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Hiccup appears before the tribal council wip
Gothi headed for the village, grateful for the staff’s ability to help her through the mud. She’d chosen a staff years before, to remind the Hooligan tribe who she was. Her height worked against her, but the staff demanded respect and she could thump anyone with impunity. Every Gothi needed a prop, and the staff was hers. She used it to draw in the dust, to support herself, and to deliver a good thwack when necessary. Now she was using it to cross the village to the council meeting.

Stoick called this meeting to have his son Hiccup report to the council. Why this was necessary, she didn’t know, but he had better not be wasting her time; if he dragged her out in this wet for nothing, she’d use the staff on him, Chief or not. The debacle on Woden’s day* must be the cause, but what it had to do with the council was a mystery. Hiccup got up in those trees, almost fell, then Stoick rescued him and dragged him home. She was too busy with treating sufferers of the autumn sickness to learn more.

Still, it provided her an opportunity to study the two Haddocks. Gothi was old enough to remember Stoick’s grandfather, and the family bloodline was full of trustworthy, hardworking, determined men who took their duties seriously. They were also stubborn, impatient, and bad listeners. They were good chiefs, but imperfect, and it was part of the Gothi’s job to keep them in line. This held true for all the family lines in the village, but the Haddocks merited extra attention. Observing both of them ought to be instructive.

Spitelout Jorgenson was ahead of her, talking to Knotlegs Ingerman. Good men, but again products of their bloodlines. Spitelout had the Jorgenson build: blocky and muscular, with dark hair and a penetrating voice. The Jorgensons would say they were warriors, but Gothi thought they just enjoyed fighting. Hearing a Jorgenson argue was proof of that. Knotlegs Ingerman, an intelligent, diligent man, had the fair hair and blue eyes of his clan. Stoick was approaching with young Hiccup, a comical contrast when seen from a distance. Stoick the Vast stood taller than any man in the tribe and wider across than many, while his son stood just above Stoick’s knee. Hiccup was listening intently to his father and bobbing his russet head. Hiccup didn’t seem worried. Oddly anxious, but not concerned. She caught a bit of their talk.

“You’ll help me to remember, Dad?”

“Yes, Hiccup, just look to me if you can’t remember something or get confused. And remember what I taught you, all right?” The Chief gave his son a sideways glance, and they shared a look that was almost a laugh.

“Yes, sir.” Two sets of green eyes looked at each other; Hiccup giggled, then adopted a serious look, locking down the laughter.

The Chief had to teach his son many things, but whatever that look was about, at least one lesson entertained Stoick’s son. The byplay intrigued her; the big man was, like his name, stoic. Today, his expression appeared to have a bit of his son’s impishness, and she wondered if Hiccup was behind the change.

Gothi went inside, to find the rest of the members there. The room was dim. Several charcoal sticks and a stack of paper sat near the far end of the table. There were mugs and four pitchers of water. The fire burned but the open shutters provided little light on this damp day, and the L-shaped council table held only three candles; she tapped Gobber with her staff and drew her command on the floor. He resigned himself to fetching more candles; he knew she possessed wickedly accurate aim with that staff. Even if the rest were content to sit in the dark, she expected to see what happened, and create a record of Hiccup’s appearance. Gobber returned with candles, and placed them to her satisfaction. She took the end seat of the L. Now she was settled, they could begin.

The Chief was halfway through rising when Spitelout said, “Could you tell us what we’re doing here, Stoick? You don’t call meetings for nothing, but telling us why you called this one would be good. Is it about the boy?”

“That’s what I’m about to do, Spitelout, if you’d wait.” The massive redhead looked down at his brother. “I’m not leaving any of you in the dark.”

“The old bat wouldn’t let you, Stoick,” Gobber said, earning a blow on his flesh leg. Good. She didn’t have to invent a reason to strike him.

“I called the council together to hear testimony from Hiccup on the events of last Woden’s day. He will tell you everything that happened from the beginning to the final outcome.”

“Why a closed door meeting? Surely you know what happened, Stoick. Just tell us, and be done with it.”

“Hoark, this is Hiccup’s account of events, not mine. He will tell you. I explained this meeting would be closed, so he could give testimony privately. The tribe doesn’t need to know all this.”

“Stoick, can’t you teach the boy his lesson without involving us?” Ah, Spitelout again. “The tribe knows anyway—why keep it a secret?”

“Because the tribe knows a small part of it. For most of it, no one was around to see him. Gossip is bad enough, Spitelout. They’ll never stop discussing it if they know more, and that helps no one.”

Stoick was right; the people on Berk wouldn’t let it go. The more they knew, the more it would return to hurt Stoick and Hiccup. Talk would go around in circles and people would start rumors; people would accuse, but nothing would be proven. The Chief had faced this rubbish before, and didn’t feel like inviting more of it, or subjecting Hiccup to it. The boy was waiting to speak, and Gothi decided wanted to get on with it. She thumped her staff, then wrote on the floor.

