Chapter 14: No Turning Back
Chapter 14: No Turning Back
Chapter 14: No Turning Back

6th Nov 2012, 3:57 AM

by inhonoredglory

Stoick huffed, swung up himself on Thornado. The storm was kicking up, strong and vicious now, and the ash from that volcano was thick and unruly in the air. As chief he could do most about anything, but the weather was one thing that was beyond even him. He squinted in the torrents of water, his bushy eyebrows wet and being a general menace to his eyesight. He cursed, pushed his helmet higher up his head. He'd lost sight of his party hours ago, which normally wouldn't make him worried, especially if that party included the kids. Their presence in the air next to him, with all the bickering and yelps of fear as the storm roared at them -- it was distracting, and this was not a time that Stoick the Vast wanted to be distracted.

His son had run off, in a fit of spite and rash stupidity, and he was here, trying to chase him down, when he needed to be back at Berk, commanding his armies and getting those dragons in order and chasing down his scum of a brother and now look at him. His brows creased down over his eyes. What to do with this kid? He looked up.

Valhallarama . . .

It was supposed to be his Induction Day, the day that never was supposed to not happen, the day that proves once and for all how much of a man his twig of a son had become. And now this . . . his son was a kid, still a cursed child. Cursed. That was the wrong choice of words, wasn't it? Rune . . . his brother had put a curse on his little boy those many years ago when he figured out he was somehow the cause for her dying.

And now?

A slave takes revenge at once,
A fool never takes revenge.
But a wise man waits.


It was an old Viking saying, and his brother was living it up like the charmer he once was, those years when everything was innocent, including himself. Now Rune was relishing in his so-called victory, in the pleasure of seeing him demolished. But he wasn't going to let him get away with it, not now, not if he had to battle him in Valhalla itself.

But what did he think it would accomplish? What kind of fools did he take the Hooligans for? Stoick sighed, got his composure. His brother was a Hooligan, and besides. . . all this ranting was going nowhere. He pulled his dragon up, sailed over the sea. He tried to squint in the fog and rain. The damn weather. Just had to be like this now, what did it think? Conspiring to murder his son out in that rough ocean? Hot feelings of anger roiled in him again, and he hated to count the ways his son had made a wrong decision, poor health being the least of them. Yeah, maybe he was playing a hero, but didn't he want a hero for a son?

Not that kind, not for some dragon. I'm sorry, but Toothless . . . Is he really worth that much? His only son was stabbed, sick beyond words . . . sick, like Valla, he suddenly imagined. Could he take another death in his small family? And then the fact that . . . the other reason Hiccup probably left him now. Maybe it hadn't been wise to tell him at this time, the old story of leaving him on the hillside. Hiccup had taken it the wrong way.

Are there that many ways to take it?

Valla, I can handle this, I think.

Really?

Stoick cast his eye over the sea, the scuffed gray waves and the whitewater. Deep thoughts were not his mug of mead, and he was getting angry now, for no reason, just . . . he just wanted to find his son and get this war started. Thornado was swirling suddenly around, some sort of gust of wind, and Stoick cursed, pulled up on the reins of his dragon. "Get-- just up, Thornado." The dragon hissed, whirled his wings. Stoick looked out, realized the storm was the worst it was ever now. Thoughts of his son shipwrecked on his little ship filled his brain -- that, or pelted by rain on some dragon, whichever one he picked as his choice of transport to Valhalla. Either way it wasn't good and those old thoughts of two years ago came crashing back -- the quiet, still face that only breathed and slowly breathed for two straight weeks, no other sign of life, not even when they had knifed the stump of leg, cleaning up the injury, doing things to that little body that he seriously only thought that his warriors and veterans would experience. He was a strong kid. But not strong enough, not enough to realize what was brave and what was suicide.

But isn't that what Vikings were made of?

He mulled, let the wind plaster cold sharp water on his face.

