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I love toothless and the dragon quote. This one has more intimidating feel.
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Raided - A Mericup Story

~ The Raid

Aibhlinn was gutting fish in the early morning fog with her family. It had been a terrific catch and the entire village had been working hard all night to prepare the fish for preservation. They had run out of salt already, so mum was building up the fire to smoke the rest of the fish.

The smoke smelled heavy in the still air, which covered the stink of the fish guts a little.

Struan and some of his friends had gone out to the forest to get more wood, mainly branches to set the fish on. Aibhlinn liked Struan. He was a strapping lad, he made her feel a little funny inside and she tended to giggle for no reason whenever he looked at her. She was almost of age to start walking out with him. She was hoping so hard he would ask her, she tried to be near him as much as she could. He looked at her sometimes with such a gentle look on his face. Her pretty brown braids were falling apart from all the work, but she would make herself look extra good after a good sleep and everyone would celebrate the phenomenal catch.

Aibhlinn looked around, wishing Struan would drop off some more branches for their fire. It was so foggy though, a thick pea soup fog that barely let her see her Da across the fire from her. The fire made the fog a sickly yellow around them them but opaque white away from the house.

Aibhlinn saw a heavy figure walking towards them; it took her a moment to realize she didn’t recognize the person. Then she noticed the sword.

Aibhlinn screamed.

“Vikings!” Da shouted as he knocked over a raider with the large salmon he had been about to gut.

“Run!” cried Mum as she bashed the Viking coming towards her with a flaming branch from the fire. Aibhlinn leapt forward to help with her little gutting knife.

“No! Make for the forest!” Mum cried as she fought the heavy fur covered Viking. The Viking tackled her. Mum fought back but they fell over into the fire. They both began to scream as their clothes and hair caught fire.

The girl turned; though her stomach clenched to think of running while her parents were in danger. A Viking with wild black hair stepped out of the fog. She flailed wildly at him with her little gutting knife and the fish in her hands. There was the sound of tearing fabric. He slapped her little knife away, threw her over his shoulder and ran.

Aibhlinn screamed.

“Aibhlinn!” cried her Father.

“Dada!” She wailed as she saw her father run through from behind and fall just as the fog swept around them.

She beat on the back of the Viking carrying her and fought with all her strength but she was much smaller then the hulking beast of a man. He threw her down and Aibhlinn saw stars as her head knocked into the rocks of the beach. She tried to hit or scramble away but hands grabbed her and held her limbs. She screamed for all she was worth as they cut away her dress in two efficient slices and slaves chains placed on her. They dragged her to the longboat and placed with the other captives.

Aibhlinn found herself next to Aideen, her best friend and Struan’s sister.

“Oh Aideen, what is to become of us?”

“I don’t know. I think they will sell us as slaves. Do you think anyone will rescue us?” said Aideen in a shaking voice.

“I don’t know. I-I saw Dada die, and Mum was on fire.” Aibhlinn wept.

Aideen undid their braids to cover themselves with their thigh-length hair. They held each other as best as they could, to try to comfort themselves, as they heard screams and shouts as the fighting continued.

# # #

“Your Majesties, please. You must do something. They killed my parents and most of the village, they stole my sister,” said the boy in anguish. He held out a bundle to the King, Queen and Princess.

Princess Merida stood and took the bundle from the boy as Queen Elinor came and held the boy. They sat on the edge of the dais and King Fergus clumped over and said, “We’ll do what we can. What is your name and where are you from, boy?”

“Struan, sire. I’m from Helmsdale.” He had walked from the coast to the inland capitol of the kingdom, it had taken a few days.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, exactly. There was a fog. We had a great catch of fish the day before. The biggest haul ever. We worked through the night. It was just getting light again. I had been sent out to get wood for smoking the fish. We’d run out of salt, you see. Then there was fighting and screaming. A few adults escaped into the fog and forest. They told us to hide. I wanted to fight, but we hid until it was over. It didn’t take long. So many dead, we buried them, but we know they took several girls and women.” He gestured to the bundle.

Merida unrolled the bundle, it was a girl’s dress sliced down the middle and arms, the sliced underwear fell to the floor.

Elinor and Fergus exchanged hard looks. Merida paled as she bent to pick up the underwear.

“They took my sister, Aideen and Aibhlinn, too.”

“Who is Aibhlinn, Struan?” Asked Elinor, noticing how the boy’s face changed at that name.

“She was the girl I liked. I hoped to marry her someday. Can’t you do something?” He pleaded.

“I don’t know,” rumbled Fergus. “We don’t know who did this other then Vikings. There are too many tribes and places they could have been taken to be sold as slaves.”

“I found this. Would this help?” Struan held out a ripped bit of fabric with a button on it. It showed an inverted truncated isosceles triangle intersected by a hooked T-handled skinning knife.

“It might. It just might.”

# # #

“By Caillech. Throwing back an invasion is easy, but how can we defend against these raids?” Fergus asked rhetorically as he paced back and forth in the upstairs sitting room. “These raids are too small and fast to gather our people to the defense. They are gone before we even know they are there.”

Queen Elinor was sitting at the table, going through a book, “This button doesn’t match anything we have on Vikings. This may be a new tribe trying to establish themselves.”

“And how does that help us?” asked Merida. She had laid out the cut dress, and it tore at her heart to see it on the table, since it was the same color as her own. She wanted to help but didn’t know where to start. She had dragged up the memories of geography Mum had taught her about the Vikings but she didn’t really know all that much about them.

“If this is a new tribe they would have come for the women for brides.” explained Elinor.

“Brides!? You mean marry your kidnapper!? That’s awful,” exclaimed Merida.

“Indeed, but when the choice is marry or die, which would you choose?” asked Elinor.

“I would rather fight and die.” Merida stated fiercely.

“You would, my dear lassie,” replied Fergus. “But not everyone is as brave and strong as you.”

“You are very brave. Do you think they didn’t try to fight?” said Elinor gesturing to the clothes on the table. “When Mor’du had you pinned to the ground and had his teeth on your head, would you not have chosen marriage, if given the chance?”

Merida bit her lip and looked away. She shivered as she remembered that. The roar ringing in her ears, and the hot, meaty smell of his breath. Her hand went to her throat where his slobber had dribbled. Her guts wound into a knot, she wasn’t sure all of the sudden. “Can we get them back?”

“I don’t know. They are just a collection of tribes, much like the clans, before I was raised as their king. We still have to find where this new tribe was and then try to negotiate, but if they came for wives, I don’t see them giving them up,” said Elinor.

“Oh,” said Merida disappointed. “What are we going to tell Struan?”

Elinor and Fergus shared a look.

“The truth,” said Fergus. “He deserves that.”
This is just an excuse to get Merida and Hiccup together. And the possible effects if they did.

Aibhlinn is pronounced i've-leen
Aileen is pronounced aye-leen

For some minor background material, you should read:
I Almost Lost You, Again fav.me/d54mnup
The Crowns of DunBroch:
Elinor fav.me/d558r3i
Merida fav.me/d57inif
Fergus fav.me/d5rbta8

Next: fav.me/d67azwp
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A Tangled Christmas Special

~ Flynn Rider and the Feral Princess
- Chapter 1

Flynn Rider slammed the shutters closed, finally safe from that stupid (okay, not so stupid) horse.

"Alone at last." Flynn said as he opened the satchel and pulled out the crown. He moved to a tall thin window and held it in the light, the jewels sparkling in the light. The three huge jewels that were most prominent on the crown were amazing. He found himself counting and categorizing all the lesser jewels that encrusted the crown as well. He had a buyer all ready and after ditching the Stabbington brothers he was going to take their cuts as well, more then enough for his island.

Soon enough though the excitement over the crown wore off and he looked around. The room was plain, there were a couple of chairs (the red one looked comfy enough), a wardrobe (he'd want to check that out for valuables), a spinning wheel (big deal), a neat little kitchen (he'd rummage through that, he was beginning to get hungry), a hole in the floor (he mentally kicked himself for not walking around the tower there must be stairs and an entrance on the back side), and yards and yards what what looked to be dirty blonde hair leading under a door under the stairs.

Flynn wandered over and gave some a tug. There as a gasp, a clank of chain and then a sweet angelic voice began to sing. He dropped the hair as it began to glow and backed away but tripped and landed on more, and found himself feeling a lot better.

The glow faded and now he was curious. He opened the door and found a girl, with chains on her wrists, huddled in the corner whimpering. She was pulling the hair around her trying to hide in it.

"It's okay, I won't hurt you." He crouched and held out his hand, but she whimpered and scrambled to a different corner, upsetting a small bucket that smelled of urine.

Eugene's heart was going out to this poor child. She looked so tiny and skinny, 12-14 years-old maybe. There had been a few children in the orphanage that had been taken from their parents who had been hurting them. What had happened to them had been heartbreaking. Trying to comfort their nightmares had been awful.

Parents should love their children, to hate and hurt their own children was wrong at the most fundamental level. A coal of anger began to glow in his belly, but first he knew he had to gain her trust a little so he could get her out of here. No one deserved this kind of life, no one!

Then he heard echoing steps from the hole in the floor. He closed the door, covered his mouth with a finger, she nodded and he dove under the girl's bed.

Soon the door creaked open again and he could see the hem of a red dress and some leather shoes walk over to the spill.

The shoes turned toward the corner of the mass of hair.

"You are a bad girl. A messy, disgusting girl. Why do I even bother taking care of you? Get over here and clean it up!"

Flynn felt his stomach clench as the girl scrambled over and began to lick up the urine from the floor. His anger was building. How dare that mother hurt her own child this way! But he didn't know if there was a father around here somewhere, he needed to be careful. He might want to pick up the bed and slam it down on the mother, but she could get the drop on him before he got out and then he wouldn't be able to get the girl out of here.

He had to wait just a little while and then he'd be able to get her out of here and sneak her into the orphanage, the headmistress had a heart as big as the kingdom and had been able to help some very hurt children, but they always had problems ever after. She would know how to help even this poor girl.

"Just to make sure you don't do that again, you are to get a punishment."

The girl was whimpering and moaning in fear. The mother was standing in front of the bed blocking him in and he could see the girl prostrate herself in front of the mother, hands flat on the ground between the mother's shoes, those huge green eyes full of fear looking right at him.

There was the sound of the leather belt coming down, the smack of it against the girl's bottom and a scream. "Imma bad girl, one."

Eugene had thought the mother would stop at 25 which was the law in the kingdom, but she kept going. He put his hands out as close as he dared and laid them in front of the girls hands. He was praying she would stop at 40 which was the tradition from the Bible, but she just kept going. He was weeping as they past 100, but he couldn't avert his eyes as the girl just kept looking at him, holding his heart with her eyes.
He was weak with relief when they stopped. Five hundred lashes, he could hardly believe it. He'd been lashed a few times, but now he was wondering how this scrap of a girl could survive this. He'd been in other kingdoms that actually killed people by lashing and it didn't take that many.

"Sing!"

The girl began to sing, and the hair glowed and he could see her body heal before his eyes.

"Very good, you took your punishment well. Good girl." The happiness in the girl's face ripped his heart out of his chest. It was so utterly twisted and wrong. Eugene had to help this girl!

"It's your 18th birthday tomorrow, and for taking your punishment so well ...I think I'll give you something nice, how about some hazelnut soup, your favorite?" The girl nodded and crawled up to the mother and stroked her leg like a cat.

Eugene knew what hazelnut soup was, he had eaten enough of it himself. The poorest of the poor eat that because there was nothing else, but dirt to eat! What did this mother feed her child that made hazelnut soup a treat? She was 18!? She looked 14 tops. How could a mother do that to her own child, twisting even the body of her child like that?

Burning hate was trying to consume him, but he knew he had to get the girl to safety first, no other consideration outweighed that. He would deal with the mother personally later. Soon he saw the mother climb down the ladder and clatter down the steps.

He cautiously crawled out from under the bed.

"Would you like to leave?"

She looked at him puzzled.

"I can take you away from here."

She didn't understand.

"If you come with me, there will be no more punishments," he gestured.

That got her attention. She held out her wrists with the shackles on them.

"I can get you out of them." Flynn the thief said confidently. They sat on the bed and he opened the satchel and put the crown to one side as he dug around for his lock picks.

The girl was looking at the crown and gingerly picked it up. Eugene was just about to take one of her hands to start working on the lock when she plopped the crown lopsidedly on her head and gave a babyish giggle.

Eugene's mouth dropped open. "Solara?"

The girl looked at him in wide-eyed wonder, then giggled again.

He knew exactly who this girl was. 18 years old, blonde hair, green eyes. How often had he stared at the mosaic in the square?

She was the Lost Princess.

He had found the Lost Princess, one of his childhood dreams.

He had take her to the palace, he had no choice, praying the guards didn't kill him before he could tell them who she was.

Tears filled his eyes, because he knew that she would never be normal, and could never be the princess she had been born to be.
Author’s Note: This story takes place in my Feral Princess AU, so I am going to post that story in here so the entire story is in one place for your convenience. I cleaned things up a bit with better grammar.
The premise is what if Gothel had been a truly heartless witch and locked the princess in the room under the stairs and treated her as merely a magical object and not a human being.
The story continues with some of the after effects and what Christmas might be like for the princess and the kingdom. I gave her some minor advantages over a typical worst case feral child. She would have heard the incantation every few days and would have learned rudimentary speech that way, and she had loving parents the first year who gave her love and affection which allowed her brain to develop enough. I also consider Rapunzel one of the more intelligent princesses so she had some extra brain power to work with.
Rapunzel, Solara in this story, is one of those poor, feral, closet children that show up on the news from time [link] to time [link] . Tragic beyond belief.
This story will be posted daily until Christmas Eve.
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~ Raided: Chapter 2: Bows

Fergus placed a bow on the dinner table by his wife’s plate.

“Fergus, no weapons on the table,” Queen Elinor said out of habit not looking up from the letter she was reading.

“You know lass, I keep wondering why you say that.”

“Oh, my mum always made us do that so we would take the time to talk instead of fiddle with our weapons,” said Elinor.

Fergus thought for a moment. “If it is so important to talk, why do you read so much at the table?”

Elinor blinked. She looked up and looked at her husband, daughter and sons. Then she looked back at the letter and folded it up and put it away. “You’re right, I should spend my time with you and not with some letters.”

“Have there been anymore raids?” asked Merida.

“Not so far this week, there have been three so far this summer but putting extra men to the coastal towns aren’t stopping them. We need to do something different.”

“Indeed, that’s why I got you this.” Fergus said, pointing to the bow.

“A-a bow for me?” Elinor asked amazed.

“Cut the wood myself, though I had the bowyer shape it. Merida decorated it.”

It was a beautiful slender bow with knots cut for decoration above and below the grip with a gilt DunBroch medallion on the upper limb. It was the same size as Merida’s latest bow.

“Oh dear, it’s beautiful, but I put down my bow when I became a lady.” Elinor said uncomfortably.

“I know, but now with the threats we’re facing, our kingdom needs a queen for the Highlands, not some continental fop. We need the men and women ready to fight and they need to see you as an example.” Fergus said emphatically.

Elinor looked at her husband. “That is very astute.”

Fergus smiled a little on one side, “I may not be a good king, but I know fighting and keeping up morale.”

“You are a good king and you are getting better. Thank you.” Fergus had been crashing the princess lessons and was listening. Elinor had been trying to help Fergus be a better king for a long time, but he never listened before.

Elinor stood, picked up the bow and hefted it.

Merida saw subtle changes come over her mum. She wasn’t seeing the concerned mother, or the regal queen, but a younger, wilder woman whose long brown hair flowed like a cape behind her.

“Shall we go loose a few arrows?” Merida asked a little tentatively. Mum loved her so much and doing the tapestry together was fun, but it was all indoors work. She liked being outdoors, but soon winter would come, the tapestry could wait for winter.

The smile that came over her mum made Merida’s heart bloom like a sunflower.

“Yes, let’s.”

# # #

After lunch, the royal family and their retainers went out to the archery field, the rich colors of the fall foliage warmed the cool air. Maudie was trying to keep the boys from hurting anyone, they were loosing arrows all willy-nilly, but their bows were not very strong.

Elinor fitted an arrow to her bow, set herself and loosed an arrow at the target. It struck at the edge of the red center.

“Not bad,” said Merida, to her Da as they stood just behind Elinor. She was quite impressed, her mum had done better then most of the suitors.

“Ach, my calluses are all wrong.” Elinor huffed. She fitted another arrow and made several subtle adjustments to her stance and grip. It had been a long time since she had held a bow, longer then her daughter had lived, but her muscles still remembered how to do it. This time the arrow landed dead center in the target.

With a smirk she drew another arrow and then she began to walk as Merida has done at her games. She loosed two more arrows at the neighboring targets, also striking them dead center.

“Much better,” smiled Elinor, as Merida stood there with her mouth hanging open. Fergus grinned knowingly; his wife had been a great archer and obviously still was.

“I wonder...” said Elinor quietly, as she fitted another arrow, it had been such a very long time.

Elinor drew to her cheek, sighted down the arrow to her target. She drew the calmness around her like a cloak, a warmth bloomed in her chest. There was just she, the bow and the target. She heard nothing, yet could feel her heartbeat. Elinor willed the arrow to strike deep. She exhaled and as her heart rested between beats, she loosed.

The arrow bent under the force of the released bowstring. As it cleared the bow, the fletching caught the air and the arrow began to spin and stabilize. It flew down the field, caught the end of the previous arrow, and split it down its length, driving itself through the target to embed itself into the post holding up the target.

“What do you know? I can still do it,” murmered Elinor as she lowered her bow, with a small-satisfied smile.

Elinor jumped as Merida let out a loud squeal of delight.

“You can do that too!” squealed Merida, jumping up and down.

“Do what?” asked Elinor, not sure what her daughter was going on about.

“Oh, mum.” Merida rolled her eyes. “What you just did with that arrow? Didn’t you see me do that at the Games?” asked Merida.

Elinor looked away trying to remember, “All I remember was being so angry at you for disrupting everything, embarrassing the lords and myself.”

Merida rolled her eyes, lifted her own new bow, consentrated and after a long breath loosed, splitting her mum’s first off-center arrow. The arrow passed completely through the target, and landed in the field beyond.

Elinor looked at amazement at her daughter who was grinning back fit to break her face.

“What I want to know is, how do you two do that?” Asked Fergus, coming up to them, with his heavy bow.

“Well, I just concentrate on striking the target, the end of the arrow,” said Merida. Elinor nodded.

“No, not that. This.” Fergus raised his great bow, half again as long as the ones the women were hefting and much thicker. His arrow struck between the two previous arrows and stopped once the head entered the target.

He trooped to the target followed by the women and asked, “How do yours go in so deep; when mine, shot with a heavier bow, does not?”

The two women looked at each other and shrugged.

Fergus turned and pointed to one of his men. “Go get a breast plate from the armory, a good heavy one.” The man ran off.

