To Be God-Touched
By Celestra (El S)
Author's Notes: It has been a very long time since I have written any fanfiction. What I ought to be doing is revising and updating the stories I've already started. What I'm doing instead is How To Train Your Dragon fanfiction, because something about that movie inspires me in so many ways. My body can hardly contain all the feels it gives me, honestly.
And so for the first time in years, I'm sitting down and gathering all my thoughts and ideas for something and writing about it. There are other thoughts and ideas I've had for this film that I would have liked to write about as well, but there are several talented and insightful authors on this site who not only had the same ideas but also expressed them better than I ever could. In any case, certain nuggets of a plotline were niggling around my head, so I finally resolved to work them out and make something of it. I've only been kind of gradually immersing myself into this fandom, and though I have a list of stories I intend to read, I haven't actually read that much thus far. Therefore, any similarities between other fanfics is purely coincidental and entirely unintentional.
Something else to note: this story is drawn entirely from the film version of How To Train Your Dragon, as I have not read any of the books. If there are any errors in information that has been confirmed by the filmmakers or that conflicts with the books, I do apologize - it was probably inadvertent. Furthermore, I have exercised some minor creative license in certain mythological elements used in this story, and I hope this is not too problematic. Nevertheless, I hope you all enjoy.
Update: now contains slight rewrites regarding Hiccup's mother as learned from HTTYD2!
Swimming in Mud
"Okay, let's try this set of words again," Hiccup announced, attempting to keep frustration from creeping into his voice. His hand skittered over a messy pile of loose-leaf parchment and leather-bound notebooks, finally selecting a torn sheet covered in assorted sketches of fish and other maritime objects.
He and Toothless were currently settled in the cove where they had first encountered one another. Even though Toothless more or less had free reign throughout the village of Berk ever since the battle with the Red Death six months ago, Hiccup always felt that the little sheltered glen was a sanctuary of sorts and often returned there when he felt in particular need of privacy. Many of his most cherished memories had occurred there, and luckily it had remained both peaceful and secluded.
Presently, the teenage Viking was sitting cross-legged across from the Night Fury, his prosthetic leg detached and leaning against a nearby boulder. The stack of parchment and notebooks was spread out between the two of them. Toothless had assumed a sphinx-like position, though his lazily blinking eyes betrayed any alertness intended by his pose. Hiccup could tell Toothless was starting to feel sleepy in the warmth of the late afternoon sunlight. Though he would have liked nothing more than to stretch out beside the dragon and watch the dust motes waft between golden shafts of light and dappled shadows until his eyelids fluttered shut, he was determined to try and get through this last bit of vocabulary for the day.
"Fish," Hiccup said, enunciating clearly as he gestured to a slightly smudged line drawing of an Icelandic cod. "Fish." He glanced encouragingly at Toothless. The black dragon's huge jade eyes fixed upon the drawing, and he made the warbling noise that Hiccup understood as the draconic equivalent to the Norse word for fish. Toothless then proceeded to emit a series of sounds, punctuating them distinctly in order to prevent them from running together. Hiccup furrowed his brow for a moment as he tried to recall the exact nuances that composed the quaver of the fish-sound.
"The sixth one... wait, no, the seventh." Hiccup glanced eagerly at Toothless for confirmation, only to see the Night Fury shake his head slightly in the way that meant he had been close. Hiccup frowned; he should have stayed with his gut instinct about the sixth intonation.
"Okay buddy, say it again for me," Hiccup asked, leaning forward raptly in order to better hear the subtle notes of the warble. Toothless obliged before repeating another cacophony of punctuated noises, this time in a different order.
"The third," Hiccup said confidently. Toothless rewarded him with his trademarked toothless grin.
They repeated the exercise several times until Hiccup felt sure that he could recognize the fish-sound anywhere. Toothless was much quicker about recognizing the sounds of Norse words and associating them with Hiccup's lexicon of images; Hiccup suspected it was because human vocal cords were far simpler and afforded a less subtle range of sound compared to the anatomy of dragon throats. Or perhaps Toothless was merely more intuitive about these things than Hiccup was. Hiccup had a feeling it was a combination of both.
