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It was late afternoon when Astrid decided to go back. She would need to check on Hiccup, and rest a bit before the fight. Her father had proved to be very helpful as he handed out tips and tricks. He escorted her home, secretly wanting to see how much damage was done, and wanting to reconcile with the man that didn't give up on his baby girl.
As they approached the house, they could hear Hiccup's mournful cries. Stoick, however, sat helplessly outside.
"What's happening?!" The blonde rushed to him.
"Oh— he's...he'll be alright, in time. But...he can't—he's so confused!" The man rubbed his face. "It's his head. Only knows one word. Just...it's heartbreaking lass. You don't have to go up there."
She tightened her grip on her weapon. "He was there for me, in my darkest time. I need to return the favor."
Determined, she went inside followed by her curious father and a concerned chief.
She found her dear friend sitting in his bed. His body was wrapped in bandages. He was doubled over, his arms firmly around the dragon's head as he sobbed uncontrollably. His fingernails scratched over scales at a decibel she could hear, but Toothless only warbled softly.
"Hiccup?" She asked gently, approaching him. The healer and Gobber were in the room, silently observing the boy and waiting for his seizure to subside.
With accentuating breaths, he looked towards her. She could see his eyes alight with untapped energy as they bounced around.
"Uh—Uh—Uh—Uh…" was all he could muster.
She sat next to him on the bed and tenderly touched his head. "You'll have quite the bump, huh? Scared me, a bit. It wasn't your fault of course." She shrugged.
"Oh, that jerk? Don't even think about him. He's good as…dead."
"Ah—ah—ah—ah…" He closed his eyes in concentration, while resting a hand on her shoulder. "SSs—sstrr—…" His nose scrunched.
"Asssstttrrriiiidddd…" She said slowly, stressing her mouth's movements.
"Asstt—tr—rr—rrrRRRRrrrrRRRRrrrr…." His head shook violently. "RID!" He popped.
She knew what he wanted to say, and she had an answer for him this time. But, to her surprise, he stopped and his shoulders sunk. He had gotten discouraged with his inability to talk.
She chewed her lip, wanting him to keep talking. "Who's this fellow here?" She patted Toothless on the nose. "His name is a little harder."
Hiccup didn't even try. He rested his cheek on the cool scales and said without stuttering, "Bud."
Astrid couldn't help but smile a bit.
"Why don't you let Hiccup sit up, Toothless?" She asked, calmly. The dragon dislodged himself from pinning the boy down, and wriggled behind him, so he could lean back. Astrid pulled the blankets up a little more. "There we go. Nice and comfy. You want some water?"
She drew a ladle of fresh water, and brought it up to him. He reached for it with shaky hands.
"You'd better let me help you, sweetheart."
Instantly, she blushed. Sweetheart? As in an endearing nickname? Where in Midgard had that come from? Granted, his behavior resembled a child, and made it difficult to treat him normally. Though, maybe in this fragile state, he wouldn't mind.
She brought the ladle up to his lips and cupped his head to hold him still. He only drank about half of it. The rest spilled down his chin.
"Whoops, let's clean that up." And she dabbed his face with a dry cloth. "There, all better."
"Hhhhssss...rrrrrr—ffff..." He worked for words, he had so much he wanted to ask, nothing would come out.
"It's okay. Slow down."
He was quickly becoming frustrated with his inability to communicate. "Wwhaa—...tt—tt—tt—...hap..." His shoulders jerked and he groaned miserably. Under his breath, he tried speaking, but it was all jibberish.
"At least he's not flailing anymore." The doctor conceded.
"What's wrong with him?" Astrid asked softly.
"He's having a traumatic seizure. I'm beginning to worry the longer it lasts."
Hiccup understood everything as he reached out for her. His trembling hand came to rest on her rib cage. Using what strength he could, he pulled himself closer to her. Astrid eased him over to lay against her chest.
"If you could get him to calm down, maybe it would subside. He's scared."
"I know." She whispered. She gently patted his battered head and hummed idly as stray sobs cut through the air here and there.
"Gladly, one Sun's day, I waited and waited with flowers in my arms for the dream I'd created. I waited 'til dreams, like my heart, were all perfect. The flowers were alive and the words need not be spoken. The joy that I knew was beyond all believing. The beat of my heart was soft and relieving.
"Gladdest of Sun's days."
It didn't matter that her father was there. Or that the chief and Gobber were. The whole town could have been watching, but she didn't care. Right now, it was all about Hiccup.
