Stoick the Vast was not having a good day. In fact, in terms of bad days, he'd probably put the past 24 hours in the top ten of worst days ever. And considering his village used to be set on fire twice a week, that was really saying something.

It had started out just fine. Better than fine, actually: his old friend Bertha had shown up out of the blue and offered an alliance that was literally a gift from Odin himself. Sure, Stoick had some qualms about arranging Hiccup's marriage. Particularly without the boy being present to discuss it. But really, what was he supposed to do? Hiccup was never present these days! Always flying off to this island or that island with that blasted dragon and his gang of misfits. Stoick was proud of his son (and if he would admit it, more than a little in awe of him), but that didn't change the fact that running around the archipelago when there was plenty to do right here on Berk was not the proper training for a chief's heir. Hiccup needed to come home and start living in the real world again, and this arrangement with Bertha would be the perfect opportunity. Plus Bertha reminded Stoick that he hadn't been thrilled with his betrothal to the daughter of the chief of the Shivering Shores tribe until the moment Valka stepped off the ship. Remembering that instant of love at first sight, Stoick signed the marriage contract without another word. The kids already liked each other, Stoick told himself. It's all going to work out fine.

Except it hadn't worked out fine. The Bog-Burglar girl had started yelling, to nobody's surprise. But it was Hiccup's reaction that bothered Stoick. First the boy had tried to simply run away after one of his friends, which disappointed Stoick. Wasn't Hiccup old enough yet to know that he couldn't run away from his problems? He'd kept Hiccup there and tried to explain all the reasons the treaty was necessary. He thought he'd even gotten through, at some level. But even as his son accepted his reasoning, the hurt, lost look in Hiccup's eyes cut Stoick deeply. It was as if Stoick had taken away the thing that Hiccup loved more than anything in the world. And, well, hadn't he? Stoick knew his boy valued his freedom on Dragon's Edge very highly. He had that adventurous spirit, just like Valka. Stoick hadn't meant to take that away from Hiccup so soon… but the tribe always came first. Stoick had learned that long ago, and now Hiccup would too.

Except apparently, he hadn't. Rather than do his duty by his tribe and his new betrothed, Hiccup had vanished in the middle of the betrothal feast. No one had seen him since… well, it was hard to pinpoint exactly when the boy had fled. A couple hours in, one of Sven's sheep (who the man had insisted would be lonely unless they came with him to the feast) had mysteriously caught fire and started racing around the hall, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The chaos that followed as Vikings tried to catch the rogue beast was enough to put Hiccup's whereabouts completely out of Stoick's mind. But after the sheep had been extinguished, the banquet table had been righted, and Sven and his sheep had been banished from all feasts for the next year, Hiccup was nowhere to be seen. Camicazi seemed to have disappeared as well, since no one saw her after the smoke cleared. And worst of all, the marriage contract was gone.

That blasted contract! That was what infuriated Stoick the most. His wayward son would calm down and learn his duty; Stoick believed in him. And even though Camicazi could be a spitfire, Stoick had every confidence that Bertha could handle her. But the contract! It had taken weeks of negotiation and now they would need to start over from scratch. Maybe worse than scratch, actually, since Stoick feared there would be more arguments about whether the new contract exactly resembled the original agreement than there had been about writing the document in the first place. He had a two-block headache just thinking about it.

For his part, Stoick was inclined to believe that Sven's flaming sheep had set the document on fire in the chaos. Should Stoick ever find any proof to that effect, Sven was going to find himself assigned to six months as a butcher's apprentice with a specialty in lamb. Bertha, however, had other ideas. Her suspicions were set firmly on Camicazi and Hiccup. Stoick had furiously shot down the idea that Hiccup had any connection to the missing contract, resulting in an argument between the two chiefs that literally shook the rafters of the Great Hall. But in quieter moments, even Stoick himself couldn't help but wonder. Hiccup had been severely upset by the betrothal, and, well, Stoick wouldn't put anything past that little Bog-Burglar minx. But Hiccup would never betray him like that! No, Stoick shook the notion out of his head furiously. It was certainly the fault of Sven and his gods-cursed sheep.

If only the boy would come back and be able to deny it for himself!

"Well?" he asked impatiently. His latest scout captain, Plegma, just shook her head.

