Title: State of Grace
Characters: Eret son of Eret/Ruffnut Thorston, Tuffnut Thorston, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III/Astrid Hofferson, Valka (Eret-centric, background Hiccstrid)
Word Count: 6300
Rating/Warnings: T (RarePair, Songfic)
Summary: Because changing allegiances isn't easy.
You come around and the armor falls
Pierce the room like a cannon ball
Now all we know
is don’t let go
Freedom feels like poor fitting scabbard and Eret would almost rather have the security of contracts and threats.
Almost. He hasn’t forgotten the gnawing anxiety of trying to fill quotas, that abrupt switch from employee to expendable. The scar on his chest aches just thinking about it.
But part of him aches for the rush of adrenaline while capturing a dragon; the smug excitement of filling the hold with exotic goods from places they’d only heard of- Drago’s annexed territories had been extensive. Before the supply of wild dragons had dried up, their wrangling skills had enabled them to live large and proud.
Now they’re living on the good graces of a Viking Chief five years his junior, with little more than the ship, the skins on their backs and the things they’d scavenged from the Fort. And what good are catapults and manglers on an island as peaceful as Berk?
He’s got a finger on the pulse of his crew; understands how out of place and rudderless they feel. It’s taken a few weeks, but they’ve mostly gotten used to the sight of dragons roosting on homes like overgrown seabirds and running around playing with children.
They’ve been helping with reconstruction; lending hands when a fishing boat comes back heavy laden. But they can't help feeling like outsiders: the lifestyle and even the way Berkians think still isn't second nature. And just putting food in their stomachs and slowly earning a bit of trade is a big step down from the old days of swaggering home rich and proud as kings.
They all concede that it’s better than a death sentence though, and without Drago around they would be out of work anyway: no demand means no market. They’ve all got to get back and reassess their options.
Asp and Coron have families to provide for, a couple of the other fellas have girls waiting; his folks are not the only ones who have to be worrying and wondering why they haven’t returned now that Drago’s armada has scattered. So now that Hiccup and Astrid are holed up being newlyweds, they’ve been working for the Thorstons full time, trading their labor for the sailcloth they need so badly.
Which brings his thoughts back to Ruffnut yet again.
Berkian women are free and equal to their men, able to own property and work trades- probably why they’re all so confidently out-spoken. He’s gone from finding Ruff shocking, to intriguing, to flat out admiration. His men have been ribbing him about how he always manages to end up in her company nowadays, and he has to admit he’s more than a little enamored: she’s recklessly uninhibited, a cunningly hard bargainer and amazingly talented at both her craft and dragon training. He thinks of her laugh, those long limbs and the undisguised desire in her eyes more than he should-- he’s in no position to court a girl. But Berkians don’t do anything the way he’s used to and she’s made it clear that she doesn’t need a provider; that she wants him for himself.
And that holds a disturbing and compelling sort of appeal, even if everything in his upbringing tells him that their attraction is upside down, that her status puts her out of his league, that she’s got two eager home grown suitors who could do better by her.
After all, he doesn’t have an actual position here beyond caring for Skullcrusher.
They work together every day; his men and him doing all the grunt work while the twins spin and weave. The atmosphere is friendly and they take turns telling rude jokes and wild stories while they keep their hands busy. But the fact that they’re making the very thing that’ll take them away weighs a little more on his mind every day.
And all we know
Is touch and go
Hiccup and Astrid enter Meade Hall to a chorus of catcalls and whoops, and they flush and roll their eyes before they take their seats at the head table.
They don’t leave for hours- Gobber, Spitelout, Gothi and the other respected members of the community have done their best to take care of village matters in the interim, but there is both plenty to report and plenty to do now that the Chief and his wife have returned.
Eret doesn’t line up at the Hall with the others needing disputes settled. He figures he really only needs a minute, so he runs to catch up to Hiccup when he spots him hurrying toward the Hanger.
