THE GREAT QUEST
By Red Star
Disclaimer: How to Train Your Dragon is the property of Cressida Cowell and Dreamworks. I am making no money off of it.
In loving memory of B.C., who I believe would have loved this movie.
This is a story about a quest.
A quest—at its most basic—consists of three important elements: a Hero, a Goal, and an Obstacle. This formula is by no means universal: sometimes the Hero has a sidekick/lackey; sometimes there's more than one Obstacle or Goal; hell, sometimes the Goal is the Obstacle or the Hero is the Goal. There have even been a few cases of the Obstacle being the Hero. It can all be very confusing for the layman.
Questing is a solitary business; only a few people can go on it and still have it called a quest. Generally speaking, quests with more than ten people involved are considered "Odysseys", "Crusades", "Jihads", or "That Bunch of Weirdoes", depending on where you live. It's usually easier for the Hero to embark on his quest alone, if only to avoid the inevitable fights over the best sword.
In medieval Europe, a quest was considered one of the highest forms of heroism there could be. Whether it be on some divinely-commissioned search, a dashing act of proof of one's devotion to a breathtaking bride, or a simple desire to right a great wrong, quests were considered to have something for everybody.
There were critics, of course: killjoys who wondered why on Earth anybody expected to find the Holy Grail in England, of all places; cynics who said there wouldn't have been such a fuss if the king would just pay for some decent sentries to guard his virgin daughter; naysayers who strongly argued for just staying out of the friggin' caves, for pete's sake. But this was medieval Europe, of course, and there was no real forum for these views so they stayed confined to the wretched mud-stained hovels of the critics whose descendents would honor their ancestors by throwing paint at foreign restaurants.
Now, this is the story of a quest, sparked by love (as they often are) and embarked upon by a teenage boy. It should be remembered that mixing these two things together (love and teenage boys) are universally regarded as inviting disaster. This case is no different.
Berk in early springtime is a charming place: blizzards are reduced to only twice a week, snow on regularly tended paths barely reach the chin of a full grown man, and the icicles grow large enough only to stun, not kill. This is a time of awakenings, of renewal, of preparation for the work of the summer that will ensure the following winter is passed fitfully. It is also a time for the villagers to get out of their houses and away from each other; having spent the winter playing family games like "What's This Smell?" and "Whose Bed has the Pebble?", a little all-around Me-time is a matter of course.
On one particular morning, Hiccup—Son of Stoick the Vast, Heir and Hope of the Vikings of Berk—snorted awake. Pulling himself up, his eyes half-lidded, he looked dazedly around the upper floor of his house, smacked his lips, and tested the floor with his remaining foot. After heavy deliberation lasting about two and a half seconds, he concluded that the world could get by without him until approximately the time the fire downstairs was up and roaring or summer actually came to Berk. Either occasion was fine with him. Satisfied with his decision, he laid back down and pulled his furs over himself, fashioning a burrow out of the animal skins and wool beneath.
Barely a minute passed before Hiccup heard steps coming from the hole leading to the sleeping room of the house. Something big came up to his bed and loomed over him, breathing with big, exploratory puffs of air. It tilted its head and whined a bit.
"Hibernation, Toothless," Hiccup explained, "Humans my age need…uh, nineteen hours of sleep a day when its cold, otherwise we'll…I dunno, get rashes or something."
"It's ten below outside—and I'm not talking temperature, I'm talking 'feet', as in 'the ground is ten feet below the surface of the snow'. That's bad Hiccup weather."
The dragon took gentle hold of the top fur and pulled it off.
"Oh, come on! What are you, my dad?"
"No, if it were me I'd have tipped you right out! Now come down and get your porridge!"
Hiccup opened his eyes to roll them and flung the rest of the bedding off. He rolled onto his left side—which was unpleasant and elicited a grunt—and reached down. A quick grope of the space under his bed produced a thick woolen shirt, leggings, a fur-lined leather boot, and his iron and wood false leg.
Shirt first, then pants—Hiccup had discovered that prosthetics and leggings could never negotiate—a sock wrapped around his remaining foot and he tugged on the boot. Then he picked up the leg and examined it, testing the "foot" and its attached springs. He pressed the flat metal piece upward, collapsing the spring; removing the hand brought the foot down, giving a minute bounce when the foot's shaft hit its limit.
