|Rise of the Rider
Author: AFCJ PM
Dragon Training has been postponed until Stoick's return from Helheim's Gate. During his father's month-long voyage, Hiccup forges a friendship with a creature he was raised to despise. Now, he must convince the other teenagers that dragons aren't by their nature ferocious, and that there's a much larger problem that can only be stopped with cooperation between mortal enemies.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Hiccup & Astrid - Chapters: 15 - Words: 103,877 - Reviews: 203 - Favs: 240 - Follows: 269 - Updated: 04-11-13 - Published: 11-21-12 - id: 8723837
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: I apologize for the delay, but this chapter is a lot longer than my previous ones, so at least there's that.
Anyway, time for training, then Fishlegs.
I slept in a little that morning, knowing I could safely do so and still be at Dragon Training when I needed to. Looking out of my window to see the time, I pulled myself from my bed, entering the cold air of the late morning. Donning my usual bearskin and boots, I grabbed a bit of bread and left the house. Walking my way toward the kill ring, my nerves finally began to show themselves. I knew I had to do this, but more importantly, I knew what was at stake if I didn't.
I turned my mind to Toothless and this pointless war, and used that as a confidence boost. It might not have ripped the weight from my shoulders, but it was comforting in its own right. At the very least, it was keeping me from doing anything but walk to my destination while mindlessly finishing my bread. I wasn't really thinking about anything, or of where I was going. I just knew my legs would take me to where I needed to go while the rest of me tried to keep my brain from thinking about what I'd be doing in a few minutes. Luckily for me, that didn't stop my brain from noticing a rock flying my way. It gave me just enough time to spin my body out of the way of the projectile, the sensation of it flying past my chest quickly letting me know that Snotlout had finally missed his intended target.
Looking up ahead I saw him, Fishlegs, the twins and Astrid all standing by the entrance to the kill ring. Snotlout looked irritated that I'd dodged his attack, but the rest of them looked at me strangely, not understanding how I'd done something so very unlike me yet again. Except Astrid. To my delight, she was glaring at Snotlout, an absolutely infuriated look on her features. He didn't notice. I did, however, and it managed to put a smile on my face.
"What are you so happy about, Useless?" He shouted at me, a noticeable indignation in his voice. "You don't have any reason to be in a good mood. Once we get in there, that Gronckle is gonna tear you apart." Finally within reach of the group, I looked up at Snotlout.
"How do you know they're using the Gronckle?" I asked. Oddly enough, just knowing what dragon we'd be using was helping my nerves. I was wondering how good the Gronckle's hearing was when Fishlegs piped up.
"Oh, I've read about this in the Dragon Manual. Gronckles are traditionally used first because they're small enough for a single trained Viking to handle, but still deadly enough to put up a decent fight against new recruits." He took a breath and continued. "But that doesn't mean Gobber or the Chief have to follow tradition, but knowing them, they probably will." For once I could say I was really grateful for Fishlegs's library of a brain. I wasn't illiterate, by any means, but my intelligence was not the same as Fishlegs's. While he was bursting with factual knowledge, even beyond the realm of dragons, I had a different kind of intelligence based more around observation, calculation and test. Together, though, our intellects would be rather formidable against the Red Death.
"Well, at least we know what it is now. Every little bit helps, right?" I tried to sound nervous, even though I didn't really feel very nervous anymore. I was about to try and continue the conversation with Fishlegs when I heard a voice echo through the walls of the kill ring.
"Ah, that 'Hiccup' Viking is here. Gronckle, remember, go easy on him, but make it look genuine." It sounded like the voice of the Nadder. I bet Astrid would be happy to know that her chosen dragon was looking out for my safety and apparently dictating what to do to the other dragons.
"Well obviously. Wasn't that the whole point of his meeting with us? We're not supposed to seriously hurt any of the trainees this time around and we have to let Hiccup win. Speaking of which, do you think he can hear us?" The Gronckle stated out loud. With my mind focused only on their conversation, I responded.
"Yes." I hoped no one near me would wonder why I answered my own question and would just attribute it to the fact that I was the 'weird' one on the island. I also hoped the dragons could hear me.
"Well, it looks like he can indeed hear us, assuming he was answering you, Gronckle." I heard the Nadder's chirp echo through the walls of its container. "Just follow the Gronckle's lead, Hiccup. Since only you can understand us, she'll be helping you through this training exercise we decided on after you left that night. Just pay attention and trust us a little. We'll try to do the same." And with that, the ring went quiet. Which was good for me, because it pulled the attention of the group to the arena in front of us.
"Well, that's... Odd. First they were louder than I'd ever heard them. Now they're dead silent. This kind of behavior hasn't been noted anywhere in the Dragon Manual. Maybe we'll have to update it...?" Fishlegs seemed almost more excited about updating the manual than he did actually fighting the dragons. I reminded myself that it was probably because Fishlegs wasn't much of a fighter when Astrid caught my eye. She was looking at me inquisitively, not unlike how the rest of them we looking at me earlier, but she had a smile on her face.
"Mornin' lads! An' lassies," Gobber corrected himself as he walked up to us, lagging just slightly behind and to the right of my father. They both looked at me, and then to the rest of the students. "Right. No sense sittin' 'round out here. Welcome ta' dragon training!" Gobber shouted, pulling open the first gate to the arena. Walking into the small tunnel that would lead us to the killing floor, my father threw open the second gate. I swallowed hard and waited in the back for the other teens to follow first. Astrid, to my relief, was doing the same. Getting a tiny moment of privacy, I whispered to her.
"Apparently the dragon has a plan, and all I have to do is follow it. Makes it simple." With that, Astrid merely smiled and nodded, taking her place next to me and the other students. We were standing shoulder to shoulder and watching Gobber and my father. Gobber was giving each dragon an introduction and Fishlegs was butting in with statistics from the Dragon Manual. I was too busy laughing internally at the small chirps the Terror was giving off to pay any more attention.
"Oh, they're here! Do I get more fish? Maybe give me a fish aft-OH! Hey, there's a mouse! Get back here, time for lunch-"
"Hiccup." My father clearly stating my name pulled me from listening to the Terror. "Are you ready for this?" He looked me over. "And what are you smiling about? I didn't think you'd be excited about this like the others are." I looked at my peers, noticing that they all appeared excited and ready, with exception to Astrid. She didn't seem very happy about this situation at all, but I had a feeling that it was more to do with me than the dragons.
"Oh, I'm not... Excited, about this, really. I mean, at all. I'm just, uh, trying to prepare myself, you know, for what- what's ahead, and that means... Not, not letting my nerves get the best of me?" Why did I phrase that statement as a question? I swear, I can handle taming a dragon, but talking to my father? Impossible.
