Thank you very much to AvannaK/Antic Repartee for the permission to use her drawing in the image header here. You can find more of her wonderful work at Deviant Art (AvannaK) and her fanfiction here writing as Antic Repartee.
Logic of Steel
Characters: Hiccup, Stoick. Flashburn, teen Vikings and dragons belong to Dreamworks and Cressida Cowell.
Inspirations: The title was inspired by a poem by Robert A. Heinlein. A paraphrased version of that poem is in the story and is based on Robert Heinlein's sword fighting poem in his novel Glory Road. The message board idea is also from Heinlein´s works. The "slightly something" line later in the story is an homage to a line Terry Pratchett made in his wonderful Discworld novel Small Gods.
This was a commission that AnticRepartee (author of the very popular Hitchups fanfic novel on this site) commissioned from me as part of an auction on the Deviant Art "HTTYD-fanarts" group. This was an auction where good folk bid on various artists to write stories for them, and their points went towards funding the group site for 2012. It's a great group and worth funding. Very active and very good, friendly and helpful members.
Anyway, Antic wanted me to write about a tale where movie!Hiccup and movie!Toothless wind up meeting the sword master Viking Flasburn from the book-verse (How to Steal a Dragon's Sword). Hiccup in Cowell's books is a very good swordsman, and the movie hopefully will hint at that, too, in sequels. But he has to have his beginnings to start being a swordsman/fencer, so this is what I am trying to show.
Hope you like it!
"Excuse me, kid, but did you just lose your lower left leg?"
Hiccup looked grimly up from where he sat, turning towards the curious voice above him, "Yes..." he said with forced calmness.
"I see. Well. it's hanging from the tree branches above you- just where the branches are brushing against the cavern overhang."
Hiccup found himself cheering up, "Hey, thanks! I wondered where it landed!"
"Don't mention it," the male voice said, "I'll get it for you. I need my morning acrobatics, anyway. Just sit tight until then. Oh, sorry, kid. That was not appropriate."
Hiccup gave a nonchalant, "It's nothing" wave with his hand, the one not holding his walking stick.
He watched as the stranger stepped from the fog into clearer view and then proceeded to flex his arms. Hiccup found himself wincing a bit when he realized his benefactor was a stooped-over, age-shriveled figure wearing humble brown wool robes and hood that hid his body and face from view. A rope belt cinched in the way-too-large robe, along with securing a strange beaded necklace that ended in a really long Thor's hammer.
Except Hiccup knew better than to think that was a Thorshamar wolf-cross. This was not a priest from Hiccup´s own Ásatrú faith, rather a follower of the recent, newfangled faith of the White Christ. If anything, this was a sure sign of how far Hiccup and his Night Fury companion had strayed off course. Christian monks tended to avoid the Barbaric Archipelago like their life depended on it. Which it did, considering the average welcoming nature of Vikings. And now some of them had dragons, which tended to keep most missionaries away. A man of the cloth never knew, when he knocked on a Berklander's door, if he would be greeted by sword or by fire. Or by both.
But wherever Hiccup had landed did seem to have Christian monks, ones who spoke Norse quite clearly, though with a bit of an accent.
And this particular Christian monk looked barely able to breathe, let alone try to scale a bluff to bring down Hiccup´s snagged prosthetic.
"Uh, thanks, sir. But don't put yourself out, really. I can get it. Eventually. I think, anyway. If you want to help you can... huh?"
The elderly monk was no longer in front of him. Suddenly he heard the tree trunk echoing with climbing feet, and then leaves showered down around him as the branches over head began to shake.
"Almost got it... stubborn thing. Ah there you, go! Watch out for falling limbs!"
Several branches fell around Hiccup who managed to duck out of the way.
"And falling limbs!"
Hiccup´s prosthetic limb fell to the ground, bounced a bit and then slammed back down. The young man reached out and snagged it with his walking stick, "Come to daddy..."
He quickly checked it over for damage and then reattached it to his left leg, fitting it into the special woolen cup that helped prevent against chafing. Hiccup still appreciated that cushioning even though his scarred leg had long since grown tough callouses over the stump in the years since the Battle.
In the bushes behind him, he heard a snort of satisfaction. Toothless had not been at all pleased by the circumstances and had decided to sulk in the comfort of concealing bushes while Hiccup vented his frustration as a useless way to solve the problem. Toothless probably was wise to sulk out of sight. Hiccup had learned pretty fast that cursing in frustration and gesturing with his walking staff had absolutely no effect on making the snagged and torn off prosthetic show itself.
"Yeh, yeh, yeh. You were right, Toothless. That canyon slot was too low and forested to properly skim through, " HIccup swiped a hand through his long hair, "But it sure was fun at the beginning. You have to admit that. Too bad the bushes and the tree limbs had to plant themselves in our path. I hate when vegetation does that."
Another snort, followed by the sounds of yawning. The Night Fury stuck his head from the bushes and stared intently at his human friend, watching as Hiccup stood up and tested the weight of the leg. It all seemed to be fine. No damage done. This was one of Hiccup´s newer designs, and he would have been slightly berserk if he'd lost it when he and Toothless had tried that canyon skimming.
Toothless flicked an ear and then made a barking-like growl, jerking his head back towards the sea. Well, where the sea was reputed to be, anyway.
"I know, bud. I want to get back home, too. If I knew where home was from here." Hiccup stretched his left leg and looked up at the fog -laden sky that the bluffs, canyon and trees and fog upon fog upon fog did not conceal , "I have no idea where we landed."
"Well, if you're from the Barbarian Archipelago, then I'd say 'here' is the Mainland. Of course, since I am from 'here', we call it something else entirely," a familiar voice in the trees interrupted the young Viking´s thoughts.
Toothless quickly pulled his head back into the bush, melting into the shadows.
Good move, Toothless. Nobody here but us Vikings.
The monk landed neatly in front of Hiccup. His robes swirled around him, and he shifted his posture as he landed. Now he was no longer hunched and shriveled looking. Instead, he stood straight... and tall. Hiccup had caught his growth spurt last year, and he had shot up taller than he expected. He was about average height, for a Berklander male. And the stranger stood only a little taller than he. The man´s robes draped from his frame, showing his shoulders were actually broad, and his frame strong.
"Þakka þér æðislega fyrir. Thanks for helping me," Hiccup said with a little bow of gratitude. The stranger nodded back, his face still mostly shadowed in the hood. Hiccup thought he caught the glimpse of a pale-colored beard framing a smile.
"You're quite acrobatic, there," Hiccup admitted, "No, offense, sir, but when I first saw you, I thought you were a bit on the frail side. I was worried you would get hurt."
"You wouldn't believe how great the air is here," the strange monk said, "One deep breath of it and I suddenly became young and strong, blessed with incredible super powers."
Hiccup crossed his arms and stared at the stranger, really not sure how to respond politely to something so asinine. He really felt a strong need to disappear fast, before the situation got even weirder.
"Plus," the stranger added, "I find it incredibly useful on the road to appear too frail and poor to be worth the time and effort to rob me." He shifted himself, and suddenly he was a stooped old figure again, "If you have to travel by yourself, it's important not to sport that 'Oh, I am rich and helpless- please rob me!' fashion style."
"You fooled me, " Hiccup admitted.
Wind blew softly through the trees over head as the man nodded in the shadowed hood, "And you, friend, are a long way from home if you are from the Barbaric Archipelago. I can hear the wind and the stones and the tough and tasteless crops in your accent."
"Guilty as charged," Hiccup said softly and stared in frustration at the fog above the canyon, "I didn't intend to wind up here, but somehow things happened- as things tend to happen. And here I am."
"Good for me, then," the monk replied, once again straightening up to be tall and proud, "I hate traveling by myself. If you would deign to go with me and protect me on the road, then I think I could get you some food and shelter and some directions to get you back to your home."
"Awww... uhhh, but," Hiccup's desire for self preservation was rising to the surface as fast as fat dancing on a hot griddle.
"And I give you my solemn word - and that is not an oath I take lightly- I will not accost you, rob you or rape you. Neither you nor your dragon. And, yes, I know you have a dragon. When a man goes up in the trees, he can see a lot below him. Even in a fog like this your dragon stands out a wee bit. But don't worry," and here the monk made a gentle bow back to Hiccup, "You are in the Mainlands. Trust my word that, in this insane neck of the woods, if you have a dragon, it won't get people too upset about things. We run on weird and crazy."
"But I am from Berk," Hiccup said, "We're used to weird and crazy."
"Of course. And you handle it admirably, from what I have heard. Your people have bonded with dragons. Still, I like to think we in the Mainland deal with even crazier stuff. So, I think you striding into town with me, and your Night Fury sharing the path, is not going to affect too many people. We have weirder things to worry about."
The strange monk grinned again and then pointed above Hiccup's head, "Besides, your Night Fury would boil my brain if I tried to hurt you. And, greetings, Night Fury, you are a very handsome fellow. I'm honored to meet you, sir."
He then bowed elegantly. Hiccup looked behind him to see Toothless had slid out from his sulking bushes. The dragon observed the bowing human with a half-grin and his pupils widened to full size.
Then he returned the bow to the strange monk, bending on a front knee.
"Thank you, sir dragon." The strange monk said, "I am honored to meet you, warrior. And to share paths with you."
Toothless lowered his head and let out a purr. Unlike most humans who had encountered Toothless (those rare who had), the monk did not stretch out a hand or try to touch Toothless. Instead he lowered his own head and stretched his hand in a flourish of a salute.
Toothless seemed to like it, for he raised his cat-like head and gave a rumbling purr of approval.
Hiccup could not hide a smile. This was the first time he had a seen a strange human (and, he had to admit, he had not seen so many non Berk humans) respond to Toothless as an intelligent being worthy of being shown respect. Toothless, who had an ego the size of Britain, had responded well to that.
That gesture alone showed Hiccup he could take this strange man seriously. Just as the strange man could take Toothless very seriously if he angered the Night Fury.
"His name is Toothless," HIccup said, feeling that the dragon wanted Hiccup to share his name with the stranger.
"Good. I am very pleased to meet you, Toothless. Then, that's settled. You're a long way from home, I could use a companion or two, and it's beastly weather for traveling. I can't imagine your dragon could fly in this thick fog. So, do let's share the road until I get back to my community. You can get a bite to eat and some food at my place, and then we'll see if we can point you back home."
The man glanced up the thick, misty sky, "Once Fog System Hedwig clears."
"Come again?" Hiccup said, trying to be polite. He leaned against Toothless' broad shoulder and pat the dragon affectionately. Toothless snorted softly and shook his head. HIs ear plates rattled as droplets of fog bounced off them.
"Fog System Hedwig. She's a bad one. Class IV, at least. It'll be a long while before she clears."
"You name the fog?" Hiccup said, finding it hard to hide his skepticism.
"Of course," the stranger gestured with a come-follow-me flick of his hand and then started walking, striking the ground lightly with his walking stick to poke out the fog-shrouded terrain in front of him, "Some of us Vikings who hired out as mercenaries in Kiev and Miklagarður learned from South Asian traders we met there that they name their tropical wind storm systems after women- y´know, unpredictable and all, blah-blah-blah. Probably just male jealousy of how mysterious and powerful women can be. Anyhoos, each storm gets named after a woman in the order of their alphabet. So, here in the Norseman Coast, we decided to do the same with our fog."
His voice was starting to drift off into the fog, so Hiccup found himself moving forward to keep up. His prosthetic protested with some angry squeaks, but it finally gave in and shut up when Hiccup did not stop. Like Toothless, the artificial limb was not fond of fog.
"C´mon, Toothless. He's crazy, but he's our ticket back home," Hiccup whispered, "Besides you'll just toast him if he tries anything stupid, so we don't have anything to lose but our dignity. And sanity and lives, maybe."
So, Toothless and Hiccup fell in behind the weird and yet eloquent monk. The man turned his head, nodded, then slowed down until Hiccup fell into a limping stride next to him. Toothless walked slightly behind the young man, offering a shoulder to lean against if Hiccup stumbled. On a foggy, rocky landscape like this, that was an all-too-likely probability. Hiccup did imitate the stranger, using his own hefty walking stick to poke the terrain ahead of him, both seeking and balancing with it.
It worked well- the wood would ring out in a certain way if it snagged against a rock or root, so Hiccup was able to adjust his path. He found himself starting to imitate the stranger so well the two of them were even beginning to walk in the same stride.
"You learn quickly, lad, it seems. Always a good sign," the stranger said with a pleasant warmth in his normally dry voice.
Hiccup nodded back, and the trio moved on a bit more through the amazingly boring landscape of fog and fog and fog.
"Well," the Berk youth breathed out at least, "If we named every fog pattern that came through Berk, we'd run out of names before the end of one month."
"Indeed," the monk said, "We don't have the vast number of fogs like in the North Atlantic Islands- what you call The Barbaric Archipelago. As if you North Atlantic Vikings had the copyright on the term ´barbarian.' Heh. Tell that to the Sarmatians or the Visigoths or the Huns and see if they pay you to use the word ´barbaric.' Anyway, when we do get a fog, it's a real humdinger, whingding-dilly of a fog. It socks in travel as bad as a blizzard would. And, unlike a blizzard, you can't predict them. So, yes, it seems appropriate to name the fog systems in this part of the world."
Hiccup nodded. This fog had been drifting in as he and Toothless had landed on the coast after their mad "git out of town" escape from Berk. At first it had been well behaved, well, more like the fogs Hiccup knew from Berk, anyway. You could tolerate them if you gritted your teeth and dreamed about sunny summers until you felt better. But this Mainland fog had gotten thicker and thicker until it lay across the young man and dragon like an unwelcome cloak. Hiccup knew it had been as much to blame as the brush in the canyon that had torn off his prosthetic as he and Toothless had indulged in a bit of creative daredeviltry. (After all, there is an unwritten rule that a young Berklander Viking and his Night Fury cannot abandon an opportunity for aerial extreme sports. Not with a clear conscience, anyway. It was their moral obligation to attempt to surf that canyon slot.)
Too bad the fog and bushes had done them in.
"This fog is so thick you could cut it and eat it," He observed, reaching out a hand to slide it through the thick curtain of mist droplets.
"It's a real pea souper, as the Angles and the Saxons say, " agreed the stranger, "But I prefer real pea soup. Come on. The sooner we get out of this fog, the better."
They moved onwards, fog dripping around them, and trees spattering even more water from their leaves. Toothless took the opportunity to sneeze, sending a little blast of plasma. Both humans cleared out of the way, the monk dropping to the ground in surprise. He rolled back adroitly onto his feet. However, he had lost his walking staff in the struggle.
Hiccup snagged it with his own and pushed it back to the stranger.
"Why, thank you!" the man reached down and retrieved the staff. He winced and curled up his right hand, shaking it out.
