"Sure you don't need anything, Dad?" my son asks.

"No, I'm fine, Eric," I reply.

We've been enjoying years of quiet, hidden life on our island as I write this. I can't remember how many. I am now old, still thin, withered, and grey. I have written down a number of our other experiences, challenges and adventures on loose sheaves of parchment over time. But I have not gotten around to working them into this journal that I have picked up again after having just stopped a good while ago, not thinking that anything else we were doing or experiencing was all that important or different from what had happened before. After all, things had mostly settled down over time at our new island home, even becoming fairly routine . . . ships would pass by, Gerhard would visit, everything pretty much worked. We hadn't had any plagues, famines, or battles. The largely peaceful life we had sought and now enjoyed year after year may be blissful, but it hardly makes for good or heroic tales.

More children continued to join us through birth, as old friends left us through death, with me presiding over each funeral, no matter how sad or painful. I realized I was truly old though when one person left us.

Far in the back of my mind, I had long wondered what might have happened if Ruffnut outlived her husband, and I had outlived my Astrid. In reality though, I didn't have to worry about that. Ruff was stricken first among the four of us, even before her brother and his wife, let alone her own husband, Johann. Sadly, she came to linger in illness, even dementia, for a while. Johann never gave up on her however, never stopped loving and caring for her. That always made her smile, even when she barely knew whom he was. "I am yours," he would simply say to her in her confusion at such times. That was enough for both of them . . . until she passed quietly one day. Even though Johann had a couple of grown children who had stayed with us in the village, Tuffnut, Anna and their family took Johann in with them after Ruff died, with Tuff later swearing his twin sister was still bugging him through Johann. He seemed to love every minute of it though.

Did I regret not marrying Ruffnut? I briefly allowed myself to wonder as I watched her funeral pyre burn. I would have likely had a more modest life with her, becoming a different, quieter man . . . probably like Johann standing next to me, who was watching his wife's pyre burn as well with tears in his eyes. Ruff would not have pushed me as hard and challenged me as much as my Astrid did. At the very least, there would have been no sparring in my life, and likely less community outreach and leadership. Astrid had strongly influenced me, even made me who I had become. She had anchored and shaped our family, even our village, with me. And Eric, not to mention Jórunn and young Astrid . . . if we hadn't had and raised them the way we did, I couldn't even imagine our village as it was now. My people, and especially Toothless and our dragons, had needed me to be with Astrid, I realized. It could not have been otherwise. I didn't want it to be. I liked who I was, and I loved Astrid. My heart had always known she was the one for me—even if her fiery, untamed heart and spirit had originally made the rest of me just a little nervous.

I looked at my Astrid with a gentle but sure gaze as Ruffnut's pyre died down. My wife gave me a slow, deep kiss . . . silently knowing with me this last question, this last doubt in my life was now fully resolved.

"I have always been yours," I quietly said as I then held her tightly. "I owe you all that I am now, even all that we are."

"I owe you, and her, even more," Astrid whispered as I felt her tears silently fall against my cheek.

I pulled my head back a little and looked at my wife.

"You, and what we have," she sniffed, "are Ruff's greatest gifts to me. She's a part of us. I am so grateful for that, and always have been."

"Let's repay her," I suggested with my own watery eyes.

"Yeah, let's," my Astrid quietly agreed as we both turned and brought Johann into our embrace.

"Johann," I invited as we held him, "would you join us for dinner? We'd like to share with you what your wife has done for us."

That man's tearful smile of acceptance made our day. My then looking to the skies and saying, "Come on, Ruff . . . you, too," made Johann's day as well, more than any prayer or eulogy ever could.

The glances Astrid cast my way as she walked in between Johann and I back towards our house, with an arm around each of us, let me know that our love was rekindled once again. It happened every time she and I really did good for others together. There would be passionate romance, and a bath, later for sure.

But I would die as Astrid's, and Astrid's alone . . . happily so. If she ever had any alternate love interests of her own in our village, she never told me, and I trusted her, completely.

In addition to births and deaths though, a few more people also joined us from the outside, as a few of our own felt they had to leave for the world beyond . . . fully aware though of the importance of keeping our existence and island location secret, no matter what, thanks to the departure ritual I enforced. One deep nudge and probing look of trust—preferably given from the large, expressive eyes of a Night Fury—was all it took for anyone leaving our village to not just pledge, but to commit to keeping us all safe with their silence. Also, Gerhard and his closest followers decided to carefully spread dragon myth and lore throughout Norse lands as a cover for us, disguised as bards and storytellers, so that anyone of us who cracked on the outside would be more likely to be dismissed as taking the legends and stories a bit too seriously. Thank Spirit and the gods though, it was all working, and continued to year after year.

— — — — —

Now though, I am trying to work at this again. I will leave my additional writings for others to perhaps add to this book, if it is ever rewritten or transcribed. But Astrid gave me this journal to write our story in . . . its most important parts. And I owe it to her now to finish it.

For our own story is nearing its end.

My Astrid has died . . . and I am not far behind her now.

She passed the way we both wanted her to . . . in my arms. Although time had been hitting her, striking her down again and again with this ailment or that . . . even though her once rich, blonde hair had turned wholly to silver, and her face had become careworn with lines and some gentle wrinkles . . . she was still my beautiful Astrid. Not having seen myself in a mirror for the longest time, I could only imagine what I now looked like to her. She had kept my hair trimmed and my face shaved . . . mostly . . . practically right to the end though, still calling me, "sooo handsome," each time she did.

"No fair," I'd always reply. "I can't even touch a hair on your head . . . you're just too beautiful."

For two old people, Astrid and I were way too much in love.