"Well, alright, Hiccup. We'll get started, then. Gobber, open her up." I was surprised by this, even if I no longer feared the dragons. We're starting so soon? I figured we'd be spending most of the morning listening to the two of them explain the small details and finesse required to attack and defend. Apparently, that wasn't the way they had planned this. Snotlout was the only one of us that spoke up.
"Wait! Aren't you gonna teach us first?" He almost looked worried. I smiled a little again.
"We believe in learning on tha' job." Gobber stared Snotlout down, his stone tooth protruding from his lips. With a slight grin, he pushed the lever down, unlocking the Gronckle's cage. The doors blew open, and out she flew, her fly-like wings beating hurriedly against the wind. She growled, and while the rest of the trainees scrambled to pick up shields to defend themselves, I stared at the Gronckle, waiting for her to give me an order.
"So this is what the Dragon Viking looks like? The Nadder was right, your scent is deceiving. You're small, but extra weight won't help you on the back of a Night Fury..." She fluttered over to me, growling. "Alright, time to stop acting surprised and start running! I'll handle the rest." She fired a blast at me just as I started moving. It was a methodical strike, detonating next to where I was standing, so even if I hadn't moved it would've only warmed me up, not ignited me. Relieved that I had actual evidence that the dragons would willingly work with me, I tried paying a little attention to what my father and Gobber were saying. It's not every day the Chief of the village and his closest confidant gives you private lessons, so giving them an ear probably wasn't a bad idea.
"HICCUP! Pay attention and grab a shield!" I heard Gobber shout to me. Nodding, I headed to a few shields sitting on the ground near where my father was yelling something at the twins as they fought over a single shield. Seeing an open target, the Gronckle fired, splintering the item in their grasp. Shuffling out from between the twins and the arena's exit, I grabbed a red one for myself and hurried off, not really running that fast. I didn't see a need to waste my energy when the Gronckle wasn't paying me any attention.
"Alright, you two! Yer out!" My father stomped over to the twins and yanked them to their feet, directing them to the half-open gate of the arena. They went and slid out underneath it. "A shield is your most important asset. More important than any weapon. If you have to choose between a hammer," He gestured to the weapon in his own hands, "or a shield, take the shield." I was considering mentioning to both my father and Gobber that neither of them were using shields when I heard Gobber speak up.
"Right! An' your shield's good fer more than jus' defendin' yerselves. Use 'em to make noise, and lots of it! Throws off a dragon's aim." In tune, we all started knocking our weapons against our shields(I had picked up an axe from the weapon rack to blend in a little more) while the Gronckle hovered above us. She shook her head a few times in confusion before flying at Snotlout, scattering us. "It doesn' last forever, though, so use it ta get outta the way when ya need to!" I heard Gobber chuckle a little at the vulgar name Snotlout had uttered at him when my father spoke up again.
"Gobber's right about that. You have to live and breathe this stuff! Know your enemy! Now, dragons all have a limited number of shots. How many does a Gronckle have?"
"SIX!" Fishlegs chimed in immediately, cutting off Snotlout's most likely incorrect answer with his own. He could probably recite the entire manual entry on Gronckles by heart, if instructed to. And I knew he would, if anyone would listen.
"Correct! That's one for each of you!" I heard Gobber continue. Fishlegs started celebrating at his little victory, paying nearly no attention to the Gronckle flying around the arena. One well aimed blast later, his shield shattered on his hand.
"Fishlegs, out!" Gobber pointed to the door of the arena. Half running and half sulking, Fishlegs squeezed himself under the gate. I turned to see Snotlout casually talking to Astrid, who was currently focused on the Gronckle, paying no attention to Snotlout or his comments. He was, predictably, flirting with her, despite being in the middle of our first dragon training session. He kept it up until his shield was blown out of his hands, crumpling on the wall near him. Without more instruction than his name, Snotlout stalked off to the gate of the kill ring.
"So, just you and me then, huh?" I asked Astrid, walking up behind her. She grinned, aiming her eyes at mine.
"Nope. Just you." Astrid must've seen the same thing I did: the Gronckle was pretty much ignoring me, save for that first shot. There were only two shots left, and even though Astrid had always been the more physically capable of the two of us, we both knew only one of those shots was going to miss.
"Incoming!" The Gronckle seemed to be enjoying this whole thing, especially since Astrid and I were the only two left. As she flew towards us, Astrid dove out of the way. I, however, decided to drop to the ground, letting the dragon hover over me. I dropped my axe and shield when I hit the floor of the ring, pushing myself back to my feet just as the Gronckle fired at Astrid, successfully blowing most of her shield off of its handle. Astrid ran to the door and slid under it, quickly spinning around to watch me from behind the gate with the rest of the teens. She didn't even realize Snotlout was trying to talk to her. She also hadn't noticed the look of utter shock on everyone else's faces, them having realized that unless I died, I'd come out on top of our first training session.
"HICCUP!" I heard both my father and Gobber bellow. I spun immediately toward where the sound of beating wings was coming from, seeing the Gronckle flying at me yet again. I reacted as quick as I could, jumping out of the way and landing hard on the ground. Paying no attention to the throbbing sensation coming from my left knee after its contact with the stone floor, I hopped back up and really started running. I watched her get closer to me when I realized we were about to hit the wall of the ring. I dropped to the ground again as the Gronckle tackled the wall above me. She shook her head a little and dropped to her feet, sucking in air, her mouth not an arm's length from my head. Reacting to this slow intake of breath, I fell to my back and pushed off the wall, sliding myself between dragon and stone for a moment before coming out from behind her. I jumped to a standing position just as she fired her last shot at the wall I had been in front of not seconds prior. She turned to me, growling, an angry look on her face. However, her voice was anything but.
"Very good! I wasn't planning on firing until you were out of the way, but I don't think they noticed. I'm sure they'll be putting me back, now that I'm out of fire-hrk!" I heard the Gronckle yelp in pain as Gobber's hook dug into the flesh just under her teeth.
"And that's six! Go back ta' bed, ya overgrown sausage!" He pulled the Gronckle to the door my father had just opened. With some work, the two of them put the Gronckle back. I heard her growl a little from behind the door.
"That went well, minus the hook in my jaw. Ugh. Anyway, Hiccup, you'll probably be working with the Terror tomorrow, but considering she hasn't stopped chattering about you since our first meeting I don't think you'll have much of a problem with her." Her cage went quiet again. With the Terror in mind, I started thinking back to Toothless playing with the light glinting off of my work hammer a few weeks ago. I'd originally planned on using that to lead the Terror back to its cage, but now that I understood Dragonese I could probably just tell it what to do, using a few fish as bartering tools.
