On Stoick's fourth birthday, a trip to the docks means more than he imagined.
|This is a work of fanfiction based on How to Train Your Dragon. The rights to How to Train Your Dragon remain with Cressida Cowell and Dreamworks. Only the plot and original characters are mine.
I'm sorry, but it's true.
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Halvar Haddock, Chief of Berk, stands tall, taller than most men in his tribe. His hair is red, his eyes green, his shoulders draped in a bearskin cape. His hands and face are weathered for a man of thirty, but Berk’s weather is fierce and unpredictable. His hands are rough, but his smile tender as he looks down at his son, Stoick.
Stoick Haddock, Heir to Berk, is celebrating his fourth birthday. He resembles his father—the wide build, red hair above grey-green eyes, and a nose that will become bulbous. His sunburnt face is dominated by freckles.
Today is special. Stoick is no longer a wee child, no longer small. He is a boy, capable of more than younger children. That is the way of childhood on Berk. Every year brings changes, and age four means Stoick’s first freedoms.
Both Haddocks look to the docks. The air smells of fish guts and salt. Fisher folk call instructions and warnings to each other, treading with confidence upon the wet wood, as their boats rise and fall on the sea.
Stoick is entranced. He loves the sea—he is a true Viking in this—but is too young to sail. The docks are the closest he can get to the water. The docks exist only for the coming and going of watercraft. The fishermen and sailors tread the boards daily, and warriors sail away, to return with treasure and tales. Time moves at a different pace, where water laps against wood and longships depart, slicing through the ocean to voyage beyond the horizon.
Halvar brushes his son’s hair out of his eyes. “Today ye will go to the docks with Papa, instead of Mama. We dinna go to ask about buying dinner or to purchase from traders, but for yer pleasure only.” Alert to his son’s excitement, he adds, “No running ahead.”
Stoick takes large steps as Halvar slows his, allowing them to walk alongside one another. Time for father and son to be together is rare. Veronica Haddock runs their home and spends the most time with her three children. The house help is there often. Halvar is responsible for the Hooligan tribe, and time spent with his family means all of them: Veronika, Brenna, Stoick, Flint, even Ragna. This piece of Halvar Haddock’s day is a treat, and Stoick’s trip to the docks a near wonder.
They arrive. The Chief is welcomed, and Stoick, too; all know it is the Heir’s fourth birthday. They return the greetings, Stoick bashful. The well-wishes from these doughty men and women astonish him, and he murmurs his thanks.
His papa leads him to one end of the docks. “Ye have been in the keeping of Mama or Ragna when ye were little and came here. Yer brother and sister were with ye most times, and ye could only follow behind. Today, I trust my boy,” he stressed the word, “to walk from one end of this dock to the other. I will walk with ye partway, but ye need not hold my hand. I enjoy the feel of your fingers against mine, but ‘tis yer choice.”
“Aye, Papa.” Wide-eyed, Stoick took his the proffered hand, not yet ready to relinquish that security. Being dragged along by the womenfolk to run errands was wearisome but today Stoick and his father walked side by side, and his papa’s grip was a comfort.
“Ye have a large responsibility. The boards are slippery, so ye must take care where ye step. Walk only, or I make my son stop and come fetch him. When I tell ye halt, make yer way back to Papa.” Halvar stopped, then crouched and whispered to his son, “All here will take note of their Heir’s actions and obedience. Dinna let them down.”
“I wilna, Papa. I promise.”
“Good. I will wait here.” Halvar opened his hand, letting Stoick slip out. The boy’s steps were cautious. Stoick moved to the side furthest from the water, giving room to the sure-footed adults around him. He avoided the slick patches and hauled himself up when he missed one and slipped. “Halt.” Focused entirely on the dock beneath him, his papa’s voice startled him. Stoick skidded, but caught himself, and made his way back to his father.
“A worthy effort. Ye paid attention to yer steps and kept to one side. I heard no grumbling, and ye learned to save herself from a fall. I commend my son Stoick,” he said in a louder voice, “for his victory.” Halvar fulfilled a similar task on his fourth birthday, walking beyond the village and into the outskirts. It was a rite of passage for every heir, to step into the new unaided and alone, and return more accomplished than before.
Another round of notice came from the folk on the docks, this time of praise for Stoick. Stoick thanked them in a clear voice, for this approval he had earned. Stoick glanced at his papa. Did their Heir act rightly, or fail the people counting on him?
“Ye proved herself, and are their Stoick now. Ye made all of us proud.” Halvar hosted him to his shoulders. “Are ye ready to leave, Hope and Heir of the Hooligan Tribe?”
Stoick settled on his father’s cloak. “What do those words mean?”
“‘Tis yer proper title.”
“For true, Papa? I dinna remember such.”
“For true. Before, ye hadna the years to use it. Today, my son Stoick proved he is prepared to wear the title as Papa wears the Chief’s cape. Now ye are four,” his papa continued, “ye will take your first trip away from Berk. There are young heirs on other islands, and ye shall meet and make friends.”
Dumbstruck, Stoick listened to his papa speak about Meathead Isle, the Bog Burglars, the Uglithug tribe. Halvar stopped and swung his son to the ground. Their home was uphill from where they stood.
“Can ye manage another task, lad?” Papa’s smile held a hint of mischief.
“Aye, of course.”
“Say nothing about this else Mama will fret. Tonight I will tell her and take the blame; ye will be safe from her tongue.” Stoick laughed. His mama did worry overmuch, and ‘twas a small and painless joke on her.
“What must ye cease doing, as soon as I leave?”
“I canna use improper words for Mama doesna allow such.”
“I cannot use improper speech, for Mama does not permit it.”
“Better. Ye may tell me of yer other birthday pleasures at nattmal. Get along with ye.”
Halvar nudged Stoick forward, and watched him run home. Stoick had accomplished a new and daunting thing and could be a proper heir. It was overwhelming, and the meaning of today difficult to grasp. Most of Halvar’s fourth year was spent realizing the importance of the title Hope and Heir. His son had much to think upon.
Halvar chose the docks because Stoick loved them, but his son’s challenge was greater than Halvar’s. The docks were treacherous, with a real risk of injury, not Halvar’s well-trodden path on secure ground. Stoick met and overcame the danger. His triumph had altered the future for both of them. Stoick was the Hope and Heir of his tribe, possessing the strength to lead his island. Stoick’s tender years were Halvar’s grace period. They had ended, and he was charged with raising a son whose chiefdom would surpass his own.
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Vikings had two meals. Dagmal, or "day meal," is breakfast. Nattmal, or "night meal," is the evening meal.