Despite what he'd been telling the boy, he still could not see him as a man, not like this. Not with that ridiculous frame of his, physically, mentally, he was nothing like, like a man. And this mission was no excuse for rash heroics, anyway. If he wanted to be heroic, then stay back and help the war effort. Be responsible for his tribe, he was going to run it one day. The thought gave him a lump in his throat. Hiccup, running a tribe.

It'd never happen.

Thornado suddenly yelped, and Stoick realized with renewed alarm the fierce nature of the storm. Lightning jabbed suddenly to his right, flashing cold and white in his face -- too close. Thornado banked left, putting Stoick off balance, his face covered from the sheet of rain that got heavier suddenly. Another roll of thunder rolled over him, shocked the waves below, white water and black waves. Stoick hissed a curse, had no time for shenanigans from the weather. Thornado hissed, swept lower down in the water. More thunder, a crack suddenly, flashing daylight on him. He pulled the reins, realized the Thunderdrum was losing some level of control in the madness. He trusted him, though, he was a mighty soldier of a dragon, and no mere storm was going to faze him. "Come on, warrior," he boomed, and the dragon flapped higher into the sky, let out a whitewashed roar of something hot and sharp. Something played in the back of his mind -- the possibility that he'd never find his son in this vicious storm. . . .

I'll find him.

But he did have a war to run, and quickly, too. He had dragons to mend, people to organize, horrible visions of madness and murder to avenge. And his son had to go off now and stall him.

If he wanted to be heroic, then stay back and help the war effort. Be responsible for his tribe . . .

:: ::

You're weak, you're sick, and you're dying.

Ormarr hummed hotly, blinked open his eyes, shot a glance at the horribly smug Skrill. He let out a deep, throated yell, spat a whimpered aim of flaming arrows. Skari just had to come back, intercept him on his way to save that rogue Dagr. His fellow water dragons had told him about the Skrill's encountering Toothless, about the whole capture thing, and Skari's evil words. He was mad at him, almost delighted to meet him and put an end to him, like what should have happened eons ago. But Skari was bold this time, bold and smart, he was afraid to admit. He hissed a dragon's curse at the flying dragon. Shame on you for stooping so low.

Low? Skari lashed back, flying up into the sky. I'm the one flying, don't you talk to me about 'low'.

Ormarr hissed.

Look at you. Skari swung himself down near him, eyes flickering with satisfaction. Who knew dear Dagr's old story could be useful for something.

Ormarr flapped his mighty tail in the rocking waves, knew that Skari was talking about the monster and how Dagr brought him down. A shot in the mouth, the weak spot, deadly, fatal. Skari, the wicked thing, had tried his lightning fire on him, he could feel it working something horrid in his body, and down the walls of his throat. He shook his head, let out a roar, faced the black water and screamed. Skari would not get one over him, if it's the last thing he'd do. Never. He spat a curse at the flapping black shape in the sky, turned his eyes on the scampering water dragons around him, their painful cries yelping and ringing sharp and awful in his ears.

So Skari grew a spine and tried to kill us, he thought.

Well, you never will, he shot back at the laughing lightning dragon.

Mend your babies, Orrmar. I don't think you'll be chasing after Dagr anytime too soon. Skari laughed, hissed, shot out a scream of evil delight, sparked his body with lightning again and shot the water one more time. It was a good thing his real young were still at Herkja, but his fellow dragons . . . those poor things. Ormarr turned, his fellow creatures wailing and trying to outrun the white fire. He hummed, threw his great, heaving body on the waves, into the path of the sparkling fire.

We're dying! someone screamed, a scared, awful scream not worthy of a dragon.

You're -- not, Ormarr hissed back, the tickle of death playing up his own throat and running down his sides as the fire crawled over him. He still had to save Dagr, that rogue dragon he was, getting himself captured. What was that going to look like to the other water dragons? Didn't he know the rift between their kind? Ormarr eyed down, the little creatures splashing away, some flailing already in the sparks of white, some no doubt dead now. That Skari . . .

