TITLE: Flying Through Mud
CHAPTER: Chapter Twenty-Two
WORDS: 3,126 words
DISCLAIMER: I do not own How to Train Your Dragon or any of its franchise.
BEFOREWORD: This chapter was fun to write. And also sorry that it's a little late. I tried to fix as many spelling/grammar mistakes as I could, so I apologize if I missed some. I tend to have a hard time with commas.
Anyway, please enjoy!
"There you are!"
Astrid stepped out of the carriage, breathing a sigh of relief. She was home. No more Tadfield Estate. No more awkward silences when she and Lord Haddock were alone. No more being used as entertainment for Lady Camicazi.
"How was it? Is the mansion as magnificent as they say?" Her mother exclaimed, bustling beside her as Astrid headed for the door. "Just imagine: you could be living there! Did you see the young master? Is he handsome? Just imagine… you could be his wife! Do you think he fell in love with you—"
"Mother!" Astrid snapped, her face turning red. "No, he did not! And we barely saw each other."
Her mother looked at her in disappointment before shaking her head and continued to rant on all her plans and dreams for her daughter.
Astrid swept into the house, ignoring her mother's calls and hurried to her room, locking the door behind her. She sighed. She was happy to be home. She enjoyed her stay at Tadfield Estate to be sure, and to be with Hiccup constantly throughout the day was more than enjoyable, but she was at ease, finally, for the first time in days. She no longer felt the need to duck behind corners every time she heard or saw Lord Haddock or Lady Camicazi coming.
That night Astrid had to endure her mother embellishing every reluctant lie Astrid had to tell her of what happened during her stay, and woke up the next morning more tired than she had the night before.
As she ascended the stairs to the second floor after breakfast, she hummed the tune that she heard Lady Camicazi humming, wondering again what it had been. She grasped the handle to her bedroom and opened it, closing the door behind her.
"I was wondering when you'd come up."
Astrid turned, backing against the door as she stared into the dark room, "Ruffnut!" Astrid exclaimed, breathing a sigh of relief as she relaxed. "You shouldn't scare me like that."
"And you should lock your window," Ruffnut said, sitting on the bed. "Or don't you remember that I know how to climb up?"
"When did you get here?" Astrid asked, walking over to her powder desk and sat down, looking at her reflection before mussing with the various powders and lotions. She saw Ruffnut watching her though the reflection. "What is it?"
"I got here a few minutes ago—and what are you doing?" Ruffnut asked, still watching intently.
Astrid shrugged, "I'm just fixing my make-up, there's nothing wrong with that."
Ruffnut narrowed her eyes. "You never worry about that stuff," she said. She crossed her arms. "You know, you've changed a lot since you've 'fallen in love'."
"Well," Astrid said, ignoring her friend's glare. "I…"
"No denying it. You always spend all that time with your secret 'lover'," Ruffnut said, "How would your mother like to hear that?"
"You wouldn't!" Astrid said, turning to look at the real Ruffnut. "I trusted you with that information!"
"You didn't trust me!" Ruffnut exclaimed. "I had to milk that from you! And the rest I guessed."
Astrid narrowed her eyes. "What's this really about?"
"You haven't been you."
Astrid opened her mouth, but shut it, not knowing what to say. Was Ruffnut right? Has she changed? And if she did, was that a good thing? Did she want to change?
"You're becoming a lady." Ruffnut continued.
"Well, it's about time," Astrid said dryly. She caught Ruffnut's eye through the mirror and the two girls laughed. "Next it's your turn and we'll see who changes."
Ruffnut laughed and then, sobering, looked at Astrid thoughtfully. "I just want to know who your secret boy is. After all, you've got Snotlout and the Haddock boy, who is it that makes those two seem like horse sh—"?"
Astrid coughed into her fist.
Ruffnut's eyes widened. "It's one of them, isn't it? Oh—don't say Snotlout, do not say Snotlout!"
"Of course not," Astrid scoffed, "Like I'd ever go for that—I haven't changed that much!"
"So it is the Haddock boy!" Ruffnut exclaimed, sitting up excitedly.
