching her fists, as a great surge of anger purged all thoughts of calm reason and logic from her mind.
She had not felt such fury for seven years.
"No," she spoke, voice quivering with rage.
Her parents exchanged worried glances.
"Come now, dear, be reasonable –"
"No! I won't – you can't do this to me! You –" But Astrid could no longer find the words to express her feelings.
Turning away in shock and anger, she could only vaguely hear her mother's pleading voice.
"Astrid, please, think about us! Your parents! This marriage will bring us into a better standing within the village –"
"How?" Astrid snorted, fighting to keep her rage in check. "The Jorgensons are no better off than anyone else –"
"But they will be once the son is named chief!"
"What?" Astrid whispered. "What did you say?" If the previous piece of news had seemed bad...but she knew perfectly well that that what she had heard was true.
And from Snotlout as well.
"Well, you'd better start trying to like me a little better, or things might get a whole lot tougher soon." His voice rang in her ears, mocking her, taunting her.
"How," Astrid began with fury, "can you stand there saying that this wedding will bring stability back into the village, when Stoick has named Snotlout Jorgenson as his successor? HOW? He has the brains and common sense of a –"
"Astrid that's enough!" Gunnar spoke commandingly, and his daughter fell silent, though still seething.
It was something of a cardinal sin amongst Vikings to insult another member of one's own tribe without doing so directly to their face and accepting the consequences.
"Please don't think," her father said, choosing his words carefully, "that we did not consider you in our decision. Perhaps..." He was clearly thinking fast. "Perhaps this marriage to Snotlout will help you find some inner peace–"
"What?" Astrid was beside herself, partially with amazement, but mostly with unbelieving anger. "Do you know anything, ANYTHING about that...boy?" It was becoming increasingly difficult not to seriously insult the other party.
"Have either of you EVER spoken to him, held ANY kind of conversation with him, or even talked about him with his parents?" But as her mother opened her mouth to retort, Astrid made a split second decision.
"You know what? I'm done here! You've obviously made this decision without giving any consideration to what your own daughter wants, so why bother trying to justify it?" And with that said and done, she stormed out of the house, leaving two very emotionally distraught parents exchanging fearful glances.
Having no idea how she got there, the young woman suddenly found herself standing in the middle of the forest out at Raven's Point.
A gale of frantic thoughts and emotions had driven her from the village of Berk, and sent her deep into the wild woods to the west.
Vague and indistinct images and noises flitted through her mind: a number of villagers staring at her enraged face with curiosity and worry, Tuffnut's questioning voice trying to get her attention, and Gobber's unusually tired expression and casual remarks at her removal of a small battleaxe from the forge on her way out.
Thankfully, the basic Viking instinct of self-preservation had not been extinguished in her fury, and Astrid knew that it would be insane to venture any small distance from the village without a weapon of some kind on her; dragons could strike at any time...
It was starting the get late.
Having been walking for what seemed like an age, she suddenly found herself at the edge of a large cleft in the ground, roughly elliptical in shape.
And terrifyingly familiar...
Climbing slowly down into the clearing, Astrid looked sadly around at the small heaps of slush partially covering the shrubs and bushes surrounding the lake in the centre.
This was the place...this was the place from which he had made good his escape.
Almost seven years later, she could still recognise the pile of rocks down which she had tumbled in pursuit of the boy, and the numerous hunks and chunks of broken and splintered wood which marked the many attempts at flight which the boy and his dragon had made...
Overwhelmed by a huge surge of emotions, Astrid knelt down in the wet grass, her head in her hands, and wept for her mistakes as the afternoon sun dipped majestically behind the billowing grey clouds.
The decision was made.
I'm thinking I'll stick with upload rate of every second Sunday.
Just briefly, I would like to mention that ChoFrog19 is proofing each chatper before it appears, so don't be surprised if the writing is of significantly higher quality than Part 1.
Two weeks people!