Did Anybody See That? Chapter 19
"Land, Captain! I saw some kind of land off the port bow!"
The captain put the helm over. "You'd better be right, Wartplanter! Row, all of you! If we miss this island, we're finished!"
The captain and crew were on their last legs. Four days ago, their fishing boat had been caught in a violent storm. They lost their mast and sail in the first ten minutes. Since then, the storm had blown them uncounted miles in unknown directions, and then blown out, leaving them in a fast-moving current with no sail, no food, and no idea where they were or which way they should try to go. They'd used the last of their drinking water yesterday. The land that Wartplanter had seen in the dark was their only hope of survival.
As the horizon lightened, they saw that they were approaching some kind of island. It had trees; that meant it had fresh water. They would live! They spent the last of their strength circling the little island, trying to find a place to land on the rocky shore. At last, they found a small cove with a tiny beach. They heaved until the bow crunched against the sand. They were safe.
They climbed out of the boat and collapsed on the sand. They lay there for several minutes, too tired after their ordeal to move.
"We need to find water," Wartplanter finally said.
"We need to offer a sacrifice to the gods, for saving us," the captain replied.
"It would be polite to get permission to land first," came an unfamiliar voice.
They all looked up. About thirty feet away stood a thin young man with an artificial leg, holding a three-month-old baby. Next to him stood an attractive young woman holding a double-bladed axe, and holding it like she knew how to use it. Behind them stood two fearsome-looking dragons, one black, one blue. The sailors froze. This was not the kind of welcoming committee they were expecting.
The young man went on. "I can see by your ship that you're sailors in distress. We don't want to be unkind, and we'll share what we have with you. The problem is that you know where we are. That's a secret we've been trying to keep."
"What are you, some kind of outcasts?" the first mate asked nervously.
"No, I got sentenced to Outcast Island for my first crime," the young man said with a trace of a smile. "I got pardoned for that one. Now I'm just under banishment. I'm not a violent criminal, although my dragon can get nasty if you make a move he doesn't like." The black dragon bared its teeth and snarled at that. "I'm also protective of my family, although, to be honest, part of my family can take pretty good care of me." He put his free arm on the woman's shoulder.
"We mean you no harm," the captain began. "I'm Captain Stintmore of the formerly-good ship Lollapalooza." He introduced his first mate and his three sailors.
"My name is Hiccup," the young man answered. "This is my wife, Astrid, and my son, Erik. Welcome to Hadderson Island. Our dragons are going to keep a close eye on you until we're sure you can be trusted. Please stay together; if you go in separate directions, you're harder to watch, and that makes us nervous. Deal?"
"We have no choice but to accept," the captain nodded. "We desperately need drinking water."
"We have plenty of that," Hiccup said. "Follow us, please." He and his wife turned and led the way up the island's one hill. The dragons waited until the nervous sailors passed them, then took up a rear-guard position.
They crossed the top of the hill and went down the other side until they came to a small stream. "Drink your fill," Hiccup said, waving at the stream with his hand. They fell on their knees and drank. The water was cold, sweet, and delicious, but they would have filled themselves on it even if it tasted like bilge water.
"We don't have much food to offer you at this moment," he continued. "We live on the fish that our dragons catch for us, meal by meal. We have a few fish dried and set aside for emergencies, but if you're as hungry as you are thirsty, you'd eat them all and leave us with nothing. That puts me in a bit of a bind."
"If you can help us with a mast and a sail, we'll leave you, and get food when we're safely back in Berk," the captain said. He noticed the wife's expression change when he mentioned Berk; he filed that away for possible future use. "You've got some straight trees here that would make good masts."
"Not happening," Hiccup said with a shake of his head. "This little island doesn't have many trees. We cut them down only in emergencies, and your ship isn't an emergency to us. We even bring our firewood from the mainland. Maybe we could fly a couple of you there, let you cut and trim a tree, then bring it back here."
"Fly us?" the first mate quavered. "You mean, we'd ride on those dragons?" The other sailors clearly weren't enamored of that idea, either.
Astrid whispered quickly in her husband's ear. "You sit here and wait, please; the dragons will keep you company," he said. "We have to talk this over. Toothless, Stormfly, guard these men!" The dragons sat down and glared at the sailors as the young man and woman stepped away.
They came back about fifteen minutes later. "We can offer you two choices," Hiccup said. "As the ship's captain, it's your decision to make.
"Choice number one: as we said, we can fly a couple of you to the mainland, where you can cut a new mast and yardarm for yourselves. We'd fly them back here. Then we'd fly two of you back to Berk, where you'd pull a used sail out of the sail-loft building. We'd leave the two sailors there and bring back the sail, where the other three of you would mount it and sail home.
"With all that flying, it would take several days to finish the project. We can use only one of our dragons at a time, because one of them has to stay here and keep an eye on the rest of you. And we would require every one of you to swear an oath never to reveal our location to anyone."
