Obscuring the Heart(Part 19)

I took a deep breath as Shadowsplinter glided above the clouds. I had talked to Phillip hardly two days earlier, telling him I wanted to try my hand at becoming a bounty hunter. He had taken me under his wing and talked to me for hours on end telling me all about some of the finer details of being a hunter.

Some of his hunting buddies came in and added to wealth of knowledge I was being served too.

I was given a handful of ‘easier’ leveled wanted posters and was sent back out into the world to try to find them.

The wanted posters were divided up into four main categories.

There was ‘easier’ which was for beginners, or people just looking for easy money. These were some people who were wanted for minor reasons: burglary, slaughtering a herd of animals that didn’t belong to them, stealing ships and heavy fishing equipment. Because they were wanted for relatively minor things their bounties reflected it, hardly going over 500 gold.

Phillip and his friends sent me on these so I could get a feel for how hunting worked for myself before I went for any bigger game.

Then there was ‘intermediate’ grade. These people were considered dangerous and violent. Norman the Nimrod had been in this category. These people were wanted for a variety of things, as this was where most people were placed: heavy theft, assaults, rapes, burning of villages, kidnapping, etc. Phillip wanted to give me some of those posters because he knew I could take care of myself, but his friends convinced him otherwise.

It didn’t matter how good you were in regular combat or when it came to tracking, bounty hunting was a class all its own and the skills had to be learned and honed by the user themselves. They tried to impart as much wisdom and advise as they could on me, but we all knew the only way I could learn was to go out there myself and try.

The third level was ‘dangerous’. This was where things got tough. Serial murders, full blown slave traders, pirates, mercenaries, even corrupt viking chiefs were not exempt from this. These were the ones most likely to give a hunter the most trouble and even managed to gain the upper hand on them and kill them. Their bounties reflected this though, easily reaching the tens of thousands in gold.

Then we get to the ‘S’ ranked. These were the worst of the worst. Only the strongest, most cunning, most skilled hunters even dared to try their hand at capturing them. Usually wanted posters dictated they wanted them alive, or dead or alive. A lot of the time, what I saw with these anyway, was they were wanted dead. These seemed to be the people who were the heads of large, illegal organizations, or were just really bad people who others were willing to pay an arm and a leg for them to be out of the picture. This was also reflected with their bounties reaching hundreds of thousands of gold, sometimes more. I was warned to stay away from these as much as possible until I was entirely confident when dealing with the ‘dangerous’ ranked targets.

I was happy for the help though. I wouldn’t have known where to start or what to do. But they were great, telling me the best places to go to for information, taverns were usually the best place, and the serving staff and bar keeps were always keeping their ears out for any sort of information that wasn’t the usual crops and fish which they were happy to share… for a price.

I adjusted the scarf part of my cloak that would keep my face covered and reached into my belt pouch for a wanted poster.

I wanted to keep my face and gender askew so that nothing would eventually make its way back to Berk or Outcast Island, and so I could be taken seriously.

I knew from experience that a little girl, like myself, was rarely if ever considered to be dangerous or a serious threat and was often times belittled or overlooked in places of interest. I didn’t want that to happen here.

I had managed to gather enough information in my first two days and had located my target. He had taken up residence on a little farming island, easy enough to access and probably easy enough to find him.

My target was a thief by the name of Bjorn the Bludgeon. An odd name for a little, stick of a man who the poster presented him as. But I knew from experience that the little guys were the ones to watch the most, they were always easily overlooked for their larger counterparts making them even more dangerous.

I smiled to myself and rolled the parchment back up, tucking it away in my belt pouch.

We would get there soon, and I would try my hand at it.

I felt my heart rate increase and I took a few deep breaths to try to steady myself. I wasn’t nervous. I had been into battle too many times for something like this to effect me this harshly.

I was excited. My adrenaline had been stagnant too long, my blood was finally pumping. The fire in my soul was reignited.

I was once again the predator I was forged to be.


Obscuring The Heart(Part 18)

“Thor Bonecrusher?” Hiccup muttered to himself, “This’ll be great.”

He flinched as he saw Fishlegs, or Thor Bonecrusher, heave a yak over his head with one hand, yelling out challenges to all those around him claiming to be the strongest man on Berk.

