As the mast in the distance slowly grew larger, a dreading feeling intensified in my chest. Astrid told me only seconds ago that Toothless and I were about to be en route to Berk, and all I could think of was how I didn't want to get on that boat. Toothless and I had been marooned on Dragon Island for the last two days. I knew I was starving and parched. Toothless probably was as well. But for some reason, Berk was the last place I wanted to be at the moment.
If they gave me a choice, what would I have done? I knew I didn't want to stay here on Dragon Island. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew it was going to disappoint Astrid, but I couldn't even act like I was relieved or excited or happy that we were going home.
The silhouette of a Viking with a missing leg and a hook for a hand was first out of the boat. Probably Gobber. Two others with all their arms and legs still intact exited soon after him.
"There he is!" Gobber exclaimed. He lumbered toward me and Astrid and stopped a few feet away. I didn't have the energy or desire to look up, so I continued staring at the ground.
"Can you please show some decency, Hiccup!?" Astrid shouted in my ear.
Slowly, I craned my neck upward to find a very relieved Gobber. "Oh, thank Thor you're alive!" he shouted. "Stoick and I have been worried sick about you and Toothless. I was sure Mildew had killed your dragon."
I sighed, trying to get at least some emotion out. Being stuck here had drained me mentally. "Uh, about Toothless…"
The excited relief instantly disappeared from Gobber's eyes. I felt Astrid's arm tense around mine. She had probably figured I was about to say something stupid again.
"He's injured. It's bad…" I slumped a little in Astrid's grip.
"Where is he?" Gobber asked urgently.
Without saying a word, Astrid turned me around and started shuffling toward Toothless, dragging me along with her. We stopped when we reached him.
"Oh, gods…" Gobber stuttered. "What did Thor do to him?"
"Hiccup says a lightning bolt hit his tail fin," Astrid said quickly.
"Uh, Astrid? Either I'm going blind or his tail fin isn't here," Gobber said.
"The frame melted to his skin," I said, trying to keep my sentences short. I really didn't want to talk about Toothless’ condition right now. I had to witness everything that happened to him for the last few days, and it was a memory I didn't want to relive at the moment.
"You're joking," Gobber said flatly. "There is no way any kind of iron can melt that quickly."
"Okay, fine! Don't believe anything I say!" I shouted to him. "His fin and saddle aren't here, and that's all you need to know."
"And where are they?" Gobber asked in irritation.
"Destroyed," I said flatly. "The connecting rods disappeared, and the stirrup was torn open."
"What!? How?" he asked.
My free hand met my forehead. "Lightning," Astrid and I said simultaneously.
"What are you two going on about? How can lightning…"
"Gobber, stop!" Astrid shouted. This conversation felt like it was going to go around in circles for eternity.
"I have an idea," I stated before anyone else could do anything. "Let's pretend that I've been stuck here with Toothless who's in trouble, and I want to get him home before something can come along and kill him."
Nobody moved. I pulled my arm out of Astrid's grasp and shuffled over to Toothless’ head. Knelt by him and put my right hand on the back of his neck. Looked up at the other four Vikings here. "Help me get Toothless home."
One of Gobber's cohorts turned to him after a short pause and said, "How do we get him on the boat?"
Gobber continued staring blankly at Toothless and me. He took long enough for me to surmise that they never thought of a plan for something like this. "Let's see what we can find on the boat," he said after another hesitation.
A small bit of movement near my hand caught my attention. Toothless had opened his left eye slightly. It was still swollen, but his skin looked like it was returning to normal. I turned my full attention to Toothless, just as his left eye focused on me. We made eye contact for the first time in about two days. At that moment, I hoped I would never forget what it felt like to me.
I smiled a little, the first time I was sincere about it for a while. "Hey, buddy," I whispered to him. His left eye kept its focus on me. "We're going home."
I knuckled gently into the top of his head. Toothless moaned softly and closed his eyes, telling me he appreciated the attention. For a moment, I completely forgot we were stranded with Gobber and his cohorts puzzling over how to get Toothless into their boat.
We're going home, I thought, repeating that sentence in my head several times. When I said it to Toothless, I meant it. Like I was looking forward to being on Berk again with him. I sighed in a mixture of relief and happiness. Because we were going home. Who knew a dragon simply looking at me could alter my state of mind? And so quickly, too. I guessed he really did have some kind of magic inside him.
