Chapter 24: A Treacherous Choice
Chapter 24: A Treacherous Choice
Chapter 24: A Treacherous Choice

7th Mar 2013, 5:16 PM

by inhonoredglory

"No, no no NO!"

Fishlegs sputtered and almost tripped the fifth time on one too many conspiring tree roots. His legs were too short and the forest was too big. The dragon screeches were fading already, the shouts of men dimming with the distance, and with it, dwindled his last fragments of hope. He didn't know what happened -- he was too late to prevent whatever happened from happening. Gosh it was all his fault. Sure, Astrid was better at this sort of thing than he was, he couldn't catch up with her anyway to fight the Skirra Vél without a weapon and without his Meatlug. The plan had failed, his friends were captured, and he was utterly alone.

"I hate this," he moaned, put a hand over his mouth at the close clatter of metal against metal striking beyond, in the black tangle of trees. He gritted his teeth and kept running parallel to the sound, a continual thudding of moving bodies not too far. His bare arms stung with the slap of branches, and he wasn't all too certain their wasn't some nasty bog nearby ready to swallow his ankles in muck. If only he had Meatlug -- dear, poor Meatlug. He lost his friend helping Hiccup save his dragon, and now, was there no one left to do the saving?

If Hiccup and Toothless couldn't outrun them, if Astrid couldn't outfight them . . . he gulped. What chance did an Ingerman have?

:: ::

Few things took place on the island of Herkja that commanded so much attention as the escape and recapture of the enemy's son and the greatest dragon the area had ever seen. Children stayed up and wandered the streets, curious not only with the wild dragons caged in their midst, but with the rushing mass of warriors that they had not seen for months, and of course with the news that the enemy was among them, children at that. It made for news. For the older people, who speculated that the enemy might be coming near, it made for nervousness and for others, a brash defiance. Local meade halls overflowed with old men lifting their mugs. "May justice be done!" And curious women's eyes watched the men, their hearts alive with fear and excitement at the thoughts of upcoming battle. "Not on our island?" "My husband would never let such scum win." "Your husband? Bah, mine shall eat the brutes for breakfast!" And they laughed, herded their young ones into the homes. "But what if we lose?" would ask one, but the Skirra Vél were a confident folk, and few asked such questions.

But in the houses of the slaves, there was always a hope. War might mean the end of their tribe, but the choice was whether one thought of themselves as a part of the tribe or not. Some, the older members of the unfree, loved the land, had sacrificed so much to save her. Others, newcomers, fresh from the mainland with new languages, foreign religions, odd customs, they had no love for this place, no love for their captors, and no reason not to rise up and rebel, except for the punishment that kept all slaves docile.

Iggy had caught a sickness, from one of the many slaves with him, Hervi believed, and the old slave took it upon himself to remove him from the rest of them and tend to his illness. Noor cocked her head at him, as he entered Rune Haddock's slave house, and Hervi knew she was questioning his logic on this.

"He was sick," he said simply, his arms full of the spirited child. Hervi was respected in the village, even among the rest of the townsfolk, and he could use his own sense of negotiation to get his way often. The guards at the slavepen could hardly turn him down. Besides, it was only until the child was well, and would the masters even notice? What with the war coming?

Iggy coughed, let out a big grin. "I'd be fine, honest."

"No, Iggy--" Hervi sighed, turning from Noor and walking past the central fire pit in the small structure. Noor mumbled curses in her native tongue, wiped her hands forcefully on her dirty apron. Hervi smirked, lay the boy down on his cot, covered him in a blanket. Iggy smiled up, his lips thin and he coughed again, blinked and wiped his eyes. "I'll get you some soup." He patted his old, wrinkled hand on the child's forehead, stepped away. Noor was taking a pot out already, knowing his intent. She glanced at him, a homey criticalness in her sharp black eyes.

He swallowed. "You've heard that they captured the Hooligan boy, haven't you?"

Noor stopped, looked at him with those wide, innocent eyes. She blinked, nudged her head down, clicked her tongue critically.

Hervi bit his lip, took a poker and shoved the embers around in the fire pit. "I have to check on him, with the Blood Daggers." A pressure formed in his throat and he coughed into his fist lightly. He never looked forward to finding the victims of the executions. Those dragons usually picked them to the bone, and even then, sometimes more. There often wasn't much to come back to. But just a boy, just a young man, and so innocent . . . Why did Heather have to do it? He looked up from the fire, to Iggy, his little fingers playing with the blanket on him. Sometimes he hated her.

:: ::

I'm not going to die. I can't let this happen.

The thoughts ran wild in his head, made the journey back to the town a whirlwind of nonsense, and a blur of burning torches orange and almost white against the dark black of the town. Hiccup was thrown over the back of some warrior's horse, his tired legs dangling off the left side, bound hands hanging down to the horse's legs. The pressure on his abdomen helped somewhat to ease the pain there, but his shoulder, warped as it was now, gave him no rest. He fought the urge to scream at every pounding step of the horse's gate. He was getting delirious now, in that sudden raging pain, he could tell in the few scraps of consciousness that still held him. Sleeplessness, fear, a torture of pain, and the waning adrenaline, it all conspired against him, and he wanted to fight, wanted to slide off maybe and make a run for it, but he knew his body wouldn't let him. He thought he heard Astrid, still screaming, and Toothless, his unmistakable growl yelping in a moan that was meant for him, calling to him -- but, later, as the air warmed with the glow of fire, and the hum of people in voices he couldn't hear, Astrid's voice was gone and Toothless, he thought he heard him, but didn't have the strength to look up and see. For a moment he thought maybe he'd end up dying right here and now, on the back of the horse, before being executed at all. The image of his father faded into his confused mind suddenly, and he didn't know what to say to him.

