Last chapter! Thank you to all who have read thus far and enjoyed the ride. In a week I'll start updating the sequel, How to Court a Dragon Prince, which crosses over with Pixar's Brave.
ElmoDaHorse- The keel can be repaired, lol. Though it has suffered plenty of abuse.
MEC- It's over for the moment, rest assured. Things get worse in the sequel, but for now Hiccup has won. And yes, the twins are awesome when they combine forces.
Stratoc- Thanks! Hiccup narrowly escaped this time, and Fishlegs can punch if he feels up to it.
The moon returned like a wandering actress to her forlorn curtain call. Each dragon's large, billowing wings made soothing, swooping sounds over the water. We didn't burn the ships; there was no need with most of Alvin's men overboard, desperately paddling for the nearby island, and I had to retrieve the papers that Alvin had stolen.
"Can we torch them?" Tuffnut asked, rubbing his helmet. He and Ruffnut had mounted their Zippleback and scoured the Outcast ship with green flame.
"Let them go," I said, arms filled with parchment. The past hour's glory had evaporated with Alvin's fall. "It's like kicking a worm when it's down."
"You don't KICK worms, they're too soft for that," Tuffnut explained. "You try to wrap them around your fingers and see how long it takes for them to find their way back-"
"I think he means it'd be like kicking a barnacle." Ruffnut grabbed her twin's horn to explain. "The barnacle can't get away, so you're causing it pain for no reason."
"Oh. That makes more sense."
I sighed. Twins would be twins. "Let's go home."
One ship lay unscathed, one that lacked a red skull. Bandaged warriors waved axes at us; Toothless and I landed on the clean deck. The twins crash-landed, and Fishlegs toppled Meatlug on top of them. Snotlout and Hookfang settled gently onto a bare corner, only to roll into Buckey and Mulch.
Dad joined us, letting go of Thornado's thick claws. He ran over and scooped me off Toothless in his scratched arms. Papers flew. Toothless reared. The air seemed warmer as I spun.
"If Alvin hadn't set the mead hall ablaze, we could have come sooner," Dad said furiously. "So many people hurt, and so many buildings destroyed. Berk has to practically be rebuilt."
I hugged him back. He smelled of sweat, ale, and . . . comfort. It didn't matter if once he had thought me an embarrassment or an accident or a sickly runt; he was my dad, and he had come.
Astrid and Stormfly landed. I staggered forward to hug her as well. And would have, if Gobber's hook hadn't snagged me mid-stride.
"You can reconcile like proper lovers later." He gestured for a lamp. "Got a lot of blood to mop up."
I protested, but Gobber sat me down on a hard bench, said that the blows might induce a fit, and wiped my face with a damp cloth. Stinging yarrow, cold and freshly pulled from the Berk soil; I yelped. So much for Viking bravery.
Toothless paced restlessly as large blood smears appeared on the cloth. Gobber grinned.
"Three days of dragon nip and you're flying again. Isn't it good to be a Night Fury?"
Toothless gave a sharp-toothed snarl.
"True, we could have done without the Outcast invasion and Mildew's cellar." Gobber peered at my face.
"So I was right then," I said, watching the amounts of dried blood gather on the white cloth. "Mildew was helping the Outcasts, and he had Toothless in his root cellar."
"That we already knew and what your father was trying to prove," Gobber got a larger wad of white cloth and pressed it against my stinging forehead. "Hold it there while I roll up your sleeves; you look like an undead warrior with that face of yours."
"We were just going to skim the area to see if there were Outcasts, but they were ready for us," Astrid cut through grimly. "There were clouds of smoke that knocked all our dragons out as we flew over; it gave away our presence. The three of us were outnumbered trying to defend our dragons. Don't look like that, Hiccup, it wasn't your fault."
Gobber stripped off the dragon-teeth gloves (teeth retracted) and began wrapping my right arm in steaming strips. The heavy chains had left red, skin-scraping marks above each elbow. No wonder people never commented on Berserk's immaculate complexions.
"It WAS my fault, though; if you had stayed in the village, you would have been safe."
"Sure. Just like you were safe," she began, only to stop when Dad glowered. "They were planning to take all of us probably with the amounts of dragon nip they had, maybe to get tamer dragons for riding. Alvin was gloating about that."
"No kidding." I rolled up my left sleeve so that Gobber could examine the scrapes mirroring those on the right arm.
"These marks aren't going to go away in one day," he said. "Maybe the one on your forehead will with proper stitching, but I don't know if you want to see a bone needle now."
I smiled weakly; he must have heard Alvin's threats carried over the water. Toothless looked concerned on seeing the red scrapes.
Snotlout pushed his way through and peered at my forehead. His face fell.
"It's only a tetchy scar," he said. "I was hoping Alvin had left a big slash or his initial."
Astrid elbowed him in the gut.
"Hey, that was a compliment!"
To most Vikings, it would be. Astrid had once mentioned that battle was only fun if you got a scar. But you couldn't make a glorious ballad out of back-talking an Outcast and getting hilt-whipped for stupid sass.
Wait, maybe you could. It depended on the narrator's dry humor.
"It could be worse," Dad said. He grimaced as I peeled away the forehead cloth and examined the red blots. "We had a lot of burn victims, though Gothi's been attending to them. A few didn't make it."
