By Red Star

Chapter 3

Pitt the Inquisitive was the son of Hiccup the Humble, also known as Hiccup I, of the noble Haddocks. It was this Hiccup—the first to hold this name—who had felt obliged to remove himself, his family, and his vassels from the mainland to take up residence on the island of Berk.

Pitt was drifting through his teens then, and had been considered something of an oddity: quiet, with a penchant for drawing and observing the island's wildlife. He also had a mild streak of inventiveness in him—not as pronounced as in his descendent—that led him to build a number of cranes on Berk's cliffs with which to move the flow of lumber, tools, and baggage from the ships at anchor in the bay. This contribution and his skill with a sword made his tribesmen forgive his eccentricities.

As a matter of course, Berk was settled beginning in the first days of that summer. Working fast, the colonists managed to log half of the shelf on which the village would sit and built a series of sturdy, if undistinguished, shelters to get through the winter. In the second month of the settlement, Hiccup the Humble decided that things were ready for his sheep herds to be moved to his new holding. They arrived mostly intact, to the great pleasure of the settlers, who looked forward to a winter with warm woolen clothing and mutton with their bread and fish.

Then, wouldn't you know it, the dragons dropped by.

After the remnants of the herds had been collected, their cheerfully burning shelters were extinguished, and everybody had joined in a rousing chorus of "the hell just happened", the villagers met with their chief to figure out what to do next. Several hearty vikings wanted to find the dragons and attack their nest immediately. Another group proposed heading back to the mainland for the winter, mustering a stronger host, and destroying the nest come the next summer. One elder suggested that a subcommittee be formed to study the veracity of digging big tunnels in the ground and simply living there. Hiccup I made him stand in a corner and think about what he'd done.

Finally, the chief decided that the village would simply rebuild and he appointed his son to research the dragons and prepare his tribe for their war on the beasts. Pitt was chosen both for his studiousness and the fact that he wasn't in the room at the time.

The young viking started out with his sketches, drawing some dragons from memory and interviewing villagers for others he didn't really see. Then he accompanied his father to Skall, where he began asking questions around the docks. Eventually, he was led to an old man who had faced every hazard the northern seas could think up and a few it had borrowed from other oceans.

Trop the Tailed (don't ask) informed Pitt that Berk sat astride a sea route that was considered only somewhat safe. When ships saw dragons, for the most part it was at a distance and the worst that would happen would be a flyover, causing severe injuries to the hands by a sudden grab for weapons. In fact, the only ships that were attacked by dragons tended to be the rare livestock carrier and occasional longships returning from raids.

As Pitt recorded, Trop laughed and said this:

"Tis' not uncommon for the raiders to open their chests on calm seas and take stock o' their booty, young master. They plan for its sharing and trade, and far from land and only with trusted men about them, tis' a good place as any. But these fellows weren't paying attention around Berk and they lost their prizes, though not everything; and they should be grateful!"

"What was lost?" Pitt asked.

"Oh, treasures from the south. Coins, rings, jewels; these are gold things I'm speaking of, y'see. When there's just a few of 'em in your catch, the dragons don't take notice, but if there's a whole heap in a chest, they'll come right at ye, especially the Nadders."

"They attack the ships? No provocation?"

Trop didn't know what provocation meant, but had shrugged and continued:

"Well, to be truthful, 'attack's a mighty strong word. Mostly the beasties will just come by and snatch the box and fly off. I only heard o' two ships that they actually sank."

"And they only take the gold?"

"Aye. I think they fancy the shiny things, y'see."

"What do they do with it all?"

Trop shrugged: "I reckon they keep it somewhere; mebbe line their nests with it. I don't know. Don't care much either; I lived this long because I don't do fool things like mess with fire-breathin' beasts and their dens."

"How many ships have they plundered in this manner?"

"Beats me, young master; I've been on three o' those boats meself. The stories have made the rounds since 'fore I was born. Can't be much less than a hundred, I'd wager."

In those days, the battle of the sexes had not yet really been engaged; this was mostly because the lot of both men and women were such that the privileges of being male had all the advantages offered to someone with new boots who had stepped into a puddle of liquefied mud instead of a fresh cow chip. In those simpler times, the sexes each had their own jobs: men tended the fields, went off to war, chased the damned pigs that had escaped again, depressed their sons by teaching him the ways of his life, moved the furniture, and ran the government; women made and mended clothing, occasionally caused wars, turned the damned pigs into sausage to show them who was boss, taught their daughters how to snag rich men, made their husbands move the furniture, and generously allowed men to believe they ran the government.

