Chapter 14: The Door into Spring

This one is very far out and Heinlein like, so I hope you'll bear with it. This is where, in Heinlein style, I have to throw out a bunch of interesting ideas about history and space, tie up some loose knots and hope it all works out in the end. Oh, and throw in a family friendly hot tub scene, too.

The time line theories have their origin with Heinlein's ideas. Many of his books deal with this, and I hope you read some of them and enjoy a mad ride through an alternate view of world history as it could have happened. This is just my poor attempt at the same idea.

Hope you like it. And thanks so much for reading!

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: The usual! Also, don't tamper with history unless you are really ready to deal with the consequences. Just in case you are bored and want to see what happens if you change history, you know. There are healthier and less expensive hobbies.

"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."- (R. A. Heinlein, "Stranger in a Strange Land")

Now that I've come to understand Firemakers closely, I am amazed that they have become such a powerful life form. Think of it- except for the Birch Island Vikings, most Firemakers are not that big, so they are at a disadvantage against many predators. They have to make teeth and claws out of iron, for their own are pretty much defunct. Likewise, they have to make their own skin coverings because they don't have scales or thick fur. We People actually have some rather funny creation myths about how Firemakers were late to the convocation when the creators were bestowing survival gifts on the creatures of this world.

In the end, it's their mind and imaginations that make them so powerful. We call them Firemakers because they have mastered creating fire, and I think that was what enabled them to survive.

Anyway, all this is getting me to saying that for all their cleverness, Firemakers are such fragile creatures. It amazes me sometimes how daring they can be when they know they can be hurt so easily. But some of them, like my Rider, choose to take that risk. There is a lot you can criticize about Firemakers, but those like Hiccup show that there is hope for the species.

We People heal much faster, especially the Lightning People. My former People have to be- if you live most of your life in isolation, you can't afford to be sick or injured for a long time. But, then, again, by living in isolation we don't place ourselves in the kind of danger that gets us badly hurt.

As usual, I had to be the one member of my former tribe who was different. And, apparently, both I and my Rider had taken quite a battering.

I know I was not totally senseless during those first days. I got impressions here and there. I remembered someone slicing my harness off of me and marveling at how beautifully it had been designed (Gobber)? There was a whole amazing world of pain as some Firemakers struggled to lift me and turn me onto my left side. I heard someone gasp, and then I blacked out again.

Later, I came to and heard someone's voice saying something like "Poor little fella. After the way we treated him, he had no need to put himself at risk like that. And he took some very evil blows there. Hope he pulls through."

::He'd better:: I thought sent weakly to them, ::Hiccup gave a lot for you and I hope you appreciate it.::

And someone pet my head- it seemed to be in his lap. It was Stoick! He continued speaking, "Aye, and you consider, his kind had always seen us as enemies, yet he chose to help us. He's a brave little dragon."

Oh. They were talking about me? I was badly hurt? I might not pull through? And where was Hiccup? He had to be hurt worse than I!

Then I think I was lying in some kind of quickly constructed shelter. Apparently no one wanted to risk moving us too far, and we now had five dragons more than willing to ferry back and forth supplies and healers. I heard an older woman giving quiet orders and my head was now in someone else's- Ástríður's - lap.

A Firemaker was spreading a cooling, soothing substance along my right side that smelled like the dragon healing herbs I had shown Hiccup (ahh, so they found his notebook.) And someone else was putting a similar substance on a tear in one of my wings. That same wing had also gotten rather nastily twisted back on itself. (It's harder than it looks to hold your wings around a Firemaker's body when you're being pulled down by gravity onto a hard surface.) My broken ribs were very sore but seemed to be supported by a well woven bandage so I could breathe fairly easily. I heard someone mentioning much of my right side looked like raw meat.

I remember asking over and over again where Hiccup was. I missed him. I was worried about him. Of course the Firemaker healers did not know what I was saying and seemed to think I was moaning in pain.

Finally someone seemed to figure it out because my next awareness was that we had both been placed together in this temporary shelter, him in a makeshift bed with lots of blankets and me curled on my left side around him protectively.

I think people were constantly with us, watching over us. It made me feel reassured in my half consciousness that we had friends. Ástríður, especially, seemed to look out for me. I came to really love and admire her devotion to making sure I was cared for. Apparently, it was indeed she who had broken through Hiccup's fataslitic shock. She had challenged him, gotten him mad, and made him realize he was the key to solving the problem. And she gave him back his courage to lead the other younglings and my allies from the Kill Ring to the Lady's island.

Another youngling, the heavy set blond with the hazel eyes known as Fishlegs, also was very devoted to watching over Hiccup and I. I had never had the chance to know him before the battle with the Lady, but I can honestly say he was kindness itself in his care for Hiccup and I.

Neither of us was unconscious completely. I did see Hiccup open his eyes a few times, but it was with a blind look. He was not aware of his surroundings, and he usually sank back into unconsciousness within minutes. It was during times like this that the Firemakers watching over him had broths and healing drinks on hand to gently pour down his throat, supporting his head and chest with a hand. Some survival instinct in him must have made him willing to drink those offerings. There were herbal medicines in those to keep him asleep and pain free as much as possible. Gothi, the Elder, it turned out, was quite good at the barbarian healing arts. I guess when you have to heal dragon chewed warriors on a regular basis, you get really good at your job.

One thing I did not understand, though, is why each day I seemed to get more and more tired. According to the way we People heal, I should have been up on my feet within a week or two. I also started feeling hot and dizzy, and I felt no interest in eating the good food and water I was given.

I also once overheard Gothi discussing something along the lines that Hiccup's health was stable enough now so they could remove his lower left leg. It was shattered beyond recovery and only would cause problems with infection.

That made my heart sink. In my daze I had seen one of the Elder's assistants changing a bandage on Hiccup's mangled leg one day, and I had seen that my tooth marks were on the upper leg. Those tooth marks would be with Hiccup forever. That broke my heart. Logically I knew that the leg had already been shattered when I grabbed him, and it was not my teeth that had caused the infection. But still… the thought I had had to hurt him in any way to save him tore at my soul.

I came awake when they were making preparations. I had been lying curled up by Hiccup, my splinted wing stretched out by him. . He was not wearing much clothing because of the fever- just the knee length smallclothes trousers these Firemakers wear when they sleep. He was sweating heavily and very pale, his freckles standing out shockingly on him. The Elder had tied a strip of cloth very tightly around his left leg, just below the knee.

Ástríður was by my side, touching my nose. She was sitting between me and Hiccup, my head in her lap, her other hand stroking Hiccup's sweaty hair. I smiled weakly when I caught her kissing his forehead when she thought no one was watching.

Right now she was asking the Elder if I should be taken from the room.

Gothi shook her head, "Look at the poor laddie. He can barely lift his head. What's he going to do to hurt any of us in his condition? I think it would scare him much more to be separated from Hiccup right now."

She gently rubbed my forehead, and I gave her a weak purr. I do not allow many Firemakers to touch me, but the healers and Ástríður had my respect, "He's very smart. He knows what's going on. Let him stay."

::Thank you.::

The lethargy was heavier in me than ever. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again.

And, then, I knew exactly what to do. Why had I not thought of this before? If the Turkmene and her Rider could link on the Dreampaths, why not Hiccup and I? He was already heavily dosed now. And isn't being unconscious a very deep sort of sleeping?

