The Berserker War Chapter 09

"Welcome back," New-night-fury said to the row of Nadders who had just returned from patrol duty. "What did you see?"

The pair who had watched the coastline and the shore area shook their heads. "Nothing at all."

Another pair nodded. "Nothing out of the ordinary on the far-inland roads. Just the occasional shepherd and flock, or a small trader's wagon. No sign of Berserkers."

The duo who were keeping an eye on Dagur's main force stepped forward. "It looks like the enemy army has finally decided what they're going to do. They're retreating on foot, all of them."

"That's good news," New-night-fury decided. "For a while, I was afraid they'd press on without their supplies. We'll keep them under surveillance until they get home, just to make sure." He turned to the last pair. "Is there anything happening at sea?"

"There's no fleet activity at all," one of them said.

"...which makes sense, seeing how they don't have a fleet anymore," his partner added. "But we did see one small ship with a crew of four headed this way. They're about five days away from us, assuming the weather doesn't turn bad."

"Just one ship? That's strange," Night-fury cut in. "Maybe they're trying to sneak some spies into Berk?"

"Or maybe it's another kidnap attempt," Night-fury-mother-of-twins worried.

"I'd like to see them carry me off now!" her son retorted. He hadn't reached his full adult size yet, but he still weighed as much as three adult male humans. The days when four Vikings could drug him and his sister and take them both away were over.

"I'll let the Viking chief know what you've seen," New-night-fury decided. "You can all rest until tonight. I'll shift the patrol assignments around, so you don't get bored, staring at the same landscape night after night."

"Thank you!" they all exclaimed, and scattered; some wanted to get some sleep, and some of them wanted to eat first. The Night Furies flapped up to the second floor of their Nest, where Stoick and Gobber waited for the morning battle report.

DAGUR'S FORCE IS FINALLY RETREATING.
NO OTHER ACTIVITY, EXCEPT ONE SMALL
SHIP HEADED OUR WAY, ABOUT FIVE
DAYS OUT

"One small ship?" The chief turned to his advisor. "What do you think they're up to?"

"There's no tellin' what Dagur might be thinkin'," the smith replied. "But as long as we know they're comin,' we can take 'em any time we want to."

Stoick nodded. "Son, keep an eye on that ship, and let us know when it's getting close. I'll send a couple of our own ships to capture them. You and your... uhh, friends have done all the fighting for us so far, and my warriors are getting restless. This will give them something warlike to do."

Hiccup nodded, and the meeting was over. The humans returned to their daily routine, which hadn't changed much since war was declared, and the Night Furies went off to do dragon things. There were a lot of dragon things that needed doing.

Toothless was complaining that his injured wing was itching like crazy. According to Gothi, that was a good sign – it meant the wound was healing. The dragon population of Berk had dropped considerably since the five-way raid, two nights ago. Most of the Dragon Island dragons had gotten the rage out of their systems and gone home. Seventeen of them had recognized the seriousness of the threat, and agreed to stay and fight. This was fortunate; the Berk dragons' losses were slowly mounting as the war went on, and they would soon reach a point where they couldn't safely raid even one enemy village. The reinforcements were welcomed and quickly put to work, especially the Nadders, who were much in demand for patrolling.

A few days later, Stoick decided that the small Berserker ship had gone far enough. He sent two longships, with thirty men on each, to capture a fishing boat with a crew of four. As soon as the Berserkers saw the Berk ships coming, they lowered their sail and waved a white flag. Berk's warriors swarmed aboard the fishing boat with much shouting and waving of weapons, but the "spies" put up no resistance whatever. Stoick's men remained frustrated. They still hadn't gotten any action.

The prisoners were separated and interrogated in the Mead Hall by four different groups of Vikings. Hiccup, Astrid, and Guana tried to listen through the wall from outside. It was soon obvious that these weren't spies or kidnappers, but simple deserters from a losing cause. They had no high-level secrets to reveal; they had no idea what Dagur's next move might be, or what his grand strategy was.

Their only useful information came out when Gobber asked them about the Berserkers' new ideas. The dragons had told him all about the Cloud of Death, the torches with reflectors, and the exploding tanks on wagons; as a smith, he was naturally curious about any new developments like those. When he asked one of the men about those new ideas, the man snorted.

