Nearly a year after the events of How to Train your Dragon, and Berk is barely recognizable. Humans and dragon live side-by-side, managing, after much trial and error, to find a symbiotic existence. The interspecies peace is maintained by Hiccup and his personally-trained peers through the Dragon Training Academy. Astrid and Hiccup have grown closer over time; their teetering relationship slowly drifts from uncertain to comfortable.
Things are well for the Hooligans but not quite smooth. Already burdened by responsibilities no Viking has faced before, Hiccup’s father is now "gently" pressuring him to take on even more—the Becoming Chief sort of responsibilities. His relationship with Astrid bears some strain from this; just as they feel more ready to stand strong as an official couple, outside stressors threaten to take them back a step.
Hiccup makes a habit of taking long flies to clear his mind—sometimes too long and often with only Toothless for company. It’s a mild concern for Astrid and Stoick, something they see as a necessary indulgence for Hiccup, even as his stints last longer and longer.
One day Hiccup leaves for an evening fly and isn't seen again for several days—the longest he's ever been out, unaccompanied by another human. The village—more specifically, the chief—grows restless in his absence. A couple of search parties are sent out during this time, by ship and by dragon, all returning unsuccessfully. Stoick is about to involve other tribes in the hunt for his wayward son when Hiccup returns. He claims unexpected weather conditions held him back for so long, which isn’t a good enough excuse to save him from the tongue lashing by both his father and his girlfriend. They take to keeping a closer eye on him, trying to become more involved in his life to stop him from pulling away.
At first Hiccup seems fine. But soon his subdued and thoughtful manner turns testy. He becomes increasingly agitated and distant over the next several weeks. It reaches the point where Astrid ends things with him.
Two days later Hiccup is gone again. He doesn’t return.
The Vikings are expanding their ground, exploring the world in ways that were previously unavailable before the use of dragons. Now it's Romans that the Barbaric Archipelagoes see war with; and while the empire might be crumbing, Rome is still a force to be reckoned with. Astrid won't say it out loud, but some days she's grateful for a new reason to swing an axe in her hand. She connects with an old focus flying could never give her, and it helps harness the rage and confusion over Hiccup leaving she can’t quite quell.
The Meathead Tribe calls for Berk’s aid when they lose a handful of their Vikings to Romans after a battle turned bad. Astrid and several Vikings under her command fly to Rome to infiltrate and rescue the captives. Thuggory is among those in the rescue mission. He flirts with Astrid on-and-off; teasingly trying to entice a strong woman like her into the Meathead Tribe (preferably through marriage). Astrid is used to this behavior from him. She bats away his offers and she otherwise gets along great with Thuggory.The rescue mission is successful—battles and action scenes galore—but The Meathead-Berk rescue team needs to recuperate underground before daring to move back home; they’re still in the heart of Rome, after all. Astrid, in garbed disguise, enters the city during the day to scrap together what she can of food and medical supplies. In her excursion, she stumbles across the gladiator games. The Meatheads they just rescued were meant to die in that very arena. She peers through the gates, feeling disgust for the Romans and their barbaric pastimes. Even the rowdy crowd leaves the island-raised girl feeling revolted and exposed.
That’s when Astrid sees Hiccup.
He’s not in the arena with the other slaves. He’s in the Imperial Box, sitting amidst the Romans.
Hiccup blends in well with the Romans. He has the lithe build, tall and lean. He can walk and speak like them, plays their logic games, admires their art, and quickly learns their politics. It’s the sort of environment where he can thrive, where his wit is treasured. Though he’s an outsider, Hiccup manages to attain the attention and interest of the wealthy Cordus family, who has several heavy ties with Roman senators.T. Cordus Priscus is the head of his long and noble family line. Their money may have dwindled over the years but their reputation and influence have not. Cordus’ second wife of twenty years has taken ill as of late. His oldest son was killed years ago in a bar fight (reportedly by a Viking) and his youngest son is naught thirteen. His most able heir at the moment is his flighty and indulgent daughter, Felicia Corda. When Felicia becomes smitten with the young, interesting foreigner, Cordus is annoyed, thinking this is just another whimsy of hers. But with time he is charmed by this ‘Hiksti’; the boy moves in as a permanent guest, and within a year is practically a part of the family.Cordus knows he is taking a public risk by becoming so close to a foreigner—by allowing an outsider so close to his family—but the boy appears to have money and wit and, best yet, has proved himself a great tool for political and financial advice to have in his pocket. He ropes Hiksti into his family through an engagement to his daughter—knowing the strange accent will fade with time, that the name can be changed (to Gnaeus), and soon people will forget Hiksti was never a part of Rome. Felicia is pleased, her younger brother, Catallus, delighted, and Cordus feels with a bit more influence on the young foreigner he’ll have his family’s future secure.