“Gothi thinks we ought to let Hiccup talk, and...take a boar?”Gothi thumped him.”Oi! Ah, she says don’t take all day.” Gobber rubbed his side, annoyed.

Knotlegs chimed in. “Still, Stoick, a closed door meeting is excessive. We don’t need to be sworn to secrecy over this. I’ll keep it quiet if you want, but agreeing to this for childhood...foolishness abuses the importance of the council.” The Ingerman line were scholarly, but for all his education, Knotlegs was denser than the harbor statues.

Stoick raised his bushy eyebrows, and addressed the remark. “Knotlegs, a closed door meeting always means privacy. Are you suggesting that now it shouldn’t? The council works for the good of this tribe, and breaking the oath to privacy harms the tribe.” His clear impatience warned the others. “You offered to keep this to yourself, when it’s expected in every private council. You know it’s not a choice.”

Gobber cleared his throat. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t keep this private. Hiccup will be Chief, and there’s no point in letting people hear this, and remember it when he’s running the village.”

“Thank you, Gobber. It’s good to see someone gets the point.”

“Can the boy speak, Stoick?” Hoark’s voice was irritated. “That’s why we came here, man. Let’s get on with it.”

Gothi thumped the floor, then wrote again. “We need...she says we need to all agree to privacy, since the question was raised but not settled.”

“All in favor of maintaining your oath of privacy, say aye. All those who vote nay can leave and remain ignorant.” Stoick looked around the table and added deliberately, “This will divide the council and put fellow councilors in the position of either keeping secrets from one another or violating the privacy oath. The council members have to work together. If we can’t do that we will suffer and so will Berk.”

One or two were reluctant, but the “ayes” were unanimous. Hiccup looked at his father and stepped in front of the table. He chose the spot where the most councilors could see him. He waited for a few moments, and began. “ I am here today to address...”

“Hiccup.” That oaf Nils Larssen decided to put his oar in, just when the boy had the chance to tell his tale.

“Yes, sir.” Hiccup hesitated, then looked at his father.

Stoick prompted him. “General Larssen, Hiccup.”

“Yes, sir, General Larssen.” Whatever the man expected, it wasn’t that. “I am listening.”

“Hiccup, do you know why you’re here?”

“Yes, General Larssen, I do.” When no further response came out of the boy, Gobber intervened.

“I think General Larssen,” Gobber chuckled, “would like you to tell him what you know. Nils? That is what you want, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Gobber, that’s what I wanted from the boy.” Nils’ father was the General; he was here because his father was recovering from the pox. Nils was barely eighteen, and his only child was a newborn girl. Gothi leaned forward. She wanted a good view of the education Hiccup was about to provide young Larssen. “Hiccup, please tell me what you know about why you’re here.”

“I am here to tell the ruling council about my actions last Woden’s day.” He smiled, and Gothi decided Hiccup wanted to get on with it, too. “I am the Hope and Heir to Berk, and the council must know this.” Nils stared at him, baffled. Hiccup decided to elaborate. “As Hope and Heir to the Hooligan tribe, I must earn the respect of the council. That’s why I have to tell you, General Larssen, and the council, what I did. They deserve to know.”

“Did your father tell you this?” Spitelout, probably out of pity, took over the questioning.

“No, General Jorgenson.” Spitelout’s eyebrows shot up. He was Hiccup’s uncle, but it seemed that ‘Uncle Spitelout” wasn’t in the room. Gobber nearly choked on his ale, and the Larssen boy looked vindicated.

“Then who did tell you, Hiccup?” Spitelout seemed genuinely curious.

“Chief Stoick told me, sir.”

“So your father told you, Hiccup. Did he do this as a punishment for what happened last Woden’s day?”

“I have more than one question to answer. Will you permit that, General Jorgenson?” Hiccup remained serious, but at least half the council didn’t. The second “General Jorgenson” broke Gobber’s precarious hold on his laughter, and Stoick put a hand over his mouth. Exposure to Hiccup only took the Chief so far; too many of those titles, and he’d erupt. The other council members weren’t going to rescue Spitelout. Thor knows what the boy would call them.

The man sat there, staring at Hiccup, wordless. Gothi grabbed her staff and nudged Spitelout’s shoulder. She snapped him out of his stupor, and he turned to her, irked. She indicated Hiccup, and he remembered his nephew’s question. “Yes, I permit it, Hiccup. Go ahead.”

“Chief Stoick told me I had to come here, not my father. That’s my first answer. My second answer,” he continued, “is that it is not part of my punishment. It is my duty as Hope and Heir, and is my responsibility, too.”

The boy was all straight lines, not a bend in him anywhere. He was at a meeting of the council, and he would use everyone’s title, including his. She wondered if he’d used it much before. He’d obviously been coached on procedure by Stoick, but Hiccup’s thoughts and words were his own.

“My third answer is that I was not punished by my father. I was,” he added blithely, “judged by Chief Stoick.”

