I woke up a tired wreck. I was too worried about Stormfly and Mildew and Astrid and…well, you get the idea. It seemed all I did these days was worry. Worry about the dragons we had around. Worry about the people on Berk living with said dragons. Worry about traditionalists. Like Mildew.
Traditionalists were the people I worried about the most. Because they were resistant to change. They wanted to live their lives the "old way." And when it came to dragons, the old way was without them. No Toothless, no Stormfly, no Meatlug.
And then there were people who were on the fence about traditionalism. The ones who couldn't decide where they belonged. Were they supposed to support the idea of getting rid of dragons? Or were they supposed to be inviting to them? I worried about those people too. Because it was like gravity. You stand on a ledge, and a little push in the right direction is all it takes to fall. Those undecided souls were like that. It didn't take a super-convincing argument to swing their opinions one way or another.
Now if you put people who were undecided about dragons with Mildew? You get a whole bunch of traditionalists after the day's over. Because all it takes is a nudge in the right direction. And it seemed yesterday that Mildew was starting to work up to speed on convincing a horde of Vikings to join his cause. I couldn't prove it, but the reason the armory blew up wasn't because of Toothless. I thought Mildew had planted some kind of explosive there. And I knew…no, I was absolutely positive that Toothless wasn't an Outcast. But it was hard to get somebody like Mildew to stop pressuring others. Kinda like turning around a charging yak. Probably wasn't worth the effort.
I sighed, knowing the next few days were going to be tough for me and Toothless. And all the other dragons and riders on Berk. Because if we had one slip-up, Mildew was going to be all over it like green on grass. One more roof collapse, and everything I had worked for would be meaningless.
I looked around, seeing Toothless slightly curled around me. I had waited for Astrid to finish crying last night before moving next to Toothless. Didn't want her to think I was abandoning her when she needed someone there. I had thought about consoling her, but decided against it. She deserved to keep her dignity.
Astrid was still draped slightly over Stormfly's head. And Stormfly was asleep, telling me she was eventually going to be okay.
During the night, I somehow came up with an idea when I was thinking about Mildew and how much I didn't want him in Berk. His little comment two days ago about having to continually repair the roofs had stuck with me. He was right; we didn't have enough supplies to continually repair the roofs. But we did have enough supplies to attack the problem from a different angle.
Iron would most likely do the trick. I even had the overall design in my mind. The most important aspect of the perches was that they needed to be enticing for the dragons. I had learned over time that dragons will usually land on the tallest object they think will support their weight. Naturally, that meant they needed to be taller than the roofs nearby. Toothless was especially picky about this, as was Stormfly. Most Gronckles were impartial, and Monstrous Nightmares generally liked high places. Terrible Terrors? They weren't heavy enough to matter, although they liked to hide more than anything.
I felt Toothless stir from just behind me, so I decided to take advantage. Touched him gently on the side. He blinked a few times and looked at me with a quiet rumble.
"C'mon, buddy," I said. I stood up and walked toward the forge, Toothless not far behind me. I wasn't going to start on actually building the perches simply because it would have been too loud. I was only going to draft up the design I had in my head. I wanted the dimensions so I could figure out approximately how much iron we needed.
I sat down in my study as Toothless stuck his head in and lay down, his head resting on his paws. He moaned softly, telling me to hurry up so we could go on our morning flight. I didn't even look at him. The idea I had was more important at this particular moment.
The idea I had for the perches was a three-footed support system holding up a square bar. Essentially, the support legs would have three anchor points into the ground. We needed two of them to hold the bar aloft. I knew it needed to be square because I didn't want the bar rolling around in the supports when the dragons were on it. I wanted the bar to be cradled into each support to keep it from moving around, so I drew a U-shaped top to the supports. I drew the cradle slightly wider than the bar itself just to make sure we had some wiggle room. Just in case the actual thing was a little off from the design.
I had the dimensions of the perches, and I knew the density of iron. I thought it was fascinating that the density of iron never changed…well, unless you count rusted iron, which is completely useless. But I had figured it out when I was playing around one day in the forge, finding how much space a chunk of iron took up by immersing it in water (and getting rid of the water very quickly afterward by heating the iron). If you weigh that same chunk of iron, you can divide the weight by the space occupied to get the density. I repeated that little procedure several times with different pieces of iron and always got the same result. So I figured if I could get the space occupied by the perches and multiply by the density, I could estimate how much iron we needed.
