Normally, Toothless was the one who decided when I should be awake. When I was supposed to get out of bed in the mornings. It was one of the "perks" of being around a Night Fury. But today, I had the rare opportunity to wake him up.
I sat up quietly, completely alert to everything around me. Toothless was breathing rhythmically on his rock, saddle still on his back and connected to the tail fin I had made yesterday. I looked at my hands and flexed them. They were still sore from all the blacksmithing I did, followed by holding onto Toothless’ saddle while we were airborne. I couldn't complain. Not when we had a morning flight that was imminent.
I slid out of bed and crept over to Toothless. In the back of my mind, I had a sinking feeling that I was going to startle him awake and he'd attack me in panic. And for once in my life, I listened to that quiet, nagging doubt. So I sat down on the floor near Toothless’ head, listening to him sleeping peacefully.
I thought about how he always woke me up. Somehow, he'd pad over to my bed in complete silence and begin licking me in the face or nudging my arm with his snout while murmuring gently. He never tried to startle me.
Slowly, I reached out and stroked Toothless on his cheek. He sighed with a low rumble and leaned his head slightly toward my hand. But he didn't open his eyes, so I moved to the top of his head and began knuckling on it gently. Toothless murmured again with another deep breath and opened his eyes. They slowly focused on me.
"Hey there, bud," I whispered to him.
Toothless craned his neck slightly and licked my hand, telling me I had awoken him. I brought my hand back to my side as he stood gingerly on all fours and tromped off his rock. He stretched and yawned with a quiet moan and looked at me. I was still sitting on the floor, so Toothless towered above me, even though he was on all fours.
I got to a kneeling position and shuffled toward Toothless. And wrapped his neck in a hug. I was grateful he was generally tolerant of me smothering him with affection like this. I knew I was spoiling him rotten, but I didn't care. I only hoped I wouldn't forget what he meant to me. Kinda like what had happened before we escaped Mildew's wrath. I had barely acknowledged Toothless’ presence in my life, like I was taking him for granted.
I let go of Toothless and looked him in the eyes. I felt that connection again, that little spark of "magic" or whatever I was supposed to call it. Toothless was apparently an expert with it because he could seemingly channel that magic at will.
"Let's go flying, bud," I suggested.
Toothless’ eyes brightened almost immediately. Without waiting for me, he bounded down the stairs and grunted once he reached the door. He was telling me to hurry so that he could get back into the air. Where he belonged.
"All right, I'm coming," I said in mock annoyance to him as I plodded down the stairs. I never tried to make him wait, but I couldn't help taking in his eagerly impatient expression he always had when a flight was about to happen.
I opened the door for him, and he sprinted out. Toothless got maybe ten feet away from our stoop, turned around and looked at me. I took my time getting to him. Got on his saddle and hooked in with my peg. And without waiting, Toothless leapt into the air.
I felt everything through his sides, like his breath coming in massive gasps. His wings pumping up and down so he could touch the sky. Like usual, I let Toothless decide on our course. He always seemed to end up in a better mood when I simply followed his lead, rather than try to direct him.
I watched as our village slowly receded underneath us. Looked forward. Toothless seemed to be heading for one of his favorite spots just off of the main island of Berk. It was a large stone arch with a generally flat top. Somehow, grass had taken root there, like someone had planted it. And the top was large enough for two dragons and their riders to fit.
Predictably, Toothless landed where I was looking. Front legs first, then back legs, making a hollow ka-thump sound. Underneath us, the ocean was crashing against the rock walls. And about half a mile away was Berk.
I dismounted from Toothless’ back and sat down next to him, taking in the scene. The sun was mostly up to my right, illuminating the east side of the village. The sky had lost most of its orange from sunrise, bathing the area in bright sunshine. I took a deep breath, wondering how I had ever taken this view for granted. Toothless was next to me, and we didn't have a worry in the world.
"There you are!" a voice shouted, breaking me out of the reverie I had slipped into. I glanced to my left to find Astrid and Stormfly two seconds away from landing.
"Hey, Astrid," I said quietly after Stormfly had landed. Astrid jumped off her dragon's back and sat down next to me.
"It's pretty, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yeah," I replied. I was so lost in thought I could barely hold a conversation.
The statue of Thor in the middle of the plaza caught my attention. The sunlight was glinting off of it at just the right angle to leave spots in my vision.