He helped her heal, now it was time to repay the debt.
"Then came a Sun's day when you came to find me. They bore me to hall and I found you beside me. My eyes were filled with one who astounds me. The earth and the flowers are forever around me. The bell chimed for me and the wind whispered, "Lover!"
And for you I have cared and I bless you forever...
"The best of all Sun's days."
Like a rock rolls from a precarious perch, Hiccup breathed a sigh of relief. His shoulders relaxed as his breath ghosted across her arms. His trembling came to a stop. "Th-Th-Tha…aaa…nks." He muttered. It was easier to speak now, but the seizure seemed to linger.
The healer came near and surveyed Hiccup's eyes. "Ah, his pupils are the same size now, and they've stopped shaking." He nodded once to the chief and the other men in the room, indicating that they should leave. "We'll be downstairs if he needs anything."
The teens didn't reply as Hiccup nuzzled closer to her.
She dipped her head to rest a cheek in his hair.
"Why— why— why— why cry?" He stuttered.
"What?" Confused, she wiped her cheeks, surprised to find them slick with tears that she was unaware she cried.
"No— no— no need...not to you..."
"I know I'm not the one that's hurt." She clarified.
"N— n— n— not you."
"No Hiccup," she sniffed, "I just don't like seeing you in pain. I told you before, I act strong, but I'm really not." He heard her swallow. "This should have never happened to you. No matter what you might think. And...you are...very precious to me." She bit her lip, trying to find the words, before dropping a kiss to his head. "I'm frustrated for you." She pulled away from him.
"You—you—you…sssppuh…speak…f—for me…" He nodded.
She released an empty laugh. "I'm awful at one sided conversations. You know that." She helped him ease back so he could rest against Toothless.
The dragon purred, content, just knowing that his boy was now safe and was being taken care of.
"Are you comfortable? Do you need anything?"
He grinned, answering both questions for her.
"Gee, when you're trying to thing of something to say, that's when you have nothing." She joked.
He nodded and then coughed.
"I'd tell a story, but I'm no good at those."
Hiccup scrunched up his nose, preemptively. "Wh—wh—wh—wh—at…h—hap to Ffffrag?"
"What happened to Fragonard?" She twisted her lips. "Well, he's…being sentenced to death...sort of…"
The quirked brow was a sign of confusion.
There was no beating around the bush. "I challenged him to an Einvigi…loser dies."
Immediately, he was protesting. Warbled speak vomited from his mouth as he groped for her, cupping her face and arm.
"Hiccup, he needs to be stopped, and I'm the one to do it."
He shook his head frantically in protest.
"This is my chance! I can regain my honor, Hiccup! I won't have to be ashamed anymore! If I am willing to put my life on the line to kill him, I can join our society again."
His shaking became harder as he cried a feeble, "Nnnnuuuhhhh…"
"Will you stop that! You're making it worse!" She grabbed his head. "You can't stop me Hiccup. What he did was wrong, and you know it. I need to do this."
He broke away, shouting.
"Stop being so childish! You want to kill him as much as I do! But, I'm outside the law now. I can fight!"
Tears slipped through his swollen eyelids.
"Now, come on. Have a little faith in me. After all, I'm doing this for you."
That didn't make him feel any better about the situation. "Wh—wh—wh—when?"
"Tonight, at sunset."
He looked devastated.
"Why is this so terrible? I could really use your support on this. Are you really that afraid?"
He sighed slowly, his eyebrows furrowing. "Nnn—no…you…st—strong. Win." He confirmed.
"Then what is it?"
He peered up at her. "Nn—no…w—wedding?"
Her heart sunk with realization. He had assumed that she was doing this to get out of marrying him. Those were tears of rejection. She couldn't help but smile though, at least he thought she could win. She leaned in and kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger. "No, Sweetheart," there was that word again, "That's the last reason I'd do this."
That seemed to sedate him, at least for the moment.
She gathered his face into her hands, to make him meet her eyes. "But let's worry about that after you heal, okay?"
"Uh-huh." He whispered.
She sat with him, and helped him recover his speech. He didn't make much progress. As the day went on, she became more and more afraid.
He was behaving literally like a child. He took the stuffed dragon that sat on his bed frame and played with it as she talked. He babbled incoherently, not even realizing that she couldn't understand him.
Astrid began to wonder just how much damage had been done.
