In the distance, beyond the eyes of the island's inhabitants, dark clouds gathered ominously, on a path set rapidly towards the Viking village. Though still far away, the mighty storm would strike the Nordic island sometime in the night, such was its speed and ferocity.
To the villagers though, there was no indication of the impending destruction that approached them. Around the island the sea was calm and waves gentle, and being late summer, warm enough to swim in without fear of sickness. The air was still, too still, so much so that sailors had to use oars to move their boats around the village docks. Only a few clouds dotted the northern sky, offering little shade from the sun's heat. The villagers did not complain though. The people of the north learned to appreciate the warmth whenever it would so sparingly grace them with its presence.
It was, in fact, quite a normal day for the Viking village of Berk. Fisherman returned from open waters with nets full of fish. Foreign trader ships haggled and traded at the docks. Farmers harvested milk, eggs, and grains to be stored and protected for the months ahead. Children ran about laughing and screaming, playing battle with wooden swords or racing one another to see who was the fastest or strongest. People went about their lives, doing chores, finishing repairs, making clothing, cleaning, cooking, gathering firewood, and fortifying the village defenses.
And, of course, training for battle.
If the villagers had known of the great peril that steadily approached their island, perhaps they would have made greater preparations.
A skinny boy stepped out of the Great Hall, shoulders sagged, caught in some emotion between sadness and frustration. It was dusk. The sun, in half retreat from the sky, cast a magnificent orange glow that lit up the horizon and surrounding village like the burning embers of the forge the boy spent so much of his time in. The air began to chill at the sun's waning strength, and for a brief moment the boy considered returning inside to the hearth of the Great Hall's fires, before deciding against it. The contempt and derision he would face inside the Hall was much colder than the chilly air outside.
He never listens, the boy thought to himself.
From the top steps of the looming Hall, most of the village could be seen as its residents prepared for a hard day's end in favor of night's sweet respite. The days were growing shorter, colder, and before long summer's blessing would give way to winter's scorn. The docks, which were so lively this time of year, would freeze shut, severely limiting fishing and cutting off trade with other villages across the archipelago. The soil too would frost over, preventing crops from growing. Living on an island so far north meant that every day was a harsh one, but winter here was especially brutal. Soon food will be limited. Supplies will be scarce. People will get sick, starve, and die.
But this was Berk. And they were Vikings. Death was an occupational hazard, as the boy's father often said.
Hugging his sketches close to his body to keep the wind from blowing them away, the lanky boy made his way down the long steps of the Great Hall towards the Forge. He passed through the hustling villagers easily, his slim frame allowing him to wind through the much bulkier Vikings who were too busy with chatter or work to take notice of him. The few who did acknowledge his existence did so with something akin to antipathy or pity. The boy was used to this. At best, he was tolerated among his people as a foolish youth whose heart was in the right place but only did more harm than good with his ideas of 'helping'. At worst, he was publicly scorned and shamed as the village screw-up, often times by his own father.
It didn't make matters any better that his father was none other than Stoick the Vast, Chief of Berk and one of the best warriors in the Archipelago. The name was fitting, as the Chief was both stern and huge. Stoick Haddock was the indomitable center piece of Berkian life, revered for his enormous strength and prowess in battle, respected for his stalwart defense of Berk, and sought after for his wisdom in resolving fierce disputes. He was easily the largest Viking of the tribe, both in height and girth, towering over everyone and brimming with muscles. To the village, he was the very essence of strength itself, something that every Viking sought to be.
So it was with great wonder to many, how such a great Viking could have sired such a thin, scrawny toothpick of a son.
And Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, heir to the Hairy Hooligan Tribe, was certainly scrawny, especially by Viking standards. Born two months too early to the late Valka the Fierce, his skinny body betrayed his far too early arrival on Midgard. His father had always kept hope, however, that his son would one day grow out of his 'un-Viking' body and that his Haddock blood would bear fruit. But after sixteen years, Hiccup was still…well, a hiccup.
He continued his path through the village, intent on getting to his destination quickly. Various aromas of cooked fish and other savory meats wafted through the air, watering the boy's mouth. His stomach rumbled angrily, and he cursed himself for not snatching something to eat from the Great Hall in his hasty retreat. But he had been so frustrated. His father had instantly rebuked his proposal, brushing it away along with the other adults at the table as he downed yet another mug of mead in his enormous hand. Hiccup didn't think it wise to approach him while he was drinking, but the Chief was always so busy that they rarely spent any time together. So figuring it was good as time as any, he had approached the table, waiting for the rapturous laughter at some joke he didn't hear to subside before clearing his throat.