I-- I'm sorry, Dad . . .

The horse halted suddenly and he sighed, let his arms hang down, the pain all the same no matter what he did. Gruff hands slid him off the animal, and he felt the ground hit him suddenly, snap against his right shoulder blade as he rolled onto his back. The faces above him were dark and ugly, different with the uniqueness of individuals, but human? Suddenly those faces looked like stone, hard, cold, and heartless.

"Why?" he tried to say, but nothing choked out of his parched throat. The next thing he knew they were pulling him to his feet, dragging him towards that stone structure where he'd just come from to free Toothless. Doors opened and he felt the vast open circle of this ring, the pungent smell of alcohol-hinted smoke sparking into his lungs. Astrid, where had they taken her? And Toothless-- no, please not. He looked up suddenly, saw in a moment of sanity a line of faces above the walls, watching him, some of those eyes full of hate, some of shock, of surprise, and a few of curiosity. There was a familiar figure, that girl in town he'd met, and he looked away, the effort to stare too much for his eyes.

Another stone door opened before him and they threw him in, the cold stone of the corridor sharp against his weak body. Some foreign ugly smell came coughing up into his lungs, like mold and things decaying, and a stale dirty water lapping up his face, before someone pulled him up again and he tried to get a grip on the ground with his foot and metal leg. He was sliding, the pain almost a monotony now, and the tunnel was dark and cold, lonely and thick with the hum of captured dragons. He forced a clarity into his mind, felt a sharp hurt to see them like this, for these people didn't care about the dragons, they just wanted them for war. He gasped out something unintelligible, even to him, and they yanked at him again, on his arms that could barely take it anymore. It was all a blur, pain and fear and a fighting spirit that had almost been beat to the ground.

"No," he yelled at last, jabbing his arms sideways, setting the men off balance. The faint torch light in the tunnel wavered in his vision, and he could barely see beyond the darkness ahead. The man on his left snarled suddenly, jerked Hiccup close to him. "Shut up, brat, we know what you've done." He pushed Hiccup forward again and the ground slipped under him. Hiccup yelped as he slid down, let out a scream when the stone collided with the front of his right shoulder.

"Hiccup--"

Hiccup winced, his mind reacting to the sound of his name, in a familiar voice, the cold rock against his face, but the arms grabbed him again and he was pulled up. He looked out, frantically, for the owner of that voice. It was Ruffnut-- where?

"What's happening? Hey--!"

Tuffnut, now, an anger in his voice, and the man on Hiccup's right lashed an arm out behind him, gruffly turned back. "What's it to you?"

"He's our friend, what are you doing to him?" said Tuffnut again, insulted and hot.

"You're hurt--!" Snotlout's voice, shocked.

Hiccup raised his head, the immense effort to do so surprising him. He caught sight of them, behind metal bars in one of the cells that lined this whole place. Before he could say anything, they pushed him forward again, into the darkness and the descending passage. Hiccup choked out something, knew it was too late for them to hear him, and besides, what good would it do? He felt like falling, fainting dead away and just letting whatever would happen to him be over and happened. Whatever now, he just wanted a past tense to things like hurting and hopelessness, fighting back and pushing on. But it wasn't hopeless. Was it? There was always hope. He gasped in a breath, looked out, but it was dark now, even the torchlights behind him in the tunnel back there were fading. The dragon hissing and hums were distant now, and he could only sense them, like ever-present ghosts in the air, he could feel them watching the harried passage of this lone figure into the darkness, and somehow he could feel their fear, as if something ahead was frightening even to them. A chill ran up Hiccup's nerves, and he pushed away those impressions in the back of his mind. Sometimes knowing dragons so well didn't do you very good, if you didn't want to believe what you were feeling.

What was down there anyway?

There was a creak suddenly, and his feet found the ground get uneven, like jagged, unsanded rocks, still part of the larger cavern, but hardly traversed by feet . . . in a long while, he ventured to suppose. There was a new coldness, and a different air suddenly, clammy and salty. He sniffed and knew there was water down there. The man on his right let go suddenly, stepped forward in the darkness. Water splashed and its crisp sound made Hiccup shiver.

"They're ready," said the man in the darkness, and the man behind Hiccup grabbed both his shoulders and shoved him forward. Water splashed and the frigid liquid drenched up Hiccup's boot, soaked his clothing. His teeth chattered and he splashed forward, tripping on the floor that sloped deeper and deeper into the water. The men said something sharp and quiet to one another, and they swirled him in unison suddenly, pushing him down. He gasped as the cold engulfed him, splashing his face, sending shards of sharpness up his body. He slid into a sitting position on the stony floor, the water lapping up to his neck. The cuts in his body screamed at him suddenly, as the water found them, and the scream in his throat choked on itself and he only shut his eyes tight and pressed his lips together. There was something hard and long behind him, and suddenly his arms were being unfastened and pulled behind it. His voice found its way out again, in a thin gasp, as his left shoulder was pulled behind what was some kind of pillar in the cave, hard and gnarly, a natural formation like rock. He flinched as he tried to lean to his left to ease some of his pain. His hands tightened around the rocky pole. The water waved around him, someone moving past. The other man sloshed past him, rubbed a hand over Hiccup's hair, pushing his chin into the water.