Astrid turned a dark red. "That—that was dirty, albeit clever, trick," she muttered.
Ruffnut grinned. "I try. So tell me, what was the real reason you had to stay at Tadfield Estate?"
"I was sick."
"The real reason."
"I was sick," Astrid said again.
Ruffnut raised an eyebrow. "Come on, you can tell me!"
"I really have nothing to say," Astrid said, reaching for some rouge but then she stopped herself. There was no need to put make-up on, not with just herself and Ruffnut. Besides, Astrid realized that she had only started caring for it—truly caring—a few months ago, back when she first started feeling for Hiccup.
Ruffnut stood up, "Fine, don't tell me, I've got to go anyway."
"Don't be like that!" Astrid said, giving Ruffnut an annoyed look, "I really as sick!"
Ruffnut shrugged. "I believe you," she said, sounding unconvinced.
Astrid stood and walked to the window, watching as Ruffnut scaled down and started walking off. After a few moments Astrid walked back to the table and sat down, gazing at herself. She wondered what colors Hiccup liked best—and if she should get new powders for the ball. She wondered what dress color she should wear. Perhaps she should ask him… but would she be too embarrassed to ask?
She narrowed her eyes and glared at herself. No, she would not ask him. After all, she spent plenty of time in love and not depending on his every whim. But she wanted to. She wanted to know everything that would make him like her more.
The yell was faint, but Astrid sprang up. She rushed to the window, thrusting it own as she stuck her head out. Ruffnut was running towards her, a look of pure wonderment on her face. "What is it?" Astrid called down to her.
"Someone has just arrived for you! And wait till you see her horse!"
Astrid's eyes widened as she looked up to see… Lady Camicazi…riding atop Moonsting through the gates and down the path towards her house.
What was that woman thinking?
Astrid turned, not even bothering to shut the window, and dashed out of her room, down the stairs, past the maid in the hallway, and out the front door. She ran past Ruffnut and towards Lady Camicazi.
The woman spotted her and slowed her dragon.
"What are you doing?" Astrid asked, out of breath as she stopped before the dragon. Moonsting turned her slender head to look at Astrid, before shaking her head, her purple scales shimmering in the bright light.
"I'm calling on your family," Lady Camicazi said, looking down at Astrid primly, "And if you don't know, I believe currently it's going the other way around. If you don't mind, please scurry back to your house and allow me to do it proper."
"Absolutely not," Astrid said, "What about this thing?" She motioned hurriedly at Moonsting.
Moonsting and Lady Camicazi bristled at the indication. "How many times do I have to tell you, Moonsting is a she, and clearly has more decorum than you and your friend," Lady Camicazi dipped her head, and Astrid turned to see Ruffnut approaching, star eyed as she stared at Moonsting.
"And who might you be?" Lady Camicazi asked, still looking at Ruffnut.
Ruffnut snapped out of her thoughts and looked up at Lady Camicazi. "Oh, I am Ruffnut Thorston, ma'am."
"Grace,'" Lady Camicazi corrected, "I prefer to be referred to by my actual honorific, please."
"She doesn't know who you are," Astrid said to Lady Camicazi, looking between Ruffnut and Moonsting. Can Ruffnut see her?
"Sorry, Your Grace," Ruffnut said. "Tell me, what breed is your horse? It's magnificent."
Lady Camicazi looked as though she swallowed something very sour and opened her mouth angrily.
"What brings you to call upon me family?" Astrid called up hurriedly, wanting to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed that may occur if Moonsting was referred to as an 'it' again.
Lady Camicazi gave Ruffnut one last reproachful look before smiling down at Astrid. "Why, I merely wanted to pay my respects to your parents."
To say that Astrid's mother and father were impressed by Lady Camicazi would have been an understatement. Astrid's mother was so overwhelmed by the duchess that she kept stumbling over her words and nearly dropped her teacup at least once. Astrid's father had to retrieve a large family book from his office after Lady Camicazi drilled him of every family member he knew of dating as far back as he could remember.
