Hiccup screams; frantically, panicky, and Stoick ignores every single cry.
The dragon is bound; the black devil known as the Night Fury. No one has ever seen such a dragon, until today.
Until his son.
The betrayal is more than apparent, as the dragon thrashes, straining forward to Stoick's son, towards his master. The boy in return struggles as well against the hands that hold him, screaming all manner of impassioned pleas for his dragon's safety. Stoick ignores it all, stalking forward purposefully, heavy axe in hand. Hiccup sees him coming and fights harder, hot tears running down his face as he begs for the dragon's life. In the corner of his eye, Stoick catches the girl, Astrid, looking ashen-faced and heartsick as she watches, and Stoick knows then that she knew, that some way, somehow she was an accomplice, but his stomach aches enough with one betrayal amongst his people, he cannot fathom a second, not now. The dragon regards his approach with steady eyes, slowly stilling as his death approaches. By the time Stoick reaches him, he is almost complacent, looking at the man before him with acceptance in surprisingly intelligent acid-green eyes. With only a soft churring, the creature turns his head, baring the side of his neck for the death blow. Stoick hefts his axe, somewhat unnerved, but unwilling to back down. Behind him Hiccups shrieks of terror climb to new levels.
The axe falls, and the blood of a winged demon coats the dusty ground of the training ring. Hiccups yelling cuts off abruptly, leaving the sound of the decapitated dragon head to echo in the suddenly silent space. Stoick finds himself staring at the dead beast, full of questions but unsure of what answers he truly desires.
From behind him, his son's voice comes, raw and full of something dark and loathing. He only says one word.
'Murderer,' Hiccup says, in a voice that Stoick has never heard before.
'You are not my son.' Stoick replies, because it is true, the falling of the axe may as well have several their familial ties as easily as it had parted flesh and bone. The boy taken from the ring, docile to all appearances but simmering beneath with a black rage, is not the boy Stoick raised.
Stoick wonders where that child went, and when this stranger crept into his place.
The boy is cast out, given a single bag of essentials and a knife as a mercy, but his fate is his own now. Stoick does not flinch as the boy walks by, the not-his-son wearing his late wife's face. The boy to his credit does not flinch either, and where the sudden core of steel came from, Stoick does not know. The slim figure vanishes from the village never to be seen again by human eyes,
And he isn't, although Astrid and the other village teens find the discarded bag at the top of an ugly, sheer cliff overlooking the ocean not a half-hours walk from the village proper. There is blood smeared on the rocks below, and gulls circle, picking at the picks of flesh left behind on the jagged stone edges, but no body is ever found, likely lost to the pounding surf. It is a miracle no one saw the leap, the swan song of a cowardly boy taking the easy path to the afterlife. Stoick takes the news with as much grace as possible, appearing stone-faced before his people, but in his home, in the quiet of night, he weeps for his son, for the boy he lost. Perhaps yesterday, perhaps years ago, he will never know, but his child has gone somewhere he cannot follow. So he cries, cries for the little lost boy that was his only child, his only son.
'Murderer' Stoick hears; the whisper barely a breath of air across his skin. He blames a guilty conscience, and eventually settles to sleep.
He wakes to flame.
Dragon attacks in the dead of night are not uncommon, and neither is fleeing a burning building. Except this time, when Stoick hits the street, there are no dragons. In fact, his house is the only one aflame. Stoick grabs a nearby bucket and water, always handy for just this purpose, and begins to douse his home, but the flames are unnatural; they never die, they never so much as splutter. Eventually he gives in, watching unspeaking, as his house is reduced to cinders. The townspeople coming out one by one as dawn creeps onto Berk, but by then the house is ash, burnt so thoroughly that the support structure does not even stand any longer.
