The autumn air was crisp to begin with, but a high altitude coupled with windchill had Hiccup's eyes watering at the stinging bites to his nose and cheeks. The rest of his body remained warm, both due to his extra layers of clothing and the hot blood pumping through his body at the thought of what he was about to do.
As it turned out, running into Camicazi had its benefits. Aside from a reminder of his geographical ignorance, she also indicated that there were riches to be found if he kept to the Northumbrian coast.
Hiccup initially thought of sneaking around stealing maps and smithy supplies to secure the tailfin, but that led to him pondering what he would do with supplies if he didn't have a shop to work in. Sneaking into a blacksmith's workshop to make foreign supplies would be more difficult to pull off than it was worth risking.
He came to the eventual conclusion that he would have to make an order and purchase materials, and that would call for more money.
With only his personal earnings—a thin sack of silver pieces—at his disposal, Hiccup knew his resources for trade were wanting. He spent the last four days hanging around coastal towns trying to find work. It wasn't easy—especially as English slowly replaced Norse the further south he went, and people in general weren't willing to employ foreigners.
What Hiccup found, instead, was gossip regarding recent piracy activity. And with Camicazi still fresh in his mind, Hiccup couldn't dislodge the appeal of fast cash.
Besides, if he was going to steal from anybody he'd rather it were from thieves.
It was this strain of logic that led Hiccup to where he hovered now: fifty meters above a recently commandeered merchant carrier—the distinctive square sails told him as much. He had been circling the slow moving ship like a vulture, breaking down the best way to go about breaking and entering. The coast was still in sight—swimming distance if nothing else—and a plan quickly constructed within his mind.
Aside from the helmsman, only two watchstanders moved about the decks. Hiccup flew freely overhead; human eyes had a hard time spotting a Night Fury with only stars for light.
"Alright, this is perfect," Hiccup muttered to Toothless' sensitive ears. "Looks like a merchant carrier. Lots of goods, little security."
He directed their flight towards the stern of the ship where, two levels down from the highest piece of deck, large windows spanned the jutted structure.
"…and that's the great cabin. It'll definitely have money in there. …The navigation room should be a floor above it; they usually are."
He could grab a map and kill two birds with one stone.
Below, the helmsman yawned and rubbed his eye. The watchstander on the stern deck said something in a foreign language, most likely Gaelic, his voice loud against the startling quiet of the night, and he left his post to wander toward his companion.
"Let's go," Hiccup breathed upon spotting their opportunity.
He swiftly landed Toothless on the fantail, close enough to the body of the ship so that he could drop onto the poopdeck. He stuck to the edge, clinging to the shadows in case the watchstander came back.
Hiccup's heart thudded painfully against his ribs and he couldn't tell if it was excitement or anxiety that had him relishing the moment.
"Okay, you know what your part is, right?" he whispered.
The pathetically easy part? Of course.
"Good. Once you get in the water, count to one hundred before you fire. That should give me some more time to get where I need to be before chaos ensues." Hiccup smiled at the dragon with more confidence than he felt. "Oh, and if I start screaming from being tortured by pirates… start lighting everything on fire."
Toothless smiled back, probably with more confidence than necessary.
The dragon crouched as jungle cat would before springing from his perch, leaving his human on the boat. He spread his wings to glide into the water, landing with nothing more than a 'kurplunk'.
"What was that?" the closer watchstander said, alarmed and looking out towards the sea. He moved down to the quarterdeck with quick, heavy footfalls and glanced over the rail.
The helmsman yawned again. He blinked at his companion.
"Nothing. A fish."
"Nah, sounded big."
"Then a big fish."
Despite his words of assurance, the helmsman left the wheel to get a peek for himself.
Hiccup crept down the stairs to the sterncastle deck, eyeing the helmsman's back. The two men were observing the inky-black abyss from over the edge of the carrier—an unquestionably vain attempt at catching sight of Toothless, but he was still thankful for the distraction.
He approached the door to what he hoped was the navigation room, still keeping to the skeleton of the boat to avoid unwelcome creaks.
"It was nothing," the helmsman said, moving to turn back to the helm. Hiccup leapt the last few steps, wrenched open the door only inches from its frame and squeezed in as swiftly as he could, shutting the door with a wince set in his face.
He heard the voices continue.
"What is it?"
"I thought I saw—nothing. Trick of the light."
"You're too trusting."
