Astrid let out a frustrated shout while hitting the damp moss-covered wall with her fist. Her knuckles burned but she didn’t care. Right now she just wanted to pummel someone or something. She knew it wasn’t very lady-like but who gave a flying Thor’s behind right now.
Light shone from out the tiny window of her cell as if mocking her predicament. She had been a lady of Nobility. A lady of luxury though it never went to her head. The strict upbringing of her House had seen to that. What she wouldn’t give to have a nice feathery pillow right now instead of the threadbare cot that had seen better days. Then she could use that pillow to get a good night’s rest before smothering that damned Duke’s son who put her here with it.
Astrid thought gleefully ‘Maybe she could feed the guy to Stormfly or any other dragon for that matter.’ but then she sighed. That would just give the poor dragon indigestion.
As Astrid continued to think of ways to get her revenge any sane person might be wondering what she could have done to earn herself a one way trip to a damp cell and possibly the gallows.
This all started many months ago.
The Kingdom of Berk, situated on the Sea of Frozen Death, was a quaint place. It snows nine months out of the year but it was peaceful.
The kingdom’s citizens got along well with their neighbours, the Dragons. So well in fact that each person had a bonded dragon to call their own. It was the dragons that chose their companions however and those that had a strong dragon were often highly regarded.
Such a person was Astrid. She had bonded with Stormfly on her 6th birthday and though she was the daughter of a low ranking Baron House she was still considered the cream of the crop during the Social seasons.
Astrid had cared little for these parties because she knew her fiancé would be decided for her anyways. Her father was very adamant that she be wed to a higher House of Nobility. Not only would her family’s wealth increase but so would their lands. The nobility rarely wedded due to love after all. Everything was politics.
She had no say in the matter, not that she particularly wanted to. As a member of the nobility, she could easily get a lover on the side discreetly if her future husband paid her no attention. She wasn’t the first one to do so either. The husbands usually turned a blind eye because Noble women tended to be dangerous. They were the social butterflies of the court and one rumor or jilted woman could end up with a man being penniless. No, Astrid was by no means powerless. She knew how to play the game.
Much like the women taking lovers, the men of noble birth could take a concubine or two, depending on their standing within society. It was an archaic practice and the only one Astrid abhorred. She had no problem with the man also taking a lover, but to marry them while she could not get married anymore grinded her bones. It was the society she had grown up in but that didn’t mean she had to like every aspect of it. The concubines and the wife would often clash causing quite a few catfights and tumbles down marble stairs.
One rainy day Astrid had walked into her father’s office and had been informed a suitable husband had been found. Her father looked especially gleeful and she soon figured out why. The person she would be marrying was the Duke’s son who was 4th in line to the throne of Berk. Marrying into the Royal family was a big deal even if it was into the house of a Duke.
Her father had spared no expense and Astrid soon met her future husband. Snotlout Jorgenson, Son of Duke Jorgenson and cousin to the Crown prince of Berk. She didn’t like him. No scratch that, she really didn’t like him. He was arrogant and prideful and thought that he was god’s gift to women. Astrid often wondered if he was overcompensating for his small stature. She wanted to maim him the first, second and third time they had met. Maybe that was why her mother had confiscated all her knives. Even the family axe on the mantelpiece had been removed.
Just three meetings and a month later she was walking down the aisle in a gorgeous white gown that was the envy of every woman. She held her head high as she entered the round church from the left. Once she was at the altar the doors to the right would open and the groom would enter. Astrid gripped her bouquet tightly as she approached the altar. The priest was nodding towards her and then everyone looked to the right. The double doors were opened but…….. There was no groom.
Astrid blinked as she stared at the empty doorway. It took her a few seconds to realize that the groom probably wasn’t coming and that she had been left at the altar. Murmurs flitted through the church as those attending the wedding were whispering to each other. Speculating as to what was keeping the groom. Astrid’s cheeks burned at the humiliation and the looks of pity from many and glee from others who wanted to see her fall. She already had an idea of the rumors that would be making its way through the city within an hour’s time. Tongues wagged and this time, not in a good way. Her reputation as a lady had just been ruined and it was all Snotlout’s fault. To stand a lady up at the altar meant that she was seen as undesirable.
If her foolish fiance, no….. ex-fiance, did anything worse then she would not only be the laughing stock of the entire social scene, she and probably her entire family would most likely be excommunicated from high society altogether.
Astrid turned slightly to see her father clenching his hands so much that they would probably be bleeding. Her mother had a glint of murderous intent in her eyes and, at that moment, no one would doubt where Astrid got her feistiness from.
Astrid, however, was having none of it. There might still be a way to salvage some of her reputation. She threw down her bouquet and then proclaimed, “If that mulch-eating troll is too scared to show himself then he can stay gone!” Several ladies gasped and one even shouted agast, “You can’t talk about Royalty like that!”
“Can’t I?” Astrid rolled her eyes as her voice carried. “Then get the groom in here or shut up.” With that she left the way she came and once the door closed the murmurs grew louder.
Just like Astrid suspected, the rumors were flying through the city like wildfire. Some said the Duke’s son ran away to join the circus, others speculated if the engagement had even been real or that he had a male lover and just couldn’t go through with it. This went on for weeks and when Astrid first heard a word about Snotlout it wasn’t how anyone thought it would be.
The Social season had begun once more and like Astrid suspected suitors now avoided her. No honey or vinegar would attract those flies again. No one wanted a woman that was left by Royalty at the altar. Astrid still remembered her father raging downstairs after the almost-wedding. Stuff could be heard breaking and honestly, she couldn’t blame him. Duke Jorgenson had already accepted Astrid’s dowry and so far no word was heard of it being returned.
It was at one such party that Astrid leaned against a wall. She had had enough of the pitying glances from the guests as well as several ladies who hated her just because she was ‘low-born nobility’ in their words. Whoever said sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me obviously hadn’t met these ladies. Astrid likened them to serpents with barbed tongues. She honestly had more chance of joining the kingdom’s army than finding a husband at this point.
“Presenting Duke and Duchess Jorgenson!” Someone proclaimed and Astrid’s head shot up. It wasn’t only her but everyone in the room looked at the man and woman descending the white marble staircase. Soon whispers filled the room again as the couple walked past arm in arm. Astrid’s brow twitched as she recognized the so-called ‘Duchess’. Blonde, blue-eyes and with a honey-like voice. Her rival since she was little, Camicazi.
Camicazi Jorgenson, nee Bog, was the daughter of an Earl. She and Astrid had met at etiquette lessons and have since then tried to one-up each other. Camicazi had a higher status than Astrid so Astrid had to swallow a lot of her pride. Sometimes she wished she had just kicked the girl into the duck pond. It would have been so satisfying. It, however, didn’t stop her from doing better than Camicazi during etiquette lessons.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I know I have been away from the capital for a few weeks….” Snotlout began, “But I was spending my honeymoon with my lovely new wife Lady Camicazi.”
The proclamation earned several gasps and murmurs from the party-goers. Astrid was still leaning against the wall and looking at the couple critically. “This is a social gathering for single people. Just why are you here?” Her eyes narrowed as she asked after gulping down her goblet of wine in one swig.
“Why Lady Hofferson, it is because I have something to proclaim.” Snotlout haughtily said. “I know that my eloping with Camicazi has left you with discontent so I am here to offer you the position as my concubine.”
More murmurs filled the room and Astrid was starting to see red. “Concubine?!” She growled low as her eyes narrowed.
“Yes, Lady Camicazi is the daughter of an Earl while you are the daughter of a mere Baron. The position of wife, it should be clear to all as to who gets it.” Snotlout proclaimed. “Fret not, I will not go back on my word. I will marry you and give you a place in my esteemed household.”
“Fret not? Fret Not!” Astrid’s voice was getting a bit high. “I do not want sloppy seconds from a fiance-stealing-hussy that can’t keep her hands to herself. I will never be your concubine!” She proclaimed causing a ripple of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ through the room.
“Being the concubine for a Duke’s household is a prestigious position.” Camicazi retorted.
Astrid knew that Snotlout was likely doing this to humiliate her for that comment in the church but she just couldn’t help with firing back “So he’s grown tired of you already. Figures. You were never that much interesting.”
Another round of ‘ooohs’ and whispers filled the room as Camicazi turned red with either anger or humiliation at her insinuation. Astrid couldn’t tell.
“Lady Hofferson, Astrid, I am here to keep my promise of marrying you,” Snotlout said as he held his new wife back. “Please be reasonable,”
“How dare you?!” Astrid proclaimed as her hand closed over a very expensive porcelain vase. “Be reasonable?! The only reason you are proposing now is that you do not wish to return my dowry to me!” She shouted before flinging the vase at Snotlout’s face. She then proceeded to jump Camicazi and punch her in the face as well.
The rest of the night was a bit of a blur for Astrid. She remembered it taking several guards to pry her off the couple. Some of them might have even gotten injured, which she did feel sorry for. They were only doing their job. She remembered neither Snotlout nor Camicazi escaping without visible bruises. And that is basically how she got here.
When the guards had finally succeeded in restraining her Snotlout had ordered: “Lock her in the deepest dungeon!”
Astrid had expected this all to happen. Getting locked up, probably having a death sentence hanging over her head for assaulting members of the Royal family, her father disowning her and letting her rot in prison. She had expected it all and she couldn’t have been happier. To see that shocked look on Snotlout’s face when her heel connected with his groin had been totally worth it in her opinion.
“Agehm,” A voice uttered causing Astrid to look up from where she was seated. She blinked as she couldn’t understand what she was seeing. There was a lanky auburn-haired man standing in front of her cell. She hadn’t had a visitor since she got locked up here so this was out of the ordinary.
“Milady, please forgive me for interrupting your musings but I wish to discuss a possible deal with you.” The man, whom Astrid noted was dressed in very plain green and brown clothes, said before bowing to her slightly.
“You must have the wrong cell.” Astrid huffed as her eyes narrowed. She knew the guy looked familiar but she just couldn’t place his face.
“Lady Astrid Hofferson, formerly of House Hofferson?” The man asked with a raised brow.
“Alright, so you have the right person.” Astrid stood up now as she approached the bars. “But what do you want with a woman that can see the hangman’s noose at any time?” She then asked as she observed her visitor critically. He was dressed plainly but by no means was he dressed poorly. Even the forest green tunic was tailored to his figure. Astrid recognized some golden embroidery in the hem as well. ‘Definitely has an affluent background,’ she surmised in the span of seconds.
“I and every other Noble in the kingdom think that your sentence was unfair, given the circumstances.” The man began. “There was no trial but those that support you can’t take action to save your life. Snotlout issued an imperial mandate as he can do per Berkian law.”
“I thought only the King could do that,” Astrid mumbled. She didn’t think what Snotlout ordered would be considered a mandate.
“No, any member of the Royal family can issue a mandate as long as it doesn’t conflict with the King’s policies. His first order to the guards to throw you in here was just that, an order. He has gotten it in writing since.”
“I’m guessing the fate of a lowly daughter of a Baron house is of no consequence,” Astrid clenched her fists. “So he really did that out of spite.”
“So why are you here if the mandate is irreversible?” Astrid sighed and flopped down on the cot in an unlady-like fashion.
“I never said the mandate was irreversible.” The man said with a raised brow “You just need a mandate that ranks higher than that of the Duke’s son to counteract it.”
Astrid scoffed and then said “So you need someone from the direct line of the Royal family to countermand it. I highly doubt that you can pull that off unless you’re the Crown Prince.”
“I am the Crown Prince,” The man deadpanned with a chuckle. “Sorry for the late introduction Milady, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the 3rd at your service.”
Astrid blinked, Astrid gaped, Astrid sputtered. She bolted upright and immediately into a curtsy as her upbringing had taught her. “Forgive me for not recognizing your Highness.”
“Please let’s be informal about this.” Hiccup said quickly as he looked around. Probably for the guard. Once he was certain that no one was around he looked back at Astrid. “I’m here to guarantee your freedom.”
“So my freedom for whatever scheme you have cooked up?” Astrid frowned.
“No No, You misunderstand Milady. Your freedom is guaranteed. If you choose to accept my plan afterwards is another matter.” Hiccup quickly explained. “You are more than welcome to walk away from this matter entirely.”
Astrid crossed her arms and thought for a moment. She’d be getting out of this damp cell. That was a plus. What followed afterwards however was not. As a free but disowned woman she could not return to her former residence. Which meant that she had to seek housing elsewhere. No sane noble would house a disgraced lady and she had no dime to her name after being disowned so she had no way to procure lodging. She also didn’t have any clothes and Stormfly was still back at the Manor.
If she by some miracle managed to get a house then it would likely be low rent and in a bad part of the kingdom. All Astrid’s weapons were also at the Manor. Buying new ones would hurt her wallet and she would basically be a walking target for the unscrupulous.
“What is your offer?” Astrid then asked. She really had nothing to lose. She also thought nothing could surprise her after the events that had occurred.
“Marry me,” Hiccup said as he looked Astrid straight in the eye.
“SAY WHAAAAAAAT!” Astrid exclaimed in a very unlady-like manor but at this point again… who cared.
AN: Ooookay so this story wasn't on the docket. This plot was so spur of the moment that I have no clue where it will lead to. So let's find out together. You guys have Harrypanther to thank for inspiring this (During tipsy time)
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” Astrid asked while blushing. She couldn’t believe her outburst just then and hoped she had heard wrongly.
“I wish for you to marry me,” Hiccup said once more and Astrid’s eyes narrowed. She then proceeded to pinch herself and realized that ‘No, she wasn’t dreaming’ and ‘Yes, the Crown Prince had just proposed marriage.’
“Forgive me if I say this but you are either an idiot or so calculating you come off as an idiot.” She spoke plainly. Honestly, she was a woman with nothing right now. What did she have to lose?
Hiccup merely laughed and then regarded her with a critical eye. “You’re right. I did come here with a secondary intention.” He admitted. “But what I said before still stands. You were unfairly imprisoned. So you are free as of now.” He showed Astrid a rusted set of keys and then used one of them to unlock her cell. “How about we talk about my other motives in a warmer place?” Just at that moment Astrid’s stomach rumbled loudly causing her to blush and Hiccup to laugh.
Astrid blinked as a while later she sat in one of the many cozy rooms of the Palace with a cup of hot chocolate in her hands, a fire roaring in the heart, and her stomach filled with some of the most delicious chicken she had ever had. The carriage ride back had been filled with a somewhat awkward silence. According to Hiccup it would only be safe to talk once they were behind closed doors. She had been ushered out of the prison with haste once she agreed to listen. A carriage was waiting patiently at the side door of the prison and Astrid supposed it would raise eyebrows if the Prince was seen entering from the front door. The coachman didn’t spare her a glance as Hiccup held his hand out like a gentleman to help her in the coach. With a flick of the reigns, they had been off towards the palace once both had been seated. She had looked out the window at the scenery. The leaves were beginning to turn orange as winter was not far away. The dampness of her cell had already emphasized that. Astrid also spared some glances towards the Crown Prince. The man was around her age and looked as innocent as a babe but from what Astrid had gleaned there was intellect there. She also thought he looked quite handsome but then mentally kicked her brain.
Astrid had put the porcelain cup down on the table in front of her and looked at her host critically. Hiccup had been munching on a biscuit that a maid had placed on the table. Her host seemed a lot more carefree than she thought he would be with all the secrecy he emphasized.
“Your Highness, I thank you for the hospitality but I think we should get down to business.” Astrid said as she stared the Prince straight in the eye. “You asked me to marry you,”
“That is correct,” Hiccup answered as he had finished his biscuit. “It is frankly of the utmost importance that I marry.”
“Are you unaware of the reputation I currently have?” Astrid asked. “I am a disgraced former Noble. I have no house, no land and no fortune to offer if this union should come to pass. Politically I have absolutely no worth.”
“Don’t say that Milady. Anyone who can deck my cousin as you did and cause him to sit awkwardly for three days straight has a lot of worth.” Hiccup smiled. “It may have been schadenfreude but it was a welcome change from his usual arrogant ego.” Hiccup took a sip of his hot chocolate before looking at Astrid. “It certainly showed me that you are a woman that holds her virtues in high regard.”
“Still, I will not be your concubine,” Astrid held her head high when she said this. She would not be placed in that role, ever. The role of concubines differed from kingdom to kingdom. In some they were not recognized as official wives. In others, like Berk, they were. The problem however was that any concubine was also subservient to the First Wife. It was the reason Astrid saw red when Snotlout offered her that position. It would mean that she had to take anything Camicazi dished out and not be able to utter a word in her defense. Sure she would be a prestigious wife of a Duke but the abuse that could come with that position was one Astrid rather not have especially when she knew how sadistic Camicazi could become.
“I never said anything about you being a concubine,” Hiccup replied with a confused look. “Whatever made you think that?”
Now it was Astrid’s turn to narrow her eyes. “All the Kingdom knows of your engagement with the Princess of the Southern Isles. Where would I fit into that union if not as a concubine?”
“Yeah…about that….” Hiccup rubbed the back of his head nervously. “That engagement was called off.”
“WHAT?!” Astrid nearly sputtered for a second time. She blushed at her outburst and wondered how many more surprises she would have. “When did this happen?!”
“A couple of days ago,” Hiccup frowned. “The news has already spread through the whole kingdom.”
“That would explain it. The guards weren’t very forthcoming with recent events when I asked.” Astrid muttered.
“Well this is what happened a couple of days ago,” Hiccup said as he started to explain several events.
Hiccup winced as Toothless, his dragon and best friend, pounced on him. He was still sore from the recent battle with the Red Death, a tyrannical dragon queen that had enslaved many dragons up north. A few weeks ago Hiccup came back victorious but severely wounded after his campaign. So far his ribs had yet to heal.
“Easy there bud.” Hiccup said as he gave Toothless an affectionate scratch. The Nightfury had his own room but would come each morning to drag Hiccup out of bed.
“I’m sorry I can’t go flying today with you bud,” Hiccup said as Toothless started to lick him.
“Wait… aaaah… Toothless… you know that doesn’t wash off!” Hiccup shouted. The Nightfury wriggled on the bed sheets hoping for attention and he got it. Hiccup was in the middle of giving the dragon a belly rub when a knock on his chamber doors interrupted him.
“Who is it?” Hiccup asked with a frown. His mother had given strict orders that he was not to be disturbed while healing and his mother, gentle Queen as she could be, was not one to be trifled with.
“Forgive me your Highness but the envoy of the Southern Isles has arrived with news.” A female voice said from the other side of the door. Hiccup recognised the voice now and beckoned the woman to come inside.
“Captain Heather,” Hiccup greeted. “Did my fiancee also come?” He then asked but the face the Knight Captain made said it all. “She didn’t, did she?”
“I’m sorry our Highness,” Heather replied with a short bow. “Only the envoy is here but he has brought several convoys with him. Your presence is required in the Court right now since apparently this concerns you.”
This caused Hiccup to frown more and sit up slightly. He winced at the pain in his leg and his ribs. Toothless was still on the bed with his tongue lolled out and probably wondering what happened to his belly rub. “Please relay that I will be there shortly.”
“Take your time your Highness. Making the envoy wait will be of no consequence. You are still injured after all,” the Knight Captain said before departing.
Hiccup didn’t know why but he always had an inkling that Heather never liked his fiancee. Sure Princess Margarette was somewhat sheltered growing up but he thought she was very nice. She certainly was no slouch when holding a conversation or debate. Hiccup had been sceptical about this arranged marriage but when they first met they got along very well. Marriages for members of the Royal family were seldom based on love much like the Nobility. It was all about connections for them. Hiccup had no doubt that his parents loved each other but that had happened over time as the marriage progressed. The respect and love they now showed for each other was no farce and Hiccup hoped someday he could have that same type of love in his marriage.
He stood up shakingly after pushing the duvet back. His ribs were not where most of the pain was. It was his leg, or rather his lack of leg. The serious injury Hiccup had gotten due to slaying the Red Death was a missing limb. So far the Royal advisor Gobber, and also his Godfather and former blacksmith, had made a rudimentary prosthetic for him. Toothless nudged him and proceeded to act as a crutch while Hiccup got dressed. So far the news of his missing limb hadn’t spread beyond the nobility. Many kingdoms had praised Hiccup and had sent gifts and well wishes. They knew what it meant when the Red Death was defeated. Peace could now fully reign over the lands. Hiccup of course had accepted these gifts, and even donated most of the gold to support the people.
The only person he hadn’t heard from was Princess Margarette. As his fiancee she of course had been told in detail of his condition and rehabilitation, yet not even a letter made its way to Hiccup’s desk.
When Hiccup finally reached the throne room he was warmly greeted by his father and mother who sat on their thrones as this was an official audience. Also present was his uncle Duke Spitelout Jorgenson and his cousin Snotlout along with his new cousin-in-law Camicazi. Gobber stood to the right of Stoick and made a coughing motion, as Hiccup took his usual place near the throne, before announcing “The envoy of the Southern Isles here to discuss official business. We may now proceed!”
A somewhat muscled man with a neatly combed beard walked forward holding a scroll. He bowed once to the Royal family and then unfurled his message.
“By order of the Regent of the Southern Isles and by agreement of Princess Margarette, the Kingdom of the Southern Isles wishes to formally break the engagement between Princess Margarette and Prince Hiccup of Berk. The Kingdom of the Southern Isles offers reparation for this decision.” The envoy read and if Hiccup wasn’t currently slackjawed he would have noticed the very uncomfortable envoy right now. The phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger,’ however did occur to him as he had to hold his mother back. The Queen was the one that had leapt out of her throne while Stoick blinked and sat there gaping in a very un-Royal like manner.
“Mom! Don’t kill the messenger!” Hiccup swiftly pleaded as he heard his mother growl. He supposed she would be very very angry since she was the main matchmaker between her son and Princess Margarette.
The envoy blanched and then bowed low “Please spare me your Highness.”
“What is the meaning of this?!” the King now bellowed as his eyes narrowed.
“Sire….. I don’t know…” The envoy answered. “All I was told was to deliver this message and the items that the convoy brought.”
Hiccup frowned as he thought the envoy wasn’t telling the whole truth. “You’re the Ambassador of your Kingdom and a close aide to the Regent,” Hiccup stated matter of factly. “If you don’t know then something is amiss in your Kingdom.” He took a gamble here. It would be an insult for the Kingdom’s Ambassador not to know. Princess Margarette’s father and mother were on an expedition further south. According to the news they had found new trading partners and the King and Queen went to personally sign the trade agreements as a show of friendship.
“My son is right,” Queen Valka said as her green eyes bored into the envoy. “This marriage was agreed upon by the King of the Southern Isles. The Regent and Princess Margarette must state a valid reason for breaking off this engagement.”
“Your Highness’s… uhmm…” The envoy stammered while looking extremely nervous.
“Dad, if the envoy is afraid to talk, then maybe the reason can lead to war,” Hiccup suggested.
“I don’t care, Hiccup!” Stoick slammed his fist on the throne’s armrest. “I want to know! This union would have made both Kingdoms prosper!”
“Your Majesty please forgive me for what I am about to say,” the envoy mumbled as he bowed deeply. “While I had not been given the reason for this decree, I had been privy to several conversations between Princess Margarette and the Regent. The Princess was the one who wanted to end the engagement as soon as she heard of your son’s……… predicament.”
“WHAT!” Both Valka and Stoick shouted while Hiccup’s eyebrows nearly reached his hairlines. If Hiccup inferred right then his engagement was being called off because he…lost a leg? With a frown Hiccup asked “Explain further,”
The envoy still couldn’t look the Royal family in the eye as he said the next part while praying he wouldn’t lose his head “I had overheard a conversation between her Highness and the Regent where she stated that she could not marry a cripple.”
“This is an insult!” Stoick growled. “The Southern Isles and Berk have been allies for nearly a century. My son lost his limb while facing a dragon the size of a mountain and they think it makes him less of a human!”
“Dad…Dad… calm down…” Hiccup tried to interrupt.
“How can you not be insulted by this?!” his mother now asked. “My poor baby!”
“It’s a shock to me but I think we should cancel the engagement too.” Hiccup then said, shocking not only the envoy and his parents but also his uncle and cousin.
“Son what…..” Stoick faltered.
“I am to take over the governing of Berk in the future and as such I cannot have a wife that would balk simply because I lost a leg. This kingdom needs a strong woman that can lead by my side,” Hiccup uttered. Honestly after what the envoy had inferred he didn’t even want to see Princess Margarette again.
“Well he does have a point there, honey,” Valka readily agreed.
“But he still needs a wife if he is to inherit the throne,” Stoick mumbled.
“Well… if I may suggest….” Gobber now spoke up as he gave Hiccup a wink. Both Valka and Stoick looked at their long time friend. “Seeing as the whole matchmaking thing didn’t go as planned, why don’t we give the lad a chance to find a wife himself.”
“Gobber, that is highly unorthodox,” Stoick muttered.
“The boy has a clear understanding of his duties to the Kingdom,” Gobber replied. “I fail to see why he wouldn’t have a clear understanding of the type of woman he would want as a wife. The job of being Queen isn’t something just anyone can handle. At least give the lad a shot. He might even find love!”
“Well… you do have a point…” Stoick said as he thought. “Why not?” He then turned to his son, “Hiccup you have eight months to find a bride. That is all the time I can give you. You know that don’t you.”
Hiccup nodded as he looked at a gleeful Snotlout. He was almost a year younger than Snotlout and by law if he wasn’t married before his 21st birthday then he would forfeit the title of Crown Prince. The next in line would be either his uncle, whom he knew had no interest in the throne, and his cousin, who was smirking like a dog who got the bone. He would have to choose a wife wisely.
“Okay so let me get this straight…..” Astrid said after hearing the story. “You lost your leg after defeating a dragon the size of a mountain.” Here Hiccup dragged up his pant leg to show her the prosthetic. Astrid didn’t even flinch. Instead she continued “Your ex-fiance dumped you because of that, you need to find a wife before you are 21 otherwise Snotlout has the right to become the next king.” At this Astrid looked very much disgusted. “And you choose me of all women.”
“Yes, yes and yes,” Hiccup answered.
“Just answer me one thing before I make up my mind,” Astrid said. “What happened with the Southern Isles?”
“Well, Dad was livid….” Hiccup said. “He sent the envoy back with a decree of his own after accepting the convoy of gold and jewels. Why wouldn’t he after all? The Southern Isles were offering it up on a silver platter.”
“So this decree….” Astrid leaned forward slightly.
“He announced that all trade with the Southern Isles would cease as of this week.” Hiccup stated. “Probably so that the ships still at sea can dock and sell their wares.”
“That’s… that’s…..” Astrid gaped. “He was serious?!”
“Yeah,” Hiccup nodded.
“But the Southern Isles are near desolate. Produce and medicine from Berk is one of their main imports,” she uttered. “This could destroy them!”
“So what do you say?” Hiccup asked. “After hearing my story will you agree to be my bride?”
“You’re the future king. Being Queen is a demanding job,” Astrid stated.
“I know, Mom often elaborated on her duties.” Hiccup nodded “But I believe you can pull it off. Your upbringing certainly suggests it. Also you would be better off than if you were to live as a commoner.”
Astrid frowned and thought hard. Her father may have disowned her but he had prepared her for much. Some of the best tutors were hired by him to teach her not only etiquette but also subjects from the Imperial college. She was more than versatile in math, politics, philosophy, economics and other sciences.
“If I marry you, will Snotlout still try to get at me?” She asked as she could never underestimate the reach of a member of Nobility and Royalty.
“You would take on the role of Crown Princess,” Hiccup stated. “A duke or soon to be Duke will have no say in your actions.”
That was actually a pleasant thing to hear. “I’m guessing violence isn’t permitted if I want to get back at someone,” She made no allusions. She wanted Snotlout and Camicazi to pay.
“You’ll be Royalty. Violence is never the first response.” Hiccup answered “Though if no one sees you……”
“Ah..” Astrid smiled.
“You know it’s refreshing,” Hiccup mumbled. “Most of the girls I’ve met tend to want to claw their way up to the position of Queen. You don’t seem to even care about that.”
“What can I say? I’m not conventional,” Astrid smirked.
“So do we have a deal?” Hiccup asked as he also noted that his cup was empty. Astrid was looking at him with a neutral expression and he didn’t know what she was thinking. Of all the candidates he had considered, she hadn’t crossed his mind until he heard of her beating his cousin black and blue. The more he investigated the case, the more he came to like her and her way of doing things. Astrid wasn’t one to let go of her virtues and she was more than capable of standing her ground. Something a Queen would need when left in charge of the Kingdom. There were always schemes afoot so a strong woman was needed as a pillar for the country.
Before Astrid could answer however Hiccup said “Wait!”
Astrid looked at him skeptically, thinking that he would have changed his mind, as he then put his hand over his heart and made a vow that would seal her decision. “I Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the 3rd, like my father before me, swear upon the name of the Royal family to only take one wife before, during, and after my reign as sovereign.” Astrid’s mouth hung open. Hiccup had just basically vowed that if she accepted that he would never take a concubine. This just made her see the seriousness of his proposal. She had made up her mind and leaned forward, pecking a stunned Hiccup on the lips with a chaste kiss.
“Hiccup Haddock, I accept,” she wholeheartedly agreed.
“That is great to hear. Now just one more thing.” Hiccup said.
“What?” Astrid frowned.
“We have to break the news to my parents.”
AN: Well now I have a full plot for this story (cackles deviously). There is a little hint in this chapter. I wonder how many can spot it.
“You haven’t told them?!” Astrid exclaimed.
“Well…. I may have…. Sort of… rushed to the prison before informing them,” Hiccup nervously said. “Though they should already suspect seeing as the news of me bringing a lady into the palace may have spread through the maids and then to the butler, and the aides all the way to my parents.”
“Does news in the palace really spread so fast?” Astrid raised a brow in scepticism.
“Well there is one way to find out.” Hiccup laughed before he called out in the direction of the closed double doors “Gobber you there?!”
“Yes lad!” Came the reply from the other side. “Wait.. uhm.. No.. uhm.. I ain’t here…”
“I’m assuming my parents know,” Hiccup then said loudly.
“Oh boy… do they ever….” Gobber responded after being caught on the other side of the door. “They’re waiting for you in your father’s office. I’ll just be going now……….”
“Astrid…” Hiccup stood up and held out his hand for her to take. She took the offered hand and the pair walked out of the room. Along the hall Astrid noticed several knights stationed there as guards. The knights obviously tried to keep a straight face but she did feel some of their glances. Then she had another thought that sent her into a somewhat nervous moment. She was going to meet the King and Queen.
The walk to the study took no time at all and Astrid honestly wished it had. She might not show it but she was nervous as hell. This was not how she had imagined meeting the King and Queen. She wasn’t even dressed for the occasion. Her hair was mused and put in a simple bun with several ends sticking out in odd directions, her dress was the same one she had donned to the gala the night she was arrested. The guards hadn’t given her any new clothing. She hadn’t bathed in Thor knows how long and her jewelry was missing. When she got to the prison, the guards had eagerly taken her jewelry off of her person but had left her in the dress. “Hiccup I don’t think…… Look at me… what will your parents think?!” She managed to mutter as they neared the oak doors.
“Do you want them to barge in on you when you’re taking a bath?” Hiccup asked with a raised brow. “It happened to me too many times to count. They are somewhat impatient if it’s about my lovelife. I doubt they would care what you have on now.”
Astrid flushed at the thought of the King and Queen seeing her in such a state but she admitted she would be more embarrassed if they saw her in a bathtub. She nodded as Hiccup opened the door to his father’s study.
There behind the desk sat Stoick with his fingers folded in front of him. On the brown leather plush couch to the side sat Valka who was sipping some tea. Both of Hiccup’s parents gave off an air that could be seen as somewhat menacing. Astrid actually gulped as Hiccup introduced her. She was sure she would be getting the shovel talk now and she wasn’t wrong.
“Lady Astrid…..” Stoick addressed her as he stroked his red beard. Since she was disowned he couldn’t address her as Lady Hofferson yet the King still tried to remain respectful given that she had commoner status now.
“Your Highness,” Astrid greeted with a curtsy to both King and Queen. “Forgive my current attire,” She added. “This all was most sudden.”
“Of course it was most sudden,” A small smile appeared on Valka’s lips before she took another sip. “Why I nearly choked on my scone when I heard word of Hiccup bringing a lovely lady into the palace.”
“Mom…..” Hiccup made a pleading noise but it was pushed aside as Valka continued speaking.
“Hiccup only brought one other lady to the palace and she became our Knight Captain later. So you can see how intrigued we are right now.” Valka looked Astrid in the eye before taking the last sip of tea that was in her cup. “Tell me, how did he woo you?”
Astrid decided not to beat around the bush and answered bluntly with “He proposed to me in a jail cell, took me back to the palace, swore an oath on his name that I would be his only one and then proposed again.”
“WHAT?!” Stoick shouted while his wife nearly choked on her tea. “You already proposed?!?!” he then directed his inquiry to the closed door of the study. “Gobber is this true?!”
“Uhm… uh… yeah Stoick. The lad worked fast,” Gobber’s voice came from the other end as he must have been listening in again. Astrid raised a brow as everyone acted like it was a common occurrence.
“My Godfather is somewhat of a busybody,” Hiccup whispered to her. “He knows basically all that happens in the castle.”
“Oh but we wanted to be there for the proposal!” Stoick, the big, burly and mighty King of Berk nearly whined at having missed his son’s marriage proposal.
“Stoick comport yourself!” Valka chastised. “At least we get to help plan the wedding, right son?”
“Well… uhm..” Hiccup gave a nervous chuckle. “I think that should be up to Astrid. Given what happened at her last wedding……”
“Astrid what do you think?” Valka then asked. “A lavish wedding, all the best foods in the kingdom, a dress with gorgeous pearls? The best tailors and chefs would be at your disposal. I can already see you and my son walking down that aisle as guests shower you in flower petals and rice.”
“Your Majesties,” Astrid said as eyes turned to her. “While I appreciate your suggestions I will have to respectfully decline. As Hiccup said, my last ceremony left somewhat of a sour taste in my mouth. If I would have to choose the type of wedding I really want it would be a small gathering with close friends and family.” She explained and then a pang went through her heart as she remembered that she didn’t have a family now. “But Hiccup is my fiance now and I will take his decision into account as well. If he wishes for a lavish wedding and reception then we can surely compromise.”
“Interesting,” Valka smirked and Hiccup suddenly realized belatedly that she had been testing Astrid to see if she would be easily drawn to riches. “A woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind even when facing a Queen.” Valka then turned to her husband “I like her Stoick. We are definitely keeping her.”
“Mom…..” Hiccup groaned.
“Now wait just a second here Valka. I am still somewhat against this union!” The King uttered startling both Hiccup and Astrid.
“Dad why?!” Hiccup asked the same time Gobber’s voice came from behind the door with a shout of “Stoick why?!”
“Gobber if you’re going to listen in then you might as well join the conversation.” Stoick groaned.
“Well… you see…. It’s not just me here….” Gobber could be heard gulping while Stoick massaged his forehead.
“All of you just come in!” He then ordered. Astrid saw Gobber for the first time. The Royal advisor was accompanied by a black-haired woman in armour and a red-headed man who had on a straw hat. Hiccup quickly introduced the remaining two as Heather, the Knight Captain, and her older brother Dagur, the Royal gardener. He added that both Dagur and Heather were childhood friends.
“Now where was I….” Stoick muttered. “Ah, yes. There are a few reasons that still need to be addressed. Particularly your fiance’s prison sentence. Violence against another Noble is still an offence.”
“Dad we talked about this……” Hiccup said as he took a step forward. “Anyone would certainly react like that if Snotlout did what he did to her. Behind the curtain most of the Nobility even support her actions.”
“I’m agreeing with Hiccup here Stoick. If you would have ever done something like that to me you would have been without certain assets.” Valka uttered with a dangerous edge in her voice causing her husband to shiver. “Snotlout may be my nephew but he got off too lightly.”
“Your Majesty,” Astrid said as the room quieted. “I know where you’re going with this and I have to agree with you.”
“SAY WHAAAAAAAT!” Several people shouted but Stoick held up a hand to quiet them so Astrid could continue.