Eventually however, my Astrid could no longer rise from our floor bedding on her own, or even from a bed that Eric and our family provided us. My blood ran cold one day though when she stopped being able to eat, and just began refusing food, even my stews that I knew she loved.

"I just can't," she said quietly in some pain as she lay in our bed. "Please eat for me though, would you, Hiccup?"

I just closed my own eyes in pain as she said that.

"No," she requested, holding a hand up to caress my face. "No tears, okay? Otherwise I'll cry, too. I'm here," she added, but without her usual 'and always will be' this time. "Give me a spoonful of that stew," she then decided, forcing herself to sit up in bed beside me.

I silently prayed so hard inside as I carefully fed her that precious spoonful. She just looked at me as she willed herself to swallow it despite the pain not just in her throat, but throughout her body.

"Your turn," she quietly said. "Then it will be mine again. It's the only way I can do this."

I looked down briefly . . . feeling guilty, even selfish, about wanting her to eat and the reasons why I did, before I looked back at her again.

"You don't have to," I then sadly relented, as my prayer about her and what I should do seemed to already be answering itself within me.

"Thank you, my love," she gratefully accepted as she relaxed into the soft pillows behind her. I just sat there for a moment on the side of our bed, looking at her. We both knew what was beginning to happen. "It's still your turn though," she reminded me with a slight smile.

I loved her so much.

— — — — —

Astrid and I continued to talk honestly though . . . as honestly as we were able to . . . as she grew weaker, especially when I would join her in bed at night.

"Hiccup . . . I feel like I'm packing for a trip," she said softly as I brought her against me under the covers one evening. "A one-way trip . . . but a trip. The first I've taken in a long time now."

I couldn't say a word initially. I could only kiss her forehead as tears leaked out of my eyes.

"Come on," she encouraged, looking up at me as she rested her head on my shoulder, "I'm not afraid. You'll be joining me, too . . . I know you will."

"That's not what I'm afraid of," I was finally able to quietly reply as I looked up at the rafters of our house.

"I know," she gently said as she shifted herself closer against me and we held each other more tightly.

I wept as we said our vows together on those nights.

Each subsequent morning she would grow steadily worse, progressively quieter. Things just reached a point where I wanted her to be free of the pain and struggle I could see she was suffering. She was lingering . . . staying for me. That perhaps hurt me most of all.

"I'll gather the rest of the family," Eric offered one morning, quietly whispering in my ear as he checked on us while I lay in bed beside Astrid. "Perhaps saying goodbye to everyone . . . it might help mom to go on that trip she talks about."

I just nodded back to him, with amazingly few tears.

Our large family, both human and dragon, was soon gathered around my Astrid and I in our bed together for most of what turned out to be her final day as she went between sleeping and waking. It was clear to all of us, even to me now, that her final hours were upon her. Astrid was able to exchange words and touches of encouragement with each family member though. She would not let one person or dragon be forgotten or left out.

After she had shared loving words with our daughters Astrid and Jórunn and their families in turn, and finally our son, Eric, and his family, it was time for everyone else to leave . . . except for Toothless, Fury, and me. She wanted us beside her through the end. Eric just quietly cried as he closed the passageway door between our homes.

Not having to see anyone else anymore, my Astrid asked to rest with our dragons . . . right beside them on the floor, the way we long had. So as Fury and I helped her out of bed, Toothless dragged our mattress off its bed frame and onto the floor.

"I want to be able to see and touch Fury, Toothless and you, all at the same time," Astrid requested in her quiet voice now.

"You will," I assured as Fury and I laid her down on the mattress before I laid my old, frail self down beside her as well.

"I want to touch you," she then softly said, " . . . the real you."

I smiled as I now removed my tunic, and helped her shed her nightdress as well. I then lay with her under the quilt, just like it was our first marriage night all over again. I cradled her against me, as Toothless and Fury settled around us, in a very appropriate way. Their heads met and pointed towards me on my side, so Astrid could lay against me, with her head resting on my shoulder and neck, now indeed being able to see them, and me . . . or at least across my chest . . . all at the same time. Meanwhile, the dragons' two maimed tails met at a point behind Astrid.

"You won't believe this," I tearfully said as I looked on either side of us. "But Toothless and Fury have formed a heart around us . . . a heart, Astrid!"

"It's perfect," she softly assured, " . . . just perfect. Thank you, all."

I treasured every shallow breath she took now.

"I'm gonna miss you," I quietly wept.

"No . . . you're not," she whispered. "I will both be waiting for you, in Asgard . . . and I will never be far away, while you're here. I will be bugging you all the time."

"Promise?" I tearfully sniffed with a smile.

"Promise . . ." she quietly assured.

I quietly cried all over again as I held Astrid as tightly as I could. Both Toothless and Fury had their heads raised, warmly watching over us.

"Don't leave Hiccup alone," she then asked the dragons. "Please keep him company . . . until he joins me."

Both dragons gave single nods in acceptance of her final request to them, even grunting in acknowledgement. Astrid reached out an aged, quivering hand for them, and they both nudged it at the same time. I reached and added my own old, bony hand to join in the sacred bond among the four of us one more time.

After a moment, Astrid could no longer hold up her hand to our dragons anymore. She let it fall onto my chest as I just cradled her close to me.

"You were right, Astrid," I then said to her, " . . . when we married each other. We did grow old together."

"You owe me," she smiled in a whisper. "And I'll collect from you . . . in Asgard . . . you'll see . . ."

"I will gladly 'pay up'," I tearfully assured.

"Could not ask for better . . . than this . . ." she then mumbled gratefully as she nestled against me. "Rest, Hiccup, my love . . . rest with me. Don't stay up all night . . . watching me go . . . I'll feel guilty . . ."

