~ Raided: A Mericcup Story: Chapter 07: Questions
Hiccup woke up to the sound of Toothless’ teeth extending, which made him sit up and look around really quickly. It was really early in the morning, a torch was guttering low on the wall by the kitchen. The windows were covered with wooden shudders and furs to keep out the cold but there were still drafts making the torch waver.
In front of Toothless were four young children. Three were redheads, Merida had introduced them as Harris, Hubert and Hammish, but he had no idea who was whom. Merida seemed to have no problem with it though.
There was another child, a little blonde girl about the same age as the boys. She had a halo of messy blonde hair, that told Hiccup that she must be related to Lord MacGuffin. He knew that Lord MacGuffin had some other children besides Kevin, his firstborn. There was a son about Hiccup’s age that he had seen, but hadn’t been introduced to. As well as a preteen girl, who he had seen rush up to her dad and given a big hug too, but disappeared once she had noticed Toothless.
This must be MacGuffin’s youngest. She had her thumb in her mouth and piece of dried fish in her other hand. They all had a little chunk of fish in their fists and all of them including Toothless looked a little guilty.
“Oh, it’s you again and you’ve brought a friend this time. You know you shouldn’t come sneaking up on people when they are asleep, especially when they are sleeping next to a dragon.” Hiccup chided quietly.
The boys tried to look as innocent as the girl was, but didn’t do half as good a job of it.
“You know your parents don’t want you close to Toothless. He really can be very dangerous, but you are safe enough if I am around ...and I am awake, alright?”
The children nodded.
“Toothless, do you want a little snack?” asked Hiccup.
“Stick out your tongue.”
Toothless retracted his teeth and stuck out his tongue. The kids also stuck out their tongues as they placed their little offerings on Toothless’ tongue.
Then Toothless make quite the production of eating the treats making the kids smile in delight.
“Okay, back to bed with you.” Hiccup whispered and the children ran up the stairs to the bedrooms.
# # #
Merida was sitting with Kevin in the Great Hall, he was telling her of his part in saving her brothers, or rather, she was trying to drag the story out of him with grappling hooks. She had seen how close he was to her brothers and the dead dragons around him.
She had already talked to several others, including Maudie and Hunk. Maudie was blaming herself since the boys had gotten away from her, but Elinor wouldn’t hear of it. The boys always got into trouble and seemed able to escape any room they were placed in. Another witness had told how Maudie had brought down a dragon, though Hunk had finished it off. Maudie was closer to Merida’s heart then most people, having cared for her most of her life. Maudie had done well, under very trying circumstances.
A couple of days after the raid, after things were cleaned up, Hunk had come to the King to ask Maudie’s hand in marriage. Maudie didn’t have any other family, she was an orphan they had chosen as a maid after the last war. Fergus gladly gave his permission, and Merida and Elinor had gone to Merida’s room to squeal in delight. He hadn’t asked yet but it was only a matter of time.
“Come on, Kevin. Just tell me what happened, I know you were brave and strong. You cut off both heads of that dragon in one blow.”
Kevin made fussing sounds, but Merida could see that he was looking around the room nervously. Hiccup was sitting quietly by Toothless, sketching something into his notebook. Kevin had told a simple story of what he had done at the drunken celebration the night after the raid, but she knew that many details were missing.
“Here, let’s go for a walk.” Merida suggested.
Kevin nodded gratefully.
They pulled on boots and heavy cloaks and went outside. Workers were stacking stones to repair the pens and stables since it was too cold for anything else. Though the gate they could see other workers tipping the last of the dragon carcasses into a small ravine to get them out of sight. They waved to King Fergus who was starting to plod back. Hiccup said they would toss the dragons they killed in Berk into the sea, but the river was frozen so they had to improvise.
“So what really happened?” asked Merida.
“Oh, nothing much,” said Kevin, or at least that was the gist of what he was saying. Merida could sort of understand him now after weeks of being near him. Several other in the castle spoke like he did. He had a brother and two young sister. The the youngest seemed to disappear with her brothers rather often.
