AN: So apparently I write when I am sick. And apparently I have a really insistent LOTR muse who basically took over this story. So here, have a How to Train Your Dragon/Lord of the Rings crossover, although its much more LOTR than HTTYD in style and probably substance. You can blame this on (1) me noticing runes in the Dragon Manual and (2) my offline friends who enjoy my suffering when the bunnies attack. Consider this an attempt to reconcile HTTYD-style dragons to LOTR-style ones. Unbeta'd so please feel free to nitpick. I could wish to own either of these estimable properties, but alas, I do not. I do own the idea though.
It was one of those rare sunny autumn days on Berk when the stranger arrived.
It is the dragons who find him first, of course. After three nights cooped up indoors due to hail-stones and driving winds, even the most patient dragons (and their Vikings) had been ecstatic to just get outside and stretch, especially with the threat of similar weather looming. So it was that Hiccup and the others found themselves dragged down to the shore by their dragons to the splintered remains of a boat...and a body.
They had thought he was dead, at first – the unlucky victim of a shipwreck on Berk's treacherous waters. Face pale and black hair in disarray he lay half in and half out of the water, the splintered remains of his boat around him. His left arm is still tangled in the ropes of what look to have been a mast, once upon a time, and his clothes might once have been fine, but now they were waterlogged, stained and torn. The only intact feature is a silver seven-pointed star on his cloak, strangely delicate-looking for something that has obviously survived a beating. Astrid is the one who finds the sword – a beautiful weapon, elegant and exquisitely crafted, and Hiccup who realises that it was very, very old. Ruffnut & Tuffnut pull an oilskin bag from the rocks near the boat with an old but still usable lap harp inside, and Snotlout found the remains of a bow. But it was Fishlegs who realised that the pale man still breathed, and whose urgent yells got them to heave his dead weight onto a strangely reluctant Toothless to carry him to the healer. The village healer had taken one look and shook her head. Half-drowned, likely smashed against the rocks, and left on the beach for who knows how long? Best they get him comfortable, she advised, like as not, he'd be dead by the morning. That evening he developed a fever, and the healer only sighed knowingly at her chief as she set about her vigil. Already the storms had closed in again. Despondently, the young Vikings withdrew to their own homes for the night.
The next morning however, much to everyone's surprise, he was awake and coherent. Excited by the chance for something to break the dreariness of the oncoming winter, the younger Vikings find every excuse to slip into the healers hut and gawk.
"Call me Lost, for I am the last of my people and have no home to return to." He tells them in his halting accent. His voice is musical despite the halting grasp of their language, and he makes himself understood well enough. Although not yet well enough to leave the sick room, much to the healer's surprise, he is already beginning to strengthen. Aside, she warns Stoick to be wary. In his delirium, he called names and black curses in a language she has never heard, and wept as if his heart was breaking. This one carries some dark shadow with him. Stoick listens, and regards the stranger warily, but his son and the other children are enraptured. Throughout the long winter months the stranger heals, quickly picking up their language, and when well enough he sits by the fire and tells stories for all who are willing to listen. And oh, such stories he tells.
The young ones love him the most, although even Snotlout can be seen hovering around the edges of the fireplace to listen when he begins to talk. It is Hiccup who realises that the look in his eyes when he talks to the littlest Vikings is guilt and a terrible, terrible sorrow (Hiccup knows what that looks like, he has seen it in his mirror. But even in his darkest times, Hiccup had almost always had his family – the stranger is more alone than Hiccup ever remembers being, and the pain is older and deeper than anything Hiccup knows how to express). But it is Astrid who realises the dragons behave strangely around him – oh they are as curious as their Vikings, following to sit and watch, but strangely wary also, for all that the stranger has not touched his sword since he was well enough to walk. Even Toothless, who rarely leaves Hiccup's side, seldom comes within touching distance of the stranger, watching with some indefinable emotion in his eyes.
