Hiccup knew he would run into a problem sooner or later. He knew it. Everything had been going far too smoothly thus far.
He and Toothless managed to slowly make their way across islands, migrating towards the continent islet by islet. They made frequent stops for food, rest, or simple, leisurely skylarking. In fact, without the need for sneaking around in his own village, or the fear of discovery hanging overhead, the past two weeks had proven to be the best in Hiccup's life. He was free from the constraints of his village, laws he no longer adhered to thrown to the wind, and he was finally able to enjoy being himself.
Four days prior his first bout of bad luck struck when his map was blown into the ocean. Since then Hiccup had been counting landmasses and putting island stops to memory. He had a very loose idea where he was, but he hated not knowing.
Toothless bunkered down in the sun some ways off on the other side of the island they settled on. He allowed Hiccup to explore the island for food on his own with a warning snort to keep out of trouble. Hiccup continued to campaign his ability to fend for himself...on most days.
Still, Hiccup wasn't worried. He had his dagger and knew that it would only take a holler for Toothless to come to his rescue should he run into anything he couldn't handle.
Unfortunately, Hiccup disregarded any potential, sticky-fingered Vikings when he settled with that precaution.
And Hiccup's two weeks of idle fun were over as a memorable girl threw herself in his face with all the ferocity of an ignited Nightmare—a pleasant, customary greeting by Viking standards.
"Uh, uh-Camicazi," Hiccup choked out after a moment of goggling.
He couldn't, for the life of him, fathom why the Bog-Burglar suddenly stood before him. Moments ago he had been alone-enjoying a walk along the edge of the forest, looking for a light snack via foraging and enjoying one of the last days of pure sun before the cold season.
Hearing his name shouted in his ear by the young thief threw him in a moment of a surreal detachment. Awareness came. Then anxiety.
"Wha-what are you doing here?"
Hiccup grimaced almost as soon as he uttered the words. They were the same he used on Astrid not so long ago.
Look how that turned out: a graceless escape.
Camicazi put a hand on her hip, drawing Hiccup's attention to the full scabbard by her side. He hadn't seen her in nearly two harvests and she had not changed much: still the same long, blonde hair, still loaded with any sort of blade imaginable, and still deceptively tiny.
"Well, we're coming back up from East Anglia, of course." She gestured behind her to the far end of the southern shore, where dozens upon dozens of Viking longships dotted the rolling coast, no doubt filled to the brim with armed and dangerous Bog Burglars. Hiccup wanted to slap himself; how unobservant could he get?
The Bog-Burglars were what could tentatively be labeled as "frenemies" of the Hairy Hooligans. They were one of the few clans who traded regularly with his tribe—about once a year at the most—and were always up from some harmless competition at each gathering: be it races, sparing, or drinking contests. Stoick the Vast and Big-Boobied Bertha had a deep-rooted rivalry and were known for being incapable of standing in one another's presence without having their voices escalate to a deafening volume.
They invented bellowing contests.
Camicazi was the heir to the Bog-Burglar tribe and one of the few Vikings that Hiccup actually got along with—though their familiarity could be due to their status as children of the chieftains. Since their first meeting, they were thrown together at every opportunity; perhaps to smooth along a possible engagement, or at the very least improve their future standing as traders. Camicazi's strong, adventurous personality with Hiccup's passive, nonconformist attitude kept them from butting heads too often. Eventually, and after a few trouble-making episodes, a mutual amity settled between them.
"I got to join the trip this year," she continued. Pride bordering on arrogance seeped into her voice. "Mum thought it was about time I saw for myself how to barter and burgle—not that I needed any help with the burgling, mind you—but it was a blast anyway. Wasn't much in Hunstanton, but on the way up we hit Lindisfarne and, hoo-boy, let me tell you, it's a miracle we could get the boats to float-we got so much booty. Shame they didn't put up much of a fight. It's just not the same when they roll-over so quickly, ya know?"
Hiccup nodded dumbly, his mind more occupied with an escape.
