POV Hiccup and Gobber leaving the forge WIP
|all day After weeks with no change, disappointment became discouragement. Hiccup doubted he’d learn anything. Not that Gobber would lie to him, but...he didn’t remember to teach Hiccup, either.
Hiccup showed up to work hoping the broom had vanished in the night. Every day it stood there, waiting for him. The broom became the image of every draining, filthy chore Hiccup completed in the smithy. His work was never finished. The forge required water for washing, drinking, and topping off the quench tub, and Hiccup hauled bucketfuls each day. Coal needed to be brought, too, a job that left Hiccup’s throat dry and dusty. Gobber had him climbing shelves for the one tool Gobber needed “right up top, laddie, that’s it,” were tied up in his gnawing hatred for the broom. When Gobber wasn’t looking, Hiccup would spit on the ground before it.
The first day Hiccup appeared scowling, Gobber smiled at him and said, “Morning, Hiccup. Good to see you here.”
Hiccup looked at him, took a breath, and erased the grimace. “Yeah, good morning, Gobber. Nice to see you.” Hiccup grabbed the apron, saying, “It looks like you need coal first. I’ll go get some.” Hiccup donned the apron and left, unaware Gobber was studying him walk away, stiff-shouldered.
Gobber greeted him at the door the next day. “I want to talk with you, laddie. Come inside and sit there,” Gobber said, pointing to a disused stool. Puzzled, Hiccup sat.
“I see you’ve been workin’ hard, boy, and I’m proud of you,” Gobber stated. “Scrawny as you are, the work gets done.”
Hiccup smiled a little. “Thanks, Gobber.”
“Now tell me something. What do you think an apprentice such as yourself ought to be doin’ now?”
Hiccup tilted his head and considered the question. “I think,” he began, mimicking Gobber, “an apprentice such as myself ought to learn to handle tools.”
“You want to handle tools, then?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
“When do you think you should start?”
He hesitated. Gobber told Hiccup what to do, explained things to him, and answered questions. He didn’t ask his apprentice questions. This was a serious conversation and Hiccup had to be serious, too.
He asked, “What about right now, Gobber?”
Gobber looked at him, stating, “That’s a question, Hiccup. I want you to answer me.”
Hiccup’s bewilderment grew. Gobber wasn’t his usual cheerful self. But he wasn’t angry or annoyed either. He was a completely different Gobber, looking Hiccup straight in the eye like he was a grown person, certain Hiccup had an answer. Hiccup took heart from this and stared right back.
“I want to start today, Gobber. This morning.”
“Well, I can teach you as soon as I get my work done. It won’t be this morning, though.” Gobber continued, “I’ll get started on the work. You stay there Hiccup, and think awhile. I’ll be back.”
Hiccup settled on the stool and replayed the conversation. There was something wrong about it. Why would Gobber ask him what he wanted? His opinion never mattered before. Why now? Yeah, Hiccup wanted to learn, but it was Gobber’s job to decide when he’d learn and what he’d study. An apprentice expected to work hard, listen, and obey orders. But Gobber ordered him to sit and think.
His mind wandered. He noted the coal pile, and decided extra was needed today—Gobber had a lot of repairing to do, including Hoark’s axe. There wasn’t enough water to begin with, either. Hiccup tried to fetch that before the forge grew busy; soon, Gobber would need him to be pumping the bellows. Gobber’s flagon hand needed rinsing out, and those metal slivers still had to be collected, but they could wait. Hiccup itched to begin, but didn’t leave the stool. Gobber said to stay there, and unsatisfying as it was, he needed to follow orders.
Six-year-old Hiccup concentrated on recalling his start at the forge. He was so happy to put on the apron. The leather apron was protection against hot coals, glowing metal, and sparks. That’s why he needed one—because Hiccup was going to forge metal. It was worn and beaten and older than he was, but he wore it with pride; he imagined all the things he’d create while dressed in it. The simple leather garment promised Hiccup one day he would stand and shape metal, too.
Hiccup suddenly realized why things felt so out of place. This was the spot he sat in before he was apprenticed to the smithy. It was the one place he could sit in the forge when he visited, where he’d be out of the way, unable to touch anything. Looking down at himself, he realized his apron still hung on the wall.
Gobber never let Hiccup in the smithy without his apron on. Smithies were hot and hazardous; Gobber insisted he wear it every moment. If Hiccup didn’t put it on right away, Gobber told him, “You make your apron a part of you, Hiccup. Wear it start to finish every day, no excuses.” When Hiccup removed it without thinking, Gobber said, “When you put it on, you keep it on.” If Hiccup took it off because he was hot or itchy, Gobber stated flatly, “No apprentice of mine gets to act that stupidly. Apron on, boy.”