His musical voice captures the imagination of his listeners, breaking the darkness of winter with memories of the warmth of summer, and the brilliance of spring. Some of the stories are simple things, laughter between friends and the comfort of family. But some are grand things, full of tragedy and wonder (the names are exotic, tasting of far away and long ago, and Fishlegs recites them to himself so he does not forget - Gondor, Rohan, Aragorn, Elrond, Galadriel, Frodo, Samwise...). He tells of kings and princes, warriors and demons, of elves and dwarves and trolls (and here Gobber is heard to proclaim loudly that HE KNEW IT)...even of Rings and dragons. Oh yes, he tells of dragons.
"Before" he tells them one day "The Dragons were thralls to their Dark Lord, who birthed them by secret arts in his dungeons. In his great experiment he lavished much power on them, making them a great and terrible race – cruel and powerful, they wrought destruction wherever they roamed. Many of the great among them had human speech and human cunning. But the Dark Lord made a mistake. He gifted them with thought and reason, and eventually they became intelligent enough to oppose him. Steeped for so long in his shadows, many broke away only to seek their own plunder, and in so doing remained his thralls though they knew it not. But some few knew what they had become, and despised it. Those fled to distant corners of the world, far from their darker kin and hid themselves from the humans who hunted them. There, sundered from their master's power, they diminished, and yet regained something of their former selves."
Grey eyes sharp as a blade look up to pin those of the midnight-coloured dragon sitting quietly behind his rider in the shadows.
"No one knows what became of those few desperate rebels. Most say they escaped thraldom, only to be destroyed by their darker kin or the human hunters. But rumours exist, of those who escaped, and lost much of their former power – but not all. Without human speech but still with human reason, without the cruelty and greed that rule their darker brethren, but still with some of the gifts of their race – flight...and fire."
Something indefinable passes between sea-grey and far too intelligent green, some strange absolution or understanding. From that day on, the dragons flock to the stranger, crooning and begging for attention as much as they would their own Vikings. In turn he runs gentle scarred hands over scales and sings softly to them in his own language, lonely and sad. If Hiccup notices that they seem to understand each other, well, he can hardly begrudge him their companionship if it lessens the terrible pain in his eyes (He isn't jealous, really. Well. Maybe just a little.)
In the depths of winter, illness sweeps through the village, although it bypasses the stranger (and fortunately for everyone's sanity, Hiccup as well). Instead, he adds his knowledge of herbs to aid the healers in their work, and can often be found moving from sickbed to sickbed, providing what ease he can. Although always a bad time, they loose none this year, and many will carry memories of starlight in song that soothes away the fever-heat. As the months wear on, the stranger joins Gobber & Hiccup in the forge to rebuild his strength. Later, Hiccup will always remember fondly these times – the stranger is obviously no apprentice, and although Gobber has been a good master, the stranger takes avid interest in Hiccup's inventions, and is able to point out things he might otherwise have missed. "My father was a master craftsman" is what he tells Hiccup. "It is not my calling, but my brothers and I were all taught the basics". He has a touch with fire and steel that Hiccup envies, delicate but strong, and is not stingy with his knowledge. By winters end, Toothless will have a whole new harness set, engraven with runes for protection, lighter and more flexible than his last while still retaining its sturdiness (It is all Hiccup's own work, for the most part, but it is the stranger who works the runes for him – protection, guidance, courage and hope on the saddle, friendship and trust on the stirrup).
Slowly but surely the days begin to lengthen again, and the stranger once again picks up his blade. His forms are unlike any the Vikings have seen, but he proves a master swordsman, even against the village's best warriors. Viciously quick and agile as a cat, he takes full advantage of the longer reach his blade gives him against the more limited Viking axes and maces. More than a few of the younger Vikings can often be found watching to pick up what tips he is willing to give. In this, he is strangely reluctant, stating only that he would see them remain innocent still, for what time remains to them.