"Well, tha' was... Unexpected..." I heard Gobber state, shock in his voice. "Hiccup, since when have you been fast, lad?" I laughed nervously, trying to figure out how to avoid the attention I never realized I'd be getting if I started to win in the ring.
"Well, you know, I've, well, been your apprentice for most of my, uh, my life, and I've, uh, spent a lot of time, by myself, in the woods... I guess, uh, wandering the island has helped me speed up. A little. Not much." Gobber looked at me with uncertainty painted all over his face. Before he could respond, though, Fishlegs interrupted.
"A little? Hiccup, I've only seen Astrid move like that!" I looked over to the other teens and noticed that other than Snotlout, they all looked genuinely impressed. My father and even Astrid, to an extent, looked proud of me.
"Well, if ya plan on interrogating my son, why not do it over lunch? It might not be noon yet, but I'm certainly hungry enough for it. Gobber, take the rest of the trainees to the Meade Hall for something to eat. Hiccup and I will be just behind you. I'd like to have a word with him in private." He was honestly beaming at me. I don't think he's ever been proud of something I did, but yet, here he was. What made it feel so bad was that I was basically lying to him, but it was necessary. I kept reminding myself of this as the rest of them walked away.
"Hiccup, where did you learn how to move like that? And how long has it been like this, anyway?" He looked at me, then raised an eyebrow. "I assume it's how you caught that knife." He looked down at my right hand. It was scarred, but healing, and completely scabbed over. Only my thumb was still bandaged, as it took the brunt of the force behind the knife Snotlout threw at me. I scratched the back of my head and repeated what I'd said before.
"It's like I said, dad. I've spent a lot of time in the forests on this island, and its been really helpful. I've also done a bit of swimming in the ocean, and the water helps people of, uh, 'my' stature speed themselves up. Or so I've found. Plus, I am a blacksmith's apprentice, and if you aren't quick with your hands when you're in that position you tend to regret it. Pretty quickly." I found myself unconsciously walking in tow with my father as he started his way to the gate of the arena. He laughed and smacked me on the back.
"Well, if you're too embarrassed to talk about it, I can understand. But don't let that girl run your whole life, Hiccup. You still gotta be your own man." I stumbled when he said this, as though his words had somehow managed to nearly trip me.
"DAD! Wait, you've got- that's not right- I mean, just- Gods, that's not correct! Astrid didn't have anything to do with this, and I mean it!" I managed to stop tripping, but I was still burning red with the idea my father was obviously getting at. He just shook his head and laughed.
"Alright, alright, I'll believe you. But I have to say, you almost remind me of the way I was when I first started seeing your mother..." My father was never one to talk about the past much, and even when he did recollect, it was usually to himself. This was something I was currently very appreciative of, since I'd need a few minutes of silence to calm myself down from what my father was implying about Astrid and I.
"...Right. You have to be tough on yourselves." I heard Gobber's voice echoing from behind the doors of the Meade hall as my father and I approached. I pulled the door open and headed in after my father, grabbing a turkey leg and a glass of milk on my way to the table. Taking my seat across from Astrid, I took a bite out of my turkey when I noticed my father gesturing Gobber over to another table across the hall. They both stalked away, my father's comment of 'not fighting all of my battles for me' coming back to mind. The second they were out of earshot, I heard Fishlegs speak up again.
"Hey! Uh, Hiccup. Good job today." He was giving me a strange look. Glancing around the table, I realized that everyone was. It seemed more and more likely that not a single person believed my 'blacksmith wandering the forest' explanation. While Fishlegs was trying to figure out how to word what he wanted to say, Snotlout butted in.
"Look, we wanna know what's going on. We're supposed to work together now that our group's in Dragon Training, and you're holding out on us? If what you're doing is so good at making you a decent fighter for once, imagine what it could do for someone like me!" I ignored the expected insult and thought about what Snotlout had just said. I didn't like the sound of being called a 'decent fighter' when I hadn't actually done any fighting in the ring. I cleared my throat.
"Well, Snotlout, it's not like anyone in 'our' group has ever bothered reaching out to me until very recently." I silently hoped Astrid would get that I wasn't grouping her with the others as I gathered my thoughts and continued. "So, you can't exactly blame me for 'holding out on you' when the main reason I spent all of my time hiding either in the forge or the forest to begin with was to avoid getting locked in a shed or pelted with rocks. Or dragged through a field. Or tied to a tree. Or shoved into the ocean when it's freezing outside. Do you need me to keep going?" I gave him a blunt look of sarcasm that turned to surprise when he just stared at me. Deciding to take advantage of this unusual silence I kept speaking, since I still had a point to make. "Besides, what I've been doing hasn't made me a better fighter. All its improved is my speed, and it's not exactly the easiest thing to 'teach' to someone." I took a breath. "And like I said, we wouldn't have any time for me to help you speed up when we'll be spending all it training dragons." I breathed out, hoping they'd finally let it rest, when Fishlegs raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth.
"Training dragons? Almost sounds like you're trying to teach it a trick, or something. Like it's a pet." The group sniggered at the idea while I silently tried to keep myself from going pale. Finally looking to Astrid, I noticed she wasn't looking very comfortable in this situation, either. I spoke up, trying my hardest to keep myself from stammering again.
"Yeah, that's a funny... Slip-up, there. I meant training with dragons. Not training them. Like you could really train a dragon." I tried to laugh, but stopped when I realized I wasn't making any sounds. "Yeah, like that'd work. Just show up in the kill ring with a fish and hope the Nadder won't rip you limb from limb when you open its cage. 'Do a flip and you get a fish!' Sign me up." I managed to pull off a joke with my normal sarcastic banter, but I still felt feint. Luckily, no one noticed it, as everyone but Astrid and I were laughing lightly at my joke.
"Well, uh, Hiccup, we're... Well, sorry, for doing all... That. To you. And I'm not just saying that because I want you to tell us how you've gotten so much faster." Did Fishlegs really just apologize to me? In front of everyone? My surprise was extended by the twins uttering in agreement and Snotlout merely looking away, though clearly not comfortable with the subject. I considered it for a moment, and then realized this was probably the best way to get to Fishlegs even if I hadn't completely forgotten his complacency with the others tormenting me for the last seven years.
"Well, Fishlegs, thanks for the apology. It's... Nice of you. Really." I felt horribly strange saying that, knowing it was only partially true. "And everyone else who agreed with him." I tried to make that statement as general as possible so I didn't leave anyone out. Snotlout didn't exactly apologize, after all, but I don't want to get on his bad side because it would just make getting him to understand the truth about our supposed enemies that much more difficult. "Anyway, I'm just gonna finish lunch and go take a nap. Running from that Gronckle really tired me out." I took a big bite out of my lukewarm turkey leg, hoping to finish eating in silence. Then I heard Fishlegs address me again.