Three reconstruction attempts are made. The first two almost end in tragedy, with strange accidents bringing the slowly-forming structure collapsing back to the ground on top of the workers within. They escape with minor injuries, but the people are spooked, that much is obvious. The last attempt however goes so well that it nearly succeeds, except, one day before completion, the building burns again. This time the fire begins at twilight, as everyone is leaving the Meade hall to retreat home to bed. There is an ear-splitting shriek, the kind only one dragon can make in flight, but while people shout and scramble to take cover, Stoick looks to the sky. There is enough light yet that a large black form should be visible, but there is nothing, and no matter how fast the dragon could fly, he could not have made it beyond the horizon in any given direction in only a matter of seconds. The shriek comes again, and Stoick's nearly-finished house is once again engulfed by a great gout of flame. The nearest Vikings begin the age-old ritual of passing buckets of water, but as before the fire burns regardless of any attempts to snuff it. By midnight, Stoick's house is gone again.
Stoick builds a new house on the other side of the village, and this one suffers no mysterious fires. The site of the old develops a reputation amongst the people as cursed land, and is given a wide berth. Those who still frequent the training ring add to the unease, claiming that at the right time of day, a disembodied voice can be heard sobbing, begging, but for what none know. Others claim to hear mournful noises from the rocks at the bottom of the cliff where a banished young man once died; sounds created by no animal anyone can recognize.
Stoick does not publically entertain any of the mostly-hysterical rumours surrounding the events, but he cannot help but notice that, three summers after Hiccup and the Dragon, the ground where his home once stood is still barren, still blackened and charred when new life should have long since begun to creep through. He never hears the unexplained voices himself, not at the training ring or at the cliff, although he once spend an entire day just standing at the place where his son leapt trying. When he turns to leave his vigil at the edge however, he swears that a large black shadow flashes by him, caught only out of the corner of his eye, like a dragon and rider taking flight, perhaps. He returns home feeling eyes on his back the whole way, although he is alone.
It is towards the end of that third summer, when another midnight raid results in Astrid's untimely demise.
Astrid, the girl who'd never looked him in the eye after Hiccup, the girl who'd gone from top of her class in dragon training to apprenticing for the local seamstress. It was honest work, although many felt it a waste of her talents. Astrid was a Viking through and through, she had the battlefield in her blood, but the fight had left her somehow, and Stoick could only guess that Hiccup and his beast had been to blame. Despite the evidence, Stoick finds himself unable to ever ask the girl what she'd known about his erstwhile son's liaison with the creature. Stoick cannot admit, even to himself, that he is too leery of the answers to try. Her death is a shock to the village; she was well liked by most. Her funeral is held in one of the worst rainstorms Berk had seen in years, but somehow the funeral pyre lights and burns though out the night, long after it should. Those who lived closest spend the following weeks hunched in furtive whispers, swearing they heard the sound of a boy weeping, and the keening cries of an unidentified animal accompanying. Stoick ignores the whispers, letting the gossip fade into memory, urging his people to focus instead on rebuilding what was lost, and preparing for the next raid.
The next raid however, never comes. A handful of days after Astrid is lost, the dragons return to Berk, numbering in the hundreds and in full daylight. The Vikings gather, prepared to fight, but the dragons have no fight to give. They land awkwardly, as if exhausted or otherwise overwhelmed, and then promptly begin to find themselves places to bed down in and around the village, completely ignoring the baffled humans. The most foolhardy of the Vikings attack regardless, but it becomes clear quickly that the Dragons are not even willing to defend themselves. Any other day in any other circumstance, Stoick would have sent his men forward to cause as much carnage as possible, before the beasts shook off this madness and attacked. Today though, there is a whisper in the back of his mind, and he can feel the breath of the invisible speaker against his neck; 'murderermurderermurderermurderermurderer' and Stoick finds himself staying his hand, the memory of his son's desperate wails ringing in his ears.
So the dragons stay. A week passes, and the creatures slowly rouse, as if from a dream. They now trod carefully around the humans, but none provoke, and those that are provoked do only enough damage to defend. There have been injuries, but no deaths on either side; and Stoick is at a loss as to what to do. How do you move several hundred large fire breathing reptiles who have decided to call your home their own? Stoick can't help but feel the universe is laughing at him, because he knows there is only one person who would have had the answer, and he died at the bottom of a cliff three years previous.
