Gobber wants to help Hiccup. So does a certain stranger.
|“Are you the blacksmith?”
The stranger’s leather apron did nothing to hide the mass of muscle underneath. A belt encircled his waist, and a hammer hung from it. Beyond that, he wore a type of skirt and flat shoes, neither of which deceived Gobber into believing he was womanish.
“Aye. If ye could wait a second. Hiccup!”
“What is it?” Hiccup emerged from behind a barrel, covered in smuts. The lad had been working in the smithy since Snoggletog, and became an apprentice three weeks past. Keeping clean wasn’t a priority, but he couldn’t leave looking grimy.
“Wash up and see Gothi for more ointment. Ask her if her weapon needs attention while you’re there. I’ve a customer.”
Gobber returned to the man at the hatch. “I’ve got to keep an eye on him, or he gets into mischief. I’m Gobber. What business do you have on Berk?”
“I’m traveling with some traders, earning my keep on shipboard in exchange for visits to the islands. A friend of mine told me about your archipelago, and I found passage here.”
“You have the look of a forge about you. Come inside and we’ll speak. It’s not often I get to visit with another smith, especially from outside the archipelago.”
Gobber poured a measure of mead for both of them. The forge was broiling, but the man never broke a sweat. The heat was an old friend to Gobber, but he sweated bucketfuls.
“Do you have the Blacksmith’s Tale in your home?”
“No, not where I live.”
“My da was the smith before me, and told a story about a man of muscle and sinew. His body was covered in burn scars and his hair was the color of flames. He wore an apron, said he was passing through, and always stopped at the smithy.”
“The ice hasn’t broken yet, so no trade ships have visited Berk. No man can come here, but for someone who traveled through volcanoes, it’s possible. Welcome to my smithy, Master Hephaestus.”
The god laughed. “You caught me, Gobber Borkeson. I haven’t been found out in at least a century. The last human to recognize me was an Alban named Fergus.”
“Fergus MacKenzie is my great grandda. When he asked, you told him your name was Heff. You’re not the only canny smith out there, and working with fire teaches us to pay attention.”
“You want to know why I’m here. It’s the boy, your new apprentice.” Gobber didn’t respond, and Hephaestus continued. “Hiccup is the most brilliant person on your island. He’s heir to the island. This sets him apart from the rest. With proper support, he will manage. I heard your gods have marked him, and given him a destiny, but they’re not revealing who chose him.”
“Alrighty, then. Since you’re not from Asgard, how can you be certain? Our Gothi’s said nothing about it, and the lad’s acting no different than before. I’ve no good reason to trust you, especially with the safety of my apprentice, Master Hephaestus.” Gobber shut up; it didn’t do to snap at a god, and he wanted to survive. He was needed here on Berk, and didn’t want to risk death by mouthing off.
“Our messenger told me about him. Hermes is the god of thieves, cunning, wit, and speech makers. He enjoys a good gossip. The bastard searched me out. I’m the least popular of my kind, and Hermes doesn’t worry about anyone. I have cause to look out for the boy.”
His words had the ring of truth to them, and Gobber was torn. Divine notice might be good or bad, and Hiccup needed help. If this worked, Hiccup gained an edge Gobber couldn’t provide. His gut told him the blacksmith’s god was trustworthy in his dealing with Gobber.
“On Berk, I rule the smithy. ‘Tis a small kingdom, but my word is law and my desires the only ones that matter. Would you treat with me as a human would in my place of authority?” Gobber folded him arms and watched Hephaestus.
“You’re staring at me like I’m a disobedient child. You have a fire in your belly, and I will treat with you in your seat of power.”
“Excellent. You treat Hiccup well at all times. I allow only right treatment and benefit to the lad. No lies or trickery, and no setting him in a wrong direction. Do not tempt him to work against his tribe or people. Don’t tell him who you are. If I see a hazard, I will respond appropriately.”
“I will stop by this smithy on occasion to see you and get a proper look at Hiccup. I will hide in shadows the rest of the time, offering suggestions and prodding him to ask questions and think. He will believe it is his idea, and I will encourage and hearten him. I may send others of my kind from time to time, to show him their weapons.”