"Um, uh, hey dad!" he had said too cheerily.
"Son," the Chief had nodded absently, his cheeks rose-colored by the mead and eyes still shinning from a bit of laughter. Hiccup knew that supper was the one time his father could relax from his chieftain duties and enjoy time with his battle brethren. When he was a child, they would always have supper at the house, just him and his father, reminiscing over the day's events. His younger self had looked forward to it; his father was so busy it was the only time they were really together for more than a few minutes. But as Hiccup grew older, but not much bigger, this special time became much rarer. Their conversations had become more awkward; forced. And before long what had occurred every day gradually turned into every other day, then to a few times a week, until eating at the Great Hall was the norm. His father would sit with his friends and other village leaders, drinking and eating merrily, and Hiccup would…sit by himself. But it wasn't so bad, he told himself. At least he got a whole table to himself. Plenty of space and quiet to write and sketch whatever ideas formulated in his mind. Of course, he tried to forget the many lonely days he spent spying glances at the others of his age. Spying glances at her, laughing and having fun with the others across the Hall.
"Uh," Hiccup started, placing a hand behind his head. "So, heard you had to deal with the chicken prank from the Thorsten twins."
"Aye. Nearly caused a full on feud between the Thorsten's and the Hjort's."
Hiccup nodded. "Yeah so…uh dad, I've been meaning to talk to you about an idea I have." The large man seemed to deflate, and Hiccup tried hard not to wince. Okay, so his ideas hadn't always gone over smoothly. On more than a few occasions he had nearly burnt down the Forge, or destroyed his home. And there was that time he had burned half of Hoark's beard off. But really, just mild calibration issues.
His father sighed. "Hiccup, I have enough problems to deal with without you creating more. Winter is upon us and we're still recovering from the last raid."
"Yeah, about that," Hiccup began, ignoring his father's disapproving demeanor. "I was just thinking—"
"Gods help us!" someone at the table shouted, causing a fit of laughter.
"—what if we knew when the dragons were coming? Like if we had an advance warning of their approach?" More of the adults around the table were turning their attention to him. His nervousness increasing, he continued on. "If-if we knew exactly when they were coming, and from where, we could be prepared for them instead of always reacting to every attack. We could save food. And lives."
"The dragon attacks are random Hiccup," Stoick admonished. "They can happen at any time. How could we know when they're coming?"
"Signal fires!" Hiccup blurted excitedly. "I call it the Sentry Network. There are small islands and sea stacks everywhere in the west sea. We can build large bonfires from island to island leading out from Berk creating a chain of signal fires that—".
"Ha! Did you hear this guys!" another enormous Viking, Spitelout Jorgenson, jeered in a tone that seemed too high for his huge frame. Hiccup had a great dislike for the man, and even more so for his son, who seemed to inherit his father's narcissism but only half his wits. Which wasn't saying much. Spitelout slammed his fist on the table with rapturous chuckling. "A chain of fire on the sea? The boy's gone mad!"
More laughing. It was clear the Vikings had quite a lot to drink. They were hardly listening to what he was saying. Frowning, Hiccup tried to stay focused on his father, who looked…embarrassed.
"He thinks he can light the water ablaze!" another laughed.
What? That wasn't what he said at all.
"No, no!" Hiccup tried to explain. "Not the water. On the small islands throughout the—".
"Hiccup," his father cut off. "It's been a long day. Go home and finish your nightly chores."
"Enough!" His patience was clearly running thin, and Hiccup knew he was better than anyone at pushing him over the limits. "I'll hear no more of this."
Despair was starting to grip him. He had worked really hard on this idea, gathering maps and measuring land distances, ensuring that the bonfires of each small land mass would be visible from one piece of land to the next. When the dragons would be sighted, the sentry of that station would light his fire ablaze, which could be seen by the nearest sentry signaling him to do the same, creating a chain of signals that would eventually reach all the way to Berk. He had calculated the supplies needed, the revisions required for whoever manned each station, and the time it would take for the signals to reach Berk. Even if it took each sentry five minutes to recognize another's fire and light their own in kind, it could still give Berk up to twenty minutes of advance warning of an impending dragon attack. And the land masses were close enough to be able to rotate each station daily. Hiccup knew this fact personally, though he would never tell his father that. He needed precise land distances and travel time for his idea to succeed, and old maps tended to be too unreliable or inaccurate.
