Astrid’s antipathy toward Valka
|Gerda Thorston opened the door to find Valka outside. “Come in, Valka,” she invited.”It’s good to see you.”
“Thank you, Gerda. How are the wedding plans going?”
Gerda rolled her eyes. “We’re sewing new clothes for Adisa’s wardrobe still. That girl’s not skilled with a needle, so it’s taking us longer. But it will get done, and the wedding’s not for a month.”
Valka smiled. She recalled her own wedding preparations and the excitement of marrying Stoick. Sorrow tinged the memory; Stoick was dead, another victim of Drago Bludvist’s mad scheme to rule the archipelago. She was able to meet Hiccup and return to the tribe. Without Hiccup’s welcome, she wouldn’t have come back at all.
“I’ll help you with the sewing, if you like. I have time and would enjoy helping you and Adisa.”
Gerda snorted.” I’ll accept that, Valka. Maybe if you’re here, I won’t be tempted to strangle the girl.”
“So,” Gerda remarked,” why are you really here, Valka?”
“I wanted to visit, Gerda. I wanted to talk to someone who isn’t Hiccup or Astrid. They’re not always pleased to have me there, and I could use a friend.”
Gerda nodded. Astrid and Hiccup weren’t just married, they were devoted to one another. Hiccup would do anything for Astrid, and Astrid guarded Hiccup with an intensity usually found in battle. Gerda had observed them for years and knew that their love was deep and unshakeable.
“Hiccup’s chiefing duties must cut into his time, and when he’s home he wants time with Astrid.” Gerda could imagine the scene, and briefly pitied Valka. Those on Berk mourned Stoick, and getting his wife back at the same time he died seemed an obscenity. Discovering Valka had been alive and deliberately stayed away from her family disgusted many, even those younger ones who never knew her. She was the chief’s mother, and Hiccup was pleased to forgive her. Few could openly act against her; they could refrain from befriending Valka, and she was rarely invited to anyone’s home.
“Let me prepare some drinks, Valka, and then,” Gerda stated, “we’ll talk.”
Astrid landed, sliding off Stormfly’s back and releasing the buckles on her Nadder’s saddle. Stormfly preened, begging her rider for attention. Astrid laughed, scratching the vain creature that was her friend.
“You’re a good girl, aren’t you, Stormfly?” Astrid began grooming her dragon, murmuring compliments and scratching her gently. Astrid’s mind turned to the matter of Valka, Hiccup, and the untenable relationship between them.
From the moment Hiccup told her about Stoick’s desire to make Hiccup Chief to being marked as Chief by Gothi, only thirty hours had passed. Too many things had happened to Hiccup in that brief time—being kidnapped, finding Valka, Stoick’s sacrifice. Forced to become the Chief in a moment during battle, the send off of Stoick’s ship, the fight to rescue Toothless and the defeat of Drago Bludvist would have unbalanced many, but Hiccup rose up from the place he knelt before Gothi and faced the tribe before him with quiet dignity.
Astrid was proud of him in that moment; Hiccup stood tall then, willing to assume the mantle he ran from a day before. He was the Chief of Berk, as his father before him. The villagers saw both Chiefs in one; Stoick in his strength, protecting and leading the Hairy Hooligan tribe and Hiccup, so different from his father, yet like him in his desire to lead Berk rightly and with wisdom.
That evening, he and Astrid met in the cove. The day was a time to be confident, to assure people, and to celebrate the great victory. With Astrid, in the dark, Hiccup wept. He was overwhelmed by events, shredded by the loss of his father, and convinced Stoick’s death was his fault. If only he’d stayed put, none of this would have happened.
“Why, Astrid? Why did I force him to follow me? Why didn’t I listen to him?”
“He died because of me, Astrid. My stupidity, my recklessness, brought him straight to Drago.”
“It could have been avoided. Instead, I lost Toothless and got my dad killed by my best friend. The entire tribe was threatened by a madman, and all our dragons were controlled by that monster and his Alpha.”
