Astrid sighed, watching Toothless sleep next to my feet. Probably not peacefully because of his side and tail. Stormfly was mere feet behind Astrid, keeping a lookout for anything that might have wanted to threaten us. And I was next to Toothless’ head.
Stuck. That was the only word I could think of. The only word that kept echoing around in my head. Stuck. Like two stones I pulled out of Toothless’ side. Like the rod that was still fused to his tail. Like our predicament now. Sure, Astrid and Stormfly could leave any time they wanted. They had a way off this Thor-forsaken island. Me and Toothless? Stuck.
Astrid had brought a leather tarp big enough to cover Toothless for the night. But never in a million years would it be useful as a sling. Especially going from Dragon Island to Berk. Even on Toothless, we could get here in maybe half an hour. And that was on our best days. Half an hour of hoping the ropes wouldn't break. Half an hour of hoping the leather wouldn't rip. Carrying a dragon on anything airborne from here to Berk was like a death sentence. You just didn't know when the dragon was going to fall.
"Your dad's really worried about you," Astrid said, interrupting my silent reverie.
I stifled a sarcastic laugh. "Now? When something actually happens to me?"
"I guess." I was about to say something else when Astrid quickly continued. "Gobber is getting really depressed. He thinks he and your dad should have done more to protect you and Toothless."
"And they just realized that…" I said. "It's not like Mildew was being obvious about his hatred toward Toothless." I thought about ranting, but decided against it. Astrid was probably irritated enough without having to hear me complain about something. And besides, it wouldn't have helped me and Toothless get off Dragon Island.
A blanket of silence fell over us. The only things I heard were the surf and our two dragons breathing.
"Why didn't you stand up to him?" Astrid asked me.
I knew at some point someone was going to ask this question. And what made me feel worse about it was that I had no answer that was even remotely believable. I only knew I didn't put my foot down when Mildew was trying to verbally attack me and Toothless. I didn't tell him to stop, but I should have.
"I…I don't know," I said haltingly, like those three words were burning my mouth on the way out.
"That's not an answer, Hiccup," she said.
I took a deep breath. "I really don't know." I didn't want to say it, but I felt like being stranded here was my own fault. If I would have been more assertive toward Mildew, Toothless wouldn't be so injured. We wouldn't be stuck here on Dragon Island.
To answer her question, I came up with a half-truth. "I thought the storms were gonna end soon."
"Well, they're not over. Mildew still thinks you and Toothless are hiding somewhere on Berk nobody knows about. He's been going on and on about how the statue should have had a sacrifice with it."
I hadn't even thought about the statue since Toothless and I took off after disabling Mildew. I remembered him complaining about the statue not being in Thor's "likeness," whatever that meant. My dad was right about squelching Mildew's hot air. Nobody can see a god face-to-face and live.
"Lemme guess," I started. "He wanted Toothless on top of the statue…" I paused, not completing the sentence.
"And?" Astrid said.
"He wanted Toothless on top of the statue, where lightning was going to strike because it's attracted to iron…" I said slowly. Turned to Astrid and said, "D'you think Mildew knows lightning is attracted to iron?"
She looked at me and shrugged. "I just think he wanted the satisfaction of watching Toothless die."
You could torture Mildew to see if he knew about the lightning-iron thing and not gotten a word out of him. If he did know about it, he certainly had an oblique way of showing.
I touched Toothless on his left cheek, the one on his still-waterlogged side. It felt like it was going to tear open at any moment. I sighed and stroked the top of his head, where his skin was much more intact. He pulled in a deep breath and exhaled with a soft groan. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Astrid relax slightly. I only hoped Mildew would never get his wish about Toothless.
After another few minutes of silence, Astrid asked, "Did you really kick Mildew in…"
"Yep," I interrupted before she could complete her thought. My tone of voice suggested kicking Mildew like that was a daily routine, and I had zero interest in talking about it anymore.
