Fresh snowfall had never before presented so much of a challenge.
In all other aspects it was a gorgeous morning, the sort of poem-perfect scene to appreciate for the little loveliness Berk could occasionally offer. The sky was pale blue, still brushed with remnants of night fog, the colored version of the icy spark in the air that tingled Hiccup's skin. Or what was exposed of it. From head to toe he was covered in various fur items so that all that was exposed was the space between his eyes. Frost clung to his eyelashes and he raised a mitten-covered hand to attempt to brush the iciness away—the bigger concern being scratching his eye with the rough wool.
On the slope of the hill beneath him the village was slowly awakening. Though the sun had risen not fifteen minutes before the rush to begin the day was not an intense one. Winter was a season that did Berk in. Every drop of water in the ocean seemed to create snow and it was not uncommon to wake up one morning to find one's house completely covered in snow. With digging through snow always a possibility, winter was a time to switch from most other types of work. The warmer months had worked them all to their bones and winter seemed the time for a little respite. Few besides Hiccup bothered to rise early.
He couldn't speak for the rest of them, but the first quiet minutes were ones he desperately needed.
Three weeks. Maybe a little more, but three weeks was as good as estimate as any. He gritted his teeth, tasting loose wool, and twisted his body to follow the crutch that he forced a few precious feet before him through the unrelenting snow. As pretty as it was its powdery appearance was a lie. Then again, it was up to his waist. Did he really think he could walk through waist-high anything with much ease? Secrets to Thor, all he really cared about at the moment was not falling.
He had done his share of falling over the past three weeks. And no doubt the pattern would continue. Which is why a quiet spectatorless morning was what he needed.
He didn't feel any particular shame. His injury was what it was and it wasn't like he wanted to hide inside away from the tribe. He was apparently their hero, after all—a social status more awkward than he had ever expected. He still had occasional nightmares and they were difficult to share. No one had really seen just what he had seen. His dad just said every Viking saw horrible things that would leave a lesser man shaking in his boots but that bravery was going on despite that terror. Or some other nonsensical adage. Hiccup had no intention of crying into his pillow and writing long sagas of his emotional pain—for Odin's sake, it hadn't been that bad. But he was shaken and everything was still weird and sometimes it was nice to practice walking without three dozen people looking on.
Hiccup's goal that morning was to make it up the hill, take a short walk through the forest, and walk back down the hill. According to Gothi who had somehow forced her way into being the primary source of healing advice it was far too lofty of a goal. But he had managed it a week and a half ago, two days before the first snowstorm, and he had survived it with energy to spare. Walking uphill was definitely the trickiest but that was just why he needed to practice. He figured if he became expert at trudging through the snow spring thaw would only make mobility a breeze. That would be his project this winter. Spring would come and he would be at the level of everyone else.
But, boy, was it going to be a tricky goal. The crest of the hill couldn't have been that far above him, but looking to the top instilled in him a sort of reverse vertigo. He cast his eyes down, suddenly ill.
Okay, he thought, just a little further. You can do this. He forced his crutch against what he hoped was the frozen ground to catch some friction and pulled himself up to meet it. The crutch had been Astrid's idea. A surprising suggestion from someone who had also told him to just "walk it off, you big baby". He grinned at that memory. Apparently the crutch was just her way of compromise. And it was a little more personal than having Toothless forcing him around.
He missed Toothless. It had only been a matter of days and he already missed the dragon. Strange how strong a connection could be. The first snow had sent all the dragons burrowing to the heat beneath the ground. Hooray for hibernation stealing away a guy's best friend. Well, he would perfect his walking by spring and surprise Toothless—if the dragon could even comprehend such things.
The scent of burning wood filled the air, mingling with the fresh cold. Morning fires were being stoked. With any luck Hiccup could make it home before anyone could come out to see their brave hero making his lonely morning sojourn.
Almost to the top… he swung his crutch forward like had had countless times that morning, let his right leg follow, and…
The crutch caught nowhere. It slid on something deep beneath the snow and kept on sliding.
Hiccup barely had time to shout out one of the more shocking curses he knew before he smacked face-first into the snow.
If that wasn't a great start to a day. A self-imposed whitewash and now the glamorous act of getting up. That was one thing he still was not very good at, and that was an assessment made indoors on solid ground. He managed to get to his knees. He was pretty sure he looked like some snow beast. Though this was hardly the time to worry about appearance. Knee up, balance, take care to trust that balance…
He made it to a clumsy crouch before falling again, this time backwards. It was at that time he discovered four layers of clothing, a replacement leg he still did not know what to do with, and a hidden layer of ice were a terrible combination. He rolled, literal heels-over-head for a good one, two, three, four…
He only made it halfway through the fifth. Something hiding in the snow stopped him, hard, and a crack sounded through the air.
For a wild moment he assumed it was a frozen tree branch breaking somewhere in the distance, though he don't know why that would cause such intense pain.
No, it was not a branch. Something very sturdy in the snow had stopped him—namely, had stopped his right leg.
He let his head fall back into the snow, breathing hard and trying not to scream.
So much for the daily goal.