“The Royal family represents Berk. It is such that they need to keep a clean image. A scandal like what I faced will cause tongues to wag. Also taking into account that I was imprisoned and then released by Royal decree after assaulting a member of higher peerage, and subsequently naming me as Crown Princess, will cause neighbouring countries to think that the Royal family may have gone soft and felt pity for my lot in life. I have no doubts that there are vultures waiting in the wings ready to snap at any moment.” Astrid addressed the King with her head held high.
“Even so…..” Astrid continued. “I have been humiliated, disowned and left to rot. I have nothing to my name except for my dragon. I know my marriage to Hiccup isn’t one of love yet but your son has decided on me as his fiance and we have both agreed. I owe your son my life. As a woman with nothing to lose and everything to gain, I say let the vultures come. I will face them head on.”
It was quiet after Astrid spoke. The conviction in her words could still be felt in the study. It was Gobber who broke the silence with a whistle to indicate that he was impressed. “The lass has balls I tell ya. Hiccup sure knows how to pick them.”
“You said… yet….” Hiccup gaped at his future bride.
“That is what you are focusing on?” Astrid murmured.
“Thor yes!” Hiccup’s face lit up however eyes turned back to the King as his laughter boomed through the room.
“Lass, my son chose wisely.” Stoick stated. “You certainly don’t shine away or mumbled your words when faced with opposition.”
“Does this mean…..” Hiccup asked.
“I’m approving of this marriage. You two can set the date yourself and inform us later.” Stoick nodded. “Now why don’t you both get some rest. Hiccup I’m sure you can show Astrid to her new rooms in the Palace and have some maids attend to her needs.”
“Stoick I’ll go with them.” Valka said as she ushered her son and future daughter-in-law along with Heather and Dagur out.
The King nodded and then said “I will join you shortly. Gobber and I have some business to discuss.” When the doors closed the King turned to his advisor. “What did you find out?”
“It’s as you suspected. The King and Queen of the Southern Isles have no knowledge that this engagement has been canceled. They would never have allowed it.” Gobber stated. “I know an old barman whose son works in the Palace there as a knight. According to him the Regent has been making some aggressive moves. He’s also Princess Margarette’s confidant.”
“That’s concerning. Do you think the Regent will try to seize power?” Stoick asked.
“With Princess Margarette as a puppet Queen? I doubt it.” Gobber said. “That lass is too opinionated to be someone’s puppet. It’s most likely she is the one pulling the strings.”
Stoick was deep in thought for a moment as Gobber continued “The Princess has thirteen older brothers all in line for the throne. Well except for that last one. His stunt in Arendelle cost him his right to succession.”
“Gobber don’t you think this is all a bit sudden? Something isn’t right here.” Stoick muttered. “The Princess had more to win if she married into our family.”
“I’ll ask some acquaintances to find more information.” Gobber stated. “But unless some unfortunate accident befalls the King, Queen, and all their sons in the short span of time the Regent is in power then I don’t think she has a chance to act.
“Where is King Westergaard signing the trade agreement again?” Stoick asked with all seriousness.
“The Kingdom of DunBroch. They recently started opening relations with the north again after the new monarch was crowned.”
Astrid was sprawled on the comfy bed like a starfish. The blankets were all bunched up and her hair was sticking out at some very odd angles. There were several giggles in the room which caused Astrid to crack open an eyelid.
“Whaaa…..” She asked groggily as she saw three silhouettes in her room. This caused her to pause for a moment before sitting up sharply sending several pieces of her hair flying in her face. Astrid coughed and then in a less than dignified manner pushed the hair out of her face to reveal three maids standing before her bed.
“Greetings Lady Astrid,” The maids said in unison as they curtsied. Astrid blinked for a moment and then remembered the events that had transpired yesterday. Hiccup had taken Astrid to her new rooms, which were next to his and normally assigned to the Crown Princess. The Queen had then ordered three of her personal maids to attend to her. She remembered their names. From left to right there was Minden, Atali, and Nadia. “We are here to help you dress and get ready for the day.”
Astrid blinked taken somewhat off guard. “Uhm….. I can dress myself,” She uttered not entirely sure of what was going on. At home the maids never helped her dress. Sure they brought in a basin of water so she could wash her face and they did draw the bath but these maids were holding items of clothing and they had that glint in their eyes that seemed like they would not take no for an answer.
“You are to be the Crown Princess and our future Queen once you marry Prince Hiccup,” Atali stated. “This level of service is to be expected. We were assigned as your Ladies in waiting and we will fulfill our duties.”
Astrid blinked for a second time as it dawned on her. “You three are Noble ladies too?” She asked. At first, she thought they were simply maids but to have actually already been assigned Ladies in waiting when she hadn’t married Hiccup yet was a shocker. The Ladies in waiting differed from the normal maids as they were daughters from Noble families. Usually, daughters that would not see any inheritance since they were either born from concubines or were the 4th or later child in the family. Nobles usually sent them to the Palace so that they could serve a higher ranking woman and gain influence or find a husband that would elevate their status.
“We are,” Nadia answered. “But your ladyship we should get you ready. Prince Hiccup expressed the desire to take you somewhere later today.” The three ladies giggled again and Astrid had the impression that they found her and Hiccup……. cute.
That glint was back in less than a heartbeat though as Astrid let out a squeak as all three ladies descended upon her. She was soon stripped of her nightgown, tossed in the bathtub, dunked with lukewarm water and scrubbed from head to toe with scented soap. It did feel somewhat nice to take a bath again after being locked in a damp cell so Astrid didn’t mind so much. When she was dry she, however, did blanch when Atali held out a corset for her. Oh, how she hated those infernal things.
When Astrid finally left the room she was looking every bit the prim and proper lady any Noble or Royal would strive for. Her hair was done up in an intricate braid with a single flower ornament added, she wore a somewhat simple dark blue and red dress that accentuated her bosom and hips and she had donned a single silver necklace with a sapphire stone. Astrid was never one for earings so she didn’t wear those. It was one of the areas she wouldn’t compromise on. Not even her mother could get her to wear earrings and that was saying something since her mother could be stubborn to a fault. The Ladies in waiting were very proud of the end result and beamed at her. Atali even hinted that the Prince wouldn’t be able to resist her charms.
Astrid blushed as she set out to explore the castle. She had been given permission to wander wherever she wished and so she took advantage of that. It wasn’t every day that someone could just explore the Royal Palace willy nilly.
A couple of hours later Hiccup along with Toothless were at wits end. They had been looking for Astrid for the last hour but couldn’t spot her. She wasn’t in her rooms, not in the dining hall. the rose garden and the Royal gallery were also Astridless so now they headed towards the kitchens.
“What do you think bud. Think she’d be here?” Hiccup asked the Nightfury merely chirped and lolled out his tongue. The kitchen, however, was also devoid of Astrid. The only people they found there were the maids, the Royal cook Mala and Dagur munching on a cake.
“You’re going to get fat,” Mala commented as she watched Dagur scarf down the cake she had made.
“Then stop feeding me deserts,” Dagur said before letting out a giggle. “No one can compete with your cake.” This caused Mala to actually blush and look away from the Royal gardener.
“Have any of you guys seen Astrid?” Hiccup asked with a frown. He knew the palace was big but it usually didn’t take this long to find someone.
“Oh, yeah,” Dagur said. “I think my sister is trying to kill her at the army barracks.” The red-head said casually as he popped another forkful of cake in his mouth.
“WHAT?!” Hiccup exclaimed before he and Toothless rushed out of the kitchen. The Prince didn’t hear Mala admonish Dagur and telling him he could have worded it better.
Hiccup was on Toothless’ back and flying towards the army barracks at blinding speed. Those he passed could only see a black blur. Gobber who was one of them exclaimed as he got knocked to the floor: “Just what is that lad up to now?!”
When Hiccup reached the army barracks there was a crowd of cheering soldiers in the courtyard. Both he and Toothless pushed their way through and saw the scene before them. To say Hiccup was shocked was an understatement. In the middle of the crowd was his fiance and the Knight Captain going head to head with a pair of axes. They seemed to be evenly matched as both Astrid and Heather parried blows. Hiccup was in awe as Astrid flowed seamlessly into attack after attack with a dress and heels on. Not many women could move that gracefully with such a big axe and the Prince was watching the fight with wide eyes. Then he remembered what he came here for.
“Just what is going on here?!” Hiccup exclaimed as Astrid and Heather were now at a distance from each other while out of breath. Both women and a multitude of soldiers finally noticed Hiccup standing there.
“Just a friendly spar!” Both women said in unison causing Hiccup to raise a brow.
“A friendly spar?” Hiccup asked again as he looked at the area the two women had fought in. Several barrels had hacking marks and some crates were just plainly destroyed. Neither of the women were making a big deal out of it but if Hiccup had to guess then his money would be on Heather challenging Astrid to a duel to see how good she was in combat. She had done the same thing to Princess Margarette who actually had come crying into the throne room about it. Hiccup, however, was not going to say anything more about this. Some advice his father had given him when he was ten rang in his head. “Son never get in between two women having a fight. Especially if those two women have very sharp weapons in hand.”
“So Hiccup what brings you here?” Astrid asked while slightly out of breath. She had her axe slung over her shoulder casually and was looking at both Hiccup and Toothless with curiosity.
“Well I was wondering if you would like to move your dragon into the Palace.” Hiccup said which caused Astrid’s eyes to light up.
“I can?!” Astrid asked excitedly. “Then what are we waiting for! Let’s go get her!”
The soldiers hid their laughter as the Prince was dragged away by the overeager Astrid. The Nightfury cocked his head to the side momentarily before following along after the pair.
“Stormfly is still at the family manor,” Astrid said and blushed when she realized that she had been holding Hiccup’s hand all the way to the front courtyard where she knew the carriages waited. She let go momentarily due to embarrassment but Hiccup took her hand in his again. Toothless, also wanting to help, nudged his head against Astrid’s back, making her lose her balance momentarily and sending her into Hiccup’s arms.
Hiccup shot the Nightfury an incredulous look while Astrid quickly straightened herself. The dragon in question merely gave an innocent look and let his tongue hang out like a puppy. Hiccup then proceeded to mount the saddle on Toothless and he held out his hand for Astrid.
“We aren’t taking a carriage?” Astrid asked with some confusion. She did take Hiccup’s hand as she was helped onto the saddle in front of him. She sat side-saddle because her dress would not allow her to sit normally and she blushed again when she was leaning against Hiccup’s surprisingly broad and firm chest. Astrid blushed lightly while her brain went to places she rather not name. She mentally scolded herself and missed Hiccup’s explanation as to why they weren’t taking a carriage. Her mind had been busy supplying tantalizing images of a certain auburn-haired prince, with a firm chest being half-naked in a lake and Astrid squeaked as Toothless shot in the air. ‘She should really scrub her brain with soap’ Astrid thought before letting out a shout as they passed through several clouds. When Astrid looked down she saw the island in its entirety.
“I think you should hold on,” Hiccup warned her as his arms tightened slightly around her waist. This happened all in several seconds as Toothless descended into a nosedive.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Astrid was sure that even this high up her scream could be heard all over the kingdom. Her arms instinctively tightened around Hiccup’s torso, nearly cutting off his air supply as Toothless now started to swoop over the water. The salty waves assaulted Astrid’s nose and she opened her eyes, she didn’t even know she closed to see the Nightfury gliding above the water. The dragon and rider were clearly having some fun with her and the view all but made up for the scare she had suffered. She had never tried that maneuver with Stormfly and she didn’t think she ever would now. Astrid lightly swatted Hiccup on the chest who merely laughed.
“You could have warned me,” Astrid mumbled.
“Now what would be the fun in that Milady?” Hiccup laughed as they were now nearing Berk’s coast. Soon they were flying over the city and Astrid could see the roofs of the houses very clearly. Near the coast the houses were packed together with some narrow streets and a few main streets. They were flying low enough for Astrid to hear the main street vendors shouting to sell their wares. As they got further south of the island the packed areas gave way to buildings with bigger and bigger yards. The houses with yards often belonged to merchant families and nobles. There was a lot more greenery in this area as there were several large estates. Toothless was landing before Astrid knew it and she was helped down by Hiccup upon the cobbled steps of the sidewalk. Before her was a familiar manor.
Astrid didn’t think the manor could change so much in just a few days. Sure it looked the same on the outside but she could feel some deep resentment coming from the house. Astrid was sure it was just her imagination but she couldn’t shake it. When she took a step towards the house the guards at the gates stopped her.
“Let me through. I’m here for my dragon.” Astrid told them as she looked both men in the eyes.
“We’re sorry miss but we were given strict instructions to not let you on the property.” One of the guards answered looking slightly uncomfortable.
“By who!” Astrid’s brow twitched.
“The new heir of the family.” The same guard answered as Astrid gaped and wondered how they had already decided on a new heir to the family fortune. It normally took months of deliberations between family members.
“You will not deny me entrance. My bonded dragon is still on that estate!” Astrid was getting angrier as the guards still blocked her way.
“Miss really….. We can’t,” The other guard said and then Hiccup stepped forward while holding the emblem of the Berkian Royal family shocking the guards.
“You can let me through now right? Afterall it would be remiss if a Baron didn’t welcome the Crownprince and his fiance.” He turned towards Astrid for a moment and winked.
Astrid hadn’t thought Hiccup would get involved immediately but she also hadn’t thought that her family would bar her from her dragon. The guards looked at each other, nodded and opened the gates. One of the guards accompanied Hiccup and Astrid into the foyer and then quickly whispered something to the head butler. A kind old gentleman that was there since Astrid was a baby. When the guard departed the butler turned and offered his greetings.
“Miss Astrid it is good to see you are well.” He added as he gave her a fond look.
“Steven I’m so glad to see you again.” Astrid said excitedly before surprising the butler with a hug.
“Can you keep me being Hiccup’s fiance a secret for now?” Astrid asked causing Hiccup to frown and raise a brow. “My father will go simply ballistic if he figures it out. It would be more amusing to tell him once we are wed.”
“You’re devious you know,” Hiccup commented while the butler gave them a sly smile.
“It may be that my old age is getting to me and I just so happen to forget to mention that little fact,” Steven commented casually as he guided the pair into a lavish room.
“How is my mother?” Astrid then asked when Steven had motioned for a maid to prepare some tea.
“The Madam has been sent to the countryside to….. ‘Reflect’,” Steven told her and his tone of voice suggested that he was most displeased with that.
“What happened?!” Astrid’s brows shot up as she knew how much her mother hated traveling to the countryside. She was a lady of the city afterall.
“Several things actually,” Steven mentioned “Your mother was quite mad about the broken engagement and once you were imprisoned she went ballistic. She tried to kill the Baron and then make her way over to Duke Jorgenson’s manor to give his son and the supposed harlot, her words not mine, he married a piece of her mind. It took twelve guards to stop her from leaving. Ten ended up seriously injured. And when the Madam heard of your disownment……. Well, she broke the Baron’s leg and arm.”
“Sounds like mom alright,” Astrid said so casually that it caused Hiccup to blink at her incredulously.
“Uhm…… he just said that your mother tried to kill your father.” The Prince mentioned.
“Oh, that’s normal.” Astrid said. “Mom frequently throws knives when she is displeased at father. The time father tried to deny me combat training she missed his crotch by this much….” Astrid made a motion with her fingers that showed the length of a centimeter causing Hiccup to gulp. “Though her breaking bones means that she was quite mad indeed.”
“The Baroness’ aim is superb,” Steven announced proudly. “If she had wanted her husband gone she wouldn’t have missed. Now if you excuse me I will let the Baron know of your arrival. Please enjoy the tea and view until then.”
Once the butler left Hiccup asked Astrid “So... combat training?”
“My father is a traditional man. He believes a Noble lady should be meek if she is to score a good husband. My mother disagreed.” Astrid said as the pair drank their tea which was surprisingly fragrant. “Mother comes from the Laurant family. They are a merchant family that became rich a few decades ago.”
Hiccup nodded as he remembered his history. The Laurant family started off as fish merchants but when the second son took over the family some decades ago because the first son had a gambling problem they started expanding. They quickly gained influence in Berk and the surrounding kingdoms for their wares and were considered Nouveau riche by the longstanding Nobility at the time.
“Because they were merchants that did trade with other island kingdoms mostly they needed to defend themselves. Even the women worked so they too learned. It became a sort of a tradition in that family.” Astrid explained.
“So if your father was a traditionalist then why did he….”
“Marry my mother?” Astrid finished the question. “It’s simple really. At that point in time the Hofferson family wasn’t prosperous. My Grandfather had squandered away the fortune on ventures that gained little capital. Marrying my mother filled up the family coffers again. Mother knew what she was getting into as well. The marriage brought the Laurant family some gains as well.”
“The title,” Hiccup realized as Astrid nodded. The Nouveau riche were still treated somewhat as outcasts in Noble society by the longstanding Nobles who had inherited their fortunes from long ago. By marrying into a Noble family even that of a Baron would give the Laurant family a claim to a title with which they could further advance their business.
“You know Hiccup,” Astrid smiled. “Now that I know for sure that my mother is on my side I think I would like her to meet your mother.” This caused Hiccup to nearly choke on his tea. He now had an idea of what Astrid’s mother could do and he knew what his mother was capable of. Thor help them all if those two ever meet. The Royal army wouldn’t stand a chance.
“I should write to mother soon,” Astrid mused aloud, oblivious to her fiance’s inner turmoil. For once Hiccup was happy to hear the double wooden doors behind them bang open as it distracted Astrid.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!” A rather haughty male voice asked and Hiccup and Astrid turned their heads slightly to see a young blond man dressed in finery approaching them.
“Your Highness,” The young man about Hiccup and Astrid’s age gave an exaggerated bow when he faced the Prince. Astrid rolled her eyes at her cousin and muttered under her breath ‘suckup’.
“Astrid,” The man said with contempt.
“Aster,” Astrid casually replied. “I see you are still an idiot.”
“HOW DARE YOU?!” Aster shouted and Astrid held up a hand to quiet him while giving him a dark look.
“Do you know how many protocols you have just broken?” Astrid asked in an icy voice. “Barging in a room as you did without proper introduction while knowing there is a member of royalty there. Also your extravagant bow is an insult to all Nobility. Can’t you even keep your back straight! And addressing someone accompanying a Prince in such a crude and cold manner! How dare you?!” She rebuked as the young man gaped at her.
“You can’t talk to me that way!” Aster shouted. “I am Aster Hofferson the new heir to house Hofferson. You are just my stupid cousin that got rejected, made a fool of herself and got thrown into prison and out of the family!”
“Hiccup I’m terribly sorry for my cousin’s behaviour. He should know better.” Astrid apologized before turning back to Aster and asking “Where is father? We were supposed to talk.”
“Uncle is in his rooms recovering. He has placed me in charge of any business dealings.” Aster proudly proclaimed.
“Thor help us all,” Astrid sighed. “Well let’s get down to business,” She then said. “I’ve come for Stormfly.”
“No,” Aster said smugly as he crossed his arms. “That dragon is property of the Hofferson family.”
“Stormfly is bonded to me. I demand you return her!” Astrid hissed as her eyes narrowed.
“You were kicked out of the Hofferson family. Your dragon was not.” Aster stated rather condescending. “She will remain here. A Nadder is a rare dragon. It gives us more social status. You of all people should know that. Even if you were left at the altar the Duke wouldn’t even have looked your way as a prospective marriage partner for his son if it wasn’t for your dragon.”
Astrid moved lightning fast after her cousin’s comment. Hiccup’s brows rose up in shock as he saw Astrid produce a small slim blade from her bosom and then holding it up to Aster’s neck. “Keeping a dragon from its bonded is a serious criminal offense,” Astrid said in a honey sweet voice that you wouldn’t have associated with her cold eyes at the moment. Aster gulped as he felt the dagger at his throat. “In fact, you can make a fool of yourself, then get thrown into prison and out of this family.” She hurled his previous words right back at him. “Though it wouldn’t be much of a loss for this family.”
She let go and Aster fell backwards on one of the couches. He held a hand to his throat where Astrid’s blade had been and uttered “Take your damn beast and go!”
“That’s more like it. Do say hi to father for me,” Astrid said as she made to walk out of the room. Hiccup had stood up and was following behind her. She stopped momentarily and then turned back to her cousin. “Just a word of advice Aster,” She said as her eyes softened somewhat. Her cousin was still in shock on the couch but did look up at her. “Know when your strings are being pulled. A puppet is only useful for so long.”
With that said Astrid walked out and towards the backyard where Stormfly usually sunbathe. “STORMFLYYYYYYY!!” Astrid shouted when she was in the very large garden.
There was some commotion as Hiccup saw a dust cloud approaching. That was probably the last thing he remembered as he was bowled over by a very overeager Nadder.
“Uwagh….” Hiccup uttered as he cracked open an eye. His body throbbed from being trampled and he wondered just how much time had passed. His eyes snapped open when he noticed he was face to beak with a Nadder.
“Stormfly don’t scare Hiccup like that!” Astrid admonished. The Nadder in question cocked her head to the side before stepping back to allow the Prince to get up. It was then that he noticed that he had been laying on someone’s lap. A very comfortable and warm lap. He was still somewhat disoriented but then a familiar blonde head came into few.
“Hello sleepyhead,” Astrid said. “I should apologize for Stormfly. She didn’t mean to run you over. She was just a bit overexcited.”
“It’s alright, really.” Hiccup said as he sat up fully. The warmth was gone and he immediately missed it. “Uhm…..”
“Ah yes, you still need to formally meet,” Astrid smiled as she gestured for Stormfly to come closer. A lovely blue and yellow Nadder approached. The dragon didn’t seem at all bothered about the man that had been laying on Astrid’s lap and that surprised Hiccup. Dragons were a bit territorial, especially if their bonded was a female or a child. They would do whatever it took to keep them safe. He still remembered Toothless biting a maid’s hand when he was eight and growling with hackles raised. A year or so later it turned out the maid had been part of a kidnapping ring that was sent into the palace to kidnap him and extort his parents. “Hiccup this is Stormfly, Stormfly this is Hiccup. My fiance.”
The Nadder chirped, cocked it’s head and then leaned in closer as if to examine Hiccup. Nadders were one of the more intelligent dragon species so Hiccup had no doubt it understood what a fiance meant. After nearly thirty seconds of sniffing the dragon gave him a lick. “Looks like she approves.” Astrid giggled as Hiccup was now covered in dragon slobber. “You know that…”
“Doesn’t wash out…. Yeah,” Hiccup mumbled as he gave Stormfly an affectionate scratch after wiping away some slobber. Astrid helped Hiccup stand up and as both walked towards the front gate they saw a black blur hop over the high gate, much to the shock of the guards, and bound over to them. For the second time that day Hiccup was bowled over. This time by an over eager Nightfury.
“Toothless!!!” Hiccup shouted as he was knocked to the ground again. Toothless was sniffing him all over and then licking him. Astrid suspected it was because he had the scent of another dragon on him. Stormfly chirped then catching the Nightfury’s attention. Both dragons looked at each other before they playfully began to circle. When Astrid had helped Hiccup up for a second time they saw that Stormfly had somehow managed to sit on Toothless, squishing the Nightfury to the ground with its legs splayed. The Nadder chirped in victory which caused both Astrid and Hiccup to laugh. “Better luck next time bud,” Hiccup joked as Stormfly got off her new friend.
The pair mounted their respective dragons and then made their way to the Palace. The ride was relatively short but what awaited them was more surprising. Mala was pacing in the front courtyard while it was nearly sunset. That was an unusual sight of itself. Usually she would have already dragged Dagur to a tavern for a night of drinking. Everyone in the palace knew those two were an item even if they were trying to be discreet. Hiccup chuckled as he remembered mother and Heather taking down bets from the maids and knights on when they would make their relationship public.
“Welcome your Highness and Lady Astrid,” Mala greeted. Astrid had not met the head cook yet but was quickly introduced. “I have a somewhat unusual request.”
“We should take this to a private room,” Hiccup suggested as the Royal cook nodded. They entered the palace, while their dragons went elsewhere. Toothless was likely going to show Stormfly his very cosy sleeping nook. They then entered one of the conference rooms on the ground floor and sat down in the surprisingly plush chairs.
“There is someone I wish to recruit,” Mala stated as she got right down to the matter at hand. Astrid looked confused as Hiccup said “You don’t usually ask us who you want to recruit and we don’t usually ask.”
“I did say this case was a bit unusual,” Mala sighed. “But I believe this one warranted your notice.”
“Uhm….. I’m a bit confused.” Astrid mumbled.
“Right, you would have been told this once we were married but now might be a good a time as any. Mala isn’t just the Royal cook. She’s also the Captain of the Shadow guards. Only about five people know they even exist now.” Hiccup explained.
“Shadow guards?” Astrid frowned. She had never heard that name before.
“The Shadow guards are an elite network of spies spread throughout this castle, Berk and other various neighbouring Kingdoms. Only I, the Captain, and the Royal advisor know who all of them are.” Mala answered. “Our main objectives are to gather intelligence. If that intelligence proves to be a danger to the Berkian Royal family then we are authorized to deal with it and protect the Royal family at all costs.” Astrid had no doubt about what Mala meant when she said deal with it. Some Noble families employed spies themselves but never to this extent. The information network Mala and Hiccup were suggesting would have taken decades to build. She guessed this was how Hiccup’s godfather knew all the gossip in the castle.
“As I was saying. Three days ago a new scullery maid joined my kitchen staff. She’s petit, quiet, modest, and no one would give her a second glance if she walked by. She however seems to be highly insecure but with the proper training she can rise above it.” Mala explained. “The girl seemed like a good candidate and as always I did a background check.”
“What did you find?” Hiccup asked. Both he and Astrid were generally intrigued.
“It’s what I didn’t find,” Mala stated. “There is a birth certificate but it only names the mother of the girl. But that is it. No papertrail, no nothing. It was like the girl vanished from the face of the world after she was born.”
“What of the mother?” Astrid asked. “Surely there would be some clue there.”
“The mother was stand-in for a popular singer in a stage group. She became pregnant and left the group. I still need to track down the midwife but so far no luck.” There was some frustration in Mala’s voice and Astrid guessed that tracking down a midwife was supposed to have been easy. “It seemed the papers she used to enter into employment in the Palace were forged to a degree as well. Someone took great pains to hide her true identity.”
“Do you suspect her of being a spy?” Hiccup asked with a frown.
“There is the possibility of that.” Mala stated. “But I feel there is more going on here. I noticed on several occasions that she seemed to have had etiquette training of the noble class. I already spoke with Gobber on this matter and he gave me the clear light to approach you. Or rather Lady Astrid.”
“Me?” Astrid stared dumbfounded.
“Gobber and I had hoped that you may be able to establish a rapport with the young lady in question.” Mala stated. “She is terribly closed off and the maids she works closely with regard her as somewhat of a nuisance. Those bridges are burned. I can’t use them now. But you two arrived at the palace within days of each other. There is still a chance of a connection being established.”
“I honestly don’t know what to say,” Astrid uttered. “It doesn’t feel right to lead another person on like that.”
“I know but we haven’t much time to think of anything else. The kingdoms of DunBroch and Arendelle are sending over representatives for possible trade agreements in a few weeks.” Mala stated seriously. “We can’t leave a possible spy in the castle. I feel for the poor girl. She must have had a hard life but the fact that we can find no other information on her is suspicious enough. I proposed this method because I don’t want to drag her down to the dungeons to find out if she is working for another Kingdom.”
Astrid was looking at Mala and saw the serious expression. Sure enough no one wanted to be dragged down to the dungeons to be interrogated. Mala’s plan was more humane but Astrid still had doubts. She wasn’t one to form a fake friendship just to find out someone’s motives. “I’ll… I’ll do it,” Astrid said but then added “Can you tell me who the patron was that got her employment at the castle?” ‘It had to be someone high up’ Astrid thought. Not just anyone could get paperwork by so smoothly.
“On paper… Duke Jorgenson,” Mala stated causing Astrid’s eyes to widen.”But my sources in the Jorgenson household say that it was Lady Camicazi that had been pulling the strings. Quite expertly may I add as well.”
Another day dawned and things were somewhat hectic in the Southern Isles. “WHERE IS HE?!” Princess Margarette screeched while slamming the basin to the ground. The porcelain bowl shattered causing the maid that was helping her with her washing to flinch. The maid shrank back as the normally calm Princess appeared quite irate.
“Calm down Maragette,” The Regent said as he stood by her now open door. “Your shouting will achieve nothing.”
“We can say the same for your actions Lars,” Margarette growled at her oldest brother who was Regent until their father and mother returned. “To think that I trusted your plan at all!”
“Leave us,” Lars growled and the maid ducked out with her head down. Now only the Princess and the Crown Prince remained.
“You need to be patient sister,” Lars stated. “If all goes well we will be able to take Berk, Dunbroch and Arendelle in one move. Don’t you want to be Queen of a vast empire?”
“Nothing has been going well! Prince Hiccup should have been crawling back to me by now. And of course I want to be Queen!” Margarette exclaimed in a very unlady-like fashion. “But it was your stupid plan to break off the engagement with Berk. I just needed to wait for his old man to croak. I already had him wound around my finger.”
“Why wait when we can just take what we want? Who cares if Prince Hiccup didn’t come here on bended knee.” Lars asked with a raised brow. “If my plan works then Berk, Arendelle, and DunBroch will be clawing at each other's throats. Their resources will become depleted once a war breaks out. It’s then when their rulers are most vulnerable. Once they are weakened we strike.”
“Is that why you convinced our brother Hans to aim for the Arendelle throne?” Margarette raised a brow and crossed her arms. “Look how well that turned out.”
“Hans was an idiot,” Lars said dismissively. “He would have never gotten the throne. I just wanted him out of the running for King. Though if he had succeeded then there was nothing a little poison wouldn’t fix.”
“So ruthless,” Margarette chuckled. “That’s why you and I get along.”
“Hans is gullible. He took my bait this time as well and he even dragged our 10th brother into it.” Lars smiled wickedly. “Soon there will be one less Royal with a claim to the throne.”
“So me breaking my engagement was also part of this grand scheme of yours. Father will be mad.” Margarette uttered.
“Exactly,” Lars smiled as his eyes got colder. “Angry Kings make mistakes….”
“I better be compensated richly for this. Facing father’s wrath is not something I look forward too.” Margarette sated while pursing her lips.
Meanwhile, back on Berk, Astrid was contemplating how to approach the scullery maid. Mala had given her some direction but had ultimately left it up to her. It still left a bitter taste in Astrid’s mouth that she would have to pretend to be someone’s friend. She either was or wasn’t. If she wasn’t friends with someone they would know it right away. This reminded her too much of the fake friendships among the Nobles. Especially the story of the fall of the Thornston family. They were a prominent family governing an Earldom but have recently begun to decline. Earl Thornston was an ex-army General who governed his family with an iron fist. The ladies were expected to marry into prominent families and the men were supposed to take over the Earldom and its businesses. The problem started when Lady Thornston had befriended a daughter of a Viscount in the neighbouring territory. Everything was fine for a few months. Lovely tea and garden parties. One day Lady Thornston confided to her friend that she would rather become a doctor then marry the brute her father had picked out for her.
Astrid hissed as Atali tied the corset tighter. She should really get a petition going to ban these things. She got back to her musings while enduring it for now. Now this little confession between friends happened to be the downfall of the family. The Viscount’s daughter let it slip on purpose and of course the Earl heard of this. Lady Thornston was given an ultimatum then. Either marry her prospective fiance within a week or be thrown on the streets with only the clothes on her back. Lady Thornston chose the streets while holding her head high. What’s more, her twin brother also renounced his claim to the Earldom and left with her. When the legitimate and only heir left the branch families started lapping up at the resources this family had.
“Ladies… I was wondering if you….” Astrid hissed again as she was laced up further “know a maid named Sierra?” She finished the question just as Atali finished the corset. When turning around she saw that Minden had laid out three dresses for her while Nadia held out a box of accessories. Hiccup was the one who surprised her with those the night she first stayed here. Atali and Minden shook their heads but she could see a spark of recognition in Nadia’s eyes.
“The new scullery maid. Yes, I’ve seen her around. Some of the other maids were making fun of her because she didn’t have a bonded dragon yet.” Nadia answered. “It was odd. She wasn’t at fault but started to apologize profusely after I had called out the other maids.”
Astrid nodded, filing away the information, and then picked up a cobalt blue dress. It had a sleeker skirt, which Astrid liked, and wasn’t ostentatious as some of the dresses she had seen other women wear. There would be a garden party later in the day hosted by Queen Valka. All the Noble ladies would be gathering and Astrid was a bit nervous because this would be her first party after her imprisonment. She knew that she could expect some unfavorable comments especially since her new engagement hadn’t been announced yet.
As Astrid left her room Minden asked if they should accompany her. Astrid, knowing what she had to do, shook her head negatively. The fewer people involved the better. Mala had commented that Sierra washed the pots and pans out in a nook behind the kitchens so Astrid made her way there. Indeed she found the maid there scrubbing a pot vigorously. Now the only problem was the approach. She couldn’t just casually walk by. The upper class didn’t take a walk behind the kitchens as opposed the sprawling gardens of the Palace.
She thought for a moment and then sighed. She might as well wing it. She picked up her skirt slightly to avoid the mud and then made her way over to the girl. “Excuse me?” Astrid asked to gain the girl’s attention.
The scullery maid startled and dropped the pot she had been scrubbing onto her toe. Astrid certainly didn’t mean for that to happen and walked towards her swiftly to see if there was any bleeding. “Are you alright? I really didn’t need to startle you like that.” And she hadn’t. She had used her usual voice but she wondered if perhaps the girl was easily startled.
“My Lady I am sorry,” The maid kept her head down and wrung her hands in nervousness. Astrid noticed that her black locks were getting into her face. She kinda felt bad for the girl now.
“Hey, hey, look it was my fault for startling you.” Astrid said as she tried to make her voice sound reassuring. “There is no need to apologize.”
“But you are of a higher rank than I….” The young maid uttered.
“So?” Astrid frowned. She wasn’t sure what the girl was getting at.
“Uhm… Those of a higher rank should always be apologized to even if they are at fault.” The girl then uttered shocking Astrid.
“Who told you that?!” The young maid flinched back a bit as Astrid had accidentally let out the edge in her voice. Whoever taught the maid this will be feeling the underside of her heel soon. “Look, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Astrid began again. This wasn’t really going where she hoped. When the maid wanted to apologize again she shushed her.
The girl still wasn’t looking at her and an awkward silence had descended between them. Astrid needed to think of something fast. “Why don’t we get you some ice for your foot.” She proposed.
“Don’t worry My Lady. I am fine,” Sierra stated and then asked “What brings you here?”
“I… uhm.. I’m looking for Dagur,” Astrid quickly answered and thought ‘Oh Thor,”
“The Royal gardener?” The maid asked then.
“Yes, I was hoping he could cut the bushes near my room in the shape of those ornate flamingos. They are just so charming.” Astrid gushed but mentally she was kicking herself because those things, while supposed to be flamingos, looked nothing like flamingos. “I figured he would be near the kitchens since well……..” She beckoned the maid closer as if to gossip. Sierra leaned in then Astrid said “He absolutely loves the head cook.”
“Yes, he seems to like Miss Mala’s cooking quite a lot.” The scullery maid answered. “But he won’t be here today. He was called into the Knight compound by Miss Heather after he set fire to the Queen’s prized roses by accident.”
‘Well DAAAAANMMMMMM’ Astrid’s mind reacted to that tidbit of information but she didn’t show it on her outward appearance. “That is unfortunate, but……” She stopped for a moment and groaned. She couldn’t do it. Sneakiness be damned as well. The girl was now finally somewhat looking at her and those big brown eyes held such innocence. If this girl was a spy then she was a master and Astrid had it coming if she got stabbed in the back. What she was about to do was going to be breaking so many rules.
“Sierra come with me,” Astrid said as she grabbed the maid’s arm and tugged her to follow. The young lady was momentarily stunned but followed along the muddy walking path to a discrete area of the palace.
“My Lady?!” Sierra asked once they stopped and Astrid looked around to see if there were any prying ears. “How….. How do you know my name?!”
“You may call me Astrid,” She told the maid. “And I know it because you are in a lot of trouble.”
Sierra gulped and her eyes widened. “But…. But….. I apologized!” She said in such a nervous voice. “Please don’t have me whipped!”