Let's see… how do I do this? He was kind of with me on the Dreampaths when I first gave the Turkmene the data about the dragon attacks.

It was childishly easy to fall asleep in my injured, lethargic state, so I did. As I dozed off, I concentrated on Hiccup and how much we loved flying together. We both missed it, didn't we?

Let's forget about all this pain, shall we? Instead of a test flight- we're going on a rest flight!

And it worked!

The next I thing I knew we were both flying over the sea, the clean and healing wind tearing over us. The sun was out and sparkling on the water. Hiccup was bent low over my back. He threw up a hand and whooped for joy. I roared as an echo.

I realized that I was wearing no harness. Hiccup was not wearing his flight harness either. He was just wearing the lightweight leggings he had been wearing in his sick bed. I noticed I had a perfect tail and neither of us were injured from the battle with the Lady.

This is the Dreampaths. Everything can be just the way you want it to be.

He did not have to steer me anymore, but I still wanted him on my back because we were partners who both enjoyed this mad and wild flying. It was also actually nice he could be a passenger for once and just enjoy the ride.

We came in down over a shoreline, and I became aware of some clouds coming in. They were thick and rather ominous.

Hey, this is supposed to be the Dreampaths! No bad thoughts, remember?

The darker mist settled around us, and I landed on the grassy shore. Good thing I did, because my Rider suddenly let out a pain filled cry and threw his arms around my neck, hugging me so hard that my breath was choked off.

"Great gods! It hurts! It hurts!" He yelled and gritted his teeth, "What's going on?".

I felt my heart sink. I thought the Dreampaths hid the real world cares!

"Yo, dragon! Viking! Over here!"

I heard Gatalas' voice and the Turkmene's hoof beats.

Through the darker clouds came Gatalas and the Turkmene. He was riding her with no saddle or harness, and he was just wearing a sleeveless top and knee length trousers. Sarmatian sleep clothes maybe? The only thing the Turkmene was wearing was her usual neck bands, but now she had an additional one.

Gatalas was waving an arm, "Follow us. Now! Don't think about the pain. Just follow us. "

It was hard, since Hiccup was choking off my breath, but I bounded after the dynamic duo.

They took my groaning Rider and I through these dark mists and just to the top of a small hill. There was a small lake near the hill. They galloped down the hill and then leaped right into the water with a magnificent splash. The impact knocked Gatalas from the Turkmene's back.

I took off from the hill, spread my wings and coasted down to the oddly purple lake, gliding over it and neatly landing into the water.

Why does every venture I seem to get into these days involve getting wet?

However, this water was warm, pleasantly warm! I'd get wet every day if I could land in this!

My Rider fell off my back and sunk under the water. He came back up, reaching out for something to grab. That happened to be the Turkmene's neck and he hooked his hand into her new neck band, this one red one with white embroideries of cute geometric flowers and evil little horned skulls. That said worlds about Sarmatian culture right there.

She pulled backwards, dragging him towards the shallow shore area where there were some large rocks, just perfect for leaning against. She flopped on her side against one of the rocks and adjusted her dun, zebra-striped shoulder so my Rider was lying against it. Everything from his chest down was immersed in the water.

What amazing water! It was soft and warm as a sleeping kitten's sighs, and there seemed to be effervescent bubbles that tickled my hide.

This was a much better dream. I heard Hiccup sigh in relief.

:::Oh, man, The pain is gone. This feels great.::: He slumped against the Turkmene and closed his eyes, one step shy from unconscious.

I myself sighed in relief and let myself curl up on my side in the water, too. What was this place? And did they take permanent residents?

Gatalas had emerged from below the water and shook his long blond hair, splattering us all with this amazing water.

"My tribe calls this part of the Dreampaths the Healing Grounds," he said, wringing out his rib length blond hair. Our healers and priests will take people here who have been injured. Not physically, but mentally and spiritually. We do this while they are sleeping or if they are deeply unconscious. The water heals their souls, and that can help them with their physical healing, too."

It would have sounded like silly stuff if this water had not felt so wonderful. Even the scenery around the lake (now that the annoying black mist was gone) was lovely. It was the steppe land, but the steppe land in the spring, with fierce green grasses and hundreds of species of wild flowers scattered like jewels into the horizon.

Playful birds soared over head, and I saw in the distance a majestic herd of aurochs moving peacefully to new grazing pastures.

I could spend a few years here, I think. Centuries even.

The Turkmene looked at me with a sad smile ::And, yes, when we have to amputate someone's limb- a very common occurrence among the Sarmatians, sadly- , we take them here, too mentally during the procedure. You did the right thing going on the Dreampaths.::

::I was just lucky you caught me at the right time.:: I snorted.

::Heh. We're injured, too, fish breath. That's why we caught a hold of you when you entered here. We got a few nasty souvenirs from some of your People when we cleared out that new nest. But nothing too serious, thankfully. We were dealing with nothing like the monster you and Hiccup had to put down. We call them Red Deaths , by the way. Not because they're red but because of their fire.::

My Firemaker was breathing easier now, fully relaxed. Gatalas leaned over and touched his forehead gently. Hiccup dropped into sleep, relaxing against the Turkmene's shoulder.

"He has more than enough to cope with, so it's good he stays asleep." Gatalas said softly, "He won't remember any of this, by the way." But he did smile at Hiccup, "Thank you, little brother, for being born. And for being right where you should be."

::So, you were able to root out the problem on your end?:: I asked the Turkmene.

She nuzzled my Rider's head, making sure he was comfortable. I thought it interesting that her reddish brown, uneven mane blended perfectly into his reddish brown, uneven hair. ::Yes, thanks to both of you. Your information was valuable to us in coming up with a way to kill our friendly neighborhood Red Death. And since you defeated your much less friendly Red Death, the one who has been setting up all these colonies, the biggest threat is over.::

Gatalas splashed backwards to me, "If you don't mind, your Viking's kidnapped my ride. Mind if I lean against your shoulder?"

::You're just jealous because you don't have as pretty of teeth as he does, Rider.:: The Turkmene snickered evilly. :: As you know, the horse is the most supreme icon of beauty.::

"In your dreams. Unfaithful as always, Horsebutt. But you're still my best friend, ma'am."

::Ditto, Rider.::

I gestured with my muzzle that it was all right for Gatalas to use me as a bed rest. I knew already Hiccup was my Only Rider. He had earned my respect. I would never allow anyone else to ride me. Maybe, if someone gave a really convincing argument (fish are a good unit of currency) I might allow him or her to be a passenger. However, no one will ever be my Rider but Hiccup.

Even allowing someone to lean against my side while I rested was something I would usually not accept.

But I would do it for Gatalas.

He bowed to me and then lay against my shoulder, letting the warm water lap over his body. "I thank you, dragon. "

I shifted lower in the water, taking in its soothing warmth. I noticed that there was some strange color now in the water, a kind of thick, milky substance blending into the amethyst lake.

I snorted in surprise. When I looked closer, I realized the substance was drifting up from my skin.

The Turkmene's lovely brown eyes met mine, and I realized for the first time that horses have horizontal bars as pupils. Her eyes were solemn.

::We didn't only come here for your Hiccup. Don't you remember when we were crossing the steps and one of those things bit you?::

I shivered a bit, remembering the way that the bite had numbed my leg. That bite had been from a juvenile. I had forgotten that those creatures were venomous in addition to their other many charming qualities.