“What are you getting at, Fergus?” asked the queen.

“First, I want to see if you can shoot through armor as well as a target. Second, I want to know if you can teach me to do it too.”

“Da, you taught me how to shoot. I thought you already knew but just didn’t bother. I usually don’t since it is a little tiring,” said Merida.

“No, I can’t do that. I thought nothing much of it since you are so good, but since both of you can I am wondering if it can be taught. It would be a significant advantage if all of our men could shoot like that.” said Fergus.

“Yes, indeed it would. Especially against the Vikings,” said Elinor, thoughtfully.

Soon the man arrived and Fergus propped the steel breastplate on the target with some arrows. Fergus and the women went back to the line.

“Let’s see what happens when I do it.” Fergus lifted his heavy bow and the arrow shattered against the armor with a ringing Thung!

After a grunt, he gestured to Elinor.

Elinor set herself, invoked the calmness and loosed her arrow, which penetrated to the fletching at the center of the armor. A heavy sound of the striking arrow echoed back.

Then Merida did the same just above her mother’s arrow.

“How do you do that?” Asked Fergus amazed.

“I just go all calm inside and really focus on shooting through the target,” said Elinor.

“Everything goes all quiet and I really want to have the arrow go through the target.” Merida said.

“Calm and shoot through. Quiet and really want it,” rumbled Fergus, who brought up his bow and tried again. He let out a long breath and loosed. This time the arrow glanced off the armor and wobbled into the field with a screech.

Elinor and Merida were in a huddle, talking about their feelings, calmness and a number of things Fergus just didn’t get.

“If you can reach a consensus maybe you can tell me what you are talking about,” grumbled Fergus.

“We’re trying. We are still working out the details. We’ve never talked about this before and we are still figuring out how to describe it to someone else. This might take a while,” said Elinor as they went back to their huddle.

# # #

Maudie was putting another plate of meat on the table. The men would doubtless be getting hungry, again. She’d been listening to the queen and the princess telling the men how to shoot an arrow like they did.

To her it sounded like something she understood. She had to go to that calm place all the time; what with the triplets driving her insane all the time.

There was a bow leaning against the table. She glanced around, and then ran her finger down it, wondering.

“Maudie!” Maudie nearly jumped out of her dress as the queen called her. “Something to drink, please.”

Maudie picked up a chalice of wine and rushed over to the queen.

“How are you supposed to be calm in the middle of a battle?” asked one of the men, and many of the others grumbled about that.

“Tsk. You never have to take care of the children. I have to go to the calm place all the time with the way the boys terrorize me or I’d die.” Maudie chided the man, who looked unconvinced.

“Children ain’t war,” the man commented.

Elinor and Merida exchanged a look.

“Maudie, come here, please.” The queen asked as she handed Merida the cup.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Maudie.

“Have you ever loosed an arrow before?”

“Tsk, me! Hardly.” Maudie blushed.

“Would you try, please?”

“Yes, ma’am,” The queen handed over her bow and gave her maid a few quiet instructions about how to hold it, and how to stand. Then asked her to go to that calm place the boys drive her to. Everyone could see her breathing calm. Her body began to relax, yet steadily held the drawn bow.

“Now see the arrow in the breastplate,” said the queen.

Maudie exhaled, the arrow released itself and punched a hand span into the shoulder of the armor.

“Yehoo!” shouted Merida, jumping up and down and spinning, while the men groaned.

“Well, isn’t that just grand,” grumbled Fergus.

Maudie looked like she couldn’t believe she even hit it.

“Thank you Maudie, you did really well,” said the queen, retrieving her bow from her maid.

Maudie giggled still unable to believe it.

# # #

Fergus took a drink from his tankard as he sat behind the archery range. The boys had rigged a shield as a sled and the dogs were dragging them toward the castle, Maudie in pursuit.

Elinor and Merida had been out of the range all day, trying to figure out how they shoot arrows so they could explain it to the men. Somehow, they had taught Maudie but not the men. Fergus was a little frustrated, this ability would provide a great advantage in battle, but somehow they needed to teach it to others.

Fergus was sitting nearby listening but mostly just shaking his head, he just didn’t understand. He had taught Merida to shoot but this was beyond anything he’d seen. It seemed so much like magic. He now knew that magic existed, with Mor’du, will ‘o the wisps, witches and spells that changed people into bears. He shivered a little at the memory of almost killing his own wife, as she was a bear.

He listened as Elinor had watched Merida and Merida had watched Elinor and they had talked about calm places, quiet places and other things he had no idea of. Now they were standing together, describing how they were placing their feet and the angle of their hips and Fergus put down his tankard.

They were talking and moving at the same time, not following but they were like mirrors of each other. It suddenly felt spooky, like the two women were one person or something. They loosed at precisely the same moment, the arrows flew together and intersected at the target. With a loud bang, they punched through the target and even shoved it back a pace, before it fell over.

“Oh, dear,” The two women said together, as they brought down their bows.

Fergus got up and stomped over to the two women. “Elinor, are you okay?”

The queen and princess turned together, but only Elinor spoke. “Yes, dear, I’m fine. But that was odd.” Merida's mouth moved though she said nothing out loud.

“In what way?” Fergus asked.

“I hit it harder then I expected.” Elinor was looking at him but her eyes were distant as Merida just stood there, though her mouth moved a little.

“You both hit it at the same time.” Fergus said cautiously.

“Really?” Said Elinor as Merida’s mouth moved silently.

“Yes. Why don't we take a break?” Fergus suggested, trying to gently snap them out of whatever it was that was happening to them.

“Okay, that sounds good. I am getting tired.” Elinor agreed as Merida nodded.

“Merida, go help Maudie to pick up the tankards please.”

“Sure, Da.” Merida shook herself and hurried off, her hair flouncing.

Fergus just watched them for the rest of the evening, but they seemed fine.

###

“Merida, I’m going to have to cancel princess lessons today,” said Elinor as Merida came into the Great Hall the next morning.

“Ah, yes, mum. Thank you,” said Merida distracted. Her arm was hurting rather a lot today. She was walking carefully and not moving her arm to keep the pain from shooting from her elbow and up her neck.

She winced as she grabbed the chair by habit to try to pull back the chair but it hurt too much. She used her other hand to move the chair and then began to rub her shoulder as she sat.

“Are you hurting too?” asked Elinor.

“Yes. It feels like arrows are lodged in my arm and shoulder and neck.”

“I know I feel it too. I wonder if it has something to do with how we shoot.”

“Here, let me help.” Piped up Fergus, who came around and began massaging Elinor’s arm and shoulder. His wife squirmed under the ministrations. “I’ll do you next, Merida. By the way, how did you sleep?”

“I slept like a log. I can’t remember when I’ve slept so hard.” said Merida.

“You did too dear. You hardly moved all night.” said Fergus to Elinor who nodded back.
Author’s Note: As insane as this sounds it happens in real life. Okay not the arrows but there are plenty of stories of pair programmers that sync up like this and everyone calls it spooky. I have seen and done this in other situations. Most of us know those couples that finish each other’s sentences.
We see Merida show off her elective inertia power when she not only splits Wee’s arrow but punches all the way through to the beam holding the target up. Notice that was the only one to go so deep even her other arrows only penetrate a short distance. Having Elinor do it too is likely as she is described as a powerful archer.
Also I have placed a limitation of what Elinor and Merida can do. They are very powerful, especially synced up like they do.

Beginning: [link]
Next: [link]
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Raided: Chapter 15: The Wedding

The door shut behind Hiccup and the room went dark. He heard the bar slide into place, and his heart began to race again.

Elinor had told him that all he had to do was retrieve Merida from the dungeon during a mock raid. The idea seemed a bit odd, but it made a weird kind of sense, most of the interactions between the Viking and the Highlands had been raids and they were acknowledging that.

Hiccup was hoping that there wouldn’t be too many injuries. Elinor had confided in him that she was hoping this would also tire everyone so the new couple could have a quiet night together.

Elinor had just locked him into this dark room. Merida was in here somewhere, but how to find her. He waited as his eyes tried to adjust to the darkness. The slave chain on his belt clanked gently.

He started as he heard some rocks start rolling nearby. There was a thump and a window opened. There in the beam of sunlight was a white cocoon topped with wild red hair.

“Merida?” Hiccup whispered.

“Merida!” He shouted and the cocoon wiggled.

Another rock thudded and more light entered the room. The room was filled with a huge array of troughs, ropes, pulleys and his eyes widened at all the ballistas pointed at his bride. Their arms beginning to cock.

Hiccup turned and beat on the door, “Beard of Thor, what have you done!”

“Save her if you love her. I know you can,” came the reply. Hiccup looked around panicked. There were too many rolling rocks spreading through the room to stop them. His small knife wouldn’t be enough to cut many of the ropes, but cutting them might be wrong. It was like a huge version of one of Gobber’s tavern puzzles.

Hiccup pushed at some of the machinery but it was too solidly built and too heavy for him to move. He grabbed a counterweight and that stopped one of them, but he couldn’t reach all the others. He grabbed at the arrows but he couldn’t reach. He spun in place under Merida, looking for a solution. He looked down, then up and down again.

“Flames!” He hoped the obvious solution was the correct one.

There were ropes suspending Merida above the floor, but they were lost in the darkness as he searched for the ends to lower her.

He found boards left on the floor. He looked back to Merida and the machinery around her. Heavy rock balls falling to the ground counting down to the time of her death. He grabbed them up and placed them on the machinery and climbed in front of her, it placed him between her and some of the arrows but he could reach the ropes suspending her.

“I’m here, Merida. I am going to get you free.” Hiccup said holding her and the white cocoon wiggled a little. He started sawing through the ropes. As each one came free she dropped a little, but it was taking so much time as the machinery was tightening and rocks dropping.

He was down to the last rope, if he got it cut she would drop to the ground and be safe, that’s all that mattered. He wouldn’t have time to get out of the way. One ballista he could see easily was almost fully cocked and it would cut him in half.

“Merida. I love you.” He said quietly as the knife finally sawed through the final rope. Merida dropped free, the rope was under tension and quickly slithered into the ceiling Hiccup tried to jump after her but a heavy bump threw him onto the plank he was standing on. He could see all the ballista fully cock. Another heavy bump and he rolled as the ballista all fired into the space he and Merida had been occupying. The heavy arrows shattered against the far wall. Hiccup landed on Merida. Quickly he unwrapped her face.

“Merida, are you okay?” he asked as she spit out the gag.

“Yes. Oh yes. You did it. Thank you. I love you too.”

And they kissed with all their hearts.

# # #

Maudie blew a horn to signal the end of the melee. Banners flapped and drooped in the occasional gusty winds.

Queen Elinor pulled open the doors to the castle.

The clans and the tribes were almost done fighting. She found Fergus and Stoic still going at it. Not with swords and shields but with their fists, trading blow for blow on their bloodied faces. Surrounded in awe by the brutal forces they were trading.

“You know, I’m exhausted,” said Fergus as he heard the gates open.

“Yeah. Me too,” replied Stoic and they fell into each other’s arms and hugged.

They then supported each other to the dais set up on the other end of the field, forging a path between the two tired armies. They sat on their thrones.

Queen Elinor of Scotland walked the path in a stately elegant manner. Her face calm, she was as regal and majestic as she ever was and every one respected the power she was. It was a challenge to maintain that, knowing how her daughter would come behind her.

“Are you ready?” asked Hiccup, not looking at his new bride, deeply uncomfortable about the whole situation, she said she would explain later.

“I’m trying, but we are out of time.” Merida was taking deep breathes trying not to pant.

“I’m sorry. This wasn’t what I expected or anything.”

“I know. It’s okay. I’ll be fine. It was my idea. I didn’t think it would be quite that intense, though. I know how they feel now, and I never want anyone to feel this again.” She had had to convince him to lock the slave chains around her. The iron was slowly warming from her skin. She wanted to scratch her nose but she couldn’t, the shackles on her wrists kept them near her waist.

“Me neither, on either side. You are so brave.”

“Thank you. Let’s free them.”

“Okay.” Hiccup stepped into the light holding the leash that went to the iron collar around Merida’s neck. He took short slow steps so the shackles around her ankles wouldn’t trip her.

Merida was trying to maintain the calmness and serenity that she had used to stop the war between the clans that had nearly broken out in the throne room.

Merida wore the slave chain as the finest jewelry and her hair like royal robes. She had taken into herself all the serenity she could, though it wavered around the edges so much. Part of her was screaming for all she was worth. The Scots on one side, her people had fought and ceremonially lost and she could see that it didn’t sit well with some of them.

On the other side were the Viking tribes they had cheered and hooted as she was led out, but they were beginning to quiet as Hiccup glared at them to quell them and she maintained her majesty. She had stopped a war between the clans with a serene walk and mostly quiet words.

Soon the other Viking teens were there surrounding them. The boys ahead and the girls behind. Young MacGuffin and even MacIntosh soon joined them.

Her heart softened a bit for Wee who was being restrained by Hunk Dingwall and his father, with Hunk’s wife, her nurse maid Maudie trying to calm him.

Merida stopped and that forced Hiccup to stop as the chain came to the end. She turned and knelt before Wee, which gave her enough slack to reach out to her former suitor with her chained hands. Wee was fighting being held down by Hunk and his father.

“It’s okay, I do this for all of us.”

Wee struggled with all his might one last time, lifting the two men, straining with all his might, but they were too heavy and he collapsed.

“Please, stop fighting. It’s okay. I’ll be fine.” Merida pleaded, worried he would hurt himself. She looked into Wee’s eyes. He whined like a hurt dog as she stroked his brow. Wee dropped his head into the dirt and wept.

“My good wee lamb,” said Merida as she stood and continued on.

Merida and Hiccup mounted the stairs to the dais before the people. They stood before her father the king, Stoic and the other clan lords and tribal chieftains. Merida did not meet anyone’s eyes but turned before the crowd. Silence reigned.

Hiccup and Merida moved to the anvil that had been placed on the dais.

Merida knelt and placed the lock on the anvil.

Hiccup lifted a hammer and chisel.

“Merida Dunbruch and all Scotland! Be free!” Hiccup shouted and with a mighty blow from his hammer, shattered the lock to held the chains on his bride. The chains fell away and Merida was freed. Hiccup helped her to her feet.

Queen Elinor came up beside her with her new tartan, one that represented the new alliance.

Hiccup wrapped the tartan around her hips and across her chest and over her shoulder. Merida was Scotland for this ceremony. He then slung her quiver across her waist and handed her her bow.

“I am Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. Son of Stoic of the Hairy Hooligans. I am chief of chiefs of the Viking tribes. ” Hiccup announced as had been arranged.

“I am Merida. Firstborn of Clan DunBroch. I am a princess” She flung out her hands and looked up, closing her eyes. Just then a blast of wind hit her raising her hair and tartan, but she held her pose. She heard whispers of Freya and Morrigan, Norse and Scottish goddesses of both war and love. She left warm sunlight on her skin and face.

She opened her eyes.

Merida alone was hit with a thin blazing beam of sunlight. Her flowing hair glowed like a bonfire, her pale skin dazzled them all, her tartan streaming around her. She was like a goddess embodied.

The gust of wind had pushed the crowd and the momentum of it ran through the tightly packed assemblage forcing everyone to take a step the wave built until it forced the ones in the front ranks to their knees. The ones behind seeing them bend the knee thought it was part of the ceremony and bowed the knee as well the wave flowed backwards thru the crowd.

Everyone was kneeling to her. Hundreds of dragons took flight and circled the field, many of them emitting flares of flame.

Hiccup lifted the slave chains over his head.

“No more raids, no more slaves.” said Hiccup. “I will forge this last chain into something new. Not a sword, not a shield, but a plate that we may shared our food like brothers.”

The words flowed over the crowd. Scot and Viking looked at each other and then cheered.

Their families came up next to them. Fergus and Stoic handed their children swords which they placed on each other’s hips. Elinor and Ingrid handed rings to their children which they place on each other’s hands. The witch bound their hands together, and they jumped over the broom together, the witch giving Merida wink as she did.

With the wedding complete, the feast began!

# # #

It was the biggest wedding feast ever, but Struan didn’t care. The food would be ashes on his tongue. He was looking through the massive crowd hoping to find his sister or the girl he cared about.

Struan was walking down the line of slaves. He had had to work his way across the huge field filled with people to reach the line. King Hiccup had called for the slaves to line up so he could release them from their chains.

Struan had many bruises but he had defeated several Vikings in the melee.

Struan had started at the end and was working his way to the front looking for his sister and the girl he loved. He could see some of the slaves were pregnant and other carried children. Some were dressed well and others not so much.

He had seen a few slaves reunited with their families, but he had not found his own. He could hear Hiccup breaking the locks and Merida welcoming the slaves.

He came up to some that looked to have been dressed in discarded turnip sacks near the front of the line. A starved looking girl carrying a baby on her hip turned, idly looked around.

“Struan. Struan!” She waved.

He could not believe it. It was Aideen.

“Aideen.” He stumbled over to his sister and took her gently into his arms. He could hardly recognize her. Her hair was so short, and she was so thin. The heavy bronze collar around he neck made his heart burn with anger still. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I tried to do something.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay. You found me. We are together again.”

They wept together for several minutes as the line slowly moved. The baby began to cry because her mum was crying.

“Struan, this is Helga. She’s my baby.”

“Oh,” said Struan, his heart breaking some more. “Hi, Helga. I’m your Uncle Struan.”

Aideen looked around, bit her her lip and asked, “Mum? Da?”

Struan just shook his head, and the line moved forward a little more.

“Oh.”

“Aibhlinn?”

“Yes, she’s here.” Aideen said, her face lit up because it was something that was good, but the look faded. “I’m sorry, but they hurt her, they broke her. They broke all of us through her. She isn’t the same.” Aideen warned.

“I don’t care. I need to see her.”

“Come. She’s at the front of us, we want her to be freed first. I was at the end to make sure none were forgotten.” Aideen lead her to her front of the former slave brides of the Skivvy Scrounger tribe, where a thin girl was being supported by two others.

“Aibhlinn, look who found us. My brother Struan.”

Struan’s heart broke; Aibhlinn was almost skeletally thin and covered with scars. The heavy bronze collar fit so loosely around her neck, but it looked to be weighing so heavily on her. Then she lifted her head and looked at him and Struan’s heart broke all over again, her eyes seemed so empty.

Struan felt to his knees in front of her. “I’m so sorry. I went to King Fergus and begged his help. I didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry I didn’t do more. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.”

“It’s okay.” Aibhlinn whispered.

“No, it isn’t.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, you’re not, but I’ll help you be okay again.” He said cupping her face making her look at him.

“Y-you care?” she stammered.

“Yes, I care. Aibhlinn, I love you.”

“You can’t. I’m bad. I’m ugly. I’m broken.”

“Yes. I can. I love you no matter what.”

“But...”