§ § §

“Stoick?” Someone had to break the ice, and it may as well be him.

“Did you have a question, Gobber?”

“Well, I was wondering what it is Hiccup meant. And why,” he twisted his hook, “Hiccup used those words.”

“Because I did judge him.” Stoick’s face showed no uneasiness, but his friend’s discomfort grew.

“So, does Hiccup know what it is to give a judgment?” He saw the lad nod, pleased he’d asked and indignant he’d found it necessary. I expected this to be a quick, straightforward meeting. Now he was baffled with his friend and his lad, and wanted a sensible answer.

“Yes, Gobber, he does. You’ve seen him sit in on trials before—he’s seen chicken thieves, vandals, and in one case, a sheep covered in paint. Hiccup understands the term judgment.” A giggle escaped from Hiccup; well, it had been a funny looking sheep.

Gobber wasn’t asking Stoick another question; they weren’t getting anywhere with his efforts. He looked at the others. Spitelout had his arms crossed, and Hoark was giving him a steady stare. He could feel almost every eye on him, including a baleful look from Gothi. Ten seconds of that, and Gobber gave in. At least Stoick wouldn’t hit him.

“But, you know, Stoick, there’s an age limit for trials, and Hiccup’s not old enough yet, for one of those.” Gobber had more questions, but he was keeping them behind his teeth. He hoped Stoick had plans to clear this up soon. There was a glint in his Chief’s eye, and he’d swear the man was laughing at him.

“Why don’t you question Hiccup, Gobber? I’m sure the Hope and Heir will be happy to assist you. What do you say Hiccup? Can you help him out?” Thor almighty, Stoick was laughing at him. When this is over, he’d have words with his friend.

“Certainly, Chief Stoick. Have you questions for me,” the boy had mischief on his face, “Chief’s Advisor, General Belch?”

Gobber was flabbergasted. Chief’s Advisor General? Did the boy really call him that? By the look on his face, he’d planned it. Ohhh, Hiccup just looked at Stoick. It was both of them; this was a plot against him. He’d changed that boy’s swaddling cloths, and now it had come to this. Spitelout was slapping the table, the Ingerman fella was shaking, and Gothi grinned at Hiccup. She approved, the old hag! Everyone was laughing, laughing at him, and during a council meeting. Gobber didn’t think Hiccup even knew his last name. Ah, well...it was funny. Funnier even than that ridiculous sheep. He chortled. He might never hear the end of this. Ah, hold on a moment. No one would mention this once they left. The privacy oath, the unbreakable privacy oath they’d all resworn to a few minutes ago forbid them from bringing this up again. Hah. The joke wasn’t on him; it was on all of them. Wait til they figured it out.

The meeting wasn’t getting any shorter, though. Thor help us, this could have been over an hour ago. Well, his job as the voice of reason was still there, and time he said something. Gobber looked right into Stoick’s eyes, asking, ”Chief, can we stop for a few minutes? I’d like some fresh air.” The room exploded at his statement, with at least two councilors slapping each other on the back. Stoick offered a nod of agreement. He read the thanks in Stoick’s eyes, and decided to let the man off the hook. But those Haddocks better not try another Loki-inspired* stunt on him again.

§ § §

Everyone recovered enough to remember there was a point to the meeting, and Gothi prepared to learn this child better. He would be a force to change Berk when he became Chief. That mind mustn’t be wasted, though it—and Hiccup—needed directing. She didn’t want him loose in another tree, or under the docks, or anywhere he might injure himself. Hiccup was an unlikely daredevil, but a determined one.

“Before we return to questioning Hiccup, I’d like to make a suggestion. Hiccup,” Stoick explained, “It is acceptable to address the men on this council as ‘sir.’ Please do so. The council members do not use their titles much, and ‘sir’ is sufficient.”

“Yes, sir.” The council members looked relieved, and she was gratified when several visibly exhaled. The respected, powerful, muscular men on the council deserved to see how pompous they were. A child of six succeeded in upsetting a room of people many times his age, and he still hadn’t told his tale. The youngsters of this tribe had more sense than half the adults. She was enjoying the moment when she noticed the oddity.

The Haddocks moved constantly; it was in their bloodline. Stoick’s father jerked his head and gritted his teeth and drummed his fingers on the table. She’d seen pacing and flailing and numberless nods from Stoick during his time as Chief. Hiccup waved his hands in circles, stretched out his arms, and ran everywhere. A still Haddock was unusual, but for several heartbeats they didn’t move. Then the Chief’s fingers twitched; Hiccup lifted the corner of his mouth, then returned to his normal fidgeting.

Stoick was teaching the boy Haddock sign.

Gothi knew about it from the papers and teaching of one of her predecessors. Nowhere else on Berk was there a record of it. The chieftain’s line developed it long ago to keep their emotions hidden. They shunted their feelings into gestures meaningless to anyone else. Rubbing a thumb over a fingernail might keep a chief from calling someone stupid, or curling a small finger signal impatience. It also allowed the Chief and his heir to communicate privately. Hiccup knew enough to help him through this meeting. Their exchange outside was about Haddock sign.