He leaned back onto the pole, couldn't feel himself in the burning numbness that ebbed over him in spasms. The men moved up, he could feel the water still splashing from their motion, and then the sound of metal, of a chain being pulled. He looked up, couldn't see far in the darkness, but that sound, it was so sharp now and horrible above him, scraping thin and gritted over the top of the cavern. It wasn't too far up, but that metal, it was dragging along the ceiling, pulled by-- he could hear the men grunt and gasp at the effort, and behind him now, in the even darker blackness, the scrape of a gate opening, the water sliding off whatever was being raised.

He didn't have a good feeling about this. He forced himself to turn around to the right, let the water lap up to his shoulder, trying to ignore the fact that his left side was soaked in salty water and now screaming at him. He winced and opened his eyes, squinting and then he saw it--

Cold, living eyes shining dimly in the blackness, barely visible, but hints there he could pick out. He inhaled, snapped back and faced ahead, heard the grumble ahead of him of laughter or was it fright? In those men pulling at the chains, their footsteps chasing up the passage now, the clatter of their weapons at their sides as the sound of their flight vanished up in the darkness.

Hiccup inhaled, felt the presence of this new enemy, felt the fear mingle anew with his pain, and his breath increased, the wild panic in his heart making him dizzy in his exhaustion. He gasped, propped his left leg up, the metal scraping on the ground under him, the water sloshing and the stone cold and lifeless. He didn't want to turn around, but he felt them, many of them, those creatures coming close and soon upon him.

:: ::

She was shaking, and she knew why.

Just let it be over, and let this madness pass. Heather couldn't stand herself like this. He was guilty, guilty for so much, and yet why was she plagued with what seemed so much like guilt now?

The boy had wanted to die.

She reined in her horse, and the animal whinnied, somehow feeling the confusion of her rider. Heather shook her head. Why had he not chosen the life she'd offered him . . . Was he somehow so cunning as to make his own loss a victory? Was fate so evil that she refused to give her a moment's rest, that she wouldn't give her father a moment's peace from the injustice that had driven him to the edge of insanity?

She could see afar now, the horse and rider that was carrying the boy to his death. He was weak, and shouldn't that be enough? Fire welled up in her heart. No, the boy was strong, in the things he said and chose -- maybe even stronger than, than . . . But she would not admit that. She would die for her father, if it came to that. She kicked her horse's sides, yelled and rode forward through the town and the black shadows that mingled in and out of sight. The people, an uneasy mix of cheers from them, for capturing the prize dragon and the boy, yet underneath, the hum of confusion which she knew sprung from the dragon training that was already afoot, albeit sloppily, as she had been told upon entering the town.

The house of Rune Haddock stood before her, in a space between the houses and thatched cottages, the roof high and arching into a carved dragon, a thin tapered head and a long, twisting, cracked wooden neck, the first great dragon he'd killed after his self-imposed exile, that killer dragon from the sea, a Blood Dagger, before its maniacal jaws could consume him. Those creatures were vicious, but fate was against the beast from the sea, for it had met her father as he was leaving Berk, and all the anger and sadness on his heart doomed all who came in his way.

"Dad!" she called, dismounting her horse and snapping her feet onto the packed earth outside the house. Did he know Hiccup was still alive? Those hours between the escape and now, it could have done horrors to his mind. If even she was vexed by fate, how much more him whom fate had long been so cruel?

Her father opened the door before she got there. "Heather." He spoke her name with a strange uncertainty and she stopped, looked at him. Her cape waved in her sudden halt, the ground crunched as her feet pressed down into the gravel. That tone in his voice, it was nuanced with anger, frustration, and in the edge of her name, a breathless exhaustion.

So he knew. "Stoick's boy--" she started.

"Is alive." That voice was severe.

"It's not like I planned that." Her voice became unnecessarily sharp.

"That's not the point." The door began to close and Rune backed away into it. She could feel it, that seething anger, and it made her angry suddenly. "Dad--" she shouted, and jumped up and held the door open. He turned back to her, gazed down and solemnly. She didn't say anything, pursed her lips but kept her eyes on him, bidding him to once, listen and believe-- that things weren't as bad as they seemed. "It's not over," she whispered, her voice edged in anger. He had to believe that.

There was a chilled silence from him. He blinked once and turned his head away, stepped down within the house, towards the empty hearth in the center. It was dark, the fire only faint glowing embers. A cold had seeped in, and yet her father was not wearing his cloak, nor the thick boots he so often wore on the coldest nights. She stepped close to him, his back still turned on her, and she smelled the perspiration that was moistening his hair, small beads hanging on the edge of his cheek. He was always this way when he was in the midst of an attack, when his mind went out on him and that old horror filled his mind. Her fists clenched. Was it ever enough? Was anything she did, she tried so desperately to do, was it ever enough to heal him? "Dad--" She clapped a hand to his forearm gently.

