Valka is no warrior.
She is a chronicler, a teacher of children and a writer of runes. She can stitch a tapestry or a quilt or any sort of article of clothing, but she is not a warrior.
Stoick doesn't mind. It's strange – he'd always imagined that the woman who finally captured his fancy would be a strong one, a woman who could fight with the best, a woman like his own mother Brunhilda. But instead, it's Valka he falls for – slender, fey Valka with her doe eyes and her shy secret face.
He watches her for a long time before there are words between them. He sees the way she startles at loud noises – the way she slips away into the forest to be alone – the way she is always sketching in the little book she carries. Charcoal, she uses. Once he caught a glimpse of what she was drawing; it was a little bird, lovingly captured on her page in the instant before flight.
He doesn't think he's all that obvious when he watches her. It's just a sideways glance here, there a watertight excuse for being where he knows she will be; and always he keeps his face as impassive as a rock.
Somehow, though, he thinks Valka might have realised. She'll shoot darting glances at him, here and there, and sometimes she will flush faintly when he passes her by.
He's not sure if this is a good sign or a bad one.
And he's also not sure how to broach the subject between them. Indeed, it's almost impossible to start any sort of conversation with Valka, because whenever he makes a move in her direction, her eyes widen and she slips away.
Her eyes are so big and brown and beautiful. Stoick finds himself trying to sketch them one night. Of course the drawing is a miserable failure, and he sends the crumpled-up paper flying into the fire, lest someone see it and know his folly. Why – why will she not let him speak to her?
Tomorrow, he resolves. Tomorrow will be the day.
He looks for her the next day. Valka is always elusive, but he sees her at last, walking slowly past the well, gazing into nothingness.
This time, he tries intercepting her by stealth. He skulks up a side path and comes out just as she passes.
'Good morning, Valka,' he says gruffly.
She startles, her hands jerking up to her chest as if to ward off an attack, her brown eyes afraid. She swallows.
'Good – good morning.' Her voice is very soft, and her cheeks are flushing again. She is – oh, she is very beautiful. He notices that she has a loose strand of hair falling across her face, and checks the impulse to brush it away from her eyes.
She's stopped still, in her tracks, as though she knows it's more than just a simple greeting. She looks at him fearfully.
Stoick decides it must be hopeless. He feels like a brute, awkward and overgrown, terrorising someone much smaller than himself. She would never say yes, when she looks at him like that – with that fear in her face.
Still, his Viking stubbornness makes him say it, anyway.
'Valka,' he starts. 'Valka, I – was wanting to speak to you.' He pauses, and then, abruptly, on his gruffest note, says, 'Would you – allow me to court you?'
She freezes, like a startled deer, her eyes terrified. Not merely fearful, or shy, or nervous, but truly terrified, as though he has done something horrifying. Stoick winces, inwardly, as tension solidifies the space between them, like a sudden freeze on a winter's night. And then, as he braces himself for her rejection, she makes a little choking noise, and turns and flees towards the forest.
Stoick stands there quietly and watches her go, an odd, vice-like pain squeezing his chest. That is clear enough, at any event. Valka wants nothing to do with him.
Valka runs, and hides. She hides in a little rocky place, deep in the forest, and huddles on the ground, holding her knees tightly to her chest.
She doesn't know what she's feeling, swirling stormily inside her, emotion on emotion. Fear. Confusion. Elation. Embarrassment.
She's crying, too, just a little – the sort of tense crying that makes your throat sting and your whole head ache, and she sobs, dry and fierce and low, into her folded knees. It feels like a storm is raging inside her, an ice storm where painful splinters of frozen snow whirl and jab and strike.
What would she have said to him? To Stoick, the Chief?
No-one, no-one could be less fitted to being the Chief's wife than herself, dreamy Valka of the books and the runes. Of that, she is sure. The Chief's wife needs to be strong and well-loved, popular with the other villagers, able to back up her husband in ruling Berk. Making decisions. Enforcing order. Settling disputes.
And how could she, Valka, be that woman? Despite her name, she is no warrior maiden. She doesn't like fighting. Confrontation makes her shiver and withdraw.
She is the very last person that Stoick should choose.
The trouble is that she wants it. She wants it desperately, in a warm fire-red place in the centre of herself, and it shames her, but the wanting is not the sort that one can tamp down and forget.
He fascinates her. He's full of contradictions; he swings from magnificent anger to implacable calm. From ferocious battle-rage, to great gentleness, as he sees to a baby yak or an injured man. His voice is gruff, yet quiet. His face is fierce, but sometimes his eyes are so soft.
He comes closer than anyone has ever come to fitting the empty, lonely little spot inside her, and that frightens her badly.
She realises that her whole body is tensed up against itself as she sits there, and she's shaking. Her jaw is clenched painfully tight, and her head aches worse than ever.
What can she do? What can she do?
Stoick flings himself into the work of chieftainship, as the grey week passes. If his body is tired to exhaustion by the evening, it's a little easier to sleep without the thought of Valka's frightened eyes looming before his face.
He wishes he just knew what he had done to make her so afraid of him. He'd tried to be so gentle. Valka needs gentleness.
She needs – needs someone to be there for her; she is always alone. Except for the small children she teaches, she never has any company. It's always just she and her father, who's old and dour and spends most of his time sitting with the other old warriors on the stone slab in the marketplace. She needs someone.
Well, it was obvious that Valka didn't want him to be that person. She had made that quite painfully clear, and he will not bother to think about her again. There are many other girls, both from the tribe and its neighbours; he must keep an eye out for someone.
He spends perhaps ten heartbeats searching his memory for someone who would make a good wife, but Valka's face floats in the way, all soft lips and luminous eyes full of dreams.
Stoick groans, softly, deep in his chest, and flings an arm over his face.
Hammer of Thor. Another sleepless night.
Valka leans over the small still pool of water, chin in her hands, stretched out on her stomach, watching her reflection. She is not, of course, wallowing in self-pity; she is immersed in a black cloud of depression.
How wide and tragic her eyes look. Are they always so big and sad, she wonders? Do other people notice?
Grass tickles her arms. She watches as a tiny purple beetle climbs along a tall stalk, further and further, till it reaches the very end. The stalk quivers but doesn't bend, and from it the beetle climbs on to a flower and starts to nibble contentedly on a petal.
Valka smiles, a little, in spite of herself. 'Hello,' she whispers.
Then she drops her face back down into her arms and clenches her teeth angrily. If only she was a beetle, or a flower, or a stalk of grass. Life would be so easy. It isn't fair.
Her life is so confusing, and it's all Stoick's fault.
Perhaps, she thinks, with a sick uneasy twinge, she could fix things by talking to Stoick, but the thought of seeking him out and asking to speak to him makes the bottom drop out of her stomach.
She can't. She can't.