Gothi’s wade in the wet counted as nothing against this unexpected meeting. It became worth it at “General Larssen,” but...Haddock sign. Oh, the trouble they could cause with Haddock sign. Stoick trained Hiccup not just to be his Heir, but to enjoy the position. Gothi saw a pair of rascals before her. She’d never tell her Chief she knew, but a smile went a long way, and after this business ended, Gothi planned to offer the pair of them one of hers.

“Now, to return to the question of the judgment of Chief Stoick the Vast upon his Heir, what does the council want to ask?” The council members had forgotten the original question, and looked to Stoick, who addressed his son. “Can you assist the council, Hiccup Haddock?”

“Yes, sir.” Hiccup examined the assembly. “I am,” Hiccup offered, “willing to answer any questions put to me about my judgment.” He added, “I can answer other questions, too.”

“Hiccup,” Knotlegs began, “what do you know about judgments? You said your father judged you. That’s not the same as being given a punishment or told how to make up for wrongdoing.”

“Yes, sir, I know. A judgment happens when the chief hears all the facts and everyone’s testimony, then decides what happens.” Hiccup looked at his questioner, and elaborated, saying, “I can give a longer answer if you like. A judgment can be a fine, or paying for something that got lost or broken. It might be work to fix a thing that was destroyed, with a case like vandalism.”

Finally, Hiccup’s answer penetrated even the thickest skulls. He did know what judgment meant. He had seen it handed down and told them what it was. It had dawned on some that Stoick stated he’d judged his son. No, he rendered judgment on the Hope and Heir, as Chief. Nils Larsen looked directly at Hiccup and asked the next question. “Hiccup, do you know that judgments have restrictions on them?”

“Yes, sir, I do. I studied them. I have to know about them to be Chief.”

“Do you know there’s an age limit for trials?”

“Yes. I know the age limit for common, public, and restricted trials is fifteen years. Sir.”

“Is it?” Nils looked around and saw several nods. The boy had the right of it. “How old are you, Hiccup?”

“I turned six years seven months ago, on the first day of March. I was born on February twenty-ninth, but this year has no February twenty-ninth.” Not simply six, Gothi noted. Yes, Hiccup’s lines weren’t just straight, but sharp enough to cut boar hide. He saw no conflict in his statements. He was six, he had been tried, and the age for trials began at fifteen. No one looking at him doubted the boy was telling the truth, and she knew Hiccup was unable to lie.

“Well, if that’s all true, then your father couldn’t have put you on trial,” Gobber stated, hesitant. “You’re not old enough yet.”

The child appeared frustrated and knew it showed. He dipped his head and took a deep breath. Stoick addressed his son. “Hiccup.”

His head came up. “Oh. Sorry, sir. I forgot.” He faced the council again, and saw them watching him, curious.

“What did he forget?” Hoark asked the question they all wondered about.

“It’s part of the requirements for addressing council members that he keep his head up and look at them. Hiccup must also,” Stoick said, “speak clearly, tell his account of events, provide detail, and answer questions.”

“Is this part of his ‘judgment,’ too, Stoick?”

“Yes, Hoark, it is.” She heard irritation in her Chief’s voice. “If you truly want to know what Hiccup’s trying to explain, ask better questions. He is answering every question you’ve put to him. He knows meeting before you is important. He knows he owes you respect. You need to stop thinking of him as six, and start thinking about his answers.”

“He’s still a child. How can we take him seriously when his answers make no sense?”

Stoick put a hand to his forehead, and Hiccup released a tiny sigh. Both Haddocks wore the same look of frustration. “Does anyone object to me questioning Hiccup?”

No one minded, and Stoick turned to Hiccup. The Chief took a deep breath and Hiccup copied him. “Hiccup, why are you here today?”

“To give an account of everything that happened Woden’s day.”

“Have you had an opportunity to offer your account?”

“No sir.”

“Would you like to offer it now, to me? I am also a member of this council.”

“Yes, please, sir.”

“Are you prepared, Hiccup Haddock, Hope and Heir to Berk?”

“Yes, Chief Stoick, I am prepared.”

That drew everyone’s attention. They meant those titles; Hiccup attended as Chief’s Heir, on the command of his Chief. Hiccup had explained his presence as a duty and responsibility. At that meeting and for that reason, he did not face his father, but the highest authority on Berk. The pair of them understood that, but half of the men there hadn’t until now.

Hiccup faced the council. “Do I have permission to address my remarks only to Chief Stoick?”

Spitelout answered first. “Since the Chief allows it, you need no permission from the council. But your courtesy does you credit.”

