Chapter 4: Ask For Advice
Poor Toothless could not possibly have known that the ancient Viking ritual of 'I-shove-you-and-you-shove-me-back' always led to a brawl. And thus, the dragon had no idea what was happening when Stoick pounced on him in an all-out attack, knocking him over backwards and out of the pantry.
"Rrrrh?" Toothless rumbled in surprise, as Stoick's arms clamped around his neck. The chief was trying to throw the dragon down onto his side in order to pin him to the ground, a move which might have worked if Toothless hadn't braced his wings against the floor. Toothless scrambled backwards, trying to escape from the headlock, and wound up with his hind end completely in the fire.
This was of no consequence to a creature with fireproof skin, but as Toothless continued to back up, it became clear that he was going to drag Stoick through the flames if the man didn't let go of the Night Fury's neck. Realizing this, Stoick loosened his hold—just as Toothless made a final effort to throw him off.
The result was that Stoick went flying across the room until he crashed upside-down against one of the walls, shields and battleaxes raining down around him. Toothless looked up in concern, worried that his action had been too forceful, and might have seriously hurt the human.
But to the dragon's amazement, the Viking chief was already back on his feet, completely unharmed, and obviously eager to start round two.
This gave Toothless something to think about, and he sat down right where he was, canting his head to one side as he considered the bulky Viking with a whole new level of interest. It was sheer coincidence that he was sitting in the middle of the fire, which was the one place in the house where Stoick would think twice about resuming a wrestling match.
Stoick shifted his weight from side to side, irritated that the fight had been interrupted by the animal's cowardly retreat into the flames. "Come on!" he hollered at the dragon. "Let's go! Give me what you've got!"
The chief, predictably, was still of a mind that he could show the dragon who was boss, put it in its place. He didn't want to kill the dragon, only teach it a lesson. Stoick was angry, and eager for an enemy to punish. And the Night Fury had never looked more devilish than it did at that moment, with its black body protruding from a nest of flames. Even its eyes seemed evil, as their usual green was washed out to a pale, luminous gold by the light of the fire around its feet.
Toothless' thoughts, however, were anything but wicked. As he stared at the chief with gleaming eyes, he was thinking back to one of those sunny, pine-scented afternoons in the cove, and the one and only time he had given Hiccup a good playful shove. The boy had been knocked unconscious straightaway, and Toothless had immediately realized that Hiccup was an unsuitable playmate for roughhousing.
But Stoick, on the other hand, seemed to be a different case entirely.
There was only one way to know for sure. Toothless crept forward out of the fire, eyes regaining their green as he did so. And when Stoick quite predictably attacked, Toothless deftly threw the man aside.
The chief crashed into the opposite wall of his house, where another collection of weapons went clattering to the floor. He staggered to his feet, white spots of light swirling in his vision. Stoick glanced across the room and must've been crazy, because he thought he saw the dragon smiling at him in joy. He could scarcely believe it-the beast had thrown him before he'd even gotten a good grip! Clenching his teeth, Stoick squared off against the dragon. It hadn't gotten the best of him yet, not by a long shot.
In response to Stoick's snarling expression, Toothless stopped smiling, dropped his head and mimicked him, baring his teeth and growling. This seemed an obvious indicator of malicious intent to the chief, who failed to notice the much more telling sign of the dragon's haunches, which were raised above its shoulders and wiggling eagerly side-to-side.
With a furious shout, Stoick dove at the Night Fury for a third attack, and this time the dragon bounded forward to meet him. The two crashed together in midair and were soon tumbling around on the floor. Toothless pinned Stoick several times, letting the man go each time only to pounce and pin him again, and each time the chief managed to spring to his feet and come back for more, louder and wilder than ever.
Feeding off Stoick's energy, Toothless became more and more enthusiastic as well, until at last he slammed the burly Viking to the ground flat on his back, knocking the wind from the man's lungs.
Exhausted, battered, and now sucking painfully for air, Stoick stayed down. Out of the corner of his vision he saw the wide-eyed Night Fury waddling towards him, peering down at him now in honest curiosity. Stoick closed his eyes, hurting, and not ready to move just yet. When he opened his eyes again there was a dragon's foot hovering over his chest.
Breathing deeper, heart still pounding from the fight, Stoick looked past the wide black paw and up at the dragon's face. Toothless' expression was neutral now, neither growling nor grinning, holding his paw out and sitting exceptionally still, as if waiting for something.
With the tiny sliver of imagination that he had, Stoick focused on the paw again and envisioned it being lowered onto his chest, slowly and deliberately crushing his ribcage. He didn't really think the Night Fury meant to kill him any more than he meant to kill it—they had moved passed that stage of their relationship, thankfully—but Stoick had no idea what the creature wanted from him.
All he knew was that the dragon had won. For the first time in Stoick's life, he had been beaten by a dragon. And while that didn't exactly make him afraid, it did make him… uncertain. He just wasn't sure anymore of what he was doing. The dragon had won. Was it holding its paw there to signify its victory, the way a human might hold a sword over a defeated opponent's head? What was it trying to convey?
"Hrrr," Toothless rumbled, a gentle suggestion.
"…I don't understand!" Stoick declared, and rolled away from the dragon's extended paw.
"Rrrhf!" Frustrated, Toothless put his paw back down, and then shook out his wings and refolded them.
Stoick wrapped his hand around one of the legs of Hiccup's bed and used it to pull himself to his feet. Once he was standing, he looked around his living room, which was a complete shambles. At last he spotted his helmet and picked it up, setting it firmly on his head. "…I'm going for a walk," he muttered, with a somewhat guilty glance at Hiccup.
Gaining resolve, he turned and faced the dragon. "You," he said with authority, and pointed at Toothless' nose. "Watch Hiccup." He pointed to the boy. Toothless just blinked at him. "Got it? Stay here. And don't burn down the house."
