The Dragon and the Bow
Prologue: History Lesson
Somewhere upon the open ocean,
Waves crested and crashed together as the wind howled over the vast blue expanses of the Northern Sea. Cutting through the icy waters was a small fleet of longships, their hard wooden frames impervious to the lapping salt water. Wind pushed against their massive sails while dozens of oars rowed rhythmically through the sea.
Within the belly of one of the larger longships, a young boy sat, curled up in a corner, wrapped in a brown, fur-lined blanket. He had short, dark red hair and icy blue eyes, which were closed as he tried to ease his turbulent stomach, holding his knees to his chest.
He did not move as the sound of someone approaching him reached his ears. The person was large and heavy, their footsteps booming against the wooden planks that groaned while trying to support the person's weight. As the person neared, the boy could hear the sound of wood knocking against wood every other step.
"Havnae got yer sea legs yet, eh laddie?" a masculine voice asked with a hearty laugh.
The boy simply shook his head in reply.
"Aye, Ah remember ma first time on a ship" the man laughed again as he sat down next to the boy, the wood straining under his weight, "Turned sae green ma farther thought Ah had turned intae an ogre!"
The boy chuckled in reply.
"What did you do, Granda?" the boy asked meekly.
"Well, Ah went doon intae th' hold, much like ye, an' then curled intae a ball, much like ye," the man continued, another chuckle escaping his lips, "An' then ma granda stumbled upon me, an' he told me a story tae distract me from th' rockin' o' th' ship."
"Can you tell me a story, Granda?" the boy requested.
"Whit dae ye think Ah came doon here for?" the man asked, "Whit kind o' story wud ye like tae hear?"
The boy merely shrugged.
"Well, Ah've got a story 'at Ah'd like tae tell ye," the man stated with another laugh, "It's a story o' grand adventure an' heroic bravery, unintended romance an' unexpected friendship, a tale aboot peace an' war."
The boy slowly turned his head to peaek an eye at the older man.
"Aye, Ah thought 'at'd grab yer attention," the man surmised with a chuckle, "Sae, wud ya like tae hear it?"
The boy nodded in reply.
"'At's whit Ah like tae hear," the man grinned, "First though, in order tae tell ye this story, Ah hae tae give ye a wee history lesson."
The boy lifted his head up completely, his full attention on the older man.
"Ye see, way back when th' Old Empire fell, th' world plunged intae chaos," the man explained, dropping his voice low and waving his hands about for emphasis, "Kingdoms rose an' feel like waves on th' sea, dozens o' kings and chiefs whose names are lost tae history. It was durin' this time, in th' wintery wastes o' th' Norselands, 'at a man rose tae prominence an' united th' warin' tribes o' Vikin's intae a single kingdom. They gave him th' title o' jarl an' he ruled th' warrior folk with honor, as did his son, an' his son after 'at."
"They ruled fer generations an' th' Norsemen knew peace," the man explained his voice dropping as he leaned closer to the boy, "Until th' dragons came."
"Great beasts o' every size an' shape, leavin' death an' devastation in their wake," the man explained, "Ne'er afore had dragons been seen in such great numbers an' with such great fury. Th' Vikin's were unprepared fer such an attack, only havin' dealt with lone dragons afore. Th' Vikin's had nae idea why they were bein' beset by such a ferocious assault. Until th' Red Death came."
"The Red Death?" the boy asked, his eyes wide with wonder, "What's that?"
"Th' most fearsome dragon 'at ever lived," the man replied ominously, "As big as a mountain an' as tough as ane too, its rocky scales impervious tae even th' sharpest swords an' th' heaviest hammers. Its wingspan massive enough 'at it cud turn day intae night an' kick up windstorms with a single flutter! Its mouth was as cavernous as a mineshaft an' contained row upon row o' massive, razor sharp teeth! It had four legs thick as tree trunks, ended in claws 'at cud slice a man in twain, armor an' all, an' a massive tail 'at ended in a spiked club 'at cud crush buildin's tae dust!"
The boy gasped, his eyes widening in fear.
