Chapter 26: The Hours of Captivity
Chapter 26: The Hours of Captivity
Chapter 26: The Hours of Captivity

14th Apr 2013, 5:09 PM

by inhonoredglory

The numbing spark of the Skrill's fire still stung under Toothless' skin when he was dragged into the fenced pen up on the hill. He was fighting, angry, yet his mind was still locked on the memory of the night before, the mud below the trees, the laughing Skrill and the boy he loved -- snatched, taken, thrown down. How the boy had screamed and ran for him, but it was too late. The wall of humans, the heavy net, he couldn't move, his legs and wings entangled. Somebody jumped on his head and shoved his snout into the mud. But his vision was not blocked, and he could already see Hiccup in their filthy hands, struggling, scared, hurt, thrown into the ground, grabbed again, surrounded by dragon killers. The vicious girl, controlling them all, threatening Hiccup somewhere behind the walls of armored bodies. He couldn't see anymore, men throwing chains on him as he struggled, but he knew, she did something horrible to Hiccup. He could feel it, even if he didn't know what she'd done.

He spent a day since that night, writhing in his chains, scratching the earth and pouring out of his soul a hatred for this people that was borne from frustration, hate . . . and a certain helplessness. What had they done to the boy?

There were many dragons in Toothless' pen on the hillside, and in each of them the stress of captivity was beginning to take its toll. To see so many of their kind under such constraints gave some creatures a thirst for revenge, others a fear, many an anger and a rage that welled up in their dragon hearts and consumed their thirsty dragon souls. They had been captured from every part of the island, their freedom stripped and their wild dignity subdued by chains. On this island, the human pest had merely fought them and killed them, and maybe it was better that way, than to be captured like a mere farm animal, awaiting whatever fate these killers had for them.

The last glints of sun had fell through the sky long ago. It was quiet and dark now, the chill wind sieving through the conifer needles, thick smells of prey, sheep and chickens, in the moist earth, and the audible breathing of dragons, ever quiet, ever watchful. The swell of land fell before them, into the town below, and the earth inclined gently behind them, into the forest's heart, rising up and beyond into the jagged cliffsides of a wild land, a land once filled with wild dragons, free creatures, proud beasts.

The Night Fury on the hillside snarled a biting, lamenting cry. The sound curled inside of him and burst into the night air, his hatred growing hotter, thicker, faster. They had taken what meant most to him, and he wasn't about to let them forget it. He was muzzled and chained to a barren tree like a worthless dog, dragged inside this pen of captive dragons a long dawn ago. Yet he struck out anew at his cruel leash, let the loathsome metal of his collar rub his neck raw. He reared, the chain clanged, the trunk shuddered. Twigs fell on his wings, the boughs above him shaking with the trembling hatred in his body. He heard a rising drone among the dragons, the knowing keenness in the Nadders and the soft hisses of the Snaptrappers. The Timberjacks hummed to one another, delicately, deliberately, eyes towards him, with a sudden meaning he couldn't misunderstand. He breathed hard and sharp, muscled his head down and hissed. He raised his back and stabbed his claws into the soft dirt as the chain clinked down at his feet. His chest was hot, terribly burning, and his shoulders ached with the spark of his old wound and the pulse of anger seething through him. He saw a Nadder leashed to his left, crouched and low and wary, the same meaning clear in her eyes. He stopped hissing suddenly, whirled to face her, his chain taut and her eyes wide and her head jerking back, and he gritted a harsh syllable, pierced his stare into hers. She backed off, for now. He knew what they wanted of him, had been desiring of him ever since he stepped in here alive instead of dead like their leader had promised. He was the domestic dragon after all, the traitor, the human-lover.

A shriek broke into the Night Fury's mind and he suddenly snapped his head up, his ears raising and a cry of recognition escaping his jaws. Skari was captured, but, was that him now? Being hauled into this pen with him. How ironic could these killers be? Toothless tensed immediately, shuddering suddenly, a shot of ancient rivalry pulsing through his veins, but it was more than that, it was deeper than that. Hiccup had wanted him to end the conflict, essentially, but that's how they got in this mess in the first place. If the boy had only let him finish Skari back then. They could have made it, Hiccup would have made it.

The night wind was increasing now, a sudden cold layer gusting up the hillside and through the naked branches, blowing over the Night Fury's skin, rattling the chain hanging from his neck. He could hear the cry of the Skrill, guttural and broken, the distress and pain in it, the lost glory, afar in the distance, but coming close to the pen now. It might have sparked sympathy in someone, but not now. The Night Fury's soul heaved with a delighted strength in the feeling of fate reversed, yet even deeper inside, it was wretched pain. He swallowed thickly, his throat dry and his eyes shifting across the spaces between the fence bars of the dragon pen, fires flickering in the night, voices of men, the image of the spiked body covered in chains and lashing in violence as the Skrill was dragged against his will. He felt the dragons around him turn their heads to watch the sight, apprehension in their movements, even horror. Toothless sniffed. Maybe they weren't used to seeing their leader getting roughed up by his enemies.

The enclosure shuddered alive as warriors wrenched the new dragon through the entrance. The Skrill hissed out the purest expression of wrath out of his muzzled jaws, his spiked body sparking in a mass of electrical activity that jumped along his confining chains. But the humans were smart, and each held his distance as they pulled the raging creature into the fenced prison. Chained dragons backed away from the cackling sparks, gave the new prisoner room, but the Night Fury butted his head into the fur-caped backs of men, shoving two warriors down as he snarled past them, the spark of the Skrill's lightning flashing in his face. Bulky hands grabbed at his muzzle, shouting and trying to yank him back into line, but he slammed his head out of their grasp, kept his eyes trained on the one creature he despised most of all. The struggle of the Skrill paused just a moment, as his eyes and the Night Fury's met. The two Strike Class dragons stared off, the hissing subdued and dangerous, separated just by the chains pulling at their necks, each mind conscious of nothing but the other.

I'm still alive, Skari.

The Fury breathed silence, his gaze penetrating and unmistakable, and the Skrill suddenly arched his back, hissed savagely. But the Night Fury held his head up in cool regard, his wings spread like the sky around him, a low and gratifying intent humming from his throat. I'll kill you. When it's my time, I won't fail.