"Well, that´s how it goes, at least. I am Ambidextrous," he said thoughtfully.
Hiccup reached back and shook the man's right hand with his own, "And I'm Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. And I am so glad the Norsemen here on the Mainland also have hideous names."
The man- Ambidextrous- seemed to hesitate and then squeezed Hiccup's hand back, "You don't know the half of it, young HIccup. And you wouldn´t happen to be the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock The Third? But, of course! A person doesn't meet a young man with your coloring, a missing leg and a Night Fury for a friend every day! Unless, of course, that person lives on Berk."
Hiccup found himself holding back a laugh. The man´s humor was weird, but it was weird in a nice way,"Can´t fault that logic. So, am I everything the rumor mongers and fairy tales make me out to me? I imagine I'm a bit shorter than advertised."
Ambidextrous laughed softly, "Actually, it's an Icelandic skáld whose been singing your deeds in this region. They tend to be pretty honest about how their heroes really look, even down to the warts on the chin and the corns on the toes. So, yup, you look like the tales say. And I can tell you I immensely prefer a realistic looking fellow than a hero who is as tall as a jötunn and absolutely flawless in looks and intellect and bearing an almighty weapon that runs on sorcery or divine will. My line of work is all about using the talents you have in the right way. I like to know how a man really is, not about how other people paint him to be."
Hiccup grimaced as a tree decided to let an extra large spattering of rain fall on his head. He sighed while Toothless made a chuckling sound behind him. He got the impression he was being put in his place for not having the smooth scales that Night Furies had- the kind that repelled water.
"Keep laughing that way and your eyes will cross," Hiccup muttered back to the Night Fury, "And did you know that mold grows on smooth, wet, slick surfaces?"
He almost tripped as a heavy muzzle nudged him in the back. Obviously, a friendly reminder that Toothless was behind him and towering over him.
Luckily, Hiccup's new prosthetic had a wider foot platform, so it kept him from being rocked too much.
He glanced up and behind him, flashing the Superior Smile Number Two. Toothless glanced at him and then, deliberately, crossed his eyes.
Hiccup sighed with exaggerated dignity and then continued walking.
He decided not to bless Toothless with another sarcastic comment and instead said, "So, your line of work is all about knowing how people are, and using their talents in the right way. I guess that would fit someone who is a priest."
Ambidextrous stopped in his tracks and glanced at Hiccup from behind his hood. Then he brushed a hand over his robe, "Priest? Oh, you saw this old rag. I just wear it to throw off the potential bandits with my aura of extreme helplessness and poverty. I do live and work at a monastery, but I'm not a priest. I'm a teacher! Oh, my sainted aunts! And the unsainted ones, too, that's hilarious! Me a priest! The monks would laugh themselves to death at that thought! Some of them are so old that it would not require too much laughing, either"
Hiccup cut Toothless a look that summed up that this man and place were getting stranger and stranger by the minute.
Toothless just shrugged back. Humans rarely got under his skin unless they were trying to hurt him or Hiccup. The young Berklander often had to accept he had become friends with the only Libertarian dragon on his home island. And the only one who had the same, ironic sense of humor as Hiccup. It could be a lot of fun. And usually it was, but thanks to Toothless, sometimes Hiccup could understand how other people on Berk might find his snarking comments a tad bit irritating.
"So, what do you teach, exactly?" Hiccup asked, trying to appear nonchalant.
Ambidextrous replied, "Oh, many things. But I would say mainly a combination of Logic, Tactics, Physics and Calisthenics."
Hiccup, who had been expecting something along the lines of Greek and Latin, suddenly found himself not surprised by this odd answer. It did sound sort of classical, anyway. Well, the logic part anyway. This place probably needed all the logic it could get.
Ambidextrous stopped at a place that looked no different from the rest of the foggy landscape. He stuck out his walking staff. A thunking sound rang out through the silent air. Hiccup realized that this is what made the Mainland fog (oops- sorry- Fog System Hedvig- Class IV) so different from the clouds he and Toothless had hidden in when striking out at the Red-Green Death. There, the sounds of the Great Dragon and the flashes of fire from the ships below had lent some sense of direction and orientation.
Here, except for dripping water, there was no sound and no outline of objects except those directly in front of one's nose. Unless one had a good knowledge of the landscape ahead, it would be foolishness to try to travel in this condition. Ambidextrous seemed to have familiarity with the way, judging by how confident he now seemed, but Hiccup felt a bit of a shiver that he had to trust Ambidextrous knew his way around.
Was this what it was like being blind and depending on others to guide you?
"Ahh, here we are. Good." Ambidextrous swung his robes outwards, revealing a shoulder satchel. Hiccup also thought he caught a glimpse of a belt and what seemed to be a sword hilt. That would surely prove that the strange man was no priest, even if he were dressed like one. From what Hiccup had read about the Christian lands, priests were not supposed to carry pointed weapons.
But Ambidextrous was not thinking of swords. He was unrolling a piece of inferior-quality parchment and approaching the object that made the thunking noise. Hiccup stepped up beside him.
The object took shape in the mist. It seemed to be some sort of a tall wooden pillar on which a variety of leather and parchment objects had been attached with nails. A large board at the top proclaimed in several languages: NUNTIAS TABULA, SKILABÓÐ, NEGESEOUN and MESSENGER
The second language- runic- he knew. The others were in Roman characters, and he did not know those languages. But he figured they all meant the same thing: message board.
"There are a lot of Christian pilgrims who come here," Ambidextrous said as he fixed his parchment to the pillar with one of the spare nails and a rock that had been left at the base of the pillar, "Well, the monastery adjacent to my school. So people leave messages along the route. Reading is not a well known hobby in these parts, but still a fair number of pilgrims can read and will translate for others. And there are some messages that are meant only for people who can read. Like my message."
He stepped back and glanced at the board, taking in the variety of messages, "I do so love message boards. They are like seeing glimpses of a stranger´s life. So many codes, and yet each code hides a greater story. And we can only guess at them. Look 'em over, Hiccup. See if you can't wonder about a few stories."
Hiccup could only read the ones in Norse, but they were quite intriguing
"S. V. Meet me at Lucky Leif pub. Noon tomorrow. Money. - R. T."
"Pray for me, good folk. I need your blessings for my upcoming raid, The more gods you pray to, the better. All deities encouraged!"
"Contemplating martyrdom in the Holy Land on the next Crusade? Give me the lease to your home, and I will make your last days lavish. Inquire at jewelry stand in farmer´s market of the town La Ville avec le nom Trés Stupide: Dans-La-Bouche-de-La-Vache Laide, Normandy"
"Norse gentleman. Non-raiding Viking. Wishes to meet cultured, Gallo-Roman or Celtic lady from Brittany, though Normandy also a consideration. Prefers if you own a covered chariot. Object: improving international relations. Inquiries and applications at Dancing Deer pub, box 72."
Hiccup had to wonder a bit at how one improved international relations in a chariot. Oh. Right. Still, that had to be a bit claustrophobic. And what do you do with the horses while you are improving international relations?
"Culinary goddesses, unite! Attend my cooking classes and learn one hundred ways to cook street pigeons! Stretch your budget and improve your love life. The way to a man´s heart is his stomach. Let us be your guide to your beloved's stomach!"
Hiccup then turned his attention to the parchment Ambidextrous had put up.
"Are you a coward? This is not for you. Our school is looking most urgently for an apprentice, a brave one. He or she must be about 18 - 20 years old and in good health. Knowledge of Old Norse essential. Knowledge of Old Norman/Gallo-Roman preferred, or willingness to learn such language. Knowledge of inventing and applied arts essential. Knowledge of North Atlantic Viking culture extremely preferred. Should possess great skill for learning to handle dangerous pointed weapons. Willing to travel. No emotional ties or marriage arrangements. Apprenticeship with all benefits, including classical education opportunities, scientific learning, excellent stipend, room and board. Very good chances for advancement, glorious adventure, exotic travel opportunities, great danger. Knowledge and acquaintance with dragon-kind much desired. Inquire at FB School O.S.F. , Annex to ST M monastery, Island that is Not an Island, Normandy."
Hiccup felt a bit of a shudder through his back, one warmed by Toothless' breath against his spine. That ad almost seemed made for him! Especially the dragon-kind part.
This was quite weird!
He glanced at Ambidextrous, but the older man seemed to not notice Hiccup's gaze. Instead, he was browsing a message in one of the Roman-letter languages.
"Heh. Looks like Dame Corisande is having trouble with her cat in the tree again. At least the message seems new, so it's a recent happening. Well, maybe we can do some good. The noble friars would be so proud of me to hear me saying that. Once they recovered from laughing or fainting."
He chased this with a sigh, "There's education for you, Hiccup. Dame Corisande can read and write, but she can't do the simplest precautions to keep a leash on that pussy cat of hers. Well, sorry to delay things, Hiccup, but I'm not one to leave a lady in a lurch. And, if things work out, she might give us something worth the trouble."
The way he said that made Hiccup stiffen in the back. He really was not into the whole wenching thing, at least not at the moment. He'd fled from Berk to catch a few hours away from the girl troubles as it was. He did not feel like running back into the same frustrations of forced passion.
But Ambidextrous was not finished. He had made a strange sign where his left hand's finger and thumb met, and he grinned with one of those feral dirty-uncle grins.
"It's well known she is an excellent pastry chef. Her berry pies vanish in minutes at the local farmer's market."
Hiccup felt his breath rush out between his large front teeth in relief.
A short detour brought them down a small dirt road that emptied into what seemed to be a comfortable farm. The mist was obscuring most of view, but the little Hiccup saw was the typical Celtic round house style of stones with a thatched roof, along with some stone enclosures where a few content-looking sheep and dairy cows browsed on hay. It resembled the farms Hiccup had seen on his forays with Toothless to some of the more Celtic islands in the Archipelago, like Isla and Benbecula.
A large oak tree dominated the center of the farmstead, and a modestly clad middle-aged woman stood at its base. She had her head tilted up and was making kissing and chirruping noises to the tree branches.
Ambidextrous strode towards the woman, pulling his hood from his face, revealing a very Nordic-looking middle-aged man with the pleasantly sun and wind-bronzed features of one who lives in the outdoors.
He called out something that sounded like "Salud! Demat, Corisande!"
The rest got lost in a flow of words that sounded like a blend of a sing-song, flowing language punctuated by something resembling strategic throat clearing. Hiccup strained to pick up words in it, but he was lost.
The woman was not. She rushed to Ambidextrous and grabbed his hand, kissing him on each cheek. He returned the gesture and then listened while she spoke to him in that language. Hiccup knew Gaelic. Most Berk Vikings had to know it since his ancestors had invaded and generously offered to permanently resettle the former Gaelic speaking Western Scottish highlands and the islands. This language was annoyingly enough like Gaelic to tease him, but still had different enough words that he could not understand it.
If a language could thumb its nose at him, this language was doing a great job. For the umpteenth time, Hiccup envied Toothless for not having to deal with spoken words.
Ambidextrous and the woman chatted. He looked up while she pointed at the tree. Hiccup saw that Corisande was a pleasant looking motherly-type woman with a few extra pounds on her frame, but ones that enhanced her natural curvy figure. In that respect, she was not unlike the Berk Viking ladies, but Hiccup had the impression she would not have the hard muscles of a shield warrior. Corisande had sandy light-brown hair pulled back in a simple but fetching knot, a round face with golden freckles, a sharply-curved nose, red cheeks and light blue eyes.
Ambidextrous said something to the woman, ending with words that sounded like "Norman," and "Isles Barbariques," and "langue Norman"
Corisande dusted her hands on her striped apron and nodded. She approached Hiccup, who glanced behind him to see Toothless had cleverly melted into the fog.
"Sunshine on your head and greetings," she said in pleasantly lilting Norse with a little bow, "My slightly crazy Viking friend is saying you come from a long way, you have. And isn't it many days' sail from here with you livin' in the islands at the far edge of the world? It's long have you journeyed. And it's sorry I am to make you wait, but he can help me rescue my little Rosebud from the tree, he can."
"It's no problem," Hiccup answered back, imitating her bow. He glanced at his left leg, realizing that Ambidextrous seemed to be good at rescuing lost objects from trees. Well, everyone has to have a talent of some sort.
"I like cats very much," Ambidextrous said as he walked around the tree, looking up, "But they do have that rather annoying habit of climbing up trees and then their claws don't work well to help them back down the tree. They're perfectly rigged to get down out of the trees if they do it the right way, but you have to remind them that they can do it. They just have to get around the obsession of trying to go down the same way they went up, madame."
"I know," Corisande answered, pushing some loosened strands of curly hair behind an ear, "But I have difficulty tryin' to explain that to Rosebud. She is a sweet kitty, she is, but she's not forward thinking, at all, at all. I think her age is workin' against her, it is. And isn't she still a wee kitten at heart, stuck in a grown up body? Teenagers, don't you know?"
The branches above shook a bit, and some green oak leaves fluttered to the ground.
Ambidextrous sighed and ran his tongue over his lower lip, "I don't think it's a good idea for me to climb up there. Rosebud's probably a bit put out in her frustration."
"Aye, and I'm not askin' you to go up there, a'chara."
From behind, Hiccup heard Toothless let out a quiet rumble. It was not a challenge- Hiccup had been around his friend long enough to know that. But Toothless was puzzling out the situation. His rumble was similar to the one he made sometimes when he saw Hiccup or Stoick bring back freshly caught fish they had purchased from the docks. Toothless was then trying to consider ways to get his fangs into some of that fish without using too much effort.
That did give Hiccup an idea. He quietly made a chuffing noise. the one Toothless liked to make around him to get his attention. Within moments, the sleek slate-blue Night Fury had melted out of the fog and was standing by HIccup.
Hiccup pat his friend's shoulder while the Night Fury breathed on him and nuzzled his back. The young Norseman leaned against Toothless and unlaced the saddle bag in front of him. He reached a hand in and felt a familiar sackcloth pouch.
He pulled it out and pressed a gentle hand against Toothless' neck. It was the gesture the two of them had worked out for "Please stay where you are." Hiccup would make it by pressing his hand on Toothless' neck. Toothless would make the same request by gently pressing his muzzle where Hiccup's neck met his left shoulder.
Toothless blew out softly but remained still as Hiccup limped up to the tree. Hiccup glanced back to see the dragon giving a gentle smack of his tail against the ground, a reminder that the Night Fury expected to be rewarded for lost treats.
HIccup grinned back at Toothless and untied the sackcloth pouch. He dumped it over, spilling out large, stiff slabs of translucent-white dried fish. The scent of salt and sea filled the air, one that reminded Hiccup he had not eaten in quite a while. He found himself longing for a strip of dried fish spread with some fresh butter.