"Anyway," Camicazi went on without need for breath, "we're heading back up into home territory now and I can tell we're gonna get some good dealings with the stuff we got. There's not a lot of civilization on this part of the Orkneys, 'course, but we needed to stop for some game—"
Hiccup snapped to attention.
"Wait—we're on the Orkney islands? Right now?"
Camicazi pursed her lips at the interruption.
"Uh, no kidding," she said. "What kind of Viking are you? This is Corn Holm!"
Slightly embarrassed, Hiccup nodded. He tried to keep track of where he was going—he counted the Shetland Islands as he flew overhead—but he knew he was at the point where he needed a new map.
"Right, yeah. I figured that..." He vowed to get a chart of some sort the next settlement they came across. Odin-forbid he wake up one morning and find himself at the wrong end of a Saxon spear.
"So where is your tribe?" Camicazi cut into his thoughts. She made a show of trying to peer into the forest over his shoulder. "You guys moored on the other side of the island? We didn't see anyone else coming in on this side."
The only thing on the other side of the island was Toothless.
"No, no. Just me," Hiccup insisted hastily. Perhaps his answer came too ready because Camicazi narrowed her eyes.
"Yep. Me. All by myself."
No dragon chaperone. Not here.
"What are you doing here by yourself?"
"Oh y'know..." Hiccup eyed the fleet of ships, "just on a trip."
Camicazi's dubious expression turned excitable.
"Ooooh! Are you on a mission from your dad? Are you being tested as a worthy heir and warrior? I'll probably be doing that meself if Mum would let me. She practically had me on a leash the whole time—I hardly got to fight at all!"
As Hiccup recalled, Camicazi liked to fight almost as much as she liked to talk.
"So, where's your boat?" Camicazi asked, searching the shore for his mode of transportation.
"Oh, somewhere on the other side of the island...I've just been exploring the grounds...y'know, looking for stray animals and such..."
"So, you're hunting alone?" she asked, the speculative look back on her face. Hiccup felt himself flush under her scrutiny, rather aware that he looked like the last person to be solo hunting. That and he was currently only armed with a dagger.
"I can handle myself fine," he said with a bit more aggression than he intended. Hanging around with a creature as proud as Toothless may have enforced his own sense of pride. Toothless did not tolerate his habit of belittling himself, and in response Hiccup felt less inclined to let other people depreciate him.
The girl raised her hands. "I meant no offense. But you gotta admit you're pretty scrawny. Don't look like much, ya'know?"
Hiccup said nothing; he stared imperiously down at her.
Camicazi developed her own scowl.
Hiccup's blush drained into a ghostly countenance. He'd heard that voice on a number of occasions before, and the conditioned response of fear emerged with its echoes.
"Oh, I guess I better get going," Camicazi said, unfazed and staring, listless, in the direction of her ships.
"Cami! Git yer skinny little butt over here!"
The broad figure of Camicazi's busty mother, Big-Boobied Bertha, emerged over a crest of rocks. She was but a dot at that distance, yet no less imposing.
"Oh, I know! You should come and talk to mum!" Camicazi expressed to Hiccup brightly. "She's been mentioning going up north again. Like I said, we got some good stuff from Lindisfarne, I bet your dad would love it. Especially the mead! Oh man, is it good—only don't tell mum I've been drinking it! Oh, and we've been running low on dragon-hide vests. The best comes from Berk, everyone knows it—but don't tell my mum I said that either!"
Hiccup, leaned back, alarmed, and quickly wrenched his arm out of Camicazi's grip when she started to drag him back to her ships.
"Uh...uh...no. Nope!" Hiccup chuckled weakly. "Can't. See, I'd love to but...I'm on a schedule. I have things—important things—I can't possible reschedule. Busy, busy, busy—that's me! Maybe some other time, when I'm less busy...with terribly important things..."
Like getting the Hel outta there.
"Who's that with you?" Bertha yelled as she neared.
Panic seized Hiccup. He stumbled backwards faster. Camicazi stared after him, curious, but made no move to stop him from withdrawing into the forest.
"You probably shouldn't mention you saw me," Hiccup added, making his way into the trees.