"So, Hiccup, after that nap you plan on taking, do you maybe want to help me update the Dragon Manual?" There seemed to be a hopeful quality in his voice. Before he could try and withdraw his offer(He was often as timid as I was) I swallowed hard and jumped at it.
"Well, alright. We can meet near my house at sundown." I quickly ripped more flesh off of the leg, hoping no one had overheard or would want in on our plans. Not that I expected anyone to actually want to hear Fishlegs talking about the manual to begin with, but I needed to do this individually, since I knew easing just one person into the idea that dragons aren't pure evil would be daunting. I wondered if I could even approach Fishlegs with the concept by myself. A voice addressing the agreement between the two of us made me remember I wasn't alone.
"Hey, you two, would you mind if I came with?" Fishlegs looked at Astrid in confusion. The rest of the table wasn't paying us any attention, since the twins had decided to get into another fight. They were currently wrestling, Ruffnut having knocked Tuffnut's helmet across the room while pinning him to the floor. Snotlout was laughing and cheering Tuffnut on, even though he was losing.
"Uh, are you sure, Astrid? You never struck me as the kind of person to care much about the manual..." Fishlegs trailed off with his thought as Astrid responded.
"I've read it a few times, but never all in one sitting. But it'd probably be good for my training if I see what the two of you put into this manual update." I looked between the two of them, hoping for my sake that Fishlegs would agree to letting Astrid come with us.
"Well, I guess it wouldn't be a problem." He looked over to the twins, flinching a little as Tuffnut whipped his head back, hitting his sister in the face. In retaliation, she slammed his head down against the dirty stone floor.
"Yeah, just as long as neither of us starts acting like that," I said, pointing my thumb at the twins and Snotlout, who had apparently decided to join the fray. He was currently being pinned by both Ruff and Tuff.
"Please. I don't want anyone damaging the manual. It'd just be more work to fix it." He looked back to his near empty plate and stood up. "Well, Hiccup, I'm gonna grab some more. You want anything?" I considered it, but then shook my head. I wasn't planning on eating anything else in the Meade Hall.
"No, no thanks. I'm good. One turkey leg is good enough for me." Fishlegs nodded and walked off as I thought about heading to the Cove. I wasn't actually planning on taking a nap, and I was still hungry. But I wanted to finish lunch with Toothless, and probably Astrid, if she decided to follow me again. Finishing off the turkey leg, I went to drink the rest of my milk as Astrid started talking to me.
"That was way too close for me. Nice save, though." She adjusted one of her shoulder pads nervously. "Did you really think the Nadder might have actually hurt us?" I shook my head.
"No. I knew she wouldn't just because of how she sounded," I whispered, making sure no one was paying attention. "She's not dangerous. If you know what you're doing, no dragon is dangerous. At least, no dragon I've ever heard of." Astrid glared at me, and I knew why. "Look, the Red Death doesn't count as a dragon. It's pure evil." She slowly nodded as I finished my milk and stood up. Astrid stood as well, making to leave with me as Fishlegs walked back up to the table, a full plate in his hand.
"Enjoy your nap, Hiccup. And while we're working on the manual, maybe we could talk about what a Night Fury's stats might be? I always thought it was an interesting topic to talk about, but no one else seems to." I grinned at this. I had no problem talking about Night Furies with Fishlegs.
"Well, I don't see why not. But we can talk more about it tonight; I really should get going. Enjoy your lunch, and I'll talk to you later." I turned to leave when I heard Astrid say something about going to the forest to improve her axe-throwing. Pulling the door open, I slipped out and waited for her. After a few seconds, she emerged from the hall, punching me on the arm playfully. Smiling still, I rubbed where she hit me and shook my head as we made for the forest.
"Well, today sure has been eventful. Especially for you, considering how many lucky breaks the Gods have thrown at you today. First the dragons agree to help you, then no one really questions how you managed to beat us all at training because they were too embarrassed about treating you like dirt. Now we've got an easy way to get Fishlegs on our side, and it's only noon." She grinned. "What's next, your dad finding out about Toothless and being okay with it?" I shared a laugh with her as we entered the border of trees, disappearing into the brush.
No matter how many times it happens, I will never get bored of riding on Toothless. Especially with Astrid behind me, reading my journal over my shoulder as I write in it. We've been drifting through clouds for a few minutes now, enjoying the late afternoon sun breaking through them. We'd probably have to land soon, considering we have to get to the front of my house to meet up with Fishlegs.
"Speaking of which... Toothless, I may be introducing you to another person in a few days, is that alright? He's not nearly as Viking-like as the other three in our group, so he should be easy to convince of my point. You'd probably like him, to be honest. He's a bit obsessed with the dragon manual I told you about, though. He's always been bookish. But unlike me, he has a natural ability to defend himself, if only because of his size." I'd been talking with Astrid about this point, and we both agreed that the main reason he wasn't ostracized like I was came down to his huge weight advantage. Sure, he was a better fighter than I was, but not by much.
"Thank you for telling me. But you don't need to convince me that meeting the other Viking trainees is a good idea every time you plan on doing it. Just tell me when and what the plan is. We can handle the rest as it comes." I rubbed Toothless's head.
"Alright, bud, thanks. I'll keep that in mind." I turned my head slightly so I could glance at Astrid, her head still resting on my shoulders. "So, do you wanna try a freefall yet?" I smirked, deciding to write my next thought down for her to read:
...I expected the same dry 'no' she gave me when I asked her this question right as we took off a few hours ago from the cove.
"Oh, come on. It wasn't that dry." She laughed after I finished writing. I wasn't planning on this, but she has been interested in my journals for a while now. I figured it probably wouldn't be a problem if she was present while I recorded what was going on during the moments we spent together, so I've been letting her read as I write.
"It was dry enough. Not like it matters, anyway. I just wanted to see how you'd react; I wasn't serious." I heard her sigh as she pulled an arm from my waist and hit me on the arm like she always does.
"Oh? And what was that for?" I asked, rubbing my arm without much thought.
"For trying to annoy me for your amusement." She hugged me from behind.
"At least you're not mad. It'd be kinda hard to get away from me up here."
"Oh, shut up and let me enjoy the view for a little while longer before we have to land." I nodded silently, reaching out my hand to put my journal away when a stiff breeze loosened some pages of it, causing them to start flapping around. I managed to stop it right on the last page I wanted to see. My newest(and best) drawing of Astrid and I riding Toothless was sitting on the two pages in front of me. Before I could shut the journal, though, I heard an intake of breath from my left and a felt Astrid's arms tighten around me.
"Uh, Astrid, this isn't, well, it's- It's not-" She cut off my stuttering.