The dried haddock fell to the ground, releasing its pleasant aroma. Well, pleasant to a Viking. Most people might sneer at the thought of harðfiskur, air- dried fish, but there were few who tried it who did not wind up liking it.
The cat in the trees seemed to find it intriguing. Hiccup heard the leaves rustle and a branch groan as it bent under a heavier weight.
"Rosebud's moving! I think she's going to come down, the wee dear!" Corisande said, excitement edging her pleasantly husky voice.
"Careful, Hiccup!" Ambidextrous called, just as a golden blur streaked down the tree and pounced on the fish. Hiccup found himself knocked backwards by the motion. He leapt back and then lost his balance as he landed on his bad leg. Suddenly he fell on his back and felt the breath knocked from him.
Things went blurry for a moment; there was a woman's husky voice calling out in fear, and a man's voice answering back. Then Hiccup's vision cleared to see dark-trousered legs in front of him. He raised his head to see Ambidextrous pointing a sword in front of himself, his body calmly tensed. The man had placed himself in front of Hiccup.
In front of the man was cute little Rosebud. Except the cute little Rosebud was actually a very large, muscular leopardess, at least as tall as an Irish wolfhound and with wickedly- sharp fangs and claws.
The leopardess hunched into herself and lashed her tail. A hiss exploded from her throat as she hooked a front paw out to slash at Ambidextrous.
"No further, Rosebud," Ambidextrous said calmly. He kept his sword - and his voice- level.
Rosebud snarled and hunched into a crouch. Her tail lashed, as though she were about to pounce. Behind her, Corisande let out a soft cry of fear.
At that instant a second snarl floated into the air. Rosebud let out a spitting sound and then a hiss. She slashed a paw at the mist. Another hiss floated back to her.
The large leopardess backed away, her amber eyes fixed on the Night Fury who ghosted out of the mist. Toothless hissed again, opening his mouth and shooting out his teeth.
It was a short confrontation, but one tense with unreleased energy. Green Night Fury eyes bored into hard-edged amber leopard eyes.
The NIght Fury let out a quiet roar that rose to a hard-edged wailing sound. The leopardess answered back with a similar wail. Hackles rose along her neck.
The two magnificent creatures stalked each other, pacing in a circle around each other. Their humans watched with quiet awe.
There was no slashing, no attacking, just two powerful creatures assessing each other. A slate-blue and black-striped dragon paced around a golden feline with elegant black rosettes spotting her pelt.
They continued to pace around each other in an elegant dance of tension.
Then Toothless let out a very low, calm rumble that seemed to make the earth quiver under Hiccup's foot.
The leopardess gave Toothless a hard stare and then, quite calmly, flopped down and rolled over on her back, exposing her belly. She glanced up at him with calm amber eyes.
Toothless growled softly and lowered his head. He placed a paw on the leopardess' head and then moved back. A low growl rumbled from his throat, a warning that he was being merciful, but he would go for the kill if Rosebud decided to retaliate.
The leopardess did not. She rolled onto her feet and then backed away, hissing quietly. She hunched into herself and moaned, but she did not attack. Toothless glared at her and then padded up to the pile of dried fish. He snagged up several of the largest pieces with his jaws. Swallowing them, he trotted up by Hiccup's side and sat by his friend. Hiccup pat the dragon's head as the great beast growled pointedly at Rosebud.
The golden leopardess lashed her tail but did not retaliate.
After all, the victor gets the lion's share.
"Good, Rosebud," Corisande called out softly.
The leopardess shook her head, as if clearing her thoughts. Then she shrugged her shoulders and trotted over to Corisande. The woman held out a hand. Hiccup expected the wild cat to bite it off, but the leopardess just brushed against it and then padded over to the fish to munch down on the buffet.
"Trugarez vaz," Corisande said softly, nodding first to Toothless and then to Hiccup, "I thank you both."
Hiccup glanced at Ambidextrous. The tall Norse pseudo-monk just nodded his head at Hiccup and then sketched a little bow. One that took in both Hiccup and Toothless.
Toothless answered with a snort that sounded very much like "Of course!"
"As you can see," Ambidextrous told Hiccup with a cooly collected shrug, "Given the weirdness of our Mainland, your friendship with a Night Fury is not all that shock-worthy."
And, of course. If an average Mainlander owns a big cat from the African plains, and that is normal, well... having a Night Fury as one's best friend is not going to be all that unusual.
To his surprise, Hiccup felt himself a bit more relaxed as Corisande scratched her leopard under its chin and then, as Toothless stepped closer, held her hand out to the Night Fury. Toothless glanced at Hiccup, who smiled back at his friend. The Night Fury then rubbed his vast face against Corisande's hand. She scratched his jaws, and the magnificent dragon purred in dignified acceptance. Corisande laughed throatily and then scratched harder, but only after bowing again to Toothless.
The NIght Fury purred deeper, and Hiccup realized the Mainland really did have some good points. At least people like Ambidextrous and Courisande seemed to see that Toothless was an intelligent being worthy of respect.
Crazy as it was. the Mainland was rising higher in Hiccup's esteem. Even if the Fog System Hedwig (Category IV) was very annoying.
"It's a trend, a shameful trend," Ambidextrous explained to Hiccup later as they trudged down a hill, munching on some of the little hand-held meat pastries Corisande had given to them in gratitude, "I think it started with the Romans who occupied Gaul. It seemed to be the fashion to have pet wolves or big cats in one's manor house, kept in private zoos. I guess it's better than outright killing wild animals in the gladiator games, but still not a way to treat a wild creature. "
Toothless snorted, as if in agreement, and maybe he did agree. Hiccup was certain the dragon could understand Norse very well.
Ambidextrous continued his thoughts, "Leopards and lions belong in Africa as wild creatures. Why do people think they have to own one as a pet? I know being Gaelic or Norse or Roman is all about being fierce, but why keep innocent wild creatures to prove your barbarism or Romanism? These poor critters are raised in captivity, but they are too wild to be pets and too tame to live in the wild. And they are dangerous. Corisande treats her Rosebud quite well, but she still doesn't take responsibility for keeping Rosebud safe and not running around the countryside. If we hadn't caught her, the leopard might have killed cattle and, ultimately, Rosebud herself would be the one hurt the most by it. No one seems to see that. Rosebud belongs to the plains of Africa!"
Having tamed a Night Fury who belonged to the plains of the sky, Hiccup could not agree more. But when Hiccup had shot the Night Fury from the sky and permanently crippled the beautiful dragon, all for status among the Vikings, that made Hiccup no better than the people who captured wild African big cat kittens and tried to raise them as pets. And it made Hiccup aware he would always owe Toothless a great debt for the fact Toothless forgave him for crippling the great dragon.
Toothless was never meant to be tamed. He had been forced into working with Hiccup for survival. Luckily, the two of them had come to find a common ground. More unexpected, their bond as dragon and rider had taken Toothless to flights and challenges the young dragon had never encountered. He came to see his increased efficiency as a benefit to bonding with Hiccup. And, as a greater honor to Hiccup, he had come to see Hiccup as a friend and soul mate. Early in their friendship, Hiccup had given Toothless the chance to fly away and live his own life, free from humans. But Toothless had come back because he missed Hiccup's friendship.
It was a gesture of friendship that Hiccup would never, ever take for granted.
"Anyway, I ramble too much, " Ambidextrous said, his jaw clenched in anger, " A leopard is not a dragon. Anyone can see your Toothless is intelligent and independent. He seems more like your partner than a pet."
"That's true," Hiccup said, reaching back to touch Toothless' head. The dragon chuffed softly, a soothing sound of contentment, "I don't own him, and he doesn't own me. He might disagree with that part about him not owning me, by the way. But I let him go where he will because I trust him. He'd never steal farm animals, and he would never attack a human- or a dragon, for that matter- only in self defense. He's my buddy."
Ambidextrous pulled another pastry from the bag Corisande gave them and dropped it in Hiccup's hand, "That would be in line with what I've learned about dragons in my travels in the Eastern Lands. By the way, kid, that was pretty clever how you got the leopard from the tree. Very efficient. Most people would have tried to climb the tree and scare her down. You just used her natural behavior to lure her down."
Hiccup shrugged modestly, but he did feel a pleasant feeling of warmth to be praised, "It just seemed the right thing to do, the one that took the least amount of effort. Like my friend Gobber often says, great inventions are made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things."
"True that," Ambidextrous nodded, "It kind of fits in line with what I tell my philosophy students. They often debate about the best weapon ever invented. And I keep telling them that the best weapon a human has is what sits in his head, right between his eyes."
Hiccup glanced at his travel companion. Now that Ambidextrous was not wearing his hood, Hiccup could see the man was about Stoick's age- maybe a bit younger, but not much. He had the classic Norse features of a long head, high cheekbones, square jaw and aquiline nose. It was something a bit different from the Berklanders, who were a blend of Celtic (like Snotlout or Fishlegs), Norse (think Ruffnut and Tuffnut, Astrid and Gobber) and a mixture of the two (like Hiccup and his father).
Ambidextrous had deep-golden hair, cropped quite short for a Norseman's . It seemed to be a bit curly, at least judging from the longer hair on the base of his neck. He wore a well trimmed dark-blond goatee, though his cheeks were clean-shaven. He had the typical Norse deep-set eyes. His eyes were the pure blue-green of glacier ice Hiccup sometimes saw in the sea when he flew on Toothless. Yet the Norseman's eyes were not cold. They seemed to sparkle with humor and intelligence. He seemed amused and delighted by the world rather than cynical and ruthless.
Hiccup realized that Ambidextrous, with his lean and tall build and well-set features , would probably be considered a very handsome man in the Icelandic Sagas. He was not flawless, though. His ears were too large for his head, and he sported a broken nose and a silvery scar that wound its way down the right side of his face from brow to jawline.
"These are mighty pasties. Dame Corisande is as good as ever!" Ambidextrous said with a nod.
Hiccup had to agree. He'd never had one of these so-called Celtic pasties. They were based on something the Romans had invented, little meat pies made just for traveling on the road. A strange, flaky bread called "Pay-Stree" was wrapped around a savory blend of beef or lamb, carrots, leeks, parsnips and peas mixed with salt, pepper and many herbs. It was then baked in a hearth oven. They were odd but delicious. Corisande had pressed loads of these magical meat pies on the two men, and she even gave Toothless a bowl of them, which the dragon downed quickly and then purred in joyful surprise.
Again, points to the Mainlanders, Hiccup had thought. Corisande knew Toothless deserved a big thank you
The meat pies were washed down with a heavily water-diluted version of a drink invented by the Gauls in this region of the Mainland. It seemed like a type of mead, but it was made from apples rather than honey. It was called hard cider, and it tasted wondrous. Amazing how something so sweet in flavor could also have a bit of a sour kick- and a huge amount of a hot kick from the alcohol.
This version was watered down, just enough to give warmth but not get someone drunk. Ambidextrous had assured Hiccup that in its pure form, cider was even more delicious, but it would put a Viking under the table very fast if he drunk a lot of it.
"You did a good job, kid," Ambidextrous now said with calm pride, "Though you did wind up flat on your back. I can't blame you for that. You didn't know Rosebud was going to move so fast... or that she was a very big pussy cat. My question to you, now, is: what would you have done if I or Toothless had not been there?"
Hiccup started to answer, "Screamed really loud and hoped Þórr or Óðinn would make my admission to the afterlife as painless as possible."
But, to his surprise, he did not want to fall back on the good ole sarcasm. When he saw Ambidextrous glance at him with a non judgmental curiosity, he actually found himself thinking about the moment and what he really might have done to save himself.
He ran a hand through his long hair, grimacing when it snagged on a knot. He had been growing it out over the last years to braid back like his father's. In that stupid but fun canyon skimming that had landed them in this whole shindig, Hiccup had lost the hair thong, so now his hair hung loose and snarled, hitting just at the back of his shoulders.
He disregarded that and thought more, "Well... I landed on my back and got stunned a bit. Not sure what I could have done much. Hmmm... no, wait- I could have screamed or yelled."
"Good answer, kid", Ambidextrous said, walking quietly by Hiccup's side. The voice is a weapon, too. And wild cats hate shrieking noises. It would have scared Rosebud, I think. Now, if she were a bear that would have worked against you, but cats will run from loud noises. I'd also have thought about your walking stick. That's a fine weapon if you use it the right way. Especially if your friend Gobber designed it."
Hiccup glanced down at his humble but sturdy walking stick, "He did. A lot of us Berklanders use them. I think we brought the idea over from Norway, where people used them for ski poles and walking sticks."
The blond Viking nodded, "Makes sense. That's why the Norwegian Vikings invented them. They are good for walking, good for ski poles... but also good weapons. And if Gobber made yours, then you have that extra added feature..."
Hiccup looked up to the foggy sky and laughed softly. He carefully used his free hand to pull the top off the walking stick. Underneath was a very finely-honed steel point made for cross country skiing or picking through ice or mud. But it could also make a very nasty weapon if used the right way.
Funny thing, though, was Hiccup had not thought of that steel point as being a weapon until Ambidextrous brought it up.
"How do you know Gobber?" Hiccup said softly as he replaced the wooden cap.
"Ah, long story, long story. But I know he was all for keeping the traditional Norwegian Viking tools going in your part of the world, even though you rarely have the heavy snow that would make cross country skiing necessary. But he still saw a walking staff as worth keeping. He´s a good guy. But I still could whoop him any day at chess or hnéfatafl or whatever game you throw at us."
Here Ambidextrous grinned at Hiccup, "I can beat Gobber at anything... especially if he drinks a bit too much cider. And I am always happy to show him good Norman hospitality whenever we meet from time to time. After all, as the Christians say, ´Tis always better to give than to receive.´ Very true, especially where cider is concerned."
Hiccup munched on another of those lovely meat pies while slipping Toothless one of his own.
Eventually, they reached another point that Ambidextrous decided was a message board. It was a repetition of the earlier scene, but now with the addition of savory mini meat pies and cider.
While Toothless munched on a meat pie and played with some leaves that were drifting to the ground, Hiccup read the messages on this kiosk:
We Can Make Your Manhood Pride and Joy Bigger! Risk Free!
Enlarge it up to three or four inches and increase the girth up to 25% larger. And it is all risk free! Risk free and 60 day money-back guarantee.
Contact us, and we guarantee we can make the stone fencing around your farmstead larger- up to 25%, and we can assist you to make sure your vegetable garden grows plants up to three or four inches higher. It's risk free! Contact us. We promise increase for no risk...and for reasonable rates. Contact at the village of L´herbe de la Morte, box 33.
Dear S.E.: What happens in Paris-Lutetia, stays in Paris-Lutetia. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I hope you do, too, and you will pay me in gold to make sure that remains the case. After all, silence is golden. I will be at the Chat qui Vomir pub in Le village ennuie to discuss how golden silence is.- Love, A.M. A.