It was a little after Gobber made supper, that Stoick beckoned her for the fight. She patted the boy's hand in reassurance, and then stood, a coldness suddenly and irrevocably setting into her bones.
The chief led her through the village. Those that were outside, stood at attention, their fists over their hearts. A sign of good faith, and respect. Somehow, the gesture made her throat feel thick and hard to swallow. Stoick guided her a little ways away from the arena, where Goði and her parents were waiting. Family armor was presented and secured, reassuring her of her family's support. Final tips were given as well as hugs and apologies. Finally, they prayed over her, asking the gods for her safety.
Her entourage followed her to the ring, where she entered while they departed into the stands. Astrid set her axe on the ground and stretched to loosen up. Her muscles moved easily and painlessly with each movement. She was ready for this. She had trained for this.
It was when she was pulling her arms over her head when she heard footsteps entering the arena. She peered over, not expecting her opponent so soon. But in fact, it was not Fragonard, but his spineless brothers. They shuffled in awkwardly, looking sheepish.
She didn't feel the least bit threatened. Eyes of the audience watched carefully, and even if her axe was on the ground, she could take these two numbskulls any day of the week. Still, she sneered at them.
"What do you want?"
The older of the two stepped forward and held out his hand to her. "To wish you luck."
"Ha, is this some type of dumb joke?" She rested a hand on her hip.
The younger one looked earnest as he pleaded. "We beg you…you have to win!"
Her eyebrows furrowed. "You want me to kill your brother?"
"Only because it's a matter of time before he kills us." Stated the older one. "I'm Zugno, and my younger brother is Giaquinto." The younger teen awkwardly waved. "Our father doesn't know the extent of Fragonard's barbarity. You may not think so, but you were lucky. There…there were others."
Instantly, Astrid's blood began to boil. "Why did you not stop him then!?"
Giaquinto spoke up in a quivering voice. "You have heard of our oldest brother, Bertrand? Everyone thinks he was killed by a dragon…but really, it was Fragonard. He killed him while they were out hunting together. But, we are the only ones to know…and if we tell..."
Things were beginning to get crystal clear as she looked at the two brothers that seemed terribly ashamed of their actions. She supposed she didn't hate them as much as Fragonard. They helped him, but during her experience, they were silent and held her still. They were following orders, because they were afraid for their lives.
"How long has this been going on?"
"A few years," replied Zugno. "Not a day passes that he does not threaten us. We can barely sleep at night, knowing what we have done and what lies before us…Bertrand would be furious!"
"Why did he kill your brother?"
"Bertrand was the oldest, and he was in line for the chiefdom. Nay was he perfect, but he was certainly better suited for it then Fragonard."
Astrid shook her head in disbelief. "So, yes, I plan on killing this bastard. But, what are you guys going to do when I do?"
"We have done our best to pay for our crimes. Naturally, there will always be more we can do. We have both prepared to pass up the mantle to our younger brother, Pater. He resembles Bertrand in a nice way. Still, we will do whatever it takes to satisfy you." Zugno answered.
"And," added in Giaquinto, "we did that too." He pointed to the stands.
Astrid followed his point and smiled. Hiccup was sitting in a cart, looking comfortably propped up with pillows and furs. Their four good friends sat around him and chatted, like everything was alright with the world. He caught her looking and waved back the best he could. The other teens joined as well.
"Your blacksmith helped us. Goober? Once we explained everything to him, he let us move Hiccup. He was a bit frightened though, and his dragon barely let us touch him."
"Thank you." Astrid amended. And she meant it. A part of her really wanted Hiccup to be here with her, rooting for her. But of part of her didn't want him to see the act she would commit.
"We don't expect you to forgive us…but we are truly sorry for all the pain we've caused you." They both bowed their heads.
"Did you apologize to Hiccup?" She asked gently.
"Multiple times." Answered Giaquinto.
"Then I forgive you."
The boys smiled at her, looking as free as criminals being released after years of guiltless torture. "Thank you! Oh thank you!" Zugno shook her hand. "You won't regret this! We promise!" And with true joy, the two hurried from the arena to find a good spot to watch their tormentor's demise.
Astrid glanced back up to the teens sitting around Hiccup. The invalid was animately telling them something, but at their confused faces, she figured they couldn't understand him. Sadly, she finished her stretching.
Fear is a terrible thing to live in. She knew it. The two boys knew it. Hiccup knew it all too well. Fear will drive the greatest of men to insanity. As she tightened the grip on her axe, she wondered if her fear had been holding her back all along. In truth, she just wanted to go back, when life made sense.
