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Edit 1 of At the Forge

§ § §

The Chief hid his exasperation until he was alone, then allowed himself a scowl. The people on Berk were driving him mad. He’d risen early, sacrificing time with his six-year-old son, Hiccup, hoping to accomplish something worthwhile. Stoick the Vast took his responsibilities seriously; his priorities were feeding, protecting, and prospering the tribe. They did not include hunting escaped sheep, improving ale quality, or listening to accounts of mermaid sightings. On this island full of stubborn Vikings, the chronic complainers presented the biggest headache.

When Hoark arrived, bellyaching that the forge hadn’t opened, he’d said the man ought to talk to Gobber, Berk’s blacksmith. Dissatisfied with the answer, Hoark accused his chief of unfairness. “The forge is run by your best friend, Stoick, and his apprentice is your son. He’s in the wrong, not opening today.” Hoark leaned forward, pitching his voice to carry. “I’ve come here with a legitimate problem, and you ignore me. You clearly favor Gobber in this.”

Now Stoick was trampling down undergrowth, his massive frame breaking through the trees as their branches tried to tangle themselves in his beard. Heading to the forge, Stoick wished he could laugh off the claim, but people had heard and he couldn’t let that rumor spread. Hoark may be insufferable, but he knew how to gain Stoick’s attention. He let his irritation subside as he spotted the rear wall of the forge. The smithy was where he could find his young Hiccup. If he resolved this mess quickly, there would be time to visit with Gobber and his son. The closed building allowed him a moment’s peace and Gobber would be happy to let him stay awhile.

Thor help him, he needed the break.

As Stoick reached for the door, it opened, and Gobber gestured him inside. The one-armed smith said, “Morning, Stoick; I’ve been expecting you. Hoark came grumbling to you, did he?”

“Yes, Gobber, Hoark caught me and insisted I speak with you. He said you were practicing ‘“mistreatment of a citizen and fellow member of the tribe.”’ Stoick grimaced. “He accused me of taking your side because of our friendship.”

“Aye, and backed you into a corner.” Gobber rolled his eyes. “Well, it’s a simple enough answer. I’m working on something with Hiccup today, and we can’t be interrupted,” Gobber stated. “There’s nothing urgent waiting, Stoick, and I refuse to risk Hiccup getting hurt more than necessary.”

“I’d prefer an uninjured son,” Stoick said dryly, “but I need to know more than that. What are you doing with Hiccup?”

“I need to teach him how to handle molten metal, Stoick. This is his first time learning the steps, and the lad will have questions.” They shared a smile; Hiccup always had questions, and being expected to ask some would be Valhalla for him. “He needs to focus. I can’t be waiting on customers and do this.”

“You’re letting him pour molten metal? He’s only six, Gobber—he’s too young for that.”

Gobber looked at Stoick, and Stoick inhaled deeply. Gobber developed a stare
after Hiccup became his apprentice, one reserved for Stoick. Now he waited for it, the same words Gobber always used. Look, Stoick, I’m not...

“...going to kill your son. You have to trust me and stop worrying so much.” To Stoick’s relief, Gobber said, “Besides, I’m not letting him pour metal, just showing him what to do and how to do it. For the next few weeks, I’ll pound those steps into his head while we work. The lad will be tired of reciting them within a week.”

Stoick glanced around the shop. “Where is Hiccup, Gobber? I haven’t seen him yet, and I hoped to have a moment to talk to him.” Usually, his son was eager to see Stoick, rushing forward to greet him and tell his father everything—what he was doing and seeing and discovering at his job. Apprenticing Hiccup to Gobber steadied his boy, and Hiccup took his work seriously, but his mouth still moved faster than a river.

“Oh, he’s fine. Come see for yourself. “ Gobber hobbled to the back room, and the Chief followed his stocky friend. Stoick entered the room and found Hiccup sitting, his head bent downwards. A lone tear track glistened on his cheek, and his arms clutched his sides. “He’s fine, Gobber? Look at the state he’s in. The boy’s a mess and,” Stoick glowered, “I would know why.”

“Stoick, relax a bit. Talk to the lad yourself; there’s nothing wrong with him.” Gobber was insistent, and he relaxed. This fretting was pointless; his old friend loved Hiccup almost as much as Stoick did. His boy would be fine.

