Hiccup is so done with telling The Tale, and Stoick is the only one who doesn’t know it.
|“Son! There’s someone here to meet you.” Stoick’s voice rang through Mead Hall, impossible to ignore, and Hiccup groaned. Berk was hosting the Meathead envoy this week, and he had fantasized about disappearing ever since the man arrived. Tonight his luck had run out, and his dad wanted him there to answer their questions. Again.
He rose. “I’ve got to go. Sorry, guys. I was hoping I could miss this, but the Chief and his inner circle want me over there.” His sarcasm was unmistakable, and his cousin Snotlout spoke up.
“Well, I don’t care what they think, I know you’re a loser.” Snotlout leaned back on his chair, and put his hands behind his head. “Remember that.”
Hiccup studied him, and was reminded that his cousin’s muscular, stocky build made him look like a Viking warrior. The envoy was expecting Snotlout. What they were getting was a kid with messy auburn hair, acne issues, and a gimp leg. “Thanks, Snot, I will.”
He was halfway to the Chief’s table when he heard “That’s my son, Snorri,” and saw the envoy stare at him, then look at his dad. Yep. The envoy had the look of an elite warrior, a Meathead version of Spitelout, and he wondered if this was a joke.
“Good evening, envoy Haraldsson, Mrs. Haraldsson. My name is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Let me add my words of welcome to Berk alongside my father’s.” He put on his politest smile and hoped the man would take the lifeline he was offering.
“Ah, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Heir to Berk. I’m enjoying my visit here, and the courtesy all have shown me.”
Now to greet his wife. Hiccup didn’t mind—maybe if he delayed enough, the envoy would lose interest. Stoick’s plan to hear the answers doomed him, but Hiccup clung to hope.
“Good evening Mrs. Haraldsson. I’m glad you’ve chosen to grace our island with your presence and hope to show you more of Berk during your stay.”
“Oh, thank you—what’s the title—Hope and Heir...”
“Hope and Heir to the Hairy Hooligan tribe. I never use it—the title is longer than I am.” She smiled at him, and the ice was broken. “Call me Hiccup, okay?”
His dad spoke up. “We are more relaxed about titles in Berk, Alfdis, though Hiccup has added to his list of them this past year.”
“Aye, he’s relaxed about a lot of things, like showing up for work on time. That’s twice this week, you know.”
“Yeah, well Gobber, when the most feared dragon in the archipelago wants to eat three times his body weight in fish, it’s difficult to get back at a fixed time.”
“That was three days ago, apprentice. What about yesterday?”
“Oh, that wasn’t Toothless. I, um, overslept.” Hiccup was torn between embarrassment and relief. He didn’t want to be the Hero, but being chewed out by Gobber wasn’t his first choice to convince them otherwise. Still, he recognized a favor when it was given him.
“You can discuss this at the smithy.” Stoick cut him off. “Snorri is interested in your exploits, son. He has heard stories, and I assured him you could answer his questions.”
The envoy seemed to pick up on Hiccup’s reluctance. “I would appreciate knowing what is real, and what is rumor. The idea of living with dragons surprises many, and I know my Chief would desire the full, true tale.”
Hiccup knew this was the moment. If he was going to be stuck here again, he’d get some say in what happened. Hiccup cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted.
“Toothless!” The dragon opened one eye, grumbled, and came to the table. “Meet Toothless, the amazingly grumpy, fish-breathed Night Fury. Say hello, bud.”
The dragon flicked an ear flap at the envoy, then turned to his wife and blinked innocently at her.
“We’re still working on manners, but if he likes you, it’s definite.”
“Does he dislike us?” Snorri Haraldsson was uneasy, and Hiccup took that as a positive sign.
“Nah, he just doesn’t like being woken up. Be grateful he hasn’t decided to be your friend.”
“Why is that?” Mrs. Haraldsson leaned forward.
“Because if he likes you, you run the risk of wearing his slobber. It doesn’t wash out.”
Alfdis Haraldsson was torn between surprise and amusement. Unnerved by his nearness to a Night Fury, Snorri Haraldsson kept trying to sit further back in his chair. Hiccup almost felt sorry for him.
He cupped his hands again. “Hey, Astrid!”
“What is it, Hiccup?”
“There’s a free table right here. Come join us.”
His dad hadn’t stopped him, and both Gobber and Spitelout had positioned themselves to intercept Stoick. Hiccup was going to make the most this moment; if he had to answer a bunch of stupid questions, he wasn’t doing it alone. They all fought that monster, and he was fed up with the saga of Hiccup the Mighty Dragon Conqueror.
The twins arrived first. “Good evening, Madame and Monsieur. Allow me to introduce myself.” Ruff dropped a proper curtsy. “I am Ruffnut Stinkbugsdoitter, clan Thorston, and this is my brother, Tuffnut Thicknutsson, also clan Thorston. I wish to welcome you to our humble island, and offer you a tour of the island with my good friend Barf.” Alfdis was about to respond when Tuffnut spoke up.