But she couldn't.
Only pave the way for a new kind of life. One that would be better in the end.
Still, fear was a paralyzer. It chews on the soul and stops the heart. Her axe was an anchor, holding her sanity in an ocean of uncertainty. She twirled it by the handle, letting the blade swoop through the air. A long breath of air parted from her lips.
"I'm ready." She whispered.
The gate to the arena cranked open. The heat against the stone floor blurred and distorted the figure sauntering into the ring. He had a sword in his hand and a shield in the other. A heavy iron mask hid his face as his armor clinked with each step. Somehow, seeing him like this made the fight seem even more real, if that was even possible.
He stopped a few feet in front of her and lowered his weapons.
"My friends and family," Stoick began, "it is with a heavy heart that I welcome you to tonight's Einvigi. We all wish it could be avoided, but with the tragedies that've befallen our tribe in the last week...I don't think it's possible. I am not the only one here that feels…disturbed by what has happened." He looked over to Hiccup who was oblivious to his gaze. "But I am confident that we as a people can move past this slight and be a family once again."
Astrid sighed. She could only hope.
"Now, the combatants have decided to make this Einvigi to the death. No rules. Just…whoever is left standing." He raised his arms. "Astrid and Fragonard, please face each other in the middle of the ring."
The two came to a stand off.
"Good luck." Fragonard hissed.
"Good riddance." She sneered back.
Stoick shouted again. "About face!"
The teens turned their backs on each other and paced ten steps.
"On my mark."
They both turned, weapons raised, and waited.
With unyielding fury, she leapt. Her feet closed in as a shriek ripped from her throat. His eyes narrowed like arrows, piercing her with fear. Still, she would not waver. Their weapons met in a clash of metal, sparks flying and hands numb from the vibrations. She pulled back and struck again, and was parried by his sword. Her blade sliced against his own, scraping the metal and pushing her farther away. Fragonard swooped downward, releasing her before striking in an arch. Astrid had just enough time to block with the crest of the axe. Her hands trembled as she held him at bay, but he pressed hard against her block.
She underestimated him. She assumed that he would be weak and powerless without his brothers. But she was wrong. Fragonard was fighting for his life, and fighting for her silence.
Astrid leaned in and shoved him back with her foot, before swiveling and landing a blow. He blocked it with his shield. There, the blade held firm and nestled into the wood.
"You're mine," He hissed, plunging his sword towards her.
He underestimated her. She twirled her hands around the hilt of her axe and re-gripped it, then, with a speed he couldn't comprehend, she flipped backwards. The motion ripped the axe from it's hold and splintered his shield.
"You were saying?" She spit back.
Impressed, but none the less annoyed, he careened the edge of the shield toward her. Astrid repelled it with her arm, but still took on a hit.
"You're fighting much better then you were that night. I'm curious," he brought his sword down for her to parry, "did you not care what was happening to you? Maybe you actually wanted it, but then decided to rat me out. You're disgusting."
She snarled and heaved her blade. "I'm fighting harder now because I know that I don't have to hold back to be polite!" Their blades clashed again before he sought refuge behind his shield, her axe being buried once again.
As the fight went on, the crowd was screaming frantically, trying to give Astrid every bit of advice as they could. "Go for his neck!" "Kick him in the stomach!" "Beat his ass!"
Off to the side, Hiccup was sitting pensively and silent. His hands clutched the stuffed dragon as he sat helplessly. He wanted to cheer for her, he wanted her to know that he was proud of her, that he supported her.
"A—A—A—Ast…rrrRRRrrrrrRRR…" He fought. His fist pounded on the side of his cart.
"What's wrong Hiccup?" Fishlegs asked, concerned.
"A—A—A—AHH!" His body tightened up before his shoulders shook. Furs were flung to the side as his legs jerked around.
"Whoa!" Fishlegs grabbed him and pinned him. "Calm down! It's going to be okay!"
Hiccup shook his head vehemently. Until this fight was over, nothing would be okay. "AA—Ahh! A—Asstrrrr—rr—rr—!"
"You can do it!" Snotlout confirmed in an uncharacteristic show of sympathy. For once he didn't see his cousin as a target for insults. This state of invalidity did not suit him.
The fight moved on. Astrid disarmed Fragonard of his shield, not that it was of use to him anymore. Now it was just a battle of steel.
