I led Toothless toward the forge, where black smoke was curling from the stack once again. Gobber was hard at work, but it looked a lot busier in there than normal.
As we crossed into the plaza, I cautiously looked around, trying to gauge whether someone was about to attack me or Toothless. We received a few long stares from people around the center of town, but nobody was trying to kill us. Yet.
Inside, I wondered if Mildew had somehow coached these Vikings to give long, off-putting stares. Before I met Toothless, it was the psychological half of being bullied and jeered at that really got under my skin. I could always handle rumors because I knew within a few days they'd be too bizarre for reality. But when people tormented me because I was Hiccup, I felt completely insignificant. Especially when my dad got too frustrated with my antics and refused to defend me.
Today was no different. I felt like there was a clear box growing around me, and it was getting thicker by the minute. And even though my dad was (hopefully) going to have my back through all this, I still felt uneasy. I was done trying to defend my reputation. I had grown so used to not having one that it barely mattered to me. But Toothless, on the other hand, was everything I stood for. I was truly afraid that it was only a matter of time before someone attacked him when he was somehow defenseless.
I led Toothless into the forge, where he dutifully sat on his haunches near my little office. Where he'd be out of the way. Looked around, finding Gobber hammering away at something that looked like a large, slightly curved thick sheet of iron. Not only that, Snotlout, the twins, Fishlegs and Astrid were all here with their dragons. And they were just as busy as Gobber, working on something that looked like they were going to assemble it later.
"G'mornin', Hiccup!" Gobber shouted over the din. He stopped what he was hammering on and leaned it against the wall. Hobbled over to me and Toothless. "With their help, it looks like we'll get this done quickly. Maybe even by noon."
"Get what done?" I asked.
"The statue of Thor, of course!" he shouted, as if I hadn't been awake for the last few days.
I glanced around again, noticing everyone was hard at work, even the twins. "How did you get them all here?" I asked.
"Everyone was excited about this. Well, Snotlout, Astrid and Fishlegs knew Thor would be happy about a statue of him."
"What about the twins?"
"Your dad convinced them. And then I promised them they could destroy some iron afterward. It wasn't too difficult, if you ask me."
I grinned slightly, which was the first time since about three days ago I didn't feel very threatened. I had wanted more than two minutes without thinking about my isolation, but my brain decided to shove it to the front of my thoughts once again. I took a deep breath and said quietly to Gobber, "Can I ask you a favor today?"
"Sure," he said without hesitation. He hobbled in my direction as I backed slightly toward Toothless.
"Can you or my dad introduce this statue to the village?"
"Why? Are you afraid it might fall on you? Or come to life?"
I almost said it. In true Hiccup fashion, I almost said, If that statue came to life, it would have played right into Mildew's scheme. I stopped myself and blinked. With every bit of self-control I had, I told Gobber my fears about Mildew. "I don't wanna have any mention when you introduce this to Berk. Mildew's on a roll and nobody will stop him."
"Hiccup, for the last time, Mildew won't come anywhere near you or your dragon," Gobber said, trying to brush my concern off again.
"Gobber, really. He was giving some kind of pep talk in the great hall today. There must have been at least forty people listening to him. And half the village is glaring at me every time I show up outside."
He gave a short laugh. "Maybe because they're jealous. You're the only one with a Night Fury, you know."
"Can you not hear me?" I asked him. "Mildew has a bunch of people on his side because Toothless is the 'unholy offspring of lightning and death itself.'"
"I thought we changed that in the Book of Dragons."
"We did. But they don't care," I said, referring to Mildew and his army.
"OW! Hey, I was gonna do that!" Tuffnut shouted all of a sudden. Both Gobber and I turned just in time to see him conk his sister's helmet with his hammer. She hit him in the head. Tuffnut hit her in the head again…well, you know how it went from here.
"Do you need anyone with a hard head?" Gobber asked me sarcastically.
"No, but I'll keep your offer in mind," I said.
