I'm really sorry about the long wait, people. I'm having a kind of rough time with life in general right now, but most of all, I've just been having trouble getting motivated to right. The first three quarters of this chapter came out in a single sitting weeks ago, and since then I've just been all bleagh about it. However, here it is!
So, a huge banquet has been held the previous night, an event to comemmorate the unification of Vikings and Dragons. Hiccup was reinstated as heir to the chieftain's throne, but the boy was still having reservations, until an unexpected turn of events saw him spending a night with Astrid. In the morning, Hiccup makes breakfast, finishes crafting his (well, I haven't really decided what it is, but I'm leaning towards a guitar-esque instrument), and Astrid and the rest of the gang pile in for porridge.
Ruffnut, however, is giving Astrid dirty looks, and the latter is not happy about this.
Chapter Eight: Suspicions
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Don't play ignorant, Astrid, I know exactly what's going on –"
"Do you? Do you really? Well, seeing as I am so utterly clueless as to the events of my own life, why explain it to me?"
Ruffnut looked for all the world like she were about to hit Astrid, and the latter clenched her fists in anticipation.
The twin's eyes narrowed, but then she turned away with a sigh.
Astrid relaxed her guard, but her confusion was now greater than ever.
What exactly was –?
And there it was – plain and obvious.
How could she have not noticed this before?
All those charming smiles, the attempts to impress, even the simple act of seeking his attention...they all had one meaning.
Ruffnut also had feelings for Hiccup.
Astrid was stuck, completely frozen to the ground outside the chief's house.
What...what should she do?
What could she do?
How does one react to this kind of revelation in a way that maintains harmony and does not cause a simple conversation to devolve into an anarchic verbal (and perhaps even physical) brawl?
Thankfully, it was Ruffnut who made the next move.
She turned back to Astrid, and the latter was shocked to see a look of sad hopelessness upon the twin's face.
"Let's go for a walk..." she said quietly, and Astrid nodded.
"...so that's it? You're just gonna – but what about your parents? What about the deal with Snotlout's family?" Astrid shook her head sadly.
"I don't know. But..." she paused to look up at a consoling Ruffnut. "Things will work themselves out – one way or another..."
The pair stopped, right outside the chief's house, right where their little stroll had begun.
Their walk had taken them in a loop all around the quiet village, and in that time an apologetic Astrid had explained everything to a solemn but understanding Ruffnut.
"They always do." So they seemed to. "We'll be fine." Ruffnut wasn't convinced.
"But the deal –"
"Look," sighed Astrid, "the whole idea with that deal was that it was supposed to bring my family more power, as Snotlout was going to be chief." She could hardly believed that that had happened only a few months ago.
"And now that Hiccup's retaken that right, I guess my parents won't have a reason to force me into it anymore." Ruffnut nodded slowly. "Hey," said Astrid with a slight chuckle, "you can keep Snotlout, if you like –"
"Not funny!" yelped the horrified twin, and she gave Astrid a hard knock on the shoulder. "Don't ever mention that again!"
"Haha, alright, I won't!"
"Look," Ruffnut began, still a little concerned, "how are you going to break this to Snotlout?"
"It'll be fine," Astrid stated simply. "Fine."
She was finally starting to feel happier again, when a pair of dark shapes caught the corner of her eye, both moving slowly towards the Vikings.
Two dragons, to be precise, and both quite familiar; Toothless and Spineless.
The young woman chuckled to herself at the de-boned names of these two lithe reptiles.
"Um, Astrid, I'll see you later..."
"What? Where are you going –?"
Astrid turned to see Ruffnut already racing off towards the centre of the village, almost as though she were frightened of something...
Upon turning back to look at the dragons, the blonde discovered exactly why.
Toothless, who, moments ago, had been padding along with less vigour than a Hairy Hooligan with hay fever, was now bearing down upon Astrid with terrific speed.
"Toothless, what –"
The black dragon, however, did not stop, or even slow down, and only seconds later, he collided with the Viking woman, knocking her to the ground and placing a heavy claw upon her chest.
His face was only a foot from hers.
However, it was not the aggressive charge or violent crash into the cold, dewy grass that gave Astrid cause for concern, but rather the deep, almost inaudible, rumbling growl coming from the Night Fury.
"You smell like him." For a moment, confusion dominated the Viking's mind.
Smell like him –?
Then it clicked.
Of course she smelled like him.
Astrid stared up into Toothless' great, green eyes – there was anger there.
So much anger...but behind the rage was nothing but –
Her back aching and her vision swimming, the young woman tried to concentrate.
"Why?" Toothless' voice tore exploded into her mind and tore through her very thoughts.
"I don't...Toothless, I don't know what you –"
"Don't lie!" The Night Fury's claw pressed her harder into the ground, and a slight pain began to grown in Astrid's ribs. "What did you do?"
"Argh, Toothless, get – get off, please –"
A sudden flash of blue blurred Astrid's vision, and a moment later the pressure was gone, the sky above her visible again.
Coughing with the receding pain, the blond Viking rolled to one side and blinked several times.