“Thank you, sir.” Hiccup turned to the massive man, stating, “Chief Stoick, I appear before you and this council to offer a complete account of my actions.” Hiccup looked a little apologetic at this, but continued. “On this past Woden’s day I was near a stand of tall trees...”

Those assembled listened intently to him relate the events. After a few seconds, they began murmuring, alarmed, then horrified.

“Jumped off a roof...”

“Climbed thin branches...”

“Hung from a knothole...”

The Haddocks focused on one another. The Chief was a father and the Heir his son, and they suffered through the recitation together, for each other. Stoick and Hiccup made the same sign—palms against the abdomen, left hand over right, forming a cross—and Gothi wondered if it was a reassurance. I’m fine. It’s alright. Don’t worry. We’re together. The tenderest they could be for each other with an audience, secreted in one sign.

Gothi noted the boy’s tense posture and saw him shudder once. His voice slowed but he never ceased speaking, as if his mouth was operating by itself. The remarks and the curses coming from the council didn’t exist for him, for them. The boy was laying out his actions in minute detail, hurting his father and hating it. He was the Heir, and right now wished he could avoid this duty. But his Chief commanded this, and Hiccup would wound his dad to obey his Chief.

He closed his statement, saying, “This is my account, and I, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, Hope and Heir to the Hooligan tribe of Berk, do swear to its veracity.” Gothi saw him square his shoulders and look directly at her for several seconds until she nodded to him. He did that with each of the others, facing every councilor until he was recognized. He would admit to his disgraceful behavior and accept whatever reproach this brought.

“I await your questions.” The stiff, structured language was his lone protection. It was an armor made of phrases, the only assistance he had; everything else lay bare for them to gnaw on as they chose. In one sentence, he proved his mettle to her and the men of the council. Gothi felt the atmosphere change. They would ask. He expected it, and they would treat him with respect for the distress he underwent because of them. They would not coddle Hiccup Haddock, but acknowledge him as Heir. Then he could gain their trust, as was correct.

§ § §

Stoick observed the proceedings, remaining apart from them. He had no questions left for Hiccup, and the others did. Many were predictable.

“Why did you do that?”

What was your thinking?”

“Did you think about stopping?”

“Why didn’t you turn back?”

“Didn’t you know it was risky?”

Hiccup offered no excuses.

“I wanted to see the bird’s nest.”

“I knew it was forbidden. I knew that’s why there were no lower branches. I knew it was forbidden to children older and larger than I am. I climbed anyway.”

“I wanted to be in that tree, and that was all I cared about.”

“I knew it was risky. I was warned. My father warned me. Everyone knows to keep out of those trees. It wasn’t just my father’s warning. I heard it from other kids. I heard it from other adults. I knew what I was doing.”

He gave long enough answers that no one doubted his intent. As the questioning continued, he added personal remarks.

“I was foolish.”

“I behaved stupidly.”

“My actions were reckless.”

“I thought the rules were for others.”

“I am ashamed.”

That last sentence was hard to say, but he offered it up as a sacrifice. The council wasn’t asking for these answers, but his son provided them. Hiccup hadn’t told Stoick all this, though his father knew it was true. If the council would not berate him, Hiccup would do it for them and prove his remorse. Stoick supposed this was an attempt to get everything over with, to push through to the end.

Then the next round began, with questions designed to make his son think. Hoark spoke first.

“Hiccup Haddock, do you know how high up you were?”

“No, sir.”

“When I looked at those trees Woden’s day afternoon, someone pointed out to me the place you fell from. The branch you slipped on was as high as the Mead Hall doors.”

Hiccup paled. His son knew he was high up, but Hoark’s words gave him an image. Before it was an abstraction. Now it struck like a punch in his belly. He could have died. He knew that, but the image of those sixty foot doors frightened him all over again.

“What would have happened if you fell all the way, Hiccup Haddock?”

“I would have died, sir,” he answered softly.

Stoick almost spoke, but Hoark beat him to it. “Answer in a loud, clear voice. The council must hear every piece of testimony.”

Hiccup forced the words out. “I would have died, sir.”

“Correct. What would that mean for the people you left behind?”

That question stopped Hiccup. He hadn’t expected this, and grew thoughtful, saying, “I don't know.”

“As the Hope and Heir, what does that mean?” Hoark persisted, and this was an easy answer.

“The tribe would have no Heir, and the next Chief would not be a Haddock. The Chief would never be a Haddock again. Sir.” He bit his bottom lip.

“As Hiccup Haddock, what does that mean?”

“I’m not sure. My father would miss me. Gobber would, too. My dad would be by himself.” He stiffened his neck, reminding himself to face the council.

Hoark glanced at Stoick, and Spitelout gave him a stare tinged with compassion; Stoick would not like this next bit.

“Your mother is gone. Losing her hurt your father more than you can guess, Hiccup. What if he lost you, too?”

Stoick closed his eyes. He’d never marry again. No one could replace his bright, beautiful Valka, and he’d remain a widower. She was the woman he loved, and there would never be another. The thought of losing Hiccup devastated him.