Hiccup then glanced at the new announcement Ambidextrous hammered in place. It was identical to the first one, down to the disturbing details.
Except now the message had some disturbing and yet flattering extra modifiers:
"Are you a coward? This is not for you. Our school is looking most urgently for an apprentice, a brave one. He or she must be about 18 - 20 years old and in good health. Knowledge of Old Norse essential. Knowledge of Old Norman/Gallo-Roman preferred, or willingness to learn such language. Knowledge of inventing and applied arts essential. Knowledge of North Atlantic Viking culture extremely preferred. Should possess great skill for learning to handle dangerous pointed weapons. Willing to travel. No emotional ties or marriage arrangements. Apprenticeship with all benefits, including classical education opportunities, scientific learning, excellent stipend, room and board. Very good chances for advancement, glorious adventure, exotic travel opportunities, great danger. Knowledge and acquaintance with dragon-kind much desired.
Physical attributes not important, but slightly built people with long auburn hair, green eyes and freckles preferred. Buck teeth a huge advantage. Knowledge of Night Furies an even huger advantage.
Inquire at FB School O.S.F. , Annex to ST M monastery, Island that is Not an Island, Normandy."
P.S.- You are reading this twice, it seems. Why are you making us repeat ourselves? If you fit the bill, apply! Do we have to beg? We hate to beg. You are making us slightly irritated.
Hiccup found himself narrowing his eyes and biting his lip. This was really getting weird. He then noticed part of the notice was still folded under, as though Ambidextrous had not unrolled the parchment fully.
So Hiccup unrolled it fully and saw some more text
Good. You saw this. Now do something about it. And you can stop biting your lip and narrowing your eyes.
P.S. You don´t look flattering with crossed eyes and your tongue sticking out. Just some friendly advice.
Hiccup's breath caught between his teeth on that one. He found himself breathing out the words, "Oookay," as though he were calming himself
Hiccup narrowed his eyes and read over the announcement again just to be certain he was not losing his eyesight along with his mind.
Ambidextrous had halted and was waiting for Hiccup to catch up to him. His face was agonizingly neutral, especially given how confused Hiccup thought his own expression must have appeared.
Limping along faster than he had expected for such a fog enshrouded area, the young man caught up to the older one.
"Is this some kind of a joke?" Hiccup asked, his voice tight in his throat, "If it is, I am not amused."
Ambidextrous shrugged, slung his satchel tighter over his shoulder, and started walking again, "I'm not joking. It's just what the announcement says: we're looking for an apprentice at the school. Nothing big about that. If you want, you can apply for it."
"But it seems so tailor made- so… it's like someone knows who I am and… well, it's just weird. That's all."
"It's just Life on the Mainland as normal. This is a weird place, a point I've made a few times already since we met. Be assured, Hiccup, I'm just putting up ordinary "Help Wanted" signs. If you're seeing something strange in them, it's either because you're interested in the position or the Mainland is playing tricks on your eyes."
Before Hiccup could voice the question about how in the name of Óðinn a landscape could play tricks on people, Ambidextrous continued speaking, "This area is where the land meets the sea. There is always strangeness in such places. Call it what you will: effects of the moon and the tides, magnetic energy from the land, even… yech… magic! Though magic is just a cheap word for someone who doesn't want to understand the workings of the world around him."
Ambidextrous raised his staff up and cleared away some low-lying branches of oak, sending pearly water drops flying around himself and his two companions. The tree branch ducked a bit and then, released from some sort of tangle, swung up higher, allowing the trio to walk under the tree easily.
"Thank you, my lovely ladies!" Ambidextrous called towards the tree canopy.
Hiccup started to exchange a look with Toothless, but the dragon also was staring upwards, eyes taking in something that Hiccup could not see.
"One must always be respectful to a lady, especially ones who are spirits within trees," Ambidextrous said warmly, respectfully patting the trunk of the next tree they passed, "Granted I've never seen a dryad, but there have been travelers' accounts of getting waylaid by trees if they went rough with the forest."
"So, if you haven't seen one, then how do you know dryads exist other than travelers' tales? It seems a far stretch to me." Hiccup asked matter of factly.
Ambidextrous gave Hiccup an "oh-ye-of-little-faith" sigh and then said, "This from the great friend of dragons himself. There are many people who have never seen a dragon, yet they believe they are more than myth. Yet you yourself have befriended such a so-called myth. That should make you more open to possibilities."
Toothless wrinkled his nose and let out a rattling indignant noise that plainly indicated he was certainly no stupid mythological being.
Hiccup stroked his friend's heavy neck and got a satisfied purr in response.
"I still think you're stretching it, Ambidextrous. Trees don't have souls and—whohohohoh!"
Ambidextrous turned around and looked to see a sprawled-out Hiccup glaring at a rather nasty looking hump of exposed tree root. The youngling had obviously tripped over it and fallen to the wet ground. His dragon remained standing, but he growled softly as Hiccup used his walking stick and Toothless' shoulder to climb back to his feet.
"Funny, I didn't see that root tussock there when I walked by," Ambidextrous said mildly, "Strange things, indeed. "
Ambidextrous made sure his young companion was all right before the trio moved onwards through the slowly thinning mist, "You must have gotten on someone's roots- I mean nerves- with your commentary, Hiccup. Probably an older dryad. They like tripping up travelers. It's the younger ones who are worse, though, especially if you are a young man. Then they smack you in all sorts of places with their limbs. Including places you didn't even know you had." Ambidextrous shook his blond head as if remembering some experiences of his own, "Such is the behavior of the common tree nymph: Arboriafemme Fanservicus.
The older man waved at the tree behind Hiccup, "Thank you, madame, we'll remember your kind thoughts. My friend's trip has obviously become more exciting with your extra added side trip, no pun intended. Have a lovely day, my beautiful lady."
Next to him Hiccup managed to keep his face calm and friendly and gave a regal bow to the trees.
A soft rustling of leaves sang in the travelers' wake as they walked away.
"Goooood, you're learning." Ambidextrous said, pleased.
"Well, I'll tell you my theory about why the landscape here is so insane," Ambidextrous said a little while later as the trio took a turn onto a smaller, more leaf-strewn path.
This was supposed to put a short cut on their trip. The older man was starting to show a sense of urgency. Not that he was stressed out, but he seemed determined to get to the monastery in a timely manner. If they took too long, circumstances might force them to stay the night in the forest. Hiccup figured that would not be a good thing, considering the trees. He didn't consider himself a particularly good-looking specimen of man-hood, but maybe dryads got desperate from time to time, and he´d had enough girl troubles for a while.
Ambidextrous was munching on an apple, as was Hiccup. Apparently apples were not in season, but somehow that did not mean anything to dryads. Apples seemed to appear and drop from the ground as the men and dragon walked along, usually in response to Ambidextrous' various compliments about trees and the beauty and dignity of mature women.
Toothless found the apples fun—not to eat, but to roll them around then toss up in the air and snort with a small blast of flame. Hiccup found such heated apples delicious. Hel, heated or not, they were the best apples he had ever had! Berk had smaller, tarter apples- or at least they tried to be apples. These were slightly larger and deep red in color. They made a satisfying crunch that filled one's mouth with wonderful juice that burst in a perfect moment of sweet and tart.
No wonder the people of the Mainland- the Norse Mainland and the GalloRomanic Mainland, or whatever they called it- made such good hard cider!
Hiccup was deeply impressed by his older companion's dryad flattery and how his charming words seemed to get such a cheerful cooperation from the trees. It made the young man reflect back on his own reasonings for wanting to leave Berk for a few hours.
The Berk youth was more used to the blunt "well, do you or don't you? C'mon make up your mind I have not got all day!" approach to courtship of most Vikings. (It was the efficient approach usually followed by wham-bam-thank you ma'am… except one traditionally left off the last three words). It was one Hiccup was not particularly fond of, being that he was of the shyer persuasion. (Though he had to admit, sometimes being shyer and more down to earth in nature had its advantages- a man who actually listened to a woman and was interested in her did score points in a Viking society filled with boasters).
But the whole exploration of the wonderful world of the opposite gender had really taken a turn for the worse when Hiccup had recently gotten the reputation as the Barbaric Archipelago's Most Eligible Bachelor among young, single women visitors from neighboring tribes. He guessed this was all thanks to a certain Night Fury.
Over the last year, quite a few wealthy merchants and chieftains had sailed into the harbor, accompanied by their wives, sons… and daughters. And what daughters they were! Proud, pretty, overconfident and more than a bit spoiled, they had joined their parents to check out the opportunities of this strange island of Berk. The parents came to see this strange new island whose inhabitants coexisted with dragons. A proper Norse merchant is always on the lookout for a good alliance or marketplace for his or her crops, livestock, trade goods or handicrafts.
The daughters were usually more on the lookout for that rare chance to meet- and maybe even catch the heart- of a wealthy, influential young man. Of course, it was honey on the cake if he were also handsome. Berk had seemed to produce quite a few celebrities lately: dashing, handsome, hard working young men who had bonded with dragons. And, of course, every sassy, over pampered lass worth her weight in gold knew the son of the red-headed Chief Stoick was also single- the top prize in some sort of unwritten contest that Hiccup had no idea how to hide from.
This "Pursuit of Happiness with Hiccup" game had gotten more and more heated lately, especially now that Astrid had left on her Journey.
He and Astrid had never really been a couple; even three years after the Great Battle, both were still figuring things out and learning how to incorporate dragons into their world. Their budding friendship during those first days with dragons had settled into a warm and sometimes gently teasing camaraderie, and that seemed to be very good for now with all the duties the two now had in dragon training. There seemed to be few opportunities for peaceful moments together. Admittedly, they were still on the young side of being marriageable, and their parents were not pushing either of them into a relationship. The new partnership with dragons was changing everyone´s life, so it seemed better to work this inter species partnership out. So most parents agreed it was wiser to let things take their course and not push their younglings who had bonded with dragons into something they were not yet ready to face. After all, who knew what kind of people Hiccup´s generation were going to become?
Plus, neither Astrid nor Hiccup were loose players, and both wanted to experience more of the world beyond before they committed to a relationship. So there was no guarantee they would wind up moving beyond friends.
However, since the two were often together sharing a hurried cup of ale and a few jokes between breaks and or making plans for the next few months of training, a visitor to the island might assume they were a couple. Certainly the visiting young ladies seemed to assume Astrid had "taken" Hiccup. This seemed quite selfish of Astrid since poor Hiccup had never gotten the opportunity to meet his ideal and destined future love. The ideal and destined future love always seemed to turn out to be the current young woman visiting the island with her parents. Said particular young woman would then get angry and lash out at Astrid for daring to think she, a common ship builder´s daughter, was better for the heir of Berk than a visiting upper-class merchant or chieftain´s daughter.
So Astrid was constantly being baited and given bad glares by determined young women from the neighboring tribes.
Then things got complicated even more by the practical joke antics of Kamikásdís, Hiccup's childhood friend and heir to her own tribe, the Bog Burglars. The Bogs were a Norse tribe of pirate raiders and warriors where women ran things and only a few men were allowed to live on their island.
While Astrid was often considered by Berklanders to be one of the prettiest and most competent ladies on the island, there was an archipelago beyond Berk. General consensus around the Barbaric Islands held that Kamikásdís Bjarteyarsdóttir was one of the most beautiful and intelligent North Atlantic women of her generation.
Well, that was at first, anyway. Then several Bog Burglar Amazons – and their swords- got into the discussion . The general consensus then slightly revised that Kammý was now held to be THE Most Beautiful and Intelligent Woman of the Entire Archipelago. Shortly after, Kammý ´s mother, Bjartey the Well Endowed and her sword, Manspitter, joined the discussion. The consensus further revised itself that Kammý was, after mutual consideration, THE Most Beautiful and Intelligent Woman in The Whole World (after her mother, of course). No one had felt the need to revise the view. People were generally satisfied with having their internal organs left inside their body.
However beautiful, fierce, intelligent, wild and wealthy (etc, etc) she now was on the rumor scale, Kammý made it very clear to all who met her that she was no man's object to possess. She was a warrior and would one day be the chieftain of her people. Being a firm believer in Viking reputation-crafting, Kammý still did consider it a nice perk that she was now considered the best of her generation in the whole world. It made raiding boats easier because then her victims from considered it an honor to be invaded by the best of the best. Some traders she had raided ook great pride in having been graced with a raid by the great Kamikásdís. They even listed it among their credentials when promoting their merchant shipping services.
Until she became the new leader of the Bog Burglar tribe, however, Kammý saw no reason why she should not have some fun and adventure—and even play a few pranks. It had been a particularly dismal spring raid-wise, so Kamikásdís decided to liven her boring life up and launched her romantic assault on good ole Hiccup.
More than a few North Atlantic young Viking men (and more than a few merchant sailors) were jealous of Hiccup that the magnificent Kammý had started to see her childhood buddy as more than a childhood buddy.
For Hiccup, it had first it had been flattering to be noticed by his generation's most admired woman. Hiccup soon, however, was pretty sure that things were not as they seemed. He knew Kammý too well for her to be doing more than stirring up some trouble for fun. He suspected this current flirting was all an act to entertain Kammý and play some pranks on the other young women honing in Hiccup. Hiccup was relieved about that, but he also was worried about how it was affecting the other Norse women who did not know it was an act, such as Astrid.
Hiccup was sure Kammý was not pranking on Astrid; she was just sussing out Astrid's connection to Hiccup, but being a Bog Burglar, she wanted to have some fun with it, too. Astrid was not known for having a good sense of humor, and who could blame her? Like many of the Berklanders, Astrid was only now starting to live a life where she could be more than a dragon warrior, and so she could finally discover joy and laughter and practical jokes. So, of course, she didn't get that Kammý was teasing her when she would make moves on Hiccup in front of Astrid.
The situation was harder for Astrid in dealing with the merchant daughters who were so jealous of the young sword maiden's proximity to Hiccup. They hated Astrid outright on first sight. They would spread rumors about Astrid and constantly vie for Hiccup's attention whenever he was trying to talk to Astrid.
Astrid took the malicious gossiping from the other young women as a personal threat to her honor. The issue was not about her being in love with Hiccup; it was that she was being threatened and looked down on without getting a fair assessment by the other girls. It stirred up Astrid's Norse pride to protect her reputation. A Viking is as good as his or reputation. When someone unfairly wrongs you and treats you as an enemy for no cause, then you fight back to defend your honor.
So she gave back as good as she got from jealous young women. Which then made the other girls see Astrid as being possessive of Hiccup when nothing was further from the truth. So, of course they attacked back with even more vicious words and glares. And thus the angry posturing continued. Certainly enough Norse sagas had been written about how great clan battles started from such small disputes.