They circled each other, menacingly, waiting for an opening.
"I was going to make this quick and easy," snarked Fragonard. "But you fight pretty well, for a girl."
She didn't heed his back-handed compliment. "You showed Hiccup no mercy, you shall receive none as well!" Her blade swooped low and slashed his shins.
Fragonard recoiled and hissed in pain. "That will be your only hit, girl!"
"I beg to differ!" And her axe collided with the side of his head, knocking against his helmet. It knocked him off balance so that she could attack again. "You're a foolish boy with no future. You will die in this ring, because you have nothing to fight for! Don't you know your family has disowned you?!" His helmet flew off his head with her third strike. While she was in the trough of her swing, he shot out and grabbed her hair. She leaned over, unsteady, as he raised his sword to strike the back of her neck. While it hurt, Astrid pulled back at the last second, yanking his hand back with her. The tension pulled at her roots and made a few tears leak out, but his sword cut through her hair instead of her neck.
Her unraveling braid hung solitarily in his grip. Astrid only briefly considered the fact her hair had been mangled before jumping back into the fight.
Fragonard only had mere seconds to drop her plait and throw up his sword to protect him from the next blow. "You aren't worth the effort it takes to strike you down!" She hissed.
"That's enough!" He shouted back. He pushed back her weapon and charged, bashing his sword repeatedly against her hold. "I'm not the one who's been disgraced! I am only disabled because of you and your…whinging! The real world will tear you apart, little girl! What makes you think this fight will change anything?"
"It'll change everything!" She kicked his stomach and he stumbled back. They both panted and came to a stand off. "People need to know that what you did is not just wrong, it's inhuman! I was punished for your actions, and you are going to suffer as I have suffered!" She screamed, her voice breaking. Her feet pounded against the ground as her axe raised.
Astrid knocked the sword out of his hands.
Terrified, Fragonard flung himself backwards to dodge her next attack. He scrambled and caught up his weapon. She bolted at him, but he threw his blade up at the right time and sliced her side. Astrid recoiled quickly, holding the wound, and that was all the opening that the boy needed. He kicked off to the side and hit her in the knee.
The young woman hit the ground hard, the air knocking from her lungs. He recovered as she fell. The tip of his blade pierced her sternum, pinning her to the ground.
"Any last words?"
She couldn't believe it. A stupid trip and it was all over. Her bloodied hand grasped at her side as she panted. This couldn't happen. So many people were rooting for her. She promised so many others that she would stop him. She would let everyone down, and prove that she really was worthless.
She looked up to her beloved friend in the stands, so afraid of failing him. To her horror, he was seizing. His leg kicked around as he fought against Fishlegs. Suddenly, she was filled with undying incitement. This fight was not over.
"I have a few," she smirked. A brillant idea hit her like a lighting bolt. "TOOTHLESS!" She called.
The Nightfury sat at attention from where he was at the base of Hiccup's cart.
His eyes dilated and he shot the sword away, then he shot Fragonard himself for good measure, just enough to knock him off his feet.
It was a race for the discarded weapon. Fragonard reached it first, but was not able to get to his feet in time. Astrid's blade sunk into his wrist, severing his hand from his body. He screamed wildly in pain.
The blonde caught his neck in the crook of her axe, silencing his cries, and forbidding him to even swallow.
"That wasn't fair!" He moaned.
"There were no rules." She corrected. "If anything, it's all fair now."
"P—Please," He choked. "D-Don't kill me…I beg you! I'll do anything!"
"Cry." She demanded.
"Scream for help."
He did so.
Finally, she narrowed her eyes. Her gaze tore through him and burned his soul like fire. He whimpered.
"Did I deserve what you did to me? Did I deserve to be raped?"
"I—I just wanted to have some fun…" He whispered.
"Did I deserve to be raped?!" She barked.
His answer was a breath. "N—No…"
"But you deserve to die." She heaved her axe from the ground and lifted it high into the air. With a shriek, she brought it back down.
Hiccup fought with every fiber of his being to shake the tremors that bound him. Astrid needed him. She had almost lost back there, if it had not been for Toothless. He pushed himself up as Fishlegs focused back on the fight. As Astrid's axe reach the apex of it's arch, everything seemed to stop. His shaking froze, his haggard breathing ceased, and all was riveted on the young woman's actions.
The last thing to go through Fragonard's head, besides her axe, was to wonder where in Midgard had he gone wrong.