::It's in their teeth and their tail spikes. Your Rider got the blow- you got the venom. Those beings are good at mind control, and their venom is likewise. It acts on your mind, slowing down the functions until you just drop into a sleep… and then stop breathing.::

So that's why I was so lethargic.

::The waters here act on healing the mind, so the venom is being drawn out now.::

::Would I have… died?:: My breath caught in my throat.

The Turkmene leaned forward and nuzzled my forehead. There really did not seem to be much more to add to that eloquent statement.

For a moment there was only peace, although I heard some insects singing.

I shook my muzzle to clear some water drops off it ::It's just always amazing how you two always seem to show up just when I need you. :: I thought sent to both of them, who seemed just on the verge of falling asleep themselves. I had to keep reminding myself they had been hurt as well.

::Just doing our job,:: thought sent the Turkmene, :: You know that the military Dragon unit Gatalas and I are in operate much like Signalers for the Steppes. We guide your kind- as well as ordinary travelers- through a region that is no easy walk in the garden of delight. But we always have been on the lookout for Asian dragons- especially Lightning People. We wanted to make sure we got as many Lightning People making it alive over the plains and into the west as possible.::

Gatalas perked up more and jumped in, "To be honest, Toothless, we knew there was a problem going on in Europe, just not really what it was- only that it impacted dragons. We Sarmatians have a saying that only a dragon can defeat a dragon. We learned the hard way that it is a real dragon, not a Sarmatian dragon unit. So, we'd better find some dragons to help out with the problem. But those dragons would have to have something like what we Sarmatian archers have, but with a human and dragon working together. The problem is that no one has ever thought of actually getting a dragon to accept a human Rider."

He grinned at me, "Asian dragons were the best hope since you have not been affected by the anger and hostilities in Europe, and Lightning People are the ones most likely to be traveling between Asia and Europe because of those Signaler duties. Your journeying would also give you a more open mind. So, my lovely nag here and I and I always kept a look out for helping Lightning People during our shifts and trying to plant the idea in their minds that having a Rider and Dragon relationship can be a good thing."

::Must have been loads of fun:: I stuck my tongue at them, thinking of just how most of my former People would have tolerated that notion. I was one of them.

The Turkmene sent me an image of a group of cats in a harness together, each cat doing its own thing.

I got the idea.

::You were actually our favorite Person we brought over the Plains:: the Turkmene said with a nicker, ::You were as sarcastic as the others, but you were fun to be around- you have a bounciness and a joy of life most Lightning People don't have.::

"So many of them are too busy trying to be perfect," Gatalas said with a yawn.

::That's why we were so delighted when it turned out you did bond with a Rider. There's no guarantee you would, of course- we just had to set the possibility up. Your Hiccup here is not what I would have guessed as Rider material, but I like his style. You were smart to bond with him. You've got a good head on his shoulders.::

I nodded, proud of my Rider.

:: Another question, Horsebutt. These Red Death thingies- are they native to the Steppes?::

I got the impression that was the question to open a basket of eels.

"Hoo boy", Gatalas blew through his teeth and laughed a bit, "This is a hard one to explain, and it's good your Rider is asleep or he'd think we were totally lost in the realms of the unreal. You should know the whole situation, though. You see, those creatures don't come from this world- or even this time line."

I closed all my eye lids ::Yup, you're crazy. But go on. I have nothing better to do at the moment except ooze venom into this lovely lake..::

Gatalas laughed, "Well, then. Here you go. Most of us think of history and time as being something that travels in a line. What they don't know is we only see one line, but there are actually many, many other lines. Some are very different, and some share similar events, but then they split apart from each other based on a crucial event.

"All these time lines fit together side by side."

He held the first finger of each hand parallel, water running from his hand. I noticed his positioning was a bit off.

"Usually there's no problem with that- it's only when you get problems with boundaries blurring and even fragmenting between time lines. Then there is a chance of beings from one line crossing over impacting another- that's when we all need to take action."

Oh. I'll bite ::So these Red Death creatures are from another time line and have figured out how to get to our reality?:: I remembered how weird the Steppes were with all the mirages ::And the Steppes are one of those areas where you have this torn boundary?.::

Gatalas clapped his hands and the Turkmene let out a happy whicker.

::It actually has a brain!:: she laughed.

I splashed her, trying hard not to hit Hiccup and wake him up.

Gatalas picked up on the information, now, "The world they come from, our priests and astronomers believe, is one where Earth always remained volcanic. These Red Deaths are a highly productive life form and overpopulate fast, so the offspring are always looking for new places to establish colonies. The torn boundary allows them to slip into your timeline, and they are very good at taking hold here. So our unit is always on the lookout to catch them before they get too established here. But some get away before we can find them. And some got away long before our unit came to this timeline. Probably your Red Death was in that category."

::'Your timeline?' It's your time line, too:: I pointed out.

They just looked at me with "he's just is so slow, isn't he, the poor child" smiles.

::Except for when it isn't?:: I asked sheepishly

Truly, I could give an eel's sneeze about Firemaker history, but this seemed to be important, so I let my crazy friends (getting crazier all the time, it seems) talk more.

Gatalas did the talking now, "Well, to put it simply- the Sarmatian people died out a very long time ago on this timeline. Old campsites we've found showed that the Sarmatians here were completely obliterated by a disease a long time ago. We're from another time line- the time historians who keep track of these call it the Caesar line. That's because in our time line there was a huge empire of Firemakers that covered Europe, parts of Asia and Africa. These Firemakers were known as Romans. In this timeline- yours- the Roman Empire never grew as powerful as it did in ours.

"Anyway, even in our Caesar time line the Sarmatians were defeated by the Romans long before now. So even in our time line's 11th century we don't exist anymore as the dragon tribes, those loveable barbarians who drink from the skulls of our enemies!"

::Hiccup's people make helmets out the breast plates of their most beloved Viking women after they die.:: I added helpfully.

Both the Turkmene and Gatalas looked at each in squeamishness,.

::Okay, you win.:: The Turkmene said ::You Vikings are more barbaric.::

"Anyway, our tribes were defeated by the Romans almost 1,000 years ago in our timeline. The Romans sent most of our Dragon troops to Scotland, not far from your Birch Island. But there were a few units that were chosen by some Roman time historians to come over to this timeline and be the protectors and guardians of the steppe lands. So my nag and I were part of that unit. We came with our families and flocks. It was a chance to start over in a world similar to what we knew, but in a new time line. We just have to fight with some nasty beasties and help travelers through, but it's a great life."

::But isn't that like messing with time?::

The Turkmene shook her mane, ::Yes, and it is a risk. But when the Red Death creatures came over, they also messed up the timeline. In a way, we're replacing the Sarmatians that were obliterated here.::

I was not quite sure how to take all this in. And, yet again, I had felt the weirdness of the steppe lands when I crossed it.

Plus, Toothless, I told myself, you have to admit the Lady- the Red Death- was not at all something natural to this world.

Her wings were too small to support her, yet she flew. She had way more eyes than dragons really need. She used mind control instead of mind speech. She had a mind control venom. She was, for all purposes, an alien creature who had invaded our world.

The milky liquid streaming from my skin was now starting to thin out, so hopefully the venom had almost leached out of me.

