"Oh, come on, Hiccup. You and Toothless will be fine," Gobber said. "Besides, I think the perches are probably your best idea yet." He took a swig from his prosthetic tankard and grunted in disgust, his eyes wide in surprise. Immediately, he removed the mug from his lips and spit whatever he was drinking back into its container. "Gods, that was bad. I think it's about time to check on moving the well again." Gobber shuddered. Whatever he nearly took a swallow of must have had a hysterically bad taste.
My dad looked into his own tankard and his eyebrows rose slightly. "Um, yes, I think that would be wise," he concurred.
I looked at the two of them from the floor, one of my arms still draped over the back of Toothless’ neck. I had no idea how we were going to be "fine." Toothless rubbed his head gently against my chest with a low grunt, asking for more attention. Just like usual, I gave in and scratched the top of his head. Toothless rumbled, sending a soft vibration up my left arm. I smiled at him.
"Hiccup, just think of what we can accomplish now that the perches are in place!" Gobber said excitedly, apparently getting over his shock about the water. "We could build new stables or reinforce the roofs with iron! It's like you've opened an entirely new way for us to help the dragons."
"Give it time, Gobber," my dad told him with a short laugh. "Berk is still for people, you know."
Toothless perked. At first, I thought he was reacting to what my dad just said. But then reality took over, and I realized Toothless probably didn't comprehend that. He was reacting to something else.
"Yes, he just said that," Gobber told Toothless. Toothless simply looked at him, probably because he realized Gobber was directing his speech to him. "Hiccup, why is your dragon so concerned we're gonna kick him out of Berk?"
"He…what?" I stuttered. "He's not. Why are you asking that all of a sudden?" Gobber started worrying me. I thought he was in Mildew's growing camp. And Gobber was probably the second-most tolerant adult here when it came to dragons. The most tolerant was my dad. Mainly because of Thornado.
"Oh, don't tie yourself in a knot," he said, waving his hand at me. "I was wondering why he reacted to your father saying what he did."
"I, uh…I don't think he can understand that," I told him. "I think it was something else."
"Any ideas?" my dad asked. I looked at him blankly and shrugged.
Toothless turned his attention back toward me. His eyes were wide in fear, like he knew something bad was heading this way. Kinda like the thunderstorm we had two nights ago, Toothless’ eyes were twitching slightly, unable to focus on anything in particular.
I stroked him gently on his cheek, trying to get him to calm down. But when I touched him, I felt him quivering.
A light patter started, just like two nights ago. I glanced upward, remembering the cover again. Still there, held down by the pitch. No worries. And there were no dragon outlines in the roofs tonight. After Toothless’ little demonstration, several Nadders and Monstrous Nightmares we had around Berk figured out the perches were safe.
A low rumble sounded. And it wasn't Toothless. I sighed in frustration, knowing we were in trouble again tonight. Mildew would be working all the angles on this thunderstorm tomorrow, enlisting others to join his cause. My only hope was that the thunderstorm would be mostly rain and not lightning.
I edged closer to Toothless as my dad and Gobber sat at the table. Toothless curled slightly around me, asking for my protection again.
"Is he all right?" Gobber asked.
"We'll just have to see in a few hours," I said. "Depends on what this storm throws at us."
Another low rumble. And the patter of the rain hadn't gotten any louder. I shrugged on the inside, knowing if I even thought about it, we'd be jinxed and the heavens would open up with rain and lightning. To keep my mind off of that idea, I stroked Toothless’ head, trying to give him my undivided attention.
A loud crack very quickly ended the possibility of the thunderstorm being mild. The walls of the house vibrated with a low-pitched hum from the thunder coursing through Berk. I just hoped there were no dragons or people outside.
Toothless tensed, ready to dash off at a moment's notice. Another thunderclap from close range made him jump with a shout. And what really scared me was Thornado. He was beginning to show worry, just like Toothless was.
As I glanced toward the covered opening in our roof, a flash illuminated the leather with a dull white glow, just as an explosion crashed into the house. An axe fell off the wall from the vibration, clattering to the ground. Toothless lost any semblance of his composure and streaked upstairs in a black blur. Despite all the commotion outside, I had a plan this time. I was going to stay with Toothless through the entire storm. I slowly walked upstairs, trying not to show any fear or pain because my ears were ringing again. I found Toothless huddled on his rock, shivering in fright. Shuffled over to him and sat down on the edge of the rock, next to his left front paw. Gently stroked the top of his head.
"It's gonna be okay," I whispered to him. I seriously wanted an arsenal of these kind of phrases, because telling him it was “gonna be okay” was getting old. And it didn't work either. Toothless was still shivering in fright.
Another explosion from close range. Toothless moaned in fear, inching closer to my left hand. I kept it there. Wanted him to know I wasn't letting him out of my sight. Another explosion. Toothless wrapped his paws around my forearm. His mouth was getting a little too close for comfort to my arm. I knew if another thunderclap sounded (which it would soon), he'd probably bite my arm off.