“He’d be alone and hurting about me. It would be...awful.” He wasn’t the Heir, not right now. He was a boy who hadn’t thought about those affected if he died. These men wanted to remove the Hope and Heir armor, find the child, and make it personal for him.

Spitelout turned Hiccup, putting his back to Stoick, and squatted to the boy’s level. “Hiccup, your father is a strong man and a brave one. He is someone we all admire. But if you die, he won’t be as strong. He will be in too much pain. It will be much harder to be brave if he’s by himself; he’d feel horrible every day.”

None of the council members looked at Stoick, and he was grateful for it. His composure had cracked; the death of both Valka and Hiccup would destroy him, and most of the council knew that. Stoick regained, with effort, the impassive look he commonly wore. His brother continued, his gaze fixed upon Hiccup. “Hiccup Haddock, we would all miss you. Your dad, Gobber, Gothi—all of us would miss you, Hiccup. Astrid and Snotlout and Phlegma the Fierce would miss you.”

“But she’s fierce—it’s in her name. She’s a warrior. Nothing I did could hurt her.”

“Phlegma lets you watch her train. She doesn’t have to, but she allows it. I’ve seen her smile at you, talk to you, and ruffle your hair. We would all miss you, Hiccup, even Phlegma. Not the Hope and Heir of Berk, but the boy you are. There would be an empty place where you used to be.” Spitelout, an undemonstrative man, put his hands on Hiccup’s shoulders, and told him, “I would miss you, Hiccup. That’s what it would be like for us, nephew, for everyone on Berk.”

Spitelout held him there, keeping his hands on Hiccup’s shoulders; there was something about his presence that gave his son an extra measure of strength. Stoick’s brother was solid and reliable, and Stoick thanked Odin for the man’s reserved nature. Hiccup rarely saw emotion from his uncle, but hearing Spitelout would miss him hit him hard. Right now, the dark-haired man looked grieved and Hiccup realized how many would have suffered if he’d fallen. The entire tribe, saddened and hurt, because of what he risked on Woden’s day.

Stoick watched his son stand in front of his uncle, who still squatted down to face Hiccup. The boy planted an arm on either side of Spitelout’s chest, making a box of their arms. Stoick heard Hiccup swallow. His emotions overwhelmed him and he began to cry, then sob. The rush of fear, sorrow, and guilt blended into a colossal lump of pain, and he couldn’t keep it in. He shook with grief for what he’d almost done to himself and them. He kept his head up this time, and Stoick watched Spitelout’s hands frame Hiccup’s face, offering a tiny shelter from the watching council. They watched the two, as his son released the pressure of too many events and too much change in a short time.

Hiccup wept until he ran dry of tears. He looked around the room, and didn’t see the council, but all the people he would have hurt. Gobber had aged during the past half hour, Hoark was grim, and Spitelout was solemn. His son turned to look at him, and Stoick nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak. Hiccup read his face, his body, and grasped the anguish Stoick felt from imagining him gone. Hiccup crossed his palms again, pressing them into his abdomen, hard. There were no other words.


Gobber deliberately poured water into mugs and offered one to Stoick, forcing him to take it. He pushed one at Hiccup, and had some himself. Stoick looked at the mug, recalled his surroundings, and took a sip. Hiccup lowered his arms and Spitelout drew back his hands. The boy lifted his mug and drank in gulps until it was empty. Gobber saw his lad looking at him and nowhere else. There was too much and not enough to say. No one knew what to do next. Questioning might continue, but it seemed pointless. Hiccup was wrung out. Everyone in the meeting felt the pervasive heaviness, but they weren’t done. Hiccup still hadn’t explained the business of his trial and judgment, and another closed door meeting meant tongues would clack. He’d have to say something.

Gobber looked at his friend. “Chief?”

“Yes, Gobber?”

“Well, I know Hiccup was supposed to tell his story with his head up, loud and clear. He was supposed to answer questions and give detail, and he did all that. I was wondering if the questions about what Hiccup did two days ago are finished.” He stared at the other council members, hoping they would cease the interrogation.

“If there are further questions,” Stoick suggested, “those who have them may speak up.” After a minute with no responses, Stoick repeated himself, adding, “If we are done, I declare this over.”

“There is one thing that needs answering, Chief, but it’s not about Hiccup’s story. There’s still a question about you handing down judgment on Hiccup.”

“Are we not done yet, Gobber?” Stoick growled. “Is this necessary when we’ve spent so much time here already?”

Time to use the thwack of authority. “Gothi already said if a question is raised, it needs an answer.” The old witch narrowed her eyes, but didn’t attack him. He’d pay for this later, but she would let Gobber make his point. “We can’t hold another closed meeting with Hiccup, and we can’t walk away wondering, either.” He looked at Hiccup, then Stoick, saying, “For all the answers we’ve heard out of you, we still don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.” Gobber let them hear his aggravation—he wanted to reach inside those two and tear the information out of them. He should have brought his vise attachment, by Thor. That might have worked.