"You're too suspicious."
Hiccup waited in the dark room with bated breath for several long seconds.
No one approached.
He slowly released the air in his lungs, his heart still taking up too much of his notice. Feeling secure, he took in his surroundings.
It was definitely the navigation room. Through the blue-hued moonlight, Hiccup could make out charts, writing utensils, large, brass compasses, all scattered across boards and surfaces.
He went straight to the desk in the center of the room.
"Map, map, map..." Hiccup chanted softly under his breath, his fingers tracing over the mess of papers, partially unrolling scrolls and then tossing them away. He thought he'd be more shaken with his situation but power thrummed through his veins, leaving him unusually calm. He felt he could breath easier, that he could move faster, if need be.
He fumbled upon some rolled-up, grid-lined paper.
"Map!" he cheered in a loud whisper.
He spread the parchment and observed its contents. It had the North Sea, the Black Sea, and the Norwegian Sea with their respective surrounding landmasses present. He saw the islands where Berk was located, he saw the long border of Frankia, and he saw the extremely foreign lands where the sun supposedly burned hotter than the warmest summer of Berk.
It showed everything he needed.
"Next step, money," he muttered.
He spun on his heel and squinted, searching for something darker he could conceal himself in; even a blanket or stole would do. His current clothing consisted of browns and greens, his usual color scheme—not exactly ideal for hiding on pirate ships. The forest, yes, pirates, no.
His efforts bestowed him with a couple cloaks hung besides the door, no doubt belonging to the original crewmen. Hiccup donned both of them—the beige one first, and then the black one overtop. Though further saddled by clothing, he would be warm enough to survive his escape plan, which did not involve flying.
He leaned against the wall, inches from the door, and waited.
'Come on, Toothless. Any second now...'
Toothless had an aerodynamic build that allowed him to break through any element, be it air or water. Granted, his handicap hindered his maneuverability but he still made it to the front of the ship far faster than any human could hope to.
...89, 90, 91...
He counted in human numbers learned from Hiccup; unsure of how fast or slow he should go about it. Hiccup hadn't been too specific, but he trusted his boy to trust him.
...92, 93, 94, 95, 96...
Toothless eyed the spar extending forward from the front of the ship. The bowsprit, as Hiccup called it.
...97, 98, 99, 100!
Taking a second to gather gas in the back of his throat, Toothless let loose a powerful sphere of blue flame and struck true as his nature dictated.
The boat shook with the force, the bow immediately alight like a lone and baleful torch outstanding in the hours of darkness. The first shout of alarm rang against the night, quickly chorused by others.
Toothless submerged back into the water and shot beneath the shallow waves to position himself at the other end of the boat.
Now to wait for Hiccup.
Hiccup didn't have to wonder when Toothless made his strike. Pandemonium broke out the moment the bowsprit caught fire.
He creaked the door open enough to catch a glimpse of the sterncastle deck. It was empty, the helmsman leaving his post to attend to the flames. Hiccup moved out. He crept down the steps to the quarterdeck, keeping to the shadows with the black hood drawn over his head. He waited against the stairs as men sprinted from the mate's quarters-men who didn't even glance around to search for the source of commotion. Toothless' attack served as a beacon of attraction to the pirates, just as Hiccup had hoped.
Pirates were like Vikings, and Vikings were predictable.
After a beat of no activity from the cabin area, Hiccup deemed it safe enough to give it a shot. He entered the quarters with the same stealth he employed all night; breath shallow, weight on his toes. He slunk past doorways open to hammock-laden rooms; a few of the hammocks still had bodies snoozing in them—heavy sleepers or unconcerned crewmen. Either way they paid him no notice. Hiccup kept his eyes trained forward, locked on the single door that had to be the great cabin.
He paused as he reached it, pressing his ear to the thick wood for sounds of stirring, trying to block out the muffled cries at the other end of the ship.
Hiccup slowly pulled the door open, keeping all his senses on alert for movement on either side. It was heavy, thick, and scraped against the floor. Twice Hiccup paused in opening it. No one came. He flit inside.
A candle was left on a table to send shadows moving at every corner of the room; Hiccup's breath started a couple of times, thinking it was a person lurking, waiting to strike. But the abandoned bed with its ruffled sheets pointed to the obvious: the captain had left to see what the problem was.