I slowly removed my arm from his grasp and touched his front left paw. Toothless looked at my hand for a second or two. He was still shivering in fright, but he haltingly licked my hand. He was trying to calm down, although the proceedings outside were too much for him. I just hoped the thunderstorm would end within…
Nope. Another thunderclap, still sounding like it was somewhere within the village. I thought the houses around Berk were going to collapse from the shockwaves. Since we were indoors, I couldn't see what was going on. Not that I wanted to anyway. After what happened two days ago, I figured indoors was a good, safe place for me and Toothless.
But being indoors meant the only thing I could do was huddle closer to Toothless, feeling powerless to help him. And all I could tell about this storm was that the thunder was much louder and more intense than two days ago. Logic told me the lightning must have been closer tonight as well.
Throughout the rage outside, I simply stayed next to Toothless. I didn't pet him or try to reassure him everything was okay. It was futile to try at this point. I only sat next to him, where he could see me, see that I wasn't going to leave him anytime soon.
I woke up, my legs completely numb from sitting next to Toothless. I took a deep breath and stretched, feeling pins and needles coursing from my toes to my hips. After a few minutes, I started walking downstairs. Toothless grunted urgently, trying to get me to stay with him.
I turned back toward him and said, "C'mon, buddy." I motioned toward the stairs with my head and left shoulder. Toothless simply looked at me, continuing to shake in fear.
I shrugged a little and proceeded downstairs. If Toothless followed, great. If not, he'd have to wait for just a little bit.
I knew today was going to be rough. With all the lighting strikes in the village, we must have lost several houses. And I wouldn't have been surprised if some of them toppled from the thunder. As I opened the door, Gobber asked, "How bad is it?" He was referring to the destruction Thor had wrought upon Berk.
"Um," I stammered. You know that shocked feeling when something completely unexpected happens? "I, uh…you might wanna take a look at this," I said.
Gobber stood up and hobbled toward the door. Looked out. "I…don't…see…anything," he said quietly.
"All the houses are standing," I pointed out. That was what we were so shocked about. You don't just have a thousand lightning bolts rip through a village without destroying something. There had to be a house somewhere that was razed.
I didn't want to venture out into Berk, fearful of what I might find there. The village we could see from my house actually looked somewhat peaceful. Maybe not back-to-sanity, but there wasn't any chaos running amok in the plaza.
I looked down at the grass, noting there was only a light sheen of moisture on the ground. It had barely rained, and there was no smoke curling from the village. Maybe Thor had been sarcastically merciful during this storm?
I was about to shut the door when Mildew came hobbling into view. Well, what caught my attention was Fungus bleating about something, which was a common occurrence.
"Where's your father?" he asked bluntly.
"Here," my dad said before I could do anything. He brushed his way past me and said, "What do you want, Mildew?"
"I want to call a town meeting today," he replied.
"And why is that?"
"Because Thor is getting angrier by the minute at us! Did you not see what he did last night?" Without giving anyone a chance to answer or explain about being indoors, he shouted, "Every single lightning bolt hit the perches! I lost count after a few minutes, but it's obvious Thor is saying we shouldn't be supporting these dragons like this. Especially yours." He pointed directly at me, trying to single me out.
"Mildew, I thought I already told you not to threaten my son," my dad told him.
"You did. And I'm not threatening anyone. I'm simply telling you what's going to happen if you don't do something about his dragon."
My dad glared at him a little more intensely and said, "Toothless isn't going anywhere. You have no say in what happens to him."
"Your loss," Mildew said cryptically. He continued hobbling toward the great hall.
"Um, Dad?" I said meekly. He turned around and looked at me. I had no reason to be intimidated, but when a Viking twice your size stands at his full height, it's hard not to feel small. "I think someone should keep an eye on what Mildew does in the great hall."
My dad looked at me with a confused expression. "Hiccup, what is he going to do?"
"I think he's, um…he's gonna try to get more people on his side about Toothless."
"And you think they'll believe him?"
"Uh, I think so."
Gobber stood up from the table and said, "Well, what if Thor really isn't happy with us? What if, you know, Mildew is kind of, somehow…well, not necessarily wrong, but…" Gobber trailed off because he liked Mildew about as much as I did. Which was not at all.
"What if he's right?" I said in defeat.
"Well, maybe half-right, or something like that," he said.
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, let's play your game. Let's say Thor isn't happy with us for some reason. But I just wanna pretend it's not because of Toothless or any other dragon here. What should we do?"
Without thinking, Gobber immediately responded, "A sacrifice."
"What!?" my dad and I shouted at the same time.
"No sacrifices!" I continued. "I don't wanna kill anything."
Gobber thought for a moment. Before he could say anything, my dad suggested, "A statue? When was the last time we made an offering to Thor anyway?"
Gobber thought again. "Not since Hiccup was born. You know, I think it's about time for something he'll like. And a statue sounds perfect." He beamed, as if it was his own idea.
