How to Start a Self-Discovery
Chapter 1: Hiccup the Affectionate
The weight of the axe was heavy compared to her short, chubby arms. She didn't like the feel of the smooth wooden handle as she balanced precariously on her tiny feet, distributing her weight unevenly to compensate for the weighted metal of the weapon. Her heart was pounding in her ears as she tightened her grip, the pounding unable to drown out the two sounds hammering into her. One was obnoxious and frightening, and the other was but a tiny whimper, helpless and pleading. And she didn't know why, but her body was responding more to the voice at her back, yelling at her.
"Do it, girl! Or you'll never become a proper Viking!"
Her nerves shivered at the sound of the thunderous voice, almost like Thor was at her heels. So the child stumbled a bit as she lifted the heavy axe, the sharp edge gleaming maliciously in the sunlight as it hovered over the small creature tied up in ropes. It began to whimper louder, curling its head as best it could into its chest, brilliant blue scales standing out against the green grass.
Her breath hitched, arms freezing up as she hesitated for the slightest second…
Eyes slamming closed, the young Astrid Hofferson swung down with all her might, trying to focus only on the sharp gasp of her voice as something warm splattered onto her face, staining her hands. Her breath was beginning to shorten with every passing second, a lightened, disbelieving feeling overpowering her. She only vaguely heard her father, muttering something about how it was "good enough" before opening her eyes and staring down at her tiny hands.
They were trembling.
"No!" Astrid gasped, jolting up in bed just as the first rays of light scattered in through her window. Her forehead teemed with sweat, hands clutching tightly at the bedsheets as she sighed in relief at the familiar sight of her bedroom. Her hands unclenched from their death grip, and she relaxed in the early hours of dawn, running a hand through her scraggly blonde hair. There was a squawk from beside her, and Astrid turned to meet one of her Deadly Nadder's eyes as it turned its head to peer carefully at her. It jerked its head up and down, checking for signs of injuries. Astrid laughed softly at the dragon's obvious display of concern, reaching out to pet it.
"Morning Stormfly," the Viking greeted, inching out of bed to start the day. "You have a good sleep, girl?" The Deadly Nadder squawked again in response, slowly rising from the floor, careful not to stab her rider with her spiky tail. Astrid opened the large back doors in her new bedroom, letting Stormfly out to stretch her legs while her owner got ready for the day.
Astrid turned to look at her bedroom, smiling a little when she remembered how all the houses needed to be rebuilt to suit some of the bonded riders. Her mother had agreed to increase the size of her room, eyeing the blue-scaled dragon a little suspiciously as she redid the floor plans. But Astrid didn't care, too happy about being able to have a permanent home, without fear of it burning down from night raids.
"Astrid?" a voice asked, peering in from the door. It was her mother, a burly Viking woman who was starting to get used to not having any dragons to fight. She was still edgy and uncomfortable around the dragons, but it was vastly better than the days before, when she would carry her axe around all the time, just waiting for Stormfly to step a claw out of line.
"Hey mom," Astrid greeted, beginning to braid her hair into its customary style, securing it with a piece of string. "I'm going to head out with Stormfly soon. Don't bother making me breakfast; I'll nick something from Hiccup's." she said, turning to grab her fur boots and slip them on. Astrid didn't see the slight disapproving look in her mother's eyes, as the woman was more than a little unsure about letting her daughter mooch off the chieftain of the tribe. But there was an underlying sadness in them, showing years of sorrow locked away in order to preserve the harsh persona of the Vikings.
"At least look at it, Astrid," her mother almost pleaded (because Vikings didn't plead). The younger Viking paused in her trek out the back doors, her shoulders stiffening. She was silent as she turned around slowly, her headband showing more expression than her actual face. She brushed past her mother, coldly, making her way into the main room of the house.
It was a pretty normal Viking house, where the kitchen and the dinning room blended together for easy manoeuvrability. Normally, there would be weapons hung on the walls, but they had all been stowed away into chests when Stormfly had squawked angrily and fearfully at them. There was only one weapon hung on the walls; a large, heavy axe that was placed, not for convenient pick-up, but as an object of prayer. It was not a ceremonial weapon of any sort; in fact it was not really special at all.
Except for the fact it was her father's.
A bitter smile graced her lips as she stared coldly at it, that ice-hot fury ripping through her chest as she watched it gleam on the wall. Her mother was watching from the doorway of her bedroom, hopeful as always that her teenage daughter would forgive her stupid husband for his blatant disappointment in her. But it was always the same prayer, from last year to this year. And that wasn't going to change.
"Thank Freyja that you're gone."
Astrid's mother, Hilda, winced when the prayer left her daughter's mouth. It was never good to speak ill of the dead, but Astrid was never as superstitious as her mother. She used to be a very loving, obedient child when she was young; when her father was still alive. Nowadays, Astrid thrived in the rebellious nature of her teen years, glaring hatefully up at her father's prized weapon on the wall. If she was allowed to, Hilda suspected Astrid would've melted it in Gobber's smithery and thrown the liquid metal into the ocean long ago.