Astrid and Hiccup both had been relieved when Astrid had taken her Journey, heading east with her Nadder, following in the direction Fishlegs, Ruffnut, Tuffnut and Snotlout had taken when they gone on their respective Journeys.
Hiccup had been sorry to see her go, but the emotionally –charged atmosphere had lately not allowed them to grow further as friends. Now, at least, Astrid had some space to discover the world on her own time. Hiccup wished he could have had the same for himself, but the absence of Astrid seemed to open the floodgates for the other young women to set their own strategies in place. Suddenly he seemed to constantly be targeted and flirted with by pretty young women who spent more time badmouthing about their rivals to Hiccup rather than actually showing any interest in Hiccup as a person.
He was beginning to feel how it must feel to be the prize horses who won the races and tölting competitions at the Great Annual Alþing Festival in Iceland. Sometimes he felt like offering the young ladies to look at his teeth when they arrived at the port.
Hiccup had decided to spend a few hours away from Berk after a particularly annoying attempt by Kammý to stir up some cat fighting by leaving some of her clothes in Hiccup's room. The next day she had cheerfully proclaimed to a table full of young visiting noble women she had come to Hiccup's room to play with him all night when Hiccup had reluctantly come to the Great Hall to return them to Kammý.
It was technically true: they had gotten involved in a pretty long game of hnefatafl that became so mentally absorbing neither was aware it was breaking dawn when Kammý finally won the game with the last challenging move. It was one of the things he found most endearing about Kammý : she had a fine mind to go with her looks, and she was fun to talk to and a brilliant opponent when playing a very challenging game of hnefatafl. She showed no mercy on the game-board, and he was happy to return the favor.
But Kammý had to have her joke, and that not-so-innocent comment about leaving her clothes in Hiccup's room after playing with him all night did not go well with the current mood among privileged and pouting "princesses".
The older adults- even the parents of the girls- had found it hilarious,seeing it for the joke it was. But it seemed a similar sense of humor was in short supply among the young visiting ladies. The prettier and the more entitled you were, the less humor you seemed to have unless it involved laughing at someone else's expense.
Hel has no equal to the wrath of jealous young Norse suitors. Of course, they were wise enough not to take it out on a robber queen´s daughter like Kammý, who could fight with her tongue as well as she could with her sword. So they took it out on Hiccup, with some strange form of logic that the young man did not get.
Later Gobber and Stoick both assured him this strange behavior was one of those odd traits among the more civilized non Berk Norse girls- of course, these civilized girls made no sense and didn't have the tough but sensible friendly partnership of Berk women. Both older men just advised Hiccup to shake it off.
Easier said than done. Though, he had to admit it got easier each day to deal with being called a treacherous, slimy, cheating he-goat . And some girl added something about how it was always easier to get the milk for free than buying the cow The teenage girl who spat that comment at him came from a dairy farm family in Iceland. Since Hiccup was not involved in the dairy industry, he was a bit puzzled by what that meant.
That ranked somewhere up with when a Christian missionary had said that it was the obligation of humanity to be fruitful and multiply. Hiccup still didn´t understand why it was so important to have an orchard and learn arithmetic. Of course, both skills came in handy, but how did the combination of the two become necessary for the survival of humanity?
Hiccup was also disappointed in Kammý for playing such a sensitive practical joke. Since he had to bear the brunt of from "betrayed women", he did not find it half as funny as did. He tried to explain that to the beautiful young pirate Viking one morning over a bowl of steamed oats and goat's milk in the Mead Hall. She just grinned at him and ruffled his hair, saying it was good for his character and he'd thank her for it one day.
"You should just go with my mates on a raid this summer," Kammý had offered, flashing her impish grin that was both cute and fearsome, "Get away from these simpering, pecking hens and spend some time with real women. I know Mum would approve of you and Toothless serving as scouts for our boat. Mum likes you, even if you are just a guy. Think about it: fresh air, a good ship, the call of the wind and the seagulls, the pathetic screams of sailors as you invade their boat and liberate them of their gold and jewels, the chance to spill blood and stomp on a few male egos. What's not to love?"
You lost me after the seagulls part, Hiccup had thought to himself. Kammý was a really fun person to be around, and easy on the eyes. But sometimes she forgot that Hiccup was not as keen as she was about the Viking raider lifestyle.
But Kammý did have a good point about getting away for a while.
So, before the situation could get much more annoying, Hiccup had packed up Toothless' saddle bags and offered to run some errands for Stoick, delivering messages to nearby islands. His father had been observing this all with some amusement. Hiccup thought his father had probably never guessed one day his scrawny, awkward son would be the heart throb of so many young women. Stoick still felt Hiccup's need to go away and let this angry mob die down. So he was more than happy to drum up some messages for Hiccup and Toothless to deliver.
Hiccup and Toothless had soared off in a flurry and hurry to get away from Berk for a while. The messages were delivered fast (Night Fury Express was the best thing going in postal deliveries), so that left time to just fly fast and far to work off frustrations. Toothless, ever sensitive to his human's feelings, had also felt trapped and annoyed, so he enjoyed the chance to stretch out and fly far.
Of course, they went a bit too far and discovered the wonders of Fog System Hedvig (Class IV) and the odd marvels of the Mainland.
So, given the circumstances,it was actually a nice change after the recent Berk Meat Market to see Ambidextrous' more polite and charming behavior. And it made him wonder how real, mortal women would react to Ambidextrous' charming manners. He imagined the same way the dryads did, without the apple tossing part, of course.
Actually, thought Hiccup as he limped beside Toothless, Ambidextrous would probably have suavely worked his way out of dealing with a throng of status-hungry merchant's daughters.
Ambidextrous would probably break the news charmingly to such lovely ladies and make it seem like he was doing it for their benefit. Maybe he'd even coax a girl along with little subtle hints until the girl came up herself with the idea of rejecting him as the suitor. She'd break up with him and ask him not to take it too hard. He'd pretend to be sad and then he'd sigh in relief when the girl left, and both of them would be happy with life as they saw it.
Heh. That was actually pretty clever. Maybe this Ambidextrous guy is rubbing off on me the right way. I wouldn't have thought that way before. Maybe I should apply to the school. Perhaps they have a class in how to understand women. If that is possible. I wonder how he would approach Kammý 's advances?
That actually made him laugh a bit since Ambidextrous and Kammý would be like mixing oil and water. Kammý might haul off and smack Ambidextrous across the face... or
hug him really hard and kiss him almost senseless.
"What's so funny?" Ambidextrous asked, turning behind him, "And don't say 'nothing', because laughing at nothing is not logical."
"Umm... yeh, it was just something it would take too long to explain. I was having a flashback, "Hiccup said, " Anyway, back to your comments before my long flashback: what's your theory about the Mainland?" Hiccup now asked again.
Hiccup tossed another apple up to be heated by Toothless. The dark dragon obliged with a grin. Hiccup caught it and hissed a bit at the sudden heat in his hand. The warm juices, however, made the slight pain totally worth while.
"Mmpph?" Ambidextrous held up his own non-heated apple snack, "Well, Hiccup me lad, it's said that this Norseman Mainland- what the locals call Normandy- this used to actually link with Britannia by a land bridge. No channel. Just land. Britain was a peninsula sticking off of Europe, just like a third finger pointing towards Norway. Oh, dear. That was slightly rude of me. Ah, well. Geography imitates art."
Hiccup found himself chuckling at the off the wall humor. The Norsemen from the more sophisticated Scandinavian peninsula and Danemark often looked down on the more "barbaric" North Atlantic and British Vikings, so he found Ambidextrous' comments rather funny. Obviously, the Vikings of this part of the Mainland (Normandy, was it?) seemed to also be looked down on as hicks by the Scandinavian Norsemen.
Hiccup was actually finding the strange Norman Viking to be welcome company, feeling a sense of warmth and every-day guy acceptance that was a comfortable change from the expectations-laced admiration he had gotten lately on Berk.
"So, then what happened to change things?" he asked Ambidextrous.
"The sea rose, obviously. Maybe things got warmer. Some believe our part of the world was once covered in ice, so as things warmed up, the glaciers melted and sea levels rose. It's also very possible a massive landslide from Norway might have caused tidal waves that covered the land-bridge, making Britain an island forever"
Ambidextrous shook his head sadly, "The third finger benediction always has its drawbacks and should not be taken lightly." He nipped at his lip to lick off apple juice, "But I believe such a disturbance of land and sea has created a lot of strange effects and mysterious happenings. Certainly, the early hunters and shamen of this region picked up on it and left lots of strange rock monuments that you can see standing along the coasts south of here. Then this region was settled by ancient farmers who used stone tools, and they left their own odd legends and monuments with mysterious graves and stone moon calendars.
"Next the Gaulic Celts came to this region, and they also noticed it – their druids were commenting on strange happenings in the area, as well as paying proper respect to the spirits in the trees, a tradition we Normans still follow. As you just experienced yourself. The Gauls picked up on the atmosphere and created their own ways of communicating with it. Then the Romans came, and they divided Gaul into three parts or whatever they want to call it."
Ambidextrous snorted, giving a private opinion on Romans, but then continued, "Rome has done much good for trade and roads. Still, they liked to impose their order on things, even the things that cannot be explained. The Romans stamped out most of the Gaulic Celtic influence in this region and threw their roads and forts up around the continent. However, some of the Gauls still survived and kept their ancient heritage alive. They remained our in part of the Mainland where those old stone monuments line the shore. It's now called Bretagne, or Brittany. That´s where Corisande was born. So she speaks the Bretonic Celtic from Gaul and Wales and Southern Britain."
Hmm, Hiccup thought, that might be why I couldn´t understand the language. It's Celtic. but it's not the Gaelic I learned to communicate with the Celts in the Barbaric Islands.
Ambidextrous pulled at his goatee and continued, "But, to survive, the Celts in Gaul had to blend with the Roman Culture. They could practice their own beliefs in secret and speak their own language, but they had to also learn Roman language and Roman ways, so a whole new language is springing up around us these days: Gallo- Roman, a blend of Celtic and Latin. Then add we Norse Vikings came into to the mix and to the language. We invaded Northern France and took over the northern region, the part where you are now: Normandy, named after we Vikings, the men from the North. Like the Celts, we also are a people of legends and mystery, so we tuned into the land, too. It shows up in our tales and accounts in the region. It's why many of us refuse to build roads or homes in certain areas where it is said the Hidden Ones dwell. That makes Normandy a very eccentric place. It's got its own magnetic and tidal mystery, plus the beliefs and memories of Stone Age hunters and farmers, Celtic Gauls and Vikings to add to the soup."
The larger man shifted his satchel to ease a sore shoulder, "So, if you are seeing things where things should not be, then that is why. Just appreciate it for what it is. And if it is a message for you, then listen to it."
Toothless suddenly shot his head up, flicking out his tongue to test the air. Hiccup thought the dragon's head was now easier to see in the mist. Maybe Fog System Hedvig was receding to a Category II fog.
Suddenly Toothless bugled and launched into the air, not to fly but to propel himself into a swift gallop.
"Toothless! No! What are you doing?" Hiccup called as the dragon became a ghost in the fog.
"What´s gotten into him?" Ambidextrous said, his voice now rimed with a frosty concern.
"Dunno- and damn this leg!" Hiccup dug his walking stick into the ground and ran after Toothless, pushing himself along. He was surprised he was actually able to maintain his pace with Ambidextrous for a few moments before the larger man pulled ahead of him.
Hiccup hissed between his teeth and rubbed at the sharp pain running up his left leg now. He had not been walking on his leg for so long as he had today, and his leg was protesting mightily.
Branches slapped down towards Hiccup, who angrily pushed them away, shaking his now rain- soaked head in frustration.
"Sorry, ladies," he muttered in a quick but sincere apology.
The branches seemed easy to slide through after that.
Floating over the thick mists came Toothless' roaring. There was anger in that call, anger and murderous frustration.
Ambidextrous was pacing around the edge of a small but deep pit, one that contained a very angry Night Fury.
"Simple land trap, but looks like your friend fell into it. Curse the fog- it makes the smartest creatures into fools." Ambidextrous paced around the rim, keeping a judged distance from the edge where, every few moments, a white claw would try grasping at the air. Poor Toothless had no problem grasping the air, but plenty of trouble grasping the sides of the pit.
"Easy, bud." Hiccup limped up to the edge of pit, softly whispering, "Svona, svona, karlinn minn."
The Norse words were often used to calm horses, but Hiccup found they worked on dragons as well. Something about the sound set them to ease. It made sense. Often the dragon crooned something in a low purring voice when he saw Hiccup was upset, so his own kind must have had a similar method to calm each other.
Grimacing at the soreness flaring around his left knee, Hiccup lowered himself down to the pit edge and looked down.
It was hard to see Toothless in the darkness, but the fierce green eyes gleamed, as did two rows of sharp white teeth.
Toothless heard Hiccup's voice and calmed down, snorting softly and remaining still. Gods bless Toothless for being so sensible. He seemed to know it was better to wait and let Hiccup and the strange apple man assess the situation. Better to save his energy for now.
"Thanks, bud." Hiccup said, trying to keep his voice calm, "Are you hurting anywhere? Wings? Legs? Tail?"
To each question, Toothless gave a chuffing sound like "Mrrray." It was something the two friends had worked out to mean "No."
Next to Hiccup, Ambidextrous had knelt down and was watching the exchange, eyes open in wonder.
"Hvað nú er það!" he muttered in soft surprise, "You two really are a team. You can talk to each other in your own way."
Hiccup smiled back, warmth for his best friend filling his heart " Yeh, I guess we've worked out a few things over the years. We tolerate each other. Slightly. Anyway, his majesty is okay, but we need to find some way get him out of there. It looks pretty smooth on the sides for him to claw out."
Some gnats and a dragonfly hovered around the mens´ heads as they peered into the pit, their eyes adjusting better to the darkness. Soon, Hiccup could see that the Night Fury had fallen in tail first and was wedged upright, his large wings pressed against the side. It didn´t look like he was pain, but he did not have a lot of leverage to claw his way out on the smooth sides.
"We need to get some rough surface in there to make a grip for him," Ambidextrous muttered while Hiccup continued to talk to Toothless, assuring him they were working on getting him out of there.
The young man now noticed the woven grass mats splayed around Toothless' chest and wings, beautifully woven strips of grass and reeds and earth.
"Someone's been doing a good job disguising this pit, "he muttered.
He turned to see Ambidextrous now standing up again, glancing at a grass covered burlap bag tied around a branch above the pit. The edge of the bag seemed coated in a powdery yellow-white creamy substance. The tall man used his walking stick to knock the bag towards him and grab it in a hand. He scraped off some of the substance and smelled it.
In the pit below, Toothless warbled in a way that reminded Hiccup of a small child calling for honey cakes.