Hiccup looked at Gobber, baffled. Talking to Stoick was like talking to rocks, so he may as well try the lad. “What are you looking puzzled about, Hiccup? If you have something to say, go ahead.” His curt tone drew the big man’s attention. Aye, Stoick, I am fed up with you.

“We explained it to you already. Why are you saying we didn’t, Gobber? Sir,” he added, scrupulously correct. “I’m confused.”

Gobber was astonished. Hiccup was confused? Ohh, no, he’d had enough of these Haddocks for one meeting. “Why d’you think we know what you’re talking about? We are the confused ones here, Hiccup. You can’t be tried at your age, but both you and you’re father say it happened.” He eased up on the annoyed tone; Hiccup wasn’t Stoick, and there was no point in speaking to the lad as if he were. “We don’t even know who the witnesses were.”

“There weren’t any witnesses.” Hiccup gazed at him, then at the entire council. His eyes widened. “You don’t know,” he said, startled. “You’re the council, and you don’t know. I thought you would figure it out. I knew right away.” Hiccup had realized something, and Gobber hoped it would resolve this mess.

Hiccup spoke again. “My judgment came from Trial by Chief.”

§ § §

She was taken aback. Hiccup had dropped a mountain of their heads, and acted as if it was a pebble. Gobber stared at Stoick as if he was a madman, and Knotlegs was becoming angry; Hoark looked as if he were trapped in a nightmare. Hiccup hesitated, uncomfortable with their reactions. He looked at his father, who waved him over. Hiccup offered his dad a crooked grin and went to him, dwarfed by the oversized chair and relieved to be away from so much scrutiny.

Gothi glanced at her chief, and thought back over the answers he and Hiccup had given. Chief’s Trial did allow flexibility. Witnesses weren’t required, but could be called. It could be held in any fitting location; one trial was held on the docks, when a fishing boat was evidence. The council didn’t have to agree to it, and there was no age limit. A typical Chief’s Trial followed the format of other methods of judgment for the sake of convenience, but the decision rested with the Haddock chieftain.

“Hiccup, please tell us what you know about Chief’s Trial.” Hiccup didn’t notice Spitelout’s displeasure, but she could see it aimed at Stoick.

Stoick nudged Hiccup, and he returned to his previous location. “Yes, sir. Chief’s Trial isn’t used much, because most things can be solved without it. You have to answer every question truthfully, and as much as you can. You must follow the commands of the Chief. The chief listens to everything, then gives a fair judgment.”

“Did all those things happen to you?”

Hiccup was on solid ground now. He just needed to answer his uncle, not face the entire room. “Yes, sir, they did. The Chief asked me questions and I had to answer them as much as I could. It’s required.” Gothi saw him slip back into the comforting rhythm of providing answers.

“Why were you on trial in the first place, Hiccup?” Gobber was grappling with this, and the others were equally at sea.

Stoick told Hiccup, “Start with yesterday morning, Hiccup. That ought to help everyone to understand.” Stoick paused, then told the room, “Hiccup sometimes needs a place to begin.”

“Why can’t you tell us, instead of making Hiccup answer?” Spitelout seemed to speak for the room, and she nodded. It felt as if Hiccup was the only one of the two of them planning to speak.

“Hiccup requested I not tell his story for him. I agreed. Hiccup stood before his Chief. How he got there and what happened is his story. A chief keeps his word, and I’m not breaking my word to him.” Stoick turned to his son, and prompted him. “Yesterday morning, I...”

“Yesterday morning I wanted to talk to my dad. Woden’s day was confusing and things were still wrong. I thought he’d know what to do.” Hiccup paused, and Gothi suspected he was ordering his thoughts. “What I did in those trees was wrong, but other things made yesterday feel wrong. My dad didn’t do the things he’s supposed to when I get in trouble. He never asked me anything, and he always asks.”

Gothi waved Gobber over. She wrote a short query on the floor, and Gobber translated it for the room. “Hiccup, Gothi wants to know what questions your father asks.” She looked at the boy and nodded.

“He always asks me why I did it, and I have to explain it. Then I have to tell him everything that happened.”

She wrote on the floor again. Gobber squinted at the message, and she glared at him. “All right, the auld bat...Oi!..Alright, Gothi wants to know why not hearing the questions bothered you.”

“Because I’m supposed to answer them, and it’s the thing that’s mine to do. I have to answer, it’s my part, but my dad never asked.” If your father doesn’t ask, you can’t speak. That’s why this is your story to tell; you don’t want it inside of you now, and you didn’t want it inside you yesterday.

“Why didn’t your father ask you, then?”

“Hoark, you idiot, d’you really think Stoick told him? I’m sure the boy didn’t ask, man; he had enough to think about already.” Gobber was indignant. “I know Hiccup,” he continued, “and if he wants to know something, he’ll ask. He’s good at asking questions.” He raised one corner of his mouth, and added, “Too cursed good, sometimes. But if he doesn’t want to know, he won’t bring it up.”

