Difficulties with caring for Hiccup
Fewer people were willing to look after Hiccup, even for Stoick’s sake and Valka’s memory. Then came the inevitable comments from some of the more fed up or less charitable adults, ones that Hiccup overheard.
“Hiccup is staying at my house tomorrow. I may as well give up on getting anything done.”
‘He never pays attention.”
“That boy is trouble.”
“He’s behind every mess in this village.”
“Can’t he ever listen or follow orders?”
Hiccup knew he shouldn’t feel hurt. Other children made mistakes, but no one complained about them. They were right, he did cause trouble, even when he didn’t mean to. But he was trying to help his dad and do things for the villagers, like carry eggs or plates or milk. He wasn’t trying to drop or break or spill things. One day, Hiccup would be Chief, like his dad, and he wanted to do a good job. The Chief of Berk worked for everyone; Hiccup needed to prove he could do that, too. But it still stung.
Stoick increasingly heard complaints from the villagers about Hiccup, and Gobber himself had heard people use terms like “impossible” and “troublemaker” for Hiccup, though never where Stoick might hear. After a tiring day, Stoick had to sit down after dinner to again talk with his wayward son about the most recent mishap. Gobber had been in the house enough to see it for himself. Stoick would tell him to pay attention, slow down, don’t interrupt, and don’t touch things. Hiccup would look at his father, bewildered and apologetic, but determined avoid doing it again. And Hiccup did avoid it. He never let the Larssen’s sheep out again. He scattered the Bergstrom’s chickens instead.
Stoick knew no one wanted to anger the Chief of Berk, but word got around and Hiccup was becoming unmanageable. Stoick’s ability to run Berk didn’t extend to managing his undersized, active son. There were always concerns about Hiccup—he got underfoot, dropped things, fell in holes, and ran off. All children did these things; Hiccup was no different than the other youngsters. But the atmosphere lately had changed. There was a chill toward Hiccup lately, and Stoick was bewildered by it. Hiccup was a boy and boys were active and adventurous. Vikings were tough and brave and physical. Why Hiccup was any different, Stoick couldn’t grasp.
the two of them. Hiccup should have calmed down by now, but who was there to make him? Valka was gone; Stoick’s work as Chief took him all over the island, and Hiccup wasn’t able to keep pace. Hel, Snotlout couldn’t keep up, and he was larger and older than Hiccup. No one was prepared to raise a child like Hiccup, with his tiny frame, active imagination, and propensity for disaster. Hiccup would spill wash water, fall into a hole, and lose his shoes all in one afternoon.
The village women began having their own struggles with the situation. Sharing their time looking after Hiccup and their own children meant something was neglected. The choice between chasing after Stoick’s son, with his runaway mind and quick legs, and raising their own youngsters who needed attention that couldn’t be spared, became a quandary for the mothers and grandmothers involved. If Hiccup were their own, they’d have him under control as the other children were. But he was the heir of Berk, the lone son of Stoick, and never going to any other family. Women who would be firmer with their own offspring had no lever they could use to make him behave. Making him sit still was the worst thing they could do to him, and they hesitated to even do that. He tried to behave for them but Stoick never reinforced the lesson at home, so the lack of consequences meant no real lesson was learned. Instead, he was let off more lightly often enough that the other children began misbehaving. “Hiccup did it, too,” meant another child to discipline. Hiccup having to do chores for the day he was at the Hofferson’s while Astrid Hofferson had a week’s worth for the same offense bred resentment among the other children and led to friction in their homes.
Afi Larssen discussed the problem with Gobber, hoping the chief’s friend would intervene. “It’s becoming a nightmare, Gobber,” he told the big smith. “No woman wants to tell Stoick she won’t watch Hiccup, but the village is suffering because of it.”
“The entire village, Afi?” Gobber looked skeptical. “He’s one small boy. Quick, aye, and a magnet for trouble, but I doubt he’s that much effort.”
“Gobber, you’re a bachelor. If you were coming home to a wife who’d had to chase him down while holding a babe on her hip, you’d feel differently. My wife is washing her hands of Hiccup, motherless or not. If he were any other child, he’d be learning a trade. You know that yourself, Gobber.” Afi drew a breath and continued. “Children need correction, and we already have three of our own. No one wants to be the one who takes firmer measures with Hiccup, yet our own children receive sterner punishment than he does.”
When Stoick began climbing out of his despair, Gobber felt relief. Stoick could manage better now, and be aware of Hiccup. For months, Hiccup had been tended by the village women. Now his friend could think about Hiccup more and help the boy settle into this new life without his mother. Stoick loved Hiccup unconditionally and guarded him fiercely. The rest would sort itself out.
Gobber never voiced this, but he knew Stoick believed Hiccup caused too many problems on his own. He heard about Hiccup from everyone, because complaining to the Chief was what people did. If they complained about other children to Stoick as frequently as they grumbled about Hiccup, then he might realize that the muttering was trivial and tell people to get on with their lives. Is there’d been another child, Stoick might have understood that young children act foolishly and make mistakes, as a point of comparison. Hiccup didn’t cause much more trouble than the other youngsters—he just couldn’t avoid people insisting on tracking down his father daily.
Increasingly, the village found problems with Hiccup, even when there weren’t any to speak of. Hiccup was becoming a target. Gobber would see the Thorston twins grinning madly, shortly before Hiccup was blamed for some deliberate mischief. Snotlout grabbed the scrawny boy, squeezing hard enough to leave bruises. Snotlout shook him violently in Gobber’s sight only once. Gobber gave him a good cuffing then, and another when the boy tried to blame Hiccup. Gobber threatened to tell Snotlout’s father of his actions if he invented some tale about Hiccup, knowing Spitelout would not be happy with his son. An angry Spitelout was Snotlout’s worst nightmare, and he kept still, that time.
The village women looked after Hiccup. It was extra effort for them, Stoick knew, but he needed this assistance, and his Valka would have done the same thing. These women, mothers and grandmothers themselves, provided Hiccup all the things little ones needed. They comforted him when he hurt himself, and corrected him when he misbehaved. They taught him to eat, wash, and dress himself. They were a constant in his life until he was four and old enough for schooling.
projected confidence to those around him, and only in one place did he struggle: raising Hiccup.
Hiccup had always been different. Bright, brighter than the other other village children, Hiccup showed a quickness to learn and develop ideas no other children could at that young age. Stoick watched him learn to read, write, and figure. He persevered, even after the death of his mother and his reliance on other villagers to teach him what Stoick could not. Running the village was a constant effort, and his impatience with Hiccup’s questions led Stoick to approach the village women for help.