There was little difference on Berk, save that their women fought like the men, drank like men, and some even shaved like men. Tradition still gave the men and womenfolk assigned roles though, and one of those was that the females of the household often had charge of crafting and mending the clothing. As women are wont to do with this particular chore, they did their work in groups, accompanying the movement of needles with gossip and innuendo, punctuated by high-pitched giggles. The latter was particularly frightening, coming from vikings.

"Wh—how the hell'd he do this?"

Astrid Hofferson looked up from her coat to see Ruffnut holding a shirt aloft, a plain look of consternation on her face. The bottom was frayed, with small strips of blue-dyed wool sadly drooping from the edge. A few holes dotted the back, some big enough to poke a finger through.

"Wow—good question."

Ruffnut scowled and gathered it in her fists angrily.

"Jerk; just because he sews himself to his clothing whenever he tries to do it himself, he thinks he can do whatever he wants and I'll fix it for him! Like hell!" she tossed the shirt onto the floor and dug into the bag holding her other work.

Astrid reached for the shirt as Ruffnut pulled out a heavy brown blanket. Holding it up, she speculatively examined the garment.

"Hey, Ruff? This shirt…"

"Totally ruined. And he'll just have to deal with it; it's not like these things grow on trees, either. No, they grow on sheep—that can bite. I almost lost half a finger to that little fuzzball."

Astrid lowered the shirt to look at her friend with a raised eyebrow.

"Is that the sheep I saw you trying to feed to Run-Tun?"

Ruffnut rolled her eyes and replied: "Payback's a bitch—to get; figures I'd get the Zippleback that doesn't like sheep."

Of course, Run-Tun, like other Zipplebacks, tended to prefer fish for a meal rather than entire sheep. Each head could have their own fish, but give them food in a single piece and the two heads would snap at each other. Explaining that both of the heads shared a stomach did little good, although they had begun to understand the impropriety of trying to share beds with the humans after a few chats.

"Anyway, this shirt…"

"If he wants it, he can fix it."

"…isn't it yours?"

Ruffnut looked up from trying to thread a bone needle and looked at the shirt.

"So it is."

"…your brother wears your shirts?"

"Yeah; why not?" was her answer, with a blank look of nonchalance.

Why not, indeed; Astrid could remember times in which she noticed the twins were wearing each other's helmets—or maybe she never really had known which helmet belonged to whom.

Astrid's room was a very viking affair: her bed was a long flat construction, with a thin mattress stuffed with wool and covered by a few blankets; a heavy chest held her clothing and what accessories she possessed. The most distinctive thing she kept in her room were the weapons she'd mounted on her walls. Swords, daggers, a few bolos, and one battle-scythe hung on nails around the breadth of the room. Mounted over her bed, within easy reach, was a doubled-bladed battle axe: her favorite weapon.

Seated on her bed, Astrid tossed the shirt aside, picked up the coat and began working her needle through the wool again. She'd gotten the raw wool in the fall, had it spun and dyed over the winter, and had been working on the garment ever since.

"Is Tuffnut still doing all that muttering?" she asked.

"Nah; I beaned him with a log last night and he finally shut up."

"What was all that about anyway?"

"I think it was something Hiccup said to him."

"Ah," Hiccup had that effect sometimes. Either his enthusiastic inventiveness or his well-honed sarcasm could leave someone trying to retrace their steps in a conversation with him.

Ruffnut had worked the blanket over her legs, and was stitching it with black thread. Astrid was concentrating on her work and only glanced up when she was pulling her thread taught. She paused.

"What's that?"

"What's what?"

"That stitching," Astrid gestured to the familiar looking lines of black on the blanket. "Those look like runes."

"They are," Ruffnut replied and turned the blanket around to hold it up. In heavy black thread was an unfinished declaration: "I SUC—"

Astrid raised an eyebrow, "Tuffnut's?"

"Tuffnut's," Ruffnut replied affirmatively.

"What'll keep him from putting that on your bed?"

"I already finished mine," Ruffnut pulled out another blanket that would have looked just like the one she was working on, except for the proclamation that "RUFFNUT RULES".