"I'd really like to…you know…'get rid' of the statue today," I said, emphasizing the phrase "get rid."
"Do you think Stormfly, Toothless and Meatlug are gonna be enough to move it?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Maybe."
"I'll ask him," Astrid said, referring to Fishlegs. "You two eat breakfast." I nodded silently, still lost in the scenery. Astrid and Stormfly left our little island.
Toothless nudged my shoulder gently with a low grunt. My mind returned to the present tense as I looked at him. I silently got to my feet and climbed on his back. Hooked in and we were airborne once more. He landed about thirty feet away from the double doors leading into the great hall. About where the dragon perch used to be. The one that spawned balls of lightning. Now there were several small holes in the ground where the perch had been anchored.
I dismounted from Toothless’ back and led him toward the doors in front of us. This time, I tried to steel myself for entering the great hall. I wasn't gonna show any fear or hesitation. I must have looked pretty ridiculous sporting a determined expression just to walk into a communal area.
I opened one of the doors and walked through, Toothless behind me. We were about five steps into the great hall when Toothless began growling. He shoved his way between my right side and the tables, glaring at someone to my right. Reflexively, I glanced in that direction to find Mildew sitting awkwardly at one of the tables with his right leg ballooned to about three times the size of his left. Great. I was pretty sure he couldn't do much on one leg, but his presence was still enough to get under my skin.
"C'mon, buddy," I whispered to Toothless. I knew if we stayed here, Toothless would probably attack him, which was exactly what I didn't need. Even though Toothless loathed Mildew, an unprovoked attack would definitely be grounds for me losing Toothless. I had already lost him twice, making seemingly empty promises that I would be back for him. I didn't need to experience that feeling again.
"Toothless, let's go," I said with a little bit of impatience. Toothless wouldn't budge. It seemed like he was holding his ground so that Mildew wouldn't reach me. I gently pushed his head away from Mildew and started walking toward the back of the great hall. I wanted to show everyone, including Toothless, that Mildew wasn't worth the effort right now. Slowly, Toothless broke his staring contest and caught up with me, rubbing underneath my right hand. "Good job, bud," I said. And rubbed the top of his head. He murmured quietly, now knowing I was rewarding him for his behavior.
"Enjoy what time you have left with your dragon, boy," Mildew called tauntingly from several yards behind us.
I kept my hand on Toothless’ head, making sure he didn't turn around. And continued walking as if Mildew hadn't said anything. If he wanted to give any weight to his threat, he'd have to come up to me and Toothless. And on a painfully swollen leg? He'd definitely think twice about that. In fact, I was wondering how he was able to get from his house to here.
"Stay here, bud," I said to Toothless, directing him to a table as far from Mildew as I could get. He sat down on his haunches, looking at me. I saw the worry behind his eyes but didn't do anything about it. I turned and walked toward the back of the hall. Grabbed a basket. Filled it about three-quarters with fish. And grabbed a cooked salmon for myself. I returned to the table to find Toothless hadn't moved. Success. I put the basket down in front of him and flipped open the lid. Toothless stuck his head into the basket, grunted and pulled a fish out. He looked at me as he swallowed it whole. Like he was thanking me for the meal. I never got tired of his little routine around meal times.
I turned to my fish and began eating. Nobody came to bother me or Toothless, and I never felt like we were trapped in an invisible bubble. Thank goodness, too.
I finished my meal and took the dish and basket to the back of the hall to be washed. And returned to Toothless like it was any other day in our lives. I scratched under his chin gently, listening to him murmur in pleasure, then walked toward the back entrance to the great hall to keep from passing Mildew again.
As I ambled toward the armory with Toothless in tow, I noticed Astrid and Fishlegs were already there with their dragons. Toothless bounded past me and skidded to a halt next to Astrid with an excited grunt.
"Well, good morning to you too," she told him. I grinned, soaking in all of Toothless’ production.
"Have you seen Mildew?" Fishlegs asked as Toothless trotted back to me.
"Yeah, somehow he walked to the great hall," I said with a hint of disbelief.
"And he's still in there?" Astrid said.
"As far as I know."
Astrid turned around and grabbed several yards of rope from near the entrance to the armory. "Ready?" she asked. Without hesitation, I helped her untangle the ropes. Now was the best time to move the statue, since Mildew was probably going to be in the great hall complaining to anyone who might listen for a while.