“No buts. I love you. I was going to ask to walk out with you on your birthday.”

“Really?” light began to return to those brown eyes.

“Really. Actually, I asked your father for your hand, he asked me to wait for your birthday and a proper walking out period.”

“Dada?” Aibhlinn asked, looking around.

“I’m sorry.” He shook his head.

“I knew. I saw Dada be speared and Mum fall into the fire.”

“Oh. I buried them properly for you.” He said trying to console her.

“Thank you.”

Then it was their turn before King Hiccup.

“Struan! Did you find her?” Hiccup asked. Merida was looking hopeful.

“Yes,” Struan smiled. “This is Aibhlinn, my beloved.”

“Oh, that’s so sweet.” said Merida, but her eyes were filled with compassion toward the thin girl.

“So this is the girl who started all this.” said Hiccup gesturing to the field.

“What?” asked Aibhlinn, her sunken, bloodshot eyes coming up.

“Struan came to us, asking for help to rescue you.” explained Merida.

“When they captured me they told me of your plight.” said Hiccup.

“We came up with this solution to save you and everyone.” said Merida.

“All this...For me?” asked Aibhlinn in a tiny voice.

“Yes, for you.” assured Hiccup.

Aibhlinn began sobbing uncontrollably. Merida, Aideen, Hiccup and Struan hugged her tight as she wept herself out.

“How? What? Why can you love me?”

“Because he loved you and came to us to help you.” said Hiccup gesturing to Struan. “Here, let me get this collar off you.”

Merida placed the bronze lock on the anvil, Hiccup placed a steel chisel on the hasp.

“Aibhlinn, be free!”

Hiccup struck with a heavy hammer, and shattering the lock. He put down his tools and took the collar from the girl’s throat.

Merida lifted her up, hugged her and said, “Welcome home. Aibhlinn.”

Aibhlinn was sobbing, hardly believing she was free.

“Aibhlinn,” said Hiccup considering the collar in his hand. “I will make this a part of my crown so we will always remember you.”

“Please, remember that she was brave. She was so brave.” said Aideen and the rest nodded too.

“And you are...?” asked Hiccup.

“This is Aideen, my sister.” said Struan.

“Please, we are all sisters now after what we have done for each other.” Aibhlinn said gesturing to the women in their tattered sackcloths. Light and fire had returned to her eyes.
“Princess, I would consider you my sister too, for what you did to free us.” Aibhlinn said shyly.

“I am most honored. I always wanted a sister.” smiled Merida.

“I guess we are going to have to hear your story, somehow I am not surprised that it is bigger then I thought. You are our special guests now.” said Hiccup.

“Maudie!” Merida called. “Please, these women are our special guests and they need to be well taken of.”

“Yes, mum.” Maudie said.

“But first let us free them.” Hiccup gestured to Aideen to take her place by the anvil.

“Aideen, be free!” The lock was broken.

“Welcome home, Aideen.”

“King Hiccup, would you merry us please? We’ve been through so much and we would like to be together now. I don’t want to lose him again.” asked Aibhlinn as she took hold of Struan.

“Ah, sure. Um, you look, hm...okay I guess....” began King Hiccup awkwardly, looking at the bruised and disheveled Struan and rag-covered Aibhlinn. Repeating the words of the ceremony that had been burned into his brain forever.

“They look beautiful,” corrected Queen Merida, giving her husband a nudge.

# # #

“So, now what?” asked Hiccup of Merida as they looked out over the remains of the party from atop the tower roof. The sun was setting and the stars were coming out. They had left because they were tired and things had been too much for Hiccup, he had needed some space and some quiet.

“Oh, they’ll be partying for days, drinking, telling outrageous stories, showing off and singing.” Said Merida, “I think I’ll scream if I hear another chorus of “The Song of Mor’du” though.”

Hiccup chuckled a bit, it was a song that was stuck in his head. “Fishlegs seems like he loves caber tossing. No, I mean, what about us? We’re married now and I don’t really know what to do about it or anything.”

“Oh. Well, I guess I could take you to my room and show you, but I think we can do that some other time. We should spend a bit more time getting to know each other, for real.”

“Good. I like you, and it’s good being with you.” Hiccup said awkwardly.

“Same here.” said Merida, taking his hand; a companionable silence enveloped them. They lay down on the roof to look at the stars.

“What was with that crazy deathtrap thing you were in?” Hiccup asked as they relaxed at the end of a very long day. They were finally together and alone and enjoying each other’s presence and that was more important then anything else.

“I needed to show you something.” Merida said.

“Oh, what?”

“What do you think?”

Hiccup thought for a moment “You trusted me to rescue you. You expected me to succeed. You believed in me.”

“Yes, and other things, too.”

Hiccup thought, but was rather tired. “I’m sorry, what other things?”

“To love as strongly as you do. I became a slave for a short time to know what they felt, and I don’t want anyone to feel that.”

“No.”

“That I can do hard things for your sake and the kingdom’s sake. I faced my biggest fears: helplessness, dependency, death, and lack of freedom. Being so completely helpless and dependent on someone else was very scary. Even believing that you would rescue me. I didn’t know if I was strong enough or brave enough for all this.”

“You just gestured to all of me.”

“Yes, I did,” and she snuggled close to him.

“You are incredibly brave.”

“Thank you.”

===

Hiccup had no idea how to be a king, and the Vikings had no idea what to do with a king. Merida knew how to be a good queen and ruler. It took some effort for Merida and Hiccup to get the point across to the Viking chiefs that she was a force to be reckoned with, and that she would protect Hiccup from their pettiness. It took a couple of years before Merida could go to a meeting without her bow, but the Viking tribes eventually got the idea that she was a force to be reckoned with.

Hiccup learned quickly, though he still took time to be with Toothless so he would have time to think, and occasionally would hammer something out in the smithy, when it didn’t feel like negotiations was getting them anywhere. One of Hiccup’s major duties was to continue finding and training new dragons and new dragonriders, finding good reliable people was the biggest issue. Hiccup and Merida had to fight to retain control of the dragons from time to time.

Some nations paid tribute, others prepared to fight, though invasion never came. Others attacked to forestall invasions they felt were coming or for the desire for their own dragons. Hiccup and Merida often fought for peace and justice and in time the world calmed and became a good place to live and their children ruled well, because they lived in a hard land.

The story of Aibhlinn of Helmsdale and her sisters was heard, and hearts were touched. Hiccup and Merida made crowns that incorporated the collars of Aibhlinn and Aideen. Their stories were written in the records of the kingdom and epics made and told so none would forget.

Struan took Aibhlinn and Aideen and many of the others to a new home far from the sea, and they founded a village and they were happy again. It took a long time to work through the pain they had in their lives but they focused on the love. They made it a good place, that was filled with kindness and understanding and love.

Fishlegs and Lifa got married and everyone on Berk loved the bread they baked. Snotlout had some trouble with all the girls vying for his attention, he did have a cool dragon, but he settled down in Berk with a woman that his parents decided who was good for him. The twins moved to Scotland to stay together after she took a liking to young MacIntosh. Hiccup and Merida gave Astrid their blessings once she fell for Kevin MacGuffin. Young Dingwall had impressed many women with his devotion to Merida and a wife was found for him.

Once Merida trained her own dragon it became easy for her to visit her family. More then once Merida and Elinor would talk about the power of their crowns. Merida had a special place to put hers so she could spend time with her children and the dragons.

Berk was a land as untamed as the Highlands, summers were short and winters long, but it was a good land, because the King and Queen loved each other.

The End
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~ Raided: A Mericcup Story: Chapter 13: The Althing

“So how will the Althing help with the woman problem and the raiding of Scotland?” asked Hiccup.

“Well, son. At the very least we would be able to buy slave wives for the men.” said Stoic.

“Dad, that’s not a good solution and doesn’t help with the Scots.”

“No, but it is an option and is a simple answer to the most pressing problem.” Stoic held up a hand to keep Hiccup from butting in. “But there should be unattached women from other tribes available that might consider marrying into the tribe.”

“Okay, but what about protecting the Scots?”

“I am not exactly sure. I don’t really have a good understanding of the law and other nations. That’s why I want to talk to the lawspeaker and introduce you to him as well.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. I don’t exactly have a plan yet. There are too many things I just don’t know about this situation, but we do know you have an incredible amount of status. I am hoping we can leverage that into doing something for the Scots. We are becoming quite rich now that we have the dragons on our side, just with the resources we have here. We can leverage our wealth and status to influence the laws, we should be able to protect the Scots that way. Especially if you marry that Scottish princess of yours. Son, you are going to have to tell everyone about the Green Death. I sent Astrid to go get evidence of it. We’ll leave for the Althing as soon as she is back.”

“Oh, okay.” Hiccup was looking a little wild around the eyes. He was glad all the women were married now, expect Astrid and Ruffnut, but Ruffnut was still here.

“Don’t worry, I set the twins to get evidence of the Red Death, so we better hurry up and tell everyone before they get back. We don’t want them being distracted learning about your increase in status.” said Stoic, standing.

“Oh boy.” said Hiccup running his hand through his hair, thinking about what he was going to tell everyone about the Green Death.

“Come on. It’ll be fun. It’s great to brag and you don’t even have to exaggerate.”

# # #

Astrid wobbled on the long log she had wedged between the teeth of the Green Death, trying to dislodge a tooth. Stoic had asked her to go get some evidence of the Death Hiccup had killed in Scotland, since she was the only one who knew where it was, besides Hiccup.

It hadn’t taken her long to find it even if it was still somewhat covered in snow. It was only just beginning to decompose on the sunlit side that melted during the day. She had already chopped free several of the largest scales she could reach and a little claw off a foot. She had to be careful not to overload Stormfly.

Astrid really wanted a tooth. They showed off the true size of the beast. The jaw of the Green Death had shattered when it had impacted the side of the mountain, there were a tooth that was loose but she still needed to break it free. She jumped as high as she could as she kept a hand on the jaw. She struggled to keep her balance as the whole head wobbled.

Something landed with a squish not far from her. She covered her nose and mouth as the smell of rotting meat slapped her throat. Stormfly flapped to drive the smell back a little.

“Thanks, Stormfly.” Astrid said as she regained her balance on the long thin log. Then she looked at the eye more closely. Liquid was quickly oozing from it but she could see something, embedded in the lens, an arrow.

Astrid took a step closer, further out on the log. As she realized what that arrow meant, the head shifted, she slipped and fell, catching the log between her legs. She yelped, the pain between her legs was incredible, and saw stars in her vision as she wrapped herself around the log to keep from falling more.

Then, a loud crack sounded behind her as the tooth broke free of the jaw.

“Loki’s codpiece,” gasped Astrid, as she, the log and the tooth crashed to the ground.
Stormfly came over and gave her groaning rider a nuzzle.

# # #

Stormfly was circling over Castle DunBroch. Astrid had gotten directions from Lord MacGuffin when she went there looking for Merida. A crowd was gathering in the big open field near the castle. Astrid still wasn’t exactly sure why she was here. Astrid had Stormfly land near them.

Astrid could see Merida, Fergus and Elinor come to the front of the crowd. She slipped off Stormfly and gasped a little at the pain that shot into her abdomen as her feet hit the ground. She wondered how badly she had hurt herself. She wouldn’t stay, she had to get home quickly anyway, she’d rest there. She picked up her ax, it would be comforting, but it was dull from all the chopping.

Astrid marched over, looking at Merida. Merida took a step forward and stood like a queen.

“Astrid.” Merida greeted her cordially but cautiously, she was armed after all.

“Merida, can we talk, privately?”

Astrid could see the princess was surprised.

“Um, of course. The castle?”

“Nah, just out there.” Astrid gestured to the open field.

Fergus subtly handed Merida his sword as Elinor shooed everyone back to work as the two girls walked deep into the field. Fergus watched from the edge of the field.

“You were there when Hiccup fought the Green Death, weren’t you?” Astrid said, but it wasn’t really a question.

“Yes.”

“What really happened?”

“What? You mean he hasn’t told you?” asked Merida.

“He’s said some things, but I just found out, not everything. Please, what happened?”

“Well, Toothless was feeling better. He was finally strong enough for sustained flight. Hiccup invited me to fly as we began the search of the Death. He flew us up high so I could touch the clouds.”

Astrid looked away in pain, that had been her special thing with Hiccup. Jealousy and anger roared in her heart but she needed the story.

“We flew to the Isle of Sky to start looking, and he spotted a large cave, that he said was the right size. Toothless shot a fireball into the cave to see and there were lots of dragons all over it. They started flying away, and then the Death came out and began to chase us. I shot it with what arrows I had, then we ducked into the blizzard. We were trying to shoot it but the blizzard was icing us up. Then we almost flew into its mouth.”

Merida paused for a breath. “We dove, we were going to lure it into following us into the ground. We were going to sacrifice ourselves to kill it.”

Astrid stopped walking and looked at Merida.

Merida shrugged “It was the only thing we could do. Then will ‘o the wisps appeared.”

“Will ‘o the wisps?”

“They are ...magical creatures, they lead you to your fate. They led us out of the dive and over that protrusion that gutted the Death and into a ravine that shielded us from the explosion.”

“Magical creatures...”

Merida gave her a look, “You ride a dragon.”

“Yeah.” She looked back at Stormfly.

“Astrid, what’s going on?” asked Merida.

“Stoic, Hiccup’s dad, sent me to get proof of Hiccup taking down the Green Death.” They began walking again. Merida could see the large tooth strapped across the back of Stormfly.

“Okay, but why are you here, we are a little out of the way?”

“You hit it.”

“I hit what?”

“The Green Death. You got it right in the eye with an arrow.”

“You came all this way to tell me that?”

The two girls walked several more steps.

“What does he see in you?” asked Astrid.

“I hope a friend, but then I am also princess.” Merida shrugged.

Astrid rolled her eyes, and she looked back at the king who was there at the edge of the field, she could see his crown sparkle in the sunlight.

“Do you love him?” asked Astrid quietly.

“What?”

“Do you love Hiccup?”

Merida sighed. “Ach, I don’t know. I do like him, I know that, but love.” She shrugged. “I thought he loved you.”

“I don’t know if he does. He’s never said it to me, I was wondering if he had to you.” Astrid said, but Merida only shook her head.

“All I know is that he was hurt and needed help.” Merida said.

“He said you shot him out of the sky on a dark night.”

“That too, but he was hurt much worse then that. Your tribe wasn’t kind to him.”

“No, we weren’t.” Astrid looked down.

“He spoke well of you.” Merida said kindly.

“Really? I don’t really deserve it. I ignored him most of the time. I beat him up because he was winning dragon training.”

“It showed him you cared.”

“Yeah.”

“Astrid, what is he trying to do about the raids?”

“I’m not sure. I know he talked to his dad about not going on a raid, but I don’t know of any alternative to deal with our baby problem. From what I know, some tribes raid for fun and profit.” Astrid licked her lips, “If I were you, you should assume that to stop the raids you’ll have to marry some influential Viking, but I have no idea who that would be. Stoic sent me to get evidence of him killing the Green Death to take to the Althing...” Astrid trailed off. She paused and turned away from the princess, spinning her ax in her hand, thinking hard.

“What?” asked Merida.

"Son of a half troll, rat eating, munge bucket!" Astrid began swinging her ax wildly.

“What?” Asked Merida with more concern, she had her sword out, ready to defend herself.

Astrid was bouncing with concern for Hiccup. “He’s done stupid and crazy, now he’s going to try insane. I gotta go. He needs what I have, if he wants to prove himself.”

“What?”

“Sorry. I have to go. I can’t be late with this. He’ll need those things more than anything.” Astrid ran back to Stormfly and took off.

# # #

“We’re here.” said Stoic as the longboat crunched into the soft gravel of the beach.

Stoic and Hiccup leapt over the side onto the beach, and stood waiting as another Viking approached them.

“Stoic, is that you?”

“Aye, Longbeard. It’s been a while. How have you been?”

“Fine, fine. Every year you miss the Althing we wonder if you’d been eaten by those dragons of yours.”

“Nope not yet. But we have some news this year that I want to bring up to the lawspeaker.”

“Oh really, What?”

Stoic gave him a look, but merely said, “This is my son, I need to introduce him and my new wife Ingrid around, and brought some iron for trading, among other things.”

Longbeard smiled, he liked getting the news first, but understood when people wanted to hold tight to it. “Alright, have it your way. You can setup over there,” The man with the beard that reached past his waist pointed. “Things will get going in a day or two.”

“Excellent. Thank you.” said Stoic.

# # #

Lifa was tired of all the same old people that came to their bread stall at the Althing. This was supposed to be a way for her to meet men, but mostly they only saw louts that were no fun to play with.

Lifa was helping her parents as usual. Papa was stoking the second oven as Mum was plucking loaves from the first oven.

She could see the Kobb field just across from the bakery, most of the men would go to brewer next door. She handed her customer his loaves and took the pennies in return and placed then in her apron.

Her ears perked up when she heard a voice say, “That bread smells wonderful after all that time on the longboat.” Lifa looked around, coming onto the end of the line was a very large man with a fur tunic and small helmet, he was acting like a boy so excited for the fresh bread. His face so was young and innocent looking. She wondered if he was the enforcer of the group, he didn’t have the look of the leader, but had the strength.

Several others were with him, a muscular boy with curly rams horns on his helmet made her hips soften. He must be the one in charge, he looked so surly but masterful. There were also two couples in the group, but she soon realized that one was a set of twins as they turned, there was no romance between them, just a sibling rivalry. The boy was cute, but to coarse for her liking.

The other couple was a couple. She could tell there was some romance there, even if they weren’t holding hands. The boy didn’t seem like much, though he had an odd metal leg. Lifa wondered if he had done something heroic to save the girl, because the girl seemed too strong for the boy with her spiky armor, but quite close to him for some reason.

Then something happened she didn’t expect. “Hey, Snotlout, get some for all of us.” said the kid with the metal leg.

“Aw, you want me to pay for all of us, now?” complained the one called Snotlout, Lifa thought that was a hideous name.

“Oh here you go,” said the armored girl as she tossed five coins to Snotlout and then turned to watch the game of Kobb being played out.

Things were suddenly shuffling themselves in Lifa’s head. She knew how these gangs of kids worked, but somehow that skinny kid with the missing leg was large and in charge of this group and the armored girl was the lieutenant, not the obvious leader. How odd.

Soon Snotlout and the big teen, who was bouncing with excitement, were next. “How much?” Snotlout asked.

“Five small loaves to the penny.”

Snotlout laid down the five coins. Lifa was surprised, most underlings would pocket a coin or two if they knew their boss didn’t know how much the bread cost.

“And five for me too.” said the big one laying down an extra penny.

“Relax Fishlegs, there’ll be plenty.”

“What kind of name was Fishlegs? That was a silly name.” Lifa thought to herself as she gathered the 30 small loaves.

