Stoick the Vast investigates a complaint
§ § §
Stoick the Vast scowled, exasperated; the people on Berk were driving him mad. He’d risen early, sacrificing time with his seven-year-old son, Hiccup, hoping to accomplish something worthwhile. Stoick took his responsibilities as Chief seriously; his priorities were feeding, protecting, and prospering the tribe. The people of Berk understood and expected this diligence in their chief. Fewer realized he was supposed to run a tribe. Stoick’s duties didn’t include hunting escaped sheep, improving ale quality, or listening to accounts of mermaid sightings; still, his largest headache was the chronic complainers.
When Hoark arrived, bellyaching that the forge hadn’t opened, he’d said the man ought to talk to Gobber the blacksmith. Dissatisfied with the answer, Hoark accused his chief of unfairness. “The forge is run by your best friend, 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. 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. 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 seven, Gobber—he’s too young for that.”
Gobber gave him a exasperated look, and Stoick 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 days.”
Stoick glanced around the shop. “Where is Hiccup, Gobber? I haven’t seen him yet, and I hoped 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, his tilted gait a result of having a peg leg, and Stoick followed. He 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, 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.
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. Come, I want to show you something outside.”
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. As incentive, he provided the carpenters with twenty 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 hatch. Stoick believed it could withstand anything up to concentrated dragon fire. When it was in place, the forge was closed and Gobber would not open for anyone. Today, it hadn’t been enough to satisfy Hoark.
While Hoark sought his Chief, Gobber found his own solution. Stoick stared at the once-blank wall; reading the large block runes, he marveled at his friend’s audacity.
Gobber’s list of rules:
1. If the forge is closed, go away.
2. If you yell or bang, Gobber will ignore you.
3. More yelling and banging means your weapon goes to the bottom of the pile.
4. If you don’t like this, leave Berk and see another smith.
5. No using the forge to fix it yourself.
6. Complaining to Stoick will piss him off. But you can try.
As it all sank in, Stoick almost erupted in laughter. Hoark had a great amount of misery in his future. The forge was in the plaza, and the tale would spread quickly. Gossip was Berk’s largest source of entertainment, and Hoark’s idiocy was an irresistible cause for talk. Gobber’s common sense and good nature made him popular. The village’s retaliation on Gobber’s behalf promised to be swift, thorough, and painful. The girls in the Meade hall would spill his ale, the women would gossip and criticize loudly, and their husbands would avoid him. He would be a laughingstock. Stoick remembered Gobber’s axiom: never upset the blacksmith. The chief of Berk could stand back and watch the uproar. The results of this would be spectacular, unforgettable, and all Hoark’s fault.
Gobber looked at Stoick’s struggle to remain dignified and grinned. “Get inside before you explode, Stoick. You can laugh there.”
Stoick managed to get inside and shut the door. He restrained himself for an instant, before seeing Gobber’s twinkling eyes. His friend’s merriment broke Stoick’s control and the serious, hard-working 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.
Framed in the doorway, Stoick spotted a giggling Hiccup, and understood why Gobber wasn’t concerned about his son. Hiccup had read the rules. He was convulsing with 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’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 on the others: 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 drained away, and Stoick realized he was happy. He presided over happy events—weddings, baby namings, harvest 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, there was camaraderie. Gobber chortled now, refusing to stop until the laughter ran out. The rafters had shook hard enough to dislodge dirt and coal dust, and Stoick wore a coating of both. Hiccup had developed, well, hiccups, from the hilarity. His son, wiping away tears with smudged hands, radiated a happiness equal to his father’s. This moment, Stoick realized, was unique. He and Hiccup shared 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 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, Stoick, you’re right. Teaching him anything today is useless, so I’m willing to let the lad off. Did you have plans for him?”
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 continued, “Spitelout can see to the village. He’s taken time for his son before, and he won’t object. My brother doesn’t like Hoark any more than we do. Watching that ass get a comeuppance, well—I’m giving Spitelout a gift, Gobber.” Then he added, “Besides, I can’t look at Hoark and stay serious. It’s impossible.”
Gobber snorted in amusement. “Then go. I’ll let you know what happens 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, most of the time. 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 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.