Astrid listened, holding Hiccup and murmuring what comfort she could. She refused to let go; Hiccup was a handspan from the worst despair, the kind that enabled him to believe ending his life was the solution. As long as she held him in her grasp, she kept him from Valhalla. She knew that Hiccup possessed the strength to battle through the turmoil if she refused to let that despair settle in him. He was going to live. She would make certain he survived.
Astrid fed Stormfly some chicken, then sought out Toothless. She made sure to see him daily, at least once. Toothless was mourning too, sad for the loss of Stoick and guilty he was the cause. But Toothless was the Alpha dragon and with no mate, he needed the comfort just as Hiccup had to pour out every fear and regret. They needed each other and were grieved to see one another. The guilt crippled them—Hiccup’s rejection of Toothless allowed him to be captured, and Toothless blasted Stoick to his death, and neither of them able to forgive themselves for what happened.
Then there was Valka’s reappearance. Hiccup lost his mother so young, he never truly missed her. Suddenly and by accident, they met and she announced she was his mother, then ran off to show him her dragons. Yes, she was alive, and could have come back years before. Her absurd story about how Hiccup would be safer without her angered Astrid from the moment she heard it. What mother leaves her puny infant bereft of her care? What wife abandons her husband and leaves him devastated? Astrid seethed about how Valka betrayed Hiccup and Stoick; it would take a long time before Astrid accepted her. Astrid was publicly polite to Valka, but not even Hiccup could force her to like that traitorous bitch.
Astrid remembered the time she, Hiccup, and the other riders lived on Dragon’s Edge. The six of them—Hiccup, Tuffnut, Ruffnut, Fishlegs, Snotlout, and herself—learned a great deal about each other. Astrid had been walking late one evening when she learned one of Hiccup’s secrets. Walking past his home, she heard Hiccup talking disjointedly. He moaned, sounding like he was arguing with someone, followed by the croon Toothless offered when Hiccup was distraught. Astrid drew closer, afraid someone was threatening Hiccup. No one got to hurt Hiccup, not with Astrid there. She peered inside.
Hiccup was thrashing on the floor, lost in a nightmare. Toothless gripped him in an embrace, hoping to calm Hiccup and afraid to leave him and seek help. Toothless looked at Astrid, pleading for her assistance, and Astrid realized this wasn’t Hiccup’s first nightmare. Astrid closed the door again, paused a moment, and rapped firmly.
“Hiccup? Are you awake?” Astrid forced an uncertain note into her voice. “ I was hoping to come in because...no, never mind.”
She heard Toothless give a snort, then Hiccup’s voice.”Astrid? What is it? Is something wrong?”
Toothless nudged the door open to reveal an anxious Hiccup attaching his prosthetic. He stood and stumbled to Astrid, studying her face and searching for her axe. Oh, gods. He thought they were under attack.
“Hiccup, it’s okay. Nothing’s wrong. I...I just couldn’t sleep and thought you might be awake, too. Sorry I woke you up. Um...go back to sleep, Hiccup. ‘Night.”
Hiccup smiled at her, and she saw the fear drain out of him. He believed her little fiction of sleeplessness, and she saw his mind settle on this mundane event. Good. Next should come...
“Astrid, I am always willing to spend time with you, even in the middle of the night. I’m glad you came here. We can sit and talk awhile, if you want.”
Yup, right on schedule. Hiccup wanted to look after her now. He took her concerns seriously, and decided to comfort her. This man, this good and decent man, cared for her and needed to be needed. Hiccup was now in control of something real and able to put aside the nightmare. She visibly relaxed.
“Toothless, bud, can you come over here? We need a backrest.”
The dragon rose, settling himself behind them and gave Astrid a nod. They were going to discuss Hiccup later. He hated showing weakness, and that was his weakness. Sweet, thoughtful, dorky Hiccup needed both Astrid and Toothless to guard him. She couldn’t prevent the nightmares, but she could offer covert solace.
“Thanks, Hiccup.” Her smile was genuine. “This is exactly what I wanted.”