“Chief! Sorry- I know you’ve got a lot on your plate today, but Ruff says you’ve got a map of the area around Berk?”
The harried look on Hiccup’s face immediately relaxes into a smile. Ruff, huh? “Yeah, I do. You're trying to figure out where Berk is in the greater scheme of things?”
“Trying to plot a course, actually. Some of my men need to get home. And Berk is well off the maps I’ve got so I was hoping to put them together.”
Hiccup stops, eyebrows knitting together as he studies Eret’s expression. “Well, we’ll be sorry to see you go. And actually… I would love to get a look at your maps.”
Eret shrugs noncommittally. “I’m hoping to come back, but it depends on my crew too. Some of them have families and well, Berk is…pretty different from what we’re used to. Anyway, you’re more than welcome to take a gander. They’re just mariners’ maps, but they include most of the civilized world as we know it.” He frowns and quirks his mouth. “Well, knew it. No idea whether borders have changed now that Drago’s armada is out of the picture, but the shape of the land hasn’t.”
Hiccup inhales and frowns thoughtfully, looking Eret in the eye. “Could you come by my house in the evening and bring them? I should learn as much as I can about Drago before you leave. I doubt we’ve seen the last of him.”
Eret nods uneasily. “Yeah, of course.”
Hiccup grips his arm reassuringly and smiles. “Thanks. I’ll see you tonight.”
But Eret’s surprised to see Valka sitting next to Astrid when Hiccup lets him in. She lives in her own little room in the Hanger, more at ease among the dragons in the underground stables than in the home that had once been hers. His men give her a wide berth- some still resent her for destroying their Fort; others fear her wrath for their previous occupation.
Hiccup raises his hands halfway when he sees their wary expressions. “I know you’re not on the best of terms, but my mother is extremely well traveled- she can probably fill in any missing pieces between our maps.”
Valka nods once, watching him appraisingly.
Eret gives her a cautious bow in return. “Fair enough.” He pulls his maps out of the sealskin case, laying them carefully next to the one spread on the table, and they all crane their necks with interest.
Astrid and Hiccup provide drinks as Eret answers questions about trade goods and history, customs and dragon species. Almost every nation on his maps had been conquered by Drago, and the Berkians frown at the sheer expanse of his territory.
Eret shrugs; he’s used to the view. “Well, Drago had the biggest army and then an armada. And he built roads and wells, trained and sent healers out. Some people welcomed him with open arms. Always a steady supply of silk and salt, paved roads to travel, fewer dragons stealing horses and cattle- paying a bit of tax doesn’t seem so bad if the big man takes care of you.”
“But what about freedom?” Valka gasps.
Eret scratches the back of his neck. “Is anybody ever really free? Unless you start out well off, you can’t always get what you want, yeah? And Drago made it possible to afford a wife and family by enlisting or going into trapping if you’d grown up with no trade. A lot of men saw that as freedom to improve their lot.”
Astrid frowns. “How about women?”
Eret looks at Astrid reluctantly. “…Remember how shocked my men were when Hiccup gave you full authority over us? Might be what you’re used to, but where we’re from women submit to the menfolk. I mean, they can improve their station by marrying a rich fellow, but…”
“Women and dragons are property, not equals,” Valka says, lip curling with obvious distaste.
Eret holds out his hands defensively. “Look, I’m just explaining. I’m not trying to say it’s right or better.”
Ever the peacekeeper, Hiccup intervenes. “Even on this side of the world, Vikings are unique. We’ve always known that Southron kingdoms treat women in much the same way. Anyway, we still need to figure out a course home for you. And I was thinking these two sections should match up, considering where Astrid and I ran into you.”
They all re-focus on attempting to align the Berkian map with the others, with Valka sketching additional islands and a narrow strait to help put the relevant areas in perspective. Eret smiles with relief and dawning comprehension as they trace a route from the waters around Berk back into familiar territory, and Hiccup immediately begins to sketch a new set of maps for Eret to use.