"No sign of 'em, Stoick," she reported in her deep voice. "None of the boats have been moved, not even the Bog-Burglars'. Docks were quiet all night. And not so much as a crumb missing from the storehouse. If there's nothin' missing from the houses either, Chief, then they didn't have enough supplies to go far."

Neither the report nor the analysis helped Stoick's rising headache. "If yer sayin' they're still on the island, then go FIND THEM!" he roared. Plegma backed away quickly and took off as fast as her bulky frame would carry her. Stoick shook his head as she left, too exhausted to even feel angry at the lack of information about his missing son. The boy's dragon was missing too, but that wasn't a surprise - the beast was practically stuck to his son at the hip. It didn't necessarily mean that Hiccup had left the island. Stoick was determined to exhaust the possibility that Hiccup was still nearby before sending out searchers in the air, since that would mean admitting that the heir to the tribe had actually run away.

"Well, Stoick? Have your little search parties found anything?" a sarcastic, female voice asked from behind him. Perfect. Make that a three-block headache.

"We're still looking, Bertha," he said, doing an admirable job of keeping his voice level. He did not turn to look at the other chief, but she wasn't deterred. Stoick knew she wouldn't be.

"When you give up, I'm happy to lead a group out to sea," she said. She stepped around Stoick's large frame and planted herself firmly in front of his face. "I know some of Camicazi's little hidey-holes. I'll make sure she and Hiccup come back with that contract."

"I'm telling you, he had nothing to do with that!" Stoick repeated for the dozenth time that morning. But even as he said it, his mind caught on something else in Bertha's words. Her little hidey-holes. As a lad, Hiccup had always been running off to someplace. It'd been nearly impossible to keep him in the house even on a good day… but Stoick had never figured out where the boy would go. It was possible that Hiccup had his own "hidey-holes" here on Berk. If that were true, who was likely to know where they were?

"Gobber!" Stoick barked, causing Bertha to jump and then glare at him for ignoring her. Gobber happened to be passing by with a wheelbarrow full of freshly-smithed metalwork for customers. He started at Stoick's call and set the wheelbarrow down.

"Wha' can I do for ya, Stoick?" the smith asked. "Have yeh foun' Hiccup yet?"

"Not yet," Stoick replied shortly. "Gobber, can you think of anywhere he might have gone? Somewhere he used to go when he was a lad, maybe?"

Gobber frowned and pulled on his mustache with his remaining hand. "Me? No, only place I ever foun' 'im was in the forge. Lad loved workin' in the shop," he said. "But a lot o' times he'd head off to th' woods after," he added as an afterthought.

"The woods? Where?" Stoick asked, his heart leaping. Even Bertha's eyebrows lifted.

"Well I don' know, Chief, never followed 'im," Gobber said, to Stoick's furious disappointment.

"There had to be someone who would know where he… wait!" Stoick's mood brightened again as he thought of something. "His friends, the Hofferson girl! Gobber, go find Astrid and tell her to come here at once."

"Um, well, I'd like to, Stoick, really, but I don' think I can," Gobber replied hesitantly.

"And why is that, Gobber?" Stock asked, his voice dangerously low. Gobber was three seconds from being motivated in a way he wouldn't forget in a hurry.

"I don' know where Astrid is," Gobber explained, taking a slow step back. "It doesn' seem like anyone's seen her since the kids go' here yesterday."

Stoick frowned in considerable frustration. "What do you mean, no one's seen her? How do you know?"

"Yesterday Hiccup an' I fixed her dragon's saddle, like she wanted," the smith began. "I foun' a dagger in her saddlebag I thought she might wan' back, so after Hiccup left to ge' ready for the feast I took it over teh her place. No one was there, but I thought they must've gone teh the feast early, so I jus' left the dagger in her room fer her. She must've come by the shop tha' nigh', since her dragon was gone when I got home. But then this mornin' durin' meh rounds I came by to check tha' the saddle was all righ' fer her, and she still wasn' there. Her folks said they didn' even know she was on Berk."

Stoick's mind was running like mad. "They never saw her at all? She never came home?" he asked, just to make sure.

"No, not accordin' teh her folks," Gobber affirmed. "Bu' stranges' o' all, the dagger I brough' back teh her? It was gone this mornin'. Her folks said they never saw it."

"And her dragon's gone too? You haven't seen it anywhere?"

"Nah, Stoick. The beast's gone."