"Sounds great," I said. "I'll help build it after Toothless and I get breakfast. And a flight."
About two seconds later, Toothless came bounding out of the house, unmindful of Gobber and my dad standing there. I wanted to prioritize my time, not necessarily because of Toothless, but because of Mildew. I had a sinking feeling that I was going to find him in the great hall, rallying more troops for his cause.
I got onto Toothless’ back and glanced toward the great hall. Nobody of interest was filing in, telling me Mildew was already inside. Oh, well. I promised Toothless a flight and I wasn't going to break it, not when he was a dragon.
I hooked in with my peg and we took off for a longer-than-normal morning flight. I wanted to give Mildew enough time to eat a meal and then arrive at the great hall. It was a way to figure out if he had an agenda on Toothless or not. My preliminary guess was that he already had one.
Toothless landed near the front of the great hall panting slightly because of the flight. He began padding toward the large double doors in the front of the hall out of routine. I quickly dismounted and nudged him to his right. "This way, bud," I told him. Entering through the front of the great hall might have been suicide for both of us. If Mildew really was pushing his agenda, any sight of Toothless wasn't going to bode well for me or my dragon.
Toothless got the message and went in the direction I wanted. We stopped at the back door. "Stay here, okay?" I said. I knew Toothless hadn't ever been through the back of the great hall, which was where we stocked our fish and eels. There was a chance he was trained enough to control himself around food, but there was also a chance he'd go on a feeding spree around that much fish. I hated that I had to tread lightly in my own village simply because of some old coot's idea. But I had to play his little game by his little rules, and if Toothless got a hold of our fish stores, it wouldn't take much more convincing from Mildew about his "true nature."
Toothless sat down on his haunches, looking at me expectantly. He was probably a little curious about why we were at this particular entrance rather than the front. The one he was used to.
I slowly opened the door to the back of the hall and heard Mildew's voice echoing around the interior. "Fan-tas-tic," I mumbled under my breath. I slipped in as quietly as I could and grabbed a basket, filling it about three-quarters of the way with fish. I had enough presence of mind to avoid any eels. I closed the lid and put a cooked fish on top for me.
The entire time I was preparing our meals, Mildew was running his mouth about how much he didn't want Toothless here. "…And for those poor souls who were trapped last night in their homes, you can thank that Night Fury for your imprisonment. The Night Fury that the boy keeps here on Berk, the Night Fury that shouldn't be here, the Night Fury that has angered Thor himself!" Several villagers shouted in assent to Mildew before he continued. "And what did Hiccup do to help us? Nothing. If anything, he has only condemned us to our fates by building the perches in the plaza and in front of our great hall. He is allowing the dragons to exercise their rule over Berk, when it should be Vikings who are in charge of this place. Not the dragons. Thor showed us exactly what he was thinking about the Night Fury by striking each of the perches a thousand times over with lightning last night! But if you didn't see it, you would have had to be deaf to completely miss the thunderstorm. I'm sure we all noticed how much louder it sounded last night, am I correct?" More shouting in agreement. "That was Thor shouting to us! Think about it! If the boy and his father won't do anything about the Night Fury, then we need to take care of it ourselves! And if we don't do anything, it's only going to be a matter of time before Freyr becomes involved, or worse, Thor kills someone with a ball of lightning." More shouting, some people looked like they were ready to kill something.
I snapped back to the present tense, remembering Toothless had a meal waiting in my arms. And he was getting hungrier by the minute. I slipped outside and found Toothless looking at me, ready for his meal. I took my fish off the basket and flipped the lid open. Toothless stuck his head into the basket and grunted eagerly, his way of thanking me for a meal. After that, we were silent in our breakfast. Several people passed by, heading toward the docks. Some of them looked in my direction. But they simply turned back to their business as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Thankfully, nobody asked me why I had decided to have a meal outside of the great hall with my dragon.
On this rare occasion, I finished a meal before Toothless. I waited for him to clean out his basket and took it back into the great hall. I sidled around our stack of fish and eels and placed the basket back where I found it. And listened. A Viking not named Mildew was talking, but I couldn't understand what he was saying. Too far away. But judging by the sound of his voice, he wasn't happy about something. I had heard maybe ten words when I recognized the words "Hiccup" and "Freyr's Light." I sighed in irritation, realizing most of Berk was going to turn against me and Toothless soon. It didn't matter if Toothless was perfectly behaved from now on. As long as Mildew was ranting about my dragon and had the weather to back him up, there wasn't a whole lot I could do.
What made my predicament worse was that I was playing directly into Mildew's scheme, and there was nothing I could do about it. Both he and I knew that if I showed myself with Toothless in public again, we'd be marked for death. My only choice was to stay away from everyone and keep quiet. Unfortunately, that also meant it was easier for anyone to spread rumors about me and Toothless. For once, I wished the weather would become agreeable again. I wasn't sure if we had enough time left to wait any longer.