It was said almost without the passion of anger, just the deliberate bitterness of the wind in his syllables, yowling cries in the darkness. A hardness stiffened through his spine, locking the surge of emotion snapping through his system. He felt the warriors back off from him, hastily regain their places to pull the Skrill forward, but Skari held his ground, his small yellow eyes flashing madly, hatefully, at him.

"Pull the dragons back." A woman's firm voice startled Toothless; he snapped his head to her sound. Skari was yanked at the moment of the command and Toothless roared in sharp displeasure, surged forward to attack but it was too late. His collar dug sharp into his chest as the chain firmed behind him, his chance slipping, his rival being taken past him, beyond him, towards another tree to be leashed like everybody else. A girl stood before him now, between him and his enemy. His body tightened as he faced her, his ears flattening against his skull and a hot rush pumping through his veins as he watched her, scowled at her movements. She stepped back suddenly, moved deftly besides the Skrill's body. Skari was half-lying on his flank, his body still heaving from the adrenaline of their encounter, but his senses quickly becoming conscious of this new threat, his jaws fighting the muzzle to growl at her. Toothless found himself taking a step forward, listening suddenly, as she spoke to the Skrill. She was gentle in her approach, kind and rhythmic in the way she spoke. "It's going to be okay," she soothed, and suddenly, everything clicked together in Toothless' mind.

There was no dragon trainer like his Hiccup, and there will be none such as he was after him. And yet in her he could sense something like a deception, an attempt at something so beautiful. But Toothless could read her heart, and where he read sincerity and humility in Hiccup's, he read cunning and cruelty in this woman's soul. He hissed, and in a horrible instant knew what she had been making his boy do. What else were all these dragons here for? To kill and maim? Hiccup had taught him that Vikings were smart, and these people taught him that this same intelligence can be wicked.

She approached him and in her hands was something familiar, too familiar, unworthy of her filthy hands. She put out a palm, hummed those soothing words, even had the gall to smile at him, a feeble attempt at a disarming glance. He growled, let out a guttural hiss that shook his body, like an earthquake through his veins. For in her hands was the saddle Hiccup rode, the straps of leather that still smelled of Hiccup's sweat and Hiccup's clothing.

"I'm just gonna put this on you, Toothless," she hummed, coming around to his left side. He growled, slunk away from her, bunched his spine to leap at her, when she flashed her eyes, shocked, at the men somewhere around him, and he felt his leash lash at him, something hard and whiplike snap into his skin. He whirled behind him, searched for the man who dared thrash him.

"No!" the girl's voice shrieked, and he felt her run up to him, put a hand on his head. He lashed his eyes to face her, found her holding her palm out at the warrior with the thin whip, her feet firm against the ground, conviction in her eyes. "No one hurts him," she commanded, and looked down at Toothless, put her other hand on him. "I won't let them hurt you." Her voice was firm, convicted, and she looked into his eyes for a moment and he stopped fighting, paused. But then her eyes shifted and she threw the saddle over him, the familiar weight slapping onto his back, and he felt betrayed, lashed at her, pushed his snout into her body and she fell and he hissed, but then the leash pulled at him and his throat yanked back. He screamed, his feet flipping off the ground, and he writhed, found arms around him, clamoring over him, the leather tightening over him. Someone's weight landed on his wings, another on his body, more upon his wings shoved into the ground. There was shouting, pounding, the leather around him always tightening, squeezing. He felt the foreign hands latch the saddle securely on him, the rigging clasping across his body and the stirrups thumping over his shoulders. They were forcing it on him, and he longed for Hiccup, who strapped it to him with such care and tenderness, than here now, with the force that made it feel as if his saddle were the bonds that kept him prisoner.

"Get off of him!" her voice shouted suddenly, and he looked up, saw that hateful woman clamoring up from the dirt and mud, her hand still out and worry on her face. "Get off, don't you know what that would do to him?"

He growled, tried to force his wings out from under those men, fought and never stopped fighting. She was right even before this happened, for he swore to never let that girl get on him, that she would never try to take Hiccup's place, if that's the game she was playing.

So look at the human-lover now, came a vicious, laughing snarl from somewhere in the pen.

Toothless snapped to the right, found Skari, a sly grin in his lisped jaws. The Skrill throated a laugh, leered at him. The Night Fury lashed a growl, snapped his jaws within their bounds, lashed and writhed and hissed. The girl put a hand on his head, cooed at him. "Toothless," she said, deliberately, calmly, "this is your new life, it's going to be okay."

The words were like poison in his mind, a living lashing poison in his heart, that she could say such a thing without consequences. Toothless writhed his head to the side, utterly disgusted, and caught sight of the saddle on him, the left stirrup, and realized with a horror that Hiccup's prosthetic attachment was torn off, ripped off, with only an ordinary footrest there now, matching the right one. So this was the game she was playing. He was sure of it now. They meant to do away with Hiccup, and they meant that he would never ride him again.

He looked up, saw the false sincerity in that girl's face, the way she reached out and dared to touch him, him the mighty Night Fury, the friend of someone so small and helpless. He'd saved Hiccup out of the fire, and he would not betray him. These people were not the people Hiccup had taught him to love. No, they were evil, deceitful, they were killers and he was not bound to them.

You're a disgrace to humankind, he hissed in his dragon's tongue, more as a statement than anything meant for their deaf ears to hear. You lie and you kill and you dare try to use us. He let out a growl, from the bottom of his lungs, loud and thick and heavy, and he flashed his eyes, boiled the fire in his heart and let it steam out from beneath his jaws.

The warriors were still upon him, still holding him down. A fire welled up in his soul, a fire that called back to things he'd almost lost in his two years of peace. It was a dragon's fire, a dragon's heart, and it lived in every dragon's soul. It was defiance, resistance, unrest, and it took the Night Fury's heart by storm, like a lightning flash in his mind. He'd had enough of this treatment, enough of these traitors to the species that had once given him so much love. He called now upon that old ancient tradition, that lived in the dragons' lore far beyond what each remembered, but all of them felt. It was the turning of the tide, the turning of the tables on their captors. It was deceit, it was hate. It was rebellion.

