Did Anybody See That? Chapter 1
A/N I love speculating on the moments in timing that affect a story line. Take one detail, move it ahead or back a few seconds; take one action, move it up or down a few inches; and figure out what major changes might follow from that one tiny alteration. In this case, what if one nameless dragon had moved a little bit faster in the beginning of the movie?
The dragons came late that night. They usually struck at midnight; this raid started a few hours before sunrise. It made no real difference to the villagers of Berk. They fought back with all the ferocity they could muster, desperately trying to keep the huge reptiles from flying off with the food they needed to get through the winter. The dragons had their own priorities, and caring about hungry Vikings was very low on their list.
Amidst the chaos of the raid and the defenses, one thin young man ran through the streets with something that looked like a covered wheelbarrow. Aside from a few shouts of "What are you doin'?" and "Get back inside!" no one paid him any heed. He was accustomed to that. He ran to the edge of the cliffs and opened the cover of his invention, which unfolded into a sophisticated-looking bola thrower. He cocked it and stared into the night sky. "Come on! Give me something to shoot at, give me something to shoot at!"
Hiccup's intended target was the elusive, almost-mythical Night Fury that had just shot out two of his village's catapult defenses, and was probably aiming for a third. What he didn't know was that there was another dragon very close by. A Monstrous Nightmare had just climbed the tower of one of those catapults, exchanged blows with Stoick the Vast there, and jumped away to safety when it heard the Night Fury beginning its dive. That catapult had been the first to fall. The huge dragon had landed on the side of the cliff and was climbing upwards to get back into the battle.
Hiccup heard a roar from out of the blackness, saw a moving shadow that was darker than night, and squinted through his sighting loop. He heard the rising whistle of a diving Night Fury, saw a quick glimpse of the monster as it passed in front of the exploding catapult, and fired.
At that moment, the Monstrous Nightmare poked its head over the cliff edge. If it had taken five seconds longer to climb the cliff, Hiccup's shot would have hit the Night Fury dead-on, and no one knows what might have happened after that. But the Nightmare got in the way, and the heavy bola meant for the most elusive dragon hit the biggest one instead.
Hiccup took one look at that huge head, screamed, and ran. His scream caught the ear of Stoick, the chief, who had just thrown a net onto a pack of Nadders and was trying to keep them on the ground without flaming. He saw his son's running silhouette up on the cliffs, groaned in frustration, and turned the task over to other Vikings. "Do not let them escape!" he ordered. He had to rescue his son. Again.
Hiccup had run nearly fifty yards when he looked back for a moment. He was not being followed! The Nightmare just stayed where it was. No pursuit. No flame. What had happened? No clue. He still didn't know what he'd done when his father came pounding up the path.
Stoick took in the scene at a glance. He knew a downed dragon when he saw one, and this dragon was down for the count! Two of the ropes had wrapped around the monster's mouth, keeping it from breathing fire; one rope had no ball on the end, but it didn't seem to matter. The other rope had snarled its left wing and left hind-leg together, leaving it incapable of flying or walking. Whoever did this, he could not have fired a more perfect shot if he'd guided each rope by hand.
Stoick gestured at the dragon. "Who did this?"
Hiccup figured he must have done something wrong, as usual. He hung his head. "I did this."
"WHAT?" bellowed Stoick. "You? You took down a Monstrous Nightmare?"
"Well, uhh, yeah, I did," Hiccup stammered. "I mean, my invention did." He was starting to wonder if he might have done a good thing after all, but with his father roaring at full volume, it was best to not say too much too soon.
Stoick looked at the helpless dragon again, rested his hands on his hips, and began to laugh. He laughed as the rest of the dragons finished their raid and flew away with whatever prey they could find. He laughed as the village finished putting out its fires, and as people gathered to find out what was so funny. He laughed in a way that the village hadn't heard since before his wife died. He laughed until he almost couldn't breathe.
At last, he stopped. "Everyone!" he bellowed. "Everyone, gather 'round and see what my son has done!" That got action. They all knew that, every time Hiccup stepped outside, disaster fell. Whatever he'd done this time, it would probably take days to clean up his mess. The only question was how many people had gotten hurt as a result.