“Well,” Astrid chimed in, “It might be an improvement.”

Hiccup just sighed and pinched the bridge to his nose.

“Okay, we can fix this. Fishlegs thinks he’s the greatest warrior on Berk. We just need to send the actual greatest warrior we have against him and that should knock some sense into him, right?” He looked around the small group of vikings for better ideas.

“Uh, I have a question.” Ruffnut put in raising her hand, “Who here is the best warrior? Cause ‘the best’ is a little, hmm…”

“Subjective.” Tuffnut finished for his sister, who then nodded.

“Well,” Hiccup smiled, “Who do you guys think is the best warrior on Berk right now? And the answer can’t be Thor Bonecrusher, because we can’t send Fishlegs to fight himself.”

“Ohh.” Snotlout chuckled as he strutted forward, “You, my dear cousin, are far too kind.”

Astrid rolled her eyes before throwing the Jorgensen 15 feet from their position.

“I think we all know who the best warrior here is.” She smirked at the brunette who was now on the ground.

“Of course you prefer the blonde.” He muttered to himself.

“I guess we just need to go find her then.” Tuffnut shrugged.

“Shouldn’t be too hard,” Ruffnut shrugged back, “Last I checked she was bringing stuff to Gothi’s hut. If we’re in luck she’s there now.”

“Uh, who are we talking about?” Astrid hissed at the twins.

“Sigrid.” Hiccup smiled at her, Astrid’s face dropped into a painful scowl, “Everyone knows she’s an amazing fighter. She’s been taking on fully grown adults since she was 10. And now with her knowledge from training under Gothi, she knows just about everything about the body. Fishlegs will not stand a chance!”

“What do you mean she’s gone!?” Hiccup exclaimed hearing what his father had to say.

“Just that.” Stoik said grimly, “Gone. Last anyone saw her was early this morning.”

“But, but, where would she go? It’s dangerous out there! Didn’t she leave like a note? Or, or a sign? Or, something?”

Stoik just shook his head, “Nothing of the sort.”

“Not true chief.” Gobber cut in, all eyes then fell on the large, blonde man.

“You see, she was working well into the night last night on more arrows. Lass with never let me make any for her, says I never balance them right.”

“Gobber,” Hiccup all but snarled at the man, “Where is my sister?”

“No idea.” He told him, “But she left this on the bench when she left. I only found it when I went in this morning.”

He handed a rolled up piece of parchment to Stoik.

“What is this?” Stoik demanded.

“I believe it’s a wanted poster of Norman the Nimrod, chief.” Gobber explained, “Seems like Sigrid is taking that offer seriously.”

“What?” Hiccup cut in, “What offer? What poster? What happened? Who’s this Norman character? Where’s Sigrid gone?”

Stoik handed his son the piece of parchment for him to look over.

“A bounty hunter by the name of Philip came by a couple of weeks ago, when Sigrid was still ill. He was asking around for that man, had under good account that he was here. No one had seen hide nor hair of him. But children had been saying that there was a scauldron up in the deep forests of the mountain and were frightened. Sigrid seemed to put two and two together and went out to find this ‘scauldron’. She came back with this Nimrod chained to her saddle. Handed him over to Philip, who then insisted in splitting the gold with her. I guess when he came back she got that poster from him. And with the gold she received, she must have made her decision.”

“She was offered a position working for this bounty hunter?” Hiccup questioned, looking up from the parchment.

Stoik shook his head, “He said that she should consider a path in bounty hunting, she was good at it. She must have agreed.”

“I don’t get it though.” Hiccup breathed, “She was so happy learning to be a healer. Why would she leave?”

Gothi poked his arm to gain his attention then started scratching around in the dirt.

“Happy as she thought she was,” Gobber translated, “That girl has the firey spirit of a warrior in her veins. There’s nothing to be done to quench it. I knew she wouldn’t be a healer since the day she asked me to teach her, she might have thought she wanted to heal but what she learned was for ulterior motives. Combine the knowledge of how the body works, with knowledge of medicines and poisons and her own fighting methods, she would be a lethal advercelery. Advercelery?”

Gothi smacked Gobber upside the head again.

