Hiccuo has three months, five days, and six hours to win the annual Intertribal friendly Swimming Race— Which he must do by coming in last, Along the way, he'll have to discover America, battle Polar—Serpents, defeat his nemesis Norbert the Nutjob, and back to the Isle of Berk. It's a tall order for short Viking. Can he do it?
About the Author
Cressida Cowell is the good friend and confidante of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, Viking warrior and hero of The Heroic Misadventures. When she is not visiting with Hiccup to document his latest memoir, she lives in the UK. She is also the author of The Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown, What Shall We Do With the Boo Hoo Baby? and numerous other picture books.
Read an Excerpt
How to Train Your Dragon Book 7: How to Ride a Dragon's Storm
By Cowell, Cressida
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2010 Cowell, Cressida
All right reserved.
PROLOGUE: THE CURSE OF BEARCUB’S GRAND MOTHER
A long time ago, a small boy was dreaming.
He was dreaming of running through the beautiful white wilderness that was his childhood home, running and running through snow so perfect you could hardly bear to touch it. But suddenly his legs grew tired and so heavy he could hardly move them… Something was pulling him back… What was it?
And then he awoke and opened his eyes, and he was about as far from home as he could possibly be, lying in the darkness below the decks of a great ship.
The boy was called Bearcub. He belonged to a people called the Northern Wanderers, and he had not always been a slave. Only two weeks before, he had had miles and miles of glorious icy desert to play in, as free as the polar bears and seals that his people harpooned to eat and keep them warm.
But then the Vikings came.
They had surprised the Wanderers by attacking while they were asleep, dragging them aboard their Viking ships and taking them away from their homeland. Since that time, Bearcub had not had a proper meal, and worse still for a boy full of fidgets and used to running, he hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps.
Bearcub’s father had been out on a hunting party when the Vikings struck, so he had not been captured.
“Please, father,” Bearcub whispered into the blackness. “Save me, father…”
“HA!” rasped the doom-filled furious voice of Bearcub’s scary grandmother, who was lying chained beside him. “Your father cannot rescue you, for he does not know where you are. And the gods must have forgotten us, to let this happen. Vikings are vermin, every single one of them,” she spat into the darkness. “I never met a good one. Murderous, wicked, evil people… Oh if I had one here, I would do such things. I could eat their livers, I really could. I am Cursing this voyage and everyone aboard this ship…”
“WE are aboard this ship,” Bearcub pointed out. “Do not Curse this voyage or you may be Dooming us too.”
“YOU do not contradict your elders and betters,” cried his grandmother sternly. (It is not pleasant to be chained to a Cursing grandmother.) “We are DOOMED already… No, the only thing left for us now is to Hate and to Curse…”
And so Bearcub’s grandmother had ALL of the Wanderers Hating, and Cursing, and wanting to eat people’s livers, baying out their fury in the rocking darkness below the decks of the ship.
“YOU BETTER WATCH YOUR STEP UP THERE!” screamed Bearcub’s grandmother, howling up at the ceiling like a wolf. “IF ONE OF YOU MISSES YOUR FOOTING AND FALLS DOWN THAT HATCH, I’M TELLING YOU, WE’LL TEAR YOU APART!”
Only Bearcub was quiet, and in the blackness no one could see the tears slowly rolling down his cheeks, which was lucky, because Wanderers have the hearts of polar bears and they do not cry.
And inside his head he repeated over and over again, “Please, father, please, help me… please, gods, please, please, help me… please… anybody… if you’re listening… help me… help me… help me…”
1. A PROPER VIKING SWIMMING RACE
One chilly spring day in the Barbaric Archipelago, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, was standing miserably on the West Beach of the Murderous Mountains with absolutely nothing on but his helmet, his sword, his waistcoat, and a teeny-weeny pair of hairy swimming trunks.
The Murderous Mountains were not the kind of place you wanted to visit at the best of times. They gave Hiccup the shivers. The tall, cruel-looking, dizzyingly high peaks were home to some unspeakably dangerous dragons and mutant wolves, not to mention the Murderous Tribe, the fiercest and most ruthless Vikings in the uncivilized world.
The Murderous Tribe did not often receive visitors. Perhaps it was their uncomfortable habit of sacrificing unwelcome intruders to the Sky Dragons at the summit of Mount Murderous that kept people at bay.