That number turned out to be staggeringly large. I was pretty sure we had this much iron, but to make sure, I put the design in the middle of Gobber's workspace with a note on it. "Perches for the dragons: do we have enough iron?" I wrote down the amount we needed at the bottom and circled it.
I walked over to Toothless and roused him for a morning flight.
Toothless and I walked into the great hall from the front doors. Immediately upon entering, I felt a little uneasy. Several of the Vikings digging into breakfast saw me enter and held eye contact for a second or two. Most of the time, people just looked up, recognized who was entering and then resumed their business. But today, I felt like I was being singled out.
This is not happening again, I thought. I had gone through the first decade and a half of life like this. Always singled out, always the source of gossip around town. And through all those years, I never got used to it.
I took a deep breath and plodded forward, Toothless behind me. I was about halfway to the back of the hall, where the food was when someone said, "Just keep that dragon away from me."
I glanced to my left and found a Viking I didn't recognize sitting there glaring defensively at me and Toothless. He didn't seem important enough at the moment, so I continued walking with Toothless in tow. Reached the back of the great hall and selected a smoked cod. Filled a basket about halfway with fish for Toothless. And sat down alone.
Toothless looked at me with excitement as I put the basket down and flipped the lid open without empathy. He stuck his head into the basket and gave an eager grunt. Pulled his head back out with a fish in his mouth. Swallowed it. This was routine for him during meals. He always started with an excited grunt, like he was thanking me and then finished his meal in silence.
I slowly ate the fish in front of me, wondering why people seemed so cold all of a sudden. It wasn't like this just two mornings ago. There were even some people who smiled when Toothless entered the great hall. Several of the smaller kids really liked him, maybe because he was tolerant of them. But today, there was no greeting, except for chilling stares.
Wait…never mind. Mildew.
I started worrying once I got about three-quarters of the way through my breakfast. The tension in the great hall was getting a little too severe for my liking. I felt like someone was going to attack Toothless if I didn't leave soon. I quickly finished breakfast alone and took the dish and basket to the back for cleaning. Returned to Toothless to find him unscathed.
"Let's go, bud," I said quietly. I strode out of the great hall, Toothless trotting along behind me. We exited, finding black clouds curling from the forge's smokestack. Someone was busy. Probably Gobber. I walked down to the forge to find several ten-foot-long square beams and an excited Gobber.
"Hiccup, you're a genius!" he shouted over the clanging of the hammer meeting iron.
Toothless obediently walked into the forge and sat down near the entrance of my study. I glanced at him to make sure he wasn't doing anything crazy before returning my attention to Gobber. "At least someone appreciates me and Toothless," I mused.
He stopped and looked at me blankly. "Huh? I thought people here really liked Toothless."
"Well, yeah, me too. But in the great hall just a few moments ago, I felt like we were gonna be attacked."
"Sounds like you're just having one of those days. I get them all the time. You'll get used to it," he said with an air of unconcern. And went straight back to work.
I paused for a moment, letting him hammer away. It was typical Gobber to brush off most of what I said to him. I decided not to press the issue and turned the topic to what he was making. "What are the beams for?" I asked.
"Perches," he said. "I think your idea is really going to keep our roofs intact."
Oh yeah, the idea I had this morning. I had completely forgotten about it until just now. "Um, how did you get so many done while I was gone?" I asked him.
Gobber stopped hammering again and said with an absolutely straight face, "If I told you that, it wouldn't be a secret, would it?"
"Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say. What's the secret?"
"Can't tell you. It's a secret."
"I'm begging on my hands and knees," I said flatly.
"Knee," he corrected.
I rolled my eyes at him. "I've still got two knees!"
Gobber walked to his left about three feet. Picked up what looked like another one of his odds-and-ends prosthetic hands. "This," he said, holding it where I could see. It was a plainly-shaped square made of iron about an inch thick. Looked to be nearly perfect size for the beams I had in mind. "I was wondering if I was ever gonna use this thing," he said.
