Chapter 3: He's Not Ready
Chapter 3: He's Not Ready
Chapter 3: He's Not Ready

20th Aug 2012, 12:00 PM

by inhonoredglory

Hiccup tried to orient himself, the wind and endless sky and the growing fog on the sea making him dizzy. "Toothless, we got to get back," he said, closing his eyes a moment.

Toothless nudged his head upward, and turned his right wing up. Hiccup let the stirrup loose, kept the prosthetic tail open and let Toothless guide. The dragon banked to the left, sweeping lower, flapped.

Hiccup let the rain wash his face. Those dragons... Who were they? He looked at Toothless. Toothless knew them, both of them -- and that great dragon. It's like he knew him... intimately. Dragons lived, what was it? Years, decades, even hundreds of years, the books said. How long ago was it, then, that Toothless knew him? He pursed his lips, didn't like the feeling of not knowing. He had to warn the tribe not to scare at the big dragon, whenever Toothless met him at Berk, as he was sure they had arranged. I wonder when...

Hiccup looked up, squinted in the rain, saw something jab out of the fog. A mast, a sail. Hiccup rose slightly. The ships. They'd gone that far out at sea. The fog lowered around the mast, as the great sail pushed through the cloud. Hiccup tried to see through the mist. There were more of them.

Much more.

Toothless lowered suddenly into the fog, sensing his thoughts. And then he saw.

The ships. Hiccup paused, inhaled long and slowly. They stretched for miles, brown broken sails fighting against the storm, dirty barnacled hulls heaving to the sigh of the sea, black flags lined with red, pulling long in the gales. The tall silhouettes of weapons and catapults heaving on the decks. The growing sound of men, shouting, order and commands, the strength of their screams far away and faint in the buffer of wind and rain. And under them, the glowing lights. Alive, playful. Luminescence from a hundred water dragons. His eyes danced over the glow. He'd never seen them in such a number before, the lilting creatures. Toothless hummed, viewing the scene with interest. There was something about the schools of water dragons that made most of their flying cousins think poorly of them. Perhaps the weakness of their wings, the fact that some of them can fly only a few feet off the surface of the sea, the fact that so many of them lived off the refuse of ships. The dragons slowly descended into the stormy seas, inconstant hints of green and white light remaining. No wonder there were so many here, with ships in that number. He leaned towards the vision, Toothless' wings curved gently around him, turning.

The ships heaved heavily in the gust, creaking like living creatures. He watched, amazed. One ship emerged from the mass behind it, its sail marked uniquely, and its shape, a kind of nostalgic majesty. The flagship, he realized, its body wide and long, once ornate, its gilded frame now broken and scraped, the strength of its mast worn by decay. The hulking figures running to and fro across its deck, and a slow one, large and lumbering, gazing out slowly into the sea, an air of authority in him, a gleaming curved sword dangling from his waist, his red, graying, braided hair flitting in the wind. Hiccup almost gasped. "Down, Toothless," he coached, "just a little." He looked closer at the man, realized what it was that intrigued him.

He looked so much like Dad.

Toothless looked back at him, aware of something, hovered gently in the rising mist and lowering storm clouds. "Dad doesn't have a twin, does he?" Hiccup whispered, patting Toothless' ear flaps and smiling, when he suddenly realized there was someone in his father's past. There was a brother before his grandmother died and Stoick's father married again. But he was... what was it? Banished? He couldn't even remember the man's name anymore.

Hiccup looked down again, figured it was just someone who looked like his father.

The man was speaking to someone standing next to him, a thinner adult, bare-headed, gray-haired. They parted and the old man weaved his way up to the fore of the ship, up past the barrels and glinting chests on the deck, past the piles of rope and the gleaming axes, up to the upper platform near the bow, up to the yet smaller figure commanding her voice across the ship. It was a girl, just a girl. A swash of white flapping behind her. He looked closer, thought he read her face, maybe a look of defiance, conviction. She swung her head, sent her black unbraided hair slapping across her face. Her head turned up. His mind snapped, Toothless jerked upward, and Hiccup realized she saw them. He peered back, saw her face follow them as they raced to the end of the armada. The sky was blacker now.

He didn't want to go back just yet. Let the awe of the silent groaning ships sink into him. "Wow," he whispered. His eye latched onto a thin little water dragon, just smaller than Toothless, a translucent pair of rounded wings on either side of him. The dragon leaped up out of the water, flashing its green, glowing sides, plunged back in and advanced towards one of the ships near the back of the armada. It halted by the hull, expectant, and Hiccup looked, saw two burly Vikings haul refuse over the edge, eagerly captured by the little dragon and a dozen other companions. They consumed the floating debris and descended, the deep, dark water swallowing away the last of their light.