"Hmmph," Ambidextrous muttered, "Jesu, but it smells strong, like garlic overdosed on garlic, I wager. But I bet it smells good to a dragon. Your companion seems to think so, anyway,"
Hiccup sniffed some of the substance on Ambidextrous´ gloved hand, "It´s not dragon-nip. Smells a lot worse. It almost smells like… ugh… of course! It´s one of the less savory things about dragon mating season. The dragonesses like to roll in garlic grass on a few islands around our Archipelago. They do that just before they go into season."
"I see," Ambidextrous wiped his glove against the side of his boot, "So, when a male dragon smells it, it's like he is getting a 'Hey there, pretty boy, I'm right here. Come and get me,´"
Hiccup grinned ironically, "Oh, there's a bit more work involved than that. Courtship rituals, fighting with other males to show who is better, gifts upon gifts upon gifts, elaborate nest building, dancing. You name it… but the smell seems to be pretty appealing to dragon courtship" He shook his head, "I just have never seen Toothless respond to it before. We've seen no Night Furies since I met Toothless."
"There´s a lot of this on the bag, so maybe there's so much of it rubbed in it is much stronger than what a drake usually smells," Ambidextrous mused, now pacing around and looking for some useful object to help as leverage, "Perhaps that was what set Toothless off. Who knows, maybe Night Furies roll in more of this stuff than most dragons?"
Hiccup sincerely hoped not; it was not a pleasant prospect about meeting a female Fury if that were the case.
Toothless made a rude noise in his nose. He was not pleased at the situation.
The youth smiled then at Toothless, "Sorry, bud. I wish it had been a real dragoness, I really do."
"Question is, then, who put this here? Someone knew a dragon was here," Ambidextrous was muttering loudly, "Either they saw you two land or there is a wild dragon community in the area or…. Hættu! Þei, þei!"
Hiccup, who had been crooning softly to Toothless, immediately heard the command pipe down and stopped. He glanced at his human companion. Ambidextrous was holding a gloved hand up.
He mouthed the words that Hiccup recognized immediately as, Bandits.
Hiccup tensed and, below him, Toothless let out a quiet rumble, reacting to his friend´s posture.
The auburn haired youth then glanced back at the still frozen Ambidextrous. He mouthed back, How many bandits?
Slightly bandits, Ambidextrous mouthed back
Huh? How can something be slightly bandits? Hiccup answered.
He really should have been more irritated, but he was getting used to the illogic of this place.
"You'll find out soon," Ambidextrous said aloud. He hunched his shoulders and then said, calmly in Norse, "Thanks for trapping the dragon, lads. We'll take it from here. Don't bother coming out of hiding. It's not worth your time, and the outcome will be the same."
He repeated it in Bretonic.
The bushes boiled and then four humans rushed out towards Hiccup and Ambidextrous, leaves flying in all directions.
"Why do people never follow logical and helpful advice these days?" Ambidextrous rolled his eyes in fake exasperation. He then pointed to Hiccup.
"Hiccup! You focus on getting Toothless out of the pit- or just protect him with that staff. I'll deal with these puppies and keep 'em from chewing on you." Ambidextrous' voice now was edged with a power it had not carried up to now.
"But, you'll-" Hiccup gasped.
"Just do it!" Ambidextrous' voice was sharp, and it well warned Hiccup to not argue. Ambidextrous opened up his monk's robe, revealing simple Norse style tunic and leggings. His sword seemed to jump from his belt into his right hand.
Hiccup hefted his walking stick and pulled off the top, exposing the sharp sword metal tip. He dropped to a defensive crouch, his stronger right leg and hip taking the weight from the prosthetic.
Beneath him, a Night Fury rumbled in anger and claws screamed along the pit sides. Hiccup waited for a bandit to rush at him. He kept trying to tell himself that he was really not scared.
What happened next was nothing short of incredible. Ambidextrous rushed in to cut off the approach of the four bandits, his slender sword balanced in one hand. He wore no armor, so different from the thugs in their boiled leather coverings. And his sword was so slender and fragile compared to their brutal looking clubs and metal weapons.
Hiccup thought Ambidextrous had no chance.
He turned out to be wrong. Though the bandits were heavier and had heavier arms, their opponent turned out to be lightning fast- so fast they could not orient on him. One moment Ambidextrous was in front of a burly thug raising up his club for a head bash,In the next, he'd dashed around the man's side as the man struck a blow. A flash of light and blur of steel, and then the man was bellowing in pain, dropping his club to grasp at a bleeding wound under his arm. As he did, metal flashed again, and then the man was down on one knee, the other one running blood. He roared at Ambidextrous, who just kicked him in the head. The heavyset man dropped to the wet ground like a sack of oats.
The other bandits were caught off guard by this tactic and had hesitated for a moment to watch in morbid bewilderment.
"Next, please, " Ambidextrous called calmly, making a beckoning gesture with his left hand, "And please do hurry. I need to get back to my monastery very soon and I don't like being late for dinner. It's pea soup, too."
A blondish bearded fellow roared in a way that sounded like "Roarrrrrwwww" and spilled out a hailstorm of angry words that sounded like the Bretonic Gaelic. He launched at Ambidextrous, swinging a heavy axe.
Using his free hand, Ambidextrous slid off his monk's robes all the way, letting them fall to the ground. As they did, he ducked under the man's grunting axe blow, rolling away from it. The man's heavy hammer thudded to the ground, unblooded. Before he could pick himself up, Hiccup saw Ambidextrous stride over and swipe the man through his hair with his free hand.
The man growled something and started to straighten up with the hammer. Ambidextrous said something sweetly back to him and opened his free hand, the one that had swept through the thug's hair.
An enormous cockroach fluttered in his hand. The main dropped his hammer and shuddered for a moment, eyes bulging in disgust.
They soon closed, though, after Ambidextrous took the moment to slam against the man's head with the handle of his sword.
The man slumped down with his friend onto the ground.
That left two. Before Ambidextrous could taunt them, one went for him and one for Hiccup.
Something buzzed in Hiccup's brain about what he'd just seen. Twice. A relatively unarmed man of lean build with a slight weapon had just taken out two more sturdy, well-armed opponents.
Hiccup's tormenter, a darkish, heavy set man with a greasy braid of hair and long mustaches charged at the Viking youth, a nasty cutlass in hand.
I'm at the disadvantage here. I'm not on Toothless, I'm missing a leg.
The man approached closer, and Hiccup smelled the unpleasant acid of his breath.
Something clanged behind him and he heard Ambidextrous laugh as steel clashed with steel, followed by a bandit's frustrated snarl.
"Good move, sir. Quite admirable. You did scratch my right hand but good. Luckily, I still have another hand left. Thank Jesu I am ambidextrous."
A sword flashed, a man yelped in anger.
"Oh, dear, and you are NOT ambidextrous. Pity that. Well, come on. 'Tis a mere scratch, you can still fight with it. Show me your mettle, sir!"
More angry sounds and clanging of steel on steel. One sword seemed to sound calm and the other desperate and heavy.
Ambidextrous is using his sword, but he also uses that other weapon... the one between the eyes! I might be missing a leg, but I still have what's between the eyes.
Hiccup's bandit glanced a moment to see the action between Ambidextrous and his opponent, and it gave Hiccup a moment to reposition his weapon. He did, so, moving the sharp metal tip away from the man.
The bandit saw that and flashed a grin of teeth and stumps, laughing in sadistic joy at Hiccup's stupidity. He glanced down at Hiccup's left leg prosthetic and said something that Hiccup did not need a translation for. He felt anger rush into his cheeks.
But use that weapon between your eyes, Hiccup! Not your anger.
So Hiccup grinned right back at the greasy thug and laughed the same way. He wished he knew Bretonic Gaelic for "I'm all yours. Go ahead and put the poor cripple out of his misery."
The bandit let his sword come down with a magnificent swoosh. At the same time, Hiccup balanced himself on his legs and thrust his walking stick horizontal to the man's sword trust.
Hiccup gritted his teeth and clenched his body, bracing for impact. He concentrated on his core strength to keep his center of gravity.
THe man's sword hacked right into Hiccup's walking stick, and since the man put all his strength into that blow, his sword conveniently bit into the walking stick. Bit in very, very deep. So deep, it wedged neatly into the walking stick.
Hiccup took in a breath and then pulled the walking stock back towards his thin chest, hard. His right leg and the well-conditioned muscles of his upper left leg responded, supporting him. He pulled the walking stick back to himself with a quick jerk, taking the man's sword with it.
The thug now was empty handed.
Hiccup looked back and smiled sweetly, "Ooooops."
From the pit, a very dragon-like chuckle emerged.
I have a walking stick and the weapon between my eyes. And I have a Night Fury for a best friend.
The man growled and lunged at Hiccup, grasping for the sword. Hiccup kept his grip on the stick, pulling it to himself as the man grabbed the embedded sword's handle and pulled. He pulled and pulled, but it was stuck in good and fast.
Hiccup's left leg screamed in pain, but he kept himself planted, shifting his weight to the stronger right leg.
Use the weapon between your eyes. You may be off balance, but so is that man.
"Uh, Toothless?" Hiccup called mildly, "Want some target practice?"
Hiccup, hoping he was doing the right thing, let go of the wooden walking stick and let himself fall to the ground.
The walking stick dropped, too. The thug-man's desperate momentum to pull his sword out, instead served to knock him off balance and into the pit.
Along with one very irritated NIght Fury.
Toothless rumbled and then growled. Teeth flashed in the dark.
Hiccup didn't know Bretonic Celtic, but he could well understand the screams that came from the pit. Screams for mercy and miracles. The young Viking sighed and and crawled to the pit's edge to look in.
The man was in no position to flee. Toothless had pinned him against the side of the pit and was snarling and growling and being generally threatening while licking and slobbering all over the man. Pity the fool who has to face a dragon's fish-breath. It was better than being bitten or flamed, but the man still begged for mercy in his Celtic language.
After all, the man had no idea Toothless was playing with him, subduing him by fear rather than violence. To the man's point of view, though, there was no guarantee the licking would not be followed by something much more fatal.
Once again, Toothless' intelligence amazed Hiccup. Wonderful, amazing dragon! Hiccup thanked the gods for the millionth time that the Night Fury had chosen to partner with him as friend and fellow warrior.
He then glanced at the fallen thugs that Ambidextrous had felled.
Three down, then. One to go.
Ambidextrous was now fighting with his sword in his left hand. His right hand was held behind his back, laced with dripping blood. But he moved swiftly and blocked the moves of his attacker with an incredible calmness. Where the brown-headed, heavy-set Viking thug would try to slam a sword blow with his unwieldy two-handed weapon, Ambidextrous would move away in a blur. HIs sword would then flash and there would be a new red slash on the Viking's arm or leg or knee. THe blond Ambidextrous did, indeed, seem to use his left hand as well as his right.
And, then, quite unexpectedly, Ambidextrous started to chant a silly song to his foe, one in Norse.
Hiccup listened to the words, tossed calmly at the brown-haired Viking as Ambidextrous continued to fight/play with him.
Lunge and counter and thrust,
Sing me the logic of steel!
Tell me m'sir, how do you feel?
Riposte and remiss if you must
In logic long known to be just.
The fighting bandit started to get more wobbly, distracted (as Hiccup was) by the rhyming words.
Shall we argue, rebut and refute
In steel-logic clear as your eye?
Tell me, m'sir, why do you sigh?
I see you're tired, without a doubt?
Always glad to oblige, sir, so I'll knock you out."
There was a thunk and then the last bandit dropped to the ground.
Ambidextrous sighed and wiped his bloody right hand along his trousered left leg, "Always so sad. I work really hard on a sword fighting rhyme, and I've yet to meet an opponent who has a worthy rhyme. Oh, well. At least they're all down."
He beamed then at Hiccup, "And you did a brilliant job, lad! If you come up with a sword fighting rhyme, I will just be glad we are on the same side. But I still would beat you eventually."
After that, it took moments to tie up their bandits with rope from Ambidextrous' pack.
They still had to pull the last bandit out of Toothless' pit when the air became filled with hoof beats, animal brays and cheers. Hiccup looked up from tying off the hammer-bandit to see a group of people now entering the area, cheering and pumping the air with their fists.
Most were riding mules, though a few horses neighed amid the procession.
One of those horses was ridden by a brown-headed Norseman who led a rousing cheer from his compatriots.
Hiccup stood up to full height, and he heard the steps as Ambidextrous strode up next to him, his bloody right hand held to his chest.
The blond sword master whispered to HIccup, "That's the headman, the chieftain of the village of La Ville avec le nom Trés Stupide:Dans-La-Bouche-de-La-Vache Laide, or, in our language, 'The Village of the Stupid Name of What Comes from A Cow's Mouth."
Hiccup no longer reacted. This was all delightfully normal to him, now. He just thought more about getting Toothless out of the pit.
"You got them! Thank you!" the heavy set Viking leader called from his bay stallion, "We've been chasing these thugs the last few days, but they melt into the forest, and the fog has been no blasted help! They've been taking down dragons and unicorns and griffons in their traps, killing them and selling their body parts on the black market in Paris."
Ambidextrous nodded and bowed, and Hiccup followed suit.
The party of citizens from the town with the stupid name cheered some more, "Hail to the stranger with one leg who saved us! Hail to his noble dragon who subdued a murderer with a mighty lick. And hail to our local hero, the mighty swordsman, Flashburn!"
Hiccup swept sweat-stained long hair from his eyes, "Flashburn? That's your name?"
The blond Viking smiled back, "Yes. Always has been, always will be."
Hiccup sighed and leaned on his walking stick, "But I thought your name was Ambidextrous. After all, you said, when Toothless knocked us down, 'Well, that´s how it goes, at least. I am Ambidextrous.'. "
The other Viking nodded and grinned, "RIght you are, Hiccup. But, if you think on it, I did not say my name. I just said that I was ambidextrous: well, that's how it goes, at least I am ambidextrous. I write with my left hand, but everything else I can do with both hands, including sword fighting."
Toothless purred with impatience from the trap as Hiccup found himself laughing in spite of himself.
"I'm sorry I never told you my name, Hiccup. I should have, but I figured it could wait until later." the blond Viking swordsman said, and then presented his hand, "So, I will right those wrongs. Pleased to meet you, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. My name is Flashburn, former Varangian and now swordsmaster and headmaster of Flashburn's School of Sword Fighting, address being at the Monastery of Saint Michael, located on the Norman Island that is Not an Island."
Hiccup took the man's strong hand and shook it, and both of them smiled. Hiccup then saw that the cockroach was again in Flashburn´s hand. He still shook the hand and discovered the cockroach was real looking, but it was made of well crafted wool and stuffed cloth.