:: ::

Hiccup sensed a soft patting on his shoulder, faint and warm and far away in his drifting mind. He kept his eyes closed, somehow wanting to remain ignorant, as his consciousness slowly reminded him of where he was and what had happened. He jolted suddenly, in a gasp of shock, and someone held him down, hushing him, that female voice that sent hums of comfort up his shattered soul. He looked up, craning his neck towards her. There was a glisten in her eyes and dirt across her face, and in her expression, pain and worry and anger. He wanted to touch her, but a consuming weakness was upon him, and he slipped his head down, upon her lap again, gasped and sucked in a desperate breath.

"It's okay," Astrid soothed, and he felt her hand stroking him, tentatively, carefully, as if she feared she'd hurt him.

He tried to speak, found his jaw locked in some kind of tense exhaustion. He swallowed, rubbed his cheek into her lap and crawled his left hand up to her knee, his right wrist still chained to the wall behind her. It hurt his shoulder to move it, and he stopped mid-way, gasping. She reacted suddenly, pushed his hand away, to straighten it, and getting her arms around him to carry him somehow. She moved him to his back, made sure his right side was against the wall, and kept his head up with something soft and thick. His back sparked on him and he winced, fingered the air until he found her hand, took her tender fingers and held them close, gasping as he tried to breath, opened his eyes and looked at her.

She leaned down and cupped his face in her right hand, her eyes flickering, the water in them barely reflective in the shadow of the fire behind her. It made him frightened suddenly, to see her like this. His mouth went dry and he whispered, thinly, her name. Her fingers tensed as he spoke, pressed over his face and caressed his cheek and ear. He felt them coming near the burn on his left temple, and a strange panic took him and he jerked his head towards her, sliding her hand away. He exhaled, a simple thought running through his mind, that he couldn't bear to tell her now. It wasn't like he thought she'd think of him any less, but still . . . He just wanted to rest, to hold her hand and sleep. Despite the fire, he was cold, despite the stillness, his body was still wracked in a humming, constant pain.

"What's wrong?" he heard her whisper, and that hand pulled up his face again to face her. "Hiccup?" Her fingers brushed against his burn wound and he gasped sharply. He could feel her tense, move closer to him and release his other hand. He felt her hands shove up the hair on his left side, push his head slightly away, towards the wall. He could hear her gasp, felt the revulsion and shock in her voice and the shiver in her hands. He slumped down into the ground, gasping, still searching for her hand, rolling his head to see her again, the expression in her face now hot with an unfathomable anger. He whispered hoarsely, asked her to hold him close, tried to get her attention away from the brand mark, didn't want her to lash out at anyone, because he just wasn't strong enough to protect her now. "Please, Astrid," he whispered, gripping her fingers in a desperate moment before letting them go. He closed his eyes, opened his mouth and breathed, and suddenly felt her warm body against his, raising him up gently, her arms surrounding him, holding his head up and her chin over his right shoulder, gasping, crying. "What have they done to you, Hiccup? What have they done?" He wrapped his right hand around her, as far as the chain would let him, breathed into her shoulder, shivered uncontrollably and let his body lean against her hold, too tired to keep himself up.

There was a hum of voices in the house suddenly, and a shard of alertness swept through Hiccup. He stiffened, looked out and tried to focus past the light of the flames. The guard, standing now by the open door, was guiding in four other figures, strangers, and Hiccup felt his breathing increase, his lips mumbling something he couldn't make out, as his mind told him to get Astrid somewhere behind him. He jolted under her grasp, fumbled his arms around her and forced himself forward, shoving her to his side. He felt so weak, so helpless, and Astrid now was holding him as he crumbled to the floor. He gasped, the chain on his right hand pulling at him, suddenly taut. He pushed his left hand to the ground, his shoulder still sensitive and sparking, leaned up and looked up, searching for the strangers. One of them came forward, and Hiccup recognized the face. The younger man from that place Ragnar had led him to, the slave who asked him to whom he had belonged. A fire welled up in Hiccup's heart, and he squinted, felt his face go into folds of emotion, before he relented, the stress too much for him, and he dropped his head down, breathed consciously. He felt the man kneel in front of him, peering down at him. Hiccup felt Astrid pull him closer to her, her breathing heavy.

"Hey, Hiccup," the man slurred, his voice wrangled like he had something in his mouth. "What's it like to be royalty around here, eh?"

"Shut up," Astrid snapped.

"Vott--" said a vaguely familiar voice, afar, an older man.

Hiccup tensed, his hand balling into a fist. Anger, exhaustion, frustration jumped and burned in his heart, but he didn't look up, didn't respond.

"What?" the man, Vott, said, his tone full of mock innocence. "I'm only pointing out the irony that I'm in the revered presence of two men who will never be chief."

"I've had enough of your insults, Vott," the old man's voice hissed, and Hiccup felt Astrid step up suddenly, away from him. He grappled after her boots, the chain holding him back, and the leash around his neck now pulling taut. Something about the old man was familiar, and he suddenly placed his identity, that old slave who told him about the Death Spiral, the feud between the Skrill and Toothless' kind, Hervi, the man who said he once was chief.

"Who are you?" Astrid, her voice sharp and biting.

He looked up and saw her, facing down Vott, her pose as if she had her sturdy axe by her side. She balled her fist suddenly and threw it at the man's face, the smacking sound of impact against his skin, his head jolting back. No. Hiccup's heart burned white with fear. He lunged forward, panicking. The man got up from the ground, grabbed Astrid's collar suddenly, his fist raised. "Stop," Hiccup yelled. The metal ring around his neck choked on him suddenly and he gasped. There was a rush of people suddenly, dark and flashing shapes in the firelight, a foreign woman's voice and a thin laughing voice in the background, and he could pick out the old man Hervi suddenly holding back Vott against the wall, while the guard, his big hands on Astrid's arm, flashing his sword, glinting white and orange, and raising his voice above the scuffle. "There shall be no disturbances here." He paused and suddenly shoved Astrid to the floor, her knees buckling. And he took her right palm and slashed his sword swiftly across its surface.

