~ Raided: A Mericcup Story: Chapter 09 : Goodbyes
Toothless landed by a sheltered outcropping of rock. He used the last of his flame to heat the ground. Together Hiccup and Merida curled up in Toothless’ protective embrace.
“Hiccup, are we going to be okay? We aren’t really prepared for a blizzard,” asked Merida, drawing her cloak close, it was a little charred on the edge but she had ducked behind Hiccup as they flew through the fire. They didn’t have any food or water; they were only supposed to take an hour to look around. Eating the snow was too dangerous, it was so cold it would chill them faster and kill them. She knew they could last a day or two without food and water, but lack of shelter was a serious problem in a blizzard. However, the blizzard felt relatively warm after the terrible cold of this winter.
“We’ll be okay, Toothless can keep us warm. Here, lay on me and cover us with your cloak.”
“Hiccup that leaves you with your back on the ground, it’ll suck the heat out of you and you’ll die. I won’t let you sacrifice yourself to save me.”
“I won’t. My riding gear is built for the cold, besides I am leaning on Toothless and he’ll keep us warm. I want you on top of my because you gear isn’t good enough for this, but your cloak is big enough to cover both of us and capture some of Toothless’ heat, to keep us both warm.”
Merida couldn’t think of any other objection so climbed carefully on Hiccup, she was a bit bigger then he was so she was careful in how she placed herself.
“Is that okay? I’m not too heavy for you?” she asked as she moved the cascade of her curls off Hiccup’s face.
“No, you’re okay.” said Hiccup as he pulled her hood over their faces. “Rest now, princess.”
# # #
Fergus rushed out to the field in front of MacGuffin’s castle. They had watched a black dot flying against the azure sky get closer for what seemed like hours, coming from the direction of the huge column of sooty smoke rising over the hills. They had sent a team of men to find out what that was, but breaking through the snow left by the blizzard was slow going.
They had been on the lookout for the return of the dragon, it was supposed to be a short trip to show Merida what a dragon could do, but they had only heard a massive explosion, then the blizzard had come over the mountains, and Merida and Hiccup were missing.
He had slept fitfully that night and Elinor too. He was certain Merida could survive, her woodland skills were up to the task of a blizzard, but that explosion had been worrying.
Now they were gliding in and he was barreling through the snow to meet them. Toothless backwinged and sunk into the snow. Merida leapt out of the saddle and floundered towards him. She slipped and fell, but he just lifted her up and hugged her close.
“I love you, Da.”
“I love you too, Lassie.”
There was hugging and kissing and he carefully put Hiccup down when he realized that he was hugging the boy.
“Ahem. You’re late.” Fergus rumbled.
Hiccup ran his hand through his hair. “Ah, yeah. Sorry about that. We found the nest and defeated the Green Death, that’s what’s burning over there. We had to take shelter because of that blizzard. Oh and we turned that column of men around for you.”
“Sire, look!” called a guard.
Fergus looked the way the guard was pointing. A small dot was in the sky near the column of smoke.
“That must be a dragon with a rider.”
“Do you think they saw you come here?”
“I would guess so. They are heading this way.”
“Okay. We should go in and warm up.”
“We’ll tell you the whole story after we get something to eat. I’m starving.” Merida said.
“Yeah. Toothless, stay here and watch for them.” Hiccup said to his dragon.
# # #
Astrid could see Toothless frolicking in the snow as Stormfly glided over hefty looking a castle. It looked like Hiccup had found some civilization, and with Toothless out here, he wouldn’t be a prisoner. Somehow, Hiccup had made friends with even the Scots. Astrid wondered how he kept doing that.
Astrid could see Hiccup leading a group out of the castle, so she circled and landed next to Toothless. She slipped down from the saddle, lifted her heavy winter flying hood, and stripped off her mittens. She considered taking her ax but only the two guards looked armed. They were being friendly; well she could be friendly too.
“Hi, Astrid.” Hiccup took a step to the front as she approached. He had that innocent, clueless look on his face that always made her feel all ashamed. Before her face could color, she hit him on the shoulder, hard.
“Owhoow.” Hiccup sounded like he was in real pain and that made her feel even more ashamed.
“That’s for not coming home on time.” She said harshly, trying to discharge the shame she was feeling.
Then she leapt on him and kissed him soundly. “And that’s for being okay.” She said more gently.