‘You can’t do that, sis. I’m giving them a tour with my boon companion Belch.” Ruffnut snarled.
“You are not.”
Yeah, sis I am.” They started bickering, and Hiccup spotted the Fishlegs, Snotlout, and Astrid. He grinned and told his cousin, “It’s your turn.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Snotlout shoved the twins apart. “Guys! It’s the same dragon. You share them.”
“You mean I have to share with her? Ugh. You ruin everything, sis.” They shut up and sulked—probably for the best—and Hiccup spotted irritation in his dad’s face. Stoick was about to drive off the riders and insist Hiccup tell the Tale. Gobber put a restraining hand on Stoick’s shoulder, and his dad sat back, puzzled but silent.
“I’m sorry about that. The twins can be a little different.” Hiccup shrugged. “They’re not always reliable, but if you want your tour on dragon back, I or one if the others can take you around. It’s a great view.” Toothless nodded vigorously; Alfdis had been feeding him tidbits of salmon, and he’d fly her around for more.
The envoy looked around the hall. No one seemed bothered by the ferocious Night Fury staring soulfully at his wife. One of the serving girls approached, left several raw fish for Toothless, and scratched him on the way out. Toothless gulped them and scanned the unguarded plates for more. Hiccup shook his head; he knew his dragon had scarfed at least a dozen Icelandic Cod ten minutes before.
“Does that dragon of yer’s ever stop eating?” Toothless flipped his tail at Gobber’s gut, then returned to his earlier puppyish behavior. “Ah, fair point.”
“Guys, we’re getting off topic. Why did you drag us over here, cousin? Besides my great looks, I mean.”
“Envoy Haraldsson and his wife want the entire story to take back to Meathead, Snotlout. You were all there, so you ought to be here to fill in the blanks.” Hiccup would tell them the whole story, and they could decide if they really wanted to know. Hiccup turned back to the table. “Oh, and that’s Snotlout Jorgenson, Fishlegs Ingerman, and Astrid Hofferson. Guys, this is envoy Snorri Haraldsson of Meathead Isle and his wife, Alfdis. Scratch him under the chin—he loves that.” This last remark was directed at Alfdis, who had knelt down to admire Toothless. He pulled the big eyes and gummy smile on her, and she started telling him what a wonderful dragon he was. The useless reptile was eating it up.
“Envoy Haraldsson, I can begin at your convenience.” The man, who had been watching his wife pet the dragon’s head, came out of his daze and responded.
“Beginning now would be fine, thank you.”
“Great. First, please tell me what parts of the story you know, and who I am in the tale.”
“Who you are?”
“I’ve got a lot of names lately. Hiccup the Hero is the most popular, but there’s a bunch of others. Hiccup the Bold, the Warrior, the Merciful, the Dragon Conqueror—how many are we up to, Fishlegs?”
“Um, my last count had you at seventeen, but the titles only make the list if they’ve been used at least three times. I’m keeping a tally of the others, and adding them when they get enough mentions.”
“Thanks.” He turned back to the envoy. “If you can tell me, it helps with the start point.”
“Hiccup the Dragonlord. Also Merciful and Gifted.”
“Ooh, gifted.” Fishlegs wrote it down. “That one’s new.”
“Great. So where does the story begin?”
“You shot down a cunning, vicious Night Fury with a remarkable device you built to protect your tribe.” Toothless was lying on his back, wriggling with pleasure as Alfdis scratched his belly.
“Right. I shot down a dragon who never stole food or killed anyone, but took out our catapults to protect the other dragons. The machine I built had malfunctioned five minutes before, and it was a miracle when the Mangler did what I wanted. I shot him down to convince Dad I could kill a dragon.”
“I still can’t believe you named your machine.” Astrid interrupted. “Don’t forget the rest of the reason.”
“I also wanted to get a date. Preferably with Astrid.” He surprised a laugh out of the envoy. “What came next?”
“You sought out the despicable creature, prepared to slice off his head.”
“I looked for Toothless for half the day without finding him. When I did, I was ecstatic, boasting about my heroic self until he moved. Then I was terrified of an immobilized dragon who had no hope of escaping. I pulled out this knife,” he yanked it from his belt, “and threatened Toothless. I couldn’t do it, almost left him to starve, then cut him free so he could leave Berk and go back to destroying our catapults.”
“He shoved me against a rock and I thought I was finished. Toothless glared at me, screeched, and flew away. I fainted.” Hiccup waited a moment for envoy Haraldsson to process the details.
“An eating knife? You tried to kill a Night Fury with that?”
“It was the only weapon I owned, so, yeah. No swords, no daggers, no staves—I was too puny to train. I’ve grown since then, though. What comes next?”