I tried to laugh through my tears with her joking.

"Please sleep with me . . ." she mumbled again.

"Not until we say our nightly vows," I sadly whispered.

"Yess . . ." she replied, barely whispering now.

"We live as one," I began.

"We . . . fight . . . as . . . one . . ." she slowly continued.

"We love as one . . . forever . . ." I wept.

"Onne . . . fforrrevverr . . ." she softly echoed. "I . . . llovve . . . yyouu . . . Hicc-ccup . . ."

"I love you . . . so much . . . Astrid . . ." I sobbed as I held her tightly.

Toothless and Fury now moved their heads even closer, both nudging against my side, and touching Astrid's arm as it lay against me. They both kept their heads right there, and closed their eyes, sacredly communing with Astrid and I.

I just held her as she faded to sleep. I wanted to stay awake all the time now, in case Astrid needed me . . . for anything at all. But Toothless opened his eyes and looked at me, tilting his head a little as he closed them again in his old sign to me that I should sleep, too, as Astrid had asked me to.

"Okay, buddy," I sadly assured. "I'll do as you, and she, ask. But you'll watch over us?" I then asked. "Let me know if Astrid needs anything?"

Both Toothless and Fury now opened their eyes again, raised their heads a little and nodded. Then they both just steadily began watching us. I knew they would maintain their vigil now, throughout the night.

So I turned and shifted myself a little, back towards my sleeping Astrid . . . my precious, sleeping Astrid. I knew she would want a proper goodnight kiss from me, so I gently raised her head a little, and strained to bring my lips to hers. It was a simple, gentle, but moving kiss as our lips finally met, with her lips subtly responding to mine. I could feel tears from her fall on my shoulder as we shared that kiss. I'm sure a tear or two of mine fell on her face as well.

I did not want that kiss of ours to end . . . but her lips finally fell away from mine, and I allowed her head to rest once more against my neck and shoulder. I felt the fingers of Astrid's free hand move back and forth a little across my chest. I held her more tightly for a moment as I rubbed her back in kind.

"Rrrrressst . . . wwwittthh . . . mmee . . . Hicc-ccupp . . . mmyy . . . llovve . . ." she softly invited again.

"I am, my wife," I assured as I relaxed my embrace of her, and lay my head against hers, allowing my eyes to finally close. "See you soon, my Astrid . . . I love you . . ."

"I . . . llovvve . . . yyyouuu . . ." she barely breathed.

I let her have the last word for the night, as she seemed to want.

It was the last time we spoke together on Earth.

True to what she had suggested, Astrid slipped away from me, from her earthly life, during the night. She did not want me watching, or waiting up for her to go. She wanted it to be like most any other night of love for us . . . her last thoughts, her last sensations being of me, of us.

It was, and they were.

— — — — —

I woke up gradually the next morning, but Astrid simply did not. I started quietly crying as soon as I became aware . . . aware that she was not truly beside me anymore.

Toothless sent Fury to get our son and daughters while he remained at my side. The heart the two dragons had formed around Astrid and I through the night was now broken, as was my own. True to his pledge to Astrid though, Toothless has not let me out of his sight since . . . not for a moment.

Soon, my son and daughters and their families arrived in what was now just my house. It was the most painful thing I have ever done though, when my grown children, and even Toothless and Fury, asked me to let Astrid out of my embrace for the last time. As he had done before during my most intense periods of pain, Toothless invited me to turn and just hold onto his head, as the rest of the family began to remove my wife's stilled form from my side.

"Toothless says to not look, Dad," my son translated as Toothless grunted while I held his large head and sobbed. "He says, 'Astrid is in you now . . . and in the air around us, not in that empty shell the others are taking away over there.'"

I couldn't help but reach and take Astrid's limp hand into mine one more time as it fell away behind me as the rest of the family gently moved her body off our floor mattress.

"Toothless says to let go of her hand now, Dad," Eric relayed as Toothless grunted again. "He's saying, 'She is not there anymore. I am your companion now. Hold onto me, and me alone. You will find Astrid between us. She is here now. Feel her in us . . . not in that shell.'"

I gave Astrid's hand a final squeeze before I let it drop away behind me, treasuring the last caress of her fingertips against mine. I turned my head though . . . I had to.

"Everyone . . . stop for a moment, would you?" my son asked.

I now saw just Astrid's face and hair. The rest of her body was already wrapped in a cloth sheet. She looked peaceful. She even had a gentle smile on her lips. I tearfully smiled, knowing I had given her a good time last night. Astrid had gone to sleep, she had died . . . happy, and loved . . . in my arms, just the way she had wanted to.

"Thank you," I gently said to the family around me as they respectfully paused while I leaned up in my bedding against Toothless and looked upon her. "Thank you for letting me see her at peace . . . one last time. You may take her body away now . . . but I am keeping her spirit with me."

"Of course you are, Dad," my son assured. "Mom will have it no other way."

"Hold her body," I then directed. "Store or bury it temporarily for now. I want to be burned with her, when my time comes . . . on the same ship. I want our ashes to mingle together . . . in the sea," I requested, knowing I at least would likely be honoured with a chief's longboat funeral pyre at sea.

"It will be done as you ask, Father," my son assured. "Is there anything you need?"

"Not for now," I replied. "Nothing you can provide, anyway. But," I then remembered, beginning to stir myself, "I should get up and—"

"We'll just take care of things later here. There's no rush," my son deflected, as the rest of the family then withdrew into the passageway to their house with Astrid's wrapped body.

"Wait," I added as Eric moved to leave as well. "Is there anything else Toothless wants to tell me, through you?"