After a few more sea-related words, Hiccup was ready to call it quits for the day. He knew from experience that trying to teach or learn too many words or concepts at once would simply overwhelm the both of them and cause them to forget. Learning a new dialect of Norse from differing tribes could be a slow enough process, but trying to overcome an inter-species language barrier was downright arduous.
It wasn't that Toothless was incapable of sophisticated thought, Hiccup mused. Quite the opposite, in fact. Over the time Hiccup had gotten to know the dragon, it became increasingly obvious that he was highly intelligent - more so than certain villagers he could care to mention. Playful and bestial by turns, but not dumb. It made Hiccup wonder whether Toothless was especially precocious or whether all dragons were sentient. In any case, Hiccup felt it wasn't a lack of acumen that prevented spoken communication between them, but one of anatomy, and to some extent, language. He wasn't completely sure whether all species of dragons communicated with the same sorts of sounds and to what extent they compared to human language, but despite these obstacles, Hiccup was steadfast in his desire to learn how to converse properly with his dragon companion.
Where once Hiccup might have thought Toothless was his only friend, he had since felt that Toothless was - at the least - incontrovertibly his best friend. Back when he was widely regarded as the village pariah, his secret relationship with the Night Fury was rewarding if only because he was the only creature who didn't flinch at his approach, stare at him disappointedly, or mock his shortcomings mercilessly. The grudging tolerance of Hiccup's presence in the cove had grown to a covert, forbidden friendship, finally evolving into something almost symbiotic as one could not fly without the other. Certainly none of his relationships with other people made him feel as comfortable or accepted as when Toothless shared food out of his own mouth or allowed Hiccup to clamber onto his back to partake in an exhilarating flight.
Only kisses from Astrid could inspire the same invigorating swooping sensation elicited by flight in his stomach. Ugh, Astrid... The lithe blonde shield maiden was someone he preferred not to think about just now.
Even though on the whole his relations with other people had improved after the battle with the Red Death, what with half the village regarding him as a hero, Hiccup still felt rather isolated. Some villagers inflated him to hero status and were more inclined to treat him as a legend than someone of flesh and blood, while other villagers still seemed to only just stop short of treating him like some sort of calamitous leper. It seemed cruel to Hiccup that he could converse so easily with people he did not care to speak with while he had to struggle to glean the meanings behind Toothless' crooning and mannerisms.
Thankfully, Gobber treated Hiccup much as he always had, and the burly blacksmith had made him feel less awkward than most. Perhaps it was because Gobber was his father's best friend, but the mustachioed Viking had always been patient and relatively understanding with him. After his leg had been maimed, Hiccup had been confined to bed rest for just over a month. Gobber had been there every day of his convalescence, commiserating about their shared injuries, preparing him for how to cope with the new life his wound had spawned, and tweaking designs for Hiccup's new artificial leg.
On the other hand, most of his fellow trainees fell into the status inflation camp. Tuffnut had taken it upon himself to act as Hiccup's agent, as it were, attempting to "schedule his meetings with the public." These meetings usually involved Tuffnut gathering groups of the younger, more nubile female villagers, allowing them to bask in Hiccup's presence for a few glorious minutes, and then spiriting them away with hurried comments that Hiccup-is-busy-but-hey-I-can-keep-you-company-for-a-bit. Snotlout occasionally joined him on these ventures, and to hear him tell it, he had personally defeated the Red Death, twice, with his face, and Hiccup had just turned up to help.
Ruffnut enjoyed giving the village children tours of Hiccup's home, usually without permission, and often interrupted his work with Gobber at the forge, frequently at the peril of the children - Oggfrid the Shipwright's seven year-old son had almost lost an eye one time. Noticing him drawing one day, Ruffnut had asked him to design a tattoo of a Zippleback twining around her lower back and thighs, and Hiccup still wasn't sure how serious she was. In contrast, Hiccup had always more or less gotten along with Fishlegs, and the large blonde Viking was far less manic in his behaviour. That being said, he did have a habit of turning up and hijacking all conversations to be about dragon-training, usually comparing his methods with Meatlug to those of Hiccup and Toothless.
Even though Stoick had unearthed a new-found respect for his son and was learning to accept the person he was instead of lamenting the one he was not, Hiccup still felt somewhat uneasy talking to his father. Despite his exterior, he somehow got the sense that the huge Viking was fragile - a huge paradigm of their world had shifted thanks to him, and though six months had passed, he wasn't sure how well that had digested or whether their tentative truce could bear the weight of anything more profound than generic conversations about the weather. Not that they didn't love each other, but somehow Hiccup found it more daunting trying to converse with his father than with a dragon.