“I’m not agreeing to others without good reason. My agreements are with you, Master Hephaestus, not your kinfolk. I cannot risk Hiccup with those I don’t know. You’ve told me about this Hermes, and he sounds an untrustworthy sort.”
“May I bring one by for you to meet? I won’t let any of them trouble young Hiccup, and she’s not going to act against me. I made her bow and arrows, and if she wants them maintained, she’ll agree.” Ah, leverage. Gobber did much the same; it made his life easier.
“Just her, then. Are we in agreement?”
“Yes. I’ll swear on my anvil, if you want.” Gobber nodded. “I, Hephaestus, swear in my anvil to honor the terms of this agreement until the end.” Gobber repeated the oath, just in time to hear Hiccup stumble over the buckets outside.
“Ow.” Hiccup came through the doorway, panting. “Sorry I took so long, but Gothi forced me to make the ointment, because she ran out. I got it though. Oh, she said her staff is fine for now.”
“Good lad. I’ve a task for you. Clean up the scrap over there and stick it in the pile.”
“Okay, got it.” Hiccup took no notice of the god, but began picking up the metal bits scattered around.
“Work in a straight line, and you’ll find more scrap.” Hephaestus’ suggestion registered, and Hiccup slowed his work. “It doesn’t hurt to try. Gobber will tell you if you make a mistake.”
Gobber heard Hiccup mutter, “Gobber won’t mind, I guess.” Hiccup collected scrap from left to right, finding bits he missed before.
“Gobber’s not stopping you. This was a good idea. Well done.”
Hiccup reached the wall, knelt up, and assessed his work. “Not bad. Gobber, what do you think?”
Gobber glanced at the floor. “Ah, that’s the way to do it. I’d planned to teach you that, but you sorted it out for yerself. I’ve never had an apprentice who learned about the straight line so quick.”
Gobber nodded at Hephaestus, who saluted him and left.
This might work out better than he expected.
§ § §
Hephaestus returned, bringing a lean, dark haired lass. Her eyes shone like starlight, and her bow was a piece of perfection.
“Good morning. My name’s Gobber and I’m Berk’s blacksmith. What can I help you with?”
“I am Artemis, and I was told your skill with weapons is exemplary. I want you to examine my hunting bow.” She handed it to him.
The bow, arrows, and quiver were made of pure silver, a metal far too soft to make functional weapons. The bow was warm to the touch, and hummed with an unusual energy. Gobber handled it with respect for the marvel that it was, and gently offered it to the goddess.
“I’ve not seen such workmanship, Mistress Artemis, and I dinna think I can help you. The smith who made this is much more skilled than I am; if you’re looking for repairs, you best see him.”
“It is not new, and all weapons suffer wear. Please look it over long and hard, Gobber—you may be able to suggest improvements.” Gobber had no desire to annoy the goddess, and resigned himself to searching for flaws in a smithing miracle.
“Hiccup.” Hephaestus spoke from the shadows. “Pour a drink for Mistress Artemis and deliver it to her. You can look at the bow that way.”
Hiccup brought her a mug of water, and found himself talking to the lady with the bow. She allowed him to hold the quiver, hand her arrows, and hear about plucking the string and drawing back. Once he’d run his fingertips over the weapon, the goddess took it back.
“You have talent, young man.” Sh placed her hand on Hiccup’s shoulder. “I say you will be excellent at crafting bows and arrows.”
“Thank her, laddie. Mistress Artemis has been generous with her weapon, and you don’t want her thinking you’re ungrateful.” Hiccup snapped out of his stupor.
“Sorry, I’m sorry. Thankyouverymuch, Mistress, for sharing your bow with me. It’s just…wow. The bow is amazing.”
“You’re welcome, young apprentice.” Her smile was dazzling, leaving Hiccup shy from the attention.
“Hermes—our messenger god—is a nosy gossip with a knack for finding juicy news. The account of Hiccup being marked and ignored worried the slippery bastard. He came to me for help, and here I am on Berk.”