"Those ideas would be coming from Slobberguts, the master smith from Zerk village," he said derisively. "For years, he's been cranking out second-rate weapons and spouting nonsense about exterminating all the dragons. Then, about half a year ago, he took some new apprentices – identical twin boys. Everybody thought they were even more useless than the smith himself. But now that they're doing all the menial work, I guess it freed up Slobberguts to do some serious thinking. He has Dagur's ear, and so far, everything he's tried has worked out well."

"How did 'e get all those Berserkers to try anything new?" Gobber asked.

"The way I heard it," the prisoner said, "he went to Dagur with his plan for the Cloud of Death. The chief almost threw him out, but the smith said, 'I'll bet my life that this idea will work.' Dagur couldn't resist an offer like that. The smith taught the plan to the whole army, and when we tried it, it worked just like he said it would. Of course, Dagur took the credit for the idea, and for all the other new ideas as well."

"Hmmm," Gobber nodded. "Very interestin'."

Outside the Mead Hall, the dragons were astonished. They half-flapped, half-galloped back to the Nest so they could bring Toothless and the twins into the discussion.

"It would have to be a smith," Toothless nodded. "We all know how clever they can be. Right, Hiccup?"

"It makes perfect sense," Guana agreed. "Our smith is Gobber the Belch, and their smith is Slobberguts, the Burp."

"So all we have to do is take out their master smith, and our lives get easier, right?" Night-fury-six-shooter asked.

"Taking out one specific individual isn't that easy," Astrid said. "First, we have to find him. The only way we could find this guy is to raid his forge in broad daylight, because he won't be there at night. That means all his friends will see us coming a mile away, and they'd hit us with everything they've got. And if we do find him, what do we do with him?"

"Kill him," Night-fury-six-shooter replied.

"Strand him on a deserted island," Guana suggested.

"Bring him back to Berk as a prisoner." That was Toothless.

"Aunt Guana could turn him into a Night Fury," Night-fury-makes-one-heck-of-a-bang grinned.

"No!" Guana snapped. "That might have been okay in the days when dragons and humans were at war, but I will never force anyone into that situation."

"Guana, we are at war," Astrid reminded her.

"What if he wants to be a Night Fury, like you did?" Night-fury-makes-one-heck-of-a-bang wondered.

"We'd have to ask him, which still leaves us not knowing how to get to him in the first place," Guana replied. There was a brief silence.

Toothless finally spoke. "Hiccup, you haven't said a word in this entire discussion. Tell us what you're thinking."

He slowly said, "I'm thinking that you're all wrong.

"Astrid, Guana, you heard what that deserter said. Their smith was nothing but a barely-competent weapon-maker until he took his new apprentices. Why does everyone assume that those new ideas suddenly came from a smith who never had a new idea in his life? What if it's the apprentices who are having all the ideas, and he's taking credit for them, just like Dagur is stealing the credit from the smith?"

"You think history is repeating itself?" Astrid asked, with traces of a smile. "Smith's apprentices with keen, inventive minds, whom everybody else thinks are useless? A couple of Hiccups?"

"That's too much of a coincidence," Guana said flatly. "There's no way that kind of thing could happen twice!"

"A minute ago, you were willing to believe in a coincidence between a Belch and a Burp," Hiccup answered.

"Let's assume you're right," Astrid said. "We still don't know how to find these guys, or what to do with them if we can get them."

"Actually, I just had an idea or two about that," Hiccup began.

"Oh, here we go," Toothless sighed. "Let's hear it." Hiccup outlined his idea.

"That's stupid," said Astrid.

"It's crazy," agreed Toothless.

"No, it's utterly insane," nodded Guana.

"It will never work," Night-fury-six-shooter said, "but if you try it, count me in."

"Likewise," her brother said.

Astrid rolled her eyes. "You kids are too much like your father! Hiccup, please tell me you wouldn't involve your own children in such a harebrained scheme!"

"Actually, I'll need them to be part of it," Hiccup answered, "just because they aren't as big as the rest of us. Their size would be an asset in this situation. Three full-grown Night Furies probably won't fit."

She swatted him with her tail. "That's for being stubborn, irrational, foolhardy, and just plain impossible!" She sighed. "I suppose we're going to do this thing tonight, right?"

"No, tomorrow night," he said, surprised that she was going along with it so easily. "Tonight, I have to do a little reconnaissance first."

"You mean, we have to do a little reconnaissance first," she corrected him. "There is no way you're going on such a crazy trip without someone flying cover for you! Besides, there's one problem with your plan, which I'd like to fix, and I'll need a day to arrange it." She explained herself.

Hiccup nodded. "Good idea. We'll do that."

The die was cast.