But on this occasion, Madguts the Murderous had taken it into his head to be hospitable, and to invite two of the other Tribes, the Hairy Hooligans and the Bog-Burglars, over to his island for a jolly little Intertribal Friendly Swimming Race.
It was a traditional Viking Swimming Race, and the Vikings were a little bit crazy, so they were going swimming with their weapons on: swords, axes, daggers, that sort of thing.
It did not seem to have occurred to them that this would make them less floaty.
So there they were, the entire Warrior populations of the Murderous, Hooligan, and Bog-Burglar Tribes, hopping up and down on the uncomfortable gravel beach, trying to pretend they weren’t freezing their horns off, with the mutant wolves howling cheeringly up in the mountains above.
There was a strong easterly wind that brought goose bumps to Hiccup’s skinny, freckled arms and whisked off helmets, cloaks, and swords, and sent them bowling briskly down the beach. Hiccup’s tiny hunting dragon, Toothless, was having difficulty flying without being blown away.
Toothless was a particularly small Common or Garden dragon with large, innocent greengage eyes.
“Toothless w-w-wouldn’t go swimming today if Toothless was you,” he advised Hiccup. “Is very ch-ch-chilly in there. Toothless has been in already and it nearly froze Toothless’s wings off.”
“Yes, thank you, Toothless,” said Hiccup. (Hiccup was one of the very few Vikings, before or since, who could speak Dragonese, the language in which the dragons speak to each other.) “Very helpful, I’ll bear that in mind.”
Gobber the Belch, the teacher in charge of the Pirate Training Program on Berk, had stripped down to his underwear and was breathing in the gale as if it were the loveliest of summer breezes. “Lovely swimming weather!” he roared delightedly, beating his chest with his fist like a great redheaded gorilla. “Gather round and stand at attention, boys, and I’ll explain the Rules of the Race…”
The twelve boys stood before their teacher in a shivering line.
“Now, boys!” boomed Gobber. “A proper Viking Swimming Race is not like those pathetic little competitions they carry out on the mainland. It is a test of your ENDURANCE, your STRENGTH, and your SUICIDAL BRAVERY…”
“Oh brother,” moaned Hiccup’s best friend, Fishlegs, who was the only boy in the Program who was even worse than Hiccup at all the Viking activities. He had legs as limp as two strings of spaghetti, and he couldn’t swim. “I don’t like the sound of this…”
“In a proper Viking Swimming Race,” continued Gobber, “the winner is the person who is LAST.”
There were gasps of surprise, and “Oh sir, please, sir, that can’t be right, sir,” from the line of boys.
“In which case,” sneered Snotface Snotlout, a great bullying brute of a boy whose muscular arms were covered entirely in skeleton tattoos, “Hiccup the Useless will win, no problem. He’s always the last at everything…”
Hiccup stood on one leg, tried to smile, and fell over in the sand.
“Aha,” grinned Gobber, his beard bristling with keenness. He laid one finger to his nose. “But think carefully about this, boys… We all set out from the beach and start swimming, and from then on it’s a game of Chicken. Who can swim out the farthest, the longest, into the deepest ocean, and still return? Many are the Warriors over the centuries who in their pride have misjudged the swim BACK, and who have drowned as a consequence…”
“Oh yippee…” moaned Fishlegs.
“But on the plus side, anyone who drowns in the course of a Swimming Race will automatically go straight to Valhalla.” Gobber smiled in the manner of someone giving everybody a great big birthday present.
“Ooooooooooooh,” exclaimed the boys in a pleased way.
“MAD,” groaned Fishlegs, swaying in the wind like a small, skinny tree about to snap. “We are the only sane people in a Tribe of total LOONIES.”
“Any questions?” roared Gobber.
Hiccup put up his hand. “A small point, sir. Won’t we freeze to death in about five minutes?”
“Don’t be a softy!” roared Gobber. “The Blubberwing fat you have rubbed all over you SHOULD keep you warm enough to prevent actual DEATH… but it’s all part of the game, of course. Can you use your skill and judgment to stay out long enough to win the Race… but not SO LONG that you freeze to death?”
Gobber walked up and down the line of boys, inspecting them before they went out to join the competition. “Very smart, Snotlout… Chin up, Tuffnutt Junior… Haven’t you forgotten something, Clueless?”
“I’ve got my sword, sir,” said Clueless.