“Thanks, babe.” said Snotlout with an easy smile. The two teens then moved off with filled arms. They all moved with an easy confidence only the most grizzled of warriors seemed to, but without the haunted look many warriors had.

Lifa kept an eye on the group since they were close to the stall. She kept finding herself playing with her hair whenever someone the small group looked toward her, though he didn’t seem to notice her.

Several Valhunds seemed to really like the skinny leader too, as they congregated around his legs and yipped for pats.

The one named Snotlout did notice her and that was good enough. She chatted with him when he came back for more with Fishlegs. She was going to have to find out more about the Hairy Hooligans. They were actually nice to her, which was quite refreshing.

Everyone cheered as the king was knocked over and then laughed as the victors of the Kobb game emptied their horns and fell over drunk.

# # #

# # #

Hiccup was looking at the the lines of people coming before the lawspeaker. Dad had said some new tribes were being recognized.
The Bear Slayers had just been recognized. Now the lawspeaker was inspecting another group. This one bothered Hiccup. They were standing in precise ranks, men and women in pairs. The men were reasonably well dressed with leather, fabric and fur, but the women were all dressed in rags, some barely dressed at all really, and it was hard to tear his eyes away. But it was obvious why they were dressed in rags, they were slaves, each man had a leash going to the collar of the woman next to him.
“Are those slave-wives?”
“Yes, but more like breeding stock.” Stoic rumbled in disapproval.
Hiccup noticed a pattern in how they were lined up. At the front were women with babies in their arms (boys then girls), then pregnant women—Hiccup was wondering how they had handled the arduous journey here—then women neither pregnant or with children, they were the smallest group.
The lawspeaker was moving slowly through the ranks talking to the men and women and examining the children and running his hand over the bellies of the pregnant women.
“Who is that guy?” asked Hiccup.
“That is the lawspeaker. He is inspecting the tribe to see if they meet the requirements for forming a tribe. From here it looks like they do, but barely.”
However Hiccup was close enough to see that the lawspeaker had an unpleasant and slightly desperate look on his face. He was looking carefully at each women and child seeming to look for something wrong with them. The women all looked tiny compared to the women from Berk. Many of them seemed thinner then Astrid and Ruffnut, though they looked healthy enough.
“Very well, you have met the requirements!” called the lawspeaker resignedly. “Vikings welcome the newest tribe! The Skivvy Scroungers! Raise your banner!”
Hiccup gasped as the banner was raised, it was a truncated triangle with a hooked knife. As cheers were raised for the tribe, Hiccup was wondering what to do. He had found the raiders who had gone to Scotland.

# # #

The tribe before them was wrapping up their introductions and grievances before the lawspeaker.  Stoic and the tribe were up next before the lawspeaker. The lawspeaker and some chiefs were sitting on a high spot in the bowl of the thingstead.

Stoic turned and signaled to Gobber. Hiccup saw Gobber throw some chemicals into their fire way over at their campsite, which raised a greenish blue smoke. The men with them carried the large box they had shipped in forward with them.

“The Althing recognizes Stoic the Vast.” called the lawspeaker lifting his stick of office. “It’s good to see you again.” the lawspeaker said as Stoic came close to shake arms. He paused for a moment looking into Stoic’s face. “You’ve seen some heavy things, Stoic.”

“Thank you. It is good to see you again too. Yes, I have seen heavy things, I have seen something of what Ragnarök will look like.”

“Really?” the lawspeaker’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead.

Stoic just nodded.

“I would like to introduce my son, if I may?”

“Of course.”

“This is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, my son! He is the mightiest Viking on life!” introduced Stoic, speaking to the crowd. There was a buzz of whispers at that. Hiccup felt uncomfortable as so many people looked and pointed at him. Valhunds were running excitedly through the crowd.

Stoic went to the large box and withdrew something bigger then he was.

“What’s so special about a whale bone?” BigEars called from the sidelines.

Stoic ignored him and dropped it in front of the lawspeaker.

“Is that a...tooth?” the lawspeaker asked rising to examine it.

“Aye, it is.” Stoic reached into the box and returned with a claw.

“A...claw? What kind of dragons do you fight on Berk, Nidhug himself!?”

“Hardly. I led my tribe to its destruction at the fangs of the Red Death. My son saved us.” Stoic threw down a red scale that were nearly as large as a shield.

“He also saved the Scots from the Green Death.” He threw down a green scale next to the red one.

“The Scots? Why did he help them?”

“Because it was the right thing to do. They shot him and his dragon out of the sky, then nursed him back to health. They were under attack by dragons and he helped them defend themselves. He didn’t have to do that. Then with the help of the Scottish Princess they fought the Green Death and won.”

Hiccup was trying to stand there quietly though he was blushing pretty hard. Dad had said he was going to brag about him but this was a bit much.

“But more then anything he ended the war with the dragons by discovering they can be trained.”

“Trained?” the lawspeaker asked, and that word was whispered throughout the crowd as a tidal wave.

Hiccup could see shadows on the ground. He looked up but the Sun was too dazzling, but he thought he could see something up there.

“Trained.” Stoic stated, “To not hunt and kill but to work together with humans.”

“How...” but the lawspeaker never did finish that particular sentence.

Blasts of Gronkle lava exploded on the ridge above the thingstead. Deadly Nadders swooped low over the crowd and laid fire down around the people. Monstrous Nightmares made streaks of fire along the beach. The Boneknapper roared and whipped the ocean into a froth.

“Enough! Stop it and settle down!” Hiccup shouted and the dragons with their riders perched on the ridge.

The crowd and the lawspeaker looked at the dragons and back to Hiccup with awe in their eyes. The Valhunds were going crazy.

After a long moment the lawspeaker gathered himself and went back to his seat. He understood what was happening. The show of force was extremely effective. He picked up his staff and waited patiently, he could show power as well, but it became obvious that Hiccup was quite content to stand there waiting as well.

Finally the lawspeaker asked, “What is it that you want?”

“I’d like the raids against Scotland to end.” Hiccup said simply.

Whispers ran through the crowd.

“That’s all?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t have the power to do that.”

“Oh.” said Hiccup disappointed. “Who does?”

“At the moment, no one does,” said the lawspeaker carefully, but he was watching Hiccup carefully.

“How do I find someone with that power?”

“You/ cannot, only all of us can,” he gestured to the assembled chiefs.

Hiccup shook his head. “I just want to protect my tribe and my friends in Scotland. For three hundred years there has been war with the dragons and I found a way to befriend them and end the war. I just want to stop the wars and the raids so no one has to be afraid of being kidnapped or killed. I don’t want any one to feel the loss of a loved one taken by raiders. I want everyone’s pain to end. Surely, there must be a way to accomplish that?” Hiccup asked passionately.

The chief next to the lawspeaker touched his hand and they whispered for a moment, then the one on the other side also made quiet comment.

“There is a way to do that.” the lawspeaker said.

“Really, how?” asked Hiccup eagerly.

“We need a king.”

“And who should be king?” asked Hiccup.

“I would be king!” shouted BigEars stepping forward. “With the strength of the Vikings and the power of these dragons, Vikings would rule the world!”

The lawspeaker shot BigEars a sidelong glance, then looking back to Hiccup asked, “What do you think, should BigEars be king?”

Hiccup kept his eyes on BigEars, he was close enough and dangerous enough to warrant close watching. Then Stoic stood between them.

“No, he should not.”

“Why?”

“He would bring war to the world.”

“So? War is good for Vikings, so that we may fill Valhalla.”

“We should have peace and friendship.”

“And who would even try to bring peace?” asked the lawspeaker.

Hiccup thought for a while. “I would.”

“You? You would be king?”

Hiccup stood straight and tall, “Yes. I would be king.”

“You?” sneered BigEars. “A runt like you, wants to be king?”

Stoic turned, flexing his hands, but Hiccup said, “No, I don’t want/ to be king, but I would rather be a king trying to bring peace then let you bring war, fire and death. And I will not/ let you use dragons to do that.” All the dragons put their heads down, few people noticed listening to the argument, but the lawspeaker saw.

“Not let me. I don’t see how a weak runt like you could stop me. I am a Viking, I am strong, the strong must rule.”

“What is it with you guys? You think how hard you can punch or how big a rock you can lift is strength. All you do is go around destroying things. You never make/ anything!”

“I would make an empire that would last a thousand years!”

“You don’t know how!”

The lawspeaker banged his staff. “Hiccup, would you be king?”

“Yes.”

“BigEars, do you challenge that?”

“Yes.”

“Hiccup, do you accept the challenge?”

“If I do?”

“Then there is a holmgang, trial by combat.”

“And if I don’t?”

“BigEars becomes king.”

Hiccup felt his dad’s hand on his shoulder.

“I accept the challenge.”

# # #

Merida was wandering the castle, looking for the boys. They had gotten away from Maudie again. She had just left the kitchens and was trying to think of the next most likely place for them to be.

She was coming up to a passage when she heard a sound she hadn’t heard for a while and saw a pale light ahead. She peaked around the corner, a will ‘o the wisp was floating in the middle of the corridor.

Merida could feel her senses enhance, as the adrenaline rushed into her blood. Things always seemed to get exciting when these magical creatures appeared. She came around the corner and the wisp beckoned her to follow, which she did after grabbing a torch. They led her into the depths of the castle and to the dungeons, which were empty at the moment. Fergus was a merciful king, he didn’t keep people in the dungeon for long.

The lines of wisps went into the large room that was central to all the cells. The last wisp was over the table in the middle of the room. As the last wisp disappeared Merida looked around but no other wisps appeared. She looked at the table and saw it was covered with chains and shackles. Merida licked her lip and looked around again, because she had no idea what it meant.
They make it to the Althing and things heat up.

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~ Raided: A Mericcup Story: Chapter 12: Joinings

“Her hair is like a fully enflamed Monstrous Nightmare. Her eyes are blue like the clear sky after a blizzard. Her hands are strong and callused but her touch is gentle like pussywillows. She smelled of apple. Her skin is like warm cream. Her face is round like a bowl you cup in your hands before drinking in her wonderful goodness.” Hiccup had his hands cupped before him.

“And her lips.” Ruffnut cooed.

“H-her lips....” Hiccup licked his own.

“sNerk.” A slightly muffled laugh came from Tuffnut.

Hiccup snapped out his revere. He looked around at the other teens and dashed away into the darkness beyond the bonfire on the observation deck, blushing bright red.

“Aw, you had to ruin it, didn’t you.” Ruffnut complained hitting her brother.

“Stop it! Won’t you ever stop it?” shouted Astrid, rising and spinning her ax in her hand.

Everyone stared at her.

“Can’t we be nice to him for once? Can’t we stop hurting him?” Astrid asked.

“Hey, we’re being nice to him. He’s part of the gang. We’re only giving him a hard time.” said Snotlout.

“Oh, come on. He doesn’t see it that way. He’s always been make fun of and harassed. Does it feel any different to him? I don’t think so.” Astrid just watched Hiccup run off into the darkness and then she sighed.

“What’s wrong with you?” Tuffnut asked.

“I’m just not good enough.” Astrid said.

“What do you mean? You’re a great Viking.” Tuffnut said.

“I am a great Viking, but Hiccup is a great person. I should have stopped you before he ran off.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Hiccup cares about more then just the tribe. He stopped the war with the dragons because he cared about Toothless and the other dragons.” Astrid gave Stormfly a scratch on the nose. “You...we tormented him for being different. I stood by and let you. I never once defended him. If he wants to give his heart to Merida, I can’t blame him. I don’t deserve it.”

“Come on, you’ve already claimed him. Everyone saw how you kissed him when he came back around.”

“I may have claimed him, but that doesn’t mean anything to him. He used to crush on me, hard, but not anymore. He’s growing into a real man and I can’t compete with him.”

“Sure, you can. You could whip his butt if you wanted.” Ruffnut stated.

Astrid shook her head and laughed a quiet laugh. “Remember when all we ever wanted was to kill a dragon.” They nod. “We knew exactly how much status killing each kind of dragon was worth. We knew how many dragons Stoic and the others fought and how much status they have. Fishlegs, break it down for them.”

“Ah, you see, it was, and there’s the whole...” Fishlegs stuttered as he fiddled with the tavern puzzle in his hands.

Astrid picked up her ax and Fishlegs sighed.

“Okay. I’ll start with us. We came in riding dragons to fight the third biggest dragon we’ve ever heard of, which was wiping out our families.” Fishlegs said.

“What do you mean third biggest? That thing was huge. The Death wasn’t even mentioned in the Dragon Manual. What dragons are bigger then a Death?” Astrid asked.

“Jörmungandr. Nidhug” Fishlegs prompted.

Everyone just looked at each other. The world dragon, said to wrap completely around the world under the sea grasping its own tail. Foretold to die in battle at the hands of Thor at Ragnarök and Thor to die of his poison as the world broke. Nidhug was chewing at the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, when finished, it would begin Ragnarök.

“We came in riding dragons, in front of the whole tribe, on it’s home turf. Snotlout was on it and made a joke as he was hitting it in the eye. The twins are next because of the insults and saving Snotlout. Astrid, you assisted so much, keeping us in the fight a lot longer then we deserved, getting Hiccup into the fight, and almost sacrificing yourself so the twins could get Snotlout out.”

“And you? You came up with the battle plan on the fly.” Astrid asked pointedly.

“Yeah, and figured out the noise thing, and tossed my hammer to Snotlout,” finished Fishlegs.

“So where does all that put us?” asked Astrid.

“We are up there with Spitelout and Stoic. Something that took their whole lives to do, we did in a single battle.” Said Fishlegs,

“And Hiccup?” asked Astrid.

Fishlegs looked uncomfortable. He was glad people were treating Hiccup like a regular person now, but he deserved so much more. Hiccup hadn’t made an issue of it, so he hadn’t either. Now it was going to come out. It had to.

“Come on Fishlegs. We already know he has a lot of status. Even if we don’t admit it out loud.” Astrid shot a look at Snotlout. “He asked us to go hunting the Boneknapper for Gobber and we went. Nobody wanted to, but we did anyway. Just because it was him asking.”

“If we start when we got involved. He tamed the training dragons, and flew us to the dragon’s nest. There he organized us to fight the Death while he rescued Toothless, which Stoic assisted on. Saved his girl.” Fishlegs glanced at Astrid, she looked away but didn’t deny it.

“He then fought the Death riding the most feared dragon we knew about. He defeated the Death on it’s home turf, in front of the whole village and lost his leg in the process.”

Tuffnut whistled as he understood how that added up, that was way more status then anyone ever had all in a single battle which just upped it even more.

“There’s one more thing.” Fishlegs began quietly, “Please, don’t tell Hiccup or anyone that we know this, but it is important. This happened before we got involved. My mum was in the kitchen of the Great Hall, she was minding the feast for after finals. She heard something that happened between Stoic and Hiccup.”

“What?” asked Ruffnut.

“Stoic disowned Hiccup as a Viking and a son before they left for the nest. He was Nithing.” Fishlegs whispered.

“What!? No!” Astrid jumped up.

Fishlegs nodded. “He did all that as a total outcast. He wasn’t even an outlaw. He didn’t have to do any of that. He could have, he should have, let everyone be wiped out by the Death, but he did it anyway.”

The twins just sat quietly as close together as they could be. Snotlout had his hands on his eyes. Astrid had tears running down her face as she turned to look into the darkness where Hiccup had disappeared. Finally she turned, staring into the fire. “Great Odin’s Ghost. I knew he had status, from Dragon training. He was doing so well, after all the blunders he made. I tried to save him from Toothless when I found them in the forest, but he saved me instead. I had just whacked him with my ax, to punish him for being so good at dragon training. For upstaging me, I was jealous of him. He could have done nothing and Toothless would have killed me. He’s not like any other Viking I’ve heard of. I can’t compete with that. After he woke up, I wanted him. I knew in my gut that he had massive status and I wanted that. All of us do. Like Gobber’s Boneknapper and his harem.”

Astrid looked at Ruffnut and she nodded. There was a tension among the women of the tribe. Everyone was being nice to Hiccup but there was a subtle competition for his favor. There was a certain respect for the existing relationship Astrid had established but she knew everyone wanted his babies. He was the most powerful Viking ever, the women knew it and wanted that strength to spread throughout the tribe via his babies.

“There is another thing,” began Astrid. “When we found Hiccup in the Highlands we followed a great pillar of smoke and found the castle he was staying at. I keep expecting him to say something about it but he hasn’t. Stoic hasn’t either and I don’t know why.”

“Say what about what?” asked Fishlegs.

Astrid sat down and wrapped her arms around her abdomen and began rocking back and forth. “That column of smoke was coming from the carcass of another Death.”

Ruffnut moaned and clutched herself.

Fishlegs lost his balance and fell over.

Snotlout’s jaw hit the floor and stayed there.

Tuffnut looked like he was hit by whale.

“He killed another Death?” Fishlegs whispered as he sat up.

Astrid nodded, “And he didn’t get hurt this time. He’s told us about that scratch on his arm when they shot him down. I know Hiccup well enough that if someone else did it or helped him he would tell us all about what they did.”

The circle of friends nodded at that. They heard their own stories when Hiccup was asked to tell about his story.

“He did it all alone. I know it.”

Astrid stood and turned to look over the dark ocean.

“Even if I won him as my husband against all the other women of the tribe. Even if he chained me as his slave bride. I know I wouldn’t be worthy to be his pet and he would care for me anyway. He deserves and needs someone better then all of us. He needs someone who knows how to love deeper then any of us.” Astrid turned away and strode into the night, as Stormfly flew to her favorite perch.

Everyone looked to Ruffnut, she just sighed and nodded.

“What is she talking about?” Asked Tuffnut.

“You idiot, even you must see it. Every time Hiccup walks through the village or sits in the Great Hall all the women show up in their best clothes or with plates of food or both. We are all subtly throwing ourselves at him, but he doesn’t even notice. Astrid and I keep some of them back by sitting next to him in the Great Hall.”

“You call what you do on the arm of his chair sitting!?” spouted Snotlout more then a little jealous of his little cousin. His face was getting hot just remembering some of what the girls did. He converted the shame he was feeling into aggression at the most convenient target.

Ruffnut stood and towered over the sitting Snotlout. “Yes, I do. I want his babies so bad it is all I can do to keep myself from ripping our clothes off in front of everyone and going for it.”

She rounded on her twin. “You think I go swimming every night for a bath? Half the women of the tribe are in there with me. The other half are banging their husbands half the night for the same reason. Desperately trying to cool off enough so we can sleep. A few nights ago a bunch of us were walking back and Hiccup walked by and said ‘Hi’, we turned around and walked back down to the harbor and jumped back in.”

“Even Gothi?” snarked Tuffnut.

“She beats me to the ocean every time. Now, if you’d excuse me, my ovaries just went off like a volcano from what we just learned. I need to cool off.” said Ruffnut as she turned and ran off unlacing her shirt.

Tuffnut looked at the others, Snotlout looked like a codfish, and Fishlegs was completely failing at looking inconspicuous, wanting to be anywhere but where he was.