Biting his lip, Hiccup shut the door behind him and immediately descended on the pirate's belongings. The piles of clothes caught his attention first, each article so varied from the next in style and material that it was obvious everything was stolen. Beneath a throne of silk shawls were the first of several coin pouches he would find snooping around the effects—likely snatched straight off of someone's belt. A quick glance inside each one revealed a small collection of silver sprinkled with a few gold pieces.
Another score for the night.
Hiccup began to shove pouches down his shirt or tie them around his wrists so that they wouldn't get lost in the ocean. He had never stolen money in his life, but if he continually made the argument in his mind that the pirates were thieves too, and he was just reversing providence, he didn't feel as guilty.
Or, at the very least, he didn't feel as guilty for not feeling guilty.
The excitement was back—or the anxiety, he had yet to place the prickling in his gut—and it gave him the needed jolt to get his butt into gear. He knew he had to get out of there before he pushed his luck too far.
He briskly walked to the door; presence of the money pouches felt heavy, adding to the weight of his many-layered clothing. His legs felt jittery, like he could break into a run at any second, and he fought to keep control of his body.
He stopped just before reaching the door. There was something... something he overlooked. Back in Berk, he used to keep anything of real importance to him under his pillow—like his book of sketches. He was the only one who lay on his bed, after all...
The door, just an arm's reach away, beckoned him to continue his escape. He looked over his shoulder, back at the pillow. Dented, stained, and unassuming.
It would be stupid to get caught this far in, just to waste time on a whim.
It would be equally stupid for him to come this far and possibly pass up something really good. And because of what? Fear? He spent far too long feeling afraid.
His mind made up, Hiccup quickly backtracked to the tousled bedding, grabbed the pillow and yanked it up.
And there was, indeed, something. Two somethings. The first was a dagger, a simple blade and with a metal, nondescript handle, most likely used for protection or threats; Hiccup could practically see the invisible bloodstains coating the pirate's knife.
The second object was a cheap, brown pouch so small and unpretentious he almost felt disappointed. Frowning, Hiccup lifted the bag and glanced inside.
Four, cut rubies glimmered back at him.
Hiccup gasped, almost dropping his contraband.
His shock over finding actual rubies must have momentarily deafened him, because Hiccup couldn't see how else he wouldn't have noticed a huge, outraged pirate standing in the doorway.
Bellowing like a troll after socks, the man charged. Hiccup didn't take in details—he only saw a seven-foot beast of a man barreling towards him.
The teen wasted no time in sprinting to the nearest window. His mind felt blank, on autopilot.
With three, unoccupied fingers, he fumbled for the latch—not the way he would have preferred to exit, but one couldn't be too picky when one had a hulking cutthroat tromping towards him looking ready to kill.
The lock released-not a second too soon-and Hiccup threw himself against the glass. Meaty and murderous hands swiped at him just as the windowpane gave in to his weight.
A furious howl followed Hiccup for the duration of his fall, ending as he plunged into freezing saline waves. Hiccup resurfaced seconds later. Air overfilled his lungs in his shock at the absolute glacial sea temperature. He tasted salt and ice and panic. He had been in cold water before—living in Berk made it impossible to escape—but never at night, never when the heat from the sun had been absent for hours.
It hurt to breath, the bones of his ribs too frozen to expand for his lungs, and for a single, horrifying moment, Hiccup thought his legs would be too numb to keep him afloat. The layers of clothing, weighed further by the pouches of valuables, dragged him down. His arms were of no use; trying to keep hold of everything he had grabbed—the map, the rubies—
And then much of the deplorable weight was gone.
Something large, smooth and alive moved beneath him, rising up just so that he could settle atop a leather saddle. Hiccup could barely make out the outline of a reptilian head breach the dark water close to his torso.
"T-th-toothless," Hiccup gasped. He had never been happier to see his friend. He felt a similar vibe returned.
Nice exit, but this wasn't where we agreed to meet.
Toothless gave his infamous smile and shot forward, tail swishing side to side, short, but powerful legs pumping, wings tightly molded to his body, moving smoothly towards the nearest landmass.
"P-perfect, t-t-timing buddy," Hiccup said with untold affection. He scratched the dragon's head with white, shaking fingers.
The shouting on the ship could be heard clearly; it polluted the calm night air much like the billows of smoke arising from the bow.
Hiccup and Toothless were safe from the limited reach of candles and lanterns, heading full speed toward the craggy coastline. Hiccup strongly suspected that the pirates thought he was still floundering by the ship's hull.