Astrid falls asleep leaning against Hiccup’s shoulder as the conversation lulls, and he automatically slides his right arm around her when he realizes she’s drifted off. Valka tuts and exchanges a look with her son before she gently shakes Astrid.
“To bed with you. Hiccup and Eret can finish copying the map on their own.”
Astrid starts, grimacing and giving Hiccup an apologetic look. “I’m sorry- I just can’t seem to keep my eyes open these days.”
He smiles tenderly. “Pretty sure that’s at least partially my fault. And I don’t need my number two for this, so-- Mom, can you help her get up to bed?”
“Pregnant, not dying,” Astrid grumbles. But she takes the arm Valka offers anyway.
Hiccup’s eyes are full of disquiet when he looks at Eret once they leave the room. “Thank you for speaking diplomatically. I know it’s been a little rough for you and your men.”
Eret shrugs, nonplussed. “Not everybody understands where we’re coming from. And we do appreciate your hospitality- fairly used to your way of living now, I’d say. But—no offense intended—some of the men prefer their old way of life, even if it means never getting to bet on a dragonrace again.”
Hiccup nods. “I understand. We all have to look out for our own,” he says quietly.
Eret frowns and looks up at him warily. “You need something?”
Hiccup raises an eyebrow and tilts his head. “Information. Current information. Toothless may be the new Alpha, but I don’t want Berk to be caught unprepared again.”
Eret stills. “You want us to sniff out what we can about Drago.”
Hiccup looks him in the eye and nods. “If he’s regrouping his forces, I need to know. And I suspect that hired trappers know exactly how to keep track of Drago’s movements.”
Eret lifts a brow. “Might know which places to ask around, yeah. Last I checked though, he’d ordered my execution. Wasn’t planning to show my face anywhere but our home port.”
Hiccup keeps sketching, nodding. “Point taken. Would a crate of Gronkle iron weapons make the risk worth your while?”
Eret regards him with surprise, sitting back and smirking. “Well, now you’re speaking a language I understand. But they’d be too distinctive- people would ask where they came from.” He thinks it over- it’s not likely that Drago spotted him in that last battle with all the focus on Hiccup and Toothless, but if there was some way to throw off the scent from a marked trapper gone rogue… “Now, a few crates of quality yarn and linen; a couple crates of paper and fish- that I could trade without raising any eyebrows. Get the news after being off at sea, like.”
Hiccup lifts his brows, considering. “If it would make it easier to pose as traders, I can provide some extra cargo that you can trade for what we can’t get easily get on Berk as well- sealskin, silk, spices.”
Eret inhales and blinks. “You’d trust me?”
“I trust that you know where to trade and for what. And we can discuss how to split the resulting profits,” Hiccup says, matter of fact.
“That’s not what I meant.”
Hiccup raises his eyebrows, glancing at Eret. “I know. But I’m also trusting you have reasons to come back to Berk that might be worth more than a one-time haul.”
Eret smiles wryly. “You know, at first I thought she was crazy like all the rest of you. Guess you're not the only persuasive one."
We are alone with our changing minds
We fall in love ‘til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time
They all grin as the sails billow out and they pull out into the harbor for a test run. The new sail is made with a tougher ply and far more consistent thickness and Tuff has resist dyed the sails to match, altering the patterns to avoid being too easily recognized.
The crew are all in fine spirits, and Eret has to admit it does the heart good to see the sail rounding proudly in the wind, to feel the ship coasting effortlessly across the waves. They’ll stow the cargo and supplies tomorrow, and set sail for home on the evening tide.
So there’s really only one more thing to settle before they leave Berk behind.
“Listen, Ruff- can I ask you something?”
Eret touches her arm and she pulls her attention from Tuff’s spirited antics.
He continues. “I’d love to bring Skullcrusher with me, but I can’t risk it. Be cruel to confine him here for the journey, and I can’t be sure he won’t be harmed when we get back. So- could you look after him for me?”
She blinks and hesitates. “But- he’s your dragon. I don’t even know if he likes me.”