I yawned, feeling nicely relaxed. ::So if you and your Dragon unit are some sort of time police, does that mean Hiccup and I will be, too? But in the North Atlantic?::

I actually rather liked that idea.

::Hmm… some days I think we're more time clean up crew than time police, but nice analogy. That's really up to you and Hiccup. But you should not think about it for now. Instead focus on healing and helping your People and the Firemakers to understand each other:: The Turkmene snorted gently ::That might be your ultimate Calling.::

"Plus, the notion of fierce warriors like the Vikings having flying allies like the People brings up a whole new challenge" Gatalas said, his pale, unfocused blue eyes solemn, "You Vikings can bring a lot of good into this world, but you can also make it an even more horrifying place with an invincible invading force. You'll probably need to have some very good leaders make sure Option Number Two never happens."

I heard them both, but I admit my mind was stuck behind on the words "focus on healing"

::Toothless?:: the Turkmene asked as I turned my head away from them.

I told them sadly ::How can I even think of a future? My poor Rider has lost a leg::

The Turkmene nodded in understanding, : :But you, yourself, Toothless, know that does not mean life stops. It just goes on differently. You've proven that brilliantly::

::But that's for me:: I turned back to them, my eyes burning. Damn it, I hate crying, and I've been doing way too much of that lately. Bad dragon.

Of course, before I got into this whole adventure, I've only cried once before in my life- when my father died. I have a lot of catching up to do, I guess.

::I lost a tailfin. Okay, I can't fly, and that is a bad thing, but I can still walk. It's different for Firemakers. They only have two legs. It's not just problems with walking… now he won't even be able to stand up without help. And he loves to run and do back flips and he could swing up so easily on my back. But not any more. And every time I see his leg and see my teeth marks on it, I'll always know…::

Gatalas reached up clumsily to catch me under the chin. He brought my head to his shoulder, patting me on the face, brother like.

"You only saved his life, Toothless. You grabbed him by the one part of him that was already injured beyond recovery, listen to me, buddy. You did not hurt him. You saved his life. Never. Forget. That."

::But what kind of life does he have before him? I'm so afraid when he wakes up and sees he's an amputee, it'll break his heart. And he's been through so much already!::

The Turkmene snorted and touched my Rider's sleeping head gently with her muzzle, ::I think he's surprised everyone up to now with his strength. Besides- remember- he's not facing this alone. He has the best friend in the world ever by his side. By the way, Gatalas? Can you help me with this?::

Gatalas released my head with a pat, nodded and leaned away from me. He reached out to hook a hand clumsily into the new red and white skull neck band the Turkmene was wearing.

He told me, "We used to decorate the harnesses of our horses with scalps of our slain enemies, but that did not sit well with the Romans, for some strange reason. So now, when a horse and soldier do an especially great deed in battle, we acknowledge it with a neck band. Even though the Rider and Horse won it, we display it on our horse's neck because it was his or her legs that carried us to victory."

::Congratulations on your victory.:: I said. It seemed to be polite.

:: I thank you, but actually I just wore it in here because it's meant for you and Hiccup. A gift of thanks from our tribe to the two of you.::

I was quite touched by this but also I knew this was a dream. That lovely gesture was just symbolic, not real. But it meant we had support and loyalty from allies across the seas and plains.

Gatalas was having trouble untying the band. The Turkmene had to help a bit, but he did manage to bring it to me. I let him tie- or attempt to tie- it around my ear sensor. It took a few tries, but he did. Awkward, but it worked.

I stared at him for a moment as he finished. Then I flicked an ear sensor right near his eyes.

He did not blink, did not react, just finished off his sloppy knot.

I sighed and asked the Turkmene ::How long as your Rider been blind?::

She laughed softly, ::Since he was thirteen. He had a bad blow on his head during an invasion::

My jaw hung open, ::You mean – when you went with me across the steppes? When we fought those juvenile Red Death creatures? When he shot arrows… he was blind?::

::And…?:: The Turkmene asked me.

:She gave a happy little snort, ::How do you think we bonded? The useless burden on the tribe? The blind boy? I just happened to be a new addition to the herd, a trade with a neighboring tribe. I was a shy little yearling filly, lost and scared. He took the time to talk to me and put me at ease. We, of course, pretended to ignore each other, but we sought each other's company out everyday. And, then, we bonded.::

"She is 'my eyes'," Gatalas said, patting me. "I am able to see what she sees, so when I am on her back or near her, I am not blind. Granted, it's what a horse sees- they see two images at once , but that can be an advantage in battle."

::And Gatalas has other senses that compensate for his lack of vision. Together we work as a very good unit. Once the others in the tribe saw how well we worked together as a team on hunting expeditions, they accepted us in to the Dragon troop. We aced the course, so to speak. So, we are as much of a Dragon fighter as any other, even if my Rider is blind.::

There was my answer.

I could sense this dream coming to an end, so I asked quickly, :: Horsebutt- you never told me your Firemaker name.::

She laughed softly, ::Gatalas just told you what it is. Think it through. You'll figure it out.:::

Dreams end, as always, and sometime later, I awakened. I already felt much better. The few stray sea winds that wafted into our cozy shelter felt welcome, not painful. I could hear Hiccup's breathing near mine, and it was normal.

I craned my head up, now feeling for the first time like I could move without pain or heaviness.

The little shelter showed no signs of the amputation, but I knew it was over now. The area had been scrubbed clean, and the fresh scents of Firemaker soap and healing herbs filled the air.

I glanced at my Firemaker, who now slept on his back, dosed with sleeping medicines. He had new covers and blankets pulled up to his neck. I could see the gap in the blankets of where his lower left leg was now missing.

For a moment my heart sank, but then I remembered my friends from Sarmatia. Gatalas was blind and yet, thanks to his bond with the Turkmene, he could get by very well.

I could do no less for Hiccup. I would be the missing leg for him, let him lean against me, carry him when he got tired.

So what if we never flew again? We were together.

::So, we'll just do our work on the ground. Besides, thanks to you, Rider, I know now the ground is not a bad place to live. Not when I have friends like you by my side. ::

One of the healers heard me stir and came to me. She touched my face. Then she felt my Rider's forehead.

"They're both feeling much cooler, now. Thank the gods for that"

Her hands brushed against my ear sensors, "But what is the dragon wearing tied around his ear? It's some sort of woven band- red with lots of little white skulls with horned helmets?"

I laughed softly. What a weird world we live in. And a wonderful one at that.

I got better in leaps and bounds. We both did. Eventually we were well enough that we could be moved onto one of the remaining boats that had been left behind in the village.

That boat came to pick us up, and we sailed back to the village. The healers still wanted Hiccup to be left medicated and in bed to recover more. He had a group of friends to watch over him, making sure he got fed and cared for. His bed had actually been moved down to the main living area of the house, just so I would have the space to be near him. Most nights I slept on the floor beside the bed with my head on his pillow or on his chest, matching my breath to his.

I sang my People's lullabies to him, I told him stories from my People, and I shared memories of our times together. I told him of my journey across the continents to get to Birch Island. I wanted to hold his mind together, to give him something nice to cling to in that unconscious world of his. The Firemakers who sat with me often did the same. Many sang him songs, many told him stories. Most simply told him how grateful they were to him.

It was hard to get me to leave Hiccup's side, but some of the Kill Ring People (already becoming known among the People as the First Five) would urge me to get up and go out and exercise. It was hard at first, but the exercise did a lot of good. I still could not fly, so this was completely walking.