"All right, Hiccup," Gobber said, breaking my euphoria. I glanced up at him as he continued, "I think we can do this."
"Just be careful about his left side," I said, pointing out the obvious. Gobber simply nodded and had his two fellow Vikings lift Toothless up in sections. I stayed next to his head, keeping within his eyesight, just in case he started panicking. But he never did. The two Vikings were gentle enough with him that Toothless barely changed his breathing pattern. Gobber worked a plank underneath Toothless as they lifted him.
"I knew there was a reason we keep these planks on every boat we've got," Gobber said. He tried to make it sound like he had planned for this exact situation, but I knew he was being sarcastic. I rolled my eyes slightly.
"Ready?" one of the Vikings asked.
"Ready," Gobber said back.
Gobber and one of the Vikings lifted the ends of the plank, struggling to return to an upright walking position.
"Has he always been this heavy?" Gobber asked me with a sideways glance.
I felt it returning. My sense of sarcasm was coming back to me, because I couldn't resist. "I don't know. I never tried to lift him."
"Wise guy," he muttered as the other Viking he had come with joined them in the middle of the plank.
I followed closely, knowing there wasn't much I could do to help except offer moral support. The three Vikings carrying Toothless slowly made their way back to the boat. As we got closer, I saw another plank acting as a walking ramp on and off the boat. My heart dropped, knowing Toothless would slide off the plank and collapse on the ground. Worse, he'd land directly on Gobber, and would probably end up injuring him.
As they neared the boat, Gobber called out, "Lower your end once you get on the ramp. I'll raise this end, because we have to keep the dragon level."
If there is ever a time for a plan to work, this would be it, I thought. I almost couldn't watch, but this was Toothless they were carrying.
Gobber and his two cohorts were communicating with each other like I had never seen Vikings do. Normally, we'd just rush into something like this. But now, it seemed like they were taking great care to keep Toothless from falling.
I watched as the first Viking got into the boat. The second one stood away from the plank because there was no way for him to lift in the middle without tilting it. Gobber slowly limped up the ramp, using his peg to gain traction. They set Toothless down gently in the middle of the boat.
Gobber stood up and stretched his back. "I hope I never have to do that again," he complained to no one in particular.
Without thinking, I rushed up the ramp, nearly shoving Astrid and the other Viking away. Sat down by Toothless’ head and took root there. The only way I was leaving this spot was to set foot once again on Berk.
I stroked underneath Toothless’ chin. He moaned again, craning his neck slightly. I noticed Astrid had sat down next to me, while Stormfly was curled up near the bow. "He sounds really good," I said to her. She looked at me knowingly and nodded with a little smile.
"Looks like everyone is present and accounted for," Gobber said. He and one of the Vikings used long oars to push off from shore. They began rowing, orienting us back toward home.
"We're going home," I whispered to Toothless again. He sighed happily, knowing I was there for him.
Toothless opened his left eye again and moved his head slightly back toward his chest. He found my arm next to him and gave my hand a slow lick, leaving a trail of saliva. I didn't do anything about it because he was working his magic once again. He was the reason I was happy to go back home. Not because someone had come to our rescue, although I was grateful for that too.
I thought it was kinda strange how we could get to and from Dragon Island so easily nowadays. For three hundred years, we had been searching for that island, and now it was simply another place in the ocean. Maybe the Red Death had something to do with our difficulty in finding the island. Whatever the reason, I knew Gobber and the Vikings manning the oars wouldn't have any trouble getting back home.
I didn't care how long we took on the trip to Berk. My attention never wavered from Toothless, and I kept a hand on him because I didn't want to let go of him. Ever.
"Did you find him?" a voice asked. It sounded like my dad.
"Both of them," Gobber said.
I felt the boat rock slightly. A shadow fell over Toothless just before I felt a gentle pressure on my shoulder. Looked up to find my dad with a weary expression I had never seen on his face before.
"Welcome back, son," he said quietly.
"Thanks," I whispered. I wished I could have come up with something more elegant, but it would do for now. My dad smiled a little under his beard and gently lifted me away from Toothless.
My dad looked at Toothless and knew instantly what we had gone through. He didn't ask for an explanation of what happened. He only said, "Let's get you and Toothless home."