Gobber rolled his eyes and walked over to the twins, who were still pounding each other's head instead of the iron in front of them. They stopped as he said something, but I couldn't hear what he told them.
I sighed as I tried to find something productive to do. At the rate I was going, I was going to fall ill from worry within a few days if Mildew's lies and deceit kept up. To my left, I saw the design for the statue, so I decided to check on the progress.
Astrid had both of the arms done and was now working on the back of the statue. She had Stormfly use her fire to weld the sheets together, which was kinda messy but it worked. The problem with a Deadly Nadder's fire is that it isn't concentrated into one spot. It's not like Toothless’ continuous flame. A Nadder's fire is more like a splashing flow. Naturally, there were some weld marks that weren't on the seam, but I figured it was going to be fine anyway. They were small enough that you would have had to actively look for them.
"Whaddya think?" Astrid said, turning to me.
"Looks good," I said. I was being honest. She grinned and directed Stormfly to another spot on the metal.
I saw Gobber was working on the statue's head, face and helmet. If he wasn't doing a good job on it, then we were all doomed. So I moved on to Snotlout's work. He was assigned the legs and had very specific instructions on how to assemble all the pieces together. Apparently, Gobber had shaped everything earlier. He must have been working most of the night if he had this many pieces ready.
"Um…" I started. I watched as Hookfang covered part of a leg with a stream of fire. He was actually doing well at keeping it contained, surprisingly. But the leg. "What are you working on?" I asked Snotlout after a pause.
"His legs, can't you see that?" he said in irritation.
"I, uh, think his knee bends the other way. You know, like a knee?"
Snotlout paused and looked at me. Looked at his knees. Raised his right foot and worked his knee back and forth a couple of times before setting his foot back down. "I don't see a difference," he said finally.
Luckily, the statue's foot was pointing upward, so I could do this without too much trouble. I pulled up a chair and raised my right leg forward, mimicking the position of the foot. "Like this," I said, bending my knee, which brought my foot downward.
"Hang on, lemme try this," he said. I stood up, and Snotlout sat down. He raised his right foot like I did and bent his knee. "So, does this mean I'll have to, like, break my knee so that it bends correctly?"
I was tempted to answer yes, but I had a feeling Snotlout would take it literally. "No. Turn the statue's foot around," I said as patiently as I could.
Snotlout jumped up and turned the entire leg over. "Like this?" he asked, frowning in thought. After a short pause he turned to me and said, "Look, Hiccup. I've never done this in my life. Can you please not tell anyone that I'm slow at this?"
For once, it felt good to be on the receiving end of a Snotlout confession. Those things were few and far in between. "Okay, I promise," I said. "But you'll need Gobber's help with this." I noticed Hookfang had already welded the statue's foot to its leg, so it was up to Gobber to remove it. I didn't have the strength to file out the iron, but Gobber could do it pretty easily.
I turned around to find Gobber staring at us. "Something wrong?" he asked. I beckoned him over. "Why do you need me he…Why is the foot backwards?" Gobber asked, switching topics quickly.
"Can you help Snotlout get it on correctly?" I asked, somehow keeping a perfectly straight face throughout all of this mayhem.
Gobber glared at Snotlout, but he sat down and began filing into the weld, slowly prying the two pieces apart. I began walking toward Toothless as Gobber said, "Look here, Snotlout. The foot points in the same direction as the knee. Now make sure you do the other leg correctly, or you get to fix it yourself."
I sighed as I approached Toothless. This was a losing situation. I knew we still had a couple of thunderstorms to get through for the summer. They usually lasted for about two weeks, and we had only seen about three or four days of rain and lightning so far. So bad weather, that was a given. Somehow, Mildew was going to find a way to misconstrue everything about this statue and how I related to it. If I didn't take any credit, he'd blame me and Toothless for not doing enough to appease Thor. If I took even a smidgen of credit for this, he'd blame me and Toothless for not doing a good enough job to appease Thor. And I just knew he was going to be harping on this as long as anyone would listen to him.