Hiccup screamed, his breath leaving him. Astrid let out a yell as his ears burned with white noise, and the metal ring around his neck suffocated him, as his eyes landed on her hand, now red and wet. He lost air and he pulled back, pain grabbing him inside and his lungs bursting and his breath gasping and desperate. "Astrid--" he called out, and tried to reach her, pushing out his left hand, his vision mixed up with the orange of the fire and the red in his mind's eye and the darkness and the shadows and the clap of metal and the voices. Astrid was at his side suddenly, Hervi and the woman slave hovering near, grabbing her and saying things, but Hiccup didn't hear them, pulled Astrid close to him and opened her hand, fighting the horror and the weakness in his shattered nerves. He wiped the blood, but it wouldn't go away. "Hiccup, it's okay." It was Astrid's shaking voice. He looked up and the pain in her eyes stabbed him, made him buckle into himself. The shiver in his body increased and a wash of coldness flooded him. He looked down at his stained tunic, ripped off a strip from the bottom and pressed it into Astrid's hand, the bright red soaking up into his fingers and the edge of his sleeve.

He noticed the old man suddenly, in his hands a stack of dirty white fabric, and the woman slave, that foreign person Hiccup had met earlier that day, in her hands a spongy cloth. The slave woman put her hand on Hiccup's, hummed something soft, and detached his hand from Astrid's, pressed the spongy material on Astrid's hand, while the old man wrapped it swiftly with the cloths. Hiccup felt his body close down on him, and he couldn't hold himself up anymore, his vision clouding and his only thought Astrid. He grabbed her, to hold her, to comfort her, to support him, to lean upon her. "I'm so sorry," he gasped, his voice ripped. "I'm sorry."

"Hiccup, it's not your fault."

He looked into her eyes, so close to his now, a force of strength in them, suddenly, behind the spasms of pain in her face. She searched his face with those eyes, took her hands and held his face. He could feel her blood on his skin and he gasped, raggedly. "Shhh," she whispered. "Shhhh." He shut his eyes, felt water in them, opened them and found the world cloudy and wet. She was holding him, guiding his head down, to the floorboards, resting his body on the cool floor. He was shaking, desperately, and he wouldn't let her go, kept his hand around her shoulders, slipping to her arm, his strength ebbing but his will strong. She slid down on the ground next to him, whispering soft syllables at him, stroking his face, which he suddenly realized was wet with sweat. He gasped for air, and she rubbed her good hand across his shoulder and chest. But this was wrong, this was so wrong. He took a deep breath, brought his left hand up and reached for her face, the effort to reach making his body warm and his muscles humming with hot strain. He opened his mouth, tried to give her words of comfort, that he was going to get them out of here, that they weren't going to harm her anymore, that they couldn't, not if he could help it. But the words didn't come out, and he only choked on his own breathing, and his hand fell, and spasmed with a throb of heat and the cold rush that chilled him suddenly.

"It's okay," he heard her say, as his vision blurred. Her hand ran through his hair and he closed his eyes, concentrated on breathing, still trying to speak words that wouldn't get out of his gasping lips.

:: ::

For the longest time, Hiccup lay numb on the floor of the slave's house, the fire a dull constant, Astrid's presence and constant stroking a timeless monotony, a warm monotony. He felt wet with perspiration, the small seed of hope in his mind still going unsaid on his lips. He tried to think, of the Plan, something clever, something that would work, because he wouldn't risk her getting hurt again. But his mind refused to think. He was chilled, desperately cold, and he could barely move, let alone speak. Astrid gave him water, from a clay mug from the slave woman, Noor. The old man Hervi brought ointments to Astrid, and scraps of cloth and a tattered blanket from some corner. Astrid removed his leather belt, rolled up his tunic and, still whispering words of soothing, pressed the balm into his wounds, rubbed them on his bruises. Each time, he felt his nerves slowly gnawed, thick and painful, digging deeper into him, eating forcefully to his core. His heartbeat wavered, and he knew at some point he was going to pass out. He welcomed the fate, but when it didn't come, and as the pain became unbearable, he begged her to stop, that he'd rather they go untreated, at least today, than suffer any more. She stopped, put away the bandages and medicine, looked at him with those eyes with the hope behind them. He gasped in breaths, his face wet and his hand still shaking as he reached to touch her bandaged one. She used her good hand to drag the thin blanket over his small body, tuck it around him, but he was still cold. Noor brought him warm soup, good soup with meat and carrots in it, which Astrid tenderly fed to him, slipping the wooden spoon in and out of his lips, waiting as each time he struggled to swallow. He couldn't finish the bowl, couldn't find his appetite, but took some pleasure in watching her eat, and lay his head back, tried to rest, tried to regain some semblance of strength.

He closed his eyes and counted his breaths, squeezing Astrid's good hand in his own. He made his mind blank, concentrated on nothing, tried to sleep. He could hear the old man, Hervi, in the background, asking Astrid if he could speak with Hiccup, and Astrid telling him a decided no. That Hiccup needed his rest. He managed to ask about the kids in between times, how they were and what their captors had done to them. "They don't have much use for them," Astrid said, massaging his arms carefully, "but they don't need to kill them either. They're okay. A little bored maybe." She tried to smile. Hiccup appreciated the effort, forced a smile himself.

"But they're okay," she hummed. "I don't know where Fishlegs is." She stopped rubbing him. "He was following me til I found you, he's probably out in the woods someplace. Good for him to keep out, at least one of us would get away."

Hiccup flashed his eyes at her, alert suddenly. She went back to massaging him. "I didn't mean it that way, Hiccup. We'll get out of here." She looked at him, her expression unreadable, almost blank. He took it as a positive, relaxed, and tried to make his mind ease again. He needed her to keep hoping, because it was from her he was drawing strength now.

There was a faint knock at the door at one point in the stillness, and the sound made Hiccup tense. He pulled Astrid close to him, his mind getting lightheaded in the violent vision that suddenly shot in his mind. He wouldn't see her hurt again, no, not if he could help it. The promise was almost empty, considering his state, but he opened his eyes, leaned up and tried to see who was coming now to invade the brief respite. Astrid was holding him down, telling him to rest, but he mumbled against her, blinked and inhaled, pressing on her shoulder to stay up. There was a bit more strength in him, he could feel it, and he would use it, if he had to.

