Spring had returned to the land of DunBroch. The grey winter had been a bitter one, wet and cold enough to make reconstruction difficult. It was the sawing of wood and the shouting of workers that woke Merida in her new room in Bran's tower, which had miraculously survived the impact of Mor'du's demise. She had taken the room that had previously been used for storage because it gave her a view of the deep green loch below.
The sun was not far above the horizon when Merida sat straight up in bed, a smile already spreading across her face. She had few reasons to be glad anymore, so she leapt on them like a starving beggar whenever they presented themselves. And today promised to be something to remember.
She was dressed in a flurry, armed with her bow and quiver before she leapt down the spiral stairs to the tower's lower floor. It was there that her brothers stayed to be close to her, since their own rooms had been destroyed. They were long gone by the time she ran through, but she had little concern to spare as to their whereabouts. They would turn up eventually.
The courtyard was a flurry of activity, as it had been since the weather broke. The men of the village were working hard to restore Castle DunBroch to its former glory, rebuilding rooms that had been lost in the fight and repairing ones that had been damaged. Knowing that she would do nothing but get in the way, Merida carefully skirted the construction crews and darted into the tents that served as their temporary kitchen until a new one could be made. As subtly as she could, she filled a small lidded basket with smoked fish, sausage, and an apple. She'd need it today.
She jogged back across the yard to the stables, careful to stay out of her father's sight. Angus tossed his head at the sight of her, knocking his hooves restlessly against the door to his stall. She produced the apple and rubbed his nose soothingly.
"Sorry lad, but ye can't come out with me, not today." He was not pleased and turned his nose up at her offering. "I'll make it up to you tomorrow, I promise."
Well, he could live with that. He took the apple, and she was out the door, through the gate, and sprinting through the village so fast it was as if she had wings. She ran through the fields beyond the castle walls, where new grass was just beginning to grow. The forest rose up before her, ancient trees interspersed with new growth. Entire acres had begun to rise up out of the ashes, lending Merida a hope that she had almost thought impossible.
Figures waited for her at the edge of the wood. They were not exactly treated with hostility by the people of DunBroch, but the riders of Berk had learned to keep their distance. It would take time to win the Scots' trust, even if their princess welcomed them wholeheartedly.
Hiccup smiled softly as Merida reached the top of the hill, panting and leaning on her knees to catch her breath. Toothless pressed forward from behind him, tempted by the smell of the fish. But even more vocal beside them was Stormfly, the Deadly Nadder that Merida had met not many weeks before. She screeched and shoved her rider aside unceremoniously to get at the fish, making Merida flinch.
"Stormfly, behave yourself." Luckily, the dragon's rider was not too cautious to shove right back. Astrid scowled at her Nadder, who chirped somewhat apologetically.
"It's alright. I brought enough for everyone." Merida reached into her basket, handing off a pair of fish to the dragons before wiping her hands on her dress. "So, where do we go?"
Hiccup shrugged, a familiar, leather-bound book under one arm. "I don't know, Merida. This is your day. You lead the way."
Spring had brought more than warmer weather to DunBroch. Beinn Mor had been stilled, the forests had recovered, and something else had begun to return to the Isle of Mull:
None so big as Mor'du had been, of course. They were small, fleeting creatures that had evaded and confused the people of DunBroch at first. It was easy to claim that they were fairy folk come to restore order now that the cruel, dark dragon had gone. This relationship fascinated Hiccup, much to Merida's irritation. He was firmly of the school that the myths of her people could be explained by mistaken dragon sightings, though he'd witnessed astonishing miracles like the Bean Nighe and wisps for himself. He always brought his sketchbook and the Book of Dragons along on his visits, arguing with Merida about the natural order and Old Ways. Astrid had appointed herself mediator, not caring who was right but able to their skulls together hard enough to make them both shut up.
One thing they could agree on was that the dragons of Mull were often small and skittish. Though they were free-roaming in the forests, they did not come near human settlements if they could help it. That saved the people of DunBroch the grief of defending their livestock from bigger breeds, like Monstrous Nightmares and Gronkles. But it also made dragons harder to study-and catch.
Merida grinned, masking her apprehension as she marched into the forest. The two humans followed, their dragons curling up to catnap in the sun.
One thing that they immediately noticed was the hush of the wood; in winter, the trees had been leafless and as dead as death, with only the crunch of snow to signal life. Now, birds called and wildlife hustled just out of sight. The moss, twigs, and leaves gave deliciously underfoot, and Merida inhaled as deeply as she could. It felt good to be away from the castle. It felt good to be alive again.
Their path veered eastward, toward the heart of the hills, where the worst damage had been done during Mor'du's rampage. They passed several standing stones, those sentinels observing their passage like wise guardians. Their presence comforted Merida some, though Astrid gave them a cautious distance. Time did not seem to pass as they walked, hypnotized by the peace of the world around them.