The only person who isn’t open to the idea of accepting Hiccup is Verus Livius, a senior centurion and leader of his own cohort. The second son of a Senator and close family friend, Verus had intentions of marrying Felicia himself for his own political means. Hiccup’s presence put a stop to that. What more, Very is deeply distrustful of foreigners during this time of war with the Vikings. The more Hiccup is embraced by the Cordus family, the more spiteful Verus grows of him. When the two are in the same room, there is often a trade of subtly dangerous words.
Naturally, Astrid confronts Hiccup. She follows him, asks around, and gathers information on him. She's careful to hide her hair and clothing, struggles to refine what latin she does know. She learns that he lives with the Cordus family as an honored guest. The no one knows much about him. She learns of his engagement. She’s hurt, angry and confused.
Astrid catches Hiccup at night—who, as it turns out, does meet up with Toothless at night to fly. Toothless spends his days sleeping outside of the city and easily navigates the rooftops at night.To say Hiccup is shocked to see her would be an understatement, but he quickly makes the connection on who is behind the missing Viking captives. Astrid’s fury grows now that she has Hiccup in her clutches again. She rants at him, threatens to kill him, to reveal his birthright to his new “family”. In return, Hiccup threatens to blow the whistle on the recovering Vikings hiding out in the city. They part with ill tempers. Astrid is more upset and confused than ever; Hiccup seems displeased to have his old clan in the vicinity.As the wedding draws near, Cordus’ wife passes. What started as a simple cold progressed into something the healers couldn’t find a cure for.
Meanwhile, Astrid continues to watch Hiccup. She makes arrangements to get all the Vikings home but she doesn’t want to leave Hiccup in Rome. She wants him home and she wants answers. She knows there has to be another explanation for him marrying into a Roman family. A handful of Vikings stay with her—their old gang and Thuggory, who’s fond enough of Astrid to want to have her back for this.
On the day of the wedding, Astrid watches from afar—despite her peers urging her to leave and spare her own feelings. Against her desperate hopes, Hiccup goes through with the wedding and officially becomes a part of the Cordus family.
Thuggory convinces Astrid to return to the Archipelagoes and forget Hiccup forever. However, on the eve of them leaving a new ship of fresh Viking captives arrives in Rome for the games. The Viking gang decides to delay their departure home to break the captives free.
When the Viking-rescue-squad broke into the market in the early morning hours, they expected minimal guard and few patrons. The auction platform was still being set up and bidding for prospective gladiators would not begin for hours. The chained Vikings were resting against wall
What they hadn’t expected was for Hiccup to be present. He was taking Catallus to look at the new slaves as a bonding experience to test the boy’s eye for spotting fighting potential.
The Vikings barely hesitated with their plan—Hiccup had crossed lines no Hooligan would dare to. With the guards so unaware, their attack on the unit is successful. Only one captive Viking is killed along with seven Roman guards.
Somewhere in the scuffle, young Catallus is killed as well.
Once more, Astrid is reluctant to leave. In spite of everything, she doesn’t want to give up on Hiccup and is afraid the young boy’s death may get him in trouble. But she sees him at the memorial looking solemn, with his arm around his wife. He is the remorseful brother-in-law—not stared at with contempt, but embraced as grieving family.
The Viking captives—some Bogs and Peacables—are cared for, nursed to health, and sent back North in small, unsuspicious groups. For the second time Astrid prepares herself to head home for good when shocking words reach her.
Felicia Corda is found dead in her marriage bed.
The news is terrifying and bewildering. Astrid puts her information gathering skills to the task, picking up pieces of information here and there as the city around her is in an uproar. The young Roman woman passed in the night from suffocation. For the briefest of moments and against all reason or judgment, Astrid fears for Hiccup. But Hiccup was the one who found her body, and was reported as being across town at an inn during her time of death with wealthy friends who can attest to it.
Astrid manages to find Hiccup on dragon-back the very next night. Unlike in the daylight, amidst the Romans, when Hiccup is equally as grieved as Cordus, he is stony-faced and unresponsive. He won’t talk about what he’s feeling or what happened; he only tells her—repeatedly—to leave Rome. Astrid can’t tell if it’s because he wants her gone or if he is worried about her. He has never been so unreadable to her before. A part of her wants to blame Roman politics, but another part of her starts to wonder if she ever knew Hiccup at all.