“Come on, stop that. It’s just us, you’re supposed to be trying to win my heart. You are allowed to brag a little, especially since I saw some of what you did.”
Kevin’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t deserve to win your heart. I have nothing to brag about. I was a coward.”
“No, you weren’t, and yes you do,” said Merida with some heat. “I know you were keeping dragons away from the sheep pens, I saw that.”
“I lost men to Nadder spines and the pens were breached.” Kevin said quietly. He had been in charge over a detachment of men to guard the sheep pens.
“I know, we lost a lot of people. Mum and I killed some of our own men when the dragons we killed dropped on them.” Merida shivered and it wasn’t from the cold. “But we are leaders and we fight for our people and our homes and our country. It never goes neatly, at least that is what Da says.” Merida had spent some time talking with her parents after the battle and all the mistakes she had made. Da had reassured her, but it was still hard to deal with.
“No, it doesn’t.” Kevin sighed. “I’m not sure of all that happened, so much was happening so quickly. I was just trying to drive off any dragon that got too close, but a Nadder can shoot those spines. I moved out of position to attack a Gronkle and that saved me from a spray of spines.”
“That was luck and a good thing too,” said Merida.
Kevin gave a weak smile. “When the pens were breached it was chaos. Dragons were everywhere. Then I heard the shout about the boys, your brothers. I could see them, then a Zippleback landed between us. I had to do something, It looked like it wanted to eat them, but the only thing I could think of was to run up its back and take a swing at it. I swung with everything I had. I was surprised that I got through both necks and not just one. It isn’t as tough as a Nadder leg. I was thrown and then a couple of dragons you and the Queen shot down crashed next to me on both sides. One of them landed on my sword and it took a second to free it and by that time the battle was over. Thanks to you and the Queen.”
“It took all of us working together to win that battle.” Merida said. It was something her Da told her and she was trying to believe it. She felt she had made a lot of mistakes and people had died because of her. She shivered again and not just from the cold.
Kevin stopped and turned to face her, then he enveloped her in his cloak. Merida felt his strong but gentle arms around her. “Yes, but you and your mum made all the difference.”
Merida looked into his warm eyes.
“Yeah, thanks,” and then she put her head on his chest and her arms around his stomach as they stood together for a while in a quiet place out of the wind behind the castle. Of all the suitors, she was beginning to rather like Kevin.
# # #
“Hiccup, I find I need to apologize to you. I didn’t trust you because you were a Viking. But you helped save my boys. I trust you now.” said Fergus seriously. He had been putting this off, but the discomfort he felt every time he saw Hiccup and his dragon was too much.
Fergus had been helping to clean up the battlefield. It had taken teams of horses to drag the bodies of the dragons away from the castle. They had saved the heads of the Zippleback Kevin had killed and were working on them to be stuffed for a special present for him.
Now it was evening and he was tired but this was something that a king should do.
“No, it’s okay. Viking don’t have the best reputation in the world from what I understand. Though we are not exactly a normal tribe either. We spent so much time and effort dealing with the dragons there wasn’t time for normal Viking pursuits,” explained Hiccup.
“Hm, normal Viking pursuits. Hiccup, we have a Viking problem. Some years ago we were invaded and we were able to throw them back. Over the summer there were a number of Viking raids on our eastern coast. Villages destroyed, people killed and girls taken. What can you tell me about that?”
Hiccup chewed his lips. “I don’t know very much, because we haven’t done those sorts of things for a long time. Occasionally, Dad has gone on trading missions, trading our iron for cloth, sheep and stuff.”
Hiccup shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “I do know that they have brought back slave wives sometimes. My grandmother was a slave wife and since my Dad talks so much like you do, I expect her to have been taken from here and then sold to us.”
“Oh, is she still alive?”
Hiccup shook his head. “We generally don’t grow very old in our village, dragons take care of that. You get old, you get slow and the dragons get you. We only have a couple of old people, who can still move fast enough to stay clear of the dragons in a fight.”
Hiccup had a chilling thought, he could get old like Gothi. What would that be like? The whole village getting old. No one dying in battle anymore. No one able to go to Valhalla anymore.