Eret shrugs, trying to be casual. “Well, how about I introduce you two properly tonight? Take you on a test flight.”
Her eyes widen and she eyes him speculatively before giving him a pleased grin. “Yeah- I, uh. I’d like that.”
Eret smiles back before straightening to glare at his men, who are nosily observing the proceedings with obvious delight. “Would you lazy clods get back to work? A few weeks at port and the lot of you are out of practice- just look at the trim!”
They scramble to right it, but there’s still a chorus of whistles when he strides off the ship later that evening.
Ruffnut is wearing a fresh tunic gathered with a red linen belt, and he can’t help grinning appreciatively when she opens the door. Her hair’s still damp from the bath and he can smell her skin and soap, a far cry from the usual smell of ammonia and fermentation that clings to her from dye-work and retted flax. He finds himself inhaling deeply as she takes her seat in the saddle in front of him.
“Hang on- bit of a surge when he takes off,” he warns, sliding his arm around her waist and pulling her closer as Skullcrusher does his running leap.
She smiles slyly, bemused. “Uh- okay.”
He notices then that she has a practiced grip on the saddle with both her thighs and hands, but neither of them say anything when he doesn’t move his arm even after they’re aloft.
It’s a mild night, and Ruff obviously finds Skullcrusher easy to handle: she’s no novice, easily finding the updrafts and automatically talking him through maneuvers.
By the time they land, Eret has fresh appreciation for her riding skill- it’s hard not to wonder if the twins would have more Dragonrace wins if they didn’t bicker so much while competing.
“So what do you say? He’s got a stubborn streak, but he’s a helpful fellow too- helped me track down my ship. And if you need a break from your brother, you’d have a way to take off.”
She shrugs, dismounting and running her hands over Skullcrusher’s carapace before she scratches under his chin. “That was okay, hey Skullcrusher? Your name is cool but it’s way too long.”
Eret tilts his head as he dismounts, frowning. She’s refusing to look at him and avoiding the topic, which is odd- he’s never known Ruffnut not to be utterly forward. “So… you’d rather not?”
She rolls her eyes and shrugs, looking away. “It’s not that. I mean, if Skullcrusher is okay with it then whatever, fine.”
He frowns. He was hoping she’d be pleased. “So you don’t want your own personal dragon because…?”
She looks up, appalled. “You’re leaving! I just- I thought you liked it here! I thought-“ she breaks off and swallows, shoulders slumping. “Forget it.”
He reaches out and grabs at her hand. “Hey- Ruff! Don’t-”
She jerks her hand back, glaring. “Stop, okay? If you don’t want me, stop jerking me around!”
His jaw drops. “I do want you! But until I've got things sorted, I can’t just- Oh, sod it,” he growls, and he pulls her close and slants his mouth over hers.
He tells himself it’s just for a minute, that he’s just jumping boundaries because she’s upset.
But she tastes like heaven, and he thinks his heart is going to hammer out of his chest when she moans and pulls him closer, clutching at his neck and hair.
Screw the potential heartache. It’s just a few minutes and both of them want this.
So he only pulls back enough so he can slant his mouth the other way and get a better grip on her ass when she clambers up him aggressively, and neither of them do much thinking at all for the next few minutes.
It’s not until Skullcrusher grunts and shifts next to them that Eret snaps back to reality and pulls back abruptly.
“Gods Ruff, I’m sorry,” he gasps, gulping and easing off her.
She pants, hanging on tenaciously. “Are you kidding me?”
He gives her a pained look and firmly extricates himself. “I didn't mean to do this until I had something solid to offer you.”
She rolls her eyes and groans. “Ugh, I don’t need you to offer me stuff.”
“Well, maybe you don’t, but your dad is another matter entirely, yeah? I asked Hiccup and he says your bride price is going to be pretty steep. And I’ve got some gold saved, but it’s back home.”
That surprises a baffled smile onto her face. “What?”