“Ow! Sorry, adversary!” He corrected himself, “She really would be when you consider that. And the timberjack she’s got too. I wouldn’t want her on my tail that’s for sure.”

“Why would she want to become a bounty hunter?” Hiccup asked the old woman, “They aren’t good people! She knows that!”

Gothi kicked over the dirt before scribbling on it again.

“She knows that.” Gobber translated, “But we’re at peace now. There is no need for blood shed or war. Many of the people here have become complacent. Sigrid is not the kind of viking to sit idly by while the world goes on around her. The night she hunted that wanted man she must have felt something spark in her. The thrill of the hunt, finding your prey, the thought of an ensuing battle afterwards, the careful calculations that go into ambushes and traps. Sigrid is a good girl, but she is not for village life. She is a warrior, a fighter, a hunter. She is everything but easy prey. And the girl probably doesn’t even know that yet herself. That’s why she didn’t say anything about to anyone and just left. She needs some freedom. She needs some blood. She needs a healthy kick of adrenaline constantly. My only advice would be to support her. Believe me, she’s not the one who’s going to get hurt out there.”

Hiccup was furiously shaking his head, “We need to go and get her. Come on, bud!”

“Hiccup!” Astrid called after him, causing the brunette to pause, “We have bigger issues here first and foremost. Sigrid is a warrior. She can take care of herself.”

“But she’s out there!” Hiccup argued.

“And Shadowsplinter is with her. If this is what she wants she’ll know what she’s doing. Think of it as, she’s away on a hunting trip for big game.” Astrid gave a crooked, nervous smile.

Hiccup sighed and stepped back from where he was about to mount Toothless.

“I’m being stupid, aren’t I?” He asked.

“You’re not being stupid, son.” Stoik assured, “You’re worried about her. You’re protective of her. It’s normal when you care for someone. Sigrid and I actually got into an argument the day she turned Norman over to Philip. I knew she thought I was underestimating her abilities. And to be fair, in a way, I was. But she’s my daughter as much as she’s your sister. We get concerned when we think she might get hurt. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s we need to trust in her. She’s been your right hand when it came to dragon training, and she didn’t disappoint you then, did she?”

“No, but-”

“Then she won’t disappoint us now. She might come back with scrapes and burns, but she’ll come back. And we need to trust her to do that.” Stoik smiled at his son and Hiccup smiled back at him.

How could he think that? Sigrid had always taken care of all of them. Something like this she would take on easily. And with Shadowsplinter with her the world would soon be trembling before them.

“Besides, it would seem you have bigger issues to deal with right now.” Stoik nodded to where Thor Bonecrusher was strutting down the street with the red head’s ax in his hands.

“Uh, right.” Hiccup half laughed, “Getting on that

Obscuring The Heart(Part 17)

I ladled a healthy helping of thick, lamb stew into a bowl and set it on the table in front of my father. I was still thinking about that poster that I had seen earlier that day. I knew there was something familiar about it, but I just couldn’t place it.

I ladled out some stew for myself and took my seat across from my dad.

“Sigrid, is something the matter?” The red head asked me.

“I was talking to Philip today.” I saw his confused face, “The bounty hunter.” I clarified, “And he showed me the poster of the man he’s been hunting. And there’s just something really familiar about him, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.”

“Well,” Stoik shrugged, “He’ll be out of our hair tomorrow, so it doesn’t gain any time still thinking about it. Besides I need you in top spirits. With all the other riders gone, many of the children have been terrified that there’s no one around to protect them from that monster in forest.”

My eyes lit up, finally remembering what that tattoo reminded me of.

“Didn’t they say that monster looked a lot like a scauldron?” I asked.

Stoik nodded, “Children and their imaginations. No matter how many times any of us tell them there is no way that a scauldron would be up in the mountains they insist they’ve seen one.”

I pushed away from the table and stood up, heading for the door and picking up my ax, quiver and bow along the way.

“Sigrid, where are you going?” Stoik called out to me.

“To hunt this monster.” I told him, flashing him a genuine smile before bolting out of the house so he wouldn’t be able to stop me.

“Are you sure this is where you saw it last?” I asked Gustav who was trembling under Shadowsplinter’s wing.

“Yes.” He squeaked out, “Can I please go now?”

