"Try again," Gobber prompted.
Hiccup sighed and heaved the axe over his shoulder, then lobbed it with an effort at the target painted on a particularly thick tree. It sailed right by. He winced and Gobber wrangled his own cringe into what he likely hoped passed for an encouraging expression. Hiccup went and retrieved the axe a fourth time.
Bad enough that Hiccup was failing miserably at weapons training, Astrid was there to watch. Fortunately she and Gobber made for an audience of only two. Small blessings.
"Try using your left hand," she called.
Gobber glanced around nervously, an odd thing for a man who was intimidating-looking even for a Viking. "What makes you say that?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I've seen Hiccup write. There's nothing wrong with being left-handed, that's just a superstition."
Spoken to a man who firmly believed trolls had it in for his left socks. Giving Gobber an apologetic smile, Hiccup hefted the axe again with his left hand. This time the blade made a satisfying thud as it lodged firmly into the trunk—of the next tree over.
Well, it was an improvement.
Astrid couldn't hide a smirk. "Better."
Unfortunately, it was. Hiccup shrugged and smiled, then tugged the axe from the oak trunk.
Gobber still appeared uneasy. His apprehension of sinistral dexterity was one shared by a lamentable number of other Vikings, who still tended to think all devils and miscellaneous mischief-minded spirits were left-handed. Hiccup had always avoided using his left hand in public, whether to write or draw or wave a knife around, conscious of the prevailing attitude. But Astrid had a point: better to handle an axe awkwardly with the left hand than horrifically with the right. Actually anything involving a blade probably lent itself to that rule.
A fresh interest in his weapons training was one of the many outcomes of his village's newfound respect. Hiccup's schedule was now packed with lessons on leadership designed to get him up to speed; he was playing catchup for all the years in which chiefly training for the Haddock boy was largely regarded as an exercise in futility.
"Maybe you should try a sword," Astrid suggested.
Gobber's face reflected the serious misgivings that Hiccup was sure were plain on his own.
"Reflex is important. If you can pilot a dragon through a maze of rock columns, you can navigate the point of a sword," she insisted, hopping from her perch on a large boulder.
"My footwork might be a little beyond help," he told her. She rolled her eyes.
At least she didn't get wildly uncomfortable whenever he joked about his leg (or lack thereof), like everyone else in the village did—save for Snoutlout and the twins, who just liked a good joke at anybody's expense, even their own. Hiccup had once excused himself from a circle dance by claiming he had worse than two left feet: he didn't have any. His fellow Vikings' mortification was painful. Under Stoick's red beard, his face was green.
Astrid fell in step as they walked back to the village proper. "You're doing fine," was the unprompted response to his thoughtful frown. "Nobody expects you to get it right away. Grima loved your resolution for her pasture dispute."
"And when I accidentally complimented her mustache?"
Astrid suppressed a grin. "Well, you were right. Her winter coat was coming in nicely."
Lumbering up behind them, Gobber slapped Hiccup on the back. "You'll get the hang of it. Axe-tossing and all." He then launched into one of his elaborate stories, this one of a pirate war he'd experienced as a younger man with a few more limbs to his name.
Berk was truly a town transformed. Even if you removed all the dragons from the landscape, the accommodations that were made for them—roosts for the Nadders, domed hovels for Monstrous Nightmares, little birdhouse-like structures the Terrible Terrors nested in—created a remarkable change.
A commotion was stirring at the docks as they approached. The activity was typical of readying for a voyage, loading of barrels and the like. Vikings passed bearing heavy loads. Hiccup saw a few tapestries being packed away carefully. Even some dragons had been conscripted to carry burdens, though they went about it gladly. About six Terrible Terrors with ropes gripped in their claws zoomed by hauling a crate, jabbering away at each other.
Sometimes it still felt unreal when he saw dragons and Vikings interacting so casually, and he'd instigated the whole thing. Berk had surprised him with its capacity for adapting to radical circumstances. Once the two sides were reasonably certain the other wouldn't try anything slick, they'd gotten along famously. Vikings and dragons were a lot alike. Hiccup didn't want to strike a flint around either after a heavy meal.
"What's happening?" he asked a hulking fellow who was muscling one crate to sit atop another. It was his father who answered, coming up behind and towering over them.
"We're calling on the neighbors," said Stoick, casting an appraising eye over the preparations. "Been too long since we attended to inter-tribal matters. We're joining Furyk for a conference."
Hiccup knew full well what those conferences involved. Usually arm-wrestling played a part. Would he be expected to go?
As if reading his mind, Stoick took Hiccup aside. Only Astrid and Gobber stood close enough to overhear. A few Vikings hid curious stares, sneaking looks over their shoulders as they continued to load the ships.
Stoick was, as ever, to the point. "You won't be coming with me," he said.
Hiccup did not know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Did his father still harbor doubts about his son's competency? After all, it had only been a few months since he was the village liability. It made sense. Conferences between tribes were a stage for making strong, manly impressions and Stoick's oddball kid—
"You're in charge."