“You began dragon training under the great warrior Gobber.” Alfdis answered. She was enjoying the explanation, which was better than her husband, who was still coming to grips with Hiccup the Weaponless.
“When I recovered from fainting, I went home and Dad told me I was beginning dragon training. I’d begged for this for years, and Dad always said no. I didn’t want it anymore and he stuck me in there. That day sucked.” Stoick cleared his throat. “I mean, it went badly. Then Dad left on a search for the nest.”
“Get to the great and mighty warrior part, lad. You’ve hogged the story enough.”
“Fine, Gobber. I go to training, these guys,” he gestured to the neighboring table, “couldn’t believe the fishbone was there. Gobber told me I was too small for the dragons to be interested in me. He released the Gronckle, and I almost died from a blast to the head.”
The envoy furrowed his brow.“You didn’t defeat it?”
“None of us did. It was our first day and we were pathetic. Astrid was the last one standing.” Astrid waved and the envoy provided a hesitant wave in return. Hiccup shot a glance at his dad, who was glaring at Gobber. Oops. Gobber left that Hiccup-nearly-died bit out of his report to Stoick. “Then what?”
“You sought out the dragon.”
“He was trapped in a cove and unable to fish. I ripped off his tail fin and he was alone and starving. What did I do? I drew his picture.”
The entire conversation went that way. He told them everything: showing up late for dinner, getting in Astrid’s way, voluntarily seeking out Toothless with a lone fish, then harassing him. His friends added to the story.
“Yeah, then Astrid fell on top of him.”
“I thought he was acting weirder than usual.”
“He started beating us in the ring, and nobody could figure it out. It’s not like he knew how to fight.”
His dad wanted to intervene, but Hiccup made an “I’ve got this” gesture, and Stoick restrained himself.
He covered the inadvertent first flight, cheating his way through training, falling off of Toothless from tens of thousands of feet in the air—his dad looked like his heart would stop at that revelation—and his father’s pride in him coming from his fakery.
Hiccup continued until the events of the kill ring. “I went in, knowing I wasn’t going to kill Hookfang, and with the entire tribe watching, tried to make friends with a Monstrous Nightmare. I told everyone watching that three hundred years of Hooligans fighting the dragons that raided us was wrong, that I knew better. We’d lost homes, body parts, and family members to the dragons, and I was siding with them.” His voice had grown louder, and Mead Hall quieter. Hiccup steeled himself for the next part. “I was standing right in front of Hookfang when he flamed up and attacked me. Astrid entered the ring to rescue me, Dad threw open the gate, and I still couldn’t get out of there. Hookfang had me pinned, my entire body caught between two of his claws. I was about to die when Toothless blasted his way in and saved me. Then he was captured.” Hiccup shuddered. Gods, that day was horrible. Toothless gone, disowned by his dad, and Hiccup couldn’t convince him to stay on Berk.
“That was the day I committed treason.”
His words carried throughout the room. The Chief’s table was silent and all he could hear were murmurs. So many were listening to his account and remembering how they despised him for the betrayal. How Stoick focused on the trip to the nest and they knew Hiccup had turned traitor and abandoned everything they stood for. That Night Fury was the key to finding and destroying the nest, and Hiccup kept it a secret to save the black demon that ruined their village. A few remembered seeing him at the docks, watching them load the longboats and daring to look at his father. They wanted him disowned and banished, if not executed, to erase the blot on Berk.
A minute later, in a low tone, Hiccup resumed the story. “I’d never seen my father so angry. He blamed himself for not knowing, and realized I’d deceived the Hooligan tribe, deceived him. I stood there pleading for the protection of my Night Fury best friend. I argued that we weren’t any better than the dragons were, because we killed them. Then I told him I found the dragon nest.” He ran his hand down his face. This had begun as a joke, a way to rant about being called a hero and show how much he hated the whole process of telling his story to people, but now he was on a dark thread of the story and couldn’t make light of it. “He thought I could take him there, and I told him no, it took a dragon to find the island. I couldn’t convince him of the danger. He wasn’t going to listen to me. Why should he? I lied and tricked and cheated my way to where I was, then betrayed him. He had no reason to trust me. He turned his back and left.” He forced himself to look at Stoick. Hiccup had never put any of this into words, and Stoick’s gaze was full of regret, a regret that mirrored his own. He offered his father the tiniest of nods—he would not mention the deserved disownment.
“I heard my dad call for the ships to be readied. I watched from the docks as Berk’s armada and every siege weapon the tribe possessed was loaded to find the island. I saw Toothless chained and put aboard the flagship with my dad. I watched those ships sail away, and knew I’d doomed all aboard them to die.”
“I stood there and Astrid found me, dragged me out of my guilt, and forced me to do something. I ran to the arena. I had about ten percent of a plan...”