“Thanks. Astrid, these are my new friends. King Fergus, Queen Elinor, Princess Merida, Lord MacGuffin and his son Kevin. How about we go inside and warm up? We all have some stories to tell,” suggested Hiccup.
# # #
These Scots seems quite at ease with her being there and had even welcomed her as a guest. Astrid would show no fear to these outsiders. She may be on their soil, but she was a Viking and a dragonrider. However, she had left her ax on Stormfly, and she was feeling a little naked without it.
Hiccup explained that the Scots had been attacked by some of the dragons he had been tracking. They had shot him down, captured them and patched them up. Astrid was rather curious about how they had shot Hiccup down, but she didn’t think discussing that rather sensitive matter in front of the Scots was appropriate.
After another dragon battle, he proved himself to them by helping to save the boys, a rather well behaved set of triplets that was sitting on their family’s laps. She had seen quite the pile of dragons off to one side as she had flown in. Hiccup was now their guest.
Hiccup was being sincere and factual in his storytelling, as he always was. He told the stories of what the others had done in fighting the dragons. Astrid thought this group had done quite well, but with Hiccup advising them, that wasn’t really a surprise.
Astrid could not stand the pale little redheaded cow that was Princess Merida, even though she just sat there quietly with her bow and empty quiver. Who carries around an empty quiver? What a silly cow, thought Astrid. Vikings didn’t need fancy little princesses like in the stories.
Astrid nodded when Hiccup said that column of smoke was a Death. She had used that as a beacon to guide her and recognized what it was as she had overflown it. It was getting hard to concentrate on what people were saying. She had staked her claim on Hiccup but knew she was going to have to defend it even more strongly now. She might have to push her parents to pressure Stoic into allowing them to get married sooner rather then later.
“With the Green Death dead, and the weather warming up a little. I would expect the dragons to head back to their old nest. Well, we better be getting back to Berk. Long fly, you know.” Hiccup babbled.
“But we haven’t shown any hospitality to your friend.” said Queen Elinor.
“Thank you for all your help Hiccup. Have a safe journey. Boys, you are dismissed,” said King Fergus. The boys ran out the front doors.
Hiccup said good-bye and shook hands with Fergus and Lord MacGuffin.
To Kevin MacGuffin he said, “Take care of her.” Astrid’s hackles went up at that.
Then he hugged Elinor.
“Know that you will always be welcome here,” said Elinor.
Elinor and Fergus came over and stood in front of, her blocking her view of Hiccup; she needed to keep an eye on him. Fergus was about as big as Stoic, but he had a peg-leg like Gobber. Elinor was giving her some instructions, so she tried to listen. “Now, Astrid, Hiccup was hurt, he’s just about healed so make sure he gets some good rest once he gets home. You don’t have to fly all the way home in one go, take breaks.”
“Ah, yeah, sure thing.” said Astrid distractedly as she saw Hiccup rush over to a cot and start picking things up.
Hiccup slid a platter of meat into his pack and came over to her, “Come on Astrid, I would have left days ago but the blizzard...”
“Yeah, blizzard,” said Astrid distractedly; shooting a look toward Merida, but Merida was hanging back as Hiccup lead the away out of the castle. Astrid and Stormfly had ridden out the blizzard on a cold, lonely beach to the North.
Hiccup shooed the boys off Toothless, quickly checked the harness and climbed on. “Ready?”
“Just a second.” Astrid gave another look toward the princess and climbed on Stormfly.
As they flew off, Astrid looked back. For some reason it felt satisfying to see that redheaded cow was running back to the castle in tears.
# # #
Aibhlinn was laying in bed waiting for her “husband” BigEars to come back from the Great Hall, really just an old sunk boat that they had recovered and turned upside down.
It was very cold outside, but it was warm under the blankets and furs; maybe a little too warm, she was beginning to sweat. The fire was guttering in the draft, she had banked it before he left but there was enough of a draft, that she felt on her face, to wake it up a bit. At least they had enough firewood; driftwood was piled high in the cove. She shared some with a few of the others to help them make it through this really cold winter.
She turned her head to look at the ceiling; she was gazing at the patterns the fire made on the ceiling, but not really seeing them. The bronze slave collar around her neck reminded her that it was still there.