"You've had it sitting here for all this time?"
"Yep! I can shape iron into a square in no time with this," he said excitedly. "The only difficult part about all this is making sure the pieces fit together."
"You don't have a hand for that?" I asked sarcastically.
"Well, I do, but I don't want to show off. It would make things a little too easy," he said, dropping his voice to a whisper. I simply nodded in complete understanding because this conversation was inching dangerously close to swimming in sarcasm.
"All right, then," I began with a sigh. "What do you want me to do?"
"Get the feet and cradles on the longest beams," he said.
I looked a little closer at his collection of iron beams and saw about half of them were close to twenty feet in length. Those had to be the supports. I remembered designing the legs about twice as long as the crossing beams.
"There's a pile of extra pieces on the other side of the beams," Gobber continued. "You can use those."
I smiled, knowing this was going to be easy, albeit time-consuming. While Gobber worked to make the rest of the beams we needed, I grabbed as much scrap iron as I could and filled several stone beakers. They went into the fire, where I could simply drip the iron onto the joints between the supporting beams and cradles or feet. I knew heating the square pieces would deform them, making this endeavor frustrating. Not to mention even more time-consuming, if not useless.
The cradles were probably easiest. All I had to do was line the smaller pieces of iron up with the beams and make sure they extended past the end by about a foot. Then attach using molten iron.
The feet were going to sit at an angle, which meant cutting and filing to match the support beams. It was back-breaking work, so once Gobber had all of the square pieces we needed, he and I took turns at shaping the feet.
Soon, a collection of support beams began finding their way outside the forge, ready for placement. Five perches total.
I knew I wanted one beam near the great hall. Another one was going to be near my house (the chief and his son should get at least some privileges, right?). The other three were going to be spaced throughout the plaza. Far enough apart so the dragons wouldn't argue over which was the better perch.
We started in the plaza, digging holes in the ground and securing each foot with large rocks on either side. In my plans I had made sure to keep the perches somewhat out of the way so that people wouldn't accidentally collide with them.
After spending the morning arduously shaping the beams, it was nice being able to use dragons to make life a little easier. And quicker. It was easy, knowing two dragons would suffice for each piece of metal. They could generally get two complete perches done before tiring. We only needed long pieces of rope, and they figured out what to do. Just hang on while riders guided them to the right spot.
Getting the perches set up took the better part of an hour. Getting dragons on them, however, was a different story. Perhaps Toothless could show them.
I put the tools I had used back in the forge. Exited and found Toothless sitting on his haunches, looking at me expectantly. He was well-trained, not only because he knew not to be in the forge when nobody else was around, but also in the looks he gave me when he wanted something. Right now, he was asking for attention. With that expression, I was pretty sure I couldn't say no.
I strode up to Toothless and scratched him gently under his chin. He murmured in happiness, his eyes shut.
"I need your help, Toothless," I said to him after he came down off his little high. Obviously, he didn't understand what I was telling him, so I sidled toward his back. He got the message pretty quickly and got down on all fours, letting me climb onto his saddle. I clicked into the stirrup. And Toothless lifted off without any hesitation.
I directed him to land on the perch closest to Astrid, where he would be visible to everyone, including most of the dragons we had roaming around town.
Toothless landed on the crossing beam, but seemed to have some trouble keeping his balance. Maybe Gobber and I could come back and weld the crossing beams to the supports. I saw the crossing beam wobbling in its cradle. Toothless probably felt it too because he was grunting in concentration, trying to keep his footing. It didn't take long for him to put his front paws on the top of the cradle, giving him a three-point contact with the perch.
He immediately relaxed and looked over the town. I knew he was in his comfort zone because he was completely still, knowing he didn't have to fight for balance. Toothless had a view of pretty much the entire town. Even a little bit of the forest to the east. He rumbled contentedly, gazing around.
"Really?" someone shouted, taking some of the moment away from us. "After what happened two nights ago, you're just going to let him rule over Berk?" It was Mildew.
Toothless and I glanced down at roughly the same time to find Mildew with a few more people around him. There were maybe five or six Vikings glaring up at us with that loathing expression Mildew had perfected.