There, on the wet, morning grass by the chieftain's house, stood the two dragons, facing each other with lowered heads and outspread wings.
This was obviously the dragon equivalent of a challenge.
Spineless stomped several times with great, leathery claws, while Toothless growled and raked the grass with his own savage talons, leaving dark furrows in the clean meadow.
The Deadly Nadder stood directly between the Night Fury and Astrid.
Spineless was defending her.
Wiping the last of the tears from her eyes, Astrid staggered to her feet, throwing up her arms in desperation.
"No no no, don't fight, please don't fight –"
Suddenly, without any warning at all, Toothless rapidly furled his wings, turned tail, and galloped away up the slope behind the village.
Moments later, he had vanished into the tree line, leaving a confused Astrid standing wet and shivering in the morning mist.
Though she was not alone.
Spineless quickly turned around and plodded over to kneel down beside Astrid, and circled her tail around to support the young woman.
Now seated comfortably upon the blue dragon's back, she blinked several times, trying to take in the sudden salvo of events by which she had just been struck.
Toothless' charge, his enraged growl, the accusing question, and the imposing standoff between the two giant reptiles.
Astrid pictured the enormous pairs of unfurled wings, the imposing stance adopted in challenge, the aggressive stomping and claw-raking, and the rumbling growls, and shuddered.
Viking challenges were nowhere near as frightening...
"Astrid, are you alright?" Even though she had been expecting the communication at any moment, the quiet voice still surprised the young woman, and she jumped.
"I'm –" Astrid stopped.
She wanted to say 'fine', but that just wouldn't be true.
The Night Fury's question was finally starting to sink into her conscience.
Why did she smell like Hiccup?
Simple, she and Hiccup had –
"I'm a bit queasy, but I'll be alright." Astrid shivered again, and turned to look directly at her Nadder, who had now lay down to be on the same level as her rider. "That was...a little scary."
"Well, Toothless was hurting you." The blond Viking felt a great rush of love for her dragon friend.
"I was hardly going to sit back and watch him rip you to pieces. But as far as confrontations between dragons go, that was rather tame." Astrid chuckled, but a moment later, her amusement was cut off by the one question she had hoped not to be asked.
Of course, it was inevitable.
"Why did Toothless attack you?"
Astrid was about to answer – though she wasn't sure what was to be said – but Spineless suddenly moved her snout right up to Astrid's body, and sniffed several times, quite audibly.
Concealing the truth from a Night Fury with whom she had only a weak bond was one thing, but doing the same with her own, caring and loving dragon companion was something else entirely – and, if it came down to it, the young woman did not believe she had the strength lie to someone so close to heart.
"You smell very strongly of..." Spineless took another deep breath through her nostrils. "Hiccup," the blue dragon concluded after a moments contemplation. "What have you been doing...?" Astrid sighed.
"I think you can probably guess," she spoke quietly, and the Nadder cocked her head to one side.
"Tell me." This, the Viking woman had not expected.
"Well," she began uncertainly, "I...we...I spent the night with him last night, and...well, things happened."
"Did you mate?" Spineless asked brusquely.
Astrid nodded silently, her head lowered.
She wasn't even sure why she was so worried.
"Hm. I now understand Toothless' anger."
"What?" Astrid blurted out, somewhat affronted. She had at least expected her Nadder to take her side to the entirety in the conflict. "How can you say that, given what he –"
"I said that I understood his anger, not that I thought it at all justified."
Silence reigned for a good minute, during which time Astrid's swirling thoughts began to gather themselves into organised bunches and order themselves in such a fashion as to be comprehensive to the last.
Her violent encounter with the dragon she had considered a great friend had blasted her with bewilderment, but it had also caused her to rethink what was happening around and within her, and had opened her mind to the potential consequences of her actions.
"What are you going to do about it?" The bluntness of the question raised Astrid's confusion even higher.
Why did everything seem to hinge upon her course of action regarding herself and Hiccup?
"I don't know yet," she replied strongly, adding "but I do know that my parents aren't immune to highly emotional forms of persuasion."
Spineless let out a throaty chuckle.
Naturally, the young woman had explained her marital issue to her dragon companion, and the Nadder had sounded about as pleased as her rider about the whole situation.
"Well, I'd like to give you advice, but...we dragons hardly have an equivalent situation, so I can't exactly speak from experience, or even tell you tales of similar occurrences. Besides, I'm sure you know what's best for everyone in the long run. Don't sell yourself short, Astrid, you're definitely one of the more intelligent Vikings –"
Astrid, however, had stopped listening at the mention of dragons' love lives, a topic which she knew nothing about, yet had a bizarre interest in.
"Spineless," she said suddenly, cutting in over the dragon's flood of compliments, "how do dragons treat emotional relationships? I mean, surely you fall in love from time to time, right?"