"During that storm, I saw Mildew and his group march toward your door," she said. "I tried to stop them, but couldn't get there fast enough. And when I got inside, Mildew was already curled up on the ground. I never saw a grown man scream like that. And you and Toothless were already gone." I smiled a little then hid it. Didn't want Astrid to think I actually enjoyed it. In reality, I was undecided whether kicking Mildew like that was a good idea. On one hand, I felt I was justified in defending myself and Toothless from getting hurt. But on the other hand, I found out I didn't like having to hurt someone.
"I would've done the same thing," Astrid said to me after a short pause. I wasn't sure if Astrid could have rightfully said that to me. As long as I had known her, you didn't have to go very far to get hurt when she was around. "Really," she continued. "He deserved it."
I sighed again. "I just wish it hadn't gotten to that point. Was I supposed to be on my own for all of this?" I asked rhetorically.
"I don't think so," Astrid said, ignoring my tone of voice.
"I felt completely isolated from everyone the last few days. And I know Mildew took advantage of it. Why did it take so long for anyone to notice?"
She didn't say anything, but I asked that question like I wanted an answer.
Thinking back, I could have handled the past few days so much better than I did. I really felt like I was the only reason why Toothless and I became stranded here. None of this would have happened if I would have stood my ground early on. If I would have been more vocal about what Mildew was doing. But now, I felt like the world was against me and there was nothing I could do to change it.
Astrid must have noticed my stress and said, "Don't beat yourself, Hiccup."
Against her wishes, I did it anyway. Just when I thought I couldn't sink to a lower level, the pressure of keeping my thoughts to myself became too much. "I…I feel like I'm the reason why we're here."
"Hiccup, none of this is your fault." Astrid went through a list that was similar to mine about what I could have done. "Yes, you could have stood up to Mildew. Yes, you could have told people about what Mildew was doing. But Mildew's the one who put you here."
"Are you saying I should get revenge?"
"Would it help?" she asked cryptically. She had that tone of voice that said I already knew the answer to this question.
I paused for a little bit. "I guess not."
"What if you went back to Berk and stood up to Mildew? What do you think would happen?"
"I don't know. He'd laugh at me?" I guessed.
"Do you think he'd try to kill Toothless if you stood in his way?"
"Maybe…" I trailed off.
"Here," she said. Astrid grabbed something out of a satchel next to Stormfly. Handed it to me. "All I want you to do is listen, and if you don't like it, you can try something else." She handed me the object, which was a short knife.
"What do you want me to…" I stopped, because I realized I wasn't listening to Astrid.
"If Mildew is really that bent on killing Toothless, let him know that he'll have to pay for it with his own life."
I recoiled. "What!?"
"Wouldn't Toothless do the same for you?" she asked.
"He…uh…" I stopped. I was going to tell her that Toothless defending me was different, that it was his instinct. But in the end, Toothless would sacrifice his own life to keep me alive. There was no question about that.
"Seriously. Why should it be any different if you had to protect him?" she asked, driving her point into my head.
I stared at the knife, trying my hardest to come up with a reason why I wouldn't make this promise to Mildew. Honor, maybe? So I wouldn't have someone's blood on my hands? Nah. Mildew had done away with respect, nobility and honor a long time ago. But with some misplaced sense of conscience, I somehow felt I was still supposed to hold onto those values. So if I gave Mildew that choice, would those values still be important?
I mulled the thought over in my head for a moment and finally came to an answer. Yes. Because I'd be standing up for what I thought was right. Thinking back, I had already done that. I didn't want to relive those memories again, but when Toothless was torn from me in the arena that day, I told my dad what I thought was right. That Toothless deserved to live. Not because he was a dragon or Night Fury, but because he was my friend. So why should that change all of a sudden?
"Okay," I said with a sigh. "I'll do it."
I felt Astrid put her hand on my shoulder. "I've got your back. Don't forget that, all right?"
I nodded, somehow feeling simultaneously better and worse about my predicament. Better because I had a plan for at least something. Worse because I wasn't at all comfortable threatening someone with his life.
I looked back at Toothless, who had his eyes closed and was breathing somewhat rhythmically. I closed my eyes and listened to him, reminded of how much he sounded like the bellows in the forge. As long as I could hear him breathing, I knew everything was going to be fine. I knew I was safe from anything because Toothless wasn't far away. I relaxed, feeling my shoulders drop several inches. We were gonna be fine. I was safe. Because I heard Toothless breathing.