"Hiccup, it's okay. Really. It's... Beautiful. I didn't know you could draw this well. You're almost as good as Bucket is, and you don't have a cracked skull to thank for it. It's all just your natural talent, and another thing about you I never knew. Another thing about you I like." Astrid completely removed any trace of worry I might have felt for this accidental reveal with those words. A funny thought popped into my head as I considered her eyes still scanning my work. I had to mention it to her, even if it'd take me a while to follow through with it.
"I've got a bunch of drawings. And this one," I pointed to the pages of the journal tacked to Toothless's saddle, "appears more than once, in varying poses. But this version is the best one I've drawn so far. I'll have to show you the others some day, if you'd like."
"Of course." I shut the journal and finally replaced it in my harness.
"Anyway, we probably should get going back to the cove. Sundown's coming, and we don't want to be leave Fishlegs waiting. Toothless, let's head back." I felt him purr beneath me in response.
"Okay, but tell your mate to hold on." I sighed and rolled my eyes, but did as he asked.
"Astrid, Toothless wants you to hold on tight. He also wants me to sneak an eel into his next basket of fish for a comment I won't be repeating." Toothless smacked me lightly with an ear flap just before flipping upside down and speeding off. Astrid was apparently trying her best to crush my ribcage with her arms and legs once she realized the ground was above us, but luckily she didn't scream. After a few minutes of flying mainly upside down at extremely high speeds, we came to a halt in the cove. We climbed off, and Astrid immediately turned to me, breathing a little heavily.
"So, we can do that again tomorrow, right?" I was not expecting to hear that come out of her mouth.
"Really, Astrid? I mean, yeah, we can try another inverted flight again tomorrow, if we have the time."
"Can we try a freefall, too?" I turned my head to get a better look at her.
"Look at you. One controlled, but still terrifying flight later, and you're hooked. You're even looking to try something that mortified you yesterday. You know, you should be thanking me for giving you an unfair advantage when our Taming classes begin." Putting away Toothless's riding gear with my own and throwing on my bearskin vest, I turned back to the two of them. Astrid was cradling his head and scratching him behind the ear, his large back paw repeatedly slamming against the ground in response. "Well, this explains why he started purring so loudly. Toothless, as much as I hate to interrupt you getting a nice scratch, Astrid and I do need to get going." He looked at me, continuing his very loud purr. Slowly pulling away from Astrid, he turned and bumped his head into my stomach before turning and heading into our den. He stuck his tail out and waved us goodbye.
The two of us had reached the border of the dense wood just near my house when we both noticed Fishlegs. He was standing with his back to us, apparently looking out over the Island of Berk. I was planning on sneaking into my house through the rear when he heard us and turned around.
"Hey Hiccup, Astrid. Um, what were you doing in the woods? I thought you were taking a nap." I didn't want Fishlegs to think I was lying to him intentionally, so I addressed this before he could continue.
"Oh, yeah. I was sleeping in this place I have in the woods. It's a small safe house hidden out there, just in case I can't get back home for whatever reason. I slept there so no one would bother me. Then, uh, I ran into Astrid and we both walked back together." Fishlegs looked between the both of us and shrugged, to my relief.
"I guess that makes sense. Anyway, let's go to the Meade Hall. It's probably near empty by now, so finding a table shouldn't be a problem." He turned, leading us to the Meade Hall, the thick Dragon Manual under his arm. We walked there in silence, the only sounds around us being the faint ones coming from faraway villagers. There was also a slight rustle as I ran my hand through my hair for the hundredth time since landing, trying to make sure it wasn't still pulled back from riding on Toothless.
Entering the Meade Hall, we found it to be almost entirely empty. There were a few Vikings sitting at a table near the towering double doors who paid us no attention when we walked in. Glancing around to make sure no one else was in the hall, I pointed out a table in the far corner that I was very used to sitting at. It was big enough to comfortably seat five, so it would do well for our purposes. Walking over and taking our seats, I looked around one more time to make sure no one was near us, just in case the conversation somehow moved on to training dragons. We sat there in silence for a few minutes while Fishlegs opened the manual and pulled a large stack of notes from between the cover and first page. Flipping over to a random entry, he started erasing small details and replacing them with new ones, mainly numbers. Before either Astrid or I could ask him what he was doing, he spoke up.
"I'm just updating some statistics on the dragons we've got locked in the kill ring; namely, a slight increase in the Gronckle's accuracy statistic. I've never had much of a chance to observe them when they raided us, so I never realized just how good they were at aiming." He scribbled down a few numbers. "The stats each dragon has in the manual were added in by me. I figured a number system would be an easy reference guide to dealing with dragons. It never occurred to me that most Vikings don't seem to understand numbers." He stopped scribbling and flipped over a page of his notes, read a little more, and started writing again. "But even if not many people pay attention to that sort of thing, I'm still recording it. I mean, it's still nice to have the reference, and I'm sure someone will eventually notice how much easier it is to deal with dragons when you know all of their little details, instead of just running in and swinging." Turning the page, he continued writing, but was apparently done speaking. So I figured I might.
"Yeah, I'm sure eventually someone will. After all, Vikings are stubborn, not stupid. But if anyone ever notices how much easier dealing with dragon raids is when you know the dragons, uh, statistics, then I'm sure it'll catch on like dragon fire." I rubbed the back of my head. It still kinda hurt from Snotlout's punch. "Wait, did you say you're the one who recorded all of those stats?" That was a lot of work to be done all by one person, especially someone as young as us.
"Yeah. I spend a lot of time with the manual, because I'm... Not the best fighter on the Island. But I am good with numbers." He quickly looked to Astrid and I, and then went back to the manual. She said something before I had the chance to.
"Fishlegs, just because you're not a good fighter doesn't mean you have to bury yourself in a book. Look at Hiccup. He can't fight, but he's quick. You just have to find your niche on the battlefield." He looked up from the manual again, his eyes turned to Astrid.
"Astrid, I appreciate it, but I've been trying to use my hammer for years. I'm still terrible with it... " I had a feeling he was starting to close himself off at that admission. Fishlegs never liked talking about his fighting ability, and I'm sure he wasn't feeling very good about himself after openly admitting he's a poor fighter in a warrior village. I had to bring him back if we were ever going to get to talking to him about the dragons.
"Fishlegs, Astrid may be on to something. I never really bothered learning how to fight, but the few times I tried picking up a weapon, they were always too heavy for me. I never even considered using anything else, because I never thought I could do it. But considering how fast I've gotten, if I use a fast weapon more fitting to my size, I won't have a problem with it." Fishlegs looked back up from the manual again.
"A fast weapon? What, like a dagger, or something?" He gave me an inquisitive look, which wasn't uncommon from Fishlegs.
