Editing to incorporate Joy’s beta comments
|The Full, True, Tale 8/22/23
Hiccup and Toothless were halfway to the Chief’s table when he heard “That’s my son, Snorri.” The Meathead tribe’s envoy searched for Stoick the Vast’s son. two feet taller than his son, and three times as wide. He was entirely muscle, except for his massive beard. Gobber spoke to the Meathead envoy, pointing to Hiccup’s prosthetic leg. The man donned a polite, attentive expression, and Hiccup granted him points for the quick recovery.
“Son, I would like you to meet Envoy Snorri Haraldsson and his wife Alfdis, here on behalf of Meathead Isle.”
While they exchanged pleasantries, Toothless wandered to the other side of the table. He sniffed at Gobber’s plate, and Gobber patted his head. “Sorry, Toothless. I’ve got mutton, and I know ye don’t like it. I’ve not got my hook either,” Gobber lifted his mug prosthetic, “or I’d give a proper scratch.”
Toothless butted his dad’s arm, and Stoick ran his hand over the rough black scales. Okay, in three, two, one....
Toothless turned his gaze to the envoy and tilted his head, then looked at Hiccup.
“Toothless, these are the Haraldssons. They’re visiting for a few days. Envoy and Mrs. Haraldsson, this is my best friend Toothless.” Toothless provided a gummy smile, plopped himself next to Alfdis, and began a dragon charm offensive.
“A Night Fury.” The envoy spoke in a near whisper. “The child of Thor and Hel, and you ride him. Remarkable.” He looked to Stoick. “If we may hear your son’s account, I would be grateful. Chief Mogadon thought the account was exaggerated, but I know he would desire the entire tale.”
“Of course, Snorri. Mogadon and I have known one another since boyhood, and I’m happy to let him know everything. That’s why my son and heir is here—to recount his exploits for you.”
Stoick was laying it on thick. His dad and Mogadon were friendly rivals about, well, everything. Weapons prowess, beard thickness, mead consumption, they would compete over it. Hiccup and Mogadon’s son Thuggory had bonded over the embarrassment, though they agreed Stoick was marginally worse. The thought dropped into Hiccup’s head like a hot spike through butter.
My son is braver than your son.
Years of Mogadon’s insults about Hiccup had driven his father crazy. Hiccup was everything Mogadon said—a scrawny runt who had never learned to fight or train with weapons. His dad couldn’t refute the remarks, and Stoick was constantly on the losing end of the “better heir” competition.
No. No, Hiccup wasn’t doing this. He hated answering the questions but did it. He took the comments about his runtiness and continued lack of muscle and laughed it off. People commented on the worthiness of his battle scar and the sacrifice of his leg. He put up with visitors believing Toothless was a pack animal, a pet, a cripple. He repeatedly relived the most horrible events of his life for a collection of strangers.
All that effort and Stoick turned it into a prick measuring contest.
“Begin with the raid.”
Stoick’s remark snapped him out of his funk. Hiccup was weary of the regular recitals and torn between the twin desires of pleasing Stoick and saving Thuggory from Mogadon’s disappointment. An idea blossomed in his head, and he smiled.
“You know, I’ve answered questions about this stuff almost since it happened.” Hiccup adopted a relaxed posture. “The questions don’t change much. What was it like meeting Toothless, how did we become friends, when did I build the tailfin are asked all the time. I have those answers down pat.”
Hiccup swept a bow. “Tonight, for our illustrious Meathead guests, I’m offering the entire story. The bits people don’t ask about, details no one else knows, the parts that get left out, available only to you and Chief Mogadon. Some of it even my dad doesn’t know. To give you the extended account, I need the agreement of The-Chief-my-father.”
“Well, Stoick, I’d like to know what your son was up to all those times he skipped work, leaving me to do everything.”
“Do we have a deal, Dad?” Stoick pressed his lips together and nodded.
“Aye, we have a deal. Be thorough; I want to know what has been missing,” he rumbled, “from your account.”
Great.” Hiccup cupped his hands and shouted. “Hey, Astrid.”
“What is it?”
“Come join us.”
His friends settled at the neighboring table, Snotlout kicking his feet to the top of it. “I know you can’t get along without help, but why did you drag us over here, cuz? I mean, besides my awesome looks.”
“Envoy Haraldsson and his wife want the whole story to take back to Meathead. You were all there, so you can fill in the blanks.” Hiccup turned back to the Haraldssons. “Oh, and that’s Snotlout Jorgenson, Fishlegs Ingerman, and Astrid Hofferson. Try scratching his forehead; he loves that.” This last remark was directed at Alfdis, who was admiring Toothless. The useless reptile was eating it up.
“Envoy Haraldsson, I can begin at your convenience.” The man, who had been watching his wife stroke the dragon’s head, came out of his daze and responded.
“Beginning now is fine, thank you.”
“First, please tell me what parts of the story you know, and what I’m called in the tale. If you can tell me, it helps with the starting point.”
“Hiccup the Hero. Also Merciful and Noble.”
“So where does the story begin?” Hiccup noted his father’s wariness, and hoped not to screw up.