“Ah well. Hiccup we would like our people back. We’ve found some evidence of who has done this. Do you recognize it?” Fergus pulled a button and some fabric from his pocket and gave it to Hiccup.
Hiccup studied it for a moment. It showed an inverted truncated isosceles triangle intersected by a hooked T-handled skinning knife. “Sorry, but I don’t. I don’t know of many other tribes; we’re rather isolated.”
Fergus nodded. “Keep it. I have others,” he waved it off as Hiccup held it toward him.
Fergus sighed and sat next to Hiccup. After a while he said, “You’ve been spending a lot of time with my daughter.”
“Yeah.” Hiccup said cautiously, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable as the silence stretched out between them. He could see Fergus wanting to say something, but having difficulty.
“Would a marriage between you do anything about these raids?” Fergus blurted. It was an option he had to consider. He wanted Merida to have her freedom and to find love, but he had to find a way to protect his people. He was a king and that was his job. But these raids were too small and fast to defend against easily. A political marriage did have its points, and it would be nice if they liked each other.
“Wha, ah, um, I don’t know. I don’t think so. We are not a big tribe and it wouldn’t effect any of the other tribes, I think.” Hiccup was panicking a little, he didn’t feel ready for marriage just yet. The thought of explaining that to Astrid made his insides bind up into a knot.
“Oh, okay. I had to ask. I need to find a way to protect my people from those raids. This is the first time I’ve been this close to a Viking and not fighting for my life.”
“Yeah. I understand.” said Hiccup thoughtfully. Remembering how Astrid went from beating him up to trying to defend him from Toothless in an instant. Thinking how he would feel if someone took Astrid and Ruffnut.
“I don’t know what to do, but I hope I can find out when I get home.” But Hiccup’s insides were in a bind. Astrid would chop his head into tiny bits for marrying someone else. Though if it was part of a major alliance like this she might understand, and just maim him a little.
“Okay. It was worth a shot. Thank you,” said Fergus.
# # #
“Hiccup, are you okay?” asked Merida quietly as she sat between Kevin and Hiccup. Everyone was in the Great Hall and the minstrel was reciting one of the great epics. A bit of entertainment after yesterday’s memorial to the fallen. She had glanced over at Hiccup after the hero had received the call to adventure, her favorite part, and saw that he had a sad abstracted look on his face.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” he said after a tiny shake, then after a beat he put on a smile like he just remembered to look like he was supposed to be enjoying himself.
Merida put her hand on his and said, “Okay.”
She turned back to the minstrel but kept her hand on Hiccup’s because sometimes she had felt so alone and needed the touch of a human hand. Hiccup looked so lost and sad sometimes, it tore at her heart, she wanted to do something but wasn’t sure what.
# # #
“Hiccup, are you okay? You’re so cold all the time,” asked Merida gently, watching Hiccup carefully. They were up on top of the tower again, the evening sky painted the sky and clouds in reds and oranges. Merida started a fire on the corner of the slate platform that was piled with fire wood to light up the area around the castle for fighting dragons.
Hiccup glanced at her and then back at the sunset. “It’s winter. People tend to be cold in the wintertime.” scoffed Hiccup.
Merida paused for a moment. “No, you’re not.”
“Not what?” Hiccup didn't look at her. His breath streamed out in front of him.
“Please, stop it. You know what I asked about and you choose to lie about it. Please stop. I care about you and I know you are hurting.”
“I’ve got to check on Toothless.” Hiccup said turning away.
“Please, don’t. Please, don’t run away. You’re the one that’s hurt and I want to try making it better.” Merida pleaded.
Hiccup sighed and turned toward the princess again. “So where do you think I’m so hurt?”
Merida placed a hand on his chest and said simply, “Here.”
Merida could feel Hiccup’s breathing pause, his eyes widen and pupils dilate. She knew she had hit the mark.
“You don’t care about you own life in the slightest. The only reason you’re still alive is because of Toothless. You’ve done other reckless things besides letting dragons chase you, haven’t you?”
“How could you know that?” Hiccup asked in disbelief.