Stoick tried to make sense of this. It was too much of a coincidence that Hiccup, Astrid, their dragons, and Camicazi would all disappear at the same time and have nothing to do with one another. And if he would admit it to himself, the marriage contract going missing at the same time was also too suspicious to ignore. But it still didn't make sense! Stoick was sure he was missing something. And he had an idea of where to find it.

"Gobber, ready the A-team. We're going to Dragon's Edge to find out what all this means. If Hiccup and the others aren't there, we can at least see if the other Riders know where they might've gone." Stoick felt mildly calmer with a clear plan of action.

Which lasted all of a breath. "Can' do tha' either, Stoick," Gobber said blithely.

Frigga give me patience. "And why is that, Gobber?" Stoick asked, voice dripping with suppressed anger.

"They're already here," Gobber replied. He pointed up to the sky, and sure enough, Dragon Riders were flying hard toward Berk. It only took a glance to see that the Night Fury was not among them. The Riders must have seen Stoick and Bertha as well, because Razorwhip in the lead, they all landed in the clearing in front of the chiefs and Gobber. Hookfang's tail managed to smack into a cart on the way down, sending it rolling down the hill and prompting cries of alarm from the villagers below. Stoick elected to ignore this for now. He needed answers.

All five Riders dismounted quickly. Five Riders: Fishlegs, Snotlout, the twins, and that Berserker girl, what was her name? Heather, right. No Hiccup, Astrid, or Camicazi. Stoick heaved an inner sigh. He could already tell that things were about to get worse.

The Riders advanced on the chiefs at a run, all talking at once and attempting to make themselves heard over one another. "Quiet!" Stoick ordered. The Riders obeyed, albeit Tuffnut only with a jab in the ribs from Ruffnut. "What's all this about? What brings you here?"

Heather approached, carrying two sheets of parchment. "Sir," she said. "We received these letters early this morning."

"Too early," Snotlout muttered.

"We hoped you could explain more about what they mean," Heather continued politely. She held the letters out to Stoick, who took them with a frown. After only a minute, he scowled ferociously.

"Gobber!" he shouted. Gobber, who was still standing right beside him, jumped. Stoick continued, "Find me Gustav Larson and bring him here at once." His fury seeped into the last two words, prompting Gobber to abandon his wheelbarrow and take off at a peg-legged sprint. Once Gobber had disappeared, Stoick returned to Heather. "You say you got these letters this morning?"

"Stoick, what-" Bertha tried to break in. Stoick cut her off by thrusting the letters into her hands.

"Yes, sir," Heather replied.

"So there isn't a mistake? Hiccup's really getting married?" Fishlegs asked, with some trepidation.

Stoick sighed. "He was," he grumbled. "As you might have guessed from your other, very interesting letter, we're having a hard time finding him this morning."

"Not to mention they stole the marriage contract," Bertha put in, still scanning the letters herself.

Stoick threw up his hands. "We don't know that, Bertha!"

"Actually-" Tuffnut started to say, but Snotlout quickly stomped on his foot and he fell silent. Before Stoick could ask what the boy had wanted to say, however, Gobber arrived dragging a terrified-looking Gustav by the collar. Stoick's fury intensified just by looking at him, making Gustav shrink back even more.

"Gustav. Nice of you to join us," Stoick said in a soft, deadly voice. "The Riders just brought me the most interesting letter from you. It seems to suggest that you know something about where Hiccup and Astrid have gone."

Gustav swallowed hard and did not meet Stoick's eyes. "I don't, I mean, we didn't know anything for sure…"

Stoick seized the boy with both hands and held him aloft by his vest. "Do not play games with me!" he roared. Gustav shuddered. "Do you know where they were or don't you?" Gustav nodded, eyes tightly shut. "Look at me, lad," Stoick said, with slightly less furiosity. "We need to find them, and you're going to help us do it. Now." Gustav tried to answer, but couldn't draw enough breath while being held by the collar. Stoick sighed and dropped him. "If we end up finding them, I might forget about your punishment."

Bertha seemed ready to argue with this, but Gustav looked visibly relieved. "O-okay, yes, chief. Chiefs," the boy amended, with a glance at Bertha. "I-I'll take you there."

Stoick looked at Heather again. "Are you Riders up to coming with us?"

The girl met his eyes squarely. "Try and stop us," she answered, and behind her, all of them nodded.