“What?! No! It’s not about the pot!” Astrid was taken aback. “It’s because your employment papers were forged. They are suspecting you of being a spy.”
The young maid took a step back and Astrid hoped to Thor she wouldn’t run. Tackling someone in this dress was going to be a pain. Instead Sierra got down to her knees and clutched the hem of Astrid’s dress to the surprise of the dress owner. “I’m not a spy. I swear on my mother’s grave I’m not!”
It took a while for Astrid to calm the girl down and when she finally did she had several questions. “The papers, they came from the Jorgenson estate?” Astrid asked and Sierra nodded. “You were employed there?” Another nod. “Did Camicazi have any hand in your placement here?” Now that got a stronger reaction than normal.
“Please don’t blame Lady Camicazi!” Sierra uttered. “She’s not a spy either! She only did it to…..”
“To?” Astrid asked as she saw Sierra’s hands clutch her skirt.
“She only did it to save my life,” The maid finally admitted and Astrid’s brows shot up.
AN: Now I do wonder where this little twist will take us (innocent whistle)
Astrid pursed her lips as she entered the expansive Royal gardens. The Queen’s garden party was already ongoing and ladies from all walks of Nobility were milling about. None came with male escorts as only women were allowed in at these parties. The men had their own social gatherings where women were not allowed entrance so when Queen Valka ascended the throne, along with her husband, she decided to implement several social gatherings for women. When the Royal court ministers had begun to protest she had shut them up with but a single glare, so the story goes.
Astrid still remembered her father griping about these gatherings when her mother attended and later when she was old enough to attend, namely at 13. The parties were fun but they were also ripe with gossip. Things that the men had no idea women talked about. Things that made Astrid blush when she had first heard them.
“Lady Astrid please smile. You look like you will kill the next person that greets you,” Minden whispered. The three ladies in waiting were also accompanying Astrid as they were also Nobles. Astrid put on her best business smile but she was still worried about several things. First off was Sierra’s position. She had known Camicazi since they had been children. Something must have been desperately wrong if that woman gave someone a helping hand. It also didn’t seem that Sierra was lying. Astrid had introduced her to Stormfly and Toothless just to be certain. Toothless ignored the maid and went back to sleep while Stormfly ended up trying to preen her. Her dragon didn’t turn anyone into a strainer so the girl was no threat. The other thing bothering Astrid was that this was her first social debut after getting out of prison. She was sure she would be the highlight of conversation. Camicazi and several other snobbish women were also attending and Astrid wondered if they would use this opportunity to shame her more. Her engagement hadn’t been made public yet as there were several documents both she and Hiccup had to go through so her status as the future Crown Princess was still unknown. Basically no status means you’re a free feast for the vultures.
The music was light as women socialized. There were all types of sweets present along with tea, wine, champagne and other exotic drinks. Several ladies had taken to playing a game of Polo on the wide open field. Astrid held her light blue parasol lofty as she strolled past. Her hand tightened around the handle as she heard several older ladies gossip very loudly about her.
“Oh my my….”
“What is she doing here?”
“She’s not a Noble anym….”
“The nerve of her….”
“Showing her face….”
These were some of the things Astrid heard. Her Ladies in waiting were close by and she spotted the three women sending murderous glares at several older women. The gossip quieted down somewhat when Queen Valka greeted Astrid heartily with a hug. Most women blinked in shock since the Queen had never hugged anyone at the parties before. Astrid was ushered to the Queen’s table where other high ranking Noblewomen sat, now including Camicazi. The blond, and future Duchess Jorgenson, was quiet though as Astrid noted Cami simply observing her.
Astrid gave her polite greetings to the table and sat down. Camicazi sat to the Queen’s left while Astrid sat to the Queen’s right. The other ladies at the table seemed to be the widowed Duchess Larson who was a connoisseur of the fine arts, ‘and men’ Astrid’s mind supplied. It was well known that she took over as head of the family after Duke Larson’s passing, refusing to remarry and instead becoming the patron of several now renowned artists. Astrid also recognized Countess Berta, Camicazi’s mother. The woman had a severe face but Astrid actually liked her. Underneath all that severity was a mother who doted on her daughter and loved her husband very much. Countess Berta was not meeting Astrid’s eyes and if she had to guess, the woman felt guilty for her daughter snatching Snotlout on Astrid’s wedding day. The two seats next to Astrid were empty but next to Countess Berta sat Marchioness Stormheart. Nikora Stormheart was something of an enigma in the Noble social circles. The territory the Stormhearts governed lay all the way on the northern tip of the Berkian island. That area supplied 70 percent of Berk’s fish so they had a large fleet of ships and several ports there. Astrid knew since she was small that this woman could be ruthless. She had a reputation and everyone knew she was loyal to only Queen Valka. What the Queen had done to earn such loyalty……….. Now that was a mystery.
“Well ladies, how are you enjoying today’s party?” Valka asked while taking a sip of her wine. “There are still two people that need to arrive to complete this little group.”
Astrid blinked. The Queen had just hinted that she had added them all here at the table for a reason. Her future mother-in-law hadn’t even been subtle.
“You know I hate parties,” Nikora grumbled. “I fail to see why you keep dragging me out here.”
“Well you can’t just stay holled up in your manor all day.” Valka smiled. “You need some sun.” The Queen then perked up as someone approached. “Ah, here is another. Welcome to the club Lady Thornston. Or should I say Doctor Thornston.”
Astrid’s brows shot up but she immediately schooled her face into a more neutral look. Inwardly her mind was screaming at her. ‘Just what was Ruffnut Thornston, a doctor that now worked with the masses, doing in the Palace?!’
“Greetings Queen Valka,” Ruffnut greeted with a curtsy. “Forgive my tardiness. My meeting with the King ran late.” Astrid’s mind was whirling with ‘What the hell is going on here?!’ and then she spotted none other than her mother approaching the table. Astrid was still in shock as she was enveloped in a warm hug. Of course she was glad to see her mother again. Someone from the palace must have been dispatched. The table was finally full and Astrid suspected that the group that had been assembled would be talking about some serious business, yet all they did was make small talk. There however seemed to now be a wordless understanding reached between the women at the table. Soon the group excused themselves to participate in other activities.
Queen Valka ‘innocently’ went on with her socializing, the Marchioness disappeared in the crowd, Astrid’s mother had taken the Countess aside and the women were discussing something in hushed tones, the good doctor was muttering something about having to deal with a wild chicken when she got back to her clinic, Duchess Larson had excused herself and had taken a seat under the shade of a large willow tree, and Camicazi had stood up and was now strolling towards the hedge maze.
Astrid made up her mind. As strange as this group had been she had to get to the bottom of her current problem first. She stood up from the table and also decided to take a stroll through the maze.
Astrid walked deeper in the maze and wondered which path Camicazi had taken. “Odd isn’t it?” A voice asked from behind her and Astrid turned to see Camicazi stroll out from another path. “Whatever could the Queen have been thinking?” The blond woman asked casually as she kept strolling. Astrid walked next to her, giving anyone watching the impression that they were just two ladies on a simple stroll. “Myself who has eyes and ears in High society, my mother who is married to the Minister of Finance, a doctor who is both adored and feared by the populace, Marchioness Stormheart who can command the Berkian navy, your mother, the esteemed Baroness and merchant’s daughter and Duchess Larson who has connections that we may not even know. It almost seems like the Queen wants to have a monopoly on the seas.” Camicazi stopped. “Where do you fit in though? A disowned Noble’s daughter.”
“Cami can you please get to the point?” Astrid groaned. She knew the game Cami was playing. Trying to get a rise out of her. The woman had done it whenever they talked. What she didn’t expect was for Camicazi to reach into the small purse she had and thrust several folded papers in Astrid’s hands. “What?” Astrid asked confused as she opened them. Her eyes widened. “The property deeds of my dowry?!” Astrid knew Snotlout had kept them but she would have never guessed that it would be Camicazi that would return it to her. “Won’t you get in trouble?”
“Snotlout will probably think he misplaced them. He’s horrible at keeping his office organized.” The blonde muttered.
“Wait, why are you giving me these? It can’t be from the goodness of your heart.” Astrid frowned.
“I need a favor,” Camicazi finally said.
“Of course you do,” Astrid’s eyes narrowed.
“Snotlout went ballistic when he found out you’d been released by the way. I don’t know what your position in the Palace is right now and I don’t care. There are even rumors that you’ve been taken in as a maid.” Camicazi stated. “This has to do with me trying to prevent a Civil war so I suggest you don’t make light of what I’m about to tell you. The Queen likely already suspects something is afoot as well.”
“Wait what?!” Astrid’s eyes widened. Her mouth would have also hung open if she hadn’t corrected herself swiftly. She was having an overload as her brain tried to fit the pieces together. She didn’t have everything yet but she now knew that Queen Valka’s political maneuvers were much more elaborate than her husband’s. Women tended to work behind the scenes as seemed to be the case here and this was a maneuver on a National scale.
“Are you going to do me a favor or not?” Camicazi asked causing Astrid to snap out of her whirling thoughts. “There’s a maid I had sent to the Palace.”
“Sierra,” Astrid raised a brow causing Camicazi to stop what she was going to say next.
“I hadn’t realized you two were acquainted.” Cami stated.
“It’s……. A recent thing.” Astrid uttered and then thought ‘Mala knew, Gobber knew so then it would be reasonable for the King and Queen to know too.’
“I need her safety guaranteed.” Camicazi stated. “She’s safer in the Palace than at the Jorgenson estate but it’s not enough.”
“Why?” Astrid frowned. “What does she have to do with the Civil war you’re trying to prevent?”
“That maid is the bastard child of Duke Jorgenson,” Camicazi stated next and that statement alone caused Astrid to actually gape this time. “Which means,” Cami continued, “bastard or not. She is also in line for the throne!”
AN: DUN DUN DUNNNNN....... (Proceeds to put on a cactus costume and hide in a sea of cacti) YOU GUYS WILL HAVE TO GET POKED IF YA WANT ME!!!! HAHAHAHAHA
The soft music of the orchestra in the garden filtered into the meeting room as the Queen’s garden party started. The room, however, held a tension that you could cut with a knife.
“I’ve got scones!” Gobber announced as he entered followed by several maids holding trays of food and drink. “Why tha ladies have to have all the fun is a mystery to me!” Hiccup’s godfather laughed.
‘It seemed that the tension in the room could either be cut with a knife or Gobber wielding scones,’ Hiccup mused. He was seated to the left of his father while Gobber took a seat on the right. The maids were pouring tea or coffee for all other guests in the room as well before leaving. There weren’t many people here. Heather was present along with Mala who wore a black mask that obscured her features. To this day no one knew but the Royal family knew that the cook was the spymaster of the kingdom. Also present was the Minister of Interior affairs, Alvin the Treacherous, and his close aide Savage.
“Why isn’t Duke Jorgenson here? Isn’t he the Minister of External affairs or did I miss a job change?” Alvin asked bluntly as he gingerly picked up a scone. The burly man had a sweet tooth that he wouldn’t admit to.
“Straight to the point I see,” Stoick muttered. “He’s the reason I’ve actually called you here. We have several issues to deal with.”
There was a knock on the door and Stoick bellowed enter. When the door opened the group saw a blonde woman with twin braids enter. “Forgive me for being tardy your Majesty. I had an idiot brother and wild chicken to subdue.” Stoick nodded and indicated for her to take the seat next to Heather.
“Now that we’re all here we can proceed.” The King stated as he folded his hands on the mahogany table. “The first thing is the position of Duke Jorgenson. My wife has expressed some concern over his continued involvement with royal affairs. It seems she has uncovered something suspicious.”
“We can’t dismiss Jorgenson on your wife’s suspicions alone,” Alvin stated. “There has to be reasonable proof of suspicion.”
“I know and I told her that but she seemed adamant. So adamant in fact that she invited Marchioness Stormheart to today’s party.” Stoick stated.
“Welp, that’s gonna open a can of worms,” Gobber muttered. “If she invited Stormheart she’s dead serious.”
“I think I might know,” Heather piped up. “The Queen asked me if she could borrow a few of my knights. The only reports they were able to give me were that they were ordered to intercept and copy several messages from Duke Jorgenson.”
“So mom might have all the proof she needs but is keeping it quiet?” Hiccup frowned. “Why? I don’t want to think that uncle Spitelout is up to anything but…..”
“It’s because there’s a bigger fish,” Mala now said in a tone that would be hard to identify her voice. “If Queen Valka is playing her cards close to her chest then that means that there is a bigger player and Duke Jorgenson is merely a pawn.”
“But why can’t she just tell meeeeee!” Stoick whined as his head hit the table.
“Well dad…… maybe it’s because you’d act rashly?” Hiccup supplied. “You know how mom is.”
“Aye Stoick. Remember the Count Mildew incident,” Gobber chimed in. “Yer wife had the perfect plan to trap him for all the illegal smuggling and embezzlement. She told you and you went ballistic.”
“He was one of my most trusted Ministers Gobber!” Stoick defended.
“Didn’t mean ya had to summon the whole Knight regiment to arrest him,” Gobber actually rolled his eyes. “Ya slept on the couch for 2 months because the evidence then was only circumstantial. Boy was she furious at ya.”
Stoick glared at Gobber who just happily sipped his tea. “Anyway, what I’m saying is let the Queen handle your brother. She’s way more sneaky.”
Stoick grumbled but even he had to admit that he tended to react rashly when faced with betrayal. His wife was much more cool headed and her retribution was just as sweet.
“There is another matter I called you all here for,” Stoick said as he let the previous subject drop for the moment. He picked up a document and then looked at Alvin. “Is this true?”
“Aye,” Alvin nodded. “There have been reports of merchant and military ships being infected with a new type of sickness. We can’t seem to find the source so that was why I asked for Dr. Thornston to join us.”
“Your Majesty,” Ruffnut nodded and then spoke. “This new disease is……. Strange.”
“You can’t find a cure for it?” Stoick asked with concern.
“A cure is possible but the reason I say this is because there are actually two types of the same disease.” Ruffnut elaborated. “I was allowed to quarantine all sick sailors and what I found was astonishing.”
“Two?!” Alvin’s brows shot up. Those in attendance were also now looking at the doctor with shock.
“Yes, at first I thought it was all the same virus but the ships from the North carry a strain of lesser potency than those coming from the South.” Ruffnut stated. “The disease coming from the north is easily treatable as the Northern kingdoms have dealt with it before but that treatment does not seem to be working fully on the sick coming from the south. We would need to develop another treatment method for the southern version of the disease.”
“How long would that take?” Stoick asked.
“I’m unsure. It could be days, it could be weeks. We just don’t know which method is most effective yet.” Ruffnut answered.
“Is there a possibility of a plague breaking out?” Hiccup asked the one question everyone was scared to ask. The reality of that happening would be catastrophic. Not only to the people of the kingdom but also to the trade infrastructure in place.
“So far, thanks to the Minister of Interior, all incoming ships go through a quarantine screening.” Ruffnut explained. “Though we cannot rule out that the disease might be carried by someone entering the kingdom through illegal means.”
“Closing down our borders won’t help either. If we do not get the traded goods in then the economy will collapse. If we do and the sickness spreads then the lives of our people are in danger.” Stoick grumbled.
“Wouldn’t the kingdoms to the south have a cure?” Heather asked. “The ambassadors should be arriving within a few days. Surely they might have seen this sickness before.”
Ruffnut was quiet for a while as Stoick was thinking on the matter of the ambassadors. It might be safer the King thought if they didn’t allow entry into the Kingdom while this matter was going on. However, doing that, it would possibly hinder future trade negotiations as well.
“Two strains of the same sickness, both appearing at the same time from areas so far apart.” Ruffnut uttered. “The odds of that happening naturally…….”
“You’re saying that this can’t be natural?” Stoick questioned.
“Your Majesty, I’m saying that, if this is but a coincidence then the stars have it out for Berk. If it is not then something much more sinister is at play.” Ruffnut stated causing the room to fall silent.
Meanwhile, in the Royal gardens the party was well underway. The Queen had lost track of both Astrid and Camicazi but she supposed they couldn’t get into too much trouble. She had made her rounds and spotted Nikora near the cordoned off part of the botanical garden. Valka mused that she could slip away for a bit.
When she approached Nikora she heard the woman say “I was wondering when you’d get here.”
“How do you always do that?” Valka muttered. She had yet to successfully sneak up on her friend. Both she and Nikora linked arms as they walked into the cordoned off part of the garden.
When they were far enough away from the party that the music couldn’t reach them Valka asked “How’s it with your husband?”
“Pretty much the same,” Nikora said as they passed a small stream. “He’s yet to touch me but he’s being discreet about his affairs. Lately he’s been doting on a popular singer in the gentlemen’s only club.”
“And how’s your sister?” Valka then asked. Of course she knew the man Nikora had married. He was being pressured so badly by his family to marry since he was already past 30. So she had introduced the two since she knew neither had wanted to sleep with each other. Nikora’s husband was also more than happy to let her do the job of Minister of the Naval forces.
“Eir is doing fine. She is expecting her second child this winter. I’ve already named her firstborn my heir.” Nikora spoke fondly. The two sisters had been all that was left of the household after the Pirate Drago had attacked some years ago.
“So you never plan on having a child?” Valka asked.
“You know why,” Nikora answered. “My heart will belong to you alone even if nothing comes of it.”
“You knew I wouldn’t have minded. There is no law against it in this kingdom. Why did you wait to confess until after I got married?” Valka now frowned. She never did get a concrete answer out of Nikora.
“Because…….” There was a sigh. “I saw how happy you could be.” Nikora muttered. “I was there passing by the gazebo when Prince Stoick proposed to you. Both of us might have been in the running as a candidate for Queen but we both knew you would win.” She stated. “I had already told the Prince of my persuasion early on. There would have never been any romance between us. Imagine the Prince’s face when I told him I had fallen for his other fiance candidate instead of him.”
“He promised you the world Valka. He promised you love, happiness, a family of your own. I chose to step aside willingly.” Nikora said somewhat sadly. “With the way things were in my family at that point, I could promise you none of that. I’m actually happy with what we have right now. Even if this is just platonic. I wouldn’t trade my friendship with you for the world.”
“Even if I were to ask you something that might be near impossible?” Valka queried.
“Always,” Nikora winked and smiled.
AN: More palace intrigue. I, like the rest of you have lost grip of the plot. I'm winging it to see where it will go. Also CAN SOMEONE HELP ME FIND THE ZIPPER TO MY CACTUS COSTUME?!?!?! (Is stuck in it)
“That maid is the bastard child of Duke Jorgenson,” Camicazi stated next and that statement alone caused Astrid to actually gape this time. “Which means,” Cami continued, “bastard or not. She is also in line for the throne!”
“Wait, wait…. Wait just a minute!” Astrid shouted and then clamped a hand in front of her mouth. Her brain was already in overload and this piece of information was just too much. It was already astonishing that Sierra seemed to be Duke Jorgenson’s daughter. They really looked nothing alike with the exception of the black hair. “How…. how….” She sputtered.
Camicazi rolled her eyes at Astrid and then muttered “I didn’t think I would have to explain the birds and the bees to you,”
“Not that!” Astrid growled at the sarcasm, blushing slightly, before swiftly taking hold of Camicazi’s wrist and dragging her much deeper into the maze. They came to the middle of the maze where there stood a large ornate fountain with several carved granite benches around it. Camicazi gingerly took a seat and patted the spot next to her which Astrid took after sending her a glare that said you-better-explain-or-I’m-getting-the-axe. That glare couldn’t have been clearer.
“So I met Sierra after coming back from the Honeymoon,” Camicazi muttered and kept an eye out on how Astrid would react. She noted Astrid clutching her dress tightly.
“Go on,” Astrid said a bit terse.
“This was….. A few days before you got thrown in prison,” Cami stated. “I met or well…. I tripped over Sierra.”
“Home Sweet Home!” Snotlout exclaimed as he stretched his legs after he and Cami had gotten off the carriage. Several porters were busy unloading the luggage. “Should I carry my wife over the threshold?” Snotlout then asked as he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“I think I can manage good sir,” Camicazi stated while staring at her shorter husband. “We wouldn’t want you nearly throwing out your back again,”
Snotlout pouted as Cami entered the foyer, her hand fan now folded neatly. His eyes soon widened as his new wife shrieked, having stepped on a wet soapy rag and gliding across the polished tile floor before colliding with a maid.
“BAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” Astrid guffawed upon hearing that.
“Oye!” Camicazi exclaimed going red in the face from either anger or embarrassment. “Are you done indulging in your schadenfreude?”
“Yes….” Astrid held a hand to her heart as she tried to calm her laughter and get back on the serious topic. Though it was a funny image she had of Camicazi in her head right now. “Please continue,”
“As you can imagine Snotlout was mad. He started berating the poor girl.” Cami said. “She seemed rather meek and kept her head down before going to her knees and apologizing profusely. Snotlout would have continued if I hadn’t stepped in and told him it was partially my fault for not looking where I stepped. I later learned her name and that she had been working as a maid for as long as Snotlout could remember.”
“So Snotlout doesn’t know that Sierra is his sister?” Astrid raised a brow.
“Half-sister, and no,” Cami stated. “All he knows is that she was some orphaned girl his father decided to take in.”
“And he wasn’t suspicious?” Astrid now asked incredulously as Nobles didn’t take in just anyone if it wouldn’t benefit them.
Cami sighed and then muttered “He isn’t the sharpest tool in the gardener shed.” Astrid raised a brow. That was just like Cami. She was as blunt as ever even when it came to her own husband.
“Then why did you….” She started asking before it dawned on her. “Oh my Thor, you are actually in love with him aren’t you?!” Things suddenly started to make sense. Things Astrid had noticed but thought were trivial. Cami, who was trying to talk to Snotlout at gatherings, trying to get a dance or two with him, offering him cake at picnics. How could she have been so blind.
“Will you shut up!” Cami uttered as her cheeks turned pink. “I’m trying to explain things here!”
“Right…. Where were we,” Astrid mumbled while starting to dislike Camicazi just a little bit less. Sure this woman stole her groom but at least now she knew the true reason why.
“I learned of Sierra’s origins by accident. It was…. two days after you beat Snotlout up.” Camicazi stated as she thought back.
It was late at night and Camicazi couldn’t sleep so she had grabbed an oil lamp and made her way towards the kitchens for some food. She knew that there was at least some turkey leftover. Snotlout was happily snoring next to her and wouldn’t awake even if a gigantic dragon rampaged through the Kingdom.
When Camicazi was walking through the dark hallways of the West wing of the manor she heard someone begging not too far away. Thinking that there was an emergency she hurried towards that door that turned out to be Duke Jorgenson’s study.
“You stupid girl!” Came the muffled shout from behind the door followed by the sound of a slap. Camicazi had a hand over her mouth and an ear against the wooden door as some of the conversation filtered out.
“How dare you spill tea on my rug!” She could hear Spitelout angrily shout.
“.....s-sorry father,” Cami’s eyes widened as the faint female voice was heard. It was so soft and shaky that it seemed more like a whisper. Another slap followed and caused the poor girl to let out a whimper.
“If you weren’t useful to me I would have thrown you back into the alley I found you in,” Spitelout could be heard saying and Cami could hear footsteps retreating and a chair being pulled back. Soft sobs could also be heard as Spitelout ordered the girl to clean up the mess. Cami then decided to act now. If Spitelout was planning what she suspected he was then it would be better to catch him off guard. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
The two people inside froze upon her entrance. Spitelout’s eyes were wide and Cami was surprised, though she kept it well hidden, to see that it was the maid she had accidentally tripped over when she had first entered the manor. The woman kept her gaze downcast as she cleaned up the broken porcelain cup and saucer. Her hands were getting cut on the sharp edges and Cami noticed some blood and also some bruising on her cheek. Her respect for Duke Jorgenson plummeted as she thought she would have no compunctions of taking this man down.
“My my, the walls of this mansion sure are thin,” Cami stated casually while alluding that she had heard every bit of their conversation. If Spitelout’s eyes could widen further it would almost be comical. Sierra let out a whimper at Cami’s statement, probably thinking that she would get in trouble again.
“Leave us,” Cami ordered. Now was not the time to care for the woman. If the Duke smelled emotion he would pounce on it like a hyena. Weakness was not an option right now.
Sierra quickly got up, the shards of porcelain cradled in a piece of her long black skirt. She was out of the study like lightning, forgetting the tray table with the tea set she must have brought.
“How dare you presume to order my servant around!” Spitelout said with an angry bite in his words but Camicazi put up a front to show that it would not affect her.
“So she is your servant now?” Cami raised a brow and she looked every bit a scheming shrew in the lamplight. Her venomous words slicing right at Spitelout. “I believe she called you father.” Cami was quite happy as she noticed Spitelout give a flinch. ‘Feed him bits and pieces and make him think you know everything,’ Her mind supplied as she continued. “Maybe I will presume to gossip about this matter at the ladies luncheon later today,” She raised a brow. “Or perhaps I should involve the authorities…” She thought aloud.
“What. Do. You. Want!” Spitelout bit out as the leather armrest he was clutching creaked.
“For one I wish to be in charge of the household budget,” Cami stated. It was normally the Duchess who handled the budget but Spitelout’s wife had passed from illness several years ago. Spitelout’s eyes narrowed at Cami. “I am the future Duchess. I have the training and I doubt you want to be burdened with simple household things.” It was uncommon for a daughter-in-law to immediately take over the mansion’s finances once married but it would put her in charge of the servants as well as other things.
Spitelout nodded and Cami grinned. The man had just signed his death warrant.
“I may have other requests in the future,” Cami said as she moved to leave. She stopped at the door and turned back to Spitelout “Don’t worry. I won’t speak of this matter to strangers.”
Once the door to the study was closed she could hear the clatter of objects on the floor. Spitelout must have vented his anger out on his desk and Camicazi hoped that the inkwell fell on his nice rug. She set out for the maids quarters next to see if the girl was alright and to get the whole story while making plans in her head to tell the Queen about this incident. After all, the Queen was hardly a ‘stranger’. Everyone in the Kingdom knew her.
AN: *Squishes Harrypanther's Porg*
Harry: "Not again!"
“WHY THAT NO-GOOD-MULCH-EATING-SACK-OF-DUNG!” Astrid hissed as she stood up and started pacing on the grass. “I know for a fact that Hiccup and his uncle are on good terms. This….. This would break him!” She then exclaimed. ‘Oh Thor, how was she going to break this to Hiccup,’ she asked herself as she kept pacing. Things were becoming more and more complicated.
“So you came to the same conclusion I did,” Camicazi said while crossing one leg over the other and rearranging her dress. “With things as they are now the Florentine clause comes into play.”
“I know… I know…” Astrid growled while still pacing. The Florentine clause was there to ensure that the bloodline of the Royal family would always be assured. “Wait, what about Snotlout? He’s in line for the throne after Hiccup and not Sierra.” She asked with a frown. The Florentine clause had one condition it needed to fulfill. Mainly that there were no more eligible male heirs to the throne.
“Snotlout stepped down from the line of succession though it hasn’t been made public yet.” Camicazi answered. “It seems he and his father had a huge row about it before he decided to marry me.”
Camicazi looked somewhat uncomfortable as her eyes shifted left and right before addressing Astrid. “Look, I know what I did to you was low and you have every right to hate me but don’t you think your arranged marriage was a little odd too?” She then asked. “A Duke’s son marrying a Baron's daughter? He’d be marrying below his station and you would be marrying above yours. That alone would be a scandal.”
Astrid nodded as she had come to that conclusion. She had always asked herself how her father could have caught the eye of a Duke. Usually Nobles much higher up on the food chain barely paid attention to those on the lower spectrum unless it would benefit their family in the long run. There was nothing spectacular about the Hofferson family in Noble society except for the fact that a wealthy merchant family had married into it.
“I can speculate though,” Cami said.
Astrid raised a brow indicating for Cami to continue. “A Baron’s daughter would be more easily controlled than a daughter of Nobler birth. It is still a belief that those of less Noble stature would flounder and the rise in stature to a Duchess would be entirely due to the in-laws whom you and your family would have been indebted to. While I am a Viscount’s daughter, my family has wealth that rivals an Earl.”
“Meaning you would be harder to control financially,” Astrid finished the sentence. ‘Even if she had married Snotlout did the Duke really think she would have kept her head down and played the pretty doll?’ She wondered.
“So the order of succession is King Stoick, afterwards Queen Valka is in charge as Regent. Hiccup would be 3rd in line for the throne simply because he was a direct descendant, taking over from his mother once he is married, but Snotlout gains priority as 4th in line. If Snotlout hadn’t renounced his right to the throne his marriage to you would have put him in direct opposition with Prince Hiccup since he could guarantee an heir to the Royal bloodline.” Astrid wracked her brain. “If Prince Hiccup doesn’t marry in the coming months then he will lose his right as Crown Prince, leaving the Kingdom without a legitimate male heir.”
“Which will put Sierra in the running for the throne,” Camicazi finished. “Unless I become pregnant and conceive a boy. That child would gain priority before Sierra. If it is a girl she would be in line after her.”
“Camicazi do you know how dangerous this is for you?” Astrid questioned. “If you get pregnant and it’s a boy….”
“Then Duke Jorgenson will have a foothold much stronger than Sierra. My husband’s renouncement is only for one generation. Any child we conceive will still be eligible and he would have a reason to be rid of her.” Cami sighed. “I know I’m playing a dangerous game but do you think I would let any child I conceive land in the hands of THAT man!”
“Wait…. Are you……” Astrid’s eyes widened while Cami blushed.
“I don’t know!” She muttered. “Maybe…. I can’t tell yet,”
“We could find out….” Astrid suggested.
“Not…. not now.’” Camicazi blushed. “We have bigger fish to deal with. I sent Sierra to the Palace of my own accord. I forged the transfer papers.” She admitted. “The girl is better protected behind these walls than anywhere else. You and I both know that there are small factions in the Kingdom that do not support Prince Hiccup as the heir. Many have changed their tune after he defeated the Red Death but there are still some holding out.”
“If word gets out that Sierra is another player in the field of succession then they will be at her like vultures. The possibility of civil unrest would increase.” Astrid sighed. She definitely got the picture. “She may be a woman and thus in succession below the men but she is still in line. The vultures will grab at anything tangible.”
“And you saw her demeanor. She’s been beaten into the role of submissive for so long that it has become a habit. Anyone who puts her on the throne will have the perfect puppet.” Camicazi stated. “That was another reason I sent her here. She needs to be away from bad influences and find her own strength.”
“And you wanted my help in this because….” Astrid now asked.
“You’re the strongest woman I know.” Camicazi finally said. “If anyone can get through to this girl then it’s you. Believe me I tried but I was her master in that house. She would have no freedom there.”
“I just have one more thing to ask,” Astrid turned to her long time rival, seeing her in a bit of new light. “How did you forge the Duke’s seal?” Astrid knew that transfer papers for servants required the seal of the Head of House and that couldn’t be forged willy nilly. Cami raised a brow and reached into her bosom and took out a wooden stamp. It was the seal itself.
“When I became head of the household I needed access to the seal to approve certain budgets.” Cami’s grin widened. “I just said I forged the transfer papers not the seal.”
Camicazi’s devious smile was blinding and Astrid just knew that Duke Jorgenson might as well be building his own coffin right now. She had seen this woman take down several men far bigger than her own. She had even helped on two occasions, one being getting rid of their lecherous ethics teacher. ‘Ironic, right,’ she mused.
“We should get going,” Astrid said as she noticed the time passed. They had been in the maze for a while. Surely the party would have been winding down by now. Camicazi stood up and nodded. She then looked around at the maze and asked “Do you remember which way we came in?”
Astrid paused and looked as well. She gulped and muttered “Uhm… no,”
Both women groaned as they realized their predicament.
Meanwhile, a large ship was approaching Berk’s southern harbor. On it was none other than Princess Margarette and her father the King of the Southern Isles. Margarette looked at the skyline of the Kingdom they were approaching, the pristine castle where she had spent her summers after meeting Prince Hiccup now loomed like a spire of doom for her. She resented her big brother a bit. He had heaped all fault of breaking the engagement off on her and she had beared the brunt of her father’s ire. The King’s anger was a lot more fierce after what had happened in DunBroch. Not only had Hans become a pariah but he had dragged the 10th Prince’s reputation through the mud as well by having convinced his brother to try and force himself on the Queen of DunBrock. Now both brothers were permanently out of the running for the throne and Maragette actually felt bad for her 10th brother. He was gullible and easily manipulated but now he also had to go through life as an eunuch. Queen Merinda had not been kind with her sword.
AN: *Notches bow and aims at Porg fluttering by*
Harry: "NOOOOOOOO!!!!" *proceeds to shield Porg as arrow is released*
Me: *Cringes as arrow hits Harry's tush*
Harry: "Porgs are not food! and get this arrow out of me!"
Me: *mutters* "Chewbacca would disagree!"
*Porg continues to fly off without a care in the world*
“Toothless!” Hiccup called early in the morning, the day after his mother’s garden party. He saw a black tail sticking out of a large mountain of hay but the Nightfury showed no indication of waking up.
“I have food!” Hiccup then called which caused the tail to twitch and wag a bit but still, the dragon did not budge from within the hay. “Playing hard to get huh?” Hiccup asked aloud to no one in particular. He was in the dragon stables and several other dragons were looking excitingly at the huge woven basket of fish Hiccup had with him. Cloudjumper, his mother’s dragon, was on one of the higher rafters overlooking the scene with indifference while Skullkrusher, his father’s dragon, was still snoring loudly. Stormfly had perked up and was now sniffing around Hiccup and the basket. He had to keep the basket close or else the Nadder would have snatched a fish or three. It was then that Hiccup got a wicked idea.
People knew that dragons were intelligent, but how intelligent depended solely on the type of species. Nadders, for instance, were one of several species that could understand human speech. “Say Stormfly….” Hiccup began, catching the dragon’s attention. “I’ll give you the biggest fish in here if you drag Toothless out.”
Stormfly gave a squawk as if to say she agreed before diving into the large pile of hay that the Nightfury used to cuddle when sleeping. Hiccup could hear Toothless’ surprised yowl before Stormfly came back out, this time dragging Toothless by the tail. Hiccup laughed as he noticed Toothless pouting and set about dividing the fish between the four dragons, giving Stormfly the biggest fish. Skullcrusher had woken up at the commotion and was now eating with the rest of them.
“And here I thought I was the only one who bribed dragons,” Came the laugh from behind Hiccup. He turned to see Astrid leaning against one of the posts in the stable. He hadn’t even heard her come in but she was clearly amused at the antics of the dragons.
“Milady,” Hiccup greeted her and then proceeded to give her hand a kiss causing Astrid to blush. She never could get used to that. After the events yesterday the couple had decided to be better safe than sorry and had given Stoick and Gobber the green light to announce the engagement. Of course those two went all out and before the night was through the Ministers, Governours, Palace staff, knights and even the squires all knew of the new engagement. News traveled fast in the Kingdom and Hiccup had no doubt that it had already made its way through the taverns, merchant guilds and other establishments. Hiccup had felt sad when hearing about the probable schemes of his uncle but with this announcement it would put a bit of an obstacle in Spitelout’s way. He was however glad that Snotlout actually had nothing to do with the schemes and surprised to find out he had another cousin as well. Astrid however had been wearing a certain wicked grin all throughout dinner yesterday as Hiccup noticed the Ministers shooting glances at their future Crown Princess. ‘She must have been imagining certain individuals choking on their wine as the news hit,’ He had concluded.
“So what is the plan for today?” Astrid asked as she gave Stormfly a scratch.
“Well I was hoping you would accompany me to the morning market.” Hiccup said. “Dad asked the dragon groomers to come in today so Toothless and the others will be…… TOOTHLESS!!!!” Hiccup shouted as he was bowled over as the Nightfury freaked out and ran out of the stables with such urgency.
“Hiccup are you alright?!” Astrid asked as she bent down to give the trampled prince a hand. Hiccup was surprisingly sturdy and once he stood up he muttered something under his breath.
“What was that?” Astrid asked as she hadn’t been able to catch that.
“I forgot Toothless hates the dragon groomers,” Hiccup sighed. “Now he’s going to be hiding the entire day,”
“How can a dragon hate dragon groomers?” Astrid questioned. “It’s like they are getting a spa day and all the right places scratched.”