Fishlegs and Astrid had apparently discussed how we were going to move the statue because both of them took all of the ropes up to the midsection of the statue. Meatlug hovered, while Astrid brought the ropes around to Fishlegs. She handed some of her ends to him, essentially forming a loop.
Astrid landed again and said, "Have Toothless grab a few ropes in between Meatlug and the statue."
I nodded at her and clicked in with my peg. Toothless took off, ready for another flight around the island, but this time I nudged him with my right knee. That was my signal to give me control for the flight. It was my turn to tell him where to go. Toothless grunted and relaxed, letting me direct him.
I guided Toothless to about halfway between Meatlug and the statue. He looked down and grunted as he saw the ropes. Fishlegs was holding them in bunches, forcing Toothless to grab three ropes.
"This way, bud," I said to him, directing him slowly to his right. I looked at Astrid and asked, "Ready?" She nodded.
Fishlegs and Meatlug took the initiative, aiming in the general direction of Mildew's house. Stormfly and Astrid were next, and I quickly realized Toothless’ wingspan was going to be disastrous for Astrid soon. I rolled slightly toe-up to let Toothless rise enough to get Astrid out of the wash from his wings. And it meant Toothless was going to be doing most of the lifting.
As the statue came loose from the ground, I saw it swing precariously forward, ready to crash into the earth due to the rise in the land. Rolled toe-up as far as I could and gently pulled upward on Toothless’ saddle to help him. He grunted from the effort of having to lift the statue. I didn't even think of it being too heavy for three dragons to handle. It only took two of them to put the perches together.
"C'mon, you can do this, buddy," I whispered to Toothless. He was breathing heavily as we gained altitude. Somehow, the statue had miraculously avoided crashing into anything as we lifted it. I looked toward Mildew's house. For once, I wished he didn't live so far…wait, never mind.
"Not in the vegetable garden," I called out to Astrid and Fishlegs as we neared Mildew's house. Fishlegs held up his right hand, signaling he had heard me.
Toothless was probably going to never let me hear the end of this one. This was probably a very unpleasant surprise for him, having to strain this hard simply to lift something. But he did it without any complaint. I was grateful for that. And I also knew I was going to have to give him a big reward for cooperating. I was thinking about how I was going to give a reward to him when Astrid called out, "Get ready!" About a second later, the statue set down about twenty feet away from Mildew's house with a low thud. Mission accomplished.
Meatlug and Stormfly collapsed on the ground near the statue. Toothless set down with a little more grace, but it was painfully clear all three of our dragons were worn out. And it couldn't have happened in a more inconvenient spot.
I dismounted from Toothless’ back and got to his front, where his eyes were slightly unfocused from being so exhausted. His flanks were heaving in massive gasps. Every time he exhaled, he groaned slightly. I checked the other dragons and saw Stormfly and Meatlug weren't any better. And even though Mildew was hobbled for the time being, I figured he could show up at any moment.
"C'mon, Toothless," I said gently to him. Pulled on his saddle, trying to get him to walk with me. He groaned slightly and shot me a sideways glance, but slowly padded along. I checked behind us and saw Astrid and Fishlegs were guiding their dragons at a snail's pace from Mildew's house. From our vantage point, the great hall looked like a toy building, but I didn't see any sign of Mildew.
We got maybe ten feet away from my house when Toothless plopped down in the grass and moaned in exhaustion. Astrid and Fishlegs walked silently past us with their dragons. I watched them amble toward the plaza and slowly sat down next to Toothless. I was generally sure he wasn't too happy with me for the time being, and I was ready to absorb his irritation. After all, I put him through this. I stroked the top of his head and whispered, "You did great, buddy." He sighed.
From my spot next to Toothless, I watched as people went about their daily routines. The plaza in the middle of town was abuzz with several Vikings milling around, some visiting the armory, while others were headed to the docks. And in the distance, I noticed a dark, ominous cloud that meant a thunderstorm was headed our way. Half of me was sadistically happy, knowing Mildew was about to get some payback. But the other half of me was worried again. Toothless was going to be as happy about the storm as he was when we were carrying the statue. And I still had no idea how to keep him calm during a thunderstorm. But maybe tonight I could figure it out without having to worry about someone wanting to kill him.