Several minutes later, Stoick, Gustav, the Riders, and Bertha were flying over the far side of the island. As a start to his punishment, Stoick had compelled Gustav to offer Bertha a ride, and he was pleased to see exactly how unsettled having a hulking, angry woman behind him was making Gustav feel. For Stoick's part, it was all he could do to hang back enough to let Fanghook lead the way. How could Hiccup have done this?

"T-that's it, Chief," Gustav called nervously. He pointed at a tiny beach just coming into view. "That's where I found the tracks."

Stoick urged Skullcrusher on faster. In no time they'd landed on the little spit of land. The beach was hemmed in by trees on three sides, barely leaving enough room for one dragon, let alone six. As the other riders drew near from the sky, Stoick called up to them, "Land over there, in the clearing!" Heather nodded, and the Riders obeyed. Bertha, however, stopped Gustav from following them.

"No you don't, Stoick!" she yelled in her throaty voice. "I'm coming down there!" She kicked Fanghook in the flank so hard that he balked in midair, tossing both her and Gustav off of his back. Bertha, large as she was, flipped like a cat and landed on her feet on the beach. Gustav belly-flopped into the shallow water with a splat. In spite of himself, Stoick chuckled. It was good to have Bertha back.

Sputtering, Gustav managed to stand. "What was that for?" he asked grumpily. Then when he saw two large chieftains glaring at him, he gulped and backtracked, falling back on his behind into the water again. He scrambled up, dripping wet. "I mean, um, hey Fanghook! I'm okay! Go over and hang with the other dragons, will ya?" The hovering dragon turned and made for the clearing as well.

"So, boy? Where are these tracks of yours?" Stoick asked. Gustav gulped and jerked his head to the right.

"This way," he said, clambering out of the water. Stoick, Bertha, and Skullcrusher followed him just a few yards to the other end of the beach, nearest the treeline. "Here," the boy said confidently, pointing at the mud at the water's edge. Stoick looked excitedly, but there was nothing to be found.

"Boy," Bertha said warningly.

"Oops, I mean, there!" Gustav said, pointing several feet back out into the water. Bertha narrowed her eyes. Seeing this, Gustav went on quickly, "No, really! The tide's come in. That's how I know they were here today, because otherwise the tide would have washed away the tracks, like now."

In spite of himself, Stoick was impressed with this observation and deduction. So Hiccup had been here sometime in the past ten hours or so. But why come to this beach?

"Fan out," he ordered Bertha and Gustav. "Start toward the clearing, and when we run into the other Riders we'll get them to help. Report anything that might be useful, even a stray Terrible Terror track, got it?" The other two nodded and spread out. It was quickly apparent that nothing out of the ordinary was on the beach. If Hiccup had been here, he hadn't left any sign of what had brought him or where he'd gone next. And honestly, if Hiccup and Astrid had run, how exactly were they supposed to track a dragon through the air?

"Dragon! What are you doing?" Bertha exclaimed. In a less dignified woman, the sound might have been a shriek. Nor could Stoick blame her, for Skullcrusher's highly formidable form was bearing down on her, nose first. Stoick knew what that meant.

"Move, Bertha!" he ordered. She glared at him but truthfully had little choice as Skullcrusher broke into a trot. She barely managed to dive out of the way in time.

"Stoick, how dare your beast-" she began, furious.

"He's got a scent!" Stoick cut her off. Hurriedly he followed his dragon into the woods, Bertha and Gustav just behind him. "Something's in here!"

Skullcrusher tore through the trees, knocking aside brush and logs as he went. Almost immediately he burst into the clearing where the other Riders and dragons were waiting. Stoick didn't have time to listen to their shrieks of surprise as he ran in Skullcrusher's wake. On the far side of the clearing, Skullcrusher halted so suddenly that Stoick ran face-first into him. Bertha, who must have been right on his heels, smashed into Stoick's back painfully. The three of them fell into a completely undignified pile which shook the trees on impact.

A stifled giggle rang out. Stoick snapped his head up to find that their predicament had been observed in its entirety by the Riders and dragons, gathered on the other edge of the clearing. After he struggled to his feet, he glared at the group with all the ferocity he could muster, but none of them had so much as a glimmer of a smile.

"Stoick!" Bertha roared, standing as well. "What in Thor's name do you think you're doing? I am a chief!"

Stoick didn't immediately respond, torn between expressing his anger or his embarrassment. Luckily, before he could decide, Gustav ran up to Skullcrusher in excitement.