So, on certain nights, he had snuck to the docks and commandeered a small rowboat, visiting each land mass himself. He was confident enough in his boating abilities, despite the obvious dangers of being out to sea at night alone. But it was the only way to get accurate measurements. And, he admitted, he secretly loved sailing. He volunteered quite often to go on fishing trips with Bucket and Mulch. They loved the extra pair of hands, and he loved the sense of exploration. He even got to test out new fishing nets and sailing equipment he had designed at the Forge. He didn't know if his father would approve of his many fishing voyages with the fishermen, so he never asked. Out in the sea, he was not a hiccup standing in his father's massive shadows. He was his own man, free from the stresses and expectations of the village.
Then he started venturing out at night on his own, first for the Sentry Network, and then for his own enjoyment. He knew it was stupid. Scauldrons and Thunderdrums were just a few of the sea dragons that threatened ships in the archipelago routinely. Not to mention the dangers of nature. But despite the fear, he had found it exhilarating. He had even discovered a tiny island, no more than a large mass of rock jutting out of the water, which had a cove with a roof protecting the inside from the weather. Hiccup doubted he was the first to find it; it was very close to Berk. But it had probably gone on ignored, unremarkable as it seemed from the outside. He had made the island cove his very own, quickly filling it with his notes, sketches, and inventions that he created. He loved it there; it felt good to get away. Still, if his father found out…
Not willing to give up on the Sentry Network just yet, Hiccup pulled out a stack of papers from beneath his vest. "Dad, if you just take a look at these." In his haste however, the papers slipped from his hand, scattering across the floor and under the table. Oh, just perfect, he chided himself. He was quickly on his knees gathering his papers, much to the amusement of the others. "I can…show you…," he was reaching under the table now, "…all the necessary…"
"I said enough!" Hiccup froze in his actions, only to see his father rub the bridge of his nose. "Can't you see how ridiculous you look?"
Hiccup looked down at himself, then around the table, to see the Vikings staring to him as if he had sprouted another head.
This, this is pointless, he suddenly realized.
They weren't listening to him. They weren't ever going to listen to him. With a dejected sigh, Hiccup quickly picked up the rest of his papers and turned to leave, doing his best to ignore the weird stares he was getting from others in the Hall who had witnessed his blunder.
The racket of hammers and sawing of wood brought him out of his reverie. People were making hasty repairs to homes and structures destroyed from the last not-too-distant raid. The creeping coldness and sudden gusts of wind seemed to hasten the villagers in their work, as if realizing that time was not on their side. As if it ever was.
Winter always presented a challenge to the sturdy people of the village. Unlike most ways the villagers solved problems, the cold was an issue that could not be defeated in battle, or attacked with the swing of an axe, or stamped out by the crushing blow of a hammer. It was an enemy that was as enduring as it was undefeatable. So instead the villagers focused their time on something that they could defeat in battle, swing an axe at, and crush with a hammer.
Everything on Berk revolved around killing dragons. They had been at war with the winged beasts since their ancestors first made claim to the island 300 years ago. The dragons raided in swarms, ransacking the village for food and livestock and burning anything in their path to get it. To kill a dragon was to bring honor to one's own Hall, to be celebrated by the villagers and be recognized as an elite warrior by all of Berk. To kill a dragon, you had to be tough in combat. You needed to wield great strength and be skilled with a weapon.
As Hiccup looked down upon his lanky form, he knew that he could do none of these things. He was undeterred though. He was nothing if not stubborn.
He may have been a walking fish bone, but what he lacked in muscles he made up for with his mind. He had a talent for seeing things differently, learning how things worked and finding ways to improve upon them. He loved discovering new things, often engrossing himself in books and parchments that would make its way to Berk via traders from the mainland. He learned to read and write by his third year, a stunning feat considering most of Berk was illiterate. By his eighth year he had taught himself to read several Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages common among the mainland empires, a skill he found useful when bargaining with traders at the docks. But if there was one skill that no one in the village could match him in, it was drawing. Even Bucket paled in comparison to his artistic hand. Hiccup loved drawing. It was…he couldn't really describe it. There was something about the way the charcoal pencil grazed across a parchment, about hearing the coarse strokes when he formed lines into images, that was just so…relaxing. It calmed him, and he found himself drawing whenever the opportunity presented itself. He drew everything in sight. Places, buildings, inventions, trees, animals, and eventually people, though the later he found much harder for him to get right.
He had burned a great many parchments in the fires of the Forge, wanting no one to stumble across his drawings of others by mistake, especially drawings of her. Gods, if she ever caught some of his miserable attempts to capture her ferocity and beauty, he might just die of embarrassment. That is if she didn't kill him first.
Although, at least she would finally take notice of me.