The guard rose from his dark corner, opened the door. The sharp creaking of the hinges broke the hum of the fire and the cool stillness of the night. Hiccup braced himself, but it was only a small child who entered. He couldn't understand it, breathed out a question, his mind still slow.

Hervi, on Hiccup's left, jumped up, limping suddenly, probably because he moved too fast, and met the small figure in the door frame. The guard questioned the slave sharply, and Hervi took the small boy's hand, the old man's voice easy and disarming. The guard relented, threw the door closed. A draft from the open space fluttered the fire suddenly, washed over Hiccup. The child didn't seem like a threat, and Hiccup sank down into Astrid's arms, let her carry him down to the floor again. He closed his eyes, tried to rest again.

A small voice piped next to him suddenly. "Umm . . . hi." And then a sniffle and a sneeze.

He had the strangest notion that the childlike, quiet though peppy voice was speaking to him. He opened his eyes, exhaling, and looked up, to his left, where the voice was. Astrid had turned around, was facing the small boy which Hervi had let enter. His round face was in the shadows, the fire behind him, but even with the darkness in his face, he had a light in his wide eyes, a kind of happiness playing in his face. He'd seen that face before, somewhere . . . here in Herkja. He forced his mind to remember, the slave pen, the dark night, the cheerful smile on his face, the slavemark on the side of the young boy's head. Hiccup looked up, saw the kid's face scrunch up suddenly, and his lower lip jutted out and he frowned at Hiccup. "Not that I'm in the bestest of health either, but . . ." He sniffled again. "You don't look very well."

Hiccup cleared his throat to speak, but Astrid beat him to it. "These people here hurt him, brutally." She had a hateful lisp at the end of her voice, and she was almost breathless when she spoke. Hiccup clenched her hand tighter, whispered for her to please stop saying such things, in case they heard. Hiccup willed his heart to calm, as the panic ripped through him again. He heard the little boy's shocked squeak, and before he could react, tiny hands were brushing by his right side, between him and the wall, a small knee against his right arm, a little gasp by his ear. "Gee, that's horrible."

Hiccup inhaled, leaned to his right, saw the small child's face.

"You looked much better last time." The kid nodded, wiping his nose with his arm.

Hiccup cleared his throat. "A lot has happened," he whispered, his throat dull and sore.

"Remember, I'm Iggy," the kid piped, putting a hand to his chin. He rubbed his nose harshly with his hand, before blinking and looking down at Hiccup again. "Um . . . did you ever find that dragon you were looking for?" He sniffed, and a pang hit Hiccup's heart. He felt Astrid rub his arm, her fingers warm and tense. "Don't ask him, okay?" Astrid said, flatly.

"No, it's all right," Hiccup whispered, hoarsely, looking at Astrid before turning to the kid. He winced and exhaled, lay his right hand over his chest and inhaled. "They have him caged. He's my . . . friend. I was just trying . . ." He swallowed. ". . . to get him back." He stopped talking, motioned to Astrid for water. She rose, and the light from the fire fell on him again, the orange burning bright in his eye and warm on his cheeks. Iggy hummed, scratched his flaming red hair. "Yeah . . . my dad used to kill them things. Guess maybe you found a friendly one."

Hiccup squinted his eyes at the kid. Thinking about Toothless now, all they'd been through. "Much more than that," he whispered, and took another deep breath. Toothless was his life, and in a sudden moment now, Hiccup paralleled that fact with his own willpower ebbing, what he'd been doing for the dragon, the good and the bad. He swallowed, and Astrid came back, shielded him from the firelight, leaned down and gently pushed the lip of the clay mug to Hiccup's lips. He drank, felt the cool water flow down into his throat, a sudden irritation there, and he stopped drinking, closed his eyes. She pulled the mug away, lay it by his head.

Iggy watched him curiously, squinted his eyes and rubbed his nose again. "I wanna help, but I don't think I know all that much about scars and stuff."

"I've got him, you don't have to do anything." Astrid's voice was still sharp and critical, and Hiccup could tell that she wasn't going to let anyone, a slave, a child, no one, touch him. Iggy shrugged, frowned again and crossed his legs under him, somehow fitting in the space between his body and the wall. He cupped his chin in his chubby fists. "I could sing songs." He smiled, glancing down at Hiccup, hopeful. "That makes most people sort of happy, I mean even if my voice isn't the absolute best right now, but still . . ."

Hiccup closed his eyes tight, didn't really care if the boy did something or not. It was a nice gesture, and the kid seemed so full of life and happiness. "Okay," he breathed before Astrid objected. He could hear the child chanting, in a foreign tongue, in a flat but lilting and unmetrical voice, and at the end, a dip into something more familiarly native, choked with coughing, and then melding into something foreign again, in what seemed like a new language in a style he was not familiar with, and then the boy changed his tone, sang a few verses Hiccup recognized. "I dreamt a dream last night, of silk and fine fur . . ."

Iggy stopped after a couple minutes, wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Yeah, I hope that made you kind of more cheery."

Hiccup swallowed, nodded tightly. "Thanks," he breathed.

Iggy pulled up his knees to his chin. "I totally combined a bunch of stuff I heard in that one. You know, songs people sang randomly around me, and my Dad's chants at the start. Gotta start with my Dad's stuff you know."

Hiccup nodded, trying not to put so much effort into thinking. The slaves were a motley bunch, hailing from everywhere, from so many more cultures and languages than he probably had even conceived. Somehow this kid learned so much.

"Excuse me, but Hiccup needs to rest," Astrid said suddenly, holding Hiccup's side and looking at Iggy. Hiccup thought about objecting. The kid wasn't really doing any harm, he didn't mind him. But he let it slide, figured it wasn't something worth using his strength on.