“Don’t give me that- you’ve got other suitors,” he says grimly.
“Yeah, but- my dad has to listen to what I want too. So…” she shrugs and attempts to pull him close again, but Eret’s as strong as he is stubborn.
He’s normally all for unfair advantages over the competition, and he’s incredibly aware of her hands on him and the heady pressure of his own desire. But he needs to do this properly if he intends to have a future here.
“Snotlout’s a shipwright,” he reminds her.
“And his dad’s a tightwad who doesn’t pay him half what he’s worth. ‘Sides, he doesn’t want me anyway,” Ruff says dismissively.
Eret raises a brow, unconvinced. “He’s pretty persistent for someone who’s not interested.”
“Meh. He’s just used to wanting stuff he can’t have. Tuff and I call it ‘The Hiccup Effect’.”
Eret blinks at how blasé she is. “That… is one brutal assessment.”
“Well we grew up with him. Plus Thorston cloth goes for double or triple the rate of normal homespun. Just practical to marry a girl with a good trade.” She shrugs, quirking a brow and studying his chest. “I know I don’t want them. But I wasn’t really ready for how much I want you,” she admits.
“Hey.” He takes hold of her hand and tilts her chin up. “You’re not the only one who wasn’t ready. Look at it from my perspective: I finally find the perfect girl and she lives on the other side of the world.”
That gets a smile, and his heart aches to see the sadness there. Long voyages are risky and Hiccup’s asked him to raise the stakes even further.
”Look,” he continues, “I know what they say about sailors and promises. And I know it isn’t fair of me to make any claims on you when I’ve got responsibilities that come first. But I’m going to do my best to get enough crew to come back.”
She looks in his eyes and nods, smiling hopefully. “Seal it with a kiss?”
He chuckles, exasperated. “You persistent little minx.”
But he obliges anyway.
We are alone just you and me
Up in your room and our slates are clean
Just twin fire signs
Four blue eyes
Ruffnut doesn’t join Hiccup and Astrid and the other well-wishers on the dock, watching the ship leave the harbor from up high. She doesn’t want anybody to see the tears running down her cheeks, to see Snotlout gloat or Fishlegs smile optimistically.
Tuffnut finds her anyway, and she doesn’t have to look to know he’s there.
“I know. I was an idiot,” she says, scrubbing angrily at her cheeks.
She glares. “What, you’re not going to rub it in?”
“Meh. Not as much fun when you say it first.”
She speaks dully. “He’s a sailor; sailing away is his job, right?”
Tuff twitches his shoulders. “…Maybe look at it as always sailing back.”
He’s trying to help, but that just makes her cry in earnest. He offers his shoulder, resigned, and she gives him a grateful look before leaning on it.
Spending time with Eret was supposed to get him to like her more. She hadn’t realized it would do the opposite too.
And I never saw you coming
And I’ll never be the same
The homecoming welcome is always warm, but this time it’s doubly so: many had feared them lost. The dock is packed and he’s relieved and proud to see all the happy family reunions: the worst thing for any ship’s captain is to face a widow’s tears.
And it’s so good to be back, to hear the normal cadence of speech everywhere, see familiar faces and smell familiar foods cooking. And he knows the drill without having to ask: he’s got a list of repairs and he heads down the dock to find the dockmaster to pay his mooring fee, catch up with the news and suss out the market. The fish they’d caught, dried and salted into barrels on the way home will be enough to trade for repairs and supplies and the remainder will be split between the crew. It’s a small haul considering how long they were out, but combined with the Berkian goods each man had brought back, the trip was not a total bust, at least.
He finally heads home once those last responsibilities have been discharged.
His mother has pulled out all the stops- he’s never been away so long and she has his favorites cooking: venison and seal. His father claps him on the back and pours him some strong liquor after he puts down his duffel and presses a kiss to his mother’s cheek.
“So what happened? Longest haul you’ve been on yet- got caught up in whatever the armada ran into?”