When not reading, experimenting, or drawing, he spent much of his time in his room putting his ideas to paper in an attempt to solve the village's many problems that plagued his people. Using the knowledge gained from faraway places, he came up with better ways to farm the land by use of crop rotations, so that Berk could have a steady supply of food all year. He proposed a system of intricate canals and pipes that could channel waste from outhouses to the sea, saving time and effort from manual removal while also ensuring a cleaner environment that would help prevent sickness.
Much of his time, however, was spent finding new ways to fight dragons. His room and little space in the Forge was covered in innumerable sheets of paper filled with new weapon designs, traps, bolas, crossbows, catapults, and net launchers. Because…well, because…
If I can kill a dragon, it would fix everything.
No more Hiccup the Screw-up. No more Hiccup the Runt. No more Hiccup the—
"Useless, over here!" a far too arrogant voice shouted near the Forge.
"Oh great," Hiccup whispered to himself. The voice, of course, belonged to non-other than Snotlout Jorgensen, son of Spitelout and, though Hiccup was loathe to accept it, his cousin. The brawny teen strut towards him with a mace in hand and smug grin on his face.
"I've been looking for you."
Hiccup sighed. "What do you want Snotlout?" There were only two reasons why Snotlout ever sought him out. To bully him, or to get a broken weapon fixed.
He shoved the mace mere inches from Hiccup's face, causing the much skinnier teen to flinch. "I broke the handle on my mace," Snotlout boasted, as if he were describing some great accomplishment. "Guess I was too strong for it," he added, grinning in that arrogant, self-satisfied smirk that came naturally to him.
Hiccup took the weapon from Snotlout and examined it. The mace end itself was fine, but there was a fine crack about three inches long along the middle of the wooden shaft. It would require a new one, an easy fix for sure. He could even replace the wood with a much sturdier iron handle. Maybe even hollow it out to make it much lighter, while still maintaining its structural integrity. Then he remembered who exactly the weapon belonged too, and thought better of it.
"Well?" Snotlout crossed his arms impatiently.
"Fix it Useless!" he demanded.
Hiccup let out an exasperated sigh. "You know, for someone who's convinced I'm useless, you sure do come to me an awful lot for help."
"What?!" Snotlout stepped into Hiccup's personal space, his face just inches away. Hiccup leaned back, repulsed by the smell of the other teen's rancid fish-breath. Gods, did this idiot ever wash out his mouth? Or bathe? "Real Vikings like me don't need help from useless runts like you!"
"Oh?" Hiccup pushed the mace back into Snotlout's hands, forcing the teen back with a strength that surprised him. He was still frustrated from earlier and he didn't want to deal with his pompous jerk of a cousin. "Then I'm sure you'll have no problem fixing it yourself. Just remember to turn the new shaft a quarter on the axel before hammering the handle in place," he instructed, knowing the bulky teen wouldn't understand what he was saying. He tried to maneuver past Snotlout but was grabbed by the shoulder and lurched back.
His cousin had him in a tight grip with one hand and mace pressed painfully against his chest with the other. Oh right, why did I give the mace back again? Leave it to me to arm my enemies. Snotlout snarled in his face, and Hiccup did his best not to show fear. He doubt he was succeeding. "Watch your tone Useless. When the Council wises up and names me as the next heir you'll be sorry."
"Sorry about what?" The male Thorsten twin, Tuffnut, asked with glee, sauntering up behind Snotlout with his sister and another fat teen in toe. Tuffnut and Ruffnut Thorsten were identical in almost every way; looks, behavior, intelligence—or lack thereof, and a propensity for mischief that could only be outmatched by Loki himself. Though slender in frame, the two were competent enough in a fight, trading in strength for ferocity. The twins reveled in chaos, violence, destruction, gross things, and generally anything that Hiccup would associate with bad. As such, he did his best to stay away from the Thorsten twins as much as possible. It could be considered to be hazardous to one's health, both physical and mental, simply by being in proximity to the two. When they weren't helping Snotlout make his life miserable, they were busy bickering and fighting with each other. Hiccup often noted, with no small amount of irony, that the two were so alike and yet could hardly stand each other. Still, where there was one, there was the other. The twins were inseparable.
Then there was Fishlegs Ingerman, easily the largest teen in Berk. Despite Fishlegs' huge Viking frame, the chubby teen was in fact quite timid by nature. He avoided violence as often as he could. When violence was inevitable, and in Berk it often was, Fishlegs would usually clamp up in fear, trying to shrink his enormous body behind much smaller, much braver Vikings. He was one of the few teens of Berk that Hiccup knew who could read and write, and it wasn't an odd sight to see him with a book or two in hand. Quite an intelligent Viking, he was. A rarity, Hiccup thought, and something he could respect. He was also one of the few teens who never messed with Hiccup, though he had never stood up for him either, instead choosing to watch his torment from the sidelines.