“I know but he kind of had a bad run in with an apprentice groomer which left him pink for a week.” Hiccup sighed. “It will be no use finding him either. He’s persistent in hiding when groomers are involved.
“Wait…. Did you say pink?” Astrid tried to hide her mirth. “As in a pink Nightfury?! BAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!”
“The other dragons never let him live it down either,” Hiccup groaned and then smiled too. It had been a funny sight.
Stormfly looked up from her fish as Astrid waved goodbye at her while she and Hiccup left the stables. Nadders loved groomers and Astrid wasn’t about to deprive her dragon of the spa day. She squinted once outside as the morning sun hit her. The stables were a bit off the side from the large garden where the party had been held yesterday. There were numerous other gardens available along with greenhouses as the castle grounds were quite expansive. She and Hiccup walked arm in arm through the gardens and then came upon Dagur who shouted “Stay back you fiend!” At Astrid.
“What in Thor’s name is wrong with you Dagur?” Hiccup questioned with a raised brow. Dagur was dressed in a straw hat along with green overalls and gardening gloves while brandishing very large sheers. He held the sheers in one hand while pointing at Astrid with a look of absolute horror on his face.
“She’s a fiend!” Dagur proclaimed and then gestured towards one of the maze hedges where Hiccup finally noticed the large hole in it. “Look what she did to my beautiful hedge!!!!” The Royal gardener shrieked. “My poor defenseless baby!”
“That thing has thorns, it’s not as defenseless as you’d think,” Astrid muttered.
“Is this why you and Camicazi came back covered in twigs and leaves yesterday?” Hiccup asked as it started to make more sense now. His mind had been preoccupied with other key information that he failed to think of how the two women, who had gotten lost in the maze, made it out.
Dagur was still wailing about his baby and how he was not going to have it ready in time for the flower viewing party in several days when Hiccup asked “Can’t you,..... You know…… just make a new maze path?” Dagur sighed and then tugged Hiccup by his arm towards the hole and gestured to it. Hiccup looked and saw several more holes though the hedges forming a straight line. Astrid really had bulldozed through. “Uhm….. I see your point,” It wasn’t much of a maze if there was a straight line path available. “I’m sure you’ll think of something though,” Hiccup tried to cheer Dagur up. “In fact, why don’t you go all out,” The Prince then suggested. “You know…. Surprise everyone,”
Dagur’s eyes lit up like a kid on Snoggletog and Hiccup just realized the faux pas he made when he gave Dagur an all out pass. He hadn’t had time to take it back either as the gardener whooped in joy, grabbed his sheers and shouted while heading for the shed “THIS IS GOING TO BE EPIC!”
“Uhm Hiccup,” Astrid asked as she looked at the giddy gardener making his way to his tool shed.
“Yes Astrid….” Hiccup answered.
“I might not have been in the Palace long but……”
“Yes Astrid…. This is going to be mayhem.” Hiccup answered. “I think we should avoid the maze during the flower viewing party.”
“Agreed,” Astrid said before the couple ventured to the courtyard where the carriages awaited.
The ride to the market was relatively quiet and Astrid and Hiccup had a lot of time to talk, something they hadn’t done much of in the last few days. Too much had been going on to have a proper conversation. After twenty minutes or so Astrid noticed that she could already hear the hustle and bustle of Berk’s morning market. It was near the harbor so there was a lot of fresh fish for sale as well as oddities from other kingdoms. Hiccup told the coachman to park a street away since it was so busy. When they disembarked Hiccup held a hand out for Astrid to help her down the wooden step. Her Ladies-in-waiting had picked out a sky-blue dress for her this time with a white lace trim around the neckline. The skirt was a bit wide and normally Astrid wouldn’t wear this design but it was surprisingly easy to move in. The wide skirt also afforded her the chance to hide a dagger strapped to her lower leg in a leather scabbard. Normally the skirts would brush against it and the outline could be seen then. It wasn’t exactly considered lady-like to be armed but Astrid would be damned if she got mugged. As safe as the kingdom was, with regular guard patrols around the towns and districts, it never hurt to be careful.
Soon the couple reached the main part of the market and Astrid noticed some streetfood that she hadn’t tried in a while. She happily indicated towards it and told Hiccup she would get him some too. The stand was quite popular and a line was forming. As she waited in line Hiccup asked if he could be excused for a few minutes. Apparently he had a surprise for her and needed to go pick it up. Astrid was curious now as she watched the prince dash towards the Artisan’s alley of the market where antiques and the likes were sold. She also wondered if people recognized the Prince. They probably did as Hiccup waved to several vendors on the way here, greeting them warmly. It seemed he wasn’t a stranger to this place and the people didn’t bat an eye at a prince shopping for fish.
What Astrid missed however, too engrossed in the smell of food, was a carriage coming to a screeching halt and a woman stepping out of it without an escort. She also missed said woman holding her head high and marching towards the line astrid was currently in. There was a tap on her shoulder and Astrid turned to see a woman, about her age and height, giving her a glare that would have most scurrying for the woods. Astrid wasn’t ‘most’ and held her ground.
“Can I help you?” She asked while putting on an indifferent face.
“What were you doing so close to the Prince?! How dare you even associate with him! He’s mine!” The woman asked while coming into her personal space. The people in line were now all watching the exchange and Astrid signed. She didn’t know who this woman was and frankly she didn’t care. All she wanted was some fish sticks.
Astrid didn’t answer that question but instead uttered “Will you stop screaming like a damn wench. No one will buy what you’re selling.” This caused several people in the vicinity to ‘Oooh’ since they caught on to what Astrid was referring to. The woman must have too because she started sputtering and gaping. Astrid saw an older man now pushing his way through the crowd that was forming while the young lady uttered “Do you know who I am?”
“My guess would have been a salmon since you were doing a perfectly good imitation of it,” Astrid retorted. Hiccup’s sass was rubbing off on her. This however seemed to be the wrong thing to say as the woman drew her hand back to slap Astrid in the face.
Astrid’s reflexes were quicker however and she proceeded to punch said woman in the face before the slap even reached her. The woman fell down in a heap on the cobblestone street just as the older man arrived. Astrid cracked her knuckles and asked one of the women in line with her to hold her fan. This was going to get messy.
AN: there was some major damage to the undersea fiber optic cables these last 3 days. So that was why my internet regressed back to the age of dial-up. Having to wait 4 hours to download 64MB is not fun. :( But anyways here is a new chapter. I hope you all enjoy!
AN2: (Watches Harrypanther walk past with an icepick and hammer)
Me: "What are you doing?"
Harry: (Is busy hammering a block of ice with a frozen Porg in it) "This is not what I thought you meant when you said you had Porgs on ice!"
Me: "What did you expect? Porgs in sequins skating to music?"
Hiccup hurried into the Artisan alley as he needed to pick up a very special gift for Astrid. Normally he would have taken her but her waiting in line to get food was the best chance to get IT, get out, and then return to deliver the surprise. And what a surprise it would be.
The Artisan alley was a long street that lay parallel to the market and Hiccup hurried to the nondescript store that was one of the few connected to a personal dock. He could smell the salt of the sea as he knocked on the slightly damp door. Above the store, a small sign hangs that reads ‘Kraken’s oddities & Curios’. There was also a closed sign but Hiccup knocked anyway.
“We’re closed! Who’s there?” Came the shout from inside and Hiccup rolled his eyes. The man that ran this place was an eccentric one. The ‘Closed’ sign was always up but if someone desperately needed something they came knocking anyways. Luckily for Hiccup he was a regular. How the shop stayed in business was anyone’s guess.
“It’s me!” Hiccup replied.
“Me who?!” The voice asked back.
“Johann do we have to go through this password thing each and every time?!” Hiccup grumbled. “It's not very secret since the whole kingdom knows you do business here!”
“Who is it?!” The question came again.
Hiccup sighed and said “Doris,”
“Doris who?” came the question from inside.
“Doris locked, that’s why I’m knocking!” Hiccup shouted. He didn’t know why Johann insisted on the password since it never changed and more than half the kingdom’s population knew it. Sometimes he thinks the man just does it for kicks. The door clicked open and Hiccup came face to face with an elderly man that sported a graying beard.
“Why young Master Hiccup, so glad to see you!” Johann said once the door was open and the old man recognized the Prince. He stepped aside so that Hiccup could step in. The interior of the shop was cluttered with all types of antiques and a fire was roaring on the firepit in the middle of the room. “So what can I help you with?” Johann then proceeded to ask.
“I just came to pick up that order,” Hiccup told the older man who merely chuckled.
“Ah yes, that order.” Johann said as he eagerly clapped his hands together once. “I have it in the back room. If you will excuse me for a minute.” Johann stepped behind his counter and then through a curtained area while Hiccup was left in the cozy shop which sported way too many clocks on the walls. On the counter itself slept a red Terrible Terror. It was curled up while hugging what seemed to be a stuffed hand-sewn doll in the form of a fish.
“Now Master Hiccup I was quite surprised when you ordered this,” Johann said as he returned with a small wooden box that had silver flower etchings in it. “To think you would use the Sapphire of the Seas for this,”
“You knew which jewel it was?” Hiccup raised a brow inquisitively.
“I had suspected,” Johann chuckled. “And the Grimborn brothers confirmed it when I brought it to them. They’re the best Gem smiths in the Archipelago but even Viggo Grimborn had a near coronary when he laid eyes on it. The Sapphire of the Seas is afterall no ordinary gem.”
Hiccup nodded and then took a look at his order. He gasped at the detail of craftsmanship that had gone in it. “Oh my,” Johann uttered as his bushy brows shot up. “I knew that from the commission orders you gave that it would be beautiful…… but this is……” he sucked in his breath. “The lady that will receive this is one lucky woman indeed.”
Hiccup stared at the gift he had commissioned for Astrid and smiled. He then turned back to Johann who was grinning at what could only be the love-struck blank look on his face. “How much do I owe you for the commission?” He then asked as he took out a pouch of gold coins. One gold coin would have been enough for a normal family to live off for two weeks. The work that went into his gift was definitely worth quite a lot more.
“No commission charge actually,” Johann grinned as Hiccup blinked in confusion and then said “Viggo told me that you can consider this work his and his brother’s gift for your upcoming nuptials.”
Hiccup nearly sputtered at the shock. No gem or blacksmith would ever just give their work away for free. Especially not something that had a National treasure inlaid in it. “He also told me to tell you that he knew it was you and that now we’re even,” Johann added.
Hiccup sighed. ‘Of course the man had figured it out,’ He thought finally. Johann was looking at him with a curious expression and why wouldn’t he. The Grimborn brothers were known as the best Gem smiths around but they were also known for being notorious penny pinchers. And they had good reason to be if Hiccup thought back. He remembered meeting them totally by accident as he and Heather had passed an alleyway. There appeared to be a shuffle there. Things were about to get uglier if Hiccup and Heather had not intervened. Hiccup learned afterwards that Viggo and Ryker had been apprenticed to a Gem and Silversmith named Krogan but the man had left the Kingdom in the dark of the night, leaving the brothers to take up his debt. A debt they couldn’t repay. The thugs that had been harassing the brothers were about to bring down a hammer on Ryker’s hands as a warning, destroying any chance he had left to be a smith and earn a living. The brothers were somewhat arrogant and prideful and Hiccup guessed that they wouldn’t accept more help than that lest they think he was pitying them. So Hiccup had sneakily arranged for the debt to be paid off and the brothers to get a sponsor from lesser nobility so they could set up a shop. He should have known that Viggo would eventually figure it out.
“Well then Johann, thank you.” He gave the trader some coins still. As a middleman Johann got paid separately. The older man nodded and Hiccup left the shop before Johann started on one of his long winded stories. The wooden box was clutched in his hand as he hurried back to Astrid.
When Hiccup got back to the main market street he made his way towards the stand Astrid had stood in line in. But when he didn’t see her there anymore he looked around with a slight worry. He knew Astrid could handle herself but he still worried. He finally spotted her sitting on a bench not so far away, happily munching away at a kebab.
“Astrid,” Hiccup said as he jogged up to her. His fiance had been so into her food that she nearly choked when Hiccup called out. “Are you alright?” He asked with a frown.
“Yes,” She coughed. “You just startled me.” Astrid then proceeded to gesture to the small plate she had set on the bench with two more fish kebabs on it. “Those are for you by the way,”
Hiccup sat down next to her and took one. He observed Astrid as she continued to happily munch on her food. “You seem to like this,”
“Wouldn’t you get tired at some point when eating expensive food every day?” She asked. “I like the Kingdom’s street food just because it’s different. It’s so easily made yet the flavor is rich,”
“It does taste very good,” Hiccup admitted. “I used to sneak out of the Palace years ago just to come to the market. It is relaxing to also get away from palace life once and a while though the vendors figured out quickly that I was the Prince,” He chuckled. “You see…… I forgot to take off the cloak pin that had the Royal emblem on it.”
Astrid laughed and then said “I never pegged you for the rebel,” She smirked. “So did your parents ever figure out you snuck away?”
“Ooooh yeah,” Hiccup chuckled. “Mom and dad were furious. Not so much that I snuck away but that I went without a guard then. I still hadn’t bonded to Toothless at that time. After I met Toothless they didn’t make much of a fuss about it so either he or Heather would accompany me.”
“And are there guards watching now?” Astrid asked with a devious smirk.
“No…..” Hiccup responded. “Heather put in a good word that you’d most probably violently tear through the Kingdom if anything were to happen to me. Given that you are on par with Heather when fighting and after the Red Death expedition they’ve agreed to forgo the guards, knowing that we can take care of ourselves.”
“Well that’s good,” Astrid said. “Then I can do this without prying eyes,” She then leaned in and proceeded to peck Hiccup on the cheek causing him to turn a shade of pink.
Hiccup coughed and sputtered somewhat, not expecting Astrid to be so forward. Hiccup took her hand in his and was about to ask his fiance to accompany him to a special place when he noticed the light bruising on her knuckles. Astrid noticed where he was looking and said “Don’t worry about that. I just had to deal with an annoying fly.”
Hiccup nodded and then asked anyways. Astrid agreed and they left after finishing eating. The place Hiccup took her to was a twenty minute ride by carriage and it was a meadow filled with flowers of all colors and butterflies. The meadow was one of many throughout the Kingdom. Even though it was cold many days of the year, once the snow melted this entire area looked like a pocket of Spring. It felt so alive and Astrid giggled when a butterfly perched on her nose for a few seconds. She turned and gasped as Hiccup had gotten on one knee.
“Astrid, I know that our engagement came about due to an arrangement…” Hiccup began to say. “I know we didn’t have much time to spend with each other since then but I still care for you and I hope that you do too. It was remiss of me to forget this part but I wanted it to be perfect. You are a woman who saved my position in this Kingdom when you didn’t have to and though we only only know each other for several days I hope that we can come to love each other in the years that we will have together after this.” It wasn’t a conventional proposal, Hiccup knew, but he would speak his heart. He then took out the wooden box from his pocket and opened it in front of her. In the box on a cushion lay a platinum ring with a dark blue sapphire set into it in an emerald cut. The platinum around the inlay was shaped into very detailed flowers. The blossoms looked so frail as they were made of thin metal but they held steady and would never break easily. It described Astrid perfectly in Hiccup’s opinion. A woman many overlooked yet a force to be reckoned with. Someone who went through so much yet kept their head about and never swayed from their goal.
Astrid let out a gasp as Hiccup placed the ring on her finger and said “Astrid Hofferson, would you officially do me the honor of becoming my wife? I will share your burdens as you do mine and lift you up when you are down. You are the sun, moon and stars to me. No longer will I let you frown.” Hiccup finished his proposal and was then promptly tackled by Astrid. The Prince let out a manly squeak as they tumbled into the flowers.
“Yes yes yes!!!” Astrid shouted before proceeding to kiss all coherency out of Hiccup as butterflies flew past them.
The couple lay in the flower meadow looking quite content. Astrid had picked some flowers, mainly daisies, and then turned to Hiccup with a wicked grin on her face that she hid quickly. Hiccup hummed and had closed his eyes for a moment as they basked in the morning sun. All that was missing was a picnic really and he mentally slapped himself. The Prince cracked open an eye as he watched his fiance fiddle with his hair. It felt like she was braiding it and he chuckled.
“What are you doing?” Hiccup asked lightly as Astrid hummed but didn’t stop her ministrations.
“Oh nothing,” Astrid laughed. “You know your hair is really soft,” She remarked. “It almost makes me envious.” This got a laugh out of Hiccup who then commented: “Don’t tell anyone but Gobber has this shampoo that works wonders.”
“Gobber?” Astrid now raised a brow.
“You’ve seen his mustache right?” Hiccup laughed. “Dad remarked once that they were going to be late to a banquet because of Gobber’s grooming session.”
Astrid was just about to say something when a large shadow fell on them from above, blocking out the sun. The couple looked up to see a silver dragon flying above and coming in for a landing.
“That’s Windshear,” Hiccup immediately recognized the dragon and once it landed Astrid noted that Heather was seated on top. Hiccup was already on his feet and he held out a hand to help Astrid up as well. She assumed that it must be urgent as the Captain of the Palace guards wouldn’t just be flying around.
“Heather what’s going on?” Hiccup asked with a frown.
“We have a situation at the palace,” Heather answered while dismounting. “The King and Princess of the Southern Isles have come ashore and it appears they were, as they claim, ‘assaulted by some barbarian’ on Berkian soil. Tensions are still high between our Kingdom and the Southern Isles after the trade embargo. If this assault proves to be true then Berk may have to pay heavy reparations. The King has asked that you and Lady Astrid return to the palace to attend this meeting as well.” Heather, as she relayed the news looked at Astrid with a raised brow. Somehow Astrid knew that she made a faux pas by punching a member of Royalty. Of course the Princess and King would have given a description. ‘But in her defense… well, she didn’t know that they were Royalty and honestly, they started it,’ Astrid’s brain argued.
“Alright Heather, we’ll meet you back at the palace,” Hiccup said as he got the coach driver's attention.
Astrid turned to follow Hiccup when Heather’s hand landed on her shoulder gently. “What happened?” She whispered.
“Self Defense,” Astrid whispered back.
“That’s all I needed to know,” Heather said. “I will come to your defense when or if needed. Just know that if these people win their case they might demand reparations in another manner.
Astrid frowned and then asked “Like?”
“Demanding that the Princess of the Southern Isles marry Hiccup first with you as the concubine. You’d be under her thumb then,” Heather stated. “It’s a possibility and knowing that woman I wouldn’t put it past her.” Astrid nodded as her fist clenched. Hiccup had told her that Heather hadn’t liked his former fiance and now she had an inkling as to why. Her lips were set in a firm manner and with a nod towards Heather she walked to Hiccup who was probably wondering what the two women had been discussing.
Hiccup didn’t ask what Astrid had been discussing with Heather as he held open the carriage door for her and offered his hand to help her step inside. For that she was grateful because the dress she was wearing right now had a somewhat bulky skirt. He also didn’t ask her why she was sporting such a firm and determined expression. It was likely that he had already figured it out especially after seeing the state of her knuckles before the proposal.
Spurred on by urgency the coach driver wasted no time in getting the duo back to the Palace. Gobber was hobbling towards them before the carriage even stopped. He opened the door and muttered “We in a fine mess laddie,”
“What’s going on Gobber?” Hiccup asked as he disembarked and then helped Astrid out.
“Those two are being unreasonable and yer dad looks about ready to take up an axe,” Gobber sighed. “Ye might want to hurry to the throne room,”
With a nod Hiccup and Astrid departed while she noted Gobber making his way towards the kitchens, probably to have a word with their resident Spymaster. They were in the high-ceilinged corridor leading towards the mahogany double doors that opened up to the throne room when they heard the shouting. The doors were made of fairly thick wood so someone definitely was kicking up a storm in there. The two guards saluted Hiccup and Astrid as they approached but Hiccup could see that they were feeling somewhat uncomfortable listening to the shouting on the other side. He pushed open the wooden doors and grimaced as the shout of “We want reparations!” assaulted him.
The one who had shouted it was the King of the Southern Isles who seemed to be sporting a bandaged head and his arm appeared to be in a sling. Princess Margarette’s back was towards Hiccup so he couldn’t see what injuries she had sustained. Further towards the throne stood several ministers, all mumbling. Amongst them Hiccup spotted Alvin and his uncle.
“As I said before!” Stoick’s voice boomed. “We will hear both sides of this story before I make a decision!” He then noticed his son and Astrid and beckoned them forward.
Princess Margarette and her father turned in time to see Hiccup and Astrid striding past them arm-in-arm and presenting a solidary front. Heather walked in behind them and closed the double doors. The throne room was silent as the couple approached the dias and bowed, or in Astrid’s case curtsied. This was an official matter thus they had to be formal about it.
As Hiccup had passed the duo he noted that Margarette sported two matching black eyes. He tried to hold in his snigger as he was reminded of a particular animal in an eastern country they traded with for silks.
“That’s the barbarian!” Margarette pointed out without any tact. Her finger was pointing straight at Astrid and the room fell silent. Her father gave her a hard look but she didn’t notice it at all. Too focussed on Astrid was she that she threw away any decorum. “I demand that you throw that shrew in the dungeons!”
“You demand?!” Stoick growled and nearly strangled the throne’s armrests with his meaty hands while at the same time Heather warned with a deadly gleam in her eyes and her hand on her sword hilt “Hold your tongue! You speak to the future Crown Princess!”
“Future Crownprincess?!” Margarette uttered astonished. “I am the future Crown Princess!”
“No, you’re not,” It was Hiccup this time that spoke up. “You canceled the engagement,”
Margarette seemed to want to say something more but her father beat her to it while laying a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. “I believe there has been a misunderstanding here. I did not approve of my daughter breaking off this engagement.”
“A misunderstanding?!” Stoick now hissed dangerously as he gripped the armrests and stood up to glower at the visiting Royalty. “Your Regent sent your Ambassador to us with an official document of annulment and gold. THERE WAS NO MISUNDERSTANDING!” Stoick then bellowed. “I WILL NOT LET MY SON BE MARRIED TO A SHREW LIKE YOURS!”
“HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU INSULT MY DAUGHTER!” Tensions rose as the ministers took a step back hoping that the Kings didn’t literally come to a blow.
“SHE INSULTED MY SON FIRST!” Stoick then bellowed as he slammed his fist on the throne and everyone winced as a hard crack was heard. “HOW DARE SHE IMPLY MY HICCUP WAS LESS OF A MAN BECAUSE HE LOST A LIMB!”
“No reason was given in the annulment document!” Margarette’s father announced. “How dare you slander my daughter!”
“The reason was given by your own ambassador who heard it from your Regent!” Stoick shot back. “Now I will listen to Lady Astrid’s side of the story and I would appreciate it if you would SHUT UP!”
Harry: "I see you are done proca-WHY IS MY PORG DANCING THE MACARENA?!"
Vala: "Because he already danced the can can?"
Harry: "What did you do?!"
Vala: "Who me?"
Vala: "Soooooo the Porg may have gotten into your wine...."
Harry: "And how did it get 'into' my wine?"
Vala: (shrugs) "beats me..."
The King of the Southern Isles gaped at Stoick but he did shut his mouth as all eyes turned towards Astrid. Hiccup said nothing but she could feel that he would support her no matter what.
Astrid held the bearing of a Noble lady with ease, her back was straight and her head was held high, as she glanced at the Ministers before curtsying once more to the King. “Your Highness,” Astrid began. “It is true that I injured both the King and Princess of the Southern Isles,” Several Ministers gasped at that blatant admission and some were muttering something under their breath but Astrid wasn’t done talking just yet. She had vultures around her and she was going to devour them. In her eyes this seemed like the best opportunity to show the King’s court officials that she was no pushover. She would be their Crownprincess and future Queen-consort. To these people respect was earned by being cunning. She wouldn’t lie. A lie was easy to pick apart. She would go with the cold hard irrefutable truth. “However,....” Astrid continued only to be interrupted by Margarette. ‘Honestly had this girl no tact?’ she asked herself.
“Hah! She admitted it!” Margarette gleefully exclaimed. “I demand justice!”
“Before I was so rudely interrupted,” Astrid glared at the other woman so venomously, “I was going to say that; However, these injuries were inflicted in self-defense.” This caused both Margarette and her father to sputter while Stoick merely lifted a brow.
“Lady Astrid,” Stoick began. “Captain Heather sang your praises for your combat ability. Surely injuring them to that extent was more than self-defense.” Hiccup could see his father hated asking this but the injuries sustained by the other party were more than he thought. The King had to remain neutral in this matter.
“That would have been the case until a sword was pointed at me and my chastity was put into question.”
Hiccup’s mind came to a near screeching halt as he and the rest of the court sputtered. “They did what?!” He exclaimed and then sent a glare at the duo from the Southern Isles. In this Hiccup rivaled his mother. Valka could stop an army with but a glare and she still made several Generals gulp and take a step back. The Prince scarcely used that particular glare but when he did people shut up. Astrid was watching her fiance and she was very much impressed by what she saw. Hiccup may not look it but he could command a room. “Do you realize what you have insinuated!” the Prince hissed.
“Dear,” Astrid said as she placed a placating hand on Hiccup’s shoulder. “Let me finish telling the story. You can rip into them after you hear the worst part,”
“There’s a worse part?!” Hiccup whirled around and took Astrid’s hand. “Do you want me to call Toothless? He could plasmablast them for you. Or Stormfly,” Hiccup suggested because for a noblewoman to have her chastity questioned was one of the most grievous insults and here Astrid was saying there was a worse part. Astrid gave Hiccup a smile at his suggestions before turning back to Stoick.
“Your Majesty, your son can attest to the fact that I was merely in line to buy several skewers. After Hiccup left for a moment this woman,” She gestured towards Margarette with her fan “approached me screeching like a fishmonger’s wife that had lost her husband to the tentacles of a large squid.” Hiccup could have sworn he saw Alvin hide a laugh and blush. “She, nor her guardian, ever identified themselves and when her screeching of why I was in the vicinity of the Crownprince ceased she attempted to slap me. I was merely faster and punched her.”
Stoick nodded as murmurs broke out between the court officials. Astrid however continued her tale. “That would account for one of the black eyes the Princess sustained. The older gentleman that accompanied her, which I now know to be her father, was not there for her initial rant as the crowd that had formed kept him behind them. When he did arrive he found his daughter on the ground. However, he next acted in a manner unbefitting of a Noble and drew his sword at me, called me a harlot and then proceeded to make various overtures on how I must get on my knees where I belong.”
“How dare you!” the King of the Southern Isles exclaimed.
“I dare very much,” Astrid said as she held her head high. “The first thing a Noble learns is to keep a cool head but you rushed in, not even checking your daughter for injuries before you pointed a sword at an UNARMED lady!” she hissed and took a step towards the King of the Southern Isles who despite his larger size took a step back. “Furthermore you failed to identify yourself as a Noble. For all I knew you could have been a wealthy merchant. How a wealthy merchant is treated as opposed to Nobility is very different. If I had known I would have allowed you to save face.”
All eyes continued to be on Astrid as she stared the man down. “What Noble, nay, what Royal forgets protocol? Even if I had been a commoner you should still not have jumped to conclusions and slandered me. You were not there to witness your daughter's actions but you dared pull a sword in a public square!”
Stoick cleared his throat and then said “I’m assuming that the sprained wrist the King of the Southern isles sustained was from you disarming him.”
“Indeed your Majesty,” Astrid confessed. “As you know it is illegal to pull a weapon in public squares. Even if Nobles carried weapons such as swords they can only be used in self-defense. There was a dense crowd around us and I feared he would cause more harm to them than me. I myself had a dagger strapped to my knee but I refused to draw it in case he disarmed me and the weapon was sent flying into the crowd.”
“The lass has got a point,” Alvin spoke up as several Ministers nodded. “Her first thoughts were on the safety of the public.” Hiccup saw his father nod as well while watching the duo blanch. The implication was strong and both of them knew it. Both the King and Princess of the Southern Isles were not of Berk and causing a public disturbance like that could have easily led to heavier sanctions against their kingdom or at worse war if people died.
“After disarming the lady’s guardian he lunged at me out of either rage or spite which prompted me to lift up my skirts and deliver a solid roundhouse kick to his face.” Astrid deadpanned. “I, however, was remiss in not securing the man’s weapon, for the lady scrambled up and took possession of it.” She stated. “I thank the heavens that the Princess was not proficient in the ways of the sword. She lunged at me screaming that I would never take her prize. It was easy to sidestep the lunge and I proceeded to punch her once more, knocking her out.” Astrid stated as she glanced around the room. “Everything I did was in self-defense and in the defense of the public from an inexperienced girl waving around a sharp object.”
Margarette balked and then uttered while pointing an accusing finger at Astrid “How dare you call me inexperienced!”
“But you are,” Astrid raised a brow and replied “Both in tact and arms.”
“I do have to ask, where was my son in all of this?” Stoick raised a brow as Hiccup rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.
Astrid smiled and then showed off the sapphire engagement ring Hiccup had given her. “I believe he went to get this,” Hiccup blushed as the court officials gaped. Everyone knew of the Sapphire of the Sea and though it was Hiccup’s to give to who he wanted the gem still drew crowds as it had special significance and was deemed a national treasure.
“You filthy wrech!” Margarette exclaimed and much to the horror of her father sped towards Astrid, her hands before her obviously intending to strangle her “That stone was supposed to be mine!” She exclaimed and Hiccup had but a second to ponder that. He would have never given her the stone though as he didn’t think she deserved it when she was his fiance. Astrid on the other hand….. Oh that woman made him feel alive. Hiccup noticed Heather draw her sword as Princess Margarette was seen as a threat now but Astrid was closer and faster. He watched his fiance huff in an annoyed manner before decking the Princess for the third time. ‘What a woman!’ His mind supplied as he watched his fiance turn towards his father and utter “I believe my point has been made,”
“I believe my point is made,” Astrid had said and Stoick couldn’t help but utter “That’s my future daughter-in-law!”
“Dad, you’re supposed to be impartial!” Hiccup hissed as a warning and Stoick sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck and looked away.
“How dare you hit me again!” Margarete stood up while clutching her left eye. Her father put a steadying hand on her shoulders but uttered no words in accusation as the situation was in favor of Lady Astrid right now.
“I will now confer justice upon the injured party,” Stoick announced, causing Astrid, Hiccup and the others in the hall to stand up straighter. “This matter is concluded as thus, Lady Astrid was acting in self-defense throughout this ordeal and the claim for reparations by the party from the Southern Isles has thus been denied. However, several accusations have also been brought forward. Behaviour unbefitting of a Noble, drawing a weapon in a public area, defamation, extortion of the Crown, and attempted murder just now.” Stoick stated as he glared at the Princess who for once gulped as the realization hit her. “Henceforth the King and Princess of the Southern Isles will be barred from Berk indefinitely and seen as persona non grata. They will be held in the Western wing of the Palace under guard as their ship is resupplied for their journey home. They are also obligated to pay reparations for this incident as well as the cost of the supplies they will be using for the coming journey.”
“You wish to bankrupt us?!” The King now shouted at Stoick. “You already have a trade embargo against the Southern Isles. There is no way we can make the reparations!”
“You should have thought of that before you let your daughter open her mouth!” Stoick roared as he stood up and pointed an accusing finger at the duo. “This was more than just a simple slight against a Noble and future member of the Royal family! If you cannot pay the reparations that I ask for with your Royal treasury then the Southern Isles shall be annexed to Berk!”
Both Margarette and her father blanched at that statement. Their eyes were wide as they were looking at King Stoick with incredulity. Stoick however continued. “This is my final word on it!” He then called for the guards to escort the duo to the West wing before sinking back down on the throne. The room was quiet as everyone tried to digest what had just happened. Hiccup too tried to get his thoughts into place. The Southern Isles were already suffering due to the trade embargo with Berk and them not securing the other trade partners would have put a strain on the treasury and budgets for their ministers to work with. Furthermore, the charges his father announced would probably drain nearly half of their treasury altogether. By the law of the treaties in place between all the Kingdoms within the Archipelago set generations ago his father did indeed have the right to annex the Southern Isles and make it a Berkian colony if they didn’t have the funds.
“Is it safe?” Gobber asked as he peeked slightly into the throne room from a different door. “Stoick, ya didn’t cut off any heads did ya?” Gobber asked as he then entered the room fully.
“No I didn’t Gobber,” Stoick sighed.
“Good. Also yer wife told me to tell you she is very cross with you right now,” Gobber stayed by the door just in case he had to make a quick escape. “You were supposed to accompany her to the harbor to welcome the delegates from Dunbroch and Arendelle.”
Hiccup saw his father turn white as a sheet as he realized that he had stood his wife up. Hiccup then proceeded to usher Astrid out as Gobber continued to tell Stoick the details of the meeting Valka had with the delegates and what was to come. “Dad broke mom’s one rule,” Hiccup whispered to Astrid as they left the main corridor. She raised a brow asking for more clarification. “When they got married mom only asked him that when delegates visit they would greet them together to show a united front. There was a slight incident in the past with a visiting ambassador from the east who thought to play the two against each other to get what he wanted.” Her fiance stated. “He could have easily postponed the meeting between Margarette and her father so dad will probably be sleeping on the couch until mom cools off. They can’t afford to lose these trading partners.”
“Can you tell me a little more about these kingdoms?” Astrid asked as Hiccup escorted her to her rooms. “I know Arendelle has a booming coal industry that would be beneficial for us to have access to during the winter months but Dunbroch had been denying trade with the Archipelago for decades now. There isn’t much information available about them.”
“From what I understand, Dunbroch has a large agricultural and fishing industry set up. Gobber told me that they are branching out into mining as there are many mineral resources there such as silver in their mountains. They might be aiming to recruit our smiths and miners for their knowledge or to forge a trade agreement for the mineral export. Either way it would be beneficial for us though to work together with them.” Hiccup explained. “Dunbroch also controls the southern fishing straits while Berk controls the northern ones. Gaining access to the southern routes will open up more variety of fish and trade would boom.”
Astrid nodded as they soon reached her rooms. Hiccup was hesitant to say goodbye and Astrid’s brows shot up as he became a bit more bold by kissing her on her cheek. She blushed and actually stammered as Hiccup bid her goodbye. Once inside her rooms she leaned heavily against the door.
“My lady,” Atali curtsied as she greeted Astrid. Astrid returned the greeting and looked around for the other ladies-in-waiting but only Atali was present. “This came for you while you were out,” she said and then proceeded to hand Astrid an envelope.
Astrid frowned as she had no clue who would send her a letter. Especially not one that had the wax seal of the Hofferson family on it. It couldn’t be her mother as she would just visit the palace to see her. Her father was still being stubborn she had heard so it was unlikely he would send such a formal letter. She took a seat on the nearby ottoman and broke the wax seal. Her lips immediately pursed as she read what appeared to be an invitation.
“Will you decline?” Atali asked once Astrid had told her about the invite to her uncle’s ball tomorrow.
“No, I don’t think I will,” Astrid said as she placed the invitation back into the envelope. “I’m rather curious about why I was even invited.” She already had a pretty good idea but still wanted to confirm it.
Meanwhile in the West wing of the palace, a resounding smack could be heard.
“You stupid girl!” The king bellowed as Margarette clutched her cheek. “I can’t believe the situation you got us in!”
“You’ve learned decorum from an early age! I just didn’t expect your utter stupidity!” Her father continued to roar.
Margarette’s eyes were cold though as she regarded her father. “Then we pay. The treasury can handle it. We just increase the taxes to fill it up again.” She huffed.
“Girl have you learned nothing?!” Her father exclaimed in resignation. “Our economy was hit just after we had raised the taxes for this quarter. Raising them anymore and we’d have a rebellion on our hands.”
“Then we make sure that King Stoick won’t follow through.” Margarette smirked now as she regarded her father who was frowning. “For instance, say if the Prince and I eloped. He wouldn’t dare do that to his dear daughter-in-law. He’d be under public scrutiny.”
“The Prince is besotted with Lady Astrid. I highly doubt you would be able to seduce him.”
“I don’t need to seduce him father.” Margarette smirked even wider now. “I just need him to get close. Afterall we have that Alchemist aboard our ship.”
Harry: "Why is my Porg stuck three quarters in a planter?"
Vala: "It tried to steal my margarita"
Harry: "You had no trouble with it stealing my alcohol."