Snotlout snorted. “In your dreams. You had maybe five percent of a plan.”
“Way to be supportive, Snotlout.” Hiccup’s tone was wry, and Gobber chuckled.
“Aye, well, he’s not wrong, Hiccup.” Hiccup rolled his eyes, and Snorri Haraldsson allowed himself a smile.
“Okay, I had almost no plan. I was going to steal a dragon, fly to the island, and hope I figured something out on the way. I’m about to open the cage with the Nightmare and hope it won’t kill me this time, when the five of them” he gestured to his friends, “walk in and save me from my own stupidity. I let the dragons out, paired everyone up, gave a quick lesson on staying on the dragon, and we flew off together.” Fishlegs handed a sheet of paper forward; it contained every characteristic belonging to the Red Death, including its dimensions, and Hiccup passed it to the envoy.
Hiccup gestured to the other table. “They let me lead them. They came to me and asked to follow the traitor who doomed our parents to die. I don’t think I’ll ever be over that.”
“We found the island. It was chaos. People were running for safety, led by my uncle. My father and Gobber stood on the beach and taunted that thing, trying to protect the rest of the Hooligans. It was suicide, and if it hadn’t been for Stormfly, they’d have died. Even that monster took notice of a magnesium blast.” He saw a hint of satisfaction on Astrid’s face—her dragon was a fighter, even for a Nadder.
“Astrid helped me find Toothless. Fishlegs gave a breakdown of the Red Death’s weaknesses, then he and Snotlout distracted it. Ruff and Tuff flew past its nostril and antagonized that thing into firing at them, and Snotlout stood on its head and pounded three of its eyes with a hammer. Astrid was helping them distract and weaken it. I was trying to free Toothless, getting nowhere, when the ship we were in was smashed, and he sank into the water. I swim down and try to free him, fail, almost drown, and get rescued by my dad. He dives back down to free the dragon who corrupted his son and led raids on his tribe, and they both come flying out of the water. Toothless dumps him and orders me to climb on and fight. My dad,” he paused and choked back tears, “told me he was proud I was his son.”
“Toothless and I climbed into the sky. Nothing is faster or more agile than a Night Fury, and Toothless fought that thing. I was on his back, but he did most of the work. He detonated that monster with its own gases, then dove into the fire to save me when I fell. He’s the reason I’m alive.” Toothless came to him, crooning, and Hiccup reached out to scratch his buddy.
“I wake up from my coma. Toothless is inside my house, I’m wearing a prosthetic, and when I go outside, my cousin is flying Hookfang and giving riding lessons. I slept through all of it.”
“The village is full of dragons and my dad is happy about it. Everyone comes running to greet me. A Terrible Terror is riding on Uncle Spite. That was surreal.” Spitelout gave a bark of laughter, and there were assorted chuckles.
“Everything destroyed from the crash had been replaced. Gobber built a new saddle and tail rig, and designed it to fit my prosthetic. He handed it all to me and said ‘Welcome home.’”
“And, um,” Hiccup flushed, “that was it, really.”
“You’re leaving out the best bit, laddie.”
“Finish the story, son. The Haraldssons need to hear it all.”
Toothless shoved Hiccup closer to Astrid and Hiccup shot him a look of betrayal.
“Thanks for nothing. You’re not getting salmon for a week.” Toothless laughed and the envoy, startled, laughed with him.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Okay, Astrid hit me. Oww. Just like that,” he said, rubbing his arm and glaring at her. “I asked her if she was always like this, because...” He hesitated. Astrid grabbed him by the shirt, dragged him forward, and kissed him. He heard laughter and catcalls, but his main focus was on her. Another kiss from Astrid. On his lips. Was this one longer? It felt longer—not that he was in a hurry.
She released him, and he said, “I could get used to it.”
“He was useless at the forge for three days after that kiss. He’s probably going to be worse this time, you know.” Gobber pointed at Astrid. “If you don’t stop breaking my apprentice, I’ll make you do the sharpening and polishing.” He halted, then said, “Nah, I’d never get any work out of him with you there.”
“My son wore that look after the first kiss, too.” Gods, the whole room was watching his table. Okay, all he needed to do was finish.
“So, I saddled Toothless and we went flying with Astrid, Stormfly, and the others.” He gestured to the other table.
“Hiccup.” Alfdis spoke up. “Did you get the date with Astrid?”
“I’m not Hiccup the Hero. I was a fraud who got caught. Everyone on that island was a bigger hero than I was. Everyone on dragonback was greater than I was. The dragons were fighters and Toothless was fearless. Compared to them, I was barely there.”
“That is the full, true tale.”
Stoick had viewed this as a hero’s saga, and the retelling a way to show his pride in Hiccup. Hiccup’s account was the truth, told by a terrified kid who’d been alone in his tribe and trapped by his lies.