“You do have your sword,” admitted Gobber, “but you DO NOT have your swimming costume. Put it on quick, boy… I don’t think that Thor will be welcoming you into Valhalla in the nude. It really doesn’t bear thinking about…”
He moved along the line until he stopped dead in front of Fishlegs. “WHAT,” roared Gobber in an awful voice, “WHAT in Thor’s name are THESE?”
“Armbands, sir,” replied Fishlegs, looking straight ahead.
“Fishlegs can’t swim, sir,” offered Hiccup in defense of his best friend. “So we made him these out of a couple of pig bladders. Otherwise he sinks like a stone.”
“Like a stone,” repeated Fishlegs helpfully.
“Oh for Woden’s sake,” blustered Gobber, “what are the Murderous Tribe going to think if they catch sight of THOSE? I’ll lend you my cloak, Fishlegs, and you can drape it over them, and let’s just hope nobody notices. Thor, give me strength…”
“Now, have all of you got your hunting dragons?” bellowed Gobber.
The boys had brought their hunting dragons. They were huddled on the beach, their wings over their heads, shielding themselves from the rain.
“Your hunting dragon can fly over your head as you swim. It makes you easier to spot from the beach, and they can maybe fight off any predators… sharks, Darkbreathers, that sort of thing… OK, you can fall out now and get ready, and I’ll see you at the starting line in about five minutes.”
The boys began their last-minute preparations, chattering excitedly.
“Hi there, LOSERS,” sneered Snotlout, a tall, mean boy with nostrils so large you could stick a cucumber up them (Toothless had actually DONE this once) and with the repellent beginnings of a mustache sprouting on his upper lip like a little, hairy caterpillar. “I hope little baby Hiccup has been practicing his dog paddle then…”
He gave Hiccup a big shove that sent him sprawling in the sand.
“Har, har, har…,” snorted Dogsbreath the Duhbrain, Snotlout’s equally unpleasant sidekick. Dogsbreath looked rather like a gorilla in goggles who had been overdoing it with the doughnuts.
“Very funny, Snotlout,” replied Hiccup, spitting sand out of his mouth.
“You guys are normally so good at coming in last…” sneered Snotlout. “In fact this may be your only opportunity ever to come in FIRST, for once… Just try and at least go out of your depth, won’t you, before you crawl back to the beach like the pathetic, cowardly, little plankton you are? You don’t want to embarrass us PROPER Hooligans more than you actually have to… Nice armbands, Fishlegs, by the way…”
And Dogsbreath took the pot of slimy green Blubberwing goo Fishlegs was holding in his hands and poured it over Fishlegs’s head before strolling off with Snotlout, who had a rather base sense of humor and was laughing so hard he could barely walk.
“I hope a Darkbreather gets him,” said Fishlegs gloomily, taking off his glasses and trying to rub off the Blubberwing fat with the edge of his swimsuit, but only succeeding in smearing it all over the glass so that they were impossible to see through.
“It would just spit him out again,” replied Hiccup even more gloomily, trying to rub the sand off himself but completely failing because the Blubberwing fat was so sticky. “I bet he tastes horrible.”
A musician from the Murderous Tribe sounded the horn to summon the competitors to gather for the beginning of the Swimming Race…
2. MAY THE FATTEST (AND LEAST STUPID) MAN (OR WOMAN) WIN
Hiccup’s father and grandfather came over to the boys to wish them luck.
Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast, O Hear His Name and Tremble, Ugh, Ugh, was the Chief of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe. He was built in the traditional Viking mold: six-and-a-half feet tall, belly like a battleship, eyebrows blowing in the breeze like a couple of large hamsters doing cartwheels. He was horribly hearty and full of the joys of spring.
“Fabulous day for a Swimming Race!” he roared happily.
“I’m not sure I agree with you,” wheezed Old Wrinkly, Hiccup’s grandfather, who was one of the Judges in the competition. He was a wrinkled old oyster of a man, whose ancient back had been blown into a hoop by ninety years of Archipelago gales. His long, tangly white beard trailed behind him, picking up shells and seaweed as it dragged in the sand.
Old Wrinkly had been trying to persuade Stoick not to take part in the Race.
“I have been looking into the Future, and the Omens are not good,” whispered the old man.