I tilted my head to examine the tracks a little better. These footprints were way too large for it to be any of the other children in the village playing a prank on the others. It was a grown man, maybe about the same size a Mulch but I couldn’t be certain.

I nodded finally, “Take Fanghook and go home. You did as I asked so I don’t need you here-

I cut myself off as I turned around slightly to see he had already taken to the sky on his dragon and was heading home.

I sighed to myself and shook my head. He could ride a five ton flaming war machine like it was nothing, but at the prospect of facing a ‘monster’ he turned tail and fled.

I had to suppress a chuckle as I followed the tracks by lantern light. His reaction was probably the most logical to take. I was being the idiot.

I followed the tracks, weaving in and out of bushes, around trees, over a small creek. But the tracks were ever present. It was like whoever left them either wanted themselves to be tracked or had no care as to whom found them.

I took a pause to suppress a cough and to examine the tracks more thoroughly. There were overlays of other tracks on top, the same feet but they were much more fresh. I made the decision to extinguish my lantern and take a few moments to let my eyes adjust to the night. There was little light from the half moon filtering down through the trees, but it was enough for me to make my way.

I motioned for Shadowsplinter to stay where he was until I knew exactly where these were heading. I had a feeling that the tracks were leading to a small cave close by. It was mostly covered by a fallen tree, fresh saplings, bushes. It was something so out of the way that you wouldn’t know to look for it if you didn’t know it was there.

How did I know it was there? Simple. We all used to play in the forest as kids. Especially when Dagur came for the treaty signing. On one such occasion, when Dagur was here, we had wandered pretty deep into the woods. Shortly after a fight between the two of us broke out and we wound up on the ground wrestling. Eventually we rolled down the small hill, crashing into bushes and small rocks and who knows what else, eventually winding up down at that cave. Our previous fight had been forestalled due to our curiosity to investigate the small opening.

I was correct in my assumption and stepped forward carefully, making sure to avoid making any kind of unnecessary noise. Once past some of the further bushes I began to see the dim glow of a fire. I stepped forward a little more, making sure to move slowly and deliberately so that I would maintain my element of surprise. In all my years of hunting and fighting I knew this was crucial thing to maintain.

I grew within a few feet of the entrance of the cave, I could see him clearly thanks to the flames of the fire. He was about Mulch’s size, maybe a little taller. He had blonde hair and a long, scraggly mustache and beard combination. His brown eyes were both tired and hard, as if he’d seen more than his fair share of carnage yet he longed for a soft bed. His nose was big and unbroken, or at least it was set back properly, but what drew my attention the most was the tattoo on his right cheek. It was the tail of a scauldron.

I assessed my options. The cave was small so there wasn’t any room for a full on scrimmage between us, and with the small opening and all the foliage around I was on my own because Shadowplinter couldn’t get in this far. He was a big man too so I wouldn’t be able to overpower him. I could have run back to the village and gotten Philip or another adult out here to help me, but the odds of them being as silent as I was were slim to non.

I watched carefully as the flames began to die down into low embers. Norman hadn’t moved in the entire time I was there, and after a few more minutes I realized why that was. He fell over from his sitting position onto his side with a dull thud. He was breathing heavily and evenly. I was in luck.

I waited a few more moments before making my move, I wanted to make sure he was in a deep sleep. I pulled my bow and quiver off of my shoulder and set them down silently on the grass, they would only hinder me.

On my hands and toes I slowly advanced into the cave careful to not make a single sound. I knelt right in front of the large, sleeping man and carefully brought his hands together in front of him. I then carefully wrapped the ball end of my chain scythe around his wrists and secured it so he wouldn’t be able to wriggle loose. Then, being careful not to make a single sound, I slowly backed out of the cave on my toes. Once back out into the open night air I straightened myself up to my full height and sent Shadowsplinter a hand signal to come forward and land on the fallen tree hanging over the cave.

He did as I signaled, and the second he had touched down I had secured the scythe end of the chain to the guards on the back end of the saddle. I double checked to make sure that was secure before scurrying back into the gave to check on Norman. He was still asleep, chain firmly secured around his wrists.

Satisfied I left the cave silently and picked up my bow and quiver, hanging them on my shoulder like before. I then climbed up fallen tree and mounted Shadowplinter.