"No. A dagger's too small to be used as a reliable weapon when you're fighting. I'm going to have to make a sword for myself that's as long as it can be without being too heavy for me. I have a decent idea of how to do it, but I won't really have the time until after dragon training." My mind wandered from my sword to an idea that had just appeared in my head. "Fishlegs, You'd probably be better off with a much larger weapon." He almost looked offended when I said this.
"Wait, why a big weapon? Because I'm a bigger... Viking?" I didn't want him to think I was picking on him, especially considering how hypocritical of me it would be.
"Yes and no. Not because you're heavier than the rest of us, but because you need to play to your strengths. You may be too slow to take my route, but your arms are about as big around as Tuffnut's chest. You have a lot of power behind you, so giving you a large, overreaching weapon makes sense, because it makes up for your lack of speed. In fact, I have some ideas..." I let my voice trail off intentionally, letting him say something if he wanted.
"Play to my strengths? Ideas? What... What kind of ideas?" I must've grabbed his attention with that one.
"Weapon ideas. If I made you a war hammer that had a huge head and a long, steel handle, you'd have a weapon much more suited for you. It would probably feel more gratifying than swinging that tiny hammer around all the time, too. Because it would fit you." Finally, I saw Fishlegs crack a small smile at this.
"I guess my hammer is a little small for me. I mean, when I use the thing, I can barely feel it..." He went silent again.
"Yeah, and I can barely lift it. Which is why I'm better off with a short sword. It's like you said to me a few days ago. I may have 'plus five speed,' but I'm also down in points on strength." I almost laughed at the idea of assigning numbers to skills and weaknesses. Only Fishlegs would do something like that.
"Wait, why did I never consider actually sitting down and doing that? Give everyone in our group their own statistics! That way, you can help them with their weapons, too!" I could see where Fishlegs was going with this, but I didn't think the others would really care too much about it. I was about to mention this to Fishlegs when Astrid decided to step in.
"It's not a bad idea, but you need to be less involved with explaining it, because Snotlout and the twins aren't exactly as smart as you are. Instead of going into detail, just tell them it'll help with their future weapons, since Hiccup here already makes all of ours personally." I wasn't really looking to tell that to Fishlegs, but I didn't mind Astrid saying it. I just nodded my head.
"Yeah... I wasn't going to say anything about it, but whenever we're given orders to make weapons for all of you, I volunteer myself to spend some time getting the details down right. Just my own way of helping protect the group, since I can't help you guys any other way." I watched as Fishlegs went from looking surprised to rather hurt.
"Really? Even though we turned our backs on you?" I nodded.
"Yep. Like how even though most of the people in our village treat me like a pest, they'd still defend me from a dragon because they know I can't do it myself. We're Vikings. We care for our own." I looked to his notes, and then back to him. "Look, don't worry about it. What's past is past. Besides, don't we have a manual to update?" Fishlegs seemed to go back to normal when I mentioned the manual again. He flipped a few more pages and came to one that was mostly blank.
"The Night Fury. Speed, size, shot limit, wingspan, weight and everything else. All unknown. No one's ever seen one." He shuffled through his notes, coming to a page with some drawings. Not as good as the ones I've done, but still decent. "I tried sketching out what I think it might look like. Do you ever wonder that?" In truth, I always did wonder what a Night Fury looked like. And now that I was the Bond-Brother of one, I knew that Fishlegs's drawing was rather incorrect. He was right on the color, but he was wrong on pretty much everything else. The sketches looked a bit like a pitch black Nadder with the spikes on its head removed, standing at about the height of a Nightmare.
"I've wondered that since I was old enough to think about dragons. And I've also got some ideas of what one... Might look like." I tried to ignore the little slip up as I pulled out my journal and opened the front cover, pulling out a few carefully chosen old watercolor paintings I made of Toothless and handing them off to Fishlegs. His eyes went wide at them, slowly scanning over all of the brush strokes.
"Wow, I didn't know you could paint. This is a lot more detailed than the one I made, too. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you're close to the real thing. Would you mind if I kept one of these and sketched it into the manual? It might be useful as a possible identifier in the future." I considered it for a moment. It's not like anyone knowing what Toothless looks like would be a problem, since they'd still know he's a dragon even without the manual.
"You can use one, but only one. No point in putting a lot of time into it when we're not even sure if this is what it looks like." He kept shuffling through them, almost as though he was looking for a specific painting.
"Hiccup, in all of these paintings... The dragon looks rather unintimidating. It's eyes even look like giant cat eyes. Don't you have any that make it seem more... Ferocious?" I hadn't even considered this, since I rarely ever pictured Toothless as ferocious-looking. I've also never even sketched him in such a way, and I wasn't sure if I could.
"No, those are the best ones. I wanted them to look more... Natural. I mean, dragons can't always be horrible killing machines. Even the best Vikings in history aren't always fighting, and I wanted to try and... Paint a dragon that way." I really hoped he wouldn't find that point weird, since it could hurt the small amount of progress I've made.
"Huh. I never thought of that before. It's hard to think of a dragon doing anything but fighting, though, so that's probably why." He handed back the rest of the paintings, having chosen the only one that also has myself painted alongside Toothless. It was a simple painting of Toothless sitting next to me as I looked off to the right of the page. I had a feeling Fishlegs chose it because it gave a reference to how big the Night Fury was.
"Well, we have a decent enough picture for the book, but still no stats. Any ideas?" I shook my head, since I didn't know how his 'stats' even worked. "Hm. Well, maybe if I explain how the numbers work you can give me a hand?" Begrudgingly, I nodded. I really didn't want to hear all of this, but it would help with getting Fishlegs on our side. I still wasn't sure how I'd bring up what dragons were actually like. "Alright! This isn't too difficult to understand, anyway. You'll probably get it in a few minutes." He flipped through the manual to an explanation page that detailed how 'Dragon Statistics' worked. "Let's begin."
An hour later, Fishlegs and I had just finished explaining the system to Astrid. I grasped his ideas pretty quickly, and Astrid did too, once I explained them to her. Fishlegs's heart was in the right place, but he never was very good at explaining how his brain worked to the others. The system itself was pretty basic: based off of previous recordings of how dragons compared to Vikings in ability, he created a number system. It was simple, but pretty effective, and far more intuitive during battle than a long-winded explanation. The higher the number, the better the dragon was in that category. Categories that Vikings didn't have were based on how much damage it could cause, bodily or otherwise.
"So, now that you know how it works, what would you say the Night Fury's stats are? My guess is it's probably close to a Nadder, but a lot faster. Plus fifteen speed, at least." I had a very hard time suppressing the grin coming to my face, and tried to get rid of it by speaking.