Hiccup fidgeted where Gobber sat him down. Gobber told him on his second day,” You need to keep going; don’t rush through things, but stay working.” After the first exhausting week on his feet, Hiccup stopped staggering. Since then, he slowed his pace, or leaned against a wall to rest. Hiccup never sat anymore; he was Gobber’s apprentice, and he was there to work.
Gobber chose him to be an apprentice. Gobber never called Hiccup useless, but told him to work. He let Hiccup talk sometimes, and ask questions when the boy knew he ought to concentrate on the job. Gobber even praised him.
“You’re a good lad, Hiccup.”
“You’ve been payin’ attention.”
“I’m proud of you.”
Hiccup even remembered a conversation between Gobber and his dad. “He works hard, and as small as he is, everything gets done.”
Hiccup’s squirmed, and struggled to obey orders. Staying there was hard; he had to cling to the sides of the stool to do that. Hiccup couldn’t get started until the big smith gave him permission to stand. None of the work could get done until the forge was ready, and Gobber needed coal...
No. No. No.
Gobber was doing it. Hauling coal, fetching water, and all the tasks Hiccup performed since the beginning, now being done by Gobber himself. Gobber’s words on the first day rang inside his head.
I’ve done it, and now that you’re my apprentice, you get to do it.
You have to do all I tell you, understand?
“Remember, this is your work now.”
What do you think an apprentice such as yourself ought to be doing now?
The awful truth showed itself to Hiccup.
He wasn’t an apprentice anymore.
Hiccup ought to be doing what Gobber told him. That was the right answer for an apprentice. Gobber told him everything before he began his apprenticeship, and Hiccup never understood. He didn’t complain about the work, but it was tedious and never ended. Hiccup became sick of drawing water, bringing coal, and every other monotonous chore. Hiccup never realized they were the work of an apprentice. Smelly, filthy, and exhausting, all the daily tasks belonged to Hiccup, until now. He resented all the hauling, fetching, climbing, and lifting he did, and Gobber took it away from him.
Gobber was sending him home. Hiccup imagined Gobber standing over him, saying he couldn’t keep him in the smithy. Hiccup didn’t listen to him. He didn’t want to be responsible for the jobs apprentices did. He thought the work was a burden. Hiccup had failed Gobber. The master blacksmith would take the apron, put it away, and never permit Hiccup to work for him again.
Hiccup had nothing: no apprenticeship, no work, and nowhere to spend his days. Snotlout would harass Hiccup, no one else would let him apprentice, and the villagers would whisper that he was no good. His dad...Hiccup didn’t want to think of that. Hiccup had done well at the forge and Stoick was pleased. His dad asked Hiccup about work and let him talk about the forge. Hiccup’s dad smiled more, too. Stoick was happy about his boy’s work, and Hiccup wrecked it for both of them. He didn’t do what Gobber expected and now he would have to leave.
The boy wanted to go back and fix things. He knew some things couldn’t be redone. Boats sank, homes burned, and mothers got carried away by dragons. Hiccup looked for a way out and didn’t see any. He was here, today, and the mistakes were here, too. Hiccup sat in the middle of the mess he made, grieving and regretful.
His previous mistakes were tiny compared to this. He failed everyone: Gobber, Stoick, the tribe. Hiccup would be shamed before all Berk, and he could never fix that. All those people who whispered about him were right.He was useless, and worthless, and a curse on the island. But before he was disgraced, there was one thing he could do right. Hiccup would follow the last instructions Gobber gave him. “You stay there Hiccup, and think awhile.”
§ § §
Gobber returned, pulling a cart full of coal. He’d taken his time fetching it; Hiccup had been impatient these last two weeks, and Gobber didn’t plan to rush this lesson. The moment Hiccup walked in, he told the youngster to sit and think. Gobber had measured this lesson out carefully the night before. Depriving him of activity proved trying for the boy; sitting still would be torture. Let him fidget and squirm, then. Gobber gave him a bit of encouragement, letting the boy know that one day he could do other things. Telling him to think was a mercy, really; Hiccup did that anyway. A ‘course, he wouldn’t have anyone to talk to with Gobber gone. A good plan, that. He’d talk about patience again today and hope it sank in.
Gobber spotted his apprentice still on the stool. He obviously struggled with the command. Hunched forward, with slumped shoulders and his head down, Hiccup looked miserable. Well, time to set him free.