"I'm going," the young Viking said curtly, taking care not to stomp her feet against the wooden floor like a child as she left the house. Hilda sighed when the door shut behind her, hearing Astrid whistling to Stormfly to join her at the front of the house. Hilda sank into one of the chairs at the dining table, turning her head up to stare at the axe resting forlornly on the wall.
She normally did not partake in speaking ill of the dead, but Hilda figured that if dragons could roam their land freely, she could scold her husband from where he was up in Valhalla. And so, a wry smile twisted her lips as she muttered, "You know, you have only yourself to blame."
Astrid's eyes were narrowed as she marched down the village, Stormfly following behind her cautiously. She was trying not to think about the axe with the special resting spot in her home, snarling viciously to herself as she started hiking up the hill to the chieftain's house. Toothless was already outside, a sack of fish in front of him that he was eating and keeping away from two Terrible Terrors. Stormfly squawked happily when she saw the fish, bounding towards it before Toothless snarled nastily at her and the tinier dragons. But the Deadly Nadder was sufficiently distracted when an amused voice cut through the morning air.
"Hey, hey, there's enough to go around."
Astrid's shoulders slumped from their former rigidity as she saw Hiccup with another pack of fish slung over his shoulder, dropping it as Stormfly neared. The blue-scaled dragon squawked happily at the brown-haired human, diving for the fish and ignoring Hiccup's comforting hand petting the side of her head.
"Hi Hiccup," Astrid greeted as she reached the top of the hill, smiling slightly when he turned to beam at her.
"Astrid!" He exclaimed, as if surprised she had come trailing behind her blue-scaled dragon. "Hey, you hungry? I just made breakfast." Hiccup jabbed his thumb behind him, to his two-story home where smoke was rising from the chimney. Astrid flushed red when her stomach rumbled a bit, nodding and following the taller boy inside.
Has it really only been two years? Astrid thought as she entered the much larger home of the chieftain. They were just shy of fifteen summers (or winters?) when Hiccup had managed to de-wing Toothless during the night raid. Now, the son of the Viking chief was really looking like he was the son of the Viking chief. Granted, he wasn't heavily muscled like Snotlout (who had grown to be just like his father, if not more so), or big like Fishlegs (a big burly guy with amazing observation skills); he wasn't massively tall like Ruffnut and Tuffnut, and the dragon rider was still nowhere close to as good as Astrid with weapons. But he had definitely (oh, for sure, definitely) grown.
"We don't have any fish this morning, because Toothless likes to eat all the ones in the house," Hiccup explained as they neared the kitchen, chuckling and ducking under a rafter in the house that he was tall enough to knock his head into. "My dad left some meat over though, which is weird 'cause he usually hogs all of it before I even get up in the morning." Astrid smiled at the other Viking's ramblings, brushing her sunny blonde hair behind her ear when she saw him lift a closed crate of his father's weapons away from the storage of meat.
Hiccup's muscles weren't exactly Viking material, given that by Viking standards he was still a scrawny little thing that looks as though it could be snapped in two. But Astrid, being rather thin herself, could see the definition of muscle in Hiccup's entire body. He was far from the twig-thin figure he used to have two years ago, his growth catching up with him as his body fleshed out and his shoulders broadened. He still wasn't as powerful as the other Vikings, but Astrid was sure Hiccup could easily win in a fight if he wanted to. With her tutoring, he was more than adequate with a sword (nothing else except a sword, mind you) and his cunning intelligence made him a worthy foe in the ring.
That's not to say his physicality was the only thing that grew. Despite the first few rough months of adjusting to his new prosthetic, Hiccup's confidence had grown in leaps and bounds. There was a short period of time where Astrid struggled to reign in Hiccup's outlandish proclamations of "all this raw Viking... ness" whenever he suddenly decided to get bigheaded. It was quickly replaced with a quiet sort of confidence that she felt suited him more, as his dragon was more than boastful enough for the two of them.
But if there was one thing Astrid was immensely grateful for in the growth and maturity of Hiccup's personality, it was undoubtedly his more open feelings in terms of their relationship.
Astrid was the epitome of the Viking warrior. She was tough and stubborn, unwilling to show weakness with a strong determination to prove herself. As such, Astrid was largely detached from her own emotional feelings because they were considered weak. But Hiccup was the complete opposite, having accepted his differences with his individuality and the rest of the Viking tribe. And he showed it to Astrid and the rest of his village, openly showering her with chaste kisses in the broad daylight, or lacing their fingers together. He didn't care what other people thought. Hiccup was content to be different, as he once told her.
"Astrid," she heard a voice croon in her ear softly, and gasped. Hiccup was hovering behind her, his breath soft and ticklish against her ears. She shivered at the sound of his lower, huskier voice, feeling his larger hands splayed across her wide hips. "What are you thinking about?" he asked, and Astrid blushed.
"Nothing," she muttered, stepping forward to snag a piece of bread and gnaw at it. Hiccup just chuckled at her obvious embarrassment, leaning down to place a soft kiss at her neck before walking away to fetch his own breakfast.
He was so affectionate. It was disconcerting, really, for any sort of Viking to see this type of behaviour. But there was something in Astrid that liked his open, emotional character. It drew her to him, and for the longest time she couldn't figure out why.
Which is why, that day, Astrid resolved to find out.