“Girls are crazy.” There were nods all around.

# # #

Ruffnut sat on the dock at the harbor. Putting her double horned helmet down next to her.

“Hey, Ruffnut. You’re late. Had a hard time pealing yourself off Hiccup’s chair?” called Ingrid the Midwife from the water, next to Gothi. The others laughed.

“Ha. Ha.” replied Ruffnut, pulling off her boots. “I’m just trying to keep him safe from you barracudas.”

“We’re not barracudas, we’re mermaids.” Helga the Weaver called back, flipping and splashing Ruffnut.

“Thanks a lot.” Ruffnut spat back. Wiping water off herself.

“Sorry.” Helga said contritely. “It’s a warm night so it should dry quickly.”

“Not like they weren’t wet already.” grumbled Ruffnut as she stripped off her pants.

The two dozen women chuckled wickedly. They were all without husbands. All were widows who had lost their husbands to the sea or a dragon. They called themselves the Viking Widows League. With all the casualties the tribe had suffered it was more of a safe place as they mourned their husbands. And they also matched each other up with widowers.

“Where’s Astrid?” Ingrid asked looking around. Ruffnut and Astrid often came to be with the VWL, they acted like extra mothers to the girls, replacement mothers in Ruffnut’s case.

“You know. She went into the forest with her ax.”

“She didn’t need to go to the forest to polish her ax.” Helga smirked and the others giggled.

Ruffnut frowned, dropped her shirt and cannonballed into the water, splashing everyone. The cold water enveloped her hot body, she came up gasping.

“You know she’s not like that,” said Ruffnut pointedly.

Helga sighed, “No, she really does chop up those trees, even at night. It’s her way of burning the energy off.”

Ingrid swam over and began undoing Ruffnuts braids.

“Thanks.” Ruffnut said. She had to tread water to keep her head above water. She could eat like a dragon but it just didn’t add anything to her bones, she couldn’t float like the others. They were all full grown and fully figured. She was a toothpick with braids, which was the only way to tell her apart from her brother. She kept praying to Freya to have puberty show up. Ruffnut envied them rather a lot of their beauty, though right now the ability to float would be nice.

“So how did Hiccup’s diplomatic mission go?” Ingrid asked extra casually.

“Pretty bad. He was talking about the princess and he started waxing poetic.”

There were many small cries of despair from the women as they crowded around her.

“Ladies, ladies! Don’t panic! He hasn’t made any decision yet and there is still time for him and us.” called Ingrid pulling on the braid she was combing out for Ruffnut.

“Hey, easy on the hair. That’s true. He may still go with Astrid or one of you, if you catch his eye.” said Ruffnut.

“He could still choose you, too.” said Ingrid pointedly.

The ladies laughed as Ruffnut blushed, though the cold water made it fade quickly.

Ruffnut clung to a pylon of the dock as Ingrid washed her hair for her.

“So what is it with all of you? None of you used to care about Hiccup but now all of you want to marry him. Astrid’s claimed him.”

“Well, yeah. He’s got the most status out of everyone, by a whole lot. He is the most desirable Viking ever, way more then his father. He deserves the best wife we can get for him.” said Helga.

Gothi wrote a word with a wet finger on the pylon.

“Yeah, we didn’t respect him for a long time. We’re making up for that now. We treat him as just one of the gang.” said Ruffnut.

Ingrid cut in, “I’m sure he appreciates that but that isn’t all he deserves, but you and Astrid weren’t showing him proper respect, even with all you do in the Great Hall. He will be the next chief and deserves that respect and more, even now. The men defer to him already.”

“We do too. We went on that cockamamy search for the Boneknapper on his word,” said Ruffnut quietly. “The stupid thing is he doesn’t get it. He just wants to be ordinary. He flies off with Toothless so he can get some time alone. He’s hiding from the tribe, because we are giving him too much attention.”

The women all looked at each other, a few had their hands to their mouths.

“But we just want to show him we love him.” Helga said.

“I know, but he’s not like your typical Viking. I’ve seen him try with all his might to be a normal Viking but that isn’t him and we shouldn’t ask him to be anything other then himself.”

Gothi, Ingrid and Helga looked at each other. Gothi made a sign.

Ingrid said, “No, we shouldn’t. He is most powerful when he is himself. We all are.”

The women bobbed quietly in the water as gentle waves lapped at the shore.

Ruffnut spoke quietly to Helga, “Astrid is worried about that Scottish princess. She isn’t sure anymore if she is good enough for Hiccup.”

The women looked worriedly at each other. Astrid was one of the great Viking women, and she wasn’t even fully grown yet.

“She shouldn’t worry so much. She and Hiccup did some special things together. For all we try to entice Hiccup, she has a long head start on us.” said Helga.

“Still, it might be a good idea for him to married that princess and bring her here to live, we need her.” said Ingrid.

“What!?” asked Ruffnut, confused.

“Ruffnut, I know you are bad at math but even you must have noticed there are more boys your age then girls.”

“Well, yeah, so?”

“Here, let’s get out of the water, we’ve cooled down enough and you lips are turning blue.” said Ingrid.

The VWL and Ruffnut climbed out of the harbor, rinsed themselves at the cistern and started dressing.

“Our time of mourning is coming to a close,” Ingrid sighed. That was true, it was only a few weeks until the anniversary of the defeat of the Death and the end of the dragon war. So many of the tribe had died that day, the Death had stepped on an entire squad of women. “We need to choose husbands and get back to making babies, but there are more of them then there are of us. Berk needs women, Ruffnut, so we can have enough babies. Some fresh blood would be good too. It’s been a long time since we had someone from outside Berk marry into the tribe. Too many of our babes are weak because we don’t get outsiders here enough.” Ingrid said, and she should know, since she was one of the midwives. They started the march back up to the village. The women all combing out their hair as they walked to allow it to dry, they would braid it as they went to bed.

“Do you know why?”

“No. All we know for sure is that every few generations we need to bring in fresh women to stay strong. The last time was your grandparents generation, Stoic and Gobber’s mothers were slave brides from the Highlands. We may need to do that again, though the last time they were bought from slavers.”

Ruffnut tried thinking about that, but it was slow going, she was tired and cold.

“Okay, but what about Hic-?” asked Ruffnut.

“Shh!” Ingrid shushed Ruffnut sharply. “You know the rule. No mentioning ‘him’ after the bath, we need to sleep and don’t want to make another trip to the harbor.” said Ingrid as they reached the village level near the smithy.

“Hello ladies,” said Hiccup as he closed the smithy door for the night, after finishing a vicious little tavern puzzle. “Your hair looks different like that. Well, goodnight.” He waved and he walked up to his home.

The surprised women stood there for a moment in shock as their ovaries blew out. Then as one they turned and trooped back down to the harbor to try cooling off again.

# # #

“Dad, can we go fishing?” Hiccup asked. Stoic could see his son was carrying a couple of fishing poles.

“Sure.” said Stoic, glad for the excuse to get away for a few hours. The tribe brought him all their problems, he tried his best to solve them all but it was such constant work.

Brandishing their fishing poles the other Vikings left the two men alone.

Once they were deep in the forest, they sat on the edge of a stream and lay some casts into the rushing waters.

“So what is it you want to talk about?” Stoic asked. They had been getting closer lately, talking more. It was better compared to the relationship they had before, when they had merely lived in the same house, but they were still working out so many things.

“Mom.”

Stoic felt a chill run down his body, then he sighed. “I should have known this was coming at some point. Okay, what do you want to know?”

Hiccup shook his head. “I saw her die.”

“What?”

“I was in the cabbage crates. Mom stuffed me in there. You picked up Mom and took her to the Great Hall. Ingrid found me after the battle.”

“I remember Ingrid bringing you to me there.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry.” said Stoic putting a hand on his son’s shoulder.

“I told Queen Elinor.”

“Okay. Why?” Stoic asked slowly. The Scots were not friends, though Hiccup seemed to be changing that.

“She made me feel safe like Mom did.”

“Um, good.”

“Why didn’t you get married again?”

Stoic sighed. “I don’t know. I loved Val so very much. It hurt so much to lose her and the baby. I don’t want to feel that again.”

“Baby?”

“Oh, you never knew, she was pregnant. She had just figured it out and told me that night. We were going to tell you, but the dragon raid....” Stoic trailed off, looking into the the rushing water and fiddling with his pole.

“Oh. I understand, that explains some things.”

“What things?”

“Us.”

“Yeah, I guess it does. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I get it now.”

“So now what?” asked Stoic, wondering if this fishing trip was over.

Hiccup smiled, “We catch some fish, or would you rather search for trolls and their sock horde?”

Stoic blinked then smiled and laughed.

# # #

Gobber and the teens were sitting around the bonfire on the observation deck, like they did during dragon training, warming their food. Gobber would call them together, to tell stories and share advice. He cared about all the teens and added a certain kind of outside advice to what the teens would get at home. He acted as the grandparent or uncle none of the teens had. He meant well but they all took his advice with a grain, or rather, several large cups of salt. It wasn’t that his advice was bad, it just needed lots of thinking about, before you could consider using it.

Tonight was different though, Gobber was quiet. Everyone was.

Finally, Astrid asked, “Gobber, what’s going to happen tomorrow?”

Gobber sighed, “We are going to finish mourning the dead from the Battle of the Nest.”

“Yes, but what comes after that...to us?”

“Yeah, I was wondering if ye would be asking about that.” Gobber looked around the circle of teens and they were all looking at him. Fishlegs was extra jittery.

Gobber turned to Ruffnut and Tuffnut. “Having your mother’s entire squad squashed was a terrible blow. The tribe needs to get back to making babies. We lost a lot of people and there are not a lot of children to replace them.” Gobber said, and everyone nodded.

“And since more women were killed Stoic is going to go against tradition and have the women choose their mates directly.” Gobber shifted on his bench. Stoic, Spitelout, Gothi, Ingrid and himself had discussed this a few weeks ago, because the conditions were unprecedented. The tribe wasn’t in danger currently, but the effects of so many unmarried men could have long-term consequences. The teens needed people to marry too. Gobber knew that Stoic was uncomfortable with the thought of raiding for women. Their own mothers had been slave-wives. It was necessary but it wasn’t right, they knew that. It was a wonder their mothers had survived the dragons long enough to have children. They had never gotten used to the dragon raids and had been eaten.

“What about us? There aren’t enough girls.” Ruffnut said quietly.

Gobber looked from Ruffnut to Astrid, he could tell they were worried, but not many others could.

“No, there aren’t. That’s one of the things I wanted to talk about tonight. Astrid, Ruffnut, do you want to choose husbands tomorrow?”

Astrid and Ruffnut exchanged a look and then looked at Hiccup who shrunk down under those intent gazes.

“You do know that many men want you?” Gobber asked pointedly.

The girls nodded.

“Now, you boys have the same question to answer. Do you want to be chosen for marriage tomorrow?”

Hiccup, Tuffnut, Snotlout and Fishlegs just looked at Gobber, who could see how pale they were. “You, all of you,” he included the girls, “are some of the highest status Vikings we have ever had. You are all incredibly valuable to the tribe. You boys, the women all want you too. They want to have your babies. Yes, even you Fishlegs.” Fishlegs was spinning the fish on his stick so quickly it was almost a blur.

“When we started dragon training, I knew this group would be different.” He looked directly at Hiccup, and everyone glanced at him. “But I never expected to end up teaching legends. I am proud to know each and everyone one of ye.” Gobber stood, his eyes were bright in the firelight.

“You are all just barely of marriageable age. If you wish, we could exclude you, you are quite young to be getting married and starting families. I don’t need an answer right now, but tell Stoic by tomorrow morning.”

The teens all nodded, somberly.

Gobber nodded and walked away to give them time to think and talk if they must.

# # #

The sky above Berk was a spectacular red-orange as the sun set. Bright lines of light covered the sky. The whole island felt like a scared space.

Stoic dropped the torch into the wood to light the huge bonfire. The entire tribe was around them and they quieted as the flames built and leapt into the evening sky. Hiccup could see everyone dressed in their best furs.

“We lost a lot of people this day a year ago. ” Stoic began. “Family. Friends. Husbands. Wives. Children. They died in battle like true Vikings. They would be welcomed by Odin into Valhalla or Freya into Folkvangr to prepare for Ragnarök. We saw a preview of what Ragnarök will be like. Now we mourn them one last time. We will not forget them. We can’t.” Stoic sounded so broken on those last words as he dropped his head, a single tear dripped into Stoic’s beard and he sat on the grass.

A great wail went up as the tribe wept. Women pulled their hair, men beat their chests, dragons keened, and for a time it was safe to cry. Ruffnut and Tuffnut were holding onto each other weeping over their mother. Hiccup felt sad of all those who had died and he still missed Mom, but there were no tears inside him, he was still different from all the others and he wondered why.

After a long time the wailing and tears faded.

Stoic stood again. “It is time to continue our lives. We must marry and produce children to rebuild the tribes. We also know that there are not enough women to go around. So we are going to run counter to tradition. We will let the women choose. Then we will figure out what to do for those who remain. We will be going to the Althing, there perhaps, wives can be found. The teens have asked to be excluded for now as marriage prospects.” Stoic had the teens stand next to him. Snotlout was biting his lip real hard from nerves looking like he was going to barf. Fishlegs was twisting his fingers together. The twins were holding hands. Hiccup and Astrid just stood together.

Stoic gestured, “Ladies.”

There were a large number of longing looks at Hiccup and the other teens, but finally the VWL moved into the crowd and began choosing husbands. Sometimes the women were shy, most were direct, a couple of fist fights broke out. Stoic would wade in and brake them up, having the man choose, but the choices were often quite tense.

Stoic went back to the fire and was looking over the assemblage, then jerked in surprise as he felt someone take his hand. He noticed Ingrid beside him.

“Ah, Ingrid. What are you doing up here? Don’t you have a choice to make?” He gestured to the crowd.

“I’ve already made my choice.”

“Really, who?” asked Stoic, looking around.

Ingrid smiled gently as she ducked her blushing face and looked up through her lashes, “I choose you.”

Stoic looked away. “I won’t be able to love you, like I did Val.”

“And I won’t be able to love you like I did Defiant, but it would be... nice to feel some strong arms around me sometimes.” Ingrid looked wistful as she traced a pattern on his hand with a finger.

“It would be nice to have someone to wrap these strong arms around on cold nights.” Stoic said gently, looking at her.

“Hey, since when was he an option?” yelled Helga over the shoulder of the man she was hugging.

“Well, he’s not a teen and not married, so he was always an option, even if he didn’t believe it. I just noticed that no one else had. You’re not sorry are you?” called Ingrid back.

Helga pulled back, looked into her chosen’s eyes and smiled, “No, not sorry at all.” And they embraced again.

Stoic was smiling over the crowd. Gobber led the other widowers off to the Great Hall to drink themselves into insensibility. The intact families cheered and dragons warbled. He looked at Ingrid and frowned.

“What’s wrong?” Ingrid asked.

“I wasn’t expecting this.” Stoic turned to Hiccup. “You’re going to have to marry us.”

“Wha-ah. Me? Marry you?” Hiccup’s gast was extremely flabbered.

“You’re the son of the chief, you have the authority to marry people in my place. I certainly can’t marry us myself.”

“Ah-ha. Wha-what...do I do?” Hiccup felt so out of his depth that jumping off Toothless’ back at maximum altitude seemed like walking through a meadow.

“Here, I have notes for just this occasion.” Stoic handed Hiccup a scrap of paper.

Hiccup took the paper but just stood there as his Dad and new mother stood up straight in front of him.

“Just read it.” Stoic prompted.

“‘Say something nice about the couple,’” read Hiccup out loud.

A titter ran through the assemblage, and Hiccup blushed so hard he though his hair would burst into flame.
“Ah, you look nice, Dad, and um, Ingrid,” which was true they were dressed in their best furs.

Hiccup looked around, everyone had gentle smiles for him, they were not making fun of him, but it still felt intensely embarrassing, his heart was beating so hard. Taking on the Red Death had been almost relaxing in comparison to this.

Hiccup read through the rest of the ceremony, they exchanged swords and rings, and finished, “I declare you husband and wife. Be happy and may Frigga bless this union. You may kiss the bride.”

“Thanks son.” Stoic said gently then his kissed his bride thoroughly. There were many cheers and aw’s from the tribe.

Ingrid pulled Hiccup into a hug. “Thank you Hiccup. I’ll bring something good for dinner, okay?”

“Ah, sure.” said Hiccup uncertainly.

“I’ll take it from here,” said Stoic, retrieving his notes. “Who’s next?”

Helga waved her hand, so she and the twin’s father came up and were married.

Ruffnut and Tuffnut ran over and hugged their new mother.

Hiccup found Astrid’s hand in his. “Are you okay?” she asked. Hiccup was looking, not sad exactly but not anything really.

“I don’t know.”

“Me neither, can we go somewhere else?”

“Sure,” said Hiccup as Astrid quietly lead them away as Stoic married another couple.

Once they were clear of the village Astrid asked, “So, new mom. That good, right?”

“Yeah.”

“She’ll never even try to replace your real mom, I know that. She’s a good person.”

“Yeah.”

They stopped in her fighting ring in the forest and sat against the boulder. Hiccup knew the trees were heavily scared, but he could not see it in the darkness.

“Please, Hiccup, what’s wrong?”

Hiccup looked at her for a long time, took her hand and then touched his chest, “I don’t feel anything.”

“Well, I know I can’t feel like you do because I still have both of my parents but I bet its complicated.”

Hiccup shook his head. “No. It’s not complicated. Building a machine is complicated, but this.... I don’t know how anyone feels. I am not feeling anything. Not sad, not happy, not even scared anymore; just...nothing. Shouldn’t I feel something? Happiness for my Dad because he has someone. Betrayal because she is taking Mom’s place. All I could feel was terror for having to do that with no notice. When my heart stopped pounded, I was empty again. I couldn’t even cry to mourn Mom. I wish I was normal.” Hiccup closed his eyes and dropped his head against the rock.

Astrid didn’t know what to say. “It’s going to be okay.”

“I hope so. I have no idea were everything is going or what I should do. I just want to help.  Thank you for being here. You’re a good friend. I’m hoping it helps. I don’t know. How can you stand to be around me?”

“It’s pretty easy. I’m your friend. I wasn’t for a long time. You deserved better.”

“Thanks.”

“Sure, no problem.” said Astrid as she snuggled up next to Hiccup, “You want to stay at my place, I think it might be ...noisy at yours tonight.”

“That would be nice; better then the smithy. Thank you.” said Hiccup looking at her, as he put his arm around her, and put his head back again, drinking in the quiet of the forest.
Hiccup gets a new mom.

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- Chapter 2
~ Eugene Fitzherbert Frees the Feral Princess

Eugene worked his lock-picks into the shackles. He could feel the rust in the mechanism. How many years had it been since they were last opened?