"An' then there was its breath, a fiery. amber maelstrom o' death 'at cud turn a man tae cinders in an' instant!" the man continued, throwing his hands into the air dramatically, "This great beast drove th' other dragons afore it like cattle, set on destroyin' th' Vikin's in a stampede o' blood an' brimstone."
"Why?" the boy asked.
"Eh?" the man questioned.
"Why did the Red Death want to destroy the Vikings?" the boy asked, looking up at the man for answers.
"Nae ane was ever sure why th' Red Death attacked," the man explained, "Some believe 'at th' dragon jist had an appetite fer destruction, an' it needed tae be slated. Some believe 'at afore th' first jarl came along, th' Vikin's sacrificed tae th' Red Death like it was a god, an' 'at it was angry at th' jarl fer endin' th' practice. Some believe 'at th' first jarl had stolen some great treasure from th' Red Death, like gold or jewels. Others believed 'at it was a woman 'at th' jarl had taken from th' dragon, specifically its wife."
"It's wife?" the boy asked, "Like a girl dragon?"
"Nae, like a woman," the man replied, "It's said th' Red Death took a woman as its wife after she was brought tae th' dragon as a sacrifice but convinced it tae let her live instead."
"Do you think the jarl took the Red Death's wife, Granda?" the boy asked.
"Ah daenae rightly know," the man replied with a shrug, "Whit is important is 'at th' Red Death an' its horde o' dragons scorched th' Norselands until they reached th' capital city where th' current jarl lived. They say 'at there was a great battle, but in th' end, th' jarl was killed, his kingdom burnt tae ashes an' th' Vikin's scattered tae th' four winds."
"What happened to the Vikings?" the boy asked.
"They reformed their auld tribes, an' took tae warrin' wi' each other again, as well as fightin' with neighborin' kingdoms. Most importantly, nae too long ago, there was a war between th' Vikin' tribe o' Berk an' th' Highland clans," the man explained, his eyes dimming in memory, "It was a bloody affair, an' there was much lost on both sides, but in th' end, th' Vikin's were defeated an' retreated tae their island home while th' four Highland clans united under th' single banner o' Clan Dunbroch. There wasnae tae be any peace though."
"What happened, Granda?" the boy asked.
"There came a new enemy, ane 'at clashed wi' every kingdom upon th' Northern Sea. They were called th' Vendal, an' between them an' th' swarms o' dragons hauntin' th' skies, th' Northlands knew no peace."
"Who are the Vendal?" the boy asked.
"Whit are they would be more appropriate, Ah think," the man replied, "More beast 'en men they were, livin' in caves an' fightin' like mad animals. Some even claimed they ate those they killed. Worst o' aw though was their leader."
"Who was their leader?" the boy questioned.
"A monster o' a man," the man replied solemnly, his eyes clouded with thought, "They called him Mor'du, th' Demon Bear."
"What did he look like?" the boy asked, though he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Ah'll tell ye, because Ah saw him," the man said, looking at the boy intensely, "An' it was saemethin' Ah will nae soon ferget."
As his grandfather began the tale, the boy closed his eyes again, feeling himself being pulled into the story. No longer did he feel the rocking of the boat or hear the creaking of the wood. He had been pulled away from that. Instead he heard the whistling of a winter wind across the Highland hills and felt the cold blast of late winter snow on his face.
High upon a cliffside, overlooking a lake, was a large castle, its walls and towers made out of brown stone blocks. People came and went among the walls and the keep, traveling across the stone bridge that gapped the moat surrounding the structure. A light snow fell upon the castle, caking it and the surrounding forest in white while the lake was cast in a dark blue.
Moving about the bustling people as naturally as a fish through water, was a girl no older than fifteen. She had a wild mane of bright, curly red hair that if straight would have most likely touched the ground, but instead stuck out in every direction. She had a slim build, fair skin dotted with freckles and icy blue eyes. She wore a dark blue dress with white trim along with a black cloak and leather riding boots. A quiver filled with white fletched arrows was strapped to her hip by a leather belt while a wooden recurve bow was slung around her shoulder.
She moved through the crowd before entering the castle through a pair of wooden doors. She paused to shiver off the cold as she shook the snow from her hair and stomped the mud from her boots before making her way through the stone hallways, her way lit by torches set in scones along the walls.