"I just can't tell you how happy we are that our little Astrid may marry your cousin," Astrid's mother said, carefully placing her tea cup down on the saucer.
"Yes, well, I can tell you that my cousin is quite happy to be marrying your daughter," Lady Camicazi said.
"Is that so?" Astrid's mother looked beside herself.
"Yes…." Lady Camicazi placed her teacup and looked at it thoughtfully, before meeting Astrid's mother's eyes. "However, I heard some rather disturbing news."
Astrid felt her stomach drop. This was the first time, since the attack in the gardens, that she had seen Lady Camicazi so serious, and the calmness was rather unnerving.
"Oh?" Astrid's mother said, blinking in surprise, "And what might that be?"
"I am, to understand, that your daughter may marry my uncle's sister's son, is that right?" Lady Camicazi asked.
"Well, it is true that he is a suitor of hers—"
"'A' or 'the'?" Lady Camicazi interrupted.
"Well, I suppose that's—"
"I heard that you are planning on sending your daughter to finishing school, is that correct? Per request of my Aunt Katheryn."
"Yes," Astrid's mother sent her daughter a quick side look. "Although definite plans have not been set…"
"Hmm…" Lady Camicazi said, picking up her teacup, looking at it disdainfully, before placing it down again. "So I would be correct in assuming that your daughter was set to marry Mr. Jorgenson when my cousin came into town."
"Well, I wouldn't put it like that…" Astrid's mother said, dabbing her neck with a handkerchief as she stumbled over her words. Astrid crossed her arms, glaring at Lady Camicazi. She hated that she had to hold her tongue in situations such as these.
"Mrs. Hofferson, I do not like the idea of my family being toyed with. My cousin should not and will not be used in your matchmaking little games. Will you deny that if a better suitor than my cousin should waltz in you would not scheme to set your daughter with him?"
"Hold on," Astrid said, bristling.
"Say, if I offered my son, heir to the duchy of Beaufort, you would not accept?" Lady Camicazi continued. "Not that I would allow him to marry a lowborn girl such as your daughter," Lady Camicazi added under her breath, loudly enough that both Astrid and her mother could hear.
"Now see here," Astrid's mother said, standing up so she was looking down at Lady Camicazi. "You come into my house and dare to accuse me of… so I would like to see my daughter marry above her—I'm sure that your mother did the same. I know you were not born a duchess! As for who my daughter will marry, Mr. Jorgenson or Mr. Haddock, that is her choice. Either is fine in my book." Astrid's mother sat down, suddenly looking pale.
Astrid stared at her mother in shock and a new form of respect. It was the first time she actually admired her mother. She looked at Lady Camicazi and opened her eyes in shock. The woman was positively beaming. "Excellent," the woman said, elongated the word. "I'm so happy we agree." She turned to face Astrid. "So tell me, who do you pick? The boy who doesn't deserve you or my cousin whom you don't deserve?"
"What kind of question is that?" Astrid asked, her hands falling to her lap as she stared at the duchess.
"I'm asking you to make a very simple decision."
"You're asking me who I want to spend the rest of my life with!" Astrid exclaimed.
"Which should be simple," Lady Camicazi said, suddenly serious again. "I wonder why it is not. I'm sure…" she looked at Astrid's mother. "I ask that I may take you daughter on a stroll. In your gardens, if I may presume who have any."
"Of course," Astrid's mother said, bristling again. "And we have a cook and maid too, if you can deign to believe."
"I will try," Lady Camicazi said, standing up and holding an arm out for Astrid, who took it begrudgingly. As they left the house and walked through the gardens, Astrid withdrew her arm from the woman.
"Not here," Lady Camicazi said, ushering her around a bush to the back of the garden. "Now, your mother cannot hear us from here."
"How do you know—"
"Trust me, my dear, I know." Lady Camicazi took a step back and observed Astrid. "Now, that should be a simple question. Why isn't it?"
"What—why do you want to know? Why must you meddle in everything?" Astrid asked.
"Little girl…" Lady Camicazi said, shaking her head, "Family exists to look out for each other—and the only way to do that is to meddle in each other's affairs. Good Lord has it done my family members good for me to do so. Did I tell you of the time I orchestrated the marriage between my second cousin Lindia and—"
"Focus," Astrid snapped.