I'll have to work on it soon, he thought as he maneuvered the leg's attaching cup onto his stump and began securing it. It wasn't that it was a bad leg: half a year gone by and he wasn't taking as many spills in his own house. That was the hard part, learning to make his way around his own home again, even relearning just how to climb steps. He'd prevailed on his father to move his bed back upstairs—because, he'd insisted to Stoick and Gobber, he wasn't about to let a little thing like possessing only one and a half legs force him to leave his room (and to himself admitted that he missed the quilt-like coziness of their shared room and the gentle thunder of his father's snores).
And though the leg sometimes made him feel older than he wanted to be and the damned stump ached when storms approached, he had few complaints about Gobber's work.
But the spring…
This particular component worried Hiccup. In the waning days of the last summer he'd been roughhousing with Toothless and gotten a rock in the prosthetic. He wasn't used to a firmly level (false) leg and the first step had caught him by surprise and sent him sprawling. Then they discovered that using the pedal to Toothless's tailfin would require some rather awkward contortions on Hiccup's part and they ended up taking a two-hour walk home. The leg had to be dismantled completely (not a terribly hard job, it being a Viking device and therefore having all the complexity of a spoon).
The spring was too exposed: that was the great flaw in Gobber's design. Rocks and rust threatened Hiccup's (and by extension, Toothless's) mobility, and he was certain that a few adjustments would reduce the risk well into the single digits. What stopped Hiccup from setting to work on it immediately was the new rush of dragon-related business coming into the smithy and Gobber's warning that the leg might have to be replaced anyway: Hiccup was, despite all appearances, still a growing boy. If he hit a growth spurt, and the spring couldn't compensate for the height and weight (to say nothing of the cup), they'd have to make a whole new leg.
So, on went the prosthetic and its almost visible field of iciness that gave him a shiver as he buckled the last strap. Hiccup stood—almost jumped—up from his bed and made his way over to the steps under Toothless's watchful gaze. The boy brought his right foot down onto the first step, then followed it awkwardly with the false one. He held his hands out to the side, ready to grab onto the sides of the opening if his leg failed. Eventually, he rested his hands against the floor and made his steps down a little less timidly. The dragon stood up, considered the bed-furs thoughtfully, then lifted its nose to sniff the air, and decided to go to where the fish was.
Stoick the Vast looked up from his bowl of rather watery porridge as his son descended and kept his eyes on the boy all the way down…while still eating. This hurt his accuracy, but Stoick—who was accustomed to finding bread crusts lodged in his beard—didn't seem to mind.
"Good morning," Hiccup's father gestured to the chair by his right, "Sit down; breakfast is getting cold."
Hiccup made his way over to his seat, while Toothless crept down behind him and headed straight for the box of cold, raw fish Stoick had set out. The dragon's meals were probably the best the chief had ever made.
"Gobber have you all day again?"
"No, but I think I'll try to find something to do around the shop anyway. Don't have much else to do until the snow clears."
Stoick hummed in agreement. Hiccup had never been good with snow; around him, it took on almost gang-like qualities, not just hindering him in his journeys around the village and sucking him down like a whirlpool in certain spots, but actually seeming to coordinate avalanches upon his head. Gobber had once noticed a particularly large white lump sitting on his rooftop's edge; unmoved by various huge vikings with a habit of slamming doors to announce their coming and going, it had sat until Hiccup opened the door to leave. Gobber heard "See you tommorWAAH!" and turned to find his apprentice's legs sticking out from beneath a hill of snow. It became a storied example of Hiccup's bad luck, though he continually insisted he had heard an evil chuckle as the snowdrift "leapt" at him.
"Still getting the ships ready," Stoick took a mouthful of porridge and looked like it was made of lemon, "Could use more, but—," he shrugged, "can't be helped. We should be able to at least get enough grain back here to last until we've finished the new ships. Then we'll be able to make another voyage."