"Get away from me!" he shouted, slapping her arm away, and she gasped, stepped back and then put her foot forward, pressing her hand into a fist. "So what if he's alive," she almost shouted, "so what if he's here--"

"So what?" He faced her suddenly, and she saw in his face that shadow of abhorrence that had made him a name among the lands of the conquered, that had sent fear into the mainlanders who dared cross his path. "So what?" his voice quieted, and a hushed gravity entered it.

"I killed for you, Dad."

"You tried."

A gasp of pain hit her heart, and she almost broke the stare. "Doesn't that count?"

His black eyes were full of life suddenly, but the life of his madness and hate, the hardness that morphed seamlessly into a soft vulnerability, unfulfilled longings and despair, sadness . . . heartbreak that seemed suddenly beyond her power to heal. His voice was barely audible. "No."

:: ::

Seeing Hiccup down here put a damper on what little hope the kids had in their jail cell under the mountain. Tuffnut grew quiet and Snotlout, goodness Snotlout . . . Ruffnut wrinkled her nose. He was starting to get snappy, frustrated. And when Snotlout got frustrated, things didn't come out with much sense -- or tact.

"You'd think Hiccup had a brighter plan than-- this." Snotlout flung his arms out, his eyes blinking.

"Yeah, didn't hear your brilliant plan yet--" rasped Tuffnut, crossing his arms, and pulling his legs up in his seated position on the floor.

"Hiccup led us here in the first place." Snotlout let his hands illustrate again. "So it's his fault, isn't it?"

"Shove a sock in it," Ruffnut snapped, slapping her fist into her palm. She's heard about just enough. They were all in this cruddy boat together, no need to go making holes in the bottom. This wasn't a time for the blame game. Especially with Snotlout, who seemed to have lost the directional compass on his pointing finger. She whispered pointedly to Snotlout. "Isn't it bad enough that Hiccup is captured now, rotting away like us somewhere in this rat hole?"

Snotlout scoffed, turned away and stared at the blank wall to his left.

"The creeps stabbed him if you haven't forgotten." She lilted an eyebrow at him, and he folded his arms slowly, and rolled over in his dark corner. A clammy silence settled on her, and she flicked it off, moved over besides Tuffnut's quiet shape backed against the bars facing the tunnel, on the opposite corner of Snotlout. She sighed and flung her back against them, nudged her shoulder wordlessly against her twin and flung a glance over his shoulder. The bars stung cold, but she didn't care. She curled around and pressed her cheek harder against them, the dimness outside the cell suddenly losing all the charm of its grime. Except for the low, constant growl of discontent dragons, the gentle, out of place humming of some folk tune by the other prisoner opposite them, and the click of creatures in the crevices . . . other than that, the dark tunnel was quiet. Hiccup had been led down there just a little while ago, and he didn't get a chance to say where. She'd been unnerved, to see him. Hiccup wasn't a kid who scared easily, but this time, he honestly looked horrified. She'd never seem him like that.

Tuffnut shifted his face towards hers, twisting his neck around while still shoving his back against the bars. He was serious again. "Quit worrying. Wherever he is, at least he won't be bored to death like yours truly in this pit."

She tried to chuckle at his lame attempt at a joke, but she couldn't laugh, not now. She sighed, said what they both knew. "This isn't funny anymore."

He nudged his head down, bit his lip. The faint glow in the hall suddenly shifted. There was some loud creak out of sight, gruff words, and she could see men now, not many, but not alone. They were entering a cell just ahead and across, and they had a prisoner. A slim girl carried in the arms of one man, a girl strangely dazed and unaware, her arms and legs dangling limp and her golden braid dirtied and twisted and way too familiar. They all knew the moment they laid eyes on her. "Astrid!"

:: ::

Hiccup willed his heart to calm, locked his jaw to focus. The sound of his captors was gone now, far away up in the tunnel, and the darkness here was lit ever so gently with the faint green-yellow glow of those eyes behind him. Hiccup swallowed, felt the scared parchness of his throat. The water lapped ahead of him, the vibrations coming from behind, the crisp sound muddling with more waves, and now a gentle hum, growing thicker and focused, with lilts of nuance from one creature to the other. They were threatening, deep, touched with curiosity. Hiccup knew those sounds, heard them from dragons for years, from Toothless even, and he knew that smell which was slowly filling the space now. So it was by the hands of dragons that they sent him here to die. There was a strange comfort in that, because Hiccup, despite everything, thought that maybe he could get out of this one. He was the Dragon Whisperer, wasn't he?

Something bright drifted into the left side of his vision and he inhaled quickly, found a pair of glowing eyes gazing at him. A claw scratched his arm suddenly, scraped on the chains around his hands. Stay calm, don't be afraid. Two fist-sized eyes suddenly blinked at him, a handbreadth from his face. The dragon's mouth opened, the glow from his mouth almost blinding Hiccup a moment. He shut his eyes, turned his head. Something jabbed at his boot, took hold of the metal of his left leg. Fear jumped up his nerves, and he breathed, calmly, forcefully, steadily, willing his heart to calm. They can feel fear, he told himself pointedly. He inhaled again, bent his head down, just breathed.

The dragons growled, hummed, nudged him, some forcefully, some gently. He could feel curiosity in their movements, and he kept still, knew that acting like this would be different for them. They must have been used to writhing prey. He swallowed the lump in his throat, peeked out at them, those thin glowing eyes blinking and their bodies, ephemeral shapes in the darkness and the water.

He had to use his one weapon, compassion.