“NONSENSE!” pooh-poohed Stoick the Vast. “Everyone knows you’re hopeless at looking into the Future, Old Wrinkly. Now, I’m obviously going to win this Race,” said Stoick, who didn’t do modesty, “but, Hiccup, I would like YOU to beat Snotface Snotlout and that sort of thing…”
Snotface Snotlout was Hiccup’s cousin. He was a good foot and a half taller than Hiccup, incredibly muscular and tough, and better than Hiccup at practically everything. Hiccup had no chance of beating him in a Swimming Race.
But Stoick often didn’t notice things like that.
Stoick gave Hiccup a kindly biff on the shoulder. “I KNOW you can do it, son!” he said enthusiastically. “You may be small, but you’re wiry! And your legs might be just a trifle on the skinny side, but you’ve got the old Horrendous Haddock fight in those knobbly knees! All you have to remember, lad,” said Stoick, taking Hiccup by the shoulders and looking into his eyes, “is one thing. Repeat after me: KEEP KICKING!”
“Keep kicking,” said Hiccup slowly.
“LOUDER!” bellowed Stoick, punching the air.
“KEEP KICKING!” shouted Hiccup, punching the air too.
“That’s the spirit!” said Stoick. “I know you’ll make me proud, so don’t let me down, now!” And he marched off, beaming happily.
Both Old Wrinkly and Hiccup sighed as they watched Stoick bustling off.
“He’s a good lad, Stoick, really,” wheezed Old Wrinkly, “but he never EVER listens.”
“No,” agreed Hiccup sadly, “he doesn’t. I haven’t got a HOPE of beating Snotlout.”
Old Wrinkly turned his bright, razor-shell-sharp eyes on his grandson. “We’ll see,” said Old Wrinkly. “Now, this is very important, Hiccup. Have you got your ticking-thing?”
“Yes,” answered Hiccup, surprised.
The ticking-thing was a strange round object, with a front that was hard and transparent, like ice. Behind it were all these rune numbers set in different circles, and at least seven arrows, all different colors.
Hiccup had discovered many uses for the ticking-thing. One arrow seemed to tell the time. Another always pointed north, which was extremely useful if you were lost. And since it was quite a changeable day, with the prospect of this strong easterly wind blowing you off course, Hiccup thought it might be handy on this occasion. The ticking-thing was waterproof too.
Hiccup’s only worry was that he was going to LOSE it, so he had attached it to his wrist with a long piece of rope, and then tucked it into his waistcoat pocket.
“Excellent!” said Old Wrinkly. “Hand it to me, for a moment…”
Hiccup took the ticking-thing out of his pocket. Old Wrinkly opened the back of it and began to fiddle with some of the little buttons inside.
“Now, Hiccup,” said Old Wrinkly, “I haven’t got time to explain, but you have to return to this beach within THREE MONTHS, FIVE DAYS, AND SIX HOURS, do you understand me?”
“THREE MONTHS, FIVE DAYS, AND SIX HOURS?” gasped Hiccup. “What ARE you talking about? I’m not going to last more than fifteen minutes out there!”
“I’ve set the alarm for you,” said Old Wrinkly, putting the ticking-thing back into Hiccup’s waistcoat pocket. “When you have less than six hours left, it will start to tick louder. And if the alarm goes off, well, then you will know you are too late… DON’T BE LATE now, Hiccup, will you? I’m counting on you, boy…”
And Old Wrinkly hurried off to the Judges’ Table, with Hiccup staring after him with his mouth open. “Mad as a banana,” said Hiccup.
All the competitors were crowded at the starting line drawn in the sand twenty-two yards from the sea, chatting with each other.
Big-Boobied Bertha, the Chief of the Bog-Burglar Tribe, was slapping Blubberwing fat onto her arms, her gigantic boobies flapping so buoyantly and joyously in the wind that it looked as if any second they might carry her up into the sky like a couple of hot air balloons.
Bertha had a foghorn voice with the kind of carrying quality that could be heard several islands away. She was telling everyone within a two-mile radius that SHE was Bertha the Unsinkable, the Archipelago Swimming Champion, and that everybody else might as well go home right now.
The members of the Murderous Tribe were passing their swords and axes and spears and hammers from hand to hand in a thoughtful fashion. They reminded Hiccup uncomfortably of a load of hairy cannibals waiting for their dinner.
