A low groan woke me up. I felt a gentle nudge at my right shoulder. It was Toothless, telling me I needed to take him on a flight. Just like normal.
"Mm. G'morning, buddy," I said from the floor with a yawn. Sat up. Toothless towered over me as he sat back on his haunches with his usual expectant look. There was no trace of the sour mood I had put him in yesterday after moving the statue to Mildew's house. I knew we needed to truly get rid of it soon, but I felt satisfied knowing Mildew was experiencing some of the misfortune Toothless and I had endured.
Not to say that feeling was better than having a Night Fury who was ready for a flight sitting in front of me. It wasn't. Toothless could always make me feel better about anything, and there were no consequences about it either.
I slowly got to a standing position and trudged over to the wash basin fifteen feet away from me. Threw some water on my face in an effort to wake up, then turned back to Toothless.
"It's flying time, Toothless," I said to him. He knew the word "fly" and any of its forms like he knew how to shoot a fireball. And Toothless’ antics before we were airborne never got old. He nearly jumped from the second floor to the ground, ran to the door and whirled around, waiting for me. I was always too slow for him because I had to take the stairs. I opened the door for him, and he bounded out with an excited grunt, then turned again, waiting impatiently for me. This was routine for us, and I didn't want it any other way. I wished I could get as excited as Toothless about an everyday activity.
I hooked in with my peg after getting on his back, and he took off. Like most flights around Berk, I let Toothless decide where we were headed. I simply followed his lead, adjusting the tail fin as he flew.
Toothless took me on a long flight around the island this morning. Including around the far side of the mountain. I didn't care one bit. I just wanted him to enjoy his flights. This was the closest he was ever going to get to being a free dragon again.
My mind paused, thinking about that. Flying had become a second nature to me, so it took no effort to follow Toothless’ guidance with my peg. But when I was hooked into the stirrup and on his back, that was the next-best thing to being completely free. I thought back to when I was barely learning to fly on Toothless’ back, when I still had both feet. I thought about how willing Toothless was to share his life with me after he realized I could help him get back into the air. I thought about how lucky I was to find him that first day over a year ago. And I realized how lucky I was now. Toothless was still here, still part of my life. And we were flying. How many people in the world could say they got to fly on a dragon's back?
I sighed in elation as Toothless made a beeline from the far side of the island toward the great hall. He had apparently decided it was time for breakfast.
Toothless landed several yards short of the front entrance to the great hall. The doors were slightly ajar, which wasn't too uncommon during the summer months. As we neared the entrance, Mildew's voice caught my attention. He was in the great hall trying to get people to believe him about something. Probably the statue. After a couple seconds of listening, I heard the words "Hiccup" and "Night Fury" within the same sentence. He was blaming me and Toothless for his misfortune. And I wasn't surprised in the least bit.
I knew Toothless and I were going to be the talk of the town by noon today. Staying hidden would only worsen the rumors. Against my better judgment, I decided to follow Astrid's advice she had given me in hindsight when Toothless and I were stranded. Just stand up to Mildew. I had a reason. Or better yet, I had a way to (hopefully) get the focus on him.
I opened the doors enough to let Toothless through. Looked into the great hall and almost fell down laughing. Mildew was railing at the top of his lungs to a crowd of maybe five people. And I could tell by most of their expressions they didn't care one bit. Everyone else in the great hall had moved toward the edges and was immersed in their food and drink.
Mildew paused briefly and said across the hall, "You've got nerve to come here, boy." His speech was slurred a little, so he must have been short on sleep. "You and that Night Fury of yours, the dragon that continually destroys Berk," he started, slurring the words "Night Fury." But I didn't pay attention to the rest of what he said. I simply walked forward with my hand on the back of Toothless’ neck. There was a little bit of urgency in my touch because I was trying to tell him not to pay attention to Mildew.
"Well!?" Mildew shouted. "Are you going to explain for yourself? Or how about your dragon?"
I simply looked forward and walked past him. I felt Toothless tense and begin turning toward Mildew, so I pushed his head toward me without saying a word. I wasn't going to give Mildew or Toothless the chance to come to blows because I knew Toothless would be the one to strike first.
It didn't take long for people to resume their routines as if nothing had happened. I stole a quick glance at Mildew and saw his shoulders slump.
Toothless and I continued walking to a table as far from Mildew as we could get. "Stay here, bud," I told him. He sat down on his haunches and looked at me, waiting for his breakfast. And just like normal, I grabbed a basket of fish and a plate with a salmon on it. Put the basket in front of Toothless and flipped the lid open. Toothless’ eyes widened as he stuck his head into the basket. He grunted and pulled a fish out. Swallowed it whole. And continued in silence. I loved his little routine around mealtimes.
