“The first—and most important—rule of flying is trust,” Hiccup informed Astrid, his arm wrapped around Toothless’s large head. “You have to trust that your dragon will protect you, but the dragon also has to be able to put its trust in you. Without mutual trust and respect, you won’t make it very far off the ground.” Hiccup scratched the dragon’s jaw, fingers skittering across his frills.
Under his touch, Toothless warbled happily, nestling into his chest and picking up the bulk of his rider’s weight.
“Can Toothless trust you?” Hiccup asked.
“I…” Astrid looked down at the dragon. Pupils round and mouth hung open in a content grin, he looked nothing like the ferocious beast that had challenged a Leviathan-class dragon mere hours ago. But, beneath the carefree spirit, the Unholy Offspring of Lightning and Death that had saved her life was there. And as a follower of the old ways, she owed the dragon—and his rider—her life. “Yes, he can.” She placed her hand on the top of the dragon’s head, palm flat against the cool, dark scales. “You can.”
“Toothless? Can you trust Astrid?”
Toothless blinked up at her. Then, setting Hiccup on the ground and pulling from his grasp, he turned to look over his shoulder at her. Reaching up, he coated her in a thick layer of saliva.
“Aaugh!” She complained, trying to wipe the goo from the front of her torso while Hiccup laughed.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Also, Night Fury saliva doesn’t wash out, so you’re wasting your time.”
“But this is my only shirt!”
“You can have one of mine when we get home. Speaking of which…” He patted his chest and Toothless swung his tail forward, depositing it in Hiccup’s waiting arms. “Everything is connected. You can move the pedal with your foot in six different positions. Each position corresponds with a specific tail movement. “
Manually maneuvering the tail, he walked her through each of the six positions, showing what each looked like and describing when each would be used.
Focusing intently, she listened to his lecture, keeping strict mental notes of the positions and circumstances for the tail.
“Any questions?” He asked, finished with his lesson.
“Just one…How did Toothless lose his tail fin?”
Hiccup’s eyes fell to the ground. “I—uh, I wasn’t lying that day in the village when I said I hit a Night Fury.”
“And instead of killing him you trained him.”
“I was going to kill him. The very next morning after the raid I went out to Raven’s Point. All on my own, I brought a dagger with me that was smaller than the one you tried to slit my throat with. Thor, it was a terrible plan from the start! I planned to cut out his heart and bring it to my father…”
Toothless whined, pushing his nose into Hiccup’s hands. Instinctively, Hiccup rubbed at the scales.
“…But when I saw him…I didn’t see a fearsome dragon…I saw a creature who was as scared as I was. And I—I just couldn’t kill him. So I let him go.”
“And when you realized he couldn’t fly…you just built him a rig?”
Hiccup nodded. “It’s why trust is so important. It took him weeks to completely trust me.” Running his hand from Toothless’s nose to the top of his head, he smiled at his dragon. “I trust Toothless with my life. And he trusts me with his.”
Toothless’s tongue flicked out, licking the tip of Hiccup’s chin.
“And I trust that he will kill me if I don’t get you back to your bed. We should go, Hiccup.” She said. There was little she missed and from the moment Hiccup had awakened, she had noticed he wasn’t feeling well. His limp was more pronounced, his broken prosthetic causing him to put too much pressure on his right leg. He leaned too-heavily on Toothless and Astrid could see his heat-rashes hadn’t gone away. Red and angry, they traveled from his face down his neck to hide beneath his tunic, eating away at the freckles on his chest.
“Okay, okay.” Hiccup agreed, climbing onto Toothless’s back. Unsure of where to put his hands, they hovered over her sides for a moment before deciding to grip the edges of the saddle. “So Toothless is going to jump from the ledge and he’ll fall for a moment before spreading his wings. When he does that, you’ll need to push the pedal back three clicks and then forward two. Got it?”
“Got it,” Astrid said, nodding her head in determination. She took a moment to practice the maneuver. Pushing the pedal back three clicks and then forward two, she turned her head to see how the tail looked as it was shifting positions. “Ready, Toothless?”
Green eyes turned up to meet hers, and she swore the damned beast was smirking at her as he stepped from the ledge. Wings held tight to his body, they dove toward the endless sea below.
“Focus, Astrid, you have this!” Hiccup shouted in her ear, his hands moving to wrap around her as they fell.