"Nice," Astrid said, admiring her friend's grasp of fraternally antagonistic tactics. Tuffnut's retaliation would be interesting to see.

She turned back to her work and found she had but one more seam to make before it was ready to wear. It was completed eagerly and the thread snapped and tied off in a hasty flourish. Then she stood up and slipped the coat on over her head.

"What do you think?" she asked, holding out her arms and making a quick spin.

Ruffnut looked up and pursed her lips in the manner of teenage girls making a judgment. Finally, she said: "Nice, but what's with the color?"

The coat was woolen, lined with the fur pelt of an elk Astrid's father, Kramp the Cheerful, had lugged back from a winter hunt, and dyed a green that evoked visions of resurrected trees in springtime.

"I thought I'd go with something different," Astrid replied in a casual tone that had seen obvious practice.


Astrid smoothly plucked her axe from the wall and jabbed the blades in Ruffnut's direction.

"Careful," she warned.

The other girl rolled her eyes and continued her act of vandalizing embroidery. Whatever else there could be said about the twins, they tended to be scornful of obvious dangers, preferring such concerns to be made secondary by their private competition.

Astrid withdrew her weapon, flipping it in her hand as she looked around at her weapons collection thoughtfully. Leaning the axe against a wall, she pulled a knife from its sheath, examined it for a moment, and then replaced it. Her hand went thoughtfully to another, longer dagger with a black leather sheath, which she took down and gave a brief shake, causing the blade to partially emerge. What she saw seemed to please her because she gave a small smirk like the kind she had at her first (and last) archery lesson and gave the dagger another shake, making it sheathe itself. She then went over to her trunk and opened it to retrieve a red sash that she wrapped tightly around her waist. The dagger was slipped into the sash and she reached for her axe.

"I'm going out," she declared. Ruffnut looked up from the top of her runic "K".

"For what?"

"I need some things sharpened; Mom and Dad took my flint on their hunt, so I'll have to use one at the smithy," Astrid hoped she put the right amount of exasperated-teenage-girl-tone in her voice.

"Oh, suurrrrre," Ruffnut said with a marvelously angled smirk.

"What?" maybe snappishness would avert the looming embarrassment, "Blades are supposed to be sharp; you can't use a sword as a club. I know: Mom tried it once and said it takes forever to do anything."

"Right, right, whatever," the other girl had already returned to her work. There were times when the twins had the attention spans of puppies who had just finished off a bucket of molasses.

Astrid turned and had just put down the curtain that separated her room from the large communal room when Ruffnut sang out: "Say hi to Hiccup for me."

She stopped in the middle of the room, heaved a sigh, and continued over to the door.

Outside, the snow had been cleared in front of her house and on the path that led to the square where the village smithy stood. She bent her steps in that direction, waving to a neighbor and nimbly dodging an arguing squadron of Terrors that were flapping in the general direction of one of the dens built the previous summer. A dark blue Nadder strutted past, its horned snout raised and sniffing in the air. Astrid ignored it. Nadders were curious dragons; bring one into a house and it tended to sniff everywhere and everything. Freya help you if you got one that knew how to open jars (and this was eerily frequent). This one was obviously sniffing out someone's recipe.

Pillars of smoke drifted from the smithy's chimney, a sign of the village's smiths at work. Or at lunch; Astrid remembered walking in once to find Gobber holding something in the hearth with his tongs-prosthetic. Hiccup had been sitting peacefully nearby and munching on two darkened pieces of bread with what looked and smelled like goat cheese squished between them.

She paused before the door to straighten out her coat, then gripped the handle and swung it inside. Stepping in, she almost tripped over Toothless's tail. The dragon turned its head to warble a greeting and then turned back to the activity deeper within.

A worried looking Fishlegs was standing beside the gaping jaw of Ajax, his Gronkle. From her vantage point, Astrid couldn't see Hiccup at first, but then she heard a voice that dreaded what else puberty had in store for it.

"Yeah, I see it: its black, shaped like an arrowhead," he paused for a few seconds, "It's wedged pretty good. Have to use a—"

"Hi, Astrid," Fishlegs said, having noticed her.

There was a mixture of a wet smack and a dull knock from Ajax's mouth, followed by a draconic whimper and a hiss. Looking embarrassed, Fishlegs offered a meaty hand, which soon clasped around a thin, freckled one. Hiccup appeared from behind the dragon's nose, rubbing his head, and giving her a sheepish smile.