"No, Chief Bertha, look!" he said, tugging something from Skullcrusher's horn. It looked to be a torn parchment. "Skullcrusher stopped because he found…" the boy trailed off, scanning the parchment in his hands with increasingly nervous eye movements.

"Found what, Gustav?" Stoick asked, thoroughly out of patience. Gustav gulped and handed over the scrap.

Stoick's heart dropped. It was a torn fragment of the marriage contract.

Bertha peered over his shoulder, the only woman he knew tall enough to do so. After a second, all she said was, "So. It's true then."

"We don't know that." Stoick's own voice sounded false in his ears.

"Stoick, your boy stole the marriage contract and ran off with a trollop!" Bertha bellowed. "Of all the most insulting-"

"Hey!" Stoick and Bertha whirled around at the interjection. Bertha looked momentarily dumbstruck that anyone would dare to speak to them so. The Riders had come closer while Stoick and Bertha had examined the torn fragment of the marriage contract, and now Heather had stepped forward with a steely look in her eye. "I don't care who you are, you don't talk about Astrid that way. She didn't have anything to do with this."

"Hear hear," Snotlout muttered, though so quietly the chiefs couldn't hear him.

Bertha crossed her arms and stood at her full impressive height. "And how could you know that, girl?" she asked, voice dangerously low. "If you're involved with this-" she pointed to the parchment in Stoick's hands "-then we've got another traitor to deal with today."

Impressively, Heather held her ground. "Tell that to your daughter," she said defiantly. Bertha's eyes blazed with rage, but Heather didn't flinch. "Fishlegs, show her."

Stoick and Bertha immediately turned to Fishlegs, who seemed to shrink at the intensity of their stare. "Uh, you mean, the, um, you're sure?" he stammered. Heather nodded. With a gulp, Fishlegs pulled another parchment from his waist pouch and handed it to Bertha. She snatched it up, eyes flashing across what appeared to be a letter to the Riders from Camicazi. When she finished, Bertha thrust the parchment into Stoick's hands, who got to take in the truth for himself. Hiccup and Camicazi really had done it. And why? He winced at the coarseness of some of Camicazi's words. Because they were too childish to put the needs of the tribe over their teenage whims. Stoick crushed the letter in his fist. They needed to be taught a lesson.

"How long have you Riders known about this?" he asked, voice nearly a growl. None of them would meet his eyes apart from Heather, and even she seemed a little more shamefaced.

"We got the letter this morning, along with your invitation and the letter from Gustav," she admitted. "But it doesn't make sense! Camicazi's letter doesn't mention Astrid at all."

"And trust me, those two are not exactly compadres," Tuffnut chimed in.

"So if Astrid's missing, it can't have been with Camicazi and Hiccup, which means she's all alone-" Heather continued, face increasingly worried.

"You're forgetting, Stoick," Bertha cut in bitingly, "that while we may not have proof that Astrid was involved, that your son and my daughter did steal and destroy a marriage contract! We have the proof right here!" She snatched the letter from his hand and shook it. "And if we are going to have any chance at securing this treaty for our tribes, we need to find them and get them back, now!"

Her deep, decisive voice seemed to clear Stoick's thoughts. "You're right, Bertha," he said. "And the best way to make sure they're all safe is to find them. Skullcrusher!" The Rumblehorn turned at the call. Stoick held out the scrap of the marriage contract and let the dragon sniff it carefully. After a few moments, Skullcrusher snorted and jerked his head. "He's got the scent! Climb on, Bertha, we should be able to catch them without too much tr-"

"No way are you going without us!" Ruffnut interjected. Stoick turned to see every Rider with a resolute expression. He blinked. He knew his men would follow his orders to the gates of Hel if he commanded them, but this was different. They were doing this for Hiccup. Briefly, Stoick wondered what Hiccup had to inspire that level of loyalty, but he pushed the thought away for another time.

"Gustav, you stay here and be ready to send a message if Hiccup and Camicazi or Astrid return," he commanded. Gustav stood ramrod straight and saluted. "The rest of you-" he fixed the Riders with a glare "-can come, but I want to be clear. You follow my orders. We are bringing Hiccup and Camicazi home, and if they resist…" he swallowed hard, then continued, voice resolute. "If they resist, we bring them back as traitors. Is that understood?"

None of the Riders said anything for a moment. Then Heather spoke for the group. "We just need them back, Chief. We'll do whatever you say if we can help make sure they're safe."

He nodded grimly. "Then mount up."