The lightning dragon flapped away suddenly, his laugh cackling in the air, and Ormarr lumbered down, let out a mental gasp of pain. Dragons were not invulnerable, and Skari had found the weak spot in him -- mentally and physically. He fought the hard inner feelings of weakness, dived into the comforting darkness of the sea. In the fight he hadn't noticed much the little human's ship that wavered on top of the waves, and the little voices, he heard now, shouting, arguing, as he descended, lumbered low and heavy, into the black.

:: ::

The chills. Hiccup couldn't tell if it was his injury, or the lightning fire. Maybe both. Though the sky and the ship were now deathly quiet, his sight was still livid with the vision of white-purple streaks of the Skrill's lightning fire that had darted and crackled along the metal rim of the ship all around only a few minutes before. It had jumped on anything metal or wet, landed and sparked on it. It clawed along the metal siding on the floor near him. The fire was frigid, horribly cold, a strange, stinging, numbing cold he never felt before. The Book of Dragons said nothing about the Skrill's fire being like that . . .

His hair and the fibers of his wet coat still stuck up and fizzed with the crackling cold energy of the lightning fire. The strange cold fizz haloed around him and he batted his right arm at it, could barely stand another minute lying on the deck bathed in that sparking stuff. His hand moved up to flatten his crackling hair, but . . . my fingers. They were suddenly stiff, cold, almost paralyzed. He flung a glance at the kids, saw most of them already on their feet, their fur coats and hair sticking up and their bodies snapping with sparks whenever they bumped into each other. Spitelout's black spiky hair wouldn't stay down, and it would have been funny if he wanted to laugh. He got his hand under him, tried to shift his weight to get up. They could have died there, had the fire not passed over them and left them unscathed. Thank goodness the rain had subsided. Wet and chilled with lightning fire would not mix well in him.

He felt Astrid suddenly put her arms around him, hauling him up to his feet. He winced, grabbed the edge of the ship, his feet slipping on the watery wash over the deck. The metal was cold, wet, on his palms and he jabbed his hand away.

"Hiccup, you okay?" she gasped, her one arm tight around his chest, squeezing his left shoulder into her. Hiccup flinched, felt the wound hiss at his nerves. "Uh, could you let up a little, that's my bad shoulder you're--" He clenched his teeth.

She released him quickly. "Oh, sorry."

He exhaled, closed his eyes tight as the fresh complaint throbbed down his arm and side. She took his hand instead, and he felt her fingers wrap around his. He heard the kids' voices suddenly, arguing already, shouting now.

". . . for our dragon to just run off like that, come on." It was Tuffnut.

"Hey if that was Hookfang, it'd never happen."

"It's not about you, Snotlout."

"Hey," Ruffnut's voice rose higher. "Belch and Barf are good dragons."

"And Meatlug didn't intent to, I'm sure," Fishlegs was squeaking. "She was just scared. We were all scared."

"Yeah, who was scared?" Snotlout got that arrogance in his voice now.

"Face it," Tuff snapped, "that thing scared the snot out of you."

"Did not."

"To."

"Not."

"You know what? I'm finished arguing with you."

Hiccup squinted open his eyes, saw the kids there over by the second mast, a tight circle of hot words and angry faces. Snotlout was having a face-off with Tuffnut, Ruff was fisting her hands, lips pursed, her braids a wet and crumpled mess. Fishlegs wandered over to the edge of the ship, looked down at the water, still roiling and uneven, scattered with dead and dying water dragons. He cupped his hands, faced up into the dark and raining clouds. "Meatlug!!! Come back here."

Tuffnut lashed his arms out irritatedly. "What was that gigantic monster of a Grendel's mother doing over here? And what's with that Skrill?"

Hiccup swallowed. The Great Dragon had done it again -- scared their dragons silly. Like he did way back when he was flying Toothless over the mines. And then meeting the Skrill again . . . it was just all so unexpected and sudden. Where did they come from? It seemed the Skrill just flung himself down from the storms, approached that mighty beast and just started having one out with him. He could feel definitively that those two knew each other and that there was something so much more than mere animal hot-headedness at stake. Why else would that lightning dragon hold his own for so long, before leaving? There was internal motivation at work, but what . . . ? And just how much did dragons know? How much could they hold grudges, like humans could?