"Hello, Hiccup," she said with a teasing smirk.

"Hi," he answered faintly. He still looked unsteady, but he politely removed his hand from Fishleg's grip, then reached down and pulled out a carefully cut log from Ajax's mouth. The Gronkle gave a contented purr and smacked its lips.

"Rest a bit, okay, Ajax? We'll get to it in a few minutes and then you can go home," Hiccup said soothingly with a few friendly rubs on the dragon's neck. Then he turned to Astrid.

"What's up?"

"My parents took my flint on their hunt," she said in a carefully casual tone, "and I need this sharpened." She patted the dagger at her waist.

"What about the axe?"

"This?" she hefted it. She was a little surprised at the question. "I thought I'd get in a little throwing practice after I'm done here."

In truth, Astrid just had a habit of carrying it around, much like a toddler would a favored stuffed toy—granted, this particular toy could crack open skulls like eggs and send brain matter fifteen yards away, but the idea was similar.

"Can I take a look?" he asked, opening a hand towards her.

Astrid hesitated, then hefted the weapon and handed it to him. Hiccup took it in one hand, which dropped several inches from the weight. With a slightly strained look he inspected the axe, gripping the blade with three fingers and giving it a tug, then lifting the whole thing up to examine the handle shaft. After a moment's contemplation, he extended it back to Astrid.

"Have you been using it a lot?"

"She has a name, you know."

"No, I didn't," it was common for vikings to name their weapons; living in medieval Scandinavia did that to you, "and what have you called this fine lady?"

Astrid lifted her axe above her head so that it caught the light of the hearth's fire and the candles, and then proclaimed: "Emascula, Instrument of Preemptive Vengeance."

"Wow, really…fitting," Hiccup said with a weak smile. Beside Ajax, Fishlegs casually crossed his legs.

"But, to answer your question: just for practice, when I can get to a decent tree," which was hard in wintertime Berk. Just walking to her favorite practice spot would have taken all day, and she had chores around home to think of.

"Do you always do the same thing? Throw it at a tree, pull it out, and repeat?"

"Yeah; why?"

Hiccup pointed at Emascula. "The head's a little loose; you have to look for it, but it shifts about an eleventh of an inch when the handle is moved."

Astrid blinked and looked at her axe, "Really."

"Yeah," he dared to step a little closer and tapped the head, "Normally, I'd just tighten the bolts, but you also have some hairline cracks down the shaft here," he drew his surprisingly callused finger across the handle , stopping where Astrid could dimly see jagged black lines that she was fairly certain hadn't been there before. Cracks had appeared between some of the leather straps that made up the grip, and there was a longer one further down.

Astrid mentally cussed herself out. Berk was hard on everything that called it home, and that included the tools. The trees she practiced on were survivors, so it took some strength to retrieve her axe; all that constant embedding and wrenching took a toll.

The vikings of Berk knew never to take a chance with their arms: they had to be ready at any second, and besides which the dragons had done enough breaking on their own without any help.

She gripped the axe with both hands, "What should I do?"

"Well…" Hiccup was regarding the axe unhappily, for some reason, "I could give you a new handle. It'll take some time but you'd start out fresh. I'll even figure out something to make it more durable if you want to keep cutting up trees."

"Why don't you just do that?"

Hiccup started and Astrid didn't, but they both turned to look at Fishlegs who was rubbing Ajax's nose.

"Why don't you just use it for chopping wood until the handle breaks or whatever? That's the kind of thing my dad always does with his stuff: use it in something harmless until it falls apart," he paused thoughtfully, "Well, not that he should. Have you ever tried to butter a piece of bread with a bastard sword?"

"She's not meant to chop wood," Astrid and Hiccup snapped in unison.

Fishlegs held up his hands and stepped back, tripping over Ajax who had already retreated.

"Anyway," Astrid said, the sharpness in her tone fading, "That sounds good, Hiccup." She pulled the dagger from her sash and passed both the weapons to the blacksmith's apprentice, who promptly staggered with them to a worktable.

"It'll be a few days," he said in a labored voice; he deposited the burden onto a clear space and turned around with a happy sigh, "I'm going to take Toothless out tomorrow, and I have to help Gobber around the ring the day after. But it shouldn't take any longer than that."