As for Astrid, well, Astrid was just complicated. Hiccup didn't know what to make of her at the moment.
And so, hungering for contact that didn't emotionally drain him or put him on his guard, Hiccup had attempted to devise a way for he and Toothless to communicate more efficiently. He had immediately dismissed the idea of trying to teach Toothless how to speak Norse as his vocal cords were clearly not suited to human speech, but he thought it might be possible to break down the dragon's sound patterns and motions into understandable chunks. In turn, Hiccup thought Toothless was more than capable of recognizing the sound of Norse words and comprehending their meanings by association. For this purpose, Hiccup had created lexicon of sorts by drawing hundreds of images crammed onto pages and notebooks, usually grouped by category or arranged together thematically to explain more complicated concepts. Toothless would recognize the image and make his draconic translation, and Hiccup would do the same with Norse.
However, it was an imperfect system. For one thing, it didn't allow for grammar or tenses of time, and Hiccup was fairly sure they wouldn't be able to put together proper sentences for months or even years to come. While it allowed more for the basic communication of words, verbs, or concepts, the going was slow. Moreover, they were still very dependant on Hiccup's pictographic lexicon. Without it they often forgot words, and Hiccup found himself adding to it constantly as it occurred to him that abstract concepts or phrases that were commonplace to him needed to be deconstructed into tangible images for the Night Fury's benefit. He wondered whether Toothless had this problem as well, whether there was some sort of dragon culture that he was incapable of transmitting to his human.
At first Hiccup had actually tried to replicate the sounds Toothless was making in an effort to emulate Dragon Speech, but it soon became painfully clear that his simple human vocal cords did not have enough flexibility for such noises. Furthermore, some of Toothless' growls were beyond the range of his hearing, or they sounded too similar to the limited scope of his unpractised human ears. When the sounds for different words or concepts sounded too analogous to Hiccup, Toothless would try to match them to a small motion or gesture in order to help him differentiate between them.
All in all, the most they could hope for was to grasp enough of the other's language to make suitable responses, though mutual comprehension was better than none at all. The process was positively ponderous, though. To Hiccup, who was impatient and bursting to talk, really talk to his best friend, it was like swimming in mud: he was moving, yes, but so disproportionately sluggishly relative to his efforts that he may as well be wallowing for all the momentum he was achieving.
Hiccup blinked, noticing that Toothless had taken his lapse in concentration as an excuse to take a nap. In the time Hiccup had sat pondering his linguistic woes, the cove had started to take on the reddish-gold quality of early evening light. Hiccup fumbled with the parchment and notebooks, gathering them into a neat sheaf and tying them with a piece of twine before wrapping them in oiled sheepskin leather and tucking the package into the deep pocket of his fur vest. He started to stand up and promptly fell over, forgetting that his prosthetic leg was still leaning against the boulder. Toothless' eyes flashed open with concern at Hiccup's cry of surprise. He shimmied over to the boy, crooning softly as he nudged him gently in an effort to sit him back upright.
To his great consternation, Hiccup found himself blinking back a couple of tears. Not because he was hurt, but because for a brief time he had forgotten that he was life-alteringly disfigured; his crash to the ground was a crash back to reality as much as anything else. Six months passing had not yet fully acclimatized him to the absence of his limb, and even before his leg had been mangled, he had always felt clumsy and awkward. His fingers were dexterous, but everything else about his body had felt distinctively graceless. He had always kind of assumed that when he grew into manhood it would all even out, but with the lifeless piece of metal and leather strapped to his leg, he felt more ungainly than ever before, and didn't see how things could improve. These days, the only time he felt remotely graceful was when he was flying with Toothless. Cutting swathes through the sky with synergetic nimbleness, they had come a long way since their trial flights - the dragon felt more like part of his body than his leg did.
'Stop that, Vikings don't cry,' Hiccup told himself sternly. He was gratified when his tear ducts mostly listened. Toothless crooned again, alarmed by Hiccup's distress.