The two Vikings hustled back. Hiccup pushed Toothless a little more forward. Why did they walk with such difficulty? He squinted and realized. The chains around their necks. His brows raised. Something from the old stories came back, something he saw when they explored the islands around them, the other tribes, the way they worked. Berk didn't have them, didn't trade them, yet there was still that feeling when you saw them. Criminals, usually. The conquered. The two Vikings put the huge barrel down, looked up at the sky with eyes that probed deep and somehow evil.

Slaves.

Hiccup instinctively turned Toothless away. Why was he afraid? "Toothless, let's go home, okay… buddy?" He looked back, saw those Vikings, felt his heart feel sorry, his mind spark with fear, his soul confused.

Toothless hummed, sensed the discord. Hiccup stroked him, said nothing. So these people were slave traders. He swallowed. Dad didn't say very much about his opinion of slaves, and when he did, it was mostly with spitting irony, how the villains among them now have their comeuppance. Rain overcame him and he closed his eyes, lay his head on Toothless' neck, trusted his motions, heeled the stirrup gently. The rain soaked into his clothing, started to make him feel cold.

_______


He gazed impatiently up at the sky, trying to find the black speck of his son's ride appear from the clouds. His boy, Hiccup. The child was so much trouble, especially now with Induction coming. Why did he have to go disappear now? He pictured his dear Valhallarama. He thought of her a lot, mostly when Hiccup was stumbling again. He got that feeling she'd know how to take care of him, how to relate to him.

"The others have all cast off," said a voice behind him.

Stoick turned, folded up the image of his departed wife. "Good," he said. They had to leave, with the storm at hand.

Spitelout nodded, descended the short upper plateau at the fore of the ship, and stepped towards the stern. Gobber came up behind him, hobbling on his peg leg and smiling weirdly. "Anchor's all ready, just say the word," he huffed, then sighed. "That's one thing storms are great for -- tellin' ya it's time to rest yer weary bones and go home." He jabbed a hooked hand at him. "Light a warm, cozy fire, settle down to a good leg of lamb and sleep. Ahh."

Stoick smiled through his crinkled beard. Gobber had this way of amusing him. He looked back up at the swirling clouds.

Gobber followed his gaze. "Ya want me to tell one of the kids to go find him?"

"There still some dragons here?"

Gobber sniffed. "I guess that crazy boom did seem to set them off."

Stoick hummed.

"But Stormfly's still here." Gobber made a noise, like he was trying to unchoke something. "Uh." He cleared his throat. "You want me to send Astrid?"

Stoick faced him. It was true, Hiccup had flatly disobeyed him. Just when they needed his expertise, too, to explain that monstrous boom. They all agreed it was something about dragons. What else would keep Hiccup out there for this long?

At least that was the general excuse.

But even if it was a dragon, Hiccup still had a responsibility. There was no more time for games and exploration. And I'm not going to be giving orders to a child in three days.

He shook his head at Gobber. "He'll be back soon," he said. Give the boy a chance to return on his own, see his own folly.

"Ya don't seem very confident in that…" Gobber mumbled.

"He'll be back," Stoick said firmly.

"Hm," Gobber picked his tooth, sauntered to the edge of the ship. "Ya know what yer thinkin'."

Stoick eyed him, tried not to let his old friend know. Gobber had been training Hiccup for months on war and leadership, and he didn't want to hurt his pride.

But Gobber was not stupid. "Yer thinkin' he's not ready," he said, quite seriously.

Stoick sighed, lumbered slowly to join him on the edge of the ship, facing the great boiling expanse of sea and sky. He stared flatly for a moment, let the sharp wind prickle his cheeks. Sometimes he wondered what went through his son's mind. Did the boy even think about what was coming in a few days? For hundreds of years, the eighteenth year meant manhood, admission into the Chief's War Council. Stoick wanted him to be ready. He wanted to trust him.

But he didn't.

Gobber nudged him. "So what yer gonna say when he gets back?"

Stoick didn't respond. He'd had those words planned a long time, turned them over in his head as he watched his son climb up to his room at home, when he played with Toothless, when he was sleeping and Stoick would watch him from the doorway, the moonlight falling on his small, youthful face. Those words. It was saying them that was the question. Maybe if he told him, truthfully, his boy would think more about what he was facing, maybe he'd take it seriously. A flash caught his eye above and he and Gobber each turned their faces skyward. The flash was black and winged.

"I guess ya better think fast." Gobber sighed and hopped onto the lower deck of the ship.

Stoick inhaled and stepped down.

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