Eventually, she came to another set of large doors from which the sound of muffled voices could be heard through. Entering, she found herself in a large two-storied meeting chamber. At the center of the room was a large wooden table, on which dozen of plates filled with delicious looking food sat. Above, a wooden chandelier hung from the stone ceiling while two sets of wooden stairs flanked the entrance she came in through. Against the opposite wall were six stone thrones of various sizes which sat facing the door.
At the table, five people had gathered. At the head of the table, facing the door, was a large middle-aged man. He had wild red hair like the girl's, though his had begun to grey with age and was held in check by the iron cap he wore. He also sported a trimmed goatee and a massive mustache that stuck out perpendicular to his nose. He had icy blue eyes that peeked out from underneath his massive eyebrows. He wore brown leather and grey chainmail armor over his large frame, over which he wore a green and grey tartan held up by a large brown leather belt. He wore brown leather bracers and a black bearskin cape hung around his shoulder. His right foot was covered in a brown leather, fur-trimmed boot while his left was replaced with a knotted wooden peg leg.
Next to him sat a woman about the same age as him, looking over some letters. She had very long brown grey-streaked hair that almost touched the ground, tied back in two braids, and woven with golden colored thread that kept it out of her brown eyes. She wore a green and black colored dress with gold trim and billowing sleeves over her fair, slim frame along with cloth slippers on her feet. Around her waist hung a belt of interlocking gold circles and on her head sat a golden tiara imbedded with an emerald.
Next to her sat three young boys, each identical to the others. They had fair skin with rosy cheeks, curly red hair and bright blue eyes. They wore the same green and grey tartan robes held up by large brown leather belts. They also had identical brown leather shoes on their feet.
As the girl entered, she saw that the man was in the middle of telling a story, which none of the others seemed particularly interested in.
"He stood twelve feet tall, a claymore in ane hand an' a war axe in th' other," the man said as the girl snuck in, apparently unseen by all, "He wears th' hide o' a massive black bear as a trophy, its hide littered with th' weapons o' fallen warriors."
"His bodied is marred by thousands o' battles," the man continued, not noticing one of the boys had fallen asleep, another was picking at his food in boredom and the third was perfectly lip-synching with the man's tale, "His face scarred with ane deid eye! Ah drew ma sword and-!"
"Slash!" the girl shouted, jumping in between the boys and startling them, "Da's leg was clean off!"
"Aw," the man groaned, looking disappointed, "'At's ma favorite part, Merida."
"Sorry, Da," she giggled as she sat down at the empty seat at the table, "But we've heard th' story o' Mor'du an' his Vendal hordes invadin' a thousand times before."
"Well, 'at's because it's ma favorite story," her father explained, "And ane day, Ah'll pay 'at savage back fer whit he did tae me with interest, isnae 'at right, Elinor?"
"O' course ye will, Fergus," the woman replied, not looking up from her letters.
Merida giggled again as she slung her bow off from her shoulder and placed it on the table while reaching for a plate to serve herself dinner.
"A lady daes nae place weapons on th' table," Elinor chided, still not looking up from her letters.
"Ma!" Merida groaned, rolling her eyes as she dejectedly took her bow off the table and leaned it against her chair.
"In ma opinion, a lady shud nae hae weapons at all," Elinor continued, glancing at Merida as she glared at her.
"Let her hae her fun," Fergus replied with a chuckle, "She's just a lass after all."
"She wonae be a lass ferever though," Elinor replied as she picked up another letter and opened it. She looked at it in confusion for a few moments before her eyes widened in surprise and she began to read it intently, holding the parchment with two hands.
"Fergus," she said harshly, catching her husband's attention just as he was about to bite into a leg of lamb, "look at this!"
Fergus took the letter and quickly read it over, a look of surprise on his face.
"He agreed tae th' terms?" Fergus asked.
"This was his idea," Elinor replied.
"Still, Ah didnae think he'd accept all th' terms," Fergus stated.
"These are tryin' times," Elinor said, "He's got few friends an' many enemies. Ah'm sure he'd like tae reverse 'at."
"He doesnae hae any friends," Fergus stated matter-of-factly.
"Exactly," Elinor replied.