Suddenly, Merida raised a hand, stilling her companions. Astrid instinctively reached for the axe she had left behind, then balled her hands into fists. Hiccup, however, tiptoed carefully forward.
"What is it?"
"Through there," Merida explained, gesturing in front of them. The trees parted to an area of emptiness that had been burnt that previous year, but was now home to a riot of grasses and vines. The remains of a lone tree stood at its center, dead and burnt out but a host to several mosses that had taken advantage of its hollow trunk. A small flock of dragons had also made their home there, and it was those creatures that the princess was after.
The three teenagers crouched and approached the meadow slowly. Hiccup had eyes only for the tree stump, waddling awkwardly as he hugged the Book of Dragons close to his chest. Astrid too could only stare out at the open ground, though her stance was more defensive. She was always prepared for a fight. Merida was all nerves, afraid to embarrass herself and fail in this mission in front of her new friends.
They waited patiently where the forest's shadow was deepest, looking out into the bright-lit grasses, using all the practice they had gained as dedicated hunters. When the sun had inched past its noontime high, they were rewarded with a hint of motion, a clattering inside the stump. A small head peeked out from the top, then retreated; but it returned shortly after, followed by a half a dozen more.
They were barely hatchlings, with heads and eyes far too big for their bodies. They were soon joined by their parents, a mating pair barely bigger than Terrors, and the lesser individuals that also belonged to their flock. Those soon spread their wings-barely wider than the lengths of their bodies-and glided away from the tree to hunt. They were a species that Hiccup had seen before, farther north, and he signaled Merida to exercise caution. Poison Darters. And they had done well to earn the name.
She was the only one of the trio that dared to move out of their hiding spot and into the light an hour later. The hatchlings had mostly fallen to the ground by then, doing their best to learn how to glide, but their wings were far too small. Their parents chirped encouragingly as they groomed themselves and napped.
Astrid had to give Merida credit; for a girl that had barely acknowledged the presence of dragons her entire life, at least the redhead could listen to advice and exercise the proper precautions. She moved the basket from her shoulder to her arm, opening it to let the aroma of fish and sausages emanate forward, masking her human scent. She shuffled awkwardly on her knees into the grass and waited for the dragons to notice her presence.
They did so immediately. The adults stiffened, their nostrils flaring as they took in her smell on the breeze. After several silent moments, they chirped and nickered to each other, obviously discussing the best course of action to take. Merida stood still, no matter how badly her knees ached.
One of the adult Darters took it on itself to approach first. A lone branch on the trunk served as their perch, and he glided from it to a space in front of Merida, but several feet away. Its tongue peeked out, a bright pink against the green of its scales, its tiny chest heaving rapidly as it breathed. Painfully slowly, Merida reached into her basket of fish and pulled out a specimen almost as large as the Darter itself. She tossed it over, startling the critter into a hiss, but its hunger won out. The second joined it, and as they dug in, they seemed to determine her less than a threat.
At that signal, their younglings rushed forth in a rush to rival the triplets' run for forbidden sweets. Fairly experienced in such an area, Merida quickly upended her basket, allowing the little Darters to throw themselves into the pile of food instead of attacking her for it. But she snatched a small fish from the lot, holding it in her hands and waiting for one of the hatchlings to take notice. It did not take long as one, the largest of the lot, grew bored of bullying its siblings and approached her with the same slow steps its parents had.
Merida was like a stone, the fish cupped in her hand as the infant Darter wuffled against her fingers. She was not too surprised by the warm, yet pebbly texture of its snout, since she had spent time with both Toothless and Stormfly. When it crawled into the palm of her hand, it took all of her self restraint not to stand up and shout her victory-that would certainly ruin it all. But it crawled into her hands and devoured the fish, bones and all, before curling up to sleep. Stiff and aching, Merida stood, sending the rest of the flock scattering to their tree.
Looking up, she was surprised to see the sun already sinking toward the horizon. She hadn't believed she could ever be so patient. But she returned to Astrid and Hiccup, who were both standing, eager to congratulate her on taming her first dragon. The little Darter slept through all the back-clapping and admiration, even when Merida slipped it into her basket for the journey home.
AN: Well thank goodness that's over. I have ideas for a sequel but I dunno if I'll follow up. Maybe if I get a Beta that can kick my ass into gear. The Poison Darters I got from the HTTYD wiki, they seem like the kind of dragon Merida could form a bond with. As for Mor'du, I based him off of the Gorghenghast.
Thanks for the support, anybody and everybody. I loved all of your reviews, especially the ones who told me I made them cry. And a special shout out to Maggie296 who's gifset actually got my inspiration going again so I could finish this hot mess. (it's linked on my profile and you should go look at it okay.)