“You shot down a cunning, vicious Night Fury with a remarkable device you built to protect your tribe.” Toothless had his chin on Alfdis Haraldsson’s lap, crooning. “The night was as black as pitch and you could not see it...”
“see him, but you tracked it...him across the sky, and your aim was true. You struck the Night Fury and he crashed to the ground.”
“Right. The machine I built malfunctioned five minutes before, and it was a miracle when the Mangler worked the way 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 hurried on. “What came next?”
“You sought out the despicable creature, prepared to slice off his head.”
“I searched Raven Point for hours 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 with 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.”
“Toothless slammed me against a rock and I thought I was finished. He glared at me, screeched, and flew away. I fainted.” Hiccup waited a moment for envoy Haraldsson to process the details.
“An eating knife?” Snorri asked him. “Why not your seax?”
“It was the only weapon I owned. No swords, no daggers, no staves—I was too puny to train. I’ve grown since then, though.” He paused to let that sink in. “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 he always said no. I didn’t want it anymore and he stuck me in there. Then he left on a search for the nest. That day sucked.” Stoick cleared his throat. “I mean, it went badly.”
“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 said the dragons would attack the others, because they were real Vikings, and I wasn’t.” Gobber had the grace to look embarrassed. “He released the Gronckle, and I almost died from a blast to the head.”
“You didn’t defeat it?”
“No one 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. His dad 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.”
He told them everything: showing up late for dinner, nearly getting flattened by an angry Nadder, voluntarily seeking out Toothless with a lone fish, then harassing him until he climbed a tree. His friends added to the story.
“I tried warning him about the Zippleback, and he told me to shut up.”
“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 the admiration from the village.
“Dad came home and was thrilled I knew how to defeat dragons. He found me to tell me how proud he was. He was laughing and clapping me on the shoulder, wanting to discuss my techniques. He even gave me a memento of my mother’s—a helmet.” He took a swig of water. “I realized I was trapped.”
“So, I win dragon training. I go to the cove to see Toothless. We’re talking when Astrid finds us. I persuade her to fly with us…”
Astrid shook her head. “Nuh-uh. You’re giving the whole story, Hiccup. If you don’t tell them, I will.”
Hiccup fixed his eyes on the envoy and destroyed every remnant of Hiccup the Hero.
“Killing a dragon is impossible, and the tribe expects me to do it. Gobber and the kids in my class want to see it happen. Dad’s so proud of me, and I’m going to fail them all. So,” his voice echoed through the hall, “I packed my stuff to run away on Toothless.”Several people gasped, and Hiccup was unable to meet Stoick’s eyes. “It was the only way out.”
Hiccup continued until the events of the kill ring. “I went in, knowing I wasn’t going to kill the dragon. With the entire tribe watching, I tried to make friends with a Monstrous Nightmare. I told everyone 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 startled and attacked me. Astrid rushed in 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 and 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 telling his story to people, but now he was on a dark thread 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 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 the fleet sail away, knowing I’d sentenced my tribe 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 half of a plan...”
Snotlout snorted. “In your dreams. You had maybe five percent of a plan.”
“Thanks for the support.” Hiccup used a dry tone, and Gobber chuckled.
“Aye, well, he’s not wrong, Hiccup.” Hiccup rolled his eyes, and Snorri Haraldsson offered a small 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 they,” he gestured to the other table, “walk in and save me from my stupidity. I let the dragons out, paired everyone up, gave a quick lesson on staying on, and we flew off together.” Hiccup pulled out his journal. He opened it to the pages containing a sketch of the Red Death, then passed it to the envoy.
Hiccup gestured to the other table. “They wanted me to 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.” Hiccup closed his eyes, remembering.
“We found the island. It was chaos. Every ship was burning. 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 Astrid’s dragon, they’d have died. Even that monster took notice of a magnesium blast.” He saw a hint of satisfaction on Astrid’s face—Stormfly was fierce, 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. The Thorston twins flew past its nostril and antagonized that thing into firing at them. 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 ocean. I swim down and try to free him, fail, and almost drown when Dad rescues me. 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,” Hiccup’s voice caught, “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 butted up against him, 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.”
“Nadders are perched on rooftops, and a Zippleback is eating fish in the village square. Everyone comes running to see me. The village is full of dragons and my dad is happy about it.” Hiccup shook his head. “It was surreal.”
“Everything destroyed when Toothless and I crashed 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.”
“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 room laughed with him.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Okay, Astrid hit me. Oww. Just like that,” he said, rubbing his arm and scowling at her. “I asked her if she was always like this, because...” He hesitated. Astrid grabbed him by his vest, dragged him forward, and kissed him. He heard laughter and catcalls, but his mind 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.”
“So, I saddled Toothless and we went flying with Astrid, Stormfly, and the others.”
“So now you know. I’m not Hiccup the Hero. I was a fraud who got caught. Everyone on that island fought a monster beyond imagining. The riders fought their first battle on dragons they never flew with before. The dragons were fighters and Toothless was fearless. Compared to them, I was barely there.”
“That is the full, true tale.”
§ § §