Hiccup glanced suddenly across the waves, tried to spy that vast island of a body somewhere in the raining mess of whitewater, but the waters were void and empty. The giant beast had just . . . vanished. As quickly as he came out. Like a storm, fast to come and fast to go. Maybe the Skrill had deterred him -- but how could he? So large a creature as that . . .

He felt somewhere inside of him, the fading presence of that beast, and he swallowed, wondered if the dragon was somewhere underneath them, somewhere in the dark within of the great ocean. His ignorance of the dragon's motivations ate at him.

He shook his head, tried to take a step forward. Astrid held him gently and guided him forward. She spoke suddenly, lashed a sharp word to the kids, who were still arguing about things that could never change. "You guys just stop it, okay?" she hissed and Hiccup felt a contained irritation in her voice, the vibration of withheld emotion in her body. He shivered suddenly. "Look at the situation we're in," she continued. "Fishlegs is right, we've got big problems on our hands."

Ruffnut pushed her brother aside, strode up to Astrid. "I think that's pretty obvious. With our dragons flying out on us -- and what happened anyway? We almost all got killed. I'd like a little explanation when that sort of thing gets thrown at me."

Another voice cut in suddenly. "And why are they all dead?"

Hiccup looked up, saw Fishlegs looking down over the edge of the ship, his arms on the rim, the water calmer now, suddenly, the lap of motionless bodies thumping the hull quietly, gently. The bodies of a few water dragons still trembled in the water, some struggling with life, others writhing in death.

"It's the Skrill's lightning, it's -- paralyzed them," Hiccup said, stepping forward and getting out of Astrid's grasp. He stumbled over to the edge to the left of Fishlegs, heard Ruffnut follow him. She over with him, looking down, over, across the white-tipped sea, the glinting auroras of those creatures muddled and faint now, throbbing with the last figments of life, a few dragons sinking down into the blackness, shapes long and finned and scaly, now dull and grim and quiet. Hiccup swallowed, felt chilled again and huddled his right arm around his body. "That fire shocks them, and they were so close to it. It's like lightning. It's different than other dragons' fire. We would have died, too, but . . . the ship saved us."

"Stupid Skrill," Snotlout hissed, running a hand over his still fizzled hair and jolting his body against the rim on the other side of Fishlegs.

Hiccup bit his lip, a sharp pain eating at him to see those helpless dragons, too late to save so many, floating and sinking into the rolling water, curls of stray lighting still sparking over their bodies. A lump formed in his throat and he forgot about his shoulder suddenly. "Shhh, dragon, hush," he whispered softly towards the scaly heads in the water, their dull eyes flickering and blinking up at him.

"What are you doing?" Ruffnut's voice came, her braids flapping to his right in the corner of his eye.

"I . . . don't know," Hiccup sighed, crossed his brows, didn't look at her. He stared into the eyes of one water dragon in particular near him, a beautiful white-bodied one with little orbs of glow over her body and along her long and sharp tail as flat as the blade of a sword. Her wings folded in over her breathing sides as she floated in the water, trembling yet barely moving, and her slitted eyes staring back at him, scared he was so close, yet she couldn't get away. "Shhhh, girl, it's okay," he whispered, a light lilt in his voice, that lyricism he heard spoken between water dragons. She hummed back suddenly, her deep pupils growing large and black and her body slowly, delicately relaxing. He hummed to her, tried to comfort her in her final moments, as her body grew limp and wavered there under the waves, sinking, drifting lower, and finally vanishing into the black.

He couldn't look into the ocean anymore and glanced up at Ruffnut next to him, her wet face glistening and strands of hair plastered on her cheeks, her braid tangled and disheveled and sticky with something from the sea.

Ruff wiped her nose, looked at him. "So you're done with your funeral?"

He nodded tightly, turned to the others. They were quiet. Snotlout spoke first. "So the big monster's gone now?" he said, his voice lonely in the lap of the sea against the hull, and the still fierce winds. "He isn't going to surprise us again?"