"S-s-sorry I'm not b-being much help," he murmured. His legs felt warm in the water, much warmer than his top-half, which was exposed to the advancing air. He leaned forward to press closer to his dragon and curled into himself. While soaked, the cloaks did their job of protecting him from the wind.
You did your part. I'll handle it from here.
Toothless' indistinct reply came out as a moan. He worried for his human and began to use his wings in an effort to speed his swimming. Hiccup couldn't shoot fire. Hiccup didn't have a sulfurous, burning chamber within his cavity to act as a furnace. It occurred to the dragon how dangerous things could get if the boy didn't get warm soon.
So why had the fool suggested escaping through the water?
Then it hit Toothless like a second bola contraption.
Hiccup was trying to protect him. Because he couldn't fly on his own, and he was safe from pirates as long as he was off the boat.
"M'fine," Hiccup said, automatically. His eyes were closed, looking as though he had fallen asleep. The trip to shore was both long and short; Hiccup was unsure of how much time had passed. With a numb body, his mind went into overdrive—processing what he just did, rolling his actions over again and again, wondering if it was the best course of action. Or the right one.
Before long Hiccup's weight came back to him and Toothless was galloping ashore to leave heavy paw-prints in the sand. Hiccup clumsily climbed down from the saddle with sluggish movements and mumbled another thanks. He immediately began to throw everything from his person with careless abandon—the cloaks, the sacks of money, the saturated map, the pillow find...
He observed the score before him, the power of his actions finally making some sense.
Yes, he had snuck onto a pirate ship. Yes, he chose to do something dangerous—something planned, but dangerous, and far too left for chance—over something honest and safe and time-consuming. And yes, he did just jump out of a captured ship's window.
But it had paid off.
A slow smile blossomed on his face and he turned back to the sea, spotting the distantly lighted pirate ship. He looked at the ship, and then at the pile of goods, and then back at the ship, his smile growing, his earlier exhilaration resurfacing.
Goosebumps overtook his skin. He was soaking wet, shivering, but now shaking from laugher as well.
"What a haul!" Hiccup continued to crow. His voice was loud and sharp against the darkness. He felt a similar state of livelihood he usually found from performing sharp dives and dangerous turns on Toothless.
Toothless looked at the human, amused but happy to see such energy from the teen in his state. The dragon began shuffling around in the dark, dragging washed up branches and dried out seaweed to a good area of solid footing.
Hiccup paid him no mind. He was too busy jumping up and down around his pile of treasure, pumping his blood and relieving the restlessness built from the successful steal. Maybe this is why Camicazi did it so much? The rush!
"W-we'll be set f-f-for months! M-months, Toothless!"
Toothless began to stack his finds in a haphazard pile, looking nothing like the neat, conical shapes that Hiccup would construct.
I don't need monetary valuables to survive, no matter what your legends say.
Hiccup didn't appear to be paying attention to Toothless' rumbled input. He continued his jumping, goofy smile on his face.
"I could rede-design your tail-fin—m-make it better! I c-c-could get nn-new c-clothes!"
If Toothless had eyebrows they would have risen with misgivings. Sure, Hiccup was getting bigger, but there was no rush in getting him fitted with the odd, removable soft-scales.
"I n-need darker clothes to match your sc-scales," Hiccup explained. "We'll be l-less l-l-likely to be spo-spotted."
Speaking of which...
Toothless spit a small flame at his makeshift fire-holder. It ignited, of course, and once lit actually looked quite similar to the one's Hiccup would make. He felt proud of his accomplishment.
The sudden appearance of a campfire caught Hiccup off-guard, as though he hadn't realized what Toothless was up to until then.
"Wow...th-thanks Toothless...that's p-pretty good!"
Stupid, silly mammal, don't just stand there!
Feeling particularly parental and exasperated with the boy who seemed unwilling to help himself, Toothless nudged Hiccup towards the fire. He spent enough time with the human to know a wet-cloth covering would hinder his ability to warm, so Toothless continued to pull at the tunic until Hiccup swatted him away.
"I'm going, I'm g-going," Hiccup said with good humor. He unbuckled his belt, taking longer than normal with unfeeling fingers, and began to pull off his clothing piece by piece. Unfortunately, he used most of his garments to keep warm for his "mission" and only had an extra, grey tunic to throw over his still-damp leggings.