—whose biceps couldn't crack a steel band would inspire all the morale of a limp handshake. He could understand. It wasn't like training dragons had made him muscly or any taller. Better to show off promising youths like Snotlout and Astrid. Why had all the blood drained from Gobber's face?
Stoick tapped Hiccup's shoulder. "While I'm gone, you're the chief."
"Oh." Chief. Of Berk. Vikings and dragons and all that. So it wasn't a lack of faith, but rather an inordinate amount of it. He felt strangely relieved. "Does anyone else know that?"
"You'll let them know," Stoick said firmly, "by taking command." Some detail on the docks caught his eye and he went off bellowing, after giving Hiccup a hearty slap on the back. Affection amongst his people was often manifested through violence.
Chief? 'Someday' had arrived early.
Hiccup turned back to Astrid and Gobber, and raised his shoulders helplessly. Astrid seemed pleased. Having recovered from his initial shock, Gobber was now oddly emotional.
"You're crying." Hiccup squinted. "Those are tears."
"No I'm not. My allergies are acting up. It's just," the blacksmith surreptitiously wiped an eye, "I'm so proud. I always thought this day would come."
"Are you happy or terrified?"
Astrid blew away her bangs. "Oh, you'll be fine. You've got us."
That, he did.
Hours later the packing was done and three longboats were ready to depart, stuffed to the sails with gifts for the hosting tribe: tapestries, pottery, some weapons. Gobber's ability in the smithy was renowned outside of their own town, and their neighbors always tried to barter for blades.
Hiccup stood by the docks, feeling obligated to see them off. Bidding them farewell in person did feel nicer than looking down on them from the cliff side. The departing villagers began boarding the ships after bone-crushing handshakes and friendly jostling for Hiccup, with some jokes spattered here and there from warriors—men and women—instructing him on keeping their better halves out of trouble.
"Snagrod is allergic to pewter," one woman reminded him. "It gives him an awful rash."
He promised to try and keep Snagrod away from pewter, and if he couldn't he intended to stay away from Snagrod.
The dragons seemed a little forlorn at being left behind, but both Hiccup and Stoick were of the firm mind that their alliance was to remain a secret for a little longer. Not every village had a Red Death to provoke an about-face on the subject of cooperation with longtime enemies. A plan was needed to eventually reconcile them to the idea, though it might be easier as they didn't have quite as violent a history with dragons as Berk had.
Hiccup patted a Gronkle looking on morosely as his human jumped aboard after a fond goodbye. Dragons had turned the people of Berk into homebodies—initially through the constant threat of attack and the necessity of keeping close to home, and then by the keen bond that had developed between them.
Toothless came up to stare curiously. Absentmindedly, Hiccup reached over to scratch behind the plates on his head. A low pleased rumble started deep in the dragon's throat.
At last Stoick came up. "Everything's in top condition," he told his son. "The weather should hold, nobody's got an outstanding bloodfeud at the moment. You couldn't ask for easier conditions to ah, test your wings so to speak."
"It helps that the only dragon fires now are accidental."
They didn't speak for a moment. By now the preparations were finished and the ones set to leave were milling around, waiting for their chief. Haddock men were not renowned for their verbosity. Stoick usually bulled through tricky conversations and Hiccup preferred to dodge them altogether.
"Well, ah—have a good trip," Hiccup said a little lamely.
Stoick cleared his throat. He seemed to have difficulty talking. "I'm proud of you."
Was his voice breaking? It was. Hiccup couldn't believe it. First Gobber, now his dad. Next Astrid would break down in emotion.
His father clasped his arm, then patted Toothless on the head and boarded.
Stoick watched Berk dwindle until it became shrouded in mist. It was the first time in a long memory that he had allowed his gaze to linger behind him when he departed, to see the thatched roofs become enveloped by fog one by one. The chief believed in squaring his shoulders to what lay ahead, and so he had always stood at the bow and looked forward. Today, his back was to the wind.
Contrary to what Hiccup himself might think, Stoick had no reservations about appointing him as the interim boss. When the boy was such a nightmare to shepherd, the only sensible thing to do was to make everyone else the sheep. If nothing else about Hiccup was derived from his community, he was utterly protective and positively stubborn, undeniably Viking traits that were important assets in a leader when it came to the best interests of his village. Plus, exposing him to others' madness would temper his own.
So Stoick hoped. He still had the feeling Hiccup was holding out on him.
He surprised himself by chuckling.
"So what's your first act, Chief?" Astrid asked as they watched the sails disappear one by one into the mists. Hiccup had always wondered which it was that disappeared, the ships or the land they left behind?
"Dinner. I'm starving."
Uh huh, one of those Hiccup in charge stories. The sword thing was referenced from the books, which I did a bit of research on but have not read. This will range from humorous to generic adventure. Reviews are appreciated!