“Yeah, something like. Our fort was destroyed by this vigilante and well… on the way to rendezvous with the armada our sail took damage as well. We’ve been on Berk, a Viking island, for a couple months, earning the sailcloth for a new sail.”
His eyebrows shoot up. “Vikings, eh? Aren’t they a bloodthirsty lot?”
Eret tilts his head. “They’re skilled with weapons. But Berk’s Chief prefers negotiations to fighting, even if he rides the Night Fury that defeated Drago’s big Alpha.”
“They’re dragon riders. And they took exception to being conquered,” Eret says simply.
His dad shakes his head and sputters, agitated. “So he's the one to blame. There’s been nothing but trouble ever since Drago lost the armada- guard dragons rampaging; soldiers not getting paid and going rogue. The price of silk and grain has tripled, and there are rebellions breaking out everywhere.”
Eret frowns. “Well, that’s to be expected when you rule through fear, don’t you think? When loyalty is forced instead of earned and given?”
His father is visibly taken aback by his vehemence.
Eret shakes his head bitterly, downing the rest of his liquor. “You know how far we’d been sailing to fill the quota. And when there weren’t any dragons left to trap...”
His father stiffens. “Did Drago mark you?”
His mother gasps and turns from her cooking to look at him, stricken.
Eret looks away, keeping his voice even. “Tried to have me executed even after I delivered. Well, I learned my lesson. And I got my men and ship out.”
“But you were the best trapper in the business! The best,” his mother whispers tearfully.
“Relax, Mum. I’m fine,” he lies.
She nods, blinking back tears.
He sighs, knowing there’s one surefire way to distract her. “Also… I met a girl.”
Her eyes immediately go round, although her mouth twitches- she knows what he’s trying to do. “Well, finally! Well? Where did you meet her? What does she look like? We can convert the girls’ room if you’d prefer a bigger space to bring her home to, can’t we, Eret?”
“Well, we were on Berk for weeks, so-”
“You’ve been caught in the snare of some Viking bird?” his father demands.
Eret exhales, slightly irritated. “Her name is Ruffnut Thorston; she and her brother wove the sailcloth for our new sail. And she’s not just a weaver and dyer; she’s a dragon trainer and rider as well. She’s tall and pretty-- she’s got blond hair that probably comes past her hips when she lets it down…”
His father waves his hand dismissively. “Looks aren’t everything. And a free woman is a recipe for disaster.”
Eret frowns. “Well, Berk seemed to get along just fine despite half the people being free women. I’ve brought some of her cloth –both linen and wool-- and you can see for yourself why it trades so well. I’ve never seen finer. And she's spirited and funny- the men adore her.”
“Well, where would she get wool or flax here? And how can you get children on her if she doesn’t submit like a proper woman? No, best forget her, son, and stick to our own. There’s a couple new families with available daughters that just arrived from down south, and I’m pretty sure one is a blond with all her teeth. They might be willing to sell low to cover their moving costs.”
Eret grimaces. “Look, Dad-“
His father slams his fist down on the table. “Enough backtalk about Vikings. Let’s just have supper and be grateful you made it home.”
Eret’s twenty-five; he’s been leading men of his own for years. But he still flinches automatically and swallows his troublesome new opinions when his mother shakes her head at him fearfully.
The next week is more of the same as the ship undergoes repairs. He avoids mentioning Berk or Ruffnut to keep the peace. He relishes in his mother’s cooking, in the delight of his family with the presents he’s brought back, in how well he sleeps in a proper bed on solid ground.
And it’s hard not to wonder if he’s completely lost his sense of priorities. He’s a first-born son- the house and land will be rightfully his when his father passes, and he can easily switch to fishing local waters. Sure, Hiccup had trusted him with all that cargo, but his crew could certainly use the extra compensation and he doubts Hiccup would take the trouble to hunt them down. He can also easily afford a bride here whereas he has no idea what Ruff’s bride price will be.
Staying is simple, going back a gamble.