Madguts the Murderous, the head of the Murderous Tribe, stood with his arm muscles rippling menacingly. Even with a brisk wind blowing, he was reeking like a three-week-old seal corpse. He was a stinking seven-foot giant with unattractive blue-black skull tattoos covering his cheekbones.
One of the most terrifying things about Madguts was that he never spoke. Nobody quite knew why. Some say he lost his tongue wrestling a Storm Dragon with his bare hands. Others said that it was merely a nasty cold he caught when a small baby. Who knew the reason, but he had never been known to do more than grunt. His repulsive assistant, Gumboil, an unpleasant little pimple of a man, did all the speaking for him.
There were three Judges, one of whom was Hiccup’s grandfather, Old Wrinkly, whose job was to mark the timing of the race.
The Chief Judge, a sad, unbelievably wrinkly little Bashem-Oik, cleared his throat and announced in a high, quivery voice:
“O hear ye, Vikings of the Tribes of the Archipelago! He who is the last to return back to this beach from the moment I blow this trumpet shall be declared the Last Man Back. He must be able to Swear, according to ancient tradition, that he ‘did not seek aid by Float or Boat.’ And as a prize for this contest he may make a single demand of the other two Chieftains. Do you Chieftains swear that you will agree to this demand?”
“We swear,” swore Bertha, Stoick, and Madguts the Murderous.
Camicazi, Big-Boobied Bertha’s tiny tangle-haired daughter, trotted over to wish Hiccup luck. One of the best Burglars in the Archipelago, Camicazi wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody.
“Lovely day for a swim, isn’t it?” she said cheerily. “I can’t wait to get in the water.”
Around Camicazi’s legs curled a beautiful Mood Dragon called Stormfly. A Mood Dragon, as its name suggests, is a chameleon that changes color according to its mood, and this particular Mood Dragon was unusual because it not only spoke Dragonese but also NORSE, the language of the humans.
“Hello, Toothless,” drawled Stormfly, batting her beautiful, long eyelashes at him.
Toothless turned bright red.
He had a bit of a crush on Stormfly and immediately he began to show off, turning cartwheels in the air and blowing complicated smoke rings that went down the wrong way and gave him a coughing fit.
As they were standing there, Snotlout sneaked up behind them and whisked Gobber’s cloak from off poor Fishlegs’s shoulders, revealing the armbands for everybody to see.
“Whoops!” grinned Snotlout. “Silly me!”
“HA HA HA HA HA!” roared the crowd, pointing at Fishlegs and jumping up and down with joy. “THERE’S A HOOLIGAN OVER HERE WHO’S WEARING ARMBANDS!”
“These aren’t armbands!” shouted Hiccup, desperately trying to save the situation. “They’re weapons! Inflatable shoulder armor! Very strange and deadly!”
Stoick the Vast blushed purple and swelled up with anger and irritation. That ridiculous fish-legged boy was bringing dishonor to the Hooligan Tribe.
“Isn’t that your SON, Stoick, standing next to the little loser?” grinned Gumboil.
Hiccup was quite a funny sight himself. Covered in gravelly sand from head to toe, he resembled nothing so much as a skinny little breadcrumbed kipper ready for the pan.
Stoick tried to stop himself from thinking, Why does Hiccup always have to make such a spectacle of himself? Why can’t he be friends with somebody suitably violent and normal? And why is he covered head to foot in sand? before yelling loudly and loyally: “My son is right! The weird little Warrior is wearing the latest in inflatable defense-wear!”
But he was shouted down by the crowd, who were chanting: “THE HOOLIGANS WEAR ARMBANDS! THE HOOLIGANS WEAR ARMBANDS!”
And then to Stoick’s intense relief:
PPPPPPPAAAAAAAAARRRRRP! went the horn to announce the start of the race, and the Viking Warriors forgot about teasing the Hooligans, and the crowd went wild as the Viking Warriors stampeded through the wind and into the water like a herd of runaway buffalo, plaits flying, bellies wobbling.
“GO, BOG-BURGLARS, GO!”
“UP THE MURDEROUS!”
Snotlout sprinted through the shallows, flexing his muscles and waving to the crowd, before making a fancy swallow dive into the slightly deeper water and setting off in a horribly efficient crawl.
Stoick tried hard to control his temper and keep the disappointment out of his voice as he walked over to Hiccup and reproved his son sternly. “You are a Warrior in Training now, Hiccup, and this is NOT the moment to be playing in the sand.”