Hiccup sighed, couldn't really answer with a definite yes or no. "Maybe." He cleared his throat. "He's not a monster. Toothless knows him. But I don't know what it is between him and the Skrill." He smirked.

Tuffnut suddenly slapped a hand on his right shoulder. "Dumb dragons, that's all."

Hiccup leaned slightly, slipped out from under Tuff's hand. "It's bigger than that."

"Does it matter?" said a voice behind him.

Hiccup turned around to face her. Astrid, hands on her hips, stared at him, gently, but with a lace of criticism in her words.

"Hiccup, I don't care right now what those dragons are going. That stuff's over with, they're gone, and you're still alive, which is a wonder in itself. We're taking you home before that monster comes back again, and that's the final word on the matter."

Hiccup nodded his head once, not out of agreement, but something involuntary, because he knew she was going to say something like that at some point. She'd been bent on keeping him safe throughout the evening yesterday, and were it not that her motives were good, he was tempted to berate her. Because he knew he couldn't do what she asked of him.

She walked over to the tiller, grabbed it sharply.

"Astrid," Hiccup said, calmly, stepped over to where she stood and put his hand suddenly, roughly on the back of hers. She eyed him, firmed her hand on the handle. He pressed his palm down, over hers, looked at her. She raised her brows suddenly, looked down at his hand, got a flicker of something in her eye, a twitch in her fingers. "So there's no stopping you. . ." she said, tried to push his hand off hers.

He said nothing, kept his hand firm.

"You know your Dad came out, too, to look for you."

"Yeah? Why, because he felt guilty?" He bit his lip suddenly, realized he had no idea where that came from, that foreign bitterness. It was not like him, he never felt this way before. He pursed his lips. All through the trip, he purposefully hadn't thought about what his father had said the night before. It was something foreign to him, and he didn't know quite how he'd react. Sure, it was good practice getting disowned and rejected at one point in your life by your father -- but almost killed? That was on a whole different level, and he didn't trust himself with emotions. Not when he had too much time to think and muse about it, and risk something like what just happened -- bitterness.

"You're just going to give yourself up," her voice came again, hot and sarcastic. "Gonna have those killers murder you again."

Hiccup bit his lip, glad to think about other things besides his father right now. . . . She was just trying to protect him, trying to keep him alive. "I thought you were supposed to support your man," he said, trying a touch of a smile on her. She had to come over to his point of view.

She put her hand on his, grasped the wrist of his hand that still pressed on hers over the tiller. "If you go to that island," she said, pointedly, "I swear I won't have a man. Just a very dead irresponsible boy."

The last words stung suddenly, and he got a horrid sense of deja vu from them, realized it was his father again -- the big speeches at home before bed, the Induction Day pep talks that wouldn't be utilized now. . . responsibility. "Astrid, if you want to call me irresponsible, then do so the day I leave Toothless. He's slated to die out there and if I don't try something, I'd--" He gasped out exasperatedly. "You know me."

"Yeah, I know you," she hummed, not letting go of that hand. "I know you're gonna kill yourself for that dragon, and other people could still help you -- and you refuse."

"When did I refuse?

"Your father--"

"He said it'd be too late, they can't spare anything."

She huffed, took her hand off of his and grabbed the other end of the tiller, shifted it suddenly, began to turn it. He held, latched his left hand onto the bar between her hands, stopped the tiller, kept it firm, despite the growing tremor in his wound. He tried another tactic. "What about the rest of our dragons? Don't you want to find them?"

He felt a presence behind him suddenly, the other kids, listening to them. There was tension in the air, a great pause.

She peered up at him, inspected his eyes, squinted. "Where did they go?" she asked, as if knowing he was playing a trick on her.

He swallowed, eased somewhat in his grip on the tiller. He nudged his head up towards the direction of the setting sun. His eyes moved a moment to the spinning floating contraption he'd dug into the thick top rim of the boat, realized with a smug satisfaction that they were still going on track, despite the dragons' battle, that in fact, the way the water looked now -- a different color, a different current -- they might actually have progressed significantly on the road to that enemy island.