He cleared his throat, looked up, at those eyes revolving around him, the strips of light gleaming out from under closed mouths. "It's all right," he said out loud, forcing flat the waver in his voice. A dragon lashed into him suddenly, baring his teeth, scraping his forehead. Hiccup held back a gasp as the thin cut bled suddenly. He closed his eyes, focused. "Don't be afraid," he said, stronger this time, to himself. He took a deep breath, looked steadily into one of the glowing green eyes. The dragon stared back at him, his head and eyes gently turning. A dragon growled behind him, and Hiccup could feel claws by his legs and side. "It's going to be okay," he hummed, knowing it wasn't so much what he said now, but how he said it. "Shhhhh."

Hiccup let his body relax, let the dragons wash past him, let them prod his arms and feet. He inhaled, rose his frame up the pillar, saw another pair of eyes and the dragon that went with it. He squinted past the glare in his mouth and found the shape, a rounded, tapering head, long neck, the flared fins flowing down from the throat, the glistening metal around his neck. A chain.

"They've captured you, too . . ." he said, softly, squinting to see the broken condition of those chains, nicked on the edges and scummy. The dragon's eyes perked, and he looked closer at Hiccup. Sympathy, that's all these creatures needed. "How long has it been?" Hiccup said. So long as he could give them that understanding and comfort these dragons probably never received in however long they had been here . . . The dragon angled his head, a crease furrowing that now green eye. The dragon paused, looked at his companions. He moved towards Hiccup suddenly, his eyes staring deeply, his gleaming mouth and silhouetted teeth scraping Hiccup's shoulder.

Hiccup squinted up, looked back intently at the dragon through the light. The dragon blinked, sloshed the water to look yet closer. Hiccup leaned back, the glowing eyes so close now. The dragon pushed his snout into the boy's cheek, breathing a wet breath into it. Hiccup inhaled quickly, as the dragon moved the boy's face to the side, snorting. But the creature only growled quietly, turned his eyes to the others. They hummed gutturally, looked back at Hiccup, descended under the surface of the water. Hiccup followed the glow of their mouths lower around him, surrounding him, their thin black backs slicing up out of the water. Two of them lay their heads down beside him, their bodies warm and pushed up against him, a tail floating somewhere behind him, wafting intermittently into his arm. Bubbles popped to the surface as they breathed. Hiccup leaned his head back, sloped his back and just let the water lap up his chin and ears. He eyed the dragons around him, let his breathing steady. The pain of his wounds came humming back, and he gritted his teeth. It wasn't safe, yet, but for now . . . at least he was alive.

:: ::

The world is a dark place, a very, very dark place.

She watched the passing villagers, the warriors with their metal and their swords, the children excited in the newness of dragons in their midst, the women herding them back for bed and the men, harried looks on their faces, as they roamed from cage to cage and stared in at the dragons their chief and chieftess expected them to train.

Where was her Council anyway?

She looked around, from her seat outside the house of her father. Inside, she could still hear him, spitting angry curses and wishing death and pain on the child and his father, the cursed offspring locked away in the dragon's den. She had tried to speak sense to him, had tried desperately to calm him, but the knowledge that Hiccup was still alive, it cut him, and there was no calming him, not for a while. After the loss they'd suffered at Berk, and now, with an uneasy sense of dragon training in the air, and the prize dragon, which she didn't want to kill, against his wishes, again . . . She was sure it was all conspiring against him and his delicate health. She lay her head in her palms, breathed in, out, and clasped her teeth together. She had the strangest notion that the boy would haunt them still, even after his death, if it were so. Fate was close here, much too close to let her guard down.

Someone approached her suddenly, his shadow sudden and sharp over her, the orange torchlight suddenly gone from her knees. She looked up, saw Ragnar, her Councilmember, over her.

"Did he do that to you?" he said suddenly, pointing to her.

She snapped a hand over her left arm, knew it was the colored bruise he had seen. She pulled it into the darkness of her waist. "What's it to you?"

"It's not a secret." He looked around briefly, those thin eyes glancing at the town, covered in darkness and torchlights as it was, rocky ground flickering in the light. He leaned down towards her, laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "We know how he is . . . at times."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "No, you don't."

He broke the stare, put his hands into his belt and blew out into the night air. "Dragon training is not going very well."

"It won't happen overnight."

He glanced down to her. "Somehow I think that's what we need."

She leered at him, pursed her lips and sighed. "You've learned, I've learned. The Hooligans told us everything. What's left to need?"

Ragnar stepped away, down the steps that ran up to her bench and the chief's house. His boots clapped against the stone, and as he moved, the light came glowing back over her knees. "If only that boy had agreed to train for us."

"Well he didn't." Her voice was sharp, irritated.

"What are you going to do with him?" he asked suddenly, turning to her.

She looked up at him. "What do you mean, do with him? His body?" She could hardly read his face in the darkness.

"Haven't you heard?" His voice was mildly surprised, mild only because he couldn't be honestly surprised, knowing something his leader did not know. It wouldn't be respectful. But she didn't feel like a leader right now. She was simply a desperate soul, hoping against hope that not another glitch had happened in a plan already full of scars and disorder. "What happened?" she said, in a calmness that was not representative of her heart.

She suddenly saw Hervi coming up the stone walkway. Ragnar put a hand out to the slave. "He told me. And I guess he's here to tell you now."