Vala: "That was your alcohol. This is mine. It needs to learn the difference."
Harry: "Just you wait. I'll send a flock of Porgs at your booze!"
Vala: "So you're literally sending my food flying towards me? I'll go warm up the grill."
Harry: "You damn Porgicidal maniac!"
Sierra nervously but hastily made her way towards the Royal chambers within the palace. Remarkably none of the guards tried to stop her even though she was in her maid outfit. She definitely wasn’t a maid assigned to this area of the castle. She stopped in front of a set of white double doors and was about to knock when she heard voices from the other side.
“..... honey bee….”
“I didn’t mean to-”
“Apple of my ey-OW”
“My dragon salmon!”
Her hand had stopped mid-knock as the voices filtered through and she glanced to her right when she heard a snigger. One of the guards was trying to compose himself while the other one on the left seemed to have a stoney expression. Only the mirt in his eyes betrayed him. Sierra had a newfound respect for the guards in the Royal Wing. Oh the things they had to hear and witness, probably on a daily basis.
She finally knocked on the door and the voices on the other side of the room quieted. Some scuffling could be heard before the King answered with “Enter”. Sierra opened one of the double doors and peered inside. The Queen was sitting regally in a bathrobe on one of the white couches while holding a porcelain cup of tea while the King seemed to be fidgeting somewhat. She didn’t know what had happened between the two but she had to report this development she had overheard.
“Your Majesties,” She greeted and curtsied, although a bit clumsy.
“My dear girl, none of that. We’re family after all.” The Queen said as she put down her cup. “Why are you dressed as a maid again?”
Sierra blushed a bit and then mumbled “To not draw attention,” She answered. “You all don’t even know me for more than a few days but you treat me so well. I just…. I just didn’t want any of you to fall under scrutiny.” She didn’t know how illegitimate children were treated, in fact she didn’t really know how Royalty behaved and so she decided to choose the safest route and stay hidden. While Queen Valka had promised her a Social debut after she learned some of the Noble etiquette she was still very flustered after meeting all these new and important relatives who treated her better than her own father.
“None of that my dear,” Valka smiled and patted the seat next to her. Sierra hesitantly took the offered seat as she still couldn’t believe that the King and Queen, her uncle and aunt; and wasn’t that the shocker, were so accepting. Even the Crownprince threatened her with kindness and that was why she was here right now. There was no way she would let anyone hurt her newfound relatives. She twirled her black hair nervously between two fingers as she spoke next.
“Yesterday I was walking in the West Wing as I came back from exploring the Royal library.” Sierra hesitated and kept her eyes from meeting the Queen’s. She wasn’t that proficient in reading yet but that didn’t stop her from loving books and Queen Valka had told her she could explore these places. “and I saw the guards escort a portly man in robes with a large pack into a room.”
“Ah, that must have been the healer.” The King uttered and then clarified. “The West Wing is where I’ve put the King and Princess of the Southern Isles mainly because there was no one else staying there. Last night the Princess asked for their personal healer to be brought in as the King had a fainting spell.” Stoick then proceeded with muttering under his breath “Well if he hadn’t been so brash he wouldn’t have been fainting.”
“Honey, why didn’t you tell me this? The Palace has its own healers.” Valka stated.
“Aye, I proposed that too but the Princess was adamant that her father used a specific medication and that their personal healer had it on hand. She actually made several sound points as to why the Palace healers would take too long to make the medicine versus the time it took to send someone to fetch the man from their ship.” The King admitted. “I may be strict but I would never deny anyone medical treatment.”
“But they didn’t call this man a healer. They referred to him as an alchemist.” Sierra revealed and then blushed and explained “When I am dressed as a maid people often overlook me. I hear a lot of things I probably shouldn’t.”
Stoick nodded as he knew that that was the reason Mala recruited mostly servants for her information network. “Well it isn’t strange that an alchemist could have knowledge of healing. The alchemist and healer branches do intersect on several subjects.”
“There’s more,” Sierra said as she looked up finally with a seriousness in her eyes that wasn’t there before. “As I said I’m often overlooked. The woman who was in the rooms spotted me and handed me her father’s boots and told me to bring them back polished while she continued to talk with their visitor. They mentioned your son but I couldn’t understand what exactly they were talking about and the man that had supposedly fainted was awake and pacing!” This did draw both the King and Queen’s attention.
“Did you hear anything else?” Valka asked with an edge in her voice and clenched fists. “Anything that they might be planning?”
Sierra shook her head furiously. “I couldn’t linger or they would think me suspect.” She admitted. “I made my way to lady Astrid’s quarters first because hers were closer and she’s the Prince’s fiance but her ladies-in-waiting informed me she had just left for a ball at one of her family’s estates. I came to you next.”
“Stoick if that girl hurts our Hiccup I’ll….” Valka hissed as her eyes turned a dangerous glint that spoke of more than just maiming someone.
“Now now. Let’s take a step back here shall we.” Stoick uttered. “If we accuse them without any definite proof it is us that will be in hot water. They could argue that what Sierra heard was just hearsay.”
“We can’t just do nothing!” Valka hissed. “Their ship will be resupplied soon and they leave our shores at first light! Whatever they are planning happens tonight!”
“Right…. Uhm.. first we need to find Hiccup. If we get to Hiccup first they can’t do anything right?!” Stoick said as he walked towards the door and ordered one of the guards to go rouse Gobber while the other fetched his son.
“Should we also get the alchemist?” Sierra asked with a frown.
“He’d be long gone by now I would think.” Valka frowned.
“It couldn’t hurt to try.” She said and stood up. “I’ll find him!”
Meanwhile, Astrid was flying on Stormfly’s back as they neared the manor belonging to her uncle. It was as grand as the main house where her mother and father lived but more……… ostentatious. She startled a few Nobles when she landed with her dragon and smirked as several stepped back and looked scandalized. Normally the guests would arrive in carriages, leaving their dragons at home for the night as a sign of respect for the host but Astrid found that she needed to make a statement here. Stormfly gave a happy chirp as Astrid slid off, her crimson ball gown easily taking its previously wide shape as Astrid smoothed out her petticoats. Stormfly strode off to somewhere near the fountain to preen and no one stopped the dragon.
Astrid easily slipped open her black lace fan as she walked the short distance to the entrance of the manor, taking her place in the throng of Nobles that were waiting to go in. She had some inkling why she was called and smirked. It was time to go play with the vultures.
Vala: (Puts Porg in stirfy with Ho Foen noodles)
Harry: "Mah PORG! Get your own!"
Harry: (signs while rescuing Porg again)
Vala: "You can't escape me!"
Harry: "I can try!" (Runs away with Porg)
Vala: "Hasn't worked so far!" (Chases) "if you haven't been able to shake me up till now you probably never will."
Harry: "I guessed that lol" (Continues running)
Vala: (Continues chasing)
When Astrid finally entered the manor she was led to the ballroom. She could feel eyes on her person and as she walked she used her fan to hide part of her face while looking around at the people that had arrived and were chatting. It was the virtual whos-who of society as she spotted several madams who were well known for their gossip as well as their trendsetting, some well known Dragonpolo players. She knew her father wouldn’t attend since he was still in bed due to the injuries his wife had inflicted and her mother cared not much for such social events.
One of the hosts of the party made themselves known nearly immediately after the usher announced her name to the ballroom. No sooner had the man finished speaking before her arm was taken by her aunt Hildegard.
“Astrid darling, I am so glad you could make it,” Her aunt gushed as Astrid let her lead her around the room for now. “It’s been so long,”
“Indeed it has aunt Hildegard,” Astrid answered briskly. “How are you and your husband faring?” She then asked out of politeness. Hildegard’s husband was her father’s younger brother and Hildegard was actually his second wife. She was slightly younger than his first wife and if the rumors were to be believed her uncle had divorced his first wife as she was barren, unable to have children, and had then brought his mistress into the manor whom he later married. It was basically the social scandal of years past. Astrid had heard of it but as she was only a few years old when it had happened she was skeptical of the validity of it. Yet both ladies still lived in the manor and tongues wagged and faux sympathy spread that Mr. Hofferson just couldn’t bear to throw his first wife out on the street after their divorce.
The facts were this; Her uncle had married twice, he hadn’t taken Hildegard as a concubine at first which was odd, both ladies lived in relative peace together in the manor and all three were rather private. Astrid wasn’t one to believe the rumors but even this arrangement seemed slightly off to her by Noble standards. She snapped out of her musings as her uncle approached. He was a fairly tall fellow, taller than his older brother actually but Astrid held her head high as he slightly towered over her.
“My dear niece,” her uncle greeted her though she felt no warmth in his voice. “I am so happy you could join us this evening.”
“Greetings uncle,” Astrid said with a slight curtsy as was customary to greet a host. The curtsy wasn’t as formal as one would use when greeting royalty but she used this opportunity to place her hand near her bosom and the square neckline of her gown, drawing attention to the black pearl necklace she had been given by Queen Valka. The supposedly subconscious gesture had the desired effect as she heard the intake of breath from her uncle. She hid a smirk as her game had begun. Pearls in general were coveted by Nobility as Berk was an island kingdom. The most coveted color amongst the pearls was black and since centuries past only the Queens and future Queens of Berk wore this color. It was seen as an unspoken rule, denoting status within society and here Astrid was all but literally screaming at the Nobles that saw her ‘Those who mocked and belittled me for getting thrown in prison; WELL I’M BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER!’
Astrid tucked a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear, revealing the black pearl earring that went with the necklace as she watched her uncle quickly recover. “First let me congratulate you on your engagement,” Her uncle said and Astrid supposed he might be playing it safe, testing the waters a bit so to say. “Prince Hiccup is a lucky man to have you as a fiance,”
“And I am a lucky woman,” Astrid smiled genuinely. She then looked around for a moment and frowned “So where is Aster?” She had yet to spot her cousin and he should be at the ball with his parents greeting the guests and schmoozing to make connections. “As the new heir to the family he should also be greeting these guests, should he not?”
There was an uncomfortable cough from aunt Hildegard and her uncle looked away slightly which all but confirmed her suspicions. “My son is sadly not feeling very well tonight,” her uncle said and his wife added with feigned remorse. “Yes, the doctor advised that he stay in bed for the night. It was all quite sudden you see.” In Noble speak it really meant; ‘We couldn’t cancel the ball without losing face,’ though Astrid suspected this was all a ruse.
“Then aunt and uncle, please excuse me. I am sure you have many more guests to greet.” Astrid said and saw the slight panic in her aunt’s eyes as she proposed they moved on to other guests.
“Dear Astrid may we speak later?” Her aunt then asked and Astrid nodded. She excused herself and went to mingle with the other guests.
The time was passing slowly, with couples waltzing on the dance floor. Astrid was utterly bored and on her second flute of champagne and she idly wondered why she hadn’t asked Hiccup to escort her tonight. Though she didn’t want to subject him to more of her family drama as it was. Two arms were suddenly looped around both her arms as she had been listening to some old merchant give an account on how he swept a viscountess off her feet in his younger days. She was slightly startled and was about to probably beat the crap out of whoever did it when she realized that Camicazi and Ruffnut were flanking her on either side. “Lady Jorgenson, Lady Thornston,” Astrid greeted politely as the women whisked her away from the boring conversation.
“Am I ever glad to see you two,” Astrid muttered as she picked up another flute of champagne. The trio headed towards the large glass doors which separated the ballroom from the balcony overlooking the expansive garden. “Any more of playing nice while mingling and I might have strangled someone.” She now knew why her mother rarely went to these functions and had some new appreciation for her father whenever he managed to get his wife to accompany him.
“We felt exactly the same.” Camicazi said.
“My boredom fainted when I spotted Lady Jorgenson and then you,” Ruffnut eagerly confessed.
“Ruffnut are you here because my cousin is sick?” Astrid asked with a frown as she knew the female doctor rarely attended balls, much less wore dresses, after giving up her title. Ruffnut was one of the best doctors in the Kingdom, surely Aster’s parents would have asked her to come and take a look.
“Sick?” Ruffnut frowned. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. I am merely here for the free food and to get away from my brother who is composing poetry about his Chicken. If I have to listen to more of that then we will be having chicken stew tomorrow.”
“Your brother truly adopted a chicken?” Camicazi muttered. “So strange,”
“So where is your husband tonight?” Astrid asked as she was quite curious. Snotlout was afterall a fan of these parties.
“He is at home, reflecting on the error of his ways,” Camicazi huffed. “Not even Duke Jorgenson dared to oppose me when I departed tonight without an escort.”
Astrid raised a brow as that must have been some row. When Cami got mad she struck fear in most people, only Astrid and a few others had managed to stand their grounds against the woman. It was Ruffnut who asked the obvious question as to what Snotlout had done to warrant such treatment since they were newlyweds still.
“He couldn’t keep his eyes and hands to himself,” Cami hissed dangerously as she smacked her dark green lace fan in the palm of her hand with anger.
“Oh my!” Astrid said as both she and Ruffnut leaned in closer. She wasn’t much for gossip but did occasionally indulge in it, like any young lady from Noble society that was bored out of their minds. There was no one on the balcony besides them but Camicazi still whispered the story.
“So a few mornings ago I visited Ruffnut’s clinic for a check up,” Cami said while hinting at their previous conversation. “And lo and behold, who do I see entering a gentleman’s club not so far away. Why it was my darling husband. I had no problem with him visiting such a club. He likes to spend time with the guys and they took him to one to celebrate after hearing of our marriage. Only it seemed, he kept going most of the nights after,” Here she shrugged a bit. “But there I was, across the cobblestones, watching my husband be welcomed by some floozy with too much makeup!”
“Ah right, I remember,” Ruffnut muttered. “That gentleman’s club is known for employing female waitresses. It’s actually very popular as the waitresses flirt with a lot of the patrons to get them to buy more drinks.”
“That I gathered,” Camicazi mumbled. “Of course I was denied entry as it is a men’s only club,”
“And that’s why you asked if you could borrow some of my brother's clothes!” Ruffnut realized. “I was wondering what you were going to do with those and that awful fake mustache.”
“So you snuck into the club?” Astrid asked though she probably already knew what Cami would have done. The other blonde nodded and said “I snuck in and there my husband was, with a lap full of floozy and his hands where it shouldn’t have been.” She harrumphed.
“Well frankly it’s a wonder that Snotlout is still alive,” Astrid stated, impressed. “You must truly love him,”
“I just needed to get out of that house to cool my head before I made him a eunuch,” Camicazi said as she leaned against the stone railing of the balcony. “So I came to this party but it was dull until I ran into you two,” Here she smirked and directed her own champagne glass towards Astrid and asked “So who will you be tormenting tonight?” Camicazi obviously knew about Astrid’s situation and was just waiting for the fallout.
“We shall see in a mo-” Astrid was cutoff as a scream came from above and a body fell down onto one of the rose bushes in the garden next to the balcony. There was a painful yelp from a male voice as the three women hurried to check on him.
“Aster?!” Astrid exclaimed as she saw her cousin tangled up in the rose bush. The thorns must really be poking some delicate places because the man made no snarky remarks and just winced.
“Well, what do you know, it’s raining men,” Camicazi remarked dryly while Ruffnut muttered a “Hallelujah,”
Harry: (Walks in and stops and stares)
Vala: (Is using a large hairdryer to roll the Porg around like a tumbleweed)
Harry: (Nearly lets down guard until Porg is blown into a slow-cooker) "MAH PORG!"
The three ladies stood there as Aster struggled to get himself out of the bush. With a sigh, Astrid finally reached out her hand to help her wayward cousin. She pulled him up towards the stone railing of the balcony which he scaled with no difficulty even if he still had twigs from the bush caught in his hair. There were also several scratches from the thorns on his face and hands as Astrid observed him. She then looked up to see an open window on the second floor.
“What were you thinking?!” Astrid scolded as she pointed to the open window. “You could have been hurt worse than this!”
“Well, it’s not like I had much of a choice, now did I!” Aster retorted gruffly while trying to yank the twigs out of his hair. “Not with my parents locking me in my room like some errant child!”
Astrid let out another groan when Aster asked her why she was even here at the ball and Astrid just wanted to punch him at that moment. Both Ruffnut and Camicazi wisely remained quiet as the cousins duked it out.
“Hey! It’s a valid question,” Aster muttered when he heard her groan. “You were disowned and this ball is for the close friends and clients of the Hofferson family. It’s invitation only.”
“Well guess what dear cousin. I was invited, personally too. One of my Ladies-in-waiting received the invitation on my behalf from aunt Hildegard herself.” Astrid shot back and took some pleasure in the gobsmacked look Aster suddenly sported.
“But mother hates you!” He blurted out and then quickly covered his mouth with his hands as if he shouldn’t have revealed that, which he probably shouldn’t have.
Astrid merely rolled her eyes though and uttered “I knew that already. The woman can’t act and she was always passive-aggressive to me. Surprisingly tonight she wasn’t.”
“You knew?!” Aster exclaimed as his brows shot up. “But… But….”
“But why am I here then?” Astrid smirked now as she folded her arms in front of her. “Dear cousin, we both know that you aren’t a fool even if you choose to act like one. I’m sure you can at least guess why I was invited.” She knew just how manipulative her aunt and uncle could be so she didn’t blame Aster for playing an idiot, though at times he’d take it too far. She had just figured it out one day years ago as she got to read some of her cousin’s homework. If he had been an idiot then he wouldn’t have been able to ace Advanced Economics. Though she never let it slip that she knew.
Aster now sputtered and Astrid approached him, placing a hand on his shoulder while leaning in. She whispered in his ear “I told you before, a puppet is only useful for so long.” She remembered, telling him that when Hiccup and her went to get Stormfly; one of the instances he took his act too far and she had to rebuke him. ‘Honestly, what was he thinking going that far in front of Royalty.’ She was lucky Hiccup wasn’t so easily offended or a stickler for protocol.
“Just so you know I’m not here t-” Astrid was interrupted by Camicazi who hissed at her. She turned to look at the woman with a frown and then towards the glass doors and her eyes widened. Camicazi had been trying to warn her that her uncle and aunt were heading right towards them. Luckily they couldn’t see Aster as he wasn’t standing in front of the windows but they couldn’t catch him out here if they went through so much trouble of locking him in his room and faking an illness. Aster needed to hide but there was nowhere he wouldn’t be spotted on the balcony. Then Astrid got an idea and her cousin wasn’t liking the glint in her eyes one bit.
“This will hurt you more than me,” Astrid told him before pushing him back over the balcony railing with some force that he yelped as he once again fell into the rose bushes, flattening one by the sounds of the twigs snapping. Both Ruffnut and Camicazi went to stand near Astrid now, their wide ball gown skirts shielding anyone coming outside from seeing Aster’s legs that were still sticking out partially. To outsiders it looked like the ladies were just deep in gossip and Astrid even acted surprised when her uncle called out to her. She then realized that it had been more than an hour that she and the others had been out here now, coupled with the time she had spent mingling suggested that the party had been well underway giving the hosts a chance to slip away.
“Uncle, why don’t we adjourn to the drawing room? I’m sure we can have our private talks there without being disturbed.” Astrid suggested before excusing herself from the other ladies.
Once Astrid was back inside Camicazi turned to Ruffnut to ask “Want to go snooping?”
“Do you need to ask?” Ruffnut smirked and then both women turned when they heard a pained groan from the bushes.
“We should probably take him with us,” Camicazi muttered as if Aster would be dead weight.
“We should probably get him out of that poor rose bush first,” Ruffnut sighed as she had more sympathy for the roses than the man.
Meanwhile, Astrid was being escorted towards the drawing room that was adjacent to the ballroom. The room was smaller and adorned with plush chairs and even a grand piano with a fireplace nearby. It gave off a much more intimate setting for entertaining guests, mainly family members, than the ballroom. Astrid took a seat on a single high back chair and rested her elbow on the armrest while her other hand was tapping against her leg. Her aunt and uncle took seats on the two person sofa causing them to have their backs towards the doors.
“So,” Astrid said as she sat straight while looking at her uncle. “I believe you called me here because you had a proposition for me.”
“Why yes,” Her uncle began. “Astrid, we…. Uhm…. we want you to resume your position as Heir to the Hofferson family.”
Astrid lifted a brow since she knew that something like that would be uttered. “And this has nothing to with the dignitaries from the south arriving has it? Looking for connections so you can be the first ones to broker trade deals?” She asked with a smirk “Or because I am to be the future Crownprincess of Berk? Does Baron Hofferson even know what you are proposing here tonight?”
“You can leave your father to me Astrid,” her uncle cleared his throat somewhat uncomfortably. This likely had to do with the steely glare his niece was aiming at him. “It won’t take much to convince him surely. Why, your engagement to the Prince alone would bring much prestige to the household.”
“So I am but a tool for your ambitions,” Astrid harumped as she leaned further in the chair. “Tell me, what of your son?”
“What of him?” Her uncle asked with raised brows.
“Ever since I had been named heir you had been campaigning to your brother to have Aster take up the position, saying he would be better suited for it. When I got disowned I thought you would be jumping for joy as that was your big chance to make your son the next Baron.” Astrid stated bluntly. She held up her hand when her aunt wanted to speak and continued while staring both of her relatives down with a glare. “Now here you are, asking me, who has gotten a better lot in life than rotting in a prison, to take back my status as heir and the only thing you can say about what would happen to your son is WHAT OF HIM?!” She raised her voice as some of her anger seeped through. Really, the nerve of these two. No wonder Aster played the fool. If he showed even a modicum of talent they would exploit it for their own personal gain. She also noted some moving shadows, obscuring the light through the small crack under the doors and had an inkling as to who might be listening in.
“What of him you asked, let us go through the scenarios shall we,” Astrid now folded her hands together and uttered “The Hofferson house is supported by the Laurant family. All financial support comes from them in return for ties to Nobility. Which means if Aster is ousted as the heir he will have no financial support from that side, furthermore it will be seen as an insult in society. Clearly you haven’t thought it through what it means for your son to be ousted without a clear motive. This would haunt his social career. If he ever needed employment it would be detrimental. His chances of marriage will also dwindle since people will speculate whether or not he was replaced due to him being unable to manage the estates or just plain incompetence.” Astrid slammed her hand on the armrest causing her aunt to flinch.
“Astrid darling,” Aunt Hildegard murmured while nervously fiddling with the hem of her dress. “You have to understand, your new status would catapult the Hofferson family into the center of nobility. New avenues would open for us and well frankly…..” here Hildegard sighed “Our son is an idiot.” Aunt Hildegard said it so bluntly that Astrid herself had to stop her anger for a moment and just stare at her aunt but Hildegard continued “Neither of us think he would be able to manage the estate. He doesn’t seem to be taking his new status seriously and we don’t think we should spend more resources on him if this is how he acts. He is a lost cause to us.”
Astrid sighed and muttered something under her breath that sounded an awful lot like “Thor help me,” Her mind however was going a million miles an hour and there was one thought that struck her. ‘Is this what you wanted Aster? To be abandoned by your parents? Were they so manipulative, so power hungry, that you would act the fool just to be dismissed by them as nothing but? Was this your endgame? Did you want to cut your puppet strings yourself one day?’
“Uncle, aunt,” Astrid said as she stood up. Both her relatives stood up as well and Astrid pinned them with a glare “I will not be reclaiming my title as heir so you can forget petitioning this to the Baron.” her uncle sputtered but Astrid silenced him with but a glare. “No uncle, Aster will stay the heir to House Hofferson. You wanted him there, you got him there, and you will sleep in the bed you’ve made.” Astrid knew something was up with this family but frankly she stopped caring ever since they did nothing when she had been placed in prison. There was some sympathy for her cousin but he would have to deal with his parents himself.
“Astrid wait!” her uncle said as he followed after her as she headed for the door. He quickly grabbed her arm to stop her.
“Unhand me!” Astrid growled as a dangerous glint could be seen in her eyes.
“Wait please Astrid!” her uncle said frantically. His voice was full of desperation. “You and Aster are the only ones qualified to take over as head of the family! You would have to do it…… yes… you would have to do it if an incident befell Aster.”
Astrid’s eyes widened at the implication her uncle made and before she knew it her body had spun around on its own and her hand had delivered a sharp slap to his cheek. The resounding ‘SMACK’ could even be heard outside the room. Her uncle let go of her other arm and stumbled back, clutching his rapidly reddening cheek with his palm and staring at her with incredulity.
Astrid’s anger was blazing now as she jabbed a finger in her uncle’s direction. “You dare! You dare to threaten your own son’s life just to move up within the social circles?! Do you think this is a game?! He’s your own flesh and blood for Thor’s sake! Sure he can be proud, arrogant, ditzy, lazy, and have the manners of a stone at times! HE IS STILL YOUR SON! I will be having words with my father about your abhorrent behaviour and you can bet your arse there will be consequences!” Astrid was done playing nice and it showed. This was the first time she had cursed out loud in years. “You are lower than a mulch-bucket-eating-termite and you are lucky I don’t call Stormfly in here to turn you into a pincushion!”
Astrid then promptly walked out of the room with long strides, slamming the door loudly. Outside of the room she saw Camicazi, Ruffnut and Aster, who still had twigs in his hair, crouched behind an old suit of armor near the door. Ruffnut had clamped a hand over Aster’s mouth but Astrid could see the shock in his eyes. It was one thing to speculate, it was a whole other thing to hear your own father planning to dispose of you.
“Come, I don’t want them catching any of us here,” Astrid said and the trio followed her further into the halls of the manor. They were quiet, Aster specifically. “Aster,” Astrid said, getting her cousin’s attention. “I need you to listen to me right now.”
Aster nodded but said nothing for the moment. “We are going to pack up some of your things and you will be going over to the main house tonight. I’ll be writing a letter to my mother explaining why. She should be able to arrange everything for you.”
“No buts,” Astrid had a tone of finality in her voice. “I can’t say that I am wholly fond of you but you are still my cousin. You will be going.”
“They’ll not let me leave,” Aster muttered and Camicazi scoffed.
“You have a Princess-to-be, a-soon-to-be Duchess, and the craziest doctor in the kingdom here.” She uttered. “Your parents have no title and if they do not want to be arrested, socially defamed or given diarrhea for more than a month they will stand back and let you leave.” The blond then put her hands on her hips. “Now show me to your room. We have packing to do.”
Meanwhile, back at the palace Sierra was making her way through the halls with great haste. The Captain of the guards had been notified as well and they were sending a missive by Terrormail to Lady Astrid. She had been searching for this so-called Alchemist and had reached the ground floor when she saw him through one of the windows. The hooded shadowy figure was in the front courtyard and making his way to the main gate. Sierra had to be fast since it was possible that the guards at the gate hadn't been alerted yet to the plot that was afoot.
Sierra made it into the courtyard but the Alchemist had just been let through the gate. She should have yelled for the guards but she wasn’t thinking straight, too worried about what the person had cooked up to use on the Prince. Even if they had only known each other for a few days, Hiccup was nice and she didn’t want him to get hurt. So in the heat of the moment she grabbed the nearest thing she could think of, which was a hideous garden gnome, and chucked it the figure. The gnome flew through the air, and she and the guards watched gobsmacked as it hit the Alchemist straight on the head.
The scream of “MY GNOME!” was ignored as she finally yelled at the guards to apprehend the cloaked figure that was groaning on the cobblestones that formed the bridge over the large moat.
“PLEASE DON’T HURT ME!” The Alchemist shouted as spears were thrust to his neck. The hood was yanked off by one of the guards and Sierra saw that it was a fairly young and portly blond man.
“PLEASE DON’T HURT ME!” The man begged again as the guards dragged him up.
“What’s your name?” Sierra had to ask as this man looked more frightened than sinister.
“Fishlegs! Fishlegs Ingerman!” The man responded quickly as weapons were kept trained on him.
Vala: (Shoves Porg in a cannon)
Vala: "FIRE IN THE HOLE!" (shoots cannon)
“Hurry it up,” Camicazi snapped her fingers twice as several attendants came out of the manor carrying trunks that she had loaded with Aster’s clothes; all of Aster’s clothes. She pointed towards a black carriage parked with the others that had the Jorgenson coat of arms on its sides and ordered them to load them up.
“Does she have to do that?!” Aster asked in a whisper to his cousin who along with the good doctor were just standing outside of the manor, on the lawn, watching while Lady Jorgenson worked her magic.
“Do what?” Astrid asked while fiddling with her fan. She had already finished the very extensive letter by the time Camicazi had returned and it now safely rested in the breast pocket of Aster’s coat, wax seal and all.
“You know, make a spectacle of this!” Aster gestured with his hands slightly towards the gathered crowd of guests that had formed and his fuming but silent parents as they all watched the trunks being loaded up. Indeed, Camicazi hadn’t wasted time in being discreet, instead she had proudly made a spectacle of it and Astrid could admire the tact even if Aster didn’t notice it yet.
“Aster you obviously don’t realize it but Lady Jorgenson is in fact doing you a favor here.” Astrid said but kept her voice low so others around them wouldn’t overhear.
“How is this a favor?! I’ll be the talk of the Socialites for weeks!” Aster was a bit frantic but after tonight Astrid really couldn’t blame her cousin. Finding out his parents thought he was disposable to having Camicazi probably tear through his room in ruthless efficiency and now having to leave the manor may have been a bit too much. So Astrid tried to explain it as easily as possible.
“That’s exactly the point Aster. You’ll be the talk for weeks,” Astrid pointed out. “There is such a thing as good gossip too.” Her cousin blinked at her and then frowned a bit as Astrid proceeded to explain. “First of all, with the gossip mill going people will speculate why you left the manor in the first place, meaning your parents can’t try to force you to do anything in broad daylight and under the public eye. Also with Camicazi calling the shots as it is right now….” Here Astrid inclined her head towards Cami who was talking with her coachman as the trunks were almost all fastened to the carriage roof “means that you have the power of a Duchy backing you, or at least it would seem that way to outsiders. Your parents are too low on the totem pole to go toe to toe with the future Duchess Jorgenson and incur her wrath.”
“Okay….” Aster nodded.
“And this will open up new avenues for you as well.” Astrid then said. “Have you ever heard of the saying the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” She asked and her cousin nodded. “Good because I’m assuming your parents' dealings have made several enemies and they would be willing to work with you if you show you aren’t under their influence. Also Duke Jorgenson’s investors might approach you as well if they notice his daughter-in-law favoring you, though if any of them do I would suggest you speak with Camicazi first since she would know whether they are trustworthy businessmen or not.”
“And it wouldn’t hurt your marriage prospects either, being affiliated with a high ranking nob-AGH!” Astrid shouted as a green blur zoomed at her out of nowhere and latched onto her face.
“Mffttykshoplodkdk!??!?!” Astrid’s voice was muffled as what appeared to be a green Terrible Terror carrying an envelope had found her face to be a good landing site. She hobbled around as Ruffnut tried to pry the Terror away. Finally the little dragon gave in but didn’t look happy.
The little green dragon huffed in Ruffnut’s arms and let out a tiny flame before sticking out its long tongue and peering at Astrid.
“Well that’s one way to receive Terrormail,” Ruffnut joked as Astrid loosened the envelope that bore her name which was tied to the little dragon. She quickly opened it after taking note of the wax seal which was the crest of the royal family. Ruffnut blinked as Astrid’s face turned suddenly serious while she read it.
“I need to go back to the palace,” Astrid said once she was done reading. The letter was crumbled in her hand and then she looked at Ruffnut and said “It would be best if you come with me,” If the contents of the letter were accurate then several people would be needing a doctor soon once she was done with them.
“Me?!” Ruffnut asked with a frown but trusted the Terror into Aster’s hands and followed after Astrid still, somewhat curious and intrigued about what was going on. Camicazi who had taken note of Astrid’s urgency waved her along while muttering “I got this here,”
Astrid nodded before letting out a very sharp and unladylike whistle. Stormfly who had been busy preening in the fountain without a care in the world stood up immediately, shook the water off and rushed over, bending slightly to allow Astrid to get on the saddle with her ballgown. Astrid held out a hand which Ruffnut took and the doctor was yanked up and placed on the saddle behind Astrid. Stormfly took off with a sharp flap of her wings and the duo was airborne in no time.
Ruffnut hung onto Astrid’s waist for dear life as Stormfly speeded through the air above the kingdom. The houses and manors were like tiny dots and soon the dragon went into a sharp dive when the castle became visible through the clouds. The Nadder slowed down and gracefully landed in the front courtyard where apparently some commotion was taking place. The courtyard was now full of armored knights as well as the King and Queen.
“Where is my son?!” The King could be heard bellowing as a figure on the ground flinched back and stuttered “I-I don’t know!”
“Honey, no one likes a shouter,” The Queen said as she lay a hand on her husband’s broad shoulders. She gave Stoick a quick pat and then turned towards the figure and said in a tone that was so sweet that it sounded menacing, “Now Fishlegs was it…….” Astrid watched the Queen produce a dagger from Thor knows where. She fiddled with it slightly as she regarded the portly man that was on the ground and then bent down to whisper something in his ear. Fishlegs proceeded to turn several shades of white.
Meanwhile the knights parted as Astrid and Ruffnut approached. “What happened?” She asked the closest figure which happened to be Dagur who was clutching the remnants of some ugly lawn gnome.
“Princess Margarette and her father are missing, Lady Sierra found out that they plan to use a love potion on the Prince and that is the Alchemist who created it.” Dagur summarized and pursed his lips at Sierra who stood off to the side watching the Queen work with rapt attention. Astrid figured it had something to do with the broken gnome but she didn’t know what. Hearing that they were planning to use a love potion on her fiance had her blood boiling but before she herself could grab an axe to interrogate the alchemist they were interrupted by Heather who reported that Toothless was also missing and seemed as if he was following his rider’s trail, though he couldn’t have gotten far since he couldn’t fly without Hiccup.
“I SWEAR I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!” The man the Queen had called Fishlegs shouted. “THEY TOLD ME NOTHING! ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS SAFE MEATLUG!” And if Valka’s threats were to be believed then the alchemist would have more reason to tell the truth than lie. The Queen always did follow through on her threats after all.
“Who is Meatlug?” Astrid found herself questioning with a frown as curiosity got the better of her.
Fishlegs turned to Astrid and said quietly “She’s my dragon. Princess Margarette thought it would be useful to have an alchemist working for her so she kidnapped Meatlug. We were happy living in the countryside but now if I don’t do what she asks of me they hurt her,”
The whole group was silent after hearing that and even Queen Valka looked conflicted now. “Where is your dragon now?” The Queen asked. “On their ship?”
But Fishlegs shook his head. “She’s in the dungeons in the Southern Isles Palace. One message from the Princess and she’s done for! I can’t…. I can’t…… I didn’t even want to make that potion!”
“If we were to guarantee your dragon’s safety would you help us?” Stoick now asked.
“How?!” Fishlegs questioned. “Let’s say even if I knew the antidote, there’s no way you can get to Meatlug in time. The journey to the Southern Isles takes two days.”
“Terrormail is fast,” The King stated, “And…..we have agents undercover. They are already in place.” He hated admitting that as it was a State secret but at the same time he felt worried for Hiccup and also a bit sorry for this young man.
“The…. The antidote would take a couple of hours to synthesize.” Fishlegs relented when it appeared that they were serious about helping Meatlug. “I’d need a proper laboratory though.”
“That I can provide!” Ruffnut offered. “My laboratory at my clinic is fully stocked. You guys can continue to search for the prince in the meantime and I’ll watch this guy.” The blonde looked at Fishlegs before grabbing him by the collar and dragging him away towards one of the carriages. Heather indicated for several knights to follow after them since she didn’t trust the alchemist just yet and no one mentioned that they were slightly more worried about the alchemist being left alone with Ruffnut who could be unpredictable at times when research was involved.
“We can use Stormfly to track Hiccup,” Astrid suggested since Nadders had a very keen sense of smell. She just hoped they weren’t too late to track Hiccup as the trail could wind up cold.
Meanwhile in a church near the harbor an inconspicuous brown carriage had stopped. The princess had stepped out as her father, who had been driving, ushered a blank looking Hiccup out afterwards with a rough shove.
“Are you sure this will work?” Her father frowned.
“Of course it will,” Margarette huffed and then gestured towards Hiccup. “Just look at him, he’d do anything I say. Wouldn’t you sweetie?”
“Yes darling,” Hiccup said in a rather emotionless voice.