At last winter's fury breaks to the wild storms of spring. With the first glimpses of good weather, most of the village young are outside as much as possible, and the dragons are only too glad to oblige. The stranger too (and can he truly be called that, now?) is outside whenever he can be, and is usually found by the shore. He is building a boat, or rebuilding it perhaps – as it takes shape, so different and yet basically similar to the Viking longboats, he often finds himself with a helpful audience. Fishlegs' parents have long worked the boats, and Hiccup is simply fascinated by the mechanics of it all. Because Hiccup is there, Toothless and Astrid are likewise present, and where Astrid goes, Snotlout follows. Since the rest of their friends are there, the twins, too, are more often present than not, although they are more harm than help, most days. Building a boat takes time, of course, especially since the unpredictability of spring means that they cannot be outside as often as they (or their dragons) might like. To pass the time, they badger the stranger for stories, which he is only too pleased to oblige them with.
As the spring turns slowly into Berk's reluctant summer, the stranger tells them one last tale. Long and full of tragedy (although still with embers of joy), the story is of a Father and his seven sons – of the most beautiful jewels in the world and a most terrible oath. One by one, the family falls to madness and despair, until only the two eldest brothers remain. Against desperate odds, they regain the jewels, only to find that by their actions they have forfeited them altogether. Unable to face this final blow, the eldest brother leaps into a chasm, leaving only the second brother wandering the earth. Of the three jewels, one follows the eldest to the heart of the world, one the second casts into the oceans, but the third...ah the third! The early summer skies are clear on the night the stranger finishes his tale. Pointing up, he shows them the clear brilliance of the star he names as "Hope" – and tells them of the desperate flight of a Mariner and his wife to seek aid for those without hope, and the triumphant reversal of fortune that follows (and only Hiccup sees the terrible longing writ across his face as the light of the stars burns in those sea-grey eyes). "My people still remember its first rising, and so we remember that hope can come even from the darkest of tragedies." This statement brings a hubbub of questions and the next few nights are spent tracing some of the constellations the stranger knows and comparing them to their own. So it is only Hiccup again who looks at the stranger in the flickering firelight and wonders at the way the shadows fall across his face in inhuman lines.
By mid-summer the boat is finished, an almost fragile looking swan-ship next to the great longboats. Despite entreaties to stay, the stranger packs his bags and puts away his sword, saying only that he would rather leave than bring his curse upon them. To Berk's first dragon riders he leaves gifts – exquisitely crafted daggers, weapons to serve young warriors, and to Fishlegs he leaves a small lute, reminding him that a knowledge keeper should also be able to entertain when he offers what he knows. For Hiccup there is also a longbow, something more practical than a blade for a boy with a prosthetic leg who is more often a-dragonback than on the ground. When Hiccup asks him where he is going he only shrugs and gestures West. "One day, perhaps I will be forgiven enough to find my way home."
He leaves on the evening of the midsummer celebration, as the first stars are lighting the night, with only the dragons and their riders as witness. Stoick, for as comfortable as he had become, had always held the warning of the stranger's shadow in his mind, and is silently relieved at his departure without fanfare. He sets his sail west, and the young ones silently fly him out. It is only at the edge of their own territory that Hiccup finds the courage to urge Toothless close enough to call out to him.
"So, uh. Do you prefer Maglor, or Makalaure? Not, you know, that it matters. Since you're um. Going. But. In case you come back?"
He is rewarded with a startled look, and a sudden smile, like starlight through the fog. "I do not think I will return this way, young hero, lest my curse follow me. And my name I forfeited when I held to our oath. But since you ask it, if ever I return, you can tell your father to look for Maglor." Resting his hand over his heart, the last of the seven sons of Feanor bows to the boy and his dragon, even as the wind from Toothless' wings lift hair from where it has covered a delicately pointed ear. "Hold true to your bonds with each other and you will, I think, do well by yourselves. You and yours have been a comfort to this weary wanderer this past year, and it does my heart good to see your light. Guard him well, child of night! Rare it is, that a soul burns so true as yours, Hiccup. Farewell!"