He ushered me off the boat, while Gobber and another one of the Vikings with us lifted the plank Toothless was still resting on. Gobber sighed audibly in irritation, knowing he had to carry Toothless again.
I glanced around, for the first time taking note of the sky. Night had already fallen without a trace of thunderstorms nearby. Maybe they were finished for good. But I noticed something else too. My dad was the only one to meet us at the docks. Like he, Gobber and Astrid were trying to keep this secret somehow.
If Toothless’ condition weren't so dire, I would have loved to sit here on the docks and simply watch the ocean march back and forth. Or watch the skylights slowly morph into different shapes and patterns.
"Let's go, son," my dad said quietly.
I led the Vikings and Stormfly up the slopes, making sure to watch how they were handling the plank. Although, this time, I felt a lot less worried for some reason. Even though we seemingly had to walk a mile upward just to get to level ground.
I got up to the top of the docks when I bumped into something. Looked upward to find none other than Mildew. So much for the secret of our return. My shoulders slumped a little because I realized he was the reason I didn't want to be on Berk again.
He shoved me backwards a little and rasped, "I ought to kill your dragon for what you did to me."
I didn't feel like encouraging him, so I pushed my way in between him and Toothless. And never looked at him. It wasn't too hard acting like I was worn out.
I knew he'd catch a glimpse of Toothless anyway. I just wanted to stay between them. The knife Astrid gave me was hidden underneath my vest, supported by my belt. I didn't want to use it, but I was ready if Mildew pushed the issue enough.
"What did you do to your dragon, Hiccup?" he said in fake surprise as my dad, Gobber and the Viking I still didn't recognize carried Toothless silently past us. "I think you should put him out of his misery. Just end it all now, because I bet your dragon…" he paused for a second, acting like he was thinking. "…Oh, what is his name? Toothless, maybe?" He waited for me to answer. I continued looking down, simply keeping myself between him and Toothless. "I bet Toothless is upset with you." Mildew slurred my dragon's name, trying to get a rise out of me. He was doing a great job at it too. I felt my blood boiling, ready to lash out with the knife. He'd never see it coming either. But I stayed there, focusing on the spot of ground between us. "You brought this on him, you know. He's never going to heal."
"Are we almost there?" Gobber asked, interrupting Mildew's spiel.
"Almost," my dad said. They were some distance away from us, so I knew I had done what I needed to keep Mildew away from Toothless.
"You said 'almost' five minutes ago!" Gobber shouted back.
Mildew grabbed my wrist and put something in my hand. It was a knife. He closed my hand around it and said, "Take this to his throat, and it will all be over in a few minutes. Just think, you're being merciful to that dragon by sparing him a long, slow death."
My dad and Gobber had probably reached my house by now. "Thanks for the knife," I said quietly to Mildew, not looking up at him. Turned around. And slowly walked home.
I white-knuckled the knife. It was everything I could do to keep from throwing a massive fit after hearing what Mildew had "suggested" to me. I knew Toothless would be okay. It was just going to take time. And Mildew hadn't seen how Toothless looked at me while we were on the boat returning home. I simply decided to walk home and do my best to forget about Mildew.
As I shut the door walking in, my dad noticed the knife in my hand. "Where'd you get the knife?"
"Mildew gave it to me."
Astrid's expression went from somewhat tired to concerned. "Wh-what for?" she asked slowly.
I shrugged, trying to keep what Mildew said a secret between us. "To keep." I figured there wasn't a good answer to Astrid's question.
"Hiccup, you don't just go around stealing other people's possessions. You know that," my dad said to me.
"Well," I said emphatically. "Mildew gave this knife to me so that I could 'end Toothless’ misery.'" I paused for dramatic effect. "But I think it'll have better use in the forge or in a kitchen." I placed the knife on the table and left it there.
"I…am…going…to…strangle…him," Astrid said through clenched teeth.
But my dad's expression told me he understood my actions. Mildew wasn't going to get the satisfaction of having one fewer Night Fury on Berk. He pulled me into a hug and said, "I'm proud of you, son."
I didn't say a word or look up at him. Still too close to flying into a rage. My dad let me go, and I shuffled to Toothless. I sat down next to him and stayed there, silently protecting him.