“See,” Margarette said haughtily. “Once we are wed I can take Berk and its resources for myself.”
“Don’t you mean we?” Her father frowned and the frown got deeper as he looked at his daughter.
“Unfortunately father,” Margarette’s smile got predatory now. The king gasped as he felt a searing hot pain in his abdomen. He sputtered disbelievingly and coughed up some blood then looked down to see a silver dagger embedded in his torso. “You’ve already served your purpose.” She said before stabbing him twice more. “Larse sends his regards,” She uttered, referring to her elder brother, as the king fell to his knees and then slumped forward. “Honestly, not even your subjects would be sad to see you go.” She was wiping the blood from her dagger with a handkerchief and after she placed it back in its holster she grabbed the blank looking Hiccup by the hand and nearly dragged him into the church.
Unbeknownst to the Princess, green eyes were tracking her every movement. A low growl emanated as a black blur advanced on the church.
Vala: (Wakes up) "Morning" (Pokes)
Harry: "Ow, morning"
Vala: (Goes to raid the fridge)
Harry: (Steals fridge)
Vala: O_o "You're stealing your own fridge?"
Harry: "Preventive measures,"
Vala: (Watches Harry lug around the fridge before going to own fridge)
Harry: (Steals Vala's fridge as well) "I AM THE FRIDGE MASTER!" (Gets squished under weight of fridges)
Vala: (Pokes squished Harry with a spoon)
Vala: (Spots Porg on the counter)
Porg: O_O "Meeps"
The church was a small one and Princess Maragette looked displeased at the plainness of it. There weren’t any elaborate murals or intricate columns etched with gold. The large circular window near the altar held a simple mosaic that let through the moonlight, illuminating the pathway between the wooden benches to a degree. The low burning candles were the only source of lighting for the rest of the church.
“A church for the peasantry,” She muttered and it appeared she didn’t want to get married in such a plain setting but to move forward with her plan she would grit her teeth.
“Don’t worry Hiccup darling,” She said to the emotionless Hiccup standing beside her. “Once we get back to the Southern Isles we can hold our dream wedding,” She then sniggered a bit. “Well, my dream wedding, you’ll be…… indisposed.”
“Yes,” Hiccup said blankly as he stood stock-still.
“I got to give that annoying alchemist an ovation though, who would have thought that a love potion could be turned into an airborne agent.” She giggled more to herself. “A little motivation goes a very long way,”
“Good evening. How can I help you?” A nun holding a lantern said as she entered through a side door that most likely led to personal quarters and other areas of the church.
“Yes, we would like to marry,” Margarette told the woman. “Please inform the pastor. It needs to be done quickly.”
“This is….. highly irregular,” The nun could be seen frowning as she looked at the couple. She raised the lantern and her eyes widened when she recognized Hiccup in the limited lighting. “Your Highness?” The young nun uttered perplexed but Margarette’s glare had her scurrying out of the room fast. It didn’t take long for the Pastor to appear, likely woken up by the frantic nun who was now following behind the man. The pastor looked frazzled as he regarded both Margarette and Hiccup who were standing near the altar already.
“We would like to marry,” The princess repeated whilst looking like she might lose her patience.
The pastor meanwhile had smoothed out his robe and was regarding the two. “Prince Hiccup?” He greeted with some curiosity as he eyed the woman who had her arm intertwined with Hiccup’s.
“Yes,” Hiccup answered in a monotone voice.
“Is she your intended?” The man asked. Hiccup merely nodded and he turned to Princess Margarette. “Miss, would you please show proof of your bond.”
“Excuse me, what?!” Maragrette exclaimed as he brows furrowed. “What proof?!”
The pastor blinked and then elaborated, thinking that the young lady may not be aware. “When the King made the announcement of your engagement to the Prince he stated that at the altar the bride had to show her engagement ring as proof of the bond.”
Margarette looked like she swallowed a lemon. She certainly hadn’t expected that. King Stoick had been sly as the engagement ring Lady Astrid wore was a unique piece and could not be duplicated. He and Hiccup must have discussed it beforehand she pondered as her eyes narrowed at the emotionless man next to her. The engagement ring was one of a kind and prying it off that woman’s finger would take more manpower than she had. “I seem to have left it at the palace,” Margarette said in a sweet tone. “Would you be willing to make an exception? This is a rather urgent matter.”
“I’m sorry Milady. Without proof I cannot wed you. All churches have received the same decree.” The pastor told her and the princess had to grit her teeth once more. Her left hand twitched as it fell on the dagger that was hidden in the folds of her dress. She briefly contemplated using force when a hole was blasted through the roof of the church.
“AAAH!” Margarette shouted as she and the pastor backed away as debris fell down along with part of a wooden beam which fell on one of the benches and broke it with a sickening crunch. Hiccup stayed motionless where he was and Margarette could see a black blur jumping down. When the dust had settled somewhat the princess came face to face with a furious Nightfury. Toothless’ pupils were slits, his teeth were bared, his wings were spread out and his claws cracked the already broken wood as he stalked forward snarling. The black dragon came to stand beside his motionless rider, coiling his tail protectively around Hiccup’s middle while never letting the princess out of his sight. The pastor and nun both ran away screaming for help as Margarette scrambled backwards while fumbling with her dagger.
“Stay back you beast!” Margarette shouted as she held her dagger with both hands and pointed it at the Nightfury. Toothless’ only response was to open his maw and charge a plasma blast which the dragon then released.
The princess yelped and then leapt sideways to avoid the blast. Her side collided with one of the benches and she fell backwards between the rows. The damage that the plasma blast cost could be clearly seen in the scorch marks on the floor and the hole in the aisle that was still smoking. Margarette scrambled between the benches on her hands and knees as Toothless stayed with Hiccup. The dragon was in full protective mode and the princess relied on that. Because if she stayed low then the Nightfury couldn’t see her and shoot at her, at least that was what she thought. Toothless however didn’t have any scruples about firing at the wooden benches themselves and Margarette shouted in surprise as plasma blasts surged past her, one too close for comfort. She closed her eyes as she could feel splinters and large chunks of debris pelting her.
Soon most benches on the right side of the church were in complete shambles and the princess was buried under that debris. Her dress was filthy and torn, her hair was a mess, her nails were broken and she had cuts and bruises from the onslaught. The Nightfury hadn’t moved an inch from its rider but still managed to get the best of her. She groaned and dragged herself out of the wreckage. The door of the church was so close and Margarette grit her teeth. If she could just get out of the church the dragon likely wouldn’t follow as his rider was more important. All her plans were in shambles now and she knew her eldest brother Larse wouldn’t be forgiving.
Clutching the dagger she made a last ditch effort to get to the doors. Toothless’ plasma blast zoomed past her and she shouted in elation as her hand closed over the handle. That elation would soon turn to pain as Astrid, who had arrived, was just on the other side of the door, kicked it in, causing the door to hit the princess right in the face. Margarette fell backwards onto the cold stone as she clutched her bloody nose. Margarette’s other hand still had a firm grip on her dagger as she glared up at Astrid. Blood dripped down onto her once pristine dress as she lunged towards Astrid, dagger poised to pierce her heart but Astrid was faster and snagged the princess’ hand while her other hand dug into her loosened tresses.
Margarette yelped as Astrid yanked her forward by the hair and deposited her onto the cold cobblestone street. She looked up to see both Queen Valka and King Stoick there as well along with their respective dragons. The King’s cape covered her father’s corps and Astrid wasted no time in planting a solid heel onto her back to keep her from moving too much.
Toothless was calming down now as he saw familiar faces and Astrid bent down to hiss “How dare you take my fiance!”
The princess who was bloodied, bruised and desperate found a burst of adrenaline and actually managed to throw Astrid off before slapping her.
Astrid growled as she held her reddening cheek as her eyes narrowed onto Margarette. The princess was no fool though as she saw King Stoick and his wife advancing on her. She did the only thing she could think of and that was to throw down her now stained glove. “I challenge you to a duel!” Margarette exclaimed causing the King and Queen to halt in their approach and Astrid to raise her brows in shock. A duel, whether it be between Nobles or commoners, was not to be taken lightly and now that Margarette had challenged Astrid neither the king nor queen could apprehend her. A duel was used to settle a dispute and rarely ended in a death but it wasn’t uncommon. Astrid gritted her teeth and took out her own dagger. She would fight for her man and she would teach this little wench a lesson while doing so.
“I accept!” Astrid announced. She really didn’t have a choice though as declining a duel would brand her as a coward in society’s eyes.
The two women moved to the square that the church faced while Valka went to check on her son. Stoick stayed behind as a witness to the duel as there always had to be one. There was a large fountain in the middle of the square with statues of cherubs and the two women circled near it.
Margarette hissed as her sides hurt but her eyes narrowed at Astrid. She was going to show this wench just who they were dealing with. She grit her teeth and lunged first. Astrid managed to dodge but Margarette’s swipes continued. The two women were dodging and swiping with daggers at each other and neither noticed when they neared the fountain’s edge. There was a big splash as both women stumbled into the fountain. The duel had devolved into a hands on catfight as the women were literally at each other’s throats. The daggers were forgotten at the bottom of the fountain and their waterlogged dresses weighed them down.
The princess choked as Astrid’s hands wrapped around her throat and she gurgled as she was pushed under the water. Astrid was quite serious now and the princess’ nails clawed at her arms. When Margarette did come out of the water to catch her breath she shouted: “I concede!”
Astrid let her go, causing the princess to fall backwards into the fountain once more. The duel had ended, Astrid had won but what no one could have expected Margarette to grab one of the daggers in the water and trusting it into Astrid’s side.
Astrid gasped at the pain and clutched the wound where the dagger stuck out. Blood mixed with the water and soon part of the fountain was crimson red. The princess had done a disgraceful thing, attacking after an official duel, and Astrid punched her in the face once more before she too succumbed to the rapid blood loss and fell face forward into the fountain while clutching her side. The last thing she saw was Stoick frantically yelling and making his way towards her.
Astrid grimaced as she felt something poking her cheek and ear. She slowly cracked open an eyelid but quickly shut it as the light in the room was too bright. Her left side hurt and she couldn’t stifle the whimper it produced. No sooner had she uttered the painful noise when a shout of “GET YER CHICKEN OFF MY PATIENT!” Was uttered. Astrid winced at the loud noise and fully opened her eyes but she would wish she didn’t. The lights in the stark white room were still too bright. It hurt her eyes and the next thing she noticed was the head of a chicken leaning over her. The chicken was promptly removed and Astrid tried to sit up only to have a hand on her right shoulder push her back down.
“No, you’ve lost a lot of blood.” She recognized the voice as Ruffnut’s and slowly calmed down. “There is no way you are moving anytime soon.” Ruffnut continued to say, apparently in full doctor mode.
Astrid turned her head slightly and she could just make out a man that looked near-identical to Ruffnut sitting on a stool cradling a chicken. She turned her head the other way and noticed the good doctor glaring at the man previously mentioned. “How many times have I told you to keep that damn chicken out of my space!” Ruffnut could be heard saying. “The next time I am making chicken stew and there is nothing you can do to stop me!”
The man opposite Astrid let out a gasp and she could hear the clucking of the chicken as he held the animal close and shouted “How dare you threaten Chicken you fish head!”
“Fish head! Fish head! You’re one to talk you lard for brains!”
“Bride of Grendel!” The man shouted back while Ruffnut pulled up her sleeves in what could only become a full out brawl.
“Say that to me again you butt elf!” Ruffnut growled but luckily the upcoming brawl was stopped by none other than Camicazi who marched into the room. Astrid noted Snotlout trailing behind her while looking rather uncomfortable.
“Really now!” Camicazi said as she placed her hands on her hips. “Is this any way to act?!” The twins quieted down and as Tuffnut was about to say something he got shot down by her glare. Only the ‘bhak bhak’ of the chicken could be heard as the woman then rounded on Astrid.
“And you!” Camicazi said while pointing an accusing finger at her. “You leave for a couple of hours and I have to find out from your ladies-in-waiting that not only did you participate in a duel, you also ended up bleeding all over the place!”
“That’s…… an exaggeration,” Astrid muttered as she didn’t really have the strength to stand up yet and the look Cami gave her was so obvious.
“Yeah, she only bled out in the fountain,” Ruffnut stated. “And I patched her all up.”
“You. Got. Stabbed!” Cami punctuated each word as she stared Astrid down. “Do you have any idea how worried we were?! It may not look it but Ruffnut hasn't slept for two days now!”
“Hey! Don’t go telling her that!” Ruffnut grumbled.
“Two days?!” Astrid said in shock. “I’ve been unconscious for two days?!”
“Well……” Ruffnut said as a blush graced her cheeks. “You did wake up briefly while I was patching you up.”
“Why are you blushing?” Astrid asked with a frown. “Ruffnut, why are you blushing?! Oh my Thor! Just tell me already!” She added when Ruffnut looked away briefly as her cheeks turned from pink to full-on red.
“Oh Oh Oh! I can tell you!” The man holding the chicken said. “I’m Tuffnut by the way and this is Chicken,” Chicken was held up slightly when introduced and the bird gave a few clucks of shock at being suddenly jostled from her comfortable position. “So when my sister was tending to you, you woke up and muttered a lot of things. And I do mean a lot! The stuff my sister uses to numb pain must be really good,” he absentmindedly commented as he kept talking. “Now at first, you were mumbling about taking your axe and slicing up some…… uhm…. Let’s just redact the colorful words for now,” Tuffnut stated. “Chicken’s ears are sensitive.”
Astrid frowned as Ruffnut’s brother was far more talkative than she expected. “So anyway, you were cursing someone for being dishonorable, then you were saying how nice Ruffnut’s hair was, then you started trying to fight someone, we had to hold you down then and you hit me!” Tuffnut then said and pointed to the blooming bruise on his cheek and Astrid looked rather sheepish then. But Tuffnut brushed it off with a wave and continued. “So then….. You zone out again and an hour later is when the juicy stuff happens.” Here he actually grinned. “So you were more mumbling in your sleep about a certain prince. Let’s call him Hiccy for now,” Astrid raised a brow since there was really only one prince it could be. “And you said you would like to tie him up and do som-”
“Alright that’s enough out of you!” Ruffnut said as she went over and yanked her brother off the stool by his ear.
“Ouch!” Tuffnut said as he clutched his chicken while his sister started yanking him towards the door. “I’m hurt! I’m very much hurt!”
The door shut behind Camicazi and Snotlout and the trio in the room winced collectively when the shouts of “AAAAAAAHHH RUFF!” and “THE CHICKEN IS NOT AMUSED!” floated through from the other side.
When Ruffnut came back even Astrid was bright red as she knew just what Tuffnut was going to imply. She mentally gave her brain a kick for even trying to voice the thoughts aloud.
“No offence but I really don’t want to know what goes on in your head around the thoughts of my cousin.” Snotlout commented as he tried to hide his blush as well. He was however failing miserably.
“Snotlout, why exactly are you here?” Astrid frowned. She and Camicazi got along fine now that some things had been cleared up. And though she was still a bit salty about being left at the altar she still considered Cami a friend now but Snotlout, well she had heard neither hide nor hair from him after delivering the beating of a lifetime.
Snotlout for his part also looked rather uncomfortable. The shorter man took a deep breath and then said “I know we’ve had our differences,”
Astrid wanted to snort, differences indeed. “But you did save my cousin not only from that woman but possibly his life as well.” Snotlout continued. “I just wanted to say thank you.”
Astrid blinked as she hadn’t expected that and Snotlout seemed to pick up on it as well. “Look, I know I give my cousin grief at times,” the duke-to-be uttered “But it’s not like I don’t care. He’s still family. Whatever it’s worth, you two would make a great couple,” he added alluding to their upcoming nuptials. “Just don’t get stabbed again. Seeing my wife freak out once is more than enough,” he ended with a shudder.
Astrid nodded and looked at Snotlout in a new light. At first she had thought him a womanizer, then a coward when he failed to show up for the wedding, then she pondered why she hadn’t seen much of him and now she realized that he might have actually been giving her space to process everything and to get over past events. From his words Astrid could hear the sincerity and possibly respect he had for her actions. Maybe, just maybe they could actually get along.
“So what happened while I was unconscious?” She asked while filing certain thoughts away for later. Both Cami and Snotlout looked rather uncertain and Ruffnut who had reentered the room for the last part of the conversation muttered “Just tell her. She’ll find out sooner or later.”
“Right,” Camicazi nodded. “Fishlegs is at the palace treating the prince. We actually came to move you to the palace today once Ruffnut gives us the go-ahead. News came that Fishlegs’ dragon was saved but there seemed to have been something else in the missive and King Stoick is being extremely tightlipped about it. There has been a nervous atmosphere throughout the Royal court since last night.”
“Why?” Astrid frowned.
“Princess Margarette died last night while in Berkian custody. She was poisoned,” Camicazi stated. “As you know due to several treaties in the Archipelago there are certain bylaws as to when a royal dies on foreign soil due to suspicious circumstances.” Astrid fisted her blanket, she knew what it meant, and then asked “What’s the verdict? Will the Southern Isles declare war?”
Harry: "You know the Porg is offended right?"
Vala: "Why? I didn't shove him in a preheated oven this time."
Harry: "You didn't add a new AN last chapter,"
Vala: "That's it?! I was enjoying my new Porg-feather pillow."
Harry: "So you were just lazy,"
Vala: "Well unless you wanted the readers to see a naked Porg..." (gestures to the pillow)
(Porg meeps while wearing a pair of tiny overalls)
Astrid was quiet for the ride to the Palace once Ruffnut had fussed over her some more and before finally giving the Jorgensons’ permission to transport her. Astrid lay on one of the upholstered benches in the carriage while Snotlout and Camicazi occupied the one opposite to it. She was never so relieved to see notice the carriage entering the palace gates. When the carriage stopped in the front courtyard both Camicazi and Snotlout helped Astrid out. They held onto either side of her and it was then that she noticed the waiting reception.
Her three ladies-in-waiting along with Stormfly, her mother, her former butler Steven, and even the King were all waiting there. Nadia had to actually hold onto Stormfly as the dragon seemed very eager to see her rider again. It would be bad if the Nadder’s exuberance ended up reopening Astrid’s wound.
“My baby!” Astrid’s mother said as she stepped forward to carefully hug her daughter. Astrid hugged her back.
Stormfly was then led forward and Astrid gave the dragon an affectionate scratch while promising to feed her some chicken meat for all the worry she caused. The Nadder let out a happy trull and nuzzled her rider.
“So…. uhm… where is Hiccup?” Astrid asked as she didn’t see her fiance. “Is he not cured yet?” Cami had only mentioned that Fishlegs was treating the prince and not that he was cured exactly. Now that she was back she wanted answers.
It was the King who answered as everyone looked rather uncertain. “Hiccup’s been cured….. But there were some side effects. But he is here in the vicinity”
“Side effects?” Astrid asked with a raised brow. Just what had that alchemist done to her prince?
“He was rather uncertain if he should greet you or if it would assault your senses to the degree you wouldn’t want to see him.” Stoick said in a rather diplomatic fashion. Translated it meant that Hiccup was in the area but was lurking because he didn’t know how Astrid would take it.
“Has he sprouted a fluffy bunny tail?” Astrid asked with a frown.
“No….” Stoick answered.
“Does he suddenly have cat ears?” She then asked and no one said a word but they were all imagining the prince with these features, Astrid was sure of that.
“Uhm… no…” Stoick answered again while scratching the back of his head. A nervous gesture Hiccup seemed to have picked up.
“Did he turn into a duck?” She then asked with a frown. There really was no telling just what type of side effects love potions or their cures could have but it typically didn’t last long. Usually a day or two.
“Uhm… no?” Stoick answered.
Then Astrid took a deep breath and bellowed “HICCUP IF YOUR ARSE ISN'T GETTING CHASED BY THE COOK THEN GET OVER HERE!”
She knew it was unlady-like to shout but she wanted to see her fiance and she was just a tad bit curious as to what side effects the King had been talking about. Just a tad…..
It wasn’t long before she saw Hiccup approaching. It was also apparent by the way everyone used their hands to cover their noses and tried not to wretch as to what the side effects actually were. Hiccup stunk. He stunk so much that a dragon dung shoveler would smell pleasant. Heck, Astrid would bet that taking a bath in the sewers was pleasant to this smell. Though she too covered her nose she was still very happy to see Hiccup.
“Milady….” Hiccup uttered and gave a short bow. He still stopped some feet from her and looked uncertain. “It is so good to see you well,”
“Oh stop with the formalities and come over here and kiss me!” Astrid exclaimed.
“You…… aren’t turned off by the smell?” Hiccup frowned. “Even Toothless fainted.”
“Dragons have better smell than humans anyways,” Astrid said with exasperation. “Do you want to kiss me or not? I’ve missed you,”
“Of course…” Hiccup replied.
“Well what are you waiting for?” Was the last thing Astrid said as Hiccup swooped in, scooped her up and placed a kiss on her lips.
“They are a match made in heaven,” Astrid’s mother commented. “Any woman that is willing to overlook that smell…… yeah….. They’ll be just fine…” the king nodded as well and then suggested that Lady Astrid should get some rest.
Astrid later found out while resting in her rooms that Hiccup smelled like that because Fishlegs’ antidote came in the form of a herbal bath. While the love potion might have been airborne the antidote was not. The smell mainly came from the love potion being purged from the system and Fishlegs himself came to assure her that her fiance wouldn’t permanently smell like a compost heap.
Astrid also later learned that the Queen had been in a council meeting with the trade ambassadors at the time she arrived as there were some concerns about a possible war with the Southern Isles. As Margarette hadn’t been stripped of her royal position before she died it raised several problems. So far the Southern Isles had been silent. She was also to attend the next council meeting along with the King and Queen since these would fall under her future duties as well. For now she recovered in bed and something dawned on her. It was just a random thought really but she asked it anyway.
“What was Dagur’s deal with that gnome?” Astrid asked Atali who seemed to know a lot more about the going ons in the castle than her other two ladies-in-waiting. She remembered that hideous garden gnome that Dagur had been crying over when they captured Fishlegs.
“Oh that,” Atali said as she thought back. “Yeah, the Queen was pretty angry about it. Apparently someone gave Dagur carte blanche to do with the maze what he wanted for the tea party.”
Astrid gulped as she had forgotten about that. Atali went on to tell her that Dagur’s idea of an improved maze included pitfalls, a few flamingos, the garden gnomes and a rather suggestive statue in the middle.
“So now the maze is off limits until the whole thing can be renovated again.” Her lady-in-waiting mentioned. “Though they may keep the pitfalls. Gobber made quite a sound argument for keeping those.” This caused Astrid to raise a brow but she just nodded at the news.
Meanwhile, a grand ship was approaching the Berkian harbour. It flew the Kingdom’s flag and Marchioness Stormheart herself stood at the bow of the ship and looked at her home getting steadily closer. She turned around slightly to watch the rather meek woman who seemed gaunter than she should be for a Noble staring at the approaching shore as well. Her orders had been hastily given by the queen but she met the ship carrying the Gronkle and its other passenger more than halfway to the Southern Isles. The winds had been in her favour so they had made quick progress but even she was surprised to see just who she would be transporting.
“You don’t need to look so forlorn,” She said, trying to sound comforting. It was a surprise indeed to find out who this woman actually was for she didn’t look it. Gone were the expensive dresses made of the finest materials, gone were the gems that adorned her, gone was the look of pride she had donned with her former position. The woman was now gaunt, wore commoner’s clothing made of rather rough materials and her hair had been unevenly chopped short. Pity was all Marchioness Stormheart could give her.
“How else should I look?” the woman asked, a bit of her spirit coming back after being incarcerated in the damp dungeons of the castle. “I have nothing to live for,”
“Then jump off this ship now,” the Marchioness muttered and then turned towards the woman hoping to ignite some spark of her former self. “As a Queen you should be able to bear this burden.”
“But I am not a Queen anymore am I?” The woman shot back and then closed her eyes as a sea breeze hit her face. “I am not anything anymore am I?”
“The only one who can decide your self worth is you yourself.” Nikora answered and then walked past her. “We will be docking soon. I suggest you prepare yourself. The Berkians have a lot of questions for you.”
Vala: "Why are you stuffing the Porg in your handbag?"
Harry: "I want to see if he fits for bring your Porg to work day,"
Vala: O_O "You know you could use a bigger handbag then right...."
Atali adjusted the corset Astrid was wearing as the woman in question grunted while sucking in a breath. “Must this be so tight?” Astrid hissed as she held onto the bedpost while Nadia held up two dress options for her. One was a black dress with golden embroidery that had a square neckline while the other was a dark blue dress with white lace and a V-shaped neckline. Astrid hissed again as Atali was finishing up. Her lady-in-waiting had been careful enough with her wound. She was just glad it was healing nicely. Astrid knew she didn’t like corsets and she would keep complaining about them until some sane woman did away with them entirely, she really wasn’t too far away from starting the trend she pondered.
“The black one,” Astrid told Nadia as she wanted to wear the black pearl jewelry she had been gifted. Today was the official council meeting. If anyone still questioned her position then the black pearls should make them shut up.
After the corset and the dress, all that would remain was to have her hair done. The ladies eagerly offered suggestions for hairstyles and Astrid chose one that had her hair up in an intricate bun with two braids along the side. A simple golden butterfly hairpin was placed in the bun, the gold matching the golden embroidery on her dress.
“Have you heard?” Atali mentioned casually. “Late last night Marchioness Stormheart returned to Berk.”
“I didn’t know she had departed the island at all,” Astrid frowned. “The Marchioness was well known. It was a wonder no one had commented on her initial departure.”
“Oh yes, Chef Mala said she saw her late last night.” Atali mentioned. “Apparently she was escorting a Gronkle, a woman, and a man under a cloak. It may have to do with what will be happening at the meeting.”
“The Gronkle is probably the alchemist’s dragon.” Astrid thought aloud. “Which means that the woman is from the Southern isles as well?”
“I wouldn’t know that,” Atali stated. “Though it’s odd isn’t it? Lady Jorgenson and your mother, Lady Hofferson, both stayed the night at the Palace. Marchioness Stormheart appeared and according to this cute guard by the gate, apparently Lady Larson was also summoned. She appeared in a carriage with a young man as well.”
“It’s all rather mysterious,” Minden replied and Astrid couldn’t help but agree. She had the same feeling as she did during the Queen’s garden party. Something was happening behind the scenes and it wasn’t simple at all. Camicazi had hinted at several things and Astrid had some idea of what in Valhalla was going on. She just needed one final piece to prove it.
Astrid made her way to the personal reception rooms of Hiccup’s parents. These were intended for family and very important guests and she was to meet them there nearly an hour earlier than when the council meeting was scheduled. Astrid met her fiance in the corridor and the guards let them both through without any problems.
“Mother, Father,” Hiccup greeted formally as there were guests present. Astrid curtsied as well before they both took a seat. The King cleared his throat and said “I believe some introductions are in order.” He gestured and both Hiccup and Astrid looked at the envoys representing the Kingdoms that came to make trade agreements. Both envoys were women that had impeccable poise. They had an air of Nobility to them. One woman sat prim and proper, her strawberry blonde hair was neatly combed into a bun. She sported a small tiara while the other woman had wild curly red hair that didn’t seem to be able to be tamed. “May I present Her Royal Highnesses Queen Merida of Dunbroch and Queen Anna of Arendelle.” Stoick introduced which caused both Astrid and Hiccup to differ slightly to them with a small bow of their heads.
“Excuse me,” Hiccup said with a frown. “But isn’t this highly irregular?” Astrid frowned too as she had noticed it as well. Usually an envoy was appointed by the reigning monarch but for the monarch to be the envoys themselves…….
“We know but this is a matter of importance,” Queen Anna commented. “Though recent events have been rather surprising we would still like to proceed with trade discussions.”
“What Miss Uptight here means is that we would like to finalize trade agreements and return home post-haste.” Queen Merida commented much to Anna’s horror. The Queen of Arendelle was left somewhat shocked at the bluntness of Queen Merida as she continued speaking. “I’m sure both of our Kingdoms are willing to support your version of events surrounding the unpleasant situation that has developed overnight with the Southern Isles but I left my triplet brothers in charge of my kingdom. I would like to return to it while it was still standing.” What the Scottish Queen actually meant, and Astrid frowned as she read through the lines, was that it would be in both Arendelle’s and Dunbroch’s best interest to finalize the agreements sooner rather than later even with the current threat of war from the Southern Isles.Both foreign kingdoms had had unpleasant dealings with the Southern Isles and basically they didn’t care who was in the right and in the wrong, they would support Berk either way and since Berk was the biggest kingdom within the Archipelago it would make sense to ally with a superpower though Astrid still had some worries. She was shaken out of her musings when Queen Anna muttered “You left your triplet brothers in charge, I left my fiance, his moose, and a magical snowman in charge.” Astrid wondered about the magical snowman part but didn’t question it further.
“While I am glad that you wish to proceed with trade negotiations, given how both of you were affected by the Southern Isles, I would still question as to why. Our Kingdom now faces uncertainty and war. What could make both of you so desperate to form an alliance?” Valka asked curiously while taking a sip of her tea. Both Queens looked rather uncomfortable but it was Queen Anna who sighed and proceeded to tell the Berkians the truth.
“We fear that the mainland might be lost.” Anna said with great hesitance. “Months ago a great calamity struck the Kingdom of Corona. Large black rocks wreaked devastation across the land. No word has been brought forward from the Royal family and it has been noted that Princess Rapunzel and her fiance are both missing. The black rocks did not stop their advance but instead began spreading throughout the continent. These rocks are impervious to being cut and both Arendelle and Dunbroch face a major crisis. Farmlands have been covered by them, crops and livestock have been lost and citizens of various kingdoms have been displaced. My sister and the spirits of the elements are trying to keep the black rocks out of Arendelle but they are losing ground each day. No kingdom on the continent can handle the influx of refugees at the moment, not with winter approaching and our food stocks low.” Merida mentioned. “Our crops are destroyed and we cannot feed them. The Archipelago however has been left untouched so far,”
“We are willing to deplete our treasuries in order to feed our people and the refugees.” Anna mentioned. “And we are hoping that if the Berkian Kingdom approves our trade agreements then the other kingdoms within the Archipelago would also render aid.”
“It has been observed that winter in the Archipelago is much harsher than on the continent yet Berk and the other kingdoms keep their citizens well fed and their houses warm. We would be willing to trade not only our ores and other resources for supplies but also for knowledge on winter agriculture.” Merinda said. “We don’t know to which extent these black rocks will continue to spread but too much land has been lost already.”
“This is rather troubling,” Stoick muttered as he contemplated the crisis the kingdoms on the continent were in. “After hearing your plight I am willing to offer supplies in exchange for twenty percent of your yearly ore production.”
“Twenty percent?!” Merinda was shocked. “That is much too generous. Even the Southern Isles demanded sixty percent in their trade agreement.”
“It would only be for the averaged surplus we would have over from the winter,” Valka mentioned. “It would take months for us to sow our fields with the extra yield it would need to supply your original demands.”
“But still only twenty percent?” Anna uttered. “That is being too generous. You would be the only one at a disadvantage within the trade agreement.”
“Not if we take on some of the refugees,” Hiccup thought aloud as eyes turned to him. “Changing the yield of the fields would require extra labor. Recruiting the workers from the refugees would solve the problem of the otherwise extensive costs.”
The negotiations were coming along smoothly Astrid observed as the envoys and the King went over both agreements. Stoick was about to take the revised documents to Gobber when an urgent knock came from the doors.
“Begging your pardon,” A guard that looked suspiciously out of breath said as he bowed to the occupants of the room. “But there is a matter in the council room that requires his majesty's attention. It is rather urgent.”
Both Merida and Anna agreed to meet at a later date once the trade agreements were notarized and Stoick turned towards the guard once the two queens had bid their farewells and were out of earshot. “What is so important?!” Stoick asked with a frown and his red bushy eyebrows drawn together.
“The Ministers of Interior and Exterior are fighting in the council room!” The guard stated and both Hiccup and Astrid raised their brows. Alvin and Spitelout fighting…….. This couldn’t be good.
AN1: The Black rocks come from the Tangled ever after TV series. Plot-wise it's worth watching.
Harry: (Looks at Porg with a raised brow) "Why is the Porg dressed as Braveheart?!"
Vala: "We are trying on Halloween costumes,"
Harry: "It's July!"
Vala: "So? Never too early to start," (Holds up tiny Marilyn Monroe white dress)
Porg: "Meep meep meep meep meeep meep meep meep meeep meep meep meep meep...."
Harry: "Now just what is he saying,"
Vala: "Fight and you may die. Run and you'll live -- at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!"
Harry: "You can understand all that?"
Vala: "No I just took a guess as he's dressed as Braveheart."
Astrid paid no heed to decorum right now. Both she and the Queen had picked up their dress skirts and petticoats to hastily follow behind Hiccup and Stoick who also jogged to the Council room. To an outsider watching the whole thing would seem both comical and terribly un-Royal-like. The Royal family were considered the de facto role models for Noble society and did not run like right now, but in fact were supposed to glide with poise and elegance, something that every single one of them apparently forgot given the altercation happening.
The guards of the Council room hurriedly opened the doors before their King could slam them open and most likely break them……. Again, after all it had happened before due to some heated Council debates over the years. The room, which could easily fit about a hundred people, was circular with chairs and desks lining the outer diameter at a higher elevation than the middle area which boasted a podium. The room was designed for both the council members and civilians when sessions were open to the public.
It was in this middle area that the brawl was taking place. The other Ministers of the Court stood by with great uncertainty as hair and beard pulling was occurring. No one really wanted to get in between the two fighting men as they too would be maimed.
“WHAT IN ODIN’S GRAY BEARD IS GOING ON!” Stoick bellowed as he marched down the steps and with his great strength forcibly pulled both men off each other. There was a collective sigh of relief running through the room when the King appeared, then more apprehension as the Ministers saw the Queen. Queen Valka was known to hate fighting but could give as good as she got when it was needed. The Ministers feared the Queen more because they mostly never saw her plans coming. Prince Hiccup and Lady Astrid were following suit while Stoick separated and shook both Alvin and Spitelout by their collars. “What is the meaning of this?!”
“Ask him!” Alvin bellowed while, after being released, pointed an accusing finger at Duke Jorgenson. “He dared to violate my authority!”
“I did no such thing!” Spitelout argued, also pointing a finger at Alvin. “It’s you who can’t keep his nose out of my business!”
“HOW DARE YOU! THE PRISONS FALL UNDER MY AUTHORITY!” Alvin bellowed. “You had no right!”
“I HAD EVERY RIGHT! INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS FALL UNDER MY PURVIEW!” Spitelout growled.
The King had a hard time as it looked like the men were going to go at it again but everyone stopped when the icy tone of the Queen cut through the room. “Enough!” Valka said as she walked down the stairs regally and onto the middle podium and both men gulped. “If you plan on acting like children I will treat you like children. Go face the wall. THE BOTH OF YOU!”
“M...My queen, you can’t be serious?!” Alvin sputtered while Spitelout managed to say in an astonished tone “How can you command your brother-in-law to do that?!”
“You can either talk civilly or I will treat you like the misbehaving children you are!” She growled as her eyes narrowed. Even Stoick didn’t comment on it and Hiccup thought he might actually really find this domineering side of his wife alluring. Hiccup suspected, and there were many hints. His dad certainly didn’t marry his mom for her demureness.
“Your mother is amazing,” Astrid’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her role model and Hiccup had to gulp. His fiance was already very assertive, if she got more pointers from his mother he’d probably be dead if she became well and truly angry.
The tension in the room changed drastically when both men calmed down under the accusing eyes of the Queen. She kept her eyes on them as they folded into themselves, a feat quite worth noting given their bulky and muscular physiques. “Now speak, one at a time!” She commanded.
“Duke Jorgenson trampled on my authority!” Alvin stated. “I am in charge of the prisons and he dared to override my commands and moved Princess Margarette to a cell used to house dignitaries!”
“You dolt! She was a dignitary! You can’t just lock up a foreign Princess in the deepest part of the dungeon and not have her Kingdom protest!” Spitelout rebutted. “Think of International relationships!”
“She wasn’t a dignitary! She was a murderer!” Alvin shot back. “Or do you condone what she did to our Prince?! She didn’t deserve a cushy cell!”
