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.
“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.