Toothless then murmured as he looked at both Eric and I.

"He says nothing he can't tell you himself," my son replied as he then withdrew out of my house as well.

I just turned back and now held fully onto Toothless' head. I cried, openly onto him . . . I don't know for how long. Fury joined me in my anguish, moaning aloud for her now departed human companion as she nudged against both of us. Finally sadness overcame an almost ironclad sense of duty towards me even in Toothless, as he now moaned with us as well. We all nudged and cried together, until we just ran out of tears.

— — — — —

Eventually afternoon came that day.

I realized I was still naked in bed . . . not even dressed yet. I reached and gently grabbed the last indoor tunic Astrid had made for me with our daughters' help, and struggled a little to get into it. I felt Toothless take one corner of it into his mouth as he helped me dress . . . just like Astrid had done for me in recent years.

"Thanks, bud," I sniffed gratefully. I missed Astrid. I missed her terribly already. But Toothless, he was truly taking her place now as my constant companion, as best he could.

"Well," I sniffed as tears still leaked at times out of my eyes, "I'd better make myself presentable for what has to be done here."

No sooner had I said that than my dragon companions, both Toothless and Fury, were together pouring buckets of water into the tub, heating it with gentle flames, and then helping me shed my tunic again and get in for a bath. I couldn't help but laugh as Toothless then picked up a long-handled bath brush in his teeth and began scrubbing my back with it.

"You really don't have to go that far, buddy," I smiled. "But thank you," I said, turning to look at him. "You're gonna make these days bearable for me, aren't you? Even good."

Toothless gave a firm nod and grunt in reply.

— — — — —

Finally dressed in my best clothing and chief's cloak, and feeling surprisingly reinvigorated from the scrubbing my dragon had given me, I was accepting, if not truly ready for what was coming now.

A light rain fell from the grey skies above as Toothless and I watched together from the doorway of our house. Fury was now standing, fully tacked up with her saddle and tail rig, on the grass in front of Eric's porch as our family brought out my wife's body, wrapped in a fine crimson wool blanket, carefully laying it on Fury's back. When ropes were brought to secure the body, Fury barked and shook her head however. She wouldn't let my Astrid fall off her . . . she never had, and wouldn't this time.

Toothless then lay himself down beside me on our porch, gesturing for me to just sit myself down onto his saddle. I just quietly nodded, sadly smiling in acceptance. Once I was on him, he rose up again and then slowly fell in behind Fury as she led Toothless and I, our family behind us, and the entire village in a short procession up the valley to a grassy knoll where the Dragon Island memorial stone was. I tried looking at Fury carrying my wife in front of us as I rode Toothless, but I couldn't. Instead, I just looked down at his head as both his ears caressed my hands gripping the saddlebars. I wanted to lean down and hug him, but now wasn't the time. I did take both my hands off the bars though and just began to almost distract myself by rubbing the back of Toothless' head and neck under his ears . . . his absolute favourite spots to be rubbed. He glanced back at me, with tears in his eyes but a gentle smile as well, before he looked forward again.

Soon, Fury came to a stop beside a half-completed mound of rocks near the monument stone . . . rocks that had an array of pillows laid out on top of them in an oblong form. I had to smile at that. Having loved plush mattresses and pillows, my Astrid would at least rest in comfort here. Toothless halted near the foot of the mound, lowering himself to the ground again so I could easily dismount. Even as I stood up beside him, he immediately raised himself up again, gently nudging me and encouraging me with a look to just put an arm around his neck and lean against him. I was never so grateful to him as I was now. Our bond was stronger, and closer, than ever.

Fury turned her head and watched as the rest of our family then removed Astrid's body from her back and placed it in the middle of the stone mound on those pillows. With her mouth, Fury picked up a stone and gently laid it into place against her rider, as others in the family, both dragon and human, proceeded to do the same with other stones. Toothless gently urged me forward to join in. He picked up a medium-sized rock, but then turned his head towards me, looking at me and softly grunting. I tearfully smiled as I held out my hands and he released the rock into them, before he turned and picked up another rock with his mouth. Together, we placed our stones at Astrid's feet, as Fury placed another stone beside ours as well.

My son was saying a few words, perhaps a prayer amid all this . . . I just wasn't able to pay attention. I could only watch in silent anguish as more and more stones were laid in place around and over the wrapped form of the woman who was fully half of what she and I had become together. I couldn't shake the thought that instead of a warm bed and a loving embrace, my Astrid would now lie cold and alone inside this rock cairn, to await the time I would pass on and my body would be ready to join hers in a longboat funeral pyre at sea.

For a moment, I began to welcome death and the idea of dying. It couldn't come fast enough for me now. Living, especially like this, suddenly seemed like a far worse hell to me than anything death could now threaten. Bury me in those rocks! part of me screamed inside. I just closed my eyes in pain, trying to shut it all out.

I now felt Toothless nudging me again as I reopened my eyes to find him looking at me. Once he had my attention, he just glanced toward the cairn in front of us, and then at everyone around us. Even my son was looking at me now, offering me the chance to say something, anything, if I wanted.

"This is my wife," I finally was barely able to say aloud to everyone, " . . . my Astrid. She has been a warrior, guardian, mother, lover, and friend. She knew how to make everything right . . . except this . . ."

I now felt the human half of my family now gather close around me as Toothless continued to hold me up on one side. Even Fury was nudging against the arm I had around Toothless' neck as she now softly cried against him.

"You owe me, too," I quietly added, looking at where my Astrid was laying as others in my family set the final stone in place on the top of her cairn, " . . . for letting you pass first, as you once told me you strongly wanted to. I can see why," I sniffed as tears overcame me. "You didn't want to be alone . . . not like this . . ."