Solara whimpered as his face screwed up in anger.

"It's okay. I'm sorry, it's just a bit rusty. I'll get you out in just a minute." Eugene said trying to reassure the Lost Princess and calm himself. Then the lock clicked and the shackled fell free.

Solara just stared at her free wrist for a long moment while Eugene got to work on the other. She started moving her free wrist around, a look of wonder on her face as her arm felt so weightless without the heavy shackle on it or having to move her other arm with it.

"There you go. You're finally free," said Eugene, smiling, as the other lock clicked open.

Solara turned and jumped around the room, her arms flailing wildly as she felt so free. Eugene smiled, as he caught the crown, that flew off her head. She was sure taking delight in her new found freedom.

Then she turned and his jaw dropped to his chest. She didn't have clothes on, but even that was the least of what he saw. She was eighteen years old and she looked like the skeleton of a little girl! He could clearly see her ribs and collar bones, the muscles of her arms and legs, even the veins and organs in her belly were outlined by her pale skin. How could the kidnapper treat the princess like this!? Worse than an animal. It was like she was starving the princess to death!

Solara stopped jumping, whimpered and backed herself into the corner opposite him as anger enflamed his eyes, covering herself with her hair.

Eugene was beginning to understand she was afraid of people being angry and after what he had seen the kidnapper do to her he could understand why.

"I'm sorry, it's okay. You need clothes. Do you know where the clothes are?" He plucked at his vest, not sure if she even knew the word for clothes.

Solara, with a scared look on her face, shook her head.

Eugene tried to smile, "It's okay, we'll find something."

Stuffing the crown and his tools back into his satchel he went to the main room and strode over to the wardrobe. He dug around in it for a little while. Why did women's clothes have to be so complicated? He finally chose what looked like a blue nightgown, it was much too big for the princess, but it would be simple enough to cover her.

Solara peeked out of her room as he ransacked the wardrobe, she padded up to him, and peered over his shoulder at what he was doing. Eugene shoved the dress at her, which she caught and said, "Here, put that on. I'm going to check the kitchen."

He strode over to the kitchen area and tried to see if there was any food handy. She needed to eat something. There were braids of onions, shallots and garlic; useless, he didn't have time to cook them. The bread he found was stale and hard, the cheese was moldy; both useless. The apples were good though, so he stuffed a few in his satchel.

Eugene turned and found Solara still standing there with the nightgown, gently stroking the soft fabric against her cheek. He sighed, "Princess, we have to hurry. The kidnapper may be back anytime. Please, put on the dress."

She just looked at him like she didn't understand. Bringing the Lost Princess home might earn him a pardon, but bringing her home naked would just get him killed.

He took the dress from her and gathered up the fabric and put it over her head. She just stood there, her arms inside the nightgown, her mouth open like a codfish, looking down at it, like it was the strangest thing ever. It was on backwards too.

"Okay, let's try that again," said Eugene apologetically, as he took off the nightgown and turned it around.

"Hands up, please," and he held up his hands up as he wanted her to do. She held up her arms too, he slipped the nightgown over her head, got her arms in the holes and he realized the hair was inside the nightgown now.

Eugene groaned as he took the nightgown off the princess again. This was taking too much time! He was much better at getting girls out of their clothes than into them, but this was getting ridiculous. The look she was giving him told him she was thinking the same thing.

"This has got to be the strangest thing I've ever done!" The thief declared. This time he had the princess step into the nightgown as he held it out for her and pulled it up so it covered her without the hair being under it.

"There, that's the way to do it." Eugene declared with some satisfaction, smiling, once it was on her.

It draped over her like a circus tent, but she was covered. She started flapping the overly-long sleeves like a bird. Solara smiled back, responding to his smile. She began to twist and enjoyed the feeling of the fabric moving around her legs.

"Come on, let's go. I'm going to take you to your parents." He spotted a cloak by the window, grabbed it and put it over her shoulders to keep her warm.

* * *

At the bottom of the stairs, the Lost Princess stopped. Her toes at the edge of the bright sunlight. It was like a line, one she had never known before and she was so scared.

"Come on. We have to get out of here." Eugene said anxiously, as he looked toward the exit to the canyon.

Solara could only look with pleading eyes toward the stranger who was taking her away from pain and darkness. What was light and love like?

Eugene looked around, he needed to get her moving, the kidnapper could show up at any time. She had somehow snuck into the royal nursery, stolen the baby Solara and vanished. He should be able to take her in a fight, but she seemed like a good sized woman. However, she was a lot younger then she was supposed to be. That threw magic into the mix and the was dangerous. The smart thing to do was get the princess away and safe first.

Eugene spotted a patch of dandelions. He carefully grabbed a few and went back to the door. "Look at this," he said and blew at one of them.

"Ooo," the princess cooed and stepped out of the tower and into the light. She squinted her eyes against the light as he handed her one of the flowers.

She blew on it and it was so wonderful to see the seeds fly. She chased after them until she felt grass under her feet, which was strange and new and tickled her feet. She lay down on the grass and rolled around.

"Princess, see, another one." Solara saw Eugene hold out another flower. She got up and reached for it, but he pulled it away slightly. She looked at him but there was a smile on his face. He was playing with her. Soon they were running through the exit and out into the world.

She stopped stunned. The trees were so big and beautiful. Everything was green and amazing. She felt a tickle on her cheek. Eugene had stroked her with a bright red flower, and he trotted off. She smiled and chased after him.

But she couldn't run very far. She was getting tired, she had no energy reserves in her body to speak of, the magic had been keeping her barely alive. She hadn't eaten in so long, there was hardly anything left for moving around. So she began to walk.

Eugene saw how tired she was looking and slowed. They were passing by some caves. He gave her the flower, there were plenty of others. She took it and stroked it against her lips and cheek.

Eugene took out a pair of apples and gave one to Solara. She just held it.
"You can eat it, it's okay." He encouraged her as he bit into his own apple. She watched him, she held up the apple to her lips but she couldn't get her mouth open enough to bite the apple. She hadn't opened her mouth that wide in a very long time and the tight muscles didn't let her.

"Here, let me cut that for you. That way you can eat it," said Eugene pulling out a knife.

Solara saw the knife and panicked. "Knife bad," she screamed and dashed into a nearby dark cave, a safe looking place to her. She curled up and rocked back and forth, afraid and so tired. She cried for a few minutes and then fell asleep.
Part 2 of Feral Rapunzel's First Christmas
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After a long wonderful kiss, Rapunzel broke off the kiss and hit Eugene with her fist, "Why did you do that!? Why did you leave me!?" she cried.

He caught her arm, the shackle clanking, "Ouch, That wasn't my idea. The Stabbington brothers knocked me out, tied me to the boat and shoved me off. They knew about you and your hair. I tried to warn you but they hit almost as hard as you do." He rubbed his head with his free hand.

"I didn't mean that, why did you cut my hair? I couldn't heal you. You were dying and I couldn't do anything about it!. You died!" Rapunzel was crying hard now.

Taking her in his arms. "I'm sorry, death was better then seeing you enslave yourself to your mother. If you were free I knew you'd be okay, I saw how wonderful you became when you were free. You are too amazing to leave trapped in a tower forever. I love you too much to let you do that even to save my own life."

Rapunzel looked somewhat mollified, "And why did you come back?"

"At first, because I thought the Stabbington Brothers had taken you. To sell you as a slave. I couldn't allow that. I was pacing my cell going crazy with worry about you, how had they known? What they would do to you even before selling you?"
"Then the guards came. They were going to hang me. I just wasn't surprised about that, I had stolen the Crown of the Lost Princess
after all, but as they were taking me to the gallows I saw the Stabbington brothers in another cell. I was so angry at them that I knocked away the guards and grabbed Dirk. They told me an old lady had told them about you. It took me a second but I realized that they must have meant your mother. You were being betrayed by your own mother. I tried to tell the guards but they swarmed me, then the Pub Thugs were breaking me out. Max raced me here to save you. Your mother was betraying you and she would have killed you in the end. I'm sorry." He touched her cheek.

"She wouldn't have killed me that would have destroyed the power of my hair and that would have killed her too. And she isn't … wasn't my mother." Glancing toward the window.

"She's not? Then who..."

"Actually, I am the Lost Princess." Moving some hair that wasn't in her face.
Eugene gave her an incredulous look.

"No, really, I figured it out this morning, because of you really. That little sigil banner you got me helped me remember who I am. Then I told Mother, I was so angry at her I told her I would never let her use my hair again and then she attacked me and chained me up. She was just getting ready to take me somewhere else when you showed up."

"If you really are the Lost Princess then we'd better get you back to the kingdom, but first, do you know where the key to these shackles are?"

"She put it in her bodice, I guess I better go down and get it." She said pensively, looking out the window and then to the hatch.

"I know it must be hard, be brave, you can do it." Eugene gave her a hug. Pascal padded over and gave her encouragement.
Rapunzel steeled herself and went down the ladder to the spiral stairs. Once past the first turn there was no light, she knew it was safe as she had climbed the stairs only hours ago but she shivered remembering when they had been trapped in the mine.

Coming around the side of the tower she saw the pile of dirty clothes that were all that was left of Mother. Rapunzel slowly knelt. Gently lifting the neck of the red dress she saw a glint of metal, slowly she reached in and found the key, she quickly pulled the key out and let the dress collapse.

As her body gave an uncontrollable shake, she heard the panting. It was Maximus, standing a little ways off. He was sweating and panting, his head lowered.

"Oh, Maximus. Are you alright?"
Max's look told her that he was not.

"If I still had my hair I could help you. Wait, my tears helped Eugene, maybe they'll help you."
She thought about how she had lost the person who had raised her, not just to death but to betrayal, and also how she had lost Eugene who loved her in a different, deeper way. How she had never known her true parents and all that they had missed. The tears came and she sang the healing incantation:

Flower gleam and glow
Let your power shine
Make the clock reverse
Bring back what once was mine
What once was mine

Heal what has been hurt
Change the fates' design
Save what has been lost
Bring back what once was mine
What once was mine.

But there was no glow or light, and Max continued to sweat and pant. "Oh, I'm so sorry Maximus. It didn't work, I don't know how to help you."

Feeling the frustration and despair welling up inside her she felt the key in her clenched fist. Looking blankly at it for a moment Rapunzel said, "Oh wait, Eugene might know, I'll be right back." She hurried around the tower and back up the stairs.

Panting herself, Rapunzel soon emerged at the top of the ladder. Eugene was sitting on the stairs to her room with Pascal on his knee. "I was wondering what was taking so long."

"Eugene, Maximus is not feeling well. He is panting and sweating badly and he looks bad. I tried healing him with my tears like I did you but it didn't work. I don't know what to do."

"Oh, no. I think he may have overextended himself, I asked him to show me how fast he could run so we could save you. And boy did he. It was the fastest I've ever gone. Here, give me the key, we need some wool to rub him down with, and some apples would be a good idea, if you have any."

Tossing him the key Rapunzel moved to the kitchen and filled a basket with apples from the barrel, then went to the chest with the winter blankets and gathered those. Helping Pascal onto her shoulder they all went down together.
They found Maximus in the same place. He had stopped panting but was still soaked with sweat and his legs looked like they were shaking.

"Here, take a blanket and rub him down, we need to dry him off." said Eugene to Rapunzel. To Max he said, "It's going to be fine, Max. We're here for you."

As Rapunzel and Eugene rubbed him down, Pascal rolled an apple over to Max. Max just looked at it, but with some encouraging motions from Pascal he took it and slowly ate it.

By the time they were done rubbing him down Max was looking better, but still seemed very tired.

"Well, that's the best we can do for him with what we have. Can you make it to the stream for a drink?"asked Eugene. Moving slowly they lead Max to the stream and he gratefully drank his fill.

"We are going to have to get him back to the palace where they can take proper care of him, but it will take most of the day to get there. We'll have to walk him slowly so he doesn't get hurt. You know, he is a very smart horse. He got the thugs from the Snuggly Duckling to break me out of prison and then ran me here as fast as he could. After chasing me for the last couple of days, I am not surprised he is tired. You're a good, brave horse. Thank you." Eugene addressed Max and Max nuzzled him back.

"And we have to get you back to the palace too, since you are the Lost Princess." Max gave Eugene a sharp look. "Well, that is what she told me, after she brought me back from being dead."  Max gave him a disbelieving look and turned to look at Rapunzel.

"It's true. I figured it out this morning. I confronted Mother about it and she confirmed it."

Max stared at her for a moment and then wrapped his neck around her for a hug. Rapunzel hugged him back. Max began to walk with his head held higher.

"So you said something about healing me with your tears." asked Eugene as they passed under the vines.

"Well, that is all I can think it was. I tried the incantation but it wasn't working. Then you stopped me and told me I was your new dream," Rapunzel clasped his hand close to her, "and I said you were mine. And then you died. I finished the incantation and I started crying. I had just lost everyone in my life, Mother and you. I couldn't fix it. It hurt so much. Then lights started to come from your wound and surrounded us, after they faded you started breathing again." She smiled, but then her face fell. "But I think that was the last bit of magic in me. I tried crying and singing to heal Maximus but nothing happened." She gave poor exhausted Max a rub on the neck.

"I'm sorry, but we'll be fine."

"So Goldie, are you going to go all bipolar on me this trip, too?"

"I don't know. I lost and gained so much in so short a time that I am not sure how I feel, except so very tired, we walked home last night without stopping." said Rapunzel trying not to drag her feet.

They are picking their way around the tree, that normally Maximus jumped through easily, but he was still so tired that they had to find another way.

"So, how am I going to meet my parents? Do I just go up to the castle and announce that I am the Lost Princess?" asked Rapunzel.

"I guess, I know more about the-your crown then about that. I do know that there have been girls who've claimed to be the Lost Princess, but they weren't able to pass the test and got sent away."

"Test, what test?" her hands fluttered near her shoulder.

"I haven't the slightest idea. It wasn't something I needed to know when I was stealing your crown."

"Hmm, well I think the biggest problem will be getting you in, everyone still sees you as Flynn  Rider, wanted thief and now escaped prisoner."

"No problem we'll have Max here capture me and take me in."

"They'll throw you in the dungeon and then hang you."

"Okay, bad plan, but that was just first try, give me a minute."

Clip, clop, clip, clop...

"Well?"

"I'm thinking!"

...

"Ah, Eugene, what's wrong with everyone?" asked Rapunzel as they crossed the bridge into the city.
Looking around carefully Eugene sees nothing out of the ordinary, "What do you mean?"

"The people are all sad and what happened to all the flags and everything."

"Oh, the decorations were up only for the Princess'-your birthday, and since you didn't return everyone is a little sad."

"Should I tell them?" looking around, her heart went out to them.

"No, let's get you official recognized and then they'll announce it and everyone will be happy again. Actually, I think you are one of the reasons that it was so easy to steal the crown. Everyone, including the guards are just not at their best. The heart went out of the kingdom since you were lost. From what I've heard the entire kingdom turned out to find the magic golden flower to save the queen. It worked but for some reason with your being taken it hurt the soul of the kingdom."

"Oh no."

"That is why we need to get you to the castle first."

...

"Ah, Maximus, you got more prisoners. Good boy. You've brought in quite the haul already, can't get enough now, eh?" Called a guard as they approached. 

Maximus shook his head.

"What?"

"Please, sir, Maximus helped rescue me but he's over-extended himself and needs help himself now," spoke up Rapunzel.
The guard turned to the other and said, "Get a stableman, quickly." and the other guard ran off.

"But this is Flynn Rider," said the guard pointing his halberd at Eugene.

"No, no, no." Rapunzel said stepping in front of Eugene. "This is Eugene Fitzherbert."

The guard looked at a nearby poster. "He looks a lot like Flynn Rider. Well, the nose isn't the same."

"Maximus, is this Eugene Fitzherbert?" asked the guard. Max nodded. "Very well then."

The stableman came for Maximus, "Here boy, I'll take good care of you."

"You better, he just helped rescue the Lost Princess." Eugene told the stableman.

Everyone stopped and turned to look at him.

"I'm the Lost Princess." announced Rapunzel.

The guards in their polished breastplates sighed and looked weary. "Very well, I'll get you an escort to the Testing Chamber."

"Th-there's a Testing Chamber?" She asked, glancing at Eugene, her hands fumbling near her shoulder for the hair that was no longer there. She could also feel Pascal's tail wrap around her neck comfortingly.

"Oh, yes. What did you expect, getting to see the King and Queen without being verified first, did you."

"Um, I didn't really know."

The guards shared a glance.

"Do you get many Lost Princesses."

"Oh, yeah. You're the third, no fourth, this month." Rapunzel and Eugene shared a look.

An elderly footman arrived and they ventured forth into the castle.

Unsure of where to start "Hello, my name is Rapunzel. So, what's your name?" asked Rapunzel.

"Um, Edward, m'lady."

"That's a nice name."

"Thank you. Here we are. Please, wait here, m'lady, sir." said the footman, sketching a bow.

"Thank you." replied Rapunzel

...

It was a room larger, and more formal then the Tower, it had a table with chairs in front of it by the fireplace and by the windows several chairs and sofas. Not exactly what Rapunzel would call homey, it seemed so fancy in comparison to her Tower. It seemed like a lot of people could be in this room at the same time. For a Testing Chamber it didn't look scary. There was a guard in the room, different from most of the others with crossed sashes across his chest instead of the sun crested breastplate she'd seen most of the time.

When Eugene had cased the castle when he was still Flynn Rider, he had noticed them too, but they weren't involved in guarding the crown and there just weren't vey many of them so had dismissed them. Now he wasn't so sure that had been wise. This guard, didn't look dangerous like the Stabbington Brothers did, but this guard gave off the feeling of great competence. Eugene just knew that it would take more then a frying pan to take down this guard.

They heard running footsteps and then a young woman in palace livery banged into the room. She curtsied, "Good afternoon, m'lady. I'm to be your chambermaid." Eugene looked her over, there was a time, not very long ago that he would have spent some time trying to woo a girl like her if he had found her in a tavern or encountered her on the street, but now he found her just slightly cute.

"That's nice. What does a chambermaid do?" replied Rapunzel in a confused voice.

"I attend you and can fetch things that you want. m'lady."

"Okay. My name is Rapunzel, what's you're name?"

"Angela, m'lady."

"So what happens next."

"Ma'am?"

"I understand that there is a test to see if I am the Lost Princess, can you tell me about it?"

"Oh, I don't know about the test, but the seneschal will be here soon to talk to you."

"The seneschal is the person who runs the castle for the king." Eugene whispered to Rapunzel. She turned toward him.

"Eek, what's that on your neck." Rapunzel jumped as the chambermaid screamed as she backed herself against the wall.

"Oh, this is Pascal. He's a chameleon. He's my friend. Do you want to meet him?" She held out her arm and Pascal jogged down to her hand.