I finished my meal at about the same time as Toothless. Wasn't that hungry, so I gave the half-fish left over to Toothless. He was smart enough to make sure it didn't go to waste. I took the basket and dish to the back of the great hall for washing and returned to Toothless. And somehow, Mildew had limped his way in between us and either exit of the hall. He was making his best effort to glare at us. Toothless returned the favor by growling at him. I nearly giggled from the sight of his right leg. It was still grotesquely ballooned.
I simply stood there in silence, waiting for Mildew to make the first move. Even if it took all day.
"You go on with your life like it's completely normal, boy," he said. I kept waiting. "You don't understand how much damage and chaos these dragons cause. All you do is see some kind of potential that doesn't even exist."
I blinked. Toothless growled. A few people had gathered around us. Since Mildew was closest to any exit, most of the crowd began forming around him.
"I still can't fathom why you won't let me teach you the truth about dragons. I've given you every opportunity in the world, and you are stubborn, like your father." Mildew paused, waiting for any signal from me. It was everything I could do to keep my hand on the back of Toothless’ neck. All I needed to do was say "plasma blast," and Toothless would blow Mildew to pieces. But I stayed silent, keeping a slight pressure on Toothless’ neck toward my side. It was my signal to him to stay with me. And above all, I remained silent.
"I know you can talk," Mildew continued. "Unless, of course, your Night Fury bit out your tongue." He slurred the words "Night Fury" again. I simply looked at him, waiting for an opening. Some of the crowd that had gathered around us simply walked off. Other people, however, gathered in their place. It almost felt like me and Toothless against all of Berk. I was duly impressed that Mildew hadn't brought up the statue yet. He must have been smart enough to get the focus on me and Toothless.
There was a pause in our one-sided conversation. To me, it sounded like all the air had been sucked out of the great hall.
"If you're just going to stand there, then I'll help you with your dragon problem," he said cryptically. But there was no interpretation needed when he stepped forward.
"Uh-uh," I said to him. And made a show of taking my hand off of Toothless’ neck except for my index finger. "I won't stop him," I warned. Toothless must have felt me begin to let go because he snarled at Mildew. He was definitely ready to attack.
This wasn't a good situation to be in. I knew if I let Toothless go, he'd destroy Mildew in a heartbeat. There was no way out that didn't involve pushing my way through a crowd of people. And holding steady with Toothless could have meant gambling with his life. The only good way out of this conundrum was for Mildew to walk away, something I was pretty sure he wouldn't do when there was a dragon around.
Leaning on his walking staff, he used his right hand to pull something out of his belt. He winced in pain as a knife appeared in his hand.
Oh, no, I thought. Somebody, please stop him.
Mildew grinned slightly as he shuffled closer to Toothless, holding eye contact with him. "Are you that willing to sacrifice a dragon?" he asked.
"I warned you," I whispered to him.
"What…?" he asked, turning to me.
"Plasma blast," I said flatly, looking at Toothless. I took my finger off Toothless’ neck, making a show of bringing my arm back to my side. And Toothless didn't need to be told twice. Without warning, he shot a blue fireball at Mildew's outstretched right hand. It exploded with a hollow bang that reverberated in the great hall. The fireball wrenched the knife out of Mildew's hand, and it flew straight backward. Through pure luck, there was nobody standing in its path, so the knife clattered harmlessly into the wall a good twenty feet behind Mildew.
Mildew's arm shot backward as his face contorted in pain from being burned. He grabbed onto his forearm and groaned, crouching awkwardly because of his leg. The crowd around Mildew had no time to register what had happened, because they dispersed quickly, panicking that a dragon had just shot a fireball in the great hall.
I knew Toothless was going to snap from panic or anger, and his first target would be dead very quickly. Amidst all the confusion, I put my hand back his neck and pulled him along with me.
"C'mon, Toothless!" I whispered to him. Mildew was still crouched in a ball, still holding his right hand in pain and still groaning slightly. I watched as he slowly flexed his hand, trying to get some kind of movement back. This was a perfect distraction for us, except for Toothless glaring at Mildew, making sure he wouldn't try to attack again.
I stepped between my dragon and Mildew and made eye contact with Toothless. "C'mon, bud," I said, trying to coax him toward me. He seemed to snap out of his trance and walked cautiously in my direction. I held eye contact with him as I strode backwards, checking every so often to make sure I wouldn't collide with any Vikings or tables on our way out. And through it all, Toothless followed, trying to keep up with me.