"Oh, I'd say it's probably closer to plus thirty in speed. Maybe plus four in size, a shot limit of fourteen and plus six to fire heat. The wingspan and other details I guessed are on the painting." Now that I knew how this system worked, I could immediately tell where the deficiencies were. And I still wasn't sure how fast Toothless really could go, because whenever we tried to reach his top speed, the wind would nearly rip me from his back. The new harness would let me lie closer to him, though, so I might soon find out.
"Hiccup... Plus thirty? Really? I don't think anything can fly that fast. Not even a Night Fury." I had a feeling he wouldn't buy it, but I knew it was true.
"I'm only basing that off of the fact that every time I've tried shooting the thing down, I miss by miles. I can't react fast enough." I was rarely good at bluffing, but this I knew I could do. Fishlegs shrugged.
"What about the rating of six for fire heat? The Nadder's is plus nine. You don't think a Night Fury's fire is stronger?" I shook my head, but Astrid answered for me. It was 'her' dragon we were talking about, after all.
"Why should he? We don't know of any dragon that even comes close to a Nadder's firepower. The next one in line is the Nightmare, and that's only plus four, according to your numbers. Not to mention, if the Night Fury has that many shots, it won't need them to be really hot." Fishlegs nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, I guess you have a point. But between us, I still prefer the Gronckle, even if it isn't as mysterious as the legendary offspring of lightning and death itself." He went back to updating some more pages, a process I noticed he didn't seem to have stopped since we entered the hall.
"You like the Gronckle?" Astrid feigned surprise, since we'd both talked about this before. Fishlegs seemed to sink into his seat just a bit, almost embarrassed about admitting he liked the way a dragon looked. "Well, if it's anything to you, if I could keep a dragon as a pet, I'd take the Nadder." He popped back up in surprise.
"Really? I always thought you hated everything about dragons. What do you like about the Nadder?" Astrid smiled.
"It's light on its feet, deadly in battle and does everything it can to keep itself in top form. Even if they do raid us for food, you have to admire their ability." Fishlegs nodded in understanding and then turned to me.
"Hiccup, what about you? I assume it's the Night Fury, based on your pictures." I looked back at the paintings, still sitting on top of my journal. I grinned a little at the sight of Toothless before speaking.
"You'd be right about that. I feel like the Night Fury and I are rather similar. He never seems to attack with the other dragons; he just shows up alone sometimes during raids, does a lot of damage and flies off without taking a thing. Like he's an outcast among dragons." Due to the Red Death, this was basically true. His species hadn't been allowed anywhere near the nest since the Tyrant took over.
"Don't be so dramatic, Hiccup. You're not an Outcast, and you're not alone if you have at least one friend. And now you have two, so quit it." Astrid punched me lightly on the arm after she finished telling me this. I just shook my head and rubbed where she'd hit, like I always do.
"She's got a point, Hiccup. If I can't beat myself up about how I've treated you for the last seven years, then you can't mope about it, either. It's the past, right?" His now cheerful demeanor made me wonder if this evening had been even more effective than I'd originally thought. It gave me an idea.
"Fishlegs, can I ask you a question?" He looked back up at me and nodded.
"Sure, Hiccup. What is it?" He responded simply.
"Have you ever wondered what it would be like if dragons didn't raid us like they do? What would Berk even be like if we didn't have to constantly worry about getting attacked in the middle of the night?" I was waiting for his response, but with how long he was taking, Astrid decided to speak up again.
"I know I have, a few times. Honestly, I think I'd prefer it that way. As much as I like knowing how to defend my tribe from the dragons, It'd be better it if we didn't have to. And who wouldn't want that? Most of the deaths in this village are because of them." I knew Astrid was trying to use this admission of hers to lead Fishlegs along, and hopefully keep him open to what I was saying. He never liked being the odd man out, so making sure he wasn't in this situation would help me get to my point.
"Well... Yeah, I have. Like Astrid said, who wouldn't want things to be like that? The only way it could get any better than the dragons leaving us alone is if we could domesticate them, like sheep or cattle. If we had dragons as 'pets,' like we were joking about earlier, we'd never have to worry about being raided by other tribes... Or Outcasts." The Gods really were smiling upon me, today especially. Though, I knew Fishlegs had always appreciated the creatures, and by no means could he be considered stupid. Harnessing their power would be a definite boost to our defenses and no one could deny it. But most Vikings probably wouldn't even consider it as an option. Then again, most Vikings weren't like me. And the Viking most like me was sitting at this table with Astrid and I.
"Hm. I hadn't considered that." I had to lie, but I'd already resigned myself to the fact that what I was doing was all one big lie. So a few smaller ones along the way couldn't hurt. "You're right, though. Imagine if we could keep dragons as pets. Even Alvin the Treacherous himself wouldn't stand a chance against us. We'd finally be free of both of our biggest problems by using one against the other." I waited for a response, all of my focus on the teenager in front of me.
"Yeah. Too bad it'll never happen, though..." Fishlegs yawned before continuing his thought. "It might be fun to think about what life would be like if dragons were our allies, but the truth is they are just ruthless killing machines, isn't it? Otherwise they wouldn't raid us all the time." It was getting pretty late, and I had a feeling Fishlegs would probably be heading to bed shortly. But I needed to plant a seed of doubt before I'd let that happen.
"Fishlegs... I've thought about that a lot, actually. And it doesn't make any sense." I waited in silence, hoping he would take the bait.
"What do you mean? They raid us to eat. What is there to make sense of?" I was about to continue when Astrid cut me off, again. I didn't have a problem with it, since I knew she was just trying to help. And get a word in, herself, since Fishlegs and I had done most of the talking.
"The dragons take everything they can get their claws on when they come, but at the same time the ones that we keep in the kill ring don't eat nearly that much. So Hiccup here seems to think they might be serving a dragon King, of sorts." Fishlegs' eyes widened slowly as Astrid spoke. Then he cut me off before I could talk.
"How... How did I never notice that?! You're right! What if there is a Dragon King, and they're being controlled, like... Bees, or something? If we kill the king, maybe they'll stop raiding us!" Just a little further with this train of thought, and then I'd let Fishlegs stew by himself on the concept.
"Well, we don't know for sure. But if that really is the case, and it's being fed all of our food, imagine how colossal the thing would have to be. It'd probably make a Nightmare seem like a Terror in comparison, otherwise it wouldn't need to eat nearly as much." The happy look on his face fell, immediately. But I already knew how to end the conversation and get Fishlegs thinking that maybe everything we thought we knew about these giant reptiles was wrong. "Meaning, the only way for us to beat something like that would be to use the dragons themselves." His look of sorrow transformed into one of confusion.