“But I’m not!” protested Hiccup. “I’m just covered in sand because… because…”
But Stoick had already stalked off.
“Oh jumping jellyfish!” exclaimed Fishlegs, in a wriggle of anxiety. “I can’t see a THING through these glasses now!”
The Blubberwing goo Snotlout had poured over Fishlegs’s head had attached itself to the glass so that it was indeed like trying to peer through a dense pea-green fog. Poor Fishlegs staggered forward, in completely the OPPOSITE direction from the ocean.
“Hang on,” grinned Camicazi, “isn’t the sea the other way?”
“Fishlegs!” hissed Hiccup anxiously. “You’re going the wrong way!”
The crowd was divided between cheering on the Warriors and laughing at the sight of the only three who hadn’t set off yet, who were Hiccup, Fishlegs, and Camicazi.
Fishlegs was running increasingly fast in completely the opposite direction from the ocean with his hands out in front of him, moaning: “I can’t see, I can’t see!” and Hiccup and Camicazi were running after him, saying: “It’s this way, Fishlegs, this way!”
So: “HA HA HA HA HA!” yelled the watching crowd, parting to let poor, blind Fishlegs blunder on up the beach.
Eventually Hiccup caught up with Fishlegs, who tripped over somebody’s discarded trousers, and with the help of Camicazi he managed to steer his friend back in the direction of the ocean.
And such was Hiccup’s embarrassment at the whole situation, that he was almost RELIEVED to enter the breath-quenching, chest-burning chill of the water. Hiccup was so busy with the humiliation of this moment that he did not realize what had happened to his father and Big-Boobied Bertha.
What had happened was this. Stoick the Vast, Big-Boobied Bertha, and Madguts the Murderous swaggered out into the surf in a more leisurely way. All three of them were certain they would win. Stoick forgot about his disappointment with his son as he remembered something amusing.
“Tell you what, Bertha,” whispered Stoick, giving Bertha a friendly poke on the shoulder, “let’s agree, whichever of us wins, we teach that Madguts a lesson. We’ll get him to row across the Sullen Sea in a bathtub, with his underpants on his head!”
Big-Boobied Bertha roared with laughter until the tears ran down her hairy cheeks. “For once in your life, Stoick, you old warthog,” she bellowed, “you’ve had a good idea! It’s a plan, then…”
When they were just entering the water, Madguts grunted at Gumboil, his eye lit up with sneakiness, and Gumboil said craftily, “Madguts can’t help but notice that you’re wearing that old-fashioned BLUBBERWING FAT… It doesn’t keep out the cold half as well as the Deepest Purple Fleshfang Oil that Madguts is wearing… You put this on, and you’re never cold again. Lasts until next winter.”
“Oh Toenail Clippings of Thor!” exclaimed Bertha, staring down at her luminous green body in disappointment. “I thought I’d gotten the very latest thing!”
Stoick gazed at Madguts’s glowing violet chest in admiration and envy. Madguts was so warm under his coating of Deepest Purple Fleshfang Oil that a light steam was rising off his tattooed chest and blowing away in the wind.
“Madguts wants this to be a fair fight,” smiled Gumboil silkily. “Why don’t you try some of his stuff, to make it all equal? We’ve left the pot just behind you at the edge of the water… We didn’t need it anymore, because just the one application is sufficient…”
“Well, that’s mighty kind of you, Madguts!” beamed Stoick. “But hang on, can we go back there? Hasn’t the Race already started?”
Gumboil waved the thought away with one airy hand. “Oh no…” he reassured the Chieftains cheerily. “No, the Race doesn’t start until you actually start swimming… Didn’t you know that?”
Stoick and Big-Boobied Bertha said, “Ah, yes, of course,” and nodded wisely as if they had really known that all along, and turned back and waded out of the sea to pick up the little black pot of Fleshfang Oil that was sitting just a couple of feet beyond the water’s edge…
“That trickster Madguts!” said Stoick, tut-tutting in mild disgust. “Fair fight indeed! Look! There’s absolutely nothing left!”
Nor was there, just the merest little purple smear at the very bottom, hardly enough to cover Stoick’s big toe.
It turned out that that wasn’t the only thing Madguts had been tricky about.