Breathing through her nose, she tried to calm her nerves. Senses dialed-up, her muscles vibrated with coiled tension and her heart thumped heavily in her chest.
She had grown accustomed to the stomach-rolling drop that came with flying, but she had never overseen its execution before. As a passenger, she had the luxury of shutting her eyes and praying to the gods that she made it back to the ground. But now, as Toothless’s rider, she was in charge of maneuvering his tail. Without her, they would crash into the ocean. Well, at least she was a strong swimmer.
The ocean rose up to meet them, the chilling spray of the crashing waves hitting her face like the pins of a Nadder. She wanted desperately to shut her eyes against the spray, but she stared on, thighs clinging to Toothless as she waited for his cue.
Then, just as Astrid was beginning to fear the ocean, Toothless barked at her and spread his wings.
Responding to the dragon’s command, Astrid slid her heel back, pushing the metal rigging one, two, three clicks until the tail opened and just as suddenly, she pushed it forward two clicks, allowing Toothless to climb. Wings like black knives, they cut through the sky, flying past the seat stack and into the open air.
“You did it!” Hiccup praised, clasping her on the shoulder.
“I did it!” She shouted above the wind. Shocked and proud, Astrid grinned to herself.
Climbing to his desired height, toothless leveled out and Astrid sat back in the saddle, her hands relinquishing their white-knuckled grip on the handles. Patting Toothless’s neck, she thanked him for his flying abilities.
Around them, the world was a sea of blue and white. The sky, crisper and brighter than anything she had ever seen, stretched for miles. Below them, white clouds rolled across the open ocean, looking as thick and full as a sheep’s wool on Lithasblot.
“Still prefer the ground?” Hiccup asked, watching Astrid as she took in the view.
“The view’s much better when you’re not tied up and flying to your death.” She pointed out.
Rolling his eyes, Hiccup sat back, pulling his good leg to his chest and closing his arms around it. “You were never in any danger. Hel, I’ve been in more danger since I saved you than you’ve ever been with me.”
She frowned, guilt chilling her nerves and bringing a fire to her cheeks with just a few words. She turned to look at Hiccup. Tunic soaked through, every inch of skin that wasn’t covered in blisters or rashes was covered in goosepimples. “I’m sorry.”
“For making you take me to the queen’s nest and for not listening to you and almost getting us killed. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you, Hiccup. I owe you my life.”
“What about for trying to kill me in my sleep?”
She grinned. “Nah, you deserved that.”
“Wha—how? What did I do?” Hiccup asked, exaggerating his gestures.
“You kidnapped me, mutton-head!”
“You call it kidnapping, I call it rescuing. Potato. Potahto.”
Rolling her eyes at him, she turned back around, settling in for the flight ahead.
Hours of flying had left Astrid with the conclusion that it was actually pretty easy. While they were not performing the aerial acrobatics that she had seen and experienced from the Dragon Master, gliding along was simple. Toothless did the majority of the work, his wings occasionally flapping to take in the updraft, but otherwise, they remained stable as they floated across the wind. Astrid’s only job was to hold her foot in place and enjoy the view.
Behind her, Hiccup had leaned back, stretching out across the Night Fury’s back. Somehow able to ignore the dragon’s spinal plates pressing into his back, he had fallen asleep, shivering even as the sun shined down on him.
Left to her thoughts, her mind drifted back to the queen’s nest and the blue and gold Nadder. The dragon had spent years trapped in an arena with little food and water, being used as a teaching tool by adolescent Vikings with anger issues and still, without hesitation, it had tried to help her.
Years ago, Astrid had smacked a shield across its jaw hard enough to dislodge scales and send it reeling, but the dragon had still offered her its fish to protect her from the Red Death’s ire.
And Toothless, the fiercest dragon known to Vikings, had forgiven Hiccup when he had mangled the dragon’s tail, taking away his ability to fly.
Maybe—and the mere thought brought 400 years of ancestors mentally berating her—but maybe, Hiccup was right about the dragons. Perhaps they weren’t all bad…and maybe people could live in peace alongside them.
But it couldn’t happen while the Red Death drew breath.
Beneath her, Toothless shifted. Turning his head, he barked to get her attention.
Astrid nudged Hiccup, pulling him from sleep. “What does he want? What’s wrong?”