Angela slid sideways toward the door. Shaking her head. Pascal looked disappointedly at Rapunzel.

"I think someone is afraid of chameleons. Don't worry, about her, the test is far more important. You are the Lost Princess, you can pass whatever test they have."

...

Mortimor Danberry was the seneschal to the kingdom of Corona. He had been in the service of the King for nearly 30 years, and had worked very hard for them. He was a rotund man with a fringe of gray hair around his bald head.

He was walking to the Testing Chamber, because another Lost Princess candidate had appeared at the gates not long ago. He was surprised by this, he had long ago created a princess warning network of observant people around the city to warn him of their coming, but this one seemed to have going to the castle without notice. He had expected one yesterday as there had been several sightings of a girl with blonde hair that had looked like a princess candidate.

Screening the princess candidates was emotionally challenging. Everyone missed the Lost Princess.

He had even lead the search parties for the magic golden flowers just over 18 years ago now, that had been a grand time, he thought. The beloved queen was so sick, and almost the entire city had turned out to search for that flower. It had taken every ship and boat they had to transport them all. And they had found it and saved the queen. The baby was born hale and heathy. It had all been worth it.
But then the Kidnapper took the beloved child. Again he had lead search parties, the entire kingdom had mobilized themselves out of love for the grieving royals. He was sure they had left no stone unturned to find the Lost Princess. He had personally tracked down a every report of an old woman with a blonde baby. There had been one at some falling over tavern with a duck. But it could not possibly have been the kidnapper, she was far too young to have been the perpetrator. He hadn't even bothered to turn back the blanket covering the baby. After a year they had finally given up, but following the queens suggestion they sent up sky lanterns to signal the Lost Princess to come home. It was the knotted end of hope but there was nothing left for them to do.

He shook his head, meeting these false princesses always brought up the old memories.
Suddenly, a chambermaid came pelting towards him. He caught her,"Angela, what is it, child?"

"The girl she has a lizard around her neck and it was changing colors and staring at me." she wept.

"Easy, child, easy. The Testing Chamber isn't your normal job is it?"

"N-no, sir." shaking her head.

"Isn't Keterina usually taking care of the room?"

"Yes, sir, but they needed someone when the princess came in and I was in the kitchen just then, so they sent me." she gulped.

"It's okay. Go find her and have her do her duty."

"Oh, thank you, sir." she got a hold of herself and walked back toward the kitchens.

...

The seneschal entered the Testing Chamber and paused, the Lock Guard next to the door was expected but the girl and her man were not so much. The man looked vaguely familiar but the girl was a totally different matter. After 18 years of blonde princesses coming to to be tested this was the first time a brunette had ever shown up. He was expecting a princess with long golden hair, that is what his princess warning network had told him about yesterday. He almost laughed except something about the way she looked was also familiar. And she did indeed have a chameleon on her shoulder, which smiled at him.

"Ah, welcome, my lady. Please, let us sit together so we can determine if you truly are the Lost Princess." Following the script. They moved to the table, he held a chair out for Rapunzel and moved to the other side of the table as Eugene sat next to her. They shared a look before turning to the seneschal.

"So, when did you find out you were the Lost Princess?"

"Oh, that was this morning." Rapunzel's hands unconsciously reached for some hair to worry but finding nothing to hold on to just fluttered on her shoulder, she looked at her hands and forced them to stillness in her lap.

"...and how did you find out?" the seneschal prompted.

"I was looking at the sigil flag that Eugene here gave me when we were here for the lanterns. After Mother, er not my real mother but, Mother Gothel who raised me, had taken all the flowers and braids out of my hair."

"Aw, those were pretty." commented Eugene.

"She told me again how terrible the world was and how it would destroy any light that it found. and then went to make the hazelnut soup she had surprised me for my birthday. Then I lay down on my bed and was looking at the sigil flag again and looking at the painting on the ceiling of my room and then I saw all the suns I had painted into all the scenes I had painted all over my room, then I had a vision of a sun floating over me and two large people who I knew were my parents and that reminded me of the mosaic in the square showing the Lost Princess, King and Queen. The vision was so strong I stumbled into my vanity. I then confronted Mother, er Mother Gothel about it and she all but confirmed it. When I told her I would never let her use my hair again she attacked me and chained me to the stairs. Before she could finish packing, Eugene came to rescue me. I tried to warn him, but she gagged me and threw my hair out the window so he could climb up."

"Wait, she threw your hair out the window?" asked the seneschal.

"Yes, that is how Mother Gothel would get in and out of the tower, there was no other way until she revealed the hidden staircase this morning."

"You should have seen it, it was a good 70 feet long and as golden as the sun on an summers day." chimed in Eugene.

"But now it's short and brown. Why is that?"

"That was my fault. Once I had climbed the tower to try and rescue her, Mother Gothel stabbed me." showing the hole and the blood on his shirt and vest. "Rapunzel was going to fight her for every minute of the rest of her life but she promised she would go peacefully with Mother Gothel if she could heal me first. I couldn't let her do that, Mother Gothel was going to make her a slave. I knew I was dying but I couldn't let Rapunzel keep that promise. My strength was leaving me I had only one chance to do something. So I pretended to want a kiss, grabbed her hair and cut it with a shard of mirror that was on the floor near me. Then things went rather fuzzy." Eugene finished lamely.

"That's because you died." reminded Rapunzel.

"He died!?" Even Pascal nodded.

"Yes, He was dying, I started the healing incantation, but with my hair cut there was nothing that I could do about it. It had lost its power. After he died, I finished singing it because I couldn't think of anything else to do. Well, there was one thing, I cried." She reached out and touched Eugene's cheek with a tender look on her face."Then light started swirling out from his wound forming a flower and then it faded and he woke up."

"So you're telling me that your tears have healing powers?"

"No, my hair had healing powers, but after it was cut there seemed there was only one last drop of magic left and it healed him. I tried healing Maximus by crying but it didn't work."

"Maximus? I know that name, isn't that the Palace Guard Captains' horse? How did he get involved with you, I was told that he captured a couple of men last night and involved in the prison break this morning?"

"Well, Yes, he broke me out of the prison this morning to save Rapunzel." Eugene added casually. The seneschal looked ready to throw him back in the dungeon.

"Please, let us explain." Rapunzel said desperately.

"Oh, you have a lot of explaining to do, but let's all start from the beginning. The very beginning. The queen was pregnant and became sick. The kingdom turned out to find a magic golden flower that was rumored to exist, which was found and used to heal the queen. The princess was born healthy with long golden hair. The baby was stolen soon after by an old woman, whom we never found. Then what happened?" Asked the seneschal.

Rapunzel began her story,"You wouldn't have been able to find her because you were looking for the wrong thing. Mother would use my hair to make herself young. If you were looking for an old woman with a baby, won't notice a young woman with a baby."

"You mentioned that before. Your hair had the power to make people young?" asked the seneschal.

"And heal." Rapunzel added.

"She used it to heal my hand after I cut it on a rock trying to get out of the cave when the dam broke." chimed in Eugene holding up his hand.

"Ah, hold that thought, make sure to come back to that when we get to that part of the story. So we were looking for the wrong person, where did she hide you?"

"There is a hidden tower, I have no idea how it got there, or why it was built where it was, but it is in a small canyon with a waterfall, about half a day's walk from here."

"Only half a day's walk from here?" it came out in a despairing sounding way.

"Oh, don't feel bad for yourself, it is very well hidden, the only reason I found it was because I was trying to get away from Maximus and I quite literally stumbled upon it." commented Eugene.

The seneschal gave Eugene a look. He kept getting the desire to ask him a lot of questions but determining the claim of this Lost Princess candidate was more important. Turning back to Rapunzel. "And what did you do all this time?"

"I stayed in the tower. Mother told me that the power of my hair needed to be protected, so I could never leave the tower. So I kept busy by doing chores, reading, painting, and doing things with Pascal here to keep each other entertained." Patting Pascal affectionately. "The big thing in my life were the lanterns that I kept seeing every year on my birthday. I knew they weren't stars as they didn't move like the stars do, I mapped them out on the wall of my tower and the floating lights didn't fit anything else up there. And this year I was determined to find out exactly what they were. I worked up my courage and asked Mother, er Mother Gothel, if she would take me to see them, but she said they were only the stars. After she left for the morning, he showed up." glancing at Eugene.

She explained that after capturing him ("with a frying pan" interjected Eugene), and noticing that he didn't have pointy teeth, (the seneschal traded a glance with Eugene who shrugged, and wrote himself a note to follow up on that later) that she would show him off to mother to prove that she could handle herself outside. But that didn't work, so she asked for some new paint, made from shells she knew were from far enough away that she could see the floating lights and get back before mother got back, she hated herself for lying to Mother like that but it was the only way to see the lights. By hiding his satchel she was able to make a deal with Eugene to take her to see the floating lights and bring her safely back. Which he agreed to.

We went through the forest and when we got hungry we stopped at the Snuggly Duckling. He was almost taken prisoner by the thugs there and I convinces them not to, they were really nice, and they helped us escape thru a secret passage when the palace guards showed up. But they followed us. And then some ruffians showed up too wanting to get him. I swung to safety, and he got in a swordfight with Maximus using my frying pan, then I pulled him to safety, the seneschal made more notes, then Maximus broke the dam and we got trapped in a cave with water coming in. We used the glow from my hair to find a way out just after the cave filled with water. We made camp and I healed his hand, he went off to find more firewood but, Mother found me and wanted to take me back to the tower, I said no, but then she gave me the satchel, though I have no idea how she found it. She left before you came back and I hid the satchel.

I woke up to Eugene screaming as Maximus was dragging him away. I convinced Maximus to let him be my guide for the day and then they could chase each other all they wanted the next day because it was my birthday. We could see the top of the castle from our campsite, we had gotten very close. Crossing the bridge was so exciting, so many things to see and people. But my hair was so long that people were stepping on it and so Eugene found some girls braiding their hair by the fountain and they did a wonderful job making it only as long as I was tall. It was beautiful and they were very nice. The library was wonderful, I haven't seen so many books in one place ever and so much more to learn. Then there was the chalk drawing, there were all these children making drawings on the stones in another square and I joined in and made a big sun flower with a purple background.

"It was very impressive." added Eugene

"You made that? Everyone thought it was amazing, we even heard about it here at the castle. The court painter went down to copy it so it could be saved." wondered the seneschal.

"And in the square with the portrait of the royal family where the people leave flowers for the Lost Princess, there were musicians and I started dancing and a lot of people joined in. But they kept Eugene and I apart until the end. Then it was time to go to the boats and see the lights.

That was really scary, because even if was everything I imagined it was, it was still going to be over soon and I was going to go back to the tower. But I didn't really want to, I wanted to stay with Eugene. So when he gave us lanterns I gave him the satchel. I was sure he liked me then since he didn't seem to care about it very much. But then he paddled us to shore and left with the satchel." She looked at Eugene.

"Um, it was because I saw the Stabbington brothers on the shore behind you when we were going to kiss. I went to give them the satchel because I didn't care about it any more, but they did. At least I thought so, they didn't care about the satchel anymore either as they knew about your hair."

"Well, I care, what was in the satchel?" interrupted the seneschal, annoyed that something that seemed to be so important wasn't being explained.

Eugene was suddenly busy looking anywhere but at the two of them.

Rapunzel added, "Well, I don't know exactly what it is but it was some kind of crown, I think."

"It was the Crown of the Lost Princess." Eugene blurted out.

"WHAT!" The seneschal's shout was so loud birds roosting on a neighboring tower took flight. He waved off the guard who rushed forward as he had jumped to his feet.

Rapunzel looked confused. "That was my crown?" She began to wish she had her hair to hide in as the seneschal paced back and forth like a caged lion.

"Are you kidding me? You've come here claiming to be the Lost Princess and you don't even know about your crown? The Most Valuable Treasure of the kingdom. We've had a squad of guards around it night and day since the day you were taken. It was found yesterday in the hands of Flynn Rider, who was supposed to have been hanged this morning but escaped with the help of a mob of thugs who are now awaiting trial in the dungeon."

"Oh, please don't hurt them, they're nice guys, really." injected Rapunzel.

"Besides, it was Max who got them to do it, so I could save her. You see, I came to in the boat the Stabbington brothers tied me to not far from when we had left Maximus I shouted that Rapunzel was in trouble. I was hoping he heard me and could go save her himself but I think he got the thugs from the Snuggly Duckling because he had no idea where she was."

"You're Flynn Rider!"

"Yes." said Eugene.

"No." shouted Rapunzel. Everyone looked at her. "Well, he was, but he isn't any more. Flynn Rider died this morning because Eugene Fitzherbert gave his life to save me. I had promised Mother that I would go with her if she would let me save him first. That everything would go back to the way it was. She could use my hair to stay young." Rapunzel's voice had gotten hollow and flat, her hands were groping her shoulder feeling for her hair. "I promised I would never try to escape or run away and we would be together forever. I never break a promise. And it would have been forever, because my hair can-could heal anything. I would give up my freedom and any hope of going outside ever again just to know that Eugene was alive, somewhere, even if I could never be with him again. I had found someone who liked me and I didn't, couldn't let him die." Tears where dripping onto her hands that tightly gripped her skirts as Eugene put his arms around her.

The seneschal sat down across from them again, his look more gentle. "I think we skipped over some parts in there. He left you at the boat and went to give the crown to the Stabbington Brothers, who were brought in by Maximus and are currently in the dungeon, so you are safe from them for now. Then what happened?"

Wiping her eyes, Rapunzel pulled herself together, Pascal who had been nuzzling her hand and looking a very distressed purple moved up to her neck and gave her some nuzzles. She gave him a quick smile and then took up the story. "I waited what seemed like forever and then I saw someone coming out of the fog, I thought it was Eugene, but it was the Stabbingtion Brothers walking single file. They said Flynn had left me. I couldn't believe them but they showed me that he was sailing away in a boat, I tried calling him but then they said it was a fair trade I was traded to them: the crown for the girl with the magic hair. And they had sack. I tried to run but my braid got caught on a branch. Then I heard thumping and then Mother called, she had knocked them out and I went home with her because I felt that I had been betrayed by someone who I thought loved me." She glanced at Eugene.

"Don't look at me, it wasn't my idea. I was betrayed by them too. But I have to tell you that they don't hit quite as hard as you do with your frying pan. They tied me to that boat and sent me back to the city. I woke up when I hit the dock and I found that I had the crown stuck in my hand. Then the guards took me, I was trying to get them to listen, but you know how guards are. I kept calling for Rapunzel, I am guessing that Max heard me and tried to find her, but only found the Stabbington brothers since he brought them in. I spent a restless night trying to figure out how to help Rapunzel. Then the Captain of the Guard came to take me to be hanged. I had given up, there wasn't a way out or anyone to listen to me at that point. But then I saw the Stabbington brothers in a cell. I knocked away the guards and grabbed the nearest one and almost dragged him through the bars, I had to know how he had known about Rapunzel's hair. He said that an old woman had told them. The only other person to know about her hair was her mother. I realized that Rapunzel was in far more danger from her own mother then from any of us. Then the guards swarmed me and took me away. Then the next thing I know the guards are disappearing, the Pub Thugs were breaking me out of the dungeon. One of them had a key to the shackles and then we were running away from the reinforcements. We got to the square where we were surrounded but then Hookhand put me on a cart and then I was flying through the air and landed on Maximus on top of the wall. He had gotten them to come break me out. We ran from more guards and jumped off of the wall and down some roofs and out of town to her tower."

"The next part gets really interesting but I want to know what happened to you after you left the beach." Eugene said turning to Rapunzel.

"Well, Mother and I spent the night walking home, her green lantern lighting the way. It was just getting light when we reached the Tower. She showed me that there was a stair leading up on the backside of the tower. I was so tired and sad that I didn't really care. We went into my bedroom and Mother spent a lot of time removing the flowers and braids from my hair making it as though it had never happened. Mother said she had tried to warn me about how terrible the outside world was. And I could only agree with her, I had some times when I thought I had found someone who really liked me, but the betrayal was like a knife through my heart. Mother went to make my birthday dinner she had surprised me with before I left, though it was morning. I had found the sigil flag in my pocket and was holding it as I flopped onto my bed. I had saved it from Mother because it did remind me of a moment of happiness. I held it above me as I lay there and then things began to change. I could see suns all over my room. I had somehow incorporated that sun image into everything I had painted in my room. As I stood up in wonder surrounded by all those images, I had a vision or something. There was the sun again in a round thing above me with little animals hanging off of it, and there were two people a man and a woman, they looked just like the people in the mosaic in the square, the king and queen holding a little girl with golden hair and green eyes; my hair and my eyes. Those people were my parents, my parents were the king and queen, I was a princess. I was the Lost Princess. That realization knocked me off of my feet. Mother Gothel wasn't my real mother, I had parents. Parents that were still looking for me, that loved me. It was too much, I was kneeling on the floor, my whole world was upside down, it was hard to breathe. I could hear Mother calling but I couldn't understand her. I went to my curtain and confronted her. She wasn't my mother, she was the terrible one, she wanted my power, she had been using me. She tried to put me in my place like she always did but I was so angry, I caught her hand and told her she could never use my hair again. She spun away and broke my mirror. Then she attacked me and put me in chains. We heard the hoofbeats coming, I tried to call for help but she gagged me. When I heard Eugene call me to let down my hair, Mother threw it down and hid next to the window. I tried to warn you but you wouldn't stop talking long enough to hear me and she stabbed you. I can still hear the sound of her knife going into your body. When you fell you didn't land on any of my hair so I couldn't help you. I tried to get to you but when mother pulled on the chains it was like she was pulling my arms out. "

"But I had to help you. You came back for me, you still loved me, and I couldn't let you die. I offered Mother my hair, my life and my freedom, I would never run or try to escape. I knew she needed my hair, there have been a few times when she has been gone for a few days and she came back very old but my hair would make her young again in an instant. So telling her that we would be together forever, I knew it was going to be a very long time. But for you it would be worth it." Rapunzel looked into Eugene's eyes.

"I couldn't let you do that. I'd have rather died then let you stay with her with no chance of escape." said Eugene.

"Actually, you did die." Rapunzel said shyly.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I. I remember lots of screaming for some reason." touching the bloodstained hole in his shirt.

"That was Mother, for some reason cutting my hair caused her to age very fast, I think it was very painful for her, she was stumbling around and Pascal tripped her with a length of my hair. Pascal is very brave, aren't you?" Giving the chameleon a rub on his eye ridges. Even as tears began to stream down her face again. "I tried to grab her, but I was too far away. I just wanted to be away from her, I didn't want her dead. Then Eugene coughed, I started the Healing Incantation with what was left of my hair but once it's cut it loses its power. Nothing happened and you died. My whole life was crashing down around me, Mother had just died in front of me and so had my Eugene. There was nothing left, I cradled you in my lap and finished the incantation because there was nothing else I knew to do. If having been betrayed felt like being cut with a knife, all this was like having my heart cut out. I have never hurt so much in my life, falling down the stairs had hurt less. And I didn't know what to do, I didn't have my hair anymore, so I couldn't fix it. Now there was no one to turn to, no one left. Then through my tears I saw light, the wound was glowing, streams of light poured out and surrounded us. Finally a flower appeared to grow where the wound was and then it all faded and you started to breathe and you spoke. It was amazing and I felt like I was floating in the sky like a lantern."