"You're not alone, Dad," my daughters and son assured as they surrounded me on one side. "Between all of us, she is here, with you . . . and we are, too," Jórunn added as all three of my grown children now held me tightly, as I now turned to hold them as well while Toothless kept nudging my back. That dragon was truly living up to his pledge. I just had to reach a hand behind me for him as well.

— — — — —

After having long given Astrid and I and our dragons a privacy we had treasured in this second Berk, my son and his immediate family moved into our house, making more space their house for others in our clan. I now welcomed the company, and the busyness, even the crowding, they provided. The house was too quiet with just me, Toothless, and Fury. I especially enjoyed Junior and Love's brood of four young but growing Night Furies. Each one of them was a precious wonder in their own right. I relished being grandfather to all of them . . . painting and writing with them, and more. I loved my human grandchildren, too—but seeing the young dragons write with their brushes, play outside, and gradually learn and assume responsibilities within our community . . . it was the achievement of all I had ever hoped and fought for, a final great blessing in my life.

I now slept next to Toothless on the floor near the cooking fire every night, after convincing Fury she didn't always have to protectively or lovingly surround me on my other side.

"Sleep with your mate, Fury," I encouraged. "I don't want to come in between the two of you, and your love." Sometimes she'd ignore me though, and sleep on my other side anyway, making sure I was surrounded by dragon love, even nudging me goodnight with her nose. I think she wanted me to still have a feminine touch in my life, once in a while.

I was always grateful though that Toothless would gently tuck his wing around me as we both went to sleep each night. I felt so snug and loved wrapped against him, almost like Astrid was still embracing me.

Somehow, I eventually found myself at peace with my Astrid's passing . . . maybe because I was often reminded of her, almost feeling her presence in one way or another, just as she said I would be. I continued saying our nightly vows quietly before I'd drift off to sleep beside Toothless and Fury, helping Astrid to whisper her lines to me with my breath and voice. To me though, she was still saying them.

The first few nights afterward, I kept hoping, wanting Astrid to appear to me in my dreams or sleep somehow . . . to assure me she was safe, and had made it to Asgard, or some form of good afterlife. But my dreams proved to be annoyingly random.

Toothless would nudge me outside on nice days, telling me in his own way that it was good for me. While I had once relished things like sunny days and pleasant evenings, they just weren't the same anymore, not without Astrid beside me to enjoy them.

One day though, Toothless had the rest of the family dress him up in his saddle and tail rig again behind my back as I sat outside with Fury, before he came up and nudged me, inviting me to take him for a flight . . . the first in some time now.

"No," I said. "Toothless, I can't anymore. I don't think I could hold on, or work your fin the way I used to. Plus, you're getting old, too, my friend."

Then I heard a voice within me just say, "Go . . ." It was a clear, feminine voice. "For him . . ." she added.

I looked down and smiled. "I've just been told to go with you," I said to him with a tear in my eye. "She told me," I added, hinting who it was.

Toothless smiled and nudged his head against me.

"Fury," I then asked, turning to her, " . . . would you mind?"

She just smiled and shook her head. She didn't mind me taking Toothless back into the air again, not at all.

"Alright," I agreed as I struggled to get upright as Toothless helped.

The rest of my family helped me get into Toothless' saddle again, and get my foot and leg rig properly in the stirrups.

"I'm all yours, buddy," I encouraged when I was in place on his saddle and ready. "Whatever you want to do."

Toothless gave out a happy roar as he then vaulted with me off into the sky above our village and valley. I just leaned forward and embraced his neck with one arm as my other hand held onto the saddle bar, while my legs once more instinctively matched Toothless' moves with the canvas tailfin in the sky. We were flying as one again . . . a seamless whole.

"Go . . ." I said with emotion as I held onto him.

He took me for a good long soar over our island, as other dragons and riders began joining us in the sky. Soon I saw Eric and Elara aboard Junior, with Junior's Love flying free alongside. Love had volunteered as an independent Dragon Guardian among our Dragon Rider force, and even though Elara had never wanted to fly on her alone given her blindness, Love would occasionally take another rider when asked. Eric and Elara's daughter, Freedom, was now riding Fury and working her tail fins for her, as their three other sons now rode Junior and Love's offspring, while the oldest Night Fury offspring, whom Junior and Love had named Future, and whom Freedom usually rode, flew free beside them.

My daughter, Astrid, was on Joy, using the opportunity to teach her young son, Hiccup, how to fly as well. I had really tried to dissuade her from giving him my name, but she would just point to how Elara had been honoured with her grandmother's name, as even Astrid herself had been with her stepmother's name. Her husband, Rolf, was flying with their daughter, Jordis, on Broder and Brynja, who was, or were, followed by another adult Zippleback and several smaller Zipplebacks as well. As much as those dragons seemed to be in love with themselves, thank the gods they didn't forget to actually mate with other dragons and have kids.

I now saw Boulder out on his own Zippleback, Heads, with Jórunn, as always, riding Miracle in their unique way. Upchuck and Inger were on their Nightmare, Storm, along with Spring on her Nadder, and Gretta on Rainbow and her family on their dragons, too. Thank goodness Gretta was finally enjoying children as well . . . but I still could not remember their names, as she lived with her husband and family in another house elsewhere in the village, and just didn't see the rest of us all that much. I hope Eric will write them in for me here sometime.

Toothless didn't make me work too hard helping him fly, but he banked, dipped, rose and had a grand time flying around in the sky again . . . doing gentle figure-eights, lazy circles, and so much more.