One dawn, Skybird and the eloquent Lava Person, Oakheart (he had bonded with Fishlegs and the two seemed to enjoy each other's intellect) urged me to head out of the village. There was something "I had to see- reports of Lightning People flying towards our island." We joined the Self Burner and the Two Headed Person and made our way out. Only the Little Sticky Fire Person stayed behind in the village. She had volunteered to watch over Hiccup for me.

The Firemaker guards of the village gave us no notice. They were used to us by now. They saw as something like cats who came and went as we pleased. It was October. The last phase of fall was approaching, and even last night there had been a heavy frost that covered the village in delicate fairy ice sculptures. The breath streaming from our nostrils was so thick I thought we could make blankets from it to keep us warm.

Sore as I was, I kept pace with my friends. There were many times I had to stop and rest, though, panting with exhaustion. Skybird and Oakheart would just brace against me while I rested. No one said anything. I purred gratefully for their support, and we moved onwards. I eventually flopped my splinted wing over the Lava Person's back so he could support it for me. There was some rumor the splint would come off in the next few days, and I was mightily glad of that.

Ahead of me, the Two Headed Person had learned a new purring round and was trying it out with each of his heads taking a part. We had to tell him to keep the noise down.

Firewyrm, the Self Burner, rolled her eyes when each of the heads kept telling us it was busy at the moment singing the round and please ask the other head. We just gave up after a while. Two Headed People defy all understanding.

My friends took me to a large heath overlooking the sea. By now there was a myriad of People moving around the heath uncertainly. They had come here after the fight with the Lady. They were still too shy to approach the village, but they were very curious about the Firemakers, so they would not leave. It was an amazing sight- all the hues and shapes of the main Peoples in this area milling together and talking. People at joy, not enthralled. My memory stone recorded this moment of wonder.

Suddenly we heard the sound of a Lightning Person swooping down very fast on us.

Skybird snarled and Oakheart let out a warning snort. But the dive bomber did not strike. Instead it wheeled around us and landed delicately in front of us. Four other dark flashes landed behind it. They were all Lightning People.

I felt a growl of challenge rise in my throat, ::Guys. This might get unpleasant. You can go if you like::

::Are you kidding, Toothless?:: Skybird hissed at the Lightning People.

::You will not get me to leave your side, my friend.:: rumbled Oakheart, :You will just have to deal with that disappointment. Shall we not take this on together?::

::I'm with you:: Firewyrm snarled.

::We are too,:: Said one of the Two Headed Person's heads.

::Speak for yourself!:: snarled the other head, and looked pointedly at me, clearing its throat, ::Uh, what he said.:: (The first head rolled its amber eyes)

The five of us growled at the Lightning People

::I must give you fair warning, brothers and sisters. You take what remains of your meager lives in your paws if you should but lay a single talon on this young friend of mine:: Oakheart mind-sent a challenge.

Skybird lifted her quilled tail to a threatening position.

::You chose to reject him:: Firewyrm hissed ::He's ours, now. And we don't like to share.::

The Lightning Person in the lead nodded in respect to all of us. She was female and elderly, but that was all she had in common with the Elder I had dealt with at my banishment.

::Greetings, young one:: she said softly. She was actually quite elderly, but I sensed her heart was young with curiosity about the world- just the way a Lightning Person should be. ::We came to return something that has been taken from you unfairly. And to ask your forgiveness.::

The others behind her ducked their heads in agreement.

::Who are you?:: I asked, my heart not sure if it wanted to plunge or to rise.

::The new North Atlantic Signalers:: the new Elder said with a dragon smile ::It was obviously time for a change. You were the wake up call for us… Toothless I believe that is what you call yourself, right?.::

::Yes.:: I said, with pride.

A young Lightning Person- even younger than I- whose blue-black hide still had a few flashes of pewter in it gave me a quick bow ::Skyburst from the Sheep Islands, sir. You won our admiration when we heard about how you almost lost your life- you and your Firemaker both- protecting both our species. Even though you were both outlawed, you still chose to fight for us all, anyway.::

The Elder nodded again, :: Several of us are Signalers from other regions, mostly in Asia, though one of us, Sandwhisper over there from the Hilt Islands, was a Signaler in Abyssinia. We heard about this after the event on the network. It truly upset us that one of our kind was punished for doing the right thing and he also had to solve it on his own, for the most part. That's not the legacy I want my grandchildren to hear about their People.::

The youth, Skyburst, jumped in again, ::So, some of us demanded an emergency convocation, threatening to stop Signaling unless our People did something about this situation in the North Atlantic where Signalers choose to not get involved. The convocation council realized that for too long we Lightning People have been choosing isolation over involvement, to the point it has blinded us. You showed us all that we truly do need to get involved.::

A middle aged female Lightning Person- that was Sandwhisper- added in her thoughts in a richly accented thought voice that had the echoes of soothing desert winds in it :: All of us you see here, volunteered to come here and be the new Signalers. We all have some experience, except for that cute young punk Skyburst over there, but none of us have worked in Europe before. We were hoping you'd help us learn our new region.::

I shook my head, amazed, ::Ah- ah, of course. But what happened to the others?::

The new Elder (that's a contradiction of terms, isn't it) lowered her head, ::They seemed to have been affected by that … creature even if they never met her, so they cannot be blamed totally. But they also chose not to listen to your warnings, and you gave them many. We are helping them reform from this. But part of their recovery means that since they wanted to be isolated, they will have to spend some time cut off from the memories of the Lighting People. Not forever- but we want them to understand what they put you through.::

I shuddered in memory. It was a fitting judgment. Hopefully they would find new purposes in their lives, and they would have more compassion in how they dealt with others.

The Elder purred gently at me ::Hopefully we don't need to ask you to lie on your back, Toothless, and you'll just let us open your connection back to us again.::

Nope. I was a willing volunteer. And when I felt the rush of memories and connections rush back it, I felt like I had been born all over again. It was as though someone had melted a rainbow with flames, and all the bright, liquid colors now flowed down into my memory stone.

Best of all were the memories of my mother and sisters, all still alive and well. Oh, you're back! You're back!

I laughed with joy and then roared loud enough to echo around off the rocks for some minutes afterwards.

I noticed then that we had an audience. The mingling People of various tribes had gathered to watch the show. The Lightning People… my People again… tend to get noticed like that when more than one of us is in one place together.

I tried to ignore the audience as the Elder asked me :: Do you forgive us, Toothless?::

I spread my good wing to its full length, the moon picking out the stripes and spotted patterns ghosted in the blue-black sail-hide, ::I forgive you, yes. But I'll never forget, though. You'll have to earn that, I 'm afraid.::

::Well spoken:: said one of the Signalers.

Still feeling in awe of having my connection restored , I said ::Thank you, my People.::

I started to duck down to bow to the Signalers in gratitude.

The Elder growled sharply at me, and I raised my head, confused.

::You have it all wrong, Toothless.::

Instead, she lowered herself down into a bow, her muzzle dipping to the ground.

Behind her the other Lightning Signalers did the same, bowing to me in gratitude.

And all the other People behind them bowed low until I was the only Person standing, surrounded by a colorful, magnificent array of Peoples.

There was a selfish little part of me (the Target Practice part) that thought, this is awesome!