"What's our other option?" the captain asked.
Astrid answered that one. "We fly all five of you home on the dragons, and you leave your ship here. You don't need to swear any oaths because, the way we'll fly, you'll never be able to retrace your course."
"What do you want with our ship?" Wartplanter wanted to know.
"We don't actually want it, but since you'd have to leave it behind, we'd make use of it," Hiccup answered. "I'd use the boards and timbers to help build a cottage by the water, so we aren't cooped up in the cave when the weather is good. The iron nails and fittings would be even more useful to me; I can use dragon fire to melt them and form them into anything I want."
"Well, I'm not swearing any oaths," the first mate decided. "Captain, don't you know who these people are? They're the ones the chief is looking for! He offered two hundred silver marks to anyone who can tell where they are, and I can use that kind of money!"
"Afraid not," Astrid replied. "We need our privacy more than you need the money. No matter what your captain decides, you're going directly to Berk, do not pass 'Go,' do not collect two hundred marks."
The captain sighed deeply. "I'm kind of fond of that leaky old ship," he said heavily. "She's brought us through many a storm and high wind. But now that my big-mouthed first mate has spilled the beans, I know all my sailors will try to claim that reward if they can. I get the notion you don't want that. I guess we'll all have to go home by air. You islanders just got yourselves a ship."
"You'll stay here until nightfall," Hiccup decided. "We'll feed you the same meals we eat ourselves; our dragons can bring back some extra fish for you. After it's dark, we'll load you up, two on my dragon and three on hers, and you'll be home before sunrise. Feel free to claim any personal belongings from your ship, and you may wander around the island if you want to. Is there anything else you need while you're here with us?"
Everyone shook their heads except Wartplanter. "I'm curious to see how the two of you live," he said.
"The three of us," Astrid corrected him. "Speaking of which, I need to go feed Erik. My husband can show you where we live." She found a discreet place to feed the baby, who was beginning to fuss. Hiccup gestured with his head for Wartplanter to follow him back up the hill.
"This is pretty impressive," the sailor commented as he looked around the cave. "I wouldn't mind retiring to a place like this."
"We're low on luxuries, but we have all the basics," Hiccup nodded. "We can't make everything ourselves, but we've done some trading with a village far to the north for things like candles and boots. We're quite comfortable here. That's why we don't want anyone else to know where we are. We'd hate to be chased out of here; I doubt we'd ever find a similar place."
Back outside the cave, Wartplanter scanned the horizon. There was no other land in sight, not even a tiny islet. This place could be very difficult to find by accident. If these islanders wanted to be left alone, they'd chosen a near-perfect place to do it.
The sailors watched from the cliffs as the two dragons repeatedly dove at the sea and came up with some fine fish to eat. Hiccup supervised the cooking, while Astrid dried and salted the extra fish for another day. Between lunch and supper, the afternoon passed slowly and awkwardly. The sailors felt like prisoners, but they understood that their hosts had little choice in the matter. Neither group had much to say to the other.
As the sun disappeared into the sea, Hiccup and Astrid saddled their dragons. "The captain and first mate ride with me," Hiccup said. "The other three ride on Astrid's dragon."
"Three of them, with one woman?" the captain wondered. "Aren't you worried they'll try to take over, or something?"
"Nope. The instant Stormfly hears me cry out, or feels me do anything unusual, she'll buck off all her passengers, then dive and catch me," Astrid told them. "It's not like riding a horse."
"She's warned you," the captain admonished his crew. "Don't try anything. We just want to get home in one piece." They all climbed aboard; Astrid carried Erik in a sling.
The flight to Berk was uneventful... for the dragon trainers. For the sailors, it was mostly low-key fear, mixed with moments of hard-core panic. The dragons changed course every few minutes, and did some complete spins to throw off their passengers' sense of direction. The overcast kept them from seeing the stars, so they truly had no idea where they'd been or how they got home from there.
At last, they touched down on the cliffs of Berk. A couple of the sailors were seen to fall on their hands and knees and kiss the ground before they ran off to their homes and families. The captain remained behind.
"I want to thank you both for your kindness to me and my crew," he said. "You didn't ask us to join you, and I can understand your position. Still, if I had to be shipwrecked again, I'd rather do it on your island than anyplace else I can think of. We certainly ate better on your island than we ever did at sea."
"Thank you, captain," Hiccup nodded. "We appreciate that you agreed to keep our location private." He waited until the old salt was well out of sight, then turned to his wife. "Our dragons are probably tired from hauling all those passengers. Do you think your parents would mind us spending the night? I can hide the dragons in the cove, and then walk back."
"Good idea," she nodded. They flew over to the Hofferson home, where Astrid and Erik received their usual ecstatic welcome. Hiccup and Toothless, with Stormfly following, flew out to their cove. It took Hiccup over an hour to walk back in the dark. Everyone agreed it would be best to get some sleep, and spend time together in the morning.