“I’ve been there myself. Before mum and I reconciled I was an emotional wreck. Doing Princess lessons were awful, the thought of becoming my mother was too soul-crushing to contemplate. On my days off, I would ride off to my glen to shoot arrows and out into the Highlands and do stupid reckless things, because I didn’t really care about going back home. I climbed the Crone’s Tooth, a 300 foot tall spire of rock, in a dress. I almost died on that climb and I didn’t care.”
Merida took his mittened hand. “There’s another thing too. You keep telling that story about fighting the Red Death. Da did that too about his fight with Mor’du. Da finally told Mum about how much that fight cost him not long after mum’s transformation. Da’s been suffering with it for most of my life. You can’t keep holding it in. Mum and I turned our suffering on each other and it was the most painful experience ever. It made Da try to kill Mum and I don’t want to see you suffer anymore. You are too good a person to hurt anyone else with this, but don’t hurt yourself either.”
Hiccup’s mouth was hanging open.
“I know you have no one to open up to in your tribe, but, maybe, you could open up to me. I’ll never tell anyone, I swear.” Merida said earnestly.
“Do you have any idea what you are asking of me?” Hiccup asked.
“I don’t know if I can.” Hiccup said.
“Try.” Merida asked quietly.
Hiccup was quiet for a time, but Merida just waited patiently. “I’ve seen how much your family loves you. You have something, I’ve only felt rarely, like when you yelled at me after the battle with the Monstrous Nightmare. You have no idea what it was like to grow up as me. I can’t afford to care. I was basically an outcast from my tribe. They tolerated my existence, but people liked smoked eel better then me. I’m sure that the only reason I’m not dead was that I was the chief’s only child. My dad used the threat of having to babysit me to get them to go on a dragon nest hunt. I was nothing to them. Now, people notice me, want to be around me, but no one cares about me. I’m alone surrounded by a crowd of people. I don’t have any connection to them at all. That’s why I go on these survey missions, so I don’t have to pretend for a while.”
“You don’t have to pretend with me.”
“No, I guess I don’t. You ...really do care about me?”
“Yes, I do,” said Merida firmly.
“You are a good person.”
“No, I’m not.” Hiccup shook his head.
“What you do shows me that you are.” Merida disagreed. “I am a bad girl. I turned my mum into a bear to keep from being auctioned off for marriage. You made friends with your most feared monster. You fought an even more terrible monster to save your tribe. I know love now, I didn’t before, because that is what broke the spell. You love so very deeply, and all I can do is open my heart to you but you have to open yours yourself.”
“I don’t remember how.” admitted Hiccup quietly.
Merida pulled him close. “That’s okay. You’re smart. You’ll figure it out.”
“Merida?” asked Hiccup quietly, looking up.
“I don’t know if I can explain what it is like to be me to anyone so they can understand.”
“Because when I look around, I don’t see anyone like myself. I saw what you can do with your mother and I envy that so much, I want to hate you, but I can’t, because I know the terrible pain you went through to have that.”
“I never had that with anyone, except Toothless. My mother died when I was quite young. Dad was always disappointed in me, because I wasn’t the son he wanted. He even said I wasn’t his son.”
“That was after he found out about Toothless, but when I was getting ready to fight the Red Death he said he was proud of me. Though he’s never said that again. It’s nice to kiss Astrid, but she hasn’t said she loves me, and I don’t know if I could tell her that, because I am not sure if I know what love is. Watching your family, I think I am seeing you love each other.”
“We do love each other very deeply.” Merida said.
“I know, I can see that. But I’ve never had anything like that in my life until Toothless, but he’s a dragon not a human, and it isn’t the same.”
“So what was it like before.”
“I was an outcast. I was picked on but mostly ignored. I was everything a Viking shouldn’t be. Often I couldn’t even get negative attention. I was practically invisible, like a piece of furniture that was always there. Except that everything that I did messed things up and everyone hated me.”
“Oh, dear. Wasn’t anyone on your side?”