But most of me was moved and even a little humbled. What was I- just a smallish youngling, a rather battle scarred dragon at the moment? But I was moved to the bottom of my heart. I thanked them deeply and silently said a prayer to all the gods I would make sure every action of my future life would justify these People's confidence in me.

Eventually the Elder and her healer assistants decided to let Hiccup come back around. They began to decrease his medicines. By now the blacksmith had finished making a new artificial leg for Hiccup, and he came in one morning to attach it to the remaining flesh and blood limb.

The Elder accompanied him, and together they gently fitted it on, tying it in place with soft leather straps.

I watched them cautiously, ready to attack if they hurt my friend in any way, but they were gentleness itself.

Outside we were getting a strange bit of weather that was oddly spring like. It's not unusual in this part of the world where warm and cold winds meet so violently, especially in the volatile fall.

The temperature today was warmer, even spring like. Some areas around the village were even beginning to sprout grass. The Firemakers, knowing this warm weather often heralds an incoming snow storm, were all out with some of my People, securing boats for the winter, battening down window shutters, bringing the poultry, sheep and horses into the barns that were built below the houses. (Apparently the warmth of the farm animals helps keep the Firemakers warm as well during the winter).

The blacksmith wiped his eyes when he was done fastening the limb, muttering softly that Hiccup was too young for this. He and Gothi gently pulled the blankets back over my Firemaker's half naked, scarred body and exited the house.

Gothi turned to me with a little bow.

"We put this on Hiccup because we know he will come to later today, and he needs to get used to it. We did not give him any sleeping medicine, so expect him to awaken sometime after noon. Keep watch over him, m'lord Dragon, until then. Come get me if you or he needs any help."

::Of course, my Firemaker Lady :: I ducked my head back to her as she swept regally from the house.

::And so,:: I told my sleeping Rider on the morning of this strange spring like day, ::That's all you need to know to survive if you are lost in an Icelandic forest. First, stay calm. Second, stand up. Ahh. Yes. Glad to see you found that funny. I did, too. Well. You just rest up, friend. I'll be right here by your side, my head on your chest. Just let me know if you need anything, okay?::

Oh, I miss you, Hiccup. Please wake up soon.

I guess it was about mid afternoon when I heard his breathing change. It became less heavy, more normal. I heard him snort a bit, as if he were starting to shake off sleep.

I pulled my head off his chest, a bit of hope jumping along my spine. It had been way too long. It seems funny that back in August, I would have been embarrassed by all this sentimentalism on my part. Now, I was overjoyed that my best friend was finally getting better.

::Hey there, Hiccup. Are you in there somewhere? It's a lovely day outside. Come out and enjoy it.::

Sensing his body was ready to wake up, I started bunting him in the face gently, licking him. I thrummed and purred, urging him to awake.

He blinked his eyes, half opened them and closed them again. I think he may have blacked out again.

Snorting, I nudged him, blowing his hair back from his face. His untrimmed hair was much longer. The bangs in front now fell to his cheekbones and the hair in back brushed the tops of his shoulders. He had been kept under medication for quite a while.

Groaning a bit, he regained his senses and struggled to open his eyes again, dazed and barely conscious, "H-hey… Toothless."

I purred. He opened his eyes wider and smiled when he saw me. I leaned over him, put my front paws on the bed and its thick covers and starting licking him. I was so relived after such a long time of watching and waiting, and I could not contain the joy in my heart.

::Glad you're back again, stranger!::

I thought he was going to pass out again. He fought it for a moment. Then, taking a breath he stiffly wrapped his arms around me, the blankets falling off around his bare shoulders and chest. I tried not to notice that he still had heavy strapping on his broken left wrist. And his ribs were still strapped but with a lighter bandage. Otherwise, the various burns on his body were healing nicely.

"I-I'm happy to see you, too, bud," he said to me in a hoarse voice.

I leaned onto the bed, trying to nuzzle him more, but I wound up stepping accidentally on his left thigh.

"Arrrrrghhh!" he yelped, clutching at his left thigh and hunching over in pain.

::Oh, I'm sorry about that, Hiccup!::

Trying to distract him from the you-know-what I stepped back and sat down, wriggling in joy. I should have been embarrassed, but I was so full of happiness. My Hiccup was awake!

Hiccup glanced around the room, shaking his now-long, auburn hair from his deep green eyes.

"Ahhh, huh? Ahh- I'm here… in my… house?"

Then a glance at me.

"You're here… in my… house?"

::Yup. Right so far! Nothing gets past your eagle eyes, does it? Oh, frozen hells, I am SO HAPPY YOU ARE OKAY!::

Throwing all my dignity into the rubbish heap, I started to dance and leap around the house in joy. I leapt up to the ceiling and bounced off a few walls. There was that satisfying crunch that comes from knowing one has toppled over household items. (I guess my Target Practice tendencies are deep-rooted in me.)

"W-wait… d-does… Dad know you're… here?" Hiccup put his bandaged wrist to his head and let himself drop back to the pillows, eyes closing for a moment.

Concerned, I jumped back down and came by his side, bunting him and purring.

He opened his eyes again and looked dizzily back at me.

Overjoyed and relieved, I went back to my professional frolicking. Trying to get Hiccup to laugh, I leapt back up to the rafters and balanced myself there, pretending to be a cat.

::Meow!::I told him and purred extra loud.

"Toothless! Aw, come on! Uh... wha'...?"

Before I could come back with a disgustingly cute comeback, Hiccup lifted up the bed sheets. He looked down.

A look of horrified surprise chased across his face, and then he lowered his eyes in sadness. He sighed softly, his eyes now a blue green of sadness.

I leapt down from the rafters and approached the bed, lowering my head. My wings drooped and I could not suppress a moan of sorrow.

:: I'm so sorry, my friend. I was not there to protect you from this.::

Hiccup sighed again and leaned back, pulling the blankets aside. He swung himself over to my side of the bed.

I saw one leg with its bare foot come down onto the wooden floor.

And the other leg with the artificial limb now attached to a fair distance below the knee. It was made of wood on the top and had a streamlined metal bottom part where the foot would have been. The whole thing was tied onto him with leather bindings, themselves protected from touching his bare leg skin with strips of lambs wool tied around his leg. The stump of his leg had been gently wrapped in bandages to cushion it against the artificial limb.

It made an interesting squeaking noise as it absorbed the mild shock of impact with the floor.

I sniffed at it in amazement. It was a very clever replica of Firemaker joints and bones.

But I would have given both my tailfins and my second pair of wings to have the real thing in front of me instead.

I raised my head to meet my Firemaker's eyes.

The look he gave me tore at my heart; it was one of shocked surprise, tinged with sorrow and confusion.

His thoughts were a crazy mess.

:::I actually expected to die, but I'm still alive, I've got another chance at life! Sure, I thought I'd get hurt… but to lose part of my leg?. I'm just a kid! Why do these things happen? But isn't that what being a Viking is about- you make your decision and stick to it, and you accept what happens. I hope people don't feel sorry for me. Gaah! They'd better not. I won't let them. Butbutbutbutbutbut - How'm I going to do the things I used to? Running? Climbing trees, scaling the canyon walls? No. I can't now. Life's just gonna have to be... different from before. But- oh no- how will I be able to help Toothless now that my steering leg is gone?... Oh, Toothless…:::

Flying meant nothing to me anymore. I was glad he was back, and we would be together, even if we were ground bound to the end of our days.