But when the Vikings gathered on the cliffs, they found only Stoick, Hiccup, and an immobilized Monstrous Nightmare, helpless for the slaughter. Shocked whispers went through the crowd as Stoick nudged a reluctant Hiccup into the center of the group.
"Look at it!" he roared. "The Monstrous Nightmare, biggest and fiercest of all the dragons! Only the best Vikings go after those! And who got one tonight?" He looked around the crowd; no one answered, because the only possible answer was too unlikely to even consider. "Who got this one? My son." He rested a hand on Hiccup's shoulder, almost buckling the boy's knees. His face took on a kindly expression that Hiccup had not seen in many years. It began to sink in – after all of Hiccup's uncounted humiliating failures, after all his inventions that failed and devices that misfired, after all the misfortunes and accidents and calamities, he had finally, inadvertently done something right.
"I almost couldn't believe it when I saw it," Stoick went on. "After all these years of the worst Viking Berk has ever seen – Odin, it was rough! – but you can't argue with results. Look at the size of those results! And no one is more surprised, or more proud, than I am. Tonight, my son has become a Viking! Tonight, he has become one of us!" The villagers all cheered. Some of those cheers might have been relief that Hiccup hadn't broken anything tonight, but they were no less loud or heartfelt for that.
Off to the side, there were five who didn't cheer. They had spent the night fighting the fires the dragons started – necessary and important work, well-suited for teens who weren't warriors yet, but not very glamorous. They all wanted a piece of the real action. They all wanted to take up their weapons and kill dragons themselves. They were scheduled to begin Dragon Training in a few days, and compete for the ultimate prize, the right to kill a Monstrous Nightmare in front of the whole village.
And now, before their eyes, their hopes and dreams had been devalued to nothing, because someone else had done it first. Some other teen had brought down a Monstrous Nightmare before they even had a chance to try. And what mighty warrior-in-training had dared to step outside his role in the town, and taken it upon himself to even attempt such a mighty deed?
Hiccup the Useless.
It was so unfair.
Fishlegs looked glum. Ruffnut and Tuffnut were headed for another shoving match for some unknown, irrelevant reason; probably they just wanted to get their minds off of Hiccup. Snotlout was debating whether to mock his cousin, or go for some residual glory by reminding everyone that they were related. And Astrid, who was never far from her double-bladed axe even when on fire patrol, was looking for something substantial to throw it at. Nothing else would burn off the resentment that smoldered in her eyes. Maybe a burned-out building would do; no one would care if the scorched timbers had a few axe marks in them.
But in the center of the ring of cheering Vikings, Hiccup was daring to let himself smile. He had done it! He had finally proven himself; he had won the town's acceptance; and he had made his father proud. Surely, when he was old, he would look back on this night as one of the highlights of his life. No more Hiccup the Useless! Now, he was Hiccup the Dragon Fighter!
He took a good long look at his victim. It truly was huge. It towered over him, leaning to one side where its leg and wing were tied together. It tried to shake its head, but the ropes around its mouth were tightly connected to the rope around its legs. All it could do was look at him.
And it looked scared.
Hiccup looked into its huge eyes for few seconds, then turned away. He'd dreamed of taking down vicious, snarling, flaming dragons in the heat of battle. Killing a frightened animal that was tied up and helpless... that wasn't the same thing at all. He tried to tell himself that the glory would be the same; after all, he'd brought it down in the heat of battle.
But he couldn't get those eyes out of his mind. The Monstrous Nightmare, the biggest and fiercest of all dragons, knew was about to happen to it, and it was terrified.
Just like I would be, if I were tied up in my enemy's camp, Hiccup thought. He began to walk away. He'd brought down the dragon; he'd had enough glory for one night.
"Oh, no," his father chuckled. A huge hand spun him around and pointed him back at the dragon. "Finish what you started, son. Take that short sword of yours –" everyone knew it was just a dagger, because a dagger was the biggest weapon he could actually handle "– and slay your dragon! You earned this moment! Make us all proud!"
Hiccup looked up at the dragon's eyes again. They gave you a good name, he thought. This really is a nightmare. For both of us.