“Gobber tried; he talked dad into putting me in dragon training. For years I had dreamed of just getting into dragon training, but when I finally got my dream it was just after I realized I wouldn’t kill dragons.”
“I won’t kill dragons because when I found Toothless in the woods, I saw in his eyes, myself. He was scared just like me.”
“Okay,” said Merida, finding an insight into just how big a heart Hiccup had.
“I took what I was learning as I befriended Toothless into the ring and became the best dragon fighter they had ever seen. Astrid was jealous, but she couldn't deny it. I was popular, people liked being around me, they cared about my opinions and wanted to be my friend. It felt amazingly good, though so new and different.”
Hiccup shook his head. “And then it came crashing down. They captured Toothless, Dad disowned me as his son. They took Toothless and practically the entire village to crush the dragon’s nest. I had lost my tribe, my father and my best friend and all I could do was look out to sea in the direction they went. Astrid broke me out of that and I went to the ring to get a dragon to go get Toothless. I was just going to take the Nightmare and see if I could get there. Then Astrid and the others showed up and so we saddled up all the training dragons and flew to the nest and got there just in time to save my dad.”
“Yeah.” It came out sounding disappointed.
Hiccup sighed, “This is the hard part. I went from nobody, to most popular dragon trainee ever to nobody in the course of a few weeks. When I lost everything, all I could feel was a slight disappointment.”
“Yup, my whole life was crashing down around my ears, and all I could do was stare in the direction they took my best friend. I know I am not like other people, and I don’t know how to be like them. Though I desperately want to be. They kept telling me all I had to do was change all this.” Hiccup gestured down his body.
“Hiccup, you just gestured at all of you?”
“Exactly. All I had to do was walk and talk and think like a Viking.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense.”
Hiccup began pacing. “I know! How do you tell your own dad that that is what I have been trying to do my whole life? Yet there I was at the top of the cliff watching dad take my only friend away from me, knowing he’d kill Toothless when he was done destroying the nest or trying too. I knew what dad was sailing into. The Death was a dragon he had no hope of defeating and he had emptied the village to battle it. I knew that no one was coming back. I watched them pass over the horizon and I just stood there, wondering if I could take that step forward to end the pain. Then Astrid was there, summing up what happened, but I wanted to scream at her what she was missing. No one was coming back, our tribe was now down to a bunch of underage kids, and old people. We were all dead, we’d never survive the winter like that. But Astrid got me thinking, if I could just free Toothless we could do something together. And so we battled the Death and won and saved the tribe.”
“Hiccup, I don’t understand something. How do you do it?”
“Do what?” said Hiccup neutrally.
“You sacrifice yourself so readily but you hold yourself so apart from everyone.”
“Well, yeah, I just don’t like being hurt all the time.”
“No, Hiccup. What I see is this. My mum was always there for me even when I didn’t see it. I finally saw it when she threw off the clans and battled Mor’du all by herself to save me. But more then that she loves the kingdom. She sacrificed so much of herself she almost lost who she was to be the queen our kingdom needed. We’re just a pack of unruly children compared to her. What I see in you is someone who loves incredibly deeply. You love Toothless enough to chase after him. You love your dad and tribe enough to defeat a terrible monster. You love dragons enough to train them to bring peace. I’ve never met someone with a heart as big as yours. Yet you have walls thicker then these protecting it and not letting anyone in. That’s no way to live.” Merida bopped her gloved hand on the battlements.
“Maybe. I just don’t know. I’ve been hurt so much that it was the only way to stop the pain.” Hiccup sat down with his back to the battlements.
“Hiccup, I don’t understand you so much of the time.” said Merida as she sat next to him.
“That is hardly a surprise. You’re a Scottish princess and I’m a Viking dragonrider,” said Hiccup.
Merida sighed, Hiccup kept doing that. “No, I mean you are unlike anyone I know. I know that stories about Viking are not exactly right, men tend to exaggerate. But you. You’re different. You say your dad’s name is Stoic, yet you actually are. I’ve never seen anyone like you. You have only the tiniest sparks of emotions. You taunt a dragon and have it chase you. You face down an entire clan of warriors with nothing but an injured dragon. And you never seem afraid. I see tenderness in your face as you tend Toothless. Do Vikings not feel emotion?”