Wonderful. The gangs all here.
Snotlout acknowledged their arrival with a smirk. "Useless here thinks he can order around the next Chief of Berk."
The twins looked at each other in confusion. "Wait, he's ordering himself around?" Ruffnut asked.
"No idiots! I'm going to be the next Chief of Berk," Snotlout proclaimed.
"Will you let go of me already." Hiccup tried to shrug himself free but was, unsurprisingly, unsuccessful. Snotlout shoved him harshly against the Forge wall. The commotion briefly caught the attention of several wandering villagers who, once they saw what was happening, resumed their business with little interest. Hiccup being pushed around? That was nothing new.
"Um…uh…" Fishlegs stammered, twiddling his fingers. "The Council can't actually revoke an heir's birth right to the throne. Only the Chief can."
"What?" Snotlout turned his glare to the chubby teen angrily. "Whose side are you on Fishlegs?!"
Fishlegs put his hands up in defense. "Uh-I was just saying—"
"Maybe Stoick will make them dual to the death for the Chieftainship," Tuffnut said with mirth, his sister nodding in agreement with a savage grin. Hiccup gulped at the thought. He may not have been the model Viking, and he wasn't exactly on good terms with his father, much less the village. But his dad would never do something like that.
Snotlout snickered. "Yeah, like Hiccup the Useless would pose a challenge to me!"
"You'll never be Chief," Hiccup said tersely, just barely audible to the two of them.
Snotlout pushed the mace harder against his frame, scowling at the smaller teen. "And why's that, Toothpick?"
Hiccup shifted under Snotlout's firm grip uneasily. His cousin may have been dumber than a sack of potatoes, but he was strong, of that he could attest. His day had already firmly slipped into 'exceptionally sucky' territory. He did not relish getting another black eye from the brawny teen, which would invariably get him a stern scolding by his father about how a true Viking should be able to defend himself. In fact, he should just keep his mouth shut. He did not want to inflame the situation further with a sarcastic quip—he might still get out of this without a beating.
Don't say anything stupid. Don't say anything stupid. Don't. Say. Anything. Stupid.
"Well, for starters," he began, "you have to be smarter than a half-witted Yak," Hiccup shrugged. "So you'll have to double your intelligence."
Oh, nice going. Way to diffuse the situation.
Snotlout's face scrounged up indignantly. "I'm smarter than a half-witted Yak! I'm smarter than two half-witted Yaks!"
The twins burst out in a cackle.
"Shut up!" Snotlout screamed at them. He turned his attention back to Hiccup, his grip tightening. "You think you're so smart. Well I'll show you." He leaned in closer. "When I become Chief, the first thing I'm gonna do is banish you to Outcast Island. I won't have weaklings in my tribe."
Snotlout pulled his fist back and punched Hiccup in the stomach, hard. He fell to a sitting position against the Forge wall, clutching his gut after having the wind knocked out of him. If he wasn't so focused on gasping for air, he may have chided himself for not keeping his stupid mouth shut. He brought his knees to his chest, bracing for yet another blow, when he heard the familiar sound of wood striking against dirt in a rhythmic pattern.
"What's goin on here?" a heavily accented, gruff voice inquired abruptly. All eyes turned to a peg-legged, hook-armed, massive hulk of a Viking. The burly man hobbled over to where Snotlout had Hiccup pinned against the Forge wall, the twins and Fishlegs giving him a wide berth. A scowl upon his face, the village blacksmith loomed over the brawny teen, who suddenly looked quite sheepish. "What do ya think yer doin with my apprentice, boy?"
Gobber, your timing is impeccable, Hiccup thought bitterly, still clenching his stomach. "Oh, you know," he coughed, "we're just having some good ol' cousinly bonding." He had finally regained control of his breathing enough to look up at the massive man, when in his peripheral he caught a flicker of golden, flowing strands of hair. He did a double take, for several paces behind the blacksmith stood…
No. Please no. Anyone but her. His heart skipped a beat as his face turned crimson red, which had nothing to do with his exerted effort to breathe normally. Oh the Gods must hate me.
It was no secret that Hiccup suffered routine beatings from Snotlout and his gang. But still, he did not want her to see him like this, so weak and pathetic on the ground. She was the model Viking. Brave. Fierce. Strong. Skilled in combat. And Gods, so very, very beautiful. Her flowing golden hair, sky-blue eyes, lovely heart-shaped face and fit, lithe body was, to Hiccup, the most beautiful thing in the world.