"That's okay; less temptation," Astrid said with an eye-roll, "Mom and Dad left me with the pest while they're gone. Apparently, threats involving battle-axes and the many ways in which it can be used are 'bad' disciplinary tools. They spoil that girl."

"You can go too far with that," Hiccup warned her, "When I was little—okay, littler," he sighed when Fishlegs and Astrid stared at him, "my dad used to be on my ass about everything: 'Hiccup, stay away from that cabinet', 'If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, stay off the catapult', 'We are going to talk later, son, but right now you need to hang on', 'Dammit, Hiccup, I told you to stay out of that cabinet', 'See, this is why I don't let you hold more than one hammer'. You'd think I was some puppy that hadn't been housebroken yet."

There was silence for a moment.

"Right. Soooo, what's wrong with Ajax?" Astrid asked, trying to change the conversation.

"He chewed some granite up and got a piece stuck in his teeth," Fishlegs patted his Gronkle on the head, "I found him gnawing on a big rock trying to dislodge it. I didn't know what else to do, so here we are."

Hiccup hobbled through a doorway, reappearing with an awl and a small pair of tongs. He picked up the small log on his way to the dragon, beside whom he lowered to his knees with a grunt.

"Okay, Ajax, I just need you to open wide again," Hiccup instructed in a cheerful tone that would later be aped by syringe-wielding pediatricians. The Gronkle blinked hesitantly, and then opened its mouth. The log was carefully placed on end within the jaws, providing a brace for Hiccup to safely reach into the maw.

It was a warming show of trust, but Astrid was at least partly used to it. When the dragons had migrated to Berk, the dragons had surprised the vikings with their deference and attention to both Toothless and Hiccup. At the village feast that had followed the last piece of their victory—Hiccup's awakening—the dragons had refused to eat until Toothless had plunged his head into a pile of fish, and they were still uneasy until Hiccup had been seated with a rack of lamb. Fishlegs theorized that because Toothless had been the dragon that had destroyed the Red Death, he was seen as the new leader of the den. Fishlegs also believed that the dragons regarded Hiccup as an extension of Toothless, therefore they treated him with the same reverence.

Hiccup took up the awl and began probing at a spot in the back half of the lower jaw—where the piece of granite was stuck, she supposed.

"Well, I think it's loose enough," Hiccup commented. He reached beside himself for the small tongs, discarding the awl as he did so. "Should be able to…" Hiccup's arm twitched, and he paused.

"Should be able to…"

Another twitch.


Twitch number three.

His other arm went in.


His torso jerked backwards. Fishlegs was looking even more worried and Ajax gave a whining sigh.

Astrid rolled her eyes, untied her sash, and took off her coat. She stepped beside Hiccup and gently pulled him up by the shoulder. Then she pulled the tongs from his hand and pressed her things into Hiccup's surprised grasp.

"New coat; don't want it dirty yet," she said, and then she knelt by the Gronkle's open mouth.

Gronkles have a lot of large, hard, sharp teeth, and it took a moment for her to adjust her eyes and spot the offending rock. She reached over and fastened the tongs onto the granite, gave an experimental tug, then a mighty yank upwards, triggering a surprised yip from Ajax. In a swift motion she pulled away the log and stood up, smiling benevolently down at the Gronkle.

"Wow, thanks, Astrid," Fishlegs accepted the offered rock and pocketed it.

She shrugged. "Hiccup got it started; and he knew what to use."

"Well, I am an apprentice," Hiccup said wryly, "I have a lot of experience being the connection between tools and the people who can actually use them."

Astrid smiled and reached for her coat. Fishlegs and Ajax made their way outside, Toothless slithering past them towards Hiccup. As she shook the coat out and put her right arm into a sleeve, Hiccup looked at her thoughtfully.

"Is that a new coat?"

"Yeah," Astrid beckoned for the sash, "Just finished it today; I told you just a minute ago, remember?"

"Oh, yeah," he replied distractedly while handing the garment over. "It's different, isn't it?"

"The color," Astrid cinched the sash tightly, "That's different."

"It's nice," he said distantly.

"Thank you."

Awkward silence fell like a fat lemming.

"So, I, uh, hear you're having a birthday coming up soon," Hiccup tried.