Stoick looked up as he realized that all around him the crowd was gasping in astonishment and disappointment. The Hooligans, in particular, were wrenching their beards in dismay. And standing right in front of Stoick and Big-Boobied Bertha was the Chief Judge, looking more depressed than ever, his spectacles perched on the end of his nose.
“Commiserations,” said the Chief Judge, gloomily scratching their names down on the parchment in front of him. “YOU are the First Man (and Woman) back. A dead heat. How do you spell Bertha?”
Stoick laughed and patted the Chief Judge on the head. “Oh no! Oh no, my good little Oik, I think you do not understand the Rules. The Race doesn’t start until you actually start swimming…”
“Of course I understand the Rules,” said the Chief Judge calmly. “I am the Judge. If you get out of the water, you’ve ended the race.”
“But… but… but… of course we’re going back IN again!” spluttered Big-Boobied Bertha in horror.
“Oh no, you’re not,” said the Chief Judge. “My decision is final.”
Stoick and Big-Boobied Bertha looked like they were going to explode.
“Old Wrinkly!” gasped Stoick. “Tell him! We can’t possibly have LOST the Race!”
Old Wrinkly surveyed the twenty sand timers in front of him. “I’m afraid you have,” he said sadly. “And in three minutes twenty-two seconds exactly. A new Competition Record.”
“But I’m the Archipelago Swimming Champion!” shouted Big-Boobied Bertha, raising her great fist in the air. “Bertha the Unsinkable!”
“AND MADGUTS THE MURDEROUS SAID IT WOULD BE FINE!” yelled Stoick. Even as he said the words, it finally dawned on Stoick and Big-Boobied Bertha (who were not the brightest Chieftains on the block) that they had been taken for a ride.
Two minutes before, Bertha and Stoick had been strutting on the sand, all proud and puffed up like a couple of fat cockerels, so certain had they been of victory.
Now they deflated like the air leaking out of a couple of large and handsome balloons. Bertha’s boobies drooped, Stoick’s magnificent biceps sagged.
“That rotten, low-down, cheating, Murderous stinkpot!” said Stoick from between gritted teeth. “He’s only gone and tricked us into losing the Race!”
3. ISN’T THAT SNOTLOUT A LOVELY GUY?
Hiccup and Fishlegs and Camicazi didn’t see what was happening behind them.
They had some problems of their own.
Hiccup had set off as fast as he possibly could, still hot with embarrassment from the scene on the beach.
“Wait up,” begged Fishlegs, splashing after Hiccup and Camicazi in a clumsy dog paddle.
“It’s really tricky trying to swim in these beastly armbands. We don’t have to go too far you know, we’re not Warriors, we’re only in this competition for the fun of it… Always supposing your idea of fun is freezing your horns off in Sharkworm-infested waters, of course…”
As soon as Hiccup got out of his depth, the weight of his helmet and his sword made him drop abruptly, and it was only by kicking madly that he was able to keep his chin out of the water.
Even Camicazi was finding that swimming fully armed took a lot of concentration. Her sword and daggers weighed her down so far to the right that she had a tendency to swim around in circles.
“Oh BOTHER!” complained Hiccup. “How am I possibly going to beat Snotlout at this rate?”
They were so busy trying to keep afloat that they hadn’t noticed Snotlout and Dogsbreath the Duhbrain swimming up behind them. (Which shows how distracted they were—Dogsbreath’s splashy crawl was as noisy as a hippo in a bathtub.)
The two bullies overheard the last bit of the conversation, and Snotlout was laughing so hard he was in danger of drowning. “You said it, Hiccup, you loser!” crowed Snotlout. “One of you three? Beat me? I’ve never heard anything so funny in my life!”
“Har, har, har,” grunted Dogsbreath, snorting seawater out of his nose.
“The thing is, Hiccup,” sneered Snotlout, “you heard everybody laughing on the beach… You guys are just an embarrassment to the Tribe.”
Snotlout’s eyes were lit up with real murderous malice. He looked over his shoulder to check that nobody could see what he was doing. “I am now going to give you, Hiccup, a lesson in being a Viking Hero, and you, Fishlegs, a lesson in how to swim without your armbands on…”
“No!” shrieked Fishlegs, trying to swim away. But he hadn’t a hope of escaping. Both Snotlout and Dogsbreath were big, burly adolescents and they caught him easily, ducking Hiccup and Camicazi along the way. Snotlout popped the right armband with his dagger, and Dogsbreath removed the left.