“Hiccup.” The boy’s answer should speak plainer than words right now.
In his matter-of-fact voice, Gobber told him, “Come unload this coal. The smithy needs to be ready to begin.” Restarting the day as if Hiccup had just arrived ought to help his lad—he might not like the work, but if Hiccup didn’t do something, he’d go daft. Gobber began whistling.
Gobber glanced at him. Hiccup never called him “sir,” certainly not twice in a row. He called only Stoick sir, usually when he was in trouble. The boy’s mouth moved constantly, yet the expected babble was missing, too. What was happening inside that head of his?
The youngster slid off the stool, and he heard a small voice. “Gobber?”
“What is it, lad?”
“Can...can I wear the apron?”
Gobber was incredulous. “You’re not wearin’ your apron? Put it on now, Hiccup. The apron goes on before you do anything else.” I know you know that, Gobber thought. The boy hesitated, then left to fetch it.
The blacksmith watched Hiccup gently lift the apron off its peg, wrap it around himself, and knot it securely. Hiccup looked down, smoothing the leather with sober reverence. Gobber crinkled his forehead; he’d seen this before, somewhere.
Stoick was like this, Gobber remembered. After he lost Valka, Stoick would caress the pendant he gave her for their betrothal. Stoick would turn it over in his large fingers, study the engraving, and hold that bit of Valka. It was the thing of hers that mattered most to him; loss and love and pain and beauty, encapsulated in one item.
Hiccup felt this way about an apron.
Gobber watched his lad finish with the coal and leave the cart outside. Hiccup returned to Gobber and waited. There was no waiting in the smithy, and the lad knew that. He wanted to move, to get things done, and usually arrived a few minutes early to begin his day. That was why Gobber made him sit; after that confinement, he should be eager to work. He still wasn’t talking, just answering Gobber when he spoke. The complete wrongness of this struck Gobber then. Whatever this was, he needed to sort it out. Gobber locked the door and put the board across the window, closing the smithy.
“Come with me, Hiccup.” Gobber steered the lad to the back room. Whatever this was about, Gobber wanted privacy for it; Hiccup was his boy, and needed him right now. He closed the door behind them. With a prayer to Odin for wisdom, Gobber made his voice soft, and said, “I know something’s wrong, laddie. I need you to tell me what it is.”
§ § §
Hiccup heard the words and they hurt. Gobber didn’t know he was upset about leaving. If Gobber believed Hiccup was happy to go, then he really had been an awful apprentice. Gobber knew he wasn’t a good apprentice: Hiccup wasn’t good enough, smart enough, big enough. Hiccup wanted to stay, stay forever, and be in the place he loved. Even if he never became a smith, Hiccup wanted to be here in the heat and dust and sweat, where he fit best.
Hiccup looked up and said, “Yes, sir.” Gobber watched him, a funny look on his face.
“Hiccup, what’s wrong?” Hiccup looked at Gobber, trying to find the words, and failing. Gobber kept waiting for his answer. Then Hiccup asked the question that was heavy on his heart.
“What do I do now, Gobber? Where do I go?” He knew Gobber had the answer; Gobber always had the answer. Hiccup was confused and afraid and knew he sounded too little for a six year old. Gobber had always answered Hiccup’s questions, and would tell him the answer if he asked.
Gobber placed his hands on Hiccup’s shoulders, holding him steady.“I can’t help you fix the problem until you tell me what it is, laddie. Come tell old Gobber—what’s troubling you?”
The words came out in a rush. “ Oh, Gobber, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. I know I messed up everything, and I didn’t mean to but I did. I wrecked it, and it can’t be fixed.” Hiccup gulped more air, and kept going. “Gobber, just tell me. I’m listening. I didn’t listen before, but I’m listening now.” Hiccup stood as straight as he could and looked Gobber in the eye, trying not to cry. Hiccup was a Viking, the son of Stoick the Vast, and would face his disgrace as best he could.
Gobber lifted him and wrapped his arms around him hard, holding Hiccup close. Something inside Hiccup broke, and he fell into Gobber, clung to his chest, and sobbed. He knew he wasn’t brave like Gobber or Stoick; Hiccup was a small boy in a job too big for him. He was ashamed of failing Gobber, failing his dad, of getting it all wrong again. In the back room, where no one could see, Hiccup gave up any hope of making them proud. He knew Gobber was right there, and he was too small and Gobber would hold him while he cried.