I opened my eyes to find only Toothless next to me. The sky was a dark purple, except for a half-moon bathing the area in a soft white glow. In the lower light, Toothless’ skin looked a little better than it did during the daytime.
Slowly, I moved to a crawling position, my hips, knees and back groaning in pain from the sudden movement.
I just want to go home, I thought. Even if Gobber stuck me in the forge for a week and tasked me with making only horseshoes, I would have done it without a question. But I couldn't make anything here. Not when it was just me and Toothless on a barren island.
I looked at Toothless again and noticed a lighter area at the end of his tail. It was a bandage. Someone had removed the iron rod fused to his tail from the lightning bolt we took…when was it? Yesterday? Two days ago? Normally, I was proud of my sense of time. But now, I had no idea how many days we had been here.
As I turned my gaze back toward his head, I noticed his saddle was gone too. I didn't care what happened to it once I caught a glimpse of Toothless’ back. I was so worried about his tail that I had completely forgotten about his saddle. Where the saddle was resting, his skin had gone beyond the mottled gray I had somewhat grown used to. There were several open sores bleeding through the bandages covering his back.
I sighed in exasperation. "Toothless, I'm sorry," I told him.
As narrow as I was in my scope, I deserved to be abandoned here. If Toothless somehow miraculously healed within the next few hours, he deserved to be around someone who actually could take care of him. Like Astrid, maybe.
Several low whooshing sounds caught my attention somewhere in the distance. In our little cavern, I couldn't tell which direction they were coming from, but I guessed it was a dragon. I heard something heavy land on the rocky beach followed by several short grunts. Sounded like a Deadly Nadder. Like Stormfly.
I moved toward the opening as the grunts got louder. Just as I peeked around the corner, the dragon gave a high-pitched snarl and jumped backwards.
It was definitely a Deadly Nadder. And a wild one at that, too. It had a light green back instead of the blue I was used to with Stormfly. The dragon's mouth was slightly open, but what concerned me even more was its tail. The Nadder had its tail spikes standing at attention, ready to whip them in my direction.
"Oh, no," I whispered. Toothless couldn't defend me, and there was no way I could stop a wild and spooked Nadder from twenty feet away.
The Nadder and I stared at each other for a few seconds, which passed like hours. After a while, the dragon tensed and jumped into the air. It took off, probably trying to find somewhere less populated. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing Toothless and I had been spared for at least a few more minutes.
Behind me, I heard footsteps running in my direction. I didn't know of any dragon that sounded that light on its feet. Turned to find Astrid silhouetted in the moonlight running toward me. She stopped about five feet away and said, "How's Toothless?"
I shrugged. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "I don't think he should be around me anymore."
Even though she was backlit by the moonlight, I still saw her do a double-take. "Wh-what?"
"He…he deserves someone better than me," I choked out.
"What do you mean?"
"I can't even take care of him."
"Hiccup, what are you talking about? Are you going crazy?"
"I didn't do anything about his tail or back when I should have. I didn't even notice his back until the saddle was gone."
Astrid paused for a second, then shouted, "Hiccup, I told you not to beat yourself about this! Really, quit trying to blame yourself for what happened! You're the only person on Berk who would have even thought about taming a Night Fury. And now you just want to give up?" I opened my mouth to say something when she cut me off. "I don't care if I have to glue you to his back. You're not letting Toothless go just because you feel sorry for yourself." She slurred those last five words, making sure I got her point.
Astrid was right. It was stupid of me to even approach something like that. Maybe I'd feel better in the future, but right now, I was at rock-bottom emotionally.
"So, are you going to stand up, or do I have to do this the hard way?" she asked after a few moments.
I simply looked at Astrid with a slightly confused face, which seemed to exacerbate my situation.
"All right, fine. The hard way it is." She grabbed me underneath my upper arm and dragged me to my feet. "At least look somewhat excited, because you and Toothless are going home."
I couldn't see it very clearly because it was backlit by soft moonlight, but in the distance was unmistakably a ship's mast.