"They went that way," he hummed, and through the fog and mist, he could detect the growing speck of the island -- at long last. Herkja. He could see it over the ship's rim, towards the horizon a clearing in the endless fog as shafts of light shot through the water on ahead. The curtains of faint, drifting rain lifted from the long horizon he had been driving towards, relentlessly, finally, after hours and hours of blinding mist.

:: ::

Hervi winced as his back smarted on him and the logs cradled in his arms tilted and threatened to spill on the walkway. He kept his right fist balled, hurried his steps as swiftly as his stiff legs could pass through the darkening town square thick with the yells of Skirra Véllites and the hiss and roar of leather-bound and metal-chained dragons being dragged towards the ring in the mountain, into makeshift cages suddenly crowding with various dragon species. They'd landed just mere hours before, but the scurry of warriors was fresh and alive, and Heather was eager to get started on the training of new dragons for the war. He smarted at the thought, hated to see advances in the quest of destruction. When he heard the first volleys of that attack on Berk, with the knowledge that Heather had killed a man -- no, a boy, a mere child. Barely old enough to wield a sword, hardly the object of retribution.

And then she had to take that tamed, beautiful creature of theirs, to be used as the prize dragon in the hunt. He could almost entertain the thought of Vott's thirst for violence, the uncouth motives of that fellow slave. It sickened him, but hurt him more to see Heather, what she had become, what she was capable of. He could still remember that little girl Heather, bobbing on his knee, asking him when Rune was coming back home from raiding. Those days, before she knew he was a slave and she was his master.

He quickened his pace, wanted to avoid the odd traffic of freshly-captured, flailing, lashing dragons being hauled from the woods into the town. It was more than just the prize dragon now, that beautiful Night Fury, chained and caged. It was now so many others . . . And Heather thought she could train them? In his mind, he looked back, saw the chief's son out there when he'd talked to him that one night the Skirra Vél was at Herkja. Keep that dragon safe. The boy had trained the creature marvelously. The Skirra Vél council had tried to learn his skills -- before they disposed of him; the thought made his jew clench -- but would they be able to duplicate the wonders carried out in Berk with dragons?

He found the slave house finally, a little grass-roofed structure behind the larger house of Rune's. The door sat wide open and welcoming. Noor, he thought. She was thoughtful and kind like that.

He strode on, lay the logs just inside the doorway, moved inside towards a little wooden chair near the front of the doorway.

"Estat?"

Hervi slumped on the small wooden chair of the tiny cottage, sighing something mumbled and tired. This was what aging was all about . . . he rubbed his wrist, the joints complaining. He unballed his fist and rolled around a smooth black scale in his palm. "What was that, Noor?" he mumbled, looked up at the nimble French woman standing in front of him, her grimy, stained apron tied loosely around her famished waist.

"Estat?" she repeated, and he sighed, shook his head. It was probably something about him coming back from the trip. He had, after all, been gone for almost four months, the stop at Berk being the last place. He grimaced, and she suddenly stepped over to him, her deft, dainty feet sharp on the wooden floorboards of the slave house. She prodded again, and he looked up, knew she was asking about his depressed mood. She would do things like that, force confessions out of people. In the notion it would help them.

Of course she was right, no matter what language the other person spoke, or the fact that she was almost deaf and couldn't hear it anyway. She was perceptive like that, and he felt blessed to have her around to share this fate.

"What-- happened?" her broken Norse came through the thick European accent.

"They've killed that boy," he said simply, crossed his brows and fingered his worn brown tunic suddenly, looking down.

"C'est pas vrai," she hummed, scuffed back to the chair in the other side of the dark room, next to her sleeping bench that doubled as a table. She sat herself down and hotly peeled potatoes into a wooden bucket.

"Any new slaves?" came a voice behind him. Hervi turned, the effort smarting his back. Vott's dark shadow emerged from the corner of the slave cottage, his movement slow and smooth, his face darkened with the dirt of his farm chores, hands crusted with the irremovable stains of hard labor.

"And where's Thorvald?" Hervi answered instead, knowing those two farm hands were often up to mischief together. Who knows what concerns they had struck up this time, something to irate the masters and make things even harder for him to negotiate treatment.