He addressed his son. “Hello, son. I stopped by to see Gobber.” Stoick paused.”What are you doing?”

“Dad...I can’t tell you.” Hiccup trembled, then choked out, “Ask Gobber...please, Dad, ask Gobber.”

Puzzled and a little alarmed, Stoick turned to his old friend. “Gobber, he’s a wreck. He won’t talk to me, and he never stops talking. If you’d explain this,” Stoick rumbled, “I’d be happier. I hope.”

Gobber grinned easily at his Chief. “Hiccup’s right when he says he can’t talk to you. If I were him, I couldn’t either. He’s only been inside a few minutes. Come with me, and you’ll understand.”

Gobber led him outside, to the front of the forge. The wall was in place, the one Gobber insisted the carpenters build him. It was composed of split, planed logs nailed into a solid piece. Gobber made the nails for it thicker and longer than usual, ensuring a firmer hold. He provided the carpenters with ten extra pounds of these for their own use, and free axe maintenance for six months. The carpenters built a wall long and wide enough to block the entire window. Stoick believed it could withstand anything up to concentrated dragon fire. When it was in place, the forge was closed. Today, it hadn’t been enough to satisfy Hoark.

Stoick stared at the once blank wall, and his jaw dropped. Studying it, he marveled at his friend’s audacity.

Gobber’s list of rules:

Rule one: If the forge is closed, go away.
Rule two: If you yell or bang, Gobber will ignore you.
Rule three: If you yell or bang more than once, Gobber will refuse to fix, make, or sharpen anything of yours in a hurry.
Rule four: If you don’t like this, see another smith.
Rule five: Remember Gobber is the only blacksmith on Berk.
Rule six: If you think you can fix it yourself, go ahead.
Rule seven: Gobber will not let you in to fix anything. Get your own tools.
Rule eight: Complaining to Gobber won’t work.
Rule nine: Complaining to Stoick will piss him off. But you can try.
Rule ten: Learn these rules.

Stoick had heard Gobber say, “Never upset the blacksmith,” and now he knew why. Only Gobber could get away with this. The man was well-liked, treated every weapon on Berk as a friend, and was one of the most skilled and knowledgeable blacksmiths in the archipelago. Smiths from other islands visited Gobber to pick his brain. The village took pride in having him on Berk.

Hoark upset the blacksmith, and Stoick almost felt sorry for the man. The people on Berk will make his life misery. Then it all sank in, and Stoick almost erupted in laughter. Stoick could stand back, not interfere, and watch the uproar. The results of this will be spectacular, unforgettable, and all Hoark’s fault.

Gobber looked at his once dignified Chief, and grinned. “Get inside before you explode, Stoick. You can laugh there.”

Stoick hurled himself in the door, clutching the frame for support, and managed to shut it behind him. He restrained himself for an instant, then met Gobber’s twinkling eyes. His friend’s merriment broke Stoick’s control and the serious, dignified Chief of Berk abandoned all decorum. Deep belly laughs echoed through the forge, as Gobber guffawed and snorted behind him. Hearing his friend give over to the mirth made Stoick laugh harder. It felt like he’d never stop.

Hoark had a great amount of misery in his future. Gobber clearly and publicly announced his intentions on how to treat him. The forge was in the plaza, and word of Gobber’s rules would be the thing everyone talked about. Some would fret about whether their tasks or requests would suffer—Gobber might close more often or become annoyed with the entire village. Gobber’s geniality was a staple of village life. People will want to support the good-natured man; Hoark would find little support for his attitude.

The women would gossip ceaselessly and loudly, their husbands would avoid him, and the barmaids at the mead hall would refuse him service. The village thrived on gossip, and this was big enough to discuss for at least a week. Hoark’s complaint about mistreatment of a tribesman was backwards; Hoark mistreated Gobber, and the tribe would make him pay.

The damage to his family name would infuriate his wife. Ondott was a proud woman who took poorly to dishonor. Whether others considered Hoark’s attack on Gobber a sign of stupidity, Hoark’s wife was sure to declare it a humiliation. He’d find no solace at home for some time. Stoick suspected she might refuse to have anything to do with him outside of required duty. Bland meals were the least Ondott’s anger would provide. Stoick knew Hoark had a great deal of soreness in his future.