I continued soaking up the sun and watching the scene around town unfold as Toothless fell asleep. I stroked his cheek while listening to him breathe. It sounded exactly like the bellows I used in the forge.
As the sky darkened, I made sure to check that our skylight was still covered. It was. Toothless was next to me, still moping slightly that I had worn him out earlier today. We were inside, and there was a basket of fish about six feet away from Toothless. I knew he could smell it because I saw his snout move when I brought it in. But he simply glanced at me with a short groan and then looked away.
Toothless being moody like this didn't bode well for the imminent thunderstorm coming our way. If he started panicking, I knew without a doubt there was nothing I could do to calm him down. But for now, I let him have his space. I sat at the table with a cooked fish and ate in silence, watching over my dragon. I knew he'd eventually come around, but it didn't help me feel any better right now.
The door opened and closed as my dad walked in. He paused for a beat, then asked, "What's wrong with Toothless?"
I turned on my seat, wondering how my dad had missed the obvious absence of the statue in the center of town. "I, uh, really wore him out today flying."
"The statue?" my dad inferred. I nodded. "He should be fine tomorrow." And he left it at that. Even if my dad wasn't happy with my decision to drop the statue near Mildew's house, it wasn't like we could do anything about it now. Inside, I grinned, knowing my revenge against Mildew was coming one way or another.
A low rumble from outside brought me back to reality. I saw Toothless tense slightly, reacting to the thunder he hated so much. I stayed where I was, making sure not to intervene unless I had to. Toothless still had a slightly frustrated look on his face.
Outside, a light patter started, soon becoming a wall of water crashing down on Berk. It was punctuated by thunderclaps, some sounding like loud rumbles and others like explosions. Toothless was growing more tense by the minute, but the only way I was going to console him was if he began truly panicking.
A sharp thunderclap sounded, making me reflexively cover my ears even though it was too late. Toothless jumped up and ran upstairs in a black flash. I heard his quavering moans as he shivered in fright.
I slowly stood and grabbed the basket of fish. Got it outside before the entire house began smelling like fish. And walked upstairs calmly, letting Toothless know I wasn't going to leave him. He was on his rock, shaking in fear, his eyes unable to focus on anything in particular. I slowly walked toward him and sat down gently on his rock. I made sure he could see what I was doing, so I reached out slightly and put my hand on his left paw. I had remembered this trick helped calm Toothless down for at least a little while, so I decided to try it again.
Toothless quickly brought his focus to my hand and looked at it for a second. He haltingly licked my hand, seemingly grateful for my presence.
There was another thunderclap that sounded the same as a few moments earlier. I guessed it was from lightning hitting the statue. Toothless curled slightly around my hand, trying to keep from relinquishing his grip on me. Unlike last time, when I thought he was going to bite my hand off, I kept it there. Hopefully, I'd be able to see it if he moved to bite my hand or arm.
Another loud crack sounded, and Toothless groaned, his eyes tightly shut. He wrapped tighter around my hand.
"It's gonna be okay, bud," I whispered to him. It probably didn't help, but I felt like it needed to be said. Toothless simply continued to shake in fear, clinging to my arm like his life depended on it.
As the storm slowly moved out to sea, I noticed Toothless had relaxed slightly. I stood, my back, hips and knees aching from sitting for so long. I grabbed my pillow and blanket and put them on the floor, next to Toothless’ rock. Somehow, I felt sleeping on the floor next to Toothless was the right thing to do. It seemed like there was a barrier between me and him when I was in my bed. But on the floor, I knew he didn't have to look very far to find me. He watched me with fearful eyes as I sat down, becoming smaller than him. In his eyes, I became someone he needed to protect. I felt validated when I saw his eyes soften, like he was ready to defend me from anything. Toothless grunted slightly and slid off his rock. And nudged my right shoulder with his snout. He was returning to normal. No more foul mood.
"Thanks, buddy," I said to him. I scratched underneath his chin. Toothless’ eyes lost focus as he relaxed, even though there was still thunder outside. Most of the sound was a low rumble with an occasional explosion. Toothless visibly tensed every time the sound got too loud for him, but I must have gotten lucky for once because he didn't panic after I consoled him.
I put my head on my pillow, exhausted from moving the statue and trying to get Toothless out of his foul mood. As I fell asleep, Toothless got back onto his rock, charred it and lay down, watching protectively over me.