Hervi spoke, gasped out with a relief that went against everything she knew was right. "Hiccup's alive. He's still alive."

:: ::

The voice of that man was barely enough to keep Hiccup awake. He had slept, at long last, in the horrible cold of the cavern deep in the mountain, in the waters of the sea. The pain had become a monotony, and the sharpness of the water had become a numbing blanket on him, the hanging thoughts of death had become a distant memory, as dreams, pleasant dreams breathed into his mind. He rolled his head over the headrest of the pole behind him, still lost in a world of his creation. Astrid was there, and Toothless, the kids. He seemed older, somehow, and yet he was still the same. He could see himself, a young man, and he was holding something, giving it to Astrid. The thing was happy, crying, flapping out tiny hands and feet, and in an instant he knew it was a child. A wind blew into his dream suddenly, made the scene dark and horrible, and Toothless nudged at him, kept nudging and he didn't move, felt locked in place, his father and Astrid gone, the kids' laughter somewhere far away, and the touch of grass and pine leaves rubbing at his arms. Toothless nudged again, pressing, urgent and definite and Hiccup mumbled to him. The dragon responded, "The boy is alive."

And then Hiccup awoke, lashed open his eyes to a scene of bright light, bright to him who had been in a darkness for hours. He gasped, found that it wasn't Toothless who was speaking to him, but people at the entrance of the cavern, each holding flaming torches and keeping their distance from the water. He breathed in again, through his mouth, gasping breaths. The air was crowded with stench, and thin. He closed his eyes from the light of the fires, and felt a dragon in the water nudging him, in a strange repetitive motion, the snout rubbing against his side, seemingly smelling something. Hiccup regretted the moment he put his attention to that, for he felt suddenly, sharply, painfully what the dragon was curious about. His wounds hadn't had a chance to heal, and now, sitting open and fresh in ocean water, they still bled and tortured him.

He clenched his teeth and let out a pained breath. The dragon backed away gently, then pressed in again, harder this time and Hiccup inhaled thinly. He focused ahead again at the people, to get his mind somewhere else, and saw in the mixed silhouettes figures bending down and pulling. The dragon yelped suddenly, shocking him, and he heard the sharp, thick sound of chains, pulling, scraping, hissing almost in the cave. The dragons growled again, clawing the ground, and the great mass of their forms came up, splashing, fighting, and water splashed over Hiccup. He gasped, barely above the frigid water himself, breathing liquid and air in his panic, his face shocked into alertness as the cold pressed his hair into his scalp. He shivered, uncontrollably, and a sense of white washed over him, numbness and fear. The dragons around him hissed, roared and their cries reverberated in the space, echoing roundly in the cavern, throbbing in the air like the waves splashing underneath against his body. The men ahead shouted, as if they were fighting, and a dragon on his left breathed out suddenly, a gasp of glowing yellow fire, tinted with green. Heat pulsed into the water, made Hiccup jerk in unconscious reaction.

"Get back, dragons!" one of the men ahead shouted and Hiccup leaned back, saw the creatures in a tangle of thin bodies, writhing back into the dark cavern of the cave. They hissed, yelled out in a horrible, horrifying curl of screams -- of anger and pain. Hiccup felt his heart gasp. "No," he shouted, and he watched as the creatures, the whole mess of them, get sucked away into the dark, the scrape of those chains ever present above him. Hiccup leaned to the right, tried desperately to push one ear into the pole, shield it from the great sound, that horrible noise, of dragons in distress and the cold, heartless rasp of the chain across the stone. A flap of wet hair slipped down and covered half of his face, and then the second sound of chains, and a great splash behind him, as the metal gate came crashing down into the water again. A dragon yelped, and he knew that gate had landed on some part of the animal. Hiccup gasped, turned back to face the men, instinct telling him to tell them to raise the gate and release the poor thing, and sense telling him they wouldn't care. The figures strode down into the water suddenly, and waves of water licked up at him again. He squinted, held his breath as the glob of water burst over his face and shoulder. The figures were upon him now, and in an instant a shooting pain screamed up his arm. He yelled, realized they were releasing his tied hands and kicking him forward into the water, past the pole. He dove head-first into the water and someone grabbed his arm, pulled up and forward.

"The chief's daughter wants a few words with you," one of the men said, his voice sharp, almost raspy, and yet, close to his ear and cunning. Hiccup gasped in a breath, went numb as they pulled him forward again.

:: ::

He barely had time to see the kids, when he passed them again in the tunnel. They were shouting something about Astrid, and he'd realized they'd imprisoned her too. She didn't respond to his calls, she was unconscious, but alive. They told him that much.

They dragged him into a forge, a familiar place, and yet here, this one seemed run down somehow, and abandoned. He looked up at the big men dragging him. They had no expression, no change of mood or feeling. "Hey," he started, looking up at the man on his right. He looked down, gazed at him a second, then shook his head. Hiccup couldn't make out whether it was sympathy or disgust.

In the distance, he could hear the sound of hammers clanging, fires burning, and metal being forged and beaten. He looked to the left, saw another structure pluming with smoke from its top, alive with light and activity. Black shadows moved across and into it, their thick armor silhouetted against the orange. The constant sound of dragons everywhere provided a backdrop to the madness, the creak of cages opening and slamming shut, the shouts of men and the squeal of dragons and the tug of chains. He could barely see much in the night blackness, only hints and suggestions of what he knew was happening in the dark, busy town. In front of the structure, a large open space, scattered with warriors and people in a rush going who knows where, probably to prepare for war. If his father was really coming, like Heather said . . . He prayed desperately that he wouldn't be too late, that he could win this one against these people. As much as Hiccup hated bloodshed, he couldn't see how it wouldn't come to that in the coming days.