"Am I in the way? Gee, why didncha say so?" Iggy jumped up, and Hiccup raised the fingers on his right hand, a sort of wave. "I'll see you around," he whispered, and Iggy's eyes perked. "Gosh, sure!" He put his one foot out and stepped along the wall, jumping down and out into the shadows. There was a bounce and joy in his step that was infectious, and a dim light warmed Hiccup's heart. He looked up at Astrid, suddenly appreciated her presence, grateful that he was not alone.

:: ::

Rune hadn't seen his daughter since their fight the night before. She had stormed out of the house then, by his own command, and he came to his decision. That maybe she wasn't ready for what he needed out of this. For years, they had planned, and she had shared his passion for revenge. Sometimes even more than him, when he was tired and when the world seemed all against him. In those times, she was there to support him, give him hope, and tell him that one day soon she will drive the weapon of justice into the hearts of the guilty.

But now, as he stood overlooking the docks and his armada heading out for the war with his brother, now as he watched his army, he realized she believed in something he didn't. She had made his brother's son a slave, their slave, and she thought that this would fix things, that this was justice. She had used his brother's ways of training dragons as a way to win the war. But what fate would reward such dishonor?

He spent the day being the chief that he was supposed to be in this time of war. He ordered his armies, marked out the maps and the plans of war. He warned them about the dragons, that Stoick has many of them, and that . . . they must use those dragons Hiccup had trained, and use them wisely. Stoick would attempt to land his ships, maybe use the dragons as cover fire. This must not happen. He spoke to his men of his brother's personality, the kind of warrior he remembered the man to be, the ships they had and the weapons they wielded, as was told him by his daughter when she visited their island in that charade of peace. He felt a detachment in his movements, yet a certain strength in his heart, and maybe it was because the romance of revenge had gone from him, and it was only the hard truths and dirty business left. Maybe it was his mind's madness again, for he could never quite tell when his mind was tricking his personality.

That night he walked towards his home. He needed to get this revenge job done, and then he could go forth and war against his brother. He fingered his sword, hanging off his left side, and remembered the day his father had given it to him, when he was eighteen, and how it would now spill a young man's blood.

"Dad--"

He whirled, found his daughter calling up to him from near the top of the steps outside the house, in the shadow of his home, the moonlight casting a deep, dark shadow over the face of the structure. He felt a hesitancy in his step when he heard her call, and he paused deliberately. His age felt tangible suddenly, different from the life he'd felt while planning his battles. Heather had always said that he felt more alive while in war. It was strange to see her, after a day outside of her presence. He realized suddenly how rare it was that they were separated.

She stepped down to meet him on the steps. He watched her, and she waited suddenly, looking up at him. But he looked away, his eyes landing on the slave house, and the drifting smoke that snaked up from the rooftop.

"I've been with the boy all day, Father," she said. There was something hidden behind those words. He said nothing.

"Hiccup has trained for us a mighty army already."

He turned gently, looked down at her. He felt something angry push up into his heart, to see her, his own daughter, the one he saved out of the Viking raid, the one he'd spared from what Vikings do -- pillage and burn and ravish. To see her speak the name of that cursed son of his brother's, with that expression on her face, of being pleased and contented, that tone in her voice -- no hate, no bitterness, no sense of injustice. What had this killer done to her? What wicked charm did this boy have? That he could take hold of his own Heather and turn her from the goal they had shared so long? He leaned down to her, pressed his hands on her shoulders, felt the love pulse through him. He still loved her, but this . . . this. "You said you couldn't kill him." He felt her tense, and their eyes met. He kept his gaze steady, but the words came easily, not even in a whisper. It was from his heart, and he'd always been honest with her. He was mad, and it was not in his nature to lie to her. "You might believe that fate is something you can't control," he said, "you might think that, but I don't."

"It's not like I believe he's fated to survive."

"Then why didn't you kill him?"

She breathed hard, and he watched her, watched the moonlight play on her face and in her hair. She didn't have an answer for him, as he expected. It sorrowed him, weighed down his heart with regret. He exhaled and turned from her, headed up the stone path.

"What are you going to do?" her voice was submissive, edged with apprehension.

He stopped, didn't turn back to her. "Kill him."

"He's my slave." The voice was sharp, and it shocked him.

He glanced at her. The stare held, and he could read something unsaid in her expression. It was a belief, a conviction. Was she really afraid of him like that? "A slave is dirt, Heather. He's hardly a thing to value, and nothing to fight for. If I want to kill him, it's within my right to do so." His voice grew thick and sharp, and he breathed, found his lungs heavy, age coming back to him, away from thoughts and words of war. He looked up at the silhouette of dragons on the hillside by their home, those chained creatures she'd so wanted to train. "Go train your dragons, ride that boy's Night Fury," he added bitterly, and stepped up, his knee buckling, his chief's cape waving behind him in the air around, the night that even he could feel was growing thicker with the coming storm.

:: ::

It was late, even Hiccup could tell, and he'd been in and out of sleep for hours. He could hear voices, of the slaves around him, even of the guard, Hervi still asking Astrid if he might talk to Hiccup, and Astrid still defensive, still saying she wasn't going to let anyone disturb him. Astrid tended to his wounds, pacing herself, letting him sleep between treatments. She bandaged his shoulder, wrapped fabric around his side, applied the balm to his cheek and even the brand mark. The slave woman, Noor, was making sharp critical sounds in the background, and he could even hear Vott, his laugh unmistakable, as he told jokes to some fellow slave, across the room. Time melded into itself, and he couldn't place just when and in what order occurred the bits of conversations he heard. He smelled bread one time, heard the splash of liquid and the tap and scrape of chair legs being pulled across the floor. There was the constant sharp voice of the fire, sometimes of the wind outside, seeking him and curling through the walls and under his blanket. There was the clap of boots, the guard's clear thick voice ordering peace and order, one time tapping his chest to wake him up, to concentrate on some new ordinance Hiccup couldn't remember anymore. He only wanted Astrid right now, her warmth, her protection, her safety.