"I'm okay, bud," Hiccup smiled wetly, scratching the Night Fury under his chin. "Just an off moment." Toothless thrummed with pleasure at the touches and was reduced to a quivering mass of scales, limbs, and wings once Hiccup reached the sensitive spot in the hollow of his jaw. Hiccup watched, amused at the image of the ferocious Night Fury that had terrified his nightmares as a child squirming like an overexcited puppy in the grass.
"Ah, how things change," the Viking sighed, fidgeting with the straps on his ersatz leg as he pulled it into place, the boiled leather at its head cradling his stump. Even though less than a year had passed since he befriended Toothless and learned that dragons were not the malicious beasts legend and tradition had implied, it felt like decades to Hiccup.
'If only all of Berk felt the same,' Hiccup's thought continued, unspoken. While many of the younger villagers were keen on imitating Hiccup's precedent and training dragons of their own, by and large, dragons in Berk were tolerated more than they were welcomed. Berk's older inhabitants had spent their whole lives fighting dragons and found it difficult to switch off the impulse to kill them on sight. Those who had lost relatives to dragon claws or fires during raids were especially intractable about accepting dragons into village life. And though Hiccup's exposure of the Red Death's utilization of them as drones for food delivery may have softened some people's opinions that dragons were bloodthirsty agents of destruction, even villagers who had been impressed at Toothless' performance against the giant primordial beast maintained the opinion that dragons were dangerous, even if domesticated.
Hiccup could see this conflict embodied in his father. As chief, Stoick had come under pressure by two factions of villagers: those who continued to see dragons as a potential threat and preferred that they be driven from the area, and the admittedly smaller group that wanted to incorporate them into village life. It was difficult for Stoick to pick sides as he himself wasn't sure how he felt. His wife, Hiccup's mother, had died during a dragon raid. Stoick had told him hundreds of times how Valka had been protecting him in his crib while the attack raged on outside, and though he had tried to save her, an attacking owlish dragon with two separate pairs of wings had carried her off, never to be seen again. And yet a dragon had saved the life of his only son, at its own peril. In an ideal world, Hiccup knew Stoick would make an exception for the Night Fury and let the other dragons fight their way to Helheim. And yet, Stoick had seen how bonding with a dragon had saved his son's life. Could he really write off the other dragons when a similar kinship might end up being beneficial to other Berk inhabitants?
So while Stoick allowed Toothless free reign around their village and even let him roost in their own house whenever he wanted, Hiccup knew his father was uncomfortable with the presence of other dragons on the island, especially the feral ones that had taken up residence on the island without attaching themselves to any particular Viking.
With his artificial leg firmly attached, Hiccup moved to rise. Panting slightly after his scratching ecstasy, Toothless slid his head under Hiccup's arm to help support him. Hiccup smiled down at the dragon before scrambling onto his back and hitching his leg into the saddle's locking mechanism in one swift, practised motion. The sun was still a far cry from setting by the time they made it back into the village proper.
"Hiccup! Hey, Hiccup!"
Hiccup turned his head at the cry as he dismounted carefully, making sure his metal leg didn't get caught on any of the saddle's trappings. He caught sight of Fishlegs huffing from his run over. The large Viking had clearly been in his father's bakery until recently as he was coated in a fine sheen of flour.
"There you are," Fishlegs wheezed. Little clouds of flour swirled off him at the movement.
"Actually, I just got here, I was out with Toothless. What's going on?"
"I've been looking all over for you, I've been wanting to ask you how you handled flatulence with Toothless."
Hiccup paused as Fishlegs' words sank in. "Excuse me?!"
"Well, it's just that Meatlug does this thing where when she eats too much fish, she gets gassy," the bulkier boy explained plaintively.
"Okay, that's gross, but I don't see why you're telling me this," Hiccup said with a touch of exasperation.
"Normally I don't care much, but the last time it happened she was inside the house, and a candle was lit. She actually made the bedspread catch fire! Not by breathing fire, I mean, but when the gas reached the flame-"
"Yes, I see where you're going," Hiccup interrupted quickly.
"I never knew that that kind of dragon gas was so flammable. So I wanted to know how you handled that with Toothless," Fishlegs pressed on. "I mean, he nests at your house all the time and your house has never caught fire."
The dragon in question was sitting quietly near Hiccup, swishing his tail back and forth. Hiccup frowned, absent-mindedly rubbing the Night Fury's head as he recollected his experiences in dragon behaviour.