"Every war has its price," Gobber told me in an undertone. I looked closely. Wrinkles had hidden the scorch marks around his eyebrows. "The Outcasts made us pay with interest. You'll see when we get back."
The news dampened the ship's triumphant mood. The Outcast ships diminished into ship-wrecks. Snotlout didn't bother showing off a bruise on his elbow.
Midnight waves came with gusto; Thor sent steady winds now that the battle had ended. The dragons scuttled back and forth as we bobbed up and down, and Snotlout tumbled into Meatlug with a grunt. Stormfly almost released her blue spines when a stray ax swung her way.
"We'll get home the dragon way," I told Dad. "There's not enough room on the ship for all of us."
The others happily took to the suggestion; Snotlout swung onto Hookfang and took off. The ship rocked, and Astrid held Stormfly to comfort her. Meatlug's departure left a smaller impact, and the twins somehow managed a vertical lift. That left Astrid, Dad and me.
"It's late, and you're injured," he said. "Will you find your way back?"
"Dad." I put down the cloth. "Toothless and I may have not been flying for days, we still know how to. Besides, won't you and Thornado join us? Won't every dragon on Berk be escorting us home?"
He looked to his men. "There's so much work to be done when we get back. Being on the ship gives me time and reason to make a sensible plan."
I knew what he meant. Having an immortal Outcast as a sworn nemesis limited hopes for peaceful existence on Berk, even if the Outcast were recovering from a fireball and shattering splash into the ocean. But acknowledging Alvin's eventual return felt wrong, as if the last week had happened for nothing. It hadn't.
"We can focus on the repairs, the medical assistance and dissuading would-be bounty hunters," I said. "With no Outcast to offer the thirty sheep, the incentive will be gone. Still, there are idiots with hammers."
"Too many of them."
To myself I added another task on the to-do-list: negotiate with a trickster god so that Alvin lost Loki's favor. If I could trick an intelligent Outcast with a gifted tongue, maybe Loki wouldn't be more difficult. Gothi the Village Elder could help, and maybe a Viking at the next Thing would know how to communicate with gods.
Gobber stopped wrapping bandages; I lifted up my arms, adjusting to the weight. The dragon gloves lay beside me on the bench, Alvin's dried, mud-brown blood on the curved fangs.
"Be sure to keep your sleeves nice and long," he advised. "Don't want people thinking you tried juggling knives after two rounds of ale."
I faked a smile and retrieved the gloves. They had protected my upper arms from the chain marks, but the right one needed repairs with the teeth shattered and the gears shot. Just a little welding, some leather-poking-
Toothless gave me a look. He hissed at the gloves like they were smoked eel piled by the dozen.
I handed the gloves to Gobber. "We'll repair them at the smithy, later. Keep them safe."
He raised an eyebrow.
"It's about a ten-minute ride to Berk. If anything happens, I have Toothless."
Gobber took the gloves and examined them.
Astrid came over. She pulled me into a hug- not a kiss, because Dad was watching, but a warm, one-shouldered embrace. I closed my eyes until she broke away.
"We better get back. Going to be a sleepless night," she said, hopping onto Stormfly. They took off the way a dove leaps from a pillow.
"That leaves just us," I said. Toothless came over.
"Dad, I've survived Alvin, lightning bolts, and the Green Death," I said. "I can handle a ten-minute ride."
He didn't hug me again, but it wouldn't have erased the worry in his eyes anyway. Only my feet, metal and real, on Berk soil would do so.
I mounted Toothless slowly; he closed his eyes to relish the moment. The men cleared as Toothless sprinted for a takeoff. The sea air rushed passed us like an old friend; so did the other Vikings.
"There's just one thing we need to do before heading home," I told Toothless. He understood.
We soared higher above the others, right above the cloud cover. The moon grew as we neared it and gained a greenish tinge. The wind blew colder, cutting through the bandages. At the right moment, I leaned off my dragon, letting the harness come loose. The stars watched like silent, startled specters.
We didn't fall for long, not long enough to alert my father into flying. Our heads barely touched the cloud cover when Toothless scooped me onto his back. I heard him warbling happily, and he had managed a toothless smile at me. We rejoined the others, who cheered at seeing us glide.
"It's good to have you on your dragon!" Fishlegs exclaimed. "You really scared all of us without one."
"I wasn't scared," Tuffnut bragged. Ruffnut looked at him. "No, really; I just got those tingly feelings instead of the usual stars."
"I can't feel fear," Snotlout said. "I was never terrified when you nearly lost Toothless." Hookfang went into a dive, and his rider's screams soared away.
"You've scared me too many times to count," Astrid added. She would have punched me if our dragons were flying nose-to-nose. "But that's not going to happen again."
"I hope not. Don't think my arms could take it." I managed a genuine smile.
She gave a grim smirk and put on speed. I nudged Toothless to follow. Our dragons left blurred streaks as we raced. Berk's burnt shores loomed on the horizon.
My name is Hiccup; you may know me as the Dragon Conqueror or Dragon Trainer, depending on your local trader's gossip. Wanted posters bear my name in crude runes and children think I withhold vital dragon knowledge. But I'm more than an infamous, scrawny teenager who had once taken a leap of faith. Berk's finest Vikings had set aside the offer of thirty sheep and risked their lives to fight potential invaders. They had accepted burn marks and shavings and missed uniforms without complaint. Okay, maybe some complaints, but not directed at me.
If the last week had taught me anything, I was someone worth protecting.