He awoke one time, found her on the ground next to him, her metal shoulder pads off, her body leaning towards him, her head on his pillow, and her soft arm laying across his chest. He could feel her breathing, and he turned his head gently to the left. Her eyes were closed and even in the dim light from the dying fire, he could tell that wrinkles of strain and tiredness were lining her round face. He let out a soft breath, moved his right hand up to her hand on his chest. He was feeling stronger now, and his head was clearer, clear enough for him to realize what a mess he had been. He cleared his throat, was about to whisper Astrid's name, when he thought better of it, watched her body heave slowly, calmly, peacefully. She needed the rest, as much as he did. He really shouldn't bother her now. Maybe . . . maybe she was dreaming. He looked up, watched the darkness and the faint glimmer of the embers. He was still hurting, but that seed of hope in his mind was growing now, and he grabbed hold of it, desperately, at least to tell himself that things might get better. It wasn't something he was going to think hard about, lest the thin roots wither and die in his heart.

There was a sound suddenly, from the front of the house. He broke away from his thoughts, tensed. It was the guard coming towards him. He couldn't read the expression on the man's face, because it was so dark and the embers of the dying fire were faint and dim. But he sensed something threatening in the man's actions, and Hiccup rose, put his left hand over Astrid, watched the man's dim black eyes. Hiccup swallowed. "What do you want?"

The guard stopped in front of Hiccup, knelt down and tapped his unsheathed sword on Hiccup's knee. He unhooked Hiccup's chains from the wall. "You're going for a little walk."

"Meaning exactly what?" He kept his voice firm. He wasn't going to let it be easy for the guy to separate him from Astrid. She was waking up now, what with all the talking, and he could feel her groggy mumbles as her body nudged up against him. He firmed his hand over her.

The guard hardly gave him a glance, reached out and grabbed his left arm. Hiccup pulled back, the grip strengthened. Astrid scooted up, and Hiccup glanced at her. "No," he mouthed, fast. The metal ring around Hiccup's throat pressed on the back of his neck, as the man pulled his leash forward.

"Where are you taking him--?" Astrid snapped, but Hiccup pressed her down. Don't fight it. Please. He looked at her, tried to communicate that in the brief dark moment. He could take care of himself, sort of. He just didn't want to risk her getting hurt. He was sure they weren't going to kill him. He was training their dragons, they had a deal. They didn't hate him that much, just to do away with him with no reason?

Astrid clamored up, but the guard pulled his sword out and pressed its tip to her chest. "One more move, and you're dead."

"You think I care about your threats?"

Hiccup winced. Astrid shoved the edge of the sword away with her bandaged hand. "Astrid, stop," he whispered desperately. The chain pulled at him again, and he yelped, curved his leg around and sat up. He gripped the wall vaguely and pushed himself to his feet. Astrid grabbed him, and the guard pulled again. "You're not taking him anywhere," she hissed.

The guard shoved his face at her. "You care so much about him?" He yanked again at the leash and Hiccup jolted out of Astrid's grip, fell into the big man's arms as he whirled the boy around, lashing a thick arm around his neck. Hiccup inhaled thickly, wasn't surprised when the guard pulled his right arm out and he felt the cold edge of the blade against his palm. "If you care so much, you'd shut up and I won't hurt him."

Hiccup pushed his head out of the man's grasp, tried to see Astrid in the darkness. The other slaves were waking up now, and he could hear a feminine yelp, and the big yawn of Iggy from one corner. "It's okay, Astrid," he whispered, trying as much to calm the situation.

She looked at him, those eyes darting and livid. He implored her, and she still stared at him, and he could tell she was trying to believe him, trying in vain to trust. He closed his eyes, looked at her again, with confidence, a sudden strength of conviction in his soul. If she didn't trust him now, and tried to defend him, who knows what might happen to her. The guard wouldn't see the value of Astrid's life, and he wouldn't be afraid to spill her blood or worse, if she went "out of line."

Astrid stepped back, at last, her chest heaving with the fire of anger and hatred. She was still staring at Hiccup, then snapped and looked down, clenched her fists. The man threw Hiccup's arm down, lashed his wrists behind his back with rope, and dragged Hiccup by his tunic's back collar out the door of the slave house. He could hear the other slaves asking her what happened, but he didn't hear her voice respond, only the cracking squeak of the door as the guard slapped it shut behind him.

:: ::

He tried to ask the guard what he was doing out here, who he was meeting. Was it more dragon training? Was he going to see Heather? Could he see Toothless? The guard regarded his questions with contempt, only said he was told to bring him out here, by command of the chief. "You better say your prayers little boy," he leered and laughed, that gurgle in his throat. Hiccup worked his face into a defiant scowl, felt life pulse back into him, and the guard pushed him forward again, down the hill, through the crumpled overgrown grass and the uneven rocks in the path that curved around to the chief's house. There were lights in the town below, glimmering and alive with activity, the clanging metal of war in the making. The sound of warrior's voices, and the scent of dragons, hot and angry. He felt the urge to comfort them, but most of all to find Toothless, to wrap his arms around him and soothe him. He had always been there for his dragon, and it burned his heart that he could not speak with him now. "Toothless--!" he shouted suddenly, but the guard snapped at him, yanked his leash in the opposite direction to Toothless' pen in the distance. Hiccup caught his breath, gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes at the man, conviction hissing out of him suddenly. "I have a right to see him," Hiccup gasped, tripping on his bent prosthetic, trying to firm his foothold on the ground below.

The guard turned around, looked down at Hiccup. "Right?" He sucked at his teeth sharply. "You've got no rights."

"I'm training your dragons to save that Night Fury's life. I have a right to see him."