But I felt terrible for his loss. I bunted his shoulder, purred and sent to him the same message I had sent on the day he had freed me at the edge of the canyon.

::What's done is done. A newly hatched Lightning Person cannot go back into the shell. He has to step forward and go on with his life.::

I can't say for sure, but I think he might have caught that thought from me, because a new look came over his face. He took in a shivery breath that might have been sob, but then he blew it out with a look of determination on his burn scarred face. He was ready to face his future.

:::Well, I won't know until I try this thing out. Here goes… something.:::

He sighed again, even more determined. I stepped back from him as he stood up to give him some room.

The first step on the new limb went well. A little wobbly, but not bad. I could see, though, the pain in his eyes. When he took the second step, he lost his balance and yelped in pain.


Immediately I leapt in front of him and lowered my head, letting his upper body fall on my head so he did not hit the floor.

He clung to me, hissing in pain for a moment, catching his breath. I purred reassuringly at him.

::I'm right here. I won't let you fall.::

Gently I raised my head, pushing my Firemaker back onto his feet. He smiled weakly and rebalanced himself again, wincing in pain and dizziness.

"Okay, thanks, bud." He whispered hoarsely.

He started limping for the door, and I matched him step for step, letting him balance his arms on my head and shoulder so that I half carried him.

We moved together, my Firemaker's strange new limb squeaking as he put weight on it, but working surprisingly like a flesh and blood leg and foot. Hiccup grunted in pain and exhaustion, and he leaned heavily on me, but we made it across the floor.

::Right. There ya go. We're a team. We watch each other's back. You helped me, now it's my turn to help you. We'll get through this… together.::

As we walked, I had to shift my weight to help support Hiccup. My amputated tail swished across the floor. For a brief moment it curled around Hiccup's amputated leg.

We shared a similar gaze and I saw my own eyes reflected back in his, which now had turned back to their beautiful original, dragon-like green color.

We had become even more alike than ever- a true bond of brothers. It reminded me of something my mother had once told us, that the brother and sister of your soul is not always the one who shares your hatching day.

We stopped at the front door. My Rider leaned against, trembling in exhaustion. He had to catch his breath for a moment and wipe the sweat from his forehead. It was going to take some time before he could move easily with his new leg, but he was determined to master it.

Curiously, he opened the door and looked out- just to slam it.

He'd seen one of the People flying by, and of course did not realize things had changed ever so slightly over the past weeks.

"Stay here, okay?" He opened the door again.

I sat down next to him and the two of us looked into a very different world from the one Hiccup had been born into. There were plenty of my People out there, but now we were mingling in with the Firemakers. We were helping them out with hauling supplies to the storm cellars, pulling fish catches into the shore, helping batten down hatches. A few dragon kittens ran down the village road, bouncing around and playing with some Firemaker children.A young Firemaker girl curled up near a young Two Headed person, reading poetry from a book to her new dragon friend. Of course, in the sky Firemakers rode some of my People, enjoying the bond and the thrill of flight. The torches that I had once shot down in Target Practice had now been turned into feeding basins where my People could come to enjoy the fish that both Firemakers and People captured together.

Hiccup's eyes were wide and amazed. Of course he would not believe what he saw. He stepped out of the house, this time catching his weight correctly on the new limb so he only wobbled slightly. He gazed around him, arms crossed on his bare chest, trying to keep warm against the spring like breeze.

"I knew it!" he said to me, "I'm dead!"

Heavy footsteps clumped behind my Firemaker. It was his father. "Nope," Stoick said, "But you gave it your best shot."

He laughed gently and affectionately at his son, putting an arm around him, warming him up against the cool air, "So, what do you think of all this?"

He took my place, letting his son lean against him as they walked down the path the divided their house from the rest of the village below the hill.I was content for the moment to watch the two of them together as they walked. They truly had a lot in common even if most people did not see it right away.

I know my father and I would never get to enjoy walking together, simply enjoying each other's company. It made me feel wonderful inside that my best friend and his father would get that chance. And they were both smart enough to take advantage of it.

There was still a lot of sadness in my heart, too, at seeing my young Rider walking by his father, but with a heavy limp. He had such a permanent injury and he was not even a grown man yet. I admired how he carried himself- limping but with a quiet sense of pride. In a way he was walking on one and a half legs and a very big heart.

"There he is!


"It's Hiccup!"

"Hey, Hiccup is awake again!"

A flock (or whatever you call it) of Firemakers came running up the hill to meet my friend and his father halfway down. A younger Viking pulled off his cloak and tossed it to Hiccup to wrap around his half naked frame, He did so, glad for the warmth.

There was a lot of hand shaking, shoulder clapping and joy. Hiccup need not have worried about being pitied. He was their hero. I gave a happy snort of relief at that.

I heard a rush of wings and then saw a blue Magnesium Person and her Rider land neatly near our house. Ástríður saw me and winked at me as she dismounted from Skybird.

She put a finger to her lips and sneaked down the hill, heading towards the villagers.

Hiccup was now leaning against his father, taking in the friendly relationship between both Firemaker and the People while villagers talked happily to him. Stoick smiled at his son proudly.

"I never thought I'd see the day," Hiccup said softly

"It turns out all we needed was a little more of this." Stock waved a hand, encompassing the air space around my Rider.

"You- you just gestured to all of me." Said Hiccup. His voice was confused but also full of warmth.

I snorted softly. It seems like this "all of me" comment had at one time been meant as an insult about my friend's lack of possessing whatever everyone else had.

Ástríður had by now blended herself into the crowd of villagers. Skybird and I watched her.

::Watch. You'll like this::the Magnesium Person said.

I doubted it. I had a feeling I needed to train my Rider in some self defense maneuvers.

"Well, mostly all of you," I now saw Gobber limping up by the father and son. Perched on his shoulder was the Sticky Fire Person. The two of them had seemed to have bonded. Her quick and clever claws could be a big benefit at the black smith shop.

The blacksmith pointed at Hiccup's leg, and my Hiccup lifted the artificial leg up to look it over more.

"That bit was my handiwork," Gobber said proudly, "With a little Hiccup flair through and through!" He tapped the foot part of the prosthetic with his good hand, "I think ye'll like it, laddie. Ye can walk on it, but also it'll fit perfectly into a new pedal design that I've made for your dragon's saddle system!"

I made a promise to do an extra special favor for that blacksmith. Thanks to him we'd still be able to fly!

"So, d'ya like it, Hiccup?"

"Of course! But, well, I might make few tweaks."

Some people laughed, and I could only imagine what amazing things were going to appear on my harness and on his new leg over the next few months. I couldn't wait to see.

Ástríður had appeared from the crowd and stood front of Hiccup, the sun shining brightly on her braided golden hair.


She belted Hiccup across the right arm. He almost knocked down by the blow, but he caught himself in time, hissing in pain.

"That's for scaring me." Ástríður told Hiccup.

I flattened my ears. I will never understand Viking female humor.

I think Hiccup felt the same way "Whuh-what? Is it always going to be this way because I-?"

Then Ástríður reached out and grabbed Hiccup by the cloak where he had draped it around himself. She leaned in to him, threw her arms around him and kissed him fully on the lips.

I rolled my eyes, but I was secretly happy to see my Firemaker lean right into this kiss and savor it with all his brave heart.