"Yeah, the big one-six," Astrid replied, "Very important. Lots of things to do."

"Harll's coming?"

"He says he's going to unveil something called 'rock music'," she shrugged at Hiccup's quizzical look, "Don't ask me; I only invited him so he'd shut up. He still plays a mean guitar, though."

"I know; he used to live down the hill from us."

"'Used to'?"

Hiccup shrugged, "Dragons."

Astrid nodded and then asked: "You are coming, right?"

The boy blinked and then gave a wide, nervous smile, "Of course! Wouldn't miss it!"

His face had taken on a look that gave Astrid pause; she recalled that Hiccup had adopted the same expression whenever he was trying to hide his attempts to "help" the village. She still woke up sweating from dreams that involved his attempts to improve their water wagon.

"What are you planning?"

"Huh? Nothing!" he waved his hands in denial. Another bad sign; during one raid, she'd seen him do that when the chief was questioning him. Stoick had picked his son up in one hand and stepped into the alley which Hiccup had been hiding in. He'd come back out a moment later, visibly shaken, and promptly shoved his son into the smithy, barring the door after he did so. This needed handling, now.

"Listen," she said, easily sliding an arm around Hiccup's shoulders, "Just come to the Mead Hall and have fun, okay? Don't go nuts because somebody else is inventing things for a change."

"Of course not," Hiccup grinned nervously at her, "Let Harll do what he wants. I might not even notice him: too busy partying. I can be a real party animal, you know."

"Really," Astrid said in a wondering tone.

"Well, my dad is one, so I probably inherited the trait from him," he caught the look on Astrid's face, "Well, I've got to have something besides his hair and eyes, right?"

"Sure, sure," she said in a placating tone. Astrid walked to the door, saying, "I should start home; the pest will be home soon and I'll have to get a start on dinner," she paused with her hand on the handle, "You said you're going out tomorrow?"

"Yeah, with Toothless; poor guy's getting antsy these days."

At Hiccup's feet, Toothless began to snore softly.

"How long will you be?"

"All day," Hiccup began to prod the Nightfury softly, "Have to really work out the nervous energy, don't we, Toothless?"

One large green eye opened long enough to discern Hiccup was not within the jaws of some hellish beast and thus did not require immediate rescue, then shut again.

The two vikings stared at the dragon.

"He just ate," Hiccup explained.

"Right, sure," Astrid replied, "I have to be going. See you later."

"See ya."

"And the party?"

"Of course."

The sun had not yet risen and most of the village was still asleep when Hiccup awoke the next morning. He didn't want to answer any questions; or worse, have somebody invite themselves along on this trip. This would be his secret triumph, to be revealed only at the day of his intended's adulthood.

The first thing to do was to hook up Toothless's saddle and false winglet. This was done while the dragon breakfasted on a basket of trout; Hiccup himself had eaten a few pieces of black bread with goat butter.

After he'd checked all the straps and lines, he pulled out a few small saddlebags and clipped them to the saddle where it covered Toothless's lower neck. It was an idea he'd come up with during the day of forced immobility when that rock had jammed his false leg, a means by which he could make long journeys beyond Berk. He could take food, clothing, and weapons with him…and bring things back.

The vikings of Berk had learned to be careful with their brighter belongings. Dragons chased the lights reflected from especially shiny buckles, tools, helmets, and blades, and sometimes contrived to steal them for the nests set up around the village and the hatchery that had been created in the old dragon fighting ring. Many gave up the stolen metals as unviking-like anyway, but for others it seemed that all that was needed was a scolding tone and a willingness to reach into the nest and reclaim their belongings. Hiccup believed the dragons were accustomed to having their little "treasures" passed around in a musical-chairs game of theft or sharing.

Or perhaps they had never had any treasure at all.

He remembered a lot of things from the first time he had been to the dragon's den: fear for himself and what was possibly his first real (human) friend and ally; confusion over Toothless's strange behavior; the hundreds of dragons ensconced in tight corners and niches, clutching close to their eggs; and the horror of the Red Death's revelation.

What he did not remember was any piles of gold, piled up in nests or nestled among stones.

The dragons had been raiding ships for several generations: Pitt the Inquisitive had been definite on that. Hundreds of ships had lost several king's ransoms worth of gold to the fog enshrouded den. But where was the gold.