But he can’t stop thinking and worrying about her and Skullcrusher, about Berk's position as target number one if Drago returns. He misses flying, watching Dragonraces and even has an odd craving for a yak butter parfait. And he can’t stop thinking that his mind has changed about more than dragons when he watches his mother scurry to serve him, sees how his father expects unquestioning obedience.
Besides, he made promises. And he’s always been a sucker for a challenge, and the high risk/high reward possibilities of trading Berkian goods in an untapped Empire market are exactly that.
So when the repairs are completed, he calls his crew for a meeting.
“I’d like to sail back to Berk, making a stop at Newhaven and possibly Kilne on the way. Chief Hiccup has entrusted me with a couple tasks, and I intend to keep my word despite the risks. Those who come with me will get their share of the trade and fish.” He pauses. “Another thing I should mention: I’m not sure when we’ll be returning. I quite like Berk. Working for the Chief and the Thorstons brings in decent trade and there's no other place in the world for dragon riding and racing. But I understand if you lads would prefer not to come along. Just give me your decision by tomorrow.”
The men all murmur and mutter as he leaves to let them stew it over. Throughout the day they come to him to give him their decision, and as expected, most elect to stay and try to find a new position.
Most, but not all: Teeny’s attached to the ship, he says, and he don’t mind getting a bigger slice. Ug is positively itching for the chance to flirt with danger again, and Starkard shrugs, abashed. “Doesn’t feel right not to have dragons ‘round all the time now. Everything's too still and quiet here, like.”
It’s a small crew, but it’s enough for watches and deck positions.
So they re-supply the ship, stowing barrels of fresh water and meat in saltpeter, sacks of flour, salt and beans. He quietly retrieves the gold he's been saving and trades for presents. And he tells his parents he's got a new contract to fill back east, as if it's business as usual.
But it's an odd feeling, sailing away from home towards a place that also feels like home.
So you were never a saint
And I’ve loved in shades of wrong
We learn to live with the pain
Mosaic broken hearts
But this love is brave and wild
They’re so busy battening down windows and roofs, securing the boats at dock and herding dragons into the Hanger that Hiccup doesn’t think about the further implications of the storm bearing down on Berk until Valka approaches him urgently.
“Hiccup. This storm comes from the southwest.”
He gives her a harried, questioning look before comprehension dawns.
“Oh no.” He grimaces. “I’ll tell her. Take over with the baby Nadders?”
She nods, gripping his shoulder, eyes full of sympathy.
Tuff and Barf and Belch are herding stragglers off the mountain and Ruff is getting the herd into the sheepfold. Seeing as how it’s nowhere near dark, they’re rather resistant to leave the grassy slopes.
“Ruffnut. Uh- do you have a second?”
She shoves a bleating ewe into the pen with her butt and gives Hiccup an annoyed look.
“Kinda busy here, Chief. Storm’s coming and all these muttonheads want to do is keep grazing.”
“Yeah- it’s about that. Ruffnut… this storm is coming from the southwest.”
Her eyes widen and she shakes her head, horrified when she sees the look in his eyes.
He immediately tries to offer comforting possibilities. “He might not be on schedule- he said he might have to hire new crew just to sail back. Or he might have taken a different course for any number of reasons. I just… I thought you should know.”
She nods and swallows hard, ducking her face down and tugging another reluctant sheep into shelter. “Any number of reasons. Okay, Chief.”
But they both know what Valka had announced that morning when she’d spotted dragons and birds flocking east en masse.
We need to prepare the village. It’s a wickedly bad blow or they wouldn’t be fleeing. Dragons don’t abandon a nest unless it would take a miracle to survive.
This is a state of grace
This is the worthwhile fight
Love is a ruthless game
Unless you play it good and right
The stone guardian in the harbor is a sight for sore eyes. And within five minutes of sighting the dock, they have company: Hiccup and Toothless land on deck a couple seconds before Skullcrusher arrives with a thump, butting ecstatically at Eret.