Hiccup was overwhelmed; he didn’t know anyone could hurt this much. He clutched Gobber. He shook and whimpered and cried a well full of tears. Gobber’s flesh hand wrapped around both shoulders and the hammer hand was solid and comforting around his waist. Hiccup’s head was under Gobber’s chin and he was safe.
Finally, it all stopped. The tears were almost gone, and the shaking was over. Hiccup loosened his grip on Gobber, took a deep breath, and accepted a rag from the large man. He wiped away the snot that ran down his face. Hiccup was tired but he felt better. He still had to leave; he had failed as an apprentice. But when he went home to his dad and told him what happened, he’d be all out of tears. He would be disgraced, and unable to look at his father, but he wouldn’t cry. He would do the one thing he could do for his father before he went home.
Hiccup lifted his head and looked at the smith. “Please, Gobber, please.” He broke off, then continued, “Please don’t tell my dad I was crying.”
“All right, Hiccup, I won’t,” Gobber assured him. “But I need you to tell me something. It’s important, and I have to know.”
“You’ve not been yourself today. You asked to wear your apron, and apologized to me, and your heart hurts inside. Why? What’s troubling you, lad?”
“I don’t want to leave, Gobber. I liked being your apprentice.”
§ § §
Gobber was flabbergasted. Hiccup was leaving the forge and no one had told him. Why would that happen? It made no sense; Stoick would have said if Hiccup—his apprentice—was going anywhere. Small wonder the lad was upset.
He needed to ask questions.
“Hiccup, can you tell me who said this?”
Hiccup looked baffled.”You said it, Gobber.”
It was Gobber’s turn to be bewildered.“Hiccup, I never said that.”
“Yeah, Gobber, you did. You said it when I started, and you keep saying it.”
Hiccup’s certainty shone through the misery. This conversation looked as if it would keep going round in a circle. Gobber had no idea where this notion came from, but the lad believed it. He’d try a new question and hope it made more sense.
“Ah...alright, lad. Can you tell me what I said all those times? I’m having trouble remembering.”
“An apprentice has to do what he’s told, when he’s told, every time.”
Well, he had said that. It didn’t answer any of Gobber’s questions, but he had said it to the boy. “Did I tell you anything else?”
“You said I had to do my work, and you’d done it, and I had to do what you told me. You said all that on my first day, ‘cause those are the rules for being an apprentice.”
“Aye, Hiccup, that’s true—I said those things. But,” he added, “I didn’t say you were leaving. You’re my apprentice, and anyone who tells you that hasn’t spoken with me.” Gobber knew he was missing something, and wished he could peer inside the boy’s head. “So, Hiccup, who did say you were going away?”
“You didn’t say it, Gobber. But you asked me questions and told me to sit and think. So I did.” The boy looked pained. “It was a puzzle, but I figured it out. I broke the rules, and you went for coal, so I’m not your apprentice anymore.”
Gobber ran that last sentence through his mind. Hiccup offered an explanation, but it made no sense. The forge needed coal and he got some. He told Hiccup to sit there. But Hiccup thought he wasn’t an apprentice? Well, he could fix that.
“Pay attention, Hiccup. You’re still my apprentice until I say different.” Hiccup watched him, uncertain. “Now I expect you to tell me everything that happened today between you arriving and me coming back with coal. That’s the work you’re doing for me, apprentice. Now begin.”
§ § §
Gobber stopped Hiccup a minute into his account. The faithful recollection of events told him nothing, and Gobber needed to know why Hiccup reached his conclusions. Gobber needed to prise it out of the lad—his lad— a scrap at a time. He had to begin again.
“I want you to answer my questions, Hiccup, one at a time.”
§ § §
Twenty minutes later, Hiccup stopped and waited for the next question. The questions were hard, but Gobber wanted answers from him. Hiccup knew how much he’d done wrong, but as an apprentice he had to follow orders. Gobber said to tell him everything, one answer at a time, in a clear voice. He had no way to hide; Hiccup wasn’t even allowed to whisper. Gobber made sure Hiccup said every mistake out loud. He hoped Gobber was finished asking questions. Gobber would make him leave soon and he wanted to go to the forest and be alone.
Hiccup startled, then heard the thumps coming from outside. Someone wanted Gobber to open the forge, even with the board in place. The smithy always opened early in the day, but Gobber closed it because of him. It was another mistake, another mess, and all his fault.
Gobber looked annoyed and left to start for today. “Gobber! Open up! Are you asleep in there?” It sounded like Hoark.
“Hold up, hold up, I’m coming.” Hiccup heard Gobber leave the forge. “What is it, man?”
“You’re not open, Gobber.