She wiggled a little to get more comfortable. The bed was big and reasonably comfortable. A good thick canvas so the rushes wouldn’t poke through.
She had to stay awake until he came home. That was one of the rules, so many rules. Not that it mattered, she always did something wrong. This was a simple job to do. He had made sure she could. She didn’t like sleeping, it was not long after Winter Solstice, she was remembering her family and there were nightmares of fire and swords.
She called on Caillach’s name morning, noon and night. Begging the goddess of death to come and take her from this nightmare. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, everything in this place was wrong, but she didn’t know of a way out. Each new dawn was a fresh wound on her soul when she saw the others meekly serving their slave master husbands.
She wished she could turn on her side but the ropes held her in place in the middle of the bed. BigEars had been generous with the ropes; he had wound them around her limbs many times so she couldn’t hurt herself by pulling on them really hard like she used to do. He made her safe. He was being kind to her in his own way and she hated herself for appreciating it. BigEars cared about her, he tied her so her arms were under the covers. That was so nice of him. He was a proper husband for someone broken like her.
She deserved pain. She had failed her sister-slaves. She had submitted and so did they. She wasn’t strong or brave and didn’t deserve the love they still showed her. They said good words to her, words like love, sister, strong, and brave, but she wasn’t and she couldn’t believe them.
BigEars said words too, useless and weak and stupid and ugly, those words she believed, because they were more true to her. She had scars on her arms from her torture. Her lip was deformed now from nearly biting it off. Her back and thighs were scared from the beatings. Her beautiful long hair was cut short. She was ugly now. At least BigEars cared enough to still rape her. No one else would ever want her in this condition.
Being beaten was a good kind of pain for her. Pain was a friend. That moved the pain to her skin, where it was safe, if it gnawed at her heart she would do dumb things so BigEars would punish her, or she would punish herself.
It was pretty quiet in the village now. Hardly anyone screamed at night anymore. Most of the girls were pregnant and so their husbands had stopped raping them. Aileen still wasn’t, that was good, it gave her a little strength to know someone was still resisting a little.
She couldn’t really help her sisters anymore. She did little things, like a bit of extra food for one or two when she could, but she couldn’t lift their spirits any more. Her own was too broken and dark now. Sometimes she just wanted to be alone all the time, but they wouldn’t let her, they wanted her to stay and continue being their sister. She didn’t understand why anymore. She wasn’t worth it. It would be better for them, for everyone, if she didn’t exist anymore. She was just such a weight on everyone’s shoulders.
BigEars even said he would kill her after the Althing in the summer if she didn’t get pregnant. That would be nice of him. He needed them all married for that long, and as many babies as they could get, so he could show them, show them all. She wasn’t sure who he wanted to show.
She didn’t know why she wasn’t getting pregnant. He was raping her every day, but her periods were so heavy now. If she were barren that would be wonderful, then her children wouldn’t have to grow up as Vikings. She hated them. She hated herself for submitting. She hated everything.
Aibhlinn heard crunching footsteps on the icy snow outside. She closed her eyes. She pulled at her bonds but she was tied too securely.
The door banged open and the icy cold caressed her face. The door slammed shut. She could hear BigEars slap the snow from his cloak and stomp his boots. She heard heavy boots fall to the floor. The scent of ale wafted itself up her nose. She could hear him laughing quietly, her insides turned to ice and her breathing quickened.
The floorboards creaked beside the bed. A slap rang across her face. “Wake up bed-slave.”
Aibhlinn opened her eyes as her cheek stung. She tasted the warm flavor of her own blood on her tongue. The pain of her heart moved to her cheek.
She could see him smiling, his crooked teeth catching some of the firelight; he still had his snow covered hat on. “Rejoice, your “sister” Aileen is pregnant now too. That is everyone but you, my little bedwarmer.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. She heard fabric and leather fall to the floor. She grabbed onto the ropes holding her down.
“The strong always conquer the weak.”
She cringed as she felt the blankets and furs pulled off the bed and her skin goose-bumped as the remnants of the cold night air caressed her body. She jumped as she heard the slap of a heavy cloth above her, then she gasped as cold flecks of snow landed on her bare skin. BigEars gave a low chuckle.
“I will get you with child.”
She felt the bed sag under his weight. She was beginning to pant.
“I always win.”
As his chilled hand ran up her thigh, he began to laugh, and she began to scream.