They sat him down on a long, thin bench, ragged and sharp with uneven panels of wood, gnarls of friction on it. There was a fire in the small smithy, to Hiccup's immediate left, it was hot and smoldering, such a beautiful fire. So evil it suddenly seemed. It was quiet here, even the tools of blacksmithing were old and rusty, and the panels of wood forming the frame of this structure were bending and unkept. There were sticks of metal and other tools leaning against crusty old barrels and troughs that had seen their day. The place reeked of mold, of stale water. Hiccup swallowed, afraid of what was going to happen. One of the men latched Hiccup's left wrist to the flat top of the bench to his left, and another man clapped Hiccup's right wrist to the right of Hiccup, on rusting gray metal clasps obviously built for that purpose. Hiccup didn't fight it, knew it wouldn't do him much good, not with those swords and knives fastened to the villains' belts, not to mention their huge arms and strong hands. But he didn't like the feeling of being strapped down.

"Wait here for her," said one of the men, blowing his ugly breath into Hiccup's face. He leaned back, disgusted. And how long was that going to be? "Where's Toothless and Astrid?" he asked quickly, before the man stepped off.

"Would I tell you?" The man's face got sliced by the shadow of the fire.

Hiccup smirked. "Probably not."

"Then there you have it."

"Was worth a try," Hiccup said dryly.

There was a clap of footsteps behind the warrior suddenly. He stiffened in front of Hiccup, leaned up and turned back, carefully, as if he were almost afraid, like he wasn't supposed to be there. Hiccup knew who was on the other side, and the man stepped away, said a quick quiet word to the new person, and vanished outside into the darkness outside the smithy shop. Hiccup bit his lip, looked up and watched Heather approach him. There was a hardness in her arms, as they swung stiffly by her sides, a small dagger in her left hand, the end of her cape in her right, and the slash of the firelight on her features, halving her face in darkness and light, her hair black and red in the glow, her tight, black clothing melding into the shadows of the night.

Hiccup stiffened, put his head down and gazed up at her, conviction welling up in his soul. If this was how it was going to end, he wasn't going to flinch. For Toothless, for Astrid, for his father -- he wouldn't shame them by giving these people anything to brag about.

She approached, and the fear deep down in his heart played to the surface. He looked down at her knife suddenly, inhaled, quietly, trying not to let it be heard.

"You're nervous," she said, coldly, and he looked up, saw that strange something in her eyes again, that softness . . .

"Why shouldn't I be?" he said, clearing his throat.

She shrugged, lifelessly. She stopped in front of him, so close, he could see the pale threadworn patches on her clothing, the wrinkled leather belt around her thin waist, and the fraying cape, and the edge where sweat and handling had made the fur bare and stained with brown. She shifted her weight and he looked up again, at her eyes. She avoided looking at him, looked down at his hands, inhaled slowly. She cleared her throat and looked at him. "How did you do it?" she said, her lone voice laced with a chilling honesty. The sincerity was frightening. "Do what?" he breathed.

"Why don't you die?" She turned her head and looked at him. Hiccup felt his pulse quicken and he swallowed.

There was a silence. She moved her left leg up, placed her foot on the bench, next to his hand, leaned her body down and bent towards him, her black hair falling down the side of her face, touching his left shoulder. She looked at him, that intent burning now, her brow crossing, shivering in what almost looked like a desperate, deep-seated need. Hiccup squinted, looked into those eyes, the reflection of the fire in them. She was breathing hard. "Answer me," she whispered.

Hiccup opened his mouth, his lips dry.

"You trained those dragons." She looked down, at his shoulder. "Didn't you?" She rose her eyes at him again.

He nodded, stiffly.

"I'd give . . . anything," her voice was small, barely above a whisper, "anything to have you dead." The last word was faint, almost nonexistent. There was a shiver in her voice, sent a chill up his body and he moved his wrists deftly, the shackles rubbing against his skin. Her eyes followed the movement, and her right hand dropped to his hand, her fingers tracing over his slowly. He could feel her breathing increase, her shoulders heaving up and down, her teeth clenching. "But you're not going to die, are you?" Her eyes locked to his and she slapped her hand above his wrist suddenly. "You're not going to be a hero." Her voice shook, brittle and angry. The grasp on his wrist tightened and he kept the stare into her eyes, locked his jaw.

She squinted, moved closer, brought the dagger in her left hand around his neck, lay the blade gently on the left side of the base of his throat, not threatening, even, just . . . there. She pulled his face close to hers and she whispered, hissing in the lowness of her voice, the guttural shiver in it, her lips on his hair almost, the moisture of her breath on his forehead. "I told you that you would be your father's death. If not in death, then in life."

Hiccup's eyes flickered.

"I didn't think a Hooligan can be so noble." The word spat out, and he flinched. She moved her head, her lips close to his eyes. "But nobility can work two ways." She let the words linger, and he could sense her lips quiver, open and close, shaking. He inhaled. She continued, her voice stronger, yet still quiet, still, barely audible. "A slave cannot be chief, a slave cannot marry, a slave cannot be his own man, except by call of his master." She leaned down, her eyes leaning down to leer into his. "A slave does the will of his master." He narrowed his eyes at her. "And you shall live to do my will," she lisped.