"Hiccup, the dragons in the kill ring are way too violent for that. Even the Terror attacks anyone that comes near it. How could we possibly use them as weapons against a huge dragon when we'd be too busy trying to keep them from killing us?" I let my mouth break into a grin before I continued.
"You can't repeat anything I'm about to say to anyone. Not that they'd believe you, anyway, but still, you can't repeat this. Ever. In fact, that probably applies to this entire evening." Fishlegs' eyes went wide again, but he remained silent, only nodding for me to continue. "Alright. The Terror in the kill ring isn't actually violent. None of them are. They're just terrified of being hurt every time their cage door opens. That's why they attack anyone they can see. The Terror, specifically, is actually really affectionate to anyone willing to give it a fish." I could see disbelief written all over his face, but instead of letting him speak his mind, I continued. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. Tomorrow, we're going to be up against the Terror. If the plan I've got works, It'll come out of its cage, see me and then run back in. And all I'll have to do is stand there." Fishlegs opened his mouth again.
"Fishlegs. Listen to me. It's getting late, and I have some... Things, to take care of before I go to bed tonight. But before I leave to do them, I need you to do something for me. Forget what I said about the Terror until tomorrow. After training, if things go they way I say they will, then we can continue from there. If not, then we can just pretend this entire conversation never happened. Alright?" This time I waited for a response. It came in the form of Fishlegs gathering his notes and carefully placing them in the Dragon Manual before closing the cover on them. He sighed heavily.
"Alright, Hiccup. I'll do that for you. It is the least I can do after... Well, you know. But for the record, I can't say I believe you." He grabbed the book and stood up. "Not that I hate you, or anything. I just can't see you being right about this. Anyway... Hiccup, Astrid, It is getting late. I'll see you two tomorrow." He waved at us briefly before turning and heading to the door. After a few moments, he disappeared, leaving Astrid and I alone in the Meade Hall.
"So, would you consider that a victory? Because he seemed pretty unconvinced that what you just said is true."
"He might have seemed that way, but I have a feeling he won't be forgetting anything I just said any time soon. Even if I told him to. Once you get an idea about dragons into his head, he has a hard time getting it out. If he won't convince himself that I'm right, then tomorrow, I'll do it for him." Astrid gave me a puzzled look.
"Really? And how exactly are you going to pull that off?" I stood up when she said that, motioning to the door.
"Simple. Let's head down to the docks and grab a few small fish. I have a dragon to talk to." Standing, Astrid nodded in agreement as we started walking to the door of the hall.
"Also, Hiccup, nice job with that one. I never imagined you'd have enough confidence to go through with this so quickly." She seemed impressed with me again, but the truth was different than her explanation.
"The reason you never imagined I'd have the confidence is because I don't. I'm just telling myself I do, because if I don't this war will never end. It's... More important than me being comfortable."
"If you're going through with it, then you're confident enough. Now relax and let's get going to the docks." I pulled open the door to the hall and walked out, Astrid just behind me.
I made my way to the kill ring alone, as Astrid and I had split up when I went to grab a few fish. I'd asked her to set up a distraction for me, since the sentry in front of the ring wouldn't leave otherwise. As I came to the ring itself, I noticed that no one was standing guard and the gate to the ring was open. Curious, I stepped down into the small hallway that connected the two gates, finding Astrid standing there, waiting for me.
"Took you long enough. I grabbed a couple of my mother's herbs and made a small alteration to the guard's Tankard with them. He should be out for an hour or so, and the best part is, no one saw me do it, so he'll just think he fell asleep." We walked into the ring.
"Oh, someone's here. AND THEY HAVE FISH?!" I couldn't make out the rest of the hurried chatter coming from the Terror's cage. Not wanting to waste any time, I got to the point.
"Terror, it's Hiccup. And yes, I do have fish for you, because I need you to do something for me. Tomorrow, we're supposed to be fighting you, but since I don't want you getting hurt, I'm here with a peace offering. If you run back into your cage tomorrow after you see me, I'll give you this entire bucket with five fish in it." I waited for the telltale rumbling of a dragon's speech, but none came. "Terror? Did you he-"
"Five? More than one? All I have to do is run back into my cage?" A few more seconds of silence passed. "Give me the fish now and I'll run into my cage tomorrow." Slightly relieved, I unlocked the feeding door to the dragon's cage and overturned the bucket of fish in front of it. Pushing to door open with one hand, I slid the fish in with the other. The door didn't even have time to shut before the sounds of a dragon gorging itself echoed from behind it.
"So we have a deal, then. Tomorrow, just run back into you cage, but only after you see me." An awful feeling hit me for rigging the training session, so I reminded myself yet again that it was for the greater good. "I need everyone thinking I won this one, too."
"Don't worry about it, Hiccup. We'll make sure she doesn't forget. Now go to sleep." The Nadder's tired sounding rumbles and chirps left the cage next to us, and with it came a feeling of reassurance.
"Thanks, Stormfly. I appreciate it. I'll talk to you later." I went to leave with Astrid when she spoke again.
"Storm-Fly? What did you call me?" She sounded more awake now, and thankfully not upset. I figured I might as well explain it, even though I didn't mean to use the name Astrid told me she'd chosen for the dragon.
"Hiccup, what did she say?" I had a feeling I knew where Astrid wanted to take this. I didn't mind it.
"She just asked me why I called her Stormfly. Why don't you explain it to her?" I notice Astrid's eyes widen a bit, but other than that, she seemed calm.
"Uh, N-Nadder? It's Astrid, the girl you met before. The name 'Stormfly' is the name that I, uh, chose. For you. If you decided to make me your rider." She slipped up a bit, but I couldn't blame her. A few seconds of relatively tense silence later, the Nadder responded.
"Stormfly... I can't say I mind it. Let the girl know I'm fine with the name she chose for me, alright?" She let out a loud yawn. "Now please get going. I need to sleep."
"I'll do that, Stormfly. And good night." The ring went silent again, save for the sound of the Terror chomping away at the fish I gave her. We left the arena, the bucket I brought the fish in now sitting next to the passed-out guard. We walked in relative silence to the village square when Astrid finally spoke up.
"So... What did she say?"
"She's fine with the name. And she's about as easy to read as you are, but you both seem set with the idea of being rider and dragon, so don't worry about it." Astrid sighed and punched me again. She followed up with a swift kiss on the cheek before bidding me a good night. She ran up to her house and waved before slipping inside. I felt fairly exhausted myself, so I quickly dragged my body home, not even noticing the uphill trek. I opened the front door slowly, looking around to make sure my father was already asleep. Not seeing him, I entered, closing the door as quietly as I could. I slipped up the stairs and tossed off my boots and bearskin, crawling under the covers and closing my eyes.