Gobber answered Hoark’s complaint where all could see, and Stoick no longer had to deal with any of this. If Hoark complained, Stoick would tell him to read the rules.

Stoick understood why Gobber wasn’t concerned about his son. Hiccup had read the rules. He was convulsing with silent laughter, and could barely breathe, never mind talk. His son, who wanted to excel as an apprentice, who worked to learn every task, and who focused on getting things just right at the forge, was having his most unserious moment in months. Stoick spotted Hiccup, framed in the doorway, giggling. Stoick’s incessant roaring infected the boy; the giggles turned into whooping at his father and Stoick joined him. This was priceless; the two Haddocks, father and son, collapsed in uncontrollable laughter.

“Dad,” Hiccup choked out, “Gobber said...said I had to res...respect the adults...”
Hiccup lost control, finally getting out, “even when they...they have...” Hiccup surrendered to more laughter, unable to finish. Stoick looked at Gobber, a question in his eyes.

Gobber’s eyes twinkled. “Don’t laugh in front of the adults. You have to respect them, even when they haven’t the brains of a chicken.”

Oh, Gobber, thought Stoick, you truly know this tribe.

§ § §

It helped to turn his back in the others, Stoick discovered. Looking at them only set him off again. Finally, Stoick regained enough calm to speak again. He felt as if a great weight had been removed from his back. His duties, his responsibilities, and all his frustrations vanished like water into dry ground. Stoick knew this feeling, this lightness, this inner delight. He realized he was happy. Stoick presided over happy events—weddings, baby namings, Snoggletog celebrations—but none of them were solely for him. He felt happy for others or with others, but for himself...no. Until now.

Stoick recognized he was more than happy; here with his son and his best friend, the two closest to him, he was delighted. Gobber chortled now, refusing to stop until the laughter left of its own accord. The rafters had shook hard enough to dislodge dirt and coal dust, and Stoick wore a coating on his shoulders. They all displayed smudges, far too many simply for working or standing in the smithy.

Stoick looked over at his son. Hiccup had developed, well, hiccups, from the hilarity. His son, wiping away tears and spreading smudges, radiated glee.
Certainly, Stoick took pride in his son as a father would. His intelligence, his good nature, and his desire to work hard pleased Stoick, and assured him Hiccup would grow into a good man.

This moment, Stoick realized, was unique. He and Hiccup shared a secret. Father and son had a rapport they’d never known before. This idiocy of Hoark’s provided a time where they were united in dereliction of duty— and it was glorious. So glorious that Stoick wanted it to continue. An idea struck him, and he smiled at Gobber.

“Gobber, is there any chance you’ll let Hiccup go? I think his concentration is lost to you.”

Gobber looked at Stoick and remarked, “Well, teaching him anything today is useless, so I’m willing to let the lad off. Did you have plans, Stoick?”

Hiccup watched the two men, as Stoick said, “I need to teach Hiccup some woodsmanship. Fishing, building campfires, making snares—if he’s interested.”

Hiccup’s eyes widened. Stoick “Spitelout can see to the village. He’s taken time for his son before, and he won’t object. Besides,” he said, “he doesn’t like Hoark any more than we do. Watching Hoark get a comeuppance, well—I’m giving the man a gift, Gobber.” Then he added, “ I can’t look at Hoark and stay serious. It’s impossible.”

Gobber snorted in amusement. “Then go. I’ll let you know about it later.”

“Tell me tomorrow, Gobber. Right now, I have other things to do.” He turned to Hiccup. “Well, what do you think? Should I take a day off from Chiefing?”

He saw the look on his son’s face transform from shock to wonder. Stoick had little spare time to give Hiccup. Being the Chief never stopped. Hiccup was disappointed but understood this, most days. Today, he’d spend the rest of the day with his dad, skipping work together to learn how to live outdoors. His father, the Chief, was shirking for him. “Yes, Dad. Please.”

“Good. You return home and wash off the smudges, and when I’m done talking to Uncle Spitelout, we can set out. But,” Stoick eyed Hiccup seriously, “we are not having fun. Being Chief is a great responsibility, and this is training, Hiccup. Remember, these skills will help you when, “ Stoick grinned, “ you need to escape those who haven’t the brains of a chicken.”

Once again, the forge rang with laughter.

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