It didn't take long for me to bump into the double doors, which I pushed open. Toothless followed me outside. My first thought was the armory. It was nearby, and only a scant few people were ever allowed inside. And there was only one dragon who had permission to be in there.
I directed Toothless into the armory and shut the door behind us. The vista was closed for now, although Gobber would show up soon for blacksmithing.
I put my hands on my knees and heaved a massive sigh of relief, while Toothless stared at me with a concerned look on his face. For now, we were safe. I hugged Toothless tightly, thankful we had somehow gotten out of that mess without seriously hurting anyone.
"I'm sorry, bud," I choked out. "I wish you didn't have to go through this."
"Hiccup, are you in there?" a voice asked through the closed vista. It was Astrid. I couldn't move, so after a moment, the side entrance opened to reveal her standing in slight disbelief. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't let go of Toothless. And I didn't even look at Astrid. She was silent for a short time, then said, "Hiccup, some of the Vikings are saying Toothless tried to kill Mildew."
I groaned in frustration, knowing Mildew had subconsciously coached them into skewing the facts. "Whatever," I said quietly. "Let them say that."
"What really happened?" she asked.
I took a deep breath without relinquishing my hold on Toothless. He simply sat there, letting me get all of my worry out. "Mildew tried to stab Toothless with a knife. I had Toothless shoot a fireball at him." Slowly, my arms relaxed, and I let go of Toothless, sitting down on the wooden floor of the armory. Toothless moved forward slightly with a grunt, like he was going to watch over me.
Astrid stroked Toothless’ head gently. He turned toward her and leaned into her hand with his eyes closed. "You did what you had to," she said.
Outside, several muffled voices were yelling something. After they finished, I heard my dad reply, "Uh-huh. I'll check on him to make sure."
Two seconds later, the armory door was filled with my dad's silhouette. "Did Toothless try to kill Mildew?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Mildew pulled out a knife, and I told Toothless to shoot it out of his hand with a fireball."
"Is anyone hurt?"
I shrugged. "Mildew. He has a swollen leg and his hand is burned."
My dad rolled his eyes with a soft groan. "I think that statue could stay there for a few more days," he said in annoyance.
I looked up at him, flabbergasted. Before I could say anything, my dad continued. "If he's going to continue trying to incriminate you and your dragon, he's going to suffer the consequences. I am tired of his lies."
This was too good to believe. I hadn't even sought my dad's permission to move the statue to Mildew's house. I just wanted the revenge. Now, my dad didn't seem to be in a hurry to move the statue.
"Th-thanks," I stuttered, still looking up from the floor. My dad nodded and turned around. And found Mildew, who was ready to blast some choice words at him. "I'm only going to say this once," he told Mildew without waiting for him to say something. "As long as you target my son, his dragon or any other dragon on Berk, that statue will stay next to your house. And I think we have another thunderstorm coming tonight."
My dad started walking away from the armory, taking Mildew and his attention with him. Not to mention Fungus. Mildew began turning red, just like the burn Toothless had left on his hand. But he seemed to have enough composure to keep from yelling obscenities at my dad. Mildew shouted something anyway, limping along with him. I didn't pay attention to what he said, but I saw my dad continue walking in complete ignorance, Mildew struggling to keep up.
"Good riddance," I mumbled under my breath. I put my head in my hands because I didn't want to deal with this nonsense anymore.
I heard Toothless moan quietly. He nudged into my forearm with a gentle whuff. I looked at him, finding a concerned expression on his face again.
"Toothless thinks you're important," Astrid said, pointing out the obvious. She sat down next to me. "As long as he's around, you're gonna be safe."
Toothless nudged his snout into my shoulder, trying to let me know he wasn't going to leave me. And as usual, I started feeling better about myself. Because he had this magic in him that I just couldn't explain.
"Promise me you won't leave him," she said.
I thought about what she told me to do. It wasn't like I was going to make an empty promise to Toothless. But I realized what I had inadvertently put him through. I didn't stand up to Mildew when I had the opportunity, and it nearly cost us our lives. Toothless took the brunt of that lightning bolt because of my indecision. He took the punishment that was probably meant for me. Parts of his skin nearly fell off, and he was almost killed by Mildew at least once. And after all that, he was still here for me. Toothless didn't give up on me because I was "weak." I felt like he was saying he still loved me, no matter what.
I leaned forward and wrapped Toothless in another hug. He grunted, knowing I had paid attention to what he said. "I promise."
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