"Meet my good buddy, Perla," Flashburn said with a wink, " You know already her name means ´Pearl', and she is my Pearl since she gives a pearl of wisdom: the sleight of mind and eye is a weapon. Doffing my coat let me distract that bandit to bring Perla from my pocket into my hand and then into my opponent´s hair. The rest was what he believed. The sword is my weapon of choice, but I also have a lot of other weapons of the mind, and Perla is one."
Hiccup nodded and pat Perla, feeling her design. Again, it was a lesson in the weapon between the eyes.
"And now, Hiccup, let's recruit these villagers to help get your dragon out of that pit. Though a few lovely ladies might help us out."
There was a crack of wood. A heavy branch fell to the ground, happening to drop into a pit. Another branch fell, but this one was connected still to the tree. So it braced the fallen branch well and formed a nice platform.
Claws scrabbled on wood and soon Toothless was above ground, dragging a screaming, well-saliva covered bandit behind him.
Hiccup knew the routine... and he was grateful for it.
"Thank you, my good ladies," he called, adding his voice to Ambidextrous- no Flashburn's- and the rest of the villagers.
Toothless purred, and more apples rained from the tree canopy.
"So you are a Norse sword master, a former Varangian, and you now manage a sword fighting academy?" Hiccup called behind him, his loose hair flying in front of his face.
Below him, Toothless plunged, galloping along as land-running dragons do. It felt so good to be riding again, even if it was on the ground. Hiccup felt his sore left leg could not have dealt with more walking.
"Yes, indeedy, Hiccup!" Flashburn's voice came back to him.
Ambidextrous- no, Flashburn- leaned closer to the neck and shoulders of the white mule he rode. The creature had belonged to one of the bandits, and Flashburn had seen from her lines that she was a fast mule. And, being a mule, she also had common sense and was not terrified by Toothless. She instead galloped next to the Night Fury. Sand sprayed up from both dragon and mule to spatter them and their riders. All around them, the smell was of salt and sea and sand.
Apparently the tide was coming in fast, and local legend said it came in at the speed of a galloping horse. Hiccup hoped it did not come in at the speed of a galloping Night Fury. It also seemed a bit odd that, even with the tide coming in, they were galloping towards, not away, from the sea. Well, Flashburn was supposed to live on an island or not island or something like that, so it did make some sort of sense.
It was still too foggy to fly, and Toothless had to pace himself to the white mule. The path Flashburn guided them on seemed indistinct from the rest of the sand flats, but apparently there were vast stretches of quicksand. This path seemed to be one that skirted around the quagmires.
Through the screen of fog, the sun was sinking, painting the sand plains in coral and peach. Sometimes those colors were complemented by the colors of sand and ocean water droplets as the mule and dragon galloped along.
The muddy sand also helped to slow the Fury down as a counterweight. He hated it, and he grumbled and growled about it. The mule just flicked her long, furry ears and kept pace with him. She seemed to float through the sand, opening her mouth in joy to show ugly yellow teeth. She was a friendly beast, not interested in being terrified of Toothless. As long as he did not bother her, she was content to lope by his side.
"I was a Varangian," Flashburn called to Hiccup as the Night Fury pulled ahead, spraying wet sand around him, "I traveled from Normandy to Kiev and Miklagarður, and I admit I was a terrible Varangian. I was far more interested in the cultures of the people I visited, and in their sword play. It intrigued me how the Bedu and the Byzantians and the Eastern warriors fought with light weapons and so skillfully. Or how the Central Asians fought so well with arrows. I figured we Vikings could learn from them, so I took the time to learn from their cultures."
Remembering the quicksand, Hiccup leaned back in the saddle, urging Toothless to slow down. Wet sand sprayed around them as he heard Flashburn´s words.
"And I learned quite a lot," Flashburn said from behind them, nudging his mule into a faster gait "I learned Bedu ways and their language and sword skills. I learned Persian Farsi and their sword and arrow skills. I learned Greek and the Greek style of sword fighting. I even learned some Far Eastern and Indian skills. And I learned all of their cultures. This all got me thrown out of the Varangians for being a traitor, but I figured it was the Varangian´s loss. They only know the Viking way of fighting."
Toothless now was tensed to a halt, a shallow puddle of water lapping around the dragon´s feet. The mule mare cantered past the dragon, and Toothless bounded after her until the two creatures were pacing each other.
"I know we Vikings won´t last forever if we only think our way is the best," Flashburn said with a smile to Toothless, "So, if the Varangians would not accept my views, then I would teach other Vikings the sword fighting styles and cultures and languages of those people I learned from. So I founded the school at the monastery. This particular one is a pilgrimage site in the christian church- apparently the Archangel Michael visited here and asked a church to be built. The monks are open to having warriors on hand to protect the pilgrims. So they welcomed having me start my school at their monastery. I teach my students, and my students and graduates protect the pilgrims on our Island that is Not an Island.
"And part of my students' education is also going abroad with merchants and pilgrims to Rome, Mikligarður and Eastern lands. They protect the pilgrims, but they also get to learn and respect the cultures of people in Europe and Asia."
It all sounded quite intriguing to a young Norseman who had longed to see more of the world beyond Berk.
As if responding to Hiccup's feelings, the sky seemed to grow brighter. Hiccup looked up to see the sky looking more clear than it had all day.
"So, that is my sordid story, and the tale of my academy." Flashburn said amiably, And here we are, serving the Viking way at a Christian monastery and school on an Island that is Not an Island. And I teach sword fighting at the school, which is also a combination of Logic, Tactics, Physics and Calisthenics."
Hiccup nodded, it all making sense. The logic and tactics came from that weapon between the eyes. The physics from the moves of the lighter sword to distract and set opponents off balance. And calisthenics, well, from the best ways to move the body and the sword that fit each student's own natural advantages and disadvantages.
In a way, Hiccup had just experienced a crash course in Flashburn´s style this day.
"There are several levels I´ve established at the school," Flashburn said, stroking his mule´s mane as she cantered along, "It gives the students something to keep working towards and learning new skills. So the levels include: Green Belt, Blue Belt, Purple Belt, Black Belt, Red Belt, Bronze Flash Master, Silver Flash Master and... Gold Flashmaster!"
His green-blue eyes twinkled as he said that rank, "A Gold Flash Master has to beat another Gold Flash Master to earn that rank."
"So, I guess you are the only Gold Flash Master and no one has beaten you yet, " Hiccup called over dragon and mule foot beats.
"A good guess," Flashburn called back, "But there is no Flash Master yet. If I want to be a Flash Master I have to beat myself in battle, and I have not been able to accomplish that yet, so the challenge still remains."
For the thousandth time that day, Hiccup had to remind himself he was in the odd Mainland and its odd logic.
At that point, some magic hand from the skies seemed to scour the fog completely away. It drifted into silky threads and then vanished. Red-golden sunset now poured down on the world, and it made Hiccup and Toothless both roar in joy.
The Night Fury back winged, skidding to a stop in a shower of salt water and sand.
He seemed just as amazed as Hiccup by what now stood in front of them.
Ahead of them rose a small mountain from the coastal plain. It had a triangular shape that reminded Hiccup of an illustration from one of Fishlegs' history manuscripts. What was it? Oh, right: a stone building called a pyramid from the old land of Egypt! That pyramid had been man-made and bare of all decoration. This natural mountain-pyramid was a mosaic of trees and rocks decorated with a spiraling ramp of stone walls and colorful wooden houses. At the top of the mountain was a large gray stone building, all arches and columns.
That was probably the White Christ monastery Flashburn had mentioned. There seemed to be quite a few other buildings flanking the monastery, and one of them had to be the School of Sword-fighting.
And, as if it were a memory of home, Hiccup could now see woolly Icelandic sheep grazing around the bushy base of the mountain.
Even from here, youth and dragon could hear the sounds of sheep bleating, along with a bell ringing sonorously.
Hiccup was quite amazed by the island's architecture. It seemed as though some colorful Norse or Celtic town had been pulled from the ground, flown to the mountain and then coiled around it house by house, just like Hiccup or Gobber wound wire around the hilts of swords at the forge. How had human hands managed to set a town perfectly in place on such a rocky, steep mountain? How many more marvels were out there for him and Toothless to discover? And why had he always been to busy to go on a Journey like the other teens?
Toothless stomped the sandy ground so hard that water fountained up for a moment in a sandy spray.
"Toothless is impatient to get moving. The tide is coming in fast!" Hiccup said, "Now the fog has cleared, is it okay for us to fly the rest of the way?"
"Fly then!" Flashburn called to them, "Just shoot straight for the walled structure on the top of the island! The mule and I will be with you soon! But wait a moment before you do. I have to signal to the guards you are an ally so they don't try to shoot you two down."
There was an agonizing few moments to wait while Flashburn squirreled a small mirror from his pack and aimed it at the sun. The setting beams reflected off it, created a flashing burst of light. The sword instructor did this a few times.
Then he held out his bandaged hand to signal Toothless to remain in place. The blue-black striped dragon pawed the sand with a front leg in impatience, dancing in place. Hiccup could feel the Fury´s muscles bunching up under his legs.
Then from the gray building on top of the mountain, a similar light flashed back.
"You're clear, lad. Fly!" Flashburn called.
Toothless needed no further urging. WIngs and legs plunged down, and then the great Night Fury was shooting into the air, spraying wet sand and sea behind him.
The flooding beach blurred beneath them, and then they were swooping through the sky. Toothless' enormous wings ate the distance to the island in seconds.
Hiccup whooped again and looked down to see azure ocean and a small figure of a white mule and her rider galloping toward a mass of land that had magnificent stone buildings on it as well as beautiful forests and gardens.
The mule galloped along a tiny strip of sand surrounded by a growing sheet of ocean.
Toothless roared in joy at being in the air. Hiccup laughed back, and the salty wind rushed over them, Hiccup´s long red hair flying like a banner in its wake. They now were reaching the island. Hiccup could look down and see the magnificent slopes of the mountain and the winding stone road that circled the mountain. Charming houses of red, blue, brown, gold hugged the sides of the mountain, many with colorful gardens and flower boxes in front.
The mountain road became steps at the very top and then spilled onto the flat peak where the collection of buildings ranged around the monastery. There was a lot of greenery here, too, including a large herb garden that would have made the Elder chortle in delight.
A statue crowned the top dome of the monastery, what seemed to be a winged man wearing Norse armor and a Viking helmet, strangely one without horns. The winged Viking held a sword up to strike at a long serpent coiling at his feet.
At least I hope it's a serpent, Hiccup thought, I will be so disappointed if it's a dragon! People here seem to like dragons from what I've seen so far.
In the garden, a few men in brown robes looked up from where they were weeding. They were on the heavyset side, but they moved fast when they saw Toothless. Soon there was no one in the garden.
More people were on the winding mountain road, looking up to see the approaching dragon.
Hiccup could now hear the bell ringing a different cadence, one he expected was announcing to settlers that the incoming dragon was not a threat. He guessed that because these people heard the bell and then looked calmly up at Toothless circling their island. People now pointed upwards, and Hiccup thought he saw smiles of wonder on their faces. Elders smiled, children laughed and hopped up and down. Guards leaned on spears and waved to Hiccup and Toothless. And there were some people in travel-worn clothes and walking staffs who made White Christ hand signs- pilgrims, no doubt. From this view, the humans looked so small!
Tinier still were the various creatures: dogs pacing alongside humans, chickens scratching in gardens, cats lounging along wall tops.
Toothless loved a good show, so he took the opportunity to make a few daring lunges and passes. Hiccup loved those daring maneuvers, so he had nothing to complain about. It caused the humans below to clap and whistle.
Then the air burst into colors, and suddenly Toothless was amid a swirling and dancing cloud of Terrible Terrors, the seagulls of dragon-dom They squawked at the Night Fury, all bluster and no substance. Toothless pinned his ear plates back and gave a loud growling bark at them.
The smallish dragons scattered away in a flurry of scales and squeaks. Hiccup laughed softly. It seemed like Terrors were the same everywhere. And also seemed like the Mainland had its knowledge of dragons, too.
And dryads. And unicorns. And griffons. And pet leopards.
No wonder a Night Fury didn't phase them!
The dragon and young man soared around the island several times. Hiccup breathed in scents that were exotic. Those scents drifted up from the stone building on the island and the smaller homes built up on the hill leading up to the great monastery. These were scents HIccup knew: thyme, dill, oregano, mint, garlic, pepper. And many scents he had never smelled, spicy and sweet and tart and all lovely.
"Take us down, please Toothless," the Viking youth requested. The great Fury tilted his ears back. He rumbled and soared to the large building on the top of the hill. His claws bit into the stone. Hiccup eased in the saddle to see more brown-clad men run out, swaddled in cloaks and hoods. Hiccup tensed, expecting them to attack, but the men instead bowed and made welcoming hand signs to Toothless.
Hiccup sighed in relief and then looked over the parapets of the building.
Far below, he saw the white mule mare splashing through a wall of water that came up almost to her shoulders. She still moved at a canter, plunging towards a wall that ringed the lowest parts of the mountain like a fortress. Her front hooves came out on solid land. Flashburn leaned to her shoulders, easing his weight to make it simpler for the mule to lunge up onto the solid ground of the mountain base.
The mule came to a neat stop, tossing her head. Her ears flapped comically. Her rider pat her shoulders and looked behind him.
The sandy trail Toothless and the mule had cantered on was now completely covered over in ocean. A blanket of blue-green ocean now separated the monastery island from the land of forests where Toothless and the mule had emerged.
And it happened in just a few moments!
Hiccup laughed softly and pat Toothless between the ears, love for his dragon complementing his joy at the moment.
"Hey, Toothless. Would you look at that? We really are on an Island that is Not an Island. It´s mainland during part of the day, but then, when the tides come in, it´s an island."
The dragon purred beneath his rider. It seemed as if he had known this all along and was waiting for Hiccup to catch on.
"This is a weird place, Toothless, but I like it. It becomes an island, so we are isolated for some time of the day to be alone with our thoughts. And we could always have some time to fly away and chase the breezes, I think, so we´d never be shirking our duties."
Hiccup realized he was talking like he'd already decided to stay here on the Island that was Not an Island. And to become Flashburn's apprentice.
Those words sealed Hiccup. He asked Toothless to take them down to the base of the island where Flashburn waited, patting his white mule´s neck with his bandaged right hand.
The dragon, glad for another chance to fly, took them down to the mountain's roots in a few swooping minutes.
The blond Viking lifted his head up, smiled and nodded at Hiccup and Toothless as the dragon landed.
"Okay, I bite," Hiccup called to Flashburn, a smile on his face. It was a smile Toothless echoed, though Hiccup did not see that, "I accept the job application. I want to be your apprentice, Flashburn. You´ve got a lot of wisdom and a lot of respect for dragons. I could learn a lot from you, and I hope Toothless feels the same way."