A second voyage to Skall was quite a novelty, almost as much as welcoming dragons into the village. Before the battle last summer, Berk had sent its ships to the larger village (and island) off the coast of the mainland only once a year, to trade sheep, wool, fish, and some raw iron for grain and things that Stoick's people couldn't grow themselves. It was made before the dragon raids and the almost traditional attempts to retaliate started up. For the rest of the year, the ships were tied up, but now…
"Need anything from the shop, Dad?"
"No, no," Stoick finished his meal with a slurp and tossed his bowl into a pile in the corner, "we've got all we need; they have smiths of their own. If anything, I'd like to take more sheep; doesn't feel right to have so few coming with us."
Toothless added his own slurp as he finished off his own breakfast. Anywhere else, Hiccup might be praised for his comparatively well mannered pace, but in this household he received stares full of wonder at why he was taking so long. Taking the hint, he tipped his own bowl up and shoveled the rest of the porridge into his mouth before tossing it at his father's dishes and standing up. All three inhabitants of the most prestigious bachelor's pad on Berk made their way to the door. Stoick already had his fur cloak on, and Hiccup pulled on a smaller version, made from the same kill. The chief opened his door and was greeted by a knee high (to him) wall of snow.
"Look, son," he said cheerfully, "Spring is here!"
Hiccup looked at the snow, which came up to his chest, "You think so, Dad?"
An icicle two feet long and about as thick as Hiccup's index finger fell from the roof and buried itself like a dagger in the snow.
"See? That would just scratch your head instead of breaking it open. We'll be seeing green again before too long."
"Yeah," the boy sighed, "and we'll finally find the bodies the snow covered up; yay spring cleaning,"
Stoick patted his son on the shoulder, gently enough that he only stumbled a little.
"Better mount up; I'm off to the docks and then to Mead Hall. Its your turn to cook dinner tonight," the chief then lumbered into the snow, plowing a path for his son and the dragon, "See you then."
"Bye Dad!" Hiccup called after his father. He watched the man move, as undeniable in his path as a boulder rolling downhill. "Someday, Toothless," he declared to the waiting dragon, "that'll be me: the village chief, letting no one and nothing keep him from his duty,"
He paused and then continued: "And we'll not only fly on dragons, but pigs too."
Toothless had half closed his eyes and gave a rumbling snort, which could have meant he was laughing, disagreeing, or saying "or maybe we'll fly on you." Sometimes Hiccup wondered if being around Stoick and himself so much was having some sort of effect on Toothless. The dragon seemed to be more sarcastic lately.
Hiccup patted his friend on the head, which warned Toothless what would happen next. The dragon lowered his head so that Hiccup could comfortably swing up onto his back and they could begin the trek towards Gobber's shop.
Winter was not a good time for a recent amputee, and the fact that it was in Berk only made things worse. The leg ached in the cold and the false foot malevolently slipped on every patch of ice it met. Determined as he was to not allow the leg to interfere with his life, Hiccup discovered that it took only one near tumble down the steps leading to his house (stopped by Toothless's teeth on his tunic) for Stoick to forbid him from going anywhere without a travel companion. Since this most often turned out to be Toothless it wasn't so bad, but it brought another problem with the leg into the light: its flat surfaces offered no resistance to slippery ice. The weight he shifted in his walking limp didn't help either.
Toothless didn't have such problems, as he showed today: splaying the claws on his feet and rapidly crawling across the snow and ice alike with skill and great recovery on occasions that he did skid. He darted down the hill surprisingly fast, allowing his limbs only a millisecond to sink in before moving again.
While Toothless skittered across the snow, Hiccup looked over at the ocean. The great crack in the ice had widened even more the previous night; a skilled Viking sailor could easily take his ship down it and into the open sea without touching the frozen sides, and Berk had no shortage of skilled sailors. It helped that Zipplebacks could explosively widen the passage, but Stoick had allowed it only a few times: that far out at sea, he worried about passing sailors sighting the dragons.
Phleghma left her house and waved, which Hiccup returned. There were teams already out shoveling around the pathways and Toothless almost ran one over a few houses from Gobber's shop. They turned a corner to find someone coming by with a shovel and the startled dragon stopped with great effect. The viking was quite startled at first, but gave a laugh.
