The villagers band together to teach Hiccup all they can
|So, the women of Berk probably deserve their own section. They have had to put up with a lot. Watching Hiccup eventually becomes a problem, but they do what they can for him. He’s not a bad child; he just is a struggle, sometimes, to keep up with. But they know that the he needs all the attention and care they can provide. They do it for their Chieftain and for Valka’s memory. They also know that Hiccup one day will be Chief, and they want him to receive all the assistance he can from them, to prepare him for that future. There’s no glamour, no glory, in minding another’s child, but there is dishonor in rejecting the boy outright. And there can be joy, with some children. Hiccup is charming at times, and sweet natured. There are worse fates than tending Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third.
The women teach him basic things all children need to know. He learns to wash and feed and dress himself. They take him and their own children, all over the village. He goes to Gothi’s hut and gets to know her. He learns to do all the tasks they teach their own. When he begins learning runes and figuring, he gladly practices them in the dirt outside their homes. He likes to talk and will show their children what these things are. Not every Viking needs literacy, but Hiccup enjoys the reading and writing, and shares what he knows openly.
The formal lessons Hiccup receives provide a break for the busy women, and Hiccup’s never still body and tiny attention span are counteracted by his eagerness to learn everything he can. Afi Ingerman enjoys instructing the young heir; with age, Afi struggles with the family trade fishing, and his undertaking an easier set of tasks benefits everyone. He’s patient with Hiccup, teaching him all he knows, at least to the limits of Hiccup’s ability.
Literacy and numbers are required for a chieftain and his heirs. Afi doesn’t stop there, though. He’s aware Hiccup craves doing, and Afi teaches Hiccup practical skills as well. Hiccup absorbs knowledge of building fires and keeping them fed. Afi educates the lad in knot tying and netting fish, though he isn’t from a fishing family. They walk the forests and Hiccup starts to recognize dangerous plants and poisonous berries, because he’s studied them with Afi. Again, the knowledge that Hiccup’s father is the chief contributes to the man’s willingness to teach the youngster all he can. Stoick can’t do everything and Hiccup is a good student when you can get him to focus and listen.
Stoick may not realize it, but there’s a cadre of Berk folk willing to combine their resources to get Stoick’s boy everything they can manage. Gobber is integral to their success. Gobber has a direct pipeline to Stoick, and can raise ideas that may nit be well received coming from someone else. That’s how the women arranged some standard of discipline; Gobber presented the idea first.
“Y’know, Stoick, I always keep an ear open for anything ye might to know about, and there’s something I heard lately about Hiccup.”
“Hiccup?” The Chief looked up from his mead. Three year old Hiccup was asleep already, and this time of day, Stoick often shared a drink with Gobber. “What about him?”
“Well, some of the women were discussing what they do when their children get into mischief. It seems that they all punish differently.” Gobber gazed at Stoick, knowing he had to be direct. It wasn’t in Stoick to think like womenfolk, and Gobber had to translate their concerns to the Chief. “The thing is, all the women look after Hiccup, and they have to deal with Hiccup when he gets into trouble. So Hiccup never gets the same treatment for his mischief. I’ve no bairns of my own, but I know a child needs the same punishment every time.”
Stoick paused, then asked, “Is Hiccup getting into trouble, then? Doing what he shouldn’t?”
“Stoick, all children get into mischief, Hiccup included. He’s not being more troublesome than any other child his age.” Having eased his friend’s mind, Gobber continued. “If Hiccup can get three different punishments for the same misdeed, he’ll work out which punishment is easiest. Then the lad won’t stop doing it, just pick when to do it.”
“Do you really think Hiccup would behave like that?” Stoick drummed his fingers on the table.
“Any boy would, Stoick. You and I both would have.” Gobber grinned. “Hiccup’s smart; he’ll figure it out.”
Stoick groaned; today had been trying. Stoick had a headache by midday, and simply wanted to rest from the decisions for now. He sighed, asking, “So, what do they want from me, Gobber? I know this isn’t your idea.”
“I—,” Stoick glowered, “alright, they think all of them could offer same thing, if they knew what it was. Even if it’s not how they’d treat their own youngsters, everyone would cooperate for Hiccup’s sake.” Gobber took a swallow of mead.
Gobber could see how torn his friend was. Hiccup was a delight to his father, winsome and bright. Discussing his discipline pained Stoick. Would someone strike Hiccup? Humiliate him? Punish him before others? Stoick had suffered all three during his childhood; Gobber knew his memories of his father were tinged with fear and, later, shame. Stoick had no desire to see Hiccup hurt, but trusted his friend’s judgment.
Gobber broke into Stoick’s reverie. “No one wants to damage the boy, just keep him out of trouble and teach him to behave. I suspect whatever they choose will be unpleasant enough to keep him in check. Grinning, Gobber remarked, “For Hiccup, making him sit still might be enough.” Gobber noted a small smile on Stoick’s face.
“Aye, and making him stop talking would hurt him more than a blow.” Stoick looked at Gobber. “What do they want, Gobber? What do they need from me?”
“From the Chief, they need you to agree on suitable punishments for the lad, and allow them opportunity to speak about any complaints they get or you hear about. If anyone has a word to say, they get to speak with ye. That way everything’s known, and you can decide for yourself what to believe. You wouldn’t settle an argument without hearing both sides; this is the same.”
“Is that all, Gobber?” Stoick looked resigned. Gobber knew he hated anything to cloud or mar Hiccup’s life, even a simple “no.” The chief’s tender heart touched many of the tribe’s mothers, and they prepared for Stoick’s hesitation, too.
The women trusted Gobber to deliver this message to Stoick, but insisted Gobber tell this part to the Chief last. “As Chief, that’s all they want from you. But they have another message for Hiccup’s father. Sigrid said, ‘ “We care for Hiccup, Stoick. He’s a good lad, and we don’t want him hurt. But he needs rules to follow, or he will be lost later. Let us show him right behavior.” ‘’
Gobber watched his friend think it through. After a few silent minutes, Stoick spoke. “I trust Sigrid, Gobber. But I can’t tell her—or any of them—to do whatever they think best. I need to know what will happen to Hiccup, first. There will be no unpleasant surprises later down the road. “
“Well, that’s easy enough to arrange, Stoick. Just come by the forge and see her. She can speak for all of them, and you can sort it out between you. I’m sure they have ideas of their own; they’re shrewd about children, y’know.”
“ Tell Sigrid to meet me there midafternoon tomorrow. I’ll hear her out.” Stoick had some time then and could fit Ingrid into it.
“Stoick, I can ask her if she can meet with you then, but I’m not telling her anything. She wants to talk to Hiccup’s father, not the Chief. She’s reasonable and will probably be there, but you need to talk and listen, or you won’t get anywhere with each other.”
“Fine, Gobber, ask then. But Sigrid’s getting both her Chief and Hiccup’s father. She is not going to make demands, but I will negotiate with her.” Stoick massaged his temple. “I cannot have the people on Berk trying to manage me.”
No, only Valka ever accomplished that. Stoick’s guilt over her loss was palpable, and painful to see. “I’ll speak with her tomorrow morning, and we can get this all sorted out. “ Gobber peered into his now-empty mug. “Is there any more mead, Stoick?”
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