"I asked a question, Old Chief," Vott slurred, the irony thick in his voice. Hervi squinted his eyes, peered up at the other slave. Several from the old days, his cousins and fellow warriors from when he was chief of this island -- they called him that out of respect, out of a stubborn loyalty despite the fact that the brand mark by unwritten law meant he could no more be chief. But Vott and Thorvald, they were newcomers to Herkja, carried over from some other island on the Archipelago. They were defiant, to him and to the others who still remembered what innocence was. They were cunning, manipulative . . . selfish. They lived for themselves and no one else.

Hervi turned away from his dark eyes, continued to finger the scale in his hand, looked off at the lone flickering candle sitting on the long sleeping bench on the right wall of the room, lighting Noor's small figure and casting orange on her plain wool dress. "We did get some new ones," he hummed, hated to admit it, but salvation comes slowly, and he would somehow change their fate before he died. Vott grumbled, a mumble of throaty noises Hervi could not make out. Noor peered up, shot something hot at the farmer slave and shook her head, continued peeling. Vott slunk away, found the door and opened it, letting the cool night air in and making Hervi shiver, the draft sudden and awful. "So they conquered that place, then?"

Hervi turned. "Not exactly."

"Then . . ." Vott let his voice trail. "The dragon they locked in the ring?" he questioned thickly.

Hervi shifted back around, leaned in his chair, watched Noor peeling. He glanced down at the little black scale in his hand, tucked it into the frayed lining of his belt. He'd seen the warriors dragging that Night Fury past the heavy doors, the dragon hissing and rearing valiantly against the pull of the chains. Dragons fascinated him, they gave him a sort of joy, always, the fire in their breath, the life in their eyes, the unbridled power and freedom in their limbs . . . And the Night Fury, that stunning creature, to see him alive and beautiful and then captured. . . . The thought suddenly sent a profound sadness over him. If they ever snuffed the life out of those proud eyes . . .

Hervi snapped out of his thoughts, muttered back to Vott in the doorway. "Heather managed to get the dragon beforehand." He cleared his throat.

"Hunt's coming, I guess." Vott's voice was edged.

"But the war's still going on."

"Oh?"

There was a twinge of pleasure in that phrase, and it confused Hervi. "Why do you say that?" He looked back again, saw him running a finger over his small knife, his one piece of personal property and the only thing that the masters let their slaves own.

"You can have your peaceful way, the rest of us trust in bloodshed." He snapped his finger over the blade, peered at Hervi from under black, oily bangs.

Hervi turned back, realized it was the old revolt attempts coming to the fore again. But he wouldn't take him seriously, not this time. There'd been slave revolts before, but they all came to nothing, and they lost more people than what seemed worthy in Hervi's eyes. It only meant another influx of new faces in their midst, more poor souls, more auctions in the town center. And Vott and Thorvald, despite their appearance, just weren't brave enough.

Noor held her head up again, spat a chiding remark to the doorway and Hervi heard the wooden door clap shut. She shook her head, peeled again. Hervi leaned up, saw her motion to him. "Ta-ta, ta." She snapped her hand at him, to come closer. "New slaves?" she said, thickly, and pushed a basket into his hands. "Va."

Hervi looked down at it, pulled back the crumpled, dirty fabric wrapped around the contents. An apple, fresh even, and a few crusts of dry bread, and three mushrooms. "Where did you find this?" Hervi whispered, eyeing her critically. She was the kind of girl who'd swipe Rune's own food closet -- and she did, a couple times, without regret.

"Bah, bah!" She shooed him and she snapped out a wordy command, the same one she always used when new slaves were going to populate the slave pen, the holding place where the new ones were kept before the auctions, when she sent him off on the regular task of offering them some extra nourishment, something to welcome them to the new and undoubtedly awful world that still awaited them. Hervi smiled at her, nodded and huffed up to his feet towards the door of the little house, the sound of one of her native tunes humming out from her, her lone voice a touch of hope in this lonely place.

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