She was Astrid Hofferson. The Astrid Hofferson. The prodigy Viking who excelled in everything she did. They called her Astrid the Fearless.
And he was Hiccup the Useless, sprawled helplessly on the dirt. Wincing with a strain, he leaned his hand against the wall and shakily propped himself back up. He was still hunched over with his arms around his abdomen, though at least now the mace was no longer pushed painfully into his chest.
"Useless here refused to fix my mace," Snotlout explained, as if he were the one wronged.
Without a second to waste the large man reached out and yanked the mace from Snotlout's grip with his one good hand, the clubbed weapon looking quite small while being held by the huge blacksmith. He briefly examined the weapon much the same way Hiccup had just moments before, though with much more ease, when suddenly…
Without warning Gobber threw the mace with a mighty heave against a wall adjacent to the Forge. The stone cracked where the mace head struck, but the wooden shaft exploded into dozens of splintered pieces before them. It felt like minutes had gone by without anyone saying a word, though it was probably only a few seconds.
Snotlout looked gobsmacked. "You—I can't believe you did that!"
"That was awesome!" Tuffnut cheered. If his sister's impish grin was anything to go by, she was in agreement.
Snotlout was seething. He pointed a beefy finger at the blacksmith, though still had the good mind to keep a fair bit of distance. "You broke my mace!"
"That's right!" Gobber leaned closer to Snotlout, who took a few steps back in kind. "And if ya don wan me ta break you along withit I suggest ya leave now boy."
"You can't do this to me. I'm Snotlout Jorgensen!" he yelled indignantly. Gobber simply rolled his eyes. "This—you'll pay for this," his cousin screamed, turning to run away.
Gobber's eyes turned to the twins and Fishlegs. "If there's no need fer ya to be here, then git!" he bellowed, waving his hook to shew them off. They took the cue and left briskly, leaving only Hiccup and Gobber. And…
Gods, what was she doing here? To watch the village runt take a beating? Probably. His breath just starting to draw normally again, Hiccup stood straighter as he risked an uneasy glance at the blond-haired, quick-tempered Viking girl. She hadn't moved an inch since she arrived with Gobber, holding her double-bladed battle axe at her side. He didn't know what he was expecting to see from her. Amusement? Annoyance? Displeasure? Disdain? Pity? Those were the usual reactions he received from other villagers. Instead she looked…pensive? What was she thinking? For a brief moment he made eye-contact with her before quickly breaking away, suddenly finding the ground very interesting to look at. His face heat up again.
"Are ya alright lad?" Gobber asked, concern laced in his voice.
Oh, right. He had forgotten Gobber was there. Out of everyone on Berk, the interchangeable-limbed, giant blacksmith was the only one who would intervene when he was taking a beating. Perhaps that was one of the reasons he spent so much of his time at the Forge. No one messed with him when Gobber the Belch was around. It was comforting.
"Who, me?" Hiccup replied with a lopsided grin. "Of course. Good thing you showed up when you did. I'm waaaayyy to muscular for those guys. They wouldn't know what to do with all…this!" He flexed his bony arms in a ridiculous show of mock strength.
Gobber chuckled at the teen. "Well, when ya get all that raw Vikingness contained," he said with mirth, "ya can finish closen up shop. I'm callin it an early day cause' I had some bad fish and my stomach's not agreein' with me." He pulled his smith's apron over his head and tossed it on the bench near the Forge's front door. "Yep, had some bad gas in my time, but I've never bin' thrown outta the Great Hall before. I mean, I jus couldn stop f—"
"Gobber please!" Hiccup cut in, putting both arms up as if trying to shield himself from the blacksmith's far too-often vulgar commentary. "That's way more than I need to know."
The blacksmith shrugged. "I'll be cleanin up in the back," he said, hobbling away. "Oh, an ya might wanna wait a good hour or three before goin' to the outhouse," he warned over his shoulder before disappearing around the corner of the Forge.
Eugh. I did not need that disturbing image in my mind.
With Gobber out of view, that left just him and Astrid. She was still here. Still staring at him with cold, dispassionate eyes. Why was she standing there? Why didn't she leave with the rest of the gang? Why was she staring at him? She almost never looked at him, let alone paid him any attention. Finding it hard to keep her piercing gaze, Hiccup's eyes wandered at everything around them except her. Scrambling to think of something to say, he just pointed after the blacksmith and grinned. "Heh. Gobber."