“Alright, boy.” I started, patting his neck softly, “We’re gonna have some extra weight here, but all we have to do it get him to the village. If you can manage that, there’ll be a bucket of apples waiting for you once we hand him over. Alright?”

He didn’t let out a roar, knowing silence was best here. Instead he let out a lot of air through his nostrils along with small amounts of smoke to let me know he was up for it.

“Alright.” I said more to myself that time, “Sky.”

Norman the Nimrod’s back his the deck hard. Philip the bounty hunter towered over him with a grim smile on his face.

“I owe dis all to you, miss Sigr’d.” Philip smiled at me.

I shrugged, “One less thing for the people of Berk to worry about.”

“If’n it’s alright’n wit you, I’d like’n to come back her ‘nd share with you the bounty I get off o’ him.” Philip offered.

I shook my head, “I was doing a duty to the people.”

Philip shook his head, “Wouldn’t be righ’ta leave her and take all the treasure for myself. Sides, you’s the one who found ‘im in da fir’t place.”

I shrugged again, “If you feel the need to do it I can’t stop you. But he’s your prize.”

“Dat he is.” Philip agreed, “You known, miss Sigr’d,” He said more thoughtfully this time, “If’n you’d evar consider a differ’nt path, bounty huntin’ might’n be it for ya. You seem to be a real goodin’ at it.”

I shrugged again, “I know how to track. It’s not really a be all, end all skill.”

It was Philip who shrugged this time.

“Just a sugges’n.”

I shrugged once more.

“Well, thank you for taking this, nuisance off our hands, Philip.” Stoik cut in. He had been there the entire time and decided now was the best time to speak.

“Thanks is mine, chief.” Philip replied with a polite nod, “I won’t’n be botherin’ you ‘nd your people no more.”

“Safe travels.” My father bid as Philip boarded his ship and shoved off.

We waved until he was well out of ear shot.

“He seemed nice.” I said more to myself than to anyone else. I knew what was about to come.

“Nice?” Stoik growled as he turned his attention from the disappearing boat to me, “He seemed nice. A bounty hunter? A man you only barely know the name of, that you risked your life to go out and find him his target. All because he seemed nice!”

“His target, ” I started, “Was a man who was terrorizing our children. At least now you have one less thing to worry about.”

“Sigrid!” Stoik boomed, “I don’t care about that. You could have been hurt. You were hunting a wanted man for heaven’s sake! You leave, in the dark no less, without much of a word, force young Gustav to take you to where this monster was seen and then proceed to track it alone!”

“I had Shadowplinter with me.” I shot back.

“Oh, and having your dragon makes all the difference?” Stoik snapped.

“Yes.” I seethed, “He wouldn’t let anything happen to me!”

“But what if something did happen to you?” Stoik demanded.

“Nothing happened!”

“But what if something did? What if it was a dragon out there that posed a threat and not a heavily sleeping man? What if it was someone much more alert? What if-”

I cut him off, “What if Norman started stealing children? What if he started wrecking crops and stealing farm animals and ruining our livelihoods?” I demanded, “What then? Had I not acted as I did we could potentially be have a much different conversation right now. We can stand here all day and talk about what ifs and what could have been and how stupid I am for doing what I did. But at the end of the day dad, nothing bad happened. I ran off in the middle of the night, that’s not odd for me. I tracked someone in the forest, we all do that from time to time. Yeah, maybe it could have been a dragon, but it wasn’t. So, how about instead of continuously going over all the things that could have gone wrong and obsessing about my lack of safety, can you not just be happy that I solved something for you and came out of it okay?”

Stoik looked almost ashamed, he had learned how to better talk to Hiccup and myself over the past few years instead of just yelling at us about our mistakes and what we should be doing. He’s learned to listen and see things from our point of view, but that didn’t mean he liked it.

“I know you’re just concerned dad,” I assured him my placing a reassuring hand on his arm, “But I’m not a kid anymore. I know how to handle myself.”

“I thought you were still sick?” He all but whispered back at me.

I shrugged again, “I’m mostly over it. Besides, I think that clean night air really helped me.”

He could only half smile at me, which I mirrored back. Somethings were getting really hard for him to accept. My strength and intelligence seemed to be among them.