Rubbing his eyes, Hiccup sat up. Stretching his arms above his head, he yawned before settling his hands in his lap. “He’s trying to tell you about the air currents. They’re going to shift soon. If you don’t want to drop, you need to—”
“---adjust his tail,” She finished, clicking the pedal forward once. Tail shifted, Toothless altered his flight pattern, soaring above the air current and resuming his glide.
Dazed and half-awake, Hiccup grinned. “…Yeah.”
“What are you looking at me like that?” She asked. With his eyes open wider than normal and his entire face lit up with an awe-struck grin, Astrid couldn’t help but flush under his gaze.
“You’re just…you’re a natural.”
She shrugged her shoulders casually, tossing a smirk over her shoulder at him. “I am a Hofferson.”
He chuckled, low and under his breath. “I shouldn’t have expected anything less. Thor, I would give anything for Berk to see you know.” He whistled. “Astrid Hofferson, fiercest shield-maiden this side of the Archipelago, riding a dragon!”
“What would they think?”
She was riding a dragon. Not thrown on the back of one, forced to be a passenger. Not clutched in its talons like the Chief’s wife. No, she was a mirror image of the Dragon Master atop his Night Fury.
And although it was the most un-Viking thing she had ever done, it felt right.
Shifting in sync with Toothless, she had surprised even Hiccup at her abilities.
But what would her parents think of her?
…You’re a natural…
…I am a Hofferson…
Could she still call herself a Hofferson?
Truthfully, it was her parents who had put her on the back of the Night Fury. They had taken her, a warrior in her prime, and stripped her of her armor and her ax and everything that made her who she was. They had offered her up to a mysterious being in the night. Warlord, demon, dragon—they had no idea who Hiccup was beneath the mask! And they just…gave her up.
They had put her in the saddle as much as Hiccup had.
And Hiccup, the missing heir to the Hooligan tribe who had run away to protect his draconic brother. Who came back night after night to a village that had never shown him a shred of kindness and saved them again and again…
No, it didn’t matter what her parents would think of her now, for she was no longer a Hofferson.
Toothless, even gliding, was rapidly overtaking the sun.
Filled with dying fire, the sky burned in hues of orange and red. Around them, the fields of white cloud had turned to golden silk, warm and welcoming.
Amazed at the changing world around her, Astrid stretched out a hand, hoping to reach the nearest cloud. Inches away, her fingers closed on thin air.
Catching her frown, Toothless warbled, his eyes trained on her as he rumbled. Offering her a gummy smile, he banked toward the cloud, the tip of his wing skimming the edge.
Delighted, Astrid extended her hand to touch the golden mist. Pulling through the cloud, her hand was drenched in cold water.
Behind her, Hiccup’s hand followed in her wake, and though he shivered when the cold touched his blistered hands, he grinned at her. “I could never get enough of this.”
“It’s…beautiful,” Astrid said, awe-struck. “I wonder…” Her words trailed off and she pulled on Toothless’s rigging. Tail shifted to a new position, the dragon obliged her request and climbed upward, pulling them above the last of the clouds.
Above the clouds and above the sun, the world seemed to expand to infinite proportions. The clouds stretched beneath them in every direction, without an end in sight. Colored in hues of the night, streaks of red peaked through as the sun fought to shine, pushing the last colors of daylight toward them. The sky around them, darker from the sun’s absence, had turned dazzling shades of purple and blue.
Settling back, Astrid’s shoulders pressed into Hiccup’s chest, but she didn’t pull away. Taking in a deep breath of the night air, she smiled up at Hiccup. “This is…amazing.” Then, leaning down to press her cheek to Toothless’s neck, she whispered, “You’re amazing.”
“What was that Milady?” Hiccup hummed as she sat up.
“No, I think it was something. Right, bud?”
Toothless shrugged, the two of them bobbing as his muscles moved. The dragon offered her his signature grin.
“Betrayed by my own dragon,” Hiccup muttered, shaking his head in exaggerated disappointment. “This hurts, you know. You’ve really wounded me.”
She rolled her eyes at his theatrics. “It’s nothing, really. I just…like flying. Okay?”
“You like dragons!”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you do,” Hiccup countered. “Say it. Come on. You like dragons!”
“Nope.” She said, crossing her arms and pursing her lips. Turning away from him, she tried to ignore his childish prodding.
“Say it, Hofferson. Or else.” Hiccup threatened.