Best friends . . . I thought as Toothless and I soared together.

Yes . . . I felt back from my dragon in a strong, unmistakable way.

I realized we always would be, even in Asgard, Heaven, as he took us into another gentle turn over our island home.

"Family," I said as the others now gathered around Toothless and I in the sky, "promise me this will never die . . . that these dragons, and our way of life, will always live. Pass this on, to every generation. Never let this go away."

"We promise, Dad," Eric assured near me. "We live for this, and for the dragons now . . . above all else."

The sun then began to emerge from behind some clouds. I now sat up in Toothless' saddle and glanced at it. Then briefly, I saw Astrid. I saw her, white and radiant, watching over me! I closed my eyes as I felt and absorbed her warmth . . . her angelic touch now.

Life was still good.

Even more dragons and riders joined us in the sky. As Toothless turned beneath me, I would glance behind and see a great host, even a swarm, of both wild dragons and dragons with riders, following us. This was what we all lived for now . . . flying free, and together as one.

As the sun began to set, and my Astrid's warmth with it, Toothless led all the dragons and riders in the village in a gentle spiral back towards the ground, and home. We touched down on the grass near our house ever so gently.

It could not have been a more perfect flight. But it has likely been the last time we will fly together. Toothless has not asked me again since.

— — — — —

While I have smiled on the outside at times in the months after my wife's death, my heart is still irreparably broken on the inside. I am incomplete now without my Astrid. Even my body knows it. Things have just started to shut down in me in recent days, and I no longer mind. I haven't wanted to eat much now for a while, and drinking is just painful.

Toothless, while he has been a constant companion to me, still has his Fury. They are in good health, and seem to have a long life together ahead for them yet.

Me . . . I am ready to rejoin with my Astrid. I want nothing else now. All my other friends and peers are gone. I am the last of my generation to remain behind in life. While Eric has taken over my duties as chief long ago, he has refused to accept the title, still calling me 'Chief', as does the rest of the village.

"Can't I just be an elder?" I asked one day. "I never wanted this job for life you know."

"Sorry, Chief," Eric dismissed with a smile. "We still need you."

One night in a moment of weakness though, I woke up sobbing next to Toothless. "Let me go," I pleaded with everyone, even with life itself. "Just let me go . . ."

I felt Toothless just roll back onto his side and draw me into a tight embrace with his legs and wings, just like I was told he had rescued me at the end of our battle with the Red Death dragon ages ago when I was young. I wrapped my arms around his thick neck and just cried as I felt his head touch against my shoulder and head. He didn't try to impart discipline or strength to me that night . . . just empathy, and love.

I woke up the next morning in his embrace, with my head resting on his foreleg. Toothless was still cradling and comforting me. In his own way, he was loving me as much as my Astrid did.

"Anything I can do for you, buddy?" I sniffed in gratitude as I looked up at him.

Toothless just gently shook his head as he gave me the warmest, most gently loving of looks. Fury was laying curved close against him from behind, looking over the side of his head at me as well.

I was grateful for their love that morning . . . simply, tearfully grateful.

— — — — —

This night though, I sit up in my bed on the floor, cradled against Toothless, as both he and Fury watch me write this over my shoulder, in the book my Astrid gave me. I am surrounded by such love as I glance up at my dragon companions, and they warmly look at me. The rest of the household is happily busy as usual. My human and dragon grandchildren are playing together, with the oldest looking like they're doing some serious studying and writing over at my old drafting table. I'm even told that the first snows of winter are falling outside, but my son says he will start Ingathering in earnest . . . tomorrow. I guess as he has more children and dragons ready to help him than I did in my prime, he can afford to face Ingathering with a more relaxed attitude. Lucky him!

I am so grateful to have had the life I have known however, even though it is no longer in the original Berk. I have seen our dragons, our people, and our way of life through the end of one age, and into the dawn of another. I write this, all of it, so no one . . . none of you . . . will ever forget why you are here, and why you protect the dragons and all that we value.

Live for Berk.

Fight for Berk.

Love Berk, forever.

I can barely write here . . . but what's this?

Astrid . . . I see Astrid . . . as clear as day in front of me now! Ohh, my beloved Astrid! She lives! I must write this down!

She reaches for me, with deepest joy. I lean back against Toothless, as I take Astrid's hand

— — — — —

My father joined my mother that evening, after dinner, as our family was preparing for bed.

We found him seemingly asleep, laying back on his bed against Toothless, as both Toothless and Fury were keeping watch over him. His pencil was in his hand, and his journal was still open on his lap, with him having written what you've just read.

We all cried that night, dragon and human alike . . . both in sadness, but also in the deepest joy imaginable, as my father was truly reunited with my mother once more . . . with his Astrid.

Toothless I think took my father's death the hardest of any of us. But Fury was right there, nudging him, extending a wing over him, giving him every form of support and love she could, as the rest of our family gently took his rider, his companion, away.

We wrapped my father's body in a crimson wool blanket and set it up on a table, using it as a bier, out in the middle of the village that night. Not a word needed to be said. Everyone knew who had died. Toothless himself took up a vigil at my father's head, watching over him with Fury at his side. Other Dragon Riders, with torches in their hands in place of spears as they stood beside their dragons, and even joined by wild dragons, soon took up an honour guard watch on all sides of the bier, even surrounding Toothless and Fury, all without being asked.

I stood for a while at my father's side as a nighttime snow gently fell, with my wife, Elara, my daughter Freedom and sons, Gerhard, Stoick, and Roald, as well as with our dragons and the rest of our clan around me, accepting the condolences and kind wishes from other villagers, both human and dragon. Finally, both Toothless and my wife encouraged me to go to bed, with Toothless assuring me that he and Fury would keep watch over my father through the night.