Astrid was biting her lower lip, as if she were making a tough decision. After a few more moments of awkward silence, the Viking girl gracefully twirled the axe in her hand and stepped towards Hiccup, extending her weapon to the boy, blade out.
Hiccup suddenly remembered that angering Astrid, especially when she had her axe, was not a wise decision for one's survival. The double bladed axe was extended towards his chest threateningly. What was she doing? Was she going to attack him? "Um…uh…"
"I need my axe sharpened," she intoned.
Oh. Hiccup chided himself. Of course she needed her axe sharpened. Why else would she come to the Forge? "Oh, yeah. No problem!" he replied with a little too much gusto. "Of course. I'm great with axes."
Astrid quirked a brow. "Really?" she asked skeptically.
Hiccup realized how his statement could be interpreted. "Uh-that is-I mean-I'm great at fixing them is what I meant," he clarified hastily, offering his hands out. Astrid nodded and placed the axe handle in his grip. "Yep," he tried to sound confident as he ran his fingers along the blades. They were indeed dull. "Balancing them. Sharpening them. Refitting them with new blades. Whatever you need, I'm your man."
Oh Gods, I did not just say that.
"I just need it sharpened." She looked out towards the west sea, where the sun was nearly disappearing from the horizon. It was getting late, and colder. And windier too, Hiccup noticed. "If Gobber wants to close the Forge early I can come back tomorrow."
"No, no! It's fine. Really. It won't take long." Hiccup made his way into the Forge, Astrid following behind him. Although the embers were beginning to die out, there was still just the right amount of residual heat to make the inside quite cozy. Hiccup set the axe on the table and, with both hands, spun the lever to get the grind stone at the appropriate speed. Once done, he took the axe and placed the blade against the stone. As he did so, he watched Astrid through his periphery. She was walking about the Forge, examining weapons and sketches along the wall. It was a little strange if he were honest. Astrid looked calm, almost thoughtful, as if her mind was far off elsewhere. It was contradictory to the fierce young warrior who was always doing something active. Figuring he should break the silence, he tried to think of something to say. "So…"
"Did you draw this?" she asked. She was referring to a sketch he had made of one of his modified net launcher ideas.
"Oh that? Yeah, that's just something I came up with one morning when I was bored. Nothing special," he shrugged. She was only seeing what the finished version of the system would look like. He had actually gone into great detail on the specifications required to build and utilize the weapon, but abandoned the idea after one stern look from Gobber. "Instead of nets it launches a bundle of flaming arrows in a wide area."
"Hmm." Astrid continued touring the Forge, finding interest in the tools and blades that lined the walls, many of which he had made. Every now and then she would stop to examine another one of his sketches.
One side of the axe blade sharpened, Hiccup rotated the weapon to finish the other side. He found Astrid's close examination of his drawings a little nerve-wracking. He never felt that way when others looked at his work. What was she thinking? Did she like them? Did she think they were stupid? Why was she showing an interest in anything from him?
Astrid must have caught a glimpse of his confused face, because her demeanor changed instantly as she shot him a fierce scowl. "What?!"
Hiccup's wide eyes darted around the room to see if she was addressing someone else. Nope, he had suddenly become the sole attention of her ire, for whatever reason. "N-nothing."
"Stop staring at me like that," She demanded.
Hiccup's face turned beat red. "Um...like what?"
Astrid folded her arms. "Like I'm going to hurt you. Stop it."
Hiccup was even more confused. Did Astrid think he was afraid of her? Well, he kind of was. She was Astrid Hofferson; anyone in their right mind would be a little afraid of her.
"O-okay," he replied sheepishly, trying to sound brave but failing miserably. The axe now sharp to the point of deadly, Hiccup took a rag from a nearby table and wiped off the residue. He walked to Astrid and held the weapon before her. "Um, I finished sharpening your axe."
Astrid stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "Hiccup, I need a favor."
It was strange to see Astrid ask for anything. It was even stranger that she used his name. His real name. Most didn't.
At the teen's confused expression, she continued. "I'll be turning sixteen soon." Hiccup nodded. He had just turned sixteen last week, and he knew Astrid's birth date was less than a month from his. It was a special year, signifying that one was old enough to start taking on more adult tasks. "I'll be starting dragon training soon."
"That's great." He would be starting soon too. He and Astrid would probably be in the same class together, or at least he hoped so. That is, if his father agreed to allow him to train.
"I have an axe I want to use during training. It's my mom's—well she gave it to me but it was her favorite axe. It was the one she used when she went through dragon training." Hiccup didn't dare interrupt her; this was the most she had spoken to him in years. Astrid continued, "The axe is really old and in bad shape. It's more of an heirloom now, that's why she gave it to me. But…" She looked around the Forge, as if making sure no one else was there. "Do you think you could repair it for me? It would make my mom happy."