“She was not stripped of her title and was not a Berkian citizen, that means she fell under my jurisdiction!” Spitelout stated.
“She committed criminal offenses on Berian soil! That means she fell under my jurisdiction.” Alvin shot back. “Furthermore, you moving her cost her her life!”
“Are you suggesting I had something to do with poisoning her?!” Spitelout growled furiously as he clenched his fists.
“Well, she certainly would have stayed alive longer had she been under the watchful eyes of MY guards!” Alvin retorted.
“Think carefully how you frame that sentence, Earl!” Spitelout hissed while addressing Alvin with his title to emphasize the difference in their social status. “What you are suggesting is treason! For all we know it was YOU who ordered her poisoning. Your little bootlicker Savage would certainly follow your orders. After all he’s just a commoner that’s looking for a promotion!”
“HOW DARE YOU!” Alvin roared and it looked like another brawl was about to take place.
“ENOUGH!” Stoick bellowed as he crossed his arms. “Both of you have reasons but I will not condone you two accusing each other of the poisoning nor for fighting in this room where words should weigh louder than fists! The evidence we do have is still under review. Furthermore we have an important guest speaking at the meeting today. This will hopefully shed some light on part of this situation.”
“Who?” Duke Jorgenson asked as his eyes narrowed. “We can’t just trust the word of someone with no credible backing.”
“I assure you, this person has a very credible background.” The King stated. “Now if all of you could take your seats. We are already late with starting this meeting.”
The Ministers walked towards their appointed seats. Alvin and Spitelout, all the while glaring at each other. Their quarrel had not ended yet, just merely postponed. Hiccup guided Astrid over to the seats reserved for the Royal family and Valka quickly joined her husband as well. There was a hushed whisper amongst the court as both King and Queen were present. Usually it was one or the other overseeing these duties. For them both to be here meant that this was serious. The King ordered the guards at the other end of the room to escort the speakers in while the royal scribe stood ready to record the proceedings.
One of the guards returned a few minutes later and half the court sucked in their breaths when Marchioness Stormheart walked in with her head held high. She was followed by a man wearing a hooded cloak and a woman with downcast eyes and messily chopped off hair wearing what appeared to be dirty rags. Most court members paid attention to the Marchioness as she commanded the room with a bow towards the Royal family. Her loyalty to the Crown was well known, especially to the Queen. Astrid noted that Hiccup too paid attention to the cloaked figure and the gaunt woman just like she had. While the Ministers had passed them over in favour of the Marchioness she was curious as to how these two fit into the story.
“Greetings to your Majesties,” The Marchioness said with an even voice followed by a bow. “I have completed my assignment. The recovery of the Alchemist’s dragon was a success.”
“The Alchemist,” Spitelout muttered with disdain as he shot a look at Alvin. “Tell me, why isn’t he rotting in your cells Alvin? Afterall he was part of the Princess’ plot.”
“Spitelout enough!” Stoick ordered. “The business with the Alchemist is concluded. There was more than ample evidence found onboard the ship from the Southern Isles backing up his claim that he was forced to create the love potion under duress.”
“I still say he should not be allowed to roam freely.” Spitelout huffed.
“And he is not,” Hiccup spoke up. “He’s been placed in the custody of Dr. Thornston and both she and him are actively working on a formula to combat the sickness people have encountered outside our borders. They assured me that that matter would be handled swiftly. In return for his cooperation asylum has been granted.”
“The matter of the Alchemist has been settled as my son stated,” Stoick said and then motioned for the Marchioness to continue. “Who have you brought with you today? Will you introduce them to this Council?”
“Your Majesty, I think they would like to introduce themselves.” The Marchioness stated. “They carry insight into the happenings and possible political moves the Southern Isles will make.”
There were mutters and whispers throughout the Court Ministers. The Marchioness being unwilling to introduce the people she was escorting could mean two things. One they were Nobles themselves and could follow proper protocol and introduce themselves. For normal civilians usually a Noble or an Official would be standing in their place to help guide them through the process. A second option would be that the Marchioness didn’t introduce them because she did not support them and their cause. It could honestly be either one as Stormheart’s stoney expression gave nothing away.
The cloaked figure was the first one to step forward. A gloved hand pulled down the hood to reveal a young man sporting a military cut. “I am Sir Throk, third son, formerly of the House Brumen and former Guards Captain of the Royal Palace of the Southern Isles. I have forsaken my Kingdom, family and name to stand here before you today.” He announced to the Council which sent off another frenzy of murmurs.
“You are a Knight,” Alvin remarked as he and others had picked up on the title of ‘Sir’.
“I am,” Throk confirmed.
“You, as a Knight, hold loyalty above all else.”
“I do,” Throk stated.
“Yet you have abandoned your Kingdom.” A Minister stated “And thus abandoned your loyalty,” Hiccup could see the man clench his fist. It was one of the worst insults a knight could receive.
“I have not,” Throk seemed to recover and he stared down the Minister that had called him out. “My loyalty is pledged to the Crown. To the reigning monarch of the Southern Isles. And it is precisely because of my loyalty I am here now.” he stated with conviction. “Will you hear my words?”
“We will,” Stoick said as the room quieted down once the King had accepted. The Knight gave a grateful nod and started his tale.
Harry: "Where is my Porg?!" (Shakes Vala)
Vala: "I... Don't..... Know!"
Harry: "Did you try to cook him again?!"
Vala: "I haven't seen the meeping chicken all day!"
Harry: "Then where is he!"
Vala: "Wait...... do you hear that?"
Harry: "Hear what?"
(Both Harry and Vala follow the sound to a large door. Once opened they saw the Porg dancing his little fluffbutt off to 'I like to move it'.)
Vala: "That was just......"
Harry: "I know....."
Vala: "We never speak of this again."
Throk knocked on the thick wooden door leading to Lars’s study. There was a brief shout of ‘Enter’ and the knight pushed the door open. It creaked slightly and as he saw Lars sitting behind his desk he was beckoned over. The man was reading a parchment while a red Terrible Terror slept soundly on a perch.
“Is that from our spy?” Throk asked with a frown.
“Yes, the Golden Eagle. Quite a remarkable fellow,” the prince commented. “He’s one of ours yet even I don’t know his name or face. Still he gets the job done.”
“Is that his latest report?” Throk asked with a frown. Lars merely handed it over as he watched the knight.
“The King is dead and the Princess has been arrested,” Throk let out a breath of surprise. He then looked up at Larse who was leisurely leaning back in his chair. “What are you going to do about this?”
“Do about what?” Lars smirked.
“This,” Throk said as he hit the parchment with the back of his gloved hand. “Surely we cannot leave the Princess to rot in jail.”
“We aren’t. I already sent a reply back to Eagle to take care of the situation.” He stated as his eyes narrowed.
“Take care of the…..” Throk exclaimed as he knew what it meant. “Surely you didn’t! Lars for Thor’s sake tell me you didn’t!”
“So what if I did?” Lars harrumphed. “The only reason I am telling you my plans is because you are my childhood friend. You are one of the people I trust implicitly.” The man stood up and laid a hand on Throk’s shoulder.
“And what of the Princess?! You trusted her with your plans! She believed in you!”
“That naive fool,” Lars laughed. “She was just a means to an end. I got rid of her the same way as I did Hans and my 10th brother.”
“She didn’t even want to rule!” Throk exclaimed as he tried to reason with Lars. “Surely there is no need to order her death!”
“Of course there is!” Lars stopped and turned sharply, grabbing Throk’s collar and pulling him close. “She is a child of THAT woman! You know how I feel about that… that abomination! Any child of hers will suffer at my hands!”
“Lars….. When will you let it go?” Throk asked as he stared at his friend sadly.
“I could ask the same of you, you poor naive fool,” Lars hissed as he let go of the knight’s collar. “You were sweet on Margarette and objected to her arranged marriage but if only you knew the schemes going on in her pretty little head you’d be thanking me.” He patted Throk’s left cheek. “She was just like her filthy whore of a mother.”
Throk didn’t know what to say in response as his childhood friend turned on his heels and walked out of the study, beckoning him to follow. They walked in silence down the dimly lit stairs and they finally stopped when they reached the dungeons. Lars took the heavy ring of keys from the warden on duty and let himself and Throk inside the castle prisons. The cells were dark and drafty and prisoners moaned to either let them die or set them free. It was a depressing place. The torches only provided so much light as they neared the back of the prison.
“Lars….” Throk said in a short whisper as he looked at the disheveled and beaten up woman in one of the cells chained to the wall. She was in rags, her once luscious hair was chopped short and she was sporting strangulation marks around her neck. Her eyes had lost any luster it possessed and her lips were chapped. Still Throk would recognize the Queen anywhere.
“Pitiful creature isn’t she. Ignore her,” Lars said as he instead walked to the cells opposite of her wherein one a Gronkle was chained up tightly and in the other another woman sat on the damp ground. But this woman had a defiant look in her eyes as she peered at the men in front of her cell.
“Lars I really must protest! She’s the Queen and your stepmother!” Throk tried to reason as he grabbed the prince by the arm. His hand was promptly shaken off as a cold look appeared in Lars’s eyes.
“That thing is not my mother! I’ve never considered her family!” Lars hissed dangerously and Throk knew he was walking a fine line here. “My mother is long since buried. She’s just a harlot that wormed her way into the Palace and destroyed my chances of succession!”
“But with the King dead she is the next rightful Ruler!” Throk insisted. “You can’t just imprison her here forever.”
“Oh, it won’t be forever,” Lars smirked. “She’s set to hang the day after tomorrow. Then I will be the one and only Ruler.”
Throk shook from the revelation and then stared at the cold look in the prince’s eyes. “Your brothers….. They will surely object.” Here Lars let out a bone-chilling laugh before uttering “After tonight I will have no opposition.” a cold wave of anxiety spread up Throk’s spine as he realized the implication the prince was making. Something must be happening to the other princes tonight and that something wasn’t good.
“Enough of that talk,” Lars changed the subject with a wave of his hand and then gestured towards the defiant-looking woman in the cell. “I’m sure you recognize her,” He commented offhandedly as he used the heavy brass key to open the cell door. “Griselda, she was the Queen’s handmaid.”
The men stepped into the cell while the woman watched them with fury in her eyes. Lars grabbed her chin and craned her head forcefully up. “She’s a Berkian spy. A very conveniently placed Berkian spy. But she was caught trying to smuggle the dragon out.” The prince said as the woman spat at him. He slapped her in the face after wiping off the spit. “Insolent cur,” He growled at the woman.
The prince stood up and then turned to Throk “Kill her,” he ordered. Throk couldn’t disobey an order from his superior and thus he drew his sword and walked towards the women.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” The knight said.
“I don’t need your pity. Kill me and be done with it! Berk won’t stand for this!” She growled but Lars who was standing behind Throk merely laughed hysterically and said “In a few days there won’t be a Berk!”
Throk used his sword and made the woman’s death quick. He wasn’t one to make others suffer and only did as he was commanded. As blood was spilled against the cold stone of the prison Lars placed a hand on Throk’s shoulder and muttered “Come my friend. We have much to discuss. Your loyalty will be rewarded.” Throk said nothing but he silently followed after the prince. There were some conflicting emotions as he cast one last look at the fallen Queen before the prison laid behind them.
The Council room was in an uproar as Ministers shouted questions, wanting to know more. “Order!” Stoick banged his fist on the wooden armrest. He banged it again when some didn’t settle down. When everything was quiet he turned to the knight that still stood on the podium. Stoick tapped his finger on the armrest for a moment, clearly unsettled by one of their agents dying but it seemed he would not blame the knight for following orders from a superior.
“What more do you have to tell us? Besides the fact that we have a spy in our midst.” Stoick asked and all eyes turned back to Throk.
“Lars’s armada has probably already set sail for Berkian waters. This entire island will be engulfed in war in a day or so.” There was more chatter and panic as the Ministers realized that there wasn’t enough time to mobilize their fleet.
Stoick ordered a guard to get Gobber and Captain Heather and appraise them of the situation. The King knew that their defenses would be raised immediately once the danger of the opposing fleet became clear. Neither King Stoick nor Queen Valka seemed very worried upon hearing about the encroaching armada and this boosted some of the morale within the Council chamber and when Stoick indicated with his hand the woman who had stood silently during Throk’s tale to stepped forward.
“We still have time before a war council is called.” Stoick said as he indicated for the woman to tell her story.
“I am former Queen Mariabelle, late wife of King Edward of the Southern Isles. I have come to seek political asylum and any aid you are willing to give upon hearing my story.” The woman finally lifted her head for the Council to see her battered face and even Alvin who had been glaring at her previously sucked in a breath.
“Proceed please,” Stoick said as silence reigned through the room.
Harry: "Have you seen the Porg?"
Vala: "No, why?"
Harry: (Looking skeptically at Vala) "You tried to stick a fork in him just this morning,"
Vala: "But it's afternoon now........ you already checked the oven didn't you."
Vala: "Maybe the Porg is down at the pub. I hear they installed a pole."
Harry: "You don't think....."
Vala: "It's your Porg. I just try to eat it."
Harry: "If that bird is dancing to ABBA songs on a pole AGAIN I'll fry him myself!"
Vala: "Did you have to give me that mental image?!.......... and can I get a drumstick then?"
Mariabelle was sitting in front of her dresser as her handmaid Griselda combed her hair and wove it into an intricate conch shell braid adorned with sapphire encrusted bobby pins. This was one of her more regular hairstyles so Griselda worked fast and with practiced ease.
“My lady will you be going out today?” Griselda asked while twisting a braid. “Simply waiting in the castle for your husband’s return…. Forgive my impudence but it's not healthy.”
“It’s not that easy Griselda,” Mariabelle said in a low voice.
“Why not? You’re the Queen. Surely the Queen can go wherever she wants. My fiance Eret recently opened up a restaurant near the harbour. Maybe you would enjoy some seafood dishes from there. When your husband isn’t here the chefs and the servants are being rather negligent while providing for you.” Griselda huffed as she put the finishing touches on the Queen’s hairstyle.
“Griselda you’ve been with me for a year already and you’ve been a blessing but surely you can see the complications.” Mariabelle sighed. “People think I bewitched the King and murdered the previous Queen. There are rumors outside the palace that I am a harlot only after the kingdom’s treasures. My stepsons hate me or are indifferent to me, and the servants despise me. My last handmaid tried to kill me with an icepick.” The Queen’s hands shook on her lap now. “I am……. Afraid. It has been years and those rumors still persist. Going outside without my husband means I have minimum protection at best. Most of the knights will not pledge their loyalty to me.”
“It’s all poppycock I say,” Griselda exclaimed angrily. “The servants are just jealous of you because you’re the one that caught the King’s attention. I’ve heard them gossip, especially the younger ones. Many of them wished to have your luck. You were one of them and now you’re the Queen!”
Mariabelle let out a strangled laugh here. “Now I do not even wish for this luck,” she near whispered as her voice held back a sob. “It’s not some fairytale where the pauper becomes a princess and everyone lives happily ever after. Griselda there are days I wish I never met Edward. There are days I wished that I could have refused his proposal. I was poor and naive. I know he cares about me and these years have blessed me with a leisurely life and several children. But……” She then turned to her handmaid and asked “Have I ever told you how Edward and I met?”
“Well there are several accounts of the events floating through the palace, but you Milady have never said a word.” Griselda stated while the Queen gestured for her to sit.
It was more than two decades ago really,” Mariabelle reminisced. “I was but a young girl from the countryside that was ecstatic at being employed at the palace even if it was just as a lower-maid.” Griselda nodded as the Queen continued. “I used the last of my savings after my parents’ passing to reach the capital and apply for jobs. I got food and board at the palace and one day while I was cleaning the outer windows near the courtyard a Count approached me.” Her hands still shook but she went on. “The Count was an old and lecherous man. As a servant I could not refute his commands. He placed a hand possessively on my shoulders and led me away from my post. We neared the garden and he started groping me. I tried to scream but his meaty hand clamped over my mouth and he started tearing away my uniform.”
“Your Highness you…. You don’t have to tell me this,” Griselda saw her mistress shiver but it was waved away. “I’m fine.” She told her handmaid. “The man had been ripping away my clothing but I managed to elbow him in the stomach causing him to let go. I screamed and tried to get away but he still caught me and as there was a fountain nearby he tried to drown me to keep me silent. Luckily people heard my screams before and Edward came running. He beheaded the Count right then and there and helped fish me out of the fountain. I was cold, wet and disoriented but to me he shone like a knight in shining armor.” The Queen smiled a bit. “I blushed as he took off his own jacket and helped me cover up. There was something there, Griselda. I fell for him right there. Sure he could be brash and at times a bit hot-headed but I do believe it was love at first sight. Now I regret it slightly.”
“Why? From all that I’ve seen Milady, the King adores you.” Griselda stated. “He’s known to dote on you.”
“That’s just it, Griselda.” Mariabelle said. “He doted on me. He was already married yet I became his mistress. I was naive about court politics and started a relationship with him.”
“When the King and I met for the first time he was already married for years to the Queen. He never took another wife or concubine and his then-wife revelled in the notion that she was the only one. The only one to sire his heirs. She knew about me of course and there were rumors that the king loved me more and I would soon replace the Queen. He did ask me to be an official concubine once it was known I was pregnant, promising a life free of toil, but before I accepted tragedy struck. The Queen got ill and was soon on her deathbed. She died not long after. Edward was struck with grief after her State funeral and I, foolish naive I, found him weeping in the gardens. I comforted him and he in the spur of the moment asked me to be his Queen.”
Mariabelle took a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have agreed. I really shouldn’t but he was so heartbroken. The young me thought I could mend it. He married me soon after and more vicious rumors started appearing not only through the court but through the populace as well. Especially once it was known that any children I bore would have a right to the throne as well. Whispers of me poisoning the first Queen, of me being a prostitute and gold-digger. That the children I gave birth to were not my husband’s!” here she slammed a fist against the plush settee cushion. “My children probably resent me Griselda. There will always be rumors that they are not the King’s. They work hard for recognition within the court while standing beside siblings that hate them and taunt them. I don’t blame them for being opportunistic. That’s Royal court life. It’s a sad sad life and if I could turn back time I would have never agreed. Edward, by the Norns, I love him. He has been good to me but I wish better for my children.”
The Queen dismissed Griselda from her duties for the afternoon, telling her to go see her fiance. She wanted to be alone for a while and as dusk fell a couple of hours later the Queen could be found sitting on her balcony with a cup of camomile tea one of the maids had brought. She was watching the sunset when the door to her rooms was kicked open, startling the new maid on duty behind the tea cart.
“Leave!” Lars ordered as he barged into the Queen’s chambers with three guards in tow. The young maid jumped in fright and hightailed it out of there without looking back, nearly running into the door as she tried to avoid one of the harsh-looking knights.
“Have you no manners?!” Mariabelle asked as she put the intricate porcelain cup down on its matching saucer with a soft ‘clack’.
“Why would I show you any manners?” Lars chuckled. “It’s not like you deserve my respect you whore,”
“Lars do not think I will not tell your father. He will not let this behaviour slide!” The Queen stood up and faced the interlopers but Lars merely laughed in her face and ordered the guards to apprehend her. Mariabelle tried to back away but the men caught her by her arms and forced her to her knees. “What is the meaning of this?!” She shouted as Lars produced a dagger from his coat and grabbed part of her hair. He yanked on it and then sliced it away.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” Mariabelle shouted now with more desperation as more and more of her hair was being chopped off.
“I’m merely giving you back your true appearance,” Lars chuckles as long strands of hair fell onto the marble floor. The Queen’s sapphire hair accessories were also yanked out of her hair as it had now turned into a chopped off mess. “There, much better,” Lars said while sniggering. “Now, you truly look like the piece of trash I always saw you as.”
“EDWARD WON’T LET YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS!” She shouted while trying to wiggle out of the knights’ grasps.
“Oh Father…. well I doubt he will have anything to say. He won’t be returning after all.”
Mariabelle’s eyes widened and she gasped “You would kill your own father?!”
“Oh no. I left that task up to my dear sister. She should have done it by now,” The Prince laughed coldly. “Tell me, how does it feel knowing your own daughter is going to end the man you love. I didn’t even have to convince her all that much for her to agree.” He bent down, grasping the Queen’s chin and dragging her forward forcefully. “Don’t worry. You’ll be joining him soon.” he then proceeded to slap her in the face and while Mariabelle was jarring from the slap he ordered his men to drag her down to the dungeons and show her some ‘hospitality’.
The room was deathly silent as Mariabelle explained the events that led up to her imprisonment. She then proceeded to explain that the next day the chained Gronkle was also placed in a cell along with Griselda on the other side. Mariabelle was surprised and a little hurt when Griselda confessed to her in the dead of the night that she was in fact a double agent working under the Berkian spymaster. The former Queen could not stay mad for the deception however, when she learned that Griselda had been captured, along with the dragon she was to liberate, by coming back for her. She was even sadder when the woman’s life was forfeit upon Lars’ orders. Ready to give up on life and resign herself to the inevitable hangman’s noose she was surprised later that night by a commotion in the dungeon. It had sounded like swords clashing and men groaning in pain. Her surprise doubled when Throk stood in front of her cell with a sword drawn in one hand and keys in the other. The whole experience was surreal as she was quickly taken through several secret passages that were to be used by the Royal family in the event of an attack. She and the knight had ended up trudging through several sewers and catacomb systems before reaching the harbour area. Mariabelle had lived most of her life in this city yet she didn’t know that these tunnels even existed. Throk quietly explained that only the commanders knew of them in case there was a need to smuggle the Royal family out. By now the alarms were sounding and her escape was known. Mariabelle followed Throk who surprisingly led them to a restaurant.
“Sir Throk had done his research on Griselda after he had killed her,” Mariabelle told the Berkian council. “That was how he had found out that her fiance was actually her partner and had made a deal with him to help smuggle us out. We met Marchioness’ Stormheart’s ship halfway through our journey.”
“May I ask one thing?” Valka spoke up. “Lars seems to have it out for you in particular. Is there anything more to the history between you two?”
“Yes,” Mariabelle said while nodding. “It was basically my fault for him not being considered as a possible successor anymore.” Her fists were clenched and the woman was slightly shaking. “A year ago the handmaiden serving before Griselda was bribed by Lars to kill me. He didn’t hide the fact that he had a hand in it from me. He practically flaunted it when we met in hallways and other places without peering eyes. But I couldn’t accuse him without proof. The assassin was dead, she hung herself in her cell. However, he didn’t know that I knew one of his secrets. I confessed to my husband that I had seen Lars and a male servant having relations. Edward was livid. He confronted Lars about his dalliances. One thing led to another and Edward proclaimed that if Lars wasn’t interested in producing heirs then even as the firstborn he would not be considered for the next King of the Southern isles.” Murmurs swept the room as Valka nodded. Indeed, that would surely cause Lars to despise Mariabelle more.
Stoick called for a recess when the guard he had sent to appraise Gobber and Heather of the situation returned. The King proclaimed that this council meeting would be put on hold as an emergency War council would be held. The most important Ministers would be joining in on the meeting along with Hiccup, Astrid and Marchioness Stormheart.
They had a few minutes in between meetings as several things needed to be set up. So Hiccup and Astrid took a walk through the outer corridor near the gardens to clear their heads while proceeding to the smaller meeting room where the war council would be held.
“That was….” Astrid muttered.
“Surprising?” Hiccup asked.
“So we really are going to war,” She whispered disbelievingly.
“It seems like it,” Hiccup said. “Unless mother and father have some ingenious plan going we are basically looking at war on the horizon. There are countermeasures for these things already in place. The citizens should be evacuating towards the middle of the island by now.” he then looked towards his fiance. “Astrid I want you to go with them.”
“WHAT?!” Astrid’s shout made Hiccup wince and take a step back. “YOU’RE TRYING TO SEND ME AWAY… NOW OF ALL TIMES?!”
“I want you safe!” Hiccup argued. “The town will most likely be besieged from the sea. Not even the palace will come out unscathed.”
“Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the 3rd if you think for one moment I am going to leave your scrawny behind alone while a war is raging then you have another thing coming!” Her fist was clenched at the front of Hiccup’s tunic and with a surprised shout he was pulled into a passionate kiss. “Of all the hair-brained ideas! Me fleeing for the hills!” She huffed after kissing all coherent thoughts out of her prince. “I’m going to get my axe and show these mulch buckets just wha-” Astrid was stopped mid-sentence as the shrill scream of Alvin echoed through the corridors not so far away.
“MURDER! THERE’S BEEN MURDER!!! THE KING, THE QUEEN, AND THE ADVISOR HAVE BEEN MURDERED! HELP! GUARDS HELP!!!”
Vala (opens the pantry door and spots Harry hiding) "What are you doing in here?” (proceeds to hide in pantry too)
Harry: "The Porg keeps serenading me with Backstreet boys. I wonder where he got it from. Why are you here?"
Vala: "Hiding from a murderous mob of readers."
Harry: "Ah... you did THAT,"
Vala: "Yup" (phone goes off and plays the ringtone 'I want it that way')
To say that both Hiccup and Astrid’s hearts hammered in their chests was an understatement. The pair nearly flew towards Alvin’s screams that were drawing both Ministers and surrounding guards.
When the duo arrived on the scene Spitelout was already there and shaking Alvin out of his stupor while shouting. “Get a grip man!” Spitelout shook his colleague by holding onto his broad shoulders.
“The King, the Queen…. Even Gobber! Dead!” The man exclaimed as he fell to his knees and nearly clung to Spitelout’s legs sobbing. “We’ve been infiltrated. This is… this is….”
“What’s happened?” Hiccup asked as he knelt down next to Alvin trying to console the man so that he could explain.
“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Alvin near shrieked. “One minute we were talking, Stoick asked a maid to bring refreshments, I stepped out for some fresh air because we were waiting on Captain Heather to return with the maps of the island and when I came back they were….. They were…. They were gone!” Alvin’s hand trembled as he tried to catch his breath. “My Prince! They were murdered! Murdered I say! You have to avenge them!”
“This… this has to be some plot from the Southern Isles!” Spitelout hissed while several guards came running towards him. “Prince Hiccup, Captain Heather has secured the room. She has asked if you would be willing to make an official identification.” one of the Knights relayed.
“Can’t this wait?!” Spitelout hissed.
“I’m sorry Duke Jorgenson. This is protocol, especially with war looming so close.” The knight saluted and then looked at Hiccup who was still on the ground beside Alvin.
“Tell the Captain I will be there shortly.” Hiccup announced as he was rather shaken.
“Hiccup…..” Astrid tried to get him to stay but the Prince hung his head.
“Yes I do Astrid. There needs to be a clear chain of command in times of war,” Hiccup said as he stood up. He had the knight lead him towards the room where the war council was going to be held with Astrid, Spitelout and a still rather frazzled Alvin following close behind.
Heather stood in the corridor and it seemed she had been pacing slightly. Several other knights, who looked rather nervous and unsure what to do, were also present with two standing guard in front of the door leading to the meeting room.
“Hiccup, my Prince, I’m sorry for having to make you do this,” Heather said as she was now acting in her official capacity as the Royal Guard Captain. “But you will need to verify it. We will also need to speed up the proceedings as well with the armada approaching.”
“Hold on Captain,” Spitelout said as he laid a hand on Hiccup’s shoulder. “Perhaps I should go in his stead.”
“It’s alright Uncle Spitelout,” Hiccup muttered as he brushed the hand off. “I know what needs to be done. You won’t have to worry and act as Regent. These are…. Trying times for all of us. You won’t have to worry about taking over the governing mantle.”
Astrid looked sideways at the Duke while Hiccup entered the room and she could have sworn she saw a flash of anger pass along his face. It was gone so quick as Spitelout schooled his features with practiced ease.
“Heather what happens if they really are…..” Astrid didn’t want to think of the King, Queen and Gobber perishing and left the question unfinished. She clenched part of her wide skirt in her fists as she looked down. She needed to mentally calm down. She needed to be strong. Her fiance needed her right now more than ever.
“I should tell you since this concerns you as well Astrid,” Heather said as she took her aside. “An investigation into this will naturally occur but Berk cannot stand without a King and Queen. Especially not with war approaching. If Hiccup has verified it the Ministers will proceed to hold an emergency coronation ceremony within a few hours. Naturally, by Berkian law the Crownprince cannot ascend the throne without a spouse so you as his fiance will be required to marry him before the coronation.” Astrid sucked in her breath. This was not how she had foreseen her eventual wedding day going at all.
The door to the room opened again and all eyes turned to Hiccup who exited and promptly closed the door. “It’s them,” He said in an even tone but Astrid knew just from looking at his eyes that he must be holding a lot in. The current situation berk found itself in did not allow for time to mourn.
“I’m sorry my Prince,” Alvin said tearfully and then turned to Heather. “Do… Do we know how it happened?”
“Alvin, not here. We will not discuss this in the corridors.” Hiccup warned and then he turned to the knights still assembled there and ordered. “Seal off the Palace. No news of this goes out yet. We don’t want to panic the public more as they are evacuating.” The knights saluted and went to fulfill the order while Heather directed them to follow her. They entered a room with little furniture that held two more guards and a rather beragled looking maid.
“Who is she?” Hiccup blinked in surprise as the door was shut once the group was inside.
“We believe the cause of death to be poisoning.” Heather stated as her eyes narrowed at the maid. “Deathgripper poison to be exact. The same that led to the demise of Princess Margarette. She was the maid that had been called upon by the King to serve refreshments.” the Captain indicated towards the maid with a slight movement of her head. “She is our prime suspect right now.”
“Your Highness I beg of you! I am innocent,” The maid fell to her knees as she looked at Hiccup in desperation. “I know nothing of this! I swear! I never poisoned anyone!” The young maid was groveling now but it was Spitelout who stepped forward with some accusations.
“Do you think we would so easily believe that?” The Duke asked with an angry look. “Tell the truth! Who do you work for? Is it the Southern Isles? Is it the two refugees we have offered asylum too? Are they in on this plot?!”
“Uncle, please control yourself!” Hiccup grabbed the Duke’s arm to stop him from advancing as the young woman was now full-on sobbing. “Besides Sir Throk and Lady Mariabelle were both searched upon entering the palace. There is no way they could have smuggled any poison inside. We need to be rational here.”
The girl, face covered in tear tracks, said between sobs “I really am innocent Milord! All I did was pour the wine King Stoick requested! He even told me to be careful with the bottle since it was a gift.”
“A gift? Who gifted it?” Astrid asked as she frowned in deep thought.
“It was from the Marchioness!” The maid exclaimed. “It was the Queen’s favorite wine. She always brought some whenever she visited the Palace.”
Hiccup stiffened and Astrid’s blood ran cold upon hearing that. The Marchioness had returned last night which meant that it was a very recent bottle. “Where is Marchioness Stormheart now?!” Hiccup’s voice was even but his arms shook slightly upon hearing of this.
“She should still be with the other Ministers.” Heather stated. “I will send some men to detain her so we can question her.”
“No, don’t bother. I will be heading there myself.” Hiccup said as he turned around and marched out of the room with a frantic Astrid following behind calling his name repeatedly. Heather too didn’t sit still and followed quickly. Neither of the women paid any mind to Alvin and Spitelout running to catch up to them. All they had in their minds was stopping a very angry Prince from potentially stabbing or even Plasma blasting someone before they could get answers.
“STORMHEART!” Hiccup shouted as the doors to the Council room were pushed open with such force they banged against the walls. Those were solid wooden doors and Astrid was momentarily surprised by the show of strength.
“Your Highness,” The Marchioness kept her cool as Hiccup approached with fury on his face.
“Did you poison my parents?” Hiccup hissed as the Court Ministers gaped. The Marchioness calmly stood up and stared the Prince down.
“I merely did what I was asked to do,” She said cryptically. Hiccup was literally seething with rage at this point but Astrid taking his hand and standing by his side seemed to snap him out of it somewhat.
“You aren’t denying it?” Hiccup asked after taking a deep breath.
“There is nothing to deny. Change comes like a river runneth.” The strange phrase threw everyone off. Hiccup and Astrid both frowned but almost no one noticed Spitelout turn as pale as a ghost.
“Heather please detain the Marchioness.” Hiccup ordered.
“I’ll see to it that it is done.” Heather said. “A company of my guards shall escort her to the prisons to await trial.”
The Marchioness went silently without violence and that shocked most people. They would have expected her to fight. The other shocking thing was that they would have never suspected her at all since her loyalty to the crown had always been without question.
“Duke Jorgenson are you alright?” Alvin asked as he looked at the man who looked like death had warmed over.
“Ah… ah yes. Just….. Shocked,” Spitelout snapped out of his musings and answered Alvin after the other man shook his shoulder.
“Yes, completely understandable.” Alvin nodded.
“If… if you excuse me. I need to see to some matters,” Spitelout said and then quickly left the room.
Astrid managed to get Hiccup to agree to head to one of the parlors to cool down for a bit. She stayed by his side as he started to get tired from the day’s events.
They knew by now that the Ministers were preparing for the emergency coronation that would be held in a few hours. The city was being evacuated, the knights had prepared the defenses, and the scouts hadn’t reported a fleet on the horizon yet so Astrid thought that Hiccup could use a small break. He slumped against her shoulder and closed his eyes for just a moment. Astrid’s eyelids too began to droop and she also fell asleep. Soon two hours had passed and the couple was sound asleep on the settee. Neither one of them heard the door to the parlor creek open, nor the figure brandishing a dagger enter.
The individual crept closer and raised the dagger to stab at Hiccup’s back but the sudden breaking of a porcelain, and most likely very expensive, vase against the back of his skull knocked him out cold. The shattering of the vase woke up both Hiccup and Astrid and they turned around, eyes widening to see Spitelout knocked out on the floor, knife not so far away on the carpet, and Sierra at the parlor doors with a smirk on her lips.
“I’ve always wanted to do that,” She told Hiccup and Astrid as she surveyed her work. Hiccup wanted to comment on her ability to throw porcelain objects with great accuracy, remembering the ugly gnome, but another voice then spoke.
“Well…. I can’t say I’m surprised,” Stoick said as he came into view behind Sierra. “Though the young lady grabbing a vase in the hall with great determination did throw me off a bit at first.” He then turned to his niece. “Good job, also thank Thor that vase is gone. I hated that thing so much but Valka loved it. Now I have a valid excuse.”
Sierra blushed at the praise and all eyes turned to Spitelout who groaned and clutched his head. The Duke’s eyes opened briefly as the room seemed to be spinning but when his eyes landed on Stoick who was glaring at him with folded arms he nearly choked.
“NO! NO! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!” Spitelout shrieked and pointed at the King from where he lay on the floor. “JUST WHAT IN BLOODY BLUE BLAZES IS GOING ON HERE?!”
Hiccup looked at his father and asked “Do you want me to tell him dad or do you want the honors?” all the while Spitelout looked like he might faint again.
Harry: (Looks up from book as Vala walks into the room wearing a Ghillie-suit) "I see you have mastered the art of stealth."
Vala: (Groans) "Explain to me again why I go through with these plots."
Harry: "Because you like playing with your readers." (Rolls-eyes)
Vala: "I'm starving"
(Porg meeps at the wrong time)
Harry: "DON'T YOU DARE YOU PORGICIDAL MANIAC!"
The Queen sat at her desk in her private study and tapped her pen with frustration. She was trying to compose a missive to the future Duchess Jorgenson but everything she had tried to write sounded more like her being overly paranoid than was necessary. She already had finished her missive to Dr. Thornston, asking her to look into the disease that was making its way from the harbour areas into the city, stressing that her husband was thinking of calling on the good doctor to spearhead the operation to eradicate the sickness on the day of the garden party.
A knock on the door startled Valka out of her thoughts and a sharp “Enter” from her saw the door being pushed open by a fairly young knight, the boy might have even been recently promoted from squire, enter while struggling to hold several scrolls.
“Your Majesty,” The young man bowed so low that the scrolls slipped out of his grip and he then flushed from embarrassment as he quickly tried to pick them up. Valka bit her lip so as to not laugh. The elder knights usually sent the younger recruits to her so that they can become acquainted with the presence of royalty they will one day be protecting. Valka told the young man that there was no harm done and then proceeded to inspect the scrolls. They were, as she expected, copies of letters sent between Duke Jorgenson and the Regent of the Southern Isles Lars Westengaard.