"You need rest, too," I reminded him as I finally agreed to go.

"I swore I not leave your father alone until he sent to Spirit with his mate," Toothless murmured to me in his Night Fury dialect. "It my last, sacred duty to him."

"Thank you," I simply replied as Elara now encouraged me off to bed.

The next morning, I found Toothless and Fury exactly as I left them, still watching over my father's body as the honour guard of dragons and Dragon Riders around them was changing again.

Unknown to my dad, I had been overseeing the construction of a funerary longboat for mom and him for some time. I just didn't feel it was right to be saying to him, "Here, Dad . . . here's the ship we'll be burning you and mom in."

Problem was, having had to turn our backs on seafaring now, we had no way to launch it from our village, down the sheer cliffs to the jumbled, rocky ocean shores and sea stacks below. So Fury and I organized two Nightmares, who with Junior, Joy, Miracle, and myself on Fury, were just able to lift and fly the small ship using heavy ropes out to some open water near the foot of our valley. I warned Fury that she shouldn't be doing this at her age, but she insisted, while Toothless continued to fulfil his pledge of remaining at my father's side. Soon, my wife and I were flying on Toothless, with Freedom now flying on Fury to convey the bodies of my father and mother, laid reverently on their backs, to join the ship out on the water . . . one last flight on the dragons they had each loved and cared for.

We landed onboard the ship, and lovingly placed my mother's and father's bodies, wrapped in their crimson blankets, right together amidships, touching side by side as they wanted. While we had heard of Viking chieftains going out surrounded by gold, furniture, even slaves, in the past now . . . all my mom and dad had ever wanted was each other. And that is what we gave them.

Our Haddock family all tearfully smiled at each other as we prepared to leave the ship now. Unless someone builds a funeral boat for Elara and I, this will be the last ship we Berkers may ever build . . . and it will have only one voyage, one purpose . . . to convey my parents to the afterlife.

Our family then lifted off the boat's deck, back into the sky together, as we helped Toothless and Fury turn to perform one final task for my parents.

"Fire . . ." I said.

Together, Toothless, Fury, Junior, Miracle, and Joy now gently emitted long, blue flames from the air at even intervals along the length of the ship. The vessel then gently erupted into flames as all of us withdrew. As chief, I had directed our entire Dragon Rider force be in the air for my parents, bearing witness as their ship now burned with them.

We and our dragons, and the many other dragons and Dragon Riders, now circled around over the ship, in a great funnel, leaving my parents a clear path to the heavens directly overhead. We continued, circling and watching, until the ship's final remnants gently sank into the sea.

The Dragon Riders who were assigned to patrols that day then flew off, taking up their stations in the air and on mountaintops around our island, while the rest of us returned to the village . . . to our hidden life, out of sight now to the rest of the world.

It felt strange, leaving my human parents behind out at sea beyond our island, and returning to our village without either one of them there now. Our family's two homes felt emptier, quieter, with their absence.

But before I leave my father behind entirely here . . . Dad for the record, Gretta's children are Gretchen as her oldest, followed by Hoark and Thor so far. While we got past giving children hideous names to frighten off trolls long ago, we probably should work on originality some more now.

— — — — —

Toothless and Fury went on to live among us a good while longer though. I feel they stuck around mostly out of a dragon sense of obligation and commitment to us, and to Berk, as I could tell they both missed their human companions, my parents, terribly. Toothless dedicated much of his time ensuring that Junior, Love and Joy had learned, and could repeat the rich store of dragon memory and lore he was passing onto them. Miracle shared in these sessions, too, but she would never be able to speak all that she had heard. It was Love though who eventually took over Toothless' teaching duties at my side as we continued to carefully shape and guide the minds of subsequent generations of human and dragon children together.

When Toothless and Fury finally passed, they did so thankfully almost together at the same time. They had both grown terribly weak.

"We go outside," Toothless murmured to me in Night Fury one day as he tried to stand up again. "You should not move us from in here after passing."

"No," I told him, shaking my head. "This is your home, too. You are family. I could no sooner put you outside to pass in the cold of night than I could my father. Just prepare yourselves amid warmth and comfort here for your journey to Spirit. You have taken care of my family, even me, for a lifetime. It is our turn now to express our thanks. This is our sacred task."

Toothless and Fury gratefully accepted all we did for them after that. My family just fed the two dragons, cleaned up after them, and even bathed and scrubbed them, right where they lay on the floor of our house by the fire. We gave them stronger mead teas, and rubbed them to soothe their pains. They went slowly, each keeping watch on the other. Our family helped them shift around a little from time to time, while ensuring their full bodies, even their heads, remained lovingly against one another, and that they could see each other, too.

I could only watch now with tears in my eyes as our two aged Night Furies each kept taking laboured breaths. But Fury refused to pass on until she saw that Toothless had done so beside her, willing herself to continue living and being alert for him.

"He not as strong as I," she kept murmuring as her left wing now rested on Toothless. "It hurt him too much if I went first."

I could only admire such love.

Amid all this, I still had to continue with my duties as Chief and Dragon Master out in the village. When I checked back home one afternoon, "He's going . . . they both are," Elara gently informed me, knowing by sound and touch alone.

After a lifetime of talking with Toothless, I couldn't say a thing now as my wife and I joined beside Junior, Miracle, Joy and their mates and offspring as they watched over their parents this one last time. Toothless' half-open eyes no longer looked at or responded to me. I just touched his head now, praying for Spirit to release him, to set him free . . . to set them both free.

"Dad, Mom," I even prayed out loud, "would you call Toothless and Fury? Come take them . . . please?" I wept.