"You have no idea how much trouble you're causing, boy," one of the Vikings said to me. I didn't recognize him, so I had no idea what his thoughts on dragons were before Mildew brainwashed him.
"Do you really want Thor's anger here?" another shouted.
"Maybe he does," Mildew said to no one in particular. "Maybe he doesn't believe Barnstadt was real."
"Oh, Barnstadt died a horrible death that night," one of Mildew's cohorts said with an obvious nod.
"And the same thing's going to happen to you and your Night Fury, boy!" Mildew shouted. His little group murmured in assent. "I still don't understand why you're letting the 'unholy offspring of lightning and death itself' live here. There is no place for that dragon in Berk."
"Where do you suggest I take him?" I asked daringly.
"Some other island that isn't called Berk!" Mildew shouted back.
I shook my head, not saying anything. It was pointless to argue logic with Mildew. Yes, I could have said Toothless can't fly without me. But Mildew would have spun that argument to his advantage.
"No? What's it going to take, boy? Do you need to see Freyr's Light to be convinced? Or perhaps Thor himself again? I'm sure he could make a visit like he did with Barnstadt!"
I continued staring at him. I seriously thought both the idea of Freyr's Light and Thor visiting Berk were myth. They sounded a little too made up, if you asked me. The masts of ships glowing with an eerie light? How does that happen? And don't even get me started on a "ball of lightning."
"I'm warning you, Hiccup. Don't be so confident that your dragon is safe from the thunder god. After tonight, I'm sure you'll be begging for him to be shipped off somewhere else."
"Since when did you become a prophet!?" I shouted down to him.
"I'm not," Mildew said. "But after seeing what happened in the last two days, I think Thor will have to take a step further to convince you."
I rolled my eyes at him with a frustrated sigh. This was getting too stupid to continue arguing with this louse. And it didn't help that his group had gained ranks in the last few minutes. I counted fourteen people now.
Without saying a word, I decided to end the argument because it was getting late. And it looked like another storm was on the horizon. But ending the argument would mean Toothless had to get off the perch. I knew if Toothless simply jumped down, the group of Vikings would have a field day injuring him…or worse. But running or flying away was weak, and Mildew would certainly take advantage of it. But the decision was made for me anyway. Toothless’ life was way too valuable. There was no way I was going to just play around with something that serious. So I compromised. I had Toothless jump down and land about fifteen feet away from the villagers. And we were between them and my house.
As soon as Toothless righted himself, I turned him around. He growled because the group was approaching us at walking speed. To me, that meant they weren't going to kill him, but they were going to beat him senseless to teach him a lesson. Toothless’ growl turned into a threatening snarl as they approached, undaunted.
The group couldn't get any closer to me because my dad strode between them and us, facing Mildew's little group. I couldn't see his expression, but I had a good idea of what he was thinking. The tone of his voice told me everything I needed to hear.
"Do not threaten my son or anything having to do with him," he said sternly.
Immediately, they stopped. "All right," Mildew said. "Don't do anything about that Night Fury. Maybe you should wait until Thor starts targeting innocent people before you consider getting rid of that dragon."
"Enough!" my dad shouted. Everyone in his little group winced, including Mildew. And Toothless. "Go back to your homes because there is nothing more to see here. And if you want to continue fighting this battle, be prepared to start skipping meals."
Everyone except Mildew shrunk back slightly. They knew what that meant. Mildew, however, still had that same defiant expression on his face. Maybe because he was gaunt to begin with. He held eye contact with my dad for several seconds before sighing and slowly walking away. As his group dispersed, he shot a sideways glance at me and Toothless.
I walked Toothless indoors, followed by my dad. Gobber was already there with his prosthetic tankard. I knelt and hugged Toothless tightly around the neck, hoping I could protect him within the next few days. Not from lightning or thunder. But from Mildew and his little army.
"Hiccup, you don't have to worry. As long as Toothless is on Berk, I'll help you protect him."
"I will too, Hiccup," Gobber chimed in.
I sighed, relaxing my arms. Toothless moaned softly, pushing his snout gently into my chest. "Thanks," I whispered to the three of them.