"Toothless has never really had that problem," Hiccup said slowly. "Might be that it's specifically a Gronkle quirk... He does do this thing where he sheds scales sometimes, and I found out you can use them as a kind of flint, but I guess that's not really helpful..."
Fishlegs sighed. "Oh well, I thought I'd ask anyways. I wish there was a Dragon Manual that actually taught us how to take care of them, and not, you know, kill them." Fishlegs' voice dropped to a whisper for the last part of his comment as though he was afraid he would offend Toothless.
"Sorry I couldn't help more, Fishlegs," apologized Hiccup. At his words, Toothless perked up for a moment. Looking back and forth between Hiccup and Fishlegs, the Night Fury made an inquisitive warble. After a beat, comprehension dawned on Hiccup's face.
"Yes! It's actually working! You remembered!" The auburn-haired Viking did a sort of victory jig in the village square, ignoring the other villagers who were giving him odd looks as they shambled to their homes or to the Great Hall for supper.
"He remembered the word 'fish' in Norse," Hiccup gave out as way of explanation as he noticed Fishlegs' quizzically raised eyebrow. Seeing that this clarification was insufficient, he expounded.
"Toothless and I have been working on learning how to communicate with each other." Hiccup dug the lexicon out of his vest pocket to show Fishlegs. "We use these pictures: I give him the Norse word for whatever the picture is, and he makes a noise for the dragon equivalent. We were working on sea words today, and when I said your name, he recognized the fish sound!"
Fishlegs stared at the smaller Viking, dumbfounded. "I didn't know dragons could speak," he mumbled. "I kind of thought they were like, winged horses. That breathe fire."
"To be honest, I'm not completely sure whether it's all dragons, or just Toothless, or what," Hiccup said. "But I have a feeling that most dragons are smarter than we give them credit for. I mean, even Meatlug, don't you ever feel like she understands your body language and your tone of voice even better than other animals? Maybe they can't speak Norse, but we always see them chittering to each other as though they understand one another."
Fishlegs glanced at Toothless warily, as though suddenly nervous that the Night Fury was eavesdropping on them. Toothless stared back as though aware of the blonde Viking's thoughts and determined to make him as uncomfortable as possible. Shaking his head, Fishlegs turned back to Hiccup.
"Do you think it's possible for me and Meatlug to do that? Learn to talk to each other?"
"It could be," Hiccup nodded, though his brows were furrowed. "It's been really slow going for us so far, though. I'm sure it can be done, but it's going to take a really long time. And it's hard starting from scratch and going piecemeal about it. We have so many expressions that are difficult to break down into pictures that we never even think about. And it's probably just as frustrating for him - I'm sure there are lots of things about dragons that he could tell me if he had a way of getting me to understand. We are pretty limited by the fact that all our word associations come from me, but there are things in his mind that I would never even know about to ask for a translation."
"That sounds really complicated," Fishlegs commented sympathetically. "It's too bad you can't be like Odin and just hang yourself from Yggdrasil to get all the knowledge you're missing. Not that I want you to hang yourself or anything."
"Thanks," Hiccup said wryly. "I suppose you're right though, the gods wouldn't have any trouble talking to dragons. Too bad they're all up at Asgard, probably laughing at us."
"Probably," Fishlegs nodded, inspecting Hiccup's lexicon. "You probably don't want to lend this out, eh? I guess if I want to try your way I'll have to make my own." The bulky blonde handed the package back to Hiccup with a sigh.
Hiccup shuffled the sheets, tucking the loose ones into the notebooks. Before he could re-tie the twine, however, something heavy slammed into him, sending the extensive vocabulary lists tumbling onto the ground and knocking the breath out of Hiccup.
"THOR'S BEARD, HICCUP!" the large Viking roared as a half-skinned deer carcass spattered in the mud, narrowly missing squashing the notebook dedicated to terminology to do with home and family. "Can't you control that beast?!"
Hiccup looked to Toothless, who despite looking fierce owing to the mistreatment of his human was sitting perfectly still, and back to the beefy Viking on the ground. With the carcass out of his arms, he could recognize Holmgeirr's incensed face.
"Your beastie tried to snatch my kill!" Holmgeirr growled, smoothing drying bloody smears out of his bushy dark brown beard.