"Morning, Hiccup," he said cheerfully, and then nodded to the dragon, "Toothless,"
"Sorry about that…and mornin',"
"A few flakes," the man said dismissively, wiping off his beard as he pulled himself out of the new snow bank Toothless had created, "Should have paid more attention, that's all,"
"Didn't mean to scare you like that,"
"Scared? Me? I told you before, my boy; just got a little surprised is all,"
"But you said that word…"
"Ah yeah, please don't repeat that around your father. Give him my best, by the way."
"Nice talking with you, Hiccup, but I should probably get back to work. Now where's my shovel?"
"Up there," Hiccup pointed to the roof above them, "It flew up there when you flung your hands up and yelled."
"So it is," the man looked up and frowned thoughtfully, "Thank you. Off to Gobber's, then?"
"I won't keep you, then. Say 'hi' to him for me, would you?"
"You got it," Toothless slithered off the snow and onto the recently cleared square.
Gobber was at work on some tools when dragon and boy came in. His greeting was warm as always.
"Close the bleedin' door! Poor Flint'll catch cold!"
Hiccup rolled his eyes, catching Toothless's pupils completing a circle of their own. The door closed firmly and Flint chirped something that may have been either "thank you" or "I'm hungry".
"Mornin', Hiccup," the blacksmith declared cheerfully from one of the fires. Flint was perched on top of the attached bellows, large eyes leaving the hot coals for a moment to look at the arrivals. The example of the Terrible Terror used for dragon combat training, Flint was the last of the captive dragons to be freed. Too small to carry anybody or actually fight, Hiccup had left the little fire breather in his cell when he'd taken his former classmates into battle. Strangely enough, Gobber had been the one to open the heavy door and took the creature home; turned out he'd always had a little fondness for the Terror, which had always been admittedly the type with the fewest human kills attributed to it. Now it lived with Gobber above his shop and tended to the fires.
Toothless eyed the smaller dragon and gave a breathy grunt, moving over to Hiccup's usual workplace while the boy hung up his furs. Donning a leather apron, he limped over to his dragon's side and smiled down at the great beast.
"Okay, Toothless: light,"
Light just meant that: light the hearth with the lightest flame Toothless could manage. Toothless opened his mouth, lit his gas, and exhaled a white stream of fire onto the coals, moon-colored flames dancing across the hearth, fading into purplish tongues and then the red-hued glow of the more mundane hot coals.
Hiccup usually blinked at the igniting flash that would come from the dragon's mouth, but he loved watching Toothless when his fire was in a stream, not a bolt. It was beautiful. He frequently imagined that the flames of Night Furies were used to forge Mjolnir and other weapons wielded by the gods. There just seemed to be something of the divine in that searing hot breath.
"Thanks, bud," he patted Toothless's head, then—deciding to spoil the dragon a little—scratched in a certain place on the neck that made Toothless purr. Smiling, he reached for the first problem of the day: a short sword belonging to Grem the Greyheaded, nicked and a little bent, eventually destined for his youngest son—after a little attention from the village blacksmith's best apprentice of course.
Hiccup held the sword up in the light and examined the sharp edge of the blade; he actually was fairly knowledgeable about swords, much in the way young children become experts on things they are absolutely not permitted to have. The main problem was a slight curve that began near the middle of the blade and brought the tip noticeably off center. A little fire, a few strikes with a hammer, then a trip to the spinning whetstone, and Grem's son would have a perfectly handsome inheritance.
He was just about to put the blade in the fire when a voice startled him.
A teenager a few months older than Hiccup and several dozen pounds heavier stood in the flung-open doorway, a wind sending his long hair flying and his fur waving. Resembling the offspring of an unmade bed and a barrel of old apples (due to both his broadness and a frequent accompanying smell), looking at them with eyes the color of rocks in a dirty river, here was a quintessential viking specimen, the future of Berk.
Here was Snotlout.
Hiccup had turned from the hearth, sword in hand, to stare at his former classmate and eternal cousin in surprise. Snotlout's father was diligent about his weapons and had already had them attended to long before winter had come. Since Snotlout took his swords and axes from his family collection, Hiccup couldn't think of a single reason why his cousin was here. At the shop. While he was working.
"Were ye raised in a barn? Close the door!"