"Okay, good!" Gobber said, catching my attention. "Let's get everything together. We'll start with the legs and trunk."
Snotlout dragged the legs he fashioned (both of them were jointed correctly, by the way) out of the forge, where he met with Gobber. Snotlout directed Hookfang to weld the seams between the legs and hips together. It certainly seemed easier to use a dragon's fire rather than dripping molten iron to weld pieces of iron together.
"Astrid, bring the arms," Gobber instructed.
Gobber had shaped one of the arms to stick outward with its hand in a "stop" gesture, while the other held an axe across its chest. I was impressed by the amount of detail Gobber had put into the statue, because the axe looked sharp enough to slice a finger with it.
As Gobber held the arms in place, Hookfang went to work again welding the joints together at the shoulders.
I watched as Gobber marched back into the forge and grabbed the statue's head. He held it in place on the neck as Hookfang welded it. All told, it took maybe fifteen minutes to assemble the statue. Without dragons, it would have taken probably two hours at my guess.
I watched as the team placed ropes underneath the statue's arms and covered it with a large cloth. Hookfang and Stormfly went airborne, bringing the statue to its feet and carrying it toward the central plaza.
Mildew could say what he wanted, but I was certain dragons made our lives easier. This statue was a prime example of why.
My dad must have heard all the hubbub in the plaza. He was at Snotlout's house, conversing about something with Spitelout, Snotlout's dad.
My dad walked out and saw the statue covered in a large cloth. Mildew was already in the plaza. And I was watching from near the forge. Staying generally out of sight.
"Stoick, if this is what I think it is, it won't help us one bit with Thor," Mildew stated preemptively.
"And you know what Thor is thinking because…?" my dad shot back.
"I don't," Mildew replied. He and my dad left their conversation at that, although I saw an expression on Mildew's face that said he had more verbal attacks coming. He looked like he was waiting for the perfect moment.
"All right," my dad said to everyone who was present in the plaza. There were maybe fifty people here, so pretty much the entire village would have the message by tonight. "After thinking about the weather that has been happening for the last two days, we think it's time to make another offering to Thor." There was a murmur in the crowd, but it sounded neutral. Nobody seemed angry. Yet. "Some people will say Toothless is the reason for all this weather. But think about past years. Each year in the summer, we have about two weeks of thunderstorms. They happen, and there's nothing we can do about them. I am confident that this offering to Thor will help us get through these thunderstorms without any further problem."
With that, he and Gobber team-pulled the cloth off of the statue. Standing at its full height, it was about fifteen feet tall. I thought Gobber and the rest of our dragon-riding group did a great job at putting this together.
"That's it?" Mildew said.
"That's it," Gobber repeated.
"Thor will be outraged! This statue's face doesn't even look like Thor!"
"Ah," my dad said, pouncing. "So you're immortal?"
Mildew stopped in his tracks and looked at my dad in confusion. "What?" he said.
"I'm simply asking how you know exactly what Thor looks like."
"What do you mean?"
"How did you see Thor's face and live?"
A pang of realization shot through Mildew's face. "I…uh…never have. But it would take a fool to not realize this statue isn't made in Thor's image."
Mildew was trying to figuratively saddle a yak. Both my dad and Gobber knew it too. They crossed their arms at about the same time and looked intently at Mildew, daring him to continue. In my little corner, I watched impassively, letting Mildew’s struggles fill the air. He was about to lose some followers.
Mildew gathered his thoughts and said in a low voice to my dad, "Tell me, Stoick. How much of this did Hiccup contribute?"
My stomach dropped. Whatever followers Mildew had lost, he was going to get them back tenfold. He must have been watching what was happening in the forge, seemingly knowing exactly what I did and where I was. And he probably knew my dad wasn't anywhere near here this entire time.
"I wasn't at the forge," my dad said calmly. "Ask Gobber."
"All right then," he said, turning to Gobber.
Before Mildew could say anything else, Gobber said, "Hiccup did what he needed to, and that's all you're gonna hear. All of the dragon riders helped today, not just Hiccup."