"Right," Lady Camicazi flashed Astrid a grin. "Well, I'm just making sure that you are worthy of my dear cousin. I do care for him so. And he would be so easy to take advantage of—trust me, I know. I've done my fair share of taking advantage—"
Astrid gave her a hard look. "Ah, yes, I'm getting off track," Lady Camicazi took a step back, looking at Astrid up and down. "I can see what my cousin sees in you, you are a rather handsome girl. Beautiful is more like it. Not so lanky as your…friend is."
Astrid ignored the blight to Ruffnut and shook her head, "Why is it so important?" Astrid asked, "That I answer right now?"
"Do you want to marry Hiccup or not?" Lady Camicazi asked, ignoring her.
"I do," Astrid said.
Lady Camicazi raised an eyebrow. "Then why didn't you say so?"
"Because…" Astrid looked around, and then quieted her voice, "because, my mother does not know I even really know Hiccup. And it would seem awfully strange for me to suddenly want to marry someone that I hardly know."
"Ah, clever girl. There's hope for you yet," Lady Camicazi looked up for a moment. "But still, you seem hesitant."
"Well, of course," Astrid said, "I mean, I've already promised Snotlout that I'd—"
"Attend the Haddock Ball with him, yes I know." Lady Camicazi said dismissively.
"You know?" Astrid asked, shocked.
"Obviously observation skills are not your best asset. Whose dragon is in the stall next to Toothless? And who is able to see things through her dragon's eyes?" Lady Camicazi said.
Astrid's eyes bulged, "You can see though your dragon's eyes?"
"You didn't know that? Well, clearly information gathering is a skill of yours," Lady Camicazi said, approvingly. "But yes, I was spying on your little… conversation with Hiccup. Why the two of you cannot just… accept that you love each other and be done with it." Lady Camicazi said, shaking her head.
"Well, I can't be sure—I mean, I just… I don't want to marry someone who doesn't love me and that I don't love," Astrid said. "Of course, that rules Snotlout out, but I still have to attend the ball with him."
"Well of course I love him." Astrid said.
Lady Camicazi was silent for a moment while gazing at her. "You're not sure he returns your feelings."
Astrid opened her mouth, but closed it.
"Dear Lord, this whole time I thought the problem was with you—I mean, it is, but I thought it was you that didn't…" She shook her head. "I didn't expect you to be so… think headed. He does love you!"
"I know," Astrid said, defensively, "I know he cares for me. I would have to be a fool not to notice. I just… it's hard to convince myself, that's all."
"A handsome rich young lord is head over heels for you, would do anything for you, would die for you, and you want more clarification," the woman shook her head again. "I must return to Tadfield and inform Hiccup of this—looks like the poor boy must work even harder—"
"No!" Astrid said, grabbing Lady Camicazi's hand.
She let out a yell as her arm was twisted behind her back, her face against the brush.
"Do not, ever do that again," Lady Camicazi hissed in her ear, "For your own safety." She released Astrid, who turned around, rubbing her arm. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be so rough; Reflexes. When you've been in as many tight places as I've been you don't even think anymore."
"It's alright…" Astrid mumbled.
"I'll be teaching you some of it—I leaned quite a bit when I was young, I had just joined the service and was escorting traders to Asia."
"Really? What was it like there?"
"Beautiful. Unlike anything I've seen. I'll have to see that you travel. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," Astrid said, her eyes widening.
"Well then, after your training we'll go on an expedition." Lady Camicazi said, smiling broadly, "We can go anywhere you want."
The two women began to walk back towards the house. "Have you traveled to many places?" Astrid asked, looking up at the taller woman.
Lady Camicazi grinned, leaning close to her, "Everywhere."
To be continued…
I'd say the ball will be in about two chapters. Probably. It felt weird that Hiccup wasn't in this chapter, though. He will be in the next chapter. Probably.
Anyway, thanks so much for reading! Don't forget to leave a review with your answer and what you thought ;)