As I stroked Toothless' head, I recalled being told, even reading in this journal that I had met Toothless the day I was born . . . how he had even rescued me from my crib as a baby, then watching over me as I fell asleep safely encircled and cradled by him every night after that. He had tolerated me using him as a plaything, climbing all over him, pulling on his ears and so much more. He patiently taught me his language, and then began teaching both Junior and I the ways of a dragon. He had even found my wife for me.

Now, Toothless was dying . . . and there was nothing I could do for him but just be there beside him. Finally, he stirred ever so slightly, seeming to even weakly look upwards above me with his eyes as his mouth started to smile a little.

"Yes," I tearfully whispered, "you can see your companions now. Go, Toothless . . . go to them." Junior murmured beside me, echoing my plea.

Toothless just stopped breathing, still looking upward with his half-opened eyes. I gently reached to close his eyes for him, before shifting myself over in front of Fury on the floor.

"It's alright, Fury," I assured her, stroking her large head. "You can go now. Join him. Join Toothless, your mate."

She opened one eye to look gratefully at me, before it slowly closed again and she breathed her last as well.

I closed my eyes, realizing that the family I had grown up in had now fully passed. My dragon parents were now gone, too.

"You were blessed," Elara gently noted as she sat on the floor beside me. "I lost my parents long ago . . . along with my sight. And I never had dragon parents, the way you did."

"I know," I sadly replied as I held her. "But they regarded you as their daughter, too. Toothless even once told me you had the heart and spirit of a dragon, as I did. It's how he knew to come find you . . . 'when it was time,' he said."

Elara just wept, hugging me as we sat together next to Toothless and Fury's bodies, while we both reached a hand in gratitude to stroke Toothless' head. I thought I had told her that long ago in our life together, but I now wished I had shared it with her sooner, while Toothless and Fury had been alive.

— — — — —

I wound up having to tear out a portion of the house around our front door, and rig up a series of ropes to even get their bodies onto wooden platforms to move them out. I smiled as I could almost sense Toothless telling me that he had warned this would not be easy.

I just looked skyward at one point as my family worked with help from others though, replying, "Happy to do it, Dragon Mom and Dad. I am happy to do it."

With the entire village bearing witness, we moved their bodies on those platforms, with wooden wheels at the sides to the foot of our valley at the edge of the cliffs above the rocky seascape. There, we laid both of them together, side-by-side on the ground.

For this one occasion I had been learning and practicing how to swallow and regurgitate at least a small fish in the Night Fury way, so that I could honour my dragon parents properly as I knelt down in front of their opened mouths and gave them life, as Junior did as well beside me. While the humans around us likely found this somewhat gross, the dragons simply watched almost reverently as I did it.

As I then stepped back, Junior and Miracle gently fired blasts into the mouths of Toothless and Fury as Joy watched between her two stepsiblings. We all roared to the skies as their two bodies then burned from the inside, eventually watching as winds came down the valley and spread their ashes upon the sea around those of my human parents. That has become our customary place for all funeral pyres since. Even with our human dead now, we use some wood, but dragons do most of the work with gentle, sustained blasts. They now consider it a sacred honour and duty of theirs, helping all our deceased to pass on to the next life.

After the ceremony for Toothless and Fury though, a female elder among the Night Furies came up to me.

"You are dragon," she murmured to me.

"I know," I grunted back respectfully to her in Night Fury.

"No," she continued. "You were once one of us, in a past life . . . and now giving life has proven you are again, Great Guardian."

That humbled me. Inheriting that title from Toothless made him feel more like a father to me than ever. I was now Great Guardian in my dragon father's stead, as well as truly Chief of our tribe as well. I wished both my fathers had been alive to see it.

I had wanted to make my dragon brother, Junior, Great Guardian, but after hearing the dragon elder as well, he declined.

"The honour and responsibility are yours," Junior simply assured me. "It needs to be so."

Future generations of human village chiefs may hate me for this, but I decided to make giving life before the dragon elders of our village part of the requirement and ceremony of becoming chief, of all our inhabitants. Perhaps there might be a dragon chief of our village some day, and he, maybe even she, would certainly give life in gratitude for being so honoured.

— — — — —

Eventually, I directed that a simple memorial stone be carved and erected on the grassy knoll just outside our village, near my father's monument to the fallen of the massacre on Dragon Island and on the spot where my mother's cairn had been, so that my parents, both human and dragon . . . the founders of our village here . . . would never be forgotten.

And, to ensure that what they lived for would never be forgotten either, I have also directed that this journal of my father's be copied, and made available to every citizen of Berk . . . and even read to, and shared with every dragon, who are now citizens of Berk as well . . . forever more.

We all now, dragon and human, live together as equals . . . protecting and guarding each other for a future we cannot yet see, amid a world to the south of us that has truly plunged into what can be called the Dark Ages.

So long as the dragons survive . . . so long as we can live, and worship, as we choose though . . . Berk will endure.

To you who read this, we now charge you with a sacred duty—to guard the dragons, and all that we care about, well.

Berk, and all of us, now live in you. Keep both it, and all that we are, safe . . . and alive . . . forever.

For the dragons.

Eric

Son of Hiccup
House of Haddock
Chief and Great Guardian of Berk

— — — — —

Dear reader,

The people and dragons you have experienced here lived, and died, a thousand years ago. Yet through the magic of words, they still reside in these stories you have read, ready to share their experiences, adventures and loves with you once more, anytime you like.

However, there is yet another tale in this saga of Berk . . . mine.

I will see you there, in what I am calling, Taming a Heart: Legacy of Myth.

For the dragons,

Your Translator