It seemed perfectly obvious to Hiccup: the gold had been tribute, paid to the Red Death for the lining of its nest, just as the dragons had been forced to hunt beyond their needs to feed the unholy beast. Odin knew how much gold had been cast down into the Red Death's nest, never to be seen again.

But, of course, the Red Death had itself met its demise; meaning that there was a veritable sea of treasure waiting within the vast mountain that had held the den.

And Hiccup was certain that among it would be his Goal, the subject of his Quest: the perfect gift to upstage Snotlout, win Astrid's heart, and ensure the future of the House of Haddock (granted their children would probably be taller and significantly stronger than him by the age of six; Hiccup had made his peace with this long ago). Not only that, but in one stroke Berk would become one of the wealthiest fiefdoms in the kingdom, and he would be remembered with a style to his name: perhaps "Hiccup the Golden" or "Hiccup the Giver". He'd even settle for "Hiccup the Surprisingly Useful".

He donned his harness, pulled on his coat and a furry hat, and gave a little pat on Toothless's head.

"C'mon, buddy."

The door was opened, admitting a lazy flow of coldness. Toothless trotted outside, lifting his flat snout and inhaling the smells of a village at rest, while Hiccup shut the entrance to his house. The air had that clean crispiness that comes with cold weather, spiced by the scent of slumbering fires, persevering trees, and the Gronkle that buzzed dozily by after rolling in something that may or may not have had rodent origins.

The two looked out over the dark village for a moment, and then Hiccup turned to Toothless and climbed into the saddle. The dragon immediately crawled to a knoll beside the walkway, where they often took off from when just leaving the house.

Two massive black wings stretched out, preparing the muscles for flight and testing the wind, which Toothless found agreeable.

The viking leaned down beside his friend's ear and said, "You know where to go, and what to do, right?"

The dragon paused and then bobbed its head in acknowledgement.

"All right then," he rubbed Toothless's neck, "This is for Astrid."

With one mighty stroke of the wings, they were airborne, flying towards the place of their greatest and their next victory.

Or the scene of disaster. Place your bets.

Author's Notes: Happy Release Day!

I cannot apologize enough for the lateness of this chapter. I freely admit to laziness on my part, as well as certain stubbornness on when I can actually work.

I am also sorry if my readers find this part boring. I found myself in the situation of Abraham Lincoln's minister: the man began writing a sermon and found himself too lazy to stop.

August was a hell of a month: I was able to see HTTYD at AMC Theatres thanks to their Summer Movie Camp program, where movie tickets are a dollar per person and proceeds go to charity. Thanks to my bosses, in the unlikely event they read this.

In regards to the title I was trying to find for Miko Maleficus, a number of you said that I had been looking for the superb "A Downed Dragon is a Dead Dragon" as a matter of fact, I had been thinking of "Valkyrie", another excellent story. Thanks to those who responded in the communal spirit.

In this chapter, we have discovered that Hiccup and Gobber made an invention that changed the world. Truly, they were ahead of their time.

EDIT 10/16/10

Backroads: Thank you for your kind words. I enjoy your stories and found "Ashes" very moving.

lordsesshomaru2: I was pleased to see such a long and very well written review for my story. Since I do not expect to have the next chapter up until sometime in August, I would like to answer you now instead of waiting to do so in the chapter.
First off, I honestly cannot say what the age of the teenagers are. I first assumed they were fifteen and a friend of mine says they were fourteen. I am not exactly certain where canon stands on this point. Nor can I really say much about Hiccup's height beyond that I don't think he'll match his father, who is a very large man.
I too believe that people have to take parts of stories seriously, and that you take the time to think about these things says a great deal about you. Authors who inject a bit of reality into their work usually produce stories of excellent quality, and if you are planning to submit any works yourself, I think it would be a good read.
I am sorry to say I may not be ale to match the length of this chapter throughout the story, but I'm going to give it a shot.
Finally, it was very flattering of you to ask but no, I am not a published author; simply one who does this as a hobby.
Thank you for your review and your thoughts. I look forward to any works you might put forward yourself in the future; you obviously have the brains for good storytelling.

Mediadragon: Now, you know!

GhibiGirl91: I got mine at my local Borders, and the badass picture is on page 66: one of the concept drawings of the character. His stance and the look in his eye is that of an entirely different character.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed. Next chapter, we start getting serious...after some jokes.