Toothless roared an approval, ears flat and eyes closed. Tons of seabirds flew up from the island and Flashburn´s mule snorted to clear water from her nose. She flicked her ears before nosing for grass on the beach.
Flashburn saluted back from his mule´s saddle, "Thank you, Hiccup! Thought you would never bite! I hadn't actually been asking for a sword school apprentice, to be honest. But after I met you and watched how quickly you were learning and getting used to the strange environment of our region, I really began to consider that I should take on an apprentice, and you would fit the bill. But I know you're also next in line for being Berk's chieftain, so I figured you might not be eligible or interested. In the end, I was waiting for you to offer your services in the position!"
Hiccup sank into Toothless´ saddle, "What do you mean you didn't ask, Ambi- I mean Flashburn? I saw the announcements you were posting back in the forest! They were indicating I should seek the position, along with Toothless." Hiccup pat the dragon, "Indicating very, very strongly, actually."
Flashburn grinned at Hiccup and laughed, "And I am lucky you offered. At my school, the apprentice has to offer and earn his position, as you did when you fought the bandit. We don't advertise for it. If you're referring to the ads I put on the tree, then look again. Here is what they said!"
Flashburn used his good hand to pull out one of the unposted ads and unroll it for Hiccup to read.
Hiccup leaned from Toothless' back to read the ad, and he then felt the red of irony creep up his face until he laughed.
The ad read:
Apprentice Pastry Chef Sought!
Is your pastry your passion? Then we need you at Flashburn´s Academy to apprentice to our cook. Our school, a highly ranked sword academy boarding school, is seeking a qualified pastry chef to work in our highly ranked kitchens for meal pies and desert pastries. The way to a warrior is often fueled by good food. Show us your fueling capacities and apply to Flashburn's School of Sword Fighting. And may the pie crust ever be in your favor!
Hiccup wrinkled his nose. How could he ever interpreted that to be a request to be a sword fighter unless...
"The Mainland," Hiccup said softly, "Up to its usual tricks. Of course."
Beneath him, Toothless tossed his head and purred.
"You´re right, I think," Flashburn said, raising a palm and laying it on the Night Fury's shoulder when the dragon gave approval, "The Mainland is odd, and it changes the appearance of things. I think somehow the odd conditions saw that you would be an ideal student for me, even though I was not looking for a student."
"And I was not looking for a teacher, only escape," Hiccup murmured.
"So they brought us together," Flashburn said, "I can´t fault their logic. You have good stuff in you, Hiccup. Though I would suggest you think on prosthetic adjustments that will help balance you as a sword fighter. That aside, you and Toothless have both shown that you don't have to be on the dragon's back for you both to be a good team. But it might be neat to see if we could work in some mounted sword fighting coursework, too. I would accept you as an apprentice, if you accept me- you and Toothless accept me- as your teacher."
The man's face became evil for a moment, "My students will tell you I am not the easiest teacher. I am fair, but I don't like laziness. They're just my students. You'll be my apprentice to be a sword trainer in your own right. And so I'll be even harder on you. And you'll have to learn other things along with sword lore: Latin, Greek, Bretonic, geography, Eastern and Western philosophy. That's all for training the weapon between your eyes."
Hiccup nodded, Toothless nodding with him. The dragon probably didn't care, so long as he didn't have to learn Latin or Logic.
"And of course there will be all sorts of disgusting travel opportunities. We do travel to protect pilgrims and merchants of course, and it's the best way to learn about a land and its culture."
"It indeed sounds disgusting," Hiccup deadpanned even though he was drooling inside. All those places to see: Paris, Rome, Egypt, Athens, Kiev, Byzantium, maybe even further east? It sounded like he might get his Journey after all, and as part of a legitimate education!
"You're tough. You can take it," Flashburn deadpanned back.
But would Stoick be disappointed in Hiccup if he stayed away from Berk for a few years to learn from Flashburn? Would his father see him as being evasive and shirking his duty to run off and have mindless fun indefinitely? However, Hiccup remembered Dad had asked him a few times about if Hiccup had plans for a Journey of his own. But for Hiccup it just had never seemed the right time...
... well, maybe the right time had come. Hiccup was an adult and had been ever since he made the daring choice to train Toothless and accept the consequences for it. And it would not be like Hiccup was running away. The folks back home knew where he could be reached, and Flashburn certainly seemed to know about them. Travel was good for a future chieftain. Like the old Havamál texts said, "Only the man who far has fared can claim to know man."
So, it took less time than the glint of Flashburn's sword for Hiccup to answer, "I do accept, of course."
He grabbed the taller man's hand and squeezed it, "I am honored to be your apprentice."
Toothless snorted and laid his head over Hiccup and Flashburn´s hands, making the blond teacher smile.
"Of course!" Toothless seemed to snort , followed by the more familiar, "Okay, where's the fish?" snort.
Dinner indeed turned out to be pea soup. Hiccup had eaten it before and had often found it rather boring. It was meant to be, as was much of Berk's cuisine. But this soup was something else entirely. The monastery wound up trading cider and beer they cultivated for an amazing variety of goods. The nearby ports and pilgrim trade also brought in some interesting ingredients.
This pea soup was amazing- it was seasoned with smoked pork, leek and garlic and parsnips. But it had a kick to it from such spices as black peppercorns and a strange powder the cook called "cumin." The strangest element, though, was ground peel from a very exotic fruit called an orange.
Simple fare and yet not so simple. The bread accompanying the soup was like the young Viking never had: crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with a pleasantly yeasty taste. And there was, of course, the dangerous cider to wash it all down. Flashburn suggested it be watered down since Hiccup would have to be up early the next day to join the other students in sword training and learn his way around.
Tonight Hiccup had glimpsed the other students as he and Toothless had padded behind Flashburn to the dormitory quarters in an old cloister. The students had flocked around the newcomers in a cluster of excited voices and shining eyes.
They chattered excitedly in Norse and that Bretonic Gaelic. Their ages ranged from what Hiccup guessed to be around ten up to his own age. He was glad to see there were several girls in the mix, so the Norse tradition of allowing female warriors seemed to be allowed in this part of the Mainland, too. He was gladder, still, that the girls were more interested in Toothless than in him. It was only natural, given how beautiful and mysterious the Night Fury was.
The students also were a variety of skin colors, something Hiccup had not expected. One girl even had skin a lovely color like deep-tanned and burnished saddle leather.
"They are all Norse or Gallo-Roman," Flashburn had explained, "But the Norse who live here have traveled a lot, and some have spouses from very far away lands. And their children have inherited the cultures of both their parents."
The students looked like they wanted to swarm over the newcomers, but Flashburn clapped his hands, and they fill into an orderly line, ranging by colored belts the students wore around their waists. There were so many details coming at Hiccup at once that he did not sort out the colors represented. He didn't think he saw any silver belts, though. And no gold, for sure.
Flashburn kept the introductions short and talked to the students in a tone that was good natured, but there was authority there, too. The students seemed to hold him in respect. All were curious but quiet. More than a few seemed to have a glint of admiration for their teacher in their eyes.
Hiccup finished his bowl of soup and leaned back on the bench, stretching his legs out. An unharnessed and fresh-bathed Toothless was coiled around the bench's base, dozing in contentment. The dark dragon had sniffed at the soup and then walked away, kicking a hind leg behind him as though burying it in dirt. The cook had done well by Toothless, though, too. On an island that is not an island, there were plenty of fresh fish available for the dragon, so he'd been well fed.
Now both were in the cloister area near the garden. The view actually looked out over the sea, and Hiccup could hear the sounds of the ocean rushing up against the mountain's base. A half moon shined over the sea, its glow echoed by a lighthouse from a far off island.
The evening breezes blew scents in from the garden: lavender, oregano, mint and a mix of other pleasant smells. Hiccup's skin and hair also smelled of lavender from the bath he'd had after arrival. He felt he'd not only cleaned his skin but had cleaned away some heaviness in his spirit. Now he could start with something new in his routine, tomorrow.
The unusual garden scents were accompanied by unusual sounds. A lute played from a student's chambers. General quiet tones of conversation floated from the student quarters and the town below. There was an chorus of the brown-clad Benedictine monks singing their evening prayers. The chants were in Latin and were strange to Hiccup's ears, but yet not unpleasant.
Flashburn had let him know the monks led a rather quiet, contemplative life and did not interact with the students much except for some social occasions. And, of course, many of Flashburn's students and graduates helped to guard and protect the monastery. Other than this, the monks would not impose their religion on the students, so long as the students respected the traditions and "quiet times" of the monks.
Toothless flicked his ear plates at the singing, but it did not seem to bother him. Hiccup was comfortable with it, so Toothless seemed to be, too. The dragon had the run of the island and there were plenty of interesting buildings and rocks to explore- and Terrors to intimidate. He was content to be here with Hiccup.
Strange smells, strange sounds, strange foods, a strange language mixed with Norse. But the sea was still the same as Hiccup remembered it, so he could never be homesick with that around.
This was all so very different from what Hiccup woke up to. He'd never guessed taking a few hours' flight to get away from the frustration on Berk would lead to him starting his own sort of Journey.
"But what if this becomes too alluring?" Hiccup asked aloud as he placed the empty wooden soup bowl on the bench next to him, "What if I choose never to go back to Berk?"
"Then you don't go back, " Flashburn's voice came out behind Hiccup, "But you're deciding on all this running away scenario a bit too soon, I think."
The tall Viking strode by the bench, a mug of cider in his right hand, "You have to start the training and see how you like it. You have some years of learning ahead of you. And journeys. I also encourage my students to go back and visit their families as often as they can."
Hiccup glanced up at him and took a sip from his own mug of cider.
"One thing is for certain," Flashburn said, "Berk is a part of you and your heritage. I know from your life story, you didn't have an easy time of growing up on Berk, but it seems you and Toothless have made a very good place for yourself there."
The tall man glanced at the snoozing dragon, "You've helped change Berk, Hiccup, so it's always going to be a big part of you. My hope is, even if you make a lot of journeys, you will always go back to where you are welcome. That happened with me, I know. I was born in the Norwegian fjord country, but I grew up here in Normandy. I've traveled a lot, and I still will travel, but Normandy and this crazy mountain always welcome me back."
Hiccup nodded. As Flashburn said, it was too soon to make up his mind on his future decisions.
"Well, do you have the note for your father written?" Flashburn asked, clapping Hiccup on the shoulder, "There's a fast courier heading to the Barbaric Archipelago tonight, one who can travel easily in the dark. So I can pass off your letter to that courier tonight."
"Yup, here you go, sir, " Hiccup picked up the folded parchment resting next to the soup bowl. He passed it to Flashburn with a sad smile.
"I hope Dad understands why I'm not coming back right away," he said softly.
"He will," Flashburn replied, "I think he'll approve your decision. It's not as though you won't be out of contact with each other. Stoick's a good one, he is. But I can still beat him in a sword fight any day. With one hand tied behind my back. Especially if both hands are tied behind his back."
Hiccup laughed softly and then yawned.
"Long day for you, lad. Get some sleep. Your dragon's already got the right idea. You know where your bed chamber is, so I'll leave you to it."
Flashburn clapped Hiccup on the shoulder again, "See you tomorrow, bright and early. And get a lot of sleep. You are going to need it."
"G'night," Hiccup called back as Flashburn walked away.
The blond sword master headed down the cloister corridor and around to the other side of the island, not far from the monastery. It was a pleasantly quiet night, one that made Flashburn feel content and honored to live in this strange part of the world.
A little hiss from the roof caught his attention. He glanced up to see a flicking, long tail.
"Stormfly," he whispered to the night.
Scales brushed on stone and a small, sinuous dragon wove into view. She slid down the stone roof's gargoyle spout and hopped onto Flashburn's shoulder. She made a soft buzzing hum and rubbed her fine-boned head against Flashburn's
Her scaly coat began to turn to a orangey-pink color.
"Easy, kerling, " Flashburn whispered, "I'm glad you're happy to see me, but stealth is the name of the game here. I hate to say it, but please think dark thoughts."
The little dragon made a quiet hiss and then her coloring deepened to a dark blue black, but there was a purple tinge there to indicate she was lying about being angry.
"That's my girl," Flashburn said. He fed the little dragon some strips of dried fish. Stormfly gulped them down, trilling in delight.
"Now, this little visit was nice, but I need for you to go back to your partner, to Kamikásdís ."
"Kammý, " the little dragon said in a distinct alto voice.
"Yes, Kammý. You can deliver the parchment I've wrapped in a blue ribbon to her. That's our trade agreement for the cider and honey she wanted to purchase from the monks in exchange for your courier service. But the two parchments in the red ribbon, you need to deliver that to Stoick. You know Stoick?"
"Stow-ak? Yes, indeed-y. Know him, reddy fur man from Dragon-y Island, ho-what-ho. Look mean, soft and nice on inside." Stormfly chirruped.
"Atta girl." Flashburn fastened some soft leather harness around Stormfly. He stroked her head so she purred and leaned into it. He was rather fond of the Mood Dragon.
Once the letter pouches were fastened to the harness packs, Flashburn ran over the coordinates with Stormfly until she was sure of them.
Flashburn knew one of the letters in the red ribboned pouches was the one from Hiccup, and he had no intention of reading it. The other was written by him. That one read simply: "Hiccup's Journey has Started. It all turned out as you hoped, Stoick. P.S. I still can beat you with my eyes closed. Even when I am sleeping."
"Before you go, sweet color-changing lizard, I need you to repeat a few words to me. They are words to say to your Kammý, all right?" Flashburn asked the Mood Dragon.
"Yes indeedy. It is possible," Stormfly replied.
Flashburn worked with the little dragon to repeat his sentence word for word. It did unnerve him sometimes that Mood Dragons could speak the tongue of their human partner, but it came in handy when he had to pass on verbal messages like this. Stormfly could repeat human messages word for word like an echo from a chasm.
"So, repeat for me, my multi-colored wonder."
Stormfly glowed orange for a moment, snorted, made herself black (and slightly purple). She cleared her throat and said, very primly, "From Flashburn to Kammý: excellent work with motivating Hiccup to leave Berk for a while. The hnefatafl clothes-in-the-room-ploy was brilliant. Thumbs up and thank you. Extra cider from the monastery's Gold Label Reserve purchased by Flashburn will be in shipment to the Bog Burglars. End of message." The Mood Dragon flicked her single curled head plate and grinned, "It is possible. Go home now-y I do. How-De-Do in reverse is good bye, so Do-De-How."
"Farewell and Do-De-How," Flashburn called as the Mood Dragon took off.
Stormfly's wings glittered a moment in the moonlight, then she faded into the night.
"Farewell and good morrow."
It would be a good morrow, Flashburn thought. For all of them.
And he went on to his own bed and into an interesting morrow indeed.