Hiccup was stunned. Astrid wanted him to repair her mother's old axe for her? He was almost too shocked for words. He asked the first question that came to mind. "Why me? Why not Gobber?"
Astrid shrugged. "Everyone knows how great you are at metalworking. Gobber's alright, but he's too blunt. The axe is really old and I don't want to risk ruining it more."
Hiccup stood there, mouth agape. Astrid had just complimented him. Astrid had just complimented him. She was looking at him, talking to him, and complimenting his skills. She said others recognized his skills too. He wondered what strange, fantastic world he had trespassed into. Maybe Snotlout had actually punched him so hard that he had been knocked out, and this was a dream.
He must have been staring blankly at her for a while, because she crossed her arms and scowled. "Can you do it or not!?" She asked tersely
"I-ah-I-Yes! Yes. Yes I can do that. Fix your mother's old axe. No problem." He was going to restore that axe. He was going to make that axe the best, most perfect axe in all of Midgard. "I need to have a good look at it so I know what materials I need."
Astrid grabbed her axe from Hiccup's still outstretched hands. "I'll bring it tomorrow after supper?"
"Sure thing. I'll be here."
Astrid nodded, making her way to leave, but stopped just at the door frame. "Thanks," she said, and then ran off.
Hiccup's head was spinning. With an impossibly stupid grin on his face, he went to work closing the Forge.
The sun had dropped beneath the horizon, plunging Berk into darkness. With the sun went the heat, and the residents of the island clamored into their warm homes to escape the cold and rest for the night. Across the village families gave prayers to the Gods for, among other things, another day without a dragon raid, before finally allowing sleep to take them.
One boy, however, was still very much awake. After closing the Forge and finishing his nightly chores, Hiccup had returned to his home only to find the place empty and cold. This meant his father had been drinking heavily, and was likely still at the Great Hall. Acting on routine, he went out back to collect some wood and got a fire started, coaxing it until the gentle, warm embers brought the house to a cozy temperature. He then gathered some dried fruits in a bowl and poured fresh water in a mug, leaving it by his father's bedside.
He went upstairs to his room and packed some dried fruit and a piece of jerky in a satchel, along with his journal, a dagger, some bandages, a few of his sketches, and a change of clothes, just in case. Confident he had everything he needed, he hid the pack beneath his bed and crawled under the sheets.
He then waited. And waited and waited some more, until finally he heard the front door slam open. The wood creaked loudly as his father lumbered about downstairs. A few minutes passed until Hiccup heard what he was waiting for, the monstrous roar of his father's snoring. He quietly tiptoed downstairs to peek in his dad's room, relieved to find the much larger Haddock sprawled on his bed in an almost comical way, not even bothering to change or get under the sheets. His dad was passed out cold; the man was going to have one hell of a hangover. Quickly but quietly running upstairs, Hiccup retrieved his satchel from under his bed and then exited his home from the back.
Outside the night was clear, revealing millions of stars that sparkled across the black sky. The moon was nearing its full phase as it slowly rose higher into the night, forever chasing after the sun. Hiccup snuck between houses and alleys, carefully making his way to the docks. Most of the villagers were probably sleeping now, and the night sentries who kept watch for dragons were high in the cliffs, but he didn't want to push his luck getting caught, nor explain to his father why he was sneaking about.
He knew what he was doing was stupid. Every time he ventured out he risked getting stranded out to sea or, worse, getting caught by his dad. But he just couldn't help himself. He loved returning to the island cove, despite the danger. It was his island, his own place that he could just be himself and not have to worry about the pressures of his life. His thoughts were clearer there; the place just seemed to inspire new ideas in him. And the island was close enough that he could be back before sunrise.
The day had started off badly, but ended with something he could before have only hoped for; a chance. A chance to prove himself to Astrid that he was more than a talking fishbone. That he wasn't useless. Hiccup wanted to do more than simply restore her axe to its former glory. He wanted to make it even better than before. He would do something special. Something that was so…Astrid. But he wasn't sure what that was yet. So he needed to think, and the best place to think was the island cove.
Hiccup surveyed the docks, making sure no one was around, then plopped his satchel in one of the many rowboats that lined the decks. He jumped in after it, and before long he was rowing himself out of the docks into the open water. The waves were growing choppy as the wind continued to pick up, though he wasn't worried; he had been through worse.
He could not have known of the incredible danger he was rowing into, until it was too late.