Hiccup is all smiles as he dismounts. “We’re really glad to see you back safe. There was a wicked storm that came from the southwest a few days ago. We feared the worst.”
Eret nods, giving Hiccup a wry look over Skullcrusher’s head as he tends to his dragon’s demands for scratches and rubs. “Well, it caught us. Forty-foot seas, sheeting rain, spray hard enough to bruise. Skies were pitch black and there was so much air in the water and vice versa that we could barely tell which side was up. Thought we were done for, that we’d broach or break. But…dragons saved us, bore us through, kept our bow up. Don’t know if you’ve met Scauldy, but it was him and his… pod or whatever. We passed through his territory on the way out, and I guess he was keeping an eye out for us coming back.”
Hiccup inhales, awed and touched. “They really are amazing creatures.”
“Yeah, whoever heard of sailors saved by dragons, eh? Fed them all the fish we’d got when we finally got clear of it and they seemed pretty chuffed about that but...” Eret laughs ruefully, shaking his head. “It seems I just keep accruing life debts. We didn’t even know they were there at first. Wasn’t until I got swept overboard: hands were numb from wet and cold and the deck was awash already when we took a rogue wave…” He gestures to show the way he went flying and shakes his head grimly. “Went under. And then out of nowhere Scauldy hauled me up and out. Seemed to think I was right daft to be swimming and shoved me back on deck with that look dragons get- you know?”
Hiccup chuckles, shaking his head. “Oh, I am very familiar.”
Eret nods, extending a hand to the Night Fury. “Yeah, I bet, eh Toothless? Good to see you, too.”
Toothless rolls his eyes and whuffs, pressing his nose to the offered hand.
There are so many important issues to talk about: reports of Drago’s retreat down south, the goods in the hold, the revolt and upheaval in previously annexed territories. But he needs to ease his mind about one thing first. “Is Ruffnut all right?”
Hiccup tilts his head and winces. “Well…she tried to search for your ship on Skullcrusher once the storm passed. But he couldn’t find a scent without a lead. We all assumed the worst and… I’ve actually never seen her so upset.”
Eret cringes. “That bad, eh?”
Hiccup raises his eyebrows, shrugging. “…Let’s just say you shouldn’t plan on leaving for a while.”
Eret inhales and nods.
“Well, turns out the crew have all agreed that we like Berk well enough. We can keep playing trader for you if needs be—I think you’ll be pleased with how well we did, on both fronts. And we’d be happy to work for you or the Thorstons while we’re at port. ”
Hiccup smiles, inclining his head. “I appreciate the risk you all took. And… I believe there’s some land available near the Thorston’s if you’d like to build a place to stay while you're here.”
Eret grins, trying to sound casual. “Well, I suppose that sounds all right.”
Hiccup laughs, clapping him on the shoulder. “Welcome back, dragon rider.”
These are the hands of fate
You’re my Achilles heel
This is the golden age of something good and right and real
Everyone wants Haddock red to outfit the baby on the way so they’re replenishing the stock of Madder dyed yarn when the door wrenches open.
Tuffnut grins, shocked and delighted, and looks over at his motionless sister.
She just stares as if he's a ghost, wet skeins of yarn halfway to the line.
Eret approaches her slowly, smiling tentatively. “Well, I know I haven’t shaved or bathed properly yet, but I was hoping you wouldn’t mind too much.”
The yarn hits the floor with a wet plop and she’s crying when she leaps at him. Her hands stain the sides of his face and neck red as she kisses him- she obviously doesn’t care about the beard or the smell.
Maybe it's less than perfect but it feels pretty darn amazing anyway.
I also wanted to explore what immigrating to Berk might feel like, since fandom sort of handwaves it. There are a lot of choices to navigate, and leaving behind the place and people you grew up with is never easy (and arguably, never complete), even if you heartily embrace the new.
Lyrics interspersed throughout are from Taylor Swift’s "State of grace", Red (2012) Writer: Taylor Swift. Copyright: Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, Taylor Swift Music