Without turning around, she could picture the grin that had to be spread across his face. With her mind’s eye, she could see each crooked tooth in his smile, the white a stark contrast from the rest of his face.
“Or else what?” She dared, eyebrow raised as she peeked at him from atop her braid.
“Or else…this!” And Hiccup lunged forward, his arms wrapping around her middle and pulling her against his chest. Fingers relentless, he tickled her sides until she was laughing and squirming in his arms, begging for him to stop.
“Hic—Ha! I’m—I’m gonna crash us!” She squealed. “S-stop!”
“Admit it then! Admit you like dragons!”
“Never!” She gasped out between laughs. His fingers danced across her sides and her elbows involuntarily jutted out as she tried to wiggle from his grasp.
She could spend a thousand lives in the Valhalla they were flying through, but she would never give Hiccup the satisfaction of being right.
Beneath them, Toothless warbled in annoyance, flapping his wings to keep them level. Shifting back and forth across his back, they were throwing off his balance.
“Come on, say it!” Hiccup cried. “You like flying, you like the view, you like dragons!”
“I won’t say it,” Astrid said, turning in her seat. Grabbing the handlebars, she smirked wickedly and pushed them forward, locking the tail into its current positions as she had once seen Hiccup do. Then, pulling her foot from the rigging, she turned to face him. Careful to avoid the blisters that hid beneath his tunic, she grabbed his arms, holding them firmly to his side. “Stop now. This is serious. We’re flying.”
He smirked. “Which you enjoy.”
His chest heaved from his little game, but his face could only be described as a kid’s on Snoggletog morning. Eyes alight, he looked at her as though she had given him wings.
Catching her breath, she rolled her eyes. “Fine. I enjoy flying. It’s pretty. But that doesn’t mean I like dragons.”
“Yes, it does.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it do—”
Astrid cut him off by skittering her fingers across his sides, getting sweet revenge for his earlier attack.
Laughing, Hiccup squirmed, falling forward against her shoulder. Wiggling in her grasp, he reached for her hands but failed to stop the onslaught. “S—stop! Haha, Milady, you win! Haha, A-Astrid, s-stop!” His laughs turned to coughs and jutting forward, he leaned over Toothless’s side and retched.
Clear and watery, the fluid dropped from the sky as he emptied the contents of his stomach. His hands reached out behind him, desperately grabbing at the empty air in search of Astrid. Unable to find her, he slipped from the saddle with a hack, arms wrapping around his middle as he plummeted through the once-golden clouds.
“Hiccup!” Astrid shouted in time with Toothless’s terrified screech.
Toothless barked at Astrid to change his tail’s position.
Acting quickly, she clipped her foot back into the pedal and pushed it all the way forward.
Arching his body up, Toothless dove, his wings whistling as she streaked through the clouds.
Astrid clung to him, her legs pressed tight against his sides and her eyes squinted against the wind. In the darkness, her eyes searched for Hiccup’s form.
Toothless found him before her, matching speeds with his rider and angling his back to him.
Arms stretched out, Astrid snatched him from the air, pulling him into her chest.
The Night fury’s wings shook violently, fighting against the air current to level out. Then, stabilizing, the dragon turned, peering over his shoulder to see his rider. Screeching, he demanded Astrid show him Hiccup.
Placing a hand on his forehead, Astrid tried to calm the dragon. In her arms, Hiccup coughed, staring blankly up at her.
Pulling her arm back from Toothless’s head, she pushed his hair from his face and wiped the vomit away from the corner of his mouth, softly calling his name.
Dazed, he blinked up at her. “Wh…what happened?”
“I don’t know,” She said, trying to sound calmer than she felt. “You just…you started throwing up and then you fell. Are you okay?”
“…M’fine.” He grumbled, curling tighter in her lap.
“Can you sit up?”
Hiccup opened his mouth to answer, but with a gag, he used his last surge of energy to turn over. Leaning over Toothless, he convulsed and dry-heaved until nothing remained in his system, his hands gripping Astrid’s tunic tightly. Finished, he rolled back into his lap, groaning pitifully.
Looking down at him, she could see the burned skin of his face and neck had split, white liquid leaking out and chilling his skin in the night air. Shivering and shaking in her arms, his eyelids became too heavy to hold up and he fell into a fitful sleep.
Astrid shared a worried look with the dragon before urging him to fly faster.