"Ah'm still nae sure aboot this," Fergus stated, glancing over at Merida who was busily devouring a sweet roll, "Ye know she's nae gaein'' tae like this."
"Trust me, Ah know," Elinor sighed, "But there comes a time in everyane's life where they hae tae accept their fate. Especially when th' fate o' two peoples hangs in th' balance."
"Alright," Fergus sighed in defeat as he nodded his head, "Shud we tell her now?"
"Tell me whit?" Merida asked, looking up from her dinner in confusion.
"Looks like 'at answers th' question," Fergus mumbled, "Boys, why dinnae ye wait outside while we talk tae yer sister."
"Actually," Elinor interjected, "Ah think it will be better fer them tae hear it now instead o' later."
"Alright," Fergus said solemnly as the four siblings looked at each other in confusion.
"We hae just received a letter from Stoick th' Vast," Fergus began, holding up the letter in questioned.
"Dae ye know who 'at is, Merida?" Elinor asked.
"He's th' chieftain o' th' Berk Vikin's," Merida replied, confused, "Th' anes 'at invaded when Ah was a wee lass. Whit daes he want?"
"He wants peace between our peoples," Fergus explained, "an' an alliance."
"An alliance?" Merida questioned, her heart dropping as she realized where this was headed.
"Yes," Elinor replied, "An alliance 'at must be sealed with a marriage."
"M-Marriage?" Merida mumbled in shock as her brothers looked at their parents in surprise.
"Stoick has a son yer age," Elinor continued, "From whit Ah understand, he's a very nice boy."
"Ah dinnae care if he's a nice boy!" Merida shouted, suddenly exploding with anger, rising from her chair and knocking it to the ground "Ah'm nae gaein' tae be some…some…Vikin''s whore!"
"Merida!" Elinor admonished, rising as well.
"I wonae dae it! Ye cannae make me!" Merida shriek, glaring at her mother.
"Merida, be reasonable," Fergus pleaded.
"Reasonable!?" Merida exclaimed, "Ye want me tae be reasonable!? Reasonable isnae marryin' yer only daughter off tae a complete stranger, tae th' son o' ane o' yer worst enemies! Ah'm nae some game piece ye can use as ye wish! Ah'm nae givin' up ma freedom fer some deal ye struck with some savage!"
"Dae ye understand whit's at stake here!?" Elinor exclaimed, her fury rising, "Dae ye know th' price yer freedom will cost!? Ye will dae this an' 'at's final!"
Merida tried desperately to find something to say, something biting to counter her mother's argument. Instead all she found was sorrow as she burst into tears. Sobbing, she turned and ran from the room, slamming the doors behind her.
"We cudae handled 'at better," Fergus commented, slouching in his seat.
"Ah know," Elinor sighed, sitting back in her chair as well, "She's just so…stubborn."
"Sounds like someane else Ah know," Fergus commented, earning a glare from his wife.
"Ah'm nae 'at stubborn," Elinor shot back. Fergus chose not to comment, instead focusing his attention on the three frightened boys staring at them.
"Is Merida…really gaein' away?" one of them asked.
"Ah'm afraid sae, Hamish," Elinor said, reaching down and pulling the young boy into her lap, "She's gaein' tae gae live with th' Vikin's."
"Why?" another asked, crawling into her lap as well.
"Well Harris, it's sae 'at both our people an' theirs can see 'at we are united as friends," Elinor explained.
"Whit if we daenae like him?" the third questioned, hanging onto the chair's armrest.
"Well then Hubert, Ah suppose ye will hae tae deal with him," Elinor replied, a small smile tugging at her lips.
"Whit if they daenae like her?" Hamish asked.
"Then they will hae tae answer tae me," Elinor replied simply, a full smile on her face.
Meanwhile, up in her room, Merida lay facedown in her bed, sobbing into her pillow and cursing her fate along with every Viking who had ever lived.
A/N: So after giving it the barest of hints at the end of Heaven's Light seemed like a lot of people wanted me to write a Brave/How to Train Your Dragon crossover. So here it is! I hope you guys enjoy it, as you may have been able to tell, I'm going with a bit of a different take on some elements of the stories, tell me what you think! Please review!