"Who says I have to follow the rules?" he snapped quickly, his own clear voice shocking him in the stillness.

"Because I'll make you." She pressed his head closer to hers, the blade against his neck pressing in. A lump jammed up his throat suddenly, but it wasn't fear. Did he have to say it again? Didn't she know? "That doesn't work, you know that."

Her stare didn't shift, her rhythm unmoved. "I'm sure by now you know the tradition. That we kill the prize dragon."

His heart fluttered.

"I have the power to stop that. I can save your dragon." Her voice grew cool, and he could feel that she was growing confident, maybe not a natural confidence, but she had something on her side, and she knew it. "Or I can let tradition take its course." She pulled the blade away, lay her left wrist on his shoulder and swept her body around, behind him, her boot gliding past his hand. "The choice is yours," she whispered in his ear. He turned his head, looked at her. She stepped back, took her hands off him. "You'll want to know what I mean, of course," she said and that confidence sickened him. He wanted to say something back, something biting and sharp, but he knew who she was going to threaten next, and it left his soul vacant of air.

"Toothless, that's the name you have for him," she continued, stepping to his left side. "One dragon's life spared, in exchange for doing what defines you, to your tribe -- and to your father." She bent down, slowly pressed the tip of the dagger into the bench by his left hand, letting the blade dig into the wood. She paused, and he knew she was waiting for his answer. He stopped looking at her, drifted his eyes down to her hand and the glint of that blade in the wood next to him. He blinked, his mind drawing a blank. It couldn't have come to this. He couldn't train the enemy's forces, in the eve of battle. And yet, if she was right, that they wouldn't kill Toothless-- but could she be trusted? This was not a people of their word, this was a people of deception . . .

But does one play with the life of your best friend?

He found himself staring at the ground now, beads of moisture on his forehead, making him feel sticky, dirty -- ugly. Maybe he could just buy time, maybe he could use it to get Toothless out, and the kids and Astrid. If his father was coming soon, he could hold them off as the dragon trainer. They might have known their secrets, but maybe he could reverse the effect, clog the efficiency, keep the dragons wild, if he could, until his father came. And maybe--

The dagger's edge was under his chin suddenly, raising his head up. He winced, looked up into Heather's eyes.

"You accept, of course. Or would you see Toothless die?"

He couldn't say anything, not to a face like that, not to evil like that. He shoved his head to the side. She slapped a hand to his cheek, pushed him to face her again. "Is it yes or is it no?"

His eyes shifted, jagged, uneven, staring into her black ones. She had the advantage, and she knew that. His love for Toothless, was that the one untouchable thing in his life? Astrid said he was rash coming out here to save his dragon. Would he do that over again? Risk everything for the slimmest chance Toothless might live?

He swallowed and narrowed his eyes at her, kept his voice forceful and strong. "Fine. Don't you touch that Night Fury."

She let out a soft smile, and a playfulness, almost a relief drifted through her eyes briefly. She let go of his face, stood back from him and called out to someone, outside the smithy. He couldn't hear her anymore, the world outside his head a blur. It wouldn't be for long. He wouldn't train their dragons, he was going to sabotage the effort. The pounding drum of his own heartbeat filled his head, a panic and a horror, and a yelling childlike fear. A hand was on his shoulder suddenly, hers. He looked up. She waved a hand to one of the men and he nodded, sprinted out of the blacksmith shop, for the more active one farther off. She cleared her throat. "He shall be my slave," she said, and there was that crack in her voice suddenly, "for the wrongs he's done to my father." She stepped away from him, turned back and whispered, "Mark him as such."

He'd feared that much. He'd seen it before, not on Berk, but in those other lands, on Hervi and the small child. He wasn't thinking about consequences now, that would all come later, he knew. He just wanted to ready his mind for what he knew was coming. A warrior stepped behind him suddenly, Hiccup could feel his thick, heavy presence, like a great shadow of death. His large hands pressed over his shoulder, holding him down. Hiccup winced, those old physical wounds making a mess of the anguish in his heart and the panic in his mind, and the brittle cries tearing through his nerves.

The man returned from the active blacksmith shop, holding a fresh, burning metal rod in his hand. Hiccup could see the glowing end of it, the small curved S-shape. His vision wavered suddenly, and he let it happen, knew delirium was a defense now, one he shouldn't fight. He felt the hair on his left side get pushed, rubbed away and pulled up, held there by a hot, grimy hand. The men mumbled things to one another and Hiccup tried to move, found the bounds on his hands still firm and cold, the arm around his shoulder heavy, and the hands on his head, pressing down in a tighter vice around him. It would be short, and soon it would pass, but for now, he promised himself he wouldn't scream.

comments


20th Mar 2013, 2:55 PM

Guest

When will the next chapter be up? The suspense is killing me.. you are a great writer:)

end of message

25th Mar 2013, 4:34 PM

inhonoredglory

Haha, I'm so sorry! As we said in the blog update, we had to wait for the latest RoB episode to pass so we could see how canon deals with Hiccup captured and forced to train dragons. Thanks for enjoying this, and for telling us you're looking forward to more! :)

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