"Tell your mom I'm a hallucination!" And Hiccup slipped into the shadows.
The petite girl stood, speechless, for a moment longer, trying to process what just happened. She didn't notice her mother arrive until a heavy hand landed on her shoulder.
"Camicazi!" Bertha barked, causing her daughter to jerk under her hold. "Did you not hear me callin' yeh? What is wrong with you, child? 'N' who was that?"
"I think we should have checked those raspberries a little better before we ate them," Camicazi said faintly. She knew Hiccup as weird, mostly thanks to has habit never explaining his thought process before acting, but this time took the biscuit.
Experience also taught her that if Hiccup were up to something crazy, it was in one's best interest to stay out of the way.
"It was a hallucination," she informed her mother.
Hiccup darted through the underbrush; the leather on the soles of his moccasins contoured to the ground to help silence his steps. He had no fear of being followed—scary as Big-Boobied Bertha was, Hiccup was confident in his speed over hers. His only concern at the moment was Toothless. He didn't know how long the Bog-Burglars had been on the island, or how they'd spread, and he prayed to the gods that Toothless knew enough to stay hidden.
Bogs weren't great dragon killers—not like the Hooligans, who were more experienced thanks to their close location to the nest; a single Viking of Berk could take on a dragon if pushed. The Bog-Burglars, on the other hand, were more adept at fighting other humans, and a good variety at that due to their wider range of travels.
But enough of them together could take out one Night Fury. Of that, Hiccup was sure.
"Toothless!" he called as he reached the grotto where they set up camp. His heart lightened when he saw the dragon on the same sunny rock where he left him.
Toothless lifted his head at the sound of his name.
"Hey buddy," Hiccup said as he approached, relief heavy in his voice. He placed a hand on the dark snout.
Toothless whuffed into it, looking concerned.
"It's nothing," Hiccup assured him. He still gasped for breath. "There are just some Vikings on the other side of the island. I think we should take off from here and keep going south."
Toothless cocked his head and glanced at the sun. They had been mostly travelling at night to take advantage of Toothless' element and napping often during the day to recharge. A black dragon flying about in broad daylight would be sure to grab unwanted attention. Especially when there was a human on top.
"We stay low, fly farther out to sea, east bound, and then find cover in the clouds," Hiccup decided on the spot. He held his hand over his eyes and scanned the sky. "It looks like there's enough to keep us safe for a while. They'll probably think we're a large bird if they manage to spot us at all."
Toothless stood, arched his back and stretched his claws, and waited for Hiccup to fix the saddle into place. Hiccup went about gathering his belongings and securing his seating.
He tisked and plucked a worn fin string.
"I'm going to have to get some materials to reinforce these," he muttered. They would hold for now, but it wouldn't do to have his control over the tail fin snap midflight.
He pulled himself onto the saddle with practiced ease; the woven pack he carried hadn't hindered his movements in the slightest.
Toothless and Hiccup's motions were in sync as they took off, gliding along the water until they were far enough to risk rising higher. Hiccup flicked his ankle to position three and the pair began to climb vertically.
Cool, low-hanging clouds dampened his cheeks and Hiccup reveled in the sense of security and freedom he always felt at his preferred altitude. He was safe from the Vikings once more and he was back in the air where he belonged.
"The good news is that we're closing in on Scotland," he hollered over the wind. We can get a map and materials there, and probably keep to the coast until—"
Hiccup's stomach rudely interrupted his planning. He scowled down on it, suddenly recognizing the ache as hunger.
"Aw, damn. I forgot to eat."
You ate that rabbit on the island before you went foraging.
Hiccup could nearly feel his dragon judging him.
"I was still hungry!" he defended, point to his stomach. "Listen! I know you can hear it!"
If you get too fat I won't be able to carry you.
"And don't even think about complaining about my weight! If you could carry that elk back in Fetlar while carrying me, then you are in no position to whine!"
I can't carry two elks.
"And I'm not going to get to be the size of an elk, no matter how much I eat."
Look at your father—it's in your blood!
"Don't even go there!"