“Now, Hiccup,” purred Snotlout. “You can just about make it back to shore on your own, but if you try to do it holding Fishlegs, I don’t fancy your chances. So… what do you do? I suggest you do us all a favor and ditch the LOSER, but it’s up to you, of course.”
And the two bullies swam away, laughing.
Hiccup resurfaced, gasping, and thrashed through the water toward poor Fishlegs, who was going under for the second time. With the help of Toothless, Stormfly, and Fishlegs’s hunting dragon, Horrorcow, he got the boy upright with his head out of the water, but Fishlegs was so terrified he was struggling and in danger of dragging Hiccup under with him.
“STOP PANICKING AND RELAX!” shouted Hiccup sharply.
“RELAX!” shrieked Fishlegs. “HOW CAN I RELAX? I’M DROWNING! DROWNING ISN’T VERY RELAXING!”
But he stopped struggling, and forced himself to go limp, and floated onto the surface with Hiccup and Camicazi holding him by the shoulders.
“OK,” said Hiccup, in his I’m-trying-to-stay-calm-but-really-I-want-to-run-around-in-circles-screaming voice. “Now I think we might have a bit of a problem…”
As Hiccup bobbed upward on the waves, he could see the shoreline, and suddenly it seemed very distant. Hiccup wasn’t sure that he could make that swim back carrying Fishlegs all the way, even with Camicazi helping.
This is the trouble with a proper Viking Swimming Race. It’s a game of judgment as well as endurance. You have to be very careful that you don’t go out so far that you run out of energy to make it back.
“We’d better get Fishlegs back to the shore, then,” Hiccup said with a confidence he was far from feeling.
“Carrot, anyone?” smiled Horrorcow, sensing a crisis and swooping down from above in a motherly way. “It will help keep your strength up for the swim…”
“Not now, Horrorcow,” said Hiccup, and then (trying to sound extra casual) “Horrorcow, maybe you should just flap back to the shore and tell them to send out some rescue dragons for us…”
“Righti-ho,” replied Horrorcow cheerily, and she flapped off. “Keep kicking…”
“Keep kicking… Keep kicking… Keep kicking…”
Hiccup lost count of the number of times he said this in the next half hour.
For a strange thing was happening. The more they kicked, the FARTHER they seemed to be getting from the beach. During the confrontation with Snotlout and Dogsbreath, they had drifted into a tide that was carrying them out to sea.
They could no longer hear the friendly shouts of other Vikings. Apart from the sound of their own splashing, they were alone. Alone in a stone-cold sea that stretched out for miles around them.
“I’m getting tired,” said Camicazi, who was never tired.
It was a little difficult to see how their situation could get any worse.
But that, as anybody who has read Hiccup’s memoirs before will know, is often a sign that things are going to get REALLY, REALLY bad.
Suddenly Toothless, who had been fishing for mackerel, shot shrieking out of the sea only inches from Hiccup’s ear.
“What is it, Toothless?” gasped Hiccup, as the little dragon hovered above him.
“S-s-s-something n-n-nasty…” stammered Toothless, spiraling upward on shaking wings. “Something nasty down there!”
“What sort of nasty?” swallowed Hiccup.
“Toothless not know…” replied Toothless. “NASTY sort of n-n-nasty… didn’t wait and see… something b-b-black…”
“What’s wrong?” shivered Fishlegs. “What’s he saying?”
“Oh nothing,” lied Hiccup carelessly. “You know Toothless, he’s easily spooked… Keep kicking, keep kicking,” whispered Hiccup, looking all around him, “but kick softly…”
“Why softly?” squeaked Fishlegs, beginning to panic and sinking as a result. “There is something, isn’t there? What is it? DARKBREATHERS? SHARKWORMS? TERRORFANGS????”
“It’s nothing,” whispered Hiccup soothingly. “You just concentrate on floating, Fishlegs…”
Then, suddenly, Camicazi let out a piercing scream.
She thrashed around in the water for a second, and then she was dragged underneath by some unknown force.
“Camicazi!” shrieked Hiccup, trying to hold up Fishlegs and look underneath the water at the same time. “Camicazi! Camicazi!!!!”
But she was gone.
Excerpted from How to Train Your Dragon Book 7: How to Ride a Dragon's Storm by Cowell, Cressida Copyright © 2010 by Cowell, Cressida. Excerpted by permission.
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