The seneschal could just stare as Rapunzel and Eugene shared a look. It was True Love, he hadn't seen that look between anyone for a long time. The King and Queen had it, but they hadn't shared it for 18 years. At that moment, he didn't care if she was the Lost Princess or not, they had something very special, and if she did not pass the Test he would make sure that they would be gotten to safety, far away, maybe King Stefan's kingdom. No matter.

"And then we came here, since Maximus had exhausted himself bringing Eugene to my tower, and he needed proper help, and to come home to my real parents." finished Rapunzel.

Clearing his throat, "I think now, it is time for The Test. I shall return shortly." Rapunzel and Eugene exchanged glances and clasped hands. The seneschal got up and left.

...

The seneschal pondered what had happened back there. The interview was only a formality, all the false Lost Princesses had come with elaborate backstories and explanations, but he had never encountered anything like this girl before. The girl seemed completely honest and innocent. She truly believed her story. He knew that the dam had been broken by Maximus from the Captain's report. That the search for the crown had gone to the Snuggly Duckling. He even knew that a girl with long golden hair had been in the city for the celebration, her joy and innocence had attracted a lot of attention. His princess warning system had alerted him and he was expecting her to make her claim but she never did. This girl had taken him completely by surprise.

The Test, the Test would tell if she was the true Lost Princess. Shaking his head is continued on to the royal apartment. The day after the Birthday was set aside for rest and recovery. It was very hard on the King, he didn't speak of it but the seneschal could tell that the "celebration" was very hard on the king. He feared that the king was loosing hope. Every time a claimant was rejected the lines on the king's face grew deeper and the less he spoke. The seneschal did much to ease the burden of the King but this was one that he couldn't help with.

Stopping outside the royal apartments, the seneschal settled himself and schooled his face to be strictly neutral, he had made a serious mistake with the first false princess and he had vowed never to raise false hope in his king again. He nodded to the Lock Guard in his crossed sash and fez-like hat, that always stayed near the Test.

Bowing to the queen, who greeted him. "M'lady, There is another claimant. I am in need of the Test."

The queen looked deeply at him, trying to fine some sign, but he held is neutrality and calmness as close as he could, he would not hurt them again. Nodding she turned away from her seneschal and removed a necklace with a vial containing the kingdom's Most Precious Treasure that she kept ever near her heart. The Crown of the Lost Princess may be called the kingdom's Most Valuable Treasure, but it was really just a decoy. They could not keep the rumors of a very valuable treasure from spreading, but they did what they could to make sure anyone who wanted the treasure think it was something other then it was. Still it was surprising that Flynn Rider had pulled off the heist.

After the princess was taken they had found a lock of hair in the crib. What it had meant was something the Privy Council had debated for some time, they had even included the head women and the midwife just to be sure they had covered all possibilities. They knew that an old woman had stolen the princess, while the princess had had golden hair the lock was brown which was very close to the color of the queen's hair. It was the logical conclusion that the hair was from the princess and that the golden color of her hair was some kind of magical effect from the magic, golden flower they had used to heal the queen and that it was lost when the hair was cut and returned to its actual color, which was very close to the color of the queens hair.

It wasn't the strongest evidence he'd ever seen but it was the only conclusion that fit all the available facts. The test was very simple, cut a sample of the claimant's hair and compare them. Of course, all the girls so far had blonde hair that had stayed blonde when cut. So they could not be the Lost Princess, none had even understood the test.

The seneschal had the suspicion that the queen kept the Lock on her person so she would know if there was a claimant in the palace. She had the most hope of them all. And the king and queen always seemed to be together when he returned it with a shake of his head.
As the queen lay the warm vial in his hand, he gave the Lock a long look. It looked like… No, clenching it in his fist he bowed carefully to his queen and left. The Lock Guard staying with him now.

The queen gazed at the doors for a long time. The queen nodded to her chambermaid who took up position down the hall, while the queen went off to be near the king.

"Easy, old man. Breathe. Follow the protocol." the seneschal whispered to himself. Then he and the Lock Guard entered the Testing Chamber. The claimant and her man spun around. The Lock Guard closed the doors and took position in front of them. The man looked at the guard suspiciously. Going to his desk, he removed a pair of scissors and approached the girl. Fear shown in her eyes. Her hands moved to her shoulder as if trying to grip some hair that wasn't there anymore.

"What are those for?" asked Rapunzel.

"The Test is very simple really, I need some of your hair."

"But Eugene cut my hair already, it doesn't have any power anymore." Eugene moved close to her and held her. Pascal eyed the seneschal suspiciously.

"Be that as it may, we must perform the test if we are to know if you are the true Lost Princess."

Burying her face into Eugene's shoulder she said, "Okay, do it."

With a puzzled expression on his face the seneschal approached and gently lifted a lock of hair and Rapunzel shivered as she heard the snip. She took a shuttering breath and then she slowly turned.

She saw the seneschal standing there, a lock of her hair in his hand next to a vial with something brown in it. The hand was shaking. His face was very pale. The scissors slipped from his other hand and landed with a clatter to the floor.

Eugene reached out and put an arm on the seneschal's shoulder, "Are you alright, man?"

The seneschal crashed to his knees, looking up with tears streaming down his face he said, "Welcome home, your Highness, we've missed you, so much." and hugged them both around the waist.

The Lock Guards were standing there with their jaws hanging open. The seneschal turned on his knees.

"Don't just stand there. Quickly man, tell them that she'll be at the plaza balcony. Move."
The guard took off at at run.

"Your Highness, please, come with me. You're going to meet your parents now."

+++
Tangled is Disney's. This was fun.
Okay, I was driven crazy by the huge holes they left in the story between Eugene reviving, meeting the King and Queen and the Celebration at the end.

This story gets Rapunzel and Eugene back to the palace and tested.

There has to be some way to prove Rapunzel is the Lost Princess, there would be claimants. So I use something they would have no access to. The Lock of Hair left by Gothel in the crib.

Rapunzel Goes Home: [link]
Rapunzel Meets Her Parents part 1: [link]
Rapunzel Meets Her Parents part 2: [link]
Rapunzel's Homecoming:
Chapter 1: [link]
Chapter 2: [link]
Chapter 3: [link]
Chapter 4: [link]
Chapter 5: [link]
Chapter 6: [link]
Chapter 7: [link]
Chapter 8: [link]
Chapter 9: [link]
Chapter 10: [link]
Chapter 11: [link]
Chapter 12: [link]
Chapter 13: [link]
Chapter 14: [link]
Chapter 15: [link]
Chapter 16: [link]
Chapter 17: [link]
Chapter 18: [link]
Chapter 19: [link]
Chapter 20: [link]
Chapter 21: [link]
Chapter 22: [link]
Chapter 23: [link]
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Raided: Chapter 15: One Last Time

Merida tottered out of the meeting that she and her mother had had with Astrid. Mum was arranging a room for the girl and a place for her dragon.

Merida had a hand on the stone wall guiding her, because she wasn’t sure how she was feeling. Hiccup had sent Astrid, the girl she thought Hiccup liked, to ask Merida to marry him. It would be a political marriage, the way to stop the raids on Scotland.

Merida stumbled down the stairs, grabbing the handrail. Her eyes didn’t seem to want to focus, her ears couldn’t hear. Part of her was raging, she didn’t want to give up her freedom. The freedom she had fought so hard for and hurt her mum over. Another part of her liked Hiccup, and held out the hope that maybe she could love him like Mum loved Da. The princess part of her knew what had to be done for the sake of her people.

Her feet carried her out of the castle and into the woods. There was a comforting presence next to her, Kevin MacGuffin. He had been invited to come after the MacIntoshs had been dealt with. They had spent quite some time together. He was so much more confident now and she was comfortable around him. She felt safe with him nearby.

Merida sat at the base of a large twisted tree, that looked like how her heart felt just then. Kevin sat next to her. She took his hand and hugged it. “I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“Hiccup just asked me to marry him.”

“Oh.” After a while he asked, “and...?”

“He became a king. King of the Vikings, just so he could stop the raids on Scotland. He needs to marry me, the Princess of the Scots, to make an alliance.”

There was a long silence.

“Why did he do/ that? How/ could he do that?” Merida raged now. “What is/ it with him?”

Merida was quiet again.

Then tears began to run down her face. “I have to. I have to marry him to protect my people. Because he loves my people enough to become a king of his own people to protect us.”

“Do you think it will work?” asked Kevin.

“Oh yes. I am sure it will work, because what he does works.” said Merida wiping her eyes, she twiddled her hair with her free hand trying to decide.

She looked into Kevin’s eyes “Kevin. I want you to know that of the three original suitors. I liked you best. I thought you would also make the best king. You will make a great lord.”

“Thank you.” Kevin said as he ran his hand through her hair one last time. “You will make a great queen.”

“Thank you.”

“So now what?”

“I get ready for the wedding and then...I don’t know. I don’t have the slightest idea where I will end up living.”

Merida put her head on Kevin’s substantial chest and tried to come to terms with what was happening as he put his arm around her.

They sat together until the sun was went down and they had to return to the castle.

# # #

“Mum, we need to talk.” said Merida.

“What’s wrong?” asked Elinor. She was in the tapestry room working on the Princess and the Bear tapestry, she was putting some highlights in her daughter’s hair today. She had duties but the wedding was coming up and she needed to do something calming, because she was going to lose her baby soon. Ships full of people from the clans and the Viking tribes were coming soon. Hiccup and the dragonriders would be here any time too.

Merida came over and touched the bear part of the tapestry. “I love you. You’ve taught me so much. All those years of princess lessons, but I don’t know how to be what I know I need to be.”

“I’ve taught you all I know and you will make a good queen.”

“Yes, I think I will. You taught me well.” Merida said her head bowed.

Elinor took her daughter into her arms, “And you will be a good wife. I had reservations about marrying your father. I was so worried I was being given to a brute, he is a great warrior and leader, I can see those things in Hiccup, but I believe that he will make you a good husband. Just remember to talk to him often so you don’t drift apart.”

Merida shook her head, “Hiccup has such a big heart, he loves so much that he became king just so he could end the raids against us.”

Elinor nodded.

“I don’t know if I can love like he can.”

“Of course you can.” Elinor said enveloping her daughter in her arms. “You used love to break the spell on me.”

“Yes, I know, but I loved you, my own mother. It’s loving strangers, even terrible monsters, like he can, I am not sure of.”

“I’m sure you can.”

“I need to know/ Mum. I need to do something that shows them and me that I am worthy of being Hiccup’s queen.” Merida looked at her mother intently.

“You have something in mind, don’t you?”

Merida nodded, but she bit her lip. “We... better sit down.”

# # #

Merida, Elinor and Maudie entered the chamber Hiccup would be guided to, to find Merida. Maudie put the basket of flower pedals on the table next to the white fabric they would be putting on Merida and Elinor put her bow and quiver by the door.

Merida’s stomach had been filled with butterflies as they had dressed her in Elinor’s wedding dress, now they were replaced by dragons.

“Merida, are you sure about this?” asked Queen Elinor. One last chance to do something else. She was so worried for Merida, though she knew this would mean so much to Merida.

Merida licked her lips. Looking around the room, the one that the wisps had lead her to she now remembered, she could see all the equipment she had had installed really well from where she was standing at the center. Merida swallowed, then shakily nodded.

“Maudie, if you would start with her arms.” said Elinor.

“Yes, mum.” said Maudie as she went to the table for the fabric. Merida put her arms together behind her and Maudie began to wrap Merida’s arms with the white fabric from the table.

“I’ll do your hair, dear.” said Elinor as she gathered up Merida’s hair. They had spent a good part of yesterday combing it out, today the curls were still soft and they almost reacher her knees. Elinor gathered it up and looped it through a bight of rope that hung from the ceiling. Then she bound it with a white ribbon back upon itself.

Merida’s breathing began to quicken. She’d always been able to hide in her hair. Her flame-colored curls always caressed her head, neck and chest, but now her hair was up and she felt so vulnerable. Having all those arrows pointed at her scared her too.

Maudie and Elinor brought her legs together and wrapped more of the white fabric and rope around her and her body was forced to stillness.

“Mum. Mummy. Please. I-I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t. Please.” Merida began to beg as she struggled, but the ropes held her upright. Tears welled up in her eyes as she needed to escape, to run away to freedom. Elinor and Maudie held her close so she wouldn’t fall.

Elinor hugged her close. “Merida. It’s okay.” Elinor could feel her daughter shaking under her hands and tears dripping onto her neck from her daughters face.

“Mummy, I’m scared.” Merida whispered.

She took Merida’s face in her hands and made her daughter look her in the eyes. “You remember why you are doing this?”

Merida nodded, but she began to sob.

“Why? Tell me why?”

“For my people. For Hiccup’s people. For the slaves.” Merida panted as a stray curl fell in front of her eyes.

“Why are they important?”

“Because they need to be free.” Merida said, she focused on the memory of Aibhlinn’s clothes, that stray curl of hair, and those reasons. Slowly, she was able to get a grip on herself again.

“Yes. That’s right. They have waited a long time for freedom, and who is the only one able to give it too them?”

“I am.” Merida whispered as she breathing slowed.

“That’s right. You can do this for them.”

“I will.”

“Better?” asked the mother as she felt her daughter calm.

“Yes. Yes, keep going.” said Merida, and Maudie and Elinor quickly wrapped the rest of her body.

“Thank you Maudie, Mum. I love you.” said Merida as they were almost finished.

“I love you too, princess.” said Maudie.

“I love you too, my dearest perfect daughter.” said Elinor as she kissed her daughter one last time before gagging her daughter and wrapping Merida’s head, then she loosed Merida’s hair and arranged it nicely, then with a nod, signaled Maudie to activate the hidden mechanism that raised Merida into place and darkened the room.

Maudie came next to Elinor, nervously twiddling her hands in front of her, looking back and forth to the princess and the queen.

“Merida, are you okay?” called Elinor.

There was a muffled affirmative from the princess.

“Good, he should be here shortly. I love you and I am hoping you’ll be hearing those words again very soon.” said Elinor as she slung her bow and quiver around her as she and Maudie left the dark room.

===

King Hiccup was standing across the field from the castle and was keeping an eye on the combined might of the Scotland. At his back was the might of the Vikings. The dragons were sunning themselves on the walls of the castle, they would be sitting out this fight. The sun was shaded by a thick cloud just then, there were large fluffy white clouds moving ponderously in the sky.

Hiccup was a little annoyed with this spectacle, he had just wanted a simple little wedding, like his Dad. But no, this was a state marriage with ceremony and tradition, though what tradition there could be for the wedding of the first Viking king and Scottish Princess eluded him. The Scots had set everything up including their tradition of betrothal games and it was now a grand melee with the objective of him finding his bride in the castle. The actual marriage ceremony was going to be a mix of Viking and Scottish traditions.

After talking with the Skivvy Scroungers, he found they were a rag-tag bunch that BigEars had assembled over the last couple of years. BugEars had made lots of promises he was in no position to keep anymore. Now most of them wanted to return to their tribes, so Hiccup and the lawspeaker had dissolved the tribe and taken the slaves into his own tribe to be returned to their own homes. He had their chains cut but their collars would be removed after the wedding as a gesture of reconciliation. He looked and saw them coming off the last longboats, and moving to the wedding field.

Hiccup saw Maudie wave the signal banner flag above the battlements of Castle DunBroch. “Okay. Remember everyone; keep to the rules of engagement, and get me into the castle. Let’s go.” He hefted his heavy shield and wooden sword and charged across the field.

His dad, Gobber, Astrid and the rest of the gang were near him, as they approached the Scottish line he could see Fergus, Lord MacGuffin and the other clan-lords. He could see Stoic and Fergus eyeing each other as they trotted across the field.

There were rules in effect to simulate combat while hopefully keeping the injuries to a minimum.  This was supposed to be a wedding, not an actual raid. The chains on his belt banging into his thigh annoyed him though. Why Elinor had insisted on those was a mystery to him. Enslaving his future wife was not why he had done all this. But Elinor said there was a reason for that which will be shown later.

They were getting close, the Scots charged forward. Hiccup had his shield up.

Then everyone, but him, put on a burst of speed and ran into the opposing lines and the melee began.

Hiccup found himself in the middle of a whirling chaos. Astrid was beating the snot out of some skinny guy with blue tattoos and black hair. Fishlegs and Kevin were dancing around each other. Snotlout was having a hard time of it as a kid with a shock of white hair was chewing on his arm. Hiccup could tell the kid had gone berserk, that could be a problem, but he saw Hunk and the twins coming to help.

Hiccup bashed a few warriors as he looked for a way to the gates. A hole opened up and he reached the castle gates. He looked back and he could see his dad and Fergus slugging away at each other. That might take a while to resolve.

# # #

Hiccup entered the dragon covered castle. There was a path of red flower pedals on the floor. Hiccup knew that was out of place enough to follow. As he stalked down into the bowels of the quiet castle, it reminded him of following a blood trail. The thought that he was following the blood trail of his future wife made him shiver.

It was nuts to do this but his dad told him some powerful people are traditionalists and they liked the idea. It would make the end of the raids go down easier. He came around a corner and found Elinor armed with a bow. He stopped, the slave chains on his belt clanked in the quiet, her eyes flicked to them and hardened. Hiccup hefted his heavy wooden shield and wooden sword, but knew it wouldn’t stop one of her arrows.

“Who goes there!”

“Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.”

“Why are you here?”

“To claim my bride and to bring peace between our peoples.” He said the words that had been specified in the treaty.

“What have you done to prove your worth?”

“I have trained the dragons, killed the Red and Green Deaths and joined the tribes of my people into one.” Another prepared question and answer.

“Do you love Merida?”

“I... Wait, what?” That wasn’t one of the questions. He was supposed to say I would join our peoples too, to explain what he was doing here.

“Do you love Merida?” The question was urgent as Elinor fully drew her bow, he saw the calmness in her eyes. If he answered this wrong he would die. There was no defense against her.

Hiccup dropped his sword and shield. “I don’t know. You and she showed me the paths into my heart. I don’t think I’ve found my way yet. I would like to try.”

Elinor held the bow steady for a very long time considering. Hiccup was amazed at how long she could hold it without shaking. Then she lowered her bow.

“Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, you may try to claim your bride.” Elinor opened the heavy wooden door.

“Um, Thanks.” But then he wondered about how she said that. What did she mean ...try?

The door thudded close behind him and the darkness had him as the sound of a heavy bar slid home behind him.
One last raid.
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