“Of course we do, Astrid was jealous of me. Gobber cares deeply about us teens. Fishlegs is shy. Snotlout is full of bravado. The twins fight like cats and dogs.”
“I am not talking about them, I am talking about you. There are only two things that seem to let you feel, Toothless and your helmet.”
Hiccup froze, not even daring to breath, had he given too much away? But Merida respected him and cared about him. She was trying to get inside him but he didn’t think she would ever hurt him. Hiccup sighed, he knew he would never get the chance to tell this to anyone from Berk. But someone might as well know, and he could trust Merida, mainly because she didn't have access to his tribe. He took off his helmet and propped it on his knee.
“Okay. My helmet is special. My father gave it to me before my dragon training final, to protect me. It’s made of half of my mother’s breastplate, his is the other half. To keep her close.” He tapped it lightly.
Merida’s eyebrows shot up at that. That seemed like an odd way to remember someone. Also the size of his helmet showed she had been a substantial women, maybe even bigger then Maudie.
“Mom died when I was about five, I hardly remember her. I had nothing to remember her by. When a Viking dies they load a boat with the body and their things and burn it so they have everything they need in the afterlife. So this was a surprise, but I am glad to still have a connection back to her. But in the ring I had to throw it aside to prove to the Monstrous Nightmare that I was not like the other Vikings. To prove that I wanted peace between us, but dad freaked out and the whole thing went south.”
Hiccup paused to run his thumb along the edge of the helmet but Merida was watching him closely. “Then just before Snoggletog, It got knocked off as we were flying through a dragon mating migration. I let it fall into the ocean so I could get back to the village to find out what was going on, because I knew everyone would be worried. Toothless went out and found it himself though it took him days to do it. I thought I had lost him too.” Hiccup gave Toothless a pat on the side. Toothless rumbled sleepily back.
Merida looked at Hiccup for a while and then stood up and turned around, her hair waving around her. “I don’t understand you. Everything you say tells me you don’t care one way or the other what happens, yet your actions are even more confusing. You’ll risk your life to save the village that has been bullying you for your whole life.”
Merida plucked the helmet from his knee. “Yet you’ll easily throw away the one memento of your mother.”
She strode over to the fire and held it over the flames. “Do you care about anything, anything at all, or are you just a berserker?”
Hiccup had his eyes on the helmet. He licked his lips. “Please, don’t.” he said simply.
“Why?” Merida demanded, lowering it slightly.
“I need it.”
Hiccup bit his lip, “To remember.”
“So? Why don’t you care?”
“Because I have to be the big boy.” Hiccup said quietly.
Merida gasped. “What?”
Hiccup leaned forward. “I have to be the big boy. I wasn’t very old when mom died and they kept telling me that I needed to be a big boy to help my father. They had put everything of mom’s on the boat and I didn’t want mom to forget me so I put my little wooden Thor action figure on the boat so she could remember me in the afterlife. Big boys don’t cry or mope around! Big boys help! Big boys do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts! No matter how much their hearts get sliced into ribbons all the time, by everyone they know and thought loved them! Big boys never show weakness!” Hiccups voice was raw and loud, and his fists were balled up on his legs, as he leaned forward.
Merida could only stand there clutching the beloved helmet to her chest. Hiccup sat back looking exhausted, running a hand through his hair.
Merida slowly stepped forward so she was standing directly in front of Hiccup, who was just looking at her. She held up the helmet, “Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. You are more then a big boy. You are a man. The mightiest Viking on life,” and placed the helmet on his head.
He bit his lip.
“I’m so sorry.” Then she dropped onto his lap and wept into his shoulder. He was carrying a massive load on those slender shoulders and no one should have to carry that much, no one. But only he could put it down.
Hiccup put his arms around her and held her close, not sure of what to do with a crying girl. Astrid never cried and neither did Ruffnut. He didn’t know anyone, that wasn’t a baby, that cried, and certainly not as much as this Scottish Princess.