“Your Majesty, I am supposed to also relay a message from the Vice-captain of the guard.” The young man added as Valka perused the scrolls. “He said that given the nature of the content that he could not send them on their way.”
“Indeed,” Valka frowned as she read one of Spitelout’s letters. This changed a lot as the subject matter suddenly got more sinister. While snatching another scroll a sealed envelope fell out of the pile. The Queen looked at it with a frown. She had instructed several knights to intercept Duke Jorgenson’s messages, not Lady Camicazi, yet here a letter was and specifically addressed to her as well.
Unto Her Majesty, the Queen of Berk, the letter began formally as Valka read. Lady Camicazi Jorgenson nee Bog sends greetings. There is an urgent matter that needs to be brought to your attention as a life may be on the line. This line was disconcerting unto itself and Valka read further. Lady Jorgenson expressed her concern for a maid in her new household that might have familial ties to Duke Jorgenson and thus also have ties to the Royal family. The letter went on to detail the horrifics the maid endured and Lady Jorgenson implored her Majesty to give shelter to the young woman at the palace. Valka wouldn’t immediately believe the rumors of an illegitimate Royal but she would order Mala to investigate this girl’s origins. The Queen was also pleasantly surprised when Lady Jorgenson detailed her acquisition of the House Seal of the Jorgenson family and her initial foray into the accounting books where according to the Lady something seemed to not be quite right yet she couldn’t put her finger on it. The Queen was never so glad to hear this as in her own missive she was trying to find a way to ask Lady Jorgenson to look into the budgets for her without raising a red flag.
The Queen asked the young knight to summon Captain Heather as she immediately composed a reply letter to Lady Jorgenson. Thinking of what else she needed she also composed several other letters.
One to Countess Berta who could sway her husband, the Minister of Finance, if the Queen needed an emergency fund and one to Baroness Hofferson who through her merchant family connections could discreetly deliver any supplies needed.
A longer letter was composed to Duchess Larson who was known to sponsor several artists. However, these were no mere artists but in fact Master forgers. Duchess Larson had an incident a couple of years back where the curator of the museum she was sponsoring an exhibit at, had hired these men to make forgeries of the paintings the Duchess provided out of her own collection. Now normally no one would have spotted the fakes but the Duchess had a keen eye for art for as long as the Queen could remember. Things came to a head and the curator was arrested. Instead of pressing charges on the forgers themselves she instead decided to sponsor them if they were to create original art pieces. Valka still remembered the Duchess’ response at one of their usual tea parties “It would have been an awful waste of talent, I say!” the woman had remarked when Valka had asked for her reason. To this day the artists had been loyal to the Duchess and Valka would need their help. There was no way she would let Spitelout communicate directly now with Lars Westengaard if the contents of the letters were as they seemed. The three letters were sealed in envelopes and the Royal Berkian seal was pressed in wax upon them before they joined Lady Thornston’s letter.
Her last letter of the night however, was an informal one. She had just started the letter with ‘Dearest Nikora,’ when Captain Heather knocked on her study door before slipping inside.
“You called your Majesty?” Heather asked.
“Heather, Windshear is one of the swiftest dragons amongst the knight corp. I need these letters delivered fast and discreetly.” Valka stated as she wrote the last letter under the lamplight. “There is no one I can trust more with these right now.”
When the garden party finally did happen Valka did her rounds of schmoozing and rubbing shoulders. She was glad that Countess Berta, Duchess Larson, and Baroness Hofferson had accepted. It was a little code she and the ladies used. If they accepted a proposal between them they would show up to the party. If they did not accept they would not, feigning illness usually as an excuse. It was a neat little system that required no talk that could be overheard. Both Lady Jorgenson and Lady Astrid also seemed to have caught onto something and with a few more social gatherings they would soon also master the ins and outs of the system.
Once Valka had a chance to slip away from the party she went in search of Nikora whom she spotted near the cordoned off part of the botanical garden. This was Valka’s own section that she cultivated and no one would dare to intrude on the Queen’s private place unless personally invited.
Both women conversed as they walked arm in arm into the garden. Mostly talking about their personal lives, mostly their husbands.
“He promised you the world Valka. He promised you love, happiness, a family of your own. I chose to step aside willingly.” Nikora said somewhat sadly at some point during their walk. “With the way things were in my family at that point, I could promise you none of that. I’m actually happy with what we have right now. Even if this is just platonic. I wouldn’t trade my friendship with you for the world.”
“Even if I were to ask you something that might be near impossible?” Valka queried.
“Always,” Nikora winked and smiled.
“I will need you to kill Stoick and I,” Valka deadpanned which caused Nikora to sputter, losing some of her composure, before exclaiming “WHAT KIND OF HAIR-BRAINED SCHEME DID YOU THINK UP THIS TIME?!”
Vala: (Watches porg scramble into the microwave) "HARRY YOUR PORG WENT INTO THE MICROWAVE OF HIS OWN VOLITION!"
Vala: (holding microwaved pizza) "What could have scared the Porg that much?"
(Increasing amounts of meeping can be heard at the windows)
(A flock of stalkerish and horny female Porgs assault the windows)
Harry: "Ah, it’s the season,"
Vala: (groans because cooking the Porg now would mean getting bitten by that whole flock)
“NO! NO! It’s not possible! THERE IS NO WAY! NO WAY!” Spitelout screamed in disbelief and reeled back after he had been unceremoniously placed upon the settee while two knights kept their eyes on him and hands on their sword hilts. “Marchioness Stormheart was in league with the Southern Isles! She’s the Golden Eagle! It’s all her! ALL OF IT!”
Hiccup supposed that now that his uncle had shown his true colours there wasn’t much else to do than try to mitigate the blame to shorten any sentence he might receive. Alvin had joined the group while Stoick told the story and the Minister of Interior handed the King a scrap of paper. Stoick read it for a moment and then smiled. “Well it looks like the knights you bribed have aided the Marchioness in an escape.”
“If the Marchioness has escaped then why do you look so smug?!” Spitelout countered before the truth of the matter hit him.
It was the day after the garden party and several people had seated themselves in the parlor while going over some maps and other documents. Stoick had some of the confiscated letters in his hands and the forgeries Valka had commissioned.
Valka and Nikora were both sharing a bottle of wine as Stoick perused the documents and while Gobber was eyeing Mala’s famous biscuits that had been placed on the table.
“This is….. concerning. Why didn’t you bring it to my attention earlier?” Stoick asked his wife.
“There wasn’t anything concrete,” Valka stated. “I only investigated Spitelout a few months ago when rumors surfaced that he was arranging a marriage for his son.” The Queen frowned now. “It was odd, the arrangement at least. The only thing he could have wanted from the Hoffersons was access to their exclusive shipping lanes. Now I am glad that Snotlout didn’t marry Lady Astrid. Lady Camicazi holds a tight leash over her husband and the household and is amicable to work with us.” Stoick frowned. “Think of it, with the shipping lanes he could smuggle in Thor knows what. Baroness Hofferson’s side of the family is meticulous with shipment record keeping but the Duke’s status alone once affiliated with their family would mean he could smuggle anything into our Kingdom. Anything…. And they would be unable to stop him.”
Valka took a sip of her wine when Nikora jokingly mentioned that she must have had quite a shock when Hiccup chose Lady Astrid as a fiance.
“Shock would be an understatement,” Valka huffed. “Though I can’t fault Hiccup. Haddock men have always been attracted to strong independent women.” Here Gobber stifled a laugh as Stoick blushed.
“Let’s get back to the topic at hand for a moment,” Gobber stated as the King shot him a relieved look. He had already experienced Valka and Nikora’s conversations multiple times, most of said times ended up with him blushing more scarlet than his beard at the topics the women discussed became racier and racier the more alcohol was consumed.
“The letters are definite proof that Spitelout is colluding with Lars Westengaard to take the throne for himself.” Gobber stated. “Why haven’t we arrested him yet then?”
“Because we have bigger fish to fry,” Valka stated. “If Spitelout is colluding with someone outside the Kingdom then he will also have support from within.”
“And we are hoping to get to those supporters with this,” Nikora said while tapping on a particular document. “Lars stated that he would be sending an associate to Spitelout in order to help him achieve his goals. Someone called the Golden Eagle. Mala already confirmed that this person is a ghost. No one knows what he looks like and those that see him don’t live long. Spitelout is to keep this person from being persecuted at all costs but the only way for him to identify the man according to this letter is through a password. Which we know is ‘Change comes like a river runneth’.”
“At least that is according to us,” Valka laughed. “Lars isn’t concerned about keeping this Golden Eagle safe but Spitelout doesn’t know that. The forged letters clearly state that if any harm should come to the ‘associate’ then Spitelout can forget gaining the throne of Berk.”
“So you plan to have an inside man replace the original inside man?” Stoick frowned. “You do realize that this person will likely be ordered to assassinate us.”
“That is why I have asked Nikora to do it,” Valka stated. “Mala’s spy network has all eyes and ears open for when this Golden Eagle will make his move. So far they are suspecting a guard under Alvin’s command named Grimmel. He will be either arrested or dispatched and Nikora will take his place without Spitelout and Lars being the wisest.”
“Once I am captured after my so-called assassination of the Royal family I will use the codeword in front of Spitelout.” Nikora stated. “It will be imperative that the Prince and his fiance as well as at least one Minister be in on this plan. We wouldn’t want anyone acting of their own accord at this point.”
“I’ll have a talk with Hiccup and Astrid.” Stoick stated.
“And I can have a discreet chat with Alvin. He’d be more than happy to play along.” Gobber added.
“So both of you are expecting Spitelout to play his hand when Nikora uses the codeword.” Stoick nodded in understanding. “He’d want her safe or the deal with Lars will be off. Meaning he will use his supporters to break her out of custody.”
“Exactly. Heather is already aware of the plan and will be following the prison convoy with some of her most trustworthy knights in stealth. They will continue to follow until Nikora meets up with Spitelout’s supporters who would smuggle her out of the Kingdom. Where they will promptly be arrested.”
To say that Spitelout looked both as pale as a ghost and green with nausea was an understatement. He now knew he had played directly into his sister-in-law’s hands. He had kept his focus on Stoick, who was somewhat brash and would have acted immediately if he found out, thinking he was the biggest threat. He had totally forgotten about the Queen and her scheming ways.
“But you still have the armada to contend with!” Spitelout said as his eyes narrowed. Lars’ armada was vast and they would reach Berkian waters soon. Berk’s own fleet was far greater but the timeframe wasn’t enough to deploy all ships at this point. If Lars managed to succeed and take the Palace then Spitelout would still have his chance.
“No we don’t,” Astrid said with a frown. “That armada won’t ever reach the Inner ocean.” She said it so matter-of-factly that Spitelout had to do a double-take. Astrid was of course referring to the part of the ocean between the Isle of Berk and the Meathead islands. And while the Meatheads didn’t particularly have a close relationship with the Berkians, aside from trading produce, they wouldn’t have wanted a foreign fleet of ships invading their waters either.
“Huh?” Was all Spitelout managed to utter in his bewilderment as Astrid actually rolled her eyes.
“Astrid I think his brain stopped working,” Hiccup stated as he looked at his uncle’s flabbergasted expression.
“Well tough luck.” Astrid huffed. “You’d think he’d question that with King Stoick being alive and all, where the heck the Queen and Gobber were. When your mother approached us I was honestly expecting to deal with a much smarter foe.” Hiccup winced at the burn while Spitelout looked like he had sucked a lemon.
Vala: (Walks in at Harry nearly drooling on the computer over a certain actor in black leather) “Should I be getting the drool bucket again?”
Harry: “I can’t help it! I like Bad boys in leather!”
Vala: “Drool bucket it is,”
Harry: “Don’t act so innocent! You needed a barrel!”
Vala: (rolls eyes) “At least with a barrel I didn’t need to mop the floors constantly.” (-_-)
Harry: “Ha Ha Ha”
Vala: (Sets Porg in black letter jacket on keyboard)
Harry: “I said bad boys not bad birds!”
Vala: (shrugs) “It’s all I’ve got!”
After Princess Margarette and her father were escorted out of the throne room and Hiccup had accompanied Astrid back to her suite he returned to the throne room to hear Gobber scolding Stoick. It wasn’t often Gobber did that but it was such a funny sight.
“.... and tha think yer ignoring the delegates….”
“Gobber….. Gobber I get it,” Stoick sighed. “Valka’s going to murder me.”
“You bet yer arse she is. Why, if it wasn’t for Lady Stormheart calming her down she may have just barged in here with her staff swinging and smacked those annoying Royals that took yer time.” Gobber continued. “You saw her eye twitch when the news came they were here at the Palace with no prior notice.”
Hiccup saw his father gulp and nod as Gobber continued “Ye left us to do the fleet positioning ourselves and then more news came in that the delegates from Dunbroch and Arendelle arrived as well. Ye were supposed to meet them together.”
“I know Gobber. Thor help me,” Stoick groaned as he leaned back against the throne. “I’m going to have to grovel aren’t I?”
Neither of the men realized that Hiccup was in the room. It was empty save for the three of them as Stoick had dismissed the guards.
“Is there something I need to know dad?” Hiccup asked with a raised brow. “Fleet positioning? And aunt Nikora is still here?” Hiccup frowned. The Marchioness was a bit of a loner at times. She really only had a select few friends which included his mother and after the social gatherings had ended she usually left within a few hours. For her to have stayed the night only meant one thing to Hiccup. “What scheme is mom plotting this time?”
“Mom’s plot was brilliant if you ask me, though we didn’t take into account Maragette and her father actually showing up. That was just a fluke that sent us into enacting it earlier.” Hiccup told his uncle who looked constipated. Being bested so thoroughly wasn’t really a good look for him. “Dad went to procure flowers to apologize for his…… blunder,” Hiccup smirked as his father sputtered “While Gobber, Astrid and I met with mom in her private rooms. To my surprise Heather, Mala, Sierra and Alvin were already there.”
“Mala? What does she have to do with this? I didn’t see her!” Spitelout uttered perplexed.
“You didn’t? Really? I mean I know her disguise was good, but really?” Hiccup looked perplexed. “You just talked to her. She was the maid in the room.”
“What?!” Spitelout looked flummoxed. “No she wasn’t!”
“She was,” Astrid confirmed.
“MURDER! THERE’S BEEN MURDER!!! THE KING, THE QUEEN, AND THE ADVISOR HAVE BEEN MURDERED! HELP! GUARDS HELP!!!”
“Ah, Alvin started already,” Hiccup said before looking towards Astrid. “You can still be safe if Marchioness Stormheart’s fleet is unable to keep the armada at bay.”
“Hiccup, I already told you I’m staying.” Astrid punched him lightly on the arm as they made their way over to Alvin’s very dramatic shouting. “You’re stuck with me and right now we have some acting to do. Let’s put on a good show.” She then actually winked at Hiccup causing the auburn-haired prince to blush. When they got to the scene the blush, which hadn’t dissipated, made Hiccup look like he was out of breath from running.
Meanwhile, before Alvin started his part Mala was putting the finishing touches on her disguise with the help of Heather.
“I can’t believe you look so different,” Heather was impressed. Gone was the assertive ‘chef’ and in her place stood a young bedraggled maid sporting a multitude of freckles. The wig Mala was using had a disheveled look to it with locks of brown hair sticking up at odd angles. To add to the realism she also rumpled up the maid uniform, making it look like she had been manhandled.
“Now here’s to hoping this plan works,” Mala stated.
“Hey, don’t worry.” Heather said. “Both Hiccup and Astrid are good actors. They’ve ran through the plan several times. Even the confrontation with the Marchioness is scripted perfectly.” Here Heather laughed “Remember, Alvin even asked the Queen why she never became a stage director,”
Mala nodded as Alvin’s shouts, and the echos thereof, reached past the room they were in. “Looks like it’s showtime,” Both women smirked and Heather departed.
“Though I didn’t think you guys would be that relaxed about it,” Hiccup said as he looked towards his father.
“Relaxed? What do you mean?” Astrid was curious and frowned a bit.
“Ah, right. So remember when I needed to go into the room,”
Hiccup entered the room his parents and Gobber supposedly perished in and found them sipping wine while looking at a map of the Isle of Berk.
“Well isn’t this cozy,” Hiccup crossed his arms and muttered “Here we are having to act like you guys are dead while instead you are enjoying ‘poisoned’ wine.”
“Hiccup darling, it’s good wine. I’m not letting it go to waste,” His mother stated and then pointed at the map while taking another sip. “This will be where Gobber and I will be heading Stoick. Lars has to make it to The Long beach to get within cannon striking distance of the city and palace. We will intercept him from here.” She pointed towards Dead head Headland where Hiccup knew Marchioness Stormheart’s fleet was doing ‘surprise training exercises’. That was the excuse the Marchioness had used to mobilize the Berkian navy under her command a few days prior. By Hiccup’s estimation their fleet numbered at least three times the size of Lars’ armada. Stoick had originally protested deploying such a large number of ships but his wife stated that she would rather go big and make a statement. Lars’ crushing defeat would also serve a dual purpose, according to Valka, as to let the other kingdoms in the region know that Berk still commanded the mightiest navy even in peaceful times. There was some unrest in the west and this would squash anyone else’s dreams of attacking the kingdom.
The secret passage in the room, that had been designed to smuggle high-ranking members of society to safety, opened to reveal Sierra holding a lantern. “Your Maje-... I mean aunt Valka, mister Gobber, Lady Jorgenson and her husband are waiting in a nondescript carriage at the end of this passage to take you to the rendezvous point where you’ll meet with your dragons.”
“Well we’re off!” Valka announced, quickly planting a kiss on her husband’s cheek before turning to her son. “You and Nikora have fun playing it up. Your mother is going to destroy some ships!”
“She always gets to do the fun stuff,” Stoick grumbled and pouted as Hiccup set a grim expression on his face before walking back out of the room, leaving his father and Sierra behind.
Hiccup exited the room and promptly closed the door before uttering “It’s them,” He tried to keep his tone even. Looking at his fiance he just knew she knew he was trying to hold in his laughter at this whole elaborate ploy because Spitelout was eating it up, none the wiser.
Vala: "HARRY DO YOU WANT ROASTED PORG?" (Has the Porg tied to a spit)
Harry: (while reading a very angst-filled book) "Sure!" (Stops reading and blinks) "Did you say Pork or Porg?!"
Vala: "Porg of course!"
Harry: "MAH PORG!" (Scrambles to rescue Porg)
Once Stoick and Hiccup had revealed the whole plot it was quiet in the parlor. Spitelout had his head in his hands as a groan could be heard coming from him. The man looked so utterly defeated but there was one thing Stoick just couldn’t wrap his head around.
“Why Spitelout?” the King asked his brother. “Just why would you do this?”
“Why? You actually have the gall to ask me why when you know perfectly well why!” Spitelout suddenly spat, starling Hiccup, Astrid, Sierra and Alvin. Stoick’s bushy brows were drawn together in confusion as his brother let out hysterical laughter.
“You knew how it was with father,” Spitelout all but growled. “You were the younger one but also the oh-so-perfect son. You could do no wrong while I was just an accident!”
“Spitelout that’s not….”
“DON’T YOU ACT ALL RIGHTEOUS AND SYMPATHETIC WITH ME STOICK!” Spitelout shouted as he stood up with his fist balled. The guards kept their hands on the hilts of their swords but Stoick motioned for them not to attack. “I WORKED MY ARSE OFF TO GET FATHER’S APPROVAL BUT IT NEVER AMOUNTED TO MUCH NOW DID IT? DID IT?!”
Hiccup had never seen his uncle this mad before and it frankly scared him. Spitelout shook with fury as he let all his grievances out for once. “I was the eldest of us Stoick. I WAS THE ELDEST PRINCE! The title of Crown prince should have been mine by default! But NOOOOO! Our father hated my mother! She was the third princess of the Lavalout Kingdom given to him in marriage as a prize to seal the peace treaty. It was a marriage he didn’t even want! He found the Lavalouts barbaric yet even he couldn’t keep it in his pants when confronted with her beauty!”
The Duke was heaving now. “You may not know this but my mother suffered a lot. She was relegated to the status of a concubine and had to deal with the ire of your own mother. The FIRST wife, the Queen of Berk! The red-headed woman who was called compassionate by her citizens was a tyrant to my mother who had no choice but to reside in the palace! She was cold, she was lonely and when she fell pregnant it was no celebration!” Spitelout exclaimed. “Our father never meant to get her pregnant,” he then looked Stoick in the eye “Your mother had difficulty conceiving and didn’t take the news very well. The first wife’s abuse continued, escalated even. I don’t know how my mother survived all those years but when I was three she finally succumbed to all the stress heaped upon her. On her deathbed she told me that I deserved to be King! That I deserved all of it! ALL OF BERK!”
“A year later, you were born,” All the anger in Spitelout’s eyes was focussed on Stoick as he spoke that one sentence.
“The son of the first wife, the perfect Prince, the heir to the throne not only in the eyes of the people but in father’s thoughts as well.” The man hissed. “I was forgotten, pushed aside to a less frequented part of the palace. Oh how I hated you.” Spitelout said in a low voice. “All my achievements ended up being placed in your shadow. You got Berk handed to you on a silver platter while I deserved it all.”
“Spitelout, I know it may not have looked it but father did care about you,” Stoick tried to reason but it was to no avail. The man wouldn’t hear it.
“Loved me? Loved me? Stoick you are still so naive to the truth!” Spitelout hissed. “I was nothing more than cattle. A convenient bargaining chip. Offered up on a silver platter.” Spitelout stated as he looked at his brother. “It was rare that I saw father as the years went by and I was ecstatic when I was summoned to the throne room. But then my elation fell when I heard why I was called. A merchant was being difficult in selling a certain product father wanted, winter radishes. His daughter, who wasn’t the prettiest I have to say, had been rejected by suitors time and time again. So to seal that one deal… THAT ONE DEAL! I was offered up in an arranged marriage! MY MARRIAGE WAS DECIDED ON THE GROUNDS OF A RADISH TRADE!” Spitelout’s voice got higher by an octave.
“There was no love between us. I can assure you of that.” Spitelout muttered. “We slept in different rooms for more than a year after the marriage and she could care less about my dalliances in between with the common folk,” Here Spitelout rolled his eyes before settling onto Sierra. “I still had hope that I could have an heir that would be in line for the throne. But then you came along.” Sierra actually flinched and Astrid grabbed her hand to keep her calm. “What was I to do with a…. With a girl. You couldn’t succeed me. You couldn’t do anything,” He hissed. “Five months later my wife became pregnant. This time it was a boy. I was so happy for once. He’d be in line for the throne because my brother hadn’t married yet.” Spitelout looked murderous at this point. “But nothing could go my way could it? The world just hates the forgotten Prince!”
“My little brother found the love of his life and got married, even vowing that he would take no concubines.” Spitelout spat at Stoick as his eyes narrowed. “Do you know how I felt Stoick, well do you? Your vow made me feel like my mother’s hardships had been trampled upon! She suffered in the society we Nobles have still and to me your vow made light of all she endured!” Spitelout hissed. “The perfect prince finds the perfect wife and sires a perfect son who vows to uphold the same romantic and idiotic notions his annoying father exponded! It made me want to hurl!” The Duke growled. “Snotlout at least was the apple of my eye until that fool of a boy decided to relinquish his right to the throne because he found it so hard!”
Spitelout had been heaving for a while now, his eyes wide and his gestures erratic. He suddenly let out a warcry and pounced on Stoick causing the settee to tip backwards due to the momentum, sending Hiccup and Astrid, who had been sitting next to Stoick, falling backwards as well, while Alvin and Sierra who had been standing behind the piece of furniture to scramble back.
“AH! Me foot!” Alvin howled as the fallen settee landed on his right foot because he hadn’t managed to get clear in time. Meanwhile, the guards had sprung into action and were trying to haul the Duke off his brother but Spitelout produced a small thin dagger out of nowhere. He slashed at the guards, slashing one near his eye while stabbing the other’s leg.
“Stoick today you die!” Spitelout shouted and raised the dagger above his brother’s throat. Stoick had his meaty hands holding back Spitelout but the Duke seemed stronger than he let on and the dagger sank lower and lower. The room was in pure chaos and Spitelout might have actually succeeded in driving the dagger home if not for Hiccup who body-slammed his uncle to the floor.
“You impertinent brat!” Spitelout hissed while dodging attacks from the injured knights. He was getting cornered by the knights as Hiccup and Astrid helped a winded Stoick up and while Alvin had stepped in front of Sierra to shield her from the violence.
Spitelout, who was only armed with a dagger, took his chance and rushed the knight who’s leg he’d injured, stabbing him in the chest and relieving him of his weapon. The knight crumbled to the floor, blood now soaking the carpet. Spitelout had to make split second decisions and he grabbed the closest and to him weakest member of the group as a hostage. Astrid shouted in pain as her hair was yanked from behind. She was in shock as Spitelout dragged her towards him and put the sword to her throat.
“And he’s dead. Da-dah-dah,” Hiccup said quietly more to himself as the room stilled now that Spitelout had a hostage. Astrid struggled slightly only to have Spitelout yank the bun her hair was in more and place the sword closer to her neck.
No one moved as Spitelout backed away towards the glass doors that the parlor had which led out to the back gardens. He turned slightly sideways, keeping the occupants of the room in his sight at all times as he ordered Astrid to open the doors. They stepped onto the marble patio that led down towards the Royal gardens and Spitelout continued to drag Astrid along.
The patio was still elevated as it had a staircase that led down to the garden. There was a carved marble railing not so far behind them as Spitelout commanded those in the room to stay where they were or the lady gets it.
“Do you know how long it took to get my hair done?!” Astrid hissed while balling up her fists.
“Be quiet, woman!” Spitelout ordered as he kept the sword to her neck, not too close to nick her skin but still too close in Astrid’s opinion of where a blade should be. No one had moved in the parlor as they were too afraid that Spitelout would slice Astrid’s throat, who was the only one unperturbed about the events so far and worried mostly about her hair that her ladies-in-waiting had taken a painstaking hour to do. She growled low in her throat, that much work and love had been poured into her hairstyle by Atali and the others and here this guy was ruining everything. ‘And why in Thor’s name was it always the women that became hostages in situations like this?’ her mind asked as she sent Spitelout a withering glare which only earned her another yank of her hair. The braid and bun had probably almost entirely become undone by now and some of her accessories must have spilled onto the floor as they had been walking. Astrid had paid it no mind, instead all her anger was focussed onto the man behind her. His self-deluded and egotistical ambitions for the throne had led up to this escalation of violence.
Spitelout hadn’t expected it and neither had anyone else when Astrid whirled around and punched him in the nose while simultaneously kneeing him in the groin. The very very painful blows caused Spitelout to lose his grip on his sword and on Astrid’s hair which was now a tangled mess.
The Duke clutched his bleeding nose with one hand while he tried to will away the pain in his groin by hunching over slightly. But Astrid wasn’t done, no, Astrid was pissed, she was furious beyond imagination. “How dare you manhandle a lady like that!” She shouted before tackling the Duke, grappling him around his middle. Her hands had quickly found their way to her opponents mid-thighs and with a surprising show of strength she pulled them towards herself, forcing Spitelout to fall onto his back. Only the railing was right behind them and Astrid let go just in time for only the Duke to fall over. The fall was nearly one storey and there were rose bushes underneath. She would have to apologize to Dagur later for flattening his plants but it was so worth it.
“Astrid are you alright?!” Hiccup rushed over and then added “Remind me never to get you angry,” From below they could hear Spitelout’s pained groans as he was stuck in the rosebushes.
Vala: (Spots the Porg in a fancy tuxedo holding papers in its mouth) "Are those......"
(The Porg meeps and flies away with those papers)
Vala: "GET BACK HERE YOU FAT BIRD! THAT'S THE DRAFT FOR PHANTASM 2! I NEED IT FOR THANKSGIVING!"
(Porg meeps again and flies in circles close to ceiling)
Vala: "That's it! (produces cannon) I WILL SHOOT YOU DOWN IF I HAVE TO!"
(Vala gets tackled by Harry)
Harry: "MAH PORG!"
Vala: "MAH DRAFT!"
(The cannon accidentally goes off causing a huge hole to appear in the ceiling through which the Porg flies off)
7 months later
Astrid looked out of the large bay windows that one of the corridors in the palace offered. Below her, she could see the front courtyard and the gilded carriage and procession that awaited her. So many things had changed in the last five months.
For one, Lars’ armada never made its assault on Berk. Valka and Gobber along with the Berkian fleet had been able to intercept them in the Inner ocean, much to their surprise. The casualties were kept at a minimum as well and as the citizens of Berk returned from their evacuation they got to see their Queen drag Lars by the scruff all the way to the palace. The surviving soldiers and sailors from Lars’ fleet were kept in the brigs of the Berkian armada or near the harbor in warehouses turned prisons until it was decided on what to do with them.
Duke Jorgenson was also apprehended after his rather prickly fall in the rose bushes and placed in the dungeon along with his co-conspirators that Marchioness Stormheart and Captain Heather had arrested. Spitelout and Lars’ cells were directly opposite to each other and the guards reported that they had been yelling and insulting each other for several days in the beginning. The insults varied but seemed to be very creative.
Dagur, as expected, had a near coronary at seeing his flattened rose bushes. The shrill shriek of “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY MINIATURE ROSES YOU DEVIL WOMAN!” caused even Stoick to wince. The gardener certainly didn’t appreciate Spitelout landing on his prized roses. Dagur was still salty about his maze hedge as well so the glares Astrid received that week alone could have melted armor.
Furthermore, the Southern Isles had been effectively without a ruler as Queen Mariabelle had been granted asylum in Berk and Lars had disposed of his siblings quite successfully. Astrid had heard that the 8th Prince had been the longest to survive but he too eventually succumbed to the poison he had been fed. To say that Mariabelle had been depressed the last few months was an understatement. She had wept for both her children and her step-children. The large Royal family had been wiped out by the ambitions of just one and the Kingdom had been in disarray. A civil war threatened to break out as distant family members sprang out of the woodwork to try and claim the title of King. Stoick had stepped in then, producing the charges the previous King had incurred in his court along with those of the late Princess to effectively annex the territory under Berkian rule.
The many nobles had protested but in the end the charges stayed and they had to abide by the treaties set within the Archipelago centuries ago. The King also made an effort to placate the people of the Southern Isles by returning their sons to them that had been held as prisoners of war. The really surprising part in all of this was the former Queen herself. Mariabelle petitioned Stoick for the position of governor of the annexed territory, stating that it would be better for the people of the Southern Isles to have one of their own to advocate for their rights as the integration process continued. She returned shortly after, which was three months ago, along with Sir Throk to their home.
With the capture and sentencing of several prominent members of Nobility that co-conspired with Duke Jorgenson a power imbalance was created within the Kingdom. It took another month of investigating the heirs to those titles to see if they had any ties to the failed coup before they could claim their family's mantle. Only two territories were fully seized when it came to light that the heirs also had been in on the plot.
The trials for Spitelout and Lars were held separately within the same week and were last on the docket. Lars was convicted on several counts of murder, regicide, treason and several other crimes the court officers later uncovered. He was stripped of his title as prince and given a life sentence that would be carried out in the coal mines of the Southern Isles.
Spitelout had similar charges levied against him, treason and attempted murder were the most serious though and since he never actually killed anyone unlike Lars his sentence was a bit lighter; stripped of his titles along with 25 years exile from Berk and any of its territories.
After the trials both Lars and Spitelout were hauled away. Snotlout who had now taken over as Duke came to say goodbye to his father at the docks but things had seemed noticeably stilted between the two. Spitelout had bit his tongue when he had found out Snotlout had been in on the Queen’s plan along with his wife and now the two barely looked each other in the eye.
Five months after the near-coup, things had settled down a bit until there was a whole new flurry of activity; Wedding planning. Both Hiccup and Astrid had settled on a Fall wedding and as the season was approaching things picked up again. Mala had been designing the cake, Dagur was making the bouquets and table placements, Heather was checking the security of the venues and Gobber had actually designed her wedding dress. Her Ladies-in-waiting all exclaimed that it was drop-dead gorgeous but all Astrid could really remember from the fitting was that it didn’t need a corset. THANK THOR!
The two month wait was excruciating for Astrid. Between sending out the invites, the dress fittings for both her and her ladies, and doing seating arrangements because some people should not be placed at the same table lest a brawl break out, she was actually letting her nerves get to her. The night before the big day she had probably worn out her plush carpet with all the pacing and now here she was, dressed in the most gorgeous wedding dress she had ever seen, ‘Thank you Gobber!’, her mind supplied, while adorned with the finest jewelry including a very beautiful diadem, a water drop design that boosted diamonds at the top and dark blue sapphires at the bottom, courtesy of Valka and a very lovely light blue and white Calla Lily cascading bouquet delivered by Dagur and all she wanted to do was crawl back into her bed and flop like a starfish on the plush pillows to catch up on her sleep.
Astrid took a deep breath and started walking again. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that Atali had wanted to say something but stopped. ‘Screw sleep’ her brain muttered. This was going to be a wonderful day. Her mind, which had been in the gutter recently, supplied several images that she could do to Hiccup once he was her husband and even sleep wouldn’t get in her way. Her Ladies-in-waiting held her long Chapel train as she descended down the grand staircase and made it into the Palace foyer. The servants who were staying at the palace were in the foyer, ready to see her off and Astrid smiled. This was really happening.
Getting out to the courtyard caused Astrid to squint slightly as the sun shone in her eyes. Gobber had forgone the veil because he was of the opinion that the bride seeing where she had to go was important and that Hiccup might Plasma Blast him if Astrid walked into a pillar. You see, the bridal veils were usually made of thick material that wasn’t at all see-through. Usually the bride would be escorted all the way up to the altar by either a knight or a male relative. Astrid saw the carriage that would take her to the venue and frowned slightly. She thought that this would be a challenge as the Chapel train was quite long but her Ladies-in-waiting already had a system for it and they joined her in the carriage while not wrinkling the train with ease. Astrid was very impressed.
Captain Heather was at the front of the procession and when she got word that Astrid and her ladies were in the carriage they set out through the streets of Berk. In the carriage Astrid fiddled with her engagement ring a bit and then looked down at her attire. Her dress was a long-sleeved one made of lace but Gobber had opted to add a deep V-neck neckline. The top of the dress had hand-sewn pearl beadings into it that created intricate patterns while the hemline and train were made of tulle, which had been a recently imported product. Gobber had shouted in joy when the material had been delivered to the palace. She remembered being bodily dragged to the fitting room to find use for the new material. The layers of tulle over the initial fabric made the skirt not so wide, as was the fashion now, but instead gave it a sensual look.
After leaving the palace the carriage made its way through the more affluent parts of Berk first where many Noble manors were located. There weren’t many people there but once they got to the more populated part of the Kingdom Astrid actually winced at the volume level. looking out of the carriage window she saw the huge crowds that were gathered along her route to the church. Nearly all of the people of Berk lined the streets and waved at the passing procession. Now she knew why Heather had been so fastidious with security. Knights lined the streets as well to make sure order was kept and the biggest crowd was near the church. Astrid actually gulped. She had honestly not expected such a big turn out.
The carriage stopped precisely in front of a plush purple carpet that had been rolled out from inside the church. Heather, who had dismounted Windshear was the one to open the carriage doors and escort Astrid out on the carpet with Atali and the others following behind with the train. The crowds cheered as they got a glimpse of Astrid as she and her procession made their way into the foyer of the church. There was another set of doors that led to the main hall where the wedding would take place but in the foyer she saw Stormfly with a basket of flowers held in her beak and Toothless who had a silk pillow with the wedding rings resting on top in his maw. Both dragons were giddy when they saw her and as the double doors opened Astrid took a deep breath as the wedding ceremony was officially starting. Stormfly and Toothless went first and she walked into the main hall when the usher announced “Please stand for the bride!” A whole new adventure awaited her.
Vala: "GET BACK HERE YOU DEMON BIRD!" (Tries to swat the Porg with a mop as it flies near the ceiling)
Harry: "MAH PORG!"
Vala: "Your Porg ate all my tiramisu!"
Harry: "It was just some cake....." (Tries to stop the swatting)
Vala: "It also drank all of your coffee..."
Harry: "MAH COFFEE!"
(Porg meeps innocently while on a sugar and caffeine rush)