"Well, this may sound somewhat odd –" Spineless paused for a second's thought, before continuing. "– But a dragon's feelings tend to be far more fleeting, the deeper and more powerful they are. Friendship between dragons – and, indeed, between dragons and humans – is a bond that is very rarely broken. Love, however, is most often experienced by dragons in a highly transitive fashion – such feelings rarely last longer than a day among our kind, which is usually just long enough to flirt - to 'break the ice' - and mate. There are exceptions from time to time, of course, but these are few and far between."
Astrid could only sit and think.
It seemed that, from this perspective, Vikings had something which most dragons could never truly experience.
Half an hour later, Astrid was still sitting outside the chieftain's house, albeit now upon the small, stone bench which had rested there so long, that many believed it had witnessed the arrival of the first Vikings around three hundred years ago.
Spineless had left to track down and soothe an angry Night Fury, and had taken with her the rest of the dragons from Astrid's group.
The young woman grimaced at the thought of the Toothless being squashed flat once again by at least three times his own weight in dragons.
The black dragon had to be pacified, though.
The sudden crunch of wood against stone brought the Viking's attention around to the door to Stoick's house.
A heavy-eyed Snotlout was attempting to make his way out of the house, but the door had become stuck on the stony path below its outward swing due to the large Vikings downward force upon it.
Astrid pushed herself to her feet, ready to assist the brutish boy, but was unable to help before the door swung wide and Snotlout staggered outside.
"Hey Astrid, what's going on?" His voice was remarkably clear for a dithering drunkard, thought Astrid with a moment's malice – then she remembered that she was trying to be nice to Snotlout, just as he was with her.
Anyway...a new reason to keep on the Jorgenson boy's good side had just emerged, one which far outstripped any form of petty Viking feud resolution in importance.
"Hey," replied the young woman quietly, shifting an errant strand of hair from her immediate sight, "nothing much – I just needed some fresh air." Snotlout gave her a curious look.
"Yeah." Astrid held his gaze with her own, adopting what she hoped was an innocent oblivious look.
Snotlout, however, appeared unfased.
"Then why are you so dirty? Those clothes weren't that muddy when you left the house..."
"Yes, because you were awake to see me walk out." Astrid couldn't help but keep the sarcasm out of the conversation.
If there was one thing she was learning from Hiccup, it was that the right attitude in the right situation could go a long way to keeping things straight and peaceful.
Although why she using such scathing retort, the Viking woman did not know.
"Hm," the brutish boy grunted, before turning to look down towards the village.
He appeared to be deep in thought, a state rarely observed in this beefy Viking.
Not really caring, Astrid asked "What's on your mind?" She simply wanted to keep things cordial between them.
The answer, however, was quite unexpected.
"Everything. The village, the dragons...you and Hiccup." He finished with a sly grin, laced with the faintest tinge of regret.
"Me and Hiccup..." the young woman murmured, staring at the ground in front of her.
"Yeah – it's actually kinda funny, Astrid, you should try and conceal it more. You and him both." Somewhat surprised, Astrid looked back up to hold the Viking boy's gaze.
"R-Really? It's...that obvious?" Snotlout nodded.
"And that's alright, you know. I've been thinking this over, and I think I've got it figured out. Do you want to know what I think, Astrid?" The tone of regret had vanished from his voice, leaving nothing but his amused guffaw.
Astrid nodded, returned his smile a little uncertainly.
"Basically, this is it. I don't really have any serious feelings for you. I mean, you're good looking, and a great fighter, and really, really smart, but...I still don't click with you. And I know you don't really think too much of me, which is fair enough, I guess." The brutish boy shrugged his shoulders casually.
"You and Hiccup, now, you're great. You obviously like each other a lot, and you're similar in a whole lot of ways, probably even more than you can see. You'd do far better than we would as a couple, this is so scarily obvious now. Imagine us, married, and leading the tribe! We'd hardly set a good standard for the other Vikings to follow, would we?" Astrid shook her head as though in a trance. Here was yet another side of Snotlout that she had never seen before.
"Now, Hiccup's just been reinstated as the chief's son, meaning he'll become chief after Stoick. Apparently they said as much in the big announcement last night, but I honestly wouldn't remember – I was...heavily into the beer by then. I remember that the point of getting us married was give your family better standing in the village, and to give me someone to help me rule, or so my parents told me. But...both of those ideas are now stupid, so what would be the point in continuing with this betrothal crap?"
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Astrid asked slowly, as the light of hope crept slowly over her darkened heart.
"Duh," replied Snotlout with a cheeky grin. "We just need to go to our respective parents and argue with them until they say we can marry whoever we want! Just use logic, right?"
"Since when do you use words like that?" asked Astrid in disbelief.
"Since I started hanging out with Hiccup more often," replied Snotlout in tones of mock offense.
"You should try it sometime – oh wait, you did! Last night – ouch!" Astrid gave him a hard knock to the shoulder.
"You know, you're a lot more observant than you look," the blond Viking spoke slowly, with what she hoped was a menacing glare. "Keep that to yourself, eh?"
"But of course!"
Guys, I can't give a timeline for the next update, sorry, as not a single word has been written for the next chapter. I know exactly what's going to happen, just not the details. It could be anywhere in the area from a week to a month, perhaps longer.