He should have at least lain out his pile of wet clothes to dry, but Hiccup couldn't seem to tear himself away from the warm pull of the fire. He crouched down and held his hands out by the flames until the tingling passed and the heat set in.
Toothless settled behind him, just within the heat-range of the fire.
Hiccup immediate set his newly mobile fingers to work on removing the wet saddle from Toothless's back; wet leather was never comfortable.
Toothless allowed Hiccup this task, but when the boy made to set the saddle down further away from the fire, the dragon knocked him back with his tail, sending the saddle into the sand in a haphazard pile of leather and buckles.
"Ugh, what was that for?" Hiccup grumbled, rubbing his stomach. All Toothless saw was a body that still shivered.
Green, wide-pupiled eyes focused on the pale pallor of Hiccup's skin, the sickly shade he had been trying to get rid of since Hiccup fell into the sea.
Hiccup conceded that moving away from the fire was the last thing he really wanted. He settled between the dragon and the fire, receiving two sources of relief from either side.
"Fine. And...thank you. For this," he gestured to the fire. "And for getting us out of the water. I think I overestimated my ability to stand the cold."
Toothless snorted his agreement.
Was it worth it?
Hiccup leaned against the heated scales, feeling warm all over.
"It was worth it."
"You want what now?" The English town of Hartlepool's blacksmith stared at the foreigner as though the boy were daft.
Hiccup was used to such stares. He stared back, jaw set.
It was in his luck that he finally found a smith who actually spoke Norse. His English was bad at best; he could get past formalities and introductions, but asking for what he needed in a broken language was well nigh impossible. His Gaelic was even worse.
Even then, it appeared what he needed couldn't be conveyed through language.
His idea was valid; string would wear but metal would hold. Line it with leather and it would be more durable and comfortable for Toothless. The notion was sound...in his mind.
Technically, he had the mental vision of how to do it—short, cylinder rods bolted together with enough mobility to create snake-like movements, and wrapped in a leather casing. Simple.
He tried to tell the man as much.
"I'm not sure if I can do that, laddie," the local blacksmith said, scratching at his bald head. Hiccup didn't know if it was a smith thing or not, but this man kept his head shaved much like Gobber had. He sported a beard as well, only dark and bristly and trimmed short rather than braided. The man stood tall and barrel-chested to cut an imposing figure. A gut hung over his trousers but the bare arms were powerfully muscled. His skin had the shiny, soot-sullied appearance of a day spent working in heat and ash.
"I can do it," Hiccup said before he could stop himself. The words sort of popped out before his brain could 'okay' them.
The man stared at him and Hiccup hurried to explain himself.
"Er—I'm a blacksmith." Apprentice. "I'll do some work for you if you'll let me."
He was on a roll with the 'not checking with his brain first' thing. He was a foreigner, and he was crazy. This guy had no reason to let him work in his forge.
"I'm good with detailing," Hiccup tried anyway when the blacksmith's face didn't change. He held out his hands as though to help prove his worth.
The man observed the appendages on display. Long and lean, obviously nimble, but padded with calluses from years of forge-work. It was the only sign that the kid had ever worked in a smithy. Otherwise, he looked downright gangly.
He also looked pathetically pleading.
"I'll tell ya' what. You do three days of work for me first, and then I'll give ya three days to make what ya' want. But ya' still have to pay for the materials!" he added at the boy's overjoyed expression. "The work you do beforehand is to pay for using my forge in the first place."
Hiccup's delight didn't falter at the demand; he expected as much.
"Thank you so much!"
"Yeah, yeah," the man waved off gruffly. The happy-dopey face unsettled him. "How soon can ya' start?"
The man sighed. "Fine, fine, ya' nutter. I have a sword that could use some refinement; a local nobleman wants it done for his son's sixteenth birthday."
"Great!" Something Hiccup could handle. Excellent. As long as he wasn't expected to start swinging around mallets to test for durability he'd be fine. In less than a week he'd have Toothless's saddle refurbished and they'd be on their way.
To where? Who knows. That was the beauty of their freedom.
"Oh, right," Hiccup said. "Do you have a tanner around here?"
He might as well reinforce the tail-fin while he was at it.
A/N: As a Viking I've given Hiccup a good understanding of nautical terminology :) Thank you all so much for reviewing! Let me know what you think so far!