That time together was interrupted by a polite knock at the door. Edda answered it. It was Stoick, accompanied by Spitelout. "Mrs. Hofferson, may we come in? This is a legal matter."
Hiccup went pale. He'd been caught violating his banishment. They could send him to Outcast Island for that. Astrid passed the baby to him. That could mean only one thing: she wanted her hands free in case she had to fight for him. He saw her scanning the walls in search of a weapon.
Stoick ducked his head to get into the house, followed by his second-in-command. He greeted Gunnarr and Astrid, said hello to Erik, then faced Hiccup.
"I've received some interesting reports about that Berserker blockade," he began. "Several witnesses have told me they saw streaks of white light, and purple sparks, along with ships burning, several nights in a row. Would I be right in guessing that we should thank you and your dragons for breaking that blockade for us?" Hiccup and Astrid both nodded, somewhat embarrassed.
"Interesting," the chief continued. "Hiccup, the first time you broke the law, you got out of it by the law of restitution – you killed a bigger dragon than the one you let escape. It appears that you've done it again – you got in trouble for burning a partial house, but you've paid us back by burning something of much greater value, namely, a fleet of Berserker warships. You can thank your father-in-law for bringing that to my attention. I've also just gotten a good report from Captain Stintmore about how you treated him and his crew when they were stranded on your island.
"Spitelout, Gunnarr, you were present at our meeting a few nights ago; you are my witnesses. Hiccup, the village council has decided to offer you a full pardon for any and all crimes you've committed up until now." Astrid and Edda heaved a sigh of relief; Gunnarr shook his son-in-law's hand warmly. Stoick nodded at Spitelout, who turned and left.
When it was Stoick's turn to shake Hiccup's hand, the young man asked, "One question, Dad. How did you know I was here? We did a better job of hiding the dragons this time."
"You did," the chief smiled, "but I've learned that the Hoffersons don't burn their lights late at night unless they have visitors. I always know when visitors come to my village, so when their candles are lit when it's late and I don't know why, it can only be for one reason."
"We'll have to find ways to be less predictable," Gunnarr decided.
"Does this mean you'll be coming home soon?" Stoick asked eagerly.
Hiccup took a quick glance at Astrid, then shook his head. "No, Dad, I don't think that would be a good idea.
"For one thing, it's just a matter of time before I find another law to break, and I can't count on another technicality to get me off the hook. For another thing, no one except the Hoffersons and you really misses me here. Everyone else will view me as a pardoned criminal and nothing else. I'd never feel at home with neighbors who think like that. I've already tried it once; it didn't work.
"We've got a place of our own that suits us, and we're really happy there. If there aren't any limits on me visiting, then yes, we'll visit more often. We need a better place to trade for the things we can't make ourselves, and I'd like to buy some chickens, and a bag of grain now and then to feed them. Someday, Erik will need kids his own age to play with. And, of course, Astrid really needs to stay in touch with her family.
"We'll be in frequent contact, but this can never be my home again. I appreciate the thought, Dad, but... I'm just too different. I've found a place where I fit in, and Berk isn't that place."
"That's not quite true," Astrid corrected him. "You've made a place where you fit in."
Stoick was clearly disappointed. "But that means you can never be the chief after me. I had hoped to retire some day and hand the tribe off to you, son."
"I can't say what the future holds, Dad. The day may come when I want to come back and live here. But today, there aren't enough reasons for me to stay."
"I have to respect that," the big man nodded slowly. "You're a free man, a husband and a father, and I might even call you the master of your own place, wherever it is. To be honest, I'd rather see you once every few months, and know you're happy and staying out of trouble, than to see you every day and wonder if this was the day I'd have to send you away forever.
"I can see now that you aren't going to change to fit in with my world. You'll never be who I wanted you to be. But you're very good at being yourself, and you're also good at changing the world around you so it fits with you. You won't live my dream, but you're doing well at living your own dream.
"I guess that's what they call 'being a man.' I'm proud of you, son."
Hiccup pulled his wife and son close, and swallowed hard.
"Thanks, Dad. That means a lot to me. I'm glad I have your approval, but do you know what? I'm past the point where I desperately needed that approval. I'm not 'Hiccup the Useless' any more. I'm Hiccup, the chief of Hadderson Island – we're a small tribe, but we're growing, and we've even started our own dragons' nest. My wife is happy, my son is healthy, and I've made a life that's great for me. I know I'm doing what's best, and it doesn't matter if anyone else is for me or against me. Even you, Dad."
Stoick nodded and smiled. "In that case, there's no 'guess' about it. You are a man!"
(I mean it this time!)
At some point in early February 2015, this story passed the 100,000-hit mark. That makes it my third story to reach a six-digit hit count. To all the readers who helped this story reach that mark, thank you.