The guard pressed his fist into a ball and Hiccup prepared for the blow, but then a voice came from behind him, a voice suddenly and awfully familiar. Hiccup gasped. Dad? But it wasn't, no . . . The guard turned around to face the voice's owner, mumbled something and looked back at Hiccup, disgust in his eyes. "Go ask your master what rights you think you have." And he shoved his boot into Hiccup's shin, sending the boy to his knees. Hiccup inhaled tensely, sprawled his bent legs over the cold earth, looked up quickly and saw the caped figure. The guard handed him the end of Hiccup's chain, and Hiccup looked up into the man's face, those dark features in the shafts of shadow from the moon, the rounded nose, the thick beard glinting with white, the small black eyes. He'd never seen his father's brother so close. He'd never hardly known of him before this. It struck him suddenly how he should have been happy to see a member of his own family, that instead he was here on his knees, his hands bound and his spirit wounded, and this Rune, Rune Haddock before him. A chill spasmed through him, and that old story, as old as he was, came pushing back into his mind. That tale of his mother, Valhallarama, the hate, betrayal, his own birth, this banished brother who felt wronged that his love had died. If his father was right, and all this started when he was just barely born, and his mother died trying to take care of him, trying to save him from his fated death on the hillside, then how long had this man been harboring such hatred? How long had it infected his mind? And how could he not see past the things that could not be helped? Didn't he understand ever in all those years how a small child, a baby, couldn't kill anyone? Why did hate make so little sense, and how could it spread like an infection to the souls of others not even involved, to a whole tribe, to create a war that was sure to end in disaster.

Rune glared down at Hiccup, his shape looming large suddenly silhouetted by the moon. He commanded the guard to leave them, and in one swift motion drew his long sword from its scabbard. Hiccup breathed heavily, knew it couldn't be possible, not if they needed him to train dragons. This was a game, a trick, and he glanced up at Rune, let his face into the moonlight. But there was conviction in the older man's eyes, a hatred that was cool and hard. Hiccup didn't understand, but this wasn't Heather, and maybe he didn't think what he was doing was as important as his hatred for him, as his love for the woman he supposedly killed. Hiccup let out a breath, stared into the eyes of this man who could have been his father, took a chance and gasped, "I'm all you have left of Valla. Can you really kill me?"

comments


28th Apr 2013, 5:54 PM

Servantatheart1

Hey Glory, I'm baaack!
So, I must say I loved the Hicstrid relationship in this chapter. It was so sweet. And Iggy was back! That made my day :). Intense beggining with Toothless. I like how you invoked his raw dragon instincts- I have a feeling in the future chapters he's going to kick some serious butt! Erm, anyway...what else? Oh, Hiccup FINALLY got somewhat of a break, poor guy DX. I enjoyed how you keep building the Rune/ Heather relationship. It's so important because it's unique to your story.
Wow, FINAL stretch of the novel! Woot! I know you've been feeling a bit of a burnout, which is TOTALLY understandable. Take your time, dear. I somewhat understand how it feels. I've been working on my book for five years, and I know its hard to keep up momentum over a long period of time. (I remember after the first year of writing it, I loathed the thought of writing another paragraph; but then I went back and read some of my work and got some more ideas, and it re-kindled my passion for the story. *I dont know if you re-read or not, but personally it helps me to see how far I've come - and to be grateful for the progress I've achieved instead of looking at how much work I have left to go :) -> #youcandoit! *cheers from sidelines*

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8th May 2013, 7:20 PM

inhonoredglory

Wow sorry I missed replying to this!! Gosh thank you so much for these amazing reviews! Yeah, it's tough to keep at a story for so long, but readers like you sure help us push on! :)

Yeah I thought about reading back our story, but usually there's so little time LOL. But when I did look back occasionally, I can see how different I wrote back then than now. It's weird!

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1st Jun 2013, 5:14 PM

Servantatheart1

That's all right! I understand you'll get to it whenever you see it :)
"When I did look back occasionally, I can see how different I wrote back then than now. It's weird!" Lol, I feel the same way too when I read old versions of my story from a year or more ago. I sound completely different! (And it makes me want to lock it in a box, bury it, and throw the key in a river XD) But I'm grateful that I've been learning more about writing. I especially like the writing advice you reblog on Tumblr :))

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28th Apr 2013, 5:56 PM

Servantatheart1

(p2) I actually had the time this past week to go back and read through alot of your webnovel again. I picked up on subtle hints in earlier chapters that were lost to me at the time I read them, but now they make alot of sense. (a.k.a. What is Hervi trying to tell Hiccup??! - hints from earlier chapters *suspense*. >Slave revolt! Slave revolt! Ahurm... XD

All the hints and foreshadowing are becoming clearer now. This just keeps getting better :). I admire how well the structure is planned out. I'm looking forward to see how it continues to unfold! (:

The dragon rivalry was/is a great element to the story. *I forsee an epic dragon battle - Epic music*

The illustration! Wow. I think its great that you're experimenting with a new style for your art. I love it! Realism is my <3 in art, but I think this had to effect you were going for in the chapter. Well done!

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8th May 2013, 7:22 PM

inhonoredglory

Thanks for the comment on the art, and for reading this thing back over. LOL, I think some people have read back our stuff more often than I have, XD We did have a couple foreshadowing elements, I'm glad they came through! It's odd though as we write this by the seat of our pants so often LOL. Serendipity helps in keeping things together XD

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1st Jun 2013, 5:17 PM

Servantatheart1

Well I learned a new word today! (Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity".) That's how a lot of my story developed anyway. I call it the hand of God :). I see things that I wrote that have a deeper meaning or tie into another aspect of my story purely on accident! I love it when that happens. Hehe, it's nice to know that it doesn't only happen to me!

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28th Apr 2013, 5:58 PM

Servantatheart1

I hate to bring this up, but I must point out something - a bit of constructive criticism. I notice the word "gasp" was used alot. It's a strong word choice, but employed too often, it loses a bit of its potency. There are very little synonyms for it, but using a bit of circumcommunication works well too. Ex: describing how Hiccup's face looked/ how his chest moved when he struggled to breathe. I understand why you're using to so often b/c of what Hiccup just went through, but it was a tad redundant. (I'm horrible at repeating myself when I write, so I'm speaking er, typing a bit tongue-in-cheek XD Anyway, take it or leave it c:)

Altogether, wonderful chapter! The end still has me on edge xD. Looking forward to the next update :). I'm glad to do this. Keep using your talent to honor Him! <3

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8th May 2013, 7:23 PM

inhonoredglory

Hey thank you!! Constructive criticism is always welcome. I'll definitely keep it in mind. XD And, yes, I definitely love writing to celebrate Godly virtues and values. Thank you so much for supporting us! <3

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1st Jun 2013, 5:18 PM

Servantatheart1

Hey your welcome for the criticism and support! It's great to support things that bring honor to Him <3 :)

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