Actually, Snotlout had spent a year living in a barn, which isn't really the same as being "raised" but is pretty close. However, it seemed that Gobber wouldn't be interested in this little tidbit and so the door slammed shut.
"Right then, what do ya want?" Gobber lumbered out from behind his work station. One of the pieces to a new pair of shears glowed hotly in the tongs on his left hand. Hiccup stepped away from his hearth too, careful to avoid Toothless's tail.
"A job," Snotlout said, he reached into his coat and began pulling out a stained piece of paper, "I want you guys to make a dagger,"
A commission? Hiccup was a little surprised, but then his cousin was probably just getting started on his own weapon collection early. Odin knew Astrid's parents were constantly borrowing from hers, though her favorite remained the battle-axe.
Thinking of the axe made him smile a little. He'd made it himself, the first complete weapon Gobber had allowed him to make with little more supervision than a grunted "well done, lad." When she had started toting it around with her wherever she went, he'd felt ten feet taller and walked around with a spring in his steps that lasted until his latest device—the Sling-Spitter—proved to be less helpful in the next raid than he'd hoped.
It was Gobber's shop, so he would handle the details. The blacksmith had just taken the paper and its scrawled drawings as Hiccup turned to limp back to his hearth when Gobber spoke.
"A flower on the pommel?"
Hiccup froze, his foot in midair—his real one. He managed to catch himself on a nearby work table, but Toothless had raised his head in alarm and stared at him. Trying to act casually, he turned his head back toward the front, where Gobber towered over Snotlout, blocking the teens' view of each other.
"Hey, it isn't for me," Snotlout said defensively, meaty hands raised like a shield, "I just drew that cause' I thought she'd like it,"
Hiccup brought up the short sword and began dancing his thin fingers on the blade.
"Yeah, it's a birthday present,"
"Oh? Well, a practical one's usually the best. Who's the lucky lady?"
"You remember Astrid?"
Hiccup's fingers stopped moving on the blade.
"Let me think now…teenage girl, blond hair…"
Hair the color of life-giving wheat, flowing like sunlight in liquid form…
…the blue of a sky after a thunderstorm…
"…likes to use axes.."
…better than any viking past, present, and future…
"…rides a Deadly Nadder…"
…and in a way that is the envy of the Valkyries…
"…does that describe her?"
"Yeah, that's her!"
"Never heard of her," Gobber replied with a bored expression as he looked at the drawing again, "Seems like a simple job; we have a few pommels we can work with in the back. Shouldn't be more than a week."
"Awesome!" Snotlout had a look on his face not dissimilar to one Toothless displayed when Stoick forgot to lock the fish box.
"This will cost you some, though,"
"Nah, don't worry. I'm good for it."
Muttering to himself, Gobber moved to the side, forcing Snotlout to jump aside himself to avoid the red hot shear. Hiccup was revealed then, still holding the sword and smiling in a disconcerting fashion.
"Hi, Snotlout," he said cheerfully.
"Hey, Hiccup," Snotlout, bless his heart, had no idea what "disconcerting" means and therefore no alarm bells went off.
Hiccup began bouncing the blade in his hand, the other still holding the grip, "Birthday shopping, huh?"
"Yeah, for Astrid,"
Hiccup showed teeth in his smile and spoke through them, "So I heard,"
"Its her sixteenth, you know, so I thought I'd try and go for something special, y'know, cause it's a coming of age thing," Snotlout paused as he noticed the sword, "What's with the sword?"
"This?" Hiccup looked down at the blade and lifted it up, waving it a little menacingly, "I'm fixing it for Grem the Greyheaded. Just needs a little time in the fire and soon enough I'll be able to take your head cleeean off with it!"
"It's an expression,"
"Oh, right," Snotlout said agreeably.
"So, when is…"
"The party? In three weeks! It'll be awesome, Harll will be there with his band and…"
As Snotlout began describing the various plans for the party, both real and rumored, happily indulging in fantasies of long nights with plenty of drink, Hiccup thought.
And as any one from Berk will tell you: when Hiccup of Berk thinks, Berk trembles.
Three weeks. Twenty one days in which to plan, prepare, and act. The challenge so unwittingly delivered would be met.
Astrid would be his.
And so, the Great Quest began…