On the night of the seventh day after the dragons arrive, Stoick dreams of a large Dragon, larger than ships, larger even then their town; a creature so massive a single wing beat could crumble mountains. He dreams also of the small shadow that dances with it, a dance to the death, and while the details are vague he knows that shadow, that silhouette that once stood over his son in protective rage. In fact, perhaps his son is there, in the saddle, part of the shadow and moving as one. The dream fades as the massive creature dies in an inferno of its own making, and Stoick wakes. On the table at his bedside is a leather bound journal, the kind his son had taken to carrying everywhere in the last years of his life. The book had not been there the night previous, and with the images of his vision; for what else could the dream have been, swimming behind his eyes, he carefully cracks the cover.
The book is Hiccups; Stoick knows this immediately, recognizing the careful, slanting handwriting. The words are his too; always so precise and eloquent in ways that Stoick's own writing could never hope to be. Flipping carefully, Stoick discovers that within the pages are the secrets that Hiccup had uncovered during those long summer days hidden away with an improbable creature. Full of notes on Dragon biology and behavior straight through to saddle designs, Stoick holds in his hands the only existing manual on how to train a Dragon.
Hands shaking, Stoick sets the book down, burying his face in his palms. All Hiccups stuff had been in their old home the night of the first fire, and absolutely nothing had been salvageable from the wreckage. The fire had burnt so hot that even the metals items within were nothing but twisted lumps amidst the ashes. Anything else Hiccup had owned and kept at the smithy had been removed and destroyed or repurposed, although Hiccups favorite hammer had been nowhere to be found. At the time Stoick had thought that maybe the boy had taken it with him to the afterlife, perhaps as a token object of comfort, but now he wonders. He wonders, because what Stoick holds in his hands is an impossibility; an item that should not exist in this world as anything other than burnt refuse. But, he holds the book, the cool leather of the cover comforting.
It is Fishlegs who takes the manual, teaching himself from Hiccups words how to interact with the unruly beasts that have become their tenants. Within days the rest of the surviving teenage populations of Berk has joined him, and as Stoick watches the first Vikings of Berk since his son to take to the sky from the cliff that had claimed the boy many years ago, he finds it fitting that the new generation be the ones to lead the old into a brave new world. The whole while behind him, Stoick could swear he hears the soft laughter of a young man at play, and the happy whuffing and stomping of a large beast following the lighter footsteps as boy and dragon chase each other amongst the tall grass. When he finally tears his eyes form the sky and turns, he is alone, but there are telltale footprints in the soft earth, one set small and human, the other large and reptilian, and Stoick feels something wound tight inside him let go for the first time since he can remember.
Decades pass and now there are few left alive who recall the time when Dragons were the enemies, not the gentle, symbiotic friends. Stoick has grown old, weary, having outlived most of his generation and even many of his son's generation. His hair and beard are snow white, his face deeply lined. He knows his time comes, as he crawls into bed for one last time. It is not the glorious death on the battlefield he had dreamed of, but he cannot bring himself to mind too much when the thinks back on his many years. He lays his head down, knowing that, come morning, he will not rise again.
In the darkened corner across the room, two pairs of poison green eyes stare at him, impassive. One is elongated and animal; the other is softer and human. Stoick grunts, settling himself in for the inevitable. His last moments are slipping away quickly, but Stoick does not mind. In fact, he relishes it, as he does not intend to keep his visitors waiting any longer.
He owes them both an apology, and they have been patient for far too long.
With one last exhale, Stoick goes home. The green eyes fade from view, if ever they were there to begin with.
Let it be said however, that the town of Berk is never again plagued by the unquiet deaths of a boy and his dragon.
"We're all of us haunted and haunting."
― Chuck Palahniuk, "Lullaby"