Gothi swore she saw Gobber eyeing her and her staff, then giving a tiny head jerk toward Hoark. The old villain, telling her who to thwack! Though if Hoark had been closer, she would have. It might be time to change where she sat; Gobber wasn’t the only one needing her attention.

“Hiccup, did your father tell you why he didn’t ask those questions?” Gobber was putting this behind them. No one expected Stoick had explained, and Gobber would settle it for them.

“No sir, he didn’t. He never told me why he started asking them, either. I never asked him.” Briefly, Hiccup pinched his small finger to his thumb, and Gothi wondered what the Haddock sign for bonehead looked like, and if she was seeing it right now.

“No impertinence, Hiccup.” Stoick was stern, and she saw the boy’s father. “That remark was rude and disrespectful. Apologize to the council.”

“Yes, sir. I apologize for my rude and disrespectful words to the council. I should not have said them. I will speak properly and take this meeting seriously.” He was sincere—Hiccup’s black and white thinking left no room for fakery—and willing to fix his mistakes. Whatever Stoick was teaching his son, the lessons were getting through.

“Hiccup, can you give your answer again?” Gobber was trying to move the meeting forward, and Stoick was rubbing his temple again.

“Yes, sir. My father did not tell me why he didn’t ask those questions.”

She scratched out another question. “Hiccup, Gothi wants to know if you wanted your father to ask those questions.” She tugged at Gobber, letting him know to stay with her; she would direct the boy and get to the meat of the matter.

“I talked to my dad, and told him I wanted everything to be over. I said that the Chief must be fair and just and right. If he didn’t ask me the questions, I couldn’t do my part, and it wouldn’t be over. It needed to be fair and just and right, and it wasn't.” She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. He studied her, replayed the question in his mind, and realized he hadn’t answered her. “My father asked me if I wanted to have the questions, and I said yes.”

Gobber went next.“So, laddie, did your father give you those questions to answer?”

“No, sir. My Chief did. He wasn’t my dad, he was my chieftain. That was the trial.”

§ § §

He slipped when he called Hiccup “laddie,” and Gobber planned to watch his words until this meeting ended. He normally didn’t bother, but today he must be careful of the boy’s feelings. He wondered exactly what it was going on between Stoick and Hiccup, but those two understood each other, and he’d stay out of it. He clamped his lips shut, folded his arms, and stared at the Ingerman, the message clear. It’s your turn.

It worked. Knotlegs asked the next question. “Did Chief Stoick tell you he was using Chief’s Trial, Hiccup?”

“No, sir. I recognized it from the beginning. All Chief’s Trials begin the same way.” He paused, then asked, “Do you know the beginning, sir? I can tell you if you like.”

“Yes, Hiccup, I’d appreciate that.” Knotlegs eyed Hiccup like he was trying to work out a puzzle. Ingermans were thinkers, and the man expected to put some pieces together and solve Hiccup. Gobber had put six years into understanding Hiccup, and knew Knotlegs had a rough time ahead.

“‘The Chief’s Trial begins with the Chief addressing you with your full name, your family line, and all of your titles. It finishes with ‘you stand accused before your Chief.’ It’s all one sentence.’” Hiccup was using his teaching voice; given the chance, he would lecture the council on trials and judgments with good cheer. He watched Spitelout stifle a snicker.

“Are you certain, young Hiccup?” Gobber saw Nils Larssen grimace. Knotlegs just insulted the Hope and Heir, after he’d earned their respect. Gothi narrowed her eyes and Gobber swallowed a curse. Everyone in that room watched Hiccup, and the boy did not disappoint. When Hiccup pulled himself to his full height, dropped his chin, and fixed an unwavering gaze on Knotlegs, they saw Stoick in miniature.

“Yes, sir, I am positive. Only the Chief’s Trial has that opening. The opening is fixed and permanent, and cannot be adapted.” His voice was courteous but firm. “I studied the records of the trials on Berk last year, and the rules for tribal justice. The information is from those records.”

So there, thought Gobber. That’s set him back, polite as it was. Well done, lad.

Nils Larssen spoke up. “Can you tell us what happened next, Hiccup Haddock?”

“The Chief said he dispensed justice and he would decide the consequences, and the Heir must accept them. Then I said I understood, sir.”

“But what was the accusation, Hiccup?”

Well, it’s about time someone asked. Putting the lad on trial should have been impossible. Stoick would not abuse Chief’s Trial, and Gobber wanted to know what his friend was thinking.

“Well, sir, I was accused of disobeying an order from my Chief, risking my life, and threatening the line of succession on Berk, because I’m the Heir. I could have damaged the Hairy Hooligan tribe, doing that.” After a moment, the boy added, “Chief Stoick told me that in the case of the Heir he would decide the consequences.”

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