Toothless' tail flopped against the floor in a couple of restless little thumps, and he watched with very wide eyes as Stoick made his way to the door through the wreckage of furniture and weapons and household commodities that littered the room. When Toothless suddenly realized that the man meant to leave the house, he took a few steps forward, earflaps pressed back plaintively. He raised his neck and uttered one very small, questioning sound, but it was lost in the slam of the door.
Gobber had just gotten to bed when something began pounding on his door loudly enough to rattle the rafters. With a roll of his eyes, Gobber sat up and scratched his head, which was covered by a stocking-style cap (that probably wouldn't become fashionable for another thousand years) instead of his usual helmet. "Keep your knickers on," Gobber called, reaching for the peg leg that he had unfastened and set aside mere moments ago. "I'll just be a minute."
"Gobber, it's me," called a desperate voice.
The blacksmith's breath caught in his throat. Stoick. And Stoick meant… Hiccup.
Assuming the worst, Gobber forgot the rest of his leg and hopped the short distance from his bed to the door, leaning heavily on pieces of furniture along the way. Balancing on his one leg, he pulled open the door, face already white with fear.
There stood Stoick the Vast, sulky, brooding, and covered in bruises. Gobber searched his old friend's eyes for news of tragedy-while Stoick's gaze fell directly to Gobber's right knee, and the weirdly empty space beneath it. For a moment neither spoke.
"You're missing your leg," Stoick finally pointed out.
Gobber blinked, and let out a breath of relief. He nodded. "Lot of that going around."
Stoick gave him an incredulous, offended look, as if he couldn't believe Gobber had just made a joke about that, but then his expression crumbled. He sniffled, snuffled, made a sound that was half a laugh, and abruptly found himself needing to wipe his face on his meaty forearm.
"Err, perhaps you'd better come inside," Gobber suggested, before the chief's meltdown could get any worse. "I'll get you a drink."
"Thank you," Stoick snuffled, and made his way into the house. Gobber hopped to the nearest cupboard, and a few seconds later he pressed a tall mug into Stoick's hand.
"Hope you don't mind if I sit," Gobber said, finding a chair and helping himself to a matching mug. "So. Hiccup's all right?"
"It's the Night Fury," Stoick grumbled, sloshing some stale Viking grog onto his whiskers as he took a swig from the mug. "I don't know what to do about it. I think it's turned on me."
"Turned on you?" Gobber echoed, worried.
Stoick nodded. "Like a mad dog. It kept coming after me, throwing me around."
"You do look like you've been in a scuffle. But then again, there aren't any holes burnt in you…"
"It was my fault," Stoick confessed, clasping both hands around his mug. "I started it. That dragon made me so furious, Gobber, it just wouldn't leave me alone! It followed me around the house, staring at me—and it kept doing this—" Stoick struck a pose, and thrust his palm out at Gobber's face.
Gobber went cross-eyed to look at Stoick's palm, and then looked back up at the chief. "Uh…"
Stoick sighed, and went back to holding his mug with both hands. "I mean, you know about dragons, don't you? What was it doing that for?"
Gobber shrugged and sipped his grog. "I've no idea. Night Furies haven't exactly been part of my dragon training curriculum."
"But…what should I do?"
Gobber shrugged again. "Give it a fish," he suggested.
"It ate all the fish!"
The blacksmith rolled his eyes. "Look. I don't know what to tell you. I don't know any more about Night Furies than you do. Maybe it wants a pile of gold to sit on. Maybe it wants you to sacrifice a maiden to it."
Stoick looked insulted. "What? What are we, savages?"
"All I'm saying is that your guess is as good as mine. I'm just happy it didn't try to eat any of us last night while we were waiting for the ship."
The chief gave his old friend a quizzical look. "You never tell me what I want to hear, do you?"
Gobber finished his grog with a little cough. "Stoick, all this change all at once is going to be tough. My advice is for you to go home and get some rest. The dragon will do whatever it is that it does. Just try not to start any more fights with it! Although…" Gobber hestitated, clearly holding back.
"What?" Stoick asked, voice flat.
With a deep breath, Gobber continued. "Well, I do have a sort of a theory about that. Since he didn't bite your head off or burn you to ashes…"
"Go on," urged the chief.
"It's just a theory, but… maybe he was playing with you."
Stoick scoffed. "Of course it was playing with me. I was unarmed—it could have killed me at any minute."
"No, not that sort of playing," Gobber corrected. "I mean just…playing."
"Hmph." Stoick narrowed his eyes, clearly not liking that theory at all. "He's too big for just playing."
"Oh really?" Gobber asked, eyebrows high. "So, you know how big Night Furies get, do you? Here's something to think about: Night Furies have been a mystery to us all these years. What if the one Hiccup found is just a baby? What if he grows into those eyes of his someday, eh?"
For a second Stoick had a glimpse of that possibility, and envisioned a dragon that was as big as his whole house. He dismissed the vision with a scowl. "Hatchlings can't fly."
Gobber tipped his head, acknowledging that point. "That we know of," he added. "…But I'm not saying that's the case. I'm just saying there's a lot we don't know. And, so, maybe he was playing with you."
"Fine." Stoick grumbled. "Let's say it was playing with me. I still need to know what I should do about it."
Gobber had one of those rare looks on his face that meant he'd come up with something unfathomably wise. It was a quirk of his personality for which the entire village held him in high esteem. "Well, for now, I'd say you should do whatever Hiccup would."
Stoick looked up.
That was the answer.
Author's note: wow, this story is turning out to be longer than I expected. Thank you all so much for your wonderful reviews- I will leave a review reply to every single one, as soon as I can! Thanks for your patience!