Since he was ninety-seven percent sure the dragon hadn't budged, Hiccup knew it was pointless to try and explain that Toothless preferred fish over venison. In any case, Holmgeirr had never liked him, and liked dragons even less. Holmgeirr the Broad was a first cousin to Stoick; Stoick and Spitelout's mother had been the older sister of Holmgeirr's mother. Given that he was distantly in the line of succession for the chiefdom, Holmgeirr had never disguised his ire at Hiccup's failings, though he was only marginally more polite to Snotlout. While he was an accomplished warrior, his rude disposition and inability to focus on day-to-day village problems assured Hiccup that even if his whole immediate family were wiped out, Holmgeirr could never gain popular support from the rest of Berk.
Unlike his older cousin, Holmgeirr did not even pretend to muster respect for the Night Fury. Holmgeirr had had to rebuild his house six consecutive times, four of them having burned from Night Fury shots. Even worse, his son had died during Dragon Training roughly five years ago, when the aggressive boy had poked a sleeping Nadder in the eye on a dare. Not even Gudrunir the Village Elder's special salve for burns could do much for him in the end. And so Hiccup could understand the older man's umbrage, even if he wished he didn't take it out on Toothless.
"Uh, sorry Holmgeirr. I'll be sure to keep him away from your kills," Hiccup muttered, trying to avoid meeting Holmgeirr's eyes. Holmgeirr had what his father sometimes called 'Berserker Eyes,' and Hiccup was never quite sure what might set him off.
"Best be doin' that, boy," Holmgeirr squinted at Hiccup for a moment before hauling his deer seemingly effortlessly over his shoulder. Toothless hissed as the broad-shouldered Viking stalked off; Hiccup wasn't sure if it was the dragon equivalent for "donkey" or just a generic sound of displeasure.
The encounter over, Hiccup dropped to his knees and started re-collecting his lexicon; Fishlegs had already crouched down and begun gathering the parchment, possibly in an effort to avoid Holmgeirr's attention. Holmgeirr had a tendency to complain about the quality of his father's bread and frequently referred to Fishlegs as Jotunloaf. Fishlegs, sensitive about his weight and determined to turn it all to muscle, did not appreciate being called a bread giant. Once everything was assembled, mercifully mud-free, Hiccup encased his pictographic glossary once more into the oiled sheepskin.
"All right Fishlegs, I've got to go. If Dad hasn't started on dinner, I'll have to grab some stew from the Great Hall. See you later!"
"Bye, Hiccup," Fishlegs said morosely. Hiccup couldn't tell if his mood had soured because of Holmgeirr or because of the revelation of what he was trying to do with Toothless, but he was sure the bulky blonde would cheer up shortly.
"Let's go, Toothless," Hiccup said unnecessarily, as the dusky dragon was already trotting alongside him in the direction of their home. "To food!"
The wind was picking up as the Gronckle wove around the rocky pillars jutting from the iron sea, its tiny wings pumping furiously. Below him, great waves were starting to churn, breaking against the jagged miniature islands in great bursts of foam. Above him, the sky looked hard as flint, except in the areas softened by curling tendrils of mist.
It had been a while since he had returned to Fire Nest Island. Before, when Plague Breath was living in the bowels of the volcano, every time he flew too far or hadn't visited in too long, a siren voice would call inside his head, urging and enchanting until he could stand it no more and returned with appropriate tribute.
Now, though, because Plague Breath was dead, he took a certain delight in stopping at the island merely because he was no longer compelled to. As he approached it, he could see even at a distance the great corpse of the primordial dragon rotting on the beach. The stench was horrendous, as was the sight of great strips of flesh sloughing off the bleached bones of its skeleton. Further back, the Gronckle could see where the pink twolegs had broken open the wall of the mountain, the great yawning opening strewn with gravel and debris like the remains of a smashed melon.
The Gronckle flitted towards the broken volcano, giving Plague Breath's corpse a wide berth. Even in death, it still seemed evil and powerfully magnetic. Landing on a ridge towards the top, he surveyed the mountain's innards. He detected a faint red glow and could still feel heat radiating from it; obviously lava pools were still active deep within its roots.
Out of curiosity, he flew deeper into the volcano. Ah, yes. Plague Breath's clutch of eggs was still there.