"And that," said Ástríður, "Is for everything else."

If it were possible for Firemakers to fly, I think Hiccup would have been able to launch himself in the air at that point. He looked almost giddy with joy.

" I could get used to it." Hiccup's eyes were half closed in goofy happiness.

Gobber had dropped something behind him when he and his little Person had joined the group around the chief and his son. Now he picked it up and handed it to Hiccup. It was a neatly rolled bundle with a complete new saddle, harness and tail fin system. I noticed the tail fin was red and white in a familiar way.

Hiccup took the bundle, wobbling a bit with the new leg and dizziness, but he caught himself and smiled at the blacksmith.

"Welcome home, lad." Gobber said softly.

All right. I want in on this shindig, too!

I launched myself fully out of the house and glided down the hill. I wound up having to hop across the shoulders of a few Viking Firemakers as I did so.


This time the cry was a happy greeting, and I growl-barked back at my new friends.

I landed eventually across from my battle scarred Rider, sitting down on my haunches. I roared at him happily.

::So, now that we've saved the world, Oh mighty Rider, What's next?::

Hiccup grinned at me, deep happiness in his eyes. He stuck out a hand, remembering to balance himself on his new leg. I stuck my muzzle out and placed it in his hand.

"We conquer the universe," he told me, "But first I think I need to take a nap."

We did jump into the saddle and fly again. Just not that day. I could see my Rider was pale and wobbling on his feet, and I was not much better. One move the wrong way, and he'd faint flat out.

That's no way to treat a hero.

Instead he ate the first real solid food he'd had in in weeks and we both went back to sleep, but happier than we'd been in ages. I curled around him and I think we both dreamed of flight.

It was not many days after that, though, when the Elder proclaimed Hiccup was well enough to be able go up in the air with me.

We were both trembling in excitement on that wintry day as Hiccup fastened the new saddle (actually it was my old one but refitted and improved) and the harness on me. He was wearing new clothes some of the villagers had made for him- the same green tunic and leggings in design, but now there was some lovely knotwork of little leather Nightfurygetdowns on the sleeves and around the hems.

He laced on his own harness on then and slipped on a pair of mittens - it was getting cold, again, and the gray sky in the distance said snow would be coming later tonight. A woolen head band kept his shoulder length hair out of his eyes and his ears warm. He still had not yet made up his mind whether to cut his hair shorter again or let it grow back to its original shoulder-blade length braid. If he was going to be up in the air as much as we seemed to be, it might actually be better to have it shorter in the long run. He'd always been different from everyone else in the village. Why not flaunt it with pride?

I ducked down, kneeling just slightly on my left front leg so he could climb on board. He gave me an apologetic smile as he climbed aboard.

"I do plan on being able to jump aboard again- but I guess that'll have to wait for the prosthetic to be tweaked a bit more,'' he told me as he clipped himself into my harness. He pat me and gave me an affectionate punch in the shoulder.

We both watched in pleasure as he was able to slip the artificial foot into the new pedal- it was now like a slot that hooked into a gear shift system. We both found it awesome.

"I think I'm a gonna like this bad boy." I heard Hiccup whisper to me.

He opened out my tail fin with his foot pedal and I laughed, dragon style. It was a red fin with a white skull wearing a Viking helmet. Stitched across the breastband of my new harness was the red Sarmatian neck band with its own little horned white skulls. I like to they think they incluenced Gobber's design of my tailfin.

"Okay, you ready, buddy?" Hiccup's voice came down to me up on my back- just where he should be!

I growl-yipped back at him in eagerness, ::What do you think? The sky is waiting!::

Next to us, Skybird and Ástríður paced, the Magnesium Person showing off her own new harness.

"Okay, let's go! You know the drill!" Hiccup called to me and pat my neck.

::Point your nose up. Don't look down!::

I launched myself into the air. The wind smacked back against me in a playful way, smelling just faintly of snow.

Behind us came Skybird and Ástríður, laughing in delight. We swooped, dove and played tag in the air, Skybird trying hard to keep up with me. It's a challenge. We Lightning People are the wind consolidated into dragon form.

We shot over people pulling in the last of root vegetable crops, taking down racks of dried salt fish and even just standing on their porches, enjoying a late morning mug of ale. One Firemaker wound up spluttering some ale up his nose as I dove overhead, the wind ricocheting off my wings, but he waved to Hiccup and I.

"Oh yeah, baby!" Hiccup yelled to the overcast sun as we shot higher, punching one of his arms in the air.

We passed by one of the bridges leading to the forest and there some of the other younglings had been waiting for us, along with the People who had bonded with them.

Soon we had a small contingent of Firemakers and People dancing and laughing and swirling through the sky.

Eventually Hiccup and I outflew the rest of them. You know- it's that Lightning Person obsession with speed. And, of course, being better than everyone else. We do, after all, have standards to maintain. (Just kidding!)

We wound up flying higher than the others, up where the air is a bit thinner, but the view is much better.

Our breath streamed behind us as we circled around the island, looking down. The ocean surrounded us on all sides.

I could only imagine what direction we would be heading in our future, but it looked like there were some very good choices. No matter what, we would face it together.

It was to be a short flight, and I could feel my wings getting a bit sore. My Rider was starting to get a bit dizzy, too.

So after we had a good long look at the lovely world spread below us, he pat my on the neck with a mitten covered hand, "All right, Toothless. Let's go. Let's go... home."

I took once last circle before we went in, though.

Now, if I were just like Hiccup I would probably be thinking something like this:

This is Birch Island. It's foggy here 355 days of the year and there are ice storms the other 10 The fish that swim here are tough and tasteless. The People who den here are likewise. The only upside is the friends. Other places have Falcons or Foxhounds We have something better. We have... Firemakers

But, since I am l'il ole me, I was thinking something different as we glided back to our home.

It really does make the difference to catch that unknown thermal of air and let it take you up higher in the sky.

The view you may see when you look down is one that will change your life for the better.

Fair winds and fly well, my friends.

A broken wing cannot stop me from flying,

I leave no footprints when you're around.

'Know yourself' you said, you made me so proud of

what I found...

Thank you.

Thank you for the world (''the world, the world'').

Thank you for the light, for making me see,

inside of me. - "Thank You" by Dikta, an Icelandic alternative group.

A/N- All the chapter names are puns taken from the names of Robert Heinlein's novels and short stories. They are:

To Sail Beyond the Sunset- Being the Memoirs of a Somewhat Irregular Lady

Chapter 1: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Chapter 2: Life is Short but the Years Are Long This is actually not a novel but a call sign the protagonists of several of Heinlein's novels used to identify themselves to each other. It is a deliberate mistranslation of a famous phrase by Hiccocrates (Ars Longa, Vita Brevis Est- Life is short, but the art endures)

Chapter 3: Between Planets

Chapter 4: Stranger in a Strange Land

Chapter 5: The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (this book contains one of my favorite characters: Pixel the teleporting house cat. He appears in several novels.)

Chapter 6: Have Space Suit- Will Travel

Chapter 7: Tunnel in the Sky

Chapter 8: Orphans of the Stars

Chapter 9: For Us- the Living

Chapter 10: Time Enough For the Stars

Chapter 11: The Number of the Beast

Chapter 12: Job: A Comedy of Justice

Chapter 13: Friday

Chapter 14: The Door into Summer