I sighed in relief.
"I think you should have left Hiccup out of this. I have a feeling that because of his involvement, we just might see Freyr's Light during the next storm." A few people in the crowd around them gave a short gasp.
Please don't be right, I thought as hard as I could in Mildew's direction.
"Stay here, bud," I said to Toothless. I didn't want to take him to the great hall again, not with another storm approaching. This time, I saw the lightning flashing from a distance, but I never saw any actual bolts. Everything happened within the clouds.
I trudged to the great hall by myself. Entered in the back again, trying not to arouse any suspicion. Kind of like when I was keeping Toothless a secret. I grumbled slightly, feeling the anxiety all over again. I didn't want to repeat those days because it was too stressful. And here I was, worrying myself sick over Toothless’ welfare all over again.
I grabbed a basket and started filling it with fish for Toothless. Thankfully, supper had already come and gone for me. I wasn't hungry anymore.
I closed the lid just as a Viking I didn't recognize grabbed my hand. "You've taken enough fish already. We're running low on food, so leave that basket here."
I turned and looked behind myself, noticing about a five-foot high pile of fish and eels. I didn't want to deal with this at the moment. Even when all this pressure was around Berk, Toothless still needed to eat. "Okay, how 'bout this?" I started. "I'll be right back, and you can talk to my dad about this."
He paused for a second and nodded. Let my hand go. "Make it quick," he said.
I nodded and took the basket with me. As I left the great hall, I rolled my eyes for two reasons. First, I couldn't believe how easily I had duped that Viking. Second, and more importantly, a light rain was beginning to fall again.
Several diffuse flashes of white were painting the sky, but there were no lightning bolts yet. Kinda like what I saw earlier today. I glanced at the statue of Thor in the plaza, knowing I'd have to walk past it to get back home. And dropped the basket of fish in disbelief. I froze on the spot, completely transfixed.
The horns of the statue's helmet were what caught my attention. The tips of them, in particular, stopped me dead in my tracks. Both tips had what looked like a purple-white glow to them, like they had somehow caught onto a diffuse ball of light. I blinked, making sure I wasn't seeing a hallucination.
I gulped when I realized what I was staring at.
Oh no, I thought. I quickly scooped up the basket and hurried my way home, just as the tips of the statue's helmet began shooting out an occasional miniature lightning bolt. Each time it happened, there was a soft crackling sound in the air, but the lightning coming from the statue never did anything except for reach out a couple of feet then disappear.
I slammed the door open, startling Toothless. He gave a short roar of surprise as my dad jumped slightly in his chair.
"Hiccup! What was that for?" he shouted.
"Oh, man, I am so dead!" I stated. He looked at me with a puzzled expression. "It...it's the statue," I continued.
He glanced out the door, where the upper half of the statue was clearly visible from about two hundred feet away. And there was no mistaking what was happening around the horns, not even from this house.
In my preoccupation with Freyr's Light, I had forgotten to open the basket. Luckily, Toothless was able to tip it over. He was maybe halfway through his fish when I saw him.
"Oh, gods, this is bad," I said to no one in particular.
My dad shut the door and looked at me. "Hiccup, pull yourself together. What makes you think you're in trouble?"
"You didn't see Freyr's Light on the statue?"
"Yes, I did, but how does this have to do with you?"
"Almost everyone in Berk is gonna believe Mildew now! How in the world did he predict what was gonna happen tonight!? Now he'll stop at nothing to get rid of Toothless!"
My dad was about to say something when a loud thunderclap echoed throughout the village. Toothless tensed, trying to anticipate the next strike. As I looked out through the doorway, I saw a single roof smoldering. Couldn't tell whose it was. I only knew that I had to get Toothless to safety. Somehow, I had to get him away from the village after the storm ended.
I turned toward Toothless as another thunderclap sounded. He bolted upstairs to his rock again. I followed, knowing as long as this weather kept coming, Mildew would become more confident. And more validated.