Astrid Hofferson can’t stand suspicious behavior—especially from Hiccup. She doesn’t leave.
Cordus, with nothing but extended family left, moves to make Hiccup his heir. He’s fond of the boy, and he’s put far too much mentorship into him to trust his lineage with anyone else.
That’s when Verus’s aggression towards Hiccup becomes alarming. He shadows Hiccup, whispers accusations and feelings of distrust. He becomes, all in all, quite troublesome.
Two days after Felicia’s death and Hiccup comes to Cordus with a disturbing discovery. He’s found Verus’ earring in his and Felicia’s bed. He also reports that Felicia once confided in him that Verus scared her—that he had shown aggression towards her...
When Verus is confronted about these accusations, with Hiccup standing at Cordus’s back in a place he once coveted, he loses it. He curses Hiccup, moves to attack him, and is quickly restrained.
Cordus is so deep in his grief, so endeared to Hiccup, that picking sides was never an issue. Verus is put on trial. He can’t deny that it is his earring Hiccup found. A handful of friends and acquaintances can agree that he desired Felicia after some manner and many know his distaste for Hiccup. Worse still, Verus can’t remember what he was doing the night Felicia died. He can’t recall drinking, but he can’t recall not drinking either. His mind is blank. No one can attest to his whereabouts that night.
Verus is ruled guilty of Felicia’s murder and is sentenced to the games. The next morning Verus fights against Vikings once more, but this time he does not have his legion with him. He is alone and weakly armored.
From the imperial box, Hiccup watches him die. And from within the crowd, Astrid watches Hiccup.
With his new wife dead and tensions running high in Rome, Astrid tries to get Hiccup to come home one more time. This time, instead of in the night air where Hiccup and Toothless can out fly her, she confronts him in an area better suited for her: in his room, with an axe in hand.
Her appearance catches him off-guard and for once Astrid has the advantage. They argue again, their voices pitching between heated whispers and sharp volume spikes. Hiccup still won’t leave and Astrid doesn’t understand why. If it wasn’t for love then why was he still here?
That’s when Cordus walks in to see Hiccup with Astrid. He recognizes her Viking garb and suddenly Hiccup’s origins spring to mind. He demands to know what is happening.
Astrid’s axe is up in a second and Cordus turns with every intention of calling the guards.
Hiccup pulls a dagger from his belt—the very same dagger he’s had since he was nine—and throws it. It lodges in the Roman’s throat, cutting his voice before a sound can be made.
The room is still with shock. Astrid can only watch as Cordus slides down the wall, staring at Hiccup in horror and betrayal. Cordus has just moments of life left in him—he is quickly bleeding out—so Hiccup crouches down before him and uses that time to explain.
He reminds Cordus that he is from a northern Viking tribe, and then speaks of a centurion he chanced upon in a bar. They shared drinks—a few too many drinks—and spoke of many things, of life and death. The centurion even boasted of the first person he ever killed—a beaten and broken slave. A mere tool to prepare him for greater lives he would someday end.‘You never forget your first kill’ he said, and he described the slave in greater detail, sloshing his drink with his gestures and laughter.
The centurion became Hiccup’s first kill.
Cordus chokes out ‘son’ and Hiccup nods. He killed Cordus’ eldest son. Then Hiccup asks Cordus if he remembers the slave his son spoke of. The ‘mere tool’.
He doesn’t wait for an answer—he doesn’t want to know. He can see in Cordus’ face of dawning horror that he understands. Romans, despite their many flaws, were always clever. He yanks the knife from Cordus’ neck and the man in dead in seconds.
Hiccup stands calmly, wipes the blade on his clothing, and comments to Astrid that his mother gave this dagger to him. Just before her ship was captured by a Roman fleet.
Astrid hasn’t moved since Hiccup threw the dagger. Her eyes are on the body of the man Hiccup so mercilessly killed. Her thoughts are on the centurion he claimed to have killed four years previous.
She thinks about Catallus—how no one quite saw how he died or what happened to Hiccup during it all.
She thinks of Felicia; how getting from one side of a city to another would take seconds at night on dragonback.
She thinks of Hiccup’s impassive face as Verus was killed, brought to sentence by Hiccup’s accusations.
His blade clean, Hiccup turns to Astrid. For the first time in four years he smiles at her.
"Now I can go home."
Up next: The Guardian Ring